Sunday, November 16, 2014

Guns: Bersa BP9CC review - The Gaucho Gat


Bersa is an Argentine firearms manufacturer best known for their "Thunder" series of small-framed .380 pistols. These guns have been quite popular in the U.S. for years, so it's a little surprising it's taken so long for Bersa to release a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol - the BP9CC:

Bigger and cheaper than the competition, the BP9CC looks like a good deal on paper - you get a serviceable slimline 9mm and two mags, all for $400. But is the BP9CC a bargain, or simply cheap?

Size Comparison and Impressions

The BP9CC is one of the largest single-stack 9mm pistols out there. As you can see, it's longer and taller than both the Kahr CM9 and the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield, though the Bersa also holds 8 rounds in a standard magazine. "Large" is relative here - the BP9CC is still easy to carry inside the waistband (I didn't have custom rig for it, but it fit fine into my Remora). Unlike the Kahr, however, it's not suited for pocket carry.

In hand, the Bersa feels...okay. The gun has some of the smoothest grips I've ever felt on a polymer-frame, and it tended to shift around in my hands. On the plus side, there are handy little scalloped sections on the frame for your finger to rest on when it's off the trigger.

Sights and Trigger

The Bersa bears an interesting sight arrangement - the front dovetail takes Sig-style front sights, while the rear sight is GLOCK-sized. I suppose the idea was to give the end-user the most options if they wanted to switch them out. In any event, the default sights are typical 3-dots, and they work fine.

The BP9CC trigger is probably its distinguishing feature. There's a subtle integral pivot safety (somewhat similar to the M&P series), and then a short, pseudo double-action pull to the rear. The pull has noticeable creep, but it's extremely light, especially for a factory gun.

Range Report

I personally don't like shooting most single-stack 9mms. The thin grips impart more recoil to your hand, especially with stout +P loads, which leads to fatigue and flinching. I found the BP9CC to be as snappy as other members of the breed, and it was not a banner day at the range for old Mulliga:

Notwithstanding my discomfort, the BP9CC proved to be quite reliable with a large variety of FMJ and JHP ammo, including Federal HST (my go-to 9mm load), Speer Gold Dots, and my array of 115 gr. range ammo (Winchester, Federal, Sellier & Bellot, etc.). Even though the recoil was a touch wild, and I didn't bother to give it a first cleaning until 900 rounds in, the Bersa never bobbled. Of course, this is a pretty big gun (21+ ounces), so that sort of reliability isn't exactly incredible. Still, you have to give credit where it's due.

Final Thoughts

The BP9CC is a pretty good gun in a vacuum, but it's competing in one of the most crowded segments of today's firearms market - the concealed-carry 9mm. If you're a big fan of the trigger, I could see picking one up, but I honestly think most people would be better served with something else.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Books: Corum - The Coming of Chaos

I've never read Michael Moorcock's famous Elric Saga, but I have read an enjoyable work from another part of his Eternal Champion mythos -"Corum: The Coming of Chaos." The book is actually a collection of three novels published in the early '70s: "The Knight of the Swords," "The Queen of the Swords," and "The King of the Swords," though they essentially tell one long story.

At the start of the book, Corum Jhaelen Irsei ("the Prince in the Scarlet Robe") leads an idle life. His race, the elf-like Vadhagh, devote their time to poetry, art, and other intellectual pursuits, and remain aloof from the rest of the world. Of course, this being heroic fantasy, things soon fall apart, and Corum is left to seek vengeance against the forces of Chaos using his sword, his wits, and two otherworldy artifacts - the Hand of Kwll and the Eye of Rhynn.

Moorcock's writing is pulpy and Lovecraftian, and works best when weird darkness intersects with the usual sword-and-sorcery tropes. My favorite part of the trilogy, for instance, is the middle book, which describes a nightmarish journey to the shifting planes of Chaos. If you like reading about mad gods, pitched battles, carnivorous plants, and undead armies, you'll like the "Corum" books.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Links: Jazz Podcasts

I love jazz, but it's devilishly hard to find on the airwaves. Unless your local public radio or university station plays it (many don't), the only way you're going to learn about good jazz music is through the Internet. Here are a few podcasts that might help you in your quest for jazz, old and new:

In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond - Ken Laster hosts this weekly show out of the University of Connecticut's student radio station, WHUS 91.7 FM. "In the Groove" is all about modern and fusion jazz - everything from the classics of John Coltrane to the latest indie releases. The only rule? No "smooth jazz" allowed.

