First up, do me a favour. If you don’t know or care about Ars Magica, but you enjoy strategy games, or fantasy games, or history games, go to this Kickstarter and think about pledging $20. If it funds, you get a download of the game when it is completed. If the funds aren’t raised, your money never leaves your account. $20. Do it for CJ I’m not involved with the project, but this is a computer game based on the rpg I spend my life writing books for, so I’m keen to promote it as hard as I can If you help fund, and later play and enjoy the computer game,perhaps one day you will understand what this whole Ars Magica thing is about So $20 – and you either don’t have to pay if it fails, or you do and get a cool game.
I’m pretty sure all fans of Ars Magica were delighted to hear about the kickstarter to raise funds to allow the funding of an Ars Magica based computer game set in the Schism War, and a lot of people would like to know more. Funding is going well, but after 4 days the project is still only 10% funded, so I think it’s vital now to push it as hard as possible, and let as many people hear about the project as I can. I think it probably will fund, but I am an optimist: yet very few roleplaying games have the beauty of setting and design that Ars Magica provides, and a lot of people who might never want to play the tabletop rpg might be excited by a game of wizards in England in the century of the Norman Conquest. Atlas Games have licensed it: if funding allows it will go ahead!
Now I won’t explain in detail what a Kickstarter is, or what Ars Magica is - basically a Kickstarter is a way to raise funds for a creative project, and you buy in at a certain level, pledging money if the project funds. If it funds in 30 days your money is debited and you receive certain rewards, based upon the level of your pledge – if the project is even a dollar short of the total, no one pays anything at all, and the project never goes ahead.
The guys at Black Chicken have a history of delivering high quality computer games, and are also genuine fans of the Ars Magica system – so here is my (slightly redacted) light hearted interview with them!
On Thursday I’m Talking Ghosts At Skeptics In the Pub, Cheltenham Science Festival Fringe. Controversy May Ensue :D
A quick update seems in order. It’s Tuesday 12th June and The Times Cheltenham Science Festival is under way. I’m still wondering why the brochure appears to feature a perspex butt plug though? Or is it just Global Melting, like Global Warming but hotter? Anyway so far I have seen no events, simply because I have not yet got up and gone out except for a quick trip to acquire breakfast. Secondly, I have a talk to write!
No, the Festival organisers have not gone mad. Every year however Cheltenham Skeptics In The Pub run a wonderful Fringe programme – last year I saw the Festival of the spoken Nerd and Dr Harry Witchell on the Science of Dating. This year the programme looks just as exciting, and while it gets little attention the Fringe Events are excellent and well worth attending if you are in town for the Science Festival. I was thinking of going through the whole run down, from Dark Matters to Science Show Offs on Saturday, but the website does that better than I can. Also these events are all FREE, with a donations bucket being passed around if you want to give (Being Skeptics it’s a bucket not a collection plate – there may be some subtle symbolism I’m missing?)
So I am trying to write my talk on The Science of Ghosts for Thursday night…
Now most of my friends so far seem to respond with “there isn’t any!”. Given I have spent twenty five years studying it, I think there is — but as a recent row on the Rational Skepticism forum suggests, a lot of people think that when I say “ghosts” I mean “Dead Guys” ( & Dead Gals too). This is unfortunate, because it is all a lot more complicated than that. I could say I take a phenomenological approach, rather than making an ontological claim, but I think people would just look at me funny, and I don’t mean phenomenological in the sense of Philosophy they might also think I’m nuts. So just to be clear, I’m looking at how we study two things: the ghost experience, and the causes thereof. (“Tough on Ghosts, Tough on the Causes of Ghosts”? If you want to be really bored you can read my ASSAP conference talk here: this one will be faster, funnier cover very different ground and have more “science” whatever that means!
Anyhow this year my talk will be mercifully free of asides on the philosophy of science, epistemology and other big words too. In fact it will be a) light hearted, b) loud, c) visual (I’m using a lot of video or whatever you call the digital equivalent) clips and also very hands on. Yes I’m running some little experiments and audience participation events, because well, why ever not? So be prepared for Circle Dancing, Knocking On Wood, learning the Power of Expectation and Suggestion, and I’m even doing a little jokey tribute to Bem’s precognition research, which sounds deadly dull, but isn’t at all, at least in my version I hope.
So is there any Science of Ghosts? Yes, way, way too much to even just list the areas covered in the time I have, unless I over run by a week. I think the best way to go is to keep the first half light hearted and fast moving. I have been through loads of topics I could cover, and have thought about presenting on a little of everything, but in the end I have chosen just two topics for the first bit that I can present well upon and have never given a talk on before, one of which is very suited to hands on experimentation.
One thing that seems to confuse a lot of people is why I am talking at Skeptics In The Pub. Paranormal Believers often seem to regard Skeptics, or as us non-Americans usually call ‘em, Sceptics, as the enemy. (Why do we use the American spelling? Is it to prove we know Greek or something?) Skeptics/Sceptics think people like me who spend our time on parapsychology are all woos, unless they have heard of us (Chris French and Richard Wiseman are exempt from this it seems. Stuart J Ritchie probably still gets called a woo, as he is not yet a household name?). I’m desperately hoping that Professor Brian Cox might show to run a picket line and to tell people I’m an utter nobber, but sadly feel that highly unlikely.:D
Anyway why am I talking at a Skeptic’s meeting? Well I have always regarded myself as a sceptic. Yes I’m a methodological sceptic, and sometimes I come to conclusions that sit uncomfortably with other sceptics, but I do believe firmly that doubt and “rational sceptisicm” are the only way forward and are central to the scientific method, or rather most scientific methods, as I don’t think there is only one. It often amuses me that I am far less certain of many things than self-proclaimed forum sceptics who are absolutely rock solid in their beliefs where I have little more than an ever expanding list questions, a lot of data, and a few tentative, provisional conclusions. I encounter this time and time again on the JREF and other forums: people whose faith is stronger than mine.
