25 November 2008

Amber: First Impressions (diary)

So, this is Amber. Amazingly I am impressed by the place, if not yet by the people - or how I got here: I still don't understand that. In all honesty today was baffling, infuriating, exhausting and belittling. And yet it was also inspiring, visceral and energizing, all in one turn of the solar cycle.

How can this be? Well, my midnight jaunt set the tone - body vanished and nothing with which to pin down that bastard brother of mine. Not that it mattered anyway as despite the fact I was certain I felt him nearby, he was nowhere to be found at the estate, and the servants were adamant that he left on a ride earlier that morning. Curse the oversleeping that my fruitless return to the village where we left Triaste brought on!

From that frustrating start, the day got worse before it got better. I resigned myself to a cold revenge upon my return and went to meet Roland and Berthold in order to set off for Amber, only to find the former in conversation with a bizarrely attired boy. At least - I had thought it was a boy; it turned out to be another "cousin", a fellow "Amberite" and a rather poorly attired woman. She introduced herself as Malice and the name fits - I was less than impressed with her attire and her personality and attitude produced the same effect. No doubt it is mutual, but I'll lose no sleep over that.

I may lose sleep over the weirdness of the journey though - Roland later explained it as moving through "shadow" worlds, changing a bit at a time, not that that made it any easier to stomach. The sky turned purple, I felt sick and dis-empowered, a child bound to the hand of Roland as "father" and completely out of my depth. I tried to return home with no luck - my new powers seem to have deserted me already. Such was the torment that I was almost glad when we found the body. I just wanted the journey to end.

I had an inkling that it would only be a stopping point and as such it both irked and relieved in equal measure - an ending, but one with the promise of more hell to follow.

But not until after the battle - it turned out by ill chance that the dead man was a soldier of Amber, or as Roland put it "a servant of the family", and the ringing of battle was audible on the wind. Malice, Berthold and Roland rode like buggery to the fight - citing duty. I was lost, alone in a strange place with my companions ridden off to die for all I knew. Unwilling to commit as they had, I circled, scouted - and I'm still itching as a result of those spines, they combine poorly with saddle-sores! - and gained vantage. Then another strange moment: my eyes locked even at range with a figure marshaling the defense and I saw him as if right close. It turned out later - once the fight was won - that he was "King Random" of Amber, personally overseeing the return of troops and wounded from some supposedly concluded war. He did not impress, not with personality, nor with tactics, or his personal involvement in what would seem to be a routine task. Admittedly it appeared from the carnage - in which I played full part in the end, smashing a weak point in the assaulting line and then leading a force to route the enemy archers (who posed the only real threat to the defense... apart from those hideous bat-like creatures) , but it leaves me not knowing what to make of this much vaulted Amber.

I swear that back home, however "unreal" it may be (and I am far from certain that I yet believe that line), no-one as puny or uninspiring as Random would last as ruler. Still he thanked us, greeting and accepting me as "cousin" though we had never met... perhaps what passed in that second of locked eyes was more than a trick of the light - it makes me shudder to think of it, yet the possibilities...

Sometime after the attackers - largely strange forms, black and... odd - were routed, Malice "disappeared" through an ice-shedding rainbow, only to reappear when we arrived in Amber itself (to a hero's welcome, to compound the strangeness of it all). She unnerves me, and not in a good way; she will need to be watched, if indeed it is possible to watch those who come and go like that. Roland and I arrived back by a more conventional route - on horseback - but it was apparently more "shadow shifting" that eventually brought us to Amber itself (by way of a buried stone giant which, I'm sure, must have been some kind of hallucination).

And in that arrival, the day's sheer joy - this city is a picture that makes the artist in me sing and buzz with enthusiasm. Architecture that looks familiar, yet varied too, and scenery that takes the breath away. If nothing else the opportunity to see the vista - with the giant mountain (Roland named it, but it escapes me in my tiredness) towering above, the castle dominating the town, and the deep greens of the surrounding forest contrasting with the vivid blue of the ocean. Breathtaking, glorious and simply beautiful.

I had little left to give after that - the approach to Castle Amber was twisting through parades on the street, as if Random's words of heroes had got back to the people and they had come out to welcome us home. Thankfully I was too tired to pay much attention, and shortly after we got into the castle - to be met as mentioned by Malice, attired in a way more befitting her gender at least - I collapsed in exhaustion and was shown to these chambers. That was last night, and now... a new day awaits in a strange yet beautiful city where everyone seems to think that I have "come home".

[Small portraits of Malice (unflattering), Roland, Random (bordering on caricature) and the vista of Amber accompany this entry]

16 November 2008

Of Demons and Doublecrosses

It looks like my time here in Caercorran draws to a close. Not closed by death but by... escape. In this I have choice, though the machinations of others would seek to deny me as much as possible of this quality.

