Sep 242012

There has been talk on a few of the blogs I follow – and even in a forum thread or two - about the feasibility of using anything like a long sword in a dungeon environment. There are ways to make a hand-and-a-half sword, or even a two handed sword, still a viable weapon for a fight in an enclosed space. This week we are talking about the Murder Strike.

The image above shows this move in action. As you can see, the sword is pretty long, but held half way down the blade, so that the arc needed to swing is reduced. Now, some of you out there may be wondering why there’s any point swinging the sword in such a way, instead of using the blade. To answer this, first we need to understand how a medieval war-hammer actually works. If you’re thinking Mjölnir, you’re a little bit out. No, the war 

hammer that would be used by footmen against knights in armour is a little bit more like this–>. Note the sharpened back end of the weapon. Now, I have been lucky enough to see what such a weapon, correctly forged, can do to a steel chest plate. Trust me on this, the two large holes where the spike punched several inches through the metal to where the ribs would be were very worrying indeed. 

The cross guards on medieval long swords – the bits that stopped an attacking blade sliding down your own and slicing your fingers off – were often molded into points. This was not purely for decorative purposes, as you can imagine when performing the murder strike. This would be performed as a two handed strike, so imagine the force with which the cross guard would hit the armour of your opponent. Even if you were unlucky, and didn’t get the clean hit needed to punch a large hole in the metal, and the flesh beneath, you would still have a chance to knock them back, maybe even off their feet.

If you scroll back up to the top image, you will notice that not only is the man performing the murder strike gripping his sword blade with open hands, but the poor chap on the receiving end is also grasping his blade when defending. This is another interesting aspect of medieval sword fighting. The blades, although when swung with enough force could do massive damage were rarely, if ever, honed to razor sharpness. There were at least two reasons for this, the first being that it was unnecessary. The amount of pressure over a surface required to cut flesh was easily taken care off without needing an razor edged blade when a sword was swung with enough force. It was also a waste to try and keep the blade that sharp, as after a few swings at another blade, or maybe the armour of your opponent, the edge would quickly dull.

This does give you edge in a close quarters fight with limited room to swing or use a shield, as it allows the defender to hold the blade firmly to parry and block blows with much greater ease than if the sword was held in one hand. If the user is proficient enough, this defensive stance an also allow a quick and deadly riposte. Don’t forget that the Romans perfected a method of sword fighting that used the point of the sword to great effect. When using a long sword in a closed space, use your off hand to hold the blade as you would when using to block, and if you turn aside a blow, drive the point of your sword forward, the accuracy you gain from holding the blade in both hands means a high chance of hitting a gap in your opponent’s armour with a good deal of force.

I hope some of the above has been useful for you all, and if you have any tips of your own, please share below.

Sep 212012

Been seeing this one around for a while now, and I’ve been tempted to join in. the thing that’s kept me from it for so long is the fact that the things I like change with my mood. I have put some thought into it though, and I think I may have come up with some things that seem to appeal to me no matter what the mood. So with no further delay, here are my entries into the Alex J. Cavanaugh, Genre Favourites Blogfest.

Favourite movie genre: Zombies. I know this can encapsulate a lot of variety, but I think that’s way it appeals to me as much as it does. From the Romero classics, to the not quite zombie movies like 28 Days Later and The Evil Dead. With a little bit of Shaun of the Dead thrown in there, and immaculate hidden classics like Colin.Favourite music genre: Extreme metal. I’ve alluded to this is a past blog talking about horror RPG music, but I just want to lay this out; I lovevery heavy metal. Again this cover s a lot of music, from the fun stuff Turisas, to the all times classics of Slayer, with obscure bands dotted in there too, such as Negura Bunget. If you read this blog, and have a band you think I should know about if the above band names mean anything to you, please, drop it into the comments box below.Favourite literary genre: Historical fiction. This one took a lot of grappling with. I work in a book shop, and have done for over 6 years now, and as such i have a lot of exposure to reading material, and although it’s true that sci-fi and fantasy make up the lion’s share of my personal collection, historical fiction is what i love to read. Especially if it’s done well. One of the masters of the genre for me, is the sadly departed George MacDonald Fraser, creator of the Flashman papers. These are some of the most enlightening, well researched and thoroughly funny books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Guilty pleasure: Slasher movies. I’m a big horror fan, in all of the above genres, but there are times when I just want to watch Freddy Krueger kick some ass. If you’re reading this and you blog, I invite you to join in. If not, feel free to use the comments box below, to add your own ideas, or mock and deride my own.

