Wednesday, 29 February 2012

More family pride

My cousin.  My wonderful, talented, lacking in confidence cousin, has just opened up her website.

It's right here:

Sonia Boue

She's been one of my best friends since childhood and even now is one of those people who I can pick up a conversation with as though we talked every day - even when months have passed.  None of this is relevant to her talent and her commitment to what she's doing, but you have to realise that this lady is gold all through.

Please take a look.  Offer her encouragement.

I want to go to Oxford and go to her workshops.

Just had to take a moment from my own creative trauma to share her world.


Hit a block.

All the outline is in place for Odysseus.

Dialogue not coming.  Normally my strong point, but it's just not working this morning.

One phrase would get me started and I just don't have one.

Ideas please?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Odysseus goes home

Been working on the play I need to have semi-sorted by Friday.  It's for the after-school Drama Club I run for Bowes School and will be their end of summer term production.

Thinking small gets me nowhere, so I've gone to the other extreme with this.  The cast will about twelve in number (currently twelve, but we often pick up a couple more once the show starts rehearsing).  Age range 7-11.  Ability varied.  One boy.

It needs to tie in vaguely with the school's Olympic theme.  It needs songs (I have some good singers this year).  It needs movement (I have some good dancers this year).  It needs enough parts for everyone to have some keynote scene where what they say matters.  Run time around 30 minutes.

I think the Odyssey is a natural choice, myself.

Olympics - well, it's ancient Greece.
Songs - check.  Sirens sing.  Sailors sing.
Movement - check.  Ships, pigs, harpies, Scylla and Charybdis, sirens, sheep, winds.
Parts - check.  See above and add Penelope, Odysseus and random gods to that list.

Outline done.  Know how to deal with Cyclops.  Know how to deal with ship-stuff.

Need to find suitable siren songs and sea shanties, plus plaintive song for Penelope.

Then I have to do is write enough of it for them to audition with. 

By Friday.

I'm an idiot.

On PbPs - another basic primer

Over at Paizo, threads pop up fairly regularly asking how to run a PbP and I'm jotting down some thoughts about that here.

There are many more potential players than potential GMs.
GM dropout or burnout is responsible for the vast majority of PbP deaths.

So, how do you start one, how to you keep it running and how do you keep your own interest going?


However much you want to run a whole adventure path bringing the players from novice wet-behind-the-ears adventurers to super-charged world changers, accept right now that you can't.

Plan one adventure at a time. You can build from one adventure to the next and create a campaign that way, but if you set out to run all six modules of The Curse of the Crimson Throne you are setting yourself up for a world of heartbreak.

PbP is slow. In a three-hour live gaming session you can reasonably expect to get through at least one combat encounter and a certain amount of plot, negotiation and rambling around. In a PbP you may well be looking at 3 months.

Look at your material right now and prune it. Be ruthless. Read the adventure with a critical eye and ask yourself which encounters further the plot. Look at the maps and ask yourself which ones are necessary. On average, you will need to trim out at least one third of a pre-written module. If it doesn't progress the story, ditch it.

If you are running a homebrew, it's easier to make those cuts. However, it's your heart that breaks when all your carefully crafted subplots have to vanish. Trust me. They do have to vanish. You may be able to work some of them back in, but don't count on it. Running a homebrew requires a bigger investment from players and unless you live online, you can't possibly hope to answer all the questions that would take 10 seconds at the table and may eat a week of PbP time.

While this may seem like brutal railroading, be aware that the timescale of PbP means that a lot of plot points will be missed. If something is important, you need to say it loud and clear. And then say it again. Your players aren't stupid, but something mentioned in passing five pages ago can easily be missed. You will do yourself and your players a huge favour if you condense and telescope down to the essentials. If it matters, tell them.

16 archers may seem like a very cool encounter.  Just be aware before you run it that updating those 16 archers is going to take a lot of your time.  Maybe a couple of hours of it until the players start killing them.  Consider reducing it to 6 rather more awesome archers.

Brutal pruning makes room for your players to build their own bits of plot. More on that below.

You will get player attrition. The chance of the same party existing in 6 months time is negligible. Keep that in mind and have ways of getting new players into the game without breaking the flow. Easy in urban settings, not so straightforward in the middle of a dungeon.

Run something you like or can turn into something you like. You will be looking at this baby for a very, very long time. Starting a game you're only half-invested in is doom before you even ask for players.


You've got your adventure. Now get your players.

At risk of stating the obvious, be clear from the outset. Include the following information as a minimum.

System - is it OSR, 4e, 3.5, Pathfinder, whacky thing you knocked up on the fly one drunken evening.

Starting level and character creation rules - self-evident, but important.

