So long, PTerry.

Today, one of my favorite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett, left this ball of rock hurled into space.

My friend Alex over at Google Plus asked for pointers about where to start reading his Discworld books, since he never really got into them, and I figured I’d save what I wrote here for later.

So, let’s talk about Discworld, and how and where to approach it (if you so want), like I promised to +Alex Mayo.

The many Discworld novels share a world, and an evolving one at that, but they are not a “saga” or series, as such.

Roughly, one can identify 6-7 series “inside” the lot: the linked map is a very useful tool to identify what goes where, and in which order.

For the reader that wants to try Pratchett, or that wants to give it a try again after feeling it fell a bit flat, I’ll suggest something that will possibly sound a bit odd: avoid Rincewind and the other Wizards Academy books.
I know, I know, Rincewind and the Luggage are amongst the most recognizable bits… but trust me.

The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic are still a bit rough: Pratchett had not found his voice yet, I believe. If you then go back and read them, you’ll recognize the seeds, but as a starting point? Not his best writing.

So, where to start? You got options:

Discworld Reading order v2.0 (all credits to

Discworld Reading order v2.0 (all credits to

The Witches books: I remember Equal Rites as still a bit unripe, but from then on it’s Witches time. The Witches books do a great job of playing around the tropes of stories, from fairy tales to Shakespeare. They have some greatcharacters in the witches themselves, and oohboy be sure to read at least up to Lords and Ladies because man, Elves are fucking terrifying.

The Death books: Death is a character in Discworld, and a regular after his introduction in the first Rincewind novels and short stories. And he’s a damn good character. The Death books talk about life, death, love and hope, and more. Oh yes and Hogfather will really teach you the true meaning of Christmas. Oh, sorry, I meant Hogsfather’s Day.

The Watch novels: ok, I lied, I’ll tell you. These are probably my favorite. They follow along the career of Vimes, who starts a drunk and in the gutter (literally) and becomes one of the best characters ever: lots of playing around the tropes of detective and hard boiled stories, but also lots of reflections about justice, morality, law, altruism, oppression, militarism, democracy, but also free will and the question of creating artificial life (no shit). Night Watch is, at times, a swift kick in the guts, and I found myself welling up many times reading it.

Industrial Revolution novels are probably not the best to start with, because they show the impact of the changing world on society, and if you don’t really know that world you might lose a bit of oomph. That said, they are brilliant. I still have to read a couple because, honestly, when I learned about PTerry’s illness I feared running out and kept a few on reserve 😦


Pyramids is mostly standalone, and pretty funny, and Small Gods… dang, it’s one if the top 5 probably? A reflection on religion, faith, and how they affect people, and how they can be linked to morality… or not.

Oh, the “purple” ones in the map are more or less linked to the witches, but are YA novels with a young girl as a protagonist… and they are astounding. You have a young girl, right Alex? I would give her these over… probably mos of the YA novels I know about (Harry Potter very much included). +Ezio Melega is a great fan and can maybe tell you better which at which age they are appropriate to read.

This is not all, but it’s already fucking long, so I’ll shut my trap.

A Scoundrel in the Deep is out!

Worlds Without Master Issue 6 Vol. 1 cover

The gorgeous cover for this issue of the zine (art by Jeff Brown)

Well will you look at that, my first published full game went public today!

It’s called A Scoundrel in the Deep and it’s a tiny game for two players about a Scoundrel (well, duh!) trying to escape the ominous, mysterious and most importantly dark “Tomb of the Deep”.

Imagine an archetypal rogue, an adventurer from the pulp era sword and sorcery stories: he stole the fabled Ruby and must find a way out… except the Tomb is pitch dark and they only have a few matches left… and the Deep does not want them to come out alive with their loot! And you actually play with matches, lighting them on fire and passing them back and forth with your play mate, the Deep.

