Monday, 31 October 2011


To remind myself as much as anything, a quick run down of the characters in play.

Angalia - my Pathfinder Rogue.  She isn't so much a rogue as an intrepid engineer.  A dab hand a trap finding and with ace people skills, she's unfortunately a bit rubbish as a combatant.  This is more to do with my inability to roll out of single digits in a fight coupled with a great ability to roll well on skill checks.  Somehow, she's still alive and has just hit level 3.

Akahale - 4e Dark pact dragonborn warlock.  Akahale is in limbo at the moment, but when he's out and about he takes paranoia to new heights.  Unlike most dragonborn is rather small and not interested in the martial arts.  His obsession is abomination from beyond the stars - specifically how to prevent it from polluting the world.  To this end, he carries notebooks with him.  Although Akahale is convinced that he's a good and innocuous force, hardly anybody agrees.  He intimidates his foes into surrendered by bludgeoning them with bye-laws and threats to spread their sorry remains across the universe.  Often in the same sentence.  Just reached level 10.

Armand Duvallier - 4e storm sorcerer.  Level 1.  Another pc who is rolling quite, quite horribly.  His moment of glory came in a skill challenge when his one and only crit enable him to climb a tree.  Based on D'Artagnan, he has a quick temper, a firm sense of honour and and almost no sense.  He's got low everything except Charisma because sorcerers don't need much else.  Armand is great fun, but I live in terror of what he's going to say or do next.

Irivis - another warlock, this time in a Dark Sun campaign at level 1.  She is a failed revolutionary - i.e. she bottled it and left before the revolution in question happened successfully without her.  Since magic is verboten in Dark Sun campaigns, she lamed herself and uses that as an excuse to keep her rod by her at all times.  Irivis tends to the caustic and cowardly.

I'm noticing that this entire list is made up of strikers and is clearly compensation for all the leaders I have to play in live games.  The nice thing about these characters is that I never know what they're going to do or say until I hit the keyboard.  It's improvisational drama.

Farewell my lovely (October 2011)

October finishes today, and with it NaBloWriMo.

Despite my failure to post every day during the month, I did manage 47 (48 with this) posts overall, so I'm prepared to concede success to some extent.

It's been an interesting month.  I suppose they all are, but this is the first time I've had the opportunity to look back with documentation - which for me at least, has a certain novelty value.

Breaking it down into the relevant bits, here's what we get:

Drama - fairly quiet due to half term, although things are about to hot up again as classes re-start today.  The shows all seem in reasonable shape and the gates of nativity hell are about to swing open.  That alone will keep me busy until early December.  I'll just have to see how the line learning has gone. 

Dice - enforced finger hiatus has slowed all my online games, but they're picking up speed again now and I'm enjoying them a lot.  Whether the players are is another story.  Home gaming saw my first character kill, of which I am slightly proud, although sorry for the character who copped it.  Played some entertaining board games as well and there are a few more in the pipeline.

As well, of course, and near and dear to my heart, the evolution of Mikelmerck.  This has all the signs of a fun on-going project.  When working on this kind of thing, I have a white space approach - i.e. I have no idea what will be where or why until I need it to be there.  The general shape is coming along nicely with some small details.  In any case,  I can see it keeping me amused for a long time to come.

Damsons - for which read general cookery and fruit reduction as well as gardening.  Well, gardening did not happen at all.  We have some early onions and garlic to plant, but luckily they are reslient and patient and as long as they hit the ground before the heavy frosts, should be fine.

Cake played a fairly major part in the month.  Birthday cake for Mr Rev, frankly sublime dark chocolate cake for wedding and "invention" of crumble cake in the last two days.  More cake pending as the days draw in even more and the Christmas stockpile starts.

I also need to mention my own birthday cake - which I did not make.  This was a majestic creation made by a dear friend and shaped like a black dragon.  It was also delicious.  As soon as she sends me the pictures, I'll post them because it was quite simply one of the most awesome birthday cakes I've ever seen or eaten.

NaBloWriMo - the first dip into the communal blogging water.  A very positive experience.  Discovering that despite myself, I do enjoy writing is a great thing.  Discovering that I do this much better online is an amazing one.  The blogging community is extremely supportive - which is just as well as I suspect most of us are fragile in the confidence department.

Other stuff - the car crisis, the strange bug and the finger fracas all featured.  These things count as the roadbumps I think.  The unplanned and unplannable events that just happen.  Speaking of unplanned and unplannable, I've got a hugely busy month ahead of me and 50,000 words to produce by 30 November 2011.  But that's next month's problem.

Goodbye October 2011.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Crumble cake

Due to my inability to work out how many apples make a crumble, I was forced - yes, forced I tell you - to compromise and invent something.

I suspect it wasn't that much of an invention, but for what it's worth, I share it with the world. 

The deal was this.  Apples sitting in fridge, wind blowing outside, need of hot pudding.  Crumble.  Sorted out the apples, but realised that once I'd finished removing the inedible bits, there really weren't enough to fill the bottom of the dish.  And crumble should be at least half about the fruit.  As I poked at the pan, hoping against hope that adding a little spice and brown sugar would add to the bulk, an image floated across my mind.

A thin layer of sponge into which these apples could go.  A ten minute bake in a medium oven while I rustled up the crumble - it was ready to mix, and there's no going back once you've chopped butter into flour, ground almonds and sugar.  Two eggs of sponge mix later and this plan was sitting in the oven.  Added the crumble to the top of the half baked tray, thrust the whole thing into a blast furnace for another 10 minutes and lo and behold - crumble cake.

It was extremely good.  So good in fact that I repeated it today with blackcurrants.  And that was extremely good too.  So I have another handy dandy way to use up the fruit mountain.

The hidden terrors of Mikelmerck

Fabian has produced an elegant distillation of Mikelmerck here

We got on a bit of a roll again and batted more ideas around for what kind of dangers such a place might have.  Mechanically, adventuring sites are many.

Ruined (or inhabited) castles - this is border country
Out in the wilds - notoriously hard to run I find, but so much fun when they work
Village crawling and investigation - Mikelmerck has only two or three places that could properly be called towns
Fetch quests are a given in this far-flung land where ordinary people simply don't want to go away from whatever it is they'd rather be doing

Underpinning all of this is the sense of life going on.  Nothing much seems to happen on the surface in Mikelmerck - people get on with their lives and do the things they've always done.  It's a tough life, but the land is beautiful and the inhabitants feel deeply possessive of it.  All the time of course, they're holding the boundaries, but not in any very conscious way.

The festivals and events that hold life together are mostly local.  The Nine Men of Muriz happens every year, but the performances only concern the village of Telrick.

Performance of all kinds underpin many of the warding rituals.  Boothler Samael the mage understood this and built performance sites around Mikelmerck on specific nodes.  His traveling band of mages wandered the route performing as they went and keeping the boundaries true.  Not at all coincidentally, this was a period of stability and growing wealth for Mikelmerck.  Now all but one have long gone, and the last may be under threat.  Again, it is not coincidence that disease is breaking out more frequently and the needed visitors are not coming in such profusion.

Visitors matter to Mikelmerck.  How else is the glory of the Duchy to be maintained unless it is seen?

Saturday, 29 October 2011


The pseudo Yorkshire is evolving a little.  It now seems to be called Mikelmerck and is looking to have a more 18th/early 19th century base.

