Jul 302012

After watching the British Archery team go out in the first round of the Olympics, it made me realise just how much we have fallen in the world rankings in the last seven hundred years. So, presented here are my thoughts on the bowman in a role playing game. Enjoy.

The following tips and advice are all based on widely perceived historical fact, so feel free to use them, whilst I take some pleasure in using my History& Heritage degree for the first time since graduating over a year ago. The aim of this blog is to make being a ranged combatant in any medieval like setting a bit more interesting than standing at the back loosing arrows while staying out of trouble.

First let us consider one of the finest examples of a bowman from the medieval period, the English warbow user. This isn’t idle speculation, or a sense of national pride (why should I be proud of something I had nothing o do with, just because it was done by people born within a certain geographical proximity?), but is actually true. It wasn’t naturally the case though, it was actually a law that made the common Englishman so proficient. All males of a certain age were required to practice for several hours a week, giving them the barrel chested build one needs when trying to pull a big ass longbow. And I mean big. Taller than a man kind of big. One point of note is that they weren’t trained to hit targets as much as you would think. Ignore Robin Hood and the archery butts with round targets; that was very much what the better bred shot at whenever they lowered themselves to take part in this activity. No, what they were trained to do was pick a range and land an arrow in it. At the time this was key because they would be firing in volley and wanting to concentrate the arrows as much as was possible. Since most archers in roleplaying games aren’t loosing arrows with 200 hundred of their mates, we shan’t spend any longer talking about that.

Lets get to the good stuff. Why use a warbow instead of a crossbow? Sure, a crossbow is a devastating weapon, designed to work well over long distances, without losing much of its stopping power. It was also designed to be used from withing a castle shooting out, with a small team of men to cock and load it. For a quick reason as to why you shouldn’t rely on them out in the open, just look at what happened at the battle of Crecy. The rain plays merry hell with a bow string, and a warbow can be unstrung when required, with the string coiled up and put under a hat. It’s not exactly easy to re-string in a hurry – even the men who used them all the time and were built like oxen couldn’t do it that quickly – but a combat round or two is well worth it if you don’t want your arrows to fall very short indeed. If anything did go wrong with the bow, or for that matter the string or arrows, don’t fret. Due to the nature of using a bow, it should be safe to assume you know how to repair, replace or just make new bits, provided you have access to basic resources. If your GM disagrees, I’ll have a word.

On top of the basics, most bowmen would also carry around molds for arrow heads, and know how to melt down and reform metal to make new ones. This fact isn’t probably that important, unless you’re playing with a GM who likes to punish careless archers for missing their targets and instead sending arrows over the horizon. No, the thing to take advantage of here, is the type of molds you should expect to have:

Regular. Nothing too special about these, but just remember that they’re all barbed. Only way to get them out is to push them through. Nasty right? It gets better. If you’re going to be loosing more than a couple of arrows, take them out of your quiver or satchel and put a decent handful point down into the ground. Not only will this be quicker to grab them, but also give the arrowhead a nice coating of dirt. Just in case they survive the shot, the infected wound will kill them. This works for all arrow types by the way.

Bodkin. Armour piercing. Don’t get too cocky though, you’ll need to have your target within fifty feet and hit straight on. If you do though, they punch through a breast plate and right into the person wearing it.

Broadhead. Mainly used as a horse stopper, as most other arrows don’t do that much damage to the half ton of muscle that is a war horse.

To make it easier to swap arrow heads, and more of a pain to get them out of wound, they’re not stuck fast to the shaft. Simply spit down the join, then push it on to the arrow with a twist to keep it as secure as it needs to be. A simple twist and pull will take it off again meaning you can change arrow heads in a hurry if you need to.

And one final point; never rely on just your bow. Have a short sword or long dagger about you too. Sometimes an arrow will drop a chap, but not finish him off, and if they’re still wearing armour, you want something that get into the gaps between the plates (armpits are the best if you can get nice and close). And of course it wouldn’t kill you to get the blade of your weapon nice and dirty too, just to make sure it will kill the bugger you’re sticking it into.

