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November 27, 2006

A Little Too Real for Reality TV?

In a matter of three days, two "reality TV" contests draw to a close. Last night, the final of the fourth (for some odd reason, I thought it was the fifth) series of Australian Idol drew to a close, with Irishman Damien Leith pipping Territory lass Jessica Mauboy for the crown. This has been the first season where I've been interested enough in the talent to watch through since the Top Twelve was finalised (although I did miss an episode or two). The contestants were good all round, with, perhaps, the exception of Lisa Mitchell; I just couldn't quite hear what Mark, Marcia and Kyle heard when she sang. She had the kind of voice that would probably go over well with the alternative crowd who'd like Kasey Chambers if she weren't so country, but to my ear, she just jarred. On the other hand, I was sorry to see Bobby leave - <bitchiness>at least, before Lisa, anyway.</bitchiness>

My take on the winner? Frankly, I thought both of them deserved the nod, and I was definitely not unhappy to see Damien get the vote.

And tomorrow night, it's the end of the suddenly-controversial fifth season of Dancing With The Stars. After last week, Vickie and I were of the opinion that Arianne will probably get a strong sympathy vote, and I doubt the recent "revelations" about her past dancing lessons will be enough to sway it. Still, for the first time, I find myself actually wanting to not watch the show.

For our overseas readers and those locals who don't watch, lemme try and explain. This little drama is all about two people: Todd McKenney and Arianne Caoili. But for his personality and great (if at times risque) sense of humour Todd would be the Simon Cowell of the judging panel; he calls performances as he sees them, even though he does so with a smile most fo the time. Most of what I could tell you about Arianne is summed up in her biography (click on the link prior); I'd add that she's the "cute" one of the contestants, in looks more than manner, and she's been consistenly good, if not great, on the dancefloor.

The judges have regularly commented on her skill, but the lack of emotional "story" in her dances with partner Carmelo Pizzino (the professional dancer with whom a particular fifty percent of Australia fell in love last season), and her seeming inability to improve on that side of her dancing came to a head last episode, when Todd commented on her ability to hold professional lines in her dancing. He asked Arianne whether she'd had any dance training. She said she hadn't, and Todd replied, "I can't believe that." There was a little more back-and-forth during the show, but nothing heated, although the show went to break for the first time in memory with the dancers walking over to the judging panel for further discussion with Todd.

Since then, there's been some media fluff over the incident; varying reports have surfaced about Arianne's ballet classes when she was six (before moving into the international chess circuit full-time) and three or four salsa classes in her recent past. McKenney has also apparently commented on radio and to news reporters that Arianne could step down "if she wanted to be fair". As of this writing, the media has not reported any indication that Arianne is planning to do so.

Now, while I think the whole thing is a storm in a teacup (Dancing With The Stars is more geared as a popularity contest than Idol, with lack of talent not stopping dancers such as Ian Roberts ascending to the season final), there is a very real, very basic conflict between two people here. Todd seems to believe Arianne shouldn't in fairness be returning for the grand final. Arianne believes she should be there. I doubt a comfortable compromise coudl be reached. While I'm more than willing to watch a fictional basic conflict between two people (see my continued interest in the re-made Battlestar Galactica) I really don't want to spectate on a real life one, even if Todd and Arianne are civil on camera.

I think that's why I stay away from the directly competitive reality shows like Survivor.

A Chilly Eve in Cairns

Saturday just gone was the company's Social Club's Christmas Party at the function rooms of the Shangri-La Hotel in Cairns. The Social Club tries to run an event for employees and families as an addition to the regular, employees-only event; there wasn't one last year, but they certainly made up for it this year. We had to put a little cash toward it, but consiudering the victuals, the view and the company were well worth it!

The theme was a masquerade ball, and as soonas Vickie saw the invitation (prizes for best costume), she asked, "What're we going as?" Being the punster she is; Vickie decided she'd go in a dark, starry cloak over a black dress with "December 24th" pinned to it - The Night Before Christmas, you see - while deciding on Jack Frost for myself (hey, I had no bloody idea what to go as). As I think I mentioned a while ago, we had to do some shopping for material and make-up; Vickie's original plan was to make her cloak and mask, plus a whole costume for me. She got as far as making a good pair of white, draw-string pants before chucking it in; the huimidity isn't exactly conducive to dressmaking. Around that time, she spotted some promotional stills for the upcoming seasonal kids' film, The Santa Clause 3 - The Escape Clause and promptly decided Martin Short's business-suited Jack Frost was the look for me. Thankfully, I already had a business suit; a trip to a charity shop nabbed a spiffy silver tie and a can or two of Santa's Snow took care of the rest!

