Monday, April 14, 2014

[book review] Sharpe's Fortress

After tearing through the excellent second book, Sharpe's Triumph, I literally sped through this book. At 384 pages, it is not a small book. I read from 9pm last night to 2am in the morning, then today I read from 5 to 8 to finish it, ripping through the last 200 or so pages....a literal page turner. Bernard Cornwell is a damn fine author and he really kicks it up the action and intrigue with this book.

So, to recap over the last twelve days I have gorged myself on 1120 pages of Sharpe's adventure:
Sharpe's Tiger - 352 pages
Sharpe's Triumph - 384 pages
Sharpe's Fortress - (oddly) 384 pages

I actually needed to stop reading about an hour shy of the finish, but I ignored my duties and kept turning pages. This was the most exciting ending of all the books. All the threads and sub-plots were wrapped up and I was breathless when I turned the last page. Stunning is all I can say.

As with the other books, one part I absolutely love is the afterward Mr Cornwell places at the end of each of his books. Here he admits to his changes in facts and then informs the readers of the actual facts. I find this part of each book exhilarating and enlightening. As much as I plod through the book eager for the conclusion, I have equal excitement for these tidbits of historical information.

If you have ever thought of reading a good rollicking adventure with a wonderful goodhearted rogue that goes from a orphaned penniless kid to a gentlemen (well sort of) officer who manages to work his way into some of the most amazing battles and cozy up to some of the biggest names from the British India campaign....then you have to read these books. If you have not read these, you are seriously missing out.

Robert B. Parker's Ironhorse by Robert Knott

A few years ago I read my first western, Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker and I fell in love with the genre, written as opposed to the screen. As Parker brought out new books, I snagged them up and read them as quickly as I could. I loved his terse prose and the way he could use a few sentences to tell you the same as another author would in numerous pages.

Unfortunately, after the forth book Parker passed away. I thought my journey with Cole & Hitch was over. Last week I managed to come across the fact that there were, not one, but two new books! Though written by another author, and I will admit the reviews for the first book were not glowing, I took a chance. Cole & Hitch are that good.

Enter Ironhorse by Robert Knott. Knott wrote the screenplay for the big screen adaptation of Appaloosa and from what I gather was hand picked by the Parker family to continue the adventures of the dynamic freelance-turned-lawmen.

Let me just say up front that Knott is not Parker. Parker had an amazing style of making even the simplest sentences have a very dramatic weight. Those two and three word sentences mouthed by Cole had as much weight in the story as a stanza of Shakespeare (ok, maybe stretching it a little). Knott does a fine job here taking up the reins, perhaps not perfect, but he does a fine job. I have read some reviews where people say that their banter is off and that Cole speaks too much in this book but I wonder if they have read Parker's books recently because it seemed pretty darn close to me. Cole & Hitch's banter kept the story moving, even when it slowed, and their chatter at times made me laugh out loud.

The story is pretty straight forward and in retrospect, a very thin story. Overall, it is essentially a point A to point B story with just a few twists. The story with Allie continues as a sort of wrapper around the main story line, a little in the beginning and then again at the end. I really like this sort of thing as it makes the individual book feel more like a long continuing story than a simple one-shot novel.

One thing I really like, that seems to annoy others, is the short chapters. Many of the scenes or chapters are just a few pages long. My life is very hectic so being able to read just one more page and wrap up the scene is perfect for me.

Overall, if you like westerns, if you like witty banter between what is surely a pair of great friends, you will enjoy this book. The important question of course, how does this compare to Parker's efforts? Not as good as his first two books, but on par with the third and better than the forth. So I would suggest this is a good addition to the series.

I will certainly pick up the next book in the series, the just released Bull River.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Hypogeum at Reggalita

Ancient and lying silently for a millennia, the Hypogeum was recently exposed when mudslides opened up two long hidden entrances. Local townsfolk were quick to get on sight and explore the recently exposed tunnels. Near one entrance and obscene and grotesque statue of a barely human woman stands watch over those entering the tunnel.

