Dec 312012

I hope you have all had a great holiday so far. I’m not sure if I have, as I’m writing this early, as I’m fairly sure that the spirit of the season – in my case, rum – will affect my ability to maintain a blogging schedule. So what I have for anyone out there who decides to check up on me today is a short list of three things that I want to accomplish in the new year. Lets start with the one that concerns this blog shall we.

The last six months have been fabulous for me. I’ve been a gamer for a very long time, and most of my close friends have been brought into my life because of this hobby. The blog has given me the chance to make a whole bunch of new friends, digitally so far, but with luck I will meet some of you someday, and share a drink or two as we talk level based game play pros and cons. So, I am going to commit to maintaining my weekly schedule for the whole year. Every Monday a new RPG related post will pop up on this page for your reading pleasure, or your money back. I’m also going to reinvigorate my old WordPress page, for a slightly different purpose; I’m going to try my hand at prose fiction writing.

Having tried a few different things in the past, I think that designing role playing games and adventures might not be within my skill set. I still have plans for the card game – more on that later – but when it comes to creating role playing things, I much prefer a free form creative process which means the adventures make little to no sense when committed to paper. What I have always enjoyed doing though is writing stories. For a long while now I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge, so come the new year, I’ll be putting something up – hopefully once a week, but I may revise that later – over on the other page. A lot of what I write is role playing inspired, or at least genre fiction, so I hope a few of you will head on over on occasion for feedback. I mean that too, like it or not, I want to know what people think…

Secondly, and this is just for me, I want to get back into shape. I moved house recently, and shifting things out of the house was notably harder on me than moving it in a couple of years previously. I know that time marches on for us all, and I’m going to be 35 in less than a month (28th January, if you want to send me something ;p), but I think that with a bit of effort I can make some improvements, and that’s no bad thing.

Finally, and this one is a bit more of interest to my readers than my physique, I’m going to spend the year concentrating on getting my card game off the ground. I’ve made some good contacts over NaGa DeMon, and had universally positive feedback. That’s not enough though if I want to make a go of this. So, I’ll be getting a better working version of my game ready to print and play, along with forking out some dough to get a professionally made promo set for me to take on the road. I will be doing what I can to hit as many places as possible that will let me play my game, and with luck, putting copies of it into the hands of others who will do the same for me. By next November I hope to have my eye on a kickstarter project for it, or have it in the sights of an actual game design/development company, so I can start work on an expansion. This one is a lofty goal, but as the great one once said, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this little post, and if you’re a regular here, thank you so much for your continued support. I hope to keep providing content for you that you want to read, and are happy to share.

Happy holidays from the Shortymonster!

Dec 282012

For the record, I don’t want people to expect too many more book reviews on this site, unless they are actual role playing books of some kind. This is a noteworthy exception though, as within half a dozen pages, I was thinking about how best to turn this bad boy into an RPG. I know that I’m not alone in this, as I lent it to my better half, and after reading the first few chapters, she was contemplating the exact same thing, and even had a base system in mind.

What makes this dystopic, cyberpunk book so suitable as a role playing game then? The setting. Oh lord, the setting. From the off, Mr. Cline paints a vivid portrait of two distinct worlds, both of which are full of rich pickings indeed for game play possibilities. To put this context, the book takes place in a near future where the poverty divide is wider than ever, and global warming paired with energy shortages and wars have made the world a hell of a place to live unless you’re one of the elite. The alternative is the OASIS. A fully immersive VR social media/MMO world, open for anyone with the hardware required to log on.

Even this plane, with it’s countless worlds and settings, is divided, as only the entrance way is available for free. Leveling up your avatar costs money to get them to worlds that provide quests, and for Wade – the hero of the piece, that just isn’t possible. His only options involve hitching a ride with school friends and grinding low level kills for their paltry XP and treasure. That is until he solves the first clue in a game that runs throughout the story. Without going too far into a plot that is much better discovered by reading the book, the creator of Oasis was dead to begin with. And his will involved giving away everything - including the rights to Oasis – to the first person to find the Easter egg he had hidden in the virtual universe he had created.

