To swash a buckle or two?

Stuff. Feeling over tired and ratty, mostly owing to not being as diligent as I should be in turning the light out, putting the book/device down and going the fuck to sleep. I’ve got tickets to three upcoming shows, Metal Gods, Sunnyboys (on their final tour) and Heilung, each of which promise to be very different shows. I have really missed live music, though I must admit that my anticipation for Heilung is mostly based around how the hell will they actually perform this stuff live? I mean, there’s video, yes, but it’s such a bizarre idea that I’m genuinely curious to see how they’ll pull it off. The current term at sword will either greatly improve my fitness, or kill me. We were going to be doing single sword, but it’s now all bouting exercises, all the time. Based on last week I’ll be spending the few days after class with my sword arm and thighs screaming at me. It’s been fun so far. Hopefully I’ll survive long enough for the sword I’ve ordered to arrive. *fingers crossed*

Feedback came through for my Pheno event and it was… accurate. Thank you for not telling me during the con, as my nerves were so high that anything may have shattered me. I’m not saying the feedback didn’t hurt a bit, but it was true. Look, I’d like to say the reason we hadn’t started the final meeting with 30 minutes was important, but mostly because people seemed to be busily running about getting stuff done and I didn’t want to interrupt that. Not wanting to interrupt fun for actual story has long been an issue with me as a GM. It’s something I’ll have to remember for my next event, of which I’m trying to bash out some basic concepts and give it a few weeks to ferment in the back of my head. I’m hoping that will then leave my head for a bit, so I can get back into prep work for The Troubleshooters, which is woefully overdue from when I first got a group keen on playing. I might pick up a season of two of The Man from UNCLE and Mission Impossible to get the brain going again. Oh, and actually try to learn the game’s system. No matter how simple the system, I always struggle with them. Case in point: I love the idea of Genesys as a system, but I find I hate it’s implementation into Star Wars. The base idea is fine, I like the set of mechanics around success and failure, though it’s too fiddly for me to actually run it. I’m happy to use ideas like that and have, but the implementation of it just makes my brain hurt. Also, it conflicts horribly with the vision of Star Wars in my head, something that’s fast moving action adventure, not having to scroll through 5 pages of Specializations to remember whether you have a thing that will let you roll an extra die on this check. But that’s my take not yours, and I in no way want to shame people for their taste in systems. Unless it’s FATAL, in which case, fuck off.

Speaking of things that refuse to leave my head, here goes. I’d post this in LARPS I Will Never Run, but I still have some hope of actually doing something with it someday. For background: about 10 years ago I ran a tabletop swashbuckler I can sum up as ‘The Three Musketeers, but with monsters.’ It went rather well, being the first con game I’ve run that I felt actually worked, in that it was fun for me to write and run. It used the system Honor + Intrigue, though the idea was inspired by the RPG All For One: Regime Diabolique, a game who’s premise I love, but who’s system I just could not get to grips with. Still, there’s a Savage Worlds conversion should I ever wish to head down that route in future. There were sequels, the first of which taught me that sometimes my references can be too obscure (The McGuffin was a gourd of Getafix’s magic potion, which surprisingly few people got. One player nearly falling off his chair in laughter made up for a lot of that) and a later ’15 years after’ sequel, which introduced gender equality to my events in the form of 3 members of the Queen’s Musketeers (The idea was taken from an All For One supplement). I look back on them fondly, and from time to time have had thoughts of running more. I’ve long contemplated a re-run of the first adventure for my niece’s gaming group, as while I have no issue with them playing nothing but D&D, I do feel that expanding their horizon a little is a good thing. Also, I don’t believe they’ve seen any Musketeers films, and that us something I cannot let pass.

