Friday, November 30, 2007

Chapter 3 - Escapes & Escapades

For the next three years I toiled aboard the Wavestrider and fought in many engagements and raids. Though not a Varyag myself, I was accepted by the crew and immersed in their language and customs. The bold pirate ship under the command of Savago Polinoy became my home and family, and like most willful children I could not wait to run away and escape.

From that first fateful raid on the Tyrennhian cargo ship, I knew full well that I would need to escape from the Wavestrider. The problem was, how to do that without getting caught by either the pirates or the local law enforcement. While I knew that I would likely need to wait until they were back in a familiar place, I also realized that it was unlikely that we would return to my home any time soon. So it was that I bided my time until the Wavestrider was once again making for port at Dahlon. Unfortunately, life does not care for the machinations and plans of the living, and so fate intervened before the Wavestrider could reach the Merlani Free Cities.

As the Polinoy clan ship sailed quickly towards its destination they did not realize that an enemy lay along their path. When it was too late for the Wavestriderto alter her course, the massive Tyrennhian Quinquereme appeared out of nowhere, her invisibility removed by the stone her forward onager had just lobbed over the Wavestrider's deck.

Unprepared for the surprise attack, Savago had a moment to stare, open-mouthed and in shock, at the massive Imperial warship almost directly ahead of him. A voice boomed over the deck demanding that the Varyag heave to and prepare for boarding. The Wavestriderwas doomed if they tried to resist, so Savago complied with a speed worthy of the Freiji, the Aspect of the Swift Current.

After a few moments Imperial Marines were boarding the smaller pirate ship from the Tyrennhian warship. The Quinquereme was massive for a warship, but not as big as the heavy Septiremes and Decares that the Tyrennhian Imperium was capable of fielding. I noted the difference in size casually and professionally, comparing this ship to the enormous bulk of the Kraken, a Tyrennhian Decares that had come to Dahlon for trade and diplomacy in my youth. Though smaller, this ship seemed as deadly as her larger cousin.

Taking a quick look at the Quinquereme also gained her the ship's name, written in blocky Medarin on the hull beneath the forecastle. This ship was the Proconsul's Writ, a name that immediately filled me with dread. The ship was a patrol and customs ship renown for catching pirates in just the manner in which the Wavestrider had been captured.

While I mused over the inherent unfairness of it all, a young Tyrennhian officer looked quizically at me and cocked an eyebrow. In Galari, the language of my homeland, he asked, "Whatever is a Merlani doing on a Varyag ship?"

"Working her passage," replied Savago tersely in Medarin to show that he had understood the question and was having none of this nonsense. Vigo looked tense, and two more officers joined the boarding party. The oldest of the officers bore the badges of a Quinquerarch, and was obviously the captain of the Writ.

"I suppose, then, that yours is a cargo ship, Master Varyag," asked the Quinquerarch in a somewhat bored tone.

"Aye, she is that, Captain, and dare I ask why you are stopping merchant ships at sea in the middle of nowhere?" replied Savago angrily. Though he was obviously bluffing, he played the angry and affronted merchant with all the skill of a seasoned actor.

"I see. Then you should have no trouble providing me with proper manifests for a complete customs inspection, eh?" was the Tyrennhian's retort.

Fortunately for us, Savago was no fool, and Vigo and Yssa were forgers of great skill. The ship had papers for every piece of cargo in its hold, and the papers would all pass muster as being legitimate bills of lading and transport for the cargo. Also, as luck would have it, while much of the cargo was contraband in the Imperium, it was perfectly legal in our listed port of call, Dahlon.

The inspection took three hours, as the Tyrennhians were convinced, rightly so as it turned out, that we were all pirates. The young officer, whose name was Septimus Arrenus, kept looking at me the whole time. Though I detested the Imperium for what it had done to my homeland, I had to admit that the young naval officer was really rather dashing in an odd sort of way, though the odd hairstyle affected by Tyrennhian soldiers was kind of off-putting.

