"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Boardgame Review: King of Tokyo, a B Movie Godzilla-style Epic in thirty minutes!

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on August 5, 2011

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I think the first thing I noticed about King of Tokyo was the attractive box art, which perfectly encapsulated the theme of the game. At thirty pounds it is not cheap, but the production quality is high. This game is a celebration of the Godzilla “monster eats Tokyo” B movie genre, and a good one.

 

So what do you get in the pretty box? A pack of special cards, with nice art that covers many of the genre motifs; some pretty green glass cubes that serve as energy tokens, a tiny almost irrelevant board, some decent counters needed for some cards powers as tokens and six monsters.

The monsters are the stars of the show; your playing piece. Each monster is represented by a cardboard piece with a plastic base – big and pretty but plastic monsters would have been far cooler so I was a bit disappointed. You also get a little scoring card for each monster with wheels to keep track of victory points and your monsters health. These work fine in play. Hugh Wake played the Kraken, insisting, in the worst pun of the night it was a case of “The Kraken Wakes!”

One oddity is the full colour rule book, which is not in the box, but attached underneath like a advertising leaflet, under the shrink wrap. It fits in the box, so I have no idea why, but it could easily be discarded or missed, I wondered where it was till I examined the box to see why no rules and noticed what I had thought was just a piece of packaging was the short rules leaflet, which is fairly clearly written. I noticed two minor ambiguities, but these are with regard to specific cards, and we went with the common sense reading. Why does poison quills not give poison counters though?!!!

Finally there are the dice. Six special six sided black dice are the core if the game. (There are also two green dice used with certain Cards). On your turn you throw the dice, put aside the ones you want to keep and re-roll those you don’t.

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A lucky throw can have big effects — but there is skill in selecting which dice to keep and which to throw again, with up to three rolls before you are stuck with the dice in front of you.

Once the rolling ends you translate the symbols on the dice in to actions. The actions are damage other players monster, heal your own monster, acquire energy points or acquire Victory points.

Energy points are the currency used to gain cards which generally either give you victory points for certain things, damage all the other monsters or give you interesting powers in play.

Three cards are randomly drawn and available to all players at the start of the game and this market is replenished as they are purchased with energy tokens. The cost varies with the power of the card – a good card might help your monster greatly; the problem is you might have to spend several turns actions collecting the energy cost.

The key to the game is the board, representing the one space (two in the 5+ game) of Tokyo itself. Your monster is either in Tokyo, or not in Tokyo. If in Tokyo you get victory points each time it’s your turn, but all the other monsters can only attack you. The advantage is that if in Tokyo, you attack and damage ALL the other monsters. Possession of, and knowing when to relinquish Tokyo is the key tactical decision in the game.

There are two ways to win: kill all the other monsters leaving you as last player in the game (happened in one of our games), or win by reaching twenty Victory Points ( a tight final round thing between at least two players in three of them). You have ten health points for your monster, which fluctuate throughout the game as you heal and take damage.

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The game is for 3 to 6 players: I have only played four times, losing every game, with four players, so I can’t really speak for how the game works with more players. With four it’s a lot of fun:  and simple enough that an intelligent older child could easily play (it says 8+ on the box, I might think 9-10+) Barby who has only played a couple of modern board games before (Zo0loretto and Pandemic) won half the games, and we all found it easy to learn and pick up. EDIT: I have since played at least 5 games with 5 players, which adds Tokyo Bay. While the rulebook is not as clear as it could be, it did work very well, and is just as enjoyable if not more so with more players.

With four players average game length is around 30 minutes, but feels longer and is a satisfying play experience. There are lots of tactical options available, and despite the relative simplicity of the design and large numbers of dice involved I think a high degree of skill. You have to make difficult choices, and at times gamble on risky outcomes. Different strategies emerge: do you go for hearts and heal your monster, go for Victory Points and try to win, or go for attacks and try to knock other players out? In three of the four games we played I was eliminated before the end 0f the game, killed by the other players through trying to hang on to Tokyo too long. Do you accumulate energy to buy cards, powering up your monster, and denying them to the opposition?

The game is designed by Richard Garfield, the man who invented Magic: the Gathering, and the cards show the usual excellent design one might expect from him, and really do add complexity and excitement to the game.

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I would recommend the game. At the end I asked Hugh and Tom experienced gamers and Barby who has not played many games at all (compared with us) to rate it out of ten; Barby gave it 9, the other two 8. I think I might give it 7 out of 10: after all I lost every game.  ;) So let’s say 8 out of 10; stylish, simple, extremely fast paced, with turns going round so quickly and other player turns effecting yours with a high level of interaction so you are never bored, and the random dice rolls adding a strong element of risk and fun.

As a family game, highly recommended, and as a quick game that can be played by hard core gamers while waiting for people to show up, or easily take up a whole night, also recommended.

As a child I despised family board games, because let;’s face it they are either rubbish, go on forever (like Monopoly or Risk) or are simply too random and lacking skill – Snakes & Ladders! When I was young I was introduced to Diplomacy, a pure skill negotiation wargame I love, but still avoided even the 80′s Games Workshop games on the whole. Yet recently I have discovered Eurogames, basically for 2-4 players, with little randomness, high skill, and where no player is eliminated to the end. There are some brilliant Eurogames out there – one which I believe is actually American is Pandemic, which I will review soon, but Ticket to Ride and Agricola both of which I have reviewed on this blog are excellent too.  American style games seem to go up to 6 players, and involve dice and randomness more, and this can often to my mind be a weakness, but in King of Tokyo these things work. My only criticism is that you can be knocked out quite quickly, and that means sitting around waiting for the next game, though it is fun to watch, and once players are eliminated things clearly speed up greatly.

If you have never played modern board games, this may take a little getting used to, but certainly if you have played Magic the Gathering, or have any gaming experience, you may enjoy this one. Buy it!

cj x

Wheelchairs, brothels and community spirit!

Posted in Social commentary desecrated, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on June 28, 2010

OK, it seems like forever since I last wrote. I stopped blogging during the election, and it has proved hard to start up again, but I suppose I will slowly get back in to it. Part of the reason is I have been so incredibly busy with the old lady down my street who I have long been friends with; we now go for an hour long walk every evening, and her cup of tea every night takes another hour, with frequent visits during the day eating up  my spare time.  She’s lovely but the endless phone calls as she has become forgetful do drive me mad! Still I guess this is part of the “big community” we hear so much about — I’m lucky enough to live in a street where people are very friendly, (yes, that includes very much the really nice folks from the brothel that used to be down the road till the big police raid a couple of years back — not that I ever twigged it was a brothel till the police kicked the door in, and I lived next door to it!), and spend a lot of time talking to one another and helping one another out.

