Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ars Contra Tyrannus

Here's a somewhat special moment: a back to basics moment. I started blogging to write about music and got carried away with gaming instead. I do not wish to lose my sci-fi chi, but events can sometimes catapult you back to places you'd forgotten. This is one such case. For some reason I feel as though those of us who appreciate that magical spot at the end of the rainbow where we can feel welcome need some music to march to. We have a long walk ahead of us. In fact, a friend asked me to write some walking music for just that purpose.

I'm not really by nature a pop song composer. I'm a fugue and symphony guy, so I have to venture into slightly unfamiliar territory to do this. I've done a few before, but not whole heap tons of 'em.

So this last of week or so has been something of a learning experience. Not only have did I write that walking song, but I also made some demo-ish recordings of it and several other popular songs that have been sitting on the back burner. First, let me give you a glimpse inside the Empty Pocket Studios . . .

Please note carefully the expensive recording equipment dangling off the music stand. If it looks like something you might see someone wearing in your finer Midwestern truckstops, it is. It's the headset off my low-budget smarty phone. And the cymbal is the same frying pan lid I played when I was four or five and climbing in and out of my mom's kitchen cabinets. Yeah, the instruments are real enough, and yeah, they mostly cost more than a microphone, so maybe my priorities are misplaced, but . . . well . . . whoopsie daisy. Emptied my pockets buying things that make noise and had nothing left for things that detect noise.

So I started last week off making recordings of a couple of older things that I've wanted to render more presentable for one reason or other for a long time. The first was originally intended for a radio play that has, thus far, remained unproduced. It was somewhat easier, as I let my computer do all the complicated instrumental performance work and I just sang. The second was more adventurous as I decided I wanted to play it myself.  That's where the frying pan comes in. (It will be back later.) This one is a very odd bit of fan service: a song for a band called Mushrööm Klöwd.

 but we're here to talk about protest. I'll try to given them proper posts of their own later. Anyway, I'd been struggling with what to write her until I looked over at my wall. This is a painting from a friend of mine, Kerry Hirth, called "The Unfortunate Rake." (Which could well be me at several points in my life, but Kerry insists there's no symbolism to it. Fortunately, my progress has led me on a path that's at least tangential to Bedlam and not directly towards it.)

Kerry has an interesting way of sensing the world around her. She strongly associates colors and harmonies. She can see the colors in a piece of music. This is a form of what's called synesthesia. I don't want to get into the technical woods here, as it's complicated, not my specialty, and there's quite a bit of debate anyway. Suffice it to say, however, that while somewhat rare, that's quite a history of it among famous artists and musicians alike, and Kerry uses it as the basis of many of her paintings.

But I'm not one of those synesthetic artists. I appreciate where she's coming from, and I'm darned interested to see what she sees when she hears my music, but to me, it looks more like an odd rainbow, or perhaps an identifying code on a box car (since I also like railroad stuff) than music. And trains are music to my ears, actually. So that's not inappropriate. But it was the rainbow that struck me the other day. I looked at it and I thought rainbows. (This will come up again. I have a couple of rainbow projects in mind Oldhammerishly speaking.) And the line "The colors of the rainbow are hanging on my wall" indelibly lodged itself in my head. "The colors of the rainbow, don't ever let them fall." (To which point I suppose I ought to stop running around like a wild thing in my living room . . . but they're secured up there with the big nails, so hopefully that isn't too big a risk. And if a pair of ten pennies aren't enough I'll break out the railroad spikes.)

Anyway . . . 

So there it was, milling around in my noggin, the beginnings of a song about rainbows. That's always a good start. Of course, my wall was a little specific, so I worked to generalize the chorus a little better and wrote some verses for the specific stuff largely cribbed from the life stories of friends with some small artistic license: the raft episode was wholly local, I believe, and I know not the precise amount of shiny yellow that was provided to the smugglers. But the stories are mostly painted in pretty broad terms that would doubtless be similar to lots of folks. (Actually, the trawler business probably applies to several of my friends, come to think of it. Honestly, everything but the raft episode is pretty general, and that's the one I changed the most anyway.)

But without further ado, let me present to you the "Rainbow War Song":

. . . . .

The Rainbow War Song
D. Ackerman

When I was a young man I felt I walked alone,
A shining spot of color in a world of monochrome.
I fought to be my own man, to sing a different tone.
Little did I know then of the shining rainbow home.

