Vacation planning

So, every once in a while, I get a question from a colleague or acquaintance about vacationing in Japan. We have been there quite a few times ourselves, and it’s a big country, so people want to know where to go and get some “insider tips”. Often, people have already done some homework, and they can point to some trips prepared by tour operators.
I get that you want to see a lot of different things from the place you are visiting — especially from the Netherlands, Japan is far away, and I guess most people would visit only once. But those trips have a lot of travel — and sitting in the train is interesting the first time, but after three trip in a Shinkansen, you know the drill and I think you would be better served by spending more time seeing the sights. And why would you schedule an excursion to Nara and Fushimi Inari on the same day? Both those places can be enjoyed for a full day by themselves!

I guess that I’d rather spend some time at a place to really be there, instead of hurrying along, take a few pictures and then go to the next place. It makes it hard for me to give advice. Perhaps I should think of a ‘recommended itinerary’ that I can just give to people as inspiration, as a starting point?

Spiel 2018 trip

Every year, when the end of October looms, it’s time for Spiel, the largest tabletop gaming exhibition in the world! It’s held in Essen, which is about a 90 minute drive from our home, and we have been attending on a single day for some years now. We prefer going on the first day (when everything (and everyone!) is still relatively fresh), but it wasn’t clear until late whether klik had to work on Thursday evening. But her lesson on Thursday was cancelled because everyone was out, because it’s the fall vacation here — so we could go on Thursday after all.
We set out at 09:00, which would see us arrive at the fair about 30 minutes after opening. When we started going, quite a few years ago, we could always park close to the fairgrounds themselves. Later, it got busier and we had to park in a parking garage a bit of a walk away. We were aiming at that again this year, but everything was full as we arrived. And since every road towards the fair had been jam-packed with cars, it took us a long, long time to get to the off-site parking where we could park and grab a shuttlebus. Next year, we might leave earlier, and we’ll go to the offsite parking straight away — it’s conveniently just off the highway (for future reference: exit 26 of the A52), and the shuttle buses are quite frequent.

So we were off to a bad/late start, but we had an excellent day anyway. We didn’t have enough time to look at everything (ain’t nobody got time for that!) but we managed to hit all the stands I had marked up as being interesting before we joined B&G for afternoon tea, so after that we just wandered the halls. Mainly halls 4, 5 and 6, because they’re not as crowded, and that’s where all the ‘odd’ stuff is: the first three halls are large hard-core boardgaming companies, but the halls with the larger numbers are the smaller publishers, RPG companies, cosplay accessories etcetera. It’s a bit more chaotic, but I find it more interesting.

Spoiler Inside: Photos of (some of) the loot!

It’s always kind of exhausting: lots of walking, lots of simuli, but it’s always a lot of fun. We’re going next year, too.

Daylight Savings

So we’ve gone back to winter time (the ‘actual time’ with 12:00 being the time when the sun is highest in the sky. There’s the usual grumbling (“The government is messing with our clocks again!”) but I really like daylight savings time. Our schedules are not set up such that 12:00 is the middle of your day: rather, you spend more time awake in the PM than the AM. So DST really means that you have more daylight in spring and fall after your working day.

• A meme:
→ Comment with “Come at me, bro”
→ I’ll respond by asking you five questions, so I can get to know you better.
→ Update your journal with the answers to the questions.
→ Include this explanation in the post and offer to ask other people questions.
I was asked these questions by tabula_rasa. Sorry for not replying sooner!

Share a roleplay campaign you’ve done that would be worthy of a movie or novel adaptation.
The campaigns we had that are based on visual media (such as the Star Wars and Star Trek games) tend to be played very ‘visually’, with us describing scenes and cuts, so those would be easy to translate. And it’s fun to play as if you’re part of the media that the game emulates. But I don’t think those would add something to those franchises, because they’d fit in with what’s already there.
So I think I’ll go with our campaign of The Sprawl, a cyberpunk game with a setting inspired by William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (of which the first book is the influential Neuromancer). We had a great group of players with a great group of characters, and an excellent GM that gave us enough room to play our characters the way we wanted and yet still challenged us with great missions and complications. A TV series based on that campaign would be super-cool, since the setting allows for moody visuals.
Sadly, the campaign is defunct and we’ll never get to play those characters again. But the sessions were broadcast live on Twitch, and those streams have been preserved as a playlist on YouTube, so you could use that as some sort of audiobook instead.

