Thursday, November 27, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Relationships

I, as most might know, am a rather large fan of Buffy. And thus I feel the need to talk about it far too much.

There is a popular opinion amoungst Buffy fans that Buffy and Angel was the best relationship, indeed, with him leaving, the show got worse. I suspect this is entirely due to some of the audience fail to grow up with the show.

Buffy, over the course of 7 seasons, has 3 major relationships (meanwhile Willow has 3, Xander 2(ish), and poor old Giles gets one. Which ends in the second season. And don't even get me started on Joyce, who manages to form a relationship with an evil robot, and then apparently becomes chaste forever.... But I digress). These are Riley, Spike, and Angel. All these relationships are flawed, as they should be, because no relationship is perfect. Of these, the most bile seems to be directed at Riley. I really disagree with this, as of the three, I feel the relationship with Riley is the most mature, and possibly the best written.

Buffy and Angel is actually a really creepy story. Buffy begins the show at the age of 16, a mere child, and while she shows maturity in some respects- being forced to by the responsibility that is saddled on her shoulders, she also acts in many ways like a teenager. Particularly, her love for Angel. Angel is a centuries old vampire, and Buffy is well aware of this. Angel will never age, while Buffy will keep getting older. This, to my mind, is an odd relationship. Angel has centuries of experience over Buffy, and despite that, cannot tear himself away from her. There are very few scences where Buffy and Angel ever interact normally in the show- their main times spent together are slaying and hunting, and the notion that they can build a life is absurd. Eventually, they come to realise this, although Angel shows an awareness of this from the start. It does feel like Angel knows he shouldn't be doing it, but can't help himself, which adds a creepy subtext for me, but never mind. Some tar this relationship with the brush of true undying love, but actually it feels MUCH more like a teenage love, attched with this belief that it is the most important thing in the world, and detatched from the notion of what a real relationship is.

With Riley, however, this changes. Riley is secretly a government agent, but the relationship between him and Buffy ferments first in the real world, through awkwardness. It develops and grows, into something pretty special, where they actually have the occasional conversation, something sadly lacking earlier on. Unfortunately events get in the way. Buffy begins to grow more detached from Riley, and noticably fails to express her love for him when he does the same. She clings, badly, to the ideal of the last relationship, the notion of heart rending passion showing that in some ways she has yet to grow up. Her mother's illness makes her even more detached from Riley, and meanwhile, he gets upset and hurt, perhaps out of proportion, and makes some very bad choices. It takes Xander to point out to Buffy that she has thrown away the most adult relationship she has ever had, but by then it is too late, as Riley leaves, only to return once more.

Spike and Buffy's relationship is quite irritating, simply because while I believe the writing of the two previous relationships was strong, this one was much weaker. The writers wanted to take Buffy and Willow to darker places, and while magic addiction worked (mostly) for Willow, the abusive relationship Buffy sank into did not. The primary reason for this was that Spike had had an extremely interesting plot arc over the previous two seasons. After being "neutered" by the initiative, Spike began to play with the good guys, while still having no soul. By season 5 Spike had realised that he loved Buffy, and despite the lack of a soul, this caused him to act, in many ways, like a good man, to the point where he tried and failed to save Buffy's sister. Indeed, season 6 opens on an excellent note, with Spike racked with guilt over this very fact. Yet with the return of Buffy from death, this progress seems to be lost.

The only real answer for this is poor writing. Spike is extremely cruel to Buffy once the relationship begins, and while we might have excepted this had Buffy formed a relationship with an earlier version of Spike, we had become accustomed to a version which tread the boards between good and evil. As it was, it didn't really feel like this worked very well, with it being difficult to sympathise with either Spike or Buffy. Certainly Spike was taking advantage of Buffy, but the way it was written was confused, and a little awkward.

The post soul Spike was another slightly odd turn around, as they had no idea where to go with it. At least with the three previous relationships there was a strong sense of some point about Buffy they were making, the childlike true love, the maturer love that Buffy, cut off, cannot except, and the abusive love that Buffy came to believe she deserved. Arguably, the obvious next arc would be to allow Buffy to settle into a truly mature relationship at this point, allowing her finally to balance as a person, and give herslef up to her friends. However, frustratingly, season 7 makes Buffy even more cut off, to an extent repeating an arc she had already had in season 6. In many ways Season 7 is the weakest season, because there seems to be no clear plan for the characters, which is a shame, because the overarching plot and message wasn't half bad. Sadly the writers just didn't seem to know what they wanted to do with Buffy and the others, and it shows.

This post has turned into a writing analysis of the show as well as the relationships. I think Buffy works best from seasons 1-5. In season 6, there is no real overarching plot, and some of the character arcs are better than others. In Season 7 there is a plot, but almost no character arcs for most of those appearing on the show (actually, inexplicably Spike probably has the biggest character arc, as he has never had a soul before, so is effectively a new person. There is certainly an argument to be had that the show got a big obssessed with Spike....)

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dark Heresy:Running a premade campaign-Also, review of the back of the book adventure

So, my third Dark Heresy campaign, and this time a premade one. This makes things easier, but in some ways harder, because sometimes the book will make assumptions on my knowledge that I don't really have. I am also criminally lazy in weird ways for session preparation. For example, I will spend ages thinking about a session, but not write out the stats of certain characters for combat.

