"And sometimes he's so nameless"

The One About How CJ came to LARP… Part One: The late 1970s/ early 1980’s

Tonight  I started thinking about my time in LARP – live action role playing – and what I learned from it. I doubt many people will be interested, but if you are a larper, freeformer or follow me because of my Ars Magica writing you might find something that sparks memories here.  Tonight I’m just going to write on this, even if it is self indulgent and there are much better and more important things I could write about, because I really need to get back in to the habit of writing, and because it’s fun to write about myself because I’m an egotistical maniac. :D

Playing Games

I started playing rpg’s young – Traveller was my first purchase, and I played D&D at school and then with various friends, but most notably Axel Johnston and  Mark Weston in the early days.  I was a founding member of the Mid Anglia Wargamers club along with Phil Mansfield, and also got to play RPG’s there, and in the mid 80’s sessions of the “Nameless Anarchist Horde” rpg group were regular events on a Thursday night at my parents.  Axel was  hosting his Runequest and Cyberpunk games on a Monday, and Peter Clark was running games on the weekend. RPG was a big part of my life, but I was also a committed miniature wargamer and board gamer, and indeed some of my board game designs I now realise were actually pretty good and far ahead of the curve.

Treasure Trap

However, this is about Live Action RPG, and I guess I first heard of that in the early to mid 1980’s when a company called Treasure Trap started to run adventures at Pekforton Castle – sort of D&D for real. Ever since the invention of D&D back in 73/74 roleplayers had dressed up and gone to conventions, doing what today would be referred to as cosplay. When my gaming friend James moved away to Kent, he returned a few months later (the last time I knowingly  saw him actually)  and told me about how his GM (or DM, Dungeonmaster in D&D parlance dressed up for the game in robes etc. I smiled and said “cool!” but I must admit my first thought was “what a freak he must be!”.  However, going beyond dressing up, and actually acting out the narrative of the game, moving from “rpg as radio play with an improvised script” to “rpg as full costume drama/contact sport” – that was a pretty obvious development too.

Now I have been involved with lots of strands of LARP, and for a long time now – almost 30 years – but I have noted very little interest in the origins of the hobby, and almost no attempts to write a history or LARP. As far as I was concerned Treasure Trap in the UK founded in 1982 was the earliest commercial LARP company, and the only one I had heard of. Curiously the UK roleplaying magazine White Dwarf was to my memory scathing and derogatory about Treasure Trap and “Live Action Role Play” or LARP as it became known, and I seem to recall the word “freaks” and “rubber swords” being used a bit. I may well be wrong — it has been thirty years, and while I still have many old issues laying around, I can’t locate the article or editorials in question, but when the company ran in to difficulties with accusations of financial misbehaviour and general misery in 1985 — the ins and outs of which again I never knew, and only gleaned from an often hostile gaming press – there seemed to be a note of relief.

Now maybe I’m imagining it – if there was hostility to LARP, it was probably on the part of one or two writers anyway – but I think I understood it, and shared it to a certain extent.  D&D and gaming generally had been suffering from the US backlash against the game, led by BADD and the legendary Patricia Pulling, whose son,  a gamer,  had committed suicide.  Worse was to come — Chick Publications brought out Dark Dungeons, possibly the most infamous anti-gaming tract ever in 1984.

Uni & The Dungeonmaster

If that was bad, we were all reeling from something far, far worse. It is so shameful I hesitate even now to mention it in public. Yet I must, and years of therapy mean I can now recall it, and indeed sadistically inflict it upon you. Take 20 minutes to watch this. You will never be the same again…

Yes, the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon really killed 90% of the credibility of the game.  Long before even that however, something to have a more enduring legacy had occurred.

Enter the Steam Tunnels

In 1979 a brilliant but troubled 16 year old prodigy named James Dallas Egbert III had gone missing from Michigan State University.  His parents called in Private Eye William Dear, a tough guy PI of the old school I think from his book. He however also comes over as humane, understanding and pretty liberal — and genuinely out to save hi client, the missing boy.  Dallas, as he preferred to be called had issues with his mother (according to Dear) who had very high expectations from him, but the real issue seems to have been he was far younger than anyone around him, and he was also homosexual at a time when that may have been a bit harder than today. After 30 days Dear got him back – but the media circus that erupted was very much focussed on the fact Dallas was a keen D&D player – though kicked out of the only group who admitted to playing with him for being high all the time it seems — and may have been playing D&D in the 8.5 miles of steam tunnels beneath Michigan State University campus.

Now let us be clear – Dallas was manufacturing heavy drugs, and using them, and involved in gay sex while a minor which could have got his apparently older partners in to huge trouble. The reasons for his disappearance he gave were family expectations, but he may well have had other reasons, or parts of it may have been involuntary, or, well who knows? It was a long time ago, and tragically Dallas killed himself later. His original disappearance was part of a botched suicide attempt, and later he tried again while missing. This is all awful and miserable, but it had nothing to do with D&D.  William Dear however played up the gaming angle, and attempted to play down the drugs and gay angle, and the media got very excited by those steam tunnels which it became clear were used by students to travel and play games and for darker purposes.  Still Dear had uncovered the first LARPERs – and curiously also records in his book that some people were by the summer of 1979 playing D&D on company computers after work hours by modems – putting internet RPG sessions back to 1979.

The Dungeon Master by William Dear US hardback

The Dungeon Master by William Dear US hardback

Now in the USA the Dallas Egbert case was headline news, and it was noted in the papers over here, with the D&D leads to boy vanishing spin I guess. I think many people were more intrigued by what he reported about people playing “D&D live” though. In 1984 Dear published a full(-ish) account of the case, The Dungeon Master, which is often referred to as anti-gaming literature. I have read ever one of the 402 pages and I don’t get that impression at all.  William Dear himself paid sixty bucks (so about £90  in today’s equivalent cash) to a student to run a D&D adventure for him, and narrates it in the book (high on DM fiat, sounds enjoyable though).  He has only positive things to say about the staff of TSR, the game manufacturers, and seems generally positive as do his staff about the geeky SF fans, Tolkien Society members and D&D players they interacted with.  However there was a five year gap between the case and newspaper headlines and his book coming out.

In that time an American author Rona Jaffe wrote a novel that loosely refers to the steam tunnel legends, and in the minds of those who remembered coverage of the Dallas Egbert case might have seemed connected. In fact there may be no connection — because plenty of people other than Egbert had played D&D in the MSU steam tunnels, including according to Dear professors, and his inquiries uncovered a whole subculture of “live D&D players”.  Southern Methodist University and California Institute of Technology had these proto-larpers in the tunnels there; and Dear reports “It was a seven-day-a-week vocation for some students at the University of Iowa” (Dear, 1984, p.163)

What is also interesting is the gender aspect in these larp circles. “Half were girls. Dungeons & Dragons isn’t an arm wrestling contest, it’s a mental game. The women in our group were very imaginative. It got tough in the tunnels, of course, but it  wasn’t the sort of tough that required lifting heavy boxes or duking it out with John Wayne types. The women could handle the conditions as well as any guy.”

(Dear 1984, p.158)

The DM for at least one MSU tunnel game was a woman. I have been trying to work out how the game was played – were there  live combats? – as Dear mentions other campuses where wooden weapons were employed, usually bamboo rattans at this point – but it is not clear from his text.  What we do know is this

“You could get lost very easily. And the conditions were terrible – so hot you thought your brain would boil… The DM would hide treasures, which all of us had chipped in to buy, and the person who found them could keep them.  And there’d be niches you could reach in to. You might come up with a handful of decaying calf’s liver, or soggy spaghetti representing an orc’s brain, or something equally unappetising. Of course you might find a treasure. The DM did not really have to set traps. There were plenty of those already”.

(Dear 1984, p.158)

Rona Jaffe’s book Mazes and Monsters took as it’s plot a steam tunnel game of D&D, or Mazes & Monsters as known here, that goes badly wrong. One of the players becomes obsessed with their character, and ends up, you guessed it, nuts in the steam tunnels. CBS bought the TV rights, a made for TV movie followed, that you can still catch from time to time, probably only because the obsessed boy was played by a very young Tom Hanks. ;)

It’s late, and you have plenty to watch.  Tomorrow I’ll pick up the story in 1985, when for the first time I decided to abandon sanity and head out in to the woods to play D&D live, with no real idea of what I was doing :)  What could possibly go wrong? I’ll also reveal the story of “Romeo & Juliet meet the Verona Chainsaw Massacre” the KEGS school KILLER game, and finally our Halloween 1985 attempt at playing Call of Cthulhu Live, which was extremely cool.

And yes, some of this has been embarrassing. Geeky silly sterotypes abound still today, we just laugh at them more. I rather wish my 1985 experience in Lawshall woods – or was it Hartest woods? – had even been as respectable as this video Harry posted earlier — which just goes to show that embarrassing stuff was not exclusive to the 80’s ;)

Night all

cj x

The 12 Games of Christmas — Board Games are not ALL Terrible!

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on December 18, 2013

First, Merry Christmas!

Secondly, we have all been there. A family Christmas turns toxic when someone suggest playing a board game, and Aunty drags Monopoly out of the cupboard. Now Monopoly can be a lot of fun I guess – but it is not for me. There are MUCH worse games on the market — but there are also some real gems out there, which deserve to be better know. I write games, design games, create games, and there are many that are like a special kind of Purgatory that can put you off the idea of board games for life. So today, hampered by a badly cut finger that makes typing really difficult, I thought I’d have a go at listing 12 games that you might actually enjoy playing this Christmas. I’ve played all of them, and missed an awful lot of favourites out, but seriously, these are all great games.

Hugh and Barby playing King of Tokyo

Hugh and Barby playing King of Tokyo

I’m not ranking them by quality, but by complexity and price, with family suitable and “people-who-don’t-play-games” games first. Some of these really require a serious effort just to learn, so try the lower numbered games before you rush out and drop fifty quid on Agricola unless you are already a hard core gamer. At the end I’ll list places you can get them from, as unless you have a local hobby retailer you might struggle.

So without further ado, on with the games!

Game  1: HANABI

Hanabi is ace. It’s  a game about fireworks, and making them, but really it is a game about collecting cards in sets of five, and working together to match colours and numbers. At around a tenner, and playable with 2 to 5 players, age 8 and up, you can play a complete game in 20 to 30 minutes. The cards are boldly designed and pretty enough, but this game is sadly utterly unsuitable for the colour blind, as I have pretty good colour vision and under electric light struggles sometimes to tell green from blue, and white from yellow, so if you are red/green deficient you are really going to struggle.  The rules are very short, and really it’s a sort of Patience card game where the players work together to try and complete 5 fireworks before they run out of cards or time or make too many mistakes. The catch is you can’t see what cards you are holding, holding your hand to face the other players.  It is quite hard to explain, but for a simple fun family game, I would highly recommend it.

Hanabi is fireworks!

Hanabi, a fun cooperative card game for 2 to 5 players

Game 2:  SETTLERS OF CATAN

This is a modern classic, a fun game for those aged ten up, but also Becky’s favourite game of the moment. Perhaps the biggest drawback of this game is it only works with 3 or 4 players, and while it lasts an hour and a half that speeds by.  An island is constructed of hexagon tiles, and players build roads and houses across it by collecting cards and playing them in sets. You can find this one in your local W.H.Smiths and prices are usually around £30 to £40, but honestly it’s worth it if you have two or three other people who you might play games with. I’ve been playing since 1995 and I’m not bored with it yet. My review can be found here on this blog, and you can find loads about the game on the internet.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan in play – my first edition set I think

Game 3: TICKET TO RIDE/TICKET TO RIDE EUROPE

The game that turned me in to a hard core board game player after years of not being keen on them.  Even Settlers has begun to leave me unsatisfied after ten or more years of play, when I picked up this game to take to Becky’s one Christmas. We played it at least weekly for months, in fact maybe a year, before my Agricola passion took over.  Ticket to Ride is the USA map, Ticket to Ride Europe covers –well, Europe! — and both are great games, which handle 2 to 5 players well, age ten and up I would say.  Coloured cards are a feature but the pieces and cards have symbols on so if you have good eyesight colour blindness many to be such a big issue as in say Hanabi, where the symbols are hard to describe and differentiate at a distance. However the pieces and tracks on the board are small, so be cautious and check – don’t take my word for it.  So what’s it about? Railways, and building tracks between cities! I review the game here on this blog and there is a good online version you can play free a few times to see if you like it.  Expect to pay thirty to forty pounds for this one!

Blurry photo!