Setting - delving through the pygmy infested jungles of Rythortan is not going to require the same players as your high level diplomacy game negotiating with Grazz't. Players keen to build cavalier types will be justifiably unhappy if you don't warn them that they'll be spending a lot of time on boats. In an ideal world, any PC should be able to operate in any setting, but the reality tends to be that PbP PCs may only get the one adventure to show their chops. Don't let someone build a character they can't have fun with in your game.

Your own expectations - this is important. You need to state clearly what you want from your players. Posting once a day, 24 hour deadline or you get GMPCed in combat, notice of absence if possible. Whatever it is, get it out there. Corollary to this: stick to it. If you say you expect people to post within 24 hours of their combat turn coming up, make sure you do act on their behalf. (This is one of my rules and the one I try hardest to stick to).

If your game is something with obscure rules, can the potential players get easy access to them? If there's an online resource, post a link. Make it easy for people to find out about your game.

Tips to make your life easier

Ask your players to keep track of their own hp and conditions and to make sure that they have a complete character sheet available and up to date where you can see it. If you need to run that character, you need that information.

Consider asking your players if they will let you roll init on their behalf. Time zones being what they are, it can take two days to get into combat if you have to wait for everyone to check in and post. Nearly every player I've ever met would rather post a set of cool things they've done than an init roll.

If you provide maps, keep them updated. Players need to know where they are in a battle. I use Flickr which occasionally refuses to update properly. It's my biggest bugbear.

Try to post all the information the players need in some easy to read format. If 16 archers all attack, you are going to have to make sure that each of those attacks is posted clearly. If any of those attacks have fancy effects, you need to say so. Let the players know if they're injured or blinded, or drowning in toxic mud without making them wade through an incomprehensible paragraph.   Like this one.

Running the game and troubleshooting

Assume everyone is an adult and wants to have fun.

Your primary job as the GM of a PbP is to be available and to keep nudging. Let the players know if you're too tired to post. Tell them you're going to be without internet for three days. Post regularly. You have to. If you keep checking in to see what the players are doing, they will keep checking in to see what's happened to their characters. It also means that if your internet does fry for some inexplicable reason and you can't get a message to them, they tend to know something is wrong and you haven't just abandoned them.

If you are burning out, losing interest or don't have time to run the game properly, let people know.  If it's a temporary issue, ask the players if they're happy to accept a change of pace for a while - even putting the game on hiatus if you need to.  However terrible it feels to make those posts, it is far, far better to do so than to jump ship without warning.

Be prepared to be ruthless. If you have a group of four or five great players and everyone is constantly waiting on a single laggard, you may well have to boot the offending player. You don't have to be rude about it, but you need to deal with the issue. Some players just need a different pace or a different game. You are not going to be the ideal match up for every player every time. Accept it and don't berate yourself.

You will make mistakes, so be up front about them. In general unless the mistake is completely game-breaking, don't try to revise it. Just suck it up and move on, implementing whatever it was you got wrong from now on. Similarly, if players make mistakes, sort out the issue as quickly as you can and move on.

One of the wonderful things about PbP is that you and the players can develop characters much more organically and improvisationally than at the gaming table. Suspension of belief is easier when you can't see the large bearded gent playing the tiny girly halfling. This works both ways. Players give you a lot of clues about their PCs through their posts. Read them. Use them. It's game material on a plate. It is free plot. Pick up on their randomly expressed thoughts, file them away and use them. Make it personal.

Enjoy what your players bring to the table and let your own imagination roll.  You have time to look up the rules and world-build, so use it.

More insights from Zak S

Interesting post from Zak S over at Playing D&D with Pornstars.

Lot of food for thought re women, art, gaming and priorities.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Sadly excited

One of Hartlepool's prime attractions

Off to Hartlepool today!

Not words that would normally make me ridiculously excited, but I've never claimed to be anything other than an obsessional geek.  Forgive the exclamation mark.  I regard these as the sign of a diseased mind, but some statements need the emphasis.

The port town has two things strongly in its favour.  The first is a wonderful maritime museum.  It's true that I probably won't get to visit it, but the Trincomalee is such a beautiful ship.  For someone who gets seasick in a deep bath, I have a passionate love of the sea and all that sails.  As long as I don't have to get on board and, you know, actually sail.

The second - be still my beating heart - is a college which does courses in costume design.  They do millinery.  They do corsetry.  They do pattern cutting.  Friend and I are going to attempt to inveigle ourselves onto some of these courses.  As my co-conspirator put it, "we don't need the actual degree after all.  We're both much too old and we know how to spell already."

I imagine myself armed with rigilene and making these:

Another Hartlepool attraction

Cake may also feature if we can find any.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The home game

The home game is on the go again, which is a source of happiness.  Much as I love my PbPs, there is still something special about playing face to face.  It's the social aspect and the chat and the cheers and groans and general interactiveness that is so wonderful.  Nothing says D&D like rolling out the map, finding the biscuits and using random bits of tat to represent monsters.  We discovered long ago that anything edible is a bad idea.  "I'm sorry, I think I just ate kobold 7".  "Was the paperclip you or the enemy archer?".

