T’was on a Monday Morning…

It’s a year since we finished completion on the house and were given the keys. I know this because the first thing I did when we got inside was to claim it (fig. 1).

fig 1. A claimed chimney.

Over winter we made a load of plans for what we wanted to do with the house, from garden improvements to loft improvements, and by spring we had sorted out some priorities and started to get quotes for things…

… and then Lockdown hit, and all that exploded.

So of the first twelve months of home ownership, we’ve spent six locked-down inside it, which is a good way for the minor annoyances to build up, and so when the harsher aspects of lockdown were lifted, we started to action those new things. Except, of course, they were all booked out by people in exactly the same situation, so it was a couple of months until anything actually happened.

First was a visit from Spotless to clean the windows and clear out the guttering. Last Wednesday was Instaloft, who boarded up the loft so we can use it for storage space, moved the hatch to a place where there’s actually clearance to climb up, and removed the metric crapton of shit that had been left up there, some of which I’d swear wouldn’t fit through the old hatch. The loft looks so much better now, and I’m very much looking forward to emptying our rented garage into it at some point.

fig 2. Lofty ambitions

Unfortunately the loft guys found some evidence of rodent activity in the insulation up there, so Thursday morning a guy from Total Pest Control came around to totally control some pests. The electrician from Instaloft also noted that our fuse-box was a couple of decades short of current regulations and some of our wiring had the sheen of a man with DIY enthusiasm. So on a Wednesday morning, the electrician called…

Tomorrow is a plasterer to fix up the old loft hatch, Friday a plumber will appear to tell us why the toilet backs up and the stopcock doesn’t turn, as well as some sage words of wisdom about why the boiler is in a stupid place and a couple of radiators don’t. Saturday someone will come to install a smart thermostat.

Sunday we rest.

Monday is Fyr & my anniversary, and we will spend it in the manner of our people: Looking at new kitchen light fittings on the B&Q website.

So the adventure continues.

fig 3. An House.


In Which A Masks: A New Generation Game Optimistically Labelled A One-Shot Is Created And Run

During Lockdown I’ve been doing a lot more RPGs and GMing than before, most recently, I ran a one-shot of Masks: A New Generation for friend Robin, and I’m going to talk about the process of putting it together, partly because writing stuff down helps me internalise it, and partly because it helps me stay present in the process and do things deliberately, and therefore maybe repeatably.

Plus, evidence suggests people like this kind of thing.

Last week I sent Robin a message offering to run a one-shot RPG game as a birthday present. It’s something I’ve done before, and something I enjoy doing for people. I’ve got far more ideas than time, and one-shots are a way of getting the New Thing energy boost without commiting to a campaign, plus I want more experience in putting one-shots together. But mostly, I enjoy doing fun things with people I like.

Robin suggested Masks, and while I’ve never played or run it before, I’ve heard good things about it, and I know roughly how it runs already.

Masks: A New Generation

Masks book cover

Masks is a Super-hero RPG by Magpie games. Its focus is on teenage superheroes (Teen Titans style) fighting the good fight right alongside teenage drama, living up to expectations, managing their own lives and who knows what. It’s “Powered By The Apocalypse”, which means it uses a system of Archtypes (“Playbooks”) all of which have a series of mechanical approaches to situations, as well as a general set of moves that’s available to everyone.

One of the things I like about PBtA games, especially for one-shots, is that because they’re class-based, and all the available options are right there, they’re fairly quick to get up to speed on for new players.

Structure & Scaffold

Armed with a system, I picked up the source books and read through them, thought about hero narratives and four-colour comics a bit, fixated on colour printing and the historical importance of certain colours, free associated, and then wrote things. This is the “How do you come up with your ideas” bit, and if I knew how it worked I’d bottle it for later. Anyway, I splurged forth some words in the right order, which became the pitch document, because editing is for other people:

The dust hasn’t fallen. Particles of the Lyceum’s infernal dust float in the air, turning the sky over Halcyon city a brilliant shade of violet. Champion Park is still torn up and large chunks of it are still floating gently between five and a hundred feet in the air.

But the city – and AEGIS – say the air is safe again now, and the civilians and the rest of the heroes of the city step out of their homes and bunkers to face a new world. A world without the Pinnacle League in it, as thousands saw the news broadcast where they were blasted through dimensions in a last ditch attempt to stop the Lyceum’s monsters from rising.

They’ll be back, eventually.

Probably? Yes. Certainly.

But it’s the beginning of the Summer Holidays, and things are weird, even for Halcyon.

Sadly, we’ve got some bad news for the beleaguered citizens:It’s gonna get weirder very shortly.

Inherent Violets, Pitch Document

I thing I often think about with regard to fictional universes is whether they function without the main character. It’s not a positive or negative attribute of a universe, but an interesting thought process. The universe of Rick & Morty functions without either of them, the characters would probably live easier lives, but schools function, things exist. People have relationships to each other, and events happen, without the title characters needing to be there. Everything in Doctor Who is defined by the presence of absence of the Doctor. Gotham generally revolves around Batman, either in his actions or absense. There are examples where this isn’t true (Torchwood might prove me wrong about the Doctor, but I only saw season one; Harley Quinn is an example of Gotham not needing Batman, while the series Gotham is pretty much the opposite).

What happens to a Superhero city when the main Superheroes are smeared across twelve dimensions? The answer is, in this case, a story that’s not about those heroes.

It’s about these ones.

There’s only so far I can go with a basic pitch document. I drew up a structure document, divided it into three acts, and put in a vague superstructure to hang a plot off, which I’ve uploaded.

A lot of this is just random jelly thrown against a wall, but it gives me some shapes to put some antagonists into, though who and – more importantly – why is going to have to wait a bit.

Ground Zero

Next thing is to organise and run a Session Zero. Nearly all the players are people I’ve GM’d for before, which is handy as I already have an idea of things they like. So we did a session where we built the characters and the team in general. Out of this fell a couple of obvious antagonists, and with the character powers and motivations I made some notes on the themes and thesis for the game. Some of which even fit in the structure I came up with before-hand, though the middle act no longer holds its weight. Also from the S0 comes the lines and veils stuff, aspects and themes the players don’t enjoy playing with. So now I have the characters, some emotional beats to hit and conflicts to bounce on, a rough structure, and some notes about terrible things I can do. Next step, split this down into scenes and encounters – some more likely than others – and start writing things…

I’ve got a week between the S0 and the game, which is plenty of time, and I’ve got three days off that week, so there’s no chance I’m going to procrastinate enough not to do it…

Careful Planning

… yeah, I write nothing. I read the player backgrounds as they come in, and some ideas bounce around in my head. Saving the adult heroes goes to the back of the box for the moment – I don’t want the teen heroes to be outshone in their big battle – and before the session starts I fill in some rough drafts for the three act-level villains.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm at the virtual table, Robin’s put together some character art for most of the team, and the Discord chat has been simmering away with background detail for a bit, some of which I’ll use against them later.

We’re using Roll20 for game management – I’m used to the interface, and the character sheets for Masks in it are really nice and easy to use – and Google Meet for AV (Works, doesn’t require a download, and again I’m familiar with it). I’ve set up some handouts in the app with background on some of the NPCs and basic rules not on the character sheets. I’m not using it for maps, but I’ve got a selection of example images for mood setting and demonstration. Plus I’ve used a free logo designer online to draw up some symbols and logos for supers and organisations in the world, to help them pop a bit more.

