Friday, 28 December 2012

Thieving: 75%

As of 2013, I'm going to be transferring my gaming posts over to my other blog. I'm sure I had a good reason to be running two blogs at some point but I've long forgotten what it was, so I'm going to keep everything in one place from January. Until then, I'll post in both places, but if you want to carry on following my somewhat infrequent posting, then please bookmark or follow or whatever the term is these days my other blog, Aiee! Run From Kelvin's Brainsplurge! Thanks.

The main reason behind the lack of posts of late is that I've been spending most of my time working on Horror Among Thieves. It's not done yet, but I estimate that it's about 75% done. What I have completed as of this morning are all the maps, aside from the big city map and one bonus location that wasn't in the original adventure as written. Behold:

There's still some way to go, but it's starting to look like a complete adventure. I want to thank everyone again for contributing to the funding campaign, and also for being so patient; I'm a little embarrassed that it's taken so long to get this thing done, but I hope it will be worth the wait.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Horror Among Updates

It's been a bit quiet around here of late, not because of a lack of interest in gaming -- we've played a bit of Call of Cthulhu, playtested D&D5 and have even returned to Pathfinder in the past couple of weeks -- but rather because I've been preoccupied with working on Horror Among Thieves. The adventure exists in a playable form as of right now, and I managed to get in a playtest with my regular group, but there's still a lot of work to be done to get it into something that can be published.

That said, I thought I'd share a bit of a preview. This is one of the least spoiler-laden locations in the scenario, the House on Willow Lane:

This is a rough version of how I want the book to look; if the adventure hadn't reached its funding goal and I'd put it out myself this is how it would look more or less, but with James Raggi's layout people putting it together it should look much better, and of course there are still changes to be made. Even so, this should give you an idea of what I'm going for.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Adventures in Love

Blatant self promotion time!

Death Love Doom is almost the latest adventure from Lamentations of the Flame Princess; I say "almost" because another one was released in the pat few days, but more on that another time. It is a graphic piece of work, with extreme descriptions of brutal violence and I was asked to draw the pictures; it's not the kind of thing I've done before and I don't know if I'd do it again, but it was an interesting experience. I would recommend reading the reviews and this blog post before you buy.

The Complete B/X Adventurer is a different beast. It's a rules supplement for Basic and Expert -- the "B/X" of the title -- Dungeons and Dragons, and a follow-up to The B/X Companion, and contains all sorts of new character classes, spells and other bits and bobs I don't understand as I don't play B/X D&D. I did some art for the latter, so I was happy to be asked back to provide some character drawings for this new volume; my favourite is the Acrobat.

Death Love Doom is available from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess online shop, although it is a limited edition and there are only about eighty copies left, so if you like brutal body horror then hurry! The Complete B/X Adventurer is available from the B/X Blackrazor blog.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Horrific Certainty

Horror Among Thieves reached its funding goal with about ten hours to spare. I was as surprised as anyone, as I'd given up quite early on; my offer to produce the adventure anyway and send it to contributors for free was my way of thanking the thirty or so people who'd supported me at that point.

The offer of a free adventure got a few more people on board, but the interest seemed to peak at around $3000 and I thought that was that, so when the campaign made up the rest of its funding over the last day or so, I was stunned.

I still can't quite believe that so many of you out there are interested in an adventure written by me, but thank you one and all. I can't give you a free adventure any more, but I'm going to make it up to you by producing the best thieves' guild based horror scenario I can, and I'll also try to think of some bonus features to give to those of you who have supported the project, stuff that will be exclusive to this release.

In the meantime, here's a mutant guard dog from the adventure.

Thank you all.

Friday, 3 August 2012


The door opens into a windowless room that has a circular table and six chairs in the centre. All the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that are crammed full of board games, computer games and even 25 issues of an old games magazine with the strange name Owl & Weasel. One shelf has a row of books with distinctive green spines and fantastical-sounding titles like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but most shelves display row upon row of board games. On a high shelf, nestled between a pile of board games and a box file labelled Games Night Newsletters, you see a silver two-handled cup. You lift the trophy down and see it is inscribed with the words "The Pagoda Cup". There are six names etched on the back of the cup over a period of 27 years. If you want to open some of the boxed games, turn to 297. If you would rather leave the room and walk further up the corridor, turn to 129.

From Ian Livingstone's 2012 gamebook, Blood of the Zombies.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Time of Horror Approaches, Maybe

Well that's unexpected.

In the past couple days, Broodmother Sky Fortress and The Seclusium of Orphone have both made their funding goals, so congratulations go to Jeff, Stuart, Vincent Baker and Cynthia Sheppard. Jeff's adventure was an early front-runner and even the naysayers couldn't deny that there was a good chance that it of all the adventures would make its funding. Baker's adventure had a fair way to go this time yesterday, but it's got there with just over two days left, so that leaves...


By some weird twist of fate, that leaves my adventure as the next closest to its goal. Now I'm a long way behind the other two so there's a lot of money to make up in two days, but it doesn't hurt to try, and if nothing comes of it then the previous offer still stands.

