? ?

Description of freeform

I've written a blog post describing what 'freeform' usually means in the UK, mostly for people from elsewhere who might be expecting it to mean something rather different:

Thoughts and comments welcomed!

Blog: Rainbow Towers

New blog post up about a dexterity game idea: Rainbow Towers!

Murder mystery playtest: interested?

We're testing a new murder mystery game in London (at a centralish pub yet to be confirmed) on the afternoon of Sunday 26th January: would you like to come along?

It's called A Speakeasy Slaughter and is set in 1920s Chicago, with gangsters, showbiz, Prohibition and all that kind of stuff:

"Welcome to Fat Stan’s top secret underground speakeasy in Chicago.

It’s been a busy night. One of Stan’s pals, Scabface, was shot down by a masked assailant in front of everybody during the interval.

The doorkeeper swears that nobody came in or out of the only exit for the last hour, so the killer must still be in here. Is it something to do with the gang wars that have been flaring up all over the city, or is showbusiness the motive?

And more importantly: will the killer strike again?"

And here are some links to blurb PDFs with more details:
If you'd like to give it a go, or are intrigued but cautious and want to learn more, please do comment below or drop me a line (mo at freeformgames dot com). We want ideally a mix of experienced people and newcomers, so everyone's very welcome.

Very small games: a trend

 Bruno Faidutti calls it 'Japanese minimalism'. What would you call it? New blog post:


Blog: bravery

New blog post! About a simple dice mechanism for variable outcomes of bravery options.

Blog post: board game redesign

I did another blog post! – this one about a competition to design a new boardgame using the components of an old one. Here:

Mass effect

One of the things I love about English is the quirks of its structure which native speakers aren't consciously aware of, but which bedevil learners. An example is the way it handles mass and count nouns. Maybe you got taught this sort of thing at school, but I never did: so here it is now, some actually useful grammar.

A count noun is the usual kind of noun, which has a singular and a plural form, like 'table': a table, two tables, lots of tables.

A mass noun doesn't have singular and plural form, because the thing it describes isn't quantized into discrete elements. So eg. 'cement': a little bit of cement, two kilograms of cement, lots of cement; but not: one cement, two cements, lots of cements. There is no such word as 'cements'.

Other mass nouns are usually substances, like cement (water, flour, sugar, metal…) or abstracts (cycling, traffic, heat, mathematics… you can't have two kilograms of these, of course, but they're still mass nouns).

Some of them can actually be pluralized (eg. rain is generally a mass noun but one can also talk about 'the rains') but with a different meaning then attached: it doesn't detract from the general mass-noun behaviour. There's also awkward things like 'chicken': when talking about the meat it's a mass noun, but when talking about the animal (or about a set of food orders) it's a count noun.

Mass nouns are not peculiar to English, of course, they exist in lots of languages. But in English there's the curious phenomenon of what might be called faux-mass nouns: ie. count nouns which disguise themselves as mass nouns by appearing not to have different singular and plural forms. An example is 'sheep': you can have one sheep, two sheep, lots of sheep: but not a little bit of sheep, two kilograms of sheep. Awkwardest of all are those which fall into this category and also into the one above, like 'fish': you can have one fish, two fish, lots of fish, but also a little bit of fish, two kilograms of fish.

Any other strange behaviours of noun pluralization come to mind? And those of you who have grammatical understanding of other languages, I'd be interested to learn how it works with those.
I've posted to my new games-related-stuff blog! – it's a round-up of what I played/ran at Consequences, the recent larp con that ran down in Hampshire. It was great!

And while I've got your attention (or not), a quick poll just to find out who's still here:

Do you read this LiveJournal?

Not saying!
You can't prove a thing, copper!

Games blog

Gosh, it's been a while since I posted here, sorry about that. Rather hectic and in places stressful few months have left me little time for reflection. (And other such excuses.)

Anyway, the news now is that I've started a blog, at It is intended to gather together my ideas and thoughts about games -- those I've designed, played, dreamed about, whatever. It's only about hobby stuff -- not anything related to my work (which is also about games of course, but different sorts of ones). Up till now I've been writing this hobby game stuff here on LJ, but the audience is becoming increasingly limited, and quite a few of the people who still do read this journal aren't really interested in that sort of thing anyway. For those of you who are, I'll post links here when I put something new up there, of course, and I hope you will carry on commenting! The RSS feed is, as you might have expected.

To kick it off, I've exported into it from here various past posts about game stuff, mostly about my own designs. This includes your comments on the posts. These were pretty much all public posts anyway -- those that weren't, it was to spare my embarrassment at the half-baked idea rather than for any reasons of privacy -- but if you'd like any or all of your own comments removed or edited, please do say.

Hope to see some of you over there as well as here!


I just found a chunk of a YA novel I started writing, several years ago, which I'd forgotten about. I had it mostly planned out, but I never got past the first couple of chapters. As secretrebel (who should know) says, "Writers write", and I didn't and don't and so amn't. But I quite like this prologue, seeing it again:
This is a story about how sometimes you really have no idea about what’s going on underneath. What I mean is, you know how you see a swan on the river, and it looks like it’s gliding along so smoothly and peacefully? But if you could look underneath the water, you’d see all sorts of legs thrashing away like crazy. Just two legs, usually. But what if there was maybe a dozen legs, like some sort of crazy centipede or something – wouldn’t that be weird? Well, that’s what I’m talking about.
Anyway, it starts with my sister going missing. Or, rather, getting captured. Read on!


Speakeasy murder mystery – interest?

Just trying to gauge interest here initially. Would any of you be keen to play in a murder mystery party game with a 1920s Chicago speakeasy/gangster theme, some weekend afternoon in September in central London? (Obviously I appreciate that the exact date will be significant, but I'm just trying here to see if it's potentially a goer or not.) Please comment below, or email me if you'd rather!

It'll be the third playtest, so the game should be in fairly good shape by then. We will be asking for your feedback afterwards, about things that did/didn't work etc.

Do please feel free to mention this possibility to other potentially interested parties, and let me know about them too.


It's pronounced 'fronk-en-steen'

Question for the techies. How useful is Levenshtein distance as an accuracy measure for eg. quiz answers? Or do you know of a more appropriate method for fuzzy search comparison? What I want is for it to give a good guess at rightness if the answer is spelt slightly wrong or has punctuation added, etc.