I’ve also created a Roll20 version of my X-Card modification, and set it up so any player can throw down a card onto the virtual table to signify distress. Added to this is an explanation, and that “x” in chat or me being able to physically see you panicking will also have the same effect. The idea is to play on character’s insecurities, not players.

Let The Game Begin

I give them the opening scenario – the pitch document from above, plus the coffee shop bank robbery from the structure doc, which has survived nearly intact. I give them Moonshine (Small Green from the doc) as a villain from the get-go, as defeating a minor villain is a good start for a team.

After that I’m mostly winging it. I’ve got the situation and the world status sorted from the structure document, and I can swing the spotlight towards characters and give them things and clues as they use their powers. The bank robbery led them to a drop-point for the stolen stuff, and a letter from the supervillain (because a couple of goons escaped and warned her). Kit the Doomed does some nice deduction on the paper, Maddy the werewolf’s super senses picked up the villain’s perfume and tracked it to her home in which they hacked her computer (there was a postit note for the password, but the username was harder, because they’d missed a clue earlier), found the masterplan and a link to the Doomed’s Nemesis, and a giant portal back to a 1960s government funded organisation that had a solution for when heroes when rogue: a city-spanning nuke-style missile that negated everyone’s powers, and a few special rings that would protect people from the blast.

By this point we were running long. I’d estimated about three to five hours including breaks, and we’d hit five before Act 3. I’d underestimated roleplay time by quite a bit – and Masks relies a lot (thematically and mechanically) on time to have discussions, arguments and earnest discussions with each other. Instead of putting the fight with the second level villain at the end of Act 2, I ended that at the emotional venting and release scene, and spent a break upscaling “Senpai”/Big Bad with some of her hoped-for patron’s powers and raising the epic level of the fight with her to be a final fight.

Happily a number of handy things fell in place right here, including an idea of how the depowering missile worked metaphysically and Senpai’s ultimate plan, and there was a big fight involving anime robots, time travel, heroic sacrifice, acceptance of fate and declarations of love, and everyone lived temporarily ever after.

Of course, not having got to the big Galactica fight, and leaving the big adult superheroes in limbo, as well as not touching quite a lot of background detail or relationships, there’s a whole lot unresolved. So I’ve kind of agreed to run a few more of it, leaving my ability to run self-contained one-shots at it’s record high of “once”.


Weeknotes 2020-26: Let’s try this again

In which lockdown is bemoaned, some code is written, RPGs continue on, and the excess of television provides an opportunity to waste more time.

Outside The Asylum

Day 121 of lockdown. I mean, the first few weeks were dogsitting, but that was the last time I left Oxford, or Headington, really.

I am a professional remote worker. I’ve been working remotely for most of the last ten years, on and off, and I was totally one of the people who said “Ho ho, I have been socially distancing for years, ho ho.”

Ho ho.

I hate video conference meetings with a venimence I usually reserve for Marmite, XML Parsers or Stephen Donaldson. Voice I can at least get on with in a two person chat, but video conferencing breaks a lot of my social cues, and all my learned behaviors over not talking over people. It’s harder to tell when someone’s trying to say something, and harder still to shut down someone who’s on the third paragraph of their minimally relevant point.

The chat around a table is the closest thing I have to a natural habitat, and I miss it a lot. Not enough to do my Patriotic Duty and troop down to the nearest Wetherspoons for a pint of Spitfire come Economicly Expedient Day on the 4th, but I miss it none the less.

It’s also bad for my productivity. Without occasionally imposing some external structure (ie, working from the office in London, or a coffee shop, or somewhere that at least requires trousers) I drift slowly into a 26 hour day that I then have to force-reset over the weekend.

Work have been really good over the crisis, to be honest. We’ve been moving towards a more remote workforce over this next few years anyway, and this accelerated the timeline a bit. Pretty much all of the distilleries in my bit of the company (Absolut in Sweden, the various Scotch distilleries in… well… Scotland, and Jameson’s in Ireland) switched to supplying raw materials for hand sanitizer, causing – I’m told – some taxonomic confusion for the Absolut bottle collection market.

Working in a fully-remote team is always better than working in a partially on-site one, to be entirely honest. There’s a lot fewer critical bits of “ambient information” that nobody realises didn’t make it outside of a conversation, and keeping a social connection with a group of people is easier. There’s no real way to stop being the easily ignorable voice from someone’s laptop as the only remote member of a meeting, and I’ve lost count of the times that over the years the connection to the room has dropped and nobody’s noticed.

The remote work shift is one I’ve been hoping for since I started this, and while the cause is awful, I’m hoping some good will come out of it. Like, for example, better corporate support for ergonomics of home offices. We can but dream…

Library of Code

A long time ago (like, 2009ish), I was writing the first version of Skimlinks’ Product Guide, which is the last thing I worked on before I was, figuratively, stabbed in the back and thrown into a passing garbage truck. The original version was based on Solr, a java based search system. Never being one to leave technology at work, I hacked together a project to index all the issues of SJGames’ Pyramid magazine up to that point, which SJGames had helpfully released as a zip file to all existing subscribers when it switched to the new format in 2008. This gave me a bundle of genre-specific documents with shared keywords and all that helpful juice to make my amateur data analyst’s heart glad.

All this was done on my home server, Fjord, a delightful 2U rack-mounted machine which I bought from someone in a pub in Hackney. I broke my very first iPhone by leaning the server on my thigh in order to press the button to cross the road while carrying it to the bus stop.

Sadly, Fjord’s fan controls didn’t work under Linux, so it ran like a jet engine, and turning it off reduced my electricity bill by a third. By now, it could be outperformed by a raspberry pi, I think.

Anyway, that tangled mess of PHP, Bash and Java apps was long gone, but when I recently recovered the contents of Fjord (having moved house four times without turning it on, and it having lived in a cupboard for five years. Well configured RAID is a godsend) and remembered it existed, also: I have *far* more random RPG PDFs (due to Humble Bundle, Bundle of Holding, Kickstarter and other slips of the credit card) now, and I’d like to search them.

I’ve not really been doing personal coding much these last few years. My previous major coding projects had mostly stalled due to lack of interest (mine and others), upstream bullshit or the end of projects. The last major things I wrote for personal use was the system for managing the LARP system Odyssey. I’ve been barely maintaining things like the Panopticon (as open APIs slowly go the way of everything else), and shutting things down as they drift into obsolescence.

But I spent a few nights over some weeks building Thalium, which involved learning Laravel, ElasticSearch and a lot about how much worse PDF parsing has been made over the last ten years (Thanks Adobe, Thadobe), as well as brushing up on Docker advances to build a nice development environment and WSL2 to get it working on my gaming machine (which has more powah for handling several gigs of PDFs than my beloved Macbook). It’s not something that’s ever going to be generally accessible, but it’s been a fun project, and really handy when looking up rules for systems I’m GMing.

