Friday, September 30, 2005


Only got time and energy for a short entry at the moment.

Still on rest and recuperation. Tony was round yesterday, but we just hung out and talked, which did- of course- include a reminder of the rash charge which led to last week's sound beating! Badger's due tonight, for more M44 and Japanese at UF. I've got WFRP to prepare for Sunday. I've got to get busy. In the meantime then...

In the pipeline

A rash of enthusiasm...
For Memoir'44
My short series on Memoir'44:
rounds off with a look at how the game's sheer playability is such a simulationist asset. ;)

On the racks

Sigmar's Heirs
The new WFRP2 supplement, which should come in handy quite soon. I expect this to be up to the high standard this new line has already set and maintained.

So that's 17@32cm now with this weighty 432 page tome from Steven S. Long. I expect a thorough treatise on the matter at hand!

HERO Combat Handbook
A slim 176 pages of largely reprinted material in a snazzy cover? I bought it without a second thought. And it's certainly a boon for GM's. But... But... Well, but what exactly?

ED. 02/10/05
Of course, I forgot to mention Static Games, my FLGS where I bought these products. ;)

Thursday, September 29, 2005


So no RD/KA! yesterday- the first I've missed in 47 days since hitting the blogshpere. And I've put up 55 articles that time. Ah well. But my much vaunted (well, by me at least!) unbroken upload record is now gone for a Burton. Och.

Anyhoo I had a busy day yesterday. Apart from just continuing to wind down after my big trip, I set to work reorganising the shelves above my painting and modelling station.The paintbrushes are calling out to me again y'see.

I last picked up a brush last May or thereabouts, burning out- as is my habit- after a frenzied burst sorting out and starting to work on some of the finnicky wee details that can plague the finishing of a space marine army. This time though I have a good feeling about making a stab at something I've wanted to achieve for years: the regular daily 1-2 hours at the painting table. That's how all the masters of the craft do it.

Still, I was pleased with getting the shelves done. My workspace is now more compact, which I hope will curtail my foolish habit of laying out huge trails of miniatures to work on simultaneously, so that none of them get finished before the burnout. Everything being better organised should help too. Fingers crossed I guess.

As well as all of that I also got the gaming shelves better organised. A good day's work all-in-all I thought. A pal came round later and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening in front of the TV. One programme of note last night was The Story of One. Presented by the ex-Python Terry Jones, this was a "look at the history of numbers, revealing their importance to different civilisations, and why the Catholic Church attemtped to ban zero".

If you keep your eyes open around the BBC website you might get a chance to view this again over the web. Otherwise, just let me say that it was history-lite done just right: very informative; and with lots of laughs, including a simple CGI running gag that had me giggling like a mad thing for most of the programme. ;)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back to reality- but first...

So it's back home, and Glasgow's Glasgow, which is OK, except that it's not Prague. At least I can do more than say 'Please', 'Thank-you', and ask for the bill.

The trip was just great, as regular readers will already know. I'm already thinking about future trips. I'd just like to extend my thanks to the bride and groom for letting me join in their special celebrations. I was delighted and proud to be there. All the best to you both, now as ever.

And to everyone else I met:- family and friends of the bride and groom both: it was a real pleasure meeting you all. Your generous company made this barely seasoned and somewhat nervous traveller happy and comfortable amid the beauties of the fair city of Prague. No names no pack drill, but my thanks to you all.

Some special mentions are here required.
1. To 'The Boss', for letting me keep my Squeaky Rubber Hammer of Doom.
2. To the Cheesehead, for putting up with my ASL geekery, and for the book: it stood me in good stead on the journey home- thanks man!
3. And to a certain young Scotsman unexpectedly lumbered with me as a flatmate over a long weekend in Prague:- thanks for services above and beyond; I very much doubt I could've survived the whole experience without your generous assistance. Good luck to you in everything!

So, if any of you should find yourselves reading this: thanks again one and all. ;)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Yes, yes. I know it's just filler...

Back from Prague, and having trouble staying awake. Just time therefore to post another piece from the archives: 'Claymore 2002- a review'. As before: I posted this to several efora at the time.


I attended my first Claymore in the old Chambers St. Edinburgh University venue back in the early '80's. I have missed several since then, but the annual Claymore bash has always been the highlight of my Scottish gaming calendar. This year's convention was the familiar package: scads of trade stands groaning under the weight of goodies too numerous to mention; dozens of demo and participation games modelled and painted to the usual high standards; and the bring-and-buy where lucky finds and bargains lurk. Traders which particularly caught my eye this year were: i-Kore- but they didn't have the new Syntha and Fomorian stuff I wanted; 2nd Chance Games- where I finally gave into temptation and bought myself the 2nd ed. Advanced Squad Leader rules, and also a GREAT new game called Ivanhoe; and Foundry- whose racks yielded various lovely WW2 25's for skirmish games and some really neat preview minis for the upcoming 2000AD range.

Amongst the many great looking tables two which particularly caught my notice were: the large-scale WW2 'Saving Private Ryan' skirmish, and the US/Britain v. the Germans 'Last Days of the Reich' battle featuring superheroes alongside the regular grunts, tanks and so on. The 54mm terrain on the former was particularly lovely and (so I hear) won a well-deserved prize. I have yet to hear who were the other winners, so can only hope that my personal favourite on the day (the WW2 superheroes natch) featured on the prize list.

I also took the chance to chat to as many people as possible. So Baz explained to me that GW's Conflict Regional- Edinburgh 2003 will just have to go ahead at Inglistone as this year. No other suitable venue is affordable apparently and, looking around Claymore's Meadowbank venue as we chatted, I could easily agree that the venue wasn't suited to Conflict.

And from John Robertson at i-Kore I learned that this dynamic little Scottish company will continue to make the most of the asset that is Kev White's ability to sculpt the best buns in the industry. John also confirmed that i-Kore will indeed be redoing the Prosthene's for their Void Syntha range. Good news all round for i-Kore fans then.

Finally: Claymore was stowed out on Saturday. Even without any seating set aside for the canteen, there wasn't enough room for all the confirmed demo-teams. All accessways were overcrowded and going was awkward, especially when pushchairs and gamers' bags were added to the mix. I also heard comments made about the cramped layout of the bring-and-buy. Being crammed-in like this won't have seriously ruined any days I reckon, though it surely must have led to some con-goers leaving earlier than they might have anticipated. Claymore has simply outgrown its venue. SESWC deserve all our applause for all their efforts down the years which have seen their event go from strength to strength. I, for one, look forward to seeing where in the future they will take their premiere event on the Scottish convention circuit.

That's it for today. Nornal service will be resumed asap. ;)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More general wootage!

Another brief entry today to keep RD/KA! alive and well in cyberspace.

So, the wedding was just lovely. The ceremony was delightful, with a beautiful location in Malo Strana- the old centre of Prague. Your humble scribe was moved and touched by the events, and will even confess to having had a 'bit of grit in his eye...' We repaired thereafter to a nice restaurant, where a lovely meal and a nice evening was had by all.

Meanwhile, here I sit in a touristy internet cafe- as opposed, that is- to the more local cybercafe from which I have posted before. The first nice thing is that the keyboard is of a familiar standard. I also managed to get into my ISP, and thus check my emails. I got within an ace of being able to post an old article from my files, which I had cleverly emailed to myself for just such an eventuality. But it didn't quite work.

I learned a good lesson though: if you're going to do this sort of thing, use the simplest possible format- ie. Notepad; because there's always the chance that more highly formatted files- eg. MS Word, will not be available on the particular machine you end up using.

Anyhoo, that's it for today. This is my last day in Prague, and I plan to make the most of it. It's just a pity that something seems to have gone wrong with my damn camera! ;)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Onwards, to bigger and better treasure

Got a lot to do today, so not much time for anything lengthy. I think I´ll just go geek on the fair city of Prague.

First though, I just have to say that Prague is surely one of the jewels in the crown of European culture. It is balmy and beautiful. Here I am in late September, enjoying weather of the sort I would associate with the height of an unfortunately all-too-rare Scottish summer: t-shirt weather in other words. The sky is blue, the leaves are green and turning brown and golden, and the women are to die for. Prague is also friendlier and less expensive than Paris for sure. More beautiful too I´ll warrant- certainly for fans of the Gothic. And it is certainly far, far more romantic than the hitherto crowned capital of the European romantic getaway. The view of central Prague across the Vltava just has to be seen to be believed, to fall into tried and tested phraseology.

Geekwise: well, if you´re a fan of the Warhammer Old World, then Prague is the city for you. In the centre of Prague you are quite literally surrounded by an Old World city, and there is more within an easy day´s outing away (eg. the original for the city of Middenheim, so I´m told). This is my second visit, and in the 2 weeks or so all told that I´ve spent in the city I´ve barely had time to scratch the surface of these delights. You could also run a Gotrek and Felix tour of the city, pointing out to fans of this heroic duo actual locations used by author Bill King in books like Skavenslayer.

All-in-all a cornucopia of delights for gaming geeks with over-active imaginations. Just don´t forget your romantic companion, is all. Got to go. More tomorrow I hope.

Friday, September 23, 2005

THIS is more like it!

So, that big trip I´ve been talking about: well, here I am in Prague, blogging from a Russian-run cybercafe and struggling with the peculiarities of a Czech-language keyboard (some keys are reversed, and there´re some things I´m not sure I´ll master at all!). No matter: this is the internet age, and this is as cyber as I´ve ever been. Wootage!

I flew in from Glasgow yesterday, via Amsterdam. I had to go with KLM because I left my booking too late to go with any of the cheaper carriers. I was annoyed at first, but the approach to Schipol over the coast turned out to be worth every last penny. I mean, both my flights were just great: flying through clear blue skies bathed in sunshine, with following tailwinds making us prompt if not early. The sort of flights, in fact, that are beginning to make me positively enjoy flying (something I´d never´ve expected to have been saying only a few years ago).

