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July 31, 2005

Reefcon '05 Report

As you may already know, I attended Reefcon ’05, Cairns’ annual RPGA convention at the Trinity Bay High School, yesterday evening. Almost half the players were up from Brisbane; the event they call the “Spring Revel Downunder” is actually going to be in Brisbane this year, so the money the Brisbane gamers usually save to fly to Sydney or Melbourne for the Revel was used on flying up here instead.

Couple of things I’ve learned:


  1. If you want to go to an RPG con to meet new gamers, it’s best to go to as much of the whole event as time and money permit. Just turning up for one session ain’t gonna do much good; you don’t have any time to really get to know anyone and, unless you’re Captain Charisma, you’re not giving anyone else a fair shot at getting to know you. Invest your time in them and it's more likely they'll invest some in you.
  2. An RPGA convention attracts the “gamer” type more than most. Expect to hear conversations on whether to get a mastercraft broadaxe or the enchanted armour next, or how rule X on armour-stacking in the Player’s Handbook interacts with rule Y on Divination school spells introduced in a campaign card. If you hear any discussions on character development, you’ll be very lucky.

My picture of the typical RPGA con gamer (based, admittedly, on a couple of hours of pre-game and a single session alone) is one of an RPGer who is focused on maximising his character’s system-based capabilities. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with that. The D20 System as implemented in D&D and most of its iterations are geared around gettin the most out of your game-piece's tactical strengths and options. And yes, that can be quite a bit of fun. It’s just a little disheartening if you want to run a game using Primetime Adventures next. (Not so much if you’re also thinking of running Starship Troopers, though…)

The adventure itself, the Living Force module “Decision: Almas”, was sorta fun. A few of the old hands, grognard-types, had a tendency to run rough-shod over the others (myself included) and get into rules arguments with the GM. I came up with a Zabrak Fringer 2 / Scout 2 (on a whim, you see) named Zen Mallon (yes, I like using that name for Star Wars characters) in the two-hour gap between when I arrived and when the game started. He wound up as captain of a ship when it turned out that no-one else had Space Transport Operation and a Pilot total higher than +4 (even though the aforementioned grognard-types acted as though they were in charge anyway, and I will confess, I did nothing to disabuse them of that notion). Unfortunately, during groundside battle I discovered that poor Zen Mallon couldn’t hit the broad side of a bantha. Next time I’m multiclassing with something that actually starts with a Base Attack Bonus of at least +1. (I’m actually starting to think like them…)

So, in terms of using Reefcon as a way of meeting gamers, I’ve decided to formulate a plan of attack for next year. It requires buying the 3.5 Core Rulebooks, which are an investment I can’t afford right now, but I should be able to plunk some change down once the job situation has stabilised.

And here's an interesting tidbit: The gent who runs Reefcon is, I believe, the librarian of Trinity Bay High School. Why do I think this? Well, the big clues were the facts that (a) most of the attendees there constantly referred to him as "Mr. Paris" and (b) most of the events were run in divisions of the school library. But another, somewhat more subtle yet more telling clue was that I spotted a set of the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 Core Rulebooks and a copy of the Star Wars RPG Revised Core Rulebook, all with Dewey decimal stickers on the spine, all ConTact-coated and well-used in that high-school-library-book fashion.

I have a lot of respect for this man...

Oh, by the way: Here's Zen's stat block as after Decision: Almas:

Zen Mallon: Male Zabrak Fringer 2/Scout 2; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Defense +17 (+4 class, +3 Dex); Spd 10 m; VP/WP 30/12; Atk+5 ranged (3d6/20 or DC 15 stun, Blaster pistol, range 10 m) or +1/+1 ranged (3d6/20, Blaster pistol with Multifire, range 10 m); SQ Barter; SV Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +4; SZ M; FP 1; Rep 0; Str 11, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 14, Challenge Code C.

Equipment: Blast helmet, vest (DR 2).

Skills: Astrogate+2, Balance+4, Bluff+5, Climb±0, Computer Use+3, Diplomacy+4, Gamble+3, Handle Animal+4, Hide+5, Jump+2, Knowledge (Cularin System)+4, Listen+2, Move Silently+4, Pilot+6, Ride+6, Search+5, Spot+5, Survival+4, Swim+1.

Feats: Armor Proficiency (light), Endurance, Sharp-Eyed, Starship Operation (space transport), Weapon Group Proficiency (blaster pistols), Weapon Group Proficiency (blaster rifles), Weapon Group Proficiency (primitive weapons), Weapon Group Proficiency (simple weapons).

