Monday, 31 March 2008

DW: Wishing Well

Next batch of DW books. First is Wishing Well by Trevor Baxendale. (Damn you Terrance Trent D'Arby!)

The best thing that Trevor does in this book is: NO DAMN KIDS!!! Too many of these books have inserted a kid, because, well, these are the books for the kiddies after all. But not so here, Trevor gets it, it can appeal to children without needing children.

And the book is simple, with just six main characters aside from the Doctor and Marsha (and one other, but not for long), and they are written well. It's easy to keep track of who is who, and that has been a tricky thing with some of these books. Not to say that these are deep characters, because they aren't. Motivations are basic, which means we aren't bogged down in overextended arguments passing for exposition.

The plot is also fairly straightforward, this being similar to the other books, all of which do tend to rocket along. The overall arc is pretty clear, bad things happen and build up to a big fight, but then what story isn't like that? The story is an easy read, and enjoyable, and doesn't overtax the mind.

Certainly not the deep books we got from Baxendale in the EDA books, but this is a good read for this series.

Order: whatever, before Utopia is fine.


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Sunday, 30 March 2008

Fatboy does a Runner

When I went to see Run Fatboy Run the theatre contained more than a handful of people, most of whom (and I am no judge of ages) early teens if not younger. I have to say, I don't think this movie was for them. I'm not sure if they were expecting a more Pegg movie (ala Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz), or a more out-and-out comedy, but I suspect they didn't find the movie as interesting as I did.

That said, this is a fairly standard romantic comedy - guy loses girl, then goes to extremes to get girl back again, finding himself in the meantime. The main points in this movies favour are more the actors than the story: with Dylan Moran, Hank Azaria and Thandie Newton, how could one not enjoy oneself? They are playing great characters, and there are others, including the great Mr Ghoshdashtidar (played by Harish Patel).

The comedy is light, and one needs to be able to engage with the story to really enjoy it, and that is what I think was beyond most of the younger patrons (to completely dismiss any chance of maturity on their behalf). But I could so, yeah, it worked for me.

Yeah, so see this movie, but try to avoid the kiddie companions.


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Saturday, 29 March 2008

Shutter bug

I thought I knew at least of most J-Horror (as we must refer to the genre, thank you mindlessing America...) movies, but had never heard of Shutter, and yet this Shutter is an obvious take on a J-Horror movie... which turns out to be a Thai movie which I had never heard of before. (Ah, those wacky Thai.)

(Actually, I was also reminded a lot of The Sun Dog from the Four Past Midnight collection, but fortunately there is no Stephen King here.)

Certainly some mainstream J-Horror elements here, spirits turning up, strange things caught out of the corner of the eye, and of course something mundane turned into a source of terror (in this case, the camera). Not to mention atmosphere, which is something I always find separates Asian from American films (in that Asian films have it, American ones don't). Like The Grudge, Shutter has a Japanese director, who knows what he's doing, unlike the remake that was complete crap (yes, I'm talking about The Ring here).

All this adds up to great horror. Not as many deaths as some J-Horror movies, but the ones we get are pretty good. Plenty of scares abound as well, and not one due to a cat.

At 90 minutes it doesn't overstay it's welcome, and while it isn't Ju-On, it's still a decent film to see (if you like the genre at least).


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Friday, 28 March 2008

The good, the bad and the lovely

Yesteryear was 20 years of Star Trek: The Next Generation and there were celebrations aplenty! (Probably.) One such celebration were a set of big exciting books in the ST:TNG series. Not sure how many there were, but I picked up three.

Resistance by J. M. Dillard features the return of the Borg. 'Cos you just can't keep a good villain down. This could easily serve as a prequel to First Contact with the Borg gearing up to a threat that Picard and co might attend to, despite all wishes of higher up (in this case, Admiral Kathryn Janeway). It's a decent book, but it does take a little time to get started. Once underway there is some Borg action, but there could easily be more. There is a more cerebral approach to taking on the Borg, but there does get to be some kind of fight scene in the end. Certainly a book to note.

Q&A by Keith R. A. DeCandido features, strangely enough, Q. This book is set after Resistance, which is quite easily to tell as over half the book is spent with the characters moaning on about how the events in Resistance affected them, or giving in depth back story to the new characters. However, I read this book first, so that aspect didn't mean anything to me. And there is very little Q. Fine, an omnipotent being does tend to ruin the plot a little, but it would have been nice to have plot to ruin! In fact, this book is a battle between plot versus character development, with the author wanted to do a lot of the latter while grudgingly giving time when force to the former. And there's yet another retcon on why Q did the things he did! This is a book to avoid.

Before Dishonor by Peter David features... the Borg! This is a sequel to Resistance in a way that Q&A never could be. Following on from events in Resistance the Borg take another evolution in how they act, and this time in the hands of a true master author. The Borg are back and way nastier than ever, and the entire book basically becomes a big battle to try to stop them. Now this is a decent story truly well told, although it does make reference to a previous Peter David book (Vendetta) which I have only read once (which is at least helpful over referring to things I haven't read). There is also an ending which... I'm not sure if it will stick in the ST universe, but will definitely create interesting waves if it does. (And I also note there is another New Frontier book coming out, yay!) Definitely a must read (but do pick up Resistance and Vendetta).

So I don't just read Doctor Who, but this does show that any series output can very wildly in quality from book to book.


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Thursday, 27 March 2008


Another month, another WARGS meeting. And at this one, I got to play a game of Scion named Ethel of Troy. (The most beautiful woman in the world, who has gone missing.)

My overwhelming impressions: combat system a little too hard to actually do any damage, and this is to d10s what Shadowrun is to d6s.

Which isn't to say we didn't have fun. I was a son of Hel, and a paranormal investigator (I see dead people... and can talk to them. Very helpful when investigating crime scenes). Not that there was too much crime scene investigating (no-one dying when we started, and the death that did occur we could work out quite easily who did it, because we were there), but we all got do flashy abilities and engage in a long fight scene.

Not much interest in the vampire side of role-playing games, which While Wolf specialise in, but I'd be happy to return to this world again.

Interestingly, at the meeting, less than half were actually involved in the roleplaying (which was just this game. There were two games on offer, but only a handful of people, and half of us had done the other game, so...). The others were board/card gaming. Really putting the R in WARGS...


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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Five Notes

DM’s Notes and Final Thoughts. [by Peter A. This is it, folks!]

Barbigazl didn’t end the way I’d hoped, with something of a cliffhanger on an encounter that was definitely planned from the beginning, somewhat signposted, and was designed to test the loyalty of the party to an NPC leader whose own authority had taken a huge knock. Perhaps it’s best this didn’t happen, although by accounts talking to the players later, it’s likely the party would have stuck with Hurin. Would they and could they have beaten back the Dwarves of Nikulburg, or would diplomacy have had to see them through? I can’t say, although the conclusion written yesterday provides my casualty-free compromise.

The game ended pretty much where it could, at the end of a very busy night and one player down (this being Paul, although Jamas had joined us by that stage of course). The party had treasure, they’d faced some interesting challenges, and pretty much everyone had had their chance to shine. As games go it could have been worse. It also didn’t appear from my side of the DM’s shield to be too railroaded – there was definite objective which was adhered to, the Halls were found, and even ‘a’ forge, but there’s no escaping the feeling that had that last battle been fought or negotiated in game time it would have been much better.

Certainly there was literally no more game to play, although the very tip of the iceberg that was Barbigazl had been explored – but I'd written no more! And to be honest, with us all twenty years older and with jobs and daytime commitments, that was pretty much all we were going to be able to spare time-wise. So there it is.