In the end, the Wavestrider was allowed to continue on to Dahlon under close escort, thus preventing Savago from filling the rest of his hold on the way to Dahlon. It was obvious that the Tyrennhian knew that the Polinoy ship was obviously a real pirate, but without proof, the law-abiding military of the Imperium would not do anything about it. It took ten days to sail to Dahlon with the Proconsul's Writ dogging us every step of the way.

When we reached Dahlon, my first action was to perform my normal duties and assist with the loading and unloading of the cargo. Much of the time we were under observation by Tyrennhian soldiers or sailors, to the obvious annoyance of the stevedores working the docks. As soon as that was done, I looked to one of the stevedores and told him that one of the Tyrennhians had said something about re-conquering the dirty Merlani scum in this crummy little city. The stevedore quickly spread the word, and the next thing you knew there was a massive fight breaking out between the dock workers and the Tyrennhians. Using the fracas as a diversion, I slipped away from the docks and up into the city proper.

I realized first off that I would not be able to go home right away, and that Deroone Verthur's shop would probably be the first place anyone with half a brain would think to look for me. Understanding that my options were severely limited, and that the mix of different coins in my purse would only last for so long, I made my way as quickly as I could to the south end of town.

Assuming nothing had changed, I knew that the current leader of the Dahlon Secretariat, Fendy Brill, could be found there. It was risky, but I knew it was my only chance for survival and escape. I almost made it to Brill's home when those words that every right thinking woman hates to hear: "Guards, arrest that woman!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Top Ten Best Philosophical Science Fiction Stories

This week, the SFSNNJ's feature events are Themes of the Fantastic, and the topic is Philosophy and Science Fiction. While I know that our wonderful moderators, Steve Spinosa and Bill Wagner, will do a bang-up job, I wanted to throw a few ideas around before the meeting anyway:

10) Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross - examines a culture completely devoted to Nietzche. A brilliantly written story with great characters (as only Charles Stross can do), Iron Sunrise explores a future where pseudo-Nazis are trying to take over the universe in secret in the hopes that the one true ubermensch, the Unborn God, will create the ultimate peace for them. Great concepts and a wonderful tale.

9) Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan - are you really you if you are wearing a different body? Morgan examines the concept of sleeved mentalities in this far future series. The initial story, Altered Carbon, shows us that in spite of everything else, Takeshi Kovacs is a UN Envoy, no matter whose sleeve (i.e. body) he is wearing. It is an interesting examination on the morality of killing when a cortical memory stack will still contain the base 'soul' of the sleeve.

8) Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh - Amazing philosophical debate about the idea of cloning. The great ethical debate in the story centers around a clone who is being made to undergo all of the same stresses and experiences as the original in the hopes of recreating the original completely. While some decry this as a far-future version of The Boys from Brazil, the truth is that this story actually argues the point instead of using it merely as a plot vehicle.

7) Maximum Light by Nancy Kress - This bleak look at a barren and sterile future shows us a new argument to look into. Is it morally justified to castrate a homosexual in order to harvest his sperm in order to ensure the propagation of the species? The despicable act is explored in all its torrid thoughtfulness, and eventually the characters must choose between exigence and morality.

6) Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner - Granted, this cautionary tale of overpopulation and belligerent, chest-thumping nationalism is a bit dated, but the core concept: is it justifiable to kill a man who will give your enemies an advantage, is still there. Brunner looks at the morality of the espionage and assassination culture of international politics, and presents a great moral and ethical problem for the character.

5) The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod - When is revenge enough? When has it gone too far? This story revolves around that ethical debate, while providing us with a somewhat gritty utopia of a society built around communism and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. MacLeod gives us a great look into the pros and cons of his little universe, as well as a superlative story of vengeance and hatred spanned several centuries.

4) The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks - If might makes right, what does it mean when the villains don't use physical force to coerce their victims? Enter the world of Harlequins and Travelers and find out what the counter-culture is really fighting against, and watch as the debate over the concept of a super-panopticon rages across the text of the story.

