Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things I'm Looking Forward To In 2015

With 2014 almost over, it's time to look ahead and see what's got me excited (or at least mildly interested) about 2015. Here's a list of the top 10, plus some honourable mentions...

1) Urban Shadows
I was too late to join in on the Kickstarter for this (I was actually pretty skint at the time anyway), but after reading up about it online and watching some actual play recordings over on +Richard Rogers's Youtube channel, I decided to put myself down for preorder copies of both the Urban Shadows core rulebook and the Dark Streets supplement which compiles all the city guides for the game together. I'm a big fan of urban fantasy like Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dresden Files, Lost Girl, Supernatural, and most recently Grimm. I also like what I've heard about its take on the Apocalypse World system, with mechanics like Debts and Corruption which really reflect the genre. It's a game I'd love to play as a PC, but I don't think I'll mind running it too much either.

2) Hannibal Season 3
This is just of those shows that hooks its viewers over the course of a season and then leaves them reeling with a gut-punch of a cliffhanger at the end. I won't say what the cliffhanger for either season was, in case you've yet to watch it, but let's just say I'm pretty anxious to see what happens next in the show.  And yes, I realise I'm probably going to be left gutted by another brutal cliffhanger next season, but it's suck a good show, so I'll just grin and bear it.

3) Agents of SHIELD - Season 2, Part 2
I had faith that Agents of SHIELD could become a great show despite its shaky start, and my faith has been rewarded big time. It went from being an 'okay' show in early season one, to a good show in the latter half of that season (especially after Captain America 2 happened) and it has been pure awesome since it came back for season two. They stopped mid-season with a reveal that makes me wish the second half would air sooner than March 3rd. But that's okay, because in the meantime we'll have...

4) Agent Carter
Peggy Carter, founding member of SHIELD! Watching the Marvel One Shot by the same name, it's not hard to see how they decided it had potential as a series. Besides having a kick-ass heroine getting her hands dirty with some post-WW2 espionage action, it also has a social conflict built-in with Carter fighting for her right to contribute to the greater good despite the sexist attitudes of her superiors who seem to think she's better kept at a desk than out in the field. Looking forward to seeing how it works out as an hour-length series.

5) Avengers: Age of Ultron
The last couple of Marvel movies have been pretty amazing, so I'm looking forward to seeing the gang get back together for the second Avengers team-up movie. Hopefully we'll get to see more development of Hawkeye's character because, besides being a badass with a compound bow, he didn't really get to do much in the last couple of films he appeared in.

6) Worlds In Peril
And since I'm talking so much about superheroes, there's this superhero-themed Apocalypse World hack due to be released in the New Year. I've been searching for a superhero RPG that works for me as both a GM and a player for almost as long as I've been a roleplayer. But AW is one of my favourite systems, so I figure if anything is going to click with me, it'll be a supers game based on that.

7) The Devil's Only Friend
I finished off the first John Cleaver trilogy earlier this year and now Dan Wells is kicking off a new trilogy about the teenage would-be serial killer turned demon slayer. There were rumors that the new book, The Devil's Only Friend, would be narrated by one of the surviving support characters from the previous series instead of John but there's nothing in the blurb to indicate that. It would be cool to see John from an outside perspective, but even if we don't get a different viewpoint it'll be good to return to the world and see how John is adjusting to the events of the previous book.

8) True Detective - Season Two
Season one was pretty solid. Writing, acting, direction, all top-notch. Can they pull it off again with a second season? Well, we'll just need to wait and see. If nothing else, I love my detective fiction, so I'll check it out just to satisfy that itch if nothing else.

9) Terminator: Genesys
I haven't really been that psyched about new Terminator stuff since Terminator 3 (I did watch Sarah Connor Chronicles, but I mostly just liked the music by Bear McCready), but I've been waiting to see Emilia Clarke play a role other than Daenerys Targaryen so I was pretty intrigued when I heard she'd be playing Sarah Connor. While I was initially skeptical about the plot when it was revealed, the trailer did look quite fun. Even if Arnie is way too old to pull off his old action movie shtick at this point.

10) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Again, I haven't really been excited about anything to do with Star Wars since the Phantom Menace came out, but I'm gonna give this a chance for old times' sake. Hopefully it won't be terrible.

Honorable Mentions

Constantine: Season 1, Part 2
The show's been good so far, but I'm being a bit reserved about it because it doesn't seem to be doing so well with the network. They didn't get picked up for the back 9 episodes to make it a full 22 episode season, so this first season will be limited to the first 13. That doesn't bode well for it getting picked up for a second season. Based on the better episodes of the series (Non Est Asylum, The Devil's Vinyl, A Feast Of Friends, Blessed Are The Damned and Saint Of Last Resorts part 1) I'd love to see the show get continued, but...we'll see.

Student Nationals 2015
I'm always kinda looking forward to this at the end of each year (if I've signed up to go) so I didn't want to make it one of the main ten entries. That said, this year sees the return of Doctor Who as an RP category, as well as the addition of categories for Anime and TV/franchise tie-ins. I put in all three as my options for the category I'll be playing in this year so, whichever one I get, I'm sure I'll have fun with it.

Tears of a Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho - Season Two
Not only will I be rejoining +Misha Polonsky and our group from the previous season of this teen mecha drama RPG, but we'll be joined by two new players, one of whom is the game's designer, +Russell Collins. It'll be interesting to see how things progress from last season as our characters head into space to take the fight to the Mayzor invaders on their home turf, and it'll be handy to get Russell's input on the system as we play. The first session starts this Sunday at 7pm GMT and I'm looking forward to it a lot, not least because it gives me a chance to actually play rather than run a game again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's (Un)Boxing Day!

Hey folks, hope you all had a lovely time wherever you were yesterday and whoever you were with, and that that you got some awesome and fun stuff.

Anyway, now that I've allowed myself to look through the boxes for the board games I got myself with my birthday/Christmas money (plus one that was a birthday present), I thought I'd share some unboxing videos of the games for anybody who reads the blog.

I'm much better at writing than I am at talking, so I apologise in advance if I ramble on or else lapse into silence occasionally. It's my first real attempt at vlogging, so I hope you'll forgive me.

In any case, here are the videos:















That's all for now, though I'll probably be doing the usual resolutions/geekolutions posts for the days before and after New Year. So I'll see you then!

Monday, December 22, 2014

[The Plan] Blogging in 2015

Hey folks! I dropped off the blogosphere for a bit there. Not exactly back yet, but I will make the customary New Years Eve/Day posts next week. Been busy with Christmas shopping, parties, visiting friends and other festive stuff, so I haven't been posting updates on here of late. I'll get back into the blogging habit early to mid-January, at which point I should actually have stuff to post about!

First of all, it's expected that the second season of the G+ Tears of a Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho, will be starting up on Sunday the 4th of January, and I'll be able to start putting together AP reports soon afterwards. (I'll also get around to finishing and posting the AP of last season's finale before that, promise!)

Second, I wrapped up the first third of my Firefly campaign at GUGS a fortnight ago, and a couple of my players have posted some pretty awesome in-character APs on our Tavern Keeper site, so I'll be using those to help put together APs for the season so far, and by the time I've finished posting them we should be back from the holidays and I'll post regular updates from the campaign from that point on.

Third, I'll probably have a few new games to read over after Christmas (I might buy Dread and/or Dungeon World with some of my Christmas money) and more expected to arrive sometime in the New Year in the form of Kickstarter backer rewards (Primetime Adventures, Timewatch) and pre-orders (Urban Shadows). Once I've got those and read through them, I'll aim to write up reviews of them.

I'm going to worry less about making posts about writing going into the New Year. Don't worry, I'm not giving up on writing, in fact, I plan to step up my game as a writer in the New Year. Part of that will involve not writing about writing and concentrating on just writing. Until I'm published and have some actual industry experience, I doubt any advice I have to offer will be of any special interest or value to anyone. As such, from the start of next year most of my content will be gaming-related, or will involve books, movies and TV shows. Beyond posting flash fiction and the occasional progress report on current projects, the closest I'll come to posting writing-related content is reviewing books about writing or software that's of particular interest to writers.

I also need to be careful that I don't use up all my potential writing time on blog posts, so my output will probably be low to medium (two to three days a week). It pretty much was that already, but I'm setting that as my minimum target now; if I manage five to six days content, I'll call that a good week.

I'll be back on Boxing Day with unboxing videos of a few boardgames, one of which was a birthday present from friends, and the other two I bought with my Christmas money. This will be the first time I've actually done any kind of vlog posts, so we'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I offer you all best wishes this festive season. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Kindle e-books, nanogames and other stuff...

Swag
I used one of my Audible credits to buy Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, narrated by Kate Reading (one half of the Wheel Of Time narrator duo) and Wil Wheaton. It seems to be an alt-history, steampunk adventure story, so I'm looking forward to listening to it...whenever I get my other Audible books out of the way.
I also went ahead and bought the next three books in the Wheel of Time series with my remaining credits. At the rate I've been going though, I'll probably have finished them off by the end of December, if not before.

