"Scotland doesn't have a climate. It just has weather." Malcolm Craig
I've been on this Earth for thirty-five years, and for all of that time have thought of Scotland in much the same way as men have historically thought of the clitoris: I was vaguely aware that it existed, but had never felt any need to visit it.
But then I met some Scottish guys at various Irish cons who told me of the convention that they run in Edinburgh, called Conpulsion. They spoke of how it had been modelled after Gaelcon. They explained what a fine and hospitable city Edinburgh is. They offered me a floor to sleep on. And they explained that Conpulsion was not part of the mainstream UK RPG scene, and that there was therefore no chance of me running into a Continuity RPGA hit-squad.
But I'd already bought VIP tickets for K2 on a weekend adjacent to Conpulsion, so I went there instead.
Thus 2004 passed as the years from 1969 to 2003 had passed, with me still staying resolutely south of the border. And so we came to 2005...
The travelling party this time consisted of me and Bubba (who for various reasons had never managed to come along to any of the Irish conventions), and since he's a seasoned flier he'd earlier volunteered to buy the tickets. I was travelling without my usual food filled suitcase because BoxNinja, who we were staying with (along with noted industry figure Mytholder), had generously volunteered to buy me a bunch of food from Sainsburys. This then led to the following conversation between myself and Bubba on Thursday night.
Bubba: What time's the flight tomorrow?Now, I just want to make it absolutely clear at this point that when Bubba shoved his credit card into the machine at Terminal one and said machine did the machine equivalent of a shrugged, "Sorry mate, never heard of you" I didn't say a word.
Not one word!
Except for pointedly pointing out that I wasn't saying a word of course.
I continued to not say a word (except etc. etc.) when the computer at the check-in desk (which as it happens, didn't have a queue) managed to find a record for us, but only in the context of a record tagged with the instructions "Go to the customer service desk".
I continued to say nothing throughout this entire process, breaking my silence only when Bubba pointed at me and half-jokingly said, "You'd better not blog this!" at which point I asked him which part of the statement on my t-shirt did he not understand?
My "I'm Blogging This" T-shirt
But that was all quickly sorted, and we headed off to our gate via WH Smiths and a duty free shop, during which I took the opportunity to take a sneaky self-portrait of my t-shirt caption while Bubba wasn't looking.
The flight was good, and for once, on time, and we were pretty soon in a cab heading for BoxNinja's place, which - since he lives on the other side of the city from the airport - meant that we got to travel through the heart of the New Town, which despite the name is actually quite old.
Now I should at this point state that as someone who has no particular love of driving I'm a big fan of having someone else drive me from A to B. Let's call that person a driver. And as someone who loves to find out all the little details about a place, I like the idea of someone local to give me all the info. Let's call him a tour guide.
I just would rather they were separate people.
Our taxi-driver was a very friendly, knowledgeable chap, who'd immediately enquired as to where we were from, and - upon finding that we were tourists in town for the weekend - had given each of us a free, handy-dandy tourist guide, complete with map.
Which he then started to talk us through. So, whilst driving along a dual carriageway at about sixty, he'd lean over to Bubba - who was sitting in the front seat - and point his finger at a point on the map, saying, "There it is, just there!" Then he'd do the same with me and my map.
And I was sitting in the back seat at the time.
But despite our cab spending long periods on auto-pilot while our tour-guide and sometime cab-driver was damn-near sitting in the back with me, we made it safely to BoxNinja's place, where we staggered up the four flights of stairs that led to his flat (I'm not complaining mind, just pointing it out) and settled down while he finished off the final bit of the Ghostfighter supplement he was writing.
This should have been a quick job, but a combination of me pacing around, a brainstorming session that produced an excellent April Fool's idea that we may or may not do depending on whether we can be bothered and whether we bottle out, and the first of the two bottles of Jack Daniels that me and Bubba had bought at the airport, all conspired to delay things such that it was pushing eight o'clock when we finally headed out for food - minus Mytholder, who we presumed was somewhere in the city, but hadn't yet made an appearance.
Now I'd been a bit worried, before arriving in Edinburgh, about the prospects of finding vegan food. After all, this is a place where they deep-fry Mars bars in lard. (And it turns out that - much to Bubba's disgust - they deep fry pizza slices too). But I needn't have worried, because Edinburgh turns out to be very hospitable to vegans, and a combination of my Internet searching and BoxNinja's local searching ensured that I had plenty of places to eat.
Friday evening we headed for a place that BoxNinja had found, Hendersons. This was a cool place in the New Town, with a very wide range of vegan dishes, although as it turns out I had only one choice, since BoxNinja insisted that on this, my first visit to Scotland, the vegan haggis, tatties and neeps was the only acceptable choice.
(I think tatties are potatoes and neeps parsnips - although it might be the other way round)..
The haggis was nice, though not particularly earth-shattering - it just tasted like nicely spiced mock mince - but the combination of it, the mashed potato / parsnip mix, and the thick gravy made it a very tasty meal.
I know it looks like a rock, but from a process of elimination I'm pretty sure that's a veggie haggis with neeps and tatties (or is that tatties and neeps?)
And for drinks? Well how can you resist an item like "vegan organic vodka"?
Vegan organic vodka
We then headed off for the Auld Hoose (or something like that), a pub in the old town which an earlier phone call with Natural20 had established as the place where everyone was meeting up.
A whole gang of people were already there by time we arrived, including Natural20, RPGActionFigure, Angus Abranson, and Natural20's intriguingly named friend, Bob (intriguingly named because she is, in fact, a girl - yes, it is a Black Adder reference).
Unfortunately, during the time we spent at the pub I started to feel very unwell in the down in the guts department, and by the time we all got round to leaving to head to a party at CoffeeLifeform's place I was, if not in agony, in considerable discomfort - so much so that walking upright was quite a challenge.
