Gilgamesh Reviews Roundup

Sarah Lott as Hunter. Picture: McVirn Etienne

“Writer Piers Beckley artfully condenses the source material to create a lively story that plays out in a mix of poetry, prose and song. The icing on the cake however is Ray Shell’s boisterous direction, which remains sympathetic to the spirit of the Gilgamesh legend while using various theatrical devices to shape the narrative.”

 – The Stage

“It is a story full of detail and symbolic meaning of which Beckley offers the dramatic highlights, fights, steamy sex, ritual and exotic images and it is told is poetic and heightened language that makes it easy to mix the hieratic and the natural. […] Beckley, Shell and the company demonstrate that it doesn’t depend on scale to deliver an epic—and this is one that is full of dramatic surprises.”

 – British Theatre Guide

“It seems like an almost impossible task to reduce twelve long stories into just one hour, but somehow Piers Beckley has managed it and it makes a stunning play. […] These people and the talented cast all work hard to make a high class imaginative production.”

remotegoat

“So, let’s set the scene. Welcome to Uruk, a barbaric city whose king – Luke Trebilcock’s rangily charismatic Gilgamesh- is the living law of instant life and death, endlessly entitled to cursory rape 24-7. Instantly, we’re immersed in a set of brilliantly sparse, sepia backdrops eerily reminiscent of a prehistoric spin on Edvard Munch’s iconic Scream painting, strikingly stalked by women worthy of Wonder Woman’s bloodthirsty Amazons. Like everything else here – set, acting and costumes – the language is as bluntly, pleasingly effective as a smack in a prissy, unsuspecting sycophant’s face. Tough, compressed and uncompromising, Piers Beckley’s script is pure bullet-points to Ray Shell’s machine-gun direction, a seamless montage of scenes bursting with self-contained power.”

QX magazine

 

Tickets are still available for the final performances this week.

 

Outside In Makes It So

Outside In Makes It So

A new release!

I have a piece in one of my favourite assemblages of oddities, the new Outside In, which has just come out in the shops.

This one – Outside In Makes It So – contains 174 curious and wonderful essays on or about or around Star Trek: The Next Generation, each of which is roughly tied to one of the original episodes and/or films. Very roughly in some cases, which is part of the joy.

Mine is for one of my favourite episodes: Cause and Effect. Which, for my money, also has the best pre-credits sequence of any episode of anything ever.

My fee (as with all of the other Outside Ins I contributed to) will be going to charity, but technically this is the highest per-word rate that I’ve ever had.

Gonna just luxuriate in that concept for a while.

Anyway, you can buy it from the ATB store here.

Blocked

Ray Shell directs Gilgamesh (Luke Trebilcock) and Enkidu (Toby Wynn-Davies) as they enter the Forest of Cedar in search of the demon Humbaba…

Three weeks isn’t a long rehearsal period by any stretch of the imagination, so we’re being very disciplined about it.

The first week was for blocking – letting the actors know where and when they need to be on our stage. Then once they’ve got the mechanical aspects down, they can bring all their skill to the acting part of their role.

Which is what this week is for, as we run each scene again and again, and look at the show as a whole. This is where the actors find their characters and bring them into the world.

It’s an absolute treat watching the show come together. You can have a read about just how proud I am at in this interview with The New Current.

We’re going to take you on a journey into the secret tales of the world of 4,000 years ago, with sex, death, love, danger, and mystery. Tales of Gods and Men, of the sacred harlot and the beast-man, of the King who raised and almost destroyed a city, and the man that he fell in love with – and lost.

You can buy tickets online or by calling 033 3012 4963.

 

 

Great Humbaba

Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

That fella leering out of you from the front of our poster?

That’s Humbaba. A demon with seven auras, the touch of any of which bring death.

He’s also sometimes known as Huwawa, and the picture is of a clay mask made of the demon about 3,800 years ago and currently in the British Museum. You can find out a little more about the provenance of the mask at the British Museum website.

