Thursday, February 29, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report February 29: Leap Day Agrodolce and other things

Happy Pirates of Penzance day everyone! Also, today is the day you ladies can safely proposition your menfol... <holds finger to ear> Oh... Propose to! Yes, that tracks more to old folk customs. 

This week we're going to do some simple things in order to have fun with the sauce, which is also simple.

The man body of todays meal is boneless pork chops cooked with Shake and Bake, couscous, and roasted cauliflower. Yes, I use Shake and Bake, it's freaking delicious, easy, takes 20 minutes, and the goal is to put dinner on the table inside your capacity with minimal effort. The Couscous we've covered before - boil water, add couscous and spice pack from box, cover, take off heat, wait 10 minutes. During the time the water is coming to a boil chop up the cauliflower head and put it on a sheet pan. Slide that pan in on the rack under the pork chops so they cook for 10 minutes. Chops, couscous, cauliflower, it's a beige alliterative meal! 

Now on to the fun stuff: Agrodolce sauce. This stuff is delicious and super-versatile. You'll need some olive oil (1 TBS), 2 medium onions sliced thin, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and two plum tomatoes seeded and diced. You should have about 2 cups of onions and 1 cup of tomatoes. 

Now, in theory, the recipe I have calls for 1/4 cup of golden raisins and 1 tablespoon of capers but raisins in savory is anathema and I'm not a fan of capers. Your mileage may vary. 

Just heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are softened and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and I suppose the raisins and capers (if you're some kind of goddamn monster) and simmer until it gets a syrup consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes or so until they are softened, and transfer everything to a bowl. 

Does that look like it will take about the 20 minutes it takes to get the pork chops done, assuming you slice the onions first? WHY YES, YES IT DOES. When everything is out spoon the agrodolce over the cauliflower, or over any part you want, I don't judge. 

Except about the raisins. I just the raisins. 

Serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Resource Calculation

My original intent had been to do a weekly post for New Salem but the momentum for Character Creation challenge had me keep doing it daily. It was going to burn me out, so we're back on the original weekly schedule. In this case we're getting goofy and applying the concepts for carrying capacity to the resources. 

The rules for calculating carrying capacity in V&V are quite elegant, if a little esoteric. You take 1/10th your Strength and cube it, then add 1/10th your Endurance and multiply it by half your weight. A person with a 10 in both basic characteristics can lift their own weight. Someone with a 20 Strength and 20 Endurance can lift 5 times their own weight, which is pretty much human maximum. Now, I plan to mess with this later, moving the exponent to a square rather than a cube, but it's important to bring up now because I'm going to do the same thing here. 

First pick whether your career relies more on Charisma or Intelligence. Then take 1/10th that characteristic and square it before adding it to 1/10th of the other. This number is multiplied by the following weighting 

30: neither of your background areas apply to your career and you can only work part time 

60: one of your background areas applies to your career and you can only work part time 

90: both of your background areas apply to your career and you can only work part time OR one of your background areas applies and you can work full time 

120: both of your background areas apply to your career and you can work full time

If you have the Inheritor career it does help you for reducing the difficulty of any test but it does give you a weighting factor of 120 and lets you add an exponent to either your Charisma or Intelligence when calculating your Resources. Likewise the character might negotiate an additional exponent for Heightened Intelligence or Heightened Charisma to show even greater potential resources via some in game rationale 

This will give you a number that can be applied to the carrying capacity table to find a the Resources Die. The GM will set a difficulty on that, usually 3+, to see if the character can afford an invention (or other in game expense) without additional in game action.  

I like this in part because it uses the same mechanics as Carrying Capacity and makes clear the advantage of higher than average intelligence or charisma without nailing it down to a number that will eventually need inflation adjustment  

Monday, February 26, 2024

Emirikol: Merging Adventures and Locations

One of the things you should do for any sort of D&D is over-prepare your immediate setting as a DM so the players have actual options. When you’re building a dungeon, you make more than one path, after all. Since I’m doing the tying together other peoples work for this it’s easy to set a second “outside the city” adventure, so if the players somehow decide that they are going to stay in the carriage or not explore the cairn.  (In my case it was helpful because the PCs made it some way into Vulture Point during our first session.)

·       Below Vulture Point by Jeff Fairbourne: PCs recover the medicine of the ailing nobleman Randamis Ambleer from the raiders who stole it – said raiders are kobolds riding giant vultures!

·       Is there an Elf in the House? By Rafael Fay & Dan DeFazio: Winter storms keep the PCs in the haunted home of a recently married but grievously ill nobleman outside of town, and while there a trapped in the house murder mystery occurs.

Ok, both use the same damn hook – someone needs to get rare medicines to a sick noble in a manor outside the city – so we can easily tie these together. Does it say something about 2E adventures and cliches that the same hook is in 2 adventures that are 7 issues apart? Maybe. But the post hook adventures are different enough that each brings something to the table. Since Vulture Point calls for 0 level PCs and is much less cumbersome to run than a murder mystery, we start there, but edit it so that we are setting up everything we need for later.

That is to say, we use the map and wealth of Lord Faustmann for now Roland Ambleer, which at least sounds like a name people would have (can we not have names that are in jokes or syllable collections? Is Faustmann a real name? Yes. Is it used here just because it sounds like Faust and means creepy magical stuff? Also yes. Plus it’s German so in Emirikol that would make it a halfling or far southern name). If the PCs spend a night before or after going one of them sees the ghost from Elf in the House in their room. Lord Ambleer has every reason to befriend the PCs, so when it comes time for two future events (his marriage, and then his illness in Elf in the House) of course the PCs will be there, eliminating the need for another hook. And maybe the players decide to tackle the haunting aspect immediately, which makes the wildly over-complex Elf in the House easier later.

So… the wounded servant shows up at the tavern the PCs landed at once their carriage was fixed, and the PCs learn that a) there’s a local lord who needs their assistance and b) there are chaos beasts who have been robbing travelers up ahead. Not being 0 level characters they may just skip a and go straight to b without backstory, which is fine, or decide ‘screw it, we don’t care’ but this is legit ‘go fight monsters for treasure’ stuff so doubtful. Assuming they accept the hook, Lord Ambleer is the setting appropriate version of the module who graciously extends equipment and support to the PCs to go raid Vulture Point and recover his lost medicine.

It is amazing how much wordcount in spent every adventure trying with ‘in case the PCs decide to skip this obvious hook’. If they do you either a) have a problem with your table contract where the players are saying “we don’t care what content you prepared, dance Dungeon Monkey! Dance!” or b) your table contract says you should have lots of options prepared and you don’t, do your damn job, Dungeon Master. Sigh.

The Vulture Point monsters has the same over-backstory problem I discussed before and we chuck it all.  Now

1)      Vulture Point was converted to a fort after the land was retaken as a watchtower for the road. As traffic moved to the river and the threat of chaos receded, it was abandoned by the city militia.

2)      It is outside of Lord Ambleer’s territory so he can’t staff it himself. Instead, he (or someone else) has to deal with the bandits who occasionally set up to prey on the East Road traffic.

3)      This time the bandits are chaos beasts, signs of the degrading times: the kobolds are replaced with dog men and the urd is a vulture man, explaining the giant vulture. 

The adventure is a little delight otherwise – the layout is evocative, the monsters use reasonable strategy, there’s a simple variety of threats to introduce the players to D&D – but it is a 2E design, not 3E.

A big OSR complaint about 3E is the balancing the adventures to the party via math; 3E does away with monster levels (where you might expect to find them in the geography) and replaces it with Challenge Ratings, where the DM is meant to build encounters such that each saps about 20% of the party’s resources for a “Four Fights, Fall Back, Recover, Return” strategy. Gygaxian Naturalism falls away to “the game is most fun when PCs reliably win, so do that”. In adapting all the Dungeon Adventures content I had to decide on a case by case basis to stick with the original risky and attrition strategy or go with the balances to the PCs one.

In this case, I left it pretty much as is. The kobold/dog men are weak opponents (CR 1/6) and I had the PCs functionally 2nd level so the attrition but you need to be careful method worked here. The PCs were at real risk by the end but also were tough enough to see the adventure through without falling back.