Some of those present suggested that it must have been something I'd eaten, but as I pointed out to them, that only narrowed it down to four suspects:
- the two burgers (each consisting of a veggie burger, relish and two slices of toast) that I'd had for breakfast; or
- the Bombay potatoes, rice, and four slices of bread that I'd had for lunch; or
- the pot snack thing and three slices of bread I'd had at BoxNinja's as a late afternoon snack; or
- the veggie haggis, tatties, neeps, and vegan organic vodka I'd had at Henderson's.
(Some people did unkindly suggest, upon hearing that list, that the problem might perhaps been how much I'd eaten rather than what I'd eaten - but that's exactly the sort of smart arse comment that I've come to expect from people who somehow manage to get by on two cocktail sausages a day).
I can't remember that much about the party, not because I was drinking - although I did manage to get through a couple of the Barcardi Breezers that are my vegan drink of choice - but because I spent large parts of it worrying about the prospect of emitting noxious smells, follow through, or both.
Top Tip #1: If you find yourself talking to a couple of nice girls at a party, but are suffering from extreme wind, the best way to inform them of this is not to say, "I feel like I've got a beachball inside me turning me into a Home Erectus" because their brains, in an attempt to comprehend just what the hell you're going on about" will slice and dice the words of that statement and come up with, "I've got a beachball in my rectum turning me homo."Eventually, by about 1am, I was starting to flag, and even a couple of trips outside for some therapeutic farting hadn't solved my "down under" issues...
Top Tip #2: Taking a trip out into the street in order to dump excess pressure can be an excellent idea, but it is sensible to remember which front door you've just exited in order to avoid having to make a phone call to someone inside to confess that you're lost - which inevitably leads to you having to explain what the hell you're doing outside, anyway....so I suggested to BoxNinja that perhaps we ought to be off, and we (me, BoxNinja, Mytholder and Bubba) headed out to the street where we then waited for Microgirl, who was supposed to be sharing a taxi with us to her B&B, but who was currently engaging in the sort of long-drawn out goodbye that women often engage in.
(I mean, what's wrong with a manly handshake and a choked, "See ya..."?)
Knackered and ill, I squatted down, leaning against the front wall of someone's house and let off a few long parps.
Mytholder: That sounds just like the theme to Close Encounters.A few moments later microgirl came out and looked down at me with her arms folded.
Microgirl: What on Earth are you doing down there?Now I could now write, in the next paragraph, that Bubba had a foot in mouth moment, but that wouldn't really be fair. What actually happened was that he manoeuvred his foot to a point somewhere in front of his mouth, whereupon his friends (myself, BoxNinja and Mytholder) immediately seized said foot and jammed it past his tonsils.
It all started with a polite, conversational query:
Bubba: [To Microgirl] So, where are you staying tonight?Of course, by the time we'd finished cracking up, laughing, and totally warping what he'd actually said, it had gone done on the official record as an attempted proposition, and remained a useful conversational point throughout the weekend. After dropping Microgirl off at her B&B (amid many jokes about blindfolding Bubba so that he wouldn't know her whereabouts) we headed back to BoxNinja's place, where we climbed up the four flights of stairs (just saying, is all) and settled down for a long chat.
And a further initiation into the Cult of Machood that BoxNinja and Bubba were trying to draw me into.
I forgot to mention earlier that both of them have shiny new Mac PowerBooks, and so as soon as we'd arrived, they did what Mac owners always seem to do upon meeting - connect together wirelessly and start exchanging files, instead of, I don't know, talking?
During that earlier session I'd found myself being drawn into their web, thinking that "Well it isn't Microsoft" and "it would be nice to have a laptop where all the power management stuff worked" and to be honest, I'd started to waver. So it was good to have Mytholder there to balance things out.
After a long chat about life, the universe, gaming, and publishing, I finally said my goodbyes and headed off to the futon in BoxNinja's spare room where it had earlier been decided - during a discussion in which a strategy of "room containment" was conceived - that I should stay.
(It was like one of those fox, boat, chicken and corn logic problems: "Okay we've got one room with a futon and one room with a leather sofa and an airbed... the vegan can't sleep on the leather sofa, and no-one can sleep with the vegan in case he explodes during the night").
And that was Friday.
"Didn't there used to be a volcano out there?"
BoxNinja's flat is on the east side of the city somewhere to the north of Arthur's Seat - a four hundred and fifty million year old extinct volcano that sits beside the new Holyrood Parliament building at the eastern end of the historic old town - and from his kitchen window you can see the peak rising majestically above the rooftops. On Friday evening, both myself and Bubba had been much impressed with this view, looking admiringly at the Seat's green craggy slopes and noting the specks clustering on the summit (people, apparently), and concluding that it would be cool to climb it sometime and gaze across the city.
I was somewhat perturbed therefore to find therefore, upon rising on Saturday morning and staggering into the kitchen in search of some caffeinated wakeup juice, that there was no longer an extinct volcano outside BoxNinja's kitchen window. There was instead only sky.
It was still there. It was just hiding.
I would give you a picture we've taken of this mighty peak, but I can't, because having disappeared from view sometime over Friday night, the bastard stayed pretty much hidden for the rest of our stay.
BoxNinja was already up, and was followed shortly afterwards by Bubba, and we all decamped, coffee mugs in hand, into the lounge, where noted industry figure Mytholder was still asleep on the airbed. Which meant that he awoke (as he himself put it later) to the sight of a working Mac laptop to either side of him, giving him quite a "arghhh... cult of the Mac... don't drink the Kool Aid!" moment.
Eventually, we'd all got our various shits together, and we piled into a cab and headed for the Teviot Student Union (which can be found here). BoxNinja went on in to join the other Contested Ground guys on their stand, while me, Bubba and Mytholder queued outside. We did suggest to Mytholder that seeing as how he was in fact an official guest of the convention, he perhaps should jump the queue and claim his free entry; but gent that he is, he didn't.
