Jan 292013

Although the Roman period is very well documented indeed, especially the activities of its soldiers and armies, there is still a lot we don’t know, or at least, cannot be sure of. For these things, we have to thank a particular breed of historical re-enactors who would be better labelled as ‘living archaeologists’. They look at the things that would be available during the time period, and what we do know from primary source documents, and use the objects to find out how they would be used. It is because of Roman military enthusiasts that we can guess so accurately the things we can never know about the time period because of unfortunate gaps in the historical records. So, if you’re reading bits of this and questioning whether it was ever mentioned in a primary source document, all I can tell you is that people with more knowledge and resources than myself say it’s the best guess they can make.


The sword that was used almost exclusively during the the time of the Roman Empire – by Romans at least – was the Gladius. After spending a lot of time looking at ancient and medieval weapons in various museums I think I would rank it as one of my favourite swords. True, the hand and half sword of the Holy Roman Empire has its charm, but for pure elegant simplicity of design, you can’t do much worse than the gladius.

It needed to be simple to make it in huge quantities as it would be given to every member of every legion. When they were performing combat drills they used wooden versions of this sword with a lead weight core to simulate the feel of actually wielding it, without as much danger of real lasting physical damage. Along with the armour, shield and javelins, it was an essential bit of kit, and not having it about you at all times while serving was unheard of.

Before we get into how it was used, this articles subtitle should probably get explained. I love the idea of larping (Live Action Role Playing), and if money was no object, I’d be more than to happy to join in. What would make it such a bother for me though, is that I’m such a fan of the Roman style of sword play, and that style is decidedly dangerous with LARP safe weapons. They are usually carbon cored, and wrapped in molded latex, painted and sealed. They are great for slashing and hacking, but you are really not supposed to stab with them. The latex is strong, but too much pressure and the core will push out the end of it and could do some actual damage to your opponent. And stabbing was what a gladius did best…

It was a short blade with a wicked point, designed to enter flesh as easily as it could.

Click image for source

Click image for source

When we look at the formations that the legions would fight in, there was little room indeed to swing a blade, even one as short as this. In close formation, with large shields locked (more on shields to follow, but the way they were used by the legions was just as unsafe for LARP) the enemy tiring itself out attempting to batter its way through, a sudden, strong underarm stab to the stomach or armpit was very effective. Not just that, but it was also efficient. It required a lot less energy to cut into flesh this way than with a slash. All of the strength is focused down the length of the blade, instead of across it, and this means no energy wasted, and the point has less area, meaning less force required to break the skin.

A stabbing blow – if administered correctly – had an extra hint of lethality to it as well. Opening the wound is one thing, but twisting before pulling out means it will bleed a lot more, do considerably more damage to any internal organs struck by it, and – if the victim survives the blow – makes it considerably harder to treat afterwards. All good stuff, but as you can imagine, not so useful with a foam weapon.

In pen and paper RPGs though, you should all be taking advantage of this. Not every system takes into account special combat moves such as these, but take the time to explain to your GM what you’re doing, and why, and I’m sure that they’ll cave and allow you to do the damage that one would expect. Don’t push it though, this isn’t about playing the system, just having fun. It’s only a little personal gripe of mine that short/small swords seem to get a bum rap in the damage tables.

It is of course worth bearing in mind that it’s rare for player characters to fight in close, well drilled formations, such as one would find in the legions. That’s fine, as stabbing is still stabbing, no matter when or where you do it. I would still advise using a shield, but unless you have at least a line to join, go for something a bit smaller than a tower shield to maintain mobility. Since you’re not in formation, you can also swing the gladius too.

Although it lacks the weight of broadswords and other such weapons, and suffers quite a bit for lack of reach, swinging can still be somewhat effective. I would say that if you get the chance, stick to the stab attack, but if you’re going to swing, don’t even think about doing it the same as you would with a larger sword. Getting close enough for it to be effective is far too risky, and you won’t do anywhere near as much damage. Instead, just keep reminding yourself that end two inches of your sword are the most dangerous, and use this to rake across your enemies. True, you’ll lack the bone breaking, internal organ crushing of Dave the Barbarian and his broadsword, but you should still be able to open a significant wound, and have little problem getting past soft armour. Just keep the point well honed.