To be honest, I think it's too late and I don't expect Horror Among Thieves to make its goal, but then I never expected it to get as close as it has done, to have attracted more interest than Monte Cook's adventure or the one by the bloke from GWAR. The fact that it has is down to you lot, and I can't thank you enough.

For those of you still on the fence, perhaps a glimpse at some of my other games writing will give you an idea of whether you'll like Horror Among Thieves. Dinner With Susan is an appparently well-regarded scenario for Call of Cthulhu that shares some elements with my new adventure, and the idea of being trapped in an enclosed space with some horror also cropped up in my contest-winning One Page Dungeons of 2011 and 2012. All three adventures are free and are somewhat indicative of what you can expect from Horror Among Thieves, and you can find more -- along with many examples of my art -- at my website.

Thank you again.

Monday, 23 July 2012

More Horror Among Thieves

When I announced that I was going to produce my adventure Horror Among Thieves as a pdf and give it away for free, I intended it as a small way to say thanks to those who backed the project.

I had mentioned the plan to Lamentations of the Flame Princess head honcho James Raggi, and I had his blessing, but I had no idea that he was going to then pull something like this:

 Kelvin Green’s gone nuts and he’s infected LotFP Central!

If Horror Among Thieves does NOT fund, LotFP will still be publishing the adventure. It won’t necessarily be on the same timetable as if it were to fund, but we’ll put it out.

Anyone contributing $10+ to the campaign will get the adventure PDF, WHETHER OR NOT THE CAMPAIGN FUNDS.

Anyone contributing $20+ to the campaign will get the physical book, WHETHER OR NOT THE CAMPAIGN FUNDS.

That’s right, if the campaign doesn’t fund, you get your contributed money back at the close of the campaign, and you will get the stuff anyway when it’s published. (Note that if it doesn’t fund with this campaign, books will be shipped 2nd class and it does not include any of the campaign extras.)

Spread the word. Now there really is no excuse not to fund this thing.

That's a bold move; I'm risking nothing by producing the adventure whether it makes its goal or not, but James is going to be putting his company's resources behind it with no guarantee of financial reward.

In the day or so since James made his announcement, the campaign total has almost doubled, so thank you James, and thank you to all who have contributed so far.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Horror Among Thieves

Oh look, I'm going to be writing an adventure for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess role-playing game!

"The Tenebrous Hand don't rule the city, but they may as well. If they can't bribe you, they can sneak into your home and threaten you and yours. That's why they get away with it. But you know what I think’s fishy? No one's seen one of their men for a while. No one's been collecting the protection money and I've got this constable mate who says that there aren't so many robberies these days. I’ll tell you another thing: he also says that the people in charge are more worried than ever, because if a thief's going through your pockets, you at least know where he is, you know what I mean? And you’ve got to wonder, if the Hand really are gone, then what’s happened to all their loot?"

It’s nice and ominous, but it doesn’t tell you, the buyer, much about the adventure, does it? At the same time, I don’t want to spoil things too much; I want to surprise you -- I hope in a good way -- when you open the book and read it for the first time. So what can I tell you?

I can tell you that the chief inspiration behind Horror Among Thieves is the work of John Carpenter, in particular his remake of The Thing. There’s a bit of Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China in there too, and just a tiny smidgeon of Prince of Darkness. Attack the Block, which is not one of Carpenter’s but may as well be, has exerted some influence too. If the adventure had a soundtrack, it would be full of ominous synths.

It’s an urban adventure, set in a block of buildings that can be dropped drop into the city of your choice, and the surroundings should force an interesting moral choice on your players. What are they willing to do, or rather what are they willing to let happen, for the promise of treasure?

As I’m also responsible for the art on this project, I’ve got the opportunity to do more than just illustrate the text; I want to create a closer relationship between images and words than we tend to see in role-playing adventures. It’s a lofty goal, perhaps, but after reading Vornheim, I know that there’s more we can do with the format of these things. I hope I’m up to the task, and I hope you’ll join me in finding out.

So, if you want to know what happened to the Tenebrous Hand, what they have hidden in their vault, why that unfortunate fellow over there is so keen on forgiveness, and what the heck the Brotherhood of Pus is, then pledge $10 or more and you’ll find out.

Whether or not this campaign makes its goal, anyone who contributes at least $10 will get a pdf of the adventure; if the campaign is a success, the full weight of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess design and layout team will be thrown behind it and you’ll get the fancy pants edition detailed on the campaign page. If not, then I’ll be putting it together myself and it won’t look half as good, but you will get the full text and all the art; all the content just as if the goal had been reached. That’s my small way of showing my thanks to you for showing your support.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Five, Six, Seven

Over the past few weeks, I've been running my group through the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons playtest. I will admit that I was not optimistic as I hated D&D4 and while I've enjoyed playing Pathfinder, it's more complicated than I like. I appreciate the retroclones for how they've opened up old-school gaming to a new audience, but most of them have mechanics or assumptions that I find difficult to accept; the notable exception to this is James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which I've mentioned before. It has the simple mechanics I prefer, but introduces a number of welcome tweaks to the basic D&D system, making it close to my perfect version of The Game.