Here are a couple of pictures of the results:

Making an Entrance

At Our Table

Obviously, white and silver skin-paints are to blame for my icy complexion (no, not moon-burn from too much time in fromt of my PC); the hair was spiked using Fire-Up coloured shaping cream. You can't quite see it from here, but Vickie had lots of star-shaped silver glitter sprinkled liberally through her hair; we had to vacuum through the place yesterday to get the excess that'd spread itself through the house on Saturday evening!

In the end, we arrived a bit late, which is probably why I didn't win Best Dressed - many had already cast their votes for Scott from the printing site, who came as The Crow - but the voting was so close, they laid on a runner-up prize, a $50 Cairns Central gift voucher, which I nabbed (or at least will nab once they arrange it).

Reformat This Weekend

After collecting various CDs and apps of data, I've decided to reformat my hard drive and rebuild my PC this coming weekend (unless we have some major plans that I've forgotten about, but I think we'll mostly be shopping). The main factor in my decision is that, on December the first, our ADSLconnection will be going from 512/128 to 1500/256 at no extra charge. Seems Telstra, after declaring loudly and at great length that they give no shits about the bush, is scrambling to catch up with RAWNET and other ISPs who have taken advantage of a federal grant to develop regional broadband.

Then again, it's not exactly a difficult scramble. RAWNET has been advertising its upcoming ADSL2+ service for the last six months but its rollout has hit a few snags; the first accounts were originally meant to go live in September/October, yet now, we're getting RAWNET radio ads saying "RAWNET is behind the Cairns Taipans (basketball team)... and behind schedule!" (Yep, this is RWANET's own advertising.) In the meantime, various ISPs have started trumpeting their own enhanced ADSL services, although I've heard that it's basically the same old situation where the companies lease in buk from Telstra.

Regardless, it ought to mean nice, faster broadband for Vickie and I in but a few days' time (and faster broadband means a less grouchy Vickie). So, hopefully, I should be able to re-patch Windows XP SP2 in jig time - and maybe get some consistent play with the Battlefield 2142 Demo, which keeps losing connection to the EA master server in the middle of games.

November 26, 2006

Wherein I Grok Burning Empires

Yeah, I've been hanging out on The Burning Wheel Forum lately, kinda sorta to get my "lving vicariously through others' games" fix but also to get a better feel for how Burning Empires works before I play it. And regardless of the former, it looks as though I'm well on track with the latter.

There's this thread that starts with a couple of posters discussing how to pick the right skill based on what you want your character to do. It morphs, as threads are wont, to a discussion of the ground that a single roll covers, and again into "How many rolls should it take for a player to achieve one thing?" Burning Empires does something interesting, in that you, the player only get so many rolls per session.

I chime in with a "Haven't you people ever heard of - closing the" (ahem) sorry, with a hypothetical example which actually gets a nod from the game's author for being "an excellent analysis of BE's currency". I also like to think it's witty and laden with action, tension, drama, all the good stuff. Please have a look; click the above link and scroll down until you get to post 10 (it's the one written by IMAGinES). Hopefully it'll make Burning Empires look even more interesting to the foks I'm trying to press-gang into playing it with me!

November 19, 2006

This Whole Creative Agenda Business

WARNING: This article is still a work in progress. The writing isn't quite as plain-English as I'd prefer, and I think I need some feedback before I can get it there.

If the RPGnet Forums are any represenation of the hobby of roleplaying games, any body of theory that attempts to examine or address the activity of roleplaying is almost always savaged by people who believe that, because they don't understand it, it mustn't be of any utility to anyone with a brain. One of the most oft-attacked targets is a body of theory known as the Big Model, suggested by a gamer named Ron Edwards and hashed out on the RPG forum he manages, The Forge. Now, while I might agree that the model and the way it's presented have their weaknesses, I do believe that a) the model as a whole is sound and b) has helped identify what I want out of the hobby. I chalk the fact that my recent gaming hasn't been consistently successful up to a combination of conflicting schedules and my gaming skills being rusty.

The least understood, and most attacked, part of the model is the part known as "creative agenda", or more commonly, "GNS", the abbreviation of the three creative agendas the model posits - arguments over the utility of GNS have cemented a long-standing animosity between many denizens of RPGnet and The Forge. I read a recent thread over on RPGnet, where a poster attempted to explain her understanding of GNS, and while I had the feeling that she grasped the more readily-evident concepts, there was something fundamental to the three creative agendas that she'd missed - and that the main essays themselves hadn't explained to my satisfaction. That fundamental thing is: What the heck is a creative agenda anyway, and what makes them different to the other agendas or goals others suggest?

