30 May

May!!

I have been ill most of May. Just as I was celebrating my birthday and Ann’s new amateur career as a thespian, I got a virus that was to my mind a proper ‘flu and that took 2 weeks out, as well as stopping me going to chair a big conference I had helped organise in Brussels 🙁

Then I got myself together well enough to go and do my duty at a project event in Cyprus and just as I was about to go back I got a cold that has progressively attacked my chest until now I have a chest infection and am on antibiotics.

It’s true to say that I have also tried to keep up with family commitments and visits, and that probably hasn’t helped my immune system in fighting the bugs buy hey ho, you can’t just give in, can you?

So what did I manage to do? Well I had 3 lovely days in Cyprus before the 2nd bug got me. I got to run a starter game of D&D for a family friend, their son and my grandson, at the end which the virus decided to take away my voice for 4-5 days.. Olly, Amy and Mike came and stayed. We played Obama Llama and Machi Koro. Steve and Tree came and we drank beer.

Ann as Mrs Northrop in "When We Are Married"

Ann as Mrs Northrop in “When We Are Married”

We saw Matt in his home in Cambridge and caught up with him and Alaa and met his chums at his place of work, a lovely Italian café.

But now, all I want to do is take my antibiotics, ease back into mainstream work, and REST..

 

22 Jul

TomCon 2013

I had a good time, it was great to see old friends and new, and I am pleased that the house accomodated everyone well.

We started at 4.30 on Friday when the Sheffielders arrived (right on time, well done Simon).
Ann provided a buffet and then some of played the rather fun if esoteric game [i]Princes of Florence[/i] which was a Renaissance game of conspicupus patronage and prestige. It was good, Id play it again. Then we had a couple of games of Guillotine and happily executed many tumbrils of aristos' in this great beer and pretezels game of revolution. Fat was then chewed in a late night chat and drink session.

Saturday morning, Neil G joined for bacon and sausage butties and then we walked to Jesmond, then Metro to Tynemouth where we explored a flea market, had a walk to see Admiral Collingwood's monument, have a panoramic view of the Tyne, then fish and chips and back to Heaton for some more chilling and the usual gamr chitter chatter about new editions of FATE, old editions of Chivalry and Sorcery, Kickstarters for Esteren and Exalted and whether Graham had a date for Wednesday night. Andrew W and Duncan R had joined us by then and after a truly awesome meal of slow cooked lamn, potatoes and butternut squash, the evening games started.

Sadly Elaine wasn't with us so we were unable to have the true joy of game sign up sheets, but we managed. I played in [i]Edge of Empire[/i] run by Pete G, and as Neil says, it is a lovely gritty post Order 66, scum and villainy level of game. It took me half the game to understand the dice, but once I did they seemed intuitive. The combat was suitably close, as befits a fantasy game, and the product was beautifully made. What would put me off would be the sheer cost of starting up the game, but then again, we're gamers, when has that ever really stopped us?

Upstairs Simon B ran his [i]Stiff Upper Lip[/i] FATE game and I'll let those guys report on that game. Then we stayed up far too late drinking and eating cheese with Ann discussing the relative importance of exact conformance to current grammar norms versus ability to convey meaning.

Sunday started with a (as yet undisclosed) breadcake shortage followed by emergency situation gamma-4, e.g. Sainsburys closed when Neil got there so we deplouyed emergency plan alpha-16, and Graham popped around to Tescos for some some baps to put the sausages in.. ooer missus.

I ran my [i]Stormbringer[/i] game which was a multiversal plane hopping game in which Prince Yyrkoon, Sir Gawain of Lot and Orkneys and Brother Juan Claros of the Reconquista (??) of Iberia had to do lots of plane hopping to get stuff. I think I'll not say what since some of you may get to play a revised version at a con in the next years. I enjoyed running Elric! again and it reminded me that it is still my favourite BRP ruleset.

Downstairs Andrew W ran what seems to have been a very successful [i]Dungeon World[/i] game based on the Fighting Fantasy classic [i]Deathtrap Dungeon[/i].

