Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Hypocritical Oath

My wife and I were musing last night that it hardly seems like yesterday since the grand Millennium celebrations were rocking the world, and yet its ten whole years. My youngest daughter is ten years old and she marks the passage of time in the 21st century. This got me thinking about the world as it exists at the moment and how I feel about it and I realised that for the first time in my life I am reluctant to be a participant in many things and have started to withdraw. Thats not a natural state for me, but I reflected that its because of the emergence of five sorts of people and the almost constant haze of shite that they generate. Who are these people?

Haters - Live and Let Live is a wonderful way to exist, but it seems to have disappeared into the aether nowadays. Its much easier to hate something now and to be exceptionally vocal about it. Not things that matter, like racism or homophobia, but totally inconsequential things like a series of books, a comics storyline, a record, a sport, a TV personality, a foodstuff, a TV show, a word, a website, a hobby, a game etc. I'll raise my hand and say that I have, in my time, been one of these people, specifically towards Brian Micheal Bendis and his effect on the Avengers comic book line. Seething, vitriolic hatred permeates our society now like a virus.

Hyper-critics - different from the haters, are the hypercritics. I have noticed an increased level of nit-picking and general moaning about the quality of entertainment over the last few years. Moreover, a number of these decisions on the quality of films, books, comics etc. are made sight-unseen. They are based off a rumour, a trailer or just the idea of the piece. Moreover, the more people who are likely to like something, the more the hyper-critics are looking to find a way to shoot it up. Blow it out of the sky. Take it down a peg or two. Of course, if you disagree with them, you are beset by other hyper-critics and more than a few haters to the point where its becoming increasingly difficult to actually like something publicly without courting disaster.

Political Fantasists - We live in a world of political fantasy. In this world, politicians are good, selfless people who have cast aside any ideas of self-promotion or advancement and instead taken to a life in under the public microscope, doing their very best for the people and not asking for a jot in return. Upon completing this service, they will disappear into the aether and never be heard of again. Every decision made by these puritan politicians will naturally suit everyone and no-one will be disadvantaged or disconcerted by anything. Only in this world will the political system be pure and unsullied and *shudder* democratic. Of course, this is the fantasy and about as far away from the reality as it can get. I'm not suggesting that some of these are no aspirations that can be aimed at, but some people need to understand that we live in a representative democracy, not a participatory democracy and that politics is a cyclical business. Even I, as a left-wing leaning life-long Labour supporter can see that it is healthy for a change of government however it isn't a tribal thing. Its not a case of winning or losing. Its part of the natural state of things.

Conspiracy Theorists - Nothing ever just 'is' - there always has to be something behind it that we cannot see. Were 'we' means 'you' because the person informing you of the theory has perfect 20/20 vision on the matter and almost supernatural perceptions and insight beyond those of normal man. Wars, terrorism, climate change, politics, elections - its all been a massive conspiracy theory from Day One it would seem. Lets just consider that the conspiracy theorists are right and say, the US government did cause 9/11? What you gonna do about it? If they are willing and capable to do that, what makes you think you make one piece of a difference? In a world where nothing is as it seems, no-one is willing to be the King wearing the Invisible Clothese in case they make a fool of themselves. No-one will be tricked and therefore when it matters, no-one cares.

'My World' Selfishness - more than anything else, the rise of 'My World' selfishness has caused me to develop an almost violent twitch of anguish. For example, a games company posted that it had released a new service and the very first post that someone replied with said 'sorry, but its too late for my game, we just finished playing.' So what? Should they have pre-empted your needs and produced it earlier? What? Honestly, what was the point of that utterance? The entire doctrine of 'First!' and 'TL;DR' on forums is all about me-me-me! The preponderance of arguments based on 'it doesn't apply to me, therefore it must be false' is ridiculous. Any sense of being part of a larger diverse community seems to have been lost in a mantra of 'don't waste my time with stuff that doesn't concern me!'

Almost all of this has been facilitated by the increased ease of access to information, volume of content and near-anonymous personality brought to us through internet communication. I think when our children look back on this time, the internet will be seen as an innovation and indeed, a revolution on the same scale as the industrial revolution of the 19th century - and indeed like that revolution it has got some unintended pollution attached to it.

So, before anyone reading this says 'hang on Neil? Aren't you legendary for your ranting and raving about things? Haven't you bored us to tears with your diatribes about the undue influence of the media on the world and its thinking? Don't you tick just about every box on this list?' I will 'fess up and say 'Yes'. And thats the point of this post.

Its time for it to stop or I am just going to become an angry old man. So, this year, I am going to make a concerted effort to excuse myself from that seething, teeth-grinding anger. I'm not going to be a hater or a critic. I'm going to realise that rarely can debates be won or lost - nowadays its more like a case of First World War trench warfare. I'm going to enjoy the world on my own terms and well, sod everyone else. Too much energy lost and too many distractions caused by the people that wind me up. In my 39th year, its time to just chill out a little.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

[Box] Prototyps and Felt Pens

So I decided to have a fiddle about making up a prototype of the character card for [Box]. I'm all about the paper-art so it was an easy little challenge for me. Since doing it I've worked out a way to do it better as well, as accuracy and pritt-stik don't sit as natural buddies.

So, what do we have? Five boxes, large enough to put a stack of 12mm d6s on them, of some appropriate colours. A large white box for as-yet-undefined stuff. And a box for an image, in this example we have McGann as Dr Who. The image is changeable as we will see later.

I want to mention the terrible state of felt-tipped pens at this point. The ones that coloured this card are new and frankly, the brown couldn't do half the card. Pathetic. Really shoddy quality. If I were one of my kids I would be complaining!

Anyway, thats what I used to colour in card.

The second card is the same chamber card with a picture of the blue lass from Avatar. The image slides in and out of the hole from the top.

I'm quite pleased with this as a very first prototype. I'm going to look at some alternative designs tomorrow, including one that is a bit bigger but easier to create.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

[Box] Whats the difference between a Warrior and a Paladin?

A white and black dice, if I have my way.

OK, so in my previous post I suggested I would use a dice-as-stats system for [Box]. Here is what I have as a very basic concept.

Six different coloured dice. Each colour represents a different aspect of a character type. So, for example, lets plough the fantasy field for a while?

Red = Prowess; strength, stamina and martial might
Blue = Guile; nimbleness, dexterity and intelligence
Green = Nature; weather, animals and the land
Gold = Essence; magic, arcana and summoning
White = The Light; life, piety and healing
Black = Darkness; death, necromancy and terror

So, we are looking to create a Warrior? And we have say, six dice to select. We select Red, Red, Red, Black, Black, Blue - a combination of Prowess, Darkness and Guile. Want to create a Tribal Shaman? Gold, Gold, Green, Green, Green, White? A Paladin? Red, Red, White White, White, Gold.

What else could you do with this? Hmmm.... how about adding a race dice? So if you want a smattering of non-humans in your game, you could add a few race dice to the pool. Or a Noble dice, which if chosen, makes your character a knight or samurai or space lord?

So you have a pile of multi-coloured dice which the players choose from to create their character. These dice can be limited to allow a degree of game world shaping and resource limitation. The categories can be altered for each setting. What each one represents can vary, I believe.

And these dice can be brought together to form dice pools. But what for? Well, thats next but not for a while.

[Box] Inspiration from Strange Places

So I've been putting my mind to the sort of things I can do with the format for my boxed game and what the benefits and limitations of the format are and moreover, how to use those limitations to my advantage.

For example, the recent decision of FFG to only allow you enough components in their box for a certain number of concurrent characters has raised the heckles of some people. However, in the end, thats the limitations of the format at work. We are used to wonderfully open-ended resources, limited only by the sheets of paper we have and the seats around our table and expect that from new games. Its a bit of a cheek really - most 'normal' games have very limited play resources. Two players in chess, four players in Ludo, six players in Monopoly. Of course, I could just do a book and character sheet game, but then whats the point of doing it in a box? No, there should be play resources and that means limiting the number of concurrent characters.

So how do I do this and make it part of the game and possibly turn it to my advantage? Well, one idea that I have come upon is to have character sheets about the size of CCG cards. However, I don't want to get into the mess of having to supply new sheets each time we play. So what if the character sheets were manipulatable in some way? Just keep that thought, OK.

As a system, I want to use dice pools, small dice pools. I also want different coloured dice to represent difference aspects of the character. More on this in the next post, I imagine. So the number of dice you have on your character sheet in a certain area will denote your strength in that area. Cool. Of course, that means that I can only include a certain number of dice in the box, which by its very nature means there are only a certain number of characters that can be made. Now, what if I built this into the balance of character generation. What if there was a pool of these statistic dice that all characters drew from? So, for example, there are a limited number of magic dice. If everyone were to choose their dice one at a time, then I could make it so that not everyone could be magicians. Thats kind of cool, I think.

OK, back to those character sheets on CCG cards. Well, something I really like to do is have a picture on a character sheet. Indeed, I think that games could use images so much better than they do for character generation. There are loads of totally awesome images out there - why not use them? So what if the picture part of the character card could be changed? What if the player could present the picture of the character they wanted and voila! Thats their character. Players could bring together art assets like a campaign mood board.

There is another sneaky little side effect of this. Players and GMs can draw their images from anywhere, so they can use published, copyrighted artwork, images clipped from magazines and comics and all manner of other things. Thats a huge wodge of potential art costs for my £15 sidetracked, and all in the name of flexibility.

