Sunday, June 27, 2010

That Was The Weekend That Was II

Yesterday was a good day. Bit hot maybe, but we had some friends from larp visiting York and we met them for lunch in the Old White Swan. They do fantastic sausages there, even if their "toad-in-the-hole" is really just "sausage and veg in a giant yorkshire pudding". Afterwards we bought ice-creams and wandered round the Museum Gardens and by the river for a bit before going to look at the Minster and then heading out round the walls. We set off home once we reached Walmgate as the boy was getting tired and bored, and anyway we needed to get home in time for Doctor Who.

Blimey. What can I say about Doctor Who? Well, I'm still slightly diappointed Amy's house didn't turn out to be a TARDIS or something similar, and the way the Doctor escapes seemed a little too easy, but then Moffat does love his predestination paradoxes and the whole thing was great fun. Fezes are definitely cool. And we knew that scene in Flesh and Stone was important, and it was great to see more of Amelia. Oh, and Rory is now my favourite companion of the new Who. Even if he's not plastic any more. And actually leaving some questions to be answered next year was definitely a smart move. Still unsure about River - I keep wanting to like her but sometimes she's just a bit too smug and the "being mysterious for the sake of it" is beginning to wear thin. Maybe once we get to see "earlier" River, when she doesn't know more than us/the Doctor, she'll be a little less annoying.

Last night was topped by C coming round and buying us booze from "the beer shop". Rather than subject him to more football, we played Munchkin (which I lost horribly, twice) and Zombie Fluxx (which I won less horribly, once). Good fun.

Today's been a bit more "bleh". Too hot, mostly, and then we watched the England-Germany game. Ahem. Well we didn't deserve any better, to be honest. We've done pretty rubbish this tournament, and our defense today was mostly absent. Boy didn't watch it, and was only briefly disappointed to discover we wouldn't be playing again. He's got Black & White to keep him busy.

There may be more gaming tonight, and I still have some booze left as we bought more for the match. May need it, too. Monday tomorrow, and I'm not exactly looking forward to trying to job search thing. I know nobody likes it, but it's just a bit more dispiriting when there really isn't anything to apply for except those damned "work from home" schemes. I may have to start applying for jobs I have no hope of getting just for the practice. And that does feel soul-destroying.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Convoluted History of My Campaign*, Part One: Out of Character

You might want to take notes, this gets complicated.

So I started my D&D campaign with four players - my SO, JS, T and C. Their brief was to think of a character they wanted to play and then build a D&D character they would make - the intention being the character they ended up playing would have their "player"'s personality but their "character"'s abilities and skills. Confused? Yep, well, it wasn't such a good idea as it first seemed for many reasons, not least because while my SO and JS chose previous characters from other games as their "players", T and C chose real people they know. It largely fell by the wayside, though, except as a slight backstory quirk, so never mind.

So we started with my SO playing a human swordmage called Pete, J playing a Dwarven cleric called Charles, T playing an Eladrin rogue whose name I've forgotten and C playing a human wizard who never had a name as far as I can recall. They did some stuff, all was good, then my SO got a bit bored of playing the swordmage and wanted to give a half-orc fighter a go. Being GM's SO has it's perks, so we happily invented another "player" called Chuck who takes Pete's place.

Shortly after that, I misjudge how hard a couple of Elite Controllers can be, and we narrowly avoid a TPK by me letting the half of the party still on its feet to leg it. I give the players who were left behind a few choices, and as my SO hadn't been playing Chuck long, she opted for the character to be taken captive. T was quite happy to let his rogue die though, and built a Drow sorcerer instead (still played by the same "player").

Next change happens when C finally gets sick of playing the wizard and asks to try a different class. He makes a Dragonborn warlord and after a few sessions decides to stick with that over the wizard. Of course, then my SO's gamer ADD kicks in again and she asks to play a twinked out elf ranger to help the party dish out more damage. I say yes, because I'm a sucker, and because it gave me an opportunity to shake things up a bit. So my SO's new character, Mouse, is a "native" to the game world and has no "player" behind her. Chuck gets killed in a scripted assassination attempt.

