Dork Geek Nerd

"Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist"

Friday, November 30, 2018

You are at a school friend's birthday party in the 1980s

You are at a school friend's birthday party in the 1980s.

The games are the same as those you play at home - Tips, Hide & Seek, Statues, riding bikes, trampoline, road cricket, Totem Tennis, Frisbee, British Bulldog if it's not vetoed by an adult - except with more kids, which makes them 10 times funner.

There are no clowns painting faces or magicians vanishing scarves. There are no educational demonstrations of native wildlife. There are no jumping castles. Such things would be an unthinkable extravagance.

OK, there may be Pass The Parcel (using sheets of newspaper) or Pin The Tail On The Donkey. Those become less frequent as you grow older, though, as it's easier just to herd you all outdoors.

When it's lunchtime, you are allowed indoors again to crowd around a table laden with familiar favourites.

Golden-brown party pies and mini sausage rolls go fast, despite your pal's mother warning, "Careful - those might be a bit hot." One boy submerges his pie in a glass of lime soft drink to cool it. Problem solved.

Cocktail frankfurts always look weird and always taste delicious with their accompanying tomato sauce.

The crinkle-cut crisps are most likely plain, so as not to challenge childish palates. (You don't mind chicken flavour, but salt and vinegar are too strong, and you'll never understand the maniacs that claim to enjoy barbecue.)

Opposite the Tupperware bowl of chips, there's another of Cheezels. Inevitably, someone slides 10 of them onto their fingers and thumbs like rings, proudly showing off the bright orange jewellery...before suddenly realising they're falling behind in the sweet scoffing!

Chocolate Crackles and Honey Joys. Maybe iced cupcakes. Possibly a plate of creamy Butterfly Cakes, dusted with icing sugar and ripe for wing-plucking. Lamingtons if you're very lucky. Pink and white marshmallows. Jelly snakes that will be competitively stretched and s t r e t c h e d 'til they snap.

If there are additional lollies, they are the leftovers from those that were used to fill the goodie bags each child will receive, along with a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin, when they leave. (Should there be an unappealing ingredient in said cake, e.g fruit, it'll pass to an older sibling.)

At the end of the day, there are minor breakages around the house and yard. Weary adults. Over-excited pets. New clothes are grass-stained. Young foreheads sweaty and hands sticky. Games peter out as energy levels begin to drop, and as more and more kids are collected.

Your car is waiting out the front now, so you're saying goodbye. You're clutching your take-home treats. You wish there was time for one more round of Hide & Seek as you've got the perfect spot, but your father has already beeped the horn twice and may start getting annoyed.

"Thanks for coming," says your school friend, dutifully. "See you on Monday. Oh, and thanks for the Space LEGO!"

Monday, November 26, 2018

Roll call

Most Saturday afternoons, I play in a 5E "D&D" campaign. We started with six players, only to regrettably lose one fellow as a result of changes to his work schedule, then another due to personal hassles outside of the game. The characters of the four remaining players are:

* Half-orc cleric/potter who worships a dwarven goddess and really wants to be a ranger
* Damaged human sorcerer experimented on as a youngster, with a number for a name
* Aging gnome wizard/sham fortune teller who'll steal anything that's not nailed down
* Human bard mirroring the real-life player (who has been transported to the "D&D" world via an antique found in our world).

Which, you'll agree, is enough wackiness for any campaign :-)

Friday, October 19, 2018

My pick of the PAX AUS talks

Friday, 1pm: "Let's Hack A Videogame!" (live hack of "Silent Hill" on PS1 using vintage utilities).

Saturday, 3.30pm: "Licence To Roleplay" (about the experience of making tabletop RPGs outta licenced properties, e.g. "Game Of Thrones").

Sunday, 12pm: "Inside Mac Gaming's Forgotten Golden Age" ('80s and '90s).

See you there!

Monday, October 15, 2018

One-hour writing challenge - "Digging Ain’t Uncovering"

Never accept a job offer at a funeral. That’s my advice to you, young rogues. Not even when it sounds like your profiting won’t harm a soul in the world. Especially not then!

We’ve all attended a stranger’s burial in the hope of scoring a free feed. Shammers and thugs alike, we’ve all done that when our bellies was aching empty. But don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone hanging at the back, avoiding eye contact with the deceased’s family and friends, is the same as you. There are crooks and then there are…

Well, let’s just say there are folks like Mr Pentalikent.

