12 December 2007

... but I'm still on a kick.

For Sigur Rós, I mean. They have always been within my sphere - even when I somehow inexplicably saw them live and failed to appreciate them playing tunes from Ágaetis Byrjun when supporting Radiohead in the 2001 gig at South Park.

But there is something eternal and unending about their tracks. Almost like once you cotton on to their magic, it will hold you spellbound forever. Yes, Heima has something to do with this in my case - now my awareness is properly piqued; seeing them live even on screen is amazing - but it is more than that. Their tunes offer everything - salvation, isolation, inclusion, despair, love and hope.

Since Heima arrived I've only vaguely been able to listen to other artists - that is everything is couched in comparison and judged by their standard - making a lot of music (both previously known, or otherwise) hard to listen to and my emotional life feeling massively lacking; why is it that things I really, really like always leave me thinking more of the things I would really like but do not have?

Yes, it say a lot about how much of a sad individual I am that music can affect my perceptions so, but Sigur Rós are as close to perfection as it is possible to get in my limited and blinkered point of view. Sober or drunk, lonely or... (no, actually there is no or there), there just is nothing to compare. I risk running out of superlatives in my own mind whenever I contemplate their works - my obsession is that bad. Currently it is exhibiting in being up past bed-time (whatever time that may be) to listen in my post-office xmas do state of pish-ed-ness.

Their wonders will carry me through to sobriety, and with it work tomorrow. I am sure of this.

09 December 2007

So I just saw Duke Special

Well, last Wednesday - live, at the re-done Oxford Carling Academy (neé Zodiac).

If nothing else the man can put on a show. Yes, my immediate thoughts are unfortunately negative - the set composition was less than stellar in order, rather than content - but I came away most pleased by a great showman's performance.

True, if he had not played This Could be My Last Day as his second (and final) encore the evening would not have ended on quite the high it did - that song is a favourite for many reasons, not least because I should, and keep failing to, take the title as a motto to live by - but it was still a stellar gig. This should make me happy (and mostly it does), though it has this tendency to just leave me thinking "damn, I should go to more gigs."

The support act started just as we got there; their first song started promisingly - not blow you away, or even "want to see live" promisingly, but nice for a late night and a good whisky promisingly - but they quickly descended into pathetic comedy. They had a shortage of lyrics, and their front woman was clueless; combine this with the absurdity of a folk-y act wearing head torches a la whichever of The Orb or Orbital it was who popularised that mid-90s and I had a damn fine chuckle.

When the main act arrived the start of the set was lacklustre - I forget the first number, but the second was a nothing song based entirely on audience participation. I'm not a fan of AP in gigs as a whole - I go to gigs to be entertained by those performing, not the drunken cretins (myself included) in the audience - but it can work. Generally though I consider it important that if a performer is going to use AP then 1) the song should be a well-known to the audience and 2) there should be more to it than that. This qualified on neither count (at least as far as I was concerned).

However from the end of that ill-fated second number onward the performance was immense; the two others involved, aside from Duke Special himself, were a talented trumpeter/vocalist and a thoroughly eccentric, and wonderful, percussionist. All three were striking stage presences and more importantly had a real, observable chemistry between them up on stage - not least where (and whilst I found this absurd at the time, it is ten times more so in recounting and retrospect) the whole audience was entertained by the ringing of a bell or the striking or not of a cymbal whilst the two other protagonists encouraged expectation amongst the assembled. They played all but three or four songs from the album (Songs from the Deep Forest) , as well as a number of other tunes including some Kurt Weill covers - though not, unfortunately, Mack the Knife, which would have fit in nicely, in a set that massively overran the (absurd) stated curfew time and never again dipped below brilliant - even when the percussionist conspired to fall off the stage!

Engaging, charismatic and musically very sound indeed Duke Special will be worth return visits if his star keeps rising.

15 November 2007


Sigur Rós' film is fucking amazing - both the film and the music will blow you away.

Best DVD buy I've made by far.

04 November 2007

Diary of a Puppeteer: entry two.

A fine mess. Iniere is dead, killed by a “Brosengae” wench – an auditor from the bank if Tuall’s warning was correct. Nevertheless, the loss rids me of the concern that Trevan’s bumbling might have given him away and opens up a well of opportunity simply waiting to be tapped.

It all happened rather fast. No sooner had Iniere arrived for the meeting he demanded I host than Trevan managed to cut himself on a sword. Where did he get that, anyway? Iniere must have heard the crash, but not the cursing. The fool thought he was “preparing to fight Rhoubhe” by practicing with a blade; it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, or so crucial that he maintains the illusion. Despite his injury he managed to excuse himself admirably thus preventing a long discussion with Iniere. Which reminds me: I have yet to teach him enough passable phrases with which to extract himself from conversations he should not be in.

Tuall turned up soon after, with news of a “rescue” of the Brosen woman. I had to fight him and Iniere to have as much as half a chance of information, but eventually annoyed each (or cross-pollenated enough suspicion) for Tuall to spill. “Angharad” had been wanting to meet with Iniere about “financial matters” on behalf of the Brosen Royal Bank, but after I left out the banking matters Parnien seemed to assume she was an old flame. “Trevan’s” decree that no-one was to stay in the tower rang in his ears and he set off to meet her, it being too late to expect his betrothed.

I set off later, hoping to listen in to these financial discussions, but Iniere had been slain in his bed at the inn – in the room this “Angharad” had booked previously (or so Tuall later explained). Brosen murdering Iniere makes little sense, unless his businesses had gone bad on him, so a ruse and slights combined; I have no clue who or whence the assassin, but frankly I don’t care. Iniere’s passing leaves a lot of mercantile territory open to the sharks, and I smell opportunity.

A bit of digging has turned up that Iniere’s will is to be read during the Tournament in Anuire, and who the likely inheritors might be. It will take some serious work to disrupt this but… the opportunity is too good to give up. Moreover, one of those who might come into riches is just my type of person – and could get up Agelmore’s nose, too. Yes, the need to go back to Anuire does carry risks; I am in two minds whether to openly seek Agelmore out and head off hostility or hide myself such that he does not notice my return. But such is thinking too far ahead, and Anuire may well have more imminent threats.

In the meantime, however, I have a meeting with Karvol – Iniere’s clerk. The rumour mill suggests he will be lightly pensioned off despite his vast knowledge of the entire Iniere empire. “Trevan” will offer him terms, and backing, to take control of the Nentril-based operations… I intend to somehow sabotage the will reading, encourage enough in-fighting amongst the sharks – the major inheritors – such that a seizure of backwater, minor, incomes would not be noticed. I need Karvol on-side, and for that I will have to promise him a lot – his knowledge and expertise; I must appeal to his rancour at the way he is to be dismissed, to his greed and to his person.

And I have yet to figure him out…

27 October 2007

Hot Fuzz

I finally saw Hot Fuzz the other night, after I convinced myself to take advantage of cheap deals on Amazon and picked it up, along with Casino Royale and Pan's Labyrinth (neither of which I had seen before either, but at a price almost equivalent to renting them I figured why not?).

I stuck it in expecting a lot; Shaun of the Dead had me in stitches throughout, Spaced is - despite my initial not-grokking it back when it was first aired (a situation since rectified) - one of the best sitcoms ever made and I have a lot of time for Simon Pegg as a comic actor, going at least as far back as Big Train. It is perhaps my fault then that I found this offering disappointing to start with - high expectations are often a route to disappointment after all, and I found the slow set-up largely devoid of laugh-out-loud humour and lacking even in enough wry smiles to keep me truly entertained.

Persevering worked though; the chain of events surrounding the climax ramped up the pace, the humour and the interest and I did finally start emitting the guffaws that I had expected. I was left satisfied, glad to have seen the film, but feeling as though I am unlikely to re-visit it anytime soon. In my mind it suffers greatly from its big brother, where the same people (and actually, IMO a better-suited supporting cast - Dylan Moran for the win!) had a funnier premise (what isn't better with zombies!), a better script and a style that was fresher to the viewer and left a lasting impression that cannot help but to shape any opinion of this offering. I was guilty of expecting the same, perhaps better - refined by their experience - and thus not taking things at face value.

Overall I'm glad I picked it up and I might find when I do come to re-watch it that Hot Fuzz is one of those films where you benefit by knowing what will happen - knowing nods and winks (as recalled in flashback in the film itself) opening up the comedic angles earlier on than they do otherwise. But the experience didn't leave any lasting impression, any wow factor. It was an enjoyable film and that's all.

