October has become a strange time of year.

Two years ago we — that is the Oxford RPGSoc alumni — lost a dear friend Kate to a horrible illness. Kate was there when I formed a lot of the lasting friendships I have today. Kate played in my Vampire game in the 3rd year. Kate would be my age, were she still alive.

I found out in a horrible way. Early morning on the 2nd of October I was looking forward to a weekend of pre-birthday fun; while I was on a conference call to Singapore that morning I got an Outlook notification that popped up briefly to tell me that Kate had died, before fading slowly and ominously. I turned off Outlook notifiactions after that.

It fucked my day royally; and it coincided with a couple of business meetings that, at any other time I would have put down to differences in personal style, but which ended up shaping my impressions of two people forever (one I concluded is basically nice but a complete fuckwit, the other has a punchable face and today I would not piss on them were they on fire).

The previous night I’d been to see Wayne Hussey at the O2 Academy, so I was riding a post-Goth gig buzz. Weirdly this year I very nearly went to see Peter Murphy in concert (but didn’t thanks to a knackered achilles’ tendon). This reminded me what I was doing two years ago, and who I should be mourning.

One year ago at this time we announced that our first child was on the way; another emotional time because we’d tried for years, and pretty much everyone had assumed that we’d actively decided not to have children, when really we were being passively worn down by the assumptions and the friends and relatives having children and cooing over other people’s babies and generally seizing every opportunity to talk about kids. Kids, we were constantly reminded, are important.

This year has been a weird and horrible year, and a wonderful year too. For most people it’s the year all the celebs died — Bowie, Rickman, Prince, Nicholas Fisk, etc. For a couple of people we know and love it’s been more personal; and just to remind us that 2016 is not to be fucked with, someone else near to us has just been snatched away.

On the other hand thanks to the April 2015 legislation I took 6 months of parental leave this year — 3 months at the same time as my partner, and another three right now as she’s returned to work. The switch has felt jarring and completely natural at the same time. Instead of me getting home and being greeted with “Daddy’s home!” I get him all day and my partner gets the big smiles when she gets in. But this week has been the first week I’ve been alone with our son all day. I’ve not been alone all day probably since I was a student. Of course back then I just talked to myself, now I have a sub-lingual infant to converse with, and he’s the best thing ever.

(a thing about parental bonding — when our kid arrived I did not immediately feel love and affection, I felt a mixture of horror and crushing responsibility. Feeling actual love took a couple of days)

Anyway. I’d felt less and less able to celebrate my birthday as time wore on, but mostly it was apathy. Then, 2014 meant that I would never again really be celebrating this week. All the birthday wishes I got for joining Facebook (which I needed to do to connect with all the people around Kate) and telling it my DOB felt hollow, even though I know they were well-meant.

Things will settle down next year, so maybe I’ll feel different in 2017. But I’m having a hard time thinking October isn’t just a bit broken. This year I think I’ll just give thanks for all the friends I still have, and send my emotional energy their way.

Farewell, Lady Manvers. We fenced, we fought, we danced and sang, we brawled, we drank, we gambled, blackmailed, smuggled, spied for the French, wore absurdly tight breeches, gave each other the pox, started fist-fights in stately homes, hunted for Black Dick, had affairs, trysts, married and divorced, bled, were poisoned, garrotted, pushed off battlements, died of consumption, collapsed in a heap, jumped on the bed, pretended to be swans, shot, stabbed, slapped, punched, posed, ponced, reposed, fainted, farted and belched, used and abused and were thoroughly rotten scoundrels, miscreants and bad sorts all round, very likely dicked in the nob.

It was a glorious time, and none of it would have happened if not for you. Thinking of you behaving badly, forever.

Yours with love,

Captain Richard Brown.

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I’ve never been to GenCon, and I certainly haven’t followed the Ennies, it’s not really where I intersect with the hobby. However I am aware thanks to social media that Red and Pleasant Land has just won a bunch of awards (gold for best writing and silver for best adventure and product of the year, I think) in spite of having a fanbase supposedly in the minority compared to the total number of voters, and therefore “no chance of winning”.

This means a decidedly not mainstream-common-denomenator-product, produced by a not mainstream publisher, won several awards. It means that it is possible for a niche, independent product to win a mainstream popularity contest on quality of writing and vision. Much more interesting than yet another award going to a mainstream game line that I have no interest or investment in. (At this point I confess that I don’t own a copy of RPL yet, though I’ve got Vornheim and Death Frost Doom and I like those, they’re quality.)

And yeah, Zak S has his fans, there was still a hype machine, but… as far as I’m concerned that’s fair play, that’s politics. So congrats to Zak, James Raggi and whoever else worked on RPL! Jolly good. But while we’re at it, two other awards I care about:

Congrats to Stacy Dellorfano for the Contessa Blog award!

…and to Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws for the award for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff!

At least, I think I’ve got that right.

(I know some people might be annoyed by this owing to the personalities involved… well, whatever. I don’t have a dog in that fight. Also personally this weekend is shaping up to be shit on a stick without the stick. Let’s just try to get along and be happy for each other, eh?)

I don’t really do politics here.

What I do is write about RPGs and other things that interest me. And while a portion of that is about theory and design of games, a good portion — at least when this blog started — is just about things I like to consume.

So this piece is about me as a consumer. Yes, it’s slightly political, but only because politics are getting in the way of my decisions about what I can and can’t consume.

VAT MOSS and Digital Sales

A lot of what I consume these days comes in digital form — without that I’d be unable to sample many, many games and ebooks from other countries. I’m a believer in the digital marketplace.

I’m also a believer in the small press, indie RPG and ebook scene. It’s easier than ever to write your own game, put it into a pdf and just sell it. That’s a great thing — not only are individuals wholly in control of their own creative content, they don’t have to content with logistical issues of printing and shipping.