It is scarcely believable, but Roland - this enigmatic, charismatic stranger - and his travelling companion Berthold claim me to be some kind of... well, different. I am hard pressed to argue with a couple who appeared from nowhere and, in truth, rescued me from the 20 foot tall monstrosity and then claimed to have fought many of its ilk before now! Yet neither can I accept it at face value, and this is one reason I feel I absolutely compelled to accompany them and thus determine the truth or otherwise of Roland's rather bewildering claim.

And to think - the day started with so much banal promise. The hunt was to go ahead precisely as planned, and that old buffoon Triaste even agreed to accompany us to witness my feats. Perhaps I was already thinking of sharing Yvonne's chambers when I called that lovelorn fool Wilhelm to throw first and mark the hunt. The idiot charged too soon, missed his throw and killed a piglet - no wonder all hell broke loose! I was hoping for a clean kill (the lad, not the boar) and an angry pack of pigs for the other hunters to round up satisfactorily. Instead, chaos; even so, it was manageable until that booming from the forest. I shudder to think about it now, and yet I'm drawn to - for apparently there will be more, and worse the vanquished can return! The goat-man thing, if I had held truck with tales and legend then I would have scattered with the rest of the sheep, but I did not and saw the opportunity even the alpha boar did not provide!

My "bravery" was stupid, looking back, but truth be told by the time I realised I would have need to be brave it was too late to turn tail and run. Outpacing a giant that size would have been impossible, even had the horses stayed close enough. Then its words. "Betrayer" it called me though I am utterly lost as to why. Simply that the thing was after me, specifically, at all is terrifying. That it is so bandying around words, nay names, like that... There will be more - they both said. There will be more, and I am "different", "of Amber" - whatever that means. The two, I fear, may be linked, and Roland's words suggest such.

But that is for tomorrow - when I will ride with them to this Amber, wherever that is.

For tonight, I have little time; I must quickly ascertain what happened to Triaste's body and the guards we left with it. I do not want to let that damned brother of mine appear to have sent me packing with whatever smear his liaisons with father have cooked up. No, if I cannot force him to spill on his ruses, I will have to make him pay before I depart. Give him something to remember me by when the time comes for me to return. And knowing the bastard like I do... he is unlikely to yield me a thing. Unless the evidence of Triaste's body and the testimony of the guards and healers can be drummed up, and with Roland's corroboration used to paint him for the weasel he is, my revenge on my scheming sibling will have to take different form. Disfigurement and disgrace - whether social or physical - await my poor brother in the morning I feel.

But only if I lay this aside for now and get to it... I must act on certainties to ensure success, and cannot theorise the wiping of the smug look from his face.

An Amber Character Diary

Our gaming group have just started an Amber game, and over the course of our sessions I have committed to writing a character diary; the entries will appear here over time as I write them.

I am only passingly familiar with Amber as both fantasy fiction in the form of Zelazny's novels and in terms of the diceless roleplaying system written by the recently deceased Eric Wujcik. Fittingly, therefore, I have chosen to play a character equally unfamiliar with Amber who will discover things as we go in much the same way as his player.

The ideas enthrall me, and so the setting and likely complications of plot, character and personality were easily sold. It sounds very much like "my kind of game" in terms of likely happenings, midsets and so forth, and I have confidence in both the GM and my fellow players to make sure that labyrynthine mazes of relationships and interactions colour and cloud every possible step. It helps, too, that there may well be a (yet to be decided) second game running parallel, sharing the workload and providing much needed respite on the part of both GMs.

So all in all, a game full with the promise of interest, one in which Byron - apparently the self-centered young second son of a noble, but really progeny of Amber - will find his path for good or ill. No doubt it will lead away from his home in Shadow, where magic is commonplace and his more mundane talents were not at all appreciated...

12 October 2008

You can tell I'm bored...

Not because I'm writing something here, though there might be some truth in that, nor because my overuse of the ellipsis has extended to infect the title of every post here. No, it is because I have taken to drive-by tagging on Last FM, purely for something to do. It is not as if (for the most part) the tags I use will ever make such sense to others, or indeed that I will give them a second thought once applied - it just fills a hole with "something to do."

Dunno why, but it made me think of Stick's labeling (though my activity is lesser and devoid of the level of wit shown there...)

06 September 2008

It's 21.00 on Saturday...

I'm 28, and all I feel like doing is going to bed - and there's no-one else involved (as if!). What the hell is up with that?

I've been feeling more and more useless in the evenings for a while, utterly wiped out and uninterested in anything that might be considered fun, instead longing for bed, even in the knowledge that sleep is unlikely. Then again, if I'm out and with others, I'm happy and active until all hours - my lonely existence within my place of residence is sucking every ounce of energy. Getting out more seems the obvious answer, but over the last month or so as this home-apathy effect has multiplied, that's exactly what I have been doing happened; it all makes no sense.

