Thursday, 21 May 2020

Trekworks


Having done some prep for the forthcoming Star Trek game it's reminded me of how unwieldy its canon can be. Whilst I am more a fan of the episodic original series, the Trek canon has built up in layers over the years of course but it hasn't been immune to the whims of corporate forces. As we are generating back stories for our characters it's quite easy to go down rabbit holes and pick up loose ends as so much of the Trek context is just dropped randomly into various bits of dialogue across the seasons - it's not particularly a complaint but it has been difficult to reference even some well known entities as much has been incidental and also inferred.


To be fair it's a breeding ground for the imagination and not necessarily a bad thing but unlike Lord of the Rings or Dune for example, the detailing for Star Trek has not been s singular vision. This is why in part I am an original series fan. It's not so much that they were consistently focused on major issues on a purely philosophical level and arc agnostic but because Rodenberry was alive to own it all. Naturally as it's been franchised out over time, it's become a victim of its own successes and failures but I cant help feeling that Warhammer has kept more of its integrity than Trek but perhaps that's because it's purely prose rather then having to follow the Hollywood fashions.


Nevertheless I still watch it all and whilst there is always a feeling that although it has been done to death after hundreds and hundreds of episodes role players can have a special place as curators here as we can keep the vision intact and hand down our own stories that help sew the universe together.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Fame and Fantasy

 

As our long walk across the RPG desert continues we still are fortunate to happen upon a simulated tabletop or two but already the first brief conversation of when we avengers will assemble again at our usual base has been had. It seems, sadly, that it's far too early to tell if there is any way back to the way things were. At present I would be pleasantly surprised if the Railway Social club will even be viable again given that it's been running on cold quiche and questionable beer for years. I've also been worrying about our local Dice Saloon RPG community as its was just moving to a more stately venue on London Road just before the plague hit. Even when people start venturing back to work, I can't see social spaces recovering any time soon - but people's imaginations are not going anywhere so our time will come again.


Having been sentenced to YouTube for several weeks, I have just started to notice the star lineup we have in our hobby. I did write an article some time ago regarding Vin Deisel's passion for the dice but had no idea that Stephen Colbert was also a long time sleeper agent for Wizards of the Coast. It was in his interview Joe Manganello  on his show that he completely turned the tables and surprised everyone with a passionate ten minute retrospective of his own teenage years dancing with fate. What followed for a red nose day special was Matt Mercer running a one on one session for Colbert's Bard Kapo and his familiar companion Eric, a bee of great renown.


Turns out that the Dare Devil leading lady, Deborah Woll was also a closet gamer until she was hooked up to a group by her manager and now GMs regularly. Mike Myers was part of the Worldwide DnD Game Day back in 2006 and less surprising to me the Rock Dwayne Johnson has the alleged habit though the Jumani movies tend to give this away. There is Wheaton and Whedon of Star Trek and Firefly and not to forget the creator of Rick and Morty, Dan Harmon, whos DnD episode in the series Community is truly legendary.


Thursday, 7 May 2020

Monsters and Media


Whist the pandemic lockdown still seems like a surreal drama in a parallel universe it has afforded some deep drift into the digital soup. Clicking round the roleplaying nebula I have discovered that you can now buy professionally made roleplaying soundtracks. I have noted before that some GMs like to bring along some Bluetooth speakers for background music and augment their games with audio context  - whether shopping in a town market to whimsical browsing melodies or chopping in combat to a rousing action theme, I do think its a nice touch. But if you want to enjoy reminiscing the drama in your own time then Midwinter Minis is doing a digital pack "Death by Dice" Vol 1. If you really enjoy getting into the ambience then I suppose you can get dressed up and go Larping in your own lounge too - here is their slightly sarcastic advert:


Also I was initially pleasantly surprised to find a hitherto undiscovered roleplaying series on Amazon no less: "Dungeon Life: A Dungeons and Dragons Documentary". Having said this I do think its a bit of a cheat in that each episode is only about 3 minutes long and I am aware the some of the major streamers are uplifting some of the better youtube content creators. It seems like a lot of webisodes to me but it does feature some notable movers in the scene and a very contemporary assessment of the genre - its a 90 minute documentary chopped into bite size chunks.


As I have also been using Discord a lot as the comms to our Roll 20 game I did discover that one of the other Brighton roleplaying groups also have a discord running - whilst ours is 14 members and overly serves a small group I think, it usefulness is readily apparent when scaling up. The facebook group "Role-Playing games in Brighton" which is Simon Appleton's backend to the Craft Beer Co based meetups have, if you join, an open link to their discord community which is already just over 120 lively members and has a thriving turnover of games. That's a lot of people to argue with as a GM.