Actually thinking of the brothel, or massage parlour or whatever it was in reality reminds me of the one night I nearly realised what was going on, or should have done. A chap in a wheelchair knocked on my door, and when I answered appeared to try to be asking me to sleep with him. He had a mild speech impairment that made communication difficult, and I was very polite, simply assuring him “I was not that kind of girl.” (I’m not any kind of girl actually, I’m a bloke.)  He remained quite insistent, and then I realised he wanted sexual favours from someone else, not me. I became rather confused and a little embarrassed, till he suddenly realised he had the wrong house  number. That was a relief! I should have referred him to the woman at Lloyds Pharmacy who covered Lisa and others holiday or sickness when she was a Dispenser there — she was unfortunately entitled a “Relief Dispenser”, and that was what this chap claimed to want!  Anyway the brothel is long gone, and life here has returned to what passes for normal in this ironically named street.

The whole brothel affair was brought to mind a few minutes ago when I was walking Chris in her wheelchair down the road. We parked in the shade of the garages to talk to Tina, and then a lady from a letting firm drove up, a pretty blonde girl.  So naturally I had to wander over to chat to her a minute, as the residents of the street interrogate any one we see walking past (more on this soon). I asked her if the house was still for rent, and she said no, it had just been let — “to a lovely couple of working girls”. I must have looked shocked, because she blushed and said “I mean professional women”… That did not make it any better, and we both burst out laughing, and then she said I knew what she meant — “women professionals”, and laughed more and apologised and said she knew all about the brothel raid! Nice lass, very friendly, as letting agents tend to be.  She assured us if we had any problems with the new people in the street we could complain to her — and I was mildly amused, and said “why on earth would we do that?”   To which she replied – it’s that kind of street!  Er, OK.

Life in the street progresses at the usual slow pace; we have all been worried about one of my neighbours cats, a beautiful fluffy black Persian that looks like a walking bush with two glowing orange eyes when she sees my cats and fluffs up. She was fitting on Friday, and it was touch and go, but after veterinary intervention, some shots and a considerable bill she is now seemingly fine – let’s hope she stays that way, she is a lovely beastie.  Yet I wonder how many people in the UK would know about the current state of health of their next door neighbour but sixes cat???

So let me get back to what started all this. I’m busy with work, Becky, and lots of other things — but I have to stop and think about the “Big Community” idea that is currently so fashionable in Cameron’s rhetoric. Obviously I like living like this — or I would not do it — but would you??? It’s an honest question. I like it, but it drives me mad. In a sense I have spent much of my life “growing up in public” — I never valued my privacy much, and much of what I do (though not all) is well known to many people. I’m a chatty, outgoing, open kind of guy. I think a lot of you think you know me and what goes on in my life pretty well for that reason (though I think I could still surprise even those closest to me at times!).   I know what “big communities” are like — and I know the pitfalls.

Firstly, I’m an amateur. What I do for Chris can not replace the dedicated health professionals — doctors, nurses, opticians, pharmacists, and the lovely NHS carers who come round four times a day to look after her. I can’t heal my neighbours cat — she needs a vet for that. I can’t look after the street lights, make sure the water supply is clean, or mend a broken boiler or chimney. Community activism and volunteering supplements but does not replace the need for dedicated professional services, and never will, unless we return to a very small economy and near subsistence living.  Even medieval villagers were not as self-sufficient and isolated as people often think.   A “big community” can do something to make life better, but it does not replace the need for social services and properly trained professionals.  Secondly, while the voluntary sector with superbly run organisations – we all know the Red Cross, Age Concern, The Samaritans, the RSPCA, NSPCC, etc, etc, which perform such incredibly valuable work in our society — can take up some public services and perform them very well, these organisations still need funding. More importantly, they need committed, hard working volunteers. And sure, twenty years ago I knew loads of people who did this kind of work — but in fact that is getting harder and harder to achieve. People on JSA or HB are seriously penalised if they spend too much time working in the voluntary sector – because they are limited to working less than is it ten or sixteen hours now, or face losing their benefits? The Benefits people look askance at volunteers – if you can work for the PDSA or British Heart Foundation shop, why are you not getting a proper paid job they ask?  So many volunteers are those who own their own homes, have an income from another source, or have well paid partners.  When I was an undergrad Student Community Action was a popular way to help others and get some stuff on your CV – nowadays its muh harder, and as Student Grants were replaced by Student Loans the number of volunteers diminished as students who previously were leading tea dances or doing gardens in run down parts of town were suddenly forced to do a MacJob to pay their way. Not necessarily a bad thing — but we saw a contraction of the voluntary sector, as economic realities hit home.

Next up, it might sound idyllic living with great neighbours who look out for you and always stop to talk or ask you in, but is it really?  Everyone in the street knows who Becky is, who Lisa is, and what my latest situation is at any given time. I can do almost NOTHING without becoming the centre of gossip for a week! I don’t mind, but you can absolutely forget privacy – DC, Kevin, Tom and Dave Sivier are all known by name and reputation and what they are up to equally to many of my neighbours, but they are just casual visitors to my home. In how many streets are passers by stopped and chatted to and quizzed about heir business? (the Brothel customers used to often walk round the block several times before ringing the door bell, because they were too embarrassed to walk up to the door while half the street was outside chatting, drinking tea and coffee on door steps or playing with cats or whatever…)  In how many streets would a letting agent come to do something at a house be interrogated by people from the street, and feel she had to offer assurances?

And that is what it’s like. Forget privacy, forget coming home after a long day and just watching the telly. I have a constant stream of visitors and telephone calls, a hundred demands upon my time.  Most of today has been spent on talking to neighbours, taking the wheelchair out, talking to Tom who popped round and making calls for people or just chatting on the street. I had a day fairly free – and while I had some work to do, and have spent more time on this post, I can promise you it can be a little tiring. I think a lot of people who bemoan the loss of community forget how claustrophobic the world I live in, a world that really is best represented by EastEnders or Coronation Street where everyone knows everyone’s business and everything becomes a cause for public discussion, is.  Fall out with someone here, and thank heavens I never have, and your life could soon become almost intolerable. I think it’s really quite intimidating for people like my new Polish neighbours, who are talked at whenever they walk to their house, and find themselves the subjects of intense scrutiny, or for the young married couples down the street who don’t know the history of the various households, or unwritten “customary law” and “traditions” of the road I have spent the last five years learning.   You park in the wrong place, like the poor actress who rented a house the Christmas before last for a few weeks while she worked the panto season, and face the consequences. She was unloading her baggage to move in  the house, and had a group of neighbours asking who she was, why her car was there, and shouting at her because she had parked in a spot outside their window. I went out and tried to help her, and managed to find out she was becoming a resident, but then I became the subject of some of the hostility – she only managed a few days before she moved on I think.  God help those who try and park their cars down here to go shopping: the roads nature pretty much precludes that though, as it is so narrow. Parking your car an inch too far across and impeding others access and you immediately incur a lynch mob…

Still it’s a wonderful place to live, and I want to reiterate that. If you are a private person like Lisa, or are used to the anonymity of a suburban semi, I’m sure it could be hell on earth. Communities are people, and big communities mean you have a lot more people in your life. I think Andrew Oakley would enjoy it here — I certainly do — but for those whose lives are shaped by privacy, neighbours who may nod in passing, and a comfortable retreat in to their own homes, this could be a future vision of Britain they are not keen to see come to fruition…

cj x

The End of an Era: Richard Dawkins forum to close


I was going to write a brief piece tonight on my new board game “Earth: Our Home” I created for the the Richard Dawkins Science Writing Contest. I test played it with Luke, Kev and Tom tonight, and we had a wonderful time slaughtering each other species and fighting for control of this pale blue dot.  500 million years passed in two hours, and at the end it was incredibly close, but I won. :)

Unfortunately I popped over to RD.net to see what was going on, and found that an announcement had been made that the forum is to close. It will remain live for 30 days to allow us to retrieve anything we want to save: given I had written over 10,000 posts (7,000+ remain after an earlier purge)  and I guess many million words as I am not known for my brevity, that will prove immensely difficult. Given that the search has not worked for months, in order to protect other parts of the website and keep the bandwidth manageable, well it will be next to impossible. I have tried waybackmachine: no good. :(

Jerome's avatar

My RD.net avatar designed by Thwoth to mark my Science Writing victory...

