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Monday 30 September 2013

Modern Art, or Toddler Art?

Today, not quite a "Cracked Monday" but this was too good to pass up. Today, courtesy of Buzzfeed, a quiz: compare "modern art" with art drawn by toddlers and see if you can identify which is which!

Now, to be fair, not all "modern art" is utter bullshit. But this stuff certainly is.  As is a lot of other stuff: pretentious drivel, a refuge for self-important assholes with no talent trying to pass themselves off as deep thinking creators.  Its nonsense. It ought to be considered a War Crime against Civilization.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Sunday 29 September 2013

Golden Age Campaign Archive

In last night's adventure, we had a crime mystery, which was a welcome break from the last several sessions of fighting super-nazis.

The PCs got caught up in investigating a strange series of thefts from millionaires' houses that didn't appear to have any connecting feature other than being meticulously planned and apparent inside-jobs.  There was no overlap in the staff, and not even very common social circles among the victims.

It turns out that it was an "inside job"; the doll did it:

The Rag Doll, that is.

He was getting into people's houses by pretending to be a normal doll.  Turned out to be one of the creepier and more intense villains we'd had in the campaign so far; the player's really liked him.

Anyways, that's it for this time!


Currently Smoking: nothing, I've got a cold.

Saturday 28 September 2013

RPGPundit Reviews: Hulks & Horrors

RPGpundit Reviews: Hulks & Horrors (Basic Black Edition)

This is a review of the RPG "Hulks & Horrors", an OSR sci-fi RPG.   It is a review of the print "basic black edition", which comes as a roughly 150-page paperback with no art but jam-packed with information. Its very bare-bones in terms of presentation and layout.  One person who saw it (who shall remain nameless because she doesn't want to be quoted as being "mean") said on looking at it that she understands its "basic black" but it was the worst cover she'd ever seen. Seeing the cover, she said, wouldn't motivate her to take it off the shelf.  We agreed that the cover was an attempt at an homage at 80s video-games.
The game is published by Bedroom Wall Press, written by John S. Berry III.

The King of Old School Sci-fi is Traveller.  The King of OSR sci-fi is Stars Without Number.  Can Hulks & Horrors compete with these two giants? Can it produce something either good enough and/or different enough to make it worthwhile?  That's what I've set to find out.

The premise starts out well enough; its also an interesting thought as to why we've been sending out signals and messages and looking all over the place for signs of intelligent life out there for nearly a century now and so far come up bust.  In the game's default setting concept, by the time humanity develops interstellar travel, they find that the galaxy had once had a vast interstellar civilization but that virtually all of the species of this once-vast stellar community (almost all intelligent species in the galaxy) were wiped out by a disaster that spread across the stars.  Only those few species who had been out on the primitive fringes (like our own), and who had still been too primitive to even be bothered with, managed to survive.  And now humans and a handful of other races have gotten to the point of moving out into the stars, only to find said stars filled with dead worlds, the ruins of civilizations wiped out, the dead hulks of starships floating in the depths, and occasional mutated horrors and monstrosities left behind in the post-apocalyptic aftermath.
Like I said, not a bad start.

Someone else who got a look at it pointed out that the author could really have used an editor; there's bad punctuation and long run-on sentences in the text, a severe abundance of improper use of commas, etc.  However, said person is a grammar expert; for me, I would say when I saw it myself that the book's text was not much worse than the average game book without the benefit of professional editing. Aside from the lack of art, I think that some of the layout was a bit clumsy, and some of the tables a bit difficult to read.  These, to me, are mostly nitpicks; but if appearance, grammar, run-on or otherwise problematic sentences, or the abuse of commas is the sort of thing that drives you nuts, you might have a bit of trouble with this work.

Now, let's get a look at the system: H&H is based on old-school D&D.  The game contains rules for playing only up to 6th level, though it isn't hard to extrapolate beyond that.  Most features of the rules will be very easily recognizable to players of D&D, and as a great deal of the default adventuring-model has to do with exploring ruins of dead civilizations, and ruined spaceships, the basic form of adventures are themselves set up to mimic D&D.  This is already a significant difference from Stars Without Number, where while the rules are D&D-based, the adventuring model is largely Traveller-based.  This difference might make H&H more appealing to some, or perhaps less to others.

Ability scores are generated on 3d6, in order. Attributes can be "checked" on a simple D20 roll-under basis. There are human classes, and racial classes. The human classes are Pilot, Scientist, Soldier, and Psyker.
The alien racial classes are quite interesting: you have a Hovering Squid (which The Wench found particularly appealing; having always wanted to play a squid-like creature in an RPG), a giant sentient Amoeba called an "Omega Reticulan", and a Bearman.

None of the classes are just straightforward translations from D&D (though I guess soldier and fighter are pretty close to each other) but each have the familiar niche protection. Pilots get to make special maneuvers, they're fairly good at ranged combat, they get a very slight bonus to INT checks with computers.  Scientist was a class I found kind of cheesy; they have a "multi-tool" that can perform specific programs, but only have limited charges.  They get more charges and can use more programs as they go up in level; meaning that Scientists can use "Science" the way magic-users use spells in D&D.  I don't really know if that was the best way to handle this class; it seems fairly arbitrary.

Soldiers get bonuses to hit and damage, to perception checks related to combat scenarios, and weapon proficiencies. And curiously, the Psyker, rather than being a magic-user equivalent, has straightforward "psi points".

Regarding the non-humans: the squids have multiple attacks, can't be surprised (they have multi-direcitonal awareness), can entangle opponents and sense non-organic life.  the Amoebas can use Science in the same way as a scientist, can pilot like a pilot, can carry heavy weapons, and have a type of exosuit that lets them survive in extreme environments.   And the Bearmen have some Psyker powers, gets barbarian (or should that be Barbearian? or Bearbarian?) rage, have natural weapons and AC bonus, and can detect un-natural creatures.

The list of both "science powers" and psychic powers are relatively small; there are 3 levels of science powers (again, in the same style as spells); each level has an average of a half-dozen powers.  Psychic powers have no levels, and there's a list of 13 of them to choose from.

There's a small but decent equipment list, of low and high tech weapons and armor; AC is descending in this game.  There are grenades, environmental protective devices (things like gas masks, climbing gear, parachutes, etc), power sources, drugs, computerized devices, general equipment, and a list of goods and services (for things like costs of meals, berths on ships, robot transport/carriers, hovercars, or hired henchmen/mercenaries).

Lest we think this game is for pure mindless dungeon-crawling (or starship-hulk-crawling, as the case may be), we get a few pages on rounding out your character; recommending that you choose a good name (with some guidelines on how to make alien names), detail your background, and choose languages (with a list of the standard languages available). This section does, however, have a little too much information about Female Bearman nipples. No, seriously; in the "appearance" section the author goes into great detail on alien race appearances, but this takes a definitively weird turn when he feels a need to mention the prominently protruding six nipples of the pregnant "female bearman" (note: "female bearman", not "bearwoman"; I suppose that's technically correct inasmuch as "bearman" could be correct in the first place, but it still sounds awkward).

There are a few important tweaks to the typical Old-school rules, variations from the D&D norm.  Saving throws are not handled in either the standard "save vs. paralysis" type of separate checks; nor in the form of reflex/will/fortitude 3e-style bonuses.  Instead, they are handled by standard roll-under attribute checks, for Dex, Con or Wisdom, essentially streamlining the ref/fort/will concept.

Also significant is that attack rolls are also roll-under; with characters scoring a hit if they roll less than the sum of the 5 + PC's attack bonus, plus opponent's AC, plus theoretical modifiers. A 20 is always a miss, and a 1 always a hit.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this; but of course, this might not sit well with some D&D-fans; it feels counter-intuitive.  For whatever reason, celebrating a 1 and bemoaning a 20 does not seem as right as doing the opposite.

There's the standard list of how to handle conditions for different sorts of hazards, but adapted to a sci-fi setting: there's things like fires, falling, or disease, but also stuff like handling vacuum, gravity, weird atmospheres, etc.

There's some very complete, somewhat traveller-esque rules for creating starships and starship combat.  The starship-build rules are very step-by-step, which is of course immensely appealing to some, though I've never personally cared for that sort of thing myself.  Thankfully there's a small list of sample starships provided.

Next up you get a very detailed chapter on adventuring, starting with a setup for how to handle the bureaucracy of space exploration, and then a large section on generating star systems and planets, with plenty of random tables. The tables aren't exactly hard sci-fi, but they also aren't particularly wild and gonzo; just what you might term classic sci-fi.
The subsequent chapter details similar rules and random tables for creating both ruins on-planet and spaceship wrecks, to explore.  Both operate as substitute for dungeons.  Wrecked starships obviously function along similar lines to dungeons; as do some of the ruins (like the conveniently constructed "pod colonies"; one common type of ruin from a common interstellar civilization whose preferred style of architecture was towns of domed "pod" structures with interconnecting tunnels).  Aside from those there's also guidelines for space stations, underground bases, spaceship hulks, and urban ruins.  There's also additional material for generating hazards, loot, weapons, armour, other valuables, and technological wonders.

The monsters chapter provides some basic guidelines on creating monstrous creatures, and some very good random tables for different types of locations. Then you get a list of about 40 pre-made monsters; and this is one of the treasures of the book; they have a great sci-fi aesthetic, clever names and descriptions, and I could see them being generally used in other OSR games besides this one.

