Friday, 30 September 2011


Just found this via Google+ and cannot describe how pleased I am.  It ticks so very many of my personal boxes.  I admit I am gagging to playtest.  Drama as RPG all neatly wrapped up together.  Yes please.


Suddenly it's summer

It's very odd.  The last couple of days have been warm.  Really warm, as in teeshirt weather even for the non-hardy.  The qualification is necessary as we live in the tough north and for a lot of the population even a blizzard doesn't stop them from wearing midriff-baring tops.  What is even more bizarre is that I've been hearing fairly consistent rumours that October (due to arrive tomorrow) is scheduled for snow.  Mother Nature is playing some pretty strange games.

Friday sees me driving up the A66 to Bowes where I run the Drama Club and will shortly be beginning work on the nativity play (and I'm not going to whine about that until I have to).  Normally Bowes is the last bastion of wind-chill.  Anything resembling wind, rain, snow or frost hits it incredibly hard even when the rest of the county is reasonably unaffected.  Today it looked and felt like the kind of rural idyll Rupert Brook had in mind.

I did the obvious thing and hauled the whole class out to their amphitheatre.  I have mentioned that Bowes is a very pro-active school and among other things they have a very functional vegetable garden backed by a small amphitheatre.  Overlooking the hedge are a pair of brass giraffes.  I hadn't see them before and they were a bit of a shock.  "Oh - them," a helpful parent kindly enlightened me, "our Tanzanian exchange programme."

Over the mild surprise of two life-size brass giraffes, we went on with the session in which I got them to demonstrate as many appalling things to do on stage as possible.  It was a hilarious session and quite an informative one.  By the end they were putting their hands up and bellowing "She's looking at her feet!", "I can't hear her!", "She turned her back!", "We can hear them offstage!", "They don't know their lines!".  "So do you think you can do better than that?"  "YES!!!".  We'll see.  The nativity will be the acid test of that one, but some of it may sink in.

Our own vegetable and fruit tree order has just gone in.  Two apples (Bramley and Braeburn), a stripey humbug pear tree, some asparagus crowns, many onions, shallots and garlic for seasonal planting, many potatoes (first early, second early and maincrops), parsnips, cabbage, strawberries and probably some other bits I've forgotten.  Look upon the Humbug pear and be amazed.  Love at first sight.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Internet collapse and gentle 4e discussion.

I been suffering from a brief interruption to internet access in the last couple of days.  According to Dave in Mumbai, this was the fault of BT rather than our ancient home network hub - a relief to me, but possibly less to him.

That enforced absence might have been quite a good thing.  For a start I didn't torment myself by deliberately going and looking at all the forums* indulging in slash and burn criticism of 4e.  Informed comment and discussion, I like and can take part in.  The wholesale "It sucks because it isn't what I like, and I know this because I have read it on the internet/played for an hour with the intention of hating it/heard it's garbage from a friend of a friend" is painful.  It applies all ways of course.  I am just as annoyed with ill-informed smackdown of other systems too.  The thing is, I know the 4e ruleset pretty well, so it grates more.

4e is not a perfect system, but it is an extremely robust one and for the most part elegantly designed.  Some points in favour below:

  1. It is virtually impossible to create a useless character.  There are no negative attributes for races or classes, only positives.  Naysayers claim that this is a form of nanny-state "Everyone gets a prize" thinking.  What they're not quite seeing, I think, is that although there are no active negatives for picking a certain race or class, the positives are different for each of them and it still behoves the player to think about whether that sneaky Goliath Rogue wouldn't be better off as a Halfling Rogue or a Goliath Barbarian.  That said, if you do go for a Goliath Rogue, you'll still have something you can play an actual game with and be a viable party member.  Not to be sneezed at.
  2. It rewards team synergy and group play.  Can I just stress how much I like this notion?  It's always been true, but 4e is the first system I've seen that actively promotes this.  Builds and powers are designed to interlink with each other.  Even better, it does not do so in a cookie cutter way.  There are a myriad ways to build a viable party.  When I first started playing it wasn't obvious how subtle the interactions could be, but three years down the line I'm still finding things out.  Easy to learn but subtle in application.  A good combination.
  3. The GM's job is infinitely easier.  This is a bonus point that very few deny.  Preparing a game is a pain in the neck.  Even with great pre-written material there will be tweaks and changes.  If I can do those in 10 minutes and know it will work, I'm a happy camper.  And I can.  So can anyone.  The base mechanics work well enough that a few quick pencil changes to a pre-existing monster of too low or high a level means you can throw just about anything you fancy at any given party.  No more spending the first five levels fighting kobolds.
BUT ...

I have a problem with Wizards of the Coast.  WoTC seem to have a curious attitude to their baby.  On the one hand, they continue to publish material for it and update their online suite of tools.  On the other, those updates are patchy and pushy in a way that I really dislike.  The bells and whistles all seem very nice, but a Character Builder that only lets me store 20 PCs when I run many games and want to access all of them is a pain in the neck.  A set of online tools that I can't download to my desktop is a pain in the neck.

WoTC don't seem to know what to do with 4e.  For example, the bizarre non-presence of published material at GenCon -
"Hi, I'd like to buy the Shadowfell supplement" - 
"Sorry, we don't have it."  - 
"Whuh?!?!, you've got the biggest audience you'll get all year for your product and you're not selling the material?" - 
"That's correct, we have partner publishers who do that, they will be around somewhere."  -  
"Thank you." 
Flabberghasted retreat.