Hands Up!

I thought about another microgame idea last night. In the vein of Shape Up!, this one has the working title Hands Up!

There are 18 cards, which each carry a symbol: there are two each of [red|blue|green] [circle|square|triangle].

Each card also carries a victory condition, which are all different. Each condition represents a possible combination of six cards as a mix of pairs of colour(s) and shape(s), eg. red red blue blue circle circle, red red square square triangle triangle, etc.

At the start of the game, each player (I reckon 2–4, although it might work for as many as 6) is dealt a face-down card which they keep. This indicates their personal victory condition.

The first player then deals a single hand of 6 cards off the top of the remaining deck. The idea is that this hand is passed around, and on their turn each player has ways to alter its composition. The first player to get the hand such that it matches their personal victory condition, wins the game. The 6 cards must all count: eg. if the hand has a blue triangle, you can count it as one of your required blues, or one of your required triangles, but not both.

So on your turn, what you do on your turn is: you draw a card from the top of the deck and add it to the hand. You then may either discard one of the now 7 cards, or play one of them. In either case that card is put onto the discard pile, leaving 6 in the hand: if those 6 match your victory condition, you declare it and win. When the deck is exhausted, shuffle and recycle the discards.

'Play' a card? Yes, this is the interesting bit: each card also has on it an action, which you enact when you play it. Actions are things like:
  • exchange your victory card for one of the cards in the hand;
  • look at another player's victory card;
  • draw another card imediately, and discard one;
  • immediately shuffle the discards into the deck;
  • [etc, ideally 6 different ones]
It seems to me that the main danger is of the game getting a bit tug-of-war-y, with people with very different victory conditions pulling the hand back and forth and neither getting close to victory. So the action cards are going to be very important as ways of allowing a clever player to manipulate vctory.

(Another thing I'm wondering about is whether to not shuffle the discards, but instead just to invert them. In general I don't like games that strongly reward memorizing card sequences. But perhaps this should be an exception, if it gives people another tool to win. (Although a big question mark over how useful a tool it would be, even if you have a terrific memory.))

(I've always likes the hand-passing mechanism of Space Beans, which I expect is used in loads of other games too. Here it's not so much used as an out-think-the-next-player dealy, though; more as a way to deal with there being so few cards.)

Any thoughts, at this early stage?


On Saturday I was at Gamecamp 6, which I thought a few people here might be interested in.

(I seem to have degenerated to LJing solely about games just lately. Sorry about that… although in my defence, they are occupying almost all my work and leisure time at the moment.)

tl;dr it was good funCollapse )Which is cool.



Last weekend I went to my fourth Peaky freeform-writing workshop, and had an excellent time.

It was a bit more relaxed than usual, because instead of aiming to get a game completed by Saturday night in order to playtest on the Sunday, as is standard, I pitched the idea of a group that just researched, tested and developed some character-creation workshopping techniques that might be useful in freeforms. Enough other people were keen, so that's what we did: and, as it turned out, some of the stuff we came up with was strong enough that we actually were able to give people a playtestable game experience on the Sunday after all. So that was already a win all round, as far as I was concerned.

We started off by doing various bits of thinking around techniques used in Hillfolk, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, When the Dark Is Gone, etc – various tabletop RPGs that include character creation mechanisms which drive interaction and rapidly establish inter-character relationships. We even tried the Ball of Yarn technique, which we varied up by simultaneously using four different-coloured balls of wool to represent different types of statement or relationship – this was very pretty and worked fine for the five of us, but not sure it would have been practical with the 12 or so players we were aiming for. Along the way we accidentally created a Hillfolk variant set among the crew of a Star-Trek like space voyage. (No doubt someone's already done that, as part of the Kickstarter add-ons, but anyway we felt it worked pretty well.)

Coloured cardsCollapse )

So, that's all a bit of a rush through it, which probably leaves much unclear. We'll do a proper detailed writeup at some point, because it's a system we'd like other people to be able to use. And do ask questions below!

BlackpoolCollapse )

Right, so, I've babbled on enough now. Suffice to say the whole thing felt very positive and creatively energizing: and that's not even talking about the two games that I helped playtest for other people, which were both great fun. Onward and upward!


Economics of microgames

I took Shape Up! to the Playtest meeting again last weekend, and got lots of very positive feedback (some on BGG…)

This is the point where for a 'normal' game (like Fishy Business) I would be thinking about trying to get it published.  However being a microgame, I'm not sure that is really practical. I don't think established games publishers are going to be interested, because basically it's impossible to make any money out of publishing and selling such a small and cheap thing. This article by Michael Mindes, who knows a thing or two about making money from games and otherwise, explains the problems.

(There is of course the option of self-publishing, but really I'm too busy to take on all the work required in sorting out manufacture, finding distribution, marketing and selling.)

T suggested coming up with two further microgames each using 18 cards, so they could all be printed and packed together as a set ina  conventional pack-of-cards-sized box. That is quite appealing as a designer (particualrly as Shape Up! only took three months from initial conception to reach this point) but I'm still not sure a publisher would really be keen.

So I guess I might end up just giving it away as a print-and-play PDF. Which would still be very cool if lots of people did so, but it does seem a bit of a shame when the properly-printed cards are so nice to look at and handle.

Anyway, this is all very much first-world problems; the main thing is that people have been playing Shape Up! and liking it! Which makes me very happy.


When the Dark is Gone

I spent last week mostly playing and running games, in the company of some excellent people, and it was great! Most of them were of the prepless and/or GMless style that I've been increasingly interested in in recent years. I'll probably spew out some more thoughts here about the others shortly, but I wanted to pick up on When the Dark is Gone first, as I think it's especially interesting.

Here's the game's blurb:

"Imagine the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They visited a magical land, fought battles alongside talking animals and centaurs and won a war against a powerful and evil enemy. Then they returned home, no-one would believe them and they were back to war time rations and maths homework.
What does that feel like?
How do you live with the memories of what you saw?
How did Edmund deal with the fact that Aslan was tortured and killed for him? How did Susan and Lucy deal with watching Aslan die, even knowing he was later resurrected?
Did Edmund drown his sorrows in alcohol and drugs, did Lucy vent her repressed rage by being violent towards her loving husband?
Did they end up in therapy?
The players in this game are all Clients in a real-world, modern day setting undergoing group therapy. They all have serious psychological disorders which are damaging them and those closest to them. Everyone has come to the therapy session as a final attempt to get their lives back on track."