As for thoughts I took away from DMing the game, there are a few. It’s not rocket science, but they still stand up years on from when we first played:

1. Have a timeframe organized for real time and adventure time

This was obviously more pertinent in the game recently than before. Paul’s commitment was for two nights, and we could really do no more than three, so a normal-sized game would have to be divided evenly.

2. Find out where your story ‘nodes’ are

Continuing from the first point, give the story suitable ‘chapters’ where certain goals can be reached and rewards encountered. I think we did that by splitting it between the climb up the mountain, the Gnome encounter (more of a cliffhanger of course) and the eventual battle in the treasury (although the vampire fight in the library was more dramatic, but probably for the wrong reasons). If the game has to end there, then it’s not that bad. It was interesting to find out part of the way through an encounter that what was about to be played through was probably going to just be a distraction and not a reward or a plot point. The Ice Mummies fizzled out, and the werewolves were totally unnecessary.

3. Don’t Overcomplicate the Backstory

I guess I did this, with a potted Dwarven history and the mystery of what happened to Barbigazl, and then of course the introduction of the Gnome subplot. Of course solving the mystery was a big part of the story – in hindsight it may have been better to just give the guys the dungeon-crawl they were no doubt expecting. I also broke a few cardinal rules with similar names – Hurin/Hrothgar/Harga. And then there were the red herrings – namely the story of the dragon, Flast (of course there was going to be one. I just hadn’t figured out where to put it!), and the mysterious Farer Nohan whom Lotus was looking for. These can all ‘seed’ further stories, and who knows- maybe they will. But in this case it may just have been too much all at once.

4. Don’t overpopulate the party!

Enough said! Again, it was intended that the party be outnumbered, but I could have managed it better combat-wise. And giving the players NPCs to look after actually slowed things down more.

5. Let everyone get a piece of the action.

This I think I did manage to do, which is all the more remarkable given that we were playtesting two new character classes. The bard proved to be an effective spell caster if not a great fighter (having only a 1d6 hit dice). Jamas and I tinkered with him a little more before the follow-up story ‘The Temple of Death’. By then he was working really well and was occupying a good niche in the party as knowledge-gatherer and exposition dump for the DM. It started here though! Morf had less opportunity to prove himself as a partial replacement for the thief Thaddeus, but given another game this might yet come to pass. He was certainly a fun character to create, and I think story-wise he’s got the farthest to go of all the party. Hopefully we can find out where that might lead in the not too distant future.


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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Five

Barbigazl: The Conclusion [by Peter A. Picture is the device of Nikulburg]

Throin of Nikulburg has two trusted lieutenants, each resurrected companions of old. Smali is known to Argon and Panadyn as a former adventuring mate; he is easy going and well-inclined towards other races - or was, until his death. As unnatural as the process has been, Forge-born Dwarves brought back from the dead have a reputation for being grimmer and shorter of tempter. This can certainly be said of Throin's other lieutenant, Slugur, whose sometime enmity with the Dol Curin dynasty is long-burning, and whose former life's experience of Habenath was only slightly less pleasant. In short, some non-Dwarven members of the party could be in big trouble, having been discovered on disputed Dwarven ground, far from the safety of their homes.

Hurin holds his tongue, perhaps aware that Throin himself is no stripling, and bears a formidable weight among his people. But rescue of some form comes from Olbin and Hongur, both of whom were themselves former companions of Habenath and Panadyn. Easing the tension to hear how Nikulburg's army found the halls of Barbigazl, they provoke Throin's appointed spokesman to explain that Nikulburg was altered to the discovery of the halls when they themselves were researching the history of their kingdom and found reference of Orpin. Sending a delegation to Gundolar they were an unwitting audience to the news that spies near Redbeak had reason to believe Dwarven activity had awoken there, and the name of Barbigazl mentioned. Instantly Throin's curiosity was piqued, and only in the days that followed when he had amassed a small contingent of stout warriors to seek the forgotten realm, did he discover the apparent link to Nikulburg. With rage over a past betrayal burning, Throin's fellowship sped across four countries to the Dragon Mounts, and to Redbeak, there to settle the score long ago drawn by Hrothgar of Barbigazl.

Olbin explains that there is a stalemate - Hrothgar is dead, along with his stolen queen, and no heir was produced. The Nikulburgers are stunned and scandalized to hear that the woman in question was no Dwarf, and demand to see evidence. When this is produced, Throin in his wisdom suggests a moot between his kingdom and the men of the pretender Hurin Hewstone to discuss how the remains of Barbigazl may be shared, if they are of any worth. All that remains then is to determine the fate of those non-Dwarves present, for their business is not that of Dwarfkind, and events from this point on would best not include them. In fact, as Slugur says bloodthirstily, it would be best if they were not alive to share its secrets.

Hurin does not reply, and it remains for Olbin to remind his lord of the oath all of the PCs present swore - to serve him until death or his will released their bond. Smali asks who the party is, besides Argon and Panadyn, of whom he is well aware. Olbin, speaking for the group introduces the members of the Pentad and their companions. It does little good that between them the non-Dwarven PCs represent the immediate human neighbours of Barbigazl (and by that extension natural rivals for the territory and resources, uneasy neighbours of Nikulburg, and an elf. Argon, kneeling before Hurin, offers his services anew to the would-be king: he would gladly take the mantle of Hurin's champion in a duel with a representative from Throin's retinue - the winner would determine the fate of those present and claim ownership of Barbigazl for their king. Slugur hefts his great axe Widowmaker, ready to meet that challenge, but Hurin waves Argon away, and Throin watches the Dwarf Lord intently as he delivers his decision. Hurin explains that Olbin was charged with the duties of enlisting the members of his non-Dwarven retinue, and was wise to choose those he did. From the human lands of Gondalia, Angria, Mondasia and Dol Banden's Haven are themselves champions worthy of seeing the glory of Barbigazl - but no further. He charges those present to return to their lands and speak freely of the discovery of Barbigazl; say that it has been found and will have a new king, and is guarded well by the lords of Nikulburg and Khazum, and their allies from Khaz-kimun and Barak-Kund. He orders the Bard create a new song to be sung where ears would hear it, of the great deeds that delivered Barbigazl out of the dark, and finally of the love of Nim, its last queen, for the three peoples she called her own. He trusts them all to state that Barbigazl would be the friend to all, but that it belongs to Dwarves only, and will not look kindly on rivals. This is his last order to the party, and says that if they do this to the last man, their bond is released.

Throin lauds Hurin's wisdom, and states that he would add a further order, that each member swear never to return to the halls of the Kings or invite others to its doors. This is a right only to be conveyed to its king, Hurin, whom he himself will see invested as ruler before the remaining Dwarven kingdoms. Hurin bows as his men cheer, and says that he will release the party from their bond with the conditions set before, and rewards them at length for their trials and efforts. To Argon and Panadyn he is careful in his choices of treasures, but no less generous, and to Morf he grants his mercy, for although they met with deadly intent, the Gnome proved his worth several times since in service. As the party is escorted to the foot of the mountain, Morf asks that the remaining Pentad stay near while he clears the forests of Azhfelton. Though he has Hurin's mercy, he is still under oath to Orpin though nothing can be returned to the Gnome king save Nim's harp, which the Bard himself offers to return anonymously. Morf says that he is persona non grata, and to Orpin his life is forfeit, and to Azhfelton a likely exile. His fate lies in the hands of those he is with. Kogaun, as unofficial leader of the Pentad tells him not to worry, that in the Pentad will have friendship and protection, and as a new party as yet unnamed, Kogaun, Habenath, Alric, Morf and the Bard leave Hurin's kingdom for new adventures. [For example...]