Imagine. Almost 4,000 years ago, this mask would be used to tell the story of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and their battle with the demon in the Forest of Cedars.

A story that even then had already been told for hundreds of years.

See Humbaba fight Gilgamesh and Enkidu again this October at the White Bear Theatre.

Tickets are on sale now.

 

Gilgamesh

My new play Gilgamesh has its world premiere at the White Bear theatre in Kennington this October.

I’m teaming up again with that giant of the stage Ray Shell, who previously directed my adaptations of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist to great acclaim at the Lion & Unicorn theatre.

The play is on at the White Bear theatre in Kennington from the 10th to the 21st October, and tickets are on sale now at £15 / £12 concessions.

More details – many more details – to come over the next few weeks.

Buy tickets online or by calling 033 3012 4963

Hacking D&D 5e for a more cinematic experience

Is the name of an impromptu talk I gave at this year’s GameCamp. If you’re at all interested in games and their creation,  you should make sure to come along to the next one.

As it seemed to go down quite well, I thought I’d write it up here in case anyone else finds it useful.

First things first; it’s really more about a dramatic experience rather than a cinematic one. It’s about some of the techniques and house rules I used to make the experience of playing D&D align more closely to the dramatic experience of watching a TV series.

The game played was a level 1-20 D&D campaign using the 5e ruleset. I’d never run a 1-20 campaign before in any version of D&D and wanted to give the rules a thorough working out. The Obsidian Portal record of the campaign can be found here, in case anyone is interested, but it isn’t in any way necessary to read that to get some use out of this post.

As well as a decent dramatic experience the other thing I wanted from the campaign was to play through some of the classic modules. I wanted my players and I to experience the Tomb of Horrors, the Village of Hommlet, and the Red Hand of Doom. These are part of the shared experience of D&D, and I wanted to give that experience to all of us round the table.

The Campaign Setting

We started in the Village of Hommlet, and I had prepped (by which I mean written two paragraphs about each) half a dozen storylines about what was going on in the world – a civil war, an invasion from the north by goblins, an undead army, the rise of a lich, the exploration of a new land, and a power struggle among the Great Powers (The One, Asmodeus, and the Kings and Queens of the Feywild).

I also had a couple of themes I wanted to explore – what is it like to live in a world where the dead can be resurrected, and how do the Great Powers interact with a world in which there is incontrovertible proof of their existence.

Because I’d set these themes and storylines up, I could then present stories to the characters, and see where their explorations led them. And because I had various set-pieces and dungeons ready to roll (the classic modules), then wherever the PCs wanted to go I knew that I could have some story and a dungeon waiting for them.

So it’s sort of branching-story with a bit of sandbox.

It turns out no-one cared about the Civil War or the Exploration stories, so we ended up playing in the other areas; but that’s OK. The whole point of having several areas of story was that the players could choose the ones they wanted.

Construction

The game was constructed like a TV series, broken into several seasons, and generally ending on a big story beat. After about 8 or so weeks of play we’d take a break and play something else as a palate-cleanser for a few weeks before returning to the main campaign.

The vocabulary of television also bled through into the way that we described the game at table. We would cut to a new scene, or montage a journey, or fade to black. If I was describing a city I might mention the aerial tracking shot, or the huge pull-back.

This soon reached a point where the players would use the vocabulary too, talking about blowing the CGI budget and occasionally casting famous actors in bit parts. In one memorably plot-heavy and character-centred episode of the story we decided that it must have been sweeps week due to the intense violence and tastefully-shot nudity.

If nothing was happening I’d say “Who wants a scene?” and one of the players would say where they wanted to be and with which character (willing PCs or NPCs). When it looked like a dramatic scene was revealing nothing new, I’d ask the players if the scene was done. Usually it was, but sometimes they’d ask for a few more moments to finish the scene.

