Saturday 25 December 2021

Merry Skifness

It seems that we have had now our final dance at the Belmont Railway Club after many years of cheap ales and even cheaper music performed by the resident automated bard. More accurately the local Tango club have ironically waltzed in and now consume what little space remains for our already tight tables on club night and new space has been essential.

We have relocated to a delightfully spacious coworking facility know as the Skiff and its not so secret location can be found just North of the North Laine or more easily perhaps via their facebook page.

Activating the correct sequence of a Thursday evening should summon a Keymaster and passage to other realms or alternatively seek Lord Nelson.

Hear ye all:

"As of Dec'21 we have relocated from The Railway to The Skiff, Blackman Street, Brighton (use '7' on the intercom).  We will continue to meet from any time after 7pm and aim to start gaming from 9-11pm as we did at the Railway.    For anyone coming earlier than 7pm, we will meet in the Lord Nelson (Corner of Trafalgar St and Blackman St)"

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Who is a GM ?


As the boardgaming industry has matured there have been an increasing number of  sophisticated games  designed for the solo player. This is nothing new particularly since the days of solitaire and patience of course but where puzzles evolve into being games is not immediately clear to me. More than just the fascination of solving a problem and the mechanical responses required to re arrange symbols, the incursion of decision making into a process necessarily complicates a system into a strategy which in turn reflects the character of the person playing. By then adding a creative a narrative, you then get an experience and something to spark the imagination. But it hasn't occurred to me that this process can work in reverse, in other words a single player roleplaying system.

Suitable perhaps for the most nuanced schizophrenic, there is nothing particularly to stop a player from embarking on a solo experience - indeed this is often the back story experience of most characters however this is more at the impetus of a GM. For the single player there has to be an engine that drives the circumstances - often either a map generator for something like a dungeon crawl or a circumstance engine such as a deck of chance cards. There are systems designed specifically to play the GM such as the Mythic GM Emulator deck from Word Mill Games or more interestingly the CRGE (Conjectural Roleplaying Gm Emulator) - free on Drivethru which is driven by a rolling series of yes/no questions at the basic level but it does have narrative additional framework components at more advanced play.

In the wider sense and thinking about life in general I would suppose that we are all embarking on a blend of fate and fortitude with our rewards enriched by the effort with which we throw ourselves at our dilemmas. However I suppose the real life equivalent of the power games are the lottery winners. Well you can have everything I say - I guess because I am not a lottery winner.

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Beaming in


This last weekend saw the rallying cry of our Star Trek group as we met around the table for the first time. As it happens our Captain lives in Bristol fashion but took the opportunity to pop down to Brighton on a London visit for the afternoon which gave us all a sort of three dimensional effect that we have not been used to on Discord. Our current mission typically pulls us in two slightly different directions as we are remote piloting drones that are animatronicly identical to the inhabitants of a mainly religious water based culture and for several weeks we have been living among them in pantomime style collating their cultural habits. The issue with the drones is that if they go wrong then they don't jut compromise the mission but we hand advanced technology onto a pre warp civilization- this is not good and at that point we may as well consider a career outside Starfleet.

Several awkward conversations and a combat later we seem to have also discovered that there is another advanced civilization prowling the same nebula as us and they have an active dark matter comms relay observing the same planet that we happened upon. Seems we may have met a meta situation but whether they are friendly or not remains to be seen.

It was also interesting to drop into the new Dice Saloon location which is now a very impressive space indeed having been used as a chapel and theatre historically. The footprint is huge comprising a vaulted ceiling with playing booths down either side of the room below with the larger wargaming tables arranged over the central space delimited by the retail area as you go in at one end to the café at the other. If there is a criticism its that the noise carries between the games but it didn't seem to terminally interfere with our session; its definitely somewhere I would consider as a regular venue.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Hand Picked


How would you assemble your crack team ? It would depend on their specialties for sure - no point in sending in your computer experts for a first contact situation with empaths - it would rapidly turn into a counselling session for geeks with the ironic conclusion that they should really try to get out more. The classic approach is to field someone on each base to cover all angles, Warrior, Rogue, Healer and Wizard but with specialization comes narrow mindedness and at worst arrogance. Friction and contention is important though in order to create choices and dilemmas are the heart of good drama; being successful at everything would not make for an interesting soap opera.

