Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Visitation


Last week saw another of my semi regular visits to the Craft Beer Company and as always I remain as confused as ever regarding their somewhat alien operational model, though its always a pleasure to pop in and catch up with another group of like minded escape artists. The CBC Roleplayers do run 'The Strange Games Festival' in the woods over the summer months which has proved to be immensely popular with locals - not entirely a Larping affair, there are a number of social games such as Werewolf as well as various earth and turf throwing games played alongside a burger van or two. Simon had over a hundred customers this year and whilst I sort of help with the Railway Club admin, the idea of running a festival makes my mind boggle.


This time round however there were a meagerly seven of us who turned up to the pub, six GMs and one player, but it was a perfectly pleasant chat for an evening. Once again though I did inquire why an online group would meet physically as their Meetups site is still very busy turning over games in the virtual world, but by the end of the evening their ways were still shrouded in mystery to me.


For our part, our games are scheduled for rotation imminently, Think GM Mike is aiming for a Christmas finish which is very timely of him. Whilst I could have pushed for a seasonal end, there tend to be so many people away for the break of course, I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on any finale so I think three or four more session should carry us to mid Jan and we can enjoy silly games for those popping in over Christmas. The fun however has begun of rooting out new GMs for which the usual blackmail, guilt and intimidation rolls will be made.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Of note


Whilst I wax lyrical regarding my D&D and occasionally share the thoughts of a raving lunatic albeit my own or those of my fellow role players, I am polite enough to enquire after the other GMs at the end of an evening regarding the progress of their campaigns. Problem is that after a couple of beers and a head full of plot I don't really recall enough to put electron to blog. However, last week, GM Jamie was kind enough to offer me a note or more accurately, a collection of several notes passed between his players over the course of his Stars Without Number.


Where a picture can tell a thousand words, likewise a small role playing note can reveal all. I must admit its been several years since I have enjoyed a mischievous missive and there is nothing better for ramping up paranoia and generally escalating any perfectly agreeable situation, so here are a few notes of note from the impeccably disciplined crew of the SWN Spaceship:

"Do I know anything about the Captain from his Spacebook page ?"
"Browse the Captain's pirate porn collection."
"Order pizza and leave the empty boxes in the Captain's cabin."

I sense a lot of work during the crew's next annual reviews.


I think the funniest note I ever had was passed to me by another player in an AD&D a very long time ago before the internet happened.

"Dark brown wood stain, 9.99 at B&Q"


Needless to say, it didn't help.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Au struck



When building any sort of plot or mystery into a scenario there comes a point where you have to reward the players. Its all very well dragging people through the chompers but in order to keep engagement there must be a point to life. A challenge in and of itself is fair enough but its really only a value to to a Monk philosopher or perhaps a Warrior seeking to challenging himself but on a more day to day basis the rest of us have expectations and attachments to stuff we can use to buy other stuff.

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This is also true of a role playing party and despite some of my monsters not quite getting the best of everyone, credit where credit is due and some of the party decisions have resulted in successful outcomes. So with regard to the D&D I did have the irony of delivering them a couple of large chests filled with gold as well as several critical  papers regarding mission intelligence. The irony of huge amounts of gold is that there is only so far you can stuff your pockets before your trousers fall down and this is particularly tru eof the Monk who seems to be only wearing a thong. Still, it wont stop them from trying.


Historically, I have tried to hand out rewards more in keeping with the characters themselves - I recall that after a particularly long and arduous adventure I rewarded a high level Paladin with the opportunity to move a mountain into the sea at the request of her God. This did not go down very well at all and whilst I can understand someone being a bit pissed off at the lack of treasure, from the characters perspective, a Paladin should really be over whelmed with joy at a the chance to server their deity directly. It was a test of faith of course and there would have been a huge reward for simply accepting the challenge but sadly the player got angry and the character turned away from their order.


So these days I err down the gift certificate route  but as always to keep things interesting, always be careful of getting what you ask for.


Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Hangovers


If you drop a Teifling and a Dragonborn from a tower at the same time which hits the ground first ? Clearly Galileo would have an opinion here and the irony that that he lived in the same town as Dante is not lost on me; it does seem that gravity works just as well on the plane of Hell as it does above ground. Though not the same for Pandemonium where you are pulled to any one of the nearest surfaces, the rest of the Planes do have an occasional respect for Physics. Nevertheless even with vestigial wings, both of our party members did enjoy rolling their falling damage.


A bit like a reverse mouse trap (from the board game not the hardware store), I did give the party an option of entirely circumnavigating a tower defending a bridge over the river Styx and carrying on with their RECONNAISSANCE mission, but no, off with the armour and on with the gymnastics as our intrepid 5e team directly assaulted the building Spider Man style. The problem was an overhanging parapet where dwarves were shooting back but appropriately enough the Monk, with his deft use of Chi and Matrix Arts was the only character to successfully scale the walls, though I was very pleased to shave off a few hits from the others. 



I think we are well beyond the lesson learning stage now as it wasn't long after that the Mage blew open the door with his funeral bolts and shortly afterwards helped fell a Helmed horror though narrowly missing a natural 20 of mine parried by the Dragonborn. I must look up the rules on that one actually. I am also starting to worry about the Monk somewhat as for a meditative character he is now running around covered in blood beaten out of his enemies and stuffing Dwarven Beard trophies down his thong. Long story...



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

Reconnaissance


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.