First I should declare that When the Dark is Gone was written by frax, who is a friend. But I don't think she's on LJ any more, so I don't need to be kind about it for that reason :-) You can download it as a PDF, free, from here on the Black Armada site.

It's prepless – the game background and characters are entirely devised by the players, during the first hour or so of the session. It's not GMless – the GM provides guidance during this development phase, and plays the role of the Therapist during the remainder of the session. But it's a very different kind of GMing to the usual.

Traditional GMing is, I think, strongly performative and to an extent controlling. You create a gameworld and unveil it for the players to explore; or in less trad games (like my own Haunted House) you pick up on their ideas and shape them into a whole. Either way, you have a special responsibility for, and 'ownership' of, the session. I've done stacks and stacks of GMing down the years, and I relish this aspect, and enjoy the challenge of providing and shaping entertainment for players. It's rewarding in its own right, and also affirming of my capabilities.

But GMing in When the Dark is Gone is almost enirely egoless. At the end of the game the players were saying how they'd enjoyed themselves, and I said that I'd also enjoyed GMing it. One player said words to the effect of "you didn't have to do anything, you just watched us get on with it!" and at first I was a bit taken aback by this. (Because I felt that I'd actually done some useful stuff.) But I quickly realized that actually this was (inadvertent ;-) praise – for that player at least, I had made my GMing role invisible. In the same way as a real therapist seeks to avoid their clients transferring emotions onto them, the WtDiG GM should (I think) seek to avoid their contribution to the session being recognizably influential.

The other quite unusual thing about WtDiG is that, once the creation phase is done, the session takes place entirely in character, as it becomes a de facto live-action game. Even for the GM, all one's interventions and reactions must be in character as the Therapist. There are no rules calls, no out-of-character questions, no saying of "My character deos so-and-so" or even "I do so-and-so", etc: just straight improvised in-character speech and action. We took a couple of comfort breaks, but the players seemed (afaics) to stay in character through those as well. This might sound difficult, but I think actually once we'd started it was easier to stay in character rather than to break the atmosphere.

I won't talk about the details of the session and of the world that the players generated, etc, because that's all proper to them rather than to me. (If they'd like to, of course, that's great.) One change I made (after discussion with frax beforehand) was: the rules suggest asking the players at the beginning of the session to say if there's any material they would rather not have occur in the game. I instead circulated them beforehand asking them to tell em any such material privately. I then turned those responses into a list, added some things of my own, and scrambled them. It's a small change, but I think worthwhile so that people don't have to talk in front of the group about what they're not comfortable with.

When I first read through the WtDiG document, I was struck by what a terrifically interesting idea it was, but I wasn't at all sure if it would 'work' as a game – or even if it actually was a 'game' at all. frax's design notes are worth reading – she specifically intended it to bring out emotional responses in players, and to maintain full immersion by avoiding the need for conflict resolution. I thought this was tremendously conceptually ambitious and well worth trying, but (to be honest) right up to the start of the session I was trepidatious about how it would go in real life. Particularly because the game doesn't allow for the usual sorts of GMing fixes that you can use to wrestle a struggling game session back onto the rails. I was, frankly, nervous about my lack of control.

Well, I needn't have been, because the session went really well (from my pov, although the players will have their own opinions of course), and everyone got into it quickly and smoothly. The one GMing tool I had – that of asking questions – I used minimally and (hopefully) in more or less the right places. One of the things frax stresses is not to dive in too soon if things look bogged-down, but to wait and give players every chance to find their own way out. This was difficult! But I think the experience was quite salutary. I'm going to take some lessons back from it to my GMing of more normal kinds of game. I don't always have to be so hands-on controlling of the flow; players can be trusted more than I sometimes do.

Anyway, I found it a really enlightening and thought-provoking experience, as well as an entertaining and enjoyable one. So I would recommend anyone who likes the sounds of the idea to give it a go. And hopefully this post will be another little helper in raising the profile of When the Dark is Gone, which I think deserves to be brought to greater attention.

Edited to add: I should have said something about timing. It was pretty much an hour for the prep phase, two hours for the therapy session, iirc.


Quiz feedback

Just realized I never fed back about the recent quiz that many of you were so kind as to help me with. It went pretty well -- overall, the team scores were (50, 75.5, 78.5, 81, 82, 84, 84, 85.5, 85.5, 90) out of 102, so apart from one outlier they all scored capably. And the team that won deserved to.

The horses round turned out to be quite a good leveller, in that although all teams did fairly OK at it (scores from 4 to 8.5/10), the eventual winners only did mediocrely: their only weakish round. I'll have to try and work out why that was…

The Where and what? table round was a bit of a surprise to me, as all 10 teams scored at least 18/20. After the response on here I'd been wondering that it might be too difficult, but no. I guess either (a) having a team of 6–8 pretty much guarantees that someone will have that area of knowledge covered, or (b) having an hour or so to brew over the answers is immensely valuable. Or maybe (c) having physical printouts in front of you to pass around and scribble on, which I guess most of you didn't have, is immensely valuable?

The connection round I reordered the questions a bit so it wasn't quite so obvious from the first two, but it still was pretty obvious: one team got the connection after just one answer (!), four more after two, and three more after three. Still, as that's the last round of the night, it's no bad thing having it fairly high-scoring, to let people leave pleased with themselves.

The bloke who I've been alternating with can't do it any more, so I've go to do the next one again, in May. Gah! Hopefully we'll find someone else who can alternate with me from then: I really don't want to get stuck with doing it every time.

Anyway, thanks again for all your help; I think I'm slowly starting to get the hang of how to set these things.

Things that have interested me lately

And maybe they will you, too? Let's see:

  • Victorian Blood Book – extraordinary decoupage project, made in 1854. You really have to view the slideshow to get the full majesty and oddity of it all. Not many people's idea of a wedding present for one's daughter.

  • Your Paintings – this BBC site has gathered together all 200-and-odd thousand oil paintings in UK public hands, across 2000-and-odd collections. Fantastic browsing material. See also: Google Art Project, if you didn't already know about that. Amazing high-res images.

