Decent into the Maelstrom

The shadow of Radio Birdman looms large over my music collection. Whilst my first great love was, and still is to an extent, heavy metal, the high powered Detroit influenced rock and roll they play had a massive influence on me. It was about 2 minutes into the first song I heard of theirs when I knew I was hooked and it’s a passion that still burns brightly, almost *cough* years on. So when I heard a documentary on the band was incoming, I was a little nervous. Would it be like End of the Century, that showed the Ramones as artistically gifted but miserable gits, or more like Gimme Danger, which was a very well made but somewhat toothless love letter to the Stooges?

Rest easy – they’ve done themselves proud. As director Jonathan Sequeira commented at the Q&A tonight (attended by band members Pip Hoyle and Deniz Tek), they cut out anyone talking about the music, and just let it play. Wise move that. I could rhapsodise about the quality of the performances for hours, and will do if you’re unlucky enough to ask me about it in the flesh, but you don’t need that – just listen to the music. The opening drums of Descent into the Maelstrom still thunder away, What Gives rips away like a chainsaw and the opening of Do the Pop can blast roofs off, as I can testify to the last time I saw the band, at the Gaelic in Sydney. They walked on stage, singer Rob Younger mumbled a hello or two, then screamed “12341234!” and everything exploded. And that was the opening number.

It’s a well made tale, with a god mix of new and vintage footage and pictures, with any gaps illustrated by bassist Warwick Gilbert. What get’s the most respect from me is that everyone is allowed to tell their story – it’s real warts and all stuff. Nothing’s off the table as regards inter band feuds and bitterness, a welcome contrast to some band docos I’ve seen in the past. Guitarist Chris Masuak reading his termination email and drummer Ron Keeley recalling his sacking hit hard and rightly so. But at the same time, it’s balanced by frequent hilarity, such as the story of a certain person on the Big Day Out 96 who needed a doctor, or the story of the live brain surgery gig, prompting Younger to quip to the effect of ‘If you can clear a room of fans you must be doing something right.’

What really shines through is the sense of just how much they loved their music, and the fierce determination to do their own thing, in the face of a music industry that despised them (Tek was once accused of facist sympathies by Red Symons, something that’s only gotten funnier given a recent radio interview of Symons.), and in doing so helped create a scene that exists to this day, influencing dozens, if not hundreds of bands worldwide. They’re Radio Birdman, and long may they rock. If you can see it in cinemas, then do so, it sounds amazing. If you can’t, then no matter where you are play it loud. Such amazing music deserves nothing less. Book em Danno, 5 out of 5.

(I do have one small regret, and that’s not working up the guts to ask what the hell Man with Golden Helmet is about – it’s been more years than I care to think about and I still can’t make head nor tail of the lyrics. Great piano work though.)

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Phenomenon (Doo doo do doodoo)

It’s been a couple of years since I was last at Phenomenon, and many years before that since I’d gone. That was dumb of me. So, I played 6 games and walked away with 2 awards and my wife with 3, which matches our standard trophy hauls. The con has now ended, but it’ll stay with me, for a long time to come. How? Well, let me tell you about my experiences… A warning: this is going to get overly long despite how little I can remember. Anyhow, we were only able to attend from Saturday night, with our first game being William Shakespeare’s “All Vampires Must Die Part II – The Movie”. That should start to explain things. Or not.

We were (mostly) vampires who’s job it was to keep our existence secret, and had done so by claiming we were making a movie. That backfired on us when were forced to actually make the movie, at low cost, in Romania and working with the vampire known as ‘Bloody Ted’. This inspired the exchange that I believe won me an award…
PC: “So, is he a sexy vampire?”
GM: *Hold’s up picture of Max Schreck from Nosferatu*
ME: “I’m sure he’s someones reason to masturbate.”
*Cue the GM and rest of the able looking at me strangely and breaking out in laughs*
I heard the GM repeat that several times throughout the con. I’m very proud.

Next morning was Servants of the King, a swashbuckler which enabled me to deploy my legendary French accent! Granted, the only thing legendary about it is that after about 30 seconds it becomes Londo Mollari. Swords were drawn, there was copious shouting and fun was had by all. I’m selling it pretty damn short, as I had a lot of fun, but I han’t slept well the night week before so things were something of a blur. I can only apologise profusely to the GM and throw myself on his mercy.

The stage was set for The Fall of the House of Atreus, our first freeform and one which played with the Trojan War. I was a young lady who was pretending to be a boy and coping with some pretty fucking horrific PTSD, which the GM team took great delight in reminding me of by every so often whispering things like “You killed us” in my ear as they walked past me. I’ve some experience with playing damanged people, but that took it to new levels. There was chaos, no small amount of bloodshed (Fittingly), and it’s the closest I’ve come going shirtless in game, though I did finally choose to announce my birth gender rather more demurely. It was to my mother after all. Standards darling. Also, I have to give a shout out to the GM, who’s t-shirt the following day read “What would Titus Pullo do?” I loved that show.

