This is a fairly light-hearted story, written with the above picture as inspiration. The story behind it, as there so often is whenever I write, is a serendipitous one. The picture is a response to my description of a pair of NPCs from an upcoming Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am planning – the initial idea being two apprentice mages accompanying a renowned academic on a dangerous quest. The artist interpreted my description as much younger than I envisaged and as a result I began reconsidering the initial dynamic of this sub-plot.
Thus I wrote a story about these two young girls, under the wing of a particularly harsh teacher, and it turned into a slightly silly piece about academia – an askance look at how a magic college might have been run in the past. Whether or not the Margot and Lisbet in this story will be the same Margaret Strauss and Elizabeth Regen who will be encountered by the D&D group at Iron Forest Games remains to be seen (it is highly likely the Archmage Miriel von Ludendorff alluded to below will be the same character, though).
Week 2 of the Southend Toy Soldiers Club Malifaux campaign saw my Outcasts take on a Gremlin force, in a battle to take ownership of a large pig wandering through the board. The game was quite absurd, with both sides losing almost every model they fielded to a combination of their own misfiring guns and a cataclysmic chain reaction in the centre of the board described below…
While the Mega Man franchise has seen little development since the retro-inspired Mega Man 9 and 10 released some time ago, a number of imitators and homages – including the similarly-staffed Kickstarter success Mighty No. 9 – have taken up the mantle. Azure Striker Gunvolt, finally released in Europe after a period of overseas availability, is one such successor to Mega Man. Gunvolt is quite distinct from any of the Mega Man games by virtue of its core gameplay gimmick, the “Flashfield” weapon, yet the same techniques and mechanics that have contributed to the originals’ success – intuitive level design, well-designed boss fights based on pattern recognition and situational upgrades – are all in evidence. Technically it is a largely well-executed game, but as a whole product it falls down slightly owing to a number of both fundamental and very specific flaws.
Reading up on the upcoming Captain Harlock film, and thinking back over Giant Robo, an OVA I dearly love, drove me to try and write my own homage both to Leiji’s ostracised, misunderstood hero in a future beyond caring and Imagawa’s preoccupation with principles, expectation and duty set against science and scientific ethics. These are huge themes, the very substantial content that makes their respective series – the original Harlock, the excellent My Youth in Arcadia, and the similarly introspective Yamato 2199 on the one hand and the demolition of hubris that is Giant Robo on the other – so enduring.
Trying to write this made it clear I cannot match the narrative highs of either Robo or Yamato 2199. On the other hand, the imaginative impetus these inspirations give did I think create a story that serves as my response to pieces of popular culture that I rate very highly.
Note: The opening speech of this story is in equal parts derived from President John Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium in 1962 (used to great effect in Public Service Broadcasting‘s 2015 album The Race for Space), and Professor Vogler’s “Beautiful Night” speech from Giant Robo.
Today, my local wargaming club, Southend Toy Soldiers Club, began a Malifaux campaign, starting with small games and building up using the official Wyrd Wave 3 campaign rules.
I have entered using an Outcasts faction, and my first game was against Neverborn. In the campaign system, players do not start with a Master but instead a Henchman and a limited crew. Mine is Taelor, with support from two Ronin and Rusty Alyce.
In this first game we had an even more limited force – 25 soulstones including the Henchman. The lists were as follows:
3 Soulstone Cache
The Strategy selected was Turf War. I selected the Schemes Bodyguard (for Taelor) and Entourage. My opponent selected A Line In The Sand and Entourage. The final score was 9-7 to me, having scored maximum points for a revealed Bodyguard, 3 points for Turf War and 2 points for a revealed Entourage, versus my opponent scoring 3 points for Turf War, 1 for a revealed Line in the Sand and 3 for a revealed Entourage.
Following the game, I recruited a Freikorpsmann and drew cards for injuries. One of my Ronin gained the injury Unfocused, meaning in future games she cannot take the Focus action.
