by Catriona Mills

Finally, My Elf Gets Her Comeuppance

Posted 3129 days ago in by Catriona

So, I’ve made the point a couple of times that my Elf Ranger will sleep with anyone whom she comes across in the course of her adventures.

I’ve been playing the “Tower of Darkness” adventure in the background while live-blogging “Forest of the Dead” and I’ve just succeeded in this encounter:

Saeana found an empty guest bedroom in the expansive castle. Exhausted from her travels, she decided to rest for a moment on the bed. She was awoken by a kiss from a handsome stranger.

Saeana made a Wisdom check with a difficulty of 18 . . . and rolled 24

Saeana smiled and rose from the bed to introduce herself, but her romantic encounter was cut short as castle guards burst into the room. They moved to take the man. It hissed, dropped its guise, and spread its wings. A succubus! For a moment, Saeana felt compelled to protect the impostor, but she quickly shook that off and helped the guards subdue it. The captain of the guard rewarded Saeana for her help in the matter.

Now do you see why I’ve been complaining about your behaviour, Saeana?

If you continue to sleep with every handsome stranger that you come across in your adventures, some of them might turn out to be soul-sucking succubi.

I suppose that this time she bothered to at least try to introduce herself first.

Live-Blogging Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

Posted 3129 days ago in by Catriona

I have a confession to make: I’m doing this live-blogging while finishing watching an episode of 30 Rock and also playing the “Tower of Darkness” adventure on Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures.

But it shouldn’t interfere: after all, the encounters in Dungeons and Dragons only refresh every ten minutes or so.

30 Rock, on the other hand, was Nick’s idea. It is hilarious. I was uncertain about watching anything with Alec Baldwin in it, but I’m loving every episode. Of course, it’s being shown on free-to-air television at some ridiculous time analogous to the time that Arrested Development was shown—11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., something like that—but that’s par for the course, isn’t it?

We’ve also decided to revamp our eating habits, and I now have a stomach full of fibre (especially bran) and fresh vegetables. So far, my body isn’t really enjoying this new pattern of behaviour. Apparently, it can cope with one healthy meal a day.

Whoops, the episode has started, while I was rubbishing on about irrelevant things.

I love you, Colin Salmon! You rock.

NICK: Where’s my iPhone?
ME: I don’t know! Just sit down and watch television!

I’m losing patience with Nick’s obsession with his iPhone—but then, I have no power over the situation, do I?

(He still hasn’t found it.)

And we’re back to everyone being chased by the skeletal remains of Proper Dave. Poor Proper Dave.

Oooh, hang on—we haven’t seen this country house before. (Nick is going to try ringing his iPhone.) And that’s Donna. Wait, what’s happening here?

(He’s found it.)

Hang on, that’s Doctor Moon! What’s he doing there? This manipulation of Donna’s memories and her behaviour is intensely creepy: that repeated “and then you remembered” is starting to seem thoroughly disturbing.

It’s so like Donna to go fishing in a black sequined tunic. And now she’s married? Wow. And with children? This is, perhaps, the creepiest sequence in the entire episode.

Fully integrated? Pardon?

Hey, that was the Doctor! And now Doctor Moon’s telling her to forget the Doctor? Okay, this is well disturbing. I don’t like the idea of people having control over my memory; I feel as though I have little enough control over it myself.

This back story with River and the Doctor is fascinating to me; I understand that a big influence was The Time Traveller’s Wife, but I’ve never read that. What it’s reminding me of is Slaughterhouse Five: “Listen. Billy Pilgrim’s come unstuck in time.”

Oh, so they’re quarreling like an old married couple, are they? I’ve heard a lot of debates about what these two are to each other, but to me it seems quite clear: she’s his wife. Or she will be.

Oh, a doctor moon is a virus checker that supports and maintains the computer at the centre of the planet? Well, that answers some of my questions.

Now, that’s why I like River: for much the same reason as I like Donna. Donna is free from jealousy, and River, seeing Donna, demands to know whether the Doctor can get her back. They’re both free from jealousy, because they’re both secure in their relationship with the Doctor, different though their relationships are. We need more women like that on television, instead of the skeletal, insecure child-women that we’re supposed to enjoy. (It’s true: I’ve never got over the idea of Ally McBeal as a role model.)

(On the plus side, I just challenged the Captain of the Guard to a sword fight and won. Yay, me!)

Okay, that woman in the flowing Victorian garb is thoroughly creepy. And now the little girl doesn’t want Donna to have anything to do with her? So what does that imply about Donna’s current existence?

See, this mysterious woman points out that Donna has suspected that this world is not right before it is pointed out to her.

(Wow, that’s a lovely shot, with them all running along the bridge from one building to another.)

She’s not stupid, Donna: that’s my point.

I feel as though I can’t type fast enough to deal with everything that’s being dealt with in this issue. And now Nick’s trying to make interesting ideological points to me, and I don’t have time to deal with them.

Oh, Doctor, honestly: I figured out what the Vashta Nerada were talking about when they mentioned their forests, long before you did.

Oh, dear: now Other Dave is repeating himself. He’s ghosting.

Nick thinks that the fact that the Doctor uses the word “soul” is problematic, since after Time Lords die, their minds are stored in the APC Net—the Matrix, before Keanu Reeves. For Time Lords, that is their afterlife. So the use of the word “soul” is suggestive—and perhaps not canonical.

(I managed to defeat a gargoyle in battle, but took four points of damage.)