Once inside, we headed for the CGS table, and chatted with the two CGS guys, Paul and Ian, who I hadn't previously met, before I headed for the Black Industries stand, to get my paws on what I was most eagerly looking forward to in the whole weekend: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition.
As most of you no doubt know, I'm a huge fan of this game after playing in a mega two year campaign run by General Tangent a few years back - and if you don't know you can click here, here, here and here to find out all about it. But since the old incarnation of Hogshead dropped out of roleplaying and handed the WFRP license back to Games Workshop the game has been in limbo. So I was very happy to see that it was coming back into print, seriously happy - with concerns - to find out that it was being revised rather than simply reprinted, and very seriously happy to find out that the returning edition was not being bought out by a small, underfunded licensee, but by Games Workshop themselves via their Black Industries publishing arm (with Green Ronin providing the design expertise).
So not only is WFRP back, it's back in the big time with a chance of taking roleplaying to a whole new untapped market: the 13 year old kids who hang around Games Workshop shops. Now the game itself wasn't being released to shops until the 29th, but Conpulsion had been granted the honour of being the venue for the world-wide launch of the second edition. Not only would we be able to play in a number of games run by the Black Industries staff - we'd even be able to get on paws on the first three products: the main rulebook, the character pack, and the scenario book.
Anyhow, I headed over to the stand and booked me and Bubba into the afternoon session and found that they had four scenarios on offer:
- An investigation one;
- A shipwreck one;
- A "day of the triffids" one;
- An action/assault one.
Bubba wasn't really bothered either way (I was the one who was insisting we should play the game) so I plumped for the investigation one. Then I grabbed a nice pristine rulebook from the stack of rulebooks on their stand and proffered some money.
"Oh no," they said. "We're not actually selling it. If you go over to the [name of games shop] stand in the corner they've got copies for sale."
How big time is that?
Most games companies go to conventions solely to get the chance to sell direct to the customer and thus get 100% of the cover price (rather than the 40% they'd get selling through shops). But not Black Industries! Actually sell our products? To you? Now? Pah! We're not going to sully ourselves with such base commercialism!
I felt a bit of a prat to be honest.
But a few minutes later I was the proud possessor of a set of WFRP 2 books, courtesy of the guys in the corner - whose name I now forget. I only had chance for a quick flick through them, but they looked very, very nice.
A little while later I caught up with Mytholder, who was looking for people to play a playtest game of the Paranoia card game he is developing for Mongoose Publishing (who he works for). I can't now recall when I'd heard about this, but I had heard about it, and was looking forward to trying it, so I was pretty keen to get into this play session. The players in the end were Mytholder, me, Natural20 and Microgirl.
I can't say too much about the game, because it is still in development, but I think I can say that it's looking very good. It still has a few kinks that need ironing out, such as games perhaps running a bit too long, but it accurately captures not only the feel of the Paranoia RPG, but the detail too. And it's not only a scream to play, but has some pretty good, challenging game play too.
Midway through the game Bubba came over to sit in and watch and give me a few pieces of advice. Pretty soon, I was doing pretty well and pushing for a victory, although some people might feel that my turn of success was somewhat tempered by the fact that by this time Bubba's advice was along the lines of, "play this card on that one there, then select that, and play that card..."
Hell, by the end I think he was drawing and playing the cards! (Although I think he was still letting me hold the hand). At the end though, Microgirl made a late charge to win the game.
We then had some coffees, and I munched on a few snack bars before heading off to play our WFRP game, which took place in the main games room - which unlike many conventions was physically separate from the trade hall.
As it happens, they only had enough people to play one game, so we didn't get to play the investigation game. But the game was good. The GM kept things going nicely, and one of the guys we were playing with played a very entertaining, fanatical priest. The game involved a town being taken over by mobile, carnivorous plants (about half way through I blurted out, "Oh! This is the Day of the Triffids one!" - which caused a raised eyebrow and a smiled "You only just figured that out?" from Bubba) and nicely showcased what it is that makes WFRP different from its obvious competitor Dungeons & Dragons.
I was also pretty pleased to see that while the game has been overhauled and streamlined, it's still very much WFRP. The feel is there, just with some of the rough edges smoothed off. (For example, there is now a proper separation between percentile and "out of ten" attributes).
My conclusion? Buy this game!
Earlier on, I'd gone through the Cruelty Free Guide to Edinburgh with BoxNinja, and got him to mark on the locations of some of the restaurants on the map in the tourist guide. It turned out that one of them, the Forest Cafe, was literally just across the road from the Teviot Studio Union, in Bristo Place. Well after the WFRP game, I decided to head on over and see if I could find this place.
I cannot over-emphasize how cool the Forest Cafe is. Aside from the fact that they do loads of vegan food, which is an obvious plus for me, they offer free Internet access (via their own computers, or getting your own laptop on line via either Ethernet or wi-fi), free use of the venue for events, a place to generally hang around and chill - and it's all run by unpaid volunteers. I had a veggie burger meal and then headed back over to the Student Union. The main event of the night was the auction, but first we had a special treat, a treat so special that they'd put the start of the auction back by forty-five minutes.
The first episode of the new Doctor Who.
Now this isn't the venue for a review of a TV programme, but I'll do it anyway, because I thought it was seriously, seriously cool, and because this was a wonderful way to see it. I could have watched the leaked version early on a computer somewhere. I could have been at home watching it on my telly. I could have missed it.
But instead I sat on a bench beside four enthralled friends plus Bubba (who is a friend, but wasn't particularly enthralled) watching it happen on a big, big screen. The perfect touch to a damn good day.
As for the episode, I loved it. Not perfect, but a fine, fine start. They'd managed to bring it into the modern age (I loved the Internet conspiracy guy and his website) whilst still keeping it very recognisably the Doctor Who we all know and mostly love.
(And if you don't feel the love, then kindly, with respect, leave the orgy and don't take the lube with you).
