Sunday, June 24, 2007

AP: A Faery's Tale, Part Four (a)

Shadows over Brightwood

Jennifree and Sarah are attending the celebrations in Brightwood Village to commemorate the birth of the new princess in the land of the humans. The entire village is drinking, eating, singing, dancing and playing to welcome the baby into the world. Jennifree is playing her pipes and singing a tune for her friends whilst Sarah is continuing to amaze people with her dancing.

During a break in the festivities Sarah finds the sobbing Humphrey (her rabbit friend) who has broken a tooth on a rock (which he thought was a carrot) that he found when he was digging out his new burrow. The two faeries go to move the rock and discover a jagged piece of blue and gold metal as the offending object. Realising that this was not something usual, they take it to Queen Leanan's palace to have it examined.

At the Palace, Professor Tinker - a balding eccentric gnome academic - identifies it as a shard of elf armour from a time before the Wood existed. It must have been buried under Sarahs house for hundreds of years. He recommends that the faeries take their find to Flynn the Blacksmith on his floating island where he can forge it into something for them. They agree and prepare to travel off to the blacksmiths. Incidentally as they leave the palace, they find the Cook in a great deal of distress as all of the palace's milk has curdled, suddenly. Sarah says it must be the hot weather whilst Jennifree blames the metal and says that it must be cursed.

The pair pick up some nut soup to take on their journey and then travel by moonbeam out to Flynns island. When they arrive they discover that his forge is deserted, the fire having been allowed to go out and that there are signs of a struggle, with Smelly Thing residue around the Smithy. They agree that Flynn must have been kidnapped by the Goblin King. There was then a flash at the area where the moonbeams arrive and upon investigating, they discover a wounded sprite has arrived by moonbeam. The knight, who they identify as the Knight of Swallows, one of Queen Leanan's errant guardians in the woods, has a poisoned tip of a thorn dagger in his chest (not unlike the Thorn Sword that the Knight of Spiders used in the last adventure). Jennifree deftly removes the tip and uses her faerie dust to stabalise the knight, who tells them of being attacked by a huge horde of goblins, being overpowered and being stabbed and poisoned. He only just managed to stagger to a moonbeam station to come to his friend, Flynn, but now he has gone too.... He sleeps.

The two faeries make him comfortable whilst they wait for the return moonbeam and then rush him back to the Palace where he can be tended. He grants them a boon for saving his life. Brightwood itself is in turmoil as strange things are continuing to happen in the forest. Despite it being the first few weeks of summer, the wind is blowing chilled as winter and already brown leaves are falling off the trees. Flights of angry dragonflies have been seen heading north into the lands of Darkwood whilst the animals that live on the border with the Goblin Kings lands have began to migrate south, telling of goblin incursions along the border and all manner of strangeness occuring. Wolves can be heard howling from the north - wolves in Brightwood? After some investigation, the faeries are told by the locals that this weirdness is either a plot by the Goblin King, a curse that has been brought down upon the Wood or a portent of a dark and evil future for the new Princess. None of which are particularly good!

Leanan asks Sarah and Jennifree to travel deep into the south of Brightwood to some of the oldest parts of the forest and see out the ancient settlement of Oakenbark. There they will find The Old Man of the Woods, an ancient tree spirit who will surely know what these happenings mean. After evacuating Knakfree and his family into the safety of Sarah's house, they set off and travel deep into the wood, far beyond anywhere they have gone before. The weather breaks and torrential rain begins to fall, making the going even more precarious. Eventually they arrive at a deep ravine, filled with a MASSIVE old fallen oak tree, long dead and hollowed, which forms the home for many faeries in the settlement of Oakenbark. After discussing their mission with some of the dwellers, they are shown to the roots of the old giant oak and find the tiny, wizzened figure of The Old Man of the Woods. His beard is made of old leaves and creepers and his finger and toes are like roots. He listens to their tale and then thinks hard until he shouts out this prediction.

"Beware the Goblin King! Beware the King fo Darkwood. He has two faces and two hands. One here and one elsewhere!!"

And then he falls silent.

Travelling back with this strange portent, the faeries stumble across the Knight of Wolves and his pack, scouting out the approaches to Brightwood. The wolves smell the faeries and are released to pursue them. Jennfiree flies up to avoid them but relishing the chase, Sarah speeds off through the undergrowth and eventually loses them.

