Monday, January 29, 2018

The Machineries Of Tarot

Fans of Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire series, which starts with Ninefox Gambit, might like to know that the author has created an online Tarot card spread generator based on the world of the SF series.  Hopefully, Yoon will one day publish a deck of cards.

In the meantime, you can generate spreads here.

Everway fans should enjoy this. Just don't become like these factions.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Azure Nebula Campaign II

Tonight was the fifth and final session of our Azure Nebula mini-campaign, so I can share the map I made for the adventure. The core of the nebula consists of a double layer of spacetime folds. It's quite mitochondrial really. Outside that double structure, the "dots" are a series of rather rude Klingon buoys warning ships away from this region of space.

You'll find the Azure Nebula in the Star Trek Adventures gamebook. It is right on the border of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and also rather proximate to the Romulan Empire. If you're looking for a place for a Triangle Campaign, the space just "Northeast" of the Azure Nebula should work just fine!

The Azure Nebula is also a rather storied region of space. Enter at your peril; there's no telling what you'll find!

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Azure Nebula Campaign

We're four sessions into an Original Series mini-campaign using Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures.  I asked the players in our Thursday night group for the opportunity to run a short campaign, because I'll be running two scenarios at Con of the North in February. I ran three one-shots of STA in the Fall of 2017, and want to stay fresh with the mechanics, since the system has a little crunch.

The crew of the Larson-class starship U.S.S. Argument is tasked with serving on a technical test bed starship with a rudimentary cloaking device. The cloak is a prototype derived from the Romulan cloak recovered by the U.S.S. Enterprise during the Original Series TV episode "The Enterprise Incident".

First session was devoted to character creation, along with ship design and detailing the captain, which was a group effort. Captain Rex Tillerson secured his assignment as captain of the U.S.S. Argument purely through political connections. He has little in the way of traditional Starfleet competencies (and behind his back, the crew snickeringly refer to him as "Wrecks Everything", although the Captain does have Orion syndicate connections, and is something of a collector of rare artifacts and taxidermized aliens.

The crew successfully launched their vessel from Starbase, but the Chief Engineer almost immediately discovered many problems with the vessel, including an unreliable cloaking device, plasma power system issues, and possible, nay, definite sabotage.

The crew's mission is to test the cloak, and to survey the Azure Nebula, which is a region of space immediately adjacent to the Klingon Neutral Zone. Officially, no Starfleet vessels have previously entered the Azure Nebula, so a survey will fill an obvious gap in Federation starcharts and increase Federation knowledge and intelligence about the Klingon border.

As you can probably tell from the photo above, thanks to STA, I am finally putting to use some of my ancient FASA Star Trek RPG resources, including the Klingon D-7 blueprints on the right hand side of the photo, as well as the Federation and Klingon starship books, and John M. Ford's excellent Klingons sourcebook.

As of last week's session, the players are really getting the hang of the system, and are developing insights into the the range of things players can do with Determination, Momentum, and Talents. For example, one player encourage his teammates to roll for a Difficulty 0 task as a way to build up their Momentum pool.

We have one more session next week, but this set of characters can be used for one off adventures whenever the players decide they want to play another session!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Star Trek Discovery

I've watched the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery at least three times each, and I am liking what I have seen so far.  Michelle Yeoh has just the right amount of swagger for a Starfleet Captain! (If you don't believe me just watch how she moves in the scene shown above!) I have really enjoyed her as Captain Philippa Georgiou, commanding the U.S.S. Shenzhou - which is a really sleek, beautiful starship. Yeoh's interactions with Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays human-raised-on-Vulcan, Commander Michael Burnham, have also been great to watch. They're the kind of heartfelt character interactions for which Star Trek has always been known.

Yes, the Klingons look very different from how we have seen them in both the Original Series and from the movies on-forward. And there's games we can play here. For example, looking at the new-old Klingons, it's not difficult to see the Remans' true origins revealed at last.

I also love the lateral transporter technology. We haven't seen that before, and now we know that it is much more wasteful of energy than vertical transporters. And we have a new mystery: the transporters we see on Enterprise are vertical, as are the ones in later periods with the exception of the Discovery, so why did the Federation move to lateral transporter technology in the Discovery era?

I love speculating about these things.

I'm so looking forward to the next episode tonight, and our first real look at the U.S.S. Discovery!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trouble on Triton

I'm a big fan of the SF&F of Samuel R. Delany, but Trouble on Triton is one of two books from his classic period that I haven't read - the other being Dhalgren. Actually, I did start Triton in high school, but its casual nudity in the workplace, and its men's co-op with a lecherous old gay man sitting naked in the living room playing wargames - well, that kind of freaked me out as a kid.

The society depicted in Triton is pretty clearly post-scarcity. I am racing through this book now, and it is very clear that it is one of Delany's best. Trouble on Triton belongs in any discussion of utopias/near utopias.