Ah well, I suppose this weekend was always going to drag after the fun had over the last two...

02 September 2008

A fantastic weekend all round...

It's rare I have truly great weekends. Rarer still that two really good ones back to back as they have. First, over the bank holiday, a chance to see members of the extended (though still small) family, some of whom I had not seen for up to 7 years, and an extended chance to spend time with some of them which made for a really relaxing (if somewhat alcoholic) long weekend.

Then, the weekend just gone, half days on Friday and Monday bookended a weekend of gaming geekery in the New Forest which did not disappoint - playing at Robin Hood when out in the midst of an atmospheric woodland on a smashingly good day was tops. Maybe more on that at a later date. Even the pain/irritation of receiving far too many insect bites than anyone should ever suffer was more than blown away by the amazement of getting home to find that by some unbelievable swing in fortune, England have been stuffing the Saafers at the cricket (albeit in a format I care little for, having lost abjectly at the true form, which I follow nigh-on religiously).

Then the crowning moment - which set the perfection preceding it in focus: coming home and opening my slight extravagance of a self-given birthday present. The special edition of James Yorkston's When The Haar Rolls In was worth every penny - not for the absent golden ticket, but for the whole package, which tantalisingly arrived just before I set off on Friday but lay untouched until my return. The album is grand, the covers CD containing real gems, and the remixes disc has its moments too. Now I just need to make sure I get around to securing tickets to his Oxford show, even if I end up attending alone...

06 August 2008

My thanks...

To the fuckwit who convinced me of what I had already almost convinced myself: it was worth picking up a copy of the eponymous Khartoum Heroes - one of Kenny Anderson's (aka KC) early projects - it's a fantastic piece of work, and just makes me want to chase down copies of any Skoubie Dubh Orchestra cuts that might be available. KA/KC is really my musical muse of the minute...

26 July 2008

It occurs to me

That even for my own benefit tagging posts with "of no particular interest" is pointless, as I should rightfully tag every post with it if so.

It is thus with irony I attach such a tag to that statement.

Time Off

There are two or three main reasons why I rarely take time off, and ultimately they can be traced back to the same root cause.

The first is that I don't have people to travel with, so taking time off to go away is a non-issue (I'm also a bad solo traveler). The second is that when I do have days off I tend to spend them as I do my weekends - wondering what the hell to do with myself; because they are both almost entirely solo affairs.

The third, a minor player, is also related: I'm shit at planning or organizing things.

It's not that I pine for work when I'm off - I don't by a long shot - just that there seem so few interesting or fun things to do (there are always things that have to be done for other reasons) when all ones spare time is essentially spent alone that I end up almost as tired, as bored and as frustrated as I would were I working.

Of course chronic lack of sleep doesn't help, meaning that it is all too easy to lie-in too long given the opportunity and miss the window for certain activities (shopping in the centre of Oxford, for example, is unbearable on weekends or in the summer with tourist-derived population bloat unless one gets there first thing). Nor does the fact I find the acts involved with keeping in contact with people rank as chores (especially when many of those I wish to maintain contact with are less forthcoming than I am - and that's saying something).

But all in all time off so often ends up being time wasted, and my feeling no better for it. And half way through this long weekend, that's precisely how I feel about yesterday.

Ah well.

24 July 2008

I am amused...

One of the reasons I love Cricket - I just don't remember ever seeing mainstream media comment like this on any other sport with any kind of regularity:

From the Grauniad:

"As we know, he bowled utter garbage. Fast bowlers, as a matter of routine, aim for the top of off stump; McCague sincerely seemed to be aiming for leg stump a third of the way up, so errant were his line and length. He ended with figures of 19.2-4-96-2, but the two wickets were an afterthought while the tail was slogging, like a man completely blowing it with his dream date only to get some from a sexagenarian transvestite on his way home. It's safe to assume the McCague grandchildren will not be hearing about the day he had Glenn McGrath caught at mid-off."

Its part of a piece inspired by the really dodgy selection, poor performance and resultant (deserved) thrashing England received at the hands of the South Africans last weekend and it made me chuckle - almost as much as the selection inspiring it made me choke on my morning coffee.

13 July 2008

The "Oh, arse!" moment of the weekend...

...was not having to work 9-2.30 on Saturday.

Instead it was a far more stupid moment just now - ruining an iron and a good pair of trousers by forgetting to check and change the heat setting.


23 June 2008

How Random; How Annoying.

The Alaska in Winter CD I ordered arrived, looked kosher with packaging, and disc image alike correct.

