Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles Part V(A)

The Long Reach of Evil, Terror at the Top of the World by Rick Maffei, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

The Long Reach product is going to break into three different reviews, because we have three adventures by three different author all packed together under one title. The end result is a larger project, and should (but doesn't always) show some variety in the adventures within, and since it is being run at different times, deserves separate reviews.

Oh, and as always in these reviews, unfurl the spoilers. 

The idea of The Long Reach of Evil is a globe-girding adventure, sending the investigators to Tibet, Indonesia, and Peru. This sounds good but really makes it little different than the previously published adventures that sent your supposedly New England-based band of investigators to Luxor, London, Leningrad (and an iceberg in the Arctic). Unlike that last one, this adventure could be fit into my regular group of pulp-style adventurers (Female novelist and her adventure-hero subject, mobster on the lam, personal photographer, archeologist/sidekick). The adventures in this new product are (very) loosely tied together in that all the initial contacts can be members of the International History and Archeology Society (or as my group quickly came to calling it - IHAS (cheeseburger)). My group of pulpy adventurers is based out of England, and as a result, I jostled some things, so they got an invite to Indonesia, had an initial contact for the Peru adventure before leaving, but got detoured to Tibet first. And indeed, the adventures can be played in any order, and some of them done away with entirely, without affecting the others.

The traditional Goodman Games Cthulhu story model is that you receive an invite to go somewhere by someone who already dead by the time you get the message, and when you get where you have been asked to go you find that someone else is opening a gate to someplace they shouldn't. Terror at the Top of the World (which would be tighter if it were Terror in Tibet, but that is neither here nor there) fits that model well, such that you get a letter from a explorer from Tibet, who while the letter was in the mail went mad, came back home, and committed suicide. I flipped the order here, ran the funeral first, which gave me a chance to introduce IHAS and lay some groundwork for the later adventures. When the PCs got home, our anthropologist got the note detailing strangeness in Tibet and supposedly set them off and running.

Well, sort of. There are a lot of red herrings in the note, including stuff that is not mentioned elsewhere in the adventure.  A head-nod to the Mi-go, a mention of the Himalyan apes, and a mention of how the village you're supposed to visit has some prestigious physical powers (not evident once you get there). And the getting there takes about three months, which makes it a major effort, and creates a quandry as far as timing is concerned - our victim saw something that made him crazy, took three months to get back home, then it takes you three months to get back to where he went mad - so that's at least six months after the initial encounter, so it is hardly a rush. Worse, it feels like the madness has been waiting for you to show up all that time - little has happened since the explorer left town.

This strange collection of red herrings also extend to a collection of dream sequences that don't fit into the overall theme, though they are particularly ooky and creepy to keep players on their toes.

And as an aside, the journey to the remote village in Tibet suffers in comparison to the one at the conclusion of the Chaosim Adventure Tatters of the King, which also takes you into the Himalayans. While Tatters uses the trip to cut you off further and further from society, isolating the characters, Terror gives you more of an Indiana Jones style jump cut with small encounters that can be instantaneously fatal for those the miss a die roll.

The pacing also suffers because the ultimate bad guy is hidden until late in the adventure, and the Keeper has to balance between tipping his hand too early or leaving the PCs floundering as they look for the limited clue that pushes them in the right direction.

And speaking of clues, this adventure gets the award for the "World's Worst Handout" - an arrow drawn into the gravel pointing towards the ultimate cause. It shows an arrow drawn in the gravel, whichout any indication of direction. And the suicide note that started this adventure DIDN'T get rate a handout.

The maps suffer from the "Curse of Cthulhu" I've mentioned as striking many such projects. There is a good map of the local monastery, for example, except that it a) leaves out the offices of the lama you're supposed to talk to, and b) neglects to put in a door to the passages deeper into the mountain. In addition, the final battle takes place in a typical Tibetian home, but nowhere does it mention that a typical Tibetian home tends to be on an upper floor of the building (stables and workspace beneath) and that floor isnormally reached by a ladder. That would have been useful information in establishing the village in the first place.

There is a lot of that in the adventure. Parts of very detailed (Monastery life, for example, in case the players want to spend a full day there), while others not so much (had to look up the traditional Tibetan meal of tsampas that was initially mentioned without explanation (the group is heavily iPadded)). The end result is an adventure that needs a bit of research to pull it off fully, even if you're running it in an Indiana Jones, high-adventure style. The fact that the adventure is "mythos-lite" and does not deal with anything canonically Lovecraftian does not hamper it so much as being unable to deliver on what it does present.