I hope you all have some fun with that, and please feel free to show off about the cool stuff you’ve done with a bow in your own game. Next time, we discuss crossbows, and ask why they’re never as deadly in games as they are in real life.

Jul 272012

This is not a full blog, as most of it will be a link that I was nudged towards this morning. Since I then had to work, it took me while to get around to a full read, and to get some thoughts together on it. First, here’s the link. The guy explains what’s going on very well, so I’ll just let you read it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.


So, I know that this isn’t the problem for table top gamers as it is for online gamers, I’ve mentioned as such already. I do however know that there are plenty of online forums out there that do afford those who desire it a little more anonymity. I would say that if you’re unlucky enough to see this kind of behavior, then the thoughts in the link above should give you some advice on how to deal with it. Big thanks to Mr. Adams for posting this, it was a great read.

Jul 232012

I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.

So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.

The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.

In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.

There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them

If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.

As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.

There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.

I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…

Jul 182012

This is just a little mid week update to let people know what I’m up to at the moment, and what fun stuff they can expect from me in the future. Also an announcement that you can now find me not only at the RPGBA, but also the UKGMN. Any british readers/bloggers out there, get on over and see what they do.

Since I started this blog, I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s. A lot. Mainly to see what kind of stuff people like talking about, but also to differentiate myself a little as a unique blogger. Most of the stuff I read I get from a feed over at the RPGBA , which I signed up to myself. Below are a few choice selections that I keep going back to, just because they always have something on there that makes me want to stop and read the whole entry. In no way is it an exhaustive list, that would take far too long, but consider this a highlight reel.

http://www.realityrefracted.com/ A great read for anyone running or playing in a game, or maybe even designing one from the floor up. Writes in an easy to read style, but knows how to get under the skin of a topic very well indeed.

http://www.gnomestew.com/ A bunch of bloggers coming together for some kick ass GMing advice. Worth registering on the site to leave comments as the other writers are great for feedback and they have a bunch of other subscribers who come back with even more cool stuff.

http://stuffershack.com/ These guys get a special mention for being not only a damned fine blog, but for offering some very helpful tips to this new blogger. I tip my hat to them, and I assure everyone reading at home, it is a fancy hat indeed, as they deserve no less.

http://jackstoolbox.wordpress.com/ The eponymous Jack is a great blogger, and has weighed in repeatedly on the comments section of my own humble offerings. Even better, if what he wants to say is too big an idea to be fully appreciated at the foot of a blog, he will take the time to write it out in full for all of his readers. Something that I think I need to think about going forward if I want to have even a modicum of the success he’s had.

http://largepolyhedroncollider.wordpress.com/ More than one blogger over here, unless it’s one person writing under several names, but either way it’s worth a look. A great series recently about how to totally rethink combat in an RPG world that every budding games designer should check out.

http://vulpinoid.blogspot.co.uk/ This guy does a bit of everything, but never half-hearted. From world building, to player advice, form hot topics to games reviews, everything about the hobby seems to end on this blogger’s radar.

Now onto stuff that I’m actually creating.

Just put an entry into a best villains competition over at Stuffer Shack . Please take a look, and wax lyrical in the comments section if you like it. If I win – and it will be judged by the staff over at the website, so don’t feel the need to suck up if you don’t want to – I will reward the lovely people of the bloggosphere with some further writings on the campaign that spawned those bad boys.

I have been contacted to write a book review by a fellow blogger who can be found over here . This is an unpaid review, so when it pops up, don’t expect any bias. If I love it, you’ll know that it’s based on its own merit.

I’m also in the middle of an online interview with a couple of games designers who are getting ready to put the final draft of their game together. Hopefully in time to get it up on the UK Kickstarter that should be happening soon.

