Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Wizard/Lawyer dual class


Things have changed a lot in the real world where the roleplaying industry is concerned. Things will always change of course which is not a bad thing but the internet has I think been a positive force overall for the hobby despite the primary weapon for a warrior tending to be the keyboard these days. Having said this the global medium has provided a new publishing landscape and with it an ever growing pool of litigation issues out of which crawl the usual suspects.

The big story erupting at the moment is a rift between Wizards of the Coast and the creators of the fabled world of Krynn. Dragonlance is no small brand having begun releasing novels in the early eighties with Dragons of Autumn Twilight it has now spanned over 190 novels that include its content under the umbrella of TSR which was of course absorbed by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 - the brand is considered to be one of the major pillars of the D&D game alongside classics such as Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk and will have accounted for hundreds of thousands of gaming hours over the decades. Tracey Hickman and Margaret Weis who were co creators of the brand still support the fan base today and recently secured a deal through Penguin Random House with WotC to produce a further three novels. 

This is where things unravel however as WotC are accused of  breach of contract following their termination of the agreement. This has not pleased fans as this was supposed to be the capping of  legacy work by the creators and eagerly awaited. The fallout seems to have happened over the summer when WorC was undergoing some public relations issues as well as taking on a senior exec that seems to have taken the company along a politically correct course resulting in the retro editing of many of the Magic the Gathering cards as well as the cultural modification of some of the classic D&D5e  races.

At $10 million dollars the lawsuit is non trivial and this is not good for fans. Whilst I am sure that there is a lot of money pumping though WotC it is not inexhaustive and the more troubling aspect is that the company is viciously  turning on part of its own customer base as well as beloved TSR content which will have ongoing repercussions. I cant see D&D disappearing in any event as it can always be sold on if not re-released but it is indeed ironic that hubris and greed are also the primary characteristics of Dragons.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Technological Traps

Last Saturday saw the continuing voyages of the USS Lyonesse lovingly recreated by GM Jon in the Roll20 environment to at least the production standard of the late 60s, although we are playing in the 80s era of course, our adventures nevertheless continued in the appropriate fashion. And fashion is very appropriate when one considers the correct uniform designations as demonstrated by several new avatars Jon had put together representing our characters - whilst they look fantastic I am slightly concerned as the the space left to add more. I do know that additional crew members are written up into the story as time goes on so the roster will populate, its just that the the supporting cast are also there for promotion should the main characters get 'written out' in an unfortunate circumstance.

We had left the last episode exploring a Vulcan archeological away team that had been compromised when investigating a subterranean seed vault. It had transpired that the vault itself was just a front for a an even more extensive underground military like structure designed both to withstand a nuclear attack as well as keep a small contingent alive with supplies. The installation was however drawing power from the fusion core of the Vulcan exploration habitat so it was a matter of cautiously investigating the long dormant structure until we found a mysteriously sealed level as well as a service robot that was trying to take us to a hidden lift to the same location.

As if following some scripted plot we then merrily wandered into the dilemma, or more accurately, the trap. The unseen level consisted of hundreds of now failed suspended animation capsules, as well as the eviscerated corpses of the missing Vulcans wired up in a failed attempt to connect their brains to a huge central computer system that seems to have been hosting a hive mind that has presumably been ticking over for millennia as some forgotten project of a sinister black operations division. The issue is that the computer now wants to feed on our minds as well as the rest of the crew and in due spirit, it managed to synthesize my voice in order to beam down Lt Valik  which will do nothing to stem his nerves following the trauma of his previous encounters. Not sure how this episode will end but its not looking good as we have several primitive but effective defence robots bearing down on as as well as a partially insane hive mind demanding the rest of the crew join it. I am sensing that the next episode may be more Borg like than Beverley like and we'll find out who does the crushing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Like Rogues


I did manage to reach one of my life goals about five years ago which was to attain the hitherto fabled Amulet of Yendor. This particular quest began back in 1990 when I was twenty one and eventually completed in 2015 at about two o'clock in the morning in the middle of Ashdown forest. Some of you may know of what I speak which is a legend in itself dating back to the early 1980s. It was at this time that Michael Troy and Glenn Wichman created the the game Rogue for UNIX mainframes that began a genre that thrives today in many popular and cutting edge forms.

