Sunday, 10 December 2017

Ragna Halvorsen aka Reagan Stone

We genned our Mage characters last night! Took hours....

Bells (aka Kito/Adam in Exalted/Aberrant) is playing a member of the Order of Hermes, while I'm one of the Euthanatoi, both recently completing their initiations. One thing that amused us at the end of character gen was when we realised he's playing a scientist, estranged from his family (like my Chrissie in Aberrant), while I'm playing an actor who's moved to LA from Europe (like his Adam in Aberrant...). Our Aberrant characters are rich and well-respected, while our baby mages are unknowns, struggling to make ends meet.

Here's my concept:

Ragna Halvorsen
Born and raised in northern Norway, Ragna discovered a passion for acting when away at school and knew she had to make it her career. In this, she was following in her grandmother's footsteps, who left her young children (including Ragna's mother) in her sister's care and moved to LA, where she found success as a film actress. Finishing compulsory education at the age of 16, Ragna went to stay with her to give her company and hopes to follow in her footsteps.

Her hometown is quiet, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else and will help when needed, but respects privacy. Family is important - her grandmother's action was particularly scandalous! Her mother is a website developer and her father a photographer; she has siblings, but I've not figured them out yet. She misses her family and friends a little, staying touch mostly using the internet, but is too busy to spend much time on homesickness. The town is vaguely Christian, but with a deep, almost pagan superstitious side brought on by the climate.  She's well-versed in Nordic mythology. 

That climate! The summer's midnight sun rarely breaches the clouds, and in the winter its light tinges the horizon but otherwise there's darkness. The sounds of the wilderness make it easy to believe in spooks and fairies, so seeing such things growing up surprised no one. Her secondary schooling involved moving to a more southern town, but she still isn't used to the heat and brightness that met her when she reached LA (she has a minor phobia of sunburn, having been warned repeatedly before leaving that it causes cancer, and constantly applies suncream to protect against it). The crowds and nosie of LA have also overwhelmed her, triggering her awakening (the actual awakening and various aspects of initiation are things we'll learn more about in flashbacks as we play, once we know the characters a bit better).

She's an eternal optimist - her paradigm is "It's all good - have faith". I've made her affiliation sphere Life, but I'm torn between that and Entropy and keep changing my mind. I think Entropy works slightly better with the belief that positive thinking will bring positive results, so I might switch... I put some other spheres in too, but forget which (time, correspondence and mind, I think; we were given an extra freebie sphere because our GM is nice like that).

For practice, she combines Yoga with Crazy Wisdom. I can't remember all the instruments I picked, but voice is important and I added runes even though they aren't listed under either practice to reflect the way she interprets Euthanatoi principles through her understanding of Norse mythology: part of Euthanatoi intiation includes undergoing physical death, which was an ordeal Odin undertook to learn the knowledge of runes.

She's alert and quick-minded (mental stats primary: perception 4 (uncanny insight), int 3, wits 3), and charming and beautiful (social stats secondary: charisma 3, manipulation 1, appearance 4 (pallid beauty)), but fairly average physically (physical stats tertiary: strength, dex & stamina all at 2). Under abilities, I made talents primary, knowledges secondary and skills tertiary, with a focus on the things that will help her develop as an actress and a mage.

As she's first language Norwegian, I had to take a languages merit for her to speak English. To an American ear, she probably sounds British. A Brit will hear a slight accent they may struggle to place (we don't hear Scandinavian English that often), as well as the inflection she's picked up from living in LA for 2 and a half years.

As well as the sunburn issue, we reskinned 'confused' to be 'naive' to reflect her fish out of water status in LA. She's also got a minor enemy, a flaw I've never taken before so was easily talked into (I've come to really enjoy giving GM's something like that to play with). I think there was something else, but I forget what.

Her mentor (someone we'll meet in our first session) is invested in her (3 point background), and her avatar is powerful (I think I put 5 in it) - I've suggested a Questing avatar with a raven form. I've also put a couple of points into Past Lives. She has no resources: the roles she's managed to get so far have all been as an extra, so she makes ends meet as a waitress. She lives with her grandmother (whom she calls Mormor); we said this should be a background or merit, but I forgot to buy it so need to switch out sanctuary.