Dance, Monkey, Dance: The Diary of a Puppeteer

Has it really been a month since Manzourian “disappeared”? I would never have guessed things would go so smoothly; there is no sign of Rhoubhe taking retaliation for the ceasing of the rain, and Trevan has been accepted fully as steward of the tower by the locals. Now, the first steps taken, my work begins in earnest.

A week ago a missive arrived from Iniere, requesting – no demanding, the cheek! – that he be granted reign to use the tower as a stage for the meeting of he and his fiancée, some Boeruine sprat. “Trevan” has acceded to this request. It would seem churlish not to and, given our already frosty relationship with Castle Nentril itself, astute to both curry favour with and gather information on the other major player in the region. Besides, Iniere’s coin will prove a useful bonus, at least that which remains after “security” has been dealt with.

To that end I made a point of seeking out that elf – Tuall, I think - and his rag-tag bunch of followers. The people seem to like him despite his heritage, and they have thus far serviced in warning of Rhoubhe’s incursions to satisfy me their presence would be desirable. Any Boeruine is an inviting target for the Manslayer, after all, and the retinues accompanying Iniere and wife will need watching too. I promised him coin, but arranged no fee; one can hope he conveniently forgets… I feel I must be wary of him though, so withholding may not be wise; he did not seem convinced of Trevan when they first met, and he has the manpower to prove a thorn with a fatal prick.

Regardless, enough is in place that I can look forward, to the staged meeting and the tournament beyond. I have a fortnight or more to make the necessary arrangements. I must look up someone who can provide knowledge of Iniere and Boeruine as while I will learn more in the meeting itself I require enough in advance to brief Trevan such that he will not give himself away. More importantly though, I must try to focus him, and hope he can learn and practice enough to employ a cantrip or two when the great and the good require a show... and that will be a challenge for certain.

14 October 2007

Other people are here for my entertainment!

I don’t mean this in an arrogant, egotistical, “I am centre of the universe” kind of way – I’d need to think a lot more of myself for that – but to a certain extent I do seem to carry around with me the attitude that other people exist to for my entertainment. This means that in the rare moments when I am a happy bunny and have interesting and friendly people around me I feel as if they are to be engaged with, or not, on a whim (as I intimated when I mentioned the difference between loneliness and being alone). It has also surfaced into my conscious mind that a similar but subtly different principle informs my gaming habits and practices, and ultimately probably encapsulates why I prefer to GM rather than play.

That is to say: I get a large slice of my gaming enjoyment from sitting back and watching things unfold, and this is heightened if I have had a hand in setting up the situation concerned, as opposed to playing an integral part in the unfolding. This has been to the forefront of my thinking as I reflected on last weekend’s TROS game and why the final scenes of that weekender worked so well for me. Whilst this threw it up as a conscious consideration, the fact I enjoy watching the creativity of others is something I have long been aware of – it first came to my attention back when I was regularly playing Neverwinter Nights online 5 years ago. It was, in hindsight, the primary driving force behind the changes that I made in the summer of 2003 to the way I ran the campaign I was GMing in NWN. Yes, the discussions with others (most notably Ian O’Rourke) are what made me aware of different priorities, approaches and so forth with specific reference to RPGs and helped me pinpoint exactly what principles most appealed to me – and these extend past gaming, most notably into preferences in TV and film – but looking back now it is the desire to set things up that makes this tick, with me resting on the full knowledge of the situation, if not exactly how events will resolve.

The priorities I straightened out back in 2003 before I began to get back into tabletop RPGs again still stand: and I value a narrative focussed on pushing the PCs into personally resonant choices and individually defining moments, salient revelations and lasting effect over action, self-betterment or wandering through events untouched on a personal level beyond the physical scars of a fight or two. I have never, as a player, been very good at ensuring I get this kind of play; in the past I have put this down to my lack of dominance at the table, a reticence to impose myself in order to get what I want but I suspect now that the real reason is perhaps that I don’t want it so much for myself – I am, and have always been, quite happy playing in the style served up. Instead, I want to see others experience this type of drama and create entertainment for me out of the in game events.

Why is this? I don’t know. I am continually astounded by how creative others can be if given the opportunity, though I have to concede that I may just have been very luck with whom I have gamed in this respect. Certainly not every gamer has it in them to provide the sort of entertainment I value most – hell, I doubt I do; like in life, in games the strength of each gamer will be different. It may just be my talent for self-deprecation speaking, but I do not consider myself particularly creative or inventive when it comes to gaming, so perhaps I value the creativity of others more highly as a result?

I function well when bouncing ideas off people, or when picking up on key phrases from someone else and turning them on their origin – I do minimal world-building, but what is done is almost always a strict reflection of information given to me in character pitches. The same goes for plotting, where unless I am directly building something around a PC I do not feel confident in what I am putting together. When playing I feel that I am spectacularly bad at anything that equates to problem solving or requires on-the-spot thinking - why I have a penchant for playing socially gifted characters given this, and my dislike for using social conflict mechanics I don’t know, it’s not exactly playing to my strengths! – but feel I’m much better at identifying and focussing on how I can get interplay going with other PCs, be that one showing another up, encouraging intrigue or just personal moments of connection, realisation, respect or understanding between two equally fictitious personalities. I have always been wordy, but tend not to see my use of words in the same way I see others’ usage; consciously intentional or not there was a session in my recently completed game (summarised in two parts here and here) where almost everything that was said struck me as perfect, but I said next to nothing that session, instead getting my wish – I was able to sit back and enjoy as the players ran away with the situation creatively hitting high point after high point.

I feel my GMing style does play to my strengths, and thus I actually believe in my ability as a GM (whereas I don’t about almost anything else). It also plays heavily to this desire to sit back and watch others. I nudge, nurdle and tweak, setting up opportunities for PCs to hit their straps and players to get their teeth into issues and aspects of play that they have indicated (either openly, or by my inferring from interactions) are desirable in the context of the current game. Flags, in technical terms, are raised to be seen and engaged with and generally speaking I have found if I manage to nail that engagement players will run away with it and I can often take a step back and just enjoy the ride as they interact with each other. Worst case is that that player wants to run away with the idea with an NPC, which involves me doing something more, but really only insofar as I need to act as a springboard to magnify their input, before looking for a way to turn its focus toward the rest of the group. Actually, no – worst case is that the player doesn’t spot it, or react, the chances of both reduced if I’m not the player.

The bonus is that when it comes off, this adds to everyone’s enjoyment – the player gets what they wanted brought into focus, and I, as GM, get to play audience. In the best cases players will react to each others flags, and I can observe without ever having to interject. Like being the parent nudging their kid on a sled over the lip of the slope, I know they may well not have got there without the work I did to set it up, but their enjoyment and involvement in the runaway descent is plain and the experience of knowing I facilitated that gives the warmest glow.

When playing I take care to set up the kinds of characters riddled with hooks, flaws and foibles that would act as flags if I were a GM, but because I’m not (however nominally) “in control” I have the tendency to ignore them in actual play unless given a gaping opportunity, such as towards the end of last weekend’s game, where it all opened up too invitingly to ignore. More than that, it opened up in a way that promised some form of sitting back and enjoying: the manipulations I made even as a player had direct consequences, at least as they were being planned, for the other PCs. It was, in short, not a million miles away from GMing that scene, especially given the knowledge of motivations as the resultant mini-scenes played out. Perhaps not as personally resonant or as thought out as my tweaks and nudges as a GM would have been, these little manipulations nevertheless were going to throw the spotlight onto other players and their contribution to the climactic moments of the game. Maybe this is why I take to playing social manipulators even when I do not have the range of social manipulation in life – it provides a mechanically supported way of throwing other people into focus and assuring I get a show to watch.

Hence the conclusion that I’m seeing other people as a form of entertainment.

It is not that I do not enjoy being an active part of proceedings: I do. Engineering situations to spotlight other people can actually takes some work to pull off, not least because some people (like me, perhaps?) do not want to be engaged. I would posit it is more down to different requirements to meet, or at least to maximise, the pay-off for the time put into a leisure activity.

The point? I may not have been looking hard enough or in the right places, but I have not come across any place for this “audience”-like motivation in gaming theory or discussion (or if I have do not remember). It is not a desire that can simply be sated by reading a book or watching film or TV as these are much more fundamentally passive entertainments and the (inter)active nature of gaming is a huge part of its appeal, and it is the interplay between a game being something you are a part of and yet also something you can sit back from and experience as an observer that is of key interest to me here.

Does anyone else have this desire to set things up for others to knock them down, preferably with a minimum of interference once it is underway? Does anyone else thrive in a game where they can just watch most of the time, or am I alone in finding this sort of pleasure in gaming when others would look to movies or novels? Does anyone else approach gaming – consciously or unconsciously – with an eye on the expectation that the other participants are there to entertain them?