3) The Golden Age by John C. Wright - Is it ethical to completely redact a man's memories and impose a death penalty upon him should he try to restore them? What if your redactions are so thorough that he does not know why he has missing memories, only that he has missing memories? Is that character justified in taking any and all steps to restore balance even when told that he might risk his life in doing so? Read it and find out.

2) Kingdom of Cages by Sarah Zettel - Like the Nancy Kress story Maximum Light, this story deals with the ethical conundrum of the rights of a few versus the survival of the species. The question is really more pointed here, though, as human colonies are being destroyed by plague and worse, all because humans were irresponsible in not trying to understand the environments of colony worlds before making colonies there. Brilliant story, well told, and ethically perplexing.

1) Dune by Frank Herbert - Granted, Dune is my favorite novel of all time, but the ethical implications of prescience are explored with quite a bit of depth here. Does Paul Atreides have a moral imperative to shape the future of the known universe, or is this merely hubris on his part?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to wreck a great story

For those of us who saw the movie The Seeker, we knew that it was supposed to be an adaptation of the classic YA book The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. In point of fact, other than the names and the idea that Will Stanton is the Sign Seeker, an Old One opposed to the powers of the Dark embodied by the Rider, very little of the original concept remains.

When I saw the film, I thought that it was great, a very well done movie that manages to hit a lot of the notes that Cooper was striving for in her novel. Will Stanton was ably played, and Christopher Eccleston was a fantastic Rider. The effects were good, and the interplay of the characters was worthwhile. The problem is that the film is not about what the book is about.

While the film The Seeker is a coming of age story centered around young Will Stanton, the book has rather a different spin altogether. The Dark is Rising is less about young Will coming of age than it is about the insurmountable task of overcoming a supremely ancient and powerful foe while trying to learn to be an ancient and powerful Old One. The story is not about Will as a callow youth attempting to learn the ways of the force... er, I mean the Light, but rather it is a story of a youth with the mind of a man who is adapting himself to the fight by thinking quickly and behaving as an Old One with the tool thrust so quickly into his hands.

You are not meant to sympathize with Will, but rather you are meant to see Will as just as much of an indomitable figure as the forces that he opposes. If anything, you are meant to feel sympathy for those around Will Stanton. Where the film loses is by making us almost feel sorry for this poor fish out of water and the fact that he is being thrown into the deep-end of the ocean by fate. The novel makes us feel sorry for Will's family, who are unknowingly and unwittingly caught up in the grand struggle of Light vs Dark.

I applaud the filmmakers for making a genuinely interesting and worthwhile film, however I rather wish that they had not tried to pretend that it was a faithful adaptation of the book.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Top 10 Books Every Kid Should Read

Since this week is Tripping the Write Fantastic's last session for 2007, I felt it fitting to do my Todd's Top Ten list based on the subject matter we will be discussing. Tomorrow we will discuss Susan Cooper, one of the greatest Young Adult writers of the 20th century, and so I felt it important to give everyone a look at the 10 greatest genre novels for young people. Here we go:

10) Tuck Everlasting - A young girl befriends a family of immortals in this strange coming of age story. The story is well told and interesting, and we learn the truth as to why immortality isn't more widespread. The ending is bittersweet at best, but the point of the story is well taken: respect the privacy of those around you.

9) I, Robot - Isaac Asimov tells a series of brilliant stories of robots not functioning properly. The idea that simple programming errors can cause different types of aberrant robot behavior is an interesting one, and is a great aid for kids looking at why people behave differently. Also, robots are cool.

8) The John Grimes Series: This venerable Science Fiction series was a gateway drug for many current fans. A. Bertram Chandler writes a great series of stories designed to make every boy feel like they can conquer the universe, just like Lieutenant Grimes.

7) Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser: Say what you like about Fritz Leiber, he sure got this sword and sorcery duo right. Since their creation this indomitable pair have been copied, mimicked, and parodied (they even have a role play game setting under their belts), proving that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

6) The Sword of Shannara Trilogy: Alanon the Druid and the Shannarah family battle demons, evil druids, warlocks, brigands, rebels, and more. The Elfstones of Shannara remains among the best of the series, but they are all fantastic books.

5) The Chronicles of Narnia: Forget the movie, go read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for yourself! My personal favorite in the series is The Voyage of the Dawntreader, but these books are all really well written. There is religious symbolism wrought into the story, but it can be easily ignored if you don't want to bother with it.

4) John Carter of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs weaves a masterful story of a Civil War officer catapulted to Barsoom (Mars) through mystical means. A great series of stories for kids of all ages, Burroughs sense of wonder and excitement over Barsoom plays well, even to modern audiences.

3) The Lord of the Rings: I doubt that an explanation is needed for this classic tale of swords, sorcery, elves, and Hobbits, but in case you had not heard, this is a great series of novels. Tolkien uses his brilliant world building skills to craft the history of th last great age of Middle Earth in a way that everyone can enjoy.

2) The Flying Sorcerers: Despite the title, the story is actually about a scientist who has crash-landed on a primitive world. Said man of science must use his knowledge and skills to get off the planet, and hijinx ensure. Told from the point of view of the primitive shaman, who calls the sorcerer "Purple" because that is what his name sounds like in the native tongue, this is a classic work for kids by David Gerrold.

1) The Prydain Chronicles: Lloyd Alexander at the top of his game, 'nuff said.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chapter 2 - Voyage of the Wavestrider

It took me a few days to realize that something was not quite right on the Polinoy clan ship that I had become crew on. Although I had never been to sea before and had no direct experience with sailing, I had seen enough ships in the harbor to know that something was a bit off. Little things that I should have noticed but that my excitement over my new career as a sailor over-rode.

The first thing I should have noticed was that although we were off-loading a great deal of cargo, it seemed that very little cargo was being taken on. It is rather odd for a merchant to go about with an empty hold, but I supposed that maybe the Polinoys were waiting for goods or a transhipment or even taking on new cargo at sea by transferring items. Piracy should have leapt right to mind, but I was too full of the idea of adventure to think clearly.

The second thing that I should have noticed were the number of weapons aboard the ship. Everyone was armed, and there were a nummber of weapons secreted about the ship as well. I assumed at the time that this had to do with the perils of the seas, unfortunately I failed to consider the fact that the Wavestrider was in fact one of those perils.

In the end we sailed from the harbor at Dahlon and made way for Tunde, another of the Free Cities and our next stated destination. After about 4 hours of sailing in the correct direction we began changing course and heading further West, out of the Merlani regions and into the open sea. When I asked Vigo what was going on, he cagily replied that we were positioning themselves to get the best hunting. I naturally assumed that he was referring to the bounty on Slillikul or that they might be hunting a Tojanida or even a Narwhale, but of course I was mistaken.

I learned the depth of my error when the heavily laden Tyrennhian merchantman hove into sight on the horizon three days later. Suddenly the deck was alive with activity and I found a cutlass thrust into my hands.

"Put it in your sash and get in the rigging, Arissa," said Vigo excitedly, "It is time to earn our keep."

"What... what do you mean?" I asked with a sinking feeling that I really knewn what he had meant all along and just did not want to believe it.

"Oh come off it Arissa, you know full well what I mean. At dinner the other day you talked about how awful the Tyrennhians are, and how you wished you could pay them back for what they did to Dahlon during the occupation. Well, here is your chance for revenge. Ok, so we also make some money at this, but beggars cannot be choosers," laughed Vigo heartily.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Savago watching us intently. Obviously this was to be my test. If I agreed and took part in the piracy, then I would become an outlaw, like them, and would be forced to help them and work with them for the rest of my days. If I refused, then I would likely be tossed overboard after having been tied to something heavy. Neither proposition appealed to me, however I had little choice in the matter. Better to live as a pirate than die as a moralist.