Inspired by role playing games the visually primitive yet highly complex interactive environment tries to capture the rough end of life at the dungeon face. More specifically the game entails descending through many levels to seek out the amulet and return to the surface with it intact. Its name, Yendor is just Rodney spelt backwards which was supposed to be the default name of the character that you play. The point of Rogue and roguelike games is that they are both extremely difficult to win and result in permadeath whenever the player dies of one of the many unforgiving challenges. It is currently evolving in the form of Nethack which I am about to get into but its complexity has grown such that the random character generator does spit out some wonderful characters if you are looking for inspiration for your scenario.

Despite being inspired by rpgs I am curious if there is some feedback here that might be useful. There is a very special feeling for a player when success is attained against all odds and with the right frame of mind, a truly challenging game is sobering and will get the focus of players. Pain is a part of an authentic roleplaying experience and the death of ones comrades is character building in and of itself both mechanically as well as narratively. I think it comes down to respect as its often the case that you can feel the GM changing down the gears and back peddling when a situation is seriously getting out of hand for players. Whilst the 'not fair' brigade will always roll the eyes of experienced GMs I do like the systems that think ahead of these sort of players - the Star Trek is very noteworthy here as development is predominantly narrative rather than skills based and as the game progresses other crewmembers are brought into being and can, ultimately step up if the primary character suffers one of the many rogue like traps out there in the galaxy. It all adds to the richness of the adventure and GMs should always have a community context for their players as this approach would be useful whether you are based in a village or starship. Life is hard but rewarding, in part, because it is hard.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Coming soon again

Whilst business are crumbling under the weight of the pandemic I have commented on concerns over the viability of our local Dice Saloon gaming store. Fundamentally a business based on social interaction it would seem like a target demographic for the inevitable economic scarring but as it had moving plans at about the same time as lockdown began, it may well have bought a little time and what can be built and lost can if necessary be built again. In their own words

Hello to all our patrons, I hope lock down has been treating you well. As the country comes out of hibernation and stores begin to open people have been asking about Dice Saloon and when we are scheduled to open. 

As many of you know our old home (unit 6, longley) is being demolished and we have been working on 88 London road. We have had a lot of trouble getting plaster and plasterboard and this has given us some serious delays. We are now aiming to open up in august our webshop has been live for  few days and we are working on redesigning the navigation and usability, more products will be added daily and we hope you can use this to get your hobby fix. 

Today we are excited to share some progress pictures, we have attached some from when we took the site on and then some from today. Scaffolding will be out of the main hall in the next week and we will try do a weekly update. 

Thanks for the support!

Dice Saloon Team

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Reverse Psychology


Whilst this weeks article is not a write up of  a particularly cunning Baldrick like plan to outwit a turnip thief. Nor is it a prose regarding the extraction of an infighting party from a particularly sticky situation. I have been wondering recently why Roleplayers are not more aware of psychology. Now there is an underlying irony here as being aware of anything is a function of some psychology or other of course but as most of the club demonstrably functions above plant like awareness of day and night it is always worth wondering why we wonder.

We have a forthcoming career promotion to our Warhammer characters soon as we are cashing in on a growing trail of professionally dispatched corpses as per the Skullbashers Direct customer commitment and I'll be mulling over the classes available to my Rogue. But as in D&Ds most recent incarnation there are archetypes that always present themselves in good narrative order and I think there might me merit in scrutinising where archetypes come from.

In the great tradition of great psychologists it seems that formative work in the field was done by Carl Jung and although masters of the mind exhibit both genius and insanity, the theories that stick will tend to have merit. More so Carl Jung as he founded analytical psychology but his approach to human archetype is rooted in anthropological imagery - cave paintings being the hominid evidence - recurring mental images or themes drawn from our evolutionary heritage - the foundations of mythology and art. The deep roots of archetype cannot be underestimated as the implication is that mental imagery processes came long before our higher functions in our Darwinian path which goes a long way to  understanding the machinery of the unconscious and our shadow characteristics.

Im not going to attempt to digest the entire field in one paragraph but it does explain why roleplaying is so engaging, its not just an artistic side effect of exercising our imaginative muscles, it actually emerges from ancient and powerful mechanisms that idealise ourselves in different ways and generates an ethical scaffold to develop the best, or indeed worst of our characteristics - this imprints us somewhere on the lawful good/evil axes. Basically we are rolled up from the character classes that proceeded us.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020



Our Warhammer games continues in both the warlike and hammerite vein as last week saw us escorting a trade caravan between the two towns of Noose Cross and New Marienburg. To be fair it was just a last minute job just to get some extra crowns as we were going that way anyway but typically we gave ourselves a road to go off and in the usual roleplaying tradition we had an idea.

