Son. A poem.

Sometimes he’s far away, head in the clouds again
In a world that’s hard to define, harder to confirm
Even with all his quirks, arguments, trials, laughter and pain
Together we are unflappable, incorrigible, unbreakable, invincible
He is my son, my amazing and unbelievable one
My sunrise, my sunset, my reason for being
My love is without measure and without end
And every moment shared is like being born again

Everything is awesome. Not.

I often get depressed at the worst times. Like today, when I have to do work for uni and my motivation is at an all-time low. The solution? Write aimlessly about depression for my blog. Yes, I’m sure that will solve everything (I may claim to be a writer, but I never claimed to be an intelligent or coherent writer. Or a man with a plan).

Sometimes I play guitar to get me back to a reasonable mental state. But, as we all know (and as I should know, by now), music played by sad people often tends to be…sad. It’s not often that melancholy musos rip into a version of ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego movie (actually, it’s never – no real musos would ever play that song).

Sometimes I lie around waiting for my depression to subside. This is one of the worst solutions, as I tend to fixate on everything bad in my life (which is almost everything I do) and then try to rationalise it with all the people worse off in the world than me (which is a lot more), which makes me sadder as I’m obviously a complete waste of time who has just wasted my own time. Almost a living double negative. And don’t get me started on the bit where I start fantasising about the perfect life (or, more appropriately, perfect lie).

Often, I try to read, but people with depression are attracted to literature in much the same way they are attracted to gloomy music. This makes unhappy endings even more unhappy (“But Rhett, we should be together. I love you!” “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I think I’ll return home and gamble and drink myself into a deep and inescapable hole. And maybe guest star as a Force ghost in the next Star Wars movie.” Note to Disney: do not have an ‘Anakin’ Force ghost cameo. I’m warning you now. You don’t want to see a depressed fan when he’s angry. Nothing to lose, y’know. I warned you I’m not always coherent).

I’m a fairly creative person—I compose stories, poems and music, draw, write this stupid blog—and one would assume that I would be able to find some way (other than high doses of legal and potentially illegal medication) to get me out of the dumps. What I’ve found is that depression is ideal for creativity. I’ve written some of my best work when I feel like crap. Of course, it tends to be a bit depressing, but there you go. Horses for courses, and all that jazz.

I know there are lots of people in the world who suffer from anxiety and depression—a quick search on WordPress reveals hundreds of blogs by sad and lonely bloggers with more than enough to say on the topic. So, my own vaguely pathetic attempts are almost laughable (or miserable, depending on how they turn out).

So, I’m looking for some sure fire quick fixes (yes, I know there aren’t any, but tell me anyway. I’m a true believer in panaceas and placebos, except when they’re administered rectally). Meditation? Tried it. Martial Arts? Do it already. Working out? Yep, a great fix that lasts the period of the workout and about an hour afterwards…Alcohol? I’m sure there’s a potential down side to it, but it’s looking good, so far…

Surprisingly, this pithy bit of writing has cheered me up slightly (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being dead and 10 being obnoxiously and overwhelmingly extroverted, I guess I’m a 4). Not because it’s good, but rather just a way to vent. Maybe I should try some more. Perhaps those uni responses…

Old Dogs. A poem.

Our old hangouts have changed
Nothing here has stood still
But we’re both still keeping time
To an age-old beat of bitterness and pain
Same old tricks for the same old dogs
So the malls may change and the atmosphere
But together or apart we are never present tense
Just more tension and pretension
Always at our expense

Whovian Girl. A poem.

It’s hard not to remember her face
Often smiling, sometimes scowling
A book clutched to her breast
And a smartphone in her hand
Nerd excitement at the latest Dr Who
Which we’d discuss at length
Dissertations on everything from daleks to Dr next
And though she had her secrets, as did I
We were always as candid as could be
On any conversation, any topic
No condescension or formality
Always earnest to the nth degree
And when we laughed it was meaningful and hearty
I miss her, as I always have
As I always will and always won’t
Never far from mind but always far from sight
I miss my Whovian as I miss the light
Now that my world has passed
Into this long and endless night

Boxes. A poem.

Life reduced to boxes
Cartons of memory
Refuse of lifetimes
Stacked and sorted
Taped and sealed
Like canopic jars
Awaiting the afterlife
Awaiting release
When stored thoughts
And precious mementoes
Will leap forth
With renewed vigour
From cardboard cages
To stride the open veldt once more
To live and breathe as before
Before time locked them away
In sealed boxes of fate
Unsure of eternity

Mindjammer – SF role playing that’ll bring you back for more

I guess you can tell by the title of this post that I love this game. I included it in my recent Top 10 Tabletop Role Playing Games.

