Friday, 16 June 2017

North And South: Trips To Edinburgh & London

The first of two capital hauls.

Sometimes I bore you with my nerdy purchases.  This tends to happen more when I've visited lands outwith my native Greater Glasgow and includes a nerd shop review of those locales. 

I also pepper my travelogue with random RPG/wargame inspiration because I can't visit a museum or pass a landmark without thinking BUT HOW DO I GAME IT?  I'm sure you've noticed.

I haven't done that in a while and as such I've missed boring you with what I got in Edinburgh when I went there for a sort of late Valentine's Day, and London which I visited with Sister Superior as an early anniversary do.    Hencetoforthwith, I shall rectify this!

Not a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nothing, mate.
First up is Edinburgh whose nerdy shops I have spoken of before.  Once again we were staying overnight but Sister Superior was working beforehand, so I spent a few hours doing a circuit of Wonderland Models / 6s 2 Hit / Black Lion Games before heading to meet her at the train station.  Hey, if it ain't broke, why fix it?  I think there's a gaming cafe in town as well but don't think there's any other notable gaming shops apart from Games Workshop on the Royal Mile.

I played it a bit smarter this time and got off the train at Haymarket, in theory meaning I was always walking towards the centre of town as I went from shop to shop rather than ever having to retrace my steps as I bopped along, Richard Cheese crooning over my headphones as I ambled about in the drizzle.

I can barely paint figures, I have no idea why I think I can use this stuff as well.

From Wonderland Models and it's cornuopia of plastic kits I picked up some more sheets of plasticard to keep my Terrain In Potentia pile well equipped and also a Tamiya weather powder palette.  Weathering powder is something I have read about but never tried using before - to the casual observer, it could be mistaken for eyeshadow in the way it is packaged and applied. 

The idea is to apply powdery colour to sections, with different colours used to make rust patches, mud splatters, snowfall, scorch marks etc.  Rather than applying it as solid layer of paint, the powder should form splodges (some of them textured up) and show bits of the underlying colour.  This is particularly reccomended for tanks to muddy up their tracks, discolour their barrels and generally make them look less "straight out the showroom" and more "used future".  It's something I'm going to try and play about with next time I'm painting something appropriate.  A Vindicator or Leman Russ would definitely benefit from some rusting side panels methinks...

An example of application.

Next up was 6s 2 Hit which was full of people playing games but surprisingly lacking in counter staff.  I had to wait quite a bit for service and, not being a regular, I couldn't work out if it's because staff were busy elsewhere or if they were just really engrossed in their dice!  Regardless, I was eventually able to eventually buy Blood Bowl: Death Zone Season One! as well as a pot of Carnal Pink paint from Privateer Press.

That's a pale pink, that is.

I've never tried Privateer's paints before - in fact I don't think I've even seen them for sale in the nerd shops I've visited.  They come in similar pot type and size to the Coat D'Arms/old GW colours.  I chose Carnal Pink because it was a very pale pink shade, something that I haven't seen in many other ranges.  When I need a pink this pale I usually mix it up myself, with a half and half mix of Vallejo Off-White and Vallejo Pink being my go-to. 

Carnal Pink is pretty much bang on that mix so hopefully this will slightly speed up and make more precise my Emperor's Children highlighting.

The re-release of Blood Bowl is a real highlight of nerdy recent events for me, more so than 40K 8th Ed or D&D 5th Ed.

Death Zone Season One! is a supplement for Blood Bowl, the first of a regular series of books expected out.  (Season Two came out mid May and I also have that now.)  Like the 1st and 3rd edition supplement boxes which had extra teams and league rules, Death Zone fills the exact same niche in the current edition - and since I got the 3rd ed one in Edinburgh twenty plus years ago, it seemed only fair I do the same again now.

As with my vlog of Blood Bowl 2016, this supplement doesn't have massive changes to the previous editions of the rules.  New teams added include Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves, Elven Union, Skaven, Dwarves and Nurgle's Rotters.  (The last one seemed an odd choice to me, but I assume it's because the miniatures designers have more interest in them than generic Chaos.)   These are functionally identical to their last incarnations and only an extra Star Player for Nurgle really spices it up.  A free download, Teams of Legend, rolls all the other official CRP teams back into 2016 edition and again differences are pretty minor.

