Songs from the Nationals

For the last four years I’ve been running a D&D/Pathfinder game for the Student Nationals. To make the game more fun, I’ve started making props for the players – last year they were given Beholder deely boppers:

This year, microphones:

Thankfully, the props do usually get the desired player involvement.
Kieran Harwood has kindly provided the lyrics to the limericks and songs he wrote on the fly for the band of War-Chanter bards during the game.
Obviously, a lot of context is lost if you weren’t there… Imagine “The Voice” with monsters:

There once was a fighter from Tyr
who fought his foes without fear
But on the plane of air
he was attacked by a bear
and now all he wants is a beer

There once was an evil assassin most foul
who’s face was hidden by a cowl
he tried to kill our hero
but his chances were zero
so in seconds he threw in the towel

There once was a demon from the depths of the Abyss
Who sealed her deals with a lone kiss
One day she got drunk
and made out with a skunk
And now her breath smells of … urine

There once was a half-orc who wrote limericks
and this is an example of those limericks
His alignment was any non-good
and his lyrics were also non-good
plus the last line didn’t even rhyme

There once was a wizard on the coast
who’s name was feared by most
he saw some tieflings perform
and said “that was the norm
and their music is as bland as toast”

There once was a tiefling in a band
who’s music kept getting them panned
They were coarse and irritating
and they seemed to get everywhere
So basically, they were just like sand

There once was an elf walking into a bar
accompanied be a dwarf and a centaur
they started drinking at one
and when they were done
they had all ended up on the floor

There once was a wasp summoned from Hell
that left us a great tale to tell
we beat the beast down
with nary a frown
and the summoner’s name starts with “Bell”

There once was a giant wasp, oh shucks!
It flies at Goodberry, but she ducks
we barely fend it away
until we’re gone from the fray
and I’ll just end by saying: “4th Ed sucks”

There once was a dwarf with a tiny beard
who was neither respected or feared
a fight he did pick
but with his small… trick
his opponents simply laughed and jeered

There once was a pair of giant space hamsters
and we’re riding a Spelljammer with them
They are super cute
sorry, this isn’t a limerick
I just wanted to brag about the hamsters

There once was a Marilith on the drum
who was angered by Modrons being dumb
The brass was in dismay
because one was a flambé
but a band’s only as good as its sum

There once was a man who lost his principles
But he had lots of money, so didn’t care
Turns out this isn’t a limerick
There’s not even a fifth line
… … …

The treant’s time is up, our time is now
You can’t vote for him, our time is now
It’s the Shillelaghs, boy We’re singin’ now
You can vote for us, our time is now!
In case you forgot or fell off we’re hot – knock your bark off
Our gold pieces fat plus I can’t turn the swell off
The Shillelaghs, doin’ singin’, we live this
It’s automatic we win this – oh you hear those harps, you finished
War-Chanter Bards, and we stay near you fightin’
Plus we’re singin’ at you chumps like we’re thunder and lightnin

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Helping science

Many years ago, I used to sell items on eBay for friends and co-workers. Some of the items which didn’t sell are still cluttering up the loft, over a decade on. One piece of electronics I decided to dust off and give another go was a Philips Facial Studio HB175 tanning device. Thought that maybe February would be a good time to sell as the sunshine was in short supply.

Surprisingly someone from Southampton won the collection-only auction and offered to pop round to pick it up. I assume he was in the area…

Great news was that he worked in the Oceanography department of Southampton university and needed a UV source for one of their test tanks rather than to top up his tan.

So somewhere in Southampton, maybe at the National Oceanography Centre, I’ve managed to help some science get done.

This was a triumph!
I’m making a note here:
Huge success

It’s hard to overstate
my satisfaction




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Finally, a phone upgrade

“Early adopter” is not really something you would expect to see on my technology profile.

For Christmas 2011, I was treated to a HTC Radar Windows Phone (a year after Windows 7 came out). It’s a lovely little phone – perfectly pocket- and hand-sized. Still does most of what I need it for although the browser (IE9) tends not to be appreciated by some web sites.

So five years on and for Christmas 2016, I was treated to a Microsoft Lumia 950 (a year after it was released). No HTC this time as they’ve dropped out of the Windows Phone market before making a WP10 product. This phone is definitely not pocket-friendly and the screen size may mean it’s actually in the phablet range.

I’ve added a 64GB MicroSD (which I couldn’t do with the Radar and its laughable unexpandable 6.5GB storage) so I may be retiring my trusty Zune as well, the latter’s 30GB of music and podcasts now easily accommodated. Nine years of stalwart service so I’ll be sad to see it go.