Jazz Boulevard - I've been to Montreal, but I never realized the city had a thriving jazz scene, including an enormous festival. "Jazz Boulevard," hosted by Moz Taylor, is a two-hour weekly show that features the best in Canadian (and non-Canadian) jazz, with a particular focus on acid and world jazz.

Jazz Stew - Like me, Annie Taylor, the host of "Jazz Stew," is concerned that jazz is being ignored by conventional radio. Unlike me, she's decided to do something about it by hosting a podcast featuring an eclectic mix (yes, a "stew") of all genres of jazz from all time periods (including some gems from yesteryear).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Enjoy this multi-violin arrangement of Michael Jackson's classic "Thriller," covered by Taylor Davis.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014: Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXV Liveblog!

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features.

I can't believe it's been 25 years since the first of the Simpsons' perennial Halloween episodes, and to celebrate, I'm liveblogging "Treehouse of Horror" XXV. I grew up in the golden age of the Simpsons, and "Treehouse of Horror" was always a highlight of October. Even as the rest of the series started to wane, the vignettes in the "Treehouse" specials are usually creative and fun (except for several awful parody episodes).

Happy Halloween, everyone:

Live Blog Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXV Liveblog

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Music for Trick-or-Treaters

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. Today, let's get in the mood for All Hallows' Eve with a mega-playlist of spooky songs and terrifying tunes curated by yours truly:

Growing old means you can't go trick-or-treating yourself, so I do the next best thing every Halloween: I set up the coolest possible mood for the kids in my neighborhood. At the doorstep, there are speakers connected to my computer, streaming a variety of creepy, interesting, or even funny horror-themed songs to greet the night's trick-or-treaters.

Most of these are very common Halloween songs ("Monster Mash," "Ghostbusters," "Thriller," etc.), but there are some lesser-known gems on the playlist, too:

"Anna of Covington House" - This is a cut from electronic composer Richard Bone's album, "The Ghosts of Hanton Village." The first half of the track is all eerie piano and willowy synth - perfect for scaring little kids. Several of Bone's pieces are on the list, but if it was available on Spotify, I'd basically just drop in "The Spectral Ships," Bone's dark ambient masterpiece based on ghost ships from folklore:

"Country Death Song" - The Violent Femmes' Christian-tinged sophomore album, "Hallowed Ground," featured this cheerful little ditty about a father who loses his mind, pushes his daughter down a well, and then hangs himself, giving him a "short trip to Hell." Just the thing for greeting neighborhood children!

"Dance of Pales" - There are plenty of horror-themed video games, but perhaps none are as enduring as the "Castlevania" series, which started in 1986 and is still going strong today. For men of a certain age, Michiru Yamane's elegant piece from the all-time classic "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" automatically evokes images of annoying waltzing ghosts.

"The Ghost of Smokey Joe" - The legendary Cab Calloway's greatest creation was "Minnie the Moocher," but he also often sang about Minnie's boyfriend, Smokey Joe. This fun track brings Joe back from the dead at his scat-singing best ("I've got a date on my estate down in Hades/Call my chariot so I can go/And should the Moocher walk in/Just tell her you've been talkin'/To the ghost of Smokey Joe!").

"Midnight Monster Hop" and "Midnight Monsters Hop" - Two not-very-similar songs with confusingly similar names. "Midnight Monster Hop" is a psychobilly song by the Young Werewolves, a band from Philadelphia that was formed in 2002. "Midnight Monsters Hop" is a 1959 novelty rockabilly song recorded by Jack Huddle and Jim Robinson. I like them both, though.

