“Light the fuse and cue the theme music!”

What am I up to?

Work, puttering about the house, playing Destiny 2 with a dear friend online and I picked up False Values, the latest book in the Rivers of London series, on the weekend. It’s reminded me both that I need to look into the graphic novels and the upcoming RPG. In something I’m sure that both my wife and sister considered looooooong overdue, I sat down with my wife tonight and watched the first episode of the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. It was… something. I got very excited at seeing Christopher Benjamin appear, and only made a couple of zombie killing jokes and one connecting Mrs Bennett and Emperor Palpatine. I had thought I understood the appeal of the Firth beforehand, but this is giving me a wider window into things, so to speak.

Firth

I’ve also been binge watching the Mission Impossible films on Netflix. I’d say it’s research for The Troubleshooters and it kind of is, but I need some refuge in absurdity right now, something to take me away from the real world.  Absurd escapades, death defying stunts, self destructing messages, vehicles that explode at the drop of a hat and Tom Cruise doing more running in one film than a Doctor Who companion would do in a decade. Look, they’re good silly escapist fun and that’s what I want in an action movie. That and the good guys win, and in times like this I need all of that I can get. Mind you, John Polson’s Australian ‘acting’ in the second one is beyond awful, though John Woo going full John Woo* directing almost makes up for it.

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As for Troubleshooters, I have ideas ticking away in the back of the head. The Kickstarter funded, and I’m patiently awaiting the book. As for plot, secret Nazi enclaves**, a criminal group planning world domination and a problem to solve in a different glamorous international location (And by that I mean a BBC studio and/or nearby quarry) each week. Look, the source material is based off 1960’s European comics about which I know relatively little. But I like to think I understand the style the designer wrote about and can use that as a base, just with some added Martini. Why yes, I am planning to frame the campaign as an 60’s BBC espionage TV show, what of it?

It’s certainly my preferred flavor of espionage, and very close to my default GM’ing style. I don’t know why I first started making jokes about crap sets, cheap explosions and reusing extras (Though I’m almost certain Doctor Who has a lot to do with it), but it seems to work for me. And more importantly my players seem to enjoy it, and they’re the reason I keep doing this. Yes, I have stories or situations I want to explore, but mostly I want to distract and entertain people for a few hours. And I’m having fun brainstorming plot – I mean, you should have seen my look of joy this afternoon when it clicked for me that I could write an adventure using the line  ‘a dark spectre of espionage hangs over far Hawaii.’ I’m very excited for the game, and am looking forward to stepping back behind the screen again, nerves be damned.

Pheno prep is also coming along OK. It’s Blurbsmas time, the wordiest time of the year, which is the signal for me that I really should be writing. To add to the anticipation, here’s the latest version of the blurb:

“Summoned I come. In Valen’s name I take the place that has been prepared for me. I am Grey. We stand between the candle and the star. We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light.”

Valen has disappeared. A Minbari not born of Minbari, who appeared in their hour of greatest need, led them to victory against the Shadows and formed the Grey Council, has gone. And now, the Council is to meet for the first time without his presence.

The Council requires a leader to be chosen from among them to replace him, but who can hope to match his legacy? They had united behind Valen, but with the war won what is to happen now? Some speak of destiny or prophecy, while others look to more practical or personal matters.

This is a time of great change, both for the Minbari people and for the Council. The destiny of the Minbari for the next thousand years is in flux and none among them know what could happen next…

What’s the game again? Choosing the destiny of the Minbari people.
Seriousness: 4
Genre/Setting: The Babylon 5 universe, roughly 1000 years before the TV show begins.
System: Systemless freeform.
Movie Rating: PG, with some adult themes

I’m still fiddling with it, and there’s plenty more to write on the game, but I have time up my sleeve.

Kosh

* Well, as full John Woo as you can get without Chow Yun-Fat
** Takes me back to my favorite ever Get Smart joke: “Because arriving today from our glorious fatherland, South America!”

The 10 Shows challenge

So, a friend challenged me to the latest Facebook fad, ‘Name 10 TV shows that have influenced you.’ I can’t resist the chance to talk about things I love, so here I go.

Doctor Who
“I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow.”
How can I not love the show? As Craig Ferguson put it, the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism. Action, adventure and the most terrifying theme tune that 9 year old me had ever heard, at least before Chocky. I don’t remember a bit about that show, other than I raced to change the channel when it began. I still remember my first encounters with the good Doctor, the end of Ep 2 of The Sontaran Experiment and Ep 1 of The Deadly Assassin, which stuck with me for years, as did my crush on Sophie (Ace) Aldred.

I still prefer the classic series to the new, the cliffhanger format and nostalgia stick with me more. There’s something I adore about crap special effects and the mad ambition to try to do things they clearly didn’t have the time and budget for. That BBC low budget charm has even snuck into how I run RPG’s, as I now have trouble stopping myself from making jokes about crap special effects and reusing extras. I adore it when it’s great and when it’s rubbish, sometimes especially when it’s rubbish.

The Late Show (ABC)
“At Pissweak World, where every week, is Pissweak!”
Ah, Champagne comedy. I adored this show as a teen, and felt like the only one in my age group who knew of it during the first season.There’s moments that have stuck with me for decades – Pete Smith singing Dude Looks Like a Lady, Shitscared, the re-voicing of classic shows Rush and Bluey (The police drama, not the cartoon dog) and the reveal that Shirty, the Slightly Aggressive Bear was being played by Hando from Romper Stomper. My father and I bonded over westerns as a young’un, and my mother and I bonded over watching this. You could say I went from “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” to “My orders simple, a shitload of dim sims.”

