Shadow Tales. A poem.

My aching thoughts and fretful angst
that often lead astray,
that wander in the ceding light,
whose shadows form my way.
The consequences of my time,
misled misgivings here,
they form a crazy, tangled skein,
the symptoms of my fears.
Beneath the coverlet of night
pulled tight to shield me so,
to trick me in the feeble light
whence all the shadows go.
Internal, puerile anger
that only suffocates my joy,
continues here to effervesce,
and shake me like a toy.
And when the crystal shear without
cuts through the satin veil,
I’ll be waiting here again
with my sad, poetic tale.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Free Map! The Living Tower of Moka-Shul

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: The Living Tower of Moka-Shul!

So, who is this Moka-Shul guy anyway? And what’s the go with his living tower? Well, I picture Moka-Shul as a powerful wizard, perhaps a Lich or Vampire. His tower exists on a lower plane and travels inter-dimensionally depending on its master’s whims.  The tower is populated with all sorts of beasties the players will have to confront as they make their way to the top.

The tower is alive, the walls extruding living tentacles in surprise attacks that suck targets into fleshy maws that appear wherever the tower needs them. And the inhabitants aren’t immune to this either, which is why they regularly bathe in the waters of the fathom beast, one of Moka-Shul’s pets. The fathom beast sweats a particular oil that the tower recognises as friendly. But the fathom beast isn’t very amenable and often makes a meal out of bathers!

The Living Tower of Moka-Shul

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

P.S. I’m writing a 48-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Upstart Photographer: Things #2

I like to write poems. I like to take photographs. Sometimes I take photos of things.

Here’s one, with an accompanying poem. I don’t normally write poems about things, but for my photos I can make an exception.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Road. A poem.

Exemplars on the way,
milestones of the incredulous
and the extravagant,
until the unseen border, gone.
Here in stark contrast,
mother’s permanent residents
hold sway and sway in time
to the rhythms of the asphalt,
the heat swathes writing
memoirs of the silence.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Tears. A poem.

Succinct and retrospect,
mercury lines connecting dots,
snaking and entwined,
‘tween valleys and hills,
pooling at the feet:
drowned confetti dreams.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Fumes of You. A poem.

Your scent was different,
lingering in my nostrils,
a whiff of nostalgic free fall
and extra sensory motion.
The fumes of you twisted
around me and consumed
every pore and fibre
of my unwholesome being.
Should I have let that smell
overwhelm me as it did before
when I threw subtle caution
to the heedless wind?
Then you were gone
and the flames and fumes
died, as they always did.
All that was left, the memory
of your trackless bouquet.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Moon Thoughts. A poem.

The moon waxes and wanes,
in afterthoughts of the
bitter-sweet variety.

My wanderings have
brought me closer to
an undistinguished end,
and yet still I cling
to the filaments of
monopolised undertakings.

Moonlight fill my spirit,
build it up in a voodoo
pyre to burn and jest,
as if the last laugh were
worthy of redemption.

Play away, subtle light,
fix your steely gaze upon
this unctuous beggar
and cast a shadow long
unto his craven grave,
where silver shafts do
shape his own betrayal.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Writer Interrupted: Writing Haiku

What is a Haiku?

The Haiku is a poetic form that originated in Japan as early as the 9th or 13th Century, depending on what you read, but wasn’t known by the term Haiku until the 19th century.

Want to know more about Haiku history? Click here.

Traditionally, they focussed on nature and emphasised simplicity.

Each line of the poem has specific syllabic criteria:

1st Line: 5 syllables
2nd Line: 7 syllables
3rd Line: 5 syllables

Want to know how to count syllables? Click here. 

Examples of Japanese Haiku

April’s air stirs in
Willow-leaves…a butterfly
Floats and balances
― Bashō, Japanese Haiku

Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still…
Iris, blue each spring
― Shushiki, Japanese Haiku

Modern Haiku

Modern Haiku can vary dramatically from the original intent in terms of subject matter. Some even depart from the syllabic criteria (which calls into question whether they should be considered Haiku).

