by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Gaming”

Draw Something

Posted 25 March 2012 in by Catriona

Like so many other people with some sort of iThing, I’m completely and utterly obsessed with Draw Something at the moment. In fact, both Nick and I are. We’ll sit there, each with our iThing, in front of the television and catch up on our current games.

Hmm. That makes our lives sound a bit like a blackly humorous 21st-century BBC sitcom.

Either way, we’re not above boasting to each other about our favourite of our own drawings. And while boasting to one’s partner has its advantages, sooner or later one tends to crave a larger audience.

I think I’ve just about perfected my tentacles by this point:

I’m also rapidly improving my Vikings:

And then, every now and again, you get to stretch yourself a little:

Clearly, my primary artistic influences are Monet and Renoir.

Oh, and Dick Bruno.

A Fair Question

Posted 4 August 2011 in by Catriona

WIZARD: Do you want me to send a squirrel messenger to the Watch? The enchantment takes ten minutes, but I have to catch the squirrel first.

Lessons I Have Learned from Playing Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 (DS)

Posted 7 October 2010 in by Catriona

1. The purchase of Traveller’s Tales by Warner Brothers was not actually for the best.

I’ve been a devotee of the Lego games from the time I played the complete Star Wars game, and this one . . . well, it’s just not doing it for me. I know it’s designed for 10+ players, and I do feel a bit silly complaining about a game for child players. But the other Lego games had a richness to them, without being so insanely difficult that they were only possible for advanced players. And this one? There’s no richness here. No hidden rooms. No complexity or variety to the game play (and, yes, I’m thinking particularly of the Lego Batman here). It seemed to devolve into nothing but opening locked chests for an entire level. Even a ten-year-old would find that boring.

Some levels do hint at a potential for complexity: the Knockturn Alley adventure, the secret passageway to Hogsmead in book three, the Hogsmead level itself. But it’s not enough to make up for level after level where you’re just opening locked chests.

And it’s not only the redundancy of the game play. It’s also the way the game is stuck in its own narrative, so that even though you might have chosen to play as Hermione or Dobby, the NPCs will still call you “Harry.”

And speaking of restrictive narrative . . .

2. It doesn’t matter how fond of Harry Potter you are or how fond of Lego games you are, it’s still boring being forced to repeat the same tutorial levels over and over again.

Look, I honestly do think that the classroom situation is a good way to seed the tutorials levels through the game and to add complexity to the game-playing experience by spacing out the spells you need to complete all the tasks. I don’t even object to only being taught Alohomara to open locked chests in fourth year, even though, as an NPC pointed out in-game, it’s actually a spell from first year.

But there really is no reason why I should have to do these tutorial levels twice. In Story Mode? Fine. Story Mode is restrictive and linear. But in Free Play? No. Definitely no. Free Play has been, in the Lego games, a chance to roam freely around the level and just blow up whatever I want. Why on earth am I trapped in the classroom again, learning spells that you know full well I’ve already learned, or I would never have been able to unlock Free Play in the first place?

I suspect it’s lazy game design, but it reminds me horribly of those anxiety dreams you get where you’re back in high school and they won’t let you leave even though you tell them you’ve actually got a Ph.D. now and then they make you play some sort of team sport and you just know you’re going to score another own goal . . .

Everyone gets those, right?

3. You can still be the most popular boy in school despite spending much of your spare time blowing up all the armchairs in the Gryffindor common room.

(I don’t need to blow up the armchairs. It’s just fun.)

4. There’s something a bit embarrassing about an all-but 34-year-old woman hissing into her Nintendo DS in order to simulate speaking Parseltongue.

(I make Nick leave the room when I get to a Parseltongue doorway.)

5. I never thought that being a practitioner of the Dark Arts was one of my lifelong ambitions. Turns out, I was wrong.

This is back to a comparison with Lego Batman, but, really, they missed a trick here. In both Batman and Lego Star Wars, you had the chance to play villains. In fact, in Batman, it was compulsory: half the levels were villains levels. And they were awesome. In Lego Star Wars, it was more of a moral choice: I suppose you didn’t have to open the Sith doorways if you didn’t want to.