Anyway, enough rambling. I have a talk to write. I’ll let others decide if I am a Fake Sceptic or not. Whatever you think about ghosts and parapsychology, the questions it raises for Science, how we do Science, how we communicate Science and what constitutes real Science are vital, or so I am inclined to think. I hope some of you will come a long and heckle, whether sceptic or believer!
Here are the talk details
Thursday, June 14 2012 at 7:30PM
40 Clarence St
What’s the talk about?
Ghosts don’t exist, all skeptics know this, right?. Yet even a skeptic can experience a “ghost”, and when one does all kind of awkward questions arise. That was what happened to CJ, and the story of how he became involved in parapsychology, spent twenty five years investigating hauntings and became embroiled in working in paranormal television for a decade before ending up with far more questions than when he started may amuse and hopefully cause you to question your own deep seated beliefs on the subject. Learn the inside view behind shows like Most Haunted, and why despite everything for CJ at least the serious research must continue.
So can Science really address the ghost experience? For 120 years scientists have wrestled with the question of what is really going on when people think they see ghosts, and in this talk CJ promises to present a whistle stop tour of the science that has been published in the field, good, bad and bogus. Can science finally exorcise our ancient fears of the unquiet dead, and explain the night hag? Are buildings haunted, or is it people? And what should you do if you actually see a spook? If that seems unlikely, come along, and find out how you could
The event is FREE, but we will be shaking the Skeptic-Bucket to cover costs
One of the biggest disappointments to me was when a few years back I had to turn down the option to do the MSc in Parapsychology at Coventry University, because I did not have the money for the course fees. It sent me in to a long depressive period, but at least Becky and my dear friend David Curtin got to do it, both completing the taught course (sadly the only other student passed away before the end of the course). Luckily Dr Tony Lawrence and Dr Ian Hume were extremely kind and got to chat to them after lectures, and even sat in on one or two sessions — but it was a real shame.
I was in Coventry recently and I had the chance to catch up with Dr Hume, and was saddened to hear the online version of the course has been put on hold as student numbers failed to make it viable — owing mainly to nothing more than a cock up that prevented many people registering and was discovered far too late I inferred from talking to others. I did not like to press Dr Hume on the subject, but it will be back that he did say. Anyway enough rambling about my life! A PhD or subject specific MSc is certainly not necessary to make a difference in psychical research, and maybe I would never have cut the mustard, and lack the talent and drive to succeed at PHD level — who knows?
If you are still with me after that mournful digression, have you ever considered studying parapsychology? Sceptic or believer, there is a vast literature and a huge host of technical issues in the field that make it hard to get to grips with, and it can be hard work — but I have always personally found it fascinating, not least for what it shows us about all kinds of other issues, from philosophy of science to human psychology and cognition.
And the good news is that you don’t have to commit to something as big as a PhD or MSc, and the course fees. The Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University are offering a short online course “An Introduction to Parapsychology” that while non-accredited really does look excellent. I would do it if I actually ever had the money, and really want to, but sadly even £200 is currently beyond my means
In fact, sceptic or believer, I would seriously suggest you consider taking the course. I just saw on Twitter that enrollment for the latest run has opened, so please do consider it. There is an excellent article by Sceptic Kylie Sturgess on her experiences with the course in a recent issue (and online) of the The Skeptical Inquirer you can read to see if it might be of interest.
Many years ago back in the mid-90′s in the early days of the web I ran a brief online course on parapsychology, and I did try again a while ago on my GSUK forum before we ran out of steam. This however is a professionally taught course by real experts in the field, so as Coventry’s MSc is no more, I hope some of you will enroll for this one. And maybe one day I will be able to afford it!
Hoping to meet many of you at the Seriously Strange conference at Bath Uni in just under two weeks time.
I have been meaning to mention this for a very long time! Back in 1981 a new UK parapsychology group, ASSAP, was founded. ASSAP stands for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, and they today describe themselves as a “paranormal education and research charity”, and are very active. I was a member for a while in the 1990′s and am rejoining after a long period of poverty enforced my absence, and I hope to get more involved in ASSAP matters.
Anyway from 1981 to 2011 is thirty years, and ASSAP are putting together what looks to be a truly fantastic conference to be held this year at the University of Bath, on the 10-11th September. The anniversary conference is entitled Seriously Strange, and looks perfect for both the really hard-core paranormal research types who are interested in Ganzfeld experiments & Bem’s precognitive habituation, through the most ardent ghosthunter, and certainly given ASSAP’s always critical and sceptical approach Sceptics. Forteans will love it too, from what I can see of the line up.
So where is Bath, and how do I get there?
It’s in the Southwest UK, but within easy reach of London, Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and the South Coast, and only an hour from Birmingham. If you are further north then it may be a long drive, but certainly worth it! Travel details on conference site here. All contact details are here, but you can book online or by calling 0845 652 1648
However note that the SPR’s 35th International Psychical Research Conference is in Edinburgh the weekend before ( I may well blog on this when I have more details) and if you are in North America Atlantic University is hosting a Parapsychology & Consciousness conference in October.
So how much does Seriously Strange cost?
Always my first question! For non-ASSAP members it is £15 for the whole weekend, which is an amazing bargain. If you happen to be a member, it is still possible you might get a free ticket, if you act fast. So a good reason to join ASSAP? There is also some rather nice accommodation very reasonably priced for Bath at the venue – click here for details…
Who is giving talks?
