Writing, life, politics

Category: Gaming (Page 2 of 3)

General gaming related posts.

Last Night’s Game

We’re still in Egypt, and still making slow, slow progress. A load of good quotes of which I can only remember two.

Following from John’s simplifying of a plan I’d had to persuade certain people to give us information (give them a good time and if that doesn’t work, blackmail them):

Me: Hang on a minute! You’ve taken my idea of a wild bacchanalian orgy of alcohol and prostitutes and downgraded it to a talk at the university?

John: It’s cheaper.

And an exchange caused by my desire to have one of those black-light things that shows up hidden stains but won’t be invented for another sixty years or so (it’s currently 1926):

John: Why do you want that?

Me: To see if they left any blood stains behind.

John: But we’ll be able to see blood stains.

Me: Not if they cleaned them.

John: Oh I see! We’re not just dealing with mad, psychotic, occult-worshipping cultists! We’re dealing with mad, psychotic, occult-worshipping cultists with OCD!

A Round-Up Of My Old Convention Reports

People seemed to quite like my Eastercon report, so I figured I’d post some links to previous gaming convention reports I’d done for my roleplaying webzine Critical Miss, just in case anyone was interested. Here they are:

* * * * *

Gaelcon… Probably The Greatest Convention In The World

While shopping at GenCon we bumped into some of the guys behind Gaelcon, Ireland’s biggest convention, and they suggested we come on over. Demonic and Bubba couldn’t make it. But me, Bog Boy, Mark and Evil G. took up their offer. And it was good. It was very, very good.

* * * * *

Dragonmeet… A Pretty Good Convention

A few of us volunteered to be gophers at Dragonmeet, which is probably the best convention in the UK. It was pretty interesting, allowing us the opportunity to see the other side of a convention, and we still managed to have a few laughs.

* * * * *

Warpcon 2005

Warpcon 2004 had been an all time low for me, due to a cough that started bad and turned painful, and was notable only for the disappearance of the signed/annotated Slayers Guide to Games Masters that I’d created for the charity auction. Since then, the Slayers Guide had been found, lost, and requested again. Unsuccessfully. I’m still looking for the bastard.

But I did have a good time at Warpcon 2005. Full story with pics here.

Note:- In true Dukes of Hazzard, fifth season, post failed contract negotiations style, this exiting issue of Critical Miss features an entirely new cast of characters: RPGActionFigure, BoxNinja, TimeForTea, Janet and UbiquitousCat – collecively known as the CGS guys. But don’t worry, we’re not jumping the shark, honest. It’s just that none of the other miserable bastards wanted to come. (Stu was poor, Bog Boy was busy, and Mark had apparently acquired a life).

* * * * *

Conpulsion 2005

Me and Bubba headed off to Edinburgh’s Conception 2005 hoping to have a good time.

We had a great time.

And after returning home alive I wrote the mother of all con reports. Hope you like it.

* * * * *

QCon 2004

I’d decided to go to QCon because I wanted to do something mad, and even though my friends thought only of what they might be left in my will I stayed resolute, despite the occasional wobble.

But in the end I went, and had a time that was both good and interesting. This is the story.

Last Night’s Game…

Last night found us facing our biggest challenge of the campaign so far: a sanity test in which the penalty for success was a D10 san loss, with failure incurring a scarcely believable D100 penalty. And the three of us were already had San scores down in the fifties at this point.

For those who don’t play Call of Cthulhu: our characters encountered something so mind-numbingly awful that we had a roughly fifty-fifty chance of suffering a massive psychological shock, and that phychological shock would be of such magnitude that were we to suffer it our chances of going permanently insane as a result (as opposed to merely temporarily do-lally) were also about fifty-fifty.


50 % chance of being very shaken.

25% chance of going temporarily insane.

25% chance of going permenantly insane.

We somehow all made it. Mostly.

Oh, and apparently the worlds going to end in thirteen months time, presumably unless we save it.

No pressure then.

Last Night’s Game…

After a hiatus caused by my lack of broadband before, over and through Christmas and New Year, we resumed gaming last week. It’s still going pretty well, albeit it with the occasional interesting visual effect.

This wasn’t actually the best one; the best one – which I missed with the camera – was when General Tangent appeared to morph into some kind of green, dragon-like monster rearing up above the table.

