Sunday, 22 July 2018

Sasha 'Retribution' Blake


Sasha Blake was always smart and hardworking, with a passion for science and social justice. To the pride of her parents and with the help and support of her impressed teachers, she had her pick of universities, opting to focus on meteorology and climate change. Her interest in meteorology stemmed from a childhood fancy that the weather tended to reflect her mood and desires. She knew was ridiculous and unscientific to consider this anything more than a coincidence (the law of large numbers showing someone must experience this), but the fascination remained.

It was at university her powers really began to manifest. Political awareness was widely encouraged among the student body, and her charisma and intelligence made her an obvious leader, so people would come to her with their problems - not always a desirable situation to be in, as she had to deal with her own insecurities. Still, she ended up with a group of younger students under her wings. Coming back from a night out, she saw the youngest of these, Dana, being verbally assaulted by a bunch of drunk yobs. As she got closer, they began shoving the frightened girl, who had nowhere to run. As bad as this was, other passers by kept their heads down and hurried by, turning Sasha's fear to fury. With a yell, a fierce gale blew from around her and threw the yobs against the other wall. Dana ran to her friend, and the two fled to Sasha's houseshare.

After that, she began to experiment with her powers, realising she could manipulate the temperature and moisture content of the air to genuinely control the weather, eventually developing enough control to be able to mimic flight. More curiously, she could apply similar manipulation to people, enabling her to pull strength from them into herself - or the opposite. As superheroes and metahumans began to make the news, she understood what was happening with her, and discovered she could 'borrow' powers from others in a similar manner to her ability to transfer strength/stamina from normal humans.