All that said, D&D5 has impressed me. It has the same kind of mechanical simplicity as Basic D&D, so I can run it without breaking my brain, but it also seems -- the character generation rules have not yet been released for testing -- to provide enough complexity on the characters' side to keep my players -- who missed the mechanical options of Pathfinder when we played LotFP -- interested and happy. It does have some problems -- player-characters are perhaps too tough at first level, and spells are a bit erratic in terms of power; sleep in particular is either useless or overpowered, depending on the target -- but it's a first draft playtest, so such glitches are to be expected. My big fear for the final published product was that it would add more and more complicated parts to keep the D&D3 and D&D4 fans on board, but recent comments by Mike Mearls have suggested that a simple and streamlined core rules package is a goal for the design team, so I have high hopes. If all else fails, we'll just carry on playing it using the playtest documents!

Also on the way -- but arriving much sooner -- is the sixth edition of Warhammer 40,000. I entered the Games Workshop Hobby™ during the Rogue Trader days, but the boxed second edition of 40K was the one I played the most. I stopped playing with the release of the third edition, in part because I disliked some of the rules changes, but for the main part because of my two armies -- a Genestealer Cult and a small Ork force -- the first was invalidated by the edition change -- although an army list was later published in the Citadel Journal -- and the second was rendered unplayable by the game's general reduction of points values. I did pick up the fourth edition second hand but never played it, and the fifth passed me by; from what I can tell, the latter releases have been minor tweaks and polishes of the third, and as I never much liked that ruleset to begin with I haven't been moved to get involved again. The modern game looks absurd to my old eyes, with so many vehicles crammed on to a table that's far too small for them -- back when I played, the only vehicles available were the Rhino and the Ork Battlewagon -- making it look like a game of Space Marine played -- to paraphrase John Peel -- at the wrong scale. As such, unless the sixth edition brings revolutionary changes to the mechanics, I doubt that I will be signing up, but even so I've found myself interested in playing the game again.

Part of this is due to gaming at Stuart's place; while I've been enjoying our fantasy and historical battles, the Grim Darkness of the Far Future™ has always been where I've felt most at home. Part of it is to do with recent nostalgic discussions with friends who either play or used to play, and part is in discovering people like Warhammer Joey, who show such an honest enthusiasm for the game. I'm sure the announcement of the sixth edition had something to do with it too, even if I never buy the thing.

So I've decided to dip my toe back in and put together a small 500 point force. I'm going to go with the Eldar, as I had an Epic-scale army but never got a chance to see them in action in 40K; no one I knew had an Eldar army and they always seemed rather neglected by White Dwarf. I'm going to make no effort whatsoever to make it a competitive army and the troop choice will be made on the basis of the models I like, which in most cases means the older pre-third edition designs. I tend to have a 40K craving once or twice a year that comes to nothing and this one may also fizzle out, but we'll see.

Of all upcoming gaming releases, the most exciting for me has to be Call of Cthulhu's seventh edition, which I believe is going to be getting a preview -- if not an actual release -- at this year's Gen Con. I suspect it won't be too different to the previous six editions, but I've heard that the new rules will have some innovations; much as I love the game, it could do with a bit of mechanical tweaking in places, so I'm keen to see what the writers do in this regard. I own two previous editions and don't need another one, but I'm on board anyway, because it's one of my favourite role-playing games.

All in all, I have plenty to look forward to in terms of gaming in the next few months, but I'm a little wary of the effect all this will have on my bank balance!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Special Delivery

We wrapped up our second Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure last night; second and perhaps last, as while it's close to being the perfect version of Dungeons & Dragons for me, I know that not everyone in the group is anywhere near as keen.

Anyway, I've scanned and cleaned up my scenario notes from the game, and they can be downloaded as a sort-of-a-One-Page-Dungeon here. For those interested in the tension between preparation and play, it took about a couple of hours to put together and gave us two four-hour sessions of play, although there was a fair bit of faffing about in the first session. I've dropped most of the LotFP-specific statistics, so it should be easy enough to import to your game system of choice.

Thanks to the Queen -- not of the Demonweb Pits -- giving everyone a couple of extra days off work, we should be meeting again tomorrow, this time to either play a bit of RuneQuest -- I haven't played since a total party kill about fifteen years ago -- or perhaps the D&D5 playtest, if I can get my head around the adventure in time.

Friday, 1 June 2012

One Page Dungeon Contest 2012

This year's One Page Dungeon Contest was a tough one, with over a hundred entries and a list of winners almost twice as long as last year's. So I feel even more lucky that my entry is among the winners. I suspect cheating a bit helped to secure me the victory, as my entry is not a dungeon as such, although it does have a map of sorts.

Congratulations to all the other winners, and well done to everyone who entered and made it such a hard-fought contest; I know the judges found it difficult this year to narrow the field, let alone pick winners. A collection of all the entries can be downloaded here, while the winning entries are here.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Hills Are Alive

It's been a bit of a funny time of late for our gaming group, as one regular member has had to relocate to the other end of the country, and another spent a few weeks touring South America, so we've not been able to put together a regular roleplaying campaign. That might be a bit of a blessing in disguise though, as it's allowed us to try out some other games we might have overlooked if we were in full campaign mode.