I'm looking forward to building a relationship with Bells's character. He's a European American native of LA, so probably won't realise she's not British until he hears her speaking with her grandmother - that's also likely how he'll learn her name is 'Ragna', as she's anglicised it to 'Reagan' in the hopes of getting more work. It'll be fun, too, because he's well-educated and scientifically-minded, which means he's going to use words that just aren't in her vocabulary.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Exalted - Thorns

It was a sunny day, so Captain Ling was not at all sorry when she finished her paperwork early. She stretched behind her desk and headed out to check on her patrols. She listened to the sounds of Thorns as she walked, drawn by the cool breeze to the dock, nodding and passing a few words with the various guards she passed. 

The dock was busy, the scent of salt in the air, people running to and fro and shouting, ships creaking and swaying. She breathed it in, and heard a cough to her side. One of her junior officers drew her attention to a small sailing boat making its precarious way through the lanes, crewed by two ragged children. She watched as the stockier child instructed the scrawnier one and they managed to avoid collisions. She looked back to the officer as they pulled up to dock, but he'd already moved on. 

Back to the boat, and the children had secured it and were looking around nervously. The scrawnier one steeled itself and stepped out, before reaching back to help the other onto the dock, where they stood, hand in hand, too sunburnt, windswept and saltworn to tell their gender. The stockier child held a bundle that looked like a stick of some sort, wrapped in a blanket. The scrawnier one carried a couple of battered bags and, she saw, was a little taller and seemed more confident. They looked to be of an age, maybe 7 or 8, but were too alike in appearance to be anything other than siblings. That they could be twins didn't occur to her: identical twins were rare enough in Creation that neither she nor anyone she knew - possibly no one who'd ever lived in Thorns - had met any. And non-identical twins were simply impossible.

She saw them look around again, then the taller one's eyes met hers and they marched over, dragging the other child with them.

"Hi. My name's Taji and this is my brother Kito. We're twins. We're looking for our sister Mei, because everyone back home got hurt and our brother Han says we have to find her so she can get us to our uncle Chow of House Cathak. Do you know where she is?"

The breakneck delivery finished and Ling found herself staring down into a pair of dark, dark eyes, full of trust and expectation.

Her mind whirled. "I, uh, I guess you'd better come to the station with me," was all she could muster.

I helped Kito out and he dragged the big sword out and then we stood there and I knew I couldn't get scared or Kito would be scared too and then we wouldn't find Mei so I looked around and I saw a nice looking lady in a guard's costume and so I went up to her and explained why we were in Thorns and she led us to the Station and her name was Captain Ling and we chatted the whole way and she was really nice and when we got to the Station she got one of her men to get us some food and water and she didn't know Mei or her husband so she sent out people to try and find her and she was really surprised when we said about our uncle Chow and asked if we really meant Cathak Chow because he's the head of House Cathak so we explained it probably wasn't him but a different Chow in house Cathak because we aren't nobles, we're just from Derren's Ford and she didn't seem convinced and said she'd see what she could find out for us, and we showed her the sword and the jade and when she saw the jade stamp she looked really worried and her eyes went big and she said "that decides it then" and called someone in to get a message to House Cathak and she knew what the stamp was which means we can trust her because of what Hak said and after she sent all her messengers away and we explained about Derren's Ford and how Han said he would walk here and she promised to send someone to look for him to, she told her people that she was taking the afternoon off and took us to her house and her husband was there and she got him to run us a bath and then she helped wash all the salt off us while he cooked and he's a really good cook and it was yummy and then she took us for a walk to a really nice place where we could see the harbour and our little boat and everything.

And then she got out some paper and brushes and taught us to paint.

I love to paint.

You see exactly what you're looking at when you paint, and the world stops.

I don't think Kito likes it so much, but my picture was really good.

We stayed with Captain Ling and her husband for a few days and she taught me lots more about drawing and painting and then Mei arrived because they'd found her and she and her husband had dinner with us but I don't think her husband wanted us to stay with them so we still stayed with Captain Ling but Mei told us stories and they were the same as the ones Yee told us because Mei had taught them to Yee and it was really nice to hear them again but it made me a bit sad because I don't know where Yee is.

