Mar 262013

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 252013

Fans of the blog, thank you by the way, will know that I like delving into the historical on occasion. It’s fun to do, and allows me the opportunity to take advantage of the three years I spent studying history at university. There aren’t that many other chances I get, to be honest, so I really look forward to writing on the subject whenever the mood takes me. What I usually do is go into a bit more detail on a specific weapon or fighting style, and add a few tips about how to integrate them into a role playing game. If you know the kind of games I like to run and play though, you’ll know that combat is never a huge part of what I like about the hobby. instead I tend to veer more towards social interactions and intrigue. With that in mind, I have for you, some small snippets that could make for a more rounded social environment from periods of history that interest me, starting this week with the Victorians.

Although historically based games tend to take part in alternate history, one that largely does away with prejudice based on gender or race, the fact of the matter is that the Victorians were a very polite bunch of people, and even more so when it came to how women were addressed. This becomes obvious in one simple gesture, and is probably the best for summing up the gentlemanly attitudes towards the fairer sex; if a Lady stands, then no man should sit. This will be used often during meals, with the men getting to their feet if a woman walks into the room, or if a woman stands up to leave. It is a simple little thing, but gets across quite nicely how social convention becomes so ingrained into every day life. I could now go on at length about how obnoxious most men were about women in their modes of address and general feelings, but since most games are set in a world where this is not the case, I instead invite you to do some reading of your own.

This next one might very well be known to any readers who like the BBC TV show Qi as much as I do, but I discovered this one independently, and as such was actually pretty proud of myself for getting a question on that show correct. The best example I know of it, if you want to see it in action is the rather wonderful HBO show Deadwood. A man asks  young child, “How do you do?”, and the boy responds with a slight nod and the same question, but with a slightly different emphasis: “How do you do?”. This might not seem like much, but again highlights just how polite people were that the correct response to someone asking about you is instead to inquire as to their situation. It is a question that will be asked repeatedly in a character’s life, and knowing the basics just adds a layer of immersion that feels very satisfying.

This of course is the standard response, but it leads quite nicely to the basic concept of respecting one’s elders. I know this is seen as a bit hokey these days, but I like it – and not just because I’m getting on a bit myself – and it was very important to the Victorians. If one was perambulating along the pavement and someone your senior was also making use of the walkway, then it was a given that you would move to the right and allow them to pass. (As an aside, how much better would it be if we all just agreed to move to the right when two people were walking towards each other, instead of all that bimbling back and forth?) Although this was also expected from people of lower social classes if their ‘betters’ were walking towards them, age was to be universally respected.

I could go on at length here, but would rather suggest a few things that one should be very careful to avoid doing while out and about. if you are the guest in someone’s house, then they deserve the utmost respect, as does the house itself. What with a lack of electronic communication in the Victorian era, a lot of social interactions take place in person, and quite often at the domicile of one person involved in the conversation. There’s a whole list of things you should know about how a calling card is delivered, but space here is limited. When you do end up round at someone else’s place of residence, all due care should be made to avoid offending your gracious host.

So be careful to not touch or alter anything in the house; this includes touching and moving ornaments in the sitting room, opening or touching a piano if it is already open, or opening the curtains in the sitting room. Importantly, one should never stride around an empty room if you are waiting for the person you are calling on to enter it. Instead, stand respectably near the middle of the room, or near the fireplace. If someone has taken the time to visit you, then you must at all times give them your attention. This is another that strikes home I think, as visiting a friend who spends half his time on a smart phone is more than slightly annoying.

One final point, as I know my word count could sky-rocket on this subject. If you are inviting someone to attend you at any entertainment, then the written invitation should be composed in the third person. A strange one, but taking the time to compose such a letter should be time well spent, and creates an artificial distance between the two persons, and since the social mores of the time were tightly focused on keeping a distance between unmarried men and women, I can see the point.

I hope that some of that was useful for you, and I think I’ll take a shot at some medieval etiquette next. It was more than just the code of chivalry you know.

