Thursday, 28 June 2012


Had a very dodgy (i.e. non-existant for the most part) internet connection for the last few days.  Forced of necessity to concentrate on stitchery and shows while BT worked their magic, but am now back and plan to flood the net with burble in short order.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Secret teashop of gaming

We live in a small, rural, market town.  It boasts little or nothing in the way of gaming amenities.  Until now.  Or so we believe.

About a month ago, rumour reached us that a discreet teashop - of which we have many - was branching out.  They advertised, among the home-made scones and lovingly crafted flapjack, supplies of paint and minis from Games Workshop.

Sufficiently bizarre you may think.  It got better.  On investigation, a small sign appeared in the front door announcing game nights every Friday.  Now, presumably, it is possible to top off that cream tea with a swift purchase of missing Lich Purple and a quick burst of wargaming.  It sounds enchanting.  Note, however, the "presumably" in that previous sentence.

There is a catch.  So far, we have been unable to sample the delights.  Now last week was all Jubilee-tastic, and the bloke who runs the games was on holiday.  This week we advanced with high hopes and found nothing.  Well, not nothing.  The Finklegate Tea Room is still just where it should be.  No gaming though. 

We're hoping bloke is still on holiday because the whole concept tickles me greatly.  Plans are afoot to introduce more than Warhammer, but these cannot happen if the place doesn't open.

Perhaps there's a secret password?

In the meanwhile, I await another week with baited breath.  Do we or do we not have a game night in our midst?  With flapjack.

Monday, 11 June 2012


Superheroes have been on my mind lately.  Went to see Avengers Assemble last week and loved it.  Leaving aside my unfeasible adoration of Robert Downey Jr for a moment, it gives a real flavour of old-fashioned comic book love.  Plenty of characters to engage with and enjoy without the overwhelming angsty-iness of some recent offerings in the genre.

While I'm happy to accept that the price of super-powers is high and the way difficult, it's hard to really empathise with someone whimpering for two hours about their burdensome abilities.  Get a grip.  You can fly.  Or create energy fields.  Or move faster than sound.  Or whatever.  Please, just accept your inner awesome and get on with it.

Avengers assembling
To their infinite credit, the Avengers do just that and a thoroughly enjoyable ride it is too.

That may be the mother in me talking.  We're heading into the final week of GCSE hell here to be followed by the official ending of compulsory education.  Taa-daa.  The result is that I'm turning into a kind of superhero myself.  Please meet Supporto-Gal.  She is the inner superhero of every parent everywhere.  Male or female.  Although I suspect she might be more of a female phenomenon. 

Supporto-Gal is the inner you that leaps out and multi-tasks when your brain really isn't up to it.  Personally, I'm always happy when she takes over as confronted with lists, I collapse into an angsty heap.  Not so Supporto-Gal.

She juggles lesson plans, toilet paper fairy duties, cleaning up of catsick, finding of missing books, suggestions for films to watch, provision of items of clothing that need to be washed right now as they need to be worn in ten minutes, making of appointments and all-purpose taxi services with grace and ease.  She remembers to pay for piano lessons, books dental hygenists, unblocks rain-filled drains, mows the lawn, remembers to change bed clothes and hunts down the one working pen in the house with a smile on her face.

Supporto-Gal - accepting her inner awesome at a home near you.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Jubilation is my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

In case anyone missed it, we lucky few, we band of brothers - i.e. Great Britain and the Commonwealth - have been celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  On balance it's looked a lot jollier than Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.  Judging from the pictures, de rigeur behaviour for that was to stand very quietly in the streets in case a sudden noise brought the celebrations to a quick end.

It's been all go here.  Processions, parties, flotillas of boats on the Thames, beacon lighting and bunting.  Lots of bunting.  I ran across an agitated man attempting to buy some at the end of last week only to be told by a sad shop assistant that he couldn't.  She placated him with England bunting, but you could tell he didn't think it was the same thing really.  

In the best traditions of England, the weather cooperated, dropping a further river all over the Thames, but then cheering up long enough to let everyone mow their lawns.  Then it rained again and hasn't stopped since yesterday morning.

Truthfully, however, I've done very little in the way of actual Jubilee celebrating.  Mostly I've been catching up on sleep and fighting my way through a new set of Renaissance patterns.  Oh, and sorting out my computer.  Conveniently that decided not to work on the day I had set aside for catching up with all my online games.  Dave from Mumbai was his usual helpful self, but in the fault lay, as so often, with the weather.  Or my SLder tendencies.  Or a combination.

At any rate, I am now back after a partially enforced absence and am embarking on a D&DNext playtest via Google+.  As a monkey.  Just because.  He's called Fuyuki.

Ninja Monkey by Loam.  From Deviant Art

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Friday, 1 June 2012

Maria revived

Even by my standards, it's been a busy few weeks.  Something was bound to slip through the net.  Turns out it was Maria.

This is a tad embarrassing.

We are doing a reprise of Act 2 Scene 5 at Gateshead tomorrow as part of the RSC's Open Stages programme.  That's the scene when Malvolio gets the duplicitous letter from Maria and steadily convinces himself the Olivia is in love with him.  It will, admittedly, be fun to get back into Maria's go-for-it head again.  Wish I'd remembered sooner.  Even more more importantly, wish I'd read the relevant email properly.  There is another stage to this Open Stages malarky.  One of the four groups performing tomorrow will head onwards to another performance in Stratford no less.

