Friday, 1 November 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 4


Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 4

By Casey Douglass


Caves of Fury


Welcome to Part 4, the final part, of my adventure through the Caves of Fury. If you’ve yet to read a single instalment of my barbarian’s tale, you can find part 1 at this link, with each part leading to the next, until finally bringing you back to this one again. It’s worth a read. It’s a tale of paranoia, inadequacy and bastard goblins, to name only a few elements. You might not like it if you’re an advocate for goblin rights, but if you are a normal, warped human being, you’ll agree with me that they are bastards.

Part 3 ended with my barbarian floating unconscious on a raft in an underground swamp, a drowning bastard goblin nearby, and little hope of getting much further. The barbarian had only two Strength left of the six he started with, and only one treasure to his name, secreted in his loin-cloth inside the ingenious hidden pocket. Between you and me, I think he is quite ready to get this adventure over with, his luck has been terrible from the start. Let’s see if his tale ends with triumph or a whimper...

The barbarian slowly regains consciousness and finds the strength to stand. Not feeling like being a floating-lure for any underwater leviathans, he steps back onto the stepping stones to continue his trek across the swamp. There’s no sign of the drowning bastard goblin, which makes him smile. ‘Good!’ he thinks as he pushes forward into the deepening mist, the thrumming of mosquitoes and green vapours his only company.

In the same manner as the previous tunnels, the stepping stones actually split into three paths. Who’da thunk that would happen? Remembering my resolve to not keep choosing the middle path, I went with the left one this time, hoping for something evil to be waiting at the other end. Why not? It isn’t far down this path that the barbarian spies an inscription on one of the stepping stones. This is surprising in two ways. Firstly, that it’s there at all, that someone took the trouble to mark a stone in the middle of a dangerous swamp. Secondly, judging by the inscription's length, I realize that I’ve been imagining these stepping stones as woefully tiny, which irks me a little. The message has lost some of its letters to erosion but it says:

‘O, foolish one! It was one of the oth r brac es that you should have c osen. The mag c power of fores ght would have been g ven you there.’

Oh for fuck’s sake! A chance at gaining a bit of magical power goes begging! If I can believe the message of course. Not much in this place has been truthful, so why start believing the rock graffiti now? It could be the equivalent of seeing a “Call Bianca for a good time!” scrawl in a public toilet cubicle, a mystery very possibly, or more likely some false advertising at the minimum. None the less, my barbarian ponders whether to retrace his steps, but on turning sees that the previous stepping stones have vanished. That figures. Pushing on sees the stepping stones ahead meet up with the other two paths again, but no option is given for backtracking down one of those other paths at this point.

It’s just after the paths have joined that he hears quiet footsteps coming up behind him. He wheels around and his mouth falls open. It’s the bastard goblin again! He swings his sword at the wretched thing’s head. It screams for him to stop, yelling that it hasn't done him any harm! The gall of the little prick makes his sword falter. Hasn’t done him any harm? He almost caused him to drown! The goblin snivels and says that the barbarian encountered his wicked twin, and that this one is the ‘good’ one. How convenient! It’s a little like when politicians say that “they are different” to the ones that have come before. Be wary in both cases.

You’ll be amazed to know that this goblin also has advice to give, don't they all? He urges me to step off the stones and to wade the rest of the way to shore, saying that it’s shallow enough here. Bollocks to that! There’s no way I’m going to believe this goblin, even if it isn’t the same one. For all I know, it might have found out that I let its brother drown and be out for revenge. I’d rather die due to my own choices than to being deceived again. I choose not to take his advice.

I push on, not hearing any sign of discontent or disapproval from the goblin behind me. All seems okay, but after a few stepping stones, the next one ahead bursts into flame! Then the next and the next! The book describes the flames as being two metres high! These are less like stepping stones and more like Bunsen burner nozzles poking out above the water. I try to step off to the side but some force is keeping me on the path. My only option is to run ahead through the flames.

I push through, the smell (and pain, let’s not forget the pain) of sizzling flesh gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to the wizard’s scorch and my hungry stomach. Thankfully, survival is the up-most thing in my mind, ahead of how tasty I smell. I make it across to the shore and collapse on to the ground, trying to get my breath and thinking about finding some mud to soothe my burns. I’ve lost another Strength with all of that messing around. Only one left and then I’m dead.

As I rest, I find the goblin standing beside me again, but I don’t have the energy to throttle it. The book describes his eyes as having a friendly aspect to them. I guess it’s still the ‘nice one’. He warns me to rest awhile, and that when I’m ready, there are four monsters that live here. Two carry swords set with diamond, the other two have swords set with ruby. Shouting Cragcliff’s name summons the first two, shouting it twice the other two. I’m not sure I want to be shouting Cragcliff’s name at all if I’m honest. I notice that saying his name three times isn’t mentioned, so he isn’t related to Beetlejuice in that regard.

I ponder a little, trying to outfox the conundrum of who to summon, as it appears I can’t just keep my mouth shut. I opt for the diamond bearing creatures as ruby could signify some kind of fire monster, and I’ve more than had my fill of being roasted. I yell Cragcliff’s name. The goblin trembles and runs away. He doesn’t want to see what happens next. I wait for five minutes, ten minutes, and nothing happens. Mosquitoes still buzz and whine but everything else is silent. Until that is, the water glugs, and it comes.

Caves of Fury

The water bubbles near the shore, a creature slowly rising from its gloopy surface. It has black tangles of weed and slime draped over its body, and is holding a large sword. The book points out that it is holding said sword with webbed fingers, and that this might be a handicap for it in combat. Funny that the book is being so helpful all of a sudden. I decide to fight it and am overjoyed to see that it is another creature that only needs two wounds to slay it.

It’s a fight that lasts for fourteen dice rolls. There is much clanking of swords and plenty of instances where my shield is raised as the swamp creature just stares at me in disgust. Of course. I should be used to that by now. On roll thirteen, I wound it with a massive sword slash, trimming the weed on its left side and carving a deep furrow into its hip. It mews and bubbles, which is a sound I didn’t really expect if I’m honest. But regardless, one wound down, one to go! I might be able to do this after all!

Roll fourteen sees it run me through with a glugging bellow of rage. Well... shit. My barbarian looks down at the sword pushed through his abdomen. He knows it’s protruding from his back too as his legs are numb, suggesting some kind of damage to his spine. He puts his hand into his loin-cloth to hold his treasure one more time. His one precious diamond that is, not what you were thinking. 

It had all been for nothing in the end. He laughs. The funniest thing is that he lost more Strength in his dealings with devious bastard goblins than he did in fighting the more obvious monsters. He’d have liked more time to reflect on that, on another day, in other circumstances, but now, on this day and in these circumstances, he spat out his last words before he died: “Bastard goblins!”