And then one day when we were up on a hill painting the view over the sea and there was this weird cloud that got bigger and bigger and Captain Ling looked a bit worried and brought us into town and the cloud arrived and there were two men and one of them was normal height and skinny and the other looked like Daddy but even taller and broader and his long hair was black like mine and Kito's but with red flashes through it which you can see in Kito's when the sun hits it the right way. And he was dressed in vibrant reds and his voice boomed and this was our Uncle Chow and he was really pleased to see us and he talked to Captain Ling and to Mei and then took us back to his estate on the Realm in the tornado-cloud his wizard friend summoned.


Our GM actually had a different story in mind for Thorns, one with more misery and trauma, but when I stepped off the boat he let me roll a social check to find someone to talk to - one of my best dice pools. I aced the roll, and he went with it. I'm glad; for an NPC created on the fly, Captain Ling became an important part of our back story. We still have unfinished business with her; in a way, finding her gave us less trauma as children but more as adults :-D

When we played the scene, I couldn't help picturing it from her perspective, which is why I wanted to open the post this way. This is also the last told in Taji's child voice: the next few Exalted posts are going to be a combination of broadstroke and snapshots of the life of the twins to shortly after they Exultation; hopefully I'll manage to include all significant characters, locations and events...

There's a few of each I'm particularly looking forward to introducing you to. 

Deadlands - Prison Break and Facing Fears

You may have noticed a flutter of activity over the past few days. I've had really bad food poisoning so have been off work. Writing's been something I can do to take my mind off it. Feeling a lot better now, just very tired.

It's been Exalted so far, because we've just reached the end of the arc and will be taking a break from that game for a bit, which makes me sad in one sense because I love the characters and particularly the relationship between Taji and her brother (and I'm interested to see how things continue to develop between her and her lunar mate - I love a good RPG love story). It means I've been thinking about those stories a lot, so have wanted to write them.

However, I also want to write our Deadlands stories. We're taking a break over Christmas, which should hopefully help me catch up a bit. I left you last time just after we'd left Shan Fan for Perdition, near Lost Angels. The town is officially designated 'Ore Collection Station 37' and was quickly built by Dr Hellstromme as a company town. It filled up with survivors of the devastation he unleashed on the outskirts of Lost Angels. Its moniker comes from the way it overlooks Ghost Town, making it one step up from Hell. Despite this, it's less gloomy than Shan Fan, with a feeling of something akin to hope.

It's the morning of All Hallow's Eve when we reach Perdition, and it takes us most of the day to find the Fallen Angel's Saloon where O'Malley indicated he'd meet us. It's a divey miners' pub, smelling of sweat, dust, tobacco and stale booze. We get rooms and settle down for the night.

Lacey arrives at noon the next day. It's really nice to see him again. His friend, Sam Helman, has been jailed by the unlovely Rev Grimme, and he's hoping we'll be able to bust him out and gives us details of a contact in Lost Angels.

It's a big task, and we don't have time to discuss it: Carson had spotted a couple of guys eying him up in the pub, and they chase us as we leave. We think we've lost them, but right at the edge of town, they catch us again. One duals with Carson, pressuring him into firing first. Both shots miss their target and a firefight ensues. I duck my head down, trying to think of a way to get them all to stop fighting. Tesla's also not joining in, though I think more for fear of hitting Chin - who's leapt in, fists flying - than for any concerns at life lost.

Carson calls to the first to surrender, and I hear him spit at Carson "never to one of your kind" and as Carson executes him (and Chin kills the other), I wander on that. Does he mean the magic thing? Is this why Carson's so cagey about it? I don't think the others heard, and don't tell Carson I did. It seems a bit... personal.

When we reach Lost Angels, we're quickly overwhelmed by the constant sounds of violence pressing from all directions. Every time a Red Guardian appears, everyone falls away and silence prevails briefly. It's worse than the screams. People accept the conditions and Grimme's rule because he provides a feast every Sunday - and they're so starving, it's enough to convince them to ignore the worst of the atrocities.

The prison is on an island. O'Malley's contact has managed to rig the sewer  access for us, and will provide an unspecified distraction as we row round to get in that night. There's things in the water. Sharks and... other things. In the moonlight, the sewage pipe seems to be bleeding into the bay. We have to crawl through it on hands and knees, emerging into a boiler room.

