Jul 232013

5117mwAhWcL._Yeah, not so much a gaming blog post right now, but this entire series would certainly make it into my own Appendix N, along with the works of Joe Abercrombie, so here we go. To bring you up to speed, it’d be better if you’d already read Mister Lynch’s first two books, so I’ll just wait until you’re done.

How amazing was that? The bit with the Spider? I mean, just wow! Ahem, anyway.

Imagine that instead of waiting for the official release of The Republic of Thieves in October, you would have to wait seven whole years. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for this bad boy. Mister Lynch has had some reasonably well documented problems with depression and anxiety, and as such he has been taking just as long as he needs to finish the third part of his Gentlemen Bastards series. I don’t hold it against him; I am lucky enough to have his problems, but I am still very sympathetic.

What made the wait all the worse was that because I work in a bookshop I was constantly seeing publication dates that were never honoured, just extended. But I never gave up hope. I checked weekly on Mr. Lynch’s website, started following him on Twitter and bugged the hell out of the rep who came into the store. Eventually my patience was rewarded, and not long after that I managed to grab hold of an advanced proof copy.

And last night I finished it.

Before I get into the meat of the review, I will say that I will do my damndest to steer clear of spoilers from this latest novel, but I make no such promises about the first two. If you haven’t read them yet, you’ve been warned.

As you can imagine, I had built up a lot of expectation for this one. Seven years is a long time to get excited about a novel. I can say without hesitation though that it lived up to and beyond all my expectations. The return of Locke Lamorra as the self indulgent whiner we know he can become from his time during Red Seas… was handled excellently. After refusing to let his closest friend Jean die at the close of the last book, we begin this one with Locke at death’s door, and Jean doing everything possible to keep Locke firmly ensconced within the land of the living.

Breaking the law is of course included in this, and leads to the opening of the adventure; a story of politics and betrayal, love and loss, crime and vengeance. Throughout all of that, what this story is rally about is relationships. In the last book it was all about Locke and Jean and the deep trusting friendship they share in spite of the troubles that they never seem able to shake. Although this friendship is still very much evident throughout this third installment, the focus rests more on Locke and the woman he loves: Sabetha.

Sticking to his tried and tested formula of interweaving the past with the present, we’re shown how the two love birds first managed to get over their stubbornness and shyness and get together (a long clumsy and embarrassing tale that nevertheless captivates from beginning to end), while also watching their stumbling steps as they try to re-kindle that bright flame of adoration after a five year gap. All this done to either the back drop of young criminals finding a place in the world, or experienced confidence tricksters and thieves rigging the election of a massively powerful city state.

Mr. Lynch knows how to write relationships well. Friendship and betrayal seem to come easy to him, and he easily draws you into the lives of his protagonists. For this reason alone, this book should be required reading for gamers everywhere. We will all remember that time when our wits were as whip-crack fast as Locke and Sabetha’s, and the probably more common times we came up with a perfectly dry zinger that would have put Jean in his place, but just a few seconds/minutes/years too late.

The humour is another great reason to read this book. I lost count of how many times my girlfriend gave me a funny look as I burst out laughing as she sat on the sofa playing the Xbox. Sometimes the humour comes out nowhere and knocks you for six in an otherwise serious scene, sometimes it builds up perfectly until your sat giggling away like a school child. But there are even more reasons to read this book!

It is just full of ideas. Plot fodder galore lines the pages, from subtle ploys to long-game cons that could shape the future of an entire city state. So many things to do in a fantasy city, and with very little effort could lead onto massive plots in pretty much any genre. While we’re here lets talk about genre shall we. The Gentleman Bastards series take place in a Renaissance level world in terms of technology, with a few notable advances to near Victorian levels, and magic filling a few other gaps along the way. The magic, or rather almost total lack thereof, is one of my favourite things about the series. True, we once again get to see some action from the world’s only magic users – the Bondsmagi – but they are so powerful, and so few, that they’re more plot device than set dressing, but not so overpowered that they act as omnipotent MacGuffins. They are used perfectly as a driving force behind the scenes, without much being known about them, even after a very curious Locke starts to ask questions.