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Monday, 24 March 2008

TW 212: Fragments

Setup for the last episode and fills in missing history... all while breaking continuity, yay!

So, Jack was recruited over 100 years ago... so he was working in Torchwood during Small Worlds? And during To The Last Man? Really? REALLY? Chris, you do know your own series, right? Right? Guess not. And still doesn't explain where Torchwood was during the UNIT years and such.

Anyway, Toshiko... apparently wasn't involved in the Space Pig episode actually, but she is a genius from the start. And easily blackmailed. Good to know.
Didn't quite realise how ingrained in Torchwood London Ianto was, but where was Lisa? In the back seat of his car?
And why would Owen ever trust Jack?
In fact, instead of giving away details, this just raises more questions about why these people are in Torchwood, but it does explain how incompetent they were in Series One.

But the worst part of everything is that there is a "huge" explosion and nothing happens to anyone! The worst is a dislocated shoulder and a broken arm, easily mended, so no long term repercussions at all.

Nice try to fill things out, but I'm not sure anything gotten better.

Next week (well, two weeks it looks like): he's back and is the Big Bad for the final episode... which looks like a generic Big Bad final episode from any number of series...


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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Con Job!

I was at Conjunction yesterday (only day I went). Went to a few panels, took pictures at a couple (got a lot of learn about using my camera), but rather than clutter my main page, I'm going to tuck them behind the fold... Short version: all right, but one day was sufficient.

First up was Torchwood, part of the Kate and Jon show.

And what a show it was! Apparently Torchwood is all about sex, death and ratings, and there were pictures to prove it. Oh, and women watch it because of all the boy-kissing. I'm sure I might be able to offer a defence of it being a bit more than that, but can't think of an argument right this minute. And I found out about something truly mind shocking.

Next I was at the Cartoons of the 80s retrospective. I knew most of what Jess was talking about, but there are still things that one does not want to know about. (A comparison could be made with GI Joe and Cobra with Nick Fury, Shield and Hydra.)

Jon talked about making fan films. He's still working on a clean version of Time Rift, but nearly done.

Elizabeth Moon (the one in the middle) made a guest appearance at Age Appropriate Science Fiction.

There was some discussion about how children fantasy is dumbed down for adults (so adults feel happier that their children aren't threatened with difficult ideas and words like "different"). Not much was successfully achieved, except have books around and see what people are interested in.

We discussed "Is it science fiction?" in which we asked if various movies really are science fiction, but since we never really defined science fiction, it also didn't really go anywhere.

Then was Kate and Jon's guest speech, in which they called their past selves of ten years ago and gushed about all the exciting changes in technology, tv, and science fiction that have been. (This might later appear on their blogs.)

I did get my copy of Fallen Gods signed (really should read that some day), and picked up Jon's Prisoner book (which he co-wrote with Rupert Booth) The Prisoner's Dilemma (which is also signed!).

If I was going tomorrow, it would be tempted to go to the auction and get one of the knitted Daleks. They're so cute!

But the draw isn't quite powerful enough.


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Saturday, 22 March 2008

TW 211: Adrift

An interesting piece of Torchwood continuity filled in, but borderline filler before the final bang.

This episode is based on a very reasonable idea: can the Rift work two-way? Indeed, considering that Captain John went back through the Rift in episode 2.1, there's no reason to think that others can't. It's only because this episode focussed so heavily on the idea that it was made to seem original an important. Hmm... bonus points for tricking the audience into running with the idea.

There is also the aspect of this episode that is "be careful what you wish for", which is exactly where Gwen and Nikki end up. They now know the truth, but at a terrible price. In many ways the revelation of the Rift Adrift would have worked better in series one, but Chris Chibnall does make the point that Gwen has changed (or maybe that this was a series one episode, but he needed to get Gwen to act like her series one self and thus created a character point).

A lot about this episode feels padded, with long panning shots (which on an unsteady cam gave me whiplash) and lots of "dramatic" pauses. There is "less is more" against "more fills up screen time".

A decent enough episode, but almost out of place in series two.

Next week: It all kicks off in the final two-parter. Looks like it has potential.


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Friday, 21 March 2008

What's $600 million between friends?

Oh noes! The government lost $600 million! And then found it! It's the biggest disaster of our times!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, story-du-jeur that the budget isn't quite what people thought it was. Bashing them makes for an easy (check out those comments with CAPITALISED WORDS!), but my easy blog post is to point out that people aren't thinking of the numbers right.

Sure $600 million sounds a lot. It's after all around 1.5% of the total figure used... yeah, that huge 1.5%. Woo hoo!

But what really should be the point here is that this figure was produced under using two different forecasts. Ie. two different sets of future numbers built of a series of conjectures and assumptions which are only true as long as you squint a bit at the original past numbers. The fact that the two outcomes were different shouldn't be surprising, nor the fact that they shifted so much.

It only matters because we passed over the zero line. Which should tell us something.

Unfortunately, the government doesn't produce confidence intervals. But that the number changed that much should give us an idea of the range of numbers we could end up with, which are above and below the zero line.

In statistics, we say that that is not statistically different from zero. Thus, people are forcing hysterics out of emotionally recognition of in the black versus in the red. The truth is that we aren't different enough from no difference at all for any sudden "$600 million" to mean anything.


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Thursday, 20 March 2008

HC Again

Classic pay, back to standard investigations without books eating our brains.

First up, run for the terrorists mission that sucks poz (8 to get a freaking drive roll!). And finally get to meet Boris, and do rather well. Kid: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Then a wee adventure involving an Ark. Right cubits and everything. Ah the joy of being insane and not getting repercussions! Noah: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.


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Too young, too young...

He was only 90!


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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Christian "Mercy" in practice

I've seen a few sites talk about this story, the collection of horror tales from women who went to "Mercy Ministry" for psychiatric help and got pointed to the bible instead.

That's bad enough, but I haven't seen anyone talk about the follow up story, which outlines that Mercy Ministries are set to open more places around Australia. There are a few government institutions that say there might be something bad going on that they'll investigate if they get more complaints, and the sponsors (Gloria Jean's Coffee) show no interest in doing anything other than giving them money, so this is just a bigger horror story waiting to happen.

And let's not have any delusions here. This is BAD. These people are promising psychiatric help, get women in with slick advertising, then practice cult tactics to cow the women into submission, all in the name of religion. Unquestioning accepting of religion tolerance allows this to flourish, and in my cynical view I can't see this stopping. (In fact, I won't be surprised if Mercy plays the "oh, we are now martyred with guilt" card and get more funding/applications out of this.)

How much longer must we suffer these dangerous inanities?


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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Four Notes

Barbigazl Part Four: DM’s Notes [by Peter A. Picture is of Slugur of Nikilburg.]