And so onto the auction.
I've written quite a bit in the past about some of the incredible auctions I've attended at Irish cons. Now this, clearly, being a British convention couldn't compete - and I'm not making any stereotypical digs at Scottish people here because the auctions at English cons are even worse.
But I have to say that RPGActionFigure and Scimon, who were running the auction, did an absolutely sterling job. Things did start a little slowly, and as the first few items started going up in pound increments ("Five pounds!" "Six pounds!" "Seven pounds!" "Ten pounds!" "Oooooh..."), and the Irish guys started to sport slightly smug/appalled expressions, I admit that I was a little worried.
But I needn't have been, because after a slightly slow start it warmed up.
I wasn't really looking to spend any money, what with me having ongoing building work at the moment, but I ended up getting three items:
- A set of twenty genuine Dark Dungeons pamphlets;
- A foam skull thing (I could hardly avoid that one, seeing as how RPGActionFigure introduced it by saying something like, "This one's for Jonny Nexus");
- A Conception 2005 programme that had been signed by nearly everyone attending the con).
It could have been worse though.
I could have bought a damn great sword like Bubba did. (And I told him this was a bad move, because he bought a similar sword at Dragonmeet, and while one item is a curiosity, two is a collection - and he should know, because he bought me my second skull ornament and look what that led to).
I should also mention three particularly generous and spirited gestures.
At the start of the auction, TimeForTea announced that a particular Conpulsion regular hadn't been able to attend this year as his granddaughter had recently died during heart surgery, and that in order to raise money in her memory he, time_for_tea, would cut his long hair short for charity. Or, as one of other of our two auctioneers put it, he would no longer "look like the bastard offspring of Legolas and Bill Bailey!"
The other two cool gestures came from our two auctioneers themselves, in response to a number of separate bids. Thanks to a number of cases where people said that they didn't want particular items, but would pay good money to inflict them on him, RPGActionFigure is now committed to reviewing a variety of crap DVDs - a Kelly Osborne one being the one that comes to mind - whilst wearing a mask and performing a variety of other forfeits.
Meanwhile, Scimon is committed to being driven to work by his regular car sharing partner TimeForTea whilst wearing a pink leotard and with his hair in a "Wolverine" style, at the end of which he will have his picture taken, with said picture then appearing on the back cover of an internationally distributed roleplaying magazine.
Anyway, the auction eventually wound to a close, having raised an impressive sum (for a British con) of over £4000. We paid up for our various possessions and then headed down to the basement disco for Club Conpulsion. Now I'm guessing this event was based on the infamous Club Warpcon, an event that I've never yet got around to attending. However, seeing as how all I had to do was walk down a couple of flights of stairs, I figured I'd see what it was I'd been missing all these years.
Which I'm guessing wasn't this:
The massed ravers at Club Conpulsion
Apparently part of the problem was that most of the convention goers were still in the upstairs bar, preferring cheap drinks and good conversation over expensive drinks and pounding music, and to be fair, if I'd known they were up there I'd have gone up there and preferred those two things also.
I have to give the two DJs, RPGActionFigure and HedgeTrimmer, their due though, because they kept plugging away, despite the fact that from the constrained view of their DJ's booth, they could probably see only the totally empty dance floor in front of them (what people were in attendance were clustered at each end of the room).
But eventually their persistence, and the magic powers of Kylie Minogue, paid off, and the dancefloor eventually filled with happy dancing people (although Fluffworld did apparently suffer a nasty whiplash injury while headbanging to "I should be so lucky"). I wasn't one of them, having retreated outside for rest, recuperation, quiet, and a chance to think through a novel problem I'm currently working on - and where I then ended up having a chat with a girl who was apparently the chair (or something) of the St Andrews University roleplaying society. ("I should be so lucky", which I missed, was apparently played in my honour).
The event eventually closed around oneish (I think) when the barstaff closed the bar and chucked us all out. Some of the more hardcore clubbers were heading on to a club in town, but myself and BoxNinja decided to head home, walking to a nearby taxi rank (finding a lost Nesf on the way and pointing him in the direction of rpgactionfigure, with whom he was staying) and then waiting.
It didn't help that although we were standing underneath a bunch of scaffolding and planks, and thus, theoretically under cover, it was the kind of cover that actually serves merely to channel water in your direction and thus ensures that you get wetter than if you were standing outside.
Sorry, did I not mention that it was raining?
Well it was raining.
It was raining most of the weekend, and when it wasn't raining it was damp, cold, grey and miserable. (Kind of like me on a typical day).
After about ten minutes of that we gave up, and headed into the centre of the Old Town for a cab rank on the Royal Mile that BoxNinja assured me would have a good supply of cabs. Unfortunately, it appeared that everyone else in Edinburgh had had the same idea, because the queue was huge, but after an initial mix up we found the correct end of the queue, and found ourselves behind three wet, but still very cute girls, who turned out to be from Birmingham.
I know this, because for once in my life I'd managed to engage a girl in a conversation that actually appeared to be reciprocated. She was smiling, responsive, joking, and God was she stunning.
Then the next inhabitant of the queue arrived.
The best description I can come up with is that he was Father Jack (from Father Ted) without a dog collar. He looked to be in his mid-seventies, was scruffy, unsteady on his feet and clearly pissed out of his OAP mind, and announced his arrival with something that sounded like, "EYEEECANNNWHAWAHDRAAAAMEEEEE!"
He then proceeded to engage myself and BoxNinja in conversation, despite our best efforts to ignore him. It was, needless to say, something of an atmosphere killer. After a few minutes of that, with the queue having moved not one jot, we decided to just walk back to BoxNinja's place, made our farewells to the Brummie girls, and set off.
Note: I took this incident as conclusive proof that God hates me. (That's assuming that there is one, monotheistic God of course. I might be just another pawn in a strategy game played by Zeus and his mates: "Ha! I'll tap two worship cards and play Drunken Pisshead on your Hopeful Vegan!")