You can buy the game right now, included in Issue 6, Vol. 1 of the e-zine Worlds Without Master: it’s really cheap, and the zine is always full of delightful sword and sorcery goodness: fiction, games, a comic, inspiring illustrations and more. And if you like what you got, I suggest you join the Patron Horde by heading to Epidiah’s Patreon and pledging to pay a small amount of cash every time he puts out an issue (never more than one a month, and so far less than half of that): not only you pay less than buying the single issues afterwards, but you help make the zine better for the future.

The game was born from a joke on Google Plus, of all places: a friend noted that a portable version of Epidiah’s Dread rpg could be played with a lit match. The character of the player that burns their fingers dies! A joke, yes… but it kept bouncing in my head so I spit it out on the page in a very early, crude form. Then Eppy encouraged me to complete it, and most importantly my friend Flavio Mortarino came along and basically adopted the game as developer, bringing it around to actual people to playtest, brainstorming with me and helping me put down words on the page, completing and refining it.

So now here it is. I hope some of you will play it and have fun.

Try to play it in pitch dark for maximum effect!

The Fortress City

(Art by Adam Brockman)

This mighty fortress started in forgotten times as a lively city: one day the sky started cracking, as if a cut had riven its dome.

For a long time after the initial panic, it looked like nothing was really happening. But the infamous Grand Vizier Sakhet could not stand the feeling of impending doom from the sundered sky and ordered the council of sorcerers to prepare a ritual that would secure the city.

What happened afterwards was cruel misfortune, or maybe poetic fate: the rite devised to close the cut in the sky needed energy, and that energy had to come directly from the nearby lands… the sky was closed, but the land waned, eroded by the winds. In the span of a generation, the once mighty city was a fortress perched on a peak, most of its people long gone, bringing civilization and culture and colors to distant lands, leaving only a husk of the former glory squatting on the mighty peak.

This short bit of impromptu fiction is what you can end up with after a Lore Phase of Swords Without Master. It’s an odd little bit of the game that you actually play whenever you feel, not during a game session at all. One of the members of the g+ SwM community posted a picture as inspiration, eidolon or simulacrum, and since it looked interesting I started a Lore Phase with whoever was passing by. You can read the process that got me to this bit of fiction in the thread.

Barton, Eye of the Hawk

My friend Epidiah Ravachol trew the gauntlet with his June Rogue Challenge over on the g+ Swords Without Master community (and I cite): “Take a comic book superhero as your simulacrum or eidolon, strip the character down, and completely rebuild them as a rogue.”hawkeye

So, I made a thing.

Barton, Eye of the Hawk

All That Deserves a Name
The Talons of the Hawk: Bow and Arrows, simple hunting tools, become instruments of preternatural precision in the hands of the Eye of the Hawk. No shot is impossible, just very hard.

Exploding Arrows: charged with fire and lightning, these arrows can damage huge opponents, or dazzle the eyes of a dragon.

Boomerang Arrow: imbued with arcane enchantment, this arrow hits from unexpected directions. Respect the boomerang.

Lucky: The dog. Not huge or fierce, but loyal and smart, capable of lifting spirits with a lick to the face, or solve a crime with his nose.

Feats Heroic
Jovial: Jumping and vaulting obstacles, the Eye of the Hawk spouts banter and jokes while shooting multiple arrows at the same time, all hitting the mark.

Glum: In the midst of the chaos of battle, time seems to slow down to a halt, sound disappears, a single arrow is nocked, the bow drawn, the shaft flying silent and swift, piercing the target where it is most vulnerable.

“Ok, this looks bad”: Once per game, when deciding the next Phase, you can make it a Perilous Phase and the Thunder must be something that menaces impending doom to your character.

For further info about the Swords Without Master sword and sorcery rpg, or the zine it was published in, Worlds Without Master, check out Epidiah’s Patreon page.

Using 3G USB mobile network sticks with USB 3.0 ports (Ubuntu/Linux)

I struggled for a while with my new laptop with Ubuntu 14.04: I could not understand why none of my 3G USB keys worked on it.

UPDATED (see bottom)

In /var/log/syslog I could see it being recognized, and a line mentioning usb_modeswitch… except no mode switching was happening: the ProductId was did not change, and so obviously no network.

