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Monthly Archives: September 2012

[Boardgames] Chińczyk

This is an actual board from a cheap collection of generic games I bought a while ago. I would lie if I said I did not buy this exactly for this board. I had hoped for a few more tokens and things in the collection that would justify buying it, but it turns out that cheap was nearly an understatement for the thing.

But anyway, this one I just bought for the political incorrectness.

Mensch ärgere Dich nicht!is one of the classics of German boardgames. It’s basically a streamlined Pachisi-derivative very similar to Ludo, or Parcheesi. It was invented by in 1907, and sold badly in the beginning, like all true classics.

It’s claim to fame can be traced back to the shrewd marketing moves it’s inventor made during WWI: he gifted a few hundred sets to field hospitals “so the poor injured soldiers have something to do.”

I guess I could have imagined better games to play when wounded and in pain, but the soldiers seemed to like it: the sales figures of the game went up astronomically after the war.

What people often forget about that war is that it was not just Germans in those armies on the German side. Prussia had a large part of Polish people fighting for them, Austria had Hungarians and Czech, and a few others. And all of them got these nice games to play. The result was that this game became popular, and was translated into various European languages. The game is one of the most public domain titles around, pretty much every game company in Germany has at least one version around.

Now, most countries went the route to just translate the title like that (“Man don’t be angry!” or something along those lines). Not so Poland. Here it was called Chińczyk (Chinaman). Why that only the gods, and some ancient half- forgotten marketing executive know. But the designers of the boards are milking that title for all it’s worth. And this board is one of the tamer ones.

I guess there is a reason for that casual racism, and that would be that Poland is a rather homogenic country, with a large part of the society ethnically Polish (and white), with nearly everyone having the same religion (90% Catholicism), and a strong national identity. Now, this picture is of course not completely correct. Poland has been one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe up to the end of WWII. Most of the Jewish population left after the war, was driven out in the 60s, some ethnic Germans are left in Silesia, some Muslims are left in Eastern Poland. For the last 60 years or so though Poland was inhabited mostly by Poles.This is changing very slowly: Vietnamese immigrants that came during the 70s and 80s do not actually intend to go back to Vietnam because they grew up in Poland, and some of the bigger cities are slowly attracting people from other countries.But all in all the populace is not really that welcoming for noticably different people. Racism and anti-semitism are incredibly casual, and a lot of generally intelligent, nice people I meet here don’t see anything wrong about making casual racist jokes about that black coworker, just to lighten up the mood a bit.

I guess it doesn’t help the the only way people meet Asian people in their childhood are either those in the Chinaman game, or serve bad knockoff of Chinese food in some hole in the wall…

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Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games

Over the years there have been multiple attempts [1] to create a Doctor Who RPG. Unfortunately those were not as successful as one would expect. The last incarnation, Cubicle 7‘s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space seems to have some success though, so much that they recently published the second edition of that game.

Nevermind that though, there is a fanzine for that: The Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games (what a strange little title…) is already on issue 18 and looks very promising. It supports all the commercial variations that were published so far and has some interesting adventures in there every issue.

I guess once you get past the obvious issue with such a game (so, who of you is going to play the 1100-year old alien with the magic spacetime machine and the sonic screwdriver, and who’ll play the kissogram and the nurse?) one is left with a very imaginative universe that allows pretty much every adventure possible. The big strength of the series always was that the science fiction elements are just the background used to drop the heroes into whatever setting the writer felt like writing this week. A plot device that I think would work awesomely with some styles of roleplaying. Some, not all. I can’t see it working with my Traveller campaign for example.

But considering that my girlfriend jumped on the idea of a Doctor Who RPG as soon as I mentioned the existence of such, and considering all my players are fans of the series as well, I guess there will at least be a one-shot like that in the near future.

[1] the latter link will lead to the Wikipedia article on the Timelord RPG btw, which is available for free online. Not too bad.