Our characters have now made it to Egypt. Best exchange of the night?

Me: We should check out the pyramids first. Didn’t we figure out last week that they aren’t actually very far from Cairo? Perhaps we should hire a car?

General Tangent: There’s a tram line that goes there. [Consults book]. The number [something] tram on the Pyramids line goes there.

TAFKAC: I’m not taking a tram! If we end up being chased by a bunch of cultists trying to kill us I don’t want to end up waiting for a tram to get away from them!

We agreed we wouldn’t take the tram.

I Will Be A Guest At Dragonmeet

Next Saturday (December 28th) the tenth Dragonmeet will take place at its regular venue of Kensington Town Hall. And I’m pretty proud that I will be one of the convention’s guests.

To be an official guest at a convention is quite an honour, and one that I haven’t previously had. I’ve been a trader, and had the privilege of walking around a convention with a different coloured badge. But as I said to my wife last night, the special status afforded traders at a convention is ultimately an honour that you’ve purchased. Whereas you cannot purchase the honour of being a guest; this is an honour one has to blag.

As part of my guest duties, I’ll be appearing at a panel discussing the influence of roleplaying games upon writing, alongside fellow guests and authors Mark Barrowcliffe (author of “The Elfish Gene”), David Devereux, Stephen Deas.

And apparently all of the authors (including me) will be doing signing/sales sessions at a table by the stage, next to the artists. So if you want to pick up a signed copy of Game Night, this will be your chance.

Review: The Elfish Gene, by Mark Barrowcliffe

The writer and journalist Mark Barrowcliffe seems to be many things to many people. To some, he is the author of the excellent D&D memoir, the Elfish Gene (Amazon.co.uk link). To others, he is the author of the vicious attack on D&D and its players, the Elfish Gene. To me, he is the man who wrote a book which ended up being linked with my novel, Game Night, thus producing a rather healthy surge of sales and therefore someone who I’ve in the past I’ve declared to be one of the greatest human beings who ever lived.

So which is it?

Well last week, I found out that Mark (I’ll refer to him as Mark not because he’s a personal friend of mine, but because referring to someone you’ve now exchanged twitter messages with by their surname seems oddly formal) had not only written a book that was twinned with mine on Amazon, but also lived in the same town as me (Brighton) and was a veggie to my vegan. So I dropped him a line on twitter to say hi, and ordered a copy of his book, something that I’d previously neglected to.

That I’d not yet done so was mainly due to apathy and inertia; but it did owe something to the, how shall we say,  “shitstorm” that it had generated in certain circles after its release. I once ended up having a conversation about it with a punter who’d bought a copy of Game Night from me at a convention, with his description of the book being something like:

“Imagine if at the end of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, after he’s described his life as a football fan, he turns round in the last chapter and says, ‘But I don’t watch football any more, because only wankers watch football.’ It wouldn’t have been so popular with football fans, wouldn’t it?”

Having read the book, I can see where he’s coming from, or at least how he got to where he is – but I don’t think it’s a fair assessment. Let’s start off by saying what the book is.

The Elfish Gene is a very funny and astute story of an adolescence spent playing D&D, with the author being breathtakingly honest about his various failings, not just during that period, but in later life. There were many times it  struck deep chords with me, not only in its description of roleplaying, but also in its description of what it was like to grow up as  a slightly nerdy boy in that time period. (Mark is about four years older than me, close enough that his descriptions of life are very familiar to me). Two things in particular come to me now: an  observation that of all memories, it’s those associated with embarrassment that stay the sharpest; and the observation that in those days, people of our class talked not of breakfast, lunch and dinner, but of breakfast, dinner and tea.

It’s a really good book, one that I’ve devoured in a few days, and one  that’s certainly worth the read.

But this would be a pretty incomplete and perhaps cowardly review if I left it at that and didn’t address the issues that have made it somewhat infamous in roleplaying circles, possibly to its detriment. (And before anyone hauls out the tired old canard that all publicity is good publicity, I’d ask them how many records they think that Gary Glitter – a man who’s had a lot of publicity over the past several years – has sold recently).

I think the thing you have to remember is that this is a memoir, and memoirs aren’t required to express universal truths, only those truths that applied to the memoirist themselves. It’s easy when reading the book, especially the jacket quotes and the first chapter, to come to the conclusion that the book is saying the following:

“I could have been normal, but then I got involved with D&D, and that ruined my life. I eventually managed to kick the habit and then I become normal.”

