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Mini Review of Pocket Dungeon Quest

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - game
The Game, by Jeff Dehut

Pocket Dungeon Quest (or PDQ) is a short, simple game which should be easily playable with younger children created and designed by Jeff Dehut. It is a collaborative game, but like any dungeon adventure, there is a risk that your hero may die. The game has recently finished on Kickstarter, where I backed the Print & Play (PnP) version for $5 as the shipping to the UK was somewhat eye-watering. You can buy the PnP for slightly more ($8) on Gumroad here (https://gumroad.com/l/PDQgame). It took about 30 minutes to mount the game on 5mm foam board using 3M Spray Mount and cut it out. The artwork in the game has a gorgeous playful cartoon style, giving it real character and making it far more child-friendly.

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - Warrior faces a Goblin
Starting a fight

The PnP has four different characters that you can play - the Warrior, the Rogue, the Archer and the Wizard. The Kickstarter had an extra Hero (‘the Adventurer’, an Indiana Jones style character) which won’t be available anywhere else, not even on the PnP file for backers. Each Hero has a special feature; the Warrior does more damage; the Rogue can steal items and use them before fighting a monster; the Archer can re-roll their attack and the Wizard can use two spells or items per turn rather than one.

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - dungeon near the start
It’s bigger than it looks!

The core of the game is a 10 x 10 matrix of tiles which represent the contents of the dungeon that you are exploring. The tiles include walls (blocking movement), floors (no real effect), spike traps (doing a point of damage), monsters of various types, the dungeon boss, items, spells, bonus/penalty effects for combat, the Pegasus (flies over walls), gems, the Merchant, and three Relics.

The Heroes all start at the edge of the matrix and the turns are very simple. Move, turn over the tiles that you can see (effectively all the unturned tiles adjacent to you). If a monster (or monsters) are revealed, you must fight them before you can grab any loot (items, gems, spells and so forth). Combat is made with a modified d6 with the following results.

1. Red Skull - critical miss, you lose a health point and suffer an additional effect based upon the monster you are facing.
2. Yellow flash - you lose 1 health.
3. Yellow flash (again)
4. 1 Sword - this doesn’t kill the monster, but you don’t lose health. If you’re a warrior then you get an extra sword so this will be a kill.
5. 2 Swords - kills any monster with a direct hit. Can be reduced by a broken sword effect back down to 1 sword.
6. 3 Swords - kills any monster, even with a broken sword.

It’s fast and brutal.

Assuming you kill the monsters, you can take an item from those that you have revealed, and all the others go face down into a discard pile (separate from the discarded monsters). When you turn over the Merchant’s tile, you can exchange 30 gems to buy tile (item or spell) back from this pile. Two tiles are turned over and you choose one of them.

A bad thing is when you reveal the boss. At that point, the party rolls to see how many henchmen he has. These are drawn from the monster discard pile or by revealing tiles on the dungeon if there are not enough monsters discarded. You have to fight your way to the boss through the henchmen to kill him. If the party is down on health then this can be pretty nasty.

There are three different sets of victory conditions defined, each increasingly harder to achieve:

1. Find all 3 relics and exit the Dungeon in one piece.
2. Kill the boss and escape the Dungeon alive.
3. Clear the floor, revealing all tiles and killing all the monsters.

Before I tried this with Nathan, I had two quick tester games. In the first game, I had two Heroes in play, and found the Boss very early after some poor rolls in the first few turns. The four henchmen that he came with were too much much for the poor Heroes who had already been injured and had very little in the way of items or spells. They managed to kill three of them before they all died.

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - Battle hardened and Victorious
The surviving Heroes at the end of the second game.

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - Spoils of War
From left to right: traps, sword effects, gems; pile of dead and escapees; Merchant and his wares.

In the second game, the one of the two heroes (a Rogue) died on the first turn when she[1] turned over three tiles including a Minotaur that did 2 health damage on a critical miss. Ouch. She couldn’t heal herself in the combat (as no-one had a healing potion and the Warrior didn’t find the Phoenix Feather spell to resurrect her) and so was gone. I decided to immediate start a third character. As the threats in the game are the same no matter how many players are involved, it may be work allowing the players to have all four heroes in use even if there are only two or three players involved. That, or alternatively boost the health of the characters in play with the spare counters.

[1]: The Hero counters have male and female sides, no game effect and I just picked them up randomly, so ‘she’.

The next game was with Nathan (7) and Aidan (3). Aidan was mainly doing what his brother told him, and was the Warrior. Nathan was a Wizard and I was the Rogue. We had a fun game, playing for the basic ‘find the three relics and escape’ objective. We ended up turning over most of the tiles but fortunately not the boss. I had opted to split the unused Archer’s health between the three of us, and that was good, because we were down to a single health point several times (i.e. dead if we’d played as designed - but we did have a Phoenix feather). Nathan got the idea quickly, and Aidan was happy just playing along and doing what his big brother suggested. We prevailed, just, and they had big smiles on at the end.

Pocket Dungeon Crawl - The Players
Still smiling!

Nathan (7):

“Brilliant. It was really really good and adventurous. We got to kill all the monsters. We didn’t get to the Boss, but I almost was in with the Boss and I would have died if I had. I’d play it again, a million times if I had time.”



Aidan (3):

“It was good. I enjoyed it. I was the Warrior. I didn’t nearly die like my brother”



In conclusion - a fun, quick, cooperative game that understands the essence of the Dungeon crawl and is easily accessible to kids and adults alike. Recommended.

#RPGaDay - 22. Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

#RPGaDay

Over thirty years in gaming has meant that there are lots of candidates for today’s entry, split mainly between games acquired at conventions (and I think that I mentioned 'The Flaming Eye' and 'Wordbuilder’s Handbook' earlier), games bought in the late 1990s at Best Books & Games in Liverpool, 'Traveller' material bought through BITS old auctions when I was filling out my collection, and then eBay and other sales site (especially when I was after 'Pendragon' books).

My most strenuous searches were from some of the material produced by 'Pagan Publishing' for Call of Cthulhu. I hunted high and low for the old 'Delta Green Chapbooks' at a sensible price, ultimately unsuccessfully, but in the end backed the Fundable campaign (an earlier take on Kickstarter and Indie-go-go that failed.) for the collected hardcover versions. I also looked hard (and found) their scenario and campaign books such as 'The Realm of Shadows', 'Mortal Coils' and 'Coming Full Circle' but there was one that always escaped me. I’d lose bidding wars on eBay, and never found it in shops. The few conventions that had it were asking silly prices.

Anyway, recently Angus was clearing some of his old games, and I finally managed to get myself a copy of 'Walker in the Wastes'. It hasn’t made it into an archive cover yet, not has it been read (but it’s sitting in the ‘to-read’ pile), but I hope that it likes up to the anticipation of a decade long hunt!


#RPGaDay

#RPGaDay - 21. Favourite Licensed RPG

The One Ring RPG Dice and matching ARU case

I choose 'The One Ring', by Cubicle 7. It triumphs over Chaosium’s 'Elric!' (reprinted and expanded as 'Stormbringer 5th Edition'), but only just.

'Elric!' is a game that I spent a huge amount of time playing being the fourth iteration of the 'Stormbringer RPG' that had won my heart for its chaotic, power gaming, devil-may-care embrace of Michael Moorcock’s 'Eternal Champion' sequence. I still hold the game engine as one of the best iterations of the BRP d100 system, and some of the supplements were superb (for example the third party 'Corum' book). I spent several Continuum/Convulsions as Loz’s only friend at the Eternal Champion seminar (I exaggerate a bit). I ran an extended campaign with a number of people here on Facebook for some years - Derrick, Duncan, Andrew, Charles, Sarah-Jo to name a few and it was great fun. Two things eventually broke it for me. Firstly, time. One of the scenarios (‘The Fang and the Fountain’ from 'Perils of the Young Kingdoms') had a brutal, power-wielding, conclusion which was truely epic. But the battle took 7 hours. When you get maybe 8 hours of gaming every two months with a group, this took too long. I thought I’d found a solution when I accidentally managed to write a 23,000 word conversion of the game to 'HeroQuest', which was going to be published as a Continuum con book, but then the rights moved to Mongoose and I lost heart. The campaign ended with a whimper… Recently, I’ve started playing with a house 'Wordplay' port, and my old material may appear again. Maybe.

Anyway, 'The One Ring'. Quite simply, this nails the feel of Tolkien’s 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' and puts you in a position where you can run a campaign without fear of the epic story intimidating or trampling over you. It is evocative, and the system quite simple. The default setting is between 'The Hobbit' and LotR around Mirkwood, and the writing is gorgeous. I mentioned 'Rivendell' back in the 4th entry. The standard of that book resulted in me re-reading the Core Rules (revised), 'The Heart of the Wild', 'Tales from Wildland', 'The Laketown Guide' and 'Words of the Wise'. I only didn’t re-read the superlative 'The Darkening of Mirkwood' because I only just read it only and it was still fresh. I rarely binge on RPG systems like this, and it really gives me an itch to run or play it. Simply superb.

#RPGaDay - 20. Will still play in 20 years time…

#RPGaDay Traveller Rules...

Almost certainly 'Traveller'. Mind, I’ll be in my sixties and may be looking for that gaming retirement home.

I love SF, always have. 'Traveller' epitomises that for me and is meshed to the books that I grew up loving after I discovered Andre Norton at my local library, and then E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Arthur C Clarke (not ‘Sir’ then) and Isaac Azimov on my father’s bookshelves.

Incidentally, if you love SF, then I commend Jo Walton’s 'Among Others' to you as a novel that will remind you of how you discovered the genre.

#RPGaDay - 19. Favourite Published Adventure

#RPGaDay

Now this is a hard one, as there have been so many memorable adventures out there… I’m going to limit this to something that I’ve run, rather than just read or played, as that cuts the field down somewhat.

I’ve always had a soft spot for 'Masks of Nyarlathotep' for 'Call of Cthulhu'. I bought it second hand when I lived back in Holmes Chapel from a group of gamers over there and started to run it twice. It is a great epic adventure in the horror genre, but very messy in terms of character mortality. It’s possibly only challenged by the recent Pelgrane Press release 'Eternal Lies', or maybe Chaosium’s 'Beyond the Mountains of Madness' (although that needs a certain mindset). As a GM you need to make sure that the players have ‘corresponding’ friends so that they have an easy excuse to introduce new characters. In both the campaigns attempts I made to run this, the original party had all passed away or gone non-functionally insane by the time that they reached. As a result, I don’t think that this makes the cut.

What else? Well, 'I6 - Ravenloft' for 'Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition' was a very different classic adventure. Dark horror with a very dangerous enemy. It had all the classic horror tropes, and actually makes players with high powered characters scared for their survival. Great scenario, but I’ve not touched it for a long time so not that.

One of my favourite scenarios ever was 'Phantom of the Northern Marches' for 'Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP)'. It was so evocative and epic, and really reflected the lower power sad beauty and feeling of the northern realms of the Dunedain as they slowly crumbled before the power of the Witch King of Angmar. This was a non-epic scenario that made the players have a chance to feel completely heroic. Lovely setting, lovely writing, lovely scenario. But not my favourite.

If I had allowed scenarios that I hadn’t run, then the 'MegaTraveller' supplement 'Hard Times' would be a strong contender. This puts the players in the position of ‘keeping the flame’ as the Imperium collapses during the Second Civil War under infighting and factionalism. The characters have a ship and can make a difference to a small number of worlds. Absolutely brilliant writing and a great campaign; incidentally, it’s one of the reasons that I really didn’t like Virus with Traveller: The New Era was released as it wiped all these efforts out. But I’ve not run it, so it’s not in the running.

I think that I will go for a campaign pack that has given me hours of fun as a GM, is broad enough that you can do pretty much anything with it, and was really the first book to give my favourite RPG the true flavour of it’s setting. I am talking of the Classic 'Traveller' Adventure 'Adventure 3 - Twilight’s Peak'. This is a campaign framework for a group of players to take a starship that has seen better days along the Spinward Main, ostensibly to earn enough cash to properly refit it. But they also get a great big hint about lost treasure which could make their fortune. They may, or may not, stumble upon this. I’ve run it twice and one party found it, the other didn’t. But it doesn’t matter; you soon come to the realisation that the journey – the Travelling - is actually the most important thing. This is still usable with the current versions of 'Traveller', and if you get the Classic 'Traveller' DVD [from Marc Miller] then you are set for hours of fun as that has all the other published adventures to mesh around it too.

#RPGaDay - 18. Favourite Game System

#RPGaDay

I find this quite an interesting question, as sometimes the system is fundamentally meshed with the setting. However, if I had to pick one game system as a favourite, it would be 'Wordplay'. Developed by Graham S and the group of Sheffield gamers which I used to play with regularly, this is a game dear to my heart. I spent a lot of time involved in play testing and also in helping to develop parts of the system. I also proofed and laid out the game for publication.

At its heart, 'Wordplay' requires you to build a hand of ordinary common-a-garden six sided dice. You throw these, and each 6 gains you two successes, each 4 or 5 gives one success, and 1-3 gives you nothing. You then compare the difference in levels between an opponent or a fixed difficulty, and the wider the gap, the bigger the success level. In many ways, 'FATE' works in a similar way, but that wasn’t an inspiration for the game engine.

You build the hand through taking a trait (which is rated in numbers of dice that go into a dice pool) and then potentially picking up to two supporting traits (which add a reduced number of dice based on their original levels). Other players can help by lending you a helping dice from their character. You can also gain dice from equipment and the environment. You can create temporary traits through narration or action that can also help.

Nothing ever takes dice away from you; you can only ever gain dice. Even if you are wounded, you do not lose dice. Say you had 'Broken Arm (3d)' and that trait would act against you in a task, then you would give your opponent 3 extra dice. One of the sweet things in the system is that you can see who helped or hindered you.

Final task resolution effectiveness can be gauged from a table - in all cases, a 7 success margin is a total victory.

'Wordplay' sits firmly on the fence between contest resolution and task resolution. You can use the system in either way; either frame the outcome you want to achieve, or approach it like a traditional RPG and roll with the dice at a more granular level. You can resolve with a single roll, or have an extended contest. The use of descriptive traits makes it really easy to build characters and adventures. The dice mechanic is quite clever, as it engages gamer instincts in building a hand of dice, but the process is quite swift. The outcome supports narrative resolutions, and the whole system hits a sweet spot for me.

'Wordplay' deserves more recognition than it has, and hopefully it will get it soon. Currently, the PDF and POD book sit at [Lulu.com], but the intent is to migrate them to RPGNow/DTRPG in the near future. There are two supplements nearly completed, so hopefully the game will gain in popularity.

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is my favourite game system.

And yes, I also love the bell curve functionality of 'Traveller' and the d100 simplicity of the Basic Role Playing engine which started at Chaosium. But 'Wordplay' is now my go-to system.

#RPGaDay - 17. Funniest Game you’ve played

Undoubtedly West End Games' ‘Paranoia’. Dark, apocalyptic humour set after an atomic war, where the players are all clones who live in a complex controlled by 'The Computer'. I started playing this with the first edition, but my heart was taken by the revised and simplified second edition that Games Workshop released as a hardback.

I lost touch with this game after school, and I wouldn't mind running or playing it again.

#RPGaDay - 16. Game you wish you owned

Basic dnd

This one is quite simple. I wish that I still owned the first boxed set of 'Dungeons & Dragons' that I was given as a Christmas Present. I sold it after I moved on to 'AD&D First Edition'. I still have my 'Starter Edition Traveller' and 'Call of Cthulhu 2nd Edition' boxed sets, and would love to have had the other game I got at the start of my gaming.

It's pure nostalgia, but it's that simple.

#RPGaDay - 15. Favourite Convention Game

CoS cover

I'm going to split this into a number of different categories, starting with my favourite convention game to run. It may surprise you, but it isn't 'Traveller'. Nor is it 'Singularities' or 'Wordplay'. It's a small indie game called 'Conspiracy of Shadows' which - while available - is no longer actively being supported.

The game is set in a dark medieval Eastern European style setting, and could best be described as a 'Medieval X-Files' with lots of guidance on building conspiracies and developing plot arcs for players to interact and investigate. As a game, it drips atmosphere, and the author is also an artist and nails the whole experience.

Now, the reason I love this game to run at conventions is a style of play that it has called 'The Blood Opera'. This is a scenario where all the characters are set up to conflict with with other for different reasons, and effectively the narrator's role is to light the fuse on a powder keg, or to give the row of dominos a push. I've run two versions of this repeatedly at conventions. The first is the classic Blood Opera where a noble family tears itself apart in the snows of winter after the death of a beloved wife. The second is one I built myself called 'The Fall of House Atreides' which does much the same but uses the start of Frank Herbert's classic "Dune" as the scenario. Anyone - including Paul Atreides - can be the traitor. Both of these seem to get a good response from players, although the first tends to develop silly accents which actually tend to add to the fun.

The game I most enjoyed running at a convention recently was a Savage Worlds game in the 'Runepunk' setting. 'Runepunk' is a science-fantasy setting in a metropolis separated from the rest of reality after some kind of incident. The technology is steampunk and clockwork and it has a feel of Stormbringer and Bladerunner placed in a blender. A couple of 'Furnace's ago I decided to run it, using an investigative campaign called 'DarkSummer Nights'.

The game itself was a delight to GM, with players really getting into character (and me as GM having too much fun interacting with Tom Z who was a clockwork automaton). Several of the players were regular 'Call of Cthulhu' players, and engaged the scenario in exactly the same way that you would play that game. The resulted in no combat at all during the adventure (something I never expected with 'Savage Worlds' as it is at heart a skirmish game) and the discovery that the game engine works quite well for general resolution. A great game in a great setting made memorable by some great players.

Games I have played and enjoyed at conventions are a bit of a challenge. First of all, I don't get to play that often. When I do, I often pick games to get an idea of how the should play because I am thinking of them.

So, memorable games include: Graham S running is Middle Earth games. The first one I played used a hack of 'Burning Wheel' (and was set just after the Battle of the Five Armies way before Cubicle 7's TOR written), and the second one used 'Wordplay' (and was set in the First Age during Turin's saga). Both were super games to play in, and Graham's love and understanding of the setting came through clearly.

Next up would be John Ossoway running 'River of Heaven', his d100 engined SF RPG. Playing this was superb, as John and I have a similar taste in SF and the game showcased the system and the feel of the setting to perfection. It's a style of gaming that I would love to do more often.

After that, I have to give @Evil Gaz a shout out. I played a 'Savage Worlds' game of his one 'Continuum' which involved a pulp expedition to Darkest Africa. It was great fun. I remember riffing with @Tom Zunder and others as explorers in a dangerous world.

I have to include the first 'Hero Wars' (aka 'HeroQuest') game I played. This was run by John Hughes, and it helped me to click what the whole HQ engine was about, and the differences in the style of play.

Finally, an honourable mention to Newt - I previously mentioned his 'Unknown Armies' game. This is one of my happy game memories from conventions past.

So - no Traveller here? Probably as I usually run it, and almost never get to play. Sad

#RPGaDay - 14. Best Convention Purchase

These go back to GenCon UK, back in the day when it was held in Loughborough. One year I came across the old Digest Group modules for MegaTraveller that I didn't already own on a second hand stall. They also weren't priced stupidly; as a result, I scored a copy of The Flaming Eye and World Builder's Handbook for the price of a normal softcover supplement.

Another year, my friend Richard T and I came across a pricing scheme for boardgames that hadn't been thought through. It was something like 10% off one, 20% off two, 30% off three etc. which on three games meant you effectively got one for free. We bought a selection between us and immediately after the trader changed the offer to something less generous. There are times when being numerate helps.

I also have fond memories of buying two copies of the shortlived Dune RPG at list price, one for Duncan and one for myself, which was great as they rapidly went up in price afterwards to the point I wouldn’t have been able to buy a copy.

#RPGaDay - 13. Most Memorable Character Death

This is one that I find a struggle. I've mainly acted as Games Master throughout the time that I've been gaming, and there aren't that many memorable occasions where I've had a character die. It's not something that worries me too much - if it matches the story and feels right, then I'll go with it as it can open up lots of interesting character interaction. Probably the only one that really sticks in mind was during a game of Legend of the Five Rings that Richard M was running, where my Crab Clan Warrior ended up in some kind of honour duel (I think) which he won, but immediately had to commit suicide to maintain clan honour. I've only vague memories of this, but do remember that I did get a decent replacement.