July 24, 2005

I knew taking RPG books to work would pay off...

Turns out that one of the other temps is a gamer as well, and knows a fairly regular crew of D&D 3.5 players. Fingers crossed!

Also, the Ring Of Australian RoleplayING has a new member website, the Queensland Gamers Guild. They also have links to a few North Queensland gaming associations. Could well be another potential source of gamers...

sprintlink.net

Since yesterday morning Vickie and I have been unable to access certain sites that we regularly frequent. Whenever we attemp to browse to them, our browsers sit trying to load, only to be told that "The page cannot be accessed." or "The operation timed out when attempting to contact".

We had a fossick with our system settings, but nothing seemed to work. So I decided to be a little clever and run a traceroute. For those of you who don't know it, it's a program you access via the Windows command prompt. Like the ping command, it measures the time taken to get from your PC to another system. Traceroute (or tracert), though, actually lets you know every router that the Internat packet sent by your PC passes through along the way to its destination. Each site that we couldn't visit seems to go through one particular set of routers before it comest to a screaming, "Response Timed Out" halt, and those routers all belong to sprintlink.net. None of the sites we can get to route through Sprint servers.

Now, it may well be that it's not the Sprintlink servers that are the problem; after all, the servers are responding to the traceroute. If that's the case, then it's the router the Sprintlink servers route Internet traffic to as standard that's causing the problem. On the other hand, it may actually be one of Sprintlink's servers that's down. Because the problem server can't respond, I can't know which it is.

Either way, Sprintlink/Sprint should know what's going on, especially if it's one of theirs (if not, their servers would have a record of where they normally route traffic to). I'm trying to find an e-mail address for them at the moment.

But if anyone works for them, or knows someone who does, can you let them know there are a couple of irate Australian users who want their Internet back, please?

July 23, 2005

It's Official: I'm A Husband

As some of you already know, I'm trying to get a game or two of Primetime Adventures running across the Web, ideally using Skype so that we can actually chat rather than using keyboards. Unfortunately, myself and some of my players-to-be have had life sneak up on them lately, so I've been trying to re-schedule for a time when, hopefully, everything has calmed down for everyone.

I sent the following e-mail out last night:

    From: "Rob Farquhar"
    To: PtA Show 1 Players
    Sent: Friday, July 22, 2005 10:08 PM
    Subject: Primetime Adventures: What's Happening

    Hi, folks,

    Just a quick update e-mail to let everyone know what's going on.

    Firstly, it looks as though the year is throwing us all a few curves at the moment. Nick's moved and has no home Internet yet, and Lauren and I are doing overtime. It looks as though my Grand Plan to get a game up and running quickly has been pretty much scotched! :-)

    At this stage, we'll probably have to wait until mid-August before we can get anything going. So to book a time in advance, is Saturday, August 13th or Sunday, August 14th okay for everyone?

    Cheers,

    Rob

Looks okay, right? A weekend a few weeks from now, plenty of notice, should be safe?

Vickie replied with:

    Subject: Re: Primetime Adventures: What's Happening
    Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 23:04:28 +1000
    From: Vickie Farquhar
    To: Rob Farquhar, PtA Show 1 Players

    Umm Rob dear,

    Have you forgotten why Sunday August 14th is a NO, NO for gaming?...well for more than 2 that is. <g>

    Vickie.

You know, I'd been priding myself on the fact that I knew precisely the date of our anniversary, but when I was writing my e-mail not once did an alarm-bell go off at the back of my mind, no warnings of, "Er, Rob, you have the first annual celebration of a very imoprtant occasion on that Sunday!"

I must be a husband now, eh? :-D

July 21, 2005

In London

One thing I've not posted about are the recent bombings in London, mainly because I didn't really want to - for want of a better phrase, impinge on those events. Although I wish the best to those who were lost and those who had lost in those explosions, I didn't want to detract from that loss with any knee-jerk cliched displays of sympathy.

But when the news of what appear to be another round of attacks came in, I couldn't help but think of my trips to the UK in 1996 and 2003.

In 1996, the IRA parked a truck bomb outside Manchester's main shopping centre. Mum, Dad and I had been there in 1995 for Christmas, and the bomb went off on a street we'd been up and down many times. Heck, my aunt Heather was actually in Manchester when the bomb went off; if I remember, she was in the other end of the shopping centre.

