Monday, July 30, 2007

T E E N T I T A N S Teen Titans, let's GO!!

I rarely post on here about my fanfiction - the 'other' hobby - but at the moment I am about to engage with a new series, one that I have been waiting for ages to write. Teen Titans.

If you are asking 'who' I will explain - they are the DC universe's young heroes, starting off as the sidekicks group and growing into a sort of Justice League Junior. So you get hardcore DC continuity superheroing and some great teenage interactions.

I've been a fan of the Titans comic book for years, but it has never been a fanfic title I have wanted to handle until recently. Whilst I am a bit of a team title addict and most of my more popular fanfic titles have been either teams or ensemble titles there is a certain something about the DC mainstream titles that has been off-putting. Justice League is generally unavailable or like gold dust, I'm too close to JSA to be able to do a decent job, Legion is too complicated - Titans seems like the perfect fit. In addition to that, I love my teen comedy and teen sports films. Yeah, I know, they are trash but what the hell. There's something strangely famillar about them that reaches out to me. I think it's because I never really 'did' being a teenager that I find it so fascinating.

The trick, I think, will be to make my Titans wholly different from my other title, Green Lantern. GL is very mainstream to the sites continuity and I do a lot of things in order to forward the sites metaplot with that title. Indeed, sometimes that means that the characters lose a little intimacy as they are hurtling around the Universe. So I want to get Titans down and dirty a little. Something more character driven than plot driven.

Of course, I now have the best bit to come - choosing *my* Titans roster. Thats going to be interesting!


GenCon Countdown has Commenced

In two weeks time I will be packing for GenCon.

Lets just understand that sentence for what it truely means. 25 years after I started roleplaying I will finally be making my way to the biggest gaming convention in the world. Thats pretty damned cool. Moreover I will be in the position to not scrimp and save money when I am there, making it a true 'holiday of a lifetime'. I am very very excited.

I would be wrong if I didn't say there was a certain degree of pathos attached to the entire affair as well. The finances for this venture have come from a large slice of inheritance that has come my way since last year, which is sad. However I am sure that all of the family members involved wouldn't begrudge me my dream holiday on the back of it. I also resolved late last year, after I parted company finally with Comic Images, that I would never again see a number of my friends that I had made during my sojourns to Wrestlemania. Indeed, the realisation of internet acquaintance into real-life associate had an unexpected effect on me - I can understand how people can get hooked on their online sweethearts so much that they marry. So it is a good thing that I will be seeing so many of them again, but a bad thing that I might never again. Again.

Thats all chicken feed to the fact that I am going however. The travel arrangements are almost sorted (barring one stop-over hotel and some car parking) although I need to put together a little information pack for my companions so that we all have copies of the travel information. I haven't bothered signing up for anything as I'm pretty sure I will be able to find more than enough stuff to do in the ad hoc games department. I have suitable clothes, a good bag, a great mobile phone that can double as a note taker, a travel plug, a good inflight book, some allergy tablets and other assorted approved medicines. Things are looking pretty sorted.

Well, sort of. Of course there had to be one fly in the ointment. I have just had MI:666 returned to me after it's strange journey into the armed forces. Which means that I don't have my primary game ready to take with me. I have been working furiously on Duty and Honour and that is in far better shape, but as yet not really felt the full force of playtesting. I think they will have to wait - or at least travel over in a very unfinished form. Unless I can magic some extra time over the next two weeks.

My shopping list of games grows daily as well - Dictionary of Mu, Full Light Full Steam, Faerys Tale Deluxe, The Blossoms Are Falling, Zorcerer of Zo, Committee for the Investigation of Thingy and probably some others too. *sob*

And with that... SQUEEEEEE!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hot, Damned Hot. No Really. Hotter Than That!

Well, I'm back from my first overseas family holiday in twelve years and all I can say is ... phew! Scorchio! Cyprus has been ridiculously hot this year. 'Hotter than living memory' sort of hot. 35-38 degrees C with virtually no wind, 60% plus relative humidity and not one single drop of precipitation. This is too much for a average Gow to handle. Hot is not good for me. I don't do hot. I'm not made for hot. It becomes a strange affair when fruit juice and bottled water becomes more important than beer. It is even stranger when the status of the ice cubes in the apartment is a matter of familial import. Indeed, the best buy of the weekend was the air conditioning in the room. £30 well spent. It was so hot you had to close the patio doors to keep the room cool rather than the other way around. Well strange.

