Thursday 15 December 2011

RPG isn't working

As unemployment edges toward 3 million and we all face significant cuts in our standard of living over the next few years at least, I thought I’d escape to fantasy. But it is difficult to earn a living there, too. Over the next few posts I’ll consider the ways in which a few RPGs deal with living expenses, and ways of earning a living that aren’t glorified murder and robbery. Some of the economies implied by the equipment and price lists and suggested wages simply do not work.

Of course, unemployment rocketed after the Tories won this election. The Saatchi's should be shot in front of their families (Top Gear defence invoked).

I’ll start with Mongoose’s ‘new’ bargain ruleset, Legend. Legend uses silver and copper pieces as the standard units of currency, with 10cp=1sp.

On page 111 we have a list of food and lodging for those on the road, i.e. short term lodgings, whether a flop house or a private room, and food bought in inns and taverns, or from street vendors. These range from 3cp a day for poor standard, through 1sp 5cp for average, to 7sp a day for superior food and lodging.

According to the table on page 85 of Legend, jobs such as Temple Assistant, Librarian, or working in the Militia, for example, can all be expected to earn you about 2sp a day (some of these come with free food and / or lodging), making it perfectly possible to maintain a decent standard of living even if you rely on more expensive short-term rented lodging and buy food in inns and taverns. It would be impossible to maintain a ‘superior’ standard of living through the kinds of employment listed here (except by being a lucky gambler or a good burglar). Some of the jobs, of course, pay far less – a manual labourer can only expect 3cp per day. Nevertheless, it is possible to see how people maintain some kind of standard of living according to the implied economy.

However, page 85 of Legend also has a table suggesting that PCs should spend a proportion of their ‘personal wealth’ to maintain a certain standard of living, ranging from 10% for ‘subsistence’ to 100% or more for ‘ostentatious’. The preceding page notes that ‘the terms used are relative to the amount of money the Adventurer has available: ‘luxury’ to someone with only a few silvers in their purse might be taking a bath once a week. To someone with several thousand, it might be taking a bath in asses milk every day.’ While I get that wealth is relative, I don’t get how an Adventurer, whose personal wealth will fluctuate much more than a regular person, can maintain what they might call ‘luxury’ simply by spending 80% of their personal wealth. After a successful raid they might have hundreds of silver pieces, AND after a spell of lean pickings, when they are grubbing in their purse to find a handful of copper pieces. Even if it did make sense to say that a person who only knew a nearly empty purse would see their 80% living a luxury, to suggest that an Adventurer would makes little sense.

And that is before we ask whether personal wealth includes loot, or just the income from employment in spells of ‘down time’. Because, if it includes loot, 1000sp stolen from the Sherriff’s strongbox will maintain a ‘luxurious’ standard of living for an indefinite period of downtime for the price of 800sp. This is true whether the downtime is a month of so of carousing between raids, or a year long spell of semi-retirement until the heat has died down.

I expect that some of this will be expanded in the forthcoming equipment guide, Arms of Legend. But until then, Legend has a system that allows PCs to spend months in downtime between perilous adventures, taking part in an abstract, but still sensible economy.

Monday 28 November 2011

Childish Things

You could have bought a discreet paperback, Clive.

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” C.S. Lewis

I am in my mid-thirties, with a family, a doctorate, and a mortgage. People have asked what I want for Christmas. Everything I suggested was, essentially, a toy. Ten years or so ago I might well have been ashamed of this.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Old School Revival

Old news, perhaps, but Mongoose have their very own Old School Revival going on. Their house sci-fi system is Traveller, which apparently looks a lot like Classic Traveller (1977). And they’ve announced that their house fantasy system will be Legend, aka Mongoose Runequest II, which, again apparently, looks a lot like Runequest 2 (1979).

My copy of hardback Traveller arrived this morning, and I have the Legend core rules on order down my FLGS. Both are available in digest sized books (and if I do run Traveller, I will be tempted to buy the digest sized rulebook to be passed around the table), with the Legend core rulebook looking a steal at £9.99. On the basis of the reviews that I’ve read, I’m expecting to like both systems a lot. Deadly combat, characters differentiated by a manageable skill system that places them firmly in the world, and ‘realistic’ advancement systems. Oh, and deadly combat. Did I say that?

Traveller looks a lot less intimidating than I had taken it to be when I read about it in the 1980s. Part of that intimidatory presence was what was written and said of character creation – I was left feeling that it was too complex. And compared to Basic D&D, it is. That is a low bar, though. But a greater part of that intimidation was the result the adventures in White Dwarf and Gamesmaster International. They always seemed so interesting and exciting (and the same goes for my late-1980s exposure to Call of Cthulhu), but as a dungeon-hacking player and DM, I really couldn’t understand how you would run a game that involved anything other than a succession of corridors and rooms, largely populated by monstrous combat opponents and stuffed with randomly rolled treasure. We played D&D, and only D&D. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was our model. We played… poorly.

In fact, (Mongoose) Traveller looks a relatively clean system, built around 2d6 skill checks, while Legend displays its Basic Roleplay descent in its d% skill checks. Both have easy ways to determine levels of success or failure. Both systems look (relatively) easy to GM, and more importantly, easy for players to understand and build consistent decision-making on. Both have character creation systems that aren’t over long, but look like they’ll do a very nice job of connecting characters to the world/universe in which they will adventure.

It seems, whether I like it or not, that I am taken with rules systems that involve character creation that uses careers or the like to tie players to the world and their own history, I like advancement systems that do not produce superheroes, I like skill systems that suggest styles of play other than 'kill everything' (and methods for the mechanical resolution thereof), and I like combat systems that are dangerously deadly, even to experienced PCs. Or, at least, I have come to like systems with these components.

I can see Traveller and Legend becoming become my systems of choice - it'd be nice to support an existing RPG publisher, and FLGS, rather than put most of my disposable income into the hands of eBay traders, and to play a game that is actually in print (with magazine support - see Signs and Portents).

For further 'Old School' goodness, Mongoose also publish Paranoia and the Lone Wolf roleplaying game.

This blogpost has not been brought to you with Mongoose. This is not an advertorial. It has just ended up reading that way.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Your Adventure Ends Here, Now!

Well, I am rubbish at Fighting Fantasy. Reading the line, ‘YOUR adventure ends here’ seems to come ever earlier with each gamebook that I play.

