Friday, 25 December 2020

Best present ever..


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Star Dragons


So this is a picture of Captain Kirk. One of many if you include the fan made cardboard and polystyrene Youtube approaches to stylizing the world of Gene Rodenberry. However it also happens to be a picture of Chris Pine no less but in addition even to this it is also a picture of an as yet unreleased character from an upcoming Dungeons and Dragons movie. The RPG scene has been seeing a strong resurgence over recent years both including its establishment in popular culture through shows such as Stranger Days and Community as well as at the cash tills of local gaming establishments. But the financial results from some quarters - Hasbro being the principal one - are really reminiscent of an explosion in the market.

Little wonder that drama follows other drama and with the film studios constantly looking for the next Game of Thrones it is unsurprising that D&D has come back to the fore. It has been long enough now after the flop in 2000 starring Jeremy Irons and the need for a solid narrative base to underpin a successful RPG film should be paramount in the  minds of the script writers - or so one would hope. If done well, it could see ongoing productions across many of the realms in either movie or series formats. The only snag at the back of my mind is that ultimately D&D is really a loose collection of thematic tools and does not have a canon or indeed story as such. Unlike Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones there is no context but there is a lot of anecdotal lore - basically the worlds have been created but the stories are written by the players.

I would not know what the best approach is here - certainly many of the items and spells in D&D have a lineage and narrative attached which could be embellished quite effectively so perhaps that is the handle to the fan base as some of the lore has been consistent across many D&D versions - getting and keeping a fanbase on board where there is in fact no specific story needs thinking about very carefully. Personally I would like to see the film switch between roleplayers at home enjoying a good evening and the world in which their characters strive and survive. This would tie in the game concept, the empathy players have for their characters as well as the dilemma and traumas of the characters themselves given the hand of fate holding over all of us. Well, will Hollywood listen to me ? They should of course but it seems to have been a while since movie houses have really listened to their fans..

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Inhuman conditions


It is said that you never know who you pass in the street. Its one of those sayings that could mean a lot of different things depending on your context but it was rather more impactful for me as it was coming from an ex-policeman I know. I guess he got out before he got jaded but he would have been speaking from considerable experience as well as from a number of second hand stories. Demons walk among us perhaps but if you didn't have innate conviction of a Paladin or the eyes of a Seer how do you single out those who should be brought to justice.

In my media subscriptions I recall a couple of channels that specialise in criminal psychology and the interview techniques that interrogators employ are not just insightful where interaction is concerned. they include a cognitive toolkit that draws on inevitable behaviours and responses - for example flattery, empathy, aggression, mimicry and lets not forget exhaustion to name but a few. Its a fascinating field but it never occurred to me that it could be turned into a game.

More precisely the format has been around for over 30 years already from our future past and is based on the infamous law enforcement Voight-Kampff test or, if you prefer the replicant interview technique  of the Bladerunners. The basic principal of the 5 minute game is that the enforcer interviews the subject based on conversation cards that compel the non-human to respond anomalously in certain conversational situations. It was kickstarted for 300k and I believe is actually free in pdf format so worth a look if indeed you might want to know who you have occasion to pass in the street.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

I sea you


I'm not sure whether its the lockdowns giving me a yearning for open spaces or the fact that a mate of mine is now first on their yacht training but I have a weird hankering for a sea adventure of some kind. I've always turned my nose up at pirates despite the risks involved as I've always considered land based adventures just instinctively better all round in terms of side quests, spontaneous mlarky and dungeon diving; I suppose on a ship that would just be diving.

Having said this a pirate vessel offers up a microcosm of relationship challenges given the confined spaces involved and whilst I understand that the real pirate ships of old were actually run in a very orderly fashion, on the rpg seas tensions would run overboard. To be fair sea transport can be expedited in terms of plot so whilst it may not be easy to escape some situations on a personal level, the entire complement can move location or indeed escape trepidation at the GMs discretion so its swings and roundabouts where the tides rise and fall or perhaps freeze..

Redemption is often a key character point where a criminal mentality is concerned in adventures and although a lot of pirates would have begun their career by being press ganged, a lot would also have been life long cut throats. It was also commonplace for captured crew to be absorbed into the roster so there are are plenty of narrative and character hooks there alongside the occasional mutiny from various flag nations so there are potentially elements of coercion in conflict with someone's self worth. Indeed how far would any of us go to survive ? History would seem to indicate quite far..