Thursday, 30 April 2020

Exile


During our time locked away have been adapting well to the on line gaming tools, notably Roll20 among others but the boardgamers are also hosting regular sessions on Tabletop Simulator. GM Dave's tongue in cheek D&D has us hunting for ancient puns whilst fighting Kobolds and GM Kryzs has carried his ongoing campaign straight into the cloud and there is also a Star Trek brewing out in the nebulae. More interestingly I had to inform a virtual passer by that our meetup games are currently suspended but this really deserves much more thought in retrospect.


Whilst we are in a good spot with games and membership at the moment I am always trying to consider where we will be in a thousand years time and in this respect are we at a point where we go global ? By that I mean do we preserve or indeed promote our online play ? It's  a tricky one as it's clear that many of us deeply appreciate the social get together as to be fair, it's been in our DNA for millions of years. Roleplaying has not been in our DNA for that long but is necessarily subject to the forces of evolution so as members rotate out of the club over the years, albeit very slowly, I can't see clearly where and how new members will be joining us. Perhaps the whole process is so glacial that concerns are not really warranted.


However telling someone that our club wasn't running at the moment wasn't quite accurate and it was an opportunity lost to make a new friend; it has left me slightly uneasy. The issue is that there isn't a process yet whereby we can introduce people via on line gaming and I am unsure what to do about this. I think it's one of those moments when I need to climb an ancient mountain and consult the highest level Buddhist I can find.


Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Turning the Tables


Having fun on line has taken on another dimension this last week. As much as our Roll20 campaign is bedding into the virtual space it is worth a blogging moment to bear in mind that there is now a significant board gaming faction to our club. To be fair to people who turn up early for a drink I wouldn't expect anyone to sit around twiddling their thumbs but the board game faction has landed like a large drunken flying saucer in the middle of what was once a purely sociable meetup. Each to their own I suppose but whilst I do like to chat to people in general the lock down has afforded me the chance to engage with some of the systems that drive these cardboard and plastic fanatics.


And to be honest I have been extremely impressed with Tabletop Simulator available on Steam. Its simplicity is its brilliance which is not to under represent the technology but the provision of basically a simply physics engine on a virtual surface with rendered models suddenly means that any board game or indeed RPG can be visualised from the simplicity of draughts through to the heavy model and positional based games such as Warhammer 40k. This, like a lot of digitisation, divides the community into those who love the touch and feel of owning a real game and those for whom the convenience and perpetual availability of global play makes it the only game in town.


For our part, three of us cracked open a virtual copy of the classic Escape From Colditz. Originally published in the early 1970s the idea is that one player sides with the Germans and tries to prevent the other players, the Allied forces, from escaping. More specifically the game itself, whilst having some questionable game phases, was quite far ahead of its time in terms of a complex environment and uniquely challenging strategic elements. More to the point the board itself is quite sophisticated and there are several card decks, several tokens for prisoners and guards as well as various other markers for items including a virtualised clock for game countdown and rules documentation. All objects were rendered very faithfully within the simulator and once one got the hang of basic manipulation play became very natural and transparent. Of course the session depends on the organiser not getting disconnected but beyond this I feel a very large universe has just opened up. If you have ever wanted to play Russian Roulettte with the actual Russian Mafia from the comfort of your own home, then that time has now come.



Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Meta Fun


A sense of humour is wonderful thing when wielded appropriately. The issue is that it's actually more like an intelligent magical sword that wields itself according to its own whims. Political correctness has attempted to mandate jokes over recent years but I sense that its finally on the wane now and the fog is slowly clearing on social responsibility and, broadly speaking, someone is always the butt of a particular joke. Truth can be lost in the heat of the moment as extreme humour is often used ironically to make the protagonist the true target of ridicule rather than the content of what is said, Homer Simpson being the iconic example. But what has all this got to do with roleplaying ?


Well, spare a thought for the players of Mark Shelton's eight week campaign based in Seattle. Apparently a wonderfully detailed and engaging Pathfinder scenario that took all his invested players through its maze of challenges to the climatic finale that turned out to be nothing more than a ridiculous pun. Now the extent to which this is funny really depends on whether you were in the game or not - when absolutely everyone around the table is the butt of the joke then you should really be prepared to die by your own sword whether it is intelligent or not but it is a timely reminder that if you are not sensitive to people's passions then you have to respect the true chaotic neutral outcomes of your own sense of humour and be prepared to take the consequences.