Monster Hunters followed, in which we were out of work actors lured to Romania thanks to an incompetent agent and an appearance fee. I’d like to say I chose my character based upon his skills and temperament, but it was mostly cause I recognised it was based on Anthony Stewart Head. We were hired by a village to burn out a hive of vampires, the villagers thinking we were our characters from the show. (Yes, I noted that, asking the other PC’s in character if they’d heard of the Three Amigos or Galaxy Quest, and at one point saying “As a dear late friend of mine would say on bad days, By Grabthar’s Hammer…“) We went oddly well, as all the vampire wanted to do was make a film based on the show and by that stage, it was well paid work. I made sure that I wouldn’t have to say that bloody line again thought, so a win for me!

We move now to Monday morning and Deathless, a Victorian age freeform with monsters, where I was the Dewan (The Earl of Upper Slaughter), a werewolf who was one of Queen Victoria’s advisors. My character portrait was Idris Elba, which also meant I had to stifle the urge to shout about how I’m cancelling the apocalypse. I’ll confess, I lost track of what was happening about 10 minutes in – there was an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, a truly terrifying piece of headgear, a player wh’s costume reminded me of Harpo Marx (Which confused me whenever he talked) some scientists (A curse on that Frenchman!) and the not at all cheerful inconvenience of being turned into a Vampire. For starters, I couldn’t talk as well with the teeth. An eclipse and several of the artifacts in the British Museum* (the game’s location) was, I think, was responsible for the change, which thankfully went back to normal, but I’m still blaming the Frenchman. I also deeply regret a fight not breaking out, as I’d hoped to use the exchange “YOU *stab* WILL *stab* BE *stab* POLITE!” Oh well, there’ll be other times. Also, had the game gone on about 5 seconds more I was set to stab Ra in the face. Yes, that Ra. No, not the one from Stargate. What can I say, other than I’m sure there’s something in the book about no acts of necromancy in front of the Queen, who’d just arrived. Standards must be maintained and there’s no excuse for bad manners…

We return to Sunday night now and Red Sisters, Black Skies. This is where it get’s rough. It’s fair to say the game had an effect on me. Actually that’s something of an understatement. I left it a crying emotional wreck, in a state close to having watched the end of The Iron Giant and the 1st 15 minutes of Up. I’ve mostly been GM’ing at cons the last few years, so my mental state in regards to bleed might be out of whack, but I’ve been more affected by it of late. Between this and a recent freeform in Sydney, I kept having to remind myself that it was just a game, that I wasn’t actually crushing on someone, that this would be over the a few hours. And yet, when I think back on it, I’m still choked up. It’s the mark of a really good game, and as good as the Sydney game was (I’m itching for the sequel), I think Sisters was the best freeform I’ll ever play. How do I describe it? It was the Mona Lisa, the Casablanca, the Duck Soup, the Empire Strikes Back, the Wrath of Khan, the City of Death, the 1973 Three Musketeers, I’ll stop now otherwise I’LL KEEP DOING THIS. What I’m trying to say is this, it wasn’t just good, it was fucking magnificent.

We were playing members of the 588th, an all female Russian airforce unit, known as the Night Witches. Between outdated planes, low supplies and the sexism of the rest of the military we had to struggle against, but we had each other and hope that the war would soon be over. The terror of night flights, the hope that comrades would return safely and finding a brief solace in the arms of another. There was comradeship, vodka, the bright light of a birthday celebration and the shattering blows of losing friends. Being reunited with comrades, the terror of mail arrving only to find that family were alive, these things brought a joy I didn’t know I had. I’ve cried in games before, many times. Hell, I’ll cry at the drop of a hat. But these weren’t stage tears, these were great heaping shaking tears, accompanied by sobs of grief and rage that, looking back on things, were mighty scary. I have something of an issue with unexpressed rage, and to give way to that level of emotion scares me more than a bit, but this event demanded nothing less. The fact it was the designer’s first event only made things even more awe-inspiring and I’ve already suggested they bring it to Sydney.

Lieutenant Emilia Turganev, airwoman, assigned to B Section of the 588th Night Bombers Regiment. It was an honour to have been you, even if only for a few hours.

From the first flight, things were tense – we’d been warned that PC death’s weren’t just possible, they would happen. I believe we made it out OK with only 3 deaths, though one of those was our CO (As played by my wife). PC’s killed in action didn’t leave though – they could be interacted with as ghosts, able to be talked to, or staging small flashback sequences. It was eerie as all hell seeing them there, wearing bloody headbands, waiting for someone to come close. There was angst (Having fucked my commanding officer pre game, she’d left me for a younger woman without a word. Kids, as my character sheet said: never fuck your commanding officer!), solace (I found love in the arms of a fellow veteran pilot – she’d been keeping count of how many missions we’d flown), and comradeship with the members of my section. It wasn’t until late game that we took serious damage, and I found out later that the other sections were far worse off than us. It did explain why C section cheered so much when they made it home.

There’d already been tears, many of them, more so as it was announced that we’d be flying during the day, to help cover the final assault on Berlin. It was the final flight, we were determined and no matter the odds, we would see things through. Things got incredibly tense, with the piloting mechanic far crueler than merely rolling dice. Somehow, B section made it back alive, but others didn’t.

