On the Con

In case you didn’t know, I’m at Gen Con. You can see my schedule here. As you might have noticed, it’s a very, very busy schedule. If you happen to be in the area, come and see me to say hi. I won’t be out guzzling beers, but should be at both the IGDN Gen Con Social and out on Friday night with some friends.

Stick around, as there’ll be lots of post-Gen Con articles. I have a feeling this will be my last for a while, so I hope it’s as memorable as all the others have been.

See you post-Con!

Posted in Personal, Role-Playing Games | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Five Canadian Craft Brews

Sunday was barbeque day with our family friends. They have two daughters as well. When the families get together, the girls disappear and the parents enjoy some conversation. It’s become a tradition to bring different beers every time we do this, and this time I brought a bunch, five of which we sampled.

The best of the bunch was Red Racer India Session Ale by Central City Brewing. It has the character and taste of an IPA but is very light and refreshing. At only 4.0 % alcohol, it’s definitely a beer you can have a few of out on the patio without feeling the effects, but doesn’t sacrifice taste. It doesn’t taste diluted, just lighter. Really enjoyed this one. I give this one 4.75 bbq sausages out of 5.

The second best was Big Mouth Pale Ale by Hop City. Like Red Racer, this was really refreshing. It was much more a pale ale and didn’t have the hoppiness of Red Racer. I think my palate has been altered by the IPAs I’m constantly drinking, and I found Big Mouth slightly lacking in character. There was a hint of hops, but it didn’t have the strong taste of Red Racer. I give this one 4.5 cedar planked salmon out of 5.

Pompous Ass English Pale Ale by Great Lakes Brewery came in third. This one is only ranked lower than Red Racer and Big Mouth because I do prefer IPAs in general, but this was a really palatable pub ale that would be super welcome if I was at a bar. I found it really enjoyable, even though it was outside my usual zone, and I gave it 4.25 “time, gentlemen!” out of 5, but measuring it as an English Pale Ale, I think I would go 4.5. It really was good.

I don’t recommend Old Tomorrow Canadian Pale Ale. Again, this is coming from a guy who regularly drinks IPAs. It wasn’t a bad beer, it just wasn’t memorable. Were I at a bar, and this was on tap, I might consider it, but only if my usual choices were unavailable and there were no IPAs to try (or Steamwhistle or Mill St beers available). That’s damning with faint praise, but I didn’t find much to praise it for. I give this one 3 near misses in horseshoes out of 5.

Finally, another non-recommendation – Wellington Special Pale Ale from Wellington Brewery. I wanted to like this one because it comes from Guelph, near my old stomping grounds of Kitchener-Waterloo. There actually was nothing special about this pale ale. The word that came to mind as we were trying it was “industrial.” It tastes like something brewed by Molson or Labatts, and that is not a compliment coming from me. It’s light enough that putting some lime into it and drinking it cold makes it palatable if not enjoyable. I give it 2.75 sex in a canoes out of 5.

There you go. I will definitely be buying Red Racer ISA in the future, and will have to put it up against Muskoka Detour and Amsterdam Cruzer to find my preferred session IPA, but I think Red Racer has an edge because it is so light without losing any of the IPA character. If you dig IPAs but want something you can enjoy by the pool or while you are at the BBQ, I think Red Racer ISA is an almost certain hit.

Posted in Personal, Review | Leave a comment

Accidental Survivors: Starting – The Campaigninging

A new podcast episode has been released into the wild. In this one, Chris and I chat about my Gen Con plans (my Gen Con calendar is here, and you can see me at the Indie RPG Matchmaker and Historical Gaming seminars), the movie Ant-Man, and how Chris and I generally go about preparing (I use the term loosely) and initiating a new RPG campaign.

 

You can download the episode here.

Posted in Role-Playing Games | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jupiter Ascending

So my wife and I watched Jupiter Ascending last night. I wanted to check it out because it looked like a pretty sprawling space opera. My wife kind of knew of it, but to say she was interested in watching it would be a huge stretch.

My wife and I are usually on the same page when it comes to movies. We both had the same reaction to the Matrix Trilogy: love the first, accepted the second, hated the third. We haven’t seen Speed Racer or Cloud Atlas. Any cachet the Wachowskis might have had, they burned to the ground with Matrix Revolutions. I would have been interested in seeing Jupiter Ascending no matter whose name was attached to it.