I hope that some of that was of use to my readers, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences below, and check back regularly for the follow up article on Roman shield techniques.

Jan 222013

kuro-cover-500-233x300Welcome back everyone to the next thrilling installment of my review of the wonderful little game Kuro, brought to you by the fine fellows Cubicle 7 Entertainment. I left you last time with a taste of what the world was – Japanese horror mixed with cyberpunk – and how it was presented to you by the book. Following straight on from there we get to character generation, so I thought I would give it a shot myself.

If anyone has read my Gnome Stew competition entry, they will know that I’m hoping to run this game myself at some point this year, so I had a rough idea about the type of character I would expect to see. For this example, I thought I would try for a spoiled little rich kid. Someone with no issues in his life who just indulged in his hobbies while the world around him was falling apart. Little would he expect that before long, his own existence would prove to be just as fragile as a house of cards, and when you have more to lose, it can be a lot more painful when it finally collapses.

So, the first thing the book asks for is a concept. That was sorted pretty quickly, along with age and social standing. Next we work out the points allotted for the characteristics based on our young buck’s age. I had decided to make him younger than the average character; this would mean a slightly smaller pool of points, but since I wanted him to be naive and sheltered, this made perfect sense. What comes next in the book, that doesn’t make so much sense. After telling you how many characteristics there are, and how many points you have to spend on them, there is no indication of what these characteristics are until several pages later. I kind of understand why they dropped some pregens in here now; if people wanted to get straight into a game it’s useful to have them good to go. I wasn’t looking for anything pre-created though, so there was a lot of scrolling back and forward through the pdf to get to the info that I needed. Once you get over that jump though, the information is very well presented in a way that makes sense. The stats are laid out nice and neatly, and the derived attributes are easy to work out and are all pretty intuitive. If you’re curious, I took a hit to a couple of stats to get higher scores in some key areas, and ended up with the fewest hit point it is possible to get, but a bloody high defense score.

Next we turn to the skills, and once again I was cursing my choice to play a younger character. The game lays it right out there that doing so will be a hindrance, and should only be done with the GM’s permission, so It was in fact my own foolish choice. Skills in Kuro are split by type, and your skill points are distributed into these categories. Each set has a list of skills beneath it, and each is now set to the level of points you have put into the whole group. For instance, I picked the firearms skill set, and set it to three points. I wanted to be able to play with handguns a bit better than that though, and luckily, Kuro had me covered.

After assigning skill points, you get specialisation points. Since each skill set has a list of individual skills, you can chose to excel in certain specific fields. In my case, I whacked three specialisation points into handgun – bringing the score up to six – and then could only hope my character could lay their hands on one. With my other points distributed amongst the skills and specialisations I wanted, it was time to move on.

Or should I say back a bit, because once again, having the pre generated archetypes in the book before I had finished creating one of my own had confused me. Next to a lot of the specialisations on the archetype, there would be an extra word in brackets. I had to scan back a couple of times, even resorting to a search on the pdf until I was convinced I hadn’t just missed something, and could carry on. Eventually I found out what these mystery words alluded to, and was pleasantly surprised. For each specialty taken above a certain level, you can choose a special trick for it, like adding an extra dice, or a permanent bonus. Lovely idea thinks I, and so I spend a few more minutes adding in some extra words. Not many, but if you’re going to create a standard character, you do get a lot more options. How this will play out during the game remains to be seen, and I can picture the need for crib sheets to begin with to remind the players what each word gives them, but we shall to wait and see…

Final touches next, and this means shopping. Luckily the game assumes that people will have the basics, plus whatever else they would be expected to have for their chosen career. I know a lot of people who find sifting through equipment lists to be the height of tedium, so they could probably jump right past this. I like equipping a character though,so I lost a good couple of hours going through the wares on offer. I have to say, Kuro shines when it gets the chance to dazzle me with cyber tech.

Page after page of things and stuff, with plenty of price lists and stat lines for people who only want the basics, and well written details for people like me. I particularly liked the inventiveness which they’ve applied to making this game feel so fundamentally cyberpunk. I could wax lyrical on this for another thousand words, but my word count is already starting to look strained under the pressure, so I’ll just say that the time was well spent, and I totally winter stealing some ideas from this for my current game. Honest. I would have preferred a few more pictures of some of the more outlandish pieces of future tech, but that’s a personal issue, and I’m not the one paying for artists.