Socially Distanced Murder Hobos

RPGs continue on. I’m still running two – A custom Torg Eternity campaign and Tomb of Annihilation in D&D 5th – but back up to playing two – Toby’s 3.5ed World’s Largest Dungeon campaign that I’ve been in for … maybe four years? and has been going on for a couple of years before that, and Ian’s new Enlightenment Gothic 5th ed game, designed to be the kind of world that all the old Hammer Horror movies could all take place in.

In the latter I’ve rolled up an Artificer who – in this low-magic system – creates little clockwork creatures that have the effect of spells. So a copper spider who sews your wounds up, a clockwork bunny which detects magic. I’m really enjoying the adorable body-horror images of it all, as well as the system in general.

Tomb of Annihilation is meandering through the final act (with no character deaths! I’m disappointed in myself) so I’m kind of wondering what to run in its stead. There’s a queue of games I’d like to run, and new ones get added and merged every so often. I think New Verticals – Cyberpunk dystopias in the Animal Crossing universe – is edging out in front right now. But time is a fickle something or other, and the road ahead is long.

Tyranny of the Televisual

This is the end of a week off. I intended to spend it doing nothing much – not that there’s much choice at the moment – and catching up on TV. I don’t watch a lot of shows, but I’ve seriously fallen behind (like, I’ve not even started S2 of Westworld or Legion, I really want to get back into Preacher) and I keep finding new things I want to watch (Killjoys is great, and the Clone Wars series is too). Then the voice in my head says “You should rewatch Star Trek” and suddenly 22 days of television appear on my queue.

Oh well, it’s not like I’m going to be down the pub, I suppose.


Campaign Notes

Words are hard. The Current Situation™ isn’t great for my head, and I’m finding it hard to write about anything else, and I really don’t think I need to add to the current covid chorus. So, here’s some stuff around how I put together an adventure for the Torg Eternity campaign I’m running.

Torg Eternity is a game where our world has been invaded by some other realities. Each new reality is overlayed on top of our existing world, and each one has slightly different narrative laws that change the mechanics of the game to encourage different styles of play. The Cyberpapacy is more of a Cyberpunky-Oppressed-Masses setting, The Living Land is high danger action world where you fight dinosaurs, but currently we’re playing in the Nile Empire, which basically Indiana Jones meets the original Stargate movie meets the golden age of comic books. High trope, high action, masks are magic and your identity is secure, the villain always gets his monologue off, etc.

DM Notes, Dice & Whiskey. The basic components of a session.

In this campaign, my players are looking for information about Terra, the original world of the Nile Empire that invaded this one, and they are finding the Mouseion, nine libraries based on the muses.

Today was the Terpsichorium, the library of dance. The dances of ancient Terra, recorded with Pulp Technology onto slates to be performed by enchanted mannequins, with special rooms to teach others how to perform them. Of course, when the player party tried to get into the service areas without permission, it activated the other programming of the mannequins, as is traditional.

And now, with mannequins pulling arms off themselves to batter the party with, the players hear the voice of the other thing Terpsichore is responsible for, traditionally. A Siren approaches.

I am, I admit, pushing at the edges of the Nile Empire’s pulp-ancient-egyptian setting. I’ve got some in-character justification for it, but in-character justification for being off-brief is very much the “Bob doesn’t have to do P.E today because he is ill. Signed Bob’s Mum” of roleplaying design.

In reality it’s because I spent a while mucking around with the more obscure edges of the ancient Middle Sea area when I was helping run Odyssey LRP. Stuff like the Mellified Man was the kind of left-field-yet-historical plot that left happy memories and weird google histories for years to come.

Duke Humfrey’s Library, Oxford. Bookspiration.

One Part Truth To Two Parts Lie

In this case, the Mouseion, or Musaeum, at Alexandria is the institution that the famous “Great Library” was said to have been part of. Now, it’s a thing that would be a university, a library, a museum (it’s where the word comes from) and a school of philosophy itself. It caught my imagination, the idea that the Great Library was only a part of something bigger, especially since the myth of the Great Library Of Alexandria Being Burned is so large a lie in our culture (in reality, it had been declining due to underfunding for a century before Julius Ceaser (accidentally) burnt part of it, and continued to drift apart until by the time it was burned down under papal decree, it was probably empty. It is an important lesson about the destruction of culture, just not the one it’s known for).

After that reality starts to be bent towards what I want to have happened in the invading reality of the Nile Empire. In this case, Alexander never invaded, so it’s still Rakote (A different transliteration of the more common Rhacotis), and the Mouseion is literally a set of Great Libraries dedicated to each one of the Muses.

In theoory, then there are nine of them. I don’t intend to use all of them, but it’s nice to have options. So I started with the Terpsichorium, the museum of dance. The idea is that each museum is specifically built by an ancient and technologically advanced (though in an ancient and magic way) civilisation to maintain their culture for what they hoped to be forever. How do you make sure the dance of your culture is kept alive.

This is where the mannequins came in. The dances are all stored in books and scrolls, with careful descriptions and diagrammed steps. But they couldn’t be sure the language would last, so they used a form of storage and enchanted mannequins that could perform the moves, and even teach humanoids how to perform them. Magic dance studios with walls that look like mirrors, with mannequins that know the moves and guide you from place to place.

In Which We Turn Lore Into Game

The Nile Empire symbol

The mannequins come to life idea was so tropey that it was irresistible – the Nile Empire setting in Torg is built for this kind of adventure – and moving faceless human bodies is so obvious even Doctor Who knocks on the fourth wall before it uses it these days. But this only happens if the characters try to get though into the “private” part of the museum, a door clearly labeled “Please Knock” which – in a complete afterthought on the designer’s part – is only in their language. Never did it really occour to them that there wouldn’t be someone there to run the place, to turn off the security system.

And, indeed, there is.

In this case, the mannequins just keep coming – new ones arriving from the basement to replenish the ones they kill, the song of the Siren gradually luring them somewhere they don’t know yet, until the one person who can read the ancient language sees the sign on the door:

“Please Knock”

So they do, and everything is still. Except for the siren’s song, which still pulls them towards the basement. Session ends.

So the adventure comes together, a collection of tropes based on something I half remembered from a LRP I helped run half a decade ago, plus some basic research for a framework, and some papier-mâché over that, all of which kicks heavily on the big Arc Themes of the campaign. But I’m not going to talk about those until the players get there, which might take a while.


Tradition 2020

The first version of Aquarionics Dot Com went up on the 27th December 1999. It was built in hand-written HTML, had an “innovative” navigation system that included javascript files so I only had to update them in one place (and was, thus, entirely not navigatable by search engines) and wasn’t really very good. It was basically a reupload of my existing site from my free hosting.

One of the pages that still works from that era is the Codes page. Back in the usenet era, it was common to have incomprehensible “code blocks” that described your personality problems to four decimal places, and I collected loads of them, put them in a Marquee tag for reasons best understood by my 18 y/o self, and uploaded them black onto a dark cyan background, thus: The 1999 Codes Page.

Every two years since, I’ve updated my “Geek Code”. The Geek Code itself hasn’t been updated since 1996, so basically this is an archive of what geeks twenty three years ago – and counting – thought was important enough to be your biography. The original geek code site by Robert A. Hayden has long since gone to the great availability zone in the sky, but nothing ever leaves the internet really, so it’s archived at too.