Ah, now River’s talking about her Doctor, and how this Doctor doesn’t seem finished in comparison. This is fascinating. Solipsistic, yes, but fascinating. What happens to the Doctor in the interval, that whole armies run from him? Or, more to the point, that he’s willing to put himself in a position where he’ll face whole armies. Has he come to terms with the Time War and his genocide?

Oh, there’ll be reams of fan fiction written about this.

Nick wants me to add that it’s not problematic that someone’s stolen a person’s soul through a computer programme, but that it would be a sore point for the Doctor. I think my garbled rewriting of that is what Nick gets for introducing complicated ideological issues while I’m trying to live-blog a complicated episode.

River’s attitude is intriguing to me: she loves this man, that’s quite clear. But she doesn’t love this man. This man she finds frustrating and immature, essentially hard work.

DONNA: But this isn’t me? This isn’t my real body? But I’ve been dieting!

For some reason, that makes me laugh out loud every time.

I don’t buy the idea that “being brilliant and unloved” are the two qualities needed to reveal absolute truth. That seems odd. Being brilliant and having a frighteningly pixellated face would seem to be closer to the truth.

Damn! The little girl just deleted her own father! Now that’s strangely depressing.

Donna’s children seem to have a better grasp of what’s going on than Donna does.

Oh, dear: now Doctor Moon’s gone the same way as the little girl’s father. Poor Colin Salmon.

Nick’s excited because in the first shot of the gravity platform, you can see its reflection in the windows. Nick is easily excited by CGI.

That the children are conscious that they cease to exist when their mother isn’t looking? That’s horrible. How can they, processed to think that they’re small children, manage to cope with that idea?

Now the Doctor and River, and the others, are in the data core. Remind me never to wake my computer up from sleep mode. Apparently, it’s terribly cruel.

(I’ve just been stabbed by a thief. After chasing him and tackling him down a hill. That doesn’t seem fair.)

This child’s face on a statue is creepy. (I know, I’ve used the word creepy a hundred times in this blog entry, but it’s an intrinsically creepy episode.) I love reading as much as anyone. I dare say that I love reading more than many people do. But spending eternity as a computerised version of myself? In a giant library?

Actually, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Oh, Vashta Nerada—the Doctor’s not stupid. He didn’t need that much time to realise that Anita was already dead. Poor Anita. I felt worse, frankly, after Other Dave ghosted, and he died in a much more perfunctory fashion.

DOCTOR: I’m the Doctor, and you’re in the biggest library in the world. Look me up.

Oh, River! As soon as you punched the Doctor, I knew things weren’t going well.

DOCTOR: That’s my job!
RIVER: And I’m not allowed to have a career, I suppose?

Oh, they’re definitely married.

Now, this angle—the idea that the Doctor knew from the beginning of their relationship when and how she would die—this is the sort of thing that normally makes my brain ache. But Alex Kingston just acts the hell out of this scene.

(Embarrassing admission: I’m closer to crying at this point than I ever have been in all the episodes of Doctor Who. I cried unceasingly for the last ten minutes of season two of Torchwood, but Doctor Who—never. But this scene breaks my heart, and combined with Donna’s separation from Lee is almost too much for my stiff upper lip.)

Oh, Steven Moffat. How you (normally) hate killing people off. And I love you for it. I do so love a happy ending.

Oh, crap: cut to the Doctor staring at (what’s left of) River. That’s not a happy ending.

Dammit, Moffat! How am I supposed to cope now? Now you’ve decided that Lee may just be imaginary? That’s just cruel.

DONNA: Is “all right” special Time Lord code for “really not all right at all”?
DOCTOR: Why?
DONNA: Because I’m all right, too.

Damn, they come out of this episode damaged.

Oh, Moffat, you bastard! You absolute bastard! (I love you, Steven Moffat!) So Lee is real, but he can’t call out to Donna? Oh, why not just kill people off?

No, Doctor—you can’t leave it at “spoilers”. You know there’s more to it than that. There must be. Moffat hates killing people off! Remember, “everybody lives! Just this once, everybody lives!”

See! I knew that wasn’t the end of the story!

This running scene, here—this is the culmination of all those discussions about how much running the Doctor does. This is the Doctor actually running for his life, running for someone else’s life—not just avoiding a monster, but running when there is nothing else to do, no other way to save people.

And here we have absolute Moffat: he just hates killing people off. So Proper Dave, Other Dave, Anita, Miss Evanglista—all alive. And there’s Doctor Moon! Hurray!

I’ve heard it said that what the Doctor does here is cruel: trapping the woman he apparently loves in a computer that he knows is going to go insane. But I don’t think that that’s supposed to be the end result. I don’t think it should be assumed that the computer will go insane again: there’s a big difference between four thousand minds and five minds.

I understand that Moffat argued his way into keeping Donna’s children alive in the computer at the end of the episode, against executive producer Julie Gardner’s concerns. And that, in the end, they switched positions: she felt the ending with the children alive was ideal, and he came to see it as saccharine.

I can’t remember having any opinion on it at all: I was too busy trying to deal with the rest of the episode.

And that’s “Forest of the Dead.”

Next week: “Midnight.” Oh, dear lord, that’s going to be hard to rewatch.

(Still, I became so distracted by the live-blogging that I managed to kill a grick—I don’t know what that is, but it has tentacles—without noticing.)

Okay, My Elf Actually Is A Tart

Posted 3130 days ago in by Catriona

Tonight, Nick suggested we play less Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures and spend more time together.

I reluctantly agreed.

(The reluctance, I might add, had nothing to do with spending time with Nick and everything to do with wanting to level my Elf Ranger up to level 8.)

