Microscope

Tonight I played my first proper, in-person game of Microscope, an awesome history building game from Lame Mage. The idea is to use it to develop the setting for a future campaign but we have yet to see whether that’ll pan out.

I don’t have the notes from the session so I can’t yet post up the history, but I can give a brief summary of highlights.

The overall theme was the last of humanity returning home and if I recall we started with the last generation ship waking up and ended on humanity settling down. We also ended up with a very hard sci-fi setting due to our palette banning FTL and bullshit magical hand-wavy energy weapons and force fields.

Over the course of the history, we ended up with a decidedly dark tone. Early in the time line it turned out a single man was responsible for 75% of the ships population bring euthanised. We had mass extinctions of intelligent races, wars, the destruction of old earth, the search for old earth, settling a planet, rediscovering lost technology, assassination conspiracies and I reckon a good deal more is in order before we want to stop developing the time line.

All in all it was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to both developing the time line further and playing in the setting we’ve created.

Return to the Ninth World

After a very long hiatus due to Christmas, conflicting schedules and other issues, my The Strange/Numenera hybrid game had another session last night.

The team, having debriefed from their last mission, were approved to return back to the Ninth World recursion as the research team were very eager to discover more about this dense apposite gate cluster they had found. Translating back in, the players arrived where they left – the prison portal room, but in the intervening time the earthquake the had translated away from seemed to have left it’s mark, caving in much of the room and blocking the convention exit. With some luck, they could crawl out through a hole in the ceiling but Bhaltair, ever the strange one, entered the portal immediately and the others soon followed.

The group found themselves on a small platform coated with grime and gore, suspended in a huge, grey void. Crimson lights twinkled in and out of existence in the far distance except in one direction where there seemed to be a dark black sphere hanging in the grey expanse. From their platform, a beam of metal stretched out towards the sphere in the distance and they could also observe other platforms suspended in the air. There seemed to be no floor, so they feared falling into the abyss.

Stretching and straining to see if they could spot anything of interest, Selena slipped on the gore-encrusted platform and fell into space, pulling Asher with her as her tried to save her. Instead of plummeting to their doom, they found that once they had fell a few feet away gravity no longer applied and they were left floating in space. Mafini used his jetpack cypher to help them whilst Bhaltair, fascinated with the area examined the gore, and finding nothing of interest, explored down the beam towards the sphere. With the others in tow, Mafini decided to show off his new jetpack, flying after Bhaltair and spiraling around the beam. However, his lack of skill as piloting jetpacks, let alone in a zero-gravity environment, sent him hurtling off and he crashed into another platform, knocking two figures off and sending them flying into space. The recovered them, only to find one of them was long dead. The man looked malnourished and was more than a little crazy, claiming they were trapped in hell and that he was trying to find a way out for himself and his wife, who was sleeping.

They got very little information out of him but Selena, using her power of sight confirmed some of his babblings – the lights they saw far off were apposite gates, but they seemed dangerously unstable, opening and closing at random for a split second and generating dangerous energy.

Whilst they continued to question the old man, Mafini travelled past Bhaltair to explore the beam and incurred the wrath of a swarm of giant moths with sharp, scissor-like mandibles. With quick thinking he used is powers of illusion and Spinner trickery to convince the moths he was one of them, but by this time Bhaltair had caught up and they attacked him instead. A fight ensued and the moths were quickly dispatched.

Bhaltair used his biomorph cypher to induce a permanent mutation, but rather than use a mutation, we used something else from a new Numenera supplement I’m working on. This caused one of his arms to be replaced with an organic chainsaw. He later was given another biomorph injector by Mafini which made him turn translucent in direct sunlight.

Eventually everyone grouped together and they continued down the beam. Nearing the sphere, it was clear they were walking towards the surface of a planet and from their vantage point perpendicular to the surface they could see various settlements and strange pits in the surface of the black and barren world. As they came close to the surface, the gravity abruptly switched and they fell to the ground, luckily avoiding too much damage, Mafini landing safely using his jetpack.

