Sep 162013
 

That line is totally stolen from Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks… but I really liked it as it reminds me of a very simple trick from Unhallowed Metropolis that I have used in the past and that can work in several games. It’s basically a great opportunity for GMs, and something for players to be weary of. In its simplest usage, it works great for any game that has a form of animate dead, be they walkers, shambling corpses, zombies or animates.

550px-Grinning-ZombieA victim goes down in the middle of a combat from what should have been a fatal wound, but is forgotten about in the clean-up. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve declared someone out of the combat due to a severe wound that rendered them immobile but not dead, and then forgotten about them myself. The players do it almost as much. This leaves you with a fairly regular stock of soon to be zombies that will look very familiar to the characters, and will probably stop them from being so blasé about what they leave behind.

This works just as well for BBEGs too, and we don’t have to stretch out memories too far for a great example. Professor Moriarty and Holmes were both seen going down a waterfall together after a fight, but no bodies were ever found. This has given countless writers and film & TV producers all the excuse they needed to write their own stories about the World’s Greatest Detective (sorry Batman).

It would be easy to do this for your own bad guys, but I would advise caution and restraint. If you make the vanishing of the antagonist a little bit too obvious, the players will not rest until they figure out what’s happened. I’ve been a player just as much as I have a GM and I know what we’re like when we have a thread to pull on; the whole damned sweater will unravel before we’re through. As a GM, this kind of thing can be frustrating, especially if it doesn’t lead anywhere and will just involve double the effort on your part for little pay off for the players.

Handle it well though, with a natural seeming disappearance of the body, and hopefully you should be able to have some fun. When it comes to it, my favourite tactic is to have the BBEG seem like he was little more than a capable lieutenant. When he’s dealt with there should be a trail of evidence leading elsewhere, to a bigger badder threat that needs to be dealt with. These days – after a hugely successful caped crusader film (I still love you Batman) – it’s best described as pulling a Ra’s Al Ghul, so you should still be weary of your players spotting this one coming.

Players should also be free to play around this one, again trying hard to not push their luck or be accused of power gaming. If you;re unlucky enough to have a character die, then see if you can arrange it so that none of the other players get a chance to examine the body. Either it gets left behind in a hurry, or vanished from sight in a ruck, and the rest of the group have to flee before something equally bad happens to them. If you have a very generous GM, who has a flair for the dramatic, then you might just be able to turn up, battered and bruised with interesting scars, in a later scene.

If you manage to convince your GM to let this one go, you’d better make the story of your survival pretty darned interesting!

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.

Apr 042013
 

Just a little bit of news for all of the blog fans out there. The first of my complete system neutral adventures is now available from DriveThroughRPG. This is considerably later than I would have liked, as it turns out I’m rubbish at maps. Sure, I could have asked for some help, but since I found out yesterday that the store I work for is closing this Christmas eve, I couldn’t really justify offering anyone any money to take that job away from me.

I do owe some thanks though, Namely to the blogger known as Cirsova, who offered some tips and proof reading for me, along with my good friend Mr. White who did similar. I also want to thank a whole bunch of people who helped out by playing the game in the first place. It went from a sprawling 6 week adventure to a seven hour game ran in two halves at the Student nationals, and changed every step of the way. I’m sorry that your characters never got used chaps and chapesses, but I hope you can see where I got the inspiration from.

So, head on over and check it out, and keep heading back as I take a Cyberpunk trip for the next one. Hopefully, I won’t leave you waiting quite so long, as the next one should have less maps…

Feb 272013
 

1845710As a lot of my audience will know, this blog is set to start actually making me some money soon. Well, to be clear, not the blog per se, just the fact that I have built up an audience that includes a few people willing to pay a little bit for some of my writing. That being said, I still lack the kind of money that will allow me to go in on kickstarters that look amazing. What I do have though, is the aforementioned audience, and a willingness to tell every last one of you how much I like a product when I come across something that’s this rad (yes, I’m taking that word back from the late eighties).

Today then it’s time to turn our attention to Modiphius. A company that dropped onto my radar with two very intriguing words; Achtung! Cthulhu. Although I’m not a big Second World War aficionado, my interest running to military conflicts considerably earlier than that, I am a huge fan of horror gaming. That means that not being a fan of everything Lovecraftian would be a bit if a sin. So I had to take a closer look at this Kickstarter, and the whole line up of products. Before we get into the review, I want you all to head on over and check out the kickstarter. It’s already funded, so you know you’re going to get something out of it, and the rate they’re nailing stretch goals means that for putting up a bit more cash, you’re going to get some pretty sweet loot out of it. Are you back? How cool is all that swag? And now, on to the review.