(It wasn’t much of a moral choice. I mean, the Emperor could shoot Force lightning at people. And Darth Vader could Force choke people, so that they split into dozens of constituent parts. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)

But Lego Harry Potter doesn’t give you that choice. No moral complexity in this game, even though you can purchase and play Voldemort (in three forms) and Snape, not to mention various Death Eaters. No, here you don’t have any areas that are only accessible to Voldemort’s supporters, nothing that even hints at any kind of clash of opposed ideologies.

But you do have a great deal of money . . .

6. Cumulative score counters are, surprisingly, not much fun. Perhaps I should have simply not bought all of the x2, x4, x6 etc. score counters, but they haven’t been cumulative in other Lego games (except Lego Indiana Jones, and even then it was only, I think, for the Wii version, not the DS version). So I was a bit surprised when I ended up with 4.2 billion Lego studs. Even this wouldn’t be a big problem, except that the most expensive purchases in the in-game store (such as a playable Voldemort) only cost two million studs: I don’t even notice that, out of my vast riches. I almost miss the days when I had to farm levels in Lego Star Wars in order to afford the Emperor or the Force ghost of Ben Kenobi.

7. Giant spiders suck. Levels where you fight giant spiders non-stop also suck. Giant-spider levels that crash right on the last action and do this every single time you play them? They suck the most.

8. You know what else sucks? Ghosts. Ghosts totally suck. All they can do is slip through bars. And this makes no sense to me. Why can’t ghosts cross water? All right: there are superstitions about the undead and running water. But why, when ghosts accidentally fall off high places, do they hit the ground with an audible thump and moan, only to pop up and start floating off the ground again? That will never, ever make sense to me.

9. Apparently, there aren’t enough villains in the books. Or at least not enough villains to make a Lego game a bit challenging. Luckily, this can be easily remedied with anthropomorphic (and psychotic!) mushrooms and some weird blokes in red hats who bury themselves deep in the ground, waiting to kill anyone who stands on them.

Gits.

10. Okay, it was pretty funny when Cedric Diggory died at the end of Goblet of Fire, and Dumbledore clapped his father sympathetically on the shoulder before handing him a Lego instruction sheet. I’ll give you that.

Urban Futility

Posted 29 July 2010 in by Catriona

I added Social City on Facebook this week, because a friend has become addicted to it and was begging for more neighbours. But like the Sim City on which it is, I believe, strongly modelled, it’s a strangely compelling game.

Compelling and horrifying.

At least, I find the following things disturbing.

My little bungalows (the only type of housing I can currently afford) put out ten new citizens every seven minutes. Really? What on Earth are they doing in there? I asked Nick this, and he said, “Um, bonking, apparently.” But even that doesn’t explain the sheer scale of the population growth—unless perhaps this is a city for rabbits.

I can only assume they’ve got some kind of accelerated cloning apparatus in each house. That would explain why all my citizens look slightly similar.

I also built a road all the way around two edges of my map before I realised that I’d need to con friends into adding the application if I wanted to expand the map any further. I might delete the road, but in the meantime, my citizens are strolling happily along the footpaths on the very edge of the map. It makes me vertiginous just watching them. I keep wanting to shout at them, “You’re going to fall off the edge of the known universe! Right off the edge!”

Sometimes, the citizens also get trapped. I built them a leisure centre because apparently they were unhappy. And then I noticed one poor citizen was trapped in a loop in the parking lot, just walking in circles and occasionally pixellating.

She might still be doing it, actually. Eventually, I grew too horrified to look, and moved the map down on the screen so I couldn’t see that corner.

But the futile horror that underlies the city really shows best in the factories.

The factory actions are mechanically repetitive. I’ve got a little blue truck in my Blamco factory (Blamco is currently manufacturing soft toys) that has been accepting crates off a conveyor belt for at least the last four hours. I mean, I haven’t been watching it steadily all that time, but every time I look, the conveyor belt is still stuffing it with crates. Is it a TARDIS? Where are all the crates going?