The swamp creature nodded as it let his body fall to the floor with a glug.

Caves of Fury

***

That’s the end of my playthrough of Caves of Fury. I really enjoyed writing about it and injecting my own take on things into the narrative. As I said at the beginning, I didn’t think it would go on for so many parts but it did, and it’s a shame it ended in the way that it did. That being said, I do enjoy bitter stories and unhappy endings so I can certainly find enjoyment in that. I hope you did too, if you followed along from the start.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 3

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 3

By Casey Douglass


Caves of Fury

Welcome to Part 3 of my adventure through the Caves of Fury, a Battle Quest book where turning to certain pages means you can control the path of your treasure-seeking barbarian warrior. If you are joining the series late, part 1 can be found at this link, with other links finally bringing you back to this instalment, once you’ve brushed up on the tale so far. I’m good like that.

Part 2 ended in a prison of stalactites and ‘mites, with my barbarian beheading a monster and lifting his first piece of treasure: a lovely glittering diamond. It helped put his run-in with the crotchety old wizard who’d scorched his chest into perspective at least. Finally, he has something to show for his labours, beyond his wounds and feeling knackered. Let’s see how his tale continues...

In a turn up for the unlikely, our plucky barbarian finds himself at the edge of an underground swamp. It smells of rot and decay, and its main feature seems to be a massive lake, its surface algae-covered and perfectly calm. It seems to share a few elements with the watery cave in which a certain hobbit meets a certain Gollum, but there’s more greenery and less fishezes, at least, that are visible. The other difference are the stepping stones that stretch across the lake, appearing to go all the way to the other side.

Seeing no other route, I step onto the first stepping stone, waiting for something evil to grab my ankle and pull me down into the water. Not even a ripple! I step onto the next, and the next. It’s all going very well isn’t it? It’s as I get to the tenth stepping stone that it all starts to go wrong. A shriek sounds behind me on the shore that I’d just departed. The fright almost sends me into the water, which at this stage, I have no idea how deep it is or what’s in there.

Carefully, I turn and see an irate goblin waving his arms, shouting at me that if I step on the next stone, I'll drown! He says that every tenth stone is a trap and that I should jump straight over it to the next one! Now, I wasn’t born yesterday. I know how tricky these goblins can be. For a start, they hate anyone taller than them, which is pretty much everyone. Another factor is that they lie more often than they tell the truth, but when they do tell the truth, the disbelieving of it usually leads to disaster anyway. You can’t win is what I’m saying.

I try to reason things out. Firstly, every tenth stone being a trap seems a bit arbitrary to me. Why not the seventh or fourteenth? Then again, I can understand why letting someone walk on nine stones might build their confidence enough to not be so careful for the tenth. Also, why more than one trapped stone? It doesn’t sound like the person who made the trap is particularly confident that it will achieve its goal first time around. Another thing, if the goblin is trying to get me into a trap, what kind of trap would need me to actually jump on it to trigger, rather than merely stepping on it? His having to shout at me isn’t a very efficient way to catch out the unwary. Consider me very wary!

The book gives me the option of using a trance spell to wheedle the truth out of his nasty goblin mind, but I don’t have one, and even if I did, I’d imagine his brain is full of yucky goblin pornography and strange, secret perversions. Another thought occurs to me. Why should he shout at me at all, as I would have been bound to step on the trapped stone anyway? It’s a bad situation. I decide to trust him, but vow to myself to wring his scrawny neck if things go badly, and if I later get the chance. I make the leap over stepping stone ten.

I’ve almost landed on stone number eleven when it recedes out of sight under the murky water! I plunge into the lake, the weeds and other growth starting to pull me down as they attach to my body. The book tells me that I lose One Strength. Fucking great... another one down! As I splutter and struggle for air, I reflect on how, if I’d not jumped, I’d probably have been able to stop myself from falling in. Bastard goblin!

Through the glugging of the water in my ears, I hear laughter and see a small raft coming towards me, the grinning face of the goblin looming into view. He pokes me with his paddle and teases it just out of reach, enjoying the spectacle. An idea flashes across my mind, something that might get me out of this. I yell that I’m one of Cragcliff’s bodyguards and that I’ve lost my way. The look of fear that washes over his face is a beautiful thing to behold, well, if your concept of beauty looks like a constipated goblin-face. Then it happens, the thing that I should have predicted. He wants to know the password.

I’d sigh if I wasn’t struggling for air. The book gives me three options as usual, and as usual, I choose the middle one: GARLON. (Sadly, Googling the meaning of GARLON didn’t return any humorous or naughty double entendres as to its meaning, I guess I got lucky with the other password attempt in part two). Wouldn’t you know it, it was the wrong password, yet again! It’s a pity that there wasn’t an option to whisper the password, and when he leaned in closer to hear me, drag him in with me!

The goblin swears at me and calls me a dog as the water drags me below the surface one last time. The little idiot doesn’t realise what I’m doing though. I have a palm to the underside of his raft and slowly pull myself underwater to the opposite side, feeling the clutching strands of vegetation unwind from my legs as I go. I ever so carefully pull myself up and clear of the lake, trying not to tip the rickety thing too much and alert him to my presence. The little thug is too busy craning his neck over the other side, trying to see if I’ve drowned yet. I see red and give him a mighty shove, sending him not just overboard but well beyond the row of stepping stones too.

Caves of Fury

He squeals like a flying pig that isn’t quite sure why it’s flying. He then squeals like a pig that’s fallen in a lake and can’t swim. Can pigs swim? (Google: Yes they can!) Weariness claims me and I collapse to the deck of the raft. I smile at the sounds the goblin is making and wish him a slow death. The book tells me that the struggle to keep afloat and to not drown has cost me another Strength. I have only two left now. It’s not looking good. On the plus side, my scorched chest feels soothed by the water. I just hope it doesn’t pick up a nasty infection from the algae. It would be just my luck after all. My last thoughts are two in number: I’m not choosing the bloody middle option for passwords or paths any more, and secondly, I really wish I’d strangled that goblin, just like I’d wanted to. I pass out.

That’s where I’ll leave this session, my barbarian unconscious and floating on a small raft in the middle of an underground swamp with a drowning goblin nearby. If this was a TV series, the camera would slowly be pulling up to show more and more of what's around him, which knowing my adventurer’s luck, would be a host of strange creatures circling in for the kill. The music to accompany this would be slow and synth-based, maybe a single deep tone wavering with menace. I quite like the sound of that actually.