I do wonder how much of their seeming indifference to selling the product is down to some serious backpeddling and an attempt to retrieve some of the old market.  If so, that's a pity as what they have is genuinely good, but it needs support.  If the parent company doesn't do that it sends a horrible message and is just depressing for those who do enjoy it and use it to bring new geeks into the joy of RPGs.

*fora? - sure it should technically be fora with the Latin root and all, but I don't know

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hawk Giant again

Forgive me if I do a little gloating.

I mentioned entering a contest to provide a short adventure based on a title rolled old-school.  Also that it was bewildering me a lot.  Anyway the thing was done and sent and has come second in a three-way tie.  This is making me absurdly pleased.  See Hill Cantons Asinine Adventure Contest for details.

Even better, Fabian at Bladesharp tied for second as well.  I'm now agog to see the other entries.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Following up

I think I may have sounded too bitter about the nativity plays thing.  There is something about the process which drives me nuts though.

Typically this is the one time of year when even the least drama-oriented schools decide that performance is the right way to celebrate.  It's a golden opportunity for children to find out about the creativity and magic of live theatre by doing it themselves.  That's something I'm passionate about and it really, really gets under my skin when the stuff that's on offer is so very mundane.  It is patronising.  It assumes a lowest possible common denominator.  It is not good work.  It's often worthy work and very well meant, but it's not inspiring.  And I can't help thinking and feeling with every bone in my body that drama needs to be or there is no point whatever to doing it.

I feel very bad about disliking all these plays so much.  I want to love them.  I just can't.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


So, so close to missing a day.  Can't be doing with that.  Hectic day is no excuse.

Classes were good.  Got through two whole acts of Faustus blocking, nothing else too infuriating and gamers around in the evening.  We dealt with many, many vermin.  The woodshed turned out not to be the problem at all, merely the site of a bizarre rock linking us to another plane infested with spiders and many, many rats.  They are now ex-vermin.  Knowing our luck, they'll come back to haunt us.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Weekend plans and Nativity plays.

I teach all day on Saturdays.  Tomorrow will see me sorting out a session for would be technical and backstage crew.  Then Faustus.  Experimenting with devil movement and how to decapitate someone using curtains.  After the main rehearsal, I have a session with Dr F and Mephistopheles to sort out their decidedly odd relationship.  They're both good, conscientious actors and are looking forward to it.

Back at the ranch, we have gamers over in the evening.  Tomorrow is the day we sort out the unpleasantness in the woodshed.  Possibly.  Unless it sorts us out. 

Busy day in any case, but a good one.

Sunday should be quieter, although I've just been handed three nativity plays to read and listen to for son's old primary school.  Joy of joys.  They will be mind-manglingly horrible, but one of them will probably be more performable than the others.  I have to bear in mind who I will be casting here.  This being a school nativity, it has nothing whatever to do with talent and everything to do with which year the child is in.  A child in Year 6, however hopeless and unwilling to be on stage must have a more important role than a drama-mad child in Year 4.  It's a rule.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Another plant and seed catalogue arrived this morning.  Excitment!  We can put in a proper order rather than just optimistically looking at the tangle of dying bindweed and giving up.

We do have a vegetable patch as well as a soft fruit bed.  It's a proper garden, ours.  We are far from properly equipped to look after it, but we do keep trying.  Efforts this year are made much easier by the team of gardeners we employed over the summer to dig out as much as possible in three days.  This extended to four days and wasn't finished, but it does look very much better.

There are two parts to the incentive.  One, we can actually accomplish something without despairing completely and giving up two trowels in.  Two, having spent quite a lot of money on getting the place sorted, it seems a wicked waste just to let it all happen again.  Bindweed, begone!  Dandelions, drop dead!  Creeping Buttercup, crawl away!

Hence our joy at the arrival of the catalogues.  It's a whole world of arcane mystery.  So much choice.  Do we take the long route and grow from seed, even though we have no cold frame or cloches?  Do we cheat a bit and buy starter plants?  Which types of potato will be best for a near to year round supply?  Leaving aside the whole vexed issue of salad v main crop, there are earlies and second earlies.  If we order now, we can get better deals on early onions, shallots and garlic, all of which overwinter well and exist in varieties which do not attract onion blight.

Among other things, looking at the list of stuff available has reminded us of how many vegetables we eat and enjoy.  This is despite years of looking sadly at each other and going "Oh, we must eat more veg."  Turns out we eat quite a few.  And of course will do so in enormous quantities if we end up with the list we're putting together.  It does feel virtuous.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Against the Hawk Giant - and another attempt at character credibility

Hill Cantons is running a self proclaimed asinine adventure contest.  Irresistible.  Short deadline, mind, so I'll have to get busy with this one page wonder.  My title (rolled old-style with dice) is the above - Against the Hawk Giant.

So many possibilities, the mind is boggling, but I intend to use the inevitable time I will have on my hands waiting for plumbers to narrow them down.  Suggestions so far are Egyptian theme (Horus rises), some sort of vaguely shamanistic tale and an outrage at a bird of prey centre.

 Since I'm here and it's nearly a day since my last attempt at rolling a character old-school, I'm trying yet again.