As proven in the last book, a quick wit and a good plan is enough to bring at least one of them down. And so we finally come to my favourite reason why you should read this, and all the other books Mr. Lynch has written; they’re stories about human triumph in the face of overwhelming odds. They show the human spirit at its finest, while never shying away from shining a light on its darkest times too. All the better to show the effort and struggle put in to move beyond the depths and once more shine.

To sum up then; buy this book. True, as a role player I can think of a few extra reasons why it’s worth picking up, but everything good about it works no matter who the person is that’s reading it. It is from start to finish a work of wonder, and I say again: very much worth the wait.

Jun 242013

The short answer will be a resounding “no”, but that would make for a very dull blog post indeed, so allow me to go into more details. If I pick up an RPG set in a fantasy world, I would expect the game play to be a bit more than the generic, cliched, predictable fantasy. One of the many things that the TV show The Big Bang Theory gets wrong about role playing is when the guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons, and when they go into  a dungeon they encounter a dragon (don’t get me started on the horrendously inaccurate talk about girls playing D&D at all).

One character complains, saying that “it’s a little on the nose”, and is rebuffed by the line, “if you’re playing chutes and ladders, do you complain about all the chutes and ladders”. You know what, if I was playing any board game, I think I could go in with an expectation based on the name, or maybe a quick descriptive bit of text on the back of the box. Role playing games aren’t board games though. The stories they tell aren’t limited by the genre they fall into, and even traditional gamers in the mood for a dungeon crawl would almost certainly expect something a bit more exciting than crawling through a dungeon. Preferably something a bit more unexpected than a dragon.

So with that in mind, how do we apply it to our own games? To help, I’m going to invoke the literary hero that is Joe Abercrombie. So far the chap is six novels into his genre fiction career, plus I’m sure a whole bunch of short stories that I have yet to discover. The first three – The First Law Trilogy – were great, but were in terms of story and style, fantasy at heart. They quite rightly get compared favourably to the works of George R R Martin, as they can be read almost as works of historical fiction based on medieval politics, with a hint of magic rubbed on for flavouring. Do not take this as a negative; they’re amazing books, and he is a consistently impressive author.

What he does remarkably well though, is to take genre conventions down unexpected avenues. The three books he has had published since the first trilogy have all been set in the same world, and have even had recurring characters (I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but when a familiar face turns up in the latest book, it gave me goose bumps!). What they’re not, is a continuation of the theme of epic fantasy. The first was a story of revenge that would have worked fantastically well had it been directed by Chan-Wook Park. It was down and dirty, and you just knew that come the end of the story, no one was going to be happy, even if they managed to get everything that their stained little hearts desired.

Following on from that, we were given a war story. Next to no hint of magic or fantasy elements in this bad boy, but some of the best written depictions of war your humble blogger has ever read. The chapter that jumps a narrative shift as each previous narrator is killed by the next until we finally land on a character we know and hope to hell doesn’t die is a true pleasure to read. Along with a rather excellent TV show, this book played a massive role in inspiring me to run my next campaign; an original Deadlands campaign where all the players are part of the armed forces.

And finally, we have a western. Although it is true that a lot of western movies have similar tropes to that of revenge flicks, this does stand on its own, as it also explores themes of exploration and the importance of family, and a past that will always catch up with you.

All of these ideas would work perfectly in any genre role playing game that I could think of, so next time you want to tell a certain story, don’t worry about fitting it to a system, or setting; instead you should find a game you love to run, and use it to tell the story that you want to, rather than the narrative that is expected.

If you’ve already done this, and had some success/failures, then please share them below.

