Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Easter Access

 


Our long walk through the Cursed Earth is approaching its end and we have had the first tweet from Dice Saloon regarding their re-opening. The 12th of April appears to be the first thawing of our cryogenic incarceration and it is my understanding that the Dice Saloon is opening for limited hours with part time staff initially. Despite a return to normality this will not be a return to normality as the post covid world will be devastated by consumer confidence and businesses that are but a shadow of their former selves. DS are of course asking for patron support and we do have at least on game that was left hanging from a routine visit and an number of our other members are active boargamers.


For our part the financial mysteries of our local social club will determine where we are as a group of players. It does seem that the long standing and short staffed institution has been slightly busy in the past year and redecorated at least one room so perhaps our immune systems will no longer have to fight off the mysterious moulds that have long dwelled in the Belmont dungeons. To be fair of course only the oldies have had the jab and even then there will be a lot of hesitancy before national analytics will reveal exactly how safe it will be to sit around a table but it may be time to pop in and see what the current membership routine is as certainly mine has lapsed.


The online play has been keeping us barely alive but has been very far from optimal and I sense we have shed some players in this regard but its worth tolling the bell to announce that we are basically half way through this round of games with the Deadlands, D&D and Eclipse Phase still in play. Its way to early to discuss the next round of offerings but its worth considering whether any of them will be around a physical table as it will mean defaulting to next January before we review again. Post covid roleplaying is a thing then and possibly a step closer to post apocalyptic gaming - a round of Judge Dredd, Fallout and Gamma World may be the appropriate way to go.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Niggles


Sometimes the big picture is about the little things. As I am a GM at the moment I am constantly reminded there are those ever present gripes that are still pursuing me for which I have come to develop a thick skin but never really turned and faced. That is not to say that I am exactly the same when I am playing of course but the familiar tweets of "surely we would have known this" or "we would have packed this item" or "we wouldn't have done that" still drift across the table. There are many GMs that take a hard line on this sort of back talk but I think these are fair questions to a degree in general, but when there is a critical event or a plot turning point then it can be an awkward moment for a GM particularly if one has to revise a round or briefly step back in time. For my part I tend to play it by ear which is what most GMs do I think but there is a slippery slope.


Just like spoilt children , if a culture of presumption becomes engrained then you start to get asked questions like "why aren't we doing max damage?",  "how did he know that ?" "that's not possible". This is more of the point of the article as some players who know a system very well will naturally have an instinct to police the GM but if you add this to a personality that has tended to whine until they get what they want then things can get out of hand pretty quickly although I have only really encountered this with teenagers. It can help to respond as neutrally as possible I think such as "I cannot answer that question" or "who are you directing you question to ?" which is a very gentle reminder that players have crossed a line from in game to out of game questions.


Broadly speaking there is the unwritten contract of social norms and I certainly don't mind perspectives from a characters point of view but the first signs of nit picking must be clamped down on but equally it will be useful for the GM to throw out the odd bone in an even handed context such as the discovery that the party is being spied on, or the party's weapons have been interfered with etc etc. To be fair to the players if they have been used to hack and slay adventures for too long then the intrigue of a city environment may be lost on them. Its also worth noting that players can put both of their feet in their mouths on occasion as if they are not consistent with NPC interaction and they quickly forget what they may have said then there can be consequences- basically if you are going to arrest your players in the game the read them their rights first.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

24

 



Its always an anniversary which means there is always time for a party depending on any given pandemic. This year marks the tipping of the scales for WIzards of the Coast who have now owned D&D for longer than TSR being in its 24th year as an acquisition. TSR was created in 1974 and purchased in 1997 and as legend would have it Gary Gygax gave his two year old a list of names to brand the game and she chose Dungeons and Dragons. We could have ended up with Castles and Crusades or The Fantasy Game but thankfully her marketing instincts were way ahead of the time.



