Thursday, 21 January 2021



The paradox of social networks is that they both bring people together as well as divide them and I sense civilisation is still maturing with regard to their use. There is an old Chinese saying 'Dont drink poison to quench your thirst', but whether you are a herbalist or assassin both share certain professional interests. Our club discord server has served a certain utility and whilst enabling the usual emotional abstraction it has been far from divisive as we are a small club and are based around a physical meet.

In more recent months though I have subscribed to the Brighton Area Dungeons and Dragons  Facebook group which sports 145 members and its good to get an idea of how local games are thriving. Indeed it has a slightly more familiar feel for me as a few of our old members are founders having taken some of their games down to the Dice Saloon.

But more recently a UK Dungeons and Dragons groups has appeared on my radar and having just joined it a national picture is suddenly apparent with over 8500 members. Now at this scale as moderated as it is all types of players collaborate but for the most part the crosstalk is amicable. But for me the real interest is reflecting on the personal narratives that players recount both from the how the hobby has impacted them as new players as well those  returning to the tables after many years or indeed decades; seeing people reconnect with a passion is always heart warming and I am sure they will crack a wry smile at the first GM-player argument after coming out of retirement.

So where next for the new cyber society ? Perhaps a global group - all role-players on the planet together discussing the merits of  D12s vs D20s or a hive mind of meta gamers. We are Torg.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Death Throws


It is the very beginning of the very end of our current round of games and GM Jack's current Warhammer Fantasy is showing worrying signs of a forthcoming boss fight, or more precisely we seem to spiralling in towards a necromancer altercation that we have been struggling to avoid but a lot of disruption in the local fiefdoms have come down their armies clashing with undead forces and not particularly successfully. Im not sure what you should bring to a fight with an undead lord but we will be bringing beer, attitude and incompetence judging by our party performance so far, but if he owns a skull then we will be caving it in as per our Skullbashers Direct customer commitment.

But daring to look slightly further ahead we have a couple of options for new games on the table so far. GM Ro has offered to run his Eclipse Phase sci fi which I heartily enjoyed last time, unexpectedly as it happens, as I seem to share an interest in all things existential. The game itself borrows on a number of sci-fi and cyberpunk themes but somehow presents a novel and unique universe in which to express oneself particularly if you like whales or octopuses. I will run either a D&D or Chill if no other game ideas come forward so it will depend if players want something familiar to feed the fantasy craving or if they want to risk losing their bodies and minds to Unknown forces.

As we have been running off Discord since the pandemic began it will be interesting to discuss how effective our approaches have been to date. It is extremely difficult to communicate with even a normal number of players in a game due to crosstalk and this impacts game lifespan and pace directly so there may be an argument for more games with less players. Im also unsure of digital assets like Roll20 as I would have thought that a simple visualiser would have more advantages over a complex interactive tool. So perhaps its worth experimenting a little but either way I am sure a thread will explode somewhere.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Huge Tats


The material component aspect of using magic in D&D is something I have never really seen imposed with much rigor. From my experience, a bit like auditing encumbrance and book keeping in general, its not really very interesting, narratively irrelevant and can keep tripping the flow of  game - it brings no enjoyment. There have been a number of articles over the years trying to refresh these perspectives and suggesting methods of integrating these mechanics into more relevant and exciting gameplay but to be honest, I have never really bought it.

Having said this, there is another approach I much prefer which pushes the entire magical toolkit into a passive, zero encumbrance, always available utility that is both artistic and character enhancing without the need to be narratively intertwined. We are talking about tattoos of course and much like the archetypes at the base of many of the roleplaying personas body art has it roots at the very dawn of civilisation. Whilst tattoo magic is not new to roleplaying systems, I have not much discussed it on this blog but in the vein of the new year one of the first kick-starters of 2021 is the fan made 5e Tome of Mystical Tattoos addon.

Sporting over 100 tattoes to decorate your particular species of choice I also find it engaging to browse through as if I was picking out something for myself. DnD has always been somewhat bitty as it has evolved from a lot of different versions and realms so whilst there have been some great examples of artwork it has never been that consistent compared to something like the Warhmmer universe for example. But encapsulating a visual theme into a sourcebook is an interesting way of painting a GMs world where the skin itself is the canvas. There are also mechanical implications as for example vocal spells can be inscribed on the throat area, fighting spells on the arms, agility on the legs etc etc More so it potentially raises a rather uncomfortably economy if indeed the skin can be removed and still retain the magic inscribed upon it. Seems that tattoo art can go down the generations, literally.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Calling Time


Well, 365 days until the new year and I cant wait.