The section on dungeon mastering, at the end, provides some guidelines for general management of the game. It includes some sound advice about how to handle the random tables for generating the various "dungeon-type" scenarios, a good reminder to GMs not to set out to be trying to impose a gm-run story on the game, and context for the game stating that it is solidly situated in the "soft sci-fi" end of the SF spectrum (and thus that there shouldn't be too much concern placed on technical or scientific accuracy. You also get guidelines on running NPCs and handling monsters, as well as the rules on how to give out experience points. Finally, some optional rules-modifications are provided, including alternate methods of generating ability scores, how to continue play past 6th level if you so choose, how to use stats above 20, an option to give extra hp to characters for a less-lethal game, and an optional "Redshirt" class (to be taken by PCs who were generated without ability scores that wouldn't meet any of the stat requirements for any of the classes: the Redshirt can advance as a red-shirt gaining a +1 to an ability score each level until such time as they qualify for the minimum required ability in a regular class, at which time they have the option to switch to that class).

The back pages have a character sheet, ship design sheet, sector design sheet, and star-system design sheet.

So what to conclude about Hulks & Horrors?  Its a very different game from Stars Without Number, to be sure (and I suspect, also will be different, though perhaps closer to, Machinations of the Space Princess, the other OSR sci-fi game I'll be reviewing shortly).  It certainly has a lot less Traveller in it.  In some ways, it sticks more closely to some of the strictures of the D&D-mechanic, occasionally to its detriment.  SWN is also better-produced.

But, that said, H&H does have a wealth of very interesting material that you could use in any OSR sci-fi game (or indeed, sci-fantasy, or any standard game that you wanted to add some sci-fi weirdness to).  I think its a bit of flawed gem: some very good material (the world generation and ruins/hulk generation stuff is very good and quite emulative to what the author set out to do), and then some stuff that isn't quite to my liking at least (scientists having 'vancian science spells' for example), and its all wrapped up in a package that would probably beg for a slightly more professional revised edition.

Pick it up if you're an OSR completeist, if you really want a sci-fi game that's a touch more gonzo than SWN (without going into the full-bore gonzo of Machinations of the Space Princess), or if you're looking for sci-fi material to cannibalize for your other OSR games.


Currently smoking: Castello 4k collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Friday 27 September 2013

Gay? Thinking of Travel? Come to Uruguay!

So today I was going to post a book review (sorry, Hulks & Horrors will have to wait until tomorrow!) but as I was walking home I happened across the start of the annual "Marcha de La Diversidad" (lit. "diversity march"), the pro-GLBT state-sponsored event here. 
Plus, today I'd just started fooling around with my fucking awesome Google Nexus camera!  So, I took a few pictures:

These are of the GLBT fair that precedes the march.  I spoke to some of the organizers too; they told me that in last year's march, they had 200000 participants, and they expect 25-30K this year.

In any case, that and the spring weather got me thinking that it had been a while since I commented on how nice a place Uruguay is to visit or live in.  Its nice for the weather (see the palm trees in the picture?), and its nice for the people.  And if you happen to be gay, its nice because Uruguay has by far the most tolerant and accepting culture of any latinamerican country; I'd go so far as to say it ties with Canada for the most GLBT-friendly country in the Americas, period.

There are explicitly gay-friendly hotels and hostels, restaurants and cafes, stores, bars and discos; and this is growing on a yearly basis. And of course, Uruguay has joined that tiny list of countries to legalize Gay Marriage on the national scale (it also allows people from the age of 12 onward to choose what gender they put on their national identity card, by the way).

So if you're Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Trans, and you were thinking of where to go on vacation this winter (or maybe where to move to work abroad), you may want to keep all that in mind.  Do you want your tourist dollars to go to reward countries with awesome beaches but shitty behaviour toward homosexuals? Or do you want your tourist dollars to reward a country with some of the most awesome beaches (and street markets, and steaks, and music, etc etc.) in the world AND which also shows an unheard-of level of acceptance?


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday 26 September 2013

Post-KS Crash

So, now that the Raiders of R'lyeh kickstarter is done, and very successfully so, it seems that my body got the unconscious signal that it was finally OK to pay the toll for several days of very little rest, and today I utterly crashed into a very bad cold.

Still, I wanted to mention that the KS did really well, and that if you missed it, you can still buy into the Raiders game (just follow the link above to see the details).  Its one last chance to get in on it with the backer prices; after that, prices may vary, who knows?

Meanwhile, my work on Raiders will still continue for a while; I have more Consulting to do on the final version of the rules, and some more writing to do too (on my Occult Societies module as well as some material in the main book).

But if any of you out there are looking for an RPG consultant, do let me know.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Brebbia no. 7

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Learning to Love the Forgotten Realms in 4 Easy Steps

Learning to Love the Forgotten Realms, In 4 Easy Steps

So even to this day, there are people out there who express serious trauma regarding the FR. And that's understandable, as rarely has such a great setting been treated so shabbily by its owners. The realms has been shat upon consistently since the end of the '80s by its own authors, with only a few rare points of redemption. But underneath that mountain of crap, there's one of the best fantasy settings ever made.

Let's remember here that the realms were a 20-year labour of love before it ever became an RPG setting. And that original work was incredibly rich and full of gaming potential. That's all still there. You just need to redeem the setting, to clear away the crap and focus on what's great about the Realms.

So here's what you have to do, what I've done, to run the realms without losing your lunch:

1. Forget that the novels exist. Instead of complaining about them, and the pernicious effect that they've had on the game setting, just ignore their existence and everything in them. Make it clear to the players that the novels have no bearing on YOUR Realms. It helps if like me, you've hardly read any of them (I read a couple back in the very early days, when I was a dumb kid, and after a while even I realized that they were cheap, ugly, c-grade fantasy fiction). If you weren't that clever, then you just need to wash your mind clear of anything you ever learned, or thought you learned, about the Realms from the novels.

2. Read either the original "grey box" set or the 3e FR book; and read it as though it was a brand new setting you'd never read about before. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about the place, and treat it all with equanimity, as though what's in the main volume is all of equal importance and all there is to know about the place. I'm not saying you can't choose to add material and detail from other sourcebooks, but start from the basis of treating the Realms as though it was a brand-new thing.

3. Treat all the NPCs equally too. The Realms are full of author's pet characters; but its also utterly full of local NPCs that have barely been touched upon, much less tainted by exposure to the crappy novels. Imagine that the wizard who has a tower in Tantras you'd never heard of until now is just as valuable a potential NPC, if not more, than Khelben Blackstaff.
Remember point 1? Forget that some of the NPCs are supposed to be "more important" because of the novels; remember, the novels don't exist! And remember point 2? The only things you "know" about any of the NPCs, including Elminster, the Simbul and fucking Drrzt, is what you read about them in the main volume you choose to center your campaign on. And even that can be changed at will. In the grey box, Elminster is far from the annoying demi-god you see in your head from years of character-abuse, and drrzt doesn't even exist!

4. Change the NPCs, and the setting, however you like. Use the material as your basis, but in the core books there's shitloads of space, and "blanks" for you to fill in about what even the detailed places are like, and what there is to do and see in them. Make the Realms your own. My own realms have a far more sword and sorcery feel to them than the default idea of the Realms that exists in most people's heads; and that concept really fucking works. If you follow points 1, 2, and 3 above, the Realms are a dangerous and wild place full of S&S adventure. But if you want something more medieval, there's lots of room to do that. If you want something more exotic, there's shitloads of room to make Amn and Calimsham, never mind the Jungles to the south, unbelievably exotic. The realms is huge, and the tragedy of the setting is that 90% of gamers who run it always run it the same way, usually bound by the rotting corpse of the novels and years of bad novel-influenced supplements. It doesn't have to be that way.

Trust me. Take those four easy steps with the Realms, and you won't regret it.


(originally published February 25, 2012; on the old blog)

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Raiders of R'lyeh is shooting high in the last 24 hours And The Pundit Will Come to Your House!

We've got less than one day until the Raiders of R'lyeh kickstarter is done (and then I promise I'll shut up about it for a while), but its going like crazy.

I had started this blog entry writing that we were approaching the $26K mark but now we've just zoomed past it.  And this unlocks  (as soon as Quentin Bauer gets off his duff) a new backer level that will potential be of interest to you, my proxies!

It is called "You Get ALL THE BOOKS and the Pundit Comes To Your House!"

Yes, for only one lucky customer, at the backer level of $4000, you will get the awesome Raiders of Ryleh hardcover in sewn binding with stamped gold foil cover, both main colour pdfs, all the stretch goal and exclusive PDFs (Arkham Societies of Psychical Research, Arkham Occult Societies, Secrets of the Sargasso, Baron Ferenczy), the map packs, AND you will have me, the RPGPundit, fly to your town or city and a game of Raiders of R'lyeh (or, if you prefer, Arrows of Indra or Lords of Olympus) in your home for you and up to 6 of your friends/gaming group.  I will also, if you so desire, sign your copies of the RoR main book, the Occult Societies book, your copies of Arrows of Indra, Lords of Olympus or "Forward... to Adventure!", and your cat; I will either smoke my pipe in your house or viciously complain about not being able to smoke my pipe in your house; I will perform the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in your living room, cast the runes at you and your friends, eat a disproportionate amount of your snacks, sing Uruguayan folk songs to you, and call one person of your choosing a Swine.