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Collective Distress


We advanced our Starfleet mission last Saturday in the continuing voyages of the USS Lyonesse having stopped the previous session in the middle of a two part episode. Last time saw us initially investigate an ancient seed vault on a long dead world initially explored by a Vulcan away team from the missing VES Sunak. On further investigation the seed vault was just a front for what looked like an old military bunker possibly designed as an operational facility after a nuclear attack. However, at it's core we discovered that a technological entity was active in the hibernation level which was storing the personalities of many individuals that had previously ventured into its trap. We were just the latest recruits.

The action picked up straight from our prior ambush by several compromised security robots that were instructed to escort us for absorption into the hive. It was a tense moment as its was one of those situations with all the guns pointing at us when we had to risk spending a round or two trying to reason with the entity or losing the initiative and being shot at point blank range with no cover. In due Starfleet fashion we tried reason first which got our redshirt immediately wounded. Thinking back on it I suppose the entity may well have been aiming to disable us as rather than kill us as we were a resource it needed. Either way we had to grind down the robots one by one which wasn't difficult for the security officer as we were sporting much superior firepower but even old automatic projectile weapons are not to be underestimated. The sight or our poor Vulcan officer being dragged off to be processed next to an eviscerated pile his prior kin was just too ironic as he had just been getting over a similar shock from a previous episode. I think this may be the theme of the series..

I really appreciated the initial ethical dilemma from the doctor's point of view - would you consider the individuals of a hive mind as patients to treat or are you dealing with an overall entity that has to be judged as a separate and morally culpable being? This is the heart of Star Trek for me and as in the case of the Borg, our need for survival resolved the dilemma but we did manage to rescue and ascend a child's mind that was archived by its father against the original design of the architects. Ultimately we left orbit with all hands and set sail on the solar winds towards our next episode.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Heavy duty damage

So it was one of those moments. Typically we were having a bad session of poor dice rolls in our latest Warhammer which is not unusual from time to time but it just coincided with our GM seemingly having lady luck on his side. We were using the Roll20 health bars overlaid onto our characters and it was getting fairly obvious that our opponents health was barely being scratched whilst were were going down quite quickly. The killer event was really an enemy wizard dropping a combat spell that stunned two of our main fighters and all it took was a couple of follow up strikes with the Warhammer critical Ulric's Fury to slay our Kossar instantly with a single blow to the head.

Now I have lost many characters over the years and see it as a healthy sacrifice to the gods of roleplaying but there is always a context and the player concerned has now left the game although the event was perhaps the last straw for him. I think the main issue is that WFR is its actually quite a heavy duty system mechanically which really puts the pressure on the GM and is particularly unsuitable for on line play as its too cumbersome to help less experienced players navigate the labyrinthine system as we are all remote and often talk over each other. Add to that, there are six of us in total so the already naturally slow game really hits bullet time as we sequence through each of our initiatives along with the enemies. Finally there are the parry mechanics that I have seen before in such behemoths as Rolemaster that simply serve to slow the game down horribly if you are caught up in them.

Not sure what the next session will bring and we will have to clear the air and chat about the game going forward but at the end of the day, its only a game.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

A Hollow Gesture

It seems that both Hasbro and its subsidiary Wizards of the Coast are doing quite well in the stay at home era unsurprisingly with revenue up 11% in the Hasbro Interactive games market and a whopping %40 in the Magic the Gathering ecosystem as well as %20 for D&D products. Whilst it may seem they can give stuff away free it will always be part of a wider strategic plan so its always interesting to keep an eye on the crumbs that occasionally fall from the giant's table. Crumbs these days are rapidly digitized, repackaged and pumped though distributors such as DriveThru and notably they have the classic 'Wrath of the Immortals' available for free.

Whilst the disclaimer indicates that this is a discontinued product and not aligned for use with 5e it is logical to presume that it is having a makeover. The sourcebook is not very well known as it is one of the version 1 products introducing the world of Mystara to the basic game edition in the 80s and early 90s. The realm consists of the  'Known World', a continent consisting of a jigsaw of human and non human cultures based on real world histories but unlike 5e introduces ascended immortal beings instead of a pantheon. This gives it some of the flavor of the Greek mythologies where the gods were really just the embodiment of humanities worst traits giving the era a somewhat tragic backdrop. 

