Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kickstarter Recs: 'Timewatch', 'Project: Dark' and 'The Whispering Road'

First off, I've fallen behind on my blogging schedule again, so I apologise for that (assuming, of course, there are actually people reading this blog to apologise to). I'll get back to the APs of my DWAiTAS campaign soon, as for the book reviews and other content...there'll be an announcement about that on Sunday.

For today though, I thought I'd give a shoutout to a few projects that are up for funding on Kickstarter right now. All three are funded already, but it's still worth backing if you really want to secure copies of the finished products ahead of time, as well as to unlock any interesting stretch goals.

First up is Timewatch, which is written by Kevin Kulp and will be published by Pelgrane Press. Timewatch is the latest addition to Pelgrane Press' Gumshoe line of RPGs. The idea behind Gumshoe is that players shouldn't have to roll to discover clues when investigating, because finding the clues isn't what matters; it's what the characters do with the information that is important. So in Gumshoe games you have two sets of abilities: investigative abilities for investigating mysteries and uncovering clues, and general abilities for everything else. When looking for clues, all you need is to have the relevant ability and say you're using it and you'll find out what you need to know to move ahead with the story. Beyond that, ability levels give you pools of points that you can spend for special effects, or in the case of general abilities to add to a d6 dice roll (it's basically the amount of 'spotlight time' your character is given to be awesome with).

But enough about the Gumshoe system, what about the game itself? In Timewatch you play agents of a timecop-style agency, whose job it is to police the timestream and prevent time travellers (well meaning or otherwise) from screwing around with history. The way Kevin has adapted the Gumshoe system to fit with the time travel genre is just wonderful. Characters can spend points from the Preparedness general ability to pull off Bill and Ted-style stunts like saying they'll go back in time and leave a helpful item somewhere nearby after they get out of a situation, they can creatively spend investigative points (spend Architecture to go back in time and influence the design of a building to your own advantage in the future, spend a point in High Society to have befriended a contact in the king's court sometime in the past) but they have to be careful how they go about it. If they create a paradox they'll have to spend points in Paradox Prevention and make Chronal Stability rolls to avoid taking existential damage. Lose too much Chronal Stability and you'll find your identity rewritten as history tries to integrate you into the timeline, and if you're not careful you could be erased from existence completely.

As of the writing of this post, the Timewatch Kickstarter has more than surpassed its funding goal with 22 days still to go and is getting more support every day. If you're a fan of time travel fiction, it's well worth taking a look and maybe backing it yourself, as there are still some great stretch goals to be unlocked.

I'd also like to give a quick shoutout to two other Kickstarters that have only just come to my attention (and since I'm blowing my disposable budget on Timewatch already, I might only be able to back them to PDF level, if at all) but which look pretty cool nonetheless.

The first of these two is Project: Dark by Will Hindmarch. The core concept is stealth action-adventure for tabletop RPGs. So essentially, it's bringing the genre represented by such games as Splinter Cell and Thief to tabletop roleplaying. That would be enough to sell me on its own, but it's also designed so that you can play with as few as two players or as many as five (including the GM). There's not a lot of great games available that cater to one-on-one RP, so that's a bonus in my opinion.

The last project of interest is The Whispering Road by Brent P. Newhall. This game is designed to allow players to emulate fantastical stories in the style of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Since I've only actually seen one Miyazaki film (Spirited Away) a few years ago, this isn't as big a deal for me as it will be for hardcore Miyazaki fans. Still if you love Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and want to play those kind of stories at the roleplaying table, go ahead and give this a look on Kickstarter.

If any of those sound like your cup of tea, go check them out on Kickstarter and see if you want to back them or not.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Return of the GUGS!


Swag
Partials by Dan Wells, one of the books on my A to Z Reading Challenge list for this year, was up for sale on Kindle for 99p over the weekend, so I went ahead and bought it.

Last Stop, a introductory scenario for the Kuro RPG, was available as a free download on DriveThruRPG, so I went ahead and downloaded it.

Acheivements Unlocked
GUGS started up again this week, but I was lacking ideas for a 'season premiere' for the Exiles of Time campaign, so I just brought Coup and Takenoko so we could do some board/card gaming instead. Alex also brought City of Horror and Mansions of Madness, and Heather brought Cthulhu Fluxx. I started one game of Takenoko before the committee meeting, which ended up being abandoned on account of us having to stop for the committee meeting, and the other players having to join their respective RP groups for their regular campaigns. After that, I grabbed my Exiles players and we sat down to play some games together for the remainder of the night.

The first thing we played was Coup. As usual, I don't think I did a great job explaining how the game worked when we started, but after the first game I think people got the hang of it. We played a second game of that, and it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves.

After that, we went on to play City of Horror, which was fun, but it took us all I while to work out what we were supposed to be doing. And I think several of us were unaware until the very end that we needed to have vaccines for each of our surviving characters in order for them to count towards our final score. I certainly didn't know, or I'd have made more of an effort to grab those somehow. Anyway, I think I'll try it again, now that I know how it's supposed to work. It'll probably be better next time.

We followed that up with a game of Takenoko but, just like the earlier game, we had to cut it short because it was almost time for me to head home and I needed to pack the game away. That's the third time in a row I've had to stop a Takenoko game before it was properly finished, which is rather annoying. I like the game, I like it a lot, but damn if it isn't a long-ass game to play, especially if you're showing new folks how to play. Or maybe that's just when I'm introducing new players. I dunno. I'll take it with me to the Board Games League at Saturday GUGS this weekend, and we'll see if we can't complete it this time around.

Wednesday night, I decided to return to my playthrough of the Mass Effect trilogy. I'm still on the original Mass Effect, just after picking up Liara on Therum. Spent most of the evening completing side-quests: wiping out a privateer base, talking down a traumatised ex-slave from my FemShep's home colony, and getting a little bit weirded out by Conrad Verner. He was practically hitting on me! And he's married! What a creep! Anyway, next time I play I'll probably hit another plot world. Most likely Feros, since that's the order I usually do them in: Therum, Feros, Noveria and then Virmire.

Thursday, I finished off the audiobook of Redshirts, and I really enjoyed it. There were a few little points which irritated me, but I'll talk more about that when I do my review. Overall though, I think it's an awesome book, and Wil Wheaton's narration definitely makes it worth listening to in audiobook form.

And that was pretty much it for this week. Should be more to talk about next week, hopefully.

Friday, January 17, 2014

[Actual Play] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time 1.05: 'Don't Look Down'

THE CAST
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Howard Phillips (played by Alex H): A fiercely loyal, by-the-book agent for the Temporal Security Agency.
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.
Sister Ian (played by Nikki): A former Sister of Plenitude who has joined the Temporal Security Agency as their chief medical officer in order to atone for her part in the Flesh/New Human experiments on New Earth.

Guest Starring
Anith - Mysterious woman who can fly the TARDIS. Regular since episode one.
Colonel Jenny Smith - Commander of the Temporal Security Agency.
Captain Jack Harkness - Rogue Time Agent.

EPISODE 1.05: 'Don't Look Down'
The episode starts with the Exiles chained to a wall in the dungeons of the Zerothan Empire. The Zerothans are essentially dragons, and the Exiles are locked up awaiting execution because Mal tickled a sleeping dragon while trying to steal a gold coin from it. Aru breaks them and another Zerothan prisoner out using her telekinesis, and a guard pushes in. Mal stuns him with his tongue attack and they flee down the hall. After getting their stuff back from a guard room, they find the TARDIS - but it's cordoned off with a series of rods projecting holographic 'crime scene-style tape'. A woman is standing there in a suit and fedora, arms folded, leaning back on the TARDIS. She introduces herself as Colonel Jenny Smith of the Temporal Security Agency. Her people are  looking for the Doctor too, and she asks the Exiles to assist them. The Exiles are suspicious, but she chaps the TARDIS' doors, and it opens for her. When Robyn asks how many hearts she has, she smiles and replies: 'Two.'

The Exiles step inside the cordon and Jenny speaks into a device on her wrist: "Six to beam up." She grins, saying she's always wanted to say that, as a beam of light picks up the group and the TARDIS, and they arrive on a teleporter style pad in the middle of a large futuristic command centre. Robyn turns around and points out that there should be seven of them.

