Horror in Bielefeld

I spent the last weekend at a semi-regular gaming meetup. The beauty of this thing is that while it does host more than a few dozen people, but all of them are invited known persons. Friends and family one could say.

Blechpirat and me usually use this gathering to playtest the more different games we find. This time, the candidates were Ten Candles and Bluebeard's Bride. (And then there was a Dresden Files game that was full of vengeful pirate ghosts, so the horror theme was thoroughly observed :) )

Both, Ten Candles and Bluebeard’s Bride are games where the characters can’t really win. Even more so than a Cthulhu game, where the PCs usually are at least able to avert the apocalypse for now. Both of these games will end badly, period.

Ten Candles says so very clear on the tin: When the last of the ten candles on the table is extinguished, all characters will die, no way out of it. This is a game that tries to tell a story of hope and light in the face of utter darkness and hopelessness. And it does so quite well, at least most of the time. The player characters are stranded in a sea of darkness, clinging to the light that promises survival.

The titular ten candles are actually lit on the game table. One by one they will get extinguished whenever the players fail on a dice roll. If that happens, the current scene is ended and the narrator cuts to the next one, made bleaker and less hopeful by that failed roll. But the players get to narrate facts for the next scene, one for each candle still burning. These facts can be positive, but they don’t have to…

Apart from the gimmick with the actual candles on the table, the game offers a really interesting mechanic: During character creation, you create a small stack of traits and moments. Each of these is written on a small piece of paper, and these are then actually stacked on top of each other.

Literally burning one of these will give you a small bonus, but you can only burn the one that is right on top of the stack. So the order you stack these becomes important during gameplay.

Pro-tip: If you prep for the game, hand out papers that include the prompts and the mechanic that kicks in when burning. It’s something that is easily forgotten or confused during gameplay and having it right there will surely help.

The other thing to realise, especially for the person running the game, is that at some point, most tests the players roll will fail. And failing a test will not only progress the game by ending the scene, but also make the next one even harder. So choose the moments for these tests wisely, otherwise your game will speed up towards the end on autopilot during the last four candles or so.

But those are miner nitpicks: If you like to buy in to the „everyone will die“ premise, Ten Candles is a very fine and quite atmospheric game. And even scenes that got cut short within the first 20 seconds managed to convey a good sense of bleak dread and despair, precisely by being cut off before any real hope can surface. One example of our session was when the drifting yacht briefly bumped onto the pylon of an oil rig, only to drift away into the darkness right away…

Bluebeard’s Bride is quite another kind of horror. It is more personal, even intimate. Instead of several people, the players each pick one aspect of the Brides personality. During character creation they establish how the Bride thinks and feels and the narrator (called Groundskeeper by the game) is encouraged to mine these things, to use them against the Bride.

It is described as „feminine horror“, and it does indeed focus heavily on themes that are stereotypically feminine: How to cope with societies body standards, views on sexuality or body autonomy. Yes, these are sexist themes, but the point is to come to grips with that sexism, to see unfairness of it escalate into horror.

As Ten Candles, this is also a game where most of the story and challenges have to be created ad hoc during gameplay. And as the aim is to tailor these parts to the players, to address the things that make them shiver, I find it even more challenging with Bluebeard’s Bride to do so. It helps if one has a collection of set pieces at hand and the rulebook gives you plenty of examples and prompts.

Personally, I found it surprisingly hard to populate Bluebeard’s mansion with NPCs. The rooms were easy, but adding people into that creepy room, people that add to it instead of taking attention away was.. difficult. In the end, there was about a handful of them scattered through the house. As a result, the players didn’t get to make some of the moves, simply because there were less people to interact with.

Still, the game gives excellent prompts to add horror to basically any aspect of the setting and I got to see the players shiver a lot.

Crowdfunding and me…

For a bit over 5 years, I’m more or less regularly participating in Crowdfunding campaigns. Most of the stuff is geeky technology or gaming things, but there were also art, music or fashion projects.