More interestingly Mystara is a hollow world (not to be confused with the formal Hollow Wolrd releases) with a red sun at its center and whilst the inner and outer realms are not generally aware of each other, the poles of the planet are giant holes that connect the two. This inner world was discovered by Ka the Preserver who migrated the fantastical beasts that were nearing extinction on the outer world to a realm where they would prosper.

Mystara also describes areas of the Savage Coast and Thunder Rift. The former being a 2000 mile coastal area whos inhabitants live under the Red Curse that slowly mutates them in the absence of a magical metal. The Thunder rift is just a valley intended as an introductory area for a starting party. It all sounds quite interesting to me so I don't know why it wasn't carried forward into AD&D but it looks like it might be rediscovered in the age of brand milking but whilst I would prefer attention to Darksun and Planescape hopefully they will do it justice.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

You idiot


So as the USA election winds down, which of course it wont now due to the gnomelike fraud ridden bureaucratic ballot system in place, it is worth reflecting that some outcomes are anyone's guess. More accurately for those partial to a punt, the betting odds favoring Trump have narrowed to a very uncomfortable level for the accountants working for some of the large betting houses and we will see if they are still in employment over the next few weeks. I suspect the lesson is not to gamble as there are many shades of shady transactions that offer a quick way to part from ones gold - an idiot and his money are soon parted. This includes people who adventure with the aforementioned idiots.

Having said this our recent Warhammer game did give us a thoroughly enjoyable session hanging out in a village near the boarder between two warring factions with an evening spent roleplaying heartily as we took the opportunity to relax and earn a bit of gold. As boredom in small towns seems to be a particular issue imagine our warrior's delight when we happened across fighting pit and an opportunity to bet heavily on our renowned party member.

Very cleverly Andras decided that his character would deliberately take a bit of a beating first for a couple of rounds in order to ratchet up the odds against him so that we could then cash in big when he delivered the rallying set of punches to victory. What he didn't quite plan on was the truly dreadful series dice rolls that were of course waiting for him. Whilst rolling low on a D100 in Warhammer is good I don't think we saw him roll below 90 during the fight whilst on the other side GM Jack's protagonist was having the best fight of his entire life and didn't roll above a 10. Imagine our excitement as our intrepid Yevgheni put on an absolutely amazing show of getting the crap beaten out of him right up to the dramatic moment when he was to counter with a devastating attack, at which point he collapsed with internal bleeding. I think Jon's character saw all this coming and won a side bet against our own party but we were out of pocket as a group and just a bit pissed off with our prize fighter. As second place in a boxing match doesn't really count for much I don't think there will be a rematch soon but perhaps on our way back after the adventure we can pop back into the village when no doubt, exactly the same thing will happen again.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Wizard/Lawyer dual class


Things have changed a lot in the real world where the roleplaying industry is concerned. Things will always change of course which is not a bad thing but the internet has I think been a positive force overall for the hobby despite the primary weapon for a warrior tending to be the keyboard these days. Having said this the global medium has provided a new publishing landscape and with it an ever growing pool of litigation issues out of which crawl the usual suspects.

The big story erupting at the moment is a rift between Wizards of the Coast and the creators of the fabled world of Krynn. Dragonlance is no small brand having begun releasing novels in the early eighties with Dragons of Autumn Twilight it has now spanned over 190 novels that include its content under the umbrella of TSR which was of course absorbed by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 - the brand is considered to be one of the major pillars of the D&D game alongside classics such as Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk and will have accounted for hundreds of thousands of gaming hours over the decades. Tracey Hickman and Margaret Weis who were co creators of the brand still support the fan base today and recently secured a deal through Penguin Random House with WotC to produce a further three novels. 

This is where things unravel however as WotC are accused of  breach of contract following their termination of the agreement. This has not pleased fans as this was supposed to be the capping of  legacy work by the creators and eagerly awaited. The fallout seems to have happened over the summer when WorC was undergoing some public relations issues as well as taking on a senior exec that seems to have taken the company along a politically correct course resulting in the retro editing of many of the Magic the Gathering cards as well as the cultural modification of some of the classic D&D5e  races.