So at this point the party consists of a Dwarven cleric "played" by Charles played by J, a Drow sorcerer "played" by E played by T, a Dragonborn warlord "played" by someone who may or may not be T played by C, and Mouse, an Elven ranger "played" by no-one played by my SO. Got it?

This actually lasts a reasonable while, before out-of-character drama happens and J takes a break from the game for "some time". I play Charles as an NPC for a bit before realising "some time" could be anything from months to forever, and cunningly manage to write the character out of the game for an arbitrary amount of time, simultaneously sending the remaining party on a quest away from all the undead they'll have difficulty dealing with without a cleric.

We ran with three players for quite a long time. Then, just after I foolishly introduced C's old character (the wizard) as an NPC which had reason to tag along with the party, a colleague of my SO asked if he could join in. As he was new to 4th ed D&D, we thought we'd give him the quite easy to run Mouse (if in doubt, Twin Strike) and resurrected Chuck to "play" the wizard.

So as it stands we have D playing Mouse; C playing (via some intermediary) The Warlord; T playing (via some intermediary) The Drow (aka Balthus); and my SO playing Chuck "playing" C's character's old character. I'm hoping this set-up actually lasts for a bit.

* If anyone can think of a decent campaign name, by the way, I'm quite open to suggestions. Otherwise I'll just have to keep referring to it as "My Campaign" which is a bit dull.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bugger it all, I'm just going to write

I was thinking about blogging about the Budget, but meh.

I've been in a bit of slump lately. Whatever the cause of this slump, it hasn't been helped by my inability to think of things to write, either fiction or for this blog. There've been a number of competitions over the last few weeks for short stories and flash fiction that I've looked at and maybe even started writing something for only to peter out within a few lines. And when a friend linked to this and said she was going to give it a go, my first thought was "oooh" then my second was "nah, I can't write a whole novel" and my third was "but maybe I could give it a go...." Cue a couple of days of wracking my brain for ideas that would fit in with the brief - and coming up with nothing. I despaired, wondering what had happened to all my ideas. And then gloomily sulked, because even if I had a clue what to write about I wouldn't do anywhere near a good enough job actually writing about it.

But you know what, I'm bored. I spend large parts of the day not knowing what to do with myself, and even if I'm not a good writer and even if I never do get better, it's not going to harm anyone to put words into a text file and see what happens. So while I have no idea what I'll write, I'm going to write. Maybe I'll never write more than a hundred words here and there, half scenes and semi-descriptions and not quite poems. But maybe if I keep writing it all down, all the crap, all the starts of ideas, maybe eventually I'll be able to start pulling bits and pieces together into something longer, something coherent. But even if I don't, I'm no worse off than just not trying.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Was The Weekend That Was

Blimey, it's been a busy couple of days.

I suppose Friday night is usually considered the start of the weekend, and like many other people we spent ours drinking alcohol, watching twenty odd people kick a ball around for a bit and wonder where the hell all their motivation went. The boy stayed up for the first half but was plainly getting bored even during the ten minutes or so that England decided to actually play some football. Afterwards, we played Carcassone, and I did even worse than usual. I'll blame the wine.

Saturday we wandered into town for Free RPG Day and picked up the D&D and Exalted freebies. I also finally bought Underdark, thereby ensuring my players don't go anywhere near that place at any point in the rest of the campaign. Then we packed ourselves into the car, along with a friend from SO's other game she plays in, and went up to Durham for "Nerd East" - a mostly LARP kit fair run by the uni's student larp group, but which also had a games room and several stalls selling minis, used and new rpg books etc. The main draw was not so much the fair itself, but the people we knew who would be there, and despite the boy getting quite bored at points, it was a nice enough way to spend an afternoon. One couple of friends were down from Glasgow with their little boy, and the two youngsters got along like a house on fire (only slightly less destructively). I resisted buying anything and got to play a couple of games of Ca$h 'n Gun$ which was quite fun (you get to point foam guns at your friends and shout bang occasionally - what more could you want?) and then, after some working out of logistics, we ended up going to a barbeque. It was a very late night for all three of us, boy was falling asleep after his playmate went to bed, and we didn't get back to York until half eleven, but it was great to spend time with a bunch of people we mostly only see while larping.