Mechanically, this allows for guns, but I will (probably) be ruling those out.  I'm not a huge fan of them and find firearm rulings tedious.

This is a land of small estates with a residual feudal system.  Local loyalties are strong.  Nobles are expected to take care of their tenants and can expect complaints if they don't.  Not everyone does so of course, but the general tendency is a rather stodgy conformity.

There is a church.  Cushboth of the Head is the main deity, but worship is not a matter of strong opinions.  It is simply there.  People expect their priests to provide them with proper rites for birth, death and a marriage but would much rather they stayed minding their own business at other times.  A wandering sect is evolving and they are more active.  In this widely spread rural area, not everyone can get to a place of worship, so the clerics tend to travel a lot.  The reality is that most folk will die a long way from the burial grounds and be taken after death down the Dead Man's Way.  This ancient route runs the length of Mikelmerk and has suitable stopping places all the way along it.  There is a decent living to be made from funeral parties.

Among the common folk, sheep and lead are the mainstays of life.

After NaBloWriMo - NaNoWriMo

I've just amazed myself by signing up for NaNoWriMo.  Amazed myself to the point of speechlessness.

No actual plot yet, but hey, I have two and a half days to find one.


Being from Yorkshire is as much a state of mind as a geographical fact

I'm trying to trace the origin of this quote (any help welcome) because it forms the germ of an idea.  An idea for an RPG, naturally, and one which was inspired by a conversation with Fabian at Bladesharp.

We were talking about characters we'd rolled in the past for a game that never happened and something evolved from that.  The notion of an older, stranger, England where the wilder places were wilder and things hadn't really been remembered for the right reasons.  An England where the Tudors never happened and the rumours that the Plantagenets had formed pacts with the fey were true.  An England where the fey were kept at bay by half-recalled rituals.  The harvest festival, the village fete, the walking of boundaries were all vital defences but nobody really knew why.

I slept on it and woke this morning to the sure and certain knowledge that Yorkshire was the key.  My adopted county is at the centre of a hard fought battle between good and evil, chaos and order.  The notorious hard-headedness of the Dalesmen is a natural defense against such things.

This is going somewhere, but I'm not sure where yet.

Friday, 28 October 2011

NaBloWriMo (favourite author/book thing)

A prompt from about three days ago.

Who is your favorite author?  Or What is your favorite book?  Or possibly:  Do you find yourself thinking like the characters in the last book you read talk? 

Can't do a favourite author.  I have several unfailing standbys, depending on mood and inclination:

Actual authors (order is alphabetical rather than preferential)
Jane Austen
Robertson Davis
Georgette Heyer (much under-rated and a fantastic plotter and stylist)
Terry Pratchett
Diana Wynne Jones

Other stuff
Back issues of Timeform
RPG books
Maps and atlases
Butlers Guide to the Saints

Favourite book - nope.  Impossible.  Favourite bookcase, maybe.

I don't find myself thinking like the characters I've just read, which in the case of some of my unfailing standbys is just as well.

Gamery update

Last Sunday I finished off the delve encounter with the mind flayer.  It proved suitably challenging, which is always good, but also ended with a character death - my first tabletop kill.

Technically, I didn't kill the character in question, another player did.  The real culprit, however, was this:

Mind Flayers are nasty.  They have a bad habit of turning their victims into thralls.   Oh, and eating their brains.  In this respect they resemble zombies, but in no other.  They're basically highly intelligent calamari on a revenge spree.

Lulled by meeting two less than super-charged specimens in the early part of the dungeon, the group were unimpressed at the sight of yet another set of tentacles appearing behind a pillar.  They resorted to their tried and tested approach of battering it into the ground before it had time to act.  Mr Squiddy proved to be made of tougher stuff.  He also had backup.  Earlier visitors had already succombed and he had a team of drider and drow on tap to keep the gang occupied while he lined up his prime victim.

The optimal choice from Mr Squiddy's viewpoint was to enthrall the most destructive party member and turn him loose on the rest of the group as an enthralled slave.  Amazingly, this went exactly as planned.  Enter Midrath the goliath barbarian.   Midrath is a nice enough chap apart from his lichen covered toes, but he takes more actions out of his turn than most players make from one end of a session to the other.  He is built to interrupt and do massive damage.  Normally he belts in and half the monsters drop dead before they have time to go "mwhahahaha", slain by the head-butting, spiked chain wielding menace.

He has one weakness.  Low Will.  Squiddy attacks versus Will.  Setting himself up as an inviting target, Squiddy awaited the inevitable Midrath rush and took the damage.  Then he throttled him, used an action point, bored into his skull and had his very own guided missile to send against the foe.  It was at this point that the party realised just how bad things could be.  Midrath is quite capable of killing all of them in two hits.  A point proved very thoroughly on his ranger pal.

I've had issues in the past with some of 4e's encounter design, but this one was a honey.  As it happened, the players did the normally sane thing of holding a choke point in a corridor.  That didn't work against the drider who simply crawled over the ceiling and surrounded them.  The monsters were nicely balanced.  They had good effects that could be used together to cause mayhem.  The players were genuinely in danger.  It felt visceral and cinematic and exciting. 

The fallen player will be revived.  Unfortunately by her least favourite ally, Karolina the vampiric bard, but there isn't much choice.  Karolina was brought up in the spirit of noblesse oblige.  She will perform the ritual and never mention it again.

I do just feel I should mention that the good guys did win.  Narrowly, but narrowly is really the best of all possible worlds.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Catching up part 1

There is no guarantee of a part 2.

First things first.  Mightily chuffed to receive an award (another one - who knew?) from Judie at Miss Steps and Milestones.  I am properly grateful.

There are rules, I believe - the first of which I have followed.  This is to thank the donor - easily done.  Thank you Judie for thinking of me :)

The second is that this goodie now needs to be passed on and I will get to that, I promise.  I'm still working on the last lot, but it will happen.

NaBloWriMo has been good for me.  I've been enjoying it a lot and although I have failed the post a day requirement, it is not by choice.  I refer you to the tedious finger saga for details.   It's helped crystallise some things for me as well.

Firstly - I really do like writing.  I never think I'm going to, but as it turns out, I'm wrong.  Being wrong on a daily basis will eventually change a person's mind.

Secondly - I knew this one, but it's reinforcement - I need the discipline of deadlines.  In theory, I'll maintain the daily posting rate once NaBloWriMo ends.  That may not happen.  I'm still finding themes here and they don't necessarily all belong in the same place, but we'll see.

Thirdly - I hadn't realised how obsessively sad a person could be until I'd sat for 10 minutes clicking the stats refresh button repeatedly just to see if anyone was reading this thing. 

Which reminds me, a prompt went up a couple of days ago.  I should take a look at it.

Fickle Finger of Fate

Herewith the stupid and not terribly interesting story of the busted digit.

Some may recall a couple of weeks ago that our car started making interesting noises and then not working just in time for us to have a massive panic about whether we'd get to a wedding or not.  The car was fixed and we got there - and it was truly wonderful.  What I didn't mention at the time - being more concerned with making a good ganache for the cake and making sure we had transport - was that when the AA man came to make the initial diagnosis, I hurtled up the garden path and fell over.

