Month: July 2014

Dawn Surprise

The latest season of A New Dawn closed out in June with the uncovering of a mole in the organization the PCs are allied with. There are a few lessons I took away from this season.

The Value of a Side Quest

This is a supers game so a lot of the stories are resolved in combat rounds, if not actual combat*, but the mole hunt was intended to allow the softer powers to come to the fore: telepathy, mind reading, etc. There are a couple of characters in particular who were built around those softer abilities.

And those characters are always available, since we play with all characters at all times (if only to keep the experience levels consistent), but the players for those characters were not.

This is where side quests come in handy: an urgent call to action for the group on an investigation not directly related to the main action. In this particular case it was to the site of a flame-drawn instance of the taloned fist symbol which they have seen a few times around Portland when the bad guys come calling, but this one was out past The Dalles, burning in the centre of the replica Stonehenge** at Maryhill. The source of this burning fist turned out to be a copycat group rather than the actual bad guys, but it allowed a few things:

  1. it postponed the need to make central use of characters whose players were unable to attend
  2. it provided more evidence of the presence of the mole
  3. it gave me more hooks to hang later story from***

If you can manage it, it’s a good idea to have this kind of short form story in your back pocket at all times. That’s my intent now, anyway.

Sandbox It

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at this campaign is that it is too linear, and I think that is fair. I am portraying a narrative progression which the PCs are a part of, and that narrative produces a linear storytelling style.

But the mole hunt was something framed rather than planned: I knew who the mole was and I had mapped out triggers for what the mole would do at which point, but I did not write much about the hunt itself. The intent was to setup a sandbox which the players could play in.

As always, my players surprised me.

Plans Don’t Always Work

As I said, I had triggers in the setting for what the mole would do and when. Unfortunately, I failed to take account of both the players’ paranoia and tactical acumen****.

So, I triggered the mole’s escape plan after the final action to be taken. He got to the lift, but I omitted to block the stairs which meant that the super-fast characters got to the lobby long before the mole. I had an ace up my sleeve with an invisible character waiting to assault the PCs that were attacking the mole, but fundamentally the mole was utterly useless in a fight.

The upshot was that the mole was captured rather than getting away. This was not the outcome I was looking for.

Instead I have more opportunities for story, so although the session did not go as intended I think it will end up being more satisfying.

[*] the combat system in most games is really about imposing temporal structure on a situation, so you drop into combat rounds in any time-critical situation. It may involve combat, or it may just be that you need to know exactly when the landslide happens and who happens to be in the way at the time.

[**] yes, really. The existence of this replica surprised me when I first heard of it, but it’s actually rather good fun. At least you can walk around inside it, unlike the actual Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

[***] specifics, perhaps, at a later date when those stories have been played through.

[****] I don’t especially enjoy combat in roleplaying games, partly because it tends to be a very time-consuming endeavor and partly because I am not very good at it. I’m also not very good at chess.

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Running Down

On Friday, I talked about the media-consumption benefits of being horribly ill. Well, it’s not all benefits.

Half a Goal

One of my goals this year was to participate in* the Hood to Coast relay with a team from my day job. Things were going pretty well with the training, with a decent run in the Shamrock 15K and a good build-up to the Helvetia Half Marathon. I ran my twelve mile training run that I like to do before the big race, the one that is actually significantly more gruelling than Helvetia itself despite being shorter.

I was tapering, and feeling good about the race.

I fell ill less than a week before Helvetia, on the night of the Sunday prior. When I was writhing on the sofa I kept thinking “this could still work – it’ll be a 24 hour bug, and I can eat myself back to strength before the race”. That was a long night.

Even on Monday, when I started the Doctor Who binge, I was still harbouring some sincere belief that I could take part in the Helvetia run on the Saturday. I just needed to stop feeling ill and get back to eating again.

That belief was shaken on Tuesday, and entirely evaporated on Wednesday: if I was so ill that I couldn’t even drink enough water, then getting my strength back for Saturday was clearly impossible.

Even getting to packet pickup was hard. I have the T shirt, at least.

A Slow Recovery

When I could move around again, it became apparent that while I was no longer ill, I also was not recovering fast enough. I could run, but not far. My muscles were weaker, and my cardio conditioning had been completely undermined. It was going to take some serious work to be fit for Hood to Coast, with only a couple of months left to do that work in.

But there was no space for that work to occur – two months would be enough if I could expect normal weeks, but between the day job crush and my imminent disappearance for a holiday in the UK there were no normal weeks on the horizon. My plan had been to be fit for HTC before departing for Britain so that I could maintain, but recovering fitness while visiting family is not a very likely proposition.

So I dropped out of Hood to Coast for this year. It’s still on my list of things to do, but I will dedicate more of my time to getting fit over the winter so that the training will go better, and hope for an illness-free season.

Good Things

No one else I had contact with got this illness – most especially not my family. That was a huge relief.

Also, I lost weight which I have kept off – I was down ten pounds at one point but that was mostly dehydration, but I am five pounds lighter.

Not the healthiest way to begin a weight-loss programme, but it’s lemonade all the same.

The Final Straw

While we were in Britain, I twisted my ankle and landed hard on my knee – exactly the kind of injury I was always worried about going into HTC.

I hate my ankles.

What’s Next

I do have another race this year to prepare for – the Beat the Blerch half marathon up by Seattle in September. I have about two months to get ready.

Best get training.

[*] I hesitate to use the word “compete” in this context.

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The Doctor and Me

Where I Come From

I grew up with Doctor Who.