The other big bit of Gygaxian Naturalism in the adventure as writ is the room full of kobold women and children. This showed up a LOT in early D&D because of the need to explain why things are, but also led to a lot of complaints of ethnographic slaughter from some players, now and then. They aren’t without a point, but it’s also important to have some situations where the enemies are just the enemies, and it is morally and ethically OK to not negotiate. Not only is this a power-based wish fulfillment, but it’s also a fantasy. Sometimes you have a game where Orcs have a complex culture that is just different from Humans in a resource management way. Sometimes you have a game where orcs are grown out of the mud pits of a wizard’s lair with no souls and no culture. Both are fine.

In my prior 3E milieu I laid out the universal rule of “Mercy Works”, because I wanted a very Arabian Nights fantasy setting. Emrikol is not like that. It’s darker, more political, but also much more at risk. War is always possibly coming, and the things waging that war are literally chaos. The Chaos Cults are very Call of Cthulhu, very Warhammer Fantasy Role Play chaos, very Earthdawn horrors. Chaos Beasts are the twisted remnants of worlds they have already devoured vomited into this one to breed and fester and infest human psyches and open the door. In all the cases where adventures called for urbanized Half-Orcs I replaced them with barbarians from the northern islands outside the empire, while Orc qua Orcs were boar-headed chaos monsters. The world was full of ethical dilemmas about how to deal with cultists, but Chaos Beasts were not ethical dilemmas. They are not of this world, they cannot be acculturated, the remnants of their souls are in torment.

That discussion aside, the only other thing I had to do for prep was go through Elf in the House and familiarize myself with the ghost story and what the PCs need to do to fix it. Since the plot of the original adventure’s sequence of events calls for Ambleer’s young wife to have found the secret room with the ghost’s body in it along with the magic locket that held the adventure’s threat, I can ditch the ‘this hidden room held a hidden monster who has a unique magic item to disguise her as the young bride’ and relace that with “the hag-to-be-named-later kidnaps and replaces the bride”.

Now the secret torture room under the chapel (?!? Serious dick move Lord Ambleer’s ancestor) in Ambleer Manor just contains the ghost’s remains, and those being there are also why the Ambleer family spirits are preventing Lord Ambleer the fire priest from healing his condition. The PCs might solve that problem immediately, or it might still be around when we get to the other half of the module.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Lore 24 - Sudilitas: The Ranks of the Fit

Feb 19: Any able bodied resident can petition to join the Ranks of the Fit, as I discussed before. Moreaux are, if all suitable, made officer trainees and a group is assembled for a scouting or patrol mission to gauge their fitness. If it is successful they can request patronage missions of more complex scope (or just agree to serve if they don't wish to be citizens, though the Ranks prefer their officer corps to hold that honor). 

Feb 20: Patrol missions should be simple enough - a wide circumnavigation of the environs, delivery of supplies to the Ranks outpost inside the farms of the Moreaux Seekers. Perhaps, just perhaps, these missions are chosen with a greater than normal risk of combat to assess decision making, but they are never ones where a fight is guaranteed. 

Feb 21: Once they are assessed, Command will offer a commission to any worthy Moreaux, and places for the others. After that there are ant number of missions to either deal with natural threats to the expansion of Sudilitas' sphere of influence, or as protection against the encroaching threats I discussed earlier. 

Feb 22: The Dark Emperors are, themselves, too distant and powerful to attack en mass, but smaller units have been sent to harry their positions, steal their technology, and scout their territory. Larger ones have been used to disrupt the massing of forces in their client states; we cannot let them array too much against us. 

Feb 23: Similarly, missions should include shows of strength for the Moreaux and Mutate communities around us so they know that we are powerful allies and bad enemies. The Dark Emperors need no more proxy states closer to us, surrendering their liberty for the Carrin's hoarded technology. That would spell our end....

Feb 24: What would also spell our end is if the Badders tot he north (and by extension the rest of the Holy Roan Empire) decided to wage another crusade into our territory. The Badders do this from time to time to "hone their martial prowess" but also because Feudalism is a system that produces so many unnecessary, un-inheriting offspring that spending them on the field of battle is part of their reproductive and political strategy. 

Feb 25: We cannot hit them too hard, lest they use it as a cause to rally behind. But we cannot leave them be for they are too numerous, too unpredictable, too full of violence to not be watched, checked, prepared for. Fortunately their obvious threat helps the alliances with our sister states. The machinations of the Dark Emperors might be too subtle to spot, but the Badders are the fire that forges us into the weapon to defeat them. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday Book Recommendation (Feb 23)

This weeks reads:

The Sandman Book of Dreams edited by Ed Kramer and Neil Gaiman: I bought and read this when it came out and I think was too dismissive of the majority of its contents. I have repeatedly gone back for John M Fords “Chain Home, Low” and Susanna Clarke’s “Stopp’d Clock Yard” but this complete reread had me enjoying the whole of them more than I remembered. Recommended if you can find it, even if there are two stories of kids stuffed dolls protecting them from parental abuse that read so very 1990s. 

Shopgirl by Steve Martin: this was a very astute observation of several people in LA intersecting their loves and lives with lots of discussion of peoples interior beings and growth and minimal dialogue. Made funny by Martins agility with humorous metaphor and simile, I’m amazed it got turned into a screenplay based on how much of it is language and dissection of psyches. 

BESM - Palomino: The Quick and the Mech

Unfortunately for posterity I did not do a write up of the final adventure for these heroes. Over the course of the next adventure the heroes learned that Fochenflick had been responsible for Granger’s woes, setting the man up for bankruptcy so he Fochenflick could legally steal the land, the last major bit of range. This included not just the overcharged and mal-wared security system but also the dosing of the Granger watershed with a military neurotoxin to kill the cattle. 

Granger had discovered the neurotoxin and went to Sherriff Garner about it, not realizing that Garner was in Folchenflick’s pocket. The Sherriff went to the Granger land and shot all of them, calmly and quietly, planning to come back later with his men and remove all the bodies, leaving the farm abandoned. Random bad luck had Se-Wa-No-Te arrive that night, and be spotted by Fochenflick’s men Harris, Jeb, and Simon. When the whole situation became too messy with Se-Wa-No-Te having useful character references, Garner shot Harris, made up the affair between Harris and Molly Granger, and pinned everything on the dead guy. 

The third arc involved Fochenflick’s continued attempts to seduce Kate into her permanent employ with money and comfort, the deputies nursing their grudge against Se-Na-Wo-Te just because they were bigoted jerks, and Jake unraveling the connection between what he found in the orphanage’s water filters, what Se-Na-Wo-Te had found in the Granger land waters, and Job & Simon’s placing pf parcels across the Granger watershed that were leaking in the neurotoxin

That this neurotoxin was also crippling the kids in Mama Cass’s orphanage due to Cass’s inconsistent changing the water filters completely turned Jake against his erstwhile employer. When he informs Kate and Se-Na-Wo-Te his friends are equally incensed. 

“He’s poisoning orphans for gracing land?!?” Kate shrieks. "Yup" Jake answers. "He dies," Kate declares. Se-Na-Wo-Te nods. "Big step," Jake ponders. "I'm feeling lucky," Kate states, and the argument is over.

There are a series of showdowns that involve Se-Na-Wo-Te luring the deputies and Fochenflick’s men into the desert to pick them off, Jake rescuing Mama Cass and the orphans from Sherriff Garner (who is coming to claim the water filter evidence) before killing him  and his mech with a jury-rigged remote controlled missile strike, and Kate facing off against Fochenflick and his “shoots through mecha” railgun pistol, whom she defeats by terraforming his manor house over him. 

At the end, Jake has been made the new Sherriff of Grace, with the support of Mama Cass and much of the rest of the residents, and Travers is reaching out to Kate to discuss business ventures as she is the last surviving partner of Fochenflick. The greater evil may still lurk in that company town canyon....

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report February 22: Slow Roast Chicken and Vegetables

You may have noticed that the recipes for chicken call for birds of modest size - especially modest sized breasts - and when you shop for chicken the store is full of brazen hussies with inflated bosoms. a pack of 4 bone in chicken breasts will measure at 6 lbs! What to do?