I gave a brusque nod and began to climb the rigging. The glance that passed between Savago and Vigo did not escape my notice, but I am sure that they intended it that way. Suddenly I realized that I was going to have to be very careful and plan my future without trusting anybody on this ship.

Meanwhile, the fat merchantman had seen us lying doggo on the horizon and was frantically trying to turn away from us. As heavy in the water as the big merchant was, she could not outmaneuver the Wavestrider which had been built for speed and maneuverability by the finest Varyag craftsmen. The merchant valiantly tried to warn us off by firing its stern chase armaments, a pair of light mareballistae, but the crew of the Wavestrider knew full well what they were doing and fired off a chain shot from the forward onager which took out the Tyrennhian's primary mast.

Her speed cut to almost nothing, the merchantman became desperate and the banked oars began feverishly cutting into the water, trying to turn the behemoth. Vigo laughed uproariously at the pitiful display of the Tyrennhian captain frantically barking orders as crewmen injured in the fall of the primary mast attempted to rally. They were really no match for the Varyag pirate, and they knew it, but they were trying valiantly to stave off the inevitible.

The Wavestrider closed quickly, and the next thing I knew we were boarding the Tyrennhian ship, whose name was apparently the Jewel of Vrendisium. I found myself fighting crewmen on the deck for what seemed an eternity, giving and receiving blows with equanimity, my qualms about being in this position quashed by the needs of survival. Soon enough, though, the Tyrennhian ship was subdued with only minimal loss of life on both sides.

Under the direction of Savago's wife, Alainda, we loaded some of the most valuable goods from the merchant's hold into our own, leaving most of the rest in the hold. The Tyrennhians were amazed at this and Savago replied calmly, "Do you think we are fools? If we take all of your treasure and goods you will be bankrupt and unable to sail and bring me more trade! Soon there would be no ships for us to plunder were we to take that route. In fact if you are ever assaulted in that way we will be the first to come to your aid. There is an old Varyag saying, my stiff necked friend: When the storm comes only a fool as no hat. If I make you all too angry you will hunt me down and kill me and my family. This way I am a nuisance, but one that is not so bad that you cannot live with it."

With that said Savago untied two members of the Tyrennhian's crew and we helped them repair the crippled mast. I have to say that at that moment I rather admired the Polinoy crew. Unfortunately for them I was still going to get off of this damned pirate ship as soon as I could and even my admiration was not going to stop me. All I needed was a plan.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Towering Infernal

I have not posted any reviews or anything in a bit, so I figured it was high time I did so.

I recently finished Hell's Belles by Face the Fiction special guest panelist Jackie Kessler, and I have to say that I have had my eyes opened. Although a bit raunchy (hey look sales just went up) the book is pretty interesting, and I really liked the author's style in telling the tale from two converging timelines.

The book starts with Jezebel the Succubus on the run from the agents of Hell. She knows why, so she doesn't mention it, the story just slowly unfolds for us and we learn the reasons only near the very end. Basically there are two tracks of timeline that the author is using to explain the events. The first takes place after she has made the decision to leave the employment of the agents of Hell and follows her as she attempts to masquerade as a mortal human through use of a potion brewed by the witch Caitlin in exchange for a favor. The second track takes place some days before the decision to leave is made and follows Jezebel in her daily grind in Hell. At the end of the book we finally learn what led Jezebel to Caitlin's door in the first place, as well as finding out what the culmination of the journey among the mortals is.

While this is by no means one of the greatest books I have ever read, it was immensely entertaining and enjoyable. My only real bone of contention was the over emphasis on sex in the story. OK, so the main character is a former succubus who is masquerading as a human stripper, I get it, but I do not need to be reminded every few minutes about how Paul (the human love interest) makes her panties moist (hey look, sales just went up again). Frankly, I find the mental image a bit disturbing and would really prefer not to dwell on her biological processes, but I understand why it might be mentioned (again, Succubus) but the constant repetition of this means that it looses its impact and just becomes a skippable paragraph or two. Also, the sex scenes were a bit graphic for my general taste (wow, the book looks like it is selling even better now).

