More Drizzt! More games! Just, more!

Hey everybody!
The last week or so has been filled with lots of awesome, predominantly from getting back to the amazing Legend of Drizzt series!

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Moving on to #Drizzt book 8! #D&D #novels

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I finally got back to this series, after a nearly two-year hiatus, back in March, when I read the end of book 6, and moved onto book 7, The Legacy. That was a really great read, you can see more on that here, but I didn’t move on to the next one until now. I don’t actually remember if there was a reason, but anyway. Spoilers incoming! Starless Night picks up the story of Drizzt and his friends in the wake of Wulfgar’s death, and begins as Drizzt decides to return to Menzoberranzan, to avoid any further drow incursions into Mithral Hall. Little does he know that Matron Baenre plots the destruction of the dwarven kingdom no matter what, of course, as we saw briefly in the last book. Catti-brie discovers Drizzt has gone and, determined not to see another of her friends needlessly die, heads off in pursuit. The two eventually meet up in the Underdark, and manage to escape the Baenre compound with the help of none other than Artemis Entreri, though their hearts are heavy with the knowledge that the drow are amassing for war against the dwarves.

While I enjoyed The Legacy, after all that time spent on the surface, I loved Starless Night. It is perhaps a little formulaic at parts, but as always with these Drizzt books, the execution is just amazing. Salvatore continues to develop the Underdark beyond what we have already seen from the Dark Elf trilogy, this time particularly as we get to see more inside House Baenre, the first house of Menzoberranzan. The Matron Mother is just as cruel and twisted as you’d expect, as are some of her children. Most interesting among them are Dantrag, the weapons master who wields a sentient sword. It was a shame that he didn’t make it through the book, but I suppose there’s little else you could do with a character like that. Triel Baenre, the mistress mother of Arach-Tinilith, is another intriguing character, and her scenes with the flamboyant mercenary Jarlaxle were always fun to read. Jarlaxle has a prominent role to play here as well, which serves to deepen his character.

The whole story was pretty great, with a terrific sense of foreboding, or “things are about to happen tonight”. Weirdly, I kept feeling a comparison with the finale to the third Harry Potter book, with that sense of wheels being in motion and whatnot. It was a great read, and I’ve since propelled myself into the ninth book, Siege of Darkness, which has been excellent so far – look out for that one to grace this blog very soon!

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The Beetroot Beefburgers, man they were good…

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Saturday was, of course, Independence Day, so to celebrate(?), I made burgers and watched American Dad. Not just any burgers, however! I came across a recipe somewhere for beetroot beefburgers and, being a lover of beetroot, had to give it a try! On reflection, I probably used too much, so they were a tad dry, but overall they were really good, and I will definitely be trying these again! Grating beetroot into the minced beef left my kitchen looking something like a crime scene, but even so! Very simple to make, just grate the beets into the beef (I used three with 200g of mince, one might be a better idea), mix in an egg, and away we go!

Marvellous!

Despite having multiple projects on the go already, this weekend also saw me make up some more Necron Immortals, along with Trazyn the Infinite. I’ve been slowly getting back into painting, as I’ve been trying to finish off the Canoptek Wraiths I started over a month ago. I’ve not gotten very far, unfortunately, but that seems to be the story of my life where big stuff is concerned – bigger than your average foot soldier, that is. I’ve had four Tomb Blades awaiting their finishing touches for ages now, as well. As I seem to be better at getting the smaller guys finished, I thought I’d make up some more, get them done, and then (hopefully!) get back into the swing of things that way. Miniatures painting is something that I really enjoy, after all, but has felt more akin to a drudgery of late.

Immortals

Trazyn the Infinite is perhaps the most hilarious of the special character models, with his backstory of wanting to preserve everything in the universe in his own collection. If I remember rightly, he has some weird ability that allows you to replace him with any other member of the unit he’s attached to when in combat, due to some kind of phase-shifting technology. He seems interesting, but more than that, I enjoy the special models for the fact that I can paint them with different colour schemes and such. That said, I’m considering doing something different with the Immortals this time, as well – the new golden paints coming out soon look very interesting, after all, so I think I might try something more special with these guys…

Immortals

This week has been pretty good for games, of course. Along with the announcements of new cycles for both Android Netrunner and Star Wars, we’ve had a new data pack for Netrunner as well as the inaugural pack in the Angmar Awakened cycle for Lord of the Rings! There’s an interesting day/night mechanic in this one, and I cannot wait to try it out, but feel like I need to first play through the Lost Realm box. I’ve got all the quests sleeved now, anyway, so I’m ready to go on that front. No doubt there’ll be some posts here where I bemoan my performance…