Now when we were told it was a days travel we neglected to enquire as to whether this meant a working day, daylight or indeed twenty four hours so imagine my eyes rolling when we had to make camp at nightfall. Now whilst my whining days are far behind me now my solicitor always recommends that I get things in writing from my GM so I will take some responsibility for this. Nevertheless when it transpired that there were scouts on the horizon we took the risky decision to play dumb and have a somewhat hobbit  like evening but slept with one eye open in order to counter the inevitable. Fortunately after the skirmish it seemed like the scouts were just scouts and like us just trying to make an opportunistic piece of gold but whilst half the party escorted the caravan into town our more hardy members of the band went off to scout the bandit camp and in true open world style we sold the idea to the Marienburg guards that they should pay us for clearing them out.

Whilst we may have bitten off more than we can chew we will find out but its been a while since I have played in an open world adventure and I like the sense of freedom after so many games of plot. Its pressure for the GM but may suit us well as the games are run to a schedule and without specific milestones we have a chance to get into the roleplaying rather than struggling to squeeze in objectives. Whilst we are suddenly keen to raise our reputation we are now calling ourselves "The Skullbashers" but in keeping with a more modern and corporate feel I have been pushing for "Skullbashers Direct".

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Levelling Sideways

The USS Lyonesse set sail to the solar winds once again last weekend in the continuing adventures of our Star Trek Adventures Series. Our ongoing mission is to explore the strange old worlds of the Black Cluster Nebula on the trail of the long lost VES Sunak. Sadly the breadcrumbs of the missing ship seem to be Vulcan away missions that have met grisly ends one way or another. On the first planet we came across the bodies of several Vulcans that had perished in contact with a hive mind entity. This last week saw us beaming down to a small Vulcan research habitat constructed to catalog the ruins on a long dead civilization on a planet currently wrapped in an ice age. The station crew however seem to have meat a rather incongruous end particularly for Vulcans. So far we have on murder scene with the victim (a relative of one of our party) seemingly assaulted and impregnated with some alien technology and another having been shot by an ancient security robot.

The plot will twist and turn no doubt but we also had milestone advancements to apply to our characters based on the experiences gained in previous games. Unlike the usual pick and mix grind of experience points and levels Modiphius have developed a much richer and context relevant system of advancement;. Milestones are met specifically when a character challenges one of his own values, expend 'detemination' in pursuit of a value or indeed take a complication  to a value. Milestones can then be used to alter those characters values.. 

Parallel to this is the reputation system. On the outcome of a mission  reputation is then adjusted depending on a D20 roll with brackets of success. This is modified by the events of the mission whether positive or negative - saving a life, acting above and beyond the call of duty or indeed disobeying orders or losing crew members. The reputation can then be used to gain favor with NPCs, achieve promotions or indeed receive sanctions or demotions.

I sort of quite like this as an experience system as its inextricably bound to a plot and a character story arc. Characters do not so much level up as develop laterally as their story continues which is much more in tune with the TV series. Its a chance to become a bettor or worse person not a more powerful one by default and is more realistic although rank improvement are available. I'm not sure that the modifiers are in order where reputation is concerned - whether you are responsible for one death or billions may not have the proper modifiers and I am not sure if a character with poor reputation has a disproportionately worse time getting out of a rut. Not sure what happened when Admiral Kirk got demoted to Captain tho - surely an increase in reputation but also a demotion - perhaps he was always breaking the mold.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Plot Hook


For those who sleep better after a good fairy tale its worth noting that there has been more than a nod to the high fantasy genre from the entire D&D Feywild Forgotten Realms through to games spun from the tales of the Brothers Grimm. One of the the latest worlds to be bound and delivered to us is Neverland albeit a fan made expansion. More specifically it comes as a 5E expansion but the initial module is intended to be an open world sandbox and populates its lands with Pirates, Mermaids, Crocodiles, Giants, Gnomes and Faries. Apparently its designed for an older audience so perhaps not as innocent as the children's stories although I note that the original Peter Pan appeared in the novel "Little white Bird" at the turn of the 20th century which was in fact aimed at adults.

I am always a little unsure of how a world can be extrapolated from a single protagonist. This is often an issue for the superhero scenarios but the simple solution is to combine them all together aka the Avengers and the wider Marvel universe. At this point you can roll your own hero but there is only one Peter Pan and whilst Pan like creatures go back to Shakespeare's Puck and beyond they are a singular anomaly in most narratives in the chaotic neutral vein, but I do find them an interesting phenomena.