More later,

Saturday, August 13, 2011


It is time to dust off the old Political Desk, piled high with yellowed pamphlets, faded yard signs, and broken dreams. This is the primary for an off -year election, and in fact is a primary an off-off-year election, and the pickings are extremely thin. If you look at the other political desks elsewhere, most of the media have determined to ignore this year entirely and proceed directly to the 2012 election (Spoiler: Incumbent Obama will defeat challenger Romney is a close election. Washington will get a Republican governor - there, that's out of the way).

Yet I am faced precious little material to work with. But I am nothing if not diligent, and armed with little more than the voter's guide, the Stranger recommendations, the Muni league, The Times and PubliCola (though you have to dig for them), I wade into this matter.

And folks, there isn't a lot of there, there. But rather the basic nuts and bolts of democracy. A lot of stuff on the Seattle ballot does not get on the list down here, and your local ballot will likely be different. Here's what is on the ballot that reached Grubb Street:

King County Proposition No. 1 Veterans and Human Services Levy - This is a renewal of an expiring levy, and while I can kvetch about the cute puppy syndrome (What, you don't want to fund Veterans? What kind of monster are you?), it is not of new tax but a re-establishment of an existing one. Yeah, we should do it. Vote YES.

City of Kent, Council Positions 3, 5,and 7. Hey, I'm the new kid in town here, since our neighborhood was just sucked up into Greater Kent, making it the 4th biggest city in the region. And despite my normal anarchic tendencies, I am really predisposed to the incumbents in this race because of recent events - not only the annexation of Panther Lake (done with a minimum of muss and fuss), but also the revitalization of the downtown district (I actually go down there, now!), and the ShoWare center. And most of all, biting the bullet and taking a lead last year when it looked like the Howard Hansom Dam would not hold, investing in a lot in dikes, sandbags dikes preparation. In the end, the area was spared innundation, and while I would love to get my riverside trails back, they did the right thing given nasty choices. Congrats all around.

And yet, there are problems in paradise, to there is current dissent within the council. Here's what I understand is going on, courtesy of the Kent Reporter. Last year, Kent moved from having its own fire department to joining a larger fire district. However, it was still collecting taxes as if it was still providing the service, and using those funds to help meet other needs. The Incumbent from position 3, who was in charge of the Operations Committee, proposed cutting property taxes to adjust for this. Not only was the proposal shot down, the Incumbent from Position 3 was pulled from his chairmanship and replaced by the Incumbent from Position 5. Both incumbents are now up for re-election in their own positions.

So there will be more in this, but for the moment, I'm sticking with what I said about them doing a good job, and supporting BOTH incumbents for the Primary.

Les Thomas for Position 3
Debbie Raplee for Position 5

Position 7 is open, and poses a challenge, since most of the major papers and sites don't get far enough south to bother with endorsements. Michael Sealfron may be very good but lacks a web site for further information, Suzanne Smith has determination but not as much direct experience. Dana Ralph gets the nod primarily because of endorsements from firefighters, cops, and Washington Conservation Voters.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position 1 (I told you it was a light year), has no less than six candidates for this open position. One didn't provide any information for the Voter's Guide, and the rest consist of a software tech engineer, a real estate agent, a veep with T-Mobile, a geotech engineer, and a retired manager for Cascade Natural Gas. Talk about an embarassment of riches. And by the time you get this far down-ballot, your ONLY clue is what is in the Voter's Guide. Darold Stroud has very strong credentials and is a current commissioner (Position 2), but my natural engineering tendencies takes me to Larry West for the gig.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1. Last time I checked in here, we had a dust-up about the hospital board. This time, the big question this season is what to do now that Valley has merged/alligned.associated with UW Medical Center. Paul Joos is a doctor who claims not political agendas or financial conflicts. Mary Alice Heuschel is heavily awarded, endorsed, and funded (she's the one I have seen mailers from), and comes from a strong public service background (school board, advisory committee to the hospital, advocate for the alliance). Jim Grossnickle says the hospital needs a Commissioner needs someone independent of the political establishment, and then mentions that he is endorsed by Reagan Dunn and  Brian Sonntag, members of, well, the political establishment.  So I'm going with Mary Alice Heuschel.

And that is it. Really small-time, local politics, which is a good thing sometimes. Enjoy it, because it will not last. Vote by Tuesday, folks.

More later,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Riches update

NPR has posted its voted list of best SF/Fantasy books here. Buckle down as the Internet shouts in mass "I can't believe you chose THIS and not THAT".