I've seen some other memorable character deaths; probably the most significant was Greg L’s character 'Art' during a Traveller campaign that I ran back when I lived near Chester. This was a blend of Twilight's Peak, a bunch of other Traveller scenarios and a bit of CJ Cherryh's Merchanters and Andre Norton's Free Traders. It was a game of restaurants, docksides, and side missions, with a very mixed and dysfunctional crew. If anything, the party ended up more nervous of dockside interactions because "bad things happen in bars and restaurants", usually driven by the players. Art died off camera, and the repercussions shattered the campaign. Alli M’s Aslan stalked off, and Steve H’s character 'Kira' was left holding the baby. Probably the best write up of this was done by Steve, and he kindly lets me host it on my site.

The other kind of memorable character deaths that spring to mind tend to have been when I have run Traveller convention adventures. These have included the character group that decided to risk breaking into a starport when sighted by a starship scale laser defence battery, ignoring the warning shot. As they were in an Air/Truck, basically a flying Transit van, this wasn't especially smart. Another included the last surviving crew member of a ship which had been swallowed into a corsair, who rather than surrender and be murdered, opened up inside the corsair with the ship's lasers, scoring critical hits until the reactor exploded.

#RPGaDay - 12. Old RPG you still play / read

#RPGaDay Traveller Rules...

Traveller.

Ok, so I use the Mongoose rules these days (which are a retooled update of the original little black book classic Traveller and the later MegaTraveller) but the setting material and plot can still be used with minimal effort.

I love the blend of Andre Norton, EC Dumarest, Azimov's Foundation, Sir Arthur C Clarke and more, combined with a hint of Star Wars, with which is shared a release year.

In a lot of ways, Traveller became an archetype for other systems with careers and past experience and no-levels a la D&D. Surprisingly modern and still effective.

#RPGaDay - 11. Weirdest RPG owned

Unknown Armies...

The weirdest RPG that I own is Unknown Armies. The game is a take on a modern occult conspiracy setting by John Tynes (Pagan Publishing, Delta Green) and Greg Stolze (Reign, others).

It's weird in that it fits nicely into the genre known as weird tales, and also because some of the ideas are completely bizarre, for example a cult built around fast food franchises.

However, it meshes together really well and I had a very enjoyable game of this at the very last Convulsion, run by Newt N. His game had the conceit of an occult investigation run by a variety of TV cops. I had Lewis (Morse's assistant) and Martin S had Regan from The Sweeney. The interplay between my Lewis being nice and polite and his Regan was somewhat entertaining, and the exchanges somewhat rude. Great game. Especially as Jonathan Creek kept on getting abuse from everyone.

As an aside, Lamentations of the Flame Princess nearly made the cut for this, but I only own scenarios and supplements for that rather than the game itself. It's most definitely weird though.

#RPGaDay - 10. Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction

Delta Green fiction.

Undoubtedly, it has to be the Delta Green tie in set of novels and short story collections, especially The Rules of Engagement.

They capture the weird blend of Lovecraftian horror, despair and hints of the X-Files and Millennium perfectly.

#RPGaDay - 9. Favourite Die / Dice Set

This one is quite a close run thing. At the moment, I'm kind of in love with the set of dice for The One Ring RPG that I bought at Continuum the weekend before last.

The One Ring RPG Dice and matching ARU case
The One Ring RPG Dice and matching ARU case

However, the ones I really like, and have done for a long time, are the sets that I bought at one Furnace that match the covers of Hot War and Cold City nearly perfectly. I should give a shout out to Elaine McC as she's the one who egged me on to get them when I was procrastinating!

Hot War Dice
My favourites

#RPGaDay - 8. Favourite character

I usually end up games-mastering, so a favourite character is a challenge as I rarely get to play over an extended period.

One of my earliest characters that I was fond of was a Paladin under (initially) AD&D first edition rules. He wasn't a holier-than-though character, as I modelled him upon a Crusader Knight from one Religious Orders (I think I picked the Hospitallers as they were slightly less dubious to modern sensibilities) blended with the character Sparhawk from David Eddings' Diamond Throne books. He was one of the highest level characters I ever got, reaching at least 9th level. It was a collegiate game with 2-3 GMs.

For the life of me, I cannot remember the character's name (Sir Something-or-Other, obviously), but I remember that his arch-nemesis was an Illusionist run by one of the other GMs. The game reached the point that we were starting to carve out kingdoms, and in one case we had a visit to one of the circles of hell. I can also remember the panic we had one battle when we realised that a creature was regenerating all hit points at the end of the round unless we managed to kill it. We were dealing 70-80 hp+ of damage each round and it wasn't enough so we thought we were goners! Somehow we survived.

The other thing I remember about the game was that we changed to 2nd Edition AD&D part way through because of the clause in the books that the GM's decision and interpretation was final. We had one player who was very much a power-gamer rules-lawyer so this was a deliberate decision to change the environment to deal with this.

RuneQuest 3 & River of Cradles

So, I suppose I should have a character who has a name for this, so I think I shall have to choose Marcus Inerious. Marcus was a RuneQuest 3 character, a Lunar Centurion placed on Gardening Leave who somehow ended up meshed into a party on their way to become the River Voices in the River of Cradles. We rocked up and down the river, building a small trading empire and having a lot of fun. Duncan R had another Lunar, and Derrick J ran a cracking campaign. My strongest memory was the crazy long range ballistic bowshot Marcus made very early in the campaign, something that helped to mesh him into the group. A great game even when it went a bit mythic every now and again!

#RPGaDay - 7. Most ‘Intellectual’ RPG owned

Durance RPG

Probably Kingdom or Durance or Fiasco. One of the indie storytelling games that has minimal demand for dice but a lot of expectations for behaviour and approach.

When they work, they’re brilliant. When they don’t, they are dire.

And sometimes they go somewhere in the middle, which is disquieting.

(I've used intellectual in a more pure sense here, rather than meaning intricate or complicated.)

#RPGaDay - 6. Favourite RPG Never get to play

Pendragon RPG
Pendragon 1st and 5th Editions, plus the Great Pendragon Campaign, the only supplement you need for years of fun.

That’s a hard one.

Maelstrom (Story Engine) RPG
Maelstrom RPG line - a favourite I never get to play or run.

Probably either Maelstrom (an early narrative game in a world of shattered dreams and realities, not the Elizabethan game) or Pendragon. I had a campaign of that at school and loved it and would like to retrun to the setting. I also loved playing Unknown Armies and Hot War for the short sessions I had of those.

But, if I had to pick just one it would be Pendragon.

The reality is, getting any game to play is a bonus. My current gaming mostly revolves around conventions like Furnace, Continuum, TravCon and Dragonmeet, plus some games via Google Hangouts (The EsoTerrorists and Dungeon World).

#RPGaDay - 5. Most Old School RPG owned

#RPGaDay AD&D 2nd Edition

Well, I still have AD&D 2nd Edition and some supporting material from Basic, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. And the original little black book Traveller sets. And RuneQuest 2nd Edition, Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu 2nd Edition. And Ringworld and Pendragon 1st Edition. And there are probably others lurking there.

What do I use of those? Traveller. The system (except for combat) remains pretty light and compatible with the present Mongoose rules. The setting material is still valid too.

The Pendragon and Call of Cthulhu material can all be used if I ever get the chance to game in those settings again without modification.

Lately I have been revisiting the D&D material with a view to using it with the Dungeon World indie gaming take on it. And I have resisted the siren call of D&D 5th Edition so far.

Update: 31/8/2014 D&D5 appears surprisingly well written, simple and clear.

#RPGaDay - 4. Most recent RPG purchase

Rivendell
Screenshot from PDF. Lovely art, lovely book.

The most recent RPG related purchase I made was the pre-order of the Rivendell Supplement for The One Ring RPG. My love of Tolkien’s world pre-dates my love of gaming. The Hobbit and the SF of Andre Norton such as the Solar Queen books came into my life sometime between the age of 7 and 10, and have clear influences on my gaming preferences. (Norton was one of the influences on the Traveller RPG).

Now, Rivendell is a PDF at present, and I hope to get the physical book before the year end, despite the Late Summer release it is listed for, but my read through says it will be worth the wait(*). Rivendell is beautifully presented and looks like an excellent addition to the game. It introduces everything needed to adventure between Bree to the West, Rivendell to the East, Angmar to the North and Tharbad to the South, in the period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It also details the Dunedain and High Elves as cultures for player characters, whilst suggesting that their use is minimised to maintain the feel of the game. The book (PDF) makes me nostalgic for the games of MERP I used to run at school, set before the Northern Kingdom fell.

Had this question have been answered last weekend, the RPG related purchases would have been dice for Ubiquity (for the new edition of the Space: 1889 RPG) and dice for The One Ring (mainly as I am not certain if I will sell my original edition when the hardcover comes out). I find more of my purchases being board and card games these days, mainly as there seems to be more chance to get a short game of one of these, especially with the pressures of being a “grown up” married with children and a job that is quite demanding.

(*) Cubicle 7 can often be delayed - I have one product that was due in 2010 but they make lovely products.

#RPGaDay - 3. First RPG Purchased

Starter Traveller RPG
My second choice game, which wasn’t there either! So Call of Cthulhu it was. This is not a collector quality copy. This is a well used, well worn and well loved copy of Traveller complete with sellotape patching.

The first RPG I purchased was Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu which I spent my birthday money on in a little shop in the Arcades in Chester when I was eleven years old. I also picked up copies of the collected Lovecraft that Penguin had issued around the same time. I think I got those through WH Smiths back in the day when it was still a decent bookseller.

I didn’t want to buy Call of Cthulhu. I wanted either the D&D set I had seen at the local toy and gift shop (“Rainbow” in Holmes Chapel) or a copy of Starter Edition Traveller. My passion for these had come from reading
What is Dungeons & Dragons? (by Butterfield, etc.), especially the split text walk through of the Shrine of Kollchap dungeon included in the book. However, Rainbow had sold its copy, and the shop in Chester only had Call of Cthulhu, which kind of set me on my course.

As an aside, my mother tells me I was very cross that the copy of D&D had sold, and she had to keep a straight face as she had bought it for my aunt to give me as a Christmas present.

We played Cthulhu a lot around 1983, and I enjoyed it a lot. However, by the time the 3rd edition hardback book shipped, I was bored by it. You couldn’t get the same fear and terror, because everyone else had bought and read the rules. So I put it aside for some quite some time.

#RPGaDay - 2. First RPG Gamemastered

Call of Cthulhu 2nd Ed
Here it is, my original boxed set.

The first RPG I Gamesmastered was 2nd Edition Call of Cthulhu, using the UK boxed set version printed by Games Workshop. From recollection, the first scenario was The Haunted House which is part of the core rules and pretty much a classic. I can’t remember if I played it with my friends Mandy, Louise and James who lived across the road, or if I first ran it at school. If it was the former, then I can remember it all going horribly wrong in the sense that the characters pretty much went mad or got killed.

This scenario was also the one that I tried with my father when away in France Eurocamping. He took a very direct approach and blew up the haunted house, figuring that as the contract with the landlord of the house was to resolve this issues then that met the needs. I much later found out that my dad didn’t really like the horror genre at all.

I would have run Basic D&D first, but when I went to buy that, it had disappeared from the local toy and gift shop so I ended up consoling myself with a copy of Steve Jackson’s Ogre Microgame. Ogre has remained a game I love, and I recently took part in the Kickstarter 6th Edition release. This arrived
when I was away in Hamburg and was so big that it was a struggle for Jill, Nathan and Aidan to lift between them!

#RPGaDay - 1. First RPG Played

Basic dnd
My first copy of D&D - Holmes Basic - picture found on internet as I no longer have it.

The first RPG that I played, as opposed to ran (I was a Games Master before I ever played) was Basic D&D. If I remember, it was the
Red Box version that was compatible with the Expert and Companion rules that were released later. My friend Ged was the DM, and we started with B4 The Lost City, a classic adventure set in a pyramid. I don’t remember a whole lot except kicking open doors, throwing in ceramic flasks of lamp oil followed by a flaming torch if we saw something that looked too dangerous, and getting hopelessly lost. I’m not sure if we ever completed the adventure or died horribly.

We played at lunch time at secondary school, a Catholic Comprehensive in Cheshire, and the RPG club we had was sponsored by our RE teacher, of all people. She was a young teacher who had recently qualified, and the idea of gaming wasn/t anathema to her as she had come across it before. She let me form an official club and use her classroom every lunch time. I’ve lost touch with most of the gamers from that time with the exception of Mike S and Mark H who I keep touch with distantly through Facebook. Happy days.

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If you want to see the genesis of #RPGaDay, take a look at http://autocratik.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/rpgaday-in-august.html
These entries will be cleaned up versions of my posts on Facebook.


Musings from Continuum 2014

Being a short collection of thoughts and recollections grown from my original Facebook posts at the convention itself.

Day 1 - Friday
Friday morning started with a pre-convention full English breakfast at the local deli (North Street Deli, Wetherby, recommended!) with Jill and the boys. Naturally, they were on form, and it was a good send-off.

Pre-Continuum Family
The family send me off with a good meal.

The drive down was pretty much as expected, the Highways Agency having managed to land roadworks on every possible variation of the route to Leicester. In the end I stuck with the A1 most of the way, which worked well except for the final approach to Leicester where it took thirty minutes to go about five miles!

Registration was a breeze, with no queues. It was a little confusing at first as the University was also holding an open day on the same day. I’m not sure what all the prospective students and their parents must have thought about the preponderance of mostly middle-aged gamer-shaped people on the site with geek T-Shirts and pints of beer.

Once I arrived, I caught up with a number of old friends very quickly, but most of them were already tied up playing a game of the new 5th Edition release of D&D. To name a few: Steve E, Tom Z, Graham S, Duncan R, Pete G, Julian H and many more. Sadly, the way of the convention was that I didn’t get enough time to catch up as I would have liked.

I saw Dave E and Mike B arrive in the Leisure Games van, and as I was at a bit of a loose end offered to help. I was a bit embarrassed when one of their plastic crates that I was carrying disintegrated, but fortunately none of the stock was damaged. Once unloaded, we retired for a pint and I was delighted to see that the convention was starting off with “Lancaster Bomber” and “Black Sheep Ale”. Over a pint, Dave tempted me to play his Space:1889 game, which I eventually succumbed to!

As we waited for the dinner and the next game slot, I played Port Royal with Tim G, Grant and Andy S. I loved it even though I lost! Sadly there were no copies at the con, so an instant sale was lost by the traders.
I’ve reviewed this separately.

After this, I had a quick game of
Coup (the Resistance version) outside with Graham S, Andy S, and Simon B, and I was quickly killed off! Clearly my bluffing wasn’t up to it. I’m not going to discuss this further as there is nothing more that I could add to Pookie’s review linked earlier.

Camera Roll-1006

On Friday evening, I hosted Durance which started off as a space-based analogy to the establishment of the British Colony in Sydney, Australia, and slowly morphed into Starship Troopers. The ending was very cinematic but strangely dissatisfying as I think we'd broken the system by then. However, fun was had, and Duncan R played an amusing foil to Shaun V’s Governor. Doctor Moose made an excellent planter and counterfeiter on our colonial hell hole, and Ivor a very smooth Dimber-Damber (head criminal). At this point I need to hang my head in shame as I have forgotten the name of the other player at the table.

Key thoughts from Durance


  • The overall setting and concept is sound, and has great opportunities for roleplaying.
  • Experienced role-players from a traditional background really want to drive a game in a different way to the storytelling discover-through-play model used by Durance and others. This can make them feel like a fish out of water.
  • As a result, a strong player who ‘gets it’ can easily dominate and drive a game’s direction.
  • Despite Durance being very structured, it can be broken. For example, in the climatic scene, four of the characters wanted to throw the other two off the building so they could have an act of ‘noble self sacrifice’. This was completely dependent on agreement between the two players who owned them, who can block the death of the characters. Narratively, it would not have made sense if they did, but it was touch-and-go for a minute on what was going to happen
  • However, despite this, the general feeling at the end seemed to be quite positive.

Once the game was over, I headed to the bar and had quick chats with Clare G, Nickey B, and David M in the bar. However, I was tired by then, so went back to bed at the somewhat warm student digs. I’m certainly not as good at staying up late since I was blessed with our two boys. It’s a shame, as I would have liked to catch up more with old friends.

John Foster Hall Facilities


  • If I was a student, I think I’d be disappointed with the standard of the Hall’s rooms. Yes, they have Ethernet and WiFi, but they are not built well to handle heat. The windows don’t open properly, and the central core/water system seems to generate huge amounts of heat. The toilet seat felt heated, and it was quite repressive. Now, I’ve stayed in these halls three or more times now so I know it isn’t the weather that is causing this, although being in the shadow of the trees does make a difference.
  • The WiFi is frustrating - the free service for guests is only in the common area, and if you have a device that disconnects momentarily and you have to accept the terms & conditions again every time you reconnect. Annoying, but at least there was free WiFi somewhere.
  • Maybe it’s because I’m used to living in the North of the UK, but the bar and food prices were at the high end (maybe normal for Southerners?) and the quality of the food was variable. Some of it was good, and some of it very poor for the price. The ‘green’ coloured options were generally good, but somewhat lacking.
  • However, the bar staff were very friendly and helpful. I was suffering from the complete lack of coffee (the £1.30 a cup machine was consistently not working and that was the only real option unless you used the two sachets back at the room) so they offered to rustle some up. Their attitude to service was excellent.
  • As an aside here, I think that Continuum could learn from Furnace here and arrange a free coffee and tea urn. But as part of the Furnace Triumvirate then I may be biased.

Day 2 - Saturday

In the morning, I signed up for a great game of Age of Arthur run buy Julian H, playing with Elaine Mc, Pookie Uk and others. Age of Arthur was written by Graham Spearing and Paul Mitchener, and I’ve wanted to try it since I had some great conversations on the Tavern and beyond about good source material for Arthurian settings.

Arthurian Source Material

  • I recommend that you take a look at Mary Stewart’s Merlin books (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment as starters) and also Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers (part of the original Eagle of the Ninth Trilogy). If you read this, don’t miss out on Frontier Wolf and Dawn Wind, which are also tied into the sequence.

The game uses the FATE engine (v1.5, not the recent Kickstartered version), which originally appeared with Spirit of the Century. It fades nice in the background, and seems to work well, but I don’t see what it does that Wordplay doesn’t do at least as well.

The adventure was quite a simple one in concept; we had to escort a noble-woman to meet a potential suitor. The quickest and safest (oh yeah!) way to get there seemed to be to cut thorough a Fey-enchanted forest. Along the way, we managed to charm a Dark Fey-Queen, saving a young messenger from her clutches, out-sneaked a sneaky Wizard comprehensively, and then ensured hat the Psychotic Drunken Champion was beaten by the future Warrior Queen of Lindum.

Julian's dice needed a stern talking to, and checking, after the game as they seemed to roll low all the time, while we rolled very, very high. I was challenged over my makeshift FUDGE(*) dice (which I had made by hand many years ago), but they passed muster.
*(FUDGE is the game engine that FATE evolved from. It also uses four dice with two + symbols, two - symbols and two blanks to resolve tasks. These were very scarce until FATE took off, and the website used to have make your own guidance for use with traditional dotty d6s.)

All in all, I had great fun and would love to try it again. FATE faded to the background and we very much got into the characters and background.

The afternoon found me playing Dave E’s fun Space: 1889 new edition game with Steff W amongst others. 1889 was one of the original games in the genre that picked up the name ‘steampunk’. The game came from GDW, and was a stable-mate of Traveller and 2300AD. The setting is - effectively - a mash up of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. History has developed as usually except for the ability to travel between worlds has come along using Etherflyers. Naturally, Mars has Martians! 1889 disappeared when GDW died (sob), and was - for a while - rereleased as reprints with a few new books. A Savage Worlds version followed, and finally Angus Abranson got involved in bringing the German edition which had been expanded and meshed with a new game engine into the English speaking part of the RPG world in a successful kickstarter.

