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events Larp

Unconventional: A report from Nineworlds

My day bag and nineworlds convention badge

I went into my first Nineworlds with few expectations. Primarily it was an expensive way to see a lot of people I generally only see in fields and scout camps up and down the country while LARPing, secondarily it was a place of interesting information sharing, and thirdly it was investigative, to see how they run and what systems they have in place that I can recommend to other large events I am – or will be – involved with.

I also was planning on doing it as a vidlog thing, and on the journey and up to the convention actually opening shot some footage and monologues towards that end, but once things actually started I didn’t have a lot to say between the sessions, so a vidlog would have been “Aquarion arrives. Aquarion announces intentions. Con happens. Shots of leaving”. So words instead, unpopular as they are.

I am really bad at conventions, it turns out. My major experiences have been Worldcon and early Discworld Cons, and I find them really isolating. Time gets split between talking to my friends and people I know, catching up, swapping stories, hanging out; and going off to see panels or do our own thing, where I find myself surrounded by people I don’t know in a place I’m not familiar with, and my head tends to get eaten by its own demons. My enjoyment of the con, therefore, was only marginally affected by the convention itself, and largely by unrelated or reflected issues and stresses.

Nineworlds is a convention dominated by the liberal edges of the left wing, a place built on personal freedoms of gender, sexuality, social justice, safe spaces and accessibility. It’s a convention where you are encouraged to label your attendance badge with your preferred pronouns, where the cabaret acts declare their hobbies to be smashing the patriarchy and get the expected cheers, and where everyone is generally free to be the best versions of themselves. Anecdotally, it’s also one of the largest gatherings I’ve been in without observable incidents of public exceptional drunkenness (this may be linked to the venue being in a central London hotel, where getting to that level of inebriation would require significant investment). The staff were friendly and helpful (even the hotel staff, who took a lot of weirdness in their stride, and even occasionally joined in), and the ducks appeared to glide through the water, no matter how frantically the invisible paddling was going.

It’s still a fairly hard community to be a part of, personally. Because I look and sound like a large percentage of everything most hated, it’s hard to accept the generalisations as not being aimed, it’s hard to hear the non-optional identities I hold being held to account for the predominant problems of the world. Even if I don’t wish anyone to moderate their language – the words are still broadly true, and I do not need the reassurance of the personal exception every time – it interacts with the least pleasant bits of my subconscious to reduce my calm. Since this is my problem and not anyone elses’, I didn’t end up going to a lot of the panels on social issues, because it didn’t seem comfortable. It led to missing a few sessions I was interested in.

I didn’t have a great experience with the panels, really. A number that didn’t get anywhere need specific issues due to everyone wanting to personally comment on the wider – and generally accepted as bad – more general issues led to an experience of being preached to as a choir. Polemics on institutional issues, rather than discussion around solutions for local instances. Partly, that’s a sign of the current political climate, but it made some panels feel like a series of small audio-visual blog posts rather than a discussion panel.

That said, I enjoyed immensely a lot of the talks and workshops that I attended.

(If you are a content creator and have found this blog post, this isn’t detailed feedback, and I apologise if it reads harsh, it’s 5am as I write)

Friday

Penn’s Access: Larp workshop – Writing Accessible Plot for LARP – kicked off my Nineworlds experience, as a group of us worked through how stories can be told in LARP without sidelining or erasing characters whose players have difficulties with access, movement or comprehension. Not only solving it on a plot by plot basis, but institutionally setting different ways of interacting with the major events of the game into the foundations of how you tell the stories, to allow everyone a chance to have their spotlight time.

I’ll admit that I went into “What is the “Hacker Mindset”? An Illustrated Example Using Watch_Dogs.” with a … hearty level of scepticism, it turned out to be not what I expected, a rapid talk about “Hacker” culture in the 2660 – and movie – sense of accessing data you shouldn’t be allowed to, delivered by an experienced penetration tester (someone employed to find the weaknesses in corporate infrastructure;  technical, architectural and social). Towards the end it lent on its central metaphor a bit hard – becoming less “How Hackers use lateral thinking to find holes in structure” to the more specific “I am awesome at Watch_Dogs because I found a way to clip through this wall”.

