Friday 31 October 2014

Horror A Day!

I've been taking part in the #HorrorADay over on Twitter and thought I'd sum up here.

Day One - First Horror Movie Watched

It's not strictly speaking a horror movie, but the first film I saw that I remember really scaring me was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was 5 and it was shortly after my Mum died and I came in on the scene where the room's closing in on them and the bugs and spikes and skulls... and eventually ran out screaming over the fire pit. I hid in my room reading The Famous Five.

Day Two - Favourite Horror Themed Game

I've played in some fantastic homebrew horror RPGs, but have to pick the board game Arkham Horror. I love it because it's co-operative and you really have to work together (I love Pandemic for the same reason). I also love it for the groups I tend to play it with (check out nogamesnoglory, one of these friends).

Day Three - Favourite Horror Novel

I picked 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I've discussed this briefly before, here, but basically I particularly like this because of an intense fear of vampires that stemmed from The Legend of Croglin Grange. The fear stayed with me for many years, even with cloves of garlic on my window cill and a stake close to hand by the head of my bed... 'Salem's Lot spoke to that fear and made it ok, acceptable almost. Also, one of the books my Dad had leant me to try and help me get over it was The Natural History of the Vampire by Anthony Masters and King references this text within his novel. 

Day Four - Favourite Horror Movie Soundtrack

I don't generally notice the soundtrack unless it's part of the plot (as in Guardians of the Galaxy); I do like the Richard Cheese cover of Disturbed's Down With the Sickness that's used in the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead has some wonderful moments too. Also, the siren song in The Wicker Man sung by Britt Ekland is wonderful.

Having said that, I think the music in The Woman in Black was very effective in helping build terror levels.

Day Five - Favourite Horror Author

I've probably read more Stephen King than any other, but not sure. I absolutely adore M R James's collected ghost stories; similarly those of Edith Wharton and Ambrose Bierce. I'm currently re-reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and think she's wonderful and have recently discovered  John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Day Six - Favourite Actor in a Horror Drama

Hmmm... no, I still find this really difficult. I do like Shaun Pertwee in Dog Soldiers, though, so maybe I should leave it at that...

Day Seven - Most Memorable Character to Survive a Horror Drama

I went with Carey Elwes's character Dr Lawrence Gordon in Saw, but maybe Christopher Lee's Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

Day Eight - Favourite Subgenre of Horror

I have a real soft spot for a well crafted ghost story that probably overrides everything else, even my intimate fear of vampires.

Day Nine - Most Memorable Monster/Villain

The Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4 episode 'Hush'. This was the episode that first made my Dad pay attention to the show, because he found them creepy.

Day Ten - Favourite Director of a Horror Presentation

Joss Whedon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer got me through my teens, and the season 5 episode 'The Body' is so very powerful. I might one day do a post about why I think the episode is so wonderful, but this isn't the time.

Day Eleven - Favourite Historical Period

Despite my love for M R James and ghost stories of his era, I think modern day fiction and settings are my favourite. Having said that, did enjoy a zombie homebrew RPG set in Celtic Britain one of my friends ran. That was cool.

Day Twelve - Scariest Scene in a Horror Movie or Book

That bit in The Descent where the terrified caver swings her camera round and it pans past her friend and the monster is stood right there behind her... It's a moment that haunts me!

Day Thirteen - Favourite TV Series with a Horror Theme

Back to Buffy. There are a lot of fantastic shows out there, but Buffy will always have a special place in my heart.

Day Fourteen - Last Good Horror Story Read

When I got to this stage on Twitter, I went with John Ajvide Lindqvist's short story collection Let the Old Dreams Die and highly recommend it. Since then, I've started re-reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and it is wonderful.

Day Fifteen - Last Good Horror Movie Seen

I saw the remake of The Haunting many years ago and didn't enjoy it very much, so was sceptical when Husbit sat me down to watch the original. It is so, so much better; a really creepy, tingling film. There's a sense of dread pervading everything whose cause is never quite clear.