I had a hilarious exchange on this blog once before with someone who had a rather bizarre view of the history of RD.net: the details don’t matter, but I will briefly now discuss the matter. A few years ago the great man Dawkins0 became aware that there were forum posts which were rather er, colourful (“What does sperm taste like? was the infamous example always cited) and suddenly over night a large part of the forum was just deleted.  The bit which went comprised the chatty silly areas -  I lost about 20% of my posts, as i tended ot post mainly in the Faith & Religion and General Science areas anyway. This led to a major row, with a  number of atheist who saw this as censorship buggering off to create their own communities: it was not really the imposition of community standards which did it, but the clunky way it was handled. We lost the original admins (OBC, Kevin Ronayne)  about that point, and by 2009 a new set of mods had taken over. It was still a great site though, though I miss the early days – but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… :)

Tonight the proverbial has really hit the fan. Again the closure of the forum may NOT be all it seems: a new kind of heavily moderated discussion area will exist, and approved topic can be discussed. What it does mean is the death of the forum community, and like the end of the Living TV Most Haunted forum dozens of new forums will spring up, but I’lll lose touch with most of the friends I made in my years over there since December 2006.  We can’t even talk about iot now – I tried to log back in and found a message telling me “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.”

It is such a blasted shame: to try and name them all would be impossible, but my thoughts really go out to all those who worked so hard to make it a success – firstly Sciwoman, so long a mod, then an admin, and a good friend. We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of misery, and she has been a good friend to me. Then there is the excellent CJ – no not me, CJ was an admin or possibly just a mod I think and was one of the best, and used to welcome every new poster. In the great purge he was demoted to ordinary member status for something that had nothing to do with his work as a mod: the backstairs politics of the forum was always machiavellian, but CJ happened ot have publicly discussed things which were considered verboten from his own personal life – ironically things this CJ discusses just as openly.  Who else? The Old Farts were all great, and much missed – they were a loose collective of posters who had a great time. JimC was always one of my faves, a wonderful Australian biologist with a sharp sense of humour.

My life will be poorer for not hearing from the splendid Aussie atheist Goldenmane: I’ll miss Hackenslash, Ilovelucy, Durro, MedGen, Mechtheist, MacDoc, FlyingScot, Natselrox, and me and Tim O’ Neil had a wonderful time together fighting Jesus Mythers and the terminally ill informed. Mercer is a thoroughly fine fellow: and my companions in faith Imperiatorium and of course my good mate Grahbudd, plus the really decent Jewish engineering student whose name I  just can;’t for the life of me recollect right now.

There are SO many others – Darren from Canada, whose profanity was always laced with awesome humour; Mazille, who brought me back to the forum with the science writing contest I have invested so much time on, Thwoth the brilliant artist and sharp wit, Hyrax a truly lovely guy and great mod, Campermom who was always great on science,  the simply awesome FedupwithFaith, and one of the sharpest minds of all Spaghettisawus who is a really top bloke.

So I’m sad: rather than carry on with the litany of names, which is so difficult as i’m missing dozens of really great people out (Topmum?- I just can’t recollect user names right now) I’ll make a few general comments… (but not forget Jerome Serpenti, Homo Economicus, Matalnifesto, Dave C, Pdavid…)   The sad thing about the death of an internet forum is in some sense all these people become part of your life, and they touch you. I really got to care about people I only ever knew as words on a screen. Sad? Maybe, but its a part of life in the 21st century – some of our friendships are with people we may never physcialy meet. (I was lucky enough to meet three members – sadly the accounts of our meetings were lsot in the first great purge.)

I enjoyed being Jerome (a contraction of Jensen Romer), the Anglican who always had something controversial to say. I enjoyed my arguments with the great and the good, my ill fated challenge to Richard Dawkins to a debate on the history of Science, my fun debates on the rationality of theism and on life after death.  Most of all though I enjoyed the people, the new ideas, the constant challenge to my beliefs, and the ability to ask others to question theirs.

Apparently the new website to replace the forum will only allow posts clearly in the areas of Reason and Science, and that is in itself interesting. I wonder what that means? Will Atheism cease to be a major plank of the new website? Will religious believers like me now be officially banned? In my more more egotistical twat moments I’d like to think my success at arguing for actual history over myths may have hastened the demise of the old forum, and this is a ridiculous attempt at censorship — but I VERY much doubt it: in fact it’s absurd.  What I doubt will ever happen on the new website is that someone will win the say writing contest with an essay ripping to shreds the nonsense about the conflict of religion and science, or we will have a sensible discussion about parapsychology, or the evidence for the historical Jesus, or any of the things I spent so much time  writing about on the forum.

That’s a damned shame. Reason and Science were furthered by those discussions I think: people came to examine their personal beliefs (I certainly did) and were exposed to opinions sharply divergent from there own. I learned a helluva lot, but above all I learned tolerance and respect for my opponents, even if I still disagreed with them after all the shouting. :)

So why has it happened?  No one actually knows. The mods have been dismissed, or rather given notice, and the website administrators made a unilateral decision to withdraw the forum for the new website. My utterly cynical guess is simple: it comes down to money. I have no idea how well offf the Richard Dawkins Foundation is, though it’s a registered charity so the accounts are public domain I think: but ultimately the forum must have eaten a hug amount of resources and bandwidth.  I have no idea if the Rational Response Squad is till going after their troubles in 2008 , but running an atheist forum is probbaly a license to lose money. People loved the forum, but did they buy from the shop, read the main pages and support the RDF? I don’t know, but I suspect most forum users went staright to the forum and ignored all that stuff.

And so I appreciate this may have well been a sound commercial decision: to support the RDF,  more traffic needs to be routed through the main site.  Looking at ALEXA the site had continued to grow slowly in popularity, and was ranked 14,799 in the world (top 2000 in New Zealand and South Africa, top 4,000 in the UK, top 9,000 in the USA) – a tremendous success.  Yet the search function had gone, and as always the forum often fell over through sheer weight of numbers. It desperately needed investment in servers and infrastructure: instead it has been decided to kill the forum, and create a new streamlined website.  I can see why — but it does not help those of us who invested so much in making the site what it is.

