New on Desk #73 — ESC Week

All right, let’s whip out another quick newsletter! I’m going for a day hike today, gone the entire day, so no time to waste. (Pro tip: write the newsletter on Saturday, get the wilderness adventure moving in time on Sunday.) I could have gone for another D&D feature topic this week (probably bitching about bad writing habits in adventure modules), but let’s change it up and talk about reality television song competitions instead.

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest is a bit of a venerable institution in European pop culture, what with its age and all. In practical terms it’s not significantly more amazing than any singing competition whipped up by any tv production company, but then neither are Olympic sports that much different from the local high school track meet, and people still go ga-ga over that.

As many Europeans, I’ve watched ESC since forever. Not religiously, but with how little TV I watch in general it stands out. I’ve seen most shows since the ’90s, let’s put it that way. I enjoy music shows, I guess, but it’s also a way to maintain some connection with popular culture, however superficial. I’d be bored to death if I tried to follow the Ice Hockey World Championships or something of the sort. ESC has more attractive people prancing around in their underwear, and slightly better music.

I’m no more than a casual dabbler in music, but being passionate about arts is kinda my thing, so I tend to be pretty opinionated about ESC as well. Most people who understand a whit about music will probably agree that whatever ESC is, it’s certainly not a prestige platform for the best in modern music. If you like complaining, then watching ESC certainly gets you something to complain about.

The show gets ludicrous amounts of media attention and viewers, so it’s sorta amazing how petty and superficial the actual attempts at music and stage shows generally are; something to do with the haphazard selection process and long-term marginalization of the institution in music circles. I’m simultaneously puzzled by the generally low artistic quality year in, year out, and completely understanding of how serious practitioners of music would rather keep well away from this circus. I wouldn’t want to participate the equivalent thing in my own artistic mediums either, even if it was super-popular and had high global visibility.

But still, if I did participate, like hell would I just go in with some paint-by-numbers autotuned dance pop lacuna of the human mind.

The best and the worst of 2021

I watched the two semifinals over the week, and will probably see the final show at some point soon. I’ve seen enough to make some hopefully entertaining remarks, though:

Generally vapid, that’s ESC for you

There are 39 participating artists/songs/shows this year. I counted three or four mildly pleasant entries and a half dozen of acceptable workmanship, so let’s call it 10 pieces that do not make me question whether they’re being created by serious professionals (or eager amateurs at least).

While ESC is supposedly a song contest, the stage show and (increasingly) the music video are actually pushed forward as major parts of the aesthetic package, so you should surely consider them all. Here’s my hot take on which pieces were good enough for the short list:

Lesley Roy — Maps — Ireland • Cute show, catchy song.
Go_A — SHUM — Ukraine • Distinctive song and show.
Blind Channel — Dark Side — Finland • Sellout posers, but energetic and catchy.
Fyr och Flamme — Øve Os På Hinanden — Denmark • Well-formed and distinctive, although low in power.
Barbara Pravi — Voilà — France • Cute singer, distinctive song.
Jeangu Macrooy — Birth of a New Age — Netherlands • Anthems are more interesting than love songs.

So yeah, actually six pieces worth any consideration at all. The rest are a routine mix of dance pop sausage and emotionally constipated ballads, pretty much. Some are slightly less boring than others, of course, but you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Isn’t plagiarism wonderful?

So why is Cyprus just allowed to send last decade’s perhaps most famous pop song, Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, as their entrant? I don’t even listen to pop music that much, and I still recognized El Diablo‘s chorus after wondering for a couple of minutes about why it sounds so very, very familiar. I guess nothing matters in the ESC world, you can do whatever.

Musical tastes of the masses

I do recognize that I’m not the pope of music, and I’ll say this in the nicest possible way: I don’t think that I understand the criteria that people voting for ESC use in deciding which songs to favour. Considering my short list above, here’s how the contestants have been doing before the finale round:

Irelandeliminated
Ukrainepassed
Finlandpassed
Denmarkeliminated
Franceautopass
Netherlandsautopass

I might as well be rolling dice here, it seems. The sieve in ESC isn’t very tight, two thirds of contestants basically get into the finals. Clearly whatever it is that makes people favour one contestant over another bears no relation to my understanding of what is good in music.