[Tools] How To Use Usenet: A Biased Introduction

trn usenet client

trn usenet client (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usenet was the first discussion board on the Internet, way before there were things like the world wide web or anything really graphical. Yes, there was a time when the internet existed that was there before there was HTML.

A lot of people seem to forget that, but the net did not just pop into being in the beginning of the 90s to provide us with the unlimited stream of cat pictures and porn that we have now.
Usenet is actually a very interesting concept, not quite the same as email technically, but not so different either.

When connected to a server one can download a stream of messages connected with a certain newsgroup, not unlike one would download mails, then disconnect, read through the messages, write responses that also would be posted to this group, and the next time one connected to the server those would be posted to the group, and then distributed to all other servers that carried the group in question. At the same time one would download a new batch of mails.
For me this is one of the most well designed technologies of the last 40 years. It is decentralized (one does only connect to a server, which in turn connects to others), it allows for discussions even with unsteady internet connections (less of a problem today than it was before), and it is low resource (all the messages are barely altered plain text and can be worked on in most email programs).
Unfortunately it also is a little bit more complicated getting it running that a simple click on the browser and navigation to some message board is. That is also one of the reasons why it has been dying a slow death for the last 15 years or so.
But then again, it’s still there. It still survived the onslaught of spammers and distractions by shiny new HTML pages over time quite nicely. Right now most of it is used for file sharing, so at least part of the Usenet is brimming with activity: One can, in certain groups, attach files (so called binaries) to the messages, and distribute them like normal messages. This is used as an easy and secure way for file sharing, but it is rather resource intensive for the server, so most of the services that allow this have to be paid.
I am not really interested in that part of the Usenet anyway, I am more interested in the discussion forums. So this article will talk about those.
There are a lot of them, and not all of them are active. Actually quite a lot of them are not and never were. Estimates as to how much of Usenet is  still in use vary, but technically there are hundreds of thousands of groups, and the amount of really active ones is about 800-1000, with around 10.000-20.000 having at least sporadic messages. But those statistics are a few years old, so take them with a grain of salt.
But even then, there are a lot of groups that are still active, in use, and which still get a lot of messages. Well, comparatively a lot at least. There used to be so much more each day, but that was a long time ago. Read more of this post

Dear Google, are you trying to tell me something?

Does Google know something I don’t know about the RPGBA?

Robot… mules. This time in real life

Turns out my post on robot horses was not completely off the mark, someone is currently developing something similar (and for the US forces no less): a pack-mule robot. The video shows nicely what it would be capable off, easily walking over rough terrain, carrying lots of stuff. Of course I don’t know how true that is, for all I know they might just have taken the only good footage they had to show to the world, but that footage looks both terrifying and absolutely cool.

[Traveller] Freelance Traveller #33 now available

Freelance Traveller #33 CoverThe September 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller has been posted for
download.

This month’s feature article is “Underworld Characters”, an expanded
character generation procedure by Harry Bryan for MegaTraveller.

We also have the usual assortment of reviews, stories, items, and so  onto make your Traveller universe richer and more interesting.

Download this latest issue at our usual places:
http://www.freelancetraveller.com/magazine/ is our main site; at our mirror, http://freelancetraveller.downport.com , please select the linkto “Magazine Downloads” or click on the image of this month’s cover.

… containing, among other things of more solemn nature, also a short article by me…

[Wargame] A Sky Full of Ships

A Sky Full of Ships is a nice and very basic looking space combat system that I have been looking into lately. It simulates space combat between single ships rather  nicely, and I thought about using it as a replacement for the usual Traveller ship combat in a few cases (All of those that would involve lots of ships fighting each other… I am planning to hit my players with the Fifth Frontier War soon). Funnily enough I don’t seem to be the only one doing that, as there are some nice and concise other houserules for exactly that on the net.