Ann served up her Beef and Black Ale pie and all went home well fed. I had a kip.

I can only repeat my thanks for Ann's sterling work in providing vittals, and also to my fellow referees for running games, Andrew S for introducing us to the new boardgame and to one and all for being great roleplayers and convivial company!

21 May

Why I like(d) RQ more than D&D

When I talk about D&D I mean B/X D&D and/or AD&D 1st edition (PHB and DMG and MM). I did see the White Box once but it was on a shelf as an archived thing even in 1979.

I disliked the core D&D rules system. Not for being ‘serious’ but being outrageouslt flawed as a combat simulation, and BRP being closer to how I imagined combat. The more time I spend with people who do combat recreation with metal swords, the more I realised that combat is just a touch too complex for any rpg to simulate wholly, but that BRP is closer than D&D.

I disliked the core D&D rules system also for it’s class/level approach which meant that the world was oddly solipsist, it always mirrored the class/level structure of the players. So 1-3 level PCs had 1-3 level adventures, and when they got to 4-6, the world jacked up to 4-6 around them and so on.

I disliked the very wide power range of AD&D onwards. The difference between levels seemed to become broader and broader, and the sheer power imbalance between a 1st level wizard and a 10th or 20th level character made the world seem increasingly imbalanced.

I wanted skills. D&D didn’t have them until 3e.

I disliked the haphazard nature of rules in D&D, the fact that the game appeared to grow rather than be designed, the fact that some rules followed percentiles and some a d6, that it wasn’t possible to master the system by learning one or two core mechanisms. The unique nature of each class and between races and between PCs and NPCs and monsters irritated me.

D&D was very preachy. Well let’s be clear, Gary Gygax was very preachy and prescriptive, which given the ‘not exactly perfect’ nature of the game bugged me.

I liked a magic system that allowed player choice in how to use resources to power spells, and D&D had a Vancian spell system that exacerbated the problems of low level characters and limited magic.

I didn’t conceptually like the difference between player races and monsters. It appealed to me far more to be able to play any sentient creature as a PC, and with the same rules as any other creature. This came very much from playing T&T, but also my egalitarian and inclusive social views. Monsters are people too!

I liked unified resolution systems and BRP had one (actually two if you use the resistance table), it appeals to my love of simple system design and analysis in real life, which I also accept is a reductionist tendency that makes me paper over minor variations and/or cross influences.

I wanted to play in a society based game that had a culture and the players existed and interacted with it to gain benefit and make their name, whereas default D&D seemed to be about groups of mercenaries looting tombs in an analogue of the Wild West. I accept that this wasn’t the only way to play D&D, but RQ offered a culture led game out of the book, so it worked for me.

The fact that in BRP it is just possible for a David to bring down a Goliath appealed to my view of the inherent danger of combat, and also my delight in the ‘little guy’ bringing down the behemoth with all the advantages.

I had no problem with playing ducks, trolls, scorpion-men, minotaurs, wind children, etc. any more than playing halflings, tieflings or ewoks.

As I grew up and tried other games that also took similar and different game designs, as ideas such as binary advantages and disadvantages (feats) and a lighter and lighter approach came to rulesets, and simulation was increasingly not seem as a benefit I came to 3e D&D, which had skills and a more unified approach (in the core books, I ignore the panoply of add ons) I ran it for 3 years every other week.

Much of my issues still exist, the class/level world, the very wide power level range, the likelihood that as a group of 1st level characters you couldn’t take down a 10th level fighter. On the other hand, it had skills that worked, I quite liked feats, and we had a lot of fun playing it.

At the same time I was well aware of the issues around BRP, it’s inherent fragility for characters was upsetting for many players, the full hit location based combat sequences were taking too long for a modern game, and the magic system with regard to POW driven divine spells was looking stingy compared to MP driven spirit/battle magic. There were too many skills and the ‘tick hunting’ was a problem for many refs, although not myself.

Most of these were fixed in OpenQuest and RQII and RQ6, but I also had a look at the OSR retro clone games. They were either exact copies of games I hadn’t liked decades before, or they were “homages” like Castles & Crusades. I politely walked away.