We were all handed out a character built around an archetype of the genre - for example The Naval Officer, The Army Office, The Explorer, and The Journalist (from The Times, you know) - which made it quite easy to get a good feel for how we should play. After some brief explanation, the game got underway. We started off securing lodgings and permissions in a Martian city state somewhere off the beaten track which we had reached by canal barge. This involved meetings with the local ruler, and the discovery that the Germans were also in town. Naturally, we were suspicious. We started to ponder what the next steps were, and they arrived in the form of a British vessel - The Demeter - that flew into the city and crashed spectacularly. As good citizens of Her Majesty, we were obliged to make good the damage and understand what had happened to the Demeter and just how the scheming Germans were involved.

The Ubiquity system works well, and we seemed to solve the mystery of the crash of the Demeter in the end, although I was quite worried that my British Officer was going to be eaten in some alien field on Mars as the adventure reached its climax.

Key thoughts from 1889


  • The new game system has elements to drive roleplaying within it, but they are very light touch and traditional in nature. For example, my character had a sense of ‘Duty’ which in game mechanic terms encouraged him to put himself forward if he felt he should be doing something as the honourable thing. If he did, he gained rewards back from the GM. However, these were small advantages rather than huge game changing ‘hero points’.

If I ever run Space: 1889 at a con, then I need to make sure that I add stinger inter-character backgrounds layered on top of the archetypes to support roleplaying by giving the players something to hang the characterisation on and to drive interaction. This has worked well in the past in Traveller for me. The Archetypes Dave used were really good, but I think that they would excel with that final but on top.

After the game, I had dinner, meeting up with John O and David M amongst others and then had some quiet time reading Kingdom, which I was running during the evening slot. I was incredibly nervous running the game as both Marcus Rowland and Phil Masters had signed up, probably as it was the only SF game on offer that evening. Being graced by two of the Great Old Ones of the UK RPG community made me nervous - these are the guys whose scenarios I grew up running and playing as a kid and I have great respect for them.

Pre-Continuum Breakfast
Perhaps if I’d had this before the game I’d have done better?

The game didn't go as well as I hoped, but I think that I learned some important lessons about running this kind of game.

Key thoughts from running Kingdom


  • In a discover-through-play game, it is key that someone ‘drives the scene’. If the players there aren’t, the host needs to help them to do so.
  • The host also needs to do some hand-holding and make the players realise that it’s okay for them to make up the details as we go along. My mistake here was that this was set in my Singularities setting and I was responding to questions on the background (natural in a hard SF setting) which was the wrong thing to have done. I should have asked the players what they wanted to be the case as they should be driving this through play.
  • The host needs to make sure that the players make a decision - I didn't ask this clearly enough and make sure that the scene had a conclusion that moved the plot along in some what. Too often, the plot was going around in circles.
  • Tied to this, I should have asked what the aim of the scene was to the players involved at the start of each scene.
  • I screwed up preparing this game, as my preparation was lacking. Work and real life had eaten up too much time and I had thought that bringing Kingdom would be an easy option as I had done it before at Furnace. Mistake. At Furnace, I had read and re-read the rules and guidance several times in the weeks before and I was much less tired. As a result, the previous game went much better.

After the game, I retired to the bar with Shaun V and Dave M (two of the players) and we played Love Letter followed by Coup. We also had some post-match analysis on Kingdom, which was very useful for getting my head straight. Then Shaun kicked off an improvised Baron Munchausen game which was great fun and involved crazy boasting war-story fun. Later Tim G joined us and we played the
Shadows of Camelot card game, which was good fun despite people starting to be so tired it made rules hard to grasp. And then it was way past bed time!

Yes, but...


  • The one bit of the post-match analysis that I didn’t agree with was a brief discussion where Jeff Richards (Glorantha supremo) got drawn into a conversation with us on whether I should have used a “Yes, but...” technique in dealing with the players’ questions. Having mused this over, I think that this missed the point of the issue with the game. “Yes, but...”, and “Yes, and...” are incredibly powerful tools, both in gaming and in real life, but I don’t think that they would have resolved the issue that we saw. The element that needed to be taken in hand was the player’s freedom and willingness to co-create. “Yes but...” doesn’t solve this. So in the spirit of the phrase: Yes, it’s a powerful tool, but in this case it doesn’t provide quite the resolution that we hoped for!

Day 3 - Sunday
Wanda the Waitress (Zombicide)
Wanda, my character


Braiiiins! (Zombicide)
Getting messy!


Early Sunday morning, I had decided that I didn’t want to role-play in the morning. This was partly as none of the games on offer floated my boat, and partly because I’d previously agreed with Dave M to try out Zombicide. Two years previously, Dave had a fun game of his copy of Last Night on Earth on the Sunday afternoon at Continuum 2012 and he was curious about the differences in the two games. Tim G, Steff W and Pete G joined in too. Despite my inadvertent attempts to sabotage the game by killing too many zombies and levelling up before the rest of the group and thus raising the threat level, we managed to beat the scenario. In fact, this was the smoothest running game of Zombicide that I had ever played. Because the players worked well together it never quite had the tension and feeling that we may have lost the game. This may have been more apparent to me as I have played this several times now, and I know just how much damage the players can do if they focus aggressively (I’ve
discussed this before in blog posts so won’t cover this here). In addition, we were very lucky as we drew the gasoline and glass bottle equipment cards at just the right time, meaning we could use a Molotov cocktail on the ‘Abominations’ when they appeared. All in all, it seemed to go well, although I didn’t have the chance to find out Dave’s opinion at the end.

Ivor the Engine

We followed up Zombicide with the recently released Ivor the Engine. Now, I had bought this when I heard about its release at UK Games Expo, as it was targeted at kids aged 8+ (which definitely includes gamers!) and I wanted to play it with Nathan. I’d read the review by Pookie and we were fortunate that he wanted to join in with us. Steff had to go and run a game, so our complement was myself, Dave, Tim, Pete and Pookie.

For a game aimed at 8 year olds upwards, it is surprisingly competitive and complicated. As a comparison, I have played Forbidden Island and Escape the Curse of the Temple with Nathan, and both felt much more simple in play. However, with some guided play I’m sure he’d cope.

The actual mechanics are quite simple; on your turn you move to a location on the beautifully illustrated map of Wales (art by Peter Firmin, the original artist for the TV series). When you are there, if there are stray sheep present, you can take one and put it in your pen. You can also play & draw an action card. Once locations are free of sheep, you can also complete errands shown on the card. These typically give you more sheep, gold or coal. The game stays very close in scoring (it’s very Eurogame in style), and is quite fun. We did have a number of queries and complications about the rules, but I think that these were as much about people being tired as a lack of clarity. All in all, a good game that I want to play with Nathan and Jill if I can.

Port Royal - almost too many cards

I finished the convention as I began, with two quick games of Port Royal. Halfway through the second game I was doing some quick searching on the internet to find a copy (using the
http://boardgameprices.co.uk/ recommended by Tim G, and combining that with a search of the other usual suspects (Leisure Games, Gameslore, Amazon and eBay) which resulted in an order being placed. The game arrived on Tuesday, and was packed to go on holiday as I think that it will be another that Nathan will enjoy.

And after that, home was the order of the day. I slipped away early and headed for the M1, A1 and the North.

General musings about the Con
Continuum remains one of my favourite conventions, and the new(ish) committee have done really well. I’m not a big fan of the venue (I much preferred Beaumont and Digby halls as they felt more intimate), but it is functional and works. The balance between free forms and tabletops seemed right, and the introduction of pre-signups for GMs is good.

The one thing I miss is the old focus. Continuum inherited Convulsion’s mantle as the Glorantha, and - later - Chaosium convention. This gave it a really unique feel (having never been to Tentacles in Germany, I can’t compare). I used to get strange looks (and a rush of players!) when I posted a Traveller game. This year, there was very little Glorantha (perhaps because it is now a coffee-table game?), and Chaosium was primarily represented by Call of Cthulhu. Pendragon was also present, but the old core of the con is gone, and in its place thousand new, smaller blooms have sprung up. It’s a great convention, but I’m not sure what makes it unique now. Perhaps the meshing of free forms and tabletop. Anyway, life is change, and if I can I will be there in 2016. Well done to the committee.

Mini-review of Port Royal

Port Royal Box

I first heard about Port Royal via a post that Tim G made either on the Tavern, or on Facebook, talking about his board gaming evenings. I was intrigued, as the idea of a game set in the golden age of sail with expeditions, trading and the like seemed right up my street. Anyway, I subsequently managed to play it 4 times at Continuum 2014 at the end of July and ended up ordering a copy before the convention had ended. This is a short review of the game.

  • The game is entirely card based, and the only thing it is lacking is a first player token.
  • It is an interesting combination of a trading game, with missions and a push your luck element.
  • The back of the cards serve as game currency. As you spend these they go back in the discard pile, which cleverly keeps the deck mixed up.
  • The setting is either the Caribbean or old Europe, and you represent a harbour owner building for expeditions by trading and getting the right people together.
  • Your aim is to win the game by getting 12+ Victory Points.
  • Each turn, you draw cards into a hand (‘your harbour’ ). There is no limit to the number of cards you can draw but you can go bust or end up really helping your opponents.
  • Cards are either ships, people or more rarely an expedition card or a taxation card.
  • Ships generate income. They are distinguished by flag colour, the number of coins that you will gain from them if you allow them to trade in your harbour, and the strength of their forces (rated from 1-5 swords or a skull-and-crossbones). Draw two ships of the same colour flag and you go bust, ending your go.
  • People come in a variety of types. They include: sailors (useful as they come with swords that can repel ships with a force strength less than the total rating the harbour has from sailors) and traders (who boost the number of coins you get from certain flagged ships); settlers, captains, priests (useful as groups of them can be traded in to complete expeditions); and higher cost cards such as the governor (allows you to take more cards than usual), the fraülein (makes each subsequent card purchase cheaper) and others that generally make it easier for you later in the game. Most people cards give you Victory Points.
  • Expedition cards must be played into the centre of the table when you draw them. They each have a pre-requisite number of people cards that need to be exchanged to gain them (for example, two settlers and a priest), but in return you get an increased number of Victory Points (VP) and some extra gold. You can only do this exchange in your own turn.
  • Taxation cards act as a control element in the game, with anyone with more than 12 coins being forced to half the number they have. Then someone will benefit (for example the player with the lowest number of VP, or the biggest army of sailors) with an extra coin.
  • Once you have drawn as many cards as you want into your harbour without going bust, you can take one of the cards if you can afford them, gaining coins from ships and spending coins to buy a person. You then pass the hand to the next person around the table, and they can also take a card. If they do, they must also pay you 1 coin in tax (so everything costs slightly more to do out of your own turn). This continues until the harbour runs out of cards or no one can afford or wants what is left.
  • The next player then takes their turn. When someone hits 12 VP, they must declare it. The game enters its end-phase then and play continues until every player has completed the same turn. At this point VP are compared and the winner declared.
  • The game has a very Euro-game feel. This is unsurprising as it is German, but what it means is that the game stays very close until the very end. Unlike some more US style games it is not obvious early on who will win, and early expedition success does not guarantee victory.

In conclusion, I loved it.

Port Royal Thumbs up.

Subsequently, I’ve played it twice with Jill and Nathan. Both of them enjoyed it, and both of them won a game with me being pipped at the post in both games in the last round. It has the Nathan seal of approval, and definitely is playable with guidance by a 7 year old. It is one of the first competitive games that he hasn’t got very upset or frustrated about if he doesn’t win. I suspect that this is as there is so much going on and it isn’t obvious who is going to win.

Mini-review of Shadows over Camelot (the Card Game)

Shadows over Camelot: The Card Game

Shadows over Camelot, in its original boardgame form, is recognised as a classic of the genre of cooperative game with hidden traitors. I’ve never actually played it, as I also own Battlestar Galactica: the Boardgame which follows a very similar path (and is very enjoyable).

However, I love the Arthurian setting, and have long enjoyed it as a gaming setting with the Pendragon RPG. Admittedly, I always went for the more Roman flavour of the Mary Stewart Merlin series, rather than full on Mallory, but I love the mythic, historic, tragic feel. So when a quick to play card game variant of Shadows over Camelot came out, I was quick to snap it up.

The game is produced by Days of Wonder, and has very good quality production values. It is a card game, but has a number of counters used to represent quests that Merlin has decided to intervene in, and swords (double-sided, black and white to represent success and who it aligns with).

The core game comes with a Quest deck (split into a variety of threats/quests facing Camelot such as Picts, Saxons, Dragons, The Holy Grail, and finding Excaliber), a deck of Knights, and a loyalty deck.

The Loyalty deck is used to determine whether or not there is a traitor present. Traitors win if 7 or more black swords are accumulated, whereas normal, loyal, Knights win if 7 or more white swords are gained. It is possible that there is no traitor or even two traitors if you have a higher number of players.

The Quests are rated in Swords that you will gain when they are resolved. If you are successful, you gain white swords, else they are black, traitorous, blades.

Each player draws a card from the Quest deck on their turn. The card is placed on top of the other cards drawn so far so they can’t be seen, as the core mechanic involves your memory of the cards that have been played. Most cards are Quest cards - they have one of the Quests shown, and a number from 1 to 5 or a ‘?’ variable number. So, as cards accumulate for each quest in the played deck, the sum of the difficult of each gets higher. The players need to cooperate and use their memories to decide when to try and resolve the quests and which one to do.

This cooperation could make things simple if it wasn’t for the character cards in the Quest deck. Merlin appears, and his effect tends to be to reduce the threat level of each quest. Mordred appears, and he will strengthen the Picts and Saxons. Vivian appears, and she can cause a shift in loyalties. And then, there is Morgan. Morgan is the big bad. When you draw her card, the players may no longer talk to each other until a Merlin card is drawn again. Morgan will also either modify the final scoring or change the ways the quests work, normally to the detriment of the loyal players. These impacts include the quest cards being played face down so you can lie what you have drawn through to changes in the strengths of each quest itself.

Success in a Quest is a finely balanced thing. To succeed, you need to resolve the quest when the total points sum to 10, 11, 12 or 13. Any higher, and you have left it so late and it hurts the kingdom. Any lower, and you have responded with force too earlier and it hurts the kingdom. Failure gives black swords, success white. So a traitor will be trying to steer towards black swords…
Another complication is the variable cards. They score the same number of points as there are variable cards in that quest. So a single card scores 1 x 1 point and three cards would score 3 x 3 points. If you lose count, it is very easy to underestimate the impact of these.

Resolution is simple. You pick a quest as the primary one, then sort the cards out. The Morgan cards affect the results as they indicate. The Merlin cards typically remove the highest card in a pre-selected quest. Mordred boosts the Saxons and Picts. You then check the score. You also resolve the other quests - the secondary quests. All you want to happen here is to make sure that they each sum to thirteen or less, else you gain the black swords from them as the threat was ignored while you dealt with the primary Quest.

The game is really quite simple, and quick to play, so you could get several games in an hour.

I had a chance to play this (albeit a brief one) at Continuum, which I enjoyed thoroughly despite it being after 1am in the morning. The interaction with the different players definitely worked well and made the game more fulfilling than the solo variant. There is also an advanced version of the game where characters such as Arthur can intervene. However, I’ve not tried that yet as I wanted to get the basics firmly understood first. I’ll update this when I try it.

How I spent my Sunday Afternoon (DomCon Report)

Crushed to death twice in a lost Incan Temple, narrowly escaping a sinking island with its treasures on a helicopter, dying horribly as we failed to find the cures to a global pandemic, and then engaging in titanic expansionist space exploration only to be crushed by a galactic economic superpower. That's how I spent my Sunday afternoon...

After fearing that the snow would sabotage things, a group of friends (Andy, Graham and Simon), all TomCon veterans rendezvoused at my house in Wetherby from places as far afield as Sheffield and Settle. Our objective was simple - to play some of the many boardgames that had built up unplayed at my house. We called the event "DomCon", a resurrected title from the days that I ran my Stormbringer RPG campaign.We were accompanied through the afternoon by my 6 year old, Nathan, who joined in some games, bailed out of others, and complicated one even more than the rules did.

I'd shared links to the excellent Dice Tower reviews of the games we planned to play the night before. I recommend these if you're coming old to a game as they give a feel for the mechanics.

We started with Escape: The Curse of the Temple, recommended to me as a fun cooperative game suitable for kids by Steve Hatherley around the time I tried out Forbidden Island for the first time. The premise is simple; think of the sequence at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones has to escape the temple/tomb where he steals the golden idol. The game has square tiles of the temple rooms which you explore by rolling a set of five dice and getting the right icons come up. If you roll a black skull, that dice is frozen, but two black skulls can be released by throwing one of their golden counterparts, which come up just as often. You need to find the way out,and along the way as many jewels as possible. The jewels are important, as they make it easier to carry out the final escape as the number unfound relates directly to the number of icons that you have to roll to escape.

There are three catches. The first is that you will need more than one player working together to release some of the jewels as they need more icons than you have dice. The second is that the whole game is played real time, against a soundtrack that lasts just over ten minutes. This results in a frenetically paced set of dice rolls, and a good deal of self-pressurisation. The final catch is that on two occasions a gong sounds, meaning you have one minute to get back to the starting room otherwise you will lose a dice permanently. On top of this, if anyone is left in the temple after it collapses after ten minutes, then you all lose. Cooperation is vital.

I enjoyed the game, and will look forward to playing again.When I'm not sure, as Nathan got scared by the game and bailed out leaving me to take his dice. We failed to beat this twice, but I think that it feels achievable.

Next up was Forbidden Island, a game about which I have blogged previously. Suffice it to say that we were successful in winning the game, and Nathan was very happy with the outcome. Graham had got a copy of the game on the basis of my past review and enjoyed it, so it was useful having three experienced players. This was the third time I've played this at Novice level, so I think I'll be raising the difficulty next time to make it feel more challenging.

DomCon: Pandemic
Pandemic before it went horribly wrong

Then we moved on to a game that takes the clever mechanic of shuffling the discard pile and putting it back on the top of the draw pile to another level. We played Pandemic, a game by the same author which I have reviewed before. This was my first outing with the game with other players, and – as I mentioned at the start of the piece – we failed. We found one cure and had two more about to be delivered when we ran out of the player cards, which is an instant loss. We spent far too long trying to nobble the disease rather than concentrating upon the cure. Of course, this is the sleight of hand the game throws you with all those disease blocks looking so tempting to fight. Unfortunately, we realised we had lost two turns before the end, which left quite an anti-climax. I'd like to try this one again though.

DomCon #2 - Eminent Domain
Lots of cards in Eminent Domain

Our final game was Eminent Domain, which started life as a Kickstarter project, but I bought it from retail. This is a deck building game of interstellar conflict. What does that mean then? Essentially, this is a battle to gain influence points, which can be obtained by conquering or colonising planets, or through trade or other actions.

We did find the game a struggle at the start, but this was partly due to Nathan's fascination with the model spaceships, coupled with his insistence that Andy was called Dave!

The game revolved around a deck of role cards, which include areas such as warfare, survey, colonisation, production or trade, and research. Each player starts with an identical hand of cards, which is tailored either consciously or unconsciously to the strategy that they have adopted through card draws and deliberate permanent discards from the hand. Players also start with a world located on survey, which needs to be colonised or conquered.

Eminent Domain game turns have a simple structure. You have a hand of cards, which is limited to five at the end of your turn, which comprises role cards and later technology cards. Initially, half your deck is in play so you know what can be gained from drawing from the remaining cards. As you tailor the deck, this becomes more and more effective. At the end of the turn you can discard any or all of your cards and draw back to the maximum hand size (which can be increased by acquiring certain planets).

The first phase of your game is optional - you can play a role card or a technology card as an action. This usually is more limited than playing it in the role phase of the game, but can also be very useful. Cards usually have two descriptions on effects dependent on phase. For example, a survey card will allow you to bring two cards out of your unused pile (exceeding deck limits if necessary) when played as an action, or permits you to look and choose a planet card for a settlement target in the role phase. You can use this first phase to prepare for the second.