Apart from the fine tuning, that’s all you need to know about breathing some life into a Kuro character. All in all, ignoring my shopping spree, I was done in a little over half an hour, and I can’t see even inexperienced gamers taking too much longer. If you are planning creating the entire group in one sitting though, I would advise you to make a little character generation pack for each player, with the derived stats calculations and the two pages of skill lists on it. Otherwise you’ll be spending most of the time waiting for the players to pass the book round to each other.

I’ll continue the review next week, looking at the rules of play. For now though, this game still receives two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Jan 212013

Regular readers of the blog will know that I love taking part in the RPG blog carnivals. TheyRPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300 give a great opportunity to rethink something in a new light, or take the time to consider something completely new. As a writing exercise, they can really get the creative juices flowing too. Usually though, I drop them as mini blogs near the weekend to keep my readers entertained for the weekend, and also to give people a new excuse to head on over. In blogging terms, I’m still pretty new at this and need to everything I can to build up an audience.

This week though, I couldn’t help but take the time to do Kobolt Enterprise’s blog carnival its full justice, as it fits in nicely with one of my own new year’s resolutions. You see, when I started this blog, it was partially to get some practice at writing for other people. I have always enjoyed writing, and would look forward to any opportunity to do so, even from a very young age. Up until recently though, unless you happened to be in a game I was playing, you would never see what I had to write. I love writing player diaries, and on occasion I have had people tell me that they find them very enjoyable to read.

These people are friends though, and it’s easy to convince yourself that that’s the only reason they have for being so positive. And when you start thinking like that, it’s very easy to convince yourself that no one who isn’t a friend would ever want to take the time to read anything you’ve written. The blog has given me the confidence to try this out though.

Sure, I’m no blogging superstar just yet, but the feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. So as the end of last year approached, I thought about what I could do to put some more writing in front of people and see what they thought of it. Truth be told, I’m having a lot more fun writing the RPG blog than I thought I would. It turns out that spending years either side of the screen has given me some experiences that not only do I enjoy writing about, but others seem to have a grand time reading. So, I will not be stopping writing the RPG blog, in fact, I won’t even take space away from it on this site. Instead, I’m going to reopen the doors of my old WordPress account, and use that as a vehicle for sharing my prose fiction.

Don’t worry though if you only come here for the role playing talk, a lot of my ideas are inspired by what happens around a table, or by conversations that take place on this – and other – blogs. I won’t bombard followers of this blog with links to the other site; I don’t want people put off by what at present is simply a vanity project. What I will do is subtly mention when something new goes up over on the other site, and point people towards it if they want to take a look. If you do decide to take a look, I would love to hear what you think. And I don’t mean that I’m looking forward to gushing praise. I mean that no matter what you think of it, I want to know. I have been writing in a vacuum for some years now, and that doesn’t do a writer any favours at all. What I need is input back.

With no further ado then, I direct you towards my new home for fiction, with a story that comes on the back of something that bugs me more than a little bit, and was heavily inspired by a certain blog post from a few weeks past. I present to you my new beginnings as a writer with, Last Night, it all Went Wrong.

Jan 172013

This mini blog is part of Gnome Stew’s New Year, New Game challenge. It will all be posted on the actual page, but I wanted to pop it here too so I can put in all the links for people to follow to get a better idea of the type of game it will be.

Game: Kuro

Adventure: Ravaged.

My Sunday night game group fell apart recently, and since then the efforts of myself and two others have been directed into getting a new group back together. It seems appropriate that this will happen soon in the new year, and that my first choice will be a game none of us has had any experience of before. The game in question is Kuro, and I’m going to be GMing it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, more than one of the gamers in our new group has never role played before, and another is still a relative novice. That means that if I pick a system that no one has payed before, we have a level playing field. Secondly, Kuro just looks amazing; it fits into two of my perfect game slots, covering both cyberpunk and horror.

What will the game be about?