Back in the corridor they were in before, Mal is still standing there eyes wide as a Zerothan pokes its head round a corner. It rears its head to shoot a jet of flame..

"Sorry, we missed one." Jenny says.

The beam of light picks Mal up just as the fire rips down the hall - he lands among them in a beam of light, looking a little bit shaken, singed and angered at Jenny because she almost got him killed. She tells him to settle down, he is still alive, after all. Upon arrival, all of them are given a quick medical scan by Sister Ian - a former Sister of Plenitude, working with the TSA as their chief medical officer - who detects a retrovirus at work in Aru's DNA, killing her slowly. In order to buy time to find a cure, Sister Ian has Aru placed in cryostasis, much to the Exiles' horror.

After they've had time to recover from this emotional blow, Jenny escorts the Exiles to a briefing room, where she'll be able to tell them what they know about the current situation. As she does, one of the agents manning a workstation as they pass by, Howard Phillips, is analysing a signal that he's picking up from one of their inter-temporal comms buoys: 'This-kzzt-Tartarus Base--something--coming out--"

She explains that there are fixed points in time; some are particular places, some are specific moments in history, and some are objects or people. Everything else is in flux and can be altered, but these fixed points must always stand. Changing them is, at best, impossible; at worst, it can damage the fabric of reality. The Doctor is one such Temporal Nexus Point, and he is not simply missing; beyond a certain point in his Eleventh incarnation he has been removed completely from the timeline. This has left gaps in the timestream, through which some unfortunate people have been displaced in time and space - like the Exiles were. That's not the worst of it though. The Doctor's removal from the timeline has created tears in the skin of the universe itself, and things have been entering our universe from outside it through these tears. These 'reality incursions' are growing more frequent, and many of the objects or beings that come through are dangerous or even hostile.

When the Exiles ask what they can do to help, Jenny explains that they need to repair the damage that's been done to the timestream, which means finding out what happened to the Doctor and, if possible, bringing him back. Right now, their best lead on the Doctor's fate is his TARDIS, which the Exiles have been travelling in. Before she can explain further, Phillips shows up. Jenny is annoyed at the interruption, but lets Phillips explain himself. Phillips tells her that they've received a transmission from Tartarus Base; it's a research station in their own future that's positioned on the event horizon of a black hole. Their distress signal claims that something is emerging from the black hole, and it's going to smash through the station on it way out.

Jenny is disturbed by this news - since nothing comes out of a black hole - and says they'll need to send a team out to rescue the station personnel and investigate this anomaly. When Phillips points out vortex manipulators are too inaccurate to risk the trip and they have no craft that can get anywhere near that close to a black hole safely, Jenny agrees; they don't have a ship that can make the trip...but the Exiles do. She asks them if they'll respond to the distress signal, and they agree. Jenny assigns Phillips as TSA liason, and calls Sister Ian to have her accompany them and offer medical aid.

The Exiles, Phillips and sister Ian fly out to Tartarus base. It's a rough and bumpy ride, but they make it to the station. Looking out a window into the pitch black sphere below them, surrounded by a maelstrom of light, Mal notes that he's getting rather sick of black holes. They head for the command centre to introduce themselves, but when they arrive the commanding officer tells them that they already have a time agent aboard. Enter Captain Jack Harkness, who greets the Exiles and co, flirting shamelessly with Robyn and several others as he does.

Together with the captain, Anith and Sister Ian head out to go round up the injured, while the others remain behind, with Robyn attempting to analyse the readings on whatever is coming out of the black hole. She intercepts a transmission coming from the object, which seems to be of immense size: 'Kzzt--Adar--kzzt--'Kraitha--kzzt--Anith--kzzt--surrender--kzzt--C'Toni--kzzt--will destroy--kzzt--if we must--kzzt--"
She cleans up the signal and it goes as follows: 'This is Prince Adar, prince regent of A'Kraitha, addressing Princess Anith. You must surrender the Staff of C'Toni to us. If you do not, we will destroy you if we must."

Around the same time, Pan starts getting a vision: Sister Ian is struck from behind by a blast of blue-white energy...as she falls forward, Captain Jack stands behind her, lowering the blaster pistol in his hand...Anith whirls around, raising her staff...Captain Jack draws his Webley...the two of them take aim at the same moment...

And then they all hear the gunshot echo down the station corridor. They race through the corridors to find Sister Ian out cold, Anith lying on the floor clutching the bleeding gunshot wound in her chest. Her staff is gone, Captain Harkness took it. Mal and Pan continue running down the corridor, chasing after Harkness, who is keying in coordinates on his vortex manipulator. Pan shoots Jack with his slingshot and misses. Mal shoots his venomous tongue out and hits Jack in the neck. Jack shrugs it off, rubbing his neck as he runs, yelling: 'At least buy me dinner first!'
A trickle of silvery blood runs from the wound on his neck; this can't be the real Jack Harkness...he's not human. Before they can attack him again, Jack teleports away in a burst of light, out of their reach. And the station starts to shudder violently around them...

TO BE CONTINUED...

NEXT TIME...
The huge two frontal prongs of a massive starship begin pushing out of the black hole, cleaving through the station as it emerges...
"It was the day my past caught up with me..." Anith says in voiceover.
The moment from Pan's vision: Mal is charging at Pan with his sword raised, Pan has his Greek fire ready to throw at Mal.
"A day of betrayal..." Mal says, also in voiceover.
"...and loss..." Pan adds.A man in futuristic knight-like armour turns in the middle of an ornately decorated starship's bridge, Anith's staff held in his hand...
"It was the end of peace..." Robyn says.
The TARDIS spins away from the massive dreadnought still not completely free of the black hole, which fires a brilliant beam of white light at the spinning blue box...
Fade to white as Howard says... "...and the beginning of war..."

The Season Finale: 'The Legacy of A'Kraitha'

Thursday, January 16, 2014

[Actual Play] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time 1.04: 'A Prison of Mirrors'

THE CAST
Aru (played by Clara Owen, absent): An amnesiac girl in her late teens with psychic powers and an inexplicable fear and distrust of men. Aru is stick figure thin and tall, with short spiky dark brown hair, ocean blue eyes and wears a black bodysuit with bright blue inlays, and has a laser gun holstered in her chunky belt.
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.

Guest Starring
Anith - Mysterious woman who can fly the TARDIS (somewhat), regular since episode 1.01.
Captain Baker - UNIT field ops commander.
Sister of Mine - Returning character from Doctor Who: 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood'.

EPISODE 1.04: 'A Prison of Mirrors'
Reflections infected by the Shattering throw themselves against the shattered mirror in the staff toilet of the mirror version of Farringham Boarding School. In our dimension, the tarp covering the mirror in the staff toilet shudders as the impact is felt from the other side. Captain Baker stands behind a team of UNIT troops with rifles ready for anything that might come through. Two UNIT soldiers march along a corridor elsewhere. Between them are a pair of scientists, Malcolm Taylor and his intern, Ingrid Osgood. They're marched into the staff toilet, where Captain Baker turns and asks who this pair are. When Malcolm introduces himself as the scientific advisor from UNIT, Baker points a finger and asks: 'Then who the bloody hell are they?'
He's pointing at the frozen, translucent reflections of Robyn, Mal, Pan, Aru and Anith standing before the covered up mirror, through which they entered the mirror dimension.

Meanwhile, back in the mirror dimension, Robyn picks out a chemical from the supply cupboard in the science room and throws it at the advancing Shattered Reflection and Pan immediately follows up by throwing one of his balls of Greek fire at it, which causes the chemical to violently combust, setting the cracks along the Shatterling's body alight and causing it to writhe in agony. Soon afterwards, Mal busts down the door with a table from one of the other rooms, and enters alongside Anith who blasts the Shatterling with her staff, weakening it a little more, allowing Mal to finish it off with a swing of his sword.

They don't have a lot of time before more Shatterlings come after them, so Robyn grabs all the gear she needs to build a new Dimensional Pathfinder and the Exiles retreat and find another room to hide in. It's at this point that they notice Sister of Mine has run off in the midst of all the excitement. Robyn quickly cobbles together a new Pathfinder, and they use it to track down the point where the Shattering entered this dimension from, finding a spiderweb of dark cracks leading off into different parts of the school from one massive glowing crack (similar to, but not exactly like the one you're probably thinking of) in one of the hallways. Anith seems to know what it is, making an oblique statement about it being 'a scar from the War', and Robyn mentions she has encountered something like this before: it's a breach in the universe, and she knows how to close it.