And next door to Blamco, there’s a forklift in the grounds of another factory. It lifts a crate, does a U-turn, and drops the crate. Then the crate vanishes and reappears in its original location, and the forklift driver does it all over again. And again. And again.

And the only products I’m allowed to build in my factories are soft toys, prom dresses, CDs, and something that looks suspiciously like Twinkies. I have a hideous feeling that my city is populated entirely by characters from 1990s’ high-school movies—or, in other words, it’s a population of clever but plain girls (plain, that is, until they take off their glasses, swap their paint-stained overalls for a cute dress, and take their hair out of that ponytail) who go dress shopping because the cute-and-popular guy just asked them to prom, but then find out it was all for a dare, slap him, and go home to hug their soft toys, eat Twinkies, and listen to country-and-western music.

Is this city some kind of Purgatory? That would explain my citizens restlessly prowling the perimeter but never actually falling into the void.

Are all the high-school mean girls forced to live out their afterlives here as the objects of their own cruel jokes, while Sisyphean forklift drivers toil endlessly in the background?

Can I accept being the architect of such a demi-Hellish landscape?

Adventuring in the Well of Demons

Posted 5 April 2010 in by Catriona

DUNGEON MASTER: You look through the door and see a scene torn from the abyss. Stone platforms rise from a lake of blood.
PARTY OF ADVENTURERS: Ewww!

Then I fell in the lake of blood. Hands up who saw that coming?

Dante's Inferno: The Book of the Game of the Book

Posted 17 January 2010 in by Catriona

You know, I don’t often use this blog as a response to things I’ve read on the Internet: it’s generally much more solipsistic than that.

But, do you remember, once upon a time, when I linked to the news about Dante’s Inferno becoming a video game?

And then I linked to the news about the rebranding of Wuthering Heights in line with Twilight?

Well, this post is something of a meeting of those two: meet the official tie-in version of Dante’s Inferno.

Bear in mind, though Kotaku are calling this the “novelisation” of the game, it’s not: it’s the original poem, in a nineteenth-century translation, in that cover.

Yes, that’s a half-naked man with a cross painted on his chest.

Yes, he’s holding a scythe made out of vertebrae.

Yes, it does say that it “includes an exclusive 16-page full-colour insert and a special introduction from [noted Dante scholar] the game’s executive producer.”

Yes, it is translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which means many people who buy this on the basis of the cover are going to be awfully disappointed when they open it up and find the poem inside.

Yes, it is tagged “the literary classic that inspired the epic video game from Electronic Arts.”

And, no: this is not a joke: here’s the Amazon page.

I shall leave the last word, as always, to Penny Arcade.

(But, just secretly? I almost think this would be worth having on my shelf just to boggle at occasionally. After all, I don’t have the Longfellow translation . . .)

Do You Ever Wonder . . .

Posted 24 November 2009 in by Catriona

If maybe you’re the bad guy?

I don’t mean in a morally relativistic way. I mean literally the villain.

Except by “literally,” I mean “in Dungeons and Dragons.” (Which reminds me of the time this semester when a clever student asked me, “When you say ‘inevitably,’ do you mean inevitably?” and I had to admit that, no, in fact, I didn’t.)

I’ve been worrying about this a little lately. Yes, Dungeons and Dragons exists entirely on paper and in our dice (and minds), and, yes, the people we kill are actually plastic figurines an inch high, but, still, I worry.

Is this because I’m a second-generation lapsed Catholic, so feeling guilty about things is essentially my superpower? (I mentioned to my brother once that I felt guilty about something, and he said, “Oh, well: that’s life.” And I said, “No, kidder, it’s just us.”)

Or am I actually a bloodthirsty villain, who, should I live past level 4—which, at this stage of the campaign, is not looking likely—will soon be feared across the land as a sword-wielding psychopath?

(Note to self: stop finding that image seductive. Stop it!)

I’d like to say that this vague sense of guilt arose around about the time that we got annoyed with that invisible magician who caused us psychic injuries, hired a cart (and a pony named Bill), went back to his lair, nicked all his furniture, and got our rogue’s uncle (clearly, a different kind of rogue) to sell it for us down the pub.

