Oct 152012
 

Today I’m going to talk about the new game that I’ve been working on recently. This is me trying to give something back to the awesome RPG community and it will take the shape of a card game about Steampunk explorers, searching for fame and riches in a Neo-Victorian world. In the past I have talked about writing up an adventure, and although this is ongoing it is very much on the back-burner right now. the problem comes from the style that I use to run games, and how hard it is to translate that to a written adventure that can be used by others. It’s a bit complicated, and is probably deserving of its own blog at some point in the future. The short story is that it’s very hard to write down an adventure when nine out ten events that happened in it were because of player choices that I had did nothing to create or influence.

So, instead I thought I’d try my hand at another thing I love: card games. To be specific, card games with a board game feel. Think Elder Sign, or the new Blood Bowl game, both by Fantasy Flight. What else do I like? Steampunk! It has long been a fascination for me, going back many years. If I was any good at crafting clothes and items, I would have made so many that you would never have seen me not wearing a Steampunk inspired outfit. Sadly, I’m rubbish at such things, so instead I created fiction, in the style of role playing games and adventures, and occasional short prose pieces. When I was thinking about what I wanted in a card game, Steampunk jumped straight to my mind.

I also love horror, but if I want those two things to cross paths, I already have my favourite RPG, Unhallowed Metropolis by Atomic Overmind, if I want to play a game like that. So to do attempt something different, I went for the Victorian theme of exploration and adventure. This was heavily inspired by Mark Hodder’s books, where he takes a Steampunk look at one the period’s greatest explorers, Sir Richard Burton. So, I knew what I wanted from a game, the next problem was to make it happen.

I suppose I had better explain the blog title a bit, before we go any further. I saw the deck of cards having too components, one of which would be the explorations and adventures that the characters would go on. My first thought was to have them in one deck, along with the other card, and when played, the explorer leaves London and goes off around the world. This was quickly dismissed as the random element of card draw could leave someone with no adventures for an entire game. Thus was born the ‘Adventure’ deck. A bunch of cool things to do, such as be the first to find the Source of the Nile, or to venture into Macedonia, and meet the Metal Men that reside there. At this point I knew I would need two decks, so the only option was to give the second deck the working title of ‘Excitement’. I’m sure all the geeks out there have spotted where I got that nugget of inspiration from. [Link NSFW]

Next came a few weeks of card design, and thinking of what to put on the cards. The lovely people at Reddit helped out with some basic character ideas, more than a couple of which made it into the six I’m currently using for play-testing. There were also gadgets galore to help out the intrepid Explorers in the field, Retainers with their own skills to accompany them, and even an occasional Valet; something no self respecting gentle-person should be seen without. I didn’t like the idea of exploring in a vacuum though, so as well as extra cards to help out an Explorer – finding a ancient map, or having a rare beast just walk into camp one morning – there are plenty of cards that can be played to derail a fellow Explorer’s quest. Sending in a mob of angry natives, or just having the weather turn against you at an inopportune moment.

With all that sorted, and some basic cards formatted – including having them backed with an ‘E’ or ‘A’ respectively, it was time to play test. At point of writing, I have only had one opportunity to do so, and big thanks go out to my very good friend Gav. He invited me around to his house, I got to meet his daughter for the first time since she acquired the power of speech, and was given a couple of snifters of very fine rum indeed. And we also got to play the game, tentatively entitled ‘Excitement and Adventure’.

The game basically works with each player taking on the role of an Explorer, and investing their time and money into winning a wager about who can get the most ‘Renown’ by going off and having grand adventures, and living to tell the tale. The characters all being members of an Explorers society who agreed the terms of the wager, then went at it with gusto. I will spend more time later discussing the mechanics in detail, but for now, there’s a few things I learnt from this one and only play test.

  1. The game takes too long. We were playing for well over two hours before I called it on account of the lateness of the hour. For the record, Gav kicked my ass.
  2. One entire mechanic needed to be ditched. It never came up, and if it it had, would have made the game even more drawn out.
  3. I need to think of new adventures for the characters to go on. The Adventure deck needs bulking up after the rule change.
  4. It’s totally possible to go off on an adventure with far too many Retainers and Gadgets. This needed changing.
  5. I need a few more play tests before I release this into the wilds of an open play test.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m hoping to rope a few more friends into playing the game with me over the coming days and weeks, and will occasionally update on here, if anything interesting enough happens. If any of my readers has any cool suggestions of adventures for the Explorers to go and have, the comments box is just below here.

Sep 172012
 

I am a huge fan of Fantasy Flight Game’s (FFG) run of Lovecraft inspired board/card games, and play them as a whole, way more than almost every other board/card game my girlfriend and I own (which is a lot). There are a few reasons for this; I’m generally a big fan of the Lovecraftian mythos, FFG put out some top quality games, and they work for groups of varying sizes, unlike other games that can flounder with smaller or larger numbers of players. This isn’t my main reason for liking them though; I love the fact that while playing them, I get a genuine sense of being a part of the story.