The last time she saw this, the Doctor stepped in to resolve it. Anything that has crossed the Void between universes is saturated in a special background radiation unique to the Void. If they use the Pathfinder to widen the breach and reverse it, anything carrying that background radiation will be sucked through it into the abyss, and the breach will eventually seal itself. The only problem is, all of them crossed the Void when they fell through it and arrived on the Liminus. The only person who might be safe is Aru, but none of them knows anything about her past and they don't know for sure she's never crossed the Void. But one of them will have to remain in the mirror dimension with the Pathfinder after sending the others back through, in order to return to the breach and open it, so that the Shattering will be sucked back through it.

After discussing the problem, they decide not to take the chance with Aru. Instead, they try to track down Daughter of Mine to convince her to seal the breach for them. They head for the Headmaster's Office to find the controls for the school's PA system, and use it to make an offer to Sister of Mine: if she helps them seal the breach, they'll put in a good word for her with the Doctor when they find him, maybe convince him to set her free. They arrange a meeting point and race straight there. A crack rides along the hallways behind them, only stopping after Pan uses his Greek fire and some of the chemical found in the science lab to set fire to the floor. The crack is set alight and stops dead, leaving them to run onwards. Sister of Mine shows up at the rendezvous, and grudgingly agrees to their terms, taking the Pathfinder - which has been rigged so it can only be used to seal the breach after they've returned to their dimension - and opening a doorway for them through a mirror which is not currently being assailed by the Shatterlings.

As they're passing through the mirror, their discarded reflections in the staff room vanish. Upon passing through, the dormant crack in Mal's hand reacts with his reflection, causing Mal to 'shatter' briefly on his way out, but he reforms in one piece on the other side, collapsing from the pain. As they emerge, they are held at gunpoint by UNIT troops. Sister of Mine gives them a solemn  nod, before turning away and setting off to fulfil her end of the deal.

Sister of Mine races through the corridors, dodging Shatterlings and running from them as they chase her. Wearing the body of a little girl has its advantages. She reaches the breach and aims the Pathfinder at it, pushing herself back against the opposite wall. The breach opens wide, and Sister of Mine looks away from the bright light that pours forth. An eerie wind catches her hair, but otherwise she's untouched by it. All of the Shatterlings, however, are pulled from throughout the mirror school and sucked through the breach. The cracks in different parts of the mirror realm also recede through from where they've snaked throughout the school and vanish back through the breach.

The Exiles are brought into the staff toilet and about to get the third degree from Baker, when the mirror behind him suddenly repairs itself. Robyn tells him his men will probably report similar from throughout the school. He radios to check. His men do indeed report that the other affected mirrors are also repairing themselves. As the last of the Shattering and its creatures is pulled through, the breach closes itself and the light and wind die out. Sister of Mine slides down the wall and hugs her knees, alone once again in her prison of mirrors.

With the situation resolved, and the Exiles seemingly to thank for it, Baker decides to be lenient and tell them he'll let them go...this time. Before they leave, Robyn runs into Malcolm and - recognising him as one of her former co-workers - hugs him. While pleasantly flustered by Robyn hugging her, Malcolm is somewhat confused and asks: 'Have we met?"
Robyn is distressed by this, because she and Malcolm worked together for at least a year, and not all that long ago. How can he not remember her? Aru reads his mind, but there's no sign that his memory has been altered. The only explanation the Exiles can think of is that Robyn has somehow been erased from the timeline. She and the other Exiles leave, with Robyn quite unnerved by the possibility that her past has somehow been altered.

As they fly away in the TARDIS, Pan has a worrying vision of himself fighting Mal, possibly to the death. And as Mal is looking elsewhere, his own face is reflected in one of the shiny pillars of the TARDIS console room as it turns and laughs malevolently...

NEXT TIME...
The Exiles are on the run from something in what appears to be a castle, stopping in their tracks as their find the TARDIS where they parked it, surrounded by a holographic cordon line, and a woman in a suit and fedora is leaning with her back against it, arms folded as she locks eyes with the Exiles: 'We need to talk.'
A futuristic command centre, with a similar layout to the Torchwood hub...
A uniformed officer listens to a transmission over his headset: 'This-kzzt-Maelstrom Base--something--coming out--"
A man in a WW2 greatcoat turns and greets the Exiles, specifically Robyn: 'Hello! Captain Jack Harkness. And who are you?"
Malik looks out a window at what appears to be a storm of light, looks down, and mutters: 'I'm so sick of black holes already.'

Next Episode: 'Don't Look Down'

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

[Actual Play] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time 1.03: 'The Shattered Reflections'

THE CAST
Aru (played by Clara Owen): An amnesiac girl in her late teens with psychic powers and an inexplicable fear and distrust of men. Aru is stick figure thin and tall, with short spiky dark brown hair, ocean blue eyes and wears a black bodysuit with bright blue inlays, and has a laser gun holstered in her chunky belt.
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.

Guest Starring
Anith - Mysterious woman who can fly the TARDIS (somewhat), regular since episode 1.01.
Sister of Mine - Returning character from Doctor Who: 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood'.

EPISODE 1.03: 'The Shattered Reflections'
Mr Whitlaw, caretaker at Farringham Boarding School, is polishing the school's trophy cabinet during the night shift when he hears a strange noise. Assuming it's one of the students out of bed, he follows the noise to the gents' bathroom, where he spots a red balloon floating over the cubicle in the mirror. He pushes the door open, but there's nothing there. The balloon is gone. He looks back at the mirror, and the balloon is still there. A little girl is staring at him from inside the mirror, pounding it with her fists and yelling. His reflection in the mirror begins to splinter, a strange silvery crack forms over his face from his eye. He screams, and turns to run, not seeing that his reflection has not moved. It instead turns its head towards the little girl and grins, beginning to shamble toward her as she screams: "Doctoooooooooooorrrr!"

Elsewhere in time and space, Pan concludes a long scream of psychic agony after attuning himself to the TARDIS via the telepathic circuits. Anith pries his fingers away from the telepathic interface pad, muttering that she could have handled the attuning procedure much more smoothly. From the hammock he has set up in a corner of the console room, Mal retorts that there's no way they were going to trust her to be linked with the TARDIS. She huffs and stalks away, hiding a wounded expression. She's stopped in her tracks when a bell - the cloister bell - starts tolling throughout the TARDIS. Recognising this as a bad sign, Anith races over to the console, but the room shudders violently and knocks her and everyone else to the floor as the TARDIS is hurled through the time vortex and then, with a crash, is still.

Aru and Robyn step outside to find out where they've landed. The TARDIS is in the middle of a large lawn outside the Farringham Boarding School, surrounded by people in military outfits who Robyn recognises as UNIT forces. Partially due to her blagging, they believe her to be the scientific advisor who was supposed to be coming in, and are lead to the head of the project - an older man with wispy blonde hair and mighty sideburns. He introduces himself as Captain Baker.

Baker isn't pleased to see the group of "scientific advisors" - and especially not Mal, who they explain is an 'external consultant' - on his crime scene, and continually refers to them as geeks as they find out the full story from him: over the past few weeks, people have noted their reflections moving independently of their bodies, before vanishing completely. So far no-one has been hurt, but they considered it a good idea to bring in UNIT to control the situation.

Robyn shoos them away and she and Pan manage to concoct a hypothesis: there is a split in the dimensions between this one and the one on the other side of the mirror, and something is trying to squeeze through. They concoct a device - the Dimensional Pathfinder - to open the breach and enter the other dimension in an attempt to commune with it. They fire the device at the offending bathroom mirror, and jump through the tear. As they're jumping in, they see their reflections come out to replace them.

They find themselves on the other side of the mirror, where everything is backwards. However, behind them the mirror begins to crack. Mal, who was reluctant to come through the mirror in the first place, tries to run back through the mirror before it splinters completely, but his hand begins to crack when it comes into contact with the shattered glass. The crack on his hand slowly begins to spread up his arm, glowing ominously - however they manage to use the Pathfinder and other jiggery-pokery to stem the damage and stop it from escalating.

