Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When did New Year stop being important?

I remember when I was younger, New Year was THE event of the year. It would be a time when I would import a girlfriend to bring home, just to go out at New Year. It was definitely the social highlight of the year. It was a time to drink and make merry, to really let your hair down.

A little bit of me thinks that part of the New Year magic died on 31st December 1999. The millenium celebrations erupted like some sort of social abcess and tried to out-do anything that had gone before. I feel that since then, the world has been trying to play catch-up to a feeling that they will never feel again in their lifetime.

Being a parent doesn't help. Wasting babysitting credit on New Year isn't always good value. We don't have a massive social circle and due to Christine's medical condition we aren't the best party animals. And to be honest, we're a little long in the tooth to do the trawling around town thing. We don't drink anymore so getting plastered at home is a non-starter. And the TV is reliably dreadful.

Its all a bit of a damp squib. One thing that this change of emphasis has done is to allow me to be a little more cirumspect about the entire affair. Whereas before I never made resolutions, nowadays I use the time as a milestone to plan things by. You get to thinking seriously about whether your lot is better this year than it was last year and what sort of a year you have had. You also get to thinking about what real positive steps you can take to effect change in your life. Last year I stopped drinking alcohol. This year .... who knows?

Maybe New Year hasn't stopped being important - maybe its actually become more important, just in a different way?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gaming Resolutions 2009

As has become a tradition on my little Blog, I'm going to be setting myself five Gaming Resolutions for the coming year. I managed 3.5/5 last year - hopefully I can do more this year!

1. Publish 'Beat To Quarters'
Yey! I have a resolution that says 'MAKE MONEY!'. The second part of my Duty & Honour trilogy has just started coming together and I am confident that it will be ready for the off in the summer. However, I am also determined that I don't rest on my laurels and lose some of my focus that helped bring D&H to the table. My timetabling is aggressive because I know that if it isn't, it will get lost in the shuffle.

2. Be a better player
Whilst this is something that we strive, in theory, to be all of the time, do we actually do anything about it? There have been a number of times this year when I have been stroppy, petulant and argumentative. Thats got to stop. I have also managed to come to the table with a complete lack of focus and tend to drift into games rather than be gagging for them from the get-go. In some ways, its 'do unto others...' etc. so I am going to pull my socks up on this one a little.

3. Run one campaign of a reasonable length
Ironically, the title of Iron DM hardly fits me anymore. I find it exceptionally hard to prep and plan games and rely upon my well-honed improvisational techniques and 'play it by ear' style to see me through most of my games - even con scenarios, which is suicide! I want to run one, reasonably lengthy campaign this year. Lets put a length of at least 8 sessions on it. As we are up to our necks in D&D4e, this would almost certainly be a G2 activity and it may or may not be Seven Curses. Who knows.

4. Game with the girls again
I'm going to port this one over from last year. It is crucially important to me to build that amazing link we had when we were gaming before, again. I'm not concerned about which game it is, just that it happens again to see whether it was just a one off or whether now that they are older its something that they really liked.

5. Spend with prudence
No, this has nothing to do with the bloody credit crunch! I have just got rid of 80% of my old RPG stuff this year and I could really do without replacing it with games that I am only going to read and not run. So, my resolution is that I shall not purchase a new RPG unless I am determined to run it within the reasonable future. That seems fair enough!

So there we go, five. Anyone else got any of their own?


Monday, December 22, 2008

Secret Films Of Our Youth

We talk alot about the hot new films that we like and if you are like my group of friends, the films that we absolutely despise. However, one group of films that we rarely talk about are those that exist in a dim and distant warm spot from our childhood. For me, the one that stands out in this nature is Fiddler on the Roof - the story of everyday Orthodox Jewish folk just before the Russian Revolution. Its a musical and I know the words to just about every song. Why? Well, when I was a kid, we only had six records in the house - Dougal and the Blue Cat, The Best of ABBA, the Best of Shirley Bassey, 'Please Please Me' by the Beatles and the soundtracks to South Pacific and Fiddler on the Roof. Strangely, I am word perfect on South Pacific as well...

Anyway, I had the chance to watch Fiddler on the Roof again recently thanks to late night ITV3 and the wonders of Sky+ and it was still as good today as it was when I was a kid. From a modern point of view I think that the embattled father, Tevye, is a latter day version of Homer Simpson and I can recognise a lot of the strains put on him by his need to maintain order in the face of his love for his daughters in modern parenting too. Of course, I just do that with less singing!