In 2003, Vickie and I went to the UK so that Vickie could meet my UK family. We of course made a quick trip to London, and one of the first things Vickie said after the bombs went off a few weeks ago was that that was the area we'd been travelling around. Had our timing been different, that could've been us.

But you know what my thought was? The effect on the financial situation aside, why do these bombers think they could achieve anything in terms of influencing the sympathy of the British public for the war effort, when the IRA's long campaign of terror in Ireland and on the English mainland didn't achieve their goals? They must have been desparately insane.

Some Better Geek News

Thanks to my man Gav, here are a couple of sites that might cheer you up:

  • As Gav already reported on the IMAGinewS list, a new trailer for the upcoming SF movie Serenity has been made available. Also, there's an Australian official web site for the film.
  • The official web site for the TransFormers live action film, slated for release on July the fourth, 2007, has gone live, complete with a quick introductory video clip featuring none other than producer Steven Spielberg!

Speaking of TransFormers: I know I already have a Prime, but I want one!

RIP James Doohan

Well, you've probably heard this already by now, but I just wanted to put something up: Actor James Doohan, best known for his role as Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer of the Starship Enterprise, died today. He was aged 85.

We'll miss you, sir.

Stories for TV

Now, as I'm prepping one, possibly two Primetime Adventures campaigns at the moment, I found this ABC Media article a very interesting read. Four authors, of novel and/or script, discuss their experiences in the translation of story to small screen.

I'm not sure whether I'd consider this required reading for a Primetime Adventures campaign, but I'd probably suggest it anyway; if you're familiar with the game, you'll probably finmd yourself thinging about the content in terms of Screen Presence, Budget and Fan Mail, but it's also an interesting insight into how one person's story can change, grow and mutate before it becomes a finished screen product - and recognition of the fact that in TV, there's no such thing as "one person's story".

July 17, 2005

Heavy Gear: Honour and the Game

It's taken me four years to get around to it, but I can now proudly announce that the complete text of the Heavy Gear module I ran for Necronomicon 13 in 2001, Honour and the Game, is finally available on the Internet. I decided to Wikify it, as it's very easy to modify and edit as I go.

So please have a read, and if you played in it, either as a playtester or at the con, I hope you enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the module!

July 12, 2005

Whomour

In (belated) honour of the glorious return of Doctor Who to our TV screens, I offer this:

Q: What did the Dalek say when it went to the day spa?

A: "EXFOLIATE!"

Belated Birthday Wishes to Myself!

Cakes and Dog

Hello all! I know it was my birthday yesterday, but I decided that, as it was my birthday, I'd have a slack evening. So, no post until today!

Let's see: The last actual news update I provided was about the trip to Sydney last Tuesday. Thanks to you folks who offered lifts/get-togethers etc.; they weren't needed in the end. Everything went as well as one would expect for a funeral; Nan was laid in the same grave as her husband, Eugene Maloney (which surprised a lot of the family; almost everyone just new him as "Mac"). Most of us went to Hornsby RSL afterward; although I remembered my RSL club birthday vouchers, I forgot to take my membership card, so I couldn't use them anyway. I got to have a good chat with some mebers of the family I'd not seen in a while, and thankfully no grief was given. I even gave my number to a couple who will be up around Cairns soon and told them to give us a call when they got here!

I finally got back into Cairns a littlle after ten, feeling pretty buggered; thankfully, Vickie's son Karl picked me up from the airport and dropped me home.

Last Thursday was also a first for me. One of the other readers on the Radio for the Print Handicapped broadcast, Trish, wasn't in and couldn't be reached (Trish told me later her son had been hit by a car; he's rather banged up, but okay), which caused a minor panic as Trish usually runs the control panel during the Thursday RPH broadcast. There was another gentleman there who had volunteerd if no on else could do it (although he'd already handled his own broadcast and half of the previous show, which Trish also does), but after having had prior instructionand a quick shot at queueing ads the week before, I thought I'd give it a go, even though I'd forgotten to bring the crib sheet I'd written with me again. I did pretty damned well, if I do say so myself! I do need to check how to use the track-program feature on the CD players, as I thought I had a track queued up properly, but it went on to the next track instead of stopping after the programmed track finished. I also managed to replay the weather report intro halfway through the broadcast instead of the RPH disclaimer ("The articles read during this broadcast do not reflect the views and opinions of station staff, etcetera.") thanks to a fingerslip. But the broadcast went to air successfully!