They find the little girl and chase her, finding her eventually hiding in a closet. She claims to be Daughter of Mine, of the Family of Blood, and she has been trapped in the mirror. She claims that the Doctor "left her there to guard this dimension", and that she has not been able to contact him about this threat. They distrust her immediately, but are partially convinced by her story; mainly due to the fact that she seems terrified by the splintering glass and the crack in Mal's hand. When Mal asks to clarify that this thing that's happening isn't her doing, she screams and points over his shoulder at what she says is the real threat. 

They turn and see two people approaching. They're both riddled with cracks, spreading throughout their entire bodies like spider web. One of them is the reflection of the caretaker. The Exiles bunch together and ask who they are. They identify themselves as the Shattering. They have squeezed through into the mirror dimension, and are attempting to use the reflections of humans as bodies. Robyn attempts to bluff them out by threatening to destroy them with the Pathfinder, before she blows it up by accident, leaving them with no way out of the mirror dimension.

The Shattering chase the party, but Aru trips them up with a telekinetic shock-blast and the Exiles retreat into a sports hall. Mal locks the door on them (with the help of a trusty mop), but now they're trapped and the only exit has the Shattering rattling at the door. Utilising a trampoline, Pan volunteers to be bait. He stands at one end of the court and everyone else hides by the door. They pull the mop out and the Shattering run for Pan as everyone else escapes. Pan jumps over the Shattering and follows the rest of the team out of the door. They mop the door shut again.

They run off down the corridor, leaving the Shattering locked in the sports hall, and seek out a science lab to construct a replacement for the Pathfinder. Pan and Robyn enter the room first, but the others are still outside the door when it slams shut and locks them out. The others are left banging uselessly on the door while Pan andRobyn find they're not alone in the room; there's a man wearing a lab coat with a splintering crack lining his skin, and he's shambling towards them...

TO BE CONTINUED!

NEXT TIME...
Shattered Reflections bang on mirrors from the mirror side...
On the real world side, UNIT troops aim their rifles nervously at a tarp covering on of the mirrors in the school, as the banging from the other side sends vibrations through the mirror, loosening the tarp...
A hoard of Shattered Reflections shamble down a hallway in the mirror version of the school...
A shining crack lines the surface of a wall in the school hallway.
"I've seen this before..." Robyn whispers...
"So?" Malik demands, "What do we do about it?"
Robyn turns to him, her expression grave...

Next Episode: 'A Prison of Mirrors'

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

[Actual Play] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time 1.02: 'The Avatars of Madness'

THE CAST
Aru (played by Clara Owen): An amnesiac girl in her late teens with psychic powers and an inexplicable fear and distrust of men. Aru is stick figure thin and tall, with short spiky dark brown hair, ocean blue eyes and wears a black bodysuit with bright blue inlays, and has a laser gun holstered in her chunky belt.
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.

Guest Starring
Andrew (played by Luke in first half of session)
Anith (recurring NPC from episode 1)

EPISODE 1.02: 'The Avatars of Madness'
The shaking subsides as the TARDIS breaks through into the normal time vortex, and Anith sags against the console as if suddenly drained, planting her staff firmly on the floor to steady herself. But before the group can celebrate their escape, the TARDIS starts to rock violently once again. Anith struggles with the controls, and manages to land them safely, but it seems the TARDIS has been caught up in the energy field of a time scoop, and they must locate and disable the time scoop in order to fly away safely. Robyn and Pan check the scanner to find they have landed inside a spaceship, sometime in the 51st century. As soon as they venture outside, Anith collapses; she is time sensitive, and now that she is in this universe she can feel something is terribly awry, though she can't place exactly what.

Malik heads straight outside into a large cargo hold with a blue column of light in the centre of the room, spanning from floor to ceiling into the other decks. He pokes his head in it, assuming it's an elevator, but pulls it out again when his head begins to tingle. It's about this point that two people arrive with guns, one man and one woman demanding to know who he is. He claims to be their boss, but they point out that their boss is dead. He claims to be a replacement from the Galactic Council, but they don't buy that either, so he points at the top of the TARDIS and says he's with the police. They don't seem very pleased to hear that.

Meanwhile, somewhere else on the ship, a woman wakes up to find herself strapped into a hospital bed by metallic restraints, with no memory of who she is, or how she got there. She's not alone, there's a man in futuristic overall-style hospital scrubs similar to hers, shaking her to try and wake her; which causes her to panic, since she doesn't like men. The man tries to calm her down, introducing himself as Andrew, but saying that's all he remembers about himself. He asks her what her name is, but since she doesn't know, she looks down at the serial number on her overalls - which reads ARU56 - and decides to call herself Aru for now.

Andrew has technokinetic powers, which he uses to tell the lock on the hospital bed to open. Aru leaps out of the bed and is off, running down corridors, tearing off without Andrew. She finds a spanner lying around, and picks it up, when she encounters an android with a smiling holographic face projected in front of its otherwise blank head. It suggests she go back to bed, but Aru beats it with her spanner and runs away. Andrew runs into an identical robot, mouthing similarly creepy "helpful" advice before lunging for him, its holographic face glitching into an expression twisted in a silent scream of pain and fury. He puts a hand to its face and lets out another technopathic pulse, frying the robot's nervous system. He runs off as it begins to get up again, calling out to Aru.

Back in the cargo hold, Pan and Robyn have stepped out of the TARDIS to bail Mal out. The man and woman are Zach and Mercy, and they seem to be part of the ship's crew; they're dressed in camo, but don't seem to be military. And clearly their activities are illegal, judging from their response to Mal claiming to be with the police. They argue with the crewmembers, trying to get them to lower their guns, until the lights flicker and an ominous voice speaks gibberish over the PA system.

Mal asks their 'hosts' what the voice was, and they explain that it's the ship's AI; it's gone a bit funny, started referring to itself as WARDEN and taken over all the androids onboard - referred to as Avatroids - as well as the ship's systems. From the statement it made over the PA, and the name it has chosen for itself, it seems to regard all aboard the ship as its prisoners and seeks to punish them, though Zach and Mercy claim - rather unconvincingly - not to know why. Robyn convinces them that, given her skill in engineering, she might be able to help fix the AI.

The two crewmembers consider this, but before either one of them can say anything, an Avatroid appears from the blue column of energy. It identifies the TARDIS crew as stowaways to be expunged, and Zach and Mercy are to be made to pay for their sins. The Avatroid swings at Zach and misses, and Robyn calls for everyone to get inside the TARDIS. She, Mal and Pan pile inside. Zach and Mercy waver outside, unsure how they're all going to fit inside, but Robyn grabs Mercy by the scruff of the neck and pulls her inside, and Zach stomps in after them both. The TARDIS door is slammed shut, and the Avatroid stands outside. Waiting.

Meanwhile, Andrew catches up with Aru - who has, by now, found a bodysuit, belt and stun blaster that she felt a sense of familiarity from, and has put them on - but stays a few paces behind her since she still doesn't trust him. They find the cargo hold with the column of light, and decide to jump through it. They arrive in what appears to be the exact same part of the cargo hold, only now the TARDIS is there, and so is the Avatroid that was standing guard in front of it. WARDEN, speaking through the Avatroid tells Andrew that he shouldn't be fighting the droids, he should be helping them. While the droid is distracted talking to Andrew, Robyn opens the TARDIS door and Aru runs and slides past the droid and through the TARDIS door. Then Andrew uses his technokinesis to zap the droid and knock it out.

As Andrew is about to join the others inside the TARDIS, someone calls from the doorway at the back of the cargo hold - leading to the engine room. Listening on the scanner, Mercy and Zach recognise it as the voice of their ship's apprentice engineer, Willard Harvey. Willard peeks out from the engineering doorway and, once he's sure the coast is clear, joins Andrew to enter the TARDIS.

Once they're all gathered inside, Malik once again demands to know what's going on. Mercy and Zach are still reticent about talking, but Willard is only too happy to explain: while this ship is primarily a free trade and passenger vessel, the senior members of the crew had a side job going on. Under contract from a mysterious corporate benefactor, they had been using time scoop technology provided by their employer - which is far beyond 51st century time travel capability - to kidnap people from different time periods and mindwipe them for use as slave labor. 

