On Friday, 16 December 2011, I picked up the registration for my new car and got it inspected. I also handed over the title to my old automobile. The next day, Janice and I met role-players Sara F. & Josh C. for lunch at Whole Foods at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts.
Director Guy Ritchie is still fond of explosions, Gypsy music, and slow-motion fisticuffs. Actors Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. John Watson appear to be having a blast playing up their “bromance.” Downey Jr.’s comedic chameleon owes at least as much to Peter Sellers‘ manic Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther flicks as it does Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett’s sleuths.
Jared Harris, the son of the late Richard Harris and already a villain on Fringe, acquits himself well as that “veritable Napoleon of crime,” Dr. James Moriarty. As with the original serialized fiction, women are merely in supporting roles in Sherlock Holmes 2. Mrs. Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly), Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and fortuneteller Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) are involved in Moriarty and Holmes’ chess game as attractive pawns.
Noted Sherlockian Stephen Fry does get an amusing turn as Holmes’ older (and smarter) brother Mycroft. In A Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and Mme. Simza race across Europe to investigate anarchist bombings and a profiteering scheme to plunge the continent into war. This plot is surprisingly faithful to “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Final Problem,” and the historical facts of how the Victorian era eventually led to World War I or the so-called Great War.
I’m not sure that Conan Doyle would recognize his world in this latest cinematic adaptation, however, with its steampunky emphasis on grime, crime, and pyrotechnics over erudite detection. Still, it’s worth remembering that the late 19th century was an era of technological change to match our own, with electrical street lights, the horseless carriage, telegraphs, and machine guns all changing daily life.
Josh and fellow role-players, thanks again for your and Sara’s hospitality this past weekend! I enjoyed your Fortune’s Fool one-shot on Saturday, 29 October 2011. Here are some notes from the alternate history/fantasy game:
-“Tatiana Du Lupin” [Ginger]-female French Sylvan Elf, aristocrat and pagan, with hawk
-“Farouk ibn Alahad” [Rob]-male Moorish Orc, duelist and demon hunter
-“Pierre Lefew” [Robyn]-male French Halfling, pauper and thief
-“Santidio Ravoche” [Bruce K.]-male French Elf, duelist and scoundrel
-“Axbeard Beardaxe” [Rich C.G.]-male Italian Dwarf, wealthy merchant with wolfhound
>>”Paris, 28 to 31 October 1546 A.D./C.E.:” My dear brother, while you attend to family matters back in Roma and Firenze, I have had an eventful vacation here in the City of Lights. As you well know, I first arrived in the French capital without prejudice, and I have found its people and cuisine tres magnifique, if occasionally obtuse.
In fact, I was initially so impressed by the court of King Francois I that I’ve considered buying a small chateau. The High Elves have renewed interest in classical art, and painting, music, and sculpture have flourished as they have at home.
However, dark dealings shadowed my stay, and I must confide in someone in our family. We have yet to fully plumb these murky depths, but I want word of my misadventures to reach your eyes before foes add slander to our injuries.
Bishop Victor Garceau, a fellow Halfling and highly placed cleric, summoned our motley group. He asked us to look into rumors of a cult that supposedly planned to summon demons beneath Paris on All Hallows’ Eve. As indulgences were offered, I happily accepted, but others needed gold or other favors to be convinced.
I hired scruffy Pierre to be my manservant, but only after he got a bath. Unfortunately, it would take me too long to acquire proper tools for the Halfling rapscallion, but I could at least share my love of fromage, truffles, and pasta. Pierre was most eager and helpful.
I found Mlle. Du Lupin to be an excellent representative of le ancien regime, with Elven knowledge deep of things in the woods. By contrast, Mssr. Ravoche’s freebooting attitude is a good match for my own, and he engaged in verbal duels with a Dwarf countryman of ours, Axebeard Beardaxe.
Indeed, even peoples beyond Christendom were represented in our band, including the quiet but clever Goblin Ziva and the looming but impressively civilized Orc Farouk. With such a diverse collection, it should come as no surprise that it took us some time to decide on a course of action.
I, Giuseppe, went with Farouk to the Sarbonne, but the Inquisition (whose very name I even hesitate to commit in ink) had preceded us in scouring its tomes of land records and demonology. At least we knew we were on the right trail.
Ziva and Axebeard made discreet inquiries with their underworld contacts. I later learned that they even posted a bounty for information on cultists, but that instead drew the attention of one “Merlin,” an Elf met at one of Paris’ many cafes.
He claimed that the Roman Catholic Church, which is in league with the crown, sent us to persecute dissidents hiding beneath the city. This Merlin said that those we actually needed to worry about were preparing for Samhain in the woods to the north. A man named Giles and a dozen followers were the cultists we sought, Merlin said.
Meanwhile, Santidio, Tatiana, and Pierre snuck into the mines near the metropolis. They observed men in aristocratic garb copying various manuscripts. Tatiana made herself invisible, but unfortunately not inaudible. Pierre managed to grab a book and run out, and Santidio slipped away and reported their findings so far to the bishop.