I don't have the chance for more practice this week, though. Everyone on a family tax benefit is calling Centrelink to get their estimated income for 2005/06 updated. I've put my hand up for the overtime they're offering, which means I'll be working back until 7 PM tomorrow and Thursday at least. I'll probably know only a couple of days beforehand whether they'll have work for me during the rest of the month, which will probably bugger up reading for RPH.

The overtime's also buggered up Karl's evil plans to get me fighting fit. He's got a fitness thing going at his place three afternoons a week, where he and some friends run up one of the hills around here (and do some general gym-equipment workouts as well, I think). Considering 98% of the work I do involves sitting in front of a PC, it's a good idea; the only problem is that I'm an inveterate slacker who hates exercise (I'll even skive off walking the dog if the opportunity presents). So this overtime is an almost perfect way to get out of it (it'd only be perfect if I could get paid to do it *and* stay at home with Vickie).

As I was working yesterday, Vickie organised a birthday barbecue for me on Sunday. The local family came along, as well as some friends from work and the folks we met at the first (and only) Cairns Roleplayers Meetup. Vickie laid on a fantastic spread, and I got to stand in front of the barbecue in an apron, tongs in one hand and beer in the other. I wish I had a photo, but, as usual, we made sure the camera had fresh batteries and then forgot about using it. The only photo we took was the above pic of the cake. It was a great get-together, and Vickie and her daughter Deena put a phenomenal amount of work in the kitchen, for which I owe them a heap of thanks! It was a lovely birthday present from them both!

July 09, 2005

Reefcon '05!

A few months after Margot told us about the place, we finally managed to drop into Sue's Book Exchange at the Showground Shopping Centre in Cairns. Margot told us that Sue's a gamer from way back, and usually gets deluged with offers to join gaming groups.

We had a browse there today - Vickie bought three jigsaw puzzles - and met Sue. We asked her about local gaming, and she mentioned that there's actually a convention on at the Trinity High School at the end of the month. It's called Reefcon, and it's pretty much an RPGA event, so it's D20 gaming only. I've signed up for their Living Force session on the Saturday night; Star Wars is the only D20 game that I have the most up-to-date core rulebook for! Vickie prefers to game outside the con environment, so it'll be just me. With any luck, I'll be able to make some new friends and build a new gaming group...

I also asked Sue whether she'd allow us to put a sign up in her bookshop in order to make contact with any local gamers. She was kind enough to agree to let me put one up in the window above her (small) stack of RPG product. It'll look a little something like this:

Will GM for Nachos!

July 03, 2005

Holy Shit - ANOTHER One?

Okay, you already know about the Spielberg and Cruise film. If you've been reading this site and the IMAGinewS postings, you know about the Pendragon Pictures effort (which seems to have gone straight to DVD now) and the Jeff Wayne CGI picture due in a few years.

But - and you're not going to believe this, I didn't - there is actually yet ANOTHER film based on H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, produced by Asylum Entertainment. Like Spielberg's effort, it's a modern re-telling, but it stars C. Thomas Howell (Gettysburg) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers), and according to its website it went direct to DVD a day before Spielberg's pic opened in theatres. (The credit summary at the end of the trailer shows it as having the name "Invasion", so maybe that's how they got it in under the radar.)

Based on the trailer, we're back with Martians landing in cylinders (well, pods) instead of buried machines and lightning strikes, and the CGI SFX look a touch better than Pendragon's. The walkers look more like crabs, though, and have six legs instead of three.

I'd be tempted to watch/buy it, mainly because I like those two leads. The poster/DVD cover looks very Independence Day, though, which doesn't exactly bode well.

July 02, 2005

War of the Worlds

I know I was intending to write a review on Batman Begins, but I let that slide a little too late. Besides, I've been harping on about the various movie versions of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds for ages, so I thought I'd be remiss if I didn' review its most recent film adaptation ASAP.

So, as many are already aware, the Steven Spielberg film War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise, is an adaptation of H. G. Wells' seminal turn-of-the-twentieth novel about alien invasion; probably the first alien invasion story ever written. It opens on an introduction to Ray Ferrier (Cruise), a New York dockworker who has just been given his kids, the sullen teen Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and precocious pre-teen Rachel (Dakota Fanning) by his divorced wife Maryann (Miranda Otto), for the weekend. It's clear that the younger Ferriers don't exactly get along with their dad, and that he's not the world?s best father either.