There is nothing especially unusual about that.  People fall over all the time.  They get bruised, they get better.  I took a couple of paracetamol and ignored it.  As one does.  Coming back from the wedding, I thought my right hand still hurt a bit and ... ignored it.  As one does.

A week later, it hurt quite a lot, my index finger was starting to protest when pressure was applied to it.  It wasn't happy picking up coffee pots and kettles.  I ignored it.  Sort of.  Well, I ignored it by taking a lot of ibruprofen.  Then I found I couldn't hold books or roll dice.  That did it.  A weekend of whining about hating doctors (I do).  A weekend of (fair) patience from the family.  Ran the game on Sunday, nearly killed the party and found myself unable to do much for the rest of the day with my right hand.  Not being able to roll your dice counts as an emergency.

Monday morning - doctor.  Much chat about "ooh, maybe we could pin it."  "Umm, maybe not?  It's not out of shape, you don't think there's any point in x-raying it even, why this talk of surgery?"  "So you'd be happier if we splinted it?"  "Yup."  Done deal.  But with the proviso that I was absolutely not to use the thing in any way involving pressure for three days. 

Three days are now up.  I will splint the thing at night to stop any untoward accidents caused by rolling on it and keep taking the pills. 

I did break the rule of not typing briefly yesterday to thank the many, many people who wished me happy birthday, but otherwise I have been the perfect patient. 

Much catching up to do.


Back-ish :)

Three days enforced rest has worked wonders for my busted index finger even if it has also fried my brain a bit.  I'm a creature of the keyboard and watching the world I know roll past without being able to participate has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. 

I'm also behind on NaBloWriMo, all my games were put into cold storage and I look a right twerp for fussing about what I was going to do during half term.

Anyway, expect a plethora of posting as I gradually get back up to speed.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Fracture update

Very brief.

Am now splinted (i.e. one finger tied to another so neither can do anything useful.  Giving it a couple of days with no typing bar this note and see how it goes.  Big nuisance.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

No proper post today

Finger seems to be well and truly fractured and needs some kind of splinting.  Typing off menu until fixed or enought words using only left hand can be found.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Avoiding the inner self

I envy cats.  If there is a cycle of rebirth, I want to come back as a housecat.  I'm aware that the cycle is supposed to be quite far along if you're a human being and aware of the possibility of reaching Nirvana, but I do envy our 16 year old furball.  I've yet to be convinced that being forced to live a lifetime as a housecat would be such a disaster. 

One of the things they seem to get remarkably right is this whole business of living in the moment - which to my mind is the way to really relax.  I'm not good at this, although I try.  Which in itself rather eliminates the point.  The internal conversation goes a bit like this:

"Right,  you have a whole week of unscheduled anything and you can relax." 
"Great, isn't it?"
"Yes ...."
"I can hear a *but* in that tone."
"It's not exactly a *but*, more of a 'isn't there a lot of stuff I could or should be doing?'"
"Such as?"
"Well, you know, the lists of things."
"Look, all it means is you can do those things to your own schedule."
"Suppose I don't?"
"Then you're a lazy cow, aren't you?"
"Hey!  I thought this was supposed to be about relaxing and not putting myself under pressure?"
"It is, it is.  I'm just reminding you that you don't operate well without deadlines."
"Gee, thanks for the support, inner-self."
"Nobody knows you better."
"Damn right.  So why do I always feel worse if I listen to you?"
"Just doing my job."

Having just had this conversation for the nth time, I've made a small personal vow that I'm not going to listen to my inner self this week.  My inner self can go and fly a kite or jump in a lake or take some anti-depressants and get out of my head for a bit.   My mum always said I paid far too much attention to the smaller me in my head and advised locking it away in a cupboard.  She was right about that as well as a lot of other things, but I tend to forget.  

Just putting down a cup of coffee and an ashtray as bait for the inner self. 

"Oooh, look - fresh coffee and an unopened packet of Dunhill"
"You what?  Stepping right in."

Slam.  Sound of door locking.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Just how good are 4e pcs compared to 4e monsters?

Warning:  Possible spoilers for Tombs I

Some of the Tombs I players read this thing and I don't want to give too much away, but I've got a truly interesting fight going on right now.  The group in Tombs II are busy fighting two of their number and are finding it tough.  So am I.

They are meeting exact replicas of themselves with a full set of powers and equipment.  That's complex enough before you even go into the mechanics of it.  Today has been a feast of immediate interrupts and immediate reactions.  Since this is the one and only outing of the false characters, they (unlike the real things) have no need to nurse their powers and can let rip with all the best stuff at their disposal.  Amazingly, I'm rolling well enough to make that a good threat.

While that is satisfying in itself, of course (thank you, GM dice), it's also interesting how powerful they are compared to the average monster.  Now, I knew this in an abstract way, but it's very interesting to see it in practice.  I'm also incredibly glad that not all fights work out like this.  The sheer volume of stuff to remember and things to do to get the best from these particular monsters is daunting.  Don't forget that this is using a system which makes it comparatively easy to do. 

Back when I started playing D&D using the AD&D system, creating monsters was a nightmare.  Well, actually, it wasn't a nightmare as I was a very antisocial teenager and spending hours creating monsters and dungeons nobody would ever play was just fine.  I could think of very few better ways to spend the summer holidays.  At that time (and onwards into other iterations of D&D as far as I'm aware), creating a high level magic user or fighter or paladin on the enemy team meant creating a character and knowing it well enough to run it.  Inevitably I'd forget to cast some vital spell and kaboom, end of encounter.  Alternatively, I overcooked them and kaboom, end of party. 

Now, however, time is a luxury I don't have so much of and the simplicity of creating and running suitable encounters is vastly easier with 4e.  It's also possible to run a paragon level character you don't know the details of and make it threat without too much preparation.  That is a robust system.

I need to remember this for the future.  Next time I want to really challenge a party, I may just hit character builder and see what I get.

On directing (courtesy of Jonathan Miller)

Since I must use my brutalised right hand as little as possible, I've been reading.  And in doing so came across this:

"Directing is like medicine.  What I liked about medicine and what I like about directing, is this very delicate relationship you have between a group of people working towards some end on the basis of analysing and reproducting human behaviour.  Since you spend a lot of time while training as a doctor watching what human beings do, and trying to diagnose them as a result, that sort of skill pays enormous dividends when you try to reproduce what people naturally do."

I like this quote.  Jonathan Miller can be an inspired director and crosses many boundaries of expectation.  On the whole we don't really expect people to be genuine polymaths.  What I get from this particular quotation is a glorious holistic approach, where everything he does feeds into everything else he does - with the result that it all gets enhanced.

It is a very cybernetic approach - of which my father approved greatly (he being a Professor of Cybernetics).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Slightly foxed

The lovely term used by second hand booksellers to describe less than pristine books seems a suitable one to apply to me at the moment.

In the wake of the soupy eyes saga, I bring you the fractured finger furore.

I'm resilient - which is just as well as I don't have the best record in terms of minor accidents.  I mention this because I fell over in the garden last week and smacked several bits of myself quite hard against paving stones and walls.  Among them, my right hand. 

Everything except the index finger is now fine if a bit bruised, but clearly all is not well with the offended (and offending) digit.  Can't pick up heavy things with it.  Can type, but not with pressure.  Concensus is minor fracture.  Treatment?  None.  Take ibruprofen and use it as little as possible.

