Month: April 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

National Stationery Week: Day 7


Pen: Parker 51


This belonged to one or both of my grandparents: it now gets regular use for letters and so on.

Ink: Grey

Ink grey

I’m pretty conservative with inks in this pen, mostly avoiding wacky colours and saturated inks like the Diamine. This blend is fairly subtle but I feel it’s more than the sum of its parts: it gives a bluish intensity to the black, and makes the normal Skrip Blue-Black a bit bolder. Works with a lot of different papers. As mentioned earlier Diamine make several different blacks, and this one looks a bit like the Graphite.

Paper: Leuchtturm A5 Notebook, Dotted


This will be my new travelling notebook – it’s smaller than the Habana. Dots are the same spacing as the Rhodia dot pad. The paper seems to be fine with fountain pen ink, and a nice off-white.


One thing about Leuchtturm is they number their pages and put tables of contents inside, and they give you stickers for when the book is full and you file it away. I can take or leave that, to be honest. There’s a handy pocket in the back cover, like the Habana. But really this is just another black notebook with a ribbon and cream-coloured paper and a faux leather cover. It’s nice to write in and handle, which is what matters.

Test page (no bleeding or show through to speak of).


That’s it for National Stationery Week!

The Next Day

Today I bought this:

The Next Day Vinyl

The photo isn’t great, but does show the inner sleeves which I love. The CD is included too.

I’ve listened to it twice through now, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a new Bowie album this much since Outside. A lot of the tone takes me back to Outside actually, although there are nods to his whole career, all the way back to the Arnold Corns stuff. The title track sounds a lot like Repetition from Lodger, Valentine’s Day has a shade of Hunky Dory, Heat and The Plan have strong instrumental overtones from the Berlin Trilogy albums.

This all makes the choice of “Where are we now?” for the first single all the more baffling; it’s insipid, ‘Hours…’-era pedestrian stuff, and possibly the weakest song on the whole album. I wonder if it’s some sort of practical joke.

Anyway, I thought I was going to hate it. Turns out I tolerated it. And when I say tolerated, I actually quite liked it. It’s got a good beat.

National Stationery Week: Day 6

Pen: Lamy Vista with Medium Nib



OK, you know what the Lamy pens look like by now. This one is transparent, which means that nice coloured inks are visible not only in the window but also the feed (top photo, although not a very good one).

Ink: Diamine Ancient Copper


There’s something about the combination of this ink and this pen that creeps badly; and when it does the brown ink appears to oxidise and go black. It’s all water soluble, it just looks filthy. The black crud under the tip can rub off on the first character of a new sentence, making a mess on the page (if you care about that sort of thing). I do wonder if it’s caused by the same mechanism as nib fouling in their Pumpkin ink–though clearly that crud has remained orange.

The ink was a free sample, and I like it, I’m just not sure what I’d use it for. It’s nice to make notes with occasionally but it’s a bit bright (much like the Diamine blue).

Ancient copper

Paper: Pukka Vellum


Very nice, not too expensive paper. Feels lovely and the contrast with most inks is very nice. The Ancient Copper is a bit out of place–a black or grey ink would be better–but even so it’s nice to write in. Really wet pens like my Sheaffer will show through a bit, though.


National Stationery Week: Day 5

Pen: TWSBI Mini with 1.1mm stub nib


Dear Mum

Another italic nib, but this one is a fair bit smoother, rounder and thinner. It writes much more reliably than the Lamy italic nib for casual note-taking. Technically it’s a stub rather than a crisp italic nib. The line variation is a lot less, but just enough to create a little flair.

The pen is made from polycarbonate, and I bought the clear one.

WES Glow

Ink: Diamine WES Imperial Blue


This ink is just amazing, but not always in a good way. It’s fairly viscous so it coats the inside of the pen as shown above. It’s almost purple, which makes it very eye-catching, and it hardly seems to shade at all, just lays down an intense blue-purple line with no colour gradient. Also, the bottle is my favourite shape of all the bottles I own; it’s just a shame they no longer supply the bakelite cap. The downside is that it’s a little hard on the eyes to read a whole page of it–but it looks nice in a letter anyway.

Ink imperial

Paper: Basildon Bond

(Not a lot to say here: I’ve tried a couple of papers for letters and Basildon Bond is reliable and smooth, unlike some laid papers which don’t get on with this italic nib).

Encumberance and Game Coherence

Nothing says “RPG Dinosaur” like an equipment list.

Back in the old old days, itemised equipment lists were the norm, and were a working component of the game: a component that a lot of us could comfortably ignore, but in many ways given equal priority to levels, hit points and saving throws.