So, as is traditional, the updated geekcode:

GCM$/GAT d--/d+ s+:+ a C++++ UL++++ P+ L+$ E-- W++++ N U+ K w O-- M+++ V- PS+++ PE- Y+ PGP++ t+ 5+ X R++ tv b+ DI-- D+ G+ e++/* h--- r++ z?

And you can see it alongside all the updates of the last 20 fucking years.

The main things I notice in the above is a continual reevaluation of what I actually *do*, a gradual shift further left politically, and the gradual decline into fury and then apathy of my opinion of Dilbert.

However, for the first time, what that actually means, officially decoded:

Geek: GCM$/GAT

I’m a geek of Computer Management (I get paid for this).

I am a a geek of All Trades.

Dress: d–/d+

My t-shirts go a step further and have a trendy political message on them.
… and …
Good leisure-wear. Slacks, button-shirt, etc. No jeans, tennis shoes, or t-shirts.

Shape: s+:+

I’m a little taller than most.
I’m a little rounder than most.

Age: a

I’m between 30 and 39.

Computers: C++++

I’ll be the first in line to get the new cybernetic interface installed into my skull.

Unix: U+

I not only have a Unix account, but I slam VMS any chance get.

Unix Linux UL++++

I am the sysadmin. If you try and crack my machine, don’t be surprised if the municipal works department gets an “accidental” computer-generated order to start a new landfill on your front lawn or your quota is reduced to 4K.

Perl: P+

I know of perl. I like perl. I just haven’t learned much perl, but it’s on my agenda.

Linux: L+$

I’ve managed to get Linux installed and even used it a few times. It seems like it is just another OS.

I’m making money at this.

Emacs: E–

Emacs is just a fancy word processor.

Web: W++++

Three pluses is “ I am a WebMaster. Don’t even think about trying to view my homepage without the latest version of Netscape. When I’m not on my normal net connection, I surf the web using my Newton and a cellular modem. ” This is one stage beyond that.

Usenet: N

Usenet News? Sure, I read that once.

Kibo: K

I know who Kibo is.

Windows: w

Ok, so I use MS Windows. I don’t have to like it.

OS/2: O–

I can’t even get the thing to install!

Macintosh: M++

I am a Mac guru. Anything those DOS putzes and Unix nerds can do, I can do better, and if not, I’ll write the damn software to do it.


Unix is much better than VMS for my computing needs.

Politics-Social: PS+++

Legalize drugs! Abolish the government. “Fuck the draft!”

Politics-Economic: PE-

It’s ok to increase government spending, so we can help more poor people. Tax the rich! Cut the defense budget!

Cypherpunks: Y+

I have an interest and concern in privacy issues, but in reality I am not really all that active or vocal.


I have the most recent version and use it regularly

Trek: t+

It’s a damn fine TV show and is one of the only things good on television any more.

Babylon 5: 5+

Babylon 5 certainly presents a fresh perspective in the Sci-Fi universe. I watch it weekly.

X-Files: X

Ho hum. Just another Fox show.

Roleplaying: R++

There is no life outside the role of the die. I know all the piddly rules of (chosen game). MY own warped rules scare the rest of the players.

Television: tv

I watch only the shows that are actually worth while, such as those found on PBS.

Books: b+

I enjoy reading, but don’t get the time very often.

Dilbert: DI–

Don’t read it, but I think the dog is kinda cute.


It’s a fun, action game that is a nice diversion on a lazy afternoon.

Geek Code: G+

I was once G++ (or higher), but the new versions are getting too long and too complicated.

Education: e++/*

Got a bachelors degree
… and …
I learned everything there is to know about life from the “Hitchhiker’s Trilogy”.

Housing: h—

Married, (persons living romanticly with someone might as well label themselves h—, you’re as good as there already.)

Relationships: r++

I’ve dated my current SO for a long time.

Sex[?]: z?

It’s none of your business what my sex life is like.

Computer Games

EGX 2019

Moving house is tomorrow, so lets do this instead.

Last weekend I went to EGX 2019. I’ve been once before, on a day-pass in 2011, where I was unimpressed by the queue to play time ratios, and the lack of anything to do that didn’t involve queuing for things.

This time I went for the full experience, Thursday through Sunday, nearby hotel. I arrived Thursday afternoon, when it had been open for a few hours already. I hadn’t gone in with any major plans. I wanted to see the latest on Cyberpunk 2077, I’m interested in Death Stranding and Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and I was booked for both the Friday & Saturday D&D sessions with Outside Xbox/Xtra.

Thursday was mostly wandering around getting my bearings. The ExCeL centre is huge, and EGX did well to make it both manageable and navigable. Some places could have done with better signage.

Thursday Encounters

Cash ‘n Guns

Cash & Guns with Dicebreaker

(Watched, Tabletop) Cash ‘n Guns is a board game for 4-8 people, and I watched Dicebreaker play it – you can watch the video of that on youtube. I like the mechanics – you could reskin it fairly easily to not involve pointing foam guns at each other, but the physicality plays in to the game really well. From watching, it’s not a game I’d play with strangers – I can all too easily see a version of this with an interplay of injokes and noodle incidents on one side and a couple of players smiling slightly, and there are some people I would never play this with due to griefing concerns, but it does seem like a lot of fun if you’ve got the right group for it.

MediEvil Remake

(Played, PS4) I missed the original MediEvil on PS, so this was my first introduction to the game. Wikipedia summarises the reviews of this as:

MediEvil received mixed reviews. General praise was directed at the game for its story and visuals, which were considered to be faithful to the original MediEvil. General criticism was directed at some aspects of the game’s gameplay, which was perceived to be outdated

MediEvil (2019 video game) – Wikipedia – 2019-10-27

And… yeah. Felt very much like playing an early 90s 3rd person action game, but with nicer graphics and high-res textures. Complete with a mix of rapid-reaction platforming sections with dodgy cameras and no clue as to what you should be doing. A new game in this series might be interesting, but this remake was faithful enough to be a good reminder of why we don’t do it like this any more.


(Played, PS4) Control is a Remedy game, and a direct line from Max Payne through Alan Wake (and apparently Quantum Break, though I didn’t play that). You start off the game as a mysterious person with a past, and the player has no idea what the fuck is going on. Soon, some things are explained, which does not make anything better.

In this case, the background is a world where iconic objects – the service pistol as a concept, the Red Hotline from the cold war – become objects of power which can be bound and wielded.

Control is a well-executed shooty game with a strong narrative element, told in Remedy’s distinctive style of live action video, cut scenes and environmentals. Live Action video in a game still has the uncanny mountain problem it’s had since FMV games in the 90s, but it’s not distracting in context.

The half-hour I spent on it at EGX convinced me to abandon my hatred for the Epic Game Store long enough to buy it there, and the several hours since have validated my position.


Friday I went in with a Plan. Primarily, to get in early enough to get to see the Cyberpunk 2077 demo. Cyberpunk 2077 was probably the best managed queue system I saw at EGX, although not without problems in itself. You would queue for a ticket that would be for a certain time, and then when your time popped, you headed back to the booth to see the show. This did mean if you didn’t get to the booth in time to get a ticket you couldn’t get in that day, but crucially did not mean you were waiting in a massive queue unable to do anything else, which only moved once an hour.