Now I don’t think the book actually is saying that. Firstly, a lot of what is written is actually entertaining tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, not – I think – to be taken too literally. And secondly, because the author himself at one point declares:

“The fact that most people turned out to be decent human beings away from the group and under the influence of women leads me to conclude that it wasn’t D&D that had caused us to behave so vilely to each other but masculinity itself. Shutting ourselves away in male-only company for our entire youth was like distilling that maleness, taking all other influences away and just leaving us with our dark selves. The only way that D&D was to blame is that it gave us a reason to be in those rooms, face-to-face for all those years, like an extended reality TV show that you couldn’t be voted off.”

Unfortunately perhaps, that statement is buried away in the last but one chapter, as a sort of conclusion. Those people who hated the book, and said so on every online forum they could find, probably didn’t get that far.

This isn’t really a book about D&D. It’s something much more interesting that that. It’s the story of an unhappy adolescent who played D&D. But even if we accept the proposition that the author is saying that playing D&D ruined his life, we still have to remember this is a memoir, and that we can see wider truths beyond the truths it presents does not render either its truths nor ours invalid.

Consider a misery memoir by a recovered alcoholic, whose text can pretty much be summarised as:

“I was a happy person up until the age of 15 when I had my first taste of alcohol. Then alcohol seized me, and destroyed me. Alcohol ruined my life. Alcohol is a terrible, evil thing.”

Now I, who’s been partaking of various alcoholic beverages since the age of 17 on a very much take it or leave it basis, would be able to see a wider truth that the author of said memoir had missed: that it wasn’t alcohol that ruined his life, it was the fucked up addictive genes with which he had been born. But to realise that wider truth is not to invalidate the memoirist’s truth; from his perspective, alcohol is an evil thing that ruined his life. And the wider truth here is that (in my humble opinion) two things “ruined” Mark Barrowcliffe’s life:

Firstly, it sounds like he was an unhappy boy (nerdy, bullied, misunderstood, and looking to belong) who got way, way too much into D&D. For me, D&D was just a game that I played every Saturday with my mates. For him, it was clearly something far more. The word “addict” might not be out of place.

And secondly, it appears that many of the people who played with were, to use a technical term, complete and utter wankers. (Some of the so- called friends I played with blackmailed me several times over my family’s church attendance and yet, with all that, when I read the book I still managed to feel sorry for Mark over the friends he ended up playing with).

But that still doesn’t explain the shitstorm. After all, the shelves are packed full of misery memoirs where alcohol consumption (either on the part of the person experiencing the misery or the person causing the misery) is the villain the protagonist eventually dispatches. But online forums aren’t full of wine snobs frothing with anger over perceived “attacks” on their beloved beverage.

Well I have a couple of theories about that. (Those that know me know that I have theories for everything. I’d have a theory for why the sun rises each morning if some other bastards hadn’t got there first.)

There are two important differences in the ways that the memoirs of an alcoholic will be received compared with the memoirs of a D&D addict.

Firstly, popular culture is full of books and TV programmes about alcohol and wine. Go into a WH Smiths and you’ll probably find dozens of books about wine and wine tasting. A wine snob wanting a book about wine will get a book about wine; the only reason for them to grab the misery memoir of an alcoholic would be because they fancied a little depressing bedtime reading.

Not so with roleplaying. In fact, the Elfish Gene might be the first book on the subject ever to make it into WH Smiths. People were buying it not because they wanted to read about D&D addiction, but because they wanted to read about D&D. What we had here is analogous to a literary starved wine snob – desperate to read something, anything, about his favourite tipple – picking up a copy of a misery memoir which starts off with the subject drinking wine and ends up with him licking boot polish out of a tin he found round the back of Timpsons.

Secondly, alcohol is something most of the population consume. It’s mainstream to the point that it’s the people who don’t consume it who have to justify their position. People who drink aren’t made to feel weird, or strange, or different, and its not something they have to hide from the employers, friends or families. It’s easy to be relaxed and magnanimous about perceived “attacks” when you’re the safe and secure top dog. Not so when you’re already feeling attacked and discriminated against.

