London Ramblings

Musings of a London Migrant

"Goin' to be an 'ard winter! Arrr!"
Autumn is now on our doorstep, what with the Equinox passing. Evenings are noticably drawing out now and the days are getting cooler. Mind you, never known a season for nuts and berries, especially acorns and conkers. We had a bit of a blow a week or so back, after a long spell of very calm weather and they were lying in carpets under the oaks and horse chestnuts.

The long avenue of the latter lining the main road in Woodford Green has suffered particularly badly this year from the wretched leaf miner moth caterpillars, they look like they're on the verge of winter already. I really hope the local council doesn't follow that of Wandsworth's lead. Tooting Common is going to lose 51 mature Horse Chestnuts because  they too are diseased, and this isn't an isolated incident, trees in other parks and commons in Britain have suffered the same fate.

I acknowledge that the trees have got a problem, but the sight of that line in spring, rich and green and covered in blossom lifts the heart, as does holding a newly fallen conker in the hand in autumn, fresh from its pod. Wish someone would come up with a way of wiping the moths out instead, it's not like they're indiginous (neither is the tree really) and they have no local predators to keep them under control.

Ah well, they do say as how a rich crop of berries fortells a hard winter to come. Total bollocks of course, but a good hard winter is one way of keeping the moths under control, they like things a little more Mediterranean, so here's hoping.

Time Passing and Furry Stuff...
Woo. Been a while since I was on. Lots happening. Had a bit of a furry spate on the old RPG front. My copy of Pugmire finally arrived! Yay!. Lovely it is too (and I see that the first draft of the Monarchies of Mau RPG is out as a pdf as well). There I am in the back as a "Good Dog".

The Wife finds this all highly amusing, but she did buy it for me.

On the Drivethrurpg/Rpgnow side I also saw that Paul Kidd's Kitsune Press has got quite a few things out now. I was interested in his Genestorm RPG, but in the end went first for his Heroes of Morhost, a rules-lite furry RPG. Got the pdf now, the print version should be here in a week or too.

I've got quite few "Furry" RPGs, but it's quite difficult to define them. I'd say it's a game where the focus is on anthropomorphic characters, that they are the defining point of the game. Ironclaw (and Jadeclaw) for example, , Albedo (also by Paul Kidd), Furry Outlaws and Furry Pirates (naturally). The first example quoted by many is FGUs "Other Suns" RPG, where most of the "alien" races are furry. Is this a furry RPG? Justifiers is as this is focussed on the players being the anthro races, but humans are around as well. The modern HC Svnt Dracones game is furry I'd say, but then so is the "Crushed the Doomed Kitty" (D20) and "Supermegatopia" (own system) RPG. Is a furry supplement for an existing system a furry RPG? Would the "Fursona" supplement for Pathfinder count?

I wouldn't consider Bunnies and Burrows to be furry, that's just playing animals, but nor would I consider Toon to be furry as the focus isn't on anthro characters. Lots of RPGs have a supplement that sticks catgirls, etc. into the mix, GURPS for example, but that doesn't make them furry. Not to me anyway.

Again there's that "Lands of Luste" RPG, but we don't mention that in polite company.

Anyway. Heroes of Morhost most definitely is Furry and is written in Paul Kidd's inimitable style (like his "Town of Kalas" supplement for Castles and Crusades, which is worth buying just to read), so I'd certainly recommend it.

Be picking up Genestorm next payday, see he's got a couple of novels out for it too.Let you know what that's like when I get it.

Thunderbolt and Lightning...
Very very frightening.... me!

Had a hell of a storm here last night, never seen lightning that intense save in continental Europe. Never seen it in the UK, never thought it could happen in the UK. Clearly I was wrong...

The heart of the storm passed a couple of miles north, about 10.30pm. Lightning every 2 or 3 seconds, constant rumble of thunder, for a good 45 minutes or so. Not many groundstrikes, but lots of high altitude stuff. It was awesome, I just stood in the doorway of our little kitchen here in Woodford Green and gawped at it. I love lightning, free fireworks basically, but this... this was something else. As the storm slipped past I saw the back of it, huge towering cloudscapes, flickering and alive with light. Utterly, utterly beautiful.

Went on one of the live lightning monitoring sites to get some stats, but it had crashed. Too many people looking at it most likely. At least we didn't get flooded by torrential rain like some people I know did.