I arrived at EGX at 9:30, thinking I’d be early for the “Early Bird” 10am opening, only to find a queue of hundreds in front of me. Eventually and with purpose, I headed to the Cyberpunk stall and queued for a ticket, eventually slightly surprised to find I was early enough to snag one for the first show at 11am. The rest of the day was watching Live shows or wandering around the Indie stalls having taken one look at the queues for the other stuff and just going “Nope”. I was interested in the Avengers demo, but it was a long queue that only moved every 25-30 minutes as the entire set of players rotated. About halfway along was a sign saying “Waiting time is about 2 hours from this point” and I just… didn’t. Doom Eternal had the same problem.

A couple of hours in, that plan was absolutely scuppered by running into my best mate from school, who I hadn’t seen in about 25 years. So I spent the rest of the day wandering around with James, which increased the whole experience several-fold.

The Oxventure Begins

That evening I went to see the Oxventure, a D&D live game run by Dicebreaker’s Johnny Chiodini, and played by the crew of Outside Xbox & Outside Xtra. (Both OXs, Dicebreaker, Eurogamer & EGX are owned by Gamer Network, which in turn is owned by ReedPOP, which in its own turn is owned by RELX, who I used to be employed by as part of their subsidiary company Elsevier. If that sounds like a stretched connection, it really is).

Oxventure is a really good example of comedy D&D adventures run to the narrative within the rules. They’re really fun to watch, especially as the players rise from newbies to actually invested players over the games. You can see the rest of the adventures again on Youtube, and I recommend them highly.

Games Of Friday

Cyberpunk 2077

Queues at the Cyberpunk booth
Queuing for the Cyberpunk booth

(Watched, XBox One)

This year’s Annual Hour Of Cyberpunk Gameplay was a “Prove your worth” RPG quest to convince an ally to give you the next step on your main quest. It consisted of going into a new area where you’re not really welcome, meeting a contact who slowly walks you to a contact who lets you through a door to meet a contact who slowly walks you to his office so he can give you a quest to go to another location and stealth/murder your way to the objective.

Queueing to get a wristband that meant I could queue to get into a presentation to watch someone else play a computer game seemed like to apt a metaphor, I guess.

The gameplay looks like a lot of fun. In the demo, they switched between a couple of builds and redid bits of the level (Not possible in the game, but mocked up for the demo) as either a stealth or strength based character.

I liked the gameplay loop a lot, the layout did seem to be a lot more “This is your playspace, go forth” rather than “Pick a road, Stealth or Murder”, which makes me hope that you can play the game with a build you find interesting rather than hyperspecialisation or bust.

Less positive were the mentioned chain of zero-worth NPCs to get to the quest. In game this might feel like a slow infiltration of layers of a secret organisation, but watching just didn’t feel like a good use of time.

I’m still a bit worried about the ability to build yourself into a shit place, but we’ll see how that works out.

I find it really strange that a game so much about impressions and how you look to fit in has gone entirely first person, too.

Epilogue Simulator

Epilogue Simulator protagonist, alongside a thing that will enable a bit of your… items menu? Maybe?

(Played, PC) Epilogue Simulator is the weirdest game I saw at EGX, which is not a low bar to clear. It starts in the aftermath of a something, and you start with nothing. As you begin, you pick up movement keys to let you go in different directions, and keys that bring up the beginnings of menus that mention spells and items.

The world is corrupted, and your spells are corrupted. There’s one that turns the world into a glitched-out hellscape, and another that overlays a soundscape of atonal noise. Other spells can reverse some of these, but not all.

A great little piece of weirdness, and one I look forward to exploring.

Bird of Passage

(Played, PC) You are some kind of ghost in Tokyo. You get into taxis, and you talk to the drivers though a conversation system. Then you get out of taxis. Eventually you… work out what you are?

A strange and meditative game, reminds me a lot of Glitchhikers from the opposite direction. I’d like to play more of this too.


Not a game, but a dice store. They sell some beautiful dice, including this £400 Damascus Steel set. I bought some dice. They are blue.

Some dice. They are blue.

Beyond A Steel Sky

(Played, PC) Beneath a Steel Sky was one of my favourite graphic adventure games. It combined a well-realised setting with a great script, some well written jokes and a low level of stupid puzzles.

The sequel looks great – it’s in the same 3D engine as the newer Broken Sword game, and the 15 minute demo I played had some decent jokes, some nice puzzles, and some good gameplay. I’m not in love with the new art style, but it’s not a deal-breaker, and I fully intend to check this out.


A tripped out gaming PC
A tripped out gaming PC at EGX

Corsair, Overclockers, Asus and various other hardware providers were there in abundance, a constant reminder that my current PC build is no longer top of the tree, nor even very high up it. I still don’t need a neon flashing case with plasma screens and dioramas inside. But I could do with an upgrade. However, this week we move house. Then we look at future things.


(Played, PC) Nuts is a game about finding squirrel hoards. You set up cameras, watch their overnight recordings, then reposition the cameras to try to work out where the squirrels are going. It’s fun, frustration, and the colours are weird.

Legends of Runeterra

(Played, PC) What happens to your game when the Sauronic Eye of popular consciousness is drifting? League of Legends is a game that capitalised good and hard on the lane-based game craze inspired by the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III, but recently their dev team announced nine new games based on the same universe. This is the first to be released, a collectable card game!

It reminds me a lot of Hearthstone. Like, a lot a lot. The dynamic cards, the escalating mana system, the character barks, the flow, the art style.

It’s not a bad game, really. It’s hearthstone, but with an alternating turns system that puts one player on the offensive and one on the defensive each turn. It’s well-produced and crafted, but I’m not sure there’s any reason for it to exist.

It’s also weird that the second product out of a company that came out of a Warcraft Mod is so clearly going directly after a different Blizzard game.

DOTA Underlords

(Played, PC) What happens to your game when the Sauronic Eye of popular consciousness is drifting? DOTA2 is a game that capitalised good and hard on the lane-based game craze inspired by the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III, but recently their dev team announced a new game based on the same universe. This is it, a grid-based strategy game!

The new game in the DOTA2 universe coming out of a mod for DOTA2 feels comforting. Valve have once again taken a mod for one of their existing games and pumped money into it and called it a new game, as Counterstrike & Team Fortress had before, and in an age where Valve games are rare – and Artifact was a dud – it’s good to see.

I have no idea if this game is any good or not. The lore is baroque and confusing, the creature stats don’t appear to mean what they say, and winning seems both consistent and arbitrary. From the same point, me and my colleague testing this at the time had vastly different experiences. I put some creatures out and wiped the floor with my CPU opponents until I hit a wall. At the point I hit the wall I had no idea why my team were suddenly dying, and I didn’t have the money to switch anyone out. So we just kept dying, because you gain money by winning, and I wasn’t.

James had roughly the same experience, but earlier in the level progression.

Unto The End

(Watched, PC) It looks like this, and plays like this too:

Unto The End

Deathtrap Dungeon

(Watched, PC) Deathtrap Dungeon is a Fighting Fantasy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book by Ian Livingstone, and one of the most popular ones. It was made into an awful 1994 3D Action Game, but now is coming out as an “Interactive Storybook”

Basically, it’s Eddie Marsan performing the book at you, while you choose the next path. It’s really well performed from the videos I saw. As a “The pictures are better on radio” kind of guy, I’m not entirely sure about it, but with any luck it’ll bring these fun experiences to a new audience, and I look forward to giving it a go.

