Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cracking the Voynich Code

 You may have heard of the so-called Voynich Manuscript, a 15th-century book full of weird illustrations, written in a bizarre, seemingly made-up or unknown language. There's a lot about this out there online, but this article has some really fascinating insights into how linguists have taken the first steps toward translation. Some think it may not be a made-up language after all. This is a lengthy read, but worth the time. I like to think it's a book of magic.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Beautiful Swedish RPG

Here is a look at a new Swedish fantasy roleplaying game called Symbaroum. There are 1.52 gajillion fantasy roleplaying games out there. Why did I notice this one? The art. And not only the art, but the graphic design of the book itself. The "weighty hardback RPG" has never looked better - of course, that's just my opinion. Check these out these page spreads (in Swedish).

I'd almost buy this in Swedish - which I don't know - and I'll certainly pick up an English version if and when it drifts into my friendly neighborhood game store. I'm a sucker for a good-looking game. Some gamers think art and design don't really matter. I agree they shouldn't be the reason one chooses to play a game. But it's a good enough reason to buy a book. And let's face it, a great game is even better when it's expressed in a form that you find aesthetically pleasing for whatever reason. Book-feel, art quality, design - all of that matters to me as a game-player and consumer. Obviously, someone sank a lot of money into Symbaroum, and it shows (not that you need such lush, evocative art to achieve great design - just look at Fiasco). Even if Symbaroum turns out to be just another middle-of-the-road fantasy game, I'll take that over a middle-of-the-road fantasy game that doesn't look as good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Habitable Planets for Man

 ...and one more cool one for today. Here's a 1964 paper about what it takes for a planet to be considered "habitable." It's outdated, but there's still a lot of great information here - especially for you hard science fiction types. It's worth it for the tables in the back alone. No surprise I found this in the Classic Traveller group on Facebook. Check it out!

Victorian London in Exruciating Detail

 Well, this is just all kinda cool: some very high-resolution scans of the Ordnance Survey 1:1056 set of 500+ maps of London issued between 1893 and 1896.

Hidden Underground Kingdom

 As a gamer I've explored my share of virtual dungeons, caves, and mysterious bits of the so-called "underdark." Here's a real-life one, discovered by a Vietnamese farmer in 1991. First of all, it floors me that the Earth still has unexplored regions (though it's entirely possible the cave had been "discovered" before). Now that British scientists have explored the place, we know it's about five kilometers long and 150 meters wide (that's my favorite kind of gaming dungeon - no boring "right or left?" decisions). Anyway, folks are visiting and camping there now, but the exoticism doesn't seem to have worn off. The ancient Greeks, and others, viewed such caves as portals to the Underworld. It's as natural a connection as I can think of. What fantasy setting doesn't have its version of the so-called "Underdark?" For real-world inspiration, I don't think it gets too much better than this. Unless, of course, they find some coiled Vietnamese dragon guarding a gong that wakes the dead. Or something. Check it out!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Re-Examining Classic Traveller Skills

Here's an excellent article from the Tales to Astound blog, written by a fellow Classic Traveller enthusiast. This was interesting reading for me because it cleared up some of my own (mis?)-conceptions about the way skills work in the system. In short, the author posits that we tend to judge older games by the standards of the games that came after them, rather than viewing them in the context of their time (when things weren't always clearly explained - that is, there was a certain assumption that the standards and practices of one game would serve another). This guy sees CT skills as working more like D&D saving throws. He also has some other insights that clicked with me. If you've got a few minutes, give it a read.

I'll throw in my two cents here and say that CT is still, for me, one of the most flexible systems out there in terms of "task resolution." I say flexible because, as Referee, I set a target number (a "throw") and any modifiers are based on the character's abilities as they apply to that particular situation. No, you don't always have a +3 because you have 18 Strength, as in D&D. You might have a +1 or +3 depending on your particular Strength score if it seems applicable. The drift away from this began a trend that ended in players knowing beforehand their base chances of success before they ever try something. For me, that takes the fun out of it. Now, you can play CT that way too, but I like to see players commit themselves to an action before they have any idea what the modifiers would be or what the result of a failure is. That's almost exactly opposite of the trend in most narrative-heavy games today. That's not a judgment, because I like me some Burning Wheel or whatever. It is, however, an observation that I find interesting.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Planet Nine?

Two astronomers have announced in Scientific American strong evidence that there may be a massive "super-earth" waaaay out beyond the orbit of Pluto. The orbits of some other bodies out there are being disturbed by something. An earth-like planet would be so far away it wouldn't be bright at all. But many astronomers are skeptical. Surely time will tell. In the meantime, judge for yourself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"I Search the Desk!"

 Once again Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press comes up with a nice list for gamers. This one? 20 Things to Find in a Villain's Desk. These sorts of lists are my favorite companions for GM-creativity and they seem to be Raging Swan's specialty. What's in a villain's desk? What, indeed? Roll the dice and find out.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Superluminous Supernova"

 OK, this is mildly interesting. The BBC reports on the discovery of a massive exploding star. And now I know what a magnetar is.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

More Medieval Aliens

There's a Latin manuscript called Liber Contra Insulam Vulgi Opinionem, circulated in the 9th century AD, which tells a strange story. The Archbishop of Lyons in France complains to the chronicler that some French peasants insisted on the reality of a place called Magonia, "from whence ships came in the clouds."

The sky-sailors of those ships "carry back to that region the fruits of the earth that are destroyed by hail and tempests; the sailors paying rewards to the storm wizards and themselves receiving corn and other produce." The archbishop goes on to say he personally witnessed the stoning of "three men and a woman who said they had fallen from those same ships." Later, Jakob Grimm (one of the Brothers Grimm) speculated that the word "Magonia" is related to "Magic." Probably this story has more to do with ghosts or fairies than aliens. To me it almost sounds more like human time travelers. We'll never know. But the reference is great fun to speculate about. Just who the hell were the "storm wizards," anyway? Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Medieval Aliens...?

I was perusing the works of Gervase of Tilbury, an English writer who lived in the 13th century (just because that's the kind of nerd I am). This passage from 1211 AD really leaped out at me:

"There happened in the borough of Cloera, one Sunday, while the people were at Mass, a marvel. In this town is a church dedicated to St. Kinarus. It befell that an anchor was dropped from the sky, with a rope attached to it, and one of the flukes caught in the arch above the church door. The people rushed out of the church and saw in the sky a ship with men on board, floating before the anchor cable, and they saw a man leap overboard and jump down to the anchor, as if to release it. He looked as if he were swimming in water. The folk rushed up and tried to seize him; but the Bishop forbade the people to hold the man, for it might kill him, he said. The man was freed, and hurried up to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship sailed out of sight. But the anchor is in the church, and has been there ever since, as a testimony." 

All this really proves to me is that UFO sightings have occurred long before Roswell. I'm going to see if I can't track down more of these types of stories and post them here. Of course, this account sounds more like an airship from Gonen's World than an encounter with extraterrestrials...perhaps the fellow who looked like he was swimming was just wearing a ring of featherfall.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Clever Uses for Mundane RPG Items

Here's a helpful gem from Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press. You think those iron rations are only for eating? Flask of oil only good for light? Think again. There are also lots of other cool tidbits on his blog. check it out.