Thursday, 30 April 2020


During our time locked away have been adapting well to the on line gaming tools, notably Roll20 among others but the boardgamers are also hosting regular sessions on Tabletop Simulator. GM Dave's tongue in cheek D&D has us hunting for ancient puns whilst fighting Kobolds and GM Kryzs has carried his ongoing campaign straight into the cloud and there is also a Star Trek brewing out in the nebulae. More interestingly I had to inform a virtual passer by that our meetup games are currently suspended but this really deserves much more thought in retrospect.

Whilst we are in a good spot with games and membership at the moment I am always trying to consider where we will be in a thousand years time and in this respect are we at a point where we go global ? By that I mean do we preserve or indeed promote our online play ? It's  a tricky one as it's clear that many of us deeply appreciate the social get together as to be fair, it's been in our DNA for millions of years. Roleplaying has not been in our DNA for that long but is necessarily subject to the forces of evolution so as members rotate out of the club over the years, albeit very slowly, I can't see clearly where and how new members will be joining us. Perhaps the whole process is so glacial that concerns are not really warranted.

However telling someone that our club wasn't running at the moment wasn't quite accurate and it was an opportunity lost to make a new friend; it has left me slightly uneasy. The issue is that there isn't a process yet whereby we can introduce people via on line gaming and I am unsure what to do about this. I think it's one of those moments when I need to climb an ancient mountain and consult the highest level Buddhist I can find.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Turning the Tables

Having fun on line has taken on another dimension this last week. As much as our Roll20 campaign is bedding into the virtual space it is worth a blogging moment to bear in mind that there is now a significant board gaming faction to our club. To be fair to people who turn up early for a drink I wouldn't expect anyone to sit around twiddling their thumbs but the board game faction has landed like a large drunken flying saucer in the middle of what was once a purely sociable meetup. Each to their own I suppose but whilst I do like to chat to people in general the lock down has afforded me the chance to engage with some of the systems that drive these cardboard and plastic fanatics.

And to be honest I have been extremely impressed with Tabletop Simulator available on Steam. Its simplicity is its brilliance which is not to under represent the technology but the provision of basically a simply physics engine on a virtual surface with rendered models suddenly means that any board game or indeed RPG can be visualised from the simplicity of draughts through to the heavy model and positional based games such as Warhammer 40k. This, like a lot of digitisation, divides the community into those who love the touch and feel of owning a real game and those for whom the convenience and perpetual availability of global play makes it the only game in town.

For our part, three of us cracked open a virtual copy of the classic Escape From Colditz. Originally published in the early 1970s the idea is that one player sides with the Germans and tries to prevent the other players, the Allied forces, from escaping. More specifically the game itself, whilst having some questionable game phases, was quite far ahead of its time in terms of a complex environment and uniquely challenging strategic elements. More to the point the board itself is quite sophisticated and there are several card decks, several tokens for prisoners and guards as well as various other markers for items including a virtualised clock for game countdown and rules documentation. All objects were rendered very faithfully within the simulator and once one got the hang of basic manipulation play became very natural and transparent. Of course the session depends on the organiser not getting disconnected but beyond this I feel a very large universe has just opened up. If you have ever wanted to play Russian Roulettte with the actual Russian Mafia from the comfort of your own home, then that time has now come.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Meta Fun

A sense of humour is wonderful thing when wielded appropriately. The issue is that it's actually more like an intelligent magical sword that wields itself according to its own whims. Political correctness has attempted to mandate jokes over recent years but I sense that its finally on the wane now and the fog is slowly clearing on social responsibility and, broadly speaking, someone is always the butt of a particular joke. Truth can be lost in the heat of the moment as extreme humour is often used ironically to make the protagonist the true target of ridicule rather than the content of what is said, Homer Simpson being the iconic example. But what has all this got to do with roleplaying ?

Well, spare a thought for the players of Mark Shelton's eight week campaign based in Seattle. Apparently a wonderfully detailed and engaging Pathfinder scenario that took all his invested players through its maze of challenges to the climatic finale that turned out to be nothing more than a ridiculous pun. Now the extent to which this is funny really depends on whether you were in the game or not - when absolutely everyone around the table is the butt of the joke then you should really be prepared to die by your own sword whether it is intelligent or not but it is a timely reminder that if you are not sensitive to people's passions then you have to respect the true chaotic neutral outcomes of your own sense of humour and be prepared to take the consequences.

There is a natural balance when it comes to social circles, ours included, in that like minded people will tend to stick together so we can muck around within a game to a degree. Indeed this is much of the pleasure as impossible worlds are full of wonderfully slapstick and ironic moments and indeed many games specifically nod to this - the Rolemaster critical strike tables being an endless source of demise- "Foes head is no longer available" etc. Many environments however require a more sombre, serious or sinister ambience such as Twelve Candles, Star Trek or Cthulu respectively but to be honest its all a matter of balance both in game and out. As long as people enjoy themselves then I'm fine with that - just don't be too precious about your precious.

Thursday, 9 April 2020


People will always be people, in the same was I suppose that Dwarves will always be Dwarves. It also transpires that belligerent Dwarves who need to calm down and have a drink are just as belligerent on line as last week I experienced my fist dose of GM Dave's Mystery in Brighthelm.

A marvellously tongue in cheek take on current events the game ironically mirrors real life in a fantasy setting. It seems that our party is on the trail of someone who is stealing 'parchments' in a town in lockdown governed by I presume by now, is a very unwell Mayor Boris. The point of this bloglet is that its the first role playing game I have ever played on line. 

I know that GM Jon is considering the same for his upcoming Star Trek game that was provisionally arranged for the Dice Saloon and we will see if we can go full lcars but whilst we were looking at just the Roll20 system initially we ended up on the DnD Beyond website for party creation. The heavy integration makes character building and management very slick indeed and gives the GM full oversight. For the actual play we used Roll20 which is hugely popular.
Whilst the first session of a new adventure is always a bit wooden, Roll20 seemed to work reasonably well as a substitute for actuality. Inevitably, some players got more mic time than others and some were louder depending on their tech but having said this everyone seemed to get their oar in. GM Dave had a small library of characters at the ready but we didn't really lever the interface bar a single roll from my character - a singular critical fail - a 1 by any other name. I think with a visualiser or otherwise video integration it will really feel like a communal experience but it was an encouraging start.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Roll Online

So war is the mother of invention they say which may well be just as poignant in our current circumstances. We are battling a molecular enemy and are all on the front line - its a bit like some gigantic co operative board game.  Home working has its equivalence in home playing as far as our role playing club is concerned and as much as I drag my feet over technology, GM Dave and trusty sidekick James have digitised me into the seedy world of on line Role playing.

There is definitely a red vs blue sense of a divide in the club between those who find IT systems inconvenient and confrontational and those who find them supportive and communal. In a sense the global social network bubbles seem to replicate themselves in smaller social circles which is a fascinating field for future cyber psychologists but with respect to the technology, our on line GMs are putting their time and effort into supporting us in confinement and staving off madness and we have lawful good duty to support their efforts. Next week I'll report back on our roll20 and DnD Beyond experiences.

Whilst it was interesting and slightly creepy to listen in to the Tabletop Simulator app last week, it did seem to work. It was great fun to listen to a long conversation that made absolutely no sense whatsoever though that would also be a normal evening at the club for me. Nevertheless I am happy to report that the virtualised drinking game Red Dragon Inn seems to simulate most of the nonsense required to capture our atmosphere bar the barkeep. I think for now we will get away with not being real.