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Things that are not work related.

The Hugo Awards

So, the hugo awards are done for another year.

This year, there were two somewhat unpleasant voting slates, one of which I feel a little (but not very) sorry for, and the other I feel a sort of delightful glee at its whiny little head having been stomped on. There are certainly authors and creators I feel sorry for, as they found themselves caught up in it when they could have been on the hugo nominations without the slate, and have suffered as a result of being there.

I didn’t vote, partly because a) I’ve not read enough of the nominees and b) my arse was firmly in neutral, and I couldn’t find the clutch to get it into gear.

But mostly, I’m pretty happy with how things have come out.

The Two Slates

The Sad Puppy slate’s stated goals include a promotion of more blue collar, action oriented SF.  I can see where they’re coming from with that.  I don’t agree with it, but I can see their point from where I’m standing. There has been a lot more “worthy” than “wonder” in some of the recent lineups. I personally don’t see that as a problem, but it is a trend that’ll alienate some folks.

The Rabid Puppy slate’s stated goals were to take down the hugos because RAR! I AM SHOUTY ANGRY PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS RACIST MISOGYNISTIC DICKBAG! EVERYTHING NOT WHITE, MALE AND SIMPLE IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR! THIS CHAIR IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR AS IT SUPPORTS BROWN PEOPLE AS MUCH AS WHITE PEOPLE! PURIFY IT WITH FIRE!

The Awards

BEST NOVEL – The Three Body Problem

Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

I’ve not read this one.  I tried, but my brain chemistry decided to be obstructive and awkward.  I’ll give it another go when my brain is cooperating again. However,  Katrina has read it – it wasn’t to her taste, having too much of the feel of classic-era American SF.  It wasn’t to her taste, but was declared to be totally hugo-worthy all the same.

What I managed to get through before my brain chemistry decided to throw its toys out of the pram again backed that up.

The Sad Puppies who want a return to SF like Asimov or Clark would probably have loved it.  The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

The only thing I think was unfair in this category was Jim Butcher’s SKIN GAME coming in below no award as a reaction to the slate. It’s a good book. I don’t think it should have won, but I think it firmly deserved the nomination and was beaten by no-award as a result of having ended up on the sad puppy slate rather than on its merits.

BEST NOVELLA – No Award

The Sad and Rabid puppies had taken over this category. I tried reading some of them.  They were bloody awful.  Not even in terms of content – in terms of writing standard.  They read like early 1990s schoolboys writing Warhammer 40,000 or Aliens fanfic… badly.

BEST NOVELETTE –  The Day the World Turned Upside Down

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt (Lightspeed, 04-2014)

Haven’t read.  I have it somewhere in my Lightspeed back issues, but I’m pretty  sure I didn’t read it. If I did, I don’t remember it.  Not going to comment beyond that.

BEST SHORT STORY – No Award

I’ve not read them, so won’t comment further.  Generally I’ve found the authors nominated to be firmly not to my taste.

BEST RELATED WORK – No Award

See “Best Short Story”.

BEST GRAPHIC STORY – Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)

This is totally and utterly deserving.  So were the other nominations, and I think this one may have pipped it on the grounds of having a non-traditional protagonist in Kamala Khan – a teenage pakistani-american.

It’s also action oriented and a hell of a lot of fun.  It ticks the sad puppies boxes quite nicely – I think, if their stated goals are taken at face value, they’d love it.

The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

In terms of what it beat:

  • Saga Volume 3 – Saga is excellent, and has a raft of believable characters, all of whom are relateable in some way.  It also has action, adventure, sex, love, violence, people of all shapes, configurations, colours…  It’s what I’d have picked to win, but am not disappointed that it was beaten.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics) – Rat Queens is great, but I wouldn’t peg it for hugo-ish-ness – mostly because the flow didn’t quite work for me and a lot of it felt a bit superficial.  Not badly so, and it’s ahead of a lot of other comics, but enough to put it behind Saga and Ms Marvel in my mind.
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics) – Sex Criminals is weird and fun.  I’m glad it got a nomination.
  • No Award
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation) – not read it. I’m not going to discount it based on slates, but I’ve had my fill of zombie stuff for a fair while.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM – Guardians of the Galaxy

Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)

This was actually a sad puppy slate item which won anyway.  Because it was good enough to deserve it, and was clearly going to get nominated anyway.

I don’t think it was the best of the nominees (I’d put that as Edge of Tomorrow, followed by a tie between this and The Lego Movie), but it’s far from undeserving.