Mar 202013

cards-against-humanityI wasn’t too sure that this should be reviewed here, as there’s little to recommend it as a role playing game, or even a game with role playing elements. What made me take a shot though, is just how much I’ve had playing it recently. I first came across the game when a Twitter debate broke out bout whether or not it should be considered a good gateway to more mature and in depth gaming. My own personal thoughts on it, based on a few previews of the cards, and how the game is played, was that it didn’t need to do that job, but it could do if pressed.

So, what is Cards Against Humanity? It’s a party game in a similar vein to Apples to Apples, but very much aimed at a mature audience, provided that audience has a puerile sense of humour, and is not easily offended. It works very simply – although there are optional rules to add a bit of extra fun for people who have played it a lot – by the placing down of a Black card with a Phrase or question, to which the other players have to select a White card from their hands that they think best fits. This all sounds very simple, and it is. You can explain the rules in the time it takes to deal everyone a hand of cards.

For this reason alone, it is a great game to drop in front of people who might not be savvy with the more complicated Euro-games or Ameri-trash kind of board games that I usually play with my gaming friends. It’s the kind of thing that can be dropped on people who are already out for a drink, or just chilling at a mates house, and fun should quickly ensue. Add to this the accessibility of getting hold of the game itself – available as a free download to print out at home – and it’s a sure fire hit. Of course, it’s not quite that easy…

With a name like ‘Cards Against Humanity’ you get the feeling this isn’t a family friendly kind of game, and you’d be spot on. The humour is very close the bone, and if anyone in the group is easily offended, then I would advise against playing it at all. Almost every combination of cards could be considered offensive to someone. the last time I played this game – after taking the time to print it on a good card stock and cutting it out one rainy afternoon – I was in a pub with a small group of friends, and we had to be more than a little careful about how loud we were when announcing the winner of each hand. It should give you a pretty good idea of the level of humour, by telling you that one answer that works with damned near everywhere question is ‘Black People’.

This sounds very racist, and by itself could be enough to put people off the game, but bear in mind that it is derogatory about everyone. It is so universal in its attitude towards mocking things, that once you get over it, you don’t really notice it. As the game progressed, I noticed we were less and less concerned with keeping our voices down, and were just laughing out loud like children.

In conclusion, as long as you can get passed the dark themes and humour, this is a great game. easily accessible, both in laying your hands on the game, as well as playing it. it comes with a very high recommendation from me, and if you’ve played it before, feel free to share you’re favourite combinations of cards in the comments section. To start you off…

“_______, High five Bro!”


Mar 192013

As promised, I’m back at looking at Necropunk, a new Pathfinder setting currently raining money on Kickstarter. As mentioned in my first brief glimpse at the preview material, I’m not actually that bothered about the pathfinder rules set. I’ve had some fun playing D&D 3 and 3.5, so I understand the basics, but I’ve played them with people for whom any deviance from a D20 based traditional fantasy setting is just something that would not even be considered. They were tactical players mostly, and whenever combat broke out, the game slowed to a crawl, with those of us there for the role playing, pretty much being told what we should do in the fight to garner the greatest positive modifier for the whole group.

I’m sure that there’s a lot of people out there who have fun with that play style, but I am not one of them. So there were a few things that I needed to know before I fully jumped on the Necropunk bandwagon, first being how important combat was going to be. Luckily, they have no problem playing things the way I like them. Although they refer to this mainly in terms of full interplanetary war, it’s an attitude that I bring to almost all of my games when the fighting starts; the fear of mutually assured destruction.

Unless you are a god like being of immense power, the last thing you should want – unless mentally unhinged – is to get into a fight. There is no real way to be certain you’ll walk away from it, and odds are that even if you do, you’ll have the scars and lasting injuries as reminders to be more careful in the future. There’s not a game I’ve run (that wasn’t Feng Shui) that hasn’t had this attitude. And after the first fight, I enjoy watching my players come up with great reasons to avoid getting into scrapes. And if they cannot be avoided, they plan so well for any advantage they can get, that they will have a much higher chance of walking away from it intact.