I actually got a few games of Netrunner in at the local store again last week, with my tried and trusted Shaper deck, and lost both. But they were fantastic losses, so I can’t complain! Very thematic, so definitely lots of fun. I feel like I want to try out new decks now, however, as I spent one night reorganising my entire Netrunner collection. I usually keep LCGs in their expansion boxes, as it’s convenient and I like the packaging, but now FFG has moved to this horrible plastic nonsense, I’ve decided to change that, and have instead gone for keeping the entire cardpool in both core set boxes (I’m one of these who bought two core sets). So far it works, but I foresee a time very soon where I’m going to run out of space there, as well! Hm. At any rate, going through that reorganisation, and seeing the entire card pool for each faction all at once, has really opened up my eyes to the deckbuilding possibilities in the game, so I’m keen to explore with that, rather than continually playing my one Shaper deck.

We’ll see just how splendidly that works out, anyway…

My (second) trip to Orkney

Hey everybody!
Yesterday, I got back from a trip to the Orkney islands off the north of Scotland, my second such trip there. While the weather could have been better, I have to say, it was still a pretty amazing experience, as I got to see much more than I did last time. It’s still only my second trip to Scotland, which is pretty crazy when you think where the islands are actually located…

Scotland

Anyway. I arrived late on Monday due to delays flying from Edinburgh, and as I was leaving early on Thursday morning, I only had two full days there. And how different the weather was on each of those days! To start with, anyway, I visited the famous Neolithic village at Skara Brae again, as it’s kinda required when you’re on the island, being so famous and all…

If you followed the link to my earlier blog above, you’ll notice just how much better the weather was this time around, which you can really see when you look out at Skaill Bay:

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It was pretty beautiful, I have to say!

From Neolithic living to the Iron Age now, and I next revisited the Broch of Gurness. Still a jumble of stones, it’s nevertheless an interesting and imposing structure:

The weather was already beginning to change here, and didn’t improve for the rest of my trip.

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To the south of Mainland Orkney is a small collection of islands linked together by road. This was only made possible following the construction of three concrete-block barriers built during World War Two by Italian prisoners of war, who also converted two Nissen huts into the stunning Italian Chapel:

The Churchill barriers were built to protect Scapa Flow, the body of water surrounded on three sides by islands which formed the safe harbour for the British Home Fleet during both wars. More on that later, anyway.

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Day Two was very grim, though some really awesome sights were featured nonetheless!

From a very wet and windy Standing Stones of Stennes and Barnhouse village, I trundled off to the reasonably-dry Kirkwall, the capital of the islands. I’ve been here before, of course, though this time managed to visit the Cathedral properly, as well as the Orkney Museum, which has some pretty amazing stuff!

The museum was really interesting. It’s always good to visit places like Skara Brae and see where folks lived in the past, but the items on display in the museum show a much more intimate level of detail that I, for one, find really fascinating.

From Kirkwall, I took a long route along the south of the island, pretty much skirting Scapa Flow. The second-largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney), and as well as providing the safe harbour for the Home Fleet during the wars, it was also chosen as the place to scuttle more than 70 German ships following their defeat in World War One.

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About mid-way along the coastline is the village of Orphir, which has the remains of an Earl’s Bú, which I believe is analogous to a manor house (rather than the Palace of the Earl of Orkney at Kirkwall), and in the Norse years, this would centre on the drinking hall. Orkneyinga Saga, collected in (I think) the twelfth century on Iceland, tells some pretty colourful stories that take place around this area, and is well worth investigating if you have the time!

The round church at Orphir is also the only such example in Scotland, modelled on that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It also has a great view over Scapa Flow:

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To conclude, it’s back to the Stennes area, and the mighty Ring of Brodgar!

I was staying at the Standing Stones Hotel, which is not far from the collection of monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, and I must say, the hotel was really nice this time around. Especially, the food! My goodness, it was immense…

food collage

The entire trip was pretty great, though I’m still not a big fan of flying. I’d like to go again, and do a spot of island-hopping, as there is so much more to see on the other islands, but I think if I do, I’d definitely drive up and take the ferry…

Until next time!

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Pasta – and more!

Hey everybody!
I bet you’re all thrilled to learn that I bought new saucepans last week – and they work! My old ones had begun to rust, alarmingly – so much for non-stick, hey! Well, anyhow. I’ve made two very exciting pasta dishes over the past couple of days, so thought I’d entertain you all with some thoughts right now.