Zach and Mercy are shocked, and Mercy turns to him to ask how he knows this. He wasn't a senior crew member, he wasn't in the loop. He replies, 'No, I wasn't.' And then he stabs her with a screwdriver he had been concealing. Aru knocks him out with her stun gun. At this point, Malik is all for just disabling the time scoop and leaving the crew to their fate, but Mercy protests that they still have passengers aboard, hiding in their quarters, who are innocent in all this. She begs them to save the ship for their sake, if not the remaining crew. Robyn and Pan try to save her, but she bleeds out and soon dies. They figure out that Willard has cybernetic brain implants, and WARDEN must have been controlling him through those. They now know why WARDEN believes the crew must be punished, but not how the ship's AI became WARDEN. 

Regardless, they need to regain control of the ship, and to do that they must make their way to the bridge, where Robyn can access the AI core and perform a system reboot. The group leaves the TARDIS and makes their way up to the command deck, where they are confronted by another Avatroid controlled by WARDEN. WARDEN appeals to Andrew to not let them do what it knows they intend, because if they do he will never be whole. Andrew doesn't understand, but Robyn works something out: WARDEN is an anagram of Andrew. When Andrew was being mindwiped, he must have tried to use his technopsychic abilities to escape, but ended up transferring a large portion of his mind into the ship's computer. But the experience must have been so traumatic it drove the transferred persona insane. And under the circumstances, restoring his persona would be ill-advised at best, and likely impossible in any case.

Andrew uses his technokinetics to fry the Avatroid's CPU and clear a path for the group, choosing to sacrifice the slightest chance of restoring his own identity in order to save the ship, its crew, and its passengers. Robyn races ahead into the AI core on the bridge and the group barricade themselves inside the bridge as Avatroids converge on their position. Robyn initiates the system restore and the Avatroids stop dead. The system reboots, and the ship's AI expresses its confusion as to what has transpired. The crisis is over.

Afterwards, they check the mind-wipe system, but it seems that the crew were under orders by their employer to completely erase Aru's memories and retain no backups, leaving Aru with no identity and no place to go. Except perhaps with the TARDIS crew. As they prepare to leave in the TARDIS, having convinced the crew to turn themselves into the authorities, they are approached by one of the passengers, Thomas Webb. Webb identifies himself as an undercover agent for the Temporal Security Agency investigating reports of the Warui Ōkami's temporal slave trade operation. It's unfortunate that he wasn't able to identify the ship's mysterious employer, but he's grateful for their efforts in resolving the crisis. He then recognises the TARDIS and is shocked, asking if the Doctor is with them. They say no, and he checks his wrist as if for a watch - but it's bare - then asks them to wait right there and runs off. Maggie sees a vision of a woman in a suit and hat looking rather angry at someone - most likely one of them - from across a desk in a police-style interrogation room. Worried by this, they decide to step into the TARDIS and leave. Andrew tries to join them but is left behind as the TARDIS dematerialises...

NEXT TIME...
A janitor glances over at a mirror in a public toilet, to see a little girl banging her fists against it from the other side, with nobody there to cast that reflection. 
A UNIT mobile command centre is parked outside an old-fashioned private school; a sign declares it to be Farrington Boarding School.
The Exiles, headed by Robyn, are escorted by UNIT troops to a man in a UNIT officer's uniform: "So! You're the geek they sent down to lead the investigation, eh? Well, come on in..."
We cut to the janitor from before, stares in horror as cracks spontaneously form on his reflection - but not the mirror itself - before his very eyes. "...see if you can crack this one..."
Cut to the girl in the mirror, she looks back over her shoulder, looks back through the mirror and screams: "Doctooooooooooooooor!"

Next Episode: 'The Shattered Reflections'

Monday, January 13, 2014

[Actual Play Report] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time 1.01: 'Liminus'

Here we go; the first of my series of recaps of the first 'season' of my DWAiTAS campaign. I may skim over the details in these recaps, especially the earlier ones, since it has been several months now since the actual sessions. I will also borrow a little from the write-ups already done by Luke (who plays Malik) over on the Exiles of Time blog, but I'll also fill in the blanks and correct some misconceptions that were included in those write-ups.

THE CAST
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.

EPISODE 1.01: 'Liminus
Cardiff, Present Day: In a dark alleyway, a man is held against a wall at knifepoint; the mugger is interrupted by a hooded figure who orders him to let his victim go. When asked what he's going to do about it, he drops his hood to reveal his reptilian features and says: 'I'll make you look like me!'
Mugger and victim alike run from Malik's inhuman visage, and as Mal is about to jump back down into the sewers he feels the world shiver around him, and he doesn't stop falling when he should hit the sewers...
Same Time, Elsewhere: Robyn Dalton watches TV with her dog, letting her mind drift after a long day in the lab, working for the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, the United Nations' main defence against extraterrestrial activity. The world shivers, disturbing the dog from its dozing and, as it barks frantically, Robyn feels herself falling; blinding light envelops her vision and a throbbing rhythm beats at her ears...
Greece, 2000 years earlier: Pan sits in a lecture theatre, not really paying attention, his mind bombarded by a painful series of visions: a flaming, screeching bird...a blue box in flames...a lizard man swinging a sword wildly...a woman with short, blue streaked hair waving some sort of device in the air...a sensation of great loss and loneliness from some other intelligence...and then he feels himself falling, a strobe light pulsing blindingly in his mind's eye, hammers ringing in his ears, pain searing his mind...

All of them fall for what seems like forever, before landing together on a dusty barren plain. Pan is out cold from the psychic overload of the journey, and as Malik and Robyn adjust to the dull light and see one another they both accuse each other of being responsible for bringing them here. Then they look over the edge of the cliffside they are on, to discover the island they are on is one piece of debris among many caught in the accretion disk of a black hole. They should be dead, and yet somehow, they're alive. Pan awakens, and is likewise awed and horrified by their predicament.

Before they've really had time to adjust, a winged creature - which Robyn recognises as a Reaper - appears out of the gloom and chases them across the flat plain. Fearing that there is nowhere to hide or escape to, they team up and come up with a plan to trap it, using Pan's belt and Malik's cloak to form a makeshift blindfold. Malik leaps on the Reaper's back and ties the blindfold over its eyes. It goes into a nosedive, trying to shake Malik off and loose itself from the blindfold, when it is struck in the chest by a blast of fiery blue light. It crashes to the ground. Mal rolls off, and lies on the ground, dazed and exhausted.

From the darkness, the figure who fired the blast steps forward, wielding a staff with a glowing blue gemstone at its tip. She introduces herself as Anith, claiming to have been stranded here for a long time, but she has been working on a way to escape from this place. They're welcome to join her, but she'll need their help if her plan is to work. They don't necessarily trust her, but they don't have many other options, so they follow her as she tells them she has something to show them.

She leads them up a mountain pass, to where a scorched blue 1960s police box stands with its door ajar. Robyn recognises it right away as the TARDIS; the time machine used by the Time Lord known as the Doctor. Anith leads them inside. The TARDIS interior is only dimly lit, operating in low power mode because its power supply is running low. Anith's plan becomes clear: if they can get the TARDIS back online, they can use it to escape this strange realm. But first they need power. Anith has been scouting this island for a while, and two ships recently crashed that might have salvageable power sources, but the inhabitants don't seem friendly. Indeed, once Anith has described them, Robyn recognises them as Cybermen and Daleks. They decide to head for the Cyberman ship, as Anith has only sighted one survivor standing guard over the wreckage, whereas multiple Daleks guard the other ship. After a visit to the TARDIS wardrobe to replace Pan's belt and Malik's cloak - his new cloak, unbeknownst to him, belonged to the Doctor's third incarnation - the group heads out to the ship in order to retrieve the power source.

They have to sidle down a crevasse to reach the ship, which has a gigantic hole in its rear after crashing on the island. They decide to enter through this hole, rather than use the entry hatch. It leads them into a corridor filled with what look like giant glass coffins frosted over at the front; cryovats, containing partially-converted Cybermen. With one fully converted Mondasian Cyberman standing in the middle of the corridor, head bowed in stand-by mode. Robyn warns them all to be quiet, but Malik walks on ahead, past the dormant Cyberman, not even trying to be stealthy. The Cyberman lifts its head and comes online, speaking in monotone: 'Intruders detected. You shall be like us.'