Did I use to hate D&D? Yes. In my youth it seemed to really annoy me and I disliked it a lot. When I saw good settings shoe horned into the d20 system it annoyed me.

Do I hate it now? Not in the way I used to. I can relax and take it as something people enjoy a lot. I could play and run core Pathfinder and have a good time. I’d give 4e another go, it seemed a fun skirmish game. I’d try Tru20 if anyone wanted to play it or run it.

But I’d always play systems that IMHO are better designed games.

So was RQ a refuge? No, it was one of the game systems (along with T&T and Traveller and HERO and others) that offered differently designed games that appealed better to my personal likes and dislikes about roleplaying, society and system design. Was it my favourite? Probably, and yet that’s because of the tight link between society and game, culture and PCs, and in reality that’s achievable with many game systems, but more difficult with the power ramp of D&D.

26 Mar

Heroes and Other Worlds

I have been on a bit of a mad rpg frenzy. Work has just got some heavy and so dense that I had to take a holiday in my head, so I've put in 17 hours playing Torchlight, read about 6 rpgs books straight, 4 graphic novels, and oh yes, stopped watching TV.

On the way I bought, read and have been playing solo adventures using Heroes and Other Worlds which is a retroc clone of the old Steve Jackson game The Fantasy Trip, a clear precursor to GURPS.

The game is simple, it's definitely evoking an OSR feel, and yet with a ruleset that I never owned or played, although I have played and run GURPS.. but it wasn't popular with my friends. Essentially you play an Adventurer or a Wizard, and it's cheaper for a Wizard to buy spells, and cheaper for an Adventurer to buy dexterity based skills.  There are 4 stats, STrength (ST), DeXterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ) and ENdurance (EN). Basically ST allows use of weapons, is the pool of hit points or magic points to either withstand damage or power spells, IQ is the default stat for which spells you can learn, how many spells/skills you can know, and the base stat for thinking type checks, DX is the go to stat for most physical stat checks. EN wasn't in TFT and is a fudge, it's a pool of easily recovered points to power spells and absorb damage. It seems to be a PC only stat, NPCs don't have it. As I said it's a fudge stat, but I can see from the solos and the stats of NPCs that without it a PC would die far too often to be fun.

There is an extensive spell list, many of which are short sweet and suited to the tactical combat nature of the game. There is a simple combat system that delivers a good hex/square based tactical game that is satisfying and yet not slow. The author delivers a bestiary that is clearly as influenced by D&D as anything else.

The referee section, ominously barred from player's eyes, is very good. The game is not billed as an rpg but as an "adventure game", and the emphasis is on adventure base upon combat, treasure, monsters and the ref section has a very good random dungeon system, a good random plunder system, a solo adventure (good luck keeping the player's eyes off that, and a well crafted adventure. Noticeably, although the author makes stance against emotive roleplay, the system neither supports or prevents as much narrative ham acting as you like, which is often the point made my OSR supporters. [Bit like Traveller.]

So, I created 4 characters and we launched into the solo adventure, alright, the 'programmed adventure', which is written by Dark City games. Wow, what a retro rush. I've not played a solo in years, and this, with it's hex sheet cleverly laid out to setup all the combats, it's multi PC style, and the simple flow of the story was great fun. Ann did laugh out loud when she saw me at my study desk "playing figures with myself", but it was fun.. dangerous and deadly for one of my PCs, but fun. Last night I downloaded another freebie adventure from DCG, The Sorcerers' Manor and bished, bashed and looted my way through.

So, what do I think? Well, the text is fine, albeit with a few rules issues that need a gentle tweak for newbies (I never played TFT so I suspect that the author sometimes assumes knowledge), one or two explanations need moving around, but the system is light enough that a competent reader can judge what's what, and in fact it's well drafted. The fudging of EN is necessary due to the inherent low power base of retro starting characters, but also since the development curve for the PCs is quite slow, and in this clone the core stats cannot be changed, which is a potential problem if, like one of my wizards, he really isn't clever enough to cast his spells, and will never get better. [There is a curious bit of text which implies that there is a skill bonus to spell casting but I can't see where from.].