Who’s That Audience? – The Audience and Creator Relationship I went into because I recognised a couple of the names on the panel, and while it did occasionally drift from the topic into the less solvable “Isn’t twitter awful” it was interesting to hear different strategies on how to keep private and public opinions, how to avoid (or encourage) your audience from swinging at targets at your behalf, and that kind of thing.

Then I had lunch and went to the Steven Universe Singalong. Because the songs are good and I like it, so there.

Questing Time is basically live Dungeons and Dragons (a rules-light implementation of D&D 5), in this case an adventure where the party were working at a fantasy convention called DragonCon (not that one), and had to rescue the newly announced 13th Proctor (who was the first female to take the role) from being sacrificed by Tonald Drumph to Baaaaal. There was a bear called Ben. Watching funny people play D&D was more fun than I thought it would be, especially with a light-hearted but heavily referential adventure (it ended with Drumph being killed by with his own hair). Apparently it’s a show they’re also running at Edinburgh Fringe this year. If you get a chance to see it, I’d recommend it.

Doctor Magnethands is apparently a staple of nineworlds, a more improv-based storytelling system where the heroes (the panel) attempt to defeat Doctor Magnethands (the lead) who has summoned minions to defeat them (The audience) who are randomly named by some kind of crazy satirical concept generator (also the audience), who are rewarded for their efforts (the vodka). At its heights, it was like a good episode of the goon show.

Saturday

I went to a panel on Access in entertainment, fandom and LARP. I learnt about access problems in music gigs, front and back stage, for people with mobility issues (and wheelchairs in specific).

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? was a panel by the Tech crew about tech-ing nineworlds. It was funny and informative, but I think the best bit were the Skippy’s List slides, which I got shots of all but one of. Presented below

Then I missed a few things I wanted to go to because they were full, and then instead of going to the thing I was planning on I followed some friends into the Original Poetry Open Mic session, where I proceeded to read a thing I wrote into a microphone in front of live actual people, something I’ve not done in.. possibly a decade. It was terrifying. Nobody killed me. I’m still not good at poetry.

After that I spent the evening hanging out with friends. There was a disco on in the background.

Sunday

Starting my morning with a light and fluffy panel, I went to The Future of Nineworlds, a panel with the director and show-runner about how the convention happens and where it might happen yet. Apparently last year’s expansion was a bit expensive and they didn’t recoup it back, so future cons may be in cheaper places.

To close out my Nineworlds experience, I went to things on the other topic I came for, How To Do The Writing Thing.

AC Macklin‘s talk on Different Techniques of POV and the effect they have on the reader was really interesting, mostly as a light-bulb of doing things deliberately and specifically rather than “what seems right”, which is my usual POV technique. I didn’t take enough notes, so I’m now stalking her blog for the promised copies of the slides…

Last, Edit As You Go v Blast Through to The End: Finishing Your First Novel was probably the best panel I attended all event. Each of the four authors had a different approach to creating and editing, from “Edit as I go” through “Outline the everliving fuck out of it, then write” to “Give yourself permission to be bad, and just write it” and edit later. All of these were for how to write novels in general, but they rounded back often to the specific topic – get to the end of your first novel – with a rough consensus of “Barrel through it to then end”. It made me want to write more things.

The End

The sheer number of my friends that I saw at this event was staggering. People I haven’t seen since I move out of London, or Hackney; people who I basically only ever see while playing someone else; people I’ve met in passing recently and only really got to know this last weekend. The convention items were good, the general ambience and sense of doing things was fun, but the best part of the weekend for me was spending hour on hour talking to people I like and care about, who I don’t see often enough. That alone makes me consider pre-booking my ticket to Nineworlds 2018 next year on spec.

It even makes me tempted to help run things at Nineworlds next year.

So stop me from doing that, I think.

 

Categories
Larp

The Book Of The Empire

The biggest LARP that I attend is Profound Decisions‘ Empire campaign.

Backstage at Empire. Game Operations being set up on the Thursday before we start

Empire is a massive system, not only in terms of the size of the events – well over a thousand people – but also in that the background literature for the game is an effort of worldbuilding that you’d expect for something like the world of A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones), Dragon Age’s Thedas, or Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The wiki’s wordcount exceeded the full set of Harry Potter novels when the game launched, and has only been added to since then.

