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.

07 August 2007

Oh, and...

I aged yesterday. Woop-de-do.

In the spirit of being positive...

As I, and others, have repeatedly stated in various forums of communication, I have a problem with being very down on myself. All the time. About everything. Sometimes with justification, other times not so much.

So in the spirit of trying to reverse polarity and lift the world off my shoulders for a second or two, what am I good at? What could, or even should, I celebrate about myself?

Truth is, as I'm sure you can imagine, I can't think of too much.

1. I'm smart. Yes, I'm a clever bloke, me. Three degrees and a head full of random crap useful in quizzes to prove it. There are all kinds of qualifiers to this statement, but they all run contrary to the spirit of this post so stay hidden for now.

2. My taste in music. A very minor thing, to be sure, but something I do take comfort in. I also (and I feel a little guilty about this, because it is baseless and wrong) assume it is objectively better than many other peoples for not being the Sheep to the music industry's Border Collie.

3. Stretching now, but I'll throw in GMing. I reckon I've earned the right to call myself at least a decent GM, if not a great one. This won't mean anything to non-gamers, and very little to some who do game, but while I know I have certain weaknesses when GMing, and my style is not universally suitable, I do feel that so long as I'm engaged in a project (and by extension the players are engaged, too) I am able to encourage fun and enjoyment at the table, providing there isn't a major schism in expectation or communication.

4. ... I've got nothing. I honestly cannot think of anything else off the top of my head genuinely worthy of adding to this very short list. I will keep thinking on it though; there must be more. Right?

05 August 2007

Shadowrun is claiming my soul

No, not the RPG, which is far too fiddly and crunchy for my tastes (though the cyberpunk-y distopia vibe is something I quite enjoy, even with the fantasy twist). I mean the FPS Xbox 360/Windows Vista title that is based on the same IP, but at the same time is utterly unlike its predecessor games, or the RPG.

It is just too damn fun and, crucially, rewards support play, so while it does not utilise cover mechanics in the way of Gears of War or Rainbow Six:Vegas to cut down on the twitch nature of shooters, being up front and in everybody's faces is not the only way to be successful. Also, the Live community playing Shadowrun is generally good; I guess the option to vote-kick disruptive players really helps here, but it may be more a function of the way the game plays, emphasizing teamwork over individualism.

There are lots of drawbacks - a limited range of maps and only 8 character models (4 for each side, when there are 4 races to pick from) chief amongst these - but a multitude of strengths to cancel them out. The game is balanced to perfection - from the innate powers of the races to the capabilities of the weapons and the range of magic options everything has its worth, and its counter. More, limited though the maps are, they are also generally well thought through, making good (if not always great) use of height differences (hang-gliders, yay!), and wall/floor layouts that maximise the utility of the Teleport spell.

Perhaps more pertinent though given the small number of maps and only three game modes, what makes the game re-playable is the sheer number of options for combining magic, technology and race, thus allowing several distinct builds which all play differently, even on the same maps with the same goals, or against the same people.

I'm not very good, and never will be, at twitch-style games, but I love to feel I'm contributing to a team effort. Shadowrun allows, even rewards me for, the latter so it continues to be fun even if I am falling fast in most even firefights. As a result I've been playing rather a lot of late; possibly too much. Each match is different, each kill unique, each death differently frustrating... and it all keeps me going back for more even when I should be doing other things!