Song and Dance Routine


If I ever had any doubt about my abilities as a mimic, or at least of being able to carry a tune, they were laid to rest today during Rhymetime – the regular sing along we hold in the Children’s Library on Fridays.

Each of us working there has assembled a folder of nursery rhymes and traditional songs to sing at and with pre-nursery age children and their parents. We’ll often mix and match elements from each other’s files as we go, and that’s mostly to keep things fresh. Today I found a new song in one of the folders, which was the “Grumpy Pirate” song.

This is a cleaned up and child-friendly version of “Drunken Pirate”, and as none of the assembled parents were familiar with it, I told them they would know the tune and chorus and could join in where they could. Then I launched into it:

What Shall We Do With the Grumpy Pirate?

What shall we do with the grumpy pirate? What shall we do with the grumpy pirate? What shall we do with the grumpy pirate? Early in the morning.

Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Early in the morning.

Do a little jig and make him smile, Do a little jig and make him smile, Do a little jig and make him smile, Early in the morning.

Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Early in the morning.

Make him walk the plank till he starts to wobble, Make him walk the plank till he starts to wobble, Make him walk the plank till he starts to wobble, Early in the morning.

Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Early in the morning.

Tickle him till he starts to giggle, Tickle him till he starts to giggle, Tickle him till he starts to giggle, Early in the morning.

Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises, Early in the morning.

Now, quite without any conscious thought, my mind drifted to the last time I’d heard this tune, and my voice started to waver and morph into a broad West Country accent, similar to the singer of the Drunken Pirate shanty in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.

Well, that seemed to liven things up. The chorus could heard through the whole library and big grins appeared on everyone’s faces. I’m choosing to believe that was from enjoyment rather than ridicule. There was a flash of recognition from at least one dad there, though there’s no way to tell if that was from being a gamer or hearing the original version when growing up. Either way, we had fun, and that’s what counts.

For reference, here’s the Black Flag rendition

Streaming and suchlike

I’ve just enjoyed a quiet evening with Lady M on the sofa watching the Artyfakes live stream on Twitch.TV followed by a bit of drama on the telly. It reminded me of the occasional request I’ve had to stream the Eberron games, and just why we don’t do it. One of the things I noticed this evening was how relatively difficult it is to present and concentrate on work at the same time.

The Roll20 Logo

Its a concern shared within the gaming group – that we’d rather just let our hair down and enjoy ourselves without wondering who was peering over our shoulders. For me in particular there’s quite a lot of fiddliness to the Roll20 interface, and we’re not making heavy use of scripts, lighting or special effects. It’s generally as close to a tabletop experience as you like. The thought of trying to interact with people outside the game at the same time is just too much.

That’s without even touching on tech trouble shooting and chat room moderating. Artyfakes have a number of mods (Lady P among them) to keep tight control, and I can’t think of anything more disruptive than trying to moderate and play.

There’s also a general antipathy among the group for publicly recording the range of dry, geeky, obscene and off the wall comments that we come up with, especially those of us with responsible jobs who might have awkward questions to answer if work got involved. Likely? No, but possible, so we’ll not even raise the spectre of having to double guess ourselves.

On the plus side, this week’s game write up is live under Wartorn Chapter 3. Hope you enjoy it.

Brighter Wednesday

Keep Calm and Use the Konami Code

Through a combination of insightful counselling and a tiny bit of retail therapy, my mood this evening is somewhat lighter than it has been. There’s a fair bit rattling around in this oddly-shaped cranium of mine, and sometimes I need to be reminded of my pattern of setting myself up to fail. I’ve been having a good hard look at myself in an enforced reality check, which is always a roller coaster.

So, cutting a long and self-indulgent ramble short, I’m in a brighter place right now.

The retail therapy came in the form of a new external hard drive to add to the XBox One. I picked up a Seagate Extension drive, which is a terabyte in size, and uses the new USB 3.0 connection, which the XBox natively supports. The advantage to this is that moving games from internal memory to the external drive not only frees up the machine, but seems to access data faster.

The installation was as simple as plugging it into the back of the console. A quick dialogue box appeared on-screen, prompting me to format and name the new drive and after maybe a second or two it was ready to go. There’s no power lead, it just runs off the cable, and as it will also run on a USB 2.0 connection I’ll probably buy another one for the desktop PC next month to handle backups. Pretty good for only £55 in Tesco.

Bit of a low day

Really not sure what to make of today: I bought a mattress topper for our bed and it’s transformed our bed back into something we can sleep on, rather than a treacherous no mans land looking for revenge for all the use its had. I slept in late this morning as a result, but as I wasn’t due to work until the early afternoon, that really wasn’t as bad as it sounds.