Perhaps flexibility is the key aka the Bard - if everyone can do a little of anything then what's the problem ? Well, Bards are annoying and a little like two paladins insisting that the other one goes first then either nothing gets done or there are arguments about who did it better. Although the idea that a homogeneous skill set implies perhaps that Captain Picard meant to say "We have engaged the Bard", there are specializations available to both the Bardic colleges as well as the numerous unimatricies. As formidable as a a bunch of Borg can be they will all share the same weaknesses so perhaps variety is the spice of life.

But my original quandary is really about choosing players for a game not characters for players - the meta question for picking a party. Whilst I am thinking about starting a home game I am tempted to fish on line as I enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and this would be considered a more normal social route these days. In fact either through laziness or the tedium scars from rules junkies I would probably go for some newbies - there is the risk they wouldn't enjoy the hobby but its so popular I don't think this would present an issue. Time to break in some new recruits I think.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

One Night Lands


Whilst I am a week behind in my posting I have the excuse that two thousand extra people showed up at work last week and I was too knackered to press any buttons. There are the trials of working for a school but there are tribulations to be had as well. In this respect one of my work colleagues has just thrown in the towel for his regular home game as they seem to have initially tempted him in with an offer of D&D and whilst they did indeed enjoy a few games there was a general consensus that they wanted to try something different, in this case the Harry Potter RPG.

'General' is the key phrase here as there is to be fair a fair difference between the gritty roleplaying reality of losing limbs when fighting for your life and casting teenage spells whilst at Wizard School. It's a case of in preference group dominance and its never an easy problem to deal with. For my part as I have mediation personality traits I would tend to try and please everyone and get full agreement before choosing a path rather than exclude anyone or going with a majority or even largest minority mindset but this does not scale of course. At club level flexibility is essential when joining one of multiple games on offer but where there are always a subset of people enacting their first choice of games then there will necessarily be those who will always be sacrificing their own preferences.

When push comes to shove then I think you either push back or shove off as there is no real solution when expectations clash but with the roleplaying venues continuing to multiply and online options extending choice even further then its not that difficult to play the field and settle down with weirdos of your choice, but as in all things, best to be clear on preferences and expectations before committing your time.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Real Things


DrivethruRPG is a dangerous place. I know more than one collector of roleplaying paraphernalia and whilst it could be considered a life's work collating gaming concepts it could also construed as all just shopping. A little harsh perhaps as some systems are long extinct and some may never make it out of alpha; 'Core' and 'Basic' also seeming to be synonyms for the prototyping of products and if you have any of the primordial paperwork from the early 80s its likely to be a wonky photocopy of a few typed up sheets. There are those of you out there who know exactly what I mean.

More to the point I am on the verge of  buying the StarFleet Adventures Core rulebook from Modiphius as I have been so impressed with the system and of course it will aid in the game I am currently playing in. So off I go clickety click and hit a slight pause when I saw it was £44. To be fair at my age inflation does make its presence felt across the decades and my measuring stick has always been the D&D PHB as I have watched it slowly rise towards £30. But its not so much the price as the price difference as the PDF Trek version is only £15 direct from Modiphous themselves. Its a classic dilemma really as a book full of postit notes is far more manageable than scrolling through a screen but as yet I don't know if this is my age speaking or whether phys rep will always be a more manageable resource. There is a synergy between using a data pad and a playing a scifi game though but add to the pot that games are often on Zoom or Discord together with something like Roll20 exactly how many screens and pads will I be needing ?

Its not the money of course as £44 is not going to break the bank and as an art form one cant really place a value on creativity but at the end of the day its all got to be wrapped up as a product. Its a general pdf vs reality question really but perhaps the answer is that pdf is good for the GM to peruse outside of the game wherever they find themselves and paperback whilst playing. Seems like the the logical outcome would be to purchase both; I wonder what Spock would say..