Monday: Coup de Main #47

The adventurers seized the barbican in front of Castle Greyhawk a couple of sessions back, and last time they’d found a secret tunnel that led further into the dungeons beneath the Castle ruins. What prevented the party from progressing further last time was a fancy one-way door.

We continued the door-breaking exercises from last session (at least the players are consistent here!), dealt with giant rat distractions and finally managed to break that heavy stone door with its excellent, heavy hinges. The door also promptly fell on top of one of the PCs, but these are such tough guys that the door failed to kill one in its death throes. I think the party Ranger now has “Favoured Enemy: Doors” at 2% or something like that.

In more serious news, just as the party was resting after their exertions with the door, random encounter luck turned against them in the form of a hunting pack of giant spiders: three huge reaving spideys, skittering around like nobody’s business. One stalked the party’s forward picket climbing the ceiling (they clearly have a natural form of Spider Climb, considering the weight), and they were in general quick to get into the party’s business. Looked quite bad, this is a 1st level party!

However, the party involved in this adventure has an advantage in that while it’s not very large (been 4–5 players generally, with no hirelings), three experienced players are playing pretty tricked-out Fighters. With Saad Man tanking at the doorway, Waylost actually doing effective dungeon archery (not a given in this campaign) from the back and Savids the Savage barbaring it up in the middle of the melee, the situation was actually stabilized. Still looking like Savids’ a done deal, but hey.

Savids is a barbarian martial artist from the Barrens, a sort of Cimmerian temple-trained holy champion of the ancestors type. Wields a massive two-handed bronze sword as his favoured weapon. The overkill actually came handy here in a way it wouldn’t necessarily be against human opponents when Savids penetrated spider chitin and dealt a 10 HP blow to one of the spiders on his second attack — and attack he couldn’t have gotten if not for his Aggression-wielding martial art keeping him in the fight for an extra minute.

When one of the spiders died under the furious bite of the defense, the other two retreated slightly to hesitate, and ultimately decided to leave the mammals to their devices. Savids crumbled utterly exhausted right after, and Pokre Jokre the Bard was poisoned by a spider bite, but otherwise the party were still in good enough shape to drag themselves out of there.

Pokre Jokre took a couple of hours to die of complications (including a bloody attempt at chirurgy by Saad Man of many talents), but Savids jumped up soon. The party spent the night at the barbican, met “Old Denwit” the Ogre (there to sell some meatstuffs to the barbican bandits), and when the morning came they were actually sort of ready to keep exploring. I have no idea what they’re going to do when it’s time to leave the barbican, as I assume they’re planning to return to civilization at some point, but for now the party’s fine with living in the barbican and delving into the dungeon!

The nature of the game being what it is, player characters tend to fade in and out depending on who’s there to play. Makes judging the tenability of the situation a bit tricky, particularly when it’s possible for players whose characters die to introduce new ones. If the players intend to keep camping at the barbican, I’m probably going to suggest to them limiting PC replenishments to a handful of captives the party discovered when they conquered the barbican, rather than just having the party infinitely regenerate itself in between dungeon excursions. Not a problem yet, and the players will probably be fine with abandoning the barbican if they take it to the nose really badly, but I could see the strategic situation suffering some ambiguity due to the fades PCs are capable of doing.

We wrapped up the session by starting another venture into the dungeons. This time the party got to map the place just a little bit; not much choice in where to go, but we did stumble upon a four-way corridor intersection with heavy signs of koboldage (including shrill pipes sounding warning signals in the distance). The game was called in medias res, so that’s where we’ll be continuing from tomorrow, possibly mere moments before a bunch of kobolds assaults the party. Players are understandably on the edge.

Session #48 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 24.5., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #23

Our face-to-face crew has been adventuring at the Isle of Dread, trying to find dinosaur hearts for a cultivation boost. It’s been a rough going, as there is much to learn about hunting dinosaurs, and the crew is a bit on the small side for hunting the really big ones. Some highlights:

Encountering Aranea: The party had some inkling that intelligent, sorcerous giant spiders were up and about nearby. Half of the party were out setting dinosaur traps when they indeed encountered some, and found that the Aranea were out to capture slaves. One survivor escaped the Aranea attack to warn the rest of the party, so at least the survivors would know to be on the look-out there. This being Beast Society, one of the player characters is of course at least flirting with the idea of serving the Aranea in exchange for their own safety.