Any typing errors in the next few days will be me trying to follow this advice.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Half term - oh how shall I fill the hours?

Bar the casting of the nativity play on Friday, I have no rehearsals or classes for the next two weeks.  This lull should be used profitably, but I'm afraid it won't be.  Or not as profitably as it would be used if I was a better organised person.

The brain says that now is the moment to get some concrete work done.  Such as finding out how to work the sewing machine I've been loaned.  Such as making a proper business plan for the future.  Such as ordering logs for the rapidly approaching winter.  Such as continuing to empty the house.  Such as making sure son has trousers that fit.  And so on and so forth.

The heart says that most of this will, in fact happen, just not in a particularly orderly way.  I'll get distracted.  I'll find myself looking at the contents of the freezer and making piles of useful, but not needful danish pastry dough.  I'll get side-tracked by another gaming system and build myself a character or two.  I'll chat endlessly to the online friends I chat endlessly too (you know who you are).  I'll read a lot of books.   Plan a lot of shows.

I will also, of course, do a lot of game updating.  Tombs I and II are both mid-battle and I want both encounters to shift along a little.  Rune Stones have just defeated the Jeevesian cyclopes and now need to find their way into the old mines.  Lost City is just kicking off and will take some watching as I don't know their powers yet.  Plus the games I'm in, which are all chugging along.

Actually, when I think about it, I'll probably do more than I plan to do, but it will somehow feel as if I've done less.  That doesn't seem right.  A list maybe?  I just need something to convince myself that I'm not really sitting about doing nothing.

Stamping my tiny feet here

Dear Blogger,

Ours is a new relationship and I expect there to be some ups and downs.  It's all give and take, I see this.  I give you my bits of blog to publish and you TAKE AWAY MY LIST OF FOLLOWED BLOGS without asking me.  Forgive me shouting.  I'll be calm now.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Initiative rolled

First combat in The Lost City is imminent.  This is a challenge for me and the players and is in the nature of a shake down cruise.  They get to find out how all their powers work, I get to find out how the monsters work and what will challenge them (or not, as is so often the case).  At the end of this fight, they all get the opportunity to do some rebuilding based on experience.  With the plethora of powers and feats now available, it's fatally easy to pick something that doesn't work the way you hoped.  It seems only fair to allow that to change at the outset, given that leveling in PbP is slow.

So is combat.  That can't be helped, but I try to move things along as fast as I sensibly can without out-running the players.  In practical terms this means a 24 hour spot in which to post after any given player's turn comes up.  Then (in theory, at least), I either delay or act on their behalf.

One suggested way around this is to turn all the players loose and let them roll and narrate their actions at will.   This simply does not work under 4e rules when so many of the powers are interactive and dependent on what everyone else is doing.  By the time someone has taken their immediate interrupt three moves after the trigger occurred, you may well end up reconstructing the entire encounter.  Frustrating for everyone.  One at a time then, so I can update the map and narrate between turns. It is labour intensive, but much less so than endlessly backtracking.

On the subject of leveling up - I award either double or 50% over normal XP budget which normally works out at about 5 encounters per level.  Half the recommended number for a table game, but still taking around 3-6 months.  It's the best compromise I've come up with so far, but the system continues to be tinkered with all the time. 

Meanwhile, the map is ready and monsters await.  It's like having stagefright every single time.

NaBloWriMo (Recipe)

Write and report on your favorite fall recipe

A subject near and dear to my heart.  Food.

I don't really have a favourite recipe.  I tend to be seasonal with food if I can - that's one of the points behind getting the garden cleared and starting to grow our own stuff - but it doesn't always work out like that.  I get too tired and grumpy to plan more often than not.  Once around the fridge and hurl it in a pan has been working for us for years.

Although ... now I come to think about it, I do have a sort of mental point in the year when I feel that hot puddings are essential.  About now, in fact, so there you are.  Hot puddings.  This is partly to do with having a freezer packed with fruit with which things must be done.  Since there is no bad about either crumble or danish pastry, both get made a lot.  Even easier if (as I do) you make bulk blocks of the danish dough.  It's no harder to make lots.  Well, it's not hard anyway, just a bit faffy, but it makes me feel vaguely efficient. 

I do have a bit of a guilt factor over danish pastry dough (I'm a Catholic Jew, I am really good at guilt).  It requires a really scary amount of butter.  If I'm going to feel bad about two pats of butter, I might just as well feel bad about four and get it over with. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Return of the heroes

Most unusually I did some tabletop DMing this evening.  It's been a long time since I did that and I'd forgotten how different it feels.  Not bad, just different.  Far more improvisational - there isn't time with 6 people looking at you to do much more than make an on the fly decision and hope it works out.

Mr Rev is running our main campaign at the moment, but he ran out of time this week, so I offered to run a delve for our paragon pcs - minus Karolina the incomprehensible bard.  Our DM for these characters stepped up to the plate as their temporary leader - an elf warlord who appeared at breakfast and greeted his long lost half-sister.

A delve in the pure form consists of 3 linked encounters of increasing difficulty.  This one is pretty much straight out of the book and will link nicely into the next cycle of adventures for the party since it involves a missing drow caravan.  There has been the usual adjustment of higher damage output and slightly lower defenses for the monsters, but so far to no very obvious effect on the party.  The first two encounters have been pretty much sluiced through, but I'm hoping that the third one will be tougher.  We'll find out next week.  I have Drider, a Mind Flayer and a couple of fairly butch drow on my team, they still have most of their dailies.  It should be close.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Stuff I learned today

  1. How to make corsets.  Met an old friend at the much-blethered about wedding who gave me a ten minute tutorial.
  2. Dropping a walnut down your cleavage is not comfortable.
  3. Day trips to Edinburgh are possible.
  4. When writing out recipes, use a pen that works and don't do it on your knee.
  5. Even though you haven't seen some of these people in the flesh for over four years, picking up a conversation with them is pretty easy.  They'll also readily forgive you for jumping about like a loony on top of Edinburgh Castle trying to dislodge lodged walnut.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Gods and monsters - more on 4e encounter design

An interesting discussion just started up one of my game threads.  The player in question mentioned that I run extra-hard monsters - and that the way to counter them was not so much to have higher defenses, but to pick powers that interrupt their attacks or smack them with an effect.

That intrigued me, because he's quite right, but I hadn't thought of it in precisely those terms before.  I thnk of myself as a complete softy as my kill rate is extremely low, but I look at some of the encounters I've run recently and I do see what he means.  The monsters are tough to deal with.  There are probably a couple of reasons for that, but I'm now eager to hear other experiences.

When I'm designing (or tinkering with, in the case of pre-written material) an encounter, I am rigorous about the XP budget allocation.  I'll often push it as far as I think it can go, but I will never deliberately outface a party.  More often though, I aim for a middle ground.  Tough, but tricky/bypassable with cunning/feel-good killery (yes, it has a place, not often, but it does.  Sometimes heroes need to feel awesome). 

Note that I'm not set in stone about how encounters will end.  If the players take a route that allows or suggests that the bad guys may change sides, surrender or run away for reinforcements rather than simply battling to the death, I'll take it.  Golden rule - combat is storytelling too.  My drama head is never that far away.