It also supports the Sad Puppies stated goals whilst remaining good, so I can see why they backed it. I’m glad it didn’t get the same treatment Jim Butcher got in best novel, but also sad that he got blocked when this got a pass.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM – Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

Totally and utterly deserving.

Everything else on the ballot also made me say “meh” – although I don’t know if I’ve seen the specific Grimm episode nominated.  It’d need to be a step up from Grimm’s business-as-usual episodes to match Orphan Black, though.

BEST SEMIPROZINE – Lightspeed Magazine

edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant

I have a subscription. I am rubbish at actually reading what comes in from that subscription.  When I do, I see a lot of good, but not much that’s my taste right now.

Deserving, in my book, as evidenced by the fact I have a subscription.

I have no idea about the others in the field.

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST, EDITOR (short form), EDITOR (long form), FANZINE, FANCAST, FAN WRITER

I am clueless in these fields. I lack enough knowledge to judge.  No further comment.

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER – Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao and the Deaths of Tao are great fun. Action. Adventure. Aliens. Conspiracies. Car chases. Fights (both kung-fu and gun). Helicopters (I think I remember helicopters). Pizza. Spies. Sex.

If the Sad Puppies stand up for their stated goals, they should love this book. If they’re Rabid puppies in disguise, not so much.

I’m glad Wesley Chu got it. The only other name I knew on the list of was Eric S. Raymond, who I largely know of as a software / linux person rather than a writer.

The upshot

The upshot of all of this is a wholesale rejection of the Sad & Rabid Puppies. Which is good, for the most part.  I think there may have been a baby or two in the bathwater (Jim Butcher, most notably), but a positive result from a sucky situation.

So, what’s my take on the whole mess

Do I think the process needs changing to prevent this being repeated next time? Sure.  Do I think both of the nasty slates are 100% wrong in their stated purposes?  Actually, no.

I think that the organisers of this year’s Sad Puppy slate were dangerously close to a valid point, even if that point clearly wasn’t the goal of the majority of their supporters.  I don’t think they’ve done a good job of articulating it, or a good job of advocating it.  Pretty terrible on both fronts, actually.

I’m also not convinced that their stated goal and their actual goal matched up – I think that for a lot of the supporters, the stated goal was the acceptable face of something much nastier. But the fact that the acceptable face was a smokescreen doesn’t make it irrelevant.

In the written fiction categories, there has been a trend towards the highbrow and the worthy. Towards the deadly serious and the “dealing with serious concerns”.  There’s not been much escapism or fun. There’s also been a tendency towards much more overt social commentary.

Except, this year, that’s not the case… and I think some of the sad puppies might be missing that because people keep telling them that the fun stuff isn’t good, or because they see that a lot of the good stuff isn’t fun.

So, I think that if they can get past the rhetoric, this year’s Hugos are great for anybody who seriously wanted what Sad Puppies purported to be about.

You’ve got fun, action and rip-roaring action in spades.

 

The “So you’re a dejected sad puppy” advice list

If you really wanted what you said wasn’t there, take another look at the winners and the other nominees:

You’ve got big-ideas meets aliens invade, humans fight back with SCIENCE and ACTION with “The Three Body Problem” getting best novel.

You’ve got a pile of fistfights and gunfights, mind controlling aliens, spies and high-tech in Wesley Chu’s Tao books. They remind me a lot of shows like Chuck or Alias, but with aliens in!

You’ve got entertaining action, blue-collar characters, teen-friendly themes, accessible coming-of-age, sense-of-wonder and entertaining fist-fights in Ms. Marvel – No Normal. Hell, you’d probably get a kick from Saga, too – that’s even got a strong “boy meets girl, they have kids and fight to protect their family” vibe going on. As well as some pretty kick-ass action.

You loved most of the films & TV anyway – go you.

Try some of those out.  I think you might be surprised…

 

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – My Sunday Writeup (no sketchnotes)

This is the final writeup of my time at Nine Worlds 2015, and unlike the previous two, it’ll be quite brief and completely without sketchnotes.  This isn’t a deliberate absence of sketchnotes – I just didn’t really go to anything that made sense to take notes at!

In fact, most of my time was spent socialising – I think the only programme item I went to was the “Night of the Trailers – Morning of the Trailers” slot in the film festival.

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Nine World Geekfest 2015 – My Saturday Writeup

This post is a follow-on to the previous one, in which I covered the Friday of Nine Worlds 2015.  Saturday continued along similar lines, with sketchnotes along the way.

