Wednesday, 27 March 2013

'G-Men & Gangsters' Faction Pack #5

This has just been released by Triple Ace Games. It includes some of my artwork and vehicle designs. G-Men & Gangsters uses the Showdown Setting for the Savage Worlds RPG system.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A Timeline of Forteana - Part One

'What is Forteana?', you might be asking yourself. Well, it's a term used as a sort of catch-all phrase that deals with anomalous phenomena as discussed by Charles Fort. Fort was a collector of data about such phenomena which he gleaned from newpapers and scientific journals, eventually writing it all up  into several somewhat eccentric books. Being interested in such things myself from an early age, when I first bought the Call of Cthulhu RPG I was pleasantly surprised to see a Fortean Timeline included with the 'Sourcebook for the 1920s'. Over the years I've created dribs and drabs of my own timeline and am gradually stitching it all together.

What follows below is a timeline which covers 1900 to 1925, and 1926 to 1950 will be added in a future post. This may come in handy as adventure seeds for Call of Cthulhu (as scenarios don't always have to revolve around the Mythos), or may be of interest just as a general reference. Do I believe any of it? Hmm. Well, I can't say that I do. That said, what interests me a great deal is the sort of imagery that such reports conjour up, and I find the descriptions fascinating. Sources for the entries come from various books, such as 'Modern Mysteries of the World' by Janet and Colin Bord and 'A Geo-bibliography of Anomalies' by George Eberhart. I'll include a full bibliography in a future post.

1900 - Man was dazed when ball lightning exploded nearby (Telemark, Norway); Sherman Church was seen entering mill building, but was never seen again. There was an extensive search, but no clues were found to his whereabouts (Augusta Mills, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA).

1901 - Fall of substance smelling like glue (Sart, Belgium); showers of stones fell on village over several days (Harrisonville, Ohio, USA).

1902 - Sea monster seen by steamer crew: 30-35 feet long with four 5-foot high fins, head bigger than seal's (Ram Head, Australia); sea captain saw big black sea monster which dove and surfaced under his boat (City Island, New York, USA); ice-skaters were chased by an 8-foot tall hairy creature wielding a club (Chesterfield, Idaho, USA); 'ghost light' seen west of town (Hebron, Maryland, USA); crew of SS Fort Salisbury saw a strange submarine object 'between five and six hundred feet in length. It had two lights, one at each end. A mechanism of some kind, or fins maybe, was making a commotion in the water'. The craft 'appeared to be scaled', and it was sinking slowly (Gulf of Guinea, South Atlantic Sea); over a period of one week, five men inexplicably disappeared in separate incidences (Buffalo, USA); people in yacht saw humped sea monster, 60 feet long (Oslofjord, Norway).

1903 - Fishermen at bayside saw set of fins 20 feet and 50 feet apart, later saw head with huge green eyes (Conception Bay, Canada); small stones appeared and fell slowly in room (Sumatra); miners on night shift saw creature with 'horns and long hair, great big eyes and an inhuman look, although standing erect like a man' (Iola, Kansas, USA); fishermen saw snake-like sea monster, 120 feet long with head 20 feet above water. It had round eyes, was brown with white-brown throat, and covered with long hair that ‘looked like seaweed’ (Hermanus, Cape Province, South Africa).

1904 - Children saw ghost of a man believed killed in 17th century Battle of Sedgemoor (Honiton, Devon, UK); body of Curé of Ars found in state of undecay, 45 years after his death (Ars, France); child touched ball lightning with foot, resulting in explosion which killed nearby cattle but left child unhurt (Deux Sevres, France); steamship Mohican enshrouded in strange vapour, which glowed like phosporous and played havoc with ships compass. Decks were magnetised and ship glowed as if on fire. After half an hour, cloud lifted and moved out to sea (Philadelphia, USA); unnatural daytime darkness lasted for 15 minutes, causing widespread panic (Memphis, USA); large round lights seen, over 7 or 8 years (Lough Erne, N.Ireland).

1905 - Sea monster with large head seen, coil seen 30 feet away from head (Fernando de Noronha, Brazil); woman in white, without wings, seen flying over town by many witnesses. Some heard 'singing' (Voltana, Spain).

