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.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Inner Space

When asked for spare change from strangers my short answer tends to be no but in the famous words of the overpaid hot dog salesman, change only comes from within. Whilst most of us still inhabit a somewhat claustrophobic social space, the lack of three dimensions are still not enough to keep us constrained as a roleplaying club and GMs are forging ahead with what would be the usual game rotations; change is upon us with no room to spare apparently. The onset and shock of the covid crisis saw us retreat rapidly to our virtual castles and peek at each other through the embrasures. Having said this the zoomers and discordians among us have adapted quickly and just being able to interact with real people in two dimensions does relieve the anxiety of social withdrawal.

And social distancing is not quelling the rush for places in our new upcoming games as we still sport three full tables of players. To summarise GM Krzys is returning to his sentinels comic universe and last time I spoke to him about this there were expansions available that I suspect have found their way onto his shelves by now. Building on a previous one shot the setting takes place in the recently rebuilt city of Megalopolis.

GM Jack is going back to his Warhammer Fantasy tomes and whilst I have very little knowledge of the backdrop I do recall it as an enjoyable D&D like experience albeit somewhat grim. If I remember correctly some of the earliest blog articles were about our WHF at the time regarding  the disposal of a possessed dagger. It was problematic.

GM Jamie is inviting his players into the Tomb of Annihilation outside Balders Gate within the Forgotten Realms. Sounds inviting to me, what could possibly go wrong in a D&D world of low level characters ? Everything I suspect.

With GM Jules's Warhammer Fantasy and GM Jon's Star Trek Adventures running as satellite games, things seem to be very vibrant at the moment with no shortage of adventure.

So there we aren't and there we have it. Tradition is triumphing in the shadow of our plague and we can all just keep calm and carry on although I suspect calmness will quickly be replaced by the bloodshed and usual the haggling over magic items.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Captain's blog

These last few week have seen another episode of GM Jon's Star Trek Adventures broadcast back to us and unlike every other Star Trek episode I am very pleased to say that I haven't seen this one before. I'll be the first to say I have a slightly chaotic neutral leaning to my role playing characters no matter their alignment which I think must be an overhang of being very bored  as a child. One of the quickest ways to relieve monotony is to poke something and see what it does. Problem is as you grow up, poke can escalate into provoke but a healthy imagination does temper the soul - better to lose yourself in your thoughts than lose the people around you.

Now this sojourn may explain why I am enjoying the STA so much. Whilst studiously detailed by Jon of course, the quasi military Starfleet culture naturally promotes responsibility and carries a bond with your crew mates by its nature. Basically actions have consequences. As in the last game, something as simple as a risky descent through a volatile atmosphere in a shuttle can really focus the mind when something suddenly goes wrong - in our case a power system failure leaving the entire party not more than a couple of rolls away of being wiped out. It concentrates the mind and although we managed to land, the feeling of risk from then on is palpable - set the scene in the context of threat and it never gets boring. Indeed threat is actually embodied in GM tokens that are played against us - we in turn earn momentum to counter. I like the way this works - we can see threat tokens waiting to be spent and like the tension at a gambling table each token spins the wheels of fate and escalates the tension. 

The narrative of the brand is expansive which is captivating to the trekkie of course but more than that when our shp's decks are being detailed and rolled out to us down to the seating arrangements of our departments somehow it makes the universe just that little bit larger. Our continuing mission engages again on August 8th. I don't know the Stardate.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Byte me

On my role playing radar this week is a new d8 based RPG system called Byte. It's an interesting approach to narrative  and specifically uses a modular construction process for generating the environment. It's what I would describe as a systems approach to game generation which is less common in my experience. In general I would say that narrative captures the imagination and naturally we often get RPGs as part of a larger production line of resources off the back of other media - usually a set of films or a best selling series of books. Our evolution is steeped in culture and narrative is its  scaffold so naturally creators get excited when they imagine new worlds and the dilemmas within them.