Ultimately the decision is one man’s: Richard Dawkins.  I never really got to know the bloke in all my time on the forum, as he posted less and less, and when he did it was often after something like this, when he gets the stick. The Great Purge was necessary to protect his reputation and that of the rDF when it was going for charitable status: some of the stuffon the site might have upset the Charity Commissioners, but I think they could differentiate between what the RDF stood for and the opinions voiced on an internet forum – but maybe not.  Still, if he is digging deep in to his own pockets to support the forum, and would rather spend his money on “God probably does not exist” adverts on the side on buses who are we to complain. Ultimately it’s Richard’s site – and Richard calls the shots.

Still, I think a lot of people are as usual not so much upset that it has happened but at the usual complete lack of communication that have left us with thirty days to save what we can and make our escape plans. And that si really not something i can forgive lightly. Oh well, so be it…

I returned to the forum to say my good byes and found I could not actually post any more.  What I found was a hilarious piece of craven cowardice and stupidity. A notice appended to the previous announcement, which reads –

Update: We had intended to leave the forum fully-funtioning (sic) for 30 days, but due to the inappropriate posts by some users and moderators, we have decided to leave the forum in a read-only state. You can still download and archive your posts and private messages, but the ability to enter new posts has been disabled. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. We know that change can be difficult and sometimes frightening, but we are all very excited about the direction of the website and the future.

I’m not, and I suspect over 85,000 other forum users will join me in calling on Richard Dawkins to sack those responsible for what has been a lousy piece of absolutely moronic administration, and boycotting the new website entirely. I don’t mean the decision to close the forum – I can understand if that is necessary – I mean the appalling, insensitive and now frankly ridiculous way it has been done. I wait with interest to see what Dawkins himself makes of all this. To be honest it is a particular kick in the teeth for everyone who has worked so hard on their entries for the Science Writing Contest — voting was due to start tomorrow.

If any one from the old forum reads this, please do comment, I want to stay in touch!

I’ll end with a public service announcement

Atheist forums you might want to try

http://www.rationalskepticism.org/

(a forum specifically set by poster Life up for ex-RD.net folks, where I also happen to be a mod)

http://rationalia.com/forum/

http://forum.herd-of-cats.com/

http://freethought-forum.com/

http://thinkingaloudforum.com/

http://www.thinkatheist.com/


and forums that are intelligent fun and atheists may enjoy, but which are NOT atheist forums

http://www.ukskeptics.com/forum.php

http://forums.randi.org/

have fun guys, and may your gods go with you…  ;)

UPDATE: Former mod Darkchilde’s blog offers inside perspective  on this extraordinary mess:  http://tenebra98.blogspot.com/2010/02/death-of-forum-death-of-rdnet-forum.html

UPDATE: Hackenslash rallys the refugees! – Good on you man… (YouTube link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyLnxu19DM8&feature=player_embedded

UPDATE: Several mods deleted, along with all their posts.. Mazille, CJ (the other one), Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog — about a 30.000 posts gone in this most peculiar purge.

http://rationalia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=8864

UPDATE: Former mod  Peter Harrison blogs on events at the forum -

http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/locked-entry-will-open-soon/

Update: Richard Dawkins responds

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

As I have engaged in no such vitriolic attacks i will not be apologizing: they are ridiculously over the top, and i’d love to know where they were posted and take the idiots who said it to task.  I will apologise I personally villified Richard Dawkins in anyway. Yet I stand by EVERY WORD I wrote: this whol ematter was dealt with dreadfully, and the deletion of the mods posts was shameful.

J x  (who is an Anglican: prejudice declared!)

Indie RPG Review: Polaris — Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on January 9, 2010

In the prevailing icy conditions, it seems only to apt to add to my blog this review, written last year when the weather was rather more clement! This review is “Adventures in running indie games with hard core war gamers and power gamers with a strong gamist tendency.” If that premise amuses you, read on.

Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North

Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North

In this review I will discuss Ben Lehman’s Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North. The cover suggests 3-5 players aged 14 and up, and the game is really designed with four players in mind, though rules for three and five player variants are included. As one of my players said, “in some ways this resembles a board game”, and the requirement to have 3-5 and ideally four players immediately shows you some of the similarities. Nonetheless, Polaris is very much an rpg, and a beautiful example of how far the medium can be taken away from the D&D inspired conventions we think of when we here the words “roleplaying game.”

This is a very unusual game – but don’t let that put you off. You might well read a few paragraphs and think – hey, this is a Forge inspired indie game, it’s not for me – but stick with the review and see how I fared. Lets start with the stuff I found intimidating, and why it’s taken 3 years for me to run the game…

Polaris has no GM. Of all the heresies you can commit, this must be one of the most blatant. I’m a simulationist. I like to play against a written plot, and solve puzzles. My player group likewise. So collaborative storytelling? It reeks of campfires, folk music and real ale – three things I like, but I mean this in a bad way. The story is driven entirely by the players, responding to a beautifully written background, and the conventions of romantic tragedy and heroic knightly adventure. I half expected the players who turned up to walk out the door, as a previous group (who were Heroquest players – I was trying the Ars Magica/AD&D types this time) I had tried to get interested had, but after a minute of stunned silence they said, “sure, let’s try it…”

Secondly, Polaris is beautifully written. – which can be a bad thing! I have a few friends who were willing to try Nobilis, but were put off by the beautiful writing, especially the little epigrams, declared the game “pretentious” and never bothered to learn. I thought this could happen with my player group for Polaris. John is a hard core wargamer who loves tactical problems and avoiding conflict by careful planning, Tom I have only ever played once with, and Ed loves character generation and careful design, as in Ars Magica. I decided to read them a few pages of the background, then summarise more of it to give them the feel for the setting. About ten minutes of reading, answering questions about the background, and we were off. On seeing the character sheet they were intrigued enough to want to play.

So what is the background? It reminds me a bit of some of HP Lovecraft’s fantasy pieces, like The White Ship, Polaris, etc. In fact it reminds me even more of Robert Chambers, Oscar Wilde, and a few of the other Decadent/Celtic Twilight/Romantic authors, if that means anything to you. It’s a haunting fairy story about a land in the ultimate north, with a beautiful people who were destroyed in Arthurian style tragedy, and the players play the knights who have survived the death of the King and Queen, and the destruction of the capital in “The Mistake”. Whether the people are made of ice, human, fairy or something other I do not know – the nature of the tragedy is ambiguous, but deals with the rising of the sun, the dawn, and the coming of day to destroy the endless blissful night. It could be an allegory for many things, but even read literally all kinds of possible meanings and explanations arise from the beautifully written (if you like late 19th century/Edwardian prose, as I do) opening account. There are 28 pages of this, which despite the superb use of ambiguity which gives the players great scope to tell the story in many ways, is actually quite detailed in others.