Then I stick it in to play (well, rip), and it turns out beneath the veneer is Whitney Houston's greatest oral shits.

24 May 2008

I want to just breathe...


A new Thea album, a new set of songs to get overly attached to, and a new personal favourite not even mentioned in the professional reviews of the album.

Thea Gilmore is the closest I get to fandom: I'm a dedicated follower, a self-confessed fan owning most of what is available, and I find it hard to so much as acknowledge criticism as fair unless I've had a chance to grill the one levelling accusations to see why their falsehoods (yeah, I'll talk in absolutes here for effect) have been laid down. I've been rapt since I was encouraged to pick up Rules for Jokers 6 or so years ago. Each subsequent album, and each acquisition of earlier work, has simply brought a greater appreciation and better big picture view. Yes, there are dud songs in the seven or so albums released, and yes it remains true that my strongest connection is to the works I first heard but each album has brought with it new and fantastic tunes to add to the playlist of genuinely brilliant stuff that revolves in my mind.

Liejacker is no different - a few stand out tracks, a couple that disappoint just slightly due to their similarity in form to previous work, and one tune that really touches a nerve with me that is hardly mentioned in any review I've read. Breathe, from which I took the title of this post, touches me deeply and along with the opener, Old Soul, forms the backbone of a record I have listened to more in an opening week than any for some time. Even the 10 year wait didn't inspire this many listens when Portishead released Third. But then I have to admit bias where Thea is concerned - objectivity flies away just like any personal cares or consideration do when I hear her material. Liejacker has ever managed to vie with King Creosote's Bombshell for play this week which is some measure. I've been playing songs from Bombshell (whilst that album was a 2007 release, I've only had it for about a month) almost non-stop since it dropped through my door and I consider it an instant classic I really shouldn't have missed on release.

Whilst the spin from Thea (via the mailing list and other sources) has very much been about the most personal album to date - and yeah, I can see that - my focus has been on the few stand-out tracks and how their tone is more unified, more consistent; whether that is really wanted or not is another matter. Ultimately I think I pine for the days of Rules for Jokers or earlier, with the accompanying variation, lyrical edge, and rawness, but I have to say that, unsurprisingly, Liejacker has nonetheless shot to the top of my own albums of 2008 list, above Third. I do, however, suspect it might be beaten to the title of my personal album of the year - either by Steve Mason's forthcoming Black Affair release Pleasure Pressure Point, or by the promised Massive Attack record, should it see the light of day.

Not a good review here, but that was never the intent; I juest felt the (drunken) need to proclaim the release for good or ill. Liejacker is out, and I'm happily going to see the supporting tour when it hits Oxford in a month. And that all makes me happy.

20 April 2008

Scottish Indie-folk is The Shit!

And as much as it pains me to say it, I have to give Garry some credit for helping to provide my way in by finally getting me to listen to the Beta Band last year. Technically I'd already had exposure to the scene - James Yorkston fits nicely in, and his Moving Up Country album is one of my all time picks. Yet it was a combination of three things that finally got me to explore a little more - the aforementioned turning on to the Beta Band (I'd come close back when they broke through but never followed up an interest in an E.P.), my continued use of Last FM, and my general move towards folk and folk-influenced music in the last few weeks.

I've spent (or rather ordered; handily, yet frustratingly, receipt and payment will be delayed) far too much in the last month or so, buying up the likes of King Creosote, King Biscuit Time (a.k.a. Steven Mason, former frontman for the Betas - incidentally also now with an upcoming release under the moniker Black Affair, albeit with a very different sound), Malcom Middleton (of Arab Strap fame)...

For years I would have ridiculed Scottish music, but for now it's calling me.

17 April 2008

Why I think "The Party" is one of gaming's worst anachronisms

Yup, that's right: I said The Party (capitalisation deliberate), I said anachronism. And I said worst.

Pretty extreme, and a touch exaggerated to make a point, but bear with me and I'll expand. Not everyone will agree (not by a long shot) and I suspect that it is actually quite an intolerable view for a lot of gamers; quite literally stabbing at the heart of the hobby, perhaps? I call bullshit on that last part, certainly. "The Party" is nowhere near the heart of the hobby as I see it, and in fact I would say the preponderance of it being held as such is one of the reasons the term is - in my mind - such a damaging influence.

To first define what I mean by the term: I am specifically referring to the meta-game concept of "The Party" as it refers to "all the PCs in this game"; and, by extension, the baggage that comes with it - longstanding traditions like "don't split the party!" or "no intra-party conflict!" These terms and ideas are just fine, and even desirable, in some games, but they are fundamentally limiting factors that constrain what is possible.

I am categorically not using "The Party" as a blanket reference to any game (whether that be a system, or an individual campaign/one off/what have you) in which PCs grouping together is a default, nor am I against "the party" being used as an in character description applicable to the group formed by the PCs.