Arriving back at Brightwood they find a horrific sight. Dragonfly riding goblins duck and dive over the village, skirmishing with sprites riding swallows and bumblebees. Worms are writhing out of the ground chewing on the houses and being shooed away by the animals and faeries. Packs of wolves patrol the forests around the village, menacing it. It seems like a full blown invasion!! On the hill overlooking Brightwood, three knights - the Knights of Spiders, Wolves and Worms stand and watch, commanding their minions. But where are the spiders?


Jennifree is bitten by a spider and nearly succumbs to the poison. Sarah loses her temper a little and picks up the spider, hurling it into the others that are closing in. Gathering her friend into her arms she uses all but her one last essence to power her Travel Magic and get them into the Palace amidst the battle. When they arrive, Leanan takes them to her scrying pool and the reason for the attack becomes apparent.

An image of the Goblin King appears, all spindly, gnarled and dripping puss. He laughs at the puny faeries and as he does so his forces withdraw back into the woods. It was a ruse, a feint - a distraction. No faeries were hurt. No damage was done. The image pans back and the Goblin King runs a spindly claw down the cheek of ..... the baby Princess! He has kidnapped her and taken her to his dark kingdom. His distraction has worked and now he can turn her to his side! Bwahahahahahahahaa!

To be continued.

And then the whinging started. Oh the kids might like a TBC at the end of an episode of Dr Who but they simply where not satisfied that they would have to wait for a week to rescue the baby from the Goblin King. There were words and very nearly a fully blown tantrum! I had to explain that this was what happened sometimes in a roleplaying game and that it meant that you could do something longer by splitting it up. When I had assured them that they WOULD be playing again next week and that it WOULD be about rescuing the baby, they allowed me to leave the table.

I was pleasantly surprised that they could handle what was in effect a very dark episode of the game - almost Empire Strikes Back levels of darkness. The idea that Darkwood could actually attack, military style, Brightwood is something that I don't want to ever do again (as I think it would spoil the feeling of the game and turn it a little too generic fantasy) and there will be reprecussions for the GK for the act. He obviously thought the resulting kidnapping was worth it. The geography and the supporting cast grows and the requests for a map of some sort have grown louder. Time to exercise my artistic muscles in another direction I think!

Next week - Assault on the Goblin Kings Castle (if the plans that were being made this morning are anything to go by!!)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Let the Lore War Commence!

One of the longest running jokes in our gaming group has been our horror at the thought of playing in a game where one or two of the players were very very knowledgable about the games very specific genre. Players debating the finer points of the propulsion system of that particular federation spaceship, the lineage of that particular random elf in the woods or which date in what year a certain piece of armour was available in feudal Japan. We've all been in games when this has happened in the past and it's a bit of a nightmare. And admittedly, we've come close in the recent past as a number of us are very amateur Arthurian scholars. However whatever we have got up to was nothing to the comedy of the Lore War!

Lord of the Rings RPG character generation mixed with Mastermind (Specialised Subject: Tolkien) was quite possibly the funniest thing I have seen around the gaming table (excepting 'Lettuce and Carrots'). Two men locked in mental combat over the age of hobbits, the languages of elves and all manner of other excitement. It was quite impressive actually, as Tolkien is someone whose writings I have enjoyed but never really memorised. It was not the nightmare we have talked about before - it was simply a side show to the chargen and a nice distraction.

However it did raise to the fore some of the issues that I have been facing in my own games. Whilst MI:666 is a wholly fictional game, the subject of the piece - devils - have quite a lot of literature written about them. Take your favourite biblical bad guy and see how many different interpretations you find online! Now try to get them all in order to make up the devils for a game! I'm trying to be a little senstive to the subject matter (well, as much as I can be in what someone called the worlds first Protestant rpg! ) but I simply have to make sure that everyone knows that this is a fictional piece and that nothing here is actually supposed to represent Christian dogma.

Duty and Honour, a game set in the same setting as Sharpe, the Napoleonic Penninsular War, suffers even more from this problem. History buffs could have a great time with a game like this, but in the end even the source material plays fast and loose with historical detail! What am I to do? You have to get some of the facts right, so that it reeks of the realism that makes the source material so much fun, however the limit of the pursual of those facts has to be measured. Mixing a degree of fun and freedom within the game with a backdrop that makes the game sing is crucial, but it's not easy. Its another balancing act that needs a decent disclaimer I reckon.

