And I Queried: How to Spend Some Amazon Points

I have one of those Amazon credit cards that racks up points one can spend in lieu of cash on stuff there. The balance is rapidly approaching a sum amenable to a number of game-related products I’d like to buy.

Express your opinion, o readers of Held Action. What do you think I should get? I make no promises, but I am open to suggestions of things I hadn’t considered.

Uncovering Dusty Tomes

In pursuit of perfecting my home’s feng shui last night, I stumbled across a number of folios holding printed PDFs I accrued in the dawning days of role-playing’s adoption of the medium. Highlights include:

  • Issue 1 of Franklyn’s Almanack, the rapidly discontinued supplement series to Northern Crown. I liked the setting a lot, but never got to reading the first issue, let alone printing the second — which I did purchase, mind.
  • A host of Hero Games’ quickie Pulp Hero PDFs. My favorite remains Inner-Earth, a mini-setting describing a hollow Earth set-up with Aztecs, dinosaurs, Nazis and more. I got good use out of that setting for an Adventure! one-shot.
  • Executive Decision and …In Spaaace!, a pair of freebie — early subjects of the ransom funding model, perhaps? — games by Greg Stolze.
  • A pair of Trinity supplements, Terra Verde and Asia Ascendant; the latter only made it to manuscript stage, as the line was discontinued.
  • Many of Ronin Arts’ Mutants & Masterminds Archetype Archives. These were great: tons of archetypal starting characters to help games get underway. Only the one time I got to break them out, the players were insistent nothing there suited their individual visions. So it goes.
  • Kithbook: Pooka, my first-ever PDF purchase, and really, emblematic of my experiences with the species: buy PDF, print PDF, read print-out, forget about it. And I even slipped it in a super-fancy folio, with frosted transparent cover.

Some of this stuff is going away. I’ll keep the Almanack, Pulp Hero stuff and Stolze games, as they could still come in handy. The Trinity stuff I’m going to recycle. The Pooka book I will pass on to the fine fellow who cleaned out my Changeling: the Dreaming collection last month.

The 10,000 Year Clock

The clock will run for ten millennia — at least, that’s the plan. Jeff Bezos, founder of, is building a clock designed to run for 10,000 years. It’s a monumental undertaking, to be housed in a 500 hundred foot shaft drilled into a mountain ridge, incorporating massive metal gears and other elements of equal stature. The project is “a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. [Bezos’] hope is that building it will change the way humanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.” You can read more about the clock at its own web site.

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[Scions of Time] The Web Spun Through Time Part 1

The Doctor, a Dalek and the TARDIS rendered in Lego.

Photo by Josh Burker.

We’ll be traveling non-linearly through the Scions of Time campaign for a couple weeks as I need to backtrack on a couple sessions that went undocumented in my recent blogging lethargy. They happened so long ago, I need to dig out my notes — some of which are as vague as “waffle wagon.”

Merrily careening through the vortex with no particular destination in sight, Challenger and his companions Airfor and Caradoc[1] are thrown to the ground when the ship abruptly lurches to a halt. Challenger peers outside to see the breathtaking vistas of deep space before him, with a brilliant purple nebula filling much of the starscape — until the view is slowly obscured by silvery tendrils of a web-like substance.

Meanwhile, Airfor discovers from the TARDIS console read-outs that the engines are straining at maximum capacity, yet getting nowhere. Challenger shuts them down while she repairs damaged linkages. Caradoc experiments on the webbing with a laser torch, finding that the web repairs itself nearly as fast as he can cut it.[2] Using the chameleon circuit to transform the ship’s exterior into a sphere bristling with blades, Challenger cuts their way free of the web and the ship hurtles off into the void.

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You Will Become Like Us

John Seavey tells us how the Cybermen ought to be done:

The horror of the Cybermen is that what they do makes perfect sense. They want to convert every human being into a Cyberman because they genuinely know–not just believe, know–that it willl improve their existences, and they will never stop because they know they’re right. The horror of the Cybermen isn’t, “DELETE DELETE DELETE”, it’s “You will become like us.”