As to how to do it? I am reminded of the concept of 'chamber cards' in the Quick Strike system CCGs (PotC and Shaman King iirc). So create a 2-ply card 'chamber' with a hole at the front which the image can be inserted from the top and then slide the whole into something like a rigid toploader and BAM! Its big enough, it can be branded with nice imagery and the image can change.

Gimmicky? Oh hell yeah. But with some underlying madness as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The DIY Boxed Game Challenge

Occasionally I set myself little challenges.

Recently, they have been food related. Can I perfect the recipe for the perfect sweet chili sauce? (According to my dad, yes, yes I can!). Can I cook and decorate leiberkuchen? Yes, of course I can! And of course, recently I have been meeting and beating some challenges regarding games design that I set myself three years ago. Its all been a bit too easy really.

I've also been reading with a lot of interest Rob Donaghue's blog, Some Space to Think Its a really interesting blog with a lot of commentary on games and gaming and sharing of ideas. It has formed my early morning Metro reading for some weeks now. Recently, Rob has been talking about rich dice (dice which deliver more information than just the numbers they result in) and the matter of the box and games.

Add to these motifs my journey to GenCon this year, the appearance of some 'indie' board and card games and the explosion of WFRP 3e onto the gaming world in all of its enormous excess and well, its fired my imagination.

I want to make a game in a box. I want that box to be small enough for me to be able to take it anywhere with me. I want everything I need to play the game - EVERYTHING - to be inside that box. I want the contents to be printed and created to a reasonable quality and - and this could be the stinger - I want to keep the cost of the project under £15.

These restrictions are going to dictate some of the materials I can use and that might well impact on the gameplay but hey, this isn't commercial - this is a personal challenge!

Auto-PUG of Joy

I am, on occasion, amazed by the ability of World of Warcraft to reinvent itself and change in a way that drags me back into the game. I guess its why, five years on, I am still happily playing it. The latest innovation is the introduction of the auto-PUG (Pick-Up-Group)

Instead of spamming the trade channel with Looking For Group requests or waiting for enough members of my guild to come online and be in the same frame of mind as me to run an instance, I can now just stab two buttons and voila! I am added to a cross-server queue of thousands of other players all wanting the same. Within minutes I am teleported to the instance and the game commences. Twenty minutes later, the end boss is down and you walk away with 5 Emblems, some cash and other stuff. Its virtually anonymous, instant rewarding gratification.

Whats more, it seems to have made PUGing a lot more palatable. Students of expectancy theory will notice that the carrot of the emblems at the end makes the experience of having a player with slightly subpar DPS a lot more acceptable. Indeed, on many occassions not a word has been passed between the people I have PUGd with - its simply been a business-like execution of a laid down tactic.

On my side of things, this is perfect. I have unpredictable spare time - meaning that I cannot plan when I am going to be able to play or for how long. This is perfect for me, especially as it is accelerating my acquisition of equipment no end! Additionally, it has allowed me to grab a load of outstanding achievements which are well overdue. I've finally done Old Kingdom, Halls of Lightning and Halls of Stone and Gundrak. I'm a happy camper.

The only fly in the ointment, I have to admit, is the attitude of some of the players (WHO would have guessed?). Its not the weaker players. Its the players who are blatantly from the top guilds churning out SERIOUS dps. Their tolerance of people who are less geared than them appears to be quite low. However, you will note, they have all been whining dps'rs. I have been blessed with talented, aggressive tanks and attentive, skilled healers. People I always take the time to thank at the end of the instance! (I am informed by Dave that matters are not quite so rosy at the lower level end of things - I can quite believe it)

That aside, this innovation is fantastic. Its delivering actual progression for me, at a pace that 100% suits me needs. Awesome.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here We Go Again.

The snow is here. To save me my usual rant:

Thank you...


How Big is Your Gaming Brain?

Dear Games Designers

Please, for the love of God, can you stop including obscure situational passive effects into your games? These things have been the bane of my existence throughout my CCG days and now they are part of my RPG play and they drive me insane.

What am I talking about? Well, in my Raw Deal days there was a card that sat on the table and every time you took damage, you took one less. Sounds good right? Well it is, if you remember that its there but inevitably, you forget and its annoying. There's no takey-backs in most CCGs so you lose out because of your poor memory or ability to be word-blinded by your opponent. Thats a case of playing better in a competitive game though, its annoying but part of the game.

In RPG sense, specifically D&D4e, the first instance are those bloody paragon tier powers that activate when you spend an action point. Now I don't think I'm over-stating the fact that D&D combat is a bit involved and you have to be paying attention and occassionally things get dropped along the wayside. I'm just about getting used to adding in my Pit Fighter bonus to things but I might only do it 50% of the time. Now, Marked Scourge has been errata'd so that it can only be used once per turn. This isn't an action or a spell - this is a bonus effect from a feat that is currently factored into all of my damage. Its a nightmare of forgetfulness.

I can abide having some degree of system mastery in my CCGs, but I hate it in my RPGs. Although D&H/BtQ have some situational modifiers, the card pool generation system allows for a quick sweep of your character sheet and then one flop to resolve a situation. Compare that with the multiple interacting modifiers and actions that can impact on one of maybe five dozen rolls in one combat and I think I'm safe from stone/glass house references.

I propose, if designers are adamant that they want to follow this path, someone design some sort of Roleplaying Brain Training program to remember all of these modifiers!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2009 Top Three Gaming Moments

Another year, another selection of what must surely be the most prestigious awards given out in gaming from this blog. Previous winners are here and here and as always I kick off with some honorable mentions

Honorable Mention: Princess Academy YEY! at Conception
I wasn't even playing! As Conception 09 was winding up and I was recovering from a monster bout of flu that had floored me during the entire convention. I was playtesting a great little battle cardgame with Iain McAllister and trying out some 'War on Edam' to no great level of satisfaction. In the rest of the room a gang of mad people were playing Primetime Adventures and just creating the most insane, wonderful madness. Utterly entertaining. Oh, and the Steelers won the Superbowl that night too. Woot!

Honorable Mention: Duty & Honour at Games Expo
So I'm at the end of a very long two-day convention and I am timetabled to run Duty & Honour - and its fully signed up. To be honest, I wasn't in the mood and I was all ready to just cancel and refund the players their cash but, you know, the show must go on. What made this so special? Well, it was because the players were all D&H newbies and they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and rode it to a fantastic finish. Players who can turn up at the end of a con and ravage a game within an inch of it's life? Priceless.

Honorable Mention: The Voyage of the HMS Acaster
I was the gaming whore. In order to playtest Beat to Quarters 'semi-blind' I recruited another group of players - Martin, Shane and Nate. These guys have serious gaming and military chops to back up their play, so I was a little nervous about reffing for them but the game couldn't have gone any better. It was only three sessions but I really really got a kick out of it. Things move on and I guess I won't get the chance to play with those guys again but it was a really memorable game.

Number Three: Mouse Guard at Furnace
I have never really 'got' Burning Wheel but I have been very curious about Mouse Guard and I like the comics. Additionally 'Indy Pete' has a reputation of being an exceptionally dynamic GM and I sat and watched him GM at Conception and I wanted a piece of that action. Him and Mouse Guard seemed a perfect match and it was. It wasn't the amazingness of the story that marked this out for me, or the brilliance of the players (it was Sunday morning!). Rather it was an example of how an enthusiastic, prepared and communicative GM can truly inspire you to higher levels of play and understanding. In three hours I learned exactly how the game worked and went straight home and ran the game for my group. It was a watershed moment between me and BW technology!

Number Two: The Irish Rover at Furnace
So I had this idea - why not use Beat to Quarters to run a game based around the Pogues song 'The Irish Rover'? What could go wrong? Its hard to describe really - to say that the group was 'diverse' would be a massive understatement. To say that it was drunken would be an undeniable truth. The game was loud, raucous, bawdy, brutal, imaginative, laugh-out-loud funny, abusive, exhausting magic. People just walked by and then did a double-take, just looking at the madness with an expression of denial. One of the players even put a sign up warning people that the game was not representative of BtQ. It was just mayhem. You know when you hear people talk about games at a con that they have 'heard about'? This was the first time I have ever ran one and it felt soooo good. So tiring, but so good.

Number One: D&d 4E, The City of Kings Heroic and Paragon Tier
Like there was ever going to be anything else in the #1 spot!? Our entire years gaming has been taken up with an utterly brilliant D&D campaign. My paladin has had a crisis of faith and reverted to type as a pit-fighting gladiator and then sortied across the world hunting the hearts of the Primordial Gods in order to open the tomb of the last of these Primordials and slay him in his prison. Morn, the fighter, has grown from a very confused and ignorant brutal character into a stalwart defender and champion of mankind, found his homeland, secured his own niche in the world and is about to ascend to his Epic destiny of being 'He Who Stands Before the Chaos'. The game was been enthralling with every session adding a new twist and turn to the campaign. Anyone who dares say that 4e cannot be used to create excellent, character and story centric experiences is simply ignoring the potential of what is a great system.

So there we go - I wonder what everyone else's will be this year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

2009 Resolutions - The Results

Its that time of year again, when I look at my resolutions from last year and see how things have transpired. Its not that I actively try to pursue them - its more that I wonder whether my intentions at the end of the year create urges throughout the rest of the next year ( I scored 3.5/5 last year). So, without further ado...!

1. Publish 'Beat to Quarters'
WIN! - Dead on the announced release date, BtQ was unleashed on the masses. Its sold like the proverbial hotcakes, far faster than D&H - although I suspect that might be D&H owners completing the set rather than new players flocking to the fresh hawtness. Still, I'm very pleased with myself and the Road to Indianapolis, next year, is very much on!