So. What else. Busy at work. Been back to the childhood home in Swansea to visit mother a few weeks back. Gorgeous weather, had some absolutely cracking walks out on the Gower. If you're ever visiting, go to Pennard, right down to Heatherslade on the south coast. Park up in the car park and take a walk, west along the cliffs to Three Cliffs Bay or east and wind your way down to Pwll Du (Black Pool in Welsh). We, The Wife, mother and I, went east this time and had a picnic down in on the beach at Pwll Du (after a bit of a scramble). Very nice. We saw Choughs! But you know what was most relaxing? Sitting on the patio in mother's back garden, late evening, a beer in hand, listening to the Wood Pigeons cooing, as I have listened to them so many times during the endless childhood summers I have known here. Yes, I know home is in London now, with the woman I love, but still, but still... Part of me still remains here, and it was good to get back to it.

(Compared to quite a few friends my childhood was like something out of an Enid Blyton novel, minus the smugglers and other shennanigans that is)

We went back really to attend the wedding of some Discworld friends of ours, Jason and Rachel, who operate the Discworld Monthly web magazine. They were married in Caerphilly Castle, and most splendid it was too. Never been to Caerphilly (at least that I can remember) and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area, although as a tactically positioned stronghold... Hey guys, artillery?

All in all a bloody good little break though.

From Azure to Crimson...
Turns out there's possible a better bet for a Crimson Skies hack than using the Airship Daedalus XPG system. Take a look here-

This is a new game from the Outrider Studios set in the 1930's era deiselpunk realm of Azure, where islands float over an endless storm and the skies go on forever. The interesting point is that the islands are those from the Caribbean, plus bits of the Florida and Yucatan Peninsulas, that somehow got ripped from Earth in a terrible storm in 1804 and ended up in this strange pocket dimension.

Bermuda Triangle, makes people... er, whole sections of your planet disappear...

Practically everybody who's reviewed this seems to think it's- 1. Good. 2. Really reminds them of that old Crimson Skies game from FASA. It's a print-on-demand title from RPGnow/DriveThruRPG, so pretty easy to get hold of and I will probably do so next payday. There's a whole bunch of stuff to supplement it already, WW2, Jet Age, Space Age and Weird Science Sourcebooks (the latter two also being print-on-demand), but the main game seems to deliver what I want. Pilots who are basically their world's celebrities, sky pirates, a 30's pulp aesthetic, cool deiselpunk aircraft and goood aircraft construction and dogfighting rules. The "Airships" are held in the air with the same floating stone that seems to keep the islands up, so no Zeppeins as such, but I doubt it would be difficult to fit them in.

While looking around DriveThruRPG I also came across a sourcebook, usable with any system, for a late 1930's setting where your players fly a Grumman Goose around South Pacific islands getting into all sorts of weird trouble.

Now where have I seen that before?

No, before Tailspin.

Tales of the Gold Monkey anyone? Loved that show...

Zeppelins and Jetpacks...
Found a copy of the Crimson Skies boxed rules on the Oxfam site (another useful little backwater away from the big boys like ebay and Amazon). For a week or so we stared at each other, but I blinked first. Got it now. For a while I was wondering if it was going to be my old set coming back, but the box is a bit more battered than mine was. All the contents in mint condition though, aircraft counters unpunched, three rulebooks, maps, dice, even the FASA product list and authentic aviation clothing catalogue were present. Enjoying reading through it all once more.

The copy of "Behind the Crimson Veil" was in reasonable nick after all, so I'm happy there, and the others I found are essentially new. Got them from the Ral Partha Europe site. Yes, the old Ral Partha metal figures company is still going, having got the moulds for a lot or old game figures they're churning them out in their Liverpool branch and also scooping up any old stock of rulebooks while they're over in the states. So I've got it all back more or less. I might even get the Crimson Skies PC game and see what that's like (there was a later Xbox release, but I don't have an Xbox and, frankly, I like the look of the earlier game more).

At the back of "Veil", this being the sky pirate sourcebook, are rules for Zeppelin boarding. With no helicopters as such and parachutes being too slow and open to wearers being shot out of the sky, the basic technique is to have a cargo plane fly low and slow over the top of the Zep, with other planes running interference, while the boarding party jump out and try to grapple on to the upper structure. A tricky manoeuvre. Been thinking though, what would make this easier? Jetpacks!

Well, rocket packs actually. And "Jump Packs" would be a better term for them. The first rocket pack design was Russian and actually dates back to 1919, there was a patent issued, but no examples were ever made as far as is known. This used an oxygen-methane mix so pretty explosive and potentially moreso if your Zep is full of hydrogen. The later late 50's Bell "Rocket Belt" used a monopropellant, hydrogen peroxide forced by nitrogen through a catalyst filter which produced an exhaust of steam and oxygen. Still very hot, but no actual flames and much less risk of an explosion. Only had a duration of 20 to 30 seconds though, so you wouldn't exactly be hurtling through the sky like in the "Rocketeer" film, but for a quick hop over to the top of a Zeppelin...