Ed & Becky playing Ticket to Ride Europe one New Year at my house

Game 4:  LOVE LETTER

A ridiculously simple but clever game that uses a handful of cards and some little pink cubes for scoring. My copy came in a red velveteen bag that a friend said looked like it should contain some device from Anne Summers! Set in a court where the Princess has taken herself off to her her room after the Queen was arrested for treason, and various princes are trying to get the staff to smuggle love letters to her. You play one of the princes (or princesses I guess) trying to win the heart of the Princess, and you do this by playing special cards. For 2 to 4 players, aged ten and up this is a real gem worth seeking out. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to play, the rules are a bit complex but once you get them elegant, and it costs under a tenner, indeed maybe £6 to £8 I think. Definitely recommended.

I like this game, OK? Perfectly macho game!

Love Letter, a fun and cheap card game

Game 5: PANDEMIC

The theme of this game is utterly grim. Viral pandemics have broken out across the globe, and you play the desperate attempt to contain them before they wipe out humanity. This is one of my favourite games, and a co-operative one – the players as in Hanabi work together  to beat the game, not each other. The game supports 2 to 4 players, though you could adapt it to play it on your own I think if you really wanted. A clever game mechanic sees little wooden cubes spread across the map each turn as cards reveal where the diseases are flourishing, and you race around the game map sharing resources and ideas with other players trying to stop a cataclysm. If you work in a Path lab, or have friends with a love of medical drama, you must buy this.  My only caveat is this – buy the Second Edition.  I owned the First Edition, and the supplement On the Brink – and I have just bought the latest supplement for the game, but I then had to buy covers for all my cards as the second edition has new artwork, and so the In the Lab supplement is only really usable with second edition. Given how much I had already spent buying the first editions I was hacked off, though pleased when I found the company sell a set of cards to upgrade your old version to the new. Until that is I found out how much they cost, and that retailers don’t carry them so I’d be paying to have them shipped from Canada. Poor show, I probably won’t buy any more Pandemic stuff now, though I have covered my old cards with card protector sleeves so I can play In the Lab if I want to.

Pandemic 1st edition. Buy the Second Edition for compatibility with supplement reasons

Pandemic 1st edition. Buy the Second Edition for compatibility with supplement reasons

Game 6: CTHULHU 500

I don’t know much about motor racing, but I am a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction. Unfortunately far too many games in my opinion try to involve elements of his Cthulhu Mythos, but in this case the bizarre mix of racing cars and eldritch tentacled horrors actually works. A fun card game for 3 to 8 players with fairly light mechanics, you will need a couple of ordinary six sided dice. Definitely worth a go, if you can find a copy! I’d say the complexity level was about that of the old Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, so age 12+?

Cthulhu 500 is a fun fast paced card game which uses dice and feels like a boardgame. You need a couple of six sided dice to play

Cthulhu 500 is a fun fast paced card game which uses dice and feels like a boardgame. You need a couple of six sided dice to play

Game 7: KING OF TOKYO

Another game I reviewed on this blog, a homage to “Giant Monster ate my city” type movies. Designed by Richard Garfield who gave the world Magic: The Gathering, this is a great little family game for age 12+. with 2-6 players playing the part of Giant Monsters competing to trash a city. It’s great fun, and fiercely competitive, and while it has some small pieces and is a bit pricey at around £30 I think anyone could learn the rules if they read them carefully and the components and presentation are beautiful. Do get this one for a Christmas rampage! I have already reviewed it on this blog.

Up from the deeps, thirty storeys high, breathing fire, his head in the sky - GODZILLA!

King of Tokyo is a lot of light hearted fun!

Game 8:  DOMINION

A card game of considerable complexity and sophistication, we played this loads for a while. You need the table space you would use for a board game, and it is hard to explain except to say it is a bit like Magic the Gathering or a collectible card game, where all the players have access to the same cards.  I enjoy this one, but do think it is less suitable as a first game unless you have played some card games like Magic first.  2-4 players aged 10+, maybe even 12+ as the strategies get mind-boggling pretty fast. So what’s it about? Well you collect cards and play them to get money to buy cards to acquire kingdom cards. Yes I know that leaves you little the wiser, but trust me it’s a good game! Twenty to Thirty minutes, probably around 30 pounds.

It's a card game, but takes a lot of space

One Day, One Day, One Day, Dominion!

Game 9: 7 WONDERS

This one is quite complicated as well. Play through several periods of history building up your civilisation by acquiring technologies, monuments, armies and building your Wonder of the World! It’s again really a card game, but the hands of cards are swapped between players after each turn, and there are little game boards and coins as well, and some tokens used in scoring. A really fun game, the complexity is probably age 12+, and you need three to seven players. Takes a little while to understand and explain the rules, but once people understand the rules a good game can be played in 30 minutes. Prices seem to range from twenty five to forty pounds for this one.

7wonders

Game 10: TWILIGHT STRUGGLE

NOT a family game. GMT Games produce serious wargames in the style of the old SPI/Avalon Hill Games ones, but this is not a hex based wargame – it’s a card and map driven simulation of the period 1946 to 1990, covering the whole of the Cold War. It’s for two players, one playing the Soviet Bloc, one playing the USA and allies, and I guess the subject matter is grim — the game can end in a loss if one player accidentally goes too far and causes a Nuclear Armageddon.  However if you lived through some of those years, and have a good knowledge of 20th century history, this is about the finest three hour tense political and military game you can play I think. A lot of counters, well written and informative rules, it simulates the perceived reality of the Cold War from the perspective of the Soviets and Americans — a chilling game of brinkmanship, imperialism and real world horrors. Cards reflect actual events of the Cold War period, and doubtless some people would argue the game is in horrific taste, but it is certainly educational and makes you think.  It is a also a beautifully constructed game, giving a balanced outcome — if the Soviet’s don’t win early though they face a serious struggle to hold off the US. The Space Race mechanic is great, and how many games give you the decision to boycott the Olympics or not, hey? 1989 dealing with the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in that year is another game with similar mechanics and an equally perfect evocation of an era. If you are 30+, love modern history, and want a serious two player game, look no further. It’s a long way from Christmas jollity though!

Hugh Won!

Twilight Struggle in Play

Game 11: STAR WARS: X WING

Less a board game than a little wargame you can play on the kitchen table featuring painted models of Star Wars ships. For your thirty pounds you get everything you need to play, with one X wing and two TIE fighters.  The introductory rules are absurdly simple, and suit age 9+ I’d say for 2 players, but there is a decent little wargame in here with a lot of complexity once you move to the main rule book, and the manoeuvre rules are really quite cool.  The only drawback is you want more and more ships, and at about £12 a ship it could prove pricey, though I would say an additional fifty quid would give you enough ships to satisfy most folks, or you could just buy a second basic box set. I like this game, and it seems to appeal to the lads, but not as much to the ladies — though I am sure big Star Wars fans would love it! Definitely worth buying this Christmas, some branches of Waterstones have it in.  A lot of fun with pretty model spaceships, and only 30 minutes or so to play a dogfight like you saw in the movies!

May the Dice Be With You!

Star Wars: X Wing miniatures game

Game 12: AGRICOLA

If you know me you probably know that my current favourite game for the last couple of years has been Agricola. It works well with 2 to 5 players, though I think I play 3 player most, has difficult rules that take a lot of reading to understand, and takes an hour to two hours to play — but once you master the rules and complexity, it is a beautiful game.  I have played it a LOT – a couple of hundred games now – and it is one of those rare games that I think is improved by a supplement, in this case Farmers of the Moor.  However Agricola will set you back £50, and is definitely age 12+, though with the amount of play I have had from it it certainly has been worth every penny for me.  I won’t describe it in detail here, as I have already reviewed it on this blog, but Agricola remains as of Christmas 2013 my all time favourite game, having replaced Diplomacy in my affections.

Agricola

So Where Can I Buy These Games?

Firstly a warning. If you buy online, many of these games have supplements and expansions. If you know about the game you will recognise the difference, but there is no point in buying an expansion without the game itself. So check you are buying the game, not a supplement for it!

If you live in Cheltenham first try Proud Lion, your local game and comic shop shop on Albion Street, across the road from the back entrance to Debenham’s. Ben can advise you well, and he keeps a good selection of titles in stock upstairs.  I would certainly recommend Green Knight Games, another local business (mail order) who have an excellent knowledge of the games and are always helpful and efficient.

If not, you can try ordering from the net. Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com stock many of these titles, Leisure Games in London stock pretty much everything too, are very helpful,  and do mail order — and it is worth checking your local branch of Waterstones or WH.Smiths, where some of these games can be found.  There are of course hobby shops up and down the country, and they vary greatly in customer service – sadly I can no longer recommend Wayland’s Forge, Birmingham,  after a friend (Andy) gave the guy behind the till a sum of  money when we entered the shop and said “this is for CJ’s birthday, let him just grab what he wants”, and then when I went to pay a couple of minutes later found the shop guy had converted it to Store Credit – so I could get no change, buy no second hand goods and the money Andy had given to me for my birthday had suddenly become tied to buying stuff there.  Admittedly it was odd Andy gave him the money before I completed the purchase, but for refusal to backtrack or do anything about it I stopped shopping there, which must have cost the business rather a lot over the years. I’m still annoyed about it 7 or so years later! Of course the bloke in question may be long gone by now, so perhaps worth a try.

I do hope you will try a game this Christmas! This is by no means a definitive list, and many of my favourites do not appear, but do offer your suggestions in the comments section below, and advice on local stockists near you or games you have enjoyed. :)

Agricola is awesome!

A cheery Hugh playing Agricola. Yes it’s complex!

cj x

An Unexpected Kindness…

Posted in Games, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on October 22, 2013

A few of you may know that I write a lot for the books for the Ars Magica 5th edition roleplaying game published by Atlas Games, and that I am something of an enthusiast for the game, originating and often hosting the UK Grand Tribunal convention, running the Arcane Connection podcast and trying to get more people involved in playing Ars Magica and even creating tutorials on how to play, as well as occasionally contributing to  Andrew Gronosky’s Project Redcap and Mark Lawford & Ben McFarland’s fanzine Sub Rosa.

Over the last 14 years I have been heavily involved with the Ars Magica community, from the Berklist to the forums and beyond. By this stage a few of the fans know my name and know that I spend a lot of my free time on Ars Magica, though I’m certainlyu not one of the big names of the field. In fact, I doubt most Ars Magica players have any idea at all who I am. This made the events of today very touching, and unexpected!

Lloyd came over this evening, bring a big box which had been delivered by Amazon to my old address. Inside the box were two parcels –

Image– beautifully wrapped! The card reads — well I may as well show you!

Image

“To encourage you to further endeavours. The Secret Masters of Ars Magica”. An anonymous gift! Was it a bomb?

microphone

Nope it was an amazing microphone! Anyone who has ever listened to Arcane Connection the Ars Magica podcast knows that poor equipment has bedevilled almost everything we have ever tried to do, so this is truly a wondrous gift, better than a whole rook of Creo! And yet there was even more!

The second parcel contained this –

Image

It is a magical device enchanted to cast Image from the Wizard Torn, a dubious benefit to anyone who ever seen my Presence -5 form, and who knows that the humble monk Chretien de Roamer has the Flaw Monstrous Appearance! It is however absolutely perfect for the Google Hangout Ars Magica chats I am experimenting with, and I am floored by the generosity of the fans.

Now for the first time in several days (lot happening right now, but sadly not Ars related good things) I wandered over tothe forum and found the person responsible for sending the Amazon to deliver the parcel. Poor Lloyd! He has barely recovered, only his Parma Magica saved him from her feminine wiles, deadly sorcery and ferocious single weapon attack! (The traditional Redcap delivery would have been just as acceptable chaps ;) ). I therefore must thank Timothy Ferguson who despite my protestations for some time that I would never accept a gift or donation towards my podcasting and Ars related activity went on and did it anyway. :D I hope Timothy was not the only contributor: the only problem is I don’t know who else to thank, and with my magical supplies so short, and the Stonehenge Tribunal limit on turning base metal to gold, well I can’t hope to reimburse people in the traditional way, by silver coins.

I am humbled by this gift, and rather astonished. I did not think the podcast, forged with the technical skills of Kevin Sides who somehow keeps my PC running, and let us not forget the third member of Arcane Connection, Tom Nowell, who often bought the cat food while I bought another £3 microphone (they die frequently!). Without Tom and Kev’s enthusiasm, and all the folks who have managed despite difficult time zone issues and poor connections to appear as special guests, there would be no Arcane Connection.

