The very rich, having fundamentally missed the point of urban living, have long been frustrated by the fact that it’s impossible to squeeze the amenities of of a country mansion – car showroom, swiming pool, servant’s quarters etc – into the floor space of your average London terrace. Those without access to trans-dimensional engineering, a key Time Lord discovery, have had to resort to extending their houses into the ground. Thus proving that all that stands between your average rich person and a career in Bond villany is access to an extinct volcano.
Ben Aaronovitch – The Hanging Tree

Why yes, I am excited to have this book* – I didn’t realise it was out yet. For those who’ve no idea what I’m talking about, it’s the latest in the Peter Grant series, about a young London policeman who winds up working for the last Wizard in the Metropolitan Police. You could say it’s CSI: Hogwarts or a British Dresden Files, but those are terrible comparisons, even more so cause I’ve not read any of the Potter books to compare them to. So yes, between that and the trade of Vader Down (Which has dialogue I’d pay good money to hear James Earl Jones recite), I’m a happy reader at the moment.

*The author wrote two of my favorite 7th Doctor stories, Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, so I might be somewhat biased.

“Let the following commence!”

My players see it as a badge of honour when I stop the game to write down something they’ve said. I am pleased with this.

Monday night saw the return of Team (Almost All) Dual Wield! Sadly it also saw me spend a lot of the game trying not to cough up a lung (Something I’m still doing), so this recap will likely be shorter than normal. If I’ve missed anything, I apologise to my players and ask them to please help me fill in the gaps.

Having just had a group of young nobles pointed out to them by the barman, a conversation was struck up, and it seems as if the Black Star thieves was a small scale smuggling network for a group of rich patrons*. They may have known the missing noble who might have started this, Denius, who seemed changed when they last saw him. They swiftly vanished, which led to the Rogue getting the Wizard and Ranger (now called Team Drunk) to watch the bar and look for anything strange (Having given them some coin), and the Fighter (Now called Team Door) to watch both the door (Which went nowhere but side to side) and Team Drunk  to make sure they (AKA the wizard) didn’t burn the place down. The Rogue  put in a call to find the Paladin’s sister (AKA his secret identity) and Team Sneak were on their way! While they were tracking the nobles (Who’d attempted  to disguise themselves under cloaks), the Wizard and Ranger got roaringly drunk on booze and cheese (Actual cheese, not booze cheese. Though that’s an idea now that I think of it…) Both their players may have been on sugar highs thanks to the pineapple concoctions they were drinking which may have affected things, but I’m sure something strange would have happened regardless.

A drunken request at the bar for some Justice was put in, and shortly after a familiar member of the Watch, Sergeant Gounar, appeared. A by now very drunken wizard (He’s a Gnome and beer comes in pints) may have accidentally started to cast something, only for the Sergeant to pick him up and aim him out of the window at which point Team Sneak felt something of a disturbance in the Force. Team Drunk were gently escorted to the local drunk tank with a surprising minimum of fuss. Handcuffs were broken, though the cell bars weren’t and cheese was thrown at other inhabitants. Mercifully everyone was in seperate cells at that stage. The Fighter collected a claim ticket for them, and will hopefully return in the morning to collect them, giving the Ranger time to throw more cheese in the by now sleeping Wizard’s mouth. Also, the Ranger might have cast the spell to find her Animal Companion. (Actually, that might have happened in the bar, but things are blurry.)

Returning to Team Sneak, they followed the nobles to a warehouse in the Sea Ward of the city, and having failed to fully observe the secret knock, Batman’d it up the side of the building** and observed through a convenient skylight. An argument ensued between the nobles, with some concerned about what they’d gotten into. They were proved right when the one with the most bass in his voice (AKA the leader) proceeded to stab the lead doubter in the throat. At that, confusion reigned, and a discussion about intervening between the Rogue and Paladin led to them being spotted and dramatically bursting through skylights*** into battle! Things went better for the  Rogue, at least at first, with some Flynning from the Paladin. Stabbings ensued, Persuasion rolls were made (With the Rogue failing one so badly that the leader didn’t think they’d kill him – it was that sort of a night) but eventually they prevailed.