The group decide to investigate a nearby settlement, and find it inhabited by terribly deformed mutants. Bhaltair and Mafini, using his illusions, approach and the situation rapidly devolves into a battle involving the two guards and their summoned leader, an immense, foul blob of a man with a huge axe. A chainsaw suppository and a rocket powered spear later, the group make short work of them. The camp they were trying to enter is little more than a collection of filth and ruin, full of a rabble of deformed mutants, clearly cannibals, based on the remains strewn about. A girl is trapped in a cage, but she runs when released. One of the mutants, one that seems much less deformed than the others, begs to come with the newcomers, telling them he can be useful, that he looks so normal because he is a runner, one of the few that can explore the mazes below the surface and come back to tell the tale with strange foods and animals that seem to appear there.

After some discussion, the group decide that exploring the maze is their best bet of finding their way out of this place.

Barely coherent ramblings on 2014 and beyond

It’s hard to really review 2014 because I barely remember any of it, not because of some drug or alcohol fueled binge but just my poor memory and a general lack of anything memorable.

I can’t really think of any major achievements or failures for the last year or any big changes. Life has basically been the same old same old. This isn’t a bad thing though and it isn’t a complaint, just an observation.

Slowly making an effort to do more writing, mostly games writing, and I’m cautiously optimistic about it. I’m never going to be the next Monte Cooke or anything but it’s nice to see my work out there and in print.

Money isn’t too much of an issue but I’m still stuck in a place where is really difficult to change my circumstances in that regard. Too many burdens with too many conditions upon change requiring too much risk or sacrifice. I could just jump in and damn the consequences, but it’s not just my life that effects.

Reached that point in life where friends and family are all having children. I don’t see me joining them any time soon for a number of reasons. It’s nice to see them happy and making families of their own though.

I’m having my usual end of year depression. So high a concentration of celebrations and socially obligated cheer generally puts me in a bad mood for what would otherwise be a nice holiday. It’s hard not to think of the future as anything other than an abyss. I’ve already fallen in, as have we all, best we can do is enjoy the fall.

Poetic melodramatics aside, I do have hope for the new year. I have the power to instigate change if I want to, despite any obstacles. All problems can be overcome with enough effort. One of those problems I need to deal with is complacency. I’ve always considered myself to be content, but really it’s more apathy than anything else. I’ve become complacent and uncaring and those are the biggest obstacles to achieving anything, far larger than anything external to myself. Once again, I find myself looking inwards, ever the introvert.

I need to improve my health, likely to blame for many of my issues either directly or indirectly. Over the last six years or so I’ve just become a barely mobile lump and that needs to change. Even with my memory, I can feel the difference between who I am now and who I was 6 years ago. I can feel myself dying and despite how little I care for this world is rather stay in it a bit longer, at least long enough to have a chance at changing my attitude before my corpse scorches the earth with its acid bitterness.

I feel ridiculous and find this whole post so far greatly amusing. The semi-depressed musings and overly dramatic introspection are as much jokes as they are real. Hilarious, or hysteria? A question I find myself asking ask too frequently.

I have a strange relationship with sadness, it’s one of the few emotions I enjoy. Unlike happiness which always seems nebulous, fleeting and hard to remember, sadness sticks around, leaves a mark and generally gives you more bang for your buck, so to speak. I genuinely find sadness both satisfying and entertaining, at least my own or that created in fiction. I’d not wish it on others and besides, it’s a very personal thing, sadness, I doubt other’s own brands really elicit the same response in them as mine does in me.

Is this all the work of a persona, or is it really me? Is there a difference? When observing myself through introspection is hard not to feel like the third person narrator to the character in the story. Maybe it’s that sense of disconnection that makes many things harder, easier and just plain odd.

Anyway, barely coherent stream of consciousness over.

Happy New Year.

The Strange: The Estate

After leaving the Ninth World in our last session, our group of adventurers emerge into a translation room at The Estate to be confronted by armed guards, alarms klaxons ringing and lights flashing.

“Unauthorised translation in the gate room!”

Eventually, after a debrief, Asher and Mafini are given leave to do as they will, whilst Bhaltair is questioned a bit further, given he is not actually the original (and in his new form looks disturbingly generic, having been unable to settle on one look, ended up an amalgamation of all possible ones, with his blue crystal cypher effect manifesting on Earth similarly to Epidermodysplasia verruciformis). After a month of recuperation, the trio are sent off on an assignment, what their supervising officer hopes will be a simple one for the PR department – investigate some weirdness at a Minnesota high-school science fair and make contact under the auspices of the Morrison Fellowship Prize. Serena is still MIA, her clone somehow trapped between worlds and lost in The Strange, though it is hoped her original is still safe in the Ninth World Research Recursion.

