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October 2009

Socks have the Secret

Well, it's Halloween, and we're off to see Jill's parents to take Nathan out for a trip. That means we'll miss most of the "trick or treat" fun and games, and I'm not certain whether that leaves Nathan missing out on much or not. We weren't going to take him out, but I suspect we'd have dressed him up the the delightful pumpkin outfit that he has got to meet the people at the door. He's certainly got into the spirit of things over the week at Nursery, making pumpkin lanterns and spiders with pipecleaner (remember them?) legs.

I've had a bit of an up and down week, ending up working from home for two days as I was running a temperature and a headache and, looking at my diary, I had virtually no meetings I had to be on site for. I'm glad I did that, as I feel a lot better now, and the last thing I want to do is end up with Bronchitis like I did last time I ignored the warning signs. I also probably got more done workwise staying at home. Getting Nathan to sleep through better has also helped, the results of a combination of socks in bed, plus switching all the lights out except for a nightlight. I should stress that the socks were for Nathan, not me, as we think the way he kicks off his covers at night ends up with cold feet, cold feet lead to waking up, and waking up leads to a bad night for Mummy and Daddy.

Jill was in London for two days with work, leaving Nathan and I home alone, something that went a lot smoother than I anticipated. Unfortunately the little mite managed to fall asleep when waiting to collect Jill from the train, thus missing a chance to go and get excited at "Annie & Clarabel" (train coaches, for all the non-Thomas afficionados). She didn't have a great trip, sleep disturbed by trains and a course that wasn't the most dynamic or effectively run. However, on a plus not she did get to go to the cinema, something we haven't done in months!

The next few weeks are going to be pretty manic, with all sorts of trips and things on for both Jill & I at work. I hate to say it, as it seems to be wishing my life away, but I'll be glad when I hit the end of November, as things should slow down then, just in time for the Christmas rush.

On Thursday night I had quite an exciting rush as I opened up the Scrivener file for "Singularities", the science-fiction setting which I have written as a theme for Wordplay, for the first time in a few months. I modified the file structure in the project so I now have an existing set of folders for the theme version for Wordplay Deluxe, and a new, virgin, set of folders with some placeholders / synopses for the likely chapters of a full, expanded and standalone version. The nicely offset that fact that Royal Mail had generously bent my full release copy of core Wordplay in half in their distribution system. Grrr!

Friday saw everyone else having an early night, so I caught up with a few films I wanted to see, and still managed to be asleep earlier than usual. Next big thing I need to sort is reading Monsters and Other Childish Things (an RPG) before the 8th November so I can give it back to Elaine.

Currently feeling: Positive
Currently listening to: The hum of the NAS
Currently reading: Stop Stealing Sheep & Learn how Type works plus Mouseguard RPG

Weekend Report

I thought I'd just do a quick update for the weekend past.

Thursday and Friday were an interesting change of pace for me, as I had a team away day, which seemed to go quite well. I picked up Nathan as a result, which confused him a little. We had a pretty chilled evening which I rounded off by reading Bryan Talbot's new graphic novel, "Grandville" which was excellent both artistically and story-wise. The only criticism I could level was that the level of violence was not necessary, but it never reached the level of complete gratuity. Saturday morning was spent with a crash tidy up and out to Waterbabies with Nathan in advance of my parents arriving. They'd come over to babysit while Jill and I went out to a party with one of her friends from work.

The party was held in a dance studio in darkest Huddersfield, and was a bit strange as the only people we would have known apart from the hostess didn't turn up. However, we didn't let that deter us and enjoyed the food and drink and the dancing. I reacquainted myself with Salsa (passable), mashed up the Merenge (?) (awful) and failed dismally at the Lambada, but it was all great fun.

Sunday was spent with family, with a variaty of different things. My mum and I finally (after 4 years) started to play "Hammer of the Scots", only to be thwarted 3 game years and 15 turns in when Nathan went all Magpie and started grabbing pieces. As the strength of a piece is based upon which side it is standing on, this spelt disaster for our game. However, we both seemed to enjoy it (me as the rebellious Scots, my mum as the English) and we may well have another go at some point. I was having fun raising merry hell in the highlands and norhern reaches of Scotland with William Wallace, but just getting a bit nervous with Edward the First camped in Selkirk forest. The fog of war effect with Columbia's Block Games is fantastic.