My hero has died in all but the Warlock of Firetop mountain so far (and in that one I did cheat my way through the Maze of Zagor). On my most recent excursion to Fire Island with ill-starred Mungo, my hero died knee deep in mud. So I approached Scorpion Swamp with some trepidation. I like Scorpion Swamp – the book, not the place – I like the choice of quests, the fact that your hero can move back and forth from area to area, and that mapping is important for the story of your hero, not solely for the puzzle that YOU, the reader, are solving standing on the bodies of the countless dead and used adventurers that YOU have thrown into this sandbox meatgrinder.

I thought that I'd need more space...

But, like it or not, I am rubbish. I managed to explore a grand total of four clearings. Including the one in which that your hero starts. I know, my magic ring was warning me of danger, but when faced with the MASTER OF SPIDERS, looming threateningly on his throne, I thought I might talk my way out of trouble. No such luck. Not even a TEST OF LUCK. Next time, when I have a SKILL 10 adventurer, I’m going to just kill sinister guys on sight. Or Snow Witches.

Monday 14 November 2011

Anti-Climactic Critical Hit!

Critical hit systems are a great way to add colour to combat and leave characters with wounds and scars from a source other that the fiat of a cruel GM. They can, though, kill off villains a little too quickly.

A few weeks ago, our WFRP game reached the climax of Shadows Over Bogenhafen. For all the praise that has been heaped on this scenario, it didn’t play out as well as I’d hoped. The players sent their characters round in circles, making little headway in uncovering the diabolic scheme of Johannes Teugen, and seemed to grow more and more frustrated with each session. They wanted adventure, but ‘every time we thought we were rich, it all went wrong’. Perhaps there was a mismatch between the expectations of the players (only one of the four could be described a properly familiar with WFRP, one had played it a couple of times, one had played D&D back in the day, and one had never played an RPG before) and the tone of WFRP 1e. And perhaps I’m just not that good at running an investigative, combat-light game for characters with few resources in world quite so grim.

Nevertheless, the party saved Bogenhafen. Despite everything, but with more than a little help from the ‘let-me-tell-you-what-is-happening-NPC’, they managed to secrete themselves inside the warehouse-cum-temple. With the party split, hiding either side of the room, I prohibited talking between the different groups – someone was going to have to declare an action.

They leapt to the ambush just before the human sacrifice was made. With surprise on his side, Stanley, the Elven Agitator, managed to loose an arrow at Johannes before his mind was wiped by Gideon’s magic. ‘Exploding’ 6s later, and Johannes is bleeding to death, an arrow in the groin. With Johannes down, with filthy brutish armed men and a woman leaping from the darkness, and with Gideon revealing his true, demonic form, the fight was immediately in the party’s favour. The ordinary cultists were screaming in terror, and the hired muscle waiting outside the warehouse were unwilling to assist a demon, even if they could pass their Cool tests, so the fight was 3 on 1. For all Gideon’s powers, the accumulation of attacks will produce enough d6 rolls for damage to take him down. A failed Cool test or two was all that stopped him being hacked to the ground in a single turn.

An anti-climax. But then, it was an anti-climax to me, as GM. None of the players (much less, the characters), had any idea of just what was at stake as they disrupted the ritual. For all they knew, they simply rescued a young woman and smashed a demonic cult.

Funnily enough, our experience appears to be very similar to the ‘playtest’ of this RPGnet review. Except, at the final moment, ALL the dice all fell right for the player-characters. Which suggests to me that, for all Shadows Over Bogenhafen’s undoubted qualities, it is very often played poorly by players and GMs.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Zhu's Oldhammer Contract

Inside: Dwarfs in the Jungle!

In other news, I've being playing too much Blood Bowl lately. FUMBBL, the free online Blood Bowl website, is an excellent way of getting a Blood Bowl fix when the logistics of arranging a tabletop game are eating away the fixture list. Anyone else on FUMBBL?

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Last Argument of Kings

'I've been trying to get through this damn book again.' Ardee slapped at a heavy volume lying open, face down, on a chair.
'The Fall of the Master Maker,' muttered Glotka. 'That rubbish? All magic and valour, no? I couldn't get through the first one.'
'I sympathise. I'm onto the third and it doesn't get any easier. Too many damn wizards. I get them mixed up with one another. It's all battles and endless bloody journeys, here to there and back again. If I so much as glimpse another map I swear I'll kill myself.'

From Last Argument of Kings, Book 3 of The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. 670 pages long, plus two other books of similar length.

Good, nasty, cynical fun. Very 'Warhammery'. Recommended.

Monday 26 September 2011

Rogue Trader Timeslides

For the sake of the universe I couldn’t allow these books to touch. Never cross the streams.

I recently won an Amazon voucher and decided to pick up Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer 40K RPG, Rogue Trader. At a quick read through it looks pretty good. Percentile characteristic tests the standard resolution mechanic, this should be a game that is pretty easy to pick up and play. And to, hopefully, GM without reference to the rulebook more than a few times a session. Or, hoping against the odds, to persuade someone else to GM.

As well as a nifty way of abstractly dealing with the resources that a Rogue Trader can draw on – do keeping track of the exchange rate between Galactic Groats and Plutonian Pesos – FFG’s Rogue Trader also contains a set of simple rules for ship-level space combat. Now, while I am wary of using miniatures too heavily in RPGs – I sympathise with the argument that they break the suspension of disbelief and pull players from their much more vivid imaginations – I also do love miniatures. If we do play Rogue Trader the RPG I have an excuse to buy and paint up some cool sci-fi miniatures, both characters and spaceships.

Just an aside, doing a bit of wishlist browsing I found these guys at Alternative Armies – were these the centrepiece of a regular advert in late 1980s/early 1990s Dragon Magazine or White Dwarf? Or has my memory been operating in non-linear time again.

But what will certainly get some sci-fi miniatures onto the painting table is to schedule a game of Rogue Trader (1987). I’ve always been enamoured with the very book – the one in the photo is an eBay purchase, only Tzeentch knows where my original copy now resides. Before the Warhammer 40K universe became so organised and catalogued it seemed to be a crazy, gonzo but still, grimdark (right from the start the ‘heroes’ are space Nazis who worship a corpse-king sustained by mass human sacrifice) game infused with a 2000AD aesthetic.

Over at Tales From the Maelstrom there is an interview with Rick Priestley, which is well worth a read. Together with Andy’s take on what the Old School Revival in miniature gaming should mean, we have a set of ideas that I would like to put into action, even if, in weakness, I might fall back on ‘1500 points, by the book’ – not for a desire for competitive, tournament-style play, but simply in order to get a game up and running with little fuss. However, if you need an account of this philosophy in action, check out one of their well illustrated battle reports, and envy.