We've just done a rough refresher rehearsal but will finalise tomorrow as it is a very different stage.  Will be fun.  I think.  45 minutes rehearsal in the space will be fine.  Tomorrow I need to load up the car with garden furniture and my costume and try to find Gateshead.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Things to do in Sigil and more on D&DNext

In between bouts of hayfever and lawn strimming, I've been having some fun planning things to do in Sigil for my hapless players.  Not all of these may come to pass, as their route is to some extent dictated by a bossy sentient sword, but the planning is wonderful fun.  At present, the group are newly arrived in a meat market.  As offal of various sorts parades past them, they're about to start their hunt for Vocar the Inexplicable, former exarch of Vecna.

Translation:  Vecna is an exceptional piece of bad news, even for an evil god.  His favourites are endowed with evil hands and/or eyes and use these to hunt down knowledge of all kinds.  Quite what Vecna wants to do with this knowledge is known only to him, but almost certainly involves taking over the pantheon.  Vocar claims to be a former exarch who survived, but might just be a dotty old man.

I have no idea who produced this picture and am thus unable to give them credit.  Which I'd love to do, so if anyone can identify it, please let me know.  It's the Hive Ward in Sigil.

In other gaming related news, I've been looking through the Wizards playtest material for D&DNext. Me and hundreds of other game-interested bloggers.  Voices are being raised all over the interwebs but the general trend seems to be cautious approval.

I think I'm a bit more enthusiastic than that.  The skeleton we've been given looks elegant and easy to manage with a distinct "old-school" vibe to it - which will please many.  I'm seeing the flexibility and simplicity of older editions mingled with the durability of 4e. 

The core mechanic (rolling a d20 and applying modifiers) remains unchanged, but the method has changed from a set of rolls made against specific defences or skills to rolls made against the basic stats of a character.  This makes good sense and streamlines a lot of issues.  I'll be interested to see how this feeds into character creation (those rules aren't out yet). 

With the new playtest material, there is far greater onus on GM and player alike to think creatively, leading to a more story-driven game for some perhaps.  I've always done that to a large extent, but it's interesting to see it made explicit.  For players who came into the game with 4e, it may feel too fuzzy and open-ended.  I'm really intrigued to see how it plays out with our home group - most of whom learned to play with 4e.

It's kept the options open for playing with or without a grid or map and there I'm a little less easy in my mind.  That's a purely personal issue.  I find combat quite hard to run anyway and without the aid of a map, would have no chance, but we'll see. 

So far it looks good, robust and promising.  Can't really ask for more than that at this stage. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sticks and carrots and D&DNext, oh my

Ah, the choices to be made.

The loaned strimmer is due to arrive shortly and with it, I shall do valiant battle against the knee-high grass that's sprung up overnight.  All is very well in the garden.  Everything is growing rather aggressively as a result of weeks and weeks of rain followed by a week of uninterrupted sunshine.  I would be very happy about this if I didn't feel a bit intimidated.  Having spent a couple of days last week attempting to use an actual lawn mower and largely failing, the strimmer is now essential.  Once the excess is off, the mower will probably work.  Please.  I swear I can see the brambles growing before my very eyes.

Don't take your eyes off it.

Being a firm believer in carrot and stick, the carrot will be twofold.  The return of the menfolk from Birmingham, laden hunter-gatherer like with stuff and the arrival in my inbox of the D&DNext playtest materials.

For those less au fait with this seismic event in the world of RPGs, 5e (or D&DNext as it is officially known) is the next iteration of D&D.  This is hardly a new process as the game has been reinventing itself consistently over the last 30 years or so, but this is very big news.  Wizards of the Coast have declared an open playtest on the new stuff and the aim is apparantly to win back the old guard as well as enthralling a new generation.

Depending on your viewpoint, 4e is regarded either as a brave tangent or a money-grabbing excercise in cynicism.  What kind of reception D&DNext gets may well have some impact on whether Wizards (or, more importantly their parent company, Hasbro) continue to support it.  Calling on the players to test drive the thing makes as much sense as anything.  It at least implies some level of desired ownership and this was a major failing in the 4e marketing scheme.  There the professed aim, admirable as it was, gave the distinct impression that we'd been playing it wrong before.  Now, I really doubt that Wizards brought out 4e with the intention of pissing off the gamer community, so any bridge building exercise should be taken in good faith.

At the most cynical level, it means free stuff to play with and I see no bad in that.

Besides, I've been promised new dice.  They'll need an outing.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

More home game

Recuperating from the cold-type thing I brought on myself.  Sleep and fluid are working their wonders.  Slowly, but steadily.

Baldwin having a contempletative moment
A bit of an update then, on the home game.  At present, we only have the one running.  It's a small party and we've just hit level 4.  This means we're starting to hit the gaming sweet spot - i.e. a lot of the stuff we do works and we can do major kicking if we have to.  That gives us a bit of extra confidence (or foolhardiness) going into situations and as a result we're more relaxed about trying out new things. 