But first we compromised: I was allowed to finish my current adventure, Hidden Shrine of Nahautl.

And that’s when I came across this, my final encounter:

At the end of a sloped hallway was a poorly lit chamber. A few small windows let light in through partially occluded glass. Half the floor was a pool of water, the light playing across the rippling surface. A young man bathing in the pool noticed Saeana as she entered the room.

Okay, I thought to myself, I have a Thundering Mace and a Phasing Short Sword. One half-naked bloke in a pool isn’t going to be much of a challenge.

And, he wasn’t:

The man beckoned Saeana into the pool and, as he did so, it became quite apparent what might take place there between them. It was equally apparent that this man was using his charms to get the better of Saeana but she was going to turn the tables on this suave seducer.

Saeana made a Charisma check with a difficulty of 17 . . . and rolled 28

A battle of charms ensued, with winks, flirting, careful placement of hands, and whispered words. Saeana easily bested the charmer in this contest and came out of the situation with more treasure and better memories than she had gone in with.

Saeana obtained a suit of Plate Armor +2!

Seriously.

I want to make several points about this encounter.

1. I thought I was a serious adventurer. I didn’t realise that that meant getting my kit off at every given opportunity.

2. Saeana, you climbed into a pool with a complete stranger and only then did it become apparent “what might take place between you”?

You daft cow.

3. “Careful placement of hands”? As in, you’re afraid you might slip on the soap? If my Elf is going to sleep with everyone she comes across, at least make it sexy, WOTC.

4. “Better memories than she had gone in with”? Well, I thought the instance in which I seduced a halfing lad for a suit of armour was at least ambiguous. This one really doesn’t seem ambiguous at all.

5. There really is nothing that my Elf won’t do for armour, is there? And, once again, the treasure she’s obtained by sleeping with some random man encountered in the pursuit of adventure is a suit of armour that she can’t even wear.

Saeana, I must insist that if you’re going to sleep with people for treasure—instead of obtaining it in the old-fashioned way of bludgeoning your enemies—you at least ensure that it’s treasure you can use.

I refuse to seduce anyone else for the sake of sixty-three gold coins.

Strange Conversations: Part Forty

Posted 3130 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: I need to do something different with my life.
ME: In general? Or are you just thinking you shouldn’t play any more Diablo this afternoon?
NICK: The latter.
ME: Excellent. You can do some washing up.
NICK: I wasn’t thinking of anything that radical.

What Robert Frost Might Have Written Had He Played Dungeons and Dragons

Posted 3131 days ago in by Catriona

Yes, I’m talking about Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures again.

But, seriously, this is hilarious:

Two elves were fighting in a yellow wood. Long Saeana stood, trying to determine which one of them was the bad guy.

Saeana tried to peer as far down into one’s soul as she could, then fairly chose the other whose expression was less worn. More telling, perhaps were the symbolic trinkets each wore. The first’s marked him as an agent of evil, while the second’s marked him as a follower of good. After helping defeat the evildoer, she and the good warrior lay in the leaves, sighing and telling tales of deeds they’d done, and roads they’d traveled.

(There was a wisdom roll in the middle, there, but I think you can tell how that went. I worry about my Elf, when she chooses who to kill on the strength of how “worn” their faces are, and only then thinks, “Also, that necklace made from the skulls of children? That might be a clue.”)

Are the people behind Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures enormous fans of Robert Frost? He is a dearly beloved poet, after all.

Or do they simply have too much time on their hands?

As for me, I don’t have too much time on my hands, but—well, you have to do something during your cigarette breaks, don’t you? (Something apart from smoking, that is.) And it’s been a while since I posted a dreadful poem on the blog.

The Elf Not Slaughtered

Two elves battled in a yellow wood,
And, sorry I could not battle both
And win the battle, long I stood
And checked my Wisdom roll (not so good),
Lurking awhile in the undergrowth.

Then killed the nearer, a fitter goal,
As having perhaps the better claim,
Assuming that darkness was in his soul.
(Though, since I failed my Wisdom roll,
The two seemed really about the same.)

The other and I together lay
In leaves my mace had made gory
We would perhaps fight another day!
For, knowing how way leads on to way,
Odds are I must replay this story.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two elves battled in a wood, and I—
I slaughtered the evil one, aye,
But it didn’t make a difference.

Odd Things That Have Happened in Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures

Posted 3132 days ago in by Catriona

1. I’ve just been hit in the chest with a golden cannonball. This is, in fact, why I started this post.

Who uses a golden cannonball? Isn’t that insanely expensive and also rather impractical? Or I am just cranky because I took six points of damage despite, and I think the word is warranted, absolutely pwning my Armour Class Check?

2. Slightly before that, I was hit on the head by a falling scythe after failing a Wisdom roll. Still, the man who dropped the scythe on me was more annoyed about the whole situation than I was:

Disapointed, Plurbius faded from view, mumbling “‘Oh, don’t worry Plurbius, we’ll have thirty scythes . . . and they’ll spin and shred . . . .’ Last time I use gnome contractors.”

So there is that.

3. I’m deliberately not re-mentioning the time I apparently seduced a Halfling. (Plus, aren’t they tiny? Like hobbit sized? It’s all very odd.)

4. I don’t think it’s good for my Ranger’s reputation to have to hide in a soot-filled chimney because she can’t overcome a few skeletons.

5. I once tried to climb a tree to rescue a family pet: none of the actual family could manage the climb. But then goblin raiders appeared, and I fell out of the tree on top of them. Not on purpose, of course. But, honestly: Elf and Ranger. You’d think I’d be slightly more sure-footed than that.