The first clue? Well, that was just perfect for role players.

The copper key awaits explorers

In a tomb filled with horrors

But you have much to learn

If you hope to earn

A place among the high scorers.

Anyone else getting an idea that they might have a rough idea on this one? This is part of the beauty of the book, it is so totally self aware, not only about it’s content, but also its audience. It could have been heavy handed with this, and become a series of knowing nods that becomes tired so very quickly, but it never does. Cline is obviously in love with the pop culture of his own youth, just as much as the man behind the riddles. Luckily, I’m willing to bet that a whole heap of my readers are too. Any of you ever annoyed the snot out of someone when a movie from your childhood has come on, by quoting the whole thing verbatim? I know I have, and still do.

This simple activity becomes instrumental in the book, and just made me smile to think how well I would do if the movie in question was Ferris Bueller’s day Off…

This is not a real book review, and I’m not going to go into loads of detail about why the author chose the world he did to tell his story or any of the stuff that real reviewers get up to. Instead I’m going to implore you all to try and pick up a copy of this book. It is worth the cost at full price from a real book shop – and since I work in one, I hope you will all pick it from your own local book emporium – but with money being tight, I present to you a link to grab a slightly cheaper copy. 

I hope you all enjoy it, and I look forward to hearing from you what inspiration you have taken from this wonderful book, and how you plan on using it in your own role playing games.

Dec 232012

I have touched gently upon the subject of women in gaming before. It’s not something I talk about a lot, mainly because in my life it isn’t that big a deal. I game as part of a large role playing society that has a pretty healthy gender mix (still very much dude-heavy, but far from a sausage fest), and we’ve never put up with the kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior that I’ve heard about elsewhere. That being said, we still buy rule books, and I still get wound up by how women are represented in them. It’s not just RPGs though, so if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go on a little bit of a ramble right now.

I love watching strong female characters in action. I do however feel a little let down when they’re portrayed by tiny waif like creatures who look they’ve never eaten a meat pie in their lives. As an example, I find it hard to believe that this character is an absolute kick ass hard assassin.

Seriously, she’s tiny and has bugger all muscle tone and definition. I understand that a trained fighter can use leverage and perform amazing feats without being the strongest person in the world, but think back to how many times you’ve watched a movie or a TV show with a kick ass female lead, and they’ve been as sylph-like as Summer Glau.

Now, doesn’t Michelle look like she can handle herself just a little bit better in a fight. And yet, she is rarely cast in a lead role as an action star, instead ending up as part of the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in those roles, but so often is overshadowed by women with a slighter figure, who for some reason are seen as been better suited to that kind of role.

Lets go one further shall we. I’m sure a lot of my readers have seen the rather wonderful

sci-fi action/horror flick, Aliens. Do you remember this character? She kicked all kinds of ass, and held her own against the xenomorphs when surrounded by butch colonial marines. She looked and acted the part perfectly, but died while the rather incapable and more photogenic Ripley lived on. This happens a lot, and if you look at female characters as depicted in RPG rule books, you’ll almost always see the kind of thing. Male characters come in all shapes and sizes, but not so much female ones (I don’t want to get into a debate on costumes right now, but one phrase will sum up my opinions pretty well: Boob-windows?).

If I was an adventurer, I would be looking for compatriots who looked capable, not pretty. I have played a wide variety of characters in the past, and only one whom I actually described as handsome. It was a 7th Sea game, and it made sense for him to be a bit of ladies man. Other than that I’ve played all manner of grizzled adventurers, and con-men. They’ve been scarred, short & chubby and sometimes, just plain ugly, and no one has ever decided that they would rather not have me in the party because of it. So why is it assumed that female characters have to be hot to get accepted?

I’m not talking about all the time here, and of course there are exceptions, and ground is being made in a lot of arenas, but this is still certainly a problem.

One more example, and the reason my mind turned to this subject. I watched the latest

Batman film recently, and before it even started, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as the others, for one simple reason: Catwoman. Her story has been told before, and there really is nothing new to add to it, and I think Nolan just covered the basics without doing anything exciting with this character. And it is a dull, and cliched character. She is a skilled acrobat, and that’s kind of cool, but when a fight starts, I’ve never quite gotten how she poses a threat to Batman. She is always portrayed as just a slim as the other examples above, but here she is in Nolan’s movie. Lithe? certainly. Able to kick the crap out a guy in body armour who has had years of the finest combat training? Maybe not.