Here's my attempt to answer that question. I considered posting it on RPGnet, but thought better of it and put it up here instead. It's probably not complete or as thorough as I'd like, but I believe it's serviceable enough.

What are G, N and S, at least the G, N and S that those people on that forum over there like to discuss? We know, or at least we have a fairly solid idea of, what each of them individually are, but considering people almost always call them “GNS”, there seems little consideration of what they have in common and what makes them unique when compared to all the other possible goals for a game. Now although any post referring to Ron Edwards’ Big Model is tantamount to flamebait on RPGnet, I honestly think that going over that ground might help clear up some confusion over how the hell all this GNS bullshit can apply to actually playing an RPG.

First question, Rob: What do the Three Isms have in common? As defined as part of the Big Model, each of Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism is a Creative Agenda. But what the hell’s a creative agenda? This is the one thing that rather bugged me a bit. At first I just accepted the term, until people started saying, “But why aren’t Immersion or Cheetoism valid agendas?” My hackles went up. “Well, they’re not! Because… you know, they’re just… not.” After my hackles went down again, I accepted that Immersion or Cheetoism are valid agendas that people can pursue in their gaming. I also realised that there was something common to G, N and S that wasn’t common to the various alternatives people suggested. So I thought about what makes the Three Creative Agendas so different to the alternatives.

Okay, now the second question: Without simply pointing at GNS and saying “them”, what is a creative agenda? The answer, to my mind, is simple: A creative agenda is an agenda – a goal and a method – that relates primarily and specifically to the thing that’s created during a roleplaying game. Everyone around the gaming table (or on the LARP floor, whatever) works to create a story in its most basic sense: a series of events. Ideally, everyone around the table has a hand in shaping that series of events, that shared fiction.

The creative agenda relates directly to that. It suggests that that shared act of creation can be given a direction. Following on logically, the group’s chosen direction informs how the members of the group will govern their shared creative act, how they discriminate between ideas that should and should not be included in their fiction. Direction plus method of governance equals agenda. Direction for and governance of a creative act equals creative agenda.

In order to determine which agenda a group will use, its members must ask: "Do we want our play to do something? If so, what?" The answers to those questions are the creative agenda, which shapes how the group plays the game. “The group” is key. Because the fiction is shared, because creating it is a group activity, everyone must agree to a single set of answers to the above questions, one single agenda. If one person has an agenda for his or her creativity that is at odds with the group's, that disagreement will interfere with and eventually halt the group's act of creation if left unchecked. While no group or agenda is perfect, having a clear agenda aids a group in minimising disagreement and solving the few disagreements that do inevitably occur more handily than otherwise.

As I think is clear by now, a creative agenda is a priority of a kind commonly referred to as "metagame"; something that affects the way the group plays the game but has no direct tie to the shared fiction's internal cause-and-effect, whether Laws of Physics or Laws of Genre.

So a creative agenda is a metagame goal, shared by the group, that is applied to the act of play, the group's creation of the shared fiction. How, then, does each of the identified agendas answer those questions? What does each agenda drive a game’s basic story, its series of group-created, fictional events, toward?

If a group has a gamist agenda, it's answered the questions with, "yes, we want our gaming to let us pit our gaming skills against each other." The group will govern the base story such that it will produce opportunities for challenge between the players (players vs. GM, team vs. team, free-for-all, etc.) with an interpersonal reward (bragging rights, group kudos, etc.) for success. When such opportunities aren’t occurring, the group will ideally be establishing facets of the shared fiction that either build toward or give a player an edge in future opportunities.

I’ve seen several people tar any and all gamist play as “munchkinism” (the gaming equivalent of petulant bad sportsmanship), questioning why people who enjoy gamist play aren’t playing Risk or Warhammer 40,000 instead. The simple answer is that, to gamists, interpersonal challenge and creating a shared fiction are two great tastes that go great together. As long as all the participants respect each other and the rules they’ve chosen to play by, gamist-driven play is as co-operatively and safely competitive as any other competitive game.

If a group has a narrativist agenda, it's answered the questions with, "yes, we want our base story to make a Capital-S Story - with meaningful Protagonism and Antagonism - during play." The group is aiming for player reactions to, and judgments over, the choices the main characters make and the actions they take; not just what a character does when under pressure, but how the individual players’ opinions of that character alter as a result of those actions. To draw a comparison to its closest fictional equivalent, serial drama television, the group with a narrativist agenda wants their play to generate "water-cooler moments", the high points that people discuss and hash over: "What did what that guy did say about him - about us?"

