24 Jul

Continuum 2018

Intro

I went to Continuum 2018 20-23rd July 2018 at John Foster Hall, Manor Road, Leicester University, Oadby. I have been going to this and the previous version “Convulsion” for about two decades, with probably a 50% attendance rate. It’s a great con for meeting friends I see rarely, for scratching the Glorantha itch, and for many years I often just played in large Gloranthan freeforms written and run by folks such as Simon Bray, David Scott, Nick Brooke and others. In recent years the con has shifted back to more table top gaming, sometimes with some hiccups along the way vis-a-vis game availability. It’s friendly con and time in the bar is time well spent. However this year I continued my recent trend of tabletop gaming right through in a kind of geek Iron Man challenge.

I am not going to name names since I might leave someone out or misname them, my memory isn’t what it was when I was younger.

Night of the Toad: OpenQuest

First I did something I have not done in 4 years, I ran a game at a con. I have always been very anxious about running con games, don’t ask me why, and I had stopped. On the other hand I really love the Crucible of Dragons setting from D101 games, written by Simon Bray and Paul Mitchener. So I ran the “Night of the Toad” adventure from the setting book, and we had a blast. The players contributed much fun and decoded the plots, and we had a great climactic ending.

Pherae, the Crucible setting

Black Ziggurat: 13th Age Glorantha

Then I played in a 13th Age Glorantha game run by Guy Milner. It was the “Black Ziggurat” from D101, and whilst I thought the scenario was a bit ‘meh’, it was delightfully brought to life by Guy and also by the sheer wonderfulness of 13th Age which melds beautifully with Glorantha to make for epic adventuring. Plus, in a short game, a simple scenario is best.

13th Age Glorantha

Uncle Ugly’s Underground: T&T

I have never played Tunnels and Trolls (T&T) on a tabletop. I have played T&T for 38 years using the solo gamebooks. Parse that for a while. At Continuum 2018 I played it for the first time ever at a tabletop, and one of the very first T&T dungeons ever: Uncle Ugly’s Underground. I had always worried that the rather odd T&T combat system would not work well at the table but it works fine! I was very happy, Dave Elrick’s GM-ing was relaxed and competent, the dungeon is 197* bonkers and huge fun. Wow.. so happy.

RuneQuest: Glorantha (RQ:G)

Simon Bray ran a good game of RQ:G for us Saturday afternoon.

Runequest: Glorantha

It was bitter sweet. Runequest has been by preferred gaming engine for decades and I have a deep and abiding love for Glorantha. Runequest 6 (now Mythras) was/is the zenith of d100 sophistication in gaming for me with OQ (see above) as it’s cut down accessible side kick.

Simon tabs ran a great game, the adventure will be wonderful as a campaign adventure. But RQ:G is a monument of over complication, backwards compatible with RQ2 and yet with layers of other sub systems and new approaches. At times there were 4-5 sub systems all of which could have resolved a situation, and all would have generated different outcomes with different probability. Skills, you want skills, RQ:G has reams of them, it took me minutes to find Dodge. No, not for me, and such a shame since it’s so beautiful. Mind you that doesn’t stop me buying stuff and running it with Mythras, OQ, Heroquest or 13th Age!

Tales of the Loop

My old friend Darran Sims ran the Swedish RPG of young kids, adventure and mysterious government installations: Tales of the Loop. It’s based on an art book that preceded Stranger Things but it’s clearly in the same place. The game allows players to mutually recapture their youth, in our case early 80s Britain, and then tangle with government experimental bases. It’s great and Darran is such an excellent GM. I’ll play it again as one off, but whilst the nostalgia is catching, so is the memory of just how angsty being a tweenager was/is.

Tékumel: Béthorm

Nigel C had offered the first game set in the mythical world of Tékumel. Mythical in that, for a certain kind of non mainstream roleplaying geek, this is the world we all were in awe of as too cool for school, and never ever run. Too deep, too complex, too many attempts to codify it into a ruleset.

Well, this was the year to end all such failures to launch. Tékumel, run using Jeff Dee’s Béthorm rule system is ace! Easy to understand. Flavoursome enough. Enough and not too much background. It may be a book so drily written to turn your little Tsolyaní heart to dust on reading, but at the table it shines.

As for cultural complexity, or setting depth? Have you looked at Glorantha or Forgotten Realms or Warhammer 40k recently? Tékumel is actually quite simple. Great game, great adventure, I even managed to get my priest’s head bitten off.

