Sunday 31 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 31: The final chapter

So today's post is about my favourite RPG, but naturally I'm going to talk about my favourite games in general, not just one.


You can find Stars Without Number and its various supplements here. I have not really looked at Sine Nomine's fantasy stuff much, but I find it hard to believe it isn't equally great.

Here is the online version of the Ralios game writeups I liked so much. If you played in "Once Upon a Time in Kerofinela," you may find the tone familiar; it was a big influence.

My most recent big UA campaign was "Rose Crescent," which I ran in 2006. I wrote it up -- much of it anyway -- on my old livejournal; you can see the posts here. I don't have the notes for my previous two campaigns, "The King Leopold Society" and "Unknown Ellroy."

Beyond the Supernatural is goofy fun, and has some cool art. The supplement, Boxed Nightmares, came with a little newspaper, which was pretty cool.

I do like the props in CoC, like these ones from Propnomicon:

Saturday 30 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 30: There's something you don't see every day.

I have never been a collector when it comes to RPGs, and I only started to get interested in that side of miniatures relatively recently -- and even then I'm pretty haphazard about it. But I do have one or two good things, including some interesting old magazines and a few weird editions of various games.


 You should check out Forgotten Futures. Loads of extra material is available on the game's website. It really is an unparalleled VSF resource.

Friday 29 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 29: Brief encounter

So today's prompt is "most memorable encounter." For me, as a player, I don't think that I necessarily think of my favourite gaming memories in "encounter" terms -- if a traditional tabletop game is going on, like as not I'm running it, and the kind of social live play I really enjoy isn't really "encounter"-y. And older games tend to fade a bit for me so that I can't really remember the precise details of an encounter. I remember laughing like mad during Luke's WHFRP game, but I'm not sure I could put my finger on any one encounter.

So anyway, here are two of my favourites from games I've run -- not the best, not the best-run or best-designed, just two that spring to mind at the moment.

The first is a recent scrap from my D&D game. I don't think this was actually my favourite encounter from this scenario, but it does have a photograph that illustrates the chaotic nature of an interesting fight. Here we see the PCs locked in titanic struggle against the mysterious mole men and their earth elemental minions. I wanted to create a sense of the multiple levels in the cavern, so I set up some rudimentary terrain.

The title is a reference to an old interview about the game Serious Sam, but I like the phrase as a way to think about a good combat scene. The mental soundtrack of a good fight should be "ohshitohshitohshitohshit," which I think was pretty much how this one went. Plus I liked roleplaying the Mole Men; I got to say things like "you are lying! All surface-dwellers are alike" in a hissy monster voice. 

The other one that leaps to mind comes from when friend Jeff and I co-ran the Beyond the Mountains of Madness campaign. Near the end of the campaign, the Investigators were fleeing from a shoggoth, as one does. 

Now the shoggoth's task (spoilers for a campaign that came out like 12 years ago, I guess) is not to kill them but to harvest their living brains for use in the Elder Things' botched-up bio-computer. They don't know this, but if they get grabbed it's a quick trip to the flesh-removing pits or whatever for them.

So they're running like hell, and as the creature gets closer and closer things are getting pretty tense. And finally one of the players, already looking a bit guilty, says "OK, I'm gonna trip him." So his character trips up the guy fleeing next to him. Or maybe he just naturally tripped up and the other didn't help him? I cannot recall. Anyway, the shoggoth swarms over the fallen explorer, the other guy scrambles to safety, and that's that. Except ...

The guy playing the betrayed character -- and I will always admire him for this -- decides that just because he's been glomped by this ancient protoplasm doesn't mean it's over. Instead, he goes to town roleplaying the process of having his nervous system removed from his still-living flesh, sitting there and wailing in terror and agony: "oh God, it's eating me alive! I'm not dead! No! No! Why did you do it? WHYYYYY?!"

The surviving player sat through it, just getting paler and paler. His character got back to base camp, completed whatever it was his mission had been, made sure everyone else was going to get out of Antarctica safely, then took off his parka, walked out into the snow and was never seen again. 

Personally, I found it very satisfying. 

Wednesday 27 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 28: Putting the frighteners on them

Today we talk about scary games. I think I've run one or two in my time, but fear is a tough emotion to generate at the table, or even live: much tougher than excitement or laughter.


Qelong is really dingdang good, like a horrible fantasy Heart of Darkness set in horrible fantasy Cambodia, and the PDF is less than £5.

Cthulhu Live has its hits and misses, but it opened my eyes to a completely different way of conceptualising live gaming, one which I still make a lot of use of even in parlour-style games. The third edition probably has more stuff, but the first edition has a nice wide page format and cute illustrations by Steve Gallacci.