The system is free and online, and seems to be easy to handle. Which is good, considering that my experiences with wargames are so few to be nearly nonexistant. The rules are lightweight, the stat blocks are a bit crude but effective, and all in all this seems to be a nice addition to my game. Lets see if my players think the same.

A Sky Full of Ships – Free Rules (also as a pdf)

ASFoS-Traveller – Houserules for playing in Traveller

Resource page, with rules for Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and a few others (seems to be outdated, but the replacement link is not working)

[Perry Rhodan] Perry Rhodan #1 Operation Stardust

PR #1 cover

Perry Rhodan is THE mainstay of German science fiction. Now in it’s fourth or fifth generation of authors and having broken the mark of 2600 issues in it’s main series (continually published since 1961) one can say that this pulp series has a bit of a history.
The series was often derided for it’s politically inappropriate tone (especially in the beginning it was a bit too militaristic) but has grown out of that over time.
What I am trying to do (and what I have been planning for some time already) is reviewing the series from it’s beginnings in 1961 as far as I come. I don’t think I will ever manage to get anywhere close to today, but the classic first 50-100 issues are  interesting anyway. Back in the 60s this series was a bit of a experiment for the publishers, and they never thought that the series would be as successful as it was in the end. The first issue was sold out in no time and they even had to reprint it, before the series settled into something of a cultural miracle. One can see that in the series itself: they obviously did not plan more than 15 issues in the beginning, then not more than 30, and then they slowly had to get used to the idea that they were in it for longer. Starting with issue 100 the authors earnestly followed the concept of thematic cycles of 50 to 100 (later even up to 200) issues. In the beginning these things were not as planned, the plots sometimes were a bit crude, and the writing varied wildly even in novels from the same authors.
[Note regarding publishing history: in the wake of the success of Perry Rhodan in Germany a few novels were published in English as well (up to the 150s or so, there also are translations into Dutch, Portuguese (in Brazil), Japanese, and a few other places]
[Note 2: This is a roleplaying blog, so I will comb the issue for some ideas that can be used in roleplaying games. Perry Rhodan actually had multiple RPGs created for itself, some by fans, but one even officially. The problem with that official game is that it is based on Midgard (the first German RPG) and that one is, while I have a certain nostalgic fondness for it, pretty bad for that. As I am very fond of Mongoose Traveller most stats I will cook up will be for that system]

Perry Rhodan #1 Unternehmen “Stardust” (Operation Stardust)

“They came from the depths of the galaxy. Nobody ever expected them.”
Plot: It is 1971 and the USA is just about to win the space race. The newly created atomic rocket Stardust under command of experienced astronaut Cmdr. Perry Rhodan starts it’s trip from the spacport Nevada Fields to the moon. Everything goes well until they are close to their goal. All of a sudden the navigational transmissions from home are cut off, and only due to Perry’s quick reflexes they are able to crashland on the lunar surface more or less intact. Trying to contact homebase fails though as their radio equipment is destroyed by an unknown force.
Exploring the origin of this problem Perry and his friend Reginald “Bully” Bull encounter a stranded starship of impressive size (a sphere of 500m diameter) on the south pole of the moon and meet it’s crew, or at least part of it. The captain of the ship, Thora, and her relative, the scientist Crest are by far the most active of the crew members. The rest of the Arkonides on the ship are lethargic and distant and, as it turns out, completely addicted to virtual reality games. The ship itself is on a mission to find a cure for Crest’s sickness (soon to be identified by Stardust’s doctor Eric Manoli as leukemia, for which a cure exists on Earth) but was stranded with a busted jump drive when investigating the solar systems for clues. Perry takes the Stardust home with Crest on board to get him treatment, but instead of in Nevada Fields he lands in the Gobi desert because he realizes that the technology of the Arkonides should not fall into the hands of any of the big power blocs.