At $10 million dollars the lawsuit is non trivial and this is not good for fans. Whilst I am sure that there is a lot of money pumping though WotC it is not inexhaustive and the more troubling aspect is that the company is viciously  turning on part of its own customer base as well as beloved TSR content which will have ongoing repercussions. I cant see D&D disappearing in any event as it can always be sold on if not re-released but it is indeed ironic that hubris and greed are also the primary characteristics of Dragons.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Technological Traps

Last Saturday saw the continuing voyages of the USS Lyonesse lovingly recreated by GM Jon in the Roll20 environment to at least the production standard of the late 60s, although we are playing in the 80s era of course, our adventures nevertheless continued in the appropriate fashion. And fashion is very appropriate when one considers the correct uniform designations as demonstrated by several new avatars Jon had put together representing our characters - whilst they look fantastic I am slightly concerned as the the space left to add more. I do know that additional crew members are written up into the story as time goes on so the roster will populate, its just that the the supporting cast are also there for promotion should the main characters get 'written out' in an unfortunate circumstance.

We had left the last episode exploring a Vulcan archeological away team that had been compromised when investigating a subterranean seed vault. It had transpired that the vault itself was just a front for a an even more extensive underground military like structure designed both to withstand a nuclear attack as well as keep a small contingent alive with supplies. The installation was however drawing power from the fusion core of the Vulcan exploration habitat so it was a matter of cautiously investigating the long dormant structure until we found a mysteriously sealed level as well as a service robot that was trying to take us to a hidden lift to the same location.

As if following some scripted plot we then merrily wandered into the dilemma, or more accurately, the trap. The unseen level consisted of hundreds of now failed suspended animation capsules, as well as the eviscerated corpses of the missing Vulcans wired up in a failed attempt to connect their brains to a huge central computer system that seems to have been hosting a hive mind that has presumably been ticking over for millennia as some forgotten project of a sinister black operations division. The issue is that the computer now wants to feed on our minds as well as the rest of the crew and in due spirit, it managed to synthesize my voice in order to beam down Lt Valik  which will do nothing to stem his nerves following the trauma of his previous encounters. Not sure how this episode will end but its not looking good as we have several primitive but effective defence robots bearing down on as as well as a partially insane hive mind demanding the rest of the crew join it. I am sensing that the next episode may be more Borg like than Beverley like and we'll find out who does the crushing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Like Rogues


I did manage to reach one of my life goals about five years ago which was to attain the hitherto fabled Amulet of Yendor. This particular quest began back in 1990 when I was twenty one and eventually completed in 2015 at about two o'clock in the morning in the middle of Ashdown forest. Some of you may know of what I speak which is a legend in itself dating back to the early 1980s. It was at this time that Michael Troy and Glenn Wichman created the the game Rogue for UNIX mainframes that began a genre that thrives today in many popular and cutting edge forms.

Inspired by role playing games the visually primitive yet highly complex interactive environment tries to capture the rough end of life at the dungeon face. More specifically the game entails descending through many levels to seek out the amulet and return to the surface with it intact. Its name, Yendor is just Rodney spelt backwards which was supposed to be the default name of the character that you play. The point of Rogue and roguelike games is that they are both extremely difficult to win and result in permadeath whenever the player dies of one of the many unforgiving challenges. It is currently evolving in the form of Nethack which I am about to get into but its complexity has grown such that the random character generator does spit out some wonderful characters if you are looking for inspiration for your scenario.

Despite being inspired by rpgs I am curious if there is some feedback here that might be useful. There is a very special feeling for a player when success is attained against all odds and with the right frame of mind, a truly challenging game is sobering and will get the focus of players. Pain is a part of an authentic roleplaying experience and the death of ones comrades is character building in and of itself both mechanically as well as narratively. I think it comes down to respect as its often the case that you can feel the GM changing down the gears and back peddling when a situation is seriously getting out of hand for players. Whilst the 'not fair' brigade will always roll the eyes of experienced GMs I do like the systems that think ahead of these sort of players - the Star Trek is very noteworthy here as development is predominantly narrative rather than skills based and as the game progresses other crewmembers are brought into being and can, ultimately step up if the primary character suffers one of the many rogue like traps out there in the galaxy. It all adds to the richness of the adventure and GMs should always have a community context for their players as this approach would be useful whether you are based in a village or starship. Life is hard but rewarding, in part, because it is hard.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Coming soon again

Whilst business are crumbling under the weight of the pandemic I have commented on concerns over the viability of our local Dice Saloon gaming store. Fundamentally a business based on social interaction it would seem like a target demographic for the inevitable economic scarring but as it had moving plans at about the same time as lockdown began, it may well have bought a little time and what can be built and lost can if necessary be built again. In their own words

Hello to all our patrons, I hope lock down has been treating you well. As the country comes out of hibernation and stores begin to open people have been asking about Dice Saloon and when we are scheduled to open. 

