I am Tom Zunder, from the coldest climes of Newcastle upon Tyne, in northern England, looking for a few coins of research money, in my collection cap. Today I tell of Don Quixote, jouster of giants, who finds himself in the City of Charming, facing his greatest ever challenge: mobility manager.
Then 45 minutes in gym in shoes that the hotel lend you (plus a tee and shorts and a free pair of socks), 30 on treadmill and 15 on cross trainers, then little swim. hotel lends you trainers, shorts, tee shirt, all for $5, it's to promote the shoe brand I am sure, actually I didn't like them at all, too tight and broke my big toe nail, bastards.
Then in convertible with top down and drove to Santa Monica on the huge freeway for 30 minutes, and spent a pleasant 30 minutes with gamers in hobby shop before visiting Santa Monica Pier and Beach and cruising down along Ocean Drive.
Then off and away back to Long Beach to another hobby shop, different location but same fat gamers playing Pathfinder and boxes and boxes of old games and dusty miniatures. After a scary drive through the scary part of Long Beach (about 8 blocks back from the expensive bit) I decided to go see the Queen Mary, and before I knew it I was exploring the sun deck and then had dinner in the Seafood and Chowder Lounge as the sun set. I had Maryland Crab Cakes with grated cabbage and then grilled mahi-mahi with a small mound of rice and some broccoli. Queen Mary nice, see pictures, but not THAT great. Avoided dreadful sycophantic St. Diana of the Underpass exhibition and possibly better "Legends and Ghost Stories of the Queen Mary" which is clearly their Halloween fun fair come ghost story thing. It's also a hotel, and pleased to have gone. Came back and crashed at 9pm.
Our flight to LAX was delayed, until 17:05 and in satellite C. So I left lounge at 16:25 and HORROR, the transit trains stopped running for a security check. I stayed calm. But when I got to the plane at 16:55, I appeared to be the last.. I need not have worried, many more were even later. But it did mean that when they puzzled and tore up my ticket and gave me a new one I didn't even look at it until I was at the plane and realising I had been upgraded to Club World. Oh happy days!
I had a good time, it was great to see old friends and new, and I am pleased that the house accomodated everyone well.
We started at 4.30 on Friday when the Sheffielders arrived (right on time, well done Simon).
Ann provided a buffet and then some of played the rather fun if esoteric game [i]Princes of Florence[/i] which was a Renaissance game of conspicupus patronage and prestige. It was good, Id play it again. Then we had a couple of games of Guillotine and happily executed many tumbrils of aristos' in this great beer and pretezels game of revolution. Fat was then chewed in a late night chat and drink session.
Saturday morning, Neil G joined for bacon and sausage butties and then we walked to Jesmond, then Metro to Tynemouth where we explored a flea market, had a walk to see Admiral Collingwood's monument, have a panoramic view of the Tyne, then fish and chips and back to Heaton for some more chilling and the usual gamr chitter chatter about new editions of FATE, old editions of Chivalry and Sorcery, Kickstarters for Esteren and Exalted and whether Graham had a date for Wednesday night. Andrew W and Duncan R had joined us by then and after a truly awesome meal of slow cooked lamn, potatoes and butternut squash, the evening games started.
Sadly Elaine wasn't with us so we were unable to have the true joy of game sign up sheets, but we managed. I played in [i]Edge of Empire[/i] run by Pete G, and as Neil says, it is a lovely gritty post Order 66, scum and villainy level of game. It took me half the game to understand the dice, but once I did they seemed intuitive. The combat was suitably close, as befits a fantasy game, and the product was beautifully made. What would put me off would be the sheer cost of starting up the game, but then again, we're gamers, when has that ever really stopped us?
Upstairs Simon B ran his [i]Stiff Upper Lip[/i] FATE game and I'll let those guys report on that game. Then we stayed up far too late drinking and eating cheese with Ann discussing the relative importance of exact conformance to current grammar norms versus ability to convey meaning.
Sunday started with a (as yet undisclosed) breadcake shortage followed by emergency situation gamma-4, e.g. Sainsburys closed when Neil got there so we deplouyed emergency plan alpha-16, and Graham popped around to Tescos for some some baps to put the sausages in.. ooer missus.