I'm raising this point about XP budget because it is an extraordinarly flexible and very effective tool for determining if the party should or should not be able to cope.  It is by far the best yardstick I've found and hasn't failed me yet.  Mechanically it helps hugely.  What I do tend to do however, is shift the numbers a bit.  Typically I like monsters to have lower hit points and higher attacks and damage.  They won't stay around as long, but they'll be devastating until the party get rid of them.  It's a good incentive for the party to act as a party and decide where to focus their fire. 

On my side of the coin, I try to make it hard for them to decide where to focus their fire.  That enormous lumbering bod may be able to knock 30hp off you if he hits you, but the real danger this turn might be the agile chap at the back who can push you into a pit and leave you as easy pickings for something else.   Synergy works for monsters too.  This is a large part of why I like intelligent monsters better, although a mixture can be very good. 

Some favourite fights?

The kenku who had a group of gelatinous cubes buries all over the floor and dragged the party into them.

The fight in the hotel lobby (long story) that ended with the baddie being killed by a thrown pot plant.

The epic fight to quiet the land at the end of one group's heroic tier path.  It was massive to play and run, but was appropriately epic feeling as a rite of passage.

A recent fight with wraiths in Tomb of Horrors which was on a real knife-edge right the way through.

The fight at the end of Courts of the Shadow Fey against the Moonlit King and his followers.  That ended when the King was forced out of his madness, but not before most of the party were very badly beaten up.

I think this one is to be continued.  Many thoughts are burgeoning.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Car crisis

Our car developed a set of alarming eccentricities this week which have finally resulted in my taking it to the vet - I mean garage - this morning.

First, it ate a CD.  Sondheim's "Assassins".  Would not give it back.  Nope.  Sullenly and absolutely refused to disgorge it.

Then the radio started changing channels for no obvious reason.  Half way through someone burbling about Mozart we'd get a swift blast of travel update from somewhere else entirely.  Most odd.

Then it decided not to start at all.  This naturally happened on piano lesson day, which meant a whole set of phone calls to explain why son and I would not be joining piano teacher in the middle of nowhere.  That was easy though - I called out the AA.  We pay the membership, it is their job to come and tell me I've done something daft and put it right.

They came.  They started the car.  They stopped starting the car because it began to make noises like a cat about to spit a hairball.  They prodded the car.  They started the car again and of course it worked perfectly.

However, that very evening, as Mr Rev was about to head out to his rehearsal, it flashed a set of previously unknown lights at us.  Scanning through the manual, we identified said light as the indicator telling us that the anti-skid system wasn't working.  Since it was tipping down and very slippery it seemed a bad plan to drive it.

This is where we were this morning, when I took it (carefully) to the garage and relayed my tale of woe.   Late this afternoon they rang back.  "It's your heating system."  "Oh, OK."  "It will need a part.  I've ordered it."  "Great."  "Should be here tomorrow."  "When?  I need to get up the Dale tomorrow and we're driving to Edinburgh tomorrow night."  "We'll do our best."

"We'll do our best" often means "forget it" in mechanic speak.

Really quite frustrated now.  I've got a wedding cake to deliver.  In Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

First dice rolls

These will not be made in anger, but against the savage heat of the sun. 

Travelling in a PbP is something I tend to handwave more often than not, but in this case I'm making an exception.  This isn't a full blown skill challenge by any means, but it is a possible stumbling block for the party as they make their way across extremely unforgiving terrain.

Technically, wandering monsters don't really exist in 4e, but a distressed party is more likely to attract attention than a particularly able one.  We'll see how it goes.

Awards go to ...

I'm very new to this whole blogging thing, so I'm going to do this awardage in small steps as I find people.  Hopefully people who don't already have this award.  More to follow, but the first two go to

Geekymommy at Passing for Normal
Sithyogini at Very Nearly Hippy

There are many fine and wonderful folks out there and I'm finding more every day.  Liking NaBloWriMo very much.

Gosh ...

Laura, over at the Daily Dodo handed me out an award last night along with some other fine folks.  Thank you so much.  It is very much appreciated.

I'm feeling all British and shy. 

If I've got this right, the acceptance speech is supposed to be seven fun factoids about myself.  I also need to pass this on to other people, which seems only right - although quite how the hardcore gamer types who make up 50% of my reading list will feel about being called "Irresistibly Sweet" is amusing me.  That part may take a little longer, but I shall pass on the sweetness with pleasure.

Bleary eyed as I am, this is what you get for the seven fun factoids.

  1. I bake like a demon.  You possibly already guessed this from the recent cake postage.
  2. I have a not very secret passion for penguins.
  3. Against my expectations, I'm really enjoying Rick Riordan's myth books.
  4. I love walking around barefoot and this bewilders my family horribly.
  5. Despite my on/off relationship with technology, I am a dab hand at finding things on the internet.  This house, some fine holidays, fake ducks.
  6. I love and follow flat racing.
  7. Learning to type took ages.  My mother sent me on a "learn at 30wpm in a week or get a free week" course just after I graduated.  Three free weeks later, they chucked me out at 29wpm.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Sore eyes

In addition to my computer woes - Skype is still playing hard to get - I've also got some sort of feverish bug.  Apart from the random temperature, this particular infection has gone for the eyes and both are very swollen and watery.  I look like a soft boiled egg with yak hair.

The phramacist helpfully labelled up two batches of eye stuff for me ("Left eye", "Right eye") and I've spent most of the day gazing blearily through a film of ointment.  Boring and painful.  Not a great combination.

Social niceties v roll initiative

The ill-assorted group of Lost City adventurers are currently gathered in the Emir's palace and getting to know each other through some judicious roleplay. Shortly they will be trekking across the desert in the company of handmaiden/bodyguard Madrissa.  At this point they will be subject to the whims of the dice. 

I'm always slightly conflicted about how to start long-term campaigns.  Given the usual PbP timescale, we'll be with this for around 18-20 months and not everyone will make it all the way through.  Life will intervene.  It always does.  That said, the vast majority of this group are long-term players in my games and well aware of what they're getting into.  The attrition rate may be low,  which I'd like.  Storytelling is much easier with a consistent group.  However you cut it, a PbP campaign is a long haul for players and GMs alike

So how to start one? 

1.  Start in media res.  The "roll initiative" approach.  Launch the players into an immediate battle.  This has some charm.  You get an immediate feel for how the battles will run and the players get to make some early dice rolls.  In the flurry of the first few days of posting, when relentless screen refreshing is the norm, combat goes really fast.  Nobody will hold back from posting in combat.

The downside?  Hurling players directly into a combat lets them show what their characters can do, not what the party can do.  They don't know each other.  The battle may well be unsatisfying because they haven't yet had time to get a sense of each others capabilities.  I've said before, and repeat here, that 4e heavily rewards teamwork and synergy.  In media res goes against that.  Yes, they can read the character sheets, but that's complex and not as organic feeling as getting a sense of who is likely to need the flanking bonus, who can heal you out of trouble and who needs to stay firmly at the back because you know who these people are.

2.  Build up slowly, setting a scene and allowing some story to evolve.  In general, this is my slight preference, but success depends on the players.  With my drama professional head talking, I know only too well how hard it can be to roleplay cold.  Players in the early stages of a game are polite and slightly tentative.  They are often reluctant to thread hog and wait for others to respond.  It is up to the GM to prod a little and make sure questions are asked that need some sort of response.  You have to provide a world to interact with.  More work than rustling up a battlemap and a set of monsters, but generally more worthwhile in the long run.