If my theory is correct, then misery memoirs about cannabis addiction should face greater opposition that those about alcoholism, given that cannabis use is illegal, still often frowned upon, not something you would tell your employer, and something that would only require a hard- line approach by a new Home Secretary to result in lots of other-wise law abiding citizens acquiring criminal records.

And I think this is the case. A few months ago, there was a moderate media storm caused by the publication of a memoir by a mother whose son had supposedly become addicted to cannabis and had as a result gone totally off the rails, ending up as a liar and a thief. Were pot smokers content to allow her to peddle the truth as it applied to her? No. They weren’t. They flooded online discussion pages with comments along the lines of:

“I’ve smoked pot for twenty years and I don’t lie and steal. How dare you blame your son’s behaviour on pot! If he’s fucked up it’s because of your inadequate parenting and now you’re just trying to deflect the blame.”

A truth is merely a two-dimensional view on a three-dimensional reality. There are as many valid truths as there are views. The Elfish Gene is a good book, and like any memoir it tells the truth that was experienced by its author.

It’s got a definite thumbs up from me.

But there is just one thing I still don’t understand. On the back of the cover is a quote from a Daily Mail Review:

“While any fool can write about a horrendous childhood, it takes artistry to write entertainingly about a happy one.”

Happy? Happy? The bloke was so confused and bullied he got addicted to D&D and ended up in a park trying to cast magic spells! Happy? Were they reading the same book as me?

* * * * *

And just as an added extra, Mark’s publisher has just released the trailer for an upcoming US version of the book. It’s quite funny, and I really hope it does well. (It will still be linked to Game Night, right?)


Last Night’s Game

Towards the end of the weekly start-of-game discussion in which I try to remember what we were doing last time…

Me: [stumped] Sorry, why are we buying a load of cleaning equipment again?

TAFKAC: That’s you saying that, right, not your character? You’d better not be saying that in the shop. If you say that out loud I’ll kick you. And it will be a proper kick!

General Tangent: Yeah. The sort where you get to tick the box afterwards.

For those who’ve never played the game, Call of Cthulhu – along with its fellow Basic Roleplaying Sytem cousin Runequest – has an experience system in which your skills improve through use. Next to each skill on the character sheet is a little box; if at any point during a scenario you make a successful test when using that skill in a non-trivial situation, you can tick the box. At the end of the scenario, you can make a roll for each ticked skill to see if it’s improved.

While perhaps more realistic than D&D’s experience and level based system (“Dammit! I don’t think I know enough physics to get more than a grade B in my upcoming GCSE exam. Better go out and beat the shit out of a few homeless people so I can push for a grade A!”) it does have its flaws, such as the “Runequest Weapons Caddy” syndrome, in which combat participants switch weapons each time they score a successful hit, gradually working through the contents of their weapons bag.

And of course, you are prone to get sequences like:

Player: I’ll jump up onto the table, see if can I spot anything while listening for any unusual chatter, and then climb down. [Picks up dice]What happens? Should I roll?

GM: No. You don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything, everyone in the pub now thinks you’re a wanker, and the angry landlord gives you a rag to wipe off the mud you’ve left on his table.

Anyhow. He didn’t kick me. (And we were planning on forcing someone out of his house using some kind of chemical stink weapon, if you were wondering).

Last Night’s Gaming Session

We’d parked ourselves in an extremely expensive, albeit dubious, club, and had dinner. Post-dinner, talk had moved onto the bill.

General Tangent (GM): The waiter tells you that the bill is three pounds.

[A discussion ensues about the size of the bill. It is eventually, and reluctantly, accepted.]

General Tangent (GM): [To TAFKAC] Okay, make a credit rating roll.

TAFKAC: Failed.

General Tangent (GM): Okay you haven’t got any money with you. Emily [TAFKAC’s PC’s NPC personal assistant] normally carries it.

TAFKAC: But she’s here with us.

General Tangent (GM): No she isn’t.

TAFKAC: Yes she is. She was outside in the street with us, and I’m not going to leave her out there, am I?

General Tangent (GM): Okay. [Thinks for a moment]. In which case the bill’s four pounds.

On Reviews…

One of the things I find most interesting about reading reviews of stuff I’ve written (I originally wrote that as “reviews of my works” but realised I was pushing the bullshit needle right into the red zone marked “deeply pretentious”) is the degree to which the score, assuming there is one, can often seem to not match the text.