One long talk about the merits of the Scottish legal and political systems later, with occasional tangents into the saga of the new Scottish Parliament building, we arrived back at base, climbed the four flights of stairs, and continued the discussion, eventually hitting the sack sometime around three.
And that was Saturday.
"I'll attack Lucifer with my axe... Yes! A natural 20!"
Mytholder and Bubba had apparently returned quite late the previous night, after a journey which we later found out combined both walking and a taxi cab due to the fact that the taxi knew the way to BoxNinja's place and they, as it turned out, didn't. (Mytholder had apparently believed that he knew the way because they just had to "walk along a long road lined with trees and turn left at the Gothic church" - but alas, it transpired that Edinburgh has more then one long street lined with trees and that it was one of those other streets that they'd walked down).
Unaware of the previous night's drama, but seeing that they were still asleep, we left them alone in the lounge and instead woke them up by simply making lots of noise in the kitchen. Then, leaving them to it, we headed on out, pausing only for BoxNinja to look at his keys, which were in the lock on the inside of the door, say, "I must make sure not to leave the keys in the lock or I won't be able to get back in", search through various pockets in yesterday's trousers in search of his wallet, find it, and then follow me through the front door pulling the door shut behind him.
BoxNinja: I just shut my keys in the lock, didn't I?My main gaming objective of the day was to play in one of the demo games of Infernum that the guys from Team 8 were running. Infernum, which was written by Mytholder, is a D20 game set in Hell (yes, that Hell) and allows you to play either demons or mortals who've been damned. The game isn't yet released, and I believe that this was one of its first public outings, if not the first.
As it happens, the 11 am game was full up, but Big Bad John, the Team 8 guy running the Infernum sessions, said he could put me into the 1pm game, so with that all arranged I set out for the Forest Cafe to get some lunch.
Unfortunately, they weren't open for food until 2ish, because Sunday is the day they have a good clean-up, so I pulled out the map that BoxNinja had marked up the day before, and headed off to the Cockburn Street in search of the Baked Potato Shop.
This turned out to be a nice little place just off the Royal Mile, and I ended up with an enormous baked potato with an even more enormous heaping of curried sweetcorn on top of it, and a slice of vegan chocolate cake.
A huge baked potato with an even huger dollop of filling
How big was it? Big enough that I left some, and when you consider what a human dustbin I am that's saying something!
Now refuelled, I headed back to the con for my Infernum session. It turned out that there were only three of us signed up, me and a (I think) Spanish couple, but Big Bad John turned out to be an excellent GM who didn't let that phase him.
I don't want to give two much away about the scenario because they'll no doubt run it again, but I think I can reveal that our level of indecision was such that we first travelled repeatedly back and forth a road, refused to cross a bridge because it had symbols on it, eventually managed to pluck up the courage to knock on a door, saw some people being tortured, left them, went back to rescue them, thought better of it, went up a tower and talked to some guy who claimed to be Lucifer, killed him (I was quite chuffed with that), tossed him off his tower, refused to come out of the tower after the doorman suggested that killing the Prince of Darkness and then tossing him off his own tower might have made him really, really angry, eventually went out, tried to reason with him (amazingly enough, he wasn't actually dead... just really, really angry), failed, and ultimately died.
It was a good game.
After the Infernum game I headed up to the bar, and found myself in another Paranoia game, this time with Mytholder, Bubba, Nesf, Natural20 and Angus Abranson. It was another good game, with lots of twists, turns and treachery, and also generated a fair amount of what I hope was good feedback for mytholder.
Then, leaving Bubba and the rest of the guys to tuck into the pizzas they'd ordered from the bar, I headed off to the Forest Cafe to pick up a bite to eat. It's always a bit of a pisser to eat alone, but when you have unusual eating requirements like mine, you can't really expect people to come with you to a restaurant they'd never normally visit - especially if they've already eaten.
However, I didn't really care. Compared to my usual convention fare, this...
Tortilla wrap thingie
I headed back to the con looking forward to the evening's pub quiz, and bumped into Microgirl, who it turned out was looking for somewhere to eat where she could get something vegetarian and lacking in various things she was avoiding. I recommended the Forest Cafe and pointed out its direction, but as it happens Bubba was just nipping out to the cash machine and volunteered to show her the way.
The pub quiz didn't start for an hour or so, while the quizmasters, RPGActionFigure and BoxNinja, finalised the questions, but eventually it was time to go, with Bubba and Microgirl arriving back from the Forest Cafe just in time to join our team.
All pub quizzes start with the teams deciding upon names, and this was no exception. My team expended a considerable amount of energy attempting to come up with a name, most of which was spent on shooting down my suggestions. Personally, I can't see what's wrong with "the Masturbating Monkeys", but there you go. We still hadn't come up with a name when RPGActionFigure began a circuit of the room to announce the teams, but when the team before us came up with "Last Year's Runners Up" we plumped for "Last Year's Winners". It was news to me that "we" had won last year, but who was I to argue?
A cocky name?
Not really: the team after us called themselves "This Year's Winners", and you know what? They won! Bastards.
But in my opinion, the best name came from a bunch of guys in the corner. I don't know who they were, but I think "Crouching Woman, Hidden Cucumber" was a fine name for a quiz team, even if practically every else around me disagreed.
We managed a respectable second in the end - and I actually answered a question! Not just a question that everyone knew, but one where I was the only person that knew it! What is the maximum jump distance in Traveler?
Next time I'm going for two answers!
The pub quiz was followed by a nice short closing ceremony, which was then followed by a long chatty drinking session in the bar, during which I talked to a bloke from New Zealand (apparently I'm big in New Zealand) who was apparently a big fan of mine and really wanted to meet me. Then ranted a bit about life, at which point he (and everyone else at the table), kind of... disappeared. (It was quite cool in a negative cool kind of way: from hero to "loser he wanted to avoid" in less than twenty minutes).