I have an amazingly simple solution which will make you look good as a cook: slow roast those suckers! 

So here's the deal - get one of those monster breast packs, a box mix of rice pilaf, some vegetables (I went with carrots and cauliflower) some chicken stock, some sprigs of fresh rosemary, diced garlic (you do still have that jar, right?) and 2 tbs of butter. 

Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides, just to get it seasoned, about 2 teaspoons of each. 

Set three over racks - one at the bottom, one 8" from the broilier (I am assuming you have an oven with the heating element at the top) and one in about the middle. Heat the over to 250F. 

Put some aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, then put a cooling rack on top of that. That's the roasting rig for the chicken. 

Take a second cookie sheet, coat it with aluminum foil and some cooking spray, and chop up the vegetables into fairly big chunks - a inch, inch a half per side, enough to be an independent bite - before mixing a tablespoon of oil over them. Put those on the second cookie sheet. 

All that prep done, heat some vegetable oil in a skillet until it's shimmering. Which honestly just looks neat. Then lay two of the chicken breasts in the skillet skin side down, cook for 3-4 minutes till the chicken skin has some color and come away from the pan easily. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes It will not be cooked all the way through by a long shot. Move to the cookie sheet cooking rack rig, skin side up.

Repeat with the other breasts. Put the chicken on the middle rack, and the vegitables on the lower rack and let it cook FOREVER! Well, until the inside of the biggest piece is 160F which could be 1.5 to 2 hours. (If you have a probe thermometer with the cord and outside sensor, that's ideal for this.)

Take the skillet off heat, add 3/4 of a cup of chicken stock, scrape the bottom of the skillet with a spatula or wooden spoon to get the browned bits up, and add 2 teaspoons of garlic and the rosemary sprigs and just let it sit while the chicken cooks.

When the chicken gets up to about 140F or a half hour before dinner time, make the box rice per the box rice instructions. Come on, you can do this. Or, if it worries you, use couscous instead. NO ONE CAN SCREW UP BOX COUSCOUS!

When the thermometer indicates the chicken is ready, take it out, and set the oven to Broil. Leave the veggies where they are. Pour the drippings off the cookie sheet into the now cool skillet of chicken stock, rosemary and garlic. Then turn the heat back on, bring it to a boil and then down to a simmer, which is like a boil, but slower and less bubbly. In 10 minutes put the chicken back on the upper rack and let it cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the skin gets nicely brown and crispy. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't blacken. 

While this is happening, cut up the butter and whisk it into the sauce. Once the butter is fully melted in, run the sauce through a strainer to get the garlic and rosemary out. The rice should be done and the chicken and garlic will come out at the same time. 

Serve to a grateful family. Note that in my family of 4 we needed ONE of these chicken breasts for the first nights dinner. You now have a metric fuckton of leftover perfectly roasted white meat chicken for any number of other uses. We used one for chicken salad one meal and quesadillas the next 

BESM - Palomino: Treasure of the Sierra Mecha 3

Our wandering heroes - Kate the gambler and terraformer, Jake the gunsmith and tinkerer, and Se-No-Wo-Te the displaced Native American - are participants in increasingly tense events around an illegal mine outside the town on Grace, on the mining moon of Palomino.

After the morning refusal of eggs and picking up some coffee, and an inquiry into whether Se-No-Wote's tribe used peyote, Jake and Se-No-Wote went to work. 

Kate received a radio call from Fochenflick, requesting a ride. Unlike Mr. Fleiss, he was permitted to ride inside the mech; he wanted to chat with the miners. Jake took up a position a couple of klicks away, and Se-No-Wote snuck as close he could in his mecha. One of the miners got into a mech as well. 

Fochenflick proposed that the miners take their 130 thousand, split it three ways not four (Granger's stake being moot) and leave. Kate took the opportunity for a thermal scan of the area and found a few buried satchel charges but nothing unexpected. Fred made threatening noises. Fochenflick noted that Fred was wanted for murder in Palomino City. They had until the end of the day to pack up and get out. "The stakes at this table are bigger than you know. Pick up your ante and walk away." He climbed back into Kate's mech.

Immediately after they left, an argument broke out between the three miners. Se No Wote maintained his watch. Jake went back to the Granger place to look for parts, finished fixing the water sensor, and dumped some of the local water in. Definitely contaminated with something not naturally occurring, something he had read about before in some military source.

Kate took Fochenflick back to the house and mentioned that she thought he had been inclined to let him stay. He noted that he might be bluffing. She declined a wager on this matter. 

At the camp, an agreement was reached. Fleiss, in a mech, headed off by himself, did some excavation and appeared to have uncovered his share of the gold. He laid out three satchel charges, wired them up, and reburied them. The other two stayed some distance away in the meantime, ostentatiously not watching what he was doing. Having satisfied himself that his gold would not be stolen in his absence, Fleiss got out of the mech and began climbing down the hill. At some point he began waving his hat in the air, eventually attracting Jake's attention. He wanted a lift into town to arrange transportation for the miners and their gear. Jake was supposed to be fixing the fence to make sure no more cattle wandered into the canyon, so Kate volunteered to run Fleiss in. She let him inside this time so she could crank the speed up and get this done quickly. He managed to lose his balance and fall into her at one point, and laughed at the need for a seatbelt, but only for a moment. She dropped him off by the livery stable, wished him luck, and suggested he stop by the hotel when he said he might be staying in town a while. 

Meanwhile, back at the mine, the other two were digging up their own stakes and the one set aside for Granger. Se-No-Wote apprised Fochenflick of their apparent intention to leave. In the midst of this, Eb got out of the mech and began gathering small items from his tent. Fred, still in his own mech, walked up to the tent and fired up the drilling hand on the mech. 

Se-No-Wote stood up from his hiding place, too late to keep Fred from making a very large hole in Eb, and turned his mech's sonic attack on Fred. Fred tossed a satchel charge at him. The ground underneath him caved in from the force of the explosion, partially trapping him. Se-No-Wote requested assistance and fired his mech's fist at Fred, destroying the other mech. 

Jake fired a missile long-distance in assistance. Mech parts (and Fred parts) rained down over the edge of the mesa. "Salvage rights!" He went back to fixing fences.

Since Kate was closest to town, she volunteered to tell the sheriff. Halfway there she had second thoughts; was there any real need to tell anyone about this? Hardly anyone knew they were there to begin with. They weren't supposed to be there. It would mean a lot of trouble... she sighed and called Garner to come out to Fochenflick's place, then called her boss to let him know. "You know, I'd like to go through a couple of days with you people without a frickus," the sheriff opined.

She decided it would save time to pick up Fleiss now, since undoubtedly he would be wanted. At the livery stable, a small crowd had gathered to talk about the man trying to rent a wagon with a bag of gold dust. Kate spun a rapid story about her distant cousin having spent too much time in the desert, tetched in the head, had tried this thing before, and managed to get in, grab Lamont and get out. On the way to Fochenflick's she told him what had happened to his partners. 

Fleiss pulled a gun and ordered her to take him to his gold as quickly as possible. Without his notice she turned on the communications relay; their conversation alerted the sheriff as to the situation. At the mesa, she climbed out ahead of Fleiss, gave him the requested twenty paces. 

"Don't move another damn step!" Eb – astonishingly – ordered, holding a shotgun with his remaining arm, accusing her of being Lamont's lover and the two of them conspiring to steal all the gold (Kate burst out laughing). While the two erstwhile partners argued and Lamont tried to convince Eb to let him get a doctor. Kate volunteered to go, got back in her mech with a profound sense of relief, where she updated the others. Jake got on her loudspeaker and pointed out that the two of them were fighting over nothing and he could take them both out with one missile from two miles away.

Eb appeared to have accepted this, and fainted. Kate grabbed him up gently, like a mech running an egg-spoon race, and headed for the doctor in town. "Tell him I... the wires...." 

Lamont was headed to where he had buried his share of the treasure.

Kate lunged for the radio as the booby-trap blew Lamont to small pieces, and Eb breathed his last.

Gold-laced dust rained gently over the plain. Jake threw all the stuff he didn't want to salvage down the mineshaft and launched a missile into it, with Fochenflick's hearty endorsement.

