Archive for April, 2006

Wow! Just checked my blog stats and I had eleven views yesterday. Eleven whole views! Can you imagine that?

Yeah, me too.

Four of them were referrals from search engines: people looking for reviews of Muriel Gray's The Trickster and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – which I just happen to have on my blog.

Hello all ye review seekers. Make yourselves at home. Leave me a comment or two. As they say on Amazon, 'Was this review helpful to you?'

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It was my new character's debut in the Iron Kingdoms game last night. Unfortunately, as a ogrun monk with charisma 9 and being new to the city and not really knowing what's going on, it was a talking session. No combat at all. So I didn't have that much to do. Certainly no opportunity to show off my +16 grapple bonus. And me being me and the other players being normal, talkative people I didn't have that much to say either.

Still, looking forward to future games when Rokul should come into his own. I'll have to wait a couple of weeks, though – I have elections to attend next Thursday.

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‘Absolute Zero’, Faith No More

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‘Absolute Zero’, Faith No More.

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Something I really hate is making a fool of myself. In fact, fear of looking stupid is one of the defining characteristics Рif not, the defining characteristic of my personality.

Last night on my way to roleplaying I stopped at Tesco to get a pot of pasta. As I waited at the queueing point for the checkouts, there was one south Asian guy manning the tills. I counted out ¬£1.49 of change. Then about three more (yes, three more south Asian guys) came on at the same time. I moved towards the one who said ‘Can I help you?’ first.

I put my pasta on the counter and the chap started getting a carrier bag ready. I said, ‘I don’t need a bag,’ but he was still looking like he was going to put my pasta in the carrier as he went to pick it up. Often I don’t speak very clearly so I took hold of the pasta to prevent him wasting the bag. ‘I don’t need a bag,’ I repeated. He also had hold of the pasta now. He didn’t say anything, so I thought may be he hadn’t understood me (being south Asian, and his ‘Can I help you?’ evidently not being a good enough indicator of his English). I repeated myself again a little more forcefully. Still he didn’t let go of the pasta, or, indeed, say anything. It was dawning on me that something wasn’t right.

Oh. Yes. He needs to scan the barcode.

I let go of the pasta.

He scanned it, I paid him, I left. I ate my pasta.

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Toilet wisdom

There used to be some graffiti on one of the toilet cubicle walls of my alma mater, Bath Spa University College (it's now dropped not only the College from its name but the toilets themselves – well, they've redeveloped the main building and they're now in a different place) that read:

It is better to live one day as a tiger than 1000 years as a sheep.

Underneath this, some wit had scribed:

Yeah, but you'd be a fucking A-list celebrity sheep.

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A big fillip?

However long ago it was now – about three months – I remember thinking when all the speculation about who would be the next England manager kicked off that you couldn’t go far wrong with Luiz Felipe Scolari. At the time, Gus Hiddink was the leading non-British contender. Then all the attention focused on McClaren, Curbishley, Allardyce, and, from the media coverage I saw, it seemed like the Brazilian was no longer in the running.

This morning the news is that he’s been offered the job. And it seems to me like the right choice – who else is available, willing to do it (which would apparently rule out Fergusson, Wenger, Mourinho and Benitez), and, most importantly, up to it?

Howard Wilkinson was on the radio this morning complaining that it should have been an English or at least British appointment. His argument was that the FA’s duty is to English players and managers. The problem is that, while there maybe some decent English managers, there certainly aren’t any world class English managers. I mean what, exactly, have McClaren, Curbishley and Allardyce won? Has anyone even heard of them outside British football? Wilkinson’s point is nonsensical. How is English football served by appointing a mediocre manager who will get torn apart by the press and replaced straight after Euro 2008, if not sooner?

And anyway, who could be better qualified than Scolari? He won the World Cup four years ago and nearly won Euro 2004. And he’s Brazilian! If the culture clash isn’t too great and he earns the respect of the players, he could be pretty inspirational.

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It's been a while since I read any Frank Herbert, so I guess I was looking forward to reading The Green Brain. (Only guess because I wasn't thinking Oh, I must read this soon, but rather, Now what do I have that's genre and short?) It was OK – perhaps the weakest Herbert novel (or novella at just 158 pages) I've read, but still a million times better than Legends of Dune.

