Oct 282013
 

As I prepare to start a brand new campaign, one of the things on my mind is how one goes about introducing their character to the rest of the group. I’m not concerned with where and how this meeting happens, as it is up to the GM to decide the specifics. For the record though, I really don’t mind the old faithful meeting in a tavern start to a game, there’s a reason that cliche has survived for so long.

What makes a character introduction important is that rather odd thing called a first impression. There are exceptions to this, but in most games, the time that you describe your character to the other players will be the first time you meet them. You will want to include the obvious physical description, but should you add more? It’s obvious that anyone meeting you will be able to roughly guess at your height and, unless you’re wearing heavy clothing, your build. They’ll know the colour and style of your clothing, and if you are carrying an obvious weapon, they should be able to guess at where your expertise lies should things get a little bit hairy.

Some other questions to ask yourself before starting this process is how well known your character is, and to whom. Are they a famed gladiator who has won their freedom? A safe cracker with a reputation only known to others in the trade, or  underworld gang leader who has managed to achieve a certain notoriety apart from with others who are in “the game”. Lets say for now that you’re playing a fantasy game though.

Your race will almost certainly be obvious, but your class or profession may not be, but would you want to hide it? True, being a thief is best not advertised to the general populace, but to fellow adventurers, it could be useful to let them know just how you’ll be earning your keep, and that there may be times when they have to watch your back more that if you were a straight up fighter. A magic user of any stripe should be noticeable in traditional games, but not always, and some times it’s a trick worth keeping up your sleeve.

What about your personality? Do you have a reputation around town for being a braggart or someone who is quick with their fists. Are you a Lothario or Don Juan, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind you? Are you fixer in town who is always happy to help if the price is right or a favour can be bartered?  Do you have enemies that are more powerful than you, and have they made it known that they’re willing to pay for your head before you get out of town?

So, now you have a good idea about what you’re going to divulge, but how do you do it? Even a game that takes place regularly around a table, with real dice being rolled and character sheets that are pencil on paper, there may be an element of online interaction that takes place. I have played games that have taken advantage of Obsidian Portal, but even without such a resource there are forums and G+ groups that can be used by players to share extra information or keep a track of In Character diaries and the like.

If you have such a resource, then it should be used. You can write up prose descriptions of your character’s physical description going into the kind of detail that would be problematic to do sat around the table. You can also find an appropriate image to use, or maybe even get an artistic friend to whip something up to share with everyone. The only pitfall to watch out for when introducing your character this way is keeping everything accurate when you then have to repeat stuff when you summarise to the players around the table. Don’t ever think that everyone will have read and digested your online introduction, so be prepared to fill everyone in around the table at the start of the first session.

Other than that, just have fun, and be prepared to have your character totally change by the end of the campaign.

Oct 242013
 

As some of the more astute amongst you may have realised, I haven’t been as active lately as I would like to be, with regard to engaging with people on their own blogs, pimping this one, or writing more than one article a week. There are several reasons for that, some good and some bad, and one that I hope to be able to share with you soon, however doing so prematurely would be a bit silly. This also means that I haven’t had much time to carry on with my own RPG project, Rise of the Automata. I am not giving up on any of these projects, but somethings just need to take priority at the moment.

I do however always make sure I have the time to role play at my local gaming society once a week – I am currently the President, so not turning up would be weird – and today I would like to talk about what I’m currently playing. The game is called Orbis Terrarum – or Orbis for short – and it has been a labour of love for two friends of mine far at least as long as I have known them. This will be the third time I have been lucky enough to play in one of their campaigns, and this time is especially fortuitous as the game is damned near completed, and they will be hopefully launching a Kickstarter project soon to create a hard copy of the game. The link above is to their Facebook page, and if any of the following seems interesting to you, make sure you like the page as they will be announcing all updates on their. And trust me, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for this game, as it is spectacular. Anyway, on with the review.

There are a few things about character generation in Orbis that stand out, and make you realise just how well thought out the game this. Rather than cherry pick the cool bits though, I’m going to go through the whole process for you. I do have a copy of the character generation rules, but since they are a beta copy, I am not at liberty to share them just yet.