So, where am I going with all this? Well, the LARP’s All For One and Musketeers have been stuck in the back of my head for a while which means yes, I’ve had a Musketeers type LARP ratting round the back of the head for a while. I’ve got a Google Doc with a bunch of ideas that I add to every so often, but I’ve never quite had the nous to try to get it together. The positive feedback from Pheno may have given me some help towards that, but I have more than enough projects on the go at the moment. So, the idea was a traditional Musketeers type game, with dashing swordspeople, fancy garb and all manner of heroics. Intrigue involving the Spanish or English, discreet (and not so discreet) romance, drinking and brawls with the Cardinal’s Guards. To add to that – monsters! Gargoyles lurk amidst the nights of Paris, the forests echo with the howls of werewolves, cultists worship dark gods in horrific ceremonies and those rumours about a crocodile in the sewers are terrifyingly true. Permadeath is a thing, but the risk depends on the event. I envisage the game being a few weekenders rather than an ongoing monthly game, with each event having a risk rating. So, the grand ball would be a low threat of PC deaths, while the final battle against the enemies of France would be all bets are off.

From what I’ve heard about Musketeers, the fact it was a stealth sequel to an earlier game, St Wolfgang’s Vampire Hunters, was something of a surprise. The reveal that Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan were vampires apparently didn’t go over well with everyone. Fair call that. Likely the whole monster angle will be relatively public going in (IE, the players will know, but the PC’s likely won’t), but will be unavailable as PC’s. Yes, that means no PC vampires, wizards, etc.

I’m not sure quite why I want this game to happen so much. Probably cause I’m learning rapier, which has been the majority of my sword-type experience in the last few years, and I’d love to do more of it, albeit without the stabs to the face common to historical rapier. Because I want to wear a cape and a giant hat? Do I need another reason than that? And why the hell am I writing this instead of writing the game itself? Well, I’m mostly writing this to get it out, and thus to hopefully put it out of my head for the time being. I should be concentrating on Bombshells (Who’s last session didn’t go well, but that’s another story) and Troubleshooters, so other ideas taking up valuable brain space has been irritating. Therefore, I take this step.

Anyhow, the plan to have an early night tonight has long gone, but I still have my limits. So, be seeing you…

You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea

Dio: Dreamers Never Die (2022)

I laughed, I air guitared, I wept.

I’ve long tried to explain just how and why heavy metal means so much to me. How these absurd songs performed by (mostly) men in denim and leather* (and occasionally spandex) have given me a reason to get up, to keep going, to light my darkest hours. This is music that took a scrawny, perpetually anxious kid and gave him a sense of purpose, of strength. A feeling of belonging, the sense that someone halfway across the world felt as fucked up and miserable as I did, and put it in a song. For years Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was my theme tune and I still can’t decide if that was a good thing. Still, likely better than Snowblind, eh? To be clear, I had a relatively happy childhood, and love my parents. Don’t take this the wrong way. But depression and anxiety, we’ve known each other a very long time.

Metal became an outlet for my frustrations, a way of venting my fury at well, the world. An outlet for exploring things I denied myself, or didn’t feel comfortable admitting. I’m still coming to terms with a lot of those sorts of issues. It’s been said that my love of tales of rock and roll excess, while not partaking myself, is one of the great hypocrisies of my life and I’d agree with you on that. Control issues, and not being willing to let go? Yeah, that’s me. Despite all that, emotion is something I do at full blast, whether that be attempting to explain Babylon 5 to my mother in law without spoiling how Sleeping in Light breaks me into tiny pieces or the fact that just typing the words Tales of Ba Sing Se has me trying, and failing, not to cry. So, there’s going to be some wild and over the top hyperbole incoming, and I mean every fucking word of it.

I was aware of the works of Ronnie James Dio, mostly as an 80’s throwback. I discovered metal in the 90’s, aka the decade described by comedian and metal fan Andrew O’Neill as ‘when all your favourite bands went shit.’ It was a strange time – Iron Maiden and Judas Priest lost iconic frontmen (happily both returned after a few years), Metallica released the Black album and gained twice as many fans than they lost and to this day I still can’t stand Pantera – not that the band are bad, but every fan of theirs I knew at the time was a violent meathead and the association stuck. Now, I’m not saying every Pantera fan is a violent thick headed fuckwit, but you may have to work to prove you aren’t one. (I have the same problem with Australian flag capes and Southern Cross tattoos.) Singer Phil Anselmo’s far right outbursts over the years haven’t helped things either. It was a time when the more absurd excesses of the 80’s were (mostly) swept under the rug and songs about dragons and wizards were not on the agenda.