Roger the Feegle, our Pixie skald.  Normally resident on Baldwin's horns for day to day travel.
I've got a vested interest in this campaign (apart from playing in it) because it is the sole creation of my son.  He does not have a particularly high opinion of Wizards of the Coast's adventure output, so he's built his own homebrew, complete with an entire bestiary.  This is fairly normal.

Where it gets interesting is his encounter design.  He tends to use his encounters a pieces of drama.  There is no such thing as an encounter existing in isolation.  Each is a mini-story.  A bit like a well-structured stage fight, we're learning more about our opponents and our own characters every time we run into people.  Encounter, in this context, does not necessarily mean a fight.  Our last session saw no combat at all.

All this makes the campaign feel very organic.  As a fellow GM I know what he's up to and admire it.  As a player I sit back and enjoy, knowing that whatever Baldwin comes up with will feed into the whole story.  Very satisfying.  What we do has consequences.  Unpredictable ones.

The cthonic water sample we decided to bring with us to examine at a later date might have been a mistake, mind you.  Asking about it has already got us turned out of a shop and brought worried looks from the local high priest.  Now we have to find some way to get rid of the stuff.   That and it seems to be alive and trying to escape.

The boy done good.

Monday, 21 May 2012


As a reward for being stupidly busy, my body has given me a cold.  How lovely.

Functionality will be restored over the next day or so.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Who wants to play? (gaming for beginners)

Feeling heroic?

Siegfried having a normal day by Wilhelm von Kaulbach
 Want to tell stories?

Story-telling ape
Need some therapy for the general frustrations of modern life?

There are a lot of reasons people play RPGs but I'm convinced that the most basic is this:  we are story-telling apes.  While everyone encourages children to use their imaginations and play, once we get forced into adulthood, the emphasis changes.  You have to be a responsible person.  Playing gets lost in the mess.  The thing here is that the people we are at the age of 8 when everyone tells us to use our imaginations are still there when we hit adulthood.

That is where drama and gaming come in.  Two subjects very close to my heart.

An RPG* can be set anywhere.  A character can be anything.  Anyone.  There are systems for those who adore number-crunching and systems so loose they consist of two rocks and a piece of paper.  A game can run for a couple of hours or years.  They're all valid and what they have in common is the notion of interactive story-telling.

This requires actual communication between the referee* and the player or players and thus is not the same as a computer RPG.  However hard it tries, no programming can be completely responsive to the suggestions of a group of players.  Another human being can.

An important point to make here is that RPGs are not competitive in the sense that there is a winner or a loser.  It is not players v GM*.  While it is entirely possible for your character to die horribly, such death should be the result of story.  And dice.  Did I mention dice?

You can have skills coming out of your ears.  You can be equipped for all known situations.  You also have to have a little luck.  Chance comes into it.  Dice.  They represent the quirks of fate.  If you try to do something with an outcome that might have unpredictable consequences, you or the GM roll some dice.

Gamer sweets

All that sounds very pompous and optimistic for something that is just plain fun, but they are important things to note.  A lot of GMs tend to forget this in the face of a set of monsters that resolutely refuse to save their own sad-sack-selves by rolling above a 5.  A lot of players tend to forget this when they come up with a wonderful plan that falls flat on its face.

At a practical level, this means that I've somehow managed to talk Suze into letting me GM her through character creation and a solo adventurette.  We're doing this via the ancient mechanism of email until she finds her sea-legs.

So far, I've introduced her to the notion of rolling dice to create a character and offering her a choice of skills and background for this character.  We're working our way through the ruleset for Stars Without Number - which is sci-fi based.  The system is as new to me as it is to her, but I've figured out a lot of game rules before and this one is streamlined and easy to learn.

Today, I'm going to look at her PC (player character, not personal computer) and get her on the road to adventure.  I've no idea what will happen along the way.  Finding out is most of the fun.

*Role Playing Game
*Also known as the GM or DM - short for Game Master or Dungeon Master

Thursday, 17 May 2012

More Kreativity

SherryE runs a blog full of the most beautiful gardens you will ever see.  Gone Gardening is visual soul-food as well seriously envy-inducing.  She's been kind enough to bestow another Kreativ Blogger award on me - this time in glorious technicolour, which makes sense given her subject matter.

Pretty, isn't it?

I'm sparing you the seven questions/ten factoids I answered rather badly yesterday, but I am more than happy to try and spread a little more blog love.

These are the new recipients:

Absconditus Creations at Art of the Hidden Heart.  Her drawings entertained me greatly during the A-Z challenge and I used a few of them as wallpaper.  Go take a look.

L G Smith at Bards and Prophets is always well worth reading. Elegant and informed.

Hilary Melton-Butcher at Positive Letters has a light and informative touch.  Her latest offering on the moving of an entire school in an absurdly short space of time is typical.

Alicia C at Saffron Wine caught my eye during the A-Z ramble.  Foodie and stylish writer.

Blacksteel over at Tower of Zenopus deals with RPGs in an even-handed and intelligent manner.  This is not so common.

Black Vulmea runs Really Bad Eggs and if that title doesn't clue you in to the piratey theme, nothing will.  Mike is a gamer with a fondness for swashbucklers and also posts some great art.

Mark K at The DM's Screen is just an all-around nice human being.  Go and tell him he's wonderful.

