Month: May 2013

Jack Vance RIP

Jack Vance died on May 26th.

I’m a sort of grudging Vance fan. His worlds and characters are fantastic, but everything is viewed at a distance–making it difficult to be emotionally invested in the characters no matter how sympathetic I am to their plight. He makes up for that with plots that don’t outstay their welcome and his arcane vocabulary.

Naturally gamers sort of “owe” Vance for his “influence” on D&D, which was everything to do with Gygax and nothing to do with him AFAIK. Still, everyone knows what Vancian casting is, love it or hate it. Later the Dying Earth rpg emerged, of which (I believe) Vance was said to have been “tolerant”. According to Wikipedia, Talislanta is dedicated to Vance.

The Dying Earth gets all of the attention, but he did write the Lyonesse series which perhaps functions better as a “traditional” fantasy series. For Science Fiction he wrote Emphyrio fairly early on, and much later Night Lamp, and in between the Durdane series and others, all of which seem to be roughly the same plot–a young character with a limited view of the world heads out on adventure to broaden his experience, only to find that he and his fellows are being oppressed by unseen forces. Big Planet seems to follow the opposite route–enlightened characters crashing on a galactic backwater planet and descending into primitive habits–though I confess that book’s been on our shelves for years and I’ve not gotten round to reading yet. Clearly now is the time.

Big Planet

Check out Vance’s own site for covers of his books and even maps of his worlds. Great stuff (though sadly you can’t buy the ebooks from the UK).



Twisting The Tortoise

I’ve had a thing for the name Konrad since I took a copy of David Ferring’s novel home from the Golden Demon Awards in 1989. I was young then, and didn’t realise what a cynical exercise the Games Workshop novels were. They weren’t bad (they even had Kim Newman writing for them as Jack Yeovil) but they were short and probably bashed out to meet a product launch deadline. I don’t know what I’d make of Konrad today–this review suggests not much.

Anyway, I picked up a completely different Konrad in New York last week.

Konrad 2

That’s a Noodler’s Konrad in Hawaiian Tortoise. It looks a bit more pink without the flash, and it’s translucent. Really, really pretty. And all for $20.

It’s a piston filling pen, a feature you don’t often see on pens this cheap. It’s modeled after german school pens. It can be completely disassembled for cleaning (look carefully at the ink window, you’ll see it’s a bit pink–that’s leftover Diamine Imperial Blue).

Konrad 3

I was a bit wary putting it back together after hearing that if you don’t push the nib back on far enough, you can deform it when you screw the cap on. Forwarned, I didn’t have any problems.

So, assembly isn’t a problem. As for writing, the nib isn’t super smooth but just fine for regular writing. Since it’s a flex nib, I tried some pressure to get line variation:

Konrad text

Top is with a bit of pressure, then no pressure, then flexing quite hard which resulted in this:

Konrad blob

The pen is already very wet and flexing a lot must open up the feed channel enough to cause a blob of ink to collect–and when that blob gets big enough, it drips. The pen practically gushes anyway, using a lot of ink  which then takes minutes to dry. It’s not going to be suitable on anything other than very good paper like Basildon Bond or the Rhodia I’m using.

So, not the most practical writing instrument. When it’s full, I don’t dare store it anywhere other than nib-up in a pen cup. I keep expecting it to explode and shower me with ink. It should be possible to tinker with the feed to adjust the flow (nib and feed are just a friction fit) but even so, it’s probably only going to come out for special occasions.

Looks nice, though.

Konrad 1

Gig: Telling the Bees/Spiro

At the last minute I decided to join friends and see Spiro (with support from Telling The Bees).

Folk isn’t my thing, but I enjoyed the support act anyway. The sound was very good–the Old Fire Station is a good space and the sound engineer did a superb job. Clear vocals, instruments present and nicely separated (with the exception of their cellist, who could have done with a bit more volume). Their songs were inspired by Oxford things like May morning and the collection of astrolabes in the Museum of the History of Science.

Then the main act came on. Spiro’s energy was amazing and the performance was precise, coherent and exciting. Mostly they sound like a folked-up Michael Nyman score for a Peter Greenaway film, but there were mathmatical overtones of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Much more my kind of thing. I bought two of their albums (ripping as I write):


Interior CD case is from their latest album, Kaleidophonica. The other two are their Lightbox album, and Telling the Bees’ An English Arcanum.

Both bands also had a great rapport with the audience. The intimate venue helped, but it was great to see bands so relaxed and at ease, and at the same time funny and erudite. It turned a collection of songs into a memorable performance. Great gig, would see again.

