Things have been… well, you can read previous blags yourself if you fancy a cocktail of bloody-minded rage and intense self pity, but add in a tooth that has been broken for over a year getting infected, and some other stuff. Mostly the tooth. Holy shit, that was painful. It did not help that I was encouraged to medicate with whiskey “because stronger painkillers can be addictive”, as if I didn’t spend 9 months up to my eyeballs on oxycodone just so I was able to sleep without waking up screaming about my spine.
I’m down 2 bottles of EXTREMELY fine duty-free because of that. I’m going to miss the Venezuelan rum particularly.
I suppose, at least, it did mean I got to visit an actual dentist. I have been trying to get the tooth seen since it broke but dental appointments are rarer than a Fine Gaeler with a conscience since at least the start of the pandemic. It’s not the dentist’s fault, either. Just another failure of the system to throw on the pile with the others. Fucking Stephen Donnelly. A useless haunted thumb in a suit.
Anyway, writing. It’s been bloody difficult of late. Haven’t been able to do any non-contracted writing, and even the contract stuff has been like pulling, ahem, teeth. I like writing dystopian fiction as long as the world isn’t itself a nightmare dystopia, and that has not been going so well, has it?
I may (he said extremely cautiously) be climbing out of that benighted pit a little in the last few days. I had to go a little over deadline for the last chapter I was contracted for, which is a source of shame, but I finished it at the start of this month. And now I have another chapter in 2 different projects to work on, with perhaps a month and a half to sort them out. Meanwhile, that previous chapter was pointed to as an example of what the editor would like to see in some of these new projects, which is a little gfratifying.
And I’m not panicking. That’s usually a good sign. They are both very exciting to me, for all that they’re hugely different in style and tone. I can’t talk about any of it yet.
So everything is terrible right now. The world’s on fire, the country is being run by *phenomenally* stupid cryptofascists and the chances of us all dying from a vaccine-resistant strain of the ‘rona are only increasing because everyone seems determined to re-enact the very dumbest parts of the whole Spanish Flu fiasco of the last century.
A worrying number of my friends are actively flirting with suicide because the world’s various governments have failed to control a simple disease so very badly that any hope at all seems like an alien prospect to most of us. We’re all expendable for the sake of the Holy Economy, especially the children who are being forced back into crowded classrooms with no mitigation measures at all because the cocking ministers for education and health outright refuse to admit they were wrong about schools being safe for the last two years.
It’s very hard to have any hope in the face of this relentless creeping horror of indifference from the ruling classes. And it’s in that context I eventually wrote this. I was thinking about the altruism I had written into the weird hyperdimension fiction I’d written previously. I admit there’s a lot of influence here from a particular scene in All Star Superman where Lex Luthor, having taken a serum that gives him the same abilities as Superman, starts to realise how interconnected everything is and suddenly realises why Superman does what he does. It wears off, Luthor says “If it wasn’t for you I could have saved the world!”. Superman responds with “If it mattered to you, you could have saved the world years ago.” In the comic, Superman also beats him unconscious. But in the animation, Luthor falls to his knees, looking beaten and ashamed, and whispers “You’re right.”
Now, I don’t care at ALL for superheroes. I think they encourage people to assume that someone else can solve all the world’s problems. If Superman was inherently good, one of the first things he would do would be to destroy the American police system. But rich people who can destroy comic writers generally don’t like it when comics are TOO on the nose. But I’m rambling (and there are comics like Black Summer and Supergod that do some quite interesting work critiquing the whole superhero trope, you should give them a shot if you haven’t already). But that scene of Luthor having a sudden epiphany, that has stuck with me for years. Perhaps it’s because he’s not a superhero. He’s a selfish asshole no different from any other selfish asshole, who almost understood. The way his monologue was going, another hour or two and he might have even developed an actual conscience.
Now I’m definitely rambling.
So yeah. Fuck the cruel arbitrary nature of things and the wankers in charge, they’re dead inside and don’t have the imagination to imagine a better world. You wanna do something truly, meaningfully radical? Show some fuckin’ compassion.
This universe is vast beyond human comprehension. Chaotic, fickle, and uncaring. Every day entire galaxies are torn apart and swallowed whole, displays of cataclysmic violence that could kill a god, and yet space-time is so inconceivably huge such events are lost in the abyss, never to be witnessed by sentient life. The silent black is not peaceful; Do not mistake the darkness of the beast’s stomach for serenity.