On Kindle, I bought Legion and The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson in a two-in-one edition. I had read the synopsis for Legion a while back (about a man who uses a unique form of multiple personality disorder to access a variety of different skill sets) and thought it sounded cool. The Emperor's Soul, I don't know much about, but I figure I'll give it a look if it's by Brandon Sanderson anyway. At some point I should get around to checking out Alloy of Law and his new Reckoners series, but not quite yet.

I ordered myself a 32Gb Micro SD card for my phone, since it keeps warning me that I'm running out of storage space. I'd had the same issue with my old phone, but I never got around to buying a bigger Micro SD card for it. Decided not to keep putting it off this time.

And finally, just this morning I bought The Sundered Land anthology of nanogames by Vincent Baker, because I heard about it on the Jank Cast and decided to give it a look.

Achievements Unlocked
Tuesday's session of Firefly was hailed by all of my players as the most enjoyable so far, despite it being another scenario I hastily cobbled together at the last minute. This time, the reason for the last minute prep was that I changed my planned scenario to make it a spotlight episode for Heather's character (since she's going to be leaving the game for a while) instead of the one I had planned for Honi's character. My only concern about the session was that Craig (as Captain Lorretto) didn't have much to do, even though Craig did make a conscious decision to step back and let the crew do their own thing. Next session won't be Honi's spotlight, since she might not be here, so I'll be doing something else for it.

After getting home from the Firefly game, Heather and I watched the latest episode of Agents of SHIELD over Skype. The second season continues to impress, and this was probably the most tightly-paced episode so far, setting up what looks to be an epic confrontation between SHIELD and Hydra in the mid-season finale. For those of you who were disappointed in the first half of SHIELD season one, I encourage you to pick up where you left off and stick with it. It really is worth persevering to get to all the awesome that comes later.

On Wednesday night, I decided that since I am still paying a monthly subscription to Netflix I should probably get back to using the service. So I sat down and started watching the second half of Warehouse 13, season four (in part because it turned out I unknowingly got the idea for this week's Firefly game from the show, which got me thinking about it again). As has become traditional with the show by this point, as one villain exits another quickly fills their place, though it's unclear at this point whether James Marsters' Count of St Germain or his wife are the real threat. Given that this is James Marsters we're talking about though, I'm gonna guess he's the Big Bad until proven wrong, since he does it so very well. More than any of the plot stuff that's going on in the show though, it's the characters' struggle to deal with the heartbreaking developments of the first half of the season that really kept me hooked.

On Thursday, I had the night off from work, so I had a bit of a anime/TV binge. First, I watched three more episodes of Cowboy Bebop and stopped just before episode 24. The movie takes place at some point roughly between episodes 22 and 23, but I reckon it could just as easily take place between 23 and 24 so I'll be watching that next. 

I then decided to make further use of my Netflix subscription and picked up where I left off with another series I hadn't seen in a while, Lost Girl. I'd watched the first season a couple years ago, but never got round to continuing it. I watched the first four episodes of season two and wondered why it took me this long to revisit the show. For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows a succubus who discovers she's one of the Fae and, after refusing to align herself with either the light or dark fae, finds herself working as a sort of freelance investigator for fae from both sides in need of help, with the help of her human best friend, Kenzi. 

It's pretty cool, and I'd recommend you give it a look if you like dark fairytales and urban fantasy. It does have a bit of paranormal romance to it (the main character is a succubus, after all), which nearly put me off giving the series a look, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, so I recommend at least giving it a shot for a few episodes to decide if you like it or not.

I finished off A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan on Friday night, and while one plot thread was resolved, the quest that had carried over from the previous book was still unresolved (they found the plot device they were after, but haven't got around to using it yet) and the fate of one of the main characters was left uncertain. I know, I know...was I really expecting it to end with no loose ends remaining, since it's only book seven of fourteen? No, but I had hoped it would provide a comfortable stopping point. As I've probably mentioned already, books one through five were all fairly self-contained despite the over-arching plot tying them all together, but these last couple of books have been less so. So now I need to decide whether to take a break and listen to Elantris next as planned, or continue with the Wheel of Time series until I do reach a suitable stopping point.

Works In Progress
Having decided NaNoWriMo isn't working for me this year, I got back to work on editing the first episode of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic.

Not much else to report, except that I'm stuck with prep for this week's Firefly scenario...again.

The Plan
I've set deadlines for finishing off the edit of the DW/Eva fanfic before, but I really want to get started posting the fic on Fanfiction.net soon. My hope is that I'll be able to finish writing an episode every month and post it weekly in four parts over the following month, but if I can't manage that, I hope at least to be halfway through my 'season' by the time next Christmas comes around, so I can write up and post a 'christmas special' to mark my mid-season point. But honestly, I'm not going to fret over how regularly I can post new chapters, I'm just going to focus on getting the chapters done and edited so that I can post them.

So the plan for the weekend ahead is to finish editing episode 1 and get it ready for posting by Saturday, and in the meantime I need to finish writing up the outline for episode 2 so I can get started writing it.

I don't want the fanfic to distract me from working on the Dream Detective story though. I'll be continuing development on that as I go, getting the worldbuilding and characters figured out a bit more so I can make a fresh start on writing it in the New Year. In the meantime, writing the fanfic should help me get back into the habit, and maybe I'll figure out what 'process' works for me while I'm at it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Chuubo's, Tabletop, and other stuff...

Swag

I had seen mention of Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine on the RPGnet PbP forums a few times, and I finally got curious enough to download it from DrivethruRPG. Luckily, the download includes an e-Pub edition, which was easily converted to .mobi for reading on my Kindle, so I'll be more able to read it than I usually am when it comes to digital RPG books.

Achievements Unlocked

I finished the audiobook of Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan on Monday night, and I've already moved on to listening to the next book in the Wheel of Time series, A Crown of Swords. Without spoiling things for others who haven't finished the series, there was an interesting development with Egwene in the last book, so I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out. Hopefully, this book will leave things on less of a 'to be continued' note than the previous one, as I intend to take a break from The Wheel of Time to listen to Brandon Sanderson's Elantris after this. Of course, there's always a little bit of a 'To Be Continued' note to WoT, but up until Lord Of Chaos each book had its own internal plot arc that was resolved by the end, whereas a major plot thread from Lord Of Chaos has continued into A Crown Of Swords. I suspect this won't be the last time that happens either, as the series draws closer to its finale.

We had our third session of Firefly on Tuesday (I'll get round to posting the session recaps after NaNo is done with), and it got off to a bit of a rocky start. I tried to run the scenario from the corebook, What's Yours Is Mine, since I had been struggling with prep for the session. However, the crew rejected the mission, as it would require them to 'turn pirate', and that went against their morality, regardless of Marion Morrison's intentions. I had anticipated this, though, and had a rough idea for a backup plan based on a solo game of the Firefly board game I had done to help map out a potential flightpath for the campaign. So, the crew wound up taking on some passengers - terraforming workmen bound for Jubilee - one of whom turned out to be more trouble than he was worth, especially with an Alliance cruiser pulling them in for a customs inspection. The incident has also put them on Niska's radar, which I'll be sure to use in a future session.

After the session, we played a bit of Cards Against Humanity, and then I headed home, where I watched the new season premiere of Tabletop with Heather over Skype. Much like Takenoko, at first glance Tokaido did not really attract my interest as much as some of the other games that have featured on the show. That said, Takenoko did actually grow on me after a repeated viewing, and it is a pretty fun game (when I can find people to play with) so maybe Tokaido is a similar case.

Works In Progress

Continuing to struggle onwards with NaNoWriMo, but it is definitely a struggle at this stage. Something I have come to realise of late is that I am (or should be), to a certain extent, an outliner. I'm not terribly good at discovery writing/gardening/pantsing/etc. I need at least some form of plan worked out in advance, and I went into this month with nothing. Not even an idea what to write. The result has been a bit of a mess, and not even the 'beautiful mess' that Chris Baty has spoken of in the past. I'm going to continue writing and adding to my word count, but for the next week that writing will be dedicated to outlining and worldbuilding. Then, hopefully, by the time December starts I'll have enough of a roadmap to do a proper job of it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Blue Sun, Hell 4 Leather, and other stuff...

Swag
Since they were relevant to my current interests (I.e. NaNoWriMo) I bought a couple of Kindle ebooks: 500 Ways To Write Harder by Chuck Wendig, and Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. Chuck Wendig also had a NaNo-themed '30 days' book, but since I'm already halfway through the month, I figured it was a bit late for that. Might still download it for future NaNo-style writing challenges though.

Achievements Unlocked
On Tuesday, before GUGS, I met up with Peter, Matty and Ruaridh at Geek Retreat for some board gaming. Peter had just got the new Blue Sun expansion for Firefly, so we gave that a shot. The new Reavers and the alert tokens make Reavers a lot more of a threat than in standard play. Matty had to leave early, and when Ruaridh had to bow out as well we just called it a day. Ruaridh was the clear winner with credits in the low tens of thousands range, while I barely had more than a thousand and Peter was completely broke.

Firefly RP didn't happen as we were down a couple of players (Peter had to go home and Martín had an event to attend) so we got an extra player and played some Hell 4 Leather.