Because we were using the tropes of TV, we even had a Christmas Special.

As I knew I wanted to hit the Tomb of Horrors – famously one of the most deadly dungeons created – I wanted the characters and players to be aware of its reputation in-game long before reaching it, so I made sure to drop many hints throughout the story via many NPCs about how deadly it was.

When it came to the Tomb itself I allowed them to take in any of their characters, so they needn’t necessarily take in their beloved main. About half did so anyway. Because both characters and players were aware in and out of game about the Tomb, they were extremely careful and only one character died – even that was at the very end.

Soundtrack

I had a laptop and some small speakers, so I played music during the session. Soundtrack albums, mostly . At the beginning of each session I would start the music by playing a particular track – The Accidental Sea, by Michael Picton, which acted as theme music and a cue for the players to settle down from the pre-game chat and know that the game was about to begin.

Towards the end of the game, it had become obvious that some tracks were played more often than others, so I gathered them together into a soundtrack album on Spotify which captures the theme of the game.

Two seasons used a slightly different soundtrack. Because I knew I wanted the Tomb of Horrors to feel different to the rest of the game, the soundtrack to that section consisted purely of the Person of Interest soundtracks, and the opening music was the Person of Interest theme tune.

The other soundtrack deviation was the Christmas Special, which used the soundtracks to Doctor Who Christmas Specials and Westworld, which fitted thematically. It was bookended with the opening theme to begin and the Carol of the Bells at the end, which I cued up when I knew we’d hit the last 10 minutes of play. That soundtrack’s on Spotify too.

Rules Hacking

Necromancy Restrictions

Because I wanted the game to explore issues of life, death, and resurrection, no spells with the Necromancy descriptor were available at the beginning of the game; later on they were allowed as Necromancy was discovered by the world.

Multiple Characters

Players were allowed to play as many characters through the campaign as they liked, with the proviso that generally they could only play one character in any particular session. All characters started at first level, but whenever a character died in action or was otherwise removed permanently from play, half of their accumulated experience could be applied to any other character either in-play or new. This rule meant that a new character would generally come into play about two levels beneath the level of the deceased. It also allowed players to remove characters from play at a dramatically appropriate moment, or where they felt that the character’s story had reached its natural end, without feeling penalised about losing all their hard-earned XP.

Hacking the Experience System

Because I wanted the game to be concentrated on storytelling rather than about killing monsters and taking their stuff, I hacked the experience system to encourage this using the experience threshold chart on page 82 of the DMG to provide a baseline. At the beginning of the session I’d work out the average party level, and that’d be my basis for story XP.

At the end of each session after giving out XP for any monsters defeated I’d first give a generic story XP. An Easy award for every character in the session if nothing of note had happened, and a Deadly award if the session had moved the overall story on hugely, with the others awarded on a scale between.

We’d then go around the table and I’d ask each player how well their characters had achieved their goals – if they’d killed their mortal enemy, that would be worth the highest amount of XP,  while just turning up gets you the lowest amount.

After that, I’d ask the table to vote on best scene – each player with a character in that scene would then receive a Hard XP award.

Collectively, these two hacks meant that player focus was usually on roleplaying great moments, both with each other and with NPCs. The individual award means that they’re encouraged to pursue their own storylines while the best scene rewards them for style.

The other XP hack was to encourage posting on the wiki, which acted as a shared repository of knowledge about the game. If you had edited the wiki at all between sessions – even something as simple as a spelling correction – you’d receive an Easy award. At the end of every session each player and I also had two Medium awards which we could grant to what we thought was the best post that a player had posted on the wiki that week. You couldn’t award both to the same person though.

This encouraged all sorts of creative writing and art on the wiki to the point where it was a joy to read each week as players would post art or stories giving depth to the world.

Occasionally a player would write something which was untrue about the world – for example they might write something creative about gnoll society. In this case, rather than removing it or asking for an edit I marked it with an Alt-U tag standing for Alternative Universe – the creativity could still stand, but anyone reading it would know that it wasn’t the truth about the world.