As many of you know our old home (unit 6, longley) is being demolished and we have been working on 88 London road. We have had a lot of trouble getting plaster and plasterboard and this has given us some serious delays. We are now aiming to open up in august our webshop has been live for  few days and we are working on redesigning the navigation and usability, more products will be added daily and we hope you can use this to get your hobby fix. 

Today we are excited to share some progress pictures, we have attached some from when we took the site on and then some from today. Scaffolding will be out of the main hall in the next week and we will try do a weekly update. 

Thanks for the support!

Dice Saloon Team

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Reverse Psychology


Whilst this weeks article is not a write up of  a particularly cunning Baldrick like plan to outwit a turnip thief. Nor is it a prose regarding the extraction of an infighting party from a particularly sticky situation. I have been wondering recently why Roleplayers are not more aware of psychology. Now there is an underlying irony here as being aware of anything is a function of some psychology or other of course but as most of the club demonstrably functions above plant like awareness of day and night it is always worth wondering why we wonder.

We have a forthcoming career promotion to our Warhammer characters soon as we are cashing in on a growing trail of professionally dispatched corpses as per the Skullbashers Direct customer commitment and I'll be mulling over the classes available to my Rogue. But as in D&Ds most recent incarnation there are archetypes that always present themselves in good narrative order and I think there might me merit in scrutinising where archetypes come from.

In the great tradition of great psychologists it seems that formative work in the field was done by Carl Jung and although masters of the mind exhibit both genius and insanity, the theories that stick will tend to have merit. More so Carl Jung as he founded analytical psychology but his approach to human archetype is rooted in anthropological imagery - cave paintings being the hominid evidence - recurring mental images or themes drawn from our evolutionary heritage - the foundations of mythology and art. The deep roots of archetype cannot be underestimated as the implication is that mental imagery processes came long before our higher functions in our Darwinian path which goes a long way to  understanding the machinery of the unconscious and our shadow characteristics.

Im not going to attempt to digest the entire field in one paragraph but it does explain why roleplaying is so engaging, its not just an artistic side effect of exercising our imaginative muscles, it actually emerges from ancient and powerful mechanisms that idealise ourselves in different ways and generates an ethical scaffold to develop the best, or indeed worst of our characteristics - this imprints us somewhere on the lawful good/evil axes. Basically we are rolled up from the character classes that proceeded us.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020



Our Warhammer games continues in both the warlike and hammerite vein as last week saw us escorting a trade caravan between the two towns of Noose Cross and New Marienburg. To be fair it was just a last minute job just to get some extra crowns as we were going that way anyway but typically we gave ourselves a road to go off and in the usual roleplaying tradition we had an idea.

Now when we were told it was a days travel we neglected to enquire as to whether this meant a working day, daylight or indeed twenty four hours so imagine my eyes rolling when we had to make camp at nightfall. Now whilst my whining days are far behind me now my solicitor always recommends that I get things in writing from my GM so I will take some responsibility for this. Nevertheless when it transpired that there were scouts on the horizon we took the risky decision to play dumb and have a somewhat hobbit  like evening but slept with one eye open in order to counter the inevitable. Fortunately after the skirmish it seemed like the scouts were just scouts and like us just trying to make an opportunistic piece of gold but whilst half the party escorted the caravan into town our more hardy members of the band went off to scout the bandit camp and in true open world style we sold the idea to the Marienburg guards that they should pay us for clearing them out.

Whilst we may have bitten off more than we can chew we will find out but its been a while since I have played in an open world adventure and I like the sense of freedom after so many games of plot. Its pressure for the GM but may suit us well as the games are run to a schedule and without specific milestones we have a chance to get into the roleplaying rather than struggling to squeeze in objectives. Whilst we are suddenly keen to raise our reputation we are now calling ourselves "The Skullbashers" but in keeping with a more modern and corporate feel I have been pushing for "Skullbashers Direct".