But coming in over the coast of Holland was something else entirely. As soon as I caught sight of land, I could see the famous lowlands. Mist still shrouded the depressions, making the place look like some kind of ethereal extraterrestrial landscape. I saw the canals, and what must´ve been a dyke. Then I saw a tanker parked in a side canal... WTF?! I thought: look at the size of that thing!

Flushed with excitement, I only had time to grab a snack before heading off to wait to board my flight to Prague. I have several nice memories of this flight, but one in particular is just geeky beyond belief. As we descended in our approach to Prague the details of the roads, buildings and other features below us became ever more apparent. Something about them struck me as strangely familiar. Then I realised what it was: everything looked like a giant Squad Leader mapboard, even down to little details like having paved (grey) and unpaved (brown) roads.

I had a peculiar moment of insight: those lovely mapboards that so marked Squad Leader out from everything else at the time of its release? Well, it looks like they were a product of the advent of cheap air travel in America in the 50´s and 60´s. How else could the game´s mapmaker have got the idea for what he did with those lovingly detailed maps which were as much part of the game´s immediate charm as Hill´s groundbreaking design?

Arriving at Prague I also rediscovered one of things that makes me really hate air travel: bloody baggage claim! I mean, having been through 2 flights in the space of some 4 hours, I then had to wait at least half an hour to get my luggage. I was livid, I can tell you! Especially because I knew the pal whose wedding I have come to attend and his bride to be, and perhaps another guest would all be waiting for me, and I was at least as keen to see them all as they were me.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Got game

Donald's FB concluded for the day, and some nosh later, last Sunday's gaming was rounded off with a couple of quick boardgames. So, in the spirit of milking for all it's worth, here is a look at what went down between myself, Donald, and Tony at the gaming table that night.

Settlers of Catan

Seriously: this is without a single shade of doubt the boardgaming phenomenon of our times- the mother of all Eurogames. Its designer Klaus Teuber can ride this game and its many expansions and sequels laughing all the way to the bank for as long as he can get away with it as far as I'm concerned. Long may he prosper this damn genius of a German. (Expect 'Rash[es] of Enthusiasm...' sometime I guess.)

Go here to find out more about the game (including a neat online tutorial that will help the uniniated understand what follows).

And go here (click through Club to Boardgames Corner) and here if you'd like to read some of my earlier- brief- apprecations of this game that is somewhere in the 2nd division of my most played games ever.

Oh, and go to your local FLGS to get yourself a copy of this modern classic if you don't already have one!

So, to Sunday's game. We had a balanced region layout, but with 7 (yes, 7! red resource markers down; 5 of them 6's; and 3 of them adjacent- IIRC). We expected a fast game, and we got it.

Losing the roll to go first, I got the going last consolation, giving me a solid and diverse resource base with great city-building potential; not to mention good access to ports, including a 2:1 brick (with a brick resource generator on 8- across the island-neat!). I was definitely out of the running for longest road though, with my inital settlements on opposite sides of the island of Catan. So I felt good after set-up.

I soon felt better than that, as resources flowed in and early development was rapid. Then I made my Big Mistake of the Game: getting an early city up, I chose to go for the city-building corner (2 ores and a grain IIRC), thinking that I was going for a city-building strategy in the end after all. I should, of course, have gone for the city on the lumber/brick/sheep settlement, for the roads and settlements needed to expand outwards before upwards.

This mistake was amplified by Donald's rapid expansion to my east- he seemed to have roads, settlements and cities popping up everywhere, just as my error was bearing its bitter fruit and my own expansion was stymied. Those damn dwarfs! In no time at all, Donald was reaping the rewards of settlements and/or cities on 3 different 6-points, drawing as many as 6 resources on a number that came up above and beyond the mean in this particular game. I was starting to feel the heat!

Tony's development was slow, but then he was the least experienced player alongside 2 seasoned players, and seriously rusty to boot. Tony's knowledge of the game shone through though: he knew that- as lead player- Donald had to be singled out for whatever finkery the robber allowed, because that was how to keep the game open long enough to give himself his only chance of recovery towards a chance of victory.

So it was that Donald suffered a lot from the robber, and from an all-out trade embargo when he reached the 8VP mark with disturbing rapidity. This was helped by his garnering the Longest Road's 2VP on top of his burgeoning colonial expansion. Tony gamely tried to contest this, but Donald just kept on slapping down new roads, and we knew it was not to be: the game would be decided, one way or another, before Tony could get his hands on the resources to steal Donald's 2VP prize away from him.

It was at this point, ironically enough, that I bought another Development Card (of 4 I bought in the game): Road Building- 2 'free' roads. If only Tony had got that I found myself thinking! In the end, I used it to expand towards the build of the extra settlement that was vital to my plans, so I'd been wrong about who needed it most.

My other 3 Development Cards were all Soldiers. I used the first to chase the robber off back to hamper Donald and his furiously digging dwarfs. The other 2 I got in a snap decision to buy 2 Development Cards both at once in the hope of getting 1 or 2 of the decks' 5 Victory Point cards- each worth 1VP.


I now had 3 Soldiers all told. Playing the 2 from hand would give me the Largest Army- worth 2VP just like the Longest Road. I would need 2 turns to play them; and I would have to consider the timing too, given the chances of the robber screwing everything up if Donald rolled a 7 and sicced the robber on me.

Speaking of which: Donald was really unfortunate with the robber in this game. Not only did my Soldiers keep me pretty much free of this blackguard's attentions (and guess where I was putting him?) but I seem to remember that most of the 7's in a game- in which they were about as regular as you'd expect; well, where do you think they went too? Moreover, Donald was hit mebbe 2 or 3 times with 8+ cards in his hand when the dread 7 came up.

The end-game went something like this.

Donald hit 9VP with me on 8 (IIRC), and Tony out of the running but still playing like a pro. Both Donald and I were sitting on resource bases ideal for our positions (except for that darn robber in Donald's case, naturally enough!). I managed to get to 9VP without Donald getting that 1VP he needed (how I did this escapes me). We were both looking for a city now.

Somewhere in what followed came a big blow to Donald IIRC: another 7, and a big whack to a large hand of resources. I can't imagine how I could've survived otherwise. Meanwhile, I was sitting in that unique sweat of waiting out the dice, looking for those rolls you know must come; hoping that nobody else's come first; and holding your nerve against the prospect of another damn 7 as a couple of good rolls start to build your winning hand as your next turn approaches.

And what a hand I had after Donald's last roll: my city, in a hand big enough to keep it even if the robber came round for a visit. I'd won, but it'd been the closest run thing I can remember for a long time.


Nuclear War
Fancying another game and looking for a beer'n'pretzel quickie before repairing to the pub, we easily agreed to have a blast of this classic satirical game of global thermonuclear holocaust. And so it was that Libronia (me), Ulanda (Tony) and Dwarfonia (guess who?!) started rattling their sabres behind protestations of peaceful intent, as ever.

Go here to visit the website of this venerable game, which is 40 years old this year btw. Happy birthday Nuclear War, and thanks to all concerned with this gem of gems for my own 25 years of laughter in the face of madness.

Anyhoo, going first as is my right as owner of the game (yes:- it is in the rules, and anyway: I waited a long, long time for that particular privilege- some 20 years in fact) I did nothing much with secrets, and set out my stall for some routine pleas for peace (aka. stealing your opponents' population with Propaganda cards- all useless once the bombs start dropping, naturally enough).

Tony did a bit more- including hitting Donald with missing his first turn of the game; and laid out his own initial strategy.

Then Donald- looking a bit shamefaced- but still evidently pleased to be enjoying a bit of payback for my theft of his victory at Settlers, sicced me for a loss of 50 million population. That took care of my 2 25 million population cards then. I wasn't feeling quite so sanguine already, and the first turn hadn't even begun! Donald then did a poor sap on me: feeling guilty no doubt at exercising such petty revenge, he hit Tony with a missed turn. Pah! In that situation I know what I'd've done: revenge or not, I'd've kicked me while I was down. This is Nuclear War after all!

And off we went. Tony revealed himself to be an immediate warmonger- revealing an immediate missile delivery system IIRC- as Donald and I played nip and tuck with Propaganda cards.

As the game progressed, several ABM systems went on display to discourage fruitless expenditure of valuable hi-technology. Being the first player so not to suffer from the others' attacks gave me a warm feeling I can tell you!

Other highlights included: Ulanda's foolish decision to invest in Libronian missile technology for one of their B70's (down in flames on it's first payload- heh; aimed at me too IIRC- double heh!) ; Radio Free Libronia making it to the moon, again(!); and my putz's mistake in putting a Titan down behind my Saturn, thus loosing the chance to launch my 100 megs towards Dwarfonia. "Doomed!" I thought, "I'm doomed."

And this one:
1. Donald hits me with 'A disastrous earthquake [that] destroy[ed] 10 million of [my] population'
2. You fool I cry, they're really a secret strike force tunnelling their way to launch a sneak attack on Dwarfonia...
3. The deck is reshuffled shortly thereafter
4. I hit Donald with, guess what?
5. See? I told you so, I gloat.

The endgame saw me and Tony- with 1 or 2 population cards each forming a pact to whittle away at Donald's pile much larger than both of ours put together. First on our agenda is stripping him of his 2 ABM's. I'm forced to reveal my population when I have to cash my last population card in for change after a strike from Dwarfonia.

Then Donald wiped Tony out with a Secret. Ulanda's final retaliation was impressive but not decisive. As peace breaks out, Libronia and Dwarfonia eye each other nervously across the glowing rubble as cards laid but unplayed are picked up and replaced.

Dwarfonia having disposed of Ulanda, it was Libronia's move. 'Peace!' we cried, playing a 25 million Propaganda card. Joy was unbounded as the people of Dwarfonia declared allegiance to the Libronian way of life, leaving their once revered leader to nurse hopes of revenge in some sad place of exile. Relief was evident among the 8 million Libronian survivors, who realised that their own government had been right all along, and that there was, in fact, no need to decamp to Dwarfonia after all (a 10 million Propaganda steal would've left Donald celebrating the lack of final retaliation instead of me, next turn).