  • Duke's first MOOC – I'm interested in MOOCs as a social phenomenon (and as a sometimes handy way to learn stuff, of course), so this analysis was rather interesting. More detailed report here. An attempt to aggregate data about MOOC completion rates here.

  • The Jane Austen Word List – simple but genius. Writer wants to use Austen-period-authentic language. So she creates a custom dictionary for her word processor, drawn from the Austen corpus. So it flags up whenever she tries to use a word that's not found in the source material. Here is an interesting list of some of the words thus picked up, some of which I certainly wouldn't have guessed were out of period.

  • Republished (A)D&D modules – PDFs, cheap. Lots of nostalgia value looking through them: how we used to play when we were kids. Not much to say to a modern role-playing sensibility, but hey ho. For me the most interesting parts are the histories of how each module came to be, and what was going on behind the scenes at TSR, etc: written by Shannon Appelcline. The linked page, for example, reveals that Queen of the Demonweb Pits was developed and published expressly against Gary Gygax's wishes.

Horses for courses

This is just an ordinary quiz round, themed to reflect the topical interest in Tesco's burgers. (Well, it was topical a few days ago when I wrote the questions. No doubt it'll be completely forgotten by the time I actually run the quiz in a few weeks' time…)

In which years did Red Rum win the Grand National? (1/2 point for two years correct)

Which ancient ruler had a horse called Bucephalus?

If a horse is below a certain height, it’s a pony. What is that height? (in hands, inches or cm as you prefer)

What are the names of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Horses get calluses inside their knees. What are these called?

Which English monarch allegedly cried “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

In the 1950 film The Wooden Horse, for what rather unusual purpose is the horse used?

In 2007 Daniel Radcliffe appeared in a West End play in which his character worships and also attacks horses. What’s the play called?

What was the name of the Trojan princess who warned her people against taking in the wooden horse the Greeks had made for them, but was ignored?

The Household Cavalry is made up of two regiments: what are they? (1/2 point for each)

I've filled it in myself with the correct answers, so if you have a look after you've submitted yours, you can see how many you got right. (I'm thinking this is a fairly easy round at the moment.) As usual, please do say if any seem unfair, wrong, too tough, don't make sense, etc!


Quiz: top ten dogs

This is another test round for the quiz I'm running next month. T will be at an evening class, so I'll be by myself (gulp). So this is the Top Ten round, which gives me a bit of a breather. The teams have to write down what they think are the top ten items in [category]. The previous couple of quizzes we did Greatest Britons and Biggest Towns in Suffolk. This time I'm thinking 'dogs'.

"Which were the ten most popular breeds of dog registered at the (UK) Kennel Club during 2011? You don’t have to get them in the right order, or guess what the numbers are: just say which ten breeds you think were the most popular."

Teams get five minutes to write down their ten answers. You can't write more than ten. If you'd like to write your ten guesses in a comment, I'll give the right answer in another post.

The thing to bear in mind of course is that the Kennel Club is not fully representative of British dog ownership (to put it mildly). 'Street' dogs are likely to be somewhat undercounted. I'm not sure whether to warn the teams of this explicitly, or to let them realize it for themselves: what do you think?

Are there any problems with the question, do you reckon? (Apart from: some people don't like dogs.)


What I do

I make games for people to play and have fun with each other. Sometimes in the games people pretend to be other, more interesting, people. Sometimes they pretend to kill each other.

What do you do, using only the thousand commonest words?

(HT to vicarage, bibliogirl et al.)


Larp and freeform

(Warning: this will probably not be of interest if you're not a gamer. In fact even if you are, it still might easily not be :-)

Don't say I didn't give you fair warning…Collapse )

I'm very keen to hear your thoughts on any of the above, of course! Particularly where you think I've got it wrong :-0)

Edited to change improvisation to invention – see discussion below as to why.

1 As huggyrei pointed out the other day, other people use 'freeform' to mean other things, some of which are much more like larp. But bear with me for now, I'm particularly talking about the Consequnces-style thing which I myself have mostly written and played in recent years.
2 This is 'we' = The Epic Experience, as against a general 'we'. YMMV.
3 This is not picked as an extreme example: it's not at all an unusual amount of material.


Quiz round!

We've got another London Road Community quiz coming up! – and as usual I'm asking you lot to be the hapless victims who test the hardness of the various questions. Thank you in advance!

So this is the connection round. As before, there's a connection between the ten answers (which are supposed to be fairly easy); and the earlier in the round you spot the connection, the more points you get.

(Ooh, the poll creator page has all changed. Let's hope this still works…)

Poll #1888371 Connection round

Which sport will be returning to the Olympics in 2016, having not been played there since 1904?

What film, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, depicts the events of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879?

What early style of blues music originated along the banks of the lower Mississippi, south of Memphis?

At the 2012 Olympics, which was the largest country to win no gold medals?

What’s the name of the awards presented annually by the AMPAS?

What’s an alternative name for butter beans?

What was the name of the Greek nymph rejected by Narcissus because he was in love with himself?

Which car replaced the Cortina in Ford’s range?

The first ever Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to William Roentgen in 1901. What had he discovered, to merit it?

Which Shakespeare heroine fakes her own death with the help of a dodgy friar?

What's the connection, and how many questions did it take you to spot it?

I'm particularly interested this time to know if there were any questions you didn't get at first, but were able to fill in once you'd got the connection. And, of course, if there are any that are too hard, too easy, ambiguous, wrong etc…


Step into

I was sorting out some old files the other day and I came across a game I wrote back in the summer of 1995 (and had completely forgotten about). It's essentially a larp, but set indoors and for just six players, with pregen characters. The working title was (the dreadful) 'Cannes-tasia' – the characters are movie people at the Cannes Film Festival who've been asked to join a mysterious potential funder aboard his yacht in the harbour. Shortly after they board, the yacht breaks adrift…

At the time, based on the other kinds of games that I knew about, I described it in my notes as "in the middle ground between larp and tabletop RPG, drawing on elements of the ‘dinner party’ murder mystery game and the Cthulhu-Blood-Brothers-style one-off experience".

Looking at it now, it seems like I had accidentally invented 'parlor larp' avant le nom. (I'd only ever done boffer larp at that stage, and didn't realize there was any other kind.) If only I'd actually ever run this game, who knows what glory might have been mine.