I have the latest usb-modeswitch-data installed, and my card’s VendorId and ProductID are in it (It’s a Huawei Vodafone K4605, 12d1:14c1), apparently… but nope, no mode switching: I get a usb-storage device, and that’s all.

Long story short, this is the workaround I found, until some permanent fix is issued by Ubuntu: after inserting the card wait for a few seconds and then run a command like this one:

sudo usb_modeswitch -v 12d1 -p 14c1 -M '55534243123456780000000000000011062000000100000000000000000000'

(all on one line, substitute the VendorID and ProductID with your key’s)

This is pretty much what udev should be doing on itself, but for some reason it’s not.

…and bam! After a few more seconds you will be able to configure and use the Mobile Broadband connection in NetworkManager.

It took me some time to figure this out, so I hope it will help someone else, too.


Update: I got my hands on a more recent 3G key (a Vodafone Huawei K4201) and lo and behold, it works out of the box… it’s a weird device though; it presents itself to the system as a wired connection (ethernet), has a DHCP server and assigns a address, which could be a problem (not in my case, but… horrible choice of network, Vodafone!).

Cognitive Dissonance: reminiscing about my first encounter with the D&D memes

I know it’s kinda hard to imagine now, especially for young whippersnappers, but there was a time when the concepts and memes of Dungeons and Dragons’ conceit of fantasy were not mainstream.

I remember my first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons. I was 9 or 10, in 4th grade I believe, when a substitute teacher brought DnD (the Italian translation of the Mentzer Basic box, the first to come to Italy) to school and made me and three other kids try the game (I told the story elsewhere). What I’m focusing here is how strange and bizarre some of the concepts of Dungeons and Dragons were to an Italian kid of the mid eighties.

Clerics do what?

First and foremost: Clerics. Not only the concept of the warrior mace wielding priest/healer sounded completely weird to me (I knew two or three priests and they were middle-aged mild guys always dressed in black, or in the case of our local priest in white Dominican robes, that told mass each Sunday), but the name, in Italian, of the class, made even less sense! You see, the Cleric in Italian is Chierico, an old term that just means “member of the clergy” and that nobody uses anymore. On the other hand, an “endearing” version of it, chierichetto (roughly, “little cleric”) is the Italian name for an altar boy! And moreover… I was an altar boy at that time, serving each sunday at mass. What the hell was this “Chierico” then?

It was something completely new.

A thief? And he’s on our side?

This was another big conceptual hurdle. One of the classes for the heroes was the Thief[1]. This made zero sense to me. Why would one not only admit to being a thief, but even call themselves one? Isn’t being a criminal bad? Why don’t the police (or the guards, or something like that) arrest them?

After proper explanation, I could see the role was really of the “expert in entering where one should not be” and disarming traps, and so on, so not a Thief at all. But at first, yeah, completely bizarre idea.

Bonus: Dual Wielding Rangers

This one isn’t from my first experience with DnD proper, but I can lump it with my other WTF moments. I never got in contact with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in any way. It was never published in Italian, and what little came to Italy in English was relatively rare (one would need to be able to read well in English) and often misread and misinterpreted. But anyway, in those years I was playing the Italian edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st ed and a lot of the super-common memes from DnD I knew only later, and at a remove. The ADnD alignments, for example (lawful/good, chaotic/neutral, etc). And yes, the Ranger.

To me Ranger meant a forest, mountain and outdoors expert. A guide, a park guard, maybe even a scout, or an Alpine Troops soldier… none of these have anything to do with the ADnD Ranger concept (the striker, damage dealing expert with accompanying pet/familiar wild beast), let alone with the later infinite Drizzt[2] clones, dual wielding scimitars.

The conclusion

All this just to say… careful when assuming something is widely known, just because it is well known to you. It might just be a factor of your own circles and exposure.