2. Be A Better Player
WIN! - (I hope). I like to think that I have pulled my neck in at the table this year. No more tantrums about mind control, for a start and definitely no more 'discussions' about rules calls (Except, of course, when it comes to the difference between the two fighter bonuses, which we can never remember the right way around at the best of times). I've tried to contribute positively to the table ideas in our D&D campaign and generally help bring the awesome. It might not have succeeded always but in the end thats all you can do - try.

3. Run One Campaign of A Reasonable Length
WIN! - (In progress). This has been made rather difficult due to a distinct lack of G2 action and the ongoing nature of the D&D campaign. However, that hasn't stopped me. I gained the attentions of a new group of players in the summer and ran a three-session playtest of BtQ with them. I know that doesn't count as a campaign, but it was a complete game. However, I am running a proper ongoing campaign of BtQ on Google Wave at the moment which appears to have some legs. Its not quite what I imagined, but you have to take your victories when you can!

4. Game With the Girls Again
FAIL! - Technically, this might need to be revised after the arrival of the Dr Who RPG but any other gaming action has simply failed. Its just a timing issue really but its one that is going to have to be overcome by brute force and will rather than luck. They're still up for it.

5. Spend with Prudence
WIN! - Well, this one was easy, seeing as I have been stoney-broke for most of the year! Lets see what systems I purchased.... thinking .... thinking .... does Diaspora on a freebie voucher count? Mouse Guard - yep, thats it, Mouse Guard. And I have played it and ran it.

4/5 with a technical revision and a rules bend on the ongoing game. Not bad at all.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Art or Capitalism?

In a recent online conversation, a friend of mine stated that he was doing games design for 'art not capitalism'. This is a phrase that has stuck in the back of my mind for some time now, niggling away at me. When I started to think around it, my creative persona and my rather hard-wired marketing-driven mindset clashed quite abruptly.

On the one hand, I can see exactly where he was coming from. One of the benefits of small-press publishing is that you can do things and go to places that mainstream publishers simply cannot. You can explore game ideas that would simply not be feasible in the world of three-tier, glossy hardback publishing. This becomes even more blatant when you consider the world of pdf publishing, the ultimate in 'legit but low cost' games publishing. If you really really want to write a game about the trials and tribulations of cartoon underwater animal lawyers, then you can - and someone did! Want to write a freeform game about the siege of Montesgur? Yup, you can do that too! Game of teenage self-destruction in the Warsaw Ghetto? Knock yourself out! The same naturally extends to mechanics - beyond the lunacy of Jenga as a mechanic, some games designers are working on things as bizarre as self-tattooing and performing operations on paper bowel templates. The mind boggles ... but in some way, this is where its at when it comes to being allowed the freedom from constraint that an art-driven game provides.

On the other hand, however, if your game is played at an empty table does anyone hear the dice falling? Every fibre of my being says that you should always consider the commercial viability of your game, even if you are going to give it away for free! I cannot see the point of creating a game that no-one will play so giving yourself a fighting start by choosing a topic or a genre which at least has a hook that people can attach themselves to is something. Beyond that, of course, publishing is filled with 1001 different business decisions - the most important of all being, in my opinion, how far do I want to go with this venture?

Not everyone is going to have the ambition to be the Next Big Thing. Indeed, realistically, you stand very little chance of doing that. Setting yourself goals to achieve and parameters to work within would seem a reasonable choice for the small publisher. My goals have always been quite modest. Some people would suggest that was a measured, realistic and prudent approach to the venture. Others would say I am just horrendously risk averse and don't have the courage of my convictions. Whatever the reasons, I have tried to pursue those goals with vigour and use every trick I know to leverage the advantages I have in the market - be that skills, contacts or knowledge. I'm well versed in the machinery of capitalism and I like to make it work for me a little bit now and then.

However, is that just some hypocrisy on my part? Would my artist friend not just be fulfilling his goals in the same way - just different goals? Has my creative vision been compromised by my need to work within a market and indeed in some ways pander to that market? Every time I have changed an aspect of my game in order to make it more sellable, have I lost a little of its soul in my pursuit of filthy sterling? Or am I simply exercising common sense in making my game spread through planning rather than happenstance?

I find it intriguing as a concept that someone could make something with the intent to sell it, but with no eye to what would sell or who it would be sold to? Intellectually, I can see what drives people in that direction but I'm just not wired that way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

AP: Mouse Guard - Tales from the Shiver Bank

The Mice:

Connor - a tough white-furred patrol guard, known for his rugged adventures and scarred, with only one eye. Earmarked for promotion but still an untested quality with a team, he has been allocated some tenderpaws to train and nurture.

Casper: a very young tenderpaw, straight out of his apprenticeship and filled with curiosity and energy. Finding it almost impossible to stand still and think, he is ready to embark on his career in the Guard.

Tander: A fat tenderpaw trained as a cook, accused of the crime he didn't commit and paroled to the Mouse Guard until his trial could be arranged. A hearty fellow with a shady past.

The Mission:

Spring has come - or has it? Word has reached Lockhaven that the walls around Copperwood have crumbled due to the severe frosts of the winter and the town lies with its defences open. Auxilliary stonemasons - a young apprentice and two Oldfurs - are being sent to help with the rebuilding effort. The Guardmice are tasked with escorting them and ensuring their safe arrival.

GMs Turn

Obstacle One: The Clouds Darken.

As the progress along the muddy pathways the oldest Oldfur warns that the last bite of winter may not have passed yet, just as the winds begin to rise. Conner tries to predict the weather (Failed Weather Watcher test) and suddenly the skies open in a horrific ice storm, bleaching freezing rain across the mice. Thinking on his feet, Casper decides he will find a hidey-hole in an old hollow tree-base to weather the storm. Tander complicated matters by saying that they will have to did out the entrance to accommodate his 'Fat' trait. Conner stands back and watches, exercising his goal of 'Test out the Tenderpaws'. The roll ... fails and whilst the freezing and sodden mice finally get into the hole, Casper is Tired from his exertions.

Twist One: The Sleeping Weasel

As the Oldfurs dried out, Casper, despite his tiredness, decided to have a hunt around in the hollow tree and discovered a passage down to a hidden hole (successful Scout test) where he stumbled upon a sleeping Weasel Soldier! Aghast at this discovery he quietly made his way back and told his comrades, causing Connor to lead his young charges against the enemy! As massive 14 disposition was rolled for the mice against the Weasel's 8 but some cunning ploys by the agile aggressor soon saw that wittled away. In the end, the mice succeeded by the skin of their teeth, slaying the Weasel with a major concession. I decided that as the Weasel was going to try to escape with the smallest mouse, Casper, he would have been picked up in its teeth during the fight and was therefore puncutured and 'Injured'.

One further investigation Tander discovered a medallion from Pebblebrook, a town bordering the Weasel territories that looked suspiciously like a town councillors. Was it a spy or had the weasel stolen it? Test here for Tander which he failed - took too much effort to get back up from the hiding hole with his Fat behind, so I gave him 'Hungry & Thirsty' for his efforts.

Obstacle Two: Snowdrifts and Mudfields

The mice had to press on and and get these stonemasons to their place of work. Jasper's goal was 'Ensure that all the stonemasons make it to Copperwood' (his home town) so he took the lead with a little Scout action, backed up by some digging by Tander (heloing with Labourer) and hindered by the aggressive driving of the 'Tough' Connor. Despite the ravages of the weather, a Persona point helped the mice through the snow and finally they made it to Copperwood. Thus ended the GMs turn.

The Players Turn

Casper: Decided to heal his Tired by seeking out his family home and resting there (succeeded)

Tander : Offered his help in the preperation of a feast to celebrate the arrival of the Guard and the Stonemasons in the town. Healed his 'Hungry & Thirsty' with Baker.

Connor: Wanted to send a message back to Lockhaven noting his suspicions regarding the Weasel. I spiced it up by placing what appeared to be a Weasel sympathiser as the Insectrist that would send the message-insect. Connor tested Nature (his suspicious Mouse ways) and succeeded, realising that the young mouse, Bella, smelled of Weasel! He whipped out his sword (as per both his Belief and his Instinct), bested her in a quick Fighting test and dragged her before the local Administator. Another Conflict, this time social, developed as the Administrator tried to defend the young woman against Connor's evidence (a plaited band of weasel hair used to misdirect the insects was found on her). It was, again, nip and tuck but the Guard Mouse won the day and whilst she was not locked away, she was under further investigation.

Casper: Attempted to find a healer who could mend his Weasel wounds, but failed.

Tander: (Having been given a 'nut' by Connor): Met a Patrol Leader Valmont with Jasper and discussed the performance of Connor on the trek to Copperwood. We decided that Valmont was infact the former mentor of Connor's brother Garalan who is part of 'the rebellion' and Conner's stated enemy. This scene was a little wishy washy and I don't feel we got to the nub of the issue - if there was an issue to start with - but Valmont went away convinced by the young mice that Connor had done nothing to constitute reason to report him - either to Garalan or Gwendolyn.

And thus ended the Players Turn. We discussed Beliefs, Goals and Instincts with some people earning fate and persona points and others admitting that they didn't deserve them. Jasper was voted the MVP and the concensus at the table was that there was no Workhorse etc. award to be given out.

