Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Not with a bang but a whimper"

When I set out to create my blog, one of my goals was to write something every day, to establish Really Bad Eggs as a source of inspiration for roleplaying gamers interested in swashbucklers and to hone such writing skills as I possess. Writing every day was a real challenge, and even composing a substantial post three or four times a week proved to be difficult.

Since the spring of this year, even maintaining this modest output proved very difficult, not for a lack of ideas and topics - there are some fifty partially completed posts sitting in my queue as I type this, and dozens more ideas floating around in my head - but simply because the time I used for writing was devoted to other things, primarily keeping up with the Cabin Girl and the Cabin Boy's array of activities, but also a growing social circle of families. One of the unexpected benefits of participating in youth arts and sports is the other parents you meet; I've been fortunate to make some good friends in the process. As a happy consequence, what free time I have fills even more quickly.

Even maintaining my desultory pace of posting is difficult. There are only so many hours in the day, and in prioritising that day, blogging simply doesn't rank highly on the list. What time I have to devote to gaming I want to devote to my campaign directly: keeping up my wiki, which is badly in need of updating and expanding, as well as playing by email in the months between when we can play face-to-face or via Skype. Put another way, playing is more important than writing about playing, given my constraints.

I've pulled back from the handful of forums where I participate as well; those are an even worse time-sink than blogging, and with far less to show for the effort.

This is not good bye; as I said, I have far too much that I still want to address. What it is is the recognition that Really Bad Eggs will, for the foreseeable future, be relegated to the status of an occasional pastime.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Treasure Island

At last in strode the captain, slammed the door behind him, without looking to the right or left, and marched straight across the room to where his breakfast awaited him.

"Bill," said the stranger, in a voice that I thought he had tried to make bold and big.

The captain spun round on his heel and fronted us; all the brown had gone out of his face, and even his nose was blue; he had the look of a man who sees a ghost, or the evil one, or something worse, if anything can be; and, upon my word, I felt sorry to see him, all in a moment, turn so old and sick.

"Come, Bill, you know me; you know an old shipmate, Bill, surely," said the stranger.

The captain made a sort of gasp.

"Black Dog!" said he.

"And who else?" returned the other, getting more at his ease. "Black Dog as ever was, come for to see his old shipmate Billy, at the 'Admiral Benbow' inn. Ah, Bill, Bill, we have seen a sight of times, us two, since I lost them two talons," holding up his mutilated hand.

"Now, look here," said the captain; "you've run me down; here I am; well, then, speak up: what is it?"

"That's you, Bill," returned Black Dog, "you're in the right of it, Billy. I'll have a glass of rum from this dear child here, as I've took such a liking to; and we'll sit down, if you please, and talk square, like old shipmates."

When I returned with the rum, they were already seated on either side of the captain's breakfast-table—Black Dog next to the door, and sitting sideways, so as to have one eye on his old shipmate, and one, as I thought, on his retreat.

He bade me go and leave the door wide open. "None of your keyholes for me, sonny," he said; and I left them together, and retired into the bar.

For a long time, though I certainly did my best to listen, I could hear nothing but a low gabbling; but at last the voices began to grow higher, and I could pick up a word or two, mostly oaths, from the captain.

"No, no, no, no; and an end of it!" he cried once. And again, "If it comes to swinging, swing all, say I."

Then all of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion of oaths and other noises—the chair and table went over in a lump, a clash of steel followed, and then a cry of pain, and the next instant I saw Black Dog in full flight, and the captain hotly pursuing, both with drawn cutlasses, and the former streaming blood from the left shoulder. Just at the door, the captain aimed at the fugitive one last tremendous cut, which would certainly have split him to the chine had it not been intercepted by our big signboard of Admiral Benbow. You may see the notch on the lower side of the frame to this day.

That blow was the last of the battle. Once out upon the road, Black Dog, in spite of his wound, showed a wonderful clean pair of heels, and disappeared over the edge of the hill in half a minute. The captain, for his part, stood staring at the signboard like a bewildered man. Then he passed his hand over his eyes several times, and at last turned back into the house.

- Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Effective Social Rank: Gloire

Social Rank in Flashing Blades is a significant part of the game's intended reward system; more than a means of 'keeping score,' Social Rank manifests in feedbacks throughout the career system as well as the character's costs of living. In my campaign, it's also an important part of social skill checks in my FB campaign via the following house rule.
. . . I allow the difference in Social Rank between two characters to modify certain Charm-based skill checks, such as Captaincy and Seduction. I did this using the Social Standing attribute score in Traveller years ago, and Thijs Krijger, moderator of the Flashing Blades Yahoo group, used this in his house rules for mistresses (which are sadly absent from his blog). In some cases, a non-player character in the service of another may use their master's Social Rank, frex, a guard on the gate of the château de Bauchery uses the baron's Social Rank of 12 rather than his own rank of 3 in determining if a Captaincy check will persuade him to stand aside.
As noted, I originally conceived of using social position as a skill modifier while running Traveller. As in F;ashing Blades, Traveller's Social Standing is a nominal reward system, but one more closely tied to the game's lifepath chargen rules; there's also a bit of symbiosis here, in that FB's careers drew some inspiration from Traveller. In my Traveller house rule, Social Standing is more about social affinity than 'pole position'; the difference in Social Standings between a player and non-player character was divided by two and rounded down; that value was then used as a negative modifier on the reaction roll table. The effect was a feeling of 'one of us,' as reactions tended to worsen the further one went from one's own social grouping, either up or down; an 'average Joe' with a base Social Standing of 7 would be equally disadvantaged in dealing with someone of Social Standing 4 or Social Standing 9, and it reflected a de facto caste system IMTU - that's 'in my Traveller universe,' for the uninitiated.

For Flashing Blades' 17th century France, however, social status is both highly stratified and extremely competitive, so the difference between Social Rank can be either a positive or negative modifier: those with higher social status are readily and reliably able to manipulate those beneath them, as shown in the rules for influence.

Social Rank in Flashing Blades increases as characters climb the career ladder, with great wealth, and as a reward at the gamemaster's discretion. Without rewards, Social Rank tends to climb somewhat slowly, as promotions occur annually in most careers. The relatively static nature of Social Rank is actually a pretty fair reflection of Early Modern France, but for a game of swashbuckling adventurers, I feel like there should be something more than banging away toward that promotion next year . . . if you roll 9+ on 2D6. Toward that end, I added another house rule, called Effective Social Rank.

A player character's effective Social Rank may increase, as noted, as a reward, at the gamemaster's discretion. These are permanent increases in most case, and therefore basically indistinguishable from other sources of Social Rank bumps. I decided that a character could also receive a temporary increase in Social Rank as well, for some act likely to give the character a favorable reputation. The mechanism for this was simple: any character holding a Gloire point receives a + 1 bump to their Social Rank until all of the character's Gloire points are used up. The increased Social Rank provides a bonus to social skill use, as noted above, as well as entry into an organisation with a minimum Social Rank requirement; however, the character must actually achieve the required Social Rank permanently within one year of entry, or risk losing the position.

This allows player characters to gain an edge by their conduct as well as increasing access to different careers for the characters to pursue if they wish.

Now, if a character can gain a bonus for a favorable reputation, couldn't that same character also earn a penalty for infamy? Of course! Characters may earn a Black Spot, which is the subject of tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

DVR Alert

On Tursday, 10 October, TCM presents an Eastern-flavored swashbuckler, Son of Sinbad, starring Dale Robertson and Vincent Price. The movie is perhaps most notable for the Forty Thieves - all women - and the film debut of burlesque stripper Lili St Cyr (don't worry, the link is boringly safe for work).

Check your local times and listings.

Monday, October 7, 2013

There Is Nothing Extraneous in the Players Handbook

On my lengthy list of things to do is a post about why 1e Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a good game for running a swashbuckling campaign.

But Zak got the gist of it already, so go read his post instead.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Quick Note About That Hiatus

I've been having trouble sleeping.

I went for weeks with nothing more than two or three hours of fitful, wakeful sleep a night, leaving me in an increasing fog which got to the point where I was forced to take a day off work or risk hurting myself or someone else. I tried all the usual methods for dealing with insomnia without success.

Fortunately, I figured out the cause - recovery muscle pain in my legs from being back in the gym for the last month - and developed a treatment plan - a couple of aspirin an hour before bed - and now I seem to be back on a relatively normal sleep schedule.