We are more like this universe than we care to admit when we are born. We come into this world wild and blind and insensate, blank slates lacking in awareness, slaves to cause and effect. Composed of the very same little deterministic clouds of charge and probability. We have no more power over the universe than a mote of dust has over a planet. By any metric one can think of we should not exist. And indeed some day, as the stars fade and our works crumble, we may as well never have existed at all.
And yet… Here we are, right now. Little smudges of carbon and lipid and water, the ash of dead stars, by blind chance forced into iteration upon iteration to the point of becoming aware of ourselves and the processes shaping us. It is inevitable that life should come to exist, yes, but to endure? To become aware of the world, of other worlds? Can you understand how infinitesimally unlikely that is? That our world was not swallowed by some leviathan black hole, or all nascent life destroyed by an impact event or star’s death spasm fifty million years ago… My friend, we are a miracle.
That is why we fight. To defy the indifferent chaos of reality is the only logical decision. The only one with meaning. The only choice that separates us from the arbitrary cruelty and hurt. We are all of us tiny, insignificant tangles of self-aware space-time, yet we are the only part of the universe that can choose. The cruel, the indifferent, the evil, they choose the easy path. They let their choices be guided by the indifference of reality. They impose chaos and entropy on others to enrich themselves, and in doing so become hollow puppets, dancing to the tune of exploding stars and ravenous event horizon jaws. In choosing they give up everything that sets them apart from the cruelty of reality.
But we can choose another path. It is a difficult path, but in the end not nearly so difficult as that easy path of cruelty.
We may choose to build where the universe can only choose entropy. We can choose light over darkness, people and community over the crude mindless selfishness that masquerades as natural selection. We may imbue existence with value simply by existing. With simple compassion, we can defy entropy itself. And, perhaps ironically, we MUST do so. When the law of the universe is entropy, compassion becomes the only radical act, the only possible rebellion.
This universe is vast and indifferent, and within this infinity of destruction we have nothing, in the end, but each other. And Entropy cannot have us.
It’ll take some time, but the most terrifying step has been taken: I have messaged the group to ask if they’re still interested in getting it back together.
The response was pleasantly positive.
However, since that long hiatus from Roll20 I have invested in another virtual tabletop called Foundry, and it’s safe to say I quite prefer it for… almost everything tbh. There’s more of a learning curve setting things up, sure, but the sheer breadth and depth of features and time-saving little bits and bobs is quite amazing.
To that end, rather than dust off my Roll20 account I’ll be porting all the stuff I’d… well, stolen, from my Coriolis PDFs and various art deposits across the internet. And that’s going to take some time. Especially in the current heat. Bloody hell. I can barely lift this delicious chilled can of ready made gin and tonic to my lips, such is the fury of Helios outside my window today.
There was no Tale from the Third Horizon last week, because it was a short session mostly involving travel, which would be better off combined with the shenanigans planned for tonight’s game session.
Alas, fortune has once again vomited into the eiderdown pillow of my life, and there is no session tonight. You see, there’s something wrong with my computer, or at least its monitor. It has *something* to do with the HDMI cables, and/or the sockets they plug into at one end and/or the other. Or possibly the fact that the mains socket is extended off another one which has had so much damp creep in through the years that plugs come out covered in copper-green slime.
The house could be built on an ancient burial ground or subject to even more curses than Leo fucking Varadkar appearing on tv for all I know, and would explain the issue about as well as anything else right now. I haven’t tracked down the precise cause yet, but the damn thing is unusable until I do. So no videosgame, no Youtubes, and no virtual tabletops for the foreseeable future.
This sucks. I have it on good authority that at least TWO whole people besides me reads this drivel and enjoys it, and writing up game sessions has been good for my memory and general creative muscles, and I am not at all pleased by the way a simple, cheap solution eludes me, leading me to have to consider less simple, and considerably less cheap, options.
So that’s what’s happening. Sorry to both of my fans, I’ll try to get things working as soon as possible.
[Because I’m up the walls with a separate writing commission for the last month, I didn’t have time to prepare a campaign beginning of my own, so I began with the published adventure “The Dying Ship”. I don’t follow the plot to the letter, but I hit the important beats, and the players weren’t overwhelmed with new information, they got to ease themselves into the setting and learn a bit about it before making big decisions.]
Our enterprising crew of Fattah, Dav and Pol are contacted by a Mr Adzem Kembouri on behalf of the Melem Gesurra trading company, a respectable haulage business mostly concerned with transporting ice water from the Kuan asteroid belt, and foodstuffs to/from nearby systems.
