Nov 112013
 

The Marvel Comics way that I’m referring to is in fact pretty old news at this point, but in how it pertains to the way campaign worlds can be managed, I think it still has some relevance. You see, way back in the dim and distant, DC comics was an unstoppable juggernaut, crushing everything in their path, but they would tell stories about their main stable of characters in a way that would seem odd today. The Batman who appeared in Detective Comics, for instance, was not the same Batman who was in the Justice League, or who joined forces with Superman in the Brave and the Bold. Each comic book line was in fact  self contained universe, with no need for anyone who wanted to read them to have to pick up a bunch of ancillary comic books to get the full story.

Then Marvel comes along, and decides to do things a bit different. First, they did away with the idea of fictional cities as homes for their heroes. I’m not saying that they’ve never made somewhere up, but they certainly didn’t go to the lengths of creating Metropolises and Gotham Cities, just to give a main character their own distinct playground. They set their stories in the real world, mainly new York, and this gave the readers something they could recognise. It’s true that Gotham is a distinctive city to the legions of Bat-fans out there, but not so much as the New York skyline is.

This is part of one of my idea; don’t worry too much about making up towns and cities if you’re setting your game in the real world, either historically, contemporaneously or even in the future. When it comes to the past, there are countless online and real world resources out there to flesh out a city that actually exists, and although the research time will need to be spent, it will be probably be quicker than making an entire working city from scratch. At least in my experience. Your players can also do their own research, and although you may have had to change a few details to make your plot work, it will give them the chance to get under the skin of your setting a lot more than they could do if it only exists in your head.

The second thing they did differently, and this eventually had an impact on DC, and lead to them running the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, was that all of their heroes, be they mutants, superheroes, or masked vigilantes, all existed in the same universe. This meant that Spiderman could tangle with the Punisher, and the X-men, if you wanted to get totally crazy, could battle the Avengers. Although this spawned one of comic book’s greatest travesties – the multi-comic title crossover event – it meant that consequences could be felt throughout the entire marvel universe, because of the actions of one hero/villain.

I know that most of the awesome GMs out there on blogs and forums already have a pretty good handle on the way that consequences of actions should affect the game world, and the characters within in, but I thought I’d try and go a bit further with that today. Like at least a few others out there, I have a couple of favourite settings that I keep going back to. One of which I am revisiting for the first time in many years the next time I GM, and the other is a lovely little Neo-Victorian horror game called Unhallowed Metropolis. I’m not even sure how many campaigns I’ve ran in this world, but they all take place in the same continuity.

This means that if a group of players needs to find a fence to get rid of some stolen items in one game, then they find their fence with a simple streetwise skill check, and I get to play some kind of lovely cockney rogue for a while. Some months later, a player who has created a consulting detective character needs some info on a heist, so finds a fence he can trust. I have one ready, and can flesh out some details by having him refer to things the other party may have done. In a certain game, I went even bigger.

The plan was to run a very long campaign with a three act structure involving a serial killer, and unknown plague, some ghostly goings on, and an undead horde. It was going pretty well until a fight broke out between the player characters when they were on route to a location in them middle of the wastes with no one around for miles who would care what happened to them. There was one survivor who made his way back to Hull, but was so traumatised by the events that he was sent to an asylum. The thing was, I’d put a whole bunch of work into the adventure, and didn’t want it to go to waste.

So the employer of the first group tried again, using a different recruiting process, and about a year after the failed mission, another group set off. They succeeded – as much as they could do in the circumstances – and saw several shadows of the last attempt. the stories of a lunatic in the sanitarium screaming the name of their employer for one. And my personal favourite, finding the burnt out camp of the previous expedition, complete with rotting corpses of those that came before them.

This added a whole lot to the experience, for myself and the players, and I think if you have a game world that you love, you should try something like this yourself.

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.

May 012013
 

Until I can get some more play testing done on Excitement and Adventure, there’s not much else I can do with that particular idea. Sadly it’s hard to convince people to take the time and money required to print and cut out an entire card game just so they can offer feedback to a blogger looking to make his first game. So it may surprise some of you to learn that for my next game design project, I’m still trying to get a card game idea off the ground.

The reason for this is simple: it’s the kind of game I love to play, and still massively easier than doing a whole board game that I’d need people to create and test out for me. And the benefit of a card game is that once I have a version of the second iteration that I’m happy with, I can make a proof of concept for a considerably cheaper than a board game. Also, as anyone who has checked out my DriveThruRPG offerings will know, I do not have a flair for graphic design.

undertakeranimateThe new idea is actually taking the basic system for the first card game, and with a few tweaks to fit the setting changes, reinventing it as a more short term combative game of land grabbing. The inspiration for it comes from an RPG campaign I ran a while back about reclaiming lost areas in a post apocalyptic Neo-Victorian England. For people unaware of it, the game took place in the world of Unhallowed Metropolis. In the game I ran the players were outside of London on a specific contract to reclaim a family estate that had been lost to not only a powerful spiritual entity, but also a horde of the undead.