I will however repay folks, or at least try, in another way. I have a project for my usual 30 days in November series for the forum — not saints this year, or hermetic Tribunal cases — something rather different — and possibly a second one. Furthermore come December I shall try and provide a little Christmas present for everyone — an adventure — but right now i’m still formatting and sorting out the pdf’s for the last one, months overdue, which goes to Grand Tribunal attendees! Assuming everything is OK over the next week or so, (I’m awaiting some news which may prove stressful in the extreme, but hoping all good) I promise to continue doing what I can to reward and expand the fan base.

So thank you very much to the chaps and ladies of the Ars Magica community, especially to Timothy Ferguson for refusing to take no for an answer, and to David Chart and Atlas Games for giving me the opportunity to keep doing what I love! I’m not a big name rpg writer, or even prominent member of the fan community, but it was lovely to be given the opportunity to keep producing stuff and reassuring that some people actually enjoy it!

So thanks so much!

all the best

cj x

The Day I Met Myself: or how I survived my death-omen doppleganger.

Posted in Debunking myths, Paranormal, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on October 12, 2013

It was an overcast day, and I was walking through Bury St Edmunds with my best friend, Hugh. After lunch sometime, killing time before our scheduled afternoon classes. I don’t know the date or even the year — and Hugh is not sure he was with me at the critical moment. I think he was a few steps behind: certainly he joined me within a few minutes at most, but I recall talking to him immediately after the experience. Memory plays funny tricks.

I can’t recall precisely what we were doing — we had I think bought aniseed balls, but why we had strayed as far as Chequer Square I don’t know. I don’t know what we were talking about, what I was thinking or feeling, or why Hugh was a few paces behind (by my memory) as I looked left down the side of the cathedral, and saw myself looking back.

Not exactly — this is the memory I have of what I saw, and Hugh confirms it is what I said I saw…

A crocodile of school kids, rather strung out and disorganised, in St. James middle school uniform, walking towards me. The sun had come out, suddenly everything was warm, and the bright light bathed the scene. They were walking down the path from the gate that leads from the left side of the West Front towards my position, between St. James Church (the Cathedral) and the Norman Tower.

And I was among them, looking at myself. I was very neat, but my shirt hung out a bit (this was always characteristic of me) and I did not appear to notice myself looking back — only myself some five or six years older, a hippy looking type with shoulder length hair and a slouched demeanour very different to this upright young Chris I was viewing.

Frustratingly, I don’t know how the experience ended, I know I looked again and I was not there, and I think I asked Hugh if he saw me, and he looked at me oddly, and I told him what had happened, Hugh says he clearly recalls me telling him about the experience, but whether it was there, later in town when he met me, or even back at the school he can’t recall. He was concerned because I was clearly very upset and “not myself”. He remembers the realisation I was ill, and that we spoke at length before I went to my afternoon English class with I think Jill Curtiss back at KEGS. Hugh wasn’t doing English – he went off to his class — but by that time I was feeling very odd indeed, and was shaking a bit, had nausea, and a bad headache.

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Our conversation revolved around the fact I thought my Middle School me would have hated my Upper School me – and now if it had seen me, the reason I felt so dizzy, “not me” and in fact downright odd might have been because previous-me was now making life changes that would result in now-me no longer existing. The fact that I claimed to have seen myself did not seem to worry Hugh – he was convinced I had, and intrigued, and I think we both thought our conversation was perfectly normal, which just shows how imaginative and odd we could be.  The fun of the whole parallel time lines/ weird Dr Who type vibe was spoiled by my increasing anxiety, and the fact I felt absolutely awful. I was by the time I somehow made it up the stairs to my English class suffering from a stomach pain, legs like jelly, and a raging headache.

Was it Miss Curtiss or Miss Daniels who took that class? Again I have no idea. My friend Gary McFegan may well have been there — but I don’t know. What I recall was I was sitting by the door, facing across the room from the windows, and the dull light shining in seemed ridiculously and painfully bright, and it slowly dawned on me I had a fever. I could not look at the window, covered my eyes with my sleeve and began to retch.

Whoever took that class, they realised I was very unwell, and told me to go to the nurse, or home, or something. I offered no explanation, and think I just walked out of school and to my grandmother’s house, only a few streets away. There I recall sitting quietly in the dark of her front room with the curtains drawn, until somehow I was taken home to my parents, and went straight to bed. I don’t know if my parents knew I was ill – mum never took or gave pills, and so I was probably left to sleep it off. I have vague memories of flashes of pink and green lights, and of a raging headache. I never get headaches. This was incredible.

I think I missed a couple of days of school, because I felt like I had been through a tumble dryer. I ached from head to foot. I felt abysmal. Yet at no point was I running a temperature, and curiously it was only last night reading a book on hallucinations I finally understood what had happened back then. I had had my first migraine.

Most of my friends who suffer from migraine seem to do so regularly — at least not infrequently. I have had three migraines as far as I know, and the next one was in the early 1990’s when I lived at Hewlett Road, Cheltenham. Each one has hit me terribly hard, but there appears to be a decade or more in between them. However I have lived with migraine sufferers, and have seen their symptoms. I never realised however that what happened to me that day was a migraine induced hallucination — I had never heard of such a thing.

I think I would have forgotten the incident, putting it down to a trick of the imagination, if I had not been so ill afterwards. Oddly, despite having spent two decades of my life working on other peoples ghost experiences, and hallucinations, and having trained in psychiatric nursing in the early 90’s for a while, I have never thought of this as a ghost, or even a hallucination. I put it down to some wild hiccup  of the mind. It had scared me badly, but nothing bad happened. Hippy Chris morphed in to CJ as we know me today, and that bizarre moment when I appeared to be seeing myself, well, it was an in-joke for Hugh and I to laugh over.

I was also frankly embarrassed. I have always prided myself on my rationality, and while I recalled a tale of Goethe seeing himself (or was it Schiller?), and probably knew even then that the doppelganger was an omen of the percipient’s death, it was easier to forget about it. I think I have told a handful of people over the years, maybe mentioned the experience in passing online, but I have never felt it “paranormal”. (Compare and contrast with my obsession with the event at Thetford Priory). Even now I hesitate to share the story, as it does make me sound nuts. The truth is of course that given the right conditions, we can all hallucinate.

So why do I think it a migraine? Well the symptoms I felt after the “vision” certainly sound like migraine to me now — though I’m no expert. Becky is making her final amendments to her PhD thesis, and is deeply involved in the mechanics of the apparitional experience right now, and I had picked up a pile of her books and was reading through them. Oliver Sack’s popular 2012 book Hallucinations was among them, and I was reading through it when I found the section on autoscopy, seeing your own body from outside, most commonly mentioned in Out of the Body Experience (OBE) research. I had noted years before the section in Green & McCreery’s classic Apparitions (1975) on what they term “autophany”, seeing one’s own apparition; and I knew the case from Gurney’s Phantasms of the Living (1886) of a lady called Sarah who alarmed herself and guests at diner one night by manifesting by the table! Strangely despite my own odd experience these cases had never really interested me much — but on reading Sacks book I suddenly realised the link between the migraine that followed the experience and my doppleganger vision.

It seems I am in good company — the great naturalist Carl Linnaeus had similar experiences, linked to his migraines according to Sacks. So did Goethe, though we know not if migraines was involved, and also Guy de Maupaussant, who wrote Le Horla. I have never had such an experience again, and in a sense I am relieved: there was a strong sense to me, however unreasonable, that my double was in fact hostile. Given I interpreted the experience in terms of a projected memory, or a timeslip — I considered both — that is actually quite odd. I quite like myself after all!

Migraine is just one reason for this kind of unpleasant experience, and a search on Google shows up several papers on the subject published in the last ten years. And yet, despite my immense love of studying the apparitional experience, and the years I have read round the literature on hallucinations to understand it, I have a curious reticence about even speaking of this odd little thing that happened almost thirty years ago.

Last night, Hugh and I, still friends and now both living 150 miles from the scene of the incident talked about it over a boardgame, and I thought maybe others might be interested. So many kind people have over the years risked ridicule t share with me or Becky or other researchers their own anomalous experiences, and I find it easy enough to discuss what happened at Thetford; that was something one could easily classify ghost, and “ghosts are OK?” in our culture I guess. So I am sharing my story, and hope it might perhaps reassure others having truly weird experiences that nothing bad came of it, either in the form of a severe and prolonged illness, or being haunted to my doom by my doppleganger. I’ll tell you what though: migraine was bad enough.

cj x

The Doctor Who Missing Episodes

Posted in Fun forthcoming events, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on October 9, 2013

This will be a short post — I’m typing it on my phone! This year sees the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and we have the anniversary special on November 23rd to look forward to. At 5.15pm on that day in 1963 (with schedules largely dominated by the assassination of JFK the day before) the very first episode was shown. A question for the Who geeks — who can name the Producer?

One curious thing this brings to mind is that by my understanding of the 1988 Act the copyright on those 1963 episodes will elapse in the UK on New Years Day 2014. What that means is far from clear to me, and IP law is so complex I’m not even going to speculate,  but worth mentioning.

Over the last year there has been a revival of interest in the missing 106 episodes. I’m not going to tell the story of how the BBC taped over or discarded the episodes either — you can find it on Wikipedia. 

In the Summer there was a flurry of speculation about some episodes having been found in Africa: then denials. It was all a major disappointment. And yet now it seems possible that it was true after all — some Doctor Who episodes have been found after all. We will know details on Thursday.

I’m no expert on this so here is some speculation. Firstly I think the BBC has probably had the material a while. We were promised “more Doctor Who than before
” for the anniversary year. We got two episodes. The only way that can equate to more Who is through the recovery and release of either missing tapes or more semi-animated stories. (We have all the sound recordings — only the visuals are missing).

So if the BBC knew they had the tapes and held them back for the anniversary — much as they delayed announcing the discovery of two episodes found in 2011 until the Missing Believed Wiped event I am told– what does that tell us?

Well the Christmas 2011 episode included references to the Great Intelligence and the Troughton era story Web of Fear (and the preceeding Yeti story). I know relatively little about Doctor Who, but it seems therefore possible the episodes found are from those stories, and the anniversary special will deal with the same protagonist. Hence they are made available before the special is aired…

Wild speculation — but fun. I should be a conspiracy theorist! I actually do not know, but on Thursday I will find out. I just thought I may as well add my tuppence tonight to all the rumours flying about!

CJ x

How I came to organise a Convention (and why you probably should too!).

Firstly, and foremost. It is all Kevin’s fault.

I never set out to organise anything – organisation and me are distant acquaintances, at the best. I rarely know what day it is; I sometimes struggle to recall the year. I find myself booked to six events on the same evening, and having failed to arrange a bus ticket to any of them. I can barely manage to dress myself, or organise getting dinner on the table. I may be the world’s most useless man. I may well live forever, as I will never get round to turning up on time for my funeral.

Well so my friends would have you believe. What my detractors would say is rather less charitable.

Of course I think I am a highly organised, very focussed individual with great project management skills. My issue is that I commit very heavily to doing stuff, unpaid stuff generally, that makes incredible demands on my time. I would argue that years of actually doing stuff, organising events and getting books written and projects completed shows that I actually am far from how my friends portray me. My persona is that of a muddle headed hippy; in reality I’m extremely efficient. They just believe the hype :)

Still, I’m the last person you would ask to organise a convention or conference. Or it would seem, the first…

It all started back in February 2007, on a mailing list dedicated to the roleplaying game Ars Magica. There was a discussion about conventions, and about how Amber (another rpg) players have their own events. And then Kevin announced yes, we should — and volunteered me.

And in a sudden fit of insanity I said yes, OK then, and that was it. I was a convention organiser…

Now Grand Tribunal is about games, but you can organise conventions and conferences and meet ups for almost anything. In this post I’m going to talk about what I have learned in my years of running events, the pitfalls, and the many positives. Grand Tribunal UK has only about 30 attendees each year – we are a tiny event – but a great deal of work goes in to it. If you happen to be interested in Ars Magica, or running a con dedicated to another roleplaying game this may be useful to you — but I hope what I have to say has some interest to anyone with a hobby they are passionate about. Image

Firstly, what was my con about? Ars Magica is a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, played round a table with the players pretending to be characters in a Mythic, slightly Fantasy version of our real 13th century. It’s been around a long time, has a very complex background and is rules heavy, and is an awful lot of fun. Players are distributed around the world, and some play on the internet, and others don’t play much at all because other players are hard to find. In Cheltenham I had built up a small but dedicated group of players, so that answers the first question for a con organiser — “why here?”.

