Wednesday, 26 August 2020

OS Essentials

Simplicity is beauty they say although I have met some fairly simple people in my time so I would't say that this applies across the board but with all the games I have tinkered with over the years I am definitely leaning towards the more streamlined rule set as my preferred experience. What's nice is that the role playing market has definitely come full circle not just with the many re-releases of old classics, Cthulhu being in its seventh incarnation now for example but we are starting to see 'Retro' compilations come to the market.

One that will not to be everyone's taste is Old School Essentials by Necrotic Games but I quite like the look of this one. Touted as a recompiled and faithful reworking of the original 1981 Basic and Deluxe sets the Necrotic release is in modular form with regard to the supplements but for me the no brainier is the black box set with all the releases. Slightly more than slay and hack the approach returns control and much of the interpretation of the rules to the GM. Now the first rule of 5e is that the GM always has the last word under all circumstances but to be honest more that few players end up in some sort of friction with the GM over actions in a game and I find this both jarring and frustrating. I get that a meticulous rule set is supposed to alleviate this but I think it has an opposing gait in that it creates a somewhat meticulous mindset and it can cause bitty exchanges that are not conducive to a healthy game. With a more laid back atmosphere and a more forgiving player base a looser rules based game is much richer in that a GM can focus on narrative despite cutting a few corners with the round to round minutiae. 

Although this is all about reinventing the wheel to a degree it is an opportunity to rethink some of the more neglected dungeon crawling rules such as traps, encumbrance, hunger, rations and the like. There is an excellent set of videos by Questing Beast revisiting some of these mechanics and how to make them fun and exciting - throwing your food to monsters being one way of passifying them or indeed not making them hostile by default but balancing the outcome on the first contact. To be honest I do quite like the presentation of the whole package anyway which is enough of an excuse for me so Amazon will be coming early for Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Will you parry me ?


Stuff is happening. Over the last week or two we have been transitioning to the new games on line and with the call to arms I enrolled to GM Jack's  Warhammer Fantasy with my rogue which saw our first combat. Now it tends to be the case, at least for my part, that the first session or two is more of a calibration experience for new characters as skills are mechanically tested and initial development points and stats are perhaps adjusted in the light of either a character that is too feeble to survive as well as turning down the volume on any superheroes that are accidentally born of a freak statistical accident.

Returning to a somewhat aged RPG serves to remind me how much things have changed and indeed how streamlined more modern systems are. Evolution by player selection seems to have rooted out a lot of the fluff that was of course trailblazing in the early days as the first initiative and combat systems arose. I would say in hindsight that the first systems naturally tried to audit and itemise people's attributes as mechanically accurately as possible as this would be the natural thing to do. It is only in hindsight that actually what you want is a brief and if necessary abstract mechanics system that allows people access to narrative as quickly and easily as possible as at the end of the day mechanics just get in the way and we don't naturally audit what we do for the most part - we just do it.

One of the many evolutionary dead ends that came back to haunt us last week was the parry mechanic. I remember a lot of painful Rolemaster sessions particularly when parry and stun would serve to either prolong or frustrate combat respectively and in due fashion at the time the solution was to add more skills to counter other skills that were a lag on the game such as '"stunned maneuver" to oppose stun and multiple attacks to oppose too many parrys. Stacking skill counters like this is akin to a tug of war each round which seemed normal then as we had all the time in the world as young gamers but with six players on line the parry mechanic in the WHF only served to drag out the session.

To be fair it's a real tricky situation for a GM as there are a lot of classes and combat styles for which parrying is very relevant but at the end of the day, what do you do ? Tweak a game for more realism or remove the realism for expedience ? Its a classic design issue I think and depends on ones sensitivities to the experience. One thing is sure - evolution does not stop.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Diversity and Dragons


Like minded misfits would be a somewhat cliche way of describing us as a club but these days of course the geeky arts have risen to a new vogue and once niche brands have been bought out by progressively bigger fish to become international juggernauts. Warhammer now touts the development of a televised series based on the Eiaenhorn narrative and Dungeons and Dragons films and series have bubbled up more than once and I sense that it won't be long before we will be talking Dungeons and Netflix.

But in the current wave of political correctness diversity has now landed Tienanmen squarely within D&D in an attempt to impose homogeneity within the fantasy environment via the ubiquitous Trust and Safety committees. In the great tradition of all great leap forwards it seems that even mythical narratives will now be rewritten in the professorial light of oppression and grievance studies. With a statement from from D&D ( Orcs and Drow will no longer be regarded as evil to mitigate stereotyping, ability scores will be detached from different backgrounds to avoid racism, and connections between Romanians and vampires will no longer exist. Recently Games Workshop had also been drifting along these policy lines until a missive community backlash stopped them in their tracks via the recent 'Warhammer is for Everyone' initiative (

My point is not that I am worried that RPGs will be patrolled by  the political officers of the social justice regimes- they wont be - imagination will always win in the creative spaces. My concern is that  beloved brands may not survive the backlash from constantly splitting fan bases - the 'get woke go broke mantra' is beginning to claim ever larger organisations with Patreon now on the brink of collapse as the latest example of Trust and Safety overreach. We have never really changed as a bunch of dice rollers at the club as everyone who walks through the door is warmly welcomed whoever they are and those that stay do so as like minded free thinkers. In a strange inversion of the sixties, it could be that we are now the counter culture.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Career Choice

Despite the chaos of several people talking at once we did gain the upper hand in the Warhammer Fantasy character generation last week. I can't say I am warming to the on line world as its a little too much like being possessed but thankfully people are turning on their cameras now so I know that at least some of the voices belong to other people. Whilst I have never rolled a WHF character before it did sort of click when Jon reminded me that many of these mechanics stemmed from the pre spreadsheet mid eighties when imaginations ran just a little to far ahead of the tech and so a number of these systems had a sort of proto Lotus feel.

Nevertheless after the fog of Warhammer cleared I have to say I appreciate the approach to the character narrative. Whilst many  systems include an apprentice or pre career development portion, WHF cleverly links together the professions via entrance and exit options. So for example I rolled an Agitator initially and when all the development options were full I then had to promote the character via one of the exit professions and I chose Rogue which in turn has its own exit options for when the time comes.

This is an implicitly narrative way of creating a character as a career story automatically generates as development points are expended and whilst one can create any desired background in most games the WHF approach is much more gritty and one begins to wonder what a character has been up to as the history is assembled. I don't think I have seen this before and I much prefer it to the usual linear approach. After all our real life stories are often a winding road of dodgy jobs and colourful relationships.