Gotta Catch ’em All

level41Earlier this Spring I came out (kind of), I announced to the blog-o-sphere that I am Ingress player.

I’ve always been a Gamer, in one form or another.

From that first glimpse of Pong and my Grandfather’s Atari 2600 (which he sold to Soggy… for those in the know).

We had various arcade games on a machine in the family’s fish & chip shop and family games on our ZX Spectrum in the Eighties.

Right through Baldur’s Gate and Diablo in the Nineties; and onto the console wars of the 21st century; I can’t think of a time when my life has not, in some way, been influenced by Gaming.

I LARP, I’ve participated in and run LARP events, tabletop roleplaying sessions.  I’ve played MMOs (finally), single player campaigns and even designed campaigns and systems that nobody will ever play (seriously, I wouldn’t be a genuine roleplayer if I hadn’t! <insert wide grin here for those roleplayers that haven’t delved this deeply into the obsession>)

I’ve written previously about more contemporary games but Ingress was the first to break the mold and invade reality.

That statement probably comes across as somewhat louche from those who know me as a LARPer.

The thing is, LARP is a game which relies on the suspension of disbelief – its very medium is a corruption, ignorance or corruption of reality… some (but not all) particpants cite escapism as their reason for playing.

IngressProfileIngress augments reality.

I’d say a good 90% of my work colleagues are oblivious to the fact that our place or work serves as an anchor to a great many XM fields that ensure the populace of Brighouse are under an alien influence that encourages Art, Love and Creativity.

Unless you’ve been living in a media-proof bubble, you’re already familiar with the company that developed Ingress – Niantic.

Niantic are the brainweasels behind Pokémon GO.

For the past 4 years, Niantic have run Ingress as a successful, GPS based augmented-reality game.

They have encouraged gamers like me to go out into the world, register places of interest that we come across as “XM Portals” and then compete with people in our local areas to control those portals, in a game that has proven both engaging and infuriating over the 3+ years I have played it.

And yet, since shortly after BREXIT, I have neglected Ingress in favour of Niantic’s latest game-child.

I simply have to be the very best.  I have to catch them all!

pogo1Pokémon GO has taken the GPS entities registered by myself and fellow Ingressers (118 places of interest photographed, geographed and registered to date personally) and converted them to either Pokémon Gyms or Pokéstops.

But why?

Why has this fad hooked me in?

Ingress was, by and large, ignored by the mainstream and adopted by Techies (and a few Corporates like me).

In 3 years of playing Ingress I hae become aware of 11 players in the town I work in.

Only 6 of those are what you would class as serious, hardcore, daily players (shout out to agents DMH10, Doodified, Ikibau and Pepian and yah-boo-sucks-to-you to Astral Ranger and DeckardB26354).

Towards the end of last week I took a stroll out on my 30 minutes lunch break (as I usually do) and encountered 15 people playing Pokémon GO.

Fiff-fucking-teen! In a 30 minute (OK, I’ve overshot to 41 recently) period.

15 people playing Niantic’s latest offering, oblivious to the Shaper invasion of Ingress.

My reality wasn’t just augmented… it was skewed!

pogo215! Wow!  Whilst playing Ingress I’d bump into a fellow player – by accident – once in a blue moon.  Most Ingress meet-ups are by design and I shun most of those due to the high number of cheating fuckmonkeys on my team locally.

15 in one day is amazing but why the sudden interest?

Allegedly, Pokémon GO is the most downloaded mobile game ever – EVER!!!1!one!

I never paid much attention to Pokémon in my – erm – late twenties.

Whilst Pokémon was encouraging kids to be the very best, I was building a career as a senior software developer, playing Diablo 2 and dressing up as a Low Elf and fighting the “Dark Alliance” with rubber and latex weaponry.

(OK – by “fighting the Dark Alliance” I mean, being humiliatingly butchered by them – but that’s not the point!)

To date, I’ve shunned Pokémon as irrelevant to my needs.

botpMy own youth was influenced by Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Mosschops.

What should I care for random cutesy anime creatures that only seem to speak their own name when I had Thundercats, Transformers and the Masters of the Universe?

Shit son! What constitutedanime” to me in my teens is now classed as “hentai“!