Sent off to Minnesota, the trio investigate. Mafini visits the house whilst Bhaltair and Asher go to the school. Mafini, after some bungling, discovers the person of interests mother tied up in the basement but isn’t equipped to help, so leaves her and rendezvous with the others back at the school, who in the meantime have learned that Gwen certainly has developed something far beyond what, well, anyone on Earth should normally be able to develop, certainly not a child in high-school. Her mother is super-protective, overly so, and seems to be dead inside, like a machine more than a mother.

The team notice some OSR agents are also there, interested in the girl, so Mafini, using his fame as a magician to good effect, distracts one and manages to sleight-of-hand his gun away. Eventually the team leave, ready for the official appointment with Gwen and her mother, though they are not sure what to expect given what Mafini discovered in the basement.

An interview at Gwens house soon goes south and her mother attacks, but the team quickly dispatch her. It’s soon apparent, if it wasn’t already, that Gwen is quickened and has somehow tapped into her abilities to give her tremendous scientific skill. She built her ‘replacement’ mother as a helper, but it went wrong, becoming over-protective and eliminating anything that came between her and her daughter – even the real mother. Using the abilities of her daughter to create a powerful energy conversion system, she was using the original mother as a power source and had captured two OSR agents (because they couldn’t defend themselves due to one having his gun stolen…) to serve as backups.

The team tried to erase the agents memories, but failed, electrocuting them instead. They eventually headed off, dropping off the mother at a hospital and taking the girl into custody to receive counselling and treatment for her trauma. They also returned to The Estate with several new cyphers.

Numenera/Strange: Maws the Merrier

Continuing on from our last session, and absent the player of Bhaltair Rook, the characters carried on fleeing the village where they had caused so much trouble on the backs of their stolen Ithsyn. As they fled, they spotted a large, grey structure in the distance, a dull metal monolith. Getting closer, they passed a series of natural-looking stone pillars when suddenly the ground began to tremble. Earthquake!

Luckily, the tremors subsided quickly, but it was enough to send on of the Ithsyn into a panic and it ran, emitting its natural gaseous defence mechanism which addled the brains of Mafini who was riding it. Meanwhile, the others retained control of their beasts and examined the pillars, which after the tremors were revealed to have metal poles underneath carved in strange, red symbols that glowed and pulsed ever so faintly. Selena looked around, using her sight beyond sight to look for clues and saw that this monolith seemed to be at the centre of a vortex of ultra-dimensional energies – and Mafini on his panicked beast was heading right for it! Translating the glyphs, it seemed to be about some kind of warning to beware some kind of energy and they decided to stay back rather than chase after their comrade.

Whilst this was happening, Mafini saw that the monolith had an entrance and that two guards, dressed in garb similar to the guards from the village, were handling a small group of prisoners. He was spotted hurtling towards them and waved at to come over, but not in control, Mafini deliberately fell from the beast, and spun a tale, identifying himself as from the village and using the Ithsyn gas as a cover to explain why he didn’t know much about this place or why he was here. Convinced, it was explained that these prisoners were to be given to the Maw for judgement for their crimes. Mafini explained he was guiding some travellers to Charmonde and was just passing through and went back to his group to explain the state of affairs.

They felt that this ‘kangaroo court’ of hurling people to their deaths in this ‘Maw’ was no kind of justice and so they decided to help free the captives. They plan was to charge them on their Ithsyn and for Mafini to use illusions into helping confuse and and disarm them. However, Selenas Ithsyn panicked and she found herself hurtling towards the Maw on the back of the green-gas-farting bird creature, confused by the gases effects. The others leaped into action, chasing after her and Bhaltair, extremely interested in this ‘Maw’ zoomed again, running over a guard and diving towards it to better examine the thing. Eventually, the battle came to a close, after a lot of gas-induced confusion, shattered chains and illusory cobras. Interrogating the one remaining prisoner, the other having fled, they learned, despite him attempting to lie, that he was sentenced to judgement by the maw for raping a woman. So he didn’t leave unpunished, Asher cut his face, marking him forever with two scars down his cheeks and sent him on his way, providing mercy from the fate of the Maw.