Friday 23 September 2011

…and every time we thought we’d be rich, it all went wrong

Just when Alfred Molina thought he was rich...

I arrange sessions of our ‘The Enemy Within’ campaign by Facebook. After a long gap between sessions, due to holidays and illness, I asked my players to remind themselves what had gone before. S, playing Stanley, the Elven Seer (and now Agitator for Elven-Human understanding), summed up the group’s previous adventures so; “There was some weird shit going down underground...and every time we thought we'd be rich, it all went wrong...”. Which suggests that we are playing WFRP the right way.

...he realised he wouldn't be in the sequels, and would end up in a downbeat 'dramady' with Dawn French

We ended the last session with the party being escorted from the office of Johannes Teugen, after some frankly incoherent ranting about demons, murder and the Ordo Septinarius from Olaf, the Herdsman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead-by-the-roadside-target-of-an-assassin Kastor Lieberung. Quite frankly, I can’t tell whether Olaf’s oddness is the result of good roleplaying by C, or if C is just odd. Whatever, it is certainly entertaining, as is Olaf’s role as a sidekick to Stanley, throwing pamphlets on Elven-Human understanding – which the illiterate Olaf can’t read – in the faces of people who treat the Elf with the culturally appropriate level of suspicion and hostility.

And we’ve also had some PvP violence, at least within the confines of the wrestling ring. After Axel, a Protagonist, fighting under the name ‘Madhead’, defeated Schaffenfest carnival wrestler ‘Crusher’ Braugen two nights running, Olaf volunteered to step into the ring. Adopting the fighting name ‘Meatloaf’ (who am I to veto such silliness – this is a world in which a background NPC is called Von Saponathiem!), and with an unexpectedly good series of rolls, Olaf knocked Axel out, nearly ruining the promoter, who had offered long odds on the farmboy. Unfortunately for them, they’re now relatively famous faces in Bogenhafen (and beyond), which has got them out of a scrape or two, but might well prove a handicap if they need to pass unnoticed anytime soon, anywhere nearby.

A note of playing a game with session-based experience systems: I am a little worried that the characters are gaining experience at too fast a rate. As adults, we don’t play for hours upon end – a typical session being a 3 hour game from 8pm (after baby R is definitely in bed) while 11pm (so we can all shuffle off to bed at a sensible hour) so the per-session suggested EP rewards are probably accumulating at a quicker pace in terms of game time than the designers expected. A long time ago in a far away place (no, really, the 1980s and the Dominican Republic) we would play D&D for twice that length of time (easily) – there was only homework and Nintendo to get in the way. To compound that, as adults, we seem to get through less ‘action’ or ‘plot’ than we did as gung-ho kids – far more time is devoted to fleshing out the little encounters, the incidences of adventuring, than I remember ever doing as a teen (for example, when I ran my mother and A through the Oldenhaller Contract last year they spent a fair portion of the time working as labourers and exploring the city than biting on any adventure leads I presented to them. And they enjoyed doing that). I think that it might be sensible to go for EP rewards at the low end of the recommended scale for future sessions. Gotta keep that grim vibe going.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Sails billow on the horizon

Via Quirkworthy, I see that Games Workshop have an example of a Dreadfleet game turn. It looks pretty fun to me. I'm hoping that it'll be something that I can [paint up to an acceptable standard and] introduce to friends without them realising they are playing a miniature-based wargame.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Ah Ha, Me Hearties!

Knowing me, knowing you, we all have a love-hate (or hate-love) relationship with the evil empire of gaming. We might love what it was, but hate what it is. We might love its settings, even its current games (I enjoy WFB8e myself, even if you do need several hundred miniatures to play it properly), but hate its business model. Or its arrogance. Or its rabid lawyers. Or its attempt to strip its settings of any adult sensibilities, making them child-friendly, but with skullz. And just this weekend, I said that I was thinking of consciously abstaining from Games Workshop and supporting other British games companies that I feel have captured some of the feel of early / earlier Games Workshop. Such as Mantic.

But then, on Monday, on Talk Like Pirate Day, with another mid-thirties birthday looming, I went into my local Games Workshop and pre-ordered (or ordered, as we used to say) their new pirate memory game.

Believe me, this is a lot better than the Games Workshop produced video… look for that on YouTube.

Dreadfleet has managed to summon up a lot of negative reaction. I find some of these reactions baffling.

First, price. Sure, £70 is a lot of money. But, having been into one of my two non-GW FLGS recently – Rules of Play, the other being Firestorm – I know that there are big box boardgames that come in just as expensive. And, as others have pointed out, Games Workshop is in competition with other, non-tabletop gaming forms of entertainment these days. Now, imagine the afternoons’ entertainment you get from taking your kids to a football or rugby game… and the price.

And the components do look good too, with 10 ship models (that are pretty big) and a bunch of scenery, and a good sized playmat. Sure, the sculpts are in the overblown Games Workshop-style – which some have criticised are being ‘cartoony’ – but that is as much the end-point of having John Blanche as your chief visionary for thirty years as it is the kiddification of the gaming worlds. His paintings that were used to illustrate Games Workshop stuff in the 1980s were pretty out there… [on which note, check out gothic punk and fuckyeahbritisholdschoolgaming to get your nostalgia kick in the eyes]

But there are two related negative reactions that are even more baffling. Some are complaining that, as Dreadfleet is a one off, they will not be able to spend hundreds of pounds expanding the game. ‘The game won’t be supported’, they moan. So… we won’t see a never ending stream of new models and rulebooks, that carry with them the implication that if we don’t buy and use these, we’re not playing it right. Well, good! [And I play a whole bunch of games that are not supported anymore, such as WFRP1e, and games that don’t need any support, such as, well, any boardgame in existence.]

Another related set of negative reactions can summarised as, ‘who the hell is this game aimed at? Not me, I’m waiting for the new Blood Angels Codex / Vampire Counts Army Book. Maybe,’ they say, ‘I’d be interested if I could use my existing miniatures in the game, or bring the Dreadfleet miniatures over to my WFB games…’

But that is the very attraction of Dreadfleet. It is a boxed game, complete in itself. Not a crippled version of a tabletop wargame, the way that starter sets for WFB – such as Battle for Skull Pass – have been. A game that involves no commitment to ‘the Hobby’ in order to play in the way that the designers intended. A game that you can play it with anyone who pops over, not only those with whom you share a crippling addiction to plastic crack.

