Monday, 25 December 2017

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Things to come..


There are natural cycles to the universe - galaxies collide, black holes rage and stars explode. But in the midst of such cosmic destruction, new stars are born from the remnants and elements of old, hot galaxies coalesce from cold, dark matter and even black holes evaporate their information back into the light. 

Likewise our games this year started in the blazing bright heights of the summer and have burnt long and strong, but nature has taken its course and as we approach the longest night, arguments have settled, players have been killed off,  princesses were slain and their gold has now been rescued. Over the next few weeks the Phoenix Dawn will go on hold (as its campaign length really and sports several more scenes even after six months), The DnD has formally ended and I believe GM Jack is wrestling down his Gods in the Exalted.

So this means fresh adventures and a chance for people to pick new characters and causes, wield novel and powerful items and explore the full range of fumbles and failures. So in the new melting pot we have a selection of GM Max's Warhammer Fantasy, GM Krzys Part Time Gods (not one I know) and GM Jon's Star Trek. Interestingly GM Jon has offered to run an additional quick stop gap Star Trek parody whist the new games get into sync. My understanding is that this will take the form of a Tarantino/Roddenberry mashup along the lines of Kill Will or Reservoir of Targs.... I'm not sure whether you could actually get a blood bath with phasers or disruptors which vaporise organic material but I would be very disappointed not to see judicious use of transporter "malfunctions".

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Time waits for no half-elf

Time travel is a tricky business. Brave is the GM who decides to take on board a campaign involving cause and effect or indeed effect and cause. Often used as a plot device, time relocation is a handy way to place characters back in the good old days which often turns out to drop them into the great mythological stories of a given world. For richer narratives like Lord of the Rings, Warhammer Fantasy or Cthulu  this is an opportunity to dabble in world creation or glimpse the gods - not that that would make for a a very long game in Cthulu mind you. Moreover I would say it's a more appropriate environment to play high level characters and become part of the Mythology of a system itself; a chance to become part of Lore.

However, as tempting as it is to run such a scenario, role players will insist on doing their own thing. Off roading in temporal sensitive games can require the GM to take an overly heavy hand jus to keep a world intact. Whilst there is the argument that history cant change - attempts to achieve goals that a party is fixated on, such as the assassination of Hitler lets say, may result in repetitive play and whilst fun, are basically a dead end. Paradoxes proliferate if players start to meet themselves (always embarrassing) and create duplicates of items. Things will also spiral when they start to bring other time machines back through time.

There is a more forgiving option of sending players into the future where actions cant be judged in practical terms but there is always the possibility of bringing back knowledge or items that may  unbalance a game. But also, to be fair, there is little point in running a future time travel campaign that has no interaction with the present - it may as well just happen somewhere else as far as plot is concerned.

And there is also the eternal issue of temporal ticks in the real world. Whilst we are all time travelers, spare a thought for the D&D game that has been running for 30 years ! If any of us got caught in that particular time trap, it would still be a first level adventure after the first year and then 29 more of arguing...

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Its been emotional

Generally speaking, I have a slight aversion to watching live streams or episodic recordings of roleplaying games for several reasons, predominantly because these can be very lengthy and a lot of time can be spent eating biscuits. In addition much of the subtlety is lost as people can shout over each other and whilst it does add to the drama, critical moments can be missed. There also isn't a great deal of production value in video session where imagination is involved and it can come across as amateur dramatics to the casual observer unless you are there in person.

But it does remind me of where my games are weakest, manly due to laziness and time constraints, but like a lot of GMs, I usually come up with interesting problem solving scenarios backed by a half decent plot and a few key characters with a bit of GM roleplying on the fly. There is a need to create enough space in a game for characters to develop themselves and roleplayers are their own content to a large degree, tho I would never leave them unsupervised with sharp pencils.