The demise of a wealthy family. All the PCs will be off the same large and sprawling family that has managed – so far  - to stay on top after the Event. That will all change quickly though as their fortune gets destroyed through mismanagement and corporate attacks. The players will then be forced to fell from their ivory towers, taking what they can carry plus any onboard cyberware they’re lucky enough to possess, and try to escape the body jackers who will be after them for anything of value that can be used to pay off the family debts. Will they go into hiding, seeking refuge with criminals and other unsavoury characters? Will they fight back, trying to right the injustice, and hopefully figure out what laid them so low in the first place? Due to the open world nature of my game plan, it all rests in the PC’s hands. But even as they work to put their plans into motion, the supernatural nature of world they live in will be pushing against them. For the first time, they will be unable to hide away from its horrors.

Potential problems

With inexperienced players, I may have to jostle the group along a little more than with a seasoned group, but any trials on my part will be a learning experience for them. I hope…

Jan 142013

I spend a wee bit of time on the RPG sub/Reddit these days, and I love a lot of what gets posted on there. Something that turns up every couple of days though – usually after the last one drops from the front page and into the ether- is someone talking about a problem player in their group. What I’m offering may not work for everyone, but sums up a good 95% of the problems that seem to affect people around a table. Simply put, player ‘A’ is not playing the same as players B through F, and this is causing problems in the group. Are they playing the game wrong though?

That’s a big problem when talking about any game; is there ever a ‘right’ way to play it? I’ve220px-Dartagnan-musketeers seen a couple of posts discuss this is in the past, and most come to the simple conclusion that there is no wrong fun. I actually agree with this, and if you’re interested I wrote a little piece about why I wouldn’t want to be the Gm for the Three Musketeers. Did I think that they were playing the ‘game’ incorrectly? Absolutely not. For the time period, setting and genre of the piece, they were behaving exactly as they should do. And in all honesty, I’ve played games with similar set-ups, and had a bloody good laugh swashing my buckles with the best of them. But as a GM, it wouldn’t be my cup of tea to run that kind of game. This is a personal choice, and not a judgement on people or the way they play. I know as absolute fact that not everyone likes the style of games I run, and have seen someone lose interest so quickly it was scary.

The thing is, if you’re running a game for the group, or playing as part of one, the group as whole should be what decides how the game works. Lets go back to our original problem of player ‘A’. Imagine him (yes, I’m using the male pronoun. This is simply for personal 200px-Sherlock_Holmes_Portrait_Pagetease, as I’m a bloke, and as such find it easier to think like one) as a player who loves the thrill of an investigative game. He will spend hours poring over facts and clues, and won’t enter into a risky situation unless he has a few contingency plans, and knows almost exactly what to expect. The rest of the group however, bare a much closer resemblance to Athos and co. They’re always flying the face of danger, taking huge risks, and putting plans into action after a few minutes discussion over beers, with the most pertinent point being ‘who gets to look the coolest during this plan’.

There is nothing wrong with either of these play styles, and I’ve enjoyed both, as a player, and even – on occasion – as a GM. But after a couple of session, player ‘A’ is getting fed up. He never wants to throw his character into the same situations as the others, so often volunteers to be the look-out. Since a lot of the game drops regularly into combat rounds, he spends most of his time sat twiddling his thumbs, playing on his mobile, or doodling. The rest of the players try to include him, but soon get frustrated and take his desire to remain safe and sound as an unwillingness to engage with the group, and start to think of him as being useless, if not an actual inconvenience. After all, get a different player in who likes the same kind of fun, and there’s another character to help in a fight instead of sitting it out.

As a GM, you should be able to spot this happening, and the sensible thing to do is approach the lone player first and find out what the problem is. There could be any number of other factors that the above example hasn’t even touched on. Things that happen away from the table can often impact what happens around it. If there is something that can be done, then as a GM, you should make some effort to do it. The more likely problem will be that they just don’t like the way the game is being played though.

This is a bigger problem to deal with. You don’t want to change everything so that one player has fun while the others sit bored; that will only exacerbate the problem. You could try to include some elements of game play that better suit the expectations of player ‘A’, but be wary of going too far down this route. The other players may have no interest in such activities, and you could end up with a near permanent group split, as player ‘A’ deals with the investigation side, and the rest get into fights. I don’t know about you, but I try my best to keep party splits to a minimum, as they can end up with one or more players spending a good chunk of game night with nothing to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave too many other options, and the most effective can be the hardest to convince yourself to take.