And thus ended the situation on the mesa. Jake got access to the sheriff's database to find out what was in the water. 


Since you're not willing to stick around for the alcohol, you can't have pie. Fochenflick to Se-No-Wote

Hey! No fadin' into the darkness! Jeb

Eb is down? Eb is soup! Tom 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

BESM - Palomino: Treasure of the Sierra Mecha 2

Our wandering heroes - Kate the gamber and terraformer, Jake the tinkerer and gunsmith, and Se-No-Wo-Te the displaced Native American - are dealing with unexpected miners on the outskirts of the town of Grace on the mining moon of Palomino....

Fochenflick then spoke with Kate, sharing impressions of Fleiss, then with Jake, who reported their attempted bribe and the jamming equipment on their mechs. He then checked with Se-No-Wote to see if there had been any activity in Travers Canyon, and suggested that the Indian stay away from the canyon edge for a few days. He also suggested that his three newest employees should come in for dinner that night; the miners could stay where they were for the time being. 

Jake worked his way to a better observation post. The mechs were busy building a bulwark. They were about 30 years old and in good condition. They had been repaired several times, but they were standard models, not like Jake's hand-built job. They had no unusual visible equipment, so the jammer might be elsewhere. He knew the model; they didn't have a lot of room inside. 

Se-No-Wote turned his attention to wandering cattle in the badlands. He found one with a broken leg, which took care of lunch. He found another stream that was apparently connected to the same tainted water source, and took the opportunity for a closer look. The water had a slight sheen. He took a sample. 

Mr. Fleiss got cleaned up (which didn't mean he could ride inside the mech) and Kate took him back to the mine. He invited her up for a drink to meet the other fellows and apologized for throwing a satchel charge at her; she assured him that it had been forgotten, and increased her speed a bit to cut down on the chatter. At the camp, she got a look at the new earthworks, laughed silently, and went off to find the other two for their meeting with Fochenflick.

On his way in, Se-No-Wote passed Jeb and Simon riding out into the badlands. Kate took advantage of the room and clothes Fochenflick had on offer. Jake reported about his work on the sensor arrays, that the fences were turned on but had no control center, and that the hardware seemed to have nothing wrong with it. Fochenflick wanted the fences tied into his own system. Jake suggested finding the person who sold Granger the gear, to see about upgrading. It emerged that Fochenflick had recommended the upgrade to the Granger systems and even given him a loan, which might have worked out well had Granger had more time to work out the bugs. Se-No-Wote reported on the tainted water. Fochenflick mentioned that some people had actually died due to the water problems. Filtration systems were a big business in town. Was it possible the mining operation had caused some spilloff?

Kate pulled out her maps of the watershed, interfering with the service of the soup course; it seemed unlikely that the small mine was causing the problem. Fochenflick decided to put more filtration systems in on the streams on his land. Jake suggested that the filters at the boarding house might be a rich information source. There was some conversation on Cassady's eccentricities, and his work taking in orphaned children (to whom Fochenflick had given some money). Fochenflick offered the other two rooms at his casa. Jake wanted to continue his work at the boarding house. 

Talk turned to what Se-No-Wote had seen in Travers Canyon. There was a gentlemen's agreement between Travers and some of the local ranchers after some disagreements over water rights, that there would be no mining outside the canyon. Jeb Granger must have been very worried about money to allow the mining he had. They were violating the gentlemen's agreement, but not the actual law. There was no evidence that Travers knew what was going on. The three miners had most likely... liberated... a few of his mechs. Kate wondered why Travers hadn't notified the law about the theft. Jake guessed correctly that Travers was his own law enforcement (and everything else), even though Sheriff Garner was theoretically in authority. And it was just possible that they actually had bought the mechs—they were old models, maybe he'd been replacing them. Where were they planning to sell the gold ore where Travers wouldn't hear about it? Run it via mecha to some other city? 

It was going to be hard to stop them; they were well dug in, and they did have the agreement with the Grangers, which trumped the gentlemen's agreement. Fochenflick had been Granger's partner. It would be a big legal mess if they pressed their claim, which might not work in Fochenflick's favor. On the other hand, there was no way the three were going to stay hidden for another six months. Jake proposed letting them haul off the tailings from Kate's earthmoving and sift it for ore wherever they wanted to. Jeb and Simon were out keeping an eye on the camp. 

Fochenflick wanted more information. Se-No-Wote would sneak in to the camp to find out more, and use his mech by remote control to distract their attention. He passed some less than friendly words with Jeb and Simon and headed up the cliff to the quasi-licit camp. 

The three miners were crouched behind their earthwork, watching the Indian's mech (and Jeb and Simon) as intended. They were working themselves into an even more nervous state, worried about the Granger killing and Se-No-Wote's presence (one of them decided that Se-No-Wote had killed the Grangers) and what Fochenflick might do and what might happen if they were forced to return to Travers and how they might flee with all of their gold in two mechs without being forced to split up and how they would fight if they had to. It appeared that they did not entirely trust each other. He rifled their tents quietly, found the jamming equipment but not the gold. Enough food and water to last them weeks. 

Back at the ranch, Kate went over her surveying with Fochenflick, gave him her estimates on how many explosives he would need and discussed which rivers he wanted to keep. It took a couple of hours. She returned to her hotel for the night, though, had a drink at the bar and picked up the day's gossip. The people she'd been playing with the other night had headed out. She gave a correct if sketchy version of the Granger murder and was surprised by a "working girl" who had been seeing Harris and seemed certain that Harris hadn't killed anyone because of Molly... the sheriff had shot Harris for no reason. Apparently Fochenflick hired a lot of twitchy people. 

Jake stopped by the mech repair shop looking for a water analysis kit and found one that might function again with some work and spare parts, then returned to his lodgings, where he had been dubbed Hammer Guy by the children. 

Se-No-Wote reported to Fochenflick, who didn't seem to want anyone killed, but did want the problem handled quietly, without Travers finding out. He did tell Se-No-Wote that they had checked the water on the Granger land and found nothing. Se-No-Wote did not receive an offer of a room.

To be Continued....

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

BESM - Palomino: Treasure of the Sierra Mecha 1

Our wandering heroes - Chance the gambler and terraformer, Jake the tinkerer and gunsmith, and Se-No-Wo-Te the displaced Native American - are settling into the town of Grace on the mining moon Palomino...

Chance spent a peaceful night at the Grand Salon in her well-appointed, sound-proof room. Between "Mama's" flashbacks, the wails of children, and the local hookers, Jake and Se-No-Wote's night at Mama Cassady's wasn't quite as quiet, but Se-No-Wote at least could sleep through the loudest thunderstorm or be awakened by the slightest rustle of a snake in the grass. 

A cock crowed, and a distant explosion signaled the start of day at Travers Canyon, and the three newcomers to Palomino got down to work. For Chance, this involved heading out on her own in Ladybird, surveying the territory she was going to be rearranging in the near future (with the aid of a giant robot and a lot of explosives). The extensive Granger land included a sizable amount of badlands and steep, rocky areas as well as already-usable grazing land. She went alone; Fochenflick had a number of range hands, household staff, and general do-this-guys (Jeb and Simon, who were out this morning cleaning up the Granger place), none of them likely to be useful. 

Jake started work on the staircase at Mama Cassady's, then headed out to the Granger place to start walking fences. The doctor's wagon was there to take away the bodies. Se-No-Wote ascertained that the Granger cattle had gotten out into the mecha landing field, some out into the canyon, and a few up into the badlands, then began using his mecha to round them up out of the landing zone. 

Chance had worked her way well up into the badlands when she picked up a seismic anomaly from higher up. From up here she could see the other two mecha far in the distance. Above, a glint of moving metal. Her radio wasn't working. Her mech climbed the side of the mesa to a shelf near the top and found a small camp there, and one man looking a little surprised to see her. A mine shaft descended into the mesa. Two drilling mechs the size of Se-No-Wote's were parked to one side. A man saw her, announced that Travers had found them! And one of the robots threw a satchel charge at her, causing her to slide back down the mountain to avoid it (they didn't detonate it).

The other two saw Chance in difficulty and headed in that direction. Jake discovered that the top of the mountain was being jammed electronically.