Yr Hmbl Crspdt as Imperial Auditor L. Nileus of the Imperial Civil Service
Reichard Callan Remidos von Holmauer, photo by Beth Dooner

I’m a member of PD’s crew (I currently administer the wikis, help with the setup of networking on the game field and generally provide IT support; but previously was part of the NPC Civil Service and briefly helped run Game Operations and wrote some plot) but right now I play the game as Reichard Callan Remidos von Holmauer, part of The Seven Mirrors, a political salon and publishing house, which is in The League, an Imperial nation inspired by history such as the Republic of Venice, the Hanseatic League and Prague. The Prince of our guild is also currently the Empress, after a long and complicated campaign, and the image above is her being crowned last summer.

A map of the Empire in cloth, with figures representing armies. Photo by Tom Garnett
Drin, waving a flag of Dawn, framed by the gateway through which imperial strike teams go on battle. Photo by Tom Garnett

One of the things I love about Empire is the things created by the players that enhance the game world. From Steph Morris‘ banners of the nations that hang in the Imperial Senate, though to Daisy Abbott‘s glorious map of the Empire, and the photos around this article of other things. Roz & Simon, who head up and organise our Guild both in and out of character, do some fantastic work on the publishing house side of the guild too, creating mastercrafts of pamphlets and booklets. A lot are information that can be found on the wiki online, but brought into character in a pretty way, and the latest and best of these is the brand new Book of the Empire, a professionally printed, gold-leaf titled, 766 page hard-back book of beautifully designed and typeset (THE FONTS! THE TYPOGRAPHY! THE WOODCUTS!) sections of the ruleset about things like the houses of government, the Imperial religion, the history of the empire and its rulers, all the nations and how their magic works, how their senators are elected, what they’re like.

The Book of the Empire, opened. No, I haven’t gotten around to taking off my character’s nail varnish

 

The Book of the Empire, Closed

I’m consistently amazed at the time and effort people go to for this game. I’m not sure what’s next to top this, but I’m excited to find out…

(Header image is The crowning of the Empress of Flowers, photo by Tom Garnett)

Categories
Larp

Odyssey

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week. I wrote part of everything as a frothy public facebook post, but I wanted to line up my thoughts and put them down in a proper post for this. A thing for the ages.

I am immensely proud of being part of Odyssey. I am happy with my contribution to the game in a way that transcends my usual armour-plated self-deprecation. As front-facing as I am, I get more credit than I deserve for the work of the entire team.

Odyssey was a very opinionated game. Unapologetically gameist in design, with almost unbreachable class walls that dictated what skills you had and what areas of the game you could play. A hard-fought policy of never retconning player experience, rather changing our entire metaphysic to accommodate a screwup than undo the roleplay and stories around it. A written, understood metaphysic – in Powerpoint format as well – that we could reduce problems down to and attempt to keep consistency.

The lack of any character advancement, the ability to entirely respec your character class between any events, the impermanence of death (and, later, the ability to bring your dead characters back into the story), and beyond everything the belief that whatever the players did, we should react to that and continue the story, not try and drag it back to what we were planning.

I did none of that. I built some things on it, and I helped it appear in the field, but I did it standing on the shoulders of some giants of storytelling, of system design, of LARP theory.

In Mimir (now Online for exploration and the code open for use or contribution) I built some systems to help it run more smoothly, and running the ref-desk to put a friendly if lightly sarcastic public face on interactions with the universe in general. Save a few screwups, I think I did fairly well. My natural tendency to over-analyse decisions I’ve made is countered by the fact that few people are actually complaining about any of them.

I’ve heavy opinions about some of the things in Odyssey. There’s bits in the system I wouldn’t advise building on, there’s bits in the way the systems work backstage that I’d certainly recommend for the future, and somewhere there’s a long article about my opinions on running a ref-desk that I should finish. Plus, there’s the short article about using Excel to keep track of things in a live game.

Here is the short article about using Excel to keep track of things in a live game:

Don’t use Excel to keep track of things in a live game if more than one person needs to do so.

But right now I’m finding it a bit hard to let go, to be honest. The idea that there’s no more left to do on it – I’ll update dagon.church with stats and more briefs, but there’s no actual writing left – is a little alien to me. Plus, there’s been a tornado of froth about the event, and about the system, on my social streams pretty much non-stop since the week before the event happened. I’ve got one more froth meet booked to attend – Thursday in Birmingham – but after that I think I’ll take some steps back. I’ve got between two and four LARP events left this year – Empire in a couple of weeks, Slayers after that, then maybe some Empire player-run events.

