Sep 232013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 272013
 

cogsThis review has been far too long in coming. This is down to several reasons; I’ve just been busy with my day job working odd shifts so I haven’t had as much time as I usually would do to absorb something like this, and the time I have had has been spent on getting some ideas down for my own Steampunk RPG before I forget them all. And then there’s the fact that I just don’t think that this RPG was designed with me in mind. This isn’t saying that it isn’t great – I’ll get to the good bits shortly – but there were times when I found myself flicking past pages at a time because there wasn’t much to interest me.

It is a very light system, and all the rules – including character creation – take up so little space, it made me wonder what Ms. Hardy was going to do with the rest of the pages. A lot of the space was very well used, with some cracking adventures in there, running from the kind of intro game that a group could get through in a couple of hours, to a much more involved multi-scene set up that begs to be explored in detail. There was plenty of background about the game world too, with time lines mixing up some real world events with the fantastical happenings of the Empire of Steam. I could honestly go back and read them again, just for the fun of it, to enjoy some top notch writing.

But then there was a whole bunch of pages explaining to me what a role playing game was, and how to GM. I don’t mind these sections, but even in bigger games they don’t seem to make up as much of the page count and make more sense. Everything about this game screams to me that it should be picked up and played in less than an hour after purchase, with people who have never role played before. In my earlier review of the game I said that it reminded me of the Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The core of this game still does. You could still have a great deal of fun playing this with friends whom have never rolled a dice outside of a game of Monopoly, as long as you don’t let them read the rule book.

For experienced gamers, there’s a lot that night not necessarily be relevant, and for people who are joining a game of Steampunk silliness, they could be a little bit intimidating. That much information for a light hearted and system light game (seriously, the entire thing comes down to a D6 roll and some explanation as to why it will work, and you’re done) is a tad unnecessary. Does all of this mean that I didn’t like it though? Hell! No!

It looks an absolute riot, and I will totally be running it for our new season Freshers come the end of summer. It is a perfect example ofcakes how little is required to get an idea across of theme and genre, and tack that onto a system that anyone can understand. The look of the book is remarkable, with layout and artwork of a very high professional quality. I know I mentioned this before, but the artwork is a huge win. Cartoony, but not so much that it detracts from the feel. The best way to describe it would be Steampunk caricature gone mad. With a system as light as this is, you need to take every chance you get to highlight the setting and the feel you’re trying to achieve, and every bit of art used is perfect.

And I cannot commend Lynne Hardy enough for her writing in this. Everything from the character creation, through adventure writing and back ground on the Empire of Steam is pitch perfect. I have no problem at all giving her a huge bunch of the credit for inspiring me to start writing an RPG of my own, as I would love to be thought of as even half a good Steampunk creator as she clearly is.

The thing I look for in any system is that in compliments the setting, rather than being just a mechanical way of working out random events. There are three attributes in the game, and you already know what they’re called: Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks. That’s it. And you basically have two different levels they can be, so making the decision about balance takes less time than it does to brew a proper pot of tea. The only bit that you’re going to have to put some thought into is how your attributes are applied. Rather than having full skill lists, you just pick an area of specialty for each attribute, and as long as you can apply it to the test, you get a bonus.

This is a great idea, and another one that I’ve found myself incorporating into the way I play other games, as it gives me a much better feeling of being involved in the narrative. This is a boon to all players; the more experienced will relish the challenge of bringing in their specialties as often as possible while new gamers will be given the opportunity to delve deeper into a character as much as they like.

In conclusion, I think this a grand old game, full of cracking writing that jumps off the page. I can’t wait to run this game for some people to see what they take away from it, but I think someone new to the hobby might be put off by the sheer bulk of the text about gaming that may not ever apply to them. If you fancy some kick ass, light-hearted fun involving some alternate Victorian silliness, then this is very much for you.