Chance & Se-No-Wote were on scene, Jake watching from a distance. The man (Lamont Fliess) claims he & the other two miners (Freddy and Eb, in the mecha) have an agreement with Granger. Chance gives him a ride on (not in) her mecha to Fochenflick's place. Se-No-Wote goes back to work, Jake maintains a distant surveillance, digs into Granger's records & found a Fred Dobbs noted as someone who'd come by ten weeks before with an "interesting proposition," no details. Kate wondered why the miner thought she was from Travers if he knew he was on Granger land. 

Se-No-Wote got all of the cattle out of the landing zone, alone but for the endlessly repeating signal from Lucky's shack. Meanwhile, Jake got the Granger fences working again at a minimal level and determined that the generator could be salvaged. The fences were fine, the computer had been the problem, and of course the computer was toast after yesterday's gunfight. It seemed that whatever the cause, things had begun going wrong about three months before. 

Se-No-Wote next turned his attention to the cattle that had wandered down into Travers Canyon (stealthily, since he wasn't supposed to be there). Mining was taking place on that wall of the canyon, about three klicks away; he could hear the drilling and explosions even at that distance. Outriders on horses stood watch on the walls. Se-No-Wote found four cattle quickly, climbed down from the mecha and coaxed them in the right direction. Back in the mecha, an indicator flashed that someone had done a sensor sweep of the area; not sure if he had been detected or not, he left the canyon. Keeping watch behind him, he saw something indistinct under a tarp being dragged in the direction from which he had come. Safe over the wall without being shot at, he still felt watched. There were probably more cattle down there; perhaps a night excursion would locate them.

Jake got a message from the two guys at the mining camp; they were curious about Fochenflick: what kind of man, how well he paid, whether he knew about the camp, how long Jake was planning to be in the area, whether he was planning to retire soon (not really). The attempted bribe fell flat; if they did have a deal with Granger, Jake saw no reason Fochenflick wouldn't uphold it, while it would be quite difficult at this point to pretend that the camp didn't exist.

Meanwhile, Chance had a similar conversation with Lamont, who asked her about Fochenflick, the Granger murder, and events in town. She was relieved when the house appeared on the horizon; the sparkling conversation was a bit much. She set Lamont on the porch. He was looking pretty rough. The housemaid asked him to stay on the porch while the boss was summoned. Drinks are served on the veranda while Chance explains the mining camp's layout and the initial encounter to Fochenflick. He guessed they stole the mining mechs from Travers. Chance elevated her estimation of their brass, and their stupidity. 

Lamont explained himself as well as he can—they were gold miners who had amassed about $130,000 worth so far, they had bought the mechs, they had an agreement with the Grangers that allowed them to keep working for three more months, and so forth—and presented his army discharge papers as identification. Kate offered the information Jake turned up as confirmation.

Fochenflick wanted to run the agreement past a lawyer, but was ambivalent about wanting to let the mining continue and hinted that he might want a substantial cut of what they had found. They should stop work until that had been determined. It was revealed that Granger had had debts he had been worried about.

To Be Continued....

Monday, February 19, 2024

BESM - Palomino: Falling into Grace 2

Our three wandering heroes - Chance the gambler, Se-No-Wo-Te the displaced indigene, and Jake the tinkering and gunsmith - have entered the town of Grace on the mining moon Palomino, and are setting in....

Jake talked to Mama, explained about the filters, had some oddly colored eggs pressed on him, saw the herd of children, and agreed to fix the upstairs cooling unit that evening. Then he went out to looking for work. There were the railyards, the shop near the mecha parking zone, and some places he could set up a shop of his own if he wanted to spend the time. He got some coffee, threw away the potentially bio-hazardous eggs, and started with the shop near the mecha lot.

The proprietor, Oliphilent Wilson – who, like Cassady, had the attenuated bone structure of one who grew up in low gravity only to be worn down by Palomino – informed him that the local sheriff wasn't big on independent mecha, seeing them as a potential threat to law & order. He directed Jake to Fochenflick, who had just acquired more land and needed some computer & mechanical work done on it, and of course there was Mr. Travers, who had a handful of mecha to keep in good repair. He also explained about the mecha lodging fee – free for six days, 500 for the seventh – designed to keep threats to law and order from sticking around too long. 

Kate saw Jake coming as the two Travers men who had been fleeced last night staggered out toward the train station. No sense, it seemed, taking money back into the canyon when everything was paid for. The newcomers had coffee and compared notes, agreeing that Fochenflick looked like a good prospect. Jake told her about the mech stabling fee, and they headed for the Fochenflick place. Kate dressed in a nice skirt and even unearthed a hat; Jake wore his usual jeans & flannel shirt with a cowboy hat. The house was a sumptuous three-story on the town’s outer ring. Out front was a big, four-armed mecha, with a pair of deputies lounging around it.

Inside were Fochenflick and Sheriff Bobbie Garner, who told them about the "lodging tax" which Fochenflick offered to cover if they worked for him. The rancher alluded to his scientific herd-handling practices, with the attendant need for level land and sensor towers. Hiring their mecha would be more efficient than Mr. Traver's fees. 

As the sheriff was leaving, one of Fochenflick's men, Harris, rode up to announce the Grangers murder by "some crazy redskin": the whole family shot several times. Jeb had been grabbed by the redskin, threatened, and hurled onto a rock. The deputies displayed a lack of critical thinking skills, Fochenflick announced that the Grangers were his partners and it was their land he was planning to modify, Kate & Jake collected their mecha, and all went to the Granger place, to which Se-No-Wo-Te had returned. Seeing his companion’s mechs, the Indian quietly summoned his own, making radio contact with Jake to explain recent events. 

Dwight & Mickey, the deputies in the mech, rescued Jeb, who was still languishing on top of his rock. Sheriff Garner & Harris went to the house. Jake shadowed them, noting the security – a proximity sensor doubtless designed to ignore anything cow-shaped. The system apparently had problems. A man, woman & two children were dead inside, face down.  Jake took the sheriff aside to relay Se-No-Wo-Te's version of the story, and that Jake had never seen the Indian carry a gun. 

Kate sat in her mech outside, surveying the area; Fochenflick's territory was enormous. She also chatted with the man himself, who had driven in his jeep (with only his oversized pistol as protection) and advised her to stay outside with him.

Garner left the house to call the suspect from his mecha, pulling Dwight from the mech to keep an eye on the range. Jake took a look at the house's computer/security system. It had been having trouble for a long time, though whether it was due to bad parts, incorrect installation, or just bad luck was indeterminate. Fuses went out all the time, the security system went down regularly, and the fences suffered. These were not cheap and it should work better than it had been.

Se-No-Wo-Te told Garner his story, and was convinced to come to the house to talk further, though he remained in his mecha. Fochenflick left what seemed like it might be a scene of violence, and suggested that Kate take a look at the property boundaries. She wandered off a bit to do so.

The sheriff & Se-No-Wo-Te faced off in their mechs, and then both climbed out to talk. Jake, alone in the house, sent the computer logs to his own mech for later analysis. Harris came into the house through the back door and tried to get Jake to leave. Harris seemed very twitchy. Meanwhile, Se-No-Wo-Te went over his story yet again, displaying his bullet graze while the sheriff took careful notes.

Harris called to the sheriff that "this crazy Injun's friend is messing with the bodies," much to Jake's astonishment. The sheriff left Dwight to watch the Indian and walked around the house. Kate, some distance away, could see him pulling out a radio once he was out of Se-No-Wo-Te’s sight. The police mecha, which unbeknownst to Se-No-Wo-Te was manned by Mickey, Garner's other deputy, who put its guns on line, took aim at Se-No-Wo-Te and proclaimed him under arrest. Se-No-Wo-Te jumped for the cover of the front porch and tried to break the door down, but it did not give way. 

Mickey’s itchy trigger finger disintegrated much of the front porch, but did not strike the agile Indian. The sheriff drew his gun and rounded the back of the house to see Harris draw on Jake, who dodged and, conscious of the sheriff’s nearness, did not draw his own gun. 

