Sunday, 18 September 2016

An Oldhammer Reader: The Fabulous Riverboat

Continuing our voyage of discovery down the great river, we get to the second part of Philip José Farmers Riverworld saga - The Fabulous Riverboat (1971). I don't know about you but the title makes me think the novel is going to be a cross between It Aint Half Hot Mum, Pricilla Queen of the Desert and Love Boat, maybe a gay romance novel set in the deep south with show-tunes. It isn't much like that at all. Although there is a boat.

First Edition cover by Richard Powers
Richard Powers cover for TYSBG
I like these covers a lot, much better than the cruddy 1990s cover I own.  Powers covers hang between an early Ian Miller and Dave McKean assemblage, echoes of constructivism. Nice stuff, and a slight departure from the usual sci-fi psychedelica Powers is known for.  If I were to hunt down editions, rather than just pick them up randomly, these would be they.

What we do have is the continuation of the progress of humanity as set up in To Your Scattered Bodies Go (see here).  Having started to settle in a little, humanity starts to organise itself into geographically tied social groups, and following old habits, something like nations begin to form. In this Farmer is probably (and quite depressingly) accurate in his depiction of human nature. Even when freed from history, consequence and responsibility, people still seem to refuse rugged individualism.

This time around, Farmer rolls 1D6 times on the D100 Random Character From History Table, and writes us a novel featuring Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Eric Bloodaxe, Joe Miller (an enormous caveman), King John, Cyrano de Bergerac and a nation of Black Separatists.

The racial tension theme runs quite strongly through the second half of the novel, with key characters having living through or just after the American Apartheid and segregation, and still thinking in Earth-terms about white oppression and race relations.  Sam Clemens is forced to confront his use of the word Nigger, whilst simultaneously explaining that Huckleberry Finn is pretty much anti-racist, and the book can't be read any more so can't actually matter. All good stuff.

The first half is much more about the comedy Vikings and establishing Sam as a rabid technologist who just wants to build a damn boat to get to the source of The River, but having to deal with treacherous heavies like King John to get the job done. Having influence with the Ethicals (as the entities running the Riverworld Experiment are known), an iron-bearing meteorite is brought down to help in his quest, iron being used to build the steam-ship. Indeed most of the novel is about the problems of getting the ship built, alongside developing black-powder weapons.

More thoughts on Gaming Riverworld

A hex based wargaming campaign. The technological development of the Riverboat is very much like building dev / arms race in a RTS. There's a kind of ur-Cold War, ideological driven thing waiting to be shaped. Perhaps something like Imperialism in Space meets Cosmic Encounter. Resources, exploration, empire building, diplomacy...

Never miss an opportunity to shoehorn in some great
1980's John Blanche artwork

The reincarnation effect could be a different take on multiple lives inherent in videogames.  A Riverworldian MMORPG would have interesting repercussions for guilds and the suchlike, but  perhaps more suited to Roguelike or solo dungeoncrawl / exploration game where death simply removes the players avatar to another part of the labyrinth or landscape, robbing him of all equipment, followers and henchmen, as well as confusing the players sense of place. I don't know of any game that uses a  random-character-respawn-location mechanic as a reward for character death, but perhaps there is one.

The Oldhammer Consequences

So what of the Fabulous Riverboats impact on early Warhammer?

The Magnificent Sven

Whilst we don't actually get to see much river-action in the Fabulous Riverboat by now I'm pretty much convinced that the motley crew of mismatched characters taken from wildly disparate fantasy cultures in Sven, is inspired by, if not straight-forwardly based on the groups of wildly disparate historical cultures in The Riverworld sequence.  It's tempting to think of Warhammers Lustria, or indeed the whole of the Known World as an example of the ideologically and racially discreet nations that some of the Riverworldians seem keen on founding. A kind of identity politics writ large.

Then there's the boat "The Not For Hire" and the boat "The Voltsvagen" - there's no need for a steam-powered paddle-boat to turn up along the rivers of Lustria, why not a simple medieval-level boat or a pre-colonial floatila? The specific appearance of an anachronistic steam paddler is far too much of a coincidence to not be a direct lift.

Punhammer shock

Meteor Technology

I'm sure there are other fictional examples of meteors landing and giving a technological boost to its finders. If it's not a well worn trope, it should be. Riverworld gets its iron, and the Warhammer World gets its Warpstone from large meteoric deposits. In fact there definitely are precursors in the magico-religious meteor in Abrahamic religions but that's a path to take another time.

