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…

Nov 012012
 

I have a seen a lot Kickstarters recently, some that work, some that don’t, some that never had a chance to fail, some that staggered belief in their far reaching goals. This week though, the crowd funding platform went live this side of the pond, and a lot of gamers I know, myself included, are looking at it as a way of getting our ideas into other people’s hands. Come the end of NaGa DeMon I will hopefully have something ready to get play tested, and start thinking about doing some real formatting and art for it.

The ground is currently being tested by the great chaps at 6D6 who have launched their Kickstarter as soon as they were able to. I imagine a load of people will be keeping a very close eye on this to see how it goes for them. I wish I could do more than just watch from the sidelines, and if you have the cash, I advise you take a swing on this one. The offers they have are fantastic, with a whole bunch of stuff available for very little expenditure. And the six month offer is frankly inspired. Get on over there now, and check them out.

Now, I don’t usually do this kind of blog post, and please don’t get cross me with me. I am getting nothing for doing this apart from a nice warm feeling that one of my readers might put some money their way, and when they fund – and I get a real job – I will be able to find this awesome product in my FLGS. Just for the record, i would totally go for the Zombie pack…

Oct 092012
 

Today my gaming society gets together and each GM gives a pitch for a full academic year long game that they want to run, and hope to get enough interest to make it happen. We’ve sadly had a body drop out for personal reasons, so with the field shrunk I should be fine to run my post-cyberpunk game set in Warren EllisTransmetropolitan universe, using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules. below is a little bit of prose that I’ve been working on as a teaser for prospective players. It basically gives a tiny bit of background about the characters’ origins and the world they will be playing in. What I haven’t done is go into detail about the style of game play – as I want that to be decided upon by the players as a committee - and the types of character they can play. The beauty of starting a campaign this way is that the players will be every-man characters, meaning they will get the chance to play pretty much anything they want, within the scope of the game. Which basically limits them to ‘human’.

I know most of you won’t be at the meeting tonight, but feel free to read it anyway, and as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments box below.

You all had your reasons to take a spin on the roulette wheel of cryogenics. Those reasons are your own, but with the money out of your account and a detailed form filled in you were hopeful for what the future would hold. In the future, they would rebuild you. they could even make you a better you. Never liked the way your chin looked? Fine, take that picture of the person you always wished you would be and clip it to the form. Maybe even just a younger version of yourself, giving you the chance to live your life again, to avoid some mistakes, or just make sure that this time, your youth wasn’t wasted on someone young.

And then it happened. Your clock ran out. Luckily you were close enough to a hospital and had your will prepared, and after the postmortem was carried out, your head was detached and inexpertly flash frozen and sealed in its container, your paperwork stuck to the side in a clear plastic envelope. Your hopes and dreams, and your brain, thoroughly damaged by the flawed freezing procedure was placed on a shelf with dozens, hundreds of others. People like you, who threw a coin into the wishing well that is the future.

And then the day came. A day of wonder that could only happen in a future so far removed from what you could understand of the present, that to you it was just so much science fiction. They rebuild you, all of you, from the flawed respiratory system that has been the cause of countless childhood deaths by choking on food, to the human eye, a camera so complex as to stagger belief, yet made out of such simple materials as jelly and water. And as the last layers of epidermis form, and hair – wet from the chemical solution your second birth takes place in – starts to colour, the signals are bundled up from your old brain, and prepared to jump start your new head meat. You come around in fear for your life, already starting to swallow the liquid as the glass fronted door of the chamber opens automatically. Your body is unceremoniously dropped to the floor. A cold floor. hard tiles with someone else’s biological matter still staining them.

You enter the future alone, unsure what you’re doing there, and within seconds you’re vomiting onto the tiles like so many before you. It takes the assistant five minutes to notice the process has been completed, and by the time he walks into the room to look down at your naked vomit stained form – thinking about what he would do to you if the activities in this room weren’t recorded – you’ve gone into a mild shock. A grey and brown dressing gown is dropped around your shoulders as you’re asked questions to jog your memory. You answer as well as you can whilst pulling it around yourself, using the edges to wipe yourself clean as you speak, your mind beginning to come to terms with what’s happened. You’re told there’s a taxi waiting outside to take you to a hostel, that your money will be refunded in line with inflation, but without interest. They would never be able to work that out…

All these things make sense to you. Words and concepts that make you feel secure. ‘Just how different could the world be’, you think as you close your eyes and breath out as the front door is opened for you, ready to breathe in the future. Eyes closed tightly, waiting to open to allow you to take in the sites so few people from your time would ever get to experience.