May 062013
 

I read a lot of books. In this I’m sure I have a hell of a lot in common with almost everyone who plays RPGs. One of the authors I used to read a lot by is Stephen King. I mention him as a fan of his work, but mainly of his short stories rather than novels. In these smaller works of prose he writes with a sense of urgency, and doesn’t use a sentence when a word will suffice, and very quickly gets to the of the horror.

In his novels, he has the time to fully explore ideas and concepts, and for an awful lot of his written work, this is done masterfully. I am not picking out any particular novel though, because when I say most of his work, I mean most of any individual novel. The thing that has effectively stopped me reading novels by Mister King is that he doesn’t seem to know when to end the story. Two examples that I have read in recent years are Bag of Bones and It. Bag of bones may not be quite so well known, and it’s easy to see why. The story is OK, and moves along well, but we don’t get any startling new ground broken. And then, he ends the story well. Maybe not a happy ending, but it satisfied me greatly as a form of closure. For some reason there then followed two more chapters.

Pennywise_shower

Click image for creepy creepy stuff…

It” is a slightly better known story, mainly due to the stellar performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the movie adaptation. The novel is amazing, and I know of a friend who simply couldn’t finish reading it alone at night. It is a huge read, coming in at a tome like 1300 plus pages, but once again I can tell you that a big bunch of stuff at the back end is almost totally pointless. We get a great resolution to the story, or at least as good a resolution we could expect when dealing with eternal evil. What follows is just uncomfortable and unnecessary padding.

And it’s this kind of thing I want to talk about today. In a previous game I’ve run I ended up having to write a couple of endings just because I wasn’t too sure what my players would do. They had the chance to take the money and run, and the consequences of that action would mean the horror would come to find them. I ended up being in a position to bribe them into taking on the final job, and they got a huge cataclysmic ending at an abandoned country manor haunted by a ghostly child with enormous powers. And that’s pretty much where I ended it.

I then gave them a very brief description of the return trip back to base of operations and what life was going to be like afterwards, but that was all, and it took me less than ten minutes. What I didn’t do was have random encounters on the way back to the City. I didn’t have them role play the meeting once more with the troops that defend the walls of said city from undead incursion. All of this certainly happened, but it would add nothing to the sense of accomplishment that my players were feeling.

Even the stuff I did talk about was largely derived from what they said they wanted, and I think this is the way I’ll be taking it next time my campaign ends. Instead of running through quickly what happened to them, I’ll open it up, and let the players take the time to think about what their characters would do once the dust has settled. Part of my worries that the characters will suddenly become the super awesome bunch of people they have always thought they were but never quite managed to become, but that’s selling my particular group of gamers short. I think that they would relish giving their characters an end that they felt they deserved, and since the tone of the game has been fairly consistent, I know I can trust them to maintain that, even when it doesn’t really matter that much.

What about the rest of you; how have you handled the ending to a long campaign? If anyone was left alive of course…

Mar 202013
 

cards-against-humanityI wasn’t too sure that this should be reviewed here, as there’s little to recommend it as a role playing game, or even a game with role playing elements. What made me take a shot though, is just how much I’ve had playing it recently. I first came across the game when a Twitter debate broke out bout whether or not it should be considered a good gateway to more mature and in depth gaming. My own personal thoughts on it, based on a few previews of the cards, and how the game is played, was that it didn’t need to do that job, but it could do if pressed.

So, what is Cards Against Humanity? It’s a party game in a similar vein to Apples to Apples, but very much aimed at a mature audience, provided that audience has a puerile sense of humour, and is not easily offended. It works very simply – although there are optional rules to add a bit of extra fun for people who have played it a lot – by the placing down of a Black card with a Phrase or question, to which the other players have to select a White card from their hands that they think best fits. This all sounds very simple, and it is. You can explain the rules in the time it takes to deal everyone a hand of cards.

