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.