On the positive side, it has to have been one of the most relaxing weeks I have ever had. I have never slept so much, never relaxed so much, never been able to put the stresses and pressures of life behind me so much. Which is ironic really as I knew that the results of my job regrading were lying in an envelope at home for me and I had the potential to have a couple of resignations sat on my desk when I got back. But there was NOTHING I could do out there, so fooey!

There are some inevitable ironies on these holidays. The first is that you travel a couple of 1000 miles to a different country and your kids make friends with two kids who live in Tynemouth. Like about a mile from where we live. You have to giggle.

The holiday did underpin a number of my views on this sort of package holiday in a tourist trap. I've resigned myself that I am still an old leftie at heart and my views on the role of the British abroad are pretty harsh. I hate the average british tourist and their stereotypical attitudes of cultural imperialism. I abhore the concept of going to the other side of the world, living (apparently) in a different culture for any length of time and then seeking out a 'Queen Vic' pub, a 'proper' fried breakfast and only every speaking in, and to, English. Cyprus makes this all too easy in that the UK used to administer it so everything is in English, they drive on the left side of the road, their beer comes in pints, their currency is the pound ... you get the idea! It seemed hard to find something honestly hellenic in the bloody place. Especially as the tourist area (Kato Paphos) is so detached from the old town.

Paphos itself is a strange place. It is not Ayia Napa! Nor is it a quiet docile village. It is the place where families go when their kids are in their middle teens, for that one last painful family holiday before they unleash their hormone-addled spawn on the flesh pits of the Med. Loads of teenage boys and girls wandering around with little thunderclouds above their heads DESPERATE to get pissed and shag each other, but totally unable to because their chubby little chava parents are adamant that they should sit with them at the pool bar and drink slushes. Comedy. On the other hand it is also the perfect place for the young couple away on their first holiday together. Last year they met, slurred at each other, rutted basely on the beach, vomited in unison and pledged their undying love over a split E. Now they return to Cyprus, holding hands, walking down the beach, eating in tavernas and radiating BOREDBOREDBORED around them. Again comedy.

Time share touts are another joy of Med holidays that I find almost a sport. We arrived at 06.00 and after a small sleep ventured out for food and water at around midday. We were blindsided by a couple on a scooter who asked whether we were English. Thinking, in our fuddled state 'hey, maybe these are nice people?' we said yes and they 'explained' that they were working for the Cypriot Tourist Board promoting return visits to the island as they were predicting a downturn when it enters the Euro. We were given little scratch cards and amazingly, I won the star prize! (who'd have thought it!) At this point my SCUM senses were flashing as the prizes were 'Camcorder' or '£300' or 'DREAM holiday' - I've been here before, when I was much younger and much more niaive, making a trip to Wooler to be given a bag of shite. However, to claim my star prize, I HAD to go NOW to the next resort and if I didn't I wouldn't get it. Oh there were other things flashing around but it was so blatantly obvious they were time share. I challenged them on it, and asked for ID (which they had left in their hotel...) and then they claimed that the Co-Op is a time share front. Really? Honestly? BWAHAHAHA. At this point I started playing with them when they suggested that they should come and take us to the tourist centre the next morning (hey, that deadline suddenly moved). Sure yes, come and get us. We'll be at the Water Park, but you can wait, fuckwit.

We ran into this scooter riding couple half a dozen times in the week. Each time I was nastier and nastier with them, but they had to maintain their friendly facade. Eventually on the last day, my fun having been had, I told them to fuck off. So much fun with so stupid a couple of tards.

The trip to the Water Park was loads of fun ... for the kids. I do not do risky, dangerous things. Normal laws of physics tend to break down when faced with my weight and general compressed mass. 'Kamakaze Death Slides' just fill me with dread. I did try to 'Lazy River' ride which resulted in some comedy moments as I tried to mount the inflatable tyre (nearly drowning Christine in the process) and then floated around the park. I was in the sun for around 10 minutes. I look like I have been blasted by a Death Star! I hate sunburn with a passion. Really, nothing annoys me more. It's avoidable and therefore embarassing. Grrrrrr. We also went to the Paphos Bird and Animal Park. Now I'm a sucker for a good zoo (and yes, I know how evil they are, but sometimes I have to balance that with the experience they give) and this was a good zoo. Until we got to the Parrot Show. I'm not the greatest fans of circuses and these ridiculous charades come just below them. Oh yes, how wonderful it is to see these animals do their nice 'learned by rote' routines, no doubt done through a nice session of Pavlov's Dogs-esque training. See the parrot count, bike, drive a car, put shapes into places and even feckin' rollerskate. The kids loved it. I hated it. It was embarrassing. I ended up taking sneaky stealthy pictures of the people behind me on my mobile phone. And played Solitaire.