The colors of the rainbow are standing proud and tall.
Each color of the rainbow, don't ever let one fall.
Let the people of the rainbow sing of peace and harmony
Know that if we march together our colors can be free.
Each person of the rainbow has a place inside the whole.
We will carry one another to reach our rainbow goal.

My friend, she was a young girl trapped inside a stranger's skin.
The preachers at the churches told her changing would be sin.
But she found the rainbow nation and she learned a different way.
The great big rainbow family had a different way to pray.


Let me tell you of my old friend and his tremendous craft;
To escape from fire and flooding he built himself a raft.
By the light of our great rainbow he sailed across the sea
To a land of milk and honey he builds with you and me.


The young woman fled the jungle where the war had taken hold.
She paid the price for transport with eight pieces made of gold.
In the belly of the trawler she was smuggled 'cross the sea
To the shining rainbow nation where her colors can be free.


. . . . .

There is, of course, an audio version recorded by some half competent singer and pianist. (Maybe even three quarters competent if he would ever practice, but he did not.) This is really just demonstration grade stuff, not actual performance grade. Empty Pocket is largely empty of sound equipment, so I didn't invest that much time in the recording. The idea is to get this piece at least out there so folks as need it can use it and perhaps add their own verses if they so choose.

Anyway, so that's my last week or so. Thank you for listening.

The Composer

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Project Iowa, Ep. 6: Snow Drop

This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 5: The Lighthouse Door.

. . . . . 
Moab Daily News Extra! Unidentified attack on RACT Enhance foiled near Blanding! Survivors of a Rogue space cruiser have landed on the planet. Rex-Avis and her party are reported safe. Security forces are working to apprehend the attackers, but they are still at large and presumed extremely dangerous. No descriptions are forthcoming, but residents are encouraged to report suspicious activity to their local constabularies.
Sir Stanley glanced from the vid to Colorado. "Best I could do on short notice. We're going to have to feed altered versions of this out through several different channels to throw off the Imperials."

"It's a bit rough," Colorado replied, "but I think it will serve. We just have to catch them before this turns into an intersector incident. I'm not quite sure yet how we go about convincing them of a more harmless story to carry back with them, but I very much hope we can find a . . . more subtle solution to this. Brute force isn't terribly diplomatic and I suspect the tall fellow would be missed by someone somewhere in that rabbit warren of a priesthood in Terran space."

Agent Sophie looked over at the situation map. "First thing's first, though. We have to catch them."

"Agreed," Colorado replied with only the faintest tone of weariness.

. . . . .

Blanding is a quiet and rather remote planet, even by the standards of the Tartarus Rim. Like a great many sparsely populated colonies, the terraforming is fairly minimal, and the world is more than a touch arid. But the climate is mild enough and the axis sufficiently eccentric that it has a broad "temperate" belt with four distinct seasons. Just then, in the middle of the southwest quadrant where they landed, it was winter, and the valleys had a nice, crisp coating of snow.

The situation unfolded with the Inquisitor and his allies escaping the rapidly venting wreck of the Imperial APA Furribundus in one of her shuttles. They crash landed the thing in a shallow valley and made their way out of the steaming dropship to see the streak of two other drops in the middle distance. Just before they left Guimar beamed off a distress call to a 32nd Marines fast scout he identified at the edge of the system. One of the drops was doubtless theirs; Marine scouts regularly traveled with a squad to a platoon aboard. The other was surely his pursuers. The boys in blue would doubtless prove invaluable, if he could link up with them first. Imperial records indicated a modest Marine base on Moab, currently playing host to the 103rd Crimson Dragons. That could prove doubly useful if he could get off Blanding in something jump capable. Sieghimmel's plan had been sound enough, but for the inconvenience of a civilian shuttle chucking a few torpedoes into it. Of course, that level of preparation suggested a whole other problem. A problem for a new day.

Arthur Rex-Avis watched the glittering lifeboat float away from the destruction he had wrought. He looked up at his mother and gestured towards a map screen. "I've noted their course. They could possibly maneuver a bit, but a shuttle that size won't have enough fuel aboard to break Blanding's gravity once she's down, so she'll be staying. I'll follow and put you down as close as I can."