RPG a Day, Day 27: Everything old is new again

Today we talk about new editions. I got cut off right near the end of this one, but I think you can extrapolate what I was going to say. A good bad game is a delicate thing, much like a good bad movie.

Here is a picture to make this post look better on social media. 

EDIT: I am reliably informed that UA3 is go. Yay!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 26: All there in black and white

Today I talk about character sheets!


I like stationery from Squarehex. I like stationery in general. I'm really absurdly excited to getting an isometric pad. Is that silly?

Monday 25 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 25: Alone in the crowd?

The question for today is "favourite RPG no one else wants to play," and I have a really short video to go with it, because I ... don't have an answer to that question. In general, I think that a) I don't really have a huge desire to run very weird games, and b) I am usually able to communicate my enthusiasm effectively.

I do not run this game, for instance. 

Review: The Noteboard

So these things were apparently quite the hit at GenCon, and were nominated for an Ennie and stuff, but I had not heard of them until last week. When I was in London, friend of the blog Steve gave me one, so in this video I demonstrate it for your edification:

These would be pretty great for LARP events, too; you could bring a whiteboard for the GM room at a hostel-type event, and it wouldn't weigh the earth and be big and inflexible; you could just tack it to a noticeboard or tape it to the door. In fact, you could use it to make signs, same principle. And for field-LARPers I imagine it would be equally handy.

Useful for games like Fiasco, too, that have a shared world-building element; you could just stick it in the middle and everyone could write on it at once?

The company that makes these is now one of the family of companies that includes Pelgrane, Stoneskin, ProFantasy and so on, so apparently there are going to be Pelgrane-game-specific ones for games like 13th Age or whatever. That's pretty cool.

You can buy your Noteboards directly from the company or get 'em on Amazon. Prices are about the same, but I dunno, maybe you have some credit or something.

Sunday 24 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 24: Involutions

OK, so the topic for today is "most complicated game owned."

I don't think I own a lot of complicated games. I don't have the kind of memory that allows me to be good at procedures, and I try to avoid looking things up at the table (my memory for text and trivia is not bad). I suppose that the most complicated game I own is probably World of Synnibarr, since I did spend the better part of a week creating characters for it. Although honestly I don't think I would call it the better part.

I have run and played games where the system is time-consuming, like old World of Darkness. ("Roll to hit. OK, now you roll to dodge. OK, now you recalculate your pool and roll damage. OK, now you roll soak." For every attack.) But although that game has some dumb elements, I don't think the resolution system is complicated per se. The Unknown Armies system consists of a simple, versatile core mechanic and eleventy billion subsystems that you just have to look up because you'll never remember them, but I'm not sure that that is what we mean when we say "complicated" either. 

I guess Underground was complicated; so complicated that I don't even really remember the gist of the system other than that you had to convert everything into some kind of points (action points? Advantage points?), leading to insane questions like "how far is a mile?" or "how long is two days?" So in its attempt to have a single mechanic that handled how all the powers worked (rather than having a different results table for each power a la older D&D or WoD) it introduced something that gave me an ice cream headache just to read. 

But I think that all I'm establishing is that I'm a complexity wimp. Even though I play what is, by my standards, a relatively complex game, I have a tendency to just gloss over and skip the complex parts of it when I don't feel like letting someone else do it for me. 

Eh, it works for me. 

Friday 22 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 23: Hey good lookin'

Sometimes I think I am just making video for the sake of making it, but today we have a visual question! Let's take a look at the coolest-looking gaming products I own. I am a pretty utilitarian gamers, so I don't have too many fancy games; this is pretty simple stuff.


You can get Hell 4 Leather from Prince of Darkness Games.

Wayne Barlowe's books are stupidly expensive on Amazon, but if you see one at a reasonable price you should grab it. They are pretty cool. You may know Barlowe as the artist who did a lot of work on the kaiju in Pacific Rim.

I mention Underground, which was published my Mayfair Games. A friend of mine had this in high school, and it was ... interesting. I don't think I was too impressed by this at the time, but I've come to appreciate it in context. I think at the time the flaws in the execution (and a certain amount of trying too hard from the game) put me off.