I was the Fool, Lady Jane, former leader of a D&D style adventuring party who got pushed into a deep river with a curse placed on her armour to make sure she couldn't get out. She returned from her watery grave to exact revenge on her fellow adventurers who betrayed her. My luck with finding the Death card wasn't the best, and my methods of vengeful murder weren't the most inventive when I did manage to take out one of the party, but we all had fun regardless.

The day after that, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I took the day off from volunteering and wound up watch the first four and a half seasons of Felicia Day's web series, The Guild. It had been on my 'to watch' list for a while, but I'd never got round to it. But I was in need of cheering up, so I gave it a watch.

I was initially unimpressed, finding all of the characters except Codex unlikeable at first, but they soon grew on me, and obviously I enjoyed it enough to watch almost the entire webseries. I still have the sixth and final season left to watch, and already watched the first episode yesterday.

I've also been catching up on Agents Of SHIELD with Heather over Skype. So far, season two is a lot stronger in this first half than the first season was. There's a clear adversary with Hydra out in the open, there's a lot more going on with the characters (FitzSimmons in particular break my heart to watch right now) and the main story arc has more of a sense of forward momentum, as opposed to the slow burn of last season. Looking forward to watching things unfold into the new year.

Works In Progress
As week two of NaNoWriMo ended, my characters (past and present) staged an intervention and told me I was writing the wrong story, as my heart clearly wasn't in this one. Who am I to argue? So, to keep the word write count ticking upwards, I've started writing a setting bible for the story that I really want to write: my Dream Detective series of novels. It may not be a novel itself, but it will lay some much needed groundwork for the first novel when I finally start work on it.

The Plan: NaNoWriMo Week 3
Tonight, after I've done a bit of a catch up word binge on the setting bible, I need to sit down and prep a scenario for Tuesday's Firefly RP. The rough scenario I had planned for last week isn't as relevant this week as it would have been then, so I'll need to come up with something else. Or at least tweak and flesh out the earlier scenario idea a little.

For the week ahead, I have enough info to start properly planning the rest of my Firefly 'season' so I'll need to get on with that. And maybe by the end of the week I'll have fleshed out enough of my Dream Detective setting to start writing and see how things unfold.

That's all for now, see you later!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Wheel of Time, NaNo, and other stuff...

Swag

I decided to spend one of my Audible credits to get Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, since it's a pretty long book and I've discovered I make better progress listening to books of such length than reading them.

I also bought Tony Kaltenberg's album On The Wing Of The Great Spaceship to use as ambient music for my Firefly campaign. I previously discovered three of the songs from the album as free samples on my iPod or Archos MP3 player, can't remember which. In any case, the music has a similar feel to the more easygoing tracks from the Firefly score, so it seems well-suited as ambience for the RPG.

I also bought the PDF of the Leverage RPG on a bit of a whim. Partly for the scenario generator - which turns out to be only slightly different to the Firefly one in Things Don't Go Smooth, but better fits the morality of our Crew - and partly because I was curious to see what it's like. I was warned that it's pretty 'shallow' by another roleplayer, but I'd like to judge that for myself.

Achievements Unlocked

This week has been fairly quiet as far as geeky stuff goes. I finished off The Fires Of Heaven and have already started listening to the next book in The Wheel Of Time series, Lord Of Chaos. I'll probably tear through the rest of the series this way, with a break in the middle for Elantris, perhaps.

Watched another couple of episodes of Cowboy Bebop, including Pierrot Le Fou and the one with Spike's old mechanic buddy, both of which I loved, but especially Pierrot Le Fou, with its titular madcap assassin.

The Doctor Who finale, Death In Heaven was pretty good, as well as heartbreaking in a number of ways. It's not hard to see why the show's treatment of the afterlife prompted complaints, being as grim as it was. It's probably no accident that the finale fell the day before Remembrance Sunday, and it pays tribute in its own way, dark and twisted though that way might be.

Works In Progress

I've felt tempted to shift focus during NaNo to working on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic a couple of times, but I've stuck to my guns and worked on the cosmic horror/space opera story at least a little every day. I'm not on target for 50k yet, but if I manage at least to work on it every day I'll count that a success, given how full my schedule feels right now.

I'll see about catching up on Wednesday, either at the write-in or at home. For now though, I'll do what I can, when I can. See you later!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Late Check In

Hey folks, fell off the blogosphere for a bit there. I can't promise I'm back properly yet, what with it being November and NaNoWriMo season, but I will try to post if and when I can. Swag There hasn't been much in the way of geeky stuff to report on, with my major purchase being a new Moto E smartphone which I already need to take back to the shop because the headphone jack is faulty. That said, I have been enjoying the ability to play Plague Inc on it, among other things. Achievements Unlocked Since my last post, I've run the first couple of sessions of my Firefly campaign. I'll have full AP reports on them soon, but overall they went well and everyone had fun. Having finished listening to the Redshirts audiobook again, I've moved on to The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan. It had been a while since my last visit to the world of The Wheel Of Time series, so it took a bit of time to remember who everyone was and what had happened previously, but the book does help with that a bit by referencing past events here and there. It's the first time I've listened to a Wheel of Time book rather than read it myself, and it's the first audiobook I've heard that alternates between two narrators. It took a bit of getting used to, but it does work pretty well. Doctor Who seems to be getting back to the old style of having season-length arcs instead of a multi-season myth arc, if last night's episode is any indication. I liked it overall, and somewhat wish I hadn't known ahead of time that the Cybermen would be returning, otherwise the reveal would have been amazing. As for the reveal about Missy, pretty much everyone guessed it, but it's great to see the Master back, and to see a new twist on the character. Not quite as powerful a reveal as Jacobi/Simm in Utopia, mind you. Works In Progress As mentioned, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this November and have done 1920 words so far, mostly freewriting to help me settle on a concept for my novel. I did eventually settle on trying out my cosmic horror/space opera setting (which started life as a homebrew campaign setting for Traveller), all that I lack now is a plot for it. I'll do some more freewriting tonight to figure out a direction for the story and then work on an actual beginning for it. The Doctor Who/Evangelion fic is on hold until the end of November, but once NaNo is over I'll start working on it alongside the novel (I have no illusions of it being finished by December, 50,000 words or no) and definitely aim to start posting episodes in early 2015. In the meantime, one thing I will have to continue doing over November is prepping for my Firefly campaign. The next session will have to be a generic standalone episode, since the last couple episodes have been heavily weighted towards the captain and gunhand, and I need more background on the other characters in order to give them equal narrative treatment. I have a couple more stock episodes I can use in a pinch, but I'll have a think about other scenarios before I resort to those. Not much else to say, so I'm gonna go do some more words. See you later folks!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] SHIELD, Lock In and other stuff...

Swag
My Kickstarter reward copy of the Coup: Reformation expansion arrived on Monday morning. I've done a quick check of the box and everything is there that's supposed to be, except that I only have five 5 credit coins instead of the ten that the contents list indicates should be present. I'll have to ask about that. Otherwise, it looks pretty cool. The artwork is excellent as always, and the extra mechanics the expansion adds to the game look interesting. I'd need to actually play the game to see how well it works in practice though.

The Things Don't Go Smooth sourcebook for the Firefly RPG was released in PDF format this week, so of course I went ahead and spent some of the money I had only just started saving towards a new phone to get it. Skimmed through it, and there looks to be some interesting GMCs and locations in there that I might use in my campaign if it seems appropriate. It's also got rules on handling Reavers in games, which will definitely come in handy. One possible error I've noticed is that the GMC template that's supposed to be there, isn't. Instead it's just another copy of the Crewmember and Ship sheets. I've pointed it out on the forums, so hopefully that'll get fixed before too long.

Acheivements Unlocked
Since I had to make a trip up to Glasgow early on Tuesday, once I'd done what I needed to do there, I popped into Geek Retreat and hung out there for an hour or so before heading on to GUGS in the evening. Didn't really do much while I was there - it was mostly Magic the Gathering games that were going on at the time - but I did order one of their supershakes (a Griffindor Elixir, which includes a blended Lion bar and caramel syrup) and played a couple of games of Super Smash Bros on a borrowed DS. I still *really* suck at that game. I like Geek Retreat, and if I can figure out a way to work it into my schedule, I'll try to pop in there a bit more often in future. Maybe I can find some folks to play some board games with at least once a week, since I really want more opportunities to do some board gaming in my spare time.

After that, it was off to GUGS for the start of our RPG campaign season. I managed to wrangle another three players for my Firefly campaign, giving me a full crew of five players. Everybody got their characters statted up and we also sorted out the ship stats by having the designated captain (Craig, a veteran roleplayer) go over the ship creation options and getting input from the rest of the crew as he did so. The characters were still pretty skeletal when we finished (all stats and very little in the way of backstory or personality), but I gave everybody questionnaires to complete by the end of the week, to add a bit more meat to their Firefly 'verse alter-egos. The questionnaires mostly consisted of the list of details from Step 6 of the custom crewmember creation process, plus the Personal Arc structure which I lifted from the Ashen Stars RPG.