Getting that balance will, hopefully, avoid an outbreak of Lore War ... but then again, if it was as pleasurable to sit through as ours was, it might be a shame..?


Friday, June 15, 2007

It's the Last Day of Term

It's rare that I speak in more than passing comment about work on this blog, but I was moved yesterday by a series of incidents that underpinned either just how old I am or how much the world has changed.

It's the last day of term today and the students all go home - well, to be more accurate, the scant few that are still here go home. Last night was the Graduation Ball and it was really rather good. Well, up until the point where Liberty X had their flight indefinitely delayed and thus had to call off their last ever gig. Arriving at work today we all logged onto our computers and dreaded the catcalling and bitching on Facebook from the oh-so-indignent masses.

Lets just look at that paragraph again and some of the phenomena within it? First off, students leave university now just about the day that they finish their exams. They don't want to hang about and soak in those last few days of university life. They are -desperate- to get back to the bosom of their family or into the world of graduate employment or tromping off around the world. There seems to be very little sentimentality attached to the higher education nowadays. Whilst the Grad Ball was a great laugh, it just didn't seem to have the emotional resonance that I associate with the event.

Now that could have been to do with the fact that the headline act didn't turn up, but in the end from the views of the students I canvassed, it wasn't that much of a problem. There were some however, who were being very drunk and very 'I've studied law you know!!' . I find this aspect of it all so very amazing. There is a positive thinking culture to do with recruitment that generates a certain type of graduate - the one who thinks that what you learn at Uni equips you for everything in the world and that they can solve any crisis, because they have a degree. And boy do they let you know it!! Silly thing is that once you do get some post-Uni time on the clock you quickly learn that the world simply doesn't work like your lecturer says and there are a load of restrictions and complications and interpersonal things that you have to deal with on every level. Indeed, for Mr Lawyer Child, I think he should speak with some of my lawyer friends (waves at Andrew) and ask them about how free and easy they can be with their legal 'advice'. I believe they would be stunned.

However, I believe that the real source of the lack of emotional resonance is the proliferation of social networking applications like Facebook. I'm sure those of you that have been to Uni will be familiar with the question, upon meeting one of your old friends 'Are you still in touch with ...?' Well, despite being the loveliest person I know, I'm actually only in formal contact (ie. beyond Christmas cards) with ONE person from Uni! Thats quite sad but in the reality of things, you simply could not constantly phone and visit all of your friends around the country. Facebook (and MySpace and all of the other things like this) offer the opportunity to maintain relationships online long after the physical immediacy has faded. I was dragged onto Facebook so that I could evaluate it as a promotional tool for work, but in so doing I have managed to accumulate 33 'friends' from across the world, including a guy I used to live with at Uni, some folk that I met in the USA and some business contacts of old. And, of course, a slew of students.

Students that, in normal circumstances, I would never see or hear from again as of .... 5 hours time. Thats a thing of the past though. Through these applications you can instantly communicate with all of your friends, from a PC. You can maintain more than a passing 'relationship' with them FAR easier than back in the day. It's fascinating! The upshot naturally being the distinct lack of tears on Grad Ball night! Rather than going your seperate ways never to meet again, the kids will be tagging uploaded photos of drunken excess and starting a 'Lets Sue the Union Cos of Liberty X' groups.

Thats progress folks....


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is MI:666 going off the rails?

Thats the question that I have been asking myself as I have been diligently expanding and combining my omniverse ruleset and my MI:666 setting. The process has been quite simple. Slip the two pieces together so that they run smoothly. Edit in any new terms or rules clarifications. Change all of the examples to MI:666 referenced material rather than generic action cinema. Et voila! Le Roleplaying Game!

However, when I look at it, it seems so ... lifeless? There's something wrong somewhere in the core of it and I cannot put my finger on it. It could be that familiarity has bred contempt but I'm not sure thats the thing. It shouldn't be that the genre is something that I am turned-off by, because it certainly isn't. It might have been that I was doing it without any real end-product in sight, but thats clearing bollocks as I have a two session playtest and then a game at GenCon lined up. So thats clearly not right!

I was listening to a Fear The Boot podcast this morning and I heard something that I thought might have been it. One of the presenters said that Call of Cthulhu was 'the last game on the market that wasn't following the hero fantasy model'.