The primary method for doing so is twofold:

  • The players make characters with problems (which pretty much stem from their moral outlook, as I understand) that interest the players in both their current status and their potential for change. You can like your character or hate it (in that "the guy you love to hate" way), but if you're indifferent about your character, its actions won't make a water-cooler moment no matter what they are.
  • The group guides the creation of the base story toward opportunities (moments of personal crisis, usually) for those characters’ problems and moral outlooks to be tested - in other words, the group works to put the screws to its protagonist characters. These situations must carry an element of some risk for the character – no outcome should be entirely safe – and each possible outcome is interesting to the character’s player and the group (as such situations are often suggested by the characters and their issues, this isn’t often a problem).

Finally, and importantly, no single player can be in a position to enforce any personal judgments on the other players' characters within the shared fiction, nor can any single player be in a position to dictate how another player's character's moment of crisis will resolve; these undermine the goal of each player coming to his or her own judgment about his or her own character. As a result, groups that play under a narrativist agenda often distribute control over the shared fiction more broadly than the traditional GM/players setup.

The simulationist agenda has traditionally been difficult to pin down. Based on my reading of discussions on creative agenda and my own gaming experiences, I believe that a group with a simulationist agenda answers the questions with "no, we don't want anything else from our gaming than the creating of shared fiction." The group's main method is consistency; the group works to keep their base story (small s again here) consistent to their taste.

Defining that taste is critical to successful simulationist play. It's typically a combination of a central concept (“we’re an adventuring party in a fantasy land, fighting monsters and seeking treasure”, “we’re all badass special-ops types who hunt down agents of an evil foreign government”, etc.), developed source material (the rulebook, a TV show, real life, a novel or even a blend of such sources) and the chosen rule set; the importance placed on each of these elements (concept, source material, rules) will vary from group to group and game to game.

The sheer variety of fictions that result from these combinations (genre, style, etc.) are the source, I think, of the volume of dispute over what sorts of play demonstrate a simulationist agenda at work; a given player could derive satisfaction from the very act of creating, the wonder of a rich shared fiction (there was once an article on RPGnet called "A Role-Player's Journey, or The Wondrous Player" which I think exemplified this mindset), fulfilment of the promise of the central character concept (“We wanted to play bad-asses and that’s what I just got to do! Rockin’!”), the functioning of the rule set in maintaining the consistency of the fiction (or perhaps the functioning of rule set in and of itself) or even fulfilling a need for escapism.

Nonetheless, I believe that although the variables and sources of personal satisfaction may vary, they all require that the group agrees to the same core agenda – to create and maintain a shared fiction that is:

  • consistent with the group’s taste at any given moment (accepting that the shared fiction will change over time), and
  • not driven by any overt, group-based metagame goal (i.e. gamism or narrativism) – the shared fiction exists and changes based on its own internal cause-and-effect (established per the group’s taste).

That's right; I think this single agenda can result in many forms of individual satisfaction, but each and every one of those forms requires that the group choose, consciously or otherwise, to not drive the play toward a metagame goal, to play solely for its own sake. RPGs are a fusion of gameplay and story creation, and I believe this fusion makes the motives of playing-to-win and creating driven fiction with a Capital-S Story the ones that people unfamiliar with the hobby most readily understand. This makes setting aside those motives in order to create, because the creation itself is what satisfies, a powerful decision, one that should not be left unstated or unexamined when planning a campaign.

In this way, a group playing under a simulationist agenda is probably indulging in the purest form of the hobby.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people try to conflate the three creative agendas with individual moments within a given game session. The danger in that is that the agenda behind a game’s story can’t be judged in one single instance of gaming – whether a single roll or a combat – in the same way that the creative success of any other fictional endeavour – movie, TV show, novel – cannot effectively be judged on the merit of a single line of dialogue or scene. You have to take the individual moments in the context of the whole – a session’s worth of play at least, possibly even the entire campaign or a significant segment of it – in order to determine whether, regardless of what the participants decided before play began or between play, which specific agenda was actually given priority.

As an example, a single round of RPG combat where two players are suddenly matching their skill with the given rule set against each other with some light-hearted interpersonal joshing at stake in a session that’s otherwise focused on building and executing water-cooler moments (or even multiple instances of competition across the group’s campaign) doesn’t mean that the group’s whole narrativist agenda is teh borkened. If, overall, such instances happen more often than the character drama, then you can say with some assurance that the group needs to re-assess their goal in the light of what’s actually satisfying them during play.