1906 - Lightning struck woman and left figures on her arm resembling pheasant, snake and Chinese characters (Unionport, New Jersey, USA); officer on merchant ship saw sea monster about 180 feet long, with large dorsal fins. It overtook ship at great speed (40 miles off coast of Pernambuco, Brazil); find of 'Norse axe' (Sawyer county, Wisconsin, USA).

1907 - Fishermen saw sea monster 200 feet long (Gulf of Porto, Corsica); fall of hailstones with portrait of Virgin Mary inside (Remiremont, France); burnt body of woman found, with no damage to her clothes or objects in room (Mannar, India); ball lightning entered house and moved around in circles, smashing holes in walls (Alpena, Michigan, USA); men saw torpedo-shaped object, 6 feet long, approx. 50 feet above buildings. Tongues of fire issued from it and it was surrounded by a halo (Burlington, Vermont, USA); live toad found in rock 200 feet down in silver mine was shaft was sunk. There was no fissure in rock (Butte, Montana, USA); explorer Colonel Fawcett shot 62-foot long snake, known locally as 'Sucuriju Gigante' (Rio Negro, Brazil).

1908 - Bright spherical object flew slowly at great height over city (Sofia, Bulgaria); people on board ship 'Livingston' saw sea monster at least 200 feet long, dark brown with 6-foot long head, and it made loud rattling sound as it moved away (Gulf of Mexico); prisoners claimed jail was haunted, with faces seen the dark. Jailers admitted strange noises had been heard (Ashville, N. Carolina, USA).

1909 - Body of Saint Bernadette Soubirous incorrupt 30 years after her death (Nevers, France); man saw grey, torpedo-shaped craft in sky with 3 occupants, one of whom shouted to him in an unkown tongue (Waipawa, New Zealand); poltergeist outbreak in railway telegraph tower (Dale, Florida, USA); winged, ram-headed monster 'Jersey Devil' seen (Trenton, New Jersey, USA); fishermen saw object fly over city and fall into sea (Dong Hoi, Vietnam); red-hot metal pellets fell from sky onto beach (Santa Cruz, California, USA); mystery objects seen in skies over state (Massachusetts, USA).

1910 - Ghost ship seen, in area where many giant squids have been sighted (Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada); large black bird-like object fell into sea and disappeared (off Normandy Coast, France); sea monster with 6-foot long neck and brown and hairy body seen (Kilkerrin bay, Eire); over 2 hours, stones shot upward from ground accompanied by loud detonation (Cantillana, Spain); white stone cylinder fell from sky (Westerville, Ohio, USA).

1911 - 3 witnesses saw black humped sea monster travelling at speed, which was joined by similar creature (Cotes-du-Nord, France); 2-foot long live alligator fell from sky (Evansville, Indiana, USA); unnatural daytime darkness lasted for half an hour and terrified city (Louisville, Kentucky, USA).

1912 - Sighting of 'Yowie' (a large hairy humanoid) drinking from creek (Bombala, New South Wales, Australia); ship's crew saw sea monster with long neck and humps (Matapan, Greece); loud detonation followed by fall of stones, with 14,000 being collected later (Louisville, Kentucky, USA); sighting of 'Palatine Light' during heavy gale, possible ghost ship (Block Island Sound, Rhode Island, USA); fall of frogs (Comanche, Texas, USA).

1913 - Children saw little green man, which dogs then killed (Farmersville, Tennessee, USA); fall of fish from tornado-like cloud (Quirundi, New South Wales, Australia); sighting of 4-legged sea monster on west coast shore by several witnesses (Tasmania); following electrical storm, boy's presence caused objects to fly around (Jordan, Canada); remains of Blessed Maria Assunta Palotta were found perfectly preserved 8 years after her death (Tong-Eul-Chou, China).