In other news, today I have been given a guest blog spot over at the Iron tavern. Take a look, and let me know what you think about my ideas on the OSR.

Sep 192012

Big thank you to Berin Kinsman for stepping in today with a guest blog. When you get to the bottom of the post there’ll be a couple of links so you can find the rest of his writing, but I just want to nudge you a bit harder to do so. He’s a great writer, and has been a friendly chap to this new blogger. Anyway, over to the man himself. 

Roleplaying games are dependent upon social contracts. Most of us know this instinctively, and the social contracts we form are largely unspoken. We know who the gamemaster is, and who the players are. We know where we’re meeting, when we’re meeting, and about how long we’ll be playing. We know who is responsible for bringing the snacks, who is giving whom a ride, and so on.

In my experience, most of the problems that occur within gaming groups come from undefined social contracts. Certain players assume certain things, but because those things weren’t specifically agreed upon, other players come with other assumptions. Is the food I brought for me, or did I bring it for everyone? How much table talk is acceptable before it’s considered disruptive to game play? How much can we drink before we can no long really call this playing anymore?

It can be awkward to address certain things. Liz always eats a ton of food, but never brings anything or chips in. Our feelings towards Ian’s chronic flatulence wavers between offense at the rudeness of its presentation and concern that he has a serious medical issue. Bob is a great player until about his fourth beer, at which point all of the wonderfully constructed character bits and nuanced tactics go out the window.

How this is handled depends largely upon the relationships within the group and the personalities involved. Sometimes not knowing someone well makes it easier, sometimes it makes it harder. Sometimes an intervention-style approach, where it’s addressed with or in front of the entire group works best to show the solidarity of the group, sometimes a one-on-one is more effective so the person doesn’t feel attacked. It’s difficult to gauge because of the potential consequences. Things could be resolved, but you could also end up losing a player, or worse, a friend.

Here are my tips for dealing with social contract issues:

1. Have a general feedback session. Set aside a time to not deal specifically with the issue, but to deal with any and all issues. Present it as a feedback session to figure out what can be done to make the game and the group dynamic stronger. You can discuss things like the direction the campaign is taking, in-game concerns, and introduce new ideas for playing times and such, but work the main issue in there. Make is an overall social session. This makes it feel as if it’s come up organically, and hopefully no one feels attacked.

2. Weigh your priorities. If the point is to game, andthe players are acquaintances at best, you might want to prioritize the game over the relationship. The priority is what’s best for preserving the game, and if that means a player quits because they’re offended, well, you only see them on game night anyway and you’re not really close. If the player is a close friend or relative, and the game is an excuse to get together and have fun, you will probably want to prioritize the relationship over the game. That might mean dealing with their behavior.

3. Be honest. That doesn’t mean you have to be cruel or mean, but let the person know how their behavior makes you feel, and what your expectation is. If other members of the group have discussed this, they should sound off with their feelings and expectations are as well. You can’t find solutions until you admit there’s a problem and define it.

4. Be open to negotiation. You may have an end in mind, but after discussing it with the individual or the group, new information and new ideas might come to light. Don’t be fixated on getting your way. Be prepared to concede some things for the sake of the group. If you dig in your heels, you may well become the new social contract problem.

What social contract issues have you encountered, and how have you deal with them? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Berin Kinsman is the marketing director for the RPG publisher Asparagus Jumpsuit, and in a past life was the RPG blogger known as UncleBear. He blogs about the creative lifestyle at his eponymous website

Sep 172012

I am a huge fan of Fantasy Flight Game’s (FFG) run of Lovecraft inspired board/card games, and play them as a whole, way more than almost every other board/card game my girlfriend and I own (which is a lot). There are a few reasons for this; I’m generally a big fan of the Lovecraftian mythos, FFG put out some top quality games, and they work for groups of varying sizes, unlike other games that can flounder with smaller or larger numbers of players. This isn’t my main reason for liking them though; I love the fact that while playing them, I get a genuine sense of being a part of the story.