Is it obvious that I had a lot to do in this round of the game? In fact, it was the last night of play. Paul had already left town, so Thaddeus his Thief and Lotus the Cleric were packed off together, both given the rather flimsy excuse that they were disgusted at the turn of events Hurin’s orders had brought about. In fact, in game time and real time a similar outcry was evident. For the most part the clues that I’d dropped about the Gnome settlement being close by, and a bee being used as a spy were simply not enough reason for Hurin to want to actually kill a reasonable group of Gnomes found on what he saw as his turf. For the part and for the most part the Gnomes themselves were either an unknown quantity or above suspicion to the players – and I intended this pretty much. In basic D&D Gnomes aren’t usually a player race (although by the Master Rules Set there’s almost enough for any DM to put together to fudge a PC Class out of them), and for the most part again I assumed that to the guys Gnomes were just those Dwarf-like little dudes in the Monster descriptions, wandering around good-naturedly looking for treasure. But in the same descriptions read words to the effect of: “Gnomes love gems and have often been known to make bad decisions about them”. This was such a case, and I used their love of mechanics (they prefer crossbows) and hammers (again, a preferred weapon in their description) to flesh out a race that more often than not is pure Wandering Encounter fodder. The Gnomes of Azhfelton were along the lines of a Gnome Class I’d been working on, incorporating existing D&D stuff, some AD&D ideas, and some home-bashed ideas from the Dragonsfoot forums. Largely fighters with some ‘Tinkers’ thrown in and a couple of ‘Delvers’ (a cross between explorers and sages with illusionist powers) they put up a good fight. Morf was of course among them, so having Jamas play him allowed the two of us to practically test the character class. I think I might make one for myself one day!

The Bard was a similar invention, but less-defined. Jamas and I spent days sorting through spell lists and ability tables to come up with something that was distinct, yet faithful to the Moldvay Rules of basic D&D. As for me the jury’s still out, but Jamas entered into the night’s gaming with real heart, as they say in the US and A, and produced a cheesy plastic ukulele every time the eponymous Bard used one of his song spells. It really lightened the mood during what could be a fraught evening. [Yeah, no decent Bard kit in the early days, we cobbled ideas together from later Bards. Not entirely sure either, but since a D&D game I had been listening too really trashed Bards and I liked their jack-of-all-trades nature, I really wanted to play one. Inspired by The Last Hero, I did so! (Spells still need work though) - JE]

Oh, what an evening. Things didn’t run smoothly, with some strong protests from one player in particular who found the (ahem) trumped-up magic items he’d had suddenly weren’t the ‘get out of jail free’ card they once were. Facing more than one vampire (I think it was four) was unheard of, so being able to turn more than one at a time was seriously difficult, much moreso with pesky bats interrupting every attempt. Levels were lost, spells failed and, during the evening’s worst moment, the question of initiative got called, and the decision I’d made had to stand or the game would have been over then and there, I’m sure. Not pleasant. Players don’t like to ‘lose’, and neither do DMs. Poor old Gary Gygax probably never intended the game to be so confrontational, but hey – it definitely brought back old times.

Between the arguing and the combat sequences thing were still going slowly, so the rest of the module (which was still sort of unfinished) was raced through – here’s the King’s Chamber, oh listen – here’s the sad tale of Nim. Here’s some treasure – but it’s guarded by Thouls.

“I turn them”
“Nothing happens”
“What do you mean? My Cleric is eighth level”
“These aren’t undead”
“So what are they – another bloody monster you just made up?”
“No they’re Thouls – they’re in the Monster listings. Save versus Paralysis”
“Oh for God’s sake”

Et cetera
After that it was the same deal with the Shadows. They’re not undead, but they’re highly effective at slowing down a party, with a resistance to normal weapons and a top-scoring Morale. They’re also very good at slowing down a game, so by the time of the great reveal, when Nikilburg’s toughest Dwarves arrive spoiling for a territorial fight, we’d already gone into extra time in the real-world, and the game was over.

[Yes, the speed was definitely a hindrance to understanding what was going on. While D&D is really about the combat, there were possibly a few too many opponents to plow through while trying to get a grip on the plot... and I'm not sure I ever did. - JE]


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Monday, 17 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Four

Episode Four: The Battle of Hurin and Orpin’s men [by Peter A. The picture is of the Bard (c) Paul Kidby.]

Hurin's Dwarven heroes change their enemy, with the Gnomes drawing their war hammers in response. At the roar the PCs stand, confused and suddenly torn between duty and conscience. At last the majority join the fray as the Gnomes reveal their master weapon - an oil-spewing flame thrower called The Salamander. The melee is bitter and much blood is spilled, after shouts of protest from Panadyn and Argon to a determined Hurin the battle as nearly at its height; Dwarven axes swing and mighty Gnome hammers, while from the ranks of the Gnomes glass globes are tossed to burst on the stoned streets in clouds of quicklime or choking Yellow Mould. Having avoided battle and detached Lotus shakes his head and walks off. Thaddeus joins him, disgusted at the murder Hurin has ordered from them.

The battle continues and the Dwarves have the upper hand when the normally silent Mufin bellows in agony. Blinded by quicklime he’s an easy target for a further missile, and is soon enveloped in suffocating Yellow mould spores, who chokes to death as the remaining Gnomes see their chance to flee, leaving those mortally wounded or paralysed by Kogaun’s wand to the scant mercy of the Dwarves. Argon is distraught, but seeing the destruction wrought by the Gnomes inventions he realises that it is a battle anticipated by both sides, and helps Panadyn attend to the wounded. Kogaun has a paralysed Gnome restrained and removes the enchantment. Speaking to the captive in his native tongue he Charms the Gnome and, whether this works or not, the prisoner cooperates.

The Gnome’s name is Morf and he is from the nearby village of Azhfelton. Hand-picked from its own guard he has been invested as one of the self-named Hammers of Orpin, a band sent to find Barbigazl and within its halls the last treasure of Orpin the ancestral king of the great Gnome capital Gundolar. Through a memorised rhyme Morf tells them of Orpin, who forged an alliance with the Dwarves of Nikulburg, but lost their friendship when the symbol of that union was stolen by Hrothgar of Barbigazl. The oath of revenge has lasted for generations, and now with the Dwarf kingdom found, Orpins message 'send to Redbeak heavy hammers, Orpins opal there to find' has been invoked. [At this point, I took over Morf. Although technically the Charm person lasts days, my view was that as Morf wasn't stupid (very high in), so he could either follow the rest of the party, or be happily slaughtered by the Dwarves around him... - JE]

The plot has thickened, and the broader tale of Hurin's quest has become broader still. The party is left wondering how the Gnomes of Orpin have been involved in the fall of Barbigazl - if indeed they are. The salamander is confined to the depths of the chasm, and as they ponder this and lay out their fallen in a nearby drinking hall they discover they are not alone - a slight man with a makeshift harp has been sheltering in the hall and once discovered claims he is a Bard, lost from his party who came 'the lower way' several weeks ago. [I preferred the idea of a teleport spell, but didn't get to get that in. - JE] Ambushed by goblins they scattered and were separated before they could reach the hall of kings. Emboldened by the large party about him, he offers his services to Hurin, and his knowledge of Barbigazl’s upper halls. So the Bard joins Hurin's retinue and a way to the central pillar, the hall of kings is found. Crossing the bridge they reach a vast amphitheater with sturdy pillars sporting its upper levels and narrow bridges to either sides of the cavern. Morf says that the side opposite the village is another of the same - so the last bridge - to the north, is unknown to him.

