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GeekOut Shrewsbury – Such Plans

October’s GeekOut Shrewsbury is in only a week, and after eight months I think we are – as a group – settling into a pleasant routine that’s broadly enjoyable. A competition one month, a pub quiz the next, board games to keep us going, food, drink, and light heartedness. We average somewhere between twelve and twenty people, a mixture of regulars and new faces, enough to keep multiple games going and to leave people room to move around and socialise as they please.

So this month, it’s time to shake things up a little.

This Month

I’m asking more of my group this month than ever before. This is pub quiz month, and each month I’ll be trying to add a little more to each quiz, or at least something different, building from just a list of trivia questions that some may have considered rather cruel, a picture round added in August, keep an eye out for what’s coming this month.

Additionally I’m encouraging everyone to show up in costume, and (unbeknownst to them) the prize for the best competition is better by far than those offered to the winning quiz team. Here’s your first clue to my costume, find others hidden around this article:

October the 26th is promising to be one of the more interesting GeekOut’s ever, there are a handful of ideas I’ll be throwing in this month that I have not alluded to on Facebook or Meetup. If you can’t get there, keep your eyes on GeekOut for the catch-up articles we publish on our events every month.

Plans

November and December will be busy months, but we’ll battle on to make GeekOut bigger and better, concluding the year with a GeekOut Christmas party, but as the Shrewsbury Meet should fall on the 28th, I want to talk to you – the attendees who are the lifeblood of the event – to find out how and when to run the Meet to suit you, as well as working closely with our venue, Monty’s Tower who have been friendly, encouraging, and even enthusiastic in making the Shrewsbury Meets as good as they could possibly be.

See this projector?

Oh, how I yearn to use this projector for running computer-game oriented competitions, or just to get some different games running. I’m quite aware than not everyone wants to play board games, some of us want to get their hands on mouse and keyboard, a joystick, or a controller. My attempts at connecting my tablet have thus far been fruitless, but technology is bountiful, and there are gears turning that will make it possible for new competitions.

On the subject, I’m idly toying with ideas for upcoming competitions, but as a role-player and a writer I’m naturally orienting toward design based competitions, such as the Pokethulhu designs and the character creation. While they’ve yielded some fantastic content (and I love watching you guys work), it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a little diversity here and there.

Still, it’s you – always you – who we create these events for, in Shrewsbury and in Bristol, and it is your feedback that we thrive upon for making every event better than ever. So this month I have one question and one question only.

With the means to bringing computer games to GeekOut Shrewsbury on the horizon, what games would you like to multiplayer first?

Later on today you’ll see the poll open up to choose a venue for the pre-meet venue for October 26th. I’ll see you there.


Short Horror

Sketch comedy has been a staple form of the genre for a long time, because it’s very easy to tell a joke and even easier to do so in a visual media with physical comedy, tangible characters, and short narratives. Short-form horror is not quite so easy. It’s a genre that benefits from time, and rising tensions, expectations, and breaks that escalate to a final conclusion. Is a sketch-horror format possible?

In fact horror and comedy both rely on the tension-break cycle, where set up and punchline serve the same functions as tension and release of horror. We’re starting to see an emergent wave of short-form horror online, in shorts such as Lights Out or Thresher, and we’re seeing more and more films that are a compilation of shorter horror films showcasing different writers and directors, like V/H/S, Trick ‘r’ Treat, or XX. In fact it’s a format that stretches as far back as cinema itself, and the surge of anthology has risen proportionate to the increasing volumes of films as a whole, but the internet is making it easier and easier for horror shorts to be seen.

Anthology horror continues the campfire story traditions, the old oral tradition of passing on dark myths and urban legends. Horror passed through the pulp-fiction years, the short, rapidly produced horror printed on cheap paper and created by a stable of writers working to deadlines, of which Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were some of the major players. We now have creepypasta, the creative explosion of horror – good and bad – that has filled the internet with a fresh stock of bogeymen unique to our modern sensibilities.

Pulp horror was a television staple in the days of the Twilight Zone, ten seasons, one film, two reboots and nearly seventy years of history on screen, the single episode stories offering macabre twists and morals that force us to take perspective on our own lives. Today’s equivalent might be Black Mirror, a far less family friendly equivalent that makes a fearful thing of modern technology rather than applying a supernatural twist.

You can also see the short-form horror as a one-liner, a simple search for “two sentence horror stories” will yield some gems that give you a shudder. They follow a basic premise, establish normalcy, and subvert it:

“I can’t sleep” she whispered, crawling into bed with me. I woke up cold, clutching the dress she was buried in.

It tells so much in such a confined space, a tale of love and loss, but hints at something more dreadful and impossible. Ok, so it’s not as potent as an hour and a half film or a good book, but you might as well say that you’d rather go see a stand-up comedian than hear a knock-knock joke.