I place no compulsion on anyone to play along with the whole questions/factoids/pass on deal unless they want to, but the appreciation is very heartfelt.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Blogging Kreativly - or so I'm told

The Death Writer (of whom you have heard much of late and if you haven't, I really urge you to go and check out her necessary blog), has bestowed this on me.   I am extremely honoured.

There's rules, of course.

1. Thank and link back to the awarding blog. Done.
2. Answer the following seven questions. See below.
3. Provide ten random factoids about yourself. See belower.
4. Last but not at all least, hand this on to seven deserving others. See even belower.

(Just to mention in passing, I really want to change the questions and most of them are vague or slightly daft, but tradition is tradition I suppose).

The questions:

1. What's your favorite song?

Don't have one. Sorry. It's very mood dependant.

2. What's your favorite dessert?
Homemade danish pastry with raspberrys. Which I make and is awesome. 
(Note that the original question asked about my favourite desert, in which case the answer is Gobi.)

3. What do you do when you're upset?
Variable. Mostly I just run away from people for a bit and smoke a couple of cigarettes. In extreme cases I embark on major housecleaning, which suggests I should get much more upset much more often. 
4. Which is your favorite pet?
We only have one right now. She's 16, jet black, a killer queen and her name's Zuleika.  She's also a cat.
5. Which do you prefer? Black or White
Neither. I'm a shades of grey gal.
6. What is your biggest fear?
Heights. Changing a lightbulb is a big deal for me. 
7. What is your attitude mostly?
Self-conscious but prepared to roll the dice.

10 random factoids
  • I regard garment shopping as a form of purgatory.
  • I have love walking barefoot (this might have come up before - in which case, I do apologise, but I'm not really that interesting)
  • I am a balrog in the morning.
  • Whistling freaks me out and makes my spine wobble.
  • I have a broken nose from a left-over riding accident.
  • I have a horrible effect on technology. Batteries run down in days, computers act funny, stuff does not work as it should. Magnetic field misfire is my theory.
  • I adore airports and deeply fear flying.
  • I get stagefright before every class I teach.
  • I fall asleep reading. Sitting up with a book in my hand.
  • I failed my first driving test in spectacular style by backing into a lamp post.
Passing on to the following blogs, all utterly deserving of your time and attention:

Analog Breakfast - Suze is always a great read, stirring up the braincells with intelligence and humour. She's also crazy enough to ask me to GM for her as she works her way towards gamer-dom.
Carol Anne Carr - Carol Anne writes about children's literature in a way which makes me plain envious.
Elise Fallson - Elise - expat living in France. She blogged on insects for A-Z and is a seriously stylish lady.
Elizabeth Twist - self-confessed plague enthusiast. How can you resist?
*Pixies don't have wings - Buffy proves once and for all that fey does not mean feeble.
Rubye Jack - insightful thoughts from Rubye. She writes from the heart.
Servitor Ludi - Cygnus is another who makes me jealous. What I take pages and years to formulate, he puts in two paragraph blog posts.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Turning techie

I like a challenge.  Really I do.  So, when I was asked to stage manage our local operatic society's production of Oklahoma! of course I said "yes".

It's a great show.  It has a wonderful cast -  one is a dear friend without whom my life would feel darker and several who I'd invite to dinner.  My husband is conducting it, my son is performing (as a cowboy, as a break from exam fever) and the director is the sweetest lady you will ever meet.

Yesterday at 6.30pm I wished all 32+ of them at the bottom of the sea as my gallant band of grizzled stage crew finally managed to ease away the last bit of set and the last prop.  Just in time for them to arrive and start USING the set.  How dare they?  Excuse me, this set is BEAUTIFUL.  Every prop has a HOME.  Everything has a place and there are good access points with no issues obstructing fire exits.  Now just all go away and let the crew and I enjoy ourselves moving it around in peace.

I've turned into a Techie. Worse, I've turned into a techie with the temper of a disgruntled troll and a shout that breaks lightbulbs.

Techies are a unique theatre breed.  If you want lighting, sound, set, stuff flying in, access to the broom cupboard, lightbulbs changing or anything of a practical nature done, you need a techie.  Generally they have a low opinion of actors because these only serve to clutter up their stage.  They're often not that keen on directors either - as who would be if you'd been up til midnight hanging a cloth only for them to swan in the next morning and insist that it needs to be moved.  I speak as a director who has done just that.  I was one last week.  How times change.

Last night was the Tech run. Our run.  The techie version of heaven when if any one of us raises a finger, the show stops while we mutter in corners and make infintesimal changes to the gaffer tape markings.  This is in direct contrast to our normal role which is to make sure the show stops for nothing bar fire or death.

Waving wheat in Oklahoma.  It sure smells sweet.
All this is a long-winded way of saying I spent yesterday squeezing the glorious open plains of Oklahoma into what is basically a big shoebox with no wing-space.  We did it.  Dress rehearsal tonight and then the show is mine all mine.  Never mind that the director has been slaving over this thing since February.  The stage manager is god when a show goes up.  Can't wait.

Just don't touch my wagon.

Monday, 14 May 2012

First Loves Blogfest

Coming to you courtesy of the fertile brain of Alex J Cavanagh.