We've played a few games of the new Wizards of the Coast board game Lords of Waterdeep. I was a bit hesitant at first as I'd played a couple of the recent Dungeons & Dragons board games and while they're fun enough -- sort of light versions of D&D4, concentrating on the good bits of that game and cutting out all the dodgy stuff -- they're not that engaging. I also find it difficult to work up any enthusiasm for a product associated with the Forgotten Realms, surely the most dull of the classic -- I use the term with reluctance -- D&D settings.

It turns out that while Lords of Waterdeep is published under the D&D brand, it's quite a different kettle of ixitxachitls in terms of gameplay. I'm not a big enough enthusiast of board games to be able to identify its lineage, but it reminds me of a fantasy-themed Monopoly coupled with the mission structure of the old -- and brilliant -- Shadowrun collectable card game. The combination is quite a lot of fun and I would be more than happy to play it again, even with the bland Realms trappings. At least Elminster or Drizzle haven't turned up in our games yet.

We also played a bit of Kingdom Builder, a game which is fast and fun to play, but the English translation of the original German rules is so poor that we found ourselves better off using the French translation. It strikes me as a bit limited in scope, but it's a good way to while away an hour or so with friends.

The past couple of Fridays have seen us return to roleplaying with a couple of games of James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with me as the GM. I've never been a big D&D enthusiast, and I did not react well to our abortive D&D4 campaign. I'm happier with Pathfinder, but I did not enjoy running it; my preferred level of complexity is somewhere around the BECMI level, and LotFP sits right about there, making a few tweaks to some of the wonky mechanics that have always put me off running the otherwise similarly simple Labyrinth lord.

I ran the included adventure last week and we enjoyed it enough to play again last night. I have developed a bit of a -- mostly unfair -- reputation in our group for a certain type of adventure, and without revealing too much for those who haven't played "A Stranger Storm", I rolled my eyes when I read through and got to the climax of the scenario. Of course, my players all thought I'd written the thing myself when they got to the end, and I'm still not sure they believed me when I told them I was running it as written.

Last night's adventure was written by my own hand, although "written" is perhaps too strong a word. I had an adventure hook in my mind and a couple of hand-drawn maps, and that's it; I've not often gone into a game with so little prepared in advance, but I found it worked well, and the light nature of the LotFP rules made that easier. I was again accused of being up to my old tricks as the player-characters butted heads with what they assume to be inbred hill-dwelling cannibals, and I can't really put up much of a defence in this case.

Again, everyone seemed to enjoy the game, although the slow character advancement was a shock to a group more used to Pathfinder; that said, most of their earned experience has been from killing monsters so far, as they've shown an extraordinary aptitude for overlooking loot. We finished the evening with the party deep inside an abandoned silver mine, surrounded by the corpses of hill people and with an ominous moaning coming from further on down the tunnel; I don't know if this cliffhanger will be resolved, as we may well be playing Stuart's conversion of The Shamutanti Hills next week, and I'm looking forward to treading those old paths once again.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

One Rough Night

Last year, I entered the One Page Dungeon Contest and was picked as a winner, despite submitting a One Page Haunted Village rather than, well, a dungeon. Rather than doing the sensible thing and quitting while I'm ahead, I've decided to enter this year's contest. Once more, I have failed to produce an actual dungeon, although in my defence, it does feature a map. Sort of.

Long-time fans of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay may find the title and the scenario in general quite familiar, and I must own up; after I came up with the idea, I realised the general similarities to the classic "A Rough Night at the Three Feathers" from White Dwarf #94 and so changed the title as an homage.

In terms of tone, the scenario is somewhat whimsical; my intent was to try and do a fantasy role-playing version of the classic farce, and I hope that comes out in play. There is room for dark intrigue too, and one of the characters is a powerful demon, so there's even potential for a Total Party Kill if the players really mess up or the GM has a thumping hangover.

No statistics are included, so the scenario can be played with any system. WFRP is, of course, recommended. You can download the scenario here (14mb) or here (3mb).

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Other Worlds

Stuart has a good post up here in which he digs out a number of historical examples of people of African origin running about mediaeval Europe, thus challenging those who don't want to include such characters in their fantasy role-playing games to come up with a better excuse for the omission than historical accuracy. It's a good, simple post that gets right to the heart of the matter and should wake a few people up.

The thing is that I don't see why Stuart needed to make the point in the first place. I've seen similar arguments come up before about technology levels; whether such and such society would have access to such and such weapon or armour or whatever. If we were setting our games in Northern France in 1450, then I could see the value in pursuing such detail, but for the most part we're not. We're playing in Greyhawk, or Aebrynis, or Titan; I don't see why it's important to know whether crossbows were available in 1450 when said crossbow is going to be used against a mind flayer, a creature I don't think was ever common in Europe, but then I only got a B in my history GCSE.