(Some day I may be one of those small press publishers, but for now I’m just noodling about, writing drafts and enjoying other people’s content.)

Now, from Jan 1st 2015 there will be a change in the EU law that means VAT is levied at the country where the buyer is, not the seller. This is a measure to prevent big corporations like Amazon paying low VAT rates by locating themselves in member states with low VAT rates. Unfortunately it’s likely to have a devastating effect on small businesses who sell electronic goods. Not only could it affect the VAT threshold in the UK requiring registration, it also would require sellers to keep two identifying pieces of information from each customer they serve — identifying the country where the customer was when the purchase was made — securely for 10 years, on an EU-based server. Furthermore the measures that the HMRC think will help sole-traders — selling on platforms — not only divert profits from sole traders to those intermediaries (e.g. Amazon, the irony), but may not even be compliant or willing to comply.

There’s more information in various places. There’s a UK Facebook group, a Change.org petition directed at Vince Cable and another one directed at Pierre Moscovici, and several other great articles about why #VATMOSS is going to be a #VATMESS:

I’m sorry I don’t have time to curate them all, but they should be easy to find if you look. Last but important link is this survey:

http://euvataction.org/take-action-now/complete-the-survey/

I don’t have a digital business, but if you do, please look at it.

But anyway. Let’s set aside the concerns of the small business owner, even though I really feel for all my creative friends who are being affected by this mess. Let’s ignore the effects on the culture of creator owned and sold works, even though they’re my kind of people. Let’s just think about me, the consumer. What does this mean?

It means less choice. Projects never seeing the light of day. People unable to make a living doing creative stuff, therefore having to do much less of it in their spare time while they do a “real job” during the day. All because it’s so confusing and such an administrative burden that, for the individual creator, the joy at creating and selling their own work becomes ever so slightly less than the massive inconvenience they suffer to get it out to the public.

I’m not saying it will definitely be this bad. But there are people considering stopping digital sales at the start of next year because of the uncertainty around compliance and the fear of fines from EU states. Whether it’s because the administrative burden is real or just that this issue has been badly communicated, we’ve already lost out.

That’s why I’m boosting the signal here. I expect the handful of people who read this blog are going to be consumers like me, so you need to know. And you should support the creative people around you.

EU Flag

I want to say something deep and heartfelt about Kate, and the stuff that keeps coming to the surface seems random and superficial. Like Kate playing Imogen in my Vampire game, more than 20 years ago. Or Kate reffing the orgy scene in Thieves’ Guild II (no, nothing like that. It was veiled and tasteful. And funny. And a bit tragic). Kate reading my palm and saying “wow, look at that fate line!” (with no further information… is that good?). Kate yelling “TAB SCUM!” from a car window and giving a Cambridge Uni minibus a broadside with a super soaker.

I think everyone has some tacit feeling about Kate that is bigger than words, and this patchwork of scenes is the best we can hope for. I started writing this about a dozen times and nothing came up to scratch. Eventually I grabbed the Oblique Strategies — which is I guess a kind of secular Tarot — and the card I drew said “Humanize something free of error” (sic).

I’m still not quite sure what it means, but somehow it resonates, so that’s what I’m working towards.

I want to focus on Kate, but I’m having a hard time separating my impression of Kate from a significant time in my life when she was very present — and that’s further complicated because it wasn’t just Kate, it was a whole load of people that gravitated around my Vampire game in my 3rd year.

I should have been studying for finals, and instead I was immersed in a terrific group of friends. We played games and hung out. It was an inspiring time to be gaming, too. There was a revolution happening in OURPGSoc; the zeitgeist was the “society game”, a very real cultural change in the way our society interacted.

Kate embraced and embodied all of this change. I’m sure that the change would have happened nonetheless; but a lot of what made that cultural change so tangible and immediate to me was Kate. I’ll try to explain.

I met Kate the previous summer, at the prototypical society game LARP, Conclave. I’d arrived halfway through the campaign, and Kate was probably the first person who spoke to me as I was trying to decide what to do with my first turnsheet.

The interactions were not as ourselves, but our characters — so our initial friendship was entirely fictional. But Kate was totally invested in every character she played — just as she was totally invested in her people and the things she gave her time to. Getting swept up in her commitment to gaming was a kind of role-player’s epiphany.

Then at the end of the game I was musing about what I would run in the Autumn, and I talked about Vampire, and Kate practically leapt on the idea. Now inspiring people have come into my life at times and told me that I should do something, that it was worthwhile and within my grasp when I had doubts. Like the time a teacher told me I was smart enough to apply to Oxford, and so I did. Well, Kate liking the idea of playing Vampire was one of those times. That may not sound like it was in the same league, but it totally was.

And when the third year came it pretty much defined my life thereafter — the potential of games, my own ability to play and run them, and what I wanted from friendships and community. Kate’s confidence in me was a big part of that, though not the only part. Kate was one of the forces that bound that particular group of people together so strongly and created such lasting interactions.

I haven’t even touched upon all the things Kate did after that — all the brilliantly creative things she gave to our gaming community as a player and an author and a leader. People drifted away from Oxford and came back. I didn’t see Kate so much in later life, but I remember that when we did end up in the same place it felt like we just picked up where we’d left off. It was a tribe thing.

If I hadn’t known Kate, I probably wouldn’t have been any poorer for friends. I may still have run the Vampire game and met and loved the same girlfriend, formed the same friendships, and played way too much when I should have been working. I don’t want to underestimate the impact all those other people have had on me. But I do know that there are some people I would never have met and formed deep friendships with, and insights into life I would have missed if not for Kate.

This is a poor imitation of all the thanks I want to give for Kate.

Kate, I’m really glad I blew off studying to play games with you. It changed my life.

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