Sunday, December 30, 2007

Duty & Honour - Spreading the Word

Well, its that time.

Duty & Honour has now finished it's latest revision after some very valuable initial playtests. The system has changed radically from the document as first presented and now appears to be far more robust, consistent and balanced system. The process has been illuminating and in some ways humbling as I have been forced to realise that what may be obvious to me isn't necessary obvious, logical or necessary for others. Theres a balance between, as I see it, moving towards the common denominator of current existing designs for eases sake and developing a game which is working and potentially saleable.

I've now cast my net open in a couple of other arenas for playtesters and I'm ready to kick my internal playtest campaign off properly. Those first couple of abortive attempts have been priceless and I am particularly thankful to Andrew, Ben and Dave for sitting through them and helping so much in that little bit of crisis management!

So whats the timetable for the rest of the project? Roughly (and I mean that because I know that this is going to need as much time as it needs...) I'm aiming to have this round of playtests finished by the end of February with an eye to a fully-fledged ashcan for Conpulsion in March (as well as some demo games etc) and then a further iteration at Games Expo in May. All other things being equal, if I didn't have a fully-rounded game by Furnace in October I will be exceptionally disappointed.

It's all very exciting.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bag and Indeed, Humbug

When did Christmas start becoming social and mental torture? When did it stop being a time of joy and happiness and start being a cross between a military logistics exercise and socio-psychological Russian Roulette?

I am usually a big fan of Christmas - I love the holiday, the songs, the traditions, the food and the general schmaltzy cheesiness of it all. Give me a dark night, Once In Royal Davids City, driving around judging the silly house sized Christmas lights, a whacking great plate if Lieberkucken and The Vicar of Dibley and I am happy. Usually.

This year seems to have been different. This year my patience seems to have worn threadbare with a number of aspects of the entire thing.

1. Tradition! (Quick Topol impersonation for those that care...) - Christmas is full of 'traditions' and sometimes we have to cull these traditions so that we can stay sane. One such tradition is that we 'always' go to the Christingle Service on Christmas Eve. 'Always' meaning for the last eight years. When we first started to go it was quite fun but in recent years it has become a turgid waste of time. I know some of you will be reading this and saying 'but Neil, it was always a turgid waste of time' but as part of a pre-Christmas ritual and a great way to tire out the kids! This year we bowed out of Christingle because I simply couldn't face it anymore and boy, did it cause a stink. Adults asserting control over their own lives? Surely not...

2. Venue! - Similarly we rotate 'Christmas' between my house, my parents house and my mother-in-laws house. Which means that only one year in three do I have control over how the game runs. Now, we have come to this situation because in the first year that Christine and I were together we tried to 'do' Christmas at both parents houses and ended up in some Vicar of Dibley style double Christmas Dinner style nightmare. Man can only eat so much turkey! I think after my Man died last year, my Dad will be happy just to tag along rather than host it himself so next year is mine, ALL MINE! Which means no more luke warm, over cooked vegetables, no more piss poor gravy, no more 'no salt, no fat, no seasoning' cooking, no more horrendous trifle and no more 'stuffing' that was simply the most disgusting slurry that I have ever tasted. Oh and this year we were graced by my brother-in-law and his wife on Christmas Day for the first time ever instead of the usual Boxing Day follow-up dinner (oh yes, two in a row usually - unremitting joy). Currently my sister-in-law has said under 10 sentences to me in 12 years. Do the maths everyone - yes, there have been at least two years she hasn't said hello or goodbye to me! Well, sadly, this year they arrived under a cloud as their recently acquired £600 pedigree kitten-cat-thing was very ill and at the vets and the poor thing died just as they sat down to dinner. Tears, sobbing and a tidal wave of platitudes ensued as they made a swift exit, stage left. Honestly, if it was on Only Fools and Horses you couldn't have written it.

3. Presents Part One - The Children - OK folks, lets keep up here. Lara is 10. She is growing up very fast. VERY fast. Favourite presents this year? CD player, Hoosiers album, Take That album, DS games, flying dragonfly RC thingy. :Least favourite present? Sylvanian Families dolls, Bratz dolls, craft things (Lara is the Anti-Art one) and other tat from Poundstretcher. Emma is 7 and guess what? She's growing up very fast as well but even she, as the 'arty one' cannot handle a literal fuck-ton of 'craft' tat. When will people learn that QUALITY is more important than QUANTITY. That the size of the present bag is SIMPLY NOT COMPARABLE to the way that the present will be received. And of course, most importantly that the presents that were bought last year are NOT the presents that need to be bought AGAIN this year! GAH!!!