Feedback was pretty positive, especially for a first run of a game. It took just over three hours to chat, generate characters and play out the single round of the game. It looks like something that would fit our timescales for gaming perfectly. I went into it pretty dry regarding story and just made it up on the fly (hey, who would have thought?) but it pretty much told itself in the end. The addition of the little condition and conflict cards made it so much easier and is a genius idea. I was very pleased and with a little bit more planning, some better attention to the wording of some of the Instincts and Beliefs and a deeper plot, I think it could be a great little game.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Best Laid Plans of Mice

Printers Hate Me.

Which is funny, considering I used to run a print shop! (Almost as funny as my near phobia about cold calling and my long years in ... phone sales. Go figure.) No, it can be virtually guaranteed that if I really need to use a printer, something will go very, very wrong.

I'm on the verge of running Mouse Guard as an off-week game alongside D&D. After playing it Furnace last weekend I have finally understood it as a whole, rather than as fragmented parts and it was excellent. One of the things that made it excellent was the little cards the GM had prepared with some of the rules on them. Thats far to simplistic to explain the awesome of these things - so I decided to make my own. The pics are downloadable on t'interweb.

Right, so I decided to try to print them in colour. Not wanting to tackle the Prontaprint around the corner and its extortionate prices, I thought I would try my father, who has a colour printer. Of course, his new colour cartridge and his new black cartridge refused to print in anything other than grainy black and white. The Gow Curse had hit this printer. Put me within 5 feet of a printer and it becomes nothing more than a rather unwieldy paperweight.

So I will use my printer at home, in black and white. That won't be a problem. I bought some card and splashed out on a laminater. I've been gagging for one for ages and at £9 from ASDA it was an absolute bargain. OK, so I set the printer to 'card' and upped the quality and ... greyscale. Greys, not blacks. Oh for fecks sake! Right, thats fine, that will do. Oh, and the ink wasn't fixing properly to the card. Wonderful. And then it starts smudging and smearing and ... really, why do I bother.

The cards are made. They look ... OK, but clearly shite. Considering my history with printers, I should have known really. It was never going to work well....

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Facebook Thoughts

Some random stuff:

1. Facebook is cool, but I am finding a sticking point when it comes to my different 'faces' in public. What would be really cool would be being able to have a facebook to address my close friends, one to interact with the wider gaming community and one to interact with my students. As it is, the assumption that my interests are shared equally amongst all of my friends is annoying. Its like a living example of the old Geek Fallacies thing.

2. One of my students was astounded that I didn't have my profile on lockdown on Facebook? I was curious as to why I should do that. After all, the information there is for people to read isn't it? Oh, don't tell me - you write stuff on Facebook status updates that you don't want some people to read? Pretty silly putting it on the internet eh? I've learned my lesson.

3. Farmville. Could it be used as a teaching tool for simple resource management? There is very definitely a number of strategies that you can pursue depending on the time you have and the willingness you have to click squares continuously. I doubt it would ever get accepted but I reckon you could do something regarding costs and returns on investment!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Sweet Spot

In the light of the culmination of my publishing plans (I have the proofs of Beat to Quarters and will most likely make my orders this weekend), a surge in work hours putting a crunch upon my spare-time, the continuation of our excellent D&D game and the growing urge to GM something to someone, I have been thinking a lot about how best to use my time when gaming.

I've been pondering why I am enjoying D&D so much? I've come to the conclusion that it is a combination of two things. The first is that the longevity of our group has made for a very comfortable gaming environment. We understand each other and that makes playing games in a way we like very easy indeed. The second is that the game sits in a sweet spot between my self-confessed love of gritty, 'gamist', tweakable systems and nicely cuddly narrative bolt-ons that we have added. The way the game has been modded, with stunt points, legacy items, round-robin adventure seeding and all manner of other little touches really appeals to me.

I've also been pondering why I have almost no yearning to write any other games? Certainly there is a degree of mental fatigue from a three year project that has encompassed about 80% of all my reading in that time. Some of it almost certainly is about the way that the online community that inspired me to create a game has turned into a nasty, judgemental, entitled cesspit of incestuous bollocks with its head so far rammed up its own arse I simply cannot bring myself to read it never mind participate. However, a lot of it has to do with the plethora of rather cool looking games that are available now. I just don't see the need.

Take, for example, Diaspora? Its an SF version of the Fate 3.0 engine (which powers Spirit of the Century and the upcoming Dresden Files rpg) and works on the basis of a small cluster of star systems. It sounds perfect. Why would I write a space game when there is this potential gem waiting to be played.

I've even been pondering what sort of games I want to run. Its been a bit of a joke with my group that I have bipolar gaming tendencies. I like to play crunchy games but as soon as I take the GMs chair I jettison rules like ballast from a runaway balloon. It goes beyond that. I have a sort of personal rule that I like to play games as they are meant. Now clearly thats not 'rules as written' (members of my gaming group reading this can stop sniggering now) but rather that I like to play them in the manner they were meant to be played. So, for example, if I'm playing Buffy, I play Buffy. If I'm playing Hot War, then I play Hot War. I don't have time to be modding games and making rules tweaks and such. Indeed, I barely have time to consider setting! I need something that I can play, as it is bought.

However, and this may well seem contradictory, I also take inspiration from Andrew's tweaking of 4e D&D and the way we have consciously bolted-on the bits of game 'best practice' that we really enjoy. Taking that concept, I could take just about any system and include our package of prefered gaming practices and *boom* its done. That wouldn't be modding - its more moulding.

Of course, the true balancing factor in all of this is time. Something I have none of at the moment. Which sucks.

Anyway, pondering - I'm doing a lot of it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dead as a DDO?

I am a sucker for free.

Dungeons and Dragons Online, the (dare I say it) 'failed' MMO based on the worlds most popular roleplaying game has now been released on free-to-play. Most things I have read have agreed that this is a pretty bold move but definitely one thats worth a look. So I did!

I downloaded the high end graphics version which my PC can handle with some momentary stuttering occassionally. Graphics are on a par with WAR but work nicely enough. They share the same sort of engine as LOTRO including the minute icons (although that might be a product of my 1680x1050 screen!). Movement is WASD and combat is point and click with movement being important as well. The system is pretty hardwired D&D3e with a spell pool system, so naturally I created a dwarf cleric. One nice touch was that the game flagged up which classes were good for soloing and which were not.

The opening is reminiscent of AoC - you are shipwrecked and meet with some strangers and go on a mission. However, this is where the game changes substantially from the standard MMO make-up. There are tricks and traps that have to be negotiated - the game handholds you through the first ones (which are like 'find a key') but later you have to do logic puzzles, a number of 'pipedream' style ones including one in 3-d which took this bear-of-small-head a while and dodge actual traps!

The downside of the game as I saw it was a lack of real levelling content that obviously springs out to you during the start of the game. The quest-givers don't show easily on the map so you have to hunt them down. You can repeat quests to grind some XP which isn't as bad as it sounds. The 'Protect the Crystal' quest, for example, is a 3 minute 15 mob gauntlet that I completed in solo and normal modes but couldn't do in hard. Shucks! Oh yes, the instanced quests are graded in difficulty. Nice touch. And another nice touch is that as you progress through the dungeons, the dislocated voice of the 'Dungeon Master' describes what is happening in a nice voiceover.

"You enter a dank sewer, stinking of fetid refuse. You hear the scittering sound of animals ahead of you and an unearthly low moaning from deeper in the sewer."

And then I ventured out of the village and I was in the wonderful world of Guild Wars again. Personal wilderness instance, loads of dungeoned content which was great fun and lots of exploration achievement-style targets to keep you looking. I'm stuck at a camp with a gnarly trader at the moment.

Its no WoW-killer - I'm not seeing the same depth of involvement there and I am sure that there will be a point where not spending £££ on 'Turbine Points' to get the special items and skill-ups will be killer, but as a FREE game, its pretty awesome.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Calorific Deficit Continues...

Well, three weeks into this lifestyle change malarky, the weight loss is from 167kg to 159kg. Thats my first, very small, 5% target reached.

I have to say, this has been far easier than I expected. Its a three-pronged attack.

1. Eat less
2. Do exercise
3. Eat better

Eating less has been a revelation. The amount I would get through on an average day prior to this change was staggering, in retrospect. For example - four slices of cheese and onion of toast with a pint of milk for breakfast, four scrambled eggs with cheese and more toast for lunch, a fully fledged hot meal in the evening, with almost no vegetables. Add to that a 2l bottle of pop, crisps, chocolate and other nibbles throughout the day, plus 'cleaning up' plates from the rest of the house. One or two takeaways a week as well. It was a phenomenal amount of food.

Now, yesterday, I had two slice of wholegrain toast, a ham salad half panini (with about 80% salad), a banana and some spicy cous cous rammed with yet more vegetables and a little chicken. And I wasn't hungry.

That reflects the 'eat better' part as well. Gone are the fried foods, the takeaways, the sweets, the nibbles, the 'cheese with everything' dressing to meals, the extra little meals between meals (where by little, I mean substantial), the tubs of ice cream - you get the idea? They have been replaced by smaller portions, much more veg (OK, I'll be honest - any veg would have been mathematically more than no veg at all, but this is like half a plate of veg!), low GI carbs and MUCH less cheese.

The final bit - the exercise - has been the easiest of all. God bless my local NHS clinic-gym-thingy where I can turn up whenever I want and do my little routine. 15 minutes on the bike, 15 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes on the rowing machine. Its easy, convenient and hits exactly the point between 'exercise' and 'painful knee'. In fact, I've been a lot more supple and flexible since I started which has been fantastic!