Sleeping with the sloths: The party tends to meet scarily massive animals on the island, but they’ve been generally lucky in that the gigantic beasts aren’t generally interested in hunting down and slaying puny humans. The most extreme encounter of this kind was perhaps when the party shifted camp to avoid the Aranea, settling down in the dark after the sun set. In the morning the adventurers found that they’d camped practically on top of a Megatherium, a massive giant ground sloth. Fortunately the critter was sleepy enough to not really care.

Overdosing on herbal remedies: Lokki the Warlock had discovered the Heart-Shaped Herb, a potent cultivation medicine, but he was apparently planning to save it for somebody else, as he chose instead to enact the Meadow Herbal Consuming course he’d learned from Gorilla Grodd. This involved eating massive amounts of semi-random herbs growing in a specific sort of tropical meadow. Lokki’s constitution wasn’t up to it, so wham, 4d6 damage from the poisoning. Miraculously Lokki was left barely alive, and we learned at least one potential peril of medicinal cultivation. Lesson: don’t take your self-improvement tips from a gorilla.

Becoming the cultivation king: Earlier on it seemed like Sipi’s veteran cultivator character would be left completely without cultivation multipliers on this safari, while the aforementioned Lokki and other more demonic, more immoral young turks would race ahead with their lizard man cannibalisms and whatnot. The tables turned rather dramatically when first, Sipi promptly stole the Heart-Shaped Herb while Lokki was busy dying of medicinal poisoning, and then later managed to find a “dinosaur” of his own when the party stumbled upon a Phorushacos (flighless carnivorous giant bird) of a respectable 3 HD size. With the Herb and the Bird we may just have the winner of these cultivation races, as both are worth ×3, for a ×9 in total.

The fell touch of the Kopru: The party had taken to spending the night in a small mystical cave covered in growths of psionically resonant blue-tinged moss. A nice out of the way spot, sure, until two of the adventurers fleetingly touched the spirit of the Kopru in their dreams. One was facile in resisting the fell touch, the other… not so much. At least the lost soul didn’t turn on the party and slay them all in their sleep, but rather chose to escale into the night, no doubt to seek service their their new Kopru masters.

All in all we did lose a fair number of player characters again, but there were also some victories in the dinosaur safari, and a steady stream of minor XP from encountering perils, so the spirits are generally hopeful. No great monetary treasures were discovered over the two-week safari, but then the party spent most of the time exactly one hex away from their base camp, so not much ground was covered all in all.

I imagine that we’ll continue adventuring at the Isle for a bit yet, but the dinosaur safari seems to be mostly over, I expect. There’s some potential for raiding the natives for riches and slaves, and there is still the chance that we’ll end up playing a bold journey to seek a diplomatic audience with the legendary Kopru Empire before the expedition to the Isle is wrapped up.

State of the Productive Facilities

I finished CWP #9, Combat Rules, this week, so that’s something. It’s a particularly important one for the practical campaign, of course, so more work in that way than some others.

Muster

25%

CWP

30%

I haven’t touched the Muster manuscript for two weeks now in favour of developing the CWP stuff a bit. Slow going, but it’s progressing. I’m being a bit broody about Muster, wrestling with my perfectionism. Hopefully it’ll get easier again when I next pick it up.

1 thought on “New on Desk #73 — ESC Week”

  1. An update on my ESC experience, as I returned from my hiking day alive and managed to watch the finals show as well.

    First of all, my shortlist from earlier didn’t include Italy; it was on my list of passable entries, but I hadn’t seen the stage show yet, and that tipped it over onto the short list. I found it particularly amusing how much more authentic the band is compared to Blind Channel, the Finnish entrant.

    Second, the tastes of the masses were somewhat in line with my own this year, with the Italian metal band winning handily, and most of the top five being somewhat acceptable. I don’t know what the professional juries were smoking when they picked the painful Swiss I-don’t-even-know-what-it-was as the best in show, but as is usually the case, the people disagreed vehemently, and to the better. (Even if I’m rather suspicious of the musical tastes of the European public, I have to say that the jury vote has consistently been even worse over the years. Strange how that works out, it’s almost as if music was an entirely subjective experience.)

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