Mindjammer is far future space opera role playing, a la the stories of Iain M. Banks and Peter F. Hamilton. It’s a world of exploration, political intrigue, cultural conflict, post-humanity, virtual existence and rediscovery. The name of the game is taken from the sentient starships that carry communications and information between the stars.

Mindjammer uses the excellent Fate Core System as its engine. I wrote about this system recently, so to find out more about how it works, click here. The Fate Core System is about cinematic storytelling and making your players look and feel awesome. It empowers players and Gamemasters (GMs) to stretch the envelope. This means that Mindjammer adventures can be…flexible, and as such, the game probably requires a reasonably experienced GM.

The New Commonality of Mankind is the setting, 10 000 years in the future. And what a huge setting it is. The Mindjammer hardcover rule book is almost 500 pages long, and it contains literally everything you can think of for a sci-fi campaign–-technology, equipment, weapons, armour, starships (including sentient spaceships), constructs, vehicles, cultures, history, synthetics, races, divergent evolution, environments, life forms–and more.

Although characters can be New Commonality humans, there are also hominids (humans who have evolved to suit their new environments, like the genurgically-enhanced Chembu, low gravity Javawayn, symbiotic Hydragand-Dezimeer, and the artistic Viri), xenomorphs (uplifted animals, like canids, cetaceans, felines, pithecines, ursoids), synthetics (intelligent starships with humanoid avatars, mechanicals, organics, installations, etc.), Aliens (the warlike Hooyow, the mysterious Lowhigh) and post-humans (Evanescents, Evolvers, Extenders, and Longevitors). And the rules are flexible enough to allow creation of your own genotypes so the sky is, quite literally, without limit. There are multiple occupations, with suggested aspects, skills, stunts, enhancements and equipment for quick builds, but players have the freedom to create builds from scratch.

In the far future, nearly everyone has Mindscape implants that enable them to connect with everyone else via a virtual network, enabling technopsi powers. The Mindscape stores memories and personalities of the dead, and can provide additional skills. It’s another environment for players to adventure in, or can be used as an adjunct to their ‘physical’ adventures.

The New Commonality itself stretches over 3000 light years from Old Earth, and contains so many systems that only a small number are in the book (The included Darradine Rim is a great introductory setting, nestled on the edge of the New Commonality and bordering the Venu Empire–lots of intrigue and cultural stresses to fuel adventures). Full rules are included for creating your own systems and sectors.

Adventure seeds are peppered throughout the Mindjammer rule book, to give GMs ideas. There are extensive sections on creating adventures and campaigns, which can be any type of sci-fi the GM and players want. There is so much contained within that it’s a bit overwhelming at times, and impossible for me to cover here. The rule book is impeccably written and edited by author Sarah Newton (who also put together the great retro-fantasy Monsters and Magic RPG, which I’ll also get around to reviewing sometime…).

There are various adventures and supplements available, including The Far Havens, Blue, The City People, Hearts and Minds, and the quickstart PDF (introductory rules and adventure) Dominion, which is only $4.00 (Australian).

Mindjammer has a Traveller-version of the game, for grognards old and new (I have many fond memories of Traveller campaigns from my way-distant past).

Mindjammer is a fantastic game and setting. The Fate rules engine is flexible and easy to use, the sci-fi setting is suitably vast, fascinating and challenging, and the options for style of play are many. You can’t go wrong with this game. Even if you already have a preferred ruleset, you can just adopt the setting.

Try Mindjammer out with your gaming group. I guarantee they’ll be coming back for more.

 

Mindjammer is available via Modiphius Games at https://www.modiphius.net/collections/mindjammer-press

Ghostly. A poem.

Ghostly
Wandering
Wanting

Lost

Missing
Wondering
Will you ever be whole

Instead of a hole

Disconnected
Disenfranchised

Disconcerted
Distant

Unloved
Will you ever be one
With another
Ever again

Ghostly
Wandering
Wanting
Lost

Until found

Fate Core System – Story telling table top role playing at its finest

I’ve been threatening to do a Fate Core review for some time now (it’s one of my Top 10 Favourite Role Playing Games), but you know how it is, so much to do and so little time… But today’s the day!

So, what is Fate Core? It’s a table top role playing game*, or TRPG**, which focuses on dramatic story telling. In the last decade or so, a number of games have entered the TRPG market that emphasise player engagement and involvement via storytelling and role playing***, including Apocalypse World, Mouse Guard, 13th Age, etc.

I believe Fate Core is one of the best cinematic story telling games around. It has some crunchy dice rolling mechanics and emphasises player awesomeness. It encourages players and Gamemaster (GM) to work together to create the story proactively as you play the game. And it enables you to play any type of game imaginable.