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Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – Friday

I’ve recently returned from the thoroughly enjoyable “Nine Worlds Geekfest” – a friendly, highly inclusive, mixed media / mixed genre geek/fan convention.

Whilst I was there, I spent many of the panels I attended scribbling some sketchnotes.  For me, sketchnotes are a way to force what I hear in panels to go through different bits of my brain, and to stay in my head better than they would if I just listened.

This post is going to be a con report, but unlike any other con reports I’ve written, I’m going to include scans of my sketchbook pages. So you have some context…  my sketchbook pages are roughly 12.5cm wide by about 17.5cm tall.  If things look a bit fuzzy on bigger screens, it’s because they’ve been blown up a bit in scanning.

So – on to the programme items for Friday – Saturday & Sunday will follow.

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An annual games convention in the offing?

Over-The-Hill-CON

A few days ago, I was at “Over-The-Hill-CON” – a local mini gaming convention arranged (largely by my fiancé, Katrina) as a slightly late birthday celebration. We’d been far too jetlagged to organise it around my actual birthday, having just got back from 3 weeks trailing around New Zealand… so it was about a month later instead.

As an event, it was a huge success.  I also thoroughly enjoyed running one of the RPGs and facilitating another. We had roughly 35 people across two rooms, with one room purely RPGs, the other mostly tabletop gaming with a bit of RPGing.

What follows is a bit of a roundup of the day from my perspective… and some thoughts around the idea of making it a regular event.

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How far is too far for a good game?

KapCon 24 in Wellington was, at roughly 18,800 kilometers, probably the furthest I’ve travelled for a spot of gaming, given than I’d have to leave the planet to go further (or find a convention in Dunedin or Christchurch, which are technically further).  I’m game for going further, but I suspect budget and convention availability would be a hindrance.

This was my first KapCon (but not K’s – she’s a regular) – and I enjoyed it immensely. I’m unlikely to be there every time as it’s a bit far to go… but I fully intend to go again.  If the logistics were easier, I’d even be interested in having a crack at running games (hell, even getting involved in helping with the flagship LARP – that kind of thing is in my wheelhouse, after all). Next time I come along, I’ll certainly have a crack at running something, though.

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A Different Flavour of SF

A while back I got a bee in my bonnet whilst I was listening to music on the train home from work.  It boiled down thusly:

I am a fan of SF (meaning science fiction, speculative fiction or whatever else you may think along those lines).  I am a fan of music – including (but not at all limited to) progressive rock.

There is a fair chunk of well known crossover between SF and prog rock, and to music in general.  So I started to think a bit more… and an couple of ideas popped into my head.

Idea #1: Host an SF music listening party.  This is a bit further off, and involves a bit more planning and whatnot, but is still something I’d like to do.

Idea #2: Create a collection of original SF in musical form. This now exists, albeit in a limited form.

Following up on Idea #2

I started out by unpacking a few terms and setting some rules, and by pinging my assorted online contacts and mining their brains for examples.  It’s their brains as much as my own which have populated the playlist so far.

Rules & Definitions

Definition: “Original SF” – Speculative Fiction which is not an adaptation of pre-existing speculative fiction from another medium.

Definition: “in musical form” – A distinct chunk of music that can be identified in some way.  A single track, a suite of pieces, an album, an EP, a performance, etc…  but in this case, standing as music alone.  Soundtracks, cast recordings and things which require you do anything other than listen to get the SFness don’t count.  There are occasions where a theme song can fit (there’s at least one in the playlist, after a fashion), but they need to stand in their own right, without the show.

Rule: No soundtracks – Stuff that exists solely as an attachment to other media doesn’t count

Rule: Scope Limit 1 – Exclude sword & sandal / sword & sorcery fantasy.  Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because there was a glut of it in the 1980s (even more than there was SF stuff in the 70s and 80s) and it’d swamp the playlist.  Creating a playlist of original fantasy in music would be a different exercise.

Rule: Scope Limit 2 – Exclude horror (unless explicitly SF horror). See above.

 

The Playlist

So you can listen along…

I’ve put this together on Spotify so you can do more than just read about the music.  The playlist is collaborative, so stuff can be added, but please don’t spam it with crap – If that happens I’ll just delete it and create a new one that’s locked down.