Combats are tactical, finely balanced, and magic can play a really big role, which shows the TFT roots as a tactical game. The combat is a straight forward roll under stat+skill to hit, opponent may react with a parry/dodge but lose next move, and then damage is rolled, armour is subtracted from that, points come off EN or ST. The plunder rules are light and fun, generating interesting treasure, the spell lists are enjoyable, and the layout and illustrations of the core book are nice and redolent of the source material.

I like the idea of the Old Skool Revival, of playing simple fun games that recreate the hobby's youth. However I never really liked D&D mechanically, so for me this is a nice reminder that there were other games out there that are worth another look, have a similar 'feel' but had mechanics that IMHO were better. [Hey, like Traveller.]

So, expect an old skool game of Heroes and Other Worlds from me at a con.

8/10

Contacts: http://heroworlds.blogspot.co.uk/
http://www.mediafire.com/heroworlds [there's a short rule set in the Caludron 0 magazine]
http://www.darkcitygames.com/index.php

07 Nov

Low Tech Local Traveller

There is a growing range of 3rd party Traveller that focuses in on a future that is a long way away but in a timeframe that seems more appropriate for the relatively low technology in the Traveller game.

There is Cthonian Stars, which is set in the Solar System in the near future, and has the usual Lovecraftian underlay that seems to be so mired in so many rpgs. It could be a good game and fun if you like that kind of thing, and even if you don’t like the Cthulthu stuff it may be a good source for a gritty game set in our system alone. Here

There is, of course the opus that is/was 2300AD, returning in Traveller format. This is a much wider setting with 32 worlds in 3 ‘Arms’ of space colonised by mankind, and has the opportunity for cyberpunk, interstellar war, and some ideas about biotech that were never fully developed in the last edition. Here

Far from the Home Worlds, the Far Avalon region was for many years an underdeveloped backwater. Now, it may be the only enclave of humans left in the universe. With the inexplicable failure of the Lubeck Conduit, the people of Far Avalon must find their own future. Some seek to build empires, some search for a way home, while others have less obvious plans.

Far Avalon is a region in turmoil, a place where a handful of daring individuals can make a distance. A new order may emerge, or chaos may descend. Perhaps some external threat is about to fall upon the people of Far Avalon… or it may be that the greatest danger comes from within.
Far Avalon is a complete science-fiction game setting created by Martin J Dougherty. It seems to be a system less setting in 3 books, and the last book is the “Traveller system” book. The author has a great rep. in Traveller circles, but this is perhaps the least “imminent” of all the settings. Here

From old friend Tim Bancroft’s Sceaptune Games comes Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty, forged between the star-faring species to prevent a galaxy-wide war. It had a simple aim: to prevent the deadly, interstellar conflict spiraling out of control. Its intent was more sinister – to constrain and leash the newest species in the galaxy: humanity. But the United Nations of Earth and the Core Worlds of humanity need to expand, need to find new planets to colonise. Resources remain scarce so the conflict still goes on, though in a different guise and monitoried by the ever-vigilant Invigilators, the sinister force set up to enforce the tenets of the Sirius Treaty. Players take the role of UNE Special Forces legionnaires tasked with troubleshooting, exploring new planets, seeking out vital resources and searching for Precursor artefacts. They have all the technology Earth can give them: cranial implants, library jacks, subdermal armour… and they are equipped with the finest swords, shields, bows and armour that the UNE can supply. Here

Finally..

From SPICA, comes a game with a similar scale to 2300AD, but using core Traveller concepts, The Outer Veil: Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol. As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.
Written by Omer Golan-Joel with Richard Hazlewood, with art by David Redington and Michael Thomas, Outer Veil is a completely new game universe for Traveller, set in 2159 AD in the space around Sol.
As mighty as they are in the Core Worlds, the Federated Nations of Humanity government and the Megacorporations cannot act directly on the Frontier, which is a month or more away even for the brand-new Jump 2 couriers. To exert their power to these distant stars, they need you to go there on their behalf and act as their eyes, ears, and hands away from home. The FNH government needs reliable administrators who can think on their feet, loyal military officers to project its force, and determined Justice Commission agents to uphold the law where the colonial authorities cannot.Here

So, a huge opportunity, games that are set in just the Solar System, a wholly new setting from Martin Dougherty, games that see mankind just setting out from Sol into galactic space, and one where Man has emerged and been contained by previously existing ancient space faring civilisations.