[1] I don’t know if the Mentzer edition had the Rogue or the Thief in English, frankly, I’m no DnD scholar, but in Italian it was “Ladro” (thief) for sure. Rogue doesn’t even have a proper translation! (go back)

[2] Another unknown: not having read any of the Forgotten Realms books (or game boxes/books), I only discovered the emo darkelven marysue from people complaining online about him. (go back)

The Climb: Arconate 2013 Expedition

on the summit

This is an Actual Play report for the first Italian game of The Climb by Jason Morningstar (Bully Pulpit Games).

Throughout the article, notes and comments from Flavio Mortarino are indicated in [Blue and in brackets].

The Setup

At ArCONate 2013, a small con in Lombardy, near Milan, Mauro and Flavio were thinking about possibly running/playing The Climb, a new LARP by Jason Morningstar. They recruited the other members for the expedition, several of whom had zero larping experience (me included). [Challenge Accepted!]

For a while it wasn’t clear who would be available for the game, so I gave a read to the game materials too, to be able to act as a facilitator.
[In the end we actually had 3 facilitators: Mauro who was unsure about how the game needed to be played, me who was brought in by Mauro in order to help understanding the game and Renato who I brought in because I wasn’t sure if in the I could be part of the team.]

Mauro and Flavio had come prepared though: we found a room to play in, made some IMG_20131207_150727space and laid out three actual tents. We had a stereo to play the soundtrack on, tiny radios, torchlights (even one head mounted torchlight) and just for shows we also had a mountain backpack some wool caps and jackets.

When the room was ready, we did a brief intro, then selected roles; here is how they were distributed:

To enhance the feeling (and to avoid sweating like mad) we also opened the windows to lower the temperature a bit. The fact that we were playing in the afternoon and light became scarcer and scarcer during the game was a lucky coincidence that just added to the feeling.


For the second part of the game, the summit, we decided to use a space upstairs in the courtyard. In retrospect I think that maybe we could have done in reverse. This way the people that were still playing in-character would have been in the cold.

  • Hayes – Expedition Leader (Francesco)
  • Lund – Expedition Physician (Mauro)
  • Dorsey – Himalayan Expert (Flavio)
  • Mercer – Internet Zillionaire (Patrizia)
  • Sweet – Meteorologist (Lapo)
  • Wójcik – Expert Mountain Guide (Renato)

First Act

Mercer chose Wójcik as tent mate, while Hayes chose Lund, leaving Sweet and Dorsey for the third tent.

The Team

The Team

We started the soundtrack as loud as we were allowed. The sound of wind engulfed the room. The tents were close to one another, but we had to shout pretty loud to be able to call each other from one tent to another. I was pretty amazed at how well such small details added to create the right atmosphere.

I (Wójcik) started talking with Mercer. So close to summit, she was obviously thinking that she should go all the way up. I was accommodating, but noncommittal: it wasn’t my decision after all.

The others in the other tents started talking… and soon enough we started calling each other to private, one-on-one chats, but also three people meetings. People continued moving from one tent to the other (always remembering to zip them close… a detail that made me smile in retrospect, but everybody was committed to the idea that outside it was hellishly cold).
[I actually had to ask to zip close the tent at least a couple of time.]

I (Renato) can only speak for what I experienced: I started pretty convinced that Mercer would insist on summiting, and that Dorsey was a selfish asshole who had left me for dead.
[Flavio speaking: As for me I started without knowing if my character was an asshole or not. I just decided that I would give the impression that I could be. So I created nicknames for everyone. Wojcik was “the Pole”, Mercer was “the Lady”(she was played by a woman), Sweet was “the Kid”, Lund was simply “the Doctor” and Hayes was “the Boss”.]

Hayes seemed a competent, no-nonsense leader that wasn’t ready to leave the fate of the expedition in the hands of Mercer or one of the less experienced climbers. Lund was clearly worried about Dorsey’s health. Sweet wasn’t positive that we could summit at all, and certainly didn’t want to risk his life going himself.
[Flavio speaking: I started in the tent with Sweet, and we actually just sniffed each other. I think that this was the moment I decided to play the character as someone that could be mistaken for an asshole, and I started saying things with some kind of arrogance. I helped that Sweet was talking about how much he was afraid.]