Luckily, expecting they would encounter Cybermen and knowing that some versions of the cybernetic race had an adverse reaction to gold, Robyn had brought the remains of a broken star badge with gold plating on it that she found in the TARDIS. She jammed it into the Cyberman's chest cavity, causing it to asphyxiate.
With the threat dealt with, they head into the ship's engine room and take the power source needed to recharge the TARDIS. Before they leave though, Robyn decides to decouple one of the cryovats and fits anti-grav units to it so they can take it back with them. They can't rescue all of the Cyberconverts, but they can at least save one.

On their way back to the TARDIS, they are ambushed by a patrol of three Daleks. Malik laughs at how ridiculous they look, much to Robyn's horror, which angers the Dalek leader. Well, Daleks are angry anyway, but in any case the Daleks attempted to exterminate the group. Anith tries firing her staff at them, but it's barely doing any damage. Robyn points out that the eyestalk is a weak point on these models, and when Anith starts targeting there, she blinds one of the Daleks. Pan does the same to another of them by lobbing a ball of Greek fire at it, and they soon eliminate the third Dalek and each other by firing blindly in panic.

Hearing more Daleks on the way, they race back to the TARDIS and slam the doors shut, hook up the power source and then Anith - somehow able to fly the TARDIS, albeit poorly - puts the ship in flight, taking them towards the rift in space-time that brought them here. As the TARDIS shakes violently as Anith clumsily pilots it through the rift, it seems uncertain whether they'll make it out in one piece or not...

NEXT TIME...
A ship, adrift in deep space...
"Who the hell are you?" A man and a woman in military-style uniform demand of Mal as he stands in front of the TARDIS. He points to the top of the TARDIS, "I'm with the police!"
They aim at him more intently, nervously even.
A young woman wakes up strapped to a bed as a strange man tries to help her get free, "What's your name?"
She looks down at the clinical overalls she's been dressed in and reads off the first three letters of the serial number, "Aru?"
A door slides open to reveal an android with a holographically projected smiling face in front of its otherwise blank mannequin-esque head: "You should go back to bed."
The man from before steps back from the door, "I'd rather not, thanks."
"I insist." The holographic face glitches briefly as it steps forward, becoming a screaming mask of rage and pain...

Next Episode: 'The Avatars of Madness'

Sunday, January 12, 2014

[Announcement] A Week of Recaps

I haven't been feeling well this week, so I didn't get much blogging done. For that, I apologise. Starting next week, I hope to settle into the new blogging schedule I mentioned last Sunday. This week, though, I'll be doing a bunch of Actual Play recaps for the past semester's run of my Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign. This is both to refresh my own memory of what's happened in the campaign so far, and so that folks aren't confused about what's gone on previously when I start my weekly recaps of the campaign next Tuesday.

I'll be getting started writing the 'season one' recaps today and hopefully have them all done and queued up by mid-week, so that I can get to work on the posts for next week which should include my review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a review of the card game Coup, a recap of the first new session of DWAiTAS, and a review of the Tears of a Machine RPG which I backed on Kickstarter a few months ago. No plans for Wednesday or Friday yet, but hopefully I'll be inspired by the time I'm done with this week's recaps.

That's all for now, I'll be back tomorrow with a recap of DWAiTAS: The Exiles of Time 1.01: 'Liminus'.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Dredd, Takenoko and other stuff...

This is going to be a pretty short Geeky Report, since there hasn't been much going on this week because a) I've been feeling pretty under the weather again, and b) GUGS still hasn't started up again. But here's what little there is to report.

Swag
I used some of my remaining Christmas money to order a copy of Takenoko. I know I said before that I wasn't all that enthralled by Takenoko when it was first shown on Tabletop, but I've since rewatched the episode and - after I actually got how the game is supposed to work - I changed my mind and decided it looks like fun. Also, I said the same thing before about Ticket To Ride, which is a similar sort of game, and I wound up having a really great time playing it.

I also redeemed my NaNoWriMo winner's voucher and downloaded a copy of Aeon Timeline, which is a software tool for creative types to build, well, timelines. I have at least one long-term worldbuilding project I'll probably make use of it for, based on a sci-fi setting I used for a Traveller campaign I ran a while back which I want to expand upon. Other than that...I just thought it sounded cool and might come in handy. ^_^;

Achievements Unlocked
On Monday night James hosted a film night at his place. I could only stay for two films before I had to catch the train home, but what we did watch was Batman Returns and Dredd. I hadn't watched Batman Returns since my teens, so watching it again was entertaining for a whole different bunch of reasons than it was when I was a kid. It was cheesy, over-the-top, and - as one would expect from Tim Burton - gothic and just a bit insane. Also, Danny Devito's performance as the Penguin was much creepier watching this time round, because I actually got the innuendo in his dialogue that flew right over teenage me's head. That said, the Penguin's many puns are terrible, so this is certainly not Devito at his comedy best, but he does make an utterly repugnant villain of the Penguin.

Dredd was pretty awesome. I was a little skeptical at first, because the streets of Megacity One did not look 'Megacity' enough for me. In comparison to the portrayal of the city in the Stallone movie, Dredd's Megacity One feels too sparse, with towering arcologies seperated wide apart by lower level slum housing. But once the film moves inside Peach Trees, it starts to look a bit more as you'd expect. Karl Urban nails the role of Dredd; tough, uncompromising and totally badass. The movie itself is also much bloodier and grittier than the Stallone film, which is how Judge Dredd should be. I also loved Olivia Thirby as Anderson, and Lena Headey is cold-blooded and ruthless as lead villain, MaMa. It also had a pulse-pounding score that I'll probably buy on iTunes at some point. I haven't read Judge Dredd since my teens, but seeing this movie makes me want to go back and start reading again.

While I was at James' he also showed me Saint's Row IV on his PC. I've never really played the Saint's Row series of games, but after watching James demonstrate the gameplay of this one, I'm kinda tempted to get it for the Xbox 360. But that'll have to wait until I have some cash to burn.

Takenoko arrived on Tuesday, so I unboxed it and convinced my mum to sit down and play a game of it with me. It took a while for mum to get the hang of it - and I did need to check the rules myself every now and then - but once we got into the swing of things, it was pretty fun. I'll post a more detailed review after I've had more opportunities to play it.

I also finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline on Thursday, and I enjoyed it so much I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I'll try and write up a proper review by next Sunday, and I'll try and keep the book reviews coming on a weekly basis after that.

So, that's all that's been happening this past week. GUGS is starting back on the 14th, so hopefully I'll be getting up to more stuff once it starts up again. See you later!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

[Service Announcement] The New and Improved Schedule

Now that I've done the obligatory greeting of the new year with resolutions and such, the blog should be getting back to a more regular format which should look something like this:

Sundays: Book Reviews
The regularity of these will depend largely on how quickly I finish each book in my reading list, but I'll aim to post one review every week. I'm currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - hopefully I'll finish it this week - and after that I'll be moving on to this month's Sword and Laser pick, The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany and Redshirts by John Scalzi (I'll be listening to the audiobook, which is narrated by Wil Wheaton).

Mondays: Saturday GUGS Actual Play Recaps / Board Game reviews
This might be bi-weekly if we're sticking to the routine decided upon for Saturday GUGS last term, then every other Saturday will be the Board Games League. On BGL weeks, I'll try and post reviews for board and card games I've played recently.

Tuesdays: Tuesday GUGS Actual Play Recaps
There won't be a post this Tuesday, as there's no GUGS this week, but once GUGS starts back up I'll be posting weekly updates on what's happened in the most recent sessions of my campaign. These will be posted the week after the session being recapped, to give me more time to get them written up for the blog. I'll do my best to keep them regular, but I still have prep to do for the campaign each week and that has to take priority, otherwise there might not be anything to recap! D:

Wednesdays: Behind the Screen
I'll be posting thoughts about GMing and roleplaying in general - as inspired by the DWAiTAS campaign and any one-shots I run in the interim - as well as posting occasional selections of plot hooks and other stuff that's relevant to your GMing interests.