Over the bridge sunlight penetrates a wide and narrow chamber strewn with vegetation long-since dead. This is a garden gallery split in two levels, and further up the stars is a ruined doorway and darkness beyond. Exploring the new room the party quickly discover the Hall of Records, the Mazarbul they have been looking for – but their chance to hunt further for clues to the fate of Barbigazl is soon dash as they find bodies on the floor – recently dead, by any count, and as they inspect these great bats issue from dark spaces in the walls. They have been ambushed! As the corpses rise, fangs flashing, the party realize they are facing their gravest threat yet – a party of vampires. The fight is desperate. The heroes are cut off from the outside chamber and have to fight their way through, while Argon’s magical Ring of Undead Control is almost powerless against the number they are up against. Surprisingly, the latest addition to Hurin’s party, the Bard, presents his harp and begins to play a bloody tune of heroics, and filled with the zeal of battle the party meet their undead foes with new vigour. [Don't remember doing that then. - JE] But Panadyn takes a hit, as does the Bard, both shaken and drained by the blows. [Bloody XP drainers! At this point, the Bard started getting a mad on for vampires. - JE] A Silence spell cast by Alrick makes short work of the bats flying among them, and gradually the PCs edge their way out of the chamber and into the sunlight-flooded gardens. The vampires thus trapped (and some destroyed), Kogaun sends them a fireball to remember the party by, and disheartened (not least by the damage the fireball will doubtless do to the historic records within) Hurin leads his men out into the halls once more, to seek the chambers of their last king.

A spiral stair from the Hall leads up to the hearthguards’ chambers – barren, while concealed entrances in its ceiling leads to the King’s chamber, the last rest of Hrothgar, king of Barigazl – so Hurin’s supposed ancestor Harga was not the king he was supposed to be. The party’s mood is somber further, for their efforts to regain Hurin’s birthright are slowly fading. Eventually a way to the Queen’s chamber is found, and the heroes emerge into an opulent space, with furnishings most unlike those of a Dwarven queen, and naturalistic artifacts and detailing betraying a distinctly non-Dwarven aesthetic. In the corner is a harp which the Bard deduces to have an enchantment within its workings – with little bidding it tells the last sad tale of Barbigazl, of the dragon who imprisoned its people and their Queen within the chambers to die, and of the Queen herself, born to nobility in far off Gundolar, betrothed to Thain the king of Nikilburg in a political arrangement – and stolen by a besotted (and possibly confused) Hrothgar to be Queen to his people. With that the secret of Barbigazl’s doom and the impossibility of a direct line to Hurin is realized. After some shouting and grim meditation, the would-be king and his retinue return to the halls to seek what treasures might wait below, and for confirmation that the bodies of Hrothgar and Nim his queen, Orpin’s pearl, still lie there.

The crypt below the great hall indeed exists, and is guarded by Thouls. In the confusion and with his memory fading (for he had met these fiends before), Panadyn attempts to turn the creatures and is numbed by their poisonous claws. Demoralised by the ruin about them, it takes some time for the Dwarves to better their enemies and continue below further, past the expected ‘zarkofargi’ of Hrothgar and Nim, to the treasures of the hall. Their torches flickering in dark, Hurin’s remaining allies see gold and coins bearing foreign and forgotten names, gifts of musical instruments. As they pore over their finds the moving shadows of the chamber come to life and swoop on them. The Bard is nearly felled as his strength ebbs at the Shadows’ touch. [Don't remember that. Do remember singing of heroics at this point though - JE] Panadyn attempts to turn them, but can’t to his frustration, and it is only by the power of their various enchanted weapons that the party make their exit from the room, back up the tight stairwell, to emerge once more in the Kings’ Hall where they are surrounded utterly by a full retinue of Dwarves, sturdy and hateful, their helms and shields bearing the distinctive crossed mattock and hammer of Nikilburg.

To be concluded...


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Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Beginning of TSV 56

Yep, TSV time, and this time it's issue 56. Most of the issue is pretty clearly made up of reviews. Of TV story reviews (which are more important than other reviews as where would we be without the TV series?). And there is quite a few of them.

Take a moment to consider this: of all the DW TV stories up to then, issue 56 reviews about one tenth of them. That's 10% crammed into one issue! At that rate, how are we still talking Doctor Who after all this time.

But talking we are. Or maybe rambling. Certainly, my piece The Beginning of the Beginning is fairly incoherent, take a heck of a long time to say "the Terminus ship came from the previous universe, accidentally ending that one, and the Slipback ship started the current universe". Hmm... maybe it does need more explaining than that, but I'm sure that piece doesn't make it any clearer.

Fortunately, there's a lot more than that in there, and there's the breaking news of The Lion's discovery, a big find for little ol' New Zealand... but more on that next issue... except it's already on line! (I refuse to say "on line-on"... mainly because it's very hard to work visually.)

Read more commentary from Paul and Alden.


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Saturday, 15 March 2008

TW 210: From Out of the Rain

Someone wanted to write a Sapphire and Steel story, didn't they? Still, considering it's Peter J Hammond, shouldn't be too surprised.

This really is pure Sapphire and Steel, and indeed is a rehash of the Photograph story (you know, the one with the creepy man with no face). Torchwood is layered on top of it (with added Jack to tie it into the series), but it's obvious that PJ really liked the set up and wanted to use it. (And more the set-up than the "what the?" ending where filming them would solve the Just wish someone would resurrect S&S (as more than audios) and be done with it.

And what an emotional ending! The kid is saved! Never mind that everyone else died, including his sister and mother and father, and thus he's now an orphan and a burden on the state, at least the kid lived!

Still, got to love Julian Bleach. That is a great voice he has (although somewhat hampered by the dentures they shoved in his mouth). I think I've heard him before, but not sure where (maybe BF plays?). He and Camilla Power manage to come across as really creepy.

This story isn't really Torchwood, but at the moment there isn't a proper series it could be in.

Next week: Oh dear, can you say "filler episode"? When's Captain John back again?


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Friday, 14 March 2008

Holy Lego, Batman!

(Oh, come on. Someone had to say that, and I'm not strong enough not to.)

One game that looked really cool, and I eventually brought is Lego Starwars. (Although I haven't yet gotten around to installing it, and by reports it's loaded with crippling security malware so I might not...)

What then of Lego Batman? How cute is that? But this, of course, opens up whole new realms of possibility (and, more importantly for companies, profit!). How long before Lego Spiderman? Lego Die Hard? Lego Bridget Jones?

And, because we must demand it: Lego Doctor Who!


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Thursday, 13 March 2008

HC Again

Just the one story that nearly kills me... and for others it's worse! But I've said too much already. There is Trouble at the Library: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

(The story continues with "Scout Pimp", but you'll have to grab those files yourself.)


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Obvious, really...

The Church recently came up with a brilliant idea, which I'm sure you all know. But first, I want to comment on why. Consider the following statement:
"surveys showed 60 per cent of Catholics in Italy no longer went to confession."

From this, we could draw one of two conclusions. One, Catholics are now sinning less than before. Two, sin isn't a big deal.

One would mean that religion works, two means that a bigger stick is needed. Clearly there is only one possible conclusion, and the view that needs to be taken into account is that the Church is a position of (self-selected) authority and needs to maintain that authority at any account.

If one will allow a moments digression into the bible not being the word of a god, consider that one great way to force authority is to accuse people of doing things that make them bad people, and those things are things that every person does. Such as, for example, feel lust, envy, pride...

Back to the survey, we have an "authority" wanting to maintain authority, and a survey that says that people that follow that authority aren't confessing sins. Yes, there is only one possible option: create new sins that everyone does (although in this case, that science does) so people can be made out to be "bad" all over again.


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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Three Notes

Barbigazl: Part Three DM Notes [by Peter A. Picture is of Morf, who hasn't appeared yet.]