Screw them over. Screw up. Die!

So last weekend (6/7 October) I spent most of my time being someone else. Which was nice.

None of the dodgy car trouble that ruined my Wednesday, a nascent cold that turned me into nothing more than a snot factory, a raft of "things I should be doing this weekend", or a slight hangover resulting from drinks on Friday night managed to get in the way of me heading to Bicester for several hours of gaming. I had originally planned to only attend on the Saturday due to the aforementioned raft, but it quickly became apparent that in order for me to get anything out of it I would have to stay until the game ended on Sunday evening; the payoff for the character I ended up playing was so backloaded that to have dived out at the point we left things overnight and not seeing it through would have left a sour taste.

We were playing The Riddle of Steel - a crunchy, gritty medieval game I had heard of but never experienced before and given my unfamiliarity with the system, and the purported deadliness of TROS combat, I'd put forward an idea for a socially gifted manipulator. It began to look a limited, limiting choice early on; the pitch involved accompanying a noble's daughter on a visit to her betrothed in distant territories and it soon became clear the journey itself - for which the character was not set-up to play a major part - was going to take up most of the playing time. Trust in your fellow gamer is a fine thing though, and mine was repaid in spades once the final destination was actually reached around lunchtime on Sunday.

I had a central premise for the character, based around his forbidden love for the principal NPC in conflict with his loyalty and duty of service to her father. It became very clear in my mind that if the primary marriage was to go ahead, he would acquiesce on his personal desires for the greater good; if however the proposed union was going to have to be sabotaged for the good of the family, then there would be an opportunity for him to turn it into personal advantage and make his move for the girl. So when it became apparent that the marriage was a set-up to politically align the Lady's father with his enemies, weakening his position, my mind creaked into overdrive to try and play cards that would engineer an opening. What could be seen as the downside of this was that it required a thorough doublecross of the other three PCs.

Thankfully one-off games with a definite cut-off point makes this kind of move less generally annoying to other players and more appropriate as a result, so I decided to press ahead. The plan was to be engaged at a big, city-wide, social event for the nobility. My character and one of the other PCs not being nobles, they had to forge identities to even attend - thus setting one up for a cry of "imposter!" and providing a foolproof (or so I thought) method of accounting for the sergeant at arms. A pre-forged letter denouncing another of the party as mad, dangerous and in need of incarceration, signed "by the Baron" and sealed with his mark had been prepared to deal with another of the group back when she had seemed like a genuine threat to the life of the principal (hair-trigger, ultra-violent fighting noblewoman of unknown past... surely an assassin!). This ran into problems when her unknown past turned out to be that her deceased family were connected to the noble family ruling the city, and hosting the ball, only discovered as the group got into a coach on the way to the event. Still, easy enough to rectify, surely? Just hand the letter to the enemies of the hosts - the family the Lady had almost been erroneously married into - and somehow convince them to take action. Job done. The final PC was much harder to plan for, especially as although they had started out antagonistic to each other, there was more interaction, trust(?) and respect between them built over the course of the journey. This final PC was ostensibly the expedition's leader and would surely worry the most about the Lady's wellbeing? Ropey though it may be, I banked on the agent who had caused problems for the group throughout the river journey turning up at the ball, and cut him a deal, figuring that if he did cause a stir the burly priest would be forced to intervene, would wipe the floor with him (thus ensuring less guilt at causing the death of a colleague), but be distracted for long enough for me to make the getaway.

In the event, plans broke down in several places, as they are wont to do. In order to get the Sergeant into the ball at all, my character had been forced to give him intensive training in ettiquette - and taught him too well, such that he deflected suspicion when the alarm was raised; the priest spotted his liaison with the rival family, stirring suspicion, and the swordswoman noble did a fine job of preventing the would-be attacker from carrying out his role.

However the biggest mistake, and apt in the circumstance, was utterly underestimating the Lady Sienna. Love truly is blind(ing), and she had figured out events and took exception to his methods, fatally stabbing him, to his surprise, in a clinch before "using" him to dispose of the aforementioned agent.

It was a satisfying end for me; for the character to live or die is a non-issue at the end of games so long as the end, as and when it comes, is fitting. This fit like a snug glove, but then I had the benefit of watching things unfold from a knowing position. The GM professed to enjoy the complexities of the finale too - but again he was in full knowledge of events. The other players did not complain, though - and this is my reservation - having been out of the loop as events unfolded I imagine there could well have been more than a little "what the...?" based confusion and disappointment with where the curtain fell. I would like to think that after the event, when motivations and processes became open to all the outcome was appreciated. Certainly I think I would have enjoyed it from the other side - having been on the end of player-driven doublecrosses before - but equally would have found it frustrating at the time as things played out. I like to know what's going on, in fact I think it is a major reason why I prefer GMing to playing and is a central tenet of what I enjoy in RPGs (to be returned to in a later post).

In any case, it was an enjoyable weekend, and with all the others surviving, in some cases not fully aware (in character) of the hornet's nest stirred up around them, there might be a potential return at some point, which is not an unpleasant thought at all.

As for thoughts on the system? Crunchier, and using more dice, than I have a preference for, but given the design goals of the game it felt appropriate. Combat was complicated yet often amusing, and the slow pace of play balanced by the quick deadliness and resolution arising from landing blows. The ebb and flow and rhythm of how fights played out was interesting and a positive in the context. However I felt the real strength of the system was in the spiritual attributes - player-defined goals, drives, passions etc. which when brought into play reward the character with extra dice and thus greater chances of success, fundamentally making characters better at things that are important to them, and rewarding players who play to these strengths (and, in certain contexts, weaknesses), helping GMs to fit the game around the characters. In longer-term play they fluctuate, as they are also won and spent as XP, thus modelling shifts in priorities as goals are reached or thwarted. This kind of device is a nice addition to any system in my view - more for the power in players hands than for the XP effect - though given TROS is crunchier than my preference, I think I prefer the implementation of Passions in Mortal Coil to the SAs here.

Would I play it again? Certainly. Would I ever run TROS? No chance.

03 October 2007

I'm struggling

To come up with a positive post tonight, I mean.

There are a lot of things I could talk about - I've just watched Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait; I'm enjoying Pratchett's Making Money; Flight of the Conchords is proving every bit as promising as the trailers made it look.

But the latter two are still too nascent in my experience of them to deserve writing time and the former, whilst undoubtedly interesting, did not blow me away: it was fantastic in places, but as a whole it did not quite spark for me.

I guess I could note that last night I did laugh genuinely in mirth quite a lot - a combination of book, Conchords and BBC Three's airing of some series or other of Family Guy - which is everything I remember The Simpsons being back when it was fresh and funny on so many levels, and yet only watched in patches. Perhaps that's why it seems fresh, I've been exposed to enough to see its merits, but not too much to find it getting stale. Also - QI has been back for a few weeks and this is a true gem of British Broadcasting.

So funny stuff abounds, and this is good.

Frustration, Finance and a Night of Lost Gaming

Should be gaming now, in fact.

Except the car wouldn't start; the oil pressure warning light came on. So within a week of my costly new insurance policy starting, within a week of the documents arriving from the DVLA to confirm the car is mine, and within 2 weeks of the annual service and MOT, I have a serious problem, and a potential need to invoke the home assist clause in the breakdown cover.


The worst part is that it has happened on a Wednesday so I miss a week's gaming (but then it would; I don't use the car much - or indeed at all - on other days of the week), and a Wednesday before a weekend which might also (otherwise?*) have been chock full of gaming goodness. Not fun, and more aggravation and Stuff To Think About (tm) to add to career (hah!) ideas and financial decisions.

Still, things should prove solvable, if at a price.

And now I need to think about something positive to post to boot!

* It may still, regardless of whether or not the issue is fixed in time, but the potential loss gets my goat right now!

27 September 2007

Gotan Project, and Other Recent Musical Finds

New rule: for every negative post I put up from now on, I must write one positive one. OK, it is likely to last about as long as the intention to keep myself clean shaven once I've cleared the month's growth off for the umpteenth time, but it's not a bad idea. This counteracts tonight's earlier effort.

Gotan Project: I picked up their album La Revancha del Tango this week on a whim, knowing sod all about them except for hints of style (downtempo, loungesque, world not a million miles away from some of Thievery Corporation's work). I'm damn glad I did; its a fine collection of music, and I'll certainly be looking to pick up later releases (La Revancha... was 2001). In fact in lieu of writing more here back when I started it (a week ago) I went shopping for Lunático. If anything the latter is better - all in my opinion of course; it is more polished, more accomplished: hallmarks of the group having played together longer, perhaps. I'm left not entirely sure how to describe it - the name comes from a syllable basesd spoonerism of Tango, but the music is, to my ears, more than that. Loungesque, jazzy, cool and fucking excellent.