We make our way into the institution. Tesla's muttering alerts some guards; Chin and Carson take them out. My stomach churns at so much killing, but at least it means we have keys, and this means that we're able to rescue all 4 of the prisoners we come across: Sam Helman, as intended; a slightly wild looking man called Eddie Griff; Job 'Hoglegg' Dunstan, who's had both his hands removed; and Charlie Buckner - Dr Hellstromme's foreman, who helped us fit in when we accidentally fell into their path all those months ago, starting this whole endeavour. He's as surprised (and pleased) to see us as we are him.

We head back to the boiler room as fast as Job can manage. Carson tosses the guards' bodies down the sewer and thinks he sees a tentacle reaching for them. Tesla elecrocutes the water before we get in, just to be safe. We make it to fresh air with no issues, and resecure the passage. It's dark, with clouds across the moon. We row back to the cliffs between Lost Angels and Perdition, and decide we should go straight to Perdition. The clouds clear as we step on the plain, and as it hits Eddie he shifts into... 

I don't stay to see. Ever since that puma attacked, this is what I've feared. Shifting like that, killing indiscriminately and not remembering anything after? The others wonder why I scream all night.

Charlie catches up with me eventually; calms me until the others arrive, Eddie unconscious and tied up, carried between them.

Back in town, Charlie leaves us to return to his camp. He won't tell us why he was imprisoned, but feels he owes us. Tesla and Chin have to break us into the inn, because the nightwatchman's asleep. I don't sleep. I don't need to face my dreams tonight.

In the morning, Sam explains a bit more. He's very, very grateful to have been rescued. Grimme and his inner circle are cannibals, and that Sunday feast is human flesh, so don't eat it: it "gets to you after awhile". Grimme is, apparently, nearly immortal, and a servitor of something called the 'Reckoners'. Sam learnt this from his cellmate Sees Far Ahead, a Shaman who also knew how to kill Grimme - but was 'taken' before he could share. There's another Shaman, north of Lion's Roar, who can help. Her name's Born in a Bowl. Sam tells us to find out how to kill Grimme and pass it onto the Pinkertons Agency - "let the big guns handle it". Though he admits politics means they aren't as powerful as they once were.

On Grimme's immortality, Sam went to one of the masses and saw a parishoner accused of treason turn into a winged beast before exploding into shards of bone - one of which went clean through Grimme. Grimme's response was to call down something he referred to as an angel of god, who healed everyone. This news makes me shudder; I can't imagine what devil's pact he's made, but I'm sure that wasn't a true Angel of the True Lord.

Job explains he used to be the Marshall of Lost Angels before Grimme came to power. His partner was killed and his partner's kids indoctrinated into the 'church'; they turned on him for not converting, left him handcuffed in a cell and lit a fire. He escaped by sawing off his left hand. He found a group called the Men of the Grid - the 'Gridders' - an anti-Grimme sabotage group;; despite being grateful for his rescue, he won't tell us any more about them. Frustrating, but understandable; Grimme ate his right hand after they caught him, so how does he know this isn't just another method to trick him into betraying them. He wants to go to Salt Lake City; we reckon Charlie will be able to help with that.

Lacey says there's no cure for being a werewolf, but we telegraph the Explorer's Lodge for help. They say the same (and I wonder whether the condition can be managed. But no one's saying, if they know). Lacey knows silver will kill them - bullets or a sword. Although, as I point out, that would also kill a normal person or wolf. Lacey adds that he's heard of cases where the afflicted person could control it, but I'm deflated when he continues: they know what they are and can control when they change in order to produce carnage.

Carson wakes Eddie. Seems he's not one of these. He looks at us like we're mad and starts screaming.

What can we do with him? Tesla and Carson start making silver bullets, just in case, but I'm not ready to give up yet. Maybe the shaman will help?

Something in my desperation makes Carson realise my lack of screaming the previous night was because I wasn't sleeping, because of Eddie. He takes me to one side, and gently persists with his questions until I've told him all about the puma attack - about riding along that gully on my pony when the clouds drew over the sun and filled me with dread, and from nowhere that puma leapt on me and... I blacked out. I don't know how I survived with just the loss of an eye. Shadows have gathered around me ever since, and that's when the dreams started. He's surprisingly sympathetic, if concerned. He reassures me I'm not like Eddie (it's kind, but he can't know). He says he will try and help. This side of him, this compassion and wanting to help, this side is one I want to see more of, I realise. This is so far from the sharp killer I saw yesterday. He lets me cry.