The League rules no longer assume an open "challenge" format - which is a bit chaotic but flexible - but assume a more traditional sporting league model where each team plays each other team in the league/division/conference once or twice and then there's a playoff.   I am a little unsure about this - 3rd ed eschewed this format for quite valid reasons ( namely that drop-outs and cancelled games can gum up the works) and I wish the book did more to explain the logistics of that. 

American sports really bamboozle us Brits, and the NFL Draft is nothing like we have in Europe.

Something I do like about this format, though, are the new Redrafting rules in which at the end of every season team have to repurchase their veteran players or replace them with new ones - and players who have been with the team longer become more and more likely to want to retire or demand a larger sum to stay.  This is very vaguely like the old Citadel Journal/Blood Bowl Compendium rules for "Da Crunch" and means that like real sports teams the Blood Bowl teams will change more over time, plus allows new teams to join a league in operation easier.  I quite like the idea of pining after the 12/13 Season Lustrian Pussycats, or wondering if the Stormin' Norvins can afford the fee to hang onto their star blocker Snorri or will be forced to let him go.

I could ramble on about Blood Bowl for longer, but let's nip that in the bud.  We can quickly mention I got a new set of Rory's Story Cubes and a Fighting Fantasy RPG supplement from Black Lion Games, had a nice chat with the store owner then bring this Edinburgh recap to an end.  I mean, afterwards all that happened was my usual Slaaneshi cult rituals and you Imperial do-gooders would have your minds blown by that.

No pics of Slaaneshi cult meetings; they'd blow you mind.  Instead have these Grecian-themed Mythic Story Cubes.

Instead lets leap forward to the start of March and my amble around London.  Sister Superior and I met with an old Uni friend and took in a show, but more importantly for her she got to go wild in the aisles with some beauty shopping.  Although Glasgow now has a Kat Von D stall in Debenhams, there was not one back in March and visiting the one on Oxford Street was a feat I knew I could not interrupt.  She also went to Camden Market although she was a bit more disappointed there as the character of that area had changed a lot in the last 10 years - once a host of gothy or punky shops dominated, now it felt much more hipster-ish.

While she carried out her shopping, I left her in peace and spent some time at the nerd shops.  

The other capital haul.  (Which includes a Doctor Who graphic novel which isn't directly RPG related)

First off for me was Orc's Nest, a long-running city centre shop just round the corner from Tottenham Court Road underground.   (Walking to it from Debenhams meant I got a good few Pokemon Go steps in for the purposes of egg hatching.)

The easiest of London's nerd shops to reach.

I don't know if it's that their stock has changed or my interests have varied - on previous visits I recall being a bit underwhelmed by it - but I found a lot more items to my liking when I popped in and had a peruse.  Although I checked out their weird and wonderful bins, I didn't get anything too strange here because I was still quite encumbered and had to pull a suitcase through the city centre for a bit longer! 

Pocket sized purchases only, then so I got three translucent D12s in red, purple and green so that for my Transformers game I would have special Autobot/Decepticon/Neutral dice. 

It's a game, with cards.  Hence the name "cards".
I also finally got my own pack of Star Realms, a card game designed by two former Magic: The Gathering champions which I had played once before and enjoyed.  Sister Superior has since given this one a couple of goes and we quite enjoyed it, it's pretty fast , though I haven't tried any of the supplements.  

It's one of several deck-building games which seem to be quite popular these days - you assemble your deck in play from a common suite of cards as the game progresses, so there is no ability to "buy a better deck" or what have you.  Supplements add new cards to the shared assets rather than just for one player - and as a rule supplements are not random but prepackaged so everyone knows what's in the Crisis packs and can decide to use them or not based on that.

Finally I got something to carry these small purchases - a reusable cloth bag with the Orc's Nest vintage logo on it. Scotland and the rest of the UK passed laws a few years back forcing all plastic bags given away when you shop to be charged a nominal 5p charge per bag, so reusable bags have skyrocketed in popularity as people seek to both save money and save the environment.  Now I can displau my nerdy credentials while I do so.

I've never played a role laying game before.  I've never even layed a roll.

On the last day of our trip, while the missus was frustrated by how everyone in Camden was apparently now a Vegan Poet instead of a Dominatrix Vampire, I took the Underground on one of it's weird totally-above-ground bits to Finchley Central and visited Leisure Games.  A store I love visiting both in the flesh and online, their selection of indie RPG remains fantastic and it's probably the best place I've found in Britain to shop for weirder games.  They also have plenty of regular miniatures and books, though, if your tastes run more vanilla.  The journey out of the city centre is a bit of a pain but it's definitely worth it and the Underground at least means it's doable with little fuss.