If/when I get the chance the run a game of Necropunk  that’s what I’ll be looking for. All my players will have to know that it isn’t a normal game of Pathfinder, and that instead of rushing into fights to solve problems, they should be seeking a more indirect form of conflict resolution. So far so good then, and then we get to another thing that I’m looking forward to; equipment lists.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure, but for me, I like the feeling that you should be able to equip your character in a way that fits in with the world, rather than just generic items and weapons. Plus, the more choice available, the less likely you’re going to find players all going for the same load out of weapons and gear, and adding to the personalisation factor of the character creation process.Add this to the aesthetic that they are going for, and I think I’m in for a treat.

Anything with ‘punk’ on the end is my kind of game. I like the low-fi feel the word brings, even if the technology is of such an advanced level as to be almost indistinguishable from magic. So we have huge interstellar space craft, that are actually alive, and will look as such. the weapons and cyberware are all living tissue, and the thought of blades glistening with ichor as they flash through the air sounds great! The images that are available for the way the game will look are still thin on the ground, but the writers do a damned fine job indeed of painting a picture with words. Still, I can’t wait to take a look at what they have to offer.

I’ll be back later with a more in depth look at characters with the next part of the review, but of what you’ve read so far has piqued your interest, you should head over to their Kickstarter page and pony up a bit of dough to help them out.

Mar 182013

Unless it’s part of the system and will be expected of my players, I rarely run games that are action packed. I like it this way, as it gives my players time to think about what they’re doing. It also gives me time to think about responses to what they’re doing. This is especially true of my current game, as the plot is very loosely written, and depends an awful lot more on what the players choose to do. This means that several times a session, I have to contend with something that I never would have thought of, and then need to integrate it into the plot. This is no way a complaint, as I love running games this way.

I try my best to make player agency very important, to let their actions decide the fate of the story, and maybe even sometimes the world. It also means that I need to be able to think on my feet and not let things slow down too much. Sadly, this has been happening a bit more than I would like recently. The game I’m running uses the CP2020 system, but is not set in that world. Instead of action, I was looking for in investigation based game. this is all down to talking to the players about what they would expect, and I think I’ve been living up to my end of the bargain.

The last three weeks’ games have been very intense. Things have gone wrong and needed sorting, conspiracies abound, and all that jazz. But for the 3 sessions before that, it hit an almost snail like pace. Looking back, there was one big reason why it got bogged down for a while, and that was people going shopping in character. CP2020 has all manner of great things that can be bought for the characters, from weapons, to computer programs, through sub-dermal video screens and a whole array of cyberware. I wanted to try and limit the amount of time that would be spent shopping for obvious reasons.

The group doesn’t meet up apart from the time we spend gaming,so shopping needs to be done during the game, and really sucks up time. True, my girlfriend is in the game, and she can take care of her shopping out of the session if she wants to, but even that doesn’t work if it happens half way through the game, and she really needs a new voice box. One way I was cutting down this time sink was by keeping money a rare commodity. This was only ever going to be a stalling tactic though, as they were trying to earn money, and I had no real in game reason to stop them, nor would I want to. Punishing the players to make my life easier would very much be considered a dick move.

Plan B was to keep the various chrome books and weapon catalogues out of their hands. I have played and run CP2020 long enough to have a pretty good idea about what’s available, and even if it isn’t I would be able to quickly make something up for them. Keeping books full of shiny toys away from the players proved harder than I would have liked though, and thus explains some reason for the slower game. But there was something else.

The plot line had plenty of downtime written into it. True, there are deadlines for completing certain portions of the plot, but my players have been kicking ass and taking names, and are currently ahead of their deadline by a few days. This means that I either invent busy work for them, or just declare that a couple of days has passed and move on.

Busy work generates its own problems, as it just adds extra threads that can be tugged at, and when they don’t lead anywhere, it is obviously going to be frustrating for the players. I could fudge things and tie random encounters into the plot, but doing it in a way that seems realistic is pretty hard considering I’m doing an awful lot on the fly as it is. I could also just let them carry on with the threads, adding story to them if that’s the way they want to go.

