Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Lawful Good sandwiches

It was about a eighteen months ago that wanderers abruptly began to tell me that it was the Meetups website that pointed them in our general direction and no longer this venerable tome. For almost a decade, blogger has been the crumbling path in the fog that has guided role players to the Railway Club and given the usual stresses in routinely rotating games I had been thinking whether we should be levering it as our primary mechanism for bringing order to the chaos.

What's interesting about recently starting a 4th game advertised on Meetups, is that it's already pretty much full within a fortnight. This poses some fundamental questions, not only of the call for 5th game but its also worth considering where we might be headed with all this. More interestingly are we actually witnessing something much bigger,  a new post social media renaissance no less ? It's amazing that home computers which forced people back into their homes for decades are now rebounding with equal force through the ether and pushing the curious out. Perhaps VR will swing us back the other way but for now, whilst bigger is busier, it's not necessarily better, I'm not exactly sure how we will sustain the welcoming and familiar feeling as a growing club in this respect.

But of course it may be an illusory issue; where people of good character are concerned it shouldn't be a problem as I suspect that we will continue to thrive in our passions despite having more members as it's fundamentally as much to do with who we are as what we do. There are many ways to slice bread and whilst there is a bitter and burnt dark side to any piece of toast there will always be a lighter more golden side.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


We are now underway for the autumn and all the new games are up and running. As expected our newer membership can't actually fit into any of the existing games easily so we have dutifully wheeled out a fourth. Props to the GMs though as each of them has said they could entertain a guest for an evening if push comes to shove but with the best of intentions packing a busy game with additional characters often just slows things down and can result in a skewed experience for the beginner which is not great encouragement for a new hobby.

Conversely as we have only just tipped the scales for a fourth there are only two or three players to make a party. Whilst I don't wish to steal players from another game, one cant actually steal people as such, so prisoners of conscience are my preferred weapon and as far as role playing characters can teach you things about real people,  encouraging others to offer the consideration that they were shown when they first arrived is often all that is required to drop into a conversation.

Nevertheless, social engineering aside, I always pack a game and my current interest in the Planescape content of 2nd Ed means I have something to motivate me as well as the ability to portal players in and out of a game conveniently. I have also advertised the game on meetups so we'll see if we'll get additional interest or just the usual Russian hackers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018


The great wheel turns once again and the photons dance ever earlier in the ember evenings preparing for their great migration over the coming months. Whilst we wish them well on their journey it is a time where we tend to see more travellers coming in from the cold. Perhaps its the holiday season closing or maybe the more embarrassing tan lines have faded, either way we are likely to get additional players tempted to test their fates.

New members notwithstanding, it was good to see Crish last week. I describe him as one of the Great Old ones and whilst he does test the sanity from time to time, I did spend the evening catching up with him and we may well have the pleasure of his presence on a few more occasions before the end of the year. It always nice to get revisits from role players who have been away for many years as it lends the club an ambience of heritage and I am reminded that this digital tome itself is fast approaching a decade old.

In game news GM Bill's D&D prequel to my own Planescape has concluded at a grisly portal alter of a snake cult; this will now roll over to GM Jamie's Stars Without Number. GM Dylan's Starfinder has begun as well as GM Mike's homebrew system.  A fourth game is imminent I feel as the internet is telling me we have yet more incoming so we'd better find additional dimensions to squeeze them into before things get out of hand.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Who are you ?


I'm not sure whether you call it a bug or a feature but from time to time we have had the conversation regarding translating characters between systems. This is not an unusual way of spicing up game play and campaigns that have been run for a very long time. It's also a really fun thing to try out as its a sort of cooking by numbers when you are actually missing some of the digits. Some systems, such as the recent Strange, actually revolve around swapping universes but the same can be done in principal by using any two systems, so by simply hacking at the respective RPG character rules and rolling up an equivalent using adjusted mechanics you should be able to migrate a personality. Ok, there may be issues drawing up a droid in Deadlands so some creativity may be required but I have always seen it sort of work albeit with some compromises.

However, my memory is cast back about 30 years when we passed a fun evening using the old Timelords system. Not to be confused with Doctor Who, the narrative begins at the end of time with a race called the Designers who have to invent a temporal matrix in order to survive - time paradoxes were "solved" by jumping to another universe. However the system includes mechanics for rolling up oneself; reality being just another system of course.