Here’s a few things about Fate Core:

  • Fate Core uses fudge dice. The player rolls four of these to determine if they pass or fail tests. Fudge dice have two pluses (+), two blanks ( ) and two minuses (-), and when rolled together show an outcome, where pluses are positive (obviously), blanks mean nothing (again, obviously) and minuses subtract from the pluses and blanks (you can use standard dice to simulate these if you don’t have fudge dice). When a player wants to do something cool (for example, running across the backs of crocodiles to get to the other side of the stream), the GM sets the opposition (the previous example might be considered great, or +4 opposition). The player rolls the dice and has the opportunity to invoke an Aspect (see below), or use stunts (see further below) or skills (see even further below) to add to the roll, or use Fate points (see even further down below) to influence the outcome. Once rolled, the player describes what happened and the game moves forward.
  • Players and environments have Aspects, which are phrases that describe some interesting and individual detail about the character or place e.g. “Tempted by Shiny Things”. These aspects are used in the game during Scenes, which are dramatic devices used to describe action and events. If you can describe how your aspect can add to an action, then you can get a bonus on your roll. This is called invoking, and usually costs a Fate Point. Alternatively, the negative component of an aspect can be compelled – that is, used to make things more difficult for the player. This earns them a Fate point they can use later.
  • Fate Points are the currency of the game. Players start the game with 1-3 Fate points (depending on how they build their character), and you can spend them to invoke aspects. You gain them for compelling aspects (see earlier).
  • Skills are used to do complicated or interesting actions with the dice, and are added either when you build the character or during the game – they range from +1 to +4, and you are limited in how many you have. For example, Rapport is a skill for social interaction.
  • Stunts are special tricks a player can use to get an extra benefit out of a skill or alter some rule in your character’s favour e.g. “Another Round?” Is a stunt a character with rapport can use to give a bonus to gain information when drinking in a tavern.
  • Damage is done to characters via physical stress or mental stress – a bit like hit points from D&D, but not. Physical and mental stress is recovered after each scene. A player or GM can also opt to take consequences from actions – these are longer lasting impacts that play into the story telling elements of the game, and in some cases, can affect your rolls.

What I’ve explained is very brief and doesn’t capture how cool all these elements work together when playing a game (I’m sure the authors, if they ever read this, will roll their eyes and say “But he’s just scratched the surface!”). Trust me, the rules are well written and play tested, and work really well in a live setting, allowing you to play any type of situation.

Fate Core also has an easy version called Fate Accelerated, which is quicker to learn.

One of the fantastic aspects of Fate Core is that the GM and players can make up any sort of background/setting they want to play in. There are also a number of pre-made Fate Core settings, that you can use for quick or extended games, such as Morts (zombie apocalypse), Red Planet (Soviet pulp sci-fi), Save Game (set inside a video game world), and Romance in the Air (political intrigue/steampunk), to name a few. These can be downloaded from DrivethruRPG.com, for as much as you want to pay for them.

Fate Core is also the system used in a number of other games, such as the totally cool far future transhuman Mindjammer (one of my top 10!), The Dresden Files, Spirit of the Century, Atomic Robo, Eclipse Phase (Transhumanity’s Fate), War of Ashes, and even an indie Fate Core version of Mass Effect.

If you haven’t played this game before, get some fudge dice (or regular six-sided dice), grab the rules from EvilHat.com or DrivethruRPG.com and start playing! You won’t be disappointed.

 

* Don’t know what a TRPG? You don’t know what you’ve been missing! Click here for an explanation

** Or just RPG for all the old school grognards out there who don’t get computer RPGs and table top RPGs mixed up

*** Despite what RPG implies, some RPGs are so crunchy and combat focussed that they are almost not RPGs at all, rather board games with character and skill building

Missing. A short tale.

Something was missing. Every time I looked, I thought I saw it, but like some mote in the corner of one’s eye, when I looked again it was gone. I was starting to doubt my own senses.

I clambered around the room, searching up and down, turning things over and tossing them about, trying to find the missing thing. I wasn’t sure what it was, just that I needed it. Right now. I felt like a junkie itching for a fix, but not knowing exactly what hit he needed.

If it wasn’t in my room, maybe it was online. I flicked on the laptop, checked a few regular pages, a few irregular ones, and eventually gave up, my chin resting on my open palm as I scratched my head. It had to be around here somewhere. But what was it that was missing? What was it that proved so elusive and mysterious?

And then it came to me, like a lightbulb flickering on in pitch black.  I was missing a life.

I guess I needed to get up off my arse, get out of my room and find it.

 

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