In our modern era of hippy games, there are no equipment lists. Games like Don’t Rest Your Head and Hollowpoint don’t even require equipment per se. DRYH‘s talents are entirely contained within the dice system–it doesn’t matter which power, all that matters is scale. Hollowpoint’s gadgets are a kind of one-use trait–so if it’s not really possible to separate a character from their equipment because it’s a trait, is it really equipment?

In the two decades in between, we have a whole load of games where equipment was sort of implied and sort of not. We didn’t bother tracking how heavy something was, or itemising the contents of a pack. Equipment was relegated to a little box at the very bottom of page two of your character sheet (you know, the page no-one reads).

That’s interesting. A whole part of the game system was deprioritised, despite having a defined game effect. As with most things it started with Vampire, where there was a little space on the sheet for weapons, and nothing else.

When I ran LotFP there was a clash of these two cultures. Some my players didn’t look at the second half of their character sheet; they’d all assumed they had a basic level of equipment (or objects to hand) that would allow them to perform whatever action they chose. Case in point:

GM: he’s drowning in the quicksand.

Player: OK, I’ll throw him a rope.

GM: what rope?

Player: the rope I carry everywhere.

GM: is it on your character sheet? If it isn’t, you don’t have it.

This isn’t the player’s fault. In a modern game, or even a 20 year old game, we’d assume a basic level of fluidity and common sense with carried equipment. But this was an OSR game, and I was being a bit of a prick about it.

In a hippy game the discussion might be:

GM: he’s drowning in the quicksand.

Player: I need to get him out!

GM: what’s your plan?

Player: well, I have my pack with me–it’s got all sorts of stuff in it. Maybe a rope or something.

GM: roll COOL. If you get a success you have the rope and you can help him. Otherwise, find another way.

The hippy game sidesteps this whole issue with a trait-based resource management mechanism. In doing so it also sidesteps the issue of game world economies, but in many cases that doesn’t matter if what you can do is wholly encompassed in your dice pool (or whatever).

Equipment still matters in games like D&D with long times between levels, as it’s the only mechanism the GM has outside x.p. to reward the players or give them an advantage.

Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe

What is kit, and what is just a trait by another name? Kit is anything that forms a transferrable bonus (e.g. someone borrows your armour) or anything that’s essential for the use of a skill (e.g. a lockpick). It’s only worth differentiating as “kit” if you intend to separate it from the original owner.

Games without transferrable/deniable kit can wrap “kit” up with non-transferrable character traits; equipment function is secondary to character ability. It’s a very “story” or “mythic” approach. Everway is an example: in the example fight between Fireson and a couple of ghouls, it’s noted that Fireson is armed with a sword, but it’s nothing more than one nebulous advantage in the fight–the main factors are the Fire and Earth scores of each side and the draw of the Fortune Deck.

It raises the question of whether or not your players actually like mucking around with equipment lists. For the Everway player the weapons, tools and armour of a given character are motifs that project their image into the game, just like habits and speech. D&D however will appeal to players who like to organise/optimise their own resources, accepting penalties if they fail to do so.


But seriously, who wants to keep track of gold pieces, much less dollars? That’s the problem with games like Vampire: Resources or Wealth is a dotted trait, but the stuff that matters–swords, guns and armour, things with in-game effects–are measured in dollars. Of course you can always apply some kind of conversion but even so, a PC with no dots of Wealth will chose to go naked as long as they can scrape together enough pennies for bullets.

All of this links back to the Currency of the game, and I’m talking GNS Currency with a capital C. If equipment provides an advantage it should be measured on the same scale as all the other traits, or otherwise not measured at all.

If you don’t bother to measure it, then the GM simply decides to allow equipment for all, or prohibit it for all. That’s desirable for several reasons–say your game is in a totalitarian state where firearms are just not allowed, then posession of a prohibited weapon becomes a plot point. Or say you want to up the threat level of that state, so you arm everyone equally. In each case having a weapon stops being the thing that differentiates PCs from NPCs, forcing the group to focus on what does make them different.

Otherwise if you’re going to make players “pay” for equipment, there are a few ways you can achieve this:

1. Set Menu (dietary restrictions apply)

There is no choice. You assume that a flautist has a flute, a mechanic has a monkey wrench and a thief has a mask and a bag with SWAG written on it. Spell foci in Runequest work like this–if you can cast the spell, you’re assumed to have a focus. If they player has the skill, they’ve already paid for the kit.

If you play this way then you remove a lot of the negotiation around “can I have XXX”. However just because you remove the negotiation it doesn’t mean you remove the equipment as a tangiable object, i.e. something that can be taken away. The decision to deprioritise equipment (as in Everway) is a separate choice.