Everspace 2

(Played, PC) If you would like to get into a space-ship and fly around shooting things, you miss X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, Wing Commander and that kind of game, and you’d like something to tide you over until Star Citizen disappoints you, Everspace 2 works, it’s a lot of fun already, and it’s up on Kickstarter now.

Warcraft III

(Played, PC) No, not the remake. Towards the end of the day we played 2 player deathmatch of the original WC3 in the retro games area. I lost, but it was a lot of fun. In light of recent developments, I’m not sure I can recommend Blizzard right now, but if you’ve already got it, it’s worth a replay.


By Saturday I was a little burned out. I overslept a bit, so missed the first set of tickets for Death Stranding & Final Fantasy VII, then went in to look around for new things.

Games of Saturday

Super Mario Maker 2

Played some co-op levels with a stranger. It was interesting, but while the gameplay loop of trad Mario games is a carefully crafted thing of perfection, it goes alongside some beautifully crafted level design. This had the mechanics, but some truly horrible level design (and these were pre-downloaded levels by Nintendo)

A long queue for Doom Eternal
Queue Eternal More Like!!!!!

Doom Eternal

I have a policy. If I stand in line for half an hour without moving, I leave. Because by the time I get to the front of your queue I’m going to be dead.

Death Standing / Final Fantasy VII

By Saturday, Square Enix had abandoned physical queues altogether, and in order to get into presentations / demos for either of them, you had to go for tickets. Tickets were released on the PlayStation Experience app at 9am for the morning sessions, and 1pm for the afternoon sessions. I missed the first window (I was asleep), and by the time I got to the app in the afternoon all the tickets were booked.

That you had to use the app was signposted nowhere.


At that point on Saturday Afternoon the place was heaving and everything I hadn’t seen had queues. I went to find a couple of presentations, but due to audio issues and timings these didn’t work either. This set of disappointments was enough to make me nope-out, so I spent the afternoon writing up notes for an RPG campaign, and then went back for the second OxVenture panel, which was – again – great.

Doing this again, I think, would be better with a set of friends to hang out with – the afternoon I ran into James and we went around discussing things was great – rather than on my own, and probably maximise Thursday for the big popular things if I can.

Queuing up for 50 people to see a half hour demo on screen of a thing, especially when the event has thousand people cinemas where this kind of thing could scale far better, is a wasted opportunity.

Timeslot based experiences like Cyberpunk work far better, because you can do things while you’re waiting, but online tickets seem just to be a disappointment engine. Also I wonder how many people missed their appointment.

So not perfect, but I saw a lot of games I’m interested in for the future. We’ll see about next year.

By Saturday I was thoroughly tagged.

How to buy a house

This is not a comprehensive or legal guide, and some of the aspects of this are just generally not a good idea. This is how we did it, though:

1: Raising a Deposit or, Tragic Luck

A couple of years ago, my last remaining grandparent died. As a result of this, I could afford a deposit.

That’s the single biggest thing that propelled this process. I’m an IT worker on significantly above the UK average wage, my partner is also employed, and without this kick-start we would be renting for the rest of our lives no question. “Relief” for first time buyers saved us ~£5k on a £70,000 investment. Sure, the numbers would be a lot different if we weren’t buying in one of the most expensive areas of the country (Oxford is, on a house-price to average-salary ratio, more expensive than London, though that’s partially due to demographics); but people have to live here too.

2: Very Large Nets or, House Hunting

So June happened, and with it a large amount of money arrived. I paid off all debts, set a budget for Shiny Things from it, spent that, and realised that if I didn’t start this house-buying process now, I was going to gradually chip away at my inheritance on a “well, it’s only” and “I’ll put it back in next month” basis until I’d fucked everything up.

Just down the road from us was a brand new development – rare in Oxford, whose surrounding Green Belt constricts new housing development a lot of the time – called Barton Park, announced to great fanfare as having 40% affordable housing. All of that, however, appears to have been allocated to Oxford’s massively underserved Social Housing system, which I entirely support as a concept, but in this case means that none of the affordable housing is actually buy-able, and the non-affordable housing is… well, not affordable. 3 bedroom places were going from £580,000. My budget was – with a 60k deposit and a rough and ready mortgage calculation – £350,000. (I could have gone higher, but I wanted to keep monthly rates down. Plus every year I’ve not been able to do this is a year I’ve put over £12,000 into a landlord’s pocket instead of a house, and correspondingly reduced the time I can spend paying off a mortgage before I – hah – retire. I’m 38).

So, budget set, area set (within commute distance for my partner’s work. I’m remote, so it matters less to me), I hit my preferred house-hunting tool, Nestopia. There wasn’t much there. Apparently the housing market goes quiet between June and August – a fact that boggles my mind – but we had a couple of available options.

The first was a home that had been until quiet recently the Forever Home of an elderly couple for most of last century. Small rooms, a desperate need for redecorating and dodgy wiring aside, it had a nice garden and an external garage. It was going to take a certain amount of fixing up, but it was a nice option. We dithered for a bit, and a buy-to-let landlord scooped it.

The second place we saw was an end of terrace 3 bedroom with good transport links, an even nicer garden, a less nice but still great shed, decent sized rooms fairly recently redecorated. The floorboards felt a bit weird, and the religious iconography in every room was certainly a design choice, but it felt like a nice place. We were viewing it at the same time as another mid-30s couple, and as we left we decided it was worth a punt.

3: The Punt or, An Offer They Certainly Could Refuse

I told the seller’s Estate Agent, and they recommended a third party insurance broker. I booked an appointment with her the following morning, and we went though various options and what the next steps were. She put all our data into her system, and it spat out several options on mortgages, and I selected one based on her recommendation and terms. I could have done a lot of this online, but the deals I could get myself weren’t anywhere near as good as the broker’s. There are very few companies who come out of this process without complaint, but our mortgage brokers are one of them, they’ve been great though the rest of this torturous process. Let me know if you’re looking nearby, and I’ll put you in touch.

Mortgage offer in hand, I went back to the Estate Agents and put in an offer at the asking price. I probably could have gone slightly lower, but the other couple did that, and our offer was accepted.

(This is the point where I found out who the mortgage was with – it didn’t really matter as much as the numbers to me – and found it was a company whose Mortgage Application Tracking software I was working on 15 years ago, and nearly got fired for complaining about in a blog post where I (stupidly) didn’t redact my employer’s name)

That was June 21st, and was the last time we’d be in that house until October.

4: Due Process or, Solicitation or Bust.

Here’s a mistake we made: After the excellent advice of the Mortgage Advisor I forgot the central rule of dealing with Estate Agents which is: They work for the Vendor. When they suggested a Conveyancer I said “Yes, put them in touch with me”. Shortly afterwards I got a bill for searches and some other documentation saying “Thank you for retaining us”. When I asked on whose instruction they were working on, they said “Your estate agent”. Then their quote got the Stamp Duty wrong by ten grand. Then they said they couldn’t represent me because the vendors were also with them, but they would transfer me to their Nottingham office because “It’s technically another law firm”.

Reader: I fired them.