Day Sixteen - First Horror Story Read

My Dad read the short story The Legend of Croglin Grange to me when I was little, and triggered a fear of vampires in me. I moved from there to M R James, but think the first novel was Christine. I'm not certain, though - it was a long time ago!

Day Seventeen - Favourite Slasher Movie

I think Scream. It was the first slasher movie I saw and it really scared me. It wasn't until I'd seen others that I discovered the humour in the film and could appreciate the way it pokes fun at the genre with love.

Day Eighteen - Favourite Gothic Horror Story

I don't think I can pick just one. Frankenstein is an obvious answer, as is The Vampyre, but maybe The Monk is a better choice - it's probably the darkest gothic story I've read.

Day Nineteen - Most Memorable Science Based Monster

The Id from Forbidden Planet. The film is based on my favourite Shakespeare play (The Tempest) and I found the monster suitably scary when I watched the film as a child.

Day Twenty - Most Memorable Supernatural Monster

I was torn between the obvious Vampire that we've established I have a... complicated relationship with and the Gentlemen from Hush discussed above. I went with the Gentlemen, forgetting I'd already used them, so maybe I should go with the vampire from Croglin Grange.

Day Twenty One - Favourite Horror Themed Artwork

This print by David Jones based on Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner hangs in my Dad's hallway. Growing up, it terrified me. Now I kind of love it.

Day Twenty Two - Favourite Horror Anthology

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M R James. I read James long before I was introduced to Lovecraft and believe his stories are part of why I felt so let down by Lovecraft: all the good things people claimed of Lovecraft's writing are carried out so much better, so much mroe efficiently by James and without the same endless repetition of only 3 or 4 storylines I ever found from Lovecraft.

Day Twenty Three - Favourite Horror Host

Because I've never watched nor read anything with a horror host, I have to cheat slightly and go with my brother's friend's dad, who threw an amazing Hallowe'en party each year. We'd start at mine with a group of my brother's friends and a set of silly games like apple bobbing and chocolate pretzels on a washing line to be jumped for, and then I'd take them trick or treating (I'm only 3 years older than them, but Dad trusted me and their parents assumed Dad was with us and they knew if they misbehaved or told their parents they wouldn't be allowed to come again so it always worked out ok - and anyway, I always went as a vampire slayer, so they were perfectly safe) and we'd finish at Louis's place for scary stories and more silly games and fun.

Day Twenty Four - Most Memorable Object used in a Horror Story/Movie

Back to 'Salem's Lot and a scene I've always found very vivid, in which the younger main character wards off a vampire using one of his plastic action figures who's holding a cross.

Day Twenty Five - Favourite Horror Parody

Having already used Scream for something, I picked Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (which I do recommend), but then I was reminded of Shaun of the Dead, which as my hangover move of choice probably should win this round.

Day Twenty Six - Favourite Horror Comic/Magazine

Not reading either, I went with Preacher. It was leant to me on my 18th birthday and I devoured it. Creepy and horrible with some brilliant ideas but not always comfortable reading.

Day Twenty Seven - Favourite Director of a Horror Movie

John Carpenter feels like the obvious choice, but actually I think I have to give this to Neil Marshall for Dog Soldiers, which is one of my very favourite films, and for that scene in The Descent that so successfully terrifies me.

Day Twenty Eight - Favourite Horror-Themed Guilty Pleasure

Lemon and slime flavoured Jaffa Cakes! They're only available at this time of year and are so very yummy.

Day Twenty Nine - Best Horror-Themed Purchase

Possibly the Deadlands settings for the Savage World RPG. We've only played through part of it so far, but I like it and it's creepy and fun. 

Day Thirty - Most Memorable Spooky Attraction

I'm going to go back to my brother's friend's dad's Hallowe'en parties. He was American and this was a little before American Hallowe'en really took off in the UK so these were a bit special. I remember his wife (who was British) arranging a series of boxes in which grim and ghoulish things were placed - eyeballs (peeled grapes) and worms (congealed spaghetti) and so on. The last box, you reached in and screamed as her hand grabbed you from within!

