Monday, July 28, 2008

The City of Kings Pt1 - Hot in the City

As no-one else seems to have blogged about last night's D&D game, I might as well kick things off. I've been giving Andrew all manner of grief over the last month about the levels of expectation for this game and in true Watsonian fashion, Andrew delivered. As the first session of a campaign, it was wonderfully evocative and played to our groups strengths. Not everything was perfect - it never is - but I left the session feeling like a 'proper gamer', which is silly, I know, but it was true.


1. The rules tweaks - 'Wealth levels' instead of money makes coin counting obselete. 'Legacy items' - iconic magic items which scale with level and include the balancing properties of all the necessary items in the game are wonderful. Abstract levelling rather than XP grind allows us to pace the game and see the run of the system without 'grinding'. We discussed them before the game and they worked well.

2. Peripherals - we used a battleboard, minatures, dungeon tiles, power cards - hell, we even had an official D&D pen at the table. It all worked really well. The combats we played out were so very different from the ones we have done before. They were tactical. They required thought. Every single roll of the dice had a weight of meaning that, on reflection, I have rarely seen before. Not one of the fights had a bit of wiffle in it. The minatures were evocative and worked far better than I ever thought they would. Even something as petty as the power cards really cut down the amount of book flicking that was needed. Really really good for this game.

3. Reskinned monsters - I loved the fact that Andrew had taken the time to create his own monsters for the game, even if they were reskinned versions of Monster Manual creatures. Faced with the slavering savagery of a Carnage Demon, what were we to expect? Skeletal Flame Priests? Hounds of Shadow? The risen cadaver of the Sun God Azhura. Hardened gamers reduced to second-guessing noobs. Love it. Total and utter ignorance.

4. Structure and Pacing - the structure of the game was great. We were straight into the action at the start of our rebellion sanctioned tomb robbing, rather than playing out the arrival in the City of Kings or our meeting with the rebellion. It kicked the game off brilliantly.

5. Skill Challenges - Andrew's interpretation of the skills challenge system is inspired. Rather than wander a tomb checking for traps, we have to make two successes before we make two failures using a selection of skills. If we succeeded, we narrated a situation and how we got around it. If we failed, it triggered an encounter prepared by the DM. Why was this gold? Threefold. First off, it took what could have been a dire dungeon crawl and made it very quick and dynamic, cutting to the good stuff. Second, it made us use an array of skills in very different ways. So rather than the Ranger/Thief stealthing through the entire dungeon, the Mage and the Paladin narrated the unpicking of a runic bomb trap using magic and religious nouse. Thirdly, once again, every roll counts. Feel the tension.

6. Missio... sorry, I mean Quests - We all have group and personal Quests to fulfil in true MMO style and they work magnificently. It adds a focus to the game, reinforces situation, tweaks conflict, plans out our rewards and generally makes the game a lot of fun.


1. FOCUS - Whilst I readily accept that this was due to it being the first session of the game, it did feel a little stop/start at times, especially around food ordering and breaks etc. They were the right times to do them, but I was so 'in the zone' that I didn't want to stop!

2. CHARACTERISATION - We REALLY are going to have to keep an eye on our characterisation if we are going to stop the game descending into a glorified game of Warhammer Dungeon. We can't let our characters just become pieces on a board.

3. NO TALKY TALKY - We had very few chances to actually roleplay within the adventure. There were some, I admit, which we may not have grabbed. However, we're dead good at this roleplaying lark and less so at this tactical combat malarky, so we probably needed the practice!

4. THE BOW OF ILLUSIONISM - Artemis got his legacy item, a magical phoenix style bow (very cool, even if he is now forever Ranger from the D&D cartoon). We were told not to take things from the tomb or we would have to face the wrath of the dead Sun God. The Bow was in the tomb. Oh, so we're fighting the Sun God then, regardless, because well ... we're not leaving someone's Legacy item behind. Or are we? We could have and then Andrew could have been placed in a real pickle. Would he have had to reintroduce the item at a future point? Would he have let Artemis continue the entire campaign hamstrung without his item? No, whilst we appeared to have a choice, we had no choice at all. But really, like we wanted to avoid a fight like that - which was tooth and nail awesome!