Strength - 11
Dexterity - 11
Constitution - 9
Intelligence - 11
Wisdom - 11
Charisma - 15

Wow.  Just wow.  That's an entirely plausible adventurer sitting right there.  Very ... balanced.  Yes, I think that's the word.  Not sure what he'd be, exactly, but at least he has a chance.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Trying again at this old-school thing

In the interests of trying to roll an adventurer capable of surviving the journey to his own doorstep, I'm trying again.  I can't roll that horribly twice.

Str - 12
Dex - 8
Con - 3 (I spoke too soon)
Int - 7
Wis - 12
Cha - 7

Sigh.  At least this chap will have the sense to know he's not cut out for an adventuring life.  He's a germ haven.  But he can open a door, probably onto his own foot.  And isn't bright enough to listen to his own common sense about his abilities.  Oh, and he's charmless.

Great.  Just great.  I herewith announce my intention of rolling a character every evening until I get someone playable.

The dice mock me.

Moments of small triumph

Good list today.

Two possible plays surfaced for S&C summer school - a huge, huge relief.

Larder is now clear.  The discovery of a nine year old bag of dried apricots was interesting, but on the whole it was less embarrassing than it might have been.  More to the point, we now have a larder in which it is possible to see the contents - a vast improvement.

Met the new son of two of our dearest friends for the first time in a month (he's now 6 weeks old) and was boggled at how long this child is.  I'm not usually a fan of babies, but he was very civilised.  He likes Gilbert and Sullivan too, which shows good taste.

Made lasagne - which is high order comfort food in my book.  It even has vitamins and vegetables in it.

Verging on the dangerously smug here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Pause for refreshment

In an attempt to quell my irritation with the wonderful world of drama failing to produce the goods (see previous post) and to distract myself from the arrival in our home of men carrying tiles and bathtubs, I'm going to kick some old school character building.

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed and I was young, rolling a character was dead easy.  The term is apposite.  Dead was what most characters shortly became because - well, you'll see.  In the presence of your DM, you picked up three d6s.  Then you rolled them.  What you got was your base stats in the following order:

Strength - i.e. if you had any muscles and how good they were.
Dexterity - i.e. how good you were at getting out of the way.
Constituion - i.e. how long you would survive if anything hit you.
Intelligence - i.e. if you were capable of learning more than one language or any given spell.
Wisdom - i.e. if you had the common sense to know how to interact with the world.
Charisma - i.e. if you were a charmless oaf or a beguiling cupcake.

Anyone who hasn't been through this mill of fire can have no idea of the fear with which we rolled up characters back then.  None of this point buy malarky.  Worse than that, there were all kinds of restrictions.  If you didn't have a superb basic stat array there were simply a plethora of classes and races you could never, ever be.  No casually saying "Ok, I feel like playing an elf paladin."

Personally, I prefer point buy, having sent far too many characters adventuring who would blatantly have been better off running a tea shop.  Still, it has considerable charm and now I'm tempted to try again.

Here goes:

Strength - 4
Dexterity - 11
Constitution - 10
Intelligence - 7
Wisdom - 9
Charisma - 8

Yippee.  I have a possibly crippled, rather dexterous, fairly robust, very dumb, not overly sensible person who is not particularly charming.  A natural adventurer.  Why is this chap not attending the Charles Atlas Build Up Your Muscles course before attempting to don the armour that will pull him over because he can't even stand up in it?  Bet you he wants to be a fighter.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Preparation and patronage (the good kind)

Plans are advancing fairly quickly in my new PbP game.  I have a group who are about to finish a chopped version of Halls of the Mountain King.  They (the players at any rate - the characters may well change) are going to embark on a quest to discover The Lost City.  Both these projects are by the consistently good team at Kobold Quarterly as part of their Open Design project.

As explained eloquently here, Open Design works on the old system of patronage.  Patrons pay because they want this particular project to go ahead - and depending on their inclination and  bank balance can have a greater or lesser say in the whole process.

It's an elegant system.  I've done low level patronage on two of their projects and got heavily involved in one of them - the entirely beautiful and mad as a box of snakes Courts of the Shadow Fey.  Our home group did some play testing for that and made a few suggestions that made it into the final design, so we felt we owned it to some extent.

The Lost City was the other one I patronised, but the timing was bad and I never managed to work my way into it to the same extent.  While that was a pity at the time, it does still mean I have a shiny new 4e adventure to unleash on my hapless players.  They are starting to concoct characters and back stories and I am now at the point of deciding which bits will have to go in order for this adventure to run in PbP format.  

If it sounds stupid to take a pre-made adventure and then take it apart, well, it is in a way.  The issue here is that the things that are immense fun in a live table game are bamboozling and treacle-like in a PbP when your players are in different time zones.  Exploration often comes into this category, and of course a lost city will have a goodly share of that. I'm not cutting the exploration out, but the choices about where to go and how to get there will be reduced.  In general, it helps to keep a game going if the choices are few and clear.  I do not mean to imply that I'm a brutal railroader, but I've found that the real sticking point for most online games is not combat, which has a rhythm of its own, but choosing where to go next.

I'm planning to describe some of those choices here (without spoilers as far as possible, as one of the players is a follower).  Partly so I can keep a record and partly so I can see if I made the right call in the aftermath.


