Where I’ll Be at GenCon Oz Wednesday, Aug 26 2009 

In which our intrepid hero outlines a beaver’s itinerary.

GenCon Oz looks to be less hectic than it was last year, which is both a good and a bad thing. Last year, I ended up hobbling from event to event, grimacing with tremendous back pain, and sweaty and bloated from a toxic reaction to painkillers. I wasn’t a pretty sight, but at least I still smelled better than about 70% of the con.

On the other hand, the con itself is smaller, and whereas it boasted names like Tracy and Laura Hickman, Robin Laws and Peter Adkison last year (the latter pictured at right with Beave), Robert Picardo tops the bill in 2009 (who, incidentally, I still think of as “the cowboy guy” from Innerspace—now, I’m showing my age).

Only very lately does the website mention that Eberron creator Keith Baker and Paizo‘s Jason Bulmahn will be there, along with homegrown talent Steve Darlington (AKA SteveD) and David Conyers.

Either there are far fewer seminars this year, or they’re much worse at organising them. My gaming schedule is much heavier than it was last year, when I bulked out my weekend with seminars. But none of the five or so seminars listed when I booked everything this time around appealed to me, and the one I did want to attend wasn’t listed yet, either. I imagine—since I did the right thing and booked early—that seminars will start to appear en masse on the GenCon Oz rego site now. Sucks to be an early adopter.

Bitching done, so on the off chance that anyone reading this would like to catch up and say hi at GenCon Oz, here’s my schedule for the weekend:

  • Thu Sep 17, 2pm-11pm: Stirring the Embers. My main reason for playing this (and Burning Scent, below) is that I’m itching to try out the monk class from the PHB3 preview, but don’t want to take too much of the spotlight away from my regular Living Forgotten Realms character. Plus, I’m curious to see how the six-double-session Embers of Dawn story arc develops—a much longer arc, it seems, than any previous quests in LFR.
  • Fri Sep 18, 9am-5pm: Dark Age of Nerath. Normally, I’d be more inclined to try out some indie games, but I have an ongoing discussion with a con organiser here in Sydney regarding D&D4e. She claims (not without reason) that there’s no demand at gaming conventions for D&D games lasting more than 4 hours, whereas I contend that many of the perceived problems with 4e actually stem from poor GMing and LFR’s rigid writers’ guidelines.As an 8-hour, non-RPGA, D&D4e event, Dark Age is the perfect opportunity to test both hypotheses.
  • Sat Sep 19, 9am-1pm: Ghosts of the Past. Since Mim K/W can’t make it to GenCon Oz, I guess I have to do something to convince myself it isn’t a holiday. Hopefully, Ghosts may be sufficient to nudge my aforementioned, regular LFR character—Deus X, the warforged invoker of Gond-cum-artificer—somewhere up into the higher reaches of level 6. See? Character maintenance is hard work!
  • Sat Sep 19, 2pm-5.30pm: Miser’s Run. The blurb for Miser’s promises gritty, low-fantasy action. Given that D&D4e—moreso than other editions of the game—strikes me as particularly high-magic sword-and-sorcery, I’m curious as to whether the designer pulls this off purely through narration, by limiting PC choices to martial characters, or through the skillful application of system-mechanics jiggerypokery.Consider this a research mission. Or, at the very least, a prime opportunity to use the word jiggerypokery in a sentence.
  • Sat Sep 19, 7pm-11pm: Jailbreak. I’ve been a fan of Unknown Armies forever, and Jailbreak is the iconic UA convention scenario. Given the speed with which it sold out, I guess that I’ll be playing with other UA fans—something of a rarity here in Australia, but a very welcome change. Last time I played UA at a con, some three or four years ago, the other players seemed to think it was some sort of permutation of d20 Modern.Not long after I booked the slot, however, SteveD reminded me of his WHFRP freeform, Sunset Claws. But as I was about to change the booking, I discovered that Mim K/W had paid the phone bill with my debit card, so I was pretty much broke. That, and the fact that it’s a costume freeform—and therefore would entail time, money and luggage weight I don’t currently have—sort of ruled it out. Which is a damn shame, as Beaver already has the perfect halberdier uniform to go with it.