Does Anyone Want This Event?

I knew I had a small group who would attend, and that is important. For an event like this to work, you need a critical mass of people, something I learned in my days DJ’ing. No matter what I played, no matter what club, unless you have enough punters in to actually make people feel they can dance without being watched by the other six folk propping up the bar, the night does not work. You are playing to an empty cavernous space; a few shuffle uncomfortably, others down there beer and head off in search of a more fun venue. Then a party of folks arrives, or the pubs kick out, or — well whatever the reason, you suddenly have 30-40 people in the room. The atmosphere builds. Get to 100 and you have a real night going, and people hit the dance floor.

My experience of academic conferences is that people come to socialise and network as much as listen to the speakers. I spent many an SPR Study Day or Conference standing outside in the rain talking to Tony Cornell while he smoked outside and regaled me with accounts of his researchers — the chap was probably the greatest 20th century ghost investigator, and he wrote two of the best books on the subject — do pick up this one, pricey though it is. Tony often missed lectures and official events — and it did not matter. (Incidentally while Tony developed a grave distrust of all people from Cheltenham in the field, and we stopped speaking in the mid-90’s, I learned more from him than I would have in any amount of formal talks and miss his gnomic wit and bitterly sharp intelligence, especially now he has died).

Anyway you need people. If everyone who will come can comfortably fit in a pub or living room, maybe that is your venue sorted.

First Things First

So you are going to need people to come to your event. Before you book a venue, before you write a programme, before you invite speakers or work out how to market, you need to know that you will have some people who think that the event is a great idea, and who volunteer to come, and to help out. In reality they might well not actually do either, but in this internet age starting a discussion about the possibility is the very first thing to try. Image

Assuming people are enthusiastic, you can now try and co-opt people in to your schemes, on the organising side. My first rule is “assume you will end up doing everything yourself”. No matter how good you are at people management, people have families, jobs, ill health and unexpected life events. And let’s face it, many people who will happily type away saying they will do something will then forget all about it, or spend months and years bemoaning the cruel indifferent Gods who condemned them to working on your event for no pay and precious little thanks. So with the best will in the world, organising your project roles, setting up a large committee and drawing up a set of goals, deadlines and project stages might be a complete waste of time, as these folk are volunteers. If you have paid staff, all these are great ideas — but most of us for a project of the scale I’m envisioning won’t have.

The Horror That is Dates

Next up – dates. The only thing I can really say here is that for your first event, sooner is better than later. A con a year off is too far for most people to commit to for a first event. I think we opened the doors about 3 months after the original idea was put forward. If the event works, you can plan a whole year in advance for the next one – but would say 8 to 10 weeks is the most for a first event.

A lot of people won’t be able to make any date you choose. Or rather, of your key audience, some folks will be unavailable on any given date. You will have to upset some people who already have commitments then. It’s inevitable – just choose a date and stick with it.

I messed up with dates twice, and I will reveal all, despite it making me look rubbish. The first time I simply booked the event for a weekend when there was another big event scheduled in Cheltenham – well a horse racing event. I had checked the Festival calendar, and made sure I was not clashing with the music, jazz, science or literature festivals. I chose a weekend when there were no other big games conventions in the UK I could find (easier a few years ago). Accommodation gets more pricey in town when  something big is on — and is harder to find. And then I found out there was one of the two biggest race meetings of the year that weekend – the one I had never heard of, as opposed to the Gold Cup which I obviously had.

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The second screw up came when I assigned the dates using the previous years holiday calendar, and found I had chosen a Bank Holiday weekend. Never, ever, run a little event on a Bank Holiday. It may seem an obvious choice, but a) accommodation is at a premium b) loads of big events occur then and people will go to those instead and c) many people work their family and holiday bookings around Bank Holidays. Luckily one of the delegates spotted the problem immediately, and I was able to change the dates before anyone had booked travel or accommodation. Yet neither of the people who had checked my booking had noticed the problem.

The Scope of Your Event

OK, so now you have a date, and hopefully an idea of what your event is about. In my case it was about Ars Magica, a game I had by that time written on several books for. Astonishingly parts of the fan community recalled my name and seemed enthusiastic to meet me, and I realised that getting the other authors along would be a big draw — and I found that a little odd, because rpg fans usually focus on rules mechanics and the quality of the book, and seem to pay little regard to the authors, as opposed to say Crime Fiction fans where authors become celebrities. E. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Greg Stafford, Marc Miller, Robin Laws, Ken Hite, Monte Cook — they are celebrity rpg authors, but most of us are barely noticed I think. Still I wanted the authors, and while they were spread over four or more continents, a gratifying number of the British authors signed up. And then t my astonishment two of the biggest names in Ars Magica, Matt Ryan and Erik Dahl said they were coming – from New York & California, respectively.

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A wargame at Grand Tribunal 2012 – rather unusual but fun! This is the Battle of Fornham 1173, a real world battle only with the Green Children of woolpit and witches on broomsticks adding to the chaos!

An Audience With the Authors panel was an obvious choice, and while the Line Editor David Chart could not make it (he was living in Japan)  he immediately said he would write a short piece giving advance notice of the plans for the line, secrets that could not be leaked, but would be the exclusive knowledge of the fans who made it to the event. Once he said that, sign ups increased even more. There is nothing like a big revelation to get peoples attention, as the hype over the announcement of the new Doctor Who on TV tonight is demonstrating.

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A panel of authors face the delegates!

Still I actually lacked real concrete ideas of how the event would work at this point. I knew gamers would play games if given a quiet private space, and so decided to ask the delegates to bring games they wanted to run, and we announced them as we heard about them to  get people excited. I started putting out regular announcements on mailing lists and forums dedicated to the game.

I was not going to run a general games convention or a hobby meet up, but one specifically about Ars Magica. I did not have any figures for how many people played the game, but I hoped there would be enough to provide a small but fanatical group of delegates :) By this time we had about twenty people who has indicated they were coming…

Permissions

OK, so I wanted to run a convention dedicated to Ars Magica (and other products by ATLAS GAMES). I would be referring to their intellectual properties – trademarks, copyrights etc. I had always intended to run a non-profit making and unofficial event, but it was clear to me that I had to ask ATLAS GAMES for permission. So I did, and they were happy to support us, publicize the event and dent us some free stuff which we raffled off for charity, and which proved another major draw to the event. It was all systems go…

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Guest of Honour in 2007 Erik Dahl dressed for a live action game. H elater went on to found Grand Tribunal USA inspired buy this event.

Catch 22

Except I still had no venue. With only twenty people at this point I obviously did not need a large venue, but gamers need tables, chairs, quiet and a room big enough for the live action dress up and be wizards game I now planned as a Saturday event. Many pubs have rooms you can use for free, but they expect you to drink, and anyway pubs tend to be noisy, even in private rooms. I wanted a larger, ,multi-room venue. Church Halls, Community Centres and Scout Huts were the obvious choices, but I would need one for a whole Saturday and a Sunday morning, as I expected the delegates to leave about midday.

The catch was I had no idea of final numbers, no money to pay for the venue if it all failed without incurring considerable hardship and until I announced the venue I could not really confirm the event. Also with people now coming from Norway, the USA, Germany and France I needed to be very quick, as flights needed to be booked and accommodation found. Yet I could not set the price or even confirm the event until I knew the venue cost…

I was lucky! I found a wonderful community centre at a very reasonable cost.

GT2008 art by Angela Taylor

Fantasy artist Angela Taylor’s beautiful piece for Grand Tribunal 2008

A Word On Venues

I love the venue we use, because it is close to my home, spacious and has car parking close by. Two regular attendees live directly opposite, so last minute printer hitches or lack of mugs or rulebooks can always be quickly sorted.  It’s private, clean and has multiple rooms. However…

Not all the delegates were as easy to convince as me. The venue looks very ordinary (some would say shabby) from the outside. My expectations are not those of all of the fan base, many of whom can afford to eat meat every day and own cars, houses and attend prestigious events like theatre trips that cost ten times what this whole weekend would for a single ticket. For some, the area where I live must have seemed like a real slum, and the venue not be quite what they anticipated.

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Ed Woods as Desiderius the Necromancer. Roleplayers don’t normally dress up for the games, except the freeforms which are murder mystery type games played in full costume. This is from the 2007 convention

There is no implied criticism here. I think people were just surprised when they found it was just a church hall, as they were used to big games conventions run in beautifully landscaped university campuses. I did actually end up using a room at the university on the Sunday morning as my venue was not free, but that cost almost as much as the venue had for the whole of Saturday. Universities make money in the summer as conference venues for businesses with megabucks to spend, and only using the Student Union to make the booking made it affordable at all. I did try the university again one year for a quote, but then they switched to a third party conference facilities company and the price sky rocketed out of my budget, and all my plans went to waste.

Seven years later and everyone seems to have real affection for our lovely venue. The money we have been able to donate to help the Community Centre has perhaps helped a tiny bit, but every year the custodians improve it, and they have been incredibly decent to us. I would not hold it anywhere else now.

I did initially scout out another venue, a 13th century castle with a Youth Hostel set in a tiny village, about an hours drive from my home. Eventually I gave up on the idea – while it was lovely, and had plenty of accommodation at very reasonable rates, and let’s face it delegates pay more for accommodation than any other aspect of the weekend, it is very remote, with no public transport links, another hour from Heathrow or Stansted and difficult to find. Then I discovered quite a few delegates really did not want to stay in cheap YHA dormitory accommodation, and given the lack of local hotels, I realised the venue just would not work. Several changes of management at the venue, each of whom seemed to know nothing of my previous correspondence and plans made me abandon the idea. Atmospheric, but impractical, and again the final asking price would have been many times what I finally took in ticket sales.

One thing I will say – when you get a price, get it on paper, and makes sure you sign a contract as soon as possible. Our venue have been wonderful, even reducing the price for us, but the other venues I’ve worked with have pencilled in a booking, changed managers and price structures and then doubled or tripled what they were asking. Luckily I had gone with out community centre, and could tell them “No” very firmly.

Another option was a hotel’s conference facilities. This may be perfect for your event, but a word of warning — most are designed for committee meetings, not hordes of gamers and socialising, and a single room environment may or may not serve what you want from your event. In my case it was less than ideal. Furthermore conference facilities were only at anything approaching a realistic cost if I made a block booking on a certain number of hotel rooms — and then I would have to try and dictate where delegates stayed, and factor accommodation in to the ticket. I could not see this working at all.

My advice is simple – find a small, inexpensive venue, close to your home, and use it. Ensure the venue has Public Liability insurance that will cover users, and then at least you are slightly more covered. Make sure you read the terms and conditions, and the place has decent disabled access and toilets. Try to avoid upstairs venues like the plague, as even those who don’t visibly have mobility issues can struggle with steep stairs I have found.  If you must use an upstairs room for something, make it absolutely clear. Because I took this in to account from Day One, I am delighted to say we have never had an issue with it.

Ars Magica Woodcut logo

Woodcut made by Ars Magica Author Mark Shirley for the first ever Grand Tribunal in 2007 and presented to me as a gift. Still hangs on my wall at home in pride of place!

Accommodating Your Guests

You might be planning to use a local camp site, and hope the English weather holds out. Guest of Honour like Erik and Matt we have put up in our own homes — though that is less than ideal, because you may find you have a huge amount to do in the hours before and during the event. Some people will come for the day — but many others will come a long way.

My solution was to post details of hotels, motels, B&B and camping options, as many as I could find, and to list the local Tourist Information. At least once guest stayed somewhere I later found they actually felt was verging on the unsavoury, and I made sure that place was not listed on the site. However I decided I had enough to do without worrying about accommodation, and rather than make the mistake I nearly did with the youth Hostel dorms and go for cheap and tied accommodation, or ask people to stay at the hotel I considered as a venue, it was better to let the guests chose their own accommodation and book it themselves.

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We have had people show up without booking any rooms or had their room fall through for some reason (or just missed trains), and we have done what we can for them, and no one has ever slept in a hedge so far, but they might one year. I’m totally clear that we will do what we can to help you find a room, but ultimately booking accommodation is down to the guests. However we found a way to minimize this possibility!

Oh and as an afterthought, one of the most bizarre things i ever found – the discount rate for booking blocks of room sin hotels can actually be considerably more than the cost of booking the same rooms individually. Yes, really. I was astonished by this!