Due to getting home so late, I deliberately avoided the internet this morning so as not to be spoiled over Doctor Who. We went to my (former, I suppose) supervisor's house for lunch. Despite some hiding and name calling to start with, the three eldest children (our boy, their daughter and eldest son) were soon playing together happily and energetically, while all four adults got to coo over the eight month old baby. After a lunch of some of the best burgers I've ever tasted (in homemade bread buns, nom) we went to Burnby Hall Gardens for a lovely walk and to let the kids run around some more. Not of course that this helped wear them down in any way, as they were still hyper when we got back to the house. But despite having to drag a very tired and grumpy boy away, it was a brilliant afternoon - they really are a lovely family and it's always reassuring to realise its not just your child who can cause chaos! Although I'm still not sure how anyone manages with more than one, so I don't think I'll be changing my mind on that front anytime soon. No matter how cute babies are, and how good the boy seems to be in the "big brother" role.

When we got home we finally managed to watch "The Pandorica Opens". Wow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Primal Adventures II

So after a skip week where we played the Battlestar Galactica boardgame instead, we went back to my SO's Primal game (story so far here).

We decided we'd best just catch our breath before racing after the escaped "floaty-tentacly-eyes-on-stalks-monster". Thankfully, we'd injured it enough so that it was leaving blobs of, well, goo, behind otherwise tracking a flying thing would have been difficult. As it was, we were able to follow a trail of goo blobs to the nearby swamp - home of the dragon that told us bad stuff was happening and not to interfere with them stopping it. With no idea of where it might be heading, and the swamp slowing us down much more than it (as it could fly) we reluctantly admitted we were never going to catch it up. We trudged back to the cave to make camp, intending to head back to the rest of the tribe after a good night's sleep.

My inquisitive Druid examined the patches of earth where the goo had fallen. It looked.....wrong, somehow. Not necessarily darker or twisted, but more defined than the surrounding area and slightly surreal. Being reluctant to actually touch the goo, I tried setting it on fire. It didn't really burn though, which is probably a good thing.

We had a disturbed night, with maddeningly surreal, weird and physics-defying dreams. Probably sleeping in the entrance to a cave where an otherworldly being had been summoned wasn't the brightest plan. The Warden was on last watch and in the brightening day heard the sounds of an approaching group of creatures and woke us all up. Suspecting it was another band of goblins (as we'd run into a few before) I scattered caltrops over the path just before it widened into the clearing in front of the cave and we all attempted to hide. (Not being particularly stealthy, this ranged from crouching behind rocks, to blending in with the trees and standing in the cave entrance hoping it was shadowy enough.) But rather than it being goblins, it was in fact a chattering group of kobolds.

As they didn't immediately look like the corrupted, warped kobolds that had been doing the summoning, I called out "Are you nice kobolds?" and after some intense discussion one was pushed forward to do all the talking. In a conversation limited somewhat by their halting common, we managed to establish that they were there to stop the summoning ritual which we'd failed to stop. We admitted we'd killed all the bad things in the area but one had got away, and they investigated and poked around the site a bit (shadowed by my druid who desperately wants to learn everything she can about what had been going on). They went off to report back to "Boss", and I told them to say we were willing to help. Rest of party were less convinced about being willing to help, but my character at least is worried by this incursion into her reality, as well as fascinated by these things she doesn't understand. Plus the dragon had compared this incursion to an "infection" and infections spread....

we finally retraced our steps of long ago to head back to the tribe's camp and let them know what lay this way. On the way we ran into a small group of longtooth shifters who looked slightly familiar but who didn't seem to recognise us. Oh, and they too were slightly...wrong. Edges too well defined. Surreal. Just like the patches of ground the Far Realm creature's goo had fallen on. When they first saw us, they just growled.