A friend of mine who runs an air-softing facility has been following this blog from the get go, and liked my writing enough to approach me to do some plot writing for air-softing adventures. I had always thought air-softing was more akin to paint-balling; shoot other people – try not to get shot, but he wants a bit more of a role playing experience for the people who rock up to his place, I’m actually looking forward to doing this one quite a lot.

Also actually playing some games, well running some. Just finished the free RPG day adventure of Only War, Fantasy Flight’s W40K Imperial Guard system, and I’ll write up some stuff from that for the blog. I would love to join the beta for it, but I simply can’t afford the twenty bucks – or Sterling equivalent – to get the pack. Hoping to get a small group together to run the first D&D next pack to write up at some point too. Come the end of September I will be starting a long ass Cyberpunk 2020 campaign, but set in the world of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan. I won’t be doing regular write ups of that, it’s just not the kind of blogging I want to write, but expect a few bits from the highlight reel, and I will link to the ongoing player write ups that any my players do.

As for future blogging, I’m building up a nice buffer at the moment in case there’s no hot button subjects I want to jump on, so the first in series on how to be a bit of a lazy GM without cutting the quality of the games you’re running went live on Monday and hopefully more will follow; some discussion on why players may feel the need on occasion to run an evil character; the fun you can have if you approach board games as a roleplaying experience, and finally; why I’m actually called Shorty, and why it is that gamers seem to attract nick-names, and why that’s no bad thing. I hope you all find some reason in all that to keep reading this pokey little blog, and help it become a pokey massive blog.

Jul 162012

One thing that has become clear in my vast month long experience of RPG blogging, is that every other GM who blogs does about twenty times the work I do in planning and running a game. That’s not to say that my games suck, I have an awful lot of people who would say otherwise. But I manage to do it without the buckets of effort that others put in. This will probably be the first of many blogs where I talk about short cuts and GMing tips that could, if you’re confident enough, take a lot of the hassle out of running your own game. To start with I’m going to talk about populating a small settlement in a way that takes less time but still looks well rounded.

I start with NPCs that players will meet. People in shops, mostly, or someone plot related who introduces themselves. These NPCs are statted in the simplest way possible, and this is a method I use with every system for any NPC that doesn’t deserve its own character sheet. The system I was using last time, so the one I will be drawing examples from, was Unhallowed Metropolis. I love this system and setting and have run games using it that have lasted years.

Before we get into their stats though, lets think about names. I like having fun with this, and do take a bit of  time to prep before each game coming up with a list of name. Last time I compiled a decent list of Lovecraftian names, and whittled out the most recognisable ones to leave me with a few sides of A4 of random men’s and women’s names. Leave a line between each name, and pick out a few at first for the NPCs that you know you’re going to need and quickly jot down a few things that will flesh them out enough to be recognizable to your players, and you, when you need to play them again. Any stat that’s different from the average, just make a quick note of it and the difference, throw in a specialty skill and you’re almost done. Next pick a quirk, either physical or social that means they’ll stand out and make a note of that too. After that, anything else you need to remember just make quick notes of, you don’t want too much to read if you’re playing the character as it slows down the flow of a game.

That leaves a bunch of other names on your list, but don’t worry they’ll get used soon enough. The village will have a bunch of other people in it, farmers, workers, kids and the elderly. 90% of them will never be needed as the players will have no reason to talk to them, so don’t worry about them until the players feel the need to find anything out about them. This works very well with imaginative players who will think of solutions you may not. Do they need someone in town who used to be in the army? You never thought of that, but twenty of the farmers are just one dimensional shadows at the moment. So go to your list, find an appropriate name, give them a stat boost and extra skill that makes sense, a quirk that would be fun to roleplay, and respond to your creative player, “yup, the barman tells you about a good old boy who comes in of an evening telling stories about his time in the Deathwatch”, and away you go.