For some cool, nature-oriented examples, click here.

And here’s a few Haiku I wrote about writing Haiku:

Writing Haiku. A Haiku trilogy.

1.
In every dew drop,
I see the acorn of thought
that grows into oak.
2.
Language comes alive.
My mind is afire with life,
burned on the white page.
3.
Acorn now grown tall,
the tree outlined in firelight.
Feel these sunset words.

– Stephen Thompson, Modern Haiku

For more of my Haiku, click here.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The All or the Nothing is my first e-book of poetry.
Click here to buy a copy online.

Make Your Way. A poem.

Indecision rules
in every fool,
the uninspired and undecided.

Confusion reigns
and fear sustains
the paltry and the parodied.

Mark this day,
make your way from
the aimless and objectionable.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Laidback DM: Big Books of Monsters – mini-reviews

I love using new monsters in D&D and other fantasy role playing games (RPGs), and players love the uncertainty and the challenge that comes with them. Like many time-poor DMs, I’m always on the lookout for new monster books so I don’t have to waste time making my own (I still do, but a lot less than I used to). Luckily there are some great books on the market to cater to my laziness.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Official D&D 5e product from WOTC, similar to Volo’s Guide but with a higher page count of 256 pages. They obviously listened to the feedback after the rather short Xanathar’s Guide. Extensive background on numerous races, including new race options. A number of new creatures, including more higher Challenge Rating (CR) beasties. My faves include the Cadaver Collector, Oblex and the Gnomish Clockworks.

• Great and consistent production values.

• Good race options for players looking for more variety.

• Some of the monsters are drawn from previously released adventures.

• Not as many monsters as I’d like and some of the higher CR creatures are a bit easy for their level.

Kobold’s Tome of Beasts

Kobold’s beastie book has been out for a while, and features 429 pages of D&D 5e monsters, many quite horrific. New dragon and giant types, fey lords, demons, devils and undead, and a riot of new and exciting creatures, including many high CRs. These monsters are much more challenging than WOTC’s offerings. Some of my faves are the Void Dragon with its gravitic and stellar flare breaths, Sand Spider with impaling legs, and the array of cool Clockworks.

• Fantastic art, thick paper and well bound (not likely to fall apart from use).

• Great variety of challenging and unusual beasties.

• Better value than the official D&D monster products.

• One or two beasts (Titivilus, for example) have been superseded by official content. But then, you can choose which version you prefer!

Monster Codex

A new core book recently Kickstarted for the awesome Swedish grimdark fantasy RPG Symbaroum. New monsters with adventure seeds, loads of NPC and beast listings, new monstrous traits and guidelines for balancing encounters and developing monster-specific adventures like hunts. Not only is Symbaroum a great system, it features the best layout and art of any fantasy RPG on the market.

• Awesome, atmospheric art worth drooling over.

• Write-ups and supporting documents in the style of old-time bestiaries and grimoires.

• Could have been a little longer, but the quality more than makes up for the length.

Cheers

DM Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 19.

Shi-Cho smiles grimly as Flotsam station appears in the transteel cockpit window. At this distance it is little more than a tiny spinning tin can, a shining diamond against the charcoal disk of the planet below. Captain Hansen, seated in the pilot’s chair in front of Shi-Cho, gestures to a nearby monitor. “We’re being hailed by the Hyperion, sir. She’s about 500 kays off the port bow.”

“I’ll take the call in the back.” Shi-Cho heads to the private cabin and awkwardly seats his massive frame in the chair. The hologram flickers to life. It’s Bester; his long, lean features are less stern than usual.

“I want you to bring your ship to my cruiser,” says Bester.

Shi-Cho frowns. “You said I would have command of this operation.”

“You still have command. I have an alternative for you and I to get aboard while the assault takes place.”

“And what would that be?”

“Dock with my cruiser. I’ll show you when you get here.” The hologram fades and Shi-Cho’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Gods-damned trillionaires and their secrets.”