Béthorm character sheet. Just 3d10 required.

Star Trek Adventures (STA)

Dav ran STA for us. A 2d20 game from Modiphus. Third 2d20 game I have played, usually with a GM who is literally crying with the difficulty of reading the complexity of the system at the table.

They have all been fun, easy to understand, and good systems to model the genre. STA was the same. “The rulebook is a nightmare to decipher..” – GM. “This game models the themes of Star Trek well” – Tom.

So, the lesson might be – let someone else take the pain of decoding the Modiphus rulebooks and just play! Great accessible scenario from Dav which he then gave me to run for Trek friends. What a star!

Star Trek Adventures character sheet

Shadow of the Demon Lord (SoDL)

This was almost the game too far. SoDL is a great game from Kevin Schwalb about the apocalypse. That is, the apocalypse of a fantasy world. The apocalypse is different every campaign, and every campaign is made up of 11 adventures, with character advancement of 1 level per adventure.

It’s a blood stained love letter to Warhammer, with a system that is simpler but similar to 5e D&D. Oddly it can also deliver very varied characters despite being nominally class based.

I have always wanted to play. The prevented characters were awesome, grotesque and wonderful. We had a blast roleplaying.. but we were overpowered by opposition and when my character died at about 23:30 I went to bed.

Shadow of the Demon Lord character sheet

In Summary

Great con, well balanced between table top games, freeforms, boardgames and drinking in the bar. It’s the con where I catch up with people I only see every 2-4 years at Leicester. I love it.

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..

 

13 Apr

Kantor Rythmeiger Strides Forth

I just designed and ordered a HeroForge custom mini of one of my earliest characters: Kantor Rythmeiger of the Sea Isles. A C&S character, he was a sea warrior, wore leather and fought with a shield, and has stayed with me as my Yahoo user id, has ported to several other game systems over the years, and is remembered with fond memory. Let’s see how the mini turns out, eh? It cost enough..

Kantor Stands Guard

He can also be viewed in 3D here:

https://www.heroforge.com/load_config=346652

and here

https://www.heroforge.com/load_config%3D346652/

Warrior Worshipping

PRAISE THE LIGHT

17 Jan

Back Under the Glowline

So, time to return to Glorantha I feel. It’s been years, maybe a decade or more, since I’ve gamed under the Red Moon, faced the terrors of Thanatar and charged with my Enlo against Blue Moon Moth Riders. You know what, I kinda bloody miss it, and purged of all the accumulated cruft of the Glorantha nerds and the mismatch between myself and Hero Wars, it’s time to worship the Dark Mother, riddle with Nysalor and embrace the endless history of Darra Happa.

But, and this is lovely, there are so many choices.

Firstly, and I don’t mind saying this, there is HeroQuest with the tailored match between the the recent setting books, all redolent in simple d20 keywords and meshed neatly between culture and game. There is some truly lovely stuff in the sources that meshes with HQ, and yet.. I’ve never really enjoyed a game of HQ, although a lot of that might be from the Hero Wars action point economy that bored me to tears. Also, and although I can enjoy the depth of Glorantha cultural minutia, it has been what turned me off the setting for so long. I am, and always have been, more of a greatsword swinging Zorak Zorani than a Lhankor Mhy, and so I don’t think it’s HQ for me.

Secondly there is RuneQuest. We approach a time of possibly the best moderately complex version of RuneQuest that we’ve ever had, one that fixes the old issues about divine magic, montheism in a polytheistic world, makes a bloody good stab at sorcery and delivers a folk magic that actually feels folksy and useful to a carpenter or potter. We don’t have Adventures in Glorantha yet, but Hannu Kokko and the Finns are making a very good stab at it with their proto-cult write ups and the joy that is the RuneQuest Encounter tool online.. a party of Chaos cultists heading out from SnakePipe Hollow, I don’t mind if I do. Only problem, I think RQ6, like earlier RQs, doesn’t scale to Heroic, which is, after all why HeroQuest was first conceived.

Thirdly, and this isn’t as mad as it sounds, is OpenQuest. Combined with the RuneQuest Classics RQ2 reprints from Rich Meints, or a selection of RQ3 adventures, one can run an OQ game in Glorantha with barely a flutter. The spells have the same names, the stat blocks are very similar, and OQ is lighter and involves less rethink that RQ6. I know Simon Bray runs all his Glorantha with OQ these days and if that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is. So, possible and do-able, but one also can’t help wondering if maybe a copy of RQ2 or RQ3 might also fit in this camp, they’re easily pickupable in the UK on ebay, if you haven’t already got them all on the shelf, which I have.