So yeah, I was aware of Dio, mostly through the gloriously Dungeons and Dragons-esque video for Holy Diver. It wasn’t until the release of the Black Sabbath compilation The Dio Years that I truly dug into his work and holy crap, it was one of those ‘Where has this been all my life?’ kind of moments, much like my first viewing of Big Trouble in Little China. Yes, these were ridiculous songs about dragons, kings and the power of rock and roll, and that’s exactly my aesthetic. And by Crom, that voice. For someone who claimed to have had no formal vocal training, the power in his voice could shake rooms. The way it lets rip in The Last in Line, or the sheer power in Falling Off the Edge of the World. His delivery of “Look out there’s danger. nowhere to run!” is enough to smash you back against the wall. Therefore, it was quite surprising to discover that his earliest releases were 50’s doo-wop. The man knew of a time before rock and roll…

We get taken through the evolution of his sound, the car crash that nearly killed him and the formation of Elf, who became regular openers for Deep Purple which in turn led to the formation of Rainbow when Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore quit. While massively popular in Europe and Japan, they couldn’t crack America and those cracks only got larger when Blackmore decided to move in a more commercial direction. Hence, the first of several dust ups (A running theme of sorts) when Dio stuck to his guns and quit.

Looking for work and running out of money, he stumbled across Tony Iommi in the Rainbow Bar and Grill and the rest, as they say, is history. The album that resulted, Heaven and Hell, lit a fire under Sabbath who’d spent the previous few years in a cocaine haze, but alas, things fell apart during the mixing of the album Live Evil and Dio was out on his own again. It takes us through the glory days of the 80’s, dust ups with band members (Vivian Campbell is heard, not seen) and the dark days of the 90’s, (There’s no mention of his short lived return to Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer nor of his messy exit when he refused to support Ozzy Osbourne) and of his return to glory with the retro metal movement of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Getting to see him with the reunited Sabbath, billed as Heaven and Hell, in 2007 was a bucket list moment, even with the prat a few rows over who kept yelling for Holy Diver. When someone finally managed to explain they were only doing Sabbath songs, the guy started yelling for Paranoid. *sighs*

Alas, we know how the story ends with Dio’s death from cancer in May 2010, and I have zero shame whatsofuckingever in admitting I was weeping at that point. We get to see his final on-camera interview, and given how he’s talking about making another Heaven and Hell record, it’s hard not to feel robbed. Yes, he was 67, but he still had more to give. It wasn’t over, he didn’t get to go out on his terms and that still hurts me.

The film’s a mostly warts and all story of triumph and tragedy, that showcases a man who loved music and was determined to do things his way, no matter the consequences. Someone who loved what he did, no matter how small the venue, and from the video footage we see of some 90’s gigs, the venues were pretty bloody small. Someone who’d anything for a fan, even to the extent of helping talk down a suicidal fan with the offer of a hug. The bonus footage from the cinema screening contained some extra gems, with the story told by Jack Black about Dio overpowering 3 top of the line microphones while recording his part for Tenacious D’s The Pick of Destiny a highlight for me.

If you’re a fan, you’ll be all over this. And if not, what are you doing with your life? Put some headphones on, Fire up Heaven and Hell and you too will know the glory that was Ronnie James Dio.

That he was taken shed a tear,
His legacy remains,
So he will never die.
Be aware that he’s coming for you.
Look out, look out, look out!
Three Inches of Blood – Look Out

* It brought us all together….

“Hello old friend. It’s been a while.”

Pheno. Great Maker, it’s been far too damn long. My throat is sore, the adrenaline is crashing and I’ll like sleep like the dead now that I’m back at home. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed that con. The people, the atmosphere, the spirit, the snacks. The mix of familiar and strange. Friends I hadn’t seen since the before times. If you’ve not tried it, I can’t recommend it enough. They’re a lovely, welcoming bunch of weirdoes and long may they remain so. The appeal of conventions for me is games I wouldn’t get to play in my regular group is a massive part of why I keep coming back. The sheer variety of games on offer, and knowing that I’ll only get to play some, well, it’s the price we pay as GM’s. To say I was a bundle of nerves in the lead up was putting it fucking mildly. I’d had my game idea stuck in my head for what seemed like 5 years, and the brain hasn’t been co-operative at the best of times. Terrified of trying something out of my comfort zone, something in a universe that means so much to me, and terrified in general. A deep delve into obscure lore in a section of a near 30 year old TV show that has next to no existing canon? It’s a risk, right? The game itself was finished the night before (Naughty, I know) and in the lead up I kept telling myself that I’d never do anything this ambitious again.