So, get ready, because this offer comes but once, and only to he who is fastest on the reload button. Watch for when Quentin offers it, so that you can scoop it up and push Raiders to the $30K mark and the very cool $30K stretch goal (though the one after that I think would be the cooler still! Let's see how far we can get this baby!).


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Stanza + Rattray's Accountant's Mix

(note: Some location restrictions might apply based on countries that would not let me in.  Game can be run in English or in Spanish. Cat signing depends upon  cat's propensity to scratch when being written upon. Uruguayan folk songs will not be sung in proper tune. Rune castings do not guarantee results. Disproportionate snack eating dependent on nature and quality of snacks)

Monday 23 September 2013

Raiders of R'lyeh Stretch Goals

So Raiders of R'lyeh has a couple of more days to go in its Kickstarter, and Quentin Bauer has revealed some of the additional stretch goals.

The Sargasso Sea and Baron Ferenczy sourcebooks are done!

We're now approaching a stamped gold-foil hardcover at 24K!

At 25K, the book gets a 1910-style Dust-jacket with a cheat-sheet on the inside!

If it gets to 27K, there'll be the creation of a "deluxe" Online SRD, with a monster generator!  NPC and adventure generators would be added at the later levels of funding.

And along the way (not really a "stretch goal" exactly, I think Quentin just wanted to tease it..) if the funding hits 26K, there'll be an exclusive unlocked for a single backer, involving me flying to someone's house and running a game for them.

Incidentally, look for something big at $30K funding; I don't know if we'll get there, but I sure hope so.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Brebbia No. 7 Mix

Sunday 22 September 2013

Raiders of R'lyeh Fully Funded!

Yes, I wouldn't say it was a perfect Kickstarter; it was the first one I was (peripherally involved in) and it was Quentin Bauer's first too; and we made a few errors, but the awesomeness of the game itself has gotten in there.

Raiders of R'lyeh is now fully funded and will definitely be happening.

But its not over yet.  There's three more days of funding to go in the Kickstarter, and there'll be more opportunities for ongoing funding after that (more about that later); and now I've been told by Quentin that there will be some stretch goals, due to be posted just about any time now, which (if reached) will make RoR even more awesome.  Starting with the hardcover main book itself.  I don't want to give it all away, but if we hit the first couple of stretch goals RoR is likely to be the nicest-looking Cthulhu-related RPG hardcover rulebook ever, and one of the nicest RPG books period.

Keep an eye out for some new "exclusives" backer levels too.  I can't promise anything, but there may be some new surprises there worth seeing!

I'll probably be writing more about all this tomorrow and Tuesday, but in Kickstarter-land 24 hours is an eternity, so I would strongly suggest you go to the KS page itself and watch it for updates!


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday 21 September 2013

A Player's Eye View of my DCC Game

So last week we played DCC (the English-language game) and our newest player happens to have a blog, and he's posted a summary of the (first half of) the game I ran.

This is the ongoing DCC game that we've been playing only about once a month; and I've been reticent to reveal too much of the setting in my blog entries so far, I'm half-thinking I could make a sourcebook out of it some day.  But Gabriel wrote this awesome actual play report, showing off the "110% gonzo" of the setting, and I really can't resist sharing it.

Tell me what you think: is this a game you'd want to play in? Is this a setting you'd want to read, in detail?


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k collection canadian + Image Latakia

Friday 20 September 2013

Arrows of Indra: Gandharvas

Gandharvas in Arrows of Indra are a PC race, and as some have pointed out (sometimes as a criticism) they are presented in AoI as a clear equivalent to the niche of the "Elf" in AD&D.

Now, I went a very conservative route with demi-humans; I'll note that everything I wrote about Gandharvas is accurate to Indian Mythology; but Indian Mythology is huge, and I had to in each instance (with each monster or race) choose one particular presentation out of many, many possible presentations; and I intentionally chose the one that would be most approachable to D&D players.

Gandharvas in Indian mythology can be tall thin musically-inclined immortals with birdlike features.  But it would also be in following with Indian mythology if they had horse-like features instead, or a mix of both.

Its universal in almost all depictions of Gandharvas that they are skilled musicians for the gods.  In some representations, they can fly through the air.  In many versions, Gandharvas are exclusively male, and they mate with the exclusively female air-spirits called Apsaras.

In the celestial realms, the Gandharvas are the musicians in the courts of the Gods.  They are found in the realm of Indra and of Shiva in particular.
On the world of Jagat, Gandharvas would be quite a rare sight in any of the Bharata kingdoms.  They'd be the source of enormous curiosity but also of tremendous respect.  Everyone knows they are Holy servants of the gods, and they would by default be treated with the same respect as a Brahmin-caste human. Of course, there would be some of the same expectations of behaviour from them; though humans would also realize that the Gandharvas do not need to follow all the same rules and taboos as human Brahmins do.
There are Gandharva kingdoms in Jagat, in the Kailash mountains (bordering the kingdoms of the Yaksha king Kubera; unlike many settings' treatments of elves and dwarves, Gandharvas and Yakshas have quite good relations with one another); and also in Dwaita Jungle.

The cities of the Gandharvas should be astounding and mystical places; not treehouse-homes like you'd expect from wood elves or the likes, but rather astounding cities with sophisticated architecture and incredible beauty.  The Gandharva cities are powered by energy, with artificial lights, running water and other sophisticated wonders; I intentionally left it vague as to whether this "technology" is actually some kind of advanced science or some wondrous magic, but what is clear is that their energy sources are powered by gold; and Gandharvas use gold as an energy source rather than as a means of currency.   There's some significant potential for adventuring ideas right there, both for Gandharvas or potentially for ambitious characters looking to steal from the immense storehouses of Gandharva gold.

Anyways, the point is that you can make of Gandharvas what you want in Arrows of Indra, like any other part of the game.  If you want your Gandharvas to just be a substitute for elves, go for it.  There's no problem with that.
If you want them to be something far more unusual, there's a lot that can be done with that too.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Thursday 19 September 2013

Raiders of R'lyeh author Quentin Bauer on #rpgnet Chat Tonight!

So, tonight Quentin Bauer, the author of "Raiders of R'lyeh" will be attending #rpgnet chat where the excellent Dan Davenport will be interviewing him.

I'll note that #rpgnet chat is in no way connected to the 'rpgnet' forum, which you know I'd never support.  Its an independent old-timey (IRC?) chat.  Anyways, to login just click the link above, choose a nickname and click "Connect". 

You'll have a good time!  Its your chance to answer any questions you might have about the awesome EdWeirdian RPG "Raiders of R'lyeh"! You'll be motivated to support the Raiders Kickstarter! You'll make the Pundit happy!

The fun starts at 5pm Pacific.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Horn + C&D's Pirate Kake

Wednesday 18 September 2013

A Proposal for the Good People of Quebec

So in a follow up to my earlier blog entry about the Extremely-Racist, So Racist Its Ridiculous Charter of "Quebec Values", it has since that time become increasingly clear that the list of approved and non-approved items has fallen along very strictly ridiculously-Racist lines.  Yes, you're not allowed to wear a huge honking cross around you neck, but you can wear a little one (which is what most christians might do), or a Jesus pin (as long as its in French!), and of course the Quebec legislature can keep its HUGE HONKING CROSS that it has in the national assembly room; and all the other various crosses that litter the public landscape. 
They get to keep all these because these are "Quebec traditions".  But if you wear a kippah or a hijab, that's an an "affront to our secular values".  

So I was wondering: what would happen if everyone in Quebec who was opposed to this monstrous Charter, who realizes just how much it humiliates the province of Quebec and the ethnically-Quebecois people in the eyes of the world, and feeling embarrassed about this or outraged over it want to do something to oppose it... what would happen if all these people started to wear Kippahs or Hijabs?

Besides the obvious boost to the kippah-and-hijab-retail-industry, that would go a long way toward making a farce on the ground of the PQ's absurd posturing wouldn't it?

I'll just throw that idea out here and hope it catches on...


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Tuesday 17 September 2013

RPGPundit Reviews: Stars Without Number

RPGPundit Reviews: Stars Without Number

This is a review of a print version of the RPG "Stars Without Number", by Kevin Crawford, the version by Sine Nomine Publishing. I understand that there's now more than one version of this book, and so I can't take responsibility for any changes there might be from one to the other.

To clarify, this is the one with the cover depicting a vast starfield with some kind of Nebula. The Wench said to me "The first thing to do in a review is to judge the book by its cover", and I certainly agree. This cover is evocative and beautiful, and its just the start of a truly fantastic game.

There are a few games or RPG products for review that I feel are really awful, a few that I think are alright or even clever. Then there are those rare few that the moment I see them I'm convinced I'll be running them sooner or later: Majestic Wilderlands, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Starblazer Adventures, Aces & Eights, Two-Fisted Tales, ICONS, and now certainly I will be adding Stars Without Number to the short list of high honours. They're not the only reviewed game products I end up using, but they're the ones that even from the first read I have no doubt will end up being used, because every inch of them oozes awesomeness.