I also had a long entertaining talk about politics with an Irish guy who's name I didn't catch, but who hadn't run away. And then it was kicking out time, and we all decamped off to Subway, the club I'd declined to visit the previous night.
Now I have to admit that I just don't get clubbing. You stand there, listening to music so loud that conversation is impossible, tapping a foot, for several hours. I mean, really? Seriously? What's the deal? Anyhow, after about an hour of that I was bored shitless and I started to think about a story I'd heard earlier in the weekend, of how Fluffworld and CoffeeLifeform had once climbed Arthur's Seat in the middle of the night. How cool would it be to replicate their feat? I mean, any random tourist can climb it during the day. But at night? How cool would that be?
I mentioned it to boxninja, who looked similarly bored, and he was indeed up for it. We both agreed that it would be gloriously pointless and stupid in the grand traditions of the Empire, and so we asked around to find out who wanted to join us in this great and noble quest - and it turned out that they just thought it was pointless and stupid, and wanted to stay in the club, tapping their feet to repetitive metal-goth music.
Undaunted, we set out, after a quick last goodbye.
Me: If I don't come back, say hi to everyone, and no flowers.We cared not of the doubts of others. We were confident. How hard could it be? Hey, Fluffworld and CoffeeLifeform did it, and they're girls!
Top Tip #3: When attempting to scale a 450 million year-old volcano, it is advisable not to do so during the period of darkness.So we set out, striding eastward along Cowgate (that's the name of the street) towards Arthur's Seat. It was a bit cold though, and my cough was playing me up, so when - after about 30 seconds - we came across a parked rickshaw, it occurred to me that we'd only said we were going to climb up Arthur's Seat. We hadn't said anything about walking to it, had we? I asked the rickshaw driver if he was for hire, and he was, so we climbed in.
He stretched a stretchy seat belt over us and then, bizarrely, started to tuck a blanket over our legs. I was kind of thinking, "Oy! We're not pensioners, mate!" at this point, but decided it wasn't worth arguing over. And then he set off at one hell of a rate of knots, and I realised what the deal with the blanket was.
Because God was it cold. In fact, I can say without any doubt whatsoever that the coldest period of that entire night was that rickshaw ride. Imagine that you're travelling through a very cold night at about five times walking pace, with no barrier between you and the wind, and you're not moving a muscle.
"This is why you don't drive convertibles in Scotland," croaked BoxNinja.
The guy then proceeded to damn near jump a red light, braking hard at the last moment when he saw a car coming, and then sped away before answering a call on his mobile phone: "Yeah, I'm going to Arthur's Seat... No, I'm not going up."
If I hadn't been so cold I might actually have protested. And then, he did a move so blatantly illegal that I've been forced to resort to diagrams to explain it. We were approaching a right-turn, with the lights facing us on red. In fact, I'm assuming that all the lights were on red, with the pedestrian crossing lights on green. I'm assuming that because if they weren't then what he did was not merely illegal, but positively suicidal.
This is what he should have done, stopping at the red light (1), waiting for the light to change to green, and then turning right (2).
Turning right - the legal way
What he actually did, acting like a cycle courier who's forgot that he's got a bench seat attached to the back of his bike with a couple of terrified passengers on board, was this: turning right onto the pedestrian crossing (1); bumping up the "Braille" pedestrian drop-down curb and turning left (2) to bounce back onto the far pedestrian crossing; and then turning right (3) to go back onto the road:
Turning right - the illegal, suicidal way
All without in any way slowing down - he just ripped the handle bars round and sent us into three consecutive ninety-degree turns. I'll confess at this point that I did emit a couple of squeaks at this point, and I might even have moved up to a scream if I hadn't been so bloody cold. He then went the wrong way round a roundabout, past a no-entry sign, bounced up onto a cycle-path and then back onto a closed off road, and set off up a quite steep slope at one hell of a rate of knots, shouting cheerfully back, "I'll take you a little way round!"
It was awesome to the extent of not being human. I get knackered riding my own bike up a hill, and here was this bloke hauling not only himself up the slope, but a rickshaw, me and BoxNinja. He went on for two or three minutes, pumping rhythmically away like some kind of Terminator. Eventually, he stopped, we got out, and I paid him the twelve quid he'd quoted us when he hailed him back in the Cowgate.
"For fifty quid I'll take you to the top," he announced.
It was tempting, and certainly magnificently pointless in the grand traditions of the Empire. But no, we'd said we'd climb the peak, even if "climbing" really only meant following the road all the way to the top. So we paid him the fare and set off along and up the road.
Upward we climbed, admiring the view, which promptly disappeared as we walked up through the cloudbase and into a thick white mist. Visibility was now only about ten feet, but we were undaunted, for we could still see the road and were still climbing; and besides, the men who built the Empire didn't worry about fog, did they?
We felt that it was appropriate to let the others know of the progress of our expedition, so BoxNinja sent a message that was something like, "Have penetrated the cloudbase and are continuing upward."
As we climbed we discussed what the others would be doing right then (standing in the club going tap, tap, tap with their foot... or perhaps going tap, tap, tap with the other foot), the necessity in life of sometimes doing something just for the daftness of it, the degree to which we were feeling surprisingly physically chipper, the rickshaw driver's offer to take us to the top (we agreed that taking a rickshaw to the very top would be a suitably pointlessly mad exercise for next year) and how good it was to take him so far up the slope for a mere twelve quid...
Me: [Holding head in hands] Oh my God! I forgot to tip him! He went all that way and I didn't give him a tip! I just completely forgot! I'm a terrible person.But then, disaster. The road, far from corkscrewing ever upward to the summit, suddenly rounded a curve, reached a crest, and then began to dip. At first, we thought it was just a temporary fall, but as we continued the awful truth became clear: the road didn't go to the summit. It just went round the mountain, climbing high onto one shoulder, and then descending back to its start point.