They take Eddie away that evening. I'm not sure where they take him but tell me he's ok. 

I sleep that night. A good night's sleep, for the first time in years.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Taji's Bedrooms

This follows other posts where I've talked about the rooms where certain of my favourite characters sleep, or have slept, to help establish their personalities (most recently Chrissie here). Today's the turn of a character who wormed her way under my skin despite not having the compassion or childlike nature that marks Svetlana, Plays in Shadows and Kella as my favourite characters. Taji's much more strong-willed, incredibly self-assured, and comfortable ordering others around.

I've found this one hard to write, not because (like Solomon) she doesn't have enough bedroom, but rather because she's had too many and I'm not sure which are the most relevant to who she is. 

We'll see how this goes. 

The Peasant's Bedroom (Derren's Ford)
A small room with a straw mattress big enough for two small children to share. A chest holds their few clothes, and a stand with a lamp sits by her brother's side of the bed, lit each night with love by the parent who carries them up, and put out as the parent leaves. The climate is temperate, which probably explains why the room is always comfortable to sleep in 

Taji and Kito stayed in Thorns as guests for a few days after leaving here, and the Thorns bedroom was one I considered - but it is the owner of that house, rather than the room, that tells you about her, so we'll skip to their next family home.

The Noble's Bedroom (Cathak Estate, The Realm)
Here, Taji has her own bedroom - but it's pretty clear she still often shares it with her brother: the pillows and duvet on both sides of the deep, comfortable double bed are rumpled some mornings, and others the bed shows very little sign of any use - like someone crept out as soon as the adult had left.

The bookshelves are filled with an eclectic mix - some fiction, some poetry, some politics, history, the occult, all well-thumbed. Nearby, a large mirror and a scuffed mat show where she practices martial art forms. A desk has several notebooks; one left open reveals meticulous notes in a neat hand, and more than a few sketches and doodles, spreading from the margins into the page.

An easel stands by the window, with a well-stocked cupboard of art supplies beside it. Propped against every spare bit of wall space are paintings and drawings, showing talent and dedication; the potential to be a Master. Sunsets, sunrises, her brother, various members of the household, the tree house from Derren's Ford, her dead and missing family and friends, the boat she and Kito escaped in, the view across the estate - even the Scarlet Empress. Hidden in several is a small white mouse.

While living in the Realm, the twins stayed in other rooms while at school, and I believe they lived with the Empress for a bit, before being sent to join the army to keep them out of trouble.

The Soldier's Bedroom (Outpost North of the Bastion of Last Hope)
This austere bunkroom is buried beneath earth and snow, meaning it at least feels warm. The beds are hard; no special treatment for the youngest descendents of the head of House Cathak here. All the same, Taji's bunk can be detected by the pictures stuck to the wall above her head and the ink stains around the pillow. She hasn't brought any other luxury to her little bit of this space.

They were on the move a lot before and as soldiers, then were put under house arrest back at the Cathak Estate for being friends with Anathema before running away and moving around a lot (mostly staying with an Anathema friend in Nexus), finally drawing Second Breath and Exalting, when they were rescued by a group of First Age Solars living far beyond the Wild in a second Creation they'd been building when things went wrong, and where they have a replica of Meru, on a grander scale.

The Previous Incarnation's Bedroom (New Meru)
The room is hard to find, if you don't know the way. It commands an impressive view of the estate, rendered as close to her previous incarnation's original as the Solars could manage. The large, well-placed windows flood the room with sunlight, giving the occupant full exposure to all the phases of the Sun - and a clear view of the moon and stars at night. 

The room isn't large, though the pale gold, almost white walls make it feel larger. There's bookshelves dominated by poetry and diplomacy (and the odd racy romance). A few pieces of simple, tasteful art appear to be original; other pieces bear Taji's mark. The room smells of paint and ink, more than any of the others because the house is so clean and unused. The dominant piece of furniture in here is the bed, larger than any Taji's seen before - large enough she prefers to curl in a small ball to sleep, as spread out she feels lost.

The space of the room comes from the roof garden. An easel stands out here, of course, but there's also an archery stand and space to practice martial arts. A bench looks over a small zen garden to the estate and New Meru. To the side are plants - herbs and flowers she has no idea how to care for.