The King and Queen are gone, lost with the destruction of the capital (though I can’t help wondering about the enemy knight Solaris and the Frost Maiden, but hey!) and the players play members of the Order of the Stars, a knightly order armed with Starlight Blades who guard the four remaining outposts of the people from the demons who pour from the Mistake where the capital was, and against corruption from within.

Here we have potential problem number 3. Your character is doomed. The world is ending, and the story is a tragedy. Tragedy however is not always depressing – and the game is written in a way that gives you considerable leeway in how that tragedy plays out. Ultimately you will be corrupted or killed – but is not the same true of Call of Cthulhu? The important thing is that you choose how the game will end for your character, and you are architect at least partially of your own downfall. In fact, despite the sombre tragic tone of the game, my group had a blast with it – there was more laughter and smiles than I have seen in a long time. We found Polaris great fun, and i wish to stress this. While we played seriously, the way the game works led to much clever negotiation to screw over each others characters, yet there was no recrimination or hostility, as I have even seen creep in to Paranoia (a game I have never managed to run successfully) – instead there was a strong competitive element I have not seen work well before in any rpg.

So potential problem 4 play was essentially competitive. Your character sheet has your Heart (your character, called the protagonist): the player who sits opposite you is your Mistaken, and plays your adversary and in play tries to complicate and make difficult your characters life; the player to the left is your New Moon, and plays characters with whom you have a formal relationship, such as other knights, the Judge, an Archivist, the Head of your City Council, or whatever – and to your right the Full Moon, you plays all the characters who you have an emotional and important relationship with. You also have four sets of Themes – Blessings, Offices, etc – which are effectively Virtues, Abilities, Backgrounds, call them what you like.

Before I describe how play works, if you are interested you can download the pdf character sheet here here Have a quick look, and you will quickly grasp how it works. You sit around a table, and the positions dictate the role of the other players with regards to your character. I was Tom’s Mistaken – he was mine. Ed was John’s and vice versa. Ed was my New Moon – he got to play a Royal Clerk who I worked for, and John as my Full Moon played the Goat Twins, two sisters I was torn between. You choose at least one character for each section of your sheet, the NPC’s important to you. the other players can play them, and from time to time one is removed from the story and crossed out, or a new one added. It works very well indeed.

We took it in turns to launch a scent each. You don’t have to, but for a first game it works pretty well, and I recommend it. A scene can involve your character, or the person sitting opposite you, and you have to be far more assertive than in many games. Instead of “I chop at the demon with my sword” you can say “The demonic legion falls upon me: for an afternoon I know no rest, but as my blade flashes in the night I slay relentless, till the ground for yards around is piled high with the melting corpses and rancid ashes of the demons. At last the army falls back, and I cut a path to the city, having slain three score demons…” Yes – very heroic – but you can bet it will go wrong. My Mistaken (Tom) is not going to let me get away with that! There is a formalized set of phrases which dictate how conflicts are resolved. Tom might respond “but only if… your beloved believing you lost to the army rides out alone to try and save you, or dies along side you, and is captured by the demonic horde…” I now have to either accept that, or use a phrase to undo it, or continue the story with an appropriate keyword phrase “but only if…. I here her pitiful screams, and spur my faithful horse as I ride after them…”

You have to be sensible here. It would be easy to push real world buttons, or be an arse. Don’t. Polaris demands maturity and trust. Do do not describe squicky, morally repugnant or deeply emotive scenes unless the other players can handle that I guess. The game demands maturity, and a certain ability to detach from the horrors and tragedy.

Right, so how do these key phrases which run the conflict mechanism work? Polaris is not freeform. There are very definite rules and game mechanisms, and you need to learn them, though from my experience this is best done in play. Polaris feels like a GAME, not a storytelling contest, though it is both. OK, again the best way to get the idea is to download the following useful files – Key Phrases Reference and Conflict Flowchart. We printed these off and kept them close to hand throughout play. They are invaluable.

I never thought my players would get the hang of this, and I thought I wouldn’t. You grasp it quicker with experience, and within a fairly short time we were all entering in to it fully, and resolving long and complex scenes. You certainly aren’t going to forget the game mechanics and go for full immersion – the mechanics are MORE blatant than dice, and negotiating scenes to an resolution requires quick thinking, wit, sensitivity and is very creative – but the game mechanics are extremely important. If you forgot them and just described what happened, it would cease to be a game, and Polaris is a skillful game. A single d6 is used, fairly infrequently, but the structure of the narrative through key phrases makes this game quite rules heavy compared to some I have played – and is better for it. The mechanic is pretty much unique to Polaris as far as I know, and unlike say Inspectres I would not want to borrow it for another game – but for this one it works beautifully.

So in essence, Polaris is a beautifully written, highly original and very unusual rpg, but it is a game, with solid well thought out mechanics that reflect the characters corruption and loss of faith, and well reflect the theme of the tragedy. My players loved it, because they are gamist – they could tell stories, but just as importantly they could use the mechanics to make each others character lives difficult, and while sometimes scenes involved our own characters, often we started scenes about our “Mistakens” character just to watch them squirm as we put them in horrible or emotionally charged situations. Most importantly, we laughed, swore, and had a great time!

The game would shine in campaign play – I would have thought 5 sessions would work well, though Ed’s cynical betrayal of the Knights and the People led to him falling pretty fast towards weariness and ultimate doom in our game – he reached a Zeal of 1 from 4 in a single session, but that was with unlucky dice rolls and repeatedly cynical self-serving choices. We have all agreed we will play again, though getting the same player group together owing to work and distance issues will be difficult. For three years I had owned this game and thought it an interesting piece of indie game design – having played it I can now say it’s an interesting and highly playable game which will appeal to gamers of a wide variety of interests.

The game is available from indiegamesrevolution in the US, or Leisuregames in the UK, and I expect other stockists. A well bound but small paperback book, £13.99 is a little pricey for the indie production values – I’d have though £10 would be fair – but the quality of the writing, the game and the art taken from Boris Artzybasheff’s work is so high I can rate it no less than 5 for style. For substance I gave 4 – I can see me playing this many times, but the setting is ultimately limited to what it does, and does very well.

If you are a mature traditional roleplayer looking for an interesting and revolutionary piece of rpg design ,and playing with exactly four players is to a problem to you, I really recommend this game. Get your friends to sit down and start playing, and be willing as we did to sacrifice tragic poetry to competitive gamesmanship and clever storytelling, and be willing to have fun with it – and the game will work just as well as if you are a group seeking catharsis and epic emotional drama.

Superb.

cj x

From Ricall to York: Our New Ars Magica Saga Starts

Posted in Games, History, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on January 6, 2010

A few days ago Tom and I were chatting about how much fun it would be to start a new Ars Magica roleplaying game saga.  So there being a CJ involved, this happened, and quickly. Tom, Ed and I discussed the setting and decided on the Stonehenge Tribunal (roughly speaking England & Wales) and as I have long wanted to do a game which covers the Angevin/Plantagenets from Henry II through Richard, John and Henry III we decided on a start date of 1160, and a fast saga with a few years between stories. The changing of the seasons and usurpation seemed appropriate themes, and we therefore decided to go for the players as new magi arriving at a Winter covenant that had declined in to a crumbling wreck. Tom wanted to set the saga in York, and so the stage was set.