This has been very tempting on more than one occasion. There’s a whole big city out there to explore, full of people and stories, but I have a time frame of my own to work with, and the more I deviate massively from the meta plot, the harder my job of giving the players a conclusion to several months of gaming that would be worth the effort. So, neither of those options are great in the long term. Instead, I’ve been letting the players use their down time in character.

This has meant trips to the casino, drunken flirting with wealthy widows, and setting off explosive devices inside giant robots; none of which has anything to do with the plot. It has meant that on occasion, players have little for their characters to do while others are getting more attention. Far from an ideal situation, I think you’d agree, but better than skipping over some chances for character interactions and some top notch role playing.

If you find yourself in a similar situation then, my advice would be to let the players set the pace. Don’t keep them busy with things that don’t concern them, and give them the chance to explore the world at a speed that’s right for them. Just keep an eye on all of them, and do what you can to lessen the breaks when one or more of them just sits around waiting for the rest to catch up.

Mar 142013

Hello gentle readers. I have been promising something special for a while now, and with the big weekend almost upon us, I present my Student Nationals Special. Well, I say mine. I’ve been lucky enough to get a very special guest to write something for me on the topic of role playing to win. If you don’t know who this gentleman is, I will assume this will be your first visit to the student nationals. In which case, please, prepare yourself. If, like me, you’re an old hand at this, then the man needs no introduction. Please, enjoy the thoughts of the legend that is BBJ.

COMPETITIVE ROLEPLAYING : A Roleplaying Game (RPG) where upon it’s conclusion the Games Master (GM) would judge which of the players brought the most fun, excitement, teamwork and other objectives to the game, and declare them the winner.

Got that?

Easy enough, isn’t it?

Yeah, I thought not.

When you’re playing a wargame, or a cardgame or most boardgames it’s easy enough to work out who the winner is. They’re the person with the most armies standing, or most tricks taken or in the most extreme of cases they’re the one that spilled Tizer on the table, flipped the board onto the floor and run out crying.

Not so with roleplaying games, though the Tizer manoeuvre is always worth a shot.

In a roleplaying game the players are working together as a team, albeit with interpersonal frictions, to defeat a bad guy, his minions and his plot as portrayed by the GM.

So where does the competition come into it? You win or you lose as a team, right?

Yes, absolutely right.

Aaaaaand also no.

See, for a few instances, and one particular convention I attend every year, the games are competitive and so the GM at the end has to work out who was the best roleplayer of the party.

He has to work it out. It’s not obvious, in fact, it’s purely a judgement call on their part. So it’s really about how the GM decides who is a good roleplayer and who isn’t. This is fraught with danger if nobody gives the GM guidelines as to what might be a good idea for them to look at.

For example, in previous years I have encountered GMs who thought it would be a good idea to base their judgments on such things as dice rolling, character longevity or even accents.

Yup, you rolled a six more than anyone else that day?

Have a cookie.

You character didn’t die in the final encounter?

Three gold stars.

Your Russian accent is flawless, and you come from Moscow originally?

Go to the top of the class and take a bow.

Reasonable ways of judging a roleplaying game?

Not even close.

I am fortunate enough to have written a few guides as to how to mark and judge a competitive RPG and I know that some of those are followed each year so you’ll have to accept the fact that I’m not just making this up for shits and giggles, or shiggles as we shall never call it again.

It’s easy enough and I can boil it down to a couple of simple questions.

You know the guy at the table that’s annoying, stinky, self obsessed, overly loud and patronising?

Yeah, you do. Well, they’re not going to win.

You ever sit at a table that gets really into the character and spends more time talking in character bantering with other characters than the GM? Who’s quick and funny and helps his fellows along the way, even if they’re not in charge?

Yes, them. They’ve got a good shot at winning.

You’re looking for someone who helps the plot along without claiming all of it for himself.

You’re looking for someone who can get into character, even going for the accent, no matter how badly they mangle it.