Yes, some of it has confusing references and parts have aged horribly (There’s a couple of pieces of blackface that even as a kid I thought was ill-advised), but the Play School gag in The Olden Days kills me every time.

The Prisoner
“We want information, information, information.”
This was one of these shows I’d heard about for years, but never seen, a bit like The Aunty Jack Show. Iron Maiden wrote songs about it, it’s been referenced in The Simpsons an it was seen as a landmark event. Upon watching it, it’s even stranger than described, with a finale that allegedly caused the TV channel’s switchboard to melt down from angry viewers calling to ask what the hell they’d just watched.

A secret agent resigns, is drugged and wakes up in a mysterious Village, where everyone is known only by numbers. And he is Number 6…And then shit gets weird. Multiple escape attempts, psychological warfare, super computers and a security system that has a massive balloon that swallows people. It’s an experience and then some.

Danger Mouse
“He’s amazing, he’s fantastic, he’s the greatest secret agent in the world!”
The Thames TV ident that played before this is seared into my brain. The mix of comedy, references to other shows, shattering the Fourth wall and the occasional blizzard of puns, it just makes me so happy. It’s also my wife and I’s longest running dispute, owing to her clearly wrong preference for Roger Ramjet.

I choose to believe this is where my love of spy films came from and going back to the show as a adult led me to get more of the jokes. The new version is well worth watching as well, with Stephen Fry making a wonderful Colonel K.

The Goodies

“Goodies, goodie goodie yum yum…”
Looking back on the show as an adult, I’m surprised we were allowed to watch it, but with the innocence of youth (And some aid from ABC censors) we managed it. There was a couple of years of my childhood where weekday afternoons were this, Monkey and Doctor Who, with Danger Mouse and Banana Man to fill in the gaps. Those were wonderful days.

A reminder: this show once killed a man from laughter.

Babylon 5
“It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind…”
I came to the show somewhat out of order, a friend introducing me to season 1, just as season 5 began to air here. I was trying to suppress questions about what had happened to that character while frantically collecting tapes to fill in the gaps. It was the first show I’d seen with a long running arc, a five year plan of series creator J Michael Straczynski,
who wrote every episode of seasons 3 and 4 and all but one from season 5, a feat to my knowledge no other writer has achieved. Oh, and Neil Gaiman wrote the missing season 5 episode.

There was a reading from the show at my wedding, having made my now-wife watch it while we were dating. The finale hits me with so much emotion I’ve only managed to watch it 3 times. For perfect endings it’s up there with Blake’s 7 and Angel for me. The show is also where I got my love of mandarin collar shirts, which continues to this day.  And I’d put Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas against any actors on TV, then or now.

The Daily Show

“Finally, a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.”
A comedy news show that left it’s viewers better informed than some news channels, it also introduced me to the likes of (Former co-host of The Bugle podcast) John Oliver, Stephen Colbert (Who’s speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner has to be seen to believed) and Samantha Bee (Who’s current show Full Frontal is just as glorious).

This made the list for many, many reasons, not just for the time that they got a gospel choir to tell a Fox News higher up to go fuck himself. *chef kiss*

The Young Ones/Bottom

“This calls for a very special blend of psychology and extreme violence.”
The Young Ones
introduced me to Motorhead, and for that reason alone means I have  a lot of love for it. It was filthy, anarchic and frequently shattered both the Fourth Wall and any and all sitcom logic.

It ties with Bottom, which was Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson basically playing fouler versions of Rik and Vyv. It doesn’t rate as quite highly for me, but for the live shows where actors spent seemingly half the show trying to make the other corpse make me giggle far more than they should.

Frontline
“Mike Moore has this network’s support right up until the day we sack him.”
From the team behind The Late Show, this was a ferocious satire of current affairs TV shows that hit screens just as my left wing awakening began. It was filmed and broadcast on a short deadline and was frequently ripped from the headlines.

The team have continued with films like The Castle and The Dish, and shows such as Utopia, but the less said about Funky Squad the better.

Red Dwarf
“It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere.”
The show that made Patrick Stewart think of suing, till he laughed. It’s also responsible for me yelling “Smeg!” at several jobs, with varying levels of confusion and/or horror at what I’ve just yelled. I came into the show in it’s golden years, seasons 3 to 6. It continues to this day, though I’m not up to date with the current run.

3 million years into the future, the last human left alive is a curry and beer swilling slob, a creature who evolved from his cat and a hologram of his dead bunkmate. Equal parts love letter to and parody of sci fi TV, moments from that immediately latched into my skull on first viewing and haven’t left.

So yeah, that’s my 10 shows. Honorable mentions include Leverage, Stargate SG-1, Banana Man, Get Smart, Life on Mars, The Colbert Report and Media Watch. I refuse to challenge any others, but if you want to, go for it.

Be seeing you…

Triggers, and how to deal with them?

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
HL Mencken

As quotes go, that’s one that’s stuck with me for a long time*. Sounds kinda badass doesn’t it? It’s been back in the head the last couple of days. I get that based on that I don’t sound too well, but I’m doing better than my last update. The brain is more high than low, even with today’s “Oh hey, that event you were going to pre-Covid would have started today” reminder. As useful a tool as Facebook can be, sometimes I really want to punch it.