I’ve got projects to pick up too. Larp.me could do with some attention, as could this site. I’ve got a couple of months if I want to rewrite NanoCountdown before November, and there’s this Trajectory system that’s looking more and more plausible to run. And a book to write.

Onwards and awaywards, then. Time to put Odyssey to bed and move on with the next thing.

Time Out.

(header image by Charlotte Moss)

nerd

Categories
Larp

Game On

In 9 weeks, 79 hours, it will all be over.

In 79 hours, this one will be over.

But in 34 hours, Odyssey 12 – The Golden Ram – will begin.

There are over 150 plot threads going out this event. That doesn’t include battles, continuing tensions, a metric fuckton of IC relationships and drama, over 200 player status effects, dozens of magical scrolls of fathomable power, fated artefacts of various levels of mystery and mayhem. It does include the largest shakeup of our central mechanics since we started, and a number of interesting ways to affect and effect the end of the world. It doesn’t include the things the players will think up that we’ll jump to react to, the swerves and tight cornering of steering a massive vehicle on a steep downhill slope.

That the final game is coming up is a distraction. A large looming distraction on the horizon, a terrifying responsibility to stick the landing of a years-long project. But tomorrow we have this game to run first, and this game to run well, so we have a landing to stick. A team of awesome, dedicated people who will go to incredible lengths to make this work the best we can.

Game on.

Categories
Larp

Mimir and the tyranny of things that just about work

So this is about LARP, but also about systems and process. Bare with me, it might get a bit long.

I had pretty much no interest in Odyssey when it started. My first introduction to it was when a group of friends was invited to a test of the combat system a year or so before Event 1, and since LARP Combat really isn’t my thing, I passed. I knew some friends were involved in writing story, but I hadn’t seen anything that wasn’t caught up in the arena stuff, and I was kind of wrapped up in my head a bit anyway. After E1, everyone I knew who played was frothing about this wonderful game, and everyone I knew who crewed was drinking heavily to forget. After some discussions with the latter about ways the game might go better next time I sent an email to PD saying I’d like to join the story team, and eventually became a ref instead.

At the second event, I spent friday evening wandering around the field in my brand new boots, and Saturday morning through to sunday afternoon unable to walk. I became desk-ref by invalid status, and started being the point of contact for story related questions that came to the ref desk. Over the next few events I started to make suggestions as well as ask questions for players, became a member of story team proper, got given a Head Ref title, and generally did my best for Odyssey.

The most annoying thing about the first few Odysseys was the Kudos tracker, which is the system the game uses to keep track of money sacrificed to the Gods and other worthy personages. From Event 2 though to around Event 5 it was a spreadsheet on a shared drive, and because the front desk needed to add things to it, and Story needed to add things to it and make calculations based off it, we were forever shouting at each other, because having it open in Excel or Libreoffice on one computer meant nobody else could write to it. Eventually, I decided this problem wasn’t one that would fix itself, and basically wrote a really simple PHP/MySQL app that did what the spreadsheet did, only with multiple users. This was the first version of Mimir, the Odyssey game management system. Next event I added a blogging platform, so every NPC in the game has a little blog where they write down what happened to them, so the story team can see what’s going on. Also it doubles as a notes area to keep track of “These characters did this thing” in a way that doesn’t result in a thousand tiny doc files stored locally on one of a dozen PCs.

There it lay for a couple of years. It worked well enough, and adding the next big thing to it would take ages, and I never got around to it.

Oh, but I wish I had.

For the first event last year I finally added the promised feature of “Blessings” – always with the scare quotes – that tracks special effects on any given player. From being blessed by Jupiter to strike down foes with thunderbolts, to the secret abilities of the Zodiac Council, to the curse of Dionysus on the guy who stole his drink; Blessings in Odyssey are one of the key interactions and effects that Story will give out.

And they were an absolute arse to maintain.