SWN is technically an OSR game. Unlike most of these games, it is not a "clone", in the sense of being a recreation of an old RPG from the 70s or early 80s. Its not a direct copy of D&D, or of Gamma World, or Traveller, or anything else. Instead, its a game that certainly could have existed back in that time, possibly the game that some could say SHOULD have been the game done by TSR as the sci-fi companion to D&D. In brief, most of its rules are directly inspired by OD&D, with a strong dose of the mechanical, technological, and setting-design also coming from Traveller. And yet it doesn't feel any need to limit itself to the strict "OSR" box, its mechanics are extremely well-designed and incorporate some modern concessions, its layout is top-notch, and easy to read and learn. It is, in other words, a game that an OSR-fanatic would read and think of as a totally OSR-type game (unless he was part of the "OSR Taliban" who only accept games and game material that are actually old, or direct unfaltering clones thereof), while at the same time someone who's a totally modern gamer that has no experience with old school could read, play, and enjoy without ever suspecting the design source of the game. This is rather a brilliant accomplishment, when you think about it, because it reaches out to the mainstream without alienating the gaming subculture it came from.

The default setting of SWN is mostly implied rather than explicit, but not entirely. You are told in the setting material that the setting is a far-future reality where humanity spread out among the stars, with remarkable success, only to have the entire human civilization collapse due to a terrible disaster. The default starting point is hundreds of years after that fact, when most of the galaxy is still in a dark age but there are areas that have recovered and begun expanding again.
The PCs are assumed to be adventurers, reaching out to the stars to explore vast reaches of space going from planet to planet, searching for treasures among the ruins of ancient colonies, and discovering what has become of worlds with whom contact has been long cut off.
The game is explicitly set up for "Sandbox" play, with the author attempting to lay down guidelines for both Players and GMs about how to handle the "sandbox" style. Players are advised that in a sandbox they are the ones who need to set up goals for their characters and take the lead in terms of what they want to do in this vast emulated world, and warned that unlike other games, the setting is not one that is "scaled to their abilities", unsurmountable odds are entirely possible and players need to proceed with caution. GMs are advised not to try to direct the "plot" of the game, to provide a variety of adventure opportunities but be ready to put them aside when the players choose to do things that are not within the GM's original expectations. All basically good advice.

The mechanical core of SWN is Old-school D&D. That is to say, player characters have the standard six D&D attributes, and they have a class, of which there are only three to choose from: Expert, Psychic and Warrior (roughly equivalent to Thief/rogue, Magic-user, and Fighter). Experts get a reroll on a single check once an hour, psychics get psionic powers, and warriors get to ignore a single hit against them once per fight. Character have D&D style hit points, xp requirements for going up in level, attack bonuses, and saving throws (the saving throws being divided into "physical effect", "mental effect", "evasion", "Tech" and "luck").

One area where you get more sophistication than is typically found in Old-school D&D is with the skill choices. Players each choose, in addition to class, a background package that reflects their origins (packages include things like "astrogator's mate", "engine crew", "priest", "worker", etc), the choice of which will determine certain starting skills. Then they will additionally choose a "training package" based on class that will grant them additional skills related to the particular type of "Expert", "Psychic" or "warrior" they are. Sample Expert packages include things "bounty hunter", "pilot" or "xenoarcheologist"; sample psychic packages include things like "academy graduate", "military psychic" or "tribal shaman"; sample warrior packages include things like "assassin", "ground forces" or "Templar".

Skills function in the game in ways somewhat reminiscent of the Traveller RPG, where they are ranked between 0 and 6, each level giving the same bonus to a roll of 2d6, modified by attribute. These are applied against a difficulty number, usually 8 for moderately difficult tasks, but that can vary from 6-13. No checks are needed for very simple tasks. Checks can be modified by circumstances. If you attempt to check a skill you have no rank at all in (not even 0) you get a -1 to the roll; I personally think this maybe should be higher. Rules are provided for opposed or extended skill checks.

Psionic powers are fairly well designed. They are divided into a series of "disciplines", which each provide progressive levels of power; so a psychic who takes the Telepathy discipline must first purchase "telepathy 1" before he can purchase and use "Telepathy 2". Psychics must usually spend "psi points" to activate a psychic power, the cost of which goes up with the level of each discipline; but they can also choose to permanently reduce their psi point total in order to "master" a power, after which they can use that power without expending psi points. They can also try to use a power when they have no psi points left to them, but this involves the risk of "torching", where each use carries a serious risk of ability score damage. Psychic powers include Biopsionics, Metapsionics, Precognition, Telekinesis, Telepathy and Teleportation, each of which has 9 different "Levels", and each level acts as a completely different ability. Psychic characters all have one primary discipline, which goes up every time they go up in level, and they can also additionally raise any other discipline of their choice one rank as they go up in level. Essentially, the powers are mostly quite similar to a variety of spells from D&D without being just a copy-paste job, and the game does an excellent job of making psychic powers worthwhile without being too complicated or just thinly-veiled magic.

The Equipment section is a marvelous 25-pages in length, full of a spectacular list of low, medium and ultra-high tech weapons, armor, gadgets and vehicles; just about everything you'd ever want for running a sci-fi game. Some of these items, especially the "ancient" tech devices that are no longer within the current civilization's normal level of production are quite inspiring as adventure ideas in and of themselves. Weapons do damage to hit points, most of the time; and armour provides a (descending) Armor Class. Primitive armor has no special protection against modern or high-tech weaponry. Equipment of all kind is divided by "Tech level", which ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is stone age, 3 is about our modern tech level, 4 is the standard post-fall level of technology, 5 was the standard before the fall, and 6 is totally out there super-high tech.
Just as exciting as the weapons and armour are the very well-thought-out lists of tools, medicine, exploration gear, personal accessories, and of course cyberware and vehicles. You also get basic values for lifestyle costs, employees and the cost of contracting various services. Starships are designed through a series of modular choices: you pick a hull, fitting and drive, choose weaponry and defense, and then add up the costs. I'm not usually the biggest fan of "starship design" rules, but these seem easy enough to follow, and at the same time varied enough in the options provided to be worth the bother. The game mechanics provide rules for starship travel, maintenance, repair, and combat, of course. I should mention that a simple and straightforward encumbrance system, based on the PC's STR stat, is provided.

Speaking of which, combat in the game is handled in a fashion again very similar to D&D, specifically the old-school variety. Combat happens in rounds, and players can move up to 20m and still act in a round (or can move another 20m if they don't do anything else). Initiative is rolled on a D8+dex mod. Attacks are done by rolling a d20, adding the PC's base attack bonus, combat skill bonus, attribute mod, AND the opponent's AC, as well as applying any other situational modifiers; a result of 20 or higher is a hit. A natural 20 is always a hit, and a natural 1 always misses.

Page 77 onward in the 200 page book is dedicated to the GM's domain. Considerably more advice is given on sandbox play, which I could have summarized for the author in "don't try to "create story", don't force the players in certain directions, don't try to be balanced, don't be scared of killing off the player characters". Of more use is the extensive guide to "creating your interstellar sector". A system is provided wherein a GM can randomly create a sector of space using a hexmap. A world creation system on-par with Traveller's is provided, where the GM can randomly generate or determine the atmosphere, temperature, biosphere, population, and tech level of the world, as well as provide "tags" which are details that make the world notable for adventurers. Sample tags (of the 60 provided in the book) include such things as "altered humanity", "flying cities", "local specialty", "preceptor archive", "seagoing cities", or "xenophiles". Each tag is also described in context of what this might imply for potential friends, enemies, complications, things or places that can be found on this world.
You can also choose the local cultural flavour, the basic language (the "common tongue" of the distant future apparently being a "modified English", fairly unrealistically), government, and the spaceport.

There is also a set of mechanics for the GM to create "factions". These are defined as any kind of group that may be used as an important actor in the sector; for example planetary governments, businesses, religions, clubs, etc.
Factions are created as a kind of character of their own, with hit points (reflecting the faction's resistance to outside attack), force (their ability to inflict physical violence), cunning (their skill at espionage and manipulation), wealth (their resources), "FacCreds" (their actual wealth), and experience points, which can grow when the faction completes its current "goal", to allow them to improve ratings.
Factions can operate based on "faction turns" which take place about once a month or once after each adventure. The factions involved in the region can roll initiative, gain FacCreds based on their wealth, pick goals (among a list of things like "military conquest", "commercial expansion", "expand influence", "peaceable kingdom", "wealth of worlds"), launch attacks, change homeworlds, buy assets, expand their general influence, or other such things.
Factions can also have a "tag", describing them and giving them a particular set of special effects. Tags for factions would be things like "eugenics cult", "mercenary group", "pirates", etc.
It is suggested that a high-level (9th and up) player character should be able to create a faction of his own if he wishes to.

Factions are, to be honest, one detail of the game I feel somewhat uncertain about. I think it might be one step too far into adding mechanical complexity into something that might be best off just being roleplayed, but I'm not sure. I think it'd have to be tested in play to see how well it works as a system, and whether it would be more worthwhile than just winging it. I suspect the answer to that will be different for different GMs. Fortunately, this is an entirely modular set of rules, that is, you can remove it from the game and it has no real effect on the rest of play, if you so desire.

The GM section also provides some guidelines for giving out XP (roughly based on the value of rewards obtained by the PCs), and has a random table with 100 potential adventure seeds.