1914 - Colonel Fawcett and companions threatened by hairy 'savages' known locally as Maricoxis (Cordiheira Dos Perecis, Brazil); 8 witness saw strange craft on surface of sea and entities manipulating hose in water. They saw witnesses and all but one went inside, who stayed on as it took off (Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada); sighting of long-necked creature with black, looped body like gigantic snake, also seen crawling out of water (Lough Abisdealy, Eire); woman saw two men with silvery objects on their backs, who flew away. Also seen on following day by other witnesses (Leon, Spain); man saw cigar-shaped craft with lighted windows in a field near his house, which had several 'dwarves' nearby who went aboard when he approached (Hamburg, Germany).

1915 - During severe storm, 'balls of fire' issued from plugs on switchboard at telephone exchange (Freeland, Pennsylvania, USA).

1916 - Sea monster seen about 5 miles from island, at least 40 feet long with large head. It came close enough to be struck on head with oar (Melville Island, Northern Territories, Australia); man in boat saw ‘periscope’, 5-6 feet out of water, moving too fast for contemporary submarines (Thasos, Greece).

1917 - Large number of stones materialised in house, seen falling after sudden mid-air appearance (Helsinki, Finland); officers and men of 'HMS Hilary' saw sea monster with neck 15-30 feet long, with black glossy head and triangular dorsal fin (70 miles south-east of Iceland); 3 children saw angel, the Virgin Mary (13th May), on 13th October, many witnesses awaiting appearance of BVM saw disc moving across sky and sun 'dancing' (Fatima, Portugal); two days after leaving Falmouth, the ship 'Zebrina' was found deserted. Weather had been excellent, ship was in good condition, but crew had vanished (between Falmouth and St. Brieux).

1918 - Poltergeist outbreak, with physical attacks (Cherbourg, France); 3 children had total of 65 visions of the Virgin Mary (Muzillac, France); hunter saw mammoths in forests (Siberian Taiga); fall of grey powder (Farmersville, Texas, USA).

1919 - Boy carrying oil back to stranded car saw 20 small humanoids walking along road (nr. Barrow, Wisconsin, USA); poltergeist outbreak, with messages from the dead (Suri, India); 40-foot long snake seen by hikers (Broad Top Mountain, Pennsylvania, USA); large fireball struck building, showering balls of fire around which floated away (Salina, Kansas, USA); two dissimilar stones, fused together, fell from sky (Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, USA); long black object flew over Madison Square, with many witnesses (New York City, USA).

1920 - Two planes searching for missing schooner saw lights. One plane flew into large cloud and vanished. Schooner never found (Bass Strait, Victoria, Australia); fisherman saw shiny blue translucent egg-shaped object land nearby. After 15 minutes, it flew slowly away (nr. Mount Pleasant, Iowa, USA); china-like fragments fell from sky (Portland, Oregon, USA); ball lightning bounced among houses, demolishing one (South Australia); ball lightning seen, with comet-like tail and saw-tooth streaks of light. Rolled up incline, struck wall and exploded, leaving acrid smell (Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa).

1921 - Poltergeist outbreak centred around dying woman (Hopfgarten, Germany); thousands of small fish fell during thunderstorm (Gibraltar); giant lizard 'Tatzelwurm' seen (nr. Rauris, Austria); ‘Yeti’ footprints found at 20,000 feet by climber (Lhakpa-La, Tibet); Stratigraphic anomaly - two Cretacious limestone formations which transgress time diagonally (Austin, and also at Fort Stockton, Texas, USA).

1922 - 2nd officer of the 'Bali' saw sea monster with 15-foot long neck, grey-green in colour (Gulf of Mannar, Sri Lanka); during heavy snowstorm, exotic insects looking like spiders, caterpillars and huge ants fell and soon died (The Alps, Switzerland); gold prospector saw monster in lake which had long, large neck (Argentina); sighting of phantom wolf (LaCrosse, Wisconsin, USA).

1923 - During violent thunderstorm, ball of fire descended and set haystack ablaze. Later several tons of glassy slag found in ashes (Quetta, Pakistan); 2 witness in boat saw large dark seahorse-like creature, with head 30 feet above water. It spouted water, made long whistling sound, and struck surface of water with it’s tail (Nouméa, New Caledonia).