When it come to stats, UnMet has a pretty basic set and the usual skills. Choose your human average, in this case 2 across the board, and a set of skills most people would have a level in, then one per NPC that they’re trained in and can have at level 2. Then pick a stat or two that differ from the mean, usually one up, one down, but play around with as much as you want; they’re your characters and don’t have to fit the mean if you don’t think they would. This applies to everyone in your little settlement, and takes a matter of second to make the notes next to name you’ve not used yet.

A lot of people use random tables and feel free to go for it if the idea of picking quirks out the hat during a game is a bit daunting. But my best advice would be to prep a list – or steal it from a much better prepared blogger out there – and familiarise yourself with it a little before you run the game. That way you should have in your short term memory a few ideas that you can quickly take down without it looking to our players like you’re doing it all off the roll of a dice and are instead putting a lot of thought into each decision.

I hope some of that was useful, and as soon as I think of some other ways to speed up your GMing prep, I’ll share them with everyone.

Jul 092012

I find religion in RPGs can often leave me a little disappointed . I suppose that a lot of that has to do with my opinions of religion in real life, and I know that what we’re dealing with is a fantasy world, but it still contains people, just like our own world. Just throwing this out there as I’m not writing this to offend, but I am an atheist and will be writing from that position. If you would like to turn your head away now, please feel free. If you want to post comments based on your own beliefs, I draw your attention to my thoughts about what goes into the comments section of this blog. Now, onward to the good stuff.

It’s easy to assume that most fantasy pantheons have a lot in common with Greek/Roman gods; a whole host of them, each with a domain they watch over whilst competing with other gods for whatever the divine equivalent of prestige is. I do see the appeal of this as both ancient mythologies are still very popular and have plenty of gold left to mine. The only real problem I have is when they are over used, when every other system has a thunder god, a god of love and a god that just loves to get down and party.

Yes, there are variations, but most of them follow a very similar path; a god of magic, of necromancy, a god that exists just  to help out healing  injured adventurers. This is all well and good, but it can lead to a dead-end roleplaying wise. A god will want you to behave in certain ways to get the benefits of following it, and this means a follower of god A, will act that way. Not saying that all of them will, but enough to make them look like an homogeneous lump of personality clones.

When comparing this to real world religion, with more gods and beliefs than you could shake a stick at, we see this does not happen. Almost every religion in the real world has fractured at some point in its history and these schisms have become separate entities with grudges against people who believe in the same god, but choose to show that deference in a different way.

A big reason for this is that when  a lot of real world religions were founded, most of the cultures were isolated or were empires who could push down hard to enforce a ‘one true god’ religious structure. When this happens everyone in the society has to find their place, and people with wildly differing personalities have to interpret the tenets of their faith in a way that allows them to fit in. This has happened in a fantasy game I’ve played in. A D&D 3rd game in a world built for the most part by the GM. The player group were all Dwarven, and all believed in one god, whose name I currently forget. Because this was the way it had been for centuries, at assumed that being born a dwarf meant you would follow this god, no matter what your career or class. this meant no matter what alignment you played, or class, you were one of the faithful. I was the group cleric and played it lawful/evil, but was still accepted because I was such a faithful devotee and acted within the law. This very true of real world religions where the extremists are propped up by the massive amount of more moderate followers.

Early modern English history however teaches that schism can happen within one country for matters as simple of dynastic continuity/wanting to shag someone else and not have the kid be declared a bastard. With this kind of thing happening so little in fantasy games, I was again left scratching my heads as to the why fore. Then a simple thought hit me; gods in a fantasy setting actually exist. They can be seen, communed with, and preform miracles that go beyond the natural.

But do they have to? I have played some great games where magic is explainable within the physics of the setting, changing it from supernatural, to the natural. By this I mean the kind of thing that could be measured under laboratory conditions. Could the same be said of gods and godlike entities within the same settings? If they were real and acted within the confines of the natural world, they would have no reason to be worshiped en masse, instead being seen in the same light as giant ‘magical beast with sentience’, dragons spring immediately to mind. There are those who would still look upon them as otherworldly and choose to venerate them as gods, as there are in the real world. This could lead to just as much re-interpretation and fracturing of the faiths as in our own world, and I just think that this would make playing a believer a hell of a lot more interesting from a roleplaying point of view.