Coincidentally the current process for producing the sort of high grade H2O2 you need was invented in Germany in 1936, just in time for the Crimson Skies world of 1937. You'd still need to invoke "rule of cool" for any Crimson Skies RPG to employ these, but it's not stretching believability too far to have a particular pirate group to have stolen or otherwise obtained a batch of prototype "jump packs" and put them to good use in Zeppelin raids, and it certainly fits the whole pulp era ethos.

Still considering using the Airship Daedalus XPG rulset for this, but another option is the Savage Worlds multi-genre RPG, who's default setting is pulp. One early supplement was a pulp toolkit, but Adamant Entertainment have got a whole series of 30's pulp supplements for the system, their "Thrilling Tales" range, which certainly seems worth a look. Zeppelins and jetpacks certainly feature heavily. I gather that someone once even wrote a Savage Worlds/Crimson Skies Conversion called "Aces High" that was available on the "Savage Heroes" website, but this seems now defunct and I can't find it anywhere now, alas (although Utherwald Press' "Frozen Skies" setting for Savage Worlds does look as if it would be extremely useful...).

Wonder what else just the other side of plausible you could fit into a Crimson Skies game? Most weird science and supernatural elements would have to be toned considerably down or removed completely. I was thinking of working on one concept called "The Phantom Fighter", a strange plane seen in the skies, piloted with extreme skill. But the few surviving pilots who get close enough before being shot down report that the plane's cockpit is empty!

The plane is in fact an experimental fully automated fighter that uses radio triangulation and photo-receptor "eyes" to navigate and see. Its base is also completely automated and well stocked with fuel and ammo, the scientist who created it having lost control and been locked out, watching helplessly as the machine he built to prevent needless human deaths keeps taking to the skies and racking up kills.

Did you know that one of the first companies to produce radio controlled aircraft was started in the USA by an English ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot called Reginald Denny, who tried and failed to become a Hollywood actor. Between 1936 and 1940 they gradually produced a workable craft, called a "Radioplane" for use by the US Army as gunnery targets. They were quite successful, with newer and better models being produced over the following few years. However, radio controlled aircraft are not the most memorable things to come out of their factories. On a visit to one in 1945 an Army photographer saw a young girl on the production line who he thought had the potential to become a model. He took a few pictures of her and these eventually led to a screen test and the start of a successful film career.

Her name was Norma Jeane Dougherty, later Marilyn Monroe.

Odd things you find when you're doing research for an RPG idea.

Crimson Skies Redux
I have been doing a bit of Crimson Sky book recovery after all. Two of the supplements I needed were so cheap it was worth getting them just for background info. The lack of a copy of Behind the Crimson Veil was annoying though. Undertook a huge trawl of the internet and thought I found it, for a tenner even, on an online sales site in France. My boss is a lot more fluent in French than me so he took a look at it and reckoned he could easily pick it up and would do it that evening, postage would only be £7-£8. Huzzah! This was possibly the only copy of this for sale in the entire bloody world.

The day after he texted to say it was apparently unavailable now. Bummer. In desparation I actually contacted some of the authors, one had no copies and wished me luck but the other reckoned he had a few spares knocking around and would go and see if he could find them.

As it happens my boss's earlier log in to the French site had put the book in the basket tagged to the computer at work, thus making it unavailable to any other buyer. He thought this might be the case, looked it up again today and yes, it was there, so he got it and it should be on it's way shortly. Hope it arrives ok and is in decent nick now.

In the meantime the author had found his spares and offered one to me at a very reasonable price (plus postage from the States). I might actually take him up on that, firstly for taking the trouble to find it for me in the first place and secondly because this thing is so rare it's worth having a spare copy in case (or I find another poor soul trying to get hold of one).

The main rules now, that's a different kettle of fish. Have to keep looking.

Incidentally, the first author happened to have her contribution to "Tinseltown Expose", the never released Hollywood sourcebook on her blog, so I grabbed that. I'm wondering now who the other contributors were and if they too still have their chapters on file somewhere. "Zeppelins and Bombers" was finally made available, perhaps "Tinseltown Expose" could be too.

Pointy Rockets and Crimson Skies...
A little while back I ruminated on how it might be fun to adapt the Savage Worlds Pulp "Slipstream" setting to Deep7's Red Dwarf RPG, as a "holodeck adventure" or alternate universe (or any one of a number of ways you could drop the boys from the Dwarf into it).