First movie

The Sound of Music.  Partly because it felt like a huge occasion, going into London to see it and with an interval and all.  It no longer rates high on my list of the re-watchable, but I remember it fondly.

First music
My parents were Coward addicts.  One of the first songs I remember hearing and trying to consciously sing to myself was "The Stately Homes of England".  I still like him, although these days my ipod selection tends more towards the Doors, David Bowie and Sondheim.

First book
This is much harder.  I can hardly remember a time when I wasn't reading voraciously.  I'm going with The Phantom Tollbooth, but there are a lot of other candidates.  All of which I re-read.

First person
He'd been dead for 500 years, but nothing tops my love for Cesare Borgia.  Alas that he never  reciprocated.

Death Writer interviews

Death Writer blogs about death.  I found her blog during the A-Z Challenge and when she asked for volunteers to be interviewed, I offered.  Find the results and a truly original, moving and funny blog here.

At the top of this page, you'll find a tab offering you the eulogy I wrote for the interview subject at the time.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Misguided Mushroom person

Adding to the gallery of ludicrous, yet potentially lethal monsters, I present the Myconid. 

They were the most dangerous opponents the Den of the Slave Takers players met despite the inherent hilarity of fighting off three giant mushrooms.  Their spore attacks are no joke.

A not-terribly-interesting update

Short roundup of what's happening in game world.

Den - the one-shot adventure I am running for a group of 4e novices - has gone well.  They've survived a horrible cult, a deranged halfling priestess and a selection of misguided mushroom people.  They've also acquired a meteorite shard of dubious origin and rescued most of the people they set out to rescue.  Result all around I'd say.  Even better is that the group wants to continue.  Makes me happy. 

Tombs I are confronting one of the more irritating opponents the Tomb of Horrors has to offer.  A gargoyle that turns itself back into impervious stone when you hit it hard enough.  Alas for them, it guards the way to their ultimate quarry, so they are currently surrounding it and waiting for it to come back to life long enough for them to hit it.

Tombs II are engaged in negotiations with a group of pirates as they attempt to make their way to Sigil.  Slaad eggs are involved.  Their tiefling warlord has been notably inventive.  It was her plan to take a brass band and mercenaries to a dock to create a large-scale distraction. 

Our home game is approaching a climactic encounter.  We get to play tonight and I'm looking forward to it.  This is a campaign devised and run by my son, so we're making the most of him before he vanishes into exam hell.

On the practical front, washing machine loaded with bloodstained shirts (fake blood, which I'm assured comes out with pre-washing, although I have my doubts).

Planning session for next years Youth Theatre productions.  With a team of two, it's extremely difficult to get all 150+ members on stage every year, so I think we may have to think again about how we do this.  And find plays.

What else?  Oh, yes.  Replace the burst tire.  Leaving the boot depot of dreams yesterday, I managed to burst a tire and ended up waiting for the AA in a garage forecourt while they fitted the temporary wheel.  All was well and the necessarily slow journey home was rather therapeutic.  Driving through the Dales in the rain is remarkably beautiful.  Soul food - which let's face it, I probably needed.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A-Z reflections post

Thoughts on the A-Z challenge.

Went into this with no plan, few expectations and boundless optimisim in my ability to waffle.  Did have a list of sorts and occasionally looked at it - mainly so I could change my mind.  I blog daily (or nearly so) anyway, so that wasn't an issue.  Toyed with a theme, but decided against it.  If I do this again, may pick one.

I lucked out almost immediately, meeting some dazzling bloggers very early on.  That bouncing off each other became a regular thing and was fun, informative, and often moving as well.  It continues, which is even better. 

Looking through the blog lists became a kind of personal challenge.  I felt honour bound to visit them all, rather than sit in my comfortable zone.  Actually did do that, but it was slightly counter-productive.  There were so many on the list.  If something didn't immediately grab my fancy I moved on, and will have missed some good things as a result.

Some frustrations there.  Following Wordpress blogs I liked was a hassle and a half.  Forgive me, Wordpress users, but very few of you made it through.  Finding the blog you'd just clicked was marked a "private" was another major put off.  Curious to enter such into the A-Z where one of the objects is surely to increase traffic.

Even so, my blog reading list has more than doubled.

The surprise for me was writing the family stories and enjoying it.  If nothing else, it confirmed that stories do matter.  Which should not be a surprise at all, but feels rather indulgent when it's your own family you're writing about.  More egocentric memoirs may well follow.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

To do list - 5 May 2012

·         Borrow strimmer from dear friend to flatten lawn.  Before it stops being a lawn.
·         Sew pilgrim badges onto large cloaks.
·         Trim three strangely squashy hats.
·         Find shawl to wrap baby in.
·         Re-bloodstain hand wrapping.
·         Run Act 1 of Faustus and make sure new Lechery knows what to do.
·         Measure Mephistopheles.
·         Take in Grisolan's trousers.
·         Make sure Akahale the dragonborn warlock is up to date and send to patient DM waiting for him.
·         Test-drive bruise and dead skin makeup for Accrington Pals.
·         Paint bed type structure.
·         Find three pairs of rogue boots - i.e. the ones we had before the great boot crisis of May 2 which have now disappeared into the props cupboard.
·         Update games with entertaining treasure items.
·         Check rules for impending test drive game for some lovely bloggy friends.
·         Re-write Malfi programme in English and with correctly spelled names.
·         Make more blood pellets.
·         Find another jacket for goaler.
Sometimes I think my life might be a little strange.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Boots, hats and treasure

Heading to York this morning to collect multiple pairs of boots.  To be accompanied by super-talented ex-student so that we can discuss poster design.   Hopefully she can also map read as this place is somewhere in the middle of a field if Google Maps is correct.  There is considerable getting lost potential here, I feel.