May 092013

This is my first real post for one of the new menus I’ve fitted to my home page. After this, each time I put something out that has my brand on it, I’ll post about it here, with links so anyone who is interested can quickly and easily find what they’re after. The aim is to put out a two page adventure seed once a week. Sadly that’s not always going to happen, as with this week. A long Bank Holiday weekend with my beautiful girlfriend, needing to put some finishing touches to my card game so it can hopefully get another play test this evening, and working some odd shifts has set me back a couple of days. Hopefully though, normal service will be resumed next week.

For now, I offer a rundown of what is available so far on DriveThruRPG, all crafted at Shortymonster Industries.

System Neutral NPCs. This one pretty much says it all in the title, but the back story is fun, so I’m going to share it with you. When I hit my first big mile stone on the blog, I wanted to thank everyone who had taken the time to head on over and check me out, so I offered to write up one NPC of their choice. Just prose, and based off as little information as they wanted to give. This ranged from “pirate character” to “Star Wars universe trader on a space station”. All of them were fun, and special mention has to go to the father who had me write up his son as a kick ass fighter in a fantasy game. While it is true that you can grab all of these for free by trawling through the comments section on the original post, I just figured that it’d be easier to collate them all together, and correct a few niggling bits of bad grammar and spelling so that they looked good, and package them up for anyone who needed a bunch of ideas in one bundle.

Death at a Funeral. This one has a slightly bigger price tag than all the other stuff, but it took a hell of a lot more work to get it ready. It is a larger adventure, with non player characters sketched out, and even includes maps. And if you’ve been following some of my other posts, you’ll know I suck at maps, and really don’t like drawing them. The adventure is inspired by a tournament game I ran a few years back using the Unhallowed Metropolis system, but since I have no working relationship with the fine folks at Atomic Overmind (yet) a lot of the specifics had to removed, and turned into a generic game of alternate Victorian horror. I think I managed it quite well, and since it has been played about a dozen times in the writing of it, and the tournament, I know the game works. If you fancy the idea of playing Victorian ladies and gentlemen on the hunt for an underground and unknown foe, as you struggle through undead creatures and humanity at its worst, then this might be just what you’re looking for.

The Midnight Priesthood. I can’t actually take 100% credit for this one, as the original idea was a game my girlfriend ran. I liked the basic concept, but thought it would play better in a standard fantasy setting though. The idea itself is of an organisation who effectively take a monthly tax of one child. The settlement it all happens in is happily complicit in this arrangement, and the players take on the role of adventurers knowing nothing of the reasons behind this barbaric practice. There is a reason for the madness, but even the people of the town have no inkling as to the actual dark and terrifying truth.

Murder Incorporated. This one is based on actual historical fact, but massively altered by the addition of some elder gods and Lovecraftian horror. It started with watching an episode of the West Wing, when we discover that one of the main characters’ Father was an hit man for the Jewish mob. I just loved that idea, and it stayed squirreled away just waiting for inspiration to hit. As I started reading more and more Lovecraft, I realised that it was a very good match, and would significantly alter the dynamic of the investigators if they were constantly questioning whether what they were doing was morally acceptable, or even if the methods they were using justified the end result. Possibly the most fun thing to have written so far, but there will be more to follow as I move forward.

Speaking of which, I have two other little bits on the go at present, that should be making a DriveThru appearance in the near future. Another long form adventure, this time in a Cyberpunk world, and a short horror adventure seed set down an old abandoned mine. For regular updates, email subscribe to the blog, or head on over and hit the Facebook ‘Like’ button.

Mar 122013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 112013

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Another month, another RPG bog carnival. This time brought to us by the rather spiffy people over at Arcane Shield. It appears that February has brought out the old romantic in them, but like myself, they don’t want to spend the time doting on someone who presumably already knows that they are the love of their lives, and don’t require an extra dose of yearly proof around mid February. Instead they want us all to take the time to think about things that don’t get enough love. Those games that you just can’t stop thinking about, but seem to have passed by the majority of gamers. For me there really could be only one choice.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a gem of a game. In its first incarnation I remember it being barely more than a handful of pages, and was easily read and digested in a matter of minutes. But that isn’t why I love it so. My own version of the game is in fact a beautiful leather bound edition weighing in at a little over a hundred pages, and I still adore it. What makes the game stand out for me is two fold, and the first is its elegant simplicity, mixed with a rather wonderful layer of complexity just beneath the surface. Allow me to explain.