Day Thirty One - Favourite Hallowe'en Costume

This blog gets its name in part for a stunning dress my friend Mary made me, originally designed by another friend who very kindly allowed me to steal his idea. I've worn it as a fairy queen to a Hallowe'en party before.

My favourite costume remains the Vampire Slayer though. No femme fatale, no victim: sometimes flawed, but ultimately powerful.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Ylva - Pathfinder Character Concept

The third character I put together for this stage in Pathfinder - I've always wanted to play a 'bardbarian' so Skald really appealed to me. It's really a 5th player character class, sadly, and wouldn't work with the other characters in the group, as the inspiring song ability wouldn't assist them, as they all rely on skills based on dex/int/cha. A group with traditional, strength-based fighters would probably benefit from a skald, though.

I found the name using the website 'Behind the Name', a site I've used a lot over the years for name inspiration in fiction as well as gaming. It means 'Wolf' and I thought it sounded pretty. 'Astriddottir' is using a matronymic surname in the Icelandic style and means 'Astrid's Daughter'; she could also be Ylva Hinrikdottir. 'Astrid' came because I've always liked the name; 'Hinrik', 'Sverrir' and 'Dag' all came from going through the website - 'Tarrah' and 'Darrik' are made up because they sound kinda orc-ish.

I really wanted to play an elder half-orc sister to another player, but in the end it didn't fit with anyone else's concept, so I added the idea to Ylva with her sister Tarrah, whom I picture more as a barbarian than skald. 

Ylva Astriddottir – Neutral Good Human(Ulfen) Skald (level 10)
Abilities: Str18, Dex13, Con15, Int18, Wis15, Cha18
Skill ranks: Acrobatics 3; Appraise 3; Handle Animal 2; Knowledge (arcana) 5, (dungeoneering) 5, (geography) 7, (history) 8, (local) 7, (nature) 7, (nobles) 6, (planes) 2, (religion) 6; Perception 7; Perform (sing) 10, (strings) 10; Spellcraft 5; Survival 7
Feats: Arcane Armour Training + Mastery, Arcane Blast, Fast Learner, Skald’s Vigour + Greater (fast healing equal to strength boost providing by raging song whilst maintaining song – greater extends this to allies)
Traits: Lunar Birth (+1 trait bonus on saves vs spells cast by humans); Poverty Stricken (+1 to survival checks, survival a class skill); Resilient (+1 fortitude)
Drawbacks: Family Ties (if a family member requests something you are unable to fulfil, -2 to Wis/Cha based checks until fulfilled or DC20 will save – taken daily – is passed).
Rage Powers: Elemental Rage (lesser); Unexpected Strike; Auspicious Mark
Versatile Performances: Singing (substitute sing for bluff/sense motive); String Instruments (substitute string instruments for bluff/diplomacy)
Masterpieces: Vindictive Solitude (replaces level 4 spell slot; acts like the spell Call Lightning Storm); Life Budding in Salted Earth (replaces level 3 spell slot; gives fast healing 1 to allies within 30 feet); Lullaby of Ember the Ancient (level 3 spell slot; acts as spell Deep Slumber but affects a designated target)
Spells: Level 0 – Clandestine Conversation; Cleanse of Alcohol; Disorienting Quake; Know Direction; Prestidigitation; Quill
Level 1 – Aspect of the Nightingale; Heightened Awareness; Remove Fear; Restful Sleep; Secret Speech
Level 2 – Blood Biography; Calm Emotions; Clear Moderate Wounds; Heroism; Investigative Mind
Level 3 – Cure Serious Wounds; Dispel Magic
Level 4 – Truespeak
Weapons: Ylva’s Bardiche: +1 flaming, frost, furious bardiche (I wanted flaming burst & icy burst, but couldn’t afford it)
Armour: Hero’s Hauberk (+1 adamantine chain shirt – the adamantine DR stacks with any other DR; sings along to a raging song and gains light fortification; sings along to bardic performances and gives +1 luck bonus on ability & skill checks and penalties applied to various roles are reduced by 1 per role)
Magic Gear: Amulet of Natural Armour +1, Handy Haversack, Perfect Tuning Fork (can begin a bardic performance as a swift rather than standard action when held), Ring of Protection +2
Mundane Gear: Basic Maps, Bedroll, Belt Pouch, Flint & Steel, Guide to Flora/Fauna, Ink, Pen, Journal, Utility Knife, Mess Kit, Mirror, Lyre, Rope, Waterskin x2