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Chicken and pesto pasta #100happydays

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This is similar to something I made a whiles back…back when it was still summer, as I remember. Here, I’ve just done some pasta with passata and pesto, topped with strips of chicken that I’ve shallow fried on a griddle pan to give that barbecue-stripe look. It was actually really good! (I used farfallette, the soup pasta, just in case you were thinking I have enormous strips of chicken here!)

The second dish is this little beauty:

I’ve made this one before, I’m sure you’ll remember. Not as complex as the last incarnation, I just did some pasta, and simmered four falafel balls in some tomato passata with some cayenne pepper and a lot of garlic. Magnificent!

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I had a small delivery of new games today, which I had decided to treat myself to last week. So we have expansions for Smash Up, Red Dragon Inn and Android: Netrunner, along with the four Star Wars dice bags. Quite a good haul! The two new characters for Red Dragon Inn fit nicely with the established game, so I imagine they’ll go well. The Monster Smash expansion for Smash Up looks pretty hilarious, which is also to be expected, so I’m hoping to get to try this one out soon, too. We have classic vampires, classic Frankenstein’s Monster stuff, classic werewolves, and classic giant insects. B-movie awesome!

Things have been a bit meh of late, which is largely the reason for the splurge here. Work has suddenly become insane, and while I have yet to do any real work, re-starting the degree is once more eating up time. Which I suppose also goes to explain why blogs have been sparing of late. I’m still intending to do at least one game blog per week, as well as one of these inane rambling things, so don’t worry!

I also received the rulebook for Skull & Shackles, so I’m now prepared for a second foray into Golarion! While I haven’t played Rise of the Runelords for what seems like months (early July, so yeah…), I do seem to like this game, and I’m looking forward to seeing how S&S differs, how it’s similar, and whatnot.

I’ve started to read this little beauty lately, too:

The Star Wars

It’s the adaptation of the original draft screenplay by George Lucas (or one of them, anyway), back when Luke Skywalker was a grizzled old war veteran – and, weirdly, looks a lot like Uncle George does now. I’ll get round to writing up a blog with some thoughts when I’ve finished it – so you have that to look forward to, as well! But suffice it to say, it’s pretty good. Die-hard fans will most likely know the story of these draft screenplays anyway, so it’s nice to “see” that as a realised product, which I suppose is the main draw here. Anyway, a full review will come soon. Until then – happy weekend!

Roast zebra

Here at spalanz.com, I like to bring a touch of the exotic into your lives every once in a while*, and today I thought I’d bring you some thoughts on my latest culinary experiment: zebra!

I’d been to the Oswestry Food Festival on Saturday, where there was all sorts of wonderful stuff going on, but the exotic meats chap drew my eye almost immediately, as zebras feature in my upcoming fantasy story. So I promptly purchased a pack of zebra steaks, et voilà!

So I got some sweet potato, parsnip and carrot, and sliced them up into roughly one-inch batons. I got a bit bored of this when it came to the sweet potato, so left them thicker. Par-boiled for 10-15 minutes (I got distracted by facebook, so they may have had longer than necessary). I washed the zebra steaks, then basted with a few tablespoonfuls of the vegetable water to ensure they remain a bit tender, then roast for 20 minutes or thereabouts. You can roast the veg too – I did, but only for as long as the meat was in. Obviously, adjust cooking times if you prefer your meat a little pink – I like mine medium-well, though in this specific instance they turned out well-done because they were smaller than I’d banked on.

And there you have it! From the plains to your plate!

*unless you happen to be reading this from, say, Tanzania, where proud herds of zebra roam free…

Lots of Games!

Hey everybody!
I realise that my Saturday blogs have become such an institution now that you’d all be just completely lost without them, so I hope you enjoy this little missive! Some very exciting news needs to be shared, of course, but with being back in work this week, it hasn’t exactly been the most exciting of weeks, I’m afraid to say!

I want to start with this recipe, though, as it was so delightfully simple, it’s almost inspired! Just pasta with tomato passata and a teaspoonful of pesto, served with a drizzle of garlic oil. Wonderful!

I do enjoy pasta, as it’s so wonderfully versatile. Always on the lookout for more recipes, so I’m sure as the summer marches on there will be more and more coming at you!