On arrival at Wahib’s Cantina they find Mr Kembouri already talking to a small group who were posing as our heroes in order to steal the job. In a display that will surely have no consequences at all, Pol’s catastrophic failure to politely introduce the group nevertheless exposed the charlatans, who scarpered rather than deal with the Coriolis Guards. Mr Kembouri, somewhat embarrassed, recovered gracefully and got down to business.
24 hours ago, Melem Gesurra lost contact with Orun II, an ice hauler returning from the asteroid belt with some 3,000 tonnes of ice. After failing to respond multiple times, the ship suddenly changed course, now headed for the notorious asteroid swarm known as the Eye of Anubar. Clearly, something had gone wrong on Orun II, and Mr Kembouri offered the crew of the Blue Beetle a princely sum of 20,000 birr to intercept the ship, find out what happened, and return ship and crew to Coriolis before it was torn apart in the Eye of Anubar.
Pol, ever keen at the sight of profit, negotiated an advance of 5,000 birr, and they were off! The crew performed their pre-flight checks, prayed to the Messenger, and the Blue Beetle left Coriolis. There were some stares as Mr Kembouri dragged two large travelling chests to his assigned cabin, but suspicions over his collection of religious texts, fairy tales and a large ornamental urn were dispersed as he removed a large number of mission files: The freighter Orun II was a Class IV hauler, a little over 310m in length, with three habitable sections in the bow, the stern and the midships workshop. There was a manifest declaring a crew of nine, detailed blueprints, and last known coordinates. A course was plotted (and then re-plotted with appropriate prayer to the Icons for a less sucky result), and some 3 hours later, the Blue Beetle was skittering around Orun II. Their investigation could begin.
The ship was unusually dark. It showed up on sensors, but only just, and every window and porthole was dark as night. Suddenly, a series of flashing lights from a window in the stern! No code or signal, but at least proof someone was alive! Pilot Dav performed an immaculately smooth docking procedure with the aft airlock. Mindful that there may be no atmosphere on Orun II, the crew donned their exo suits before boarding. With a hiss, the airlocks were cleared, and the crew were standing on Orun II’s Engineering section.
Emergency strip lighting in the floor mixed with pulsing glow from the 3 massive graviton projectors, a chaotic array of power cables, ladders and walkways casting a maze of shadows over the engine rooms. Inside was the body of Kakinwe, one of the engineers. He had been stabbed in the heart by a bladed weapon. Examining further, Dav and Fattah concluded that the exceptionally neat cut could only be a mercurium blade, advanced technology whereby liquid metal is manipulated to form a solid blade of unsurpassed sharpness. Having had no success contacting anyone while aboard the Blue Beetle, Fattah tried one of the wall-mounted consoles. They were met with static, and then a deep, sonorous voice warning them “Turn around and live out your days in peace. There is only darkness here. We go to our doom!”
Behind a locked door, monitoring the power to the engines, was Orun II’s chief engineer Ard Atallah. A tall, serious looking man, head shaved, forehead tattoo proclaiming his devotion to the Icons, again he spoke into the ship’s comms. “I tell you, leave us! There is evil here and I will not let it reach Coriolis!” Somewhat lost for words, our heroes turned to Mr Kembouri. Perhaps his authority on behalf of Melem Gesurra would convince Atallah to say more. Kembouri was successful, and Atallah allowed them entry into the control room.
Atallah explained that on a routine ice hauling mission, his regular maintenance scans picked up an anomaly in one of the great pieces of ice. Informing the Captain, Ardul Rajtun, he decided to investigate. The crew cut 4 strange large containers out of the ice and brought them to the observatory below the bridge. And then all hell broke loose. There was a djinn loose on the ship now, a scheming, powerful terror spawned in the Dark Between the Stars, and it quickly overpowered the captain. Rather than let a djinn reach the half million souls on Coriolis, and seeing no other option, Atallah sabotaged the navigation, changing course for the Eye of Anubar, cutting power to the bridge to prevent anyone setting a new course, and sealed himself in the engine control room to await destruction. On hearing this, Pol, by no means a warrior but wealthy enough to own weapons, ran back to the Blue Beetle to get his Vulcan Pistol. Likewise, Mr Kembouri retrieved several items from the chests in his cabin, namely a number of religious texts, his unusual ornamental urn, and a pack containing items he believed could banish or even imprison the djinn. Perhaps sensing this new threat, the djinn focused its will on the engine room, to observe these newcomers. Our heroes felt the air grow suddenly cold, while the lights flickered, and each felt the indescribable sensation of being watched and measured by something unimaginably ancient and alien. They had little time to lose.