Fucking excellent actually fits for a description of all the music I've ended up acquiring in the past week. An unfortunate accident meant I damaged some CDs Garry had passed me when I was in Dundee in June/July; on discovering this I did what I should have done much earlier and rushed out to not only replace them, but acquire more of the artists concerned; so I now have three Mogwai albums and two Beta Band CDs to enjoy. Happy music to make you grin, uplifting or chilled dependent on the frame of mind when putting them on. Great stuff.

I was also enchanted by my only listen so far of PJ Harvey's White Chalk; I cannot expand on that description for now - hey, I had 10 new discs to get through! - but it was a work that left a firm first impression and I look forward to giving it the time it deserves.

I also picked up Thievery Corporation's Versions - in the end not so much because I like their stuff (I do; The Mirror Conspiracy ranks amongst my favourite albums), but because one of the mixes is of an old Ben Folds (well, Fear of Pop, but that was a 'Five era Folds side project) tune. Yes, I do rate Folds that highly, why? I found Versions disappointing in the end - too same-y and left little impression beyond being background music. TC's work normally encompasses a little more, and maybe I was expecting too much from what is a disc of remixes, but though it will get play it will not likely get many listens.

That said, for Versions to be the worst of the buys was lucky enough - the slight gamble on Daddy G's DJ Kicks album and an old Kristin Hersh title paid off well enough, but the biggest unknown of the bunch, And she Closed her eyes by Stina Nordenstam, has ended up enchanting me the most. Timid, almost muffled, vocals, and soft arrangements drawing ear, mind and mood alike to a thoroughly calm place. Quirky for certain and by no means everyone's cup of tea it has definite jazz and even *gasp* easy listening vibes at times if the elements are taken alone, but as a whole it transcends its limitations to reward on a fundamental level. Great late-night music (or last-thing, anyway; it's only 11 but I'm off to bed and to read Making Money) to boot, and a fitting accompaniment to an attempt to be a little brighter.

No matter how many times I told myself...

This week I have repeated a mantra: "this will not be a bad week."

Unfortunately said repetition and attempt at positive thought had all the effect of an auto-cue on George W. Bush's oratory powers and a litany of bad stuff has happened and negative thoughts have filled my mind. There have been positives, too, but they mainly involve retail therapy, the Conchords, drinking Guinness, and music (to be discussed later).

Whine? Yes. Meekly poking fun at self? Check. All doom and gloom? Hope not.

What I had felt determined (as much as I ever do, anyway) was going to be at least "above average" as weeks go has turned out to be a mixed bag, with more bad than good thus far (and since it's Thursday night, barring a miraculous Friday its as good as condemned). Bad points of note include failing, by virtue of losing the plot, to grasp opportunities fashioned; the loss of the freedom that came with having the house to myself; managing to injure each of my hands in unrelated incidents - minor scrapes (one splinter, one blister) but annoying all the same; and the overriding one is the sheer mind numbing tediousness and resultant tiredness stemming from work.

I have most definitely reached the point where I cannot bear to continue where I am work-wise any more, but the reason for this is in part why I am finding it so hard to look for anything else - virtual brain death during evenings and weekends (the other factor being not knowing what to do). There are other frustrating reasons for this aside from the menial and soul-destroying nature of the work itself. Notable here is that the one person whom I really liked has left (and I really need to open a line of communication there again...); those still there are pleasant enough, but I don't feel an awful lot of affinity with any of those I know. Then there are those I don't which is a different sort of frustration - one that I will get anywhere, certainly, though perhaps amplified in situ by the demographic of the office. I was all set to attempt to talk to new people, broaden horizons and so forth, but timings, situations and my own reticence to open myself up to the possibility of making a fool of myself (aka stepping out of my comfort zone, or other such psychobabble) all got in the way as ever, and at times the place seems so cliquey as to not be worth it anyway. Again, probably no different anywhere else but it is the here and now open to analysis, not some etheric other.

Reading between the lines: I'm a lonely single bloke with little or no self-confidence in an office full of attractive women (that's the socio-phobic geek in publishing for you; there's a tragi-comic novel in it somewhere). The eye candy is nice and all, but it throws my frustration needle off the scale as my mind goes into overdrive as I berate myself for my social failings.

Anyhow, outside of work I thought it might be a decent week, but between the return from holiday of my mother ending my having full run of the house, the acquisition of splinters helping my brother move furniture into the van he hired (for moving house, which he did on Tuesday; another source of self-beration - my younger sibling has a career path and has just bought his second rung house on the ladder that is property ownership, in London no less), and a serious lack of sleep, life has managed to keep throwing minor little annoyances at me. These wouldn't rank of note at all except for going against the planned grain; little things whittling me down, and doing so whilst I have been ineffective in encouraging good thoughts. My mind has been constantly trying to drag me down further, but the positive thinking mantra may have helped curtail some of these thought patterns though - its hard to think about anything much if you're mentally screaming at yourself over and over!

But despite nothing going to plan and the bad outweighing the good in many ways, I grin as I type because it's impossible not to with such good, happy, music playing, and I know I'll get to dip into a new Pratchett before I drift off to sleep tonight.

This life, it is enigma.

20 September 2007

Life is teasing me...

Title says it all; draw your own conclusions.

Add "or so it seems" for accuracy.

19 September 2007

The World Twenty20

So England are, again, prematurely out of a tournament showcasing a (format of a) game they came up with. Joy. And the new ODI and T20 captain, Paul Collingwood, has already got himself in hot water by visiting a *shocked horror* strip club during the tournament.

Bah. He did nothing wrong as far as I read the coverage, but he has presided over a disastrous challenge. The win over Zimbabwe was nothing less than expected (despite the opponent's heroics against the Aussies in their previous match). Since then there have been three loses, two of which were marred by abundant basic fielding errors and lame collapses; limp performances where England never so much as threatened to compete. I have no such complaints about the loss to New Zealand, which did go to the last over: whilst England did throw it away some through a terrible penultimate over they were at least at the races for the duration. As I type, India look to be racking up a huge score in what will be England's last game of the tournament; it smacks of another limp effort, and simply not good enough.

Sour grapes? Mutterings from a glory-hunter or new supporter drawn in by Ashes success 2 years ago? No. I started really following England's fortunes in cricket way back in the early-mid 90s when they couldn't win a game to save their life. I'm used to seeing my side lose - especially in the shorter format - and that doesn't bother me a jot. What does is seeing meek efforts that disgrace the shirt, countless errors that would embarrass schoolboys or village cricketers from players we know to have true class.

Oh how I wish the fight was there. They talk a good game, but lately haven't played much of one (even when they have won).

Edit: And limp is rightly the word; Stuart Broad just bowled the most expensive over in Twenty20 history: Yuvraj Singh taking 6 sixes from it. The depths are being plumbed, and I cannot see England saving face by getting close to their target of 219. So barring a miracle that will be two world cups in a row (50-over and T20) where England have failed to win so much as a match against decent opposition.

17 September 2007

The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone

My Better Judgment (that part of me not on the beers) caught up with me and demanded some self-censoring edits. Oh well. Up it goes again.

First the blindingly obvious - I am both, but they are far from the same thing. That out of the way, what is the point of this? Well, the biggest problem I have is loneliness, so it may go some way to answering "what is the problem."

As much as I will grumble to myself about how I hate "being me" this hyperbolic mental ranting disguises a fundamental flaw in that thinking: I enjoy my own company. I like being on my tod. There is, of course, a kicker here, and in this case it is that the above is only true when it is a meaningful choice to be alone. When I start hating myself - and inevitably I do - is when I end up spending a lot of time on my own as a default position, without feeling that I have a choice. In other words: when I get lonely.

I have been lonely now since the summer of 2003, the last time I was sharing a house with someone I was genuinely happy to be living with, which not coincidentally was the last time I had easy and regular contact with (a) friend(s) living in the same town. What I am coming to see as a self-defining trait is that I don't generally like to spend all my time with other people, but I damn well feel the need to have it as an option. Yes, this will sound selfish; it has a whiff of "other people are there for my enjoyment" about it. Nonetheless, once I am shorn of the (perceived?) option of spending time with people I like, I quickly become a withdrawn, moody, self-hating ball of despair. I miss massively the days when I was at uni in Bristol - not because they were always better (I had a torrid time in my final year, living alone for 6 months of it and that really didn't agree with me), but because there were always people about that I could just phone up and go out to meet. It is that accessibility of friends, and the ease of arrangements that I miss, possibly more-so than the actual people if I'm honest (though I do miss folks, too). Yes, as we age and days fill up with other things such pick-me-up arrangements do get harder to maintain, but mine vanished altogether after that first year in Bath, and have never returned.