Whilst the game had early controversy from Bible Belt evangelists concerned with spreading occult rituals it was the suicide of Lee Pulling back in 1982 which cast a shadow over the genre with his mother convinced that D&D was to blame. It was the same year that the Tom Hanks film Mazes and Monsters portrayed a vulnerable college student struggling with his mental health and retreating into a fantasy world inspired by his RPG participation. What is less well known is that the D&D continues to be debated, in the US at least. In 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a ban on D&D by the Waupun Correctional Institution. Captain Muraski, the institution's gang specialist, testified that D&D can "foster an inmate's obsession with escaping from the real life, correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behavior"


But the battle has been won now by sheer force of numbers, corporate sponsorship and popular culture. Zeitgeist has changed and we have drifted a long way down the mainstream but its fascinating to see how attitudes have changed over alifetime although it should come as no surprise really. Somewhat like Modiphius characters we have encountered events that have changed our values and we are, of course, better people.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Seriously

 

Its well known in quality narratives that the darkest and most reflective moments can be found in the best comedy. There is something about the juxtaposition of hilarity and pain that offers a stark contrast that captures attention and which drives home the poignancy of a situation. There are classics such as Blackadder Goes Fourth that retain all the dark humour and absurdity needed to convey the horror of trench warfare without actually showing you a single dead body. I am strangely reminded of the first Alien movie where the presence of the creature was enhanced by its scarcity; in the same way humour distracts from the true reality of a situation by veiling the inevitable death and destruction. Whilst we are all familiar with using humour to cope in difficult times its more that the mind is opened up to a wide emotional range between laughter and horror that gives us the experience of having been on a journey. This is a challenge to bring to the table top as its more interactive so humour can tend to flow down slapstick veins.



Irony and sarcasm  however are somewhat different beasts and as high forms of wit are more naturally at play in our games. There are systems specifically cut out for it such as Space 1889 and not forgetting the increasingly relevant Paranoia. In recent media there was the somewhat light hearted Knights of Basassdom as a nod the genre and the upcoming D&D Movie has confirmed the casting of the evil villain as non other than Hugh Grant. This is not someone who instills fear not exudes malevolence in my opinion so I have to presume that this will be another tongue in cheek adventure, which could work I guess but difficult to see how they will make a series out of it.


More interestingly I note that there is a Terminator RPG in development and whilst the the film was a classic by the time we got onto the Sarah Connor Chronicles it was becoming farcical and once you realize its not taking itself seriously then you can just follow along. From a GMs perspective I think its likely better to let a group express themselves comically speaking as everyone is different and dead jokes are as popular as dead characters in RPGs.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Action

 

There are specific approaches to game design that are not so much a narrative as pretty much scripted. I am thinking of such classics as It came from the Late Late Show (Stellar Games 1989) where you play actors playing roles in a budget pulp horror/sci fi production. Its deliciously satirical and can boarder on the farcical as each player can call a timeout when their actor can throw a tantrum and walk off set in order to get a one off change to sway the outcome of a scene - basically you can successfully argue with the writers in order to change the outcome. In the case of the Late Late Show this is the very reason to play the game but when it comes to more serious games based on a TV series there has to be a tacit agreement between the players and the GM that there is a format and scene progression. Whilst this applies to scenarios in general as opposed to a sandbox approach, specific shows will have a much more formulaic and episodic basis for the context.


The current Star Trek run by GM Jon is a case in point. Whilst it is accepted that the show has fixed scenes, the joy, like the Late Late Show is in the actors interaction and development and the game is constructed in this regard from the bottom up as character experience is expressed more through a change in values not an increase in capability although the prior will influence the latter - a lazy lieutenant may let himself or his crewmates down but encounters and challenges may well shock him into a more sobering personality without particularly adding to his skill set.


Like most things in life one has to approach any given situation with the right frame of mind and as a more seasoned role-player I have no idea whether TV based games are the right systems to recommend to a beginner - expert game designers may well end up making games for other connoisseurs but if a brand is strong enough then of course people are invested before a game is even invented.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Brute Force

 

What do you do when a character starts to brute force a game ? This is often not deliberate but in the case of something like a half Giant or Orc or indeed our resident Warforged in the D&D it is very much in vein of character to approach the opening of a fine wine by smashing it over its own head; if its in a casket well then so much the better. Notably Warforged do not consume food or drink but to be honest I dont think this would make any difference to its approach to any form of consumables but neither at the moment is it differentiating its approach to anything.