I suppose its the difference between a hero and a narrative where a hero follows the adventures of a particular individual in a series of adventures whereas a narrative binds the adventures of many individuals into a world. This is probably why such systems don't immediately gel with me but I have enjoyed the occasional high fantasy adventure just because the characters are much more of a caricature and it encourages a bit of light hearted armature dramatics if run well and there is nothing wrong with a but of am dram.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Reddit Playing Games

I've never particularly dungeon delved into reddit nor subscribed to any of its community threads as it just seems like a longer version of twitter to me but to be fair the occasional amusing meme crosses my comms from time to time. Whilst I understand that there are corners for passionate posters as well as numerous community support areas that can be embraced the sheer immensity of prose presents a facade akin to the planetary archives of the Jedi. Its one thing to need a lifetime to read through a library but quite another to need several lifetimes just to tackle the contents section.

Oddly enough as I have been looking at some the old school systems of late I did have a quick reddit dive regarding on the fly dungeon generation. Specifically for GMs there has to be a quick method that spits out something authentic albeit in classic style and there are no shortage of approaches. Whilst I do have prize polyhedrals specifically for use with corridors, junctions and dead ends on, I have never used them as it's somewhat procedural from a single entry point. I presume this is broadly the same as drawing from a deck of dungeon tiles or indeed using a set of ordinary dice to determine layout however there is  risk that a lot of dead ends are generated inappropriately.

There is the narrative approach where the plot goes through the entrance/guardian -> puzzle/rp challenge -> red herring/trap -> boss/twist -> reward phases. The layout becomes somewhat arbitrary in this approach but whilst I like the focus on the player experience it's not really useful on the fly. Oddly and possibly appropriately enough I quite like the chaotic approach of grabbing a few dice and just rolling them onto a piece of A4. From where they land one can quickly draw around them to create rooms and from there its quick and easy to connect them up abstractly with corridors and doors. In addition with D4,6,8,10 and 12 dice available one can use these to correspond to something like the challenge ratings from the 5e monster manual... think I feel a one shot with lots of D12 coming on...

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

OS Essentials

Simplicity is beauty they say although I have met some fairly simple people in my time so I would't say that this applies across the board but with all the games I have tinkered with over the years I am definitely leaning towards the more streamlined rule set as my preferred experience. What's nice is that the role playing market has definitely come full circle not just with the many re-releases of old classics, Cthulhu being in its seventh incarnation now for example but we are starting to see 'Retro' compilations come to the market.

One that will not to be everyone's taste is Old School Essentials by Necrotic Games but I quite like the look of this one. Touted as a recompiled and faithful reworking of the original 1981 Basic and Deluxe sets the Necrotic release is in modular form with regard to the supplements but for me the no brainier is the black box set with all the releases. Slightly more than slay and hack the approach returns control and much of the interpretation of the rules to the GM. Now the first rule of 5e is that the GM always has the last word under all circumstances but to be honest more that few players end up in some sort of friction with the GM over actions in a game and I find this both jarring and frustrating. I get that a meticulous rule set is supposed to alleviate this but I think it has an opposing gait in that it creates a somewhat meticulous mindset and it can cause bitty exchanges that are not conducive to a healthy game. With a more laid back atmosphere and a more forgiving player base a looser rules based game is much richer in that a GM can focus on narrative despite cutting a few corners with the round to round minutiae. 

Although this is all about reinventing the wheel to a degree it is an opportunity to rethink some of the more neglected dungeon crawling rules such as traps, encumbrance, hunger, rations and the like. There is an excellent set of videos by Questing Beast revisiting some of these mechanics and how to make them fun and exciting - throwing your food to monsters being one way of passifying them or indeed not making them hostile by default but balancing the outcome on the first contact. To be honest I do quite like the presentation of the whole package anyway which is enough of an excuse for me so Amazon will be coming early for Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Will you parry me ?


Stuff is happening. Over the last week or two we have been transitioning to the new games on line and with the call to arms I enrolled to GM Jack's  Warhammer Fantasy with my rogue which saw our first combat. Now it tends to be the case, at least for my part, that the first session or two is more of a calibration experience for new characters as skills are mechanically tested and initial development points and stats are perhaps adjusted in the light of either a character that is too feeble to survive as well as turning down the volume on any superheroes that are accidentally born of a freak statistical accident.