Communications

It was important people could ask advice about accommodation options, transport, car sharing, room sharing, and other matters. I created early on a YahooGroup dedicated to the con, which gets really busy for about a month a year, then goes quiet. The whole community of delegates and others who can’t make this year but are interested participate, and this is where the whole thing gets put together. I strongly advise you to consider a dedicated forum thread or email list to handle this kind of enquiry and where people can get to know each other before they turn up.

I got lucky here again – Karl bought the website domain www.grandtribunal.org and kindly let us use it, and Pitt Murmann has set up a wiki that has been invaluable and allowed all delegates to add content, edit and develop the site. This year we are using a wiki developed by Andy Oakley, which is just like Pitt’s much much faster than a conventional website to update. Nowadays we also have a Facebook page, and Twitter is used during the weekend to allow us to quickly send updates to all delegates as to where we all are and what is happening.

Click here for the Grand Tribunal webpage

Pitt Murnann made us the banner graphic using an image with kind permission of ATLAS GAMES

How Much Should I Charge?

A lot of the events have put on over the years have been completely free, but I knew I would have heavy costs for this event.  I needed people to book in advance so I could pay the venue deposit, and I really did not want to make tickets available on the door as I had to know how many people were coming (actually to my delight every year I have run the con — in Part 2 you will learn about how friends ran it later on and the USA version, and the different options their experiences provide — a couple of people have arrived unannounced on the day on a whim! This is great, but hard to work with for a very structured event, but please please do come! Not everyone can plan weeks or months in advance, as I know all too well.)

So pricing. I did not want to make any money – any profits would go to charity, and in fact I have made small losses twice. Nothing serious, just a little. A few facts to consider when pricing –

1. Cover your venue costs. Obviously!

2. Look for hidden costs – tea, coffee, milk, squash, snacks, washing up liquid etc . There will be many. Put at least £20 aside for this sort of thing.

3. Charge something. If you charge people will take it more seriously. No idea why, but even a small charge makes people actually commit and feel they got something back.

4.Offer a generous range of small discounts for those with less money to throw around – the unwaged, OAPS, etc.  You will feel bad when the price you have to charge excludes some people, but try to be fair and not give away tickets. The most important discounts for those who book early, before a certain date, which allows you to know your event will work and is viable in terms of numbers and pay deposits and advance fees

5. However, be aware that a number of people, including close friends, may not be able or willing to pay anything. Some will just drop in for a single event and therefore don’t want to pay. Close friends often figure any event you put on should not cost, because they don’t pay normally to hang out with you. Most of my close friends actually do pay, but you can’t really charge the people who spend a whole week setting up, organising the event, making stuff, and running to pick people up from the station, unless they really insist. I learned this not  from my con but from non-game related events, but it is worth noting. The numbers on the delegate list may not reflect  the numbers who paid!

The problem with letting your friends come for less than cost price is that it soon becomes impossible to charge almost anyone, as all regular attendees are soon friends. We don’t have this problem with Grand Tribunal, where  I insist even my best friends pay (the only official exemption is my co-organiser and he pays anyway by putting much more than his ticket price in to the event supplies and so forth).

Unfortunately, you have to get good at badgering people. Most people are absolutely lovely though, and will do all kinds of stuff and pay extra just to help, and this year we had donations from two people who can’t come but just wanted to help out! Thanks to Pitt Murmann and David for that!

Grand Tribunal 2007 - the live action game.

Grand Tribunal 2007 – the live action game.

Moving On

In Part 2 I will discuss how it all went, and what we have learned over the last six cons, two of which were organised brilliantly in Cambridge by my friends Neil and Sheila using a slightly different model. More pitfalls and traps will be revealed, and all the fun we have had.

Finally, if you happen to be interested in Ars Magica or rpgs, larp, freeforms or boardgames, you might want to just come along. Grand Tribunal UK 2013 is taking place in Cheltenham, England from August 16th to 18th – you can email me on chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com for details, but check out the website at www.grandtribunal.org

Grand Tribunal is held by kind permission of Atlas Games. “Grand Tribunal” and the “Grand Tribunal” logo are trademarks of Trident, Inc. d/b/a Atlas Games, used with permission. Grand Tribunal is Atlas Games excellent board game of magic!

The post in which CJ wonders if he is pregnant?

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on August 3, 2013

OK, on the face of it, it does seem unlikely that I am pregnant, being a man and all, but over the years so many people have asked me when the baby is due while pointing at my pot belly a chap could be forgiven being a little confused.  That is not however the reason I ask the question “am I actually pregnant?” today. On no! I have a far stranger reason

I awoke this morning from a dream about programming, to find myself craving baked beans. Now nothing unusual about that I guess for many people  — but I loathe and detest baked beans. I’m not allergic to them or anything, and I can eat them without vomiting unlike Lisa, for whom the mere sight of them makes her green; no I just can’t stand them.

I can eat a spoonful without gagging, and don’t mind them on my plate as long as I’m not expected to eat them, but really, if carrots are Satan’s favourite vegetable, then baked beans are the droppings of Satan’s Bunny Horde, a host of hopping demons who do nothing but poop this vile orange stodge on to people’s plates.

I recall with grim horror the Bean Wars of the 90’s, when the price of a big can of baked beans was between 2p and 4p most of the time, till one supermarket just gave them away, I tried, inspired by miserable poverty, to eat them. Now it seems that the Bean Wars of ’96 have been judged as less culturally significant the Battle of the Beanfield –  no one sings about when Tesco beans were tuppence a can, not even The Levellers – but the Bean Wars had victims too. Maybe a million people consumed way too much sodium (one can is 44% of your RDA for the ones I bought today), thousands were gassed in a terrible epidemic of flatulence, and huge numbers of children traumatized by this foul orange gloop. I don’t know how the price war ended – the Bean Wars just suddenly faded away? Perhaps when Frank Dorell became minister for Health he ended the war, issuing gas marks to civilians who had to travel by tube, encouraging a Blitz spirit, and encasing millions of cans of the horrid stuff in concrete and burying it with nuclear waste?

Anyway in 1996 I was poor, and tried to live off beans. I lasted one meal. Happy to watch you eat them, but no way I am going to. ..

baked beans

Are these the vilest food ever invented? Yet  I woke up with an insatiable craving for them, and finally succumbed and actually ate them…

So when I woke up today fighting an urge to eat baked beans I was baffled, but sure it would go away. It didn’t.  It grew stronger, and stronger. My body craved baked beans. Nothing else would do. It was like giving up caffeine or nicotine, I began to feel physically unwell, so strong was the craving. I needed baked beans. In fact I was unable to concentrate, as images of baked beans stewed with cabbage and peas began to haunt me. I wanted beans…

Now there is actually one type of bean that I am allergic to. I’m not going to name it, as I don;t want to make potential assassins job easier. I also have a very mild reaction to sweetcorn, and can’t eat that. I detest broad beans as well. Even stranger, I have a strong psychological aversion to the colour orange, which actually seems to provoke mild anxiety in me. Yes, OK, I’m a freak. Yet know I was obsessed with eating baked beans.

Everyone I asked said the same thing “are you pregnant?” I had heard of women who are experiencing strange and strong cravings for odd foodstuffs – never actually witnessed it myself, but so strong was the baked bean desire I actually stopped to wonder if the Testes Fairy had visited me in the night, waved her wand and changed my sex. I still seem to be male, and I don’t have any reason to think I might be pregnant, so I’m wondering if there are other reasons for such a peculiar craving? Was I really short on salt or sugar or something?  Did my body need tartrazine or whatever E number dyes them that ghastly bright orange colour?

Anyway I finally succumbed, and bought a can of them, and consumed it with relish – well actually without relish, I did not fancy adding more tomato sauce – but with apparent enthusiasm. So yes I actually ate a whole can of baked beans for lunch, and I’m still alive, and did not vomit, and the craving seems to have gone for now. What I fear however is that they might be addictive? Even psychological dependency would be too much. I can imagine a life wandering the streets begging for coins to indulge in a bean habit, and it is not a happy picture. I ate them, devoured them even, and hopefully now I can keep them down and not regurgitate them over myself, but this is all very very puzzling.

Oh well, at least I’m not pregnant.

cj x

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The Festival Revisited (A Lovecraftian Pastiche)

Posted in Dreadful attempts at humour, Fiction, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on July 1, 2013

What follows is a very rough first draft of a short story, hacked out in three hours when I got in tonight. It’s not really a Cthulhu Mythos story – in fact it is not – but it is I hope a very very  Lovecraftian story, and a slightly weird if not horrific tale. I think it was S.T.Joshi who pointed out that apprentice writers often do bad Lovecraftian pastiches – well I thought I’d do just that, and arguably it crosses the line in to self conscious parody. I think I understand though the motifs and themes Lovecraft wrote about, perhaps better than some who do write excellent horror tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and my attempt to address those themes from a different (playful) perspective reflecting the Britain of today, and the culture I know and live within may, I hope amuse a little, though doubtless my attempt to barbecue the Sacred Cows of the Mythos will cause indignation in some, despite the fact I hope my affection for it all shines through.

The Festival (Revisited)

The Autumn term at Brichester University saw the brief and glorious sun of Fresher’s Week soon driven off by the humid dirty drizzle. On this day I was to go on a walk round the Goatswood Sculpture Trail; the slime of decaying leaves on the narrow pavements of town persuaded me to seek new pleasures closer to home. Brichester, where “variety is a life of vice”,  had to offer something better on this humid cloying evening than kicking around Non-Euclidean art strung between ancient trees in the darkest of the hillside thickets. The hills rise wild west of town, and I could imagine my dorm mates returning caked in the primal muck of those rain soaked slopes.

The drugs available just weren’t new, effective, or interesting enough; those who remained on campus seemed to drift with a listless, jaded air. Then I realised just how quiet everything was: one by one, the flitting figures huddled against drizzle or entangled in frantic fumbling embraces were vanishing, until I began to fear I was the last person on the planet. My mind turned to a film I had caught late one night on YOUTUBE, in which God had swept the faithful from Earth, leaving nothing but neatly folded piles of clothes where the righteous had been seconds before. Maybe the Devil had learned that trick?

Laughing,humming an old Blondie tune, I turned my stride to town. I went walking through this city’s neon lights, trying so hard to find what was –wrong — or affordable. The dull crunch underfoot of discarded hypos reminded me how easy it was to become lost, seeking solace in dreamquests. I cursed the carpet of decaying leaves, and turned on to some avenue of sin, face sleek with the endless steamy drizzle. Lavinia’s Sex Dungeon, all velvet ropes and musclebound door staff offered the tortures of the past reinvented as the sensual pleasures of today; I barely smiled, and walked quickly past the parade of lap dancing clubs and pretentious boutiques, moving to the town square.

For a moment the sounds of techno from the Starry Wisdom Vodka Bar tempted me. The place is a converted church, but now a student hang out, filled with joy and licentiousness where once there was only condemnation and cold empty pews. On a good night in there the spirit, er spirits, really move you, scouring away virtue and inhibitions like the paint stripper it chemically resembles.  “Blurred Lines” blared out, an anthem for a generation who observe no limits, indeed fail to recognise the very concept of limits, yet the place seemed curiously empty.

And then I saw the lights, and heard the music, and realised what I had not before. A constant shuffling, hopping crowd of well dressed adults and neatly groomed children, little Tarquins and Henrietta’s pulled by savagely right on dads clutching The Guardian were inexorably moving towards Campbell Park, where several large marquees clattered against the sulky breeze.

Brichester Science Festival! A thousand tweets had brought it to my attention, not one had I truly  noticed. If I ever pieced together the thousands of isolated tweets and emails I recieve daily, Facebook updates and texts, I would surely go mad from information overload, or become a mad cat chap, or a consumer junkie. I ignore almost all of them, even a few dozen I robotically like to establish I am still friends with folk I have not seen in years, and who make my social media a book of dead names. They exist in electronic limbo, all flesh stripped away and living, breathing, all too human persons reduced to web of electronic dalliances and fleshless poking that would do a Greek god proud. 

I was delighted. The Festival is all that is best in modern culture. The BBC, Channel 4, the broadsheets, the literati, all would be clustered here, and I ‘m happy for my mounting student debt could take a severe hit if I get to see my heroes, and maybe see a few benighted fools put in their places. I strolled up, passed the hyena pens where a lady biologist (you might know her from TV? Esme Pabham?) was breastfeeding a particularly snarly little cub, up to the Exhibition tent where an animated display from the Gilman Annexe of the great new particle accelerator showed how Higg’s Boson heralds the collapse of our current reality at some unspecified future. I moved around fantastic videos showing the heat death of  the universe, the Big Crunch, and some daring work on possible evidence of impacts with with other universes, alls mashed together like a shapeless conglomeration of bubbles,  and smiled brightly at the display on branes and the eleven dimensional universe.