Well, maybe not if it were Uwe Boll . . .

The movie was fine. It wasn’t great. The visuals and action were pretty amazing and I’d give it high marks for those, but even then, in some of the fights – especially the starfighter engagement over Chicago – the geography and choreography of the fight was hard to follow. It was too quick and busy to really get involved.

This was definitely space opera. It certainly seemed to be a riff on Dune, with its trade houses and even an organization that supposedly had some level of oversight and influence on these houses – though this seemed more of an accepted fiction within the movie than an actual fact.

And this really impacted on the convoluted plot. Everyone is trying to be underhanded and sneaky about their plans and the ultimate fate of Earth (so very, very valuable . . . of course), but the big bad space police called the Aegis evidences no actual power or influence in the movie. By the end of the movie, all the Byzantine politics and scheming seem spectacularly unnecessary. Perhaps that was part of the message of the movie – without teeth, oversight is meaningless. Granted, that’s probably a good message for today, but it makes no sense in this movie. The Aegis aren’t supposed to be the FCC, they’re portrayed as a uniformed police force, the FBI, and Interpol all rolled into one.

So the plot seems needlessly complex, and within that plot are a bunch of two-dimensional characters who spout clichés. There are no surprises in this movie. Well, the lead character’s final choice is a surprise, but it also seems pretty indefensible. I can find reasons for the decision, but they frankly seem pretty weak and only viable when placed in a stark black & white, binary choice situation. There must be a million middle roads between the choice the character makes and the blandishments of those trying to use her throughout the movie.

This is a complete waste of some actors who have proven their range in other performances. They do their best with the script they are given, but they really aren’t given much with which to work. Eddie Redmayne, who plays the main villain, chews scenery like he knows exactly what kind of movie he is in and decides to have fun with it.

In the end, Jupiter Ascending has very little going for it.

I give Jupiter Ascending 2.5 harvested planets out of 5. It looks great and a couple of the action scenes are honestly tense, but in general its 127 minutes of complexity and implied profundity that actually covers its mundanity. Kind of like Matrix Revolutions.

You can learn more about Jupiter Ascending at Wikipedia or IMDB.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gen Con Social

Posted in Personal, Role-Playing Games | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fiction Friday: The Boltcutter – The Estate

The Boltcutter – the Estate

Alor lived in a walled estate, like all the former rebel commanders. Most of the homes in the city had short walls, about chest high, to demarcate their extent. Many such places shared walls. The city packed everyone together and left little room for those without means or connections. Too much of the city belonged to too few and more arrived every day with nothing but what they carried. War without end had created a class of migrant families that moved from desperate situation to disaster with few tears and fewer hopes.

A general didn’t need to worry about such things. Even as a captain, Alor had known how to ensure his own comfort, and it generally came at the cost of those without weapons and therefore without a voice.

The estate sat along one of the roads that led off the highway to Uganda. While not packed in as close as the tenements in the city, Alor had neighbours within a stone’s throw, and those neighbours would also be generals, who would also have armed guards. Even with complete surprise, Deng and Reno would have only minutes to clear the main building, hopefully find Alor and kill him, and then plant the incriminating evidence before retreating.

The Boltcutter sat in the back seat of the Landcruiser. They had approached from along the riverbank, lights off. The sun would rise in a little over an hour. Reno hoped the Boltcutter had correct information and that Alor had not changed his patterns. He should be in there, sleeping off a massive drunk, likely with a young woman or two coerced into his company through money or threats.

“Ten guards, four at the front, four patrolling, two in the main room.” Reno said it more for his own benefit than to verify the information.

“Probably asleep.” Deng had his suppressed MP5SD in his lap. “Or drunk.”

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Reno closed his eyes and tapped his forehead with the barrel of his weapon. He had switched to a suppressed H&K UMP submachine gun chambered for .45 ACP from the collection liberated from Deng’s safehouse. “Head shots if you’re certain you can make it, Mozambique if you aren’t.”

Mozambique drill – the failure drill in which a shooter puts a round in a target’s head and then two in the chest.

“You want to attack him in his home?” The Boltcutter didn’t smoke. He hadn’t since he got into the Landcruiser. Surprisingly considerate. “You are certain of this? We can go now. You can drive out of here, drive to Uganda.”

“If I ever want to return to my home, I need to do this.” Deng let out a long breath, eyes closed, then opened his door. “I need to do this now.”

