Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Eight Drunken Gods

In Drunken Master Beggar So’s art manifests through the Eight Drunken Gods (derived from the Eight Immortals).

These eight avatars are the expression of mastery not through principle but rather allegory and imitation. In the climactic final battle against Thunderleg, Freddie Wong (Chan) performs a variety of special moves, “spending” each god in turn during the battle, with varying success. This gives a couple of RPG ideas:

Gaining Levels

  1. During character creation, ascribe one or more gods (avatars) to your expert skill. These represent your signature actions when using that skill.
  2. As you gain levels, new powers, or more things to do with your skill, add a new god.

Using the Gods

  1. Use these in the narrative by describing your skill’s action allegorically using your avatar/god.
  2. Designers: use the gods as resources, such that each god can only be expended once per scene/session/adventure.

World-Building

Write your gods on index cards, and put them on the table. Have the other players and GM use them to build their characters using their own reflections of the gods. Have the GM represent the world and its pantheons using the same aspects. Share the pantheon of many gods, or many reflections of the same eight gods.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Just One Drink: Martini

52% of my fellow Britons want to leave the EU. I have no idea what this will mean long term, but the pound is already suffering. I’m sad, because I like being European as well as British.

Here’s a martini made with Spanish gin and French vermouth. Yes, I know it’s early.

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Gin Mare is the gin of choice, a really interesting gin with lots of herbs and no fixatives (orris root, etc.). But that’s OK because it’s not going to last long. Noilly Prat is the vermouth of choice, and it’s great for cooking too. I’m trying Regan’s orange bitters (as an alternative to Fee’s).

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Mix the lot in a mixing glass and stir, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish. I like green olives. I use a ratio of 3:1 gin to vermouth plus a bar spoon of bitters, which was fashionable around the 1920s.

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It’s a fairly complex and subtle martini. I think the Gin Mare may be better shaken in a dirty martini, but it’s tasty anyway. The Regan’s is very different from Fee’s, much less citrus and a lot of spice. Probably better suited to savoury cocktails in general, though I’ll keep the Fee’s for my gimlet recipe. Chin chin!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Just One Drink: French 75

This is the recipe I used for a cheapskate French 75:

  • 25 ml gin
  • 25 ml lemon juice
  • 25 ml sugar syrup
  • 100 ml cava or prosecco
  • slice of pink grapefruit

french75ingredients

The IBA’s standard recipe is 6:3:1.5 champagne to gin to lemon juice, with a couple of dashes of sugar syrup. Cross’s Classic 1000 Cocktails halves the gin and uses a teaspoon of caster sugar. Ideally the garnish should be a maraschino cherry but I was out of those.

french75premix

Combine the gin, juice and sugar in a glass and mix with a bar spoon. Then just add ice and top off with sparkling wine and garnish.

french75chinchin

Chin chin!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Just One Drink: Gimlet

A gimlet is a small, sharp tool for drilling holes, and a gimlet cocktail is similarly short and sharp. According to my favourite cocktail book (Robert Cross’ Classic 1000 Cocktails) the Gimlet emerged in 1930 as a cross between two cocktails, a Gimblet (1 1/2 gin, 1/2 lime juice) and a Gimlet (1:1 msr Plymouth gin and Roses Lime Cordial). The adjusted recipe in the book is

  • 2 msr Gin
  • 3/4 msr Roses Lime Cordial
  • Soda Water (optional)

This may be traditional but it’s a crap cocktail. You can do much, much better with fresh lime juice and simple syrup (i.e. make your own cordial). There are more recipes on the wikipedia page here, but my recipe is even better.

Secluded Gimlet

Gather your ingredients. Always use a decent gin that you like enough to sip neat — Boodles here works well, but I’d use Bulldog if I had some. Even though there’s a strong citrus flavour, the wrong gin will give a soapy undertone.

gimlet-ingredients

The other ingedients are the juice of a fresh lime, simple syrup, and my special ingredient — orange bitters (Fee’s here).

  • 60 ml gin
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 20 ml syrup
  • A dash (or bar spoon — 5 ml ish) of orange bitters
  • Lots of ice
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Cocktail glass

There are a few ways to serve. An Old Fashioned glass works fine, but a conical martini-style glass is better to smell the fresh lime with the orange and gin aromatics.

gimlet-mix

Just combine the gin, juice, syrup and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard. I reckon you want to aerate the cocktail, which will change the mouth feel and aroma. When you pour there should be a little foam on top.