1924 - Disembodied voice heard in cemetery - it seemed to move through the air and follow people. Moans, pleas for help and demoniacal laughter heard (Butler, New Jersey, USA); Albert Ostman claims to have been kidnapped by 'Bigfoot'-type creature (British Colombia, Canada); policeman and other witnesses saw creature that 'had a head like a deer, that ran like a rabbit, and had fiery eyes' (West Orange, New Jersey, USA); crew of British reconnaissance aircraft vanish in desert, their tracks stopping abruptly 40 yards from aircraft. No other tracks found despite search (Libya, North Africa).

1925 - Farmer killed unidentified animal which was killing his chickens: it had crouched posture, four webbed toes on hind feet, yellow eyes, unusual pronged molar teeth (Greenwich, New Jersey, USA); sea monster with 8-foot long neck and body with 5 loops, dirty yellow in colour, seen from steamer (Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia); 2 men saw object like a pair of saucers face-to-face standing on legs in paddock. It had oval windows and shimmered (nr. Moora, Victoria, Australia); captain of fishing trawler saw sea monster like gigantic eel, longer than his 136-foot boat (off Boston, Massachusetts, USA); 50-foot long corpse of unidentified sea creature washed ashore (Santa Cruz, California, USA); during storm, men sheltering in barn saw ball of fire enter. One man was knocked unconscious for 8 hours, the other thrown 15 feet (Gatineau Point, Ontario, Canada); limestone ball containing marine shells and fossils fell from sky (Bleckenstad, Sweden); following accident and 2 deaths aboard 'SS Watertown', pair of phantom faces seen following ship for several days. Photos taken (between US Pacific Coast and Panama Canal); Colonel Fawcett disappears during expedition (Amazon jungles, Brazil); poltergeist outbreak centered on Eleanor Zügun, with physical attacks that continued for 2 years (Romania), climber saw ‘Yeti’ and found footprints 6-7 inches long, at height of 15,000 feet (Zemu Glacier, Nepal); sighting of man-like creature, covered with brown fur and with ‘monkey-like’ face (nr. Alton, Missouri, USA).

Friday, 1 March 2013

In Praise of... Twilight: 2000

Twilight: 2000 is an RPG born out of the Cold War. I was born in 1969, and the Cold War started to come into focus for me in the late 70s and early 80s – and I didn’t like it at all. The one thing that really terrified me was the threat of nuclear war. I grew up near a major air base (RNAS Yeovilton) and a principal aviation factory (Westland Helicopters), so I knew that I would be vaporised should the Cold War turn hot. Because of this, life did sometimes feel like there was a lid on it – sure, I carried on with things (going to school, playing RPGs, listening to heavy metal, watching a lot of bad straight-to-video movies, etc), but there was always this nagging sense that somewhere in the background things could get nasty very quickly. Various themes from the time fed into that sense – the Falklands War, the Soviet Army fighting in Afghanistan, the Lebanese War and various other conflicts covered by the news on TV. TV also did much to add to my fears by showing programmes such as Threads...

To this day, watching it still makes me uncomfortable. The US attempt at such scariness, The Day After, was (to my mind, then and now) somehow watered down and almost more like sci-fi. British TV was once very good at creating gritty, stark programmes and I don’t think anyone really topped their output.

I remember reading an issue of White Dwarf at school in 1984 and seeing an advert for Twilight: 2000, deciding then and there to buy it whenever I got the chance. I liked the idea of a game where you had to try and survive after World War III. As with my recent Ebay trawling for Car Wars, I’ve just gotten my hands on a pretty decent copy of Twilight: 2000...

I've included the FFE compendium (top right) as I'm a completist. Note the original game dice.

If you’re not familiar with the game’s back story, there’s an overview here. What follows is an overview of the 1st Edition rules that I’ve played the most – I’ll state here and now that this version does a better job than later reworks. Over the years I’ve read various articles slating it as both a game and a system. Some think that nowadays the game seems ‘unrealistic’ (and this is coming from people who probably don’t use the same critiques for D&D etc), because the world it creates no longer seems plausible. Others think that the system is clunky. I don’t share the view of either point. Firstly, I don’t think people are really judging the game for its ‘What if...?’ value. Like all RPGs, the game works from a certain premise. Sure, real world events overtook the premise of Twilight: 2000, but that doesn’t make it defunct. You could still play it for the story it’s trying to tell. Nowadays, it’s simply a fantasy that has links to certain realities.