Note that I’m not saying that discussion of agenda before play is pointless. Getting everyone on the same page about the kind of story that the group will aim for and how to go about it is, I believe, a good way of ensuring that the group’s play will be satisfactory to everyone, or at least as much of the group as possible. Nonetheless, it’s always worth going back over it after a few sessions just to make sure that what you want is what’s happening in play – or even if what you’re enjoying in play is really what you thought you wanted in the first place.

So to sum up, a creative agenda is a metagame goal, shared by the group, that is applied to the act of play, the group's creation of the shared fiction. Even an agreement to not apply any metagame goal to play is an agenda, a proscriptive one rather than prescriptive. An agenda can be agreed upon before play proper begins, but a meaningful measure of the agenda's success can only be made after at least a session of play; individual moments that run counter to the agenda do not necessarily indicate failure of that agenda unless they consitute the majority of overall play.

Right then, Rob. Third and final question: In the midst of all of that, where do the two objectives that you’ve most often seen posited as additions or alternates to the three creative agendas, Cheetoism and Immersion, fit in?

My take is that while Cheetoism and Immersion can be agendas, one is not a group agenda and the other doesn't directly address the creative act that sets RPGs apart from other social activities.

Cheetoism is a group agenda, yes, but it isn’t unique to roleplaying games. I think Cheetoism, to drag another laden term into this article, is a social contract agenda, not a creative one; broadly put, it states, “let’s all just relax and have a good time”. It sits a level above the narrower “let’s all play an RPG”; substitute it with almost any group activity, like “let’s shoot the bull” “let’s play Trivial Pursuit” “let’s hook our Xboxes up for some Halo” or even something that involves little to no creative activity like “let’s watch the Big Game” and you’ve still recognisably got Cheetoism.

The person who coined Cheetoism intended it as a humorous retort against what he saw as theorising that served only to inflate the ego of the self-styled theorist. As such, it doesn’t really say anything meaningful about the creativity or craft of gaming, examination of which can aid consistently good sessions. On the other hand, Cheetoism is reminder to those who practise gaming theory not to get so lost in theorising that their gaming fun, and the fun of everyone else at their table, suffers as a result.

Although it’s more closely related to creating than Cheetoism, Immersion’s only requirement is that there be a shared fiction to immerse in; thus, it can’t really say anything meaningful about how the fiction is created. It’s also an insular goal: While it requires a group to create and maintain the fiction, there’s little regard to the overall success of the group’s creativity; a person who craves Immersion will be satisfied if his or her personal sense of immersion is interrupted as little as feasible during play, regardless of what everyone else is doing. Let me put that another way: an individual Immersionist can successfully pursue an agenda of Immersion without requiring the rest of the group group to agree to that agenda.

To my mind, a person whose primary goal is Immersion is like a drummer who doesn’t care whether it’s jazz, rock or swing as long as he has opportunity to make his kit hum. It says something meaningful about personal state-of-mind, but nothing about the group’s creative preference and how it goes about achieving it. As long as the overall flow of the game doesn’t interfere too much with his personal sense of Being Someone Else Somewhere Else, the Immersionist will be happy.

So, in summary, a creative agenda is a metagame goal, established by the group, that is applied to the shared act of playing the game, creating the fiction, whereas Cheetoism is a metagame, interpersonal goal that can apply to more than just gaming, and Immersion is a goal that can successfully be pursued by a single player and doesn't directly apply to the the shared act of playing the game.

November 12, 2006

Digital Wrecking Ball

I think it’s been three, maybe four years since I last reformatted and rebuilt the hard drive of either Vickie’s or my PC. During that time our PCs have been almost entirely replaced. Both Vickie’s and my motherboards and main processors were replaced in early 2005, I upgraded both our video cards a few months ago and I’ve replaced my sound card twice. Oh, and I finally got that CoolerMaster Ammo 533 case I’ve been hankering for six months or so ago, too. In that time, our hard drive builds have been ticking along fairly happily. I was expecting them to throw a fit after the mobo replacement, but they took even those drastic changes in their stride.

Still, with all the hardware and concurrent driver changes we’ve done in that time, I think it’s high time that I scrubbed our hard disks clean and rebuilt them from the ground up. Our PCs have been acting rather flaky over the past few months; every now and again, my DVD combo drive tray will close itself immediately after it opens and one of Vickie’s games – her favourite, in fact – suddenly decided to stop working. Also, ever since we got the Epson Stylus RX430 printer and connected it to Vickie’s PC, my PC has refused to recognise it, even going so far as to crash Word should I have the temerity to print a document. There haven’t been any new drivers for it since 2004, so there’s not much I can do, and product support has been useless.