You could scoop out some ice at the end and float it in the drink if you want. Hold the glass by the base.

gimlet-done

Chin chin

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Just One Drink: Gin & Tonic

So, as a new parent I can only really have one or two drinks in the evening. Cocktails make it easier to ration alcohol, and I like gin. This is a really nice G&T.

The G&T was a way to make tonic water palatable by adding gin in the early 19th century (if you believe Wikipedia). The question is, were the colonial British consuming a London Dry gin which would have emerged in the later 19th century, or something else like genever, juniper spirit or Old Tom gin?

Wikipedia reckons the gin to tonic ratio can be as low as 1:1, which may have been a reasonable ratio with much more bitter tonic and sweeter Old Tom and a lower alcohol content in the gin. But for a modern G&T and a London Dry gin a 1:1 mix is too much. This isn’t a spirit with a dash of soda — a G&T should be aromatic and refreshing and cold.

The only reason to use a ratio stronger than 1:3 is if you’ve got crap tonic and/or watery gin and just want to taste alcohol. Avoid these both.

Gin

boodles

You can get away with something insipid like Bombay Dry or Gordons (that’s modern Gordons, vintage Gordons is apparently a different thing) but there are much better gins for the same money. I used Boodles here which is surprisingly light and delicate, but with a lot of aromatic juniper and coriander that works well in the G&T. Other worthwhile gins are

These three are around £14-16. If you want to spend more money (£25+) there’s Sipsmith or Chase Distillery’s Extra Dry gin. Boodles is right in the middle at £20.

Avoid anything really expensive like Botanist, you won’t get the benefit (sip that one neat). Also anything too floral like Bloom will be wasted because the other scents will overwhelm the gin.

Tonic

tonic

You can use a mediocre gin and make a pretty good drink with decent tonic, but the reverse is not possible. I’m biased because I can’t stand artificial sweeteners, but even so Schweppes has an undeserved reputation (like Bombay Sapphire) and is only acceptable if you’re not taking your G&T orally. These are good tonics:

  • Fever Tree is the most widely available, and comes in little fridge packs of 8x150ml cans. This is what I’m using here. They also do Mediterranean, Elderflower and Lemon tonics which are good
  • Fentiman’s tonic is harder to find and it’s more astringent than Fever Tree (in a good way)
  • Tesco does a “Finest” tonic water that doesn’t have artificial sweeteners. It’s nice but I always found it was a bit flat out of the can.

Glass

glass

These days people seem to be recommending balloon glasses rather than highballs, but I tend not to use our stemware much because it doesn’t fit easily in the dishwasher and I’m lazy. I’ve used an Old Fashioned glass because I like the way it feels in the hand and you still get a lot of surface area to enjoy the aromas.

Garnish

garnish

Lime or lemon is classic, and Mango and black pepper is scientifically proven to be the best. I like a big slice of pink grapefruit and I’m also adding black pepper.

Method

Hardly rocket science but you must chill the tonic (obv) and you can also chill the glass with ice, and drain off melt water using a hawthorne strainer (you could even chill the glass using a bar spoon, but that’s hard for me to photograph)

hawthorne

Then add the gin… a 30ml measure will give you a 1:5 ratio with the can of tonic, and still be a fine drink with around 6.5% alcohol and plenty of character if the gin is decent.

If you want to be pretentious you can pour the tonic using a bar spoon as in this video from Bombay Sapphire and this post to minimise loss of bubbles.

Cut a wedge of citrus, run the fruit around the edge of the glass then drop it in the drink. Add pepper over the top. Chin chin!

GnT

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Nine Worlds 2015

Whew! Back from 9 Worlds, and it was much fun. I learned a lot about podcasts, listened to skeptics talk about fairies (Deborah Hyde), spent a lot of time on the history and academia track, listened to panels on death, gothic literature and a cage fight between SF and Fantasy, enjoyed the panel on diversity in LARP, and many other things.

badge

This is Dr Simon Trafford who presented Why Sing Pop In Dead Languages and explained how Dead Can Dance has transformed Christian period songs into vaguely spiritual-sounding neoclassical gothic mush (yeah, but I like that stuff).

pagan

This is Jensen’s gin. I tried both their Bermondsey (London dry) and Old Tom (pre 1830’s style) gins, and both are really great.

gin

more gin

Now I have to get something off my chest. Dystopian fiction featured heavily this year — from the Arcadia or Armageddon and I Predict A Riot panels to Vanessa Thompsett’s excellent Dystopian London In Fiction (which was absolutely spot on, discussing how Huxley, Orwell and Moore change the psychogeography of the London we know to create their dystopias). I say this:

Dystopia is not the same as post-Apocalypse.

