(Postgraduate) Welcome Week: A Re-Starting Student’s Perspective

Last week was Week One at the University of Nottingham, when students arrive or return to study.  I was in the odd situation of returning to start: I graduated in 2006 but came back this year to start my Masters.  So while I am back in familiar territory, many things are new and even Week One itself was rather unusual.

The sports hall at University Park is currently under renovation, which meant Freshers’ Fair was all up the creek as the fields the marquee has been on for the past eight years was full of construction paraphernalia.  Back in 2002, the Fair was held in the (unextended) Portland Building, but there weren’t 271 societies to squeeze in, so space was at a premium this year as we returned: RPGSoc were initially supposed to be outside with standing room and an allocated interaction space for an hour a day in the Hobbies room, but the atrocious weather on Monday was a godsend: we set up the little table in the room and did what we usually do, only with the ‘come and have a go’ space we’d always wanted.  Our allocated outside space didn’t go to waste either: we sent some LARPers out to show off our ‘public’ face too.

Other than standing around catching the eyes of introverted geeks and asking them what sort of roleplaying appealed to them, I actually had things to do.  As a part-time student, everything there was a bit weird too.  I don’t think I was truly required to attend anything, as they expected me to be away working but as I always have Week One off, it seemed daft not to get involved as much as I could.  I attended four Welcomes: two aimed primarily at Research postgrads, one for just the half-dozen new Russianists (although one was continuing from undergrad and I was sort-of a returner) and one for all CLAS (Cultures, Languages and Area Studies) postgrads.  There was also a welcome party thing for all Russian students, where I met lots of new people, hopefully didn’t scare too many and drank rather a lot of wine.

Thursday I had my ‘admin’ day: I attempted to pick up my student card but Student Services was so rammed I didn’t bother; I found out where the SSAGC (Social Sciences and Arts Graduate Centre), had coffee and biscuits with people much older and much younger than me and introduced myself to lots of postgrad History people; I also had a look around and ate my lunch in the CLAS study area at the bottom of Trent where the Language Learning Centre (not the Language Centre) used to be.

All that remains before I really push on is to get together with my fellow Russian postgrads to find out what’s going on and have my first supervision on Friday.  And that is the scariest part for me: real supervisions with people who care about something I actually care about too!  Wish me luck!

Roleplaying: The Best of Times

I am currently involved in a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons game on Thursday evenings.  It is probably the best roleplaying game I’ve ever been in, and I’ve only been in one or two bad ones.  It’s a prewritten (published) adventure with a few tweaks and add-ons by Matt (the long-suffering other half).

I usually enjoy Matt’s games, not because he’s my other half or because he runs particularly good games, but because he attracts good people to his games that make them good.  And this group is really very enjoyable: it’s probably the best thing about the game.  I’ve been in different games with just about everyone there and enjoyed those as well.  The character mix is good (maybe not on paper) and there are more in-jokes than the average sixth-form common room.

The game system is very enjoyable too: 5th Edition is neither rules-light nor rules-heavy, it has just the right mix (for me) of freeform roleplaying and appropriately ruled combat.  Notwithstanding that the adventure book was at least partly written without two of the core books being available and makes some very incorrect assumptions.  Thankfully Matt usually has those in hand.

What Matt is not good at is the ad-hoc, off-the-cuff things, like making up names for random unnamed NPCs.  We all know this and constantly ask awkward questions.  It has led to the usual inspirationally-named NPCs we, Matt’s ‘regular’ players, know and love.

My character is an Elf Cleric, a Noble.  I’ve played many Elf Clerics: it’s pretty much my go-to D&D character, which also makes it a good benchmark for testing a system.  The ‘Noble’ part is a new mechanic for D&D: Backgrounds.  I think it adds rules to a ‘flavour’ without being too prescriptive.  it means that people who aren’t as good at the freeform background spiel-making because they’re not as familiar with the dungeon-master’s wishes and ideas or the setting (me, usually: I don’t like to tread on other people’s stories), or simply because they don’t care, have something to form more roleplaying ideas on, while those who are good at that sort of thing get an in-game reward, especially if playing under dungeon-masters who either don’t care for good background themselves, don’t have time to put the effort in or simply don’t want to be seen to favour the more imaginative players.  My Noble background is that my uncle (by marriage) is the King of the Wood Elves.  I can technically, therefore, call myself a princess.