    All that said, however, SteveD’s a great writer and a great guy, and you could do much, much worse than spending three hours in his capable care. Give the characters a look and grab yourself a spot.

  • Sun Sep 20, 9am-5pm: The Burning Scent of Perfumed Swords. Part two of the Embers of Dawn mini-campaign (see Stirring the Embers, above), which we antipodean RPGAers apparently get a few days ahead of everyone else. Woot. Does anyone else’s Freud gland go haywire when they read that title?

If you’d still like to catch up, but aren’t playing in any of the above, then I should be pretty easy to spot around the con—I’ll be the guy conspicuously displaying his plush beaver. Which sounds a lot worse than it is, I admit.

Of course, there’s a possibility that more than one beaver-wielding freak will be in attendance; on the other hand, if the universe sees fit to inflict a surfeit of plush beavers on the one unsuspecting con, then who am I to rectify the ensuing chaos?

Legends Revived Friday, Feb 2 2007 

In which our intrepid hero visits an obscure karaoke bar.

Last night, Dan M and a friend of Mim K/W were supposed to join us for dinner. Sadly, Mim’s friend couldn’t make it, so we postponed, instead stopping in briefly at one of Mim’s favourite karaoke joints in the city.

One of the regulars there is deaf. I’d heard stories about him before (such as him slagging off venues for their poor sound quality), but I’d never actually heard him sing. Sure, he was off-key, but I think there was also a processing delay with his hearing aid; he was always a bit behind the tune.

What came out was an eerie not-quite-harmony with the backing track. It was strange, like the first time you hear Tuvan throat-singing.

As I heard him sing, parts of my brain lit up that haven’t seen action since I overdosed on cough syrup whilst down with a high fever and bronchitis at uni.

The whole weirdness of it jogged a long-forgotten memory from my subconscious. Back in 2002, I wrote a “rumor” for the Unknown Armies RPG, and posted it both to the official site and to the mailing list. It was called “Legends”:

I hate karaoke.

Still, I was going out with Karen back then, and she loved to sing. It’s about 3am on a Saturday morning, and we’d just been out with Matt and the rest of ’em drinking. Everyone else went home, but I told Karen that I wanted to stay out.

She umms and aahs a little, but doesn’t want to take her eye off me. I’m the kind of guy that people just pick fights with at that time of night. Crowds wander the sidewalks then, drunk and pissed off that they have to wait for a cab after the three o’clock shift change, so I s’pose she thinks that I’ll get hammered if she’s not around to look out for me.

Somehow, we find our way down to the quiet end of the city, with all those windy, narrow streets, just on the edge of Chinatown. That time of night, these streets are mostly deserted; the only noise you hear sometimes is the clack of mah jongg tiles and drunk laughter in Cantonese.

We round a corner, and there they are: a bunch of Anglos in suits, staring at the ground, speechless, waiting to enter a club. I guess that it’s probably a strip joint, but Karen’s curious and wants to check it out.

We join the line and file up the stairs. Inside, there’s your usual late-night pub, smoke-hazy and sticky-carpeted. We find a table pretty quickly and sit down. Karen goes off to the toilets and I sit looking at the bar, trying to work out what they have on tap.

When Karen comes out, she sees the stage immediately. I get up to order a beer and a rum-and-coke and Karen wanders off to see what songs they have on the karaoke machine. I come back, drinks in hand, find a couple of coasters (marked “Legends”—there wasn’t a sign above the door when we walked in) and Karen hums the first few bars of “Islands in the Stream”. She tries to get me to sing, but I tell her (as usual) that they don’t have anything in my register.

So, she goes up, gets them to program her song in and comes back to the table to drink and wait for her turn.