Critique: The plot is tightly packed, the writing is a bit shallow but not too bad, and the whole story does hinge on completely reasonable behaviour by both the American astronauts and Arkonides. It’s no wonder that the series became a success with this. There is action here but no fights, the Arkonides are not made up to be evil invaders, but rather normal people who are stranded, far away from home, and the astronauts are thoughtful and nice folks who offer to help as freely as possible,
The novel also manages to get to some central mysteries of the series pretty soon (why are the Arkonides so similar to humans? And what exactly were they searching for when they became stranded?) and manages to give an insight into both alien culture as well as a strange alternative universe. The novel appeared in 1961 and was set in 1971. For us who we are living 50 years afterwards this glimpse into near future history appears a weird. On the one hand it’s close enough for us to recognize the world as what we know it, on the other hand even in this novel thereare some strange details. The main spaceport of the USA is Nevada Fields, both Perry and Bully were involved in slingshot missions around the moon before the moon landing was supposed to take place. And the politics of the world… are somehow not what we know.
When I first read the novel as a kid in the 90s I realized that something was off, only on further readings I realized how different the world described here really was: the world is basically divided into three power blocs: the Western world, the Eastern Bloc, and the Asian Federation (which includes both China and Japan). There is a cure for leukemia, there are electronic brains (computers) even on Earth, which manage to correctly determine things they should not be able to. Later novels will show a large subterranean base for the West under Greenland and Poles as integral members of the airforce of the Eastern bloc. In other words: something is kind of odd here. Still, as a near future view from the 60s on the 70s it’s not too far out. Just a bit zeerusty.

Traveller Stats

Terra (in 1971) X867979-7
1970s Terra in the Perry Rhodan universe is balkanised into three big power blocs, and multiple smaller nations. These blocs seem to be much more integrative than they ever were in real life. Law level is rather high in any case, even in the West the press is not as free as it could be and obviously dependant on the goodwill of the government. Still, it varies wildly in different areas. Starport quality technically could be D because there are multiple facilities that could be used (at least one spaceport in every power bloc) but so far no officially assigned starport.

Luna X300000-0
An airless rockball that orbits Terra. It is comparatively large in comparison to other moons in the solar system.

Arkonides, Homeworld- (1970s)
Physical description: large, slender humanoids with white hair and red eyes, in most cases with a deep tan. Their cranium is slightly larger than those of Terrans and instead of ribs they have bone plates, but otherwise they are physiologically and genetically identical to humans.
Stats: Str -2, Dex -2, Int +1, Edu +2, Soc +2 (min. 6)
Career Options: Arkonides can choose Agent, Citizen, Scholar, Navy(Line/Flight), Entertainer, and Noble careers

Arkonides, Colonial-
Physical description: as Homeworld, but can vary wildly in details according to their home planet and colonial history
Stats: Str -1, Soc +1
Career Options: all except Merchant

 

Usenet Archeology

trn usenet client

trn usenet client (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This might be of interest for at least some people:

I recently came across http://olduse.net/ which is a historical exhibit.

It posts Usenet posts as they were posted exactly 30 years ago. The whole thing is also available as nntp.olduse.net, emulating the this time as a real time news server.

The interesting thing for me here is the roleplaying group: net.games.frp (yes, it emulates the group structure before the great renaming as well).

What we have here is, basically, the first internet forum about fantasy roleplaying.
Most of these things are of course available in the Google Groups archives (I guess at least. Google Groups is a terrible interface), but the server is nice for slowly reading the whole discussion along as it happens/happened, already with a lot of interesting topics, and a certain cuteness long before the big satanic panic.
Right now it slowly is picking up, it had some nice tables for AD&D posted on it, some people were discussing the merits of AD&D against other systems like C&S and RQ, and other people were asking confused questions what the hell the abbreviations C&S and RQ actually meant. Meanwhile in net.sf-lovers someone had to ask what LOTR stood for, and another person was looking forward to new Xanth books. Right now it’s September 3rd, 1982 on the server, and it feels weird, and a bit exciting to read the whole thing. Like time travel, just without the touching and killing grandfathers.