In simplest terms this is done by appealing to the role player in me by handing me a character sheet to begin with, one that would pass muster in a pre-generated adventure one off. It contains a little bit on who the character is, and some basic stats that don’t need to much explanation to tell me what they specializes in. Don#t get me wrong, FFG aren’t the only company to do this though. Just looking into my full to bursting board games cupboard, I see Robo Rally there, and each of the eight little robots has a sheet with a quick description of their personality included. Sadly, this has no bearing on how the game is played, and each robot is in fact exactly the same in game terms; so it’s fun to be a robot, but that’s all you get to be. That’s not really a great help when it comes to relating to the character.

Horror and survival games seem to really go all out on this aspect of the board game, with several in the zombie survival genre coming with their own set of character sheets, and another from my collection, Betrayal at House on the Hill. Going back to FFG, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Mansions of Madness all come with character sheets too. maybe the games’ designers realise you might do more to keep a character alive if you get the chance to connect with them.

You might be wondering why this is such a big deal; well I’m a role player predominantly, and although character sheets aren’t a necessity for me to get into the role I wish to play, when it comes to a board game they really help you feel more attached to the character than if they weren’t included. Think of Monopoly: do you ever get a sense of attachment to the boot you’re moving around the board? Do you ever to stop to consider the decisions you’re making from the little dog’s point of view? I would think not. But when you’re handed a little bio of your character, and have an idea of some kind of motivation for what they’re doing, it means you start making decisions that are based more on what the character would do, and less on what you yourself would.

This to me, is one of the fundamental aspects of role playing. When what I do is influenced more by the world I’m playing in and the character I’m playing, than by my own motivations. There are discussions aplenty about there about meta gaming, and I invite my readers to search them out, as they can really help to hone your role playing. In a board game though, should this matter?

I say yes! Take the simple and wonderful card game Gloom. In it you play a miserable and weird family, with the aim of making them as miserable as possible before killing them in a variety of interesting ways. This can be played as a numbers game, or you can take the time to read the cards out as they’re played, to weave a story of melancholy and despair before the inevitability of the grave claims your family. Doesn’t that sound like more of in depth experience than just totting the numbers up and playing to win? OK, playing to win is kind of the point, but I hope you know what I mean.

All of this is also very important when looking at survival style games. Using the monopoly example again (for the record, I do enjoy playing it, just not as a role playing game), could you see yourself getting any kind of attachment to the wheelbarrow, and doing everything you could to save them from a hoard of zombies? I really doubt it, and I know I care a hell of a lot more about keeping a character alive if I have been given the chance to relate to them, and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Lets take a look at another popular survival game, Zombies!! I’ve played this many times and find my enjoyment quickly diminishes over time. The simple reason for this is that I don’t really care about my character. They’re just a coloured figure with a few points of life and bullets, and when they inevitably die, there is no sense of loss. Put a character from Mansions of Madness in the same situation, and all of sudden, they have a personality, and as a role player, they become my character and I want them to survive.

Does anyone else play board games like this, or am I reading way too much into things. And do people have their own stories of how board games have become so much more thanks to role playing out the character?