For this reason alone, it is a great game to drop in front of people who might not be savvy with the more complicated Euro-games or Ameri-trash kind of board games that I usually play with my gaming friends. It’s the kind of thing that can be dropped on people who are already out for a drink, or just chilling at a mates house, and fun should quickly ensue. Add to this the accessibility of getting hold of the game itself – available as a free download to print out at home – and it’s a sure fire hit. Of course, it’s not quite that easy…

With a name like ‘Cards Against Humanity’ you get the feeling this isn’t a family friendly kind of game, and you’d be spot on. The humour is very close the bone, and if anyone in the group is easily offended, then I would advise against playing it at all. Almost every combination of cards could be considered offensive to someone. the last time I played this game – after taking the time to print it on a good card stock and cutting it out one rainy afternoon – I was in a pub with a small group of friends, and we had to be more than a little careful about how loud we were when announcing the winner of each hand. It should give you a pretty good idea of the level of humour, by telling you that one answer that works with damned near everywhere question is ‘Black People’.

This sounds very racist, and by itself could be enough to put people off the game, but bear in mind that it is derogatory about everyone. It is so universal in its attitude towards mocking things, that once you get over it, you don’t really notice it. As the game progressed, I noticed we were less and less concerned with keeping our voices down, and were just laughing out loud like children.

In conclusion, as long as you can get passed the dark themes and humour, this is a great game. easily accessible, both in laying your hands on the game, as well as playing it. it comes with a very high recommendation from me, and if you’ve played it before, feel free to share you’re favourite combinations of cards in the comments section. To start you off…

“_______, High five Bro!”

Incest.

Feb 222013
 

Well, if you’re going to keep coming back here, and I’m going to keep on talking! I left you yesterday with a decision I needed to make; what was I going to do to try and improve my lot in life and maybe even pay the bills? It swiftly occurred to me that the one commodity I possessed in a large quantity was time, so I just started to think of ways to fill it. I had always enjoyed writing, and thought I’d start there. I used to enjoy drawing too, but I was never excellent, and these days the most I do in that direction is a few basic tattoo designs, which were never of the kind of professional quality they’d need to be to make me any money.

Having spent a long time working in book shops I knew that the road to getting a book published was a lot longer than most people realised, but that there were ways to keep the mind busy on that long trek. I started looking into sci-fi and fantasy magazines that would take unsolicited submissions for fiction – of which there are plenty, you just need to spend the time looking for them – as this would be a great way to get a portfolio together to take to a literary agent. While doing so a friend suggested to me that starting a blog is a great way of honing your skill and testing the water for a potential audience.

I was very lucky indeed in that the friend in question was my best friend, who just happened to be a professional social media consultant. Stand up and take a bow, Mr. Richard Bassinder. (seriously, click the link for some great tips, and if you want to up your online profile, and can afford him, he’s very very good indeed) We sat down one afternoon in one of our favourite watering holes and over a few pints of ale worked out what I needed to do. It was from this conversation that the blog took shape. We are both gamers, and realised that talking about what I knew would be best, and once I got used to writing regularly I should expand the blog into fiction and other things.

Before I got round to the fiction thing though, I found myself having a great time as a role playing blogger. I quickly ended up with a sponsor, and a readership I could be proud of. All along I was also finding out just how nice a community the online role playing lot are. I started joining in a few community activities, one of which led to today’s announcement. The National Game Design Month – NaGa DeMon for short – was just too good an opportunity to pass up. I knew that I still didn’t have a novel in me just yet, and since – after a very strange dream – I had the bones of a card game idea in my head, I thought I’d go for it. So I spent all of November writing rules, formatting cards and expanding on a basic structure of the game I had in mind. By the end of the month I had even managed to play a couple of games of it.

The response was mostly positive, but I knew I still had a lot of work to do. So after the Christmas break I went back to it, fully armed with the feedback of several play tests and some ideas of my own about how to streamline the rules and speed up the play time. Yesterday I put the finishing touches to Version 2.0 of my Neo-Victorian game of Exploration and Glory, and if you want to take a look, it’s all available as .pdfs through the link. I present to you: Excitement and Adventure!