It's a game about being genetically-modified and cybernetically-enhanced supersoldiers who are trained to believe that you're superheroes. When the war ends, though, you're just dumped on the streets of a comically grim American dystopia and left to make your own way. It was in full colour when that was pretty rare, and it had lots of neat visual features: the page borders were colour-coded to tell you what section of the book you were in, for instance, and there were all sorts of materials like a newspaper full of stories and images from the setting and a campaign notebook that was an actual binder you could add stuff to. Unfortunately, I don't think the execution was really there in every case, and the system, which if I recall correctly was a variant on the old DC Heroes system, was a dog from hell. It had art from all sorts of people including Geoff Darrow and Peter Chung. Gotta love that Darrow cover. Someone called it Marshal Law, the RPG, which I don't think is quite right, but it should give you a taste of the aesthetic, anyway. I acquired pretty much the whole line in the early 2000s, but I got rid of it when I moved because the chance of my ever taking the time to convert it from a system that wasn't a migraine factory was 0.0%. These days I think I would find that process a lot easier. 

You can still get it, quite cheaply, either in print from Paizo or in PDF from DTRPG, so that's cool. It doesn't look like Paizo has the core rules, but they do have the superb Ways and Means Washington D.C. supplement by Robin Laws. 

RPG a Day, Day 22: Man the bargain hunter

So tomorrow I am going to London, and one of the things I am most excited about doing, apart from all the great bookshops and museums and so on, is going to this tiny model shop in Ealing:

I'm going to buy something for the sake of being a good customer -- I can always get some modelling materials even if they don't have anything I specifically want -- but really what I like the most is the fun of bargain hunting. You never know what you're going to find! I've actually been much more successful in the miniatures field than in RPGS; my collection of Rogue Trader era rarities doesn't mean I was picking up weird Adeptus Mechanicus models when I was 9, it just means I am assiduous in my searching of flea markets, car boot sales and of course the internet. 

But that's not to say I haven't found a few cool things second-hand in the RPG world, mainly thanks to my old games shop having a good used shelf but also thanks to the various online communities I'm part of. 



Now, as you might expect, most of the games I talk about in my second-hand post are out of print, but not all of them. 

You can't find this specific Glorantha book, but Design Mechanism has some other ones, including many for $1. Those are only a fraction of the many books out there, I'm just saying that they're from the same era as the one I mention in this post. 

And of course Reign is still available. And if you just want the leading-large-groups rules and not the setting, you can get the Enchiridion.

Thursday 21 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 21: The game of the book of the film!

Today: licensed games.


Several times in the show, I refer to Out of My Mind, friend of the blog and fellow RPG a Day project-doer. 

I namecheck an absolute shitload of things in this video, and here are some of them: 

The Mouse Guard RPG, and the comics it is based on. 

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, still in print after all these years!

James Bond 007 is long gone, but there is a retroclone of it, Classified.

A less punctilious and law-abiding man than I might draw very different conclusions from the fact that the long-OOP Ghostbusters RPG, both first and second editions, is not hard to find online. 

These are the classic 80s Citadel Doctor Who figures my pal Jesse was kind enough to send me. I mean, not these actual ones, but you know what I mean: 

Tuesday 19 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 20: Yourself at 55

Seriously, it is pretty good.
Before I tackle the question of games I'll be playing in 20 years' time, an additional point about yesterday's post: how could I have forgotten "Raid on Innsmouth," from Escape from Innsmouth, as a contender for favourite scenario? I have actually never run this thing, but it's brilliant -- the investigators volunteer to join (or are bullied into joining) the raid on Innsmouth mentioned in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. There are a number of different teams doing different things in the raid, and each winds up consisting of an investigator and a number of military or Treasury department pre-gens. You will be surprised to learn that many of these brave young men will not make it. The division allows the scenario to explore a bunch of different environments in a way that would be very different to do plausibly in sequence. I've even wondered if this wouldn't actually be a better way to do Masks of Nyarlathotep, sending one PC from the original group to Kenya, one to Shanghai, one to Australia, etc., and then recruiting a team of locals who might actually know something about wandering around the outback or speaking Chinese.

Anyway, today's topic is "what games will you still be playing in 20 years' time?" To answer this question, I've looked back at the games I was playing 20 years ago to give some indication. Of the games I was playing in those days, there are only two that are really still in my to-play pile: Call of Cthulhu (even though I haven't actually played that much of it lately) and the various World of Darkness games (even though they are much changed).

In a way, this makes me a little unhappy. Call of Cthulhu is a fantastic game, of course, but the White Wolf games are ... just OK. Some good ideas hampered by a gooey mess of a system and a world that's equal parts good stuff, messy contradiction, derp and who-gives-a-shit. However, Vampire: the Requiem at least is well-suited to the kind of social/political live game I like, and I really like the group of people I play it with, even though I'm not wild about the game itself.

