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Recommended Reading: The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This morning I finished reading “The Atrocity Archive”, a short novel by author Charles Stross, which has been released in the book called “The Atrocity Archives” which also contains the short story “The Concrete Jungle” also written by Stross. Although I had to struggle with Stross’ writing style a couple of times I had a blast reading the book. So what’s the Atrocity Archive about?

It’s the story of Bob Howard, an IT guy working for The Laundry, a UK secret government agency which protects the UK from all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors. It’s not set in Lovecraft’s world per se, but Stross was definitely inspired by it and he even mentions Cthulhu and Nyarlathothep among other things. Over the course of the story the protagonist transfers to active duty in the agency, has to deal with the insane bureaucracy of The Laundry, fight extrauniversal horrors, and deal with a threat that could very well be the end of our known universe. Whoah! I won’t get into more detail on the story here, because the story holds a couple of interesting surprises that I don’t want to spoil here. All this is accompanied by a healthy dose of a pretty dark British humor.

Stross’ writing style is fast, sometimes a bit overwhelming, but always fun to read and very cinematic. I am pretty sure the book could easily be turned into an exciting movie. Ah, I forgot to mention one important aspect of the fictional universe the story is set in: mathematics can be magic. There are certain calculations that open leaks to other, distant universes. Luckily the maths involved are very complicated and before the advent of computers it was very had to pull off certain spells. But nowadays you can run magic software on your Palm Pilot (or Necronomiphone). This is unknown to the world and everyone who stumbles upon this secret – cultists, mathematicians, the IT guy in your company’s basement – are either killed or recruited to The Laundry or similar agencies.

The LaundryIf you now think this would make a great setting for a roleplaying game then you’re right. There even is an official The Laundry RPG by Cubicle 7 using Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. But if you prefer a system more suited to the pulpy style of Stross’ stories, you could probably run a game using Savage Worlds, Realms of Cthulhu, and Agents of Oblivion. Whatever you use The Laundry Files series for, inspiration for your Call of Cthulhu game or just for your entertainment, it’s definitely highly recommended to anyone who likes Lovecraftian horror, British humor, and has at least some familiarity with higher mathematics or working in IT.

Planning ahead

For quite a long time I started new campaign on a whim with an extremely short prep period. This works out well enough if you’re at the top of your game, creative, able to think on your toes. But if you are stressed from work and other things, perhaps even feeling a bit under the weather, this just doesn’t work out anymore. My friend Roberto has a different approach to GMing. He usually plans his campaigns way ahead. I think he’s already planning the campaign he wants to run in 2015. I don’t think I’ll ever plan ahead that early, but I’ve decided to change the way I prepare for my games.

At the moment I am running two games: a mini-campaign freely based on the XCOM series of computer games and a campaign based on the Fallout 1 computer game. Both games use Fudge rules, for the Fallout one I even wrote a pretty extensive conversion document. The XCOM game will probably be over two weeks time, so I am already planning for the game that will follow.

My players have asked me to run Shadowrun, so I started reading 5th Edition. Alas reading 5th Edition felt like gnawing off my own foot, so I decided to look for alternatives. At first I thought just tossing the Shadowrun rules would be best, but in the end I settled on Shadowrun 4th Edition. For some reason I find the game much more approachable. I’ll still think the same after I’ve finished reading the book.

But I will not stop there. As soon as we start playing Shadowrun I’ll think about what I could prepare next. Currently I am very interested in the Hero System. I picked up the current Bundle of Holding, and already started leafing through the various PDFs. I always wanted to run a superhero game, and Champions Complete may be the perfect game for this. If the Hero System turns out too much of a hassle after all, I still have a couple of alternatives up my sleeves. BASH Ultimate Edition looks like a more rules-lite approach to super hero gaming for example.

Do you usually plan way ahead for your games? Do you have several projects brewing at the same time, or do you prefer to focus on only one game at a time? Please share your thoughts below.

My short struggle with Shadowrun 5th Edition

SR5A while ago my players asked me if I could run Shadowrun for them. They love the Shadowrun world and the gameplay should be right up their alley. So we decided that after we finished the XCOM mini-campaign that I’ll run Shadowrun. Recently the 5th Edition was released and what I’ve seen so far looked pretty cool, so I ordered a copy of the game.

Oh boy, what have I done? While I totally love the look and production values of the book, the rules are just not my cup of tea. Reading the background sections was a joy, but as soon as they started talking about the rules my head started to spin. I have run Shadowrun 1st and 2nd Edition back in the day, and somehow I managed to cope with the game’s crunch back then, but the latest edition of this game seems to be even crunchier and more convoluted than earlier editions (at least the ones I know).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Shadowrun 5th Edition is a bad game. It just proved to me again, that there are some rule systems I just can’t handle. I have always been a player and GM who enjoys trying out new systems. But this also means that I just can’t put too much time and effort into a single system. And from what I’ve seen so far, a game like Shadowrun 5th Edition needs a lot of time and effort to be run properly.

So what I am going to do now? At first I’ll have another look at the 2nd Edition. Perhaps the fact that I’ll run the game in the 1990s will make the task of getting into the game again a bit easier. On the other hand I could just use a different system to run a Shadowrun game. Fudge comes to mind and I’ve already found a Shadowrun conversion for Savage Worlds. Alas HexNoir, the magic supplement for TechNoir hasn’t been released yet, since TechNoir looks like the perfect ruleset for the job, but Shadowrun is not Shadowrun without a healthy dose of fantasy.

My players already told me that they don’t mind what system I’ll use. They are more interested in the setting than the rules. So not all is lost!