More conversation ensued, with it being revealed that the smugglers were infact working for the nobles, bringing in luxuries and small contraband. They’d also heard of the missing noble, saying he was acting strangely. The dance of bargaining for their lives continued, with the leader about to rat them out when all of a sudden – *CLIFFHANGER SCREAM*

A slightly odd set of cliffhangers- conversation, cheese throwing and snoring, but it seemed to go well. I’m still getting used to a city based investigative campaign, but my players make all my nerves worth it. They’re an incredibly fun bunch to run for. Plots are coming to a head, and a confrontation seems soon to take place! *crashing chord* Will they meet the mysterious missing noble? Will they find out who their even more mysterious patron is? Will the wizard have to take another bath? Tune in to find out!

*Names were mixed up and things were slightly rewound, leading to the first Doctor Strange reference of the night.

**Sadly a minor celebrity didn’t poke their head out of a window. Probably a good thing as they would have been rumbled.

*** Yes, there was the faint sound of a Eagle. I’ve been replaying Black Flag recently.

By Crom, Ymir and Set!

So, been quiet for a bit. Unexpected but welcome employment has meant I didn’t run D&D last week. Have no fear, Team (Almost All) Dual Wield will return Monday night! Been tired and sore, but punching the clock at 5’oclock and not having to think about work anymore is a glorious feeling. Also, money. Outside that, there’s been more thinking on Hyborian Tales. What do I hope to achieve with it, why am I doing this?

So I can run an event that allows me to share my love of Robert E Howard’s work, possibly even a type of event that hasn’t been done here before (Or if it has, I haven’t heard about it – I’m not omniscient). I first heard about HT around 2006, and have been reading Howard since the early 2000’s, so I’ve been wanting to take part in an event like this for a long time. Given it last ran in the UK in 2008, playing’s not really an option, which means running it. Getting permission from the original creator went a long way towards that, but now the real work begins. It’s going to be a lot of work, but by Crom, I want to put that work in. Even if it falls down in a heap, I want to run this. I love the stories and the system, and want to share that with people.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”
Queen of the Black Coast

The game originally ran as a weekend event, with three short adventures (Play 1, crew 2) and 2 communal tavern nights. The idea is to run day games at first with 1, maybe 2, adventures, but I hope to run weekenders in the future. Crawl before you walk and all. My Lovely and Talented Wife has volunteered to work on logistics (An area of game prep I lack skill in) which has freed my brain up a lot. As before, any offers of help/expressions of interest as welcome.

So, curious and want to know more?

Souce material wise, there’s no better place to start than Howard’s original stories. Collected volumes of the Conan stories can be easily found in bookstores and online. I recommend the following stories to start with:
The Phoenix on the Sword.
Queen of the Black Coast.

Beyond the Black River.
The Hour of the Dragon.
Rogues in the House.
It was hard not to nominate The Tower of the Elephant, The Scarlet Citadel or The People of the Black Circle. but when you have to narrow things down, hard choices have to be made. As for other Howard work, Worms of the Earth, The Shadow of the Vulture (Starring Red Sonya of Rogatino, which inspired Roy Thomas to create the chain mail bikini wearing version) and Red Shadows (The first Solomon Kane story) are well worth reading, especially Worms. If the book has L Sprague De Camp mentioned anywhere as author, then it’s probably been edited by him. Don’t touch them. De Camp both re-edited Howard’s tales to form an extended canon and re-wrote non-Conan work as Conan stories. Points to him for keeping the stories in print, but those points are then lost for keeping the originals out of print for so many years. I’ve not read much of other author’s attempts at Conan work – the only one that comes to mind is Robert Jordan’s novelisation of Conan the Destroyer, and remember it being almost as wretched as the film.

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”
Beyond the Black River

As for the films, I adore 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, despite it’s many faults.* It’s Conan is thick-headed, slow witted and lacking the literary version’s pantherish speed and cunning, but the atmosphere and score more than make up for that. It’s nigh impossible for me to hear Anvil of Crom and not want a sword in my hand. As for it’s sequel, Conan the Destroyer, it’s a wretched piece of dumbed down garbage that makes a mockery of the character and the audience, the score being one of it’s few saving graces.** Moving to 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, starring Jason ‘Khal Drogo’ Momoa, it deserved better. Momoa did a fine job with what he had and if they could have cropped the ‘revenge for the death of his family’ subplot that was never in the original stories, it might have been better. I’d hoped he’d get another shot, but with Arnold apparently set to reprise the role, that seems to have been abandoned. Plus, bonus Ron Perlman. As for the TV series Conan the Adventurer, well, I own the box set but haven’t been able bring myself to watch further than the pilot.