In simplest terms this is done by appealing to the role player in me by handing me a character sheet to begin with, one that would pass muster in a pre-generated adventure one off. It contains a little bit on who the character is, and some basic stats that don’t need to much explanation to tell me what they specializes in. Don#t get me wrong, FFG aren’t the only company to do this though. Just looking into my full to bursting board games cupboard, I see Robo Rally there, and each of the eight little robots has a sheet with a quick description of their personality included. Sadly, this has no bearing on how the game is played, and each robot is in fact exactly the same in game terms; so it’s fun to be a robot, but that’s all you get to be. That’s not really a great help when it comes to relating to the character.

Horror and survival games seem to really go all out on this aspect of the board game, with several in the zombie survival genre coming with their own set of character sheets, and another from my collection, Betrayal at House on the Hill. Going back to FFG, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Mansions of Madness all come with character sheets too. maybe the games’ designers realise you might do more to keep a character alive if you get the chance to connect with them.

You might be wondering why this is such a big deal; well I’m a role player predominantly, and although character sheets aren’t a necessity for me to get into the role I wish to play, when it comes to a board game they really help you feel more attached to the character than if they weren’t included. Think of Monopoly: do you ever get a sense of attachment to the boot you’re moving around the board? Do you ever to stop to consider the decisions you’re making from the little dog’s point of view? I would think not. But when you’re handed a little bio of your character, and have an idea of some kind of motivation for what they’re doing, it means you start making decisions that are based more on what the character would do, and less on what you yourself would.

This to me, is one of the fundamental aspects of role playing. When what I do is influenced more by the world I’m playing in and the character I’m playing, than by my own motivations. There are discussions aplenty about there about meta gaming, and I invite my readers to search them out, as they can really help to hone your role playing. In a board game though, should this matter?

I say yes! Take the simple and wonderful card game Gloom. In it you play a miserable and weird family, with the aim of making them as miserable as possible before killing them in a variety of interesting ways. This can be played as a numbers game, or you can take the time to read the cards out as they’re played, to weave a story of melancholy and despair before the inevitability of the grave claims your family. Doesn’t that sound like more of in depth experience than just totting the numbers up and playing to win? OK, playing to win is kind of the point, but I hope you know what I mean.

All of this is also very important when looking at survival style games. Using the monopoly example again (for the record, I do enjoy playing it, just not as a role playing game), could you see yourself getting any kind of attachment to the wheelbarrow, and doing everything you could to save them from a hoard of zombies? I really doubt it, and I know I care a hell of a lot more about keeping a character alive if I have been given the chance to relate to them, and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Lets take a look at another popular survival game, Zombies!! I’ve played this many times and find my enjoyment quickly diminishes over time. The simple reason for this is that I don’t really care about my character. They’re just a coloured figure with a few points of life and bullets, and when they inevitably die, there is no sense of loss. Put a character from Mansions of Madness in the same situation, and all of sudden, they have a personality, and as a role player, they become my character and I want them to survive.

Does anyone else play board games like this, or am I reading way too much into things. And do people have their own stories of how board games have become so much more thanks to role playing out the character?

Sep 142012
 

This month, thanks to Dice Monkey, we look at placing an RPG in an established setting. This is something I’ve done in the past, but right now I have two examples in mind about games I’m going to be running in the future. The first I have talked about before on this very blog, and it involves taking an established comic book setting and turning it into an RPG world. This may not be quite what the creator of this month’s blog carnival had in mind, but so many established settings started life as something other than an RPG. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of at least one game based on a movie/book series/computer game that they’ve either played or ran. The D&D world of Krynn leaps straight to mind, and recently I was thinking about taking a look at the Dragon Age RPG that someone else was blogging about. These games exist because they’re based on settings that are evocative enough for the reader/player/viewer to want to experience them for themselves. After Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to suppose that there was an upswing in sales of RPGs as people wanted to take a shot at being Legolas or Aragorn, and there’s so much fantasy/sci-fi/historical content out there to supply a steady stream to us gamers. But still, it’s not enough. My girlfriend and a mate of mine have done a quick Savage Worlds hack for Mass Effect, and there’s a great free game on Drive Through RPG based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere book/comic book/TV series. The tools are out there for gamers to make an RPG in any setting they desire, so why not use one that is familiar to them due to experience and exposure, that you can make your own? And, why use a pre-created setting at all?

To answer that, at least for myself, I’m taking you into the future a little bit, or at least my possible future when I finally get round to running a Warhammer 40k game that I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now. It will almost certainly be using the Only War core book (don’t get me started on why the hell Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) don’t just put out one core rule book and then create setting books for the rest of their lines). For people who don’t know much about the 40k universe, go read about it and I’ll be waiting right here. What I want to do with it is to set a game on an Imperial world long abandoned by the Imperium, that has devolved slightly and the imperial cult acts more like contemporary real world religions, but with the same militaristic feel that the game world does so well.