Well 19 of the most respected researchers in the field, and one less respected, namely me! Here is the line up from the web page…
What is the BIG announcement that will change the future of Paranormal Research in the UK forever?
I don’t actually know what this announcement that is due to be made at the conference involves, but I do know it will be big, and potentially effect all ghost groups and paranormal investigators in the UK. Us poor speakers won’t be told till anyone else! Shall I speculate? Why not!
I doubt that Dave Woods and Nicky Sewell have caught a ghost in a bottle, or have managed to set up an ITC channel to the Other Side and we will have a live discussion with the ghosts of Elvis and Einstein. I don’t think this is a scientific breakthrough, or I think we would be awaiting a journal publication. So what is it? My guess would be something regarding the ethics and “best practice” of UK paranormal investigation. ASSAP have for many years run a training course for would be paranormal investigators, and grant a type of “kitemark” standard to those who pass it who become Accredited Investigators. I suspect something seriously big along those lines?
Or it could be something organizational like a merger with the SPR I guess; that would certainly be huge, as I think it was fair to say that ASSAP was a split off from the SPR at a time when the latter organization was more focused on experimental lab psi research and less on spontaneous cases. Perhaps a cooperative programme to set up research units across the country? Who knows!
Finally I can only think of either a new Parapsychology undergrad degree (the first in UK since Edinburgh shut theirs in 1981), or some kind of national reporting system like the SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee, which processes appeals for help from the public.
The truth is, I don’t know, but if you are in to “ghost culture” and live in the UK you will probably want to be there to voice your opinions of whatever it is and react!
Hope to see you all there!
I do a lot of events through the year, but this charity ghosthunt organised by Wendy Isaacs and Bruce Kuk sounds like a lot of fun, and has a very impressive line up — and me! I asked Wendy earlier today to send me some details and she has, so if you are free next weekend and interested in this sort of thing and want to help an excellent charity for research into Muscular Dystrophy, well here are the details! I’m not involved in the organisation of the event so please address any enquiries to Wendy, but I will try to help if I can! Wendy writes –
This huge event will combine 2 nights overnight investigations as well as a variety of stalls, experiments and talks from many guest speakers, including C.J Romer, A.S.S.A.P, Richard Skeates and our special guest speakers Richard Jones and Dr Ciaran O Keeffe from Most Haunted, and is being held at St. Briavels Castle, Gloucestershire
Ghostfest-Southwest was created by Wendy Isaacs (BSPRI) and Bruce Kuk (formally of Phantomfest & Parsoc) with the idea of combining Paranomal investigation with raising money for worthy causes. For this event, the money we raise will go to Muscular Dystrophy.
Muscular dystrophy and related muscle diseases cause muscles to waste and weaken. More than 70,000 babies, children and adults in the UK are affected. There is no cure and that’s why fundraising for research is so vital. (Muscular Dystrophy Campaign- Registered Charity No. 205395.)
Tickets for this event are £45 for one night, £80 for both nights.The cost includes overnight investigation, accommodation and breakfast as well as all the talks. If you prefer just to come along for the talks, this will be £20.
Friday night tickets – 17th June
Arrive at the Castle at 7pm for a tour and health and safety briefing, overnight investigation, accomodation and breakfast. There will be various stalls during the day as well as a stall selling food & drink. Talks will begin at 2pm on the Saturday and conclude at approx 8pm.
Saturday night tickets- 18th June
Arrive at the Castle at 1pm to check in. Talks begin at 2pm and finish at approx 8pm with a Q& A with our panel of guests. After the talks there will be a tour of the castle and health and safety briefing followed by an overnight investigation and accomodation. Breakfast will be served in the morning.Check out at 11am
Saturday Daytime tickets – 18th June
Arrive at the castle at 1.30pm. Talks will begin at 2pm with breaks in between and conclude at approx 8pm.
There will be various stalls running from 10am until 4pm on the Saturday. If you would like to run a stall, this will cost £20 and we ask for a donation to our prize raffle. All proceeds go to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
Accommodation at St Briavels Castle is dormitory style only. Bedding is included but you should bring your own towels. There are wash/shower facilities available. Please note that your personal belongings are your own responsibility and Ghostfest-Southwest Event organisers or St Briavels Castle staff will not be liable for any loss or damage.
As with any event of this size, health and safety is of the utmost importance and for that reason and for the enjoyment of everyone attending this event, drinking of alcohol is strictly prohibited. Anyone found under the influence before or during the event will be asked to leave the castle immediately and no refund given. The same goes for drugs or any inappropriate behavior. The Ghostfest team reserves the right to refuse admission to the castle.
What to bring with you
Bring a torch and wear flat, sensible footwear.
You are welcome to bring a camera/ camcorder but they are your own responsibility and we will not be liable for any loss or damage. If you do have valuables, you are advised to keep them on you during vigils.
Booking and payment details
Please email Wendy at email@example.com
Or ring me on 07806637602
To book your place/s, please send cheque/s made payable to ‘Ghostfest-Southwest’ to:
Wendy IsaacsGhostfest-Southwest Event Organiser 14 Chatcombe Yate Bristol BS37 4JD
Along with your cheque/s, please remember to include:
- Your full name of yourself and that of anyone else you are booking for
- Your full postal address so your ticket/s can be sent to you
- Which night you would like to attend.
If you have stayed at the castle before, you can request which room you would like to stay in. Every effort will be made to accommodate you but please note that Saturday night rooms are booking fast. If you are attending as a group, we will endeavor to keep you and your group together both during vigils and for accommodation.
Please note that tickets must be booked and paid for prior to the event.
Talks are starting at approximately 2pm on Saturday. (All times are subject to change.)