The Boltcutter shrugged, took his weapon off safety, and exited the Landcruiser.

“This is the time.” Deng squeezed Reno’s shoulder. “We go.”

“Yeah.” Reno watched Deng get out of the vehicle. He knew as soon as he stepped outside, he’d be committing himself. If he opened that door and his foot touched the ground, the mission was on.

Did he have a choice?

The three moved quietly. They didn’t have night vision devices, though the Boltcutter had switched out the optics on his Vikhr for a 1PN58 night scope, almost as long as his weapon. Both Deng’s MP5SD6 and Reno’s UMP had tactical lights, but they didn’t want to use those outside. Inside, it would be a necessity. Outside, it would make them a target.

The top of the wall around Alor’s estate had broken glass rather than razor wire, but a thick mat worked just as well. Reno boosted Deng first. He waited, straining, as Deng swept the immediate area. Apparently, he heard and saw nothing, because over he went. Reno waited, listening. A rope came over. Reno let his UMP hang on its sling as he climbed to the top and over.

The grounds had multiple stunted trees and a strange hedge that ran along the back of the house. Deng had secured the rope to one of those trees. He knelt alongside it, all but invisible. Reno joined him. No lights showed from the house or the grounds. Somewhere in the darkness, four soldiers patrolled. Or were they lying under one of the trees, sleeping? Reno and Deng strained to identify targets in the night. They did not have time to linger. Crouched, moving slowly, as quiet as possible, they advanced on the house, aiming for where they believed the back door to be.

The sound of voices stopped them. Reno took a knee. He thought the noise came from his left. He pivoted. Now it seemed like the sound was to his right. He couldn’t speak to Deng, couldn’t ask his opinion or voice a concern because then the owners of those voices would be seeking them in the dark. He held his right arm out touching Deng’s shoulder. Deng lightly chopped Reno’s forearm twice with his hand, signalling a negative. He shifted and touched Reno’s left shoulder.

Reno willed his eyes to pierce the night’s curtain, but nothing. He momentarily considered switching on his weapon’s tac light.

A loud mechanical sound, like ratcheting a chain and metal sliding along metal, joined the voices. Something smacked into meat. A weight dropped. Someone grunted in surprise, queried in a worried voice. The sound came again, shriekingly loud in Reno’s ears. Another smack and another weight striking the ground.

The Boltcutter had found the voices. His suppressed Vikhr with its subsonic ammunition might not be silent, but who would recognize those strange mechanical sounds, even if they echoed through the early morning dark? Reno thought he could discern a form on the wall, where the mat covered the glass. Overwatch. Whoever he was, Reno owed the Boltcutter for that.

Would the suppressed shots alert the other guards? Deng didn’t seem to care, as he only allowed a couple of heartbeats to pass after the second shot before he moved on the house. Reno followed. At the house, they followed its wall to the back door. It was almost completely glass, but Reno couldn’t see inside, only reflections of the moonlit yard. Deng tried the handle.

Locked.

Deng had a set of picks for pin locks, and he went to work. Reno swept the yard, hoping no one wandered into the kitchen and noted the dark figures through the glass door. The sound of Deng working on the locks scratched along Reno’s spine. The Boltcutter’s suppressed shots surely would have woken any dozing guards, and the sound of torsion wrench and picks would draw them here.

With a final click that startled Reno, Deng had the door open. Reno could not remember being so on edge. The artificial and natural stimulants kept him alert, yes, but how were his perceptions? His reflexes? Following Deng into the house, switching on his tac light, he figured he was about to find out.

Without lights, Reno assumed the guards would be sleeping. Would they lie in wait in the dark? He’d never heard of that, but imagined it possible. If so, they’d see the lights and that would be it for Deng and him. Out of the kitchen and through the dining room, Deng in the lead, Reno moved while tracking his progress in the map in his head. One hallway led to the bedrooms. The guards would be in that hallway, or perhaps in one of the rooms off of it.

The two stacked up against the wall, ready to enter the hallway. Deng would take left and Reno right. They moved, advancing down the hallway, sweeping it with their lights, encountering no targets. With the two doors in the hall closed, they moved to the final, central door.

Deng counted down from three at a bare whisper. On go, the door swung open and in they went, Reno first, sweeping from the far right corner to the centre of the room – the bed. Nothing. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.