There were two turning points, from my personal POV.

First was how Mercer, throughout several conversations, accepted to not summit. Mercer had confessed that even with all her success, she saw it as all temporary, and petty in a way… she wanted to do something, something that would write her name in history. One of the highlights was me (Wojcik, the slightly disillusioned working mule of the mountains) telling her “When all is said and done, if we DO this, how do you think this expedition will be known to the world? The Mercer Expedition. And when they’ll do the Special on Discovery Channel who do you think they’ll call and interview? Me, the unremarkable Pole? Nah. You, the Internet Sensation, the Millionaire self-made-woman, THAT will be news. Even if we’ll be in the background as the guys that actually stepped on the summit of the mountain”.
[Flavio: right after the conversation with Sweet I was summoned to Lund’s tent. The good doctor was worried about my health. Since this discussion took place I started coughing loud every time I finished a sentence, because it would have been more funny to be ok but continuing to give the doubt that I was sick.]

And the second was the little private conversation I had as Wójcik, with Dorsey: I started pretty hostile (“You left me for dead ten years ago, why do you think we never worked together again?”), and both me and Flavio improvised a lot of backstory details about that previous Himalayan expedition all those years before (man, that Finn was a dick!). [Flavio: I decided on the fly that at least I wanted to believe to be right when Dorsey left Wojcik years ago. Whether I was a dick too or just someone who did a tough call is something that actually came out from Renato’s response to my half-assed explanation] In the end… we were both men of the mountains. We lived for the climb. We had nothing else. I was now about the age he was at that time… and really, would I do different, in good conscience, in such a situation? I had to admit, I could see how he could make such decision without particularly ill intentions. We closed shaking hands, with me saying “But this time, you take me to the summit. Deal?”. We had a deal. We just needed to convince Hayes to bring us to Camp IV. [Flavio speaking: so it seems I was not an asshole after all. ^__^ I was just some guy hardened by the mountain, that managed to find a new friend at 7000 meters. BLAH ^_^]

An opening in the Storm

After the second Chinese weather dispatch, we scrambled: the opening was coming. We had to decide.

The summit team was Hayes, Dorsey and Wójcik. We took the backpack, checked that the radio was working, took a flashlight (it was really dark by then)… and for a long, looong moment it seemed the opening was not really coming.

Just then, stillness.

We exited the room.

Emerging in the light of the main game room, removing the backpack and other props, was a startling change of pace, after so much dark and wind.

Second Act

The six coupons in the envelope were:

  • A narrow escape from danger—a fall, a crevasse, an avalanche, a mistake—due to teamwork. “If anybody summits, we all summit.”
  • Trapped at Camp IV. What’s the problem? Whoever survives the summit attempt will require a rescue by a two-person team from Camp III… one of whom will die. This happens after an attempt on the summit.
  • Two gift cards worth $2000 at Mountain Sports Incorporated, redeemable upon safe return. Each has “From Your Pal Mercer” written on it in blue ink.
  • A dexamethasone self-injector, in case the altitude becomes problematic. Dexamethasone is a powerful anti-inflammatory, but not completely safe. It’ll tear up your liver but mitigate High Altitude Cerebral Edema. If anybody starts acting crazy, give ‘em a jab fast.
  • A battered Russian titanium ice screw. It’s been lovingly cared for and is the sort of tool that might be counted on to stop a multiclimber fall and prevent a disaster
  • A letter, carefully shepherded in the folds of a pack pocket. Who is it from? What does it say? (The summit team will decide)

[So in the end a not so dramatic summit expedition. This is because just one of us(me) put a “negative” coupon into the envelope. /Flavio]

IMG_20131207_172153The summit team created the narrative of the summit expedition using the small radios. We enjoyed playing with the radios and being in characters only when we were talking through them.

We actually sat down at a table in the courtyard, in the cold and the fog but with illumination. Using paper and pen to help us we planned what we were going to act as a radio-drama of sorts.

We managed to alternate moments when we did not answer the radio to moments in which we faked a loss of signal. The very first communication from Camp III was Lund: “Everything OK?”.  Given how worried Lund/Mauro had acted all the game, that made us all laugh hard.