I ran my [i]Stormbringer[/i] game which was a multiversal plane hopping game in which Prince Yyrkoon, Sir Gawain of Lot and Orkneys and Brother Juan Claros of the Reconquista (??) of Iberia had to do lots of plane hopping to get stuff. I think I'll not say what since some of you may get to play a revised version at a con in the next years. I enjoyed running Elric! again and it reminded me that it is still my favourite BRP ruleset.
Downstairs Andrew W ran what seems to have been a very successful [i]Dungeon World[/i] game based on the Fighting Fantasy classic [i]Deathtrap Dungeon[/i].
Ann served up her Beef and Black Ale pie and all went home well fed. I had a kip.
I can only repeat my thanks for Ann's sterling work in providing vittals, and also to my fellow referees for running games, Andrew S for introducing us to the new boardgame and to one and all for being great roleplayers and convivial company!
When I talk about D&D I mean B/X D&D and/or AD&D 1st edition (PHB and DMG and MM). I did see the White Box once but it was on a shelf as an archived thing even in 1979.
I disliked the core D&D rules system. Not for being ‘serious’ but being outrageouslt flawed as a combat simulation, and BRP being closer to how I imagined combat. The more time I spend with people who do combat recreation with metal swords, the more I realised that combat is just a touch too complex for any rpg to simulate wholly, but that BRP is closer than D&D.
I disliked the core D&D rules system also for it’s class/level approach which meant that the world was oddly solipsist, it always mirrored the class/level structure of the players. So 1-3 level PCs had 1-3 level adventures, and when they got to 4-6, the world jacked up to 4-6 around them and so on.
I disliked the very wide power range of AD&D onwards. The difference between levels seemed to become broader and broader, and the sheer power imbalance between a 1st level wizard and a 10th or 20th level character made the world seem increasingly imbalanced.
I wanted skills. D&D didn’t have them until 3e.
I disliked the haphazard nature of rules in D&D, the fact that the game appeared to grow rather than be designed, the fact that some rules followed percentiles and some a d6, that it wasn’t possible to master the system by learning one or two core mechanisms. The unique nature of each class and between races and between PCs and NPCs and monsters irritated me.
D&D was very preachy. Well let’s be clear, Gary Gygax was very preachy and prescriptive, which given the ‘not exactly perfect’ nature of the game bugged me.
I liked a magic system that allowed player choice in how to use resources to power spells, and D&D had a Vancian spell system that exacerbated the problems of low level characters and limited magic.
I didn’t conceptually like the difference between player races and monsters. It appealed to me far more to be able to play any sentient creature as a PC, and with the same rules as any other creature. This came very much from playing T&T, but also my egalitarian and inclusive social views. Monsters are people too!
I liked unified resolution systems and BRP had one (actually two if you use the resistance table), it appeals to my love of simple system design and analysis in real life, which I also accept is a reductionist tendency that makes me paper over minor variations and/or cross influences.
I wanted to play in a society based game that had a culture and the players existed and interacted with it to gain benefit and make their name, whereas default D&D seemed to be about groups of mercenaries looting tombs in an analogue of the Wild West. I accept that this wasn’t the only way to play D&D, but RQ offered a culture led game out of the book, so it worked for me.
The fact that in BRP it is just possible for a David to bring down a Goliath appealed to my view of the inherent danger of combat, and also my delight in the ‘little guy’ bringing down the behemoth with all the advantages.
I had no problem with playing ducks, trolls, scorpion-men, minotaurs, wind children, etc. any more than playing halflings, tieflings or ewoks.
As I grew up and tried other games that also took similar and different game designs, as ideas such as binary advantages and disadvantages (feats) and a lighter and lighter approach came to rulesets, and simulation was increasingly not seem as a benefit I came to 3e D&D, which had skills and a more unified approach (in the core books, I ignore the panoply of add ons) I ran it for 3 years every other week.
Much of my issues still exist, the class/level world, the very wide power level range, the likelihood that as a group of 1st level characters you couldn’t take down a 10th level fighter. On the other hand, it had skills that worked, I quite liked feats, and we had a lot of fun playing it.
