Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I know, let's throw in a mega-hurricane...

I don't mean to make light of a serious situation, but if the events of the last month were plot points in a political thriller, most people would consider it a bit over the top. First, we have what is probably the most important presidential election in decades. The global economy is in a malaise it can't seem to pull itself out of, Iran is building nuclear weapons and Israel is rattling its sabre, China is bullying its neighbours and the Eurozone is fracturing. The president has an eleventh hour crisis in Libya. The ambassador is dead. Rumours circulate, leaked memos are released. Did the administration ignore requests for more security? Probably. The Secretary of State falls on her sword. Worse, did the president have realtime intel of the attacks and choose to ignore it for political purposes? Seems hard to believe, but the opposition smells blood. At this point, we have all the makings of a decent Tom Clancy novel and that's where I would have stopped. But Mother Nature decides to up the ante and toss in a massive hurricane on the eve of the election. Dozens are killed and millions are without power. Several swing states are affected by the storm. Now it's starting to read like a contrived start to a future history for a post-apocalyptic rpg. All we need now is for the president to declare martial law and cancel the election "until order is restored".

Seriously though, stay safe, American friends (and Canadian friends back east who are also getting hit by Sandy).


P.S. Hey, hurricane-naming people...Sandy? Really?

Monday, October 29, 2012

SpaceX Dragon - mission accomplished

This is awesome. I am of a certain age that I can remember a time when landing men on the moon was something the USA could do with some regularity. At the time, it was generally accepted that the Soviets could probably do it too and eventually would. We also had supersonic air travel. Admittedly, flying on the Concorde was a rich man's game, but it held the promise of a bright future. Then came the space shuttle. There was also nuclear fusion, which they assured us, was only twenty years away. Could lunar bases and manned missions to Mars be far off? Where the heck did all that go? It's been forty years since a human has visited the moon. There's no more shuttle program. No SSTs. Nuclear fusion, they assure us, is still twenty years away. Instead of moon bases, the height of our technological advancement is the Chevy Volt and the iPhone.

Thankfully, it appears we are crawling out of this new Dark Age. The Chinese are talking about sending a man to the moon. While I certainly don't relish the thought of the future belonging to Communist China, it will hopefully spur western countries to reinvest in space exploration if we see a successful Chinese moonshot. In the meantime, American industry seems ready to keep things going for now. I doubt I will see a manned Mars mission in my lifetime, but it's enough to know we haven't completely abandoned the future


Friday, October 26, 2012

D-bane bids adieu

Some of you may have noticed that one of our longtime contributors has utterly disappeared from the blog. Derobane-bane has, for personal reasons, chosen to remove himself entirely from this site. Fear not, gentle readers, all is well. D-bane is still with us, still throwing dice and still lurking around. He has simple chosen to become an internet ninja.


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Urth of the New Sun

Having completed The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe a few weeks back, I promptly turned my attention to the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun. Set ten years after the events of the original series, it tells the story Severian's effort to fulfil the prophecy of the New Sun and the ultimate fate of Urth.

[Spoilers ahead]:

The Urth of the New Sun begins with Severian onboard the spaceship, Tzadkiel, on a journey to Yesod, a higher universe, where he, like several Autarchs before him, will undergo a test to determine if the people of Urth are worthy to receive the New Sun. There are, of course, mishaps and even an attempted mutiny along the way, as there are many who do not wish Severian to succeed. After all, the arrival of the New Sun will bring with it, a great cataclysm and most people of Urth will not survive. Soon after his arrival, Severian learns that there is no test and that he is the one to bring the New Sun. He then returns to Urth to prepare it as best as he can. However, this where things start to get a bit chaotic. Severian finds that he can travel the "corridors of time", sometimes at will, other times unconsciously. Indeed, when he arrives back at Urth, he is in the past, during the reign of the Monarch Typhon. Later he arrives at a time a few decades after he left, his wife sits on the throne of the Commonwealth and the New Sun is just about to arrive. Still later, he returns to the distant past to the time of Apu-Punchau, an ancient ruler in prehistoric Urth and then, finally, to a future time, a few generations after the return of the New Sun.

I must confess, I found the latter third of this book a bit difficult to follow at times, largely because of the time travel. Some of the journey's through the corridors of time were not made immediately known to the reader. Still, once I realized what had happened, I was able, with an occasional bit of rereading, to clarify things. All, I can really say as far as a recommendation is, if you enjoyed The Book of the New Sun, you must read The Urth of the New Sun. It doesn't tie up many loose ends from the original series (my sense is that Wolfe is not the kind of writer who feels compelled to do so), but it will answer the one big unanswered question, namely, what would become of Urth and the prophecy of the New Sun.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Rippin' on...Call of Cthulhu continued

The Cthulhuesque fun continues at SomethingAwful.com.