Posting resumes tomorrow.

Monday, September 30, 2013


Fall television shows may be starting anew, but I'm taking the week off - lots of real-life stuff to catch up on at the moment.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Referee, Part 3: Vin Scully Edition

I have two favorite baseball teams: the San Francisco Giants and whoever is beating the Dodgers.

I viscerally dislike anything to do with the Dodgers, with just two exceptions: Dodger Stadium, which, despite repeated attempts to trash it up, remains a wonderful place to watch a baseball game, and Vin Scully, the Voice of Summer.

My grandfather was a recording engineer, and he gave me my first transistor radio, with its single button earpiece, and with that radio, and the succession of radios which followed after I'd break or lose one, I would listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett's call on KFI and later KABC in bed at night - and if the vagaries of the atmosphere were working against me, I'd spin the tuning knob to the other end of the dial and listen to Jaime Jarrin on KWKW instead. (Stan Ridgeway wrote "Mexican Radio" for me, or at least that's the way it seemed the first time I heard it.) Like many other fans, I would take that same transistor radio to Dodger Stadium each year when I'd go see games with my dad, to listen to Scully's call even as I was watching the game live.

A ton of ink was spilled over many years describing what makes Vin Scully the dean of sportscasters, but here are the things that stand out for me: meticulous preparation, a deep understanding of the game - unlike most sportscasters, he doesn't work with a retired ballplayer as a 'color man' - and an unequaled ability to extemporize amazing prose. In a post on his blog, the Giants' Jon Miller - no slouch in the broadcast booth himself - writes about Scully's call of Sandy Koufax's perfect game:
Vin’s call of that game later became nearly as famous as the game itself. Charlie Einstein, who used to be a columnist here in San Francisco, came out with a book every few years called the "The Fireside Book of Baseball." It was a compilation of the best baseball writing in recent years – columns, feature stories, well-written game stories. In one edition, he included a transcript of Vin Scully’s ninth-inning call of Koufax’s perfect game.

All the sentences are grammatically correct, elegant, descriptive and filled with the drama and tension of the moment. But it was totally extemporaneous as the action unfolded in front of him. No chance to ponder it after the fact and say, "This would be a good line."
Many gamers compare refereeing to being a writer or a director, and I always cringe when I read or hear those analogies. If I have to use a movie analogy at all, I prefer to think of myself as the location manager, the set dresser, and the production assistant assigned to hear the extras around. But at the table, during actual play, I'm a sportscaster; at least, that's my goal. Sportscasters know the teams and the players, the stats and the standings and the scouting reports, but once the ball is in play, they must respond to the action as it happens, whereever that action may take them. Sometimes they get a tight game, seesawing back and forth; sometimes they're dealt a blowout, and to me the sternest test of a sportscaster is the ability to keep me listening when my team is just getting worked. And sometimes they get to be the voice of history itself.

The very best of them do it all so well that they sound like they're reading from a script, even while they're making it up as they go.

Preparation and an understanding of the game to extemporize a narrative in real-time from unpredictable events. That, for me, is the heart of refereeing.

No one will every confuse me with Vin Scully - I'm more like the "boom goes the dynamite" guy - but it's what I aspire to.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The King's Gold

A cry of alarm rang out above our heads, and when I looked up, I saw a face peering down at us, half lit by the lantern. The expression on the man's face was one of horror, as if unable to believe his eyes, as he watched us climbing toward him. He may have died still not believing, because Captain Alatriste, who had reached him by then, stuck his dagger in his throat, right up to the hilt, and the man disappeared from view. Now more voices could be heard above, and the sound of people running about below-decks. A few heads peeped cautiously out from the gunports and immediately drew back, shouting in Flemish. The captain's boots scuffed against my face when he reached the top and jumped onto the deck. At that moment, another face appeared over the edge, a little farther off, on the quarterdeck; we saw a lit fuse, then a flash, and a harquebus shot rang out; something very hard and fast ripped past us, ending in a squelch of pierced flesh and broken bones. Someone beside me, climbing up from the boat, fell backward into the sea with a splash, but without uttering a word.

"Go on! Keep going!" shouted the men behind me, driving one another onward.

Teeth gritted, head hunched right down between my shoulders, I climbed what remained of the ladder as quickly as possible, clambered over the edge, stepped onto the deck, and immediately slipped in a huge puddle of blood. I got to my feet, sticky and stunned, leaning on the motionless body of the dead sailor, and behind me the bearded face of Bartolo Cagafuego appeared over the edge, his eyes bluging with tension, his gap-toothed grimace made even fiercer by the enormous machete gripped between his few remaining teeth. We were standing at the foot of the mizzenmast, next to the ladder that led up to the quarterdeck. More of our group had now reached the deck via the ropes secured by grappling hooks, and it was a miracle that the whole galleon wasn't awake to give us a warm welcome, what with that single harquebus shot and the racket made by sundry noises - the clatter of footsteps and the hiss of swords as they left their sheaths.

I took my sword in my right hand and my dagger in my left, looking wildly about in search of the enemy. And then I saw a whole horde of armed men swarming on the deck from down below, and I saw that most were as blond and burly as the men I had known in Flanders, and that there were more of them to the stern and in the waist, between the quarterdeck and the forecastle, and I saw as well that there were far too many of them, and that Captain Alatriste was fighting like a madman to reach the quarterdeck. I rushed to help my master, without waiting to see if Cagafuego and the others were following or not. I did so muttering the name of Angélica as a final prayer, and my last lucid thought, as I hurled myself into the fight with a furious howl, was that if Sebastián Copons did not arrive in time, the Niklaasbergen adventure would be our last.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Very Special DVR Alert

On Monday night - Tuesday morning, actually - TCM will show Lotte Reiniger's 1926 silent animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

This is my favorite fantasy film, bar none, a tale of a witch and a wizard, a warrior and a swan princess, an emperor and a sultan, dancing girls and carnival acrobats, Sinbad and a mechanical flying horse, told entirely in silhouettes. It is a visually arresting movie, the first feature film I could get the Cabin Girl and Boy to sit through from start to finish.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Wyeth

Standing in for NC Wyeth this week is Howard Pyle, the dean of pirate painters, with a marooned swab contemplating his fate.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"The pass to Bourbon . . . Slapshot! . . . GOAL!"

The capacity for human creativity never fails to amaze me.

Browsing deviantART earlier today, I stumbled across ~KM-Mafia's page at dA and his gallery of historical hockey sweaters, including four from the 17th century.

Kingdom of France

Holy Roman Empire

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland

That a Canadian would think of hockey sweaters is utterly unremarkable. To pair them with extinct states? I would never think of that, and now, after seeing them, I can't STOP thinking about them. I would buy the whole set if someone would make them.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lazy Monday Link Dump

Rough night last night, and I'm wiped tonight. Going a night without sleep wasn't a problem when I was younger; now, I'm wrecked the next day.

Nate at d20 Pirates has a simple set of system-free rules for handling dehydration and starvation - being marooned on a desert island gets nastier, more brutal, and much, much shorter.

DHBoggs at Hidden in Shadows explores the similarities between D&D magic and the magic found in Shakespeare. I really enjoyed this post.

Eric Treasure at The Dragon's Flagon has a great post on the diverse interpretation of reaction rolls - another great random tool.

And last, at Bayuca, the blog I want RBE to be when it grows up, is a (p)review of A Field in England, a combination historical thriller and psychodelic movie set during the English Civil War. Any further explanation would be wasted - just click the link and check out the trailer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet

He decided to finish the business, although not so hastily that it might work against him. Besides, there was no point in complicating his life further by killing a man in broad daylight, and on a Sunday. His opponent made a lunge, which Alatriste parried, making as if to deliver a straightforward blow, but instead shifting to the right, lowering his own sword to protect his chest and, in passing, dealing the other man an ugly cut to the head with his dagger. A bystander might have described his as both unorthodox and somewhat underhand, but there were no bystanders. Besides, María de Castro would already be on stage, and it was still a fair walk to the Corral de la Cruz. This was no time for niceties. More importantly, the strategy has worked. The young man turned pale and fell to his knees, bright red blood gushing from his temple. He had dropped his dagger was resting all his weight on his sword, which buckled slightly beneath him. Alatriste sheathed his own sword, then went over and disarmed the man by gently kicking the blade from under him. Then he held him up so he wouldn't fall, took a clean handkerchief from the sleeve of his doublet and bandaged the gash in the man's head as best he could.