Spotify Playlist – HTTP Link: Original SF music
Spotify Playlist – Spotify Link: Original SF music

The Music

Rush – 2112 suite

Type: Multi-part album track
SFness: Following a galactic war, all planets are ruled by the Red Star of the Solar Federation, lead by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. They control all media & every facet of life. Protagonist discovers an ancient guitar & starts to be creative. Oppressive civilization is oppressive.

Rush – Cygnus X-1 (books 1 & 2)

Type: Multi-part album tracks from two albums (“A Farewell to Kings” & “Hemispheres”)
SFness: Space explorer is sucked into a black hole and emerges in Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are dividing the human mind, leading to conflict.  The explorer gradually takes on a role as a god of balance, bringing heart and mind together.

Rush – Red Barchetta

Type: Track
SFness: This is “inspired by” the SF story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard Foster (acknowledged by both band and author, and the author is aware & fine with it), but I’ve read that it’s quite distinct from it, so I’m going to include it anyway.  If somebody who’s read the story disagrees… comments are welcome.

Sontaag – Sontaag

Type: Concept Album
SFness: From the artist’s album notes:  “The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilising giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.”

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Dystopian, near future SF set in an increasingly aggressive post 9-11 united states as events unfold towards (and beyond) nuclear war with Iran.

Janelle Monáe – Metropolis suite(s)

Type: Multiple albums / EPs / tracks (Metropolis: Chase Suite EP, Archandroid & Electric Lady albums)
SFness: Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android, is sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Near future / current day dystopian SF. An amnesiac drug addict starts to recover memories of his time as a drug fuelled, mind controlled assassin.

Keldian – Heaven’s Gate / Journey of Souls / Outbound

Type: Multiple Albums
SFness: They’re specifically an SF themed power metal band

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great)

  • Heaven’s Gate – Album of SF songs
  • Journey of Souls – Album – ideas around souls travelling through time & space (as opposed to bodies). Mostly original SF, except:
    • Hyperion (based on Dan Simmons’ Hyperion)
    • The Last Frontier (based on Battlestar Galactica)
  • Outbound – Mostly original SF songs, except:
    • “A Place Above the Air” (based on Dan Simmons’ Endymion)
    • The Silfen Paths (based on Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books)

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great) is turning out to be based on other works, so I might have to move some more out of this list.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Type: Album / Tracks on album
SFness: …less than is immediately apparent, but still fitting

  • Not actually about battling robots.
  • The “pink robots” of the title (and title track) are apparently a metaphor for cancer, and the story of the title track is an analogy to the fight against illness, presented in an SFnal way.  Still SF, because it doesn’t have to be about robots to be SF.
  • “Do You Realize” – about precariousness of existence.
  • Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have themes that can be considered SFnal – particularly “soft SF” (SF based on the “soft sciences”).

Queen – 39

Type: Album track
SFness:  Space explorers depart for a year long voyage, but relativity means that upon their return 100 years have passed.

Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient

Type: Concept album
SFness:  Ziltoid (an alien warlord) travels to earth in search of something described as “the ultimate cup of coffee”.  He finds it foul, and brings his battlefleet to wage war on earth in disgust.

The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon

Type: Single
SFness: A woman tries to contact her husband who’s fighting on mars.  A connection is made, and so she has a few minutes to leave a message telling him that she misses him before the connection is lost.

Kate Bush – Experiment IV

Type: Single / Album Track
SFness: Military scientists looking to create a sonic weapon… and (unfortunately for them) succeeding beyond expectations.

Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

Type: Single / album track
SFness: Dystopian SF depicting humanity’s decline as a result of the growth of dehumanizing technology.  A modified cover version was used as the theme to the somewhat awful (yet bizarrely, regrettably watchable) “Cleopatra 2525” TV show.

Norman Greenbaum – The Eggplant That Ate Chicago

Type: Single
SFness: The invasion of Chicago by carnivorous, plant-like alien.

The person who suggested this to me was joking, but they shouldn’t have been – it fits.  SF can be silly, too.

Threshold – Clone

Type: Concept(ish) Album
SFness: Genetic manipulation of humans leads to the development of telepathy. Enhanced humans leave the earth to colonize other planets, eventually returning to Earth centuries later.

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Type: Concept album
SFness: A man from the 1980s finds himself in the year 2095, tries to come to terms with being unable to return and adjust to his new surroundings.

Tandy & Morgon – Earthrise

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Space explorer longs to return to his one love on Earth, only to eventually find that true love has always been with him… inside. (from description on wikipedia)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

Type: Single
SFness: Features a space launch where things don’t go entirely to plan…  You mostly know the song, I’m sure.