The point is that ever since Homer put pen to papyrus, there have been such things as plot formulas and character development traits that underpin professional narratives but whilst not always there in roleplaing games (and they should be), they are the bread and butter for writers. For some reason Gladiator comes to mind as of course Oliver Reed died unexpectedly during production and a lot of effort went into finding a quality resolution - William Nicholson OBE stepped in here as one of the writers and his deep understanding of character provided a seamless and respectable end to Proximo. He's very engaging and more interestingly as a roleplayer one can instantly identify with his conversations on character. Here is a fascinating interview with him.

Or course I haven't had my OBE for services to roleplaying yet and broadly speaking such creative minds are not available to the GM but I did find the epic end of the recent Critical Roll game run by Matt Mercer a dramatic case in point. In fact the moment is beautifully explained by here by the engaging Matthew Colville - I highly recommend  a watch - spoilers for 400 hours of roleplaying btw.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Fashionable Roleplaying

Creativity is an outlet, more so for the technical mind I suspect, crowded in by business workflows, engineering problems and the day to day challenges of making sure your underwear is not inside out. Whilst Roleplaying exercises a very underused muscle these days, it can be a quick fix and something to look forward to in an otherwise ordinary week. There is the matter of talent of course - not sure exactly what talent looks like in roleplaying but I have fond memories of Chris dancing around with a couple of carpet tiles when he was playing a sort of  animated jukebox, most entertainment I have had since Top of the Pops went off the air.

Nevertheless I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the amazing artwork that comes with the trade. Having visited a MegaCon event in Florida several years ago you do get overwhelmed  by the enthusiasm and effort people go to to decorate themselves. In fact its worth just going in a crowd for the crowd.

Physical Representation, or phys-rep as we call it in the trade has utility when you are actually playing but there are artisans that go above and beyond - there is a point where skill becomes art and some pieces are phenomenal. 

From the large to the very small, with skills more reminiscent of neurosurgery are the miniature armies of the war gaming tables. Lovingly attended  and and in fact impossibly crafted using something akin to a quantum paintbrush. In fact I believe there are still annual awards for such detailing and whilst I would be happier to bump into an army only two inches tall rather than some of the other characters depicted here, I think they would be more challenging in game.

Finally I do think its important to say that its the taking part that counts and whilst passion is a wonderful thing, imagination also has its place...

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Never Give In, Never Surrender

There are mumerings in sub-scpace and possibly even the first Starfleet missives regarding crew assignments that might be happening for a StarTrek game that could possibly be in effect in the perhaps nearish future. Despite practicing my non committal communications, GM Jon is starting to have initial chats about launching a Starfleet vessel, so watch this space, pun intended.

It moves me neatly onto the trending subject of the new Star Trek Discovery currently airing and as I am a roleplayer and I have never seen any of the episodes I am going to immediately Troll it and say its the worst pile of crap ever to have come into existence. Now I am clearly having to use the scientific method to extrapolate opinion and craft a Trek Theory. Correct me if I am wrong, but arbitrary character led story arcs are completely alien to all that Star Trek ever was at is core; an episodic, hard hitting philosophical series regarding contemporary moral and ethical dilemmas that ultimately resolved themselves - a mirror to the human condition that not only describes our contention but also challenge us in what it should mean to be human.

Whilst TNG was excellent, it did show the occasional crack in stepping away from the clarity and focus of TOS, possibly related to Gene Rodenberry's passing. In my mind dilution continued through Voyager, although there were occasional gems, and was swallowed up almost entirely by DS9  which was just a pointless drama bar a very few poignant scenes. I appreciate the Pinocchio condition of Data trying to be human and the trauma of 7of9 regaining her humanity, which were excellent lenses for existentialism, they were just too interesting to balance against the rest of the banal crew - substituting good plot for character development ultimately causes too much strain on outward looking issues.

So I am getting the impression that I am not the only one on board here and stemming on from the wonderful Galaxy Quest that somehow managed to be a parody if itself as well as Trek, I find myself being slowly captivated with the crew of the Orville. Yes, there are the awkward first couple of episodes but this is settling very quickly and some of the humour is just side splitting. Whats more, there are extraordinarily hard issues that are faced, such as child death during war and extreme infant gender reassignment. There are episodes regarding religious isolation, democratizing facts, commoditising people and animal captivity. Combine such fresh issues with likable and flawed characters who's interactions are so familiar we can feel part of the crew ourselves - we may well finally have a comedy drama for the first time in 40 years to rival the quality of MASH. 