And here I come back to gaming again. If I was looking for a cat burglar to join in a caper I was on, I would be a hell of a lot more concerned with function than form. Anyone who turned up to the job in stiletto heals for instance, would  be laughed out the door. I love the idea of Catwoman as an actual thief. Someone who has to keep themselves in the kind of shape you’d need to be in to do the things she can do. have you ever seen a professional freerunner? Those guys are built like brick outhouses, and they need to be to hold up their entire body weight for as long as they have to while on a run. And to be able to fight, they need muscle mass for that too. All in all, I think it’s time for RPG games designers and artists to take a long hard look at how they represent women in their games.

Give them archetypes that make sense, that show that they are just as capable as the male characters, and really should dress in a manner appropriate to the job they will be doing. As always, comments and discussions are more than welcome, even if you don’t agree with me.

Dec 212012

I have had my eye on this little beauty for a while, and when a couple of twitter people I follow started talking about it, I just had to ask if there was a way to get my hands on a review copy of it. Quite selfishly, I also wanted it to run the game at some point. I get a huge kick out of running horror RPGs, and my regular readers will know that I’m currently GMing a CP2020 game for my local gaming society. Seriously, they couldn’t have designed a game to grab my attention better, without rubbing some Steampunk all over it…

Luckily, one of the Tweeps that was talking was the lovely Cubicle 7 twitter account (@cubicle7), who kindly winged me the download code for my very own pdf of said game. Big thanks go out to them for sending me this; as they said themselves, they’re reticent to give out too many review copies as they don’t get that many reviews done. Well, I’m not quite done reading it yet, but what I’ve read so far has been not only killer, but well worth talking about, so with no further ado, lets get into Kuro

What I have read so far is the setting info, which I’m breaking into three parts, and takes up over sixty pages of the book. Some of you might be thinking that this is a bit much, but I love spending a good old chunk of reading time on setting the scene, rather than jumping in too early and then having the setting information drip fed to me in the middle of pages that really should concern themselves more with the system.

The first part is a captivating bit of prose fiction to set the scene in a ‘Show it, don’t tell it’ kind of way. You’re introduced to what is clearly a player character and their sidekick, as they travel through the cyberpunk streets of Tokyo, or Shin-Edo, to give its current name. These are wonderfully described, along with snippets of back story dropped into get the reader thinking about the setting and stories that could be told within it, right from the get go. I always like seeing these intro chapters as I think they do away with the need for a ‘what is role playing’ section. Sadly the game designers didn’t agree with me, and popped one up there anyway. That, along with a glossary of terms that really should be in the back of the book, were the only things I was a bit let down by.

After that we get some description of the actual back story; a very well thought out idea that opens the door to not only cyberpunk genre’d storytelling, but a whole host of horror ideas too. You can play around with cyberpunk styled body-horror, serial killing splatterpunk, supernatural ghost stories, and even Lovecraftian otherworldly eldritch horrors. In other words, perfect for me, and any other fans of horror RPGs. You get tastes of the advances in technology and how it affects the lives of the people condemned to stay in Shin-Edo. All this is good, but on occasion goes over a little bit of ground from the prose piece; not a bad thing though, as I know from other gamers that not everyone likes, or  even bothers to read, the fiction at the top of a book.