Mr Kembouri remarked that it was fortunate that Atallah flashed a light at them, allowing them to dock right next to engineering. Atallah, confused, said he did no such thing, and went to his consoles to scan for others. his sensors bleeped, and he grabbed a broom handle and struck an overhead air vent. “Ayda! I know it’s you in there!”
The vent opened, and out fell a young woman, surely no older than 20, with tattooed arms and the grubby overalls of a deckhand. Ayda, having heard our heroes talk with Atallah, admitted to flashing the signal light, hoping to get off this doomed ship. She saw creatures rise from the sarcophagi retrieved from the ice, like men but moving erratically like marionettes. They began murdering people and Ayda ran, escaping the bow through the cramped air vents. At this, Kembouri grew serious, and asked for a description of the creatures. Ayda recalled impassive porcelain masks, regal red silks under embellished armour plates. His eyes grew bright. Pol reminded him they were not in one of his fairy tale books. Kembouri smiled and said “My friend, that is precisely where we are! I was right, this crew stumbled upon the legendary Princess of Kah!”
The tale itself is ancient and lengthy, but suffice to say: Centuries ago on the world of Kua, a princess lived in a magnificent city named Kah. One day she came back from a walk in the forests… changed. Possessed by a powerful malicious spirit. Her father the king spent no expense trying to drive out this devil, to no avail. Desperate, he heard tell of a healer and holy man living beyond the asteroid belt of Kua, who might yet cure his daughter. Sealing her in a stasis sarcophagus along with three of his royal guard, he sent them on his fastest ship. The ship neither arrived at the healer nor returned to Kah, and the king, stricken with despair, let his kingdom crumble away to nothing.
Ayda was not at all happy with the idea that our heroes were not leaving before dealing with this mighty djinn of legend, but having no other way off Orun II, she agreed to stay in Engineering with Atallah while they did their business. At Fattah’s request, Atallah cut power to the engines. While inertia would still bring Orun II into the asteroid swarm, at least it was no longer accelerating, buying them precious time. Atallah restored power to the bow of the ship, allowing a new course to be set. They boarded the elevator car linking Engineering to Midships.
The elevator was a rickety, grimy pressurised container that rattled across its old track, along the outside of the ship. Below them loomed the blue-white ice blocks, turning to purple in the baleful red light of the Eye. On arriving at Midships, they found nobody at first. One small room, the control centre for the stevedores, was welded shut. On the other side, Kolb the stevedore akbar hid, warning the heroes to turn away and leave him.
“I have a pulse drill, and I swear I’ll use it!”
“YOU’RE a pulse drill!” responded Pol, undisputed master of diplomacy.
“Yes, I’m a… wait. What?”
“You heard me!”
“… is there someone else there I can talk to?”
“OH, HAD ENOUGH HAVE YOU!?”
“uh… yes? Look, I’m really very confused right now.”
Using the pulse drill to cut the door open, Kolb greeted our heroes warily, especially the triumphant Pol. He explained that the captain opened one of the containers, and then apparently lost his mind. Then, he said, came monsters. The first and second officers were murdered, he didn’t know if anyone was left alive. When our heroes explained that Captain Rajtul had been possessed, and Atallah had changed course to destroy the evil, his mind finally found its old focus. Uttering a seemingly endless stream of curses about this suicide plan being “just classic Atallah”, he agreed to join the chief engineer and Ayda in Engineering and await rescue.
The second elevator car from Midships to the stern was even less pleasant than the first. About halfway from safety, the lights flickered again, and the elevator car lurched suddenly, as one of the collosal blocks of ice snapped some of its moorings andhit something vital. The djinn was trying to stop our brave heroes! The elevator car shuddered to a halt, a mechanical problem that would not be fixed from the car. Only Fattah and Dav had trained to work in zero gravity environments. engaging the vaccum seals on the boots of their exo suits, they tied a cable around Pol and braced for explosive decompression. They would have to take a walk outside.
Fattah and Dav, used to the weightlessness, deftly traversed the remaining distance to the stern airlocks. Pol, however, was not at all used to every direction at once being both up and down, and his stomach made its strong opinion on this very clear, as he vomited into his helmet. In zero gravity. Perhaps the Icons have a sense of humour, as Pol accidentally activated his comm channel just in time for the others to hear every damp, sloshing moment. With practised ease they manually overrode the airlocks from outside, using the rope to swing Pol into the room and its beloved gravity before climbing in themselves. To Pol’s considerable relief, there were exo suits for the crew of Orun II on the other side of the airlock. Thanking the Icons for the miracle of standardised technology, he replaced his sullied helmet with a considerably more fresh copy.