So its not a revamp of Warhammer Quest. Sure, that’s a shame. So its not a new version of Blood Bowl – well, you can still get that for £50 from Games Workshop, so I don’t understand why anyone would want to risk ruining the game with a 're-implementation'. But it is a new game from Games Workshop that does not require the hundreds of pounds and hundreds of hours commitment that assembling and painting two armies (yes, two because that is what you need to play a game) and enough scenery to play a proper game of 40K or WFB.

It is strange to read people criticism Games Workshop because they are NOT maximising the amount of money they can squeeze from gamers. I not sure that it’s a bad business decision, as some seem to think – see Jake Thornton’s blog for an industry insider’s argument on the business case for Dreadfleet. Well, they certainly got £70 out of me. But let us imagine that it is a mistake, that those critics ‘worried’ about Games Workshop’s business plan are right. What conclusion should we come to? That the game designers at Games Workshop have created a cool game (or, at least, a game that they think is cool) and have managed to bring it to market against corporate demands to maximise their hold on the disposable income of British geek-dom. And that, surely, is a good thing.

Caveats – 1) the models could be riddled with miscasts. 2) The ruleset could be terrible. We’ll see in October.

[For an interesting discussion about visiting Games Workshop as an adult with a taste in the kind of games that GW have long abandoned, see Fighting Fantasist.]

Thursday 15 September 2011

We, who are about to grind, salute you!

I have been ill. Unable to sleep, I found myself that the best way of filling the time once the rest of the family was in bed was to play on the Xbox. I downloaded trials of Dragon Age II, Dungeon Siege III, and Castle Crashers. All of these are described as RPGs. Even Castle Crashers, which makes Gauntlet look sophisticated.

I have been travelling. With my netbook, I have been able to play some ‘old-school’ games. Baldur’s Gate, Darklands, and Pools of Radiance. All of these are described as RPGs. Two are AD&D games, the other one could very easily make the claim of being more ‘Warhammer’ than Warhammer.

We, who are about to grind, salute you.

But there is no such thing as a computer role-playing game.

Oh, there are CRPGs, in the same way that there is a genre of music that is called RnB. But just as RnB is not ‘rhythm and blues’, CRPGs are not ‘role playing games’. They might share some mechanics, they might share setting, and atmosphere, with role playing games. But they lack what makes tabletop role playing games such a distinctive experience.

There is no inter-player interaction that makes a role playing game so much fun. The very best party-based CRPGs, in which different party members are more than simple collections of statistics, but have different motivations and personalities, paradoxically reveal the very emptiness of the role-playing aspect. Even in the great CRPGs, from Baldur’s Gate to Dragon Age, the interaction between party members, and even the actions of the primary character, the nominal PC, are scripted. There might be a handful of different options, but there is no freedom. How does the ‘PC’ develop as a character? Entirely along the lines determined by the hand of a ‘dead’ GM.

And the worst? The worst mistake levelling up and getting new gear and ‘feats’ as character development. They mistake the mechanics and terminology of a role-playing game for the thing itself.

A ‘dead’ GM? A human GM responds to the actions of the group and invents the world and the events of the game on the fly. Sure, he may do so by drawing on the crystallised labour of other GMs – from the rules themselves, through encounter tables, to whole adventures. But the golden rule, or rule zero, or whatever a particular game calls it, is that nothing is fixed, everything can be house-ruled, improvised, bent to suit the people playing the game.

But worst of all is a lack of any sense of peril in CRPGs. By way of ‘Save Game’. A GM might fudge a roll, he might power down an encounter. But I have never played with a GM has said, ‘well, that encounter didn’t go as well as it might. Let’s start again from just before you kick the door down.’ Where a GM has said that again, and again, and again, until a satisfactory end to the encounter has been reached. The save and reload isn’t just a way of dealing with TPKs, but also with the death of single characters, with conversations in which the wrong option has been taken, with the failed skill rolls when searching for loot.

Don’t use the save function? Well, what sort of game would Baldur’s Gate be then? Endless replays of the first few maps, most likely. The game, like the vast majority of CRPGs, is designed to be played with constant saving and reloading, not for playing through as one does a role playing game adventure or campaign.

What of MMORPGs? Don’t they have player interaction and even, at a stretch, an active, ‘living’ GM? Potentially, yes, an MMORPG could be a role playing game. But the first M – Massive – renders it highly unlikely that this potential could ever be fulfilled. The ‘Massive’ aspect places the hand of the GM at such a remove the world has to operate mechanically and programmatically, and means that rather than a group of players collectively producing a fantasy world and narrative within the confines of a game system, you have just let a thousand – no hundreds of thousands of loons – into your game. Loons for whom RPG means just what they have been taught by CRPGs – relentless grinding and gold-farming, practiced min-maxing, endless meta-gaming, and worst of all, juvenile ‘pwning’. I was going to say anti-social ‘pwning’, but that is exactly the social convention by which many MMORPGs operate.

If you want to play role-playing games online, try play-by-email, try Skype, try RPOL. Human GMs, small numbers of human players, and interaction, improvisation, and invention.

No, computers can’t do role-playing games. But they can do good ‘adventure games’. Some of these call themselves CRPGs, and some do not. The Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption, even some FPS such as Bioshock, are all ‘adventure games’. That they lack the mechanics and terminology popularised by Dungeons & Dragons is irrelevant, they are no less, and no more, a role-playing game than CRPGs.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

The Fellowship of the Grim

The party assembles.

Well, we've played two sessions of The Enemy Within, with another lined up for tonight. The party are just about to enter the tunnels of Bogenhafen. Don't worry too much about spoilers, none of my players read my blog. If any of you do, exercise care. That, or understand the difference between player knowledge and character knowledge.

From left to right we have: Stanley (an adopted human name) (played by S), a flamboyant, camp Elf, who makes his living reading fortunes in leaves but has a sneeringly patronising attitude to the uncultured Humans, Olaf the Herdsman (played by C), a strapping 20 year old looking for adventure; Susi Narbe (played by D), a small (5'1"), hard woman in her late twenties with a scar on her face; , and Axel (played by A), a big brute of a young man with a serious taste for violence.

Only Stanley is literate (I don't think my players realised how important skills such as that are in WFRP), and Axel is, by some margin, the most competent in combat. Axel has already killed two men in unarmed combat - including Adolfus the bounty hunter, who was punched to stun, but a succession of exploding 6s left him facing a massive critical. Which was lucky for me, as the party were determined to take Adolfus alive. Quite what they would have done with a tight-lipped bounty hunter I'm not so sure. Their NPC friend Josef wouldn't be keen on having a prisoner on his boat, much less for him to be tortured there, and the party needed to get out of Weissbruck after a dramatic fight involving much fumbling of burning oil.