At the same time I was well aware of the issues around BRP, it’s inherent fragility for characters was upsetting for many players, the full hit location based combat sequences were taking too long for a modern game, and the magic system with regard to POW driven divine spells was looking stingy compared to MP driven spirit/battle magic. There were too many skills and the ‘tick hunting’ was a problem for many refs, although not myself.
Most of these were fixed in OpenQuest and RQII and RQ6, but I also had a look at the OSR retro clone games. They were either exact copies of games I hadn’t liked decades before, or they were “homages” like Castles & Crusades. I politely walked away.
Did I use to hate D&D? Yes. In my youth it seemed to really annoy me and I disliked it a lot. When I saw good settings shoe horned into the d20 system it annoyed me.
Do I hate it now? Not in the way I used to. I can relax and take it as something people enjoy a lot. I could play and run core Pathfinder and have a good time. I’d give 4e another go, it seemed a fun skirmish game. I’d try Tru20 if anyone wanted to play it or run it.
But I’d always play systems that IMHO are better designed games.
So was RQ a refuge? No, it was one of the game systems (along with T&T and Traveller and HERO and others) that offered differently designed games that appealed better to my personal likes and dislikes about roleplaying, society and system design. Was it my favourite? Probably, and yet that’s because of the tight link between society and game, culture and PCs, and in reality that’s achievable with many game systems, but more difficult with the power ramp of D&D.
I have been on a bit of a mad rpg frenzy. Work has just got some heavy and so dense that I had to take a holiday in my head, so I've put in 17 hours playing Torchlight, read about 6 rpgs books straight, 4 graphic novels, and oh yes, stopped watching TV.
On the way I bought, read and have been playing solo adventures using Heroes and Other Worlds which is a retroc clone of the old Steve Jackson game The Fantasy Trip, a clear precursor to GURPS.
The game is simple, it's definitely evoking an OSR feel, and yet with a ruleset that I never owned or played, although I have played and run GURPS.. but it wasn't popular with my friends. Essentially you play an Adventurer or a Wizard, and it's cheaper for a Wizard to buy spells, and cheaper for an Adventurer to buy dexterity based skills. There are 4 stats, STrength (ST), DeXterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ) and ENdurance (EN). Basically ST allows use of weapons, is the pool of hit points or magic points to either withstand damage or power spells, IQ is the default stat for which spells you can learn, how many spells/skills you can know, and the base stat for thinking type checks, DX is the go to stat for most physical stat checks. EN wasn't in TFT and is a fudge, it's a pool of easily recovered points to power spells and absorb damage. It seems to be a PC only stat, NPCs don't have it. As I said it's a fudge stat, but I can see from the solos and the stats of NPCs that without it a PC would die far too often to be fun.
There is an extensive spell list, many of which are short sweet and suited to the tactical combat nature of the game. There is a simple combat system that delivers a good hex/square based tactical game that is satisfying and yet not slow. The author delivers a bestiary that is clearly as influenced by D&D as anything else.
The referee section, ominously barred from player's eyes, is very good. The game is not billed as an rpg but as an "adventure game", and the emphasis is on adventure base upon combat, treasure, monsters and the ref section has a very good random dungeon system, a good random plunder system, a solo adventure (good luck keeping the player's eyes off that, and a well crafted adventure. Noticeably, although the author makes stance against emotive roleplay, the system neither supports or prevents as much narrative ham acting as you like, which is often the point made my OSR supporters. [Bit like Traveller.]
So, I created 4 characters and we launched into the solo adventure, alright, the 'programmed adventure', which is written by Dark City games. Wow, what a retro rush. I've not played a solo in years, and this, with it's hex sheet cleverly laid out to setup all the combats, it's multi PC style, and the simple flow of the story was great fun. Ann did laugh out loud when she saw me at my study desk "playing figures with myself", but it was fun.. dangerous and deadly for one of my PCs, but fun. Last night I downloaded another freebie adventure from DCG, The Sorcerers' Manor and bished, bashed and looted my way through.