Kickstarter alone counts 89 successfully backed projects. Of those, these actually failed to deliver anything to me so far. (By that, I mean that I have actually given up any hope of receiving any useable product, to the point where I don’t expect to get anything at all):

  • "Pulse" Fudge dice ($15) The concept looked nifty enough. Alas, the creator apparently misjudged the difficulties of dealing with overseas manufacturers and eventually just gave up and disappeared. Sad, but really a not much of a loss. I kinda feel bad for the chap as I got the impression that he really tried.
  • Spinward Traveller TV Pilot ($15) Another fifteen bucks I won’t see again. The campaign spammed me with adverts to buy model space ships for further financing, showed me some badly edited scenes (apparently all actual filming got finished at last) and then amused me with links to pages where someone really got a hate-boner for the creator about allegedly constantly scamming potential TV production investors. I don’t know about that, at least something got done as far as I know…
  • MagNeo Adapter ($59) I am a bit upset about this one. It was supposed to deliver a mag-safe like USB-C adapter, but nothing has arrived so far at my doorstep and those who did receive something report that it’s shoddy and useless. The after-campaign updates suggest that the creators just ran into way more manufacturing problems than they expected, so instead of bad faith, I just ran into a bit of incompetency — which is always a risk with crowdfunding campaigns.
  • Intelligent Security Camera Cover (35 CHF) Ah.. this looked so easy and foolproof, but it got endlessly delayed and is now being shipped at an agonisingly slow rate — if at all. Hope Xavier had a nice time skiing. Yes, I strongly suspect a scam here, especially as there was an companion Indiegogo campaign and the creator netted half a million in all and now keeps complaining about lack of funds…

So… that is about 130 loss out of over 6.000 Euro I sank into crowdfunding over the years. About 2%, not too bad if I look at it that way.

Of course, there were also a few campaigns that only sort of delivered. I got the product, and it does what it says on the tin, but not well enough to be actually useable. (I'm looking at you, Lima.)

All in all, I’m pretty relaxed about crowdfunding by now though. There are a few projects that just take way longer than I ever expected, but the creators keep updating, explaining and communicating with their backers, so I’m not really worried. And projects like Matter, Secret Hitler, Scythe, Kung Fury and wonders like The Wrylon Robotical Illustrated Catalog of Botanical 'Bots really made the whole crowdfunding experience fun and rewarding for me. And how else would a project like the IT Barrier Tape come to life?

Bob and the Internet

This is the story of Bob: Bob is active in her chosen field, which exposes her to some wider audience. As Bob does things that people value, she has a podium on which to speak and she uses it to some effect.

Alas, Bob has a problem. For some reason, some folks don’t like her. Where she posts, there are often arguments, accusations of some kind, to the point where people publicly get into (verbal) fights about the perceived innocence or guilt of Bob and others.

Bob of course defends herself, and friends of hers join in, calling those out who deal in reprehensible behaviour. She makes a convincing case that she is the victim here, and gets increasingly vocal about it over time.

Eventually, friends become enemies, communities splinter and sometimes even the police needs to get involved when some people cross lines into doxxing, actual death threats or worse.

Poor Bob, you probably think.

But maybe we should take a dispassionate look at Bob. We may find that sometimes, she is either completely on the defence. Mostly though, Bob is doing full-on attacks on those who have slighted her.

For her, people are apparently either useful, background noise or, well, enemies. And once you are her enemy, or are not immediately distancing yourself from those enemies, Bob will remember you forever.

Occasionally, Bob will admit to err on factual things, but she certainly is always right in her assessment of interpersonal relations. And yes, she is the undoubtedly the victim here, because, have you seen what Steve did?

If a situation escalates, it is never Bobs fault. If people cry foul, they are harassers. If they want to have no part of the drama, they are enablers. If someone on her side oversteps some line, it is their fault, certainly not Bobs for inciting them.

Still poor Bob?

Look up the vocabulary that describes an Abuser. You will find terms like Gaslighting. Victim Playing, DARVO, Stalking, Belittling, Controlling who is allowed to talk with whom.. If you’re online, you will also find all the rhetoric tricks too: Hiding behind technicalities, ad hominem attacks, Whataboutism and so on.

Bob portrays all the quality of a narcissistic, highly abusive person.

There are many Bobs online, and I am often not sure if they are simply broken persons or just plain evil.

Before I get to know a Bob, I usually assume that she simply has problems parsing emotions through text, that I didn’t make my point or argument clear enough. Because I have that problem myself: Often enough, I don’t know how the other person wanted me to perceive them, what they really wanted to say.

Online interactions are often fleeting or brief. That means that I miss a half-sentence or misread things. English isn’t my first language, and often enough, I converse with people who are also non native english speakers. So I allow for a wide range of misinterpretations, attribute to human error what could also be malice.

Sadly enough, that plays right into Bobs hand, reinforcing the notion that she is blameless, and everyone else is wrong. Bob sits secure in her perfect perch, and laps up the attention she receives, slowly ruining the online life of others.

