27 May

RHS Chelsea Show

So, RHS Chelsea is over and I wish I had been able to go. On the other hand the BBC provided truly excellent and comprehensive coverage. I drove Ann mad watching the hour long show every day, although often the next morning or late at night, but it was excellent in HD. So.. what did I like, well my favourite gardens were:

The Brontës’ Yorkshire Garden

The Brewin Dolphin Garden

Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden

The Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden

But in many ways it’s the themes, the visits to the Pavilion and the lovely range of flowers and plants that I find most appealing and that’s why next year I shall be going.


07 Mar

Outer Veil – Spica Publishing



OUTER VEIL  is a new setting book for the Traveller rpg published by Mongoose. Traveller has a pedigree going back to the very root of roleplaying (1977) and has a well developed setting that has emerged, somewhat organically, over the intervening decades. This setting, which is usually referred to as the Original Traveller Universe (OTU) is set very far in the future and has a very decentralised feel with a light feudal oligarchy ruling over it. It also has some anachronistic touches, and despite being millennia in the future it often feels oddly like 1972!

Spica Publishing, founded in July 2006, have published a wide range of support material for the current Mongoose edition of Traveller, and yet in the past they did have plans to publish an entire sector in the OTU. This seems to have been somewhat derailed by the new licence, although not by any active intervention by Mongoose or Mark Miller, and it seems that they have turned their hand to a new and independent setting.


OUTER VEIL is a near future setting, the game date is 2159, and yet mankind has explored a full sector, divided into the dense Core, the growing Frontier and the thinly settled Outer Veil. The pace of technological progress has been consistent and IMHO more acceptable for a SF genre project. From 2033 to 2159 Earth has moved from TL8 to just TL11, with Jump-1 ships developed in 2068, and Jump-2 in 2150. The history of the setting is well developed and addresses a lot of the usual issues about Traveller, e.g. Why doesn’t knowledge spread evenly and how can barbarism exist a week away from abundance and ultra technology? In OUTER VEIL the whole of space is nominally TL10-11, and if you have the money you can buy equipment at that level. ICT is cheap, pervasive and wireless, and as the text says “storage is effectively limitless with 22nd century technology”. That’s not to say that backward colonies don’t exist, indeed on the Veil some goods are imported in a lower tech form just so they’re easier to maintain. Gravitics is a new technology and although it has replaced aircraft, ground vehicles are still wheeled, tracked or waterborne. 

The history and the setup of OUTER VEIL has been done extremely well, so as to be believable, consistent with the core Traveller rulebook, and yet also to deliver a style and feel that is far more Firefly or Aliens than some SF games you may have played. Essentially space was colonised by Megacorps that seized political control through the Inter Stellar Trade Organisation (ISTO) after various corporate wars. Eventually the nation states rebelled and after a civil war established the Federated Nations of Humanity in 2131. The government structure of Humanity is rather similar to the present European Union, a ruling Executive of three members, an elected Assembly, and Commissions of civil servants that manage the broad decisions of the other two institutions. The wider structure of Member Nations and Colonies mirrors the colonisation of North America by the U.S.A., with Colonies similar in form and type to the Territories, and the Member Nations like full states. The Megacorps still run 60% of the economy, the FNH actively runs 25% with the balance in the hands of Independents. There is a wider variety of ‘actual’ governments the further away from the Core that one goes, and there are good rules on setting up new Colonies: indepedent, corporate charter world and government colonial projects. The political system is dominated by three broad coalitions: Stability (conservative), Progress (expansionist) and Unity (lefties), all of which can provide excellent flavour and motivation. In addition there are Secessionists, militant and peaceful; pirates, privateers and raiders, unsanctioned colonies and a whole grey zone in which dissidents and outcasts can dwell.

Military concerns are not pressing for the FNH at the moment, they keep a Core Navy, a Marines Corp (FNHMC) and planetary armies. Few warships above 1000 tonnes are seen in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, most smaller than that. Mercenary units exist and are licensed, and in the Frontier and Outer Veil illegal corporate wars still erupt. Meson guns haven’t been invented, combat armour isn’t known, and this and the small size of ships means that a referee need not use High Guard or Mercenary, although they could.. This is not a setting for huge naval battles or a Honor Harrington “ship of the line” style campaign. It is well suited to brush wars, black ops by corporate teams and possible bug hunts. I say possible, but not yet.

The economy is well explained in the setting, the role of the Megacorps allows for Outlander or Blade Runner games, but as the scale diminishes in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, then the Free and Subsidised Traders start to play a key role, allowing a Firefly or classic small scale mercantile/troubleshooter game. As mentioned above, the possibility to start colonies is covered, and colonial games have great potential for economic gaming. The nature of travel and the distances to HQ mean that even the largest Megacorps can get very entrepreneurial on the borders.