Immediately out of the elevator airlock, they stepped into the crew quarters. Orun II was an old ship, built for considerably more crew than currently operated it, and the place looked empty and neglected. Half-withered plants, a frayed carpet, plastic chairs and scuffed rubber floors decorated the mess hall. The place was in disarray, as if a meal had been suddenly interrupted. In the cabins they found three more dead crewmen, the 2nd officer Kirin Bor and the stevedores Mirra Touli and Lasar Ulba. From where they stood they could see inside the observatory, and the 4 opened stasis chambers Captain Rajtul had brought aboard. Deciding that the most pressing issue was NOT being destroyed by the Eye of Anubar, they raced upstairs to the bridge.
The bridge was bathed in the red light of the asteroid swarm. Three control chairs sat in front of a large horshoe command console. Two of the seats were occupied. First was the body of first officer Reyna Zarkavan, stabbed in the heard like the others. The second was Captain Rajtul, still breathing, his eyes mirror pools of black, darker even than deep space. His head turned to brave Pilot Dav, and when he spoke, neither voice nor words matched his body.
“Insssectss… What do thesse bugss intend, Kh’oudour wonderss!”
“We, um… Well, first we would quite like to not die in that asteroid swarm. Then-“
“The great Kh’oudour dessiress thiss alsso.”
“Uh… Great. Can… I mean, may I use the console in front of you to steer away from the big death cloud please?”
Long seconds pass. Mr Kembouri, specialising in tact, began preparing the banishment ritual silently, drawing a circle in chalk, enlisting Pol to light seven incense burners whilst repeating the Creed of the Faceless One. The djinn finally answers.
“You may approach.”
With palpable relief, our brave pilot reverses course, grinding to a halt, then that telltale inertia tugging them forwards, indicating acceleration away from the Eye of Anubar.
“Kh’oudour iss pleassed. Now, bug, you will bring Kh’oudour to Kah!”
Unfortunately, a wayward clink of the incense burners being set around the circle alerted the djinn, and Captain Rajtul’s head snapped around fully 180 degrees to take in the deception.
“Inssolent bugss! Kh’oudour sshall rip your very ssoulss from their meat bindingss! Kh’oudour sshall-“
“Oh shut UP already,” interrupted Dav, firing his pistol point blank into the captain’s gut. His head snapped around and his eyes cleared. The captain was still in there! “Get her OUT of me!” he yelled, half pleading, half furious at having just been shot. And then his eyes darkened again, and a string of curses in an unknown language called forth the monsters Ayda and Kolb warned of. Royal guards, though for which king or queen none alive today could say, stepped forth out of the shadows, as if just waiting on the other side of the darkness. Blades levelled, they advanced on our heroes.
“Can’t you pray faster!?” muttered Pol in between setting incense burners. His own repetition of the Creed had accelerated considerably after the first gunshot. Swearing under his breath, Kembouri redoubled his efforts. “The captain isn’t the primary host! Killing him still leaves the princess!”
Dav, saddened that violence against the possessed captain was not the answer he’d hoped, instead placed an excellent shot on one of the guards, but it did little more than blast away a chunk of protective armour. These creatures, whatever else they were, were warriors. Swearing yet again, Kh’oudour transformed in the blink of an eye, becoming a large wolf, which leapt over the command console, into cover. Fattah the engineer, finding a large armoured guard bearing down on him, desperately dodged a sword meant to take his head from his shoulders. The missed swing exposed the guard’s back for a split second, and Fattah took his opening. Praying to the Icons his blow would land, he swung his industrial power glove as hard as he could at the exposed guard. The guard’s armour shattered like old pottery, and there was a sickening crunch as Fattah’s strike snapped the guard’s spine in two! He went instantly limp, arms clawing at the air but unable to gain purchase on the floor or an enemy.
Kembouri uttered the final prayers, and once more the lights flickered. A howl from behind the console as a freezing cloud of mist leapt out and the djinn tried to escape, but the binding was complete, and it was sucked into a vortex within the circle. The Princess of Kah railed against the wards but they held firm. With a flourish Kembouri opened his strange urn and commanded the djinn to enter. Screaming bloody vengeance, the malevolent spirit left its primary host and was driven into the vessel. The Princess of Kah, free of possession, turned almost instantly to dust, but not before her lips curled into a faint smile of thanks. Her centuries of torment were over. Her guards, finally released from their oaths of eternal service, likewise crumbled to dust.