I know some people do care, and that's fine, but it's not something I think I'll ever understand. It's a fantasy game, it may look like mediaeval Europe from a certain angle, if you squint, but it's not, so go wild and include whatever you like. Exclude whatever you like too, of course, but don't try to hide behind historical accuracy when you do it.


Having put The One Ring aside for a rest, we've been playing a bit of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, set in the Border Princes, the Warhammer World's version of the Balkan region. We've had one session of actual play so far, and I don't know how long we'll play before something new and shiny comes along, but it's been good fun so far, as WFRP tends to be.

It's not quite new -- although it could be argued that "shiny" is an appropriate adjective -- but I've made a bit of progress on my conversion of Dark Sun to Savage Worlds; Savage Sun seems a fitting title. I've got some character generation rules worked out and I think I've come up with a good way to emulate the setting's magic system; my conversions are rather lean, simple even, but seem to do the job. I think my experience of converting Eberron over has helped me understand what's necessary to transfer to maintain the original feel of the setting, rather than fuss about copying every single detail. I need to put the conversion notes together in one place -- at which point I'll post them here -- and come up with a starting adventure, and then Savage Sun will be ready to go!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

There and (Maybe) Back Again

After a few weeks of giving it a try, we've decided to put The One Ring aside for a while; I was running the game, and I do have to admit to pressing the issue a little, as I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with it. I do like the general design of the rules, as it's a clever and robust system, but it also feels a little detached, as if the players are not in direct control of their characters. This is evident to some extent in the abstract combat system -- which I liked more than the players did -- but is even more prominent in the travel rules; they are very good rules but they feel more like a strategic board game than anything, and while I'm confident that we could in time get used to this feeling of detachment, the game has another problem that has prevented us putting in that time.

From the perspective of the GM, the game seems quite limited in scope. Although The One Ring comes with a large map of the Mirkwood region, the GM's book contains very little information on what lurks under the eaves of the great forest, and seems to expect the GM to either make up the rest, or have extensive knowledge of Tolkien's works; from my I admit limited knowledge of the canon, it seems as if there never was much detail on the Mirkwood area. So what's the problem? Why not just make it up? Well, the challenge is in inventing new elements while maintaining the tone of Middle-Earth -- it's not the kind of setting where a hex can be populated with 2d12 kobolds -- but at the same time keeping things a bit more interesting than "oh look, more orcs!" I struggled with that challenge -- a hunting expedition for a psychedelic human-owl hybrid thing was, in hindsight, perhaps not in keeping with the good professor's works -- and the GM's book was of little help. Perhaps indicative of the haphazard GM support is the fact that the two introductory adventures -- one in the book and one available online -- are set at opposite ends of Mirkwood, making their integration into a single campaign rather difficult.

All that said, Cubicle 7 have at last announced their plans for expanding the game and it's good to see that they're going to provide some more adventure material, including two campaigns; perhaps when these are released, my group will return to Middle-Earth and give things another go. In the meantime, we're investigating other options while our regular group is disrupted by summer trips and the like, and looking forward, we've decided to try the remake of The Enemy Within when it comes out, albeit with WFRP2, since co-author Graeme Davis says it should be easy to convert back to the older ruleset. I've also got a half-formed inclination to run TSR's classic sword-and-sand Dark Sun setting under Savage Worlds but I often come up with ideas of that sort -- such as an ill-fated attempt to run a Ravenloft game using the SAGA system -- and not all of them make it to the table. I think a bit of post-apocalyptic swords and sandery might be quite fun, so I'm keen to give it a go, unless the boxed set is a complete turn off.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Fellowship of the Railroad

As previously reported, we wrapped up our Call of Cthulhu campaign a couple of weeks ago, and with our Pathfinder campaign(s) still on hiatus, there's been a bit of a gap in our gaming schedules.

Stuart stepped into the breach first with a Barbarians of Lemuria one shot and his thoughts on the game prompted some of my own. As he says in his post, the scenario was a bit linear to say the least, but the restrictive plot didn't grate quite as much as that of Tatters of the King. I'm sure part of this is because I was playing the former and running the latter, but I also think it may have something to do with genre expectations. We were playing a game of pulp fantasy, so when we were looking for a lost temple and Stuart told us we were on an island with a volcano at its centre, of course the temple had to be there, but it didn't matter because that's how the genre works.

It was a fascinating contrast with the heavy-handed approach of Tatters of the King, and it's made me wonder if all those old Chaosium scenarios that led player-characters on a path from "letter from distant relative" to "going insane at the sight of some blobby thing" weren't as unimaginative as I once thought, since they were only playing up to genre expectations.

Following that, we decided to have a go at The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild, the latest Middle Earth roleplaying game. Through a convoluted series of negotiations, I ended up running it despite not owning a copy of the game, and having no time at all to prepare I decided to run the included starting scenario. It went well enough and I think we got to grips with the game's mechanics, although the players managed to avoid combat on at least three occasions.