That bastard rickshaw driver had sold us a complete dummy by implying that the road went right to the top.
Still, on the plus side, I no longer felt guilty about not tipping him.
And then we remembered something: at the point where the road reached its highest point before dipping for home, a stepped path had led up the hillside. We quickly retraced our route, and sure enough there were the steps, heading up the slope and disappearing into the mist.
Steps didn't have the reassuring safety of a tarmacked road, but when all was said and done they were still only steps, right? And although they were roughly-hewn and sloppily placed, they were still indisputably man-made features, so they must lead somewhere, right?
"I'll lead!" I said, setting off at a brisk rate and exhausting myself within about five steps, because they were big and slippery, and the ground between them was rough and crumbly. After a little while the path turned onto a little ledge flanked by a simple chain fence, so I let BoxNinja pass me and take the lead.
The steps continued on upward into the gloom and darkness, both of us leaning well forward so that if we slipped - which given the poor terrain underfoot seemed highly likely - we'd fall forward onto our faces rather than tumble headlong down the mountain.
Then the steps petered out, leaving us two possible routes, each of which disappeared into a wall of white. One route led along the side of the mountain, flanked by another chain fence. Another route stretched out in front of us, a steep, muddy track up a narrow ravine.
I suggested the route along the side of the mountain; BoxNinja pointed out that it looked more like the edge of a cliff than a path. I looked again, and realised that he had quite a point. So upward it was. The path was pretty slippery underfoot, but we kept leaning well forward, and grabbed onto the various rocks that lined the track.
And then we high a rock wall. Well two of them in fact. Meeting at right-angles and tipped about sixty to seventy degrees to the vertical. We looked at the rocks. We looked at each other. We looked at the rocks again. If it had been broad daylight, and dry, and if I'd been able to see where the hell it led then I'd have gone for it. But it was none of those things, and instinct told me that this was where pointlessly mad became positively dangerous, and from the expression on BoxNinja's face he was thinking the same thing.
Still, I could at least take some pictures on my camera phone to prove how far we'd come (even if they wouldn't be much more than the rocky crevice, fog, and more fog).
I turned on my phone, selected the camera function, but got only the message, "Camera on standby... continue." I clicked on continue and got bounced back to the standard screen. I selected the camera function again and got the same message. I clicked on continue and found myself back on the standard screen.
Realisation dawned. My phone didn't have enough juice to take pictures.
I expect they heard my howl of anguish back at the club.
But then fate intervened, when BoxNinja noticed an abandoned, empty Coke can placed on a ledge at the start of the climb up the rocky crevice. Some previous explorer, realising that he needed all four limbs to continue the climb, had abandoned his supplies here in order to continue his assault unburdened.
The Coke can would provide proof of how high we'd gone.
We retrieved the can, and began the arduous task of retracing our steps down the muddy slope and the steps to the road, and if we'd thought it was physically demanding on the way up, it was psychologically demanding on the way down (i.e. we were both bricking it big-time).
But we eventually reached the road and, guessing that we'd now already gone about two-thirds of the way round the mountain, continued on in our original direction, and as we did, we realised the spin we would put on our expedition if this was a sponsored event where an admission of total failure was simply not an option.
We penetrated the cloud-base and advanced to a high altitude on the difficult steep western face before completing a circum-navigation of the peak.As we tramped the last section of the circling road BoxNinja used the last of the juice in his phone to call first RPGActionFigure, who seemed almost worried about us, and then Bubba.
Me: Tell him, "Bad news, you're not going to get the Mini!"But eventually, he managed to raise Bubba again, and found out that far from being back in the club, he and Mytholder were already back at BoxNinja's place.
We told them to stay up and we'd be back soon, and then set off home.
Our route back to BoxNinja's place took us past the new Scottish Parliament buildings at Holyrood, which I was interested to see given the huge controversy that the project has attracted. When we'd discussed the subject the previous night BoxNinja had been quite hostile to the whole thing, but as we now discussed it further, and got a chance to take a close up view of the building concerned, we were able to find common ground.
He agreed with my viewpoint that since a Parliament is a symbol of a nation, it is reasonable and proper to spend a fair amount of money (although not possibly £440 million pounds) on ensuring that as a symbol, it is appropriate for the nation it represents.
And I agreed with his viewpoint that as a symbol for a nation, it sucked, hugely.
It was, IMHO, an ugly, ugly building. If someone hadn't have told me that it was the Parliament, I'd just have assumed that it was some over-funky office complex and walked straight past it. It's blocky, bitty and with a haphazard mix of materials including bamboo screens over the windows.
Apparently, the Spanish architect has said that the screens were to "keep out the ambient light."
Keep out the ambient light? Did no-one tell the geezer that Edinburgh's in Scotland?
Eventually, exhausted but content, we reached BoxNinja's place and climbed the four flights of stairs, and then, now merely exhausted, piled into the lounge to tell Bubba and Mytholder all about our adventures.
Surprisingly enough, they didn't seem that impressed. And when we presented them with our proof (the Coke can) they damn near accused us of lying by saying that we could have got it from anywhere, such as a 24 hour petrol station.
It's a horribly cynical world we live in.
But we didn't care. We all surfed the net a bit more (I must admit that I was getting quite into the cult of the wireless Mac at this point), we told them the story a few more times (they weren't particularly interested, but we told them it anyway), we blogged a bit, and then finally we headed for bed.
And that was Sunday.
We rose late on Monday and spent a leisurely morning chatting about the night before. It turned out that Bubba and Mytholder had actually left the club not that long after us, and had headed up the Royal Mile to the base of the castle, climbing up a steep flight of stairs before taking refuge from the weather in a Youth Hostel, from where they called for a cab.