"Will you be all right on your own?" he asked.

The young man looked at him, confused, but did not reply. Alatriste snorted impatiently.

"I have things to do," he said.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Here Be Monsters

At Thoul's Paradise, perdustin posted a copy of a beautiful map of Iceland c. 1590, which includes a bestiary of sea monsters believed to infest the waters of the North Atlantic.

Two things jump out at me. First, the map includes features such as ice and trees, the latter described as windthrow from Norway. I like encounter tables which include features like this, both for local color which brings life to the setting and to provide the players with a potential resource to tap for their own schemes.

Second, it's a reminder of how superstitious the late Renaissance and Early Modern world remains. This map is dated just 36 years before the present year of my campaign. We haven't yet reached the cusp of the Enlightenment, and monsters and witchcraft are still accepted as real by many in the game-world. Stories of mythical beasts, rumors of dark arts - these, too, bring the setting to life, particularly when myths and mysteries have a basis in fact which can appear as well, as with the giant squid in Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Random tables, at their best, inspire, and creating random tables is a way of banking inspiration for a rainy day.

Last weekend one of my non-player characters, the vicomte de Bouvard, hosted a fencing exhibition with the adventurers as his guests. A series of mock duels, with blunted swords and padded doublets, ensued, culminating in a match between Riordan O'Neill, recently appointed fencing master to the King's Musketeers, and Lieutenant Ponceau, fencing master to a company of musketeers in the Picardy Regiment.

I knew the duel between Riordan and Ponceau would be epic; one of the features of the dueling rules in Flashing Blades is that it's very difficult for a pair of master fencers to actually hit one another, and with the constraints of the 'exhibition' - no brawling, no dirty tricks - basically it would come down to fumbles and perhaps fatigue.

But in creating Ponceau, I figured out another tactic, taken from the second entry from annoying habits of duelists random table. Ponceau was given a high Endurance score and the Carousing skill, granting him a considerable capacity for drink. When the duel opened, Ponceau immediately called for a glass of wine for both men, tossing the empty glasses into a nearby fountain. And did so again after a touch by Riordan. And after a particularly elegant exchange of attacks and parries.

In short order, Riordan, the better fencer, was drunk and his advantage reduced. With each subsequent round of toasts, he struggled simply to stay awake and on his feet, eventually winning the contest despite his besotted state and adding to his burgeoning reputation as the best swordsman in France.

The simple act of writing stuff down pays dividends.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday Wyeth

My five-hundredth post. A lot of bloggers take this milestone as a chance to reflect. I'm just going to enjoy the scenery instead.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Meditation on a Visit to a Game Store

Last Sunday I stopped at Game Empire in Pasadena.

First, let me say that Game Empire is what other gaming stores should aspire to be. The retail space is well-stocked but not unnecessarily cluttered. They have current games and an out-of-print section. There are board games - including a wall of games recommended on Board Game Geek - and roleplaying games and puzzles and dice. There are miniatures and paints. The vast play area has miniatures terrain for use by visiting gamers. The staff member was helpful and knowledgeable. It's a beautiful store.

But as I thumbed through books and studied boxes, I was struck by something I hadn't really noticed so obviously before: trade dress is more important than content.

I looked at Bruges, and was struck by how much it reminded me of a dozen other resource management and strategy games, such as Doge, which I already own. Change the tokens, the cards, and the nominal setting and Bruges could be set in Antwerp or a dozen other cities as easily as Doge could be set in Livorno or Amsterdam or anyplace else with canals. Most of the games weren't about anything but rules of incredible sameness, and the trade dress of pirates and merchanters or Renaissance traders or whatever existed solely as window dressing.

On top of a book case full of Warhammer 40K books sat a copy of Avalon Hill's Starship Troopers, still in the shrink wrap - and only twenty-five bucks?! that's crazy cheap! All of the minis and army books and terrain and the meticulous and relentless art direction, just to offer the same bughunts as the board-game-in-a-box on top of the bookcase. In the future, there is only trade dress once again.

I flipped through FATE Core System. Talk about a game I really wanted to like but could never quite embrace. The core book reminded me why. Why are 'basic' roleplaying games so bloody involved? I've been playing for the better part of more than thirty-five years now, and if I'd had to read a rule book that big to start, I'd never've given up wargames. That point was reinforced when I got to our game later that day, and I pulled out my printed-out .pdfs for Flashing Blades - the core rules, the piracy supplement, and three adventures, all of which fit together in a term paper report cover. Our hobby is dominated by designers writing for existing gamers, and if this is supposed to attract new gamers, there's some serious delusion going on.

In the end, I bought some beautiful dice - two twenty-siders, two six-siders - the only products in that terrific store for which I had an actual use.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Random Encounters Coda: Order from Chaos

Alexander Macris, lead designer of Adventure Conqueror King System and co-founder of The Escapist magazine, published an article on the art of abductive reasoning in running a roleplaying game.
The foremost philosopher of abduction, Charles Sanders Peirce, summarized abduction as follows:

The surprising fact, C, is observed;
But if A were true, C would be a matter of course,
Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.

For instance, assume the surprising circumstance that my car won't start this morning. If it were true that my car battery were dead, then the fact that my car won't start would be a matter of course. So there is reason to suspect (abduce) that my car battery is dead.
Noting that abduction is the opposite of cause-and-effect - the effect is observed, and a cause suggested - the article goes on to describe the relationship to roleplaying games.
The art of abduction depends on having a set of "weird facts", that is, a circumstance you need to explain. Fortunately, such facts are never in short supply. Indeed, the easiest and most accessible method of brainstorming available to any gamemaster is random generation of facts.
I've been doing this for as long as I've played, but I never knew it had a name.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet

He knew that Saldaña was as placid as an ox in all matters but those concerning his wife. Then passion blinded him. Any jokes about how she had got him the post in exchange for favors granted to third parties – as malicious tongues would have it – quickened his pulse and clouded his reason.
“With any luck,” thought Alatriste, “this will help me resolve the matter quickly.” He adjusted his grip, parried a thrust, withdrew a little to draw his opponent in, and, when their blades clashed again, he noticed that Saldaña already seemed less confident. He decided to return to the attack.

“I imagine she’ll be inconsolable,” he said, striking again. “She’ll doubtless wear deepest mourning.”

Saldaña did not reply, but he was breathing hard and muttered a curse when the furious barrage he had just unleashed slashed only thin air, sliding off the captain’s blade.

“Cuckold,” said Alatriste calmly, then waited.

Now he had him. He sensed him coming toward him in the dark, or rather he knew it from the gleam of steel from his sword, the sound of frantic footsteps, and the rancorous roar Saldaña let out as he attacked blindly.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Yesterday, like so many days, the Cabin Boy and I were at the baseball field.

He's a big kid, like his captain dad, and, should he decide to stay with the game, as such he's likely to find himself playing the corners - first base or third base - as he gets older. With that in mind, we're working hard on fielding grounders. Unlike shortstops and second basemen, who must cover more ground but play much further back from the hitter, a hard-hit ball is on the corner infielders in no time, so handling fast-moving ground balls is not just a requirement of the position, it's a matter of personal safety.

Footwork moving to the ball, receiving the ball, making the transfer, throwing footwork, fingers on top of the ball - over and over he fields as I hit balls at him and exhort him to take a different angle to the ball, or make sure the fingers of his glove are all the way down to the dirt as he receives the ball. He did a fantastic job, so much so that I cut practice short - better a dozen good reps than a bunch of sloppy ones.

At the end of the day, of course, for all the Cabin Boy's dedication and toughness and burgeoning skill as a ballplayer, for all the awards and recognition he's received, he's a seven year old kid, playing youth baseball with a bunch of other seven and eight year olds, and he's only a couple of years removed from this.

Given that I'm writing a blog and keeping a wiki devoted to my favorite roleplaying games, I've pretty much surrendered any claim on the title of 'casual gamer.' I've churned out hundreds of posts and thousands of words on what can generously be described as trivia. As much as I'd like to enjoy the laid-back cachet of 'beer 'n' pretzels gamer' or 'cheetoist,' realistically 'lifestyle gamer' - or perhaps just 'lifer' - seems much more appropriate.