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Dr Strange at the movies

It must be getting on for nearly 40 years since I last read a Dr Strange story and that would have been a reprint of the earlier 1960s US comic as backup feature in Marvel UK’s “The Avengers”. I found the character a good alternative to the more conventional superhero fare being reprinted. A character based on Eastern mysticism made a lot more sense than the hundreds of weird and wonderful superheroes, each with their own unique origin and costume, often lumped together into convenient groups like a Dungeons and Dragons party. (I had forgotten until researching this that Dr Strange ran the Defenders, a band of unconnected superheroes, which I now find mildly disappointing).    

The film made good use of the ‘injured neurosurgeon’ origin storyline and introduced the main protagonists that Dr Strange encountered in the comics. I did feel at the time that the setup dragged on for too long before getting to the interesting stuff but on reflection this time spent on character development was probably worthwhile later on.

I knew that the special effects had to be over-the-top to match the weird and wonderful settings for the original stories and I don’t think they scrimped. The continually changing cityscape was very impressive, especially compared to the Dark Dimension which as a result seemed a bit tame.

The comedy content was spot on, especially the short scene with the cloak’s raised collar. Thankfully the Easter Egg wasn’t left until after the final credits have finished – appreciated. And a Surface product placement – makes a change for me to have something they’re trying to sell.

Overall, a great film for anyone that likes action movies but doesn’t really appreciate characters in silly costumes. 

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So you want your players to be Eyeball Beholderkin …

Step 1 – buy some dead cheap deely boppers



Step 2 – decapitate them



Step 3 – find a use for all the decapitated heads



Step 4 – Use Duct tape to stick a pair of headless deely boppers together

Make sure the springs of the deely boppers don’t line up with each other.
You want to create a spread-out fan of 4 springs.
The head band may have sets of spikes to help grip the person’s head.
You may want to remove some of the sets to stop the new head band being too spikey.



Step 5 – Cut off the excess head band

As the two bands are off-set from each other, there will be an each of extra plastic at each end.
Cut the excess off. This will mean the taped head band will be shorter than the original but the ends will be even.



Step 6 – Keep taping



Step 7 – Buy a load of polystyrene balls

40mm is a good size.



Step 8 – Drill holes in the polystyrene balls.

The hole needs to be small enough so that the head band springs fit in nice and tightly without needing glue.



Step 9  – Assemble

Replace any polystyrene balls that are not secure.



Step 10 – spray paint

You will need to hold each head band and spray each assembly individually.
Trying to spray them as in the photo will leave lots of bare patches.
Leave to dry for a few hours in such a way that the balls don’t touch anything.
Apply another coat and leave for a few days.



Step 11 – Make some bends (optional)

Insert straightened paper clips into the springs and bend to required angle.
This allows you to add bends to the springs without damaging the springs themselves.



Step 12 – Decorate with stick-on eyes



Step 13 – add some veins

Sharpy black or silver work well on purple.



Step 14 – Make as many as you need



Step 15 – Enjoy




  • Polystyrene balls – 10p each
  • Deely boppers – £1 each
  • Stick-on eyes – a few pennies each

Total £2.50 each

Also need:

  • Spray paint
  • Duct tape
  • Sharpie pens
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At the Mountains of Madness in Bracknell

I’ve now added HP Lovecraft to the list of authors whose books I have seen become theatre. He’s in the good company of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen which indicates how short and niche that list really is.

Tonight was a one-man show of “At the Mountains of Madness” by the Icarus Theatre group. There isn’t a lot of horror on the stage at the best of times so I decided to give the opening night a visit.

The cast was Tim Hardy, a RADA Director and RSC veteran, supported by recorded voices played through the on-stage radio set. For over an hour, Tim becomes William Dyer, the leader of an ill-fated expedition Antarctic expedition, trying to convince us of the folly of visiting the southern continent again.

As Tim is the only person on stage, he’s the focus of the audience’s attention the whole time without any breaks or scene changes. After a while, you realise how good the acting is when you notice how engrossed you are in the story. There are only a handful of props and all the events of the story are described, rather than displayed, so it’s pretty much like a radio drama where the pictures are vividly projected in your head.

The group held a Q&A afterwards (as it was the first show) which went well. Theo Holloway (sitting between Tim and Max Lewendel, the director) came up with the idea of putting the book on the stage and managed the production, sound and music.


Tim was not at all familiar with Lovecraft’s work, which he felt came in handy as he wasn’t at all precious about cutting away at the script to get something that would work on the stage. This obviously worked as the play definitely still had the right feel. Lovely guy, Tim. Very pleasant to listen to.