I watched the second episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season two with Heather over Skype. They're certainly not pulling any punches this season, between the heartbreak of what's going on with Fitz, Coulson's new responsibilities distancing him from the team (and Skye in particular), the downside of his resurrection becoming more apparent, and Simmons...well, it seems we'll find out a bit more about what's going on there in the next episode. There's definitely a lot going on character-wise this season, and hopefully the main story arc will be a bit better paced than last season. It's still too soon to tell at this stage.

I finished Lock In by John Scalzi on Wednesday and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The world of Scalzi's Lock In has familiar elements to it, but there's enough of a unique twist to it to make it an interesting world to explore. I hope this won't be the only story Scalzi writes in this setting, as there's definitely room for further stories about agents Shane and Vann. Amber Benson's performance of the novel was great as well, although some of her voices sounded a bit more comical than was probably intended for the characters.

I'm still enjoying the new series of Doctor Who, and Mummy on the Orient Express was another good episode, picking up from last week's falling out between Clara and the Doctor by having the Time Lord take her for one 'last hurrah' by boarding the Orient Express...in space! The spacebound version of the Orient Express was first teased in the last moments of Series 5, but never actually appeared on the show until now. Obviously, this wasn't Clara's last episode (although there has been talk of Jenna Coleman leaving the show), instead it gives Clara (and us, as an audience) the insight into the new Doctor's character that she needs to continue travelling with him. Because, as good as Peter Capaldi is, his Doctor is seemingly much more callous than previous incarnations, and that's a bit hard to get used to, both for Clara and the viewers at home. Next episode: some extradimensional force is messing around with our reality and 'flattening' people. Looks like it should be interesting...

Works In Progress
I've not made much progress with my projects this week. My schedule is still all out of whack with these ongoing improvements to the house. Should be all out of the way by the end of this week. I won't make any promises about getting any stuff done until then. That said, I've got the character questionnaires back from all of my Firefly players except one, so I can start working on plans for the first session and maybe even a campaign arc. If I can come up with an idea for it by Tuesday, I'll run the first session then. Otherwise, we'll just make do with the Firefly board game as an icebreaker. Whatever the case, I'll definitely need to have a scenario prepped for next Tuesday and for every Tuesday between then and Christmas. Whee! Anyway, I'm going to go and work on that right now. See you later!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] The Martian, Pure Super Pals and other stuff...

Swag
I used one of my Audible credits to download Lock In by John Scalzi. I went with the Amber Benson narration rather than the Wil Wheaton version. Not that I don't like Wil Wheaton but I always loved Amber Benson on Buffy, so I figured I'd have a listen to her version.

I've got two credits left, not quite sure what to do with them at the moment. Happy to accept recommendations from anyone reading this blog.

Achievements Unlocked
On Monday night, I watched four more episodes of Supernatural season nine and chatted with Heather over Skype as we both watched. Episode 9 made me very sad. Also, I take my earlier comment about Ezekiel back; he may not be such a dick after all. Gadreel, on the other hand...

I also watched another few episodes of Cowboy Bebop, episodes 14 through to episode 16; Ed gets to match herself in a chess game against a chessmaster and master hacker and we start to learn more about Faye and Jet's backstories. I like Faye's backstory best, so much that it actually formed part of the inspiration for a character I would like to play if I ever get the chance to play Ashen Stars. Might also work for a Firefly campaign, with a little bit of alteration. Anyway, I've now got ten more episodes to go, plus the movie.

As predicted, I finished off The Martian by Andy Weir on Tuesday. Felt like it could have done with an epilogue to round things off, but overall I really liked it. I'd probably recommend people read the actual book rather than listen to it though. The technobabble would likely be easier to follow in text form instead of listening to it. Plus, the bits with computer data readouts would probably be better read than heard, I think.

I didn't finish running the Firefly oneshot this week. Instead, I joined Doc's game which was titled 'Pure Super Die Hard'. It was basically a rerun of last year's Christmas edition of the Glasgow Avengers game, except the Glasgow Avengers are now known as the Pure Super Pals ('cause Doc's actually making a comic of them now). I didn't get to nab my usual character (the Magenta Munitionist), so I instead played as the Duck. Basically what you would have got if Bruce Wayne had been afraid of ducks instead of bats. As always with Doc's games, my eyes were streaming from how hard I was laughing during the session. Also, we topped the actual Christmas session for how horrific our team of superheroes was. We may have accidentally blown up Santa Claus while trying to save him. But it's okay, because Quantabella pulled some quantum magic that fixed the timeline so that never happened.

After Tuesday I didn't have much time to do anything outside of work since we had to get the house ready for the rewiring works that started on Friday. I did have the opportunity to listen to my new audiobook during my commute though, and I'm really enjoying it so far. I didn't really have any expectations about the book before starting, having heard nothing about it before stumbling upon it on Audible, but I'm happy to say it seems my credit hasn't been wasted on this book. When I couldn't listen to the audiobook (because my MP3 player's battery ran out), I read No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, to help mentally prepare myself for yet another year of NaNoWriMo.

Despite some reluctance due to the spider-like monsters of this week's episode, I watched the latest episode of Doctor Who. It wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared, since the monsters in question didn't appear very often. Instead, the main focus of the episode was the bigger problem that they were a symptom of: the moon is breaking apart for reasons unknown. And, as with many a great episode of Who, it features a moral dilemma in its climax, and it also features some excellent character drama where the tension between Clara and the Doctor since his regeneration finally boils over.

Works In Progress
As I mentioned, things got a bit hectic midweek, so I've had no time to do much work on any of my projects. I put together my list of six story ideas I'm considering for NaNo, complete with blurbs. I just need to pick one of those to work on.

I also started editing some songs from the Firefly soundtrack to make them ready for use as background music during RP sessions. I may use portions of the Hero soundtrack as well, though I'm not entirely sure about that, since I associate that music most strongly with the L5R campaign James ran a couple of years ago. Really though, before I even start building a music list for the game, I need to find out what kind of Crew my players will be creating, and therefore what kind of campaign it will be. No point choosing music when I'm not even sure what shape the game will take thematically.

Anyway, not a lot of movement on project work this week. Hopefully I'll get more done next week. Things to do include:
- Campaign and 'season premiere' prep for the Firefly RPG (after I've got players sorted out with their characters and a ship)
- Pick a story idea for NaNoWriMo.
- Edit Doctor Who/Evangelion episode 1.
- Outline Doctor Who/Evangelion episode 2.

The last three things I can work on from tonight onwards. The first, I'll have to do after Tuesday night, since I won't have anything to work with until I've gone through crew and ship creation with the players. I'm also going to try and complete the Time Finder exercise from 'No Plot, No Problem' this week, keeping a log of my daily activities over the next seven days so I can work out how much time I can free up for writing over November. After that I do more or less the same as with the Unschedule I mentioned before. So, that's my plan for next week, and I'll see what other geeky stuff I can get up to in my downtime. See you later!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

[The Plan] Countdown to NaNoWriMo 2014

With NaNoWriMo just a month away, it's time I started getting back into the writing habit. The Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic is still a work in progress, and (frustratingly) I still need to get episode 1 ready for posting, but it's time to start making plans for a NaNo project. Last year I used NaNo to work on the fanfic. This year, I had planned to work on an RPG project, but I feel I need to get back into the business of writing fiction so I'm going to try and tackle a fiction project instead. Not fanfiction this time, though. I may pull double duty, working on both my fanfic and an original fiction project for the month. As long as I write 50,000 words over November it still counts.

Anyway, I need to figure out what original project I'm going to work on for November. I did a quick brainstorm of existing ideas I've got on the backburner and came up with a half dozen potential projects off the top of my head. I know I've got more old ideas kicking around up there than that, but anything I didn't come up with in that initial brainstorm obviously isn't something I'm particularly excited about writing at the moment, so it can wait. So I'm going to pick something from those six ideas in the next day or so, and then get to work brainstorming and outlining for it, with the intent of having a roadmap prepared to get me through NaNoWriMo.

I'll have less time on my hands for writing than I've had the last few years, since I'm working now, but I think that's probably more of a boon than a curse. Having a limit on my available writing time will help keep me more focused on getting the work done during the time I do have. I've always felt that having a more fixed routine would help me be more productive as a writer, so I'll be putting that theory to the test over the next few months.

First thing's first, I need to pick one of these six ideas to work on. I'll do it randomly - either rolling a D6 or drawing titles out of a hat - and then I'll pick whichever option I wish had come up. Or some other method. One way or another, I'll aim to have picked my project for NaNo by the end of this week.

See ya later!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Behind The GM Screen] Campaign Planning: This Time It's Personal

A new academic year has begun and I finding myself getting ready to run a new campaign at GUGS. This time I'll be running the new Firefly RPG from Margaret Weiss Productions, but I'm going to be taking a different approach to my planning for this campaign.

With last year's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign, I started out with a main arc in mind and then tried to weave the characters' backstories into that arc. While that campaign wasn't a total disaster, I do think this was a mistake in retrospect. I was too focused on developing the central arc and not focused enough on the characters themselves.