The sound system fires up with a thud and the first singer gets up on stage, a little guy, again, Anglo, in a dark suit and tie. He starts to sing “Fernando”.

As soon as he hits the chorus, he disappears. No, I mean it, he disappears—there one second, gone the next. The mike hits the floor with a pop and a squeal. I look over to Karen to see if she just saw what I did, or if I was just drunk outta my tree, but she stares off into space, trying to remember the lyrics to her song.

I shrug, and look back to the stage. Another guy, much like the first gets up, picks up the mike and starts off “Wind Beneath My Wings”. Thirty seconds in, the same thing happens—he disappears.

Again, the mike hits the floor, but this time Karen notices. It’s her turn next. I’m sure that I’m not tripping, so I tell her not to get up. I try to explain it to her—that two guys just disappeared off stage—but she thinks that I’m crazy. We yell at each other, and she weaves her way towards he stage as I storm back out onto the street.

The next I hear from her is a phone call from her mother on the Monday. She wants to know what I did to Karen. I ask her what she’s talking about. That’s when she tells me that Karen is doped up on thorazine in some hospital ward, sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, singing that Kasey Chambers song:

“… Don’t I make you laugh?
Should I try it harder?
Why do you see right through me?”

I showed it to Mim when we got home, and I think it gave her the creeps. Yay, me!

    Ride of the One-Armed Bandit Tuesday, Oct 24 2006 

    In which our intrepid hero comes up with an idea for an Unknown Armies adventure.

    I used to work in an amusement arcade, and whilst we did most of the maintenance ourselves, for the really serious stuff, we got in a guy who used to service slot machines as well. Mostly for pubs and stuff (we have one of the highest per-capita numbers of slot machines in the world, here in Sydney), but the same rules apply as in casinos.

    He mentioned that one day, he was working on a machine, opened up the cabinet, and lo and behold, found half a rock-hard donut sitting in the bottom. He looked across at a colleague and said, "Hey, look what some total fuckwit left in this machine!"

    His colleague came over, reached in and pulled out a card. It was our tech guy’s ID card, about two years out of date, certifying him to service slot machines, complete with photo and signature. Weird thing is, he couldn’t remember losing his card.

    An idea:

    Now, what if the bad guys weren’t actually stealing the machine, but trying to "charge it up"? Maybe the locus of fortune shifts around Las Vegas, and they want to ensure that this machine is bathed in the winning spirit as often as possible?

    [T]hose machines are heavy, and it’s hardly unobtrusive, swapping a couple of hundred kilos of cabinet around. So, instead, they swap the motherboard out, moving it from machine to machine.

    Most places want as little downtime on their machines as possible (particularly smaller venues), so they’re not as likely to question a trusted tech swapping the motherboard as they would losing their whole machine for a day, whilst the tech goes for a replacement.

    So you have one guy moving from casino to casino, jamming gum in the coin mechs, and his tech confederate, waiting for the call, coming out and replacing the coin mech, flipping dip switches by sleight of hand, saying "I’ll have to take that back to the shop" and swapping out the motherboard. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Finally, the machine charges up fully. One of the PCs, killing time, sits down at the slot machine, pops in a dollar, and every symbol comes up a crown. Not just the one across the middle row on the dials, but every single one. On top of the ludicrous payout, he wins 25 free spins—and again, the same thing happens, every time. Lights flash, and alarms go off, and the casino staff and passersby descend on the machine like seagulls on a hamburger.

    One of the in-house techs comes along, opens up the machine and finds a service card in the bottom—and it belongs to the tech who swapped the motherboard out.

    Meanwhile, the gum-stuffer looks on, upset that the PC has ruined their plan; he pursues the PCs, intent on revenge. The rogue tech drops off the radar, and word on the street is that the casino owner is looking for him, offering a big reward to whoever brings him in.

    Hilarity ensues.

    (Crossposted to the Unknown Armies Mailing List. Apologies for the Americanisms; American is the lingua franca of the UAML.)