Conversely I tend to feel systems approaches are somewhat uninspiring as they just tend to mix archetypal components into a bowl and whisk but this may be missing the point somewhat. In reflection I think a modular approach to game creation is not necessarily an end in itself and perhaps more of a writing tool. Art comes in many forms but perhaps there is nothing wrong with a join the dots system if indeed an interesting portrait emerges.

Byte's creators have not held back on thoroughness though with a 400 page rulebook containing 20 thematic modules that can connect in a number of different ways. Basically the GM selects a tech level from 1 to 10 from stone age to space age then ancestries get connected being the racial components and on top of that skill lists are then connected and finally overlaid with one or more thematic modules - from the Kickstarter there is one example construction of "Space Wizards with Swords". Its crazy enough that it just might work...

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Aegis of Hope

Liquid crystal technology has a prestigious and revolutionary history. Invented in 1964 it is now in fact in its 11th generation with the introduction of flexible displays over the last year or so. This is going to be an interesting tech and may well be a milestone on the path to fully blown e-paper - a single portable sheet that can change its surface detail all the way up to fully blown animations. With a sheets of extremely large e-paper there is the possibility of replacing wall paper to give an emergent if not perhaps nauseous experience of something akin to virtual reality. I very much suspect there will be implications for the usual role playing tools - books and modules certainly but also for interactive maps and playing surfaces.

Nevertheless, as interesting as all this is, it transpires that the acronym now has another derivation - namely Liquid Crystal Dice. I always think I have seen it all every time I post a dice review but yet again there is seemingly no end to the mesmerizing craving that role players have for their plastic jewelry. Metallic Dice Games have carved out a niche for themselves in the high end production of rolling polyhedrons and the panache of their website purveys the air of quality and artisan finery.

Their latest 'Elixir' product range consists of precision cut crystal gem dice, which I have seen before, but they have managed to seamlessly seal the plastic around a liquid core so that as and after they roll the contents continue to swirl causing light to continue dancing off the suspended metal fragments. The kickstarter was funded in under an hour and with an initial goal of about 7k has now surpassed over a third of a million dollars!

The different product lines have names befitting their pedigree such as Aethar Abstract, Mana Extract, Vanishing Oil and Aegis of Hope. With an eye popping $20 for a single D20 and close to $100 for a full set we are now far off in the realms of retail Narnia....but they are sooo precious and I wants them.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

History and Psychos

I'm going to make a thin excuse to co-opt this week's article but I think I am going to get away with it. These are poignant times in the real world with both high temperatures politically and high stakes constitutionally with the foundations of the free world on the roulette wheel of revolution. However, whether you bet on black or red is not my question but why we didn't see it coming? To be fair our plight has already been shared and is often fated to the casual contemplation of historians or the adjustment of economic theories; civilisations rise and fall after all and whilst Rome wasn't built in a day neither did it fall over a weekend. Revolution or evolution aside the burning question on the square one on which we always seem to find ourselves - are we blind to our future or is there another way ?

From a roleplayers perspective we have perhaps improved tools since the reading of entrails or divining of runes. For our part we play unreserved in our fantastical simulations and experience the cause and effects of our actions on the communities, cities and empires in which we roam. There may well be a light in the future darkness with scale-able simulations but can we imagine a better way? Well, amazingly in recent articles, I have touched upon my nostalgia for the Golden Age of Sci fi and as an Asimov fan I have followed the Foundation epic based on the unlikely wheelchair bound mathematical hero Hari Seldon and the predictive power of his Psycohistory models. Spanning thousands of years his models were not used for avoiding the inevitable fall of the shining Galactic Empire but rather to shorten the darkness for the generations left starving and crawling in its wake.

For such a passionate and nostalgic fan of Asimov imagine my heart missing a beat when I  just discovered the commissioning of a new series based on his Foundation novels. Whilst sci-fi fans will love this, the Asimov fans can savour the detailing of Chris Foss's artwork in the trailer with the thick bands of contrasting colours on the ship decals. here you can compare the 70s book covers with a clip from the trailer.

As excited as I am to visualise what I could only imagine as a teenager reading these novels born thirty years before me, I am going to literally explode if a role playing system comes out of this and I think it will.


