Archive for November, 2013

The Penny Drops

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

I was sitting at lunch with my group of friends at work, talking about various nerdy stuff as we are wont to do. There’s no doubt that we are a group of nerds, in the modern non-pejorative sense of “people who enjoy certain types of intellectual recreational activities”. We play regular Magic: The Gathering tournaments, we play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games, we play the latest European style board games, we run a popular Internet puzzle competition, we collectively write a webcomic based on the concept of Star Wars as a roleplaying game.

We share lots of interests in common and have incredibly nerdy conversations about them. But on this day I was struck by the fact that I didn’t follow what anyone else was talking about. They were discussing some sort of special mode in some computer game, which I only learnt right near the end of the conversation was actually Diablo. Throughout the whole conversation I just sat silently, not understanding most of what was being said.

I remarked that, even though we are all clearly nerds, there are still some significant differences between us. I, for example, don’t play video/computer games. I just don’t. I used to, as a kid – I had an Atari 2600 console and spent hours absorbed in playing various classic games like Pac-Man, Missile Command, Pitfall, and so on. A bit later I played an awful lot of Tetris, and really enjoyed SimCity. But… I haven’t really played any game more modern than SimCity. I’ve had a few brief goes at these newfangled first-person perspective games like Doom, but I just couldn’t get into them. And the video games of today are essentially a complete mystery to me.

So in a conversation about video games, I have nothing to add. I made a comment to this effect, pointing out how video games were one “nerd” thing that I just didn’t do. Knowing how none of these friends are really into sport of any sort (while I am), I commented that given the choice I would much rather sit down and watch a game of football than play a video game. They said, “What sort of football?” I replied, “Well, any, really.”

Then I said, “You know how on The Big Bang Theory the guys are all nerds and they all basically enjoy doing the same stuff? They all like comic books, they all play video games. That’s not a realistic portrayal of nerd culture. There’s variation. Not all nerds like all nerdy things. They should have someone in their group who doesn’t like video games.”

“Like Penny,” one of my friends said.

“Oh my god,” said another, “You’re the Penny of our group!”

Ravenloft: Sessions 2 and 3

Saturday, 16 November, 2013

291/365: Ravenloft session 2Last night we played the third session of our Ravenloft adventure using the classic 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules that the adventure was written for. I intended to update after the second session as well, but I’ll now have to combine them here.

When we left our brave band, they had just sustained serious injuries from an encounter with 4 baby dragons, in the entrance hall of Castle Ravenloft. They decided to beat a retreat to recover and returned to the village of Barovia, in the valley below the castle. They spent the night keeping watch shifts in the Burgomaster’s house. A pack of wolves attacked around midnight, clawing at the walls and doors of the house, but the heroes fought them off. Rested in the morning, Olaf used his healing spells to effect a partial recovery of everyone to near full strength. They set out again to the castle with Ireena.

This time they made better progress, exploring several of the upper floors of the castle. They encountered a few other creatures to battle, but emerged victorious with few injuries. In a decrepit dining room they found the dried remains of a wedding cake, with the figure of the groom missing from next to the bride. In another room was a painting of a woman who looked exactly like Ireena, but the painting was obviously centuries old. They found a holy medallion of platinum, and then came across a partially crazed accountant, held prisoner by Count Strahd for as long as he could remember. With some careful negotiation, they persuaded him to reveal the location of Strahd’s treasure hoard, in exchange for part of the treasure and freeing him from the castle. The heroes loaded up with treasure and returned to the village again before dark.

They visited the priest in the old church, who identified the platinum holy symbol as a missing relic of good from the distant past of Castle Ravenloft. They helped the villagers fortify the town in preparation for any attack in the night. Again the Burgomaster’s house was assaulted by wolves, accompanied by bats, and a distant sound like laughter echoing through the night. But they held out, and returned to the castle again at dawn.

Exploring the upper floors further, they found Getruda, the missing daughter of the distraught Mary in the village, and Ireena immediately took her back to the village, while the heroes explored a bit more. They began climbing levels up the towers and emerged into a room with three black cats, which attacked them. After dispatching these, they found the adjoining room contained a table full of mystical and alchemical ingredients. Then in the next room they were assaulted by a coven of evil witches! This fight took some time, with the witches casting spells to hamper the heroes, but eventually they prevailed. Looking around the room after the fight revealed a spellbook on a table.

Up to this point, the players had been careful to search everything for traps and detect evil with Volrak’s paladin ability, almost to the point of paranoia. Someone had commented on the fact that they went through this checking for traps and evil routine everywhere, and Puegom’s player said, “of course, as soon as we don’t do it, that’s when the thing will be trapped.” So, upon spying a spellbook owned by a coven of dark witches in a vampire’s castle, what’s the first thing Puegom does? Picks it up without checking for traps or evil. He took 3d10 damage, reducing him to -5 hit points and unconsciousness. The others immediately forced a couple of healing potions down his throat, to stave off death.