[via The Door in Time]

Plot Seed Medley

Writing plot seeds is tricky. It’s easy to let yourself become repetitive. I find myself writing and rewriting them to stand out as unique. That’s why I so easily stalled on Plot-Seed-a-palooza. I do mean to get back to that someday.

In the meantime, enjoy revisiting some previously published plot seeds.

  1. Beastmen of the North Country lurk in the dark, silent woods.
  2. The Ghost Writer finds herself compelled to fulfill the authorial aspirations of the long-departed.
  3. Lincoln’s Blood proves a turning point for secret histories and wars.
  4. The Roxbury House is a spooky old house inspired by pictures taken by a friend of mine.
  5. Slayers and ‘Busters brings together two monster-hunting franchises to amuse the spectator in the incongruities and similarities.
  6. Something in Lake Champlain Uses Bio-Sonar is a highly suggestive thought about the sort of marine life lurking at the edges of human activity.
  7. Starless takes the contracting universe seen at the end of season five of Doctor Who and adds archaeologists of true history to the mix.
  8. This Man draws on an urban legend to create an ally or antagonist based in the dream world.
  9. Turn Me On, Dead Man presents an alternate history in which the star-crossed fates of two Beatles puts the world in jeopardy.
  10. The Voynich Manuscript is one of those archetypal plot seeds that everyone takes a stab at.

[Scions of Time] And We Bid You Good Night

Photo by Josh Burker.

The Scions of Time convened for the thrilling conclusion to the adventure begun in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Star Children, in which a 1970s counter-culture rock band possessed a seemingly undue influence over a steadily growing number of citizens of New York City.

As the alien Star Child declares the invasion would begin, a purple light suffuses the night sky. Lighting fixtures shine over-brightly and explode, radiating outward from the precinct. The city streets take on an unearthly guise, illuminated only by the strange purple light radiating from the night sky with no apparent source.

Challenger and his companions attempt to avoid the psychic invasion of Earth by running verbal rings around Wolfbrother. This keeps him non-plussed for a moment, but the effect of his grand declaration “The invasion begins!” becomes clear as they detect the footfalls of thousands of people marching in lockstep, converging on the precinct. Stacy keeps Wolfbrother at bay with the menacing application of hair-curling tongs.

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[Scions of Time] The Crystal Sphere, Part 2

With three players on hand, Munk, Nonny and Dan, we returned to The Crystal Sphere, in which Challenger and Stacy find themselves aboard the USS Paris far in the future, as the science vessel explores a crystal sphere that mysteriously formed around a star system. As Lionel Stroller hadn’t yet rejoined the TARDIS crew at this time, Dan took on the role of one of the NPCs, Science Officer Angela Ferris.1

When we left the travelers, they were on an impromptu EVA to investigate a crystal lattice structure orbiting one of the inner planets of the stay system. A coruscating blue force projected from the crystalline object attacks the Paris, while a figure of the same blue energy appears to Challenger and Stacy, making telepathic contact with them to convey the message that they all needed to leave as quickly as possible.

On board the Paris, Ms. Ferris and the rest of the bridge crew encounter a similar blue energy form, albeit a much more aggressive version that makes all sorts of threats and implications of violence via its telepathic link.

After struggling to get back aboard the ship, Challenger and Stacy are briefly grilled on their EVA experience before the tactical officer detects a Draconian battle cruiser entering the crystal sphere through the hole the Paris created. A tense exchange between the two ships’ captains begins2, culminating in the Paris and its puny single mining laser beating feet out of the sphere.

Stacy feels dizzy just about then and makes her way to the head. While freshening up, she is contacted by the same telepathic voice she first encountered during the EVA. Utterly bewildered by the presence of a voice in her head, Stacy cheerfully acquiesces to its presence and desires. Challenger and Ferris, on the other hand, are nonplussed by the psychic stowaway and put Stacy through a battery of tests in sickbay, creating a scene that is somewhat disturbing with regard to the relative cruelty of medical technology of the far future.3

A struggle in the corridor outside sickbay ensues as Challenger tries to get Stacy back to his own ship, feeling confident she’d be free of the blue entity’s influence. Ferris disagrees. Strongly. While Challenger and Ferris are locked in grappling, Stacy makes off down the passageway, eventually arriving in the engine room, after a brief stop in the TARDIS to arm herself with a frying pan and anti-matter chopsticks.