For the card game though, the players would be staying within London, each taking on the role of a private Reclamation firm. The goal would be to travel to the various lost districts of London and destroy the various foul abominations that reside there. These include not only the Animate dead that are the prevalent threat in most ares of the city, but also Ghouls that dwell in the London Below, Vampires that haunt high society at night and nest in rookeries during the day. genetically enhanced super soldiers gone crazy and wolf like are also at large, along with Prometheans and other aberrations that occur when science and the supernatural collide.

The payers will have various tools at their disposal, such as hired goons and the latest in Aethric weaponry, along with spiritual aid in the form of mediums and ghostly containment devices. They will be limited on just how much they can take on any one job, so will need to plan carefully, but what can’t really be taken into account is the other players. They will have cards designed to slow down their opponents, with either random phenomena or targeted attacks when their rivals are at their weakest.

The only problem with this plan is that I will need the permission of  Atomic Overmind to actually make this game in any format other than a freebie fan made affair. Although this would be great for a lot of people, the only way it would work would be for the gamers who want to play it to print off their own cards, and as mentioned above, this is easier said than done. And if Atomic Overmind aren’t in the market for a kick ass card game based on a massively popular property they own – and if they take a look at just how well the Lovecraftian spin off games are doing for Fantasy Flight Games, they really should at least consider it – then I can always design my own world, and try again to get the play testing done and put the game out with DriveThruCards. Which at the moment is the what I expect to do once I have the first game ready to be launched upon the public.

So there you have it, a pitch that isn’t really a pitch, but I would be interested to know what people thought about the basic idea.

Feb 252013
 

Last week – amongst other things – I mentioned the fun that non gamers could have playing games that were at heart, role playing games. I left you with a link that attracted quite a bit of attention, and an awful lot of traffic away from the blog. This was for an event called 2.8 Hours later. This is just one of several zombie based activity I know of that isn’t really aimed at role players.

Don’t worry, we have plenty to keep us occupied though, such as All Flesh… and my own personal favourite Unhallowed Metropolis. There are even a bunch of board games out there that allow you to have fun surviving the undead hordes, either by throwing your opponents into the slavering maw of the walking dead, or working together to get as many people out as possible. Or maybe something in between. Any of the board games can be used as an introduction to get people into the idea of role playing games using this hugely popular cultural trope, as almost all of these games put you into the shoes of a character in a way that is far from abstract.

There are of course exceptions, and my least favourite zombie game falls into this category. Zombies!!! the game does nothing to make you feel like you’re part of a world that is falling apart, and every time I’ve played it, I’ve ended the game not caring one bit who lives or dies. The fact that the characters re-spawn so easily but PVP is positively encouraged has meant that after the last tile is played the game has carried on for another 2 tedious hours as players just keep killing each and re-spawning. Literally every other zombie based game I’ve played has been better than this. Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a review of a game I hate, but a discussion of zombie things that rock! Back to 2.8 hours later then…

7053168809_765bbc3e4c_oThis has become a bit of a big deal over here in Blighty, even getting a fairly big mention on the BBC breakfast news show a few weeks back. As large businesses close down, that leaves large empty office spaces, and even an occasional shopping centre (or mall  for my American readers) with nothing to fill them. This is far from a great state of affairs for a country to find itself in, but then geeks come along and happen upon a great alternative use for that space. With a big group of people who like making them selves up as zombies – and trust me, there’s no shortage of that – you just need a few rules in place. These are very similar to playing airsoft or even keeping LARP safe.

And that’s it really. You have a big abandoned looking space, and countless undead walking around it ready to eat your face clean off, and then insert members of the public. The person who introduced this to me, long before I saw it on national television, is not a role player in the slightest. He’s a huge fan of very dark horror movies, and whenever we talk over a pint or two, the topic always ends up on which highly disturbing movie he’s seen that I should hunt out. Just the thought of him being able to live through the experience himself had him hooked from the first time he saw an advert for the event. If money wasn’t quite so tight, I’d have joined him. He has since told me how much fun it was and how all the participants got very quickly immersed in the story of horror survival, and were making decisions in the same way the people tend to when role playing; what’s best for the character’s chance of survival.

unnamedThis is just one bit of zombie fun that’s out there though. On an episode of Comic Book Men a couple of the guys took part in a zombie themed marathon, with the threat of permanent undeath keeping them moving at speed while running and getting through obstacles. There’s even a keep fit app based on the idea of zombie survival that you can get for a smart phone. And if you want to know just how easy it is to find people who like getting made up to look like zombies, all I need tell you is I live in a small university town – not even a city – in the north of England, and we have no problem finding shambling corpses. I have just spent a good few minutes going through the pictures behind that link, it’s a bit worrying how many of those people I know and drink with.