Anarchonistic Technology

From the First Citadel Journal's "Warhammer and Sci-Fi", throwing guns into the Warhammer mix right there in first edition. I don't think it's really a coincidence that Riverworlds motifs of a stranded alien (who turns up on the banks of a river no less) and impact of blackpowder technologies within an otherwise 'primitive' technological framework and The Legend of Kremlo. In parallel with the Steamboat, there are also the development of small aircraft in the guise of gliders. Indeed if one thinks about it really hard, preferably while staring into the bottom of a pint of Guinness, Warhammer 40k's gothic-sci-fi is a reasonably neat depiction of the end-game of Riverworldian human cultural-technological advancement, but then I said that last time too.

Of course, our Oldhammerish voyage to the  Riverworld does not end here, but continues with The Dark Design. Which almost predictably contains a character which one review calls "a stereotype of the militant lesbian feminist of the 1970s".

Yeah... get in!

amazons: lesbian feminist separatists

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How to Self Assemble Planström Dungeon Floor Plan System

To prepare and assemble Planström using this guide you will need:
  • Planström Dungeon Floorplan Set One PDF 
  • access to a black and white printer
  • sheets of paper (180msg-280msg)
  • a sharp craft knife or scalpel
  • a self-healing cutting mat
  • a metal ruler or straight-edge
  • a sheet of black A3 paper

Planström Dungeon Floor Plan

Step 1: Obtaining Planström

Planström is easily available from DrivethuRPG at the following internet address:

Once you have downloaded a set of Planström, proceed to Step 2

Step 2: Designing with Planström 

Before you begin to Planström we consider it a good idea to consider the size of room tiles, the lengths of corridors and number of doors you will need.  You can always produce more Planström at a later time, but deciding upon a certain number of corridors and rooms before beginning to produce  Planström will make your Planström flow more easily.

Ideas for designs may be found in the map of a published traditional roleplaying adventure scenarios. In this case study the map carefully, making note of the sizes of rooms or corridors and design your Planström accordingly. More inspiration may be found in diagrams of archeological sites  such as old castles, cathedrals or even your own home! With Planström you are free to explore the possibilities of your imagination.

Example: Skaldig Mönster

For an initial set we recommend using the Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan design pattern (see below). This is a flexible pattern which will give you a varied set of rooms and corridors, suitable for many exciting kinds of dungeon adventures for you, your friends, family and colleagues to enjoy.

To produce the Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan you will need to print :

  • 2 sheets of Planström Sheet 1A: Room 
  • 1 set of Planström Sheet 1B: Corridor
  • 1 set of Planström Sheet 1C: Doors

And cut the plans using the following guides. Red lines indicate cuts.
Planström Sheet 1A: Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan
red lines indicate cuts

This sheet will give you:

  • 1 x 7 x 6 Room
  • 1 x 4 x 4 Room
  • 1 x 3 x 4 Room

Planström Sheet 1A: Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan
red lines indicate cuts
This will give you:
  • 1 x 7 x 4 Room
  • 1 x 4 x 4 Room
  • 2 x 3 x 3 Rooms

Planström Sheet 1B:
Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan 
red lines indicate cuts

This will give you:
  • 2 x 1 x 10 Corridors
  • 1 x 2 x 10 Corridor
  • 2 x 2 x 5 Corridor
  • 2 x 1 x 5 Corridors
  • a lot of doors*
* We have not shown a cutterguide for doors. Every 25mm horizontal and 12.5mm line as indicated by the cutter guides need to be cut.

The Skaldig Mönster Dungeon Floorplan is ideal for a small dungeon as might be inhabited by the traditional dungeon denizens such as Goblins, Kobolds, Orcs and Skeletons. A small dragon may fit in the larger room. It's really up to you.

Of course many other useful Dungeon Floorplan Designs can be easily produced. With Planström the only limits are your creativity.

Step 2: Printing Planström Sheets

Print as many sheets of Planström as required for your Dungeon Floorplan Design. For a 25mm grid, ensure that scaling is set to 100%, do not allow your print dialogue to "fit-to page" or "scale to fit". If the Planström artwork falls over your printers print margins, do not worry. If you wish to use Planström with an alternative scale, please use the conversion chart below.