Click for the actual adventures of Baron Munchause.

This is primarily a story telling game with each player taking on the roll of an aristocratic explorer and adventurer. The game takes place in some mythical tavern or tent, where you have all come together to grab a moment of peace, and discuss your exploits with like minded fellows. The first player is decided by which adventurer has the highest social rank – I often choose a marquis so rarely get this honour - and then a gripping yarn is decided on. “Tell us Lord Du Ponte of the time you heroically banished Neptune from his throne beneath the waves to a small fishing lake just outside of Almondbury“. The aforementioned Du Ponte would then regale the table with this highly unbelievable tale, suffering constant interruptions from the audience as they inform him that what he is saying simply cannot have happened for a variety of unlikely reasons: “But good sir, the Duchess of Hertfordshire was at the time engaged to yours truly, and as such would be in no position to lure a horse to the Stone of Scone”, and wager money to the fact. At which point, the choice falls to Du Ponte to either accept the coin and the story continues with the embellishment now a part of it, or enter a bidding war claiming that what the other person said was untrue, and tossing a coin into the ring of your own.

The story continues until it reaches its conclusion, or until the rest of the room becomes bored and starts to throw bread rolls at the speaker. It is advised that bread rolls be procured before the game begins, as waiters can never be trusted to bring them in a hurry. Each person tells their own tall tale, and then a winner must be decided. All very simple you see, and a great way of bringing together people with the aim of not only role playing, but putting the emphasis on story telling in it’s entirety. You will notice that no dice were cast during the entire game, only money – or tokens – changing hands. For me this is a wonderful thing; as much as I like random mechanics, I don’t like it when they interfere with a good tale, and this game is all about the tale.. The complex bit comes next…

The winner of this little contest is judged by all present, and they do so by bidding what coins they have left on who wove the finest yarn. So, if you have successfully averted all claims to untruth in your story you will have received no extra coins. And if you have made certain that everyone knows how much exaggeration went into the other wild stories, you will also have no coins of your own left. This means that they will be in the hands of others, who will have to place them before someone other than themselves, thus giving you a greater chance of emerging victorious. A fine mechanic, and one that inspires more florid story telling. Telling a good story with passion and inventiveness in equal measure, also important in gaining points from your compatriots.

So, as you can see, a great game to inspire your more creative side. As to the second reason why I love his game; well that is going to be the subject of a separate article, but the short story is that it’s a great game to play with people who would never willingly join in a role playing game, for whatever reason that may be…

Feb 012013

myfarog-adventure1-front-page1I announced that I had applied to join this play test on the Facebook page for the blog a few days back, after getting the tip off from wonderful blogger – and fellow extreme metal fan – Cirsova. I jumped at the chance, but with a hint of nervous apprehension. You see, the game has been created by someone who is considered controversial, even in Black Metal circles: Varg Vikernes. I really don’t feel like listing here the reasons for this, as I spent a lot of time doing so for my one of my final year projects at university, but if you feel the need, it is easy to search for the information on Google (other search engines are available).

Suffice to say, ‘controversial’ doesn’t quite do it justice. Why then am I writing about this man, and doing so in a way that is going to be supportive? Do I agree with his politics and religious views? Absolutely not. What I can do though is differentiate between the man and the art. For instance, I adore his latest re-issues of the old Burzum material, as well as his later stuff. I also know that he is heavily inspired by the work of Tolkien, taking on a stage name of Count Grishnackh for a time, and even the band name ‘Burzum’, means ‘darkness’ in Black Speech. His personal background also included paying war-games and RPGs, something that I’m sure those people who oppose our hobby would be more than happy to tout as a reason to stop impressionable youths from doing so.