Wiki XP could be applied to any character the player had, so it wasn’t unusual to save it up in order to give a new character a big boost when they entered the game.

Afterword

Anyway, hopefully some of this might be useful to some other DMs.

Games I lovingly ripped these ideas from:

  • Dungeon and Apocalypse World for Fronts.
  • Hillfolk for calling a scene.
  • Dark Sun for alt characters.

Emergency Proxy Voting: A Public Service Announcement.

You are a writer. You’re registered to vote. You have just realised that you won’t be able to make it to the polling station on Thursday.

Possibly your script editor or showrunner has given you a bastard deadline.

Possibly you may need to go to a TV Drama Writers Festival.

Either way, you want to vote, but don’t think you can, because you won’t be near a polling station.

Good news: If it’s a work-related call out, like either of the above, you can still apply for an Emergency Proxy Vote and get a friend or family member to vote on your behalf.

Step 1: Visit https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/how-do-i-…/voting-by-proxy, which – while it does describe everything you need to do – doesn’t do it particularly clearly.

Step 2: Download the form at the section marked “Emergency Proxy for Occupation, Service or Employment (PDF)”. Here’s a direct link: https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/…/Emergency-employment-or…

Step 3: Fill that fucker out. As a self-employed writer, you’ll need someone who knows you but isn’t related to you or in a relationship with you to co-sign it.

Step 4: Go to https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk and type your postcode into the bit marked “Enter your postcode to find: Your local electoral registration office” and hit return.

Step 5: Deliver completed form to the electoral registration office. This can be done at any time from now until 5pm on Election Day.

Step 6: Tell your proxy who to vote for on the day. They should then go to your local polling station – not theirs – and ask for your ballot paper. Again, putting your postcode into the front page of https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/ will tell you which polling station they need to go to.

Step 7: And relax. Finish your bastard deadline, or have fun at your conference. And then keep your fingers crossed that whoever you voted for by proxy gets in.

Redemption Schedule

I shall be at friendly multimedia convention Redemption this weekend in Sheffield. Here’s the panels wot I am on, and the times wot they are currently scheduled to happen:

Friday 24th 

11am: Super Flashing Arrow Legends
Just why are the Berlanti DC shows so awesome? May include geekery about the late 80s DC comics universe.

3pm: Defending the indefensible
Light-hearted panel show.

It. Is. Defended!

7pm: Universal Monsters
Boris Karloff’s version of the Frankenstein Monster is the most easily recognisable – but with a new universe of Universal Monsters coming up, the panel takes a look at why they are so enduring in popular culture.

8pmFuture Fascism
We look at how fascism has been treated in SF. I intend to bring up The Iron Dream, whether you want me to or not.

Saturday 25th

11am: How to tame your panellists
If you’ve never moderated a panel before, how might you keep things moving along politely and without rancour? May include tips on how to deal with audience members who don’t have a question, it’s more of a comment really. A very long comment.

5pm: Artificial People
Cylons in Galactica, the Hosts of Westworld… what does it mean to be a person of non-biological origin?

Sunday 26th

2pm: Constructing the Robot cool wall.
Some robots are cool. Some are sexy. Others are… less so.

4pmMilitary Top Trumps
With the help of the audience, we will decide once and for all who the most awesome military force in all of science fiction are.  No backsies, this is it. Finally. For ever.

Seriously. If you’re not here and voting and you don’t like who gets voted in as our most awesome SF military pals, well, sucks to be you.

8pmThe Ideal Holmes Exhibition
Of all the incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, is there such a thing as a platonic ideal? Or does the canon trump all?

10pm: SF Westerns
Firefly, Westworld, Star Trek. You can’t move without hitting a Space Western. Why is the trope such an enduring SF phenomenon?

If you’re around, come say hi!