I don't remember much of the details other than holding out a weight for as long as I could to generate my strength stat. There was an IQ test for Int, or you could use your school qualifications if available, and also I remember a weird balancing act to determine Dex. The list of skills is almost directly drawn from professional abilities and hobbies. I didn't have a pet at the time, so no familiar but oddly enough roleplaying was a skill I had to add to my own roleplaying character sheet - the number of years spent within an interest or capability determined the in game rank. Nevertheless after a drunken evening I remember being pleased with the result but overall I was less surprised to find out that as a party, we were all a bit crap. Well I guess students start at first level, but as a wizened master now I would be keen to try this again as my miserable old git score would be off the charts.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Finders keepers

So the deals are done and our new GMs are beginning to scratch their heads as players begin to roll up their characters and ask annoying questions. As if space wasn't big enough, Stars Without Number has acquired quite a large group of players now and GM Mike's home brew system has intrigued enough characters to commit in force at the end of the month. There definitely seems strong interest in going slightly off road compared to some of our more standard offerings historically and for my part I have signed up for GM Dylan's Starfinder.

As I did get lost among the AD&D tomes for twenty years it wasn't just the versions three and four that passed me by. I had also completely missed the birth of the Pathfinder community although I have always been dimly aware its success. At the time of writing, Paizo's website is down  but I am unaware if Starfinder itself is being uplifted alongside their primary system although it could be just be a matter of one flowing naturally from the other. Either way, I never had the opportunity to play Pathfinder so the next few months will be a chance to give a nod of respect to a parallel system. I have no idea what races or constructs will be available but I already have an idea brewing...

In the broader scheme of things, as the holiday season is drawing to a close, we traditionally get a rise in interest as the evenings darken. If our more recent members also become regulars and we continue to draw in wanderers then we'll just have to find another universe for them to jump into.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

What do you want ?

As we are on course to rotate games shortly there has been the usual foray into peoples opinions and preferences as to how this should be done. There are a number of issues, partly the time of year doesn't help as with a few players on holiday as it takes two or three weeks just to see everyone and get some feedback. I am still of the opinion that as we are a club of no more than twenty players of an evening that we should in principal be able to sort ourselves out by the good old fashioned method of chinwagging. But to be fair as we welcome random wanderers, regular part timers and the die hards its just not possible to satisfy everyone's parameters, including those who want to GM.

As fun as a social melting pot is I have been thinking about opening up another role-playing evening for a while now, partly because Thursdays is at capacity but also because it would be a chance to test out the meetups function. Whilst this effectively makes each game an isolated experience, it is scaleable and provides a level playing field for everyone. More importantly GMs don't have to battle each other for players - they simply post and see what interest is like. I have always been concerned that splitting up a casual club into formal games would fragment the community spirit but this is certainly not the case at the Craft Beer Co as there are a core of at least a dozen players who meet regularly and we chat at their quarterly Entmoots; at the end of the day, players will migrate to the games they want to play so a formal meetup post for 4 players lets say would leave each GM with 2  back pocket flexi slots for visitors and those who want to change their minds after starting.

Like many things in life it a case of suck it and see.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Stars Without Number

By Jupiter, I do believe we have a plan. So it seems that formal notice has been given for the end of August and GMs have actually offered a number of systems albeit after the holiday season. Personally I don't know why one would feel the need to leave a perfectly respectable fantasy world by taking a break in the real one. After an initial subdued response, a number of heralds have started trumpeting; akin to a snow globe, it seems like we just needed a bit of a shake before the magic happened. Alternatively, one can think of our members as a creative pinata that just needs a good beating from time to time with a large spikey club.

Nevertheless, GM Mike is offering another instalment of his personal system which will be most excellent if his previous sessions are anything to go by, GM Jack has offered a Savage Worlds for which I have a particular soft spot, GM Fade has offered the next chapter of his D&D and I have heard that one of our newer members is interested in running a thing about something, so more on this in our next post. Also GM Jamie, who is renowned for bringing along some of his extensive board game collection from time to time, will be running Stars Without Number. 

A new one on my radar, SWN is a Kevin Crawford/ Sine Nomine OSR (old school revival) system based around Space Exploration, but in this case the mechanics are built from the bottom up as a sandbox toolset rather than a narrative and its GM and player instructions are simplified very thoughtfully. In this regard the system can be easily adapted to any particular universe. Here is an excellent overview by Questing Beast

And if you like free stuff, currently there is a 250 page free version on Drivethrough !

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


To say we've played a lot of games over the years is to make quite the understatement. The genres have spanned civilisations, the narratives have traversed the planes and there have been experiences from transhuman existentialism to medieval infighting. Alongside the weird and wonderful worlds we have inhabited are the even weirder though not necessarily wonderful characters that we have played. What I find interesting is that there doesn't seem to be any particular convergent set of characteristics or classes that can be said to be optimal. In other words, there is no win button.