All very exciting, I have a strong wish to ‘boldly go’..

20 Jul

Song of Blades and Heroes

song of blades and heroes cover
It seems I have found my favourite skirmish wargame! I have always enjoyed wargaming, and have played and enjoyed a lot of Hordes of the Things [HOTT], a fantasy wargame at the unit level, playable in 45-60 minutes on a small table. Enjoyed, but never loved, it always has the touch of a boardgame to me, and the rules never seem to stick in my mind, even after twenty years I struggle to remember just how they work.
So I am delighted to say I have found my game, Song of Blades and Heroes, a skirmish game with the speed and ease of HOTT, but at a skirmish level and with rules that I was able to master and memorise in about an hour, including a battle. As the publisher says:

Song of Blades and Heroes is an exciting set of fast play fantasy rules that can be played with your existing miniatures.
EASY: simple rules that you learn in one game;
EASY MEASURING: no counting inches or centimeters: SBH uses three measuring sticks to measure all distances;
FAST: A game lasts 30-45 minutes. Play a mini campaign in a single evening;
INEXPENSIVE:5-10 models per player are needed;
CONVENIENT: a 2’x 2’ play area is enough. Bring all your armies in a shoebox!
MULTI-SCALE: any single based miniature, in any scale;
HEX-FRIENDLY: play on hex grids if you prefer;
NO WEIRD DICE: standard six-sided dice only;
READY TO PLAY: 180+ monsters and heroes included, and you can create your own!
NO BOOK-KEEPING;
HIGH SOLO PLAYABILITY;
CAMPAIGN RULES: your warband grows more powerful after every battle;
Six scenarios included.

Matthew and I sat down, read the rules in about 20 minutes each and played battle after battle for two days more or less solid. Best five pounds I’ve spent in a while and we’ve made more use of my disparate collection of 28 mm minis that I have in decades.

The rules are simple at the core, with a great activation system that balances troop Quality with risk when activating, and then a series of attributes that troops have which amend or adjust the core rules. As Wikpedia says: “Song of Blades and Heroes uses three six-sided dice per player to determine the outcome of a characters actions. Each character utilizes basic statistic points, Quality, Combat and Special Abilities. Points refer to how many points it costs to use the character within the game. Quality statistic is used to roll against for actions. Combat is the statistic you add to a six-sided dice roll when performing a Melee or Ranged Combat. Special Abilities cover any Special Abilities that the character may have. Players take alternate turns in activating models from their warbands. The miniature’s are activated one at a time. The player can choose to roll one, two or three dice versus the mminiature’s Quality. A successful roll entitles the player to make an action, such as an attack or a move. If two or more failures are rolled, play will then pass to the opponent.” The publisher is quite honest when they say there is no book keeping in play, and you can either use the army lists in the rulebook or there is an online troop builder to point build your own troop types. The aithor is Italian and there are several language versions of the rules available.

The feel is very ‘fantasy’ and one can easily imagine the battles as congruent with Tolkien or Moorcock, or D&D or Runequest. The granularity is low, so you have to accept that a dragon is a shooter just as a goblin archer, and that all mages behave the same, but the ‘chrome’ comes either in your mind or from the minis you use. There are also several expansion books, and variant games, of which Song of Gold and Darkness which includes new magic using types, and dungeon rules or Song of Wind and Water which brings the forces of Nature to the game. I have SGD so expect a new review soon.

Great fun, now for an expansion or two and then stat up some of my Gwenthia armies and start doing some wargaming in my own world. Oh, and I could do with some more scenery.. better ask Rich how to make some rivers and woods.