What I find interesting is that I was (evidently) already clear in my mind that this was quite a different thing from a small freeform. I'd run several freeforms by that point, so I knew what they were like, and knew that this was not the same sort of beast. This interests me because I've been thinking just recently about the differences between freeform and larp, and the spaces between. (I have a post brewing… be warned!)

Maybe I ought to run the Cannes game some time, for nostalgia value if nothing else. But I'll have to think of a better title first!


Some of these are quite baffling.
Any light shed, most welcome…


'Tis the season and all that, so I thought it might be nice to share these with you. Courtesy of ar_boblad, about 15 years ago now I guess it must have been. Où sont les vampires d'antan?
  • A crossbow bolt through the heart will stake a vampire.
  • Cut off the feet of someone killed by undead, and they will not be able to walk if they become undead themselves.
  • Dreams about vampires signify a poor harvest.
  • Adulteresses will go deaf within the year.
  • If you see a bat you should pray. This makes it fall asleep, then you rip its wings off.
  • Vampires sleep with their eyes open.
  • Holding ghouls under water under a bridge is the only way to kill them permanently.
  • He who drinketh of alcohol then partaketh in the potato will surely suffer.
  • A vampire can’t stand at a crossroads.
  • A marriage on the first day of a century will produce love for eternity.
  • Bury each tooth of a werewolf separately and under trees. If two teeth are together they can still bite.
  • Dreams about a full moon signify change.
  • Push a vampire down a well then sprinkle ashes down it and the vampire will implode.
  • Hop on a grave and the person buried there will haunt you until your death.
  • Never hold a funeral before 2 pm or disaster will befall you.
  • Werewolves never get struck by lightning.
  • Mime infuriates the undead.
  • If you see a ghoul and it turns to stare at your heart you will die within a fortnight.
  • Dreams about poor harvests signify vampires.
  • If you see a black cat spit on it or bad luck will be yours.
  • A door made of yew wood can’t be opened by a werewolf.
  • Fresh sap on your hands can stop a ghoul’s approach.
  • Werewolves can be killed by normal means on a new moon.
  • A spike on your roof stops a vampire bat landing on it.
  • If you get cut by a vampire’s fangs, wash it in holy water then hold a candle over it.
  • Sprinkle a powdered ghoul’s thumbnail onto a field and it will flourish for five years.
  • Open a ghoul’s grave at precisely noon and it won’t trouble you for as long as you live. (Or was it that it will trouble you?)
  • Dreams about potatoes signify death.
(Unfortunately, most of these turned out to be inaccurate.)

Do you have any good ones to add to the list?


Tech q

Can anyone recommend a portable (for inside-the-house values of portability) device that combines digital radio with playing audio off a NAS via wifi?

(And is there a generic term for such devices?)


When spam meets UCE

Now this is definitely a piece of automatically-generated unsolicited commercial email. But would you call it spam? I would, but I guess it's a philosophical as much as a technical question. If they'd sent the same message manually via our contact form, rather than scouring the site to scrape up an obscure email address from a newsletter back issue (or buying a spamming list that'd done that), I might regard it differently I think.
the detailsCollapse )
I was slightly curious as to what they were trying to point me towards with the recommended search term, and amusingly enough it's been hijacked by a couple of people who received the same spam a few weeks ago: this company's own product doesn't seem to appear at all prominently.


Haunted House

I've now done an update of the rules for Haunted House, based on the last playtest – thanks to ar_gemlad, metame, ar_boblad, mr_snips and lanfykins for taking part, and for great suggestions and thoughts.

See it in its glory here:

So this is a bit simplified from earlier versions, with the removal of room Terror ratings adn teh change of Phobias into more general Vulnerabilities. The new bit added is the Establishment phase, which introduces the characters and gives them a chance to briefly flourish before they start getting killed off.

I've also put up there the notes and background blurbs, character and location sheet blanks, etc, from the two playtest settings: The Ghosts of Fulwell and The Wreck of the Sarah-Jane.

Do please take a look through it if you get the chance (and are interested in such things!) In particular, I'm keen to hear what more you would need provided if you were to try and run a session yourself.

KOMPRESSOR: Kompilation

Originally posted by kompressorpower at KOMPRESSOR: Kompilation
59 tracks from 1998-2005. Entirety of Kompressor catalogue. Now available as one gigantic 172-minute album for $9.99.

Download KOMPRESSOR: Kompilation at Amazon MP3.

Outside the US, Amazon may not be available - download on iTunes.

Haunted House II: The Hauntening

I ran another playtest of Haunted House the other day, which went much better than the last one thanks to me (a) not having a migraine, and (b) explaining it properly to the players beforehand.

This was the blurb:

Deep in the South Seas, far from the normal trade routes, the merchant ship Unconquerable Angel sees a tattered sail off the beam, with distress flags hanging limply in the stifling calm. A closer look, and the drifting hulk is revealed to be the brig Sarah-Jane, out of Southampton, reported on the registers as missing presumed foundered these five years. Something about the old ship – the dark gaze of its empty ports, the fat glossy rats that can be glimpsed scuttling about on deck, the sickly-sweet odour that intermittently wafts across the water – fills the Angel's crew and passengers with a nervous dread. A select group is readied to board the derelict vessel. What they find will change their lives – those who survive the encounter. And it might just change the lives of a lot more people than that…

So rather different from the actual haunted old manor house that I'd originally conceptualized as the default setting for the game. But it turned out to work very well, being suitably constrained and also suitably easy to destroy by inventive means.

There were five players, and I guess we spent the first half hour or so designing the ten characters and their interrelationships. As luck would have it, four Expendables got killed in the Exploration phase, so things rapidly became rather stressed and angsty. The players came up with terrific ideas for clues and for links into their backstories, and passed the idea-ball around briskly and inventively. The system seemed to work out reasonably well, with a satisfying denouement in which three characters (plus an amorous and semi-intelligent gorillaman named Urko, who they'd found imprisoned on board) survived to row frantically away from the blazing hulk. There were moving scenes, hilarious scenes, and scenes of justified comeuppance.