Currently what I most hate is walking back to an empty house every night, knowing that - the one night a week I game aside - there is no hope in hell of me seeing (or most likely even speaking to/receiving email from) anyone but my co-habitant. And lets face it: as much as we may love our mothers dearly, they are not first choice for company. Thus my being alone is not perceived as a meaningful choice, and hence my loneliness.

One could argue to that I could do more to keep in contact with the friends I have. There is truth to that, however there is also truth to the fact that, even counting the gaming group, I have no friends living within 10 miles of me and thus not available off the cuff. It is also true that most are a lot further - many not even visitable for a weekend without taking time off work to travel (or at least couldn't before I got the car) - and whilst I admit culpability in being crap at keeping regular contact, I feel the need to stress that many of those I'm talking about are, by their own admission, worse at it than me!

So, I need new friends - local friends. However there is a snag: I don't make friends easily at all. Sure, I can get on well with people, generally speaking, but somehow it never seems to click from that getting along to actual friendship and the associated doing of things, contacts and so forth that one associates with the term. I do not meet a lot of people, which compounds the issue, and I have always been terrible at initiating any kind of contact with people I don't know, limiting this further - I only meet those who introduce themselves, or are introduced to me. There are not very many of them - the latter constrained by my lack of local friends, and the former... well that is out of my hands.

So a large part of the problem is that I cannot fathom how, unless I can build some serious self-belief, I could ever approach other people and introduce myself - it just scares the crap out of me for some reason, and that's before encompassing not knowing what to say. Confidence and self-belief are two attributes that have been sorely lacking for a long while. I could also use some hope. But most of all I need an idea of how to make change stick. How to face my fear of failure and win, rather than resigning myself to not trying, on the basis that by doing so I'll never have to face a loss I didn't chose to take.

All I want is for the loneliness to end, so I can go back to enjoying my time alone (and time spent with others, too, naturally). Something big needs to change - within me, and without (location, probably) - for that to happen. The without I cannot see happening until I get insight on a longer-term job or career move: financial constraints and the "where am I going" niggle impede me.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to do is sort that out, to make a decision on where, what and how I am going to work. Maybe if I can somehow force that issue, everything else will look up again. Lord knows I cannot stay where I am, feeling my brain atrophy with each passing moment and wearing out my (already tired) eyes by staring at XML all day!

There must be something that can spark interest in me, beyond playing games where one pretends to be someone else entirely; or maybe I do hate myself that much after all! (that was a joke).

To end on more positive notes - now that I own the car, once I've sorted out all the attendant guff (insurance, MOT and Tax all up for renewal in October), it should give me the freedom to try and address some of the dropped contacts. Of course, the effort of arranging things will fall on my head (as ever it did; as I said before I'm better at contact than those concerned!), and I'll have to get over the hump that periodically strikes me with this situation, but day trips would be possible, as might weekends in places where, if reliant on the trains, options were previously curtailed. I think I'm probably due a change of primary email address now too, which is as good an excuse as any to get back in communication with those who I wish to retain as contacts.

Also to point out that I've written this whilst feeling motivated to write, not whilst feeling particularly trapped in my own mind. Hopefully I'll feel more of the former if the latter stays away. Whilst there is a lot to be said for Rosa's advice for me to "STOP THINKING!!!", short of an on/off switch for my brain it is not something I am oft able to do. I know how frustrating this can be for those around me, so thank you for putting up with it, and I do wonder whether my overthinking would be an interesting and positive side to me, or source of potential mirth, if my mind were to lighten up some...

11 September 2007

Splitting Heirs: Afterthoughts

With a few sessions still to go Paul, who was playing Scharf/Rudi dropped me an email:

Hey Graham, hope you're psyched for next session.

I'd just been thinking about how much I'd been enjoying this campaign, probably because it has all the elements I appreciate as a player but rarely get. Then I thought, what did you plan to get out of it? I know you really wanted to run Warhammer, in this set-up - it was always your main idea in the suggestions you sent out. What were you looking forward to? Has it turned out as you wanted? What plans and scenes were you hoping to get out?

Just wondering, is all.
To which I responded at the time, but I think it’s a good basis for summing up my feelings about how the game played out.

My primary objective in any game I run is to push for the type of game and play I find myself unable to get (whether through the style of GMing, me not actively pursuing it, or most commonly a combination of the two) when I am a player. That generally means I am shooting for intense, character-centred drama, pushing the protagonists into hard choices and situations which encourage growth and change in the characters, whilst maintaining a backdrop of interesting events. I also like resolution - whether it be total, final, or just a central issue. This game resolved the "how" of succession, assuming the barony survives, if not the war which would determines that survival, whilst we had individual resolutions for the characters, too: Rudi's secrets coming out, and his overcoming his fear of women to end up a husband-to-be having upheld the vows he made to himself and the Barony; Helena's mourning period ended and she has found love, as well as forged a place for herself of right, assuming, that is, the war can be won; Pou meanwhile was forced to live up to his position and take responsibility not just for himself but for all – he was forced into a position where he felt he had to act because it was the “right” thing to do, however much he did not want to take that step. He also married and started to assume more responsibility in his personal life in a mirror to his professional elevation.

By and large, then, the game has delivered what I set out to achieve, with a prime example being the wedding session (one of the reasons I wanted to end it there - nothing else could come close for me). Whilst the game did not progress exactly how I had envisaged when we began, it was not to its detriment. If I had been firmer with pacing, scene framing and such then I may have realised my initial (episodic) vision better, but we wouldn't have had a lot of the time and space, and the smaller events, that helped make the game work.

In some ways I had hoped that the players would pursue more individual agendas; resolvable conflicts between protagonists (read PCs) is something I have realised that I value highly in my gaming, and the set-up of the game was in part designed to encourage this. (That, and I much prefer characters with a degree of gravitas or authority; doing the ordering about is a lot more interesting and open to choice than being told what to do). Bits and pieces of this were seen, but perhaps not as much or as weighty as I would have liked. Perhaps the lack of system was detrimental here (I know I’d like to do similar sorts of conflicts with a solid systemic backing in the form of Mortal Coil or other similar system), but I guess in part a degree of backing down was to be expected: inter-PC conflict as an express element of games is at odds with the usual "party" mode of play and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes.

Beyond that... well, nothing was overly planned. I had initially hoped to have Mörder and his associated underlings appear more - indeed I had envisioned playing out the war - but I could not figure out how to fit them in without rushing into the war situation, and it became clear to me early on in execution that this game would suffer (in my handling, at least) if the war was expressly played out. The conflict with Mörder worked better as a constant threat and pressurizing factor in the end.

I might also have liked to centre more on the council meetings themselves but for two factors - Lady F's physical distance from things when in Drachenmalstein, and more pertinently the difficulties of playing several NPCs in the same scene. Aside from differentiating them convincingly there are issues with giving each screen-time, motivations and so forth, not to mention the ease of forgetting who was doing what with which agenda! The latter is much easier to keep in check if NPCs remain more discrete from each other.

I've thoroughly enjoyed it all told; the first few sessions were about bedding in to GMing again, and there were one or two where it dragged a bit here and there, but for the most part the energy was maintained and I have felt wholly rewarded by the actual play you the players created from the situations I threw at them.

It did feel a little cheap doing the final wrap up as I did, that is to say as a cutscene watched by the PCs, not something they had an active role in, however it was about the only way I could wrap on time – yes, I really, really need to work on my pacing! – and I felt (and I think they did too) that a passive plot resolution was better than none. I skimmed or omitted details in the summary above for ease of reporting, lack of memory and clarity etc., but I think it was generally well received – as indeed the game as a whole was.

I am, however, glad it has ended. As much as I enjoyed it, and as much as the players, characters and events kept me entertained I believe strongly that every game has a shelf-life, and for me this campaign reached it after the high of the wedding session. It had climaxed for me in terms of payoff, and once heights have been reached that will not be re-attained my motivation begins to fade. It became very much about shaping up for a convenient (yet appropriate) ending, and I think it worked out despite that. Although my accounts are more underwhelming since the wedding – a side effect, no doubt, of my desire to close down – the actual play kept its verve and edge until the last.

Enough was left open to allow a return in future but I don’t think the desire will be there. The campaign as it ended up was self-contained and resolved to a point where it doesn’t demand a return; pastures new give rise to different options, whilst a sequel always carries the risk of not living up to its progenitor.

Splitting Heirs: Session Eighteen – The Finale.

