Tuesday, 30 March 2021


Sometimes the big picture is about the little things. As I am a GM at the moment I am constantly reminded there are those ever present gripes that are still pursuing me for which I have come to develop a thick skin but never really turned and faced. That is not to say that I am exactly the same when I am playing of course but the familiar tweets of "surely we would have known this" or "we would have packed this item" or "we wouldn't have done that" still drift across the table. There are many GMs that take a hard line on this sort of back talk but I think these are fair questions to a degree in general, but when there is a critical event or a plot turning point then it can be an awkward moment for a GM particularly if one has to revise a round or briefly step back in time. For my part I tend to play it by ear which is what most GMs do I think but there is a slippery slope.

Just like spoilt children , if a culture of presumption becomes engrained then you start to get asked questions like "why aren't we doing max damage?",  "how did he know that ?" "that's not possible". This is more of the point of the article as some players who know a system very well will naturally have an instinct to police the GM but if you add this to a personality that has tended to whine until they get what they want then things can get out of hand pretty quickly although I have only really encountered this with teenagers. It can help to respond as neutrally as possible I think such as "I cannot answer that question" or "who are you directing you question to ?" which is a very gentle reminder that players have crossed a line from in game to out of game questions.

Broadly speaking there is the unwritten contract of social norms and I certainly don't mind perspectives from a characters point of view but the first signs of nit picking must be clamped down on but equally it will be useful for the GM to throw out the odd bone in an even handed context such as the discovery that the party is being spied on, or the party's weapons have been interfered with etc etc. To be fair to the players if they have been used to hack and slay adventures for too long then the intrigue of a city environment may be lost on them. Its also worth noting that players can put both of their feet in their mouths on occasion as if they are not consistent with NPC interaction and they quickly forget what they may have said then there can be consequences- basically if you are going to arrest your players in the game the read them their rights first.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021



Its always an anniversary which means there is always time for a party depending on any given pandemic. This year marks the tipping of the scales for WIzards of the Coast who have now owned D&D for longer than TSR being in its 24th year as an acquisition. TSR was created in 1974 and purchased in 1997 and as legend would have it Gary Gygax gave his two year old a list of names to brand the game and she chose Dungeons and Dragons. We could have ended up with Castles and Crusades or The Fantasy Game but thankfully her marketing instincts were way ahead of the time.

Whilst the game had early controversy from Bible Belt evangelists concerned with spreading occult rituals it was the suicide of Lee Pulling back in 1982 which cast a shadow over the genre with his mother convinced that D&D was to blame. It was the same year that the Tom Hanks film Mazes and Monsters portrayed a vulnerable college student struggling with his mental health and retreating into a fantasy world inspired by his RPG participation. What is less well known is that the D&D continues to be debated, in the US at least. In 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a ban on D&D by the Waupun Correctional Institution. Captain Muraski, the institution's gang specialist, testified that D&D can "foster an inmate's obsession with escaping from the real life, correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behavior"

But the battle has been won now by sheer force of numbers, corporate sponsorship and popular culture. Zeitgeist has changed and we have drifted a long way down the mainstream but its fascinating to see how attitudes have changed over alifetime although it should come as no surprise really. Somewhat like Modiphius characters we have encountered events that have changed our values and we are, of course, better people.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021



Its well known in quality narratives that the darkest and most reflective moments can be found in the best comedy. There is something about the juxtaposition of hilarity and pain that offers a stark contrast that captures attention and which drives home the poignancy of a situation. There are classics such as Blackadder Goes Fourth that retain all the dark humour and absurdity needed to convey the horror of trench warfare without actually showing you a single dead body. I am strangely reminded of the first Alien movie where the presence of the creature was enhanced by its scarcity; in the same way humour distracts from the true reality of a situation by veiling the inevitable death and destruction. Whilst we are all familiar with using humour to cope in difficult times its more that the mind is opened up to a wide emotional range between laughter and horror that gives us the experience of having been on a journey. This is a challenge to bring to the table top as its more interactive so humour can tend to flow down slapstick veins.

Irony and sarcasm  however are somewhat different beasts and as high forms of wit are more naturally at play in our games. There are systems specifically cut out for it such as Space 1889 and not forgetting the increasingly relevant Paranoia. In recent media there was the somewhat light hearted Knights of Basassdom as a nod the genre and the upcoming D&D Movie has confirmed the casting of the evil villain as non other than Hugh Grant. This is not someone who instills fear not exudes malevolence in my opinion so I have to presume that this will be another tongue in cheek adventure, which could work I guess but difficult to see how they will make a series out of it.

More interestingly I note that there is a Terminator RPG in development and whilst the the film was a classic by the time we got onto the Sarah Connor Chronicles it was becoming farcical and once you realize its not taking itself seriously then you can just follow along. From a GMs perspective I think its likely better to let a group express themselves comically speaking as everyone is different and dead jokes are as popular as dead characters in RPGs.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021



There are specific approaches to game design that are not so much a narrative as pretty much scripted. I am thinking of such classics as It came from the Late Late Show (Stellar Games 1989) where you play actors playing roles in a budget pulp horror/sci fi production. Its deliciously satirical and can boarder on the farcical as each player can call a timeout when their actor can throw a tantrum and walk off set in order to get a one off change to sway the outcome of a scene - basically you can successfully argue with the writers in order to change the outcome. In the case of the Late Late Show this is the very reason to play the game but when it comes to more serious games based on a TV series there has to be a tacit agreement between the players and the GM that there is a format and scene progression. Whilst this applies to scenarios in general as opposed to a sandbox approach, specific shows will have a much more formulaic and episodic basis for the context.

The current Star Trek run by GM Jon is a case in point. Whilst it is accepted that the show has fixed scenes, the joy, like the Late Late Show is in the actors interaction and development and the game is constructed in this regard from the bottom up as character experience is expressed more through a change in values not an increase in capability although the prior will influence the latter - a lazy lieutenant may let himself or his crewmates down but encounters and challenges may well shock him into a more sobering personality without particularly adding to his skill set.

Like most things in life one has to approach any given situation with the right frame of mind and as a more seasoned role-player I have no idea whether TV based games are the right systems to recommend to a beginner - expert game designers may well end up making games for other connoisseurs but if a brand is strong enough then of course people are invested before a game is even invented.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Brute Force


What do you do when a character starts to brute force a game ? This is often not deliberate but in the case of something like a half Giant or Orc or indeed our resident Warforged in the D&D it is very much in vein of character to approach the opening of a fine wine by smashing it over its own head; if its in a casket well then so much the better. Notably Warforged do not consume food or drink but to be honest I dont think this would make any difference to its approach to any form of consumables but neither at the moment is it differentiating its approach to anything.

What is advantageous for impetuous characters is that they tend to keep a game moving forward at pace which is often appreciated. I have lost count of the amount of time players waste discussing plans at great length only to realise that one of their presumptions was wrong and begin the exhausting spiral once again. However, expedience that is not tempered by a player or by other members of the party will eventually have consequences. I dont like to consider that players should have unwritten rules or an implicit contract with a GM, indeed I much more enjoy free form and open world games but there is a contradiction between a violent character and the fact that it has survived.

At the end of the day if a player enjoys the physicality of a game then they will have to make peace with their inner orc when they surfer or die as a result and if other npcs refuse to moderate then reputational damage will follow and plot objectives will start failing. There is a natural order to things in my view and the weight of fate can be used very effectively but a GM to balance the scales.