What does all this teach about us gaming though? Well for me it seems that if you want a great way to introduce your non gamer friends into what it is that you do, then zombies should be the way forward. There are plenty of avenues open to you to try this, and since they have infected popular culture so much in recent years – when we get the first episode of the podcast online, you’ll see that I think it’s maybe gone a bit too far – you won’t need to work hard to get the basic concept across. If there are any other zombie based activities that you know of that I have neglected to mention, then please, share them in the comments section.

Jan 112013
 

That title is probably going to take some explaining isn’t it…

As some of you will know, I spend a wee bit of time on the sub Reddit for RPGs. It’s a great way to get questions answered and come across some great little developments you might otherwise miss. A day or so back, I spotted a question based thread asking what the strangest sentence you’ve heard your players say was. I racked my brain for a while before remembering a certain game of Unhallowed Metropolis.

tumblr_m6a16nCEZP1qz7t0xo1_1280The plot was loosely inspired by something that I read on the back of a book. I never read the actual book, but I liked the idea, so I just figured out a way to make it work within the setting I was using at the time. The short story is a powerful and unhinged psychic wandering the city, infecting those close to him with a hate so powerful they are incapable of controlling it. This is a game world that has more than it’s fair share of horror, including creatures similar to that designed by Dr. Frankenstein, werewolves, ghouls, vampires, ghosts, and of course Zombies.

For people reading this who are familiar with the game, I know that they’re usually referred to as animates, but the word Zombie is a bit better known, so I have paraphrased the original quote. So, while walking down the street a couple of player characters who were out on business of their own, and totally unaware of the devastating psychic miasma that they narrowly avoided, spotted something unusual to say the least.

A young mother with child in a perambulator stopped suddenly to attend to her young charge, who had become agitated and was making no small amount of noise. As the mother looked down at the infant, her face changed from compassion to rage, and I shall spare my readers the brutality of what followed. The young lady was eventually restrained, but not before more than one life was lost to her ferocity.

When the dust had settled, and the group regathered at HQ – a lovely little Gentleman’s club in the west end if I recall – they debated this strange occurrence, trying to discern a motive for the horrifying behavior of the young lady. An early suggestion was that she may have contracted the contagion that turned living people into living-dead people, and had succumbed to it most unexpectedly. This was quickly dismissed, as one of the characters pointed out: “It couldn’t have been an animate, animates don’t punch babies”.

You may now be asking yourselves why I have shared this with you? For one, it struck me as odd that that one comment has become the second highest rated thing I’ve put on Reddit – first place still belongs to the TPK blog for their sterling article on lone wolf players – considering its unmistakably savage nature.

Secondly, I was curious to what my readers would have answered to that very same question. So post below with your own strange but true things said at the table, and feel free to expound on the story as I have.

Nov 022012
 

 

I love a good blog carnival, and with the nights drawing in here it seems fitting to join in with this one, hosted by the lovely people at Dice Monkey. The premise is a simple one, just something that can be used in RPG with a winter theme. With that in mind, I have decided to explore some of the perils of winter in a Neo-Victorian horror setting: one of my favourites. Although I’m sure there’s plenty of fun to be had as the nights draw in, my mind turns to the things take advantage of the shadows.

The Nights are Getting Longer. That means that there’s more time for skulking nocturnal predators to hunt. Feral vampires that stalk the Underground for victims are seen more and more on the streets. The chittering and howling that warns that they are close all the more prevalent, as well to do folks hide inside with a roaring fire. The man of the house leaning forward to increase the gramophone volume to better drown out the screams of pain.

Even more worrying is the threat of the cognisant leeches  They know how to blend in with polite society, and can been seen at early evening gatherings instead of only turning up late at the Gentleman’s club. The long dark helping to protect their identity as mass murderers and agents of corruption.