Another very, very close run thing!


And so Felix Mephisto slept soundly in his bed that night in Paris despite everything it would seem in the end. Or: payback is sweet!


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Well, Tony was round again this afternoon. He's never properly seen HERO5 in action yet- our last roleplaying run having run out of steam under the rule of 4th ed.; so we tried out a quick bout of fisticuffs to familiarise ourselves with the new stuff that we both hope to be GM'ing and/or PC'ing just asap. We had a good laugh; admired some of the nice touches in the revisions to the combat system; and some cleverly chosen maveouvres and a couple of well-timed haymakers (not to mention a hefty dose of Sheer Dumb Luck on Tony's part: to which he has already confessed, so this is less than Sad Loser's Whinging!) left my basic template mook dying- from injuries to the face and head. OUCH!

After that we continued developing the key NPC's behind the new superhero campaign we're working away on. As a result of today's efforts we now know the following to our satisfaction: who they are; where they came from; how they first met; what went down through that first encounter; how they fell in together thereafter; and, what roles each fulfils in their double-act. We are both well-pleased with how this longstanding project is now beginning to develop ever more rapidly with each session we put in to shaping it up.

Whiling away some time before tea thereafter, I took a look through a book I've had on my shelves for years now, but which has only finally revealed it full value to me since Donald started his FB game. I picked up this book some 25 or more years ago for the then already low price of £1 in a 2nd hand bookshop in Perth. It is:

The Student's Manual of Modern History

Containing the
Rise and progress of the principal European nations, their political history, and the changes in their social conditions

With a history of
The colonies founded by Europeans

W.C. Taylor, LL.S., M.R.A.S.
of Trinity College Dublin

The sixth edition, with additions

John W. Parker and Son, West Strand

Really rather the worse for wear, it wasn't the price which made this book an instant purchase for me. No, it was this section from the Preface:
"In this the sixth edition the Supplmentary Chapter has been considerably enlarged, so as to bring down the History to the Treaty of Paris signed at Paris, March 30, 1856..."
What the...?! Imagine that I thought: a 'stop press' to update a book for the end of the Crimean War. I would like to think that was the moment when I realised what history was really all about.

Whatever the truth of that matter, this volume has had a cherished place on my bookshelves down the years since the day it came into my possession. I can say with more certainty that this book did give me a taste for works contemporaneous with my favourite period of history- namely the 1st half of the 20th century (I was a teenage tankie, y'see); and that it is the nearest thing I have to a genuine antiquarian work in my 'library' (thank goodness for those classic orange/blue and white Penguin and Pelican originals!).

And the book itself? Well, apart from its antiquated style, which is just perfect for atmosphere, here is a sample of its contents:
I. Consequences of the Fall of the Western Empire;
VI. The Reformation, and the Commencement of the States System in Europe;
VIII. Growth of the Mercantile and Colonial System;
XIV. History of the Jews.
There is also a 16-page Analytical and Chronological Index (that's A5 approx. in max. 8-point type- THIS OR SMALLER IN OTHER WORDS) that runs from AD 50 onwards. In short, Taylor's old Student's Manual looks like it will prove invaluable to my WFRP and to Donald's FB both. I certainly know that I saw Donald with his nose deep in its yellowing pages Sunday last during our break from the adventures of Felix and the good Baron. ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2

Chapter 2. In which: Comforts & Clever Contrivances Notwithstanding, Felix Just Suffers

Fortified by a night of prayer, sincere repentance, and the sound sleep of the just, Felix rose at 7am according to his well-regulated habits. He was surprised - and not a little nonplussed - to see the Baron arrive bright, early, and confoundedly chipper at their designated rendezvous for the day. Thus refreshed, both our servants of the Crown faced the new day with the same idea: why not just maintain a watch upon the Bank of the Brothers Di Vittoria, to see what befell?

Preparing themselves again for hazard, they set off. Unfortunately there was no convenient tavern nearby to provide a comfortable vantage point. Fortunately there was an aging wealthy aunt of the Baron's living just across the street... ["You'll need a VERY good roll on your Luck," said Donald, in reply to Tony's query about local contacts. Tony rolled his dice. "Is a 2 good enough?" chorused our grinning faces.]

Greeted generously by said aunt's wrinkled retainer upon his answering the good Baron's knock at the door, we were introduced first to the aunt's lady companion: a veritable battle-axe of a virago who greeted our intrepid pair with all the warmth of a polar hurricane. Jean-Claude's aunt, on the other hand, greeted her prodigal nephew with questions about his health and his persistent bachelorhood, in the sort of barrage unique to distaff doting dotards. Sensing how long this would persist, the already noticably taciturn Felix requested a moment with the aunt's lady companion.

Showing her the Constable General's warrant that he had obtained from the deluged Jean-Claude, Felix explained the situation to this steely-eyed and icy matriarch. Spying her rosary, Felix privately bemoaned the loss - to the True Faith - of such a staunch matron. With a show of reluctance and evident distaste, she instructed the decrepit butler to show our young gentleman to the balcony, which turned out to have the perfect prospect for our pair's purpose.

Settling down Felix attended to his deck of cards, and to the game which had already cost him 8 of his precious 48 disposable livres per annum (an unprecedented run of luck for our good Baron, though insufficiently lucrative to recover the fortune his hitherto poorer luck had cost him, naturally enough). Brought some refreshments by the household's serving staff, he also began to enjoy a taste of the comforts to which he aspired. Eventually, he was joined by the Baron. Lunch was served soon thereafter.

In the hours they spent at their post, Felix and Jean-Claude saw 3 men follow the steps down to the basement door that had earlier caught their attention, only to reappear some quarter hour or more later. All of them wore in their breast pockets the vivid red kerchief which our PC's had found just so on the body of the dead le Droite; which le Droite and Chevalier Didonner were similarly wearing when the former was last seen alive - by the barman at the Black Cross Club; and which Felix still retained - for the sake of a possible ruse, naturally enough.

After a brief conference, our good Baron and his gentleman friend agreed that this was not a situation into which they could afford just to blunder, relying merely on the red kerchief and Felix's silver tounge. After all, there might be passwords, secret signs, and so on. They agreed on a simple plan proposed by Felix.

And so it was, after loitering in the street by the bank for some considerable time, Felix contrived to have to step smartly out of the way of the next wearer of a red kerchief who made to descend the steps to the basement door, then to drop his pack of cards. Picking them up gave him plenty of time to spy out the fellow's entry, which turned out to require nothing more - apparently - than the sight of the red kerchief through a spyhole in the door.

Things started rapidly to fall into place at this point. The situtation was thus: the war with England; Italian bankers handling Crown bonds to raise funds for the armed forces of France, and raising investments to equip ships of marque to take the war to the English in the Orient; a mysterious Spaniard lurking somewhere behind the band of the red kerchiefs; and the Constable General's fear that his own staff had been infiltrated. Our 2 companions were clearly facing more than merely the larceny that Felix had long suspected.

But all of that was as nothing right at that moment: it was time for dinner, and the good Baron and Felix were to dine with the Baron's aunt, and - as it turned out - a cousin of his: female, and also unmarried (tragically - in the eyes of the aunt, naturally enough).

This cousin turned out to be a prattling horse-faced dullard with a laugh like a braying donkey, a sentimental attachment to the indigent, and a passion for her Catholic faith. All of which reduced her to less in Felix's eyes than the utter disinterest Jean-Claude could barely be bothered to conceal. The meal passed in a strained atmosphere utterly devoid of conviviality. Even Felix's charm failed him conspicuously.

Suddenly our young gentleman felt a stockinged foot stroke his calf under the table. The man's astonishment rapidly turned to utter horror when he realised that his would-be seductress wasn't the droning mare. No. It was the grim-faced battleaxe (a hatchet-faced hag aged some thrice Felix's 19 years, by God!), whose foot spoke of something of which her face betrayed not a jot. Begging to be excused, Felix attended to his toilet in the hopes of regaining a measure of what would pass for composure, and the cessation of this torment on his return to the table.

Luck was not with him however. So he grit his teeth, planted both feet firmly on the floor, and added his grimly restrained hysterical outrage to the pleasures of the company for the remaining courses of the longest meal of his short life. The gentlemen's retreat to the smoking room came as a blessed relief.

We have business to attend to, he implored the Baron.

At this time of night, when the ladies are about to join us? came the crushing reply.

As the evening wound its painful way to a polite goodnight, Felix fondly hoped that the successful conclusion of their mission would not only benefit his beloved France, but would also bring him his just reward in terms of favour, fortune and advancement.

Otherwise... Otherwise... Otherwise...Well, otherwise what exactly?


How we laughed! ;)

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2

Chapter 1. In which Felix Suffers For His Naiveté

Well, the pressures of organising my upcoming jaunt- not to mention my rampant foolishness in deciding to run a WFRP scenario of my own devising- mean that I decided last week to put my little Old World on hold until after my return. And so it turned out that yesterday's roleplaying took place entirely in Donald's version of Dumas' Paris, dateline June 1643.

Meanwhile pressing issues of real life and other things had reduced yesterday's group to just Donald, Tony and myself.


So it was that, having gleaned the name of the Chevalier Didonner from the barman at the Black Cross Club, our 3 companions retired for the evening. Van Horstmann to the comforts of his apartments and an attentive flunkey. The good Baron and Felix first to the Club of St. George, for a slap up feed which- at a hefty 5 livres- cost our young gentleman fully one tenth of his annual disposable income.

Over dinner our PC's resolved to find out more about this Chevalier Didonner. They consulted the Club's concierge. A few more livres from Felix, topped up by the Baron, brought the assurance of some information on the morrow.