Playlist: Incubation

  1. Joy Division, Incubation1
  2. The Cure, Primary
  3. Ride, Time Of Her Time
  4. Bauhaus, Scopes
  5. Sisters of Mercy, Heartland
  6. Human League, Seconds
  7. LCD Soundsystem, Somone Great
  8. Duran Duran, The Chauffer
  9. Herbaliser, A Mother (For Your Mind)
  10. Tricky, Hell Is Round The Corner
  11. FC Kahuna, Hayling
  12. Gary Numan, Tracks
  13. A-Ha, Manhattan Skyline
  14. My Bloody Valentine, We Have All The Time In The World
  15. The 6ths, Give Me Back My Dreams
  16. Jesus & Mary Chain, Just Like Honey
  17. extra: Bill Murray sings More Than This (Lost in Translation)



  1. Questionable footage from the tasteful 1984 film Murder-Rock: Dancing Death.

Ray Harryhausen, RIP

Ray Harryhausen passed away yesterday. Among his film credits are Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, as well as three Sinbad films.

Aside from his contribution to film special effects, Harryhausen should have a special place in the heart of any gamer. He’s responsible for the kraken, medusa, clockwork owls and swordfights with animated skeletons:

For me, his films were as formative as The Hobbit or the Narnia books. When I think of Runequest and its Bronze Age/Mythic Europe settings, I think of this. Harryhausen’s fight scenes were usually nice and sunny.

Rest in peace, dude.

Playlist: Bowie

Some Bowie favourites (in roughly chronological order, for shuffle play).

  1. Karma Man
  2. Join The Gang
  3. Please, Mr Gravedigger
  4. God Knows I’m Good
  5. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
  6. All the Madmen
  7. The Saviour Machine
  8. Oh! You Pretty Things
  9. Queen Bitch
  10. The Supermen (alt version)
  11. Lady Stardust
  12. Hang On To Yourself
  13. Rock n Roll Suicide
  14. Watch That Man
  15. Lady Grinning Soul
  16. Sweet Thing
  17. Fame
  18. Golden Years
  19. Always Crashing In The Same Car
  20. Warsawa
  21. A New Career In A New Town
  22. All Saints
  23. Neukoln
  24. “Heroes”
  25. Joe The Lion
  26. Repetition
  27. Boys Keep Swinging
  28. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
  29. Ashes to Ashes
  30. Teenage Wildlife
  31. Let’s Dance
  32. Loving the Alien
  33. Blue Jean
  34. Absolute Beginners
  35. Within You
  36. Baby Universal
  37. Jump They Say
  38. Strangers When We Meet
  39. Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys remix)
  40. No Control
  41. Telling Lies
  42. I’m Deranged
  43. New Angels of Promise
  44. A Better Future
  45. Pablo Picasso
  46. Fall Dog Bombs The Moon
  47. Life on Mars
  48. The Next Day
  49. I’d Rather Be High
  50. Heat


p>Video notes: Blue Jean is the 20 min Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, which I first saw on laserdisc (woohoo!). New Angels of Promise is an extended intro to one of my favourite games ever, The Nomad Soul

Troll and Hollowpoint Probs

A brief nod to the fantastically useful Troll, a dice roller and probability calculator. I used it to estimate the probabilities of rolling matches in Hollowpoint or a similar D6 mechanic. Brief summary in a not-very-pretty table:

  2d 3d 4d 5d 6d 7d 8d 9d 10d
Nothing 83 56 28 9 2 0 0 0 0
Anything 17 44 72 91 98 100 100 100 100
One Set 17 44 65 64 43 20 7 2 1
Two Sets 0 0 7 27 52 62 51 33 18
Three Sets 0 0 0 0 4 18 40 54 54
Four Sets 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 11 26
Five Sets 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
At least triple 0 3 10 21 37 54 71 84 93
At least two sets 0 0 7 27 56 80 93 98 99
At least double+triple 0 0 0 4 17 40 64 82 93
At least three sets 0 0 0 0 4 18 42 65 81
At least quad 0 0 0 2 5 11 18 28 40


p>Interesting outcomes there. If you want to have a system where PCs get more than 1 set per round the sweet spot is a pool of around 6 dice. If triples are significant then they start to appear around the same time; and if quads are significant, you get one about 1 time in 20 for a 6d pool, but they stay relatively unlikely up to 10d.

The thing about Hollowpoint is that burning a trait automatically bumps up the threshold by 2 dice, but the probabilities just shift 2 columns to the right. Also for info, Hollowpoint base dice pools are 1 to 6. To be continued. 

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