Snow Mixed with Smog. Pollution is what London breathes as it pumps through the engines and industry of this Modern age. Walking out without a full face respirator is a sure way to enter the grave early, and in considerable pain. But as the toxic filth in the air, solid as soot, mixes with the icy precipitation, it enters the water table. Gets in the eyes. Covers the homeless as they lay sleeping in dark alleys… Come the morning it looks almost beautiful, as it settles white with no pollutants to stain it. Within hours though, it is a grey sludge, covering everyone who walks through it, seeping into clothing through the smallest of gaps, and melting to reveal the corpses of those who met their ends during the night…

Hunger. With winter shutdown for most factories, and the spirit of giving and philanthropy put on hold for a season of indulgent excess, those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder find it the hardest to keep their families fed. At night, in the pitch darkness, the Ghouls hold their meat markets. For a few coins, a bag of greying flesh can be purchased, taken from hands that more resemble claws. It’s probably a bad idea to question its providence. At this time of year, you’re lucky to get hold of horse meat, but somehow the Ghouls can always provide. And next winter, there will likely be a few more of their number, though they cannot reproduce…

Silence. The snow and the fog muffle all noises in the city. For those in the west end, with manor houses and high walls topped by barbed fences, this is a luxury. The sounds of industry hidden from their delicate ears. For others, it allows the predators of the city to move unheard. To get right up behind you, so the first things you notice are the breathe at the nape of your neck, and the cold steal tickling your Adam’s apple. And with footsteps muffled by fresh snow fall – your sight and hearing hindered by thick fog – you get no warning at all as hands more bone than flesh take you firmly by the collar, and teeth close around your skin with inhuman strength….

Winter is coming, it’s going to be a dark one.

Oct 222012
 

I’m going to be running a longish campaign again soon, for the first time in over a year, and as such it’s been on my mind quite a lot (for other things that have been occupying mental space, take a look at some thoughts on a card game I’m designing).When deciding on how I will GM the game, I tend to take quite a few cues from the type of game I would like to play. This is tempered somewhat by the players’ expectations and the fact that I’m running the game for people I may not know very well, but it’s more about what I enjoy as a  player. So, what do I like, and what don’t I like?

Well, I dislike a railroaded game any longer than a simple adventure that lasts one or two sessions. If you’re working on a narrow time frame – and I have for games that have been run at events etc – then those confines mean that you will have to keep your players on the straight and narrow. One good trick for this, and it works if you totally commit to the pretense, is to keep them going where you want them, but fake a little bit of despair. As if the group has pushed you off plot and then you have to come up with something killer to bring it all back together. I know it’s a bit dishonest, but the players will love thinking that in a short game, that’s probably been played with other groups in the past, they’ve broken the boundaries and made the game their own.

Just enough to point them in right direction…

For a longer game, what I love is a sense of a huge open world. Actually, that’s not quite right; the sense of a huge open adventure comes a little closer. I’ve played games where we’ve barely left one or two city districts, and been very happy knowing that there was still countless things to do, people to interact with, and places we could go. This feeling was helped by a GM who made it clear that player actions would guide the plot to a conclusion. So this is what I want to do in my next game, a sprawling adventure where consequences of actions will drive the plot forward. However, I’m running for a gaming society that meets one night a week, and the game will be finished by the next summer; that means that a pure sandbox is out of the question.

That’s not a bad thing, as I think that sandbox games aren’t always the best way to run games. Sure they offer a world of possibilities, but they can also mean a lack of resolution or an ending that fits with the expectations of the players who have had an awesome adventure. Not everyone wants to carry on playing until they become a warlord, ruling the local area with a band of mercenaries at their disposal. Some people just want to know that the threat to their way of life has been dealt with and that they can now reap the rewards for dealing with the problem. To make this work for me, I draw your attention back to the header at the top of this article.

My game will be set in a huge and sprawling metropolis, and after the first couple of sessions – during which I will be leading the players a little, just to get them used to the setting and system – I hope that my players will take advantage and explore The City. They will find plenty to do, and an awful lot of places to go and people to talk to. As they’re walking around they will stumble across a few hooks and seeds that I’ve planted around the place. Which ones they take a swipe at will let me know the way they expect the story to go, and from there I will be able to see a way to get them moving towards the end.

What I don’t want is for the players to see what’s that far ahead of them. Instead I want them to enjoy the freedom to make decisions and live with the consequences. My solution is make sure that the players know that just over there, whenever they’re ready to take a look, there’s something cool that should help them out. As long as it’s done with a hint of subtlety, there should be no feeling of railroading, instead just the plot moving forward. As an example – and not one I will be doing, in case any of players end up reading this – the characters could be quite happily planning a job of their own, researching how to use explosives maybe? They get put in contact with a guy, who likes where they’re coming from, but needs a little something doing before he’s free to lend a hand. It’s nothing major, but for the sake of them helping him out, he’ll waive his usual fee. This job could easily lead onto the main plot, giving plenty of opportunities to drop in other important NPCs and give the players a heads up on larger developments.