Thereafter: to the Baron's apartment, there to await a report from Piedro on the contents of the goblets from which the late M. le Droite had been seen sharing a bottle of wine with the aforementioned chevalier just before the untimely death that had caused the Constable General to call upon his acquaintance Baron Tourné in the first instance. Van Horstmann's flunkey delivered his master's word in the course of the evening. The results of his chemical studies of the 2 goblets from which the Chevalier Didonner and M. le Droite had shared what had turned out to be the latter's last drink?


An as yet undiscovered 2nd corpse was thus our heroes' immediate concern for the next day.

It was that evening also that Felix discovered an unexpected taste for gambling at cards, while the good Baron hit an even more unexpected winning streak. Felix retired to the Baron's guest room 5 livres down on the night (and some quarter or more of his annual disposable gone already, in a single day!).

Rising early as is his wont, Felix had to awaken Baron Jean-Claude to answer the door. They beheld an urchin bearing a message from the concierge at the Club of St. George: said Didonner happened to live at Rue St. Michel 18, surprisingly close to the Bank of the Brothers Di Vittoria (Rue St. Michel 32). It was to this very bank that our trio had been pointed the previous day by a major clue uncovered by their grisly examination of the already almost rotting corpse of the unfortunate le Droite.

Making haste to find out about the fate of the Chevalier, the Baron and his gentleman friend made first for the office of the registry of births and deaths, where they discovered that no Didonner had been reported dead in the appropriate period.

There was nothing else for it then but the Rue St. Michel 18. Diverting only to prepare themselves for the possibility of a trial at arms, our intrepid pair made haste thence. Arriving, they conducted a quick reconnaissance to discover it stood secure against entry via the alleys at each side, and from the yard at the rear. The front door it was then.

Deciding to exploit their official status, the Baron knocked and presented their warrant to the flunkey who answered the door. They were told that the Chevalier was most definitely alive (despite having drunk of the poison?- how strange); that he was out; that their man could tell us nothing of his master's whereabouts- despite Felix's protestations that it might be a matter of Didonner's life or death; and that the time of his return was uncertain.

Felix insisted on leaving a note:
"On the business of the Constable-General of France, we have reason to fear for your safety. Must insist on an immediate audience before the day is out.
"RSVP care of the Club of St. George."
Signed (with a flourish),
"Felix Mephisto, Gentleman"
This done, off our pair headed to the bank. There Felix posed as Baron Tourné's amateur financial advisor while Jean-Claude asked about potential investments with said bank. The Baron's income frankly announced soon revealed him as small fry beneath the Bros Di Vittoria's notice, although a couple of useful clues were picked up about the bank's major current ventures. These immediately struck Felix and the Baron both as somewhat germane to their investigation.

[Oh, and Felix criticaled on his Banking roll (1 on a d20 of 9-!), meaning that not only did he give an utterly convincing account of the Baron's financial prospects- thus leaving the invaluable 'good impression' despite everything; but he also got 1 of the 2 checks needed to advance his Banking to 10-. Heh!]

This lead exhausted, our pair of companions returned to Felix's club to await the Chevalier Didonner's reply. This not coming, the good Baron hired a coach to take them back to #18 with appropriate speed and due propriety. Brooking no argument, Felix insisted on satisfaction in the face of more ignorance on the part of the same flunkey at the threshold, the result of which was a list of his master's haunts. The name of the Black Cross Club immediately caught Felix's eye. Back in the coach, off they went.

There the good Baron and Felix spoke again with the barman who had proved so helpful the last time, although their warrant secured his services rendered at a 100% discount. Yes, the Chevalier had indeed been there earlier that afternoon, staying only long enough to share a quick libation before departing in the company of the veiled lady of means with whom he had shared a rendezvous.


Luckily though, our louche Baron guessed their game, having already noted the name of a sometime haunt of his own on the list of places where they were to track down the unexpectedly still living Chevalier: the Nun's Habit. Flush with the thrill of the chase, Felix came up with a ruse with which he hoped to beard their #1 suspect in his den of lascivious iniquity.

And so it was that Felix Mephisto, Gentleman - a charming but gauche young fellow, of pure heart and honourable intentions - found himself sitting in a tavern across the way from the Nun's Habit: a place infamous for its ruthless enforcement of discretion in all matters pertaining to liasons dangereuses; awaiting the arrival of his friend, the Baron Jean-Claude Tourné, in the company of a certain married lady of his intimate acquaintance. It must have been the time the young man had to ponder on his own machinations, because it has to be said that young Felix certainly wasn't as pleased - at his own first visit to this den of vice - as was Tourné's companion at hers.

In any event: playing his part, Felix gave Tourné 10 minutes, then approached the door with the letter our, erm... 'adventurous' pair had prepared, to be delivered with all urgency ( naturally enough) to the Baron. As noted, Felix's discomfiture at what he had so eagerly and so unwittingly become a party to began to rule his head as well as his already sinking heart [he fluffed his highly respectable d20:14- Charm roll]. Thus it was that, Felix's protestations notwithstanding, a burly bouncer instructed our young hero to wait outside while he ensured the delivery of this 'message' of such vital import. Not unaware of how these things go, Baron Tourné required 'his gentleman'(?!) to be brought to his private dining room.

Discretion forbids me from detailing the sights that our hapless young gentleman beheld on his passage thence. Sufficeth to say that, by the time he arrived to speak to the Baron, his horror knew no bounds, and he knew that his scheme to seek the Chevalier within these walls was sheer and utter folly. The sound of rustling silk from behind the screen whence had disappeared the Baron's lady companion was the last straw.

Felix fled into the night.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A rash of enthusiasm...

... For Memoir'44

Part 3: A few little details
This is to round off a few details I didn't cover in my treatment of the basic fire and movement of tanks and infantry.

The artillery rules in M44 are as neat and simple as those for tanks and infantry:
  1. Can only move 1 hex, and can't move and fire in the same turn
  2. Has firepower: 3/2/1 at ranges 2/4/6
  3. Needs no LOS and ignores terrain effects on firepower.
The movement rules mean that you really don't want to redeploy your artillery during a battle if you can avoid it. The combat rules nicely reflect the greater deviation likely over longer ranges, and the extra power of the plunging fire, not the mention the sheer terror of being under an artillery strike. The net effect is to make artillery the best unit in the game for clearing the enemy out of heavy cover and prepared positions, which is as it should be.

A final note on artillery: there is no artillery symbol on the battle dice; while artillery units only have 2 models. So on top of the slick representation of the role and power of field artillery, we also have artillery that is hard to hit - because it is typically well dug-in; but easy to kill - because of the few cannons/unit and the vulnerable crew.

All of which means that M44's rendering of artillery fills out and complements Borg's clever treatment of tanks and infantry very nicely.

Various terrain features
The way the wire rules work, once you're in wire, you will not be moving any further that turn under any circumstances. In addition, if the unit is a tank the wire will be removed from play. If the unit is infantry, you will be faced with a choice: fire, with -1 firepower (which can often be the difference between having an attack or not); or spend your combat action clearing the wire. So tanks just plunge through wire, though it will give them pause (ie. no overruns in particular!); while infantry can get hung up on it for as long as you choose to leave them there. All very credible.

These are impassible to tanks, naturally enough. They offer flag protection to infantry, which is a nice touch: they don't reduce enemy firepower, but all that solid steel is still reassuring. Need I say more?

Bunkers and bridges
Bunkers in M44 can only be used by the owning side; their hexes can't be entered by tanks at all and give tanks the max -2 firepower reduction in combat. Bridges let you cross rivers, surprisingly enough.

These are not the most interesting thing about them though. What is most interesting is that they both block LOS (which ties in with the prohibition on entry by tanks). At first sight, you could say that this is a bit dumb, in that both of these features are elements of their hexes, and not the hexes themselves. The point is though that that approach would've resulted in dual-type hexes, which would've undermined the essential simplicity.

So the bridges and bunkers represent locales which to some extent 'warp' the already abstract scale of the hexgrid. Is this a matter of authenticity? Well yes, insofaras it strikes me as another example of the enforcement of the POV enabled by the cardplay. This is because terrain features of this type would indeed loom large in the awareness of the commanders the players represent in a game of M44, because of their supreme tactical/strategic importance.

It is as a result of this that making these features fill their hexes works so well: it makes them locations with environs and approaches, instead of just a feature of an existing hex. Abstraction and simplicity in action yet again.

So far then I have tried to explain how M44's cardplay command and control and its treatment of basic fire and movement give a game whose simulationist authenticity arises from the subtle interplay of deceptively simple elements. I will return to M44 just as soon as I can to explain why I believe that the simulationist merits of this delightful gaming engine are capped by the game's sheer playability. ;)

- Part 1: another hymn of praise to cardplay
- Part 2: The Elements of Fire and Movement
- Part 4: The authenticity of sheer playability

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Four-colour friends

Another visit to my local Forbidden Planet Wednesday last to get hold of some reading material for a train journey east. There was 1 comic in my order, and 2 new comics and an old TPB caught my eye. So, without further ado.

Ex Machina #14
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Tom Feister
Colours: JD Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

The ads for this comic caught my eye immediately, so I picked up #1. It has since been a part of my regular order, and I’ve enjoyed every issue so far. The premise is simple enough to state: in a world very much like our own, a certain Mitch Hundred has an encounter with some kind of alien artefact in the Hudson river (that is what the river in NYC is called, yes?). He gains the unusual powers of communication with and control over machines as a result (ie. machine empathy).

After a brief period as a… no, not a, but the costumed adventurer, he retires to campaign for mayor of NYC. He gets elected. And so the scene is set for a series whose stories I would sum up as Steven Bochco meets Buffy with the X-files thrown in for good measure.

The current issue is a good one. Having accepted a call-up for jury duty for the sake of setting a good example last ish, Hundred found himself in a jury-room hostage situation. This is resolved in a way that ramps up the series’ existing paranoia to a whole new level. Meanwhile, the hero’s ‘sidekicks’ are off clearing up some other matters.