So, with all these things considered, I thought I had nothing to lose from just registering my interest. And Last night my mobile beeped notifying me of a new email, and lo and behold, it was the play test packet arriving in my inbox. It was a bit late for me to get into it by then, but I was very excited indeed and jumped online this morning to take a look. This post is not going to detail what I have found out so far, other than to say that it all looks good, and professionally put together. I had to a nondisclosure thing when I signed up, so there actually be big bits of the game that I won’t get the chance to go into detail on, we shall see… I’ve also been going back through the game’s website to download a couple of extra things to get myself prepared.

Now, as followers of the blog will know, I’m in the middle of reviewing Kuro, and will be finishing that review before I get too deep into MYFAROG, so have no fears there. But expect occasional updates about how I’m finding it on any of the social media channels I use, such as the aforementioned Facebook page, my Twitter account, or even on Google+. Let me know what you, my dedicated readers think about this, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Nov 192012

Not in real life, in real life I do kind of frown on evil. In RPGs though, it can be possible to have a great session, or even campaign, while playing a character whose actions are demonstrably evil. We’re not talking about anti-heroes here, or characters that skirt round some of life’s moral grey areas, we’re talking about terrible people and the things they do. I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll see what I mean.

One of my favourite characters from literature is a total bastard. A liar, a thief, an adulterer, a coward and a bully. He mistreats everyone in his life if he can get away with it, and would do pretty much anything if there’s a way he could turn it to his advantage. The person to whom I refer is Harry Paget Flashman. Not everyone will have heard of him, but he is the star of over a dozen novels, and first appeared in the classic ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’. Everything I just attributed to him is true, and he has done a whole lot more besides, but he’s still a great character to read about. On top of his multitude of character flaws, he was also charming and polite, knew how to seduce women, and flatter those who were his social betters. He had a gift for languages, was a skilled horseman and a great cricketer. And from a story point of view, his life was never made that much easier because of his deplorable nature.

True, he rose to lofty heights because he was often the sole survivor of high profile exploits, but he hated every moment of it until then, and suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. The stories he were part of were filled with him being terrified for his life and in constant danger, but you ended up routing for the swine. So much of what happened was his own fault, and he made it worse with almost every action he took, but you still wanted him to survive, just to see what the hell he’d get himself into – and try and talk his way out of – next. I have read all of the Flashman papers, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the author sadly passed away a few years back, I would be excitedly looking forward to the next installment.

This kind of character can work wonderfully in role playing games too. Just think about being a GM of a game that involved a player whose character was actively antagonising the NPCs they met, always trying to get ahead, or just wanting to enjoy being in a position of power so they could bully those beneath them. As long as they understood that there would be consequences of their actions – if they don’t understand that, you might want to have a word – then you get to keep pushing them deeper into your intrigue and plots as people stronger and more capable then the PC keep getting their revenge on the braggart.

As a player it can also be great fun, and a challenging role playing experience all at the same time. Only once have I played what could be considered a true evil character, and that was mostly due to playing in a game which used alignments  I want to go on record as saying that I’m not usually a fan of this kind of thing, much preferring to play characters that adapt their opinion easily based on a changing world. But my Lawful Evil cleric was a blast to play.

It was a world created by the DM, and all the PCs were playing dwarves. It was an insular monotheistic society, and as a culture we were realising we were not alone for the very first time. If you’re curious, we were being invaded by the elves. I had been wanting to play a cleric for a while, going down a battle preacher kind of route. When I was told it would be a monotheistic culture, I couldn’t resist. A stayed true to the letter of the law in everything I did, but made sure it benefited me without caring at all what it would mean to others. The poor were subjugated under my ministering, and I even took one of the other player characters as a slave because she had acted in an un-Godly fashion and sought redemption from her sins. All in all he was a nasty piece of work, but the other players put up with him, and were happy to have him on side.