I would be happy to be playing CoC in 20 years, but I really don't want to be playing another dingdang edition of Vampire, at least not month in, month out. I'm having fun playing it in my current group, but I don't know that I would join another game of it.

As for games that I've started playing since I was 15 that I think I'll still be playing in 20 years, I think that, coming to D&D late, I've found that there are parts of the fantasy adventure genre that really let me do fun stuff as a GM. I could definitely still be playing some form of D&D in 20 years, although I have no really strict preferences about edition or system. I think that game's got a lot of versatility and therefore a lot of replay value.

The other category of game I currently own that I might be playing at 55 would be things I haven't yet got round to playing. Perhaps by 55 I'll finally have started that Spaceship Zero campaign?

RPG a Day, Day 19: Let me tell you of the days of high adventure(s)

Some time ago I said this:

And I stand by that. Don't get me wrong; Masks of Nyarlathotep (here and currently on sale in PDF, here in print) is amazing, but I don't think it's game-defining in the way The Enemy Within is. In fact, arguably Masks is very different from the common run of Call of Cthulhu scenarios. It would be the ideal culmination for a long campaign, taking the action to a new and larger stage. By contrast, The Enemy Within is pretty much the defining WHFRP scenario.

But that doesn't make either of them my favourite published scenario.

To be honest, I am not in the main a runner of published scenarios, certainly not as written. I ran my D&D group through Matt Finch's Tomb of the Iron God some months ago, but only after completely redoing the lower levels, changing the monsters in the upper levels and generally stretching it to fit my game. Which is, of course, what old-school scenarios are supposed to be used for. And I used to run a lot of Call of Cthulhu and TMNT scenarios back in the day, but these days I feel like my own scenario-creation instincts are sound enough that I can design things for my own game without too much trouble.

So, favourite scenario ...

... if it is the scenario I have run the greatest number of times, that's probably "In Media Res," which appeared in issue 10 of The Unspeakable Oath and was subsequently reprinted in one of the The Resurrected volumes. This is a little one-shot Call of Cthulhu scenario by John Tynes, although I like to think of it as an Unknown Armies scenario before there was such a thing. In it, the players find themselves standing around a murdered body, wearing uniforms from an institute for the criminally insane, clearly having participated in some kind of horrible murder ritual and with no idea how they got there. It's a nice simple start-off premise, and I have run it several times, each time as a live-action game. I monkeyed with it a bit every time to make it fit the location it was being played in, of course.

Alternatively, my most-run scenario may be "Caesar's Weasels," which appears in the TMNT and Other Strangeness corebook. I talked about this great game back on Day 2 or 3, and this has been my go-to scenario every time I've run it, if only because a) it is very simple, b) the villains are kind of sympathetic, and c) the central conceit has that kind of "Flash Fact" level of scientific plausibility that you might find in a 20-minute episode of a Saturday morning cartoon.

I'm not sure either of these is my favourite -- like, if you asked me, I wouldn't name either of these -- but the evidence suggests that I do keep coming back to them. I think it's no coincidence that they're tight, self-contained done-in-one stories, which may be something that appeals to me in a scenario. If I'm going to be running something huge, I feel as though I would prefer to customise it a little more to fit my group and its needs, which sort of disqualifies it from being my favourite published scenario.

I'm sure I've probably left some things out, especially scenarios I've already mentioned ("The Cooks of Cuirnif," Forgive Us) but if there's something you feel like I've slighted, let me know!

(I have never been as fond of "Jailbreak" from One Shots as most people seem to be.)

Monday 18 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 18: Crunchin' numbers

I am not a systems guy; I don't feel like I have a strong preference in terms of game mechanics for the most part. I therefore wouldn't say I have a favourite system, or at least not a favourite system for a reason that is at all interesting -- like, I like the Call of Cthulhu system because it's easy to understand and easy to explain and, with one or two exceptions, all the things on the character sheet do just what they say. So instead what I'm gonna talk about is some mechanics that I like, without necessarily identifying a game as my favourite system.

Yesterday, I talked about why I like the tagline mechanism in Dying Earth. I think it encourages the kind of conversations you want in the game, adds some laughs and guides the game. But today's subject is a game I've mentioned a few times before, Stars Without Number, which is available as a free download.

There are two things I really like about the mechanics in this game. OK, three. These are probably also in other systems, so if you know the antecedents let me know. I love the way the random system allows quick generation of space settings with scenario hooks rather than as a sort of simulation engine. I really like the way skill use uses 2d6 while combat uses a d20, so that skill use is relatively predictable while combat is very swingy. And I like how psychics can permanently burn off parts of their point pool to gain the ability to use a power at no cost, meaning that the class can vary between being a classic wizard and a more supers-y character. The psychic in my campaign had a few of these permanent powers, and was able to use them to problem-solve in very creative ways.