I’m also prepping a playlist for my house’s Christmas party, which is to be apocalypse themed. Yes, it’s bold to assume we’ll be able to host one, and not in the greatest of taste, but we were preparing for it pre-Covid and we’re going through with it! My theming, at the time of writing, is pick your own apocalypse. Was it Biblical, did the robots rise up or kaiju emerge from beneath the waves? Have the Daleks invaded, was the bomb dropped, or were the Stars just Right?  It’s far from complete, and needs more Ragnarok for one thing, but it’s been keeping my brain occupied and that’s been welcome.

Anyhow, I’ve been musing and yes, there is a point to this. I have a few triggers. Make that a lot of triggers. Most of these are inconsequential, such as things reminding me of a song, or a TV show. The board game Operation reminds me of Tripod’s The Hot Dog Man**, while the Phantom of the Opera takes me back to a Wharf Revue skit. Normal stuff, at least relatively normal. But as we’ve seen with recent posts, some of those triggers are more potent than others. The things that will take me from a good day to a miserable one in seconds. The things that shatter my self esteem or leave me near burning with rage.

How I deal with them has been an evolving process. I have a long history of trying to ignore them, or distracting myself with something else unhelpful and thus feeling worse later. If crushing my resentments so deep down they become a tiny diamond was a sport I’d be Olympic level. This had me musing about my snapping point. What could it take for me to break? What’ll be my one bad day, the event that’ll make me go full Howard Beale or William Foster? Do I even have one? Probably not, let’s be honest. I’m not a confrontational man by nature, far more comfortable out of the limelight. I’ve a long list of “20 minutes after” lines, things I wish I’d said stacked away in the back of my brain, from missed opportunities, good jokes, or in one case, possibly crossing swords in the parking lot***.

As I’ve said, I’m not a violent man. I’ve had people jokingly bet about the body count when/if I snap, but the older I get the less funny I find that. There’s been times in the last few years when I’ve come closer to giving in to the impulse and lashing out, mostly verbally. Thankfully, things have gotten in the way, sometimes fear or politeness, or just having nothing to say at the time. There’s plenty of internet flame wars I’ve been tempted to join, but the realization that nothing I add to this will help generally holds me back, no matter how eloquent or impassioned my words may be. Whether it’s joining in on a torches and pitchforks mob, or sticking my nose into a heated discussion, I know that staying out, not inflaming things, is the smarter thing to do. But damn, there’s times when I want to roll in, keyboard blazing and vent my rage upon the irritant with righteous fury. Usually I swallow that and go clean the kitchen. Other times it’s gardening, or murdering racists in Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m sure there’s healthier coping mechanisms, but these work for me.

Whatever the task, I find I need that sense of accomplishment to distract myself, to turn to the closest person nearby and say “I did a thing, please notice this!” I told that to my therapist and she responded that her husband does the same thing. It’s always nice to know you aren’t the only one who does something. I’m debating whether or not to move up my next appointment, but for the moment I’m hanging on. I’ll certainly have something to talk about, that’s for certain.

As always, thank you for continuing to read these. It means a hell of a lot to know I’m not just screaming into the void. I didn’t start these to help people, but if just one person knows they aren’t alone, it’s been worth it. Take care of yourselves, and each other. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better, so please, look out for others. Kindness is punk as fuck.

Be seeing you.

* Don’t judge me. The line “I struggle to understand people who say they’d kill for a religion, but then I remember if Optimus Prime asked me to kill someone they’re a dead man” has been stuck in there for longer.
** “OPERATION? GET FUCKED!
*** The line I wanted to use was “I’d prefer to settle this peacefully and without any bitterness but if you have an alternative method you prefer, such as crossing swords in the parking lot, then I accept the challenge.” I’d still like to use the line someday.

What goes up…

I should have known. Things go well, I talk about it, and the universe corrects that course. I’d been doing well of late, though I’ve probably slept more in the last few days than I should have. There was some not great news, combined with seeing some relics from high school/my early 20’s and well…

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That period of my life, I don’t know why it has such a hold over me. It was over 20 years ago, another fact that scares me, but no matter how much I try to put those feelings aside, to tell myself that I’m a better person, that I’ve evolved since then, at the slightest provocation all those feelings race back in with a speed not thought possible. All that angst, fear and rage, it has done a number on me today. I can’t sleep, so here I am. I’m sure what was rattling around in my head was better than what I’m about to write, but here goes anyway.

The past is a hell of a thing. It’s not that I want things to have changed, I can’t pick a sliding doors moment. There’s things that I would have liked to have noticed, or done differently, but who doesn’t have those? I’m trying to admit some of them to myself, but having them, let alone at the strength they seem to be, doesn’t feel right. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those mistakes. Hell, I might not be here at all. That’s mostly hyperbole, given my abject cowardice and fear of what effect it would have on those I leave behind, but the point stands. Why does this plague me so much? I’m sure most of what rolls around my head has long been forgotten by others, so why the hell am I stuck with this?

Looking back I’ve always been depressed, or some shade of it. Finally getting treatment and finding brain doctors I like is one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I strongly urge everyone to give it a shot. No matter how sane and adjusted you think you are, I believe you could benefit from some therapy. Just talking with a neutral third party who only wants to help is wonderful. I have it easy compared to plenty, I’m the first to admit, but today hasn’t been a good one brain wise. Admitting that was terrifying at first, but gets easier the more I do. Don’t be afraid to talk – I’m willing to listen if you need someone to talk to.