So basically, very different to almost everything that Games Workshop and FFG have put out. And for me, that’s why you can play in established settings; you have the rules all sorted out for you – barring some personal tweeks – and if the setting can’t be used to tell the exact story you and the players want to tell, it takes a hell of a lot less work than making one from scratch. Just change one or two fundamentals, and once more, you’re playing in a world that you created.

Jul 232012
 

I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.

So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.

The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.

In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.

There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them

If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.

As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.

There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.

I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…

Jul 182012
 

This is just a little mid week update to let people know what I’m up to at the moment, and what fun stuff they can expect from me in the future. Also an announcement that you can now find me not only at the RPGBA, but also the UKGMN. Any british readers/bloggers out there, get on over and see what they do.

Since I started this blog, I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s. A lot. Mainly to see what kind of stuff people like talking about, but also to differentiate myself a little as a unique blogger. Most of the stuff I read I get from a feed over at the RPGBA , which I signed up to myself. Below are a few choice selections that I keep going back to, just because they always have something on there that makes me want to stop and read the whole entry. In no way is it an exhaustive list, that would take far too long, but consider this a highlight reel.

http://www.realityrefracted.com/ A great read for anyone running or playing in a game, or maybe even designing one from the floor up. Writes in an easy to read style, but knows how to get under the skin of a topic very well indeed.

http://www.gnomestew.com/ A bunch of bloggers coming together for some kick ass GMing advice. Worth registering on the site to leave comments as the other writers are great for feedback and they have a bunch of other subscribers who come back with even more cool stuff.

http://stuffershack.com/ These guys get a special mention for being not only a damned fine blog, but for offering some very helpful tips to this new blogger. I tip my hat to them, and I assure everyone reading at home, it is a fancy hat indeed, as they deserve no less.

http://jackstoolbox.wordpress.com/ The eponymous Jack is a great blogger, and has weighed in repeatedly on the comments section of my own humble offerings. Even better, if what he wants to say is too big an idea to be fully appreciated at the foot of a blog, he will take the time to write it out in full for all of his readers. Something that I think I need to think about going forward if I want to have even a modicum of the success he’s had.

http://largepolyhedroncollider.wordpress.com/ More than one blogger over here, unless it’s one person writing under several names, but either way it’s worth a look. A great series recently about how to totally rethink combat in an RPG world that every budding games designer should check out.

http://vulpinoid.blogspot.co.uk/ This guy does a bit of everything, but never half-hearted. From world building, to player advice, form hot topics to games reviews, everything about the hobby seems to end on this blogger’s radar.

Now onto stuff that I’m actually creating.

Just put an entry into a best villains competition over at Stuffer Shack . Please take a look, and wax lyrical in the comments section if you like it. If I win – and it will be judged by the staff over at the website, so don’t feel the need to suck up if you don’t want to – I will reward the lovely people of the bloggosphere with some further writings on the campaign that spawned those bad boys.

I have been contacted to write a book review by a fellow blogger who can be found over here . This is an unpaid review, so when it pops up, don’t expect any bias. If I love it, you’ll know that it’s based on its own merit.

I’m also in the middle of an online interview with a couple of games designers who are getting ready to put the final draft of their game together. Hopefully in time to get it up on the UK Kickstarter that should be happening soon.

A friend of mine who runs an air-softing facility has been following this blog from the get go, and liked my writing enough to approach me to do some plot writing for air-softing adventures. I had always thought air-softing was more akin to paint-balling; shoot other people – try not to get shot, but he wants a bit more of a role playing experience for the people who rock up to his place, I’m actually looking forward to doing this one quite a lot.

Also actually playing some games, well running some. Just finished the free RPG day adventure of Only War, Fantasy Flight’s W40K Imperial Guard system, and I’ll write up some stuff from that for the blog. I would love to join the beta for it, but I simply can’t afford the twenty bucks – or Sterling equivalent – to get the pack. Hoping to get a small group together to run the first D&D next pack to write up at some point too. Come the end of September I will be starting a long ass Cyberpunk 2020 campaign, but set in the world of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan. I won’t be doing regular write ups of that, it’s just not the kind of blogging I want to write, but expect a few bits from the highlight reel, and I will link to the ongoing player write ups that any my players do.

As for future blogging, I’m building up a nice buffer at the moment in case there’s no hot button subjects I want to jump on, so the first in series on how to be a bit of a lazy GM without cutting the quality of the games you’re running went live on Monday and hopefully more will follow; some discussion on why players may feel the need on occasion to run an evil character; the fun you can have if you approach board games as a roleplaying experience, and finally; why I’m actually called Shorty, and why it is that gamers seem to attract nick-names, and why that’s no bad thing. I hope you all find some reason in all that to keep reading this pokey little blog, and help it become a pokey massive blog.