There were two reasons for this. First, he was fighting on the side of his God, as were all the other players; if they towed the line, then they avoided my holy wrath. Secondly, I was charming as all hell. Offering praise where I thought it would serve me later on down the line, and making sure I was seen to be generous, as long as it didn’t actually cost me anything to do so. I would buff and heal the rest of the party when needed, just because it meant I had a better chance to survive. Come the final battle however, when all looked very grim indeed, I legged it. Just turned my back on the rest of them, and left them to their fates, cementing my place as the bad guy of the entire plot, as they died to a man dwarf jack of them.

So you see, played right – and neither hammed up or just going for a pure psychopath - it can be great fun playing an evil character. Just be prepared to suffer the consequences of your actions, unless you’re very good indeed at covering your back. Very very good indeed.

Nov 112012

For November, Triple Crit is taking the reigns for the RPG Blog Carnival, and their topic of choice is about how the writing process affects, or is affected by the game. I have stated in previous blogs how little I actually write down when I’m GMing. This has lead to a separate writing project stalling pretty much completely. When I ran a long campaign that I recently considering turning into a published adventure, it was very hard indeed to get down in words the choices that the players made, as I had so little to do with most of them. This is because I ran a lot of the game on the fly, and knew that if I had stuff written down I could end up getting bogged down in following my own plot. I think I would like to get back round to the project once I have a bit more writing experience under my belt, but at the moment I have a few other projects up my sleeve that are taking up time, and have a higher chance of baring fruit, creatively  and when it comes to them seeing the light of day.

Today then, I want to talk about writing done as a player. In the balance of things I think I have spent more time on the player’s side of the screen, and this has done me a lot of favours when it comes to GMing. I tend to run the kind of game I would like to play, and people seem to respond to that in a highly positive way. When I’m playing a character that I can sink my teeth into, the notes I take during play – that usually exist only as a reminder of names and places to me as a player – end up being the basis for longer prose pieces that I write up just for the fun of it. Until recently, I never entertained any idea of them seeing print in any format other than a thread on a forum. But right now, with the blog and a few other writing projects, my confidence as a writer is growing. A big obstacle to publishing adventures from a game though is that you own so little of the intellectual property you’re writing about.

If I was to include any of the adventure, the GM takes credit for creating the basic plot. If I write about a published game world, all of that belongs to other people. Even the other player characters were the creation of other minds. My latest shot at this though could actually work. A couple of friends of mine are in the final stages of writing their own system and game world, and have given me permission to use characters/places/kitchen sink from the world they have created. I need to get the rest of the players on board to letting me put words in their character’s mouths, as one thing i didn’t do was record the session to recreate the conversations verbatim.

This here is what I’m currently thinking about turning into a real bit of writing. Please don’t judge it too harshly, as it was written just for fun. The character who narrates this is actually illiterate. The idea eventually became he was telling the story to journalist after the end of the adventure. Within a few months of game play, it became pretty obvious that we were involved in something big, and that people would want to know what actually happened.

As a bit of practice I have in mind a basic little story of the character’s past, his time spent in the army. This way I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes and the other players can take a look at what I’ve got and see if they’re comfortable with me writing about their creations. For now, this little tease will have to do, but I promise to share anything I write up with all of you.

Nov 052012

I’ve touched on Warbows and Murder Strikes so far, but this week, we’re going to take a look at something a bit more advanced; gunpowder weapons firing balls of lead. Although these are a lot less prevalent in fantasy RPGs, I do know they exist, as well as in Pirate themed action and adventure games. Feel free to take as much or as little of this advice to apply to your own games, as some of it may be a little too real, and could take away from the fun of it all.