Seriously, though, the story was great, the characters were fun and enjoyable, and the concept was a lot of fun. I wonder what Ms Kessler has up her sleeve for The Road to Hell?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Chapter 1: And so it begins

I could hardly believe my luck. My life was about to change, and obviously for the better. Who would have thought that a day that began with me waking up late would lead to this!

I awoke this morning to the sounds of people already in the street, men and women working and stores beginning to open. It was nearly a half hour after dawn, and I was supposed to be up nearly an hour before! Deroone Verthur, the odd little man on the street of the crooked hill who hired me to run his errands would likely be annoyed at the delay. He rather liked his hot vressa to be delivered before he opened that musty old curiosities shop of his, so I would have to run to Damal Hessein's pastry shop and skip my own breakfast in order to mollify the old man.

In spite of my late start I pulled on the somewhat boyish costume I was accustomed to wear and leapt down the stairs and past my parents, who were even then leaving for their own jobs, hers as a scribe and his as a stevedore. Saying a hurried farewell I ran down the street and turned right up the road of the split anchor, pushing myself to get to Damal's shop before the morning rush. The streets were starting to get crowded and the number and variety of people out and about were impeding my steady progress. Another typical day in the massive trading city of Dahlon.

Hurriedly ordering the two hot vressas and a pair of sweet rolls with nuts for the princely sum of seven florins, I tucked the bag with the pastries under my left arm and carried the two steaming mugs in my right hand. One had to bring one's own mug to Damal's bakery, but the taste of her hot vressa was worth it, especially when you could leave the shop with you mug instead of sitting around. It usually allowed me the freedom to enjoy my vressa while looking out over the harbor at the coming and going of the ships in Dahlon's busy harbor. No such luxury today, though.

Making my way quickly up the street of the dropped solido to the street of the crooked hill, i was jostled no less than four times by passersby. The crowds were getting thicker, reminding me of the main reason I left for Deroone's shop so early most days. I was within sight of the old man's shop front when my luck for the day dramatically and radically altered. Seeing my destination a bare hundred feet away, I allowed myself to be distracted for one crucial moment, and so I missed the movement of the Varyag who was about to back right into me.

We collided in a glancing manner, the Varyag and I, and the vressa on my right hand splattered up and all over the merchant's eye-searingly yellow shirt and merry purple scarf. The Varyag looked down at the stain the vressa with an expression of shock, which quickly turned to amusement. Anger I could handle, but laughter? I had ruined what was obviously a very nice, though viciously ugly, shirt, so why wasn't he mad?

The Varyag chortled briefly and looked at me steadily, "Perhaps I need to work on my land legs a bit more, eh?" he said wryly, "I am very sorry to have cost you most of your cup of what must be very expensive vressa, but unfortunately neither of us seemed to be keeping ourselves under proper sail."

I gushed out apologies, knowing I sounded foolish. Having nothing else to use I tried to blot up the stains with my sleeves, though the Varyag batted away my attempts at assistance with a friendly wave of the hand. Unsure of what to do next I waited for him to make the next move.

"What is your name young lady," asked the Varyag with a twinkle in his eyes.

Not knowing what esle to do I responded somewhat shyly, "Arissa, Arissa Uliera, sir."

My meekness elicited another peal of baritone laughter from the stranger and I took a moment to examine the unwitting target of my mishandled beverage. He was a full head shorter than I, slightly less than 5'6", with a stocky, poweful build. His dark hair was worn long and fell unbound to his shoulders, and his face sported a delicately manicured moustache. The man was obviously a Varyag seaman and his brightly colored, almost gaudy, outfit put an exclamation point on his obvious heritage and profession.