Its been an unimaginable 2020, even for role-players and our thoughts have to go out to those barely surviving in the economic wastelands of the new post apocalypse. For our part we have at least carved out our own own unimatrix zero and keep friendly faces familiar as well as wage our eternal war against the fates.

January sets another timer for us as by the end of the month we would ordinarily be rotating games. As much fun as it would be to round off plots at Christmas, many people are simply not around and those that are tend to have a disrupted routines. Its also worth recognising all the hard work put in by our GMs in preparation for a new games and the end of the year can be a difficult time to assemble materials. Our discussions are due soon in this vein and we will see what systems Santa delivered.

For my part, GM Jon put in a thoroughly enjoyable Star Trek episode over the Christmas week which saw us struggling to make sense of a nebula ecosystem - having made contact with the indigenous space whales we were assessing them as a potential warp capable  intelligence whilst also encountering an entity using one as a modified transport, to what end we do not yet know.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Best present ever..


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Star Dragons


So this is a picture of Captain Kirk. One of many if you include the fan made cardboard and polystyrene Youtube approaches to stylizing the world of Gene Rodenberry. However it also happens to be a picture of Chris Pine no less but in addition even to this it is also a picture of an as yet unreleased character from an upcoming Dungeons and Dragons movie. The RPG scene has been seeing a strong resurgence over recent years both including its establishment in popular culture through shows such as Stranger Days and Community as well as at the cash tills of local gaming establishments. But the financial results from some quarters - Hasbro being the principal one - are really reminiscent of an explosion in the market.

Little wonder that drama follows other drama and with the film studios constantly looking for the next Game of Thrones it is unsurprising that D&D has come back to the fore. It has been long enough now after the flop in 2000 starring Jeremy Irons and the need for a solid narrative base to underpin a successful RPG film should be paramount in the  minds of the script writers - or so one would hope. If done well, it could see ongoing productions across many of the realms in either movie or series formats. The only snag at the back of my mind is that ultimately D&D is really a loose collection of thematic tools and does not have a canon or indeed story as such. Unlike Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones there is no context but there is a lot of anecdotal lore - basically the worlds have been created but the stories are written by the players.

I would not know what the best approach is here - certainly many of the items and spells in D&D have a lineage and narrative attached which could be embellished quite effectively so perhaps that is the handle to the fan base as some of the lore has been consistent across many D&D versions - getting and keeping a fanbase on board where there is in fact no specific story needs thinking about very carefully. Personally I would like to see the film switch between roleplayers at home enjoying a good evening and the world in which their characters strive and survive. This would tie in the game concept, the empathy players have for their characters as well as the dilemma and traumas of the characters themselves given the hand of fate holding over all of us. Well, will Hollywood listen to me ? They should of course but it seems to have been a while since movie houses have really listened to their fans..

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Inhuman conditions


It is said that you never know who you pass in the street. Its one of those sayings that could mean a lot of different things depending on your context but it was rather more impactful for me as it was coming from an ex-policeman I know. I guess he got out before he got jaded but he would have been speaking from considerable experience as well as from a number of second hand stories. Demons walk among us perhaps but if you didn't have innate conviction of a Paladin or the eyes of a Seer how do you single out those who should be brought to justice.

In my media subscriptions I recall a couple of channels that specialise in criminal psychology and the interview techniques that interrogators employ are not just insightful where interaction is concerned. they include a cognitive toolkit that draws on inevitable behaviours and responses - for example flattery, empathy, aggression, mimicry and lets not forget exhaustion to name but a few. Its a fascinating field but it never occurred to me that it could be turned into a game.