To start with, the Orbis Master (OM) asks you to think about a few things that might define the character you want to play. This known as the metier, and is a three word description of the character summing up their most obvious personality trait, their country of birth, and the word that best describes their profession. I went for an Impetuous Raphelian Duelist. The country of your birth – or at least where you grew up – is very important in this gritty realistic fantasy game, as you will only be playing as humans. Their are beings from another plane, but they are not playable characters, and the writers have eschewed the Tolkienistic elves and dwarves that are common in other fantasy settings.

To set things off after this, with nothing more than a basic concept in mind, you roll a D20 to randomly determine the state of your life as a young person. I was pretty damned lucky in that I ended up coming from a wealthy family. Not only did this mean a bit of extra starting cash to buy gear with, but it was also a perfect fit for the back story I had in mind. Even if I had rolled something different though, I would have just made some last minute changes and moved on. A second D20 roll gives you something unusual about yourself. I have seen some pretty bad ones in my past experience of playing this game, but once again luck was on my side, and all I ended up with was being a bloody big fella. It means I’ll have a hard time sneaking around, but the word “Large” is now a permanent extra part of my metier that also gives me a few extra points of wound capacity. There is one more roll like this to make, but that comes right at the end, and for now we’re looking at what it means to be from certain places on the world of Uma.

Where you are from determines your starting options for skills, some cultural advantages, but first, the amount of dice you will roll to generate your primary attributes, of which they are seven. The player rolls a number of D20 for each attribute based on their culture, from 3-6 D20, taking the three results they prefer and adding them together, discarding the rest. This gives a pretty good balance with the stronger, hardier cultures more likely to survive their environments, and the more learned cultures more likely to thrive in a social and intellectual melting pot. These numbers are used to work out certain derived attributes, but this just comes down to maths, and although well worked out, is nothing that unusual for experienced gamers.

At this point, due to the random nature of the dice rolls, it is possible that you have a set of attributes that make your original character concept unworkable. If this is because all of your physical/mental attributes are astonishingly low, you do get a slight advantage in the form of two free talents, but if you’ve just been let down just a little, there are ways to change things later. As a quick example, due to the nature of the games’ setting, males are expected to be more physically able, and so you can instantly raise a physical attribute by five points. Females are much less likely too be pushed into such areas, so instead they can raise a mental attribute by the same amount.

Before people start making claims of sexism against the game, it is set in a cross between a medieval and Renaissance world, and it makes sense that cultural expectations would shape the lives of those who grew up surrounded by them. Plus, there is nothing negative about either bonus, as although combat does break out in this game, it is lethal enough that thinking your way around it, or applying magic to the problem is often favourable.

Once this bit’s done, we get onto skills and talents. Each character gets ten points to spend on cultural skills and talents, and then an additional ten to spend elsewhere. Each culture has a choice of ten skills, but not all of them will be relevant to each character. As an example, I was playing a duelist not a drunken sailor, so I could skip at least three of these cultural skills in favour of things that better suited me. There are also four cultural advantages, and you can buy as many of them as you want. I took two, the first giving me an advantage when dealing with other adventurers, and the second allowing me to raise my Agility attribute by a further ten points to suit my (hopefully high) skill with a sword. Each culture has one attribute that they can raise in this way, and this is a great little touch. As mentioned earlier, you could end up wanting to play a Raphelian swordsman and then roll appallingly for your Agility. Because Raphelians prize dexterity and showmanship though, it is more than likely that you have spent time in your formative years increasing your ability in such things, so get a nice boost.

The other ten points can be spent on any skills or on a few other things if you have the skills you need. Each attribute can be raised an additional ten points by spending one Talent point per attribute. This means once again that you can boost something that you were unlucky with in the early stages. You can also boost your wound capacity if you feel like your character is likely to be in life threatening situations with any kind of regularity. If it wasn’t for that fact that I also took a smattering of magic ability I would have picked up a fair few extra hit points, but there’s only so many points to go around.