Yesterday, I created a folder on my hard drive called “Rebuild Essentials” and started filling it with all the apps, patches and service packs I’d need in order to get our PCs back up to spec after cleaning the hard drives off (at least, those not already on a cover-CD – I’m very thankful for my subscription to Australian Personal Computer magazine). I also made sure to create a checklist of everything we need reinstalled once we’re done.

Now, I’m wondering whether my reading public and the IMAGinewS brains trust can make some suggestions as to drivers or apps that’ll improve our PC-use experiences. At the moment, the list of apps we’ll both be re-installing looks a little like this:

  • Windows XP and Service Pack 2
  • Registry Mechanic
  • Kerio Personal Firewall 4
  • Norton AntiVirus 2006
  • Spybot – Search & Destroy
  • MailWasher Free 5.1.0
  • Trillian Basic 3
  • Skype 2.5
  • Paint Shop Pro 7
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • Windows Media Player 11
  • QuickTime

There are also our various drivers; I’ve downloaded ones for my ECS Elitegroup 661FX-M motherboard, my NVIDIA GeForce 6800GS and my SoundBlaster Audigy 4, while Vickie has drivers for her MSI KT3 Ultra (including the onboard sound card) and her Radeon X1300.

Now, is there anything else that you can suggest that won’t cost anything and will help our PCs run quickly/more smoothly?

Oh, and before you suggest new hard drives, the though has crossed my mind (specifically, the thought that I could get myself a decent Serial-ATA hard drive, put my old one in Vickie’s PC and RAID it with hers, they’re identical) but my comment in my last post about how in debt we are still holds; I want to reduce it, not put us further in hock with Christmas on our doorstep.

More (or Less?) Con Thinking

Well, after getting all ambitious and posting about organising a non-RPGA con in Cairns, I've had a longer brew on the idea and the various points and suggestions made by helpful respondees - thank you, Leefe, Sim, Steve, and Tracey, by the way. I knew that a convention would involve a significant investment of time and money, and the respondees helped clarify what those investments would entail. While there's nothing wrong with the idea in principle, Vickie and I can't really afford to make those investments at the moment (said moment probably lasting for the next twelve to eighteen months). Due to our helping some people out we're in quite a bit of debt right now; one of our New Year's Resolutions is to clear it all by the end of 2007. Also, the practical matter of planning and organising a convention is simply too impractical right now.

However, there's something I'd still like to do, and that's organise and establish a regular gamers' get-together. It's an idea I've had for a year or so now, and after the rough success of the Courthouse meetup in October I think organising a monthly sit-down lunch is going to do more for the Cairns gaming community - or at least, for my getting to know the Cairns gaming community - okay, fine, for the odds of me putting a campaign together - than a roughshod convention.

So, I'm going to start e-mailing people sometime in early December to drum up some interest in another get-together for January or early February, and if that one pans out okay as well, I think we'll be able to make it a regular event.

November 09, 2006

Did Ah Hear a Mee-Yow?

In the spirit of the moment, I offer you this link.

Yep, Tracey, one of my players for Saturday, has had life sneak up and bite her on the arse; although she wasn't 100% sure she couldn't make it as a result, I thought it fair on everyone else that I cancel the game.

Plus, Vickie and I have some Chrismas shopping to do; work's Social Club has organised a masquerade Christmas party in a couple of weeks and she wants to make us up some natty costumes! I'm not telling what we're going as, though; we don't want anyone copying our ideas! I have no doubt photos will be taken, though!

So, no gaming until the New Year, unfortunately.

November 06, 2006


Two of the Band of Brothers and the first mate of Serenity.

Does it get any better than that?

November 05, 2006

My LJ Friends Page

So it would seem that I don't need an active LiveJournal to have a Friends page, as long as I have a TypeKey ID. Which is cool, because this right here is my LJ, and having an active Friends page means I can access all the protected LJ posts I otherwise wouldn't see. I mean, there I was thinking Gav couldn't be arsed with his LJ because he seemingly hadn't posted since Stormtrooper Detachment Epsilon stood down (November 28th), but after becoming his LJ Mutual Friend, lo and behold the posts that suddenly revealed themselves!

So, yeah, if anyone else wants to be my LJ friend, just look for "ext-2136" or "imagines.herstik.com"

ConStruction Blueprints

In my last post, I listed why I believe the fact that ReefCon is the only fixture in an otherwise fluid Cairns RPG scene presents problems for said scene. It's easy, though, to criticise an endeavour when you've never made or are unwilling to make a similar endeavour yourself. Which means that niggle I mentioned in the last post often takes the form of a little voice in my head which says, "Why not organise your own RPG convention?"

And I'm starting to seriously think about it.