Thanks to UK Games Expo and GenCon, we now have many more minis and paper models around.  In theory at least, it should be easier to identify who is who, but despite some serious attempts at labelling, combat is often held up while we hunt for the bag of orcs we know someone put somewhere safe last week.  After 5 minutes or so, we substitute.  "So, these kobolds are rats and the purple worm is a troll.  Everyone clear on that?"

Due to the various family commitments of the original players, the group is currently down to four (five if work permits) and son and heir is GMing it.  He's very good and the campaign is a lot of fun.  Son writes a lot of his own monsters.  I rather like this.  It adds a big element of uncertainty and makes sense of using knowledge checks.

Our group of four contains the following.  Anandor the eladrin wizard.  He lurks.  He lurks really, really well as he has a high Dex and his favourite tactic is to lean against a wall and pretend it isn't him firing magic missiles at minions.

Brian Flowerbuds the battlemind is our melee specialist.  Also, for some incomprehensible reason, our diplomat.  This makes no sense at all as his player nearly got us all killed by the Thieves Guild when we went on a polite visit and he diplomatically offered to fight them all.

Roger the skald is our healer.  As a pixie, he spends quite a lot of time riding around in backpacks, but when the dice start rolling, he charges into battle screaming warsongs.  It's terrifying.  He is clearly a feegle.

His best friend is the satyr pictured above.  Baldwin is a warlock.  His sole ambition for many years was the acquisition of a wine cellar.  Sadly, he and Roger were captured by agents of Vecna and spent some time not quite themselves.  Since their return, they have a strong interest in finding out exactly what happened to them.  They'd quite like whatever it was to not happen to anyone else either.

Thus are adventuring parties born.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Party time

A quick canter through the ongoing adventures of my various PbP games - as much for my own benefit as any dubious interest it may have for the casual reader.

The Tombs teams are both at a crossroads.  In the case of Group II, they have plunged through a portal and ended up in an alleyway stinking of fish.  Amazingly (and indeed for the first time ever), nobody is attacking them.

Group I are about to embark on the dispatching the architect of the Tomb of Horrors.  They have to get there first, which is an endeavour in itself.  Or should be.  I've already run this scenario with Group II and it was pretty tough for them. 

Group II comprise a well-bred tiefling warlord (almost certainly educated at Roedean), a lecherous wizard, a kickass halfling monk, a half-elf assassin and a rather insecure paladin. 

Group I have a serious masked avenger, a lunatic half-elf invoker, a deva attempting to atone for a lifetime as a rakshasa, a half-orc rogue raised by dwarves and a hobgoblin battlemind who moves like a tiger on vaseline.  With a flail. 

One of the joys of running the same adventure for two separate parties is watching the way they approach the same challenges entirely differently.

The Lost City gang have done something I would normally frown upon as it's generally reckoned insane.  They have split their eight strong party into two.  One bunch are dabbling in insect politics, while the other lot have discovered a bizarre race living in the ruins.  Both groups have a lot of information to take in and some interesting stuff to do.  I'm thoroughly intrigued to know how this will work out.

With four per group, it's probably not as crazy as it might sound to split up.  Plus, they're all good players and know the risks.  From my GMing perspective, it makes a lot of sense as between them they can pick up twice as much plot and information and it allows the individual characters a little more shine time - hard to manage with eight.

The 4e taster game (Den of the Slave Takers) is rattling along.  They sluiced through the first encounter with considerable ease and are about to enter the mushroomy depths of a crazed halfling priestess's hideout. 

Frankly, I'm agog with all of it. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

On a cheerier note

About to start assembling the summer play for Bowes. 

Olympic year and all that, so we've decided they'll be doing Odysseus's voyage home.  Since a lot of them have nice voices, it means we can include a bit of singing as well as a lot of physical stuff. 

They test drove being monsters today and it was surprisingly effective.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sigil - Doughnut shaped City of Doors


I've been wanting to take an adventuring party to Sigil for ages.  It's a treat I've been saving up for myself because the place is so very bizarre.  Anything and everything can happen there.

For those not in the know, Sigil is an extraplanar crossing point between all the known and unknown worlds.  It is a kind of urban Wood between the Worlds with fewer guinea pigs and a lot less restful.  The Lady of Pain is no Aslan.

Despite my longing to go there, I've held off.  For one thing the place is dangerous and for another, it's so crammed with potential adventure that it just feels overwhelming for GM and players alike unless there is an actual purpose.  Nothing worse than setting up something awesome and then to be boggled by choice. Paralysis results.

Now, however, I have the perfect party.  The Tombs I group need information.  The person they need that information from is in Sigil. 

They still need to get there of course, which will an adventure in itself.  While it's true that one can reach Sigil accidentally through a broom cupboard, that doens't feel quite heroic enough.  Plus, they need another level under their belts before they can sensibly track down their contact without being obliterated.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

TAG - the Answer Game

I've been tagged and now so have you.