If you could visit any time past or future (and catching the communicable diseases of the day was no object), when would you visit and why?
Probably 100 years into the future. Imagine if someone from 1918 would visit today? Things are completely different (and, one could argue, much better) today, yet there would be still enough that is familiar to allow them to connect the dots. I am convinced that history trends towards a better life for everyone, and I’d like to see it farther out yet still close enough that I can understand it.

What is the most unexpectedly useful course you have ever taken?
The bookbinding and cartonnage courses I did. It started out as a hobby (and it still is), but we have been repairing books and making a little bit of spending money off our skills too.

What is a place you have been that you would recommend people travel to at some point?
Tokyo, because it has everything. It is super-urban (standing on the 51st floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office and seeing the city stretch out in all directions as far as the eye can see is quite the thing), so it has all the usual urban stuff. But it also has some really great parks and grand vistas over the bay.
Basically, it has something for everybody!

Recommend me a recipe you enjoy! (Preferably gluten-free :P).
I have to admit that I don’t really cook a lot from recipes. And most of the things I cook, I use a ready-made spice mix, because creating a curry paste from raw ingredients is not my style. So I don’t really have a ‘secret recipe’ to share with you.
One of the ‘tricks’ that I do is to dice some sweet potatoes and chuck those in the air-fryer for about 25 minutes. We use that instead of rice to go with our (indian) curry, and it’s glorious!

Thanks for your questions!

Taking stock

One of the biggest chores in reconstructing our living situation is putting the books in the new bookcase(s). When we brought the books and the old bookcases upstairs, speed was more important than organisation, so they’re just all stacked haphazardly. But of course when the books take their rightful place in the living, we want to have some sort of grouping to have similar books together. (Certainly nothing like Dewey Decimal, but it has to make sense for us.)
So yesterday I spent quite some time pulling out all the books of my RPG collection and putting it in the new bookcase — it is certainly the largest category of books we have, and I am the one who has to organise them. A lot of work, but in the end it turns out I have just over 2 meters of shelf filled with RPG books. And over a quarter of that (56 cm) are classic Iron Crown Enterprises releases: the Middle-Earth Roleplaying boxed set (2nd edition), lots of Rolemaster (multiple editions and lots of sourcebooks) and almost the entire run of SpaceMaster (including two copies of the rules).

These days, I tend to buy PDFs instead of physical books: shipping costs tends to take out all the fun of getting physical books, and there are no local stores that I could visit to buy those books. There are two notable exceptions: one is every book published by Cubicle 7 for The One Ring, the current iteration of a Middle-Earth RPG (and, in my opinion, the first RPG to really capture the feel of the books!). The other is Tales from the Loop, an RPG set in an alternative 80’s by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag — I think those two books are all that’s going to come out, but I recently participated in a Kickstarter for a follow-up and sequel, set in the 90’s…
Both those series are gorgeous books with lots of atmosphere and great illustrations, so they’re worth it. There’s still some room in the bookcase for expansion of the RPG collection!

Interview meme

• A meme:
→ Comment with “Come at me, bro”
→ I’ll respond by asking you five questions, so I can get to know you better.
→ Update your journal with the answers to the questions.
→ Include this explanation in the post and offer to ask other people questions.

These questions are from ashmedai:
1. If you do grow a garden one day, what would be some must-haves, crops you’d absolutely want to grow yourself?
Carrots. Both the small snack-size ones (because they make good snacks) and the chunky ones that go well in stews and Japanese curry. And every working day, I have diced tomatoes and cucumber with my salad, so it would be good to grow those too.
I’m not sure how hard it would be to grow sweet potatoes, but we use those in the curry too, and it would be good to grow those too.

2. You love RPG and gaming, but I have NO clue about it. What got you into it, and what are some of the things you love about it?
I got introduced to RPGs when I was 14 by a classmate who insisted I would like it. He was going to run a game at his house (at the other end of the city) for some friends (some of which I knew, some of which I didn’t know) and I was invited too. It was about 45 minutes by bicycle to get there, and the first day my mom brought me by car. The rest of the week, I cycled there to play in the game, because he was totally right: I did like RPGs.
We played Rolemaster, and I got to play a Hobbit Thief, because that’s an easy role to fulfil within the party with few special rules. We played through a published scenario, “Adventure at Minas Anghen”, from the module “Haunted Ruins of the Dunlendings”, which is set in Middle-Earth. Fifteen minutes in, I experienced my first character death!
All of the people in that group were a member of the Eindhovense Rollenspel Groep, and I joined that too. I got to play a lot with them.