The second, role, phase means you select a role card type and draw it into your hand from the central deck pile. You can then play it, backed up with other cards, to gain an effect. For example, if a planet requires four colonisation counters to settle, you could pick colonisation, add a further four colonisation cards from your hand, and land colonies and settle to capture a planet. As 'leader' in the role phase, you get advantages over the other players. Once you have acted, the other players each get a chance to either follow the action you have played by using the same role card(s) without the leader's bonus, or to dissent and pick a card from their unused pile to add to their hand. Thus, it is possible to have a hand bigger than the deck hand limit right up to the end of your turn.

Once all other players have decided whether to follow or dissent, you then get to clean up your deck, discarding and drawing ready for the future. The turn moves clockwise around the table, with the Action/Role/Clean-up cycle starting for a new player.

Using the research action can gain you extra advantages with technology cards in your hand that give special effects for the action phase, or reduced costs for certain role actions by acting as role cards. Some technology cards cycle through your hand in the same way as role cards, whereas some have permanent effects.

Planets also give an advantage when colonised or conquered as some can produce resources (which can be converted to Influence Points by a produce/trade card), some have the same effect as a role card (for example acting as if an additional production card was played), and they also have a basic value in influence just from ownership.

DomCon #3: Eminent Domain - Winning Hand
The winning hand

The game is actually quite simple, but the follow/dissent mechanic was new to us, which caused some confusion. It was no surprise that Simon – who grasped the mechanics first – went to win through a huge production and trade programme.

You can't directly attack another player, but you can hamper them through your choice of roles. For example, had we realised how close Simon was to winning earlier then we could have deliberately avoided choosing the role that benefited him most – Production/Trade – thus starving him of opportunities to extend his hegemony.

There are a huge number of options and approaches to the game, and I'd love to try it again to see where it goes to. I think that was the feeling around the table, with a replay of this being the most popular to return to in the future.

Thanks to all present for a great afternoon, and to Jill for her patience!

--
Links to Dice Tower Reviews
Escape the Curse of the Temple http://youtu.be/precx0zmetg
Pandemic 
http://youtu.be/A5V8q-Su8iM
Eminent Domain
http://youtu.be/hbq7r0LgX6Q

Forbidden Island - mini review

GAMEWRIGHT-317
Image ©Gamewright - all rights reserved - used as download permission given on their website.


At the weekend, I had the fun of playing a game with Nathan (nearly 6) and his Grandmother (somewhat older) which didn't end up with either a small boy tantrum, or me deliberately throwing the game. The game was Forbidden Island and I deliberately bought it because it is cooperative. You either all win, or all lose. The opponent is the game itself.

Nathan loved it, and caught on well despite it being promoted as suitable for 10 years +. That age is probably right for picking up and learning the game yourself, but if you're guided by an adult I think it's easily suitable for 5 year olds.

The premise of the game is simple; you are a team of adventurers who have travelled by helicopter to an island which is sinking into the ocean. You are there to recover four treasures which are hidden on the island and get away by calling the helicopter back for the whole team.

There isn't a game board as such, rather twenty-four sturdy and attractively designed double sided tiles that represent the different locations on the island. They have names like 'Phantom Rock', 'Fool's Landing' and 'Cliffs of Abandon'. One side is illustrated in full colour (representing the initial state of the location) and the other side is a shade of blue, representing flooding before it finally sinks into the ocean never to return. Some locations are marked as starting points for different player roles, and there are two marked for each treasure as a location they can be retrieved from by the players.

The pawns for each player are wooden, and the treasures moulded in plastic, and the game comes in a sturdy tin. The game also includes a set of cards which give each player a unique role (for example a pilot or diver), treasure cards, and the flood deck. Finally, there is a water meter that governs the rate of flooding.

Game play is simple - each player takes a role card to start. This gives them special abilities, for example the explorer can move and shore up parts of the island diagonally. The game is based around 2-4 players, and there are more roles available than the number of players.

The island is set up as a 4x4 grid, with a further two cards centred on each side. A number of flood cards are then drawn, and the relevant locations immediately flipped to flooded. This has no direct effect on them for play, but puts them one step away from disappearing.

Each player is dealt two treasure deck cards which are placed face up so that the other players can see them. There are treasure cards showing the items that you are after, cards with special effects (the sandbag card to sure up anything at anytime and the helicopter lift that allows a group of pawns to be moved from location to another at anytime, or for the game to be won) and the dangerous 'waters rise' card. This one is replaced and shuffled back into the deck if dealt at the start of the game.

Each turn, a player can take up to 3 actions. These include moving, shoring up an adjacent section of island (flipping from flooded to untouched), giving a treasure card to another player in the same location and capturing a treasure (by discarding 4 of the appropriate treasure cards at the right place). Players can also carry out their own special move if appropriate.

Once actions are completed, each player gets two treasure cards, against a maximum hand of five cards. If a waters rise card is drawn, the water meter increases one level. Initially, a normal game will be set so the flood level is 2, but this slowly goes up higher as the game progresses. The waters rise card also triggers the flood card discard pile being shuffled, then placed back on top of the flood deck, effectively intensifying the flooding locations. Pandemic players may recognise the clever game mechanic, and it should be no surprise that the games share the same author.

The final step of a player's turn is to draw the appropriate number of flood cards. The locations shown are immediately flipped to the blue side if untouched, or permanently removed if already flooded. If this happens to a location with a player, they can swim to an adjacent tile if it is a legal move, but if not then they drown and the game is lost.

Retrieving the treasure requires the player to get four cards showing the same treasure in their hand. There are five in total for each in the treasure deck, so if you discard more than one between the team then you would have to wait for the deck to refresh before finding that treasure. As you can only get each treasure in two locations, should these sink before you find it then the game is lost.

Once the treasures are retrieved, the players all need to get to Fool's Landing and then play a helicopter card to escape and win. This clearly means that Fool's Landing sinking is a bad thing to happen, as the game is lost.

Finally, the game can also be lost by the water meter raising as high as the skull and crossbones icon on its top.

In play, it feels quite tense when the flood cards are turned over and the waters rise. The limit that you can only pass cards one way in your own turn is also quite frustrating, in a good way, as you need to plan carefully. It kept Nathan's attention for the 40 or so minutes it took to play, and I suspect that a rematch would be under half an hour. It's great fun, and the mechanics and feel all combine for a lovely team game. I'd recommend this for 5 years to adult.

The game has a retail price of £19.99 but you can pick it up for £12.99 if you shop around places like Amazon.

Links:
Gamewright: http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games&page=game&show=245
Amazon.co.uk:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gamewright-317-Forbidden-Island-Game/dp/B003D7F4YY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352241094&sr=8-1

Pandemic - First Impressions

Pandemic - Start of the Game
Set up

I picked up a copy of the boardgame Pandemic at Furnace and as I had a quiet night with Jill out and the boys asleep, I decided to give it a quick go to see how it works.

The premise of the game is quite simple; the world is suffering from a pandemic event with four diseases potentially running wild. Each player represents an agency or researcher with special skills that can help defeat the outbreaks of disease. The game can handle 2-4 players and lasts around an hour.

The components are of good quality, with a nice solid board and wooden pieces. The cards seem durable with a linen effect that gives good grip.

Pandemic - initial infection zones
Infection zones

I tried a two player game on the lowest difficulty level and was thoroughly trounced! It started well, with no outbreaks in Europe, and a small outbreak in South East Asia. Africa was the worst area , with some threats looming in the Middle East. The disease outbreaks are represented by wooden blocks of different colours, and each location can have a maximum of three of each type. At the start of the game, three cities have 3 blocks, three have 2 blocks and (you guessed it) three have 1 block.These are determined by the draw of infection cards, which are then placed on the discard pile. Each card shows a city and a disease colour, determining where the next infection is. If you run out of infection blocks to play for a colour at any time the players then lose.

The mechanics are joyously simple. Each city is connected to the others in a web that dictates travel and the spread of disease. Every turn you take 4 actions, which can range from travel through to passing cards to other players, building research centres, finding the cure and healing disease. If you have a cure, you can wipe out a disease completely at a location, otherwise you can reduce it by one block.

After taking actions, you draw two more player cards. These show cities and related disease colours. You need a research station of 5 cards of the right disease colour to find a cure, unless you're the scientist role, in which case it's only 4 cards. There are also special event cards (for example money to build a research station for free) and epidemic cards. Epidemic cards are nasty. They are dealt into the player card pile with between 4 and 6 in play depending on the challenge level you want. I played the introductory version with four cards. If you draw one, the rate of infection cards you draw each turn can increase (see next bit) and a city gets infected to the point of outbreak (ditto) which is really quite nasty. Finally, all the discarded infection cards (i.e. cities that are already infected) get reshuffled and placed on the top of the infection draw pile so you can be infected in the same points again, raising the intensity of the game. The only respite is if you have eradicated a disease completely, in which case no new disease blocks can be played. If you run out of player cards, you lose as well.

The infection stage is quite nasty. You draw a number of infection cards which show the cities that gain a single extra block. Unless they already have three blocks of the same colour in which case the disease 'outbreaks' and all adjacent cities gain a block of the disease. This can result in a cascading chain reaction, which is only limited by the fact that each city can only be infected once. If you have eight outbreaks, you lose.

Pandemic - game end
End Game

I quickly found the cure for the South East Asian outbreak, and for Europe, but Africa and the Middle East were proving more elusive. You very quickly get a feeling of quiet desperation as, even with the cure, you can only normally cure two adjacent cities per turn with the action limit. If you get a few adjacent cities with 3 blocks the same colour it feels really, really bad. It also feels great when you draw an infection card for a disease you've eradicated, so nothing happens.

I had beaten the European plague back, and done enough to slow the Middle Eastern Outbreaks, and was focussed with both players on eradicating the African and South American infection (maybe the hardest?) when I ran out of player cards, thinking I'd lost. It was only as I was packing away - thinking how hard, but how addictive the game was - that I realised that I'd actually won by finding all four cures.

I really like this game, and look forward to playing it with friends. I can imagine that it could be a little frustrating and hard, but it gives quite a buzz!

Furnace 2012 Report

Furnace 2012
Conspiracy of Shadows: Fall of House Atreides

Despite being one of the troika organising the convention, I managed to miss the fact that we'd opened the slots for GMs, only finding out when our efficient and glamorous Gaming Tsar Elaine asked me why I wasn't running. I ended up with a single slot booked, rather than the two to four that I have run in other years. However, as people dropped out from running and/or attending, I gradually accreted more slots until I hit four once more.

I tend to use Furnace as an opportunity to playtest material for publication, so ended up taking three Wordplay scenarios; two for my Singularities RPG, and one for the new Utopia setting (which is, in reality, another part of the Singularities universe). All these games had been run before, and the plan was to continue to hone them based on the feedback from the players.

As well as that, I resurrected my Conspiracy of Shadows game called 'The Fall of House Atreides', unsurprisingly set in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert.

The reuse of scenarios ended up being for the best, as I ended up being at a Conference in Manchester for the two days before the convention, something that wasn't conducive to last minute preparation. I was, unusually, fully prepared with printed scenarios ready by Tuesday night before the convention. Definitely a first for me.

I arrived on Friday night, just as last orders were called, having asked Graham (Chairman-for-Life of Furnace) to make sure there was a pint of Guinness waiting for me on arrival. We had a quick catch up, and then I got on with the pressing business of assembling the badges. Big shout out to Steve Ellis here for helping me after everyone else had gone to bed, right up to the point we got chucked out of the bar. I finished around 1am, which still left me with more sleep than usual with the kids!

Ready to light the #RPGFurnace for 2012!
Mounds of badges

Saturday morning dawned, and we started set up. I'd agreed to cover the desk in the first game slot as I usually don't run a game in that time, using it to catch up. However, with the usual suspects for that catch up having to pull out (@tsoilkovsky and @ottomancer), I was mainly thinking of reading scenarios and relaxing.



Captured a video of the opening speech with my Flip HD camera, and dropped it straight up onto YouTube, and made sure that I was tweeting with the #rpgfurnace tag, because we wanted to let people know what they were missing.

Furnace 2012
Zombicide - a great fill in.

First problem hit around 10.00, when we realised the GM for one of the games hadn't yet arrived. We finally got an email from them apologising half way through the slot, despite them also sending up something in the post that indicated they knew they wouldn't make it the day before. We didn't have any spare GMs or games, so I offered the players the chance to try some of the boardgames that I'd brought. They picked Zombicide, a game I bought from Kickstarter that hasn't yet hit general release. This is a cooperative zombie horror survival game that I've discussed previously (due out November around £58 RRP). They quickly got into it, and we completed a big scenario in around two hours, and great fun was had by all. Indeed, had Jim from Patriot Games have had copies then he'd have sold to at least three people. The important thing is that the players enjoyed themselves, and we didn't feel like we'd let them down as a committee.

The afternoon brought my first game, "In a Strange Land", the Utopia scenario that I'd previously run at Continuum. I really enjoyed that game, and was excited about the chance to do it again. Some friends were playing - Tom for example - who I was certain would enjoy it. Unfortunately, the experience was marred by some of players feeling cut out of time in the spotlight. I could feel the frustration, but couldn't see an easy way out of it (it's somehow harder to consider cross words with a player if you're one of the organisers, as it could taint the whole convention). Fortunately, after a break mid-way through things stepped up a gear as two of the players decided to force a change.

This seemed to work, and I think people ended up satisfied at the end of things, but it left me with a bad taste. I was incredibly down after the game, and a bit shaken in confidence, as I hate not delivering for players and it's something I rarely have to deal with. However, thanks to some kind words and a review of what went wrong with Matt Nixon in particular I was back in a fit state to run by the next slot.

This was meant to be the first Singularities scenario that I had ever written, but that wasn't to be as I had no sign ups. A couple of games had suffered the same fate, the curse of Saturday night, so we dug out my boardgames after grabbing a pint. We started with the new Junta: Viva el Presidente, a reworking of the old classic game Junta. This captured the essence of the sprawling original but plays out in under an hour with very simple mechanics. And sunglasses for El Presidente! It was fun, and I'd like to try again. I was bluffed out of victory by the use of a spy card - rather than attacking my chief rival, I went for the former president who was planning to attack me. Great fun.

After this, Zombicide came out again, with the same scenario. In the time that I spent getting a pint, one of the players from the morning session had taught the others the basics which is a good endorsement of the way that the game works. We played it ruthlessly, had a few hairy moments solved with a Molotov cocktail, and managed to play the scenario out in 90 minutes. The more that I touch this game, the more I like it.

Sunday morning is the slot that I run an collaborative 'indie' style game. In this case, the game had co-creation, but some great conflict between the members of House Atreides. It ended messily, and Thufir Hawat was revealed as the Harkonnen Agent responsible for the fall of House Atreides. Good stuff, especially when the players got stuck in.

Furnace 2012
Raffle time

The raffle went well, with quite a few happy people grabbing games that they wanted when their ticket was drawn out. I was happy that we could keep this, especially as we had dropped the free food on Sunday afternoon as the cost had gone up enough to have forced us to put the con-ticket price up if we'd have kept it. The raffle and free coffee & tea are part of the Furnace experience.

Sunday afternoon brought the second running of the second game I had written for a military sci-fi feel for use in Singularities, featuring 'Houllier's Heroes', a group of Terminator-style bodied cyborgs carrying out a punitive strike against an enemy world. It started slowly, but gradually the players really got into it, grabbing at action. Kudos to Keary for this, as he helped to drive the game from planning into action. I have number of highlights in my head from this including a vicious battle with fusion, gravitational and coherent radiation weapons in the main corridor of a lightchaser STL starship, the commandeering of said ship, and then the manipulation of an entire planetary population through clever social media activities that resulted in total victory for the players!

It was great catching up with friends, although a few people were noticeable by their absence - @tsoilkovsky, @ottomancer and Dr Moose especially. My only regret is the fact I couldn't make it there earlier on Friday night, as there's definitely a social vibe in the pre-con meet-up.

I'm looking forward to Furnace 2013, just have to check how many badges we got back to make sure we don't have to buy more!

Zombicide - Mini Review

Zombicide
A few turns into the game

I decided to give Zombicide another workout earlier this week, as I really enjoyed the potential that the tutorial game suggested. As everyone had gone to bed and the kitchen table was free, it seemed a perfect time to experiment. For the game, I selected the first full scenario in the book City Blocks which uses all the tiles that come in the box. As a single player game I selected four characters from the basic game; Amy the Goth, Wanda the Roller-skating Waitress, Ned the Survivalist and Phil the Policeman. Each has slightly different basic skills and/or equipment, and their development tracks also add variety. For example, Wanda starts with double movement from her skates, while Phil starts with a pistol.

The set up went smoothly, taking about 20 mins as I found and punched the counters needed and aligned all the tiles. Production quality of the pieces and tiles is very good, feeling robust and looking excellent. The injection moulded miniatures are also well detailed and excellent.

The objective of the game was to come out from the starting point in the centre of the board, and then collect the four objective counters from the buildings to the North-East, North-West, South-West and South-East of the board whilst searching for basic supplies (water, rice, canned food). Once these are collected, the characters need to exit from a point at the south-western edge with the supplies.

Complicating matters were 4 zombie spawn points spread around the board. Now zombies want one thing ("brains") which they can only get from the characters. The numbers and types that spawn are determined by a card draw for each point cross referenced with the danger level. Zombies include Walkers (slow but plentiful), Runners (faster but as easy to kill as the Walkers), Fatties (harder to kill and always bringing Walker buddies with them) and the dreaded Abomination, which is nigh-on impossible to kill without a Molotov cocktail.

Danger levels relate directly to the success that your characters are having. If you kill a Walker, a Runner or a Fatty, you gain an experience point, Abominations get you five points, as do taking the objectives. As the experience for each character stacks up they'll eventually cross a threshold into a higher level of danger which gains them skills or extra actions. It also means that the zombies that spawn get nastier, providing an escalation mechanic as the characters succeed. The overall danger level for the game is that of the most experienced character, which provides an incentive to initially spread experience evenly across everyone whilst initial searches for equipment and weapons are going on.

Zombies, once spawned, move towards the largest group of players in sight, or failing that the loudest source of noise (from opening doors, shooting, chainsawing, moving around). This means the game is nicely suited to solo play. I made a few small mistakes initially on this, not noticing that noise in buildings can also draw the zombies in.

Zombicide 3
It pays to be aggressive - it’s not called Zombicide for nothing! Noise counters = weapons use!

One thing I quickly learned was that it pays to be aggressive and carry out 'zombicide'. The game mechanic for turns mean that it is in your interest to make sure no zombies are in your zone at the end of the player's turn, and ideally that adjacent zones are cleared out too (as it is progressively harder to escape the more zombies present). I spent too long in the middle of the game pinned down to the north of the board scared to move lest the survivor's were swamped by the evil dead. I only started making progress once I started being bellicose and carrying out hit and run attacks and gaining ground.

Combat is simple - both melee and ranged weapons work with a mechanic that defines a number of dice to be thrown and the target number to be achieved. Each success is a kill, and zombies are eliminated from weakest first. If you shoot into a zone with a survivor, they take the hits preferentially! A pistol rolls a single d6 with a target of 4+ and damage of 1, while a chainsaw has 5d6 and targets of 5+ with 2 damage. It's good to have a range of weapons from the brutal melee effects of chainsaws and katanas through to the punch of shotguns and SMGs, and the long range power of the rifle, knocking out the enemy before they reach you.

Zombicide 4
Combat brings short relief, as the game escalates based upon your success. More hordes massing!

The escalation in the game, both in threat and character ability, leave you in a position that you always feel threatened. The feeling of respite when you momentarily clear the streets near you is great, only to be faced with more and greater hordes massing as time goes on!

I recommend the game whole-heartedly, and look forward to playing it with friends. Or even solo again. If only Glory to Rome or Eminent Domain were also so suited to solo play, then I'd have tried them already!

Random Holiday Musings

Hope Cove, Early Evening
Hope Cove, South Hams, Devon

I always plan to write a blog entry after I've been on holiday, or even during the holiday. Well, this year I've decided to create a blog by capturing random thoughts and observations over the fortnight. There may be some jumps in continuity, and perhaps a lack of coherence, but I guess it's worth a go. The big challenge will be moving it from my iPad to the blog; I really need to look at Tumblr or Wordpress for my website's blog entries.