The culture is Neo-Modernist, most religions we know now are extant, although they have to have adopted an explanation for multiple worlds, and the evidence of alien intelligence, not to mention psionics. From the dense activity of the Core to the abandoned ‘land grab colonies’ composed of a single ethnicity or culture, most SF cultural diversity can be extrapolated and encompassed.

Did I mention aliens and psionics? Well there are no aliens, but there were. Ruins exist of the Monument Builders and the Ascraeus Civilisation, but these are ancients and no current non human sophonts have been encountered. The Ascraeuns were a TL13 humanoid species and through their artefacts humans discovered psionics, although it requires a psionic amplifying device to be effective.


OUTER VEIL is well written, it uses concise but rich text to build a good overview of what is a huge setting, and it does so in 8 key chapters:

  • The Outer Veil, which is a summary of the overall setting,
  • Outer Veil Characters, which provides eight careers suited to the setting:
    • Citizen,
    • Colonist,
    • Elite,
    • FNH Marine Corps,
    • FNH Navy,
    • Justice Commission,,
    • Planetary Army,
    • Scout,
  • Starships of the Outer Veil:
    • 14 ships that cover the full range of Traveller core ship types with deckplans,
  • Belting, as it says, mining rocks
  • Astrography:
    • The full sector, mapped and detailed at the level of about a page per sub sector, so similar to Mongoose sector write ups,
  • Referee’s Information:
  • Outer Veil Patrons: four of them,
  • Brotherhood and Justics:
    • An introductory adventure.


OUTER VEIL is a very good product. It is well written, the setting is meshed into and out of the core Traveller rulebook, and by being written from the ground up it is consistent, believable and allows for many excellent gaming opportunities. It will suit players who want an SF game that might happen in fifty years, where society has changed but the culture is recognisable and the tech is still within human comprehension. It allows for dystopian, corporate, colonisation, first contact (hey add your own aliens), and frontier games. There is no meta plot, no 300,000 year history, it’s new and it’s all up for grabs.

On the other hand, it’s Traveller. It carefully doesn’t break anything. You can grab a ship from a Mongoose book and as long as it’s TL11 or lower and doesn’t have a meson gun, it’s fine. You can use High Guard or Mercenary or Agent or Robots or Cybernetics. Nothing you have in your Traveller collection is redundant, well maybe that TL16 Twilight Sector book, but that’s the opposite end of the spectrum.

The book is simply laid out, readable, and illustrated with neat CGI images that fit the feel of the setting whilst not setting any hearts a flutter.

Should you buy it? Yes: if it sets your teeth on edge explaining away OTU’s tech levels and historical absurdity, or you don’t want aliens, or you want a new brave frontier. No: if your lOVe the OTU and are happy and love the depth and scale of all the existing material. Maybe: if you fancy a read, might port some of the ships and careers to your game or back to OTU, and since it doesn’t really break Traveller, just like the idea of diversity.

Am I pleased I have it? Hell Yes!

Outer Veil – Spica Publishing | DriveThruRPG.com http://bit.ly/zs5olW

24 Nov


I hate 300. I hate it with a passion that all my liberal friends find a little embarrassing and unreasonable. Well I am proud to say that David Brin hates it too, and I’d like you to read with me his blog. This is why I hate 300, I hate Sparta and I hate the adulation of a society that ranks along with the Nazis for sheer evil, but extended over a lot longer time.

Remember that next time you want to emulate the bastards in a rpg..

Roll over, Frank Miller: or why the Occupy Wall Street kids are better than #$%! Spartans

24 Nov

Ubuntu Unity 11.10

Well I installed a trial copy of Ubuntu 11.10 with Unity.

God it really is shit. It's like a moron's interpretation of iOS on a
PC, crippling the hardware with all the ergonomics of a fridge being
used as a car.

It's slow, the interface doesn't seem to actually work properly, there
are no maximise/minimise/close buttons at all, and the launcher is a
pale nod towards the Mac dock.

I tried it at work and the PC just seized up, it is an old P4, but on my
4Gb Duo Core 2.66 at home, it's just about slow, on a good run.


I suppose I had better install Gnome Shell and see if Gnome 3 is any better or I'm going to have to seriously reconsider.

Maybe I'll just go Mac wholly, at least that works, and yes I know it drives Richard mad but as a non coder it's fine.