I’m a different person from those days of long ago, but underneath that terrified scrawny kid still lurks. I don’t think I peaked in high school, and I’ve long wanted a reunion so I can respond “Get fucked” to the RSVP, but the scars are there.  Showing my wife my Year 12 yearbook picture* with the career listed as ‘undecided**’ and having her say “You’re still undecided.” I know it was meant well, but still hurt. There were things I’d forgotten about (I had a piece about Nirvana in one of them – it was the mid 90’s after all), but that feeling of “Is this all I am” hit me far harder than I would have liked. The strength of that emotion scares me some days.

it could be worse. The guy in my year we thought would be running the Liberal Party by now has had several stints in rehab for alcoholism. I’d be lying if I said I liked him back then, but I hope he’s doing better. The universe can be cruel. A friend once asked a group of us “Did you all hate high school?” and got a resounding “YES”. I’m sure there’s people out there who did enjoy it, but I sure don’t know them.

I’m going to try to sleep again. Hopefully putting this down will calm the brain. Please don’t be too concerned. I’m not at risk of doing something stupid, just not sleeping much.  I’m still planning on self isolating when all this is over, but I’m looking forward to coming back from it.

Take care of each other. Times are rough and the brain is a fragile thing. Be kind.

Be seeing you…

* No, you don’t get to see it.
**Only cause they wouldn’t let me choose Jedi Knight.

Good news everyone!

good news

Last Thursday (at the time of writing) was my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m very pleased by it. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years, but that’s the progress of time. It’s been wonderful and I’m very much looking forward to the next 10 years. Furthermore, my therapist thinks I’m in a good enough place that we can drop back to bi-monthly sessions. I’m hoping this continues. I know the brain has it’s regular ups and downs, but if I can keeps the ups and the downs aren’t so low, I’ll be happy. In other good news: my Minbari freeform was accepted for Phenomenon! I’m both very happy about this and more than a tad nervous. Shocking I know, but I get nervous about things I care about, and I care deeply about both the Babylon 5 universe* and my convention games. Yes, the idea is something, but I want to see what the players will do with it, how they react. That’s one of the things I love most about cons, seeing where different groups of players go in a session.

Getting confirmation also gives me a deadline (Which I work far better with) and means there’s (hopefully) people who want to decide the destiny of the Minbari people a thousand years before the timeline of the TV show. Well, I hope. B5 isn’t that niche, but it’s far from massively prominent these days. Writing it so people who don’t know the show can still play will be tricky, but the plan is to write-up a background sheet to bring any newbies up to speed beforehand. If I had my way, I’d get them to go out and watch the show, but that’s a bit too much of an ask.

So, now I have to actually write the thing. That’s where a lot of my ideas fall down Bit nervous, but the hamsters are starting to run round the wheel a little faster than before. I spent a good chunk of last night going through the B5 Encyclopedia (A gift from my darling wife that sparked this idea off, so you should thank her really) and while it’s fascinating stuff (As we know, I’m a sucker for background detail), there’s not a lot there. I mean there is, but not compared to say, Wookiepedia. On the bright side, this means I get to make it up and not worry about conflicting with anything. On the bad side, it means I get asked questions like “Did Valen fuck?”**

The brain has also been working on Troubleshooters ideas. That’s a lesser priority, given that it’s not for an upcoming convention, and I’m not even thinking of running it till we can see other people again. Yes, technically we can, but I’m not even thinking of doing that yet. Either way, globe trotting adventure that can be set in a 1970’s BBC studio is bubbling away in the background.

Be seeing you…

*How much you say? There was a reading from it at my wedding. *drops mic*
** Spoilers…

*cues up Mission Impossible theme*

Unsurprisingly, another RPG has caught my eye in the last few days. This one’s called The Troubleshooters, and I’ve already backed the Kickstarter as I type. It’s an action adventure RPG set in an alternate universe 1960’s, which is a damn fine way of getting my attention. Look, I’ll give you their elevator pitch:

“Imagine a fantastic world of the 1960s, divided by the cold war, where evil organizations try to take over the world, and superspies and secret agents try to stop them while fighting each other.

Imagine a world where you travel the world like Tintin, unmask heinous villains like Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang, unravel mysteries like Nancy Drew, do heists like Carmen Sandiego, stop evil masterminds like Spirou and Fantasio, solve crimes like The Saint, and even catch spies like The Man from UNCLE. That’s the world of The Troubleshooters.

Together, you and your band of troubleshooters help people, and fix the kind of problems that only you can fix.”

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As pitches go, I’m in. I mean, a game that seems to have a ‘letting a villain monologue before you escape’ mechanic built in to the system is a godsend for me, who’s had many a dramatic monologue interrupted by gunfire from PC’s.  Having that sort of thing built in to the system, and indeed the expectations for the game as a whole, sets the tone nicely. It can be tricky at con games wanting to make sure that everyone knows what sort of game that’s about to happen, but thankfully I seem to have enough of a reputation and/or skill as a GM that give or take 10 minutes into a session most everyone has the vibe down.

I’m delighting in the little touches – the character sheets are based around a passport, and one of the Kickstarter upgrades is a pack of passport stickers, as the sheets have space for that. PC’s are very rarely killed, but most often knocked out and put in a cell that can be escaped from at the opportune moment. Though as much as I’d love to get a portrait of myself in the game, the option is far too expensive for me. Alas.

