Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Winter Wonderland

Its a little early I know but the mince pies have been deployed for some time now in the supermarkets and subliminal shopping center music has become decidedly more suspicious. I am unsure whether RPG companies get any sort of sales runs over Xmas; as awkward as it is to put a book in a sock, I suppose there are a lot of other stocking fillers by way of dice, miniatures and spell components but there are a few frozen environments out there if you really are looking forward to a white christmas.

In the D&D vein there is a kickstarted Norse Campaign setting by way of the "Svilland Saga". Whilst its 5e inspired, rather than high fantasy, the magic belying the realm is more pagan reflecting omens, spirit magic and runes. Typical combat scenarios draw upon bloody raids and feudal politics between warring settlements in the high arctic and the Norse Gods meddle in the affairs of kings and adventurers alike. Ice giants and trolls are among other cold spirits that walk the land.

If you fancy going to an ice planet just for a short break there is always the iconic Traveller. Dating back to 1977 it's in its 2nd edition now since 2016 under the Mongoose brand and has also had several novels set in its universe. There is a planet generation system but does include a temperature setting depending on how Christmasy you want to be - you could even adjust the rotation of your world so it stays Christmas all year round.

There is also a lesser known author Michael Scott Rohan who has created an RPG off the back of his novels, the first of which is The Anvil of Ice. The Winter of the World rpg system was published by Cakebread and Walton in 2017 and does ship with optional 5e rules but the core system does contain enough to get started. Interestingly enough the system does include the subterranean world of the Duergar - which is possibly connected with the dwarves of the same name in Forgotten Realms. This also reminds me of the Dwemer and Druegar in Skyrim for which the atmospheric immersion in its biting mountainous winds is unparalleled, including the killer chickens.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018


So I have tried to introduce a new concept for the D&D party, namely "being careful". There is certainly a natural curiosity when it comes to exploration and of course there is always the draw of possible treasure around the next corner. Add to this anyone who plays any sort of adventure based video games will be well acquainted with the slightly obsessive compulsive feeling of absolutely having to clear out the last dusty corner of that dungeon. So as the Planescape party seem also to be happily dungeon hoovering I deliberately put in a higher challenge rated monster, namely in this instance, the Salamander. With an above average change of killing someone I had planned to sober up a somewhat hack and slay rhythm to the game

Did things go to plan ? Obviously not. Whilst my theory was sound I had neglected to remember that every individual enemy would also have an individual weak spot. Having lined the party up against my creature High Noon style, the first action from the Wizard was to cast grease no less. Immediately the Salamander failed its dex and took the prone condition - and given that one of its two attacks was using its body then its only remaining attack was at disadvantage. A snake's dexterity can only really come from its traction on the ground and whilst it took several rounds to kill the creature I was at least able to do some damage with its polearm and the occasional thermal blast consequence of attacking it.

Problem now is that the creature I specifically put in place in order to be avoided as part of a reconnaissance mission has now spurred the party on to tackling rest of the world. As always I shouldn't have judged and simply let the adventure lean on the characters organically. Either way, I would have had more success with a large number of angry ducks.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Pumpkin day

Following on from last weeks post, I duly note that Call of Cthulu is suddenly available on Steam. With only a couple of hundred "Mostly positive" responses its not something that leaps out at me and whilst computer based horror games are tangential to role playing its interesting that they are leveraging the brand as I am aware that the 7th ed table top did struggle financially in the first instance.

Of note, there is also the re-release of Helmgast's "Kult" now under the Modiphius brand. In a more ironic and seasonal twist, its history began in Sweden in the early nineties but gained controversy as it was actually mentioned in a parliamentary bill to remove funding from youth groups involved in role playing. This was due to the murder of a 15 year old by his slightly older friends who allegedly were influenced by the game. Either way, new copies are now finally reaching their very patient backers.

I also own a GURPS "In Nomine" for some reason. A Steve Jackson creation, players embody the eternal cold war struggle between angels and demons as they fight over the souls of humans. Oddly enough the system appeared in 1997, the same year Buffy kicked off, ushering in an era of supernatural TV series. Sporting a wonderful D666 mechanic, three D6s are rolled for resolving actions; the first two are added to gain a success or failure, the third indicates the extent of the particular result.