We have an on-going project afoot.  A long term one.  Room by room we are slowly but surely chucking stuff out.  This does go against the grain in a lot of ways as we are both pack rats from a long line of pack rats.  In my more generous moments, I put this down to coming from families who historically have spent a lot of time fleeing from other places and taking everything with them.  In my less generous ones, I think we may just be slobs.

At any rate, an odd thing is happening.  With the gradual removal of stuff that is, genuinely, rubbish, has also come a certain pride.  It actually does feel good to walk down the stairs and not see the piles of stuff waiting to go upstairs.  It feels good to see a clear hallway unencumbered by ancient cardboard boxes full of things to be taken to charity shops or to be recycled.

An old friend of ours is a de-clutterer by trade and for the first time ever, I can see the point.  Cassie might be quite proud of us.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Domestic drama


It rained last night.  Not hugely surprising in autumn.  Unfortunately, the rain fell the wrong way and leaked in under the door and down the hall.  This happens with fair regularity when we have abrupt heavy rain.  It's the fault of the house for being 400 years old, built on a slope and having a sort of walled in yard in the middle of it into which every gutter eventually runs.  If they all do it at once, in quantity, flooding ensues.

Towels down and it will dry quite fast, but wet feet this morning.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Skills we don't have

Well now.  That was interesting.  Tonight's game was short and sweet.  It was a reorientation exercise and reminder of what had happened when we last played this campaign nearly a year ago.  Towards the end of that, however, we were commissioned by Doodles (Providers of Business to Adventurers) to go and help out an old lady who had a problem on her farm.

We're good guys, we help out and naturally we set off.  We found the farm and were greeted by a tough looking farm hand who wasn't about to let us in until he was convinced we weren't going to scare the old lady or laugh at her fears.  Skill challenge!  I'm a fan of this occasionally maligned feature of 4e.  Done well, they provoke good role-play and a lot of lateral thinking - both of which were needed here.

You would think that a reasonable skill set would include diplomacy, streetwise and insight and you would be correct.  Those were indeed the primary skills.  That was when there was a communal intake of breath as we looked confidently at our character sheets and realised that only one of us was trained in streetwise, none of us were trained in diplomacy or insight and the highest Charisma score among us was 10.  Panic ensued.  Luckily we have a DM who is both forgiving and willing to listen to suggestions, however bizarre.

"Has he got a bad back or corns or something I can heal to help him be more receptive to us?"
"I can run around him for a really, really long time and demonstrate my unwillingness to give up?"
"I can tell him stories about other nasty things we've defeated to inspire confidence in us."
"I have a decent nature check - would flattering his farming skills help?"

We blundered on, narrowly making it with a few very lucky aid another rolls and a lot of rather poor rolls on the skills we elected to use for our primary checks.  Twas ever thus.  Even so, the glow of satisfaction on finally being allowed through the door to see one old lady equalled the thrill of winning some battles.  D&D is  sometimes very strange.  But I love it.

EDIT:  I just noticed that in the previous post I warned myself about disrespecting the dice.  I should have kept my fingers off the keyboard.  Most the really horrible rolls in that skill challenge were mine.

Game on

Itigiak (my Muktuk the Hard Boiled Shaman tribute) gets his first outing tonight.  Very excited to be playing live again after lengthy break - absurdly so.  I caught myself crooning over my neglected dice earlier today and promising them the chance to send me to hideous doom very soon.

It's not true to say I've rolled no dice at all.  I have rolled quite a few, but as a PbP DM - which is not the same and indeed, nor are they the same.  My DM set sits on my desk and is entirely different to the sets I use a player.  DM dice have been doing nicely lately, rolling more crits than I've seen in a while.  Player dice were pretty rubbish last time they rolled in play.  This is fairly par for the course.  Few of my characters roll well in combat, although they have the habit of nailing skill checks.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but just occasionally I would like to be able to hit something rather than be able to assess a magic sword at a glance.

I'm aware this is ungrateful and if I could find a way to type in a whisper, I would.  It never pays to upset your dice.

Different, but same

The drama club I run for my son's old primary school starts up again today.  It is a very small school and in general I end up with about a quarter of them in Drama Club.  Unusually, the group ranges in age from Year 1 (6 year olds) to Year 6 (11 year olds).  I don't normally advocate taking a class like that, but in this case it works.

A lot of the reason it does work is down to the basic ethos of the school, which strongly promotes individuality and cooperation.  It is an exemplary school in a lot of ways, and pretty much fulfils my ideals of what primary education should provide for children.  Lots of support, lots of enthusiasm and a great willingness to go off curriculum and suit each child's skills.  I'm well aware that this ideal isn't possible in a larger school, but it works here.

The group itself is an interesting microcosm displaying in embryo the many types of student drama attracts.  The precocious girls.  The chippy but talented lads.  The hard workers who are better than they thinks.  The under-confident ones who suddenly discover they really can do this.  The ones who want to do it to be with their friends, or to be cool.  The ones who are told they must do it by their parents and so on.  All these types recur throughout every class I've ever taken, but it's interesting (and amusing) to see how early it starts.

This term they will mostly be occupied with the nativity play (more on that in some future post), so I'm free to run skill building workshop stuff with the Drama Club.  Then in January I'll need to find a play for them to do over the summer.  That is a whole other story.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


We have a surprising amount of wildlife on the doorstep.  This isn't that surprising as although we live in a town, it is a town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and looking out of any upstairs window gives a view of sheep.  What is slightly more surprising is how much wildlife we have in both house and garden.  Some is welcome, of course.  Some is not.  Some is just odd.