Its the singing that does it for me. I love the songs in this film more than any other musical. They have a wonderful playfulness to them and most of all, many of them are sung in a pitch that allows men to sing along to them without sounding too bad. Awesome. Stuff Mamma Mia - there should be Men Only Sing-a-Long versions of Fiddler on the Roof .... well, at least until it all goes sad and pear-shaped at the end. Yes, thats the kicker in Fiddler. It isn't like virtually every musical of the time where everyone is happy and the world is a wonderful place. The entire village is moved on by the Czarist authorities, demolishing their community, one daughter 'escapes' to Kracow (!), one lives with her dissident husband in his gulag in Siberia and the other is disowned for marrying outside the faith. And yet, there is still a message of hope right at the end, as the Fiddler follows Tevye to America and you realise that it represents the traditions and spirit that are escaping to survive what is to come in Russia and out of Germany.

Its a fucking fantastic film and I recommend everyone to see it.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nostalgia Gaming

I have watched with some amusement at the re-release of Dragon Warriors. It was devoured at Dragonmeet like mana from heaven by men of a certain age who really should have known better. I never owned Dragon Warriors but I have played it once and whilst the session itself ranks up there with root canal surgery in my pantheon of unpleasant experiences, the system itself never struck me as anything special. It was there, doing its thing, but nothing that couldn't be done with D&D or Runequest or one of a dozen other generic fantasy systems. So why all the excitement? Could it be that a full set of Dragon Warriors has been quite a rare thing and it has created a mystique that has to be sated? I don't know.

In some ways the same holds true for other games - the current incarnation of D&D is currently rocking our game group's world and providing a remarkable amount of entertainment. If you had told me a year ago we would be enthusiastically using a 'battleboard' and maps and we would have collective gasps of excitement when a large mini was revealed by the GM, I would have laughed in your face. However, we are. Do we play the game straight? I think we do, in that we don't really change the rules of the game, we just bolt on some techniques we have learned from playing other games to add to it.

Yesterday I picked up the pocket rulebook version of Traveller by Mongoose (which is abbreviated sometimes to MongTrav....). I'm a sucker for pocket rulebooks but this seems to have really hit it just right. Traveller is an old favourite of mine and there is something amazingly comfortable about UPPs, hex character stats and those strings of planet stats. At Dragonmeet, I picked up (as in, lifted up, rather than bought!) Starblazer Adventures ... its a fucking BRICK. Pocket Traveller is a slim booklet. What would I find more useful? Moreover, which would I be more likely to play? MongTrav, almost certainly.

I wonder if there are any other old-school games on the horizon that could be resurrected for the modern age? I know Gregor Hutton's game-in-planning 'Good Morning Britain' is a supers game set in the 80s which uses the Marvel Superheroes system, polished up and made nice. Anyone for a new version of Rolemaster? No? Really.....?

Just think of the crit tables!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Phasing and You!

One thing that I haven't mentioned recently is that I have started playing WoW again, casually. Sunraven has been transfered to a PvE realm, joined a guild with some old faces and levelled to 80. Wrath of the Lich King, the new WoW expansion, has proved to be a very entertaining little buy and I have been continually impressed by both the improvements to the game and the depth of the content. However, last night I realised that I had missed one of the most important features new to the game: Phasing.

It was like being punched in the jaw.

Flashback to the early days of WoW. I remember Gorthaal, my druid, battling hard to free the Crossroads from the threat of the Bristleback Motherf*ckers and their seek-and-destroy hyena allies. No matter how many I killed, no matter what rewards I gained, no matter what level I returned to rain hell and damnation on them, they were still a Clear and Present Danger to 11-14th level characters in the vicinity. My pwnage was for naught.

Jump to Age of Conan. Gorth, my Bear Shaman, rescued the City of Tortage from the evils of some nasty dude during the instanced Night period, whilst doing all manner of jobs for people during the Day period. My Night was my Night and my Day was shared with everyone else. In the Night my actions were persistent, in the Day they were not .... until the end of level 20 when I owned the bad guy and the place changed. Under the veil of loading screens, transitional NPCs etc, we had the vestige of a persistent world.

Back to today, well, I won't talk about Wrathgate but I will talk about Shadow Vault. I was on a mission - infiltrate the Shadow Vault for the Knights of the Ebon Blade and deal with it's undead denizens. Fair enough. Kills a few, grab some items - standard fare. However, I then had to convert some NPCs onto the side of the Ebon Blade. OK. And now me and the NPCs attack the Elite Boss Man. We own, naturally and I get sent to tell someone far away that Shadow Vault has been taken.

Now in old WoW, I would return to find that Shadow Vault was still held by undead, my new allies are now enemies and everything has been reset.

Not now. Now I return to find a thriving Ebon Blade supply camp. My new allies are now Vendors or guards. There is a flight point and a Quartermaster and even, I believe, an Innkeeper. The game world has changed.

There are other points in the game where this happens. It doesn't happen everywhere though but when it does it is very subtle indeed. No loading screens. No transitional NPCs. Its just like a story unfolding before you.