This is a testament to healthy games and good GMs but oddly enough we now seem to have come full circle in the D&D5e stopgap currently being run by GM Bill as it turns out that drawing a couple of characters out of a hat and another couple out of the players brains we have neatly settled onto the archetypal Warrior, Rogue, Wizard, Thief. A timeless formula up there with Classic Coke, Fish and Chips and Country and Western. Its just like Stranger Things, but less strange.

In terms of stopgap games, the call has gone out to the next set of GMs but the response seems ominously quiet at present. Ordinarily RPG clubs have regular problems finding GMs but we have been lucky so far over the years and always had a glut of people wanting to try various things. This may be changing now but I suppose its equally possible people are just stuck in Netflix somewhere..

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

New Spaces

Following a couple of weeks running around the country in a heatwave I finally got a day to chill so to speak on Monday. Whilst crawling out from the comfort of my subterranean lair I had the pleasure of strolling down London road with an old friend and as he is an avid war gamer and we thought we'd pop into Dice Saloon to check stock for the next version of the Star Wars table top space combat system and associated miniatures. Tuns out that Dice Saloon have gone. But not far thankfully.

Having seen retail RPG stores come and go over the years I was always a little worried about the sustainability of Dice Saloon but so far I am happy to be proved incorrect. In fact they have moved about 100 yards down the road to what is a more industrial unit but which provides a lot more space both for stock as well as experience. One of the issues with the old place was mixing the wargamers in the same space as the role players. In addition to the noise there were rather uncomfortable makeshift plywood stalls for long sessions. Whilst the plywood sections still appends the table top area there is now an additional sectioned off set of more intimate and upholstered seating which is much more appealing. Along with extra room for the stock the entire area is much bigger but vaulted in a warehouse now rather than in conventional office space. Somewhat more industrial but who cares, a bigger space means more community and overall I vote it a pleasant surprise.

In more space news GM Jon's Star trek is cautiously drawing to a close but has a few more sessions to run. The Strange will continue until next rotation and GM Bill has graciously stepped in with a three to four session D&D5e. I think actually I have worked out that GM Jon, being the avid Star Trek fan is in fact keeping his universe alive on a permanent basis as if I remember, it was at the end of the last TV series he started his game and we are already getting the next seasons trailers for both Discovery and The Orville. Living the dream.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

House of Many Things

Mystery and problem solving are essential components to any RPG  of course but the context of any adventure does need to be painted in. There are a number of huge off the shelf universes that do the donkey work for you such as Tolkien, Warhammer, Star Trek etc where the GM instantly has reference material for the world which fleshes down to the minutest detail.

And detail is everything. A bit like a portrait, one simply cant ignore the background arbitrarily; its there for immersion and helps bring a world alive in a quality setting. This starts to become challenging for more thinly written systems or publishers that have focused too much on mechanics and GMs  need to deploy some tools. Typically for myself, societal power structures, factions if you will, provide a wonderful opportunity from the big movers at the top with all the tension you need for a scenario right down to the actions of optionally radical individuals. This was one of the misunderstandings of Planescape which was criticised for being too thin on content. But this was never the intention as its depth is drawn from over a dozen ancient and competing groups, some opaque even to their own followers.

Pushing the boat out even further, there is the option to explore impossible regimes such as Mageocracies (see Wizards of Thay), Necrocracies or of course collectives such as Mindflayers or the Borg. I suspect there is a system somewhere that has combined them all...

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

D&D Fourth Edition Version 2

Without wanting to eclipse an outstanding role playing system it's perfectly honourable in life to take a path forged by one's own mistakes. This by definition means that we all have skeletons in the closet and, necromancer's wardrobes notwithstanding, we should all judge things on their own merits by and large.

So for all the fanfare of 5e there is it's dark and twisted uncle that never comes down from the Attic; you know he is there and the bowl of blood you leave at the bottom of the stairs each evening is always empty in the morning. Ok, perhaps I'm stretching the analogy a little too far but basically 5e would not have happened if not for the curse of 4.

But this is not a D&D article. When Wizards of the coast changed the licensing for the new version 4, Paizo publishing lost the rights to its D&D periodicals. From that moment, Pathfinder was born. Released in 2008 it has not only curated the D&D tradition but spawned its own avid fan base as a sound system in its own right. But more than this, after a decade public play testing for Version 2 is underway. 