But I think it started before that.

I remember I spent much of my first level wandering around with freshly severed kobold ears (only one previous owner!) tucked into my coin purse. Sure, we were paid a bounty for them, but still . . .

Then there was the time we let those two goblins go, because they were scared out of their minds, only to have them cut down in cold blood by the psychotic ghost who was our reluctant ally.

Or the time we came across those kobolds who were locked behind a door and, when they found out who we were, started shouting, “Don’t hurt the women and children!”

Or the time we snuck into the room of a man who had just paid for our food and lodging, and messed his stuff up while looking for evidence that he was a villain. He was a villain, of course, but there wasn’t any evidence of that in his room.

Or all those times we’ve let our rogue knock our captives around a little while questioning them. (Not that I’m willing to try and stop her.)

Or the time our wizard set our own paladin on fire, knocking him unconscious, in order to take out some enemies. (Actually, just quietly? That was pretty awesome. And the paladin has amnesia: he won’t remember it ever happened.)

Or—and this is the really bad one—the time we questioned a terrified hostage until a pre-set spell caused him to start bleeding out of his ears, whereupon we decided to put him out of his misery. By cutting his throat. Which, turns out, isn’t that quick a death. So we stood around saying to each other, “Well, this is taking longer than anticipated,” until we couldn’t stand it any more and had our paladin break his neck.

After cutting his throat.

After making his brain bleed out his ears.

Oh, yes: we’re the bad guys, aren’t we? You’d never guess that we are all aligned Lawful Good.

The Curious Events of Today's Dungeons and Dragons Session

Posted 10 October 2009 in by Catriona

These conversations all occurred during a game in which our first major action was to return to the scene of our great defeat in the last encounter (where we had suffered psychic damage at the hands of an invisible wizard), nick all his furniture, including his chamber pot, and sell it in the nearby town.

As far as we’re concerned, this is the second strangest thing we’ve ever done—and only comes second because of the time our Wizard decided that the soft furnishings in a desecrated temple were evil, and tried to set fire to them.

Oddly enough, it was shortly after this that the Halfling Rogue became so annoyed by the Wizard that she crawled under the tavern table and tied his shoelaces together—aided by the fact that every other member of the group failed their perception rolls and had no idea what was happening.

Sadly for us, the Wizard aced his acrobatics roll, and failed to fall over.

The conversations, in no particular order:

Overheard between the Warforged Paladin and the Eladrin Wizard:

WARFORGED PALADIN: Why are you going to see that guy?
ELADRIN WIZARD: He’s my special friend.
WARFORGED PALADIN: Oh, I suppose he’s your “wandmaker.”

(The fact that our Wizard carries a wand is of constant amusement to us. In fact, the Eladrin Wizard was later to wonder aloud why it is that we all turn into fourteen-year-old boys when we play.)

Overheard slightly later in the game:

WIZARD: I’m only going up against Reavers if I can have River Phoenix with me.

And slightly later again:

RANGER: Next time we try to convince a group of hobgoblins to sell us human slaves, I think the clerics should stow their holy symbols away.
HUMAN CLERIC, WHO SPEAKS OF HIMSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON: Ash doesn’t approve of that.
RANGER: Keep it in your pants, cleric.
HUMAN CLERIC: I’m pretty sure Ash likes to flash.

And finally, as we walk into the room full of hobgoblin slave traders:

ELADRIN WIZARD: What are all those d6s scattered around the room?
DUNGEON MASTER: Those represent rough-hewn tables.
ELADRIN WIZARD: That’s going to be confusing for the waiters: there are two table 3s.

Lessons I Have Learned From Playing Lego Star Wars: Redux

Posted 28 April 2009 in by Catriona

Back in October last year, I became obsessed with Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo DS, and wrote the original Lessons I Have Learnt From Playing Lego Star Wars post (as well as the spin-off, Horrible Things I Have Seen And Done In Lego Star Wars).