I was at a graveyard in the Fifth Quarter when I met him. Standing behind a trio of weeping crones, watching some fella being laid to rest, desperate to hear the magic words: “Everyone is welcome to join us for food and refreshments.” He put a hand on me shoulder and I almost jumped into the grave meself.

“There isn’t going to be a meal,” said Mr Pentalikent, in a kind of loud whisper, his hand slipping away like a snake. “No meal and no toasting of the dearly departed. He drank himself to death, so the widow doesn’t believe it’s appropriate.”

“Guess I’ll be going hungry tonight,” I admitted, sizing him up. He was tall and thin, but wide with it. Big head. Like a scarecrow. Except scarecrows don’t wear shiny purple suits. Not around any villages I’ve been chased out of for marked cards or painted coins.

“Hmmmm…” replied Mr Pentalikent, squeezing his eyes shut as if he were thinking extra hard. I couldn’t decide which was the impostor – his too-black hair or his too-tanned skin. One of you cuckoos mighta been able to tell, but I couldn’t.

He opened his eyes, which were a nice enough blue but ruined by them being so bloodshot.

“There may be another way we can have someone else pay for our supper. A way that may even leave us with the funds for dessert.” He paused, then pretend-slapped the side of his face. “Where are my manners? My name is Mr Pentalikent.”

He bowed. By this point, funeral-goers were dispersing from the gravesite as a pair of burly women with the neck tattoos of Revolution Veterans finished shovelling dirt on top of the coffin. A couple of the mourners eyed Mr Pentalikent disapprovingly, though they remained silent.

I gave him my name. You’ll pardon me if I don’t repeat it here, in case there’s a lie-write among you.

“What’s this other way, then?” I asked, belly already gurgling at the prospect of being served more for dinner than fountain water.

Fast as a stripecoat skinner’s blade, Mr Pentalikent’s hand was on me shoulder again. It was no less startling the second time. “It involves a burial of a different sort…”

***

An hour past nightfall, we was in the rich district. Gem Traders’ Row. In the backyard of a mansion that appeared to be unoccupied. At any rate, the lone light source was a small torch Mr Pentalikent had stuck into the ground to illuminate our work. It’d come out of a sack he’d collected on our journey across the city. A sack he’d hidden in a spearleaf tree that he’d climbed like it was merely a set of stairs.

Also in the sack had been an old spade – which I was now using to dig a hole in a gem merchant’s trimmed lawn. As Mr Pentalikent kept a lookout for guard dogmen or nosey neighbours, I tried to ignore the weariness in me arms and focus on the prize we sought.

“During the Revolution, many wealthy people hid their valuables in the earth lest they be confiscated to pay troops,” Mr Pentalikent had explained as we’d walked up the wildflower-dotted hill beside the graveyard, me taking two hurried steps to his one easy stride. “For various reasons, they didn’t always return for those valuables later.”

Mr Pentalikent claimed he had information there was a mansion in the city with a lost fortune buried in the back garden. He further claimed to know that the present owners were not only ignorant of the fortune (and therefore wouldn’t miss it), they were to be absent on this particular evening.

We agreed that I’d dig up the stuff, while he’d deal with any interference. Although he wasn’t carrying an obvious weapon, I had no doubt he could handle himself. He radiated that scary confidence you feel from pit fighters who’ve survived an entire season. Am I right, Kadolphus?

“Dig faster,” instructed Mr Pentalikent.

“Are you sure it’s…” My spade struck wood. I dug furiously until I’d unearthed a chest about the size of a counter cask. Suddenly, Mr Pentalikent was next to me in the hole, lifting the container up onto the grass like it was weightless. I prayed to Goddess it wasn’t.

“Shall we take it elsewhere to do the opening?” I asked.

“No,” said Mr Pentalikent, in that loud whisper with which he'd gotten my attention at the funeral.

From his sack, he produced a ring of strangely shaped keys and began systematically trying them in the lock. There was a heavy clunk. He took hold of both sides of the lid, then stopped, turning to meet my gaze. In the torchlight, his bloody blue eyes looked reptilian, his grin demonic.

He opened the chest.

***

The thing about gem traders is they’re often also gem cutters. And the thing about cutting gems is it’s best done with magic. Follow that logic home from the tavern in the dark and you’ll realise that no-one makes a better gem trader than a wizard.