Re-watching Firefly and Cowboy Bebop recently has reminded me of an important aspect of storytelling: characters should drive the story, not the other way around (and that is even more true in roleplaying). In both shows, the main arcs are tied to the characters' backstories rather than being some external event or force that arbitrarily intrudes in their lives. The main arc of Cowboy Bebop comes from Spike's history with the Syndicate, and the main arc of Firefly comes both from Mal's animosity toward the Alliance following the war, as well as Simon's rescue of River.

How does this affect how I'm going to run Firefly differently from my Doctor Who campaign? This time round, I'm not going to construct a main arc in advance. I'm going to determine the general themes for the 'series' at the character creation session and then let the players make up characters accordingly. From there, I'll take the characters they've created and build up story arcs for each, with perhaps one or more of their arcs intersecting in much the same way as Simon's arc forced Mal into new confrontations with the Alliance.

The Ashen Stars RPG had a really neat method for building up character arcs for each PC which I'm considering applying to Firefly. I can't recall the specifics (I still need to redownload the PDF and my hard copy of Ashen Stars is currently packed away in a box miles from here), but I believe it had the players themselves suggest three possible story hooks for future episodes involving their arc. Of course, that assumes the players are comfortable contributing their ideas in this way. Some players will be, but others are much more comfortable just leaving it to the GM to come up with arcs for their characters. Still, can't hurt to offer the option, right?

The other method I was thinking of using was assigning 'screen presence' in the same way as is done in Primetime Adventures, as a way of working out whose spotlight episodes will occur at which point in the campaign. Assuming (as the Firefly RPG corebook does) that each session works out as an individual 'episode', I can run a minimum of 14-16 episodes, maybe even a full 'season' of 22 episodes if I'm lucky. I won't go into detail on how the 'screen presence' in PTA works, but I should be able to address each character's arc at least twice over the course of the campaign, with the most prominent arcs featuring a bit more as a central arc for the campaign (much like Spike and Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, or Simon and River's flight from the Alliance throughout Firefly). And who knows, depending on what everyones' plans are for next summer, or how I'm feeling about things by this time next year, I might continue it for a second season.

So I don't have a plan for the campaign yet, but I know what I'm going to do about forming one. Hopefully it'll work out better than my 'The Doctor is missing' arc for the Doctor Who RPG did.

This week we're wrapping up the taster oneshot sessions, so I won't be doing character creation for the Firefly campaign until October 7th. I'll be back after that with an update on the kind of characters my players have come up with, and what kind of series we're thinking of creating together.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Firefly, Steam and other stuff...

I'm queuing this post up on Saturday morning, because I've got a shift at work this afternoon and I'll be heading to a Firefly marathon at Heather's afterward, then staying the night and heading in for another shift in the morning, so I probably won't have time to round it off and publish manually like usual.

Swag
Nothing this week.

Achievements Unlocked
Monday was largely spent finishing off prep for my Firefly oneshot and sorting out my blurb before heading out to work that night. The next day - while going through the dull process of printing off and organising everybody else's game blurbs, and printing off lists to keep track of everything that's running - I started listening to the audiobook of Andy Weir's The Martian again from scratch. By Wednesday I had caught up to the point I'd left off at last time and started the second half of the audiobook. Since then, I've been listening to a couple of chapters per day during my commute, so I should probably have it finished by Tuesday.

Backtracking a little to Tuesday night, my oneshot of Firefly went fairly well. I used the scenario from the back of the book, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. I think we could have started earlier if I had completed the character sheets before play, but I'd left a few details undefined to allow a bit of customisation on the players' part. That would have worked out a bit smoother if half my group weren't complete beginners to the roleplaying hobby. Yeah, should have thought of that. As it was, I think we started a bit later than we should have, and then the opening barfight took about an hour to wrap up. Probably would have gone a bit quicker if I hadn't decided to hand out as many Complications when folks rolled 1s. We ended up having to wrap it up at the end of Act 2, so I'll be continuing it as a two-parter at next week's GUGS. Still, I got a good feel for how the game flows, and people had a good time, which is the main thing.

I've been continuing my rerun through Cowboy Bebop and I just finished Session 14: 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Really should have revisited this show long before now. I still reckon it's less useful as inspiration for Firefly, but I love how it plays around with genre throughout the series with episodes like Toys In The Attic. The episode was a nice homage to Alien, and now that I've seen it a couple of times I see how it still fits within the series continuity, despite the seemingly downer ending.

I've also been playing games a bit more on Steam of late. Which is to say, I have been playing on Steam. Mostly Bastion, which I bought last week as part of my 'No Longer Unemployed' celebratory purchases. I've played for about an hour and a half in total, and it's a fun enough game. Still not quite sure what exactly the Calamity is, or how the protagonist apparently slept through it, but I'm sure the plot will start to develop as I play. 

I've also played a bit more of Hotline Miami now that I've switched my trackball for my old mouse. Still finding the controls a bit tricky, and I'm rediscovering why I dumped the mouse in the first place. I don't know why, but when I click the mouse buttons they double click rather than just click once. Probably going to have to get a new one at some point. Other than that, Hotline Miami is okay, but I'm more interested in Bastion for now.

As mentioned earlier, I'll be heading out to a Firefly marathon tonight and we'll probably stop to watch Doctor Who at some point as well.

Works In Progress
You may have noticed I didn't post the full review of Time Heist like I said I would. That's because I'm still trying to adapt my blogging/writing schedule to work around my new work schedule. I also haven't finished editing episode 1 of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, or the outline for episode 2 either. In truth, it's not all down to juggling work time with personal projects. After all, I managed to put together a Tiddlywiki campaign journal for my upcoming Firefly game, as well as another Tiddlywiki for a speculative Traveller sandbox campaign I might run at some point, so there was a little bit of procrastination at play.

Okay, so I had time to watch Cowboy Bebop and play Steam, so it was perhaps more than a little bit. I'm working up a weekly schedule to try and organise my play and project time, using a time management method I found out about called the Unschedule. I won't bore you with the details, but basically I schedule things I have to do (sleep, eat, commute, etc) and fun things (playing games, watching DVDs, etc) and leave everything else blank. The blank spaces are the times I can use to get project stuff done. Chris Baty described a similar technique in his NaNoWriMo guide book 'No Plot? No Problem' and it served me well during NaNo, so it should work just as well the rest of the year.

By the start of next week, I should have the new schedule all worked out, so I'll aim to get more done this week. I definitely need to focus on the edit of DW/Eva episode 1, because I want that done by the end of the month which is (eeek!) Tuesday. So, yeah. Better get cracking on that. See you later!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

[Review] Premium All Rolled Up: 'Orbital Velocity'

The All Rolled Up I ordered arrived yesterday morning, just in time for me to pack it with all the stuff I would need to run my taster oneshot of the Firefly RPG for freshers at GUGS.
I thought I'd post some pictures and talk a little about this neat little accessory, showing how it works.

Because I hate making knots, I added the optional toggle to my order. Makes it easier to hold the the thing together than me having to tie it together. Still have to tie off the loose ends once I've tightened the toggle, but it's less fiddly this way. I also got the optional carabiner, which I can use to hook the All Rolled Up to my belt or backpack.
To the left you can see the velcro flap sealing the dice pouch, which is supposed to be able to house about 100 polyhedral dice. I'm using it for about 40 dice, plus 40 poker chips, and they all fit well enough. Think there's even room for another couple sets of dice, so the 100 dice estimate seems more or less accurate. Shiny!

As you can see, I've got a stack of index cards in the middle pouch. Since I'm running Firefly at the moment, these come in handy for noting down Complications and Assets as they're created in play. What you can't see is that I was also able to squeeze an eraser and sharpener in with the index cards. The middle pouch could be used for other things, like maybe some playing cards or a notepad, but index cards can be pretty handy for most roleplaying games.

You'll also see I have a bunch of pencils to share with players -  plus some pens just in case I have some reason for writing in indelible ink, probably come in handy for taking session notes, or if you happen to have a dry erase board you could bring a Sharpie to draw on that - in the pouches provided for stationary.

Here you can see the outer cover of the All Rolled Up. Given that a) I'm primarily a sci-fi kind of guy, and b) I'm currently
running Firefly and looking to run Traveller in the near future, I went with the Orbital Velocity design, since it seemed thematically appropriate. Looks pretty cool as well, no?

This is just one of a wide variety of great designs available for the ARUs, and the deluxe versions also include a 'chalk' line of ARUs which include chalk cloth panels on the exterior which can be used to sketch maps or diagrams on.

There are also licensed ARUs with designs based on DC comics, Doctor Who, Marvel, Star Wars and Transformers, if any of those take your fancy.
Long story short, this is a pretty neat little accessory for tabletop gamers such as myself, and its utility isn't limited to just roleplaying gaming. Pretty sure CCG players or wargamers can get some good use out of it as well.

Not sure how appropriate the Undecim rating system is for this kind of product, but I'd have to give it a +4, if not a +5. Definitely recommend this for organising and carrying your gaming implements.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Work and very little play...