This, I believe, has been one of the things that has been requested of MMOs for some time - a truly persistent reality. Of course, this is still a single perspective reality but it goes some of the way. I was truly stunned by it last night because it meant that, in the story, for once, I had really made a difference.

Good stuff.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Top Three Gaming Moments: 2008

Here we go again! - you know the score.

Honourable Mention: Spirit of Exalted Lite at CottageCon II

CC2 was a great event, even though I think it is fair to say that some of the games didn't quite measure up to the heights of CC1. My highlight was Andrew's Exalted game, which used the Exalted starter rules combined with some aspects of Spirit of the Century (no pun intended). The game was high drama and played across a massive vista. It certainly laid the groundwork for things to come from Andrew.

Honourable Mention: Horror in Hot War

We played a playtest of Malcolm Craig's Hot War and I tried to run a 'horror' game. Now I have a big problem with horror games and horror in gaming in general, so this was a bit of a challenge. I ran a game called 'The Square' dealing with an isolated survivor community in London which was a facade for a horrendous social pact. I had a great time running the game and we gave the system a good working through. However, the best thing was that I got a real 'eewww!' reaction from at least one of the players and thats the best I have ever managed in a horror campaign. A victory. (I ran the same scenario as a con game as well, and got the same reaction!)

Number Three: The End of Pendragon
Nigel's Pendragon campaign was a roaring success and is currently, I believe, the longest campaign that I have played in. We lived long enough to see the Boy King come to the throne and to help in the formation of his new kingdom. Hell, Sir Brion, my character, even knighted the King! However, these five knights were always doomed to a sorry end and they warred on Cerdic, the saxon pain-in-the-ass and ended the conflict by taking his town of Hantone. The Death Flag was flying and slowly but surely, each knight was overcome in the battle - except Sir Aeron the Younger, who survived somehow. Brion died fighting on the steps of the keep, surrounded by saxon warriors and taking many of them down with him. It was an excellent end to an excellent campaign - one which in many ways rescued our groups gaming.

Number Two: Running Duty & Honour for Keary
As I have developed D&H, there have been people who I have been aware that I would eventually have to show my game to. The first is Keary, one of the guys who I gamed with in Rugby and well ... lets just say, not the greatest advocate of so-called indie gaming. Ian is part of my gaming group but he probably knows the most about this sort of stuff. I've ran the game for both of them and they had a good time. For me, that was the personal triumph I needed. I'm sure Ian will be horrified to read this but it's true!

Number One: The City of Kings

Take D&D4e - a fair whack of crunch - add four gamers, an inspirational GM with a elephantine memory, some indie-game sensibilities and a whole bucket of sword and sorcery inspiration and you have 'The City of Kings'. Its been a rollercoaster ride of adventure and intrigue leading to Sunday's 'season finale'. Andrew has done an exemplary job as a GM and I like to think that we, the players, have added a little ourselves. There have been precious few games over the years where I have been eager to play again, desperate to know what happens next. Thats a Good Thing. (Post-End of Tier Edit: I held back on this post because I knew that there was one more session of this phase of this game to go and it rocked. We rocked, despite some really quite atrocious dice rolling. It was an epic end to an epic campaign phase. It maintains the #1 spot!)

So, those are mine - what are yours?

2008 Gaming Review: Part One - Last Years Resolutions

So, last year I made five gaming resolutions - how did I do?

1. No More Games
WIN! - I have managed not to get involved with any more gaming exploits. Group One continues every other Sunday, as we have for eight years now and we are knees-deep in our epic D&D4e campaign. Group Two has met sporadically but we have enjoyed some short game success with PTA, Hot War, Cold City and others. The massed gaming family still meets for boardgames and Blood Bowl.

2. Go to More Conventions
WIN! - I've been a bit of a con-whore actually and they have all been a lot of fun. I started with Conpulsion in Edinburgh and then GamesExpo in Birmingham. That was followed by Furnace in Sheffield and finally Dragonmeet in London. I missed out on Conpulsion and Indiecon but you cannot go everywhere. This is definitely something I want to continue next year.

3. Finish Duty & Honour
WIN! - Exactly on time, D&H was published on the first of October 2008 and has been doing very nicely indeed. 2008 has been a big year of change for me (hey, thats a new one - I've never blogged that sentence before...) but this has been my major achievement.

4. Resume by position as the Iron DM
Work in Progress - Whilst I have ran a number of sessions of D&H at conventions, I have yet to get my teeth into something longer term back at home. Partly this has been because Andrew has a game that I would simply never want to end and partly because my head has been so fucked up. I have just started a new game though - a urban horror/fantasy campaign called Seven Curses, using the Fate 3.0 system. Hopefully this will kick off into something at least more than a few sessions long.