Fearless
We took Aidan and Nathan to the beach in Inner Hope the second day that we arrived, which was popular. Two things stood out. Firstly, Aidan was absolutely fearless about the sea and not bothered that it was cold. He's a few months older than Nathan was the first time we came here, and its later in the year, but he went quite deep and two duckings from tripping didn't phase him. I can see that we're going to have to watch him.

Secondly, Nathan actually got stuck in digging when we started on a canal. In previous years I've had to do all the labouring, but he was big enough to use a large spade and that made quite a difference. I also found what would be better described as a mini-spade, or perhaps trenching tool. Metal bladed, wooden shafted but still only just bigger than a large child's spade, it promises to make things a little easier.

9780765331724

Truly Wonderful
I've just finished Jo Walton's superb book Among Others. Set in 1979/1980, it tells the tale of a fifteen year-old twin who has suffered a trauma, loves SF and Fantasy with a passion, and just might be able to do magic. By magic, I mean the old Celtic magics of subtle influence rather than Harry Potter or Dungeon & Dragons style *Magic Missiles*.

If you like SF and Fantasy, and can appreciate growing up in that period (which I guess puts you becoming a teenager somewhen between 1975 and 1985, or maybe more), then this book will bring back nostalgia for the first time that you discovered other authors or people who shared your passion for the genre. Brilliant stuff, and possibly my best read of the year so far.

Pennywell Farm

If you're ever looking for something to do with kids in easy reach of the A38, Pennywell Farm is worth considering. Entry isn't extortionate, nor the food prices (but bear in mind my last experience was Olympics London). It's a petting farm, and has a ride on a train, a tractor ride and a number of other things included in the price (the only extras we saw were pony rides and cash for powered go kart slots). There are lots of small slides, trampolines, picnic tables etc. scattered around, and a wide variety of animals and activities.

Aidan also learned a valuable lesson about why you don't stick fingers into hen cages, ignoring mummy and daddy. He still has all ten fingers and thumbs.

Best Laid Plans

Jill and the boys both in bed asleep by 9pm tonight (13/8). Perfect time to sort out the layout work that I'd wanted to resolve this holiday. Unfortunately, whilst the wireless is up, the internet connection is very much down. Best read a book then!

Wool
I was far too late to bed last night as I got hooked completely by Hugh Howey's *Wool* sequence, which has been released as an omnibus edition on Kindle. It's set in a silo where survivors of a forgotten apocalypse live on, a subtly dystopian society and right up my street after some of the writing that I've done for Wordplay recently. Criminals are sentenced to *cleaning*, made to go out into the toxic wasteland and clean the sensor sets. The title of the sequence is multilayered and not as odd as it may seem at first. I wholeheartedly recommend this, but you may find yourself suffering from the 'one more chapter' problem.

The Other Face
Devon is showing its other face today, with constant rain. Admittedly, it's warm rain, but the beach is out unless we break out the tent and the wetsuits. Jill and Nathan have popped out to Salcombe to look for a present and also do a recce on the swimming pool. Aidan and I just had fun.

Dungeon World
Enjoyed reading the pre-release (and pre-proofing) copy of Dungeon World which I received courtesy of backing the Kickstarter campaign. Loved what I read, but ended up proofing it as it was a PDF and on my iPad. Send it off to the authors, who were happy for the feedback. I'm really looking forward to this being released as it really catches the essence of old school D&D with a modern twist, in a far less crunchy way than Burning Wheel and the more direct D&D derivatives.

Proofing tools
Speaking of proofing, iAnnotate from Branchfire, combined with a Cosmonaut Stylus from Studio Neat, is a great way to proof PDFs on the iPad. The stylus feels like a highlighter and is very accurate, and iAnnotate handles basic PDF annotation really well. I recommend both.

On the Trains
We had our third visit to the South Devon Railway this week, and our second to the Rare Breeds Farm at Totnes (which is at the far end of the line from the start at Buckfastleigh). Both the boys enjoyed this, and Aidan started to show a very independent streak, wanting to walk and go and explore things himself. He was fascinated by ducks, saying "Oh look, duck!" and chasing one of the flocks around their enclosure giggling and going "qwak qwak" at them. He liked the train as well, maybe not quite as much as his brother.

The Farm also has a collection of rescued owls, which fascinated Nathan and gave me flashbacks to the owlet that fell the ground in the garden of the cottage that I stayed at in Devon when I was a child. Naturally, we called him "Plop" after the story The Owl that was Afraid of the Dark.

Tucker's Maltings
Rain was forecast again today, so we looked for another expedition. We wanted somewhere we could be under cover, so settled upon a visit to a working Maltings in Newton Abbot. Of course, when we arrived, the sun came out and was cracking the flags. The site was over a hundred years old, and catered really well for visitors, even 5 year olds like Nathan.

It was very much the industrial process of a century ago, still viable and working. And we got to sample the local brew at the end, which was nice. Nathan was most disappointed that he didn't get beer too! I even managed to put my safety professional head to one side during the visit, which was well organised and the hour passed very quickly. Aidan was less fascinated, but loved the museum at the end where he could run around and touch things.

Afterwards, we had a picnic in the park opposite - not a particularly attractive park, but fresh air and some much needed food to keep the boys quiet.

Are we nearly there yet?
The picnic didn't keep them quiet. Every car journey has been somewhat stressful, ranging from Nathan's question time ("What is there bad like black holes?", "What will happen when the sun dies?", "Mummy, is God dead?", and more) through to manic playing, giggles and squabbles on the back seat. That's the parenting experience, I guess. It's due to turn back to sunny tomorrow, so hopefully we'll be able to get them to burn off some energy on the beach!

My Kind of Traitor
I've started the latest John le Carré novel Our Kind of Traitor, which is deliciously sharp so far, continuing the return to form he has had since Absolute Friends. Something to thank the politics of George W Bush for, I guess, as he fired up le Carré's passion and anger again.

The only dark side I can see came from reading the bio, which made me realise the the author is now 80 and wonder how many more great novels are left for him to write. Many, I hope.

Updated - finished now, and I can recommend it. In common with most of le Carré's work, please don't ready if you expect a happy, Disney-fairy-tale ending.

Grand Day Out

Not quite all day, but most of the afternoon was spent on the beach at Inner Hope, building sandcastles, engineering the surface water outflow route on the sand to create moats and lakes, jumping waves and exploring rock pools. Back home with two exhausted boys, sun-kissed and happy. An incredibly cheap day too, compared to those when it rains!

It was Aidan's first proper day on a beach when he really knew what he was doing. He dug holes, threw sand, paddled in the pools and sea and ran around very excited. He was shattered at bed time!

9780007463244

Missing Opportunities
I think that major publishers don't get digital, and some small press publishers don't see the allure of print. Two examples from this evening follow:

1) Caught up with the Saturday edition of the Guardian, which has an interview with one of my favourite authors (from a young age), Alan Garner. Apparently, he has a new book coming out - always a great thing - called Boneland, which is an adult aimed sequel to his superb Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath. Those books have a special place in my heart as they lit up the Cheshire countryside of my youth, and made Alderley Edge an even more special place for me.

So, I go onto Amazon and pre-order the Kindle edition for release on 30 August. All excited, and knowing my Garner books are currently in storage while the extension goes on, I decide to buy Kindle versions of the first two books. These aren't available, and neither are any others in Garner's back catalogue. The publisher has just failed to make two or more novel sales that duplicate paper copies I already have. Isn't it foreseeable that people may want to buy the first two books electronically as well?!

I had a similar experience with M. John Harrison's Empty Space, the third and concluding book in his Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy). Third book is out electronically, but the first two? Again, this would have been duplicate sales for the publishers.

[Update 9/9/2012 - the second book in Harrison’s trilogy, Nova Swing, is now due out on Kindle at the end of September. Hopefully the first will follow.]

2) Smaller press. I'm reading Graham Walmsley's excellent Stealing Cthulhu, an inspiring revisitation of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Half-way through, I think "it'd be nice to get a copy of Ken Hite's excellent Tour de Lovecraft, which summarises and critiques the original HPL texts. Head to RPGNow, and discover there's no print edition (to complement the PDF I have) available via the Lightning Source POD link. Likewise, nothing on the publisher's site as it is now out of print. Disappointing, as it would be a nice compliment to Walmsley's book. I can get it Kindle… The thing is, it was produced in an age when not having the POD version is completely crazy.

Beach
Great day on the beach yesterday with oodles of sand engineering creating a plethora of castles, lakes and canals. Also had fun with Nathan 'wave jumping'; I hold his hand, he jumps, often with a helping hand from me, sometimes with waves bigger than his head. He gets very excited by this. I did have to take him back in though when he started shivering, no matter his denials that he was okay! He'd tried a body board the day before, even hough he was obviously scared by the idea, and loved it.

Aidan excelled himself by falling asleep, mid-lunch, on top of Jill for an hour and a half's nap!

Rain, rain come again

Loading the car to go was a somewhat damp experience as the heavens opened for the hour and a half that I was packing. As usual, we seem to have more for the return journey than the way here. Anyway, we're away and I'm writing this at the Beachcomber Café at Hope Cove (linked to the Hope and Anchor) where we are spoiling ourselves with a full English before we embark on the seven hour drive(*).

(*) Actually 10 hour in the end due to weather and traffic

Nathan's best bits
Nathan tells me that he "liked the beach because it was really nice and there was lots of shells and there was big waves that you could jump in. Sometimes I needed Daddy if the waves were too big. I liked it a lot because it was the best thing in the world".

A success, I think!

Jill's best bits
Jill's answer to the what was your best bit of the holiday was "The beach, Overbecks and the South Devon Railway, especially the salad at the Rare Breeds Farm".

Aidan's best bits
The beach, and sleeping in a grown up bed.

Continuum 2012: After Action Report

Wordplay - New Hardcover Edition
Wordplay!
So after the general overview of the convention, here are some thoughts on the games that I ran and played in. The comments here are deliberately spoiler-free.

Continuum as whole had a strong flavour of Wordplay for me. I ran two Wordplay scenarios and played another.

1) Wordplay: Singularities "Turing Test"
Run on Friday night, this was the third time that I had run this scenario, the previous sessions having been at Furnace over the last two years. The scenario aims to present a more military espionage style than I usually adopt, in the style of some of Neal Asher or other modern SF. The players are all heavily armoured 'Chines, effectively human brains and spinal cords mounted in a Terminator style armoured chassis. The scenario is full of nastiness and aimed to show that the Singularities Universe is not black and white but somewhat grey and morally ambiguous. I think it succeeded. We had a great bunch of players who were admirably flexible in their approach to a mission that some would find distasteful. They also took a completely different tack to the previous player, one that really paid off towards the end of the game.

One of my highlights was running for Mark Galeotti, author of Mythic Russia, who is also working on a Wordplay engined game called "1510". Mark played the leader of the mercenary unit perfectly. Overall, the game went well, and I think there was enough of a mix of pace and action to keep the interest. One thing that I could kick myself for was using the supporting dice incorrectly, something that Graham Spearing pointed out the next morning when I returned the favour and played Mark's scenario.

Continuum 2012: Wordplay:1510
Wordplay 1510: Left Graham Spearing, Right: Mark Galeotti

2) Wordplay: 1510
The scenario was set in the unique and flavoursome world of sixteenth century Italian clockpunk and espionage that is 1510. It is a fantastic setting and one that I can't wait to get hold of in final form.

Continuum 2012: Wordplay:1510
Venice!

Due to an error, we ended up with eight players rather than the six planned, something that our narrator coped with admireably. I ended up with the character that I secretly wanted when the descriptions were given out (a somewhat out-of-favour priest who dabbled in alchemy) and had great fun thundering on about the perils that our opponent's immortal souls were in should they continue to oppose us. A little over the top, but it worked well after the far-too-late night before. The scenario went well, as we fumbled along trying to carry out an extraction operation in Venice for the glory of Florence. It got messy, but it was great fun with a good bunch of players.

3) Wordplay: Utopia "In a Strange Land"
In the evening, I ran a game from the forthcoming short Wordplay theme I've written called Utopia. This was set in a dystopian SF colony with flavours of Logan's Run, The Island, THX1138 and Big Brother. This was the game that had me most nervous, as I had drafted it for Furnace 2011 but it had not been run in the end. I spent a little of the afternoon amending and updating the plot, as I wanted to avoid too much of a feeling of comedy Paranoia RPG in space with monsters!

I think that I just managed to avoid that, and also managed to give the players a good time. The scenario also identified a few weaknesses in the characters I'd written which need to be written out. Overall, a dark but fun game which preceded another late night chatting.

4) A Taste for Murder
'A Taste for Murder' is the exquisite Agatha Christie style 1930's country house murder game written by Graham Walmsley. It's completely player driven, and so made a great idea for Sunday morning. Between the 5 players and myself we created a very twisted, sordid tale of upper class hedonism and inbreeding. Very much like the first time I ran this at Furnace. It does make me wonder if there is something in the mindset of the average UK player? I didn't run this as such; the best way to put it would be that I acted as a facilitator for the players. We wrapped up a few minutes late, but had a good time. If anything, it reminded me why I don't especially like 3 hour slots.

Continuum 2012: Last Night on Earth
Last Night on Earth: Left Peter Griffiths, Right: Dave Maple

5) Boardgame: Last Night on Earth
I met up with Dave Maple at Continuum, a friend who I first met at the tender age of 18 during my year-out before University working in Cumbria. We'd agreed to play a boardgame or two (after Dave played in my Utopia game) but ended up just playing 'Last Night on Earth' after Newt of d101 Games bamboozled us into a very interesting two hour long ('one hour, honest') panel on game publishing(*) with himself and Neil Gow. Once we left the game, Dave, myself and Peter Griffiths prepared to see who could survive!

Last Night on Earth is a zombie survival game, which was of interest to me as I am waiting to take delivery of the Zombicide Kickstarter. The components were excellent, and I think that it captured the feel of a Zombie Movie really well. Dave took the Zombies while Peter and I cooperated to try and survive. What amused me was that the character I least expected to survive from my initial hand – the Prom Queen – lasted the whole game, most of it trapped in a hanger, but also managed to kill the most zombies. Good fun, and a game I'd happily try again.

Thoughts on Continuum 2012

Continuum 2012
My room is somewhere here!

Good Things

* Look and Feel:
Continuum has a generally leisurely feel, especially the gaps between the gaming slots. Totally different to the frenetic feel of Furnace. I'm actually glad we're trying the longer meal breaks at Furnace 2012, as it was a great opportunity to catch up and get something to eat.

* Balance:
There was a good, balanced choice of games at the convention. Four years ago, the freeform / desktop RPG balance was completely out which resulted in a dearth of games. This time it felt about right, although sometimes the signing up process meant that you would miss the chance to play a game because the sheet went up during a slot when you were GM-ing. I do think that Continuum could consider giving GM's advance sign up rights in a similar way to Furnace to counteract this.

* Standards: The desktop games were of good standard. I especially enjoyed the good Doctor Galeotti's Wordplay: 1510. And the challenge he set me to release Singularities before he releases 1510 in 2013. The players were also great, supportive and getting into the swing of things. I overcame my terror at having a 'great old one' of the UK roleplaying scene (Phil Masters) sign up for my Wordplay: Utopia scenario, and hopefully he enjoyed the the game as much as I did!

* Catch-up: As ever, Continuum gives me a chance to catch up with people I only see on Facebook or via the Internet for two years at a time. That's always a plus. The nature of the convention also means that it's a lot easier to get people to play the games you want to try, but would could never do with your local group because they just want to play Pathfinder (or D&D, or... you get the picture).

* Selling stuff:
The Bring and Buy is brilliant, as it's twice helped me to fund the whole convention attendance and also get brownie-points with the better half as I get rid of some of my older, underplayed or unwanted games.

* Organisers: The openness of the convention committee is a great plus - they are willing to listen to suggestions, and also help out, even if they're meant to be on a break.

* Environment: Although it was warm, the heat seemed much less oppressive this year. Whether it was weather dependent, or whether things had genuinely got better, I'm not sure. All I know is that I didn't melt like I did in 2008!


Opportunities I originally called this 'bad things', but it doesn't warrant that moniker as they are more niggles.

* Wifi access: free WiFi is always a bonus (especially as the venue wipes out Orange and 3's signal) but it was a real pain logging in and out every time a device went to sleep. However, that's more the University's issue rather than the committee's.

* Food prices were deceptive. The food was better than I remember (where was the soggy pizza?) but if you wanted to do something crazy like have some vegetables with your 'sausage and mash' then you really paid for it (green beans for £1!). I sorted this by buying a mound of fruit from Asda which served my Wordplay: Utopia and 'A Taste for Murder' games well.

* Now for the biggy. The Real Ale shortage. Hailing from Yorkshire these days, I was overjoyed that the bar had 'Black Sheep' on, and further satisfied that Timothy Taylor's 'Landlord' followed it on Saturday. And then they ran out. This needs to be sorted in the future.

Finally; to absent friends. Two larger-than-life Continuees were missing; Loz Whittaker and Tom Zunder. Gentlemen, you were missed. I hope to see you return!

Continuum and the Brave Little Boy

So, I'm off to Continuum for the weekend after a hiatus of four years. I'm both excited and full of trepidation. Excited as I'll catch up with friends that I haven't seen in some cases for four years or more, and full of trepidation that the kids will mess around to the point that Jill will want me to come home early, or will be very fraught with the fact that I've been away. I had hoped that we could somehow turn the weekend into some kind of mini-break but it just didn't work out.

I've got three games ready to run, and over a hundred books and games to put into the Bring and Buy sale. Hopefully, most of them will go to save me the pain of putting them onto eBay. I'm booked into another game, Mark Galeotti's *Wordplay: 1510* 'clock punk' scenario, and the rest of the time is open to do as I will.

Nathan and his scooter wounds

Preparation got a bit stressed last night when Nathan came off his new scooter and managed to embed a lot of gravel within his hand. He was not happy with Jill or I trying to take it out so a trip to A&E at Harrogate ensued, with us getting to bed around 1am in the end. It blew the whole evening out, but I did have a nice time with him 'being brave' and playing pretty much every game on my iPad. He's subsequently been wearing his bandage as a proud war wound!

Anyway, I'll try and post some more updates but I'm not going to guarantee anything!

Unleash the OGRE!



OGRE was my first true science-fiction wargaming love. It shares its birth year - 1977 - with Traveller, the granddaddy of science fiction roleplaying. I'm not certain if it was my first wargaming love, but it may have been. I certainly purchased it around the same time that I was reading Charles Grant's seminal 'Battle: Practical Wargaming' from the local library in the sleepy commuter village of Holmes Chapel in Cheshire. I can remember going into the local toyshop - back in the days when the village still had one - and seeing a small selection of Metagaming's pocket wargames and Basic Dungeons & Dragons (the blue book box before the red box). I was so excited.

I can remember buying OGRE - it was a toss up between that and a game called
Chitin, but the tanks won - and starting to save to buy D&D. I'd been tempted towards that as well by the book 'What is Dungeons & Dragons?', a Puffin book written by some public school types that hooked me into the whole idea of roleplaying. I was gutted when it was bought by someone else (unbeknownst to me, my parents for my Christmas present).

One of the other reasons I think I bought it was the fantastic Winchell Chung picture on the front which promised one hell of a fight.

Anyway, OGRE. The principle is simple. A huge, nuclear shell lobbying cybernetic AI tank attacts a Command Post guarded by a mix of hovercraft (GEVs), missile tanks, heavy tanks and infantry. Either the OGRE will die, or the CP will. The game is simple, the sole rules reference being needed is a combat results table combined with the ability to work out odds. I played this game again and again, both solo and with others. Although its very simple, there is enough randomness and strategy variations to make you want to keep coming back for more everytime you play it.

When the game was rereleased around 2000, I bought back in and purchased pretty much everything, except for the second scenario book that I just found out was printed in 2005. The whole game, counters, rules and dice with all the expansions fits nicely into a VCR case. Perfect to take away when travelling. Unfortunately, the arrival of the two boys has meant that it's been neglected for the last 5 years.

I was very excited when Steve Jackson, the author, announced that he was going to be bringing OGRE back in a huge new 6th Edition 'OGRE Designer's Edition'. It's always had a special place in his heart as it was the first game that he designed. When I say huge, the game has a monster box with an estimated weight of around 15 pounds (7 kg) due to the component quality and numbers. Have a look at the box in the video! I was then instantly disappointed when I found that the Kickstarter campaign was going to be US-only, unless some practicable way could be found to ship the package at a reasonable cost. This has since been fixed, but as you can probably guess, shipping that kind of weight air freight isn't cheap. It's around $90 to the UK!