Once upon a time... I'd have been bothered about the difference in scale, with most of that group Ral Partha / early Citadel 25mm scale, with Axel represented by a heroic-scale 28mm Mordheim figure. And I messed up painting his eyes. Now, well, I think I have a much healthier attitude. Again, if anyone can put catalogue / manufacturer / year to these figures, I'd be grateful. I'll be exploring Site of Legends myself - I'm not asking anyone to do my research, just to let me know if they recognise these figures at a glance.

Friday 8 July 2011

Against the Ogre Horde

D brought his ‘Imperial Ogre’ army over for a battle recently. And very fine does it look. Several gangs of Golfag’s Ogres, bulked out with a diverse range of Citadel Ogres from before they adopted Central Asian fashions, with support from some wonderfully converted Ogryns serving as Leadbelchers and Halflings taking the place of Gnoblars, this really was a Warhammer Army with a ‘classic’ look. I’m looking forward to seeing them fully painted.

With the game set at 1500 points, we rolled up the ‘Battle for the Pass’ scenario. And the game was more or less won on turn one, as D’s elite unit decided, unwisely, to turn and face the 30 Longbeard Rangers, led by a Thane bearing the Battle Standard, and with a Rune of Battle on the unit Standard, deployed in ‘horde’ formation. I rarely use Rangers, being a very conservative player – hence, Dwarfs, but after seeing the havoc they cause when they scout in amongst an enemy’s battle line, I think I might play against type. Gyrocopter, Miners and Rangers next time?

Perhaps I'm not that reckless. After smashing through his elite unit and General, which caused the Halflings to flee in panic (they had stopped for 'second breakfast' in the first round) the Rangers wheeled around, drawing fire from his Leadbelchers but unable to catch them, no matter how fast they pumped their short Dwarven legs. The rest of his army was determined to stay out of the way of the Rangers, who were supported by an advancing block of Slayers. Advancing, his remaining Ogres were whittled down by the Organ Gun and a unit of Thunderers garrisoning a building. My unit of Dwarf Warriors, with hand weapon and shield, that contained my General, sat and waited.

I knew that they couldn’t win a fight against Ogres. They knew they couldn’t win a fight against Ogres. We all knew that they were only in the army because they were all painted up and based and contained some lovely vintage metal. And, even supported by the Organ Gun and the Thunderers, they couldn’t win a fight against Ogres. But they could hold them just long enough for the Slayers to get within charge range…

As you can see from the pictures, more painting, more painting, LOTS more painting, is needed.

Thursday 30 June 2011

Duck, You Sucker!

So, I finally get around to Island of the Lizard King.

All I wanted was a little holiday, a little sunshine down by the seaside. I was going to drop in on my old mate Mungo, do a little fishing, drink the local booze, and maybe chase some girls.

Instead, I died, knee-deep in slime as I fought a hopeless battle against the SLIME SUCKER. Skill 10? Yeah, but deduct 2 from your own Attack Strength, so if we weren't interested in mechanically representing the combined effects of fatigue and fighting in a bog, it really is Skill 12. Maybe if I had drunk my Potion of Luck (my potion of choice in FF character creation) a section or two back I might have been able to Test my Luck through the battle. But having given a bunch of my Provisions to some old crazy up in a tree, and eaten another hearty meal after fighting the GIANT CRAB, I was only going to stumble, low on Stamina, through the jungle of Fire Island, until something whittled away the last few points.

I had very fond memories of Island of the Lizard King. It was one of the few FF gamebooks that I had completed as a boy. But now I found it all a little flavourless. The encounters had no zip, no zest. There was nothing odd, weird, interesting - and I guess that is the lesson; when designing wilderness adventures, an array of 'GIANT' versions of ordinary creatures are, by themselves no substitute for the range of encounters that might populate a dungeon, or Port Blacksand, say. Encounter-wise, the jungle of Fire Island has nothing on the Forest of Doom, let me tell you.

Or maybe my adventurer died too early in his adventure.

The poster, by the way, is for a fun, often missed Sergio Leone Western, in which James Coburn plays an Irish revolutionary with an unhealthy obsession with dynamite.

Monday 20 June 2011

Miniature Throng

Here's some old metal Dwarfs - most of them pre-slotta. If anyone can put years / catalogues to these figures, I'd be very grateful. I know the one on the left at the back is the Magnificent Sven, but the others...?

I'm not the best miniature photographer, nor am I the best painter. And my choice of dark reds, brass, and browns really isn't the most striking.

And why am I such a fan of these old metals? No, that's a real question. I can't answer it. They are fiddly to paint, and they are never in the best condition after sitting in someone else's cupboard for over 20 years. But there is just something that gets me going. Perhaps it is because miniatures of this vintage aren't the overblown superheroes that contemporary miniatures so often are. When I painted the eyes on these guys, it turned out that half of them look terrified. And so they should be - what might be charging at them? Giants? Wyverns? Chariots full of skeletons? Whatever it is, chances are that it is taller!

Monday 13 June 2011


I'm not the first. I won't be the last. My retro-gaming has reached another obvious waypoint. Bringing back Heroquest.

Hippy wigs in Woolworths? In 1989 you could by fantasy adventure games, set in the Warhammer universes - Heroquest is explicitly set in the Old World - and stuffed with Citadel Miniatures, in WH Smiths! A high watermark of fantasy gaming's penetration of popular culture?

And what a bargain the game looks now - 35 plastic Citadel Miniatures and a set of tough cardboard and plastic dungeon furniture would set you back a good wodge these days. Even given the fact that the game is long out of production, given that a good quality new boardgame can easily set you back £50 (and one with this many plastic components certainly would), the prices that are being asked on eBay for complete sets in good condition don't look too bad at all.

If you believe the pictures on the box, there's enough detail on miniatures to paint them up to a perfectly decent standard. That hasn't stopped me deciding that my next project (to join my Dwarf WFB army, by Beastmen WFB army, and my Ork 40K (Rogue Trader) platoon - just three reasons why this blog has been 'on holiday') is to 'metal up' Heroquest. That doesn't mean playing late-1980s Iron Maiden to really get the period feel - although that is also the plan - it means slowly acquiring and painting metal alternatives to the plastic miniatures in the box. I picked up a few 1985 and 1987 Citadel Goblins, and later in the week Jes Goodwin's classic Chaos Warriors should be arriving. Now I just need to get painting, and posting up the results.