But at the heart of roleplaying games is the childlike joy of playing pretend; flipping through rule books, rolling dice, scribbling on character sheets, moving minis around a tabletop, and, yes, acting all thespy an' stuff, are the 'mature' trappings of our kids' games, but at the end of the day, no matter how many blog posts or wiki pages or house rules I create, no matter how many setting locations and non-player characters I research and write up, no matter how many manor or fortress or courtyard plans I draw, it's nothing more than a slightly more elaborate version of the imaginative play I engaged in as a kid.

I thought of this yesterday as I was reading a blog - doesn't matter which one, so don't ask - and saw the long list of products the blogger assembled for sale or download. I've been approached a few times about writing gaming products, and actually made a half-hearted - half-assed, really - effort at it once, and that was enough to disabuse me of the notion that I should be attempting to publish anything. Writing and creating for my campaign is fun, but even taking that same information and putting it into a publication-friendly format is too much like Serious Business for me. I have nothing but respect for those who make that leap, but I have no interest in joining them.

Today the Cabin Boy told me he wants to play in the major leagues. For right now, and for many years to come, I want him to play because he loves it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I received my copy of Osprey Publishing's French Musketeer 1622-1775 before I went on vacation. I don't want to get into a review of the book; I suck as a reviewer and I don't enjoy writing them. I've enjoyed many of René Chartrand other books for Osprey, but I don't feel this was his best effort. It's not an easy subject, with so much myth entwined with a paucity of historical records, particularly of the early years of the King's Musketeers. Still, I noticed a number of contradictions of information gleaned from other, seemingly reliable sources as well as a couple of confirmed errors. Overall, for me the book lacks the depth and breadth of other titles in the Warrior series, such as Matchlock Musketeer and Ironsides.

That said, it contains much that is worthwhile for anyone interested in the period and for gamers who want to present a more historically rich depiction of the King's Musketeers in their swashbuckling campaign. Frex, I worked in the duty of a King's Musketeer to be the first soldier to receive the king's orders in the morning and the last to receive them at night for our newly-promoted ensign when we played last weekend.

Unfortunately for me, my depiction of the Musketeers so far also took a couple of hits.

I started working in earnest on Le Ballet de l'Acier, my Flashing Blades campaign, about four-and-a-half years ago. I've consulted more books and websites than I can remember. My personal library of books on 17th century Europe is somewhere around a hundred volumes at this point, and that doesn't include another score read while hunkered down in library stacks at local universities. The number of websites I've visited in that time, in English and in French, easily doubles that number. Even with this vast collection of history at my fingertips, the reality is that none one of these sources truly contains all of the information for which I searched. My knowledge of the period was assembled piecemeal, from many different narratives, some popular history, some academic history, some fictional.

In some cases, I deliberately put aside history. Frex, Louis XIII didn't name himself captain of the King's Musketeers until 1627, as Mon Chartrand notes in his book, but I elected to make him captain, and the commanding officer captain-lieutenant, from the units founding in 1622 instead. In other instances, I allowed the fictional history of cape-and-sword authors, most notably Alexandre Dumas, to override the historical narrative; thus, fictional versions of d'Artagnan, Tréville, et al. replace their historical counterparts as they did in The Three Musketeers. This is one of the reasons I warn visitors to my campaign wiki at Obsidian Portal that the site is alt-history.

Of the places where my campaign and that tiny sliver of the historical record with which I'm personally familiar diverge, up to this point nothing that's taken place in the campaign itself required a specific retcon; either the action conformed to the known history or to my campaign specific alt-history. That is, until I read about the Garde du dedans du Louvre.

The maison militaire - the military units of the royal household - were divided into the Garde du dedans du Louvre, who stood guard over the king's person inside royal palaces and residences, and the Garde du dehors du Louvre, who stood watch outside of those same residences. The Garde du dedans du Louvre consisted of the Gardes du Corps, the Cent-Suisses, the Gardes de la Porte, and some constabulary foot soldiers armed with polearms. The King's Musketeers were assigned to the Garde du dehors du Louvre.

This directly contradicted information I presented to the players a couple of years back, when the campaign first got rolling; the King's Musketeers were assigned to the interior of the Louvre, while other units were posted to the exterior. It actually played a role in the actions, as the characters sought to smuggle the duchesse de Chevreuse and a wounded Lord Holland into the royal palace.

So, I can completely ignore a trivial historical fact, or I can attempt some sort of retcon to bring the events of the campaign in line with newly-learned period details. The fact that this distinction between guards serving on the inside versus the outside of a royal palace already came up in actual play should tell you that this is the kind of detail I appreciate as a referee, for situations and challenges it creates for the players and their characters. I'm loathe to toss out such a historical tidbit. This means I can choose to assign my earlier explanation to the campaign's alt-history - of course the King's Musketeers serve in the Garde du dedans du Louvre! - or I can decide it was a special situation, perhaps, or that the Musketeers were assigned to the Garde du dehors du Louvre after the events of the campaign took place, say in the year that the adventurers were abroad following their exile from Paris.

I haven't decided which way I want to go as yet; the adventurers just returned to court, and while I'm sure this is likely to come up again in actual play, it's one of those things I can kick down the road a bit, as I have options on how I can handle it should it crop up as I anticipate.

Over the years, I've heard gamers express the opinion that they wouldn't be willing to run historical roleplaying games for fear of getting something 'wrong.' The fact is, I get things 'wrong' all the time, sometimes in broad strokes, sometimes in niggling little bits like whether the King's Musketeers stood guard inside or outside the Louvre. While I firmly believe there's no substitute for putting in the research when preparing and running a historical roleplaying game campaign, being too afraid to risk making a mistake should never be an excuse to avoid running historical campaigns, nor is it likely to be a showstopper unless you let it become one.

Wednesday Wyeth

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Another Solo Gaming Resource

Another day, another Kickstarter, this time for the The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook, "A supplement to help tabletop roleplaying GMs create adventures and to allow players to play solo games with any RPG as both GM and PC."
The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook is a new supplement for roleplayers meant to help both those who write (or want to start writing!) their own adventures, as well as solo roleplayers looking for more engaging stories and well structured narratives in their games
I tend to be a little leery of any roleplaying game book that puts 'telling a story' at the forefront, but that phrase means many different things to different people, so I'm not going to judge a book by its marketing blurb, especially give how much I enjoy using solo gaming products as a source of refereeing inspiration.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Swordswomen of the Silver Screen

Any website with Natalie Dormer and Maureen O'Hara on the masthead automatically gets my attention.

The site includes a list of movies and television shows featuring swordswomen as well as forums for clips, art, and stories - the last three require permission from the administrator to access, however, so be patient.

And did I mention Natalie Dormer?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The Three Musketeers

"Go to the riverside, ask for the brig Sund, and give this letter to the captain; he will convey you to a little port, where certainly you are not expected, and which is ordinarily only frequented by fishermen."

"The name of that port?"

"St. Valery; but listen. When you have arrived there you will go to a mean tavern, without a name and without a sign - a mere fisherman's hut. You cannot be mistaken; there is but one."


"You will ask for the host, and will repeat to him the word 'Forward!'"

"Which means?"

"In French, en avant. It is the password. He will give you a horse all saddled, and will point out to you the road you ought to take. You will find, in the same way, four relays on your route. If you will give at each of these relays your address in Paris, the four horses will follow you thither. You already know two of them, and you appeared to appreciate them like a judge. They were those we rode on; and you may rely upon me for the others not being inferior to them. These horses are equipped for the field. However proud you may be, you will not refuse to accept one of them, and to request your three companions to accept the others - that is, in order to make war against us. Besides, the end justified the means, as you Frenchmen say, does it not?"

"Yes, my Lord, I accept them," said d'Artagnan; "and if it please God, we will make a good use of your presents."

"Well, now, your hand, young man. Perhaps we shall soon meet on the field of battle; but in the meantime we shall part good friends, I hope."

"Yes, my Lord; but with the hope of soon becoming enemies."

"Be satisfied; I promise you that."

"I depend upon your word, my Lord."

D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and made his way as quickly as possible to the riverside. Opposite the Tower of London he found the vessel that had been named to him, delivered his letter to the captain, who after having it examined by the governor of the port made immediate preparations to sail.

Fifty vessels were waiting to set out. Passing alongside one of them, d'Artagnan fancied he perceived on board it the woman of Meung - the same whom the unknown gentleman had called Milady, and whom d'Artagnan had thought so handsome; but thanks to the current of the stream and a fair wind, his vessel passed so quickly that he had little more than a glimpse of her.