They stopped almost immediately when they realized they were walking on the dry bones of thousands of bodies. Brittle and stark white bones liter the entrance, almost as if in warning to the horrors within. Too scared to progress further, they have returned to their hovels and prayers were said to protect them and theirs. Shortly thereafter everyone was murdered in the night, found in pools of their own blood the next morning by visitors.

The local lord has issued a proclamation for adventurers to explore the depths and cleanse the place in the name of the gods.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Maybe tomorrow, or the next day...

Well, I have a map ready and was going to post it tonight but I just ran out of steam. Between an 12 hour day in the car yesterday (taking the oldest back to college---note to self: next kid goes to school closer), a long day at work today and dealing with difficult college stuff I just don't have it in me to be creative.

So next Patreon map will go up sometime in the next few days. Good news is that it is a large cavern map with some twisty-turny bits, a wide crevice, and a big lake. Lots of areas to kill players in. Also good news, today I received my new Micron 1,3,& 5 pens so I have plenty of ink for future maps!

Until next time, happy March, another one under our belt.

I will leave you with an old map, one of my favorites. Named after a particularly important moment in our little hobby's history: click here to learn more.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blackwood FAE, done western ya'll...and a bit of rambling

Last week our normal GM was taken out of action by the spousal unit so we had an evening with nothing planned. What follows is me rambling about how arrived at the game and the processes involved in running the game. Matt's Friday brain dump if you will. Proceed with caution.

I have been toying around with +Robert Miller to run a Blackwood game. Now, if you have been following me for some time I mention Blackwood here and there as it is my perennial dream setting that I never seem to get off the ground.

My ten second pitch: X-File plus Hellboy plus Cthulhu (but not all insaney) plus toss in a dash of Sherlock Holmes and a pinch of that Disney classic Atlantis.

So after +Ara Kooser mentioned the other day he was going to run a Cthulhu Dark game on Google Plus, Rob and I started talking about running a Cthulhuesque play by post. I have been running a few PbP over on Google Plus using my own homebrew, minimalist OD&D styled game with pretty good success and we thought maybe this was the right time to branch out. He suggested Blackwood and I started thinking of game systems. +Bryan Meadows has been running a FAE fantasy game for a few weeks and I fell in love with FAE during GenCon last year.

So my mind spun those two things together, worried a little about FAE handling an investigative game. Rob and I talked a little bit about the setting, deciding that a western themed Blackwood game. I have always said that Blackwood has been around for centuries and assumed it was first formed during the dark ages but the idea that there were BW agents running around the old west never occurred to me. I loved the idea and after Bryan said he would have to cancel the game, I became a little antsy and said screw it.  I called for a one shot!

I called up my two always-ready-to-game buddies Rob and +Alessandro Bertolucci and tossed the idea out. Both readily agreed (or they could have just been patronizing me, who knows) and we were set!

Course, I had no idea for a game yet. :-\

My favorite western is Appaloosa by the late Robert B. Parker so I tossed the film (also very good) into the BluRay and started thinking. This was about 6pm. Game starts at 8pm. Too top things off, my internet was down, which probably helped steer the game ideas a little. I wandered onto Amazon, got distracted reading some reviews on the two latest, post-Parker's death books (not very good reviews I m afraid) and suddenly an idea hit me.

My players are agents of Blackwood, while en route to investigate a mysterious bank robbery. Why idea, but it sounded good. They would be diverted to a more recent bank robbery and have an opportunity to stop the crimes from spreading more.

I was a little worried that FAE would not handle an investigative style of gaming but it held up very well. The one thing that we all agreed one was that I am a GM needed to make a dedicated attempt to provide the group with more situation aspects. To that end, and to facilitate this easily in the game, I have been working on that playmat you have seen me post here and there. I think that dropping those situation aspects into play will make the players more immersed in the setting and provide them with a feeling that they are able to manipulate the world (and thus get more involved in it).