The panelists repeatedly conflated these two terms, and although there is overlap they are not the same thing. Apocalypse is nearly always about scarcity and community. Dystopia is about social control, unfair living conditions, arbitrary laws and non-transparent hierarchy structures, etc.

Of course dystopia can arise in a post-apocalypse world (e.g. H. M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow). But it was a bit annoying to hear The Road being referred to with some regularity in the Utopia/Dystopia conversation.

Props to the awesome Geoff Ryman for (a) calling out the lack of utopian vision in modern fiction (and pointing out that ISIS is at least someone’s utopian vision) and (b) plugging Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland which is an example of a progressive yet utopian novel (when a lot of utopian concepts are regressive and pastoral — compare that to dystopias which are post-industrial and feature travel, advances in science, etc.).

For a proper post-apocalyptic vision I did enjoy Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge — so much I bought the book:

knowledge1

knowledge 2

Yes, it’s popular science but all good fun and very level headed — a laundry list of different things you would need to get society running again after a collapse, from food and water to fuel, transport, communication (the printing press!) and very interestingly time and place, i.e. how to make an accurate calendar for agriculture, and how to navigate to places. If you want a shortcut for game research, this is pretty good.

All in all another fine convention, thoroughly recommended.

notes

going well

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Black Marks Of Shame

Book

Mmm, gaming holiday. I played three fun games:

  • Grand Exhibition was an alt-Cthulhu game (that is, SAN loss and horror but not the mythos) around displaying an artist’s mind-bending work all in one place, with hilarious consequences.
  • Keeper’s Cottage was about running a B&B in a weird village at the junction between the human and fairy worlds.
  • Relics Of The Past was about running around Paris being a sociopathic were-cat.

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The game I wish I’d played but didn’t was another run through Liz’ Rise and Fall, this time with a fat-shaming dystopia involving doughnut quotas, cupboard inspections, and the first public eating of chocolate on TV for a decade.

Less fun was being laid out with the ‘flu for a day, which severely got in the way of drinking:

Gimlet

For the Gimlet just take the juice of a lime, 2 measures of a nice gin (I use Blackwood’s), a measure of 50% sugar syrup, a few drops of Fee’s Orange Bitters, shake with ice and strain.

French 75

For the French 75, juice a lemon and add a measure of gin and one of sugar syrup, stir a bit, then add lots of ice to a tall glass, top up with fizzy wine (cheap Cava in this case), add a cherry, lemon slice and straws.

(there are lots of different ways to serve this one but the over-ice method comes from my classic cocktails book. It’s like a poncy Tom Collins)

french75

Anyway, games.

Transuranic World

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This was the first game I ran, and it went OK but clearly needs work — so it was good to playtest before the next outing which will be at 7 Hills. The premise is Sapphire and Steel, Powered by the Apocalypse. So far I haven’t looked beyond one-shot games, but creating a longer term Front for play that links Agents and The Enemy over different missions shouldn’t be too difficult, and PbtA’s concepts of Clocks and Threats are just what I needed.

I think the players thought the Human would be boring. Certainly if you were offered the chance to play either the supernatural Steel or Sapphire, or one of the many humans that end up as collateral damage, it’s an obvious choice. However when we came to play I was pleased that the human had plenty to do, although I should have made more of her Local Knowledge / Historical Context powers.

The PvP aspects of the moves weren’t really explored because that mode of play wasn’t really familiar to the players (none of whom had played PbtA games). But also the game had a strong mission focus that meant inter-party fighting wasn’t part of the fiction.

As you’d expect from an investigation game a lot of the first moves would be observation in order to divine where the next clue was. In keeping with canon the Sapphire PC had plenty to do, and spent most of his time reading the situation and opening his mind. The Silver (Engineer) and Steel (Director) PCs had less to do by comparison, although both had fairly strong abilities. I was also a bit surprised at how much fighting went on in the end stages — so clearly this is another place some playbooks can be expanded and reinforced, which is good.