What I love about RPGs is the unbounded nature of the game. With computer games, you can never step out of the boundaries set for you, but in an RPG, moderated by a human Game Master, you can! Thinking up a character in a particular setting, getting to experience an adventure, making choices about the world and your character that matter (in that world, at least), that’s what I like about it. And the communal story-telling and social aspects (with the right group…) make playing an RPG a very special experience.

3. You list tea – what are your favorite kinds or brands, and what makes them so good?
My go-to tea is the Keemun Congou from Simon Levelt, a Dutch tea and coffee trading company. It’s our “house tea”, and I just never get bored of it. It has a rich, deep taste, but it doesn’t have a lot of tannin nor caffeine, so it’s easy on the stomach and can be drunk throughout the day. It’s just the best.

4. You have beautiful cats. How and where did you meet them?
Our previous cat was a black cat that was deaf, which we got from a shelter when it was around nine. It was really my partner’s cat: it was always hanging out with her, and while it seemed to like me enough, it was her that he loved. All the same, I was pretty heart-broken when we had to let him go: his kidneys were failing and he clearly was done with life like that. Force-feeding him was a traumatic experience for me.
Then only a couple of weeks after, I realised that I missed having a cat around the house. We talked it over, and we reached the conclusion that it would be best to have two cats: back then, we were on the road a lot, so our new cats would have company while we were gone. We also agreed that we would get cats from a shelter: there’s enough cats being found and/or abandoned. We looked at the adoption site of the humane society and found a few sets of cats that belonged together at a shelter that was reasonably close.
We went to visit there, and I didn’t want to bring our cat carrier with us, because I was afraid that we would act on impulse and return home with cats without being really prepared. The first set we visited hung out in a room with a lot of other cats, and there was a volunteer in that room there. She was there to take pictures of the cats to put up on the adoption site, and she pointed out the cats on our list to us. Klik insists that it was because I still had some liverwurst from lunch on my fingers, but I’m not sure — but I easily gained the trust of this first pair, and before long I was giving them both head scritches. When I stopped, they mewed at me to continue — something that hadn’t happened before with these two.
We looked at other pairs on our list, but the decision had already been made. In the car back, I regretted the decision to not bring the carrier with us, but we got the house in order and collected them from the shelter a few days later.

5. I think we all have moments in our lives we’d like to re-live over and over again. What are some of yours?
As cliche as it is, I think I’m going to go with our wedding day. It was a whole day that was totally about us, and everybody had a good time. The weather was fine, the locations were good, we had good food… It was wonderful.

Thanks for the questions!

Last Sunday, we made characters for a Star Trek Adventures campaign, the current incarnation of a Star Trek RPG. We went through the rule system and it seems pretty cool. I get to play a Betazoid engineer, the lowest-ranked player character…
And yesterday, we had our first session. And after the “opening scenes”, our GM showed us the intro he made for our “series”, made from scratch!

So cool to see your nickname in the credits like that.
(I go by ‘FubFubFub’ on services that require usernames with more than three characters, like Twitch, which is where I connected with this group.)

On dungeons

Fantasy RPGs have two important tropes. The first is dragons, which I won’t discuss here. It’s a trope, but it’s not exclusive to RPGs, so there’s plenty to read about them elsewhere.

The second trope, which you don’t see explored in any detail in other media, are deserted dungeons. Man-made structures, from a forgotten culture, underneath ruins, that adventuring parties explore — either to cleanse the evil inhabitants or to seek treasure. I always wondered how that could be: how could the structures that a previous group of people left behind, just be forgotten? (I will ignore things like natural caves, because those are just there and not constructed. It’s specifically the dungeons with the 5′ corridors leading off into the dark that interest me.)

And then I realised that in real life, we have unexplored dungeons too! Minus the magical monsters, which I think we can all be thankful for… Of course, there are the corridors through the pyramids and the graves of the pharaos: left behind by a previous civilisation, which we know about, and yet when those were discovered, it made a huge splash.
Or take Rome: after it was sacked, the population dropped immensely: without the structures of society, there was no way to support an urban population that large. The people who stayed behind demolished the buildings to use the bricks for their own houses, and cows grazed on the Forum. Could there not be undiscovered halls and corridors underneath, that nobody knew about? Would someone who was going to flee the city before the pillaging hordes, not stash their wealth in a hidden passage underneath their house, as to lighten their load — intending to return for it when things quieted down?