Mickey fired another chain gun onslaught, disintegrating more of the front of the house. Se-No-Wo-Te jumped onto the gun-arm, climbing the mech to stay out of range. Kate sprinted her mech back toward the scene and, trying not to make the situation any more complicated, brought the police mech to the ground with a tackle, fortunately not squishing Dwight or Se-No-Wo-Te. The Indian took cover in his mech.

Harris fired at Jake again, who rolled out of the way to better cover. Almost simultaneously, the sheriff fatally shot Harris, and then called off the deputies. With the situation suddenly dead calm, Kate let them up. Garner explained, much to Micky’s surprise, that Harris and the murdered Jeb Granger had a long-standing rivalry over Molly. Given Harris' behavior, he was willing to accept that Se-No-Wo-Te story, claimed no grudge against the Indian and arranged with Jake to have Harris' gun tested against the Granger’s wounds.

Kate went out to survey the land Fochenflick, as the Grangers' partner, probably now owned. A lot of their cattle seemed to have strayed, which might provide employment for Se-No-Wo-Te. A mesa-top view into Travers Canyon was available, revealing a model community: straight roads at right angles & prefab houses. Scaffolding on the canyon showed where the far side’s mines were  and Kate inferred similar structures beneath her. People moved around, loads were hauled, and the Granger land ran up to the canyon’s edge.

Survey finished, the trio went to see Fochenflick. He had a contract ready for Kate, suggesting an aggressive timetable. As project foreman she could hire staff, including the other mecha-equipped visitors. Fochenflick offered to cover their lodging on his lands; Kate decided to stay on at the Grand Salon, and Se-No-Wo-Te to get a room at Mama Cassady's.

There was a toast to the new business arrangement.


Strap one very rapid-firing four-millimeter Gauss gun to the back of a bear, slave it to a control system, and suddenly they don't like you anymore. - Tom

Nothing separates people from their money quite like opera! - Tom

Man does not change the world by faith alone; sometimes it requires a big robot. - my idea for Kate's business card

Chatter chatter, drop name of major NPC. - Rebecca. Could you at least put some effort into it! - me 

Emirikol: Introductions and Conspiracies

 You may have noticed that three adventures from February 5th weren’t in my seeding, and that’s because they are forming my introduction. First up is:

·       A Dark and Stormy Knight by Owen K.C Stevens, 2005: sheltering in a cave from a winter storm the PCs find that it is actually the crypt of a warrior from the last great war.

 As stated earlier, all of these adventures rely on huge contrivances or coincidences to work. In this case,

1)      There used to be humanoids here; their leaders were interred in a cairn in Hightower Tor.

2)      When the empire fought to recover the lands, the humanoids used the tor as a strong point.

3)      When the empire won, they placed a seal over the entrance rather than explore it.

4)      Recently a group of adventurers dug their way in from overhead and many/all died.

5)      Even more recently, a lightning bolt broke the seal, so the PCs can get in during another horrible storm.

6)      Conveniently, humanoids are breaking via the dug tunnel at the same time the PCs enter the cave!

By and large I like this one. It speaks not just to old times (the chaos beasts) but recent history (treasure hunters have been here) that hits the same beats as other parts of my setting, since I’m laying out some standard tropes in swashbuckling clothes. The PC learn from word one that there were once monster armies across the territory, and they left things behind, and that there are other people making a profit from. These are both core ideas to the campaign. Plus having other people trying and dying leaves corpses about to point out where traps are for proper OSR traps-as-puzzles configuration.


The coincidence is an issue, but we can work with it: the storms themselves are acts of the elemental deities. We already know from Mad God’s Key and House of Cards that there’s a chaos cult with a long-term plan for conquering Emirikol. Logically there should be people working ­against that plan who are not just the PCs. Since coastal storms are essential to this adventure I could go with Air or Water, but as we already have a water-based cleric  being the victim of slander by water-based monsters in Last of the Iron House I feel a below the surface war between the cult and the water church is a nice element.

Lets stop and define people:

·       The Cult of the Bleeding Tears are the bad guys, and while I’ll come up with more details later their emblem will be a skull with fists for eyes that are weeping blood. That’s creepy. Their main agents in Emirikol are a covey of hags – one from By the Wayside and one to replace the female sahaugin cleric in Last of the Iron House, plus a third as a utility player to be defined later – who make use of both pirates and assassins to disrupt the city, as well as other means to keep the politics fractured, like blackmail.

·       Church of the Endless Ocean are the good guys and just because this is a Dumas inspired game the local leaders are called Cardinals, and there are four of them – one for each direction. The Cardinal of the West these is a strategic thinker working to delay the Bleeding Tears while the others try wake up the Chaotic City’s bickering and obstinate polities to the threat. Due to the secret nature of this he only has one field agent (who has infiltrated the cult), Alejandro of Stormcliff Manor, an adversary/ally.

The Cults need things from the cairn – a book of rituals and the key that opens it – but Alejandro hired a crew of delvers and got to them first, even if they didn’t clear out the entire cairn. Alejandro destroyed the key but didn’t realize the book had been recovered – this sets up Mad God’s Key later – and is back tonight under the cover of the storm with the cultists to get the book (and steal it from them). That the storm is making it easy for the Pcs to intervene is an act of the water god. I am creating another two levels of the cairn that the delvers did explore but are now inaccessible due to a falling block trap, hence the small dungeon presented in the module.

Now, this is problematic from an OSR design sense: I am dropping the PCs into the middle of someone else’s long-term plot. However, the design of the campaign from the jump has been for the sort of PCs who would not shirk from this sort of urban conspiracies thing, but also because I am going to be able to seed the setting with so much, the PCs can just ignore it! Now, ignoring it might have consequences down the road, but that’s true in any D&D setting where the players learn about locations A, B and C, where B & C are not going to sit in stasis until the PCs get to them. The world grows and changes. Interlocking Dark and Stormy Knight with Mad God’s Key, Wreck Ashore, By the Wayside, and House of Cards means there are easily a half dozen points for the PCs to jump in and out of this sequence of events and disrupt it.

Now, do I expect the players in session 1 to sit in their broken carriage in the rain rather than explore the cairn? I do not. But I want to make sure that the PCs are not getting on Adventure Path that dictates everything to come.

Modifying the module is simple:

·       As stated, there’s a stone block that the PCs will see between rooms 2 and 4 that blocks any access to rooms 9-20 (which I will create if the Pcs decide they want to come back and get, but they will be able to learn that someone beat them to), which has one hand sticking out from under it. Ewwww.

·       Chaos beasts are mostly human-animal melding, so the hobgoblins in room 4 are big sneaky threats as Tiger-Men. There are several ropes there, at least one counter-weighted for Alejandro to make an exit.

·       Alejandro is searching room 8 while the PCs fight the Tiger-Men in room 4, and having determined that the book is not there is contemplating the other spaces; he will try to flee past the PCs rather than fight.

·       Since there are no corporeal undead the bugbear body doesn’t animate; the threat it did pose (being full of scorpions) was dealt with by the prior adventurers, one of whom lies months dead in the room.

·       The other rooms are as presented.

The other modification is that the PCs are not mere peasants staggering through the storm, but nobility (they may be broke but they are not poor!) travelling in a carriage from wherever they came from to the Chaotic City via the road that skirts the west edge of the mountain range before cutting east to Emirikol. Looking at that now it doesn’t make a lot of sense as a travel layout, but no one questioned it.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Lore 24 - Sudilitas: Citizenship

Feb 12: If residents approach the Ranks for... no, let me go back. As Residents, they have the rights to Protection, to Sustenance, to Shelter, and to Petition for Redress. But as citizens, we have the rights to Access, the right to Argument, the right to Alliances, and the right to Armament. These are "the four A's"

Feb 13: Nothing says that residents must petition for citizenship. Many don't. As long as they contribute when called and support the city they have the rights to much of what a sentient needs here. But for some, the call to serve, and by extension to command, is too great to ignore. 

Feb 14: Once you are granted, and accept, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, you gain access to the Government Counsel, including the ability to directly meet with the five member Organizing Body of the Counsel, who set the meeting agenda. You gain the right to make open arguments at the Government Counsel's meetings, including arguing for a vote on the membership of the Organizing Body. 