She finished her course, top of the class: enhanced intelligence and perception had come as she'd developed her other powers. As Sasha, she works as a weather and climate research scientist, and presents the weather on her local news station. It was Dana who gave her the name 'Retribution', and it's under this name she defends the weak, rescues the trapped, and fights for justice.


~~~

Model: Misha B. Photos used with kind permission.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Shout Out for Selfies

I know they're considered uncool by many, but I have a bit of a soft spot for selfies. I used to buy into the whole shallow egocentricity myth, but then read an article talking about the fact they're just modern portraits, and another about the way they allow especially teenage girls to control the way they're presented. After that, I went back to taking them again, with renewed pleasure.

I enjoyed using a selfie to illustrate my new Mage character, Ragna. It's something I've wanted to do for characters in the past. Reckon I could end up spending a fortune on costume stuff to help with that! I keep meaning to talk to friends who're good at photography and costumery/make up/hair to help me out, but going a bit shy about it.

There's a fancy dress shop in town that sell some decent wigs for not too much (though I don't have much of a frame of reference), and I have just about enough photoshop skill to adjust eye colour, but that only works for my characters that have my basic skin colour, body type and face shape. Svetlana is the character who looks most like me, just with grey eyes rather than blue, honey-gold hair with a perfect wave (controlled by prestidigitation), and, you know, being a half-elf and all. Ragna works quite well, and I could probably manage Chrissie with a wig (or pair of wigs, for superhero mode vs mortal mode), and there's a load of characters I've either not played in a very long time or not played at all that I could probably manage. 

There's also a load I can't. I don't mind gender-bending, and I don't mind changing my skin colour to be something non-human, but I'm not comfortable with the idea of trying to pretend to be a different race (weirdly enough), and there's some who're the wrong body shape for me. And this is where (I'm hoping!) you guys will come in! If you read through the character concepts (also linked above) and spot one you'd like to help me out with, or if I create one in the future that catches your eye, I'd love it if you'd share a selfie I could use to illustrate the character. I'm not sure if you can add images to comments, in which case you may need to tag me on G+ (I think most of you use G+).

I have no idea if this is a weird thing to ask for or not, but I really like the idea of illustrating my characters with photos, and I'd rather use photos willingly offered! Also, if you go through the list there's several where I haven't given a physical description, or only a really vague one, so even if there's no one described in the way you think of yourself, if you want to join in feel free to use one of those characters - or tell me what you're thinking, if you'd like to collaborate on something.

(I drafted this the other day and forgot to hit 'publish', then Misha B of Black Girl Gameworks shared a stunning selfie I wanted to turn into a superhero and was about to write that up when I realised this hadn't gone live. Feels serendipitous. I'll write up Retribution now, for her to go live later.)

(Just remembered I didn't publish it because I hadn't brushed my hair and was going to illustrate with a selfie. Haven't brushed my hair yet today, either, so here's a random circus photo.)
Fern in a low hoop with a visible bump
It's me, sitting sideways in a very low hoop, smiling, showing off my burgeoning bump
 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Adventures in Moving - part 2

Sorry for the complete lack of anything for a while! Have not abandoned this blog, just busy with real life stuff and awaiting a replacement laptop. Has just arrived and I'm very excited - so shiny!

We're pretty much completely settled in now - Cat has several favourite spots to sit, and all except 2 rooms are unpacked. One of our friends is bringing by some extra bookshelves, which should mean we can finish off one of those rooms; the other is a mix of my clothes that won't fit in the wardrobe until we put up another rail (Husbit's working on it - he's learning DIY and everything!), and hobby stuff. My yarn is neatly tucked away, but the various Blood Bowl teams and old GW Fantasy/Gothic/Epic armies we own haven't yet found a satisfactory home. We want to turn that room into a decent guest room, so we need to get on it.

Games on shelves, and boxes of books

The garden looks amazing. Husbit's mum has a friend who's a gardener, so between the two of them they've transformed it! Decking and fencing have been treated, the barbecue pit cleaned and new grates purchased, a raised veg patch and compost heap built, and new turf laid.
Husbit strimming the old, lumpy lawn

Husbit and I need to clear the top layer of rubbish soil from the bed at the side of the lawn, and stick that in the veg box, then get some compost in there and finish with some top soil, which we'll also add to the bed. It's all new to both of us, so we're kinda enjoying it, but a little anxious that it's more work than we're going to want to do (I think it'll be fine - I keep hearing how addictive gardening can be, and I love Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4). The bed is going to have a mix of herbs and shrubs such as ferns; the veg box will definitely have raspberries and then I'll see how I go; and I recently learnt that you can grow fruit trees in pots, so that's something we both want to try. 

Location-wise, it's really convenient for me for work, but my job ends in a year when the department closes, and it's a lot more awkward for Husbit. We're also further from a lot of our friends than we'd like - but closer to others. We're no longer a 10/15min walk from the beach - far enough we'd need to cycle or drive - but we're within walking distance of the heaths and woodlands I grew up in, and our nearest beach is stunning. Nearest shops are about the same distance, but close earlier and are up a steep hill. (Actually, there are nearer shops, but for value and choice you need to walk a little further.) The neighbourhood is really nice, though. It's the area near where I grew up that had a really rough reputation, that even then it didn't entirely deserve any more. We love how friendly most of the neighbours are, and how quiet the roads. There's a little play park within spitting distance (and the big park I spent a lot of time in isn't much further, though you have to cross a main road). The nearest Pokestop is a bit of a trek now, but that's ok.