Adzem Kembouri breathed a huge sigh of relief, and a hysterical giggle escaped him. Exhausted, he fell to his knees, laughing “I had no idea if that would work! By the Icons we nearly died hahahahaha!”
When he calmed down, Dav had questions. “You were prepared for this. How long have you been hunting this thing?”
“Honestly, since yesterday. I’m an independent consultant, I mostly do minor exorcisms. When Melem Gesurra hired me to deal with this, I was sure it was at least related to the Princess of Kah. The tale suggests a djinn of quite worrying power. When I sought additional help, your names came recommended.”
“I do apologise for my… reticence, in explaining the full extent of the situation. Taking orders from Melem Gesurra unfortunately came with certain obligations and restrictions. If I may begin to atone, allow me to offer you my services at any time for no charge, should you ever have need. I will also inform Melem Gesurra that I am extremely impressed and satisfied with your services. There are clauses in the contract that allow for additional 10,000 birr to be made available in payment for particularly notable displays of competence, and my friends I promise you shall receive it in full!”
And so our brave heroes returned to Coriolis, where Adzem Kembouri was true to his word. The crew received a further 25,000 birr to add to their 5,000 advance. He spoke extremely highly of them at his debriefing with the managers of Melem Gesurra, and gossip soon spread about the station regarding the courageous freighter crew that saved a dying ship and its crew from certain destruction, but also defeated and banished the great djinn Kh’oudour, sometimes known as the Princess of Kah. With their reputation on the rise, perhaps others will join the crew of the Blue Beetle in time to seek their fortune across the Third Horizon?
Kembouri offered to buy the first round in celebration. Pol requested…
So I’ve gone on at some length before about how much I like Coriolis: The Third Horizon just from reading it. I’ve been meaning to run a game for ages, but with the Irish government still defiantly sticking with a public health strategy along the lines of “Fuck ’em” it has been quite difficult. Unable to gather round a table, my list of prospective players is short, and the sheer mind-numbing monotony of another bloody half-arsed lockdown we all know is pointless because they’ll open up schools and shit too early and cause another surge makes online socialising and organisation a thousand times harder than it should be for pretty much everyone. Nevertheless, I persisted, and finally, at long, long last, I have plans in motion. And they have enough momentum to STAY in motion. For a while, anyway.
I think, given that we’ve agreed on sessions every other Thursday, I will use some of the extra week to write a blog on the previous session. I used to love doing this way back when Livejournal was still a thing, and I really should get back into the swing of it, it’s good for the memory and creative muscles.
So, I have my lovely friends Janet, Dav, Shubhangi, Pól and Dermo lined up to come explore the Third Horizon with me. They’ve so far decided that the group will be “traders”, which is to say they will of course do a lot of hauling goods around the Third Horizon, but their space ship (currently named “The Blue Beetle” but they have other names ready to go should they end up in trouble) is designed for speed and stealth, or as the rulebook calls it, a blockade runner.
They’ve also mostly decided on their character concepts, and I’m sure by the time our first game is underway they’ll have decided on names and faces:
Janet: The computer specialist (commonly called a Data Djinn)
Dav: The expert pilot
Pól: The scientist (specialising in medicine)
Dermo: The ship’s engineer
The first proper session begins Thursday Feb 4. Normally I’d try to stream these games, but I decided not to for this. For one, I didn’t want to put the players under any extra stress or pressure to “perform” for an audience. There’s also the fact that there is VERY little art, music and sound that evokes the “Arabian Nights in Space” feel of Coriolis that isn’t also copyrighted, so I can give players some sweet beats without being sued by the developers of Sands of Time or Conan Exiles. I own both games and this RPG is personal not-for-profit use, so it’s all good.
(here’s a taster of what they’ll be hearing in the background when things get dangerous)
I’m looking forward to it, I have to say. I’ve spent the last few days importing art and maps from one of the published adventures (I won’t say which because they might be reading and spoil the surprises!). I almost never ran published adventures before the pandemic, but right now they’re a lifesaver. The art from a PDF is *invaluable* for setting the atmosphere in an online game where communication isn’t as easy. It’ll make a useful springboard for adventures and plot of my own.
And who knows, if the gang sticks together we might even have enough time to run them through the colossal, world-changing 3-volume “Mercy of the Icons” campaign Free League also published. The first 2 are out now and I like where it’s heading. I like it a lot.