Reno glanced at Deng, who shook his head. He gestured back to the hallway.

The two moved to the door to their left, which would face the back of the house. Countdown and entry. They were greeted with two soldiers sleeping on a bed, back to back, their weapons on the floor beside them. Reno froze. He had killed men in their sleep before, but that had been war. And this? Neither man presented a threat now, but should they wake, they would go for their weapons. What if they woke while Reno and Deng assaulted the next room?

Deng made the decision. He put a three-round burst centre mass. Like the Vikhr, the report of the suppressed MP5 submachine gun sounded insanely loud in Reno’s ears, especially in the confines of the bedroom.

Loud or not, the die had been cast. Reno fired twice into centre mass and once into the sleeping soldier’s head. He paused for a moment, watching the life leave the body, feeling oddly sad. To get where he was – a trusted bodyguard to a corrupt general – he must have done some heinous shit. Maybe he had a wife and children somewhere, but do did many others who deserved to die. This guy had put himself between violence and a pure bastard, he should’ve expected to take a bullet sooner or later.

The moment of philosophy lasted less than a heartbeat, and then Reno turned to go to the last of the doorways in the hall.

The shouting started before they left the room. Outside, someone was raising the alarm. Lights went on, visible through the windows. They went to the door. The sound of movement and groggy voices came from beyond it. Deng slapped Reno’s shoulder, then put his hand on the doorknob. He would open, Reno would enter. Business as usual. Reno nodded.

One man stood on Reno’s left. He didn’t even see Reno. Two quick rounds to the chest. Reno pivoted right. Too late. The second man sprayed his AKM from his hip, screaming. Reno moved to his left, trying to maneuver around the bed, firing round after round into the soldier’s torso, praying one of them would put him down before that arc of 7.62 Soviet rounds reached him. A bullet to the head finally made the shooting stop.

“I cannot believe this.” Deng’s voice came strained and harsh.

He leaned against the doorway. Reno’s tac light revealed three rapidly expanding pools of blood on Deng’s shirt, one of them at his chest, the other two at his belly. Deng smiled as he slowly slid to the ground. “So close. I cannot believe this.” The MP5 hung on its sling as he finally reached the floor. He spoke in his native language, only a few words of which Reno had ever learned. Deng looked up. “No worries about going home now.”

And it ended. The eyes stared. His mouth hung open. The blood flowed. But Deng had departed.

Boots in the kitchen forced Reno to forget about his dead friend. He snatched up the AKM at his feet. They were in the hallway now, coming fast, not cautious at all. Reno went cyclical, putting a hail of lead through the wall at about chest height. He moved to the door as he did so. One long barrage, then another, emptying the magazine. He threw the AKM down as he reached the door, raised up the UMP and went through into the hall.

One dead, skull caved in. One wounded, laying on the ground. Two retreating, backing away, weapons ready. Those two noted Reno just after he targeted them. The UMP fired four bursts. Every bullet found a home in one of those two and they dropped. The wounded soldier started to rise. Another burst ended that, firing the weapon dry.

Reno changed mags. His ears rang from the close firing of the AKMs. He crouched, checking Deng, needing to be sure.

Dead.

Nothing more to do. Deng had the fixed-up file in his rucksack. Leave him here, tie him to Alor, burn that fucker. At least cause him a headache.

He needed something more.

Reno moved with caution but also speed. The neighbouring generals would have their soldiers out, looking for the source of the gunshots, looking for trouble. There should be two more guards, but there were also only supposed to be two in the house and Alor was supposed to be there.

The exterior lights illuminated the dining room and kitchen. Nothing. Peeking around the corner, Reno verified the front door remained closed. Maybe no guards on that door. It didn’t matter. Reno left through the back door and into the yard, the Boltcutter clearly visible on the wall. He waved Reno on, dropping off the wall after he did. Reno cursed. He wanted the Boltcutter to help him over. He didn’t want to leave the rope.

At the tree, he untied the rope and threw it over the wall. The tree got him high and close enough to jump to the top of the wall. The force of impact pushed the glass through the mat, but not through his boots. Still, the glass punctured the tread, affixing him for a moment to the wall, unbalancing him. Luckily the Boltcutter remained at the wall, saw his distress, and caught him as he fell.

“Total clusterfuck.” Reno got his feet under him. “Thanks for the saves, but your intel was bollocks.”