While most of us held off attacking until they did anything hostile, the Barbarian ran up and (failed to) hit one of them. To be fair, this was probably how the barbarian greeted most people. But attack us they did, and we had a pretty hard fight, not least because the dice hated us and we kept missing repeatedly while the GM rolled good damage. With some struggle, a lot of chasing after two sneaky ones who kept running to hide behind trees, and the barbarian not only getting hit lots but taking a wack of damage too, we finally managed to knock them all out (for once we reined in our killer instincts). And that's where we left it.

Hopefully it'll only be another fortnight until the next session. I'm really getting into this, and the plot is a lot tighter and more focused than my own rambling game. Or at least, that's how it comes across - maybe my SO is making it up as she goes along too! Will need to keep poking her to make sure she does enough prep to keep on schedule.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A sentence

I read a sentence today. A sentence I feel needs sharing with the world, along with my views on why this sentence is so wrong.

First, though, let me point out the context of this sentence. It was in the final paragraph of this book review - a review that for the most part was even handed, interesting and led me to be vaguely interested in the book. Unfortunately, it ended with what I can only presume is the reviewer's own pet cause which apparently isn't mentioned in the book, that of "population control". Alarms bells should already be ringing - rare is the person who thinks it is themselves, their family, and their friends who need "controlling" as they, of course, are responsible citizens whose impact on the environment is either sustainable or at least justified by the worth they bring to society. It's a slightly jarring shift, from sympathetic discussion of changes in human society (which is what the book is about) to a sudden polemic on a contentious issue which he feels the books should have addressed. Whether a book review is really the place to air one's political opinions is another moot point, but not one I have strong opinions on either way.

Also, I'd like to point out in fairness that I don't know whether the reviewer does indeed hold these opinions, or whether he was merely espousing a possible argument or pointing out the rational, but hardly ideal, conclusion. Indeed, it would be strange for someone to refer to something they support as "draconian". Maybe it's all a terrible editing error, but regardless I want to address this one particular sentence just in case someone is wondering what is so repellent about it.

So, to the sentence.
In order to stem population growth, governments should close international borders to migration and impose a draconian policy of family limitation like China's where it is needed.
I cannot argue against the aim of stemming population growth, although some would, as the impact of an aging population in developed countries begins to make itself known. However, history seems to suggest that better education (especially for women), less poverty, lower infant mortality and accessible birth control will all tend towards people choosing to have fewer children. This certainly has happened in Europe - a few years ago, Italy introduced financial incentives for women to have more than one child in an effort to boost its population as birth rates had fallen so low. As better education, for men and women, less poverty, lower infant mortality and greater freedom of choice in planning families all seem like laudable goals in and of themselves to me, a side-effect of reducing population to a more sustainable level is just a bonus. So my issues with this sentence are not necessarily with the stated goal, but the suggested means.

Firstly, "close international borders to migration". Aside from the fact this smacks of xenophobia more associated with the likes of the BNP than anthropologists, I fail to see how this would help. Common sense says that the movement of people around the world has little impact on global population (unless I missed an important part of sex education). In fact, all a lack of migration would achieve is to ensure that the overpopulated parts of the world stay overpopulated, and people in poor countries with no food, education or jobs are stuck there. Unless of course that's the idea - famine, war and other such things will "self-correct" the too big population.

Secondly, enforced family limitation, while certainly having the potential to be very effective, is a horrendous violation of human rights. I'm not sure I can present a rational argument against it, it's just so obviously a gross invasion of privacy to have the government decide something as basic as the size and shape of one's family. Problems with China's programme are many and varied, not least an increase in abandoned children (predominately girls). It's hard to imagine a scheme which would, in practice, be both effective and humane and even if one were to agree with the idea of government dictating how many children a family should have, a "draconian policy" is, pretty much by definition, not an agreeable one. More telling is the phrase "where it is needed" - in other words, only in countries with high birth rates, which just happen to be the poorer ones of course. It's true people do tend to be more in favour of "draconian" laws if they don't apply to them.

In conclusion then, this sentence is several shades of stupid. The kind of jaw-droppingly stupid that means I've spent a good part of the day thinking about how stupid it is and pointing it out to other people so they can see how stupid it is too. That it isn't the stupidest thing I've encountered today is a story for another time, however.