The first version of a system was an Excel workbook. One sheet was a table of blessings, the second a designed form where if you put the primary key of the blessing in a special place it would generate a pretty form you could print. This was single user, broke if you opened it in Libreoffice, and just about worked. For a couple of years it was another spreadsheet that was used as a data source by an access database that generated PDFs of blessings you could print, and that just about worked… and it all worked enough that there wasn’t really an impetus to replace the system, but enough that every interaction with the system (which was the same for Greater Mysteries – big spells – and Artifacts – Item information sheets) caused a slight uptick in everyone’s stress levels.

At Event 9 it all went to fuck.

A perfect storm of a series of mistargeted blessings going out that absolutely fucked up someone’s event, a block of blessings going entirely missing because they were using the wrong version of the spreadsheet and a set of lower-impact minor bad blessings that were just not game improving; joined forces with a period of time where the only laptop that could generate the blessings couldn’t be accessed… it just all fell over. For the remainder of the event blessings were not allowed out unless one of Me (Head Ref), Ian Andrews (Head of Story) or Si Brind (Lead Si Brind) had physically signed them. The event itself went well, all the players were happy (save the ones who got screwed over), but this needed to be fixed.

This is the problem with things that Just About Work, be they inherited processes or systems, applications or relationships with people. They’re not, none of them, going to one day get better. They’re either going to slowly grind to a halt, or they’re going to go off like a firework in someone’s face; and in this case the face was a player who didn’t even _nearly_ deserve it.

You'd be surprised by how many Greek blessings are for reasons of caprice. Or maybe not.
You’d be surprised by how many Greek blessings are for reasons of caprice. Or maybe not.

Over autumn I wrote some entity relationship diagrams, over winter I wrote some user interface, over spring I wrote the code to make the interface work and regretted using a home-built framework for it. By event 10 – first event 2015 – I had a system that could import the old spreadsheet and turn it into a modernish web interface with a three-point approvals system, print queue and (the bit that hurt the most) PDF generation of any player’s blessings on demand.

In an exceedingly complimentary post, Ian credits this addition with making last event go so smoothly from back-end side. I’m less convinced it was just – or even mostly – that, this is a really good team and it was working like oiled clockwork last season, but it almost certainly did help, and reduced stress levels a great deal, as well as prep time for next event.

I suspect the moral of this story is something like “There’s always time to create better tools” (there isn’t), or “The right tool in the right place and you can move the world with your thumb” (Which is, but finding “Right” is almost impossible). Mostly, I think it’s “Make better things, and things will be better”.

It’s also “Come to Odyssey”, but you knew that.

Anyway, source for Mimir will be released after the last event (it has some spoilers in it), though data won’t. The data will be used to make some pretty graphs to show, though.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming Larp Piracy Inc Projects web development Work

Week 33 – Long Time Passing

That I now have to make a decision on whether weeks begin on Sunday or Monday for this is probably a bad sign. It’s Monday, anyway.

Work

My current contract is coming to an end, and with the company on a different footing to the last year, my position of emergency relief may be coming to an end. I kind of have to assume it is, anyway, so I’m looking for more different things. I’ve got an interview on Wednesday for a full time contract, which will be something of a novelty after working 3 days/week for the current one. Part of their interview process was this intensive logic-based Aptitude Test, and if I’d seen it coming I maybe wouldn’t even have applied. It’s the kind of mental-gymnastics “Could you get into Mensa” test that I’ve traditionally done really badly at – which means I panic, which means I do worse. I got the Face to Face interview before they sent me the test, though, and they haven’t cancelled that yet. Doing it on Wednesday put me on edge, though, which made a sudden explosion of drama in one of my corners of the internet hit a bit hard, so Thursday was crap, and then Friday, by dint of an astounding series of coincidences that built up into a *huge* pile of shit, was worse.

So it’s been a weird week, and this week isn’t looking much quieter.

Rest

LARP

The drama’s based around my “big” larps, those run by Profound Decisions that I help crew for, and was based around how well PD deal with abuse reports. To clarify: My role at Odyssey occasionally means dealing with the first part of these, in that I’m usually the first person people end up speaking to, but I’m under strict instructions – which I almost always follow – to directly redirect such complaints to non-volunteer staff (Sometimes the player doesn’t want to, sometimes other things get in the way). Paragraphs deleted here. I’m not getting into it.