***

If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Four of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming out next weekend.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Hydromancy

Dark Ambient Review: Hydromancy

Review by Casey Douglass


Hydromancy


Hydromancy is a dark ambient mini-album themed around water and its use as a divination method. Released by Subespai, the solo project of Mauri Edo, at the beginning of October, it’s described as telling the story of a divination session gone wrong, which sounds like a great concept for an album to me. With that in mind, I let each of the tracks speak to me in their own way, wondering what visions they would bring to my mind.

The opening track is Rough Start, a track that features the deep rumbling of distant water currents alongside what I’d describe as a fast “ticking” sound. The rumbling you get deep underwater is always a sound that I find quite awe-inspiring, so I instantly appreciated this track. After awhile, the “ping” of sonar can be heard, which opens up the soundscape nicely and makes it seem a much larger space. As I became used to the sonar pings, it occurred to me that the sound could equally be some kind of crystal bell ringing in the deeps, summoning forth who knows what from the abyss below.

The next track, A Face in the Ripples, is my favourite track on the album. Opening with a siren-like sound and a rumbling drone, the very first image it brought to my mind was that of a large ocean liner, sinking deeper and deeper into the murky depths, with me watching from the outside, hearing the muted siren as it slowly falls past me. Then, I found myself watching a kind of Lovecraftian undersea race of fish people, sitting at their dinner tables eating in the eerie green glow of fungal illumination, the massive ship floating past their abyss-facing windows. The denizens stop chewing and look on in mild interest, wondering if the Elder Gods will destroy it without thought or keep it to toy with later. The odd clang here and there seems to suggest its not a smooth descent for the ship, but by then, the diners have already returned to their meals.

The third track is Revelations, and this also brought some interesting images to mind. It begins with a staticy hiss and some plinking sounds, and the general acoustics of the soundscape brought to mind a strange machine surfacing in an underwater cave, with water running from its strange angles and curves. A regular knocking sound begins, which to me, suggested someone trying to get out but finding the exit door sealed. I really liked this image, the illusion of emerging into safety but then being stuck in the craft that got you there. As the track nears its end, a deep vibration sounds, like a frog croak, but much deeper and more rumbling. I wondered if something was approaching the stricken craft, something that would open it up in more ways than one.

The final track is Bleak Consequences. This track, for me, was an above-ground track, as it seemed to feature the sound of rain or a stream flowing. After a deep opening and a kind of fast rhythm set by one of the sounds, it painted a picture of a really grey day, the kind where the clouds are almost black and the scenery looks leached of colour. A stream runs through a valley, but something isn't right with it. Glugging bubbles begin to pop on its surface; oily blisters smearing a glowing ooze into its currents. I’d guess for me, this track is saying that what happens deep in the ocean will eventually affect the land-dwellers too. A bit like watching Jaws and feeling safe if you stay on land, and how you’d then feel if you heard that sharks could get you on land anyway. Near the end of the track, the water stops flowing, which is also an intriguing end to events.

Before I listened to Hydromancy, I knew that it was themed around water, I was interested but not expecting to be wowed. Hydromancy did wow me though, as I’d forgotten how dark water could really be! I’m saying this as a Lovecraft fan who is well acquainted with the goosebumps that might arise when thinking about the watery abysses of the Earth and what they might contain. I’m also saying this as someone who has listened to a lot of dark ambient that features water in some way. Often though, the water is a flavour or scene-setting sound rather than the main event. Or, the water might be represented by other sounds in a more abstract way. The exception that immediately comes to mind is Ugasanie & Xerxes the Dark’s Abysmal, which is also a great water-based dark ambient album. If you liked that one, I think you will like Hydromancy. If you check out Hydromancy and enjoy it, you now know the other one I’d recommend.

Hydromancy is a free download from Audiotalaia, and if you’re a fan of dark ambient and deep sea horror, I’d really recommend you go and download yourself a copy as it is well worth listening to.

Visit the Hydromancy page at Audiotalaia here, and check out the teaser trailer below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Hydromancy
Album Artist: Subespai
Label: Audiotalaia
Released: October 03, 2019

Monday, 21 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Black Stage of Night

Dark Ambient Review: Black Stage of Night

Review by Casey Douglass


Black Stage of Night

The Victorian era always seems to be such a rich vein for media that likes to draw on the dark side of life. From the opium dens and the diseases that dogged the huddled masses, to the dabbling with the occult and emerging sciences, there are plenty of places to look for darkness. Black Stage of Night is a dark ambient album that hits a rich vein in this regard, and whether that vein is found by a sad soul in a mine with a pickaxe or by the prick of a needle, it doesn’t matter. Black Stage of Night is dark and twisted, and is a fantastic album.

Dark and twisted though it maybe, there is a gentle melancholia to many of the sounds and tones, from delicate piano notes and acoustic tones, to a hissing static and warping notes. It very much comes across as an album of the night, the time of the day when the shadows deepen and the world feels more closed in, the universe ending at the reflection in your window panes. It’s very easy to imagine a Victorian lady or gentleman standing vigil at a window, the light from their lantern hindering their view as they struggle to peer past their own reflection.

Chaos Unmade is my favourite track by quite some distance. It opens with a repeating rhythm that put me in mind of the arrangement you might find in some kind of warped country music. It wouldn't be a song about cattle wrangling or unrequited love though, this one would more likely be about a skeleton on a horse trying to capture errant ghosts in a misty, moonlit valley. A tone rises and falls with this repeating rhythm, later joined by a more trilling, whistling sound. Things quieten near the end of the track, with it ending with a staticy looping sound, maybe hinting that the skeleton horse-rider has disappeared over the hill.

The Great Order of Things is another track that stood out for me. It opens with a howl-like sound and a deep stuttering tone that pulses into life every now and then. An “Ahhh-like” vocal meets the howls as the track progresses, lending the track a church-like feeling. This track could be about another misty, moonlit valley, but this one has a dark church at its centre, with people huddled inside praying for the wraiths outside to go away. The howls become more cat-like in the last third of the track, which to me, made me think of someone on an opium high, sitting near a flickering fire and being woken from their reverie by the family cat wanting to go outside.

The other two tracks I’ll mention are the first and the last: Mind Turns to Night and Night Becomes Morning. They are great bookends for the other tracks as the first seems to deepen as it continues, while the latter lightens. This felt very fitting for two tracks that could be the soundtrack for the fading daylight at night’s approach and the lightening effect of the sun rising the next morning. Almost like an hypnotic induction and a “Wake up” call, they smooth the way from, and back to, reality.