Information deficit is something that I find very hard to handle on holidays. Without my multiple news channels and internet access, I find myself almost inert in my natural environment. I find it fascinating the information 'webs' that we have built around ourselves and our reliance on them. Apparently it has been quite wet here in the UK whilst I have been away. England managed to draw a test match against the odds when they should have won and Lewis Hamilton crashed? And other things may have happened. The flipside of this is that without TV and PC I had to go all old school and do the holiday reading, which this year was mainly a 1000 page non-fiction text on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War. Yes, that interesting! Actually it was and it gave me the brain-space to finally get the last two parts of my Duty and Honour game sorted in my head. Some frantic scribbling later and it now feels like a 'complete' game as I have cracked the 'what the characters do' side of the equation. Hurrah.

So here I am, back again and fully recharged and ready for two weeks of frantic work hell (oh, and having a new kitchen fitted) and then off to GenCon. Woot!!!!!


Nerd North East No More

Due to technical difficulties with the speed of updates of RSS and the absolute information hunger of the users, my little experiment in creating a blog based portal for our gaming groups has been deleted. Damn new technology for not working as it says on the tin!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Dollop of Neil Crack

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the latest cinematic load of crack for me to get all historically excited under my ruffled collar.

Hmmm... period drama goodness!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Communications and Communities

Sometimes you have moments of epiphany - moments that really make you think 'why didn't I think that before?'

This week, I have been attending a conference on 'new media' and 'web 2.0' specifically targetted at the student market. It was a very good experience, with excellent speakers, good delegates, loads of new ideas and no small amount of new lucrative business for my workplace. However, one of the best things that I received was the chance to sit for 48 hours and simply concentrate on 'building web communities'.

Web communities have been a significant part of my life for some years now. They have allowed me to communicate with hundreds of people from around the world, build online friendships that have blossomed into real life friendships and they have been the underpinning feature of my gaming life. One feature of these communities I have seen, however, is a distinct unwillingness to embrace change, especially when it comes to tried and tested methods of communication. I think thats a shame because there are some tools out there that really can enhance community interactions.

Just a few examples - the first being, well, blogging. The more I explore the features available on various blogging platforms the more I become convinced that they can easily replace the old concept of the personal or small group webpage. I have recently been working on a very simple website for my wifes Embroiderers' Guild. This is the first site I have designed for some years and I was bemused by the inappropriate nature of the design brief. The website is a static resource for a very limited amount of information, a short calendar and a photo depository. Oh and some links. Thats cool but ... well, why limit yourself. You can do all of the above with a blog and a or account. Of course what you also get is the ability to have comments and thus create a little interactivity and also many authors. This is all done with minimal IT knowledge, which is crucial for these endeavours or they simply become the purview of the Alpha Geek of the group.

Or alternatively, they could well just all join Facebook and set up their own Facebook group. They have the ability to create events (and generate attendence lists), share photos, create albums, have polls, have their own members pages and dozens of other things with relatively little effort. The same slideshow software can be used here to show the images that they hold so dear and they have a forum and discussion board as well. It's very useful and yet totally outside of that design brief.

And in both of these instances they can easily access RSS feeds - Really Simple Syndication - bring information from other websites onto theirs and creating a dynamic content that will give more reasons for their members to interact with their community pages and therefore generate more content. Content has always been the key to websites but contextualised content is now more important than ever. A website where the boss can pass information down is OK, a site where all of the supposedly equal members can talk and debate and share creates the community that they seek.

In the back of my head, I am applying this theory to the various facets of my gaming community and wondering whether there is a simple way that we can amalgamate our current forum, old pub forum, four blogs and at least three websites that we look at often (via RSS). That would seem to be a way that we could work smarter but is it wholly necessary - well, I guess thats something for the Comments?

Would it be better to have a 'one-stop' gaming group(s) solution whilst maintaining our own blogs etc?


Monday, July 09, 2007

AP: A Faery's Tale: Part 4 (b)

After a brief resume of the previous adventure, the girls settled down for the climax of their tussle with the Goblin King.

Queen Leanan was furious at the audacity of the Goblin King and summoned a full sitting of her high council to debate the response of Brightwood. All day Knights, Ladies, Animal Lords and Wizards arrived from the four corners of her forest and met in a ancient wooded ampitheatre outside of the village. Leanan explained that by actually trying to cause mortal harm to the Knight of Swallows, the Goblin King had broken the most ancient law of the Great Forest. A law that was older that the tallest tree and the deepest root. They had two choices - they could fight back to protect their forest or they could submit to this afront to them and carry on as normal. If they did the latter they would abandon the baby Princess to the Goblin King but they would not themselves break the law. If they attacked, they could rescue the Princess but they would break the Most Ancient Law and they would stand to lose their immortality.