There’s a few files in there, but if you don’t have the time or printer ink to run off a full copy for yourselves, then any feedback on the rules would be great. This isn’t the final look of the cards, just a basic idea for another round of play testing. I do have someone working on making it all look much prettier, and as soon as we have that sorted out, I’ll post the details on this blog.

Well, the weeks almost up, and that does bring you pretty much up to speed. There are still a few other projects that I’m involved in that I haven’t had time to slot into this rambling history of me, but if you’ll indulge me, I’ll bring them all together for one final update at some point over the weekend. I make no promises as to when, as we have family visiting and a fiftieth birthday to attend.

Until then, I just want to say, to everyone who reads this blog, comments on it, talks about it to their friends, or just made me feel like I was part of this wonderful community I now belong to: Thank you. Deeply and truly, thank you. I don’t want to enter the realms of hyperbole and say that you’ve saved me, but you have instigated a massive and complete turn around in my life, and for that I think of you all as friends!

Feb 192013
 

Thank you dear readers for the taking the time to read this little blog I write. Without a readership, I’m just talking to myself, and that’s plain crazy. Some of you may be curious why I do write this blog, as at no point in the last seven months have I gone into any details about why I decided to share my thoughts with anyone with an inclination to read them. I’m going to rectify that this week, and also fill you all in on some other little things I’ve got going on too, basically because over the last seven months, my life has changed quite a bit.

To begin with then, I’m a gamer. I often use his to describe myself more than any other word. ‘Geek’ night also cover it, but I’m geeky about a variety of things, such as comic books, history and extreme metal, but my biggest passion is for role playing games (with a side order of card/board/computer games too). So when I decided I wanted to write about something, it made sense to concentrate on the thing I identify with the most. Why then do I identify as a gamer?

For those who don’t know me personally – and based on the daily views I get, I think it’s safe to say my readership has grown beyond my friends – I’m a short, (They call me Shorty for a reason) skinny, bespectacled individual who was often an outsider growing up. This lends itself well to slightly more cerebral pursuits as I had less distractions growing up. I don’t think I had what I would think of as close friends until I was about fifteen and discovered war gaming and the social scene built up around it. Since then – with a few noteworthy exceptions – all of my close friends have been involved in the hobby in one way or another. Almost every girlfriend I’ve had has been a gamer in some way too. Without gaming, I’m not sure if I would be the socially aware man I am today, as it wasn’t until I met large groups of fellow gamers that I had to learn how to behave around large groups at all.

That last bit by the way, is a big screw you to all the people who think that gamers are socially awkward by default. It turns out that in a society that numbers 60+, there are no more than a small handful of us who have any sort of social failings; probably no more than you’d get in any group of that size. No, we’re all fairly well balanced people, who just happen to enjoy role playing.

So that’s why I chose gaming as the thing I wanted to talk about. As to why I felt the need to write a blog in the first place? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for the next thrilling installment for that.

I did promise an announcement though, and this one comes straight off the back of me writing a gaming blog. Some months ago I offered a free NPC to any one of my readers who wanted one; all they needed to do was give me a very basic idea of what they needed, and then I let my creative juices flow. For the last week I’ve been going back to those NPCs and doing a bit of re-writing. I’ve removed any reference to any intellectual property and made each and every one of them system neutral. Then I tidied up some language and grammar issues, and reformatted the lot into one pdf. i even added a new one, as I’ve been thinking a lot about playing a certain type of character for the last couple of weeks, and wanted to share.

That entire document of 16 pages is now available from DriveThruRPG for the low low price of $0.99. Of course, you can just grab them all for free by scrolling through the comments of the aforementioned article, but you’ll have to put up with spelling errors and some rambling thoughts between them. And you won’t get the shiny new NPC either. This is in fact my first of (hopefully) many more pdfs that I’ll have for sale at next to nothing on DriveThru. An experiment into how easy it is to get stuff up there, which will eventually lead on to a monthly product line of system neutral adventures.