Black Stage of Night is a ghostly dark ambient album, the cobwebs and coal-smoke of another age mingling with the mind that is looking back at the past. For me, brings up all manner of Victorian aesthetics, the one thing they all have in common being the way that they are tinged with the lust for things to be different to how they are, whether that be by dream or occult means, wishful thinking or prayer. Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast came together to make Black Stage of Night the welcoming, dark thing that it manages to be, and if it is based in the world of dreams, I’d be eager to see what the nightmares that come after may contain.

Visit the Black Stage of Night page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Mind Turns to Night below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Black Stage of Night
Album Artist: Atrium Carceri & Cities Last Broadcast
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 22, 2019

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

By Casey Douglass


Caves of Fury


Welcome to Part 2 of my adventure through the Caves of Fury, a Battle Quest book where your choices decide the fate of your own hulking barbarian adventurer. If you haven’t read the first part, it’s the best place to begin. If you don’t, you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on, but are you strong enough to begin something on Part 2 when the beginning post is just a click away? I know I wouldn’t be able to. Just saying.

At the end of Part 1, I saw my barbarian take a wound from a nasty ape-monster thing, then take flight, running haphazardly down the tunnel, squealing and generally not very happy. I hoped he’d knock himself out and have a bit of a nap, but I doubt anything so pleasant will have happened to him. With how his luck was going, he’d wake up tied to a roasting spit being turned by cannibal goblins. Anyway, let’s open the book and see...

He’s still running down the tunnel. That’s quite a few days if I take a “real-time” view and imagine he’s been running since I closed the book. I guess fear gives you quite the energy boost. The tunnel he is careening down eventually splits into three. I opt to take the middle one again, what with my always liking the middle path; walking between extremes. It’s not long after taking this route, that I come to a cave that branches off from one side of the tunnel. An elderly robed man is sitting with his back to me. A table is in front of him, containing all kinds of objects, from a skull and a large leather-bound book, to strange glassware bubbling with garishly coloured potions.

Without turning, he speaks. He thinks I’m the new novice Cragcliff has sent him, but just to be sure, he wants the password. Shit. Why are these types so paranoid? I don’t know the damned password, and I don’t have the password scroll to look it up. Well, I mean I do, I can see it in the pile of stuff that comes with Caves of Fury, but I’m too honest to cheat. Where’s the fun in that? The book gives me three options for the password, and I choose the middle one: TAGEL. If it works for tunnels, it can work for passwords. Maybe. (Out of curiosity, I just Googled TAGEL, the first result was for a Cornish dictionary that gave the word’s meaning as “fleshy appendage”. This amuses me more than it should. I mean, fleshy appendages, tunnels... it’s all very rude if you think about it).

‘TAGEL’ I exclaim, trying to sound confident. The man turns and looks at me for the first time. He sees that I don’t really look like a novice and demands to know who I am. I try to tell him that I mean no harm, that the sword on my back is purely decorative and these muscles are just water weight, but he blasts me with a spell. An arc of violet light hits me in the centre of my chest. I scuttle away, embarrassed once again, and a little unnerved by how hungry the smell of my own roasted flesh is making me. I’ve lost another Strength from my counter! Only four left now. One third of my health gone and nothing to show for it! Well, a wounded arm and a scorched chest that will be the subject of all manner of jokes at the next Adventurer get-together.

I soon find myself in a cavern, my rumbling stomach finally getting the message from my brain, that it’s entirely inappropriate to lust after your own cooked flesh. This place is full of stalagmites and stalactites, and I occupy myself by trying to remember which is which, “uppy from floory” or “downy from roofy”. Whichever is which, it feels a bit like being in a stone cage. This feeling is enhanced by the snarling monster looking back at me from between the ‘tites and ‘mites to one side. It’s even holding them in massive fists, like someone who was on probation who happened to get caught one too many times thieving and is now looking at hard jail time. I get the fleeting impression that we are two food-scraps stuck between a dragon’s teeth. I can fit through the “bars” though, this monster can’t. It’s another muscular ape creature thing. I didn’t do well against the last one so I take the option to skip this fella.

Caves of Fury

As I move through the cavern, another creature hisses at me. Is this some kind of prison for the monsters that misbehave? It’s starting to feel that way. I get the impression that the book really wants me to have a go at beating one of them. This one is half-gorilla, half-humanoid. Mmm. Sharp claws and drool too. Interesting. The glimmering of a diamond catches my eye. Fuck it, let’s do it! I turn to the correct page and almost squeal with delight. This monster is slain in two wounds!

The joy doesn’t last long, as I really don’t fancy my luck. Losing to a creature that needs eight wounds to die has a bit of honour to it, but two? If I don’t manage that, what sort of barbarian am I? What sort of dice roller? I push through the feelings of inadequacy like an arachnophobe rushing through a cob-web strewn attic. I’ve not lost yet after all. I roll the dice and see the all too familiar result of my shield being raised at the creature’s face. Oh hell, not again! (See part one for how excruciating this is for me). Roll two has the same result. Can I just throw away my shield book? Please?

Roll three sees an epic sword swing from my good self, one that cuts a nasty gash in the creature’s side. Oooh yeah! Roll four... well let’s just say a shield is involved again. Roll five... sigh. On roll six I lop off its head! I take a few moments to fully process that I’ve actually slain a monster. Get in! I watch its body gurgle on the cavern floor, then quickly pick up the diamond before the thing’s blood reaches it. My first treasure! I proudly put it in my loin-cloth, as it has a secret pocket that not only hides my ‘valuables’, but also makes me look like I have more than I really have... ahem. I set my Treasure Counter to one! A glorious moment!

Caves of Fury

I decide to close the book at this point, to make that moment of triumph last as long as it possibly can. All too soon I’ll be back in the Caves of Fury, and it would be nice to once, just once, end a session with a win. There’s plenty of time for the wheels to all fall off later. I just hope that my barbarian doesn’t pick at his chest. He’s very hungry and he's been doing all sorts of running, fighting and over-thinking after all.
***

If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Three of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming out next weekend.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

By Casey Douglass



Caves of Fury


More than six years ago, I did a little playthrough of one of the Battle Quest books that I happened to come across while having a sort out. Sadly, I didn’t make it out of the Tunnels of Fear with the three diamonds I’d managed to liberate, but it was a fun way to spend some time. I’ve decided that I’m going to go through the process again, but with Caves of Fury this time around. I will inject my own, probably warped, sense of humour into the perils that are inflicted on my character. I will be letting the events play out as the book dictates however.