Sep 142012

This month, thanks to Dice Monkey, we look at placing an RPG in an established setting. This is something I’ve done in the past, but right now I have two examples in mind about games I’m going to be running in the future. The first I have talked about before on this very blog, and it involves taking an established comic book setting and turning it into an RPG world. This may not be quite what the creator of this month’s blog carnival had in mind, but so many established settings started life as something other than an RPG. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of at least one game based on a movie/book series/computer game that they’ve either played or ran. The D&D world of Krynn leaps straight to mind, and recently I was thinking about taking a look at the Dragon Age RPG that someone else was blogging about. These games exist because they’re based on settings that are evocative enough for the reader/player/viewer to want to experience them for themselves. After Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to suppose that there was an upswing in sales of RPGs as people wanted to take a shot at being Legolas or Aragorn, and there’s so much fantasy/sci-fi/historical content out there to supply a steady stream to us gamers. But still, it’s not enough. My girlfriend and a mate of mine have done a quick Savage Worlds hack for Mass Effect, and there’s a great free game on Drive Through RPG based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere book/comic book/TV series. The tools are out there for gamers to make an RPG in any setting they desire, so why not use one that is familiar to them due to experience and exposure, that you can make your own? And, why use a pre-created setting at all?

To answer that, at least for myself, I’m taking you into the future a little bit, or at least my possible future when I finally get round to running a Warhammer 40k game that I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now. It will almost certainly be using the Only War core book (don’t get me started on why the hell Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) don’t just put out one core rule book and then create setting books for the rest of their lines). For people who don’t know much about the 40k universe, go read about it and I’ll be waiting right here. What I want to do with it is to set a game on an Imperial world long abandoned by the Imperium, that has devolved slightly and the imperial cult acts more like contemporary real world religions, but with the same militaristic feel that the game world does so well.

So basically, very different to almost everything that Games Workshop and FFG have put out. And for me, that’s why you can play in established settings; you have the rules all sorted out for you – barring some personal tweeks – and if the setting can’t be used to tell the exact story you and the players want to tell, it takes a hell of a lot less work than making one from scratch. Just change one or two fundamentals, and once more, you’re playing in a world that you created.

Sep 102012

I have already touched on this subject a little bit, but it has mainly been focused on the people running the game; giving them a choice location and some great ways to keep their players nerves as tight as a bowstring. This week though I thought it only fair to offer a few little tips to people who are thinking about playing in an RPG that sets out to scare them. My reason for this as that unlike other games, it involves an emotional commitment from the players right from the get go, just so you’re ready to experience the game in a way that will allow you to get the most out of it.

The first and most important thing, the emotional contract you need to agree to to if you want to enjoy horror role playing; you must allow yourself to be scared. It’s all well and good claiming that role playing your character’s sense of dread and fear is enough, but any actor will tell you that emotion in a performance is more convincing when it is based in reality. So, let yourself feel the fear, as if it really was you in that darkened room, knowing that you’re all alone but still hearing a papery noise of something moving along the floor towards you. I know that this isn’t the easiest thing in the world, as once you grow up it’s considered normal and healthy to put aside irrational fears. If you were your character though, would you be as cool headed? They exist in a world where the things that go bump in the night could be more than just the house settling, or the plumbing doing that weird thing it does.

Now, if you’re ready to be scared, it’s time to move on. The next thing to do is to be prepared to show the terror, and voice it even. I know that guys have a strange thing about this, as if showing fear makes you weak, and the female gamers out there could be even more concerned about it, as in a lot of cases they will be in a male dominated game and could object to conforming to stereotypical ’girl in a horror movie’ behaviors. Once more though; play it as if it’s real. If your life was in danger from a threat you could never understand, never explain or describe, but feel a sense of palpable dread just knowing it was there, would you maintain the facade of coolness, or would you shout, cry out, and probably just run like hell? If you’re willing to make this effort (maybe not the actual running away bit), the GM will see it, notice it, and keep piling on the pressure. If you’ve committed to it, you may even feel a sense of real fear start to tickle your nerves. This just makes it easier to keep the suspense going, and to commit the experience.