"Well, I am Vigo Polinoy of the Polinoy Wavestrider. It is not often that I have the chance to leave my clan's ship, and to find myself in this circumstance... Well, it is obvious that Marlena is having a little joke on me. Anyway, in payment for my costing you a cup of vressa I would like to invite you aboard my ship for a meal."

Flabbergasted, and noticing that Deroone was standing at the door to his shop staring at me with an odd expression, I quickly agreed to come to the Wavestrider for dinner that evening. When I finally got to Deroone Verthur's shop and explained the situation, he was overjoyed for me. Knowing of my obsession with the sea and my desire to leave Dahlon and ply the waves, Deroone insisted that I take some money to buy a new dress to go aboard the ship, muttering something about first impressions.

That evening I shared a simple meal with the Polinoy clan, meeting the elder shipmaster, Savago, and his family. They seemed to like me, and after the meal we spoke of ships and the sea and the various ports the Wavestrider had called at. After hours of talking and swapping stories, Savago offered me a position on their happy ship. It was rare, he said, for a Varyag clan to take on outsiders as crew, but his nephew had died recently and he needed another pair of hands.

I excitedly accepted the offer and within a week I found myself finally setting off to sea. Granted it was in in a boat with a yellow and purple hull fitted out with vibrant green and yellow sails, but still I was at sea! We sailed up and out of the harbor, with Vigo laughingly providing me instructions on what to do the entire time. It wasn't until we were well out of sight of the harbor that I learned the truth of my new occupation. This was not just any ship, the Polinoy Wavestrider was a pirate vessel, and I was about to become an outlaw.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Top Ten Best Tabltop RPGs

As we all know, it is Monday, and time for Todd's Top Ten. This Monday, in honor of the Ubercon that just finished up yesterday, I am going to take some time and smell the roses and talk about gaming (big surprise).

There have been a number of settings and systems out there for play, and all of them have one thing or another to recommend them. This list is by no means an exhaustive one (I do not have that kind of time), but it is a list of the systems that I enjoy playing. Now here we go:

10) Rifts: A great system put out by Palladium, its one drawback seems to be the massively overpowered nature of the system itself. A fellow gamer over the weekend remarked that among his friends the concept of overkill was referred to as "Roboteching" (Robotech is another Palladium product that uses the Rifts rules system).

9) Burning Wheel: In spite of what some call an overly complex combat system, Burning Whel offers a great amount of versatility and richness for scene creation that many others don't. While the cinematic nature may appeal to the more narrative storytellers out there, the combat will definitely be worthwhile to those seeking realism.

8) Capes: This indie game is a whole lot of fun, and realistically mirrors the trials and tribulations of a group of superheroes. This game is meant to tell a fun, collaborative story without lots of mechanics.

7) Sorcerer: A more cut throat game has yet to be seen, as the attainment of power is the only goal of this RPG. Binding demons is the way to power, and the story is all about conflict amongst the players. While this is fun for the players, the GM often seems to find himself twiddling his thumbs.

6) Renegade Legion: Less a role-playing game than a space combat game with opportunities to roleplay, the Renegade Legion system is glorious in its realism and complexity. If you can find the books, it still holds up well, though FASA has long since gone the way of the dodo.

5) Mortal Coil: this is a game where the rules are so light they seem to float on air. Brennan Taylor has done a masterful job of crafting a pretty straightforward bid-based game that can be used to emulate any kind of setting. Since this game relies on consensus, it is not an easy fit for pick-up games or gamers that are more competitive.

4) Artesia: Using a variant of the Fusion system, Artesia offers a rich world and setting with a really complex set of rules and concepts. For those gamers enamored of random tables and generating all kinds of odd character traits with dice, this system offers that in spades.

3) Cyberpunk 2020: Using the Fusion system, the newest version of the classic Cyberpunk game makes some great inroads. Easy to understand and navigate, Cyberpunk 2020 shows us a gritty future with a lot of great opportunities.