Back to the game. Exotic travel is a big part of things, there’s an evil organization looking to upset the delicate balance between East and West, and last year a French/Japanese atomic rocket reached the moon. Yeah, it’s our 1965 but not quite. (Head canon: All the early eps of Doctor Who have been preserved) That’s not all though – there’s extra European nations,  dark jungles full of strange temples and bizarre bleeding edge tech torn straight from James Bond films or a mad scientists lab. It’s the sort of stuff I love having access to, or letting my players have, in games. I have fond memories of a spy games I ran a few years ago that prompted the line from one player of “I take off my tuxedo to reveal another tuxedo!”

Goldfinger-bond-moment-

As for what I’m going to do with it, I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve bought it, so I’ll be running it (That’s my wife’s rule) Campaigns are generally where I fall over in my GM’ing, so there’s some pressure in that aspect. The idea of something heavily inspired by Mission Impossible and/or Leverage is the first thing that’s come to mind. Or, given my GM style and my likely players, Get Smart. I do want players to pick an actor who’s playing their character and stage an intro sequence for the game, as if it’s a TV show. I don’t quite have a handle on the ‘ordinary folks in extraordinary situations’ part of the brief quite yet, which means more research is due. Oh, oh the horror. 🙂 I’m already sorely tempted to run an interlude set in The Village, but can you blame me? I adore a good cliffhanger, so ending a session on “We want information. Information. Information…”  *tingles*

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Look, all this is early brainstorming, given the game is only in the Kickstarter at the moment. I figure the physical book won’t arrive before the end of the year, assuming we’re still here then. Me, stressed over Covid 19? Not at all… But time to plan is a good thing that I’ll need. Yes, I should be writing the Minbari game, but I’ve been planning to have another crack at GM’ing a campaign and I reckon this is the game that’ll take me. *starts humming the Mission Impossible theme*

Be seeing you…

:

7 Album Challenge

So, a friend recently challenged me to the latest Facebook fad, that of challenging people to name albums that have influenced them, no comment or explanations. Of course, asking me about rock and roll and saying not to comment on that? Yeah right. I wrote a little about each album, but my muse punched me in the back of the head today, so you’re getting an expanded version. Also, I’ve had ‘Istanbul, Not Constantinople’ stuck in my head ALL DAMN DAY, so hopefully this will help dislodge it. It’s not that the song is bad per se, but it reminds me of a time in my life I don’t much like to remember, so. It’s not been a pleasant day. I feel I should set the atmosphere with this excerpt from Almost Famous, the scene that made me fall in love with the film.

And he’s correct – it is NEVER too early for Search and Destroy.

Let’s get to it.

1: Ramones, Rocket to RussiaR-2573759-1487956469-3937.jpeg

Their first album has a more iconic cover (There are walking tours that’ll go past the spot where it was taken) and It’s Alive is the greatest live album/Greatest Hits of all time, but for my money this album can’t be beat. It’s a perfect summation of the band and the last time the original lineup recorded a studio album. Look, it contains Sheena is a Punk Rocker, what more do I need to say?  It’s been a  dream of mine for seemingly decades now to meet someone with that name so I can ask are they a punk rocker? That that, add the likes of Cretin Hop, I Don’t Care and We’re a Happy Family, and you’ve got perfection. All killer, no filler.

2: Radio Birdman – Radios Appear
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This was one of those rare albums without a dud track, a dud solo or even a dud moment. Even the gaps between tracks command the attention, as you desperately try to get your breath back before the next track kicks in. From the crashing waves that signal the start of  Aloha Steve and Danno (a tribute to the band’s favorite cop show) to a final ferocious run through the 13th Floor Elevators classic You’re Gonna Miss Me, this takes no prisoners. When I got a copy of this I listened to virtually nothing but it for weeks. It’s burned into my brain to a degree I thought not possible. I have trouble remembering important things like relatives birthdays, computer passwords and the like, and yet this I can hear this in my head at a moments notice. It’s over 40 years old and is still as vital as the day it was first recorded. Essential.

3: Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
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The first Maiden album I bought was A Real Live One, which to be charitable, is no Live After Death, but the title track to their third album was the first Maiden song I heard, and I was immediately hooked. From the spoken word intro (Recorded by a Vincent Price sound alike after the band couldn’t afford his fee), the atmosphere of the intro (That nearly drove singer Bruce Dickinson mad recording) and then it hit me. That. Big .Scream. I was never the same from that moment on. It’s been near 25 years, and I’m still just as devoted to the band. Yes, about a side of the album is a little sub par*, but the other half more than makes up for it. really, when that half is is comprised of  stone cold classics the likes of the title track, Run to the Hills, The Prisoner and the almighty Hallowed be thy Name, anything will pale in comparison. Up the Irons!

4: Motorhead –  No Remorse
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i’d heard stories about the band and their leader, the mythical creature known simply as Lemmy, and his famous boast that ‘If Motorhead moved next door to you your lawn would die.’ And then, Bambi. The Young Ones was a revelation to young me. It was crude, violent, foul and anarchic, all things that I kind of wanted to be but were in reality far too polite and guilt ridden to even think of being. And then with a command of ‘Music!’ from Christopher Ryan, Motorhead appeared.  (I’d like to say my eardrums have never been the same, but that was thanks to the Rollins Band) This was the first album of theirs I purchased, a best of compilation with a few new tracks to show off a new (and short lived) lineup, but as an introduction to the band it worked like a charm.