Unless the Dungeon Master has a clear idea of how much time a game is likely to and can practically last in real time, and unless he or she has a good grip on the running of the game, then ensuring any one game is balanced and interesting enough to continue is going to be a challenge. Two nights of real time had passed playing 'Barbigazl' and with the exception of one hard-fought ambush by Hobgoblins, nothing much had happened in the game and the PCs were still trying to get up the damned mountain. In between nights two and three I had some stops to pull out - and I was aware that Paul, one of the reasons for the game, only had one more night in town; so night three had to be a good one.

I managed to half the size of Hurin's retinue - I actually did this by myself for fun, and to see if there would be any survivors of a Dwarf-versus-Wargrider encounter. Guess what? The Dwarves won, despite the high cost. I could have left the survivors out of the game, but no - up the mountainside they trudged, to join the party just after their first encounter of the evening, the Ice Mummies. On the way the players had the usual scene setting - a blizzard to encourage them to keep going (not actually that necessary by that stage), and some strange hooting and whistling noises on the wind. This wasn't going to be from an encounter, but was laying down of more background detail that I soon realised wasn't necessary either. The backstory in my head hadn't really been told, and already it was getting away on me! An infodump was required, hence the stories of Lotus and Hurin on this evening.

The Ice Mummies were my own creation. Intended to be atmospheric and chilling (sorry), I gave them a reasonably good description - great warriors with swords, free-dried from having lain in the extremes for decades. The party immediately twigged they were undead (in a tomb? Madness!) and attempted to Turn them using one of the two Clerics in the party. Not this time. Preparing for a good fight, I then discovered that Argon, the fighter had a few tasty devices in his arsenal - namely a Ring of Undead Control. Now, what a character who was essentially a paladin was doing with a magic item like this I couldn't fathom, but he had it, and it ended the encounter. The ring, created in someone else's game years ago, worked along the same lines of a Control Undead potion. I can't remember how often it could be used, or whether it had charges or not, but it at least had a limit of Hit Dice it could work against appropriate to the wearer's level. The Ice Mummies were rounded up, put back in their crypts and burned itidy away. So much for a new encounter - I decided the next undead match-up would have to be harder and less obvious.

Again, short of having an infodump ready, I can't recall what led me to add Lotus - a third Cleric, to the party. Lotus had been the character of an old school friend, effectively 'retired', but was a contemporary of The Pentad, so perhaps I thought he would eventually fit in their group. Once I realised that I'd put two Staves of healing in the party plus other healing spells, I reconsidered. That said, having Lotus enabled Jamas, our newest player, to join the game, and that was a good thing, though it would be the following night where his contribution would be felt most.

Once inside the Halls of Hurin's apparent ancestors, descriptions weren't that useful or necessary - it was a Dwarven mine, and countless years of gaming plus a successful movie franchise did the job. The encounters were good though, and the first, using Goblins well familiar with the secret passages in the mine, and Bugbears doing what they do best (waiting out as the second wave and ambushing the party) were great. That would have indeed been a good fight if the party's number were lower yet! There was time for some more mystery - the non-encounter in the chasm with what turned out to be the other Gnome party was suitably puzzling for the players, who seemed to have no idea at all what that other group was. And the Gark gave Paul something to finish his game off happily with - a heroic deed for Balinor, rolling a natural 20. How could I not give him his moment of glory? And finally some more back story, with Hurin's tale (another poem - the game had only three to go!) and another riddle in Yellowjacket's bee discovered following them. The bee made no sense to one player as a surveillance device, but after an explanation of bees 'dancing' directional codes to one another in nature, the penny dropped. And just in time for the major encounter of the night - the Gnomes.

I can't emphasis the effect of Hurin's order to kill the Gnomes enough, I don't think. It was shocking, contrary to the PCs' way of play, and with the retinue still outnumbering them, quite beyond their control. It caused no small amount of protest and surprise - and it was for me the best part of the entire game. Perhaps it was unfair given that the guys were most likely expecting a straightforward dungeon crawl; but the back story got to them in the end! [Yes... backstory and plot vs PCs expecting a dungeon crawl... what could possibly go wrong? - JE]


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Tuesday, 11 March 2008


As I don't yet have the notes for Part Three from Peter, I present the following (rather NSFW) musical interlude.


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Monday, 10 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Three

Barbigazl : The Doors to Barbigazl [by Peter A. Image is of Hurin!]

Having reached the upper slopes of Redbeak, and with the sounds of battle distantly echoing in the valley below them, the party stops at the site of some snow caves. A blizzard is developing, and slather is the order of the day. Within the stony chambers are frost-glazed sarcophagi and the freeze-dried and wizened remains of same great warriors. Wise to the likelihood of the undead lying about, they draw their weapons. Assuredly chill un-life flickers in the orbits of the half-dead, and the great Snow Mummies rise from their icy graves with chill blades swinging. A cautionary attempt at turning the fiends comes to naught, but the party is wise enough to use fire and enchanted weapons. Argon employs a Ring of Undead Control, and the doubly-frozen Mummies are soon incinerated. Within their sarcophagi is the semi conscious form of a Cleric, who once awoken announces himself as Lotus Esprit, a friend of and to Thaddeus. Hotly sworn in by Hurin's scald, Lotus becomes one of the party. [This is me, folks! taking on a previously developed character, but as far as I recall, Lotus never swore the oath. - JE]

Lotus is known to be many things – a fortune hunter, a charmer of men and women, and a holy man. He once rode a wyvern he called Testa Rossa – the fiery headed one, and follows a religion that venerates serpentkind as a force of divine nature. His studies have brought him to Redbeak where, he has heard, a great dragon once lived but disappeared long ago. Seemingly its secret is known to only one man by the name of Farer Nohan – it is he whom Lotus has been looking for. Hurin listens to his story with great interest, but says nothing.

Beyond the tombs are the doors of Barbigazl, bearing the owl symbol – the mark of Hrothgar and now Hurin. Naturally protected by magic, it is the work of moments for resident brainiac Kogaun to solve the riddle [Erm, nope. It was a 'say the right word' puzzle, and it was (eventually) Lotus who got the right word. - JE] and allow the party passage into the chambers of the Dwarves. From there the going is slow; with echoing footfalls in the dark Hurin's retaining slowly tread the flags of their forebears. Elated at their discovery but fatigued from the climb, they elect to rest the night in the halls of Hurin's ancestors.

Resting to regain their strength, the party is joined in the following hours by half a dozen Dwarves, the remainders of Hurin's ordered stand against the Hobgoblins of Redbeak. With an account of the battle given and some rest gained for the weary, the retinue continues into Barbigazl. Their passageway divides into two paths, narrow and low to repel larger invaders. Opening into a pillared chamber their footfalls soon arouse the attention of smaller enemies, and before long they are besieged by the darts of Goblins; Hobgoblins are with them, and from out of the dark huge Bugbears thunder, each swinging long heavy weapons. A perilous battle is wrought, and Hurin's Dwarves suffer further blows. Some Goblins flee into the dark ahead, and our heroes are left in little doubt that their presence has been betrayed.

Continuing on with caution, the party ventures further down until the passage opens into a high chasm. From the floor to its arched vault are the black eyes of windows, uninhabited homes, doubtless of the Dwarven workers who once toiled there. Light glimmers from an adjoining passage way, and the heroes follow it to find a huge cavern, its depths disappearing into darkness, and cold sunlight breaching its upper roof. In the middle and beyond reach stands an octagonal pillar of stone, broad and filleted, with pillars forming an open theatre and faced on every side by those same blind windows. Hurin announces that this is the Chamber of Kings, but there is no bridge to the centre, and none of the party dare make the journey across, lest they draw the fire of unseen spies.