No, the early 21st century’s cartoon pocket monster shenanigans was obviously just a way to part breeders from their money – so that junior could have the latest faecachoo – just like Hasbro did to my parents with transformers when I was a kid.

But now I see what I was missing out on.

You see, Pokémon GO appeals to the Gamer in me.

pogo3Here I am, just under 3 weeks away from my 41st birthday and I’m addicted to a Pokémon game.

You see, it offers everything I need to feed my gaming gland.

Those intelligent bastards at Niantic and Nintendo have hooked me in faster than any schoolyard skag-dealer.

Pokémon GO has 3 whole areas of progression/leveling and if there’s one thing gamers love, it’s leveling.

There is a genuine psychological dependency on character progression.  It’s more addictive than nicotine (which in turn is more addictive than heroin – I can only attest for the veracity of the former statement however).

On top of that, players are encouraged to “catch ’em all”.  I’ve already caught 73 of a possible 150 creatures.

Even better, I can name my Pokémon whatever I like, no profanity filter, just a character limit.

pogo4Like Star Trek: the Next Generation, the mental health benefits of Pokémon GO have been recognised already.

The game gets people out into a pocket-monster-augmented world and interacting with people they never would have thought to interact with previously.

I’m used to that from Ingress – seriously, my local fellow PoGoers seem terrified as I approach them with a toothy grin and demand:

Hi! Are you guys playing Pokémon or Ingress?

This is a genuine phenomenon.

Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game.

And not just the Ingress-paranoia of “Ooh, look, do you think they’re playing Ingress?”.  No this is groups of people, of all demographics, capturing monsters and battling gyms.

pogo5It must be 2 weeks now; 2 weeks of buggy software, overloaded servers and an almost constant Launch App – Attempt Capture/Gym Battle – Force Stop – Launch App cycle… and yet I’m still hooked.

I hit level 20 today, I believe the level cap to be level 50. Now that the server issues seem to have stabilised the game is a real pleasure.

It’s taken me 3 and a half years to get to where I am in Ingress (3 months from level 15 – the cap is 16, I’m 18 months from level 16).

And yet I’m 2/5ths of the way there after 2 weeks!

So there you have it.  I’m a 40-something Pokémon trainer and Gym Leader (until the local Instinct/Valour cock-knockers take out my Vaporeon) and I’m proud… Bring on the wearable!

LRP – Simple Hedge Magic

As I am sure I have mentioned before, one of my hobbies is Live Action Roleplaying or LRP/LARP.

I currently play one of the leaders of the Gryphon faction in the Lorien Trust system; Archduke Spiky Norris, a Fae/Fey Hedgehog.

(not a common faerie tale character, I grant you, but have come across all sorts of forest dwelling faerie folk in the past).

LARP is all about adopting a role and acting it out throughout the course of an event – no matter how long that event is.

The character I play, at the time of writing, is a magic user.

Not all LRP systems have a magic system but most fantasy based ones do.  Magic is an integral part of the Lorien Trust system.

Over the past 5 or 6 years I’ve played the character as someone recently awakened after a long sleep, teaching themselves the way of the world.  More recently I have developed a rare grasp of higher magics and have played this as if I have studied other high magic users to learn from them.

Over the past couple of years I have genuinely learnt a lot about how different LRP players play magic users within the Lorien Trust game world and so I decided to put together an in-character guide on how to be an effective magic user.

I printed a couple of copies out, giving one to the Guild of Mages and one to my faction librarian.

Here is an exerpt:

Mending of Shattered Items and Constructs – “By the power of magic I Mend that shield”

Let`s not beat around the bush.  You`re called upon to cast this spell, because a supposed friend and ally couldn`t be bothered to visit the guilds and learn how to hold their stuff together.  A rival caster has cast a Shatter spell on their weapon, or shield, and now they expect you to patch it up for them.

Who are you, their mother? No! (Unless you are actually their mother but even then, this level of usury is just as unforgiveable in a family member as it is in a friend).

I do appreciate that you can`t always decline in the heat of battle but those mend spells, that you just cast for your friends, could amount to the power you need later tonight to save your life, as well as theirs.