Well, that's just got a whole lot easier with the latest in Deep7's Airship Daedalus RPG supplement, the "AEGIS Interplanetary Guidebook". This takes the basic 1930's setting with its occasional wierd science and demonic magic and turns the dial up to 11 by placing the H. G. Wells "War of the Worlds" into the timeline and the subsequent reverse engineering of abandoned martian technology leading to a thriving space race with bubble helmeted space suits, pointy finned rockets and more rayguns that you can wave a proton disintegrator at. It's a nice addition to the series, but... I have some issues with it, mainly with the art.

Deep7 have a habit of using "photo realistic" computer graphics in their books nowadays. Now this is fine for technology; spaceships, vehicles, technology, robots, even the occasional alien, but try to depict a human (or human-like alien) with it and it just dives straight into uncanny valley. It looks both wrong and ugly. I like it not. I didn't like it in the main Airship Daedalus rulebook and I don't like it here either. The other thing is some of the spaceship designs. OK, every pulp era source like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers (the old Larry "Buster" Crabbe ones) has been raided, fair enough, but there are a few there that raised an eyebrow. Like at least three Gerry Anderson craft. Seriously? You didn't think anyone would notice? I certainly did, putting a few bubble canopies on Thunderbird 3 does not disguise the fact that it is still Thunderbird 3. A few others I noticed as well, like a Mysterion "vertical rocket cycle" being suspiciously close to a Trade Federation Single Trooper Aerial Platform from "The Phantom Menace" or a Nazi "TX-25 Teufelbach fighter-bomber" being a dead ringer for the Alliance Fast Attack Ship from the "Keep Flying" Firefly Online website. It just smacks of laziness, surely a halfway decent graphic designer could have knocked something original together with little effort. Let's just hope the copyright lawyers don't catch wind of it.

So issues with the rulebook, but aside from that it does make a very useful toolkit for a Red Dwarf/Slipstream conversion, same XPG mechanics and and the same sort of pulp era science fiction setting. All you really need for bringing a bit of Raygun Gothic to complicate your Dwarfer's lives.

And of course Ace Rimmer would fit into this genre so so perfectly. "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast". What a guy!

So that's one thing taken care of, however...

While looking through the Airship Daedalus material again I was also struck by what an ideal system it would be for roleplaying another 1930s setting, that of Crimson Skies.

Crimson Skies was a boardgame created by Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy for the FASA game company, released in 1998 and set in an alternate 1930s where simmering resentments from the Civil War, influenza epidemics, prohibition and finally the Wall Street Crash have fractured the USA into several competing nation-states and the whole economic, technological and political shape of the world has been altered. The trans-continental railroads have been torn up, the nascent highway network never materialised and if you want to move anything anywhere you take to the skies. Cue the honking big airships!

It's an alternate universe Earth, of course there's going to be airships. Duh!

And where you have airships plying trade, what are you going to get? Sky pirates! Yes indeedy. The game is basically a minatures wargame pitting various milita, mercenary and pirate factions against each other in ever more improbable but utterly cool fighter aircraft. Basically what the authors thought was "what would it take to generate airborne pirates" and this balkanised America is what they came up with. It's a glorious setting, beautifully realised and filled with larger than life characters who are the superstars of this era. A lot of the aircraft are based on experimental (but generally hugely unsuccessful) aircraft designs of the time. But this world runs on rule of cool, so bolt on a few more fins and off we go into the pale blue yonder. It's pulp hero, but it's also deiselpunk, years before the term was even invented, "dieselpulp" if you will. Hardly surprising it won the Origins Award for "Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game" and "Best Graphic Presentation of a Board Game" of 1998. It went on to spawn a couple of videogames that stil have legions of fans, as does the original game.

 (Dieselpulp? Good word, must remember that).

I had it. And I got rid of it in the downsize. And I regret it.

Fortunately I still had a few books on the shelves,so I rescued those. Even more fortunately someone of teh interwebz had put up pdf scans of a load of it on Mediafire, bless em. So I have these and luckily the pdfs I don't have and the books I do match up perfectly.

I could get them back, found a site that sells most for not much more than I sold them for, but the main rules boxed set goes for silly money and the "Behind the Crimson Veil" pirate sourcebook is nowhere to be found. I've looked. Still, I have all the info I need for the setting, a little work and I can be hurling my little Bell Valiant towards the pirate fighter group threatening that airship with it's vital cargo of vaccine.