Swag
To celebrate getting a new job after five years on the dole, I decided to go ahead and order myself the 'Orbital Velocity' All Rolled Up that I've had my eye on for a month or so now.  The husband and wife team behind All Rolled Up are headed to Dragondaze, so they won't be able to process my order until they get back from there, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on my ARU when it arrives.

Also, since there was a sale on Steam, I bought myself an RPG I'd heard of, called Bastion and the original soundtrack for the same game.

Achievements Unlocked
Didn't do much in the way of geekery this week on account of GUGS being off this week, helping boost the signal about GUGS at the Freshers' Fayre by handing out flyers, plus adjusting to the new job. I did watch another couple of episodes of Cowboy Bebop, but besides that I've mostly been reading through my Firefly RPG corebook and getting myself ready to run the first of two oneshots this Tuesday.

I enjoyed this week's Doctor Who, although I didn't get to watch it in peace tonight due to my mum having her friend over and having to take a phone call about two thirds of the way through the episode. I'll rewatch it again tonight or sometime tomorrow and post a more in depth review as usual.

Works In Progress
I've almost got my custom GM screen for Firefly finished, just got a few extra little details to add to it and then it'll be ready to print out. I also found some pretty amazing fan images for the Firefly setting in this forum thread and I'll probably print off a few of them to use as inserts on the player-facing side of my custom screen.

I also need to finish off the pregens. I mostly just need to flesh out descriptions and backgrounds for the ones I've got, as well as stat up a pilot to add to the crew and finish off the ship sheet as well. After that, I should be pretty much ready to run it come Tuesday evening.

I got a bit of work done on the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, finished editing the first part of episode one (though I'm fairly certain I'll need to give that another pass before I go ahead and post it), started editing part two, and added a bit more to the outline for episode two.

My first week at the new job was a training run, working every evening from six to ten. This week will be my first one working the actual hours agreed when I took on the position, so the next week or two will be about fine-tuning my schedule to fit in time for my own personal projects around my working hours. While I'm doing that, I hope to finalise episode one of the Doctor Who/Evangelion fic this week and be ready to get to work on the next episode by the end of the month. Plus, I'll be settling back into running games on a regular basis in preparation for my Firefly campaign this year. Expect blog frequency to be down to a minimum until I've settled into the new pattern. See ya later!

Monday, September 15, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.04: Listen

Watching Steven Moffat's Listen I couldn't help but think of Russel T. Davies' Midnight. As I have with Steven Moffat, I had grown tired of RTD's writing for the show, but Midnight took me by surprise by actually being good. It was creepy, tense and the monster of the week remained mysterious even after the situation was resolved. Most of all, the episode showed how the Doctor's own personality traits can land him in a mess of trouble.

As with Midnight, Listen took me by surprise. This was a welcome return to the things about Steven Moffat's writing style that made him seem the perfect choice for Doctor Who showrunner in the twilight years of Tennant and Davies. Moffat takes simple things which, as children, we find frightening and turns it into something that will put a chill down even a grown-up's spine. When we're supposed to be alone, when everyone else is supposed be asleep, why do we still hear noises? Are we really alone? As with the best horror, the fear comes from the unknown, the unseen. Even by the end of the episode, the question of whether there really was a monster - or if it was just a flight of fancy on the Doctor's part - is never truly answered. It seems entirely plausible that there was a monster, but it's also just as possible that there wasn't. That uncertainty only heightens the creep factor of the story. And in the end, the monster itself isn't the Doctor's enemy. The Doctor's enemy is himself, his own curiosity and thirst for knowledge leading him on a dangerous path. He has to know, and is willing to risk his life in the process.

So, good episode? Yes. Great episode? Well, there *are* a few things that irked me.

First of all, as I had feared, Moffat is falling back on his romcom background, with the episode dipping in and out of a bumpy first date between Clara and Danny. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy romantic comedy, but I'd just like to see a bit less of it in Doctor Who. I suppose I should just accept it as a fact of the Moffat era though, given that it's hardwired into Moffat's writing style.

Then there's Clara. On the plus side, we're getting a bit more depth to her character now, Jenna Coleman is getting to do more with the role now that she's not a big mystery for the Doctor to unravel. The problem is that, once again, she's taking more of a leading role in the story than the Doctor is. There's nothing wrong with the role she takes on here, in fact it's one of the traditional roles of a companion in the revived series: she's there to save the Doctor from himself. The problem is, with this only being the Twelfth Doctor's fourth full episode, we want to see more of him being the main actor of the story. We want to see how this Doctor operates, how he deals with problems and how he thwarts the monsters. But as with Robot of Sherwood, he's never really given the chance. Peter Capaldi's performance in the role remains top-notch, but his character is not being given enough to do in the story.

As for the timey-wimey stuff and the scene in the barn towards the end...well, while I did like the callback to The Day Of The Doctor, there's no way they should even be able to travel there. Even though this scene takes place before the Time War, the past of Gallifrey shouldn't be accessible either. I did like Clara comforting the young Doctor, imparting sage advice that she had overheard the Doctor himself give to a young Roland (Danny) Pink earlier in the adventure, but it felt a bit self-indulgent on Moffat's part.

Overall, it's a good episode. I liked the concept and the way tension is built in the episode. I like how the truth as to whether there is a monster or not remains ambiguous and I like the way it showcases one of the Doctor's own self-destructive traits. But it doesn't give the new Doctor enough agency in the story, and still contains some of Moffat's bad writing habits.

Undecim Rating: +3

Sunday, September 14, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Space Outlaws, Bounty Hunters and other stuff...

Swag
Didn't buy anything this week, but I did download The Secret Of Cats, a new Fate Core setting by Richard Bellingham. I'll give it a read and review as payment for downloading it for free when I've got some spare time to read and review stuff again. Right now, things are a bit hectic though, so it won't be right away, but I'll do it when I can.

Acheivements Unlocked
At Tuesday GUGS, I sat down with half of my DWAiTAS players (Heather and the newly returned Maggie!) plus Peter - who's probably a bigger Browncoat than me on account of his having both expansions for the Firefly board game and a copy of the Firefly Companion - and got them to help me out with making up pregens for my upcoming oneshots. I'll still need to make up two or three more - since the crew is lacking a proper pilot, a clear leader and a medic - but folks had fun creating characters for it. It's likely that Heather, Maggie and Peter are probably going to be in my group for the main campaign when it starts up in October and probably Alex and Luke will want to sign on as well. Alex will have to do his homework (i.e. watch Firefly) though. But that's five players which means I probably don't have to recruit anyone at Fresher's Week. Makes me feel sorta guilty, actually. Oh well.

In other Firefly news, I've finished my Netflix binge of the series, plus the Big Damn Movie. Still annoyed about the order Netflix has the series arranged in, I think it's more or less the same order it was originally aired in, except the pilot episode still comes first. I'll probably write and complain, but for any future Firefly marathons I'll just stick to my DVD boxset, because at least I know that's in the right order.

With Firefly finished, I've started a marathon of my Cowboy Bebop DVD boxset. Cowboy Bebop's a bit of a different tone to Firefly, despite the similarities in concept, but it's still a decent way to get myself in the mood for the upcoming oneshots and campaign. Some of the more serious episodes - specifically the ones relating to the main characters' pasts - are also more in line with the kind of tone I want to go for with my campaign. The rest can help inspire ideas for more comedic episodes in my game.

I've also been watching some more of Leverage season two. I'm also using this to inspire me for the Firefly campaign, though not to the same extent as the other two shows. The Leverage team are highly competent and things - for the most part - tend to go smooth for them. Firefly is about crews of (mostly) competent people whose plans never quite go off without a hitch, but they scrape through and manage to keep flying. Every now and then, they even make a decent profit out of the venture. Still, Leverage is good inspiration for adventures similar to the more heist-y episodes of Firefly, such as Ariel or Trash. Plus the banter between the team is great as well.

Besides Leverage, I also watched another episode of Supernatural. Castiel reappears as a sales associate in a gas station, and we see him adapting rather well to life as a mortal. The episode's A plot brings into question just how content Castiel is with his new station in the cosmic order, but Dean encourages him to keep at it and let him and Sam worry about the whole 'fallen Angels' issue. Also, something odd's going on with Crowley, wonder what that's about?

Finally, I watched the latest Doctor Who last night and will probably watch it again tonight sometime. It was interesting, and I'd say it's one of Steven Moffat's better episodes, though it still had issues which I'll discuss in more depth when I do my full review of the episode. I'll try and have that up on the blog tomorrow afternoon.

Works In Progress
Once again, been preoccupied with doing my jobsearch this week, so I haven't got a lot done on my own personal projects this week. Looks like it might have paid off though, I'll know for sure after Monday.

Now that I'm finished watching the series, I've finished reading the episode guide section of the Firefly RPG and I'm now moving on to the rest of it. Should have it finished by the end of the week, and I'll work on putting together my custom GM screen as I read through it. I'll also read the sample adventure and probably run that for the freshers next Tuesday evening at GUGS. The week after that, I'll probably run the Wedding Planners scenario from the Thrillin' Heroics adventure book.