Finally we have a lot more detail on the city itself. It is broken down into ‘quarters’, but ‘wards’ seem a better choice of word, as there are considerably more than four of them. Each has its own feel, along with personalities and places of note. It is worth pointing out here a great trick they pull throughout this whole first quarter of the book. Often in RPG rule books, box out text plays a part in the setting info. More often than not it breaks up the narrative flow as it is dropped in seemingly at random. Not so with Kuro. Time has obviously been taken to fit it into the world they are weaving, with thought being given to such fine touches as the frame on the text box making sense for what is inside it. They are all worth reading, as they drop hints and clues about what could be encountered within the city, and even give GMs some great plot seeds. If I’m honest, I’ve already stolen one of them for my own cyberpunk game…

So, what do I think so far? I ruddy love it! I know that I’m pretty much the perfect GM to be reviewing this type of RPG as it ticks so many boxes in what I look for in a setting, but it could still have been handled badly. The pdf is gorgeous though, with stunning art, and some great layouts, along with writing that pops. Sure, there is a typo or grammatical error here and there, but translated work can be forgiven as long as it doesn’t become a constant issue. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into character creation, and then the system as whole, but - faithful readers – that will have to wait until the new year.

Dec 172012

This post is about an argument I’m having with myself. In a previous game, I’ve insisted on there being absolutely no Out-Of-Character (OOC) between any of the players/characters. This worked very well indeed and without it, I don’t think the game could have survived as long as it did. I’m thinking about how best to implement this in other games I’m going to run, or if I should. Or if I even need to. So, expect Pros, Cons, and examples and by the end, me pleading for other input, as I would love to know what other people think about this concept.

What do I mean by this rule? Well, simply put it means that any information possessed by a player in my game, is also known by the character. I find it safe to use this as a blanket statement, even though it’s not true. Does the character know the player’s mobile number? Of course not, I’m only talking about things in relation to the game.

The main reasons for this rule is to protect all the players and characters from people who choose to abuse trusts and play the game in what could be considered a less than fun way for everyone. A scenario that has happened in other live action games that lead to this rule being put in place, runs as follows: player one tells player two about this great idea they have to screw someone over. The conversation takes place away from the table, at a bar in a purely social situation, not even on the same day the game is going to run. Player two thinks it’s a killer idea, and they both have a laugh about it. Player one then uses his plan to dick over player two. When player two tries to prevent this plan from coming to fruition, player one bitches to an ST that player two is acting on out of character information and that they shouldn’t be able to do what they can to keep their character alive.

Now, a good Story-Teller should be able to sort this out, but in the middle of a frenetic game, it can be hard to King Solomon your way out of it in a way that keeps everyone happy. So, we drop one simple rule; if you tell anything to another player about your character, then you have also told their character. Get drunk and let something slip; same deal. It’s your best friend, and you’d happily trust them with your progeny? Same. Deal. With no OOC it means that everyone is on the same page, and there is no way to cheat your way into an advantage.

The game it worked in last time though, was a bit different from most other games I’ve run. I’ve spoken before about the live action Vampire game that me and my mate ran. One of the things that made it so much fun, was the intrigue and power plays between the players characters. Sure, NPCs were constantly trying their hands too, but the real struggle came from ‘blue on blue’ role playing, or PvP if you prefer. For this to work effectively, the players had to be careful about revealing their machinations – going so far as to keep certain things from the story tellers even – or at least revealing them to other characters. Now, outside of a PvP style game – and don’t get me wrong, there was also a ton of cooperation involved – I wonder if this level of secrecy is really justified. Would it matter what people were getting up to, if everyone was working on the same team for the same goals? Would it make the players suspicious if I instituted this rule?

In my experience, even a team of characters who all have the same driving goal, will on occasion butt heads over personal motivations for actions, and if this means a little bit of going behind the players backs then having this rule in place would protect everyone. If it’s in place right from the beginning, then if one player character suddenly gets turned against the rest, it won’t look as obvious as dropping it in after they’ve joined the dark side.

Pretty good reasons to have it in so far then, but not still not enough for me to push forward with it. On now to a very strong reason why it shouldn’t be included: Player Diaries. I love these things, as you will know from some previous posts from me, both about my own write-ups, and those of the players in my current game. All the write-ups I get are written in character and available to be read by all the players. I think this is great fun as it gives all the players a chance to look at their current situation from a few different angles, and they’re also usually just a blast to read. The no OOC rule would do away with these write-ups, or at least make them available only to myself and the player who wrote them, and that takes away a lot of the fun of writing them in the first place.

So, there you have it, some good reasons to do it, some questions as to whether or not it’s necessary in the first place, and some reasons to just not bother. What do you, my loyal and attractive readers think? Please sound off below with any ideas you may have.