Your friends need educating.  You are not their shatter-repair tool.  It is relatively simple to pick up an immunity from the guilds that means that this need never happen.  Educate your friends and hope that the only time you need cat this spell is to repair a friendly construct, or other ritually empowered being, whose wounds can be cured with this spell.

The idea was to write something that could be used as an in-character guide to the basic magic system, with in-character jibes and guidance towards my own style of playing my magic using character.

Playing a wizard can be fun but a lot of new players are overwhelmed by the number of spells available and often don’t think how those spells could be applied.

When I first played the Lorien Trust system, I would regularly spend my entire power allocation for the day in the first fight that came along; leaving me bereft of power for the rest of the day.

A lot of people sell their in-character works to make in-character money but I’m vain enough to get by just knowing people have read what I have written.

With that in mind, I have saved the document as a PDF and offer it up for your perusal here: Simple Hedge Magic and the Conservation of Power

Addendum: The font I created the original in isn’t great for reading, so I’ve produced a legible version, apologies to those who persisted with the first: Simple Hedge Magic and the Conservation of Power – legible

T-Shirt Update (July 2010)

GryphonLast month, I added a page to this blog, linking to products on my spreadshirt shop.

I’ve been trying for a while now to get a new Gryphon logo approved; I recently received approval from the people who vet the designs at Spreadshirt.

It’s a vector image, which means it can be added to pretty much any product – unlike the standard pixel images.

And so, here are a few new products using that logo (and others).

The reason for the latter is that Spreadshirt are planning a special offer where customers could get the messenger bag (or Apron, or Baseball Cap) free if they spend over £40 and input a special voucher code “ADDONFREE” (From July 12th to 30th 2010).

Miskatonic T-Shirt

A navy blue Miskatonic Expedition T-Shirt.

Golden Gryphon T-Shirt

A gold-metallic gryphon logo on a black T-Shirt.

Gryphon Blanket

Two rampant gryphons on a black blanket (with or without La Maiala di Toma written between)

Gryphon Bag

A black messenger bag with the logo in gold-metallic.

LRP vs MMO: Why the two are worlds apart.

Gryphon DukesI’m not the first person to compare LRP/LARP to MMORPGs. To the outsider these two types of game look very similar but as a die hard larper, I beg to differ.

Maybe I’m biased, I’ve been involved in LRP of one form or another since the early nineties but have never really bought into the MMO revolution.

Ultima VIII PaganDon’t get me wrong, I loved the Ultima series and had high hopes for Ultima Online (one of the first and best pre-WoW MMOs). What let me down regarding the old UO was the way that you could lose everything to one spotty kid from Wisconsin and his pet dragon.

Both LRP and MMO are natural progressions from tabletop roleplaying and/or playing stand-alone RPGs on your PC, Mac or games console; which are themselves mutually progressive.

You Can Be The Stainless Steel RatIn fact you can trace the lineage of both LRP and MMO right back to the original Fighting Fantasy/Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Furthermore, I know many people who partake of both genres, neither are particularly exclusive to each other. Having seen a few MMO players take up LRP, it looks like the transition from one to the other can be something of a culture shock. But why is this? What makes LRP so different from MMO.

Different Strokes
At first I thought it was a matter of immersion.

In LRP, the participant physically takes on a role. They buy or borrow costume, weapons and armour; they then don said trappings and act as a specific character along with other participants who are similarly attired. These characters then react to events and situations that are set in place by the people organising the LRP event. These roles are then maintained until the end of the event or designated “Time Out” periods, when the players can relax and interact outside the game world.

Ultima Online DragonIn an MMO, the participant creates a customised avatar and logs into a similarly immersive world. They can log in and out whenever they want and participate as much or as little as they would like. The level of immersion is intense but can be switched off whenever the player chooses.

So whilst the lengths of immersion may differ, both genres fully immerse the player within the gaming environment. Obviously, in one case you are physically acting a role and in the other you’re just mashing a keyboard and maybe talking over a headset.

The real difference is in the style of gameplay. Both genres are driven by individuals, groups and the organisers BUT you’re motivations and the course of actions you can take are totally different; as are the styles driven by the organisers.

Leveling
Level UpThe big addictive hook for MMORPGs is the leveling element. Players play to earn experience points that take your character to new levels with new skills. This is pretty much the primary goal for any MMORPer. Every new level brings with it stat and/or skill increases and ensures that you can tackle stronger and more difficult foes.