Much like our next act, they never really changed their sound once they’d found it. Sure, there was the odd deviation (1916 never fails to make me weep), but no matter the year, you hit play on a Motorhead album you know what you’ll get. As Lemmy said to intro shows “We are Motorhead, and we play rock and roll.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

5: AC/DC – Live
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Again, I knew of them beforehand, having heard Who Made Who, but this made me a fan. Sure, the guitar solos during The Jack and Jailbreak are overlong, but it cuts most of the mid 80’s dreck and gives you a solid mix of the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras. Yes, the Bon stuff is superior (Would you rate Thunderstruck over Highway to Hell?) and I’ve not met anyone who’ll deny that, but the Brian era has it’s share of gems – I can’t help but get worked up during the cannon fire of For Those About to Rock. It’s meat and potatoes rock and roll, but played with incredible consistency – I’d wager no-one alive has picked up an Acca Dacca record and not known what you’re about to get, and they should be celebrated for that. Live is where music is best experienced after all.

6: Dub War – Pain
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There were a few albums around this time that turned my head and opened my ears to sounds anew – Faith No More’s The Real Thing, Sepultura’s Roots and Fear Factory’s Demanufacture among others. But Dub War were like nothing I’d ever heard before – a mix of punk, metal, reggae and electronic all chucked in a blender to mesmerizing effect. That description may sound bonkers, and you’d be right, but the boundaries they laughed at made it all the more joyful. Hell, I even bought their remix album for crying out loud, something I never thought I’d do previously. Underappreciated in their time, like all great artists, their spirit lives on in singer Benji Webbe’s current band Skindred.

7: The Hu – The Gereg
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Mongolian throat singing and heavy metal – two amazing things that sound even more amazing smashed together. Most folk metal (at least that I’ve heard) has a Viking or Celtic bent, but with bands like this and Tengger Cavalry, it’s challenging the white European centric view of metal and that is a damn good thing. (Yes, I’m aware that Tang Dynasty were the first, but work with me here.) Back to the band, they’re metal as fuck but in a chill kind of way. This is made for listening to when walking across ancient mountains, or while writing Dungeons and Dragons games, rather than frenzied moshing. Not that I wouldn’t jump in the pit though, for the KHAAAAAAAN!

The real kicker? Owing to Covid 19 they’re currently (As far as I know) stranded in Australia and can’t play  shows. So close, and yet so far…

Sleep beckons. Be seeing you…

*Still better than the likes of Quest for Fireor Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger mind you. I adore the Maiden, but they’ve a few stinkers in the back catalogue that’s for sure.

BARSOOM!

What’s been happening since last I wrote? Well, we had a fire in the kitchen at home, which wasn’t fun. To be clear, meat on the grill caught fire. It was put out speedily without any damage, other than to the meal. Made for some unneeded excitement, that’s for certain. Plus, we got pizza instead! Also, I’m set to make my housemates pancakes tomorrow morning as an isolation treat. I am a good housemate.

So, I’ve had a little more time to dig through the John Carter of Mars RPG. I’m nowhere near through the book, but I’m certainly intrigued, in that first flash of interest kind of way. You know, that feeling when you see a new and shiny thing and the brain has trouble thinking about anything but it. This normally only happens to me about a month out from a convention when I’m madly trying to finish the current game, so it’s nice that things have changed up a little.

To quibble, I’m really not thrilled with the landscape format of the book as it makes reading the PDF fiddly on a tablet. It certainly has me tempted to buy the dead tree version at some point in the future, if only to make reading the damn thing easier. In better news, I found the film’s soundtrack on Spotify and it was a delight to see that at least half the track titles were a reference or pun. For example, A Thern for the Worst, Get Carter, and The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month, which I can’t help but hear in Maxwell Smart’s voice. Silly song titles are a fine way to get my attention, and it’s quite lovely music.

Right, back to the book. The books layout and art are lovely, with a good touch of Frank Frazetta and that’s never a bad thing to me. There’s a lot of adaptability in the system, with the combining two attributes and roll under mechanic based more around how you’re trying to do something instead of what. On the bright side, a roll low mechanic suits my dice curse just fine. I dig the Momentum and Threat mechanics, and they remind me of the Bennies from Savage Worlds. Sure, record keeping isn’t exactly my forte. and half the time I mangle systems in the name of fun, but isn’t fun the point?

From what I have read, the feel of the thing is right up my alley. It’s hitting that cinematic swashbuckling decayed civilization thing that I dig pretty damn hard. Emotions are heightened, there’s mad dashes into action, frequently against impossible odds, ancient ruins and strange technologies. Duels of honour, savage hordes, giant apes and fancy airships. That’s pretty much my jam right there.

So, there’s only a few things in the way. The ones that come to mind are:
1: Can I avoid the mistakes of previous campaigns?
2: Can I keep track of everything that’s going on, and not screw up too many details?
3: Can I keep it going for longer than my initial burst of enthusiasm?
4: Most importantly, can I put this to one side while I write my Minbari game?

Council

There’s every chance it’ll be added to the pile of partially written ideas I have stashed away, or maybe set it aside for a future convention game. Based on my schedule, it’ll be Pheno 2022 at the earliest, as it’s Minbari this year, and the cinematic pulp heroes fight Nazi Cthulhu cultists next year. That’s the plan at least, based on the reaction to the idea. Yes, there’s other conventions I could run at, but I’m on a bit of a hiatus from them at the moment.