Meanwhile, Bhaltair was frantically examining the strange vibrating sphere of void that was the Maw. Excited, he babbled about it being some kind of gateway, but the characters worked out it was neither and translation or apposite gate, but just a space-time warp, though quite how that worked in the context of a recursion was unknown. Bhaltair also got the sense that there were a great many apposite gates within the place beyond the portal, based on his examinations and on Selenas account after she peered into the void with her sight beyond sight and saw strange lights, metals disks and beams stretching off into darkness.

After some debate, they eventually decided to try and translate back to Earth, even though this Selena and Bhaltair were not natives to the Earth recursion and there may be some trouble. As they began translating, the earthquake started up again, but they were already in their new selves on Earth before they had time to react to anything that may have been happening in the monolith.

We ended the session there, since Selenas player was ill, I was quite tired and we were missing Bhaltairs player and next session, we’ll decide on what new Foci each of them have and what form Selena and Bhaltair choose to take.

Book Review: AngularJS Services

I’m quite new to AngularJS, having never really used it for much of anything and having barely made it through the tutorials. However, I find the general philosophy of it very interesting and what I do know about it sits very well with me. I definitely want to know more, so when I was offered a copy of AngularJS Services by PacktPub to review, I was happy to give it a read.

To start off with, the book explains it’s not for beginners, but for developers with at least a basic understanding of AngularJS. However, I found that as I progressed through the book, my existing experience in programming and other Javascript frameworks gave me enough of a grounding to understand what was going on, as each chapter is well written and explains each concept well.

Starting off first with an explanation of just what services are and covering the basics of MVC and how services integrate into that architecture, the book immediately starts off with some good tips on best practices, which while not in-depth, give beginners like me with experience elsewhere a lot of useful pointers.

The book then rapidly goes into the design process of creating services, again bringing up several best practices which will serve you well in general, as well as specifically for developing service code. Again, this is all very useful even for beginners, despite the book stating earlier that it is aimed at a slightly more experienced developer.

I think I might prefer that the book either fully embrace catering to one or the other, than dedicate almost two chapters of fairly generic development best practices and little to no information about basic AngularJS knowledge itself, but I guess it would then either be a much larger ‘Learning AngularJS’ book, or a much smaller book that would be less useful for intermediate and fledgeling AngularJS developers that don’t have a lot of ‘best practice’ experience and knowledge yet.

In much the same vein as before, the next chapter deals with testing, giving a very brief overview of using Jasmine to do BDD-flavoured tests, which a few examples. It doesn’t go into any of the setup of Jasmine itself , but does give some useful, service-orientated examples of using Jasmine’s mocking capabilities to help make service tests less brittle.

The next four chapters actually cover a range of examples of writing service and using a number of AngularJS features to make highly flexible, decoupled code that can handle a number of tasks, from OAuth, to external CRUD data management, to Google API integrations and business logic tasks.

Throughout the book, the event messaging pub/sub model is heavily endorsed and used to great effect, the code and accompanying text explaining it’s benefits and how using it really makes the app a lot easier to maintain. Even if you cared nothing for AngularJS or services in it, the coverage and examples of using a pub/sub model to decouple and simplify application code here is excellent and makes the book worth it almost by itself.

While the book skims over the code fairly quickly, the code files for it are available so you can see everything in action.

All in all, it’s not a bad book. In all honesty, I think it split its focus too much and should have focused more of its efforts on covering the actual coding of services and more in-depth examples of building them over all of the best practice material because as it is, it feels a little lacking when it comes to learning about services in any real-depth, but doesn’t give nearly enough for an absolute beginner to really make any headway. That said, if you know AngularJS fairly well and only need a little nudge in the right direction to really help you ‘get’ angular services, then the book is a definite step up from the somewhat sparse official documentation on angular services.

So, would I recommend this book? I think the answer is yes if any of the following are true:

  • You know AngularJS but have no idea what services are or how to use them
  • You know AngularJS but want to level up your knowledge about best practices
  • You are an absolute AngularJS beginner that wants some reference material for when you get more advanced, but wants to pick up the basics of best-practice development early