Almost anything is welcome to live in the garden - although I'd make an exception of slugs.  We have pigeons in large quantities, several robins, a visiting jay or two, quite a few bluetits, three readily identifiable butterfly types, burrowing honeybees, a wasp nest, a recently arrived hedgehog, a pair of annual pheasants, a bat or two, mice in large numbers and occasionally visits from next door's escape artist rabbit.

Inside we have quite a lot of the same.  Mice - it's an very large, very old house with stone walls - we are going to have mice.  Our resident 16 year old cat counts the day lost when she doesn't diminish the population, so I'm not very fussed about them.  Slugs - I have no idea where they're coming from, but they are massive and rather beautiful in their own way.  Unlike the very dull garden slugs, these chaps are tiger-striped and rather stately.  They emerge in the kitchen from time to time, show their presence with a trail of slime and vanish again.

A recent (and very unwelcome) interior addition was a succession of dead and dying wasps.  For about a week we were waking each morning to find the floor encrusted with these critters and called in pest control.  As it turned out, they were not our wasps.  They belonged to a nest on the roof of the house next door, but obviously found our home more agreeable as a graveyard.  Not sure whether to be flattered by that or not.  It's a unique selling point of a kind - "Hey - wasps love our house so much they come and die here!".  The Council man came and donned more protective gear than you'd think likely before wiping out the nest.  Wasps no more.

Pigeons also seem to like our house.  Now admittedly, they are not the brightest birds ever, but they somehow manage to bypass the bird covers over the chimneys.  Luckily for them, the chimneys are wide and the fires currently not lit, so they can be rescued and returned to the great outdoors.  And having said they're not too bright, they seem to be nesting in our cellar.  In the process of tidying up the hall leading to the garden I opened the door yesterday and came face to face with two fat, smug pigeon fledglings.  We're generous and hospitable people, but they're going to have to go.  They're teenagers.  We already have one and that's quite enough thank you.

A brief update:  The teenage pigeons seem to be using the cellar as a general hang out rather than a nesting site.  "Look, cool place to kick back and get away from the parents."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rehearsal routine

I'm settling back into the term-time pattern now.  As I work all day Saturday, Monday is my new Sunday.  Today it's Antigone where I'm not responsible for the direction of the show, but the support of the director.

They had a look at some short bits last week and will go from the start setting each scene now.  Usually this is an elating period for the performers as they're at last getting an idea of what these roles will be like.  For an outsider, it will look a lot less interesting.  Mumbling, trying stuff again, wondering how to place the line, working out what the line means and so on are fascinating to the director and the actor.  To anyone else it looks entirely pointless.

For this young cast, part of their job now is to recognise that a lot of their job is to do nothing but wait.  This is a tough thing for anyone, but for a bunch of 11-13 year olds, it's particularly difficult.  My main role here is to make sure that they spend that time profitably.  Rehearsal time is an oddity.  The show is either unimaginably far away or so close you could scream with terror.  We're at the unimaginably far away part now, and it will feel like an eternity as they wait for their scene to come up and watch as someone else goes over the same line ten times.

A lot of the way cast synergy develops comes from that watching and waiting and however it feels, the time is not wasted.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Virtue has its own reward

Managed a bit of painting between the virtuous tasks like recycling cardboard and taking son to piano lesson.  Painting, in this case meaning painting minis.  I'm not good at this as I haven't been doing it for very long, but slowly, slowly I'm building up technique.

There is something deeply satisfying about prodding about with a tiny paintbrush and filling in a belt buckle the size of a pinhead.  Hard to explain, but nonetheless true.

The painting was a reward for actually removing some of the mountainous piles of rubbish from around the house.  I'm a firm believer in carrot and stick, but I'm much better at the carrot end of the equation.  This time though I did a thing I've found impossible in the past and actually took some books down to the charity shop.  They were all duplicates, so it wasn't too bad, but it was still a real wrench and felt like such a huge betrayal.  I apologised to them all the way there.  Still feeling a bit guilty.

Floors - and why I hate buying stuff.

Following the hideous discovery of chipboard under the leaking loo last week - which is both too much information and too much alliteration - we now have a floor in the upstairs bathroom.

Said floor is flat and firm and will support the weight of a bath.  It is also naked.  I therefore need to find a tape measure, get some figures and head down to the local carpet and lino shop to buy something for it to wear.

Inevitably, this will be accompanied by a lot of technical questions which I won't understand as enormous patronising men in overalls try to explain why I want something I never knew I needed.  This will leave me feeling insecure and grumpy.  Shopping often has this effect on me, which is why I do as much as possible online.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Speak out with your geek out

I saw this about ten days ago, forgot about it and have now been reminded.  Speaking as a pretty openly geeky person, I'm all for celebrating the positive.  And I've got a little list to remind me of why I enjoy this hobby so much.  Most of my list applies to RPGs and board games, but I'm pretty sure it extends in other directions too.

(Disclaimer - I was going to do a parody and shame W.S. Gilbert, but the song in question doesn't really celebrate positivity.  I'll save if it for some other time.)