David Bowie – Starman

Type: Single
SFness: It’s either about an alien or a deity.  Who knows?

Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go

Type: Single
SFness: Oddly cheery dystopian vision of a nuclear apocalypse.

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Type: Concept Album
Notes: Particularly Sunrise / Have you seen the stars tonight (which are on spotify, whilst the main album isn’t)
SFness: The story tells of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of “Uncle Samuel”.  This leads to a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. Loosely based on / inspired by Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”, but apparently different enough to be considered original SF in its own right.

Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

Type: Album
SFness: Lots of “space and time” themed songs – characters taken out of their time / place in SFnal ways.  Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have SFnal themes.

Styx – Kilroy was here

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Rock music is outlawed by a fascist government and the “Majority for Musical Morality”. Kilroy (a former rock star who has been imprisoned) escapes using a disguise (“Mr. Roboto”) and becomes aware that a young musician, Jonathan Chance, is on a mission to bring rock music back.

Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow

Type: Concept album
SFness: An alien race journeys to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe

What next?

This is not an exhaustive list.  The playlist will grow and change.  In writing it up, the playlist grew one album (a mistyped search found a result I’d never heard of, but which fitted better!) and was reduced by four or five songs as I researched them and found they didn’t fit the “Original” part of “Original SF”.

If you have suggestions, either go to the spotify playlist and add them (preferably pinging me a message somewhere explaining the SFness) or leave a comment somewhere I’ll see it and hope I can track it down to add it myself.  Either way, I’m interested in hearing more.

Contributors

Responses to my pleas for music references came from the following folks (even if their responses didn’t make the cut for some reason):

  • Ann (who was trying to be facetious but accidentally made the list anyway!)
  • Beth
  • Caz
  • Chris T.
  • @dakkar
  • Dave W.
  • Dean M.
  • Francis M.
  • Gav
  • Gurdy S.
  • Neil J.
  • Simon R.
  • Victoria S.

Music Discovery

It’s occurred to me that a) I’ve not posted here for a while, and b) I’ve never quite managed to write the post I keep meaning to about how I find music to listen to these days.

So here it is, knocked together in a few minutes over a lunchbreak.  So don’t expect a novel or, if I’m honest, any kind of continuity.

I listen to a lot of music.  I’ve written about that before.  The constant challenge is marrying up discovering new music with being able to seamlessly listen to music without having to nursemaid it the whole time.

Spotify

Lately, I’ve been using spotify’s “discover” section a fair bit… mostly because it’s easy to get to and my workplace doesn’t block it.  Thankfully.  However, it’s got a weird knack of being both transient and persistent.  Recommendations I’m interested in just vanish without a trace, whilst ones I’m not interested in just keep cropping up

It also doesn’t help that much with letting me look back over my listening for a period of time and determine what I might want to pay more attention to in future.

Playlisting

So I got into a habit – monthly playlists.  If I find something that grabs my attention (or just doesn’t make me switch off) then I bung it into a “new finds” playlist for that month.  I’ve been doing this since about last November.

This means that I can look back over them and think “Wow, I listened to a lot of style-X last month and was starting to get quite miserable and mopey.  Time for a change!”.  It also means that I can say “I was really in a good mood a couple of months ago – I’d like to get that back” or “I’m getting a bit shouty.  I was mellower in December – let’s rewind!” and then just pull up a playlist from an appropriate month and see what’s in it.

It’s been working pretty well for me so far.  Even better, I can share the playlists.  Which I do.  So, without further ado, here are the past seven months of my work-based listening material…

Seven Months of Soundtrack

  • New Finds – 11/2013 (Post-rock / Ambient / Downtempo)
  • New Finds – 12/2013 (Progressive rock / Symponic metal / Prog-metal / Post-rock / Darkwave / Electronica with a side of chiptunes)
  • New Finds – 01/2014 – Part 1 (non-anglo-american metal / weird electronica / post-rock / game soundtracks & electronica)
  • New Finds – 01/2014 – Part 2 (post-rock / electronica / shoegaze / dream pop / Experimental Rock / Guitar Virtuoso)
  • New Finds – 02/2014 (bleepy ambient / downtempo / soundscapes / guitar virtuoso / electronica / 80s retro electronica / post-rock / Piano / Progressive Rock)
  • New Finds – 03/2014 (Guitar & Bass Virtuoso / Ambient / Post-Rock / Hard Rock / Instrumental & Soundtrack / Blues Rock / 80s Retro Electronica / Heavy Rock / Electronica / Southern Rock / Modern Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock)
  • New Finds – 04/2014 (Post Rock / Hard Rock / Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock / Guitar Virtuoso /  Heavy Rock / Progressive Metal / Alt. Prog / Doom Metal)
  • New Finds – 05/2014 (Post Rock / Ambient / Drone / Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal / SynthPop)