Of course, this was immediately after the encounter in which I slipped and fell while walking through the forest, poisoning myself with toadstool spores in the process.

What kind of Elf falls over in a forest? (Ooh, Zen.)

Maybe I just have a very clumsy Elf.

6. That’s not even including the time I waited in ambush for an orc lord, behind his throne, and fell asleep on the floor while waiting for his bodyguards to leave. That was just embarrassing.

7. There was also the time I tried to grab a vine to swing across a pit and completely missed. The more I look at these misadventures, the more I think that my Elf is a bit rubbish, actually.

It’s one thing to have sharp enough eyes to spot the pit and another to fall straight into it anyway.

Later in the same adventure, I was lured into a trap by the promise of treasure and fell straight through an illusory floor. Into a pit, obviously.

8. Of course, the stage was set for all of this during my first adventure, when I was not only shot in the leg by an Elf after failing my Charisma roll but was also bitten by an alligator.

More accurately, I experienced “an unpleasant sensation of being bitten in the thigh.” Is that opposed to the slightly less common pleasant sensation of being bitten in the thigh?

Actually, don’t answer that.

9. I once ended up as a king’s food-taster, despite the fact that the whole point of the adventure was to drag the self-proclaimed king back to the town in chains. Of course, the disadvantage of becoming a food-taster and then failing your Constitution roll is that you end up being poisoned.

They never did explain how the king found me, why he didn’t demand to know why a heavily armed complete stranger was strolling around his fort immediately after he’d announced his secession, or why I accepted the position of food taster in the first place.

10. By now, it’s probably no surprise that the time I decided to fix a dumbwaiter (Why? Why would I decide to do that in the middle of an attempt to track down an Undead Paladin?) I, in fact, slipped and fell down the shaft on top of it.

11. I also worry about my character’s morality. For example, the Undead Paladin adventure above ended with me escorting him back to town, where a priest freed his tormented soul and I nicked his armour.

(I couldn’t wear Bonegrim Armour, of course, but we’re all familiar now with the depths to which my character will sink for the sake of armour.)

But this aspect bothers Nick more than it bothers me. Whenever we’re both playing at the same time, I can hear him muttering things like “a Paladin would never try to rob a sleeping giant!”

I’m thoroughly enjoying the game, which has completely ousted Packrat from my affections (although, gods of Packrat, if you could see fit to send me a Great Wall of China pop-up card, I might stop sulking).

In fact, when my father-in-law came around for dinner tonight, I greeted him by shouting from another room, “I’ll be there in thirty-nine seconds! I just need to finish this encounter!” Rude? Possibly. But he’s known me for eight years by this stage.

(Then when I did finish the encounter, Nick was strangely annoyed at the outcome.
ME: I killed the metal dog.
NICK: I don’t think that’s anything to boast about.
ME: It wasn’t K9!)

But there’s a fine line between thoroughly enjoying a game and being slightly miffed when your easily distracted, accident-prone Elf Ranger cops a golden cannonball in the breastplate.

The Reference Shelf

Posted 3132 days ago in by Catriona

I have a weakness—one that I persistently indulge—for reference books.

And I’m not even talking about the sort of reference books that everyone should have on their shelves: the OED, Strunk and White, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, or The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

I’m not even talking about the ones specific to my discipline or my occupation: MLA Handbook, Abrams’s Glossary of Literary Terms, or The Little, Brown Handbook.

No: I’m talking about the odd ones. The . . . slightly embarrassing ones, like Who’s Who in Enid Blyton. The ones that I don’t look at every day, or every week.

And then, looking at my shelves at work and again at home, I thought, “Sod it. These books are awesome. Every one of them has taught me something. It may not be something terribly essential and chances are that I won’t remember it tomorrow, but it’s still been imparted.”

So this is in honour of my favourites among the not-quite-essential reference books that I love.

Ghastly Beyond Belief: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of Quotations by Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman.

I’m going to love any book that warns me to “sterilize [myself] with fear.” But the most valuable thing this book taught me? That Tony Stark, at some point in his continuity, uttered the line “I’ll meet you at the Frug-a-go-go when I’ve finished with the cyclotron, baby.”

Smooth, Tony.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

Diana Wynne Jones just rocks. That’s all there is to it, really. But The Magicians of Caprona and Archer’s Goon are one thing, and a tourist’s brochure to fantasy fiction is another.

Sample entry: “Small Man can be a very funny or a very tiresome TOUR COMPANION, depending on how this kind of thing grabs you. He gambles (see GAMING), he drinks too much and he always runs away. Since the Rules allow him to make JOKES, he will excuse his behaviour in a variety of comical ways. Physically he is stunted and not at all handsome, although he usually dresses flamboyantly. He tends to wear hats with feathers in. You will discover he is very vain. But, if you can avoid smacking him, you will come to tolerate if not love him” (174-75).

1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence by A Member of the Whip Club (Frances [sic] Grose, according to the introduction).

This one speaks for itself, surely.

No? Might be just me, then. It certainly helps when you’re reading Georgette Heyer novels, that’s for sure.

This, I think, is my favourite entry.

Dommerer: A beggar pretending that his tongue has been cut out by the Algerines, or cruel and blood-thirsty Turks, or else that he was born deaf and dumb.

It’s just so curiously specific, isn’t it? The proviso stuck on the end—“or, he might not have much of an imagination. You know, whatevs”—seems a bit of a let down.

Book of Intriguing Words, Paul Hellweg.