Wizards don’t leave treasure chests unguarded.

They build in traps that go off if a false key is used. Magic explosions so forceful they destroy the legs of a poor thief who just wanted a free feed, and that incinerate the fancy clothes of a creature revealed to be as much clockwork as man. Explosions so deafening me ears still ring. So deafening they brought the City Watch down on us within minutes. No, not on us.

The last sight I beheld between those mansion grounds and this wretch-filled prison was Mr Pentalikent scooping the few gems that had survived the blast into his sack, then bounding towards and effortlessly over the rear wall. Shiny purple suit ruined, flesh shredded, mechanicals exposed and motivations forever a mystery.

Duolinguist

Wanting to channel spare minutes into something more productive than "Magic: The Gathering - Puzzle Quest", I downloaded the Duolingo app on my iPad and have begun learning Danish. The free version seems useable, throwing up only a bordered static ad at the end of each lesson that can be quickly X-ed away. It's also fully gameified - letting you earn and gamble points, and collect achievements - meaning there's a chance I'll stick with it longer than I did "holiday" Korean (CD & cheat sheet) or Russian (multiple cassettes & chunky workbook). The lessons are cleverly designed, mixing in plenty of visual clues and testing you've learnt from past errors. Give it a go!


Friday, October 12, 2018

Hello, I must bee going!

In spring, bees set off in search of suitable sites to establish new colonies. For some reason - perhaps the colours/patterning of the bricks - our house is a favoured stopover on these migrations. So, every September-October, we'll see the odd bee buzzing outside a window, then several of 'em, then a large swarm, then they'll be goneski. We don't bother them and they don't really bother us. That said, it's probably just as well we don't have a flower garden or they might enquire about long-term accommodation.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Time capsule

This blog commenced in mid-2006.

I recently uncovered a company-supplied diary from 2004 in which I had recorded all of my extracurriculars for that year, pasting in the tickets where they existed.

It lists 25 sporting events (seven of them internationals), three concerts, 18 exhibitions, 17 movies and 18 miscellaneous outings.

Notes:

* I was at the first one-day cricket match under lights at Telstra Stadium...along with 26,000+ others. Pretty sure PB was there with me.

* Regarding a trade fair attended by CM and myself: "Made some good contacts - we think!"

* Surprise musical guests at a Catharine Britt country gig included Dave Gleeson from the Screaming Jets.

* A strip club's invitation-only reopening entailed "free food, free martinis and a Kirsten Dunst-alike".

* On the play "Copenhagen", staged at the Wharf Theatre: "A mysterious episode in wartime atomic science is bombarded with possibility until it explodes with meaning."

* I visited a honey farm, a butterfly house and did a dolphin-/whale-spotting cruise in the space of a few days.

* There were at least two "Doctor Who" fan events held in Sydney during the year. AP2 probs joined me for those.

* The Australian International Motor Show (RIP) was still going.

* The "Magic: The Gathering" NSW State Championship could fit inside an RSL club. Ran into a guy from the glory days of Card Trek.

* My ticket into the Bradman Cricket Museum, Bowral read "ADMIT ONE CHILD", leaving me puzzled.

* I was prepared to view art exhibitions on everything from scrimshaw to The Beatles' stint in Germany to models naked save for strategically placed checkerboards!

* There sure were some live sporting nailbiters: Swans 80 - Hawks 79; Blues 9 - Maroons 8; Kings 97 - Pirates 96, etc.

* Return flight to Canberra? Why? The 2004 diary doesn't reveal.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Conventional

This long weekend, I will be at the Sydcon gaming convention. I'm playing five modules over the three days:

* An Arctic horror adventure using the GURPS system
* A FATE module where the PCs are all supervillains
* A Sydney-set, "Dresden Files"-inspired urban fantasy
* What sounds like a war story in the world of "The Witcher", AND
* An Oz outbreak scenario using "Call Of Cthulhu".

As a younger man, I'd have packed a few more modules into the w/e. But I am a veritable Methuselah now and prefer a relaxed pace.

I also want time to make the most of the many fine eateries along nearby Glebe Point Rd. I shudder to remember the Macquariecon I attended in the 1990s where I dined exclusively on sausage rolls with sauce, Mars bars and cans of Coke.

I had a higher CONSTITUTION then, and hadn't exhausted all of my LUCK.