The show is now on tour around the UK until mid-May and well worth your time.

Flyer artwork (from the Icarus Theatre website):

AtMoM Image - No text


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So we bought an Xbox One

Hard to believe that the Xbox One had been out for two years before we had any reasons to buy one.

I looked around for offers and, out of a poor bunch, settled for the FIFA 16 bundle at Tesco with Halo 5 as the extra game. I’m rubbish at both football games and Halo so this shows how limited the selection to choose from was.

I ordered Rock Band with the legacy Wi-Fi adapter at the same time off Amazon, naïvely hoping our old USB kit would work. In the end, Rock band 4 couldn’t use the USB guitars, just the USB microphone; luckily I had a wireless guitar which the legacy adapter (bought at extra cost) allowed me to use.

Went for supermarket delivery – picking up the Xbox and Halo from the local Tesco Express, and Rock Band from the shop down the path that participates in the Pass My Parcel scheme. A parcel collection point open from 6:30am to 8pm with email notification kicks the postman with his “Sorry, you were out” card and depots in the middle of business parks back into the 20th century. The East Reading Royal Mail delivery office shuts at 1pm every week day except Wednesday when they manage 8pm. Too little, too late, but I’m now way off-topic.

So I managed to set up the console without too much difficulty – the main obstacle was the rat’s nest of cables and plug sockets behind the TV (I’ll get round to plugging the Toshiba VCR back in some time…) The design doesn’t look particularly special – a standard black case with sockets placed aesthetically rather then where they’d be useful. I found the touch-sensitive power and Blu-ray eject buttons a nice touch until I discovered how easy it is to activate them by accidentally brushing your fingers past them.

We soon decided that the console must be defective. It was horribly slow in games and the interface was often unresponsive. Maybe the hard drive or optical disk drive were broken? It was hard to tell as home use electronics never have any useful diagnostics. Eventually we decided that it was working – just also trying to download and install gigabytes and gigabytes of updates. It hadn’t helped that the FIFA 16 game was a download-only version which took forever to come down the line. Once the updates for the console and Halo had arrived, that is. The Xbox was basically unusable for HOURS.


Eventually, the console settled down, 60 GB later, to an acceptable performance level and we could play some Rock Band. It was then that we discovered the nightmare that is the Xbox One Store.

  1. You cannot just press the ‘A’ button to get the console to download all the music you bought for Rock Band 3 on the Xbox 360. No, you have to download them one track (or pack) at a time. This is by design due to Microsoft’s restrictions.
  2. To find a song to download, you slide through the row of titles until you find what you want. Once you’ve queued it up for download, you’re back at the start of the row again. Each and every time. And there seems to be a limit to the size of the row so you can’t seem to display all the available songs.
  3. To speed things up, I searched for key words from song titles, tediously typed in to the on-screen keyboard using the controller. (Yes, I should have gone to find a USB keyboard in case that made things easier.) This way, I only had a few titles to choose from instead of dozens. This was a two-person operation – one reading from the list of song titles we owned and the other using the controller. It took ages and we know we’ve missed some.
  4. To get the list, I went to the Xbox 360 store website and downloaded my purchase history. There is no equivalent website for the Xbox One. I can go to a purchase and tell it to download to an Xbox 360 again but I can’t request a download to an Xbox One.

Another time I set up the Xbox Media Player app to play music stored on the server in the study. There are a LOT of albums ripped to the hard disk from our CD collection, all indexed on the server. Media Player on the PC would allow you to view these by album title, artists, etc. in the way most people are properly familiar with. The equivalent on the Xbox One tries to do the same but seems to be designed to cope with only a handful of albums. I couldn’t get the clunky row of titles to scroll past ‘B’. Maybe it just needs time to cope with the large amount of indexed data. Some indication of this would be nice. I did start some tracks to see how it handled playing data over the home network. Not well. Some worked but then the app got bored and gave up trying.


Is there anything I like about the Xbox One? No, not really.

  • The graphical quality within the games is nice but that’s a bare minimum and to be expected from a replacement for the Xbox 360 that came out 10 years ago.
  • I resent being unable to use most of the accessories from the 360 (controllers, steering wheels, Kinect, etc.)
  • The user interface is confusing at best (and I thought I was used to the 360’s similar UI). 
  • I’ve had to upgrade our Broadband to unlimited so we won’t keep blowing our monthly quota. Obviously, Samantha is VERY happy about this.

Thankfully, I still have the Xbox 360 plugged in to the TV for all the things the Xbox One can’t do properly (or at all).

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