London Indie RPG Meetup, December 2012

The Meetup

I thought I’d talk about gaming. Specifically roleplaying. Partly because it’s always been an activity close to my heart, but also because I’ve actually done some of it again for the first time in… far too long. For somebody who still identifies himself as a roleplayer, I’ve done precious little actual playing lately.

My girlfriend has been going to the London Indie RPG Meetup for a while, and it’s had my interest too.  I decided that I’d skip out of another regular SF meet I go to along.  It’s annoying that they clash, but what can I do!  I’m extremely glad I did, as I got a chance to not only play a rather cool new game, but I also got a chance to try out my first go at a GM-less RPG.

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How to use my holiday

I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m having a bit of a run of insomnia (although I seem to be getting clear of that now). I’m also getting that “outsider” feeling again.  So I think I need a holiday.

Conveniently, I have one coming up.

Two weeks in a secluded mansion house in Devon with a bunch of friends.  I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m also toying with trying a few experiments whilst I’m there.  Nothing particularly shocking, but things that may be interesting all the same.

First, I have a couple of development projects I want to try, and which I might be able to convince a couple of people to experiment with in a “we’re shut in a house in the rain” kind of a way.  With post it notes and everything.  More on the ideas shortly.

Second, I want to try getting back into RPGs after a couple of years away.  I have the germ of an Unknown Armies game, and I have a hankering to try “Don’t Rest Your Head” as well.  I might have to give one or both of those a shot.  I want to specifically ask for some feedback about the feel of RPGs before then, though, so I’ll get to that shortly as well.

Development Ideas

I have two main ideas for things I want applications for, and I lack the skills to pull them together in an amount of time that fits in my attention span.  So here’s the skinny:

Idea 1 – IC Computer Interface

The number of times I’ve been in a LARP and we’ve had computers as part of the game is pretty high.  The number of times could have actually had a real, working computer present is also pretty high…  but the number of times we’d have been able to just let a player loose on it to see what they turn up is pretty damned low.

What I’d like to do is come up with a styleable, themeable application that could run on a standalone device (laptop booted from a USB stick, Raspberry Pi, etc).  Something that would let GMs pick a rough interface style, seed it with some data for the players to find, or some “enable / disable” type controls.  Something that could be used by a GM to easily mock up the relevant parts of a computer inferface and populate them with data, and then procedurally generate a pile of crud and chaff around it.  Ideally without having to install anything on the PC being used (hence the USB boot / live install / VM approach).

Passwords and codes could be supplied to players based on their characters’ skill levels, and then used to bypass security, or even just run some simulated “cracking tools” that run for a duration based on a skill check and then spit out hidden info or unlock hidden areas.

It makes sense to me to create a basic framework for this kind of thing, and I can see it being a cool development project for a couple of interested parties.

Idea 2 – Game Journal & Planner

I’ve never been as comfortable running a LARP as I was when I could use Grapevine.  More than just a character sheet tracker, this was a godsend for tracking plotlines and interactions.

But it was WOD specific and is also dead as a doornail.  All the various successors have focussed on tracking stats, rather than on the relationships between characters, objects, events, rumours, plots, etc…  Relationships between what I call game objects.

I’d like to see a tool that helps game runners keep journals for each of those game objects, allowing them to keep a timeline for each object, and to easily relate those objects and timelines to each other.

Character sheet tracking holds little appeal to me, but keeping track of all the balls in the air in any given game?  That’s important.

RPG Question

I also mentioned that I wanted to get back into RPGs again, and mentioned UA and Don’t Rest Your Head.  These are both games with a certain element of horror to them, but they also both work best when there’s a frantic pace to the action.  A pace that’s often missing when folks actually try to play them.

It’s all too easy to let the pace drop , particularly when your players don’t really know the setting yet and so don’t know what is or isn’t possible.

I’d like to know if anybody has any thoughts on how to pick up that pace, and how to get all of the players into the right sense of freefall.  How to get them to react instead of thinking things through, and how to get a game in a manic setting to actually feel manic.

Any and all suggestions welcome in the comments!

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