But this is different, because I picked the game up again, and am now far more advanced—meaning I have a whole new raft of characters to play with and a whole new set of lessons to learn.

1. Playing with characters who are also Force ghosts is both awesome and strangely creepy.

You can, once you save up several million credits, play as the Force ghosts of Obi-wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda. The Force ghosts are see-through and (largely) invincible, they can pass across electrified floors without sustaining damage, and only those characters who are strong in the Force can see them.

Which is strangely disturbing in rooms where enemies spawn freely—and none of them can see you. They keep spawning, because that’s what the game tells them to do. But they can’t see you. So they don’t attack. And the room is full of silent stormtroopers, standing there with their blasters out, aiming at something that they know should be there, while you flit secretly past them all. Occasionally, you need to nudge them out of your way, but they still don’t respond to your presence. The whole level becomes ghostly and surreal.

Of course, it does make them easier to kill. There’s always a silver lining.

2. The Emperor rocks. Seriously, he’s like the Sith equivalent to Yoda in this game. (And, actually, I never play Yoda if I can help it. The little chap is too zippy: I attack someone with him, and he bounces all over the screen, and before I know it, he’s bounces right off the edge of a cliff and dies. Or out of a treehouse and dies, if I’m playing the Kashyyyk level. He never seems to move in a straight line. Drives me nuts.)

But the Emperor is less volatile than Yoda while also being intensely bouncy. And he has a brilliant move where he flies through the air sideways with his lightsaber in front of him.

Plus, he has force lightning. So you can attack enemies, and they’re flung up into the air and held there by the force of the lightning until they disintegrate into their constituent parts, and it’s completely . . . evil. Obviously. It’s an evil thing to do: that’s why only Sith manifest this skill.

(Just quietly, though? It’s awesome.)

3. Robots can’t pull levers. With a droid such as R2D2, this is fair enough: he doesn’t have any hands. But now I have purchased another droid character, whose name I have forgotten. He’s a droid bounty hunter. So he can use a blaster, operate a grappling hook, and throw thermal detonators—but he can’t operate levers.

Which means, in the universe of Lego Star Wars, that he can’t open doors.

Do you not suppose that this might be something of a career hindrance to a bounty hunter? At the very least, it would make it remarkably easy for his quarry to escape.

4. Space architecture is confusing. Take, for example, the Imperial Guards’ lounge (and, yes, there is one on the second Death Star, apparently, but you have to be a protocol droid to access it, which is odd, now I come to think about it). Does it really need moving platforms and a room to which you can only gain access by an Ewok-sized travel chute, not that it’s really important, since the room only contains a lever by which to make the moving platform work?

Wouldn’t it be more practical to have a coffee machine? Maybe a pool table? Some chairs and a few copies of the Time Literary Supplement?

Although on that note, the Imperial Guards’ lounge fills me with delight on two grounds:

1. It’s the Imperial Guards’ lounge. Do you think they take off those red hoods when they sit down for elevenses?

2. The chairs are identical to those in the Jedi council chamber in the “Ruin of the Jedi” level. It makes me think at some point, the Imperial Human Resources Department sent out the following memo:

TO: All personnel
CC: The Emperor

We at the Imperial Human Resources Department would like to congratulate the Imperial Clone Army on the astounding success of Order 66. Congratulations on the (as far as we know) complete annihilation of the Jedi! We think you deserve a party—we might even convince the Emperor to spring for a cake! Please have your department heads send us a memo with a note of available dates and we’ll see what we can do.

But in the meantime, the annihilation of an entire religion is no reason why their soft furnishings should go to waste. Remember, reuse comes before recycle, even in a galaxy-wide empire! So if anyone has space for some very comfortable armchairs, contact Andrea down in HR.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Thirteen

Posted 7 April 2009 in by Catriona

And with the departure of my parents, back to your regularly scheduled programming: a conversation about Lego Star Wars.