So at last to the point of this article - when do we get the Orville RPG ?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Retributive Strike

Its been a while since I've had a character blow up. Casting my mind back I believe it was a Paladin if memory serves and perhaps not so surprising to those in the extremist religion business - as it happens we were reminiscing at the club over several good old book burning memories with a view to perhaps introducing it as a national day - basically if I am allowed to talk like a pirate and celebrate keel hauling then as far as I am concerned, I should also be able to destroy knowledge in both a family friendly and socially inclusive way. In my case it was a Rolemaster Paladin, which, at 10th level gains Retributive Strike allowing him to lay down his life by channeling his deity's raw  power directly through himself into his enemy dealing a vast amount of damage in a final blaze of glory.

Whilst its not unusual to lose a Paladin under many circumstances including but not exclusively related to: charging in to rescue a  Princess, laying down ones life to save kittens, catching an acid vomit from  possessed teenagers and/or celibacy, my character did at least manage to take out a bad guy.

In the Phoenix dawn we were facing off against an seemingly ancient and powerful guardian, in fact a non corporeal Phoenix from before the Dawn Command came into existence that, for reasons unknown, was following a different authority. Whilst the damage thresholds were high they were potentially not insurmountable but it was getting clear to me that my fellow phoenixes were struggling on their last sparks and the situation was far from in the bag. Things were slipping.

As it happened, from my characters military leadership background it seemed entirely reasonable for it to come down to a shouting match. If this entity, specifically an ancient Phoenix on its last life, was not prepared to submit to the chain of command then we do what we do to all treason in the ranks and execute a court martial of an extremely brief nature. This basically entailed Nick stripping off some of the entity's armor and with a skill spread, filling up the void inside with gunpowder. Following up with my superhuman strength, I picked up the guardian, marched him into a separate room and ignited us both to chalk up the second of my seven lives lost. Very satisfying but not something I would recommend on a regular basis but it was in character and as we have just celebrated Guy Fawkes night, so also very seasonal !

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

String Theory

How long is a piece of string ? As mooted here on occasion, we have had many discussions over the years regarding the optimal length of a campaign. There are of course an enormous number of factors that affect the genre but it doesn't mean that we cant subject this to scientific scrutiny and aim to resolve a Universal Theory of  Roleplaying or as I am calling it, Rope Theory.

The hypothesis is that whilst to the general frame of reference, a game is a cohesive field of problem solving and creative interactions, on the smallest scale the fabric of the game is actually held together by a vast amount of tiny arguments (A), wrapped up so small that we are barely aware of their presence except when they surface from time to time due to fluctuations in the atmosphere that occur during player interaction.

It's important that a game is inclusive even when the player (P) base changes or when people can only make it semi regularly so let call this I, Imax being desirable. There can only be one GM in principal though I am aware of strange instances when two GMs have coordinated, but as this is a general theory, not a special one, we will assume a GM subscript m of 1,  Dm, in its  typical form. As we have to sum each game across an infinite number of realms R-0 to Rmax, there is of course an integral involved, and as there is an element of chance, probability comes into effect, or, more accurately, wave functions collapse when the dice have finished rolling, w0. This can affect the number of players due to character death,X , which also then has an implication on a campaign length L.

So in its first incarnation, let me propose that:

L= 0Rmax (([[Dm*P]/A] * w0)+(A^Imax)) -X*P

Of course I am trailblazing here and I am sure that peer review will hone this formula but in order to reach the stars we have to stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank you.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Happy 3.5e Homebrew Prestige class Day

The creativity of DnD fans has been a draw to the genre for decades of course, long before the Worlds of Warcraft and digital downloads, good art has always been the backdrop for good systems and I am reminded of equivalent examples in Comic lore. To capture the imagination at a glance is worth more than a hundred pages of a players handbook to a novice and there are cultural icons that inevitably find their way into systems.