And again, some skipping around and a couple of rooms we could discuss, but really it's all about...

The Young Leader's Bedroom (Denandsor)
The room is near the top of the tallest tower, again painted in a very pale gold (this paint is fresher than the previous incarnation's room), and again the large windows let in all the day's light (and as much of the night's as possible).

There are several easels in different sizes, holding pieces of work in varying stages of completion. These, and completed pieces along the walls, show landscapes and cityscapes from several locations across Creation, and portraits showing her allies. The newest pieces all show the same face, one conspicuously missing from previous collections.

There's a writing desk, complete with beautiful stationary. There's the start of a letter to her grandfather, and another to her mother - neither finished, as if she isn't sure how to say what she needs to. There are notebooks and sketchbooks. There are bookshelves, again with an eclectic mix of books. A second desk has been added recently.

The bed is large - not as large as her previous incarnations, but larger than the others. She seems more comfortable sleeping in this one.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

RPG War Stories - Taji & Kito - Taji's Valour Gets Them Mugged

There was a topic I enjoyed in #RPGaDAY2016 - day 5: what story does your group tell about your character? that came to mind again last night. We were coming to the end of the arc (which means a break from Exalted as we try our hand at Mage and then return to Aberrant), so the GM wanted to make sure we had things like our Intimacies in order, and doublechecked our Virtues. Taji's primary Virtue is Valour, and I wish I'd made a note of exactly what it was our GM read out for Valour (which I tried to spell without a 'u' like on the character sheet, but I just can't do it. It looks so weird to me), because immediately Bells and I fell about laughing.

See, there was this time back before Taji and Kito were Solar Exalts, when they were just harmless Heroic Mortals, travelling around the world trying to stay out of trouble like they'd promised the Empress (or something like that...). For one reason or another, they'd ended up in Nexus and heard rumours of people disappearing, probably to be sold into slavery. This being not long after they'd rescued their mother and 2 of their elder siblings from a slave camp, they weren't happy and decided to investigate.

Kito was reluctant to follow Taji's initial plan of wandering around the back streets of the Firewander district (where most disappearances seemed to happen) until they got mugged, and insisted they come up with a better scheme. By this point, it was too late: Taji had expertly manouevred him into an alley in Firewander as they talked. Kito then revealed one of his talents, and discovered someone's knife with his kidney (as an Exalt, he has more healing charms than Taji. Taji insists this is just because he's had more practice).

It was, of course, a ridiculous and foolhardy thing to do, and even though they both nearly died (and for a heartstopping moment Taji really thought she'd lost her brother), she still gets them into scrapes like this all the time.

And it's exactly the sort of behaviour for someone of her level of Valour as described by the book.


Wednesday, 22 November 2017


I've just been on holiday! And it surprises me to realise, this is my first proper holiday in nearly 10 years. Husbit and I go away frequently for Blood Bowl tournaments, and visit friends, and go to Alton Towers most years, and occasionally spend a day out somewhere, and those are all great, but not the same as going on holiday purely for the sake of being on holiday. My last holiday like that was when my little sister took me to Egypt for my birthday, nearly 10 years ago!

One of my best friends - Vikki from circus - wanted to go to Amsterdam for her birthday. She goes on little city breaks from time to time. I mentioned I'd been for a tournament so hadn't had any opportunity to really see the city and really wanted to go back, and our other friend Emily (also from circus) said I should go along as well (she always worries about Vikki being away by herself) - and pretty much like that, it was organised.

We had a great time. Our hotel rooms were next to each other, as we'd hoped. We were pretty shattered the first evening, and the restaurant Vikki had earmarked for dinner had unfortunately closed so we ate at a random little Indian place that tasted great, then back to the hotel where we watched TV and had an early night. The view from our rooms was beautiful - right over a dancing fountain.

Waffles for breakfast. Mine was covered in caramel sauce that mostly ended up down me, so I went with plain waffles or croissants on subsequent mornings.

I hadn't heard of our first stop, the Stedelijk Museum, before, but wandering around there I finally understood modern art. I'm still not a big fan of a lot of it, but I'm discovering I do like some.