Planström is built of high resolution black and white images, and will comfortably scale on most printing devices without degrading in quality.

Once you have your printed sheets of Planström you will be ready to carry out your Dungeon Floorplan Design and proceed to Step 2.

Step 3: Cutting Planström Sheets

Assemble your:

  • printed planström sheet
  • a metal ruler or straight edge
  • a sharp knife
  • cutting mat

Whilst this guide is intended for use with these tools, feel free to express your creativity using alternative cutting methods, such as scissors or laser cutters, which are entirely possible using Planström.

Knife, Ruler, Planström.

Zhu Industries recommends the following products:
  • Swan Morton Size 3 Scalpel Handle
  • Swan Morton 10A Blades
  • Stanley Metal Steel Ruler
These are high quality precision instruments which if looked after correctly will help you create Planström time and time again over the years as well as other projects. We selected these because we are comfortable and familiar with their use, they are made in the UK, so easily obtainable, have a low carbon footprint and support local business. Of course, Zhu Industries encourages you to source high quality products from your own local steel and precision tool making industries, and to use well looked after vintage tools wherever possible.

Planström Döts rock!

At the heart of the Planström Dungeon Floor Plan System lays the unique cutter-guide graphic device - the Planström Döt. This has been specially created to help you cut Planström accurately and safely.  You will notice that the cutter-guide does not sit on the edge of the textures frame, but sits just within it. This is to ensure a clean edge, and will produce an accurate grid if followed properly.

Place your metal ruler or striaght-edge half-way over the largest  Döt and follow the line through the grid.

Finally ensure both ends of the ruler or straight-edge are lined up and whilst holding the ruler firmly, run your knife along the edge, following cutting to the Döt. Proceed until all the cuts following your plan are done.

Whatever plan you are using, the following tips may help cut Room and Corridor:

  • start with the direction that will require the least cuts
  • cut all the internal lines in that direction first
  • cut all the internal lines in the second direction
  • always cut the outside edges last
When cutting a sheet such as 1C Doors
  • cut the longer internal lines first, 
  • cut the shorter lines second, 
  • When cutting the shorter lines:
  • Start from the centre and work outwards. 
  • Always maintain a firm pressure on the straight-edge where the cut is being made.

Further options for creating your own, unique style of Planström include glueing sheets to mount-board, or foam-board for increased rigidity, printing onto coloured or textured paper for more  personal variation.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

An Oldhammer Reader: To Your Scattered Bodies Go

To Your Scattered Bodies Go is a  1971, Hugo Award Winning novel by science-fiction author Philip José Farmer and the inaugural  book of the Riverworld series (composed in the main from 1965 -1980. The novel was mentioned by Rick Priestly as one of the formative fantasy works that fuelled early Warhammer and was an especial favourite of co-creator Richard Halliwell. So what is it all about then?

The central premise of the novel is that every human being who ever lived suddenly wakes up one day along the banks of a huge planet-encircling river in a perfectly capable fit and able body. Everyone from primitive Neanderthals to the moderns of 1984  when the world ended. The reborn are totally bald, naked and strapped to a metal canister which they quickly learn provides food, alcohol, cigarettes and psychoactive chewing gum three times a day, every day when plugged into a giant stone mushroom. Death on Riverworld simply means being reincarnated somewhere downstream, loosing from any material or social ties that might have been made, but keeping memories intact.

From this core concept, Farmer explores various ideas about how people from different eras and cultures cope with their new form of existence. As new societies form and fall apart, the denizens of Riverworld alternately cling to and abandon the social moires, attitudes and relationships of their previous lives in the context of their new surroundings.

This is all wrapped up in an adventure story, following the exploits of Sir Richard Francis Burton, who according to Wikipedia was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. In many ways the ideal candidate for a hero in the new world of mixed up people. It's clear Farmer is indulging his fascination for the character. We also follow the redemption of his arch enemy - Hermann Göring as he finds his way to becoming a decent human being through a self directed form of psycho-chemical and suicide-reincarnation therapy.

There is also the question of the Ethicals - the shadowy beings who caused the resurrection, what motives they might have are only guessed at, and the philosophical void of not having those great answeres questioned, despite life-after-death looms large.

Overall To Your Scattered Bodies Go  is a fast-paced enjoyable read, combined with a novel social science fiction backdrop. Yeah, worth reading.