With LRP, you don’t always get the same hook. Some systems will have some form of experience point or veteran reward system but this is far from the primary goal for a player. It is more often seen as a means to flesh out one’s character or over time fulfill a particular personal goal.

Fear is the mind killerI remember the first time I “leveled” at a Lorien Trust event; I spent some hard earned points from their own veteran reward system (Occupational Skill Points) and my character became immune to the “Fear” effect. Whilst this didn’t have the same feel as leveling in other rolepaying games, it did mean that for the next year I would flounce around showing other characters how brave I was. “Ha! I’m not scared of those demons. Look, Brother Alain and I are the bravest people I know.”

In an MMO reacting the same would probably be seen as a faux pas on a Leeroy Jenkins scale. In LRP, barring a few exceptions, the game is not played for “leveling”; characters progress in other ways.

PLARP
Gryphon Faction (Old)Politics appear to be the same within either genre. Some LRP systems have groups, coteries, guilds and factions – as do some MMORPGs. I’m not entirely sure how this plays out in the MMO genre. In LRP this can lead to diplomacy (or diplomancy as it is sometimes referred to); some players love to go talk to other players about the political state of the game world and since the introduction of games like Maelstrom, we’ve seen this diplomatic game style have a dramatic effect on the way that players interact in other LRP systems.

DMEMany of the MMORPGs that I’ve seen actually require that the player works as part of a team. I’ve actually seen the same mechanics as players would use to build a team in an MMO, used in LRP systems. My first group within the Lorien Trust would have benefited from this kind of meta-gaming. We created characters to play that would be fun to play, I didn’t play a scholar/rogue because the group needed one, I played it because it seemed to fit with the group background.

Questing
QuestingIn an MMORPG, the majority of your gameplay is likely to be questing. There are thousands of developers beavering away to provide MMORPers with new and interesting quests. Outside of the questing you may as well be in an internet chat room, albeit a chat room where you can (maybe) virtually stab someone in the face.

Whilst there are sometimes quests in LRP, especially smaller systems. The larger systems are driven more by either politics (as mentioned above) or mass combat.

One of the biggest hooks for players at the Lorien Trust is the big end battle, where five or six of the system’s political factions square off against the remaining factions. Thousands of players scrap for an hour or so, then pack up and go home.

There may be smaller events, throughout the year, that allow players to go off on the equivalent of MMORPG quests; there may even be smaller quests at the big fest events but they are not integral to the system.

Avatars
When playing an MMORPG, there are a million and one different ways to customise your character’s avatar. You might be a spotty 14 year old from Wisconsin but you can look like a six foot tall Valkyrie with a pink mohawk (and a dragon).

In LRP, you are the avatar.

You might want to play a six foot Nordic (punk) beauty but you’re limited to the seventeen stone thirty-something IT manager that you were born with.

Your WoW character might be able to spin twin blades at lightning speeds but in LRP, if you haven’t paid attention to Rule 1 (Cardio) then you’re toast. LRP combat may not be the same as full on battle re-enactment but if you can’t fight then it doesn’t matter how many weapon skills you set for your character; you can’t fight.

Sadly, there are a lot of game-Nazis out there who get mardy when confronted with a lardy elf or a seven-stone barbarian. A lot of LRP relies on suspension of disbelief.

Fundamentals
On the surface there are a lot of similarities between LRP and MMO. I suppose the key difference is really in the approach of players to the game. In both, roleplaying plays a part; but to different strengths.

MMORPGs have a set system that must be “played” whilst you play to get the best out of the game. Players can meta-game, “min/max” their attributes and work the system to progress their character to top level. Actual “role” playing often takes second seat to working the system.

LRP systems also have a set system but “playing” the system whilst you play is frowned upon. Characters are created to be explored, the emphasis on playing a “role” is far stronger.

By far the best thing about LRP at the moment is the massive number of MMORPers that are trying the hobby out. There may be a difference in game style but MMORpers seem to adapt quickly.

Lorien Trust Website

It has been a long time in the making and technically isn’t brand new but the Lorien Trust have a cracking new website.