I like this series because it dramatises the real world in a way that the best of American TV always does: well. The issues are part of the plot rather than vice versa. And it has to be said that Vaughan’s central premise- which of course is that of the Slayer (ie. the lone hero with sidekicks), with a twist; well, this has translated well to its new context. Vaughan also knows how to play fast and loose with history and his cultural references in a clever way without showing off. Plus, this reader’s just gotta love anyone who can reference that classic line from 2000AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’: “There’s no justice. There’s just us.”

Oh, and the artwork is very nice too, but I’ve no more space to go into detail.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Colours: David Baron
Letters: Phil Balsman

For a comic that wears its radical counter-cultural credentials on its sleeves, The Authority also has a history of worm’s eye views of its protags (Stormwatch: Team Achilles- a comic that seems to have sunk without trace), not to mention outright spoofery. The present comic falls into the latter category, being the 3rd series to feature the adventures of the hapless Kevin and the most dangerous fighters of the good fight in comicdom.

First of a series of 5, this issue makes me think that the 3rd run of the Authority and Kevn might be the funniest yet. Ennis’ script had me guffawing like a buffoon in places, with its witty pastiche on the Aliens series of movies: “I’m a v…”. No, I just can’t give the slightest hint of a spoiler here.

Also of note for this reader was the artwork by Carlos Ezquerra. He was one of the favourite artists of my childhood, with work on such great stories as ‘Major Easy’- a Clint Eastwood clone in the Battle comic; or ‘Judge Dredd’ a Clint Eastwood clone in 2000AD. Ezquerra also did the art on what was, for me, a seminal moment in the history of 2000AD- the adaption of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat. Nostalgia aside, Ezquerra’s artwork is as good as ever, and strikes me as being very well suited to this particular subject.

Ghost Rider: The Road to Damnation #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Clayton Grain
Letters: Chris Elipoulos

Johnny Blaze, a.k.a. the Ghost Rider will need no introduction to many of my regular readers. Those who need an introduction to this- one of Marvel's iconically weird 1970's characters: well, what do you think google is for?

I saw this comic on the shelf and it all but jumped into my hand. From its delicious cover to its last panel, I just loved this comic. Everything that made Ennis’ work on Preacher so powerful seems to be on display here. Sure, the nods to the Constantine movie strike even me as being pretty obvious. But I don’t care. I just really enjoyed all the moves Ennis was pulling here.

The artwork deserves special mention. I’m sometimes not a fan of ‘photoreal’ comic art. Illustration of this sort is often too wooden to my eye, which means that it loses precisely the sense of dynamism that is one of comic art’s greatest strengths. But Crain’s artwork in this comic is just lovely. It has a sort of manga-esqe feel to it that makes it cartoony and fluid. And Crain’s rendering of the flames of hellfire and damnation is just lovely. You can almost feel those flames licking across your hand as you turn the page.

This comic is going onto my regular order pronto, so that I don’t miss the rest of this more-than-merely promising looking 6-part miniseries.

Wildcats: Vicious Circles (TPB vol.2)
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Sean Phillips
Colours: Wildstorm FX
Letters: Richard Starkings and Saida Temofonte

This one is going to have to be brief after all that has gone before.

I’m a bit of a fan of the DC/Wildstorm universe, it being pretty close to the way I like to do superheroes in roleplaying. My acquaintance began with The Authority, moved on to the original Ellis Stormwatch, and more lately I’ve started trying to follow up on Wildcats.

This TPB compilation of ##8-13 is great stuff. I love the premise- of superheroes as warriors in a long-concluded alien war; Casey’s plot and dialogue provide great characters and layer upon layer of intrigue, all delivered through writing that is a joy to read (except for the odd bit in French, which just got on my tits frankly); and Phillips’ artwork is the sort of stuff I really like- definitely comicbook and not ashamed to show it, with a real flair for cinematic panel layouts that are active co-conspirators in the story.

Mention must also be made of the lettering and the colours. The former uses differing font styles to denote different voices in a way that doesn’t get too tricksy. Hardly novel these days (or those days- these comics date from 2000- either no doubt), but I found that these techniques really did add something to the stories. The colouring uses naturalistic tones mostly, with variations on a chosen hue to represent unusual lighting conditions. Again, not novel, but nicely done.

All in all then, each of the different elements of this comic were done to a uniformly high standard. The overall effect is of a superior adaption of something by Raymond Chandler or Graham Greene. Which is pretty good going for a comic IMO. I certainly intend to fill out my collection of Wildcats TPB’s.

Good reading everyone. ;)

Friday, September 16, 2005

General gamism #1

This is the heading under which I will discuss what you might call games theory. Longtime readers might recall that I touched on this from day 1 here at RD/KA! . Otherwise, you might’ve noticed the odd aside in which I expressed games-theoretical opinions in other articles. I would even go so far as to venture the hope that some regular readers will have been waiting for just such an article as I now propose to deliver.

So, without further ado: RD/KA! presents the first of JMcL63’s discourses on ‘General gamism’:

Player use of non-PC knowledge: metagaming munchkinism; or sane and sensible roleplay?
This theme is immediately inspired by 2 things:
  1. Andy P’s witty remark about the ‘4th wall’ in response to an early ‘My little Old World’ column.
  2. My subsequent experience of the issues Andy’s remark raised while GM’ing my WFRP2 campaign.
What I intend to expound are my thoughts on the apparently quite widespread opinion that there is a conflict between: good roleplaying, on the one hand; and players’ use of their own (ie. not their PC’s) knowledge of a given setting or system during play. In other words, the opinion that if a PC don’t know it, the player can’t use it.

My attitude to this can be summed up quite straightforwardly: the pox take anyone who tries to belittle my (or anyone else’s) roleplaying because I am willing to use my non-PC setting and/or system knowledge to roleplay more effectively and entertainingly (not always as synonymous as they might appear btw).

In my- admittedly limited- knowledge of contemporary roleplaying theory, this kind of play is typically stigmatised by 1 of 2 terms. These terms are: ‘munchkinism’ and ‘metagaming’. The application of these terms seems to vary according to:
  1. The kind of player whose roleplaying is being so done down.
  2. The kind of player who is dishing out the doing down.
I won’t be spending any more time on that stuff. Except, that is, to issue an obligatory and fairly obvious disclaimer: rampant munchkinism (a.k.a. powergaming) is A Bad Thing. So is rampant metagaming. But so, also, is rampant pretty much anything else in roleplaying, according to the old nostrum- “too much of a good thing”. (NB. Even that disclaimer needs its own disclaimer, but I’ve no intention of falling into the fallacy of the infinite regress in RD/KA!’s first ‘General gamism’ column.)

Anyhoo, to my point. It seems to me that this particular brand of roleplaying One-True-Wayism (OTW Ultra-Immersion Theory… hmm, that has a nice ring to it… OTWUIT - crap acronym though); anyhoo, this UIT strikes me as fallacious on 2 counts:
  1. It is psychologically implausible- for the players
  2. It is psychologically implausible- for the PC’s.
Is that too cute? I don’t know. I’ll take these in turn, as is my wont.

Impossible demands on players
In essence this is not a complicated matter: it is psychologically impossible to erect an impermeable mental barrier between your own setting/system knowledge, on the one hand; and your PC’s notional self-consciousness, on the other. To attempt to do so is frankly barking; to succeed would be quite literally schizoid.

Moreover: GM’s make use of precisely this kind of knowledge, if they are any good at their jobs; eg. designing NPC’s tweaked to a given PC’s weaknesses. If this is fair- indeed: to be expected- as GM, why should the exact same mode of play be considered intrinsically unfair as PC?

This is to begin to home in on the gist of my dislike of this stance. What I mean to say is this: even if a hardline application of UIT weren’t to reach genuinely psychotic extremes, it strikes me that it would be the kiss of death to enjoyable roleplaying in any event. Why do I say this? Because it invites- if not actually requires- players to become their very own ‘thought police’, in the service of their very own ‘Big Brother’- the exact opposite of free creative expression in other words. That this is to take place in the pursuit of a psychologically impossible goal strikes me as a somewhat disturbing addendum to thinking that is, in the end, really rather counter-productive.

Part of what I mean to say here falls under the next topic. The other part is this: if, as I argue, this UIT is indeed psychologically impossible, then why get so twisted up over player use of non-PC knowledge? Just like anything else that is inevitable in roleplaying, good players- be they GM or PC- will simply take it for granted, and exploit it for maximum entertainment value.

Hamstringing PC’s
In a roleplaying game PC’s are inherently limited by virtue of what they are: ie. abstract constructs in pencil and paper (P&P) rpgs. They have no sense of self, no senses, no independent perceptions- nothing. Sure, a good GM will try to compensate for this, try to bring the PC’s immediate surroundings and their wider world(s) to life as vividly as possible. But at the end of the day even the greatest GM’s will be both limited and partial.

Limited: because they cannot simulate even a fraction of the real modes of experience (of ‘reality’, not EP’s, you munchkins!) that PC’s necessarily lack. Partial: because GM’s have no choice but to focus on the particular mote- of that fraction- that suits their own immediate purposes in the game (and hopefully everyone else’s too).

What these remarks amount to is an argument towards this conclusion: UIT is bad thinking because precisely what it disparages is the great equaliser in the situation outlined above. That is to say: the sole conceivable means available to players to give them a real form of knowledge enabling them- to some degree- to circumvent the inherent limitations of PC’s as gaming constructs. In other words: a kind of knowledge which- in substituting for all the inevitably lacking modes of experience of a real, thinking being- can give depth to PC’s and bring them to life (subject to all the all-too-familiar disclaimers, naturally enough).

According to the case I have here presented, there is a widespread consensus among a section of roleplayers in favour of a conception of intelligent play in roleplaying that is simultaneously psychologically inane (which is being kind) and crippling to rich play of PC’s. There is a definite subtext to this it seems to me: disabling the PC’s; which can, perforce, only spuriously empower the GM. And this in the name of good roleplaying? I beg to differ.