I am also categorically not against PCs working together, but equally I do not think they should have to do so all the time.

As background, here are some viewpoints that hold quite strongly:

1) That PCs are individuals. Those sitting around the table playing are the group.
2) That PCs can be likened to protagonists in film, TV or literature, and I like the metaphor of RPGs as TV shows.
3) That conflict between involved participants drives games onwards and upwards better than anything else.
4) That the GM should not (and need not) be solely responsible for generating such conflict.
5) That it is possible and desirable to enjoy time when you are not in the spotlight, but everyone should get spotlight time.
6) What matters is that PCs have a reason to interact, sharing the spotlight, not that they have a reason to stick together.
Oh, and a really obvious one:
7) Conflict covers an awful lot more than combat.

Now, there are certainly drawbacks to all of these if handled badly, but handled well they form the core of what I enjoy about this hobby (well, most of the time; we all love a bloody hack-fest on occasion, eh?). They inform the below.

The crux of my argument against The Party is this - the baggage that comes with the meta-game use of the term can fundamentally limit players' mentalities, expectations and approaches, thus having a knock-on effect on the nature of the games that can play out. I think this is a bad thing. Why? Because I enjoy games in a lot of different styles, tones and covering a range of different content and conflicts (this does not apply to genre - by and large I have come to think genre is an irrelevance, the short-term flavouring which adds a backdrop to the goings on but is not central to the nature of events). There is mileage in a multitude of ways of playing games and I think anything that helps shut minds to some of them without people trying it and deciding its not for them is bad.

I think The Party does this because it is such an ingrained idea, held almost as dogma in some quarters, and its prevalence helped generate the idea that the best (or in the extreme, only) way to play is with a group of characters who go around together, fall in line with each other and don't conflict in any meaningful - let along engaging or involving - manner. This suits some styles of games (and gamers) to the ground and that's great; but it doesn't suit everyone, nor is it open to the variation that comes with changing the model.

That is it; simple. The Party mantra influences players and limits the scope of games. Once established it can be broken down, but the more ingrained it is the more the resistance to anything other than The Party model grows. This isn't a problem when it is an informed personal preference, (after all if someone has tried and not liked something, why do so again to their detriment?), but the insidiousness of The Party is that its prevalence as method instinctively closes minds to other models - whether just because it is by far the most common and many players never experience anything else, or because the idiot who constantly acts up and out like a mischievous kid gave conflict between PCs a bad name. And even if any ideological resistance is breached, The Party model affects the approach to a game too - working at crossed purposes, outright antagonism or sticking to ones guns rather than letting it slide can be hard to extract from players, even those most willing to engage in non-Party games, if all their gaming history is a variation on "don't rock the boat."

In summary: I feel that whilst the idea of The Party makes perfect sense in the context of the roots of the hobby, and in games which maintain a similar focus (e.g. groups of player characters beating the crap out of challenge after challenge - especially so in any case where those involved see characters as little more than playing pieces), gaming as a whole is a hobby with the potential for so much more than that. The very continued existence of The Party as the common meta-game term for the PCs created by any one gaming group belies the fact that RPGs can handle adversaries well, that characters do not have to stand together or always live in each others' pockets. In my view, the spectre of The Party applies preemptive brakes on attempts to play in other styles as a result of the subconscious baggage it carries.

30 March 2008

Stress, impotence and mistakes

I have spent the entire weekend trapped in the tiniest corner of my tiny mind, rattling the bars of the cage with no sign of their loosening nor any way to release the lock.

I have no idea what has kicked off this feeling of constant stress, these reactions and the utter impotence I feel with regards to breaking out have meant that everything I have touched over the two days has inevitably ended with some kind of mistake - no matter how small - that has provoked over-the-top anguish and self-defeating anger or despair.

All of which is in stark contrast to Friday when, despite waking up with a mild hangover from the night before, and despite the howling gale and sleety rain, despite a day of interminable boredom at work, and with no rationale behind it, from the moment I woke I felt obscenely serene, as if something was going to (or had) just drop(ed) into place. It didn't and hadn't of course; nothing ever does.

26 March 2008

Dark Heresy

So over the Easter weekend I had cause to play the Warhammer 40k RPG, Dark Heresy. The short version: it's WFRP with bigger guns, to no-ones surprise.

The long version would recount a very enjoyable long weekend of which two days were given over to gaming, but I can't be arsed; so instead the version presented is Condensed Random Thoughts Provoked by Playing. Bear in mind that I don't own the book, nor have I read it through. What I have done is glanced at bits that were pertinent to the game as played, and participated in several hours of actual play.