I know that is still a work in progress, with online booking a possible future feature but for a work in progress the site is looking pretty good to me. There are full details on the rules and game mechanics as well as details on the game world itself. As an NPC for the Gryphon faction, I’m particularly proud of the section on the guilds and factions.

The site’s new forums went live yesterday, allowing existing and prospective a means of asking questions about the Lorien Trust system, its game mechanics and for people to get in touch with faction and guild leaders.

I’ve attended LT events for the last 10 years; the last decade has had its ups and downs but the recent changes to the system have shown me that the system is worth sticking with.

Atlacoya & The Stolen Moon

Preface
One of the reasons I’ve started blogging is to get back into Creative Writing. My grammar is a shocking hash of german and english grammatical rules and my prose tends to read in the same manner as I think – but I do want to start writing again and blogging is helping me get back into it – gradually.

I recently helped run an LRP event, the main plot of the event centering on a fictional bad guy linked to the main world plot running at the main Lorien Trust events.

The big bad for our event had been conceived over a year ago when we created a military general from a far away land. The description of that land struck us as being very Aztec in feel and so we named our general Atlacoya, the Witch Queen. Atlacoya is actually a figure from Aztec mythology that represents drought or famine, we took the name and built up a description that fit with the main world plot.

Running up to the event we decided that we wanted to let the players get to know more about Atlacoya, who had only really threatened and rattled sabers at our players to date. So I decided to have a go at writing something about our Witch Queen and how she became the creature she was before the main plot big bad had got hold of her; this also incorporated clues for the players as to how they might deal with her in the long run.

I’ve recently hammered through a raft of different books, one of which being Neil Gaiman‘s Anansi Boys. I wanted my story to have a similar feel to the old Anansi stories that influenced Gaiman; I love stories surrounding the Trickster figures in mythology – I may blog more on that later.

I may not have managed to get the same feel, after all Atlacoya has never been intended as a Trickster but I do think I get a mythological or at least religious feel to the story.

Our plot rep tweaked the story he presented to the players but only so far as a slight alteration to the ending. I present here my unaltered version – I may comment Pinman’s amendment at a later date (unless he wants to himself).

I add the caveat that this is obviously OOC (out of character) information for anyone involved in Lorien Trust events, although it is largely irrelevant as Atlacoya was defeated at the event.

Atlacoya - The Witch Queen

Atlacoya - The Witch Queen (as played by Lauren Orton)

Atlacoya and the Stolen Moon

One night Atlacoya gazed at her reflection in the pool admiring her skin’s glow in the moonlight. Soon her solitude was disturbed by Tepoztecatl and his brothers, as they hopped splashing into the pool.

“What are you doing Rabbit, to disturb my beauty on this night?” asked Atlacoya, suddenly furious.

“Hush woman, you are nothing but a thought you do not exist to us.” Replied Tepoztecatl.

Atlacoya shrank from the shore, as a child should when in the presence of its betters.

“Brothers, it is nearly time. We shall set up a chain and bring it to us to dine” Tepoztecatl pointed at the shimmering reflection of the moon as it lay under the surface of Atlacoya’s pool. The five fat brothers lined up from the shore; Tepoztecatl sat dry as, one by one, his brothers spread out to the moon. Atlacoya cried out as the youngest brother, Macuiltochtli, hopped onto her moon and flipped it to the next brother. As she cried, her pool drained and as her pool drained each brother flipped the moon further to shore. As the fat brothers sat and gorged themselves on her moon, Atlacoya cried and cried until her pool ran dry and she could cry no more.

Atlacoya ran then, away from the gorging brothers. Blinded by dry tears, Atlacoya tripped over Malinalxochitl who lay in wait for the weak as always.

“What are you that disturbs my rest? You do not exist to us.” demanded Malinalxochitl, licking her lips “You are pretty enough a thing I shall eat you and take your beauty.”

“Please most beautiful Serpent, I was the cold beauty of the moon” explained the girl, “but Rabbit and his brothers have eaten my moon. I have no beauty to eat but they lie back by my pool, all bloated and full. If you eat them then you will have my beauty”

“Come show me” demanded Malinalxochitl as she mounted Atlacoya and rode her back towards the pool.