* * *

Olsin rushes to catch up to the Anvil as it strides down the corridor.

“Hey,” says Olsin. “Slow down.”

The armature’s reply is curt. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.”

Olsin matches the Anvil’s stride, double-stepping to keep up. “Sugar, you just saw your daughter and hardly said ‘boo’,” she says. “Back in the cell you were ready to rip the walls down to save her. Obviously, something’s the matter.”

The Anvil keeps its eyes locked ahead. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, sugar, amongst my qualities of awesome hand-to-hand fighter and incredible shot, I’m also a great listener.”

The Anvil stops and turns to Olsin, its masculine face inscrutable. Olsin shrugs and smiles, and they continue walking. Around them, technicians, troops and general staff run around like lab rats missing a maze, as Flotsam preps for attack. A siren starts to wail and the overhead glowglobes change colour, painting the surrounds scarlet.

“We need to hurry, Bester’s mercenary fleet must be within range,” says the Anvil. Picking up the pace, they run until they come to a large room, walls layered with colourful vending machines. They pass fast food, clothing, fetish and gun vending machines before they arrive at a pharmaceutical dispenser. “Memjets,” says the Anvil, palmchip hovering over the sensor. A plastic pill case drops into the collection slot as money is transferred. Grabbing the box, the armature flips two tablets into its mouth and swallows. The synthi-flesh nub of the Anvil’s missing left arm throbs sympathetically.

“Recall problems, huh?” says Olsin. “I don’t suppose this has anything to do with your attitude towards your little girl?” The armature frowns and starts back to the briefing room, Olsin jogging beside her.

“Look, sugar,” Olsin says. “I may not know you that well—hell, I only just found out you were a woman thirty minutes ago—but I sense you’ve got some heavy-duty crap going on. Aside from having your ass whipped and losing an arm, that is. If I’m going to be fighting alongside you, I’d prefer to know your head’s in the game.” The Anvil continues silently.

Olsin sighs. “Hell, sugar, you might as well actually be a man. You sure do act like one.”

The Anvil stops abruptly. “That’s the problem,” it says, a frown creasing its masculine brow. “I think I am a man.”

“So, you’re not a woman, after all?”

“I don’t think I’m Violet’s mother, either. But someone wants me to think I am.”

* * *

Chun fingers the pumpgun hanging at her side as the briefing officer informs the team of the boarding defence strategy. There are numerous hologram displays clogging the air: lots of pretty icons and moving arrows, station and weapon schematics. She sighs and rolls her eyes every few minutes. Violet stands at her side, cuddling Chun’s leg with one arm and her teddy with the other. Chun soothingly runs her fingers through the little girl’s hair.

Jimmy stands beside her, arms crossed, moody and unimpressed. Every once in a while, his eyes dart to Jayle, who is less interested in the plan than Chun is. She sticks out her tongue, teasing the little man as she spins his antique Magnum around her finger. Jimmy grinds his teeth, cocking his station-issued auto-pistol. Chun places her palm on the barrel and guides it downwards, shaking her head.

The holograms fade, the circus over; the briefing officer exits. Lady Chao stands out front, tall and menacing, neon dragon tattoos on her durasteel arms shining like warning signs up and down dual roadways. Her assistant Alida hovers behind, looking as inconsequential as she feels. Johnston addresses the team.

“You heard the defence plan,” he says. “The Flotsam defence teams will cover the docking bays at northside and southside. There’s always the chance Bester’s mercs could enter elsewhere, but that might end up depressurising the station and I don’t believe he’d be stupid enough to do that. Our job is to prevent anyone getting to Violet Bester and use the confusion of the attack to get her out of here. We’ll be in two teams—one directly responsible for the girl and the other to provide backup and fire support.” He eyes the newcomers warily. “The boss insists we mix and match, so Kanji and Jayle will go with Chun and Jimmy in Kid Bester’s team and the Anvil, Olsin, Sarain and myself will be the fire team. Any questions?”