"Thank you Arthur!" chirped his mother, looking quite proud. She'd contributed to the plan, but the bulk of it had been his idea. False flag operations hadn't been at all common since the Terrans had extended the reach of their authority back to virtually every corner of human space some millennia back, but times were changing. The emperor had grown ancient and frail, and his advisors were unbelievably corrupt in the decadence of the Imperial core. They had seized most of the mechanisms of official government; the real world analogues of the ancient lictors symbolic imperium. But lately they seemed mostly interested in extracting taxes and spending the Imperial military in penny packets on countless tiny border enforcements, so maybe she was witnessing the liminal state at the margins of a great change; the fin de siecle that came once in a hundred generations or more. Maybe she could nudge the future in a new direction. Or maybe the change was a wave that she could only hope to ride lest it cast her helpless and broken on some foreign shore. Only time would tell.

But now she had to place their careful plans into contact with the forces that would seek to destroy them; the enemy.

. . . . .

Somewhere beyond the fourth wall:

Late last week my friend Jay Bobson and I took the opportunity to test a new game. Since this is the continuation of the Iowa Project the good Governor General of Sector Six started for us some months back it's only fitting that we ran this using Void Pirates, which game he has lately endorsed, and which he himself used for the encounters he ran.

Jay, being a kindly and game fellow, did me the service of playing the Imperial forces, and thus allowing me to play my own characters and their allies. Hopefully we can work in some of his own characters on one side or another in a later game. (I'm not sure he and I see eye to eye about who should be the "good guy" . . . or gal . . . in this scenario. Which is ever so delicious. Makes for a wonderful ambiguity.)

The scenario required Jay to deploy his forces on the edge of the table with the shuttle and then make for the alternate edge of his choice. The board was approximately square with a large ridge on his "northern" side, a broad mesa dominating the center, and valleys providing exits on the three remaining sides, mostly near the "southern" edge. Since I'd set up the table and crafted the scenario I gave Dame Fortuna the choice of my deployment edge, and she picked me the south. (Really, any choice but the "eastern" edge would probably have been adequate.) Bobson's forces consisted of the Inquisitor, a psionically active individual with a penchant for brain crushing, and two rather tall gentlemen in very very heavy armor, but thankfully without any practical means of projecting force at a distance. My own forces consisted of fully a dozen individuals, all armed with zapping and popping goodness of one sort or another, but largely bereft of the deflective items that might help keep the snow from turning too red in your immediate vicinity. I rather thought this would be an issue. It was not.

The problem I faced was perhaps more complicated than I realized. The high ground nicely screened the east and west board edges from one another, thus I felt obliged to divide my forces to cover both. I had two relatively skilled snipers who should, by rights, have helped with this. I put one in each party, and likewise put a brawler and an assortment of more typical troopers in each group. The route to the west table edge was somewhat more direct for Mr. Bobson, so I put somewhat the stronger of my two forces on that side. As it happened, that's the way Jay chose to break. His only goal was getting away with the warp imploder in his possession. Below you can see the battlefield after our forces had closed for about a turn. (Which put us in contact, by the way. The shooting started fast.)

I figured I was in pretty good shape, as there was quite a bit of ground that Jay had to cover, and I'd gotten myself on the high ground on one flank, and between him and the exit on the other. So I felt I should have had plenty of time to pour some long range love down upon his knights, roughly Agincourt style. Below you can see one of my snipers, Musetta, standing just by the low rise behind which she had earlier hunkered down to do her work. And after that you can see the very nice clear view she had of her targets. A road provided a fairly open lane of fire through the woods. It wasn't quite a perfect spot, but it was pretty good.

And she had a good bit of support, too. Not only were the other members of the team covering the left flank supporting her, but the squad on the right were able to add their fire as well, until the Imperials moved behind the shadow of the high ground. Trouble was that absolutely nothing would injure those darned knights. And nothing slowed them down. Bullets and laser blasts just bounced off. (Strom troopers only wish their armor worked that well.) The poor hapless psy-cannon went down fairly quickly, but nothing could convince the walking tanks to drop the warp imploder and decamp without it. Inquisitor Guimar gamely returned fire for a moment, but pretty quickly he realized his best course was to run for love and the Emperor for the pass. And thus no one much tested my lack of protective clothing. When the Imperials got behind cover I redeployed my forces on the right, and sent them charging up the hill in the hopes that they might come to the aid of their compatriots, but there wasn't enough time.

At about the same time it became clear our fire was ineffective and the Imperial forces were about to slip away. Sophie led a brave charge down the hill directly at the enemy in an attempt to slow them down, but it was too late. Guimar and the two knights slipped away into the snow, leaving only the lone specialist behind, unconscious at the bottom of the ridge.