When they arrived back at the dry pool, Malinalxochitl opened her jaws and devoured the sleeping brothers in five smooth gulps. Swallowing hard she turned to Atlacoya, licking her lips.

“And truly I have devoured your beauty, thing that does not exist”

Atlacoya could see that she was speaking the truth, for her beauty now shone from Malinalxochitl. Crying once again, Atlacoya fled. The more she cried the more she felt her ugliness grow.

Suddenly, Atlacoya was hurled to the ground by Tepeyollotl, who guards the world from creatures of horror and ugliness. But Tepeyollotl is no fool and saw who he had wrongly pinned. Letting her up he spoke:

“What are you doing so far from your pool child?”, he tenderly picked her up brushing away the dryness of her tears, “You are not yet meant to be, who has taken your future from you?”

“Please Jaguar, the rabbits stole my moon and Serpent stole my beauty.” explained Atlacoya as she held the hero tighter “Now I fear I will never be and I feel so very cold without my moon”.

“This will not do, climb on my back and we will seek out Serpent and take back your beauty.”

Atlacoya rode Jaguar all night until at dawn they found her coiled on her rock, awaiting the warmth of the sun.

“You have stolen this child’s beauty and with it, her future.” Postured Jaguar as he set Atlacoya on her feet, “return it at once and you will come to no harm”.

Laughing in response, Malinalxochitl leapt at Tepeyollotl’s throat. In one snap of his mighty jaws, Tepeyollotl killed Malinalxochitl and swallowed her in two pieces.

“Now I will return your beauty” said Tepeyollotl as he leaned in to kiss Atlacoya. “With this kiss I will return your beauty and make you my wife. You will exist as my queen and we will rid the world of darkness”.

Tepeyollotl’s people celebrated all day with dance and wine and song. So happy was Atlacoya that she cried moist tears. Her tears ran from her, into her pool and by dusk she could see the moon fade in above the setting sun. But as the last of her tears left her so did the warmth of the day, the moon she saw was no longer her own. Envy grew inside Atlacoya, she was no longer a thing that existed for her own pleasure; Atlacoya now existed for the sakes of Tepeyollotl’s people.

“Wife, come lay with me” demanded Tepeyollotl, and she did. It was not a happy Atlacoya that lay with her King, as he lay with her she began to cry her dry tears of sorrow. As she cried and cried her King diminished, slowly absorbed into her cold heart. She devoured her King the way the desert devours the forest and as he waned so her power grew.

Atlacoya ruled as Jaguar queen for ever more but every night she returns to her empty pool and weeps for a moon that was never truly hers.

Barnswood Scout Camp

Barnswood Scout Camp is a medium-to-large, wholly encapsulated and LRP/LARP friendly scout camp between Leek and Macclesfield.

Map to Barnswood
The purple flag marks the site entrance

The site is more accurately situated near the village of Rushton Spencer, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 0RB. Sat Nav takes you either right to the gate or down a nearby road – depending on which you use. TomTom got us to the gate, Pinman’s phone didn’t.

Once down and up a dirt track you reach a generous car park with gates into the site proper.Site Map

I’d recommend having someone man the car park on day one, just to make sure that space is best made use of.

Map on siteMy initial reaction to the site was wholly positive. It is well out of the way from random passers by and has a number of large clearings.

The clearings are obviously intended for camping but make for excellent skirmish areas. The larger clearings could be used for large IC tents but with the addition of all the various bunk rooms these would be cosmetic.

The GatesThe site has a circular pathway running around the perimeter and a couple of paths bisecting. For the main part, the paths are solid and well maintained, a one way system is well signposted to guide traffic around when dropping off kit.

There is even a secondary car park to the north.

BuildingsThe buildings are of varying sizes, the largest of which have kitchens. The kitchens are unstocked so your caterers will need to bring their own pots, pans, crockery and so forth. The bunk space is OK but the majority of accommodation will be down to either camping or floor space. Make sure your attendees know to bring their sleeping bags (and camp beds if they haven’t been allocated a bunk).

ClearingWe’ve only used the site once but did so on the many positive recommendations we have had from other site users. Many other LRP systems have made use of this site and it definitely ranks alongside Candleston as one of the best the UK has to offer.

Recommended Monster BaseI have a full album from our Friday Site Walk on facebook.