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=100695076645445
Promotional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmLYd3gTNH4
Muscular Dystrophy-Bradley’s story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czE8C6ACu9g
Justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Isaacs
Ghostfest guest speakers
C.J Romer – 2pm-2.45pm
Christian Jensen Romer (“CJ”) became interested in parapsychology after seeing a ghost in 1987. Since that time he has written rather a lot of words on the subject, and worked on several paranormal TV shows in minor roles as a researcher or “expert”, though the idea of an “expert” in a field where we know so little is rather puzzling! A member of a number of research organisations, and a veteran of over a hundred investigations, he is still learning from everyone he meets and hoping someone else can cast light on the whole subject for him…
Today he maintains a small poltergeist related blog (http://polterwotsit.wordpress.com/ ), his personal blog (you are reading it!) and divides his time between ghosthunting and writing supplements for role-playing games, a life-long passion of his. He is very interested in trying to raise awareness of the findings of mainstream psychic research (for example www.spr.ac.uk ) among ghosthunting groups, and vice versa!
C.J’s talk at this event is entitled,”Ghosts: why everything we think we know about them is probably wrong!”
“since the nineteenth century, parapsychologists have developed a number of theories about what a ghost is, and what a ghost experience involves. In this talk CJ questions whether we are being misled by mistaken assumptions,… which may be holding back ghost research, and suggests new directions in trying to understand the nature of the ghost experience – but ones which will surprise most sceptics.”
Teresa Cox – 3.30pm-4.15pm
Teresa Cox from A.S.S.A.P (The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena) will also be giving a talk.
The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) has been investigating the weird seriously (and the seriously weird) since 1981. Their main aims are paranormal research and education.
Anomalous phenomena include psychic phenomena (including ghosts, ESP), UFOs, Forteana and earth mysteries.
They specialise in:
•investigating hauntings and ghost cases
•training paranormal investigators
•researching all anomalous, paranormal and xenonormal phenomena.
A.S.S.A.P will also have a stall at the event so you can find out more about them and how to join.
(Break for refreshments – 45 minutes)
Richard Skeates – 5pm-5.45pm
From a very young age, Richard was made aware of his psychic abilities as he was able to hear and feel his guides. He was empathic, clairaudient, clairsentient and claircognizant, so as he grew and spent time talking with his guides, they taught him everything about spirit and mediumship that he knows today. Over the years he has developed many of his own healing methods and has also grown to develop clairvoyance, clairgustance and clairalience.
Richard is a qualified hypnotist, hypnotherapist and hypnosis trainer as well as having a keen interest in psychology. He performs hypnosis for entertainment, street hypnosis and of course he also provides very high standard professional hypnotherapy services. He also attends regular hypnosis seminars and training events.
Richard joined the BSPRI team as their Medium with his fiancée Kate back in May 2008 when the group investigated Bridewell police station and magistrates Courts.
Richard Jones – 5.45pm – 6.30pm
Richard is the author of the best selling books Walking Haunted London; Haunted Britain and Ireland; Myths and Legends of Britain and Ireland; Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland; Walking Dickensian London; Haunted Inns of Britain and Ireland; Haunted London; Haunted Houses of Britain and Ireland; His latest book includes St Briavels Castle. He has conducted on the spot research at over 2,000 haunted places and is well versed in paranormal history.
Dr Ciaran ‘o Keeffe – 6.30pm
Dr. Ciarán O’Keeffe is a psychologist operating on science’s fringe. He’s been involved in many unusual projects: the physiological effects of infrasound, ghost investigation of Hampton Court, an exorcism ‘training day’ and author of best-selling book on ghosts – GhostHunters: A guide to investigating the paranormal. The two decades of work, research and education gradually turned a teenage passion for the supernatural and all things weird and wonderful into a full-time career as a Parapsychologist. The educational path involved two years of preparation at Washington College for an Honors undergraduate thesis on paranormal beliefs and experiences, a year’s full-time Investigative Psychology MSc at Liverpool University culminating in a critical thesis on psychic criminology, and, at University of Hertfordshire, a parapsychology Doctorate focusing on paranormal practitioners (e.g. psychics and mediums). He is currently a Professional Member of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Full Member of the PA (Parapsychological Association) and SPR (Society for Psychical Research).
7pm- Your chance to put your questions to the experts as there will be a Q&A with our panel of guest speakers!
7.30pm – A representative from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign will give a talk about why Muscular Dystrophy is such a worthy cause. This will be followed by the cheque being presented to The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
After a break for refreshments, there will be a tour of the Castle for those who haven’t been on one. This will be followed by our second night of investigations at the Castle.
Wendy Isaacs & Bruce Kuk
Ghostfest-Southwest Event Organisers
I’m just writing my talk on poltergeists for the London Ghost Festival tomorrow. They have a wonderful fun packed week of events and I am in London tomorrow and giving a talk at Shoe Lane Library from 12pm to 1pm, admission free. I have been so busy recently I forgot to plug the event, but I’m really looking forward to my tiny role in it If you are free tomorrow and can make it, well here are the details –
FREE LUNCHTIME TALKS: The Many Explanations Of Ghosts
Talk 3: Poltergeists: evil among us? By Chris Jensen Romer
Wednesday 27th October 2010
Shoe Lane Library, Hill House, 1 Little New St, London, EC4A 3JR
One common explanation of paranormal activity can be put down to the notorious Poltergeist. The very name conjures images of terrifying events, and Hollywood horror films. Yet in some ways the reality is more frightening and disturbing than the media portrayal. Poltergeists may lurk much closer to home than you imagine. What is a poltergeist: A disturbed spirit, unconscious psychic energy or something far more sinister? In this talk we hear the latest thinking behind these strange yet fascinating cases and survey some of the poltergeists of London, before reaching a conclusion that may surprise (and frighten!) you…
Chris “CJ” Jensen Romer has been involved in psychic research for over twenty years, is a member of Society of Psychical Research and has investigated a number of purported poltergeist cases first hand. He has worked on a number of paranormal TV shows, including spells as a researcher for both Most Haunted and Most Haunted Live. He maintains “Polterwotsit“, an internet blog dedicated to coverage poltergeist cases at http://polterwotsit.wordpress.com The London Ghost Festival and City of London Libraries are extremely thankful to Chris for giving his time for free.