Appearance: Late teens, with white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and weather-beaten yet fair skin. She’s tall and broad, muscular with the kind of build that gets described as ‘strapping’ in young men. She tends to carry her polearm strapped across her back; in the north she wears furs and other warm items, further south her clothes get closer to the ‘chainmail bikini’ trope, though still remaining warrior-like.

Ylva is her father’s first child and her mother’s second. She has two younger brothers, Sverrir and Dag, and an elder half-sister, half-orc Tarrah Darrikdottir.

Astrid Bearsinger left her homestead and went wandering as a young adult. She met and fell in love with Darrik Rustthrasher, a young and fairly lowly orc from a tribe to the north of her home. She returned with him and bore him a daughter, Tarrah, but ultimately couldn’t tolerate the conditions of the orc camp. She returned home, where she met and married Ylva’s father, Hunrik.

Tarrah remained with her father but never felt as though she fit very well into his society – hard as she worked, she was never as strong or as fierce as those around her. She spent a couple of months every year with her mother’s family, where the young Ylva idolised her brave big sister, so when Darrik died in a raid she decided to move permanently down to the pinkies. She soon found she didn’t fit in as well here as she’d thought, either. Lonely, she set out on her own and soon built up a reputation as a warrior for hire. Little Ylva loved it whenever she came back to town, always with some gift for her younger siblings and full of tales of the exciting places she had been. As soon as Ylva was old enough, she began to pester to join her sister and, after a few years of travelling, had developed a reputation of her own.

Besides her idolisation of Tarrah, Ylva helped raise Sverrir and Dag so is very protective of them. The siblings are close and she would do anything for them.

Ylva’s home is filled with the love of singing, history and skill at arms. Ylva has done her best to balance these, practicing as hard with her lyre as her bardiche and spending hours learning and reciting the histories and sagas. The competitive environment has suited her and instilled in her a love of learning and intense curiosity that further feeds her wanderlust. She is a bit of a show-off, liking to drop obscure facts into conversation.

She’s very competitive and will always rise to a challenge. Smart, strong and talented, she’s usually the victor but is as magnanimous in defeat as in victory.

Friday 24 October 2014

I get way too emotionally involved with my favourite characters...

It's not often I need to skip to the end of a book for reassurance that it'll be ok, but when I do it usually means the characters and plot are well-written and intense enough to draw me in completely, with sufficient threat to make me concerned - basically, that I'm very emotionally engaged.
Svetlana - as drawn by my lovely friend Abi

We've ended the main Pathfinder campaign on a huge cliffhanger, with the party discovering 5 years has passed on Golarion whilst they were off trying to deal with a threat in The Abyss.

5 years is a particularly long time in the relationship of Svetlana and Noleski, bearing in mind they had a rather hurried wedding because he needed to strengthen his position as king. I can see all sorts of things that could have happened in the 5 years she was away, and I'm pretty sure the three most obvious scenarios I'm going to list here will already have crossed my GM's mind:

1) She's been away long enough to be declared dead, so he's remarried someone politically convenient - who has had time to produce heirs.

2) He's remarried for love.

3) He's been replaced with a doppleganger or shapeshifter and is actually trapped somewhere else whilst the country is brought to ruin by his enemies.

Of these, 2) is the worst case scenario from Svetlana's point of view, and I really hope it isn't the route the GM goes down because I massively 'ship Svetleski (Nolana?) (if you'll excuse the silly slang phrasing).