The Kickstarter campaign (a win-win way for the publisher to gauge support) has taken on an OGRE-like approach, massively exceeding the $20,000 initial target and crushing all the stretch goals in sight. What's a stretch goal, you ask? This is when the publisher (or Kickstarter campaign creator) pledges to do extra things in the event that funding reaches certain levels. For example, additional components, better quality product and so on. As I type this, the campaign has broken through $570,000 with 5 days to go.

Isn't it amazing that a 35 year old board game can attract such support? There's a lot of love, excitement and nostalgia driving this.



Interestingly,
Zombicide, another boardgame but a new one, has - in its last 12 hours - just broken the $720,00 barrier having trailed behind OGRE until the end of the week. It's great to see boardgames prospering in our digital media world, powered by a digital campaign system and the buzz on the internet.

Now I just need to find some time to play this kind of thing. Or wait another couple of years for Nathan to be old enough!

--

PS There are missing posts from April, including a rant. They’ll appear in due course.

TravCon 12 Report

This is a short report that I originally prepared for the Tavern about BITS excellent convention, TravCon. Slightly amended.
--

I had a great weekend. Arrived on Friday night fully planning to update the scenario characters from CT and MT to Mongoose Traveller and ended up being persuaded by Tom Z to come and play Striker 2 instead. I suspect that he may have regretted that when his G-Carrier popped up to be hit with a missile under opportunity fire from my hidden hover tank. The G-Carrier made an impressive addition to the swamp it was flying over. I enjoyed the game, even if I did end up being wiped out.

Saturday saw me up early to convert the characters. This was unusual. I normally write new scenarios for Travcon and BITS but this time I decided to run a scenario from Challenge called 'Snowblind' and the classic White Dwarf scenario 'Tower Trouble'. I am also usually more prepared. It was also amusing when I got a text from the con team at 08:55 checking I was okay to run when I'd been up since 07:15!

I spent the morning running the game, and the players seemed to enjoy it even if the ending was somewhat anti-climatic (in the sense we all agreed to narrate the big show piece combat rather than play it out). The scenario also reminded me how long starship combat takes - but it was kind of fun.

Saturday afternoon was one of my highlights. I had a quick trip to the pub with a number of old friends for some food, and then went and played Tim Collinson's excellent 'Signs and Portents'. This was the first con scenario he had run and was truly awesome. Absolute classic Traveller style and a rare gem in being a science based scenario with lots of human interest. It was a scout mission to carry out an in-depth survey. This is one I anticipate that BITS will publish. The draft copy that Tim had went in the charity auction and made £70 for 'Help for Heroes'.

Saturday evening I cried out of games to complete the characters for the game the next day. This meant I skulked in the bar with a laptop and access to the real ale brought to the con by Derrick Jones (Continuum - you should get this man to come and visit!). After I finished the game we played Mag*Blast (the annual BITS championship in which Andy Lilly - BITS director - was destroyed first and me soon after) which ended up being the longest game ever. We also played Star Fluxx which was a great variant on (duh) Fluxx and a group tried out my copy of 'The Stars are Right' which had been gathering dust on my shelf for far too long.

Sunday morning was more leisurely and I ran Tower Trouble. It's a Marcus L Rowland heist scenario built around raiding an orbital tower. The team included the Guvnor (a transport expert) and a number of others who decided to avoid the main thrust of the scenario (stop the shuttle car on the beanstalk) and instead hack and do a really clever heist that involved a cargo switch at the down port terminal. Brilliantly done, but I hope it wasn't too much of an anti-climax. It was also the second scenario at a Travcon when the players have planned their approach with a flip chart!!!

Sadly, it was time for the awards ("Starburst for Extreme Heroism" and "Ping F**k It!") and auction which went well and then the con ended and I spent the next 125 miles running up the A1 away from the grim cold wet and snow South to the sunny North.

A great weekend, all in all.

Lego Star Wars Battles

photo 1
Team Nathan, Rebel

photo 2
Team Daddy, Imperials

I bought Nathan some Star Wars Lego after we watched Episodes I to III. He also saw IV a while ago. I was chuffed when he wanted the Episode V Empire Strikes Back stuff.

Anyway, I wrote a quick and dirty war-game he seems to like. Very much a work in progress but you can find it here.

Naturally, he wiped me out, both games we’ve played so far!

Happy New Year.

Welcome to the future...

singularities page
I’ve just brought live the webpage for the RPG that I’ve been working on, called Singularities. Hopefully, it will be ready to go to print by the end of the year. Not much there yet, but it will develop.

Singularities RPG

It’s a hard SF veneered universe using the very playable Wordplay engine.

Tactile Sword and Sworcery

Audience Calibration Procedure from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery on Vimeo.


First of all, I'd like to confirm to the many of you that have asked that I haven't bought a new iPad 2. Yes, it'd be really nice - and I recommend it wholeheartedly - but I think I'll wait at least another generation before I replace mine which is still giving me lots of pleasure and utility. I don't have the urge to spend that kind of money when Jill is on maternity leave.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@dommooney) or Facebook will know that I recently discovered Sworcery, which is giving lots of enjoyment. If you have an iPad (and soon iPhone / iPod Touch) it's worth having a look at. It's an old style cryptic and fun adventure with a great soundtrack, and integration to Twitter.

I did indulge myself by changing the case for a Scosche FoldIO case, mainly because I was sick of the dirt trap that the Apple case was around the screen. The FoldIO doesn't have that trap and has the feeling the iPad is floating in the case. The only downside I that I now find myself stroking the iPad as the lovely aluminium finish is exposed. So long as I don't start mumbling 'My Precious' then I guess I'll be alright!

Murder Most Foul!

screenshot_01

I went away with work for two days this week - you'll be glad that's peripheral to the entry here - and was surprised when our evening meal had a murder mystery as entertainment and team building. Naturally, I soon ended up like a pig in muck. The session was much more like roleplaying than I've seen before in such events, with eight or so actors in character the whole evening.

Mainly between myself and one of the other team members we cracked the mystery, to the point the team running it thought that they'd left a script around for a bit. All I can say is never trust the quiet ones, they could be the triple murderer!

I also wholeheartedly recommend Murder One if you want to put this kind of event on; very professional, great character acting and interaction and good plot and props.

The New Old School

Dragon Age

I've just had a great afternoon at TomCon, Tom Zunder's monthly gaming meet, playing a roleplaying game called 'Dragon Age'. The game has a dark fantasy setting which was taken from Bioware's computer roleplaying game of the same name, which itself was inspired by the grandaddy of all RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

I first played D&D back around 1983 when I went to secondary school, using the blue book basic set (these details are important to gaming nerds) and spent a fair bit of time exploring settings such as 'The Keep on the Borderlands'. In truth, although I loved fantasy, and played more than my fair share of D&D and later Advanced D&D, as a system it never really inspired me. I soon moved on when I discovered games like the Lovecraftian 'Call of Cthulhu', the science-fiction of 'Traveller' and the dark fantasy of Chaosium's 'Stormbringer' RPG. However, memories of D&D are cherished, and occasionally lead to me having a look at the classic dungeon setting and getting a pining urge.

Dragon Age does a great job of scratching that urge. It has a very simple core mechanic (roll 3 six sided dice, or 3d6 to gamers to hit a target number, rolling doubles gets you benefits called stunts) and a smooth and slickly designed system. It's a world apart from the kludge of the D&D engine, but at the same time it's very much the same world. The system, rules, whatever you may want to call them, is mostly unobtrusive and fades away. You don't need to remember lots of special rules. It's quite elegant.

Anyway, Graham ran an excellent fun game based around an expanded version of the introductory adventure in the book, and we all rolled with the old school vibe. It was like a return to being 12 again. We roleplayed more than we did then, but we also grabbed hold hard of the kick the door down, kill the monster, steal the treasure and rescue the damsel vibe of early D&D.

I played a warrior with a distrust of elves (2 of the group were playing elves and the scenario involves them too) and split my time between stirring up trouble and participating in a Lord of the Rings Movie inspired body count contest with Jag, who had the other warrior, a barbarian fighter. It was great fun, and a wonderful stress release from real life. I think it's the first game I've managed since October 2010, at Furnace. I think the telling thing is that I'd love to do it all again! Dragon Age is certainly worth a look!

Wordplay Core - New Edition

Wordplay Core - New Edition

Over the last few years, I’ve been quite heavily involved in the development of Wordplay, Graham Spearing’s excellent multi-genre roleplaying game. I used the first edition as a way to learn how to use Adobe InDesign CS4, and was very proud of it. The original core book was withdrawn from sale when Graham was offered a deal to publish it by a bigger publisher, but unfortunately it fell through after a year of inactivity.

The torch was (meanwhile) carried by Newt Newport of d101 Games, who put the original big book version into print with four settings in it. He’s also got a line of support coming through at the moment. Buy some of his books, you’ll like them!

Anyway, the rights reverted to Graham, and we’ve taken the opportunity to update the text to reflect further playtests and tweaks done for the now-cancelled edition. The cover was also completely refreshed, with an excellent design by Steff Worthington. The copy above is the proof, which only took 2 days to come to us from Lulu which was very impressive. A few minor tweaks needed (that’s why you proof) and it’ll be back on sale, which is great news.

Wordplay is the engine I am using for the Singularities RPG.

Ken MacLeod revisited

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I've been revisiting one of my favourite authors, Ken MacLeod, by rereading his first set of novels (apparently now know as the ‘Fall Revolution Series’ ). I started with 'The Star Fraction' over Christmas, and have just finished 'The Stone Canal'. As well as being good SF, the novels are interesting in that each subsequent story changes to the perspective of another group or person in the previous novel. I was surprised to discover how much the themes has subconsciously influenced the writing of my forthcoming SF RPG, Singularities. I recommend these books - not your typical SF.

Speaking of which, I have had a proof for the cover of that book below, which should be ready later in 2011. It was produced by the very talented Steff Worthington (contact details on request).

Draft cover for Singularities RPG

Reality crashes in - Vignettes.

Aidan Watching
This is less of a coherent entry, more a set of vignettes on life this last week!

Tuesday morning I had the joy of the Part A NEBOSH Diploma exam. This relates to half of the course (3 full weeks) and covers health & safety law and management systems. Pretty challenging on 2.5 hours sleep (both Nathan and Aidan to blame) but I'm pretty certain that I passed. A couple of the questions were gifts, as they were close to stuff I do at work, but I'll have to wait to mid-April to find out.

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Wednesday was back-to-work day; fortunately, my team had things pretty much in hand, but after the best part of 3 weeks out of the loop, a lot of time got spent talking to people and catching up, plus being asked about Aidan and the exam!

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Smiling
Jill and I both went to Nursery together on two nights this week to collect Nathan, and took Aidan. Partly as a surprise to Nathan, partly to give Jill some time out of the house. There was much cooing over Aidan by staff and kids. Nathan is loving being back, and spent his first day with his friends mostly holding hands and playing with the little girl who has been his best friend all the way through nursery. I think there's potential heartbreak there as they're going to different schools in September!

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Swimming with Daddy
Saturday was Nathan's first swimming session with Water Babies for a long time and he had to put up with me for perhaps the third time in nearly 4 years. We both had a great time; although officially the same level as the previous class that he was doing with a different teacher it's clear that he was not being taught correctly and chunks of things that should have been being covered weren't. We'd suspected this when we had a reserve teacher a few times, but it was confirmed in the session. It was much better and we should have this level for the whole of his last ten weeks. Nathan was a little trooper and got stuck in even though there was much more splashing than he was used too. He's never been a big fan of this.

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Aidan is being a little champion; he had one night and day when all he wanted to do was feed, which was hard on Jill especially, but generally he's wanting bigger gaps between feeds than Nathan did. He's already changed facially, and is really long and lean. The long legs present a challenge, as many sleep suits assume tubby babies with short legs! Nathan’s being a sweetie and trying to help us as much as possible, even with nappies!

Experimenting

screenshot_03

I’ve been working on a Science Fiction Roleplaying game for the last few years that uses the Wordplay RPG engine. This is a mock up of the website for it that I was playing with. Not the final version, but on the way...

Where there is Discord: 3 Days in May.

I recently bought myself a copy of "Where there is Discord", a board wargame of the Falklands War in 1982. It's a gorgeously made game (I videoed the components as I unboxed it so you can see it for yourself on YouTube if you like) and operates at a number of levels. You have the political game (you can lose by having Domestic Opinion turn against you and can have your capability seriously degraded if you lose International Support), a strategic game where you decide how fast to approach the Falklands (which determines how long the task force is in harms way), and the tactical game where you try to fend off Argentinian attacks.

The game is a solo one, and assumes that you take the side of the British forces. It is ideal for a gamer who doesn't get that much of a chance to play. As a final nice touch, the designers are donating the profits to the veteran's organisations in both Argentina and the UK.

Anyway, having looked at it for two days I finally cracked and set it up for a few turns play once Jill & Nathan had gone to sleep. It had to be set up and taken down in the same session, as we'd need a house extension to accommodate the board. Or rather, we'd need the dining room table that we got rid of once Nathan arrived to make more space.

Each turn takes a full day in the scenario, which runs across the whole of May. Initial set up took perhaps 30 minutes, and the game materials are well written so I'm certain that you could be playing turns very quickly once you get more used to it.

I deliberately pushed the Task Force towards harm's way, just to see what would happen.

The 1st of May was a grey day in the South Atlantic, but immediately, Margaret Thatcher was put on the spot by the Chilean Government who were supporting the UK with intelligence. They reminded us that we had committed to transfer an RN warship to them in the immediate future. The choice was to offend an ally, or lose a ship from the reinforcements due later in the month. I took the decision to hand the ship over as the intelligence was important, and I didn't want to be losing international opinion easily.

Beyond choosing the arrangement of the task force (with a CAP and a vessel screening in all of the quarters), little happened militarily beyond
HMS Spartan getting a brief sonar suggestion that the Argentinian Submarine Santa Fe was in coastal waters out of port. More disquieting was the fact that the Argentinian Task Force with the Belgrano was readying for sea.

The next day started with trouble at home; news of planned cuts at Devonport had been leaked and the dock crews which had worked 24 hours a day to get the task force out went on strike. Never one to back down, Mrs Thatcher's resoluteness (and absolute determination to preserve domestic opinion) cost another vessel being ready in the time frame of the game. There was no significant action at all that day, as neither the Argentinian airforce or navy left port due to the misty weather prevalent at the time.

The 3rd May 1982 was more dramatic. News broke of the possibility that there may be nuclear devices present in the task force, which posed a potential risk if conflict broke out. The MoD issued a 'refuse to confirm or deny' statement out, and the decision was taken not to transfer the nuclear devices out from the task force, as this could take some of the vessels off station for up to 4 days. Realistically, this could have been done as it was early days, but with the
SS Canberra full of troops from the Royal Marines and Paras it was decided not to risk it with the knowledge it could bite us if a ship with nukes was sunk in the combat. But this was the Royal Navy, for goodness sake, fighting a second rate dictator's Navy so it was decided to brazen things out.

This nearly went pear-shaped straight away. Although the Argentine Navy continued to stay home, the improvement in the weather back towards the grey skies of the 1st day of the campaign resulted in an initial probing attack by 2 Canberra Bombers operating from the base at Trelew. The Task Force had early intelligence from an SAS team observing the airport, and from the Chilean Government and a further 3 Sea Harriers were scrambled to join the six already deployed in the CAP. These provided cover in all the outlying sectors and over the main task force itself. Unfortunately, the old, slow, Canberra's tried to maximise their survival chance by circling around the fleet, attacking from the east instead of the more likely west. As the Nimrod operating out of Ascension Island didn't detect the raid, the airborne defence was spread thinly rather than focussed.

The two bombers approached the Type 21 frigate
HMS Alacrity, which was on a lonely patrol to the east of the main task force. The lone Sea Harrier attacked the incoming raiders, shooting one down, but the other pressed its advantage. The Alacrity tracked in the raider, impotent to do anything until it reached 10 miles of range, at which point it fired Sea Cat missiles at it, which unfortunately missed. Emergency evasive manoeuvres were instigated, resulting in the bombs from the Canberra exploding in the sea some distance from the Alacrity. A sigh of relief went up as the Task Force survived its first serious challenge. I wrapped the game up there.

The tension when the airstrike came in was fantastic; even though I knew statistically that it would run into a wall of Harriers and Missiles if it came the most likely route (it didn't) I was nervous, as any aircraft getting through and hitting will knock a ship out. In the end, the attack blindsided me and I was fortunate that it was only Canberras (with a less than 10% chance of a hit) that came in. Your mind races ahead when the rolls go against you, and I was thinking especially about the nuclear decision I'd made earlier. However, that decision, if taken the other way, would probably have meant that I had no naval cover in this outer sector and the attack would have hit the main task force.

I love the way the different levels of the game interact, and hope to find the space to set this up and play a full game rather than an hour or so noodling around.

Game Plan 2010

It’s a tradition on some the BBS boards that I frequent related to gaming to post plans for the next year, kind of a New Year’s resolution. This is my take on that challenge. I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible this year as I think that 2009 was overly ambitious and doomed to failure from the start!

Writing:
*Complete "This Fear of Gods" for Traveller, a scenario I've been playing with since Furnace 2006!
*Rewrite "Singularities" into a full setting for Wordplay (which means doubling or tripling its size).
*Several other Wordplay related projects that I have bubbling in the background.
*Get "Power Projection: Reinforcements" off the ground after far too long in development, probably by some initial PDF releases.

Playing:
*Attend more TomCons (ideally run Doctor Who, Wordplay and maybe some indie fun stuff)
*Get another block games day together
*Try and run something by Skype again.

Conventions:
*Travcon, Continuum and Furnace as a minimum.

Blocks Galore!

Richard III
The Richard III Board

I spent the last afternoon of 2009 playing some of the Columbia Blockgames that I've acquired over the last few years with Tom, Matt and Simon. I took the whole suite of the games with the 'Hammer of the Scots' engine down with me; being 'Hammer of the Scots', 'Richard III', 'Crusader Rex' and 'Athens and Sparta'. The games are called 'blockgames' because each side's forces are on coloured wooden blocks, which have a sticker on detailing the unit. The blocks are arranged so the other player cannot see the details, a bit like 'Stratego', and their orientation indicates the strength of the block. The actual forces in a battle are only revealed when they make contact.

After some discussion, we set upon 'Richard III' and 'Crusader Rex' to play, simulations of the Wars of the Roses and the Third Crusade respectively. Tom played Simon in the battle between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Tom had the Lancastrians and Simon the Yorkists. I faced off Matt as the Franks, led by King Guy of Jerusalem, and Matt lead the Saracens with Saladin front and centre.

Both games went very well; the fog of war effect is fantastic (you can't see the exact piece or strength of enemy pieces until you engage them) and often leaves both players feeling that they are losing. In the pictures here you can see the view from either side of the Crusader Rex board.

Crusader Rex: the Frank view
The view from my side of the board.

I had my head comprehensively handed to me on a plate by Matt, all respect due, after I forgot one of the key strategic objectives of the game for a turn. Crusader Rex hangs around the control of seven key cities/areas in the Holy Land; Damascus, Aleppo, Antioch, Acre, Jerusalem, Tripoli and Egypt. The Franks start with 4 areas and the Saracens with 3. Victory conditions are either to hold the majority of the cities at the end of the last turn or 'sudden death' victory by gaining control of all 7 cities. It was the latter which undid the Frank's campaign.

Crusader Rex: the Saracen View
The view from Matt’s side of the board

When Crusader Rex first came out, it was heavily criticised as being unbalanced in favour of the Saracens. However, the rules have since been amended, and the whole game feels finely balanced. Among the key things I learnt from playing were that storming fortified cities or castles was a very costly experience, even with large numbers of attackers. I guess that history reflects this. The Frank Knight's Charge is devastating when used, but can be self destructive with bad rolls or the addictive feel of throwing large numbers of dice takes control. The Crusader forces need to try and catch the Saracens on the field, or the losses in combat against fortified cities will completely undermine their long term survival.