Each point you put into a skill using talents gives you a rank. Each rank not only increases the score by five points – the base of each skill is equal to the attribute that makes the most sense – but the more ranks you have in each skill, the less you will need to make skill checks, and the more likely you are to critically succeed in a challenge. On top of this, you also get fifty advancement points – basically experience points – that are added to the skills of your choosing on a one-for-one basis. All this means that you have a whole bunch of control over the character that you want to play, while still having that element of chance that keeps things interesting.

After all that’s done we get onto the final touches such as height and weight, as well as money to spend on equipment. Since my family background was wealthy, I had double starting money, so actually managed to buy both a decent weapon and a bit of armour too, rather than having to choose. On one occasion in the past I ended up getting mugged right at the start of the game, and was left with nothing but some blood stained clothes. Orbis is a harsh game indeed. How did I end up getting mugged you ask? Well that’s down to one last D20 roll that follows on from my past as mentioned above. This is to determine something that has happened in the very recent past, and with my luck so far, I felt certain that a mugging would be the least of my problems. But once again, I was favoured by fortune, and my recent past involved a romantic entanglement of some kind. I never expected that, and will have to work it into my back story somehow.

So there we have it in a rather large nutshell. I did skip over a few details that aren’t worth dwelling on as anyone who has created a character for an RPG will know what the score is. There is one last thing to note though, and for me I’m 50/50 on whether or not I like it. You see, each nation has their own currency – as one would expect – and this means that buying things can get a bit complicated, as not every item is available in every country, and the prices vary too. This means that the equipment list has prices and availability of each item, but not in game effects. This isn’t a big deal for things like a razor or a scabbard which don’t need that much extra information, but when you’re looking at knives, daggers, and dirks, it’d be nice to know what kind of damage each would do compared to cost and weight. I like that the cultures are so well defined, and that the relationships are so well thought out, but it does add some extra time and page turns to what is an otherwise very fluid and intuitive character generation method.

So far then, it’s all fantastic, and I have a character I’m very happy with. I will carry on this review sporadically as and when different situations present themselves. What I’ll be spending more time doing though is writing an in game diary. I have done this before and had a great time doing it. It will motivate me to get more writing done too, which is never a bad thing. My question though is where to put it. I never wanted this blog to be an in game fiction kind of thing, so I thought about reviving my old page to keep things separate. But would people be happier to just come here to read about the continuing exploits of Kantrel di Gregori? Sound off below with any thoughts and if you have any interest in reading my game write ups here.

Oct 212013
 

7203642580_30aee2d0d7So I have recently started playing the Chronicles of Riddick on the Xbox 360 – I know, how current am I? – and it had me thinking about difficulty levels in console games and how they might translate to traditional table top RPGs. Basically because it’s a bloody hard game, and I’m not that great at first person shooters anyway. I have in fact come upon an impasse fairly early on in the game, and before I continue I’m going to have to lower the difficulty. To sum up, I am trying to break out of a prison, but there are guards and turret guns, and I’m at a point where I’m struggling to find cover while being shot at from three directions, by two turrets and one guard. I can take out one enemy, but then die before I can make it to cover.

This is not a complaint about the game, which I think is actually pretty damned good, in fact the way the level has been designed reminds me a lot of the way that a Games Master would approach a problem. What both the GM and the Games Designer (GD) want is to make the level feel as realistic and challenging to the player/s as possible. If it was me designing the level, I would almost certainly have done the same thing. The guards seem to have some kind of radio transmitter that means the turret guns don’t target them, but prisoners are fair game. They have also covered all corridors with fields of fire, and then had guards around too, just to make sure. What I wouldn’t do was drop a few convenient chest high walls into the place to offer some cover. I’m sorry to all level designers out there, but it doesn’t matter if they’re collapsed bits of rubble, fallen trees or the corpses of my enemies, they all look out of place and just serve to warn you that a gun fight is about to break out. So thank you to whoever rocked this level design for not making lazy choices and keeping the game challenging.