An additional reason for a short, points-based summary this time; as well as being behind, the meat of this final session was all to do with a single scene at the emergency council meeting called by Lady F, and short of transcribing it in its entirety (which I didn't do, nor could have done, at the time) there is nothing - prose or points - that will recount it accurately. Indeed, prose may lose the points of salience.

The first thing to say is that in the lead up to this session I was informed individually by Pou's player and Lady F's player about their plans for the meeting, one in broad strokes, the other in more detail. Whilst they had very similar end positions, their means to fulfil their agenda were very different. In these exchanges Lady F, after hearing about Pou having visited the Baron, wished to change her plans slightly to find Pou before the meeting began. I ruled against this on the grounds that it was tight fitting everything into the short (game) time between where we left off the previous week and where we picked up for this.

Lady FitzCarstein’s agenda was to call for unity – proffering apologies and/or terms where required in order to gain it – and set up a new power structure in the Barony, one that had more chance of lasting the forthcoming war and beyond, and tentative plans to help ensure the beyond mattered. She had Rudi/Scharf onside and planned, too, to propose formally to him after her plans had been laid out and (hopefully) accepted.

Pou gazumped her, however, bringing to the meeting armed Kupfers in place of the usual array of serving staff, and calling upon them to pressurise those attending. He felt pressured into his precipitous action by the amount of politicking, backbiting and in-fighting now regular amongst the councillors, and had been stoked up by Herbert’s backing. Unfortunately Pou was hurried into his move, and was not the most willing or forward thinking of leaders, making for the slightly ridiculous position of a man who had just seized power by force making arguments about how they should prove they could trust each other in order to guarantee their freedoms, their roles and the future of the Barony. Pou had seen the Baron earlier and either had tacit support for his plan, or the Baron had mistakenly thought it was longer in the planning and viewed the Kupfers whom had been placed legitimately around the castle for genuine defensive purposes as agents in a coup that already had him at a disadvantage, but his clear lack of planning and secretive execution of his move soon grated on the assembled. As Pou floundered, Herbert and Georg used the situation to push for some home truths under Pou’s stated aim of openness and honesty and they managed to force out into the open many of Helena and Rudi’s past discretions – banditry and murder (even if in self defence) amongst them. The fractious atmosphere – Pou had declared them prisoners until their allegiances and intentions could be proven or avowed – was made worse by Rudi refusing to take Pou seriously, which just flustered de Burns more. Eventually however, with the meeting progressing not at all, Helena was asked direct questions she saw fit to answer, and in doing so took back the floor, having clear plans where Pou had nothing in place.

Her re-structuring would, ironically, put Pou in the position he had found himself forced to take: as Palatine or Paladin, essentially running things in name of the Baron, with Herbert’s daughter Cornelia as his assistant or Seneschal. Herbert would retain his mayor-ship and would also be a trusted advisor to Pou, whose role would be non-hereditary and could be relinquished once a proper heir to the Baron was found. For her part, Helena said she would forego Drachenmalstein and return it to (in his eyes) its rightful owner: Georg. Instead she would, fate willing, take the Duchy which Mörder now held as her own; if not, she would be dead – for she fully intended to firstly defend against the inevitable assault from the south, her last act as Lady of Drachenmalstein, then beat it back, with the aid of her father and the Knights of the Raven – skilled warriors in the service of Morr who counted her father and brother Jurgen alike as members. Despite his irrelevance to proceedings – he was dead drunk and beyond caring – Helena even offered concessions to Brunnenhing, promising him aid in the setting up and maintenance of profitable trade roads through his lands. There was a murmur around the table, and even those who begrudged the source of the ideas and plans had to concede that it beat all other options open to them hands down. There just remained the need to swear oaths to that effect. Each in turn swore on something they held dear, until Pou was satisfied that the best possible outcome had been achieved. The meeting concluded shortly thereafter, with Rudi tendering his resignation now his future (with Helena) and his past (his not being Captain Reinhardt Scharf) were clear.

(At this point the real substance of the campaign concluded; all that remained was to tidy up some loose “plot” threads to bring the curtain down on the bigger picture)

As they broke up the meeting, Pou having long since motioned the Kupfers to stand down, news filtered through that the Templars had found Josephine, and were bringing her back to Himmelfeuer for the Trial the Baron had desired. As everyone gathered to meet them, a location was picked for the dispensing of Sigmar’s justice – a patch of open ground overlooked by the Baron’s private chambers where he was said to be very unwell. With the council in attendance Ritter, Jaeger and Brunner set about their process, questioning the girl in turn with heavily weighted questions. However as the trial progressed the three Witch Hunters turned their attention away from the girl; her mother, Magda, was compelled to speak in her place, at first in defence of her daughter. However as Magda was questioned, the tone and questions the Templars used became almost ritualistic, until Josephine was pronounced clean of taint, and in her place Magda – clearly struggling without success – was compelled to sit in the trial chair. The Templars were invoking some divine incantation, their words binding Magda to her seat; then suddenly her face fell, revealing some otherworldly bestial fury. Magda, the silent, sweet and shy concubine of the Baron, turned out to be a supernatural evil being, a vampire, and the Templars pronounced their terrible judgment on the creature they had bound to the chair: each shot her twice with their sanctified weapons, then cast chair and still thrashing beast into the waiting pyre.

As the flames took her, and smoke began to fill the sky, two shouts from the castle made all cast their eyes elsewhere. The first was a cry of alarm and for a doctor, as the Baron had suffered a heart attack as Magda’s nature was revealed. The second, every bit as urgent, called all to gaze southward; the smoke from the pyre was as nothing compared with the billowing blackness that rose on the southern horizon: the forests were on fire which meant only one thing – Mörder’s invasion had begun.

(Final thoughts, interpretations and explanations to follow at some point).

10 September 2007

I just remembered...

Why I both love and detest Tangency (RPGnet login required): There's always someone more fucked up, more attention seking, and even more pathetic than me or you. Even when, in some cases or moments, that might take some doing.

Inevitably they are also more popular; it's the way of the geek world!

Recent Reading

I don't read nearly as much or as often as I'd like to these days for one reason or another - mainly ocular and mental tiredness. Some weeks I'm lucky if I manage to get through New Scientist before the next copy drops through my door; other, better, weeks see me making use of my 40 minute bus commute to read.

Last week was one such, when I read a book that entertained me greatly and then touched me profoundly when the tone changed suddenly at the end. The book in question? the late Harry Thompson's Penguins Stopped Play, chronicling his lifelong love of amateur cricket. Not having read or heard of The Captain Scott Invitational XI before despite a previous book by another of its founders, I found the whole thing charming. I found the humour spot on, the eccentricities engaging and the personalities interesting. Being the cricket nut that I am (though a little beach/park cricket aside I have never played; perhaps another point of resonance, as neither had the author before the team was set up) the subject matter was otherwise familiar and compelling and I actively looked forward to my commute and the occasion it afforded me to lose myself in the Scotties' exploits. I found myself cheering the split from the Layabouts despite the potential loss of humour, and really enjoying the reporting of the matches once everyone was wont to try. But perhaps more enjoyable were Thompson's descriptions of the locations: he really sold me on Buenos Aires as somewhere to visit (though doubtless I will forget or find somewhere more appealing by the time I ever have the time and finance to think of a proper holiday), and his verve for doing more than just the cricket whilst the Scotties were touring was admirable and inspiring.

The core of the team came over as so likable that by the end when he talks first of the death of one of his teammates, and then of his own diagnosis with cancer, I was genuinely moved. If I were less lazy, more rich and had more time where I felt free (as opposed to time when I am technically free but don't feel it - of which I have a lot), and if it were not the end of summer and thus the worst time to inquire, I would be sorely tempted to follow the instinct that caught me in that moment (and indeed which made me google for the website) and look up the team - to some end or other but alas...

The other book I read recently that struck me deeply was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I found this work to be one of the single best pieces of descriptive writing I have ever come across, and it is the only book I have ever read which immediately made me think: fuck, I want to film this! Not that I will mind, though hopefully someone with cinematic talent will.

Yes the characters are bland and the plot is thin, but the evocative descriptions and the associated prose more than make up for it and it had quite an impact. So much so I palmed it off on others, which I very rarely do.

Dog Soldiers

Can't believe I'd not seen this before... but my god what a good film that was.

Sean Pertwee is one of those actors that I both hate, and yet adore - his voice grates like fingernails on a blackboard but his presence is second to none and he was cast perfectly in his role. The camera work and direction is where the film really blew me away though - sharp, urgent and scary; the atmosphere maximised for effect.