  I’m no physicist, but I take reassurance that everything one day must inevitably end, just as my brief human existence will. All around me stand a crowd of hungry ghosts, who don’t realise what they are yet. Everyone of us is an apparition; we all appear briefly, haunt fleetingly those locations we wander blindly through all the days of our lives, madly acting out our passions and trivial desires; and then one day we fade away again in to nothingness as the cosmic cock crow calls in the daybreak of our deaths. There is something of the ghost about us all. “Even this must pass away”.

I cursed the fact I had missed the live recording of my favourite radio comedy show, you know the one  that  combines up to the minute science with a panel of wits mocking the benighted and bewildered the superstitious and the naive. Oh Brave New World! I am glad that I was born in an age of reason, of progress, of optimism – an age of “Whoosh!” to use the term H.G.Wells used to describe the halcyon era of scientific progress that was the Edwardian age. Sod it, I missed the show, but I could catch the panel later for the talk about Darwin, and how he saved us all from ignorance by vanishing forever the wicked mythology of purpose and meaning. So what could I get in to? Everything was packed?

Then I noticed a few pamphlet wielding cultists, their minds mired in ancient mythology, adherents of that cursed book of lies and bigotry, whose very essence corrupts and enslaves men’s minds. Clutching their King James Versions like wards against reason and sanity they were being escorted off the site, having apparently tried to preach their venomous Bronze Age mythology to the Great Man himself, the Professor. The Professor is Cambridge Chair for the Public Understanding of Futility, one of the greatest writers on Evolution, the mechanistic universe, and the bigotry and intolerance of (and need to do away with) religion.  He won’t debate Creationists, or Faith-Heads, won’t have any thing to do with them, or even acknowledge their madness. “They thrive on the oxygen of publicity” as he had written in one New Scientist piece – he denies them that. And why would a man of Science wish to even discuss the terrible mythologies of some remote, savage past?

Now they were thrown out I saw my chance – “room for one more?” The security guy shrugged and let me through – after all there were seven more seats now. “Jesus Freaks” he muttered, with an admirable contempt, spitting after them. “Hurry up lad, the Prof has finished on why Evolution shows human life is meaningless and is about to show the Total Perspective Vortex film”. I nodded in glee, and ran in, joining steamy crowds of enthralled students, cord wearing academics and pretty much every middle class resident of the county, and hundreds who had flocked here from every nation to hear the Truth: that we are cosmically insignificant specks of life on a tiny backwater planet, nothing more than a pale blue dot, no a grain of sand, no not even that, the tiniest speck of dust, in an immense universe of trillions of galaxies.  I am pretty sure those were the Prof’s words, and seeing this swarthy joyous man of languorous athleticism declare it, the whole tent exploded in strange joy, applauding our complete absence of meaning, and his utter dismissal of all human values as embodying more than relative truths. All our morality he explained, is nothing more than comforting lies we tell ourselves to hide from the facts.

There was some commotion at the back of the tent, and just as I was expecting more bearded sandal wearing cultists to start singing choruses, I was surprised to see two of the lady biologist’s hyenas bounding on to the stage. The Professor looked at them with disinterest, and suddenly the wild beasts fell on their stomachs, fawning in some strange exultant terror as they crawled forwards, and then reaching up their ugly muzzles, their rough tongues caressed his hands. A little girl in front of me wet herself in sheer joy, and clutching her cuddly Cthulhu tight in mingled ecstasy and embarrassment , cried out out to her spellbound mother “It’s all meaningless mummy! The doggies know it and they worship him! None of it matters!” 

Then I saw the Preacher. Most students know him – not the Chaplain, who exemplifies what is best in the Anglican tradition, lacking all conviction like most of his ilk – no some wild pastor of some cultish house church up in the hills, teaching ancient myths with a power to damn from that accursed book, always in the terrible English translation of Tyndale, or perhaps the vile Authorized Version of King James. It was his ilk who burned the witches and his heavy brow and dark beard testified somehow to the wife-beating chauvinistic soul that burned within his black and ignorant heart. He stands most market days by the cross, calling out for us to repent, and turn away from sin and embrace his dead-yet-living God.

I had as  a young boy taken a peak within the accursed Gideon’s Bible; in later years I  had sought out for my amusement and kicks such terrible blasphemous works as Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, a Roman Catholic missal, and the asinine but creepy works of Francis Collins. At night I had laughed at these old collections of mumbo jumbo and fractured remnants of a long dead myth cycle, yet while some I know could study this stuff, at least through the rational lens of Robert M. Price or the demythologizing gaze of Bultmann, I could not ever read those old awful stories without a shudder.

And this wild eyed fanatic now gazed straight in to my eyes, and said “we must leave – now!” I looked upon him in shock: something in the terribly earnest way he said it made my blood run cold.  “No” I retorted “the Professor is about to show his multi-media presentation; after that he will show us Science experiments and tricks with electrical apparatus – I do not fear truth, science or knowledge, unlike you!” The Preacher just laughed, and said “keen to hear his big announcement? They have found a tenth planet, behind Pluto. God made that as surely as he made everything else. I know because the Holy Spirit told me. Now let’s get out of here.” Trembling, frothing with anger, I somehow allowed myself to be led out, even as the opening slide exploded in to a Crawling Chaos of the Cosmic Microwave Radiation Background, and the exultant crowd oohed and ahhed like it was a firework. I passed out in to the night, a cold refreshing rain now washing my face clean of the sweat and grime of the marquee.

I was ready to strike the Preacher; yet I have always sought after strange and uncanny corners of human knowledge, and it seemed I may as well listen to that this crazed mongrel had to say. I allowed myself to be walked to a pub, and looked disgusted at the cheap gassy beer he bought (without as much  as a wink at the rather pneumatic barmaid). As he settled opposite me I gazed at him in mingled pity and disgust, this sinister death cultist of a barbaric Levantine mythos. “So you are proud of your ignorance?” I spat at the fool.

“Ignorance?” he laughed with horrible sincerity “The Fool has said in his heart there is no God. Psalm 14. You think I, who believe the universe is alive with meaning beyond dead matter and soulless voids, am the ignorant one?”

I snorted. “Science has shown…”

His rejoinder was fast. “Science? What do you know of science? You think our science can approach truth? Why? Why can we even rationally understand the Cosmos? How can we know anything? What makes our Natural Laws of a nature for our fragile human brains to comprehend?” A slow smirk crossed his saturnine bearded features, his sharp white teeth glinting through the froth of his beer. “Is Truth something that adaptive advantage would select for? Why if we are evolved creatures should Cosmic truth, and real knowledge be important to our ancestors in the struggle for survival?  Did they help us in the savannah when a sabre tooth came a prowlin’? Course not.  Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never bought Natural Selection you know. Despised it. Let me read you something he did write though…”

He reached in to that blasphemous book of fables, whole passages underlined in heavy pencil, ancient formulae shaded in a dozen highlighters, whole passages ringed with exclamation marks. To my relief he uttered not one of the hoary old formulae, but took out a crumpled piece of ancient newspaper.

“The teleology which supposes that the eye, such as we see it in man, or one of the higher vertebrata,  was made with the precise structure it exhibits, for the purpose of enabling the animal which possesses it to see, has undoubtedly received its death-blow. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that there is a wider teleology which is not touched by the doctrine of Evolution, but is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of Evolution. This proposition is that the whole world, living and not living, is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite laws, of the forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed. If this be true, it is no less certain that the existing world lay potentially in the cosmic vapour, and that a sufficient intelligence could, from a knowledge of the properties of the molecules of that vapour, have predicted, say the state of the fauna of Britain in 1869, with as much certainty as one can say what will happen to the vapour of the breath on a cold winter’s day …”

I laughed. “So Huxley was a fool, who could give up the old superstitions, and accept the Cosmic Insignificance of man, and the loss of all meaning in the face of a hostile and amoral universe. Why I know enough to know that Alfred Russel Wallace was a Spiritualist – do you expect to entertain me next with table turning?”

The preacher laughed again, in an unsettling way. A deep baritone laugh, that seemed to have far too much of the human in it. “And Lord Kelvin told Darwin his evolutionary theory broke the laws of physics; and was quite right too – until we understood Fusion. Just wasn’t enough time in a solar system when the sun was a hot ball of burning gas. Scientists rejected Darwin in his day because ‘ya cannae break the laws of physics’ – did you know that boy? No you didn’t because you have rejected your heritage, your grandmother’s prayers, your pious forefathers for a mess of pottage. Yet I can tell boy, you are one of us – saved by the Blood. That was why I had to get you out of there. His Blood has anointed you; you are one of the few, to be sure.”
 
I spun in sudden horror. My mad old gran, still in her dementia rabbiting on about the Good Lord, and the Book, and saying she would pray for me. How could he know? How could he know I came from a  long line of clergy and pious do-gooders, who had brought their madness and the flame of the Inquisition to who knows how may men and women of Science in the benighted past? Did some trace of this ancient madness still run in my genes? Was that what I felt my pulse racing now, felt the blood pounding in my ears?

“How do you know the world was not made in seven days, boy?” he snorted. “If almighty God had done it yesterday, you would be none the wiser, if you were created with all your cocky ideas already in that addled head of yours?” There was something terribly familiar, haunting, about his way of speaking. I found myself nodding a quick assent. “Ok, Ok, so philosophically – yet science tells us…” I retorted, sensing I was losing the fight. Yiy can’t argue with the true cultist – all their sanity is gone.

He once again laughed, and placed his hand in my shoulder, in a manner that awakened dim ancient memories within me, of days long dead, of meanings long forgotten. “Science is founded upon Natural Law being consistent and observable; it can’t deal with violations of Natual Law, because if so all our so called Science would fall victim to the Problem of Induction. The barmaid is Irish: we observe that. Are all barmaids Irish? No. Yet we generalise from our experiments to assume the whole universe works on the same Laws that apply here. We assume God can not suspend arbitrarily our natural laws, despite that being exactly the quality a Creating Being outside of Time & Space would logically possess – the ability to suspend our law, and reprogram them, as surely as a programmer can reprogram say Grand Theft Auto, or mod it so cars are invulnerable or fly without reference to the ground? Methodological Naturalism is an axiom of Science – that it can say nothing of the supernatural, or of God. To say there is no scientific evidence for God is a tautology”. He leaned closer, and I could smell the beer on his breath, feel the sweat of his awful earnestness.

“You know who he is, the Professor? H.P.Lovecraft knew, he saw it, as God revealed it to him – and being blinded by his atheistic fervour he misunderstood it all. This was his dream – he fumbled for a moment, and drew out another piece of yellowed paper from his ancient Bible. Gazing fondly now it seemed upon me, he read in hushed tones…

“I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.”

“That is your Professor: Nyarlathoptep, the Bringer of Strange Joy to Yuggoth. Oh he is a clever one, and all the world will embrace his gospel of Cosmic Insignificance, and the loss of all Human Values in the face of an Uncaring Universe — but you won’t, because you are one of the Chosen, saved by the Blood of the Lamb.”

And then he leaned forward, though open that accursed Book, and slowly read the couplet sometimes attributed to the mad visionary, John of Patmos, and as he said those words, a terrible thrill ran through me, as if I heard them for the very first time

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and I am the life: whosoever believeth in me, though he perish, yet shall he live”.

And then I saw the watch he wore, the one given to my Grandfather on his retirement in 1968, and I realised in that moment that I was of his flesh, and that I accepted the truth of the Gospel. I fell on my knees, saved by the blood that flowed on the Cross, and made a vow to rectify my life, and called out for forgiveness. My whole past sinful life was suddenly a horror I can not and must not recall, as I was born  again in that joyous moment.

He gently took me by the hand, and led me out in to the cold rain of that Autumn Brichester night, and  together we cried out praise to the skies  in a strange tongue. Slowly, overhead, without any fuss, one by one the stars were coming out. and each one sang out the old, old song of Glory to the Maker of the Heavens and the Earth, the eternal music of the spheres that our petty human Science can never, ever, comprehend.
 