The odd thing about premade campaigns is sometimes they really irritate me. They take characters to stupid places, and fail to anticipate what players are thinking. The adventure at the back of DH has the air of an investigation, but really doesn't let its players do any...

(Note spoilers from here on)

The most the players will discern is that their superior is clearly a bit unhinged, although I even deliberately played it up. There are some creepy hints along the way of what is going on, but they are horror movie style hints, and do not really help the players unlock the mystery. In fact I don't believe there is any sensible way for the players to work out what exactly happened even AFTER the end.

I would probably be fine with this if the game went into horror in a big way, but while it flirts with it, it doesn't really make it work, as the conclusion is a fire fight. Mike at one point tried to retreat, and the notion of the daemonhost chasing the players through stern hope is a MUCH cooler idea, and I wish it had occured to me to go with it. It might have resulted in some player death, but after all, that is what fate points are for. Indeed, reworking the adventure so the players, could, for example, lure the daemon into the genatoria and blow it up would make it more awesome, with a cat and mouse game happening until the players finally turned the tables.

Instead the game relies on the players getting a plot vital piece of information- a book which basically outlies what the players need to do (or rather doesn't, more on that later), robbing the players of much of a chance of a discovery. Also, while in a meta-game fashion it's pretty bloody obvious that the players should take to mystic witch lady and ignore their orders, from a roleplaying perspective it actually makes MUCH more sense for them to arrest her! While the inquisition does pride themselves on a certain amount of free thinking, these players have had about two sessions under the inquisition, and the rest of their lives obeying orders... It's annoying to me that the game is encouraging players to meta-think and then try and roleplay their characters into accepting that- thats not how the game should think.

Of course, as mentioned, the plot book isn't that useful. The book, while giving some background, doesn't tell the players how to hurt the daemon, indeed the line of dialogue giving them a hint is only optional. This hint is also nicely obscure, and while I tried to drop some hints, only a couple of sessions happening meant that the players did not really get it. There is another route to saving the day, talking to crazed superior in a ball of chaos and trying to persuade him. Yeah, it sound stupid to me too....

Finally, when you get the fricking hint it's too damn easy to hurt the daemon. I am typically brilliant at creating deadly threats that utterly fail to hurt the players (these now include a space marine and an eversor assasin), thanks to my inability to roll, but it is fairly easy to kill it off.

There were some things I liked- the notions for the mass combat was enjoyable enough, with some varied suggestions which were reasonably balanced so not to kill off the players. The plot itself was actually ok, although the resolution was bad.

I would definitely be interested in running this adventure as a one shot, skipping out a few encounters to focus on creepy horror, so the conclusion could be nice and scary (and also encourage players to run, which I admit is not easy!)

Despite the negativity I am looking forward to the next arc, which is better written, although we shall see how well the players keep on the carefully built rails! I actually like all three adventures in the book, and hope I do get the opportunity to run them all... we shall see how the time goes.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

the more you know...

At A-level I was very certain of what I knew. I was one of the best mathematicians in the school, and understood pretty much all of what we were studying. And then university came. Not only was I no longer the best, but it became quite clear as to the depths of my ignorance. Sadly, this has only increased. As one studies a subject area more intensely, one becomes aware of the gaps in ones knowledge. So further education of the paradoxic effect of increasing your knowledge and making you feel more ignorant at the same time. Part of this is due to the company I now keep. At the majority of conferences/seminars I go to, the people there, at the very least, more advanced phd students, and there are often quite esteemed statisticians there. This is bound to make even the most ego filled fellow feel slightly stupid, so it just barely effects me.

Still, it's fun, and in certain areas I am certainly becoming more knowledgeable. At a recent seminar I went to I got a good grasp of what the speakers were actually saying, which was nice, and perhaps in three years time I shall, at least, feel knowledgeable on some subjects. It would be all to easy to go to an earlier level. One of the most enjoyable things about TAing undergrads is becoming aware of the knowledge you take for granted is beyond many people. It's nice, I get to feel smart, mainly because I've been dealing with the concepts they are struggling with for the first time for about 4 years, so obviously I'm a little better. It all comes down to repetition and experience in the end.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008


What's hilarious about the word latex is when you google it, you are directed to a multitude of pages about the programming language that it is. It's basically the unix of word processors. However, the sponsored ads on the other hand, include such gems as a luxury love swing, latex body paint and latex underwear. Ah, the internet, informative and filthy at the exact same time.

I have recently been trying to get to grips with latex, which is one of those things where if you are just trying to write a simple document, word will probably be easier, but if you want to do something a bit more complex, latex is your guy. Not only does it handle mathematical formulae much, much, better than word, it's also the program of choice for practically every single mathematician ever anywhere, so it's obviously a good thing to learn. It is, however, a fickle mistress, and the program I have to run it, texnic centre, delights in being extremely obscure in it's error declarations. It's error code will often claim it had to do certain things, like add missing brackets, which can prove utterly baffling, until you realise that messing up with one error can cause a whole host of unrelated errors, and those are the ones that get reported. This can be.... frustrating.

Still, I now have a two page report of what I have done over october (obviously a very shortened version!) and a page of questions for gsk, so they can explain their slightly confusing data for me. I'm feeling fairly positive about the phd at the moment, a feeling I'm sure will pass....

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