This is just part of the A-Z challenge.  Full details HERE.  It is a simple copy and paste event with minimum questions. The concept is simple. I answer these questions in my blog. Those that choose to play answer them in their blog.

Are you signed up for the A-Z challenge?

What is your sign up number?
I have no idea. It will have digits in it. Like vitamins, but less nutritious.

Are you ready? If so ... explain yourself.
Nah. I have a rough idea of what the first post will be. Like the rest of my blog, it will probably ramble between drama, gaming and whatever else happens to be occupying my mind at the time.    Just by the way,  "... explain yourself" sounds a little accusatory, don't you think? "What were you doing eating pizza at 3am? Explain yourself."

If you're not ready ... what's your excuse?

Procrastination is one of my better skills. A person should celebrate their strengths.

If you choose to play, copy the questions to your blog, answer them and post a reply here.

Dreaming on

Having been horribly failed in my attempts to get myself qualified to teach adults and therefore to earn a slightly more respectable wage, I have turned my attention to other avenues.

Followers will be aware that costume has been on my mind and in my hands a lot recently.  Also, as it conveniently turns out, with the grandmother of one of my students.  She and I have been meeting regularly to talk fabric and doublets and it's all be huge fun.  Last week, over coffee and cake (she is my kind of lady), a cunning plan evolved.  We should descend on Hartlepool and take part in some of their degree courses on costuming. 

At the moment, it looks promising for a pattern designing course starting on Monday.  Already, in my mind's eye, I can see myself constructing things like the picture above.  Wild fantasy I know, as I've only just acquired a sewing machine.  But you gotta have a dream.

They do millinery and corsetry as well.  Who knows where this could lead?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Moving on to daggers

In my dreams, the daggers for Malfi (and Faustus later on in the year) would look like this:

Unfortunately, money is limited and health and safety must always be respected, so what they actually looked like was this:

Not as impressive, as I'm sure you'll agree.

Note, however, the past tense two sentences up.  Work is underway to convert the shiny plastic beasties into something a little closer to the top picture.  Side bits have been lopped off and handles wrapped in fabric and painted.  Cord wound around them.  Handles now look much better.  Attempts to de-glisten the blades have so far failed, but am about to apply sandpaper and hope.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The melancholy stage

The above is slightly unfair, but at the moment our Twelfth Night rehearsals are overwhelmed by mournful cast members clustering around stairwells and muttering lines.  In extreme cases, we grab other cast members and retreat to the kitchen, making each other suffer the agony of "no, it's not 'thy' that time, it's 'you'".  We are, in short, at the stage when we are agonisingly close to knowing it.

What this means in practice is that scenes run like lightning right up to the point when a particular word or phrase eludes us.  Then tooth grinding, wails, head bashing and swearing ensue.  Alternatively, we have to suffer the sterephonic effect of our highly efficient prompt stating the line slowly and carefully for us to repeat wrongly.  Many times.

Next step is to bash it all into shape with runs so the sequence becomes clear and the story gets told.  We finish the scene by scene grind this week and move on to running whole acts.  In theory this should make it all sink in.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The unexpected 4E Primer Project

I've mentioned I'm running a PbP for some 4e newbies.  Also that it's been a truly interesting experience.  The group are all experienced gamers, but at least three have not really played using 4e rules before.  They have, however, played a lot of Pathfinder and 3.5.

As their first combat unwinds, it's become clearer to me just how many differences there really are.  Nothing huge, nothing game breaking, just very different.  In order for this to make sense, you have to know that I only ever played 3.5 for about 6 months just before 4e came out, so 4e really is my edition and the one I know much the best.

Writing and playing a game with for people who don't know the way it works is very, very instructive.  One result is that I've tried to make their lives easier by putting together a kind of mini-Primer for easy reference.  Unlike the Player's Handbook, it can assume a lot about basic terminology and it concentrates on the differences.

Issues I've dealt with so far fall into two basic categories:

  • Conditions - covering Blinded, Dazed, Dominated, Grabs and escaping them and so on; and
  • Terms - which has turned into a much longer section and covers things like Bloodied, surges, OA (not exactly the same thing in 4e), movement and the infamous shift which isn't a 5 foot step, saves ends effects, how to die, temporary hit points, action points and so on.

Naively, I've always assumed that shifting from one to the other would be easy.  It certainly is for a GM, but from the player perspective I never really thought about it - I hadn't played 3.5 long enough to really absorb it.  Our home group pretty much just picked up 4e and played with never a backward glance.

I wonder how many assumptions we make about game systems.  Until I sat down and seriously thought about it, I really had not appreciated the small things that changed in subtle ways.

As a corollary to this, is 4e a system for GMs rather than players?

When is a monster an NPC?