We done this already, so we can mostly skim this.

On the RPG front I picked up two books.  One was a hard copy of Dungeon World, a game I've written about before but had only run from PDF - but I had enormous fun and getting it hard copy for future use seemed a sound investment.  While I'd say the Playbooks and character sheets definitely suit a PDF release, the hardcopy is a lot easier when you want to flick back and forth at different monster stats when building/converitng an adventure.

Exit, Pursued By A Blog

My other game was wholly new to me, though, and in a genre I had never worked with before.  Forsooth! is a small but perfectly formed game in which you the group recreate a "lost" Shakespeare play: and not just the "real" lost ones.  A system for randomly generating play settings and ideas is included, as well as fully-prepared sample settings and players.  (Some of them being sequels or alternate versions of established plays, so you can do your own spin on Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet if you want)

Depending on the size of of your group you either take on one, two or three characters - they are generated as a group and you are encouraged to make characters with connections to each other since Shakespeare plays often revolve around courtly/family/spouse groupings.  The game is diceless and only really suitable for single sessions (unless you do sequel plays in the style of the historical cycles) but it does seem to capture the feel of the Bard's work, with play ceasing when everyone's primary character is either dead or married and encouraged to take conflicting goals/oaths that drive them into drama.

I'm not sure how I would feel about a bacon donut, but I'm interested in finding out.

On a smaller, card-gaming front I picked up Better With Bacon - a little booster pack supplement for the card game Just Desserts which I bought a couple of years back in Manchester.  A simple card game by the makers of Fluxx with the objective of satisfying customers who like and dislike different baked good types, it's not going to change your life but it's a lot of fun.  Better With Bacon just adds in a new category - Bacon, both on it's own and included in pancakes, muffins etc - as well as some new customers who like or dislike Bacon.

At the corner of a square in Camden Market.

The final stop on my nerd shop tour was Village Games, a place I randomly happened into a few years back.  While waiting for my good lady to emerge from Cyberdog I popped in this little shop, tucked into a corner of Camden Market, to kill some time before making my way to the train home.

It's a fairly traditional board game shop whose stock includes lots of chess sets, playing cards, dice etc - it does have a bunch of nerdier card and board games but it's a pretty normal friendly place.  It's also quite small, so going in it while carrying a suitcase wasn't my best idea!

My final purchase of the trip was a little pile of six sided dice, ever useful if perhaps not quite as exotic as some of my weirder purchases.  In particular some glittery dice and heart-pipped dice were too cute not to obtain and donate into Sister Superior's very own dice bag.

Oh yeah, um, this is the bit where I put out some observations from my travels for an RPG purpose right?  Well the obvious thing about both Edinburgh and London is that they are set up for tourists - both in the sort of shops and attractions present but also just in the signage and services dotted around.  You can't move five minutes on the Royal Mile without seeing signage for various city tours, often with a ghostly/macabre vibe, and London's city centre is swarming with souveniers only of interest to non-natives, in a way that my own Glasgow mostly eschews.  (We've started getting more "tartan tat" shops in recent years to be fair but they're still oddities)

"Damn Tourists"

When creating a fictional city, remember that it will have people in it who are both long-term residents and short-term travellers.  In any modernish onwards setting there will be tourism and as such a city will have places or districts such people flock to: even if natives consider them trite or even forget they exist.  Gotham City may use the Sentinel of Justice as it's logo, but visiting the battered old copper statue may be a total tourist trap that's not worth the entrance fee.  Perhaps there are daiy arrivals at the Klingon homeworld of Qo'Nos of pilgrims who come to visit the tomb of Chancellor Gorkon, and arriving without booking a ticket in advance means an hour-long wait.  In our Traveller game we had a Vargr-friendly menu be mentioned in one tourist spot - descsended from dogs, this fairly common alien species required hotels to have different foods on offer and I dare say there would be some future equivalent of Halal or Kosher to consider as well.