I’m just old enough to remember the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, but my doctor is undoubtedly Tom Baker. I remember his first story, battling a giant robot while he was still weak from regenerating, and I watched almost all of the episodes as they were broadcast. I was very sad if I missed an episode for any reason, and the summers seemed weirdly empty without a Doctor Who episode to watch in the evening after playing outside for the day*.

I didn’t care for Doctor #5, Pater Davison, so much and I really disliked Colin Baker’s turn as the sixth Doctor, hence I drifted away. I did enjoy Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor – I thought his blend of battiness and barely concealed menace was perfect for the character – but I was not really all that surprised when the show was halted at the end of the 1989 series.

Still, I am a fan – not to the same extent as for Star Trek, say, but I very much enjoyed the show when it was on. I even watched the Paul McGann TV movie.

A New Beginning

I was very pleased to learn that the Doctor was to return, but since by that time I was both living in the States and not subscribing to cable I completely avoided seeing any of the stories until 2010: I was treated to the Christmas special when we were visiting Britain for Christmas that year, and although I was not immediately transfixed (it was quite hectically edited, and that particular episode is really extremely silly) I could only applaud Matt Smith’s doctor for his gawky alienness.

But still, I hadn’t seen any of the Eccleston or Tennant episodes, and when people dropped terms like Bad Wolf or the Silence or the weeping angels I had no context to join in.

I started watching the first of the new season episodes a few months ago as a way of dealing with the late working I was doing – one episode at at time while I was waiting for a build to finish or while I was chewing through some repetitive testing – but I hadn’t got very far. I had just crept through the Ecclestons (so I knew what Bad Wolf was, for example) and watched a couple of the Tennants.

Then at the beginning of June I was ill. Not my usual “I’ll just work at home so no one else catches this” kind of ill; this was completely debilitating stomach flu, where I was running a fever for three days and unable to do much apart from sit in front of the telly****.

A perfect time, in fact, to catch up on my Doctor Who.

It is amazing how much binge watching you can manage when all you can do is huddle under a blanket and stare at the screen.

So much wonder.

The New Doctors

The new doctors are mostly good, I think. I’m a little sad that Ecclestone only did the one season, but still – the feeling of delight in the new that he conveyed was glorious, even gluttonous: a greedy kid in the biggest sweet shop ever. The writing was a bit uneven at the beginning and the effects were, um, a little unconvincing but the stories were as enthralling as ever.

Tennant was brilliant in the role – I can certainly see why some think he’s the best, even while he can never outshine Tom Baker in my estimation – and the sheer optimism of the stories was infectious. It reminded me of the profoundly optimistic premise of Star Trek more than anything else.

The Matt Smith stories are a bit more confused, but then Smith’s Doctor is often confused and confusing: the Ponds are great, of course, as is River Song, but the rebuild of the world so that the Doctor still has a place in it was both ingenious and irritating.

Throughout all of these I do very much like the theme that the Doctor needs to travel with a companion to keep him grounded: to remind him of what it is he needs to fight for, rather than just wandering for the sake of it.

What’s Next

I’m just getting into the Clara episodes: I’ve seen two versions of her and will watch the first of the contemporary Claras next time I play a show.

No spoliers, please.

[*] one of the truly weird things about moving to the States has been dealing with the practice of showing reruns** of episodes from earlier in the season when there are still new episodes to be shown. This was not how things were done in the 70s and 80s on British television, and so the time slot for Doctor Who would often be filled with a repeat for another programme entirely***.

[**] or repeats, as they are in British.

[***] which even in those days would usually be Dad’s Army.

[****] a level of complete shutdown I have not suffered in a quarter century.

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Song Book

The book I was working on when last I was writing was Song. In April, I wrote that I was trying to reattach to the story, the point being to finish the second draft.

Well, I reattached pretty successfully and finished the second act, but then ran into a hole in the plot which meant I couldn’t sensibly continue the drafting process in that direction*. That, combined with other problems in the draft I found during my reread, means I need to do some more detailed outlining to capture the specifics of what needs to happen.

The outline needs to capture a few things:

  • the events of the narrative
  • break down the events into sufficient detail**
  • connective scenes, for pacing at the very least
  • annotate breadcrumbs: guns over the mantlepiece, character hints, and other mechanics of making twists and turns something other than dei ex machina***.

This outline is a scene spreadsheet in which I am going to break down in the tricky bits. Much of the draft text I’ve written should still be usable, since it’s in first person (which I want to stick to) and the broad plot is still sound – it’s just some of the details which are making things grind like ill-meshed cogs. With the outline done, I can forge on with the drafting where I left off, and will fix up the first half of the story to match those portions of the outline on an edit pass.

Best get on.

[*] yes, yes, I should finish the draft – it’s the fundamental truth of NaNoWriMo – but I’ve written a lot of bad drafts in my time and I don’t want to throw away time on writing something I know I am going to discard.

[**] a deliberately slippery term, to be sure.

[***] I’m very dubious about this plural form, I’m afraid.

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Returning from an absence

The thing about a blog concerned with writing is that if no writing has been going on, then it is difficult to find anything to say.

So it has been of late: I have not been writing, and so there’s not been a lot to post about. The day job intrusion I mentioned has something to do with that of course, but I lost a lot of time and energy to a magnificently debilitating illness in early June, and then we were away in Britain for the first two thirds of July visiting family and generally seeing the sights.

I’ve done a certain amount of refilling the well in that time (even while drawing pretty heavily from other wells), and so it is time to blow the dust off here and get back to my regular posting schedule.

Thank you for your patience. I am glad to have words again.

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