Paizo are running their annual RPG Superstar competition and it's reached round three - which this year is designing a monster.  If you haven't stumbled across this, take a look.  There is a lot of very creative work going on.

What's bothering me, in a mild way, is the recurring comment on some entires - "This isn't a monster, it's an NPC".  I understand what is being said, I just don't think the border is that precise. 

This chap ...
... monster or NPC?  When he's trying to bite your head off, sure - monster.  Easy call.  But if you meet him and he negotiates, isn't he an NPC?

That kobold who surrendered and became a guide.  Might have been a monster, but became an NPC.  In Snaggletooth's case, an unexpectedly heroic one.

Clearly this isn't an issue each and every time.  A gelatinous cube is going to tricky to turn into an NPC.  Spawn of Dagon,  swarms of bees,  gibbering mouthers and numerous others are unlikely candidates as well.  The bottom line, in the end, is whether the critter in question is capable of negotiation.  That's where the boundaries get blurred.

It depends on the adventure and the players as well, of course.  Some days you just want to go bash heads and that's fine.  I just like keeping my options open I suppose.

On the subject of the competition above, I'd hate to think of anyone losing out because they've created a monster that can also be an NPC.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Behind the mask

Masks are done.  They don't look as terrifying as the inspiration (pictured below), but they're not bad for scary.

The reasoning behind this bit of costuming is mixed. 

These madmen only appear in one scene and their lines are almost-but-not-quite rational.  Webster offers us a mad lawyer, a mad priest, a mad astrologer and a mad doctor and gives them all lines explaining why they've ended up the way they have.  Which is great.  Huge fun to play and so on.  However, every single one of them is also playing someone else as well.

Now in an ideal world, what we'd do would be workshop our way through using different vocals and physicality to emphasise the differences - and we will use those as well - but time is short.  Easier by far to use masks.  The voices will all sound slightly different behind the cloth and the movement issue is solved because these things act like blinkers and force you to turn to look at the person you're talking to rather carefully.

That's the practical reasoning.  The artistic/aesthetic reasoning is that back in the sixteenth/seventeenth century, mental illness was treated with a dazzling mixture of fear and contempt.  Masks immediately dehumanise the performers and also gives us a nice visual seed that can come into play a little later.

With sweet irony, Ferdinand brings the madmen in to send the Duchess insane but ends up going mad himself.  He spends the last third of the play convinced he's a werewolf.  Yes, yes, I know, but that's Jacobean Revenge drama for you.  There is a scene late on in which Ferdinand is confronted by a doctor and has a similar mask dropped over his head.  Being Ferdinand, he immediately rips the thing off and attempts to tear out the doctor's throat with his teeth, but it's a nice visual to bring up.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mikelmerck - Sheep Society and heroic clothing

Sheep are the economic basis of Mikelmerck.  Without them, society does not function. 

Scrivener Wainwright, that self-proclaimed authority on all things Mikelmerck has this to say.

"It is a pity that more poets have not honoured the sheep in verse.  Surely their extreme utility and interesting habits deserve more attention.  The black-faced denizens of the hills are supremely hardy and in the words of their shepherds, "canny buggers".  

The shepherds tell me that the Mikelmerck sheep are matriarchal.  In their quaint way, they describe it thus: 

"Flock allus follows owdest ewe, never ram.  Hims but for tupping, no matter what 'e thinks.  Done and gone, but ewes is forever.  Reason being, if she'n not smartish, she'n not get to be owd.  Fight like helldogs if'n flock's threatened.  Ram does nowt but charge, but ewes gang up.  Tupping time, rams gets het up and fights, but not proper-like.  All manlihood that is, no bloodshed.  But I seen owd ewe hold off wolf afore now."

From this we may gather that the flock may be a formidable adversary.  When one also considers the amazing properties of their wool, much lauded in the present time and for many centuries before, one can only wonder at the absence of bardic acknowledgement."

Wainwright continues in the same eulogistic tone for some time.  He describes in detail his pursuit of the secrets of knitting runes into garments made from Mikelmerck wool and his frustration at the refusal of the great knitting families to share any information with him at all.

This is not surprising.  It is certainly true that many unique and magical items can be created using Mikelmerck wool, but such things are not given merely to the curious. 

An old tale tells of a feylord who sought armour to protect him from a gigantic wyrm.  In order to gain what he wanted, he asked dwarven smiths, elven metalcrafters and human women to create their best work.  The dwarves laboured for gold,  and the elves for magic, but the humans asked for nothing but their time.  Unable to pay the human price, he offered instead to enchant the flock leader so that she would always be able to call on fey help. 

The feylord chose the wool.  It helped him defeat the wyrm and since that day, all owd ewes have a connection to the fey.  None have ever forgotten it.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Sitting downstairs putting the finishing touches to a madman's mask, I was roused from wondering where to put the eyeholes by what sounded like a massacre going on upstairs.