Venue: Shoe Lane Library (near Chancery Lane tube)
Address: Hill House, 1 Little New St, London, EC4A 3JR
Time: 12.30pm – 13.30pm
Price: This is a free event
Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane
Contact number: 020 75837178
Hope some of you can make it and will say hi!
Many readers of my blog are also gamers, and know the important role roleplaying games and boardgames play in my life. In this the first of an occasional series of interviews with people I know I am talking to Fabian Kuechler, who for many years was involved with running the fabled TENTACLES roleplaying game convention in Germany, which focussed on Glorantha, Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium games. At the time I approached Fabian for the interview he was planning the TENTACLES-successor event, named The KRAKEN – because “after all the Tentacles appear you see the Kraken”, as he says in his press release! Owing to work pressures on my part I missed the gaming scoop of breaking news of the new event, but I am delighted to now post my interview with Fabian.
CJ: Can you tell us any more about THE KRAKEN? I’m sure we have all seen the announcement but what other surprises are in line for us?
Fabian: All I can say right now that everybody involved is very excited. Especially Greg Stafford. We have some very cool ideas and are trying to change the way RPG events are set up, run and perceived. I can not say more right now but if you know the Tentacles team and their spirit you can be sure it will be a show worth going too.
CJ: Fabian, I have to ask – after all these years of TENTACLES, why the change? I appreciate the idea of a gaming vacation, but I did wonder when Tentacles Omega was announced why Tentacles was ending?
Fabian: You are welcome. It is indeed a very interesting question. We have been running Tentacles for 14 years annually almost on a professional basis on a non-profit budget. The team and I always felt we put up a show with no compromises, a show *we* would love to attend and I think we have succeeded.
Of course we owe the success to all to our dedicated fans and friends who attended every year. The reasons for us ending Tentacles have been multiple. The main reason was a shocking revelation. In 2008 Tentacles Dejavu suddenly turned into Tentacles Fumble because we could not provide our line-up of guests. Sandy Petersen could not free up time and Greg Stafford got sick. This did not hurt the convention directly but it made us aware how our concept and team morale depended on our Guests of Honour. We realized how extremely lucky we have been to attract Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, Charlie Krank, Lawrence Whitaker, Simon Bray and many more for such a long time annually without much trouble.
It is really hard to get 165+ people to attend a show as Tentacles. And we need that amount of people to make it fly as a non-profit event. We felt that this can only achieved in the long run with our line-up of guests. There was a point in time in the future where they just could not attend any more. The revelation simply was: Tentacles has passed its half-life. This insight was provided by our finance officer Sven and it was a very mathematical observation including average lifespans of human beings. (laughs)
We felt that the concept of Tentacles has passed its prime. From now on it can only get worse.
There where also other signs. Greg stopped drinking beer, Sandy started teaching at the SMU Guildhall and would not be able to get vacation around the traditional Tentacles date any more, Loz Whitaker exiled to Canada and we only had a couple of pages left in the guestbook. Also, ending Tentacles was a great way to get the Australians back once again.
In general I could feel our guests grow tired of the same old same old. So instead letting Tentacles die a slow death we decided to do a last one: Tentacles Omega. It was the best Tentacles. To us there was no better Tentacles possible any more. It is the stuff of legends now…
I know that there is some dispute out there over this decision. Some voices argue that Greg et al are not really the core of what made Tentacles work – it was the social atmosphere of Tentacles and friendship between the attendees that Tentacles allowed to grow.
But we actually worked hard on a lot of details to create this special Tentacles atmosphere and Greg, Sandy and Charlie played an essential part in this. They helped form Tentacles. Tentacles was always much more then a castle, RPGs and crates of German beer.
Ironically it was the social atmosphere that started to conflict with our expectations about the content and programme of the show. Time was just too short for both things. At the same time the team felt with ending Tentacles we would also lose the team and friendship as well as the fun of organizing an event like that.
At the same time the team felt with Tentacles we would also lose the team and friendship as well as the fun of organizing an event like that. So during ‘Camp Fork’ (our annual Team Summerfest) we sat down and said: this is too much fun to give it up completely’. We asked what are the things that sucked at Tentacles? How can we fix them? We wanted more comfort so we said instead of a castle we need a château. We need more time to do gaming and other social stuff. So instead of cramming everything in a weekend we choose to make it longer. We wanted to make it very attractive for Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen and Charlie Krank attend as often as they could. The overall result is THE KRAKEN.
CJ: Can you tell us a little bit more about the RuneQuest-Gesellsch af e.V., Germany?
Fabian: Yes. The RuneQuest-Gesellschaft e.V. is a registered German ‘Verein’. A Verein is a serious German institution much like a club but with a lot of regulation laws like bookkeeping, proper elections etc. See, we Germans even having a hard time having fun. (laughs) Our Verein was founded in the early 80s to support the publication of RQ in German and to create a focus for all RQ and Glorantha fans in Germany. Our main problem here in Germany is that these fans are spread out all over the map. The main activity of us was to organize an annual Con at Whitsun which was called RQ-Con and to publish a magazine titled Free-Int. The RQ-Con became Tentacles and Free-Int became Tradetalk. Now we are part of the international Glorantha and CoC tribe.