Because these weapons are far from common, and most fantasy games prefer to stick closer to a late medieval time frame, if they do show up, most people don’t actually know too much about them. Lets start with some basics then. Loading the weapon – and for this I am assuming that the barrel has not been rifled - takes a professional soldier whom has been drilled extensively, roughly twenty seconds. Feel free to work out how many combat rounds that is, and then decide you probably don’t care that much for realism in this subject. I don’t blame you, but if you are going to shorten that time, don’t make it too silly. Allow for well trained characters to take feats or advantages to reduce this some. Just remember, what the character is doing is dangerous, and rushing leads to mistakes, which could lead to severe trauma and death.

The reason for this is that you will setting off a small explosion in a narrow space very close indeed to your face. Even when it works fine, expect to have a soot blackened face, with pock marked scars from the black powder in the priming pan. Also, be very careful with the ramrod: grip it with finger tips and not a fist. If you get an accidental ignition, life’s easier with shorter fingers than no hand.

Once loaded, the gun is usually fired immediately. This is because the ball will not be lodged firmly in the barrel, and holding the gun pointed vaguely downwards could allow it to roll out. Even too much jostling before firing will dislodge the shot and mean that it will not receive the full force of the explosion, exiting the barrel at sub-optimal velocity. There are ways round this, but they are not risk free. You could force a lump of drying mud or clay down the barrel to hold the shot and powder in place. If it’s too dry, it will have little effect, coming loose just as easily; too wet and you run the risk of getting the powder damp and causing a misfire and a blockage. This will destroy the weapon, and do considerable damage to its wielder.

When fired, an Indian Long Pattern musket or pistol was horrifically inaccurate. At the battle of Waterloo alone, based on rounds fired, less than 5% hit their target. The pistols were only accurate at incredibly short ranges: typical duels at twenty paces were called off with honour satisfied if three rounds were fired by each participant and none hit. This happened more than you would think. In battle, the muskets were only effective in volley fire, and even then, only at close range. Holding fire “’til you see the whites of their eyes” was very good advice, as firing early was a great way to waste powder and shot. the reason for this was the shot was a lot smaller than the barrel, and when fired would have plenty of room to rattle along inside it before coming out in the vague direction it was pointed.

The way around this was to rifle the barrel. You know that great of James Bond as seen down the barrel of a gun, that looks like a camera? The lines you see are the rifling. This is done to put a spin on the round, making it travel in a straighter line through the air. To be truly effective however, the round needs to fit the barrel much tighter. Before advances in weapon design and the invention of cartridge shots, the way to do this was to wrap the ball in leather. The grooves would grip the material, spinning the round as it left the barrel, drastically increasing accuracy and allowing for sharp shooters.

If you plan on playing a character who uses a black powder weapon, I would strongly suggest you find a rifle rather than a musket. It makes you significantly more effective without forcing you to join in the volley fire. In realistic terms, the disadvantage of this was a longer reload time, as the shot would have to be forced down the barrel because of the firmer fit. For the sake of fun, this can easily be ignored though. Since these weapons would be hand made, the basic weapon would certainly be a musket, and a rifle would be a master-crafted affair.

If you’re the GM it might also be an idea to assume that your player characters armed with firearms know how to maintain them. Keeping track of how often they strip the weapon to clear powder from the touch holes, how regularly the change the flint to ensure a spark, and how clean they keep the grooves of the burning leather that sticks inside them.

One final note now, on bayonets. They are usually socket mounted, meaning they can be taken on and off in a few seconds by someone with experience, and act similar to spears in close combat. Their added benefit is that they can be wielded as knives, with the longer bayonets used on rifles closer in length to a short sword. If you have an entire unit equipped with these weapons, they could all fix bayonet and form square, holding them pointed outwards like a very pointy wall. Although effectively stalling them, and making it harder to load and fire, no horse, no matter how experienced its rider, will willingly charge at the square.

I hope some of the above was useful to you, and please remember that all of the above is optional, and if you would rather ignore it, I take no offense at all. I’m just happy to get any chance to use my History degree…

Oct 012012

I got round to playing/GMing this a few days ago, and had such a good time that I decided to write about it. The game in question – Something Went Wrong – seemed tailor made for my current requirements. At the start of each university term, my gaming society runs a few weeks of one-off games designed to give new role players a taste of what to expect should they choose to join us, along with experienced players a chance to try something new. One of the bigger problems I have when doing this is keeping a game at the right length for just one session. Sure, I could just cut it short come the end of the evening if it hasn’t reached a satisfying conclusion, but I always feel like that’s a let down for everyone.