Part of it is that I’m going to be running events, I hope, in the future; and I can’t see a clear path where I would have done it better or even particularly differently. The numbers are low enough that statistics become inferable to specific cases too easily, and I fundamentally disagree with last-action policies. That is, if you know someone is attempting to deal with anger issues, and you poke them with a stick so you can then point at them and say “This was going to happen anyway”, my sympathy is significantly less than if you poke them with a blunt stick and they bit your head of on spec. I don’t even begin to know where the answers are on events that happen out of the game that affect people’s ability to feel safe in the same tent/camp/field/county; and the line between asking people quietly to fall in line and publicly being seen to make a stand isn’t clear cut either.

It’s a hard problem, it’s a disservice to everyone – organisers, crew and players alike – to pretend there are heavy black lines around all of the areas (Yes, some actions are clearly bad), and the initial explosion of righteous “They’re being stupid”, “They’re being oblivious” didn’t help. The more nuanced discussions later were a lot better, but that was after the initial damage.

Pirates

I spent most of Saturday on PiracyInc, the long lost Pirates Game I’ve been working on for years. It’s currently an excuse to learn Node – I do a lot better at learning languages by building things in them – and rebuild the visual mechanics of the game as a Cookie-Clicker style percentage bar system, but backed onto something akin to an MMO engine. There’s almost certainly better ways to do almost everything I’m currently doing, but right now I have the basics working, and can now start putting meat onto the bones.

Lifestream

I’ve also been working on my personal data archiving project, Lifestream. Right now it’s drinking in data on a lot of things in my life, and storing them in a database. A lot of that’s reproduced as part of NicholasAvenell.com, but some of it is on two timeshifted accounts, Aquarions Of History, which reproduces my tumblr of four years ago in real time, and @timeshifted-aq, which does the same for my Twitter stream. The new updates for the Twitter side replace “@” with the unicode ? symbol, to avoid sending notifications to people for tweets 4 years ago. On the tumblr side, I’m using queueing to make the times slightly more accurate (Twitter doesn’t let you schedule tweets with the API, so they appear when the script runs, every 15 minutes)

Other

My iPhone 6S arrived on Friday, and I’ve been experimenting with it over the weekend. Battery life is a lot better than my (2 year old, >800× recharged) 5S was, Using it to navigate to a new place was – as expected – a large drain, as was being in a low-signal house for a while. Staying in the same place with low signal but wifi calling appears to have only lost 10% over the day, though, so it’s looking a lot better.

I’m looking at porting my Trello-based voice-mail system – Vox-ex-machina – from its current mess of hand-coded PHP into a nicer Node-based system, but that may come after Pirates gets a bit more love.

Play

Still playing AdVenture Capitalist. Can clearly give it up any time I want to.

Batman Arkham Knight

In an attempt to use my PS4 a bit more, I picked up Arkham Knight for it – also affected by the reports of the PC version being shoddy. I like the Arkham games a lot, they’re hands-down the best representation of the concept of Batman in video game form and the gadget-centric progression fits the model of the character really well. That said, Knight’s push bigger has lost focus somewhat. The explicit mission tracking is welcome, but the scope and repetition of some of the tasks aren’t doing so well. Primarily, the Batmobile is massively overused. I understand they want to fit all the things they wanted to do with it over the last couple of games, but the Batmobile as puzzle-solving device gets old quick, and the shooting-gallery of tanks is just frustrating. It would be better if there *wasn’t* a concept of clearing out the islands, because it makes the one-line notification of “oh, BTW, there’s another stack of tanks to beat” frustrating. AND THEY RESPAWN. One of the leading lights of the Arkham series’ vaulted combat system was that when you got into a fight, you could see there are twenty guys, and then you’d beat 20 guys, and you’d win. Here – and it’s not just in the batmobile sections, they do it in the hand-to-hand too – there’s a high chance of multiple waves, without telegraph, that means you can never tell how close to success you are. The number of special-combo-to-beat enemies appears to have gone up too, turning many fights into effectively quick-time events as the tutorial window pops up with “Press X-X-O-Meta-Bucky-Five to disarm quantum field generators” with the added bonus of having to abort halfway though as some other fucker throws a TV at you from off-screen.

So, while I’m enjoying Arkham a lot, it’s not without flaws. Most of the reasons why I’m enjoying it a lot are where they’ve improved the original concept, and most of the places where I’ve not is where they’ve stretched it.

They’re making me bored of the Batmobile, though, which is an achievement in itself.