Sunday 17 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 17: Laugh, clown, laugh.

Today I'm going to talk about the funniest game I've run. Despite what you might think, it's not Paranoia. If you know me, you might know what it is ...


You can get the Dying Earth RPG on Drivethru. The update to the rules is the Revivification Folio. You can also get the book in the traditional format. And you should read the original stories

Somehow I failed to mention that a) of course, the Dying Earth stories are where the D&D magic system comes from, more or less, and b) that one of my favourite things about Paranoia is that its definitive artist and I have the same name. He even once sent me an email headed "evil clone must die!"

Friday 15 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 16: The shape of the world to come

I have only recently started getting really interested in collecting certain types of games. I'm still mainly interested in getting fun old books on the cheap rather than snapping up rarities, but I've got a few things lately I'm quite happy about:

But that's not what I'm going to talk about today. The game that I want to acquire isn't a specific game -- rather, I wish I had a version of a particular game that would give me the resources to do certain things.       


Weirdly, no version of Gamma World seems to be available in PDF, but Metamorphosis Alpha is, for less than £4. I'm going to have to pick that up just for the read. 

And of course once again I mention Other Dust, which is really ... it's pretty good, I think. 

I'm not saying that the Gammarauders comic was good per se, but it had some crazy visual stuff. 

RPG a Day, Day 15: Kill 'em all and let Dagon sort 'em out

My favourite con game ...

I've played a few really memorable games at cons, but to be honest there's only one that really leaps to mind at the moment. The year was 2001, and I was at GenCon in Milwaukee. I had only signed up to play in two games, both live-action Call of Cthulhu games. The first one was fun, but it was the second I was really excited about. It was being run by Cthulhu Live supremo Robert "Mac" McLaughlin. Loads of people I knew from the game's mailing list were going to be there.

I had missed signup, but the guys running it were happy to let me in. They assigned me the character of Somebodyorother Marsh, high priest of a Cthulhu/Dagon cult and, of course, a late-stage Deep One hybrid:

Yep, that's me. 
So I had a high old time leading my sinister cult and trying to get hold of a copy of the Necronomicon that was kicking around. I would make evil villain gestures, and say things like "Find him ... and bring him to ME!" But when the authorities were around I acted like a crazy old guy, explaining my froglike hopping as "shrapnel in m'ass ... from the 'Nam. Out there in the jungle ... it was just me ... and Charlie!" (I didn't have the mask on for those scenes, obviously)

But about two-thirds of the way through the game, things took a turn for the weird. We were making our way around the tunnels and back rooms of the stadium where we were playing (which we were sharing with a bunch of tables of annoyed RPGA players) when we stumbled on a small room that had some clothes hooks on the wall. From the pegs hung long yellow robes and pallid masks. 

Oh holy crap!
Now, we knew that there was a Hastur cult also operating in the area, trying to swipe the Necronomicon which was rightfully ours. Me and m'boys immediately decided to hole up in what was obviously their headquarters and thump them when they got back (being Deep Ones, we were big and strong and into brute force and ignorance). 

However, a passing civilian spotted us going into the room and started walking off purposefully. So we murdered her and dragged her body into the room. Only another group of guys spotted us doing that and came in to check it out. They turned out to be Delta Green agents, and there was some gunplay and clawing before we dealt with them. And then a group of reporters spotted us dealing with them, so we had to murder them. By this time we had killed probably about a third of the characters in the game, but our actual enemies were nowhere to be found. 

While we were doing this, they were off summoning their nightmarish master and implementing a new reign of madness. We had been off murdering bystanders while they got their ball into the end zone. We were baffled -- how had they never come back to their base? 

It turned out that the room we had found had nothing to do with the game. Yes, it was full of yellow robes and white masks, but it was just a coincidence. Mac hadn't put them there. We guessed that they must have been left over from a Cthulhu event earlier in the day? That's the only reasonable explanation. 

Isn't it? 

Isn't it? 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 14: Vast is the grey maze ...

A book I like.

I don't go to a lot of cons, but I sort of feel like I want to get back into the habit again. Today I talk about a book I really like, and try to fend off talking about a thing I can't ignore but don't want to get dragged into.

I have used both the "I search the body" table and the NPC generator a lot in my game, the floorplan thing once or twice, and a couple of the monsters to memorable effect.