Three Kings is the first of the Zero Point adventures, and apart from needing a core rule book, you have everything required to play the adventure within its pages. I personally have the the Call of Cthulhu version, although it is available for other systems, notably Savage Worlds and Trail of Cthulhu. All of this is a very good idea, as it quickly became clear that for most people, the game will be a lot more action oriented than the slow, more cerebral investigations CoC players may be used to. The fact that it’s set during one of the largest – and most defining – conflicts of the twentieth century should give you an idea that more than a slight tussle in a library might break out. Having read the adventure cover to cover though, this never takes away from the unknowable dread that marks out Lovecraftian horror games from the rest of the crowd.

The layout and art style used for this adventure are beyond beautiful; with cryptic messages scrawled into the margins and beneath some truly splendid maps, the care attention to detail shines through with even the most cursory of reads. As you get under the skin of the adventure, this obvious love of the source material – both Mythos based and inspired by actual stories of WWII – shines through. Time is taken to talk about the real life heroes of the war, and the deprivations of its worst villains. All this while keeping the story firmly grounded in the horror I’d expect from a product with the word Cthulhu on the cover.

The adventure itself is a well written narrative chain of events, without ever making the players feel railroaded into following a plot thread that wouldn’t make sense to them. From the beginning, the writer – Sarah Newton – takes the time to set up three ways for the adventure to begin, meaning that the players control just how combat/investigation heavy the plot will start out as. Sure, it’s likely to involve a bit more combat than I’d expect in CoC game, but even the more cerebral parties should have no problem circumventing a lot of conflict if they choose to do so. At several points throughout, it is made clear that the players should be allowed to dictate pace and mood to a certain degree, with the Keeper being told to go along with any reasonably well thought out solution that the Investigators come up. This should be a lot more common in published adventures, as it does a great job of empowering the players.

Although the investigators are free to generate their own characters, there is a selection in the back of the book that are better suited to a more military themed game, and I would advise Keepers to utilize them, at lest if they are relatively inexperienced with running CoC games. The other handouts are superb too. The maps and dossier that are available are of very high quality, and would help bring this game of espionage to life.

6844859In conclusion, this is a cracking adventure, and really makes me itch to get a group together to play it. The following adventures in this series have already made their way to my wish list, and the addition of the keeper and Investigator guides would be ideal, as they then open up this wonderful world for groups to explore at their own pace, with stories created just for them. All in all, this is very highly recommended, and if you have the means, you should get on the Kickstarter while you have the chance.

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.

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.

Aug 032012
 

This is my first attempt at a Blog Carnival post, and the hosts this month are the lovely people over at Game Knight Reviews. The question deals with what one would expect to have in a backpack. This could be a real life backpack or one from a game you’re either currently playing or have played. Since I’m not doing much playing at the moment, apart from a few mini adventures with pre-genned characters, I don’t have that much control over my possessions apart from what’s gained through play. So just for fun, I’m going to rock my zombie survival pack first, and then take a look at a game I’ll be running in just over a month and what people should reasonably expect to have about their person when running the edge in Cyberpunk 2020.

First off, the zombie plan. I have put some thought into this, and have even checked if all these things will fit into the back pack I use the most. They don’t. This is because I’m a cyclist and the back pack I use on my back is small and light , with only a few essentials in it. The bike is a very important part of my survival plan and as such I have a pannier rack fitted over my back tire and two bags that strap onto that. All my stuff fits nicely into those.

  1. Water purification tablets
  2. Flint and steel firelighter kit
  3. metal water bottle
  4. Camel pack
  5. Wind up flashlight
  6. Wind up radio
  7. hatchet
  8. Survival knife
  9. Basic fishing kit (pocket size)
  10. 18″ crowbar (wrecking bar)
  11. Rabbit snares
  12. box of matches
  13. 3 days change of basic clothes (all tight fitting)
  14. Waterproof light jacket and trousers
  15. two man tent
  16. sleeping bag
  17. mallet
  18. Puncture repair kit
  19. cycle maintenance multi-tool
  20. OS waterproof map of the area.
  21. Tin/bottle opener

There may be other stuff people think I should add. Please feel free to make suggestions; I still have a bit of space.

Now onto the cyberpunk!

  1. Back pack? I’m sorry, but do you realise how expensive this suit is? And you want me to ruin its lines with two straps over my shoulders? No no no, I may carry a briefcase on occasion, but it must be bullet proof and colour matched to the suit. Inside that? A laptop and basic data suite would be enough I think. I carry my life in my pockets. A wallet with a trauma team card and the ID I need to get places. Maybe a few hundred EB to see me through in the kind of dives that don’t have a cred-chip reader. Oh, and my phone. I understand the trend for on board cyber-telecommunications, but really, these days phones can do so much more than let you talk to people. A weapon? You’ll only find out what I’m carrying and where, the hard way. Anything else I need, I buy…