The next day about nine o'clock in the morning, he landed at St. Valery. D'Artagnan went instantly in search of the inn, and easily discovered it by the riotous noise which resounded from it. War between England and France was talked of as near and certain, and the jolly sailors were having a carousal.

D'Artagnan made his way through the crowd, advanced toward the host, and pronounced the word "Forward!" The host instantly made him a sign to follow, went out with him by a door which opened into a yard, led him to the stable, where a saddled horse awaited him, and asked him if he stood in need of anything else. "I want to know the route I am to follow," said d'Artagnan.

"Go from hence to Blangy, and from Blangy to Neufchatel. At Neufchatel, go to the tavern of the Golden Harrow, give the password to the landlord, and you will find, as you have here, a horse ready saddled."

"Have I anything to pay?" demanded d'Artagnan.

"Everything is paid," replied the host, "and liberally. Begone, and may God guide you!"

"Amen!" cried the young man, and set off at full gallop.

Four hours later he was in Neufchatel. He strictly followed the instructions he had received. At Neufchatel, as at St. Valery, he found a horse quite ready and awaiting him. He was about to remove the pistols from the saddle he had quit to the one he was about to fill, but he found the holsters furnished with similar pistols.

"Your address at Paris?"

"Hotel of the Guards, company of Des Essart."

"Enough," replied the questioner.

"Which route must I take?" demanded d'Artagnan, in his turn.

"That of Rouen; but you will leave the city on your right. You must stop at the little village of Eccuis, in which there is but one tavern - the Shield of France. Don't condemn it from appearances; you will find a horse in the stables quite as good as this."

"The same password?"


"Adieu, master!"

"A good journey, gentlemen! Do you want anything?"

D'Artagnan shook his head, and set off at full speed. At Eccuis, the same scene was repeated. He found as provident a host and a fresh horse. He left his address as he had done before, and set off again at the same pace for Pontoise. At Pontoise he changed his horse for the last time, and at nine o'clock galloped into the yard of Treville's hotel. He had made nearly sixty leagues in little more than twelve hours.

M. de Treville received him as if he had seen him that same morning; only, when pressing his hand a little more warmly than usual, he informed him that the company of Des Essart was on duty at the Louvre, and that he might repair at once to his post.

- Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Descent into the Depths of the Earth

In the midst of an interesting post about historical versus pseudo-historical settings at Semper Initiativus Unum, Wayne includes a link to the International Catacomb Society, an organisation "dedicated to the preservation and documentation of the Roman catacombs [and] those rare vestiges of history that illustrate the common influences on Jewish, Christian, and Pagan iconography and funerary practices during the time of the Roman Empire." The site includes an interactive map of Rome showing the locations of various catacombs around the city in relation to other landmarks as well as floor plans of a small number of Roman catacombs.

Catacombs and other subterranean infrastructure, such as quarries and sewers and even human settlements, are 'dungeons' I don't feel funny about including in a historical roleplaying game campaign. They are wonderful settings for everything from covert entry to buried treasure, and I look forward to getting the characters in my campaign into someplace like the maze of passages beneath Paris - which won't exactly be catacombs for another couple of centuries - at some point in our campaign.

Who says the fantasy players should have all the dungeon-crawling fun, huh?

I added a link to the International Catacomb Society to the Ports o' Call collection of intreweb eclectica at the bottom of the right-hand column of RBE.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saving (a Little Piece of) the World

One of the resources available to ranger-naturalists in Sequoia National Park is a collection of DVDs, consisting mostly of documentaries and travelogues, but with a few popular movies set in or around the Big Tree national parks, including William Keighley's 1938 movie Valley of the Giants. I watched VotG one evening in the employee rec hall, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. First, Claire Trevor's performance as the 'sadder but wiser' saloon maven was good, of course, but Wayne Morris, as Bill the conservation-minded timberman, was surprisingly sincere and nuanced; I was expecting a typical rock-jawed melodrama hero, and he turned out the be a much more well-rounded character, convincingly concerned with protecting the redwoods on his family land from the greedy Eastern harvesters. Second, I was impressed by how well they integrated a sophisticated message about forestry and conservation into the movie, such as the technique of selective harvest.

And third, VotG includes one of the best movie explosions ever filmed.

One of the side effects of being trained as a firefighter is that movie explosions tend to snap my suspenders of disbelief far too easily, and it's a real pleasure to see one done right. In the movie, one of the characters builds a dam to deny Bill the means of moving cut timber to the mill and thereby pay off his bank note in order to save the valley of redwoods protected on his family's land, and at the end of the movie, Bill and his friends blow up the dam. The film crew didn't fool around with models - they blew up an actual dam, and when I say blew up, I mean with a load of TNT big enough to reduce this sizeable damn to splinters in an instant. Watch this scene, and ever-after the jellied-gas explosions you see in modern movies will look like some special effects guy lighting his farts by comparison. It is truly epic destruction in the service of the story.

A post in a thread - on railroading, not explosions - at theRPGsite reminded me of Valley of the Giants today. At one point the thread turned to save-the-world adventures in roleplaying games, which led to the following.
. . . [D]o you agree that "stop the end of the world" would be harder to pull off [in a sandbox setting] without the railroad? Is that not at least part of why you avoid it?
I'll be honest - if the poster of this comment and I were the last roleplaying gamers on Earth, I would opt to play solitaire. There is nothing about the way this guy presents his games that I find appealing, and to be fair, he's no fan of me, either.

But he raises an interesting point: does running a sandbox setting, in which it's accepted that the players are free to ignore anything that's not actively trying to get in their faces, make running end-of-the-game-world scenarios more challenging? With the potential for missing clues and chasing red herrings, it's entirely possible that even players and their characters engaged in such a scenario could fail, and fail miserably.

So, is this why "stop the end of the world" scenarios are uncommon in sandboxes?

Obviously I can't speak for everyone who runs sandbox-style settings, but I can say this about my own campaigns: I don't do end-of-the-world because it's hard - I don't do it because it's so mind-numbingly trite and dull.

Now, given my penchant for running historical roleplaying games, usually without a fantastical element, this probably seems like a pretty academic concern; even if I didn't find it so boring, there's very little chance for a world-ending cataclysm in my campaign. The examples provided by some the many movie-retellings on The Three Musketeers, however, suggest a sort of world-shaking cliché, typically a plot by Cardinal Richelieu to seize control of France from the king. Stephen Herek's movie finds Tim Curry's Cardinal, for example, planning to replace Louis XIII by assassination and then taking the throne by a vaguely outlined combination of popular acclaim and control by his guards.

Contrast this with the original story, and the actual historical events of the period: Richelieu attempts to embarrass the queen and start a war with England in Dumas' tale, while a more likely historical motivation could be driving a wedge between the king and his Spanish-born queen to further his geopolitical aims, or even just to humiliate Anne of Austria as she is alleged to have humiliated the Cardinal.

For some reason, the Cardinal's scheme to secure and expand power and influence by ruining the reputation of a royal rival isn't engaging enough for some authors and screenwriters; they need a villain with a grandiose, historically improbable plan to do away with the king and take his throne instead. To me, this is the cape-and-sword equivalent to the "end of the world" scenario, a plot that the adventurers must thwart or see epic changes in the world of the story or campaign.

From reading intreweb forums, I gather that some gamers cannot enjoy themselves if they're aren't saving the world, but in the campaigns I run, rarely will you find anything so elaborate. Rather, you will find situations like that of Valley of the Giants: a landowner trying to preserve his family fortune and protect an important part of our natural heritage from the skullduggery of rapacious speculators, with political machinations and strongarm tactics alike by all the parties concerned. If that doesn't sound like the stuff of adventure, I honestly don't know what does.

And in the end, a small piece of the world is saved. That's more than enough for me.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The Three Musketeers

"Monsieur, you appear to be in great haste?"

"No one can be more so, monsieur."

"I am sorry for that," said d'Artagnan; "for as I am in great haste likewise, I wish to beg you to render me a service."


"To let me sail first."

"That's impossible," said the gentleman; "I have traveled sixty leagues in forty hours, and by tomorrow at midday I must be in London."

"I have performed that same distance in forty hours, and by ten o'clock in the morning I must be in London."