Thursday 19 August 2021

Plot Monkeys


It was a pleasure to make an escape last weekend by way of a camping trip with some old friends and whilst I am not larper my fellow role-players were swapping outdoor stories of prosthetic ears, drunken zombies and plot monkeys. Now the term plot monkey is not one I have heard before and whilst I would only ever have a single disinterested pointy ear trained on a larping conversation I did actually pay attention on this one. Certainly I am aware of both the hard work and  workouts of larp GMs who have to run around a forest in the dim twilight resolving combats and turning plots but in this instance my colleague was talking about an escape room.

At the risk of sounding like Phileas Fogg, I noticed my first escape room whilst gazing out of an Oslo hotel - a rather incongruous purple building squatting amidst the more somber elevations of mostly grey facades. Whilst I enjoy the occasional puzzle game, anything larger than a Monopoly board just tends to feel like a waste of space and whilst puzzles can be fascinating, I wouldn't say they are immersive. However, as it became clear from an increasingly drunken conversation there are those for whom its also a roleplaying experience.

My camping colleague said it was now her turn to make the plot and the context was going to be a roaring 20s lock in mystery. Apparently each of the characters only  has access to skillsets related to their background and whilst clues are of course dotted around, they are colour coded such that only a specific character has access to them. This way not only do all characters get involved with a solution but its slightly easier for the author or 'plot monkey' to ensure events are progressing in good order. The plot monkey also takes part within the event as a latent GM to keep things moving and to steer any conversations if they either get too bogged down or veer to far. The idea of a GM taking part in a game is an interesting one and allows a much gentler hand than the tabletop interventions and I am wondering for the first time if this would be useful in the tabletop although I suppose perhaps NPCs provide this traditionally. Either way I now have an invite to a 1920s party with the possibility of being trapped there forever. I hope there is enough wine.

Thursday 12 August 2021

More human than human


Whether its an alien species on a distant planet, or elves in the mythology of the before time or indeed a newly born artificial intelligence, the prospect of taking a holiday in some else's skin has always been a major appeal for the roleplaying crowd. There are systems that push this to the extreme whilst still retaining appeal and I am thinking of something like Eclipse Phase where personality fragments are tossed into a bucket with a few tentacles and computer chips and what ever crawls out will tend to have a good career in one of a number of customer facing roles such as catering or assassination. The lineage of Orcs and Elves is well established to the point of clichés and if you really want to play something unsavoury there are the demons and devils of Dungeons and Dragons and with a sprinkling of undead I would have imagined that most tastes are accounted for.

But it was whilst trying to fall asleep through a documentary about the first civilizations and the city of Ur I began to wonder exactly how may other humans there actually were before we ethnically cleansed them and whether there would be an interest in playing within ancestry worlds. Clearly the sapiens won the Darwin Award which means we were the most adaptable but only perhaps were the most intelligent. I can imagine that the non sapiens could have been more specialised than us but still having a similar reasoning skills and cultural depth. On the other hand I have certainly enjoyed playing rather dim witted half giants and orcs alike and whilst I am never too optimistic regarding their longevity, its fun to do the stupid thing occasionally or continually state the obvious - base play can certainly have a role in keeping things moving. In fact I don't think I have been in a game where people haven't overthought things.

In terms of the human options there are many to choose from  - Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo floresiensis (nicknamed 'the Hobbit'), Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) and the recently discovered Homo naledi. These are all our less fortunate cousins but perhaps in other circumstances and certainly in the roleplaying space, their cultures and civilizations could coexist and thrive in the same world. In terms of racial bonuses and background options we are bound only to our imaginations and to what archaeologists have discovered so far but if a game could be viable then perhaps we could do more than offer our thoughts to those who's fires died out just as our began to brighten.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Mud and Lasers

One of the games being proposed for the next club rotation is Lancer which I had thought was just a wargame albeit in Warhammer style. It is perfectly possible for a wargame to overlap with a roleplaying game but I suspect that more accurately it would be better if both forms of gaming were drawn from a common narrative. The proliferate novels in the Warhammer series are a good example of how narrative is laid down one strata at a time over decades to eventually form a deep archaeology from which culture and warfare can be created serving both role playing and tabletop gaming respectively. Whilst there is some inconsistency in the Warhammer lineage due to the many authors, the timespan over the narrative is so vast that it seems that the contradictions are a matter for historians rather then GMs which enriches the interpretation of events rather than frustrate them.