On my return, I shall hurl myself into hat construction.  Squashy, vaguely renaissance hats are a huge boon to a largely female cast, half of whom are playing men.  Long hair is not awful for the period, but the fringes need to be off the faces.  Hence hats.  Luckily they are not hard to make and are a great way of using up fabric scraps.  Waste not want not.  And here I suddenly turn into my mother, whose favourite saying this was.

In gaming news, it's treasure time for the Lost City crew.  Half of them anyway.  This split party have been battling insects and arachnids for the last six weeks.  The team charged with taking down a huge spider queen and her spawn have succeeded.  Their treasure has been consumed by said spider over the course of her long career.  Apparantly.  I'm not sure any spider, however huge, can reasonably eat weaponry, but so says the module.  I'll roll with it.  If the party want to pick through spider entrails, that's fine by me. 

Stuff to gladden adventuring hearts

The other half of the party are still effecting regime change among the Trignotarbs.  Their task is somewhat harder, but I am confident that they too will be collecting a treasure bundle and some valuable, level-raising XP shortly.  They have an angel on standby to hoist them up and down the walls, so all should be well for them.  If they can avoid the healing sapping larvae.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

As you were

Trapped in the strange limbo of the A-Z challenge, I've nonetheless been doing other stuff this past month.  Even if it doesn't feel like it.

First, a warm welcome to the new followers and friends.  This is where reality hits and you all discover just how tedious and ranty I can be.  To give you fair warning, this blog's title is not merely alliterative.  It is descriptive.  Who'd have thought?

Drama - is my bread and butter, so you get a lot of stuff about rehearsals, casts, costuming, directing, performance and so on.

Dice - gaming is another passion and I currently run four online games using D&D 4e rules.  It also covers my attempts to build an RPG setting.  Mikelmerck.  So dearly loved, so often the bridesmaid.

Damsons - is a kind of catch all phrase for my ongoing attempts to organise my home and garden.  We have a damson tree which fruits heavily and is a kind of emblem for the chaos that ensues when I try to keep things under control.

The next few days are going to be interesting.  At the end of this week, the Malfi cast have their final rehearsals and then perform on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.  Based on recent efforts, the audience will have a treat in part one and a horrible let down in part two, so that needs to change fast.  I am no believer in things being all right on the night.  I prefer solid preparation, but then I'm stodgy like that.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, some of the cast appear to think differently. 

Costuming for Malfi  is on target with the exception of boots.  I need many, many pairs still.  Failing that, we may just have to go with black shoes, but it will be wrong and will grate horribly.

Dream option

Likely reality

First though, I need it to stop raining long enough to mow the blasted lawn.  Unfortunately, I have a special relationship with the weather gods.  If I even think about getting the mower out and finding the extension cable, clouds rush to my aid and prevent my doing anything so energetic.  While this is a great excuse, I'd like to get the grass cut before it becomes impossible to find my way into the house.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Z is for Zebedee


This is just a tiny bit misleading.  While Zebedee features, the main focus of this post is the wonderful, surreal and generally fabulous Magic Roundabout.  The show has a deserved cult following and brightened the early days of my childhood hugely.  It ran for five minutes before the news every evening and was reliably entertaining. 

It has a slightly bizarre history, which greatly amuses me.  The BBC bought the original children's series from France and somehow the animations arrived but the scripts did not.  To compensate for this (and possibly to avoid translation costs), the BBC decided to transmit the episodes with new scripts created by Eric Thompson (father of Emma Thompson).  He knew no French.

What you get with The Magic Roundabout is therefore Eric's unique take on what he thought was happening and bears precisely no resemblance to the French version of the stories.  He also narrated, doing all the voices from Dougal the acerbic dog to Ermintrude the singing cow via Brian the snail, Dylan the stoner rabbit, Mr Rusty the tricycling gardener, Florence the human girl and Zebedee himself.

The Magic Roundabout was treated to a remake in 2005 which I admit I've not seen.  Somehow I just don't want to.  I loved the original and don't even dare watch the originals on Youtube in case they disappoint. 

Zebedee.  Guardian of the magic garden and its even more magical roundabout.

It was a joyous series.  The plots were random to say the least and mattered hardly at all.  The real joy was the characters.  Every one was clear as crystal and while they were funny apart, together they were hilarious. Brian's cheery Mary Sunshine attitude invariably drove acerbic Dougal to the brink of insanity.  Florence was the voice of sweet reason, and Mr Rusty worried about the magic garden.  Ermintrude addressed everyone as "dear heart" and had wild fantasies about being a bus (among other things) while Dylan slumped under a tree in a stupor occasionally twanging his guitar.

At the end of every episode, just as everything was about to spiral out of control, Zebedee would appear and announce that it was time for bed.  It was a little bit of heaven at the end of every weekday.