The sights, smells, and sounds are now only remembered as a cacophony. The werewolf having sex with a Chinese business man. The child with half the skin on her face apparently scraped off sat watching a TV screen in the sidewalk. You think the show was called ‘Sex Puppets’, but that can’t be right. The guy with a floating digital camera behind his head talking to a women eating what was clearly the cooked arm of an Afro-Caribbean child. The adverts for Ebola-Cola, for a U.S. President called the Beast, for an enclave where feudal japan is lived and relived while people from outside watch on. The police dog talking to a drug dealer.

You don’t remember the taxi journey at all. You barely remember the first month at the hostel apart from the beatings as every penny you had was taken from you by the gangs of veteran revivals who have banded together to pray on the weak. You were lucky you recovered quickly, before you were put out on the street for business. You found a few other lost souls, all wearing someone else’s cast off clothing who no longer whimpered themselves to sleep every night. With nothing else to do, you shared stories of the time you came from, fighting back the influence of this future that seems so wrong. The only thing you seem to have in common is the time you came from. But that association is enough to keep the gangs away, to give you breathing space to take stock, and maybe, just maybe, find your place in this future.

Oct 082012
 

A few months back I looked at a console game through the eyes of a table top role player, and I must admit, the game didn’t come out too well. Sure it got rave reviews all over the rest of the internet, but in this little corner, not so much. Today I place that role playing eye firmly on another Xbox game that I’ve been playing recently: Borderlands 2. This will not be an in-depth review about its merits as a first person shooter, but more a little look at how it works when seen as a traditional role playing game. For a bit of background, it’s worth knowing that I played and loved the first game, and most of the time have been playing both of them split screen with my girlfriend.

The first bad thing about the Borderlands franchise as an RPG is the almost total lack of interaction your character has with the rest of the world that doesn’t involve shooting it in the face with a mind blowing variety of boom sticks. The most they seem to talk in the second installment is a few little quips when employing their special abilities - maybe half a dozen different lines which get old pretty quickly considering how often they get used – and little back and fourths between player characters as one heals another. This kinda sucks, but when I think back to some other games, it really isn’t that big a deal. Sure, Deus Ex, Mass Effect and the Dragon Age games give you conversation trees a-plenty, but sometimes you really don’t want to hear the voice they’ve given your character as it may very well be a voice that you would never associate with the way you imagine it.

What it does to make up for that is give the NPCs some killer interactions with the player characters and each other. If you find an Echo recorder and pick it up, try and pay attention to what’s being said; it is usually tangential to the plot, but even so, they’re well written and bloody hilarious. There are little bits on the player character backgrounds, as well as history of the world and NPC back stories too. Actual conversations are also worth paying attention to. Usually the only verbal interactions available are when collecting a job, and turning it in. This will almost always have a bit of monologue from the quest giver, and once again, even though you don’t need  to hear it, take the time to listen. They really do give life to the characters and contain some of the funniest writing I’ve heard in a video game.

Don’t get me wrong, the characterization for almost every NPC is pretty one dimensional. The bad-guy is bad, and every time he has something to say, it reinforces his stature as ‘evil-boss’ for the game. I would drop a few examples here, but I’m trying my best to keep this review spoiler free, and some of his best lines lead to some great reveals in the plot that I really don’t want to spoil for anyone. Handsome Jack isn’t the only bad guy in the piece, and all of the others are just as hammy when it comes to their lines and how they are delivered. Put it this way though, if you load the game up, take a look at the awesome stylized graphics and expected some subtlety to the characterization, you may not have very realistic expectations.

That is one of the strongest points about this game though; its writing and how well it all slots together to give a consistent feel to the world and the plot. Any GM knows that you can run a dark game and still throw in occasional bits of humour and not ruin the mood. The ‘GM’ for this game is running it for pure comedy, but knows just the right amount of ‘dark’ to slide in on occasion to keep everyone engaged with the plot and stop being nothing but a yuck-fest.