There's also a set of rules for alien creation. These include a random determination for body type (human-like, reptilian, avian, etc), alien psychology and social structure, though no rules for actually statting up aliens per se. We're provided with a few descriptions of sample aliens: the Orc-like Hochog, another race that take on indescribable shapes, and a third that are metamorphs.
Fortunately, there's also a "xenobestiary" chapter, which is of significantly more value; it provides a baseline for creating alien creatures (ranging in threat level from "nuisance vermin" to "party-butchering hell-beast"), with tables for traits and variations that modify the creature's basic qualities. There's also a monster manual of sorts in the chapter, that provides a dozen sample alien monsters, plus a set of basic NPC stats for things like a combat psychic, gang boss, common or elite guard, primitive guards, low-tech tribesmen, normal humans, pirates, rogue warlords, ultra-high tech soldiers, standard soldiers, primitive soldiers, or a standard specialist.

The last two chapters are the designer notes (where the author gives his reasoning for some of the concepts in the game), and a whole sample sector: the "hydra sector"; it has 26 worlds, and four important factions in the sector. The chapter also cleverly provides a mirror set of PC-readable notes, the sort of things that they would have as "travel information" or common knowledge.

The appendix of the book is utterly awesome, providing a set of random tables for cultures, with a list of random names and place-names as well as information on culture, clothing and cuisine for "arabic", "chinese", "english", "indian", "japanese", "nigerian", "russian", and "spanish" cultures; a set of random NPC-creation tables, tables of quick NPC statistics for each class by level, a set of random tables for Corporations, for Religions, for Heretical sects, for Political Parties, for Architecture, and for "Quick Room Dressing", as well as templates for starships.
The very back end of the book contains a photocopiable blank sector hex map, planetary directory sheet, planet record sheet, faction file, adventure file, alien record file, starship record file, a planetary hex map for drawing areas of a planet's surface, and of course a detailed character sheet.

So, on the whole, absolutely awesome. I love the sandbox style, I love the old-school feel that isn't entirely bound to old-school thinking, I love the modular options to the rules. I also love that it has just the right balance of default setting; you can certainly get enough information in the book to use the game's setting as it is, while modifying to make it your own; but the game is not so bound to the setting's assumptions that you couldn't also use the system with your own or other settings without major modification being needed. It would be feasible to use SWN for a game set in an early era of interstellar travel if you so desired, or during the glorious peak of a galactic empire, or to run a setting similar to Dune, or to Fading Suns, or any number of other things. The last time I was this excited about a sci-fi RPG it was with Starblazer Adventures, and of course SWN has a style of play that makes it very different than that game, less space-opera and more gritty, without ever slipping into the stupidity of "grimdark". I have no doubt that sometime soon, when an opening appears for me to do so, I'm going to be running this game.


(originally posted January 26, 2012, in the former blog)

Monday 16 September 2013

Raiders Interview

Today, instead of doing a link to cracked I thought I'd keep up my job as a cheerleader and promote an interview Raiders of R'lyeh designer Quentin Bauer had with Zach Houghton (over at the RPG Blog II).


Currently Smoking: Neerup Classic + Rattray's Accountant's Mix

Sunday 15 September 2013

The RPGPundit Interviews: James Desborough

I've never done an interview, in all the years that I've been blogging. I've been given lots of interviews by others, but never really bothered to do one myself.  But I figured if anything would draw a lot of attention it would be if the RPGPundit (a fairly controversial figure in the RPG world, I'll admit) were to interview James Desborough, perhaps an even more controversial figure. 

I wanted to have the chance to talk with James because he's a vexing figure for me.  It sometimes annoys me to find myself having to defend the guy.  I can't decide whether he simply doesn't realize what he's doing, the way he consistent courts controversy by opening his mouth and saying things the worst way possible about some of the worst things possible, or if he's doing it all on purpose because he revels in controversy.  Either way, it proves to be a challenge in the realm of "with friends like these.."; though I recognize the irony that for other, far more moderate figures in the RPG world, they might feel similarly about me.

So let's get started and see where this led us:

Q: Ok, first question: could you describe your game designer credentials to us in about a paragraph?

A: Well, let's see... I've been roleplaying since about the age of eight or nine and making up my own material for almost as long. I've written for Wizards of the Coast, Cubicle 7, Steve Jackson Games, Mongoose Publishing and a bunch of smaller companies like LPJ Design. I've written for or created a good number of systems from 3rd and 4th Edition D&D to FATE, from OSR to Indie and now I'm creative director at Chronicle City. I've been writing and designing professionally for about thirteen years now - starting with The Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming.

Q: You have something a reputation in certain circles for somehow exemplifying all that they think is wrong with the RPG hobby.  Do you have any response for that?

A: I think that's true of both of us for different reasons and I consider my most vocal critics, themselves, to exemplify a lot of what is wrong with the hobby. Plenty of blame to go around everyone with the important difference that I don't try to dictate what other people make or do or what - and how - they play. I think I'm just a convenient bugbear who made the mistake of answering back and explaining himself. High crimes indeed. It's getting to the point where nobody is safe from the kinds of criticism I've been in for. White Wolf - at one time considered painfully progressive and right-on have taken a beating and even beloved figures of the hobby aren't immune, as the fuss over Numenara shows. I think there's room for diverse opinions and games in the hobby and if you don't like what's available, add to what is, don't take away from what is.

I also think they're, largely, wrong about me.

Q: I think, however, that the people who think I exemplify everything wrong about the hobby have issues with my ideology (or with the aggressiveness of how I pursue my defense of regular RPGs).  I'm no stranger to being slandered by ridiculous claims about my games or beliefs, but I'm generally not painted as a pervert. 
Would you like to share about how you think they're wrong about you?  Just what did they get wrong?

A: Well, for starters I don't think there's anything wrong in being a 'pervert', as in enjoying sex, sexual themes, sexual humour, pretty girls (or boys) or any of the rest of it. The kind of people who criticise me will celebrate sex in some circumstances while decrying it in others. Which strikes me as a deep hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. So, yes, I like boobies, if that makes me a pervert your bar is set ridiculously low. It's not like even the majority of my work is lashed to the mast of erotica, sex and so forth anyway.

There's also a certain amount of failure to parse satire and humour and to, apparently,  powerfully resent not getting the joke and to presume you're calling it a joke simply to escape righteous retribution. Which simply isn't true. The picture painted is of some aggressive pervert out to demean women - they even started spreading a rumour that I had, personally, raped someone this last round of vitriol. The truth is I like sex and sexual themes, I hope to tackle them with a more serious bent in the future rather than humour (humour is what makes it safe to most mid-upper tier companies). I support what I consider genuine equality, I support diversity, I agree we need more people in the hobby (though I disagree with their assessment) but I like what I like and that - by and large - is what I'm going to make.

So tough.

If people don't like what they see, I suggest they make the things they do want to see. I see you doing that and I see people like Machine Age doing that but a lot of people seem to prefer to tear down people who actually make things, rather than do it themselves. Given the low bar to entry when it comes to publishing now, the mind boggles.

Q: So playing devil's advocate, do you think there isn't anything different about your work that makes you a bigger target?

A: I think it's more to do with my attitude and opposition to censorship than with my work per se. After all, it was the blog post defending the use of rape (and other horrible circumstances) in fiction that set them off, rather than my actual work before that 'incident'. I think Raggi - of Lamentations of the Flame Princess - deliberately plays up to it and encourages it, more power to him for that. I just make what I make.

Q: Regarding "attitude", I agree that James Raggi does "play up to it" and encourage his critics; though he seems to do it in a pretty smart way, enraging his opponents while garnering support from the OSR base.  Now, continuing to play the part of the "tough interviewer", I've noted that your posts in places like Google+ seem to often be intentionally seeking out controversy as well, though I don't think in quite as focused a way as Raggi does. He makes a point of being controversial about his game, while you tend to be controversial in your posts in general. Do you really think this is helping things?

A: It finds me. I don't seek it out. I see something that I find interesting or annoying and I speak up about it.
I think it does help to have a (hopefully) intelligent, considered, countering voice.

Q:  I don't think that's true.  Just in the last few days on your G+ feed you posted: A link to an article defending Richard Dawkin's statement that "mild pedophilia" he experienced as a child "didn't do him any lasting harm"; a link to your blog defending DC's recent "draw Harley Quinn trying to kill herself" contest; a link to the "Social justice league" cartoon; another blog entry of yours where you defend the PAX/Penny Arcade guys from the recent pseudo-activist crusade against them; a critique of the "Atheism+" movement; a post where you call kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro's suicide "a tragedy"; a post where you say you're "encouraged" by the recent backlash against the "social justice extremists"; a poem making fun of the obese (with picture of a "jolly" looking obese black man); and a link to an atheism blog of yours where you decry having been banned from certain forums and defend the use of the term "fucking cunt".  I'm not specifically attacking or defending any of these particular examples (all from the last 12 days of your G+ feed, by the way, as of the time of this interview); but I think that its pretty obvious that in some way you are "seeking it out" by intentionally and regularly courting controversy, not just within the realm of RPGs but all but going out and looking for the most outrageous things you can possibly think of saying in order to piss people off.  Rebuttal?