Something Went Wrong though, was just what I needed. Character creation took a whole ten minutes, and that included the description of stats for the novice gamers. After that we were right into it. Well not quite, a lovely touch for the game is that after spending literally whole minutes pouring love and attention into your character, you hand it to the player on your left. There isn’t much scope for Munchkins in the game, but that little touch is beautifully thought out to keep everyone on an even playing field.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, here’s a quick rundown. Everyone creates a character – even the “GM” – and strikes off into a dungeon, just like the kick ass adventures they are. They have done it all before and even have the +5 T-shirt of tourism. What makes this game special is that there’s no one GM; the first person to assume that role (myself as it happened) sets up the opening room in a dungeon with a random roll and some basic set dressing. They run one round of combat, which is mostly what the game is about, and then hands the GM hat to the person sitting clockwise round the table from them, and becomes a player again until it’s their turn with the hat. For the record, we didn’t use an actual hat as I was the only person who owns one in the group, and my head is bizarrely small so no one else could wear my spiffy touring cap.

Experience points gets handed out by the GM at the end of each round, and they are used when the player becomes the GM and allow them to mess around with the other players. This is done by random rolls on ‘misability’ tables, and some quick thinking on how to apply them to the current situation. Once a room is cleared, the ‘encounter’ ends, loot is handed out – again by a random roll or two – and the hat moves to the next person so they can set the scene in the next chamber. This carries on with player injury and death throughout until the end of the evening.

That’s basically it, and although it sounds simple it makes for a wonderfully well rounded game. I was a little nervous at first of putting control of a dungeon, and everyone’s playing experience, in the hands of someone who has never role played, let alone run a game before and at least two of my players fell into that category. I got round this a little by setting up the table so my most experienced player would be the GM after me, thus giving everyone else a bit of time to see how it all worked. When it came to their turn, I shouldn’t have worried at all. The system is so simple and straightforward, that they jumped into it feet first and did me proud! They were using the rules as a frame work, and then just having fun.

This was one the biggest selling point for me; the rules were so simple, and also so vague, that you could apply whatever you liked to the situation, and it would make sense without ever affecting the balance. If a player wanted to try that a spell that did no damage, but would be über powerful, the GM would quickly find a way to limit the potential of the spell without taking away from the fun of the caster. As an example, someone wanted to bubble-wrap themselves to avoid damage, the spell went off and the player was safe. The GM was quick to let them know however that they had neglected air holes, and for as long as they remained in bubble-wrap, they would lose that many turns afterwards as they tried to regain their breath.

What didn’t I like? Very little. I usually steer my groups away from combat, and as such thought that this game would get a bit repetitive and rote, but it never did. Once again I think this is down to the freedom that the players had to play the game in the manner they saw fit. We did end up dropping some of the modifiers for combat, just to keep the flow going a little, but this happened without any discussion; one GM rolled without taking them into account, and the next followed suit. It was only after the game finished that I realised we had done it at all. We were so engaged in the fun of a basic dungeon crawl, that we never let the rules get in the way.

In case some readers are thinking that this all sounds a little bit OSR, you wouldn’t be far wrong. That freedom is pretty much what I think of when people talk about system light Old School Role-playing games.

By the end of the night, we are a little drained, GMing and playing will do that to a mind, but we all had a great time. This gets a five star review from me, and a big recommendation that you click the link at the top of the page and get it downloaded.

Full disclosure: even though this game is available for free, the lovely people at Troll in the Corner Games sent me a code for a free Gold Edition download when they heard I was thinking about reviewing it for this blog. The Gold Edition adds so art and extra tables, but remains the same game.