Caves of Fury is a choose-your-own-path type of book by Stephen Thraves. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1992, with illustrations by Terry Oakes. It comes with two wooden battle dice, two counters to keep track of your character’s Strength and Treasure levels, and a variety of cards and see-thru plastic things to decode cryptic clues, if your character is lucky enough to find the item ahead of the time it is needed. All for the very reasonable price of £5.99.

The lead-up into the action describes you, a famed barbarian warrior, being summoned by an old lord. This old lord immediately got on my nerves, making me follow him up a steep cliff moments after arriving on shore after an arduous journey by sea. I’d go so far as to call him a pompous prick, but there was treasure to be found so I kept my mouth shut.

At the top of the cliff, the old man points at a sheer-sided island in the distance, telling me that it is the Island of Fury. This island, apparently, is owned by one Cragcliff, a ruler who delights in filling its dangerous caverns with treasure to lure in the foolish and the greedy. I was about to suggest that this place sounded like it was performing a valuable service by weeding out the idiots who lived nearby, when the old man says it has claimed four of his sons. Foot in mouth avoided. Technically, the youngest did come back but he was mute and maddened by the experience, so I wasn’t really going to quibble about his “Loss Count” either.

The wind is really howling up on the cliff and I’m starting to wish I wasn’t standing there wearing only a loin-cloth. You’d be amazed at how little protection a sword strapped to your back offers against the elements. Nevertheless, I turn my back to the distant island and give it a try. Nope, still fucking freezing. The old chap is babbling about how he wants someone to go to the island and steal as much treasure as possible. He admits it won’t bring his sons back but thinks that the feeling of having deprived Cragcliff of his treasure will give him some kind of bitter joy.

He sniffs and looks at me silently for a moment before asking if I’ll do it. He tells me that I can keep any treasure that I’m able to bring back with me. I look over my shoulder at the island, trying not to focus on how far the goosebumps are rippling down by body. It looks stormy out there, moody my old Mum would say. I turn back to him and nod. I could do with a good adventure. I lost a month to trying to get an Adventuring Permit a short while ago, and it has played merry hell with my income for the year to date.

Caves of Fury

The next few pages of the book yank me out of the story and explain how to play, telling me to set the Strength Counter to 6 and that when it gets to 0, my character is dead. It then warns me to set my Treasure Counter to 0, half implying that I’m the sort of cheeky chap who might set it to 2 and give myself a head start. I’m almost offended. I’m told about how the dice work, how the blue one represents me and the red one the monster. It then explains how the battles work, how all monsters fight to the death but if my character gets wounded, he loses one strength and has to flee. Doesn’t sound very heroic to me but okay. I just want to get started.

So I get started. I row away from the shore in a little row-boat, bumping along on the waves. It’s still bloody cold, and now I’m getting wet too. Joy. As I near the island, I see a number of chasms looming in its side that I can choose to enter. This is the first decision that the book has given me, wanting me to flip to a certain page depending on the choice that I want to make. I opt for the middle chasm, as I’ve always been a fan of taking the middle way, the path between extremes.

As I near my chasm of choice, much howling and screeching arises from deep inside, as if the creatures on the island have sensed that I am here. Well, scream and howl all you want beasties! It’s the silent stuff that I can never see coming that makes me uneasy. A stealthy goblin stole some of my gold once. It wasn’t the loss that bothered me, just the fear that he could have slit my throat while he was at it. I look over my shoulder and then feel foolish. I’m in a row-boat for goodness sake! I make it to the shore and I’m given the option to rest awhile if I’d like to. The rudeness of the old man is still fresh in my mind, making me trek so far without a care to my well-being, so I opt to rest.

I rest for a very lazy and languid ten minutes. Why only ten? Well the noises coming from deeper in the chasm do start to niggle at my courage and resolve. You see, I’m a barbarian very much in touch with his emotional side, and I know when I’m bullshitting myself. Most of the time anyway. Ten minutes seems the ideal length of time to rest, yet not let my mettle weaken too much. Every time my eyes close, the screeches get louder too! They know I’m here and they are deliberately robbing me of rest! Paranoia is something I also dabble in, as you can probably tell.

I stand and stretch as the thought crosses my mind that it will be even colder once I go inside. Unless, I think hopefully, it’s some kind of hell-spawn pit with fire and brimstone. That would actually be quite nice, under the circumstances. I could dry off if nothing else. I enter the chasm and all the screeching and wailing falls silent. Now they definitely know I’m here! This isn’t paranoia! All I can hear as I move forward are my footsteps, steps that echo back louder than I’d really like. It almost sounds like I’m being followed by a pirate with a wooden-leg. I soon realise that I have a stone stuck in the sole of one boot, which is a bit of a relief.

As I move deeper, the cavern I’m inside merges with two more, likely the paths that I didn’t take when I made my choice for the middle chasm. The whole thing narrows into a tunnel as I wonder what pitfalls I avoided in the other two. I hope they were nasty, just so that I can feel a bit smug. Flickering torches begin to appear on the walls, setting me to pondering the question of if they are magically induced or kept going by minions. I briefly ponder what the economy of a dark lord might consist of. Underlings don’t come cheap. It’s while my head is full of, well, overheads, that I practically stumble on the first monster of my adventure.

Caves of Fury

An ape-like thing snarls at me, all narrow-eyes and flared nostrils. It has a big “Fuck-off!” sword next to it, but it’s holding a big “Try it punk!” diamond in its claw. That type of diamond is the best! I decide to fight it for it, ignoring the option to avoid it. I turn to the applicable page and catch my breath. It needs to be wounded 8 times before it will die! I could understand if it was some kind of land-based octopus, having to lop off each tentacle first, but even that might need 9 wounds if we include the killing blow. Actually 8 might work if you don’t mind waiting for the loss of blood to kill it. Does an octopus have blood? Ichor? A snarl brings me back to the ape thing. Focus.

I loosely hold the dice in my right hand and roll them on the floor in front of me. This is real life me, not barbarian me. Meeting a snarling creature and promptly bending down to roll wooden cubes in front of it isn’t that conducive to survival. Unless, I guess, you find yourself up against a monster partial to a bit of gambling. The first roll tells me that the creature bashes my shield with its sword. I’d expected to be wounded and to run away on my very first roll, so this was a bit of a result.

Roll two has the exact same outcome, another shield bash, sending shock-waves up my arm. The next roll results in my shield being raised as the creature just stares at me. So much for the rule of three that Hollywood abuses in almost every blockbuster. Where was that third strike on my shield? Blasphemy! It’s on the fourth roll that I wound it with a darting sword strike. Haha! How do you like that ape monster!