Do the Rolling Stones still matter? Watching Glastonbury on TV

OK, I know you can’t review a gig you only saw 45% of, and that on TV. (The BBC screened 9 out of 20 tracks in the set they performed last night). I know you can’t understand the Glastonbury Festival experience while sitting at home on your sofa fending off hungry cats and distracted by texts from friends. Many of my friends are at Glastonbury as punters or working, and I’ll doubtless hear more when they get back;  I’ve never even been to the Festival – been to Glastonbury and Pilton many times, and climbed the Tor and explored the abbey dreaming of Frederick Bligh Bond, but never seen a band there. (In fact just had an idea for an offbeat rpg scenario – is it a coincidence that the excellent Michael Eavis first name is actually Athelstan? Combine the Festival’s founding with Bligh Bond’s communicators and you have a really way out plot for your players to explore? Obviously I don’t really believe the festival is run by the monks who found Arthur’s grave! :D).

I’m not even going to try and review what I did see – for the record, I guess it was an OK performance as the Stones go these days I think, good in places, excellent in others – Start Me Up was perhaps the highlight, though one of my least favourite Stones tracks, and the two encores were great performances, and none of it was to my mind poor, but then I’m neither a huge Stones fan nor a critic. It was enjoyable stuff. I’m glad I actually sought out a TV set and watched it, something really unusual for me (watching TV that is). I trotted out all the old jokes on my FB account, about Mick have “childbearing lips”, the usual tosh — and a few of my own, which I am probably not proud of today. :)

I watched a bit more of the Festival – was stuck on the sofa so saw  the whole Example set shown on the Beeb, and it was actually I thought possibly better than the Stones. I’m no Example fan – I knew two of his songs off the radio, have been told he is a “cock”, and was utterly disinterested, but actually after watching a lot of “meh” bands it was a breath of fresh air and I actually started to pay attention. He is undoubtedly a colossal cock – not as an insult, but in the sense of a metaphor — strutting like a rooster, a bit laddish, and generally a braggart “satisfied with his endowment” to quote the PPI mis-selling ads.  I thought he was actually one of the Festival Highlights, which given my lack of enthusiasm normally for this style of music is saying something. He will go far.

Obviously I did not see Public Enemy – I’m told by many (but especially Greg Carter) their set was excellent, so I’ll check it out. Which leads to the obvious question – if I was there would I have gone to see the Stones, or Public Enemy? I don’t know. I think the Stones, because ,,, well why?

An incredible number of people wanted to see the Stones. Yet a friend of a friend posted something really true on Facebook last night, which I hope he won’t mind me citing here

I’d like to see the country’s major rock festival headlined by a band that I’m too old to have heard of or care about.”

I’m 43 – when I was old enough to first really pay attention to music the Stones were already 20 years in to their career. Brian Jones had been dead  a very long time, and until I moved to Cheltenham and saw his grave I knew little about him beyond seeing footage of Mick releasing white butterflies at the concert in Hyde Park. The Stones had always part of the music playing on the radio, and I loved and still do the dirty fuzzy musky and violent sound of Satisfaction, but I always thought of the Stones as a 60’s band – I knew they were one f the biggest acts of the 70’s and 80’s, but in my head that was all inferior to tracks like We Love You, which is still absolutely stunning today, at least if green carnations mean anything to you: not till maybe George Michael did Oustide did anyone take “the mick” quite like this of as court case in a video…

OK, OK, I guess I liked the Stones a lot more than I realised! Still do the Stones still matter? Obviously to the fans, immensely. To the British Music Scene? Almost all the commentators I have seen mention them have also mentioned The Beatles, and I can see why, but it immediately makes me think of the Bowie penned Mott the Hoople lyrics from All the Young Dudes

And my brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones
We never got it off on that revolution stuff
What a drag; too many snags

So maybe there is a clue there;

even as late as 1972 the Stones are seen as revolutionary: they were also seen as irrelevant to a new generation. They reinvented themselves, and proved they were relevant. I’m not really surprised, but they were never as overtly radically counter-cultural as the US bands like Jefferson Airplane

All your private property is
Target for your enemy
And your enemy is
We
We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves

- Jefferson Airplane, Volunteers.

Nope, the Stones in the late 60’s always struck me as exemplifying not so much working class macho bravado or political outsiderism or even psychedelic politics, but the intrusion of those themes, those motifs, those forces, in to the Establishment, The Stones took rebellion right in to the heart of British Society, and with the busts, arrests and cases won popular support I think. As outsiders the Establishment eventually come to lionize, I think they are a classic example. Only Amy Winehouse has perhaps achieved this so completely in recent years: Kate Bush, The Cure and Nirvana in previous decades. I think the influence of the Beatles and the Stones was actually primarily not in music, oddly enough, but in Society as a whole.

And they are Iconic – even if they were absolutely awful last night, to see the Stones is like making a pilgrimage, or seeing a filthy hermit in a cave levitate – you go do it because you must. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, (and again arguably The Sex Pistols)– rock dinosaurs maybe, but people who changed the world. Even if they were utterly crap, you need to be able to say you saw them. (I didn’t; and haven’t. I wish I was at Glastonbury watching PIL now though!)

I guess I think the Stones are bigger than the music now – and therefore perfect Glastonbury headliners. You may well disagree strongly though, and I’d be interested in your comments. Still I can make a strong case the stones are a myth, a metaphor, and the music less important to our current musical scene. Let’s start with …

or

And if you hate the Stones? Well I think Cher Lloyd in this track, that I described at the time, rather cruelly as “more Merkin than Wigga” says it all… ;)

cj x

Scandinavian LARP/Freeform in England – A New Approach?

OK this post is about one of my hobbies, games, and more specifically live action roleplaying games and Freeforms. I’ll return to my usual subjects soon I expect, though my blog is always a bit of a hodge podge of whatever is interesting me today. If you are interested enough to read on, I must say I’m not really going to explain Freeforms and LARPS except to briefly say they are games in which you normally take on a character and try and solve a plot or scheme your way to a mystery, while dressing up and acting with other players, There is a very useful page here if you want to learn more.

The UK freeforms scene maintains an active mailing list community, and there is also an annual dedicated convention called Consequences in November (which I heartily recommend)  where many games of this type are run, though they also occur at other UK RPG conventions.  Freeform seems to have arisen out of tabletop roleplaying games  in various countries and at various times, and the history of the genre is both complex and contentious, but the UK Freeforms community have determined a particular style and tone of game, though with cross-pollination with US based freeforms *where the form is often called Theatre Style Gaming).

Today however I’m going to talk a little about Scandinavian LARP, which has evolved its own distinctive styles and emphases. I’m in the unhappy position of knowing almost nothing about “Nordic LARP” despite being a Dane living in England – almost all of my life has been in the UK, so I really can claim no special knowledge, and absolutely zero practical experience. Luckily my Danish name and occasional mutterings about Scandinavia obviously gave long time LARP writer Nathan Hook the wrong idea, and he invited me to a very small event to explore Scandinavian LARP ideas in Bristol a few weeks back. It was a very exclusive event – on the day I was able to attend, there were only four of us present, including Nathan!emsworth

I have only played two of Nathan’s games before – a short and excellent little scenario called “And Not To Yield…” he ran at Grand Tribunal the Ars Magica Convention many years back now, which I enjoyed immensely, and an earlier Ars Magica Tribunal based game in Bristol which I think it only fair to say I did not, sometime around the turn of the Millennium. I took a lot more form the game I did not enjoy as much though: mainly my conviction that Tribunals are very dull settings for Ars Magica adventures, and that in turn led to me experimenting after a couple of tries at running Tribunal based freeforms (basically big meetings of wizards)  in doing something different, which I finally managed effectively with my “Puck’s Dell” freeform.

I don’t know Nathan well, despite the fact we only live fifty miles apart, but I did buy and read through his first book on Psychodramatic roleplay, The Green Book. I was actually quite surprised by it: whereas “And Not To Yield” is for as I recall seven characters and a GM (referee), most of the scenarios in The Green Book are I think best suited to 2-4 players. I normally write freeforms which feature between 15 and 30 characters, though I have written a few for ten or less players over the years, and modern classics of the genre like Sword Day and The Linfarn Run  have shown small freeforms can be extremely exciting, engaging and immersive. My earliest LARPS (1985-2000) were not freeforms, they took place over a weekend with a whole county often used, a dozen or more locations and up to 24 non-player characters and were Cthulhu Live style games, which drew heavily on RPG motifs – they only had 5 or 6 players, and while Fest style larping nowadays often seems to involve a thousand people in a field, I am now personally exploring writing my first Freeform for 30 – 40 players (more on that later).

So I have played a wide variety of LARPS (never been to a Fest Larp like Maelstrom or Empire though). I play almost entirely freeforms nowadays, and know little about what is happening in the UK scene outside of freeforming – though there is a handy calendar here.

I actually know almost nothing about Nordic Larp, apart from the fact it is very diverse as well. Years ago I read the Turku Manifesto, a document that emerged from Finnish larp/rpg – and almost everyone I knew who read it was outraged by it. This actually made me smile – I am as some of you will know a great admirer of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, and the whole point of an artistic manifesto is to make a bold hyperbolic statement and spark controversy, discussion and reaction. Turku did this, but by the early 2000’s rumours were emerging of sex, drugs, mechanical dragons and girl-whipping dwarf-baiting orgies of Bacchanalian debauchery being spawned in Scandinavia with incredible budgets and incredible pretension in the name of Art and LARP. I have no idea if any of that was actually true, but it sounded like I should return home and take a look!

Unfortunately in my current situation I am about as likely to make it back to Denmark any time soon as I am to the moon; for more than a decade now I have planned to go and see Knudepunkt  (or Solmukohta, Knutepunkt, Knutpunkt, depending on which country it is held in that year) and become debauched, depraved and … sorry, explore new perspectives in LARP. I was vaguely aware as I say that Nathan Hook regularly attended for the last decade or more the Scandinavian con, but I don’t actually know Nathan all that well, and I would need some money to make it. So every year it has been put off, and maybe one day I will go. My morbid fear of flying meaning I insist on taking the Harwich to Esbjerg ferry will not help either – DFDS, no matter how much I love it, is not cheap.

Knudepunkt is a very large Scandinavian freeform/rpg event that has been pushing boundaries, exploring game theory and having all kinds of fun events run at it since I believe 1997. It’s important enough to have its own Wikipedia article, something Consequences probably should have, and the impressive list of books and publications there will tell you far more about Nordic LARP than someone as ignorant as me ever can. There is also the splendid sounding Fastaval, about which I know even less!

Back to Bristol

Let’s return to the main plot. So a few weeks ago I had a quick trip to Bristol, to learn more about freeforms influenced by one particular form (some might say “brand” of Nordic LARP) that Nathan is interested in: the Jeepform. I am not Jeep — I know nobody in the Jeep, and I make no claim to  have more than a very cursory idea of what the Jeepform is, gleaned from reading the webpages.

I noticed when Nathan talked about the people involved that day he did not identify any of us, so I won’t either. (This was not because of utter depravity – in that respect alone I was disappointed!) Suffice to say there was Nathan, I, and two more charming folks, one chap and one lady, both of whom had far far more experience than I of these things and who had attended Nordic Larp events. I get the impression Nordic Larp is more youthful than most English Larp, and less an umiddle aged & middle class pursuit than it is here in the Freeforms community. That may be an unfair judgement of both communities though, and certainly there are exceptions all over. The uK Freeforms community have all sorts from diverse backgrounds, but our manners are quintessentially English I feel, and our outlook rather conservative with a small ‘c’. I was a bit worried I might be drugged, emotionally scarred and forced to sit through the Freeform equivalent of Derek Jarman’s Blue

One of the things that concerned me was the concept of “bleed”. 

Sure art should effect one, be transforming, invoke epiphanies, challenge values, and radically shift ones perspectives. It is why I find art uncomfortable but stimulating. I like to be challenged. I am however aware that I can be negatively effected by things, and upset, and that a movie or play can effect me for days: so I was really not sure about “bleed”. Surely of the boundaries between me and my character were blurred, and game entered life, then I was not playing a character, but being me? In the UK tradition good character roleplaying is often defined as being a completely seperate persona to your normal character, and the idea of letting the to carry over – anyway I may be misunderstanding bleed. Go look at the definition.

Also Nathan and I have both professionally been involved in working in therapy/counselling type settings (as practitioners, not clients) and I had a vision of something between Encounter or Rogerian therapy and Performing Arts Workshops – Psychodrama meets Art. I had strong reservations, because the UK emphasis is on a game as fun, not  a game as art or psychodrama.