I have both a dietician and exercise review in three weeks time. I'm quite looking forward to it - considering I was 'surrendering' to the doctor, the peace has had some remarkable dividends!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Roman Holiday

I think its fair to say that my wife and I come from wholly different backgrounds when it comes to 'Things You Do on a Bank Holiday'. I was always allowed to play out for ages, or sit and watch some back-to-back kids films or, if it was sunny, go to the beach. My wife comes from what I cynically dub 'the school of enforced family fun' - you must go somewhere and do something, regardless!

So, with this in mind, I found myself bombing along the A68 (9?) from Newcastle to Corbridge at 10.30 in the morning, on the way to the Roman Fort site for a Roman History Day. Now many of you may know that I quite like my history, but Roman stuff simply doesn't do it for me. Its all a bit too distant and abstract for my liking. So, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of 'yet more rocks in the ground', after all, if I wanted to see them I could just pop along to Wallsend. Actually that might well be the source of my lack of interest in things Roman? Growing up in Newcastle, you become fairly dulled to (a) Romans, (b) Medieval Castles and (c) Christian Saints by the time you reach your teenage years.

So when I got there and was herded into a field to park by some perky English Heritage types, I was sceptical. Then I saw a horse, in barding. Not a stone horse, but a real one?! Things were looking up! I baulked slightly at the £20 entry fee - I wonder sometimes whether it would be easier to surrender and just buy an English Heritage membership - and entered a world of bacon and burger smells. Great. Just what I need on my diet!

And then things took a turn for the decidedly good. There was a large re-enactment crew doing weapon displays. Awesome. One guy did some sharp weapons stuff and then they did 'fights from the movies and how they are crap' and then they did a full of set of Romans vs Britons melees and then some horse riding and fighting displays. It was a full hour of entertainment and well worth sitting and watching. After that we had a picnic of sorts and then wandered around the exhibits for a while, which was all very nice and arty. We then checked out 'Boudica's Revolt ... with vegetables' on the assurance from the kids that it was awesome. Turns out that the guy that does this 'historical theatre with vegetable actors' has been on Brainiac: History Abuse and is therefore a minor kiddy celeb. It was very funny and a great way to get the story over to kids. Emma pottered around the textiles place doing some weaving whilst Lara and I chilled out in the ruins and then we saw a supposedly funny guy teaching us about how little we knew about physics and Roman technology.

This was actually the bit that really spoiled it for me, as he was so cleverer-than-thou about the entire affair that it actually became off-putting. The swordsman at the start scotched a few myths about fighting for people (for example, a gladius is a slashing weapon, not a stabbing weapon and the massive overacted spear stabs are indeed, massive and overacted as the spear was a swiping and slashing weapon) but he did it in a funny way. The technology guy was just all 'you think you know stuff, but really you know nothing and I know exactly what is what, ha!'

His main points seemed to be (a) the Romans invented very little but imported a lot from other parts of their empire (implying that 'What Did the Romans Do For Us?' should actually more accurately be called 'What Ideas Did the Romans Steal and Import into This Country and Blag Off as Their Own' and (b) if children have computers you are bad parents because they should be doing water pressure experiments instead or the world will end. The science bit was good but really, I could have done without the preaching that went along with it!

After that, we were tiring and there was an hour to kill before the missile combat display, so we decided to cut and run, heading back to civilisation. It was, in retrospect, a really good day out and great value for money between the four of us - about £1 each for each 'show'. I probably wouldn't bother doing it again, but as a one-off it was very pleasant.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Calorific Deficit

No, its not a new way of saying 'recession'!

I went to see the dietician today and had a very pleasant chat about the eating side of my new weight loss lifestyle. The slip into said lifestyle has been staged, starting with attendence at the gym last week and now this. I am now officially 'undergoing lifestyle change'. Exciting!

We very quickly honed in on a couple of personality traits that were crucial to the entire exercise. For a start, I am much better at not doing things than doing things. For example, I stopped drinking beer overnight. No worries whatsoever. My pledge to keep the garden tackled this year has been less successful. I'm also a 'hungry' eater. When I get bored, I get hungry and I eat. Interesting.

So, did I get a diet? No - they don't do that nowadays. Especially not with people who already have a decent idea of whats 'good' and whats 'bad'. Also, I have quite an advantage (apparently) because my weight has been static for some time (around 167kg). No, you don't get a diet - you get a 'calorific deficit plan'

Now I knew that this woman understood me when she quoted the law of conservation of energy at me! If my weight is constant, then the exercise and eating I am doing NOW is in equilibrium. To lose weight, I have to alter that equilibrium. She used words like 'equilibrium' - love it!

So, for example, the gym exercise attacks the calorific deficit from one direction. I burn off calories. It doesn't really matter how many - the point is that I am doing it (and it won't be doing my blood pressure any harm either). If I have four slices of toast in the morning and cut down to two? BAM! 200 calories saved. Replace a chocolate bar with an apple? BAM! 200 calories saved.

My target is a 600 calorie deficit each day.

There was other stuff - reducing portion size, eating much more fruit and veg (especially veg, real veg, not potatoes!) and switching to low Glycemic Index carbs to help with my hunger pangs - but the entire thing revolves around that simple calorific deficit business. Eating the right foods, in sensible quantities and less of them than I usually do!

On the drugs side of things, it looks like my BP is *slightly* too high for the appetite suppressant - which I am not too keen on in the first place as it is a 'head drug' rather than a body drug. The anti-fat absorbant one looks more likely, but I am going to go 'naturale' from now on!

We shall see what we shall see. I'm determined to make it happen and well, as it is me NOT DOING things, rather than actively doing them, it might just work!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Ride of the Dungeoneers

Since Blizzard announced the new World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, there has been a resurgence of interest in the game from some of my friends who had previously dropped it. This precipitated a rather chucklesome event on Saturday night - the reforming, for one night only, of the Dungeoneers!

Now, lets remember that the Dungs shredded apart in quite some explosive nastiness and then lingered on for a while before they disappeared. Players had disappeared to all manner of servers so a reunion has never been on the cards. Take into consideration as well, that Silvermoon is a totally borked server now - its got something silly like a 95%-5% pro-Alliance balance. Orgrimmar is DEAD. The AH is DEAD. Its a ghost town on that side of the server and yet still a High pop server based on Alliance side only.

So we gathered - a truly motley crew. Kylea the Mage, the forgotten alt left on the server. Memnon the Rogue, another cast-aside character who was never worth the £15 transfer fee. Eek the Epic Hunter, the hero of our tale. We even had fleeting cameos from Hornihoof, loot-pilfering druid of old and of course (after chasing him from another server), Nathwest, erstwhile bankalt and ... guildmaster!

We all joined the guild again and proudly had 'The Dungeoneers' above our names. It was quite a cool moment, especially when someone passed by who recognised the name and literally stopped in his tracks to ask whether it was a reunion.

The original and still the best were back.

Well, the original anyway.

We had to suffer the embarassment of scrabbling together gold for training and skills.
We had to remember what the hell all of these buttons did and why we had things in strange places.
We had to remember that none of us were healers...

Still, we took the battle to Northrend and ploughed through Borean Tundra for a few hours. It was a lot of fun and we all nearly hit 71, which was nice. Of course, we probably won't do it again especially as Eek may well be transferring to another realm. It was however, sweet to just do the Dungeoneers thing one last time.

Line of the night

Eek: We have a guild bank!
Kylea: of course we have a guild bank. We stole it, remember?

Ah, memories

Monday, August 10, 2009

I've got a brand new combined harvester...

Ian mentioned on his blog, the current facebook craze of FarmVille. Well, being one of those people that likes to dabble, I have tried it out.

To be fair, I am quite positive towards browser games (and their iPhone app cousins). I play in The Wrestling Game, an online browser wrestling sim and have done for 18 months now and its a lot of fun. Its actually quite time consuming in theory, but the joys of tabbed browsing have meant that it runs in the background when I am on the PC and I press a button occassionally to have a bout. I also have EpicPetWars and EpicSoldierWars on my iPhone. I find these slightly more palatable versions of the classic networking games like Mafia Wars.

If you have never played them before, the games are quite simple. You have some life. You have some energy. You have some currency. You earn experience and currency by doing tasks which cost you energy. Energy regenerates. You can earn exp/currency by fighting other players. Health regenerates. You can buy equipment etc. You can level up. And then, when you get to a certain level, items begin to have an upkeep cost and you must buy 'investments' which give you a cashflow to meet those costs. You get better equipment, you beat bosses to allow you to do better tasks to level faster etc.

Hang on - did I say 'quite simple'? In theory they are. I was trying to work out the maths behind the cashflow curve in EPW last night and see whether there was an optimal strategy of being naked and only buying weapons when you needed to fight a boss. It seems so. Where EPW departs from things like Mafia Wars and other such games is that in MW, your posse (ie. your friends in the game) fight with you, adding to your might. In EPW they don't. It makes a helluva difference and certainly makes the game a lot more playable for me.

Regardless, they are increasingly difficult time wasters for playing on the Metro as far as I am concerned.

From what I can see of FarmVille, it is slightly different. There doesn't seem to be a competitive component apart from being better than your friends. You plough and plant stuff. It grows. If you are online for a time after it blossoms, you harvest it otherwise it wilts on the vine. You can visit your friends farm and help them and that gives you more resources. OK. This is fine, but the point is ...?

Well I can see three points. The first is the level grinding. Micro-achievements within progression and proper achievements that you can aim for. We all know what song and dance. There is also an almost artistic side to it. As you build your farm, and visit other peoples, you can see the people who are organised and those that are higgly-piggly! Indeed, one of the guys who I have visited is a real life farmer and his looks like a text book from a middle school environmental sciences lesson on crop rotation! There is a cute factor too, with the wee little chickens and rabbits.