Often in a horror game, isolation is used to highlight anxieties and fears. The GM could very well split the party, but if you don’t find yourself alone, and have the other players to talk to, then scare the hell out of each other too. Talk in character about the dangers ahead, and what worries you in the coming excitement. Make up a story about something similar that happened to a friend of yours; with a suitably grim ending, and it will help everyone’s imagination – including your own – to latch onto the very real dangers your characters face. This is even more effective if you do it when the GM is dealing with another player/group of players. Imagine them walking back into a room to see the players visibly flinch at the unexpected noise of the door opening…

The final bit of advice I’ll give you, and this is key to every type of role playing, but pays off hugely in horror games, is to keep in character as much as you are able to. Picture yourself watching a scary movie, alone in your front room, the lights off, and no distractions. Would you keep pausing the film to check your phone, texting people, or getting up to check on the cat? Not if you could help it would be my guess. The more that you allow yourself to be immersed in the experience, the more real it will seem to you. The same goes for role playing, and it will help you to get the same sense of fear that is plaguing your character. At the table, this means doing your best to avoid talking about what you did at the weekend, if your sports team did better than someone else’s team, or sharing a funny joke you saw on Twitter. The GM will be grateful, and you’ll have a much better experience.

And after all that there comes a caveat. If you don’t want to get scared, then this will all have been for naught. You probably shouldn’t be playing horror games at all, and I advise against following any of the tips listed above.

Sep 072012

To everyone who knows me, they know that until I get a real job, there’s little I can do to support the great Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects that are out there. Seriously, there’s loads of them out there that I want to be able to support.

Luckily, I am in a position to do something today, and until Paco makes the money he needs. Click here to find the full details, and watch the video too. If you’re wondering why I’m getting so behind it, then find some of the G*M*S Magazine podcasts. The man has a great interview technique and giving him the chance to get the skinny on a big event that I won’t be able to get to is very much in my interest, as well as anyone else who can’t make the trip.

The link to the right of this post will hover on my home page for the next couple of weeks, and I hope all my readers out there take the time to click it and donate as much as they are able to. If you have your own blog, link me to it, and I’ll take a look around and post some incisive comments on your wonderful content.

Sep 032012

My first post since someone out there decided I was officially awesome. I better not screw this one up…

I was reading in a blog somewhere this week about inspiration for RPGs, and where it comes from. I used an example in the comments section about reading the back of a book that looks interesting, and then with no other input, imagine the plot taking part in your game world and how it would work. It’s a simple enough trick than can be very rewarding if you put the mental effort into it. Today though I want to talk about the way a massive body of work inspired me, and how I turned that inspiration into a campaign that I plan on running for roughly nine months.

What inspired me was the work of Comic book writer Warren Ellis; more specifically, his masterful run as the creator/writer of cyberpunk comic book Transmetropolitan. If you haven’t read, I strongly advise you to do so. Maybe not right at this second, but by the end of the week I expect you all to have made the effort. There may well be a test. It’s not so much the characters that inspired me, or even the story he told, but the world that he created. It’s how I went about turning that into a place people can role play in that I will be discussing today.

First off, I needed an intimate familiarity with the world. This wasn’t hard, as I was happy to take a weekend and read the entire run once more (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done the whole series in a single sitting) to get the feel of the setting as fresh in my mind as I could. Then I broke out a note pad and pen, and started reading again…

I had several pages with different headings, each for things I wanted to incorporate into the game world. There may well be other stuff that pops up that comes from what I remember from the comic books, or just my own imagination, but these lists are the things that I wanted to touch on that would help define the post-cyberpunk feel of the setting. Details will be a little vague if you don’t mind; I know that several of my prospective players read this blog, and due to the nature of the characters they will be playing, I don’t want to spoil too much.

The first things to go down were the easy bits that make great window dressing; the things that one can buy. Since I’m using CP2020 as my system, I knew that shopping could be a big part of the experience, and as well as keeping the basic stuff from the four chrome books – just for the sake of ease – I also wanted to make it uniquely Transmetropolitan. So every time anyone in the comic book ate something or watched an advert for a product, it went on the list. This means the players can eat baby seal eyes whilst drinking Ebola Cola.

The characters would of course need somewhere to buy these fine products from, so any shop in the books also got a list. In actual fact it was a small sub-list of general places to go. Due the sandbox nature of my GMing style, I fully expect the players to explore the wider city, and I wanted to give them a different feel for different places and wealth levels. As an example, the print district is right next to the upper class con-urb area known as Puritan Mewes, and you won’t find chain store burger bars or gun retailers in that area, more your bespoke luxury foods and weapon emporiums. I was a bit tempted at this point to consider mapping the city out; as I say, I want/expect the players to explore, but I often find that maps can be a bit of a hindrance to me when I GM. If the world exists as more of an abstract in my mind, then I can play with it a bit more to suit the needs of the game and the expectations of my players. I know some gamers and GMs may frown on this, but it works for me.