The door slides open and the Anvil and Olsin step in. “Yeah,” says Olsin. “Mind repeating that?”

* * *

The massive shell of Bester’s cruiser dwarfs Shi-Cho’s troop carrier as it snuggles into the Hyperion’s docking bay like a baby in utero. Shi-Cho makes his way to the bridge, the slider lifts taking much less time than expected, given the distance. The doors part silently to reveal a control area at least fifty metres across, studded with transteel-encapsulated flight officers, vast hologrammatic screens, and recessed operations cavities filled with vacc-suited men and women.  A floating viewing platform dominates the centre, facing massive ten metre-high transteel view ports overlooking Flotsam station, a few hundred kilometres distant. Bester’s lithe figure stands next to the vacc-suited Captain Ward. Four two-metre high raptors festooned with cybernetics, aggressively sniffing the air and tapping their dewclaws, hover behind.

A localised anti-grav field glides Shi-Cho onto the viewing platform. The raptors immediately tense as they face him. He stares them down, his internal sensors and pre-cursive tracking arrays registering their armaments, plotting potential attack and defence vectors; his HUD is a wash of colour impressions and data.

Bester turns. “Shi-Cho, your fleet can commence its attack. It will be a diversion—you and I will be entering the station separately while the station crew are distracted.”

Shi-Cho sends a message to his fleet vessel commanders. In the huge view ports the flotilla of ships closes on the station, splitting into two groups and heading for the north and southside docking bays. Streams of silent plasma light up the dark as various station defensive turrets respond. Several troop ships and interceptors explode in brief, distant flashes. Captain Ward gestures to his operators below, and multiple munitions-seeking fission torps launch silently from the Hyperion, bright contrails hanging in their wake. Flechette defence arrays launch from the Flotsam. Some of the torps are curtailed, but most get through. There are flares across the station’s knobbly surface, and the turrets and missile bays are no more. Ward turns to Bester. “All external defences neutralised, sir.”

Bester watches as several of Shi-Cho’s ships dock at both ends of the station, with others holding position around Flotsam to prevent any life pod evacs. As the minutes pass, comms transmissions from the ground assault troops advise heavy resistance portside.

Bester checks his watch, a brief holographic panel flickering to life, his fingers darting across translucent keys. Shi-Cho looks on curiously. He’s never seen a watch like that before.

“It’s time for us to pay Lady Chao a visit,” says Bester.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Died Inside. A poem.

And as I slowly died inside
within the canny matrices
of my mind,

I came to understand it all
everything I’d ever been
done and seen,

as if every strand
was a flower bud opening
for the first time.

And as the tears flowed
and doused the floor
my sins like wine,

an overturned wash bucket,
overdue for mopping,
I slowly died inside.

And the loathsome cancer
of self-pity, self-hate,
and self-loathing,

took root and multiplied,
a calculus of lethal and
poisonous last rites.

The sum and division
of you and I.
I slowly died inside.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Upstart Photographer: Things #1

I like to write poems. I like to take photographs. Sometimes I take photos of things.

Here’s one, with an accompanying poem. I don’t normally write poems about things, but for my photos I can make an exception.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Bowl. A poem.
Crusted and crinkled,
your contours and skin
are wrinkles in time,
shaped and subsumed
in ornamental bliss:
a life beyond death.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Nostalgia. A poem.

Nostalgia
On my mind
A keepsake
Turn it over
In my hands
A snow globe
Filled with memory
And the dust
Of fickle years
And absent foes
Now long forgotten
But present still

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Haiku Friday: Third Degree. A haiku.

Third Degree
Caustic heart branding
third degree burns on my soul.
Tell me again—why?

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form with a strict 5/7/5 syllable and line structure.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Heel. A poem.

Why concern yourself
with where you walk?
I am just a reed
beneath your heel
cracking until broken,
outlined in your footprint.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Laidback DM: Murder Hobos vs. Negotiators

Is your party the kind that prefers to fight their way through a role playing game encounter (known in the trade as ‘Murder Hobos’)? Or one that likes to talk to the bad guys, using their role playing ability or character’s skills to get out of a tough spot (negotiators)?