Anyway - a partial list:

1.  Socialising.  You get to know your friends very well then you spend a lot of your free time with them plotting to overthrow a world-ending menace.  If you (and they) survive the process, you probably have some very good friends there.

2.  Education.  Really.  So many basic skills get covered.  Literacy, numeracy, social skills, teamwork, planning ... to the point that if it wasn't for the built in prejudice that gamers must be sad-sack losers, employers would use RPGs as a sure-fire interview technique.  I'd love to see companies invite people to interviews, hand them a character sheet and a load of dice and say "play this scenario, we're watching."

3.  Relaxation.  So, you've had a horrible day.  If, like me, you teach, some days can be really, really horrible.  If, like a lot of gamers I know, you do a desperately hard job in desperate conditions, horrible is even more horrible.  Escapism is good, people.  Few things are more escapist than allowing yourself to pretend to be a dwarf and heading out to bash heads.  It knocks spots off having a flaming row with your partner or doing something actively dangerous to let off steam.

4.  Play.  Play is good.  It really is.  Adults forget how to do this.  We get told that we need to grow up, be serious, earn livings, carve out careers and on the whole we do.  What we lose in that process is the sheer fun of life.  We really shouldn't.

5.  Dice.  They're just so pretty.  And tactile.  Grabbing a handful of dice and letting them roll all over the table is simply a great feeling.  I hate to end on a slightly down note, but there is a negative on the dice thing.  Don't tread on them.  Getting a d4 stuck between your toes is a never to be repeated experience in the lives of most gamers.

Character building

Literally.  Not the "I'm sorry if it hurts now, but it's all character building" sort of character building.  This is gaming character building.  Which, come to think of it, often ends up in the same place when your lovingly crafted elf rogue bites the dust after an ill-advised advance on a giant spider.

Friday sees the long awaited return of our home gaming group.  We've had a longer than intended hiatus as our normal GM was inconsiderate enough to go and have a baby and he and his wife are hors de combat at the moment.  Then it was summer and we (i.e. my family) went away on holiday for a bit.  Then another player went on holiday.  Then another one was ill.  And so and so forth.  

Anyway, we're getting back on the road at last which is all that matters.  The campaign in question is run by my husband and we haven't been there for a while.  Due to the loss of both our healer types due to above-mentioned baby, it has fallen to me to build a new party member to keep the old party members in band-aids.  In 4e terms, that's a Leader and I often play them.  In our home campaigns, my Leaders have had variable fates.

Flora the shifter cleric was overwhelmingly lawful and good and prone to striding into the middle of battle and yelling "Who's hurt?  Tell me now!"  This sort of behaviour meant she had to be raised from the dead once and rendered her unconscious a lot before she finally died at the hands of furniture.  It was a less ignominious ending than it sounds.  Slightly.  The furniture in question belonged to a necromancer and hurt anyone who started their turn next to it.  She was imprudent enough to drop unconscious next to a table and that was that. I decided her day was done and moved on to Karolina.

Karolina is a human bard.  Yes, present tense.  Karolina yet lives, although not in the current campaign.  She has a vampiric background and a heavy Transylvanian accent.  So heavy, in fact that hardly anybody can understand her.  This is a pity as she is also the party ritualist and routinely sends reports of battles and pleas for aid via animal messengers.  Such messages are delivered in the voice of the caster, so Winterhaven is full of people who have received an unintelligible demand for something or other and are deeply confused.  Unlike her predecessor, Karolina's notion of a good fight is one in which she stands at the edge, doesn't get hurt and sings sarcastic songs to her foes to make them fall over or be otherwise distracted.

The current leader is not yet decided.  I have two in mind.  One is another look at an old favourite of mine, a halberd wielding warlord who prefers others to do the dirty work.  The other is based on a recent discovery,  Muktuk the Hard Boiled Shaman.  Muktuk's tribute is called Itigiak and looks promising.  I haven't recreated the warlord yet, but over the course of the day he too will burgeon into life.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Worlds collide

In a pretty piece of serendipity, I've been reminded of this:

Oubliette 6

Among the Petty Gods on page 6 is Mespilus, god of medlars and the creation of FabesMinis.  Fabes also runs a blog, although he is much more focused than me and concentrates mostly on old-school gaming.  He's at BladeSharp.


Take a look :)

Post picking.

About 2 kilos of damsons waiting to become wine.  A further 3 kilos are sitting in the oven turning to mush and awaiting stone removal.   Later in the day, when I'm feeling strong.

Day of the damson

Operation Plum Cascade is now pretty much over, but the damsons remain.  Today will see them picked, pulped, jammed and otherwise converted into stuff-what-we-will-consume.  As I've mentioned, they are not easy to prepare.  Only by cooking will you ever extract those stones.

Damsons fall into that exciting category of fruit that it's nice to have, but troublesome to deal with.  Others are quinces and medlars.  Both are old-fashioned fruits for which there is little real use, but they have considerable charm.  Quinces take preparation to new heights of difficult.  They are rock like, even when ripe.  The Victorians used them as a moth repellent and to add a pleasing scent to clothes and bed linen and I can see why as they're all but indestructible.  The only time I've ever prepared them, I wrecked our kitchen cleaver.  Still, they have an allure.

Medlars are even stranger.  Here you have a fruit that you have to pick and allow to rot before it can be eaten.  This process is called bletting.  It a slightly arcane feel to it which I find irresistible.