What else makes it a good RPG? Character advancement. The skill trees are pretty varied, and it’s easy to think of  leveling up getting you some hit points, an advancement in a skill and/or a feat. All of which are perfectly in fitting with your character, while also giving you the freedom to try out a few different things without ever worrying about stepping on another character’s toes. As an example, playing a Siren I can be kick ass with a sniper rifle, but will still never get in the way of the Assassin being the best at it.

My final point is a mild spoiler for people who have never played the first game, and maybe even a little bit spoilerific for the second. You get to meet the characters who played the vault hunters in the first game. In thus game they’re pure NPCs, and the writers have done what every good GM should take a swing at at least once in the same situation. If you have returning players to the same campaign world, but years after the last plot’s resolution, and bringing in all new characters, then what do you do with the old ones? Write them into the world. Make them a little bit epic, give them their own followers and show that their actions have had long lasting consequences on the setting. To me this is one of the best examples of how the game works as an RPG, a thought given to the consequences of the player actions that tie in with the larger setting, and it’s something that a lot of GMs can learn from.

As before, I invite people to make their own comments below, either on the game itself, or thoughts on how I viewed it.

Sep 242012
 

There has been talk on a few of the blogs I follow – and even in a forum thread or two - about the feasibility of using anything like a long sword in a dungeon environment. There are ways to make a hand-and-a-half sword, or even a two handed sword, still a viable weapon for a fight in an enclosed space. This week we are talking about the Murder Strike.

The image above shows this move in action. As you can see, the sword is pretty long, but held half way down the blade, so that the arc needed to swing is reduced. Now, some of you out there may be wondering why there’s any point swinging the sword in such a way, instead of using the blade. To answer this, first we need to understand how a medieval war-hammer actually works. If you’re thinking Mjölnir, you’re a little bit out. No, the war 

hammer that would be used by footmen against knights in armour is a little bit more like this–>. Note the sharpened back end of the weapon. Now, I have been lucky enough to see what such a weapon, correctly forged, can do to a steel chest plate. Trust me on this, the two large holes where the spike punched several inches through the metal to where the ribs would be were very worrying indeed. 

The cross guards on medieval long swords – the bits that stopped an attacking blade sliding down your own and slicing your fingers off – were often molded into points. This was not purely for decorative purposes, as you can imagine when performing the murder strike. This would be performed as a two handed strike, so imagine the force with which the cross guard would hit the armour of your opponent. Even if you were unlucky, and didn’t get the clean hit needed to punch a large hole in the metal, and the flesh beneath, you would still have a chance to knock them back, maybe even off their feet.

If you scroll back up to the top image, you will notice that not only is the man performing the murder strike gripping his sword blade with open hands, but the poor chap on the receiving end is also grasping his blade when defending. This is another interesting aspect of medieval sword fighting. The blades, although when swung with enough force could do massive damage were rarely, if ever, honed to razor sharpness. There were at least two reasons for this, the first being that it was unnecessary. The amount of pressure over a surface required to cut flesh was easily taken care off without needing an razor edged blade when a sword was swung with enough force. It was also a waste to try and keep the blade that sharp, as after a few swings at another blade, or maybe the armour of your opponent, the edge would quickly dull.

This does give you edge in a close quarters fight with limited room to swing or use a shield, as it allows the defender to hold the blade firmly to parry and block blows with much greater ease than if the sword was held in one hand. If the user is proficient enough, this defensive stance an also allow a quick and deadly riposte. Don’t forget that the Romans perfected a method of sword fighting that used the point of the sword to great effect. When using a long sword in a closed space, use your off hand to hold the blade as you would when using to block, and if you turn aside a blow, drive the point of your sword forward, the accuracy you gain from holding the blade in both hands means a high chance of hitting a gap in your opponent’s armour with a good deal of force.

I hope some of the above has been useful for you all, and if you have any tips of your own, please share below.

Sep 212012
 

Been seeing this one around for a while now, and I’ve been tempted to join in. the thing that’s kept me from it for so long is the fact that the things I like change with my mood. I have put some thought into it though, and I think I may have come up with some things that seem to appeal to me no matter what the mood. So with no further delay, here are my entries into the Alex J. Cavanaugh, Genre Favourites Blogfest.