My fellow blogger RPGpundit has already had much to say about this fairly obvious subtext to this thinking. I have to confess that I sometimes shudder at his invective. But I’ve always agreed with his arguments.

Corrected link leading to wrong page.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Prologue

Well we finally got ourselves organised so that Donald could get his turn at the GM's table Sunday. He ran Flashing Blades in its original 1984 edition. Written by Mark Pettigrew, FB was published by Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU), the company responsible for, among other things, Aftermath and Bushido- 2 rpgs of which I have particulary fond memories; and Chivalry and Sorcery- a game I never played (for which much of what I've heard makes me thankful).

I've played this PC a couple of times before with Donald. But it was so long ago that all I can remember is some scrolls we had to deliever and my decision not to help out what looked like a damsel in distress because I didn't want to risk splitting the party in a game where all the other players were pretty much unknown quantities to me as roleplayers.

Oh yes, and Felix's decision to pull his pistol and open fire on some Italian border guards because no Papists were going to lay hands on a Hugenot gentleman. Y'see, PC's in FB all have some kind of secret, and Felix's is that he is a fanatical Hugenot. Which is not the most comfortable of religious persuasions to follow in 17th century catholic France at just about the time that Cromwell and his Puritain roundheads are running riot across in England.

Colourful stuff, eh?

Felix himself is a gentleman of some real charm, fair phsyique and fortune, and evident dimness. He has a passing knowledge of banking, can stay on a horse if he doesn't get too showy, and is unlikey to choose the wrong fork at a banquet, or to commit some other similarly devestating trivial social gaffe. He is a Fellow of the Club of St. George.

All in all, promising material for, well, for being some crass nobleman's smooth-talking henchman or somesuch really. Unless, that is, he chooses to apply himself and get some serious learning. Fat chance would seem to be the current state of play.

I mean, there he was, just sitting in his club, when he received a visit from his acquaintance, the good Baron Jean-Claude Tourne (pron. Tourn-ey: don't know how to do accents above e's yet)- played by Tony- on what turned out to a mission of some delicacy. Game as he is, Felix soon found himself joining the good Baron, and one Piedro Van Horstmann- played by Andy- on a secret mission on behalf of the Constable General of France.

So secret in fact, that I can say no more about it here. Sufficeth to say that Felix learned some lessons about the care and feeding of a good flunkey (not his own sadly), and might soon realise the perils and pitfalls of being just a wee bit too clever by half for one so ultimately slow on the uptake.

This session was great fun. Donald hadn't GM'ed FB since the last time I played Felix, several years ago, and was naturally a bit nervous. But he did a fine job of sitting back and letting the 3 of us enjoy getting into ever more flowerly language as we got to grips with our coarse version of 17th century life in Paris (my own model was the inimitable movie The Three Musketeers- the classic 1980's version starring, among others, Oliver Reed and Spike Milligan). He was also able to steer us back on course when we got utterly lost in our investigations, mostly I fear because I was having too much fun being Felix.

Good fun and many belly laughs were had by all. More soon I hope.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Well, my very dear friend Ros has been helping me organise an imminent very important trip abroad of late. So it was that we found ourselves yesterday at a loose end. So I dug out my copy of Cyberpunk 2020 to run her through the basics of character generation. What I was really trying to do was to show her how the game's lifepath rules generated PC's who would grace any soap opera.

Ros ended up with a very creditable nomad: Spanish, wears cammos, spike-heeled boots and shaves her head, etc, etc. By the time we'd run through the process (I was doing one too, to show her how things worked), Ros had a character that hung together nicely, and which she wanted to play. I just love it when a sequence of random selections come together!

Now I've just got to go and create a scenario for a game I've only played once, as a PC, and that over a decade ago IIRC. Oh dear, poor me... Fortunately, my own chargen gave me a media who should make an ideal NPC.

We played some Flux after that. Ros was delighted to beat me 2-1. She's beat me before, but never over a series. Her wins included one particularly evil one: with 5 keepers down, she played the 'Exchange Hands' action, to receive a 3-card hand containing 2 goals that I myself had been keen not to play because they each gave her an immediate win.

So I did the 'decent' thing, and gave her the win with the goal ('Brain, no TV') I picked up as my own draw next turn. Well, I had to get a crumb of comfort somehow or other, didn't I? Mwah hah ha, etc. ;)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My little Old World: In the Sewers of Middenheim #2

Reports, retorts, and last resorts
Captain Ulrich Schutzmann, Midden Marshal of the Middenheim City Watch returned to his office after seeing off his erstwhile deputy watchmen. Knowing skaven as he did, he wondered about the identity of the ratman who had escaped back into the sewers. He told himself that ultimately this didn't matter one whit.

In the end, he reminded himself, he had stuck his neck out by bringing this ragtag bunch in to apply a good old fashioned dose of brute force and ignorance to old Morten's murder. He was going to miss the old man. Greimold was sound, to be sure, but he was, well... a bit unpredictable.

Schutzmann chuckled to himself as he characterised Middenheim's new Anointed Priest of Sigmar thus. Bringing in that motely bunch had hardly seen him living up to his own reputation. Good, he thought. That would keep Greimold on his toes in his new appointment.

These musings brought the veteran back to matters at hand. He had a watch platoon to inspect for the night's patrols, and then he had a rendezvous to keep with Greimold. Buckling on his sword-belt, Schutzmann wondered if Greimold had yet found old Morten's surviving stock of Estalian port. He needed something to clear the taste of shite from his palate.


Reappearing in the streets of Middenheim in the alley in the Ulricsmund near the Morrspark from which they had made their original descent, our 5 adventurers stood for a moment, blinking as their eyes readjusted to the late afternoon's sunshine. They breathed deep of the city air, finding even its lingering whiff of death sweet after the stench of the sewers beneath their feet.

Reeking of ordure, and covered in blood and shit, the PC's decided that a bath was the first thing they needed. Siegfreid's local knowledge took the party quickly to the place they needed to go- which they reached without trouble because nobody in the street wanted to get within several yards of them. Once in the bathhouse, an aging babushka charged them a hefty price for a bath, laundry, and elementary repairs to their trail-worn and battle-torn clothing.

Thus refreshed, they decided that a report to Captain Schutzmann was their next priority. Quickly reaching the Watch headquarters at the South Gate, they gained rapid access to Schutzmann's office, where Siegfreid promptly and unceremoniously dumped his sack of skaven ears on the Midden Marshal's desk. Wrinkling his nose, Schutzmann paused to open his window and take a deep breath before sifting through Siegfreid's sack with the point of his dagger.

The party gave their report, and the 6 defenders of Middenheim talked.

After a while, Schutzmann began to look thoughtful, and the party began to realise that they still didn't know how news of the discovery of the precious icon had spread so wide: as far as they knew, only Berthold, Morten, and Athelus, a young initiate- and perhaps one or two others at the Temple of Sigmar- had known about it before the murder.

As the talk wound down Grundi returned to his desire to pursue the escaped skaven back down into the sewers. Schutzmann pointed out that some skaven nearly always escape, and even if they don't, well, there're always more where they came from. He concluded by telling the PC's that the Morten case was officially closed, although he and his associates would certainly be making what enquiries they could to pursue the loose ends.

Relieving the PC's of their now defunct warrant, he told them that they should be law-abiding and god-fearing subjects of the Empire, but that, if they should come across any information that might pertain, they shouldn't hesitate to contact him.

Mordrin asked if he could get his armour repaired. Schutzmann assented. He took the PC's to the Watch treasury, where they were rewarded with 10gc for their sterling efforts. Mordrin was taken to the armoury, where he stripped off his armour to leave it for repair, leaving him to walk the streets in naught but his underwear and cloak.

Leaving the Watch HQ, the immediate consensus was that they had to next to deliver the frame of the icon of Sigmar to Father Greimold. The dwarfs- Mordrin especially- were keen to take their news about the lost shrine to Grungni to their kin in the Wynd. But they saw the sense in the others' idea, not to mention the possibility of some small personal advantage.

As the party proceeded north up the main drag through the Merchant District, Alane noticed a familiar figure shadowing them: Beyer, first seen back in the Strutting Cock, and who had already been spotted following them once before in Middenheim. She immediately informed Siegfreid of this fact in a whisper.

Without a word Siegfreid fell behind the party and ducked into an alleyway. His absence was soon noticed by Berthold, but by this time, Siegfreid had stepped out behind Beyer, who was too wary to be caught napping.

Asking the man his business, Siegfreid was somewhat surprised when the reply came in a mixture of thieves' signs and argot: that it had fallen to Beyer- via the grapevine- to deliver a message of some import to Siegfreid and his companions.

Go on, said Siegfreid.

You know better than to ask me to speak out here in plain view about matters to be delivered like this, Beyer replied.

Over here in my office then suggested Siegfreid, indicating a nearby alleyway. This too was unsatisfactory to Beyer. Siegfreid suggested a neutral place.

The Wolf's Teeth Tavern, Southgate, this evening, replied Beyer.

Siegfreid was willing to accept this suggestion because it is the place where his old mum works. And with that Beyer turned his back and left, leaving Siegfreid to rejoin the others, where he filled them in on what had gone down.

Arriving at the temple, the players are quickly ushered into Greimold's new office- that of the late Morten, whose post Greimold now holds. Greimold too gets up to open the window and take a deep breath before sitting down again to address the party. Berthold explains what has happened, and proffers the icon's frame to Greimold, which the priest accepts gratefully.

As the conversation continues Greimold also shows a surprising degree of knowledge about certain matters for a priest of Sigmar. He tends to Mordrin's wound. In the process he discovers that the dwarf has contracted a dose of the Galloping Scumpox. He leads the party to the infirmary and leaves him to the care of young Athelus. His last words are to advise Mordrin to return on the morrow for another treatment to guarantee a cure.