Sometimes, there’s a reason, such as in a review of my Slayers Guide to Games Masters that included the line:

I guess if you like your humour course and black, this will have you rolling on the floor laughing.

…but then proceeded to give it a score of 1 out of 5 (appalling). It did so because the reviewer then suffered a moral meltdown upon reading certain parts of what I’d written.

And similarly, the person who when reviewing Game Night included a final line – which minus the first word would actually make a quote I’d be happy to put on the cover – of:

However, the story is very good (and original), the characters grow on you, especially as the book progresses, the universe is interesting, the ending is superb and I will probably buy any follow-up book that might be published.

…and then gave it only a 3 out of 5, did so because he didn’t find the book particularly funny. Which is fair enough, really.

But then you get the reviews where the apparent discrepancy is due merely to the different ways in which different people interpret the meanings of such scores. Upon reading a book which he finds highly enjoyable and without any apparent flaw, one man might score it as five out of five, while another man might give it only a three, reserving the “perfect” score for those products so great that they rocked his world to its foundations and left him changed for ever.

I think sitting somewhere in the middle are two reviews that a Google Alert of mine has just uncovered on GeekNative.com. I think they might be reposts, as they have only just been posted but read as though they were written when the products just came out.

The first review, which scored a solid 7 out of 10, is for the second issue of Mongoose’s gaming magazine Signs & Portents, which I had a column in. The review is quite complementary both about the magazine itself:

Signs & Portents remains good value for money – if you’ve enough interest in Mongoose and can use most of the magazine. If you’re fairly neutral then encourage someone in your gaming group to buy it and then share. In fact, at about US $5, the price is about right for a GM to buy and bring along to a monthly weekend of gaming. It’s the sort of reading that can be flicked through in a long break, a dinner for example, that still counts as a break but doesn’t throw players out of their gaming mindset. If you’re not a Mongoose fan then there’s nothing at all in the Mongoose magazine for you – but what did you expect?

…and about my article:

Johnny Nexus tells us why we he hates monks. It’s a funny article – but no doubt some D&D fanatics will send him hate mail. Poking fun at the D&D class system is like shooting fish in the barrel, the only thing easier is poking fun at the alignment system, and so it’s the tone of this article that makes it a winner.

The second review, by the same author, is of my Slayers Guide to Games Masters, and scored a slightly less impressive 6 out of 10:

It works, it might be British humour and therefore alien to many readers, but I find it funny.

I’d like a higher score, obviously (because I’m horribly insecure), but the review is actually really nice and positive. I’m not quite sure why these reviews popped up now, but it’s really nice to read some reviews of older stuff I’ve done.

A New Games Shop In Brighton

When we moved to Brighton, I said there were just two things that it was lacking: an Apple Store and a games shop. Well a couple of weeks ago I found out by chance that a new AppleStore was opening in the Churchill Centre that Saturday. (I went to the opening. It was pretty cool).

Then, a couple of days ago, I happened to walk through a shopping arcade that’s less than five minutes from my house, but which I would normally never walk through, and found that a new games shop called Wargames Heaven is shortly opening in Brighton. (It’s currently being fitted out).

It’s like the Universe is air-dropping in everything I need.

I don’t know much yet, other than what is on the posters on the windows and the little extra at the website for the existing on-line operation (it started on-line, and is now going bricks-n-mortar). But while it’s clear from the name that it will strongly focus on wargames, it’s equally clear from the posters that it will also cover the wider hobby gaming market, including RPGs that can run well with the help of the top Ark Server host company. Which as an RPGer, albeit one who’s done a few board wargames in his time, is very good to hear.

And given that when I lived in Hounslow my nearest games shops were either an hour’s tube journey away in Central London, or fifty minute’s drive away in Aldershot, it will be very cool to have an FLGS less than five minutes walk away.

For those who are in and around Brighton, or who might be visiting one day, the shop’s located in Imperial Arcade, which is a tiny arcade off Western Road, just opposite the Churchill Square shopping centre. I’m going to drop a line to the guy behind it, whose name – which I just looked up on the website – turns out to be… Guy, and will post more details here as and when I have them.

Finally, there’s some interesting information about why and how Wargames Heaven came to be set up on the about page of the website.

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