Pillars of Eternity

With the new expansion released, I’m also retreading though Pillars of Eternity. I’d got though to Act 3 previously, but when I came back to it I had no idea where I was, so I’ve restarted as a Moon Godlike Chanter, going from the least original class/race combo in the series to something distinctly more interesting. The replay’s going fairly well, I’m remembering most of the major plot beats and getting slightly different results, but the game’s still got a problem with leading you into fights you can’t possibly win at your current state, which I’m hoping the expansion’s better at. Though since by the expansion the party will be at a significantly higher level, it may work out anyway.

 

 

 

Categories
Computer Games Larp PHP Projects

Week 27 – A Blunderbuss For House Hunting

Last couple of weeks have been a little hectic, and the next couple seem to continue this trend. So:

Work

Shifted to a new primary project at work for the first time in quite a while. Enjoying new challenges, and a more modern codebase to work from. My side of Skute has wound down a bit while others fan the spark a bit, which gives me a chance to plan the next bits for the API.

Play

Still going though SWTOR, mostly. I’ve not had a lot of playtime.

Rest

Moving House

We have the keys to the new flat, big move is this weekend. We moved a few dozen boxes yesterday (Thanks Dan & Jenny for being awesome). Between that and Odyssey, I’m mildly dead now.

Odyssey

I’m a head ref for Odyssey, and work closely with the Story team to help everything go smoothly, and one of the things that didn’t go smoothly last time was our “Blessings” system – the system by which we add reactionary special statuses to characters (Blessings from their Gods, Curses, Long term effects of magic spells, transformation into bloodless monsters, Roleplay effects, Extra hitpoints, everything). Previously we worked with a somewhat Heath-Robinson contraption built of Excel and Access-based PDF generation.

Previously, I built a system called Mimir, which tracks the kudos priests and other characters can earn with their gods. We’re a more narrative-based than stats-based game, so the numbers get fudged a lot, but it’s a decent guideline. It’s also got a fairly fully-featured blogging engine, which is for debriefs.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 15-45-00_croppedMy last couple of weeks not-working time has been spent extending and expanding that a lot. Folding in an Autocomplete library that linked to the current list of active players and the Blessing system (complete with three-stage approval process and player-facing PDF generation), and then a general once-over on the design has swallowed a lot of my coding time.

When I built it originally a few years ago, I built it in PHP (because I wanted to be able to make quick changes on the fly during an event) using a custom lightweight microframework, and Idiorm/Paris as the database/ORM model. I’m slightly surprised how well that’s held up. I didn’t need to edit the framework at all for this major revision, and Idiorm & Paris worked really well for me. The frontend’s built in Bootstrap, which gives me style without much effort – though I do need to bite the bullet and shift up to v3 – and I’ll be releasing it as Open Source once Odyssey is over, alongside graphs and statistics generated from the actual dataset.

I should put up another post later on about how well Odyssey went, but now I should be getting ready for work.

(Header photo: A Greek Shield Wall, at Odyssey. Photo by Charlotte Moss for Profound Decisions)

Categories
Larp

Character Generation

I approach character generation with the tools of an A-Level drama student, the blueprints of a Narrativist, and the min-maxing skills of the average pot of superglue.

Generally, we start with a few anchor points. In today’s case, the starting point was that I’m playing Empire in the League, because I want an excuse to use some signature kit from a few characters back and that’s the nation it fits best in. Second, I’m playing Politics, because fighty isn’t really in my nature, and I know from experience that Tradey isn’t really my game. Third, I’ve got a group (The volume of “come, join us” when I mentioned I would be playing was gratifying), and it’s not a group of people I’ve played with a lot before. This means I can fall back into comfortable roles, to some extent, because I won’t be bouncing of the same people in the same ways.

So, Nation chosen, and group gives me a guide to which bits of the nation I can fall into. Next up, the name.

Generating Detail Marshall, a character I played at Maelstrom for a long while, started roughly the same way. I was joining an established group as a family member, which gave me a nation and some existing background guidance. I picked out a direction I was interested in – gunsmithing – and a name. For Detail, I picked up his full name first – James Marshall-Frauser – without realising how little the last bit fit the setting, as his “True” name, the one that unlocked his soul if spoken. Then I chopped off the end to make his True Name less discoverable, and gave him a nickname – Detail – then a shortened form – Det – then a backstory as to why he had it (James Marshall was his father, and Det had picked up “Attention to detail” after displaying a lack of it. A series of hilarious adventures exiled him from home and to the New World where Maelstrom took place). I added “Det” as a short form, but that didn’t last very long. It didn’t fit the character very well.