Worked too late on Sunday, plus Nathan wouldn't go to sleep because he had napped too late. Monday passed with lots of emails/SMS and telecons with work, plus a trip to the "Swings & Slides". Small fellow wasn't up to much more and was alternatively happy and then grumpy, probably due to sleep problems the night before. Gave up on work at 2245 as the XP laptop was struggling to connect by VPN and kept crashing. Work tomorrow, but some big exercises later in the week.

Currently feeling: Ready for bed, post Scotch
Currently listening to: The Pogues / Ultravox / Simple Minds (mostly early stuff)
Currently reading: Stop Stealing Sheep & Learn how Type works plus Making Money (Terry Pratchett)

Centre Parcs: Cumbria

Ullswater Birthday Weekend - 1
Nathan and Jill spot a tractor in Ullswater

I promised to write this up some time ago, but I've been waiting to get my Flickr feed updated. Anyway, that was fixed at the weekend when I upgraded the plugin that I use in iPhoto to upload pictures.

We spent my birthday weekend in Centre Parcs at Whinfell Forest in Cumbria, with a group of friends. It came about from a quick aside that I through out to Jill wehen she asked for ideas of what to do for my birthday, and all of a sudden we were booked. It didn't turn out as big as we imagined (too many people had prior commitments) but we had a nice chalet for the long weekend and a group of friends who we had not seen for quite some time.

With us were the Mawhinneys, old friends from Ellesmere Port who I originally met through roleplaying, and the Francises, who we met through work when Jill and I were both based in Port Sunlight. Phill Francis is Nathan's godfather.

We had a great weekend relaxing, eating and drinking too much and enjoying the facilities. Nathan and Caitlin (Richard and Allison's daughter) hit it off really well, despite an age difference, and happily shared a room. We had fun in the pool complex (the nearest thing I've done for exercise since my operation), at the adventure playground, and in the restaurants. In fact, Richard and I rediscovered why soft play areas in pubs are a *good* idea as we enjoyed a pint while the kids scrambled around. One evening, Nathan enjoyed the 'Animal Magic' show with lots of small animals including Lottie the Polar Bear (in reality, a West Highland Terrier).

We finished off the weekend with a quick trip to Ullswater in the Lake District, where Nathan's day was made with hugh numbers of tractors moving sillage before returning back across the A66 and Pennines to Yorkshire.

We had a lovely time and would love to do it again.

Furnace 2009 After Con Report

Last weekend, I went to Furnace 2009, a roleplaying convention held at the Garrison Hotel in Hillsborough, in Sheffield. Furnace has rapidly become my favourite convention for a number of reasons, not least of which is that "It's all about the games".

But surely all gaming conventions are "all about the games", you ask? Well, the honest answer is no – and yes. Each con has its very own focus and uniqueness. Continuum always had a strong Gloranthan and Freeform vibe, Dragonmeet a strong games market feel and so on. So why is Furnace unique? I can't put my finger on it exactly; maybe it's about the setting (the old Garrison building, effectively a castle, with games run in former cells and armouries, or maybe its because the pretension that plagues other conventions is missing. At Furnace, D&D 4th edition rubs shoulders with the Collective Indie chic, the "Fast! Fun! Furious!" ethic of Savage Worlds and the ever-elegant grace of one of my former loves, d100/BRP.

I've been to every Furnace so far (since 2006) and this was perhaps my best. So, what did I do?

I nervously looked at a real copy of Graham Spearings' Wordplay, the game I did the layout for, and watched it sell well over the weekend. As anyone involved in the creation of things such as this will know, I also grimaced at the (fortunately very few) glitches in the book. But it was a real buzz to see a real game I'd turned from an OpenOffice file into an actual book with the help of Lulu.

I always miss the first session, and use it as a chance to catch up with people. I'd hoped to meet John Ossoway and discuss his forthcoming SF RPG River of Heaven, but unfortunately events conspired to prevent him coming to the convention. I had a good natter with Tom Zunder, and a few others, visited the Patriot Games and other stands, and made a bee-line to go and pick up a copy of "Beat to Quarters", Neil Gow's excellent Napoleonic Naval RPG. Absolutely lovely, and I hope that he forgives me for the later atrocity. So that was Slot 1, ended with a trip to Morrisons for supplies.