One of the things that I have beefed up in this rewrite of MI:666 is the role of the devils as tempters and manipulators, and thus the role of the PCs four 'triggers' - Love, Hate, Desire, Fear. So if you succeed in accomplishing one of these triggers instead of getting back 1 Flux you get back your Destiny of Flux (Ok, this is really making sense to about a half dozen people!)

I have also added in a Secrets mechanic which I think is pretty cool. Each player has a sealed envelope that they are given at the beginning of the game and in that envelope is a really important campaign secret. In the game of infernal cat and mouse, devils are willing to betray their secrets if they can corrupt the players. So on the envelope is a list of actions that the players must fulfil before they can open it - betrayal, lying, destruction, greed, avarice, death, murder, whatever. If they want the secret, they push themselves further towards the grasp of the devils.

I'm wondering whether the initial concept of 'omniverse' - an emulation of blockbuster cinema with explosive character development - is suited to this darker, more moody setting? I think it is, but it just needs that extra something to make it gel together. It will come.

On the flipside, and to be fair this might well play into the indecision as well, I have about 101 ideas for Duty and Honour! After the playtest there were a load of things that needed tweaking but nothing very mechanical - it was more about bringing more awesomeness to some of the character traits and talents and generally applying that first playtest shine to the game.

I've been on a bit of a Sharpe-fest of late and I can see now exactly what needs to be done to make the game a true emulation of the source material. Party construction is key - 1 Officer, 1 Sergeant, everyone else Privates or Chosen Men. A little guidance about creating adventures and about the format of such and some rules for running the odd larger skirmish and it's pretty much a ruleset that I could run a campaign around. Tomorrow.

Well, lots of work to be done over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully by the end of it I will have come out with something more than passable!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Radio 4 Destroyed My Mind

It's been a while since I have posted anything and thats mostly because I have had very little to post about. Pendragon is going on hiatus, we've got a couple of new games taking it's place and the return of SotC. My two games are chugging along nicely and our PTA prologue was highly enjoyable. So, in essence, all is well.

And then I listened to Radio 4 this morning and wondered whether a radio programme can actually have pre-menstrual tension? My friend and fellow rp'er Andrew is adamant that I should not be allowed to listen to any news medium as I am prone to exploding in some quite vulgar vitriotic diatribe at the crass nature of the reporting. He's right. However my wife has become quite addicted to the dulcet tones of R4 in the morning so I have to listen to the Today Show and be happy with it.

Which is hard because, well, for the show that most people would suggest is the pinnacle of intellectual news broadcasting from the BBC - one of the flagship programmes of the adult spoken word channel indeed - it is about the most purile, right-wing, reactionary, shallow and down-right annoying programmes I find myself experiencing. (Don't get me wrong here, it's still one million miles away from the absolute shite thrown out by ITV or the 'Metro news with moving pictures' that is 5 News but still...)

This morning's two knuckle-whiteners were on the topic of sport - specifically England's test series victory over the West Indies and the visit of the Olympic oversight committee today to London.

So, lets see what we have to say about the cricket? Thrilling match which gave England an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. England have now would 11 series at home on the trot making it very much 'Fortress England'. Micheal Vaughan is now the most successful English captain ever. Steve Harmison is one of only 11 English players to take 200 first class wickets. Kevin Pieterson sits just behind Bradman as the fastest player to 2500 runs in test history and Monty Panesar was the first English spinner to have a 10-fer for decades. So it was a good match then right?

Oh no... not on Radio Four! See, before the match Micheal Vaughan made some disparaging comment about the once-great-but-now-addled 'Freddie' Flintoff and then suggested that it might not have been meant that way and then said it was. Of couse, him and Flintoff being the best of mates have patched up their differences. THATS NOT THE POINT!!! You see, in the eyes of R4 he LIED and you simply cannot do that. No indiscretion is allowed. At all. Ever. They stopped short of suggesting that Vaughan should RESIGN over the matter, but they were far more interested in the fact that he LIED about his comment (ie. changed his mind) rather than the fact that the team had just rewritten the record books. And then you have Panesar, who has become an absolute cult hero amongst England fans because of his enthusiasm and boyish charisma on the field - the fact that he is probably the best left arm spinner in the world at the moment helps as well! Have you seen the guy dance around like a fitting chicken when he takes a wicket. It's awesome. However, he was told to chill out a little bit by the umpires for his over-enthusiastic appealling and not turning once to face the umpire when appealing - which is apparently a no-no. So that had to be brought up again. Just a wall of negative, glass-half-empty, downbeat reporting of what should have been a happy day for English cricket.