I believe players that prefer fight- over talk-based solutions may result from the following:

• Old school, ‘experience points-from-monster-death’ mindsets

• Characters created with an emphasis on fighting skills/abilities

• The enjoyment of a good battle

• A personal belief they’re not good role players

• Negotiating/talking means too many variables/potential outcomes

So, how do you get around these particular issues? It’s quite possible that your players just prefer fight-based adventures. But you may be growing tired with running these sorts of games all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of variety. Here’s some things you can do:

Write some deliberately role playing-focused adventures – nothing like a good murder mystery, or an adventure where the party are unable to use weapons. They’re forced to use other approaches.

Use milestone advancement in place of experience points – 5e includes the option for milestone advancement, and it sure saves a lot of XP calculations. Players think less about killing monsters and more about completing goals. Or if you really love XP, reward for solution-based outcomes rather than killing.

Reward players more for good role playingInspiration in D&D is an extra D20 that can be rolled in a tight spot to replace another D20 roll. Reward players more often for role playing and they’ll start role playing more. If you have people in the group who aren’t good role players, reward them for inventive use of player skills/spells.

Make them think more – use more puzzles and interesting traps for players to think their way out of.

Offer alternative outcomes to hacking and slashing – monsters have feelings, too! Let them have opportunities to talk their way out. I like one of the rules in the 13th Age game: everyone speaks the same language, unless the story calls for a different one. It makes it easier to negotiate. Or at least understand the bad guys as they’re dispatching you.

Emphasise consequences – sometimes your players need to see the repercussions of their violent actions to start thinking more. The orphanage for homeless goblin kids whose henchman parents were killed in that last lair assault, for instance. Or the bad guy, whose brother was killed, coming to murder the party in their sleep. Try not to get too grim, though.

Most of all, don’t forget to keep it flowing and keep it fun!

Cheers

DM Steve 🙂

What did Steve just rabbit on about? Don’t know what D&D or RPGs are? Click here.

Vagrant Heart. A poem.

And now every time I pass by you,
I remember when you were my muse.
My inspiration, a living rhyme
to hang my aching heart, in time.

          (I could and did, ‘til I was blue,
          write many volumes, just for you.
          But you never read and never knew,
          enigmas all and yet so full.)

Words flowed like the torrential rain,
now they flow right down the drain,
the endless drain out to the sea,
where tender mercies float and dream.
I’ll never know if you ever wondered,
guessed, assumed, or maybe stumbled,
upon the musings of my heart
disguised as metaphor in part.
I guess I was the greatest fool
for thinking you could love me, too.
I guess my words were wasted art,
the rantings of a vagrant heart.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

 

Surburbia. A poem.

                                My hurt
                                My tears
                                My pain
Are nothing more
Than your
                                Knowing smile
As you turn
And walk
While the
Rain washes
                               My frozen
                               Suburbia
Clean but
Still grey

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Twosome. A poem.

You creep up on me
An inveterate stalker
A ghostly presence
A firefly somnambulist
(Shadowing its prey)

You wrap me up
(A Christmas treat)
In sunflower petals
An itinerant limpet
Squeezing me senseless

You take me down
And bleed me until dry
Subcutaneous showers
(That eventually leave me)
Drained and serendipitous

Now we entwined
Seek a sunlight sojourn
(In darkness we are)
A tattooed compromise
Until morning arrives

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Haiku Friday: Inbetween. A haiku.

Inbetween
Caught in the middle,
the dutiful advocate.
Which way do you turn?

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form with a strict 5/7/5 syllable and line structure.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Shade. A poem.

There’s no rain, but the wind
blows and buffets and billows,
like an intransigent wolf at my door.
Cocooned in my chair and cold
sweeps and seeps through joints,
a lubricant of low viscosity oil.
The fire inside is only embers,
charcoal broiling in an emotive stew,
churning amongst gristle and bone.
What I’d give to fade away,
a listless shadow as the furnace
dies and dulls these pitted memories.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Stump. A poem.