Dec 102012

Sorry about the delay everyone! Not only on doing a NaGa DeMon round up, but on posting this late on a Monday. Followers of the blog will know that I have been without internet and moving house recently, and today ending up pulling a longer shift than usual, so I’ve had to wait until now to get in front of my computer. Right, with the apologies out of the way, lets get onto the good stuff.

First off, I got my game played before the end of last month (pause for applause)! Not quite a full game, but I’m happy that even a handful of turns were played as it got me some great feedback. Mainly being that the rule book could do with an example of play in it. I don’t disagree either; I play a lot pf board games and card games, and was designing the rules – subconsciously – for someone with the same amount of experience as myself. Not everyone has an entire cupboard and overflow space given up to games, so I think that I need to pay more attention to the casual gamer market. Sure, the rules are a bit complex, but not overly complicated; they just need explaining in a more straightforward manner, and examples of play seems to fit this criteria. So, with that in mind, I’m starting to work on a new rule book, with those additions, plus a few other tweeks suggested by people who’ve read the rules, but never had the chance to play the game.

Other changes that need to be made include adding a few extra Excitement cards – one of which has the working title ‘Zombie Richard Burton’ – and probably dropping multiples down to two of each instead of three. The deck is just a bit too big at the moment, and it made sense to overload it during play testing so I would have the chance to look at how the various cards worked in differing situations. Out of the basic play test though, I need to be worrying more about balancing the game, and – since this is print and play right now – the size of the deck I expect people to print off to play it.

On the advise of a friend, I’m also considering dropping the word Steampunk from the game entirely. I love the genre and all of its conventions, but explaining it to the uninitiated seems wasteful, as they don’t need to know what it’s all about, and any Steampunk fans out there should get that this is a Steampunk game without me spelling it out to them. If you have any thoughts on this, or anything else about the game, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments box below.

Finally, I do have some great bits of art on the go for a lot of the cards. Some are templates only, that I can fill my own stuff in with, but the play mat is great, and sadly too big a file to pop up here.. I’m going to pop all the images below, with links embedded to larger versions.

They’ve all been done by a friend of mine named Dash. As soon as he sends me a link to his webpage, I’ll update here so everyone can head on over and check out his other work. I hope you lot like what he’s done, and I hope to see more from him soon. In the mean time, I’m still looking for people to play the game and offer some feedback before I start the re-write come the new year. If you’re so inclined, head on over and download the game to play it for yourself.



Dec 072012

How’s that for an enigmatic blog title? I bet a lot of you are wondering what the hell is in the drinking water around Shortymonster towers. Well fear not, your humble blogger has not gone crazy, he is instead taking the opportunity to share with you a rather wonderful little thing.

For those of you who don’t know, once a year myself and a few hundred gamers get together at a university in the UK to drink. Role playing does occasionally break out, but only during the daylight hours, and mainly to give people a chance to recover before the next evening’s drinking begins. The people who attend this gathering are almost all part of one the various gaming societies that are dotted around this land. I myself am a member of HUGS (Huddersfield University Gaming Society), but what I want to talk about today is the creation the Manchester gaming society known as VAGUE. You see, with an awful lot of people going, a lot of societies make their own t-shirts so that they can be easily recognised from a distance. We do this HUGS, and have yearly polls for silly things to put on the back. Past examples include ‘Real Role Players Use THAC0′, and ‘Please don’t kill me, I’m only worth 50xp’.

VAGUE went one better not so long ago, and each member of their society, which is large by almost everyone’s standards, was wearing an individual shirt with an option from a choose your own adventure printed on the back, along with a number. Not just any game book though, but one they had designed themselves. That first night an awful lot of time was spent trawling the bar looking for the number you had just picked, and the dude in the ’1′ shirt was very popular indeed.

It was a great idea on any number of levels, but mainly as a social tool, as it got people talking and gave a reason for people to introduce themselves. I know it’s a bit cliched, but quite a few gamers are a bit socially awkward in large groups, even when that group is almost entirely as geeky as they are. But VAGUE went a little bit further, and I recently received an email from VAGUE front man, and all round nice guy, Big Bad John telling me that I could now pick up the adventure book for myself through Amazon.