What is advantageous for impetuous characters is that they tend to keep a game moving forward at pace which is often appreciated. I have lost count of the amount of time players waste discussing plans at great length only to realise that one of their presumptions was wrong and begin the exhausting spiral once again. However, expedience that is not tempered by a player or by other members of the party will eventually have consequences. I dont like to consider that players should have unwritten rules or an implicit contract with a GM, indeed I much more enjoy free form and open world games but there is a contradiction between a violent character and the fact that it has survived.


At the end of the day if a player enjoys the physicality of a game then they will have to make peace with their inner orc when they surfer or die as a result and if other npcs refuse to moderate then reputational damage will follow and plot objectives will start failing. There is a natural order to things in my view and the weight of fate can be used very effectively but a GM to balance the scales.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The smaller picture

 

To what extent a GM should paint a full picture is definitely an issue at least when I come to running a game. Fundamentally I prefer character awareness or more specifically context to reflect somewhat realistically against the world we know. I suppose this is more of a day in the life perspective so for example a soldier or their platoon will have a clear job in front of them but wont be aware of the overall aims of the battle whether they are critical in achieving a specific objective or sacrificed for a larger aim. Likewise a rogue may have gained enough information for a lucrative opportunity but the consequences of his actions will inevitably pursue him over time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing provided players get a chance to learn from it and steer a game going forward.


In gaming terms players can feel somewhat unhinged or dethatched at the start of a campaign particularly in strange surroundings or alien cultures which can be naturally frustrating at first but for me an adventure is not just about achieving an aim but also glimpsing the larger forces at work that shape the world that defines the characters within it. This is probably why I am drawn to games like Chill as knowledge of the Unknown is gained piecemeal and returned to the Library but as time goes by a sense of real experience is gained as a world is pieced together and the motivations and properties of its inhabitants are slowly divined; one can peek into the other world but prolonged exposure is dangerous and full revelation will lead to madness.


To a degree I think its important to offer players a strong sense of satisfaction at the end of  an adventure but I draw short at a full disclosure in order to preserve some sense of mystery and also possible follow up games of course. Throwing bones to players may come in the form of undead but dont forget to dish out the occasional piece of meat as well.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Rental Market

 


Strangely I bumped into a half-orc at work last week although it shouldn't be that surprising really as there will be a statistical model describing our hobbies akin to the odds of bumping into someone with the same birthday. In that specific case a work mate had just started plating D&D and popped into the office for some help printing out an encounter map. So we got chatting and it turns out he was a long standing fan of critical role and was arranging a game for his children. Now running a game for kids needs careful thought and in his case they hadn't yet reached their teenage years so there is some general if not obvious advice. Keep it super simple and if the kids want to get creative with their characters and items then just let them, rules are there to control their actions not their character. But you can be robust, they are tough little cookies and if  you have to kill off the party then fine as long as there is a way for them to jump straight back into the game to avenge their deaths for example then they will be perfectly fine with this.


As my workmate wasn't particularly confident to run the game  as well as wanting to play on the side of his family he decided to get on line an hire a GM for some sessions. This isnt the first time that I have come across this and there are now specific sites such as Rolldark one can visit to contract someone as well as asking around your local club. In his case unfortunately he chose someone with such a thick Irish accent that it was difficult for him to clearly understand what he was saying but understanding vocals does improve rapidly with exposure so he is persevering.

Whilst I dont think there is a necessarily a career path ahead for running games bar some notable influencers, there is certainly a lot of loose change for around for those willing to put in the effort to introduce daughters to dragons.


Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Re-Runs

 


If your most captivating paintings have involve cutting shapes out of potatoes or your proudest musical productions follow a good curry or indeed your literary opus magnus presents with post-it notes on the fridge, then, like me you are most likely a few strings short of a full Mozart. Having said this most people unknowingly express their creativity needs just through day to day conversations - a thousand words is worth a picture for most of us and we consume our narratives from a wide selection of on line mega libraries these days to satiate the artistic hunger. For my p in the art I get to play with the weekly words to feed the Google Engines and it keeps my inner Van Gough at bay.


As a current GM the demands are more exacting of course and this is perfectly normal - a little experience goes a long way. My main dilemma for this round of games was whether to re-run a previous campaign or roll out a new one. Now artists in general never like to re-produce work as duplication is by definition not creative but my last Planescape plot worked very well indeed so I thought  I would repeat an adventure for the first time. I had to fight back the creative ideas that try to flood a new session and repetition is dangerously dull for me so its a consideration but what I forgot of course is that the GM is mostly the canvass to a game and its the players that generate the colour.


Case in point as last Thursday after an initial calibration of the new characters, the party immediately went off road in a completely different direction compared to the previous group that played this scenario and quite rightly too. Where they lead then I and my minions shall follow and I will keep the plot chains as loose as possible. I think the takeaway for the GM is not to top load a game too much  initially as the players will want to generate most of the content themselves - as circumstances naturally arise, so will narratives which is both more authentic and organic which is how history actually happens. 


Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Screen Time

 

GM preparation is a thing, both artistically and mechanically and with the Black Death still upon us the electronic world continues to demand its due. More accurately as a GM I am familiar enough with Roll20 now having use it for the Warhammer, Star Trek and the tongue in cheek 5e Brighthelm adventures but as I suspected the management of RPG digital assets, just like in any digital artwork job really, is extraordinarily time consuming. In a sense it shouldn't matter as the imagination should be the only canvas but a commitment to everyone staring at their screens means that the players should really have something to look at. Like most things in life it will be a matter of expediency I think and so I am happy enough to put images in front of players in terms of thematics but instancing any particular moment is going to come down to scrawly mouse writing. As I am running a Planescape, set scenes will be hard to come by as the party could potentially be going anywhere.


There is of course another slippery slope on the roll20 approach as from the moment  you are moving icons across a screen you are, by definition playing a computer game. It is a matter of necessity these days so any criticism will be unfair but I sense its already stretching club patience as some of us never engaged initially with on line play and as time has gone by there are those choosing to take a break from staring at the screen.


For now we will make the most of the tools we have and do what we can to fire the spirit. It will be interesting to test the medium against a traditional approach as a GM but hopefully this will be the last rotation before daylight reminds us to shave out beards regularly once more.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Cowboys and Tentacles


As new games are brewing old ones are boiling off into the fog of history and there are as always a number of options on the tables. We seem to have either an Eclipse Phase or Mind Jammer from GM Ro. If it were not the case for me being the Emergency Dungeon Master Hologram I would be in the Eclipse Phase and Im not entirely sure why. Its exists existentially on the extreme end of the cyberpunk spectrum in my view - I would call it Xenopunk really as there is little that defines consciousness or humanity that isnt up for grabs in character creation. Perhaps as a sagely roleplayer I crave the freedom that cyber genetic modifications offer, or perhaps I just like octopuses. Either way I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

GM Jon dons another GM hat alongside his Starfleet Adventures game and will roll out a Deadlands Weird West adventure. Combining the Western genre with a sprinkling of horror its an opportunity to traverse the dusty frontier plains presumably with the mandatory steampunk goggles, although GM Jon would describe it as a Gaslamp Fantasy. There are a number of possible scenarios but it will depend on what flavour the players prefer.

For my part I will roll out a 5e Planescape that worked very well last time. It has the primary advantage of being incredibly flexible as players can be portalled in and out of anywhere quite easily and it inherently contains a dizzying array of experiences that enrich any scenario. It provides additional value for the GM for moderating paranoia as digging out multiverse mysteries always seems to attract unusual and cunning adversaries.

Lots to think about for the GMs and lots of carnage on the platter for the players to choose from.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Everyone

 


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.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1637959583133640

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.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/dungeonsdragonuk

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

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..