I took a couple more recommendations, and then went with the time honoured tradition of picking the one which actually answered and got back to me within a week. They did… fine, I guess. They’re not getting named here, because I’m going to whinge about them later.

They started doing searches for things like flood plain information, building land rights, sorting out contracts, that kind of thing. I wound up their clockwork with some starting cash, and they skittered away like a tin soldier.

That was 25th June.

5: Not-So-Easi-Form or, It’s Coming From Inside The Walls

Between 1920 and 1960, but mostly in the years following the World Wars, it became necessary to put up houses cheap and fast, thereby unticking the classic checkbox “good” of that trilogy. Laing came up with a thing called “Easi-Form”, where the foundations and walls are (as I understand it) cast in place with rebar for reinforcement. This is great, but that was ~70 years ago and there are a few cracks in the walls where it’s settled over the years, and sometimes those cracks leave the rebar open to the elements, at which point it rusts, dissolves and becomes less reinforcement, more liability.

The above took me around 4 months to learn. Here’s why:

Because the floorboards felt slightly weird – as mentioned above – when we went for the building report we got a full “Homeowners Report” instead of the basic level. This report is everything you ever wished to know about a place you were moving into, from which bits have been bodged with plaster and hope, through to what the walls are made out of and what’s going to need to be fixed in the next few years. Our report came back slightly before the mortgage one did, which is why we weren’t surprised when the mortgage company’s structural engineer’s report also came back – in part – with “this is a non-standard build, I’m not qualified to say if it’ll stand upright for the length of the mortgage”, which is when I learnt about Easi-Form.

At which point we needed to hire a Structural Engineer who could give a professional opinion on Easi-Form structures, which proved difficult. Every Structural Engineer our original building inspectors knew were either busy, skiing over the summer, or not willing to stake their liability insurance no-claims on Easi-Form. Eventually we found one, sent out another pile of money, and got back a report saying “Seems fine”, which took a few weeks, by which point it’s August 13th.

Then we sent it on to the mortgage company, who took a couple of weeks, and said “Why is only one of your names on this? There are two of you.” Which had been true of every report so far, but we got the Structural Engineer to add my partner’s name to it anyway, and sent it back. It’s September now.

A couple of weeks later, the mortgage company’s structural engineers came back and said “… we need more specifics about where it is and isn’t fine, and how much it might cost”.

The Structural Engineers bumped this up the chain until it got to the guy whose name is on the masthead, who added a basic cost for refacing all the walls in the next ten years or so and sent it back to us, and I sent it to the mortgage company, who sent it to their structural engineers.

Who, after a couple of weeks, came back with “Seems fine”.

By this point, it’s September 24th.

7: The Cult in Arboriculturalism or, Attack of the killer trees

While this is going on, the mortgage valuation report also came back with a request that we get an Arboriculturist to examine the various trees around the property to which, right, fine. It turns out Structural Engineers and Arboriculturists take their holidays at the same time, and finding a single one in Oxfordshire willing to look at a happy apple tree in the back garden and some distressed lime trees in the neighbour’s was more complicated than we really needed. Eventually I sent an email to everyone within 50 miles on the Arboriculturist Association website – the slightly easier to spell – and got a reply and, eventually, a report.

That one was £540.

It said “Seems fine”.


8: Horse Dentistry or, A Gift Freely Given

Because I’d not had the money in my account for very long, and it had appeared very suddenly, I of course had to go through proof this wasn’t money laundering. The Conveyancers sent – by post, how quaint – a request for my parents to sign effectively an affidavit that they didn’t expect a financial return on the money and it was a gift. Sadly the bit of paper my parents received was to prove someone *else’s* financial situation.

Second time lucky, the Conveyancers sent the right letter next day.

9: Contractual Obligations, or An Avalanche of Paperwork

I have so many bits of paper at this point. Most of them in both PDF and wood-pulp form. I have reports of the flooding in the area (Seems fine), the original land reservations and boundaries (Seems fine), reports on freehold limitations (an Oxford College has Views on what we do with the externalities of our property, but that’s pretty normal for Oxford) and potential forced-purchase reservations (If Churchill Hospital needs to expand, it can go through us). I have Land Registry forms, mortgage insurance forms, life insurance forms, loss of income insurance forms.

The Estate Agents start to worry. Someone up the chain is trying to leave the country and needs to get their affairs sorted before October 14th (This is, I later learn, a Brexit thing). They might pull out if we don’t get this sorted, and suddenly everything shifts into high gear.

10: Numerically Conflicted or, Your Exchange Service Has Crashed

The Conveyancers and the mortgage company work out their differences, and we get the contract packs in order. They send out the documents on Monday to arrive Tuesday, be signed and returned Wednesday, ready for checking and Exchange on Friday. Tuesday arrives and the documents don’t. Post to this house has never worked especially reliably, which is why I suggest they send me the documents to print out and sign. They say no, it has to be paper. Okay then. The Estate Agents phone me every couple of hours to see if the post has been yet. It has not.

Wednesday dawns, and the post arrives mid-morning. The document pack isn’t in it. The Estate Agents are slowly turning purple, which is actually pretty on-brand for them, and remembering the events of Horse Dentistry above – though it was nearly three months prior – I phoned to ask exactly what address they’d sent it to, betting dollars to donuts they’d sent it to the new flat.

Nope. They’d invented a new address out of the house number of our destination with the street and postcode for our current place. I called upon my Boy Scout Training of ringing complete strangers doorbells and asking them for things (the 90s were a hell of a time) and rescued the documents complete with “Not At This Address” label ready to be given back to the postman.

This is the point I also realised that the bottom of my conveyancers’ emails had changed, advertising their brand new office with a brand new address. This, I realised, may have an effect on where I should send the damn documents. So I phoned their reception and asked, and got a brand new address I’d never seen before as the contact address.

We got them signed and witnessed thanks to a nearby friend, Kay, who helped at short notice, then I got them to the Actual Post Office and sent them posted – registered, signed for, next day or I’ll flay you alive service.

I also transferred 10% of the total cost of the house – just over half my deposit – by tapping at my phone for a bit, because the future is terrifying occasionally.

The next day the Estate Agents stopped asking if the documents had arrived with us, and instead phoned every hour to see if our Conveyancers had. They were also phoning the Conveyancers every hour. And the mortgage broker. And I assume – and kind of hope – each other. Eventually the conveyancers admitted that yes, they had arrived.

Also arriving that day: The second set of documents the conveyancers had now sent to the right address.

Friday they started phoning and telling me that the conveyancers hadn’t validated them yet! They were very insistent that this could take ages, and one single mistake could invalidate this whole process and give us no time to exchange or complete! THIS WAS A DISASTER.

We completed on Friday. It was fine.

11: Domino Rally or, Running In The Shadows

We were, as first-time buyers, at the bottom of a chain. At the top was someone trying to just liquidise their assets who was, as mentioned, in a tearing rush. In between was a series of people who needed to, in sequence, get the stuff out of their old house, hand over the keys, receive the money for their old house and then pay for the new house. A lot of this happens on trust – we’re already contracted to do this – but with the twitchy guy at the top of the chain the person managing the chain was in turn very twitchy. During the week between Exchange and Completion everything went very quiet as the conveyancers shuffled paperwork in the background.