2) Bulldogs d20: Based on the d20 open license, Bulldogs provides a great system for the running of true Space OPera style games. If you are looking for heavy science, like you would find in Cyberpunk, Rifts, and many other true Science Fiction settings, forget about it. This has all the cinematic flair of a great fantasy setting side-by-side with everything you ever wanted with a futuristic space travel game. d20 Modern and Traveler have nothing on this one.

1) Burning Empires: I know that some folks were betting I was going to put D&D 3.5 as the top dog on the list, and in some cases, it really is, but the focus on this list is games that I enjoy that are made by companies that don't make me froth at the mouth. Burning Empires is from the great minds that brought us Burning Wheel, and provides a truly exciting system that can be used on a session-by-session basis as well as a campaign basis. The concept of scene economy and duel of wits are really what makes this a great system, and the teamwork abilities in combat mean that the players have to work together instead of just playing Monster Pinata as they would in D&D. Is it perfect? No, but it is darn good!

Friday, November 2, 2007


"I'm sorry, but it all comes down to a matter of necessities and priorities, and right now I am afraid that it is necessary that I leave you," said Arrenus calmly.

I had known that this was coming for some time, of course, and so I wasn't as surprised as I could have been. Having known the Tyrennhian man for a long time I realized that the truth of my acceptance would not shock him, and so as I stared up into his calm hazel eyes I recognized that he had come to this conclusion long before this unhappy event. As with any group of adventurers, the time had come for us to part ways. In ordinary circumstances I might not be quite so upset, however dangling from a ledge with a sixty meter drop beneath me was not something that would put me in a good frame of mind for this sort of encounter.

Arrenus had stated his position without rancor, prejudice, or emotion, and the coldness of his decision shook me. He had made his statement and now he would leave. Typical. I took the opportunity, while attempting to pull myself to safety, to roundly curse the man and swear a dozen oaths in half a dozen different languages. Unfazed, Arrenus quirked his eyebrow in the maddening way he has, shrugged his shoulders, turned and left me. I knew then that I was going to have to kill him. A lot.

The fingers of my left hand found a slightly better purchase on the rock, but the dirt and stone under my right hand was slowly giving way, and if I could not pull myself up I would likely soon join Adron at the bottom of this crevasse. I fought and struggled to bring myself up to the level of the ledge, but this was a battle that I knew I was unlikely to win. Slowly, muscles straining, I searched, desperate for one more good hand hold. All I needed was that one last chance. One more go at spitting in fate's eye.

I continued to swear vengeance and hatred of Arrenus, and implored every god and goddess I had ever heard tell of to aid me in this time of need. It is amazing how all the prayers of a misspent youth come back to one when they are dangling over a pit and death is a near certainty. There was no way I was going to allow that arrogant Tyrennhian to win, not at this stage of the game.

How had it all come to this? Where had I gone wrong? What had I done to deserve this? How many had died because of me? Adron was the latest, but what of Ghor'namale or Tack or Zuunta? Could their deaths have been my fault? Was I to blame for all of this? The key lay in the past and I would need to examine it before I went further. Any weakness could be a death sentence, and I needed to make sure that I survived just long enough to watch the traitor breathe his last.

My name is Arissa Uleira, and I was going to make sure that the very last thing that Arrenus saw before slipping into the icy embrace of death was me.

Impelled by hatred and a burning need for revenge upon he who had done me so much wrong, I levered myself up. Taxed beyond the point that most mortal men and women can bear I slowly ascended back to the level of ledge. There was no sign of Arrenus anywhere, but had there been I was too exhausted by the strain of this latest ordeal to do much. I gasped for air, lungs straining to bring more life into my body, to keep me awake and alive for a few moments more. I rose up, staggered a few paces away from the edge, sank to my knees and began to pass out.

My last thought before losing consciousness was that this was an utterly unfair situation for even me to contend with, and the last thing I saw before going completely under was the grinning face of a halfling with a wickedly curved and rather vicious looking knife. As if things couldn't get any worse...