"Very sorry, monsieur; but I was here first, and will not sail second."

"I am sorry, too, monsieur; but I arrived second, and must sail first."

"The king's service!" said the gentleman.

"My own service!" said d'Artagnan.

"But this is a needless quarrel you seek with me, as it seems to me."

"PARBLEU! What do you desire it to be?"

"What do you want?"

"Would you like to know?"


"Well, then, I wish that order of which you are bearer, seeing that I have not one of my own and must have one."

"You jest, I presume."

"I never jest."

"Let me pass!"

"You shall not pass."

"My brave young man, I will blow out your brains. HOLA, Lubin, my pistols!"

"Planchet," called out d'Artagnan, "take care of the lackey; I will manage the master."

Planchet, emboldened by the first exploit, sprang upon Lubin; and being strong and vigorous, he soon got him on the broad of his back, and placed his knee upon his breast.

"Go on with your affair, monsieur," cried Planchet; "I have finished mine."

Seeing this, the gentleman drew his sword, and sprang upon d'Artagnan; but he had too strong an adversary. In three seconds d'Artagnan had wounded him three times, exclaiming at each thrust, "One for Athos, one for Porthos; and one for Aramis!"

At the third hit the gentleman fell like a log. D'Artagnan believed him to be dead, or at least insensible, and went toward him for the purpose of taking the order; but the moment he extended his hand to search for it, the wounded man, who had not dropped his sword, plunged the point into d'Artagnan's breast, crying, "One for you!"

"And one for me - the best for last!" cried d'Artagnan, furious, nailing him to the earth with a fourth thrust through his body.

This time the gentleman closed his eyes and fainted. D'Artagnan searched his pockets, and took from one of them the order for the passage. It was in the name of Comte de Wardes.

Then, casting a glance on the handsome young man, who was scarcely twenty-five years of age, and whom he was leaving in his gore, deprived of sense and perhaps dead, he gave a sigh for that unaccountable destiny which leads men to destroy each other for the interests of people who are strangers to them and who often do not even know that they exist.

- Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to Referee, Part Two

I ran an all-too-brief Traveller campaign about eight years ago, a bog-standard space-merchants-with-a-mortgaged-free-trader-and-a-mountain-of-debt. As part of my prep, I worked on a table of events associated with speculative trading, to use in conjunction with the Actual Value table in the rules for trading.

For those of you unfamiliar with Traveller, merchants can transport other people's goods, but at best that will keep you living on the edge of a potential repo. Speculation - buying your own cargo on one planet and selling it on another- is riskier but offers by far the best potential for profit. The Actual Value table is consulted when buying and selling, and provides a percentage modifier to the base price of the cargo; if the base price of a ton of wheat is 500 ImpCr, and the Actual Value table result is 80%, you can purchase it as 400 ImpCr per ton.

What I wanted for my campaign was an additional table, that provided modifiers to the Actual Value roll, stuff like, 'Market saturated, - 2 ,' or, 'Sudden demand, + 1,' to add flavor to the results. I worked out a d6, d6 table of results, but it still seemed bland to me, so I and showed it to a buddy of mine. He ran his Traveller campaign for something like fifteen or sixteen years at that point, and he regularly had far more players looking for seats around his table then he did chairs to accommodate them. I knew his critique would be helpful.

He looked over the table, then put it aside and grabbed a pair of six-sided dice. 'You have a cargo of cybernetic parts and you're on [planet name], an agricultural world, jump-three from the industrial world of [planet name]' he said, tossing the dice on the kitchen table. A three. 'Fifty percent,' he continued - there was no need for him to look up the Actual Value chart, as he knew it by heart - 'an Oberlindes Lines bulk carrier arrived a week ago, and the market is flooded.' He picked up the dice again, and tossed them once more - a ten. 'One hundred thirty percent. Looks like those LSP robotic harvesters that arrived six months ago are acting up, and the replacement parts haven't arrived yet, so there's a price bump.' Another roll - a twelve. 'One hundred seventy percent. Not only is demand high for parts for those harvesters, your broker just found a loophole in the tariff code.' He tossed the dice a couple more times, each time improvising an event from the memorised table of generic percentages.

'It's already in there,' he finished with a smile.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DVR Alert

On Thursday, 15 August, TCM shows Captain Horatio Hornblower, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gregory Peck, Christopher Lee, Stanley Baker, and Virginia Mayo. If you're the sort who enjoys Patrick O'Brian and Bernard Cromwell - or the original Hornblower stories by C.S. Forester - this is right in your wheelhouse, and with enough stealable ideas - a mad governor, a daring raid, a dashing escape - to keep a swashbuckling campaign afloat for months to boot.

Check your local listings for times, as always.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Not to Write Ad Copy

A war- and strategy game about condottieri? Right in my wheelhouse.

This game about condottieri?
This is a game that plays just as well with 2 players as it does with 8. You recieve fully customizable armies ready for medieval warfare, and you also receive Sterritt Strategy’s unique terrain system. Great for any gamer who thinks chess could use more realism, Diplomacy© and Risk© lack tactical skill, or might not have the time or space for classic War Games with miniatures. This is for gamers who want a strategic platform that they can tailor to their an hour of leisure time, the rainy afternoon or their multiple weekend long campaigns.
More realistic than chess, and more tactical than Diplomacy? Have you guys ever played Diplomacy?
These 5 ½ inch hexagonal boards make map making both quick and fun;no two battles will be the same, while allowing for easy map recreation. All Hex Boards are made to fit with any rotation and by using the interior gold numbers allow players start their armies, objectives and other entities on any uniquely designed map without having opposing armies land directly on top of each other when starting your conflict.

Each edition comes with a varied selection of these boards, and over the years we plan to increase our selection of prints for the boards to further enable players to easily expand play in the many years to come.

Also all of our Hex Boards are water resistant. This is to ensure board longevity even with some of your clumsiest friends. While it won't protect from stains like grape juice or red wine, it will protect against all manner of damp conditions.
While one of my first considerations in choosing a board game is how resistant the board is to "all manner of damp conditions" - grape juice or red wine excepted, of course - I'm also interested in games in which the terrain is more varied and depicted with some greater amount of panache than shades of green hexes against a green hex background.

There may be a really great game in here somewhere, but the copy does nothing to tell me what's great about it, and if they're relying on the pictures of the rather boring modular boards and utterly pedestrian counters to sell me on it, well, sorry, that's not going to get it done.

I want to spend my money on a game about condottieri, guys. I am your target market. But you gotta up your game.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Gospel of baragei

"Trying to scale a sheer surface using your "Air Guitar"-skill and a fatepoint simply isn't going to work." - baragei

Monday, August 5, 2013

All I Ever Wanted

The pirate crew raises sail in a couple of hours, setting a course for five days camping, hiking, canoeing, and plundering Spanish galleons . . . circumstances permitting.

Meanwhile, I leave you this musical interlude.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

How to Referee, Part One

I was shooting pool and drinking beer with some friends, a bunch of guys I hung out with pretty regularly about twenty years ago. The bar had a juke box, and all night the guys were feeding it dollars and blasting out heavy metal - Queensryche, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Zep - pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a bunch of suburban white guys in their twenties.

There were like six or seven us, and we were by far the largest group in the bar, a little dive stuck in a corner of a commercial park. Most of the other patrons were suburban white guys like us - in fact, the fact that there were only three girls in the place was hard to miss. Most of us were either married or engaged, but - boys being boys - those three girls were still the object of much attention. Pretty much every trip to the bar involved a quick word with the two girls that weren't there with their boyfriends, but they were as distant and as cold as starlight - and looking back at me and my friends, who could blame them, really?

So that was the mood in the place, until I stepped up to the juke box.

Scanning through the catalog of songs, I spotted "Brick House," by The Commodores, and punched up the numbers. Next was Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." and then a couple more in the same vein. After I was done, I went back to the pool table and continued the game, waiting for my songs to start.

When the bass line from "Brick House" thumped out of the speakers, my friends were none too pleased. This was 'jungle junk' as far as they were concerned. But the effect of the music was hard to miss, even for the most Cro-Magnon among them. Almost instantly all three girls in the bar were groovin' and vibin' - one of the pair at the bar was soon off her bar stool, dancing along to the tunes.

And my friends just stared at me, like I'd discovered some sort of magic key that unlocked the mystery of women. One of the guys sidled up next to me and asked, "Did you plan that?" I smiled and lined up my next shot.