And of course, this is the time of year to be ordering bare root fruit trees.  Tempting, very, very tempting.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Weekend workmen

This would never have happened in London (where we lived before moving to the glorious north nearly 10 years ago).  We have workmen coming in at the weekend.

I will repeat.  We have workmen coming in at the weekend.  Some things simply don't compute and that is one of them.

Bathroom walls to be plastered and floor to be continued.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Gaming update - possible spoilers for players - be warned.

I mentioned I have four campaigns running.  That's a little  misleading, as one of them is the same campaign with two different groups, but that's still a lot of updating and dice rolling.  Anyway, this is what is happening to them all right now.  Note that PbP time is not time as we know it.  Halls has been running for nearly two years, Tombs I and II just over a year and Rune Stones for three and a half years.  In game time, mere weeks have passed, if that.  Oh, except for Rune Stones where a trip to the Feywild took twelve years. 

Halls of the Mountain King - the party have just started their climactic final battle with Mammon and his forces.  They have been exploring a mountain full of cursed gold and done rather well so far. They've even managed not to get cursed themselves, despite being in the presence of more gold than any of them have ever seen.  To put this in perspective, adventurers everywhere ALWAYS need gold.  They need it to to buy cool stuff, which is a way of keeping score - since in RPGs you don't really win, you just don't die.  For this group to pass up the chance of acquiring enough gold to buy pretty much any magic thingbob they could ever want is nothing short of amazing.

That said, the battle is not going that well for them and they may yet die horribly, if heroically.  I'm hoping my team (the monsters) continue to roll well and make them suffer for their victory.  Or preferably wipe them out and leave Mammon grinning as he starts to take over the known world from his new base in Mount Rygar.

Tomb of Horrors (I and II)
Group I have been behind Group 2 for a while but both are now in Skull City.  Group I came under serious fire and came as close as they've ever been to a TPK (Total party kill).  They're recovering and hunting for a safe place to rest for a while.  Such will be difficult to find, given that they're in the middle of a city full of fractious undead factions.  Group II are finding out about the undead up close and personal elsewhere.  One of them has contracted a nasty disease in the process. 

Rune Stones
This has been evolving for a long time and the plot is multi-layered.  Due to player loss, the group are meeting their new front line fighter and making plans to invade a mine infested with crazed giants. 

All in a days work for RPGs.  The only place on earth you'll hear someone say something like "Akahale searches the squalid bedding for bones" and it will make sense rather than assuming a psychiatrist is needed immediately.


Why can I not reply to comments on my own blog? 

I get an infuriating message telling me that the account I am using (i.e. the one that allows me to blog) is not allowed access. 

Your current account (revrosey) does not have access to view this page.
This is driving me rapidly to nail spitting fury.

Utterly unrelated domestic drama

Ripping the old lino out of the upstairs bathroom at the weekend was revealing.  Revealing of the fact that the previous owner of our house had decided to replace a missing floorboard or two with highly absorbent chipboard.  Yay for good decision making.

We are taking the old bathroom out because it leaks and is stupidly organised.  The leaking being the prime factor here.  Chipboard under leaking loo does not equal anything good.  Our amazing plumber took one look when he arrived to strip out the old stuff, shook his head and announced he was bringing a joiner in tomorrow to sort that floor.  Lots of toothsucking and headshaking. 

In my head there was a vision of a bath plummeting through three floors to land on the kitchen just as I was taking a vat of boiling jam out of the oven ... 

Hey - it could have happened.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Riffing on the plum theme

As part of the ongoing campaign to reduce the amount of plums we have lurking around the building, we've been experimenting a bit.  This is guilt-free cookery at its best.  Anything that works is a bonus, anything that doesn't is no great loss as we've at least tried to use the fruit.

On the success side, we can chalk up the following:-

Jam - well, that's a given.

Compote - basically nearly jam but with as little sugar as you can get away with.  Superb spooned over yoghurt for breakfast.

Lightly cooked and frozen for later use.  Stoned.  Just do it.  The unstoned bag of plums we found was ... not a good experience.  You still have to take the blasted things out and it is slightly easier with the fruit intact.

Leather - my personal jury is still out on this one.  It uses a huge amount of plums, which is good.  The end product is pretty much what you'd think.  A strip of pliable dried plum which stores well.  The downside is we're not sure what to use it for now we've got it.

Spiced plum brandy/vodka/gin/whatever booze you have most of -  resoundingly successful and lethal.  It joins the ranks of other concoctions which taste utterly innocent and then turn around 10 minutes later and kick your brains out through your nose.

Plum wine - again, uses many, many plums.  The downside is that it's a year until you find out if it has worked or not.

On the failed side:-

Syrup - don't bother.  3 kilos of plums produced a very, very small amount of prune juice (what did I expect? - still somehow disappointed).  Certainly not worth cluttering up the kitchen with dripping bags for two days even if it did smell quite nice.

Candied plums - Unless the beasties are under-ripe when you start, there is no point.  Candying is simple enough, but it's brutal on the fruit.  Plums just can't take it.  They are feeble nancies at heart.

Drying - well, it works, but you get prunes.  Who uses prunes?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Damson Massacre

The wind stripped both plum trees last night and quite a few damsons bit the dust as well.  I'm not sure whether to be happy about this or not. 