  • • WFRP with bigger guns - characters are similarly (in)competent, system works identically in play, etc. This is no bad thing; it immediately felt familiar and smooth, and of course similar themes abound, even if the tech level is ramped up.
  • • Get up close and personal. Especially with a shotgun. Jeez... the +30 to hit and extra hit per 2 degrees success at point blank were responsible for some fine spray mess.
  • • The career organization felt... whacky. For example Assassins need to be 3rd rank (1500+ XP) before they can learn to hide skillfully. WTF?
  • • Not allowing the same half action to be repeated caused some consternation to stand-and-shoot types. And monkey dancing. In a fez. Yes, you read that right, and I'm only slightly making it up.
  • • Psykers are interesting things to have around, not least for when they fuck up.
  • • Two 100s in a row is one hell of a way to burn a Fate Point, and what a game to roll it in. Low damn you dice. Low!
  • • Niche protection works, but my god if it didn't feel like the characters were one-trick ponies at low XP levels.
  • • Defaulting a whole sessions worth of Tech Use roles as a low int Void Born made for some interest. The skill splits definitely increase the need for balanced groups given the penalty for defaulting, and the basic/advanced differential.
  • • Jesus fuck why weren't tables etc done in a sensible order (alphabetised, maybe?)? It made finding things take far longer than it should and somewhat frustrating.
All in all it was a fun weekend, and everyone said they had enjoyed the game and would play again - though everyone agreed on some of the "slightly off" points above and felt some tweaking very much required in future.

I doubt I'll pick it up - if I were to run 40k inquisitors, I'd probably look first to a port of Dogs in the Vineyard - but I'm certainly glad to have played it and would do so again.


I think I may have enjoyed a Comic/Graphic Novel for the first time...

... and I can't put my finger on why.

I'm confused a little, not by the enjoyment - though it did surprise me, and I'm still not sure if enjoyed is quite the right term - but because I can't place what it was that kept me reading, or appreciating or... well, stopped me dismissing it as I have dismissed all other (sparse, and few though they may be) such works I've happened to browse. (As an aside I've never grokked or enjoyed superheroes much since - or before? - that either though cause/effect breakdown is not so clear).

I'm just not a particularly visually-minded person, never have been, and long ago I wrote off comics as "not for me" as a result. Not as childish (though I'm sure that figured somewhere at the time), nor as lesser art forms, but as not for me. I've never been shy of admitting this in conversation so to be honest I was a little surprised when Paul passed me the 4 Scott Pilgrim strips to borrow after the last game session I made, but thought I'd take a look since the offer was there.

So I packed 'em with my stuff at the end of the night. And I then forgot about them for a week, until the moment when I couldn't make it to that week's session for fear of spreading my lurgy (manflu!) ahead of people's holidays (and the Dark Heresy game I was attending over Easter). So that evening instead of gaming (the end of the current game and last session for a while) I curled up in bed far later than planned, and read book 1 cover to cover - despite being conscious of thinking "what the hell is the appeal supposed to be?" at every moment along the way and being aware of a general feeling of meh building in my mind.

Book 2 I read a couple of days later, again in one sitting, again far too late at night. I remember the overwhelming feeling was not meh, not cool!, not amusement, but rather "Oh, that's where that forum handle comes from".

But it was last night's reading of books 3 and 4, back to back, that... somehow left me feeling I actually want to know what happens next; I'm both interested and engaged. The humour grew on me, I can pinpoint that, but it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny to a degree that explains the interest alone.

Enh, it'll wear off and I suspect I'll have forgotten about it as/when the 5th volume is published or the optioned film comes out. I'm not likely to buy, go see, or even think about them, nor any other comic not offered to me on a platter. That said, it is never a bad thing to find doors not as shut as you thought if the other side is not perilous, eh?

But I just have this nagging "why?" y'know? I like to know, or perhaps more accurately be able to articulate, why something appeals to me - basically so I can find similar stuff. Call it a quirk. And for the moment the take-home sensation for me is a big ol' ... WTF?

Oh well.

11 March 2008

So Red Snapper Reformed...

...which won't mean an awful lot to very many, but they're one of my all time favourite groups and they reformed (or at the very least became active again) last year after a long hiatus.

I only found out about it this week, and am currently agonising over whether to get tickets to travel alone to London to see them play one midweek in April. Then today I stumbled across them on MySpace and via there YouTube clips of a recent show...


22 February 2008

Dredging up the Past

Is virtually never a good idea. Yet that's precisely what is happening over at RPGnet - where the off-topic forums are being purged of a lot of old content, but not before current users have a chance (1 week per year of content) to post to, and thus save, conversations of interest to them.