"Know your audience," I replied.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Little Boys of Summer: Coda

So, we thought the Cabin Boy's baseball season was done last week. As it turns out, there was much more yet to come.

Last fall the Cabin Boy was invited to play on a travel ball team, pulled together by a couple of dads from his rec league. They played eight or nine tournaments over the winter, amassing a sub-.500 record but gaining phenomenal experience playing at a much higher level of competition than their regular rec league games. It really showed when ten of the thirteen boys drafted for the All Star squad came from the travel ball team.

Just before they headed to their All Star World Series last week, the travel team manager asked the families if they wanted the boys to play in a travel ball World Series as well; it would be the boys' last chance to play in a 6U tournament together, and the tournament offered a really special prize to the winners: a custom World Series ring for each boy on the team.

I'm sure by now you know where this is going.

The boys went on a 6-0 run, including playing their last four games over the course of eight hours on Sunday, and won their travel ball World Series. Perhaps the sweetest victory of those four games was the semi-final, when the boys beat dominated the best 6U travel team in southern California by ten runs.

All of the boys played their hearts and their guts out. As parents we were exhausted, and none of us had to swing a bat or run the bases or field a ball. The boys played through heat and through bumps and bruises; they kept the pedal down when they were ahead and battled back - in four different games - when they were behind. They played their game, and they showed - without contestation - they can play with anyone.

And their rings will be ordered this week.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Unusual DVR Alert

On Saturday, 27 July, TCM will show Kingdom of Saguenay, a short documentary from 1964 about the Saguenay region of eastern Canada.

Now, that's not the usual sort of movie I recommend, but there's a very interesting bit of history here. The modern region known as the 'Kingdom of Saguenay' in fact goes back to the exploration of New France by Jacques Cartier in the sixteenth century. A post at the blog The XIVth Century explains it thus.
He searched the area for five months, sailing completely around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but he found no road to the wealth of the East. When he sailed back to France he took with him Taignoagny and Domagaya, sons of Donnaconna, a Huron Indian chief. They told Francis I a story about a kingdom called Saguenay, a country where yellow metal could be found practically everywhere.

It was located far up a mighty river which flowed straight down from the north and joined an even greater one where Hochelaga, a city of hundreds of wigwams, stood on an island. The people of this mysterious kingdom, according to the Huron tale, dressed themselves in cloth like that of white men, wore ropes of gold around their necks, and had plenty of precious stones.
Rumors of this city of gold in the forests of the north fueled the fantasies of trappers and explorers for generations, but the reported kingdom was never found. The place name lives on, however.

Tales of the kingdom of Saguenay continue to exist in my campaign, possibly spurring adventurers to journey to New France, so I'm looking forward to the short film to get a look at the countryside.

On the tangent of movies about New France, I highly recommend Black Robe. Find it if you can.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday Wyeth

I'll be honest - most of the artwork displayed at DeviantArt doesn't really appeal to me, which is why I was doubly surprised when I stumbled across this picture by SirJarva - a Finnish artist named Jari - while searching for something else. There's also a color version but it doesn't grab me as much as this one does, which is why SirJarva is standing in for NC Wyeth this week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Buccaneer is Out Again

The Cabin Girl has her dance recital - four performances - the Cabin Boy has his last All Star tournament - six games to win the whole thing - and the Captain's Mother is in town; needless to say, blogging goes on the back burner.

Depending on how the boys do, I'll be back by next Wednesday at the latest.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Buccaneer's Nightstand

I have a hard time reading one book at a time. In fact, it's not uncommon for me to bounce back and forth between three or four books at once, so my nightstand tends to be a bit crowded. Right now there are just two books there - at least for the moment.

The first is Warrior Pursuits: Noble Culture and Civil Conflict in Early Modern France by Brian Sandberg, assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University. Focusing on the first quarter of the 17th century, when the southwest of France was riven by confessional conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots as well as secular strife between noble clienteles, the book examines the sword nobility - the warrior elite - in Languedoc and Guyenne. The presentation is very thorough, describing in accessible detail how families participated in clienteles, how they gained ranks and offices, how they managed their finances, and so on.

What I particularly enjoy about this book - and about regional history generally - is that Dr Sandberg uses case studies from different families to illustrate broader themes. Sharon Kettering is another writer who does the same in her books on Early Modern France, and I've drawn deeply from her work in creating characters and situations for my campaign; Dr Sandberg's book provides me with a wealth of similar details, in a part of my campaign world which is likely to see considerable attention from the player characters in the near future. It's also a very good nuts-and-bolts look at history behind the military, bureaucratic, and noble careers in Flashing Blades. The prose is accessible and a pleasure to read.

The second is David Parrott's The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Dr Parrott is also the author of Richelieu's Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624-1642, and in The Business of War, he turns his focus from France in the Thirty Years War to private military enterprise over the 16th and 17th centuries. As historiography, it takes a new look at the 'military revolution' of the 17th century, arguing that rather than the end of military entrepreneurship, the period saw a resurgence of private military enterprise. The book provides a comprehensive look at how armies were raised and kept in the field.

Some time ago I wrote a first draft of house rules for my Flashing Blades campaign, using a variety of sources - including Dr Parrot's earlier book - and its interesting to re-examine those rules in light of this exhaustive treatment of the subject.

And yeah, this is the stuff I read for fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Swords of the Red Brotherhood

"They are coming ashore in long boats!" exclaimed the child. "Oh, my Lady, I am afraid! How the sun strikes fire from their pikes and cutlasses! Will they eat us?"

In spite of her apprehension, Francoise burst into laughter.

"Of course not! Who put that idea into your head?"

"Jacques Piriou told me the English eat women."

"He was teasing you. The English are cruel, but they are no worse than the Frenchmen who call themselves buccaneers. Piriou was one of them."

"He was cruel," muttered the child. "I'm glad the Indians cut his head off."

"Hush, child." Francoise shuddered. "Look, they have reached the shore. They line the beach and one of them is coming toward the fort. That must be Harston."

"Ahoy, the fort there!" came a hail in a voice as gusty as the wind. "I come under a flag of truce!"

The Count's helmeted head appeared over the points of the palisade and surveyed the pirate somberly. Harston had halted just within good ear-shot. He was a big man, bare-headed, his tawny hair blowing in the wind.

"Speak!" commanded Henri. "I have few words for men of your breed!"

Harston laughed with his lips, not with his eyes.

"I never thought to meet you on this naked coast, d'Chastillon," said he. "By Satan, I got the start of my life a little while ago when I saw your scarlet falcon floating over a fortress where I'd thought to see only bare beach. You've found it, of course?"

"Found what?" snapped the Count impatiently.

"Don't try to dissemble with me?" The pirate's stormy nature showed itself momentarily. "I know why you came here; I've come for the same reason. Where's your ship?"

"That's none of your affair, sirrah."

"You have none," confidently asserted the pirate. "I see pieces of a galleon's masts in that stockade. Your ship was wrecked! Otherwise you'd sailed away with your plunder long ago."

"What are you talking about, damn you'?" yelled the Count. "Am I a pirate to burn and plunder? Even so, what would I loot on this bare coast?"

"That which you came to find," answered the pirate coolly. "The same thing I'm after. I'm easy to deal with-just give me the loot and I'll go my way and leave you in peace."

"You must be mad," snarled Henri. "I came here to find solitude and seclusion, which I enjoyed until you crawled out of the sea, you yellow-headed dog. Begone! I did not ask for a parley, and I weary of this babble."

"When I go I'll leave that hovel in ashes!" roared the pirate in a transport of rage. "For the last time - will you give me the loot in return for your lives? I have you hemmed in here, and a hundred men ready to cut your throats."

For answer the Count made a quick gesture with his hand below the points of the palisade. Instantly a matchlock boomed through a loophole and a lock of yellow hair jumped from Harston's head. The pirate yelled vengefully and ran toward the beach, with bullets knocking up the sand behind him. His men roared and came on like a wave, blades gleaming in the sun.

"Curse you, dog!" raved the Count, felling the offending marksman with an iron-clad fist. "Why did you miss'? Ready, men - here they come!"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Little Boys of Summer

The Cabin Boy's All Star team won their district championship in dramatic fashion, coming from behind twice to win their final game and complete a 4-0 run through the tournament. The championship earns them a berth in the Southern California 6U 'World Series' later this month.