My companions and I reunited at a café for strong drinks and stronger words. Axebeard took the book of witchcraft that Pierre had seized and put it in a safe. With nearly three days before the holiday, we ultimately decided to first check out the mines, which I understand would make fine catacombs like those in the Eternal City.
Farouk, Santidio, Axebeard, and Ziva led the way, while Tatiana with her hawk, Pierre on Axebeard’s dog, and I waited outside to prevent any foes from escaping. In response, the people hiding in the mine retaliated with a Fireball spell and summoned a gargoyle or drake!
Drawing his blade, Farouk’s first lunge was a miss, as was Axebeard’s first swing. Santidio dropped his weapon belt in an attempt to parley, but he soon had to chase after the leader. Ziva fired her crossbow at the winged beast.
Pierre went to see what the noise inside was about, and Tatiana and I soon joined the fray. Farouk and Axebeard’s luck improved only slightly, with the Dwarf’s axe cutting the imp in twain. Santidio caught the leader, whom we threatened to turn over to the Church unless he explained.
In fact, Merlin was correct: The scribes were copying books of demonology in desperation and an attempt to discredit the ruling authorities. They had no plans to summon any monsters around All Hallows’ Eve, so we had to make haste toward the woods….
Despite a slow start and the arrival of this past weekend’s Nor’easter, I thought the Fortune’sFoolscenario went fairly well. It was nice to play alongside people I normally don’t get to do so with, and I look forward to other one-shots, such as Jason’s Fvlminata or Rich’s Call of Cthulhu! I hope you had a Happy Halloween….
After an optometrist appointment on Saturday, 29 October 2011, I drove to the spacious apartment of Josh C. & Sara F. in Abington, Massachusetts, for Josh’s one-shot of Fortune’s Fool. I enjoyed the alternate history/fantasy game, in which I role-played “Giuseppe de Cellini,” an Italian Halfling gentleman rogue and swashbuckler.
I was joined by Bruce K. and Rich C.G., who are in one of my FATE 3e “Vortex” space opera teams, as well as Josh & Sara’s friends Rob & Ginger and Robyn, whom I had met at a cookout. The scenario involved our Player Characters looking for demon summoners around fourteenth century Paris. Despite a slow start, we enjoyed the Fortune’s Fool session, Josh’s punch spiked with mist-making dry ice, and the Chinese food that we ordered. Janice had also baked brownies for the potluck.
We did find Fortune’s Fool‘s rules, which use Tarot cards rather than polyhedral dice for conflict resolution, to be overly specific for combat (reminiscent of D20). They were also a bit “swingy,” granting only about a 50% chance of success for anything, given our average skill levels.
History buffs like Jason E.R. and I also had some questions about why a Renaissance would even be necessary in a world whose demihumans had long lifespans and memories of classical culture and technology, but such details would be more of a concern in a long-term campaign. I’ve tried to blend fantasy and alternate history in my own GURPS Steampunk/D20 Etherscope: “Gaslight Grimoire” adventures.
Bruce, Rich, and I left around dinnertime, before Josh & Sara’s Halloween party, to avoid the worst of an early Nor’easter. Boston’s inner suburbs got only a few inches of wet, heavy snow, but areas north and west of us got as much as a foot. Most of our autumn leaves haven’t even fallen yet, but raking will have to wait until after the snow melts.
P.S.: Verizon will be sending a technician out this coming Thursday, so I won’t have land-line phone, Web, or TV until then. Still, my situation is better than those of the many people still without power. Stay warm!
The detailed “future history” of games such as Stellar Horizons and Ashen Stars is similar to that of “Vortex.” (I took a class on the topic back in college.) In these settings, humanity has colonized the Sol system and beyond but faces new threats such as alien horrors, as well as old ones like infighting. I like the political and technical extrapolations of Stellar Horizons and the idea of Player Characters as interplanetary troubleshooters in Ashen Stars.
Speaking of mixing genres, the fantasy/cyberpunk Shadowrun has endured even as fashions have changed in the past few decades. I played and ran the game briefly in college. The Fourth Edition and the 20th Anniversary Edition — even though Shadowrun has been around for longer than that — are slick and straightforward, with solid rules (point-buy character creation, dice pools using D6s). I would have preferred more thorough location and faction descriptions rather than “flavor-text” fiction, but that was the style of games from the late 1980s and most of the ’90s.
After grabbing nearly every star map published for RPGs in the past 30 years, I recently ordered the excellent poster maps from Project Rho Productions. I’ll eventually need every human-habitable system within 100 parsecs, but this is a great start!
Mieville helps attune our senses to a city reminiscent of Dickensian London, with fantastic, horror, and steampunk elements. New Crobuzon is squalid and crowded, with bits of glitter and glory surrounded by strange ruins, nonhuman ghettos, ornate industry, and quasi-organic growths. It is dangerous, maddening, and impressive in scope and scale.
If you don’t mind gothic prose, occasional sex and gore, and truly horrific monsters, you’ll enjoy Mieville’s descriptions of peoples suffering from crime and oppression and a scientist whose discoveries threaten to unhinge reality. Mieville takes fantasy tropes — the band of adventurers, the magical aid, the obstacles to enlightenment — and he adds enough suspense and sacrifice for a rewarding page-turner.