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.