I’m just going to list the weirdest of the new words that his book taught me while I was flipping through it this afternoon.

Daphnomancy: divination by means of a laurel tree.
Ailuromancy: divination by the way a cat jumps.
Cinqasept: a short visit to one’s lover (literally from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

(But surely the last would also apply to a period between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.? )

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.

Now this one is a vital addition to the shelf, really, but I had to include it in the list just so I could give some sample definitions.

Circus, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

Guillotine, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.

Thou Improper, Thou Uncommon Noun by Willard R. Espy

But, seriously: who doesn’t need a dictionary of eponyms? I had no idea, before browsing through this, that “tawdry” was an eponym (taking its name from a corruption of St Audrey, in reference to the inexpensive lace collars sold on her holy day) or that badminton took its name from the Gloucestershire seat of the Duke of Beaufort (where it was first played after being imported from India).

An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.

Now, I don’t know how many of these collective nouns are tongue in cheek and how many are derived from genuine sources. I believe that the collective noun for hounds is “a mute” (from the Old French meute, for either “pack” or “kennel”) and that a legitimate, if rare, alternative is “a sleuth of hounds” (from the Old Norse slóth, meaning “track”).

That seems plausible.

But this following list seems both as though it’s entirely fabricated and as though the words should be in more common use:

An angst of dissertations.
A vicious circle of fallacies.
A tabula rasa of empiricists.
A conjugation of grammarians.

When I find gems like these, is it any wonder that I keep buying reference books?

And that isn’t even revealing the existence of my Dictionary of Pirates or Encyclopaedia of Plague and Pestilence.

I Think My Elf Ranger is a Bit of a Tart; or, The Gender Politics of RPGs

Posted 3133 days ago in by Catriona

I was happily running Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures in the background this morning while I was slogging through some donkey work, when I stumbled across the following encounter—or should I say “encounter” (nudge, nudge)—in the City Under the Streets adventure:

Saeana’s eyes widened as she entered a room to find a handsome halfling lad sitting dejectedly at a wooden desk. “I’m so bored,” he moaned.

Saeana made a Charisma check with a difficulty of 13 . . . and rolled 16

Saeana worked her magic (so to speak) on the halfling and a good time was had by all. As thanks for their new friendship, the halfling gave Saeana a gift.

Saeana received 88 XP.

Saeana obtained a suit of Eladrin Chain!

That’s . . . not right, surely? I mean, I may be reading this incorrectly, but it does look as though my character—in the middle of an adventure in which I’m supposed to be tracing the mysterious killer of city guards—stopped for a little dalliance with someone who, frankly, sounds underage and then accepted a costly gift (that she couldn’t even use, since she’s a Ranger).

I’m trying hard not to read this as a broader indictment of gender politics in role-playing games—and, frankly, it hasn’t stopped me playing the game.

But I’m fairly certain that the male characters aren’t offered the chance to “work their magic (so to speak) on the halfling.”

Of course, Nick hasn’t done this adventure, yet; if his male character has this encounter, I’ll eat my words.

But, as it stands, it’s reminding me of C. J. Cherryh’s shift to writing about giant cats on the grounds that at least her illustrator couldn’t put those on the cover in gold bikinis.

Strange Conversations: Part Thirty-Nine

Posted 3133 days ago in by Catriona

Nick’s Goth background starts showing through:

NICK: You seem willing to cuddle me at the moment. (Note: not a euphemism.)
ME: I cuddle you all the time! And I initiate cuddles, too, even though I’m not a cuddler by nature. So you stop that!
NICK: Okay.
ME: Well, you’ve spoilt the cuddle mood now.
NICK: For good?
ME: Yep.
NICK: You are so Old Testament sometimes.

Strange Conversations: Part Thirty-Eight

Posted 3133 days ago in by Catriona

I had my hair cut this morning, and I’m worried that it’s a little too short. (It’s doesn’t help when you say “shoulder length” and then the hairdresser starts muttering, after she’s already cut a chunk off, “That’s quite a lot to take off in one go.”

So I’m a little nervous about it.

Then the following conversation occurred:

NICK: So let’s have a look at the new hair.
ME: You could have mentioned it when you came into the room five minutes ago to say “Hello,” but you didn’t notice it.
NICK: I did! I did notice it! I was just waiting to have a proper conversation.
ME: You didn’t notice it.
NICK: Well, I wasn’t really looking at you.

Yep, honey. That makes it much better.

Hands Down, The Strangest Game on Facebook

Posted 3134 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve rattled on at length about my Packrat obsession, I’ve written a dreadful poem about playing Pirates—I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m fond of the games applications on Facebook.

But they’re all paling into insignificance now that I’ve found the Facebook application for Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures.

I’m slightly fixated on Dungeons and Dragons at the moment anyway, since it’s the first time in a decade that I’ve done any real table-top RPGing—I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it.

But Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures is both curiously passive and oddly addictive.

It’s curiously passive because you don’t actually do much yourself: most of it’s taken care of for you by the gaming engine.

So you select your character class—Elf Ranger, of course—and then the game invests your choice of name with a pleasing sense of weighty importance, by insisting that once you’ve selected it, you cannot change it. The character’s name, it seems, is inviolate.

Then you pick an adventures from a short list . . . and that’s the last active thing you do for a while.

I’m currently halfway through “Curse of the Wolf Moon,” trying to “travel through Felltooth Wood to find the legendary Mirror Lake of Felltooth Mountain. There blessed wolfsbane grows in the spray of the Singing Falls”; it’s the only way to save the villagers!