The security details Ferris called up scours the ship for Stacy, finding her at the controls of the “gustave,” the ship’s impeller drive, which bears an odd resemblance to the Eiffel Tower4, where she has completed some enigmatic task for her psychic companion. Threatening the integrity of the gustave with her anti-matter chopsticks, Stacy successfully bargains free passage for herself and Challenger back to their ship in the cargo hold.

Ms. Ferris expresses uncertainty why that the stowaways would insist on cramming themselves into one of the Paris‘ cargo containers. This upgrades to bewilderment when the container emits a groaning, wheezing noise that culminates in the ship disappearing completely. Her attempt to debrief the captain doesn’t do justice to the nonsense that went on in the last half hour.

1 Thus ending the Angela Ferris curse; any time I ever prepared a game with a character named Angela Ferris, the game wouldn’t run. So I would recycle the name, being a perfectly good one that saved me having to conjure one up, and that game wouldn’t run and so on.

2 I realized as soon as the exchange began I’d fallen into yet another NPC versus NPC situation, which I could only try to resolve as quickly as possible, as there was no sensible way to involve Challenger or Stacy. In retrospect, I suppose the captain could have consulted Ms. Ferris. Did he? I can’t remember now.

3 Her player, Nonny, made some remarks about Stacy’s gerbil-sized brain that honestly made me kinda sad. I can’t remember them now, though.

4 In the future, all starships are powered by national monuments, apparently.

[Scions of Time] Ladies and Gentlemen, the Star Children

Last week in Scions of Time, March 28th, we skipped even further ahead in time from The Crystal Sphere to a point where Challenger and Stacy had picked up a heavy metal rocker named Draketooth and reunited with Lionel Stroller, now advanced in years after settling down on a far-off planet for a time.

The ship lands to what the travelers discovered to be the roaring applause of a concert audience. In his element, Draketooth leaps to join the band in an encore rendition of . . . something. Nobody else in the band with whom he jams is terribly certain what they are playing, but it seems to please the crowd. Stacy is greatly displeased by the licentious behavior of the band’s hangers-on, but fails to make much of an impression with her impassioned pleas to the audience or the participants in the after-show party. Lionel discovers they must be in the Fillmore East, sometime in the early 1970s judging by the dates on the show posters papering the backstage wall. Discouraged, Stacy stomps off to do “angry dishes” in the ship, now disguised as a stack of amplifiers, which is later moved out to the loading deck by a roadie.

Meanwhile, Draketooth, Lionel and Challenger fall in with the band, the Star Children. Leaving the Fillmore, they are beset by fans, photographers and a very concerned older woman who addresses the lead singer, “Wolfbrother,” pleading for Matthew to come home. This and following conversation at the diner made Lionel suspicious. Remarks about expanding their audiences’ minds to new influences and the band members’ general vagueness about where they came from causes Lionel to probe deeper as subtly as he can. About this time, he suddenly notices all the band members have brilliantly violet eyes.

Back on the loading dock of the Fillmore, Stacy emerges from her “angry dishes” to discover everyone has gone, except for a disreputable looking fellow in a shabby raincoat. Eventually introducing himself as Steven Greer, the self-proclaimed journalist for The Unquiet Times finds a red-hating kindred spirit in Stacy. She informs him of all the licentious, unamerican behavior going on at these rock shows.

The travelers reunite when Stacy and her new friend track them to the diner. Wolfbrother and the Star Children invite them all to join “their community.” This turns out to be a combination of shanty town and festival in Central Park. Stacy notified a mounted policeman of the vagrants in the park while Lionel seeks out more violet-eyed people in the crowd.