Whilst a lot of memories - good and bad alike - will be waded through, some classic humour re-visited, grand old arguments re-examined and so forth, mostly the past belongs in the past. So far it's not too bad for me; I didn't join those forums until August 2003 and so only 4 months of old contributions come to light so far. The worst is to come, sometimes in graphic and personal detail, as pretty much throughout the whole of '04 I used it to blow off steam from the vast array of crap that was going on in my life (now life is crap but at least it's because nothing is going on, not all kinds of Very Bad Things). Worse, I suspect some of it is the type of gawp-fodder that some folks might - on a bad day - save for shits and giggles. Arguments make for good reading do they not?

I'm hoping not; the idea of the content being deleted appeals, a shedding of a self-made burden in a way. It almost irks that the other denizens of that place might get in the way of this purge.

It's worth pointing out that gods was I an arsehole; injudicious, quick to anger, shit-stirring, prolific, profane and pointless and yet almost censure-free*. Only rarely did I contribute anything of worth - witty, funny, insightful were all in the minority - yet it's also the period when camaraderie and friendships were formed that I do now sometimes miss. Only sometimes. And some continue, which is nice.

*A bit like now, really - except for the prolific part.

17 February 2008

I am getting so fed up...

...with the postal service in Britain.

I am currently having to chase up a missing 'net-ordered item for the second time in less than two months thanks to something going wrong between retailer and consumer. The first order, through Amazon, eventually turned up over a month after it was sent - and 2 weeks or more after the replacement items Amazon sent arrived.

This time the order that has gone missing is the first one I've placed through Abebooks.co.uk - and its for an item that is only getting harder to acquire (at reasonable prices, anyway): The Tome of Salvation for WRFP 2nd edition, which is now out of print. The order was placed and processed 2 weeks ago and I've just had a credit card statement through bearing the charge for this order, yet the book itself is nowhere to be seen.

Hopefully the seller and the site will be able to help track it down, but if they cannot, even if I am granted a refund, I cannot see myself finding the book at a similarly reasonable price again. Gah!

Fucking Royal useless bastards Mail!

16 February 2008

A Guy I Used to Work With (Might Have) Made Music I (Might) Like

This group was just one of the little oddities that my return to using LastFM threw up last week.

Bizarrely although we talked about music more than a few times he never mentioned it and it was sufficiently obscure (which isn't saying much, really, given how far from the ground my ear is) that I had no inkling of it beforehand. It's a pity, 'cause he left a while back and I can't confirm, inquire or otherwise follow this up.

Oh well.

15 February 2008


Gods I hate that I never feel awake enough to write here of late. There's been good stuff, bad stuff, worse stuff and more - music, TV and film (albeit on DVD and long after it was new) as well as the good, bad and ugly of recent gaming - that could all have spawned dross to fill this page.

And a whole lot of boring life in between. I am the man to whom nothing happens, and who has not the energy, inclination or disposition to go out and make the interesting occur. I've not had a good few weeks one way or another. I'm going to bed earlier and earlier as a general rule but still sleeping less and less from one week to the next (or so it feels, whether this is true or not).

I'm spending money I don't have again; rediscovering LastFM was not good for my bank balance but has been good for my music library and wellbeing. I haven't been doing much with myself; backsliding into old, unappreciated habits, losing evenings to idling and not entertainment. Yet I have also been reading more than I had been - albeit that my current intake is really low quality throwaway writing; the promise of better crafted words in the near future is there too. I've not heard from people; I've not contacted many.

Mostly I just want to sleep, and bemoan the perceived lack of options beyond these four walls. Well, I don't want to do the latter, but end up doing it anyway. More sleep would be very good though: perhaps if I got enough then things might look brighter. I'm rambling for something to do... I can't bring myself to care to much about anything lest I just get fed up with how things are portrayed in media, how stupid talking heads can be or other such. My patience is thinner than ever, and my self loathing (what a great word loathing is, by the way) is not quite at an all-time high, but not far off.

It's time for bed.

15 January 2008

Thoughts on "Reign"

REIGN, the RPG based on the One Roll Engine (ORE) by Greg Stolze, arrived through my door 10 days or so ago. I finished my readthrough last night. This is not a proper review - so don't be looking for examples - but a collection of some of the thoughts that struck me in the reading.

The short version is: I like it. Not all of it, but I like it. Yes it was expensive (not least because shipping a hardcover, A4-sized, 360+ page book from the States is pricey); yes there were a number of visible errors in the text - largely contained within page details when one rule referenced another; yes I haven't actually bothered with - nor intend to do so - the setting fluff that makes up a sizable chunk of the book. But Reign is written such that it so vividly stirs ideas that I found just perusing each section of rules was enough to throw up several or more ideas for scenes, sessions, characters or games. And that's with full knowledge that I am about as likely to use the default setting as I am to chop off my own right hand.

The longer version...