From Songs of Blades and Heroes
From Songs of Blades and Heroes

Gallery of our numerous battles.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

02 Jul

Continuum 2010: Late Friday Night

Well, day one of Continuum 2010 is finished and wrapped, and I’ve done quite a bit. Graham rolled up about 1pm and we unpacked all our Bring and Buy stuff from his boot. I wasn’t doing the B&B but it seemed unfair to pass the organisation to someone else so Graham and I ticketed up and organised the stand, both our stuff and many others. It’s a slow job and took us until about 7pm to complete, but I quite enjoyed playing shopkeeper and it meant I could chat to my god friend Bob “Grim” from Reapers Revenge and the staff of Mongoose Publishing. We sold quite a lot of stuff and handed it on to Dave Williams who will be running it for the rest of the Con. I picked up the new Traveller Little Black Books from Mongoose: The Traveller Rulebook, Mercenary, High Guard and Scout. The pocket size (and they really are pocket sized) and the price point (£10) means they hit the sweet spot for me. Problem is, and this is a sad sign of age, that I will probably not be able to read them without glasses on, but hey.. I have glasses..

Popped to the signup boards and signed up for lost of games. Met Simon Beaver, popped up to the D101 games room, picked up my complimentary copy of OpenQuest, said hi to many people and had a fairly weak vegetable curry. [Mind you fish and chips for lunch was good..]

After dinner I went and played in Darren Driver’s Dragon Age roleplaying game. I’ve followed this game in development as the author, Chris Pramas, blogged about it as he and his company Green Ronin wrote and published it. It’s light, nice mechanics and captures a very dark yet familiar D&D style. It remind me a lot of Basic D&D, and I know Chris wanted that kind of easy-starter feel.. but the mechanics are much better and easier. We played it very dark an grim and my female PC seduced and murdered her way inside the party until Sean Varney’s female mage did for me.. before my PC’s dragon mother did for his.. Big thanks to all, and especially Jaran Wood and Sverre Larre who played into my witches hands so well and happily only to discover she wasn’t very nice after all!

02 Jul

Friday: Almost started

Here we are, sitting in the bar waiting for the registration to open at 1pm, and finishing off some proper work work before launching into gaming. I won’t even list who’s here, since I’d miss someone off, but hey, the gangs not all here and it’s already great to see everyone!

I have prepared the basic outline of the panel on running mini-con and have had a nice cup of tea, so I’ll post this, ring the missus, and then jump right in..

01 Jul

Continuum 2010 Part the Prelude

Here I am in John Foster Hall in Leicester, site of the twice yearly roleplaying convention Continuum. I have come a day early rather than coming all the way from London to Sheffield and back to Leicester in the morning. London wanted to charge me a lot to stay there, and here I can hang with the cool kids: the Committee.

Very hot and drained in this hot and humid weather I have freshened in the room and once I have typed this update will go and find Loz, Darran, Colin, Simon, Rich and the others again and see what’s what.

I had a not great Continuum last time, I was not really recovered from my sarcoidosis and it all was stressful and not great. This time I have a few commitments, a few games, but my key goal is to relax, not worry, have a few beers, and chill with old friends before setting out to Newcastle on Monday by train.

If I see you, hiya! If you see me and I don’t see you, hiya! If you’re not here.. well there’s always Furnace..

21 Feb

Update

My Greenhouse

Image by tzunder via Flickr

Monday-Wednesday. Tried to read for work and instead worked at all the management stuff that stops me being a proper academic! Thursday. Went round to Martin H at night and played 2 good games of Carcassonne. I love Carcassonne. Friday. Put loads of stuff on ebay, my friend Ian N came ane we hot tubbed until late. Ann was unwell and had to go to bed. Saturday. Bubble wrapped greenhouse, Ann and I got cold but greenhouse got warm. Played ‘Who wants to be a Miillionaire" on the Wii with Ann and crashed to bed early. Today skidded and slid and ended up at the bottom of the hill. 3.5hours of shovelling later, entire estate snow free. Feel like very civic minded Heracles. Then planted seeds for germination, planted two tubs of bulbs and laid out a survey for Ann’s consultancy.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]