I transferred the rest of the deposit, asked if I needed to do anything else (“No”, they said) then popped the remains of the inheritance into a savings account (by, again, tapping on my phone. This time sitting by the Thames). This was also a mistake.

Friday, 16:45, I got an email from the conveyancers titled “COMPLETION STATEMENT SENT” with a bill of nearly £4,000, which needed to be paid in cleared funds before completion could happen on Monday.

I had forgotten about the Conveyancer’s fees and also Stamp Duty (Which doesn’t apply to First Time Buyers for the first £300,000 of your purchase, but did for the remaining £50k). Because my savings account is a “Next working day” for transfers, I was mildly screwed. Eventually I took out an instant £5k loan though Monzo, used it to pay the fees, and then paid it back in full from my savings account on Monday.

12: Our House or, Our Castle and Our Keep

Monday was still tense. Nationwide took their time releasing the funds, and the Estate Agents were on their anxiety symptoms again at the point where we both got a message at the same time.

In fact, the Agent was on the phone to me to see if I had a better number for the Conveyancers when he got a call on the other line which he thought might be them. Putting me on hold, he answered them and then after a short while phoned me on another line (while I was still on hold) to tell me the good news.

It was a confusing day.

Tea. Yesterday.

I finished up my meetings for the day, and then me and fyr took the bus to the Estate Agents to pick up the keys, and from there to our new house. We took with us the traditional kettle, teapot and the mugs I’d bought for this purpose back in 2012 two moves ago, and we sat in the new house and had a nice cup of tea while finding out what keys went in what things.

Then I wrote on the wall.

Appendix: Where Does All The Money Go?

Okay, I’ve been in two minds about doing this, but I think it might be useful for people, so here we go. There might be cheaper or more expensive ways of doing all these things, prices are a guide only:

  • House (3 Bedrooms, North Oxford): £350,000.00
  • Stamp Duty: £2,500 (First Time Buyers rate)
  • Land/Water/Utilities Searches (performed by Conveyancer): £192
  • Land Registry Fee: £135
  • Conveyancer Fees: £952.00 (That’s hiring fee plus various expenses)
  • Arboricultural Report: £540 (Required by Mortgage)
  • Mortgage Broker: £500
  • Mortgage Fees: £999 (Was added on to, and then garnished directly off, the mortgage payment without me ever seeing it)
  • RICS Building Survey £550 (Mortgage included a cheaper survey, but I doubled up because I was – rightly, it turns out – paranoid)
  • Structural Engineer Survey £510 (Required by Mortgage)

Costs coming up:

  • Full service moving (Pack & Move): £900
  • Getting a sparky to check the house isn’t going to burn down: £500
  • Replacing the locks on the doors whose keys no longer work: £60-200 (Should have checked this one)
  • Wiring the place for network (because better now than later): £550.

More New House Adventures – the new series from the writers of New Flat Adventures – coming soon.


Where I’m At


I’m still working for Pernod Ricard (Who make Jameson, Absolut, The Glenlivet, Jacob’s Creek and other alcohols you may be aware of) as lead DevOps for our public facing websites for European based-brands. Except the French ones. I’m heading into having held a full-time permanent job for two whole years for the first time since I left Evolving Media in 2006, it’s a wild ride.

There’s not much exciting to post about from a tech angle, really. We’re hosting across AWS & Azure on a fairly traditional multi-site tenancy arrangement with some stuff going through serverless services. When exciting things happen, it’s generally stuff that shouldn’t really be made public. The thing taking up most of my time is hosting marketing sites for visibility in China, which is a lot of voodoo.

I’m doing a lot of tabletop gaming at the moment. I’m running D&D 5th Ed for the first time with a run of Tomb of Annihilation – a homage to the classic Tomb of Horrors – and also a rebooted campaign of Torg Eternity, which is heading out of the tutorial sections into actual story. With any luck I’ll get around to writing that up.

This year I’ve also been running more things. An attempt at adding a new game to play – Death Unto Darkness – has resulted in becoming part of the ref team for that, as well as for Carcosa Dreams’ new Alba setting, and I continue to be part of Diaspora and Of Jacks & Queens. This has resulted in being a little over-commited, so I may need to take a look at where I focus my energies next year – I have a run of 3 events in 4 weeks in November, which is likely to wipe me out a bit.

Part of that is launching a new initiative for managing the admin of LARP events called Ludoistic, which becomes an entity with a bank account and insurance to act as an umbrella for events. Again, I intend to write up separate articles on this too.

Plus, more computer gaming. I’ve recently been on two mutually exclusive kicks, looking into recent releases in the classic LucasArts/Sierra point-and-click adventure, as well as picking up PlaystationVR for the other end of the graphical experience.

But I’m alive, I’m doing a lot better than I have been for a while, and I apparently still exist.

Plus, we dogsat my parent’s Bearded Collie last week, and that was lovely too.


Short Of The Answer

It’s 23:34, as I type this, on January 26th 2019. Significant only because it’s Austrailia day, and the day after Burns Night, and therefore also my birthday. I’m 38. Gosh.

I’ve been writing these posts on this site as it ebbs and wanes since I was 18, although it was a couple of years since it moved to this domain, usually with some numerical joke about my age. This year I’m mostly ignoring it. I might have a not-birthday party in six months or so, see what a summer birthday without the likelihood of inclement bagpipes is.

I didn’t do much introspection as the year changed, and despite attempting to ignore it, it’s preying on me a bit. Last year, not even counting the national and international trash-fires, was a… let’s say a curate’s egg.

I went an entire year without changing job, and I’m coming up on two years at the same company, which is very nearly a record. I celebrated my tenth anniversary of going out with Fyr, which is nice, and some changes to the flat have made it a lot nicer as a living space.

On the other side, I started the year unable to walk due to a severely buggered ankle, I was diagnosed with diabetes and depression (both a mixed result, as it does mean I’m actually getting treatment for both), and the last half of the year I was preoccupied with a series of close-range mortar strikes in my local social circle which, where most didn’t hit me directly, cause ongoing distress and pain to people I care a lot about.

I’m looking forward to travelling more – both personally and professionally – and I’ve got my first honest-to-goodness “actually go somewhere else” holiday booked for a week coming up, which I’m massively looking forward to. Alba, the new LARP project, has been quite the success so far, and we’ve not even run anything yet. With any luck some of the political mess can resolve positively too, though I don’t hold my breath.

Anyway, I still exist. I still intend to post more things here, but… yeah. It’s a habit I fell out of. My every movement is still tracked on the terrifying megasite, and with any luck I’ll remember to update here more often too.



They tell many tales of this green and eerie land.
They say that the gods lay beneath us,
That the spirits lay around us,
That the power flows through us,
and to us,
and from.
They say monsters come from the sea, of teeth and terror.
They say a lot of things about Alba.
What will they say about you?
Come and find out.

Alba is a new game of heroic fantasy from Cacosa Dreams – Helly & Rob formally of Broken Dreams and Ian & Anthony Andrews of Carosa, and also me.

It’s a game of stories and legends, it isn’t Odyssey, and it’ll start with five regional events to be announced shortly. We’re not looking for crew yet, but keep an eye on the Cacosa Dreams FB page, and the Alba Interest group, and we’ll talk more soon.

It’s going to be legendary.