Some Dwarfs. The red one stayed in the box. I've improved a lot as a painter since the early 1990s - click and zoom for a better look.

Of course, there is another side the Heroquest project, and that is to slowly ensnare people in the hobby of fantasy gaming. From Heroquest there is Advanced Heroquest. From Advanced Heroquest there is Warhammer Quest. And probably long before we get to that stage there is (A)D&D or WFRP (though weaning them off 'high adventure in a world of magic' and into 'a grim world of perilous adventure' might be difficult), miniature-aided or not.

So, to the gaming side to 'Project HQ'. Last night S popped over. S has come round for an evening of boardgames - Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and the like, though we did get in a game of Chaos Marauders (full of Blanche-y goodness) a few weeks ago. But last night I suggested that we play Heroquest, which prompted in S a burst of nostalgia, and he immediately volunteered to play the Evil Wizard. He never had the chance as a child - his older brother, naturally, always filled that role. So the wife and I took two heroes each, and we successfully negotiated the first two quests, finding the tomb of Fellmarg and rescuing Sir Ragnar, with a break for a Chinese takeaway as our heroes healed and memorized their spells. Everyone had a lot of fun, and the game will be played again. Step one of Project HQ is underway.

Indeed, step one, part one was so successful, aided by the presence of a few painted miniatures on the board, that tomorrow night S will be visiting to play a 3-way warband-level (<500 points) [.pdf 7e rules] WFB game, with D proving the Orcs and the Ogres to take on my stout Dwarfs.

And when I find the time, I am due a visit to the Island of the Lizard King.

In the meantime, any of you with a Heroquest fetish but haven't spent more than a moment browsing the web, check out Ye Olde Inn for rulebooks, tiles, and fan-made rules and adventures.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Perfect 10

My adventurer's foray into Deathtrap Dungeon ended in the shortest number of sections that I can remember reading, at least when not taking the certain death option for a laugh. Ten. 10. Including section 1.

My adventurer was baked to death in the tunnels of Deathtrap Dungeon. It is difficult to remember whether the liquid in the bamboo container is a trap or not 20-odd years on.

This tunnel is getting a little hot. I'll press on - I've got a LUCK of 11. Oh, what, surviving a hot tunnel is a test of SKILL? But I rolled a 1 at CharGen!

I didn't learn very much from this read of Deathtrap Dungeon, but every time I think about Fang and the Trial of the Champions I am reminded of the way in which I can solve the 'Ierendi problem'. You can keep much of that Gazeteer's zaniness - a key part of Classic D&D - if you add a dash of the Deathtrap Dungeon/Port Blacksand flavour to spice it up a little.

Monday 28 March 2011

This Is Not A Place Of Honour

Most fantasy worlds are post-apocalyptic, at least distantly so. How else would there be lost civilizations and powerful, world shaking artifacts? The D&D Known World/Mystara is the product of the destruction of Blackmoor, and suffers a second apocalyptic event if you play the world canon and subject it to the Wrath of the Immortals (I wouldn't - I have all these lovely Gazetteers to explore). The Warhammer World is also the product of a world changing accident stemming from technological hubris. In that case the Old Ones and the Slaan managed to tear a hole in fabric of reality and spill Chaos into the world.

But have a look at this - a warning to be left at sites of nuclear waste storage - and tell me this isn't the entrance to a super-dungeon:

p.s. I probably owe a hat tip to someone for pointing me to this ages ago.

Friday 25 March 2011

Death By One Hundred Foots

I lived abroad, in the Tropics, during my youth. I remember being told that we shouldn't really worry about the tarantulas, and that the scorpions looked far more frightening than they were. What were really nasty, we were told, were the big, fat, orange centipedes.

From Malaysia, not Allansia, but nasty all the same.

So was it that surprising that my latest Fighting Fantasy adventurer met his doom at the multitudinous feet of a GIANT CENTIPEDE in the sewers of Port Blacksand? And SKILL 10?! My adventurer would almost certainly have been able to whittle off the beast's 5 STAMINA points, had he not, trying out every strange object he could get his hands on, suffered a -2 SKILL curse.

City of Thieves is a great collection of random encounters, with the emphasis on random. Not just in the contemporary sense - each one being just the kind of oddness that characterises Titan - but in the Gygaxian sense - there is no way of planning a path through Port Blacksand; the adventurer is limited to taking the opportunity to experience the encounters that Ian Livingstone has rolled up on his Urban Encounters - Evil City d20 table. Great fun, all flaws considered, and my adventurer even had a couple of the special McGuffins that I would need to kill Zanbar Bone.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Saturday 19 March 2011

I Got 76 Patrons, But Elminster Ain't One (#1)

You meet a strange man in a bar and he gives you a job.

I spend a lot of time in bars and I've never once been propositioned in this way.

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Having never been a Traveller player, I hadn't seen 76 Patrons until it was the subject of a Grognardia retrospective. That post and discussion prompted me to share some of the patrons built into my version of the D&D Known World.

In D&D, patrons are especially important at low levels, as the early actions of the party/character shape their place in the world. And, sure enough, plenty of these patrons do hang about in bars. But the D&D Known World is a world where 'Adventurer' is an occupation, if not necessarily a respectable one. You don't find a patron in the local Weatherspoons', but you might at the Threshold version of the Mos Eisley Cantina.

The Giant’s Head

The Giant’s Head is the foremost adventurers’ tavern in Threshold. Not popular with the locals – nor the town guard – the Giant’s Head is the temporary home to a range of human, demi-human, and in very rare cases humanoid and monster ‘fortune seekers’. Members of the Iron Ring (their affiliation secret even through their disreputable character is not), wide-eyed farm boys run-away with the family sword, Halflings on yallara, and bands of monster hunters eat, drink and sleep under the same roof. Not surprisingly, arguments and fights are common, but it also the place to come for the best stories, rumours and, thanks to the easy gold of adventurers, high-quality, if expensive food and drink from across the Known World. The Giant’s Head is run by Harold Bigtoes, a renowned (and mostly retired) Halfling explorer, and Bailey, a Clurachaun who looks after the well-stocked wine and beer cellar and the vast collection of whiskies.

Harold ‘Giant-Killer’ Bigtoes

(H 8 Str 12 Int 14 Wis 16 Dex 16 Con 10 Chr 15 Al N AC XZ HP 34, Attack Rank D)

Magic Items: Leather Armour +2 (not usually worn), Short Sword (‘Quick Jack’) +2 (+4 vs. Giants), Ring of Cold Resistance, Ring of Survival (20 charges remaining),

Special Abilities: Half-damage from spell or spell-like effects. Fighter combat options. Two attacks per round. Denial (see GAZ8: 3): deny a single spell or magical item effect each day. Hide in woodlands (90%), in shadows or in cover (33%).