I’m just a stump

By the road

You took your axe

And cut me

Down to size

Left me here

Just a stump

With not much

To reflect on

But passing traffic

Erstwhile glances

Just a stump

Worn and threadbare

Just a stump

Cut down in my prime

Admire your handiwork

As you pass

Stump

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Happytime Murders. A movie review.

No spoilers, but does it really matter for this one?

Where do I begin? The Happytime Murders is a muddled attempt at a comedic crime drama. The big problem: it lacks humour and a by-the-numbers conventional plot leaves you wondering why someone put up the money to make it in the first place.

Puppets and humans coexist in the world of the The Happytime Murders. Puppets are inferior and downtrodden by humans. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is a puppet PI who was the only puppet to serve on the human police force, forced out over an incident involving his then-partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and the death of an innocent bystander. Now Phil lives the life of a Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe, who is approached by Sandra, a nymphomaniac puppet who thinks someone is out to blackmail her. Phil’s investigation leads him to a number of puppet murders, linked to the syndicated Happytime show. He teams up with Edwards to solve the case.

happytime-murderse

From there it’s all downhill: puppets having sex, puppets drinking and doing drugs, puppets using the F-word a lot. It’s a one-trick pony that’s novel and amusing at first, but rapidly grows tired. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t seem to find her rhythm until the second act and even then, it’s patchy.

The Happytime Murders doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. At times it’s way too serious, at others attempting to pass off repetitious, miss-the-mark, frat-boy humour as comedy (the silent audience was telling). There are a few funny lines, but you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to them. It’s not really worth the effort.

This is the first time this year I’ve actually felt like I was cheated by a film company. If I could get my money back I would.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend The Happytime Murders to anyone.

Rating: E

The Chair. A poem.

Perpetual, an endless sojourn,
a continuum of unknowing.
This electric chair does not ease
the time as much as I would like.
The thoughts that spiral in my brain
are currents playing havoc
with the depths of perpetuity,
every outcome played out
against a backdrop of chaos.
And time ticks on, as slow as
shifting dunes or tidal sculpting.
Flick the switch, erase this unease,
ride the lightning and burn it out.
With every swollen, bleached
and battered breath, I’ll play
this game until my time is done.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Operation. A poem.

I wish sometimes
I could open my head,
take a scalpel in hand
and then operate.
Remove all the things
that I just love to hate:
things that make me
odd, or a little irate,
all the shadows I jump at,
everything that frustrates,
the notorious black dog,
fears that keep me awake.
But then all these parts
are the whole sum of me,
the sum of my choices,
consequences and fate.
And without them
I wouldn’t be who I am today.
So, let me close up my head
and put the scalpel away.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Laid Back DM: Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

I’ve been a Dungeon Master (DM) for many years now, ‘refereeing’ role playing games in many genres—fantasy, science fiction, horror, modern age. I’ve had experience running all sorts of adventures (an interactive story the players undertake to complete a quest or mission, sometimes as part of a larger campaign), and I’m currently writing a Dungeons and Dragons 5e supplement to publish.

Back when I was just a beginner, I would ‘railroad’ (a linear series of events that can’t be avoided) my players through the story. Over the years I’ve grown in experience and now my adventures are looser and offer more opportunities for improvising.

Here are some hints for DMs who want to fly by the seat of their pants:

Plan Less

Don’t write or plan as much for your adventure as you may have in the past. Have a basic plot, your major NPCs, a few encounters and a map or two, but don’t go big on filling out the details. Decide things as the players decide—let them help drive the story. It will save you lots of time and take the adventure places you may never have dreamed of.

My adventures are rarely longer than a page, nowadays. And that includes the map!

Know Your Players

Some players like to role play more, some like battles, some like puzzles and some hate them. Know your team and have a balanced mix of encounters for each adventure, so that no one is left out. Players will be more engaged if you know their character’s traits and what they like, making stories and introducing subplots accordingly.