What the GD didn’t do though was give the player/s a chance to come up with different ways to approach the problem. I know that by now a lot of readers will be thinking that this is just another part of the continuing story of why table top RPGs will also be better than computer games. Although this is certainly true, I think it’s worth saying again, and looking at what we can learn from computer games about things that we shouldn’t do as GMs. The biggest of these is limiting the choices of your players.

If I was a player for instance, I would be doing my damnedest to drag a dead guard into cover somewhere to see if I could figure out why they weren’t getting peppered with holes from the sentry guns. There may very well be a reason why I couldn’t just rip it off the corpse and make myself a tiny bit less killable, but I would like to know that and have a chance to examine things and find a way round that wasn’t just about shooty death and his less popular cousin stabby death.

This to me is why no table top RPG ever needs a difficulty level. No matter how dangerous you make a scene or encounter, the players will have near limitless options in how they approach and deal with any problems you put in front of them. Quite often they will work ways round your little obstacles that you would never have thought of, and the game is richer for it. They also – in almost every game – have real reasons to fear death for more than the slight inconvenience of having to replay a few minutes of a level to get to the point that they perished. Dying in an RPG should mean something more than a slight pain in the rear, and that means players have even more reason to think about different ways to solve a problem other than the all guns blazing approach.

Oct 142013
 

This is very much a part two, so please check out part one then head right back here. And now that we’re all caught up, lets take a look at some of the ways that it is possible to claim some small victory whilst role playing. Once more though, I must remind you that none of these wins will come at the expense of your fellow players or the person running the game. While it is certainly true that some games are designed to be played in such way, I’m not talking about them. I also know that some gamers like that style of play – sometimes in games not designed for it – but they have their own victory conditions to worry about.

What I’m talking about are the things that happen during a gaming session that just make it all so very worth while; the moments that you’re going to remember, and wax lyrical about in pubs and at gaming conventions whenever that group comes together again. A great example of this is when you break your GM. Not literally, and not in any way that should cause lasting damage to their ability to run a game, but just enough that they struggle to breathe for a moment or two while trying to call you all bastards. This is usually achieved through making the GM laugh so much that getting air back into their lungs becomes a struggle.

I know not every game should be a laugh riot, and sometimes it’s massively disruptive to try and make people chortle and guffaw in the face of a setting and genre that’s aimed more at quiet political scheming or gut wrenching horror. Every once in a while even those kind of games can end up with people chuckling a little bit though, but when your GM goes red faced, slamming his fists onto the table as everyone laughs along, it’s great. When they’re still laughing a minute later, when everyone else has stopped, you know you’ve done something special. And then, when all the players start laughing again, this time at the GM, and this makes them laugh even more in a continuing cycle of hilarity, then you’ve won.

It’s not all fun and games though, and sometimes I’ve managed a win without knowing about it for months. Imagine yourself playing a game where you and all the players are part of a thieves guild, and during the course of play while on a sanctioned job you come across a perfect mark for a short but profitable confidence scam. It looks so good that you all just assume that the GM has set it up for you and you go along with it. You plan roles for each of the characters, work out what can go wrong, cover as many variables as possible, and then spend several sessions just pulling the con off. Dealing with every problem as and when it occurs, thinking on your feet and getting a pay off that ends up being worth even more than you thought.

After all that, two months after that in fact, the GM lets you all know that they had no idea you were all going to attempt such a thing, and struggled to keep up with the pace that everyone was thinking at, but was so impressed that they let it happen, holding off on their own plot for almost two whole months. Not only is this a great win for all the players who showed a great deal of inventiveness, but also being in a game with a GM who rewards such play. Most importantly, you get to live with the consequences of your actions, and this has to be one of the best things about role playing in a well run game.

If you can deal with the negative consequences of you actions too, then that is also a win, and possibly the biggest one worth mentioning. I’m not saying that you cannot lament the results of a poor dice, cursing the Gods of poor fortune of you happen to believe in such things. What I’m talking about here is when you make decisions that affect the game world, and the consequences of these actions come back to bite you in arse. Railing against these things is to me a sign of a bad role player. If you think you have been wronged, then deal with it away from the table and nine times out of ten you will likely find out that GM was acting perfectly fairly. Quite often they have information about the game world that you don’t and will have used that info to come to decision about how an NPC would act.