Even in more medieval and fantasy style settings, the wealthier classes will be travelling for court, shopping, education, pilgrimage and follow some of the same experiences as more modern tourists.  Pendragon has an entire random table for Stuff That Happens When You Visit London to reinforce the idea that this filthy cramped urban sprawl filled with rude commoners is nothing like the rural environment the knights are used to - in roughly the same historical period there is also steady traffic of those who wish to see the Holy Land for themselves.  A higher fantasy game might see Dwarfs offer guided tours of their ancient holds, able to recite the names of all the warlords who perished defending the gates, while Gnomish merchants stock up on Dwarven Ale because it's much cheaper here than buying it back home.

In London we went to see a show - we got cheap tickets to The Book of Mormon by entering a ticket lottery.  London is of course known for it's West End shows and it's giant show-stopping muscial numbers, with big name stars and equally big ticket prices, while Edinburgh's festival tends to host smaller and more artistically weird works as well as being a major gathering of comedians.  Glasgow has a bit of a reputation for music within Scotland and if a big band is going a UK tour, we are probably the Scottish city they'll visit - though sometimes they don't travel further north than Manchester and you have no choice but you travel Dawn Sarf for it.

Paper Faces On Parade...

The artistic hearts of different empires and cities will also have their own culture - perhaps Elves focus more on ballet and other dance-led art and their capital city shows charge through the nose to see the finest performers, or the Dwarven operas of the western holds have a halflinginfluence that makes them much lighter and romantic compared to the dying-with-honour glumfests that the deep holds of the mountains have put on for generations .  Perhaps Vulcans who visit Earth are told to attend a stand-up comedian, even though they don't really "get" humour, because it's considered a good insight into the human culture - in Star Wars, maybe Coruscant's theatrical performances are the biggest around though all the art snobs find it a bit too "mainstream" and reccomend the Corellian stage for the real avant-garde stuff.

Finally, and only sideways related, the musical I mentioned going to see was The Book of Mormon and with it comes some thoughts on using real-world religions in your games.  RPGers like pilfering dead faiths (and not so dead ones) for ideas - pretty much every edition of D&D has had an official rule book that talked about using Norse, Greek and Egyptian gods and it's not that uncommon to see expies of Hinduism, Islam and Happyology turn up in various settings.  (Sometimes mashed together like in Dune with it's Zensunni Wanderers and Orange Catholic Bible.)   In my Traveller game, for example, I had what amounted to a fictional off-shoot of the Amish in control of a planet and a group called the "Sapphire People" were essentially a version of Judaism with the serial numbers filing off.

This should go without saying from the above poster but: it's very good but it's very not family friendly.

People usually tread a bit more carefully when it comes to Christianity - it's a rare game that tries to stat up the Virgin Mary with as much aplomb as it would stat up Hercules, though not impossible - but plenty of games still require you to buy into "this particular faith is true" to present interesting settings and Christianity has a whole toolbox of interesting ideas to raid.  Demon: The Fallen, In Nomine and to some extent Pendragon fall into this category.  In a weird way I can't decide if it's believers or non-believers who will have the biggest problem with these games - just depends where your suspension of disbelief falls.

Mormonism, however, is such a goldmine of bonkers ideas that I really must reccomend you do some reading.  Ignore for a second whether or not you think their prophet had a genuine vision, thought he had a genuine vision or was a fraudster - the mythology of the faith is replete with some ideas that could come straight out of a fantasy book.  A man is sent messages by a holy power and digs up a book whose pages are made of gold; written in an ancient text lost to history, he translates them by way of a magical stone that he looks into.  A secret history of travellers who thousands of years ago somehow managed to make it to the New World and set up their own civilization, which rose and fall leaving little record.  The first translated sections of the book are lost and the original tome vanishes after use - like a D&D artifact moving on when no longer required, but perhaps to appear again in times of need.
It's also an interesting example of a real-world religion that was founded in modern times.  There is an argument that a "religion" was founded hundreds if not thousands of years ago and is thusly serious business, and all that differentiates a "cult" is that it's comparatively new and thusly stupid.  Mormonism has a founder and original disciple set for whom we have way more period evidence on than most of the major world religions.  Newspaper articles, written correspondence and the like mean we know a lot more for definite about what Joseph Smith said and let's us see exactly what it's like when a new religion sweeps an area and how both the converts and critics respond.  

Mormonism is just one of several faiths which exploded into being at that period in American history, as though some sort of big cultural void in her people demanded a uniquely American faith.  Your own fantasy world history may similarly have periods when it seems several spiritual movements are forming and new-ish colonies and empires may see their own battles as faiths try to claim the soul of new lands

You know have things to think about.  Go think!


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