I’ve been really enjoying The Diamond Throne, the first book in David Eddings’ Elenium trilogy, this week. A fantasy tale that I would call more low fantasy than anything, it’s actually really awesome and I can highly recommend it to anyone who might happen to be reading my blog! It’s written in quite a direct style, with a whole host of compelling characters and situations, and reminds me very strongly of the fantasy stories I read as a lad. If I were to make any criticism, it would be that it unfortunately jumps around a bit – for instance, chapter 8 ends with the characters poised to rush headlong into battle, and chapter 9 begins immediately once the battle is over. Now, I’m not that big a fan of battle scenes and often find them discombobulating, but I felt almost cheated by having no fight whatsoever! But that’s the best criticism I can level at it so far (I’m just over halfway through, so far). It’s generally an awesome read!

Also this week, I reached my 1000th tweet. That was pretty exciting for me!

1000 tweets!

On Friday I felt as if I was under some sort of avalanche of games, as a multitude of pre-orders finally came my way!

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Yes, very exciting times!

I mentioned Pathfinder recently, of course, but I’ve been feeling more and more in the mood for the RPG. Fantastical times are afoot, hopefully! So in addition to the Beginner Box and The Worldwound Campaign Setting, I had the Free RPG Day supplement Risen from the Sands, which looks like a really intriguing little bit of stuff! Free RPG Day happens in June every year, and Pathfinder has long been a supporter. Last year I got a free adventure for the FFG Star Wars RPG, Shadows of a Black Sun. That was really nice, and hopefully some day I can play that one, too!

The Pathfinder RPG is just glorious, though. Proper fantasy stuff, perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek at times, it’s really very me, I must say! I initially bought some stuff for it last year, including the very meaty Core Rulebook, but have recently begun to rediscover it in part because of my desire to do something about the fantasy stories I want to write (I’ll give you a clue as to what it’s about: Tuesday was International Fairy Day). However, in getting the books out for inspiration, I have in turn been inspired to play a game again! ARGH! It’s been about five years since I last played a RPG, and I really have the itch now!

Ahem.

For the uninitiated, Role Playing Games are actually really awesome. You need a good Games Master who is more concerned with storytelling and ensuring everyone has a good time than with the rules being correct, and you need a group of people who are somewhat invested in the story and their characters than they are in just goofing around, but all the same, when you get the right mix of folks around the table, it can be really magic. Prepare for a couple of hours of being lost in your imaginations! Ah!

Doing a quick count, I have three RPG systems right now. Well, three RPG worlds – Pathfinder, Warhammer Fantasy, and Star Wars. I actually have every RPG incarnation of Star Wars, so that’s like, six distinctive systems (WEG, WEG 2nd ed, WotC, WotC 2nd ed, WotC Saga ed, and FFG). But still, I have nobody to play with! Eurgh. It’s enough to actually volunteer to start GMing again, but I feel like I’d much rather just have my own character and play in someone else’s story for once!!

I finally got the courage to visit my local games store this week, 4th Planet Games in Wrexham. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to go in there because I feel like I’m “not geek enough” or something, but he put an ad up on facebook saying he had the latest X-Wing stuff in, and my preorder went a bit awry so I was missing out on one ship. In the event, I spent 45 minutes in there on Friday having a really good chat with the guy about gaming in general – he tried to convince me to buy Star Trek Attack Wing as it’s a very similar but apparently better game than X-Wing. Well, I’ve only very recently begun to discover Star Trek (discover anew, I should say, as I did, years ago, watch TNG when it was first on, as a child), so remain unconvinced for now. Plus I’m extremely hesitant to buy into a game that I might not actually be able to play with anyone! But the tournament structure is so much better than anything I’ve seen before, though the fact that it’s published by WizKids, a subsidiary of Wizards of the Coast (Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons), who are themselves a subsidiary of Hasbro, it’s easy to see how they could afford that.

Anyway, I’m tangenting.

The other big news this week, as I briefly mentioned, is wave four of X-Wing has been released. FFG, you might remember, has already announced wave five, so while I had originally been under the impression four was due in September, it all seems to have been somewhat rushed!

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#XWing wave 4

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The ships do look really nice. The E-Wing was a nice addition, but the TIE Defender is perhaps my absolute favourite, just because it’s such a ridiculously fun design! I mean, look at it! The bold transition to waves of EU ships has me wondering just what on earth will come next in this game. Maybe we’ll finally see the Black Fleet Crisis’ K-Wing? Hm.

The only other game news that has got me excited this week is that finally the latest expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG, The Dunland Trap, has been released. Though it’ll be sometime next week when it arrives this side of the pond, apparently.

That leads me on to something that has me almost swooning with delight, I’ve been asked to be a playtester for the next cycle! Don’t expect any spoilers, of course, but I’m really excited about this opportunity!