1) could be interesting: that Svetlana started to feel increasingly sick during the last session has me wondering whether she might have managed to fall pregnant during her shore-leave before entering the Abyss, which could lead to some interesting scenarios (her child would be younger but would have been conceived first, which could lead to all sorts of confusions in law). Also, Svetlana may not have been worried about marrying Noleski in the first instance, but as soon as their relationship went that way it became hugely important to her and her position as his wife is something she would be prepared to fight for - even if that fight is actually a long political game that she would otherwise find tedious and unimportant.

If the other wife is nice and actually seems to care for him and Brevoy, she may have pause but if she has any evidence Noleski still loves her the way she loves him, nothing will stop her finding a way to be with him.

3) could also be a lot of fun although I think may be more traditional fare for a game of this sort. I'm pretty sure Svetlana could work it out - they kept their relationship secret for awhile so had ways of carrying out private conversations under mundane seeming normal conversations that I think someone pretending to be him wouldn't be able to mimic. Also that they'd have removed staff Svetlana knew and trusted (would they have dismissed or duplicated Malliard?) So then it'd be a game of tracking down and reinstating.

I'm not sure where they are with their rings giving a telepathic link at the moment...

To be honest, probably what will come up will be something I've not considered but I'm really concerned that the 5 years will mean the end of Svetlana and Noleski and I really don't want that - I'm pretty emotionally invested in Svetlana and her marriage to Noleski is a large part of what got her through being killed and all sorts of other things. So I feel like I need to peek at the end and just confirm that the intention (barring Svetlana doing something stupid like getting herself killed again) is for her and Noleski to be together. I'm just not entirely sure how to ask for that reassurance without sounding like a complete wet blanket!

Anyone else ever or often become that involved with their characters? I've wept for characters (in game and in character most usually) in the past and it'd be nice to know I'm not alone!

Alton Towers

Got back late last night from our annual trip to Alton Towers.

Husbit first took me when we'd been dating a couple of years and he discovered I'd never been. Since then, the only year we didn't go was 2011, when we went to the Blood Bowl World Cup in Amsterdam instead. We usually either go in the middle of the summer or, as this year, for the Fright Nights.

The pumpkins were hungry

We dragged my brother, Husbit's sister and two of the guys from our Pathfinder group with us, setting out in the early hours of Wednesday morning to arrive around noon. The Fright Nights are great because later closing time means we don't miss out (and I really like riding in the dark). 

My brother is a massive bully who wouldn't let the poor cold ghosty have any of his coffee!

Going mid-week meant we avoided the worst of the crowds: last year, we went for a weekend nearer Hallowe'en and it was too busy for me. I ended up with a migraine, although now know where the first aid room is and they were fantastic, letting me lie down in a cool, dark corner until I was functional again. This year, fortunately no migraine!

It's a jackdaw. Not, as Husbit insists, a blackbird.
Because it's a bit of a trek for us, we stay in a local B&B overnight. One day, we'd love to use the hotel.
just maybe not the pumpkin rooms

I love the little live action bits they add in for Hallwe'en - the Zombies and particularly the 'Scary Tales'. It's a little sad that you now have to pay for the bigger ones in the Towers themselves separately.

As for the rides, Nemesis and Air remain my favourites, although both Thirteen and Smiler are up there (particularly Thirteen in the dark: we queued for it last year and it broke down as we got there so I was really pleased to get on it this year). I don't particularly like Rita (I just don't like the acceleration) or Oblivion (the view of the park is lovely, but I don't like heights and that's sort of the whole point of the ride), and this year was able to sit them out without being lonely as I wasn't the only one. I love Hex for story and optical illusion.

I really love the log flume, but only Paul and my brother would join me. Then we saw the others at the water cannon and realised why...
We managed to have a bit of a wander through the gardens, which I always like, but the Towers were closed for the extra bits which meant we couldn't investigate those - something I like to do when we come up in the summer. I like the juxtaposition of the building and the rides.

Next year's trip is already in the scheming...