Mansions of Madness, pt.3


Thursday, October 04, 2012


While reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe over the last month or so (currently reading the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun), I was impressed by the depth of the world Wolfe created. It seemed tailor-made for adaptation to a game setting. So I set out to see if it had ever been done and sure enough (and much to my dismay, as it turns out), it had. The source of my dismay, it was a GURPS setting. I played a lot of GURPS back in the 90s. I was a university student back then and all the cool kids were playing GURPS (at least around the campus gaming club). They say familiarity breeds contempt. Well, for me and GURPS, the saying is true. After a couple of years of almost exclusive GURPS, I was completely and irrevocably done with it. I still kept a few of my favourite sourcebooks, like GURPS Conan and GURPS Terradyne to mine for ideas, but I haven't played the game itself in nearly 20 years. Needless to say, I was somewhat ambivalent about investing in GURPS New Sun, but in the end, the pull of the setting proved stronger than my antipathy toward the game.

One point before I discuss the book, GURPS New Sun is one massive spoiler. It is unlikely anyone would even think to buy it if they hadn't already read The Book of the New Sun, but be forewarned, the entire plot of both The Book of the New Sun and The Urth of the New Sun are revealed.

GURPS New Sun is a quality work and quite an interesting sourcebook even for someone who may not wish to play GURPS. It starts out with a history of Urth, starting with the Age of Myth, which is basically all of history up until humanity's ascension to the stars and the creation of the First Empire. When the First Empire began is unclear, but its slow decline began about 72,000 years before the events of The Book of the New Sun. This era of interstellar empire and decline is known as the Age of the Monarch, named for the Monarch Typhon, the last great ruler of the age and a character who makes a brief appearance in The Sword of the Lictor. The Age of the Autarchs follows. It is the current era in The Book of the New Sun. Finally, there is The Next Age: Ushas or Ragnarok. The future of Urth is governed by the prophecy of the New Sun. If it comes to pass, Urth will go through a catastrophic upheaval, but will emerge on the other side as a vibrant, abundant world (Ushas). If the New Sun does not come, Urth will eventually turn into a frozen ball revolving about a burned-out sun for all eternity (Ragnarok). It is not an easy choice. Those alive in the present would not see Ragnarok, not would their children or even their grandchildren. However, the catastrophe that would mark the beginning of the rebirth of the world would be devastating and immediate. Most would not survive.

Next are chapters on the geography of Urth, especially the Commonwealth and its capital city, Nessus, although a few pages are dedicated to Ascia. There is a chapter on religion, mainly the Church of the Conciliator, with some description of Yesod included in this chapter as well. There is also a chapter on some of the unique aspects of space and time as described in The Urth of the New Sun and how they can be adapted to the GURPS system. Being a sourcebook, there is, of course, a chapter dedicated to character creation. For those unfamiliar with GURPS, chargen is a point-buy system for everything. You can buy attributes, skills, advantages. If you buy low attribute scores or disadvantages, you get points back that can be spent on other things. It is a pretty straightforward system, but one that is easily abused. Anyway, the character chapter includes some new skills and advantages/disadvantages as well as advice on how to adapt some existing ones to the setting. There are also an impressive array of character templates in keeping with the astounding depth of the setting. Of course, there are also the usual components of any game setting, weapon and equipment lists, a bestiary and a bunch of adventure hooks. Finally, there is a chapter on thaumaturgy. The lines dividing technology, magic and psionics are very blurry in The Book of the New Sun. The impression I got from reading it is that everything is actually technological, although some of that technology, especially some described in The Urth of the New Sun, stretches the limits of what I would consider possible within the constraints of the laws of physics. Having said that, GURPS New Sun treats a lot of the seemingly mystical effects as sorcery or psionics. It is up to individual GMs to decide the nature of the technology in their campaigns, but from a game mechanics perspective, it seems easier to treat it as magic.

Overall, GURPS New Sun is a pretty decent sourcebook. Even if the game system itself is not my thing, I have always felt the supplements were invariably excellent. At a modest $20 for a meaty, 128 pg. soft-cover, it's a good bargain and I would say it's a must for anyone interested in converting The Book of the New Sun to a tabletop rpg game setting.