A: This isn't provocation or deliberately seeking anything. I have been sensitised to the degree of outrage nonsense going on and I feel compelled to be a countering voice to it.
People post this stuff without thinking, investigating or even reading what is actually said. By retweeting etc they feel they're accomplishing something but, in reality, all they're doing - much of the time - is perpetuating an online lynching.
Dawkins' statement was - as is typical - taken out of context and stripped of the nuance and meaning of what he was saying. That blog speaks to that.
The Harley Quinn thing I felt, was something I might actually be listened to on, being a depressive with suicidal episodes. Again, that blog speaks to that.
I found the Social Justice league thing funny, so I shared it, much as one might a particularly amusing 'lolcat'.
I agree with Penny Arcade's attitude to a lot of the flak they've been getting and feel that, like Dawkins, they could say 'I like pie' and someone would find a way to fault them for it.
I think the death of anyone is a tragedy, I gave my reasons there as well for why I felt that way.
I do find the backlash encouraging because it suggests some sort of change is happening and a happy middle might eventually be found.
The poem doesn't so much make 'fun' of the fat as just present a comedy poem. I went out of my way to find an image to go with it that I felt wasn't shaming and just showed a big dude having a good time.
The Atheism post was about the 'Block Bot' rather than forums etc, and yes, I'm an advocate for 'strong' language as I am for all other language and forms of expression.

I am not 'seeking it out', but there is a neverending supply of stupid and - having been sensitised to it and its consequences I think dissenting voices have become more important.

The problems aren't limited to the RPG sphere. They appear in Atheism, hacker circles etc. If I were a more paranoid individual I'd think it was coordinated and targeted against vulnerable subcultures who are sensitive about their gender/racial/whatever makeup and easy marks.

So no. I'm not seeking it out. It finds me in the hobbies, interests and pastimes that I love and I want to defend them.

Not so different to you, but a different outlook perhaps.

Q: So you do agree that you go out of your way to post about this stuff, though? You "feel compelled".  I'm a guy who sometimes courts controversy too, of course; but I find our methods different.  I think I have some kind of sense of restraint on certain topics, and a more measured approach. In your case it looks like sometimes you don't have a sense of timing or consideration of how to score a win.  You're not fighting in a war; you're just lashing out.  Do you see how that can be a liability as you continue to be used as a negative example, granting ammunition to the very people you seek to oppose?

A: I don't know that I agree there. Timing perhaps, but then I think in today's world the earlier you get in the better. If you wait too long the lies have spread and the truth has zero chance of ever catching up.
Some of it's cathartic, sure. I lose my temper sometimes, yes. I'm only human.
I'd say generally speaking my concern is what's true and - perhaps naively - hope that truth can eventually carry the day over rhetoric.
I think the kind of people on the 'other' side (and honestly I agree with some of their social concerns, just not their reach, method or the extremism they go to) aren't going to slow down either way, so I might as well say my piece and have it out there.

Q:  Do you care, though? About stopping them? Or do you only care about saying what you want when you want?

A: The one necessitates the other.

Q:  Not necessarily.  There might be times when not shooting off the first stupid thing that comes to your head and thinking about what kind of message it projects to others could be useful.  For example, if someone else were to make an argument that Ariel Castro's suicide was "tragic", they might be vehicles for starting a discussion.  When you say it, you come off as a guy who's feeling sad for a guy who kidnapped three women and sexually tortured them for years and defending that guy, and maybe even what he did. I know you might think that's not fair, but its a simple reality of the effectiveness of your haters' campaign against you COUPLED with your own inability to stop saying things that give them ammunition.  Can you see how that's then a problem other people trying to oppose the same people you oppose, because they trot you out as a poster-child for "rape apologism"?

A:  Or not. I think the statements speak for themselves. The death of anyone I regard as a waste and a tragedy. In the case of Castro because he was getting off easy and denying us the capability to learn from what he had done to avoid it in the future. Which I made clear. That's far from defending the guy.

Haters are going to hate, as the saying goes. They'll find ammunition in anything. I think there's good to be had - in the face of that - in simply being honest and forthright.

People who bother to check, regretfully that's not as many as it could be, inevitably find out that the SJ mob are full of it.

Q:  I just want to clarify for readers that "SJ mob" means "Social Justice mob", as in "social justice crusaders", or what I call Pseudo-activists on this blog.  So do you feel like you want to try to disabuse readers of any of the possible claims the Pseudo-activists have made against you?  Do you believe that the portrayal of women being raped, abused or denigrated in an RPG product is always acceptable?  Or is there some situation in which it wouldn't be?
On a related note, I've received a review copy, but not yet given a serious look at (there's other games waiting on the queue ahead of it, and I have to play fair) of Machinations of the Space Princess, one of your latest works.  Is there anything in there that you think the Pseudoactivists can use (or already have!) to criticize you?

A: My argument is and always has been that creators should be free to create and to be subject to criticism, but not to censorship. The mob will argue that they're not censoring but given their focus on trying to deny people work, force self-censorship, boycott etc I think it's a valid criticism. Censorship is not limited to the public sphere (government) and in this interconnected age private censorship is far, far more of a concern. The trouble with trying to set any particular limit on when and where such material should or shouldn't be used or to say it should only be done 'well' is that these are wildly subjective and thus not a criteria we can reliably judge on.

As a rule of thumb I'd go with age appropriate, and appropriate to the material/project in question.

I don't think there's much in MotSP that the pseuds can use as ammunition, though I got a bit of nasty flak based on presumption and the fact I was working with the brilliant and lovely Satine on it. That said I'm sure someone will find something to object to, perhaps the crumbling empire of the implied setting - which is a feudalistic and totalitarian matriarchy. Perhaps some of the art they won't like. I don't know really, it's more of a toolkit RPG so there's not a lot for them to really get their teeth into. That said it's based on B-movie sci-fi and the Euro-American erotic-fantasy comics of the 70s and 80s (Metal Hurlant etc) so maybe they'll object on principle because I haven't gone out of my way to knock the 'rough edges' off the source material. I would think that's betraying the source though and it's something I wrinkle my nose at when other designers sanitise history or the sources they're drawing on.

Q:  Can you tell us more about who Satine is, for the readership? Did she do all your illustrations?

A: Satine Phoenix is an illustrator who worked on MotSP with me - and it still working with me (the stretch goals aren't all complete yet). She was on I Hit it With My Axe, D&D With Pornstars (she used to be one) and so on. Which is the salient point from the point of view of the critics I suppose. She's a brilliant artist with a unique style and a joy to work with. She has an enthusiasm for gaming, and life, that got me through some rough patches on the project. She's the kind of person we genuinely do need more of in the hobby.

Q:  So is Machinations your current project? What else are you doing?

A: Well I no longer work for myself, now that I'm part of Chronicle City so unfortunately I can't talk that much about what I'm doing. Part NDAs, part that we're having a policy of not announcing things until we're ready. Long lead times are frustrating for everybody and we don't want delayed pre-orders or frustration to set in. We have a variety of projects on the go and as part of third-party support I've been consulting with a few people and helping with their projects.

Machinations is complete, but for the time being I'll probably - in my spare time - tinker with some bits and pieces for that. I intend to keep Postmortem Studios going as a side project. My next release under that label is likely to be an adventure for MotSP.

Q:  How often do you actually game?

A: It varies wildly, but living out in the sticks my options are fairly limited. I have a weekend of gaming (Friday to Sunday) every month and a half or so and another weekend of gaming (Friday to Saturday) about once a month. Sporadic gaming in between and go to Indiecon every year.

I've found online gaming over hangouts, chatrooms etc to be problematic because of being in the UK timezone - less options - and because players treat online games as less of a big deal to not turn up to.

So I don't get to game as much as I'd like to, but when I do get to game I get a lot of time for it.
Q:  are there women in your gaming group?
A: One of them has morphed over time to become a 'guys night' with people escaping their various spouses etc. The other group does and con games typically do. Historically my groups have always had women in them and I was involved in WoD LARP for a long time, which was sometimes 50/50.
And, you know, I met my wife through gaming :)
I decided to leave the interview there as a good end note.  I came out of it with no more conclusions than when I started, but it was certainly an interesting experience.  Maybe it won't be the last interview the Pundit gives, who knows?
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + H&H Beverwyck

Saturday 14 September 2013

Cthulhu: The Occult World 1910

I figure that Quentin Bauer won't care if I tell people about this, so long as I also pimp his excellent game, Raiders of R'lyeh, the Kickstarter of which is currently nearing the "fully funded" stage.

I've been crazy-busy this past week in part (among other excessive writing commitments) I've been writing a section that will appear in the Setting Material for RoR; which will detail the state of affairs in occultism circa 1910; all the material will be based on real-life historical occultism.  It will include details on groups, celebrities of the occult world, occult philosophies, metaphysical theories, and practices, as well as a list of what kind of books occultists and practicing magicians would have been reading at the time.
I'm not quite done yet, but thus far we're looking at around 17 pages of material; at the moment, this is entirely setting-material (that is, no mechanics) but that might change (its up to Quentin).

So, my question to my readers out there (particularly CoC fans) is: how much "real occultism" do you want in your Cthulhu game? 
And importantly, do you prefer that the kind of "magick" occultists practice be something that is 100% useless in the Cthulhu Mythos world, or only about 90% useless?


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Friday 13 September 2013

The Pleasure and Secret Pleasure of Watching "Star Trek: Into Darkness"

I finally got the chance to watch this movie last night.  In what is a move indicating that the MPAA should never be allowed to bitch about "piracy" again, they chose to delay the release of this latest Star Trek film in much of latin america (and, I would presume, other parts of the "third world"), so long in fact that the DVD came out before the movie screened here.  Meaning of course that by the time the movie does come out, every latinamerican on earth will have watched this movie downloaded from the DVD on fileshare networks.  Then these asshole movie execs will have the gall to bitch about the "evils of piracy" on the one hand and how there's "no market" for sci-fi films in south america on the other.  Gang of stupid parasitic fucks.