I dunno. Maybe a few more days and it’ll get out of my system, at least temporarily. It’s not that I don’t want to try GM’ing a regular game again, but A: I don’t have a campaign idea for this yet, B: there’s no way I’m GMing this over voice or video chat and C: I need to get across the system first. The usual issues, you know?

More to follow. Be seeing you.

Dice over Discord

So, what have I, and my brain, been doing since last I wrote? Not much. Work. Bought a new pair of headphones and the S26 Doctor Who set. 3 versions of Battlefield to watch, a new cut of The Curse of Fenric and an enormous pile of supplemental material (Scripts and production paperwork!) to make my way through! I don’t know why I adore making of material so much, but it certainly brings joy and then some. Tracey and I watched Detective Pikachu tonight and while it was enjoyable, I can’t help but wonder how Bill Nighy got involved (Outside of the obvious fact that the man has bills to pay), and I suspect I’d get a lot more of the jokes and background details if I knew anything about Pokemon.

Thanks to a subscriber deal I also picked up the PDF of the John Carter of Mars RPG for free, and it’s very, very pretty. I haven’t had time to delve into it yet beyonf the opening pages, but upon hearing about it my wife all but demanded to play a Thark, as in her words “I want green babies!” For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, just imagine the following picture tinier and cuter:
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I don’t know if I’ll ever run it, despite my wife’s “You buy it, you run it” policy. I need to dig into it more beforehand to see if I can think of adventure ideas. I know comparatively little about the setting, mostly what the film gave us, the glorious beautifully designed mess that it is. I wasn’t a fan of the prologue, feeling it took too long to get us to Mars, but oh, once it did… Making Dejah Thoris more than a damsel in distress was a sensible decision and getting to see/hear the likes of Willem Defoe and James Purefoy chewing scenery as only they can is a delight. Plus a mini Rome reunion with Ciaran Hinds!

Staying on gaming, I ran Destination Mongo, my Flash Gordon adventure, for some friends over Discord yesterday. While fun was had, or certainly seemed to, I’m still not fully sold on voice chat gaming. I was hoping for video, but my tiny laptop couldn’t hack it sadly. It’s not that it’s bad, and I certainly feel I could have been a better GM, but it really makes me miss the communal feeling of a group around a table. Yes, it meant that friends from far away could join in the fun and that’s wonderful, but only hearing people’s voices means I miss a lot of visual cues. Also, they can’t see it when I’m distracted writing down funny lines from them, some of which are below.

“Everybody follow me! After you…”
“Did you learn cooking in the Jackie Chan kitchen?”
“Stop talking and hit something!”
“I will happily let you use that skill for violence.”

I’ll certainly do more of it, if only in the hope of getting better, but also to scratch the itch. If this is all the gaming I’m going to be doing for the forseeable future, then I’d like to get better at it. We had one of our regular games last week with 1 player on video, and it helped an immense amount in focus and reactions. I’m trying not to worry about when lockdown ends and take it day by day, but there are times when the uncertainty does weigh heavy on me.

To end on another emotional note, it was the 9th anniversary of the death of Elisabeth Sladen last week, and a tribute was put online. Written by former Who producer Russell T Davies, it’s a wonderful tribute to both Sladen the actor and Sarah Jane the character. And yes, I couldn’t help but hope for a few words from Tom Baker or Jodie Whittaker, but my head-canon (along with a lot of Twitter) is that given the Doctor is referred to as he throughout, that no-one noticed the 13th Doctor up the back.

You will cry. I certainly did.

Sleep beckons. Be seeing you.

Some early sketches

I miss LARP. The fun of it all, of getting together as a group, the shouting, silliness and shared experiences. The drama, excitement and escapism. Also, the dressing up and trying to thump each other with foam swords. It’s superb fun and more people should do it. Granted, it’s not as if I was doing much of it before lockdown, but there were plans to, and that’s one of the things that’s irritated me the most about the whole thing. Anyhow, the point.

I didn’t plan to write this. A few weeks back I acquired both seasons of Britannia, and had idle thoughts about a LARP in that setting, then set it aside. I’m meant to be writing a game about Minbari politics for Pheno, but a couple of days back my brain misfired, in that wonderful way it does, and I started writing. It’s that wonderful feeling of needing to finish something, and the brain shouting at BRIAN BLESSED volumes “HEY! HERE’S ANOTHER DIFFERENT THING YOU COULD BE DOING!” So, I’m putting it down, to try to get it out of the head. Please don’t take this as an indication that I’m actually working on this. It’s idle work to try to fire up the brain for the thing I should actually be doing, and in all likelihood will soon join the other partially written projects on my Google Drive. Either way, I hope you like it. May it inspire you in your efforts.

THE SETTING.
Britannia. Roman-era Britain, or something resembling it if you look at it upside down with the lights off. The Iron Crown of the High King of the Picts lies in his tomb and none have dared to quest for it for a decade or more. The tribes squabble amongst each other, bickering over lands and resources, while beasts of legend lurk in the forests and fens. All the while, a larger threats lurks, that of invaders from the South, seeking to crush the last vestiges of free land under their iron boots…

Damn, I do love writing flavour text. Almost as much as my wife enjoys interrupting me reciting it. Moving on. I’m not giving it a date, so I can mess with history. As far as I know, Hadrian’s Wall hasn’t been built, Bouddica hasn’t rebelled and the 9th Legion hasn’t marched into oblivion. Well, maybe. I’m not suggesting we go full Xena, but something close. History is a wonderful thing, and can be just as fun when it’s ignored for the sake of drama or fun, as my Musketeers convention games can attest to.