In this case, I'm taking option 2.  As I said, most of these players are known to me and I to them.  Some trust has been built up and I will work to move them on fast if things seem to be sticking.  We'll get to the dice rolling soon though.  They, and I, need to know what these characters can do.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Lost City - we're off

Technically, Halls has a few more posts to run, but for all mechanical purposes, we are done there.

It's time for The Lost City crew to move up to the starting gate.

Deep in the Ishmai desert, a call has gone out from the remote city-state of Ekabba.  Visions of walking giants and random attacks from other settlements have informed the Emir that something is not right.  Holding his own city is going to be all he can accomplish without help - and what better help can he call upon than a group of random adventurers?

His call has indeed been answered.  Eight brave souls have offered to help identify and dispose of his problems, and an interesting bunch they are too.

Cronin - a massive goliath cleric who believes that the way to salvation is often preceded by a firm thump on the head.
Greeg - his even more massive goliath warden friend, who isn't overly concerned about salvation, but is a curious soul with a love of knitwear.
Dram Rao - a wandering human druid, whose constant companion is large brown bear called Dirt.
Don Zaloog - a highly opportunistic human rogue, convinced he can do anything.
Nayce - a half-elf assassin.  This introspective chap is a survivor of Halls and may well be tagging along with...
Guldarin - a dwarf invoker and fellow survivor.  In my head (if not in theirs), they both decided to head south for a little warmth.  Guldarin is notoriously chatty.  No combat passes without some lengthy anecdote about his accident strewn past.  In addition, Guldarin is mildy addicted to summoning angels.
Zeric - a mysterious gnome psion.  Equipped with strange mental powers, he will be able to hide behind either of the goliaths with some ease.
Kevaras Zanorin - a drow paladin of the Raven Queen rounds off the party.  Growing bored with life as the abbot at Our Lady of Lentharna monastery, he's taken to the road again, possibly spurred on by rumours of the exciting life lead by Nayce.  Some of Nayce's more dubious powers were learned from the drow.

Eight is a big party and will require some re-arrangement of combats.  Partly because for practical purposes, they are a party of nine (have to include the bear) and that makes fitting all of them on a single map quite challenging, especially if one has to fit the monsters in as well.

They're heading into the desert any second now.  I have no idea how they'll fare, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

NaBloWriMo 9 (Autumn or not)

Given that Autumn is busting out all over, which is your favorite season and why?  Alternately, which is your LEAST favorite season and, of course, why?

Another prompt (a word I cannot feel the same about since Cruella at Giraffeability of Digressions revealed that it means "fart" in Norwegian - yes, I am that shallow), another post.

I do like autumn.  I'm not amazing at heat.  Or rather, I'm extremely bad at heat.  Every year we have at least one day in the UK when the temperature soars to a majestic 80 degrees and all the newspapers get hysterical and print pictures of people panting in fountains.  I nod sympathetically.  As a basically cold-weather person, autumn heralds my time of year.

It's very beautiful too.  Living as we do in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, when the trees turn red it looks as if the hills are on fire.  Plus we have a large copper beech in the garden which goes the most amazing shade of lurid pink just before the leaves fall.  It makes me laugh - the colour is so extraordinarily un-tree like.

Secretly, too, I love the closing in of the evenings.  It feels as though the world around me is going into quiet hibernation and my brain seems to tick over more.  Stuff that needs to surface has time to do so.  This is more true of deep winter, but I can feel the process starting in autumn.

One thing I've really noticed since our move north is how distinct the seasons are and I've come to love them all for different reasons.  Living in London, as we did for years, the seasons are not as passionate.  Here, they have a real impact on how we live and what we do.  Our lives move with the rhythm of that and I like it.  Spring and summer are both hectic for us.  The garden demands a lot of time and you can see the growth rate.  It really is a miraculous thing to see the raspberry cane we cut back to the ground in February groaning with fruit in July.  The weeds do the same thing too, of course, which is less joyful, but you can't have everything.

Autumn is preparation time.  Winter is for me, for the family, for letting the things that never had time to be thought about arrive and be assimilated.  That is not always a comfortable thing, but it is just as necessary as the ruthless energy of spring and florid growth of summer.

No favourite then.  Just the need for all of them.  Greedy?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Technology and why it is both awesome and vile

It's a drug, this technology.  Since acquiring a taste for it, I can't readily remember how I did things before it was there.   In this instance, the culprit is Skype.

I love Skype and use it a lot - mainly because it's stable and reliable.  Was stable and reliable.  It has failed me.

Two days ago, Skype got fancy and decided to reinstall itself.  Don't ask me why.  Maybe it got bored with my refusal to use the webcam or something and wanted to teach me a lesson.  Anyway, since the self-imposed reinstallation it has not been working.  I've done all the things I normally do.  I've turned it on and off.  I've reinstalled it beause I chose to.  I've deleted myself and given myself a new identity and password.

I've also done several less technical things like jumping up and down and yelling at the computer, growling, hoovering the keyboard in case it's a hidden cat hair problem and threatening to throw the whole thing out the window.

I want Skype back.  I know, I know, there are other message systems, and G+'s talk feature is very good, but I like Skype.  Whinge.

Birthday success

I'm proud of myself this morning.  Mr Rev is happy with his presents.  I love him to bits and have done for a long, long time now, but I have to admit he's not the easiest person to buy for.  I do find that odd.  This is the man I know better than practically anyone, so present-buying should be a snap.  Right?  Wrong.  I love making and buying gifts for people.  It's something I take quite a bit of pride in and it feeds the smug earth mother lurking very close to the surface of my soul.  Oh, I do like being right.

That's the problem of course.  Mr Rev's has to be really right.  I did all the usual things.  Casual questioning, full frontal demands for lists and furtive squirrelling away of half-remembered conversations.  The results of this process were the following.

Woolly jumpers.  Well he got those early because I spotted a sale and it seemed silly to let the man freeze.  More to the point, he might have just gone out and got them himself, and I'd have felt a twit offering up gift wrapped jumpers when he was wearing one already.

iTunes vouchers.  These are duller than ditchwater in terms of imagination, but are never a bad thing to give a music nut.

Aga oven mitt.  Just one.  They turned out to be vastly expensive.  For those not in the know, an Aga is a heavenly piece of kitchen kit.  We'd craved one for years and when we bought the house here, it had one.  The trick with an Aga is that it needs special oven gloves as the ovens are huge and go back a long way.  You need not gloves, but gauntlets.

Witness the aweome power of the +3 Aga Oven Gauntlet.  Protection from fire and careless application of fingers to cake tins.  +2 to saving throws from random application of pan handles to flesh.

Ipad keyboard.  This is the bit I'm really proud of.  I asked around some technologically minded male friends and they all came up with "get a keyboard for that ipad".  So I did.  And it works.   And Mr Rev is a happy penguin today.

Not a book in sight.  That's almost unheard of.

And now to make the toffee apple spice cake in vast quantities.

The gamers are coming around this evening and we'll eat a lot, chat a lot and roll more than a few dice.  It should be a good day.