Use Random Tables

Sandboxing is a gaming artform whereby the players decide what, when, where and how they want to do things. You generally need to be able to improvise well to run these sorts of campaigns, but if you need some help, keep a bunch of random tables on hand to generate NPCs, encounters, names, etc. on the fly.

Kevin Crawford (the man who wrote Stars Without Number and other great OSR RPGs) includes random generators in all his books, and there are numerous random table/plot supplements available from various companies.

Say ‘Yes’ More

A method used in improv comedy is to say “Yes, and…”. In other words, agree with a player’s course of action and then see where it takes them next. Saying “yes” more often to players can be liberating and take the story in unexpected directions. Don’t worry, you can still say “no” to the really outlandish stuff. You’re still running the game, after all.

In a recent D&D adventure, the party was asked to help out with a murder investigation. One of the players decided they needed a writ from the vice mayor to show they were deputised, which they used several times to question townsfolk and gain access to buildings. After a run in with a local trader they decided to break into his shop at night to investigate some potentially illegal goods. The party decided to confront one of the murder suspects at the local lighthouse where he worked and during the meeting they sabotaged the light so that one of the ships in the port suspected of piracy would maroon on the rocks when it returned that night. I decided the lamp was mechanical, rather than magical, and rotated by way of two harnessed dogs, which the party co-opted to track down an Orc lair on the outside of town. The players decided to use one of the cleared suspects to stage a ruse and draw out the murderer.

None of that was planned. All of it came about because I made up stuff in response to what the players wanted to do, and said ‘yes’ more often. It opened up several options that kept them enthralled and made the adventure more fun for me as well.

So, learn to fly by the seat of your pants. Before you know it, you’ll be running the adventures you’ve always wanted to.

Cheers

DM Steve 😊

What did Steve just rabbit on about? Don’t know what D&D or RPGs are? Click here.

Haiku Friday: Angel. A haiku.

Angel

You descended from
on high, an angel whose wings
could fly no longer.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form with a strict 5/7/5 syllable and line structure.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Effigy. A poem.

My memories and yours,
burnt in
effigy.
They’re digital photos
deleted from
your phone.
The flames lick at them,
a contented
aftertaste.
They hang like meat,
smoked and
chargrilled.
The funeral tailor delivers
a final suit in
charcoal.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Cycle. A poem.

Strangers, friends, lovers,
then strangers again.
Lovers and strangers,
but no longer friends.

It seems it’s a cycle
we’re doomed to repeat.
A cycle of madness,
one we just can’t escape.
No matter how we try
to break the cycle each time,
we always end up
back at the start of the line:

strangers, friends, lovers,
then strangers again.
Lovers and strangers,
but no longer friends.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Poetry. A poem.

When I read good poetry
I want to write good poetry
But my feeble affectations
And wanton masturbations
Pale to insignificance
When compared to
Browning, Whitman, Yeats

I yearn to write good poetry
The way I yearn to read good poetry
But such poetic vastness
Just becomes loquaciousness
Flowing perspicaciously
Away into a vast, uncaring
And unconcerned wilderness

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Disconnected. A poem.

                      Dream in

                                                            a state of

                        discontent

                               Disconnected

from all

                                               you hold dear

                  Did the

 world really

                                treat you

                       as bad as you think

or do you

                                                               Continually

                             Meditate

            on past

                 failures

                                           Like a prayer?

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Day Trip. A poem.

Drive across the aimless asphalt,
seeking ventures gained and lost.

Your hand is soft in mine,
the patina of your skin a road map
of anxious lines and weary learnings.
Today the sun and hills call forth,
in a circus maximus fanfare,
full of rolling fields and girdled cows;
ecstatic lens flare in every vista,
like a bargain basement special effect.

These times we spend are fleeting,
flying from our lonely pigeon coops,
hankering for domestic ventures,
the taste of quixotically exotic foods.

Your hand, so soft in mine,
my hand, so soft in yours.