But anyways, my point today was not to express indignation, but joy! Joy at what a great Star Trek film that really was, as proven on the one hand by how almost everyone loved it, and other other by how Star Trek Hardcore Fandom hated it.

You know, the same Star Trek Hardcore Fandom that ran Star Trek into the ground until the franchise effectively ceased to exist; at least until such time as its now-glorious revival? A revival that was managed by: A) ignoring everything the Star-trek drooling-fanboys claim is important and b) erasing the entire canon that said drooling-fanboys obsess over like a gang of talmudic scholars (only far less cool).

And so, last night, the Pundit's heart grew two sizes with glee; the first at seeing what was to me the best Star Trek movie since Star Trek VI, and the second, at massive, massive schadenfreude.  I know just enough about the Trek-fanboy's obsessions, and about the history of the series itself, to be able to identify at least many of the major points in the movie where I could see the little dipshits exploding in rage at how J.J. Abrams pissed all over their precious continuity, or did something that doesn't fit the technological or historic canon of the series, and I could imagine their impotent wailing at the fact.  And so I would laugh at odd moments while watching, to the confusion of The Wench and our host, no doubt. 

Though it is kind of tragic; and I feel absolutely no pity at all for all the poor stupid fucking nerds who feel 'put upon' by how the current stewards of the franchise wished to have a series that would actually appeal to people who bathe more than once a month, who feel outraged that the series that wasn't theirs to begin with is being 'stolen' from them by evil writers who care more about crafting a good story than ticking a list of obsessive-compulsive nerd turn-ons or having to craft their script to fit in with centuries of pseudohistory crafted by shitty mass-fiction novelists, all in outrageous effort to appeal to the "non-34-year-old-virgin" market (and no, your life-size "seven of nine" blow up doll doesn't count).

But I do sometimes think how damaged an individual you must be, to be completely incapable of appreciating the crafting of an archetypal tale, just because your flawed mind is stuck on caring about technical jargon and continuity-wankery, because you can understand those things but can't understand concepts like duty, fraternal dedication, or self-sacrifice, much less deeper philosophical issues around things like state secrecy, terrorism, whether revenge can ever be justifiable, or the militarization of society; no, because you're too busy being outraged that it "makes no sense" that they have 'trans-warp' technology in kirk's time because that contradicts the novels or that they screwed up klingon physiology or that they got to Kronos way too fast plus why haven't the tholians shown up and the ship's engines don't match the 3rd edition Star Trek Technical manual and so now your little worlds make no sense anymore.  That is fucking tragic.

So yeah, count this as one vote of profound gratitude to the people who've finally stopped running Star Trek into the ground and have made it awesome again.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Thursday 12 September 2013

"Real Magick" in RPGs: Chaos Magick

"Real Magick" in RPGs: Chaos Magick

After Aleister Crowley, probably the most significant shift in 20th century western magick was the development of what can be called "chaos magick" starting in the late 70s.  I've talked a little about this before; they were/are kind of magickal-hipsters who try to incorporate post-modern ideas into magick, show general disdain for scripted ritual, and like to mix "science" with their magick (or more aptly, butcher popular scientific or mathematical theories about everything from quantum mechanics to game theory to try to fit in with or justify their magical world view).

At their worst, these are guys who go around trying to invoke Superman by a free-form ritual of running around in a cape, rather than, say, invoking Horus with a modified version of a 2000 year old invocation.  Many of them tend to believe that all magick is purely a subjective, almost "artistic" thing, where you can make up just anything and if you believe in it strongly enough it will work.  That's "magick as placebo", basically.

But there is one thing that has to be said for them.  Of all the groups of magicians, they're the ones most likely to actually try to perform some kind of magick.  Way more, in fact, than the average Thelemite or old school ceremonial magician, most of whom prefer to spend a lot of time reading about and talking about magick rather than actually trying any.  Unfortunately, the chaos magicians only really have one form of magick that's popular with them that they regularly use, which is "Sigil magick", and they usually do that poorly.  They have a great ratio of practice to bullshit but their practice is a half-assed performance of a one-trick pony.

You see, the reason why they actually do their one-trick magick act so much is because its very easy to do; it doesn't require any great effort to use sigil magick.  And a chaos magician might explain it like this: you pick some kind of intention, you summarize that intention as a phrase (ie. "I will get the job"). Then from that phrase you reduce it to core letters, some chaos magicians just take out repeated letters, others take out vowels and repeated letters.  For simplicity's sake let's remove both; in our example you're thus left with "w l g t h j b".  With those remaining letters, you then try to draw them all together in a kind of jumble, all connected to form one single drawing, and then you can optionally abstract that drawing until the original letters aren't even recognizable anymore.

Then you have to "charge" the sigil somehow; there are several popular methods of doing this, from the very vanilla version of just staring at the sigil intensely while repeating your intention, to the more risque version of masturbating onto the sigil while thinking about your intention.  There are other ways too, of varying degrees of weirdness.

After your sigil is "charged", you put it away, and stop thinking about it.  This is known to be an important step, because you now want to let go of the attachments that keep you worried about the issue and would block your Will's ability to get stuff done, energetically. 

And that's it.  In theory, your desired change should come to pass.

The reason Sigil magick became so popular was threefold:
First, because it takes very little actual work, no memorization, no ancient languages, no kabbalistic correspondences, nothing strenuous.

Second, because some people report a very high success rate with it.  For those people for whom it works, it works very well.  Note that it does not in fact work very well for everyone, or consistently, but when you're looking for cheap low-labour-intensity magick, you go for whatever has even a halfway-decent success rate.

Third, because it was basically invented by Austin Osman Spare, a counterculture artist who lived in the early half of the 20th century, that many chaos magicians latched onto as promoting some kind of easygoing alternative to all the pomp-and-circumstance (and hard work!) of Aleister Crowley's system of magick.  Long after Spare was dead, he was credited (because of sigil magick) with being the "grandfather of chaos magick".

Now, sigil magick does have its downsides.  The chief among them is that in fact it is not nearly as easy as the above explanation implies. You see, most chaos magicians didn't actually read Spare or read about his history; if they had they'd have known that he was in fact a student of Aleister Crowley's, that he was largely concerned with the same issues of personal transformation and transcendence, and that for him sigil magick was a relatively minor part of a much larger body of work that had to be taken on holistically.  In Spare's "Book of Pleasure" (a sanity-loss-inducing ramble of a book that presents a very jumbled explanation of Spare's philosophy) Spare makes it clear that the REAL goal of his magick is the achieving of what he called "Kia", the state of non-duality, and the vast majority of his writing is not about the sigil magick but about how to undertake a discipline of practice to achieve that state.

And the reason why sigil magick doesn't actually work as well as advertised is largely because most people do it in a very half-assed way (drawing a sigil, metaphorically or literally wanking over it, and then dropping the whole thing); when in fact the efficacy of sigil magick depends on whether or not a magician is engaging in a dedicated daily regimen of practice and spiritual exercises to focus his concentration, and to achieve trance states.  Its not surprising that those chaos magicians that reported amazing success with sigil magick were also those who were very serious in their pursuit of magick; they usually failed, however, to report the connection between being disciplined and doing sigils successfully; they tended to say "its easy" either as a selling point to get people into it or because they honestly didn't make the connection that maybe their sigils were working so well because they were doing a bunch of other shit at the same time, a routine of exercises in concentration and trance-work that they took for granted but that 99% of the people reading them did not and would not do, because it feels too much like work.

In game terms, a chaos magician is most likely to be a young hipster of some kind, into all kinds of fashionable theories (lots of chaos magicians are very into psychedelics, counter-culture, cutting edge science or pseudo-science, singularity predictions, AI, virtual reality, UFOs and conspiracy theories, etc. etc.).  They'll talk a lot about science, but almost invariably won't actually have any formal scientific training.  Many of them tend to be artistically, dramatically, or musically inclined, and see that as part of their magick.

The average chaos magician tends to rankle at anything smacking of formal ritual, magical orders, hierarchy, authority, tradition, or at the idea of objective rather than subjective archetypes.  Many of them to the point that (as per my "superman" example above) they try to incorporate pop culture into their magick (usually with less-than-stellar results).  Many of them will have very... let's say "broad" definitions of magick, and of "success" in their magick.  They're the kind of guys that will try to convince you that just thinking really hard is magick, or that playing Xbox for 12 hours straight while high on pot brownies is a transcendent experience.   The problem about half of them have with magick is that they don't really believe in it; the other half's problem is that they DO actually believe in it and suffer from serious doubts about their own lack of seriousness.  In both cases, chaos magicians have a tendency to completely freak out when they get actual REAL results, because they just don't expect that sort of shit to go down.  A Chaos Magician NPC will be able to tell you all about what's hip and new and what's out of style, and may be able to show the PCs some tricks (mainly how to use sigils) but if they end up facing some kind of spiritual entity that the chaos magician realizes is not just explainable as a conversation with himself, or have an experience of an altered state of reality or travel to a dimension that is clearly not just a flight of fantasy, he'll probably go through a serious spiritual meltdown.