Jul 022012

Before I start, I have to give massive thanks to the other half of the co-op GMing experience I’m going to be talking about here. That thanks goes out to Hoppy! The man was an absolute pleasure to work with for the three years we ran a game together. Whenever I think about doing something like that again, a big concern is whether or not I would find someone who I could work with as well as I did with Hoppy. I salute you sir!

So, that out of the way, why am I writing this? Turns out a couple of friends are planning on something similar to what we did, and running a game together as co-GMs. I say similar because they’re going to be running a pure table top game (using the Savage Worlds system, set in the Mass Effect universe) whilst Hoppy and I ran a live action game (rubber fangs, not rubber swords). Although that will present different challenges for the two friends – one of whom can be found here - there are a few things that were essential in making our game the success it was. These were general concepts of game play and style and Hoppy and I both thought were important. Luckily we happened to agree on all the points, making for a unified play session no matter which of the two GMs a player had running their scenes at the time.

To be fair, there was never a time when we sat down and discussed these ideas, and for the first couple of games, we may not have been as consistent. We were still finding our feet, and our voices. Looking back though, I don’t think we would have lasted three months if we didn’t have these things going for us.

  1. Feel and atmosphere. We were running a horror game, but sometimes, just that isn’t enough. For any movie fan, horror has many sub-genres. We wanted a dark feel certainly, but also one that wasn’t too overbearing. Think splatter-punk and you’re getting pretty close, but throw a bucket of dark humour over it to make sure. This does apply to other genres too; fantasy is more than just elves and dwarves. Do you want political intrigue or high fantasy questing? Magic coming out of every crack in the landscape, or mystical artifacts so rare and powerful they become world changing quest items? What about tone? In a sci-fi game, you could be all about the laughs, or gung-ho glory chasing. Both of these could be possible in the same game of any sub-genre, but it’s nice for players to know roughly what to expect. Get this right between the two GMs and there won’t be any awkward moments when the mood is completely broken when a player who expects a certain type of response gets another.
  2. What will the players get out of your game? A slightly trickier question, but well worth spending some time on. Will your players rock up to the table just wanting an evening of fun that they can walk away from afterwards? Do they want the political grandstanding that you as a GM you live for, or do they just want riddles to solve? I know this seems like a re-hash of the above the point, but it’s something the GMs have less control over. For us, we wanted the players to feel like they had made a real impact on the game world they played in, and they totally went for the idea, rewarding every hour of work we put into the game with some wonderful role-playing. . This meant a lot of work behind the scenes keeping track of what everyone was up to, spreading their influence and cash around, trying to get their characters ahead. If this isn’t as important to your players, that gives you the time to concentrate on what they want. You will need to work together on this to get the best results, and sometimes it might mean just deciding that one of you is better suited than the other in certain areas, and using that knowledge to spread the work load. A point carried on to the next item on the list…
  3. Combat. I know that this isn’t always the first thing in people’s minds when planning a game, but unless you’re specifically avoiding it, it’s going to come up. Spend some time contemplating the frequency of  the fights, and how best to handle them. Make sure both GMs know the rules inside and out; there is a never a good time for inconsistent rules calls, but in the heat of a combat is going to be the worst. This is doubly true if you make any changes to the combat system from the way it’s presented in the rule book. Take the time to talk about it, and run a few practices with each other. This is something that you can’t really do too much of. If it’s still a problem, split the work; have one of you in charge of rules calls and the other playing the NPCs in the combat, getting rules calls from the other GM just like a player. It might seem a  bit awkward, but it makes the NPCs look just like any other character, and helps pull the players into it more than if they were fighting a dice roll and an armour class.

I hope that some of the above is useful to other people thinking about joining Gming forces, but if there’s anyone out there with any other tips, or even other questions, feel free to comment below.