Sometimes you have to realise that players can end up in the wrong groups. If you’ve tried talking to them, seeing if there’s any solution that won’t involve changing the nature of the game – or how the majority of players enjoy it – then it might be time to bite the bullet, and sit down with player ‘A’. This won’t be an easy conservation, and you have to be mature in the way you handle it, even if player ‘A’ isn’t. Don’t disparage their way of playing the game, tell them that during other games, you’d love to get more under the skin of the adventure and see what’s what. But for this game, you have to concede that the majority of players want to not think too much, and throw themselves into the action. That being said, as a GM, you can’t change the whole game to suit one player, and if they’re not having fun, it could be time for them to drop out of the group. You don’t even have to make it a permanent thing, but they need to understand that other groups exist who want to play the same way they do, and will find their methods far more fun than kicking in the door and seeing what happens.

As I say, not a fun conversation, and please, if you follow my advice, remember to include all the steps leading up that conversation first. But if a group isn’t working, then sometimes the only option is to fix the group. As always share your thoughts below, even if you massively disagree with anything I’ve said. I invite all manner of feedback, and look forward to a debate. Of course, if you do agree, and have had to resort to this course of action yourself, I would love to hear from you too, and how it all went down.

Jan 112013

That title is probably going to take some explaining isn’t it…

As some of you will know, I spend a wee bit of time on the sub Reddit for RPGs. It’s a great way to get questions answered and come across some great little developments you might otherwise miss. A day or so back, I spotted a question based thread asking what the strangest sentence you’ve heard your players say was. I racked my brain for a while before remembering a certain game of Unhallowed Metropolis.

tumblr_m6a16nCEZP1qz7t0xo1_1280The plot was loosely inspired by something that I read on the back of a book. I never read the actual book, but I liked the idea, so I just figured out a way to make it work within the setting I was using at the time. The short story is a powerful and unhinged psychic wandering the city, infecting those close to him with a hate so powerful they are incapable of controlling it. This is a game world that has more than it’s fair share of horror, including creatures similar to that designed by Dr. Frankenstein, werewolves, ghouls, vampires, ghosts, and of course Zombies.

For people reading this who are familiar with the game, I know that they’re usually referred to as animates, but the word Zombie is a bit better known, so I have paraphrased the original quote. So, while walking down the street a couple of player characters who were out on business of their own, and totally unaware of the devastating psychic miasma that they narrowly avoided, spotted something unusual to say the least.

A young mother with child in a perambulator stopped suddenly to attend to her young charge, who had become agitated and was making no small amount of noise. As the mother looked down at the infant, her face changed from compassion to rage, and I shall spare my readers the brutality of what followed. The young lady was eventually restrained, but not before more than one life was lost to her ferocity.

When the dust had settled, and the group regathered at HQ – a lovely little Gentleman’s club in the west end if I recall – they debated this strange occurrence, trying to discern a motive for the horrifying behavior of the young lady. An early suggestion was that she may have contracted the contagion that turned living people into living-dead people, and had succumbed to it most unexpectedly. This was quickly dismissed, as one of the characters pointed out: “It couldn’t have been an animate, animates don’t punch babies”.

You may now be asking yourselves why I have shared this with you? For one, it struck me as odd that that one comment has become the second highest rated thing I’ve put on Reddit – first place still belongs to the TPK blog for their sterling article on lone wolf players – considering its unmistakably savage nature.

Secondly, I was curious to what my readers would have answered to that very same question. So post below with your own strange but true things said at the table, and feel free to expound on the story as I have.

Jan 072013

A friendly request here, since I’m writing this article after finishing part one of M. Dumas’ rather wonderful work, so please, no spoilers in the comments section. I know I’m a bit behind on this one, but I have more books to read than the time to read them, so some have ended up on the back shelves. Anyway…

When I run a game, one of the biggest things I try to push on my players is that they should be aware of the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t matter if I’m running a sandbox sprawling campaign, or an on the rails one off for a convention or similar; if your character does something, they should be prepared for the world to respond to it. As an example; bullying a town guard to get past them to the next plot point is perfectly fine, and a lot of characters have skill sets that encourage that type of interplay between characters. But here’s a thought: will the guard then return to his position, and never mention to anyone that some loud mouths have just breached his defenses? Or will they run to a superior for help?