Tolkien is similar as its spawned both a gaming franchise as well as an RPG, it just so happens that it was crafted by someone doing the work of a hundred authors - a lifetimes work. Basically, as with all things, quality is in the detail and Lancer has the challenge of being a Kickstarter which naturally has to solve a lack of lineage. In the first instance it focuses on a rules light approach and narrative, modular  advancement which makes the game quickly accessible and is a must for a kickstarter. Its play canters around Mech warfare which has its audience in Warhammer, Heavy Gear/Jovian Chronicles, Shadow of the Demon Lord and the like.

But where do you get your culture from when you are a kickstarter? Well the simple answer is to pick and mix from an already vintaged sci-fi stock. This has never really occurred to me before - as a SciFi fan I am already aware of the vast number of stories that are as yet untapped by the movie and TV industries but Lancer simply pulls suitable elements from already notable works and makes no bones about it; to quote

"Lancer draws thematic inspiration from various media: The lived-in, cosmopolitan, working class CRT retrofuture of Aliens, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Akira, and Cowboy Bebop; the science fantasy of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, Bungie’s Destiny, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Moebius’s The World of Edena and Arzach, and Anne Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy; the soldiers-on-campaign tension of The Thin Red Line, Band of Brothers, and Platoon; and the subjectivity-fraying uncanny of Tarkovsky's Stalker, Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and Evangelion’s Angels."

Blending concepts together is an excellent method for world building but like all pick and mix, shovelling too many sweets in to the bag tends to mix gummy bears with chocolate so there is a need to be a little sensitive to the pallet before players end up vomiting over one other .

Thursday 29 July 2021

Next Episode


There is a sliding scale along which most adventures are delivered in terms of the experience it offers to the players. I would suggest something like - open world - West Marches - campaign - module - episodic - one shot. I wouldn't try and establish this as a new Beaufort scale for roleplaying games but I have been in many situations when games have broken down as roleplaying styles conflict over these issues and quite often the players dont even realise it. Yes there are inevitable character clashes between the narrative players and the rules junkies but being mindful of the gaming style will mitigate issues down the line. Whilst a GM should open up a dialogue with the players before a game even starts in order to make the context clear players should ideally have experience off all of these environments and adjust their style accordingly.

Of al of these styles I find that the episodic is the most challenging to GM. Open world is fairly easily  provided there are a lot of creative methods available by way of generating content on the fly - I tend to have a bunch of random maps, characters and buildings on hand and then bring them into play as required. At the other end of the scale the one shots are usually actioned packed from the start and as players are dropped into an immediate situation there isnt really the time for disincentives to arise before the event is concluded- they function on adrenaline and suspense to a large  degree. But the episodic games are a real challenge particularly if there is published  material driving it as the GM has to ensure that certain points are reached in a timely fashion. Games can feel out of the hands of the players as their decisions are cropped to the plot and there is a sense of pressure to perform pre designed situations.

I dont really see a way around this except for the players somewhat adjusting expectations although a bit of parody can help if the game is designed around an actual TV series (or indeed parody itself) - classic turning points, predicable character clashes and cheesy endings can be fun particularly if each character is required to get their iconic oar into the dialogue. On the GM side I would say its  critical that player time is maximised and GM dialogue is minimised to the absolute extent possible - the overreaching hand of the GM is felt heavily in episodic games in plot alone so every second a GM is talking further imposes their presence as well as turning players into spectators and narrowing their impact even further. Episodic games are not for the faint hearted GM but with a light touch when running and enough content that engages players then even just being able to tinker within an environment that they love is a base for building play.

Tuesday 20 July 2021



There have been a few excellent ScandiNoir TV productions over recent years, specifically The Bridge, Caliphate and Boarder Town to mention but a few although recently I have been sucked into Katla, a peculiar and literally atmospheric Icelandic drama. Its premise is something that really wouldn't capture my interest under normal circumstance and its taken me a few days to realize why I like it so much. Akin to the German sci-fi production Dark, its primarily a play on character despite skirting the metaphysical. I'm aware that a play on character is almost by definition but bear with me as it uses scifi in what is to me the epitome of its spirit and I miss the quality of the reflections here rather than the usual dull and predictable plodding of the usual cgi space drama productions.