More precisely the format has been around for over 30 years already from our future past and is based on the infamous law enforcement Voight-Kampff test or, if you prefer the replicant interview technique  of the Bladerunners. The basic principal of the 5 minute game is that the enforcer interviews the subject based on conversation cards that compel the non-human to respond anomalously in certain conversational situations. It was kickstarted for 300k and I believe is actually free in pdf format so worth a look if indeed you might want to know who you have occasion to pass in the street.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

I sea you


I'm not sure whether its the lockdowns giving me a yearning for open spaces or the fact that a mate of mine is now first on their yacht training but I have a weird hankering for a sea adventure of some kind. I've always turned my nose up at pirates despite the risks involved as I've always considered land based adventures just instinctively better all round in terms of side quests, spontaneous mlarky and dungeon diving; I suppose on a ship that would just be diving.

Having said this a pirate vessel offers up a microcosm of relationship challenges given the confined spaces involved and whilst I understand that the real pirate ships of old were actually run in a very orderly fashion, on the rpg seas tensions would run overboard. To be fair sea transport can be expedited in terms of plot so whilst it may not be easy to escape some situations on a personal level, the entire complement can move location or indeed escape trepidation at the GMs discretion so its swings and roundabouts where the tides rise and fall or perhaps freeze..

Redemption is often a key character point where a criminal mentality is concerned in adventures and although a lot of pirates would have begun their career by being press ganged, a lot would also have been life long cut throats. It was also commonplace for captured crew to be absorbed into the roster so there are are plenty of narrative and character hooks there alongside the occasional mutiny from various flag nations so there are potentially elements of coercion in conflict with someone's self worth. Indeed how far would any of us go to survive ? History would seem to indicate quite far..

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Collective Distress


We advanced our Starfleet mission last Saturday in the continuing voyages of the USS Lyonesse having stopped the previous session in the middle of a two part episode. Last time saw us initially investigate an ancient seed vault on a long dead world initially explored by a Vulcan away team from the missing VES Sunak. On further investigation the seed vault was just a front for what looked like an old military bunker possibly designed as an operational facility after a nuclear attack. However, at it's core we discovered that a technological entity was active in the hibernation level which was storing the personalities of many individuals that had previously ventured into its trap. We were just the latest recruits.

The action picked up straight from our prior ambush by several compromised security robots that were instructed to escort us for absorption into the hive. It was a tense moment as its was one of those situations with all the guns pointing at us when we had to risk spending a round or two trying to reason with the entity or losing the initiative and being shot at point blank range with no cover. In due Starfleet fashion we tried reason first which got our redshirt immediately wounded. Thinking back on it I suppose the entity may well have been aiming to disable us as rather than kill us as we were a resource it needed. Either way we had to grind down the robots one by one which wasn't difficult for the security officer as we were sporting much superior firepower but even old automatic projectile weapons are not to be underestimated. The sight or our poor Vulcan officer being dragged off to be processed next to an eviscerated pile his prior kin was just too ironic as he had just been getting over a similar shock from a previous episode. I think this may be the theme of the series..

I really appreciated the initial ethical dilemma from the doctor's point of view - would you consider the individuals of a hive mind as patients to treat or are you dealing with an overall entity that has to be judged as a separate and morally culpable being? This is the heart of Star Trek for me and as in the case of the Borg, our need for survival resolved the dilemma but we did manage to rescue and ascend a child's mind that was archived by its father against the original design of the architects. Ultimately we left orbit with all hands and set sail on the solar winds towards our next episode.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Heavy duty damage

So it was one of those moments. Typically we were having a bad session of poor dice rolls in our latest Warhammer which is not unusual from time to time but it just coincided with our GM seemingly having lady luck on his side. We were using the Roll20 health bars overlaid onto our characters and it was getting fairly obvious that our opponents health was barely being scratched whilst were were going down quite quickly. The killer event was really an enemy wizard dropping a combat spell that stunned two of our main fighters and all it took was a couple of follow up strikes with the Warhammer critical Ulric's Fury to slay our Kossar instantly with a single blow to the head.

Now I have lost many characters over the years and see it as a healthy sacrifice to the gods of roleplaying but there is always a context and the player concerned has now left the game although the event was perhaps the last straw for him. I think the main issue is that WFR is its actually quite a heavy duty system mechanically which really puts the pressure on the GM and is particularly unsuitable for on line play as its too cumbersome to help less experienced players navigate the labyrinthine system as we are all remote and often talk over each other. Add to that, there are six of us in total so the already naturally slow game really hits bullet time as we sequence through each of our initiatives along with the enemies. Finally there are the parry mechanics that I have seen before in such behemoths as Rolemaster that simply serve to slow the game down horribly if you are caught up in them.