But once you’ve selected an adventure, a ticker appears in the top left-hand corner, saying “Next event in 9:00 [or 7:53, or 3:57, or any of a random assortment of minutes and seconds].”

And you wait.

The time ticks down.

And then you can click a refresh button, and see whether you’ve defeated the monster or been knocked around a bit.

It’s the strangest thing.

In fact, you don’t even know what you’re going to be facing until you’ve hit that refresh button, by which time, paradoxically, you’ve already faced it. The computer takes care of everything, including your dice roll. You could roll a natural 20 or a critical fail, and not even know it until the dust has settled.

Frankly, I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with it, since I have to keep finding things to do, to amuse myself while the ticker ticks down.

And yet I am oddly obsessed.

Partly, it’s that I’m doing unusually well in this current adventure. I’ve done this one before, but the server crashed over the weekend, and when I picked the application again today, I’d dropped back to level 1.

But I’m having more luck this time. Last time the sad-looking shepherd came up to me and told me he’d lost his magic sheep, I failed my Wisdom roll, looked him square in the eyes, told him there were no such things as magic sheep, and sodded off.

This time, I didn’t fail my Wisdom roll—and succeeded in not only finding the sheep but also looting a forgotten shrine.

I’ve also killed a dire toad, set fire to a zombie, and freed a caravan of people from the thrall of a sorcerer.

And picked up some nifty loot in the process.

I have also been stabbed by a goblin, but it was only a flesh wound—and that’s the price you pay for derring-do. (Which is why I prefer to do my derring from behind a computer screen.)

But I think the primary reason Nick and I are obsessed with this is the anticipation.

When you’re playing with dice and paper, you’re master of your own destiny—to an extent. If you roll a critical fail, you rolled it.

But with this version, the control over the dice is taken out of your hands. You wait your seven, eight, nine minutes and then, and only then, do you see which foe you’ve been facing, which treasure you’ve been grabbing, and how much damage you’ve taken.

It’s almost contrary to the spirit of the original game, and yet we’re fascinated.

All evening, the conversation has been running along these lines:

“Honey, come and make a cup of coffee.”
“In twenty-two seconds!”

“I just killed a zombie! I set fire to him with a branch out of the fire!”
“Cool!”

“Damn! I died on the last encounter.”
“Which one? Wolf Moon? Oh, that’s basic, that is.”

It’s odd: the pleasure and pride that one can take in achievements that are not only represented entirely by pixels but also occur entirely outside your control.

Seriously, it’s the strangest game on Facebook.

But awesome.

One Day, I'm Going to be Granny Weatherwax

Posted 3134 days ago in by Catriona

(At the moment, I’m planning on working my way towards Granny Weatherwax via Sue White, the completely insane Staff Liaison Officer in Green Wing, who deals with hysterically crying staff members by shouting, “Take this copy of Dealing with Difficult People and fuck off!” But Granny Weatherwax is the ultimate goal.)

I much prefer Terry Pratchett’s witches to his guards: I like the guard books, and I particularly enjoy watching the development of Detritus from his original, rather melancholic, appearance in Moving Pictures, but the witches are my real favourites.

And Granny is my favourite witch.

Don’t get me wrong: I sympathise with Magrat Garlick. I suspect, in fact, that I’m closer to Magrat than I’ll ever be to Granny. That’s largely why Magrat’s not my favourite of the witches: there’s no wish fulfillment there and perhaps a little too much mirroring. I, too, am probably a wet hen.

For me, the same is true for Agnes Nitt, though her development as a character between Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum is intriguing.

And Nanny Ogg . . . well, the interesting thing about Nanny Ogg, as Agnes points out in Carpe Jugulum, is that Nanny Ogg is, in many ways, an uncomplicated person.

As a result, she’s not a very complicated character either or, at least, not a character who changes much through the books. Always delightful as she is, there’s not a great distinction between her role in Wyrd Sisters and her role in Carpe Jugulum.

But Granny changes with each encounter, becoming more extraordinary and more powerful as she faces down family members, elves, vampires, and even Death.

There’s something about Granny Weatherwax that reminds me of Miss Marple.

Granny has none of Miss Marple’s innate belief in superiority of men, although that something that Miss Marple honours more in the breach than in the observance: for all she states the Victorian tenets of her upbringing, she rarely abides by them in practice.

And Granny has none of Miss Marple’s fluttering, hyper-feminine, dithering camouflage.

But they both develop out of the idea that skills can be honed by observing one’s immediate surroundings: that experience is more a matter of applied intelligence than of frenetic activity.

And they are both characters restricted by their gender but ultimately refusing to be restrained by it.

For Miss Marple, the restrictions of her gender, of her gendered upbringing, and of social assumptions about old women become tools and, at times, weapons. In wielding them, she moves out of her restricted sphere into the wider one of the detective. And when Miss Marple starts detecting in December 1927—when what became the first chapter of The Tuesday Club Murders was published in The Royal Magazine—she was moving into what was still largely a male province; female detectives had been around, in small numbers, since the 1860s, but the first professional female detective, Loveday Brooke, appeared in 1894.

But for Granny, the restrictions are professional as well as gender based. She’s not a witch because she’s a woman: she’s a witch because she’s a witch. But, being a woman, she can only be a witch: not a warlock, not a wizard.

And, Pratchett points out in Carpe Jugulum, she’s a witch of the old school, from the days when witches were feared and persecuted: her weapons and tools, like Miss Marple’s, are disguised as safe, domestic objects, a protective colouring that she maintains even when witches are accepted and valued in Lancre.