Other than the Chill, which I am particularly fond of, my horror rpg experience ends there really bar the B movie system "It came from the Late Late Show". A system that is more horrific for its hammed up acting and bad quotes than the steam powered zombie robot Nazis that chase the players around. Bring on The Blob.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Vale Greg Stafford (1948 - 2018)

The Grand Shaman of Gaming as he was called passed away this month and it is appropriate to make a brief mark of respect here in this tome.

As gamers we are often blissfully ignorant of the many trailblazers who are responsible for the millions of hours of play across an entire globe of adventurers. We revel in immersive game play across often decades of memorable moments and Greg Stafford would have been responsible for a large proportion of them. Founder of Chaosium in 1975, arguably one of the greatest contributions to the industry was their reimagining of H P Lovecraft's work embodied in Call of Cthulu now in its 7th incarnation. If you have never played it then it's highly likely you know someone who has. A classic to the point of a formative work, the system is emblematic of Victorian mythology and the horrors still lurking at the edges of a pre industrial mind, though the Lovecraftian Mythos narrative has detail and world building that rivals even Tolkien's legacy.

In addition you may well be aware of his Glorantha novels as well as HeroQuest but as for myself, it was the RuneQuest system which has absorbed several years of my life set within the Glorantha world. As a percentile system I always found it quite accessible though it was always teased over specific hit point locations which technically meant a reasonable probability of having arms and legs lopped off.

Overall its hard to imagine other gamers who have made a larger contribution to role playing but as with all of the greatest works, his creations will outlive him for years to come. Here is a brief inspirational  clip from one of his workshops.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Humble Fumble

So do you make your own luck is the question ? Having played poker for many years I sort of get the statistical approach to good fortune - make a hundred correct probabilistic decisions and you'll tend to win more often than not over time; the long run as it is called. Yes there are swings in fortune and intuition where gut feelings are concerned but being able to interpret the details of peoples behaviour will also result in calling more bluffs and avoiding traps. Fundamentally then, discipline and common sense does seem to keep people alive for the most part given that you have to take some knocks on the chin.

Whilst some of the current 5e players are new to role-playing, and I have been very sensitive to this, even I almost wiped them out using nothing more than a simple corridor. Investigating a keymaster's residence, a long thin building, a portal opened at the end of a very narrow corridor - enter stage left a Barbed Devil shrouded in mist.  First down the corridor is the Mage entering hand to hand combat. Brilliant. Next is the cleric, followed by the ranger, fighter and thief at the back. Merrily chomping away with my Devil, the entire combat basically involved people shuffling back and forth in a queue like a new iPhone release on black Friday.

Whilst I could have merrily got carried away PacMan style it was conversely the case that the devil would not have survived trying to fight through half a dozen characters one by one, which sort of resulted in a retreat by both sides, but it was basically an hilarious session akin to playing twister on an aeroplane. Its easy to judge of course but its all part of the learning experience.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

In the flesh


Hacking ones own role playing game can be a weird experience. Whilst perusing the monster manual looking for the most disgusting creature to ambush the Planescape party with I had to somehow lever it into a running game in a way that doesn't violate the rules of the environment. To be honest, this isn't a particularly difficult problem in principal but as they are in Sigil, one has to respect certain unwritten rules, though ironically the rules are very precisely written down in the module guides of course but nevertheless, lateral thinking was required. A bit like the finery on the interior of a garment, it can never be appreciated by the casual passer by but its crucial for holding the experience together. 

So the D&D lot were investigating the disappearance of another party and I decided to send them down into the world of the Dabus; the caretakers of Sigil. Diligent and industrious yet autonomous and troglodyte, the Dabus clean the streets, maintain the buildings and cut back the razor vine. They are the silent servants of the Lady of Pain and enjoy her protection. Their warrens are generally off limits to the inhabitants of Sigil who never become aware of the gigantic service mazes below their feet.