We created a timeline of events in order to ease the narration, even defining who had to be the talker on the radio.

We decided to thank Mercer for the gift cards on the way to Camp IV.

We then merged the russian ice screw and the narrow escape. We decided that on the way to Camp IV Dorsey was going to fall and that only the teamwork of Wojick and Hayes with the help of the Russian ice screw was going to result in resolving the problem.

We also decided that even with all the luck, Hayes hurt his legs, or maybe his back, helping Wojcik.

Hayes reported to Camp III that the summit expedition departed safely from Camp IV, but only after a bit he confessed that he had stayed at Camp IV because he was hurt and Dorsey took his place in the summit expedition.

At this point Hayes informed Lund that he had a letter to him and his wife in the jacket pocket. In case he didn’t managed to come back alive, the letter was for Lund to open. Francesco’s idea was that the letter was a mean to reconciliation between Lund and his wife.

At this point the summit expedition didn’t have the radio, and during the last steps of the summit attempt Wojcik showed symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema, it was up to Dorsey to save him giving him a shot of dexamethasone.

After reaching the summit Dorsey and Wojcik reached again Camp IV where it was clear that Hayes conditions have worsened.


Hayes (Francesco) gleefully spreading partial information over the radio

Only at this point we called back to Camp III and report to them that the mission was a success. After a couple of minute we communicated again informing that Hayes couldn’t walk anymore and that we needed help from Camp III.

We started taking turns in calling for help on the radio: two people would have to come form Camp III. Hayes acting professional, but tired and hurt, Wojcik actually trying to leverage Mercer’s drive to a place in History (dick move, I know).

In the end, Lund and Sweet decided to come to the rescue. We had to choose on the fly which one of them was going to die. And we chose Sweet, the young and the least motivated of all the expedition. When Mauro and Lapo arrived, we welcomed them and I patted on Lapo’s shoulder: congratulations! You’re dead! Sorry!

Poor Sweet.  A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Poor Sweet.
A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Debriefing and impressions

After the end of the game we gathered ‘round a table, explained just what had exactly happened at Camp IV to the other three players, and shared details of what had happened in the various tents, what each character thought of the others, and so on.

First impression: whew, this was good! For me (Renato) it was the very first larp of any kind. The very subjective nature of this kind of game is interesting: in the end I never experienced some of those conversations that changed the game (just like nobody was there for the peace between Dorsey and Wojcik). This is intriguing (and makes the debriefing doubly important).

Second impression: man, this was an incredibly sensible expedition! I want to play again, and this time I’ll be a completely unreasonable asshole. [I’m going to convince Ing. Veluttini to play in a more realistic setup.]

Interesting bits: the people that stayed at Camp III during the Second Act told us that not only they stayed in character, chatting about what could be happening to the other three, and so on, but that time literally fled by. This was the one thing me and Flavio were a bit concerned about (they don’t technically have anything to do for 40 minutes), but when we told them how much time had passed (nobody used a watch during the game) they were AMAZED, thinking it must have been 20 minutes, tops.

The Second Act is very fun for the Expedition Team! Switching gears, workshopping a coherent narrative, with time still running (people at Camp III are waiting for news!), and then inventing and acting the radio communications… very fun. Francesco especially had a LOT of fun doing this. Oh, sidenote: small/cheap radios were PERFECT for this. Audio quality was bad enough that we often had to repeat, and people misheard (like Mauro’s favorite moment: we said “We need help!” and they heard “Somebody’s dead!”… it makes more sense in Italian, trust me).

Props: they helped a lot, IMO. Especially the tents. I can easily see how actually playing it outside, in the cold and with heavier clothes would enhance the feeling even more. The soundtrack was EXCELLENT: a couple of times I genuinely reacted to the sudden very loud gusts of wind with a “Holy shit, this weather is a nightmare”. Big thumb up for Flavio and Mauro for bringing the tents and the rest of the props.[Thanks dude. ^_^/Flavio]