So what I’m looking for a name is three things, a common thing they are called, an optional clue to deep backstory, and a full “Mother shouts that this when angry” full name with as nice as possible flow of syllables.

Once we’ve got a name to hang things off, Drama Student mode kicks in. A few question/answer sessions not a million miles from this meme I did for Detail around 7 years ago give me a few hooks to hang the character off – Who would you never betray, what’s your best memory, who wouldn’t you piss on if they were on fire – to work out the basics of characterisation, level of the Utter Bastard scale, and D&D alignment, and we’re ready for first play. I prefer first play to be as non-canon as possible, since it’s still a rough sketch of character. For this, I may be using him for an upcoming non-mainline player event hosted by my new group, which fits perfectly.

Assuming I get the rest of the costume sorted within a week. Erk.

Categories
computing Larp Personal

Week 20 – Whether the weather be fine

…and then it was July. Weekly updates! Woo! Er…

The sun has got his hat on, this week. Last year, I bought a freestanding aircon unit thing. Not a proper one, with a hose, but the kind you can put cold water in and it blows cold air out. I am pleased I did this, because without it this last few days would have been more hell.

My project for the last couple of years is now up in public, and I’m sure I’ll get around to doing more about Skute later on, like constructing the back-end and generic tech assumptions. It’s a content sharing platform based around physical location. So, for a slightly corporate example, there’s a new bit of Mountain Dew sponsored street-art up in Shoreditch that’s got a closed Skute on it. If you scan the Skute tag next to it (it’s NFC, so this is Android only for now) you can see some video of them putting it up, and info about the artists. If you’ve got the app, you can subscribe to updates about it or them, otherwise you get a read-only web view. A slightly more open example would be a skute stuck to a common skater hangout, with an open skute that anyone with the app can add videos of them doing tricks to. (More likely, I see friends-list locked skutes for that case. Getting big enough to have to worry about spam on them is one of those “good problem” rakes in the grass of the future). There’s still a lot to do – there are a few core features I wish we’d had time to polish off before going public – but it’s good to see it out in the open.

I’m kind of hoping that with Skute out in the open and the Gadgets post out of my queue I can get back to content updates here. There’s a new audio update coming tomorrow – a reading of a recent Faction Fiction piece – and then I hope to get stuck into a new Secret Lore episode. Also coming up is my first adventures in brewing, which has been interesting.

Gameplaywise I’ve recently got into Marvel Heroes, which is basically a FtP Diablo clone with added licencing, and had a lot of fun playing Hawkeye in it. I got tempted in to SWTOR again via their XP boost system, which means I can run the (interesting) class storylines without needing to care about the planet storylines I’ve done a dozen times already. I’ve just closed Chapter 1 of the Imperial Agent, and I’m hoping to get though that and two others before my sub renews. Secret World’s got its anniversary content on, though, so that’s going to be a distraction.

I’ve also ended up running an ARK: Survival Evolved server for friends. ARK’s a survival/build/minecraft/thing with added dinosaurs. It’s fun and interesting, and at some point I’ll play it as well as running the server 🙂

And LARP. Odyssey went well, both on a personal level and a game-running level. For the first time – I’ve been crewing it since event 2 – I got out on the field as a character, and into the NPC meeting rooms as two different gods. Playing an all-powerful literal god in LARP is the crackiest of all crack, and I need to do it more often. Not everything was perfect, and there are aspects of the game we need to address (we screwed up blessings quite a bit), but the game was an emotional high… which meant the resulting fall came with a bump. My last couple of games crewing Empire, at least for a while, are coming up and preparations for next year’s odyssey (ahem) into playing are well underway. Kit is being acquired, and I’ve just received the notification that the group I applied to join has accepted me. Commonly, larp groups have a “black-ball” joining system so you don’t end up having to roleplay with someone you have an out-of-character abhorrence to. It’s the first time I’ve had to go though that kind of system, though, and it’s faintly nerve-racking. However, success. And now I have to build and name a character..

 

Categories
Larp

AFK