Debate raged across the chamber, with the amassed Knights claiming that might would make right and the Ladies of Flowers claiming that they cannot just leave the baby alone but they also cannot risk their immortality. There was a heated debate going on between Jennifree and Sarah as well - Sarah, predictably, following a more martial solution to the problem, whilst Jennifree was trying to conjure something a little more cerebral! Finally she suggested to the Queen and the Captain of the Guard that they could turn the Goblin King's trick against him. If he had caused a distraction to allow his men to kidnap the Princess, maybe the faeries of Brightwood could themselves cause a distraction and snaffle the Princess back!

It was decided that this was the best plan and the inhabitants of Brightwood began their preperations. Meanwhile, the Queen met with Jennifree and Sarah and some of her most trusted advisors; The Captain of the Guard, the bravest Mouse in Brightwood Sir Squeek and Midgens, her royal magician (another portly and eccentric gnome). A plan was concocted (by the girls!) that they would travel to the borders of Darkwood with the Guard and then proceed alone. As Sarah could turn into a mouse herself, they would use a map (provided by Sir Squeek) of the small places in the Goblin Kings black tower and use that to find the baby. When they did they would place a silver wristband on it and say the magic word ('Leanan') to bring them all home safely. After gathering some provisions (including buttercup butter, acorn soup and blackberries) and a sturdy axe and shield for Sarah, they set off to save the Princess.

They travelled quickly through Brightwood, passing the Raven Rock and the house of the Old Hag and into Darkwood. They moved quickly, knowing that they were being followed by Rat-Things, spying on them from the shadows. Eventually they came to a crossroads being guarded by a two-headed night ogre!! The ogre (called Bigg'un and Little'un) challenged them as they approached, and was ready to bash them. Sarah decided she would distract the ogre by ducking through it's legs whilst Jennifree found her pipes and lulled it to sleep. The lulling worked, but not until Sarah had received a good thumping from a well placed club and was sent spinning across the forest - and nearly relieved of all of her essence! Moving passed the slumbering ogre they pressed on, eventually realising that there was nowhere safe to bed down for the night in the black oppression of Darkwood.

As they moved on, their path lit by faerie light, they realised - from the smell and the sounds of slurping gloop, that they were surrounded by Smelly Things (the elite spies of the Goblin King). Realising that they could not fight their way out, they decided to barter for their freedom. They tried to offer the leader of the Smelly Things food, but as it was all fresh, he wasn't interested. He asked what else they had to offer and eventually they got his interest with their map - him being a collector of secrets. They gave up their map and he let them go - but now their secret entrance was lost and they would have to pass through the Goblin Kings Riddle Gate.

At the Riddle Gate, the giant toothed maw in the door asked them the following riddle:

I am the sound of an animal and the skin of a plant - what am I?

Eventually, after some deliberation, they came close with 'baa' and the door winced at how close they were which twigged them on and they finally answered 'bark!'. The door laughed and swang open to reveal... the chief of the Smelly Things, Goblins, Ogres, Trolls and the Goblin King himself. Waiting for them!

(Meanwhile in the forest, the faeries of Brightwood began their distracting attack, dropping sticky blueberries on things, tying shoelaces together, making flowers grow from noses and purposefully tidying ogre dens!)

The faeries were captured and imprisoned in the Goblin Kings dungeons. Originally I said that they were behind a locked door but Emma decided that she needed some more Essence so she added the complication that it wasn't a door - it was a massive boulder, so massive that even she couldn't move it. Fair enough. She then (obviously having caught on to how the game works!) prompted Lara to spend on of her remaining Essence to have Granite (the troll champion) and Rocknose (his little son) appear in the prison room. OK... She then used her BOON over Granite to have HIM roll back the stone and set them free!!! Sneaky little bugger!

Rocknose was excited to see the faeries but Granite knew that he was going to get into trouble so he let them go but gave them a minutes head start - they ran!!!

As they made their way hurriedly through the castle, they noticed that everyone was streaming towards the central chamber. Sarah turned into a mouse and scooted in to see what was happening. In the chamber she saw hundreds of bad faeries gathered around a pool of bubbling sulphurous mud and on a dias in the middle of the mud stood the Goblin King and the baby Princess. Something was up! Sarah decided to make her run at the Princess whilst Jennifree somehow held off Granite.