So, what do I think? Well, the text is fine, albeit with a few rules issues that need a gentle tweak for newbies (I never played TFT so I suspect that the author sometimes assumes knowledge), one or two explanations need moving around, but the system is light enough that a competent reader can judge what's what, and in fact it's well drafted. The fudging of EN is necessary due to the inherent low power base of retro starting characters, but also since the development curve for the PCs is quite slow, and in this clone the core stats cannot be changed, which is a potential problem if, like one of my wizards, he really isn't clever enough to cast his spells, and will never get better. [There is a curious bit of text which implies that there is a skill bonus to spell casting but I can't see where from.].
Combats are tactical, finely balanced, and magic can play a really big role, which shows the TFT roots as a tactical game. The combat is a straight forward roll under stat+skill to hit, opponent may react with a parry/dodge but lose next move, and then damage is rolled, armour is subtracted from that, points come off EN or ST. The plunder rules are light and fun, generating interesting treasure, the spell lists are enjoyable, and the layout and illustrations of the core book are nice and redolent of the source material.
I like the idea of the Old Skool Revival, of playing simple fun games that recreate the hobby's youth. However I never really liked D&D mechanically, so for me this is a nice reminder that there were other games out there that are worth another look, have a similar 'feel' but had mechanics that IMHO were better. [Hey, like Traveller.]
So, expect an old skool game of Heroes and Other Worlds from me at a con.
http://www.mediafire.com/heroworlds [there's a short rule set in the Caludron 0 magazine]
Do you oppose the regulation of the press by the state?
I have to say I do, I am not willing to sacrifice the liberty of the free press for Hugh Grant's vanity.
People hacked phones, there is a law against that, use it.
Police sold data, there is a law against that, use it.
News Corporation behaved badly, well let's use our media ownership laws to prevent one monopolist controlling too much media and influence.
What do you think? I value your opinion.
We arrived at Beijing airport to discover that despite explicitly asking British Airways and being assured that our baggage allowance stayed the same all round the world irrespective of airline, that our allowance on Cathay Pacific would plummet to 30kg each, and we had 97kg in total! After some outright blagging by Tom we managed to dodge the bullet. Cathay Pacific have a legendary rep for business class, but I have to say whilst it's very good on service (they have a lively multi-ethnic crew) the kit is showing it's age and needs an update. Still, their Cathay Delight mocktail is delightfully minty and we settled in.
We arrived and had no problems getting a taxi and a driver very happy to fit all our bags in the cab, with a bit of bungee holding the boot closed(ish) as we sped from the airport. Ann was able to see the Tsing Ma Bridge, over the Lantau crossing, a bridge that she worked on for a good while selling all the Hyclad stainless steel for it.
We were staying at a Crowne Plaza near to the Times Square shopping area, A very nice hotel indeed, with an Indian doorman, and we zoomed up to the top floor bar and drank cocktails with our old friend Mark Basford (also from the stainless steel days) and watched the flashing neon of the skyscrapers. The next day we found and joined the Big Bus Tour, which is our preferred way to acquaint ourselves with any city. It was a good example of the type and we got a good mix of history, architecture, culture and shopping fed to us in a very pleasant British voice. In the middle of the tour we stopped and took the Star Ferry around the main harbour. Whilst this was a very historical and appropriate tour, the voiceover was a curious mix of the official party line and what seemed to be extracts from developer's brochures. Well worth doing tho' and if we went again I might do it at night to see the sound and light show.
|From Hong Kong China|
We finished the tour and headed back to our very nice hotel room. [Did I mention that the hotel room was very nice?] Then we took a taxi up Victoria Peak, which is the hill that lies on Hong Kong island and overlooks the main bay. We watched the spectacular view of the vast array of skyscrapers as they pulsed with neon, the most spectacular night show we've seen on this trip, including Las Vegas. Then we ate with Mark and Kate Basford at the Peak Overlook restaurant, which was great, catching up and talking over life, kids and just what work is like in the post quiche world. Only odd thing was that there was no lighting on the table of any consequence, so we read the menus by torch!
The next day Ann was feeling a little fragile so she stayed in bed whilst I packed 18 kilos of dirty washing into a big cardboard box and the very nice conciere in our very nice hotel posted it all back the UK, hence reducing our luggage to 80 kilos in total. We then bought a new cabin bag to put 10 kilos in, and decided to use our small suitcase in the cabin (it's legal for cabin) therefore solving our baggage allowance problem. However, if you choose to book a round the world One World Traveller ticket, be very aware that your effective baggage allowance is that of the lowest allowance, making the vast British Airways allowance a it bloody pointless!