We liked the game enough to play again this past Friday, and this time I had to write my own adventure; I did manage to find a free scenario Cubicle7 had put put to promote the release of the game, but it's set at the opposite end of the game's campaign area, which is none too helpful. All was not lost though, as I discovered that underneath all the modern mechanics and elegant integrated game design is a game based around old-school hex-crawling, so I put into action some of the tips and tricks that I've picked up from a couple of years of reading a bunch of old-school D&D blogs and that I've never been able to put into action since I don't run old-school D&D games. I wouldn't say it was a proper open sandbox, but it was still quite a change from the more rigid plotting of our roleplaying games over the past few weeks, and it does look as if the system will support such an approach with ease.

I had a better grasp of the game's -- many, but simple -- subsystems the second time around, and we even managed to engage a little with the game's interesting combat system. Overall, I like The One Ring a lot, as it seems to blend elements from some of my favourite games; there are recognisable bits of Pendragon, Shadowrun, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and even Rogue Trader and 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars in the mix, but it all fits together quite well. Perhaps my only criticism of it is that there's not much actual stuff in the game, and when you run out of interesting orc or spider encounters, there's no real guidance on how to make the setting your own. That said, the rules are so light and abstract that it's not too difficult to extrapolate from what's there.

Our own fellowship looks to be breaking up in a few weeks, but I think we may be adventuring in Middle Earth until then.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

After the King

Last week we finished Tatters of the King, sort of. As published, the campaign is split into two halves with a clear break in the middle, but I'm not fond of the second half so I decided to concentrate on the first part and run it in isolation. It was not without its problems -- as written, it is linear and inflexible, although the second half is even worse in this regard, one reason why I decided to drop it -- and it ran much longer than the six or so sessions I imagined, but I think everyone enjoyed it in the end.

Loch Mullardoch - - 491756
In my last post, I pondered the ending of the scenario and how I was going to tackle it, given that the players had gone off-piste. What was supposed to happen was that the player-characters would pick up the trail of the cultists after Carcosa had manifested on the shores of Loch Mullardoch and would have to enter the alien city to deal with the cultists before they summoned Hastur.

What in fact happened was that the players captured a character the campaign assumed they'd kill, interrogated him and found out about the cult's activities- long before they should have done; this led them to Loch Mullardoch days in advance of Carcosa's appearance, robbing the campaign of the evocative climax of a manhunt in a weird, otherworldly locale, and forcing me to come up with an alternative. To say that I felt some pressure would have been an understatement.

I decided that it would be dishonest to fudge things so that events occurred as written, and instead I took a good long look at the remaining non-player-characters, their knowledge and their goals, and tried to generate an ending from there. I had already established that the cultists knew of the player-characters' movements against them, and would be prepared to a certain extent, so I had them fortify themselves in their headquarters and also lay on some extra security in the form of some summoned monsters; the scenario as written suggests that most of the cultists are normal folk with only a couple of combat-capable individuals amongst them, so it seemed logical that they might appeal for some more supernatural assistance. I hoped that this haphazard improvisation would be enough to entertain my players.

Aside from a brief detour into wilderness adventure that saw them get lost in the Highlands and begin to suffer the effects of exposure, the player-characters were quite clinical about their assault on the cultists; at times it almost felt like a game of Shadowrun, such was the intricacy of the planning. In the end, things went well for the investigators; their plans involving dynamite went somewhat awry —- and this was bad GMing on my part, as I should have informed them of the difficulties of unskilled but successful explosive use, which may have led them to reconsider their plans -— but they managed to capture or kill the more dangerous cultists and fight off the summoned creatures, all with no investigator casualties. Call of Cthulhu has a reputation for deadliness, but if the players are careful — and if there are no Great Old Ones or Elder Gods stomping about — chances of survival are not inconsequential. That said, a couple of characters picked up some nasty injuries, but once again my random permanent wounds table -- stolen from Elric!, I think -- went unused, much to my dismay.

I was concerned that this more mundane finale would be a bit of a disappointment after months of play, but the players seemed to enjoy it, although Stuart did suggest it was more Miller's Crossing than Call of Cthulhu; that said, I'm not sure it was intended as a criticism, and the whole thing reminded me a little of Inspector Legrasse's cult raid in The Call of Cthulhu itself, so it was not too much of a deviation from the genre.

I don't know if I'll run the second half of Tatters of the King, and if I do I won't do it without substantial changes or even a total rewrite, but I enjoyed the experience of running the first half of the campaign and I learned a lot -- even after all these years as a player and GM -- about the craft and challenge of running a game. Above all, we all had fun with it, despite its flaws, and that's what counts in the end.

Now, who's up for Masks of Nyarlathotep?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Lawrence Bacon Must Die!

This post contains spoilers for Tatters of the King. My players shouldn't read on, nor should you if you intend to play this campaign.

You've been warned!

08 tory railtrack ubt
Right, so I think my players have broken the campaign. To be fair, it's not the most well-designed thing in the world, and regular readers will know that I've been struggling with it since we started. Tatters of the King is not the most egregious railroad I've ever seen in an rpg product, but it's far from flexible in its plotting. The writing assumes that things will happen in a certain order and at certain times, and leaves little room for player agency; it does not seem to have occurred to the writer that most players will not be content to sit on their hands and wait for the next clue to drop into their laps.