You can still get Vornheim in PDF. A second print version may be in the works in future.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 13: A Mound of My Slain

I seldom play characters, and they seldom die. So today I'm going to talk about the most memorable character death in a game I ran. In addition to this one, it's also worth noting that in my Unknown Armies game, "Rose Crescent," which you can read more about on the blog of one of the people who played in it, I sort-of kind-of killed the whole party, but only in a kind of abstract sense.


You can buy Vornheim here.

I didn't put in the link like I said I was going to, so here it is: Day 14 is "favourite convention game." Come back tomorrow!

Monday 11 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 12: The classics

For all that I love old games, I tend to go through phases of collecting and obsessing over them. Sometimes something will spend years on the shelf without being looked at at all. But there are a couple of things that I keep coming back to -- in one of today's cases, even rebuying things!


Both Suppressed Transmission books are still around -- you can get them in print or PDF (and the PDFs are like £5) from Warehouse 23. Here's the first one and here's the second one.

Turns out Pyramid is still going; I wonder if subscribing gives you access to the old columns ...

Procopius's "Secret History" is online at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Or you can get it in the usual Penguin paperback if that's your thing.

RPG a Day, Day 11: Hopping mentile

I would write a lengthy post about the weirdest game I own, but I already wrote seven of them. What could it be but Raven c.s. McCracken's The World of Synnibarr, which is just ... charmingly demented. It's like every 12-year-old's fantasy game expanded to bullet-stopper length with a focus and intensity that your typical 12-year-old lacks. It's got everything: 

Bitchin' jet cycles!
Mac cartography!
Raccoons with bazookas!
Mutant ... dwarf ... hammer ... whatever guys!
Conan knock-offs!
Read my posts about it if you don't believe me. It's a pip.

Sunday 10 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 10: Who comes this way, to a place that is not allowed to everyone?

Most game fiction isn't very good. Actually, that's not fair. Most game fiction is fine in terms of what it's meant to do, but very little game fiction is very good. But the piece of gaming fiction I am going to talk about today is, at least to my mind, spectacularly good. And unlike a lot of gaming fiction, it's the fact that it's based in a gaming setting that is this book's greatest strength (I think; again, I think there are some alternative interpretations).

Once, when I was 15, I went to a con with my brother and our friend Bernie, and I was hanging around the Chaosium booth coveting things when Greg Stafford, of all people, roped us into a game of a new edition of Nomad Gods which was being playtested. Even though I was a 15-year-old know-it-all, he was very cool to us. I was not at all into Glorantha then and just bluffed based on what I had read in Lawrence Schick's book, but he was patient and cool.

I remember nothing about the game, but I don't think that edition ever came out.


I did a little jump of happiness when I heard that Moon Design was doing a new version of King of Sartar. I am going to get their Argan Argar Atlas and Guide to Glorantha just as soon as I've got an extra £120 lying around. So it might be a while then.

King of Dragon Pass is amazing. You can buy the original version on Good Old Games for $6, or get the recent iOS version for £7. I also did a little jump of happiness when I found out that there is a version coming out for Android very shortly. I'm serious that this is a great game, but you don't have to take my word for it. There are great reviews of it all over the internet.

Saturday 9 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 9: Let them fall where they may

Dice! One of those gamer cultural tokens, I guess? Some people are very into them.

I have to admit that making this post made me want to buy some more dice just to sort of have them and touch them and roll them and feel them clatter. Perhaps The Anxious Gamer was onto something about the whole physicality thing.

Thursday 7 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 8: Let me tell you about my character

(No video today, guys; that would have been too much.)

If you're like most gamers, you cringed a little when you heard that phrase. It's such a stereotype that I think it's more a terrible thing that everyone knows gamers say than a thing that gamers actually say (although this may just be another case of my naturally forbidding demeanour and inherent volubility putting people off).

In many cases, though, "tell you about my character" amounts to no more than "tell you about my game," since if you're a player you tend to experience the game mainly through the lens of your character.

So I'm not going to tell you about my characters per se, but use them to tell you about games I'm in (or have been in), in particular about how the game wound up changing the character.

A word about archetypes: I tend to play characters in about half a dozen core roles: worried nerds, good-natured lummoxes, by-the-book stiffs, and more or less clear heroes.