Favourite movie genre: Zombies. I know this can encapsulate a lot of variety, but I think that’s way it appeals to me as much as it does. From the Romero classics, to the not quite zombie movies like 28 Days Later and The Evil Dead. With a little bit of Shaun of the Dead thrown in there, and immaculate hidden classics like Colin.Favourite music genre: Extreme metal. I’ve alluded to this is a past blog talking about horror RPG music, but I just want to lay this out; I lovevery heavy metal. Again this cover s a lot of music, from the fun stuff Turisas, to the all times classics of Slayer, with obscure bands dotted in there too, such as Negura Bunget. If you read this blog, and have a band you think I should know about if the above band names mean anything to you, please, drop it into the comments box below.Favourite literary genre: Historical fiction. This one took a lot of grappling with. I work in a book shop, and have done for over 6 years now, and as such i have a lot of exposure to reading material, and although it’s true that sci-fi and fantasy make up the lion’s share of my personal collection, historical fiction is what i love to read. Especially if it’s done well. One of the masters of the genre for me, is the sadly departed George MacDonald Fraser, creator of the Flashman papers. These are some of the most enlightening, well researched and thoroughly funny books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Guilty pleasure: Slasher movies. I’m a big horror fan, in all of the above genres, but there are times when I just want to watch Freddy Krueger kick some ass. If you’re reading this and you blog, I invite you to join in. If not, feel free to use the comments box below, to add your own ideas, or mock and deride my own.

In other news, today I have been given a guest blog spot over at the Iron tavern. Take a look, and let me know what you think about my ideas on the OSR.

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.

Sep 102012
 

I have already touched on this subject a little bit, but it has mainly been focused on the people running the game; giving them a choice location and some great ways to keep their players nerves as tight as a bowstring. This week though I thought it only fair to offer a few little tips to people who are thinking about playing in an RPG that sets out to scare them. My reason for this as that unlike other games, it involves an emotional commitment from the players right from the get go, just so you’re ready to experience the game in a way that will allow you to get the most out of it.

The first and most important thing, the emotional contract you need to agree to to if you want to enjoy horror role playing; you must allow yourself to be scared. It’s all well and good claiming that role playing your character’s sense of dread and fear is enough, but any actor will tell you that emotion in a performance is more convincing when it is based in reality. So, let yourself feel the fear, as if it really was you in that darkened room, knowing that you’re all alone but still hearing a papery noise of something moving along the floor towards you. I know that this isn’t the easiest thing in the world, as once you grow up it’s considered normal and healthy to put aside irrational fears. If you were your character though, would you be as cool headed? They exist in a world where the things that go bump in the night could be more than just the house settling, or the plumbing doing that weird thing it does.

Now, if you’re ready to be scared, it’s time to move on. The next thing to do is to be prepared to show the terror, and voice it even. I know that guys have a strange thing about this, as if showing fear makes you weak, and the female gamers out there could be even more concerned about it, as in a lot of cases they will be in a male dominated game and could object to conforming to stereotypical ’girl in a horror movie’ behaviors. Once more though; play it as if it’s real. If your life was in danger from a threat you could never understand, never explain or describe, but feel a sense of palpable dread just knowing it was there, would you maintain the facade of coolness, or would you shout, cry out, and probably just run like hell? If you’re willing to make this effort (maybe not the actual running away bit), the GM will see it, notice it, and keep piling on the pressure. If you’ve committed to it, you may even feel a sense of real fear start to tickle your nerves. This just makes it easier to keep the suspense going, and to commit the experience.

Often in a horror game, isolation is used to highlight anxieties and fears. The GM could very well split the party, but if you don’t find yourself alone, and have the other players to talk to, then scare the hell out of each other too. Talk in character about the dangers ahead, and what worries you in the coming excitement. Make up a story about something similar that happened to a friend of yours; with a suitably grim ending, and it will help everyone’s imagination – including your own – to latch onto the very real dangers your characters face. This is even more effective if you do it when the GM is dealing with another player/group of players. Imagine them walking back into a room to see the players visibly flinch at the unexpected noise of the door opening…

The final bit of advice I’ll give you, and this is key to every type of role playing, but pays off hugely in horror games, is to keep in character as much as you are able to. Picture yourself watching a scary movie, alone in your front room, the lights off, and no distractions. Would you keep pausing the film to check your phone, texting people, or getting up to check on the cat? Not if you could help it would be my guess. The more that you allow yourself to be immersed in the experience, the more real it will seem to you. The same goes for role playing, and it will help you to get the same sense of fear that is plaguing your character. At the table, this means doing your best to avoid talking about what you did at the weekend, if your sports team did better than someone else’s team, or sharing a funny joke you saw on Twitter. The GM will be grateful, and you’ll have a much better experience.