It seems harmless enough. I will continue my experiment, so you don't have to!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Blast from the Past

Walked into Forbidden Planet yesterday and saw a poster for a new games club - The Heaton Roleplaying Club - at the Heaton Community Centre on Sundays between 4-9pm. TWENTY-FIVE years ago, I cut my roleplaying teeth at that self-same community centre, during the same times, at the same club before it folded.

I feel the need to go full-circle and visit it, at least a couple of times, to become the crusty old grognard in the corner.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Next Big Thing

As the latest playtesting stage of Beat to Quarters trundles along, my mind has wandered to what I will do after it is finished. Its certainly not a secret amongst my closest friends that I am pretty Napoleonic'd out - I feel almost physically sick at the thought of reading another book about the era! I'm still full steam ahead with BtQ but thats it! No more! Three years of working on one topic has taken its toll.

However, I am not someone who just sits there and does nothing. In fact even a few moments of inactivity makes me nervous and shifty. Its like a sort of perpetual intellectual motion addiction. I've been like this since I was a kid - which was horrific for an only child. My catchphrase when I was a bairn was 'I'm booooooored!'

Anyway, what comes next? Well, what it isn't going to be is another roleplaying game. Not writing it anyway. Its been an amazing experience but I am determined not to become a serial games designer. I am, however, considering some roleplaying venture. As Andrew keeps reminding me, the genre I love but I don't feel that I have conquered is Urban Fantasy and it acts as a tantalus for me. However, if I do it, its going to have to be done right, with a reasonably long campaign and my full weight behind not only the GMing, but also the production and peripherals around the game. More than just a game, I would want to deliver an experience. Its been some time since I actually ran a campaign (rather than one-shots and playtests) and I'm not getting any younger! As to what I would run, thats a wonderful question. If and when the Dresden Files RPG comes out, that would seem to be the obvious vehicle. However I'm not holding my breath for that. I'm about to come into possession of the old Underworld rpg which might give me a basis. I have considered even using Hot War as thats a system that I have enjoyed in the past.

I'm going to have to consider what I do with my education as well. If I do (finally) get settled in as a proper lecturer at the college, I will have to upgrade by PTLLS to a CTLLS or DTLLS sooner rather than later. I can't say it would be a hardship but in the end it wouldn't be too much fun either. I've also had the yearnings to do some formal learning, either in history or (bizarrely) french! I was stunned by how much I enjoyed my journeys in France this summer and I was disappointed that my lack of linguistic skills meant I missed some of the details of what was going on. It would be a tough sell for me to do something with an exam at the end, but it might be what I need to get over this silly aversion I have to them.

I also have my standing promise to myself that I will finally learn how to do the database+website thing, so that I can restart my web design interest. I'd have to learn to do the database thing first, of course, but thats a given.

Its strange - the world is my oyster but I'm at a bit of a short end as to what to do. I only really know that doing nothing is not an option!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WoWPhone Cometh!

I have been waiting.

You could tell it was coming. All of the signs and portents have been there.

C&Ds to iPhone app programmers from Blizz. The move of the authenticator into app format. This morning, I noticed, the Anti-Christ had arrived.

The World of Warcraft iPhone Armory

(for further information -

Its ... well, I have to say its pretty fantastic. You get:

A fully functional and up-to-date talent calculator
All of your characters and any others you want to see
Achievements and their breakdowns
Item database to plough through at your leisure
The in-game calendar in all of its glory
And lots of other bits!

And what makes this all the more shocking is that it is .... FREE! I expected a $1.99 download maybe, but no - this one is free, gratis and for nothing.

So whats so great about it? Well, the armoury business is something that I expected to be done sooner rather than later. For me, its the Calendar that is the real shocker. As the Calendar is a 'living' item within the game, in theory, it allows in-game to out-of-game communication. It only works one way (ie. you can only read what is in the Calendar, not edit it yourself.) but it is a start.

What other living parts of the game could they do this for? Well, the bleedingly obvious one is the Auction House, allowing you to manage your AH buying from your iPhone. Would that disrupt the game? Not at all. You pay a flat fee each month and if you access the AH from your phone, Orgrimmar or Undercity, it makes little difference.

This could be the start of a very interesting phase in the development of the game. And it gives me a lot of new things to waste time doing between lectures!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

True Testing

I'm am deep in playtest and design twiddling for Beat to Quarters, the naval follow-up to Duty & Honour. I quite like playtesting - its a very focused way of playing, especially when you do the play-and-debrief method (where you play a game and then deconstruct it after the end) rather than the in-play-test method (where you deconstruct as you play). I've had quite a few external playtests too, which is always good (indeed, essential)

However, I have been having some thoughts about the entire validity of the playtest process. This might well end up as a self-defeating argument, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

I like to think I am a competent GM who is better than competent in certain sorts of game and genres. I like to think that in my chosen genre - Napoleonic stuff - I can deliver a really good game. I've studied the period's military and social history, I've devoured dozens of modern and not-so-modern novels set in the period and watched (nearly) every piece of serialised TV and cinema available. And moreover, I love the period! That helps.

So when I come to run D&H or BtQ, I'm pretty competent that I can deliver a good session. Indeed, thats why I designed the D&H system in the way I did - its a game that I can run really well. The enture system plays to my GMing strengths - working with the unknown, tying together disparate bits of story and working within an interpretive ruleset rather than a definitive ruleset. It also depends on the players being empowered to make their own decisions, their own plots and to suggest their own paths to success. I love games like that.

However, you do not get a Free Neil with every copy of the game. So sometimes, when I run playtests, I have to ask myself - is it the game delivering the good session or is it me? If it was someone else in this seat, what would the experience be like? Now obviously there are some issues here.

The first is that I am not suggesting that I am the only person who can run the game correctly - because I am not. I have observed that the people who have talked to me about running the game are also people who are soaked in the lore and love of the period. The upshot of that is of course that it is the sort of game that only certain people will pick up, and when they do, they can use it well. If someone that knows nothing about the period, why are they picking up the game? Hmmmm...

The second is that I suspect this could well be the same case for many games and many GMs. I know that I personally am having a pretty conflicted time looking at D&D 4e. I'm really really enjoying the game we have been playing for the last year and I am tempted to run something after it is finished. However, I know - I JUST KNOW - that the very mechanical nature of 4e and my rather freewheeling, hand-wavey style of GMing are like chalk-and-cheese. It would be horrible. But it is so tempting... Similarly, I know a lot of GMs who like to do meticulous preperation, for whom the concept of the D&H challenges, missions, planning session and what-not is simply a living nightmare of forced improvisation.

I guess the thing to do is divorce a good play session from a good mechanical session. Rather than judging the session on the way it went and how I felt at the end, I should maybe tally up the number of times I ...*ahem*... 'interpreted the rules'? How many time I forgot a modifier or missed a test?

Like I said, a circular debate. I guess you have to think harder about playtesting than just, well, playing and testing. You need that detachment that allows you to see where the Game is working and You are working.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

MMOs Revisted: Age of Conan

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MMOs Revisited: Warhammer Online

I have been sent recently a large number of 'hey, you used to play our game - why not try again?' emails from MMO companies - namely Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Playing WoW has changed a lot for me recently. I realised that I just didn't have the time for raiding in an increasingly serious 'casual' raiding guild and as a result I suspended my activities on Stormrage until things calmed down at work. To keep me occupied I have been pottering on a RP server with a troll shaman, Vuduun, and it has been a lot of fun. Regardless, WoW is in another downswing at the moment, so I considered looking at some of these old games. In the purpose of science, I'll report back here with my results.

Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

7 day free re-trial engaged and massive patch downloaded. Hurrah. The first thing I discovered is that a load of servers have been merged and I also had a free server transfer. No problems there, I'm not part of a guild or anything. Characters pop up and I choose Sunraven, my Bright Wizard. Thats all cool so far and then ...

What do I do again? I spend a good 15 minutes reacquainting myself with the tiny fiddly interface and working out what my various powers do again. I finally remember how to allocate my skill point things with a NPC and bod around on my horse zapping things. The very rhythmic rotation of the Bright Wizard comes back to me and I am zapping things with impunity. There are a few booster quest items that basically zap you forward 2-3 levels in treble quick time and for the duration of the trial you have a 10% xp bonus. I could even find my way around Altdorf still, which seems a bit like a miracle as I couldn't do it first time around.

However, there were some problems. The first was that I had 20+ quests in my log and no idea where they were on the map or what I had to do for them. I could have done some more research, but it was beginning to feel a bit like a job now. I logged myself in to do some PvP and waited ... and waited ... and waited. That wasn't encouraging!

Finally, my mouse stuttered. I moved it. It stuttered again and then some deep hidden lizard memory realised 'Oh shit! Its crashing!' and WHAM! The patented EA vs GeForce incompatibility bug slapped me around the face again and laughed at me bodily. I then remembered why I dropped the game in the first place. It couldn't play nice on my PC. It looks like nearly a year hasn't managed to sort that problem out.

The trial ran out when I was in France. I never cried.

Next: Conan!

8 Days in Provence

Well, not quite a year, but it will have to do!

So, I am coming to the end of what has been an idyllic little holiday to the south of France. It has been quite a revelation to me and quite possibly the most relaxing holiday I have ever had. Staying at my in-laws house (read - purpose built villa complex thingy) has been wonderful once we got over living in someone elses house. We've had a hire car which has allowed us to potter off to places when needed but most of the time its been about chilling out in the sun, reading, writing Beat to Quarters and exploring French supermarkets.