Fourthly, and here the ZZ beserker in me wails in joy, 13th Age Glorantha! This riot of a d20 game that won me over to D&D after 34 years just made me think of Orlanth, the Red Goddess, Kyger Litor, Yelmalio, etc. as I turned the pages. This is a game for the Heroic, and by setting it in the Hero Wars when Argrath wages devastation on the Lunar Empire, and the Red Moon wages it back in an apocalyptic frenzy that cracks Glorantha from Choralinthor Bay to Valind’s Glacier, is the time for the power and crazy that is a 13th Age player character. So, and this is a defininte, the d20 will come to my Glorantha table, but it will be rolling high and not low.

But that’s not all.

Oh no.

I have a steadily growing collection of skirmish minis and skirmish rulesets. I know Sandy Petersen is playtesting a Gloranthan Gods War game, and I suspect that like his earlier Cthulhu boardgame, this may lead to a big fat bunch of 28mm Gloranthan minis.

So how to skirmish in Glorantha?

Well the Glory Geeks, that brave band of Gloranthan wargamers, have valiantly field Hordes of the Things Gloranthan armies in the HOTT fields of war, and indeed Rich Crawley’s Goranthan HOTT bands are great to play. Just ask him, or Jane, for army lists and where to get the rules and you too can be playing Gloranthan battles in under an hour a time on your dining room table. I am odd though, I don’t like to base my figures in blocks, since I am a roleplayer first I like them singly based. So, not HOTT for me, although always up for a game.

Rich and I have been enjoying Song of Blades and Heroes from Ganesha Games in recent years. A fast 28mm/15mm/any scale skirmish game free of any tie in with any minis maker, SoBH or SBH is enjoyable, wonderfully generic, quick to learn and play, and leaves your minis free for any other use since it has no basing needs. I know Rich has done Glorantha with it and I was almost there until I saw..

Of Gods and Mortals, or OGAM. Published by Osprey this is in fact a superset of SBH, where gods (40mm+), avatars (28-40mm) and their forces (28mm) battle it out on the field of war. What could be more Gloranthan? Cacodemon and his warband facing down Storm Bull and his? It’s appealing isn’t it, and I think I shall have to lay down the ten quid to get OGAM and see how it’ll work if and when some good Gloranthan minis come out, so come on Sandy!

And that’s not all.. after all, if Sandy P does get the Glorantha boardgame going, is there any chance of resisting that?

Must go, Cragspider is calling..

The Troll

HQ: http://www.glorantha.com/product/heroquest-glorantha/
RQ6: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/runequest.php
OQ: http://d101games.com/books/openquest/
13th G: http://www.13thageinglorantha.com/

SBH: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3080 … and-heroes
OGAM: http://www.northstarfigures.com/list.php?man=159&page=1

And then this:
viewtopic.php?t=4604

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.

15 Mar

Gardening, Reading, Gaming,

Branch with catkins in early spring

Image via Wikipedia

Last week was 3 days at home working hard, with a seminar at Sheffield Hallam University by the CILT on the recession (but as usual became a row about bus regulation), then 2 days in Newcastle at the Industrial Research Strategy Group presenting on freight modal shift and it’s decline as crown on EU freight transport policy.
Then Saturday I was up at 7.30 and did some full on gardening, tipping and sorting my compost bins, some great compost from there, and all from teabags and vegetable clippings and cardboard! Beds nicely rejuvenated after I discarded the broad beans that had died of chocolate spot and the cauliflowers that had frankly been frozen and thawed so many times that all but 3 were rotten. Colected my parcels from the Post Office, 2 nice new pairs of trousers, a copy of a Zombies: A Field Guide, and True20: Revised Edition. Sunday was an aching day for me, but we got our act together and went and bought a Pussy Willow tree, a Virgina creeper and a sieve to sieve the remaining compost of the not-quite ready bits of cardboard.. Then a good shop at Asda and home. We’ve been watching Sopranos quite intensively. We finished Season 3 last week and started Season 4 this weekend.