Slot 2 on Saturday afternoon saw me run my first game, a Wordplay engined SF adventure in the Singularities universe I've developed for the forthcoming deluxe version of the core rules. I'd run the adventure once before, at a TomCon, and the story evolved in much the same way as before. Most amusing point was when two of the players who had played at TomCon tried to sign up before they released that this was, in fact, the previously unnamed scenario that they'd previously played. Nanotech swarms, Duplicitous AIs and STL starships combined with a hick frontier world intent on celebrating the arrival of the first starship in nearly 40 years to create carnage. One of the players has subsequently described it as "Dallas meets hard SF". I was a bit worried that some of the players were getting lost, as the game is heavily influenced by Banks, Asher, Stross, Reynolds and more and if you haven't read the new wave of British SF it can be a shock to the system, but everyone seemed to have a good time. The one thing I'm still not satisfied with is the new take of the variant scale rules for Wordplay I was testing, but it was a lot closer to what I wanted to achieve than the first playtest.

Saturday evening, Slot 3, saw me make a grown man call for help. Neil Gow had foolishly decided to set a game of "Beat to Quarters" on the Irish Rover (of Pogues song fame) and he got everything he had hoped (or feared). The plot ranged widely, with missions from God, the whale-with-the-grail, drinking, wenching, a wide sargasso sea, sea monsters, shipwrecked pirates (from the Dutch Antilles) and a huge volcano, but the Irish Rover broke with the tradition of the song and made it to New York. One of the amusing parts for me was the way my character ("Johnny McGurk") was picked on by Mick's ("Malone") and a bitter rivalry erupted, to the point that my character had the personal objective to make sure Malone looked like a fool. In the end, he was transformed into the Goat Captain! I loved this game; Neil handled it just right, but I think he was horrified with the monster he created. So that was my one chance to play a game and it was brilliant, a definite high spot. It also convinced me about the "Duty and Honour" and "Beat to Quarters" rules mechanics, which handled everything that could be thrown at them and more. I look forward to the special supplement that Neil must be duty bound to create.

I headed back to my hosts house, and Tom and Nathan and I stayed up a little longer drinking tea and eating scones and putting the gaming world to rights.

Sunday dawned almost too early, but in reality it was a lie in for me. Slot 4 saw my now-traditional Indie-special. I ran "Wilderness of Mirrors" by John Wick, which is tagged as a 'better spy game". It has some interesting tricks, including handling the core of plot development over to the players, and a clever mechanic to reduce their chance to succeed as time goes on. Highlights of this include one of the players using a special ability of his character to finish off another character (brutal but oh, so clever) and the horror of the players about the plot that they created. Certainly, by the end of the game I wasn't sure if the characters were actually worse than the terrorists that their spies were after. I'd like to run this again, perhaps at a TomCon.

Slot 5 on Sunday afternoon was the game I'd put the most preparation into: Runepunk: Broken Dreams, a Savage Worlds game. This was set in the Runepunk setting, and was the sandbox scenario from the DarkSummer Nights supplement loaded with accelerant and handouts. The setting is a Neo-Victorian Metropolis dominated by magic and steam power science, with a very definite vibe. The most clear analogies in fiction are Mieville's Perdido Street Station and In Viroconium by M John Harrison. Lovely stuff. The scenario is rich and layered, and I was worried that the players may have got bogged down. But they didn't, and they ran a tight investigation which got to the right answer. We finished 25 minutes early; had we had 45 minutes, we'd have got to the final denouement, but the characters actually completed the mission that they had been set. The final twist was that they managed to play Savage Worlds for nearly four hours without a combat, which is a first for me for that particularly crunchy skirmish based system, yet seemed to really enjoy the game. I also enjoyed riffing with some of the players in character.

Sadly, the whole convention soon wrapped up after this, and I headed home, managing to get back before Jill and Nathan who had gone across the Pennines for the weekend. I had a great time, and I can't wait until next year's Furnace to be back again!