Paizo are aiming to smooth over some of the complexities of v1, speed up the play and clarify some options for higher level magic. Whilst its all understandably fluid at present, they are retaining their graphical heritage having confirmed their original artist Wayne Reynolds will be commissioned for the new graphics. Its should result in a very reassuring investment for fans whilst breaking new ground. Not something that  re-branding projects should just expect to work automatically...

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Sense and Predujice

This week in roleplaying news sees the eagerly awaited Jane Austin kickstarter hits its marks. Period drama is not something that particularly twists my melon and I am not sure how I would identify someone into late 19th century literature other than from heaving bosoms and an unrequited sense of longing. Last thing I longed for was a packet of Doritos and I was suitably sated by provisioning from my local co-operative. To be fair I did really engage with the Song of Ice and Fire with respect to its intrigue plots but whilst this is more medieval fantasy, social rankings are something to be constantly wary of both in terms of improving status and avoiding knives in the back. Faction standings crop up in quite a lot of systems and interestingly for Blades in the Dark, its important that your criminal gang also maintains its respect among competitors.

The producers of "Good Society" promise tales of high intrigue, sly glances and turns in the garden that capture the countenance of Jane Austen.

But intrigues of marriage and the struggles of juggling relationships are a bit too disengaging for me. They say that boys are interested in things and girls are interested in people so perhaps its a gender divide; these are not escapist concepts for me really unless they are on a space station....I would consider subscribing to Jane Austen in Space though provided airlocks were readily available.

I do quite enjoy the prose from Regency and Victorian works bar some of the mega novels such as War and Peace and Dickens can be a bit drab but in the right hands classic narrative can be captivating. Lovecraft springs to mind but in its most recent incarnation, the narrative to Darkest Dungeon is delightful.

"At last, in the salt-soaked crags beneath the lowest foundations, we unearthed that damnable portal of antediluvian evil. Our every step unsettled the ancient earth...but we were in a realm of death and madness! In the end, I alone fled laughing and wailing through those blackened arcades of antiquity...until consciousness failed me"
....and here is someone losing their mind

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

I'm Melting


You cant put a price on art they say. From a Faberge egg to a urinal installation , if something is thought provoking then someone somewhere is going to pay a lot of money for it. Personally I wouldn't buy a Urinal for my lounge in the same way I wouldn't piss on a Faberge, but I digress. On the part of GMs, well, they have stories to tell and whether its folklore or fantasy lore they all have a beginning, a middle and most importantly an ending.

I am a big fan of endings myself which is why I don't particularly gel to the newer Marvel type movies that always seem to leave room for a sequel or reboot somehow but when a legendary character is killed off there is a really satisfying feeling of completion. Everything just gets more authentic when it finishes and a life story is only validated when it ends as there is no more room for doubt at that point; one can only then begin to reflect.

So it is with our games and whilst our artists will string things out as for as much quality as they can get, the games are beginning to decay and GMs must let go as their wayward children come of age. More accurately The Strange is a filler game anyway as the Warhammer finished some time ago. Part Time Gods is due for its last session next week, and whilst we finally have our culprit, we may well stretch the GM out a little further if we decide to be awkward. I have heard on the subspace vine that the Star Trek has but a month left to run which may mean that The Exalted can be brought to a comfortable pause as I get the impression GM Andras has more to tell, but the Universe has entropy to collect and we cant wait until the last photon evaporates.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018


Culture is an odd thing. People grasp onto it as among other things it offers a sense of identity and people fight to protect it along national boarders that define who is who.  However, paradoxically no matter how tightly a civilization holds onto its characteristics they will inevitably change. There is a natural law at work I suspect and the same can be said for communities, role players being no exception.

People have their 'ways' of course but I have been wondering if Roleplaying is a cultural phenomena that comes and goes with a civilization or whether it is something deeper akin to the performing arts. Ancient Greece has waxed and waned but their tragedies remain and something similar will be the case for our club. Not to say we are tragic of course but we do have quite a diverse membership. It was Glen who told me that there was a fairly recent BBC article on the resurgence of Roleplaying ( "The revival of a Geeky Pastime") and we are indeed getting a constant trickle of people at the club it seems. What is interesting is that the summer months are usually a quiet time as players book holidays and crawl out of their cracks in the earth to see the light.

The BBC affords quite an archive of its articles and a cursory search exposes pieces going back to 2004 at which time "In the age of iPods whatever happened to D&D?". Wizards of the Coast paint their picture of course and despite a few wobbly releases they firmly assert that it never really went away and they may have had a point. Either way if civilization collapses you can rest assured that your investment in plastic dice will remain quite secure.