From there, we went to the Amsterdam Museum, getting lost on the way and wet in the rain. This was the one place we had on our itinerary that we didn't enjoy: the first bit, about the history of the city, was fantastic, but as we explored deeper into the building, we became more uncomfortable: the layout is awkward and we started to feel trapped and lost, and there was this corridor in a lurid orange and lined with mirrors that we didn't enjoy at all. After that, we went on to the red light district to investigate the Red Lights Secrets museum of prostitution. Of all the places we went, this is the one where I particularly recommend getting the audio tour: Inga, who narrates it, is quite funny, and the stories are shocking, funny - and sad: before she came to Amsterdam, she worked in Germany and tells of finding the body of a murdered friend there. Amsterdam definitely seems to have served her better.

We stopped at Lush for bath bombs on the way back to the hotel (my favourite is Intergalactic, which is the reason I'm still covered in glitter) (it felt a bit silly to go to Lush in a foreign country, seeing as we're from the same part of the world), and again had an early night. I'm very grateful Vikki likes early nights; I'm sure I'd have struggled a lot more with pain and fatigue if she had wanted to be out later.

The next day had a shorter itinerary and less walking; staying in the museum district, we started at the Van Gogh Museum (my favourite artist, so I was thrilled about this). We were a little early - pre-booked tickets allowing us in at a set time - so stopped for a coffee at the cafe at the Stedelijk Museum, with the most chilled out barman anywhere who taught me my name in Dutch. 'Varen', pronounced like 'Farren' when he said it. He said you have to be careful when you say it, because in other contexts the same word is used to mean you're taking a ferry.
I loved the Van Gogh Museum. I had no idea he'd been so prolific, nor started so late: at 27, he decided to become an artist and went off to teach himself how. Saw pieces I'd never seen before and fell in love with. Also found a new artist called Zeng Fanzhi - a few pieces of his that were inspired by Van Gogh were on display and were fantastic, really exciting. Looking him up now, discovered there actually was a whole exhibition of his there at the moment, unfortunately closed just for this week so we didn't see any more. But we missed the signs saying anything about it while we were there, so we didn't know we were missing out. We both loved his take on Wheatfield with Crows - so vibrant.
From there, we went to the Rijksmuseum, but found a market and explored that first. Met a lovely artist, Elles, and bought a couple of prints. Then the Rijksmuseum, which we liked but didn't get the whole way round: we were pretty museumed out by that point! It has a really nice looking library; one of the guards chatted to us because he liked my t-shirt (a picture of a cat, book, and cup of coffee, saying "my needs are simple", and he related to it), and told us how you can get access to the library. Unfortunately, it was locked then. If we;d been able to sit there for half an hour or so, I think we might have made it all the way round.
On the way out, we spotted a diamond museum so popped in there: she'd hoped to book us onto the free Coster Diamond tour, but they never got back to her. Shame, because I'd have liked to see that. The diamond museum included the worlds smallest cut diamond, complete with a magnifying glass so you can actually see it. Seriously impressive: smaller than a snowflake. 
Dinner was at the noodle bar we'd eaten at nearly every night last time I was in Amsterdam, for nostalgia's sake. The staff weren't as good as I remembered: they messed up Vikki's order. Then another early night.
The next morning was the walk back to Centraal to see the Body Works museum that my brother had recommended. It was fascinating - I was a little worried it would be gory or make one or both of us squeamish, but actually it was great. I'd also wandered how they connected happiness with human body parts, but actually it worked really well. Also, there were swings and I haven't been on a swing since I was a kid and I'd forgotten how fun they are.

Flight home was really quick, but we were exhausted. Staggered to our hotel, collapsed in front of the TV then read for a bit - we were sharing this room and Vikki was worried she'd keep me up if she carried on reading after I'd taken my tablets, because she's very considerate like that. I think it would have been fine; I was more worried I'd keep waking her every time I became restless, even in separate beds (also, if I snore it tends to be loudly, I'm told).

Then we went shopping in London! Ostensibly, we were Christmas shopping, but we may have bought more presents for ourselves than other people...

Then the train home. I live really near the station, so walked the last bit and was met at the door by a Kitty and Husbit who were both very pleased to see me. As amazing a time as I'd had, I'd missed them both too. (I knew trains in the UK were more expensive than the rest of Europe, but this day really brought home to me how much more. It's ludicrous. The worst bit was how much it cost us to leave our luggage in the station lockup: £25, compared to €7 the day before.) 