Even if it was a slight error on the GM’s part, then you win nothing by drawing attention to it at the table in front of other players. So instead of making a big deal out of, act with decency and decorum and focus on what you could have done to be affected by such consequences. Handling a situation like a grown up is great for everyone around the table, and makes you look awesome. If that isn’t a victory, I don’t know what is!

As with the last part of this little ramble, these are just my ways of getting a victory out of a role playing session. Feel free to drop a comment below and share with everyone else.

Oct 072013
 

There are several types of games that exist under the umbrella that term ‘Gaming’. I myself, although much more of a role player than anything else, also board game a hell of a lot, and have spent many an hour – and far too much money – on both war gaming and card gaming. For the most part, role playing is the only one of these games that doesn’t really have winners and losers in any traditional sense. Of course there are exceptions, such as the rather wonderful Baron Munchausen game, but in almost every other way, it’s pretty impossible to be thought of as a winner or a loser whilst role playing.

You’re probably wondering why I’m devoting an article to such a proposition then, but I think there is nothing wrong with trying to achieve a win, and if nothing else, this could be an interesting thought experiment. Before we get into the meat of it though, there is a good reason why I’m not talking about losing at role playing. Every time I personally have had a bad game, it has been because of circumstances beyond my control. This not to say that I’m a perfect gamer – history will decide that – but that when I wasn’t enjoying games, it wasn’t down to what I was doing, rather that I wasn’t enjoying the setting, GMing style or interacting with some other gamers. I’m also highly aware that other players and GMs will certainly have looked at me in the same light. We are none of us perfect, but we should seek to change our behaviors for the better so that everyone can enjoy the game, not just ourselves.

I hope that makes sense, so lets get to the good stuff. Some of this will be personal taste, so please, as always, feel free to chime in with your ideas and thoughts in the comments section below.

For me, the most fun I ever have as a GM is when I get to sit back in near silence for minutes at a time. This might seem like an odd thing to enjoy, but it is for very good reasons, and I think they all sum up what I mean when I say it is possible to win at GMing. The times when I get to keep my trap shut are when my players are taking the lead. Not just in planning things out, although I do love that, but sometimes just sitting and talking things out in character. This means that they have allowed themselves to get so immersed in the world that a conversation in character without any clear need, just comes naturally to them.

I understand that a lot of this is down to having some great players who love to role play their characters, but making the setting seem as real as possible to them certainly helps, and that is something I feel I can take some small amount of pride in. But lets just say that they’re not talking in character – or at least not constantly – but still chatting away without really needing me. For a start, this will be game related chatter, as too much out of character banter can easily derail a game. What they are often doing is planning for something, or arguing amongst themselves about the best course of action.

If all they are doing is planning, I still put this in the “win” column. It shows that I haven’t just laid out a linear path for them, when all they need to do is follow my instructions and clues to progress to the next scene. Instead they need to engage their minds, and hammer out a whole bunch of possibilities before they feel they are ready to act. It’s even better if they manage to see a way through an obstacle that I’ve created in a way that I never imagined, as this stretches me a little as I have to think on the fly and run the game without letting them know that I was taken by complete surprise.

The simple fact that they are spending a considerable amount of time thinking about a course of action adds another victory condition for the person wearing the GM hat too; the players have become so attached to the characters that they’re playing, that they’re not being foolish enough to throw themselves into trouble and risk losing said characters. You don’t even need to be playing a system with a brutal combat mechanic for this to be true, as I find that spelling out just how much one successful hit affects them is often enough to have them thinking twice before stomping into a fight. And if they’re listening and paying attention, well that’s just another win for me.

You may have noticed throughout this post that not one of my victory conditions involves “beating” the players at anything. Whilst I am sure that there are games and gamers out there that make this the whole point of the experience, for me role playing is all about co-operative story telling. It doesn’t really matter which system or setting I’m using, I will be trying to get all of the players involved in creating an interesting narrative. If i manage to succeed, then that’s the biggest way to win.

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.