The fifth roll results in it staring at my shield again. I wish I was a bit more proactive, that shield is coming up so often its embarrassing. Next, I land another wound. Just six more to go! I still don’t think I'll achieve the kill but I’m persistent if nothing else. Roll seven sees it looking at my shield again. I feel myself beginning to blush. Roll eight is another deft sword strike from my good self. Five wounds left for the win!

Roll nine is my shield and its face again. Damn it! Roll ten just shows our faces glaring at each other. Should battles to the death be this awkward? Roll eleven has my shield raising in-front of its face. Again. Roll twelve gives me something new, our weapons actually clash! I listen to the sharp “ting” of metal echoing away down the tunnel. It lasts for far longer than I expected. Roll thirteen sees my shield raised in its face again. Of course it is. Roll fourteen is the same thing... yet again!

This creature must think I’m such a coward! Roll fifteen sees me wound it once more! Just four more wounds needed! Then it happens. Roll sixteen sees it cut an angry gash along my right arm, sending my hulking barbarian running down the tunnel, screeching that he doesn’t want to play any more! Shit.

I reduce my Strength Counter by one and use it as a bookmark to hold my place. Not the best of starts, already weakened, no loot and a character already struggling with paranoia and afraid of what the monsters he is fighting must think of him. I hope he doesn’t run into a trap in his panic. Best case scenario he runs into a wall, knocks himself out and has a nice little nap. Otherwise, part two will be pretty damn short.

***

If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Two of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming next weekend.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Review by Casey Douglass


Quintessence


I find it fascinating to see something broken down into its smaller parts, especially if it is then put back together again. Anything themed around the elemental view of the Universe is therefore quite interesting to me, especially as it brings to mind more occult and metaphysical ideas. And wizards. Wizards with elemental magic blasting chunks out of each other as they bicker. Shrine’s dark ambient album, and debut on Cryo Chamber, Quintessence, is an album themed on just such an elemental theme. You have to bring the wizards though.

Quintessence consists of five tracks, each labelled after the element that they focus on. As you listen to each track, the featured element will shine through nicely, although some are more subtle, as naturally, using field-recordings of Water is a little easier than giving Earth a sound. I liked how each element gives each track its own unique feeling, yet the tracks themselves do share similarities, such as how they gently build up into an almost rapturous wall of sound, and then slowly diminish again into a more gentle soundscape.

Alongside the elemental sounds, there are female vocals that swell and support the “action” in the soundscape. I really liked these as they lend each track an almost mythic aesthetic, making something that would already be full of awe, actively majestic. There are other instruments and effects too that jumped out at me, and help build each track. In Gaia, this is a repeating electric-guitar-like tone and steady beat. In Hydor (water), this is the sound of sea birds and a rumbling distortion. In Aer (air) it’s a fuzzy beat and the static of a storm front. In Pyr (fire) it’s long string notes and shimmering tones, and in Quintessence (life itself) it’s the use of a fast-paced beat and electro-notes.

Unusually for me, I’m not sure I have a favourite track, as they are all enjoyable in their own way. I do think Quintessence had the best beat/rhythm of the bunch, but I guess that is only right if it is showing the evolution of life itself, rather than a single element. Life does like to move after all. When I was listening to Gaia, the electronic tones made me feel like I was envisioning a digital version of the Earth, for some reason. I think I had this in my brain as I listened to the next track, Hydor, as I found myself thinking about the scene in the Battleship (2012) film where the aliens spew up out of the water and things kick-off. Just goes to show how one thought can lead to another. I’d also add that I saw Battleship years after its release, and I found quite a lot to enjoy in a film that was largely derided.

Quintessence then, is an album full of energetic and rapturous tracks, each reveling in the element it is themed around and each “different from the next but similar” in just the right ways. Each track mixes chaos with order, manifestation with destruction, and does it with a deft touch and a pleasing balance to the ears. The beats carry things along nicely while the swirling maelstrom of tones and field-recordings create something majestic to listen to. I think that’s the first time I’ve said majestic twice in a review too. If you are a fan of nature and the elements, you should take a closer listen to Quintessence.

Visit the Quintessence page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Hydor below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Quintessence
Album Artist: Shrine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 01, 2019

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Beringia

Dark Ambient Review: Beringia

Review by Casey Douglass


Beringia


I’m often up for music that takes me on a bit of a journey. Whether explicitly with characters actually delivering dialogue, or more subtly, it’s a nice feeling to open your eyes again and feel you’ve gone from “there” to “here” in the hour or so you’ve been listening. Creation VI’s Beringia is a dark ambient album that falls into the latter category, a shamanic-styled journey of drones, rattles and drumbeats, that lull the mind and lead it into potent spaces.

The soundscapes on Beringia are textured and often rhythmic, with piping and clacking going hand in hand with anything from field-recordings of water to the twang of a jaw harp. That’s not even mentioning the drones and didgeridoo. The tracks carry themselves along in their own rhythm, the main drone or beat gaining flourishes or extra detail sounds around it but largely following a rhythmic, trance-like predictability.

I think my favourite track is Haunted Shore, a soundscape that really brought to mind a dripping, misty shore, with the sound of muted things knocking in the distance and a strange little repeating tone that seemed to hint at the unease of the location. It also features a sound that I liken to “insect gloop” and the kind of rain that sounds like it is hitting a plastic bag. A drone rises at the midpoint that lends the whole thing an added feeling of menace or threat, a bassy beat fleshing out the edges.

I did really enjoy the final track, Conversation of Elements too, another track that opens with the sound of water, but languidly builds up to feed the listener gusts of wind and later, the crackle of fire. There are rattling wooden wind chimes, exhalations and sounds of snuffly activity, that might just hint at being underground at one point. I guess that’s all of the usual elements covered, earth, wind, fire, air and water. If you include spirit in the mix, that would be the people making the journey, in my humble opinion. Or the listener, if you want to get a bit meta about it.

In Beringia, Creation VI has made another fine album, one that uses rhythm and shamanic/tribal sounds to create a space that is a refuge from the mundane world. Gone are the annoying chimes of social media notifications and outrage-fueled news. They get smothered and muffled by the warming drones, energised drum rhythms and insect-like buzzes that remind the listener of the more primal parts of the human psyche.

Visit the Beringia page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Haunted Shore below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Beringia
Album Artist: Creation VI
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: September 17, 2019

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th


Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown is a new anthology of dark tales, tales in which the clown is the victim or hero, rather than the gurning evil-grin wearing psychopath. This particular anthology contains one of my own dark tales too.

