Saturday, March 22, 2014

Post Cruise Book Review

I survived my cruise in February, plus I got some actual reading done that didn't consist of Facebook posts and message boards.

George F Kennan: An American Life -
When I mentioned my reading choices for the cruise on social media, my friend Bob, who is a history professor, gave an electronic yack of disapproval.   I ended up stopping at "Mr X" and had barely made a dent in the book.  I was a big Kennanophile over  a decade ago, and despite getting access to all of his journals, John Gaddis added very little in this biography that wasn't alluded to in Kennan's own Memoirs.  Trying to show Kennan's insecurities, the journal entries are dropped in some odd places in the book, sometimes completely interrupting a solid passage with some emotional "Flash Fact."  I realized in the middle of the ocean that this was not the biography I was looking for.

For the sake of the review, I'll give it 2 out of 5 gnomes, and leave them unpainted to reflect the fact that I have yet to finish the reading.  With the majority of my TV viewing ending in the next week or two, I should be able to get some quality reading time back, but I question if this constitutes quality reading. 

House of R'lyeh-
House of R'lyeh is an interesting collection to scenarios that tie in after some of the Lovecraftian stories have taken place.   All are good examples of what can occur if the foul Mythos is inflicted on other characters.  Some results may not be the best for all campaigns.
  • The Art of Madness follows up on one of Lovecraft's characters. It's labelled as a introductory adventure and the author goes out of his way to allow multiple "ins"to involve the investigators. Foolproof success?  By all means, no, but there are a full range of character options that could take advantage of this scenario.
  • The Crystal of Chaos feels a bit more like a D&D quest than a traditional CoC scenario.  I would anticipate the request for help to retrieve the artifact to happen in a tavern.  Regardless on the non-traditional start, the scenario evolves nicely, and the more the investigators can lurk around Providence, the better.
  • The Return of the Hound begs for a Keeper with a steady hand.  Three words:  Rare Book Auction. Of course, just letting the investigators drool over the forbidden books is not enough, the antagonists are more than an inexperienced group could handle.
  • The Jermyn Horror drops a lot of Mythos information at the feet of the investigators to piece together, and then throws a monkey wrench into their plans while they're looking elsewhere.
  • Nameless City, Nameless Terror just screams pulp, one for the truly epic journey, the amounts of wanton violence they must commit, The near heretical abuse of canon, and the sheer fact that not playing it as such will result in a TPK where hit points and SAN are simply vaporized.  Investigator action may still result in that, but most want a (foolish attempt at) a fighting chance. 
The scenarios do have some room for abuse (Return and Nameless City especially), and I can see campaign where these five scenarios can be tied in, but for the most part, these are a nice collection that you should be able to drop into the right campaign with minimal issue.  I won't be adding any of these to my future timeline of scenarios in my current campaign, but a few misadventures in England could easily change that.  It's a solid, mid-range product from Chaosium that nets 3 out of 5 gnomes.

Osprey Men-at-Arms: Imperial German Colonial and Overseas Troops 1885-1918
There was a time that I considered each and every Osprey book that came out to be essential to the period.  As I study more subjects on the fringe of military history, the subsequent Osprey books have been found wanting.  Although throwing some troop numbers in the middle of colonies' history, the author gives very little to work on, that isn't in previously published Ospreys.  The section on the South Pacific was particularly disappointing.  To add insult to injury, many of the color plates, while nice reference pieces, are worthless from a modelling perspective.  For example, the Fita-Fita, an honorary police force of chieftain's sons and others with political connections get a picture on the plates, even though I can not imagine a time
when they actually saw any physical confrontation.
This was one of the few new Ospreys I was excited about over the last few years, and I'm quite disappointed.  1 out of 5 Gnomes.
I also picked up Osprey Men-at-Arms: Armies in East Africa 1914-18 after the my cruise, and in my opinion, it is a fantastic resource.  It is well organized,  and particularly well-detailed in regards to troop numbers and similar details.  It not only covers the better known German and British components, but gives sufficient space towards towards the Belgians and Portuguese.
The artwork does not look as high-quality as other Osprey books, but it covers the appropriate ranges of uniforms adequately.  If I wasn't already tied up in Samoa, this book would motivate me to collect and paint all four nationalities (starting with the appropriate Askaris).  Combined with the rules and troop lists from CLA's Africa supplement, I have plenty of information to run the multiple campaigns in and around German East Africa.   I'll give this book 4 out of 5 gnomes, a fine addition to anyone's Osprey library.

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