The really exciting bit of moving news is that my plan to fall pregnant ASAP worked: baby is due a week or so before Christmas (and I've left this to the end so if you're not interested you can skip it, and there's a tag "parenting while geek" you can ignorein future). Their room is fairly well organised - the previous owners left some furniture, some of which will go in the attic for now, but will be useful again when the child is... well, a child rather than a baby, and we've been offered cots and cribs and a changing table so that feels good.


12 week scan photot - there are fingers!

I found the first trimester quite hard - to begin with, I enjoyed it anyway because I was so excited, but the constant aches and nausea and exhaustion wore me down. Fortunately, I stopped feeling quite so ill by about week 10 (though would still throw up if I drank cold water for a few weeks. Cold sugary drinks and tap water - which was verging tepid due to the rising temperature - were fine), and while I'm still tired and still have aches in weird places, I'm not nearly as tired as was. I'm at a point where I feel a lot of little wriggles and that's creepy and weird and exciting. Can't wait to meet the wriggle monster! Nicknamed "Ziggy" because it sounds a bit like zygote and is nicely gender neutral. It looks like we've decided on a girl's name, and the possible list for boys is now quite short.

I was really surprised and delighted how excited my midwife was about me doing aerial - I was expecting to be told "no no no no no!" because of the fall etc, although I've taken steps to protect there. She thought it sounded great, because it's important to exercise throughout pregnancy and I clearly enjoy it. She says also because it works on your abs, it should provide benefit when I'm in labour - and she could tell I have good abs, because of the shape of my bump. Kinda explains why all the other circus mums had the neatest bumps I'd seen! Mine arrived really quickly, especially considering this is my first.

The current UK heatwave is killing me. I've been signed off for 2 weeks (so the timing of the arrival of the shiny new laptop was fortuitous!) to help me cope. I'd be struggling anyway, because this weather is the most consistent trigger I know for my fibromyalgia symptoms (which seem to be reduced by the pregnancy, although baby brain and fibro fog are basically the same thing, so that's been interesting).

Anyway, I need to go get some sleep for a bit. Can feel my body crashing. I'll post now and try to remember to come back later and add some images. (Woo, I remembered!)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Meet My Character - Dawn's Dancing Butterfly, Cathak Tajji

First, a quick apology for how quite I've been of late! Still settling into the new place, have been extremely tired, and then Husbit accidentally poured orange juice on my laptop which seems to have killed it, which has all combined to slow down my post rate (I'm currently borrowing his tablet, which has its own little keyboard and isn't bad, but is smaller than I like to use for this).

Today's post is in response to a challenge Mark Knights of RPG Knights put up in the G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Games community, asking us to write a short piece about one of our favourite characters. I thought I'd talk about my Exalted character, Taji.

Where to start with Cathak Taji? She's the youngest of 6 children (7, with the half-brother she's recently learnt about), and lived as a peasant in rural Creation until the night before her 8th birthday, when her home was destroyed and she and her twin brother, Cathak Kito, escaped and fled to Thorns. From there, they discovered they were actually the youngest descendants of the head of House Cathak, and spent the next several years raised as young Dynasts. Instead of becoming good little Dragonbloods, though, they became Solar Exalts, Kito Dawn caste and Taji Eclipse. If you want to learn more about their adventures, check out the story index.

The characters I normally enjoy playing are compassionate and gregarious. With Taji, I wanted to challenge myself so wrote someone who is only averagely compassionate, who isn't afraid to take charge (something that I find frightening), and who can talk her way out of (or into) most situations (something I find hard in games, because I mentally freeze). Playing with a sympathetic group means I've grown in confidence and started to overcome those difficulties. I find her lower compassionate difficult at times, but her confidence makes her an absolute joy to play. I particularly enjoy those moments when something knocks that confidence - experiencing her struggle to come to terms with it and the rebuild to extreme cockiness is engaging. I love a bit of emotional bleed!

I think part of why I enjoy playing her so much is that I have played her from the days leading up to her 8th birthday to where she is now, in her early 20's. That was a lot of time to get into the head of the character, and really see how she became who she is. I know it isn't for everyone, but I (and I think Kito's player) have got a real kick out of it.

I love the contrast between her and her brother. Kito sees the best in others, but is a much tougher fighter. Taji is more cynical (her ability to manipulate people means she's inclinded to believe everyone's at it), but she has utter faith in her indestructibility, which often leads to Kito nearly getting killed - because her faith comes from the fact that her brother has always stepped in to save her. She doesn't realise the danger she puts herself in and doesn't notice how much he does for her. She's quite selfish, really. They've surrounded themselves with powerful friends, and Kito's recently realised that some of them, at least, are using the twins for their own purposes. Taji was shocked he didn't already know this; in her mind she's using them right back, and believes she isn't beyond discarding friendships that no longer benefit her (I think she'll find she's wrong about that).

And this is it. Because Taji is so different to the characters I normally love to play, and so far from my ideal image of myself, I don't mind when things don't go her way, and can enjoy the process of her learning from that. I hope to take that experience with me when I go back to other beloved characters where I take it more personally.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Deadlands - The 37th Chamber

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For the story so far, check out the index.
~~~