Having spent a lot of last weekend with my husband finding innovative ways of using plums I'm not that sorry to have had the plum issue taken out of our hands.  The damsons I do feel a little guilty about.  They make amazing jam.  It tastes like warmly spiced plum all by itself and has an old-fashioned feel to it.  Damson jam means autumn and the start of my favourite time of year.

They're a horror to prepare mind you.  There is no way to de-stone the blighters.  They have to be cooked.  The stones rise to the surface and can be skimmed off.  So all the books say, and despite my misgivings, the books are right.  They do rise and you can skim them off.  It's time-consuming and my glasses steam up watching hawk-like for the rising of the stones and wielding a slotted spoon.

Play by Post - some thoughts

Gaming is an ongoing thing. 

I run four online games at the moment, all using the 4e rules for D&D.  All four campaigns have been running well over a year.  I play in a few games myself, usually between 3-5, so you could say I'm slightly addicted.

All of these are PbP (Play by Post) and my games are run on the Paizo forums - which is slightly surprising, given that Paizo is the home of Pathfinder and Pathfinder and 4e are not particularly compatible.  Both systems tend to have rabid adherents who are reluctant to find any good in the other system.  Having said that, most of the players I know are more pragmatic than that.  If they find a game they enjoy, they'll play it and hang the system.

PbP is a special animal.  The timescale is very different to a tabletop game and that has some interesting effects.  One of the biggest is that in general the standard of roleplay is much, much higher.  It requires some suspension of belief to accept that the very large bloke with a beard is a tiny halfling druid if you can see him sitting right there.  If, on the other hand, all you can see is an appropriate avatar and the written word, the character is instantly much more believeable. 

Tied into this is that the responses need not be immediate.  There is time to think about what a character would say.  In a table game, chances are that in any party of more than five, half of them will be wondering if the kettle has boiled yet and the other half will be scouring their character sheets working out how they can fit in an extra attack with bonus damage.  Few of them will be paying much attention to the lovingly crafted characterisations of their fellows.

The response time is good for a GM as well.  You have time to sort out rules quibbles behind the scenes.  You have time to check any more bizarre powers players or monsters use.  You have time, in short, to make informed decisions.  Those hair-pulling moments of "Ark - how does that work???" can all happen offstage.

There is a downside to all this joy, of course.  The timescale issue works both ways.  I am in the UK.  I have players who are in Australia and various parts of the US as well as a couple in the UK.  Different time zones in other words.  In a nutshell, this means that any kind of combat or social interaction can be paralysingly slow.  It can easily take a week to get through an entire round of a fight and much longer to decide on a plan of action.  Some players only really post during combat rounds, others will happily chat for days to the NPCs.  A balance must be found.

My own take on this is to be brutal.  During combat, I give any player 24 hours to post an action and if they don't I'll either delay them or post on their behalf.  Planning and social stuff I am more lenient, but in a PbP it behoves the GM to be pushy.  Very pushy.  Force them to make a choice.  You have to.  If you don't you're left with a bunch of characters stranded in the middle of nowhere unable to choose the left or right hand path.  This is how PbP games die.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Plays for kids - where the hell are they all?

I've spent a large amount of time lately trying to hunt down a suitable play for a summer school next year.  This is pre-emptive.  A friend and I have started up an embryonic thing (so technical) intended to bring drama to people - and the summer school we just ran was our first venture.  It was a howling success by any standards, which is great as we've been asked to do the same thing next year.  Except that we cannot do the same thing next year.  We have to find a different play.  Something that isn't Ernie's Incredible IllucinationsErnie was tailor made for the job.  Funny, short, loads of parts, nothing that demanded too much in terms of lines.  Ideal.  Can't use it again.

At no point did this look like being an easy task.  Finding a one act play suitable for children aged between 9-14 is tricky anyway.  When you're looking for a cast of at least 25 it all gets a lot more problematic.  Then add in the fact that this play must be cast, rehearsed, costumed, lit and staged in four and a half days and the problem only gets bigger.  You know what, it's just as difficult as we thought it was going to be.  Agggh.

Random Introduction

Enough with the nervously idling on the side of the blog pool.  I've given in.  This is mostly going to deal with three of the things I enjoy most, but leaving space for the odd tangental rant. 

The title may need a touch of explanation:-

Drama - is what I do for a living.  Mostly.  Not me, personally, on the whole.  I teach kids how to do it.  Mostly this is life-affirming, invigorating and all sorts of good stuff.  Other times it really is not.  Often in the space of the same five minutes.  I'm directing two productions this coming year and mentoring a student through her own first production.  All of this starts tomorrow, but the plotting and planning never stops.

Dice - refers to gaming.  As in the playing of board games and RPGs with friends.  Also the playing of RPGs online with people I don't know - although at least one has become a good and dear friend.  RPGs, for the uninitiated stands for Role Playing Games.  The idea being to be heroic and save the world from whatever your evil genius Game Master has cooked up.  To do this, you need dice.  Many of them. 

Damsons - apart from the obvious joy of alliteration, that's about cooking in general and the concern I have right now that the damson tree will be blown apart by the freakily high winds we've had today.  This is a worry because something must be done with a tree-full of damsons. 

The general theme will be what's going on with those three main things at any time.  A simple system, but mine own.  Bet it doesn't work out like that.