ME: I keep committing treason.
NICK: What do you mean?
ME: Well, Queen Amidala stands too close to me. I keep hitting her with my lightsaber.
NICK: I don’t think you can commit treason against Lego.
ME: Really?
NICK: I don’t they they have a suitably sophisticated sense of the protocols and processes of government.
ME: Don’t they?
NICK: Well, they’re only plastic.
ME: But then why would they have queens?
NICK: Um . . .
ME: I see a flaw in your Lego theories.
NICK: Very possibly. They’re only embryonic. But I did study under the masters.
ME: Like Lego Angela McRobbie?
NICK: More like Lego Michel Foucault.

Because Blogs Can Be Forces For Good

Posted 25 March 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but a comment on an earlier post reminded me.

A number of people keep coming across this site while Googling for answers to puzzles in Professor Layton and the Curious Village—most often, but not exclusively, the solution to the puzzle about moving two matchsticks to make a live dog into a dead dog, and the solution to the puzzle about dividing seven pigs into their own pens with only three ropes.

They must be very disappointed, these frustrated people, to find only my complaining posts about how the game is doing my head in.

So, since blogs can be forces for good on the Internet, here is a link to the Professor Layton and the Curious Village walkthrough that I used when I was insanely frustrated by a puzzle.

It’s from Wiki Cheats, and I found it excellent.

So if you’re Googling “separate the seven prize pigs with three ropes,” or “matchstick dog hit by car,” or “move matchsticks to make dog look the other way” hopefully you’ll end up on this page.

I didn’t use it for every puzzle, but I think I certainly used it for the dead dog one. And for almost every problem involving probability.

I Think I'm Being Emotionally Blackmailed By My Computer Game

Posted 7 March 2009 in by Catriona

The game, you see, has a splash screen by which you navigate to one of the several different play modes or out of the game altogether.

On the basic splash screen, you see this:

Slightly freaky, perhaps—especially to those of us who don’t really trust unicorns any more than we trust dolphins, and we don’t trust dolphins at all, because, really, who could trust marine mammals that not only have a strong propensity, apparently, for flying through highly coloured space scenes in which planets are often in dangerously close proximity to one another, but also appear to have callously sold the rights to their image to the makers of just some of the most disturbing home furnishings ever, including dolphin lamps and dolphin kitchenware.

But essentially benign, right?

But when you hit the “quit” button, you get this:

The big sad eyes!

The solitary tear drop!

Is it wrong for the game to work by telling me that if I quit, I’ll make a mythical creature cry?

As Soon As I Can Stop Laughing . . .

Posted 16 December 2008 in by Catriona

I’m going to blog about the new video game based on Dante’s Inferno.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The game hasn’t been released yet, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel: Dante’s Purgatory. I’m quite certain they have no intention of releasing Dante’s Paradiso. (Frankly, I don’t blame them: I re-read The Divine Comedy at least once a year, and I tend to stop after Purgatory. Heaven is quite dull in comparison to the sufferings of the damned and the penitent.)

Look, I’m not the first person to get a giggle out of this: check out today’s Penny Arcade strip.

But, honestly: The Divine Comedy is important for many reasons. Let me indulge in a brief and shallow list of the ones that spring to mind, in bullet-point form.

  • The Divine Comedy is a sustained engagement with the idea of contrapasso, or, as we might term it vernacularly, poetic justice. I’m not sure that this includes . . . but, actually, to say what this doesn’t include would be to preview the end of this post too early. So let’s just stop there.
  • it’s an immensely influential work, especially on authors of the Regency period—after the success of Henry Francis Cary’s translation—and afterwards. One of the more interesting engagements with Dante and with contrapasso, to my mind, is Lady Caroline Lamb’s Ada Reis, in which the entire third volume takes place in a hellish Dantean afterlife. But that’s only one example, and less obscure writers such as Walter Savage Landor, Leigh Hunt, and Lord Byron were also fascinated by Dante.
  • it represents a significant and influential development of the geography and sociology of Hell, including an engagement with aspects of lore that, while inferred from either the Old or New Testaments, gained greater significance later in the history of the church, such as the Harrowing of Hell.
  • it was written in vernacular Italian, rather than Latin, making it accessible to a broader number of readers.