Unsure where to go next, we return to Gamorrah - Doomtown - and moor up. Carson gets Tesla's map out from where he'd hidden it after we managed to pass it to him while we were kidnapped and we pore over it, spotting a mark that looks a lot glyph above Shannonsburg and near something called "The 37th Chamber". Chin's eyes widen and he grins, then gabbles that it's a Shaolin temple, that he's always wanted to visit, that it's where Chin Hseuh Yung graduated - the guy who won the Kumite with such disdain - and also someone called Kuau Yau that our Chin is evidently impressed by. Tesla paws through his guidebook and tells us that, despite being in the north, Shannonsberg is a Confederate town. More importantly, it's a large port city, so probably won't have the inflation issues of the rest of California. There's things we need.

It's Tesla who notices me stumble as we walk from the table. I can't seem to find the rhythm of walking with the boat that had come so naturally to me to begin with. I feel stiff and ungainly, frustrated by it, and Tesla's noticed. He catches my arm and offers to help. In a fit of madness, I agree. He grabs a few bits from his room and gets me to follow him to shore - I balk when I spot those pylons of his slung over his shoulder, and memories of seeing him standing on a beach fusing metal plates to his flesh almost have me changing my mind when I trip and fall on my face.

He sticks a row of small metal rods along either side of my spine, then makes me stand between the pylons. He fiddles with them for around an hour until a storm has gathered. Lightning strikes and courses through me. It's exhilerating and terrifying and, after, I feel better. Not entirely back to myself, but a lot better than I have in a while.

In the morning, we head to Shan Fan and I sing of how we defeated the Whateleys. We look out a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and find an alert from Lacey; rumours of new scientists and martial artists in conflict near Shannonsberg. It's marked 'Good Intentions' so we should investigate while we're there.

Takes about 3 days to reach, blessedly uneventful. There's several floating forts in the harbour - the flagship, CSS Leviathan, makes the Abysmal look tiny and underarmed. The others... I spot Ouroboros, Wyrm, Wontley and Grendel. They're less impressive, but still imposing. They're acting as coastguard for the busy port.

We moor up, and everything's so peaceful here. Calm and easy and so unlike the rest of California. We find a bathhouse and have actual baths and feel clean. People aren't suspicious dealing with us, but cheerful and friendly.  We eat, then go shopping - fresh clothes, and a few bits for the boat. We spend a few days fitting better beds, tidying, repainting, which means we also start to get to know a few people in the boats around us, and hear more about the conflict Lacey highlighted. Various family-run farms in the area have reported kung fu practitioners coming in and trashing their ghost rock implements.

Tesla comes to us one evening, to say a scientist, Dr Merrill Pond, has sought him out for our assistance; his farm hasn't been attacked yet, and he's worried it will be soon. His home's at Elspeth Town, about a day's travel west. Tesla arranges for us all to meet the scientist and... it doesn't go well. Tesla, as usual, tries to push the guy for more payment, while Carson seems reluctant to help at all, and Chin shows a degree of tribalism in his support for the martial artists I hadn't expected from him, given how he seemed to have such a bad reputation with the martial artists of his hometown. I try to get more information so we can help out; Pond doesn't have much more but suggests we could try to find the 37th Chamber and talk to them. He describes it as being in the desert, "there, but not there"; people go looking for the temple but never find it. Other people, the temple finds them. He then loses patience with the bickering and reticence and walks out.