Now, those that know me will be aware that I have never been very pre-disposed towards our gallic cousins in the past. In fact I have resisted any and all attempts to get me to go to France as I really just couldn't be bothered. It was sort of an irrational revulsion type of thing. Well, I am pleased to report that it has sort of disappeared. It has all been quite charming actually. My main barrier has been language - I don't speak French and I find British people who go to other countries and expect the locals to speak English about the most embarassing, insulting and generally arrogant thing we can do. I still feel that way but as it happens, I actually speak far more French than I thought and that o-level standard can get you through most day-to-day interactions. Most things can be navigated with a number and the name of an item, a quick 'bonjour' and 'au revior' and a 'merci beaucoup'. I've had to bust out a 'Je voudrais' and a ' Je suis anglais' when I was asked a direction, and thats about it. Modern society, as it turns out, doesn't require much actual verbal interaction.

What also helps the language barrier, of course, is that the English language has a metric ton of words based on the French and French has a ton of words adopted from English/American. Between the two, there are only a few things you cannot guess at and in those cases, there are pictures!

The food, as you would expect, has been very nice indeed. I have been filling my face with cold meats, umpteen different cheeses, breads and sausages. They also have a better class of diluted juice over here, which is no doubt corroding my teeth like battery acid, but its dead nice! Only downer is that the bread in France goes stale in minutes, it would appear. Daily baguettes are needed! We had an expedition in the supermarket trying to identify what Gluten Free was in French ... 'sans Gluten' - who'd have thought eh?

The animal life has been interesting. Massive green beetles? Check! Wasps like something off a Sinbad movie? Check! Ants you could saddle? Check! Seriously, the ants are enormous - about a centimetre long and then some. The ground in the forest (where we are staying) moves with them!

The roads are, as you would expect, 'interesting'. They have deep open irrigation ditches to each side of the road with no barrier between the car and the ditch. Combine that with the thin and winding roads, the higher-than-the-UK speed limits, the insane scooters, the E600 excess on the car insurance and the E800 desposit on the hire car and well, its been fun! Motorway toll roads as well were a bit of a shock. The drive to Toulon (about from Newcastle to York) cost us E20 in tolls (thats about 16 quid in real money) and the petrol is about the same price as it is in the UK. In fact, whilst I accept that the place we are staying is quite expensive and exclusive, at these prices the UK isn't exactly 'rip-off Britiain'. I spied a Pokemon starter for 'only' E23! Yowzers!

Other random things - we nearly got hit by a bona fide 'dust devil' on the road. French comics look like UK annuals, very cool. The Froid/Chaud on the taps still confuses me. I found that looking both ways still works well for crossing the road and yes, inevitably, despite meticulous planning and checking I *still* set off the metal detector at Newcastle Airport. How? I have no idea and neither did they!

Return to the UK tomorow, all fully charged and ready to rumble,

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The End...

...of my little girls junior school life (or career, as they now refer to it, strangely) was today. It was her Leavers Assembly. Its been something that she has been talking about for two years and I have to say it was by far the most traumatic moment I have seen in the kids school experience. This goes beyond nervous steps into stage productions (that was last week) or exam results (the week before). It even goes beyond that moment when you realise that not everyone is going to be your friend.

It was a half-hour long class retrospective of the years they have spent together since nursery, recounting in that rather twee manner that school 'performances' do, the ups and downs. It was very funny in parts and showed off some of the talents of the kids. It involved a lot of singing. A lot of singing. With the entire year there in front of you, you could see where genetics was playing its tricks. There were the rapidly maturing young woman standing alongside girls who would have looked at home in Reception. There were boys who were clearly approaching 'those difficult years' and others that looked like your stereotypical waifs. Some of the kids were very confident, others were nervous, others were paralysed with fear.

And then, at the end, they had to sing 'The Greatest Day' by Take That. These are the opening lyrics:

Today this could be, the greatest day of our lives
Before it all ends, before we run out of time
Stay close to me,
Stay close to me
Watch the world come alive tonight
Stay close to me.

Tonight this could be the greatest night of our lives
Let’s make a new start,
The future is ours to find
Can you see it,
can you see it in my eyes
Can you feel it now,
can you hold it in your arms tonight

And tears. Floods of tears. The adults in the audience - teachers, parents, grandparents, classroom assistants. Crying. The kids, one by one, started to cry. And the little buggers were still banging out the tune with the tears streaming down their eyes. Even the lads were crying!

It came to an end, the headmaster said some platitudes, as did the headmaster of the high school that 95% of them will be going to and then some prizes were handed out. And then, in a move of the most barbaric, cold-hearted and unsympathetic sort, the headmaster asked them to sing the song again as the lower school kids trooped out.

It was carnage. Really, it was too much for some of them. Boys openly crying and hugging other boys. Girls with their arms around each other. Teachers passing out tissues along the rows to try to add a veneer of dignity to the occassion as parents saw their children put through mental torture. It was like Torchwood had prepared us for this moment!

In the end, of course, everyone was fine. Everyone always is - and the words of the High School head resonated. "You know you have a good school when the kids are crying because they are leaving."

The silly thing is, they will all be popping into each others houses over the summer and then seeing each other in seven weeks time. I tried to broach this topic and suggest that it wasn't the people she would miss but the teachers and the school itself. I was soundly told I was wrong. It was still an amazing, slightly harrowing and yet somehow hilarious and uplifting sight.

Mr Baines. You sir are a class one bastard, but you do run an amazingly good school!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Who Would Be A Parent?

Its been one of those weeks...

First, we had some new additions to the family - Swimmy and Lucky, two goldfish. One child goes to the fair with the grandparents and comes back with ... FISH! Honestly, do they still give away fish at funfairs nowadays? Apparently they do. Actually she came back with one fish but we got another one when we decided to make a fist of keeping it alive. Its quite hard to explain to a child that fairground goldfish have a life expectancy somewhere between a mayfly and an experimental particle. You have to sort of play along. Its Day Five of FishDeathWatch and they are both doing fine.

Then one of the children goes into hospital to have a routine Ear/Nose/Throat related operation. In the pantheon of childhood moments, I have to admit that your first operation is quite a large thing but bloody hell! You would think it was the last-in-the-series of Casualty/Holby City/ER and Grey Anatomy all rolled into one with a guest appearance by House and the cast of M.A.S.H! Its been a full-family multiple adult FAFF-CON ONE operation. Its been quite remarkable. Amazingly, the operation passed off without incident, everyone is fine etc.

And finally, tonight, we had the School Production. It was rather good in that amazingly amateur way that a year of 11 year-olds do plays. The non-hospitalised child had a part that required a little acting and a little singing. She's a grand singer and a good actress but she just managed to surpress her nerves and excitement enough to handle it. Its difficult, as a parent, to be realistic with your offspring about their performance and not crush them like a bug. Indeed, the discovery that what was once a rather cute childhood talent has not transformed into a 'tween' ability (her singing...) is going to prove quite a difficult one. As my wife says, she will learn the easy way (someone tells her) or the hard way (someone tells her...)

Fish, hospitals and singing. Really, none of this was in the handbook!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Day The Music Died?

Not today. No. 'The Music' clearly died about 16 years ago when the Stone Roses split up. Everything since then has been a pale phantom. And yes, I do want 'I am the Resurrection' played at my funeral - the full 10 minute version. That'll educate you all!

I was asked recently, by some students at work, what music I used to be into when I DJ'd at Uni. Whilst a lot of the stuff that I did was the generic 'shit disco' stuff, I was much happier doing what would have been kindly in those days been called 'indie disco' but was really a rip off of the old 'Wednesday Night At Walkers'

Walkers was a nightclub in the backstreets of Newcastle in the late 80s. Later, it was to have the misfortune of having Gazza get attacked within its walls and the scandal would mean it would change its name to Planet Earth and later some Vodka Bar place and then finally close. When it was Walkers, though, it was immense. Wednesday nights were a pilgramage, regardless of weather, time of year or coursework, to dance our socks off all night to what was at the time the bleeding edge of the not-dance-music stuff.

And dance we did. To (mis)quote the Wonder Stuff, we span round like a spinning thing! It was the one place where WE were the regulars and everyone else was encroaching on our club. Or at least it felt like that. We had our corner where we, and only we, threw our denim jackets. We might have drank but most likely not because we just didn't need to. We laughed, we cried, we played silly pranks on each other - it was great.

I distinctly remember three things. The first was the last night before I went to Uni when we (we, btw, being me and my mate Stephen - there were others: Toby, Ang, Carrie, Birdy) went and thanked the DJ for his tunes and then bought a half for the prettiest lass in the place who we had gawped at for months but never done anything about - to thank her for being pretty. I remember my first birthday at Uni, Stephen had gone back to Walkers and got everyone in the club to sign a card for me. They didn't know who I was, but they did and it was very cool indeed. And I remember the day we went back and discovered that it had got shit. We stood there and waited and it was still shit. And then like something out of a film, the old DJ appeared and started playing the music again and ... it wasn't shit anymore.

Does that last bit sound too far fetched? It might, but I shit you not, it happened. I remember, because I remember being on my knees doing the 'we're not worthy' thing in front of him! It was 1992, Waynes World was out and well ... thats what you did.

ANYWAY... enough of the memory lane rubbish. I put together my Spotify playlist of the music that used to be played back then. Its an approximation - I added the Pogues and the Levellers stuff at Uni and I always placed out with the Housemartins. The rest however it kosher.