Xubuntu is still good (that's what I went to on the work PC), and Thunar is almost Nautilus.. just need to fix Dropbox issues.

What a crappy end to a once great friendship.

07 Nov

Low Tech Local Traveller

There is a growing range of 3rd party Traveller that focuses in on a future that is a long way away but in a timeframe that seems more appropriate for the relatively low technology in the Traveller game.

There is Cthonian Stars, which is set in the Solar System in the near future, and has the usual Lovecraftian underlay that seems to be so mired in so many rpgs. It could be a good game and fun if you like that kind of thing, and even if you don’t like the Cthulthu stuff it may be a good source for a gritty game set in our system alone. Here

There is, of course the opus that is/was 2300AD, returning in Traveller format. This is a much wider setting with 32 worlds in 3 ‘Arms’ of space colonised by mankind, and has the opportunity for cyberpunk, interstellar war, and some ideas about biotech that were never fully developed in the last edition. Here

Far from the Home Worlds, the Far Avalon region was for many years an underdeveloped backwater. Now, it may be the only enclave of humans left in the universe. With the inexplicable failure of the Lubeck Conduit, the people of Far Avalon must find their own future. Some seek to build empires, some search for a way home, while others have less obvious plans.

Far Avalon is a region in turmoil, a place where a handful of daring individuals can make a distance. A new order may emerge, or chaos may descend. Perhaps some external threat is about to fall upon the people of Far Avalon… or it may be that the greatest danger comes from within.
Far Avalon is a complete science-fiction game setting created by Martin J Dougherty. It seems to be a system less setting in 3 books, and the last book is the “Traveller system” book. The author has a great rep. in Traveller circles, but this is perhaps the least “imminent” of all the settings. Here

From old friend Tim Bancroft’s Sceaptune Games comes Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty, forged between the star-faring species to prevent a galaxy-wide war. It had a simple aim: to prevent the deadly, interstellar conflict spiraling out of control. Its intent was more sinister – to constrain and leash the newest species in the galaxy: humanity. But the United Nations of Earth and the Core Worlds of humanity need to expand, need to find new planets to colonise. Resources remain scarce so the conflict still goes on, though in a different guise and monitoried by the ever-vigilant Invigilators, the sinister force set up to enforce the tenets of the Sirius Treaty. Players take the role of UNE Special Forces legionnaires tasked with troubleshooting, exploring new planets, seeking out vital resources and searching for Precursor artefacts. They have all the technology Earth can give them: cranial implants, library jacks, subdermal armour… and they are equipped with the finest swords, shields, bows and armour that the UNE can supply. Here


From SPICA, comes a game with a similar scale to 2300AD, but using core Traveller concepts, The Outer Veil: Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol. As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.
Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol.
As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.Here

So, a huge opportunity, games that are set in just the Solar System, a wholly new setting from Martin Dougherty, games that see mankind just setting out from Sol into galactic space, and one where Man has emerged and been contained by previously existing ancient space faring civilisations.

All very exciting, I have a strong wish to ‘boldly go’..

16 Sep

well another year starts

Yes. You heard me right. My year kinda starts in September. Not because the academic year does but because all my mainland European colleagues return from vacation, all the research projects fire up and everyone gets ready to write proposals for the EU FP7 transport deadline in December. So, my diary is now chock a block until Xmas and anything I didn’t do in my summer to do list probably won’t be done until the New Year. Weirdly as my intellectual mind speeds up I also start to want to play or run more rpgs, which is ironic given my availability falls away as well. I shall try and solve that this year with using Skype to run a Traveller game, but I need players and they all seem very busy too.
Our house sale fell through, so I suspect we are not moving to Tyne and Wear until 2012, and that the nice house we found in Gateshead is lost to us. I shall miss not being in the same city as Matthew, and the extra travel to manage my research team is not welcome.
Our eldest son has deployed to Afghanistan again. Third tour. First as infantry, second as a pilot, third as infantry again. Wish him luck. Our youngest is doing a “teaching English to speakers of other languages” course and loving the intensive work. Then he has his final year of his Philosophy degree to complete.
Ann is great and apart from a bad foot is healthy. I am fat but content at work and very happy in my home life.
So.. Happy New Year!

Posted via LiveJournal app for Android.