Things start turning strange when an unnatural storm forms over Ray's suburb, sending bolts of lightning repeatedly into the intersection in the middle of town. Ray goes to investigate, only to discover a huge alien machine rising up from under the road on three legs. The machine starts killing townsfolk indiscriminately, and Ray barely escapes with his life. He races back home, and begins a desperate journey to keep his family safe as alien tripods emerge across the globe and set about the extermination of the human race?

The War of the Worlds is one of those novels that has rarely, if ever, left print since it was first published, no mean feat for a fairly short book (when compared to modern novels) originally released in serial form in 1897. Several adaptations, most famously the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles? Mercury Theatre of the Air, have served to keep it in the public consciousness, and many science fiction plots owe their existence to the novel (including the nineties blockbuster Independence Day).

Spielberg's production takes its cues from both the original novel and the nineteen-fifties film directed by George Pal; the latter's influence can be seen in not-so-subtle visual nods, whilst the movie actually does a good job of conveying the book's themes of the selfishness and desperation of human beings when confronted with a massive crisis. This is no SF actioner, it's an SF war film, even an SF horror film, and the production thankfully never forgets it; the plot (penned by David Koepp) and pacing never let up the suspense and the pressure.

Some may object to the conversion of the novel's philosopher narrator into a Spielberg blue-collar everyman in the mould of Close Encounters of the Third Kind?s Roy Neary (Hmm - Roy, Ray. Coincidence?), but I'd find it hard to imagine moviegoers accepting an 'intelligent' character being as shell-shocked as the book's narrator was after his first encounter with the aliens' monstrous machines. Cruise manages to convey that sense of shock and numbness perfectly when Ray returns home. Also, setting Ray up as being part of a broken family helps to build the pressure on all the characters further. Ray's family also give him someone sympathetic (although some may argue) to bounce off for most of the film, as well as an easy-to-grasp reason to keep going, which the travelogue novel sometimes falters at. Finally, Ray's actual job at the docks sets up a neat textural moment that returns when he and his family first go on the run.

It seems that after playing heroes and young turks for most of his career, Tom Cruise is finally hitting his acting stride as with wounded everyman roles. Like Minority Report before, he does a fantastic job at portraying a not-altogether-sympathetic, yet very understandable character. And let's not slight his co-stars either, their performances made sure I felt every ounce of that outstanding pressure on their characters. Justin Chatwin nails his role - although he seems needlessly brash at the start, it establishes his later rage when he witnesses the results of the aliens' inexorable advance. Then there's Dakota Fanning, who does an outstanding job of playing both a both smart arse ten year old and a scared little girl in a war zone without looking like she's acting. The depth of this child?s talent is astounding, and I hope she didn't do herself any trauma in order to give that performance!

Now, having read the novel so many times I've lost count, I had a pretty clear idea on what the Martian Fighting Machines look like. The Alien Tripods aren't quite it, and let's face it, I doubt we'll ever see an animated machine that incorporates every detail and attribute that Wells gave his creations. What the Industrial Lignt & Magic crew do manage to capture very well, though, is "the curious parallelism to animal motions" that Wells describes the Martian machines as having; the viewer is halfway convinced that these machines are themselves alive, despite their metal construction.

They're also very effective as huge menacing monsters, and the ILM team has done a wonderful job of making them look as though They're Really There at all times; I never once lost the urge to be where they weren't. I'll leave the actual presentation of the aliens themselves down to personal taste, but the film actually manages to crank their intentions up a notch or two (although I was so tied up in the novel's idea I just refused to get it until after the film).

The bad news is that, although the ending not only stays fairly consistent with the novel and includes a nod to the '53 film, it feels very much as though Spielberg decided to put the gloves back on. I couldn't help feeling let down, especially given the relentless pressure that the film had poured on previously.

Do not let that stop you from going to see this film, though, especially if you don't mind being scared. It pulls very few punches (and only the ones you'd expect Spielberg to pull), and if you didn't before, it will make you realise why this century-old story is the one that all alien invasion stories owe tribute to.

Funerial Visit

I had a chat with Dad on Thursday night. Nan's funeral is at 1 PM on Tuesday, and I'll be flying into Sydney on Tuesday morning and leaving on Tuesday evening. As things are a little tight up here money-wise right now, Dad offered to pay for the tickets.

I'll be arriving at ten past ten in the morning and flying out again at seven, so with the funeral and wake I doubt I'll have time to stop off anywhere to say hello to anyone. In case you're wondering, no, I can't stay any longer; my contract is pay-by-the-hour, and if I don't work I don't get paid. Vickie and I can't really afford for me to have a short week right now (we've already had a few unpaid public holidays recently).