Sunday, April 07, 2024

Seven Hills

Seven Hills at the Garrison Hotel is one of the highlights of the RPG year in Sheffield. It's an excellent venue and there are always a friendly crowd of regular attendees running and playing in a diverse selection of games. The theme this year was "Punk" which the games on offer interpreted in various ways.

The first session I signed up for was Lost in the Fold, a setting for Sanction written and run by Paul Baldowski of All Rolled Up. This was an intriguing setup where we played characters who lived in a world where all material needs including food and clothing were supplied by regular deliveries through a series of pipes called The Chain. When the regular clothing deliveries stopped without warning, we set out to find out why, exploring behind the bulkheads and into the tunnels and weird rooms normally hidden from view. We managed to find the cause of the blockage but were left with more questions than answers, especially the reason for the words "No Future" daubed on a wall that we found. Definitely one to look out for.

Lunch from Morrisons, and then into Misfits on Tour run by Sue Savage. In this we were playing as the road crew for  a punk band on tour in the Alien universe. Of course, we somehow got shot down over an “abandoned” Weyland-Yutani facility in the middle of the desert and the band somehow managed to get themselves kidnapped by insurgents and then things somehow got worse. All of our original characters died, although the pilot might have survived if he'd only had the sense to keep his mouth shut as the shuttle containing the remaining band members blasted off from the launch pad. Notes from this game include "Found lots of drugs" and "Taylor Swift fires shotgun at Biodroid".

I skipped the Saturday night session, so was fresh for a game of Beat to Quarters, a Hornblower themed game run by Gaz from The Smart Party podcast. We survived a storm, captured a fat merchantman and boarded a Spanish frigate, before being tasked by the Captain with taking the surprisingly leaky prize ship back to British waters with a skeleton crew. A raid on a French port to resupply our ship saw us safely back home with all missions complete. This game has a really interesting challenge mechanic using decks of standard playing cards which fits the theme perfectly. 

I treated myself to a Sunday lunch from the Garrison restaurant which really hit the spot, and then the theme was announced for 2025 - Generations - plenty of time to come up with ideas for this one!

The final game I played was The Sprawl a classic cyberpunk PBTA game, run by Sue again. We were the usual gang of misfits escorting a corporate nepo baby from his official birthday party to a punk gig and back, without his CEO mother noticing, evading rival corporations, nosy security guards and a rioting street gang on the way. We made it with seconds to spare, and even got paid - far from guaranteed in this setting. This was a great way to round up a terrific weekend of gaming. 

Northstar next!

Monday, April 01, 2024

Snuffkin : Melody of Moominvalley

I've loved the Moomin stories of Tove Jansson ever since I was gifted a copy of Comet in Moominland by a Finnish friend of my mum's when I was small. Every now and then I return to the stories, or watch the animated series, and I never fail to be delighted by them.

This game is a wonderful evocation of Moominvalley, where you play as Snuffkin the wanderer, searching for his missing pal Moomintroll. The gameplay is fairly simple - exploring Moominvalley's caves and islands, a bit of light puzzle solving using the different musical instruments that you pick up along the way and stealthily avoiding policemen as you remove pesky signs from the park that the Hemulen park keeper has placed to forbid all fun. There's even a chase where you run away from the terrible Groke, but there is nothing too difficult here. 

The joy of this game is in the art which captures the feel of Jansson's iconic illustrations and the music, a delightful ambient soundtrack produced in collaboration with Sigur Ros. The soundtrack is also available on iTunes and is a very relaxing listen.

I played this on Switch and it's also available for PC on Steam. Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

There’s a small patch of woodland near where I live that’s been there for hundreds of years. It’s marked on maps of the area from the 1700’s and almost certainly predates those by some time. Looking at the tangled heart of the wood, with thick stands of holly and twisted branches, it’s very easy to appreciate the setting for Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood.