A few powers didn’t work, like Sacrifice (because the exchange rate of Harm for Help was not good). Also while Hx should have come into things with Steel ordering the other characters around and helping them or being helped by them, the actual Hx values I assigned were too low to be helpful. I think I mistook Hx for being liked. That’s another fix.

The most gratifying part: the players said it was true to the genre in their eyes, which is what matters above all. I think apart from the minor issues of some moves not making sense I’m not in too bad shape for the next run through.

Death Comes To Wyverley

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I ran my modified version of Beyond the Wall on the last day. Much more within my comfort zone than Transuranic World. Nevertheless the game was still a playtest, as in I wasn’t just running a one-shot but a reusable game pack. Any mechanical changes I’d made needed to be solid.

The first problem was time; despite planning the playbooks last year I’d still only half-finished them (excuses, excuses; lots of foreign travel and stress). The common tables for nearly all the playbooks are done and got used, but the others are still in progress.

Since I didn’t have time to present them in the state I wanted, I improvised a bit of storygame-type character generation which I now submit as an alternative and systemless approach. It goes like this:

  1. Your playbook concept has four key questions to ask about your character.
  2. Ask each question in turn by going around the group and asking the other players for an answer.
  3. The player then picks the answer they like the most.
  4. GM fills in the stat upgrades, skills and powers that you’d normally get from the playbook (while the players break for lunch).

It took a bit longer than the standard method and there was afterwork required by the GM, but it worked really well. The links to the playbooks overview and common tables are provided at the bottom.

Other things I worked into the game:

  • Relationships worked well, coming directly from the common tables at character gen (see link below). I don’t think they need any mechanical weight, just a line item on the character sheet.
  • Modified damage rules worked very well. The idea was to limit the rate of hit-point loss so the players wouldn’t turn around for home at the first hint of damage; but it was all illusiory, and just made the PCs take more risks and go closer to 0 HP. In the end everyone survived but two PCs were right at the edge of Death. No rolls fudged.
  • Speaking of Death, three characters ended up in the First Precinct thanks to misuse of the Abhorsen’s bells and one PC being actually properly dead (but they got better). The rules for sliding towards the Gates worked, and will need minimal tweaking.
  • They used the Abhorsen’s Bells a lot. Here I tweaked the Ritual rules and made the game level-less, so the Abhorsen-in-waiting did end up ringing Saraneth, but the stakes were still there. She was lucky that she never ended up a slave to Saraneth’s will, although she screwed up Kibeth and threw half the party into Death at one point.

The main problem I had was the constant switching between roll-over (to hit and saving throws) and roll-under (stat checks for skill rolls, etc.). It’s something I’ve always had a problem with in Beyond the Wall and I’m not sure how to fix other than by the group just getting familiar with it.

The next change I intend to make is with the damage system, using Armour as a damage reduction mechanism — reducing the roll on the dice before damage is calculated. Even 1 point of armour will have a 1 in 3 chance of reducing the damage taken.

That deviates further from the standard D&D AC model, but that’s a trivial fix. Just create a Dodge attribute that rises with the levels in line with wearing better and better armour, and use that value in place of AC when a monster rolls to-hit. All you’ve done is change a class attribute from being externally regulated (by class permission and money) to internally (by level).

The other change I’m considering is to the character’s levels, possibly to remove them entirely. However as clunky as levels appear actually I think they work really well. Superimposed over the college system they could work in-fiction, too.

Useful links for the game so far (links to pdf docs):

Monday, 1 April 2013

Chorizo and Cannellini Soup

Every so often we roast a chicken or duck. The bones get made into stock, the leftover meat goes in a cassoulet or risotto or jambalaya, stock gets used as and when needed.

One thing we don’t make often is soup–probably because chicken stock lends itself to vichyssoise, which I don’t really like. We never get the consistency right.

But since I failed to remember to portion and freeze the stock so ended up with a lot of stock to use in one go, I decided to try soup again. It’s a twist on the cassoulet recipe, and it worked out well enough that I’m writing it down. Not vegetarian obviously, but it is gluten free.1

Rough proportions:

2 onions, some shallots and garlic cloves

About 6 potatoes that are sprouty and frightening to behold, but scrub up nicely when peeled

About a litre of chicken stock

A chorizo sausage

2 packets / tins cannellini beans

1 packet / tin chopped tomatoes

Mixed herbs (or whatever needs using up)

Dash of balsamic vinegar if you want

Dash of sherry, ditto

Bit of cream if you have it

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p>I chopped the onions and fried them in the pot (nice big Le Creuset casserole pot), then processed the shallots, garlic and chorizo in a little food processor until it had the consistency of homemade burger meat. I then fried that for a bit, so the paprika in the meat turned the cooking oil orange.