What drew me to Reign was that it was designed with the idea that the PCs are people of importance - as the tagline says, it is a "game of Lords and Leaders." This is something I not only desire, but almost demand, when I run games: people of consequence with responsibilities, duties and resources are just more interesting to me than those who have nothing, owe no-one anything, and have none counting on them. Along with this supposed focus came rules for organisations - or in Reign's terms, "Companies" - and how they interact.

This - and the whisper that the Company rules could be divorced from not just setting, but the ORE system too - is what persuaded me to shell out for it. Well, that and the massive amounts of chatter on RPGnet with almost everyone who had picked it up seeming to gush about it. But that just kept the title in my mind; it was the promise of rules for shady cults, law-enforcement agencies, private armies and the like that tipped the buying scales. And I'm sticking to that.

In the end though I think that the Company rules are probably a lot weaker that I had hoped for and probably not likely to see much use. Unless I run or play Reign itself; the rest of the game has some bad bits, but more than not is good, and some is great. Not that many games I've read have genuinely left me feeling "yes, I could run this, more or less as written." Reign did; while at the same time it left me cool (if not cold) as a portable system for introducing mechanically sound interactions for organizations in other games/systems. I'm not really sure why; the basics are simple, certainly easily divorced from ORE as claimed, and do a job of abstracting smaller scale organizations into a form where they can play off against each other. I think part of my reticence is that I feel the rules might work well for small scale Companies, but fall down a bit as the scale goes up. Or put another way, I'd be tempted to give small-scale companies much heftier stats than Reign does, because otherwise there's such low odds of them actually achieving anything that they seem almost worthless. But this cannot be the whole: if it were it is as, or perhaps even more, easily fixed by taking the Company rules outside of their parent, as by leaving them in place. Ah well; only with actual play can niggling suspicion or doubt be confirmed or denied. Onward to more positives.

Possibly the biggest selling point is character generation. It sounds a strange thing to say, but the Reign's implementation of the ORE random generation makes it quick, easy and above all fun to roll up characters. See for yourself, with Mapache's ORE Character Generator. If you don't get combinations that just beg to be given life and stories... well, I do! This method of random generation creates all equal in theory, but not really in practice; that said the tiny inequalities do not bother me, especially as I'm not generally a huge fan of mechanical advancement once games get underway. Importantly then, Reign characters can be built by point-buy so you have the option of designing that specialist you really want.

Which is good. Because if ever I play Reign, I want to design a specialist unarmed fighter/brawler. Why? Because it looks to me that the system gives good ways for such characters - useless in most RPGs - to actually be effective. The crunch in combat involves a number of moves that benefit unarmed characters, and those bearing weapons too of course, and combining them in various ways gives a degree of flexibility I have not (consciously) seen applied to unarmed characters before. (And no, I don't count the DnD monk as unarmed.) The damage potential is still low, at least on the face of it, but the dramatic and effective potential is a lot higher - especially when combined with a permissive GM, exotic or busy locations in which fight and/or the weight the rules (and less pertinently, but more interestingly setting fluff) give to non-lethal resolution.

The system itself is simple enough, though I would tend to agree with a friend of mine that it is a step too complicated for its own good at times. I like ORE's dicepool system, generating matches of different Widths (number of matching dice) and Heights (face value of a match), and the way the two interact so that Higher is not always better is a plus for me. However despite the fact that at heart ORE is quite simple, and despite the fact I like (both individually and in concert) the range of options that have been detailed as combat actions, I feel that (at face value) the hit location and damage system is cumbersome, restrictive and clunky. The same goes for healing; there's no healing magic as such (or if there was I missed it), and although the magic detailed is only setting-flavoured examples - some of them very nicely flavoured I must say, despite my disinterest in fluff - what is there will probably amount to a large percentage of what Reign players use. I like this lack, but in concert with how damage is dealt with it means any hurt suffered lasts a long while. However this is a minor quibble; I suspect it would be easy enough to re-abstract the hit locations and weapon damage into a form that suits me, my games and I better.

But as I alluded to in the short version, what really spoke to me when reading Reign is the way ideas leapt to mind as I read. This, I would say, is down to great writing more than the content; a less skilled author could have easily provided the same information in a way that was dry and unengaging. Oh, the content is there too, but on content alone there is, I think, less to differentiate Reign from other fantasy RPGs than some might claim. Its execution though... yeah. Reign is a book I could pick up if I was feeling short of ideas, knowing that a situation, plot or setting would rush from the page to my mind in double-quick time. Combine that with a plethora of thoughts and postulations arising from the random character generation process and for that alone I think the purchase was worth it.

But there was enough there to make me think I could run it, would run it, even if there are obstacles to overcome first, and other games ahead of it in line for the time being.