I’m sure all GMs have ideas floating around about games they’d like to run, or even short adventures they have completed and would love to share. Well, I’m going to share them, and as each one goes live, I’ll let you all know where you can find it. See you tomorrow for the continuing saga, and another announcement about another project I’m involved in.

Feb 182013
 

This has been a blog that I’ve left to foment for quite some time, and it may even spill over into a second part, simply because, right now, I’ve been seeing role playing games all over the place, even though they’re not played by role players. My first example of this, is actually a role playing game, but I have had so much fun and good times playing it with people who didn’t even have the faintest clue what an RPG was, I think it stands up as a game that could never be marketed towards gamers, and still do very well indeed. I mentioned it last week when pimping a game that not everyone will have heard of, but if you missed it, the game in question was The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. 

0901K4-P111_jpgThis is primarily a game of getting together with friends to tell stories, and having a drink and getting excited while you do so, without having to worry too much about any real rules or system, instead just concentrating on having fun. I have played this game in a tent at a music festival, and at four o’clock in the morning after getting back home from a nightclub, and each time, there has been more none gamers involved than people who know what a d20 is. So what then is the appeal that this game has that other – more traditional – RPGs lacks?

First off I think it could be the simplicity of the game. In its most basic form it’s more like a magazine than an RPG, and once someone knows the rules, it takes minutes to explain them, and to get people to join in. The only flaw with that logic is that I know of quite a few RPGs that are just as easy to explain. OK, maybe easy to explain to other gamers, but even so, the most common game I play at the moment – Savage Worlds - is so quick and easy to play that its silly. Yet there are people in my life who would be happy to play some Munchausen, but who would scoff at the idea of sitting around the table with dice and pencils to play a game.

That's actually me, but I wear clothes like that all the time anyway.

That’s actually me, but I wear clothes like that all the time anyway.

This brings me onto something else that I’ve encountered quite recently: airsofting. I turned up to my first experience of this one a little apprehensive. I played a lot of laserquest in my youth, and know that I can get a bit addicted to this kind of game. Lazerquest is actually a darn sight cheaper too, as there’s no need to ever by yourself any extra gear. Something which is clearly not true of most of the people I saw at the venue. The venue I ended up at to have my airsoft cherry popped was called Halo Mill, and when we got there it was packed full of enthusiasts. I mean a good 30 guys all in full combat gear, or a variety of costumes. One dude was there as the eponymous anti-hero from the Hitman series of games. It was a little intimidating at first, but once you got into the swing of it, it’s a bloody good laugh, and I recommend anyone who gets the chance to take a shot at it.

What struck me though- maybe because I’ve been a gamer for so long, and was already thinking along these lines – was how ready the players were to assume the role of soldier/adventurer/combatant when they played. They weren’t heading into the arena as Dave the IT guy, or Phil the lettings agent, they wanted to take on the role of something a lot more exciting than they would ordinarily get the chance to.

I don’t know if they realised it, but for a hell of a lot less money – I don’t want to scare you by telling you how much a basic SMG or assault rifle costs for this hobby – they could play the roles of a future soldier with weaponry they could barely imagine, and fight battles on a scale that could never be reproduced within the confines of even the largest outdoor site. Maybe they just wanted the exercise? Maybe they wanted to really feel the weapon in their hand without the danger of live rounds? But, when this is same activity tales place with medieval hand weapons, we have no problem seeing it as role playing. OK, maybe re-enacting, but still, that’s a hobby that it is still considered geeky.

The people who I saw airsofting would almost certainly never equate what they did with what myself, and  - I expect – a lot of my readers do in our spare time, even though there are so many parallels. I’m going to be going back to this venue at some point, or if I’m lucky a new venture that a friend is trying to get off the ground, and I would actually like to talk to some of the players, and ask them if the idea of table top pen & paper role playing has ever appealed to them. And if so, why did they choose this hobby instead.

Running out of space, so I’ll continue this later, when we look at people running away from zombies, but for some reason, still not role playing.