Carefully, Reno removed the mat. It didn’t matter, it wouldn’t come off gentle. Pieces would still be up there and he had no time to change that.

“Deng is not coming?” The Boltcutter didn’t deliver it entirely as a question, and he did not wait for an answer but started for the Landcruiser.

Reno gathered up the mat, dragging it to the vehicle. “No, he’s not fucking coming.” Most of the estates around them had lit up. Shouting came from some of them. Mat stowed, Reno got into the driver’s seat. “Totally fucked.”

The Boltcutter didn’t speak as Reno navigated the Landcruiser along the banks of the river without headlights. They paused at the road and the Boltcutter pulled out his cigarettes. “Where to now?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going hunting.”

Expectations are dangerous things. Alor likely expected that he would take the young lady on his arm back to his apartment. He likely expected to then ply her with the copious alcohol or recreational drugs he had throughout the apartment. He likely expected to once again exploit someone vulnerable.

But that night in Nairobi dashed his expectations.

He had heard about the attack on his villa the night before. A subordinate had called him with the details. Why should this worry him? Deng had died. Reno could not be found. Did Alor wonder where he had fled? It probably wouldn’t matter to the general. How could Alor be found, hiding in his secret abode in Nairobi?

Perhaps these reasons or others led him to dismiss his bodyguards at the elevator in the garage. He had none when he reached his floor, nor when he opened the door to his apartment.

He entered, babbling to his companion. He turned on the lights. He didn’t seem to notice the young lady freeze, staring, mouth open, lower lip trembling. He shut the door and locked it. Turning, he realized the apartment was occupied.

“The young lady leaves,” Reno said.

Staring down the barrel of a suppressed SIG Sauer P220 semi-automatic handgun, Alor didn’t argue. He turned. He unlocked the deadbolt. Reno took three steps, stopped, and placed the barrel of his sidearm against the back of Alor’s head. “Only the young lady leaves.”

She did. She backed out of the apartment, her view of Reno obscured by Alor.

“Lock up tight.” Reno spoke in a whisper.

When Alor had fastened the lock and the deadbolt, Reno spun him around and pushed him into the room. Out of the hall that lead to the bedroom stepped John, dressed in a crisp suit, his face uncharacteristically stern.

John held his suppressed Glock 19 on Alor. “I have questions I want you to answer. I am not going to torture you. If you answer my questions, you’ll be transferred to the authorities and put on. If you do not, Reno is going to kill you. He will do it quickly and cleanly.”

“Two bullets in the belly and one in the chest.” Reno’s voice trembled with restraint. “The one in the chest won’t be through the heart. You’ll die quick, but it won’t be immediate.”

Alor smiled. “No. You can’t just kill me—“

John held up his hand to silence Alor. “We can kill you. We do it when necessary. You present a national security threat to my government’s interests. More importantly, you pissed off Reno something fierce.”

“I have information that should be worth millions, you know that.” Alor sat on his couch. He reached for a metal container on the coffee table before him. “We can negotiate.”

“I’m going to tell you one last time, then I am going to let Reno put you down.” John’s Glock didn’t waver as it tracked Alor’s head. “Are you going to cooperate right here, right now, or is Reno going to shoot you?”

Alor stared at John. His eyes narrowed. The smile gone, his mouth opened slightly, enough to see his tongue touch the back of his upper teeth. His hand hovered over the container.

“This is a limited time offer,” John said. “I will happily let Reno shot your ass. You deserve worse. Playing ball is the only way you see another sunrise.”

Alor let out a long breath. He closed his eyes. “No, I don’t think—“

On that first word, John lowered his weapon. Reno fired three times. Two rounds struck Alor in the belly and one in the chest. He heaved back, grabbing at his torso like he could pull the bullets out. He didn’t scream. He didn’t cry out. His eyes wide, his mouth gaping but silent, he clutched at his shirt, pulling it open.

Reno put a foot on the coffee table, leaned forward. “So close. But you won’t be going home now.”

Alor didn’t answer. He couldn’t.

You can find part one of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part two of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part three of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part four of “The Boltcutter” here.

Look for more Friday Fiction here.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boltcutter Ebook

The final chapter of “the Boltcutter” will be available at Sword’s Edge, on Friday 17 Jul at 1900 EST. Right now, the full story is available as an ebook from Amazon, and you can find it here.

The story will remain available on the Sword’s Edge website for free.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment