Sep 302013
 

OK, it might be. There is some tantalising glimpses at some future posts though, so if you’re a fan, then please stay with me for the next five hundred words. First, sorry for a lame ass filler post. A few months back the company I work at started some major overhauls to its staffing, and this has meant that even though I’m on a twelve hour contract, doing six day weeks has been happening more and more. Heck, there are times when I’ve worked ten days straight without a day off. Last week we also had a major hardware and software upgrade while our senior member of staff was on holiday, at the same time as Fresher’s Fayre while I’m the president of our gaming society. All in all, not conducive to spending time in front of a computer.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t even been that active on other blogs that I follow. This is for the same reason. I tend to flick through them quickly on my mobile during breaks, or of an evening, but rarely have the time to post well thought replies. Don’t worry, I am checking you all out, you just don’t know about. Anyway, onto less creepy sounding things.

My column at Stuffer Shack should return this week, as things are getting a bit back to normal, and I’m in the mood for trying out something different. I’ve already done a bunch of plot seeds, and a large handful of character ideas for people to use. At the moment I’m thinking about trying my hand at a bestiary of some sort. I will be going through folkloric creatures from old English lore, and adapting them to fit into fantasy games, so check that out from the weekend onward.

On this blog I will be looking at what – if any – winning conditions exist for a player of role playing games, and the people who run them too. I’ts just a little something that’s been on my mind but I’ve had trouble pinning down. Work is proceeding though, so should be something on that soon.

I also have started some work researching a couple of my weapons posts too. The first comes after a conversation with a re-enactor last week about how brawling skills are way more important than you would think when it comes to a melee, and the second is on the humble spear. A question was asked on a forum when I was pimping my document about why the spear was used so often throughout history but us far from popular in RPGs. I think I’ve found a few answers, and some other little factoids too.

So there you have it, a few little ideas to keep you going, and a promise that I will try really hard to do better in future. Still, I’ve been at this for over a year, and this is the first time I’ve not done a weekly post with actual content. Depending on how the next couple of days go, I might have a review post to put up before the end of the week to keep the hordes at bay.

Sep 232013
 

I know that I am more than lucky when it comes to hanging out with my fellow gamers. For many years now I have been part of a society, that even though its numbers wax and wane, can usually be relied upon to have a good few dozen members. This year I have once again been voted in as El Presidente, since the last I was given the honour, I managed to not burn anything down (yay). One of the jobs this entails is bringing in a fresh crop of new members at the local university’s Fresher’s Fayre.

It has been a few years since we were in any way associated with the University of Huddersfield, and even longer since we had anything to do with them other than the name, but since we are a fairly old and well regarded society we still pick up new members. On the day, myself and a handful of volunteers will don our HUGS branded shirts and hoodies and wander around near the actual Fresher’s Fayre – we’re not allowed in since splitting away from the university – handing out flyers to anyone who might be interested in joining us once a week to roll some bones.

text_game_newbieLater that evening, all current members and anyone new who was convinced that we weren’t part of some sinister cult, get together in our usual hang-out to socialise and chat, without actually running any games. This evening is just to meet the new people and give them a chance to check us out and ask questions. We don’t run games because we quite often get new members who have never role played away from a computer monitor or games console, and we’d rather they were comfortable with the idea, instead of being thrust into the deep-end with little to no warning.

Below are just a few tips that I’ve picked up from the many years I’ve spent doing this. In no way is it an exhaustive list, and some of the ideas may not work for everyone. As much as we all love gaming, our society doesn’t take itself too seriously, so please be prepared for a little light heartedness.

DO, chat away about gaming. It is safe to assume that that’s why everyone new will be there, so don’t shy away from your hobby, embrace it to let the new lot know that they’re in the company of a bunch of people who have no problem letting their geek flag fly.

DON’T talk about nothing but games. Not only am I lucky in that I know and get to hang out on a regular basis with a big bunch of gamers, but a whole lot of them are friends out side of the hobby too. I’ve played in a band with some of them, go to watch Rugby matches with others, podcast with one fine example, and talk movies, comic books, music and life in general with any of them that’ll listen. Make sure those new to the hobby understand that geekery comes in many forms and all of them are welcomed. which leads us to…

DO, be open to all kinds of geekery. I’m not a card flopper. I have been, and have spent far too much money on the hobby. I’m neither a LARPer nor a reenactor or a cosplayer. It has been years since I played a wargame, and even then I sucked at it very hard indeed. But I love that so many of our members are into this kind of thing, and I will spend many an hour chewing the fat with them. Make sure prospective gamers know that it’s encouraged for them to bring whatever flavour of geeky they enjoy to the table, and that they will be amongst friends.

DON’T be exclusionary in any way. Forget what a few idiots seem to think about women getting dressed up as comic book characters, I’ve known in my time a few people with rather unsavoury opinions on women in general. Not all of them were gamers, but it happens. Make sure that any new members feel comfortable no matter who they are. This goes for race, gender, sexuality and any other damned thing. If there’s anyone out there who wants to stop a person from getting involved in the hobby I love for any bullshit reason like those mentioned above, I want nothing to do with them, and will happily ask them to leave.

DO, regale new members with interesting and entertaining stories of past games. Gaming is a cooperative hobby, and getting a bunch of people laughing their collective posteriors off about the time that Dave did thing in the forest, is a great way to make new people feel like they’re in a welcoming environment.

DON’T bombard them with stories about how awesome your characters always are. I would like to think that by now this one is pretty much a given, but just in case you think that people you’ve never met want to hear the life story of your Nosferatu in all its grizzly detail, think again. An anecdote or two is fine and dandy, but remember what I said above about the cooperative nature of games; bring other people into the story and never underestimate the power of self deprecating humour when it comes to making new people feel welcomed.

DO, introduce new faces to everyone. The more people they have a chance to meet, the better impression they’ll get of the group and be able to make a decision about whether they want to commit the time and effort to turn up each week and game with the bunch of reprobates.

DON’T expect them to remember everyone’s names. Based on past experience, a whole bunch of names tied to a whole bunch of faces is never going to stick in the mind after one night, especially when that night is spent in a pub. What seems to work well for us the fact that a lot of us have nicknames. As an example, outside of my close family and work, there’s less than half a dozen people that refer to me by the name on my birth certificate. To everyone else, I’m Shorty. And stuff like that tends to stick in the memory a bit easier.

DO, share jokes and have a laugh. Another one that seems like a no brainer, but as I mentioned above, we don’t take gaming so seriously, and laughing about it lets prospective members know that. If they’re wanting a much more grounded and sensible group, it will let them know that the society may not be for them, and stop them wasting their time or ending up in a group they don’t get on with.

DON’T throw in too many in-jokes or take the piss out of other people too much. The in jokes thing just makes sense, and can lead to people feeling like they are on the outside of a conversation, when what you want is the reverse. As for having a laugh at other people’s expense, this one is a bit trickier. I know that when me and my friends get together, we have no problem ripping on each on any number of topics. This is great for established friends, but it could give other people the idea that it’s fine to do it, even if they’re not known to the person who ends up on the sharp end of the humour. I’ve made this mistake in the past, and I was lucky as I saw the consequences and was able to put out the fire before it really started raging. If I hadn’t have acted quickly though, there would almost certainly have been bad blood between people for no real reason.

I think that covers a lot of the basics, but please feel free to add your own, or massively disagree with any that I’ve put up there. I’ll report back from the field once this Wednesday is out of the way to let you know if I have anything extra to add.

Sep 172013
 
You may have noticed that I have happily reviewed a few products by British RPG company Cubicle 7. I am a big fan of what they do, and very happy to announce their London based gaming convention Dragonmeet. Unfortunately work being what it is, I seem to have neither the time nor money to attend such gatherings, but they’re a very much on my radar. Suffice to say, if I was going to go to a gaming convention, this would be high on my list. All the info and links you’re going to need if you’re lucky enough to be heading off are below. If you make it, get in touch with your convention highlights.
dragonmeet
Dragonmeet 2013
Dragonmeet is once again descending upon Kensington Town Hall in London, this year on the 7th of December.
The event has a new website and a new Facebook page.
This year Dragonmeet organisers are planning to build on last year’s increased footfall and tip over the 1000 attendee mark.  Dubbed “London’s friendliest one day gaming convention”, Dragonmeet offers roleplaying, board and card games, special guests, seminars, trade hall, artshow and a charity auction.
Tickets for Dragonmeet go on sale soon, so keep an eye on the website (www.dragonmeet.co.uk), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/dragonmeetconvention) and Twitter account. (@dragonmeet). Further information can be had by emailing dragonmeet@cubicle7.co.uk.
Sep 162013
 

That line is totally stolen from Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks… but I really liked it as it reminds me of a very simple trick from Unhallowed Metropolis that I have used in the past and that can work in several games. It’s basically a great opportunity for GMs, and something for players to be weary of. In its simplest usage, it works great for any game that has a form of animate dead, be they walkers, shambling corpses, zombies or animates.

550px-Grinning-ZombieA victim goes down in the middle of a combat from what should have been a fatal wound, but is forgotten about in the clean-up. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve declared someone out of the combat due to a severe wound that rendered them immobile but not dead, and then forgotten about them myself. The players do it almost as much. This leaves you with a fairly regular stock of soon to be zombies that will look very familiar to the characters, and will probably stop them from being so blasé about what they leave behind.

This works just as well for BBEGs too, and we don’t have to stretch out memories too far for a great example. Professor Moriarty and Holmes were both seen going down a waterfall together after a fight, but no bodies were ever found. This has given countless writers and film & TV producers all the excuse they needed to write their own stories about the World’s Greatest Detective (sorry Batman).

It would be easy to do this for your own bad guys, but I would advise caution and restraint. If you make the vanishing of the antagonist a little bit too obvious, the players will not rest until they figure out what’s happened. I’ve been a player just as much as I have a GM and I know what we’re like when we have a thread to pull on; the whole damned sweater will unravel before we’re through. As a GM, this kind of thing can be frustrating, especially if it doesn’t lead anywhere and will just involve double the effort on your part for little pay off for the players.

Handle it well though, with a natural seeming disappearance of the body, and hopefully you should be able to have some fun. When it comes to it, my favourite tactic is to have the BBEG seem like he was little more than a capable lieutenant. When he’s dealt with there should be a trail of evidence leading elsewhere, to a bigger badder threat that needs to be dealt with. These days – after a hugely successful caped crusader film (I still love you Batman) – it’s best described as pulling a Ra’s Al Ghul, so you should still be weary of your players spotting this one coming.

Players should also be free to play around this one, again trying hard to not push their luck or be accused of power gaming. If you;re unlucky enough to have a character die, then see if you can arrange it so that none of the other players get a chance to examine the body. Either it gets left behind in a hurry, or vanished from sight in a ruck, and the rest of the group have to flee before something equally bad happens to them. If you have a very generous GM, who has a flair for the dramatic, then you might just be able to turn up, battered and bruised with interesting scars, in a later scene.

If you manage to convince your GM to let this one go, you’d better make the story of your survival pretty darned interesting!

Sep 092013
 

Bill the Butcher

Having spoken in the past about ways of making your big bad evil guy (BBEG) a bit more three dimensional, it occurred to me while re-watching Gangs of New York that the thing that made William Cutting such an interesting – and maybe even sympathetic – character, was that he was, in almost all things, honest. I think that this can be trait often overlooked when creating your own BBEG, as they are more often the type to lie and scheme to get things done. Lets take a look at Cutting and see if we can’t apply some of this to our own RPG villains in a way that will make them more rounded and interesting to interact with for your players.

First of all, yes I used the word sympathetic to describe a man of sheer and unrelenting brutality with absolutely no empathy; basically the worst type of psychopath. This might not seem to make much sense, but once you get to root of his motivations – no matter how flawed and antagonistic they are – you see that he is acting with nothing but a steely determination. This is something that is often praised in real life, and it could be said that he just happened to be born and live in the wrong time. In no way am I excusing his rampant racism  – and if you’ve read other posts by me or follow me on social media, you’ll know I’m against prejudice in any form – but it seems like he would have been made perfectly at home with his attitudes if he had born in a southern American state about one hundred years earlier.

With his obvious charisma and leadership chops, plus his ability to intimidate others, he would have been a political powerhouse, able to operate almost completely within the law if he had been born in a different time and place. Sadly for the Butcher, this was not to be the case, so the life of a criminal kingpin was his best option. And it’s a life he’s ideally suited to. When he tells someone that he will cut their ears of if they disturb him, the people around him know that this is no idle threat. The Butcher never wastes a word, so you better believe that whoever is rude enough to interrupt a game of cards is going to have to buy smaller hats for the foreseeable future.

Some of his more brutal moments from the film also fit well with this honesty, and make you wonder if some of the other characters are actually as noble as they seem to be portrayed. Amsterdam’s plan to kill the Butcher from a distance after wheedling his way into his trust comes across as decidedly dishonest compared to Bill’s killing of Priest Vallon. Priest was challenged to an open combat, with rules of engagement and in full view of the local population so that no one would be in any doubt over who had prevailed. True, the Butcher did use a bit of trickery to deliver the final blow, but even vikings were proud of men and women who could over come an obstacle by trickery if it was easier than going at it in a head long rush and winding up dead. And when Priest was lying before him, the fight was stopped and the final wound administered quickly and efficiently, with all due honour shown to a respected enemy. Amsterdam, the movie’s hero, has no such respect for his enemy, and would see him dead without a chance to defend himself.

Later in the film, when Bill kills Mad Eye Mood… sorry Monk, in the street when his back was turned, it again looks like Bill is the bad guy. He totally is, but once again, he is nothing but honest in how he operates. He goes to Monk in broad daylight, carrying weapons and calls him out. Monk appeals to Bill’s sense of fair play and citizenship, inviting him in to talk rather than fight. And for some reason, then turns his back on the Butcher. At no point does Bill agree to talk or go quietly, he lets Monk have his say, then when opportunity presents itself, does what he set out to do, and walks away satisfied. Far from the actions of a hero to be sure, but he never claimed to be one, and set out his intentions as plain as day.

Now, using this in an RPG means having a BBEG that’s in a position of power to get away with doing all of these thoroughly unpleasant things and having a support structure in place to stop them from feeling the negative effects. If you have such a villain in place, then try this out, see how unsettling it is when they tell the Protagonists pretty much exactly what they’re going to do, and then do it. Make it brutal and shocking, almost hyperbolic even, and watch the players squirm as they now realise that any threat offered by the BBEG is more than idle words designed to intimidate, but a promise of future unpleasantness.

Sep 062013
 

A few years ago now, as part of university project looking at heritage sites within the City of London, I came across a little gem named Postman’s Park. It’s reason for existing is simple; a place for postmen working in London to take their ease and recreation. But the reason for me bringing it to your attention as a source of inspiration is actually down to an Eminent Victorian named George Frederic Watts who had the rather wonderful idea of preserving the memory of a number of individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice whist saving the lives of others.

Each instance is recorded on hand painted ceramic plates, and details how the person died, and whom they were trying to save. Sometimes exciting, always tragic, and occasionally enough to bring an amused smile to your face, there is plenty here to get your teeth into. Not only does it paint a picture of life in Victorian London, but it is at the same time one the saddest and most uplifting places you can go.

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This link will take you to a website that – once you scroll down past the author’s thoughts – has images of almost every plate in Postman’s Park. Take your time to read them, and if you ever find yourself in London, please try and visit. And I’m sure at least one of these stories will inspire in you in some way.

Sep 032013
 

Well, actually two, but I’ll get to the details in a moment. First off you may have noticed a new option in my menu header above that just says “Weapons“. This is because of a little but of advice from a friend about how to make my blog a little bit easier to navigate, especially when it comes to finding my more popular posts. By a country mile these have been when I have taken my years of historical research, and applied them to weapons in RPGs.

So from now on, whenever I put together another article on the subject I will update said page so that anyone looking can find them as easily as possible. What i have also done is take the time to reformat each post and put together a document containing each one, sorted by time period and popped it up on Drivethru RPG. The writing on this document has been tidied up somewhat, and the images better laid out. There is even a few extra little bits that I have come across since I first wrote them out.

This document does have a price tag on it, but I have kept it very low indeed. If you decided to take a shot and pay for it, you not only get a much better looking set of articles but you will only have to pay the once. I promise that each time I come up with a new article I will update the Drivethru document so all you’ll have to do is download the updated file.

Sep 022013
 

I know, “the Slaughter sword”. It just sounds like something you’d want to use in any game ever doesn’t it? The thing is, you’ve probably encountered it by a different name, as this is just what it was known as to certain English speakers. More commonly it was called a Zweihänder, although it did have many other names. For simplicity’s sake though, we’ll just be calling it a two handed sword. This is actually a very important distinction though, as to be a true two handed sword, it must be designed in such a way as that it must be hefted with both hands. Although there are plenty of swords that can be used with both hands, they can also be swung with just the one, and more often than not would be thought of as “hand-and-a-half”  swords.

two-handed-great-sword-88wgs-full-1I have written in the past about ways to get more use out of a longer sword whilst fighting in confined quarters, but swords of this length would not be useful for such conditions. Before we move on to how one would go about getting the most use out of this kind of sword, lets address what a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to picking up and using it, the weight. I could go on a bit of a metallurgical rant here, but I think that’s better left to the professionals who have devoted more time to the study of such things. In simple terms, what everyone needs to understand is something that most gamers know, but has yet to make its way into the popular consciousness: whilst the Katana is indeed an elegant weapon, it was far from the unique marvel of sword craft that a lot of people seem to think.

In the early medieval period, vikings (Yup, no capitol letter there, a lot of current historical theory is pointing towards viking being a verb rather than a noun. As in, “lets all sharpen our axes and go viking”!) were using a very similar method of steel folding and smelting to create lighter weight but still large swords to take raiding. So even swords made that would be long enough to be considered two handed would not have been overly heavy during the medieval period that most fantasy RPGs seem to be set in. In historical terms. the Zweihänder was actually used more commonly during the renaissance period anyway, when metallurgical techniques had been greatly improved. But since history is often fluid and only used when it is fit for purpose during RPGs, lets not get ourselves too bogged down in that kind of detail.

Taking ceremonial blades out of the equation – which were considerably heavier, but not designed or intended to be swung into the face of a charging barbarian – the most one would be expected to weigh is roughly 7 pounds. I know that that might seem heavy compared to other blades, but it was designed to be used effectively with two hands, offering greater leverage for the swing. And as we all know, in physics, leverage is very important indeed. Swinging the weapon is no problem when held correctly, and the weight it has will make it formidable indeed on the battlefield. Why didn’t we see such a weapon getting greater use then?

Apart from the afore mentioned fact that it wasn’t around so much during the medieval period of great battles, it was mainly because of the cost of such a weapon, and the fact that it never made sense to equip units with it. Most of the other weapons I’ve talked about on this blog have mainly been used to great effect by massed troops. The warbow was wonderful when hundreds of archers loosed volleys into the enemy ranks, the gladius was easy to produce in numbers and very effective when used by close knit ranks of well disciplined troops and so on and so forth. The Zweihänder though was inconvenient to say the least to with fight when you are stood in close formation with your allies.

This actually makes it a great for player characters in RPGs as they would not often worry about maintaining formation when they fought a pack of angry gnolls. It is a weapon for an individual, and the fact that having one made was an expensive and time consuming would make them rare weapons with a whole bunch of mythology all of their own. They are also more versatile then you’d think. The rather excellent cinematic game 7th Sea has a whole lot to say on the fighting styles one could use for a weapon this long, and I advise anyone with an interest to pick up the relevant nation book for more details.

For those without the resources to pick up said books, the three basic stances allow for the wide swing – and historically there is evidence to suggest that such a swing could take out up to three combatants in one go – with the legs apart to keep balance; the bracing stance, holding the weapon almost as a pike to fend off mounted troops or small units of halberdiers. And finally, holding it with the hilt over your shoulder and the point aimed at chest height, using both hands and the leverage to move to weapon at speed to combat against units wielding smaller edged weapons. A lot of Zweihänders even had gripping rings at the cross guard to make it easier to hold it in this fashion and maintain a high degree of maneuverability.

If you are lucky enough to hang out with a few other people also skilled – and rich – enough to wield such a ferocious weapon, you can do some real damage. Just make sure you’re spread out a little first. With three to five people holding a loose formation, swinging the Zweihänder, you can hold off large units of pike men, the swords cutting through the shafts before bringing down those holding the long pole arms. Small units such as these were favoured in battle for useful and versatile they could be, and once more are a great idea for your very own role playing games.