Drive on, until our conjoined experience
merges with the murky sunset
and the road leads to your door.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Party Girl. A poem.

She died that day, kept all inside,
No longer daddy’s joy and pride.
The little girl that love rejected,
forgotten in her wayward stride.

She turned to other things and men
and they did have their way, but then
she never seemed to learn from them;
the spin-cycle started once again.

She tried and tried to face her fears
but all the abject lies and tears
did make for thrilling bedside tales.
If only someone new would hear.

She lived to love another day,
never learned the error of her ways;
no, not then or now or when.
Perhaps tomorrow: ‘til then, she’ll pray.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.
Click here to find out how to purchase a copy

Haiku Friday: Tragedy. A haiku.

Tragedy

Tragedy is what
those who deter from fate’s path
call coincidence.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form with a strict 5/7/5 syllable and line structure.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Instrument of Thought. A poem.

Every thought is a mere
grace note, a barely
consumed pinpoint
in a barely thought out
world, an architectural
nightmare of unplanned
infrastructure and roads
to nowhere.

But every once in a while,
that note combines into
a chord, and the vision
and sound brings a
joy of logic and
circumspection to the
almighty chaos.

This instrument will
always and never
let you down.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

The Difference. A poem.

Not the same,
not the way it was before,
even though it was nothing less
and nothing more,
it’s not the same.

Just a shame
it’s not like it was before,
even though it could never be,
of that I’m sure.
Such a shame.

No one to blame,
and neither here nor there
or anything in between, you see,
of that I am aware.
Nothing left to say.

I write a lot of poems, some from my head, some from my heart. Many don’t appear on this website. For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first e-book, available at most online book sellers.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

What I’ve been watching 2

A few months back I did some mini-reviews of Netflix shows I’d been watching (Australian Netflix – some of these series are on different networks in America and Europe). Here are some more short reviews of what I’ve been watching:

Star Trek Discovery

Great sci-fi show set in the movie universe pre-Kirk, with Spock’s adopted sister as the lead. It has a cool twist at the end of the first season.
Rating: B+

Jane the Virgin

Romantic comedy series that parodies Latin telenovellas. Everybody is into everyone! Cool narration, too.
Rating: B

12 Monkeys

Time travelling to save the world from an army and a lethal virus. Really steps up its game from S2 onwards.
Rating: C+

Luke Cage

Excellent street-level superhero series that’s only let down by a dodgy battle in the S1 finale.
Rating: B-

The Expanse

Great sci-fi show based on the books by James SA Corey. A solar system of political intrigue and imminent war, with an alien presence about to change everything.
Rating: C+

How to Get Away With Murder

Gotta love an ongoing murder mystery set on a college campus with weekly episodic legal procedurals.
Rating: B+

Iron Fist

An honourable man with amazing martial arts abilities returns to his company after years missing, but they don’t want him back. The low budget really shows, but this was interesting and handled ‘The Hand’ better than S2 of the Daredevil show.
Rating: C+

Ajin

Japanese anime about immortal creatures living among humans who are captured and experimented on. What happens when they decide to fight back? Gorgeous animation, smart, violent and not for kids.
Rating: B

Daredevil

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who becomes a vigilante by night. Very ‘Batman’. S1 is the best of the few seasons available.
Rating: C

Defenders

Team-up of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist against the Hand’s loopy machinations. Drags a bit. The individual series were better.
Rating: C-

Mars

Docudrama showing the first settlement of the Red Planet, real science commentary offsets the drama. Fascinating.
Rating: B+

Arrow

Superhero Green Arrow takes on crime with a bow and a team. Still going strong after six seasons, but running out of essential characters to kill (and bring back). Also very ‘Batman’.
Rating: C

The End of the Fxxxing World

Two kids on a road trip, one plans to kill the other. Definitely not a comedy (although it’s marketed that way). Mental health issues, murder and abuse. Hard hitting, but sensitive and amusing as well.
Rating: B

Cheers

Steve 🙂

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