There is a natural balance when it comes to social circles, ours included, in that like minded people will tend to stick together so we can muck around within a game to a degree. Indeed this is much of the pleasure as impossible worlds are full of wonderfully slapstick and ironic moments and indeed many games specifically nod to this - the Rolemaster critical strike tables being an endless source of demise- "Foes head is no longer available" etc. Many environments however require a more sombre, serious or sinister ambience such as Twelve Candles, Star Trek or Cthulu respectively but to be honest its all a matter of balance both in game and out. As long as people enjoy themselves then I'm fine with that - just don't be too precious about your precious.


Thursday, 9 April 2020

One


People will always be people, in the same was I suppose that Dwarves will always be Dwarves. It also transpires that belligerent Dwarves who need to calm down and have a drink are just as belligerent on line as last week I experienced my fist dose of GM Dave's Mystery in Brighthelm.


A marvellously tongue in cheek take on current events the game ironically mirrors real life in a fantasy setting. It seems that our party is on the trail of someone who is stealing 'parchments' in a town in lockdown governed by I presume by now, is a very unwell Mayor Boris. The point of this bloglet is that its the first role playing game I have ever played on line. 


I know that GM Jon is considering the same for his upcoming Star Trek game that was provisionally arranged for the Dice Saloon and we will see if we can go full lcars but whilst we were looking at just the Roll20 system initially we ended up on the DnD Beyond website for party creation. The heavy integration makes character building and management very slick indeed and gives the GM full oversight. For the actual play we used Roll20 which is hugely popular.
Whilst the first session of a new adventure is always a bit wooden, Roll20 seemed to work reasonably well as a substitute for actuality. Inevitably, some players got more mic time than others and some were louder depending on their tech but having said this everyone seemed to get their oar in. GM Dave had a small library of characters at the ready but we didn't really lever the interface bar a single roll from my character - a singular critical fail - a 1 by any other name. I think with a visualiser or otherwise video integration it will really feel like a communal experience but it was an encouraging start.


Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Roll Online


So war is the mother of invention they say which may well be just as poignant in our current circumstances. We are battling a molecular enemy and are all on the front line - its a bit like some gigantic co operative board game.  Home working has its equivalence in home playing as far as our role playing club is concerned and as much as I drag my feet over technology, GM Dave and trusty sidekick James have digitised me into the seedy world of on line Role playing.


There is definitely a red vs blue sense of a divide in the club between those who find IT systems inconvenient and confrontational and those who find them supportive and communal. In a sense the global social network bubbles seem to replicate themselves in smaller social circles which is a fascinating field for future cyber psychologists but with respect to the technology, our on line GMs are putting their time and effort into supporting us in confinement and staving off madness and we have lawful good duty to support their efforts. Next week I'll report back on our roll20 and DnD Beyond experiences.


Whilst it was interesting and slightly creepy to listen in to the Tabletop Simulator app last week, it did seem to work. It was great fun to listen to a long conversation that made absolutely no sense whatsoever though that would also be a normal evening at the club for me. Nevertheless I am happy to report that the virtualised drinking game Red Dragon Inn seems to simulate most of the nonsense required to capture our atmosphere bar the barkeep. I think for now we will get away with not being real.


Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Lockdown


Self delusion is not generally something one would consider a healthy pastime. I presume one is not consciously aware of it so that would be the important dividing line between a LARPer dressed as a superhero and someone actually trying to leap tall buildings in one go. However confinement raises the bar on this and gives escapism a rather more sobering aspect. Spending weeks at home with potentially nothing to do is a real bane to those with an active imaginations and may well be a small glimpse of the lives of the incarcerated. It only been a day and I'm already struggling with the lack of routine. My point is that I may have to dig out the Christmas tree again in order to fool myself back into holiday mode - at least I get to eat mince pies and buy myself presents.


I'm beginning to think that the iso cubes from Judge Dredd are not so far from reality at the moment but I would gladly walk into a San Angeles Crypto Penetentiary or perhaps don a halo from Minority Report. I would have gone for a carbonite casing but I'm not talking to Star Wars at the moment.


There are few RPGs based on waking up from hibernation - Aliens notwithstanding, there is the classic Gamma World (TSR), Mutant (Target Games), arguably cryo chambers in Traveller (Mongoose) and SpaceShip Zero (Green Ronin). The list goes on but the best bet may well be to plug myself into the internet and succumb to the on line community for now. As much as I try to take a break from the computer world, perhaps I never left.


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Pandemic Legion


It has begun. Whilst 'Diversity is Strength' sounds more like IngSoc Newspeak, on a Darwinian level it's suddenly quite poignant. Whilst our genetic similarities will mean the current pandemic will take its toll, there is enough diversity in our species to ensure the longevity of our race for now. Basically our post apocalyptic games will thankfully remain so, although it is always prudent to maintain ones skill levels.