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.

04-22-11-BaronMunchausen02

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…

Dec 232012
 

I have touched gently upon the subject of women in gaming before. It’s not something I talk about a lot, mainly because in my life it isn’t that big a deal. I game as part of a large role playing society that has a pretty healthy gender mix (still very much dude-heavy, but far from a sausage fest), and we’ve never put up with the kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior that I’ve heard about elsewhere. That being said, we still buy rule books, and I still get wound up by how women are represented in them. It’s not just RPGs though, so if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go on a little bit of a ramble right now.

I love watching strong female characters in action. I do however feel a little let down when they’re portrayed by tiny waif like creatures who look they’ve never eaten a meat pie in their lives. As an example, I find it hard to believe that this character is an absolute kick ass hard assassin.

Seriously, she’s tiny and has bugger all muscle tone and definition. I understand that a trained fighter can use leverage and perform amazing feats without being the strongest person in the world, but think back to how many times you’ve watched a movie or a TV show with a kick ass female lead, and they’ve been as sylph-like as Summer Glau.

Now, doesn’t Michelle look like she can handle herself just a little bit better in a fight. And yet, she is rarely cast in a lead role as an action star, instead ending up as part of the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in those roles, but so often is overshadowed by women with a slighter figure, who for some reason are seen as been better suited to that kind of role.

Lets go one further shall we. I’m sure a lot of my readers have seen the rather wonderful

sci-fi action/horror flick, Aliens. Do you remember this character? She kicked all kinds of ass, and held her own against the xenomorphs when surrounded by butch colonial marines. She looked and acted the part perfectly, but died while the rather incapable and more photogenic Ripley lived on. This happens a lot, and if you look at female characters as depicted in RPG rule books, you’ll almost always see the kind of thing. Male characters come in all shapes and sizes, but not so much female ones (I don’t want to get into a debate on costumes right now, but one phrase will sum up my opinions pretty well: Boob-windows?).

If I was an adventurer, I would be looking for compatriots who looked capable, not pretty. I have played a wide variety of characters in the past, and only one whom I actually described as handsome. It was a 7th Sea game, and it made sense for him to be a bit of ladies man. Other than that I’ve played all manner of grizzled adventurers, and con-men. They’ve been scarred, short & chubby and sometimes, just plain ugly, and no one has ever decided that they would rather not have me in the party because of it. So why is it assumed that female characters have to be hot to get accepted?

I’m not talking about all the time here, and of course there are exceptions, and ground is being made in a lot of arenas, but this is still certainly a problem.

One more example, and the reason my mind turned to this subject. I watched the latest

Batman film recently, and before it even started, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as the others, for one simple reason: Catwoman. Her story has been told before, and there really is nothing new to add to it, and I think Nolan just covered the basics without doing anything exciting with this character. And it is a dull, and cliched character. She is a skilled acrobat, and that’s kind of cool, but when a fight starts, I’ve never quite gotten how she poses a threat to Batman. She is always portrayed as just a slim as the other examples above, but here she is in Nolan’s movie. Lithe? certainly. Able to kick the crap out a guy in body armour who has had years of the finest combat training? Maybe not.

And here I come back to gaming again. If I was looking for a cat burglar to join in a caper I was on, I would be a hell of a lot more concerned with function than form. Anyone who turned up to the job in stiletto heals for instance, would  be laughed out the door. I love the idea of Catwoman as an actual thief. Someone who has to keep themselves in the kind of shape you’d need to be in to do the things she can do. have you ever seen a professional freerunner? Those guys are built like brick outhouses, and they need to be to hold up their entire body weight for as long as they have to while on a run. And to be able to fight, they need muscle mass for that too. All in all, I think it’s time for RPG games designers and artists to take a long hard look at how they represent women in their games.

Give them archetypes that make sense, that show that they are just as capable as the male characters, and really should dress in a manner appropriate to the job they will be doing. As always, comments and discussions are more than welcome, even if you don’t agree with me.