By this time, hunger is the PC's main concern. Diverting only to collect some of their gear from the lodgings of the people of Untergard, they make for the Wolf's Teeth tavern. Settling in for the night they set to to a meal and a keg of ale. Meanwhile, Beyer not yet having arrived, Seigfried sits alone ready for his chat.

As the other PC's relax, Alane suddenly detects magick in the tavern room. Looking round, she sees a familiar face: one Jocelin Herzog, who Alane remembers from her magical studies back in Altdorf. Herzog is manifestly shocked and astonished to see the elf.

Shortly thereafter, Beyer arrives in the company of the rest of the crew the party remembers from their first night in the Strutting Cock. Beyer covertly signals to Siegfreid that he cannot talk just yet. Getting the message, Siegfreid heads out back to the privy. Beyer appears soon after.

Beyer passes on the message that an evil fate has befallen the Strutting Cock and the PC's friends there. His job done, the man departs, his pocket a little heavier thanks to Siegfreid. Hearing the news, the party resolve to make haste thence to save the day. They proceed to get pleasantly drunk.

Grundi rounds the night off by singing the wolf-hunting song inspired by his exploits in the Drakwald. Several of the party are impressed [as was the GM- it was highly plausible dwarfish plainsong, although thankfully Antony only recited it!] although Siegfreid notes that singing about killing wolves in the city of the White Wolf is perhaps not the best of ideas.

In the Sewers of Middenheim
- We strike a bum note
- #1 Fury, fear, and flying fur
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Monday, September 12, 2005

My little Old World: In the Sewers of Middenheim #1

Fury, fear, and flying fur
Somewhere deep within the Fauschlag under the war-torn city of Middenheim lurks a creature, nursing a nasty burn on its back that'll keep him awake nights and won't let him sit comfortably. He broods.

Humans, dwarfs, and an elf, working together against him?! How could this be? By what dark conspiracies has the fragile alliance against the Lord of The End Times survived their brief moment's illusory respite? Why wasn't he warned? Who was responsible for sending him out against this unholy alliance? Enemies, enemies- everywhere.

Shifting to ease the pain, the creature thinks of revenge. The hairless ones might have had the best of him today, but next time he will be ready. Oh yes, he will be ready. Soon they, and all their kind will know what it means to suffer a Skaven's wrath.


It all began with a brief pause for the catching of breath and a moment's reflection. Then our brave adventurers set off in the opposite direction to that which they had first taken. This time they didn't pause or deviate for anything. Well, except when they retraced their steps and went up a side-branch to avoid another explosive cloud of gas.

Soon enough the PC's reached the sewer exit debouching to the west of Middenheim, just beside the western viaduct. Grundi tested the grate to discover that it was sound. Stood around waiting Alane noticed a small tunnel entrance by the light of the lantern she carried. Located in the wall across the effluent channel, its crude construction contrasted markedly with that of the Middenheim sewer system.

Sure enough, it was skaven sized.

Blunderbuss in hand, Grundi led the way, climbing with remarkable stealth through the tunnel entrance. Inside, finding himself in the confines of a 5' wide/high rough-hewn tunnel, he began to advance. Mordrin was next. His clambering into the tunnel entrance was marked by the harsh sound of his axehead scraping across his chainmail.

Thus it was that Grundi and the skaven sentry a few yards down the tunnel caught sight of each other simultaneously. Grundi reacted instinctively: BOOM! The earlier bitter dregs of Ulric's Fury notwithstanding, Ulric blessed Grundi's blast for the first of what was to be 4 times that afternoon. All that was left of the skaven was a head, 4 limbs, and a pile of bloody pulp that had once been a body.

Mordrin, then Alane and the rest of the party hurried to advance now that the benefit of surprise had been lost. Meanwhile Grundi calmly knelt down and began to reload his mighty weapon of destruction, unmoved even when 2 skaven clanrats appeared from around the corner ahead. Cursing the aged dwarf he'd fallen in with, Mordrin was forced to squeeze past to get at the advancing skaven, one of which was already preparing to rain a hail of slingshot at those who would dare attack Clan Eshin skaven in their very lair. A brief exchange of blows later, the 2 canny skaven fell back around the corner out of sight.

Alane, Seigfried and Berthold were following up as fast as the narrow and congested corridor allowed, Seigfreid coming to 'stand' at Mordrin's shoulder. Alane tried a couple of spells to little or no effect before the press of bodies in the narrow tunnel blocked her view.

Mordrin crept forward to stick his head round the corner, where he spied 5 skaven in a cavern beyond, and was the target of 2 slingshots for his trouble. One ricocheted off the stone wall right by the dwarf's head. He promptly ducked back out of sight.

Suddenly- blunderbuss ready once more- Grundi darted forward, threw himself back against the elbow of the corner, and BOOM! Fortune was with the dwarf: his barrage of shrapnel caught the entire group of skaven as they formed up into their defensive line. The 2 slingers were lucky- their native agility and the bodies of their kin in front of them saved them from the maelstrom of rusty nails and other scraps of metal Grundi was again turning to deadly effect.

Heedless of danger, Alane joined the 2 dwarfs to hold the line at the corner just before 3 skaven swordsmen- hurt but still on their feet- charged forward, and the action exploded into the full confusion of a swirling melee. Caught like rats in a trap, the already desperate skaven clearly held a special hatred for the elvish witch: not for the last time, when faced with a choice she was the designated target- 2 went for her while the other attacked Mordrin, who promptly broke its arm.

Meanwhile, Alane noticed a 6th skaven lurking almost out of sight behind a rocky outcrop some yards behind the vile ratmen's lines. This ratman too charged the elf.

The next thing the party knew, another skaven was down and the remaining 4 pulled back yet again, this time to form a line across the cavern, with the lurker again leading from behind. The party charged forward for the kill with malicious satisfaction.

Seigfried charged the centre, leaving his target reeling, then knocking it down, finally to chop its ratty snout off in a frenzy of blows as it lay at his feet. Berthold was soon at his side, involved in a darting exchange of blows with another ratman. Grundi swept in with his axe, which seemed to commit bloody murder with every blow he struck. And Mordrin rapidly despatched the beast whose arm already hung useless at its side, only to find himself wrestling with the lurker, who got the better of the young dwarf and nimbly nipped past him.

Guessing the skaven's intentions, Alane hit it square in the back with a firey dart to little immediate effect. Spinning round, Mordrin struck out at and missed the creature before it scurried off and out of sight round the corner. Seeing her fellows still engaged, Alane set off in hot pursuit, catching up with the by now self-evident leader of the pack beside the remains of his hapless sentry.

Back in the cavern, the skaven fighting Berthold found himself alone against 2 dwarfs and 2 humans who had, in the space of a mere minute, put paid to all his clanrat companions. He did the sensible thing, and took to his heels towards the only exit from the scene of carnage. Caught off-balance by this sudden flight, Berthold flailed wildly at the fleeing creature before pursuing as fast as his mincing legs could carry him. Mordrin soon followed up.

Alane heard the shouted warning, but was too intent on her quarry to pause. She arrived at the tunnel mouth to see the skaven wading through the stinking mire to gain a foothold on the walkway opposite. One last flaming dart launched at the fleeing creature proved futile, and he was last seen disappearing into the darkness back the way the party had come. By this time the last skaven was upon her, but this was quickly despatched when she blew its foot off with a well-aimed bolt of fire.

Mordrin, Berthold and Alane returned to the cavern to find Grundi busy reloading his blunderbuss, while Seigfreid was looting the corpses, and cutting off their ears to present to Captain Schutzmann as proof of their endeavours.

None of the party went too close to the human arm they found roasting over an open fire. Siegfried and Mordrin on the other hand went too close for comfort to the skavens' rough beds, but only Mordrin was unlucky enough to find himself suffering a plague of flea and tick bites that were to trouble him for some time to come. Berthold went to investigate the far passage exiting the cave, only to trip a crossbow trap, which luckily missed him.

More cautious now despite Grundi's constant urgings just to get on with it so that they could pursue the escaped skaven to deal with him and any more of his vile kin they could find, Seigfried led the party into the final chamber while Alane hung back to keep a wary eye open up the entry tunnel. There they found another skaven bed, which Seigfried pronounced safe, and in which they eventually found just the frame of the icon of Sigmar which Berthold had carried all the way to Middenheim from the scene of Father Dietrich's grisly death back in the Drakwald what- to the PC's- now seemed like an age ago.

They also found a statue of the dwarf god Grungni, which was instantly recognised by Mordrin, a loyal follower of this god who- along with Grundi- had prayed to Grungni for aid in their hunt for the skaven only that morning. It seemed that Grungni had not only answered their prayers, but that he had chosen them to be the instruments of the rediscovery of one of his ancient temples.

Mordrin's first instinct was to chase the humans out of this sacred place, but he eventually realised that it was too late for that. In any case, it would need to be reconsecrated after being defiled by the vile ratmen. At least, he thought, the elf hadn't come in. The enormity of this find quickly impressed itself upon Grundi, and his constant calls for haste in pursuit of the skaven fell silent. Soon discovering that the statue was carved into a natural feature of the cave itself, Mordrin decided that he had a message of great import to carry to the 'fresh' air of the blasted city above.

The party retraced their steps back to their entry point without incident.

In the Sewers of Middenheim
- We strike a bum note
- #2 Reports, retorts, and last resorts
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In review: Darkness Rising

Darkness Rising: A Complete History of the Storm of Chaos
Phil Kelly and Anthony Reynolds
GW: Black Library

Regular readers might remember that I picked up a copy of this on a day out in my old home town of Dundee during my recent trip east. Here is the review I promised.

Darkness Rising: A Complete History of the Storm of Chaos (DR) is a background book from the BL range. Presented in the format now familiar from across the gaming industry- namely that of a pseudoreal volume from the setting it covers, at first sight DR presents a sumptuous package. Its 96 pages are laid out like those of an illuminated printed book, and are bursting with illustrations, mock letters and other clippings. These are production standards of the high quality longtime GW customers have been taking for granted for years.