We walked an average of 10k a day including the day we went to Amsterdam (so a bit over 50k for the 5 days). I expected to be exhausted and barely functioning today, but the biggest reason I had a lie in this morning is that the Cat pinned me down (she's sat on me most of the day, when she hasn't been eating or tearing around like a mad thing). I think it's because we had restful evenings and early nights every day, and Vikki was very careful to make sure I was ok all the time, and she'd pre-booked most of our tickets which meant we didn't have to queue at all - a real blessing. I think a large part of why I was so exhausted after Alton Towers this year was the queuing (I was also fatigued before going to Alton Towers, but had largely recovered before we went to Amsterdam).

I'd love to go back to Amsterdam and show Husbit around. I'd also really like to go away for a long weekend with Vikki again. I had an amazing time. 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Deadlands - Tam's War Ends; Our Next Steps

The war spills across the streets. Armed with the key we'd worked so hard for, the one we'd broken so many morals to earn, we head to the ruins of the Explorers' Lodge. The watchtower is mostly intact, so I approach - and quickly step back, hands raised, as shots land at my feet. Pennignton-Smythe calls out an apology to me, and we scurry in. They explain they're there because they think Kwan's men will come for the amulet, and as they say it, we see them coming.

The fight is short and brutal, with ogres and martial artists... and a set of twins, who make me on my creepiest day look like some kind of angel. They cast a spell on the tower, coating it in some kind of sticky black fire that drags it down to hell. We start to flee, but realise Chin's still inside. I manage to grab his hand and pull him out as the tower sank below the ground, leaving a sticky, stinky pit. The twins teleport away before we can regroup to retaliate.

We set to work clearing the rubble over the vault. It's long, heavy work and by the time we're done, the fighting that had spilled through the streets of Shan Fan was over. We hear Kang making a speech and look over to the Heavenly Park to see Tam holding Kwan in chains. Tam and Kang are working together now - Kang wants Tam's help rebuilding the Lion's Roar Triad and in return will give Tam the support of the Iron Dragons. He - Kang - talks about being destined to rule California, then walks up to Kwan and, with his bare hand, rips out Kwan's heart. I gag.

We pause for a shocked moment, then hurry into the vault and start helping Pennington-Smythe and Dillenger clear the bits they need. As thanks, they let us each pick an item, Smith & Robard gadgets. Chin gets a new pair of shoes - soft and grippy, to help him climb and sneak around quietly. Tesla chooses an electric stun gun. I don't spot Carson's pick, but I get something they call a 'spirit camera' - they claim it can take photos of ghosts. Give me a few plates and developing fluid and talk me through how to use it.

As we turn to leave the vault, a large, damaged piece of stone catches our eyes. Despite the damage, it looks like a map of California. We peer closer: there's a few curious marks on it, like lightning bolts. There's one around about where the cave was, the one with the Wailing Horror and (I shudder) that pile of bodies. The cave where Pennington-Smythe had hidden the amulet. We'd seen a lightning bolt on the wall there. Thinking on it, there was a similar mark at Felheimer's Folly, too - and sure enough, there's one on the map there too. I reason these are important - Explorer Society mission important - but Pennington-Smythe and Dillinger don't know anything about them. They hadn't even spotted the marks before, or had only ever seen them as damage. The stone's too big to take with us, so Tesla takes a rubbing.

We head back to the Sunrise Lodge. Now they have what they needed to protect, Pennington-Smythe and Dillinger leave for New York, telling us to telegraph if we need them. We stay in town for a few days, and learn that Kang and Tam have, indeed, made peace. Neither is in charge: they've crowned Joshua Norton as the Emperor of California to be their figurehead. 

The nearest lightning mark looks to be on the Isle of Ghost Tears, and I want to find out more about the place. It's meant to be very haunted, and it's said anyone who goes there comes back mad - or dead. Story is, Chiang-Nu came to Shan Fan with his wife Meng to join him here later. Problem is, he found alcohol and opium before she got there. They argued and she ran - just as the Quake hit. It seemed to be centred on her, and she dropped dead on the spot.

I'm frustrated that no one else is interested in the place, but we spot a message in the Tombstone Epitaph telling us of a meeting in Perdition in 8 days. It doesn't give us long to get there: we leave immediately and make it in 6: All Hallow's Eve.