4. Presents Part Two - Me - This may seem really quite selfish but I really REALLY get fucked off by the way people buy me presents. Its like they have some sort of memory loss thing going on. Lets see - I got 12 pairs of socks (cool), 3 t-shirts (which might fit), two litres of vodka (hurrah - just as I enter one of my tee-total periods) and of course, a ton of sweets. Oh and a novelty clock, a desk puzzle and some other chaff. (Note, sorry, that these were from other people - the stuff I got from Christine and the kids was exactly what I wanted). Now I have stopped trying to exhibit faux excitement as I receive presents that are quite blatantly presents bought for a 36 year old man rather than for me so this year FINALLY someone said it. I nearly exploded and really had to bite my lip. 'Well, you are so difficult to buy for...'


Has Forbidden Planet closed down since you went last year and got a gift voucher? Similarly HMV/Waterstones? Have these places being wiped off the map? Because I'm SURE I was standing in them not three days ago! Does my wife not have an intimate knowledge of my wants and needs and are you not in possession of a mouth and ears?! Have I not got enough acknowledged hobbies that you could dip into? I mean between the comics, movies, wrestling, roleplaying, history and cooking there's simply NOTHING that you could dip into there is there? Oh no. Hang on, you could just give me MONEY, like I have always asked for so I can feed my fund to go to GenCon. Oh no, money is a bad present because ITS BETTER TO WASTE MONEY ON SHITE I DON'T WANT THAN GIVE ME SOMETHING I DO WANT!! FFS!!!!!

Please don't pretend that you have put huge amounts of thought into a present for me when it is simply plain to anyone that you haven't thought one bit about me as a person and you have simply bought the Standard Man Package presents for someone my age. Some people might think that I sound ungrateful but I would retort that what do I have to be grateful about? One of the presents I got this year was a raffle prize - the ticket was still on the bottle. *shakes head*

5. Psychological Pressure - Finally I am sick of the pressure that is put on people at Christmas to do everything regardless of their circumstances. It starts with the presents and bloody Christmas Cards (a Christmas tradition that we have all but jettisoned). Then its the tree and the decorations (again, reduced to minimal numbers in our house). The food, the worry over whether something has been forgotten, the insane shopping, more worrying, the wrapping of the gifts (once again, something I have disposed of, on environment grounds .... honest!), the worrying and yes, the worrying. Why is everyone so bloody worried all of the time about Christmas. Hello? Time of joy? Peace on Earth (ha!), Goodwill to all Men? Not a time to be fretting about whether a certain word in a card is too informal or whether the gift that you have pondered over for weeks is something the person REALLY wants (just ask ffs!). The event causes a maelstrom of chaos that I can simply do without. Fuck it.

And this, dear reader, all pales into insignificance when compared to the mother of all anti-climaxes. New Year cometh. I might well get an early night.

BAH HUMBUG! I want my Christmas back!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

In the Darkness, Brucey is waiting...

We all have a hidden secret. We all have something that we don't think other people should know. Today, I'm going to out myself.

I love Strictly Come Dancing.

I don't know whether it is the dancing, the costumes, the glamour, the bickering fracas of the judges or what but there is something that keeps me coming back again and again. Whats sillier is that I never vote and I never watch the follow-up dance off thingy on Sundays. For me, its the process rather than the result that beguiles. Up until now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, an injustice of 'Whip up a Bat-Signal!' proportions is liable to be foisted on us this evening. If it does, I may just explode!

The three semi-finalists are Gethin, Matt and Alisha.

Gethin is a Blue Peter presenter. His schtick has been 'Oh God, I have to touch a woman! I'm so embarassed! How can I get over this major barrier and show my true self." Yes mate, I would have SO many problems putting my hand on a fit Danish dancers arse in the privacy of my own dance studio. He is good however, very good.

Matt is currently in Eastenders. His schtick has been 'ZOMG! I'm young and crap but plucky and the female judge fancies me. Oh and my partner is FIT AS FUCK! Look! She looks like Natalie Imbruglia crossed with a porn pixie ... oh and I fancy her' Last week he was atrocious and actually stopped dancing in both of his dances because he forgot the steps... more on that later.

Alisha is the former rapper from Mis-teeq ( She's the one that sounds like her Jamacian grandad when she raps. She has a simple schtick. She is better than anyone else in the competition by a country mile. Seriously, she is better than some of the professionals! She has broken the competition record for the number of 10s awarded by the judges.

So she wins right? WRONG!

She is fucked and here is why...

1. The judges have started to realise that she is a runaway winner and therefore their judgements on her have been ... hyper-critical. Whilst Matt can get away with murder and be touted as the second coming of Fred Astaire for basically standing like a tentpole and having Miss Fit Lass dance around him, Alisha gets 'Well, we expect so much from you ... and you didn't quite put your foot down hard enough on one step.' They still love her but they are feeding that very British notion that the leader should not be the winner. How DARE she be good? Surely she should be shit and then get better, not just be consistently excellent?