And you know what happened?

It worked.

HOLY ZARQUON SINGING FISH, IT WORKED. The game worked, my players enjoyed themselves, I had a bunch of them costume (Including several home made Minbari head bones) and even the people who hadn’t seen B5 seemed to enjoy things. I had a couple of players say they were going to dive into the lore afterwards and there are few higher compliments to me. It wasn’t till halfway through the first session till I realized that it was working, and I damn near wept with joy. The first time I saw people in costume for my game my jaw hit the floor, and I was still reeling from a “Hey, I’ve heard people saying lovely things about your game” from a GM who’s Night Sisters freeform broke me into tiny little pieces several years ago. I still have trouble hearing something Russian and not getting choked up with emotion, but I’m certain that someone 5 miles away could whisper “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” during a thunderstorm and I’d start to cry. Hearing someone say they took a week off work to costume for your event, I’m glad they told me after the game as I may have collapsed in shock beforehand.

It wasn’t all me though, far from it. I can’t thank my helpers enough. To my Co-GM and proof readers/wranglers, you know who you are and an entire fleet of drinks can’t come close to thanking you for the help, improv and encouragement. If it wasn’t for them, the game would still be a half written Google Doc. Since I’m giving thanks, no mention of this event could not mention J Michael Straczynski and the late Mira Furlan, without whom my event would not have happened. It’s felt through a lot of the writing process I’ve had Furlan looking over my shoulder, saying “Don’t fuck this up” and yeah, it’s added a tiny amount to the pressure. It’s not for me to say whether or not I measured up to the show, but my players enjoyed themselves and that’s what’s important.

We also did our part to foster the next generation by taking Niece, Age 14 with us and given she’d only ever played D&D, to her to walk away with 3 trophies was quite the achievement. We’re very proud of the tiny lumberjack. I asked her afterwards if she was coming back next year as a GM and got a firm “HELL NO”, so given that I figure she’ll be running games in oh, 2-3 years. To top it all off, our team wound up winning the Diptych award, which means Squadron 40 will soon be engraved on that mighty trophy. Naturally, we have to return next year to defend our accomplishment!

As for what happened in game? Look, a lot of it’s a blur. The first 3 sessions elected a different Chosen One to lead the Council, while the 4th session decided they didn’t need one. It wasn’t a unanimous vote, but enough got it over the line. 10 minutes into the first session the Warrior Caste sent their entire fleet out to look for the Shadows. The second session was closest to the show, being more quiet and contemplative (The two introverts did wonderfully) and in session 3 one of the Council punched Ranger One in the face. The two Council members in Session 4 who went to talk to the Vorlon about exploring Z’Ha’Dum, and their faces at it’s response of “Ill advised. Have been warned.” My favourite quote is still “Valen said the Shadows would return. He didn’t say the Vorlons would return.” and look, they aren’t wrong. Seeing the ways my players took the sheets and ran with them, frequently in areas I hadn’t considered, was a joy. It’s one of the big reasons why I GM. There were a few people who’d queried their approaches with me, and to them I say “If that’s the approach you have from reading the sheet, then go for it.” Who am I to stifle player creativity?

I’m still buzzing on a high from the whole thing, and yes, I’m already planning for next year. Before the con I was thinking about going back to swashbuckling, but with the confidence boost I’m in the early stages of planning another Babylon 5 freeform, this one set in the Centauri Royal Court. No, this isn’t just to see what people do costume wise, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking of that. I’m unsure as to the time period, but the current idea is the Emperor is dead, and that’s set the power vacuum to 11. Sure, everyone wants the power of being the Emperor, but no-one wants the giant target on their chest that results from sitting in the big chair. I have a strong feeling I should get a hold of a copy of The Prince for flavour while writing and should prep a bunch of spare characters, as I don’t expect everyone to make it out alive.

It has been a glorious weekend and I am spent. Time for sleep. Be seeing you, my good, dear friends…