Now I know I'd be going into it utterly blind. I also know that there's at least one subscriber to IMAGinewS who's been part of the organising team behind a con or two, which means I'll probably be pestering those people for advice. I'll especially need help with venue organisation and liability insurance.

Another plus is that I have something of a blueprint for how I'd like the con to work and be orgnaised. A while ago, Steve Darlington made a post on his LiveJournal about the problems he saw with the traditional con setup and some solutions. I like a lot of the suggestions:

  • Eliminating Rego: There goes half the organisation work right there. Admittedly, you won't know until the day how many attendees you'll have, but frankly, by the time you organise pre-registry you'll be pretty much committed to the con, succeed or fail.
  • Eliminating Prizegiving: Cool because A) going to an RPG con to be a lumberjack (earning trophies) creates competition and hurt feelings instead of gaming just for fun and B) quite frankly, ReefCon and the RPGA have refined prizes and rewards to an art form. Hell, the last ReefCon I went to, I got a pack of six D&D Miniatures just for signing up and turning up. Why compete? Just make it about trying new games, meeting new gamers (or hooking back up with old acquaintances) and enjoying sessions.
  • Scantily-Clad Ladies: ... well, okay, maybe not. Besides, it's Cairns; we'll probably get enough people shedding clothing with the humidity! A ladies' discount, though? Hmm... opening oneself up to accusations of discrimination, perhaps? Then again, pubs have been getting away with Ladies' Nights for a while...
  • Beer: Now, there's a thought...
  • Short Con: And there's another one. Having a fairly quick con means you're not stuck waiting for a school holiday or a long weekend to roll around, nor would you be competing with people's existing plans for such times.

Heck, considering I have an "in" with the Courthouse Hotel already, maybe they'd be willing to host us...

My Whinge: ReefCon, The Cairns RPG Fulcrum

Something that’s been niggling at me for a while bloomed into a full-fledged bother after the October gamers’ get-together. It was due to a comment that Bruce made; I can’t quote it verbatim, but the gist of it was that while there’s a lot of turnover in the membership of the Cairns RPG scene, ReefCon remains the one dependable fixture. On one had, that’s cool; there’s at least one event per year where gamers new to town have a chance to meet fellow gamers.

On the other hand, that presents two distinct problems.

The first is that ReefCon is an RPGA-driven con, which means that you can play any game you want, as long as it’s Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 (there used to be the odd Star Wars game, but no one – well, no one barring me – is interested any more). Immediately, you’ve thrown a barrier up before the gamer population; the only way Joe and Jane Gamer will have consistent fun is if they own or are familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook v3.5 (and, optionally, possess a handful of painted fantasy miniatures). If you’re a member of the RPG hobby or you read my web log with any degree of consistency, you know that while D&D is the most widely-recognised product in the hobby, it’s certainly not the only one.

A corollary to this problem is that Dungeon Masters can only run RPGA-sanctioned Living modules. Just try slapping an adventure for your homebrewed D&D setting together; even if you volunteer to run it, you won’t get anywhere (even if you do, you probably won’t get players). If it’s not Living Greyhawk, Mark of Heroes, Xen’Drik Expeditions, Legacy of the Green Regent or (maybe, if you’re lucky) Living Force, it’s not on. This is why you’ll hear a lot of talk at ReefCon about “writers”, people who design modules specifically for submission to the RPGA governing body. There’s a lot of kudos in writing an approved module; it could get run at RPGA-sanctioned cons anywhere across the world.

But the RPGA ain’t perfect. In the second module I played in at this year’s ReefCon, Wes Nicholson was complaining loudly at how crap the module was. The problem is that complain was all he could do; each module, crap or otherwise, is tied into the RPGA’s rewards scheme. Each RPGA character has to stack fairly in terms of play-hours and rewards against every other RPGA character so players can take their characters from Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns and still play them. Dick with a module in the name of making it more interesting and you risk your players’ hard-earned bonus items and campaign cards being taken away because someone thought you gave them an unfair advantage.

The second is the particular nature of ReefCon. It’s held at Trinity Bay State High School and, as such, most of the attendees are local students, many under the age of fifteen. While I’m all for introducing young ‘uns to the hobby, I don’t want them dominating every session I attend (if you’re curious as to why, check out my posts on my ReefCon experiences this year). I'm positive I'm not the only one, and I reckon that's yet another barrier to local gamers; what the youngsters are obviously grooving on would likely annoy the living shit out of many adult players and DM/GMs.