While that was going on I chopped up the potatoes nice and small. Then in went the stock, potatoes, beans (drained), tomato, herbs, vinegar and sherry. Vinegar and sherry probably not needed, but both usually work well with chorizo.

The pot was then simmered until the potatoes were tender (about 1.5 episodes of NCIS). I like soup smooth-ish so it went in the blender.2 Most of the soup stayed in the blender, and when done I had about 8 big bowlfuls. Finish with a little swirl of cream but it doesn’t really need it.


  1. Unlike some lentiles vertes I bought recently, which went in a cassoulet and gave me awful heartburn. I guess they use flour to lubricate the flow of the lentils in the factory. Usually pretty good at reading packets for allergy advice, but beans? Come on.

  2. If you’re using up fresh woody herbs, take the twigs out first!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Nothing more than another glass of wine

 On the last shopping trip to the wine merchants I happened to find a bottle of 2009 Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais Villages among the 2010 bottles.

Beaujolais

The 2009 tastes better than the 2010 (more body, better balance of acidity, fruitier), which is what I expected since 2009 was a really good year for Beaujolais. A 2009 Fleurie is a great value bottle that you can lay down for a few years, if unlike me you can restrain yourself…

The thing about Beaujolais is it’s rarely discounted in supermarkets so doesn’t feature in the outrageous 3 for a tenner discounts – so it’s always the wrong side of a fiver a bottle (usually closer to ten) and doesn’t look like good value. But here’s the rub – the discounted supermarket wines are not worth their alleged full price when compared with the likes of a decent Beaujolais. They’re worth the discounted price, that’s all (still good value if you want to make a nice coq au vin).

The massive discounts and market presence of Australian wine in the UK has more to do with volume discounts and less to do with quality. But I’m a bit biased because I don’t really like new world wines much – too much alcohol and sugar and not enough acidity to cope with food. I do think you get what you pay for with wine and the unsexy French wine could actually represent better value for money, albeit at a higher cost per bottle.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Starbucking

There’s an apocryphal tale I know about Hershey’s chocolate. Once upon a time it was made in batches, and milk deliveries were lined up outside the factory waiting to go into each batch. They found out they had issues with taste consistency – batches made early in the morning tasted different to those at the end of the day. Then they found out why – it was because the milk used in the afternoon batches had turned slightly in the sun, while the morning batches were completely fresh. The solution? They deliberately “matured” the milk so it was all sour before it went into the factory. Add some carnauba wax and as little cocoa as you can get away with, and hey presto, that authentic american chocolate taste – every bar the same.

I have no idea if the milk story is true, although Wikipedia notes that the product is “less sensitive to the freshness of milk” and suggests the milk is indeed treated prior to use. But it wouldn’t surprise me that this measure is less about taste, and more about product consistency. I’ve worked in the manufacturing industry for over 15 years now and product consistency follows raw material consistency. If you can make a change that eliminates variation without affecting quality or demand, it’s a good thing.

I’m sitting at my desk with a milky americano made from Starbucks’ Caffe Verona whole bean coffee. Just as Hershey’s treat their milk, Starbucks over-roast their beans so that wherever you are in the world,  a Starbucks bean will taste the same.

Unfortunately this does affect quality. I like a nice dark roasted coffee like a Sumatra or an Italian roast, and my tastes have changed recently from filter to a moka pot, but Starbucks have completely roasted the nuts off this coffee and robbed it of any subtlety. In a filter it lacks acidity or any complexity, but is also devoid of aromatic oils that provide mouthfeel of a decent cup of joe.

La macchinetta  Alessandro Mendini

So I tried it in the macchinetta (lovely interpretation above by Allesandro Mendini) thinking it was fit for espresso. Normally I use Cafe Direct’s espresso, Illy, or Percol’s Black and Beyond. If anything the lack of oils was even more obvious, and the brew was disappointingly thin.

The beans aren’t bad, per se – but they were more expensive that my regular choices (excepting the Illy, which comes in a poncy but useful tin). Perhaps I can use them in a gluten-free tiramisu.