More mounted police appear to roust the community from the park. Lionel takes advantage of the ruckus to corner one of the violet-eyed people and extracts a surprising amount of information from him, revealing he is one of many psychic travelers who have come to Earth to flee their own planet, taking over the bodies of susceptible humans. The dust settles from the rousting of the Star Children’s squatter community, giving Challenger and his companions the opportunity to track “Wolfbrother” to the precinct where the police have taken him.

Challenger opens with a strong approach, offering the aliens blank clones and a world to be named later in exchange for leaving the humans they have possessed. When discussion of how Challenger intends to pull this off causes the offer to begin to ring hollow — and the Time Lord threatens to block the technology that allows the aliens to send their consciousnesses across the interstellar voids, the Star Child reacts poorly, announcing “The invasion begins!”

Lighting fixtures in the police station shine impossibly brightly, then explode. The effect radiates outward from the interrogation room, as though power were being drained from the city grid by something with an insatiable appetite. The travelers are distinctly non-plussed.

This session really clicked for me. There was a level of energy that I hadn’t felt before. I think a lot of that came from the players, as we had a line-up shuffle. Alex started playing his heavy metal character, who is much more high energy than the star fighter pilot Lieutenant Gorman. Nonny’s really gotten into her airhead car-hop character. Dan returned as Lionel after an absence, and got into it with gusto. Munk as Challenger really jumped into things at the end, trying to intimidate the Star Children into negotiating.

A lot of the successful vibe about this session came from the characters. Their players were engaged and their characters showed it, particularly in how they interacted. As a GM, I feed off the enthusiasm they bring to the table, so knowing they’re happy help makes me happy. Everybody wins.

[Scions of Time] The Crystal Sphere

Due to the blizzard two Mondays ago, we tried to have a make-up Scions of Time game this past Monday. That wound up being me, Nonny and Munk due to scheduling. So we had a mini adventure in which Munk’s incarnation of the Time Lord, dubbed Challenger because no one’s come up with a title they like, met Stacy the airhead car hop waitress at a dusty drive-in somewhere on the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada in the 1950s.

As he ordered a milkshake, Challenger and Stacy got to talking about going places and doing things beyond Nevada. She’d started in Chicago and headed west, intending to get to Hollywood to become famous. When a pair of soldiers from the nearby base showed up to apprehend Challenger, he fled to his ship outside, taking Stacy with him on the promise of taking her to Paris.

Where they wound up was the USS Paris, a scout ship orbiting a crystalline stellar object sometime in the future. They explored the ship a bit, met the crew, were brigged for a bit and then discovered the star system was entirely enclosed in a crystalline sphere that hadn’t been there a week ago. The sudden appearance of the sphere alone was interesting enough to attract the attention of a scout ship. The odd crystal object orbiting one of the inner planets they discovered once they burned their way in was even more interesting.

We left off with the crystalline object reacting rather poorly to Challenger and Stacy’s EVA. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get back to that cliffhanger, as we’re not likely to have just Nonny and Munk at the table again. Maybe a future or past set of characters could happen across that moment and cross their timelines for some Blinovitch Limitation Effect fun.

This session highlighted something about this group that we need to work out: everyone has a reactionary play style. I’m reactionary in that I feel I’m at my best when bouncing back from what the players do. And these players seem to wait for things to happen to them. This runs counter to my own conceptions of how an itinerant Time Lord behaves: being nosy, taking the lead in interactions and so on.

So there’s a gap between expectations here. We talked a bit about it after the game, how it’s in genre for more proactivity and nosiness on the players’ part. To my mind, landing on a ship orbiting an interesting thing should be more than enough to get player characters curious, but I am steeped in the many veins of lore of Doctor Who, in which “wander around and get captured” is a valid method of information gathering and getting captured means the Doctor runs rings around his supposed custodians. That’s not every player’s style, though. My hope is that these things will emerge and even themselves out in play.

And I will continue to fight against the GM ADD that whispers in my ear, “Hey, why not switch over to that other campaign idea? That’d be fun and everyone would dig it way more than this Doctor Who mess.”