Friday, 7 October 2011


I have a couple of cakes to make in the next few days.  Mr Rev's birthday cake and a cake for a dear friend who weds his partner next week in Edinburgh Castle.

The end of September sees the start of the birthday season in our primary social circle, with everyone born at one end of the year.  Our gaming group are a cheerfully social bunch, so in the past we've done a lot of celebrating with themed cakes.  My usual partner in crime for these events is hors de combat due to the recent arrival of her son, and the gaming as a whole has dropped off a little, but we continue to go to some trouble to celebrate birthdays.  Go us.

Not the right wedding cake.  This was a white chocolate monster made last year for two of the gaming group who got married to each other.  Or rather, the first of the two pairs of gaming group members who married each other.  Shutting up now.  The caption is practically longer than the post.

Sunday is Mr Rev's mumblety-mumblety birthday.  I'm being cautious about this not because he's paranoid about his age, but because I can't remember how old he is.  For that matter I mostly can't remember how old I am either without serious thought.  Anyway, the gamers are coming around on Sunday evening and we'll let him try to kill us as a treat.

The cakes in question will both be fun to make.  Mr Rev wants a toffee apple spice cake and the wedding thing is going to be the darkest of dark chocolate sloshed through with homemade plum brandy.  I need, therefore, to do some shopping.

Coxes apples - the sort that disintegrate gently on cooking
Bag of Werhter's toffees
85% dark chocolate
Edible gold leaf or similar

This is a good list.  Every item is absolutely needful and all of them look indulgent.  Well, maybe not the apples.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

NaBloWriMo 5 (family time)

What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?
Note that due to time zone issues, this post is one day late :)

To the untrained eye, family life chez Rev looks like all the things we're warned about on alarmist tv programmes.  We don't eat together much and we all spend a lot of time on computers.  We don't plan "family time" and we're all balrogs in the morning.  Despite this, we enjoy each others company and wander from room to room sharing information, chatting generally and making plans.

We're all people who need a lot of space and we're are lucky enough to live in a very large house which allows that.  The usual convergeance point is my office, and it is often here that we spin our wilder dreams, plan holidays, run down what's been happening in the day and ask who forgot to buy the toilet paper.

Much as it's fun to go on holiday, my personal favourite times are Sunday afternoons, all doing our own thing, but very much on each others wavelength.  The house hums and feels good.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dynamic battles

I love it when a battle comes to life.  I wish it always happened, but more often than not a battle becomes a slog fest of dice rolls with little character.  For me as a player or a GM that isn't fun.  I'm a drama professional (for want of a better description) and I think a battle should be as much of an opportunity to develop character and story as the downtimes. 

This is far from a new or original thought.  There is a ream of good advice on how to help this happen, so I am really treading old ground here.  Still, a few thoughts:-

Villains - the party are fighting somebody or something.  Try and make those someone or somethings compelling.  My NPCs are notoriously mouthy.  They insult the party, pick holes in their technique, philosophise and try and get under their skin.  I try to make them deliberately provocative for two reasons:

  • It is much more satisfying to bring an end to a tormented soul longing for true release or a gloating badass than a bunch of numbers.
  • It is always possible the characters will be provoked and take actions they wouldn't have thought of taking without that stimulus.
The downside is that I feel the battles I run with unintelligent opponents are much less interesting and atmospheric.

Situations - this covers a multitude of sins, although I'm thinking here of the "where" and "why" of the battle.  The honest answer is, of course, you're playing an RPG and heroic last stands, distracting ambushes and cunning assaults are all part of the territory.  I don't doubt that there are GMs out there capable of making a trip to Tescos into a rivetting adventure, but let's just assume that most of us are going with the standard fantasy trophes and have certain expectations.  Those expectations should include:

  •  Terrain - an open room may be what the players think they want, but it should not be what they get.  In an ideal world, a simple room should ring huge alarm bells.  Terrain can offer cover, unusual battle tactics, traps for the unwary, places to hide for a moment, stuff to use.  If it's outdoors, there can be insects, mud, venomous bushes, irritating flocks of birds, pollen that makes you sneeze, elemental pools of fire inexplicably appearing, flowers that eat your soul and the strong possibility of attracting other things to the scene.  Indoors offer most of the same options, but with a different skin on them.  A room full of parrots who all shout for help, a kitchen has herbs, spices and knives the party can improvise with, a beautifully adorned sitting room is packed with breakable treasure and so on.
  • Reason - what is the purpose of this particular battle?  Mechanically it is because you want your players to earn XP and advance.  Creatively, it needs to be part of the story and preferably related to something the characters have said or done.  PCs need to feel as if their actions change the world around them.  There should, therefore, be consequences to the ways in which they behave.

Open Design's Courts of the Shadow Fey offered some fantastic examples of this.  Here, the players could only interact with certain NPCs after they had earned enough status to do so.  Their ability to interact with the world of the Shadow Court directly impacted on whether they could finish the adventure at all.  Earning status could be accomplished in several ways - diplomatically, by undertaking quests, by dueling other courtiers, seducing courtesans and so on.  The status system was organic and elegant and I'm planning to use a similar mechanic in The Lost City.

However - all of this takes work.  It also requires that the players and GM all buy into the world and care about it enough to want to win through.  I think in some ways, this kind of immersion is easier in a PbP.   Because of the lag between posts, players have time to respond in character.  This is great, because it lets me take cues from them, feed them back and enlarge the process as we go along.

To return (finally) to the issue of dynamic battles.  I have two combats running at the moment that feel particularly vibrant and interesting to me for different reasons.

Halls is coming to the final rounds now.  The characters are really fighting for their lives.  They're down a lot of surges and healing is shortly going to be useless unless they have powers that bestow temporary hp.  The enemies are fewer, but can't be reasoned with and are also aware that if they go down, so does their Archdevil master.  A corrupted mountain spirit is bashing holes in the floor and making the terrain horrible as lava pours up from below.  The PCs are depending heavily on each other and as they've been together a long time, are making a good job of it.

Tombs I have been using their current watery battle to explore some interesting group dynamics.  Their optimistically lecherous wizard has been making eyes at both the tiefling warlord and the newly arrived paladin beauty.  He's desperate to impress one or preferably both of them without letting on that he already has a succubus girlfriend.  It's noticeable that he hasn't summoned her recently.  The remainder of the party are rolling their eyes at this silly triangle and trying to get everyone to concentrate on the job in hand.

It's nice when it works like that.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

NaBloWriMo 4 (Advice to 15 year old self)

What advice would you give your fifteen-year-old self?

I'm not sure the fifteen year old me has gone very far, I've just got better at being her.  The following applied then and applies now.

  1. Get your hair cut and keep it sorted.  It will make you feel good.  The yak look favours nobody.
  2. You can make friends.  You are quite a nice person when you're not so paralysed with shyness that you come off as passive aggressive and snarky.
  3. Stop being so damned defensive all the time.  
  4. Apologising for being defensive is a hangable offense.
  5. Yes, you are allowed to feel depressed.  It's a disease, girl.  Take the drugs.  They're not a sign of weakness.  They are there to help and they do.
  6. Feel free to enjoy the things you really enjoy, regardless of the fact that admitting to them may make you feel even more of an outcast.  You could be wrong.  
  7. Even if you are right about 6,  you're still enjoying yourself.  Roll those dice, obsess over RPGs, do in depth research into hagiography and racehorse pedigrees and the NASA moon programmes.
  8. If clothes are not something that interest you, don't let anyone take you shopping.
  9. Chocolate is not evil.
  10. It is not the act of a wimpy idiot to be polite to people.  It is the basis of civilisation.
This list could probably be extended, but that will do for now.