It wasn't quite zero-prep for me, but pretty much. Apart from the blurb above, I wrote a side of more detailed background explaining the setup. And I wrote a list of suggested locations on board the ship that people might like to explore. But I didn't write any actual 'game' at all: that all came from the players on the day, and I just had to coordinate it and shape it into an overall story as we went.

So overall a win, I felt. It's not quite at the stage yet where the instructions are clear and detailed enough that it could be run out-of-the-box by anyone, but a bit of work should sort that. The players made some great suggestions for improving/simplifying the system, etc, which I shall rush to incorporate while it's still fresh in my mind. I'll also put the notes for this game, and for the earlier The Ghosts of Fulwell, up on the website. Then I shall be looking for other people to try running it themselves!


Asimov to blame for K/S?

"The idea of this would be to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock."

Interesting correspondence suggests Isaac Asimov gave Roddenberry the idea of bringing Kirk and Spock closer together emotionally. The rest is slash-fiction history, presumably up to and including 50 Shades of Grey. Yikes, Ike!


All LJ markup tags in one entry

Useful stuff!

Originally posted by fiddlingfrog at All LJ markup tags in one entry
I got a bit tired of searching through several different FAQs to find the specific LJ tag I wanted to use, so I went ahead and put them all into one entry. I tried to find all of them, even the ones used to create voice posts or insert the welcome posts that new accounts see. I even found some Russian instructions for a new language feature. Feel free to check it out, spread it around, and let me know if there's something I missed.


Prometheus Unsound

Went to see Prometheus last night, and in the pub afterwards explicated a theory about how it was all to do with punishment for the Crucifixion, solar myth, Osiris, Prometheus the Titan as a Christ prototype, the Golden Bough and so on.

Came here this morning to share it with you all, only to find that some other so-and-so has already had basically the same thoughts, a week ago. Gah! And he's researched Scott's own apposite remarks as well, which I hadn't bothered to do.

In other news, for the few remaining people who haven't yet seen it, the film itself is pretty shamefully shoddy, with all kinds of crazy inconsistencies and plot nonsenses. But worth seeing for £5.70, which is all it cost at my local Cineworld on a Tuesday.

This bit does actually contain a spoiler.Collapse )


Art attack

We were up in Edinburgh recently, and apart from seeing local features of interest such as ginger_ratbag, ubiquitous_cat and coffee_lifeform (thanks all), we managed to get into the Mansfield Traquair Centre.

We'd heard about this place last time we were up about three years ago, but it's only open one afternoon a month, and we'd missed it. But this time we caught it! (More thanks to luck than judgement, tbh.)

So, it's a former church with a painted interior. They call it 'Edinburgh's Sistine Chapel', and while that may be stretching it a wee bit, it really is a powerful and inspiring piece of work.

The people who had it put up weer quite a weird cult, the Catholic Apostolic Church. Despite the name, they have no connection with Roman Catholicism. They thought the Second Coming would be prefaced by the appearance of twelve new Apostles, who they identified as various people who were alive in the mid C19. After the deaths of these twlve, the world would end. The church became quite popular, and included lots of respectable and wealthy people, such as various MPs. So come 1885, the world having not quite yet ended, they had plenty of spare cash to build an impressive new church, and commission a prominent local artist to decorate it.

Phoebe Anna Traquair was Irish by birth and upbringing, but lived and worked in Edinburgh most of her life. There are quite a few bits of her work to be seen around: embroidery, enamelling, metalwork, and painting. She is very much influences by William Morris's thinking and the general Arts & Crafts Movement, and you can also see pre-Raphaelite influence is still strong.

The paintings in the Mansfield Place church are fairly standard subjects: the Last Judgement, scenes from the life of Christ, the parable of wise and foolish virgins, and so on. (Unusually, there is no depiction of the Crucifixion: apparently the Catholic Apostolic Church didn't like to dwell on that.) What I think is remarkable though is that, because she completed the whole thing singlehandedly, the consistency and strength of her artistic vision for the place shines throughout. The scheme is I guess pretty much "what if Giotto had had modern pigments and a modern sensibility?", and the mood is uplifting, bright, joyful and inspiring. T is not at all religious and was well under the weather, but she came out delighted and grinning unstoppably widely.

I guess churches painted all by one person are pretty rare, especially in the UK. I can think of Stanley Spencer's one at Burghclere, which is also pretty terrific. And I wonder if there is any other case anywhere in Europe where it's a woman artist?

The amazing thing though is that just fifteen years ago the building was derelict and falling apart, with the murals wrecked by water running down the walls. After the Catholic Apostolic Church went bust, it changed hands several times, at one point being used as a brick store. It's thanks to the hard work of a Friends group, and money from the Heritage Fund, that it's now open to look at in its splendour.

So, anyway, I'd definitely recommend that if you're up around there on the second Sunday of a month.

We also saw, in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, some terrific drawings and sculptures by Käthe Kollwitz. I must admit I knew very little about this artist (in fact I don't know much about modern German art at all), but I found it tremendously moving and capable. Many (perhaps most) of her works depict loss, suffering, oppression, motherhood, or some combination of the above. But they are restrained, fluent, and strong, rather than being whiny or mawkish as that might suggest. She was persecuted by the Imperial regime at the start of her career and by the Nazis at the end of it, with just the brief window of the Weimar Republic where she was able to work and show freely: and she lost a son in WWI, and a grandson in WWII. T very kindly got me a collection of Kollwitz's graphic works, so I shall have a good browse of that and see if I can see what makes it work so well.


Fred Pohl points out that today is A E van Vogt's centenary.

I feel a bit sad about van Vogt, because clearly people a generation or so older than me got lots of pleasure out of his work, but I didn't at all. I read a few of his books when I was a kid, but even then I thought they were pretty rubbish. And looking again now doesn't change that view. The comparison with Weinbaum's still-valuable 'A Martian Odyssey', which Pohl makes, is telling.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh. What do you think about A E van Vogt's work?

Poll #1836368 Non-Aristotelian checkboxes

Fan of Slan?

Never heard of him (I assume it's a him) tbh
Heard of, but never actually read
I might have read something, but it didn't really stick
A badger with a gun, without a gun, or something inbetween


To whom it may concern

As you probably know by now from the way I bang on about it, I tend to think that language evolves according to the dictates of its users, and that notions of what's 'correct usage' can only be considered indicative guidelines rather than rules.