It was a great game which really hammered home that (a) system matters, (b) we really do love fantasy, (c) Andrew is an excellent GM and (d) we've got a whole lot of gaming in the City of Kings to come.

Personally, its the first time in well over a decade that I have levelled a D&D character and I was thrilled. Morn, the 2nd level Paladin, is an absolute S.O.B. and I'm loving it!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

From the Ashes

Tomorrow is the start of our new Dungeons and Dragons campaign. That in itself would not be a notable thing, but eight years on, it feels like a partial rebirth of our gaming group.

Eight years ago we came together to play D&D3e, 'we' being the players from a disparate larger group of gamers who wanted to turn a very casual approach into something a little more concrete. Since then we have seen people come and go from the table. We have moved venue on a number of occassions. We have played some awesome games (Pendragon, Buffy, Spirit of the Century) and some awful ones (Werewolf ... what was I thinking?). We have seen off CCGs and to an extent MMOs. We have even grown our own family of gamers and now have a packed out gaming social calendar, which includes our own mini-convention!

However, despite all of these achievements, its the things that we haven't done that please me more. We never argue. We never keep things bottled up - instead choosing a very open feedback mechanism to help support each other as we develop. We have never turned on a player or ejected a player from our table. We play with respect and fairness. We don't abuse people's hospitality for opening their homes to us. We haven't ever let external pressures - primarily from MMOs - get in the way of our gaming.

So now, on Sunday, the original five sit down again with the next version of D&D, but this time I get to play rather than DM. The game has all the hallmarks of an excellent campaign. We have excellent characters and a brilliant situation. The setting, which is a homebrew, has a feeling of focus to it that I have rarely seen. It has great flavour around it whilst still allowing huge variety. Andrew, the GM, has concoted a fair few tweaks to 4e to keep the game ticking over in the manner that we have become accustomed.

Really, we are going to have to try really REALLY hard to fuck this one up!

And what does the future hold for us? Who knows.... but I hope we continue in the same way we have for the last eight years. Damned fine gaming.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


1. Gordon Brown wants more curfews. David Cameron wants all that annoying paperwork taken away from Stop and Search procedures for the police. I despair...

2. Its episode 2 of Bonecackers tonight. I can hardly wait!

3. Apparently its OK to refuse to do your job if you are a Christian and your job is performing civil partnerships with gay people. I wonder what sort of precedent this sets? Could a Christian housing officer refuse to housing an unmarried couple as they would be living in sin? Barking!

4. Newcastle are still very quiet on the transfer front. I'm worried. Shit or get off the pot Mr Ashley!

5. The extension knocks through this week ... its officially scary, but also quite exciting.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Police State?

This morning I was woken up by someone in the House of Lords quoting Pastor Niemöller with regard to the 42-day hold without charge debate. Always a grand way to wake up. I was then reading about a police curfew that has been placed upon a Devonshire village for the under-16s.

Now whilst on the face of it, this would seem OK - after all, we are not going to condone violence or intimidation - what it does do is remove any idea of 'innocent until proven guilty'. By virtue of apparent age, apparent being something I will come back to, a 15 year old kid can be in trouble with the police for being out of his house during the summer holidays at 9.05pm. What a very strange world we live in? I wonder what provision is made for those children returning from evening activities such as sports clubs, hobbies or just visiting relatives? Will police snatch squads stalk public playing fields with a stopwatch, as lads try to have a kickabout during the long nights? No longer the chance to go to the cinema for a snog in the back row, as you will have to be back in your house by 9pm! Rules like these criminalise the innocent and I can imagine a number of other police authorities looking at it and wondering whether it would work for them?

Just to reiterate, thats a curfew in operation on British soil effecting innocent British citizens.

And this is apparently a good thing?