As for the game system, one of its strengths is the way it tries to model some quite complex concepts (combat, illness, survival, radiation), and I don’t think that any other RPG has topped the way things were done in Twilight: 2000. Skills are easy enough – your character (some form of military personnel) starts with some, and you can buy others on a point for point basis. As these work around percentile values, there’s nothing difficult about it. These percentages affect the outcome of an action or event, and are modified on the basis of whether they are Easy, Average or Difficult to carry out. This covers anything from riding a horse, to making things, to firing weapons. At the same time, even high level skill values don’t make you some sort of god. Your rolls are always modified by the difficulty of the task at hand, so success isn’t necessarily a given. As the game is strongly based around its combat system, some may feel that it’s a bit complicated. On the surface, this is true – especially so of modelling the effects of rounds striking vehicles. However, some basic familiarity with it soon pays off. If anything, things can happen fast and can be resolved quickly, especially as the game seems more geared towards firefights. You just have to take various factors into account – range, whether you can fire before the other guy, etc. At the same time, combat very much has the potential to be lethal and players who understand this have to think and plan what they want to do, certain in the knowledge that resorting to combat has some stark consequences. Death is somewhat likely, and surviving with wounds isn’t a given. The environment is just as likely to finish you off as a bullet if you get things wrong.

To my mind, this forces players to be a bit more cerebral about combat. The same can’t be said for many RPGs. As I was the referee for our Twilight: 2000 sessions, it was always interesting to see my gang of players trying to figure out consequences before the fact. This was especially so because when playing other RPGs they tended to have a much more cavalier, gung-ho approach of the ‘shoot first...’ variety. On top of all of this, the world setting in the game pitched the players against odds which were never in their favour. They were, after all, trying to survive in a (probably) foreign country that had come off the worst for nuclear exchanges and many years of bloody fighting. As soldiers, no-one was telling them what they should do – the last radio message from their HQ was ‘Good luck. You’re on your own, now’. The game, sensibly, provides no moral compass for what they should do. Because of such factors, it was a challenge to play and referee as an RPG.

We played Twilight: 2000 a great deal. As it was a GDW game, it was strongly supported by reference material and scenarios and these did much to add flavour to the experience. My guys managed to survive quite well over the years. Most of them were from the US infantry (i.e. Rasche, a giant Yiddish-speaking Spec 4, and Markowitz the medic), although we had one or two Warsaw Pact deserters - all being led, in a way, by a British combat engineer. Nomadic for most of the time, they teamed up for a while with a NATO-friendly Polish commander who was trying to rebuild his area of control. They finally managed to rejoin a more organised NATO force, only to then be moved to the Middle East in an effort to secure Iranian oil fields...

I decided to get the FFE compendium of the 1st Edition stuff because it seems to have some interesting extras (i.e. details of the games sales figures, various scenarios) and it’s handy for me to have everything bundled together. At the same time, it’s great to have the actual 1984 issue of the game back in my hands again. It’s actual approach to the subject (and I think this was lost in later editions) is sobre and measured. This is particularly true of the interior artwork, as there’s no attempt at going for clichéd approaches to the subject matter. One other factor of note is that it features women on the box cover who aren’t in silly poses and are depicted as sensibly as the male figures.
Could it still be played today as an RPG? Well, you may have to explain the Cold War to players born after 1990 – or research it yourself if the same time-frame applies to you. Even if you narrow your approach to the way things were in the 1980s, taking some time to research the period would pay off. To be honest, if you’re more familiar with the idea of ‘The War on Terror’, the idea of the Cold War isn’t all that different – it could be said that the latter is just not as nebulous and as open to interpretation as the former. It would also be possible to abandon the idea of playing in the post-apocalyptic world of the original game and instead use the rules to play in some other setting. There are conflicts, old and new, in which the game system would still work.

One thing to always bear in mind, however, is that is first and foremost a game about survival...