Monday, 3 October 2011


In the course of preparing The Lost City I'm still dealing with treasure.  It's not going well.

My problem is this.  Since treasure must exist, I like it to be meaningful.  I like it to have some sort of reason to be there.  I like it to have a story of its own.  In order for it to fulfil that need, I have a twofold issue.  The players must really want the items they find, and I need to concoct good reasons for it to be there in the first place.

I routinely ask players to make up wish lists - which at least avoids the bad Christmas Day scenario when you  get a flower press rather than a longed-for My Little Pony Dream Castle.  This feels mechanical.  "Amazing.  Those iron bracers you've been wanting for many levels are right here."  Using inherent boni should sort out that particular bugbear, but then I'm left with the fear that plunder I would find good and entertaining and appropriate may not appeal to the players at all.

I don't know how to get around the problem. 

NaBloWriMo 3 - (lucky objects)

Specifically - Many people have lucky socks or shirts or stones or pens.  Is there an object you own that you consider lucky?  If so, why?

Not really.  It seems a bit unfair on all the objects not considered lucky.  Mind you,  I still try to alternate which foot gets the shoe or sock on first in case the other gets offended.  Admittedly, this is a hangover from my childhood, but I hate the thought of upsetting my shoes.  Does that even make sense?

Moving right along - I don't have lucky objects, but I do have a sort of proprietorial feel for some mugs.  If there is a choice, I will gravitate to the same three or four.  Choice is not a given.  My family are notorious for taking mugs upstairs and only bringing them down when new lifeforms have evolved inside them.  I think they may be quietly conducting some kind of genetic experiment without telling me.  One morning, I'll wake up and find a nicely made zombie in the kitchen making a cup of coffee with husband and son looking proudly on.  "Surprise!"

Sunday, 2 October 2011

NaBloWriMo 2 ("If you could live the life of any heroine or hero from one of your favorite books, which one would it be?")


Has to be.  Supremely self-confident with a killer stare and utter charm.

Two of my favourite authors, whose books I read and re-read endlessly and with pure pleasure are Robertson Davis and Jane Austen.  The thing is, I don't want to be any of their characters. 

Gloom and railways

Even in the absence of all bar one of the usual group, we did do some light gaming this evening.  Both recent GenCon purchases and both great fun as it turned out.  Games bought on spec because of pretty packaging can be disappointing, but I found Gloom impossible to resist with its Gorey-esque illustrations.  (That's a sample of Gorey below, not anything from the game).

The point and purpose of the game is to ensure that the family you control suffer horribly before dying with the lowest possible self-esteem score.  Your opponents naturally wish to prevent this, and inflict gratuitous happy events on top of the negatives scored for being molested by manatees and the like.  Simple family fun.

Ticket to Ride has been popular for a long time, but somehow we'd always bypassed it.  I'm not sure why - apart from the feeling that if it's that popular it might be a bit feeble mechanically.  This was a  mistake as it was fun, and a more than decent strategic component.  In this case you spend ages trying to collect bits of train line in various colours so you can connect Winnipeg with St Louis before running out of trains to do it with.

Note - neither game uses dice.  Which is always alien.

NaBloWriMo 1 ("Why do you blog?")

NaBloWriMo seems like an entirely excellent idea. 

Why do I blog?  Because I find the discipline of keeping things going is good for me is the short answer.  Left to my own devices, I am the procrastination queen.  Deadlines work.  There may be a longer answer later today.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Pacific Overtones (It's called initiative)

(With considerable apologies to Stephen Sondheim, whose work I admire more than I can properly say.)

Just chatting with Fabian of Bladesharp and somehow ended up with some parodising of Pacific Overtures - very aptly given his interests and current conversion work.  The following will make little sense to those who don't know the show or the song It's Called a Bowler Hat.  But it amused us.

"It's called initiative...
I have no staff.
My rolls are all too low
My honor falls below
The line set by
The DM with a laugh.
I call my dice some silly name ...
It's called initative."

Gamery updates

Coming to the end of another week and I realised I haven't done an update on the games I'm running for a while.  Our home game is canceled this week, so I'll just have to indulge myself online while Itigiak and his spirit weasel wait in gaming limbo to track down the missing portal.

Online, however, things are ongoing.  My gadget-Queen rogue, Angalia, is sobbing over the body of her fallen friend and hoping someone knows more about healing than her and can save his life.  She is the only character I'm playing under any non-4e system at the moment - and I hasten to point out there is no prejudice.  I've had Savage Worlds, Swords and Wizardry, Arcana Unearthed, 3.5 and Pathfinder characters at various times, but the games have all died.  I swear it isn't my fault. 

However it comes about, Angalia is the sole representative of anything non-4e at the moment and she is not a very awesome example.  In combat with a deformed and extremely evil Surgeon, she rolled almost nothing above a 6.  Even with combat advantage and sneak attack, that's not going to do very much.  On the plus side, she rolls extremely high when looking for ingredients.  It may not be enough to keep her alive.

My other online PCs are mostly on hiatus or in slow games and I don't need to worry about them at the moment.  The games I'm running are also in a mixed state. 

Halls of the Mountain King is just about at the turning point of their climactic battle.  I suspect the party are about to turn things around for themselves in a major way now they've eradicated some of the irritating artillery.  They are keeping a decent set of effects on the Big Bad (now Big Bads as he split into two different entities when bloodied) and trying to finish off the taunting devils who keep making them drop their weapons (a sweet power, thank you Open Design).  I have a few tricks left up my sleeve and am hopeful I may manage to drop one of them at least.

Once they're done there, we'll move on to The Lost City which I've been pruning judiciously.  Mostly this pruning will apply to maps and generally empty areas.  I'm also trying to get ahead of myself by sorting out some treasure parcels in advance.  This is good DMG advice and I never do it.  I forget and then realise my parties are grossly under-equipped.  At this point treasure arrives in a mysterious glittering heap for some vaguely concocted reason.  My aim this time is to make the process smoother and more organic for myself and the players.  We are using the inherent bonus system, which means I can plunder the more amusing magic items with impunity as they will never be catastrophically out of whack with the encounters.  I know all too well how easy it is to get bogged down with upgrading mainstay kit, but personally I love the crazy knick-knacks more.  Enterprising players get some unexpected uses out of them as well.

Tombs I are about to enter the old Tomb of Horrors site in Skull City - recent victim of a cataclysm, but still containing some dangers.  Tombs II are investigating one of said dangers and have spent a lot of time this week splashing across a shallow pool.  In both situations the parties know something terrible will happen to them, but they don't know what it is or when it will strike.  In game terms, this tends to slow things down as they take all the precautions they can reasonably think of.  My job, really, is to hit the starter button and throw something at them before they get too bored.

Rune Stones are mid-battle with a batch of Cylopes.  They've turned out to be a lot of fun as I suddenly realised they were slightly Jeevsian in outlook.  Accustomed to tending the whims of fruitloop fomorians, they treat the PCs like philosophical nannies while attempting to mallet them to death.