On the plus side, the non-player characters are written in exhaustive detail, so the Keeper has more than enough information on their personalities, goals and methods to play them in an organic way and respond to the players' actions. In that sense at least, Tatters of the King is quite a well-written scenario. I made a decision early on to ignore the heavy-handed plotting and run the campaign in a more sandbox style, and the strength of the NPC detail has made that quite easy.

Until the players met Lawrence Bacon, that is.

Bacon's one of the key antagonists, a member of the inner circle of the cult that the players are trying to defeat. What is supposed to happen is that the players fight and kill him, and then, as a result of his death being reported in the press, receive a clue about the cult's whereabouts. The delay between the fight and the news of Bacon's death being published gives the cult enough time to get on with their ritual to bring the city of Carcosa to Earth, leading to an exciting finale as the players rush to get to the cult before the ritual can be completed. It's quite a well-written climax, with lots of interesting choices for the players, and the appearance of Carcosa is quite evocative; I was looking forward to running it.

In my Tatters of the King, Lawrence Bacon is far from dead, and not in your general Call of Cthulhu immortal wizard way, either. Instead of the expected fight, the players surprised him -- through use of a spell the campaign gives them, so how this didn't come up in playtesting I don't know -- and subdued him before he could get a single spell off in his defence. Then they made use of their connections to have him committed to an asylum under maximum security, and began to interrogate him about the cult's plans. He is their enemy, so despite their cleverness he hasn't told them everything, but even so they now know where the cult is and what they're planning to do, and they know it much earlier than they should. As a result, they're now in a position to stop the cult and save the world, which is good, but -- and this is the tricky bit -- they'll be able to do it before any of the interesting stuff happens.

I could have stopped all this. I could have had Bacon resist their attempts to subdue him, but it would have involved fudging rolls and undermining their very sensible plans. I could have had him resist their attempts at interrogation, but again their approach was a good one and I couldn't have blocked it without being unfair. I could have the ritual happen early, despite their cleverness, but then we're getting into Quantum Ogre territory. Besides, it was fun to play through, and that's the point of the hobby at the end of the day.

It is just not in my nature as a GM to fudge things to such an extent, but I'm left with the problem of delivering a finale to the campaign. There's nothing in the book about what to do if the players are clever and efficient and turn up early to the party, but that's fine as I can make it up for myself; the bigger problem is that sneaking up to the cultists and bashing them over the back of the head before they've had a chance to summon a single byakhee doesn't seem like much pay-off for months of play.

Perhaps I am worrying too much. One of the more interesting aspects of the cult is that a key member -- Alexander Roby, the asylum inmate who involved the players in the first place -- isn't a villain in a traditional sense; he does want to bring Carcosa to Earth, but only so that he can live there, and it's his colleagues who want to use the city to then summon a Great Old One. As written, the climax involves the players having to figure out how to remove Roby from a place he considers to be more or less heaven; the most efficient way is to kill him, but can the players get past the rest of the cult to do so? Even if they do, can they make that choice?

It's a good, meaningful ending, and it more or less remains intact in my version of the campaign, except that it won't be taking place against the backdrop of Carcosa. So my gut reaction is to let it all play out as it will, but I worry that it won't be enough of a dramatic ending for my players after all the work they've put in. Am I concerned over nothing?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

GM Q and A

I owe you a Call of Cthulhu session report, and since I've taken the day off with a cold, I might be able to get that done today. In the meantime, here's a questionnaire from Zak's blog.

Repost and answer. Or, if you don't have a blog, answer in the comments. Or be a big rebel and do neither.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I came up with a starship combat system for Rogue Trader that was both less fiddly than the existing one, and didn't necessitate having a full-sized wargames table to use, but my players seemed to be terrified of getting into space combat during that campaign, so we never used it.

In one Savage Eberron game, I had them fighting cultists during a thunder storm, and had a little tweak going so that when a specific card was drawn from the initiative deck, that player would get struck by lightning. As it happened, the card ended up being drawn about four or five times, so one could say that my little sub-system was a bit broken, but everyone enjoyed it anyway.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
We play every Friday and I've been running Tatters of the King for Call of Cthulhu while Ben -- our usual GM -- recharges his batteries. I wasn't around last week, and the rest of the gang played some board games, so it would have been the Friday before that, the 6th.

3. When was the last time you played?
Ben's Pathfinder game went on hiatus in early November, so that's the last time I played, I think.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
1960's Cool Britannia superspies versus the Cthulhu Mythos.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
I find it difficult to do anything but sit back and watch and listen. I know I should be making notes and doing secret rolls and all of those underhanded GM psychological tricks, but I get a lot of enjoyment from observing the players' planning. A couple of the more recent Call of Cthulhu games have involved a lot of planning and not much doing, and my players probably think I'm bored, but I love it.
6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
I find that a gaming group will eat anything you put in front of them, so I try to make sure we have some healthy finger food -- carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes and so on -- although I've not been very good at that of late.