It's frustrating. I'm not used to Carson not wanting to save everyone and I feel like we're letting Lacey down. Chin has no interest in helping the scientists, but does want to see the Chamber. Carson sighs, but accepts we're staying for a bit: he explains he partly wants both sides of this story before carrying on, but (as the one who has bled on the glyphs and must sacrifice himself to defeat Grimme) he's feeling the pressure of time more than the rest of us and wants to make sure we're ready by our August deadline. His attitude towards Dr  Pond makes sense now, but I somehow I still feel frustrated with how the meeting went.

We set out in the morning, walking in our best guess of the right direction. It's hot. We brought plenty of water, but despite the fact food in Shannonsberg is so much cheaper than anywhere else we've seen in California - more like prices back east - we still couldn't buy enough to truly satisfy our hunger as we walk.

There's a small chiming noise, quiet enough I think I've imagined it at first, but it keeps repeating and I notice the others looking round when it does. Around noon, we find the source: a Shaolin-style monk sitting cross-legged and chiming tiny cymbals on her fingers. Deep in meditation, she ignores our questions and presence, so we carry on.

An hour or so deeper into the desert, scuffed footsteps overlay the quieting rhythmic "ching" of the cymbals: we're being followed. Carson fade away to investigate while Chin, Carson and I continue until on until we're attacked by 6 men and 2 ogres in Kang's colours. I beg them to stop, to leave us alone, but they keep fighting us until I draw my bowie knife and slash wildly at one. To my horror, he falls to the floor clutching a gaping wound in his gut. I back off, shaking, and pain explodes in my head and it all fades to black.

When I come round, Tesla explains I was hit by an invisible ogre; Carson questioned the survivors (which, Tesla reassures me, includes the man I slashed) while I was out: they'd realised we were heading for the 37th Chamber, same as them, so they'd figured they'd capture us and find out from us where it is. He'd then sent them back to Shannonsberg, making it clear to them they weren't follow us further. We start walking again.

We find another chiming monk as dusk falls, so make camp nearby. He's gone before we go to sleep, but Carson sees him as he returns in the morning, so we follow that path. There's a trail of monks we can follow: as the chimes of one fade behind us, we can hear the next ahead. It's hot and dry and there's no real landmarks and I think we're all starting to feel a little delirious as evening starts to touch the sky - which is when we spot a lake in the distance, with buildings all around. We hurry to the gate in the surrounding wall, which opens as we arrive to reveal Chin Hseuh Wong and an ugly woman wearing a look of sneering contempt equal to her compatriot's - this is Kuay Yau.

Wong asks why we're there, and Carson and Chin explain between them that we're looking for the glyphs. Seeing an apparent lack of interest, Carson adds about the altercation with Kang's men, but Wong wants to know why we're interested in the glyphs. Carson explains about needing to find them to stop Grimme - which worries me, these aren't Explorers, I don't know if we can trust them. Perhaps sensing my concern, he doesn't give more details, and my silent prayer is answered when Wong doesn't ask further.

"Grimme isn't our concern. We're interested in ghost rock, and those who claim to be able to harness it." Then interrupts Carson as he starts trying to explain the danger Grimme poses. "He's an opportunist. Getting rid of ghost rock will reduce his power." (Is that true, or are they just fanatics? The way it screams, I couldn't say.) They invite us in, then, but state no technology can enter - and that includes the stuff Tesla embedded in me, which hurts. Fortunately, Tesla's not prepared to be parted from his stuff so I have company - albeit distracted company - as we pass the night outside the walls. A monk does bring us some food, at least.

The sunrise wakes us, but the gates remain closed. Tesla repairs Carson's armour while I tune my guitar, then I practice a few songs while he tinkers with whatever gadget's caught his eye next. I'm starting to wonder if we should be getting worried when the gates finally swing open. Carson and Chin are a little way inside with their backs to us, talking to Wong and Yau. I spot a flash of movement and react in time to catch what Wong throws towards us: Carson's cards. I frown slightly and look up to see Carson and Chin walking to us, looking dejected. The gates swing closed behind them. I hand back his cards.

The monks won't help.