. . . . .

To briefly digress, the game system itself was pretty good. Game play was really quite fast, once you got used to it. I always like a system that limits die types, and I have a soft spot for fistfulls of d6. (It might be an Axis and Allies thing from adolescence.) If I had any criticisms, I would wish for some charts to aid the inexperienced player and maybe a better character creation walkthrough. But in general, it's pretty solid. The system strikes a nice balance. If you enjoy Pulp Alley you'd probably like this as well. It's not quite as cinematic, and the scenarios aren't as numerous or interesting, but it's a bit more flexible in terms of characters and force creation, and it probably lends itself very slightly better to a sci-fi environment. (I'm torn. Each has advantages and disadvantages.) I expect for my own games I'll probably pick the best elements from each, but even straight up, I expect the casual gamer looking for a good adventure will enjoy it. If you want a hard boiled wargame that details the impact of every event on morale or unit cohesion, move along. This is a little bit more of a role-playing game that happens to use toys. It is certainly not a combat simulation. But if what you want is a classic Buck Rogers style adventure in a box, where you can play the hero, this might be for you. Hawk is doubtless around the turn of the next page, and there are several ways for you to either work it out with him or fight him until one of you subdues the other. But there's most always a way to make sure someone is back for the next episode, even if they do end up knocked down pretty squarely in this one.

And slowly, the view through the wall into the dollhouse wavers. And magically, we are transported back into the setting, not only seeing Rex-Avis, but hearing her voice in our head, almost as though it were our own, but altered somehow . . .

. . . . .

Sophie, Colorado, and the rest of the cross-sector cooperative force retreated quickly when it became obvious the inquisitor had managed to get a transmission off to the Marine scouting force. They just didn't have enough personnel on hand to tackle that, even with support from Arthur in the shuttle. So Colorado wrote up a missive to beam off to Moab one jump away, and a second as a report to the more distant Proserpine. There weren't too many ships on Blanding right now, and it would take them a while to procure one, unless their fast scout came back quickly. They wouldn't fall into the same trap twice, but there were still some high cards in her hand, and quite a lot more that had already been played by both sides. It might not be necessary to bluff until the Imperials folded just yet. It was just a couple of cards, but they were nice big ones with big bold As printed on them rather unambiguously. Just so long as her opponents hadn't drawn the other two. For now they would sit in orbit and await the commander's reply and keep a close eye on the forces planetside.

. . . . .

As always, thank you for reading along.

The Composer

Continued in Episode 7: Whistle Stop.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Project Iowa, Ep. 5: The Lighthouse Door

Moab Daily News Special Report: Rex-Avis Tech Stolen!

The wave-o-scopes in the office crackled with news from the Kingdom of Colores and the reporters at the Logansport daily struggled to process what had happened; to put together a headline and what few facts they knew in a way that helped to inform the citizens of their isolated world of the gravity of the situation without creating a frenzy for war. But there were adverts to sell and deadlines to meet. Mistakes are sometimes made in the news business, and when they are we might all pay the price. But not this time. This time . . .

Project Iowa, Episode 5

Colorado Rex-Avis and her team race back to the RACT Enhance and rendezvous with their escort, the command cruiser TFS Alecto.

While Inquisitor Guimar and his companions make their escape to the Imperial Attack Transport Furribundus.

"That's a big damn ship," Guimar says to his helmsman. "And they've cut us off from our route out of here."
"Yes. Yes it is," the ensign replies. "But we won't need to fight, since we can outrun them. And I assure you, sir, our own forces are more than a match for such as these. They can't block every path. While you dealt with the heretics I scouted around the system and I believe I've isolated the spinward end of the route they must have used to get here. If we travel along it, we can break out in the Tartarus Rim and run through coreward towards Holy Terra. If I'm right about where we emerge, it will be almost due south." 

Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Enhance . . .

"What will we do, Colorado? They're getting away with the imploder. That thing might be the one advantage we have if the Terrans decide to come knocking around."
"Oh, Sir Stanley! Don't you worry too much. Arthur and I didn't leave the back door unguarded like a couple of newbs! There's a plan. Those poor saps won't know what hit them."

Sir Stanley felt inwardly relieved at her smile, but quietly wondered precisely what she and Arthur had cooked up.

Meanwhile on the opposite end of Red Route 1 . . .