Fuck you lookin' at?
What's interesting to me is that undoubtedly my most successful character of recent years is someone who doesn't fit any of these types -- my character in a local live-action Requiem game, Danny Kovacs. Danny started life as a lowlife scoundrel fixer sort of character (because that's a good character for social live games -- strongly motivated to talk to people and find out what they want) but has mutated into much more than that over the years. And the fun thing about these changes is that they were almost never the result of my decisions; they were reactions to circumstances. In some cases, much like real personal changes, they happened without my ever really thinking consciously about the process. A plotline needed someone to stab some backs in order to be resolved, and that set Danny onto the path toward being a larger-scale scumbag. A series of social and political interactions convinced Danny that he was an idealist, not the Carthian-of-convenience he had previously seemed to be. Danny fell for a girl, but she turned out to be trouble. And so on. Today, I think his story's more or less done, although I still enjoy playing him.

The thing that pleases me about this character is that he developed in a way that could only really happen in an RPG -- that is, he isn't the product of a single author, he's the product of a bunch of different interactions that come from lots of different people doing their own things. And yet I don't think he feels random or patchwork. He does that problem all long-running characters have, in that he's been through way more weird shit than seems to make sense ("and then there was the time I went to another dimension ... and then there was the time ...").

Oh, Brave and the Bold. You were too beautiful for this world. 
As a habitual GM, I don't get to play a lot of tabletop games. I'll pick a recent (ish) character, though: Deiphobos, my character in Troy! Troy! was a supers game set during the Trojan War, which mashed up classic comics and Greek myth and sort of weird science-fictional meta-jokes. Deiphobos is an actual character from the Iliad, although I mostly ignored that and played him as more or less Batman, with Hector as never-present Superman.

It was a weird game, and it was a lot of fun, but it fell victim to real life. Deiphobos was fun largely because of his role as the team "leader" (ish), or at least the guy most likely to be very focused on a case, and because the system (Strands of Fate) had a lot of elements that rewarded being an observant strategic thinker and just generally good at stuff ("second best at everything" is another common thing I do -- Danny is likewise smarter than a tough character and tougher than a smart character). He didn't have like a richly developed personality; that wasn't the way in which creativity was expressed in this game. He was more a tool for me to do creative stuff with the world in general, if that makes sense.

So yeah; characters. I'll see you tomorrow for the thing we all really care about: dice!

Wednesday 6 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 7: How much falutin'? High.

I found the Day 7 question -- "intellectual" RPG -- a little curious. Obviously, RPGs are a bit of an intellectual pastime anyway (as opposed to, say, a physical one), but I don't think that's what it meant. I think it meant something like "the most highfalutin' RPG you own."

This is a subject that seems pretty contentious among gamers. Even talking about the subject of "intellectual" or "artistic" RPGs introduces the risk of pompous auto-back-patting on one hand or derpy Philistinism on the other. I hope I steer between the two extremes; a lot of the games I love are based on doing straightforward adventure fiction (although they aren't as derpy as people tend to assume, for more of which see below), but I put in my time in the indie-gaming trenches. I wrote a 24-hour RPG, and I won twenty-five bucks for so doing, and then I kind of forgot all about it. Sorry, Ron. (It's totally incomplete, and even if it were complete I doubt it would be any good. Me writing narrative games is real square-peg-in-round-hole stuff.) 


In the video, I kind of make it sound like the indie RPG thing ended in like 2008, which is totally untrue; that's just when I started to get out of it. Lots of cool stuff is still coming out of that movement, and in fact I've talked about some of those games previously on this blog. I'm perfectly happy to be a consumer of those games, but keeping up with the upcoming stuff and the new releases and so on proved too difficult for me. And my strengths never lay in game design. I'm not a rulesy thinker. Perhaps that's why old school gaming and Gloranthaphile setting-nerdery both appeal to me so much. 

Speaking of setting-nerdery, there's some of that coming up in today's video.

As a further point, I am not at all sure that our perception of games as "intellectual" or not is accurate. I mean, I think most people think of D&D and its heirs as the action-movie bros of the gaming world, focused on thrills and spills and less concerned about, I dunno, feelings or whatever. But I think that's probably a mistake. Go back and look at the old school blogs I linked to yesterday. Sure, Jeff likes broad comedy in his blog, but read it for a bit and you will see that he's a very smart, educated guy. And does Middenmurk look like the blog of someone who's just in it for uncomplicated action? 

Perhaps what I'm saying is that we may be confusing games that tolerate a broad range of play styles and therefore can be played in a lighthearted, undemanding way with games that have to be played that way (like World of Synnibarr or whatever). 