We explored the computer stall market that is 288 Hennessy Road and Tom resisted buying a zoom lens for his Panasonic, and also confirmed what we had seen all round the world, which is that the UK is usually cheaper or more competitive for electronics, and that nearly all souvenirs are made in China! We had a bite to eat in a local cafe, and we tried Hong Kong milk tea, which is basically very strong builders tea with condensed milk, Tom liked it and Ann didn't.
|From Hong Kong China|
The next day we flew to Thailand. I think. It's all a blur. We were fine on luggage allowance! We liked Hong Kong..
Flew in on Japan Airlines, I like JAL. Like Tokyo we got a limousine bus from the airport to the Holiday Inn in Seoungbuk, a rather nice part of Seoul, with plenty of neon, a PC bang, Korean BBQ, bakery in the hotel, little supermarket, Karaoke bang, eateries and one or two mobile phone shops, with huge soaring apartment blocks on all sides. Seould has a population of about 25 million people, and yet a smaller ground area than Beijing and loads of green areas, it's a very dense place, and yet not too oppressive.
We started off with a Korean BBQ. At each table is a hole in the centre of the wooden table and a brass extractor pipe overhead. A bowl of hot coals is placed into the centre of the hole with a grill over it, and you grill your own choice of meat. It's a great idea, and apart from the fact that everything else around the table was weird or known to be ultra spicy, it was good fun. Noticeably I ordered some rice and got a small bowl, Ann ordered noodles and got a bowl of cold soup with cold noodles in, so we shared the rice. As time went on I realised we were in Northern Asia and rice isn't that common or plentiful but noodles, being wheat based, are more common.
The next day we took a shuttle bus to catch a round the city hop on and hop off bus tour. It was air cinditioned, thank goodness, and we saw quite a good bit of town before stopping off at Itaewon which is a rather tourist area, clearly focused at the large number of US forces personnel in town. Some people are a bit iffy about it, but frankly I rather liked it, and we went to a tailors and started the process of having a bespoke suit made for me! Hoorah! [Ate at Outback, a rathe good Aussie steakhouse chain we've seen all along our travels.]
That evening we went to N.Seoul Tower, which is a ruddy great tower on the top of a ruddy great hill in the centre of Seoul. The city is very much a sea of neon and so we (along with about 300 people and many millions of screaming kids) watched the city change from grey to neon through dusk.It certainly is a great city to view from up there, late at night, and some of the buildings have great displays, not to mention the tall red crucifixes that rise up from the very many Christian churches (usually architectural monstrosities). At the end we took the cable car back down, which I rather enjoyed despite my dislike for heights.
Picture by Andrew Bell, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The next day we went to the DMZ. The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea which runs along the 38th parallel north. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 250 kilometres (160 miles) long, approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. The Northern Limit Line, or NLL, is the de facto maritime boundary between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea and the coastline and islands on both sides of the NLL are also heavily militarized. [Previous paragraph, source Wikipedia, see page for licence details, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Demilitarized_Zone]
Frankly we did not have a great time. The guide was good, but the day consisted primarily of a very long coach trip, a very long wait in a very hot car park, then a near lethal walk down a very steep tunnel to a very low wet tunnel to look through a tiny hole at a another tiny tunnel, then a closed railway station, followed by a viewing platform where we look across opend land to North Korea. Ah well, bucket list and all that. On return we explored a rather nice small area of town called Insadong where we had a nice cup of coffee (good coffee is an expensive treat in Asia) and browsed some typical arts and crafts, tried a Korean doughnut (yummy), ate at Burger King (yummy) and staggered home in a taxi.
|From Seoul, South Korea|
We then visited the Hongdae area is a region in Seoul, South Korea near the Hongik University, after which it is named. It is known for its urban arts and indie music culture, clubs and entertainments.