Feb 15: More importantly, you have the right to form alliances that, at least until a formal decision of the Government Counsel, will commit some of Sudilitas resources to other Comms - this is of enormous import. While the rights of access and argument are personal power, the right to alliance has a vast responsibility, misuse of which can strip you of your citizenship. 

Feb 16: Finally, and least important, is you have the right to armament: to be armed with modern weapons inside Sudilitas walls (and for military officers, gunpowder weapons),  and to access the arsenal for missions or endeavors outside the city. It is in this way that the weapons of the Ancients are distributed. 

Feb 17: Of course, there are paths to greatness that do not require citizenship. Each of the Alliances have ways to mark and reward their most effective or dedicated members (though of course the Ranks are most organized). Artisans are rewarded for their expertise. Large families can bring significant resources and influence. But despite the Capital Guild's efforts, there is no way to vast fortune and power without commitment to the community. 

Feb 18: This, I think, is why those of the Ranks that stayed did so. It wasn't cowardice for not wanting to march into the incipient civil war in the wake of our glorious emperor Napoleons' death. It wasn't entirely for person honor of being unwilling to abandon the community that the emperor had promised our protection. It is the need in all of us for a community... especially for the Moreaux and the Mutants who cannot create progeny. 

BESM - Palomino: Falling Into Grace 1

The transport from NeoWyoming had been five days on its way. Towards the front lay luxury compartments, with their real showers, housekeeping services, rare beverages & fine cuisine. Then the coach compartments, tightly packed with those hoping for a brighter future on a new world; the compartments would be dropped in toto on their destination. Then the cargo & fuel compartments and finally, far from the pampered opulence of first-class, three drifters shared a space with an assortment of impecunious travelers & their livestock, their mecha lashed to the sides of the module.

Kate "Chance" Shaughnessy, demolitions expert & poker player, traveled in style when she could afford it, which was rarely. Now she practiced making scarves appear & disappear from her sleeves. Se-No-Wo-Te, displaced indigene, had done some dirty work back on NeoWyoming, been well-paid for it, and then proclaimed a thief, barely escaping onto the next transport leaving the planet. He brooded on the white man's perfidy and whittled a stick down into a smaller stick. Jake Walters, traveling tinker & gunsmith, spent most of the trip mentally taking apart other people's mecha. The three hadn't hit it off well with the other travelers, who distrusted Se-No-Wo-Te on sight, disliked Kate after she'd won what little money they had, and considered Jake's collection of gun-related reading material & paraphernalia alarming.

Nearby drop points: Arabia (a desert moon populated by ethnically based communities), Palomino (a booming mining colony), Stallion (breeding ground for transplantable bio-engineered livestock) and Mustang (a barely terraformed hell).

On Palomino were Grace, a mining/ranching community, Pinto City, home of the outbound launch pad, the rail towns of North & South Junctions, and Palomino City: the moon's nominal capital, it lost the launch pad race to Pinto City and then had Travers Canyon near Grace suck in all the money and manpower, leaving Palomino itself almost a ghost city.

All three thought Grace a likely destination. They packed their gear, boarded their mecha, and dropped toward Grace's landing area, a cratered swathe of desert outside town. The picked over remnants of a failed mecha landing lay like bleached metallic bones in the sun. A radio beacon came from a daringly (okay, foolishly) close shack (Lucky's—Lucky himself has two cyberlimbs), advertising repair services, food, & liquids. The Grace beacon was about five klicks away.

Se-No-Wo-Te parked his mecha in the wild and walked toward the high desert to hunt, with a notable lack of success. He did find water, but it didn't smell right. Drinking from it were two underweight branded cattle, no doubt escaped from someone's ranch. He decided to return them, tracking their trail. He passed electronic fence-posts, apparently out of order. There were signs of a sizable number of cattle having been here, not the best grazing land but obviously owned. It was deep night when he located the dark ranch house, tied off the cattle, and bedded down on the porch until morning.

Kate & Jake turned their mecha toward Grace. Nice houses ringed the town, their ranges extending in wedges outward. Two of them seem to belong to the lawkeepers; one with a mecha. Then another ring of decent places, a cluster of gambling dens, red-light districts & others catering to those who’ve been in space too long, and finally the solid, moneyed center of town. There was a mecha parking lot (empty), with a nearby blacksmith and parts store. It lacked an hour to sunset; Jake & Kate both had enough money for a couple of nights of high living, or a couple of weeks of low.

Jake chose Mama Cassady's Boarding House, a former bordello manned by a colorful burnout case (and his passel of children) with an egg fixation who let him stay in exchange for doing much-needed repairs. He fixed the water filtration system to pay for the night; it looked like Cassady had a hard time remembering which filters he’d already used. Jake found one clean filter in the stack, fixed a pump, and did some other minor work on the system before going to bed. The night was disturbed by crying babies, hookers with clients, and what sounded like someone on a bad trip.

Kate opted to take advantage of luxury while she could, in the form of a three-room suite at the Grand Salon. Looking out the window, she could see the ground train that ran from Grace to Travers Canyon and to the farming communities beyond. There were a couple more boarding houses, and two taverns in the least savory parts of town. If she ran out of money, she could always sleep in Ladybird. Downstairs the place had a nice saloon with ten tables, a chandelier, a player piano (turned off at the moment, as a woman performed an a cappella aria). There were a couple of obvious regulars, some tradesmen, a huckster, families coming to dinner, and serious drinkers. She had a drink and chatted with the barman, learning that the main employer was Travers Canyon. Travers was an egalitarian; he would even hire women miners. Free room, board, schooling, etc. People coming out of the canyon seemed to have money to spend... and then they went right back. You just had to live by his rules. There were also ranchers that needed land cleared, and some bear problems.

She took her drink and joined a card game: Two ranchers, two rubes passing through from the western farmland, and two men heading to Travers Canyon. One of the ranchers was obviously used to winning (and wearing a very obvious gun); the other seemed to be in it for fun. The farmers were sensible. The Travers Canyon guys might as well be lighting their cash on fire. Kate won enough to pay the night's lodging, but the rancher with the gun—David Fochenflick, as he introduced himself—won quite a bit more. He was a gracious victor, and gave her a card.

With the sun up and no sign of anyone stirring, Se-No-Wo-Te knocked. The house was unresponsive. He checked around the back, but before he could do more than look in the door he was shot at by three riflemen riding in from out-country. Summoning his mecha drastically changed the odds, and two of his attackers ran off. He captured one, who accused him of killing the house's residents - the Granger family - and of stealing cattle. Se-No-Wo-Te left him on top of a tall rock, hid his powered-down mecha in the badlands, and headed back in towards the building to keep watch. 

To Be Continued 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

BESM - Palomino, a Mecha Space Western

Taking a break from the V&V Rules deep dive because I learned today that a 4th edition of Big Eyes, Small Mouth, the anime role playing system, came out in 2020. I was a fan of the 2nd edition, which I felt hit the sweet spot for genre emulation and mechanical crunch (and since I own it I won't be picking up 4th edition), but it got me reminscing of games gone by. So here's the first of two proper Anime games, Palomino, my Mecha Space Western. There are four things you have to accept in the setting:

  • First, there’s Micro-point Anti-Gravity: Its initial use eliminated joint stress and let versatile humanoid giant robots replace specialized industry & military vehicles. MPAG was found to be a viable space drive once out of a planet’s gravity well. This means that Mecha are common, can move around the system but can’t fly on worlds, relying on launching pad cities to get the ‘out of the well.’ A convenient way of making sure PCs can’t readily run away from a world’s problems. 
  • Second, other star systems were vastly more likely to contain star-sized gas giants with Titan-sized moons than Earthlike planets, but expensive terraforming tech made these moons habitable. This lets me have lots of settled worlds in a system with some flimsy scientific justification, as well as some true Earthlike worlds that are just more valuable real estate. I don’t expect the current campaign to leave this planet, never mind this system – but I think it’s neat. 
  • Third, the central governments terraform moons & seed suitable planets (no life has evolved off of Earth) and recoup the cost from generations of settlers via local governments. Worlds are too expensive for orbital bombardment or other WMD, so mecha are the prime military & industrial tools, everyone has an interest in order and pay lip service to human rights (bad records mean fewer settlers and less profit, so governments do step in if they notice). Settlers are lightly supplied: high tech industry costs money and is fragile. Most worlds have tech levels that mirror the late 19th century, with scattered high tech in the hands of the wealthy. Mecha are owned by law enforcement, heavy industry, and those lucky enough to own and maintain them. The current PCs all fall into the last group, having inherited, won or scavenged theirs. 
  • Fourth, prior to Micro-point Anti-Gravity there were a few ships of minorities who left to seed & settle the Earthlike worlds. These enclaves were later overrun by settlers with mecha and relocated to poorly-terraformed reservation moons. This wasn’t part of my plan, but when I floated ‘Mecha Space Western’ Dave settled on ‘displaced native' before I finished my background. He accepted no aliens, but stuck to his guns on the genre archetype. His PC quote? “Once my people had a way of living that was in tune with nature, and provided all we would ever need. Then a Mormon was elected president: he outlawed gambling, and we were forced to take to stars.” This is a little sillier than I had intended. 