Which begs the question, can a sketch-horror series have the same potency with fear as a sketch-comedy show can have with humour? Anthology horror films prove fairly conclusively that multiple stories can join into an enjoyable experience, and horror shorts such as those on YouTube and the two-sentence stories are excellent examples of how fear and disquiet can be created in a very short space of time. Now build those into a half hour collection, with recurring characters, common themes, and framing devices.

This has been another article of me pitching ideas into the empty space in the hopes that someone with the resources and skills necessary finds it and makes it a reality. I hope you have enjoyed my analysis into the hypothetical.


Review – Layers of Fear

October means horror games, and it doesn’t matter how much I love horror, I really have no stomach for horror games, I’d play Amnesia in twenty minute chunks, Little Nightmares gives me the shivers, and I’m stuck on Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder… but it’s also very creepy so I’m glad I’m stuck.

But when I tell you that I have just finished Layers of Fear, don’t think that it just didn’t grip me as much as other horror games, it certainly had me on edge, but I found that I was taken in by the narrative that was unwinding as I stumbled through rooms and corridors, and the difficulty was moderate enough that I could get through a single playthrough with a minimum of effort, but to play again will prove a lot harder. (more…)


Can Board Games Be Scary?

When it comes to horror a new king has come to seize the crown, and though the recumbent cinema may still be giving us a few greats, not doubt video games are the heir apparent. But given the renaissance era of board games has produced wonders that even have the power to put chess to shame one wonders, can board games give us that same sense of horror? Can they make us dread, feel closed in, alone, or hopeless?

Perhaps.

A board game should be possible to win of course, giving us that glimmer of hope, however unlikely. Bound to rules and numbers we must still attribute cold and comprehensible numbers to inexplicable and alien horrors. Not to mention the fact that it’s harder to create a grisly spectacle on a piece of cardboard, no matter how well printed, but there are some areas in which board games excel. (more…)


Making Your Fighter Awesome

Fighters are the soldiers, mercenaries, warriors, the armour + weapon meatstick that goes first through close corridors and stands at the front of a fight yelling “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. They’re often cold, functional, and unimaginative, fine for a new gamer, but if you’re comfortable with the rules you can play something more interesting.

Right?

The problem with spells is that you can get very locked into the descriptive text of a spell and struggle to stick your own stamp on it. The same goes for the styles of monk, the divine domains of clerics, the pacts of warlocks. It’s all to easy to read the words in the book and say “that’s me” rather than thinking about your character and then deciding what class and styles match your ideas most closely.

Fighters should be the most free of all! Ripped from the page they’re cardboard cutouts, grey plastic minis for you to plaster with paint. And yet all to often when it comes to play I either never get a fighter in the group, and those fighters that I do see are bland and bloodthirsty, perhaps a noble, just, and true meatstick. In combat they go from enemy to enemy beating them to death in turn by putting out the maximum possible damage that their class abilities permit. (more…)


Review – A Cure For Wellness

It’s an enjoyable thing to review a film that you neither like nor dislike occasionally. You grow tired of the constant compliments or unmerciful dissection, and to find a film that is both good and bad across multiple elements is a perverse delight. Let me start by saying that I enjoyed A Cure For Wellness, but I think my issues with it may stem from having spent a long time critiquing films that predates my time here at GeekOut.

From Gore Verbinski, the man who gave us the best Pirates of the Carribean films, Rango, and The Lone Ranger (can’t all be good I suppose), A Cure For Wellness follows the journey of an upcoming young business executive, one of those nondescript business business men who do business busily, and apparently quite illegally. Having recently been promoted for closing an account with a shady deal, he’s tasked with hunting down a former colleague on whom the company intents to pin the blame; said colleague having written a defamatory letter and vanished to a health spa in Switzerland. Creepiness ensues. (more…)


GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet – September ’17

Despite the start of a new university year, the GeekOut crowd has proven harder to diminish. Oh sure, we’ve lost a few regulars along the way, I’m sure they’ll come back when they are able, but with an early season cold starting I was glad of the quieter meet this month.

Palmers was a quiet pleasure, a busier start to GeekOut than I’m used to where the pre-2 o’clock crowd rarely amounts to more than two or three. It was a crowd of five that wandered over the car-park to Monty’s. Kudos to the lady who complimented us for openly playing a more traditional game and enjoyed a short discussion on how the Shrewsbury Geek scene has gotten bigger and more sociable of recent years, and thanks to the gentleman behind the counter who told us about their board game night on the first Thursday of every month… we knew already, but thanks. (more…)


Re-Skinning Spells part 2

So, rather than starting with my spell like I did in my Re-Skinning Spells part 1 last week, I’ll be starting with the spellcaster. To give your unique character a unique feel rather than just a colour-by-numbers hack-n-slash dungeon crawler, plant a little of their personality onto their spell list. For each character I’ll be throwing in more details like magical implements or Individual Magical Effect to give you some ideas on how to really change up your wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, and spellslingers.