Don’t give in to the Bobs. Resist that. Stop interacting with them, even when they bait you to it. It is hard. It can be very painful. And you do not have to stay in an online place where a Bob resides. We don’t owe a Bob anything at all.

But we do owe the community we want to live in. Identify the Bobs in there and then make it clear that they need to demonstrate a willingness and effort to be civil, to be polite and to be mindful of how others perceive their voice — or they will be shunned and shut out.

Do not ask Alice to “make up with Bob, for the sake of the community”. This will allow Bob to further mess with Alice. In the end, Alice will have only the option of more suffering from Bob, or to leave the community that continues to allow Bobs presence.

And above all: Don’t give any attention to the Bobs. It’s what they want, what feeds their ego. It should of course be positive attention, but they don’t actually care if it is negative, so long as it keeps their ego fed.

So don’t.

Identify the Bobs. Explain them the rules. And shun them (and only them) when it becomes apparent that they won’t change.

Terrifying German Culture Hour — Country AND Western

To understand the following, you have to keep in mind that basically all germans for several generations have grown up with the stories of the brave and noble apache chief Winnetou, and his friend Old Shatterhand. The german author Karl May penned those, claiming they were the novelized diaries of his travels of the wild west — while never having left german soil.

Then 1945 the GIs came in and were eventually seen as saviours, so everything America was simply the best.

So we got us french hearthrob actor Pierre Brice to perform the very same role of the noble indian. (And from the point of view of my ten year old self, this is of course not racist or wrong in any way. Yeah, ten-year-old me was kinda stupid.)

Thankfully, at some point even us germans realized how wrong this was and instead decided to parody the whole thing:

So, aside from the movies, country & western music actually has quite a fan following in Germany.Of course, we initially needed it to be translated, and, well, germanized:

But soon enough, real german country bands showed up and we made things our own, especially once we figured out that country music can be coupled with trucks:

Yes, this is a song about someone driving 120 pigs to Beirut. Why? No one knows…

Truck Stop is, for better or worse, the german country band. They have songs about doing the Osnabrück-Hamburg run in one day, how to survive a night-run without Dave Dudley on the radio, why fishing is so damn relaxing, and, oh, how to be a cop in the big city:

If, while watching this, you’re in the vicinity of a german who’s a Fischkopp (a fishhead, as those who are from the northern parts of the country are happily calling themselves), you will notice at least a slight humming along, if not outright singing.

This is because this song, „Big City Beat“, is the title song for a TV series portraying the day-to-day encounters of two police officers who patrol the more earthier parts of Hamburg. The tone is down-to-earth, the pacing relaxed, and the protagonists at the same time cosmopolitan and grounded salt-of-the-earth locals.

If you don’t understood the dialogue, here’s the summary: He’s telling her why he’s on this beat now. Because he didn’t play along to racial profiling and abuse of a different fellow officer. And the actor, Jan Fedder is someone you really want to like. Here’s him in a talk show, singing a traditional Hamburg folk song. Yes, this talk show is habitually being taped in an actual bar, and yes, everyone is chugging alcohol.

He’s a bit older these days, and the perfect yokel.

And yes, folkys yokels are the same everywhere. So people make fun of them:

The singer is Stefan Raab,a former butcher you started out as a VJ, who occasionally regularly made fun of things. And yes, this is the same band as in a few videos back.

Still, Stefan is a special kind of musical genius, who can genre-hop like no other.

(the genre he’s lampooning here is „Volksmusik“. The closest equivalent would be Country, but it most certainly is not that. But that will be another installment of this blog series.)

He habitually reworked Germanys Funniest Home Videos into the summer smash hit of uh.. who cares. But this here highlights very aptly the difficulties everyday germans have when trying to adapt to foreign music.

But the true road to greatness was paved by Stefan Raabs contributions to the Eurovision Song Contest. You might have heard about that, by John Oliver:

Germany used to be represented by things like this:

Things got a teensy bit more tedious in the 90ies:

(The Eurocats still perform regularly on cruise ships)

And the other european nationalities used to send similar candidates. For decades! In the end, fewer and fewer people watched the contest. Stefan Raab thought that someone should do something, so he produced THIS:

Yes, we ran with that, while everyone else was still doing this, this or that. Yes, Eurotrash is a word. Eventually Stefan decided to run himself, so we progressed to…

The finns accepted the challenge and eventually things escalated a bit, and now the Eurovision Song Contest is the camp fest that John Oliver so loved to be confused about:

Thanks Stefan!

PS: At some point, we understood how to do Country. Really:

and yes, we brought Country to the European Song Contest:

(thanks to Jan for reminding me of this!)