And after all that there comes a caveat. If you don’t want to get scared, then this will all have been for naught. You probably shouldn’t be playing horror games at all, and I advise against following any of the tips listed above.

Sep 032012
 

My first post since someone out there decided I was officially awesome. I better not screw this one up…

I was reading in a blog somewhere this week about inspiration for RPGs, and where it comes from. I used an example in the comments section about reading the back of a book that looks interesting, and then with no other input, imagine the plot taking part in your game world and how it would work. It’s a simple enough trick than can be very rewarding if you put the mental effort into it. Today though I want to talk about the way a massive body of work inspired me, and how I turned that inspiration into a campaign that I plan on running for roughly nine months.

What inspired me was the work of Comic book writer Warren Ellis; more specifically, his masterful run as the creator/writer of cyberpunk comic book Transmetropolitan. If you haven’t read, I strongly advise you to do so. Maybe not right at this second, but by the end of the week I expect you all to have made the effort. There may well be a test. It’s not so much the characters that inspired me, or even the story he told, but the world that he created. It’s how I went about turning that into a place people can role play in that I will be discussing today.

First off, I needed an intimate familiarity with the world. This wasn’t hard, as I was happy to take a weekend and read the entire run once more (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done the whole series in a single sitting) to get the feel of the setting as fresh in my mind as I could. Then I broke out a note pad and pen, and started reading again…

I had several pages with different headings, each for things I wanted to incorporate into the game world. There may well be other stuff that pops up that comes from what I remember from the comic books, or just my own imagination, but these lists are the things that I wanted to touch on that would help define the post-cyberpunk feel of the setting. Details will be a little vague if you don’t mind; I know that several of my prospective players read this blog, and due to the nature of the characters they will be playing, I don’t want to spoil too much.

The first things to go down were the easy bits that make great window dressing; the things that one can buy. Since I’m using CP2020 as my system, I knew that shopping could be a big part of the experience, and as well as keeping the basic stuff from the four chrome books – just for the sake of ease – I also wanted to make it uniquely Transmetropolitan. So every time anyone in the comic book ate something or watched an advert for a product, it went on the list. This means the players can eat baby seal eyes whilst drinking Ebola Cola.

The characters would of course need somewhere to buy these fine products from, so any shop in the books also got a list. In actual fact it was a small sub-list of general places to go. Due the sandbox nature of my GMing style, I fully expect the players to explore the wider city, and I wanted to give them a different feel for different places and wealth levels. As an example, the print district is right next to the upper class con-urb area known as Puritan Mewes, and you won’t find chain store burger bars or gun retailers in that area, more your bespoke luxury foods and weapon emporiums. I was a bit tempted at this point to consider mapping the city out; as I say, I want/expect the players to explore, but I often find that maps can be a bit of a hindrance to me when I GM. If the world exists as more of an abstract in my mind, then I can play with it a bit more to suit the needs of the game and the expectations of my players. I know some gamers and GMs may frown on this, but it works for me.

Next came the most fun bit, and also the longest list by far; fun things to do/see when wandering around the City. Because of the open world feel, and the fact that plot hooks are fairly well distributed around the game world, I needed fun things to keep the players occupied while they explored. This meant several pages, split into sub lists by the length of the experience, of just stuff. Off the top of my head as I sit and type; humans that have turned themselves into floating clouds of nano-computer robots with the ability to restructure matter, just floating past, having fun turning people’s clothes into bananas. That’s just a quick one, but for a longer term sub-plot, the players could decided to investigate a historical reservation; a place where cultures from the earth’s past are kept alive in perfectly enclosed areas. With willing volunteers re-creating them, down to the most exacting detail. The characters who wish to visit them will be totally decontaminated and vaccinated against everything that their bodies no longer have a defense for, and can interact with the past; the people living in it having had implants in their brains allowing them to see people from the real world and process the experience without being driven insane.

Add to that a couple of generic lists of names and time-lined events that I may or may not use, and I have built up a pretty good picture of a world for my players to have fun in. It took quite a bit of time, and would almost certainly have been easier to play in an established world with splat books detailing all of the above for me, but I’m such a fan of the comic book that it was totally worth the effort. And you know what they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. So if you’re reading this Warren Ellis, please see it as that, and don’t sue me…