And then the bloody Olympics. You would think that, as a nation that has been trying for as long as I can remember to host major sporting events, we would be happy to have the Olympics. Euro 96 was an awesome summer spectacle. The Manchester Commonwealth games, whilst not so obvious, was great too. Wembley is open and looking good so the Olympics - good, right?

Not at all! Every single thing that could possibly be criticised about it has been. I could write a book about the ludicrously small-minded comments that have been made so far, but I'll just comment on two - the damned bloody logo and consultants.

The logo is a logo and will be everywhere by June 2012 and nowhere October 2012. As far as emphemera go, it's right up there with William and Kate 'Wedding' memorabilia and Big Brother 7 t-shirts. It's also a piece of design artwork and that, ladies and gents, means that some people will like it and some people will not. Now, you don't have to be a genius to work out who doesn't like it? Thats right - anyone who has a vested interested in selling newspapers or spiking ratings/visits. Oh and it cost £400,000 to do and you know what? A teenager with photoshop can make something better.

Oh can they? Can they really? And have they done all of the post-production for that image? Have they made the animated TV and web graphics? The newspaper versions? The billboard ones? Have they worked out how their image will be put onto mascots? Have they checked that their images isn't insulting to one of the 120-odd participating cultures? Sure, the designers dropped a bollock when they forgot that flashing images can trigger photo-epilepsy but thats an easy one to solve. Once again we see the common British failing - whilst we have become a nation built on service industries we are a manufacturing and heavy industry culture at heart. Those that work and sweat with their hands, within our cultural instinct, should be paid more than those that simply work with their brain. The miner works 'harder' than the designer. The shipbuilder is more 'worthy' than the accountant. The farmer is more 'valuable' than the marketeer. And as soon as relatively large amounts of money are mentioned... well, our national knee-jerkery just goes into overdrive.

What we fail to mention on R4, as they question some minister or other on whether the government is going to bow to 'public' (ie. their) opinion and scrap the logo (thus wasting that £400,000) is that a painting by some dead bloke will sell for £20m or whatever and then be put away in a private gallery for no-one to see. Thats OK, thats art and private money. This is 'modern design' and public money. Whole different kettle of fish.

Which brings us onto consultants. Now I have a little sympathy here as I am aware of the qualifications required to be called a consultant (none) and the salaries paid (vast). However, for Radio 4 to complain about there being too many consultants involved in the Olympics planning is farcical. Why? Follow the logic.

The Olympics uses public money, which needs to be accounted for as naturally this vastly visible project, the biggest construction project in Europe, is going to have lost of places where cash can be siphoned off. Corruption! Deceit! Fraud! It's the bread and butter of R4 so it has to be stopped. Now, you cannot have politicians deal with it because as we all know, all politicians are incapable of telling the truth or doing anything competent like wiping their own arse. So they have to appoint independent auditors to check that the money isn't being snaffled. Cool. But if the auditors are being appointed by the Government (this being public money) then they are not independent and therefore they themselves have to appoint auditors to audit the auditors to ensure that their independence is true. No, this isn't a Danny Kaye sketch, but you can probably add another layer of auditing on top of that just to make absolutely SURE that everything is above board.

But auditors cost money! Public money that in radio land doesn't get counted in pounds and pennies, but rather in hospital wards and transplant operations. (You know the score - one football match costs around three hospital wards and a dozen transplant ops). So you have to get rid of some auditors because the money that is being spent on them is deemed too much. So you begin to strip back the layers of control, checks and balances to save money.

Guess what? THE PUBLIC MONEY IS NO LONGER SECURE!! Where are the checks and balances? Where are the assurances of independence?! Eeek! The sky is falling in and workmen are leaving site each day with their pockets overflowing with golden dubloons doled out by Gordo Brown and the idiots at the Treasury! Quickly, RE-EMPLOY the auditors!! And thus the madness continues.

Lack of insight into the end product of their arguments makes R4 boil my blood. They skim these topics seeking to get a rise on their insane messageboards from the moderately angry right wing masses of middle England who are too posh to read the Daily Mail but just as indignant. They think that they are championing common sense and giving the people a right to reply when in fact all they are doing is undermining good works that are done by reinforcing fallacy and short-termism.

Bah and indeed humbug!