These are the reasons why the thought of ReefCon being the only mainstay of the Cairns gaming scene bothers me – add them up, and the result is that I have pretty much bugger-all odds of broadening the number of locals who’ve had a chance to sample the hot-buttered awesomeness that is InSpectres, or of meeting people who’d love to introduce me to their Favourite Game Ever.

“Okay, Rob,” I hear you all say, “you’ve just had your bitch-fest about D&D, the RPGA and Cairns. Are you all sulk and no action?” More on that in the next post…

November 04, 2006

Fires Over Gordonvale

Gaming-wise, I’m hankering for this coming Saturday, when Tracey and Brett rock on over. I sent the below to Vickie and them last night:

Okay, so on Saturday the 11th I'd still like to play a session of Burning Empires with you guys. However, I know that World and Character Burning aren't exactly playing, and I know from last week that at least one of you wanted to do some more actual play than we did.

So instead of - or, if we somehow wind up having the time, as well as - Burning a World and Characters, I'd like to suggest that we play the first official Burning Empires con module, Fires Over Omac. The world and characters are pre-burned; in fact, as none of it is GM Secret Stuff, I heartily recommend that you download the module and character sheets from here.

I think it'll give us an idea of whether we as a group will enjoy a campaign of Burning Empires before we get seriously stuck into it.

I also downloaded and listened to an episode of another podcast, called GeekNights. The two hosts, Rym and Scott, are very energetic, more so than the Sons of Kryos and a touch less so than the Durham 3. Their topics are also more diverse, covering everything from anime to web tech to their latest podcast as of this writing, covering the US midterm elections.

This particular episode was an interview with Burning Wheel / Empires designer Luke Crane, who himself is pretty enthusiastic. It's worth listening to, if not for the design philosophy behind his games (which is worth listening to), for the stories of his crazy antics whilst GMing a session of kill puppies for satan. It helped clarify some of the things I'll need to be ready to do when GMing Fires Over Omac (and, hopefully, a Burning Empires campaign). It also gave both Vickie and I some good laughs (with it, not at it).

Confidence Trick

Work’s been picking up quite a bit lately; with the impending seasonal Holiday, we’ve had sales reps out with clients and clients calling in for ad space. Since Wednesday things have been moving at a cracking pace – and I’m rather enjoying it, to be honest.

I think it has something to do with actually trusting myself with the authority I have. It may not seem like much, but a few days ago, while one of my team was asking me to do something, two others approached me for my time. I actually told them “Ladies, I need three minutes.” They both said, “Okay.” and went elsewhere. I got what the first person wanted done out of the way fairly quickly and followed up with the other two. A small thing, yes, but for someone who’s not the best at standing up for himself, it was a significant thing. I’ve been working through the past couple of days with quite a bit more confidence.

After draining the savings maximiser account to pay for some hefty bills, we’re a little tight for cash at the moment. We’ve not been going out, much; with any luck, I’ll be able to get the current tank of petrol to last until this coming Thursday, a good two weeks’ worth. In a few weeks, we have the company Christmas party, which will actually be something of a masquerade ball. Vickie’s already decided on her costume. Me? No bloody idea! Still, we’ll have to pay $60 to get in, and on top of that we have most of our Christmas shopping to do. Things are gonna be a bit quiet on our front for a while yet, I think…

Still, I've been getting a bit more value out of what I have rather than pining for things I don't have yet. Myself, Tony Mac and the Cazman have been playing a bit more Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War in the past week or two. Gav would be in on it as well, but when we managed to get together for a game he had some problems with the latest patch. We parted company while he started downloading the 300MB master patch file from the Dawn of War website instead of the incremental patches that the game itself was trying to download.

While you'd think that'd have me wanting the latest expansion for the game, Dark Crusade - well, you'd be half right. The game we're getting from Dawn of War and the first expansion, Winter Assualt at the moment, though, is more than fun enough; I can wait until Christmas or after before making sure I have all the available races. In te meantime, I'm just waiting until Gav, Tony, the Cazman and I can get together for some 2v2 battle...

Oh, if anyone else feels like a game, let me know, okay?

Our New Dining Room

As promised a couple of weeks ago, folks, here's our new dining room:

The New Dining Room

As you can see, the room is virtually finished. The only parts remaining are to put some archetraving over that dark line above the air conditioner on the back wall.

We were planning to fill the larger wall on the left with family pictures, until Vickie remembered some very artful leaf pictures in her stash of picture files. She printed them out on photo-paper and we went on a shopping trip to The Warehouse in Manunda and Big W in Earlville to pick up some picture mat and frames. A little over $60 later, and you can see the result:

A Wall and Five Pictures

We think they do such a good job on their own that there's no need to break the wall up any further!