The party were in fact invited down to the warren as the Dabus were having a problem disposing of a body, a solemn and grisly duty they share with the Dustmen's Guild but as the gates to their world are magically protected how was I to get an enemy down there to engage the party ? Well, the answer of course is to send it down there in pieces. Introducing the Flesh Golem, a master stroke of modular manufacture - bits of body scattered about a Dabus Gate will be dutifully taken down below for disposal but using a variant regeneration rule, the golem could slowly re-assemble itself before engaging on its grisly task. With a challenge rating of 5 and 2D8+4 slam damage we came quite close to taking out a couple of players. Like I say, no more Mr Nice guy.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

All that glitters

There is a somewhat spit and sawdust feel to our club, a sort of dusty comfort one associates with an old battered leather sofa. Indeed the Belmont is probably the least pretentious place on the entire planet sporting original bar billiards, a fake baize pool table, somewhat dangerous darts and a glitter ball of unknown origin. Pre industrial beer is dispensed with occasional medieval service and what once passed for a selection of mostly defrosted pies has been quietly dealt with.

But there is a dilemma if  truth be told. Whilst we enjoy extremely cheap beer and an unusually large social area, the rooms that we have for gaming are boarder line acceptable. I don't mind wobbly tables and retired chairs as such but the damp is particularly bad downstairs and some furnishings have suffered from years of biological warfare.

So last Friday Jules kindly invited me to "The Skiff", a laid back set of hot desking tech offices in Blackburn St - a possible alternative venue. After leaving I was struck with a number of conflicting feelings. Whilst you couldn't ask for a cleaner and more laid back designer environment re-pleat with comfortable playing spaces, large high quality tables, loungy sofas and even a glitter ball in the kitchen, it did at the end of the day feel a bit professional; a bit like visiting a google office.

I do feel for new visitors to the club sometimes with its occasionally dreadful rooms but what the Belmont loses in hygiene, it sort of makes up with character. Not sure I got that feeling from the Skiff and re-tasking a well established club would be very painful but perhaps we would take our character with us. As always, time will tell but we have to face the reality of an expanding club at some point.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

In the beginning

A curious but rewarding experience of club life is guiding the first steps of new role players, after all, each of us rolled a dice for the first time at some point. Whilst it must seem like a whole jumble of numbers, narratives, rules and pictures the first thing I try to do is keep the character sheets away from the players as much as possible for their first go and get their attention. Everyone has a character sheet in front of them of course but I take ownership when I run the session as strictly speaking they are primarily there for the GM to resolve mechanics - yes there is all the character based stuff but that can be just ignored for the first few goes.

It is interesting to see how the brain fills in the blanks though; small teams of people do start to cooperate instinctively and when challenged with simple tasks new players will tend to brainstorm naturally just like a project team at work, and occasionally individuals do try things out. In the DnD for example, the party did spend a lot of time trying to open a city gate -but to be fair they didn't really know what the consequences or rules were but if confidence doesn't spur someone on then boredom will - simply climbing over the gate and unlocking it from the other side would not normally be a lengthy affair. But when presented with an alien game it can be a slow realization that you can actually manipulate things in the same way as you can in real life.

Things of course began to click quickly after that and the players really started looking around, investigating their environment and had their first fairly passive encounter, albeit with a mad person. With a brief introduction to a strong but innocuous personality, the penny starts to drop and the players wandered confidently into a city tavern rich with atmosphere and bustling with adventure and intrigue. The party weren't quite delegating tasks properly as they were all sort of wandering around together as a single entity but given a couple of small combats, emphasis starts to differentiate their roles and subsequently I introduced some simple choices for the players as a first step to handing them their own responsibility and destiny - choices after all have consequences and it will be time for some tough love soon enough.

It will be interesting to see at what point their individual characters begin to dictate actions in opposition to both the group dynamic as well as against their personal opinions, which is sort of the end game of a role playing beginning. The real real trick though  is not just to stay alive in any given situation but to avoid being at each others throats when things really get dicey.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Lawful Good sandwiches

It was about a eighteen months ago that wanderers abruptly began to tell me that it was the Meetups website that pointed them in our general direction and no longer this venerable tome. For almost a decade, blogger has been the crumbling path in the fog that has guided role players to the Railway Club and given the usual stresses in routinely rotating games I had been thinking whether we should be levering it as our primary mechanism for bringing order to the chaos.

What's interesting about recently starting a 4th game advertised on Meetups, is that it's already pretty much full within a fortnight. This poses some fundamental questions, not only of the call for 5th game but its also worth considering where we might be headed with all this. More interestingly are we actually witnessing something much bigger,  a new post social media renaissance no less ? It's amazing that home computers which forced people back into their homes for decades are now rebounding with equal force through the ether and pushing the curious out. Perhaps VR will swing us back the other way but for now, whilst bigger is busier, it's not necessarily better, I'm not exactly sure how we will sustain the welcoming and familiar feeling as a growing club in this respect.