The heroes stand for a while, taking in the specatacle of Dwarfkind’s last lost kingdom. From across the chamber comes the noise of muted talking, and the party douse their torches. On the other side of the chasm a group has gathered, a party of small size, but indistinct, too hard for even demihuman ears to define. Slipping into the dark the heroes strain their ears to hear what language is spoken, but none can be identified.

Retiring to the village their path is cut off by a huger beast - an ogre-sized Goblin Hurin's men call a Gark – it roars loudly, swinging a mighty chain as it lumbers to them. Peppering the hulk with arrows the party struggles to gain ground, while the Gark, with poorer aim, does his best to fend them off. After a few good swings the game is up, and the Gark, too stupid to yield ground for survival, roars in rage and thunders toward the party, chain swinging. But Balinor is waiting with his trusted spear, and in a heroic stand impales the beast as it crushes down upon him.

Balinor, it is noted, still has his attendant bee. Suspicious and seizing the moment, Alric catches the creature and traps it in a spare vial. Using his spell ability to speak with the creature, he works out who it is following them. The bee answers that she works for ‘the master in yellow’, who the heroes deduct, after some reasoning, to be Yellowjacket the Gnome beeherd. Replacing the stopper in the vial Alric muses on this new piece of information.

Taking a moment Hurin tells the saga of Barbigazl – or rather, the brief fragments he knows of it. He is descended from Harga, whose name appears in the lay of Barbigazl, a turgid account of the fall of the Dwarven kingdom. Despite this the lay is of the last king of Barbigazl – whose own name is lost, and Harga’s is but a brief mention amid a tale of stolen treasure – the egg of a Snow Drake the king stole to please his queen. Swearing revenge for the loss of its young, Flast the dragon sought out the king’s home and smote the guards without, bringing a greater and further destruction that Hurin claims removed the memory of Barbigazl from the world until now. Hurin states his lineage from Hrothgar and none of his restless heroes dare challenge him.

Continuing through the Dwarven village the party hear the noise of approaching feet. Bracing themselves for encounter they slow down, rounding a corner into the town square, and face to face with stout bearded men, armed and wizened. But these are no Dwarves in their path, but Gnomes. Taken by surprise the PCs pause, composing a gesture of greeting; in the silence Hurin grates an order - 'Kill them', and his troops move to obey without question, drawing weapons with murderous intent toward the Gnomes.


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Sunday, 9 March 2008

HC Again

Just realised I never did post these links (which are mainly for my own archive if I want to go back to them later).

Unfortunately, my ISP twitched and fell over during play, so I suddenly disappear for a large portion of these audios. I do manage to get back during the second story, but again the ISP collapses and, although this doesn't show on audio, I was barely able to make out what was going on.

First up, Spinners, in which we solve the mission in ten minutes... ha! In which, we miss the vital clue we could have found and spend a lot more time finding out the why before getting to the who. Part 1, Part 2, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. (Yeah, there was some trouble working out if the first two files works, so Logan ended up loading them twice.)

Second is the start of a larger mission, which I expected to be continued on the next day's game (with the other gamers), but instead we continued the following week... but that's a continued tale for later. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.


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Saturday, 8 March 2008

TW 209: Something Borrowed

A story that doesn't know if it wants to be serious soap opera, or wacky hijinks!

The shapeshifter gives the episode a boost of humour it needs to keep going. A wedding episode is usually played for laughs (mainly because it's the comedies that do wedding shows), and Nerys Hughes getting shot is enough to get anyone's spirits up. But then the episode shifts gears regularly with a horrible crunch as it tries to service the love triangle that is Gwen and Jack, because of course we want those two crazy kids to get together... I guess. Don't really care, as long as it isn't bashed over our heads constantly every episode like they do with every single relationship this series! We get the point. Frankly I wouldn't have been too surprised if the wedding had been cancelled (certainly foresaw the retcon ending), but they decided to go for setting up the miserable marriage and Gwen's love struggle will tear everything apart. Aw, bless.

Oh, speaking of the blatantly obvious: Owen's dead, you know. If he didn't keep going on about it, we never would have guessed. And also on the news front: Ianto and Jack are an item! Wow, they really keep rolling out that continuity...

This episode tries to serve two masters, and as the quote goes: "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other." [Matthew 6:24] Replace slave with audience and this might be close to how this episode is received.

Next week: Ah yes, circus folk, the very essence of horror...


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Friday, 7 March 2008

Not so "widescreen"

Another problem with DVDs! Well, to be more honest, a problem with producing from a while ago, before widescreen TVs were all the rage.

In an effort to be "helpful" to all us purists who insist on widescreen version of movies, companies produced DVDs and VHSs (VHSes?) with the movies in widescreen. But because most TVs were not, to achieve the widescreen format, black bars were added to the top and bottom of the picture.

But now we have widescreen TVs, so we can enjoy the picture filling the screen. Except the picture still has those black bars. And is fitted to a standard size screen.

And thus, although I have a flash widescreen plasma, I have to have the picture on standard size (so get black bars, as it were, on the left and right) and have black bars at the top and bottom. So the big widescreen picture is in fact in about a quarter of the screen for my viewing displeasure.

(Unless I just never managed to work out the settings on my DVD player and TV to get the damn thing to show properly. Which is also annoying have to switch back and forth on my TV between standard and widescreen viewing anyway.)


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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Gygax no more

Most geeks... I mean, gamers already know this, but what the hell.

E. Gary Gygax. 1938-2008.

Yep, the creator extraodinaire has passed on.

There have been many tributes. The main thread seems to be over on Troll Lord Games, but also check out Monte Cook, Penny Arcade, Giant in the Playground, Twenty-Sided Tale, Dork Tower (with blog entry)... even Pharyngula.

But the best of all goes to Stuff. 'Nuff said... apparently.


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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Jump Up My...

Frankly, I went in expecting bad things (not helped by this review), already doubting the movie just from the trailer I saw. And, yep, Jumper is, simply, a bad movie.

The story is a mess, which doesn't really have a point to make. It just has this gimmick (people who can teleport anywhere) and attempts to show them, indeed, teleporting everywhere. And getting into fights (with a group that are amazingly fleshed out motive-wise - they kill Jumpers because teleporting is against god... and that's it).

This is presented with a lot of flashing around, quick camera shots and lots of jump (sic) cuts all over the place to divert the audience's attention from the paucity of the plot... I mean, to show how exciting the Jumper life is.

Meh. I saw this in Reading's Digital cinema, so I could see the suckiness in complete clarity. Go in with your eyes open and you might get away without being too offended.


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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Two Notes

Barbigazl: Part Two - DM Notes [By Peter A. Check out the Hobgoblin on Warg action!]

This chapter of the game featured our first blood in terms of PC losses in the death of Wayne's Magic User Oban. Right off the bat I'll say that he wasn't a target of mine, but he certainly did himself few favours in terms of contributions to the party (though to be fair, a cursory glance at his character sheet revealed that he was Chaotic in alignment, so perhaps he should have been given more points for the style of play). The other contributing factors in this episode are the Hobgoblins themselves. In 'my' world of course Orcs no longer exist, so hobgoblins have 'stepped up' to claim that niche. In terms of Basic D&D there’s little difference between Hobgoblins and Orcs – perhaps one hit point, so after a few years of not using Orcs I found I didn't miss them at all. The inference that Hobgoblins are of the same 'race' as Goblins makes sense of their use in this game anyway.