Can't say I thought the twist was the best ever, although it did surprise me. I just felt it a little weak in context, though I guess it works if the "camp" Ryan refers to early is the farmhouse and he was a wolf all along. However that just makes Cooper's training exercise look pointless - the clear inference was that Special Ops were hunting dogs, not dogs themselves. And even if Ryan did have a "first trip" that led him to meet Megan and get turned, why send for a squad when there have been disappearances all along, and a missing army squad would be official "lets investigate" news?

Best not to think about that, and enjoy what is presented, I think. I found the whole thing thoroughly British and thoroughly enjoyable, even if it was too dark to make out what was going on at times.

Absolutely brilliant, and a perfect gaming muse to boot.

08 September 2007

The 2007 Cricketing Summer

The English summer of (international) cricket came to a close today as England somehow managed to cruise to a 7 wicket win in the seventh, and decisive, one-day game against the touring India side. I've not posted anything about the sport this summer as a result of a number of factors - highest amongst them the fact that this has been the first year that I have been stuck at work so unable to listen to web-streamed radio commentaries and there has been no terrestrial TV coverage.

There is also the fact that the weather was as bad as it was (7 degrees at Headingly in June during the Test series against the West Indies for example), and the quality on show was not always high or competitive.

A brief summation of results doesn't look too bad, but equally not too good. West Indies were seen off 3-0 in Tests, but recovered to win the ODIs 2-1 and share the Twenty20 Internationals too, whilst India won their Test series 1-0 and lost the ODIs 4-3. As always with Cricket, the results alone don't tell the whole story. The Test they won, India dominated utterly, but England had had just as much dominance in the first game only to have it snatched from them by a not-given LBW shout and the closing in of the rain that blighted the first half of the season; the final game petered out as India played safe for the series win, though I think with some better luck with umpiring - the poorest aspect of the summer by some way - they would have been better placed to push for a match win, too.

From a personal point of view, I think the layout of the summer was all wrong. Seven ODIs is far too long a series (as most people in this country seem to agree), and the Windies' Test side, Shiv Chanderpaul apart, are poor and unworthy of the four Test series they were given for the time being, whilst the India series was always going to be keenly contested, and felt too short with only the three matches. Certainly the summer would have looked more appetising if the better touring side had had the greater share of Tests.

It has, however, been interesting almost despite the games - foul luck with injuries gave chances to players who were nowhere near selection a year ago, and to a one those who came in excelled themselves. Well, OK, Owais Shah did not cover himself in glory in his Test appearance at Lords when Vaughan was out injured, but he came back strong with his ODI performances.

There is no rest, however, as the team fly out to South Africa for the Twenty20 World Cup, the team packed full of surprises; Chris Schofield is the biggest of them. The selectors went back on all 8 yeas of Duncan Fletcher's thinking and have packed the squad with so-called "specialists" based on the domestic Twenty20 performances, and Schofield - who couldn't get a county to play him not so long ago - covered himself in glory enough to catch the eye. Strange, and bold, moves such as this will go one of two ways: either it will work, and England's extra experience in the format will pay dividends with a good showing, or it will backfire spectacularly as we find that journeymen county pros simply cannot live with top class internationals. I know which my money would be on.

I miss not being able to watch the cricket in the summers; highlights packages do not do it for me, and never could. Thankfully Test Match Special is on-going, and Cricinfo's online text coverage means scores are generally easily followed, but between working now and the loss of Tests on free-to-air TV this summer has been the least interesting for a while for me. There wasn't even an Oval-gate equivalent to liven things up. That said, with finds like Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara proving themselves and a larger nucleus of good, and ready, players proving themselves the future looks promising, even if I will not be able to hear and see most of it.

Not sure what the point of this post was really, but I felt I had to write something. So I did.

07 September 2007

I really need to rant

So just picture a torrent of crap whinges, exclaimations, angry jibes and lamentations about life, the universe and everything here.

I'm not actually going to rant about everything I need to rant about because I have done so too many times in the past and it really gets old - not just to read or hear, but to write or say, too.

My emotional coffin has warped; I am a walking mental scar. Or to sum up: not a happy bunny (but when was I ever?).

28 August 2007

Wedding Reflections

Well, I've been back in Oxford for over a week now following Garry and Rosa's wedding. Prior to this I didn't know it was possible to have a hangover from smiling too much. The return home certainly plunged me back into the mediocrity of everyday life which the long weekend away was completely lacking, and left me wallowing in the loneliness of my life down here.

What struck me most - apart from the sheer volume of alcohol consumed - was how thoroughly great all the people were, no matter whether they were Garry's workmates from Dundee itself, or Rosa's friends and family who jetted in from around the globe. Everyone I had the pleasure of speaking to was great fun, got on with everyone else, and most importantly at least appeared to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

The example that perfectly encapsulates the friendly atmosphere for me though was when Rosa's brother and sister-in-law, Ed and Marika, offered to spare me the horrors of the return trip on the train (I had been delayed by 95 minutes on the way up because some inconsiderate person threw themselves in front of a train south of Birmingham, causing me to miss my connection) by ferrying me down to Oxford (essentially door to door) in the car they had hired to get to London on the same day I was due to leave. I had only met them on the Friday evening, although I believe I chatted at (rather than to, I blame the booze!) them some at the reception on the Saturday and Sunday's adventures in beach cricket and pubbage offered plenty of further chance to chat and get along.

Basically it felt like I was smiling all day every day from the moment I stepped off the train on Thursday evening until sometime during the lift back on Monday (which I was grateful to receive) when tiredness kicked in and overwhelmed my sense of well-being. Credit must go to all those I met, those I'd met before and those I met for the first (and likely last) time alike. Garry and Rosa somehow manage something that not many people I have ever met can do: they make me feel at ease, such that the real me can shine through; such that I can relax and enjoy myself; such that I don't feel the need to whinge (all the time, anyway) or curse existence and such that I can come out of my shell and talk to the fine people they surround themselves with; in truth there was more than just the alcohol to that.

For that I owe them a debt of thanks: a thanks for being good friends, a thanks for inviting me to attend their wedding and share in the joy that the event brought them, and their guests. A thanks for putting a smile on my face, even if it was just for a long weekend.

27 August 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Seventeen

A shame, but a necessary evil, that I am continuing to have to wrap up this AP with bullet-points. It really doesn’t do the experience justice in my mind, but then again might make for easier reading, and a more focussed record.

The following events took place over about a week.

Lady FitzCarstein had the auditors from Nuln to convince in her bid to acquire a single cannon to aid in the defence of Drachenmalstein. The meeting went well, with the Imperial delegation seeming to agree with her needs. Word of confirmation would have to wait though, and after they had left to return to the Imperial foundry Helena decided the time had come to head to Himmelfeuer and finally sell her vision of the future and her plans to survive, even beat back, the pending invasion. Her aim was to unify the council.

Meanwhile, Pou had found Ritter at his shop the morning after his meeting with him outside the castle. The Templar had found Jonn in the workshop whilst awaiting Pou and had heard the man’s stories of bandits in the southern forests and his “persecution” at the hands of Scharf. Ritter was interested, and the information left him ill-disposed to Scharf (whom he had yet to meet) and his ways of justice. Pou had also seen Herbert, whose own run-ins with the Witch Hunter had left him badly spooked, and wishing the outsider out of town as soon as possible.

Ritter ran into Scharf a couple of days later, after the Captain returned from his trip north. Scharf knew the Templar would be looking for him, and called into the guest room as he arrived at the castle. Ritter wasn’t there but his bullish manservant was; Scharf left a message that Ritter could come and find him any time now that he was back in town. Consequently Ritter banged on Scharf’s door later that evening, some 30 minutes after the Captain had retired. There followed a long conversation which Scharf saw as “easier than expected” where Ritter pressed Scharf on his handling of the bandits and then on matters more pertinent to his mission here: Josephine’s whereabouts; Scharf knew nothing and Ritter departed with little more than a few more derisory jibes.

Over the next few days Ritter found out about the impending trial of Pou’s son, Gunter. Visiting Scharf once more the Templar commanded he be given judiciary power in the trial. Much to the consternation of Scharf, and indeed Pou, there was little to prevent the Templar taking this, putting Gunter at great risk; Scharf acquiesced with reservations, not wanting to involve the Baron by disagreeing and losing his ground anyway. Gunter’s trial was not yet imminent, and this development did nothing but rack up tensions and distract from the dual pressures of the coming war and Josephine’s (potential) trial by fire.