So it is in that spirit that I've decided to stop using 'whom' (and whomever). Not that I really used it much in speech anyway, but I did every now and then in writing instructions and the like.

Consider, for example, these two sentences:
  • Ask the player whom they want to attack.
  • Give the prize to whomever you think deserves it.
In speech you would use who and whoever, wouldn't you? Even if you were talking to the Queen. So it seems to me that there is no actual register of communication that I use (apart from the occasional faux-archaic, like the title to this post) in which the -m forms should be preferred. Out it goes!

But what do you think?
Poll #1827655 For whom, the bell tolls (or does it?)

Do you use 'whom' yourself?

Yes, whenever it's correct to do so
Yes, although tbh I'm not sure if I always do so correctly
Yes, every now and then, but often I use 'who' instead
Only in quotations, archaisms and the like
No, and tbh I'm not sure when one's supposed to
No way, even though I know some people think I should
Other (in a comment)

And what about 'whomever'?

Yes, whenever it's correct to do so
Yes, although tbh I'm not sure if I always do so correctly
Yes, every now and then, but often I use 'whoever' instead
Only in quotations, archaisms and the like
No, and tbh I'm not sure when when one's supposed to
No way, even though I know some people think I should
Other (in a comment)


Sound in <strike>70</strike> 16 Cities

Glad to see that this LiveJournal continues to shape opinion, as Simple Minds have clearly been reading it lately: they've just finished a tour of gigs based solely upon their first five albums, and a boxed set of same to accompany.

Bit late to post this, sorry, but you can still catch them at T in the Park this summer…



Went last night to see the play DNA by the Hull Truck company, which a friend's child's partner was acting in (gone are the days when our friends themselves had partners who were struggling newbie actors…). It's touring around, in Oxford tonight and tomorrow I think and then all sorts of other places.

This is quite a well-known play among kids, it turns out, being on the national curriculum. I guess about 80% of the audience were teenagers. I thought it was a very neat production and well acted – although the play itself, while it contains some powerful and in palces funny dialogue and individual scenes are strong, was a bit lacking in overall sense and plausibility in places. You can see how it would be good to teach around… but it's no Lord of the Flies, tbh.

If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like, I guess is the verdict. We had a good time, anyway.


Perhaps they'll listen now

How do you pronounce the surname of that artist who liked sunflowers and starry nights? I suspect I say it wrongly… but not sure. Crowdsourcing will have the answer!

Poll #1820257 Vincent van what now?

How do you, personally, pronounce Van Gogh?

Van Go
Van Goff
Van Goch (similar to Scottish 'loch')
Other (in a comment)

And if you had a gun held to your head and had to guess (or if you actually know), how do you think it's probably supposed to be pronounced, ie. by southern Netherlanders?

Van Go
Van Goff
Van Goch
Other (in a comment)
No idea at all, please don't pull the trigger I beg you, I'll do anythng to live

(And did you know he lived at various times in Brixton, Ramsgate and Isleworth? I didn't until recently.)


The Magicians

Yesterday read a book all the way through, from about 5 to 11 pm with a break for dinner – very unusual for me. The reason being that it was extremely good! The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. I'd seen recommendations from various people, most recently sturgeonslawyer who prompted me to give it a go (thanks, Dan'l).

The book is a deeply impressive intellectual achievement, and also gripping, funny, moving and thought-provoking. The capsule description (a kid goes to a magical college and thence into a fantasy land) makes it sound derivative of, among other things, Harry Potter and Narnia. But actually it is a thoughtful and insightful commentary on how the subgenres represented by those two series operate, and what they imply. I guess the closest I can come is that it bears the same sort of sideways relationship to them as Rosencrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead does to Hamlet.

But that makes The Magicians sound like a nerdy exercise in alluson-spotting, whereas (although that is true to some extent) it also works very well as an entertaining novel. Grossman really is a very skillful writer. Some of his sentences and images are extremely beautifully formed. And the energy and conciseness of his narrative is admirable – he spirits you along through quick successions of events, covering a lot of story very quickly, but without neglecting his characters' development along the way.

I see there's a sequel: interested to see how that works. The book seems to have said all it needs to in itself, so I'm not sure where he could go next. Anyone read The Magician King?


Bizarre spam of the day

The button linked to an url on (safe to visit afaics, but not illuminating).

Have your message included in
Sir Jimmy Savile's book of condolences

A memorial and book of condolence to the late Sir Jimmy Savile has been set up in SAVILES hall opposite the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. If you are unable to visit but wish to leave a message of condolence you can get your message included through our exclusive condolences portal.

Leave your message
of condolence

"Sir Jimmy was a great friend and a driving force for us and we want to pay tribute to the man. He was a legend – an extraordinary larger than life character," said James Vincent, Managing Director of Royal Armouries International.

"We share the grief of his passing and hope his loyal local fans will appreciate this as a fitting place in which to honour his memory and lay any flowers or mementoes."



How exciting: I just got a comment from pingback_bot, on this post. I had not been aware of the existence of such a bot before, but it seems a good idea. Explanation here.

(Well, it was exciting to me. But I dare say some of you have known about it for years, and had thousands such comments?)


Great spam of the day

Hello [undyingking],

Maybe you have heard about BitCoin.

I want to inform you that Bitcoins now is not completely virtual and you can buy physical Bitcoins.

We make coins from metal, electroplated with real gold. Each coin contains redeemable bitcoin private key protected by hologram sticker.

If you interested, please, visit my shop: [website redacted].

Or you can write me email: [email address redacted].

[name redacted]

You have to love the optimistic mind that would come up with a daft scam idea like this. I wonder how many takers they got.


Another man etc

At the pictures the other night, saw a trailer for new film Anonymous, in which the Earl of Oxford writes Shakespeare's plays.

The conspiracy theory that the plays were written by someone other than Shakespeare (who in this version was just an actor) is of very long standing. There are a number of other candidates suggested, but the overall gist is the same: 'the man from Stratford's' contribution to the oeuvre (sonnets and other verse as well as the plays) was nil or negligible.

It seems to me that this theory or set of theories, which I used to think of as being the realm of fringe loonery, has recently gained a bit of currency. What better way to find out than with an LJ poll?

Poll #1787472 Nobler in the mind?