We used a mixture of taxi and the metro in Seoul, and whilst taxis are simple and inexpensive, the congestion is unbearable and the driving quite aggressive and bad. The metro, on the other hand, is clean, fast, simple to understand, and uses a smart card payment system called T Money that makes life uncomplicated. I particularly liked the fact that you can get little mobile phone charms that act as smart cards for payment, rather than using a card, obviously there was a Hello Kitty one! We also found the fact that you can pay for your taxi ride with a T Money device as a great recognition of the true potential for integrated ticketing. We’d like to send out a big thank you to Canadian Andy, who we met in a B&B in California, who gave us some great advice on where to go in Seoul (not all of which we followed) and also her T Money card.
This blog written by Ann, over to you Ann.
Greetings from Tokyo. Flight was good – 11 hours flew by (see what I did there…) although JAL's seats were not quite up to BA's flat bed standards. The food and the service, on the other hand, were superb. We seem to have handled the 16 hour time change rather well, so far. There are many excellent limousine bus services from Haneda aiport to the main hotels, at about 7000 yen single per person. They're very efficient and happy to deal with heavy bags. We actually got in just a little late for the last bus to our hotel so they advised us to go to the Hyatt and take a taxi to the Intercontinental, it all worked well. Japanese staff seem very service oriented, wouldn't accept a tip if offered (would be offended in fact) and are extremely willing to meet your needs. The best thing to do is immediately goto the customer information booth when you land, they're very very helpful.
How to describe Tokyo? Clean to the point of clinical. Affluent. Industrious. Expensive. Refined. Classy. Confident. Safe. Painfully polite. Geeky/ nerdy. Kinky. Cookie-cutter 'salarymen', girls as individual as the fashions they wear. Crazy high heeled shoe-wearing taken to whole new level (in all this humid heat and concrete – respect!) Brilliantly funny 'cartoonized' public messages. Clam-shells, not smart phones (!) Superb quality food (even sandwiches are world class). Do I like this city though? Not much.
First thing to report on, is the toilet situation. There are 2 kinds in Tokyo. First kind, you sit down on a heated seat and there are buttons to: a) jet-wash your 'posterior', b) activate the bidet function (sprays your front bits) c) blow dry the above mentioned, with jets of warm air. Second kind of toilet: squat pan in the floor. Now, I'm starting to rather like the first kind, in a slightly embarrassed kind of a way but, having narrowly missed selection for the Olympic gymnastics team, I'm struggling somewhat with the latter. Solution: double-dose Immodium for the next 4 days!
We visited the Imperial Palace Gardens, hot, empty and utterly uninteresting. Ginza, expensive and soul-less window on top end brand shopping. We went to Akihabara Electric Town, which is a declining PC and electrical goods area which has turned to 'otaku' fans of anime/manga and which is full of manga/anime shops, games arcades, 'maid cafes' and was frankly all quite weird even if you like anime or manga. We then went to the Edo-Tokyo museum which had some excellent models and some great exhibits but also strange omissions in the history, especially over the Imperial Japanese War in the Pacific, China etc.
Off to see what the crazy Tokyo teenagers get up to on a Saturday night in downtown Shibuya. The crossing there is the one you always see in films and news broadcasts and it boasts the busiest Starbucks in the world. Cup of coffee before we go then…
Shibuya was excellent and just the Japan we were looking for, neon, people, activity, mix of old and new. Right on the mark.
Just been in a Pachinko parlour. This is a kind of vertical pinball slot machine into which you pour a basketfull of small balls and then manipulate them, through the pins, into certain locations. Directly gambling
The Japanese government estimates the annual revenues of the pachinko industry to be in the region of ¥29 trillion (US$378 billion) – approximately four times the total annual profit of WORLD-WIDE legal casino gambling!!!!!!! Quite apart from the damage to the pocket, the NOISE level in these places (which are on every street corner) is deafening.
So, Tokyo, very expensive, only way to live is to eat the excellent white rice balls or white sandwiches with the crusts cut off from the 7-11 or Lawsons convenience store. It's not a very tourist friendly city, not least because it's so expensive (and I checked Japanese salaries and it's expensive for them, our salaries in real terms are very similar) but also it's not at all geared up for foreigners. Ironic eh? One of the world's key suppliers of tourists, from a place that's not at all interesting!
Ah well, it's ticked off the bucket list.