But as Donald Sutherland's Vernon L. Pinkley in The Dirty Dozen said: "Very pretty, General. Very pretty. But, can they fight?"

The central conceit
As my above remarks suggest, DR is built around a central conceit by now very familiar to fans of the F&SF genres: namely the pretence that this is a real book written by an actual person in the setting the book describes. This is such a hoary old device that a review of DR must take into account the use that the book's writers make thereof, in terms of how useful the book will be to its readership.

To begin with though, the conceit is nicely set up on the book's frontspiece. The following appears under the book's title and subtitle:

Being a Considered Essay on the Rise of the Darkness, the Storm of Chaos and the Invasion of the Lord of The End Times

Compiled and written by Frederich "Old" Weirde of Altdorf, Noted Scholar, Professor of Esoteric Studies, Historian, Antiquarian, Fellow of the Altdorf Men's Historical Society and Connoisseur of Finest Estalian Port

With capable assistance from the boy, Stefan

A History of the Fate of the Empire of Karl Franz during the time of the Darkness Rising

Altdorf Press

Immediately then we are plunged deep into the entertaining riches of the Old World. A good start.

Meanwhile, I wonder who was first responsible for this device, and if there is a proper name for it?

Summary of contents
The contents of DR are presented in the form of "Old" Weirde's Prologue, 7 chapters, and an Epilogue. The chapters are as follows:
1. Archaon, Lord of The End Times
2. The Holy Sigmarites of the Empire
3. The Conclave of Light
4. The Eastern Front
5. The War in the North
6. The Mustering
7. The Siege of Middenheim.

There are also 67 pictures- ranging from small insets to full double-page spreads; 25 'reproduced' letters, manuscripts and other clippings; and 4 maps- for a grand total of 96 illustrations in a 96 page book. This is simply excellent.

The illustrations
As ever with GW products (and not only with GW these days), I am already familiar with some of these from the pages of White Dwarf (WD), WFRP2 product, and WFB:SoC. I would also be familiar with many more were I a player of Sabretooth Games' Warcry Warhammer CCG.

So all matters of quality aside, the question immediately arises: should DR be marked down because of this recycling of imagery? Not in the opinion of this reviewer.

I have long believed that GW essentially invented the modern British F&SF illustration industry back in the 80's, with WD, WFB, 40K, and other products. This opinion about history is not a reason for not marking down DR (or any other product from any other company for that matter) for recycling illustrations I'll readily admit. But it does point to my essential point: sheer economics.

Simply put: if GW- which both employs illustrators and commissions work if I am not mistaken; if even the mighty GW can only afford to produce so many lavishly illustrated products by recycling illustrations, then I would suggest that we face a simple reality check. Either we have fewer illustrations, all new; or we have more illustrations, some recycled. I know which option I favour.

Moreover, the issue is not just one of how many illustrations in any given product are recycled. Rather it is one of to what use all the illustrations are put. Do they serve a purpose in the given product, or don't they?

I really can't give an exhaustive account of which illustrations in DR are recycled, and which aren't. What I can do is give my impressions of their qualities, and their usefulness. As noted above, the illustrations in DR fall neatly into 3 categories: maps, ms, and pictures. I'll take each in turn.

The 4 maps in DR appear in chapters 1, 4, 6, and the Epilogue. They are all the same basic map, with the classic campaign maps' coloured arrows to depict the paths of Archaon's horde as it descended upon the Empire, and of the Empire's various defenders in their responses. This is good, because it gives a clear and concise image of the conduct of the campaign in its key phases. In other words: exactly what any reader of this book would want to know.

These represent "Old" Weirde's own writings, field despatches from "the boy, Stefan" (who turns out to be "Old" Weirde's only child), and sundry other ms, clippings and letters received, collected and collated by "Old" Weirde. These are presented in a variety of styles representing different kinds of paper, calligraphic styles, and even printing on occasion.

In general, this material is used extremely well. The various ms are introduced in a timely manner, so that they amplify the thrust of the basic text. They are also from sources of a sufficient variety to add breadth and depth to the account of how Archaon's horde made its impact felt across the Old World.

My only real complaint about this material is that some of the fonts and layouts chosen are just a wee bit too difficult to read. This is not to say that these are unreadable; rather that they contrast just a touch too unfavourably with everyday printing typefaces.

The pictures in DR fall into the following categories:
1. the forces of chaos
2. the forces of the Empire and it allies
3. the grim realities of war in the Old World
4. the horrors of the aftermath.

As I've already noted, many of these are recycled, most notably from the Warcry CCG. I reckon these are the most easy to identify, for one reason or another. Some of the illustrations are better than the others; eg. several of those that I would imagine are recycled from the CCG look a bit sketchy when reproduced on the larger scale of this book compared to the thumbnails of a playing card. That said, the overall effect of the illustrations is excellent.

The images of the forces of Chaos range from the familiar highly detailed renderings of the baroque splendour of Chaos knights; through the barbarian spikyness of the northern tribes; to the howling insanities of beastmen and other degenerate servants of the chaos gods.

Defenders of the Empire and its allies include the Emperor Karl Franz, the Grand Theogonist, and Valten among other characters; Imperial units such as Wolf Kin Skirmishers; and allies such as Brettonian knights or Kislevite Winged Lancers.

Although of variable quality as I have said, all of these pictures are highly evocative. Some- eg. the pictures of the charging Winged Lancers (p.57) and Brettonians (p.61)- are particularly striking to my eye, nicely capturing both the insane grandeur and sheer power of these mighty horsemen in the mythology of the Old World.

But it is the pictures of the grim realities and horrific aftermath of war in the Old World that really mark this book out for me. Alongside the pictures of the warped faces of chaos and the grandeur of the Imperial forces and their various allies are many pictures showing a different side to things.

These pictures show the desperate fury and sheer terror of the fighting men in the face of Archaon's horde. Pictures like that on p.87 ('The Backbone of the Empire') showing basic Imperial troopers in action, where 2 nameless infantrymen stand side-by-side in the depths of the melee, patently unable even to wonder if they will survive. Or pictures like that on p.49 ('Daemon Unleashed') which shows a giant daemon cleaving apart most of a unit of these same Imperial infantry with one sweep of its mighty sword.

Then there are pictures like that on p.15, where a small girl stands lost and alone amid the charnelhouse of a ravaged village.

I suspect it's not often that a background book like this shows the truly terrifying side of its grim subject alongside the heroic imagery, let alone the pathos of the human cost of the bloody aftermath. It might've been done before; it might've even've been done better. I don't know. I just know that I am impressed.

The writing
As I noted above: the hoary old framing device at the heart of DR is one the treatment of which ultimately makes or breaks the book. I have to say that I consider Kelly and Reynolds' handling of this to be little or nothing short of a minor triumph.

The chapters outlined above take us through the portents of impending doom; the first intimations of Archaon's assault; the first flush of what turns out to be a false dawn of victory; the formation of the defensive alliance and the muster of the defenders of the Empire; the siege of Middenheim; and the great city's eventual relief.

This narrative is all seen from the perspective of "Old" Weirde in Altdorf. Throughout his tale, Weirde digs up strange ms; weaves in letters from young Stefan and other sources; visits his favourite taverns; meets various geezers who illuminate the events unfolding elsewhere; has a ghastly encounter; and gets caught up in civil and domestic unrest. Some of this is knockabout stuff to be sure, but it is all played straight, letting the situations tell their own tales.

A personal favourite part of mine is Chapter 3. The Conclave of Light (at which the alliance against Archaon, and its strategy, was formed), and I really must quote from it at some length.

After a list of those present (which includes the highly amusing entry: "Old Weirde, dashing historian and author of this transcript."), we are treated to extracts from the Conclave's deliberations. On day 30 of the Conclave, Teclis arrives. He makes a speech in favour of a general alliance. The dwarfs there present grumble among themselves. Then:
THUNGRIMSSON: Though the memories of others may grow dim with time, the dwarfs remember the wrongs done to them, and few are greater than the treachery of the Pheonix King and his beardless kin. But, before the deceit of the beard-maimers, the elves and dwarfs stood side-by-side on many occasions to face the hordes of Chaos, and put aside the differences during the time of Magnus. Though we shall never forget the wrongs they did us, we shall not let it be said of us that we would rather damn the world than listen to an elf. When the horns sound from the walls of Karaz-a-Karak, the dwarfs will heed them, and if need be, we will march at the side of the elves.

KARL FRANZ: Noble Teclis, what is the answer that you bring from the Pheonix King? Will he fight with us?

Hot damn, but that sends a shiver down my spine! Gripping stuff.

There is so much in this text that I enjoyed that my remarks have barely scratched the surface of its delights, with the politicking and paranoia of the alliance and the Imperial muster, and in victory's aftermath left for readers to savour entirely for themselves. I must however note that one of DR's merits is that there is a real story in there too, one so real that I can say no more about it in the time-honoured tradition of not giving away spoilers.

Sufficeth to say that the story Kelly and Reynolds give us is one that I am unashamed to say that I found genuinely touching. Surprised, for sure. But unashamed.

All in all then, I would have to say that Darkness Rising: A Complete History of the Storm of Chaos is a superior product. It takes certain familiar devices: the framing device; the episodic narrative with diverse 'addenda'; and lots of nice pictures; and delivers a damn good read, and what must surely be a exemplar of how to do a system-less background book for a gaming setting.

Is this book indispensable on a gamer's shelf? Well, if you're a GM new to WFRP2, and you're playing in the standard post-SoC setting, I would have to say that it is. I also have WFB:SoC. This book has a lot of useful material in it for a WFRP2 GM, but DR puts you right there, in the Old World and under the clouds of the SoC and its aftermath in a way that a WFB army book never could.

And a rating? Well, despite my remarks about the varying quality of the illustrations, I would have to give it full marks, on whatever scale, because it's so damn well written and organised. Well done to all concerned. ;)