2. She simply doesn't fit the demographic of the people who vote on that show. She is a woman (the last two winners have been men. Athletic men in their mid-30s... ). She is mixed race and that has been highlighted on the programming by appearances by her black and white grandparents. She is exceptionally attractive. I cannot see the great masses of middle England turning out to vote for her when they can vote for that nice lad from Blue Peter.

3. The final, I believe, is a vote and in that aspect she is totally fucked. The writing was on the wall last week when somehow she ended up in the dance-off. That means she came in the bottom two after the rankings of the judges and the public were put together. The Judge scores were

Gethin 4, Alesha 3, Letitia 2, Matt 1 - and in fact it could have been worse because as Gethin and Alesha were tied it could have been 3.5

Matt won. Which means he MUST have come first in the public vote. This was after he totally cocked up both his dances and STOPPED FUCKING DANCING! However he is still in the competition because he happens to be young, nervous, a face from a highly rated TV show and paired with Sex-In-Tights.

Quite simply, the public vote aspect of the contest makes the idea that it is a contest a complete farce. In the final four, if you stop dancing, you should be out. Plain and simple. No amount of boyish good looks should get you through. I can see her getting through tonight as the judges should recognise the quality - although at least two of them seem to be so infatuated by the comeback kid natural of the two blokes that I could be wrong - but in the final she loses out for being too good and daring to be consistently good.

And then don't get me started on 'Who Dares Wins' - the best National Lottery Quiz slot ever invented! Genius.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Gaming Resolutions

I am not, in any way, a keeper of New Year Resolutions. I am, however, a firm believer in self-review and critique. Because of the strange work balance of my job the Christmas period in my world take up the same standing as the summer in many others. Loads of extended work followed by a longer break. Today I start my first real break for some 24 weeks. Its a time for me to relax, recharge and reflect on what is happening now and what will happen in the future.

As a part of that I like to review my core hobbies and see where they are going and what I want to do with them. So without further ado, and in a High Fidelity style, here are my Top Five Gaming Resolutions.

1. No More Games

A strange one to start with, I know, but at the moment I think I have reached gaming saturation. I am still playing in The Great Pendragon Campaign, I'm playing Cold City and I am playtesting Duty and Honour. Oh, and we have our boardgaming night as well. Thats a whole lot of gaming for someone who was used to playing once a month! I think that anymore will begin to fray the edge of Mrs Gows tolerances and indeed my ability to concentrate on other things. So enough of a great thing. Quality over increased quantity.

2. Go to more conventions

I really enjoyed the two conventions I went to this year - GenCon and Furnace. That said, the two couldn't be more different if they tried! I want to go back to GenCon again and this time be well enough and experienced enough to actually participate in and enjoy the goings on than I was this year. I don't view this years trip as a disappointment or a failure - just the fog of illness dulled me so much that I under-performed! Furnace was far more how I expect a con to be and I really enjoyed myself. Five great games, loads of great chat and networking. This year I want to get to more of these events. Conpulsion in Edinburgh is a must-attend for me and I am positive I will squeeze in a few more. Sadly everyone seems obsessed with putting the bloody things on in Dorset or some other French principality....grrrr! ( and NO, before some bright spark suggests it I am NOT organising a Newcastle convention!)

3. Finish Duty & Honour

I suppose this should be higher up the agenda really! With no set date I want to get D&H finished this year in at least an ashcan state. I'm not putting pressure on myself or my stalwart team of playtesters but I need to harness the energy and momentum that I have at the moment and push on through. The game has improved immensely since I first presented it and it still has a way to go. Put it this way, if I cannot sit down and play D&H by Furnace 2008 I will be gutted!

4. Resume by position as the Iron DM

OK, maybe not 'Iron' but 'Reasonably Sturdy Metal' DM would suffice. I cannot believe it has been two years since I last ran anything that looked like a substantial campaign. After four years in the hot seat some time off was needed but this long? Good grief! Sometime during this year I want to GM something structured, ongoing and substantial. Not a playtest or a one-shot. Something that people can get their teeth into. I'm feeling the urge again, gnawing at my imagination. I keep picking up 'Full Light, Full Steam' and other books and wondering what to do with them. I even glanced at Mutants and Masterminds!

5. Start gaming with the kids again

My starkest failure of the last year has also been my greatest success. My games of 'A Faeries Tale' with the girls were amazing and they have lit a fire under them that still smoulders. My Actual Play posts have even had some international plaudits on the Sons of Kryos podcast much to the girls amusement. However the pressures of work and other pursuits have meant that I simply haven't had time to get myself into the headspace needed to play 'faeries' with the kids in a meaningful fashion. I really want to start that off again and soon. I know Lara in particular was exceptionally excited that there was a Dr Who rpg coming up and who knows - by the time it comes out she will be 11 going-on 12 ... she might even be able to join in with the big boys!

So there you are - five things I want to achieve next year in my gaming. What are yours?