And that wasn’t the worst. After having our private hopes read out (Which we’d put down earlier), we went slowly to join the comrades we’d lost, whether going straight over, or staying to take part in squadron reunions. I was howling, and it only got worse when the pilot I was close to decided not to attend the reunions, walking away, but not yet passing on. If it wasn’t for my section leader (Who I’d patched things up with), I’m not sure I’d have made it. Just thinking on this has gotten me shaky, and I completely lost it when she finally crossed over and I got to see her again. She won, the stubborn old cow, finally flying more missions than I did.

And so it ended, and it was back to where we were staying to cry, try to sleep and pet their cat (Who slept on my chest all Sunday night, which meant I slept terribly but it was worth it) to calm down. It’s been a rough few days, but managing to put this down has helped somewhat. Bloody good game. To my sisters, I salute you. *raises glass*

So yeah, that was my Pheno. Do try to come next year. I’m going now to eat ice cream and watch the 1973 Three Musketeers to recover and plot my next event.

*I also managed to avoid making the Bugle’s joke about the British Museum being an active crime scene.

“Fish have nipples right?”

In the annals of military history, there are legendary units units, tales of whose heroism are told for centuries, even thousands of years after they are gone. The Sacred Band of Thebes, the Varangian Guard, the 101st Airborne, Hogan’s Heroes. Now to add to that noble list of names, *drum roll*  Team Fish Nipples! Yep, that should set the tone for the session, which set a new record for pissing about, distractions and general tomfoolery. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, but there was a lot of me holding my head in hands either in shame or trying not to laugh. Moving on…

First off,  to recap from last session, they were being briefed about their next mission: the extraction of Raith Herajan, an Imperial supply officer. He’d been acting as an informant, but was concerned that Imperial Intelligence were closing in. I was at first unsure as to whether the discussion if he qualified as a double or triple agent was in character, but was told in no uncertain terms that it was. After all, this bunch have a reputation in the Alliance and it sure ain’t for staying on topic. The the rest of the briefing covered such important information as whether the extraction should be subtle or high profile, any contacts on planet that could help them and whether the Mon Cal has nipples. One of my players Googled “Mon Calamari Nipples?’  It’s moments like those that I both love and hate my players.

New identities were issued to them, and I made the mistake of not having made up names for them, which led to my players choosing font based names – Bridget Helvetica is the only one I can remember. (Mercifully no-one chose a name based around Wing Dings.) That was a far more sensible idea than the earlier option of swapping people’s names around – Twee would be Terpfen etc. While the actual Terpfen was keen for that,  he was the only one. They returned to their ship, which had not been messed with by any of the bases other inhabitants (This time…) and took off. There was a clothing change montage on-board ship, as Elshaandru Picu is a high status planet, which lead to Terpfen finally putting on a shirt (The conversation about fish nipples began again), Savani dressing sexy in place of tatty spacer’s clothes (She was rocking that 11 Charisma) and Twee putting on a hat. A very fine hat.

They passed through customs without any trouble, and proceeded to make their way to the 27th Hour club (it being one of those annoying joke names, given the planet has a 26 hour day) to make contact. It’s part of a massive entertainment complex for those with too much money and nowhere to spend it, which had my PC’s interested as they’d been given 5 grand each from the Bacta sales they made (The rest either having gone to High Command’s budget or recovered by the Empire)

After some issues with the code phrase (Twee asked the wrong bartender), they were told to wait, and after a half hour of food and drink  (The 27th Hour has a policy of ‘If yuou stump our bartenders, you drink free’) a neatly dressed Twi’lek man escorted them upstairs to a well appointed waiting room, complete with up to date magazines! Soon after entered Kina Margath, owner of the complex and Rebel agent. Some conversation followed about the mission and target and a plan was formulated, all the while it became increasingly clear that while the PC’s hadn’t heard of Margath, Margath had heard of them – word spreads quickly in Rebel intelligence.

They decided to find Raith at the gaming tables (A lot quicker than I’d expected), so while Twee was Mind Tricking other gamblers at the table to get them to leave, Vallo draped herself over him and whistled the recognition song, which made him both pleased and incredibly nervous. He proceeded to excuse himself, moving quickly once Vallo dropped hints about going up to his room. The Stormtroopers at the door looked at them very strangely, one of them seeming to comment “I thought he preferred fish.” I’m not proud.

Meanwhile Terpfen and Sivani went to rent an air-speeder, taking out the full insurance package on the vehicle, while Twee and Charlie (Who’s both R2 unit and booster seat). went to wait outside. Vallo established her credentials with the target, and prepared to make their exit, jimmying a window, signalling their ride. and taking precautions. By that of course I mean crafting a grenade from the room’s hi-fi (Thanks to the Bomb-Thrower talent) and bracing it against the door.

We ended with Team Escape making their way into the speeder, as the Stormtroopers started hammering at the door, with about to explode! Yes, I do love ending sessions on cliffhangers. I haven’t watched all that Doctor Who for nothing… The real surprise was they made it through most of the plot I’d written – I hadn’t expect them to make contact quite so soon. Still, we should have an explosive start to next session!