A shallow list? Yes.

But not as shallow as the video game.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of my friend Drew, here is the trailer for the video game of Dante’s Inferno.

And if what Dante does in that final scene qualifies as contrapasso, I need a new dictionary.

Why I'm Suddenly Not So Enamoured Of My Paladin

Posted 26 November 2008 in by Catriona

You know, I’d thought that Paks the paladin was a more successful adventurer in the Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures universe than retired Saeana, whose less savoury adventures I’ve chronicled elsewhere on the blog.

(Honestly: that elf and her predilection for incubi.)

But Paks—helped, I admit, by the Vorpal Greatsword I carried over from Saeana’s pack, which is really not a level one weapon—seemed to be passing through the adventures with more success and with fewer problematic moral choices—well, except for the time he faked a marriage with an orc maiden and then legged it with the wedding presents.

That was aberrant, hopefully.

But my brief absence from Tiny Adventures seems to have caused him to lose his panache: perhaps he’s rusty from disuse?

It seems so, since so far in today’s adventure—Red Plume Mountain, in which I’m apparently chasing down a thousand-year-old wizard called Byron Silvertongue, who has been leaving mocking poems at the site of cunning thefts. Naturally, when your parents saddle you with a name like “Byron,” you have to live up to it—he has:

  • fallen into a pit trap, while wandering casually around a deserted mine.
  • successfully beaten up some hobgoblins, which was a measure of success that didn’t last, since he was then
  • successfully beaten up by four brigands, after comprehensively failing an Armour Class check. But, seriously? Four brigands? That’s hardly a fair fight.
  • been skewered by the poison spikes of a kruthik. I don’t even know what that is, but it caused fourteen points of damage, which seems to be the main thing.
  • completely failed to find a mysterious and familiar-sounding bird that he could hear in the woods. On top of that, while he was searching for the bird, the merchants he’d been chatting with disappeared. Double fail, there.
  • more or less managed to outdistance a goblin horde, until he tried to jump off a cliff into a river, missed (how do you miss an entire river?), and broke his leg. That’s going to make the rest of the adventure a little tricky.
  • been severely beaten by a strongman who managed to get his Vorpal Greatsword off him. Now what’s the point of carrying a Vorpal Greatsword if you’re going to allow a long strongman to just take it off you?
  • fallen down a mountainside trying to help a young man who was hanging over a ravine. To add insult to injury, the man then broke his leg and Paks had to carry him up the mountainside—which is odd, since I’m quite certain Paks himself broke his leg jumping off that cliff. Perhaps there was a silent passage of time in the middle of the adventure?
  • ultimately failed the entire adventure—no surprise there, then—after this woeful encounter:

Paks found Byron Silvertongue sitting on a rock overlooking a beautiful mountain vista. Byron rose, turned, and confronted Paks. After a moment of baleful glaring, the wizard shot a vicious poem Paks’s way.

Paks made a Wisdom check with a difficulty of 17 . . . and rolled 9

Paks shouted some vulgarity back at Byron and charged. What Paks hadn’t realized was that the wizard’s words were also a spell, and he ran smack into an invisible wall of force, knocking himself out. When Paks awoke, Byron the Silvertongue was long gone, with the only remaining evidence being a small scroll with the poem inscribed upon it.

Really, Paks? A wizard—a one-thousand-year-old wizard, in fact—shouted at you and it didn’t occur to you that it might be a spell? So you knocked yourself out on an invisible wall? Now, that’s just embarrassing.

And “some vulgarity”? I hope, for your sake, it was at least a rude limerick.

How To Run A Crack Super-Villain Team: A Brief Seminar

Posted 23 October 2008 in by Catriona

Firstly, I want to make this point absolutely clear: we can’t all be Catwoman.

I know Catwoman is awesome. But she’s not the only one who can use grappling pads, swing from walls, or walk along tightropes. You don’t all have to turn into Catwoman every time you need to do one of those things.

Because there’s only one Catwoman, and I get to be her, that’s why.