Thursdays: Wild Card
I'll reserve this slot for anything else that springs to mind. I might post reviews of stuff I've watched or game books I've read, or maybe I'll post some additional thoughts on roleplaying or writing, or maybe I'll post something else entirely.

Fridays: Writer's Musings/Flash Fiction
I'll use this slot to post thoughts on the writing craft, or post some flash fiction that I might have written.

Saturdays: WeeGee (Weekly Geek) Reports
On Saturdays I'll continue posting about any geeky acquisitions I've made or stuff I've got up to in the past week as inspired by the Nearly Enough Dice podcast and Siskoid's Blog of Geekery.

There'll be an interruption to this schedule on the week beginning on the 13th of January, as I recap the first season of my 'DWAiTAS: The Exiles of Time' campaign, but normal service should resume the week after that.

That's all for now, I'll be back tomorrow with a review of Coup, from the makers of The Resistance.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] The Time of the Doctor, Smaug, Sherlock and other stuff...

I was tempted to rename this slot to the WeeGee (Weekly Geeky) Report, to make it sound like 'Weegie', but I figured truncating the words 'Weekly' and 'Geeky' like that just didn't work. Also, I'm not really a Weegie, as I don't live in the city. I just go there two or three days a week for volunteer work and hanging out at GUGS. So, I just settled for dropping the 'l' from 'Geekly'. And I'm still not happy with that title.

Bah! Enough rambling, let's just get to the Weekly Geeky Report. This one covers what I've been doing since I went on break from the blogosphere on the 22nd, so it's less a Weekly Geeky Report and more a...ugh, I'm rambling again. Okay, here goes:

Swag
Hasn't arrived yet, but I ordered The Great Game t-shirt from shirt.woot.com. Other than my Nationals t-shirts and GUGS hoodie, I don't really own much roleplaying related attire, and I liked the design so I figured I'd get myself one.
I also ordered another couple of e-books: The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany, which is this month's Sword and Laser pick, and I Don't Want To Kill You by Dan Wells which I've decided to put on my A-Z reading list for this year.
I also ordered and received Coup in time to take it with me to the New Year's party, and we got a lot of play out of it. I'll write up a review of the game for Monday's blog post.

I decided to cancel my LoveFilm subscription at the end of December and started a free trial with Netflix instead. I was using the streaming service for LoveFilm more than the DVD rental, and I found out that Netflix's selection of films/programmes available for streaming was, for the most part, better than LoveFilm's. As well as switching streaming services, I also kicked off a subscription with Audible, and used my first credit to download Redshirts by John Scalzi, which is narrated by Wil Wheaton. I'm kicking myself a little bit that I had already bought Ernest Cline's Ready Player One on Kindle, since it is also narrated by Wheaton and - given the amount of geeky '80s pop culture references in the book - I think he would be a perfect fit as narrator for it.

I got a couple of unexpected Christmas presents at the New Years' party this week, the first of which was a Digimon tag from Ruaridh, with the Crest of Hope on it to represent how my character in our L5R game gave the party the strength to carry on with the task of helping a simple maeko claim her birthright as a late governor's heir. Well, shucks. *blushes*
And James, our former L5R GM, got me the Fate Core System rulebook which I'm really grateful for. I had bought the PDF when it was on offer, but I prefer to work with printed game books and I don't think I've even really looked at the PDF since I got it. But now that I've got the hardcover, I'll definitely give the system a go, so many thanks for that, James!

And then, when I got home on Thursday, I found an e-mail linking me to my Kickstarter backer's copy of the PDF for the Tears Of A Machine RPG. Haven't read much of it yet, as I've been feeling a bit under the weather since Thursday, but so far it looks good.

Achievements Unlocked
On Christmas Day, like many others, I sat down to watch Matt Smith's last episode on Doctor Who. The Time of the Doctor was okay. It tied up pretty much all of the loose threads from the Eleventh Doctor's era, albeit clumsily. We're finally told who blew up the TARDIS, but just how they managed to do it remains a mystery which will most likely never be explained. Clara still lacks depth as a character, and the time skips in the episode robbed it of tension somewhat. Nonetheless, the Doctor's final goodbye was both beautifully written and delivered perfectly by Smith. It was a more stoic exit than Tennant's but no less heartbreaking. Although, the regeneration itself was a bit too quick for my liking. As my friend Luke said: 'Sneezepaldi was not nice.'

Before the New Year's party on Tuesday night, a bunch of us went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. As with An Unexpected Journey, I was annoyed by the amount of stuff they crammed into the movie which wasn't in the original book. I get that they want to tie it to The Lord of the Rings movies, but it felt unnecessary to me, especially the inclusion of a younger Legolas. That also doesn't account for them shoving in an awkward romantic sub-plot between Kili and a wood elf guard, played by Evangeline Lilly. Also, whereas the barrel scene in the book had Bilbo's plan work more or less flawlessly, the film version is expanded into a complete action sequence. It was a fun action sequence, but ultimately it wasn't needed. And I couldn't help but feel that Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo isn't all that different from his portrayal of Watson in Sherlock. I still enjoyed the film, but I wish there was much less filler in it than there was.

While staying over with several others on New Years Day, I got to play a ten player game of The Resistance, and also got in some Forbidden Island and Chrononauts.

I also got to play Coup properly for the first time since it arrived, and it was really popular with everyone. (I'll post a review of the game sometime next week.) The only game we replayed almost as much was Cards Against Humanity, which I'd never played before and was eager to give a try. It was the UK edition, so we didn't have any problems interpreting the cultural references in it. We had a lot of fun with it, and many laughs (often pained ones) were had, and many winces were induced. I don't know if it's a game I would pick up for myself, but I'd definitely play it again.

In the evening a group of us sat down to watch the series 3 premiere of Sherlock: The Empty Hearse. It was fun, but it was also very blatantly trolling fans with two fake-out explanations of how Sherlock faked his death and one 'official' explanation...or is it? No sooner has this final explanation been given than doubt is cast upon its veracity, despite it coming straight from the horse's mouth. I'm going to assume this explanation is the truth, but I'd rather they hadn't added a note of ambiguity to it. And then there's Sherlock. There are times in this episode when he doesn't seem like himself, too. And then there's the climactic scene where Sherlock is back to being a jackass, but it feels like even he should know better. The plot itself was really just an afterthought, this story was about reintroducing Sherlock to London and getting the band back together. In that respect, it works as a character-focused episode, dealing with the effect of Sherlock's return on his few friends, specifically John. It's still not enough to make it more than an average episode for me, though.

After Sherlock, James - our host and my old L5R GM - got a bunch of us together to play a one-off session of 13th Age. For the first time ever I decided to play as a dwarf - most likely due to some lingering influence from seeing The Hobbit - who had left the service of the Dwarf King after being asked to deliver a mystical goblet, which he realised was too dangerous to be used by anyone. (Each PC has one 'unique thing' which the player chooses at the start, giving the GM a narrative thread to tie the story to them. Mine was 'The only one who knows where the Goblet of Illmar is hidden.' and this led to the plot for this session being aimed mainly at me, since it turned out to be a trap to attempt to force my character to reveal his secret.)
The other characters included a frivolous elvish prince who had been assigned to escort me through the elves' lands, a forgeborn assassin who had been sent to follow me and keep me safe until I led him to the person he was supposed to kill, and a creepy beardless dwarf who had been enslaved by the spiders of the Spider Woods and sent to infiltrate our party so that we could lead him to 'the Master'. By the time we finished it was quite late and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, but I enjoyed the session and even liked the system despite it being a d20 system. The escalation dice mechanic in combat sequences is a neat idea as well, ensuring that the longer the PCs stay in the fight, the greater their chances of succeeding attack rolls becomes. This means it's more beneficial for players to hold back on their stronger abilities until later, when their success is more assured, and reduces the problem of combat grinding on forever. Depending on PCs' abilities, some combat options also become available to them at certain escalation dice values. I don't know if 13th Age is a system I'd get for myself, as it still seems a bit crunchy for my GMing style, but I'd definitely play it again and would even be up for joining in a campaign of it.

It's been a fun couple of weeks, and things are probably going to be much quieter now until GUGS starts up again on the 14th. There's a possibility of a film night this week, and an L5R one-shot at some point but I don't know when that's going to happen. I had to turn down the idea of playing L5R yesterday because I was feeling mentally exhausted after the New Years' excitement, and it seems I may have contracted a cold which would probably explain why I felt so drained on the Thursday. Anyway, regardless of what happens between now and next week, I'll let you know if I've been up to anything exciting next Saturday.