The first real issue was whether to use the setting published already in David Chart’s excellent 4th edition Tribunal book, Heirs to Merlin. We decided not to, but instead created our own covenants, simply because the players were all so familair with Blackthorn, Voluntas, etc, etc and therefore we thought it would be fun to do something different. We created a number of covennats – the actual method used I shall not discuss just yet, in case the players (or their characters) work it out in the course of the saga.

The players covenant was named Domus Alba Rosa, hopefully close to the Latin for the House of the White Rose, and attached to St. Peter’s school in York, a real urban school founded back in the Dark Ages and still going strong today.  The physical setting was two townhouses over a set of Roman catacombs in Micklegate, with a near by hostelry the Blue Boar as a hang-out for grogs and consortes and the schoolroom across the river near th Minster. As Tom and I will both be running adventures, we spent a lot of time discussing the details  – a statue of Mithras was found near here, so we decided there must be a Mithraeum, and then the Legion of Mithras I had detailed in The Mysteries Revised Edition seemed a sensible theme for the covenant (though we had other themes we wanted to include as well form our covenant design ideas).

I created the covenant using 600 build points and Covenants: medium power as long in decline. Tom did a splendid job on sorting out what the vis sources are, so I concentrated on books, and the mechanics, before creating the personalities. Here are my notes –

Magi Domus Rosa Alba

The Magi of the House of the White Rose, York

The once great covenant has now fallen in to ruin and dilapidation. While the townhouses remain structurally sound, warm and comfortable and the catacombs habitable, age has wreathed the corridors in cobwebs, and smoke has long since darkened the diamond pains of glass. Across the river the School hall is maintained better, but even there the dust of centuries has gathered on the wooden benches of the schoolroom high above the shops, and the wooden steps up creak ominously under the weight of the masters.

The Library high in a well tarred and isolated attic of Crosskeys House has the books piled on tables, but they are few compared with days past. Every year visitors borrow books to aid them in some heroic quest, and every year they take vis and disappear off to fight terrible foes of the Order surely it would be churlish to ask them to replace it? Most of the resources appear to have vanished to other Covenants, even other Tribunals. Meanwhile the magi have forgotten about glory: their grogs no longer have weaponry, or armour, and are little more than the best brawlers in the Blue Boar Tavern, and the school is utterly neglected, save by Thomas, who dreams of a day when the Covenant will again be a force to be reckoned with.

There are currently (1160) three magi at the Covenant – Henri the Quaesitor, the long term visitor Leona of Bjornaer, and the Jerbiton Archmagus Helena Mavrocatalon, a Byzantine nobleman/woman who has lived in the Tribunal for over 80 years, and speaks fluent English when the mood takes him/her.

Her Eminence Helena Mavrocatalon Constantinopolis, Imperatrix Rosa Alba, Archmaga Jerbiton, Poetess, Warrior, Hoplite, Heroine, and Defender of the Order.

Helena as we shall call her for short (but NEVER make this error) is a 138 year old Byzantine nobleman, of an illustrious family, closely related to the current Emperor of the Romans, Manuel I Kommenos –  these are the Byzantine Greeks in Constantinople in case anyone is confused! As such she adopts imperial affectations, and is incredibly vain, effete, and always heavily made up with a ridiculous wig and vast amounts of jewellery. Despite all these things, she is still quite clearly male, and following a Twilight episode decades ago can never change her gender, or have it changed, by magic.

Eight decades ago she arrived in York, and made quite a splash at her first Tribunal, soon becoming deeply involved in Tribunal politics. Her exquisite manners, fawning catamites and eunuchs and incredible arrogance soon made an impact: everyone in the Tribunal knows he is a super-bitch beyond compare, but a bitch who throws the most incredible orgies, and whose decadence is far beyond anything the Catholic Church could ever stomach. Several Archbishops of York condemned her from the Minster pulpit: she laughed at them, and her fabulous wealth and insatiable desire for trinkets and luxuries soon swung the citizens behind this astonishing creature. Even today the Masters of every Guild would come to her immediately if she called upon them – but as he has not been twenty years dead as far as they know, they are unlikely to do so.

Her “death” was nothing to do with hiding her longevity from the mundanes, or mortals as she disparagingly calls them, of York.  Whatever her reason, her seclusion has been long, but not uneventful. A skilled political player, a terrible foe, and a sworn defender of the Order of Hermes,  her anger is terrible, her vengeance burns, and those she classes as enemies rarely live to the next Tribunal. Many regard her as a vain arrogant transvestite  maniac, but any brave enough to say so will die in a Wizard’s War pursued with incredible energy. She has slain eight magi in justly declared Wizard Wars: the furthest was in the Rhine Tribunal, and mocked her in a drunken after dinner conversation in his home covenant.

Yet there is not a Hoplite in the Tribunal who would not spring instantly to her defence, or unquestioningly follow her orders. Only Flavius, the Exarch of Tremere at Mons Castrum may have more influence over the loyal Hoplites. She is the Persian of Mithras, Commander of the Legion in the Tribunal, and a legend among them. She always affects silver robes or dresses prominently displaying the sign of Taurus, and her influence stretches even beyond the Tribunal borders – wherever there are Hoplites, she has friends. It is rumoured her own House, Jerbiton, are far less enamoured of her though, and the dislike extends to her loathing for the covenant of Aedis Rex, even redcaps from that covenant being received with scorn and treated with the very barest of courtesies required by the Order.

She knows many secrets though, and uses them well, her network of spies and agents rival those of any Tytalus.

Leona of Bjornaer, Aged 59.

If anyone rivals Helena (but don’t call her that) in regal arrogance, pride and deadly contempt for fools, it is Leona of Bjornaer.  She is a Captain of Mithras, and does not care who knows it – and she has been here four years on her Mystery Cult’s business, guarding the Mithraeum, and  seeking mysteries of Constantine. She originates from the Levant, and is half-Arab, half crusader but unlike Helena does not respond well to questions about her parentage – it is popularly rumoured she is the daughter of a King though. No one can upstage her, talk down to her, or try to control her – except Helena. Everyone thought the two maga would hate each other – instead they have become incredible friends.

Her religion remains a mystery, and yet she is known to have a sympathy for the Jews of York, leading some to wonder if she may be a secret Heathen. No one has ever seen her in church, but no one has ever been foolish enough to comment (Helena does not go either, being of the Orthodox Christian rite).

Whatever Leona’s business in the Tribunal, she is very discreet, but has on several occasions been spotted padding silently around the alleys in the moonlight. The Archbishop of York has heard stories of a lion in the city, and they have been so persistent he has offered a reward t anyone who can capture the beast for his planned menagerie – something which Leona derives much amusement from.

A silent, merciless killer who speaks no English, she has little time for the covenfolk and less for the farmers whose sheep she preys upon… Don’t mess with her, or you might perish.