Not on my watch, you sons of bitches!

*dakka dakka dakka dakka dakka*

Additional- While browsing the net for Crimson Skies stuff I did find out some interesting facts, such as there was going to be a Hollywood Sourcebook, but it was never released. There was also mention of the Holy Grail of the Crimson Skies gamer community, the fabled Zeppelins and Bombers Sourcebook. Always conflicting rumours of this, there was a limited release, or there wasn't anything, or it was only ever produced in Germany (the Germans were HUGE fans of Crimson Skies). Turns out the guy who wrote it, Patrick Koepke (also did the Texas Republic Sourcebook), had indeed submitted a first draft to FASA just before the company shut down and eventually, hearing of all the fans who were desparately trying to find it, found all his notes, polished it all up and finally released it as a pdf.

If you're still looking, it can be found here-

Very nice it is too. Interesting to see that in the CS world airships the size of the Hindenburg are considered among the smaller sizes available. Honking big airships, like I said.

Now All Roads Lead To France...
I just watched a rather extraordinary TV programme, "Britain's Ancient Tracks" hosted by Tony "Baldrick" Robinson. Firstly it was an excellent introduction to one of the ancient trackways of this realm, the Icknield Way (they still don't know what the name actually means) and not only did it feature Phil "Oo-arr!" Harding, archaeologist and flint knapper extraordinaire (one of who's flint arrowheads, knapped in 1992, I still occasionally wear around my neck, great guy is Phil), but it introduces to you the poetry of one Edward Thomas, who died tragically early, in the Battle of Arras in 1917.

Go read "Roads"-

If you don't feel SOMETHING then you have no soul. At least three books of his are definately on my Xmas list.

Darwin alone knows what the rest of this series is going to do to me.

(Yes I am moderately pissed, been working this Saturday, allowed myself a couple of bottles of Westons Vintage Reserve Cider while The Wife is out watching "the Fake News Show" being filmed)

Still, I know something profound when I see it. Go take a look.

Cortex Classic vs Cortex Plus...
Been looking respectively at my Serenity and Firefly RPGs. Both by Margaret Weis Produtions, both using their in house Cortex System, but while Serenity uses the older Cortex rules, when Firefly came out they switched to their new system, Cortex Plus.

I must admit the look of the newer books is beautiful, and Cortex Plus did promise a lot, but even then I had something in me that just didn't click with it. I think it's the whole Asset/Complication thing, the way players can elect to gain or step them up during play to balance out other effects. Some say it's a way of incorporating storytelling into the game, but for me it seems like it's a way of reducing storytelling to rolling dice. Why not simply roleplay, for example, your players taking cover rather than have to create a D4 "Under Cover" asset. It's like poker, but I don't want to play poker, I want to play a Firefly RPG and with Cortex Plus I get the feeling that you end up playing the system rather than the game.

I did see another review of both where the reviewer could see players gaining more and more complications in order to stay in play until it turned into a "Death Spiral" (his words) where the player had no chance of winning. In the end he and all his players went for Classic over Plus. Cortex Plus has received a lot of acclaim and users say that the old system was too linear, but there's a part of me that wants linear, it keeps the overall plot of the adventure on track and makes the game flow faster. Cortex Classic is a simpler system and, to an old hand like myself who grew up with GURPS, D20, Traveller, etc., it seems to suit the setting of Firefly better. I also like the way the ships are more of a character in the old system.

So while I really do like the look of the shiny new Firefly books, I'll be using them as source material and adventure ideas, I'll be playing them with the good ol' Serenity Cortex Classic system.

Besides, the Serenity books have deck plans in them. The Firefly ones? Not so much, and what's the Gorram use in that?
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I have acquired the Cyberman supplement for the old FASA Dr Who RPG. Not from Amazon you understand, oh hell no, "Three used from £680"? Yeah, right. Fortunately Spirit Games up in Burton on Trent had a copy for a slightly more reasonable £40. I've been promising it to myself for a few months and finally got around to picking it up. Fortunately the Spirit Games stocklist is only accessible via their website and you'd have to go to the "Secondhand Games" section before you find it, so it was quite well hidden. Did mention I was going to pick it up on this blog before but since it's mine now I can reveal the source.

Spirit Games is one of the old school RPG shops that has been going for years, originally started in Croydon I believe before moving oop north, I've been dipping in there since at least the early 90's.

It's timely too with the old Mondasian Cybermen making a reappearance in Dr. Who this season. The earliest and possibly the creepiest incarnation of the cybermen and far from the stompy "DELETE!" spouting silver giants we've seen of late.


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