"Murder in the Red Barn" - Let's be could put a lot of Tom Waits's discography on the playlist, and it would work as creepy ambiance. This one's extra super-duper creepy, though, since it's based on a real-life murder in England.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Eldritch Horror

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. This time, we'll be looking at Eldritch Horror, a board game designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens:

Fantasy Flight Games has released numerous H.P. Lovecraft-themed titles, each one focusing on a different level of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mansions of Madness took players through derelict buildings and cultist strongholds. Arkham Horror sent players racing around the streets of the titular city. Eldritch Horror raises the stakes even higher - now the whole world is at risk from the Great Old Ones:

The game is divided into three phases. In the "Action" phase, everyone takes turns moving around the globe, buying items or allies, and otherwise preparing for the challenges ahead. In the "Encounter" phase, the players fight monsters or resolve encounter cards. Finally, during the "Mythos" phase, numerous random (and usually bad) events occur.

The goal is to complete enough encounters (e.g., kill a special monster, explore a special location) before the Great Old One awakens and destroys the world. Each "encounter" is a little paragraph-long story that sets up a particular challenge, like fighting an ancient mummy at the Pyramids, breaking up a cultist ring in Shanghai, or getting detained by police in Rome. Your success or failure depends on your stats, your character's unique abilities, and the items you have in your inventory.

Overall, my group liked Eldritch Horror, since it plays like the most content-rich choose-your-own-adventure book ever. The gameplay is quicker and less fiddly than Arkham Horror, while the random nature of the encounter cards largely prevents the "dictator" problem common in co-op games (where one experienced player tells everyone else what to do). And, as always, FFG packs the box with best-in-class components and nice artwork, giving the game an excellent Lovecraft feel.

I do have some complaints. Out of the box, there aren't many encounter cards, so you'll see repeats sooner rather than later (if you expect to play more than a few times, the "Forgotten Lore" expansion - which contains hundreds of new cards - is basically a required purchase). Another downside is that there's not much to resolving encounters; usually, you read what the card says and roll some dice. Nearly all of the player choice in the game boils down to making sure you're in the right place with the right stuff, which might be off-putting to people expecting the game to be more interactive.

Despite these flaws, Eldritch Horror is a really great cooperative title that gives you the same globe-trotting, occult-discovering feel of the best Lovecraft stories, but without the tedium of some of FFG's other games. While Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness are both pretty good, if you're going to only get one Lovecraftian board game, this is the one to get.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Midnight Paths

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. Today's post concerns an anthology of horror short stories available for purchase via the Kindle Store and for loan through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library:

Midnight Paths: A Collection of Dark Horror

There's no unifying theme to this medium-length collection of horror stories by Joe Hart, save for the fact that the protagonists all encounter some very bad luck. Whether it's something as simple as a stressful day at work ("The Exploding Man") or as exotic as a mysterious undead killer ("The Man in the Room"), every tale features characters who are pushed to their absolute limit - and beyond.

Hart has a number of works in the Kindle Store, and his writing is a notch above average. While his plots and characters aren't anything special (as the author acknowledges, the novella-length "Pale Man" is a riff on the Native-American-spirit-seeks-vengeance story), Hart manages to create some gruesome original monsters. My favorite stories are "The Unfamiliar" (a gimmicky-but-fun trek into a nightmare world) and the Lovecraftian "Adrift" (a likable sailor gets stranded in the middle of the Pacific - but he isn't alone).

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dragon Con 2014 Recap - Never Split the Party

Last weekend, my friends and I went to Dragon Con, the Southeast's largest and most raucous multigenre fan convention. Here are some of the highlights from our adventures...

There's a lot of live music at Dragon Con, mostly played by indie rock and folk bands in out-of-the-way hotel rooms. These performances make up for their lack of production value with intimacy and enthusiasm. I attended a lively one by Dragon Con regulars Emerald Rose, and it felt more like a jam session with friends than a formal show.

My friend Ziggyzeitgeist cosplayed as Pool Party Lee Sin, from "League of Legends." Turns out Riot Games was actually sponsoring a lounge area in the Marriott, which led to predictable photo ops.

Another highlight was a late night Mystery Science Theater 3000 panel featuring Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, and Trace Beaulieu, followed by a screening of a classic episode, "The Magic Sword." It was a ton of fun chatting with all my fellow MSTies in line, and there were costumes only a diehard MST3K fan would recognize ("Rowsdower!").