Henri the Quaesitor, aged 63

Henri has been at the covenant since his childhood, and was the apprentice of Green Stephen, a Bonisagus with a research interest in faerie matters who died mysteriously on a Christmas night some fifty winters ago. Henri himself was adopted by Petros the Just, a Guernicus Quaesitor, and served his final two seasons of apprenticeship with Petros before Gauntleting in that House. He has a bad reputation as poorly trained throughout House Guernicus, and is widely believed to be incompetent. Selected as an emissary to the Loch Leglean Tribunal he was effectively banished there for three terms of seven years, and on his return he became something of a recluse, fearing being sent abroad once again as an embarrassment to his House. No one asks him to defend their case, and no one seeks his counsel on legal matters.  His sole duty is approving Hoplites adventures, and dealing with te administration and paperwork for the Legion on behalf of Helena who treats him like an unpaid skivvy. He is well known as an incompetent yes-man, and even within the Legion of Mithras has never advanced beyond the second rank – a Bride, he wears the Green cloak and silver lantern broach to display his status as an investigator of the Legion.

Those who know him well know that the Covevant’s school and Scriptorium would never run without his careful attention, and that really he is the effective working member of the covenant, though he would never dare says so It was he who invited the magi to come to Domus Rosa Alba, presumably on behalf of Helena and Leona, as he would never presume to do anything without their command.

Next up we needed the other covenants, so I wrote them up based on Ed and Tom’s notes.

Covenants of the Stonehenge Tribunal

Stonehenge has a fairly isolationist tradition, and some of the Covenants are not overly sociable, Many do not welcome visitors, and even trade in magical resources is relatively uncommon. The more civilised (read Southern English and Yorkshire) covenants often look to the Normandy Tribunal for support and visitors.  This insular aspect to life in the Tribunal is reflected in the Tradition that only two magi from each Covenant are invited to attend each Tribunal, but they of course carry the sigils of the others. Any magi may attend f they so wish, against this tradition, but it is considered rude and unnecessary. Politics revolve around maintaining the status quo, and  are positively sleepy by other Tribunal’s standards, with “minding your own business” being considered a high virtue here.

Aedis Rex: Bury St Edmunds –  in the shadow of the Great Abbey, visitors should enquire at the Prior’s House, and make the sign of Intellego. Home to three Jerbiton Magi, a Quaesitor and two Redcaps.. Non-Gentle Gifted magi should take lodgings outside the town and send a messenger instead. Said to have the greatest library in the Tribunal of books on Abilities, and known to be a centre for the Pythagorean mysteries, which welcomes students who can pass the examinations. Rufus of Nantwich leads the magi here, and is a master of Disputatio, that is public debates. He engages in lengthy correspondence with magi all over the Tribunal, and is always willing to assist young magi working on research projects.

Atrium Mercatus – Londinium – With a Gifted Mercere, four Redcaps, a Quaesitor, two Jerbiton, two Bonisagus, two Ex Miscellanea and three Verditius, this is the site of the Mercer House for the area. Said to offer excellent hospitality, good opportunities for visiting the fleshpots of London and yet a strangely warm and familial welcome to members of the Order. Vis and potent magic items can be purchased or be exchanged here at better rates than the rest of the Tribunal offers. Tribunal Meetings are held here, deep within the Dominion aura of the city, rather than as in other Tribunal’s at the Praeco’s home.The actual Mercer House is a rambling house in the centre of the city, filled with young apprentices: it is said that Atrium Mercatus takes more apprentices than anywhere else, perhaps because of the Orphanage they run which proves a useful source of Gifted kids.

Cad Gadu, Domus Magna of House Ex Miscellanea, on Lake Bala, North Wales. Home to many Ex Miscellanea magi, and two redcaps. No one not invited can find the magical glass island upon which the covenant stands, which must be situated in a regio? Non Ex Miscellanea are not welcomed here, though Redcaps may visit freely, and many Merinita and Bjornaer have been invited to attend specific meetings. By tradition any visitor who has genuine business with the Primus Ex Miscellanea (currently Immanola)  may  travel to Pont Mwnwgl-y- llyn and blow the horn suspended from the hazel tree there to summon Immanola to a meeting in London at Atrium Mercatus that same day! The secrecy of the covenant breeds suspicion, as does the many deaths reported among its members.

Sagittarii: West Wales – Criamon clutch set in Egryn, West Wales. If you are not a Criamon you don’t know any more about this place. If you are you might. The clutch has five members, and is one of the largest Criamon centres in Northern Europe.  No one messes with them, as they have a reputation for extremely lethal defence of their vis sources and privacy, and a House Criamon Quaesitor (who may be unique in the whole Order in that capacity) is one of the five inhabitants: he is known to be extremely good at Hermetic Law. Three decades ago Mons Castrum believing they may have Diedne links declared Wizards War against the inhabitants, and lost three magi without coming close to the valley where they dwell. The surviving attackers were invited in, shown around, and left their wounds tended and their fears of Diedne influence dispelled, but word spread their were worse horrors defending this place. Many believe they have tamed a dragon, but the magi of Mons Castrum never broke their oath of silence about what they saw there that they swore to be allowed to concede the Wizard’s War and depart in peace..

The Wild Woods – Forest of Dean – home to an exiled Rhine Ex Miscellanea and several natives of that tradition, as well as two Merinita, Joanna Silvae a young maga is the person visitors usually deal with. Uninterested in politics, they welcome vis trade and are said to have some curious spells and magic items they will trade lab texts for; but the focus on Herbam magic leaves many magi not willing to make the effort. They are said to have shaped the very woods to serve their needs, and live lives of idle pleasure, but they politely resist any attempt to make them participate in the Tribunal, and les politely throw out any who attempt to reduce their hard won independence. Recently it was rumoured they approached the Tribunal of Novgorod asking to be accepted as a covenant of that Tribunal, but the truth of the rumour is unknown.

Heremus: Cumbria – somewhere in the wasteland, a mixed covenant.  Home to several Ex Miscellanea, a Flambeau and four Bjornaer magi, but governed by a Tytalus, Hugh, who is said to be utterly mad. The Loch Leglean Tribunal occasionally accuses them of raiding across the borders, but they have plenty of vis so it is hard to see why they would bother. They are on excellent terms with the Chapel of the Green Knight (see next entry). The actual position of the covenant seems to be elusive, and finding them is a problem to all but the most experienced redcaps. They have some long term plan which is little known to outsiders but involves heroic effort.

Basilicola Equites Viridis: Wirral – Covenant of the Chapel of the Green Knight – a legendary location, home to many members of House Tytalus, Jerbiton, Merinita and  Flambeau. The Knights loathe the Tremere of Mons Castrum with a passion, but are rumoured to have upset Sagittarii recently by adopting a Criamon exiled from there in to their fellowship. Many have wondered what the Criamon maga did to get herself expelled: to get chucked out of House Criamon you must be REALLY weird.