That level of bellowing usually means one or more of the following:
(a) the cat has caught a mouse and somehow managed to drop it.
(b) a major domestic tragedy has occurred - such as lost clothing.
(c) an appliance has broken.
(d) the toilet paper fairies have failed in their duties.

Mask in hand, I pounded up the stairs to see what was going on.

"You could just be a bit sympathetic - I have NO MANA."
"But you have a ton of dudes."
"But I can't buff them."
"So, I have mana and no monsters."
"OK, let's try again."

Suddenly I remembered.  Husband and son have been playing an ongoing Magic the Gathering duel online for days.  Dwelling in the depths with the sewing machine, I'd missed most of this.

The sweet irony is that although they're playing online, they are one room apart and yell at each other through the walls.  Hence the kerfuffle.

Baulky bobbin

If you're not interested in my on-going sewing machine saga, look away now.

Turns out that the bobbin hadn't wound evenly and this was causing the crisis.  Quite proud of working that out.  Even prouder that I didn't simply jump on the machine.

Madman masks getting their first dye bath and am now sorting through various adjustments to Antigone costumes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Bug politics

The Lost City gang did a lot of damage to the bizarre insectiods they've been fighting.  So much, in fact, that the Trignotarbs decided that the group were worth recruiting for their own purposes.

As it turns out, they are an endangered species and likely to become an extinct one if their old queen doesn't step down.  If they can persuade the adventurers to help out with that little problem, gratitude is on the way.  It has already been established that this gratitude will not take the form of turning them into Trignotarbs.

The reason I'm bringing this episode up is this.  All too often, monsters are played as dumb building blocks.  Lumps of mobile xp if you like.  Which is true up to a point.  But sometimes it's nice to ring the changes and when the stat blocks support it, I'll do just that.

The Trignotarbs are smart.  They are well aware when they're out of their depth.  I could see no reason whatever for them to fight to the death when their main raison d'etre is to survive.  It's true that as parasitic wasp things they do this by laying eggs in a sentient host and awaiting results, but from their perspective, that's a gift, not an ordeal.

It's fun playing creatures that technically can be regarded as bad guy monsters yet have a quite legitimate agenda.  A bizarre and not particularly pleasant one to our eyes, but valid.

An uneasy alliance is being formed and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Oops ...

You can guess where this is going already.

The dream baby, the sewing machine that has been blissfully well behaved for a week, is failing me.

It sorted out sack masks and bloody remnants and trousers with perfect equanimity.  Confronted with stiching a bit of ribbon to the inside of a top, it suddenly freaked out and produced massive loops of thread across the bottom rendering it rapidly inoperable.

I've taken it apart and am just sitting quietly for a moment before I start screaming.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The post I'm not writing

Someone extremely dear to me was the recipient of a very unwelcome online message this evening.  This person doesn't want sympathy or, for that matter anything much other than to be allowed to get on with life. 

I, on the other hand, want blood. 

That would not be constructive or helpful to anyone, but I am so howlingly angry that I had to say something.  Or nothing, as in this case.

The internet is a truly wonderful tool, but it has some serious downsides.  This is one of the times when the downside is upside.  Civility costs nothing at all.  It is the basic oil of human relationships.  I will remember this and not do anything more stupid than I already have by writing this.

Making masks for madmen

Interesting morning spent with ex-student making masks for Malfi madmen and trying to make daggers look less shiny.

Slightly concerned that masks looks more risible than terrifying.  A tea-cosy does not really inspire fear.  Dye and decor will help and I am off to buy stuff to do that.  The result I'm aiming for is something a little like this:

The proto-type reworked dagger, on the other hand, looks rather good.  Once the fabric glue sets properly, paint goes on and then we'll see.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Balancing Act

Half term has crept up with alarming speed.  January seems to have happened without my really noticing and taa-daa, suddenly it's nearly the middle of February.

The One Act Festival is a kind of starting post for the YT show season.  From here to the middle of July, we're in constant preparation mode as one show after another reaches the top of the heap.  In my case, it's Antigone first (12-13) March, followed a month later by Malfi.  Then I get a six week lull before Faustus crashes in.  In between those there are three other shows for which I have no direct responsibility other than being part of the YT team.  Which is, believe me, quite enough.

In the meantime, I'm honing my own acting muscles in Twelfth Night immediately after Antigone.  I've also somewhat foolishly agreed to stage manage Oklahoma! for the local operatic society.  Yay for good decision making.

Somewhere along the way, I also need to concoct a play for the Bowes Drama Club.

Oh - and I'm starting a long-awaited PTTLS course in ten days.  To make me eligble to teach adults.  Assuming that it doesn't get cancelled again.  Since I've been trying to do this blasted course since September, this is rapidly turning into a joke.  But I will keep trying.

Now, all this is either fun or paid or both so I'm not at all complaining, but it does mean I need to spend this non-teaching half term week with some care.