A lot of the time, it’s a fairly safe bet they they’ll keep schtum. They wouldn’t be too keen to run off and admit that they had failed in their duty to their boss, and would certainly not brag about the encounter with their friends over an ale that night. But that won’t always be the case. Some city watchmen would take the risk that their own career would be forfeit if it was for the good of the city that the people who had just violently threatened one of it’s civil servants were brought to justice. Also, what ever they’re getting up to almost certainly isn’t in the city’s interests, as they’ve broken the law to accomplish their goals. So, why not – on occasion – give your NPCs a bit of a conscience and have things come back and haunt your players?

This is just on example, and I’m sure that most of the GMs reading this have done something similar in the past. And I don’t only mean negative consequences by the way. Player characters are more often than not heroes, and if they are seen to do something heroic, they should be rewarded, and sometimes it’s a bit too easy to just throw some XP their way. The world they’re playing in should give ample opportunity for rewards that they didn’t expect. A round of drinks brought for the party; townsfolk coming to them for help and offering rewards; people coming to their defense when they are set upon by villains. A short list there to be sure, but all worth keeping in mind and expanding on during your own games.

Back to my primary point though, that of a bunch of player characters who think of consequences in only one way: If I do this, it’ll look amazing, and I’ll feel awesome.

If you haven’t read the Three Musketeers, then what follows could be considered a wee bit of a spoiler: they are a bunch of almost universally unlikable rogues and gadabouts who care nothing for the people they trample over – sometimes literally, while on horseback – on their quest for self aggrandizement. This by itself might not be such a major problem, the world they inhabit is one of massive class divides and quite often those on the lower rungs do nothing to upset those better off than themselves, for fear of even more horrifying repercussions. I can’t even begin to list the insults – both verbal and physical – heaped upon the lower classes in the course of the novel.

They are also unbelievably happy to get themselves into fights with anyone, over the slightest perceived insult. While I understand that there does exist a type of gamer who loves this style of play, for me it is just a bit too simple to get my teeth into. Also, unless you apply repercussions to their actions, it becomes one long game of fight after fight, with no meat on the bones at all. They are all almost superhuman in their fighting abilities, and have access to some kind of near magical unguent to heal their wounds, so they have nothing to fear from the actual fight. They are also so totally self obsessed that they can’t even comprehend the danger of fallout from the fights they needlessly instigate.

Now, if I was GMing these players, I would be constantly looking for a ways to get them to understand that every action creates reactions, but the gusto with which they throw themselves into perilous situations would leave me constantly back footed. Until, that is,  they build up such a collection of enemies, that poisoning them, or silently sticking a dagger through their throat while they slept would be the only feasible way to deal with them. I don’t mean that that’s how I the GM would deal with them by the way; I am not a fan at all of that kind of petty game playing, by players or GMs, but instead I mean what the NPCs of the world would be forced into as a way of achieving vengeance or protecting their loved ones.

Of course, this post is more than just a rant about a style of play that I don’t particularly enjoy, I also have a tiny bit of advice if you find yourself with such a group a players and would like them to curb their excesses somewhat. A properly considered back story can work wonders for getting players to find an attachment to their character, and also provide a GM with some leverage when it comes to consequences. Sure, the Musketeers were near indestructible warriors, but they had love interests, and dark parts of their past. Threaten these connections because of the PC’s actions, or have a risk of certain past transgressions coming to light, and watch as they bend over backwards to right their wrongs. True, they will probably do this in the same gung-ho fashion as always, but hopefully it will make them think twice in future when they have the opportunity for mayhem.

On a final note, I don’t want anyone to come away from this thinking I’m not so far thoroughly enjoying the book. I’m have a grand old time reading it, and can’t wait to get back to reading a bit more each evening. Sometimes though, it’s not easy to take your GMing hat off when enjoying a fine piece of story telling.