Puppet shows are a big deal during Dragon Con, both on the premises and at Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts. These events are invariably packed, so you need to get to one early if you want to see anything. Here's a shot from a solo marionette show to give you an idea.

Astronomy Cast recorded a live episode of the podcast, fielding tough space science questions from the fans. It was really neat seeing the banter between Fraser Cane and Dr. Pamela Gay up close.

As for my cosplay, I dressed as "Doctor Deadpool," a mashup of Tom Baker and the Merc with a Mouth:

Some costumes were much more elaborate than mine, though.

Still, I thought my outfit turned out well. One caution - wearing a wig, a frock coat, donegal tweed trousers, an argyle vest, and a long scarf during Labor Day in Atlanta can be a little...warm.

Ziggyzeitgeist ran his annual D&D convention game, set in his "Dead's End" campaign world. As usual, we quickly drew crowds of onlookers and guest players, including some who had played with us the year before.

See ya next year, Dragon Con...

Miscellany: Dungeons & Dragons box sets, then and now...

To celebrate the release of the new fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I'm taking a look at two D&D box sets: 1994's "Classic D&D game" (a reprint of the 1991 boxed set) and the 2014 fifth edition "Starter Set." Read on to see how they compare...

The Old: "The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game" box set, circa 1994

Twenty years ago, I walked into a bookstore looking for a way to teach my kid sister to play D&D. Rather than overwhelm her with the 2nd edition AD&D Player's Handbook I had at the time, I wanted a simple, fun way to get her spelunking into dungeons and kicking kobolds in the face.

The "Classic D&D game" box set fit the bill exactly. It came with one softbound "Rules and Adventures Book," which packs in rules for creating characters (with classes like "Elf" and "Magic-User"), a condensed tutorial adventure, and a bestiary of monsters for the DM. The book was big, and still a bit daunting for a grade-schooler, but it was more approachable than the PHB:

The set also came with dice, fairly well-detailed (but nonpainted) plastic figures for PCs, cardstock standees for NPCs and monsters....

...a large, attractive poster-sized battlemap to use with the tutorial adventure...

...and a DM screen.

The set had two major downsides. The included adventure only supported two or three gaming sessions, and the characters and rules in the set were largely incompatible with the main 2e AD&D rules being used by everyone at the time. Still, I thought (and still think) the set was a great value.

The New: D&D 5th Edition Starter Set, circa 2014

In terms of physical components in the box, the new Starter Set is a little underwhelming. You get a set of dice, a rulebook, pre-generated character sheets, and a booklet that runs you through the adventure "Lost Mine of Phandelver," but there's no battlemap, miniatures, or DM screen. The slim rulebook is especially disappointing considering that Wizards of the Coast released the "Basic D&D" rules as free downloadable PDFs.

In terms of content, though, this is perhaps the most complete game tutorial ever released for D&D. The "Lost Mine of Phandelver" booklet aims squarely at newbie DMs and players, and does a pretty good job explaining how to handle common D&D tropes (an ambush on the party, a dungeon crawl, pumping NPCs in a town for quests/information, and the like). There's enough story, monsters, encounters, and dungeons here to support a couple months' worth of play, and everything is 100% compatible with the complete set of D&D 5th edition rules.

[One word of warning: they had to condense everything down a lot, so some encounters don't give as much explanation to the DM as they should. For instance, there's a dragon midway through that will easily kill off the entire party of adventurers in a straight fight, but no explanation that the PCs should try bargaining or sneaking past the dragon rather than attacking it.]

Final Thoughts

These starter sets do different things. The old "Classic D&D" game shows off all the cool chrome of the D&D world - plastic figs, funny dice, a DM screen - but basically assumes that people will graduate to AD&D afterward. In contrast, the "Starter Set" targets folks who want to play 5th edition D&D but don't know how, whether it's because they're computer/video gamers or because they're coming from other tabletop RPGs (i.e., Pathfinder). As such, including little toys in the box isn't as important as giving people a serious look at the new game system.

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