More bizarre is the Shell Grotto in Margate. Such intricate patterns of shells — and yet nobody knows who made it, or what its purpose is.
Or take the underground city of Derinkuyu. These underground structures existed for over a 1000 years, yet when the original inhabitants were forced out, it took less than a generation to completely forget that the town was built on top of this. Only after 30 years did they “discover” the structures when someone knocked down a wall in their cellar. That means that the dungeons were forgotten within living memory!
Or take the region of Bagan, where kings and princes of the distant past build thousands of temples. Those were Buddhist, so they could theoretically be still used for their original purpose, but suppose that they’ve belonged to a now-dead religious system? Suppose all the houses back then had been made of wood, and only the stone temples are now left?

So I learned that having dungeons around is actually not as far-fetched a story-device as I thought it was. This knowledge will certainly inform my future scenario-building.
(Do you want to know more? Check out this video and this video by the excellent Great Big Story channel.)

Anime reviews

A new quarter, so a new TV season starts in Japan. And with that come new anime series! As usual, we will be watching the first episodes of (almost) everything, and decide which ones are interesting enough to watch to completion. But I am not going to write reviews of those first episodes anymore.

In July, we were so busy with the house and all that, that I did not have time (nor even the infrastructure!) to write the reviews. It’s always a lot of work, but nobody missed them. And it’s a lot of work, something that sticks to the to-do list for a long time (even months, in some cases). The most I get out of it is that people comment along the lines of “whoa, you watch a lot of anime!” Yes, we know, thanks.

So I’m going to spare myself the trouble of collecting all the information and writing the reviews. If you want to know what we thought of a certain series, feel free to ask! And you can always check out my anime list, where you can also see which mark (1-10) we gave the series we watched to completion.

Interview meme

• A meme snagged from kitzune:
→ Comment with “Come at me, bro”
→ I’ll respond by asking you five questions, so I can get to know you better.
→ Update your journal with the answers to the questions.
→ Include this explanation in the post and offer to ask other people questions.

1) What is one of the funniest moments you can remember from a D&D (or similar role-playing game) session?
Oh wow, I’m not even sure. There are tons of those “no shit, there I was”-stories in the RPGs I’ve played. And most need so much context that it’s almost impossible to convey why it was such a funny moment. Sometimes, it’s how an odd die roll derails an otherwise tense situation, or when a player does something against the character that they have spent a whole campaign building up — if you don’t have that context, you just don’t “get” why it’s so funny while the people that were there had to spend a few minutes to recover from their laughter.
There’s this meme in RPG circles that you don’t start telling people about your character if you don’t play together, because it’s just a lot of context-information, and while you think your character is the coolest ever, it’s just not interesting to other people. I think “funniest moments” are like that too.

2) What’s your favorite fruit?
They’re called mineola here in the Netherlands, tangelo elsewhere. So juicy and sour-sweet!
Close second is persimmon, or kaki as they’re called here (and in Japan). Sweet and soft taste.

3) Describe your perfect date.
Non-serious answer:
The perfect date
Serious answer:
Hmm, I haven’t “dated” as such for so long… Probably going somewhere nice for a walk: a beach or a forest. Not too far, just a calm stroll so you can get some decent chatting in. Then rest up for a bit and have a good dinner at a good restaurant with some creative dishes.

4) If you could visit anywhere in the world for about a week, where would you want to go?
Tokyo is an amazing place to visit for a week: there’s so much going on there that you wouldn’t get bored for a week — possibly even longer.

5) If you were tasked with introducing a complete newbie to anime, which three tv shows would you recommend?
That’s a good question. I prefer to do “personalised recommendations” and always start by asking what this person enjoys in other media: no matter how good the mecha anime is, if this person mostly enjoys fantasy, it will fall flat. But since we’re talking about someone who is a completely blank slate, I’ll just give three general recommendations and explain why. I will stay away from the typical ‘shounen’ series, because I don’t enjoy them — even though they are hugely popular. So if you ask someone else, you’d undoubtedly get stuff like One Piece, Dragonball Z or Naruto in there…
(I keep a running list of series we’ve watched, and we assign a 1 to 10 score. You can find the list, sorted by score, here.)

  1. Mushishi – ‘moody’, magic-realism with lots of atmosphere and slow-moving scenes. It shows how anime can be used to tell really interesting stories. It really is a perfect series.
  2. RahXephon – Sort-of mecha series with a grand, mysterious plot. It shows how anime can be used to tell epic, fantastical stories.
  3. Nichijou – Funniest comedy series ever. The way things are set up in the episodes, but also through multiple episodes is superb. It shows how anime can be freed from all kinds of conventions to do something truly great.

But the more I think about it, the more I think there should also be other series in there — but it’s also a matter of personal taste, like with all media recommendations.