Next came the most fun bit, and also the longest list by far; fun things to do/see when wandering around the City. Because of the open world feel, and the fact that plot hooks are fairly well distributed around the game world, I needed fun things to keep the players occupied while they explored. This meant several pages, split into sub lists by the length of the experience, of just stuff. Off the top of my head as I sit and type; humans that have turned themselves into floating clouds of nano-computer robots with the ability to restructure matter, just floating past, having fun turning people’s clothes into bananas. That’s just a quick one, but for a longer term sub-plot, the players could decided to investigate a historical reservation; a place where cultures from the earth’s past are kept alive in perfectly enclosed areas. With willing volunteers re-creating them, down to the most exacting detail. The characters who wish to visit them will be totally decontaminated and vaccinated against everything that their bodies no longer have a defense for, and can interact with the past; the people living in it having had implants in their brains allowing them to see people from the real world and process the experience without being driven insane.

Add to that a couple of generic lists of names and time-lined events that I may or may not use, and I have built up a pretty good picture of a world for my players to have fun in. It took quite a bit of time, and would almost certainly have been easier to play in an established world with splat books detailing all of the above for me, but I’m such a fan of the comic book that it was totally worth the effort. And you know what they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. So if you’re reading this Warren Ellis, please see it as that, and don’t sue me…

Sep 012012

This post is going to start off a little self congratulatory, but I promise that I’ll stick something in at the end that’s about role playing, just to keep everyone happy. I woke this morning to a lovely email informing me that I was Stuffer Shack’s favourite RPG blog site of the month! Click the badge to the right to head over the site that’s given me this honour. As you can imagine, that made me very happy indeed!

From the start of this blog there have been several sites and individuals that have offered me help and advice, and Stuffer Shack was one of the first; right out the gate they were happy to lend a hand with everything from site design to ways to drive engagement with the site, and I don’t think that I would be deserving of this award if it wasn’t for a lot of their help. I’ve not even been at this blogging lark for for three months yet, so to get some recognition this early on is a great boost to my confidence, and a huge incentive to keep putting out great content for everyone who enjoys what I produce. So thanks to everyone for the help, kind words of encouragement, and in G*M*S Magazine’s case, sponsorship. And now onto some thoughts on magic weapons in fantasy role playing.

This idea came to me this morning, almost immediately after waking, and so may have been the result of an unremembered dream. I know that sounds a bit hippy-ish, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It stems from reading someone else’s blog – sadly I’m unable to remember whose, but if they’re reading this, please let me know so I can link to the source of my inspiration – who was talking about under powering magic weapons a little, or at least giving them a cost to use them. True, there are weapons that are just so well made that they may give a small bonus anyway; I believe the term is master crafted. That’s all well and good for a plus one here or there, but to make a truly powerful magic weapon – anything +3 or higher I’d say – it shouldn’t be a case of the weapon always being active, it’s just too powerful to maintain at all times. If you really need to to gain the full effect of the weapon, when fighting someone a bit tougher than the usual kobolds, then you need to concentrate to activate the power within the weapon.

I see this working by giving an equal negative modifier to all other tests as the weapon gives to attack/damage rolls; so a +5 attack/damage would be -5 to all other tests and saves. Since in combat you don’t really make tracking or lock picking rolls, the issue shouldn’t be that great, but imagine if it was also taken off your dexterity based AC modifier? You would have a much better chance of dealing some awesome damage, but at the cost of concentrating on the power of the weapon, so that you’re not dodging blows as much as you usually would. I understand that there are combat moves that do this already, but if the magic weapon can stack with the bonuses and negatives, it would make for a very interesting kind of combat indeed.

The idea seems so simple, it may very well be that it’s been used before and I’ve not noticed it, but either way, I think it could be fun. As ever, sound off below if you have any thoughts on the subject.