I'd say I'm proud of the Cabin Boy, but I'm always proud of him, and more importantly, it's inadequate to describe what I'm feeling. The first time he put on his uniform two years ago, he said, "I want to be a big hitter." Later he wanted to hit a home run, and to make All Stars. He set those goals for himself, and achieved them all, and pride doesn't even begin to cover the joy and excitement and awe in my heart today.

Wednesday Wyeth

Monday, July 8, 2013

If At First You Don't Succeed . . .

. . . try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try try again.

Congratulations Andy Murray and British tennis fans everywhere.

DVR Alerts - Yes, Plural

Clear some space on the DVR - it's a good week for swashbucklers!

On Tuesday, 9 July, TCM airs The Spanish Main, starring Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, and Walter Selzak. Binnie Barnes, as Anne Bonney, steals every scene she's in.

On Wednesday, 10 July, TCM follows up with King Vidor's Bardelys the Magnificent, based on the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name. It's funny, chastely erotic, and swashbuckling by turns - not to be missed.

Thursday, 11 July, features no less than three swashbucklers: Return to Treasure Island, with Tab Hunter, and two great Ray Harryhausen (RIP) Sinbad movies, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, with John Phillip Law and the incredibly sexy Caroline Munro, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, with Patrick Wayne and the stunning Jane Seymour.

Finally, Friday, 12 July, TCM shows The Warriors, with Errol Flynn as the Black Prince and Joanne Dru as the damsel in distress - not strictly a swashbuckler, it's good inspiration for gamers running swashbuckling campaigns nonetheless.

Check local listings for times.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Buccaneer is Out

I want to spend some time catching up on my sadly-neglected campaign wiki, so I'm going to take a short break from blogging this week.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Infernal Sorceress

"Quick as a weasel, but you'll die like the pig you are!" Don Filberto snarled when he saw what had happened and gathered himself for a more careful attack. He saw the twin daggers, feinted with his sword, then stepped back and and quickly drew his own to use as a main gauche. Now the match was highly weighted in his favor again, more to his liking. Not that he was a mediocre swordsman. On the contrary, the small Iberian aristocrat was indeed a master of the art. It was a matter of enjoyment. Don Filberto took great pleasure in watching his opponent die slowly. With a sword against two daggers, he would have had to be cautious, strike to kill or else risk being slain himself. Now with a pair of weapons himself, he could play the game he loved. "Come on then, you stinking pig! Let's see what you're made of."

Ferret wasn't goaded by anything his foe said. He knew all too well his chances were slim when facing a swordsman from a distance. He needed to get in close, but Don Filberto's main gauche made that near impossible now. If he managed to get past the threat defense of the long blade, then the left-hand one would be there to attack. Then again, he had seen the little man move. Don Filberto was graceful and fast. He could dance back, keep Ferret where he wanted him before his sword point.

The priest could recover at any moment - or Colonel de la Cabarro for that matter. Guardsmen might come in. Time was his worst foe, and Ferret knew that all too well. He could not fence with Don Filberto, hope that some obstacle in the cluttered office would throw the man off balance and expose him to attack thus. Ferret had to attack. "You are a nasty little mannikin, aren't you?" he said with derision. "You must have been the runt of the litter your bitch mother whelped!"

The words made Don Filberto seethe with fury. He was most sensitive of his barely-over-five-foot height, and any insult to his mother spelled death to the one speaking. The rage didn't make him inept, though, but actually gave him a deadly calmness now. It had been used against him before, and Don Filberto was a veteran who had been schooled well. He made no reply, and attacked.

- Infernal Sorceress, Gary Gygax

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Under the Microscope

Let it never be said I'm not willing to do my homework.

Lowell Francis at Age of Ravens posted video from a panel discussion at the inaugural ConTessa online gaming conventions. Titled Collaborative World Building and Gaming, the eighty-five minute video features three games designers - the Microscope dude, the Diaspora guy, the Psi*Run woman - along with Francis and his wife, Sherri Stewart, who moderates the panel. In his blogpost, Francis expands on a few of the comments made in the video. I admit, I skipped the last five minutes, but as they were winding down with questions from the con forum, I think I got the gist of what the panelists had to say.

To no great surprise, the panelists make an argument for collaborative world building - CWB hereafter - including their personal experiences, presumably gained from actual play, their different approaches to it in their games, and why they feel more traditional roleplaying games would benefit from CWB; Francis in particular seems to be most interested in this application, particularly in his blogpost. Among the arguments offered in the video and accompanying post - and this is by no means the complete list - are that CWB encourages player buy-in and investment in the campaign, reduces referee workload, fosters an environment of trust between the players and the referee, and may draw out reserved players and curb domineering players. More efficiently trapping mice and curing the common cold may have been in there is well, probably in those last five minutes that I skipped.

Now to be completely fair, their passion for CWB is no less than my own for sandbox, status quo game-worlds and the associated playstyle, a topic on which I bang away pretty relentlessly. I don't presume that what I like is, or should be, universal to all gamers; I absolutely understand why gamers enjoy linear adventures, frex, and, as a rule, I attempt to offer at least some explanation or examples of other playstyles and preferences.

The panelists actually get close to this just short of the one hour mark. There's mention that CWB may not be for all gamers: in discussing scene-framing, it's noted that some gamers find it challenging to switch back and forth between character and player perspectives, with Meguey Baker - Psi^Run woman - suggesting that some havent' cultivated the skill "or don't care." Right at one hour, Ben Robbins - Microscope dude - finally gets around to mentioning that, for gamers who want a "world of mystery," collaborative world building can spoil the game. He immediately moves on to suggest that it's simply a matter of players being "in on the joke," and that they can learn to, in his words, "participate in an informed and joyous fashion."

That's as close to the panelists get to addressing what is the biggest sticking point of collaborative world building for me, and perhaps for other gamers as well: as a player, I want to explore the game-world, not build it. The "world of mystery" isn't something I want to get past; it's one of the most important features of roleplaying games for me.

The panelists generally display little appreciation for, or interest in, why the "player/GM dyad" works for so many gamers and has for so long, and that's fine as far as it goes, of course. In Lowell Francis' blogpost, it goes rather beyond simply ignoring other positions to exaggerating a fringe argument, that referees who don't embrace collaborative world building may do so because they 'fear the players,' instead. Francis goes on to note that, yes, the players may end up making significant changes to what the referee is interested in running, but that's okay, because the referee can still add surprises, even when the swords-and-sorcery campaign he planned to run is morphed into a high fantasy romp through the players' input. After offering a number of benefits from CWB to the traditional referee, Francis concludes with a few "drawbacks": it nay require going outside the referee's "comfort zone," the game system may not actually support the suggestions made by the players, and that - presumably from their new-found investment - the players may want to play longer than the referee planned to run the campaign at the beginning. Some drawback, that last, huh?

The sad and somewhat frustrating thing about this whole exercise is that neither the panelists nor Francis' blogpost take note of the trumpeting African bull elephant in the room: the difference isn't between the players collaborating in world building or not - it's between collaborating in world building in-character or out-of-character. The characters in my Flashing Blades campaign may, per the rules of the game, rise to the highest ranks among the ministers and courtiers of France and the princes of the Church; they can control armies and ministries and bishoprics, accumulate vast wealth, own chateaus and estates. They can rival or literally supplant Richelieu or Mazarin or Colbert or Turenne.

Or they can become pirates. Or knights. Or explorers. Or diplomats. They can change the game-world in any number of ways, large and small. But they do it in-character, in actual play, not out-of-game in accordance with a set of game designer's guidelines.

I understand that these particular panelists are preaching, and it's not incumbent on the minister to offer the devil's side of the argument, but honestly, I really wish that the panelists had recognized this and addressed it, because I think it would be a much more interesting discussion than the one I listened to.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

DVR Alert

Thursday, 27 June, TCM offers a pair of swashbucklers, both featuring the lovely, raven-haired Patricia Medina: Pirates of Tripoli, with Paul Henreid, and The Lady and the Bandit, with Louis Hayward.

I've never seen either of these (!) so I'm really looking forward to both.

Local listings &c.

Monday, June 24, 2013

This Never Happened . . . But It Should Have!

Click on the pic to visit Super-Team Family . . . The Lost Issues, and be prepared to lose hours of your day perusing the greatest comic teams-ups that never were.