Remember I said 'apparently' before was operative in all of this? Well, this lead me to thinking about another of my favourite bugbears at the moment. Task 25.

I was in Morrisons last week and saw that in order to buy alcohol, if you look under 25, you will have to produce proof of ID. Again, it seems innocent enough but what is the logic behind it? The legal age for the purchase of alcohol is 18. Not 21. Not 25. Its 18.

So you go into Morrisons and you look, say, 22. Obviously older than 18, probably not more than 25. And you have to produce ID? Why? The assistant can see and accept that you are older than 18 (and thus the sale is legal) so why not make the sale?

To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure that Tesco Extra operate the same policy for anyone who appears under 30!

One the one hand, I find this arse-covering at an insane level. If the supermarkets are honestly saying that they cannot tell the difference between someone in their mid-20s and someone who is 17, then I suggest they need to look harder! Regardless, what makes 26 or 31 suddenly an age without any qualms about sale? Its arbitary and illogical, at best.

Either we push towards a society where we all carry ID and it is used all of the time for various things (ie. like in California, where you are ID'd for your first drink in every bar, no matter how old you are (at least in my experience!)) or we do not. These self-imposed halfway houses create ludicrous paradoxes.

To whit, imagine the problems the police in the curfew town are going to have with all of those ambiguously aged youths? If a supermarket cannot tell the difference between a 17 year old and a 30 year old, how the hell can the police be expected to tell the difference between a 15 and a 16 year old. Or 17? Or 18? Or 21? How many innocent adults are going to be 'dispersed' by the police?

Maybe David Davies is right? Maybe there is an erosion of our civil liberties that is happening in this country? Maybe we are just letting it happen because it makes us feel safer.... until we are the ones that are fingered with being the danger and then we will have let it all go too far.

Remember the words of Pastor Niemöller ...

First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.


Oh my God...

I was quite looking forward to Bonekickers (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm) as I like my BBC drama series and this one looked like it could be up my street. Interesting topic, lots of characters, a little dash of Spooks and it was written by the folks that did Life On Mars. Good pedigree.

What a bag of unmitigated toss. And remember, I have the lowest of standards usually. Lets see if I can replay some of the highlights.

The lead character, a tough-ass female archeologist with some hidden family past, has absolutely zero empathy. Zero. She is just brutal and abrasive for the sake of it. I was desperately trying to place where I had seen the character before and then it struck me - its the Dead Ringers version of Fiona Bruce. Utterly unwatchable.

The plot - a housing project turns up a Knights Templar site which happens to maybe have a piece of the Cross of Christ, but the land just happens to be owned by a lunatic right wing Christian zealot trying to start a holy war against Muslims using ex-Eastenders actors with longswords - was almost (-almost-) watchable, as it didn't quite stray into Da Vinci Code territory. Throw in a woman with a splinter in her finger that can heal the dying and some hilarious vignettes to camera by said lunatic in the manner of V For Vendetta and it began to slide into silliness.

Then they discovered the dovecote with the massive vault containing all of the crosses brought from the Holy Land, under a church (no subsidence, obviously) and things just went from bad to worse. You have the lunatic sword wielding young men turn up in a classic stand off of 'drama!'. The zealot lunatic rappels down into the church like a Bond villain, with his obligatory sword. There is an argument, a scuffle and then the DEVOTED ARCHEOLOGIST sets the entire place on fire! We are then privy to some really bad blue screen work as the archeologist and the lunatic duel on the hanging ropes in the style of 'Hang Tough' from Gladiators. The bad guy falls and decides to off the plucky third year archeology student from Durham (typical Durham 'rah') and instead of screaming and begging for her life, she starts singing 'Jerusalem' at him!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, everyone good escapes, the lunatic and the guy from Eastenders burn to death, the underground chamber is left blazing away - probably undermining the entire area - and the archeologists go off down the pub. I shit you not. The death of two people isn't worth a blink for these neo-Indianas!

Next weeks is about slavery, the American presidency and has redcoats in it. I can hardly wait!

The BBC: Making the missable, missable