They're not all bad, of course; I'm describing the typical suspect above; and there are many more serious people involved in it:  The main proponents of the movement, people like Peter J. Caroll or Jan Fries are very studious and regularly push the frontiers of their own experiences and perspectives, and are often highly critical of their own scene and the lack of seriousness some people show.  Others, like Alan Chapman, have recently begun to come to a kind of revelation which might be the start of yet another new movement in magick: they've decided that post-modernism and pop-culture in magick is a dead end, and have instead tried to take some of the lessons they learned from the best of chaos magick, but go back to the more orthodox models and apply their practices to Thelemic or other ceremonial magick structures.  Chapman described how the initial appeal of going from standard magick to chaos magick amounted to the question "why ponce about in robes when I could be a stoned wanker"?  That was pretty much the sentiment of a large number of chaos magicians; but he continues from there to say, "a few years later, however, and the novelty was wearing off".

In particular, more and more chaos magicians have recently got the feeling that there might be something more to explore in magick than just making sigils to get stuff in the material world, and have begun to think about how there might be something to this whole "experiencing other levels of reality" or even "self-transformation/transcendence" stuff after all.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Rattray's Accountant's Mix

(originally posted January 6, 2012, in the old blog)

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Lords of Olympus Turns 1!

Today we just happily recollect that it was a year ago this week that Lords of Olympus came out (after a long, long wait) on PDF.  Its a year old now, and its been a very good year.  I'll take the moment to thank everyone who's had an interest in the game (especially those who bought it of course; and if you haven't you can buy it here).
In case this is the first you've heard of it, click the link above too.  Lords of Olympus is a Diceless RPG, based on the original Diceless RPG, which allows the players to portray the children of Olympian Gods (or Titans, or Primordials, or Heroic Mortals, etc.), in a multiversal setting full of intrigue and dynastic conflict.  The book is available in black and white or in gorgeous colour (PDFs in colour), and features complete and detailed rules as well as considerable setting information and probably the most detailed list and information about Greek deities ever compiled for an RPG.
So please give it a look. Thanks; and thanks to all those who have been fans already!
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Stanze Apple + Gawith's Accountant's Mix

Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Hopeless Racism of French Canadian Culture

For those of you who don't follow Canadian news (which I would reasonably assume to be pretty much anyone who doesn't live in or come from Canada), there's been a little problem going on in Canada for some time now with one province, called Quebec.

You know its funny, because here in South America I constantly get asked "but don't they speak french in Canada?" when my English is noted; some people with slightly more knowledge (proving again how a little knowledge can be a very bad thing) might state "oh, no, you see half of Canada speaks English, and half speaks French".

Its then that I have to explain to people that NO, in fact, only one-tenth of Canada speaks French, and they just impose it on the rest of us.  Lately, though, they seem more interested on engaging in Ethnic Cleansing of their own Province in their endless orgy of cultural insecurity.

You see, the Quebec government, who already has laws on the book making it illegal to post signs in English without BIGGER french words on the sign, and above the English; and who have recently gone on a pogrom of shutting down Italian restaurants that used Italian words for pasta instead of the alleged french words for them no one knows or has any clue about; and who have recently declared that public employees will speak only in French (so that, for example, a Paramedic should respond only in French to a critically injured anglophone begging for help, even if he's incapable of understanding them); and that same Quebec government that declared that children must be educated only in French, even on Canadian Army bases even if it means that children of anglophone soldiers temporarily posted to Quebec will essentially lose 1-2 years of their education and possibly fall behind their peers forever because of being unable to understand anything the teacher says; has now decided to propose in law what they hypocritically call a "Charter of Values" which makes it illegal for public employees to wear any kind of "religious symbolism" (again, note that in Canada "public employees" includes things like all paramedics, teachers, doctors, and liquor store employees).  The government of Quebec provided handy guidelines of what they want to allow (on the left) or forbid (on the right):

Note how the symbols to the right are all the "ethnic" ones. 

All this has proven a lie that anyone with half a brain knew was a lie, but that the Quebecois kept trying to pretend otherwise: namely, that the Quebecois are sophisticated progressives, and that the evil "Anglos" (especially those unwashed rednecks in Western Canada!) are the horrible racists that would oppress them and destroy their precious culture!  The French Canadians, thinking themselves better than the rest of Canada, wanted to believe that somehow they are at the avant-garde of social values. 

Only we knew none of that was true since way back in the second sovereignty referendum, when the leader of the independence movement and head of the Quebecois-nationalist political party declared that it was unfair that the independence movement was lost because of "the Ethnic Vote". 

"But wait!", you say, "how do we know that this isn't all just a "rogue government", some kind of unpopular extremists that do not accurately represent the views of the population that elected them? I mean, after all, they're a minority government, right? I'm sure most Quebecois are actually enlightened tolerant people and not the horrible racists you're trying to make them out to be, Pundit!"

That would be a good point, if a recent poll conducted by one of the largest survey firms in Quebec showed that support for the "charter of (racist) values" was at 66%, but higher still (71%) among those that would be considered by the PQ to be the "real" Quebecois, those for whom French (or the rustic yokelisms mixed with borrowed anglicisms that passes for "French" in Quebec) is their mother tongue.

"Ok, but.." you say, "I'm sure that if in ALBERTA, that evil den of conservative-voting illiterate cowboy evangelical christian white men, there was a similar theoretically-proposed law, it would have even MORE support!"
Actually, no.  A poll done by the Forum Research Group nationwide showed that BY FAR, the support for "legislation outlawing religious clothing and symbols such as hijabs, turbans and skullcaps from being worn by public employees" is VASTLY higher in Quebec than in any other part of Canada. 

As for redneck Alberta (the "texas of canada" and the constant hated enemy of Quebec embodying everything they dislike in their make-believe-progressive minds), it scored 39% support.  Which was in fact 1% less than in Ontario (the central English-speaking capital province, and usually considered the urbane center of English-speaking Canadian culture; who like to look down on westerners almost as much as the Quebecois do).  So in fact, Albertans are less racist than Ontarians. But they're WAY less racist than the Quebecois.  The numbers show, without a doubt, that the Quebecois are by far the Raciest Racists in Canada.

What's more, it seems support for the ethnic cleansing (now that the language-cleansing is complete) of government offices is growing. An earlier poll had support at 58% and now its up to 66%.  That's because the PQ is playing all the right moves in manipulating the idiot-buttons of separatist/"nationalist pride" (as in, pretending Quebec is a nation, not as in national Canadian pride). That's what this whole charter is about, after all: an intentional move to deepen rifts in Quebec society and promote racism among native Quebecois to try to push for another referendum on breaking up Canada.
The "Ethnic Vote" is the PQ's enemy in this, and the manipulation of the sense of "French" cultural superiority makes it very easy to imagine (after decades of playing on fears that the English-speaking Canadians would somehow "wipe out" Quebec "culture" even though we hadn't bothered to do so in 200 years thus far) that the idea of dirty unwashed "ethnic" foreigners coming in hordes to Quebec and seeking to outbreed (or worse, INTERbreed! Oh the humanity!) the natives until they steal their precious frenchness away from them is a menace to their way of life. And of course, the more than Anglos, Muslims, Jews, and the English-speaking press and the Canadian Federal Government speak up about how much of an utter atrocity this Quebec government's legislation is, the more that the PQ can create an "us vs. them" scenario.  But the blame falls squarely on the francophone population of Quebec, for WANTING to believe this bullshit scenario. 

And it all comes from a deep sense of cultural insecurity.  The rest of Canada is famously multicultural, and that's what they don't get about Albertans, for example.  Growing up in western Canadian cities, I was surrounded by Trudeau-era immigrants to Canada (shit, my parents WERE Trudeau-era immigrants, they just happened to be less conspicuous): from China and South Asia, from India and Pakistan, Sikhs and Muslims, Buddhists and Korean Evangelicals, lots and lots of Eastern Europeans and Latin Americans, a huge wave of immigration out of a US-Republican's worst Night Terror, to the point that Vancouver is no longer a majority-caucasian city. 
And while I'm not going to pretend that I never heard or saw racism, on the whole, multiculturalism WORKED.  Most Canadians loved the influx of new cultures and ideas and traditions and languages (and of course, foods!).  In Edmonton (Alberta's provincial capital) we even have a huge yearly festival to celebrate multiculturalism (as do many other Canadian cities).  And for anyone my age or younger (and I'm not that young; I mean anyone who's formative years were during or after the Trudeau years, from about 1969 onward), it was just normal. We didn't feel (and again, there are always unfortunate exceptions, but by "we" I mean the majority of us) "threatened" by immigrants or an "ethnic vote".  Mainly because we felt confident in our culture, and its ability to grow and prosper.

The Quebecois do not have that confidence in their culture.  For all their bluster, they fundamentally distrust their own ability to succeed as a culture.  Which is why they are a frightened and intolerant culture.  Its why having to interact with new cultures, new ideas, new traditions or new languages are all appalling THREATS to them, rather than something to be welcomed.   They imagine themselves surrounded by enemies, because they fundamentally do not trust that their own culture would be able to handle itself or prove worthy in an environment where there was an equal playing field.
Its kind of sad, really, and hopeless for them, in the long run. But in the short run, their ongoing campaign of persecution of both Quebec Anglophones (many of which have been families living in Quebec for over 200 years now) and of Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish minorities, is just grotesque and must be condemned by the world.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H Beverwyck