There was still some ongoing debate about the precise difficulty of climbing Arthur's Seat, and so BoxNinja took a spin across the web in search of pictures of the peak to show how steep portions of it were. (We couldn't just look out the kitchen window because the bastard was still hiding behind the clouds).
And what was the first picture he found?
Four old-aged bloody pensioners enjoying a picnic on the summit!
Sodding World Wide Web! Overrated, if you ask me.
Eventually, we headed on into town to meet up with the rest of the crowd - RPGActionFigure, Nesf, HedgeTrimmer, Fluffworld, Microgirl, UbiquitousCat (who'd surfaced the night before after spending the weekend at a wedding), TimeForTea, Janet, Bob, CoffeeLifeform and Scimon. (Sorry to anyone else I've missed out).
We had a good time spending the afternoon chatting, and as an additional bonus, this was one of the few pubs I've found in the UK that serves Barcardi Breezers (which are okay for vegans). However, since everyone else was on coffees and cokes, and seeing as how, being alcopops, they don't half go down easily (I can see why governments get worried about their effects on children), it meant that after four of them everyone else was sober whilst I was the most "relaxed" I'd been all weekend.
Throughout the afternoon, various people would come over and ask me and BoxNinja something along the lines of, "What the hell's this story about you two trying to climb up Arthur's Seat last night?" and we'd give them the full story: rickshaw, road, steps, coke can, the works.
It was apparently around this time that the following conversation took place:
TimeForTea: [Brightly] I've heard this story three times already!We also found out that although Fluffworld and CoffeeLifeform had indeed climbed Arthur's Seat in the middle of the night, it had been a night that occurred not in March, during Conpulsion, but during the relative warmth of a Scottish Summer.
A fact which would have been useful for us to know the previous day.
But we did come up with a cool idea for next year's auction. We're going to create an auction item that consists of the Coke Can (in a miniature, Indiana Jones-style packing crate) together with a certificate of authenticity ("This Coke can was retrieved from the upper slopes of the South face of Arthur's Seat at an estimated altitude of 150m at 2am on the night of 27/28 March 2005 by Jonny Nexus and [BoxNinja] during their attempted ascent and actual circumnavigation of the peak"), and a map marked up with the route we took, one colour for the rickshaw journey, and another for the walk.
Around about three I nipped out to the Forest Cafe (which was just round the corner) and had a veggieburger meal and then headed back to the pub, where no-one appeared to have missed me, although while I was away, some of the people had headed off on their return journeys. (sorry for missing the goodbyes, guys).
Bubba had got his laptop working with the wifi of the Starbucks across the road so we were happily taking it in turns to surf the web. Sometime around this point I got into discussion with Scimon about why I write under a pseudonym:
Me: The thing about the Internet is that everything indexed and a lot of it's archived.Obviously, that was a challenge that couldn't be ignored, and with twenty seconds myself and TimeForTea had grabbed the laptop and were eagerly stalking Natural20's Usenet past, a task that would have been considerably easier if we'd been able to agree on how to spell his surname. I'm not sure which amused/offended Natural20 the most: the fact that we were trying to stalk him, or the fact that we were doing it so badly.
But after five minutes we'd uncovered nothing more interesting than a few technical posts about servers of some kind and a bunch of stuff on alt.fan.pratchett - so we gave up.
That was pretty much it for the weekend. We said our goodbyes to the Irish guys (most of whom were staying on until Tuesday), got a lift back to BoxNinja's place from Janet and TimeForTea, and then got driven to the airport by the ever hospitable BoxNinja.
At the airport I was unable to buy any vegan crisps (boo!) but was able to buy some vegan biscuits...
...which I thought was quite a result until I opened the packet and saw that it only contained two tiny little biscuits. God giveth, and he bloody well taketh away.
And that was Monday.
I can't say I really saw much of "tourist Edinburgh". Of the two classic tourist locations, the Castle and Arthur's Seat, I saw neither (I might have tried to climb Arthur's Seat, but I can't honestly claim to have actually saw the bastard).
But from what I did see, it's a very cool city, and surprisingly vegan friendly.
As to the con, I have a very, very good time, one of my best in fact. It's difficult to say how good the convention would be if I was a newbie who didn't know anyone, because for me, so much of what made the convention great was meeting up with people who over the last few years have become good friends. But I suspect that even if I hadn't have known anyone before coming, I'd still have had a good time.
The convention site is superb. Lots of space, with separate rooms for the various types of games (I do hate it when you have one big crowded hall), a nicely spaced out trade hall, and two - count them! - bars.
If I had to make one criticism it would be that the marshalling for games was a big chaotic, and I was never quite sure where I was supposed to be waiting. (Questions to the guys at the sign-up desk were prone to get responses along the lines of, "Well you could try waiting over at X"). But give them their due: when my Infernum game was late to start (because the previous game had overrun) they went off, found out what was happening, and then came back and explained it all to me.
So I'm confident that they would have made sure that everyone who wanted to play a game, would have got to play that game.
All in all, a great con, and one I would thoroughly recommend.
That's pretty much it for this report, except for one thing. We (me and Bubba) haven't finished with Edinburgh yet. Remember the sword Bubba bought in the auction? Well he could hardly take it with him onto a plane, could he? So it's still up there, in BoxNinja's flat, and sometime someone's going have to drive up there to retrieve it.
Which means only one thing.
It's getting on five hundred miles from London to Edinburgh, which is a pretty scarily long distance1 but I figured I couldn't let him drive all that way by himself. You just don't do that to mates. And besides, isn't driving nearly a thousand miles to retrieve a reproduction sword a mad, pointless endeavour in the grand traditions of the Empire?
Be seeing you Edinburgh!
1Some of you Americans reading this might be confused by our belief that five hundred miles is a very, very long way. You have to remember the old saying: "In America, they think a hundred years is a long time. In Europe, they think that a hundred miles is a long way." If us Europeans need to go any further than a few hundred miles, we fly.
Copyright © 2006 Critical Miss Gaming Society