Our DNA is not just diverse but exhibits somewhat Star Trek like characteristics in that over the millennia we have absorbed our genetic enemies into our own sequence with, as far as nature is concerned, acceptable losses to the collective. In other words we have added the biological distinctiveness of foreign bodies to our own and adapted their function to serve as ours - in truth, we have been winning the eternal molecular battle, at least so far. We are Borg.


Speaking of which, GM Jon is arranging an off site Star Trek in the back of his mind and the duly imposed self isolation should be giving him plenty of time to bring it to the fore and when the time comes, I should be able to report back from the New Emporium on London Road, the upcoming venue for the relocation of Dice Saloon.


Until then our roleplaying will face an exile through the cursed earth as our meetings will suspend for now and we will wander our own imagination.


Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Retail

 

This week on the not particularly shady role playing grapevine, I have heard that Dice Saloon is moving from its current location. Given the transfer of the world's high streets into out of town retail parks and the amazon warehouses its a struggle to see why one would go into town at all. The challenge now is to offer an experience in town rather than just a service and whilst Brighton and its arts scene will always attract tourists, by the time you are in the backwaters of London road, it gets a little more cyberpunk. So, as far as I have heard, they will now present a shop front which is an interesting decision.



To be fair the DS directors seem to have hit all of the right buttons and built a great community and it's all contained behind a steel door on an industrial unit secreted from the high street. It's far from an ideal retail environment but its hidden ambiance lends it a special sort of shady identity and a retreat for the subculture, a home for wayward adventurers no less. Whilst a shop front is desirable by default it will be interesting to see what the atmosphere becomes but it may well be just a case of going into backrooms or upstairs - its hard to imagine that they will get the same footprint as an industrial unit.


As for our enterprise at the Railway Club, we have consolidated into three games now as whilst there are a lot more role players around there are also a lot more games in town so it's been s struggle to fill two D&D games though what is extremely frustrating is people signing up to come and not turning up - we had about six people all due to come along and not one of them appeared or even communicated the fact. In my day this would be considered extremely rude but online interaction simply doesn't trigger the social side of the brain that face to face meetings do. People need to get real.


Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Cold Calling



Murder mysteries are not quite what they used to be. Though that is system dependent of course D&D does attempt to pour water on some puzzles where the recently departed are concerned and with the 3rd level necromancer spell "Speak with Dead" there is always a danger for the unprepared GM. Summoning the dead can and should be a  double edged sword really and to be fair the spell has some restrictions that may not quite gel with a necromancers expectations. There are only five questions allowed and even within this, the spirit will not necessarily be co-operative - it is not a truth spell after all. Indeed if the party are recognized as an enemy then they will get treated appropriately and language may also be a barrier depending on the characters. I also note that trying to talk to entities that do not have mouths poses its own problems.


So with cryptic responses and hazy repetition I think enough mystery can be retained in an adventure without the party resorting to some sort of undead database of bodies they may decide to cart around with them. Personally I prefer the more dangerous and violent reactions but as a GM I should really respect the character involved but I would say it's reasonable to suggest that being violent and aggressive in life should carry over to the afterlife - the spell does indicate that an animating spirit is active but not a full soul so if animating means just that then there is no reason not to allow some adverse cadaver choreography.


I did have an Archmage once in a Rolemaster game and sadly for one of the beloved party members who came to a grisly end, their corpse was reanimated as an undead butler for everyone - a somewhat prickly reminder not to do stupid things but they knew the risks when they met me.


Tuesday, 25 February 2020

TORG talk


Great name for a podcast but a blog will have to do, some of us have been ticking away a TORG at the Dice Saloon on an occasional weekend and had occasion to meet just over a week ago. Currently we seem to have got in to a bit of a fast an furious situation. We are on the trail of a Faberge Egg effectively stolen by Demons who dominate the Wastelands incursion just outside the St Petersberg hard point. Basically we really are in Mad Max territory and although GM Warren was threatening to introduce a flame throwing guitar into the mix, we have been managing the cliches quite well so far.


Having said this we are working for what's left of the Russian Mafia and returning their national treasure will mean receiving important information in return as part of our shady deal. I wouldn't normally recommend transacting with crime lords but my character has watched a lot of TV and is intimately familiar with the Sopranos and the general semi automatic Pizza wielding goons of the American side of the family so its a case of being more latte than white Russian.


Our task at hand is to win some form of car wars death match race - a cross between wacky races and just whacking people. As as soon as we signed up, we got a TV drone in tow and if we can dispatch our opponents before the race even begins then its just more ratings for the ads. Thing is we seem to have broken the drone and thereby broken the rules too...not sure which highway code we're using now..