I have been reading Games of Thrones by George RR Martin and (despite the fact that everyone else read it 14 years ago) have really got into it. Will not buy into the current rpg, but I so would like to play it at a con or locally.. hint hint. I have been reading OpenQuest, which  is a very nice lighter (it’s not LITE) version of the RuneQuest I played for so many years. I running adventures set in the Savage North at Cons all year, and I am looking forward to it. I also bought and read the Dungeon of the Bear, the classic T&T dungeon from the mists of time.. Wow! What an amazing artefact of it’s time. Traps, puzzles, swinging doors, utterly inexplicable locked rooms containing 3 orcs who must somehow be in suspended animation to have survived in there. I’ve never run T&T as a GMed game, so I have madly offered it as a game for the March21st TomCon, with Savage North as the alternative. I suspect I may need to re-acquaint myself with the rules. True20 calls me as ever, offering the lost hope of a class/level/d20 rpg that is playable, flexible and doesn’t set my hackles up.. I have already bought more rpgs this year than I will run in 5, so nothing new there, but I hope to sell on quite a few at the Con-Quest bring and buy stall, or ebay if needed.

The weather improves, I have trays of seedlings popping up all over a table in Matt’s room, and having cleared the back bed the weekend before last all look good for the spring garden. It’ll be time to brush off the Leica and Canon and get out for some photography.

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11 Apr

Life, Liberty and Gaming

We’re having a busy and yet good bank holiday weekend. We are doing a lot of clearance work getting ready for resanding the wooden floor downstairs, decorating the study and having new office furniture built. I am also clearing the garage and moving my work PC and stuff into a temporary home in the dining room. Somewhere in the weekend I have about a metre high pile of roleplaying books and stuff to put on ebay. Lot’s of Glorantha and the like, which should raise money to buy a new, slightly smaller pile of new rpgs and books!

I played MagBlast and Drakon with Alaa, Louis and Matt the other night. MagBlast is a card game of screaming space battles, you have to provide sound effects when launching an attack or the attack fails, and it seems a great beer and pretzels game. Drakon has a very cute premise, which is that you the players are adventurers captured by a dragon in her lair. She decides to have some fun and says the first to collect 5 gold coins can leave alive, the rest will be eaten.. It’s a very simple tile laying game, and at first it seems overly simplistic until you start to appreciate the tactics of how the tiles, which have limited placement, exit and laying rules, can produce quite intriguing looping effects. Then you start to see how you can thwart your fellow players as you rotate tiles, destroy tiles or replace them. Perhaps the lesser of the 2 games and not as rewarding as Cave Troll which is also a Fantasy Flight Games production, but also a short fast beer and pretezels game. I must dig out Citadels for the next ad hoc session. I have not had time to open Wizard Kings yet, but I am hoping for some block game fun with it.

I’m thinking over the Chinese TomCon on May 9-10th? There’ll be two game, one will be Newt’s Monkey game and the other Qin run by Graham. I am torn between the 2. There will be a full day of jollity on the 9th ending in watching Warlords and Monkey Magic. [Looking for Chinese boardgame/wargame for the daytime.]

I enoyed Dom’s Singularities game, which was good and IMHO a much better version of new transhuman/britSF/Culture SF than Sufficiently Advanced. On Monday I run Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 for Matt and his friends. I am sure Alaa and Ben will rise to the challenge, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can cope with what is a very typically Lovecraftian adventure. [I’ll not spoil it since you may yet play it one day, it’s a CoC monograph.]

Anyway, back to cables, printers, monitors and a copy of the new Savage Worlds setting: HellFrost which is winking at me from the corner of the room, just waiting to suck my time away..

16 Mar

Campaigns for Roleplaying

A Song of Ice and Fire

Image via Wikipedia

I have been listening to some podcasts about roleplaying games and in particular listened to the deisgners and writers of three relatively new games: Houses of the Blooded by John Wick, Hellas by Michael L. Fiegel and Jerry D. Grayson as well as A Song of Ice and Fire RPG by Robert J. Schwalb. All three sound utterly great games, and I’d love to play in all of them. Now, we’re doing really well with the monthly gaming weekend at my place, and we are getting a lot of good value one-off games that way. But none of these games are one-offs. Hellas and Houses of the Blooded are generational games where you play lineages of characters, and A Song.. has all the PCs play as part of a noble House, and if characters die then another steps forward from the organisation. All of this sounds wonderful, and just the sort of game that one dreams of playing in when you first picked up a rpg at the age of 15 and then read your first epic fantasy series. How can I refit my awfully complicated and complex work life into a nice shape which has a linear slot where I can either play or run just such a long running campaign, and who is going to run it?

BTW this does not in any way suggest I am tired of TomCons which are utterly wonderful and great.. just that man cannot live by fastfood alone..

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