Similarly, I had designed the setting for federal mecha-marshals enforcing the law on the wild rim moons. With Dave’s native & Bec’s gambler, it changed to mecha-owning drifters looking to the next horizon. Tom provided a mech-smith/tinkerer and it’s now reminiscent of Silverado: folks meet on the road, become friends and later allies against a town’s ne’er-do-wells. I worried about hooks, but they quickly took jobs with the chief ne’er-do-well.

The moon is Palomino, with a mining industry that led to several boom towns (a term also applied to communities with area set aside for mecha landings, due to the noise generated when they hit; often linked as fast-growing settlements need all the mecha they can get). It also has just come off a rail war which had the effect of turning the nominal capital, Palomino City, into a virtual ghost town as the other launch pad city is now better situated to get goods across the moon for export. 

The boom town is Grace, a rail stop riding on the success closest of nearby mining town Travers Canyon. The Canyon is a company town for Ned Travers, who provides food, shelter & education to workers as long as they live by his rule. Grace is a ranching community, with the original stakes quickly being consolidated by a few land barons. It is a place people both pass through and live in as rangers, shopkeepers or, ahem, entertainers for those passing through. 

Our story opens with Seh-No-Wo-Te, Kate ‘Chance’ O’Shaunnesy, and Jake Walters in the mecha-car of the Rim Line space train (which indeed has a row of cars, which are dropped onto the planet when needed. The last car is reserved for either the poor moving with no amenities or riders who bunk inside their mecha, which are attached to the sides via airlocks). Drawn together over the trek since the others in the cab being either inbred bigoted idiots or a family of insular Chinese mecha-riders who don’t speak English, they decide to drop onto Palomino together. Never hurts to have a couple of friends on a new moon as you shake the dust of a world into your vacuum scourged boots....

Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (Feb 16)

This week's reads

The Secret Pilgrim by John le Carré: Generally good as a review of the cold war espionage from the point of view of 1990. Less tightly written than the earlier stories in the Smiley sequence, as le Carré seems to be in the too famous to edit stage. The book isn't my favorite of what I've read of his because the lifetime review of our viewpoint character falls too much into the travails and sufferings of the midcentury white man (oh, he's having an affair with a younger woman; well at least it's not a grad student in his English program). And it's disingenuous to call it a Smiley book: even if it takes place in the same world, Smiley is the Greek Chorus of the book, but his commentary about the effects of the espionage war on the world are devastating and make it work reading. 

The Tomb of the Serpent Kings from skerples: This is a very good 'teaching dungeon' for the Old School craft; easy to get and strongly recommended as a tool for new DMs and or DMs playing with new groups. 

The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer: I picked this up because I enjoyed The Seven Percent Solution back in the 1980's, which was already 10 years old then. I wasn't aware there were 5 books in this series so far, and this in and the prior are very new entries (2019 and 2022, when the last was 1993 and the others in the 1970s). It was pleasant enough, but somewhat toothless, member of the "found historical document presented to the reader with editors footnotes"; while the Flashman books in this vein have the vicarious pleasure of watching a bastard get away with things/wanting to see him get the crap kicked out of him. Holmes and Watson are always on the right side of things, and the real people appearing feel a little too cute. 

If I'm so lukewarm on it why is it in book recommendations: because my library's copy had the best case of post publication copy editing. At two points in the document Watson references the adage that you can't make bricks without clay. And some prior reader of this book in my town crossed out the first 'clay' to correct it to 'straw'. For the second? Well

Not just the correction but the Bible verse for support! Now that is someone really annoyed with the author. Cracked me up. It's not my all time favorite comment someone wrote into a book, which is in my purchased used copy of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf where the student studying it had this one word + emoji annotation 

Villains and Vigilantes 1E by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman: I am sad to say that I haven't read this book in nearly 40 years; one of the older gamers in my town game group had a copy and used it for a few sessions to show the contrast between it and 2E. I finally ordered an e-copy and it is just fascinating as a game design artifact. Expect to see more of it later as I continue my New Salem work, but wow, is there a lot in here to digest on how the game changed between editions, and where parts of V&V were duplicated elsewhere even as V&V 2E abandoned them for better designs. 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report February 15: Marry Me Chicken

Another Week, and other recipe, and we're back to playing with chicken breasts in a skillet because it's a very simple go-to. This week its a riff on the internet classic Marry Me Chicken, which I threw together for the first time earlier this week to general acclaim. It's pretty damn simple, being just sautéing the chicken, making a sauce, and putting the chicken in it. I ended up serving it over couscous, with added fresh tomato in the sauce to have it double as the vegetable. 

Why, you ask? well, I found some other recipes for similar things that add kale into the sauce but a) I don't like kale and b) don't trust kale. We only ever use it chopped up in soups and stews, otherwise its ridged texture is too noticeable. Whereas the extra chopped fresh tomatoes add a nice hit of acid depth to the very savory baseline sauce, pair really well with the basil and the rest of the tomato flavor, and get you some veggies. 

Why pair with couscous? Because couscous is the student cooks best friend. It's the starch you can't mess up! Boil water. Add couscous and flavor packet from the box mix. Let sit. Fluff with fork. Tastes yummy, looks good, fills a hole on the plate, and is very versatile with the box you buy. 

Speaking of buying, the rest of the shopping list is pretty simple: garlic (and you should have that jar of diced or minced garlic already, use that...), Olive oil and kosher salt (you probably have both), some chicken broth and heavy cream (may already be in the fridge), a jar of sun dried tomatoes of which you'll be using about 1/3rd to 1/2 along with some of the oil, and some red pepper flakes, which are handy to have around. I also chucked in some fennel seeds because the recipe that used kale recommended them and I have those around... they added some nice pops of flavor. Finally fresh basil, which if you can find I heartily recommend over the dry. When you chop it up you'll smell it and ask yourself why you don't use basil more often. 

The recipe I linked to calls for pounding the chicken breasts down. I mean, you can...? Or you can cut them in half to get the right thickness. Or you can let the store do the work and buy chicken cutlets. If whatever you're cooking is less than 1/2 an inch thick (and cutlets usually are) cut the cooking time down to 2-3 minutes per side. You're still going to need to work in batches, so have a plate ready. 

Salt the chicken. Heat oil for a couple of minutes, add half the chicken, 2-3 minutes and flip, 2-3 minutes and put on plate, repeat for the other half of the chicken. The hard part is done. Yes, that was the hard part. 

Add a little of the oil from the sun dried tomatoes jar, heat that, and then toss in the garlic, the chopped sun dried tomatoes, and a smidge of red pepper flakes. 30 second later add the chopped fresh tomatoes and the tomato paste, keep stirring everything for 1-2 minutes. Then add the chicken stock and heavy cream, along with another hit of salt. Let it simmer (a very mild boil, just barely bubbling) for 4 minutes so it reduces and comes together. Add the chicken back in and cook for 4-7 minutes (4 will be enough if you're using cutlets). 

Serve over the couscous with sprinkles of chopped basil to a grateful family. This should only take a half hour, 45 minutes tops. 

If you have sauce left over but not chicken, buy a rotisserie chicken the next day, strip the skin off the chicken breasts, chop those off and put them in the leftover sauce to reheat. It's not AS GOOD, but it's still pretty damn good.