That seems like an appropriate place to leave the A-Z challenge 2012.  Thank you for joining me on this alphabetic oddyssey.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for Youth and Yeth Hounds


I hated being a Youth - as in "the youth of today", aka teenaged.  Childhood was interesting, but youth was something that didn't agree with me.  What I really wanted was to hibernate for 7 years, from the ages of 12-19 until I turned back into something recognisably human.  If someone had offered me the option to do so, I'd have taken it, but sadly they did not and I had to take my own measures.

These measures included being paranoid, anti-social and cultivating a yak-type hairstyle which still stands me in good stead.  The upside was that since I isolated myself very effectively from my peers, I had a lot of time on my hands and read obsessively.  Bear in mind that I am still incapable of going anywhere without at least two paperbacks stashed in my handbag.  At that stage of my life, I read while walking down the road.  Myths, legends and  fantasy were my areas of choice, and this is where the Yeth Hounds come in.

Illustration by Anne-Marie Perks
Several other A-Zers have dealt with the Wild Hunt of which the Yeth Hounds form such an important part.  Also known as Yell Hounds and Gabriel Hounds, they appear in a number of northern mythologies.  I haven't found any southern instances, but they may exist.

The origins of the hounds possibly lie in flocks of migrating geese.  Human imagination has turned that eerie sound into spectral hounds.  They cannot be turned aside.  If they catch your scent, they will run you down and there is no escape.  Lean white hounds, with baleful eyes and red ears, they race across the autumn and winter skies, led variously by the devil, Herne and Odin.  Typically the hunt is not evil.  It can be summoned for a purpose however, and as a neutral force, will obey a sufficiently powerful caller whether good or bad.

I've got to admit that the first time I read about the hounds, I stayed awake all night jumping at shadows and fleeing under my duvet at all the night sounds I'd never noticed before.  They still terrify me.  Now however, I'm more interested in them for the way they keep popping up in mythology and I'm still curious about why they should be such a northern phenomenon.

All that self-imposed isolation meant that I at least emerged from my teenage years very widely read indeed.  Completely lacking in social skills mind you.  Which may have contributed to my disasterous start in the romance game.

All this is a very long time ago now, but the me that emerged from the youth-phase is still the me I wake up with.  Most of the basic obsessions were in place and while some of them have mellowed, others have evolved and grown deeper.  Maybe the hounds got me after all.  Some things can't be escaped.

Friday, 27 April 2012

X is for XP


XP stands for experience points.

Experience points are a way of keeping score in an RPG.  Earn enough of those little bunnies and your character gets better, stronger and more awesome.  Win enough XP and you gain a level and get harder to kill.


Or not.  As with many niche hobbies, there are a multitude of loudly voiced views on XP and the earning thereof.   The idea of course, is to encourage players to do things they might not otherwise consider doing.  Deadly and dangerous things.

Back in the early days of D&D it was extremely simple.  If you killed a monster, you earned XP.  If you picked up treasure, you earned XP.  Under the rules, only the person who delivered the killing blow earned any XP.  This lead to a lot of very grumpy fighters who had spent ages swatting at a monster to reduce it enough for the killing blow to be delivered by someone else entirely.  It also lead to the kind of larcenous behaviour that gets role players a bad name.  "Ooh, we're at the inn.  I take the candlesticks!  Worth 20XP."

Gaining levels was nigh impossible for classes who didn't kill things or steal things, especially as not all classes gained levels at the same rate.  A fighter only needed 1000XP to go up from level 1 to level 2, but a magic user needed 2,500.  Bit of disparity there as your average magic user was completely useless until level 3 and it took an eternity to get there.

Beware the might of the magic user

The theory here was that high-level magic users were so dangerously powerful that they had to gain their goodies slowly.  Tales abounded of magic-users who could demolish the entire campaign with a well-chosen spell.  Fighters, clerics and thieves became progressively less useful as they went up in level compared to the magic-user.  Those variable XP tables were intended to level the playing field.

Old school gaming has a lot of things going for it, but longevity of characters isn't normally one of them.

Later iterations have taken a wider view of how XP can be earned.  Quick thinking, disabling traps, cunning plans and fast talking are also valid methods of gaining those cherished points.  These are also open to abuse, of course, but it is a fairer system.  It encourages players to build more varied characters good at more than one thing for a start.  It encourages GMs and adventure writers to provide a buffet of challenges beyond killing things and taking their stuff.

Most games now allot XP equally to all players, regardless of the contribution they made to the encounter. The fighter who flubbed her diplomacy check at a crucial moment is not penalised any more than the cleric who failed to land a blow against the dragon.  Equally unfair you may say, but so much depends on the dice - and we all have horrible rolling days.  Or months, in my case.

Personally, I'm tending to bottle out of XP allocation altogether and decide when the players have done enough to gain a level.  In a PbP that works out at an average of five enounters.  In a table game, probably 9-10.  Encounters being any kind of interactive situation.