I've discovered that I enjoy baking, so I have been known to bake cakes for game night, which sort of undoes all my good work with the fruit and vegetables.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
On rare occasions -- maybe twice -- if I've had a long day I find myself flagging a bit, but that's more to do with the rest of the day than the act of GMing itself, which I find rather easy. That said, I tend towards either rules-light games or games where I know the system well, and I really enjoy playing the NPCs and spinning the plot, so there's not a lot of friction between myself and the game.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
I had a goblin thief in a D&D game that ran to about eighth level, but I retired him at around level six or seven because he'd got involved in a storyline that had run its course. I've never retired a character for story reasons in D&D, so that was an interesting and fulfilling experience.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
I tend to find that if you try to enforce a mood, it gets broken anyway and it damages the game more than if you're more lenient about the whole thing. We've had funny moments in Call of Cthulhu and serious moments in Pathfinder and it's worked out fine.

10. What do you do with goblins?
More or less Warhammer night goblins. Grinning maniacs hopped up -- sometimes literally -- on magic mushrooms.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I had Lara Croft turn up in Savage Eberron as a NPC, but I think I got away with it.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
I've told this story before, but it remains a highlight of my gaming career. Spoilers abound.

I am about eighteen or nineteen, running Horror on the Orient Express. The vampire Fenalik is on the train, in the corridor outside the players' cabin. The players are inside, with the MacGuffin Fenalik wants. He attempts to charm them, but he's a rotten, haggard old thing, and no Christopher Lee. He gets increasingly angry with them, as they get increasingly amused by his impotent rage. Because, of course, he can't enter their cabin without an invitation.

Finally, his patience gone, Fenalik assures them that though he can't touch them now, he will soon kill them all in the most gory way imaginable. They laugh at him, then one -- caught up in the moment -- responds:

"Just come in and try it!"

There are always laughs at our table, but they're more often off-the-cuff moments that aren't as memorable as the lengthy encounter above.

I also remember Ric's character in my Savage Eberron game, Galaxy Jones, a shameless Blaxploitation pastiche, complete with medallion, afro and boundless libido, except he's a halfling riding a velociraptor. Every time he said or did anything in the game, it got a big laugh.

In our Pathfinder game, one player had a character called Olban -- who we of course insisted on calling All-Bran -- who had terrible luck in combat, more often than not fumbling and injuring himself, to the extent that we often rushed into a fight in order to defeat the enemy before All-Bran could draw his scimitar and kill himself. His greatest moment was perhaps when an owlbear knocked him out, picked him up and used him as a club against the rest of the party. In the end, his player moved to Canada so we wrote All-Bran out of the game by faking his death, givng the all-too-plausible story that he'd accidentally beheaded himself while shaving.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
Probably Carcosa. I haven't read it properly, just looked at all the pictures -- see below -- and skimmed the monster entries to see how all those familiar Call of Cthulhu gribblies have been translated into D&Dish terms.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Ask me again in a month and I'll tell you something different, but right now it's Rich Longmore; his work on Carcosa is inspirational.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
A couple of times. One memorable occasion was in the first Call of Cthulhu game I ran for my current group, in which the surprise appearance of an axe-wielding lunatic took them quite off guard. As far as a more lurking fear goes, I don't know if I've managed to get them feeling that, but I may be wrong.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
I'm a bit snobby about pre-written adventures, and certain members of my group have a difficult time not buying and reading everything that's released, so I've not had much experience of running them of late. I ran Death Frost Doom in Rogue Trader and that was fun, but perhaps more because I managed to pull off the conversion than anything else.

Tatters of the King is not the best campaign out there, but I have enjoyed playing it; again though, I've enjoyed the experience of wrestling a troublesome bit of writing into something playable at our table more than any specific incidents during the game itself.

Horror on the Orient Express was a bit of a disaster, but good fun.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
A big table, comfy chairs, with a pot of tea close at hand, and no time limit.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
I'm not sure there are any surprises in my gaming library. It's all pretty consistent in terms of mood, rules weight and so on; I don't have Everway sitting next to FATAL or anything.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Like any GM over the age of twelve, my influences come from all over the place. One Savage Eberron adventure was equal parts On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Ocean's Eleven, the Man in the Iron Mask and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone who's easy-going and doesn't take the game too seriously, but also has enough of an investment to get involved and contribute.

It seems a bit obvious to say "someone who enjoys playing" but I've run into a lot of players who really don't seem to get anything out of the hobby so perhaps it does need saying.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
I can't think of one. Back when I could still remember some of the language, I used a bit of Welsh in a couple of games; one was an alternate setting for Pendragon that I created with a friend, and another was a goblin language.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
A proper Warhammer 40,000 book for Savage Worlds would be welcome; I love the setting, but the rules system -- which works so well for WFRP -- is far too fiddly for the Grim Darkness of the Far Future for my liking. A conversion would probably be quite easy, but I don't have the time.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
I have a friend who is D&D-agnostic but is a big Dragonlance fan, but that's not quite the same thing, is it? I don't really talk about RPGs to non-gamers, not because of nerd shame, but just because it doesn't come up in conversation much.