Thursday, 25 June 2020

Left Hand of Darkness

The voyages of the USS Lyonesse continued this week along with its intrepid and slightly green crew (not literally). The end of the first session saw us needing to call a breakdown service as we stalled out of warp bubble rather embarrassingly on our way to DS3, a tiny presence on the boarder of the Black Cluster Nebula. Thankfully it was a flaw in one of the Dilithium crystals which required a complete dis-assembly rebuild by our very hard working engineering team. In other words not my characters fault, still if you are going to cause a sleepless night to someone it may as well be a Vulcan - they just seem to get slightly more stoic than usual.

More interestingly we subsequently set off on mission to investigate the whereabouts and or otherwise fate of the Vulcan Exploration Ship (VES) Sunak and whilst narrowly missing a space whale whilst negotiating an entrance corridor into the area we finally detected a beacon, although the crew have been experiencing some cognitive dysfunction possibly due to a wider telepathic field. It's an interesting situation and there is a nice balance between caution, discipline and risk. Curiously enough as a pilot myself the game triggers all the same sort of feelings - pilot training is rigorous, repetitive and highly disciplined so when things go off plan, the brain already has a scaffold of checklists that go to work immediately - it not only quells panic but narrows the decisions one has to take. The added advantage of a Starship is that we can regularly call meetings and re-assess anomalies which is a valuable safety net.

However as a pilot I wouldn't deliberately fly into a large black telepathic cloud which is where the intrepid Starfleet training would superseded my own I would presume. Navigating in unexplored Nebulae brings its own challenges as to the traditional left hand rule of dungeon crawling so I think it really would take a Vulcan to optimise a search pattern when flying blind - perhaps that's where the ears help.

Thursday, 18 June 2020


Not being human can be a slippery slope for a roleplayer. I have never really reflected on all of the non human characters I have played as generally speaking there always tends to be appropriate background material,  or indeed they retain a large proportion of their humanity genetically speaking. Half Orcs are basically part feral and exhibit neanderthal characteristics I feel as they tend to be low intelligence, uncooperative, strong and short tempered but what is interesting is that their general temperament still exhibits human traits skewed to different sensitivities. Vampires, like Cyborgs begin as humans but generally speaking have their empathy removed - Vampires prey on humans so empathy cant really be a trait, certainly when they are hungry and otherwise it is lost over time as their human memories fade. Cyborgs perhaps like werewolves still have a human element that is either trapped or subservient to an overriding force, being either a compromised brain or curse respectively.

As in media an audience needs a handle on a character in order to engage a story so it's necessarily a case to offer recognizable dilemmas - same for reolpleyers as a metaphorical human bone has to be tossed to a player in some form. In playing the recent Star Trek Adventures we have a range of non human characters in play including a fluorine breathing Zaranite which will be interesting. Whilst there are some great episodes such as The Devil in the Dark and Darmok where our finest human characteristics are pitched against our darker impulses the outcome is, as always with Star Trek, optimism in the finest humanistic tradition.

I think the role playing border controls stop at the truly alien characters. Cyberpunk notwithstanding, I wonder if a truly alien character is viable at all ? The handle would have to be its behavioral context respective of the other party members as there wouldn't be any recognisable psychology involved although it would have it own motivations of course.  Perhaps the outcomes become irrelevant in such a game and it becomes more about painting a portrait than changing people. It could be the case that all characters can be derived back to through evolution as anything alive must start with a drive for survival either mechanically or intellectually. I am drawn to Alex Garlands films, Annihilation in particular although playing an amorphous glowing blob might keep people up at night.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Some Re-Assembly required

This coming Monday will bring the country back to something like normal working hours as non essential shops are allowed to re-open. Actually I am not sure if that includes pubs and clubs but even if it does there will still be social distancing rules of some kind in place. The quandary for us is how we can resurrect our meetings and to be honest, I don't think there are really many options; the whole point of a role playing game is to sit around a table together and build a world in which to argue. The Belmont Railway Club always seems to be running on fumes, financially speaking, but I don't know the whole story as its a member of NARC and I would guess there is a supporting freehold covenant somewhere in the background as the building itself is Victorian and wholly owned by some entity that clearly isn't profit orientated. Perhaps it will always be there like the cave paintings of Lascaux.

More pressing are the finances of the Dice Saloon that is completely dependent on a social space. Whilst it was in transit to the Emporium on London road I can only hope that the respective landlords and contracts are flexible as its clearly a long term sustainable business despite a hopefully short term pandemic. I think its all going to come down to a vaccine ultimately as who is going to linger in any enclosed space until then.

I'm not sure what plans if any we can make and I suppose it will depend on our individual circumstances - on line play will just have to keep us all sane as well as possible for now and whilst I am beginning to get used to it, it's not a substitute although as a role player it should be theoretically possible both to run a scenario and roleplay all the characters oneself. Is this mad ? I can't tell anymore.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

History and Mystery

It's an odd one. The so called golden age of science fiction was allegedly over the war period or more specifically '38 to '45 and whilst science fiction has long grown past its moody adolescence, the early pioneers have remained among my favourite universe builders. Asimov features predominantly in my ebook collection and as prolific and scrawling as he was, he did eventually sew his core novels together into one great canon. Frank Herbert's Dune will of course always remain a tantalising epic and Arthur C Clarke worlds were novel and occasionally prophetic.

I recall the iconic artwork of Chris Foss that always adorned the Asimov covers and notably the recent Tales from the Loop from Amazon, whilst a little dry on content has a production backdrop inspired from the same visual themes and has now just been released as an RPG. Now if my memory serves the first roleplaying game didn't emerge until the 70s, namely the iconic Dungeons and Dragons of course which leaves somewhat of a mystery. So what was going on between the mid 40s and 70s ? Well the western world took its first free breath after the war of course and it must have taken a while for the entertainment zeitgeist to relax, unwind and dream. Perhaps the rise of the TV was too captivating for everyone but it seems a genuine puzzle as of course as not only do we have RPGs from even earlier works such as Lovecraft but fantasy mythology has been inspiring narration for millennia and role playing could have emerged at almost any point in history.

If roleplaying wasn't discovered then was it truly invented in a light bulb moment by Gary Gygax ? Although it likely emerged from his war gaming and subsequent creation of Tactical Studies Rules Inc could it have only have been born at that moment ? History will keep some of its secrets its seems but a mythological origin to mythological media seems somehow appropriate.