The most notable one is probably the Vampire which has claimed entire systems such as Masquerade as well as system extensions such as Ravenloff. Werewolves come a close second in my mind and, again, whilst having a formal monster presence in D&D, they are a staple of other horror systems such as Cthulu and Chill; lycanthropy is very often found on disease/curse lists. I do note as an aside that my spell checker wants to change lycanthropy into philanthropy... does that mean if you get bitten by Bill Gates, you become really generous on a full moon ?

Arguably Witches have inspired a lot of content in RPGs tho I am not actually aware of any systems built around them exclusively, which would make for an interesting Kickstarater, although they have inspired a lot of NPC generation and do in fact get very challenging to deal with in certain situations.

But as we are both cutting edge and topical at BRPS, I would like to present you to a 3.5e prestige character class of the Pumpkin King, lovingly created in the home brew section of D&DWiki.

and in fact its been taken on into 5e using artwork by Phil Berry at

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Game of Dinklage

Last week saw the flames of Phoenix Dawn put on a low heat as our GM was away fighting evil which hailed the usual opportunity for us to pull on Jamie's sack to see what came out - in fact he's starting to remind me of a sort of Father Christmas crossed with a snooker referee. As it happens it was also one of those evenings when everyone just popped in to say hi and have a beer and I think I counted 17 role players all shouting over each other by the time the games began. This included a couple of visitors who found us on the internet, Leo and Cameron who wandered in to see what all the fuss was about, so a hearty welcome to the new faces. It was also one of those awkward moments when we sort of had enough players for 3 and a half games so it was a matter of sitting one in the Exalted and another came with us to play test the Game of Thrones board game.

Speaking of which, here is a magnificent picture of us plotting and maneuvering our forces around the world in an attempt to gain resources and undermine our friends. The game itself has a fairly complex sequence of play and its by the 10th round player power is tallied up from conquests and a winner is declared. You start with your house base and a few forces related to your supply, including ships, in the appropriate starting positions, place orders face down to either move, defend or support various other units and then each player then resolves their orders and the board starts to change as an initial land grab and military escalation turns into contention as forces become adjacent. Expanding supply, armies and influence is done by seizing castles, appropriating land and expending our influence. There are event cards during each turn to mix up the action and players also hold items of power and advantage cards related to their faction. A nice touch is the use of boats that are able to ferry armies around coastal boarders to project power.

We only had time for a few rounds of play given that we were also learning but it was surprising that I did manage to get a good feel for the game. It reminds me a great deal of the old '50s game Diplomacy by Allan Calhamer (derived from his study of European history at Harvard) which was a childhood favorite but the Game of Thrones context works well, particularly with forcing players against each other so quickly.

A hurricane was raging outside by the end of the evening so there wasn't the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the club so I will report back next week unless they have all stormed off in Huff.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Cosmetic Brain Surgery

As per usual at our last meet we had solved all the worlds major problems of course and had time spare before the games to have a chat about the role playing market. Whilst I find Roleplayers in general to have both creative as well as problem solving intelligence, the combination can have a slightly mad scientist effect. Whilst we did think about a  Dragons Dens pitch for new cosmetic brain surgery products along the lines of a Lobe Lifts, Cortex Botex and Brainstem Waxing, we did manage to steer the conversation onto the less insane roleplaying market as a whole.

In my mind, the roleplaying market is a very tough arena to survive in. Yes, there are a lot of kickstarters fueling a demand for games and even if one is not a collector, an inevitable pile of tomes do seem to appear over the years, but where the creative arts are concerned it can difficult to sell into someones imagination. For example I have a soft spot for AD&D 2nd ed as it was extremely prevalent back in the day and whilst we created our own adventures it raises the question as to what else is ever needed ? Once you have a manual then what else do you need and it is the case that some GMs stick with a system all their lives. For many there is the natural interest in narrative as realms are re-invented or developed and of course there is a technical interest in systems for those who enjoy the mechanical side of game play but looking back at GM Mike's last adventure all we needed were pencils and a scrap of paper for one of the most enjoyable games.