As the Frankish forces, you feel really exposed for the first few game years (each of which have 6 turns), as you constantly lose forces against the huge numbers of Saracens deployed at the start. I ended up clustering around some of the cities and locating some forces on key communication routes to stop a Saracen advance. However, this left the forces effectively pinned, with the Saracen forces able to mass and overwhelm the less strong enclaves at will. Slowly, my long, thin, defensive line was broken, with little clusters of orange blocks surrounded by green.

The only bright spot on the horizon was the slow massing of Crusader forces from France, England and Germany, a growing threat which Matt was also very aware of. I thought the game was swinging back into my favour when Richard the Lionheart landed, with the Germans ready close behind, an event that coincided with the Saracens forgetting that the winter turn was next and failing to disperse forces to areas that could support them through the winter months, thus losing large numbers of units including Saladin himself.

Unfortunately, that's when I made my big stupid mistake. I moved my massed forces from Acre and the surrounding roads to try to retake Jerusalem. The initial storming attempt failed to break the Saracens, so I settled in for a siege. At that point Matt launched a counter attack at the now weakened port of Acre, taking the city. Foolishly, I had failed to notice this was the last city in my control (as I was just about to launch big attacks on three others), and I lost the game!

I really enjoyed the experience, and would love to play again. The feeling was the same from all the other players. We can wholeheartedly recommend the Columbia Blockgame Experience.

Out of the Furnace

A You-Tube video I pulled together using the Flip Video Camcorder at Furnace 2009. Very Vox-Pop; perhaps I should have edited myself out?



I’m pleased with the outcome, although it could do with a little space either side of each cut. The editing was done with the Flipshare software.

Furnace 2009 After Con Report

Last weekend, I went to Furnace 2009, a roleplaying convention held at the Garrison Hotel in Hillsborough, in Sheffield. Furnace has rapidly become my favourite convention for a number of reasons, not least of which is that "It's all about the games".

But surely all gaming conventions are "all about the games", you ask? Well, the honest answer is no – and yes. Each con has its very own focus and uniqueness. Continuum always had a strong Gloranthan and Freeform vibe, Dragonmeet a strong games market feel and so on. So why is Furnace unique? I can't put my finger on it exactly; maybe it's about the setting (the old Garrison building, effectively a castle, with games run in former cells and armouries, or maybe its because the pretension that plagues other conventions is missing. At Furnace, D&D 4th edition rubs shoulders with the Collective Indie chic, the "Fast! Fun! Furious!" ethic of Savage Worlds and the ever-elegant grace of one of my former loves, d100/BRP.

I've been to every Furnace so far (since 2006) and this was perhaps my best. So, what did I do?

I nervously looked at a real copy of Graham Spearings' Wordplay, the game I did the layout for, and watched it sell well over the weekend. As anyone involved in the creation of things such as this will know, I also grimaced at the (fortunately very few) glitches in the book. But it was a real buzz to see a real game I'd turned from an OpenOffice file into an actual book with the help of Lulu.

I always miss the first session, and use it as a chance to catch up with people. I'd hoped to meet John Ossoway and discuss his forthcoming SF RPG River of Heaven, but unfortunately events conspired to prevent him coming to the convention. I had a good natter with Tom Zunder, and a few others, visited the Patriot Games and other stands, and made a bee-line to go and pick up a copy of "Beat to Quarters", Neil Gow's excellent Napoleonic Naval RPG. Absolutely lovely, and I hope that he forgives me for the later atrocity. So that was Slot 1, ended with a trip to Morrisons for supplies.

Slot 2 on Saturday afternoon saw me run my first game, a Wordplay engined SF adventure in the Singularities universe I've developed for the forthcoming deluxe version of the core rules. I'd run the adventure once before, at a TomCon, and the story evolved in much the same way as before. Most amusing point was when two of the players who had played at TomCon tried to sign up before they released that this was, in fact, the previously unnamed scenario that they'd previously played. Nanotech swarms, Duplicitous AIs and STL starships combined with a hick frontier world intent on celebrating the arrival of the first starship in nearly 40 years to create carnage. One of the players has subsequently described it as "Dallas meets hard SF". I was a bit worried that some of the players were getting lost, as the game is heavily influenced by Banks, Asher, Stross, Reynolds and more and if you haven't read the new wave of British SF it can be a shock to the system, but everyone seemed to have a good time. The one thing I'm still not satisfied with is the new take of the variant scale rules for Wordplay I was testing, but it was a lot closer to what I wanted to achieve than the first playtest.

Saturday evening, Slot 3, saw me make a grown man call for help. Neil Gow had foolishly decided to set a game of "Beat to Quarters" on the Irish Rover (of Pogues song fame) and he got everything he had hoped (or feared). The plot ranged widely, with missions from God, the whale-with-the-grail, drinking, wenching, a wide sargasso sea, sea monsters, shipwrecked pirates (from the Dutch Antilles) and a huge volcano, but the Irish Rover broke with the tradition of the song and made it to New York. One of the amusing parts for me was the way my character ("Johnny McGurk") was picked on by Mick's ("Malone") and a bitter rivalry erupted, to the point that my character had the personal objective to make sure Malone looked like a fool. In the end, he was transformed into the Goat Captain! I loved this game; Neil handled it just right, but I think he was horrified with the monster he created. So that was my one chance to play a game and it was brilliant, a definite high spot. It also convinced me about the "Duty and Honour" and "Beat to Quarters" rules mechanics, which handled everything that could be thrown at them and more. I look forward to the special supplement that Neil must be duty bound to create.

I headed back to my hosts house, and Tom and Nathan and I stayed up a little longer drinking tea and eating scones and putting the gaming world to rights.

Sunday dawned almost too early, but in reality it was a lie in for me. Slot 4 saw my now-traditional Indie-special. I ran "Wilderness of Mirrors" by John Wick, which is tagged as a 'better spy game". It has some interesting tricks, including handling the core of plot development over to the players, and a clever mechanic to reduce their chance to succeed as time goes on. Highlights of this include one of the players using a special ability of his character to finish off another character (brutal but oh, so clever) and the horror of the players about the plot that they created. Certainly, by the end of the game I wasn't sure if the characters were actually worse than the terrorists that their spies were after. I'd like to run this again, perhaps at a TomCon.

Slot 5 on Sunday afternoon was the game I'd put the most preparation into: Runepunk: Broken Dreams, a Savage Worlds game. This was set in the Runepunk setting, and was the sandbox scenario from the DarkSummer Nights supplement loaded with accelerant and handouts. The setting is a Neo-Victorian Metropolis dominated by magic and steam power science, with a very definite vibe. The most clear analogies in fiction are Mieville's Perdido Street Station and In Viroconium by M John Harrison. Lovely stuff. The scenario is rich and layered, and I was worried that the players may have got bogged down. But they didn't, and they ran a tight investigation which got to the right answer. We finished 25 minutes early; had we had 45 minutes, we'd have got to the final denouement, but the characters actually completed the mission that they had been set. The final twist was that they managed to play Savage Worlds for nearly four hours without a combat, which is a first for me for that particularly crunchy skirmish based system, yet seemed to really enjoy the game. I also enjoyed riffing with some of the players in character.

Sadly, the whole convention soon wrapped up after this, and I headed home, managing to get back before Jill and Nathan who had gone across the Pennines for the weekend. I had a great time, and I can't wait until next year's Furnace to be back again!

Casual (Computer) Gaming

Tom Zunder has posted an interesting article on his blog about what the games are that he like to play casually to loose some time. At the end, he challenged us to respond with our equivalents, so here goes.



1. Brainpipe.
Currently top of my pops, Shrapnel Games’ Brainpipe is very strangely addictive. The blurb in the link describes it as “an addictive endurance run” game. It has no violence, except if you crash as you travel through the pipes in the game which will eventually finish you off. It reminds me very much of Tempest 2000 without the shooting, and much more trippy music rather than thundering techno-beats. It is available for Windows and Mac OS X, and has a playable demo. It’s only $15 if you do get hooked.


2. Defcon.
If you grew up at the end of the Cold War in the 1980s and early 1990s, then Defcon will have a strange attraction to you. Ambrosia software have produced a game of mutually assured destruction which is strangely hypnotic and addictive. It supports network play if you register the game, but I quite like the demo version which lets you play against the AI. You build and position your forces, and then decide when and if to attack. Obviously, a multiplayer game allows for alliances and doublecrossing. It’s Mac only, and $25 if you want to register for the full game.



3. Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space
For my third choice, I return to Shrapnel Games and the Digital Eel team. Weird Worlds lets you play out a complete space quest in around 30 minutes, and is wonderfully addictive. You are either a merchant, an explorer or a military commander on a mission to explore space and find as many treasures as possible. The only part which doesn’t seem to be very survivable – aside from flying into a black hole – is combat, but if you’re smart you’ll avoid this. Great fun. Again, there is a playable demo you can download, but it’ll cost $25 for the full version.

That’s my three, what are yours?


Singularities: my latest writing baby.

Mick up cover
Background Image is (Creative Commons), references by clicking on it.

On Friday night I completed the first draft of my theme, Singularities, for Graham Spearing's excellent Wordplay RPG. It weighed in slightly longer than planned at 15,000 words rather than 10,000 but I'm really pleased with the outcome. Graham has sent it to the editor with the rest of the book, rather than asking for a cut in length, and I await the outcome somewhat nervously.

I've got some reasonably ambitious plans for this if it survives playtest and proves popular, as I'd like to publish it as a standalone game. This means some more playtesting and writing later in the year, after I've done the layout work for the core book for Graham. The picture above is a mock up idea for a standalone game cover.

I am a Storyteller Gamer

According to Robin Law's quiz, I am a storyteller gamer...

Indie Mix

I recently posted on the Tavern about a bunch of Indie games I bought recently:

I've read Hero's Banner now, and it does what it says on the tin pretty well ('the fury of free will'). As a game it focuses on three motivators for your character - Blood (ties), Conscience and Hero (influences) - and then has a game mechanic where you are forced to use one of the influences to resolve conflicts.

The game engine is a percentile driven one that looks more complicated in the text than it is, thanks to the inclusion of histograms.(*) It inherently drives your character to having one of the three passions dominate. Connections can come into it too, potentially slowing the slide to the endgame. Once a passion hits 100%, you get to narrate what happens to your character until they die, as they have made their choice.

The cute thing about the game is that it then 'does a Pendragon' and the next generation of heroes have to choose a heroic influence based upon the previous generation of characters. It's a nice idea, and helps make a simple game stand-out.

(*)This is a classic case of a good explanation which threatens to put off by looking far more complicated than it is. I guess I should also mention that I found the authorial voice intrusive in this game, and far too florid for what is, in reality a set of rules mechanics with a single short chapter of background. However, as a whole it overcomes this.

I then read The Princes' Kingdom, which is basically Dogs in the Vineyard done with kids adventuring around their father's demesne, an Island Kingdom. It's a nice take, and I'd quite like to try it some time. Like DitV, it uses a bidding and fallout system based on dice, which looks quite fun in itself. You could play it with older kids, or you could play it with adults equally successfully.

Faery's Tale was next. This is a lovely game, with a d6 dice pool mechanic (evens are successes, 6 gives an extra roll) set in the classic fairy tale literature. The layout is a bit of a mess; it almost gets there but manages to look to busy and disordered. This is a real shame as the artwork is some of the best B&W work I've seen since Pendragon 1st Ed.

The whole game engine is really simple, and it focusses nicely on the narrative. It'd definitely work for younger kids and adults who'd like a whimsical and traditional feeling take on the Fairy Tale worlds.

(If I'm seeming critical on layout and tone, it's because I'm taking note at the moment as Wordplay heads towards layout!)

Gazing at the Embers

Well, Furnace has been and gone and I really enjoyed myself. Highlights as follows:

* The way the players really ran with the whole 1950s B-Movie SF in the Savage Worlds game. Andy's character's attitude to humans (who are obviously beneath contempt!) and the big robot's approach were absolutely sweet and really a pleasure to GM for.

* The
Mythic Russia game, where I accidentally ended up with the Ice-Queen over-achieving feminist noble envoy and it was such fun! Mark Galeotti had a fun murder mystery with Pagan / Russian Orthodox Church clashes and I had a great opportunity to be really pushy and stroppy. The game had drama, hilarity and some dark moments too!

*
Sufficiently Advanced let me have the fun of watching very high tech Sf play with the heads of the players again. The game was as much fun as the first time I ran it, and probably had one of the most epic results of any that I've run (15 star-systems sent nova to prevent an Alien Inhibitor menace!). This was so not-Traveller it was untrue.

* "The Fall of House Atreides", my
Conspiracy of Shadows game had me breaking into a cold sweat when one of the players pulled out The Dune Encyclopedia, only for me to find they just wanted to remind themselves of a detail on their characters.

* The fact that the game had Paul Atreides as the traitor. Having had Jessica in the same position in the first game at Continuum, I was pretty shocked at another core member of the family being the main threat again.

* It was also cool that a number of the player who tried my
Conspiracy of Shadows game last Furnace came back again form more. I hope they enjoyed it.

* Playing
Wordplay again, this time in the Faded Suns SF universe. I enjoyed this, but ended up with another pushy noble whom I inflicted on the rest of the gaming table. Good fun, but in some ways I preferred the Conan games I tried previously, probably because they were much more fresh to me as I've read a lot of Faded Suns before.

* Having a good natter with Mark Galeotti, who I have great respect for as a gamer, author and general media tart on programmes like Today and PM.

* Neil Gow's excellent '
Duty and Honour'. Respect is due! He has set a bench mark for the layout of Wordplay.

I had a great time and can't wait until 2009's Furnace!

Furnace 2008

Furnace 2008 is tomorrow in Sheffield, and I'm looking forward to it immensely. I'm running three games, and just have the final read through left for the last one now. It's one of the most game-centric conventions I've been to and I've enjoyed the previous two iterations.

I'm running a somewhat varied mix of scenarios; a B-Movie 1950's Sci-Fi game for
Savage Worlds, a re-run of the Sufficiently Advanced game at Tom's the other week, and a re-run of the Conspiracy of Shadows 'Fall of House Atreides' Dune based game I ran at Continuum in August.

Should be fun.

Random Musings

Been a strange few days, with Nathan 'suffering' from Chicken Pox, and me adjusting to Jill not working at the same place as me for the first time since we started going out. I've also had some time to consider the gaming session which I had just over a week ago, which was good.

Firstly, Nathan. In some ways, aside from a few small spots, you'd never know he was unwell. He's been a riot of energy today, and Jill was quite worn out tonight when I got home. The picture below is during a short walk we took him on to get some fresh air as he was getting frustrated being cooped up. You'd never know he had the lurgy...

Cheeky!

Hopefully, he'll be back up to normal soon.

Jill not being at work is taking a bit of getting used to. I expected it to be strange, but I'm missing the company at lunch. Got pretty annoyed at the weekend, as I got called by someone from work with questions about stuff I haven't done in four years. Thing is, it was Jill's remit before we restructured and I think it was pretty insensitive and out of line to be making that kind of call. Anyway, I helped as graciously as I could and discussed it with the individual involved today, putting across my feelings and pointing out that there are other people in place to handle that kind of call. I hope that is now sorted.

We're just working our way through the fourth season of the new Battlestar Galactica. The problem is that, thanks to the US Writer's strike, the series ends at episode 10, and we've probably got another year to wait until we see the last 15 episodes. Quite frustrating really.

I mentioned running Sufficiently Advanced at TomCon September 2008. It was very different, and great fun. I've decided to do it again at Furnace later this month. It was strange to have a game which started to shift into a philosophical debate more than an action adventure, but I think that's very reflective of the best hard SF, which the game is meant to feel like stylistically.

I'm also being very impressed with Slipstream at the moment. This is a plot-point campaign for Savage Worlds, which is one of my favourite crunchy systems at the moment, and is a pure Flash Gordon serial style fun, and a total contrast to Traveller or Sufficiently Advanced! I also read Greg Stolze's Film Noir RPG, A Dirty World, which finally delivers something with the ORE system that I want to play, unlike Reign.

On a final note, I've really been enjoying listening to Fish's latest album, 13th Star, over the last few weeks. It is definitely a return to form, and possibly his best since Suits or Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. I'm also getting excited that Happiness is the Road, the 15th Marillion album, is due in the next fortnight. Can't wait for my pre-order!

Currently feeling: Relaxed
Currently listening to: Flash Gordon (Queen) Blame Slipstream!.
Currently reading: The Second Book of Lankhmar (Fritz Leiber) & Slipstream (RPGs).

Continuum - Day 3 and After Con thoughts

Sunday really made my time at Continuum. Firstly, I got to play in games rather than referee them twice, which was great because that's why I go to Continuum. Secondly, I managed to sell most of the pile of stuff I had ready to eBay in the Bring and Buy sale. Sure, it may not have reached the prices that eBay may command, but I got a reasonable return on it all and recovered a lot of time at home which would have been spent preparing stuff for auction.

The first game kicked off at ten o'clock in the morning, and was one which I was familiar with; Graham Spearing's excellent Wordplay. The game was another playtest of the system, and was set in Robert E Howard's Conan universe. It was a direct follow on to a game I'd played at a Tomcon earlier this year, and by an accident of luck for me, and probably bad luck for Graham, I ended up with the same simple Turanian Tribesman (okay, sorceror) as I played last time. I had a real blast, especially as I got to play with the excellent Mark Galeotti, writer of much HeroQuest material that I admire such as Mythic Russia. His character was a librarian and gladiator, and I suspect our scheming may have been a little hard on everyone else. However, the system worked beautifully, and we nailed a few more of the awkward questions which you can only find by playtest.

After lunch, I ducked out of playing, as I wanted to see what would happen with the auction, which I had two items in, and also sort out my bring and buy stuff. I managed to persuade Neil Ford to run a demo game of 3:16 during the early evening. I should hang my head in shame here, as I was meant to be running it as well, but had dropped it with the extra game of Conspiracy of Shadows I ran.

The 3:16 game was an absolute blast - basically, it's a cross of Aliens and the film version of Starship Troopers. You play a squad of soldiers taking part in Terra's Xenocidal Crusade to make the universe safe for humanity. The group really got into character and although we only played for 90 minutes, we got through character generation and a complete mission. We'd have happily played more if the closing ceremony hadn't started. I got a surprise in this; all the GMs were asked to come up and pick up a game book as a thank you for running, which was unexpected and very kind.

After the closing ceremony, Graham, Duncan and I dug out my copy of Iliad, which is a superb card game of the Trojan Wars. What is fantastic about the game is that it has strategic and tactical elements which make it quite difficult to call as you jockey to achieve 12 victory points. The key one is that, although you start with 12 cards, you only replenish your hand with 3 each turn. This adds a real resource management challenge to the game. The next challenge is that there are two types of conflict in the game - Thanatos and Gorgon. Thanatos rounds are the standard games, which you don't want to loose as they cost you victory points if you come last. Gorgon rounds are brutal on resources as you have to keep playing to stay in. You can't pass and stop committing cards in the same way you can in a Thanatos round as stopping means you fold from the round. So you need to be very, very careful about whether to commit to them. Thanks to some luck on my part by winning a battle for Helen for Troy (5 victory points) and my conserving resources while Graham and Duncan went hell for leather at each other, I managed to win the game in a Gorgon round. I really enjoyed the game, and definitely want to play again with a bigger group.

After this, I went to bed. I had a relaxed morning , and then had the long drive home.

I really enjoyed Continuum, and want to be back in 2010. Highlights ranged from meeting old friends, to playing games with new friends, and just generally escaping from the usual way of things. Lowlights? Missing Nathan and Jill, the heat in my room, and the general scramble for games. However, I had a good chat with Graham on the latter (as he was Games Tzar) and we came up with some good potential solutions.

A great long weekend.

Continuum - Day 2

I really enjoyed the second day here, albeit I was pretty tired after Friday night and some of the shenanigans earlier in the week with Nathan having a couple of disturbed nights. I didn't play in the first gaming slot of the day – instead, I made sure all my stuff was in the bring and buy properly, and also helped out getting some other people's material into it as well because filling in 40+ entries had kind of made me an expert. It seems to have been worth it, as the books are moving pretty well, and I'll hopefully not be going back with anything which will save me a lot of time preparing material for eBay. It'll also make Jill happier! I've put some older material into the auction (White Dwarfs in binders, Tales of the Reaching Moon in the same state, so I'll look forward to the outcome of that with interest.