I'll be back tomorrow with an announcement regarding the blog, and I'll see about putting together some more posts for later in the week. See you later!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Creative Goals for 2014

Last, but definitely not least in my series about my hopes for 2014, here is a list of the stuff I want to do as a writer and roleplayer in the year ahead.

1. Finish a novel or two.
I'll be starting work on writing my first novel of the year very soon. I'm hoping I'll be able to complete it within three months, and then do another one later in the year.

2. Write and finish some short stories.
In between novels, I'd like to try and get some short stories and/or flash fiction written as well. I've got one or two ideas I'd like to pick up from last year, and I'll probably have more by the time those are finished.

3. Finish the first half of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction project.
I'll be working on this mostly during Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, and at this stage it's going to be a bit out of date since it features the Eleventh Doctor, but my hope is that I'll be able to finish, edit, and start posting the first half of my crossover fanfic 'season' by autumn. Just in time for the new series.

4. Write up some shareable RPG content.
I want to write up some RPG scenarios that other GMs can download in PDF form and use for their games. I'll be doing this for Ashen Stars and Kuro to begin with, but we'll see if I decide to do anything beyond those. I also want to put together a playset for Fiasco called Kaiju Defence Force, create some character playbooks for Monster of the Week (the Magical Girl, the Teen Detective, the Tomb Raider and the Writer) and a Neo-Tokyo transmission for Technoir.

5. Create a couple of Gumshoe RPG books.
Now that the Gumshoe RPG's SRD is online, I want to use it for a couple of projects. First, I want to put together a S.H.I.E.L.D. based fan-hack. This is partly as a test run to figure out how to design my own game around the Gumshoe RPG, and also because I think S.H.I.E.L.D. is a pretty good fit for Gumshoe and vice versa. Obviously, I won't be able to sell it or anything, but I can play with friends and maybe make it available for free online.
Assuming that goes well, I might take a crack at creating a Gumshoe RPG from scratch. I still need to really brainstorm the setting, but I'm going to be drawing some inspiration from Inception for it. Except, instead of being the ones committing the mind crime, players would be investigating it.

And that sums up my plans for 2014. I'm looking forward to getting to work on these projects, and hopefully I'll manage to accomplish most (if not all) of them. I'll see if I can track progress throughout the year on a separate page on this blog.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Geekolutions for 2014!

Geek and Sundry posted this video a couple of weeks back, where a bunch of their vloggers and the cast of one of their upcoming series talk about what kind of geeky stuff they want to get up to in the New Year.

I posted one geekolution on Twitter via the #geekolution hashtag, but one doesn't seem like enough. So here's a list of ten.

1. Play through and finish the Mass Effect trilogy.
I've had Mass Effect 3 for about a year now, but I haven't played it yet because I wanted to play through the first two again with a new Shepard, Jenny, who I've modelled on the new default Femshep look in ME3. I want to make that happen this year.

2. Finish reading the Wheel of Time series.
I read the first four books last year, and I want to finish the series this year. I may be investing in an Audible account this year, and if I do I'll be using my credits to make my way through the books a bit quicker than I can manage just by reading.

3. Play one-shots/short-campaigns of the RPGs I've amassed in the past two years.
I've bought a fair few games in the past two or three years and played about...10% of them? Possibly less? Anyway, I want to get around to playing some more of them this year. Here's the shortlist (in no particular order): Short Order Heroes, Misspent Youth, Kuro, Gumshoe (probably Ashen Stars or Timewatch), Technoir, Rocket Age, Grey Ranks, Shock: Social Science Fiction, Apocalypse World, Hillfolk, and Mortal Coil. (Also Tears of a Machine, but backer copies haven't been released yet.)

4. Play more board games.
I've developed an appetite for board gaming in the past year or two (partly thanks to Tabletop) and I'm hoping to experience a variety of different games this year that I haven't played before, such as: Coup, Resistance: Avalon, Power Grid, Space Alert, Space Cadets, Takenoko, Unspeakable Words (plus most, but not all, of the games that have been on Tabletop), and Firefly: The Board Game.

5. Read all of the Sword & Laser picks for this year.
I discovered Sword & Laser late in 2012, but I haven't really been following their book picks. This year though, I intend to read all of their picks for 2014 and join in on the discussion board on their Goodreads group.

6. Read more non-fiction.
A lot of my reading for the past year has been either fiction or writing advice books, but I want to try and read some more non-fiction this year. Reading more non-fiction will help broaden my general knowledge which I might be able to use in my writing. Or at the very least it might come in handy at a pub quiz.

7. Watch my unwatched DVD collection.
Let's see, what have we got here...Fringe season three, Band of Brothers, Grimm season one, Spooks series 4 & 5, Quantum Leap season two, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood volume one, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st GiG, Smallville season two, both series of Rebus (Ken Stott), all of Spaced and Coupling. Yeah. That's a loooot of stuff that I still haven't watched.

8. Catch up on some of my favourite TV shows.
As if the previous list wasn't enough, I also need to catch up with 24 (seasons 5+), Eureka (seasons 3+), Fringe (seasons 4+), Lost Girl (seasons 2+), Once Upon A Time (season 2), Supernatural (seasons 8+), Veronica Mars (seasons 2+), Warehouse 13 (seasons 4.5+). I also want to catch up with Game of Thrones (seasons 2+) and The Walking Dead (seasons 2+).

9. Get into Magic the Gathering.
I've wanted to build a Magic deck for a while, but the problem isn't so much building a deck as maintaining it and keeping it current. I'm not sure I've got the income to make a proper hobby of it, but I'm willing to give it a try at least.

10. Continue running my Doctor Who: Adventures in Time And Space campaign until December.
I originally only planned to run for a couple of semesters, but when I realised I needed a bit of a longer campaign to carry the ongoing storyline, I decided to extend it until at least the end of 2014. So I'll be running 'season two' during the Winter-Spring 2014 academic term, and 'season three' in the Autumn-Winter term, instead of just running two short seasons during the Winter-Spring term. After that...well, we'll see how things go. I may or may not be up for running for another semester, or I may want a change of game.

And those are all of my Geekolutions for 2014. Tomorrow: Creative Projects for 2014.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolutions for 2014

Another year gone, another year ahead of us. It's about this time people generally make resolutions for the New Year, isn't it? My list of New Years' resolutions will need to be split into three parts: resolutions for my day-to-day life, my Geekolutions for 2014, and the list of creative projects I'm planning to undertake this year.

But let's start with the basics:

1. Get a Job!
Easier said than done at the moment, but it's still priority number one. Which I didn't really think needed stating in a New Year's resolution yet again, but I decided to put it in anyway.

2. Get Fit
I took a shot at exercising regularly for last year's resolution, but I may have been trying to do too much too soon. I do take long walks two or three times a week, so I get a bit of exercise that way, but I'm going to try and find a more regular exercise routine that works for me.

3. Get Out More
This one's not as easy as it sounds. As much as I would like to go out and socialise a bit more, the fact is that I have a very limited income, and most of my friends live outwith my local area. Still, I'm going to try and make an effort to attend some GUGS socials this year, maybe visit Geek Retreat a couple of times a month, and even see if I can join a local writer's group, or put one together from other writers that I know.

4. Get Better At Using Social Media
It's not that I can't use social media, I just don't use it consistantly. But I'm going to have to try and use it a bit more, because Facebook is pretty much the only way I have (beyond Skype) of staying in touch with my brothers and their families, and Twitter is a pretty good place to hear the latest on book publishing, news on TV shows and movies, and also there are just some really cool people on there. Of course, there are some really horrible people too, but that's what the block button is for.

5. Blog More Regularly
Damn, I couldn't figure out a way to put 'Get' in there without it seeming really contrived. Oh well. Anyway, my blogging consistency has been pretty spotty, mainly because I've been struggling to decide on topics to post about. But I'm a writer, and I need to keep myself busy, so I'm sure I'll work something out.

That's pretty much it for lifestyle-focused resolutions. I'll be back tomorrow with a list of 10 Geekolutions for 2014.