CJ: I love the idea of German boardgames event at The Kraken – I play a number of games, being addicted to Ticket to Ride, but playing many others. Can you briefly explain the German board games culture to those roleplayers here who may be dubious?
Fabian: First of all: most Germans do not realize boardgames are something typical Teutonic. You have to have international gaming buddies to see that. If you talk about games or gaming to fellow Germans they immediately think of boardgames. We are raised in Kindergarten playing boardgames. I remember playing ‘Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht’ against my grandmother for tiny sums of money. (laughs) I think much that culture steams from the fact that Germans love strategy and competition – a very Prussian trait. In fact Bismarck and von Moltke invented ‘Kriegspiel’ (Wargames) to give officers tactical training. These where basically tabletop miniature games. I saw picture of them, they still exist somewhere in a museum. You will find a surprising amount of Germans knowing about the existence of Robo Rally for example. (laughs)
As an anecdote: I recently watched a BBC quiz show on TV. One of the competing teams looked liked a typical gang of gaming geeks they called themselves the ‘Strategists’. It turned out they are European Boardgame fans and their leader was working for the Public Transport Ministry or something – which causes a lot of insider joking in the show. Awesome group of geeks. They where asked what was a hot boardgame at the moment and of course they said Agricola. (laughs)
But then we Germans are also leading Aquarium technology engineers. Who knows that? Not us. (laughs)
CJ: Schloss Neuhause looks very impressive. Why did you choose it as the venue for The Kraken?
Fabian: We said we need a Schloss now instead of a castle. It is of course a logical historical development. (laughs) Also a Schloss is more comfort. So we started looking around for something that could be rented. Most of these place are museums or ruins now of course but in the East of Germany you still find these cultural gems. They are bought by private individuals who restore them and rent them out. Schloss Neuhausen is such a fine example and perfectly suited to our needs. They have a fantastic management keen on a new event. We found the place by accident and sheer luck though. All honour and fame for finding it belongs to Pummel.
CJ: I notice this is a broader gaming event than TENTACLES which was very much Gloranthan and Chaosium focussed? Is that correct?
Fabian: Yes, very much so. We softened our policy, imposed by our Verein regulations to support RQ and Glorantha, a little because there are so many great games out there now that our fans play which have been influenced by the classic game designs of Greg, Sandy and Charlie. What we liked about Tentacles a lot is that we attracted many creative and innovative heads of our hobby. There was constantly something created or planned: publications, artwork, FreeForm games, tabletop games, rules innovations, new settings and even whole new RPGs. People challenged us by bringing new RPG systems for traditional settings to play at Tentacles with an avantgarde crowd. By obeying our regulations strictly in order to maintain a sharp Tentacles profile we often felt conflicted with this. Especially with games you play in between Freeforms or Tabletop games like Lunch Money and other fast paced card games. With THE KRAKEN we openly welcome this creativity now. We actually plan events where we create games and gaming material and test them. Want to test upcoming German Boardgames? Maybe THE KRAKEN is the place to be…
CJ: The website http://www.the-kraken.de/ is still under construction – when will it go live? And can you give us some price ideas yet?
Fabian: We are working on getting it online. But our graphic department has a high quality benchmark. I hope to have the site live in a couple of weeks. We basically offer 2 booking categories:
- The Full Kraken (5 Nights including 4 meals a day, soft-drinks and towels) starting at 315,- EUR
- A Piece of Shrimp (3 Nights including 4 meals a day, soft-drinks and towels) starting 200,- EUR
You can upgrade The Full Kraken with an Extra Day to take in special surprise events with our Guests of Honour.
CJ: Will there be a BOOK OF THE KRAKEN as in the BOOK of TENTACLES publications?
Fabian: We plan to publish a fund-raiser book or magazine but we are still carving out ideas for this…
CJ: Obviously you have family and life commitments outside gaming. Do you find it harder to find time to dame than say ten years ago? Does it colour your perspective on your hobby?
Fabian: It does. I used to do my gaming at Tentacles. I hardly find time or players to play RPGs. Most gaming I do is computer games. I play ‘Age of Empires‘ a lot on-line with my best buddy against some crazy skilled US or Korean kids. (laughs) I also own an iPhone now and use commuting times to play golden classic like ‘Monkey Island‘. But I am bound to organise a board gaming night in my neighbourhood.
CJ: I’m interested in how you first discovered gaming! What brought you to the hobby?
Fabian: My older brother invented a die based tabletop game with playmobil miniature armies that I played with him. I also got hooked up with the Steve Jackson & Ian Livingston Adventure books in the public library. When my older brother told me about the German RPG DSA (Das Schwarze Auge) that he played with a neighbour kid I was intrigued. My brother never really played it again. I later found the DSA boxes in a toy store in Frankfurt and it became a Christmas wish. But my real introduction to gaming was visiting my first convention at the age of 13 or 14. I heard a local radio story about the con and asked my parents to bring me over the weekend. They did and let me stay all by myself. It was a great experience. It was also the first time I played ‘Civilization‘. From then on I became a regular convention attendee. The next Con I visited I was lost cause I could not figure out how to get into a RPG game but the convention organizer helped out. A RQ GM was looking for players. I was in. I just wanted to play. You could fight and use magic! And the cultures and religions of Glorantha! Every year I made it back to this show to play RQ with this GM. His name is Andreas Müller and I owe him for introducing me to great gaming. This is how I eventually made my way into the RQ world.
CJ: You are well known for your Gloranthan activities – but what other games interest you? What is your shameful gaming secret, the game you enjoy but don’t like to admit to?