Anyway, that’s what’s happening with that. The prospect of a regular game with a regular report has me in quite good spirits. And when I’m in good spirits, I inflict only the finest of horrible setbacks to my players. With any luck I’ll have strange tales from the Third Horizon the weekend after next, or thereabouts.
Right, I’m going to start up an online TTRPG. I’ve had the GM’s itch for too long, and I need some soothing ointment. Uh, figuratively speaking. Funny thing about online RPGs during a pandemic lockdown, people are, some crazy how, EVEN HARDER to find to play your game. You’d think with no pubs or cinemas or even the middle aisle for dads in Lidl there’d be a mass of people sitting around looking for something to do, but no, suddenly everyone’s just that popular or found another habit or hobby. Bah.
Anyway that’s not my problem. My problem is deciding on a game to run. That’s where you come in. I have literally and figuratively scoured WordPress for the laziest way to get a poll plugin so that you can take whatever control is left of my dreadful existence and have a say in what particular flavour of horrible adventures I get to inflict on other players. So Ka-POLL, motherfuckers!
This poll is no longer accepting votes
In case anyone is unfamiliar with the games in question, I feel the below is enough to give you a good idea of what each is about.
Warhammer Fantasy Role Play:
God, I love this game. Been playing it for years. Not a huge fan of tabletop wargames with their expensive fiddly models and such, but this is a gem of a setting jam-packed full of adventure, grim peril and Small But Vicious Dogs. Players are hapless adventurers drawn together by cruel fate to witness and battle plots and threats to the Empire of Sigmar. It’s like the Holy Roman Empire but more deep dark woods, grotesque beasts, monsters, mutants and insane cultists, if such is possible.
Coriolis: The Third Horizon:
God, I love this game. The general premise is “Arabian Nights in Space”, so players can expect a great many bazaars, opium dens, magnificent architecture, and advanced technology living uneasily beside a variety of philosophical, mystical and sometimes downright occult threats from The Darkness Between The Stars, from mad doomsday cults to starships possessed by electric djinni.
Elite: Dangerous RPG:
God, I love this game. Based off the videogame series which has been going since the 1980s, which means there’s a tonne of lore, factions, politics and perhaps most importantly, space ships. It has a short punchy rule system for players, with rather more complicated options for spaceship combat, because each player begins with their own little ship capable of FTL travel. Combat is brutally dangerous. It is possible to just play by randomly generating encounter after encounter, as they went to great lengths to make it playable without a GM if you really want.
Alien: The RPG:
God I love this game. It is perfect for capturing the mood of the first two films depending on how you want to play it. Space is cold, dark, vast, and not your friend. You might not even like the crew you were assigned to work with. But you have to depend on each other because all it takes is on fried circuitboard and everyone dies. And of course if corporate brinkmanship and interstellar cold war between the United Americas and the Union of Progressive Peoples wasn’t enough, there are murderous alien killing machines out there in the black. And I’m not even talking about the xenomorphs themselves, who are just absolutely fucking horrifying.
Four beautiful choices, four fantastic RPGs that I would dearly love to run, was I capable of running four completely different games a week like I was before my spirit was crushed and sucked dry by the lumbering uncaring behemoth of scientific academia. Please, for the love of gods help me make a choice, I can barely function as a human being right now beyond hugging my dog and hoping that this hellish plague will finally come under the control of vaccines some time next year.
One Shots of the Reikland was a long time coming, due in good part to the fucking death plague we’ve all been trying to hide from for almost a year. I have been a fan of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play for Quite Some Time, becoming instantly hooked when the 2nd edition made it into my local game shop. Oh, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many introductory sessions at college I ran, or full-on campaigns myself and friends ran for each other. The game was a classic. The rules were so simple, the mechanics so clever, and everything so lovingly written and illustrated. It took the vast wealth of the setting that surrounded the tabletop wargames, and added depth and complexity to that world that you just can’t get with the wargame (and arguably shouldn’t try, it’s a good wargame). Now I could see what the common folks of the Empire get up to when the grand armies aren’t on the march, I could take a look at the secret plots and cults that worked behind the scenes, where an army couldn’t go.
One of my favourite memories of 2nd Edition is a lengthy campaign with a proper conclusion (an almost unheard of occurrence in those days of playing until one or more players ran out of interest) that a friend ran for me and some friends. It followed the fortunes of a lesser noble family down on their luck and with no real allies to turn to, who ended up combing the ruins of the cursed city of Mordheim not long after it was destroyed.