You’re looking for the player who makes it fun for everybody to play, rather than spending all their time looting their pockets and stealing all the glory.

Someone who you would want to play with again and again no matter what the game or the situation.

The best way to become that player is to completely forget that you’re playing in a competitive game in its entirety and get on with playing a fun game with friends. It’s not your job to try and judge the game, so get on with playing it.

All you should watch for is not to mark yourself out as ever being ‘That Guy’.

[NOTE TO ALL FEMALE READERS : I have, and often do play a great many games with girls of all ages, stereotypes and beliefs, they’re great to play with. But since I hate writing articles with clumsy “he/she” bits clogging up the text you should now go back and replace every ‘Guy’ with ‘Girl’, ‘he’ with ‘she’, and still educate some of your own sex to use shampoo and soap occasionally, it’s not just blokes.]

Of course there’s always something else you could try that I’ll never rule against.


Mar 142013


Although by now, I feel like I’d be justified in changing that to Mountains of Radness! The whole three part epic has been unlocked as Modiphius hit yet another stretch goal!

This one does look great, and for UK buyers, we’re talking a measly 35 quid. That’s not all that you get for your money though. You also get the basic Keeper and Investigator books, along with every stretch goal extra in .pdf. Seriously, this is amazing, and based off just how good their Zero Point campaign books have been so far, there really is no reason not to jump on board this one! Head on over, and add your backing now, while there’s still time, and check out the kick ass propaganda poster too.


Mar 122013

Once more I am beginning a series of reviews with some thoughts on general feel and concept, as I think this goes a long way towards grabbing attention of people who might not want to delve too deeply into a new system or setting that they don’t know enough about. It’s also a good idea in this case, as the preview pack I’ve been sent for Necropunk is just that; a preview of basic ideas and concepts over about 40 pages.

These 40 pages did impress me though. Right off the bat I was liking what I saw, with attention placed on the kinds of areas that I look for in a game, and taken away from the kind of gaming that has, in the past, stopped me from caring too much about Pathfinder. They waste no time in making sure that the game that will be played is one of intrigue and honour, rather initiative and hack & slash. True, there is still combat involved, and they do spend some time talking about it, but even without their assurances I would look at this setting as one that involved more social challenges than physical.

There are other things I like too. The aesthetic they are going for sounds like it will be right up my alley. I really wish I had some images for you, and as soon as I have anything to share I will. There are a couple of pictures, but I don’t think they yet do justice to the bone-laced science fiction art work that I’m looking forward to feasting my eyes on. The simple fact that this is called anything-punk was enough to get me interested in the visuals. See my Kuro reviews, and general love of all things Steampunk to get proof of that.

The idea of magic and technology being combined/intertwined is far from a new one, but it is still fairly unusual, and I think will add a lot to this setting. the idea of cyberware like technology created by necromancers is just too delightfully twisted for me not to love it. Just the simple phrase ‘Bone Suit’ gives me a total geek-gasm. It is also nice to know, that although the technology and general feel, both lend themselves well to a horror game, that the designers are focused more on the subtle than the shocking.

I’m not too sure how massive interplanetary living space ships built by necromancers could be subtle, but if that doesn’t have your mind just swimming with possibilities, then you may need to seek help.

So far, this has definitely piqued my interest, and I’m looking forward to getting more under the skin of this one. I’ll have a more in depth look at it by the end of the week, and will hopefully be updating you as more refined versions of the rules become available to reviewers. For now though, I will once again direct you to the Kickstarter page, and ask you very nicely to give up a small amount of your hard earned cash to ensure this book makes it onto the shelves.

Mar 122013

6844859Hello everyone! This is the smallest of small blogs, but I really have to share this one. I’ve poking into the Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter news every once in a while, and the sheer amount of goals hit and updates made, has meant that I’ve never been able to keep on top of it. But they are so damned close to all three parts of the Assault on the Mountain of Madness getting added on, I just had to share it and hope some of my readers will head on over and help them hit this latest goal. Seriously guys and gals, please do it, just for me.