Where does the gaming fit into all this?  Where and when it can is the answer.  The PbPs will roll along quite happily as bar making maps they are not a huge time sump.  Those that have seen my completely inept mapping skills might well think not a lot of time gets given there either.

The real heartbreaker is Mikelmerck, which hasn't had anything like the attention it deserves for ages.  I'm missing it badly now, particularly as parts of the taster 4e adventure have been set there.  If I can find any time at all, I really want to write a starter adventure for it.  Hmm.  Maybe run a Google+ playtest? 

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Update on a long day

One Act Festival went well.  Our YT did themselves proud and picked up a couple of bits of silverware, as well as nominations in the most categories.  Good adjudicator.  Extremely thorough and very detailed which is always helpful.

Officially exhausted now.

Long day ahead

Apart from the normal 8 hours of classes, it's also the final night of the One Act Drama Festival tonight.  Our Youth Theatre is entering and this is when they perform.

The play in question is a melodramatic piece about WWI and has been directed (very well) by one of our senior students.  Like the senior who has been directing Antigone, he has had a free hand from start to finish with as much support as we can muster. 

For directors, the performance is a bit like the final exam.  Once the dress rehearsal finishes, it isn't your play any more.  It now belongs to the cast and the stage manager and the audience.  That's how it should be. 

Wishing them all well tonight, and hoping that my services as their loyal prompter will not be needed.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Flying blue demons

My one-shot 4e adventure has reached its first combat.  The group spent the first week wandering around a sheep market chatting to the locals and getting to grips with Yorkshire dialect.

Contrary to a certain strand of belief, 4e does not quench role-playing any more than any other gaming system.  All you've ever needed for that is pro-active players and an environment that encourages them to talk to each other and the NPCs around them.  The actual mechanics are meaningless.

On the whole, I don't make players roll dice unless there is some reason  for it.  You want to go and talk to the auctioneer?  Fine.  Unless you grotesquely insult him and his family, there's no reason to start rolling skill checks.  Behave like a pinhead and charge up with your battleaxe threatening him in a public square - well, I might ask you to roll a check of some kind, but frankly, I'm more likely to turn the guards out and let you suffer.

In this case, I've had the chance to create some interesting hooks for future adventures if the group lasts that long and wants to play more.  Now they are about to invade the isolated tower containing some kidnapped halflings and the brother of one of the PCs.

I'm enjoying it very much, although I have to keep reminding myself to state the rules clearly.  Not because any of the players are stupid (far from it, they're all experienced and very capable), but because the combat system is new to them.  The kind of new that is familiar in a lot of ways, and different enough to mean that they're asking a lot of questions.

It's been a while since I ran a low-level game and it is a lot of fun.  All my other games at the moment are Paragon level with hyper-powerful characters.  They can all do a myriad different things in virtually any situation, so it's rather nice going back to basics. 

The flying blue demons?  There were reported sightings at the kidnap site.  Quite rightly, at least two of the characters think this is a load of tosh and don't believe in such things.

Guilty pleasures - curling up with The Chalet School

Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise,  my annual trawl through the Chalet School oeuvre does not count as curling up with a good book.  More like a tin of Quality Street than designer chocolate. 

The thing about the Chalet School series is that over the course of 57 or so books, not a great deal happens.  Nearly 30 years pass and the school moves from the Tyrol to Wales via Guernsey and St Briavels Island and finally to Switzerland, but somehow remains in a glorious time capsule.

WWII prompts the move from the Tyrol and is genuinely dramatic, but the other moves come about mostly because of poor drainage.  The parents must have been the most forgiving bunch ever.  Their girls are constantly being uprooted and plunked down in new buildings, but nary a word is spoken of inconvenience.  Nor do any of them protest when Miss Annersley announces two weeks into one term that half term has been moved.

On the whole, the following will happen in any given book:-

There will be a prefect's meeting by the end of chapter 2.  In the course of this there will be in depth discussion of who should be in charge of the Stationary Cupboard (often a source of trouble with naughty middles demanding more than their proper allocation of blotting paper).  Someone will always be pleasantly surprised to be voted into a post they didn't expect.

We will meet a new girl.  She will have some slightly interesting backstory which will emerge piecemeal through the book.  By the end she will either have been sidelined in favour of someone more interesting, or she will have become a proper Chalet School girl.

In the course of each book, someone will inevitably do something stupid.  In the early Tyrol books, this usually means getting stuck up the Tjernjoch or falling through unsafe ice.  St Briavel's island also offered unrivalled opportunities for getting stuck on seaweed clad rocks with a rising tide threatening doom.  Switzerland  has a lovely array of dodgy cliff edges for people to fall off during moss-gathering expeditions.

One noticeable difference between early and late stage Chalet is that these accidents become less and less likely to have a tense near-death scene with a delirious pupil being anxiously eyed by the staff.  By the back end of the books, most accidents have been reduced to a swift visit to Matron and a few thoughtful days in the sick room.