I'm a big fan of sometimes literal interpretations of monster descriptions – in another game I once ran a devastating ambush on a party of about this strength with half a dozen bugbears among some snow-covered funeral barrows. This Hobgoblin encounter was a variation on that as, like Bugbears, it's written in their descriptions that Hobgoblins favour ambush as their means of attack. The fact that they can wander out in broad daylight with no fight penalties (unlike Goblins) was an added bonus; so they were just playing to type. Oban was a likely target because of his low AC and ineffectiveness, and that's it. As I say, he wasn't targeted by me, but it made sense that the Hobgoblins, commanded by a leader smart enough to recognize the danger of a suspiciously unarmoured human, would select their target prudently, and pick off the weak first rather than spread their shots among several better-armoured fighters. It worked like a dream – Oban's team literally froze once they had a member dangling off the ice shelf, and then once taking the strain of Oban's body, they weren't able to do much else but form a shield wall.

Alrick's offer of flying and doing a recce of the area was inspired and earned his player some extra experience points. There was also good play from Thaddeus, even though his tactic of becoming invisible using his magical ring and sneaking about that place was becoming rather predictable. Thaddeus is a Thief of course, so I couldn't begrudge him those self-preservation tactics any more than I could fault Oban and Kogaun's disappearing during fights either (although Kogaun did at least join the battle). Nevertheless, a combination of magical weapons and a weird house rule that allowed double damage to a sneak attack and double dagger attacks meant that Thads could be a relatively devastating fighter, to the risk of overshadowing the actual fighter classes in the group. As he was the only Thief I didn't like the idea – he already was unique in that aspect, and to allow all these other bonuses actually diluted his other talents. Still, Paul's time in the game was fast drawing to a close, and while he was enjoying it and Thaddeus wasn't actually putting a bias on anything, there was no harm done. Certainly this encounter, initially with the dice loaded in the Hobgoblins' favour, provided enough challenges for them all (the party never found out, but the Hobgoblin leader himself had a cloak of invisibility and used it – to escape and warn others).

For me it was another clunky battle with too many participants once Hurin's Dwarves reached the far shore, and I didn't even bother to concentrate on what could be tricky fighting conditions – narrow ice trenches. The battle became simple diceplay, and the party made pretty short work of their enemy. While Oban's equipment were auctioned in real time by characters who 'were just looking out for him' (the player's other PCs), I devised a way of splitting the party for a while, and removing some extraneous firepower. The lower level Dwarves weren't doing the job of being cannon fodder because the PCs were simply too powerful for the encounters and no-one except a stuck and unarmoured magic User was really suffering. Additionally, Hurin's influence was strong enough among the more powerful 'hero' Dwarf NPCs, so the threat of numbers wasn’t as necessary.


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Monday, 3 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Two

Episode Two: Death at the Tarn [by Peter A. Picture is of Findel!]

Having spent the night at the foot of the waterfall, the party begins the ascent up two hundred feet of sheer ice, led by Thaddeus, the party's only thief. At the top he spies a frozen tarn walled by steep snow packed cliffs, and beyond a mile of glacier; beyond further stands the mountain range, with Redbeak glowering in the morning sun. Far more skilled than any contrary die roll, Thaddeus secures the rope and the party makes their ascent. Mercilessly, even Panadyn’s pony survives the climb. At the top and at the edge of the tarn Hurin's small army decide how to pass the tarn. Eventually a plan is conceived whereby skilled heroes and more vulnerable members are roped together and parties of six tread the narrow ledge of ice aground the frozen tarn. Two groups make their way and are near halfway, when a rain of arrows is volleyed from the glacier, and Oban struck by several darts slips from the ledge and is only saved from the icy waters by the strength of his companions. Alas, compromised as they are, Obans saviours are less able to return fire, and further darts speed their way. Within moments Oban is dead from his wounds, and his companions, tethered to a dead weight can only shield themselves from further attack. Meanwhile the rest of the party scrabble to mount a defense. Hurin's retinue are quick to shield their lord, leaving the non-Dwarven heroes to devise a plan. The length of the tarn prevents returning fire, so those capable of flight (Alrick and Habenath) take wing to assess the field of battle, while Thaddeus uses his ring of invisibility to join the unstricken group and give them covering fire.

From above Alrick sees that their assailants are Hobgoblins using narrow pathways through the glacier ice to find their mark. Directing these who can fire at will the party’s counterattack begins, and second blood is drawn! The strike groups under covering fire reach the distant shore, and find the Hobgoblins trenches, offering bloody revenge, while Hurin's heroes join the fray. The black blood of Hobgoblins stains the shore. But Oban is dead beyond saving, and despite a bitter fight Habenath is convinced that not all of the fiends were slain. With Wargs and Hobgoblins to be found at the feet of the mountain, he is sure the two will be found together in time.

Oban’s belongings are gathered and his body prepared for burial (oddly by Panadyn and Argon, neither of whom claims relation to the deceased). Argon auctions off some of Oban’s magic items, end the wealthier Thaddeus is the largest recipient. The heroes stand in solace, with the only sound the buzzing of Balin's pet bee. Some time taken to mark the passing of a fallen comrade, the party continue their path through the glacier way, over mindful of wandering Hobgoblins. Eventually the higher snowfields are reached, but Hurin orders the remaining retinue, but to speed their ascent orders the lowlier Dwarves to remain, as surely Habenath's Elven ears hear the distant baying of Hobgoblins on Wargback. With the party divided, haste is the order of the day, and as Hurin's heroes make their ascent to Redbeak, his loyal troops grimly stand their ground.


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Sunday, 2 March 2008

No Garfield - A whole New Look

Garfield is, of course, an essential cartoon for growing up. Who didn't love that lasagna-eating orange furball? Cranky and Monday hating, just what we like... But what happens if you remove Garfield from those comics?

I'm not sure about copyright, but someone has indeed produced Garfield minus Garfield, and it's... rather disturbing. So far the strips are just of Jon Arbuckle, and they present a picture of... well, as the site says:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness in a quiet American suburb.

Some strips are just strange, but some work on a whole new level.

But what of Odie? Will we see him suddenly jump off the table for no reason? And what about Nermal? WHAT ABOUT NERMAL??

Definitely check it out.

(Thanks to Peter A)


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Saturday, 1 March 2008

TW 208: A Day in the Death

Enough with the OwenWood! (Now there's an image!) And what a complete waste of Martha...

If you're looking for someone to give an episode of dull angst about death and the hideousness of life, Joseph Lidster is your man. He seems incapable of writing a story that doesn't make you want to slit your wrists, and this is certainly no counter-example (even the alien contact plaque can't counteract the effect). Eh. What a way to end the arc. (Not to mention the continual lack of talk between writers. Is there even a story editor? So does Owen still have the Mystical Energy(tm) in him or not?)

It's all about the Owen, and Burn Gorman gets to completely give in to the lack of emotion, which he plays very well (suspiciously so). Yes, I can see how the lack of various body components not reacting mean no emotions, but if the neurons aren't firing, how is he able to see or speak? (Actually, given the lack of breath, how can he talk? Fundamental point of acoustic physics there.) But everything is finally resolved... by somehow saying "right, we suspended you but now we're fully reinstating you"... eh?

Farewell Martha, we'll miss you... although you were hardly in this episode. Much like most of the other characters. And I have to side with Owen here, I don't care about the details of Gwen's wedding (in fact, for most of the episode, I didn't even know what wedding they were going on about!).

Hopefully the producers have gotten their Owen-revision out of their system, and we can return to the series being about the actual team. Maybe. For a change...

Next week: The wedding episode! Enthusiasm is... so not high...


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