Not sure what the next session will bring and we will have to clear the air and chat about the game going forward but at the end of the day, its only a game.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

A Hollow Gesture

It seems that both Hasbro and its subsidiary Wizards of the Coast are doing quite well in the stay at home era unsurprisingly with revenue up 11% in the Hasbro Interactive games market and a whopping %40 in the Magic the Gathering ecosystem as well as %20 for D&D products. Whilst it may seem they can give stuff away free it will always be part of a wider strategic plan so its always interesting to keep an eye on the crumbs that occasionally fall from the giant's table. Crumbs these days are rapidly digitized, repackaged and pumped though distributors such as DriveThru and notably they have the classic 'Wrath of the Immortals' available for free.

Whilst the disclaimer indicates that this is a discontinued product and not aligned for use with 5e it is logical to presume that it is having a makeover. The sourcebook is not very well known as it is one of the version 1 products introducing the world of Mystara to the basic game edition in the 80s and early 90s. The realm consists of the  'Known World', a continent consisting of a jigsaw of human and non human cultures based on real world histories but unlike 5e introduces ascended immortal beings instead of a pantheon. This gives it some of the flavor of the Greek mythologies where the gods were really just the embodiment of humanities worst traits giving the era a somewhat tragic backdrop. 

More interestingly Mystara is a hollow world (not to be confused with the formal Hollow Wolrd releases) with a red sun at its center and whilst the inner and outer realms are not generally aware of each other, the poles of the planet are giant holes that connect the two. This inner world was discovered by Ka the Preserver who migrated the fantastical beasts that were nearing extinction on the outer world to a realm where they would prosper.

Mystara also describes areas of the Savage Coast and Thunder Rift. The former being a 2000 mile coastal area whos inhabitants live under the Red Curse that slowly mutates them in the absence of a magical metal. The Thunder rift is just a valley intended as an introductory area for a starting party. It all sounds quite interesting to me so I don't know why it wasn't carried forward into AD&D but it looks like it might be rediscovered in the age of brand milking but whilst I would prefer attention to Darksun and Planescape hopefully they will do it justice.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

You idiot


So as the USA election winds down, which of course it wont now due to the gnomelike fraud ridden bureaucratic ballot system in place, it is worth reflecting that some outcomes are anyone's guess. More accurately for those partial to a punt, the betting odds favoring Trump have narrowed to a very uncomfortable level for the accountants working for some of the large betting houses and we will see if they are still in employment over the next few weeks. I suspect the lesson is not to gamble as there are many shades of shady transactions that offer a quick way to part from ones gold - an idiot and his money are soon parted. This includes people who adventure with the aforementioned idiots.

Having said this our recent Warhammer game did give us a thoroughly enjoyable session hanging out in a village near the boarder between two warring factions with an evening spent roleplaying heartily as we took the opportunity to relax and earn a bit of gold. As boredom in small towns seems to be a particular issue imagine our warrior's delight when we happened across fighting pit and an opportunity to bet heavily on our renowned party member.

Very cleverly Andras decided that his character would deliberately take a bit of a beating first for a couple of rounds in order to ratchet up the odds against him so that we could then cash in big when he delivered the rallying set of punches to victory. What he didn't quite plan on was the truly dreadful series dice rolls that were of course waiting for him. Whilst rolling low on a D100 in Warhammer is good I don't think we saw him roll below 90 during the fight whilst on the other side GM Jack's protagonist was having the best fight of his entire life and didn't roll above a 10. Imagine our excitement as our intrepid Yevgheni put on an absolutely amazing show of getting the crap beaten out of him right up to the dramatic moment when he was to counter with a devastating attack, at which point he collapsed with internal bleeding. I think Jon's character saw all this coming and won a side bet against our own party but we were out of pocket as a group and just a bit pissed off with our prize fighter. As second place in a boxing match doesn't really count for much I don't think there will be a rematch soon but perhaps on our way back after the adventure we can pop back into the village when no doubt, exactly the same thing will happen again.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Wizard/Lawyer dual class


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Technological Traps

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

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

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