More on the novel once I finish the book!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

LGBTQ Genre Literature and Utopias

I prepared some notes for a friend who is hosting a panel on LGBTQ genre literature and utopias. These are just notes, so excuse the rambling tone. I'd invite comments on other LGBTQ utopias that people have encountered in SF&F.

First of all, I recommend this interview with Kim Stanley Robinson:

There’s a lot there to appreciate, including KSR's comments about Bogdanov

I was going to recommend KSR because for all intents and purposes, most of Aurora deals with a utopian society facing hard times. Unlike most generation ship stories, there is no hint of a command hierarchy. All decisions seem to be made by deliberation in communities across the ship. People who take care of the ship (such as the protagonist’s engineer mom) basically choose to do so on their own. They take responsibility for making the ship a better place – or at least one that continues to be habitable. I believe there is also an LGBTQ male couple: the pair of guys who adopt the kid on the autism spectrum.

Next, a couple of essays by China Mieville. Both relate to his contributions to Verso’s recent republication of Thomas Moore’s Utopia: and

The book also includes essays by Ursula LeGuin, whose novel The Dispossessed, is inarguably a utopian SF novel (no idea if there are any LGBTQ characters there). I confess I have at least one copy of it within 5 feet of my reading chair, and have started it once or twice, but I have always stopped fairly early on. I’m probably too sectarian; it’s the Marxist in me that gets very impatient with anarchist viewpoints. 

Joanna Russ’ novel The Female Man contains the world Whileaway, an explicitly feminist utopia where men no longer exist, women create families and reproduce parthenogenically (more or less; I believe tech is involved). It is at least implicitly a lesbian world. 

That’s about the only explicitly LGBTQ utopia that I have read, although I’d guess Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing also comes pretty close.

If you think about utopia as having to start somewhere, and specifically in a determinate set of social relations, then a lot of Samuel R. Delany is suddenly relevant. Way back in the early ‘60s, we had his spacers, freebirds who take what jobs they will (Nova, Babel-17), and gathering as a community of their own kind in the spaceports (or on pirate ships!), sporting living tattoos/biografts and having their own zero-G version of WWF. Implicitly (maybe explicitly, I should read Babel-17 again, I mean it’s been a year already!) free love is a given among spacers.

Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is even more interesting. Two interstellar cultures, both with human members, are spiraling toward apocalyptic war. The Family is a culture organized fairly conservatively along lines of blood and family as traditionally understood. In contrast, the culture known as The Sygn (I think that’s the spelling) organize into nurturestreams which are definitely NOT organized by traditional notions of family (indeed the one nurturestream we see involves humans and giant spider aliens cohabiting and caring for each other!). The novel itself is one man’s quest to find his (male) “perfect erotic object”. There is also a sort of utopia of knowledge in this setting, an interstellar “internet” called General Information (this novel emerged in the early ‘80s too, well before the internet as we know it emerged!). 

There is a bit of a trend these days in SF that is worthy of note, and Greg Johnson was the one who brought this up last year at Diversicon. People are starting to write novels/create worlds in which some basic social issues have been resolved, such as sexual orientation, gender oppression, gender identity, although in other respects these are not particularly nice worlds. Ann Lechie, Ada Palmer, and Yoon Ha Lee have all come up with extremely hierarchical cultures in their recent fiction. These cultures have either abolished/suppressed gender distinctions, or these no longer matter for all intents and purposes. In Yoon Ha Lee’s case, sexual orientation is also a total non-issue. None of these societies is a utopia, but their authors are obviously on to something. 

And then there’s all the dystopian SF of the last decade – both YA novels and for adult audiences.

One of my professors, Anibal Quijano, had a particularly telling take on utopias. Thomas Moore’s work came out of the European encounter with indigenous peoples in the new world. Europeans often saw the indigenous peoples as being less selfish, less violent, and as having more prosperous and abundant societies than European ones. As I’m writing this, the internet is all atwitter with the discovery of an Aztec skull tower in Mexico City, but there is no doubt that Tenochtitlan was a more populous, cleaner, better managed urban metropolis than any European cities of the same period - however much violence may have been exercised in the temple sacrifices. (And I’ve seen compelling arguments by others – I think Silvia Federici in Caliban and the Witch - that the level of human sacrifice in Central Mexico at the time of the conquest was less than the level of death in Europe from executions of criminals and the witch hunts.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dresden Files Accelerated

Yours truly, Alan, Eric, and Bob

This is what playtesters look like! Our Thursday night group was very happy to playtest Dresden Files Accelerated, and equally pleased to see it come out in print this week! The people pictured above, as well as Rachel, were part of the alpha playtest of the game.

Our playtest campaign involved Prince (who was still alive at the time, and a withdrawn but real supernatural power in the local scene), a battle in Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis, and two evil suburban realtors (a husband wife team - the guy a mortal sex maniac; the wife a vampire - who operated as a wholesome Christian business couple).

Dresden Files Accelerated will get some use at conventions and for mini-campaigns.