Full Xena

PC’s – PICTISH TRIBES:
North – Forest folk. Seen as secretive and more savage than others. Reputed to favour human sacrifice in their magics. Not completely evil, but there’s a reputation that exists.
East – They have villages along the coast and are known as fisher folk. Explorers, hunters and traders. Or the other idea was basing the visual look of the Seal people from the film The Eagle, and making them head hunters.
West – Consider themselves the most ancient of the tribes, seen as wizards, scholars and famed for their priests skill at divination. Maybe clad in furs and skins, I dunno?
South – Pastoral and friendly. Craftsman and builders, renowned for their skill at the arts. Perhaps they trade with the others the most?

I’d want something in the background to distinguish between the tribes, a favoured colour or style of dress to help make the difference between them obvious. At minimum, I’d make half the tribes have a matriarchal leadership, the others patriarchal (No, I’ve not idea which I’d choose) and abolish gender stereotypes. I’m already rewriting history, so why not make it a little less horrible?

Eagle

IN GAME LOCATIONS:
Holy ground, possibly a Druidic enclave.
Local village
Roman military forward camp
Tribal meeting place, possibly also featuring an arena for combat between tribal champions, an agreed upon way of solving tribal disputes.

MONSTERS/CREATURES:
Romans.  I can see the first contact with a Legion in Testudo going horribly, as this strange iron beast marches towards them. Maybe later they’ll be added as PC’s.
Fay/Elven creatures. Forest folk, selkies and mythical beasts.
Something resembling the Wee Free Men. Thieves of cattle and goods, a nuisance at first, but could grow more dangerous if angered.
Very loose adaptions or hints at the Arthurian and Robin Hood myths.
The Worms of the Earth. Fuck yes REH.
I know very little about British/Pictish mythology, but I’m sure there’s plenty more that I could mine for ideas.

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MAGIC – IS IT A THING?:
Sort of. There’s things that are claimed to be magic by the Druids. No-ones exactly sure if it’s real magic, and the Druids aren’t talking.  Such things mostly involve potions, or occasionally shared hallucinogens. Some Druids practice  divination by reading animal entrails and the like. Ceremony and ritual are important, magic in this game doesn’t involve fireballs getting flung about. I see a fiery pre-battle speech giving bonuses and morale being incredibly important. Do you stand against impossible odds and inspire a legend, or do you run and live to fight another day, your honour stained with cowardice?

WEAPONS:
Melee: Swords, daggers, axes (all single handed) and spears are the main weapons, with clubs and staves for the poor or different. Ranged wise, you can choose between bows, javelins and throwing knives/axes. I’m sure there’s companies out there making foam rocks as well, if you’re really cheap. Shields (Ranging from small bucklers to larger oval models) are used by many while armour wise mostly leather is used. Some metal armour, whether forged locally or stolen from Roman invaders could be found, but will be very rare and used only by the high of status or very wealthy. Opinions on armour vary between the tribes, with some regarding it as cowardly, while others will take all the help they can get.

Pict Warrior

COMBAT:
Fast and deadly. I like the idea of a ‘Just before you die’ ability, so you have 10 seconds to be suitable dramatic before you cark it, or something that lets you hold on, but as soon as you stop screaming or chanting you’re dead. Amp up the combat, so to speak, not to movie flashy, but make it big and dramatic so the gods may see you and be entertained. I’m aware of British chariot warfare, but can’t think of a way to make that LARP safe. Well, short of having two people holding hobby horses running in-front of the chariots driver who’s got them on a harness, and by that stage to me it’s less a LARP and more a kink and I’ll just leave that there.

If I was going to be really intense about this, which being a hypothetical I can be, I’d want to set a kit standard and make people buy appropriate looking weapons rather than re-suing medieval style kit. There’s a couple of company’s that make Celtic and Roman style weaponry, and while I’d allow Viking era gear, that would be the latest period that I’d allow. My distaste for overly ornate weaponry still stands, but I’ll refrain from stepping on that soapbox this time.

INFLUENCES:
The films Centurion, The Eagle and the 2004 King Arthur come first to mind, with a heavy dose of Robert E Howard’s Bran Mak Morn stories. The Doctor Who episode The Eaters of Light, the myths from the Rivers of London novels by Ben Aaronovitch and the Slaine series from 2000AD also should be on the list. As for games in the setting, the only one I’ve seen so far is the UK game Dumnonni Chronicles, which seems a bit more fantasy than this game seems to be, but the kit standard is gorgeous.

Picts Centurion

POSSIBLE PLOT:
As for what will happen, I have no idea yet. The first idea I had was of a famous Gaulish Druid visiting, but can you blame me? Sure, the prospect of players in a continuing game getting hold of some of his magic potion is slightly terrifying (In a game balance sense), but once you’ve drunk it, it’s gone. A short think for more ideas produced things like infighting between the tribes, a wedding or a funeral, religious festivals/conflict, young warriors seeking to prove themselves worthy, games (both combat and bardic) and the threat of the Roman invaders.

*whew* Now that that’s out of the system, hopefully I can get back to Minbari politics. In Valen’s name…

Be seeing you…