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.