319/365: Ravenloft 3And that was the end of session 2. Session 3 picked up with the heroes in a bit of a pickle – Puegom their wizard barely conscious on just 3 hit points. They debated whether to retreat from the castle or explore a bit more first, as they had some time left before nightfall. They decided to keep Puegom away from anything dangerous and press on for a while. They also burnt the spellbook while Puegom was too delirious to protest.

They continued up the towers, pushed by Madam Eva’s fortune reading that said that “the object of their quest” was in a place of dizzying heights. They reached the rain-exposed roof of one tower and faced a railing-less bridge across to the adjacent tower. They tied a rope to Westhorn and had him walk across the bridge first as he was the lightest. He failed a Dex roll and fell over on the wet stone, but fortunately didn’t fall. After tying the rope off, everyone else made it across.

This tower proved a bit dangerous, shaking and rumbling as if in an earthquake, and swinging at them with wall-mounted halberds! (This precipitated a discussion on the pronunciation of “halberd” when I announced what they were facing, as I said it with a silent “l”, which everyone else thought was weird, but were not confident enough to contradict me on. This morning I got an email from a player who had checked and found that every source he could find says the “l” is not silent.) With some dexterity rolls to avoid falling down the shaft in the middle of the tower, they managed to break the halberds and destroy the beating heart of the tower, which silenced it.

Making their way to the top of the tower they encountered Count Strahd himself! A great battle ensued, in which the heroes inflicted quite a bit of damage, including Puegom using his wand of lightning, before Strahd turned to mist and fled. After this fight, they explored a little more, finding a long spiral staircase descending deep into the ground below the castle, where they had not been yet. They decided to save this for another day and returned to the village before sunset.

This time, in the Burgomaster’s house, Leaf and Volrak heard a knock at the door around midnight. Leaf asked who it was, and a voice answered “Let me in.” Leaf tried to open the door, but Volrak grappled and stopped him, yelling to wake the others. Leaf had to be tied up to stop him opening the door, while the others shot at wolves outside and the voice vanished with a peal of laughter into the night.

In the morning, half a dozen young men of the village came to join them on their next trip to the castle. Testing their experience, Henri decided to tell them to stay behind and do the important job of guarding the village instead. And so they set out again accompanied by only Ireena. This time they explored more of the ground floor, finding the ancient chapel of Ravenloft, in which Volrak discovered the lost Avinex Regales, the silver holy symbol of his quest. He used it to heal Puegom back to full strength, over Puegom’s protests about being touched with it. Everyone thought it was amusing that Puegom was so keen to pick up an evil spellbook without checking for danger, but wouldn’t let an obviously good holy symbol near him.

They fought some zombie-like creatures with rotting bodies, whose limbs came off when cut and then continued to attack on their own! And then they descended into the dungeons below the castle, encountering various fell creatures and a room that looked suspiciously like a complex trap of some sort, but which didn’t do anything dangerous after they removed two of the doors into the room completely from their hinges. They came across an insane servant who insisted they return to their rooms and shouldn’t be down here where the kitchens are. They explored the kitchen and wine cellar and then decided to check the next level down…

And here is where we stopped for the evening. Session 4 is to be scheduled… probably after Christmas.

Catch up update

Wednesday, 13 November, 2013

So yeah, I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.

Since the last spate of updates I’ve visited Brookvale Public School again, this time to talk to the kids there about volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics. It was another very fun day, with lots of interested kids absorbing what I showed them and asking some interesting questions.

I’ve also run the second session of Ravenloft, which I’d planned to post about soon after it happened, but now the third session is scheduled for this Friday, so I think I’ll just wait and combine the two into one big post.

Drum progress

Tuesday, 12 November, 2013

Tonight at my drumming lesson my teacher said, “Okay, it’s time to work on your weaknesses.”

Normally he’s very encouraging and tells me I’m doing great – to the point where I’ve started to take it with a slight grain of salt as I know there are things I need to improve on. So it was quite a change this time.

My weaknesses are practising in time with a metronome, and transitions between grooves and fills, and grooves and other grooves.

I’ve tried practising with a metronome, but I find I just can’t stay in time to the clicks. I can play along with a song and keep perfect time. But when it’s just a metronome I drift all over the place and can’t home in on keeping beat with the clicks. I don’t understand why I find this so difficult – it must be some cognitive thing where I can’t process the solitary clicking noise into my beating time. My teacher suggested I start with a fairly slow beat – something I can easily keep pace with – and just let myself drift around with it, and keep going, not worrying too much about trying to stay on the pulse of the metronome. He thinks after a while I’ll naturally drift into time with it and start keeping an even beat in time with the clicks.

And to practice keeping a groove with fills for whole songs, I am to play along with random songs, and just try to keep the beat for the whole song, throwing in whatever fills I feel like when it feels like the song needs one. Don’t worry about copying the song’s drumming exactly, just do whatever I want as long as I stay in time throughout. That should be fun, at least, not like metronome work!