Harold is a retired adventurer, a renowned giant-killer in his day (his sword Quick Jack and his Halfling AC bonus when fighting large creatures helped save his life in several battles against the creatures of the Black Peak Mountains). Originally from the Five Shires, he spent most of the past fifty years – he is in his seventies now – exploring the northern and eastern parts of Karameikos. Of course, when he began adventuring there was no such place; the land was a Thyatan-occupied Traladara. He benefitted greatly from the arrival of Duke Stefan, first making a small fortune mapping the wilderness in the service of the new state – and finding a fair few treasure hauls along the way – and more recently profiting from the increased business that the opening up of the northern frontier has brought through the Giant’s Head (est. 989). He knows most of the adventurers that pass through Threshold, even the most notorious, by name. This includes the agents of Baron von Hendriks, such as Pharrus, a secret member of the Iron Ring. With no taste for their business, and aware of the threat the Black Eagle Barony poses to the Shires, Harold keeps men like Pharrus drinking in his inn so as to better keep an eye on them. Plus, they have to spend their ill-gotten gold somewhere.

Harold looks older than the average seventy year old Halfling. With curly grey hair, a black mustache, and a browned, lined and weather-worn face, he looks like a grizzled mountain man. And, indeed, that is what he is, having spent years, including several perilously difficult winters, high in the Black Peak Mountains, mapping and exploring Duke Stefan’s new country. However, as different as he is from the stereotypical Halfling in appearance, the environment has not worn away his good humour and hospitality. Despite maintaining the affectations of the explorer – he is often seen in the leathers and hides, the same that he would have worn in the wilderness except that these are new and unsoiled – the past fifty years were just an exceptionally long period of yallara (see GAZ 8). He toys with the idea of returning to the Shires and learning the ways of the Masters, but until now has not been able to quit frontier life.

Harold is often in a position to give PCs mapping missions, which might necessitate entering sinister woodlands, delving into un-charted cave systems, or accurately recording the locations of ancient barrows.


(LP 1 Str 7 Int 12 Wis 10 Dex 15 Con 12 Chr 14 Al L Save E1 AC 5 HP 4)

Spell(s) usually carried: Sleep or Charm Person.

Special Abilities: Invisible to Mortals – can turn invisible if a person turns away, even for a moment.

Bailey is a Clurachaun, a sub-race of Leprechaun that has turned their affinity for craft skills away from shoes and towards alcohol. He is the cellar-master of the Giant’s Head. He takes care to maintain the stocks of beers, wines and spirits – drawn from across the Known World, and beyond – that fill the cellars of the inn. This involves much tasting, and while Bailey is often drunk – he is just under a foot tall, after all – he also has an exceptionally cultured palate.

He usually dresses in exceptionally vulgar and garish version of the outfit of a gentleman of Darokin; pantaloons, short jacket and ruffed shirt. His dark hair is rarely combed or untangled, though when it is it appears so ill-suited that he looks less presentable for the effort. While of Fair Folk stock, like many Leprechauns, and most Clurachauns, his features and physique are far less fine, being of stocky, pot-belled build, with facial features just that little bit too large for his face.

His tasting skills, and hardened stomach – he is never incapacitated or left with a hangover – have left him with the ability to usually (80% of the time) identify potions and poisons from a single sip, with no ill effect. On rare occasions (on a roll of 95% or over), he has been known to misidentify potions and poisons (roll on the table on page 229 of the RC). He does not identify potions for free – a Leprechaun, Bailey loves gold, and anyway potions and poisons, not brewed for their taste, offend his tongue – charging 25gp per potion. He will tell the PCs amusing stories of past mistakes as he identifies their latest haul of bottles and flasks.

As a 1st level Leprechaun NPC, Bailey can memorize one spell per day. Choosing Sleep or Charm Person makes Bailey quite an effective bouncer. On the rare occasions that he finds himself using his spell, the Guard turn a blind eye. They figure that disorder contained within the Giant’s Head at the cost of a broken law is better than having to break up brawling adventurers themselves.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Munch Bunch

So, Starship Traveller. The least satisfying book so far, largely because the illusion of control is absolutely stripped away with so many decisions the sci-fi equivalent of the bare left or right found in some of the fantasy books. Funny, I remember really liking this book 20-odd years ago. It did get me thinking about tabletop roleplaying; Star Trek (and Firefly, which I'm halfway through watching at the moment) would make a very good model for episodic, fantasy set, sandbox play. More on that idea in a later post.

Anyway, after rolling up my crew, and plunging through the Seltsian Void, we aimlessly explored new space. Landing an a planet notable for its anarchy, we ran into a bunch of GUARDS. Their description was the highlight of this read-through. I asked 'why, if there are no laws, they have the need for guards'? Our host explains, 'Guards do not guard things, we do not need to protect things. It's just that some members of our community get pleasure out of attacking others and, of course, they are free to do as they wish. But in fairness to the rest of the population, they dress up in uniforms and call themselves guards so as to warn others they must be on guard when a guard passes.' Brilliant.

From there we proceeded, again, without any kind of plan, to a planet with a hallucinogenic atmosphere, changed course because I suspected that we heading into deep space in the pursuit of a hallucinatory scanner reading, and then my CATERING OFFICER tells me that all the food has been spoiled. Why wasn't I given the option of rolling for his SKILL, as I was all the rest of the key members of the crew?

In pursuit of food we were presented with another left-right choice; a blue planet or a green planet. Opting for the blue planet, we were told that the entire planet was an ocean. Nevertheless, we were given the option of beaming down. I made the choice to leave orbit and head towards the green planet, but broke one of my rules and skipped to the section for beaming down to the blue planet. Your transporter chief doesn't really beam you down to death by drowning does he? Yes! Yes he does! Morale must be low on Traveller.

Down on the green planet one of the crew gets crushed a gigantic beasts do battle, but by keeping calm and quiet we avoid drawing the attention of the winner. Then, in true death planet style, the plants themselves attack! Thinking perhaps that the tangling vines are a self-defence mechanism, I try the same technique as saved us from the beasts. I opt to attempt to remain still, presenting no threat, no stimuli that might prompt the vines to entangle me further. Of course, the vines strangled and crushed the life from my acquiescent body. My adventure ended here.

Nom! Nom! Nom!