“Aye,” he growled, “I am a Pict, a son of those warriors who drove your brutish ancestors before them like chaff before the storm!–who flooded the land with your blood and heaped high your skulls for a sacrifice to the Moon-Woman! You who fled of old before my race, dare ye now snarl at your master? Roll on me like a flood now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley–of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall! Dogs of the dark, vermin of Hell, worms of the earth, rush in and try my steel! When Death finds me in this dark cavern, your living will howl for the scores of your dead and your Black Stone will be lost to you forever–for only I know where it is hidden and not all the tortures of all the Hells can wring the secret from my lips!”
Worms of the Earth

Turning to gaming, Mongoose’s now out of print D20 game was frequently fantastic despite being D20, though the border art made them uncomfortable to read in public, especially the 2nd edition books. (Ian Sturrock, the original Hyborian Tales author, wrote the rulebook.) I’ve not been able to find copies of either the TSR Conan RPG or the GURPS sourcebook, but I’ve heard decent things. As for upcoming games, the free quickstart for the new Conan RPG seems interesting, but I’m not a fan of the system so much. Given the calibre of the people involved though I’m more than willing to give it a shot.

The clangor of the swords had died away, the shouting of the slaughter was hushed; silence lay on the red-stained snow. The bleak pale sun that glittered so blindingly from the ice-fields and the snow-covered plains struck sheens of silver from rent corselet and broken blade, where the dead lay as they had fallen. The nerveless hand yet gripped the broken hilt; helmeted heads back-drawn in the death-throes, tilted red beards and golden beards grimly upward, as if in last invocation to Ymir the frost-giant, god of a warrior-race.
The Frost Giant’s Daughter

As for other films that capture a Howard-esque atmosphere, the likes of The 13th Warrior The Sword and the Sorcerer, John Carter and Solomon Kane (Based on the Howard character) all have their moments, especially James Purefoy’s performance in Kane, if only to contrast against his scenery chewing in Carter. Then again, you could say I’m not a fair judge, given I own both the first two D&D movies and The Scorpion King 3. It’s an awful film, but has Ron Perlman in a mullet wig. Yes, I’m easily amused. You didn’t already know that? I’m aware given my track record for games that any attempt at something grim and bloody will turn out more like an 80’s B-movies, but I think I’ll be OK with that. As with my tabletops, so slong as the players enjoy themselves, I’m fine.

“Dead!” he muttered.

Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.
“Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.
Red Shadows

So yeah. Those stories lit a fire in me like few other things and the chance to base a LARP event around them has me keen. As I’ve said, it’ll be a lot of work, but I want to do this. Finding a venue, writing adventures, props, costume, weaponry, briefings. It’s all stuff that’s new to me (I’ve only written tabletop games before) and it’s pretty damn daunting.  But, no effort, no game. So, it’s gotta be done. Time to do what I’ve been talking about…

“A kiss?” she cried hysterically. “You think of kisses at a time like this?”
His laughter boomed above the snap and thunder of the sails, as he caught her up off her feet in the crook of one mighty arm, and smacked her red lips with resounding relish.
“I think of Life!” he roared. “The dead are dead, and what has passed is done! I have a ship and a fighting crew and a girl with lips like wine, and that’s all I ever asked. Lick your wounds, bullies, and break out a cask of ale. You’re going to work ship as she never was worked before. Dance and sing while you buckle to it, damn you! To the devil with empty seas! We’re bound for waters where the seaports are fat, and the merchant ships are crammed with plunder!”
The Pool of the Black One

Well, for now. Must dash – have to go pretend to be a robot spaceship captain!

*The toast I gave at my wedding was ‘To what is best in life!’ Thinking back on hearing my family repeating that continues to bring me great joy.
**I use it as a motivational tool when cleaning the house – when the house is clean I can turn the movie off.