5. Start gaming with the kids again
FAIL! - Just not had the time or indeed the inclination. OK, there's a caveat - the house has been in uproar for large parts of the year and this has meant that there hasn't really been a gaming space. However, thats not really an excuse. The Dr Who RPG will, undoubtedly, be Lara's break-in game if ever there was one, so next year could seen a new 12-year old gamer. Or not, as boys and music and stuff could be more important.

3.5 out of 5. Not bad Neil, not bad.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Dragonmeet 2008

Well, that was an exceptionally interesting weekend. It was the first time I had been to Dragonmeet, one of the UK's 'premier' conventions and it was a decent affair. I think I missed a lot of stuff due to being trapped in the trade hall for 95% of the event, but it was clean, clear and nice in a lovely venue (Kensington Town Hall).

From a personal point of view, it was a tremendous success. Duty & Honour sold like the proverbial hot cakes, with a lot of enthusiastic people coming to the Collective Endeavour stall and chatting to me about it. That was very cool. I even met some of the great and the good of the gaming industry who were interested in it, which was also pretty damned cool. More encouragingly, there was a lot of interest in the future D&H projects I have on the horizon. The Endeavour did great business and busted the £1k sales mark for the first time I believe. The stall ran like clockwork and looked the business (a woman's touch, I believe, helped). I had a great time meeting with everyone again and I am indebted to Civi, my buddy from SQC, for letting me use his house as a crash pad and generally showing me around for the weekend - what a star.

There was one thing that was pointed out to me by Karen of House Atreides, and thats the small scale of the UKRPG community. She was mentioning a convention in Germany that attracts 120,000 roleplayers - not 'gamers' - ROLEPLAYERS. An italian one regularly gets 30,000. UK Conventions are back-slapping and high-fiving if they get 2000. There has to be something wrong there, surely?

Anyway, D&H is a sniff off 100 sales within two months of release, which I am utterly thrilled about and it has settled my mind on exactly what I am doing next!

Excellent stuff

Is this the worst novel ever?

Stuck on a bus for nine hours each way this weekend, I decided to polish off the last unread Anita Blake novel on my bookshelf. Sadly, I have broken and this will almost certainly be the last Anita Blake novel I purchase. It is, I believe, the single worst book I have ever managed to finish (through no other options presenting themselves on the bus) in my life. Terrible does not begin to describe the utter utter pointlessness of this story. Bilge, tripe, shite - words that don't come near. It is TERRIBLE.

For those of you new to the world of Anita Blake, I will attempt a synopsis. She started as a rather prim, single, sexually inactive vampire hunter who was also an animator (ie. she can raise the dead) in a version of the world where vampires and werewolves etc are legit. The early books are pretty good horror murder mysteries with a little romantic friction built into it. And then it all went wrong. Very very wrong indeed. Somewhere around books 5-7, the author decided to ramp up the sex and Anita was possessed by the ardeur, an almost uncontrollable need to feed magical energies through sex. This has resulted in an increasingly uncontrollable parade of various sexual angles for stories which have boggled the mind. Anita is now a three-out-of-four bound human servant of a vampire but SHE has her own vampire servant as well, she is part of two supernatural triumverates of immense power, she is the head woman and enforcer of the local werewolves and queen of the local wereleopards, she houses FOUR seperate strains of lycanthropy, she is not just an animator but not a necromancer AND a succubus. It goes on and on and on. Its ridiculous.

In this book she is, I kid you not, trialling fuckbuddies to feed her hunger whilst she is worried about being pregnant. Of course she finds out she has not one but TWO sorts of foetal abnormalities, but hey, she's not pregnant anyway, so whats the problem. Oh and she sends just about anyone she is near mad with lust. We have a bisexual ass-sandwich, a good old four way, some exhibitionist stuff, some borderline suggestions of woman on pimped out teenager sex, some attempted incest. And in the end NOTHING HAPPENS except, of course, Anita gains yet more powers, breaks more supernatural rules and is every more special and unique than she was before.

This book didn't even attempt to have a story. It was just one long series of very long, very dull, very complicated inter-character debates about the nature of her powers, how they might test them, the consequences of the testing, the way the people felt about the powers, the testing and the consequences of the testing and then how others felt about the way they felt. And after that went on for literally dozens of pages, poor old Anita has to have a shag again.

What makes this worse are two things. One, Laurel K. Hamilton doesn't know when to fade to black. Ever. So you get everything is vein-popping, cum-spraying, ass-pounding detail. The second is that in the middle of the book, Anita tries to will herself to not have any powers, which would kill her AND I WANTED HER TO SUCCEED!! Anything would be better for the once awesome character than to be tied to this albatross of a storyline forever.

Please. Kill the character. Please.