2. All-you-can-eat Buffet

Players sign up to a particular “package” where they can pick out as much stuff as they want up to a certain level of functionality. In Vampire, for example, you could make equipment availability dependent on a certain threshold–wealth, status or rank.

Conspiracy X uses a point-buy approach for resources. In a lot of ways it’s not much different from assuming kit based on skill set, although it’s a shared resource.

Since players will often use the best available equipment–it doesn’t matter how many guns there are in the armoury, they want the big one–there’s no need to break things down into dollars here, either. A point system equates to a certain level of performance in-game and has the same Currency as other performance indicators (skills and whatnot).

3. A la Carte


p>Players can buy anything they can afford, as long as it’s available to buy (D&D model). This puts the responsibility on the players to plan everything they would need in advance. While that’s unfashionably old-school, it is part of the game that some people like–kit is another PC resource and a factor in winning or losing.

It may seem that this is the most complex approach, but it can absolve the GM of a lot of responsibility. There’s no tiresome negotiation on whether the BFG2000 comes with the Illuminati Orbital Mind Control Laser Package. It’s their money, let them spend it how they want.

National Stationery Week: Day 4

Pen: Lamy Safari in White with 1.5mm Italic Nib

LAMY Italic Nib

I’ve photographed this pen before, but the italic nib is different. Like other Lamy nibs it’s easily swapped over and it’s fairly rigid. This one’s reasonably smooth.

Italic nibs are a bit harder to write with, and this one is both quite broad and a bit sharp – desirable for a calligraphy pen but maybe less so for just writing with a lot of line variation.

Paper: Rhodia Dotpad

I like the Dotpad because the A4 can be turned landscape, the foldover cardboard cover gets out of the way, and the dots are less obtrusive than squares but provide the same basic function.

Cocoa scan 0001

Ink: Cocoa

Pen and ink

Not gin, a mix of approx 2 parts Waterman Brown to 1 of any black ink I have. Note though that some blacks have a brown base, but others may be blue/teal and may mix differently with the brown.

National Stationery Week: Day 3

It’s National Stationery Week! Etc.

Today’s Pen: Pelikan M200, fine nib

Pelikan Nib

This is the cheapest in the Pelikan line of pens, and it was still probably more than most people would spend on a pen. It’s really, really good though. The nib is springy, smooth but tactile enough to feel it on the paper–not scratchy at all. It really writes like no other pen I own. The cap screws on meaning there are threads on the section where I hold it, but I can deal with that. The nib looks great, too.

Paper: Quo Vadis Habana

Habana Cahier

Also-ran: the Moleskine Cahier. I was a bit disappointed with the Habana when I got it. The size was great–like the cahier it’s smaller than A4 but larger than A5 (16x24cm, to be precise), the perfect size for me. However it didn’t lie flat. I had to do this:

Bent Back

Stitiching held up no problem. It has a handy back pocket that will just take a folded A4 sheet.

Habana Pocket

Ink: Skrip Black/Pelikan Edelstein Onyx

Edelstein 2

This is generally my black ink pen. Currently it has Skrip black in it, sometimes it has the Pelikan ink. The latter is their expensive premium brand (if you pay full whack–I didn’t, and I probably wouldn’t pay twice the price of a bottle of Skrip or Diamine). It is a different ink–a bit more saturated than the Skrip so less shading and less grey. Not all blacks are the same. Diamine have a broad range of black too.

Ink skripblack

National Stationery Week: Day 2

It’s National Stationery Week! Aren’t we lucky. Today I’ll talk about two of my most recent stationery acquisitions:

Pen: Lamy Safari in Charcoal, EF nib

Lamy Field NotesLamy Nib 2

I started with the Lamy Vista, then bought a Lamy Safari in white not long after. They’re great knockaround pens. The Charcoal Safari is something else, though–it’s textured and feels slightly more grown up and less like Lego. It feels incredibly solid and there’s something about the profile of the pen that really suits me.

I bought it with an EF nib and it lays a very fine line, just right for small annotations and small notebooks. Nib is pretty rigid, no spring. Some people find the nib a bit scratchy, and it is a bit if you apply any pressure (and it’s sharp enough that you can spear yourself if you’re not careful–I got myself just under a fingernail, don’t ask). It needs a light touch. Generally it’s one of the better Lamy nibs I own though. If you fancy one and can get to a bricks and mortar shop where you can test the nibs before you buy, do that–Lamy QC is a bit haphazard.