Thursday, 25 June 2020

Left Hand of Darkness

The voyages of the USS Lyonesse continued this week along with its intrepid and slightly green crew (not literally). The end of the first session saw us needing to call a breakdown service as we stalled out of warp bubble rather embarrassingly on our way to DS3, a tiny presence on the boarder of the Black Cluster Nebula. Thankfully it was a flaw in one of the Dilithium crystals which required a complete dis-assembly rebuild by our very hard working engineering team. In other words not my characters fault, still if you are going to cause a sleepless night to someone it may as well be a Vulcan - they just seem to get slightly more stoic than usual.

More interestingly we subsequently set off on mission to investigate the whereabouts and or otherwise fate of the Vulcan Exploration Ship (VES) Sunak and whilst narrowly missing a space whale whilst negotiating an entrance corridor into the area we finally detected a beacon, although the crew have been experiencing some cognitive dysfunction possibly due to a wider telepathic field. It's an interesting situation and there is a nice balance between caution, discipline and risk. Curiously enough as a pilot myself the game triggers all the same sort of feelings - pilot training is rigorous, repetitive and highly disciplined so when things go off plan, the brain already has a scaffold of checklists that go to work immediately - it not only quells panic but narrows the decisions one has to take. The added advantage of a Starship is that we can regularly call meetings and re-assess anomalies which is a valuable safety net.

However as a pilot I wouldn't deliberately fly into a large black telepathic cloud which is where the intrepid Starfleet training would superseded my own I would presume. Navigating in unexplored Nebulae brings its own challenges as to the traditional left hand rule of dungeon crawling so I think it really would take a Vulcan to optimise a search pattern when flying blind - perhaps that's where the ears help.

Thursday, 18 June 2020


Not being human can be a slippery slope for a roleplayer. I have never really reflected on all of the non human characters I have played as generally speaking there always tends to be appropriate background material,  or indeed they retain a large proportion of their humanity genetically speaking. Half Orcs are basically part feral and exhibit neanderthal characteristics I feel as they tend to be low intelligence, uncooperative, strong and short tempered but what is interesting is that their general temperament still exhibits human traits skewed to different sensitivities. Vampires, like Cyborgs begin as humans but generally speaking have their empathy removed - Vampires prey on humans so empathy cant really be a trait, certainly when they are hungry and otherwise it is lost over time as their human memories fade. Cyborgs perhaps like werewolves still have a human element that is either trapped or subservient to an overriding force, being either a compromised brain or curse respectively.

As in media an audience needs a handle on a character in order to engage a story so it's necessarily a case to offer recognizable dilemmas - same for reolpleyers as a metaphorical human bone has to be tossed to a player in some form. In playing the recent Star Trek Adventures we have a range of non human characters in play including a fluorine breathing Zaranite which will be interesting. Whilst there are some great episodes such as The Devil in the Dark and Darmok where our finest human characteristics are pitched against our darker impulses the outcome is, as always with Star Trek, optimism in the finest humanistic tradition.

I think the role playing border controls stop at the truly alien characters. Cyberpunk notwithstanding, I wonder if a truly alien character is viable at all ? The handle would have to be its behavioral context respective of the other party members as there wouldn't be any recognisable psychology involved although it would have it own motivations of course.  Perhaps the outcomes become irrelevant in such a game and it becomes more about painting a portrait than changing people. It could be the case that all characters can be derived back to through evolution as anything alive must start with a drive for survival either mechanically or intellectually. I am drawn to Alex Garlands films, Annihilation in particular although playing an amorphous glowing blob might keep people up at night.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Some Re-Assembly required

This coming Monday will bring the country back to something like normal working hours as non essential shops are allowed to re-open. Actually I am not sure if that includes pubs and clubs but even if it does there will still be social distancing rules of some kind in place. The quandary for us is how we can resurrect our meetings and to be honest, I don't think there are really many options; the whole point of a role playing game is to sit around a table together and build a world in which to argue. The Belmont Railway Club always seems to be running on fumes, financially speaking, but I don't know the whole story as its a member of NARC and I would guess there is a supporting freehold covenant somewhere in the background as the building itself is Victorian and wholly owned by some entity that clearly isn't profit orientated. Perhaps it will always be there like the cave paintings of Lascaux.