The blurb: In a world filled with menace, dare to paint on a grin. The world is full of images of scary clowns: packs of grinning figures with knives plaguing towns; pom-pom clad serial killers; loners who like children in the wrong way. But clowns can be a force for good: it takes a kind heart to put other people’s joy first; keeping children entertained is honest work; what better disguise than one that makes the villains laugh? 
What if, rather than being childhood-spoiling serial killers, clowns were the victims or heroes of the story? When all the children at a party are poisoned, an entertainer’s profession and past both make him a prime suspect. An anti-corporate prankster discovers his guru might be just as callous as the capitalist world-view he claims to reject. A clown attempts to redeem the image of his profession by saving a group of teenagers from a serial killer. And twelve more stories of clowns facing humanity’s baser natures.
Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown releases tomorrow, Friday the 13th September 2019, and is available from the following retailers, among others, with the paperback costing £7.99 and the eBook version coming in at £3.99.

Amazon:


Kobo:


Barnes&Noble:


iBooks: 

Monday, 2 September 2019

GAME REVIEW: Flowscape

Flowscape is a kind of meditative creativity tool, the soothing music and gentle animation helping the player to create scenes and views that they might want to escape to. It also has a map-making feature for any DnD'ers out there. You can read my full review over on Geek Syndicate.

Flowscape

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Review by Casey Douglass


Davidian


Davidian is a dark ambient album from Council of Nine, and it’s an album that is themed around the twisted and corrupt things that come from the way cults and mass followings can rob humanity of, well, its humanity. The album art above is pretty stark in its imagery, a silhouette watching a church or temple burning in the distance. Sadly, it was one of only a few images that Davidian gave me.

To qualify that last sentence... one of the things that I most look for in the dark ambient that I listen to is the way that it can kick-start my imagination, the soundscapes prodding and hinting at images and scenes. Davidian is at the smoother end of the scale of dark ambient, and while relaxing, and containing a maudlin melancholy at times, it didn’t really enrapture my mind.

To be sure, there are some nice textures and touches. The first couple of tracks contain sounds that seem to hint nicely at some kind of buzzing hive-mind type activities. Revelator seems to embody a kind of electronic-surveillance-type aesthetic, and to also evoke a sunlight-through-dusty-windows-shining-on-a-dead-body feeling. Day 51 also has tones that made me think of a desert hallucination, but one taking place in the middle of the night. Certain notes and melodies seem to repeat through different tracks, tying them together into a cohesive whole, which is also something that I can appreciate.

I didn’t dislike Davidian, I just think that at this particular time, it probably isn’t for me. Maybe in the future I’ll come back to it and feel differently, but if I was going to listen to a Council of Nine album right now, I’d probably go back to the excellent Trinity as that was an album that really did grab me. Davidian is an album of tender tones and contemplative struggle, I’d just have liked it to have a harder bite.

Visit the Davidian page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Day 51 below:



I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Davidian
Album Artist: Council of Nine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: August 13, 2019

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

GAMING NEWS: PC Building Simulator is Now Available on Console

GAMING NEWS: PC Building Simulator is Now Available on Console

PC Building Simulator

I always keep an eye on the various simulator games available for PC. It's one of the reasons that I love PC as a platform, as you get to see all sorts of interesting and niche creations. The Irregular Corporation's PC Building Simulator might have been deemed one of those games, once upon a time, but now, it's only gone and flipping released for PS4, Xbox and Nintendo Switch!

The original version of PC Building Simulator started out as a free tech demo on Itch.io and went on to sell 750K copies as a full release. It certainly seems to be a great example of an idea proving itself viable, which is refreshing in this day and age of rehash reboots and compulsive sequelitis.

PC Building Simulator
Tim's RED HOT Repairs sounds like a porno movie waiting to happen...
PC Building Simulator does come with a story mode, one in which you find yourself taking over your uncle's PC workshop, having to diagnose and fix your customers' PCs. There is also a Free Build mode in which you can build goliath PCs that you would likely only ever dream of owning in real life. As a consequence, the game features a variety of real world brands and components, so you can aspire to churn out those quad-sli gaming PCs to your virtual delight, and not have to remortgage your house to pay for them! The only thing you'll be missing out on are the sore thumbs from having to insert so many cables, and the swearing session as that CPU heat-sink assembly always ends up needing a lot more pressure to clip in place than you anticipated.

PC Building Simulator
If a GPU isn't overclocked, you obviously worship at the altar of Warranty.
Visit PC Building Simulator for a more in-depth look at the game, and keep an eye open for it in your gaming console's store. The pictures above are all from the PS4 version and the launch trailer below is one from the PC version. Just FYI.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Dinner Lady Doom and the Loss of a Maverick


Dinner Lady Doom and the Loss of a Maverick

By Casey Douglass



Casey Douglass


I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on various things that feed into who I am, whether my mental health issues, my health in general, my personality traits and even juicy things like Jung’s notions of the shadow aspect and repressed anger. While doing some general reminiscing, I came once again to the time in my life when I was only then starting school. I remembered two events that still make me a bit angry, and one, unrelated, but also in that same time period, that made me burst out laughing in the street. (I was already out for a stroll, I didn’t rush out there to burst into laughter, that would have been weird!). I’ve decided to have some fun with it, maybe channel my inner Bill Bryson, who knows. I’ve injected my own special brand of humour too, so it should be worth the read.

The events I’m going to talk about occurred when I was in infant school, so I would have been anywhere from five to seven years old at the time. It’s that time of life when all adults are pretty godlike to a little person, if for no other reasons than their height, and that they get to drive cars! When you falsely incur the wrath of even lesser gods, such as dinner ladies, it might just make the needle of doubt prick your skin, causing you to doubt their infallibility, and to doubt yourself. That sounds a lot darker than I was aiming for. Don’t worry, these are small events that aren’t scary or distressing, they are just ones that seem interesting for me to reflect on.

We were sat around a table in the dining hall eating lunch. I think everyone had those plastic lunch-boxes, the kind that flip open to reveal the packed lunches that our gods at home had so neatly provided. It was some time during this feast of sandwiches and Monster Munch that one of the dinner ladies came to our table. I remember her as the jokey friendly one; she was always light-hearted. Before I knew it, I’d been plucked from the table. I’d been accused of saying something heinous about her by a fellow diner. I have mental images of a spinning half-eaten square of sandwich, rotating lazily in the air and hitting the tabletop moments after my baffled face was closed safely inside the nearby classroom. I can’t ever remember being that cavalier with food though, and I’d like to think I wolfed it down like a trooper before being hoisted away.

So what had I said? Apparently, I had said that this particular dinner lady was a... I can hardly say it... it’s so deviant... a... a... silly old woman! I mean, wow, what a little gobshite! The thing was, I had no memory of saying such a thing, none at all! And by all accounts (one person) I was accused instantly after the foul words had been uttered by my mouth! I honestly don’t remember having memory problems back then, but then, how would I know? It felt like the 80s equivalent of a Twitter witch-hunt, but without the all-caps and bad spelling, which is saying a lot considering we were all still learning our apples from our elbows at that age. Sorry, I digress.