Ink: Binder Burgundy

Ink binderburgundy

This is Binder Burgundy (much better scans there…). Looks good, but probably deserves a fatter nib. Richard Binder apparently consulted with Diamine thereafter, and Diamine Syrah was the result. Diamine do a whole range of reds though, including the Oxblood and Red Dragon.

Paper: Field Notes

Field Notes 1

These continue to be handy. This book has my play notes for Dominion.

National Stationery Week: Day 1

It’s National Stationery Week! Each day I’ll write about a pen, ink, and paper product. I’ll kick off with my Sheaffer 300:

Sheaffer cappedSheaffer stackSheaffer nib

Pen: Sheaffer 300

Brass body and cap makes it heavy in the hand. Fantastic articulated clip will go into a thick jacket no problem. Cartridges or converter for ink. Medium nib is unyielding but very smooth, writes very wet and on the broad side.

Ink: Black Cherry

Ink BlackCherry

Looks almost brown; it’s much more purple in the flesh. Increasing the amount of Skrip Red in the mix to 10 parts makes for more of an oxblood colour. Flows nicely.

Paper: 5″x3″ Index Cards

Big fan of index cards. Fantastically convenient for brainstorming. Carry a stack held together with a bulldog clip.

RPG First Look: Hollowpoint

Hollowpoint cover front

Sharpen you up for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Any game with a toetag for a character sheet is going to come with certain expectations. The strapline is Bad People killing Bad People for Bad Reasons. You might think that this is a hyper-realistic gunfight simulation a la Phoenix Command. It’s not.

Hollowpoint is about three things: “hyper-capable people”, teams, and missions. Hyper-capable people are so advanced in their skill sets that normal humans don’t register to them, either as threats or collateral damage. The thing about these people is that they are the best–so sticking them in a team with other people who are also the best causes friction. Everyone has a different opinion on how to solve the mission, and those opinions cause tension.

This game is all about the mission and the cool people who do that mission. Hobbies, personal plots, pithy conversation in diners and other activities that aren’t directly focused on the mission are irrelevent. The Mission is nothing more than a series of Conflicts which are resolved by dice and then backed up by narration from players and GM.

To get Hollowpoint you have to understand that the Conflict isn’t about itemising actions, shooting individual antagonists, picking locks and so forth–it’s about the whole mission and the steps taken by the team to get to their objective. Everyone contributes dice based on the skills they are applying, and they all oppose the GM at the same time during the conflict. One PC may be seducing an enemy agent using CON skill, another may be hacking a mainframe from the cafe across the street with DIG, two more may be going through the hotel room by room and eliminating enemy resistance using their KILL skills. Everything happens at the same time. Dice are rolled (d6 dice pools, looking for matched sets), and depending on which side wins, hits are applied.

About hits – agents and antagonists take 2 hits to be removed from a conflict (and if the antagonists are removed, that’s a victory for the PCs). No-one dies, even if they’ve taken two hits from a KILL roll and are bleeding out; an agent “moves on” entirely at the player’s discretion. Clearly the game has been designed to turn agents over quickly, and if a PC moves on (dies, leaves the job, etc) then a new agent replaces them. It should be noted that this is the only time the PCs may get new information or feedback from their agency–other than that, the initial mission briefing is all the PCs get and otherwise they’re on their own.

It’s up to the players to be proactive, not reactive. Yes, there are retaliations where players will have to organise themselves as a response to a threat, but even these begin with the players declaring their own skills and if necessary, bidding for teamwork dice.

Now, about teamwork. Hyper-competent people don’t usually ask for help from other hyper-competent people. If they do ask for help and the other player agrees, they give up all of their dice to the requestor. But they may say “No!” and if they do, they actually take dice from the character who’s asking. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, and being turned down actually makes you weaker. If that happens, the player who’s been declined may then take dice from the communal teamwork pool, but that’s a finite shared resource.

Other features of the system include a FATE-like Traits that may be burned for extra dice immediately, and Escalation. As the mission proceeds, the GM Escalates her dice pool whenever the players win a conflict (or run away… hyper-competent people should be punished for running away). Escalation is just the addition of two extra dice to the GM’s base pool.

Presentation-wise, the writing is top-notch. Murray takes a lot of care to establish the premise in the introductory section, using examples from heist fiction (Heat, Ocean’s 11), and provides a comprehensive section for the GM on how to structure a mission. There are numerous examples that showcase the system’s potential as well, demonstrating that it can transcend Tarantino and moving into sf and fantasy (Highlander and Terminator are given as examples). This system would be equally at home running Inception, The Magnificent Seven, or Saving Private Ryan.

This is probably the best money I’ve spent on gaming this year–all $12 of it for the pdf.


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