Thats me. Thats my music.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twitter Twatting Facebook?

I have seen a bit of a change in my social networking habits. As part of my previous employment I was inducted into the world of Facebook and it was fine. Its a useful communications tool and as part of my range of promotional tools for D&H, its good. However, recent changes to the system and the predelictions of the users seem to be rendering it almost irrelevant.

The change was the reformatting a few months ago, which seemed to turn the interface into a mimic of Twitter - lots of status updates. For some reason, that I cannot put my finger on, this seemed to dissolve some of the charm of the page. It seemed less ... interesting?

Add to this a real rise in the number of utterly pointless memes and bloody stupid quizes that are also part of the feed now and its almost impenetrable bullshit. Currently I can find out how well I know Abby, see someone's (mediocre) hi-score on Chain Rxn, read a couple of random newsposts, hear about someone's Tiny Adventure, know that someone has bought a horse in a game, know which rock star I am, know how evil I am, know how gay I am and know which revolutionary thinker I am. Truly, I am blessed by this knowledge.

I think that I value Facebook as an interactive contacts list and a place to play online Scrabble more than I do this utter toss.

The other change is that a number of people are now sychronising their Facebook status updates and their Twitter feeds. Which, initially, I found bloody annoying. Now however, I have switched camps ... and here's why.

Facebook lets people walk up to you and ask to be your friend. You have to actively reject them or drop them. Its a powerful social dynamic. Twitter is different. You decide to follow people and you have nothing to do with who follows you. Its a lot less personal, a lot more detached. What does that mean? Well, I feel no social necessity to follow every single person I know on Twitter. I can be quite discerning. I can hone my feed to things and people that I find actually interesting, rather than people who I might well want to contact eventually.

So I find myself taking more and more notice of Twitter and less and less notice of Facebook. Scrabble being exempted from this ignorance.

Its an interesting change of heart!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Games Expo - or 'Where Did My Stock Go?!'

So, this weekend was Games Expo - one of the biggest and broadest events in the UK games calender. Boardgames, wargames and CCGs all rub shoulders with roleplayers in a massive set of halls in Birmingham. It is an exceptionally well organised convention that could easily suck every penny from your pocket.

I approached this con with a degree of uncertainty. Its the most expensive con to attend and the crowd is very varied. You can never tell what will happen. Its quite a financial risk to cover your costs properly. D&H has also been out for 9 months and I recognise that it is quite a niche game, so it must be reaching saturation soon, right? I tried to mitigate this by releasing the 1809 Miscellany, to stimulate sales and put something new out there. Oh I know, its very business and not very 'indie' but I have bills to pay!

So, how did things pan out?

I sold out. I sold out of EVERYTHING. Even my own personal copy of the game.I sold half my stock in the first quarter of the convention. That was unexpected. I sold the game to new people, to people who have played it with their friends, to people who are playing campaigns (!) themselves, to wargamers and (more importantly) to retailers. D&H is now going to be available in stores like Waylands Forge in Birmingham and Leisure Games in London. Moreover, there were people enthusing about it and people genuinely excited about Beat to Quarters.

We also had Revenge of the B-Movie 2, Pulp! and Labyrinths & Lycanthropes on the stall, new games all, and they sold strongly as well. In fact, the stall took a record amount of money which was a shock during a recession.

Long term readers may remember me posting about having difficulties dealing with compliments and this weekend was no exception. I did take the advice and try to use each compliment as a route to talk about further plans etc. It felt a little shilly, but it stopped the embarassed shuffling and annoying silences.

The con was also a massive exercise in restraint for me. Not on the games front, but on the wargames front and the *ahem* research for BtQ front. Warhammer Trafalgar is beautiful. The Victrix Napoleonics now have French *sob* and there were just a load of interesting ... STUFFs! I did buy a cheap box of some of those little CCG style press out ships for BtQ stuff. £5 spent all weekend. I'm like a feckin' saint!

I'm now out of stock. I have never been out of stock. Its a fun feeling.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Search of AR-PEE?

WoW can be a strange beast sometimes. I have pushed what I can be bothered to do with Sunraven as far as it goes on our PvE server. I've got titles, I've levelled fishing, I'm got decent equipment and I am casually raiding Ulduar. There's not a whole helluva lot more to do apart from raiding and no incentive to farm, as I have more money than God. Even the Argent Tournament doesn't seem so much of a temptation, now that I have 50 pets, my Gruntling and a cool banner.

'A Cool Banner' is a very strange phrase. I've found that one of the things that I have been doing is gathering more and more roleplay-style bits of fluff for Sunraven, for no purpose other that something to do. So she has a nice wardrobe of dresses, the now-defunct Ruby Shades and some other tat. Its all fun, but with no real purpose apart from tarting around Org in a dress. Like I said, a strange beast.

However, it is a lot of fun and I decided that I would take this urge to play the game in a slightly different way and use it to try one final experiment on the dread WoW RP servers! I've been here before. I played a dwarf warrior on a RPPVP server for a while which was kind of fun, but got swamped by other things. I have tried twice again to start a Night Elf Druid, but they have failed miserably because I lost my temper with the RP-Nazis in the starting areas. This would be my last throw of the MMO-RP-G dice.

Now in the spirit of managing expectations, I'll outline what I am looking for in this 'RP'. What I want is a crucible to experience the game world through a different pair of eyes. A different focus. So rather than considering what I do with everything focusing on what my mechanical output is and whether I am doing the game 'properly', I want to do it 'realistically' from an RP P.O.V.

So what does that mean? Well, my character is Vudunn, a male troll shaman. As a one liner background for him, he was raised by goblins in Ratchett and is seeking the true Troll home, guided by the spirits. He's an engineer - from his goblin background - and has a tiny little pyromaniacal streak, giving him the nickname 'Da Boom! Boom!' Nothing earth shattering there.

So in-game, I have tried to interact with and 'do' as many of the troll or goblin areas as I can, whilst avoiding as much of bloody Silverpine and Tarren Mill as I can. Its not totally possible - just mostly possible. I have a plan, about my ongoing quest through Zul Farrak, Sunken Temple, Zul Gurub, Zul Aman and into Northrend. Its all there, to be done.

I'm part of a guild, the Shadowbranch Tribe - an ad hoc tribe of trolls who have no home and wander Azeroth, searching for their home. Hey, thats cool, that fits with my backstory. Score one for the writing team! They are a canny bunch of people and they take their 'RP' seriously. So seriously that in-guild chat is carried out in the faux-Jamacian patois of the game. Which can be fun, but can also be very tiring when you aren't in the mood.

As with Sunraven, items become very important - because they form more who you appear to be, rather than what you are capable of doing. My engineers goggles are far more in keeping with my character than an early leather helm, so they have stayed. I have some kit that I wear 'off quest' which are my Shaman robes - I even have a cool troll shaman off-hand staff frill. Part of the game is looking for and gathering stuff like this and its a part that I really enjoy. I'm looking forward to trying to get my voodoo mask and robes at later levels!

However, I have yet to encounter the famed WoW 'RP'. It happens, apparently, in Silvermoon City. It happens in Dalaran and Stormwind. It doesn't happen in Orgrimmar, as far as I can see. It may happen tomorrow night, as I will be attending my first ever in-game, in-character troll wedding!

I have fireworks. Boom!Boom!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Gamer Diet

I think we have missed a trick here.

This weekend, my family decided that we were going to begin to address our main health issue - weight. We sat down and we discussed what we all thought about it and why we eat as we do. With the exception of my wife we are all overweight and it is effecting the way we live and operate. The first thing I realised was that the kids know a whole helluva lot of dietary issues from school! The second thing I realised was that whilst exercise and portion size are things to be addressed, the main issue was grazing - what we used to call 'eating between meals'. So, as a first step to some sort of dietary regime, we put a housewide moratorium on eating between meals. And it has worked. Not one of us has had a bite between meal times and it has made those meals all the sweeter when they come.

The second step was to hammer home to the grandparents that this was a family wide initiative and it had to be adhered to when the kids were at their houses too. And that seems to have worked really well.

Which got me thinking...

A number of our gaming family have, for one reason or another, given up or radically reduced the amount that they drink. We were, previously, quite an alcohol-friendly group of gamers with bottles of wine and multiple pints of cider being the order of the day at most gatherings. Not once have any of us felt the need to put pressure on another of us to start drinking again. Indeed, there has been a palpable level of support and understanding for that and some other dietary-related issues that have occured.

A lot of us suffer from the traditional gamer problem of being overweight too, and some of our number have made concerted but fatally flawed efforts to lose weight. Some have considered going to slimming clubs like Weight Watchers. Personally, I have a number of issues with these establishments but I considered recently the thing which people get from them. If you are a pessimistic person, they get the threat of humiliation. If you are a optimistic person, they get support from their peers.

Gamers exist in communities. Between us, we have identified on a number of occassions a shared goal - lose some bloody weight. The way that we do it might vary, but the goal remains the same. What we lack is support. We lack that peer group support that says its OK to have a baked potato on a Wednesday night instead of a Mixed Grill. We lack the encouragement to celebrate the successes and to provide a shoulder to chew on for the setbacks.

I'm not talking about a gamer diet club or some sort of competitive dieting regime (because knowing some of our personalities, it would turn into a fact fest on exactly what is the best way to lose weight and where we are all going wrong!). Rather I'm talking about making 'losing weight' (for those that choose to) the new 'not drinking'.