Unfortunately though, my mood has been deflated all day, despite the various efforts of Ladies M and P at various points in the day. Perhaps the truly awful stench of a customer who soiled his pants and carried on using our public computer terminals for over six hours was part of it; or maybe the ongoing uncertainties of proposed restructures at the library helped. A little of both maybe, prompting my brain to tick over into that headspace that replays every bad or unfortunate decision with hypercritical venom as my own personal chorus of disapproval.

I have at least managed to make others laugh. It seems a good deflection and compensation tactic to try and lift others to make up for my own lows. In response to being called ‘a sweetie’ by Lady P, I replied: “brightly coloured packaging and bad for your health?”, and when asked by Lady M why I’d done something so stupid as to marry her, my comeback was: ” well it’s part of this history I have doing things that seemed a bright idea at the time only to see them turn into bloody awesome decisions!”

I’m not doing great, but I’ll never give up, even with the black dog chewing my ankle a while.

Out of context quotes

It's an Owlbear. Well, of course...

Game sessions are always great for making memorable scenes in the mind’s eye, whether by epic actions or fails, or by the dialogue and quips that we all manage to produce. Almost inevitably, the attempt to reproduce these for people in conversation is going to fall flat because it takes so long to define the context in which it happened. I have friends for whom the quote “Well, I guess I’ll just burn then,” still brings chortles of laughter, while others look confused and possibly horrified.

One of the things I enjoy with the current games is how it creates new opportunities for weird quotes that sound at best odd and at worst positively obscene. A recent game season included the memorable quote:

“All I can see is those two double-teaming a snake. I guess I’ll start banging my bongos.”

To those of us there on the night it evokes a night of combat on the deck of a boat in the middle of a jungle. Pretty much everyone else sniggers at the innuendo. Oh, alright, we do too. We really are childish like that.


I’ll try collecting some of the more notable ones as we go along, if only to see if anyone cares to take a stab at what might prompt certain outbursts, such as: “Oh crap, I really have got to practice my climbing. This is embarrassing!” The dice shaming picture should be a fairly good clue about what prompted that one.

This evening’s game certainly had its moments, and my new practice of getting players to describe how they finish opponents has been embraced. I’d actually forgotten about it until other players called on someone to do it. The grin on his face almost suggested that he had forgotten that someone else’s failed attack on that opponent had ended up with his character spattered in burning oil. Then he asked if anyone else had fireworks they wanted to chuck…

The snark is strong in this group…

Smiling GM, Paranoid Players

One of the things that its easy to underestimate, when playing roleplay games, is the competitive element that still exists between players and the GM. This happens even in the most collaborative freeform games, and I think its largely inevitable because, as a GM, you are playing every nasty creature, trap or circumstance between your players and whatever success has been defined to be. Its only natural for them to project that desire to beat the challenges into a desire to actually beat you as an opponent, and occasionally this holds true in the other direction.

Where Combat Rules

There are times when I have an encounter written that I think will challenge the players, and find instead that lucky rolls or an unorthodox set of tactics completely ride roughshod over it. I would love to say that every time it happens I am positive and supportive, but I would be lying. I can feel a deep irritation, especially if its a scenario that has taken a while to map out in Roll20. I try not to take it personally, or to up the ante for the next encounter or problem. I tend instead to worry that the players aren’t feeling challenged enough. After all, overcoming challenges with a bit of threat and risk makes for a better story and feeling of accomplishment.

So there’s a struggle between wanting to tell the story and providing a serious challenge. Part of that struggle is calculating the lethality of the games. People invest a lot of time and emotion into their characters, so the death of a character can be felt quite keenly, even if only briefly. I have known people sulk and get quite aggrieved, but its pretty rare these days, mostly because I strive to be fair. No one likes to lose a character to a totally blindsiding cause or a trap with no solution, so making sure there’s at least a chance of success or survival is essential.

The flip side is that I do also give my players every opportunity to damn themselves. If they don’t adequately prepare or assess a situation, or do patently foolish things, there are consequences and sometimes those consequences are fatal for the characters. Spend all your strength in an epic battle and don’t heal the main fighter/tank before breaking into the sealed chamber beyond? Those undead sealed inside will probably soon be having a tasty meal.

Once more prompting cries of "we should have looked up"

So the players in my group have learned to keep their tactical discussions offline, either through chat channel whispers or messaging on phones or other tabs in their browsers. They know that I have no shame in ramping up opponent responses to their plans or adapting their own combat tactics against them. When they announce certain plans or actions and see me smile, I can see the worry on their faces and in their voices because something is about to go wrong for them.

I was telling G about the last couple of game sessions at A’s party, and he said “I really want to get back into the game with you guys, but with encounters like that, you’re just nasty!” It was said, I hope, as a compliment, in the same way that there’s a chorus of denial when I proclaim that I am a kind and benevolent GM. There’s a healthy shiver of anticipation over what’s going to be thrown at them next – and then there are those who go out of their way to troll their fellow players by making small suggestions.