Eruditio Palus – Somerset Marshes, near Glastonbury – a few level-headed mages try to gather vis and cut through the mysticism surrounding Glastonbury. Home to the legendary monk and cartographer Egbert, known for his lewd dancing which led to his expulsion form his monastery. Several Bjornaer and Bonisagi make their home here, and they are said to have many excellent books on the Arts and welcome visitors who are willing to risk catching swamp ague. There are always a Quaesitor based here, though why no one can say, as it is little involved in politics, mundane or Hermetic.

Mons Castrum Shropshire, Bridgnorth – in the caves underneath Bridgnorth’s table mountain, a warren of wizards keep their fortress ready. Home to the Tremere Exarch Flavius and five followers (this is a highly defensible position) plus a couple of martial-minded Flambeau associates. Flavius is Praeco by virtue of being the oldest magi in the Tribunal – he is 136 years of age in 1160, and still capable of riding his magical steed which is said to be able to run upon the winds, and a fearsome warrior and an even more fearsome master of Rego magics.

Alba Rosa – Your covenant. The name means White Rose.

Woodpecker covenant, on the North Yorkshire Moors so-called as they started off “guests” of Walter l’Espec aka “Walter the Woodpecker”, founder of Helmsley castle in 1120, Rievaulx abbey (2 miles away, a major Cistercian place with a fine wool produce and a forge) and Kirkham Priory (Augustinian). This wealthy and ambitious builder and generous philanthropist is clearly too good for mages to pass up. He was raised up by Henry I, controlled Northern England for a few years with Eustace FitzJohn At this point the castle is made of wood (and the town is called “Hamlake”) and owned by Walter’s sister, Adelina and her husband Peter de Roos..

Medicata Insula: Lindisfarne – Holy Island covenant, a mixed group of mages who live in a high Dominion aura, yet somehow cope. Physically isolated by both tide and distance, they rarely turn up to Tribunal meetings. A Bonisagus maga called Isabella who lives here is known to be an expert on Hedge Magic traditions of the Order, and little liked by the rest of the covenant. Why she stays no one knows.

Well we only had four days from deciding to play the game, to actually starting the first session, so we have been working very fast, but I think we have a fair start here which should give us a few months play potential at least.So far Luke has designed his Mythic Companion, a Faerie Doctor called Sam, Kev played Colt the Smith his Verditius magi and Lloyd’s 22 year old Magister in Artibus has turned his back on Oxford University to become a school master at St. Peter’s York.  Lloyd has said he will write the first session up, so I will doubtless put that on my blog as well, but so far it’s been a lot of fun and they have only just arrived at the covenant! I’ll update from time to time with notes on how the game is going – gaming si an important part of my life, and I rarely talk about my rpg games here, but I guess a few of my fellow gamers might be amused or find something useful.

Oh I did a player handout – as the game opened on Christmas Day 1160 with the character’s trudging through the snow, I gave them a quick historical introduction to major events of that year…

The Year 1160

The Royal Family

The year just ending has been a peaceful one in Stonehenge. King Henry II is married to the former wife of his greatest enemy, Louis of France.  The beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine is now 38 years old, but eight years ago to everyone’s amazement following the annulment to of her former marriage she ran away with King Henry. Their first child William died a few years ago, aged three, but they have three healthy sons – Henry aged seven, Richard aged three and Geoffrey aged two, as well as a four year old daughter, Matilda.

This year King Louis of France’s second wife (the one who replaced Eleanor) Constance of Castille died in October, giving birth to a daughter, Alys. She already had a child with Louis, the three year old Margaret of France, and that child is in the care of King Henry and Queen Eleanor, who promptly declare her engagement to their eldest living son, Henry. King Louis is furious, and marries Adele of Champagne almost as soon as his former wife is buried, still desperately hoping for a male heir. At the moment Young Henry of England (the four year old) may inherit France if King Louis dies!

War with France

In November the three year old Margaret f France was married to Young Henry (aged seven), with the Papal Legates Cardinal Willaim of Pavia and Cardinal Henry of Pisa speaking their vows for them, at a castle in Germany. Immediately the Templar held castle of Gisors which was due to be a wedding present had to be surrendered by France to the English King, and Count Theobald of Champagne (Louis’ new father in law) and King Louis of France started to strengthen their castles and prepare for war at Castle Chaumont.  King Henry then arrived with his army and the French nobles fled, so that castle too falls to the English. Further war between the Angevin Empire and France is now inevitable, despite, indeed because, of the royal marriage of the infants which may one day unite the two thrones.

Two Popes?

The death of Pope Adrian (an Englishman) leads to a strange situation: the English and French cardinals elect Alexander as Pope, but the German Cardinals claim their candidate Octavian won. There are now two Popes, both of whom claim to rule the Church. In England and Wales Alexander is considered the legitimate Pope, buit in Rome cardinals ort ricval factions still fight on the streets.

Another School Founded

Derby, England sees a new school founded, yet another  rival to St Peters, York by Walkelin of Derby. There are just too many schools these days, where will all the school children be found to fill them?

Raynald of Chatillion captured by Saracens

The Crusader Lord, Prince of Antioch by marriage to Constance of Antioch has been captured by the Saracens. Few mourn: four years ago he raided Cyprus, and when the Patriarch of Antioch (a leader of the Orthodox Church and great holy man) condem3ned this attack on the Christian island, Raynald had him seized, stripped naked, covered in honey, and left in the burning sun on top of the citadel. When the Patriarch was released, he collapsed in exhaustion and agreed to finance Raynald’s expedition against Cyprus. It was during a raid against the Saracens that Raynald was caught – they are said to be holding him prisoner in a  dungeon,

War in Italy

Holy Roman Emperor (& King of the Germans) Frederick Barbarossa takes Crema ,Italy, following a cruel siege, as part of his campaign against the independent Italian city-states.

I might write one of these for the 1220′s sometime as well, as that could be handy for a lot of Ars Magica sagas. Sadly Tom who was the creator of a good half of this could not make the first session, owing to snow, but he will be at next week’s game, when the character’s really get to know their new home :)

Just in case anyone wondered…

Posted in Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on December 9, 2009

I’m still alive! I had an enjoyable board games evening last Friday night, and DC, Tom Nowell and Richard Lay came over for an hour and a half while we played a quick game of Condottierre, a fun card/board eurogame of Italian Renaissance empire building. Unfortunately DC then went down next day with the dreaded lurgy piggy flu, and so after a fairly depressing weekend in which I did not seem to achieve much (apart from being spaced out completely by some pills my doctor gave me) I spent much of Monday trekking about Cheltenham in the rain trying to get him his Tamiflu. Monday night Kevin  and Luke came over for Geist, the rpg of the unquiet dead, and last night I slept much of the evening. I’m glad to say it sounds like he is on the mend. Yesterday was taken up largely in running errands for people, and my failing to get my PIN number right so my bank account locked – I never made it to the bank today, but I will tomorrow. So after many hours of walking all over the place in the rain, and aching dreadfully and feeling run down, I have been sleeping most of today, and am glad to report I’m feeling much better and am pretty certain now I don’t have the dreaded lurgy. Anyway that’s my excuse for not having written anything here for a week!

Hope everyone well, cj x

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