Lastly, one subject I don't touch on is that games have always been educational for me. The first time I ever heard about the Shahnameh was from Gary Gygax. The first time I ever encountered the myths of the Popol Vuh was in a TMNT supplement. How many of us gleaned the basics of Sumerian religion from Deities and Demigods? My examples are mostly legend and myth, but there's a lot more. Oh, games don't teach good history or good science or whatever, but hopefully what they do is sort of ... limn the edges of larger subjects and entice people who are motivated by that sense of incompleteness to check them out. Or that might just be me. 


The updated version of De Profundis is just over £5, so that's going on my to-buy pile. What the hell. 

Dogs in the Vineyard is great. There's also a bundle of a bunch of lumpley games on there; check 'em out. My old PbP is still online all these years later, although you may need to be an RPGnet member to read it. 

And you can get My Life With Master pretty easily too. 

I know a bunch of you guys are Monsterhearts fans. Same guy did Ribbon Drive. You can get it in PDF, although it isn't as cool without the DVD-case thing, at least to me. 

Tuesday 5 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 6: Unplayed but not unloved

You have them. Don't lie to me. Everyone's got them. A shelf (or a hard drive) full of games you've never played. For most of them, it's no big deal. These are games that were found wanting, games you've never really been that keen on playing. You bought them because your friend was going to run a game, or because you thought it was going to be different, or because you feel guilty walking out of games shops without buying anything.

Sometimes I think that the whole industry runs on these games. If we only bought games we were actually playing, could anyone make a living?

Whatever. The important thing is that
 there are a few that are different; games that you really like and yet, somehow, you've just never got around to playing or running. Shelf queens. I have some too. Here are two that are really good.


You can get Trail of Cthulhu easily, in PDF or in print.

Spaceship Zero isn't on DTRPG, although weirdly a supplement is, but you can order it direct from Green Ronin or by the usual method.

And of course there's the album, which you can get in either CD or electronic format.

Alhough I'm more of a Man ... or ASTRO-Man? ... er ... man for this game, somehow.

RPG a Day, Day 5: Kicking it old school

What is the most "old school" game I own? Hmmm. I have made, as usual, a video, so let's start with that:

As I said, there's no one guide to what constitutes "old school," but it's worth checking out Matthew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. By the standards it lays out, some of the games I discuss aren't old school, but whatever. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Finch's retroclone, Swords and Wizardry, is free, so you might as well check it out. Honestly, if you're interested in old-school games, it isn't hard to find free stuff online, because for many people this is a labour of love, not a business, and there are lots of great blogs as well. In fact, there are too many to name, so let me just single out Jeff's Gameblog and Middenmurk as excellent ones, with very distinctive, individual takes on old school gaming. Not so much introductory blogs as two examples of what people do with the material.

Marvel Super Heroes material is relatively easy to find on eBay and elsewhere. Indeed, a less scrupulously law-abiding man than I might suggest that practically everything ever written for the game is also easily available online without having to go to dodgy torrent sites and no one seems to care, possibly because TSR is dead and gone and Marvel's got bigger problems, like where to put all their money.

Call of Cthulhu is, of course, easy to find in print and in PDF, and if you don't have it, you're really missing out on one of the great RPGs.

Monday 4 August 2014

RPG a Day, Day 4: Recent purchases

Today I've made a short video talking about my most recent gaming acquisitions.


You can buy Skull and Bones in PDF at DrivethruRPG. Or you can buy it in print.

Similarly, Forgive Us is like a fiver in PDF. I wrote a longer review of it a while back..

Tin Man Games do Fighting Fantasy apps for mobile devices.

I forgot Ian Sturrock when mentioning the people who did Skull and Bones!

Also, it occurs to me that Skull and Bones would combine very well with Call of Cthulhu d20.

Here is the post about Maelstrom I mentioned. Also, turns out the game is, you guessed it, on DTRPG for $10 US (about £6).

Sunday 3 August 2014

Budget gaming: floor tiles!

Every weekend, if the weather is good, I try to make it to my local car boot sale. By now I'm sure my predilection for cheapo gaming is well-known, and I have found a lot of useful stuff there. Today's find was a set of textured vinyl floor tiles, 16 for £4. They look like this:

And I think they might do for texture on courtyards, streets, sidewalks or what have you. The design is just printed on, but still I think they look quite good. I set up a little town square to test them out: 

I think they look OK, although I'm not sure I'd use them as a base surface alone. I am probably going to cut up some of the tiles to use as paths and sidewalks, and maybe some more into sort of room shapes, then leave a few for town scenes like this. 

They have an adhesive backing, so I might mount them on MDF or something, but then they would be even thicker and heavier than they already are. Not quite sure what to do about that aspect. They are heavy enough that I wouldn't take them all with me to a game, but I do most of my wargaming at my house so that's not so bad.