That covers a multitude of sins, but allows me to reward creatively minded parties as well as the more mainstream groups.  I currently have two parties traversing the Tomb of Horrors (the 4e version).  One party are currently earning their XP in the traditional way by wiping out the denizens of a dungeon and surviving traps.  The other group are prancing around Freeport with a brass band and a box of slaad eggs.  Both are earning XP.  They're just doing it in their own special ways.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for Way through the Woods


Path through the woods.  Pierre Auguste Renoir (1874)

THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

(Rudyard Kipling)

About two years ago, I got involved in some play testing for Open Design's Courts of the ShadowfeyI had enough time and cash to become a patron and got the opportunity to contribute fairly actively on the design.  At the early stages we bandied about a lot of ideas for how the thing should work - what made is strangely fey, what people feared about the fey and so on.  The picture and poem combo above was a trigger point for me. 

For anyone not aware of Wolfgang Baur's work and his inspirational patronage system, I beg you to take a look if you are at all interested in RPG design.  It offers a unique platform for development within a defined structure and I found it an incredibly helpful experience.  I would (and will, when funds allow) contribute again.

That, however, is not the entire point of this post. 

The other point is that looking for the way through the woods is a kind of symbol for the hunt for inspiration.  That moment when the spark hits.  All of us look for it.  All of us recognise it when it hits.  I'm not sure you can force it, but I am sure that continually looking doesn't hurt.  You never know what the trigger will be.  Mine tend to be images and words.

Ways through the woods.  So elusive, so rewarding, so frustrating. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V is for Venice


I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't want to go to Venice.   Really.  Part of my History of Art degree involved spending three months in Venice and I fought tooth and nail to avoid this horrible fate.  Quite why I was so against the idea is now lost to me, but if I had the chance to go back I'd smack the 20 year old me pretty hard and tell her not to be such a daft baggage.  Luckily, I had no choice.  Got off the train at Santa Lucia station, looked across the canal and fell in love.  Reluctantly and irrevocably.  My telegram home to let my mother know I'd arrived safely was short and to the point.  "Damn."

So, what's to love so much?

Well, it's so practical for one thing.  For all the glamour of the palaces lining the Grand Canal, at bottom they are just flashy docks.  You can trace the history of Renaissance and Baroque architecture in those buildings.  All of them were built by great Venetian families with two purposes in mind.  Showing off outrageously and allowing easy access to storehouse space.

It hasn't really changed.  I think of Venice as a kind of hermit crab.  It is built on the sound principle of accretion.  Bits get stuck on here and there, but since the city can't expand, the basic structure and layout are the same as they were 900 years ago.

The Rialto Bridge is a comparative newcomer on the scene.  Prior to the stone one opened in 1591, there had been a wooden structure.  This eventually collapsed under the weight of a major procession, but can be seen in the picture below.

By Carpaccio (painted around 1490)

The replacement was the familiar thing still around today.

By Canaletto (c.1750)
Present day, courtesy of the Italian Tourist board

All of Venice is like this.  The street map would be just as familiar to Tintoretto as it is to any baffled tourist.

The hermit crab analogy holds up in another way too.  The Venetians were notorious as pickers up of unconsidered trifles to send home to La Serenissima.  A bronze horse here, a gold pillar there.  There is no particular rhyme or reason to it.  If it looked pretty, or was valuable or could show the world that Venetians had been there and done that, home it went.

Unlike, say, the beautifully organised Renaissance perfection of Vicenza down the road, Venice lacks any kind of unifying theme.  The result should be a mess, but like the hermit crab, it has a style all its own.  San Marco is the perfect representation of this and prompted Mark Twain to say that the basilica looked like a "vast bug taking a meditative walk."

Piazza San Marco (Canaletto again).  Note the magpie effusion of the basilica in the background.  Note also the huge campanile.  It fell down in 1902 and was lovingly rebuilt to recreate the 1514 original.  Amazingly nobody was hurt in the collapse and no buildings were destroyed.

It wasn't just pretty objects either.  Venice was well known as a melting pot of ideas and technology as well.  Many of them were picked up from the dangerous east and the Serenissima was regarded with permanent suspicion by rest of Europe.  Venice has been a haven for many outcasts as long as they were useful outcasts.  Practicality has always taken precedence over any need for orthodoxy.  Indeed,  the Venetians gave their real devotion to the Serenissima - that mythic aglomoration of ideas and place that combined government and city in one.

For the first time visitor, Venice is a hideously confusing city.  Although it is very small indeed (you can walk it end to end in an hour), it is also, without question, the easiest place in the world to get lost in.  Helpful signs on the walls mean nothing at all.  Wide (by Venetian standards) calle* peter out entirely or end in canals.  Narrow calle with no apparant exit open abruptly onto small unlabelled campi*.

At this point you can either consult your map and get even more confused or take the Red Queen's advice and walk in the opposite direction to the one you think you should be going in.  Doing so results in you finding your destination almost immediately.  If you're lucky, you may end up at Paolin, purveyers of the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

I've long wanted to build a campaign around Venice.  It is the perfect amalgam of the an urban setting with dangerous areas, Byzantine rules and mysterious people.  Writing this has reminded me of it and once Mikelmerck is slightly more concrete, this is where I will turn my attention.

Beautiful Venice.  You bizarre product of extreme pragmatism and magpie instinct.  I'd go back in a heartbeat.

* - calle.  The Venetian term for a street
* - campi.  Plural of campo (small square)