For reasons, a large section of Iceland has become a controlled zone due to the continuous eruption of one of its volcanoes rendering nearby communities barely habitable. Of course there are the usual stoic local farmers and villagers that are determined to stick it out to the end as well as some visiting scientists that get drawn into circumstances. Whilst the dark and smoldering hellscape portrays a bleak otherworldly backdrop, its a stark metaphor to the individual characters that endure there and each seem to carry their own dark burdens from decisions and circumstances that haunt them.  Without giving too much away, ash covered people start to be appear out of the landscape and whilst initially seem to be lost, presumed dead, people returning to the community, the plot begins to complicate rapidly.

Its not a hugely original idea but the interplay between people living in the present whose life experiences have worn them down and suddenly confronted with the past made manifest illustrates not only how hardened and resigned people can become over time without realising it but also how fundamentally people change. Its not quite the innocence of youth but reminding ourselves of who we used to be and the effect we used to have on people can open us up to other possibilities. However its not all an endearing tale of self realisation, indeed given a chance to make different choices, there are those who not only repeat the mistakes of the past as if in some pre determined temporal self-imprisonment but there are those who go for decidedly worse outcomes. It seems that wisdom can also abandon one with age and experience is no guarantee of happiness.

The point is could a character development system work in the same way ? Rather than start with someone and build their life experiences as an adventure progresses, would you get a richer effect by running an entire game in retrospect - roll up a high level character first but then go back and roleplay it at a younger time ? It could work in any system - perhaps in the Star Trek one would roll up an old, disgraced or renegade admiral with a history of loss and betrayal but play the game starting as a fresh faced ensign. Rather then with a backdrop of skills and interests you would roleplay with a view to outcomes which may provide just as rich an adventure.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

The Beginning is Nigh

Seems like D&D is in the news again but as this blog also clearly competes with Bloomberg and MSNBC, D&D is technically always in the news. This time there is a BBC article about how people have coped during lockdown and its not so much about existing players who have turned to internet comms as substitute as this would be a natural step for role players if indeed that they were using it already, but the article is slightly more insightful in the sense that it portrays roleplaying more accurately as a social experience rather than a game. Indeed there is no winning, no beginning and no end and for those who are hardened to the vicissitudes of fate potentially no rewards at all. But importantly empathy flows out of narrative even when its not real or in other words clinically speaking the stories that humans have always scribed onto cave walls and parchments store emotional content that can be released thousands of years later for those who care to listen. The article in question then explains the value of the connections we make and its emotional benefit for those who feel isolated.

I also note an additional article regarding one Lennon Thomas who was out Larping one day with a particularly realistic looking sword that provoked a response from the local firearms unit who are pictured joking with the suspect after assessing the situation although I would strongly suspect that Mr Thomas was likely not smiling during their initial contact and readily admits that he could have been shot on site. I'm sure he went slightly down in weight but up a level at the time.

So as in life as in fantasy its important to maintain a balance in all things, particularly between immersion and the police I would suggest but one will have an interesting story to recount in either circumstance. I also note that both articles are Welsh in origin, perhaps its the Dragon in the flag or one too many flagons in the Inn but there seems to be plenty of adventure beyond the boarder. As for the rest of us, lockdown is ending and old adventures will have a new beginning so if you can't remember how to roll dice then now is the time to start practicing.

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Minatare Madness


Here I am at work trying to mind my own business and I have already had two members of staff pop in to show me photos of their favorite body parts. Now I stress that this has context and the body parts concerned are plastic and thoroughly attached to a number of other plastic body parts that comprise their roleplaying characters for physical representation during games. Oddly enough on the rare occasions that I have had to use token placeholders myself I have dug out some handy StarWars lego pieces that function very well for a spontaneous bit of game mechanics, but it is worth noting those for whom its a passion.