My point is that if you are thinking about roleplaying then all you need is to bring yourself along and if possible bring a newly polished brain. But for those with a wider interest in roleplaying paraphernalia as we approach Christmas, can I interest you in the indispensible  D20 waffle maker?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Hamming it up

The world is a media meltingpot these days where there is real news about fake news and podcasting is as prevalent as spellcasting in the roleplaying genre (Is a podcaster an actual character class or does every profession get a certain number of recording slots depending on their background options?). As with my usual viewing  habits I have drifted up a few youtube channels and seem to have settled on a couple of subscriptions.

There is the Hollywoodesque Critical Roll which both in production quality as well as Matt Mercer's  background draws a professional style and as glitzy as it is I catch the occasional Satine Phoenix who runs her own media from Maze Arcana. Whilst both are contributors to Critical Roll on Geek and Sundry, there are other shows listed though CR will tend to be my first visit for 5e content. 

CR also do an excellent set of GM Tips content to the point of almost full counselling. It would be nice on occasion to have a psychiatrist that could patiently listen to how you had to kill several people in both a fair and unbiased manner and even though you were being completely neutral about the whole thing no one is speaking to you at the moment for some reason.... a sort of post traumatic party disorder. I suspect though that respite may come in the form of ground unicorn horn and a full moon so I guess you get what you give.

There is DawnForgedCast also for 5e but for those with a passion for the Pathfinder system this is an excellent channel - not something I have played myself but I know there are plenty of people at the club who have and I would definitely sign up for a game.

Also, as its so bad its good, The next series of Harmonquest is now out. If there was a cheap end of  cheap end productions this is it! Sporting the GM mastery of Spencer Crittenden, the wit of Dan Harmon and the same bowl of crisps from last series, the hapless adventures continue of people who have no idea what is going on or why they are there.

On a final footnote, Hem and Andy who used to frequent the club and are often seen on the scene about town have now released their own marvelous 5e podcast - see what great things people go on to after being nurtured, molded and guided by our wise and inebriated council.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Jackson Six

We had a GM on  holiday in Ireland last week hunting leprechauns which always gives us a chance to kick back and fiddle with our bags of holding. We can pretty much always rely on Jamie to conduct such affairs and offered among other weird and wonderful things, the classic Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games. As I am developing an interest in collaborative card based roleplaying games and I am a huge fan of the Steve Jackson genre, I did have a go at this classic which turned out to be enormous fun. 

As it is within the category of Dungeon Bashing, its quite a quick pickup for an evening and you know exactly where you are right  from the start. Basically you draw cards, both from a treasure pile and action pile into your hand and then you have some choices regarding which cards to play, albeit fighting monsters from your own hand to gain levels and treasure or looking for  trouble in the action pile which can give your character extra classes, weapons and armour. Satirical items can be found such as the Boots of Butt kicking and the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment and at the lower levels you can come up against the Potted Plant or alternatively there are higher level monsters such as the Eyefull Tower which can fall on you in an instantly dead sort of way.

Beyond the satire lies the interaction where players can team up to fight against monsters, for a share of the treasures of course, or if you take a disliking to someone you can throw your monsters at them as well as frustrate their combat abilities using other cards. The overall winner is the one to reach a certain level. Funnily enough we didn't have quite the time to finish the game partly because we were mucking around so much but the amusing outcome was that Nick who had built up quite a high powered character with lots of weapons, classes and armour was still  only level 1 by the end as we had picked on him so much; power gaming munchkin style.

By a pure coincidence I had stuffed a couple of random games into my rucksack one of which was also a Steve Jackson game. I had brought along Illumanati - the classic pyramidal paranoid power building game where your faction influences other weird and wonderful society groups to gain traction and wealth enough to crush your opponents..

I also brought along Nuclear War, which as it sounds, tends to end up only going one way - comes with a wonderful spinometer appropriately enough for drunk superpowers.