The Elf (Race) part is pretty standard, nothing really new there, although there are variants with actual rules rather than just roleplaying guidelines, which is always nice to see.  It’s the Cleric (Class) part that really stands out for me.

Clerics, for me, have always been a bit weird.  None of the Clerics I’ve played have ever excelled in the ‘turn undead’ stakes, even the pretty charismatic ones (generally the Drow).  Nor were most particularly good at hitting things, and when they were (that Dwarf one, for example), I didn’t really like it.  Even being half-decent at ranged combat was rare.  Casting healing spells was my Clerics’ usual strong point (even the evil ones), and often buffing other characters as well.  I enjoy playing a character who isn’t the be-all and end-all, but without whom the party would crumble.  A strong and necessary support.

I’d like to add an aside here that that’s often how I work in real life: for all my extroverted egotism, I much prefer to be a second-in-command.  And I’m pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself.

In 5th Edition, I have been very surprised.  Not only is my healing particularly effective (although that is primarily through character tailoring), I can also turn undead rather well, cast offensive spells which actually make a difference and provide support with (rather toned-down) buffs.

I also seem to have made a character who is not only playable, but truly enjoyable to play.  Alatielle’s a bit ditzy, but likeable, but then that’s how I expect a princess who’s spent lots of time with real people to be.  She’s got family issues, but she doesn’t really care (or notice…).  She’s a team player, but prone to irrational and reckless behaviour.  She’s great, I really like her.  But only as a character; I wouldn’t be her best friend: she’s too all-over-the-place!

Worst of all, she fulfils a stereotype.  Girls want to be a princess.  I’m a girl, and I’m playing a princess.  Girls want to be a princess who falls in love with a handsome prince.  Alatielle has formed an intimate relationship with a fellow adventurer, not a prince (probably…) but handsome and mysterious (so the teenage girls’ stereotype now), though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the romantic head-over-heels love portrayed in the literature.  Having said that, it’s a been a much more conventional relationship than mine and Matt’s ever was, which is also slightly worrying…

Epidemiia fans will note the significance of my character’s name: worse, her lover’s also a half-elf!  At least he’s not called Dezmond though…

Returning to Study

This week I registered as a Masters research student at the University of Nottingham.  The last time I did this was September 2002, during Freshers’ Week, in the Sports Hall.  Back then, I’d not been out of education, never lived away from home (or, indeed, moved house), knew virtually no Russian and wouldn’t describe myself as a heavy metal fan.

Oh, how times change!  Now, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Russian metal since 2005, have 2:i Bachelors Honours degrees not only in German and Russian but also Quantity Surveying and Construction Commercial Management, and have moved house four times, not including the initial move out of my parents’ house (which was more of a sidle than a move as such).  I also registered online, which is new.

I’ve had a total of four years out of education: a year between my first and second degrees, and three years since I graduated in 2012.  It doesn’t feel like three years though: this Masters has been six years in the planning, really, with the past two or three years really being full-on work.  The first time, I couldn’t wait to get into work: out of the relatively cash-poor student existence with its over-structured semi-monotony.  I discovered work was interesting, varied and the people were alright.  It had a different sort of monotony, but was less structured so I could do what I wanted when I wanted.

Then I started a part-time degree in a construction-based subject. The first year was so different to the first time round: drawing, maths, no real writing…  Second year we had an essay to write, and it clicked: this is what I wanted to do!  I had missed researching so much.  By the end of that year I had been made redundant and was undecided about what to do: continue on or change tack entirely.  I carried on, but made plans to return to my first love, foreign cultures.

And so here I am: registered, fees being paid and with all my Welcome Week timetables written up.  Ready to face the new challenges of being in an unstructured environment, doing my own thing, a thing I truly enjoy.  Hoping to make new friends among my fellow students and the staff who’ve arrived (and become staff) since I graduated.  Back in the Department and Building I called home for four years; back home.

I’d like to add, however, something my supervisor wrote to me when I emailed her saying I’d confirmed my place:

It’ll be great having you officially back in the department (although we all know you’ve been unofficially with us all along!)

Coincidentally, this year also marks 100 years since Russian started at the University.  In the building where my Quantity Surveying department is now based.  Small world, eh?!