Granny is isolated. Nanny and Magrat have their families: even Agnes has close relatives in the area. Granny does not.

And she’s an object of fear. As Pratchett makes clear, people in Lancre go to witches when they’re in trouble . . . but they don’t go near them at other times. Granny, of course, draws strength from this fear but it, and the isolation, are also used as weapons against her.

But, oh, she’s powerful.

And she’s strong.

And she never forgets who she is or what she is—even while she’s constantly fighting against what she was or what she might be.

Granny knows that we have to make decisions without always knowing whether they’re the right ones, and that we never find out if they were the right ones. And she knows that we have to watch ourselves if we’re to be sure of who and what we are.

It broke my heart when I realised that there weren’t going to be any more specifically Granny Weatherwax books, that she’d grown too powerful to be a central character, that there were no more enemies that could offer a challenge.

But that’s all right.

Because one day I’m going to be just like her.

Television Advertising

Posted 3135 days ago in by Catriona

Nick and I were waiting for Bones to start tonight—and on that note, how grotesque is that show? Seriously, CSI was never this revolting—and watching the final ten minutes of City Homicide.

I’ve never seen an entire episode of that show, although I understand it’s both very good and attracting some interest in the U.S.: largely Bittorrent-y attention, but still.

But mostly, we were waiting for it to end, and enjoying recognising all the characters, including one of my former Play School favourites.

And then they advertised next week’s episode with what I think is the greatest line I’ve ever heard on television: “Craig McLachlan is going to wish he never crossed Noni Hazlehurst.”

My money’s on Noni.

Live-blogging Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

Posted 3136 days ago in by Catriona

And here we are for the first of Steven Moffat’s two-parter about The Library. This, I’m sure I don’t need to warn you, will be nothing but a love-fest. I’ve made my feelings about Steven Moffat clear time and time again, and I adored these episodes.

Or, I would have, if I’d seen them before. Which, of course, I haven’t. Because they haven’t aired here, yet. And so watching them earlier would be bad.

Ahem.

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, the absence of photographs for tonight’s blogging is a result of my spending this afternoon at a poetry festival, and therefore being very tired, especially since I haven’t quite finished working through tomorrow morning’s lecture. Nor have I finished my marking. Actually, this list of things I haven’t done that need to be done by 9 a.m. tomorrow is making me a little anxious.

Eh, c’est la vie.

Apparently, Australia won forty-something medals. I suppose that’s good? I’ve given up on the Olympics, and haven’t watched a single event this time around. But, hopefully, this means proper television will be back on soon.

I like the tagline “In this library, no one can hear you scream.”

Ooh, Colin Salmon. I love Colin Salmon. Last time I saw him, it was Hex. And before that, he was being sliced to pieces in Resident Evil.

The special effects in this are glorious. Most of it’s set-dressing, I know—but the shots of the young girl floating over the planet are beautiful.

I also really like Donna’s outfit in this—the tunic part, anyway. I’d like one of those.

I agree with Nick that this is one of the best teasers they’ve ever done.

“People never really stop loving books.” Well, good. You do need the smell of books. And their tactility.

A whole planet of books? Awesome. Whole continents of Jeffery Archer? Spare me.

The Doctor loves biographies and Donna thinks it’s because there’s always a death at the end? That’s a telling exchange, especially in light of some later revelations in this story.

Once again, the Doctor promises to take his companion to the beach, and they end up somewhere else. Mind, I’d rather go to The Library than to the beach. Oh, very definitely.

Did that sign read Xeno Biology/Art? How on earth are those two categories next to each other? Surely not? Not even in the Library of Congress system.

Ooh, but the set-dressing in this episode is beautiful. And the lighting—which is hugely important to the plot. But then it is Euros Lyn, who’s a stylish director.

“Count the shadows”? Man, now I’m creeped out—and I’ve already seen this episode.

NICK: Tennant’s quiff extends about three inches out in front of his head in this episode. It’s really quite extraordinary.

Oh, crap—now the lights are going out! Ooh, I’m easily freaked out by things that lurk in the dark.

And now the pay-off for the teaser, which is fabulous. I didn’t see the security-camera angle coming the first time around. I’m also impressed by Donna’s door skills, as the Doctor is (though saying you sometimes need the element of surprise with boyfriends is rather trivialising Donna’s character).

This scene with the Doctor using the sonic screwdriver on a sentient security camera is strangely disturbing—you’d think that the Doctor would know enough about strange varieties of life by now.

DONNA: It chose a real dead face it thought I’d like?

Oh, I’m with you, Donna—that’s just not right.

Ack! What’s casting the shadow? And now the lights are going out again! Damn—now the shadow’s gone. Oh, wow—this isn’t as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as “Blink,” but it’s damn creepy.

Ooh, the others have arrived.

Alex Kingston! Cool. And she’s calling the Doctor “sweetie”? Hmmm—I wonder what the story is here?

DOCTOR: I’m a time traveller; I point and laugh at archaeologists.

You’re a smug man, Doctor. A smug, smug man—but I love you despite that.

Other Dave: you’re not terribly bright, are you? But sweet: not as sweet as poor, dead Ross from two episodes ago, but sweet nonetheless.

The idea of The Library being silent for a hundred years—a disaster, killing everyone and then the whole world shutting down, the books left alone for a century. Fascinating idea.

DOCTOR: Almost every species has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong—because it’s not irrational.

Good line.