Maybe because I’m crap at it (more on this in a while) none of this really came up at all. On arrival I listened to the others discuss the influence and scope of the Jeepform as one type of Nordic Larp for a while, and they made me in my utter ignorance very welcome. I mentally resolved one day to seek out the Jeep, and learn more. (As I say, I had read the We Go By Jeep site – I think my sole criteria other than an accident of Nationality for my invitation to Bristol by Nathan!)

Now for a quick summary of some of the things I learned. I had recently run a game with multiple players playing the same protagonist at different life stages – that seems to be a similar approach to some of what we did. Traditional ownership of characters was discarded, and in the first game we played the various discrete scenes saw me play the main protagonist (and everyone else play him too) and his Father, his ex-Wife’s solicitor, his mate down the pub, a Cafe owner, and a number of other roles.

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There were no character sheets, and only the main protagonist who we all helped define was established before the game started, and that by us each contributing one theme — “wannabe musician”, “wants to be though wealthier than he is”, “lone parent”, and “social life based on online communities” were the defining traits we came up with. All other characters were improvised on the spot, invented as needed for play as we went in a fairly fluid dynamic.

The scenario, Black Dog, is about depression, which Nathan understands in terms of loss of self-identity. We each played Tony in three scenes (there was no GM), and played other people in his life in the other 9 scenes. Each scene was a snapshot of something assaulting his sense of identity, and challenging one of the above traits. We negotiated what they would be about before playing the scene out: there was far more “Out of Character” time than I am used to in a normal Freeform, where a unity of time & space is normal and a game proceeds in roughly real time, chronologically, and in usually only a single location or a few locations represented by one room. We were able to move backwards and forward in time, to explore the emotional impact of a particular scene, or how something came about. Tony could give voice to internal monologues so the others could see what he was thinking. In practice I think the events depicted took place in a short period of only a couple of years, and they were, perhaps unfortunately screamingly funny at times, despite involving bereavement, loss of custody over his child,  breakdown of his relationship, criminal charges, loss of his home, public humiliation and career collapse.

I say unfortunately because a response like this according to Nathan, where we found black humour in awful situations I see all too often in real life here, in the lives of my friends and community, is a very English (and perhaps US response). I don’t want to get in to stereotypical jokes about gloomy Scandinavians (if you want that see my earlier blog post on why ABBA was a goth band), Lars Von Trier, Ingmar Bergman or Lukas Moodysson – I am above such things – but I did suggest that perhaps us Brits, the English at least, use black humour as a defence mechanism. (See British TV Comedy for countless examples over the decades)  Making light of the awful prevents the horrible emotional scarring we might otherwise endure, so we put a brave face on it and develop a Blitz spirit of the blackest humour? Sure, we might not engage in the way Nathan thought others might, but one must  have a heart of stone to sit through all this tragedy without laughing! (And from my father and the other Danes I know, I think they would find it just as funny as any Brit). Besides, laughter is a very real emotional reaction to it all. 

So what did I think of the game? Very simple mechanic used to set up the scenes, enjoyable, and quite probable to act as a Trigger for all sorts of emotional catharsis or a truly horrible time. I really enjoyed this, one of the finest games I have played, but I can see it being the stuff of some players nightmares. With people you know well and trust, in a relaxed mood, it may be safer – for me playing it far from home in a fairly anxious state (I had just left a friend seriously ill in hospital)  with 2 complete strangers and the sinister Mr Hook made it all the more fun. I missed the second day when they played a game about Genetic Illnesses – perhaps just as well as that might have effected me more at that point – but Black Dog, which is in The Green Book 1 is a superb introduction to a very different style of freeform.  It did not change me as a person at all as far as I can see, except to open me up to new possibilities in Freeform, and how the Jeep approach can liberate us as authors to share the creative process and engage players in a different way.

My biggest complaint about Black Dog was it felt less like a game and more like a psychodrama improve workshop in places – yet actually no, it also felt like a game. To work, all the players have to throw away comfort, inhibitions and go for it I suspect – but I may be wrong. I don’t know yet!

The second scenario Crossed Roads was far more “game like”. Again we defined our roles – a young lady who had to make three difficult life decisions, and her three advisers, one of whom offered her advice based upon following her dreams and spiritual/aesthetic/artistic values, one sensible/pragmatic/prosaic values (the most disturbing line spoken by  another player in the game was “aborting your baby is the pragmatic & sensible option” I think, but a lot of this stuff was hard hitting) and the other player, who happened to be me in this scenario, had to offer advice based on the best for the lady. All the advisers had limited knowledge of the likely results of the decisions results in terms future outcomes which were assigned by cards.

The catch was she did not know which adviser was which (nor did we, the roles were assigned secretly) and had to make decisions based upon how we roleplayed out the scenes. The first scene (should she go to stage school or stay at home and get a job in a bank) defined the whole set up, and introduced various characters who while they did not appear were frequently referred to, like the unfortunate Aunt Doris). We say the protagonist leaving home at 18, pregnant in her mid-20’s, and deciding if to send her teenage son to stage school many years later. Ignoring my sensible advice, and indeed at times refusing to really tell me what the decision she faced actually was, but skirting around it in the way all children do when parental guidance is utterly unwelcome, her life was an unmitigated disaster, and superb dramatic performances by the lady and chap from London made this an immensely pleasurable and memorable game. It was absolutely first rate, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone, if they feel they can handle it.

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We all have triggers that can deeply upset us, and you are I think it is supposed best to play through them and stay in character if they arise – I don’t know for sure, ask Nathan, or read the Green books, or look at the website of other Larp writers – but seriously, these games see designed to actually invoke these things that in other larps you might discretely write on the casting form you wish to avoid as themes at all costs. OK, it’s not GR – I’m not going to discuss that game here, because of the kind of attention it will provoke, so please discuss it elsewhere if you want to  – but both Black Dogs and Crossed Roads have the potential to I think explode and maybe damage some – which is after all a kind of psychodynamic exploration –  I seem to recall from an old Jefferson Airplane recording someone saying “there is not such thing as a bad trip”, and yeah, that may be the logic here. Dunno. I can’t imagine anyone who was there playing these games actually having an awful time, but they should not be tagged “Trigger Warning”, but “Trigger Invite”. It’s not  a matter of maturity, or being bad ass to play these – because the risks of emotional upset are insidious, and possibly unavoidable, and could apply to anyone.  I’m a deeply (over)sensitive person and I had a blast, but who knows? I can theoretically see that playing “Fat Man Down” or similar COULD upset me badly, though I doubt it.  Who knows? And besides, I might need to or want to be upset, deeply challenged and torn apart emotionally. That might be my idea of a good game. I don’t actually know yet!

OK, so I have probably made all this sound very risky. Far from it. Everything was negotiated out of character before scenes I think, and yet they still surprised me.  The games we played were a bit darker than most UK Freeforms  I guess, but the mechanisms used in storytelling, some of the ideas and mechanics, and the general ethos would certainly be worth adapting and exploring. I’m not actually a very radical and artistic kind of guy, far from it I’m a pretty staid academic, but I can see huge potential in experimenting with these new larp forms. They are certainly “darker” in a different way to the often to my mind juvenile horror/vampire tropes we do see in larps here  a bit: I know form working on it for yeas that psychological horror is hard to evoke in a game. Real world issues arise in these games, and I don’t know ultimately how far my exploration will go – a week before I went to Bristol I was voicing my grave reservations about trying Jeep inspired larp to Charlie Paull at GamesExpo, and I’m glad to be able to report I was very wrong, had a wonderful time, met a couple of fine new people and learned a huge amount: but still I tend to be cautious!

The Consequences

This November I am off to Consequences where I am running a large freeform called Something Wicked, assuming anyone signs up for it. It’s not in anyway influenced at the moment by the Jeep inspired or Nordic Larp games, but I will discuss it briefly at the end of this piece.

I have noticed with interest that What Happened in Blackpool  by Mo Holkar, Heidi Kaye, Cat Tobin, Alli Mawhinney, Traci Whitehead , all first rate UK Freeforms stalwarts and freeform authors is running, and this sounds very much in the style of the games I have been discussing and experimenting with here recently since my Bristol trip –

This is a character based game in which all the plot and action will come out of the first part of the session in which the game is set up. No pre-casting, no casting questionnaires, no advanced reading. The game will be generated using a guided workshop.

I’m really hoping to get to play in it in November. It does seem to me that there has been an explosion of interest in the last few months in various forms of Nordic Larp in the UK: I have watched the scene rather warily and read lots of theory over the years, but now many more people seem to be embracing the possibilities, and I am sure UK Freeforms will provide a very safe way to explore what is best in these games in a British context. I’ll wait and see what develops! It’s about 5 years since I played “To Yield…” in which Nathan introduced me to what I now realise were influences of Nordic Larp, but it has taken me this long to feel I can offer ideas myself which draw from these games without automatically making myself seem to be trying to foist avant garde risqué material (not really my style) on players.

Still this year I am going for something rather more traditional – Something Wicked. Something Wicked was inspired by a Cthulhu freeform I played in last year at Consequences, and which got me thinking about what I did and did not enjoy about it.  This has been carefully crafted since last November, and I’m really looking forward to when the Consequences website goes live and I can see if it gets enough players or not. Some ideas I have had to drop: one was the use of signature scents and perfumes or colognes for different characters, which has been ruled out because of the risk of triggering asthma, and Hugh and I have to carefully think through how to use theatrical minimalism for effective set dressing, yet still gibe the feel of a funfair. I have to work out out if  I can find a way to make candyfloss there, and toffee apples etc too. Can I use real flowers? I think fake ones will have to suffice, but flower girls need flowers!

The actual pitch is here –

Something Wicked; A Gothic Melodrama set in Old London Town

Something Wicked is a game about Mythic London – the London of Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian popular imagination.The funfair is filled with seductive secrets, painful passions and secret vices, along with a strange cast derived from the folklore of London. This is a world of Spring Heeled Jack, where Sweeney Todd runs the pie stand and Jonathan Wild has not let a trip to Tyburn end his thief taking career.This is the London that stirs as the sun sets in dusty attics, sending the beetles scurrying as strange denizens emerge from houses long left locked and apparently un-tenanted. This is a game about why the nightingale sings in Berkeley Square, and why the pearly queen and king must do the Lambeth Walk, and why the ravens never leave the Tower…

Everyone loves the Fair! There goes nice dashing Harry Flashman with his medical friend Watson — and there goes Carnacki, the famous ghost finder, talking to the famous courtesan Ouida! Wait — what was that strange shadow that scuttled after them? And what is that haunting melody the fairground music keeps returning to, surely not “Cousin Theresa and the Big Borzoi?” You will ask Clovis Sangril, once he has stopped arguing politics with Emmeline Pankhurst. Oh look, is that actually the Prince of Wales, walking out with a common flower-seller? You can be your ‘at it is!

Costume for any period from 1780-1914 and you won’t be out of place. This is London as seen through the Strawberry Gothic, so as bright coloured as the musical Oliver! or My Fair Lady!

The game is designed to be fast, sending you whirling, cascading, groping a dance through the fairground where encounters with beguiling strangers offer both strange rewards and exquisite dangers: where stories become truths, and where we all face the scalding blast of scented temptations of the city of dreadful delight as amoral stars gaze scornfully on our brief pleasures…

Author(s): Chris Jensen Romer
Game EMail: chrisjensenromer AT hotmail DOT com
GM(s):
Christian “CJ” Jensen Romer chrisjensenromer AT hotmail DOT com
Lead GM: Christian Jensen Romer
Organization: Cheltenham Freeforms
Game System: designed for game
Information for Players: Character sheets are 4-7 pages maximum, and mainly 2-3.We encourage players to frock to excess, and ignore actual historical exactitude to make bold statements. Strawberry Gothic mixes the Chivalric Middle Ages and Medieval Gothic with the Victorian. In our game add a dash of polka dot, bright colours and Baroque/dayglo punk and you have the correct sensibility.

Despite the strong emphasis on Sin and Virtue, all illicit liaisons are merely hinted at – no physical contact allowed in the game. Not in front of the servants, ma’am! However corsetry and lace, ribbon and boots,perfectly acceptable for either gender!

There will be no use of strobe lights or other known epilepsy hazards, though I do plan to use extensively coloured lights for theatrical minimalism. Background music will fade in and out at certain points, but briefly, to prevent causing hearing issues, and for actual plot reasons. I am happy to produce audio versions of character sheets, large print versions and with adequate notice and where possible translations for those not-comfortable with English, though the translations may be laughably bad given my poor language skills.

If you have questions do feel free to drop me a line or a comment!

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All the best

cj x

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