However, things are not that easy - the Knight of Wolves smelled the faeries and a massive 'club the mouse' session started. The mouse, however, has Body 5 and Agile and was easily able to avoid the blows.

Meanwhile Jennifree confronted Granite and rather than fight him, used her Boon over him to get him to help Sarah!! Sarah turned into a Frog so that she could jump across the mud, but failed her roll horribly and sploshed into the icky mess, only to be scooped out by Granite and dumped on the dais. The Goblin King turned on her and tried to stab her with his wicked curved dagger but she dodged, snapped the bracelet onto the Princess and shouted LEANAN (scaring our cat rigid as a result!) and teleporting all three of them back to Brightwood.

Queen Leanan was ecstatic and after the Court brownies had check the child she transported everyone to the human lands and presented the Princess back to the King and Queen. They were overcome with joy and Leanan presented the two faeries who had so bravely rescued the baby - and announced them as the Princess' faery godmothers! They each gave the baby one of their Gifts to share - Jennifree gave the baby the Gift of Musical and Sarah gave her the Gift of Agile. And thus ended the first story arc of their game

As an ended, I explained that the Goblin King was furious but embarassed and that he would keep himself to himself for the time being. The next set of adventures would not involve the Goblin King. They hadn't discovered where Flynn was yet, and he wasn't with the Goblin King so where was he? That was something to discover. They were also allowed to either have 1 point added to a stat, 1 extra Gift or 1 charm. Sarah chose to increase her mind from 2 to 3 so that she was cleverer. Jennifree added the Clever charm to her already impressive array of cerebral talents.

They resolved that they would like the next set of adventures to have something to do with Silverwood and also to have something to do with their families, which have never been detailed yet. Emma wants to change her characters name so we discussed how this could be the outcome of the family storyline and she seemed happy with that.

So, has the roleplaying experiment worked? Absolutely - they are still loving it, still getting very into the characters and the adventures and still seem energised afterwards. If anything the person who needs to get more into it is me, as sometimes it just seems like one thing too many to be doing. However, once I get down to doing it, it's brilliant. We'll be on a short hiatus for now and then back again, maybe before GenCon. Oh, and I have orders - have to buy some faery's tale dice for them both! *rolls eyes*


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Geek Life's So Good!

I have to say, when I cast my mind around my current state of sublime geekdom, it's pretty damned excellent at the moment.

On the roleplaying front, I have never had it so good. I'm playing in THREE - thats right, count them, THREE - ongoing games. The Great Pendragon campaign is on a short summer hiatus but we are very much going to hammering it when September comes. The next episode of Thrilling Tales (Spirits of the Century) is coming tomorrow and it should be a rollercoaster ride of mayhem in the Hollow World. I'm also playing in a very different game of modded Primetime Adventures which we have named BAYUHC (Ben's As Yet Unnamed Horror Campaign) which is truly excellent. Above and beyond that, I've touched a load of other gaming communities through forums and podcasts, murmurings of CottageCon II have began targetting the autumn period maybe. And of course, I have my ongoing A Faery's Tale campaign with the kids.

And I'm off to GenCon (!)

My fanfic world is tripping along amazingly as well. I'm still writing for DCInfinity and the group is going from strength to strength. Moreover, the tight nature of the writers really really helps with the impetus to create. Everyone throws around ideas and shares thoughts about storylines and it just energises what we do. DCI has a very different schtick to many of the fanfic groups I have been involved with. Mirroring the real DCU, we have an issue that comes out every week which carries a real metaplot that runs across the titles. It's the most mature shared universe group I have seen, a real pleasure to work with.

Of course, not everything is perfect. I have had a MAJOR snafu with MI:666 by essentially having my master document kidnapped by the army (!!) and facing one of my real mental barriers - rewriting things that I have already done. Because of this it looks like I will be putting my energies into Duty and Honour for the GenCon playtest games - but hey, I set myself a goal of taking a game to GenCon, it just might not be the one that I thought it would be!

You'll notice no electronic media in the mix here? Well, I tried City of Villains alongside some friends but in the end it never really bit with me. There were some significant improvements over the detritus that was City of Heroes, but in the end it simply doesn't seem to have that thrust, depth and direction that WoW had. So thats a no go. Speaking of WoW I'm seriously feeling the twitch now. It's a trying time as I'm pretty sure reactivation of my account would be swiftly followed by castration. Still, I have a load of other things to keep my mind settled.

Geek life is well good at the moment. Lets keep it that way.