Now is probably the time to point out that I like River Song. There’s something appealing about her. Now I’m not a ‘shipper, and I don’t care personally what her back story with the Doctor is—though it’s quite clear there’s a back story (they’re now comparing diaries, so there’s definitely something there). I do understand that some fangirls have been shredding River Song online, but I have no patience with that, at all. She’s an endearing character, somehow—and a match for the Doctor, it seems.

The TARDIS-patterned diary? Hmm.

Aha! So accessing the security protocols sets things off in the mysterious little girl’s house? (Trying to “call up the data core”? Hmm.)

No wonder the father’s worried enough about the little girl to call in the doctor: all those endless drawings of The Library.

Nick tells me that one of the complaints about this episode online was that it is set in The Library, but doesn’t thematise books or writing, at all. That’s something we can discuss in the comments thread, if you like. I’m not sure that’s an accurate complaint, and Nick thinks some of the arguments were overblown.

There’s certainly, it seems to me, a celebration of imagination, both within the story and in the construction of the episode itself: textually and extratextually, it’s about imaginative power. In part.

MISS EVANGELISTA: My dad said I had the IQ of plankton, and I was pleased.

Oooh, Steven Moffat! That’s a recycled joke from Press Gang! Shame!

Donna is sweet in this episode—I can see why the crew, knowing each other and working together—treat Miss Evangelista as an in-joke. But it is cruel. (Oh, don’t go through that door, Miss Evangelista! No, you silly cow! Oh, too late.) And Donna’s approaches to Miss Evangelista are a mark of a genuinely open and kind nature, which is something that expands in Donna the longer she stays with the Doctor, and the brassiness, for want of a better word, is rubbed off.

Another gorgeous set. I believe this is a decommissioned library, somewhere.

Well, that scream doesn’t bode well for Miss Evangelista.

Oh, dear—dead and stripped of all flesh. Oh, that’s not nice.

She’s ghosting; her neural relay has caught and recorded her consciousness, and now she’s speaking as though she were still alive.

NICK: Correct use of “presently.” Most people would use “momentarily.”

I argue that that use of “momentarily” is largely an American idiom—although you do hear it in Australia, as well—but Nick disagrees with me.

This data-ghosting scene is awful to watch—poor Donna! (Poor Miss Evangelista, too, but she’s dead and doesn’t really know what’s happening.) Donna’s human, and she’s not set up for this, especially when it’s not quite clear whether Miss Evangelista ever really hears Donna’s reassurance that she won’t tell the others. To try and reassure a woman you know is already dead, and then not be certain that you’ve even succeeded? That’s the kind of thing that’ll haunt you at three a.m., when you’re lying awake reviewing the failures of your life.

Ah, Dr Moon is back! Hurray for Colin Salmon.

DR MOON: The real world is a lie. And your nightmares are real. The Library is real.

Oddly, despite seeing the Doctor move through The Library for forty minutes, that exchange blew my mind the first time around.

This exchange between Donna and River Song—Donna’s well able to understand what River is saying, and she does, in a way. But once River realises that this is Donna Noble, the whole thing changes: when Donna realises that River knows the Doctor, but doesn’t know her, there’s heartbreak there.

I’ve seen it argued online that Donna’s heartbreak comes from a sense that there’s a closeness between the Doctor and River that she can’t share, that the heartbreak comes from Donna’s devastation at the fact that the Doctor doesn’t love her.

I think that’s rubbish, frankly—but I’ve been made my point about Donna, the Doctor, and Donna’s complete lack of jealousy quite clear. It’s what I love about their relationship. Donna’s heartbreak, to me, comes from the sense that there’s a point in the Doctor’s future where he know River but no longer knows her. It might be after her death: we don’t know. But it’s something she hasn’t considered.

Oh, no! Proper Dave’s got two shadows! Oh, poor Proper Dave.

Wait, River Song has a sonic screwdriver. In-ter-est-ing.

And what’s just happened to Donna? Damn. Whatever it was, it sounded painful.

Oh, damn—now the swarm’s in Proper Dave’s helmet. And, double damn—he’s repeating himself. Oh, bugger: he’s ghosting. Poor Proper Dave.

Ack! Skull! That’s creepier than it has any right to be.

So River Song has a sonic screwdriver and a Captain Jack-style sonic blaster? Man, she’s cool.

“Donna Noble has been saved”? Damn that little girl’s creepy.

You’ll note that I’ve managed to avoid saying “Vashtanarada” all post. Until now: but I think that’s a plausible spelling. It’s a plausible word, too—or, at least, I like the sound of it. Unlike some earlier words, like the Slitheen’s home planet, which struck me as stupid, though I haven’t the faintest idea how to spell it.

Oh, damn! Donna’s face on a statue? That’s so not right. How are they going to get Donna back? And here’s Proper Dave, again. Or, rather, Vashtanarada swarm in Proper Dave’s suit.

And that’s one hell of a cliffhanger.

Oh, there’s so much that I wanted to say about this episode and that I could have said, if only I could have typed faster. It’s such a rich story—such complex world-building.

But, have at the comments thread, if you noticed anything that I missed.

Strange Conversations: Part Thirty-Seven

Posted 3137 days ago in by Catriona

The danger of miming or why I don’t hold conversations when I have my mouth full:

NICK: How about I make some coffee and we watch Burn Notice?
ME: (indicates an extremely small span with my fingers and then makes the universal gesture for insanity, as perfected by Edvard Munch)
NICK: What? A small amount of coffee equals a lot of screaming?
ME: (shakes head)
NICK: You’ve had too much to drink?
ME: (shakes head)
NICK: You’re scared of the pincer movement?

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