More pressing are the finances of the Dice Saloon that is completely dependent on a social space. Whilst it was in transit to the Emporium on London road I can only hope that the respective landlords and contracts are flexible as its clearly a long term sustainable business despite a hopefully short term pandemic. I think its all going to come down to a vaccine ultimately as who is going to linger in any enclosed space until then.

I'm not sure what plans if any we can make and I suppose it will depend on our individual circumstances - on line play will just have to keep us all sane as well as possible for now and whilst I am beginning to get used to it, it's not a substitute although as a role player it should be theoretically possible both to run a scenario and roleplay all the characters oneself. Is this mad ? I can't tell anymore.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

History and Mystery

It's an odd one. The so called golden age of science fiction was allegedly over the war period or more specifically '38 to '45 and whilst science fiction has long grown past its moody adolescence, the early pioneers have remained among my favourite universe builders. Asimov features predominantly in my ebook collection and as prolific and scrawling as he was, he did eventually sew his core novels together into one great canon. Frank Herbert's Dune will of course always remain a tantalising epic and Arthur C Clarke worlds were novel and occasionally prophetic.

I recall the iconic artwork of Chris Foss that always adorned the Asimov covers and notably the recent Tales from the Loop from Amazon, whilst a little dry on content has a production backdrop inspired from the same visual themes and has now just been released as an RPG. Now if my memory serves the first roleplaying game didn't emerge until the 70s, namely the iconic Dungeons and Dragons of course which leaves somewhat of a mystery. So what was going on between the mid 40s and 70s ? Well the western world took its first free breath after the war of course and it must have taken a while for the entertainment zeitgeist to relax, unwind and dream. Perhaps the rise of the TV was too captivating for everyone but it seems a genuine puzzle as of course as not only do we have RPGs from even earlier works such as Lovecraft but fantasy mythology has been inspiring narration for millennia and role playing could have emerged at almost any point in history.

If roleplaying wasn't discovered then was it truly invented in a light bulb moment by Gary Gygax ? Although it likely emerged from his war gaming and subsequent creation of Tactical Studies Rules Inc could it have only have been born at that moment ? History will keep some of its secrets its seems but a mythological origin to mythological media seems somehow appropriate.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Roleplaying Drunk

This last week has seen further revelries on Tabletop Simulator as more of our esteemed members have made it into theie latter half century. Monday saw a marathon session trying to get kicked out of Colditz, then subsequently trying to get kicked out of the Red Dragon Inn and finally, although I had to give up after seven hours and lick my eyeballs, ending  up with a game of Seven Wonders. The more I play TTS the more impressed I am with it as a gaming tool; given the breadth of games and community available I very much suspect that its going to comprise most of my retirement when I eventually get there. Having spent an unforgiving amount of time playing computer games over thirty years, there is definitely the sense that themes and mechanics repeat themselves and pretty much every genre has been done to death from my perspective. But giving board games a lease of life on the internet is a new experience and I had almost forgot the feeling of seeing something original.

Whist our extremely poor rolling made for a slow game of Colditz, my introduction to the Red Dragon Inn was a delight as it's fairly straightforward mechanics of trying not to let your falling fortitude dip below your increasing intoxication whilst retaining enough gold to keep in the Inn is constantly challenging. It seemed like we had all the expansions on the table as there were a huge variety of characters to choose from that both affect ones play style as well as open up lots of tactical avenues of play. In fact its really a role playing drinking game.

In other universes the last details of our Star Trek characters were tweaked and it looks like we are all on for the first session this Saturday. I doubt that this will be a drinking game though I do note that the doctor in the pilot episode used to carry around some drinks in his medicine bag and Romulan Ale notwithstanding, Starfleet did eventually commission a bar on the Enterprise. Perhaps I can see another Red Dragon expansion coming soon - The Ten Forward Inn..

Thursday, 21 May 2020


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.