I'm hoping I'll be able to get back to work on my own projects this week, particularly getting episode one of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fic ready to publish on FF.net and getting started with episode two, as well as prepping for my SOS Files Storium game I mentioned a while back. As you may have noticed, my blogging has been reduced of late. That's probably going to be the case for a while, but I'll try and get back to a regular schedule with it as soon as I can.

That's all for now, see you later!

Monday, September 8, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.03: Robot of Sherwood

WARNING: SPOILERS!



After the darker tone of the Twelfth Doctor's first couple of episodes, we get to see how the recently regenerated Time Lord fares in a lighter-hearted venture with Robot Of Sherwood. The result is a buddy movie partnership/rivalry with the fictional - or is he? - Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. The flamboyant Robin is a stark contrast to this dour and no-nonsense Doctor, and a lot of the humor of the episode comes from the tension that creates between them.

The Doctor's refusal to believe that Robin is the real deal ties into a theme which has been evident in the series so far. The first episode has the Doctor scoffing at a clockwork half-man's belief in a 'promised land' only for the droid to end up in 'heaven', the second introduced the possibility of a 'good Dalek' and now we're shown that a legendary hero may be more than just legend. The new Doctor is sceptical of all three possibilities: he's no longer a 'young man', having become more set in his beliefs and less open to 'fairytales'. One wonders if the character arc of this series will be about him recovering that more youthful part of himself.

For the second time this series, Clara outwits a villain into revealing information, this time using her feminine wiles. And that brings me to one problem I had with this story. At the end of the day, it felt like much of the work from Team TARDIS came from Clara. It's Clara who gets the Sheriff to spill the beans, it's Clara who rallies Robin and his merry men to the Doctor's side offering much needed reinforcements. The Doctor organising a peasant revolt fighting off the robot knights with polished golden plates was his only notable contribution to the adventure. He gets several good moments - swashbuckling with Robin armed only with a spoon, matching him in the archery contest, tricking a jailer into getting too close to Robin with an embarrassing tale at the outlaw's expense - but he doesn't really get to match wits with the Sheriff and his robot knights the way he ought to. Plus, the solution he comes up with in the end to prevent the ship from destroying half of Britain feels a bit contrived.

Still, overall it is what it's intended to be, a lighthearted fun romp with swashbuckling heroes and anachronistic robots. An enjoyable episode, despite the Doctor being relegated to the role of comic relief.

Undecim Rating: +3[

Sunday, September 7, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Kingdom, Viewscream 2.0 and other stuff...

Swag
Okay...I maybe did something I shouldn't have. I bought the PDF of the 'Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics' adventure pack for the Firefly RPG. That gives me another four scenarios I can run if I feel the need to run from pre-written material.

Acheivements Unlocked
Real life has gotten a bit more stressful this week, so I haven't really set aside much time for other stuff. I did go to GUGS on Tuesday night, and we played a session of Kingdom which went okay. We were the command staff of a colony on Mars, facing a religious movement that wanted to let the colony be 'cleansed' by meteor showers, as well as dealing with those meteor showers and the alien natives...who never actually came up in the game. I still haven't got the hang of coming up with good crossroad questions, but that aside we all had fun with it.

I did manage to watch a couple more episodes of Firefly and read their entries in the RPG's episode guide afterwards. It's really cool how they use each episode as an example of how to play the game. Only trouble is, Netflix UK seems to have the episodes listed in their original airing order for some reason, whereas the book uses the actual intended order. So I'm flicking forward and back through the episode guide a little bit to find the corresponding entries for each episode.

On Friday night, I managed to get my friend David to join in a playtest of the new version of Rafael Chandler's Viewscream (the first edition of which is reviewed here). From the session we played, I think the new version is a definite improvement on the old one. It's a bit more flexible. I'll try and write a full playtest report on it once I've reviewed our Hangout On Air and read through the playtest docs again. Bottom line is we had fun, and we've discussed getting the group back together for other games in the future to help give David more of an introduction to the roleplaying hobby.

On Saturday night I watched the latest episode of Doctor Who. It was only natural that, after a dark episode like Into The Dalek, the next one would be a bit more of a lighthearted romp. I'll try and post a full review tomorrow, but I mostly enjoyed it.

Works In Progress
Was making good progress on both the revision of DW/Evangelion episode 1 and the write-up for our Tears of a Machine finale, but then I got stalled because of RL stuff, and my other stuff had to be put on the backburner while I figured things out. Plus, there's the ongoing clearing of rooms in preparation for the council's rewiring and bathroom refitting, so that's been distracting me a bit in general.

Things will hopefully stabilise over the coming week and I'll be back to a more regular blogging and writing schedule.

Monday, September 1, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.02: Into The Dalek (Spoilers!)

The problem with the Daleks is that it's hard to do anything new with them these days. Still, Steven Moffat and Phil Ford give it a shot with Into The Dalek. Like last time, this will be a spoilery review of the latest episode, so if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now.

It was a bit harder to get a sense of who the new Doctor is in his debut episode, but we get a bit more of a read on him here. Before they set out on their latest adventure, the Doctor asks Clara a question which proves central to the story: "Am I a good man?" It's a question we're led to wonder about throughout this episode. This new Doctor is brusk, cold, calculating and at times callous. This is most evident when - realising that one of the soldiers is about to die with no hope of escape - he quickly turns the soldier's impending doom to his advantage. The last few, at least, would have tried desperately to save him even knowing it was too late, but not this one. This is Doctor is a very different man, but ultimately his hearts are in the right place. He's still a man who tries to fight the good fight, even if he's more willing to sacrifice a few for the good of the many. But there's also a vulnerability about him, seen when he visibly deflates in front of Clara before asking the aforementioned question. Like previous Doctors he has no great love of soldiers, but this one has even less time for them than Ten or Eleven ever did, turning down Journey's request to join him simply because she is one. We're left to wonder how Danny Pink will manage to make the grade when their paths finally cross.

Speaking of Danny, we get a brief introduction to him after the title sequence, in which we learn that he's the new maths teacher at Coal Hill School (where Clara now works) and is also an ex-soldier. However, despite the 'drill sergeant' act he puts on in front of his 'Coal Hill Cadet Squad', he's not a stereotypical soldier type. Not only is he sensitive and socially awkward, but it's also strongly implied that he killed someone who wasn't a soldier during his tour of duty, and is deeply remorseful for whatever happened. I had concerns that Danny's character would just be an excuse for Moffat to continue his usual relationship comedy routine - since Capaldi put his foot down and said no to any romantic undertones between the Doctor and Clara - but it looks like the character at least has some interesting layers to be explored.

On to the story itself now. Like I said, it's hard to do anything new with the Daleks, but Into The Dalek pulls it off, even if the gimmick used is itself a bit old hat. The Doctor, Clara and a squad of future resistance fighters are miniaturised Fantastic Voyage-style and sent inside an apparently good Dalek (nicknamed 'Rusty' by the Doctor) to repair it so it can aid the rebel cause. But, of course, nothing ever goes that smooth. Besides the Dalek antibodies, fixing the damage turns Rusty evil again. Whoops. But the potential is there, and the Doctor seeks to unlock it once again. He tries to help Rusty find the good within it, by showing it the good within himself. Even as the Doctor's plan becomes clear, we know it's a bad idea. Whatever good the Dalek sees inside the Doctor is overshadowed by his hatred of the Daleks, and it is that hatred - not the good - which turns the Dalek on its own kind, to the Doctor's own horror.

We were promised a darker Doctor and a darker series, and that's definitely what we're getting here. Our protagonist is not a clear cut hero but a damaged man who tries to be, and his victories are bittersweet. Last episode he won by pushing/cajoling a mostly human droid to its death. This episode he wins by infecting a Dalek with his burning hatred for its own species. Not everyone is going to appreciate this new approach to the series, but I have to say I'm intrigued by it. I wasn't entirely sold on Series 8 after Deep Breath, but I have to say I'm looking forward to seeing what else is in store now.

Undecim Rating: +3 (Pretty good / cult classic)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Traveller, Firefly and other stuff...

Swag

I traded a bunch of old games in at the FLGS this Tuesday and exchanged them for the updated edition of Mongoose Publishing's Traveller. My intent had been to pick up either the Solomani Rim or Spinward Marches sourcebook for the game, but I wound up getting the revised corebook instead. If I do get round to running Traveller, I want to be running from the most recent iteration of the rules.

Having bought the updated version, I donated my old copy to GUGS for the RPG locker and hope that someone will make use of it. I'd love nothing more than to see a game or two of Traveller start up at the society, especially if I get to join in.

On a whim, I also ordered the Spinward Marches Map Pack. It'll be a handy reference when I inevitably run a campaign in the Spinward Marches, and I can always put it up on my wall in the meantime. Sadly, since buying the revised Traveller corebook and the map pack, I've been advised that it's better to run Firefly for the RP society, and I had to grudgingly agree with the advice given. More on that later.

An inevitable result of my nostalgic rediscovery of Traveller is that I looked up the game that got me interested in it all those years ago, Megatraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy. I found a free download for it, and I've set it up in DOSBox. Having a bit of trouble working out the controls at the moment, but once I've got that figured out I can start playing it properly.