Akin to wood carving, there is something very relaxing about physically rendering ones own character in painstakingly glorious technicolor. In fact there is a burgeoning tech backed industry now with Heroforge offering full digital rendering from which your design can be printed and if your happy for them to do so they will print, paint and package as an all in one service. Its also worth noting that they can provide digital tokens for Roll20 like environments based on your design also but for those craving the personal touch, traditions have remained and as daylight fades into candle light, players hand detail their models as the hours slip away into the midnight oil and there would be a lot of midnight oils where entire armies are concerned.

Other than the physical need for counters and the haptic satisfaction of touching your own creation, psychologically its another route that the mind takes in order to manifest its imagination as well as a little escapism - akin to larping its about bringing someone you know into the real word and I suspect at the root of it may be a compulsion to create life. I haven't as yet met a roleplayer that has tried to reanimate a real cadaver either by using traditional lightening or more updated methods but it wouldn't surprise me if someone dragged one into the club. It also would surprise me if at least one of our members has already been through the reanimation process a several times already.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Certainly uncertain

Our world is thawing and the retreat of the pandemic age is revealing a changed world and a changed people. One of the most difficult things about separating people is getting them back together again and whilst there have been murmurings about another club meet I am a little skeptical of the outcome. In a sense its really just a comment on the passage of time but many role players, including myself, have sought out on line experiences which for some are more that enough to fit the roleplaying fix and for those who do not enjoy the company of photons may well have formed other routines either in households or local meetings where they can match with those in similar situations. Of different generations we have those with one jab, those with two and potentially the dreaded unjabbed, who should be urgently turned by the NHS. The world in fact did not stop during Covid, its just that in many cases people may have just moved on.

In what is now the traditional vein then one of the many Daves has suggested a D&D bash having climbed down from a more ambitious suggestion of Cthulu, although which edition I am unclear, although I would think that madness hasn't changed much since the original Victorian era. It is the beginnings of our rummagings so the press will just have to hold person for a blogging round but hopefully there will be a roll call shortly followed by a call to arms followed by a drunken board game followed by everyone trying to remind each other who they are.

Its a time of change, possibly permanently, as club memberships will have to be reforged or more properly purchased and we will have to chance whether we can recognise each other through the beards of time. For those who's beards cannot be penetrated and for those who's memories are shorter than they are then its an opportunity to meet new people who have been met before.

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Never Heard if it

Having been in a sci fi mood recently, and by recently I mean about 35 years, we were engaging in the usual pre Star Trek game banter this last weekend when one of the players commented on the Fading Suns system that she was playing in. Whilst I never got the fax back in the mid nineties when it was released I have remained blissfully ignorant on this one ever since. To be fair a lot of people have a lot of systems - too many to play in one lifetime which is certainly no deterrent where game master collectors are concerned.

Either way, being a big fan of the big epics I brought myself up principally on Frank Herbert's Dune, The Foundation series together with all the books in its extended universe, the dystopias of Silverberg, the satirical take on life in Douglas Adams Hitchhikers works and the emerging cyberworlds of William Gibson. The list goes on and that's not even to mention the TV productions of Star Trek, Stargate, Starwars, Babylon5 and Farscape. I was less drawn to Moorcock's mashing of SciFi and fantasy as I do think they are somewhat oil and water - if you have magic then why use technology ? Which brings me to the Fading Suns approach..

If you take all of the above, throw in a topping of Warhammer and blend them together you get a sort of SciFi smoothie that is the D20 based system of Fading Suns. It seems like a post imperial imperium albeit somewhat fallen from the grace of greater days where medieval like houses remain to vie one another in a galaxy spanned with jump gates long abandoned by an ancient civilizations. Opportunity and adventure abound across the Known Worlds for a capable party, human or otherwise, and with  the blessings of the Universal Church of the Celestial Sun, what could go wrong ?

It does all sounds like a roleplaying bucket challenge to me but perhaps a pleasant throwback from the more existential approaches of  Eclipse Phase, Tales from the Loop and Numenera. More importantly and speaking of loops as I have not been kept in the aforementioned exactly how many roleplaying systems are there ?