Anyway, I had a great time running the game and look forward to finishing this adventure up the next time we need a filler game!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A quick map

I colorized and goofed around on that map I made a while ago. Been playing around a little more with GIMP so I can learn more about the brushed, filters and such. Anyway, here you go....a map.

The brilliance of The Bronze Rule

In my exploration of Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) and messing around with the idea of running my Blackwood setting using FAE I came across the excellent podcast for Deadlands Fate on the D&D Academy's The Campaign: Deadland Fateand have been listening to it when I can here and there (I particularly love to listen to the podcast while I workout).

I made it to the third episode today and listened to it this morning while I was out on my morning walk. Barring the sound issue they had the episode it BRILLIANT. The GM +Porter Williams  takes the so-called Bronze Rule of Fate and applies it to the environment.

Here is the rule:
In Fate, you can treat anything in the game world like it’s a character. Anything can have aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks, and consequences if you need it to.
Being an old school guy I remember those hexcrawls we all loved so much back in the 80s but if you were like me there was a good amount of encounter - quicklyskipoverthewanderingthroughthecountryside - encounter.....rinse and repeat. While we loved exploring the wilderness, it was really a method of skipping over the whole "you travel 20 miles today and set up camp" sort of thing. Here Porter takes the adventure to the wilderness, the desert in this case, and creates the desert as a literal creature to be defeated.

Porter has stated out the desert as a creature in FAE here (scroll to the bottom). I have always wondered how to make overland travel interesting this works really well. Listening to the podcast I got the (possibly incorrect) impression that the GM was thinking on a large scale, a broad overview; while the players were focusing on minute details of the process. Once they seemed to meet on common ground I think it went smashingly well.

This certainly opens my eyes to possibilities of FAE and making even mundane situations a little more interesting. I space station that is running out of air? I could totally see using the Fate Fractal this situation. Using the Stress to provide a way to track the air running out in the space station, or maybe the power.

If you are FAE curious (ha! that sounds dirty), you should take a listen to the podcasts. They are certainly entertaining (the banter between the three player characters is really pretty funny) and the education on the rules is invaluable.

FAE Blackwood playmat

+Robert Miller, ever the man with ideas, hgave me the idea to create a Blackwood playmat that could be dropped into the map layer on Roll20. So this is what I dreamed up.

Essentially I want to make an area that will have a spot for the characters in the game as if they were at a table in real life. That is on the left. The two large areas in the middle are for 'areas' in FAE and would be the area that you use for the scene to take place in. There are two in case you need more space or players split and you need to track two separate areas. The two areas on the right are for quick grab storage areas for unused aspects and for the GM's Fate Points.

And this is how I see if being used in play.

Everything added is on the token layer here so it can easily be manipulated in game by the GM. The notecards are images with text boxes over them, so yes, it can be a bit of a pain to use occasionally if you grab one will move just once of the pieces. Once you get the hang of it however, it works ok. I am not sure if I would have the NPCs in the scene area or not, maybe just put a notecards with their name on it in there instead, but I wanted to see what it looking like and might work in game.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dorchrestian Abbey at Gullendorm

I wanted to try my hand at something a little different, I give you:

The Dorchrestian Abbey at Gullendorm is a large, gothic style cathedral. Matching massive oak doors enter from the front narthex and into the nave. The ceiling in the nave is well over eighty feet high, with stone pillars and grand arches. The transept has two side chapels while underfoot lie the ancient, and thus far undisturbed, crypts of three saints. Colored marble depict the Acts of the Saints directly over their crypts and it is considered heresy to step upon the depiction of the Acts. A massive stone altar lies at the head of the ambulatory just below a gigantic stain glass window that rises from the floor to the high ceiling above.

Being stone, the place echoes terribly and it is said that a whisper said in the narthex can be heard by the priests sitting in their benches in the ambulatory. Along the side, carved directly into the stone columns that support the high ceilings are all manner of depictions of holy saints and heroes from the holy writings.
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