Having settled on running Firefly, I thought I'd better build up my dice collection since the game uses a lot of D4s to D12s. So I ordered two sets of Chessex Lotus Speckled D4s, D6s, D8s and D12s to accompany my D10 collection, and a spare red opaque dice to replace one that's missing from my dice collection. I have ten of the Chessex Lotus Speckled D10s, but I couldn't order enough of the other dice types to accompany all of them, because I didn't want to spend more than £10.

I really need to start saving some money.

Achievements Unlocked
Instead of facilitating Kingdom as planned, I wound up playing two games of Cards Against Humanity again on Tuesday. I think it's not quite as amusing if you play it too many times close together. It's more fun in small doses over extended periods of time. Say maybe once or twice a month, but definitely not a whole evening out of every week.

Having finished the first season of Leverage, I've moved on into the second season. Only watched the first two or three episodes but it doesn't look like it's jumped the shark yet,  so I'm still enjoying it. (Although, the car crash at the start of episode one was a bit ridiculously staged, with the car flying clear over Nate's head.)

After some encouragement from Heather, I've also started watching season nine of Supernatural again. Sadly, Cas has been evicted from the bunker for 'reasons' so he was not in the two episodes I watched, but there was a guest appearance by Felicia Day as Charlie, who is always a welcome visitor to the show. The second episode was a fairly light-hearted one, with Dean affected by a spell that allowed him to understand the language of animals (and also gave him some canine tendencies) and I got a good few laughs out of it.

I watched Doctor Who last night (of course) and, while the title seemed an odd one, it soon made sense once the episode began. As with last week, I'll post a more detailed review soon, but I did enjoy the episode for the most part. Got a bit more of a picture of what Capaldi's Doctor is like and, if I'm being entirely honest, he's a bit of a dick. But I think his hearts are in the right place, at least.

After that, I started another rewatch of Firefly with the pilot episode. My plan is to watch each episode as I read through the Firefly RPG rulebook, reading the 'episode guide' for each episode after I watch them. I really like the way they've written out the episode guide, statting out the characters and ships that appear in each episode and using moments from the show as examples of how the game is played. Mind you, it does seem like the sort of thing that should be at the back of the book rather than the front. I'll talk more on that when I get around to reviewing the book, but the first chapter is an odd place to put the episode guide in my opinion.

Works In Progress
As mentioned, I've been encouraged to run Firefly as my campaign for this semester. There's a bit of demand for it, and it's a bit more beginner-friendly than Traveller can be. So I'm going to plan for that. Don't have any ideas in terms of a story arc besides expanding upon Gem In The Rough as a mini-arc within the season, but I might just wait and see what characters I get in my party, then build an arc around them. That might be a better way than having an arc in mind first and then trying to tie the players' backstories to it.

All the same, I started putting together a couple of custom subsector maps for Traveller on Tuesday. I may not be running Traveller at GUGS, but I have a homebrew sci-fi setting I want to build up, either for RP or writing.

No progress on the edit of episode one of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic yet, but I've set myself some concrete goals and deadlines for getting it done, so that'll help me get on with it. Same for the outline of episode 2. I'll set to work on them tomorrow and aim to have the edit of episode one, part one done by 5pm on Friday. I'm giving myself until the end of September to finish the outline for episode two, but I'll be doing it in parallel to my edit of episode one and outlining shouldn't take too long, so I'll probably be done sooner.

Other than that, I hope to have the first half of the AP for our Tears Of A Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho season finale ready to post on Friday. I'm going to start work on it now. See you later!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.01: Deep Breath (Spoilers!)

What follows is a spoilery review of Doctor Who series 8, episode 1: 'Deep Breath'. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you probably want to avoid reading this until you have. So, if you haven't seen the episode yet, stop reading now:













Okay, first thing's first...Capaldi was brilliant. Still too early to get a proper read on his characterisation of the new Doctor, since he spent a lot of the time being bonkers from regeneration sickness. However, after the alley scene - which seemed to be the point where the Doctor 'figured out' his new persona - it looks like he's a bit more sombre, down-to-earth character than his last couple of incarnations. Not sure how happy I am about that prospect, to be honest. Hopefully he'll still retain some sense of fun but, like I said, it's too soon to judge.

The onscreen chemistry between Capaldi's Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara was good too. It looks like it's going to be an uneasy friendship between them, judging by the banter and bickering. But I'm glad the Doctor nipped any potential romance in the bud - much like Ten did with Donna - so it's definitely going to be a friendship rather than another budding romance/unrequited love/potential love triangle (once Danny shows up), like we've had with so many companions in the New Series. Seriously, just because they're a man and a woman doesn't mean they can't just be good friends (you hear me, Moffat?).

As for the story itself...well, it was okay. I wasn't too hot about how it opened. First we had the Statue of Liberty as a giant weeping Angel that moves across the city. Now we have a great big ruddy dinosaur stomping around the heart of London. Victorian London, no less. The Cyberking wasn't noted in history books because of the cracks in time, but how the frak does this dinosaur get omitted? Sigh. Probably something to do with Vastra and her lot, no doubt.

As for Vastra and the Paternoster Gang...don't get me wrong, I love 'em, I do...but they should not have been in this episode. This episode was supposed to be about introducing us (and Clara) to the new Doctor, but we see more of Vastra, Jenny and Strax in this episode than we do of Capaldi's Doctor. It can't even be justified by Moffat wanting someone familiar with regeneration around to explain things to Clara because she knows all about it from having been inside his timestream and met all of his previous incarnations already. Oh, and let's talk about Clara for a minute.

Clara was way too freaked out about the Doctor's transformation, given that she knows him and knows all about regeneration. Not to mention the fact that she comforted the dying Eleventh in the Christmas special by saying he could regenerate. The best explanation we get for Clara's reaction is Vastra's implication that she is upset over losing 'her' Doctor, and that he looks older now, which makes her seem shallow. I do like Clara's furious response to this accusation, but there are still moments in the episode where I can't help but feel there might be some truth to Vastra's words.

These issues aside, I did like the episode. Unlike others, I don't mind that it reused the clockwork robots from The Girl In The Fireplace. It's no bad thing to revisit old villains every now and then, as it adds a sense of continuity to the show. I thought they were creepier than the ones in the previous episode, as well. The scene in the restaurant when Clara and the Doctor try to leave, and they all get up and mirror their movement as they close around them? That gave me chills. Plus, the close ups on the half-face man's eyeball...well, anything to do with eyeballs tends to freak me out.
 
Plus, though it was somewhat unsubtle, I did like the symbolism of having a Doctor still recovering from regeneration face a villain who has been renewing their body for so long there's nothing left of the original. It silently raises a question: how much like the Doctors we know will this one be? And I Iove how we're not given a clear answer in the episode's climax, due to the ambiguity of how the half-face man met his demise: "Now, did he push you out of that thing or did you fall? Couldn't really tell."

Which brings us to the new series arc for series 8: Missy and her 'heaven'. I'm not really caring much about speculating on the series arc at this point, given Moffat's track record on that score (the 'Silence arc' was an incoherent mess by the time it was wrapped up, in my humble opinion). Whatever her identity and the nature of her 'heaven' turns out to be, I'm sure I'll be dissatisfied by the answer, so I'm not going to bother worrying about it. I'm just going to judge each episode on its individual merit.

So, how does this episode measure up as a standalone? I'd say for a regeneration episode it's not as strong as it ought to be, as it is it's barely above average. and doesn't focus on the Doctor himself nearly as much as it should under the circumstances. The story itself is fine, but it has a bit of a rocky start with a dinosaur stomping around Victorian London for no other reason than to be burned up as a hook to make the characters aware the story's true antagonist. Who they only find because they were led there - presumably by Missy, for reasons as yet unknown - which is not how we want to see our protagonists 'solve' a case. It's just a little on the lazy side, really.

Undecim Rating: +2

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 27: Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…

I'd like to see a new version of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG. Of course, Eden Studios lost the licence, so it won't happen with Unisystem, but maybe if someone else got the rights to it they could make a new one.

I'm thinking either a Cortex or Fate-based version would work. One of my first thoughts after buying the Dresden Files RPG was that I could maybe adapt it to run a Buffy campaign. And Margaret Weiss have been doing some good licenced stuff lately, so they could probably pull something off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 26 - Coolest Character Sheet: Night's Black Agents

The 'coolest' character sheets, to my mind, are ones which evoke the setting or genre of the game they're designed for. Which is why I love the updated character sheet for Night's Black Agents, which is designed to look like an agent's dossier, complete with a 'polaroid photo' for a character sketch to be drawn into or (if you're editing it on the computer) to insert a digital image into.

It's also self-calculating which is handy for making sure you've assigned all your points properly. Plus, it's a lot more functionally designed as a character sheet for the Gumshoe system than any of the sheets for other games in the line that had come before it. Instead of having a simple note of pool/rating, you have dots that can be marked off with pencil whenever you spend pool points, which makes it easier to track point spends.