But of course it may be an illusory issue; where people of good character are concerned it shouldn't be a problem as I suspect that we will continue to thrive in our passions despite having more members as it's fundamentally as much to do with who we are as what we do. There are many ways to slice bread and whilst there is a bitter and burnt dark side to any piece of toast there will always be a lighter more golden side.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


We are now underway for the autumn and all the new games are up and running. As expected our newer membership can't actually fit into any of the existing games easily so we have dutifully wheeled out a fourth. Props to the GMs though as each of them has said they could entertain a guest for an evening if push comes to shove but with the best of intentions packing a busy game with additional characters often just slows things down and can result in a skewed experience for the beginner which is not great encouragement for a new hobby.

Conversely as we have only just tipped the scales for a fourth there are only two or three players to make a party. Whilst I don't wish to steal players from another game, one cant actually steal people as such, so prisoners of conscience are my preferred weapon and as far as role playing characters can teach you things about real people,  encouraging others to offer the consideration that they were shown when they first arrived is often all that is required to drop into a conversation.

Nevertheless, social engineering aside, I always pack a game and my current interest in the Planescape content of 2nd Ed means I have something to motivate me as well as the ability to portal players in and out of a game conveniently. I have also advertised the game on meetups so we'll see if we'll get additional interest or just the usual Russian hackers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018


The great wheel turns once again and the photons dance ever earlier in the ember evenings preparing for their great migration over the coming months. Whilst we wish them well on their journey it is a time where we tend to see more travellers coming in from the cold. Perhaps its the holiday season closing or maybe the more embarrassing tan lines have faded, either way we are likely to get additional players tempted to test their fates.

New members notwithstanding, it was good to see Crish last week. I describe him as one of the Great Old ones and whilst he does test the sanity from time to time, I did spend the evening catching up with him and we may well have the pleasure of his presence on a few more occasions before the end of the year. It always nice to get revisits from role players who have been away for many years as it lends the club an ambience of heritage and I am reminded that this digital tome itself is fast approaching a decade old.

In game news GM Bill's D&D prequel to my own Planescape has concluded at a grisly portal alter of a snake cult; this will now roll over to GM Jamie's Stars Without Number. GM Dylan's Starfinder has begun as well as GM Mike's homebrew system.  A fourth game is imminent I feel as the internet is telling me we have yet more incoming so we'd better find additional dimensions to squeeze them into before things get out of hand.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Who are you ?


I'm not sure whether you call it a bug or a feature but from time to time we have had the conversation regarding translating characters between systems. This is not an unusual way of spicing up game play and campaigns that have been run for a very long time. It's also a really fun thing to try out as its a sort of cooking by numbers when you are actually missing some of the digits. Some systems, such as the recent Strange, actually revolve around swapping universes but the same can be done in principal by using any two systems, so by simply hacking at the respective RPG character rules and rolling up an equivalent using adjusted mechanics you should be able to migrate a personality. Ok, there may be issues drawing up a droid in Deadlands so some creativity may be required but I have always seen it sort of work albeit with some compromises.

However, my memory is cast back about 30 years when we passed a fun evening using the old Timelords system. Not to be confused with Doctor Who, the narrative begins at the end of time with a race called the Designers who have to invent a temporal matrix in order to survive - time paradoxes were "solved" by jumping to another universe. However the system includes mechanics for rolling up oneself; reality being just another system of course.

I don't remember much of the details other than holding out a weight for as long as I could to generate my strength stat. There was an IQ test for Int, or you could use your school qualifications if available, and also I remember a weird balancing act to determine Dex. The list of skills is almost directly drawn from professional abilities and hobbies. I didn't have a pet at the time, so no familiar but oddly enough roleplaying was a skill I had to add to my own roleplaying character sheet - the number of years spent within an interest or capability determined the in game rank. Nevertheless after a drunken evening I remember being pleased with the result but overall I was less surprised to find out that as a party, we were all a bit crap. Well I guess students start at first level, but as a wizened master now I would be keen to try this again as my miserable old git score would be off the charts.