Fabian: I dunno. I think the most shameful gaming secret is that I am hardly a gamer. I do not play much. I never played or run a campaign. I am more a one-shot GM. And I am totally not up-to-date with my reading of Glorantha material. I naturally missed most Glorantha panels at Tentacles being busy and needed elsewhere. (laughs) Even going back to the RQ sources would be worthwhile because my English has improved a lot. See, I learned speaking English by doing Tentacles. (laughs) Does loving to play ‘Axis and Allies‘ constitute a shameful secret? I got a great German strategy by reading Churchill’s War Memories. (laughs)
Fabian: CJ: OK I have to ask – which Gloranthan game is your favourite? And why? Don’t limit yourself to RPGs!
Without doubt I am an avid fan of HeroQuest. it totally is what I love about roleplaying games. If you interested why you can read it here:
But I also loved the old RQ3 and its simulated combat.
CJ: Yes, much the same here! I enjoy RQ2, RQ3, MRQ and HQ 1+ in different ways!
Over the years you must have met many of the other stars of the gaming world, any gossip?
Fabian: I became friends with a lot of designers and authors and have very fond memories. Especially the Chaosium canon of stories are a gamers delight. How Chaosium got rid of a warehouse full of unsellable Mythos cards and how Charlie Krank finally offered to roll dice over the publishing rights of Call of Cthulhu belong to my favorites. Also a great story is how Robin Laws reprogrammed a cash register computer to do word processing to write RPG material at work is a fun story or how Rob Heinsoo sold Tentacles to his D&D buddies and made them turn pale in shock. I guess you have to come to THE KRAKEN to hear these. We will have plenty of time to do things like these. Maybe we also revive the Joke Round where we tell international jokes. (laughs) Have you ever heard heard Greg Stafford tell a joke? He is a master storyteller.
CJ: What was your worst moment as a con organiser? And your best?
Fabian: I think they are one and the same. The worst and best moment was when we gradually found out that the Friday starting night of Tentacles had to be shared with another group. The castle management told us it was some kind of German-French student friendship exchange BBQ. But with every phone call I got things changed a little. (laughs) The next thing I knew was the the German Chancellor Schröder was a special guest. I asked to get a picture taken with him and that was okay. But in the end we had to relocate for a couple of hours because it was a full scale Head of State summit meeting between Schröder and Jacques Chirac at Castle Stahleck.
We ended up a couple of kilometres up the Rhine in anther youth hostel waiting until their BBQ was over and we could get back to start Tentacles. At the same time I organized Greg Stafford as a surprise appearance. He decided last minute to come and I did not told anybody. So I had to hide him the whole time until the SFX special effect show was to happen in the night. There was an almost unlimited supply of wine bottles and beer barrels and the most amazing food. I seem to remember seeing a swine or cattle roast on a stick. You know they barely eat at these summits! (laughs) I tried drinking a glass of beer but I never had time trying to get everything back on track. Someone always plucked away my beer.(laughs) I will not disclose who!
Eventually Greg appeared in smoke and lighting and it was a blast. The party ended around 5 or 6 in the morning with me gazing hungrily at the leftovers. It was like at a proper party. The only things left was a cold sausage and some potato salad! (laughs)
There is also the story of certain drunken Englishmen trying to escape from Castle Stahleck and breaking in again but you have to ask me in person to hear that story… (laughs)
CJ: Your fondest memory of Tentacles?
Fabian: The above and falling in love with my girlfriend at Tentacles. Also seeing Sandy Petersen typing up the characters for his CoC game he forgot to bring on the German keyboard of my computer in my teenage bedroom with his wife sitting on my bed knitting. But in general I would say becoming friends with some many great people from around the world.
CJ: And how did Tentacles come about in the first place?
Fabian: Tentacles developed out of our club meeting the RQ-Cons. The club got the chance to book Castle Stahleck ( not an easy feat) for Whitsun 1996 and since I was living in the region I and 2 other club members where chosen to organize the next RQ-Con. RQ-Cons used to be held all over Germany to give all members a fair chance to attend and even out travelling times. So every year the organisers changed as well.
So the first Tentacles was actually labeled RQ Con, and someone said “we need a title.” So it was called ‘Rheingold Queste’. But after the first Con at the castle we decided to stay. I volunteered to host it again, and the next title we had was ‘Tentacles over Bacharach‘ since all games we played included monsters with Tentacles! So we moved away from the name RQ Con and Tentacles became what it was.
CJ: Thank you Fabian! I have organised a couple of min-conventions for the Ars Magica roleplaying game and I know just how much effort went in to them, so Tentacles must have been a huge endeavour. I am really looking forward to hearing more about The Kraken, and am very grateful for you for talking so much time out to share with us your memories and plans. Looking forward to the launch of http://www.the-kraken.de/
The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) are probably known to many readers of this blog: I first joined back in 1992, was a member for a couple of years, and after a fifteen year hiatus have recently once again become an Associate member. Some of you may still be storing SPR Journals and Proceedings for me – if so thanks! Perhaps some readers would consider joining up?
Founded in 1882 the SPR are still Britain’s (if not the world’s) leading parapsychological organisation, and hold regular monthly meetings in London as well as occasional Study Days which are always worth the effort. The London based nature of most events makes me an irregular attendee – London is about as accessible to the Moon for me with no car and no money, and Becky is based in Derby so it’s not much easier for her — but the excellent Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR), and a popular magazine The Paranormal Review arrive in the post four times a year and are never devoid of interest. (There are also irregular occasional Proceedings (PSPR). In fact these form much of the basis for my reading in what is going on in contemporary parapsychology, along with the excellent Journal of European Parapsychology (not an SPR publication). On top of these benefits, SPR members also receive a generous download provision from another independent project, LEXSCIEN, the online parapsychology library -- where one can search through, read or print as needed 150 years worth of peer reviewed psychical research and parapsychological literature. Unfortunately I had already joined LEXSCIEN before rejoining the SPR, but it really is a huge plus to SPR membership for anyone interested in the subject – you can take a look at Abstracts and a few bits and pieces for free anyway.