My character was… several steps removed from any hope of an inheritance, would be the politest way to say it, and had become a priest of Sigmar. He insisted from day one on having a two-handed warhammer which he could not wield until much later on, and developed a worrying habit of leaping into battle without armour, screaming “MY FAITH IS MY SHIELD!” which was even more hilarious to us for the fact that more often than not an enemy would genuinely miss, or fail to do any damage at all, when I screamed that just before the dice rolled. Of course when it didn’t work it REALLY didn’t work, and the poor lad took more than his fair share of insanity points from critical wounds. A good time was had by all at that table.
I’m saying all this so that when I tell you that I’m not just praising the game because I made a little money writing some adventures for it, you know I mean it. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever get asked to write a little bit of WFRP action. This is a Big Deal for me.
It also helps that it jumped to #1 on the DriveThruRPG under $5 list and #4 overall (Beaten by Cyberpunk, Vampire, and another WFRP book). TTRPG players like them some Warhammer.
To this day I’m not sure whether I slept badly, or didn’t take my meds at the right time, or still suffer fatigue from the mononucleosis I caught at the end of 2006. It’s a fun guessing game the whole family can enjoy.
Anyway. Work is slow for various reasons, some of which are even legitimate. The fatigue, the death plague and its daily dose of existential horror as the government keeps telling us it’s about personal responsibility when they’re the ones packing total strangers into schools, colleges, Direct Provision internment camps and meat packing plants. They’re still clinging to some farcical notion that a highly contagious virus just… magically refuses to jump hosts as long as they’re all listening to a teacher, or that the millionaire owners of factories can be trusted to treat their workers safely instead of demanding more work for less time and ignoring any and all safety measures that get in the way of profits. Sooner or later socioeconomic groups the public actually gives a shit about are going to start dying, and I just want it on record that you were all fucking warned and the people who COULD have done something actively decided not to.
Existential horror notwithstanding, some things ARE happening work-wise. If all goes well I’ll be able to brag about it as early as next week. Suffice to say that freelance writing for TTRPG publishers is certainly less *regular* work than slaving in a lab from 8am-9pm every day including holidays for less than 18k a year, but by all the gods it’s a HELL of a lot more satisfying. And even if it is an incredibly niche geek hobby, orders of magnitude more people will still actually read the fucking thing. Impact factor only seems like a big deal to scientists because they’re fucking thrilled if the paper they spent 5 years writing gets read by a dozen other scientists.
Why yes, I *am* still angry, thank you for asking.
Gaelcon is just around the corner, and honestly I could get used to attending in an online capacity instead of the monumental hassle of finding affordable accommodation in Dublin on a bank holiday weekend with a literal marathon happening too.
I’ll be helping out the lovely folks of Cubicle 7, who are running a few Warhammer Fantasy tables to entice people to buy the 4th Ed. books (you should by the way, it’s very much like they took all the 2nd Ed. books and distilled one massive core book out of them. There’s loads of fluff and lore, the magic system is greatly expanded and very distinct from priests and their miraculous abilities, and it’s topped off with some REALLY good artwork).
I’m also writing an Alien scenario. I prefer running campaigns for Alien instead of one-shot sessions, it’s better for pacing the rise and fall of tension and players can manage their character’s Stress/panic better, but the “cinematic” scenario definitely has its place. Because I’m a very *lazy* writer, I’m taking the recently published multi-session “Destroyer of Worlds” scenario that I ran for some friends, and building an unofficial sequel off that. I already have the Kruger 60 system and the (now mostly destroyed) colony of Ariarcus mapped out on Roll20 as a result, so I’ve been able to focus on just writing some plot that wakes a hapless crew of space-truckers from hypersleep light years away from their destination because of a distress signal from what should be a lifeless icy rock after a major war with deadly chemical weapons happened on and above it.
Right, I’ve just realised I wrote all this as procrastination; I should finish writing that Alien game. Bye.
Right, so. I went and got myself a website, obviously. They’ve been getting popular since the 90s so I suppose it’s about time I got in on that sweet dot com lucre, which surely hasn’t collapsed since I last checked around the time Netscape was the most popular browser.
I’m still finding my feet around all the new gadgets and menus and domain management bits and bobs, so I wouldn’t be expecting great things just yet. But I’m sure this place will come in handy at some point. At the very least it’ll be a place for dumping pictures and videos of Duilleog instead of being restricted to everyone’s favourite Nazi-riddled social media platform Twitter.
Right, that’s about it for now. Stay safe and wash your damn hands, everyone.