29 Jul

Long Live Mordor

Let’s take the viewpoint that LoTR is a rose tinted piece of propaganda for a romatic view of pre industrial Britain that ignores the inequities and squalor of real life. That’s what Kiril Yeskov did with his book, The Last Ringbearer, reviewed by Laura Miller on salon.com:

In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”

The protagonist of “The Last Ringbearer” is a field medic from Umbar (a southern land), who is ably assisted by an Orocuen — that is, orc — scout, who is not a demonic creature like the orcs in “The Lord of the Rings,” but an ordinary man. They’re given the task of destroying a mirror in the elf stronghold of Lorien before the elves can further use it to infect Middle-earth with their alien magic. Meanwhile, the remnants of Mordor’s civilization fight a rear-guard guerrilla campaign to sustain the “green shoots of reason and progress,” in opposition to the “static” and “tidy” pseudo-paradise of Middle-earth under the elven regime.

The translator Markov has a less literary and more interesting explanation, just as likely to appeal to gamers, methinks:

More than 15 years ago Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov tried to settle certain geographical problems in Tolkien’s fantasy world. One thing led to another, and he tackled a bigger project – what if we assumed that it’s no less real than our world? His conclusion was that in such a case, the story of the Ring of Power is most likely a much-altered heroic retelling of a major war – but what was that war really about?

It’s free online and I am downloading it to the Kindle now..
Russian version here.

20 Jul

Song of Blades and Heroes

song of blades and heroes cover
It seems I have found my favourite skirmish wargame! I have always enjoyed wargaming, and have played and enjoyed a lot of Hordes of the Things [HOTT], a fantasy wargame at the unit level, playable in 45-60 minutes on a small table. Enjoyed, but never loved, it always has the touch of a boardgame to me, and the rules never seem to stick in my mind, even after twenty years I struggle to remember just how they work.
So I am delighted to say I have found my game, Song of Blades and Heroes, a skirmish game with the speed and ease of HOTT, but at a skirmish level and with rules that I was able to master and memorise in about an hour, including a battle. As the publisher says:

Song of Blades and Heroes is an exciting set of fast play fantasy rules that can be played with your existing miniatures.
EASY: simple rules that you learn in one game;
EASY MEASURING: no counting inches or centimeters: SBH uses three measuring sticks to measure all distances;
FAST: A game lasts 30-45 minutes. Play a mini campaign in a single evening;
INEXPENSIVE:5-10 models per player are needed;
CONVENIENT: a 2’x 2’ play area is enough. Bring all your armies in a shoebox!
MULTI-SCALE: any single based miniature, in any scale;
HEX-FRIENDLY: play on hex grids if you prefer;
NO WEIRD DICE: standard six-sided dice only;
READY TO PLAY: 180+ monsters and heroes included, and you can create your own!
CAMPAIGN RULES: your warband grows more powerful after every battle;
Six scenarios included.

Matthew and I sat down, read the rules in about 20 minutes each and played battle after battle for two days more or less solid. Best five pounds I’ve spent in a while and we’ve made more use of my disparate collection of 28 mm minis that I have in decades.

The rules are simple at the core, with a great activation system that balances troop Quality with risk when activating, and then a series of attributes that troops have which amend or adjust the core rules. As Wikpedia says: “Song of Blades and Heroes uses three six-sided dice per player to determine the outcome of a characters actions. Each character utilizes basic statistic points, Quality, Combat and Special Abilities. Points refer to how many points it costs to use the character within the game. Quality statistic is used to roll against for actions. Combat is the statistic you add to a six-sided dice roll when performing a Melee or Ranged Combat. Special Abilities cover any Special Abilities that the character may have. Players take alternate turns in activating models from their warbands. The miniature’s are activated one at a time. The player can choose to roll one, two or three dice versus the mminiature’s Quality. A successful roll entitles the player to make an action, such as an attack or a move. If two or more failures are rolled, play will then pass to the opponent.” The publisher is quite honest when they say there is no book keeping in play, and you can either use the army lists in the rulebook or there is an online troop builder to point build your own troop types. The aithor is Italian and there are several language versions of the rules available.

The feel is very ‘fantasy’ and one can easily imagine the battles as congruent with Tolkien or Moorcock, or D&D or Runequest. The granularity is low, so you have to accept that a dragon is a shooter just as a goblin archer, and that all mages behave the same, but the ‘chrome’ comes either in your mind or from the minis you use. There are also several expansion books, and variant games, of which Song of Gold and Darkness which includes new magic using types, and dungeon rules or Song of Wind and Water which brings the forces of Nature to the game. I have SGD so expect a new review soon.

Great fun, now for an expansion or two and then stat up some of my Gwenthia armies and start doing some wargaming in my own world. Oh, and I could do with some more scenery.. better ask Rich how to make some rivers and woods.

From Songs of Blades and Heroes
From Songs of Blades and Heroes

Gallery of our numerous battles.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

17 Jul

RuneQuest 6 is announced, new life breathed into Gwenthia

Peter Nash and Loz Whitaker, the people I’d trust most with RQ, are to publish RQ6!