"Splendid!" cried Captain Sieghimmel. "The helsman was precisely correct! We've emerged into the Blanding System. Three jumps will take us to Anesidora. From there I think I can navigate to the Erinyes Stars and thus avoid the major checkpoints at Proserpine, Tartarus Gate, and Kerberos. And see? There's a Rim merchant in the distance we've just identified! We can stay in her shadow for a while, so long as she doesn't do anything crazy."
"What's that contact off the port bow?" asked Guimar.
"That? A modular launch. It's a small merchant on an old standard plan. There're still quite a number of them out this way. Nothing alarming. It's squawking a Helvetic ID . . . Golf Bravo Alpha Foxtrot Mike . . . Nelson? Come over here. Have a look at this. I need you to check it out stat!"

"Sir, it's not maneuvering and it's on something very close to a collision course. We received a somewhat garbled transmission saying they needed to bring their thrusters online and it would take a moment . . . Sir? Oh sh . . . "

To be continued

 . . .

The saga starts with Episode 1: New Friends from the Tartarus Rim from the Governor General of Sector Six. My own more journalistic and less complete telling begins with Moab Daily News: Rex Avis to Sector Six.

The Composer

Continued in Episode 6: Snow Drop.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 in Review

So it's time to look back and reflect on 2016 and plan ahead a little for 2017. Early in the year I made a modest intercity move. While not a huge distance, it threw my routine into chaos for some time. And some later complications conspired to make this one of my less productive years. Still . . . I got a few dozen miniatures done of different sorts. And absolutely zero games, I think. I aim to fix this part. One of the advantages of the new place was supposed to be more space to game. However, the newfound lack of proximity to my usual gaming friends didn't really help much. Sure, I've gaming friends in the new town as well, but . . . it takes time to settle in and sort out schedules. And crawl out from under the rock my own peculiar psychoses dispatched me to. So resolution number one for 2017: play games. That's what all this junk is for.

It's almost painful to analyze what I did relative to my goals, but here goes. Here's what I laid out in the planning phase of 2016:
A. Work on assorted miniatures backlogs before you buy new stuff . . . 
I bought new stuff, but not huge shedloads of it. Relatively little, all told. So maybe A wasn't a total catastrophe.
B. A 1/2400 city would be pretty sweet.
C. Still want that temple and that brothel and maybe a bar. You need more buildings.
A bit more mixed here. I didn't build a brothel or bar, or the specific temple I had in mind, but I did build new buildings, one of which is indeed religious. (And will get some sci-fi signage eventually.)
D. Still need a ship for the gang.
Made a little quiet progress here, actually, but not enough to show. I bought some "materials" and began hacking things apart, but I haven't started welding anything back together yet. All still pieces.
E. And a rock.
Yeah, another fail. Kind of shoved that to the side.

And here's the meager 2016 output:
In 1:2400 . . . 

Three freighters. Yep. That's the whole year.

But I did get more than a few 28 mm sci-fi folk and fauna done. No flora this year, but . . . I've an idea or two. It's on the list.

1, 2, 3, and 4

5 (left goat only)


7, 8, 9, 10



13, 14

15, 16 (the two eldar)





21 (left) and 22 (right)

23 (right)


25 and 26 (Ignore the orange blur in the foreground for now.) 




and 30

And of course there were the obligatory few set pieces:

A control tower

A religious building

And a barn.

The overgrown lizard poking his head out is a temporary resident. He doesn't usually stay there. Just came to visit for Christmas. Incidentally, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year . . .

What, you say? Is that an oddly post-apocalyptic outpost beneath the tree and surrounded by a mix of anachronistically earthy looking trains? Why yes. Yes it is. Have a look.

So my 2016 output was about half my 2015 and 14 output. Which is rather ironic, in a way. But . . . it makes sense. On that note, let's set some goals for this lovely new year:

A. Please do try to get a little more done in 1/2400. Your navy felt neglected, what with no review and little new tonnage.
B. Some non-human civilians would be mighty nice.
C. Moab needs "entertainment." And maybe more religion. (There's plenty of lost souls to go around.)
D. Ships. Multiple now, and not just one. For the Lace Rock kinder and others. You have materials. Ues them.
E. Additional Space Port facilities.
F. Some more dense urban stuff might be a nice change.
G. A rock. The gang really does need their hidey-hole.

Thanks for joining me.

The Composer