What follows is a very special kind of battle report, given that apparently a magically-empowered small child killed two highly-trained mercenaries…
Although The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime I greatly enjoy, its immense scope (110 episodes, detailing the rise and fall of immense superpowers through the lens of two men who emerge as their figureheads) makes it a challenging prospect to write about. It is not just epic in terms of its plot – epic in the sense of scale, with planets and star systems changing hands and yet also in the sense of character, talking about the rise of charismatic leaders of men with ambitions to bring down political entities centuries old – but in terms of ambition as a piece of fiction. It presents two entire ideologies embodied by its warring factions, in a sense – monarchy (and a quasi-respectable monarchy under an “enlightened” ruler at that) versus democracy (a corrupt, self-serving democracy that is no more enlightened than the monarchy it fights againt) with capital – the private sector and corporate interests represented by Phezzan – and religion, via both the spirituality of the Empire and the mysterious, destabilising Earth Cult – as third-parties who play both sides. This scale makes discussion of the series as a whole less fruitful than character studies or discussion of individual plot arcs – but these are still articles I have trouble beginning to write. More accessible is the creator of The Legend‘s, Yoshiki Tanaka’s, more recently adapted work, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Currently two episodes into its 2015 adaptation, Arslan presents the same thematic intent as Galactic Heroes but within a different context.
Note: This article discusses a quite emotive and moving section of Eureka Seven whose impact mostly comes from the revelations within. It may be best not to read it unless you have already seen the series and know what happens.
Much happens in episode 44 of Eureka Seven to advance the main plot; Renton and Eureka continue to explore the new world they find themselves in as morale begins to drop, Holland learns that he will die should he continue fighting Dewey not because of the enemy, but because his machine is so outdated the drugs he need to pilot it will destroy him, and the scene ends up set for a confrontation between Dominic and Jurgens for the Federation and Holland for the Gekkostate. That the climax of the episode is Eureka beginning a similar metamorphosis to Sakuya – suggesting that Renton will fail as Norb did, unable to properly reach out to the Scub Coral and save the world – is setting up a massive, metaphysical conflict that cannot be easily resolved. Yet more interesting, and the more enduring image of the episode, is how it continues Dominic’s plot. Dominic was established in episode 43 as being, put as simply as possible, the Kamille to Anemone’s Four – a comparison subverted by Anemone’s agency and self-determination, her desire to not simply be “saved” like a damsel in distress but for someone to actually care for her. Episode 44 has him initially uncertain about how to do this, an outsider – and ends with him a man with conviction.
I really liked the setting I created in The Usual, For Two – the dusty, well-worn, questionably corrupt city of Cana Luz which sat on a mountainside overlooked by the grotesque governor’s residence. So, I decided to revisit it some time after the change of government the previous story depicted. Much like The Usual, this was a very easy and fun story to write – the basic conceit was not particularly complicated and the challenge and joy for me as a writer came from trying to get an appropriately satirical tone. The picture above is an illustration of the now-named Governor from The Usual, for Two, by an artist who remains sadly anonymous.
This was a difficult story to begin writing, because I had so many ideas for it and it was so difficult to condense them into a piece of short fiction. Initially there were going to be a whole squadron of pilots and it was going to be a fun caper about some soldiers trying to throw a surprise party for their captain – elements of Full Metal Panic and Patlabor perhaps. The protagonist was going to be a slightly too serious bridge officer called Hitomi, and it was going to be a farce. The problem was I couldn’t write a caper story as funny as Butch Minds the Baby and I couldn’t hit a suitably easygoing tone without it seeming smug.
Then I decided I quite liked some of the supporting cast more, and there was going to be a Super Robot Wars-esque story about the pilots alone, with the brash, Excellen Browning-like character constantly annoying her wingman. That didn’t go anywhere either.
Then I hit on the characters I really liked from the original idea – a well-meaning but slightly intimidating ace pilot, and a very nervous copilot. I downplayed the initial plan for heartwarming cuteness and focused more on a genre parody drawing on Godannar, Gunbuster and similar super-robot stories. The narrative voice ended up more akin to The Stainless Steel Rat, and this was the result. Also included is a picture, drawn by a sadly anonymous artist, of the two main characters of the story – its style, very muscular and pin-up like, somewhat informed the tone.
Photos and terrain courtesy of Adam Isherwood at Iron Forest Games, models my own.
The much-delayed Kickstarter-funded wargame Robotech RPG Tactics has finally begun to be delivered within Europe, and as my copy has arrived I have had the opportunity to play two limited-scale games of it. These are sufficient to form general opinions about the rules design – although more detailed examination of unit selection and faction play-style is currently impossible as many of the more interesting and different units are not currently available. Overall, as a wargame attempting to recreate the combat style of Robotech/SDF Macross – a translation of theme into mechanics – it works well. Using a system of named pilots adding thematic abilities to stock units like X-Wing forces can be given more flavour, while the weapon system rules emphasising mass missile attacks and divided, inaccurate fire versus enemies concentrating to bring one hero down creates a strong aesthetic element to mechanical design.