Returning to a somewhat aged RPG serves to remind me how much things have changed and indeed how streamlined more modern systems are. Evolution by player selection seems to have rooted out a lot of the fluff that was of course trailblazing in the early days as the first initiative and combat systems arose. I would say in hindsight that the first systems naturally tried to audit and itemise people's attributes as mechanically accurately as possible as this would be the natural thing to do. It is only in hindsight that actually what you want is a brief and if necessary abstract mechanics system that allows people access to narrative as quickly and easily as possible as at the end of the day mechanics just get in the way and we don't naturally audit what we do for the most part - we just do it.

One of the many evolutionary dead ends that came back to haunt us last week was the parry mechanic. I remember a lot of painful Rolemaster sessions particularly when parry and stun would serve to either prolong or frustrate combat respectively and in due fashion at the time the solution was to add more skills to counter other skills that were a lag on the game such as '"stunned maneuver" to oppose stun and multiple attacks to oppose too many parrys. Stacking skill counters like this is akin to a tug of war each round which seemed normal then as we had all the time in the world as young gamers but with six players on line the parry mechanic in the WHF only served to drag out the session.

To be fair it's a real tricky situation for a GM as there are a lot of classes and combat styles for which parrying is very relevant but at the end of the day, what do you do ? Tweak a game for more realism or remove the realism for expedience ? Its a classic design issue I think and depends on ones sensitivities to the experience. One thing is sure - evolution does not stop.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Diversity and Dragons


Like minded misfits would be a somewhat cliche way of describing us as a club but these days of course the geeky arts have risen to a new vogue and once niche brands have been bought out by progressively bigger fish to become international juggernauts. Warhammer now touts the development of a televised series based on the Eiaenhorn narrative and Dungeons and Dragons films and series have bubbled up more than once and I sense that it won't be long before we will be talking Dungeons and Netflix.

But in the current wave of political correctness diversity has now landed Tienanmen squarely within D&D in an attempt to impose homogeneity within the fantasy environment via the ubiquitous Trust and Safety committees. In the great tradition of all great leap forwards it seems that even mythical narratives will now be rewritten in the professorial light of oppression and grievance studies. With a statement from from D&D (https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/diversity-and-dnd) Orcs and Drow will no longer be regarded as evil to mitigate stereotyping, ability scores will be detached from different backgrounds to avoid racism, and connections between Romanians and vampires will no longer exist. Recently Games Workshop had also been drifting along these policy lines until a missive community backlash stopped them in their tracks via the recent 'Warhammer is for Everyone' initiative (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfH7NJnKoX8).

My point is not that I am worried that RPGs will be patrolled by  the political officers of the social justice regimes- they wont be - imagination will always win in the creative spaces. My concern is that  beloved brands may not survive the backlash from constantly splitting fan bases - the 'get woke go broke mantra' is beginning to claim ever larger organisations with Patreon now on the brink of collapse as the latest example of Trust and Safety overreach. We have never really changed as a bunch of dice rollers at the club as everyone who walks through the door is warmly welcomed whoever they are and those that stay do so as like minded free thinkers. In a strange inversion of the sixties, it could be that we are now the counter culture.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Career Choice

Despite the chaos of several people talking at once we did gain the upper hand in the Warhammer Fantasy character generation last week. I can't say I am warming to the on line world as its a little too much like being possessed but thankfully people are turning on their cameras now so I know that at least some of the voices belong to other people. Whilst I have never rolled a WHF character before it did sort of click when Jon reminded me that many of these mechanics stemmed from the pre spreadsheet mid eighties when imaginations ran just a little to far ahead of the tech and so a number of these systems had a sort of proto Lotus feel.

Nevertheless after the fog of Warhammer cleared I have to say I appreciate the approach to the character narrative. Whilst many  systems include an apprentice or pre career development portion, WHF cleverly links together the professions via entrance and exit options. So for example I rolled an Agitator initially and when all the development options were full I then had to promote the character via one of the exit professions and I chose Rogue which in turn has its own exit options for when the time comes.

This is an implicitly narrative way of creating a character as a career story automatically generates as development points are expended and whilst one can create any desired background in most games the WHF approach is much more gritty and one begins to wonder what a character has been up to as the history is assembled. I don't think I have seen this before and I much prefer it to the usual linear approach. After all our real life stories are often a winding road of dodgy jobs and colourful relationships.