The main character Steven returns to his family home after the Second World War - a chilly farmhouse on the edge of a wood, no more than three square miles in area. He finds his brother Christian obsessed with the idea of exploring the wood, following in the footsteps of his missing father who disappeared into the wood years before, leaving only a series of cryptic notebooks.

It transpires that the wood holds many secrets, and in the best timey-wimey tradition is much bigger on the inside than the outside. It also has the power to summon archetypal beings from any point in time, stretching back to pre-history, drawing from the minds of people living nearby. The wood also frustrates any attempt at exploration, turning travellers back on themselves unless they follow certain hidden pathways.

This is a great premise for a story, and it doesn’t disappoint in the unravelling of some of the mysteries presented here. It also sets up a series of sequels, which I will be reading at some point. Holdstock does a good job of evoking a particular kind of British mythology, and it reminded me of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

Monday, March 04, 2024

The Internet Con - How to Seize the Means of Computation - Cory Doctorow

 This book is a good explainer as to the current state of the internet, how we got here and what we can do about it. In a series of succinct chapters, Doctorow explains how monopolies and monopsonies (where a single customer dictates terms to small suppliers) operate, how the economic deregulation that took hold in the 80s made things worse and how tech monopolies now use IP law to lock customers into their platforms. I was surprised to learn that Apple even includes microscopic Apple logos on all of the components of their products as a way to prevent third parties from disassembling defunct iPhones and using the spare parts for repairs, by means of an obscure trademark law.

As a counterpoint to the gloomy situation where in the words of New Zealand software developer Tom Eastman we have "a group of five websites, each consisting of screenshots from the other four" we can use tools like interoperability to allow people to migrate from platforms like Facebook while still maintaining contact with their friends and family on there. The state of the internet might not be the most critical issue we are facing today, but an open and functioning means of computation will certainly help resolve the other problems.

This book is available as a DRM free ebook and audiobook direct from the author's website:

The Internet Con - Cory Doctorow

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Ms Marvel

I renewed my library card a while back and found that I can now use it to borrow magazines, audiobooks and ebooks via the Libby app on my phone and iPad. It turns out that Sheffield Library has an excellent selection of comics so I worked my way through 10 volumes of the Ms Marvel series from 2014.

Having enjoyed the TV series last year, it was fun to go back to the original comics to compare and contrast. The live action version of Kamala khan has light based powers and turns out to be a mutant, whereas the comic version can stretch to any shape and batter villains with huge fists or shrink to a tiny size to escape. The character has the goofy energy of a young Peter Parker, battling as much with homework, first crushes and school bullies as super villains. In a notable first for Marvel, she's also a young muslim American woman who takes comfort from her faith and community. 

The artwork has lots of fun, cartoony details and there's a plenty of humour in the writing, particularly the scenes where she interacts with her hero Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers. I like the neat touch that her costume is dynamic and modest, featuring a nifty flowing scarf rather than the usual sexist treatment that some other female superheroes get. 


Friday, March 01, 2024

Forbidden Lands

This session was effectively the season finale until the autumn, where we very much burnt our bridges in the scummy little town of Grindbone when we somehow got caught up in a running feud between the Bone Weasels and the Rust Brother factions. A handy lightning bolt from our magic trident obliterated Captain Kratullos of the town guard, giving us the chance to scarper and rescue Raven Sister Naveer on the way out of Dodge. Excellent fun!


Monday, February 26, 2024

Bibliomaniac - Robin Ince

Just after the lockdowns were lifted, the comedian and author Robin Ince was gripped by the idea of a book tour of a hundred or so independent bookshops, dotted around the British Isles. This book is the story of that tour - part picaresque travelogue with the usual battles with the vagaries of train travels and storm lashed back roads, part catalogue of the various weird and wonderful second hand books scavenged from the shops en route and part rambling musings on a kaleidoscope of topics, including science, pop culture and (of course) books and reading.

This is an ideal book for dipping in and out of. Each bookshop is described, along with an indexed list of the books obtained and the cakes consumed. Each leg of the journey has a charming hand drawn map of the rambling route as well. Entertaining fun!