Its with great pleasure and excitement that I’m able to announce that The Design Mechanism, the new company formed by myself and Pete Nash, has successfully reached an agreement with Issaries Inc to become the new licensee for RuneQuest.

The full Press Release can be found on the RuneQuest page at www.thedesignmechanism.com along with a detailed Q&A sheet for those who want to know more about what we have in store for RQ.

Greg Stafford, Issaries President, had this to say on the agreement: “RuneQuest is an old, highly respected brand that requires creativity, dedication and knowledge of the product. I know that Loz and Pete have that, plus enthusiasm and professionalism that will keep up the reputation and good name. I am pleased.”

Clearly its early days for both Design Mechanism and RuneQuest’s 6th edition but we have exciting plans for the game building on the work Pete and I have already done with Mongoose’s RuneQuest II and we look forward to sharing them with the roleplaying community as we develop the new rules.


Pete and Loz essentially rewrote Mongoose RQ I (the 4th edition of RQ) and fixed and mended and made it whole again in MRQ II (the 5th edition). Then Mongoose decided it wasn’t working for them commercially and have let the licence go and so Loz and Pete have formed a company (yes using the name we used for the Gwenthia development, they did ask and we all said “yes”. Combined with a deal with Moon Design, who now do all Glorantha publishing and the rights to publish a wide range of Glorantha material, for example 2nd Age Glorantha (the period Mongoose did) and 3rd Age Glorantha (the original period published by Chaosium in the olden days), plus I suspect that since Moon Design publish HeroQuest materials for Glorantha, we’ll see dual statted products in the future so you can choose a strong semi-simulationist rules based rpg if you want or a very loose narrativist one, or switch between them and use the same source materials with no work.

Pete and Loz were part of the team that developed and wrote Gwenthia, and indeed had started to do d100 rulesystem work before the project stopped in a mix of my illness at the time, disagreement about rule systems, the lack of will to manage the conversion to a commercial project from me, and the simple fact that we’d had a lot of fun and we all had lives. Loz has said clearly that Gwenthia will probably have a role in RQ6 and I for one would be delighted if that could be the case, with Loz and Pete clearly in the driving seat commercially and management wise.

So.. a portentous day.. I can’t wait to buy the new edition and start statting up my AurUrbis religions and running some Gwenthia with the new ruleset. Now.. given that the new ruleset will probably be very close to the previous edition, I may set myself the task of some cult write-ups this summer as a bit of solo mind relief from work.

Having also fallen in love with Songs of Blades and Heroes as a skirmish wargame ruleset I am starting to look for minis that I can do Gwenthian skirmish games with, first step has to be to find masked minis for the Zhari of Mull..

11 Jun

Message to my Sons

Gather round the fire children, no not quite that close you’ll burn your toes, and I shall tell you the tales of the Wandering Tom, doomed to forver wander Europe in the search of his elusive goal, Regular EU funding..

This week our hero, or anti-hero, or aging fatman, set out on the rails with his beautful and intelligent sidekick Ann, and travelled on Sunday the 30th to the ancient and wonderous city of Londinium, where they resided at the Hotel of Indigo near the lair of Paddington Bear. Having been fed well by the gay Greek waiter Ibrachim they slept until our Tom had to rise at 5pm and ride the early metal snake known as ‘Eurostar’ to the city of all gold and sprouts.. Brussels.

Here he attended a very dull research advisory council meeting and tried to seed 2 topics into the EC’s research programme for 2012, before taking the very fast ‘Star back to London and a fish and chip supper before watching the occult physician Doc Martin on the goggling box.

It was now Tuesday of the week, and a meeting with Belgians and Brits was held at the offices of the people wot run the freight service thru the Chunnel. Much jollity ensued in which our laudable lord and his minions reported on Frenchie ideas to use TGVs to carry freight from London to Paris.

Thus was the Western European leg ended, and Tom and his loyal aide Ann boarded a flying eagle and flew to the ancient land of Thrace, Macedonia and indeed Bulgaria. In the city named after wisdom, Sofia, he met with many short funny dwarfs who all smoked like chimneys, and made long endless speeches about nothing, and yet in the end proved to be very warm and welcoming in their small but perfectly formed Railway University, which used to be a military school until demilitarised in 2000.

Sadly by now our hero had succumbed to a fierce cold, and had to spend a lot of time drinking the magic potion Lemsip and blowing in the tissues of snot, before starting to feel better and writing the most exciting story of adventure of derring do to his beloved sons in far off lands.