Well, it was such a nifty idea, and because the adventure is actually pretty damned rad, that I just had to share it. So I present to you all: The Hunt for the Evil OverlordI hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Full disclosure: I was drunk when I played it, and never managed to survive once. As a side note, even though I know BBJ very well indeed, this recommendation is purely off my own back as I think it is a fantastic idea.

Dec 032012

Welcome to this, my latest look at historical weapons that make their way into fantasy games. I’m going to say right from the get go, that most of the time I think this particular weapon is portrayed reasonably accurately in the games I’ve seen them in, but there are way more to them than most people realise. Usually they are seen as reasonably easy to use weapons that don’t do a ton of damage and don’t have a minimum strength requirement. This absolutely fine for a very basic crossbow, but that is far from what you can do with this amazing bit of kit.

Take a look at the image to the left there, and you should notice a couple of things which aren’t always obvious in more fantasy themed depictions of the weapon. First, there’s the stirrup at the dangerous end. This was an almost universal component on crossbows, and was used every time the weapon was cocked. It would be placed point down, and the user would put his foot through the stirrup, and then use his entire body’s strength to draw the string back until it locks over the trigger mechanism. It would be near impossible for a regular archer to put this much strength behind each draw of a long bow, and gave the crossbow a rather impressive range.

This was not quick to accomplish though, and as such makes it unusual to see them on an open battlefield. Check out an earlier post to find out what happens when a bunch of Genoese crossbowmen were sent out to fight against British archers without shields to duck behind when cocking their weapons. It is reasons such as this that the weapon was favoured by those inside a castle under siege. With two men cocking and loading, and a third to shoot through the narrow slits in a castle’s outer walls, you could continuously rain bolts down onto the besieging army without ever being in danger of their arrows.

The other noticeable difference in the image above is the winch. This was to be found on weapons with an even larger draw strength. The crossbow was held in much the same way, a foot in the stirrup, but the strength needed to draw it was so great that a winch would need to be used. This made the weapon very popular, as you would not necessarily need to have a strong army to use it. Even young boys, old men, and injured soldiers could wind the winch. The power that such a crossbow looses its bolt with is staggering. Even using the entire body, as mentioned above, would not do as much damage. It’s worth mentioning at this point that games systems that have an accurate amount of damage listed for a crossbow cocked this way are few and far between. One shot from one of these things would almost certainly kill you.

Cock it with a winch, and we get to a whole new level of damage. To fully appreciate it, I would like to draw your attention to a rather wonderful French film called The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Sadly I have been unable to find a video clip of this scene, but the entire thing is worth picking up if you see it anywhere. The scene involves three protagonists preparing for a big show down, using flintlock pistols and throwing axes and what-have-you. Well, two of them are. The third, a young French Noble is quietly winding a winch throughout the scene, as he watches his friends destroy pumpkins arranged on spikes for target practice. When he’s finally ready – and it does take a while – he knocks a bolt, aims and fires. The pumpkin is obliterated, and a marble statue behind it explodes into sharp fragments. Now, I know this is a film, and not to be taken too seriously, but bear that amount of damage in mind when you think about what a crossbow can do in your next game.

I was seriously contemplating giving up a separate article to repeater crossbows, but in the end decided that would be a bit of a waste, as I would just end up going into unnecessary details. The short story is this; repeater crossbows are weak sauce. By necessity, the mechanism that draws back the string is small, simple and light. This means that it just does not have the power to fire a bolt with anything like the strength of a hand-drawn weapon. True, there are huge mechanical devices that break this rule, but siege engines are a topic for another time. No, handheld repeaters are not your friend unless you have few other options. To put it in a bit of context, if a standard – hand cocked – crossbow would do d6 damage, then something that requires the whole of the users upper-body strength to cock would likely do d8-10, with a winch powered weapon doing at least d12: a repeater would be lucky to manage d4.

As always I hope that some of the above was useful to my readers, but feel free to weigh in below with thoughts of your own.