Of course the greatest benefit is the other members: I have been privileged to have the opportunity to meet so many people, from the late John Beloff, Manfred Cassirer, Maurice Grosse and Andrew Mackenzie through to the many wonderful people I have learned a great deal from and whose work I knew, such as Tony Cornell, Tom Ruffles, Alan Gauld, Mary Rose Barrington, Archie Roy, David Luke, Tricia Robertson, Terry White, Guy Lyon Playfair, John Randall and Eleanor O’ Keeffe and many many more interesting people through the SPR’s events. And we should not forget the offices and library in London where members can find a wealth or research materials and assistance!
Ghosthunters & The SPR
Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in “spontaneous cases”: that is non-experimental psychical research. (Mrs Sidgwick seems to have originated that distinction and the phrase “spontaneous cases” in the Report on the Census of Hallucinations in PSPR, vol 10, 1894 I noted yesterday!) So now we have ghost groups, often deeply committed and sometimes very efficiently run, all over the country. These “local groups” like Cheltenham’s PARASOC however always maintain a distance from the SPR, I suspect more through ignorance of what the Society has to offer than by design. Some people are just in to the subject for “legend tripping” – they enjoy a spooky night in a haunted house, but want little more from their hobby. Many are put off I suspect by the dry prose of psychical research literature, especially some of the papers which feature quantitative methodologies and page after page of statistics, or just by the fact that articles are very technical. Yet the Paranormal Review rarely features such papers, and even if one is not willing to fire up SPSS (a stats computer program) to check the stats for oneself, the peer reviewed nature of the JSPR means one can always learn something from an article and have faith that the numbers mean what the author states!
So why don’t ghosthunters from local groups join the SPR? You don’t have to be a brilliant academic with a brain like the Mekon – you can be a normal person, and don’t have to speak like you swallowed a thesaurus.
The SPR is far less stuffy than many similar academic groups, warm and accepting. From the earliest days the membership ranged from the brilliant and famous (and many were) through the mighty and powerful (Balfour was Secretary of the SPR while Prime Minister, and on some old Proceedings the address for correspondence is given as 10 Downing Street, London!) through the scandalous and eccentric (George Sand) to the humble – chambermaids, undermaids and grocer’s assistants appear in the lists of members. Nothing has changed (except you can’t send mail to number 10 any more!).
Now the SPR is not, and never has been cheap, compared with joining your local ghost group. What it does do however is you bring you in to the mainstream and give you access to what has gone before in psychical research, and give you a chance to contribute insights and research to the wider parapsychological community. Long term readers of this blog may recall my piece on “types of ghosthunters” where each category I jokingly discussed ended “and never publish their results.” Of course many groups do publish newsletters, or decent websites where they chronicle their findings, but if you don’t publish in a mainstream publication, and I suspect some of the cases people have studied would make great Paranormal Review articles at least, how can you say you are doing scientific work? Scientists publish their results, and share with each other. While the peer reviewed JSPR may prove daunting to many with a non-academic background to write for, that is the aim. (they were kind enough to publish something of mine, and I’m not brilliant!). Even if you don’t want to write up articles , you can file your reports with the SPR library, and providing they are readable I am sure the SPR will be willing to store them for future researchers.
On top of all this the SPR has a number of members with a huge amount of experience in investigating spontaneous cases, and a Spontaneous Cases Committee who can usually help you, and put you in touch with a local member who will provide valuable knowledge and experience in your investigation if you so desire. How else will you be able to say as Venkman did “Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947?”, if you don’t know the literature?
The SPR has been doing this research for 150 years, so why do so many groups stand apart? They do NOT affiliate with local groups, by long term principle, but they will still give you as a member all kinds of valuable ideas and information you can bring to bear on your own research efforts, and provide a forum to discuss and meet with genuine experts in the field. The new SPR updated website has for the first time an online payment form – current annual membership prices are (January 2010) £60/ £40 unwaged/ £30 student, but honestly, you would pay more for a lot of psychical research related books and events out there.
I’m sure many of us have signed up to a local group only to later find they have a secret mission – in the case of the old Cheltenham group (CPRG) taking over the world, but in the case of many groups simply finding the Holy Grail or defeating the evil minions of some dire satanic cult, like the Inland Revenue – anyway another reason people hesistate to join psychic research groups is in case they are thought to be committing to belief in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis, without even a steady paycheck to compensate. This is not an issue with the SPR owing to a very important rule -the SPR as a body has no corporate opinions on the phenomena it studies, all members owning their own beliefs. So even if you are completely sceptical of all alleged paranormal phenomena, you will find SPR members who share your beliefs. There are actually a few important guidelines for SPR members – you can’t use membership in the Society to promote yourself or product (blast there goes my psychic phone line – “Madame CJ speaks the future, only £20 a minute!”), ad so forth. You can read them here.
Anyway what occasioned these brief thoughts is that the SPR website at www.spr.ac.uk – note the ac.uk domain, I was always impressed they got that! – has just undergone a major overhaul, with a lot of new material. There is a guest essay, a form to report your experiences, links to some members research (hopefully as soon as Becky has her ethics approval through she can get listed) and a listing of recent books on parapsychology and related topics, as well as extensive revisions throughout. So stop reading this, go have a look!
Hope to see you at an event one day, and if you join do comment.