Yes, I know there’s more than one variant of Catwoman in alternative versions of Gotham City. Yes, I know about Julie Delmar. And Eartha Kitt. And Michelle Pfeiffer.

You know, we’ve all seen the Wikipedia page, Mr Freeze. No, I don’t believe you just ‘know these things because you’re a scientist’—I can see that you have your laptop open under the desk.

Anyway, we’re not those Catwomen. Look, it says “Selina Kyle” quite clearly. And, no, I’m not getting into all this Golden Age/Silver Age/Earth-Two stuff; you know that confuses me.

One Catwoman, and that’s me.

Because I’m human and you are all computer controlled. That means I get to choose.

No, I don’t think that’s particularly speciest.

Well, maybe it is. But I don’t care. I’m not having this argument again. One Catwoman, okay?

But I do admit we need to share the booty more evenly from now on. I agree with all the anonymous notes that someone has been shoving in the suggestion box and, yes, I am looking at you, Riddler.

Because it took me three hours to decode the last “suggestion,” that’s how. You’d think you’d have learned by now that riddles are invariably going to lead back to a villain called “The Riddler.” It’s not a great logical leap, now, is it?

But you’re right: it’s not fair to use another person’s special abilities to open boxes and then switch back to Catwoman to pick up all the loot.

Yes, I know Scarecrow is annoying.

Well, I’m sorry, Scarecrow, but you are. Why do you have to run with your arms held straight out in front of you like that?

I know you’re a scarecrow, yes. And, yes, I know scarecrows usually have their arms held up on poles. But you do it when you’re not in character, as well; does Dr Jonathan Crane also have his arms held up on poles?

Well, stop it; it’s annoying the entire team. You look as though you can’t find the light switch.

Yes, I know Killer Croc runs with one arm held into his body, but it’s not fair to bring that up, now, is it? You know he’s not a well man.

No, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to pick on Clayface—you know this isn’t the one with hyperpituitarism. Picking on Preston Payne would be just as mean as picking on Killer Croc, but you know this is Matt Hagen, and anyone who steps in radioactive protoplasm is a fair target for mockery. Especially when he does it more than once.

Plus, I’m still annoyed by that bank robbery farce where he just stood there while Batman turned on the sprinklers. You’d think he’d have figured out at some point in the past forty years that he’s susceptible to water.

Idiot.

Well, he should have turned up for the seminar, shouldn’t he? Then we’d be insulting him to his face.

Now, mentioning Batman reminds me of something: we need to start bringing him in on more of these missions.

Just calm down, will you?

Yes, I do know that Batman is the arch-nemesis of most of the people in this room. I do remember that he’s beaten most of us up at one point or another.

Plus, let’s be fair, here: we’ve all beaten him up, too. Bane, you snapped his spine once, so I don’t know why you’re complaining now.

I do remember that he bounced you off all those shipping containers in the Gotham Docks level, yes. I was there, remember? Failing to escape because you kept bouncing off the walls?

Yes, I thought you’d forgotten that.

Look, this isn’t up for debate, okay? He’s a useful member of the team, especially when he’s wearing his glide suit. Yes, Penguin, I know you can glide, too—but you use an umbrella and I worry that it undermines the seriousness of our crimes when the criminal floats away under a purple umbrella.

Okay, we’ll discuss it later.

You have to admit, though, that it’s good for morale to see him beating up SWAT members occasionally.

What do you mean? How could it not be good for morale?

Oh.

Well, no—it’s not good for his morale. But I didn’t mean that. Did you read the title of the seminar before walking in? It’s written right on the door there.

Damn! Did anyone else see The Joker out in the corridor then? Quick, everyone under the desks before he spots us!

Oh, lord, he’s got Harley with him. And she’s carrying that giant hammer. Oh, this isn’t going to be good.

Who told him this was on today?

Oh, Poison Ivy. Why? You know I always give The Joker the wrong time for these seminars.

Yes, I know he’s technically a member of the team. But have any of you ever tried to facilitate a seminar with The Joker in the audience? If he starts coming to these, we’ll never be able to have a sensible seminar again.

Wait, why are you all trying to open the door?

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