Let me start with a character I’ve wanted to build for some time.

Chronomancer

A wizard heavily invested in the nature of time, it’s mechanisms, how it shapes and is shaped by space and matter. There’s a few spells that are no-brainers for a master of time, Slow, HasteScrying, at later levels Time Stop and it’s not a huge stretch to throw in spells like Mending as a way to reverse time on a broken object, or Disintegration to accelerate time to the point of crumbling. But not every level comes with a complete collection of spells perfect for the Chronomancer.

It would not take an overly permissive DM to alter Conjure Minor Elementals to summon Modrons instead, those mechanical life-forms from the plane of rigid order and law. The collection from the Monster Manual sits within the Combat Rating requirements. Scrying and locating spells might help pinpoint the eddies and currents a creature leaves in the currents of time, Move Earth and Control Water might toy with history so ancient that the world was different.

Each time the Chronomancer casts a spell it is accompanied by the sound of a ticking clock, a whirling of spectral gears about his/her arms, and at later levels the very stars wheel in the heavens as he/she exerts power on the universe. A stopwatch might be the focus for the Chronomancer, or a sundial with a shadow that always points to the correct time, no matter the light in the room.

Alchemist

The magic of an Alchemist is all chemical, no otherworldly powers required. The correct admixtures can turn acid into a projectile capable of flying great distances, contain fire in a case of metal to be called upon later, or spawn lightning in a jar. The Artificer class for Eberron has dabbled a little in this, although I have to say I preferred the sub-type of wizard from an earlier issue of Unearthed Arcana. That works up to a point, but there are plenty of spells that you might not be able to pull out of a bottle.

Consider a spell like Wall of Stone, rather than a movement of earth the spell could be a growing mountain of foam that solidifies into a barrier. Illusions could be the result of a potent hallucinogen; it’s hard to summon an Insect Plague with chemicals unless you keep a box of larvae or a vial of potent pheromones in your pack.

Alchemists can fit into a low-magic setting, but have to plan accordingly. Your alchemist may have to carry a hefty medicine bag filled with bases, reagents, admixtures and solvents, along with enough glassware to refit a cathedral. You might be walking around in lab gear, goggles and gloves, collapsible work bench, the works.

Et Al

Ok, let me draw some examples from elsewhere. I’ll grab some characters with signature spells or spell-like powers and give you something that’ll do the same job:

Maya’s Phaselock – Shamelessly going back to Borderlands, the Siren Maya has the power to imprison an enemy in a hovering bubble of raw energy from whatever plane of existence the Sirens draw power from. Hold Person would work fine as the basic version, but lacks the upgrades, they’re much harder to replicate without your DM allowing you to add powers and expending higher spell slots, or even several slots. Dominate PersonBless, or Resistance can give you ideas for effects to pile onto a single spell.

Witcher Signs – Igni screams Burning Hands, nice and easy. Aard, maybe use Thunderwave. At early levels you might use Crown of Madness for the hypnotic sign Axii, rather than the more appropriate Dominate Monster. The shielding sign Quen has loads of possible options, from Shield to Magic Circle. And Yrden… is difficult, planting rune-circles that trigger when you pass over them is something you’ll have to wait for when you get level 3 spells and Glyph of Warding, but that’s such a versatile spell you should pick it up anyway, no matter who you are.

Waterbending – It’s easy to replicate earth, air, and firebending from the Avatar Series, plenty of fire-based spells, mobility and defensive spells for air, and things you can change into stone, especially if you build a druid. Water might be trickier, but there are things that could be made more… watery. Magic Missile and Cloud of Daggers, streaks of water hurled at opponents, Slow and Evard’s Black Tentacles could be used as patches of water that grip and bind.


The Shrewsbury Insider: Harry Potter’s Labyrinth, D&D in The Cave

Ahh, Shrewsbury is a-growing.

We have a thriving nerd community around town, GeekOut Shrewsbury is only one addition to a variety of events, groups, societies and organisations with a geeky slant. Shrewsbury, let me tell you, we are the envy of many towns and cities around the country where the gamers, film buffs, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror fans are simply not as well catered to.

Today I celebrate a couple of new groups to town, the shop Labrinth, and a new public gaming group hosted in the Cave: (more…)


Re-Skinning Spells

A follow-up to similar articles I wrote on using D&D creature stats to make original sounding creations, how about giving your spell caster some original twists? There are a few different ways you can personalise your spell list, simply changing the appearance such as the colour, the sound, the very sensual content of your spell, is the easiest way by far, but with your DMs permission (or if you are the DM and don’t care) you can make minor tweeks to the effects of your spells. Changes of damage type are simple enough, but other effects should be taken with caution as they may unbalance the game in such a way that it makes your character more powerful than the others.

Oh yes, the Dungeon Masters Guide has its tips and tricks for spell design, but there is no exact science without zealous and time consuming playtesting, so with caution and judicious forethought, lets mess with magic. (more…)