Brazil, along with various other countries, has in place a policy of exterminating all insects. Apart from genetically engineered bees that fill the insects' various ecological niches. Needless to say, the insects fight back. Specifically with giant, acid-spitting bugs and co-ordinated insect masses that impersonate humans and infiltrate the insect-free areas. All this is directed by a huge brain that lives in a cave. Yes, it sounds a bit shit and it pretty much is. There is a suggestion that the Brain, as it's referred to, was once human, but we don't really learn anything of where it came from or how it creates the insect mutants.

The two main aspects to this story are its political message and its psychodrama (for want of a better description). There is a very simple thesis here: don't screw up the environment because it's kind of important. Less obvious, but only slightly, is its pro-capitalism bias: it's only the socialist countries, with their controlling instincts, that have pursued this anti-insect plan – the US and Europe seem unaffected.

The main part of the story, the part where it seems happiest with itself, is when the three protagonists are stuck in a broken pod floating down a Brazilian river, hundreds of miles from anywhere and at the mercy of the insects – a section very reminiscent of Heart of Darkness. The narrative jumps between the points of view of the characters, giving us a near-360 degree view of their fears, hopes and schemes. This is the kind of thing that Herbert does very well, but, while it's the highlight of this book, it's not enough to raise it above mediocrity.

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End of an era

Over the last few weeks I've been thinking of quitting my Tuesday night roleplay group. The basic reason is that I don't feel quite at home there. The people in it are nice, funny, harmless, geeky people, but also very quiet. And that reserve, coupled with my own shyness, makes for a slightly uneasy relationship. They're all quite young, too – university students (and one teacher) – and all friends from Dorset. All further reasons why there's distance between us. It wouldn't be too bad (and indeed it wasn't), but that distance didn't seem like it was closing.

So, as the group had a break over the past month, I looked into and joined a couple of other groups in my five year mission to seek out new friends and civilisations. I therefore had even less reason to keep on with the Tuesday group.

What I told them was that a) I'm not that keen on World of Darkness-style games and my other games are more my thing and b) having games on consecutive nights is a bit stressful. These arguments are perfectly true: I especially don't like having to get up in the morning after two relatively late nights.

Only the ST (storyteller) knew about this before the game (I told him as we were waiting at Brixton tube station for someone to show us where to go) and he incorporated this into the evening's session. My character was replaced by a kind of evil doppelganger. His intention was that, upon seeing my other, original self, he would fly into a violent rage. Unfortunately, we successfully avoided some pursuers at the end of the mission – one of whom was my other me.

All right, the other reason I'm resigning from this game is that the new series of Lost starts next Tuesday.

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Monday evening saw the first session of the roleplaying game I'm running. I've entitled the campaign Empire of Destiny … although I haven't actually told my players that. It went surprisingly well. I gave them a little caveat this it might be a disaster because I'm not that experienced as a GM, and at the end people were like 'What were you talking about, it was good.' So that was good.

And it was good, too. The story for this session had a reasonable amount of variety: some combat – against mudane patrolmen and a rather strange little demon – a bit of character development, some charisma based tasks, and at least an attempt at sneakery. The whole mission was accomplished, as well, so for next time I can give them a completely new task and not worry about finishing off the last one.

One of my players talked about one of the small modifications to the D&D 3.5 game that I've implemented, namely rolling 2d10 and adding the results insead of rolling 1d20. Theoretically, it should reduce the probability of getting a very high or a very low score (a 20 on a d20 is 1 in 20 (obviously), a 20 on 2d10 is 1 in 100, for instance). His argument was that sometimes you really need that 10% chance of getting a 19 or 20. We agreed that DC 25-30 saves and such like aren't going to be an issue until the characters have progressed substantially.

Of course, later in the game this player was on the receiving end of both a double 1 critical fumble and a double 10 critical hit. What are the chances of that happening? (To borrow a catchphrase.)

For next time, I have various ideas but nothing is set in stone yet. Indeed, my original idea for the first session is now not going to take place until maybe the third or fourth. Whatever its content, I'll approach it with that bit more confidence now that I have this game under my belt. In fact, I did more actual roleplaying Monday than I do as a player. One of the things I'll have to think about is coming up with interesting characters as well as the plots.

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