The Sanatorium is always a major player.  The San is closely linked to the School and always has been (and oddly, follows the school in its journeyings).  This is because the founder, Madge Bettany, married a San doctor somewhere around book 2.  As a result, the greatest reward for any Chalet School girl is to marry a doctor.  Quite a few do, and then send their offspring to the Chalet School (of course).  A side effect of this is that any given book will include long sections updating us on the activities, families and accidents of past pupils.

"Oh, I have some wonderful news!  Bernie and Kurt will be moving to Innsbruck!"

What can I say?  A guilty pleasure but mine own.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Long silence, purple hands


I've never left a gap this long between posts before.  From this you will gather that costuming has been going on apace.  I've spent the last few days with my hands in the dye buckets.

That's been interesting in itself and I now know a lot more than I did about how well fabric takes to dye.  In the case of curtain liner (the stuff I used for the Antigone outfits), that is less intensely than I wanted.  The effect is quite good, but it isn't enough.

I've also made the revelatory discovery that dye does indeed dye.  It may not stick to the fabric as much as I'd want, but it does stick to skin.  And work surfaces.  And tiled floors.  And just about anything else it comes into contact with.  Lucky I was doing it in the kitchen.  Yes, I had that much sense.

Anyway the bulk of it is done.  Took them all down to the rehearsal yesterday and put them on the cast.  Since a lot of them immediately started wrestling each other, I know that the stitches at least will hold.  Looking at the colour scheme as a whole was very helpful.  It highlighted the intensity problem I mentioned, so I'll re-do a batch of the Chorus costumes next week over half term.

Malfi costumes are also hotting up.  I'm picking up a load of stuff to be finished today.  Easy going there I hope.  Faustus got the worrying maths treatment this week as well.  A swift count up revealed that I'll need 61 costumes.  That's costumes, not individual garments.  I'm trying very hard not to panic.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Where are they now?

Time for a brief update on what has happened to my hapless adventuring groups.


Tombs I are possibly forging an unlikely alliance.  Talking weaponry is chancy stuff.  I haven't played an artifact in a while and given the circumstances of how they found the thing, and its treatment of its previous owner, the party are probably right to be cautious.  All I will say is that wrapping it up in a dwarf's blanket is a definite affront to its dignity.

Tombs II are splashing through the shallows and confronting a slightly deranged eladrin water mage.  She isn't pleased to see them and is doing her utmost to drive them all into the enticing but mind-devouring mist.  So far she hasn't succeeded, but this combat is in its early stages yet.

The Lost City crew have been rejoined  by their rogue chum.  He arrived just in time to miss the bust-up with the tunnel-visioned glass golems.  Since then they've been wandering the (mercifully dry) sewer system and have passed up a chance to visit a market in favour of invading some inverted gardens.  Whether this is a good idea or not remains to be seen, but that's sandbox adventures for you.  The insectoid life forms have introduced themselves by showering hungry larvae in their general direction.  Communication may yet be possible, but getting their cleric out of the grip of the outsize flying wasp/spider thing is the current priority.  Otherwise there is a good chance that their healer will be eaten alive from the inside.

My sister the cabbage

I'm proud of my sister this morning.  She's been beavering away on the project below for nearly a year and is getting some news coverage.

BBC news piece
Unihomeswap web page

As someone in the process of setting up a (much smaller) business, I am in awe of her.  I know how much work it takes.

The cabbage part?  Her public profile on Facebook is a decorative cabbage.  I have no idea why, although I can empathise.  I spent some time masquerading as a penguin.

Family solidarity is a wonderful thing.  We spent most of our childhood fighting like - well, siblings.  All that is long in the past and I'm engulfed in a warm glow of pride in her achievements.  Good for you, little sis. 

I shall of course use this as a spur to my own efforts.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A curiosity

I mentioned I'm starting a one-shot play by post for a GM-less group.

That got underway today and to my amusement and without any really thinking about it, it's turning into a Mikelmerck adventure.  The reality is simply that it's been lying there unloved for a few weeks and I could not resist the temptation to see how the setting works.

All that has happened is that the setting is now a small Mikelmerckian town inhabited by accent-ridden Dalesmen worried about their sheep.  The adventure to follow will proceed along more recognisable lines, because this is supposed to be a taster for new 4e players, after all.  But even so, the setting feels easy to write and fun to play with.

Some of their wandering monsters may not be what they suspect.  Time to test-drive the bestiary perhaps.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

My precious ...

It's arrived.  My own personal sewing machine.  I can safely and happily destroy this one as it is under guarantee.

My relief knows no bounds.  It has an instruction manual, does overlocking and more importantly than anything else, I CAN THREAD IT and REPLACE THE BOBBIN without having a breakdown.

Sanity looms.