Do you think that the work of 'Shakespeare' was all or mostly written by the Stratfordian actor of that name?

Yes, I do
Mm, probably
Not too sure tbh
Hmm, probably not
No, I don't

And furthermore:

I didn't actually know there was a controversy
I agree, it does seem to have been growing recently
I disagree, not see signs of recent growth
It's all a bit silly isn't it?
I suppose it makes people happy
I am sufficiently post-modern that I don't think it can be considered as of even theoretical significance
Other (in a comment)

DiscussionCollapse )

(The post title is a call-back to this post of a while back.)

Perverse incentives

Heard recently that the govt is going ahead with bringing in a subsidy for domestic solar hot water systems, whereby you get paid 18p or so per kWh of heat that you generate (as well as saving off your gas bill, of course).

It's estimated that a typical 20-tube installation on a south-facing roof will pull down somewhere around £400-500 for you per year through this subsidy: not bad.

There is a snag, though, which is that the subsidy isn't payable for installations on houses with combi boilers: only for those with the more traditional cylinder-plus-boiler setup. Not because there is any technical drawback to using solar-heated feed to a combi, or efficiency penalty, or anything like that: that's not an issue. It's simply a policy decision.

This is probably a bit galling for anyone who thought they were being nice and eco-friendly by installing a combi boiler, as previous govts persistently urged us all to do. But fair enough, maybe they are thinking that encouraging solar adaptation of older boiler systems is going to clean up more of the low-hanging carbon-emission fruit.

But this is where the title of this post comes in. It'll cost you about £3000 (say) to rip out your lovely efficient new combi boiler and replace it with a cylinder-plus-boiler system. With the subsidy guaranteed to rise with inflation for 20 years, you'd repay that and be quids in before too long.


Dale Farm

The eviction of the Travellers at Dale Farm is fairly local to me, so it's been on our news pretty much every day for the last however long.

One curious aspect of the coverage, though, is that I don't think I've once heard a TV reporter point out that the land actually belongs to the Travellers themselves: they are being evicted from their own land, which they bought some time before settling it. Whether deliberately or not, the impression has firmly been given that they are squatting/trespassing there – which is quite untrue.

(Was that a surprise to you? If so, that supports my point.)

Given that it's their land, the issue at hand is that they are using it for residential purposes without having planning permission for the change of use. This planning permission would be denied, because the land is in the green belt. But don't think that means it's leafy verdant lungs of the countryside: it was a disused scrapyard when they bought it. It would be hard to argue that using it for residence purposes is any kind of degradation. Planning premission has been granted retrospectively, or the breach tolerated, in any number of such cases – that didn't involve Travellers.

It seems to me that the council are pushing the issue (at considerable expense) not for any practical reason, but because they think kicking Travellers out will play well with the Basildon electorate. And they are probably right.

(Interestingly, if the govt's current plans go through, there will be an enforced predisposition in favour of housing development, even on green belt land. I assume the Travellers could then apply anew for planning permission, and would have to be granted it. That would render this exercise an even more absurd waste of money.)


Another dreamed game – Factions

I seem to dream far more games than I design (or even play) in real life these days. Not sure if this is good or bad?

Anyway, this one is a social game for a large group of people (at least 20 or so), so maybe an icebreaker or at a conference or something.

First you decide upon three topics of factionalism, and four permitted values for each. So eg.
  • Favourite colour – red, yellow, green, purple;
  • Most inspiring Wizard of Oz character – Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Wizard;
  • Best housebuilding material – timber, brick, concrete, steel frame.
Obviously, steer clear of any topic that might be controversial. Try and have a bit of variety. And choose topics that all your players will be able to talk about, ie. nothing too obscure if it's a general audience. (But as obscure if you like if they're a bunch of geeks…)

Assign each player a random value from each category. So player A might be assigned Red, Scarecrow and Concrete; player B gets Purple, Wizard and Concrete; etc. Player A is then considered to be in the Red Faction, the Scarecrow Faction and the Concrete Faction, and so on.

Each player knows what Factions they are in (and has some sort of card or something on which they're recorded), but they aren't publicly visible. (They aren't secret, just not obvious.)

The game proceeds by the players mingling and chatting with one another in one-on-ones. In one such interaction, Player A approaches player B, they introduce themselves, and player A chooses one of their three Faction allegiances to enthuse about (eg. what a wonderful character the Scarecrow is, triumphing over his lack of brain). Player B listens respectfully but begs to differ, suggesting that the Wizard's ingenuity is truly admirable. Having established that they disagree, B chooses another Faction allegiance to raise, arguing that Purple is a colour of marked superiority. But A prefers Red.

A and B can now, if they both want to, agree to convince each other – ie. A will change from Red Faction to Purple Faction, and in return B will change from Wizard Faction to Scarecrow Faction. Or vice versa – as they mutually prefer. They mark these new values on their cards, and from now on must believe and argue them as vigorously as they did their initial positions.

A and B now separate, and each moves away to start a new conversation with other players (who meanwhile have been doing the same sort of thing, all over the room). As people convince and are convinced by each other, the number in each Faction will rise and fall. If it was purely random, it would stay fairly even, but my suspicion is that topics will usually tend to congregate towards one Faction or another.

The game continues with these free-flowing exchanges, until a predefined time limit has passed: then the organizers tot up how many members there now are of each Faction, and announce the results.

(Note that if you find yourself talking to someone who is already in your Faction for all three topics, or for two of the three, then you might as well bid them a cheery farewell and move on to someone else.)

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  • undyingking
    13 Jan 2014, 14:18
    I've learnt, sadly, that every good title for a game has already been used by someone. These days I'm happy to just ignore it if it's not in a competing market niche.
  • undyingking
    13 Jan 2014, 12:38
    Mm, I thought that would be a bit too easy as a spoiler tactic!
  • 13 Jan 2014, 12:31
    Shame, 'cause I could have entirely seen a player who knew they were about to place the losing block attempting to do so such that another tower (or towers) went down in the resulting mess ;)
  • undyingking
    13 Jan 2014, 12:30
    That's why people have to announce the height of each tower as they place their block: so that they will (hopefully) remember how high the highest other tower was, if it too gets knocked over in the…
  • 13 Jan 2014, 12:24
    What happens if the tower that collapses takes others down with it?
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