Saturday 12 March 2011

The Task Ahead

I picked up my daughter, showed her this array, and said, 'One day, all this will be yours.'

Labours of Joy / Livres des Jeux

I'll be using eBay to sell off some of my multiple copies - I don't think I need six versions of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain or The Forest of Doom, even if they do have different covers.

On the subject of covers, the iconic covers for me are the jagged green stripe 'Adventure Gamebook' covers. I don't think that the coloured star was enough to create an identity, and I never took to the dragon logo. I think this was because I moved abroad - to a non-English speaking country - during the mid-eighties for a good few years, left with only the gamebooks I had carried with me. And by the time I came back... things had changed!

The jagged stripe was used, as you can see, on the Sorcery! series (naturally enough), as well as the Cretan Chronicles and Maelstrom both of which I remember borrowing from the library in the 1980s. What I didn't know until this week was that the jagged stripe was also used on a series of gamebooks for girls - Starlight Adventures!

Do you think that the statue comes to life and that you have to fight it to find a numbered key?

Sunday 6 March 2011

Your adventure ends here

I have a lot of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. I have had some of them since the early 1980s. I have had some for a few days. And I am now married, have a PhD, and am a father. So, I decided that I finally have the maturity to obey all the rolls of the dice and to hold myself to the decisions that I have made.

However, playing one book over and over until it has been completed is boring. If you are not going to cheat the books become a mechanical problem. Who wants to read the same passages over and over again, or worse, to not read passages at all, simply making a series of paragraph number choices? I want to enjoy a fantasy adventure.

I have decided to play each book in my collection in turn. When that adventure ends, I will move on to the next book in the series, with nary a backward glance at the dice rolls that I should have fudged or the places where I should have changed my mind. Well, apart from a brief recap, listing the doom of my adventurer.

#1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – A very good start, but a little bit of a cheat before I have properly begun. My adventurer killed his way through the mountain to reach the Warlock, defeated him, and had the keys needed to open his treasure chest. The cheat I relied on was the help of the internet to get through the Maze of Zagor, but otherwise everything else was by the book. Putting the cheat in context, I completed this book before I had settled on this programme of gamebook adventuring. Firetop Mountain has a new master.

#2 The Citadel of Chaos – My adventurer, avoiding combat more or less entirely – only fighting a GOLEM that had been weakened by a fight with a CREATURE COPY – very quickly got to the room with the GANJEES in it. Though my adventure ended here in the majority of my previous plays of this book, and I will not resort to an internet walkthrough. It is not quite the same scale of frustration as the Maze of Zagor. Death by falling.

#3 The Forest of Doom – my adventurer survived a series of nasty combats with high SKILL opponents, didn’t find either of the parts of the warhammer, and then died in a fight against a fire-breathing WYVERN. He had equal SKILL, and nearly twice as much STAMINA, but rolled badly, and even a last ditch TEST OF LUCK didn’t come off. The first time so far that the dice have failed me, but it will not be the last. Rare, or well done?

Turn to 400 has a much funnier take on working through the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in order. All I'm doing is listing the fate of my characters - death, more often than not - and waiting for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Task Resolution

As I jump from one system to the other - over two nights earlier this week I GM'd the WFRP 1e starter scenario 'The Oldenhaller Contract' for my wife and my mother (is that a weird gaming group?) - I'm always keen to find ways to minimise any 'look up' time. Browsing the gaming blogs I came across this post on In Like Flynn. It seems to be a fairly straightfoward suggestion that should lead to fun games by virtue of more fluid and collectively understood play, while at the same time allowing the mechanical resolution of a whole variety of actions. As players do like to roll dice, every now and again.

Pop quiz, hotshot. What is the task difficultly of disarming a bomb on a moving bus?

Saturday 19 February 2011

Random Monster Bashing

Ever feel the need for some old-style room-to-room random monster bashing? Populate your dungeons using the Wizards of the Coast Random Dungeon Generator (warning - post TSR D&D within!). Okay, it produces a dis-integrated dungeon, and the adventure 'hooks' are laughably generic and have nothing to do with the way the dungeon has been populated, given that you can click up a series of dungeons in the space of a few minutes, I think it might be an interesting way of throwing together some ideas for a few level-specific small-scale ruined temples and 'haunted' tombs; a wilderness random encounter with a little bit more 'oomph'.

Of course, you could just use the random monster tables from the Basic and Expert sets, a handful of stock temple/cave/barrow/manorhouse maps, and a bit of DM judgement . You know, do things the proper way.

Holmes' Wandering Monster Table

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Fighters and Fanzines

Soon, I might be able to write a little about my first experience of Play-By-Post roleplaying, having joined an ambitious Pendragon game on Roleplay Online. I'm not sure quite how roleplaying will work by this method, but I'm looking forward to getting up and running. Or riding - I'm playing a knight, of course.

Brainstorming with the GM and the other players, I'm trying to give my player knight (PK) a set of traits that will give him a suitably Arthurian tragic-hero trajectory. At the moment I'm thinking of creating a PK whose father was (accused of being) a coward. In questing to demonstrate his own valor, to redeem the family reputation, the PK risks undoing the traits that his father did bequeath him; perhaps from his father he has inherited mercy, forgiveness, or modesty as well as cowardice.

Brave Sir Robin

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has used game mechanics such as Pendragon's traits and passions in order to give concrete shape to the extremes of PC personality in games such as D&D. Was a PC the only survivor of a near-TPK at the hands of Ogres? Create a directed passion - Hatred (Ogres) - to be rolled against during encounters involving Ogres. Or has anyone used a similar system in order to surrender some control of NPCs to the will of the dice. Will the clan chieftain accept the PCs' apologies for their trespass? Make a roll against his forgiving/vengeful trait to decide.

A couple of links:

Anyone who finds this blog will probably already be familiar with Meatshields! the henchmen and hireling generator. As it nears its one-year birthday, the blogger at Discourse and Dragons, one of the creators of Meatshields!, has posted a discussion on the way that he uses this neat little application in his own campaign.

If you are British and in your 30s, then it is likely that your introduction to fantasy gaming came through adventure gamebooks. It is nice to find, on the web, that I'm not unusual in my love of this classic mode of gaming, seemingly superceded by CRPGs and MMORPGs. Via the Fantasy Game Book blog, I found this enormous fanzine - Fighting Fantazine (pdf) - which includes a short preview of a new edition of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG, including re-releases of Out of The Pit and Titan - the best fantasy world to fit into a moderately-sized paperback book.

And there is one addition to my blogroll - the excellent Hill Cantons.