There’s one person who randomly dropped this monster’s set of stats into a conversation, and followed it up with a Facebook posting to another player. You could almost hear his chuckle and the friend’s intake of breath as I said I’d bear it in mind for when the game got slow.

I do like being a fair GM, but keeping my players slightly paranoid too is also fun.

Celebratory Sidestep

We fought our way up into London yesterday evening, despite the best efforts of South West Trains, to join G+A for A’s birthday. It’s one of those culturally important birthdays involving a 3 and a zero, and A had resolved to confront this with the application of copious amounts of alcohol. By the time we got there, the assembled miscreants were several rounds of drinks in, so the atmosphere was convivial.

The journey itself was a bit grim. I tend to get a bit anxious about getting to places on time, so I was already a bit antsy before the train rerouted to avoid engineering works and it filled up with people also heading up into town. I had invited Lady P to come join us too, but she hadn’t felt up to it. Right then, I began to think she’d made the sensible decision.


Bright young things mingled with drunken Scots men talking non-bloody-stop about football and hiring retired professionals to play in Sunday pub league games. There was the traditional idiot sharing his music with the train through his phone without the aid of headphones, and someone had opened a window somewhere to let the sub-zero night air in. Perhaps someone had farted. I found the sheer babble overwhelming and I was relieved when most of them buggered off at Clapham.

A very brisk ten minute walk got us to the pub on Blackfriars Bridge, and I remembered the last time I’d been there: my youngest brother’s legendary stag night pub crawl with him dressed as a dragon and the rest of us in full LARP armour as knights. I was pretty sure we didn’t get barred, and it was a good excuse to reminisce with G as we got drinks sorted. That event, nearly four years ago, had taken us from Waterloo on a meandering course towards the South Bank and Tower Hill and on to a mediaeval banquet. Tonight was far too cold outside, and the food and drink was good – particularly the Wadworths Chilli and Chocolate beer at 5.5%.

As we wound down the evening, there came the traditional moment where the emotional birthday girl got a bit scared of turning 30. The relative youngsters there commiserated with her, and then those of us who have been there, done that and worn the T-shirt so long it fell apart, told her to stop worrying and shared how much fun she was about to have now she was entering her prime – in particular the confidence to be who she was rather than how others may have defined her.

It’s advice I wish on some levels I’d had at her age, though given the depressive spiral I was in at the time I almost certainly wouldn’t have listened. It’s only really been the last four or five years that I’ve been well enough and comfortable enough in my own skin to take life on, so I do have empathy with her moment of existential horror. By way of contrast, I amused myself while waiting for a taxi by reading the Charleesi’s answers on Tumblr to a series of questions. They revealed a young lady who is far more self assured and confident than I ever was at her age

Fiction Fragment: Spiritual Language

This may or may not end up in the book somewhere but it works as a standalone rumination:

There’s always seemed to be this strange belief that psychic ability conveys a Rosetta Stone style translation effect that transcends time and linguistic drift. We’re not even talking the occasional ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ here, go read some Chaucer in the original verse, or try talking in Latin and then imagine what hoops the medium’s brain must be jumping through to produce modern English for an audience. No wonder the pronouncements are so bloody vague!

And don’t get me started on the belief that someone who talks to ghosts is going to be able to understand fairies or elves, let alone the crackles of fire elementals nestling in the local pub’s open log fire. That’s like speaking only French and expecting to be understood in a small village in Italy. Maybe that’s what it feels like to be Swiss?”

I really should try getting some sleep, the drivel my brain is coming up with this evening…

Fiction Fragment: Board Meeting Announcement

Doodles and writing
Doodles and writing

I’ve just been transcribing from my notebooks and found this scrawled next to a sketch of some kind of alien (nothing unusual about that if you’ve ever looked at my notebooks or social media feeds):

“Jimmy couldn’t be here today, but says ‘Hi'” *waves a severed hand* “He went all to pieces in our last negotiation.”

“Pay no attention to the men in dark suits with automatic weapons by the boardroom door. If you make the right decision, they’ll go away. Otherwise just feed them some Weetabix in the morning and everything will be fine.”


Nearly the Weekend

It’s been a funny old week, but we’ve got to the end of it – nearly. I’ve got work at the library all day tomorrow, but then we’re off out to a friend’s birthday party in the evening, so I can’t really complain of having no social life this weekend. At least I’ve managed to finish off all the articles commissioned this week, and I’ve also just managed to post the write-up of Monday’s game too – so there’s that.

The other added bonus is that payday was a week early for the library, so there’s no immediate worries about money while we’re out and about this weekend. That doesn’t mean, of course, that its going to be a big blow-out, but it’s just nice to not have penny-counting at the back of my mind at least for a couple of days.