[Update: Further Thoughts]

- I've read just over half of the books on the list. Did not count stuff I bailed on or just saw the movie.
- I am struck by how much of the list is "Old Stuff" - things I first read as a child. Their placement may reflect the shared experience that comes from so many people reading Wells and Verne and Tolkien in their youth.
 - I am delighted to see shared world/media tie-in books on the list  (Forgotten Realms and Star Wars series). Usually these books are shunted off to one side as being "not REAL books."
- That said - no Dragonlance? And for that matter no Harry Potter?
- The topmost Book I've Never Heard Of is the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. Hidden gem or Spamming the vote?
- Would love to have been at the ethereal version of The Eagle & Child where Tolkien breezes in and points out to Lewis that his Space trilogy (which is a bad name, to be honest) only pegged in at 100.

More later,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DOW breaks 11,000!

Well, that's impressive. And by impressive I mean as scary as hell.

For those of you tuning in late, over the course of these pages, I've been tracking the rise and fall of the American stock market. In general, it compares to the real health of the economy in a similar fashion to holding the back of your hand to your forehead to see if you have a fever. It is not a subtle measurement, and will not indicate if you have anything else but a fever. But the ups and downs usually give you an snapshot of general economic anxiety, particularly of the moneyed classes (that is, those with money to invest in the stock market).

Right now, there is a lot of anxiety. After rising relentlessly upwards over the past couple years, despite other sluggish economic signs, the investors are suddenly spooked, which makes for uncertain markets, diving stock prices, and therefore good newspaper articles. It seems to me that there are two things driving this, both with a common root - austerity in Europe and the self-inflicted debt crisis here in the States.

That common root for both is a sudden decision that Something Must Be Done about debt. Actually, that's not a bad idea - we've been on a roll for the last decade or so, piling up a lot of expenses from the previous administration, and a little fiscal sanity is a good thing. And, if truth be told, despite reports to the contrary Democrats actually LIKE balanced budgets and holding down spending. Which may be why you tend to see it in Democratic administrations and not so much in Republican ones.

Now I call the current debt crisis self-inflicted as opposed to manufactured. The amount of debt we're lugging around is a long-term challenge, but attempting to deal with it at a time of economic uncertainty makes a bad situation worse, and is one driven by political manipulation as opposed to economic rigor.

There is a pungency that wafts off this as many of those demanding drastic austerity are the same bad actors that had no problem busting those budgets in the past decade in the name of security, war, and tax breaks for the wealthy. And all of the above are off limits for further discussion. "All must suffer" is the byword for this, where "all" is meant to be interpreted as "you".

I think we will see a yo-yoing of the market over the next few weeks, until the stock market gets another cookie (like, say, telling them that interest rates will remain at next-to-nothing) or three,stabilize around 11,300 and then the slow pressure will drive the prices up again. Unless we do something else this dumb (and what's the chance of THAT happening?).

More later,

Thursday, August 04, 2011

About That Star Wars Novel

I've mentioned on and off in these pages I've been working on a Star Wars novel. Now I can reveal that the Book-With-No-Name has a name.


And yes, it features Hutts. Expect additional teasing in the future.

More later,

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Embarrassment of Riches

OK, go here and pick your top ten SF/Fantasy books from this list.

Not as easy as it sounds.

No, really. This is a surprising relevant list, more so than most I have encountered. If anything, it shows the strength of SF/Fant, both of its current incarnation and its backlist. My first list ran to 27 titles, of which I had to pare down to 10. Ten! Any one of the top 27 are books that I would recommend to others. And in doing so, I found my Fantasy side pitted against my SF side, and my modern reader sensibilities with those of the young man discovering Galaxy magazine for the first time.

Here are the top ten: A Canticle for Leibowitz, Chronicles of Amber, Deathbird Stories, Dune, The Forever War, the Illuminatus Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Perdido Street Station, Stand on Zanzibar, and The Yiddish Policeman's Union. If you don't recognize some of these, go read them.

Yet there were others that it killed me to leave off the list - Anathem, Mote in God's Eye, Pattern Recognition, Riverworld, The Wind-Up Girl, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. And THEN there were those that I would still recommend to others as worth reading and discussing - The Anubis Gates, Childhood's End, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Fahrenheit 451, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Neuromancer, Ringworld, The Sparrow, and The War of the Worlds. 

We always seem to be bashing on the decline of the genre, but this list, and the choices it forces, suggests otherwise.

More later,