If that seems to obvious, then who’s to say that the job they’re planning won’t have it’s own seeds littered about it. With a well planned plot, and a setting you know inside and out, there are many ways to let the players know where they could go next. After all, it’s fun to play in a sandbox, but if you see a sign that promises  some great toys to make the playing even more fun, you’d take a look at where it was pointing, wouldn’t you?

Oct 152012
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 202012
 

Last week I did a bit of writing on how one can improve the scare factor when running a horror game, and thought I would continue the train of thought a bit further in that direction by looking at a great place to take your players if you want them to fear for their lives; an abandoned mine. For this to be effective, you game world first has to include a society that would mine, and for sake of ease all the information presented here will be based on real world post-mechanisation mining, as this is something I know a little bit about after interning one summer at the English National Coal-mining Museum.

There are hazards by the bucket load once you start working underground, even more so when you’re hundreds of feet below the surface. So many in fact, that I doubt I will even have to touch on some of the supernatural shenanigans that had my players stiff with fright last time I took them down a mine. A huge threat to consider, since it’s a slow creeping death, is oxygen supply. That far underground, there’s nothing producing oxygen (we’ll get to the other gases in a bit), so the characters will need to carry their own – in back pack respirators – or make absolutely certain that the ventilation in the mine is working. Although the GM can ask for an easy repair roll to get the fans turning, the fun comes with all the doors that need to be the correct combination of open and closed to keep the air going where the adventurers need to be. This can be a great little puzzle, and if they get it wrong, the first time they’ll notice their mistake is when they start getting light headed, far away from the daylight. There may be a point when you decide to knock realism on the head here; it would be almost impossible to change the doors from inside the mine, and totally impossible to move them by hand. Vacuums are created when dealing with the air pressure necessary to keep fresh air pumping that far and that deep, and if a player gets caught between a door that wants to close and the door’s frame (due to another door getting destroyed for instance) they will be crushed to death or have limbs severed in seconds. Fun, huh?

As mentioned, there’s plenty of other gases down there. Stuff that could lead to suffocation or massive fireballs of death. I’ve found it’s best to be fair to your players when it comes to this, as just walking down the wrong passage could be death in a matter in a seconds from suffocation. Be fair, but don’t feel the need to go too easy on them. If they’re going down a mine, they should be warning signs everywhere about the gases they could encounter, so if they choose not to take precautions, that’s their own problem. What they should expect to find are Davy Lamps. These are handy bits of kit that contain a small flame that can be watched to show differences in oxygen levels or the presence of fire damp etc., that they will want to keep a very close eye on. There are more high tech ways of doing this these days, but we are talking very recent inventions, and they’re far from quick to learn to use, or to use when you’re down a mine. Best left in the hands of professionals really.

Now that the characters are down there, and breathing safely; they’re still far from safe. As mentioned, flammable gas is a big risk. Nothing that could cause a spark was allowed down into a mine at the pit head. The miners were very careful about this indeed, but would your players be? If they have guns, then letting them off just once could be the death of them. A horribly painful, drawn out death. Firearms aren’t the only source of sparks though, so keep a close eye on the characters, and watch what they’ve brought down below. And don’t feel like you have to TPK for one slip up; if the group are spread in a line, only one needs to feel the full lick of flame, and even that doesn’t need to be fatal. One would think that it happening once would be enough to make sure that they’re considerably more careful in future. This next bit probably goes without saying, but fire needs oxygen to burn, and since that’s already a problem in a mine, just imagine what could happen if a lot of it gets quickly burnt away?

Fire brings us neatly onto another huge problem; collapse. Even in modern mines with pneumatic roof supports, the sheer amount of rock being moved can bring down miles of tunnels in one collapse. In an abandoned mine, the risk is even greater, as the supports will have been left without any maintenance for as long at the mine has been left empty. The older the mine, the more likely that it’ll come down when disturbed, and this can be all kinds of fun and terror. Once again, don’t kill the lot of them – unless you’re bored – but have them stuck behind the rubble. This becomes an interesting survival situation as air, water, and food all become very important. Don’t get too worried about the Chilean miners and having the players down there for months; there should always be a secondary draft that will allow the characters to get out. This will mean walking the entire way back up on a one third incline, once they’ve found a way to it of course.

Now, I also had some fun with ghosts when I subjected my players to a Victorian era mine, so feel free to add in anything you like to these little snippets, and if you want to get an idea of just what it’s like down there, find a mining museum that offers underground tours, and wait for the bit when they tell everyone to turn their lights off…

Jul 182012
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now onto stuff that I’m actually creating.

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

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

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

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

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

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