Helena arrived in Himmelfeuer shortly after Scharf informed Pou of the Gunter development; she caught up with him outside Pou’s workshop. She was dropping by to inform Pou of the Emergency council meeting she had called for early that evening, but was happy to see Rudi (Scharf) – with whom she had further, more personal, plans to make. Before they had left however, Herbert came bustling up with surprising news: Werner had disappeared. This hastened Helena’s heading for the castle as she had hoped to find everyone before the meeting that evening. She left, but not before arranging to meet Scharf an hour before the meeting was due. Scharf departed too, to check on the Tileans and other aspects of his day job. Herbert watched them go, and then went inside to find Pou. There he spoke firmly; they both knew something was up, and Pou was convinced it was time for action. By the time Herbert left, they both had their own plans to make in the few short bells before the meeting.

Reaching the castle, Helena sought to locate any sign of Werner. Finding it lacking, and his rooms looking too clean, she found Gottfrid instead. The butler was shocked by Werner’s disappearance, the closest thing to a friend he had ever had, and under questioning from Lady FitzCarstein he let his guard down for the first time in years. Werner, Gottfrid revealed, was the illegitimate son produced by an affair between the Baron’s first wife, and his brother Gerhardt. With Josephine’s judgement time getting closer, Gottfrid suggested Werner had guessed that the Baron – who had treated the treasurer almost as a son – may have declared him heir, a situation he feared, and dealt with by fleeing to Tilea. Werner’s absence now considered long-term, Helena left the butler to regain his composure, then set out to meet others she needed to see before the meeting…

Deliberately vague on some things here despite the shorter format because it was building to a head (the next session is/was the last), with the coming council meeting central to resolution of character issues. It makes it seem like NPCs were more central to this session than the PCs to a degree, but this was definitely not the case; instead it was very much a set-up, not entirely colluded but very much worked out and left primed to blow before the finale (which again will, sadly, in all likelihood be underwhelmingly recounted).

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed or glossed over some highlights this time, too, but the session was three weeks ago now and my notes very sparse. Once I got more than a week behind it was always going to be a tall order to catch up and with the game essentially lasting twice as long as I’d expected when I pitched it, I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that my recounting has tailed off.

21 August 2007


I just want to quickly put up a congrats to Garry and Rosa on their wedding. My reflections on the weekend away, the plethora of people and the event can wait, but whilst I was too busy drinking to take many pictures (let alone good ones) I thought I'd throw up these few (none of that posed stuff, either - I was always too late for that):

The happy couple with the Bride's parents and brother, and the bridesmaid.

This one captures the joy of it for me; Rosa's smile was reflected in all the guests.

And here... embarrassment(?) as Garry starts the "skanking"

15 August 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Sixteen

More bullet-points as I'm in a rush to get this done before the workload builds up enough to stop me progressing with it at all...


1) Helena was at pains to make the Templars feel welcome, offering them food and lodgings for the night, but excusing herself in the immediacy to avoid answering their questions. She did, however, make herself available after they had dined, and was asked probing questions about Baron, daughter and councillor alike. The night was uneventful, however when the Witch Hunters rose and attended breakfast, only two of the three were present; the third had slipped out of the castle during the night and vanished.

2) Shortly thereafter Jarla arrived back - not having seen the Templar on the road - with her gaggle of young women with "talent" for things like herbalism, midwifery or other less natural aptitudes, and a couple of male relatives as guards. Lady FitzCarstein was forced to explain their presence as Pilgrims and the need for the mundane talents in the castle as she prepared for a siege (cuing short talk of impending war and threat from the south).

3) The "lead" Templar made his excuses and left for Himmelfeuer with his servants, eschewing offers of guide or provisions and leaving the last of his number to canvas the north and west of the Barony for their mark - Josephine. This last, Brunner, did agree to look over Father Cantati's dossier on Vampiric movements in the Badlands, however, but remained far from convinced.

4) Meanwhile, on returning to Himmelfeuer, "Scharf" invited Pou, Herbert and Mannfred to a war council of sorts, at which he explained Gretel's turning and treachery. His explicit inclusion of Mannfred in the discussion led to some clarification on whose side Herbert's manservant actually was on, and Mannfred tipped his hand a little. He and Aachen were brothers, they had contacts all over the place and information streams to both north (the Empire) and south; he did not go as far as revealing for whom, if anyone, else he was working but assured everyone he was not an agent for Morder. Scharf told the gathering that Rolf was lost, presumed dead, and that other men would need to be sent southward to watch. Mannfred volunteered himself for the role, claiming he and Aachen would be more than capable. He also intimated that Duke Morder was probably waiting for some sort of trigger event before invading - his troops had been massing ready for a week or so without action. Mannfred's plan was to fire the southern forests as a signal as and when the enemy began to move with the dual effects of flushing out the bandits and skirmishers in the woods and filling the sky with smoke as a warning signal. Scharf and the others agreed, allowing them to keep their focus closer to home, and without risking more men.

5) After the meeting, Scharf took care of some mundane tasks and set off for Drachenmalstein to inform Helena of developments (amongst other things), spotting and avoiding Herr Ritter on his way out of town. Pou was not so fortunate and was just leaving the castle after overseeing afternoon training of the Kupfers when Ritter stopped him. The Templar was initially sceptical of Pou, seeing as the gunsmith never travelled anywhere without an overabundance of firearms, but it was in the resulting discussion of the weapons when Ritter drew his own pistol that Pou recognised the gun as one he had made. This warmed the atmosphere of the meeting a little until Ritter ran through a similar list of questions to those he had asked Lady FitzCarstein the night before - all aimed at finding out how the Barony ticked and if anyone knew where Josephine was to be found. Pou became a little evasive, and Ritter soon got bored, ordering Pou to meet him at his workshop at dawn the next day before summarily dismissing him and disappearing into the castle.


Actually I don't think I missed too much here, lack of detail aside. It seems like not a lot happened from the above but it didn't feel slow or light to me at the time. Admittedly this was probably because the scenes with the Witch Hunters took a fair while, digging at possible splits and niggles and generally being a pain in the backside.

12 August 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Fifteen

I am now lagging a long way behind, unfortunately, given a lack of sleep causing a deficit of mental freshness and motivation to write. This sadly means that a couple of sessions will have to be summarised with bullet points.

  • Scharf invited Pou out of town the morning after the wedding. Thinking it was a social affair, Pou brought his wife; Scharf had meant it as both sword practice (trying to break Pou’s reliance on his guns, which would quickly become useless in any pitched battle) and a clear-the-air talk. Despite their audience, both happened to some degree. Scharf confirmed his identity and revealed his past – including his associations and history with the southern bandits. This angered Pou, especially after what had happened to Jonn at the hands of said bandits, and the meeting was quickly over before the gunsmith did something rash.

  • Lady FitzCarstein had chosen to pay Herbert a visit before heading back to Drachenmalstein. She outlined some rather ambitious plans for the future, saying she would support Pou as successor to the Baron, providing he swore fealty to her when she (hopefully) rode onwards, reversing any siege and deposing Duke Mörder, installing herself as Duchess. She revealed some of her knowledge of the situation, but was not able to convince the mayor that she actually had the resources or the ability to carry it off. Plus his natural distrust for her coloured Herbert’s interpretation of everything Lady F said.

  • Pou returned to his workshop, where he spoke with Jonn about Scharf, his history, the bandits and everything. Jonn implored his employer that it was obvious that the other members of the council were seeking to isolate him, playing the politics game that Pou despised so much.

  • Scharf met with Lady F, who outlined her plans to him. In the wake of Pou’s distrust it was important for them to “stick together” – all sorts of romantic (and less so) insinuations went with this phrase.

  • Pou and Herbert spoke, the latter informing the former about Lady F’s mad schemes, to much disbelief, and Pou airing his distrust of Rudi (Scharf); Herbert assured Pou that his son (Rudi) was trustworthy despite his history.

  • Lady FitzCarstein returned to Drachenmalstein, spoke a little with Jurgen about the imminently-due Witch Hunters and how to handle them, and then had them turn up. 3 of them, Herrs Ritter, Jaeger and Brunner. Jarla was not due back with her gaggle of hedge-witches until the morning…

  • Scharf headed south looking for signs of Rolf, the sergeant he had sent down to scout. He found no trace of them, and was warned off heading into the forests by a man called Aachen, whom he had met before in Brunnenhing’s lands – Gretel had turned to Mörder, he said, and the Duke’s skirmishers were in the forests, and Rolf had either joined Gretel or died. On his way back north, Scharf saw a straw dummy hanging from a tree; it was wearing a Sergeant’s uniform, and pierced with an arrow. He heard laughter as he urged his horse on and away.

So the Templars arrived; a big moment that, as they are now relatively central to the events that will conclude the run. I am afraid I cannot actually recall many of the details of this session beyond the skeletal notes directly analogous with the abovementioned bullet points that I took in the immediate aftermath.