Gaming Riverworld

Reading To Your Scattered Bodies Go constantly raises the question what if? Farmer concentrates on a few characters who he finds interesting and flings them into high adventure, in some ways it is like reading fan fiction for Sir Francis Burton.  But what of the millions of other Terrestrials awakened? What happened to the likes of Isambard Kingdom Brunel,  Emmeline Pankhurst, Pablo Picasso, Matthew Hopkins or Ada Lovelace?

Exploring such unwritten adventures cries out for a rules-light RPG, storytelling game, maybe in the form of a matrix game Each player simply choses a historical character, researches them, and then relates what they do and how they behave within the confines of the Riverworld, giving thought to:
  • How does their material reincarnation effect their religious and philosophical views?
  • How prepared are they for a primitive lifestyle?
  • What motivates them once all lifes needs are provided for? 
  • What does having a 'second chance' mean to them? 
  • What do they seek to reclaim from their previous life?
  • What social moires do they hold on to?
  • How do they operate without technology, culture or society?
  • What relationships, conflicts, friendships, rivalries are formed with the other characters in the group.

A kind of exercise in post-New Age Blavatskian past-life regression therapy, where players are free to personally relate to famous (or not so famous) historical figures on a personal level, without needing to carry the spiritualist baggage and mumbo jumbo. Perhaps a thought-experiment in social determinism once Maslows hierarchy of needs has been thoroughly up-ended, or a creative writing exercise in understanding that different societies produce different attitudes, plenty of meat for a story-game.

There is a Riverworld supplement for GURPS, but it appears (as it should) to go beyond the first book in the series, and I haven't read it, so I'll leave off saying anything only leaving a brief mention for completions sake.

In terms of wargaming, there are a wide number of varying humans (and one alien), but their weaponry and armour are all roughly stone or bamboo. Farmer has many tribal conflicts and slave revolts. Various coracles, rafts, canoes longboats might take a major role as the River takes a central theme.

What's all this got to do with Oldhammer?

On Riverworld people wake up bald and naked, then proceed to arm themselves with primitive, stone age weapons.

Slann Slave Warriors | Tony Ackland (? 1983?)

I don't know about you, but I've sometimes wondered why Slann human slave warriors are naked, bald and armed with primitive, stone age weapons. The pot-bellies don't come into it tho' as Farmer has everyone reincarnate at peak physical fitness, oh and the loincloths? Well halfway through To Your Scattered Bodies Go Farmer suddenly has everyone wake up with towels, from which many people make clothes. It turns out Riverworld froods really know where their towels are.

The titular hero of Kremlo the Slann from The First Citadel Compendium has shades of Farmers single alien, Monat Grrautut - a strange, unfroglike humanoid alien who was on earth at the time of humanities end (and may well have helped cause it) who provides a Mr. Spock-like distance and logical interpretation to the events.

The Legend of Kremlo the Slann
First Citadel Compendium | John Blanche (1983)

But unlike Kremlo the Slann Monat Grrautut is the last of his kind, ressurected with the Terrestrials on Riverworld, but the rest of his folk on some distant planet. It's unlikely, but not impossible that they make a return later in the series and prove to be the shadowy beings known as the Ethicals who seem to be running the show, but I don't think so.

But more than these slight concurrences, To Your Scattered Bodies Go posits a world where people from historically different cultures conflict and collaborate with each other within the same geographical area.   In Riverworld reincarnated Nazis and Roman Emperors set up slave-empires that fight against their neighbours, whilst in Warhammer Known World in it's earliest conception Renaissance Germany sits next to Late Medieval France and Migration Era Norsemen. The idea of historically based human cultural forms appearing out of context, within a technologically uniform state, albeit advanced from Riverworlds primitive one,  ressurects itself much later in the development of  Warhammer, with 40k and its North American Indian Dark Angels (re: Deathwing),  Mongolian White Scars,  Nordic Space Wolves, Roman Ultramarines, British 1800s Praetorian Guard, American 1960s Catchan Jungle Fighters, German 1940s Death Korps of Krieg etc. ad nauseum.

As mentioned To Your Scattered Bodies Go is only the first in the Riverworld sequence. The second part, The Fabulous Riverboat  features a miss-matched band of adventurers, a tribe of vikings and going upriver on a paddle steamer. Hmm, wonder where I might have heard that idea before...

The Magnificent Sven. John Blanche (1984)