I told them (‘the man’) that I didn’t say it. I told Mum that I didn’t say it, after they’d unleashed the heavily artillery and sent a letter home with me. I remember saying that I didn’t know what they were talking about as I was standing at our living room window, looking out into the garden while I ate a banana. Further proof that my memory is pretty damn good! I also don’t only remember events when a banana is present. Just saying. I think it was around this point that I must have thrown in the towel and decided to say sorry anyway. I mean, what else was I to do? You know those stupid sayings like “If you swear, a kitten dies!” or something? I’d imagine there’s an equivalent for a kid having to say he did something just because there was no other way, maybe “If you say you did something that you know you didn’t, a trainee lawyer rips up their paperwork and becomes a reality TV star!” I don’t know.

Shortly after this, there was another incident with another dinner lady. This one was not the nice one, she always seemed to be in a grump and was generally avoided by the kids. I think it was a lunchtime where we couldn’t go outside because it was raining (kids in the 80s were obviously highly soluble, so thank the heavens we were spared a messy end that day!). I think I might have been talking too loudly or being over-excitable, or something like that. Whatever it was, I remember I had been doing it. I had no problems being punished for stuff I’d actually done! I was marched across the room to sit alone, quietly in the corner, but with the embellishment that apparently, I’d kicked this particular dinner lady in the leg as she’d led me! It was Silly Old Woman Gate all over again! I had no memory of it! And it’d just happened! Why did this keep happening to me? I can’t remember if I said sorry this time or if I just stayed quiet and sulky (or even both), but I wasn’t impressed.

Now I don’t want to overstate these two events too much. All kinds of things go toward making a person who they are today. Thinking about why I’ve always struggled with self-confidence and that I’ve always tended towards being a “people pleaser”, it’s interesting to me that these two events have never left me, and I don’t have that many memories left from that time in my life. To be accused of something you know you haven’t done is horrible, but to buckle under and say sorry because you’ve no other option? That really sucks. I also wonder if it helped feed into my later OCD, particularly with regards to wanting to be understood and being afraid that people will misunderstand me. I mean, shit! If you can be punished for something you didn’t say, the sky is the limit for all the ‘people-pleasing-obsessive-word-checking’ your energy can muster!

Hang on, I hear you cry, where is the event that made you giggle with glee in the street? It’s coming, I haven’t forgotten. I do just want to say before I move on though, that I’m not angry at the dinner ladies, I know they were probably doing the best they could and that these almost ‘nothing’ incidents would only likely matter to the person at the heart of them, which was me. I’m also glad that I knew nothing about the unconscious mind or the shadow aspect to our personalities back then, as if the right chain of thoughts had struck me, I might have pondered: “What if I did mutter nasty things about elderly ladies and kick the grumpy people who tell me off? Why wouldn’t I know? Maybe there is an evil Casey that comes out when my mind is elsewhere!?” etc. That would have been a real cluster-fuck to deal with at five years old.

Now, onto the humour. I think I was seven, so in my final year of infant school. It was lunch-break, apparently my witching hour time of the day, that time of the day when life’s strange stuff seemed to happen for me. Well I was seven, midnight didn’t exist for me back then. I was walking down the corridor and I remember thinking that, in all the time I’d been at school, I’d never wet myself. When you start school, there are always kids who have ‘accidents’, misjudgments of timing and whatnot. They get whisked away from the seat next to you, the only hint of their having been there a little yellow puddle with the odd bubble popping on the surface. Maybe this is why we weren’t allowed out at lunchtime? It was too close to looking like we’d dissolved! Anyway, for some reason, I wondered if I was even capable of wetting myself. I think I kind of prided myself on my bladder controlling abilities, I didn’t think I could purposefully override them. Dubious, I walked into the toilet to have a go.

Now I know what you are thinking, I’m just not sure if you are stuck on the “Why on earth did you want to try to pee yourself!” or if you have moved on to “Why go into the toilet if you are going to try and piss yourself?” Answer to the first, I was curious, and maybe I felt that the window of opportunity to do such a thing, and not get told off, was closing for me. As for the second question, to be honest, I think it was a concentration thing. No-one was in there so I could just stand and think. Focus. Go with the flow. I’m very happy to report that I surprised myself and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

It was as I stood there, alone in a toilet, with a warm, wet leg, that I realised that I hadn’t fully thought this through. It was more than the amount of urine where you could just think “That’ll dry. That’ll be fine!” I went to find a dinner lady and might have said something along the lines of “I’m afraid I’ve had an accident.” I’m certain I didn’t admit to the experiment. There was no drama. No real embarrassment either, on my side at least. I think I was given a towel to dry myself off and then I got on with the rest of the afternoon. This is the thing I’ve been chuckling about all day today, from having the original thoughts about all of this, to writing the thing just now. And hey, a tale of a dinner lady where I wasn’t told off for something I hadn’t done! How quaint!

Thinking about it now, what I want to know is, where has that maverick kid gone, the one who wanted to find out if he could piss himself, so he just tried it? I admire my younger self. He wondered if he could do something, he tried and he succeeded. Sure, he might have benefited from taking a moment longer to think about the after-effects, but it was a decent experiment. In the present day, I tend to wonder if I can do something, and then often decide that I can’t, without even trying. Or worse, in a way, I wonder if I can do something, I do it, and then still think that I can’t, that it wasn’t good enough or worth doing.

Three years after this, when I was ten, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) began, triggered by a few stray thoughts and a massive mental overreaction, by a personality that was likely already struggling in ways I have no idea about now. And possibly because of a bump on the head that happened on the same day. Before that day, I might have had my issues, but after that day, I was like a different person, nervous, timid and racked with anxiety.

Thinking back to the moment that I passed The Golden Test (as I’m now inclined to call it), I can only wonder at that seven year old chap who took a risk, just because he could. Post-OCD beginning, even post-treatment, I find myself living with a mental life containing so many rules, so much ‘do-goodism’ and ‘people pleasing’ that I wonder if this little piss-soaked maverick is still inside me somewhere, shaking his head and urging me to ‘Go with the flow!’ more often. I’d like to think so, and I’d like to get in touch and let him know that I need his help.

(The picture at the top of the article is me on a trip to some kind of safari park. I think I may have been slightly older than seven, but it was still at a time when my OCD hadn't emerged, so basically, happier times. I don't have any beard stubble, so it's not that recent at least.)