I also had a good chat with Tom, and then a mouch around the trade hall where I amazed myself with my restraint. In doing this, I noticed that the next slot had no free spaces again, so thanks to the wonders of the internet, and a scary encounter with M$ Vista in the committee room, I printed out characters to run the 'Blood Opera' game I ran last time I was at Continuum. This went down well, with the players all getting into the mock Russian/Eastern European accents and vibes, and ended nastily as usual, with everyone seeming to have enjoyed it.

In the evening, I ran the second Conspiracy of Shadows 'Blood Opera', a game that I'd worked up over the last fortnight called 'The fall of House Atreides', which was a riff on the book 'Dune'. This also went well, but very differently to how I imagined it would. It felt more like a freeform, and the tension was built from players taking each other away from the table rather than the Doom mechanic used in the game. However, it was great fun.

After a much earlier bed (proceeded by Graham and I doing compare and contrast on our MSI Wind and PowerBook G4 12" respectively), I've woken refreshed and ready for another day.

The only thing that this convention has disappointed me with is the the mobile phone access, as I can't get a decent signal here, which means I'm missing Jill and Nathan. A quick 2 minute call was the only fix I got yesterday.

Continuum 2008

I've been let out to play this weekend by Jill and Nathan and have come to Continuum 2008, set – as ever – at Leicester University. The hall we are in this year (John Foster Hall) is significantly better than any we've been in before in terms of compactness and facilities and it's already shaping up to be a good con in terms of friends and acquaintances old and new who I've caught up with. In no particular order; Martin, Dr Moose, Tom, the 3 Bears, Neil, Graham, Loz, Newt, Nickey, etc. etc.

I had a bit of arm twisting from Tom and ended up running the Traveller scenario "This Fear of Gods" which I've been working on for BITS and it went well. The ending was another TPK (Total Party Kill), but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. For some reason, most of my Traveller scenarios seem to have potentially vicious endings. Tomorrow night I'll be running my Dune scenario for Conspiracy of Shadows, "The Fall of House Atreides", which will be interesting.

Had a good chin wag with Dr Moose at the end of the game, and then headed back here to the room for bed. I really love this con, but I've got to confess I'm missing Nat and Jill already. Anyway, it's late and time for bed. Until tomorrow.

Wordplay

I had a really good discussion last night on Skype with Graham Spearing about his forthcoming RPG Wordplay. As a game, it's best described as the bastard love-child of HeroQuest and Burning Wheel, a great blend of traditional and narrative styles. I'm privileged that Graham would like me to lay out the project, which is giving me a great excuse to properly learn how to use the copy of InDesign CS2 that I have on the computer.

We had a really good natter about how the game will look and feel, and before I knew it an hour and a half had passed. It left me feeling really energised about gaming and writing again, and perhaps will be the motivation for me to start back on the Traveller scenario, Power Projection and other projects that have been sitting on the backburner!

Currently feeling: Relaxed
Currently listening to: My mum, dad and Jill.
Currently reading: The Complete Chronicles of Conan (Robert E Howard).

A Gaming Weekend

The weekend just gone was a fun one, as I got to play games for the first time this year (in honesty, for the first time since I went to Furnace last year). Tom kindly hosted a weekend of gaming, starting with the boardgame Twilight Imperium (second edition) on the Saturday, and following up with me running my Savage 2300AD RPG conversion for the second time. It was great fun, and I really hope to make several of these weekends over the next year, even if it's only for a day at a time.


From Tom's Gaming Weekend album...

The position above (taken by Tom) shows where we where at the start of the End Game period. At this point, Tom's son Matt (white colour) and I (red colour) both started major aggressive moves against our neighbours. The end result was that I won, but only because my technology and trade base outstripped Matt's more expansive empire.

I last played the game around 2000, with Andy Lilly and some of the BITS crew after a Dragonmeet. It was great fun then (except for the fact that I was knocked out very quickly in that game). I'd traded up to 2nd edition after the game, but it had sat around gathering dust for the last five or so years. I'm glad that I got to play it, and would love to do it again. It combines politicking with trade and resource building and major space battles. What more could an SF fan ask for?!

The 2300AD game was also fun, but felt somewhat more like a dungeon crawl than the last time. I'm not certain if that was me, but the more times I've run the scenario, the more frustrated I've become with it. Savage worked like a dream and I was really happy running it.

Tom discusses this some more on his blog if it interests you for a second opinion! He and his wife Ann were absolutely gracious hosts, and I came home feeling more relaxed than I have for a while. It was a great escape from work etc. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed that Jill's friends finally agree a date for their pamper weekend so she can get away too!

Currently feeling: Happy.
Currently listening to: The Fan on the G4 PowerBook.
Currently reading: Avenues & Alleyways (a|state RPG) and LA Confidential (James Ellroy).

Qin - The Warring States

Qin RPG cover

As I mentioned on the main blog, I've been reading through Qin: The Warring States, which is a superb Ancient Chinese Wuxia style RPG. I've been really impressed with this, even though in some places the English suffers from being translated. This isn't to the games' detriment though, being more of a stylistic issue as the structure shows its French roots, reading more like a text-book. However, the content is excellent, in both the context of the game engine and the context of the background. Reading the book made me want to play it, which is always a good sign. I think I'd take this over some of the Japanese style games any day.

I recommend this wholeheartedly, and the PDF version is a steal at $10 on RPG Now.

A Gaming Desert

I'm kind of feeling like I'm living in a gaming desert at the moment, as every time I try and organise an RPG session the whole thing falls apart at the last minute. Last night I was meant to be running my Savage Worlds game, They Came From Beyond Space, which is a spoof on the old 1950s B-Movies. This was the game that was cancelled back a month ago because of the bad weather from the flood in Sheffield (see post here). Tonight, it was cancelled due to a broken Skype headset and a family commitment. The negative side of me feels like this is never going to happen. I'm certainly getting fed up of preparing for a game and then canceling it at the last moment. Aside from this I've not played a game since Furnace last October, and it's starting to nag at me. Hopefully next time...

I guess on the positive side, I had a lovely day at the Great Yorkshire Show with Jill, Nathan and my parents last week (photos soon) and this Monday saw me playing badminton for the first time in a year. I ached somewhat the next two days. Work isn't at its best at the moment, with a number of set backs. Fortunately, Jill and Nathan keep me sane, especially when he smiles. He's just discovered his fingers. And he's threatening to crawl as he gets more mobile. Could be fun.

Currently feeling: Down/Tired.
Currently listening to: Delerium / Poem
Currently reading: Qin - The Warring States (a Chinese based historical RPG).

Rain Stops Play.

I was going to play my first roleplaying game since Nathan was born tonight, but you may have noticed that it's somewhat wet. Initially, I'd thought that it wouldn't be a problem, even though it took me twice as long as usual to get home from work because the A58 was closed because of flooding.

However, the game was to be a virtual one, using Skype's conference call system. That's were it all went pear shaped! Along with the rain and flooding, power has gone out in a number of areas around Sheffield, including the house where two of my fellow players, Tom and Matt, live. This completely scuppered using the internet. Anyway, I guess we'll reschedule.

This was to be a big experiment for me in more than one way; I was planning to run the Savage Worlds game system for the first time tonight, with a one-shot scenario based on 1950's B Movies. I'd wanted to do this because I've committed to run a Savage 2300AD game conversion at Furnace in October. I wanted to get some familiarity with the system as well as have some fun!

The 2300AD game has had me getting ready early, and I've been preparing some miniatures for use in the game. It's the first time that I remember painting 'little soldiers' rather than spaceships etc. and I'm pretty pleased with the results so far:

2300 Marines

The shot is a macro one with the FZ-50, and shows the miniatures in progress.

Currently feeling: Slightly Disappointed.
Currently listening to: Maximo Park
Currently reading: 'Reign', an RPG by Greg Stolze

Rest In Peace: StormQuest

Stormquest
Some of you may know that I spent a fair bit of time in the first half of 2006 writing StormQuest, which was a conversion of Chaosium's excellent Stormbringer RPG into the HeroQuest system. I'd worked through this with the help of Lawrence Whitaker and several of the other top folk at the Tavern Bulletin Board and was really pleased with the result. We playtested at Continuum 2006 in an excellent game run by Graham Spearing and the plan was to publish the conversion (which had grown to over 17,000 words) in the con-book. We also briefly suggested getting a bit more ambitious and publishing it as a Chaosium monograph, or as a supplement for HeroQuest's forthcoming generic 'Questworlds' book.

However, the rumours started after Continuum that Mongoose Publishing had bought the rights to Stormbringer off Chaosium. I'm not privy to the full details of the business deal, but this is the case.

Anyway, we've done some investigation, and now there is no way that StormQuest can be published in the con book, in a proper book, or even as a free PDF to download. I'm pretty down about this as it was the biggest bit of writing I did in 2006.

To quote the end of the original novel by Michael Moorcock, Stormbringer: "Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!"

A New Book...


I'm pretty pleased because the latest RPG book I wrote was released at Conception 2007 last week. The picture above shows the initial print run which was for sale at the convention. I'm waiting here excitedly for my copy to arrive in the post. Nick Bradbeer did an excellent cover for the new book. Happy

Starships

I've taken a load of photos this weekend, and once I've gone through them then I'll post them. 99% of them are of the usual suspect (Nathan!) and some of them are already up on Flickr if you want a sneak preview. Anyway, instead of the normal blog, I thought I'd add some pictures of a little project that has been kind of on hold for 12 months or so, as a recent email exchange with Nick Bradbeer reminded me of it.

I started painting miniatures some time ago, once I was on the route that would lead to the publication of Power Projection. I always wondered what fleet I'd do, and was hankering after something different. I do have a great selection of GZG's Full Thrust miniatures, but I wanted something different. One of my friends suggested that I take a look at some of the Games Workshop models, but most of those were to chaos-death-spikey to consider for use in a reasonably hard SF game. And then, Forgeworld was mentioned to me.

Forgeworld is Games Workshop's specialist minatures shop, using resin casts rather than metal. I found the Tau starships and fell in love with them. With some minor modifications, they'll do nicely for the Solomani Fleet in my Traveller universe!
Modified Emmisary Class

The first ship is a modified Emissary Class (inappropriate features removed).


The second ships are a Warden Class Gunship and a Manta Class. Sadly, due to the fact that I have just seen the Forgeworld site again, I've spotted some more ships that will look really good and help flesh out the fleet a bit more.

Anyway, that's pretty much all for tonight. Hopefully Nathan will be ready to sleep now. And I must price some more RAM for this laptop sometime soon. Playing with large image files is really slowing Rapidweaver down on the Powerbook with 512Mb in a way that the 1Gb equipped iMac doesn't, and the Powerbook has the faster processor!

Pulp Egypt


I recently noticed a thread on Gaming Report which mentioned a sourcebook called 'Pulp Egypt' for any RPG. As two of the games that I have recently bought and like are Savage Worlds and Spirit of the Century, this looked too good to be true. Well, I had to take a look, and I'm glad I did. This is a sourcebook by Peter Schweighofer which costs $20, and is a 176 page PDF packed with information on Egypt (some of it in a similar manner to the Call of Cthulhu RPG Cairo Sourcebook) to support pulp campaigns. Having quickly skimmed the PDF, there are suggestions on how to run archaeological, espionage and crime based campaigns, and some excellent material for reference. I think that it will be easier to integrate with Savage Worlds rather than SotC, as the latter is more free-form and co-creative. However, it will add to both if you fancy some Indiana Jones style adventures.

If you feel that $20 is too much to spend on something you've never heard off, there are a number of free scenarios on the site which give an idea of the quality of the material. I recommend this. They can be found at Griffin Publishing Studios' site.

Thumbs Up and Down!

A few weeks ago, I emailed about my quest to find some proper Fudge dice to use with Spirit of the Century. I had made some home made ones, but wanted something better. Anyway, I ended up in a position where I had two sets coming to me, one from the USA and one from the UK.

The shop in the UK – The Gameskeeper in Oxford – was excellent. They didn't have any dice in stock, but managed to track some down in the USA and special ordered them. Their communication, service and speed was excellent and I recommend them wholeheartedly. The website mightn't be the most modern, but they more than make up for that with their approach! Kudos and a big thank you!

Also worthy of mention was Patriot Games in Sheffield, who tried to get some dice for me but had no luck with their contacts. Likewise Leisure Games.

And now to the villains of the piece! It gives me no great pleasure to 'name and shame', but I have to denounce RPGshop in the USA. Their shipping of the Fudge dice was prompt, well packaged and a pleasure except for one small fact. They lied about the costs. When you place the order, they take a $25 deposit and the agreement is that they will only charge cost plus $3 for shipping, refunding or charging extra as appropriate. The shipping cost $9.15 according to the stamp, plus $3 makes $12.15 in normal maths. No refund. No response to emails. So I give them a big thumbs down. I'll more than happily post an update if and when they refund the money they owe me. I object to paying more than a hundred percent premium on shipping!

Protection

Protected Books!

I have a really bad habit with roleplaying game books. Unfortunately, because I tend to use them as well as read them, they tend to get trashed. Now, if you asked my mother or father, you'd know how much that this goes against the grain for me. I hate damaging books, probably because of the mental scars I received from my father (only joking!) when I damaged some of his when I started to read SF.

I've tried to get around the damage done by either covering the books with sticky back plastic, or by buying hard covers. However, not all books are available as hard covers, and unless you are a black belt sticky back plastic expert, you can pretty much guarantee bubbles or creases somewhere on your favourite book.

Anyway, my mum works as librarian at my old school, and she made a fantastic suggestion which I'm kicking myself that I didn't think of earlier. She gave me the details for the company that sells the plastic slip case book protectors she uses for paperbacks. I've gone and bought some, and they fit well and are far better than sticky back plastic. The picture above shows my Burning Wheel books and copy of Cold City now that they are protected. I 'm really impressed, and my mum tells me that it a lot of cases the paperbacks in these protectors actually last better than hard covers. Well, I'm sure I'll do enough damage using the books to see if this is the case!

Fudging the Issue

Spirit of the Century, the pulp RPG which I'm reading at the moment, uses a game system called FATE. This is in turn derived from a game system called FUDGE. For the gaming literate amongst you, FUDGE and FATE both use a ladder system of ability ratings for skills and the success and failure assessment. This is used in combination with special D6s (normal dice to non-gamers) which are marked with 2 pluses, 2 minuses and 2 blanks. Four FUDGE dice are rolled together at the same time, giving a distribution up and down the ladder system of +/-4 steps. Simple and elegant.

Fudge Dice (Improvised)

Spirit of the Century has a real buzz about it on the various roleplaying forums, and rightly so. It's elegant, well written and looks like a load of pulpy fun. If that means little to you, think Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, Indiana Jones, or The Mummy to get a feel for the genre. I suspect the buzz has resulted in me not being able to find FUDGE dice anywhere in the UK. Anyhow, I've ordered some from the USA and, in the mean time, have improvised using a marker pin and some guidance of a website. I'm particularly proud of the red dice! They may be Heath Robinson, but they work well!

(I know that the Deryni Dice are FUDGE dice, but I wanted some colours, not just black and white!)

Post Furnace Thoughts

Furnace was excellent, but partial marred by a bad headache over the Saturday and into the morning of the Sunday. Sadly, this wasn't alcohol induced as I was driving both days – I suspect it was just general tiredness catching up with me. However, this was resolved through the wonders of modern chemistry, and by mid-Sunday afternoon I was back my normal self, if a little tired from the lack of sleep.

I had a really fun time, playing 5 different games (4 of them RPGs) over the weekend and getting to meet up with friends who I more usually hang out with virtually. The venue was superb including the cells – from the building's former role as a jailhouse for the garrison – which we used to game in. They were pretty close and intimate, as you can see from this picture that Tom Zunder grabbed of me running on the Sunday afternoon.

The five games I played were Iliade (a French card game set in the times of the Greek & Trojan wars), Burning Wheel (Graham's excellent take on Middle Earth with the system), Chaosium Basic Role Playing (Loz's demo of the excellent Gwenthia setting), Blake's Seven (run by Nathan, using a rare set of rules) and my own Traveller game. If you're interested in more detail than this, then have a look at my brief comments at The Tavern, which I wrote pretty soon after I got home.

I'm hoping that I'll be allowed to go to this convention again next year! The organisers – Tom, Graham, Darren and Newt – deserve a lot of credit for making this a great gamer's con. Next year, Furnace will be on 20-21st October 2007 at the same venue.

Furnace this weekend

I'm really looking forward to this weekend, when I'll be going to the northern gaming convention, Furnace. This is the first iteration of this convention, but it's being organised by a group of people who I know, and whom have also been involved with the ever excellent Continuum.

I know I'm running two games - 'Blood Opera' for Conspiracy of Shadows (a repeat of Continuum and very much a player driven game) and 'This Fear of Gods' for Traveller. I've just finished the characters and plot for this, and am feeling quite relieved! It was harder work that I thought, especially when I was trying to put together some shorthands for the players by giving photos and pictures and saying that they are 'like such and such a character'. I kept on drawing a blank, but was fortunately helped out by Graham Spearing, who gave me a few minutes out from his charman's preparation for Furnace.

Playing-wise, I've asked (GM's can pre-sign) to sign up for Graham's 'Burning Middle Earth', which is a Burning Wheel adaptation to Middle Earth. This interests me a lot, because I loved the setting but have gone a long way since MERP. The other game I've signed up for is Loz's 'And Stones', which is a Gwenthian BRP game. i've heard nothing but good about games that Loz has run, so I'm really looking forward to this. I was tempted by the 'Ultraviolet' TV series based HeroQuest engined game, and Newt's Mythic Russia and Gloranthan games (especially the Pavis one), and also 'My life with Sauron', but they didn't quite have the draw as the others did. So, if all goes well, four games, and hopefully some games of Iliade and Mag*Blast for a bit of fun. Should be a good weekend.

Of course, when I get back I've got to get into the nightmare of moving the study into the old smallest room, as the carpet arrived this morning! Not looking forward to this as there is too much *stuff*, and I've also already halved my RPG collection in the last two years!

Hoping to see you at Furnace!

Planetary Web for Burning Empires

As the Burning Empires Wiki doesn't have a planetary web play aid up yet, I knocked one together with OmniGraffle and exported it as a PDF. You can found it on my download page for games.

Planetary Web

A|State Combat Damage Cribsheet

On the downloads page I have added a PDF crib-sheet to help run through the combat sequence of Contested Ground Studio's excellent A|State RPG. Enjoy - it compliments their excellent PDF download GM's screen which you can buy here at RPGNow. I've put it here (with permission) as they originally planned to use it on the Screen, but I guess it didn't fit.

Power Projection: Reinforcements

I'm finally getting to the end of the build for the BITS website revamp, so I decided to dig out the metal I need to build for the Power Projection. I've also got contact details for Techsil, who make the Tufloc Superglue that Jon Tuffley of GZG recommended. I should get that ordered this week, and then I shall get things moving.

The Metal

Combat Cribsheet for A|State

On the downloads page I have added a PDF crib-sheet to help run through the combat sequence of Contested Ground Studio's excellent A|State RPG. Enjoy - it's a great compliment to their PDF download screen.

Projects

I've got a number of different projects running at the moment - the new BITS website (the biggest Rapidweaver project I've attempted), StormQuest (a Stormbringer HeroQuest conversion for Continuum) and Power Projection: Reinforcements (the new fleet book for BITS' Traveller miniatures games). I'll try and get some more regular posts here as it will encourage me to get moving on them!

Breakdown of 2005

Well, I've finally worked out what I read in 2005; just the basic info at the moment - 22,754 pages and 85 books in 2005. That's down on 2004 which had 30,428 pages and 100 books. I guess the main reasons are the fact that I changed job, and also I tried to clear the RPG backlog, and our main holiday in 2005 was a far more 'doing' event than the year before. However, you can see a big spike in March when we were away on holiday.

Reading Rate

The flat-line in September/October is the big Fritz Lieber omnibus, which seemed to take a long time to read for some reason, even though I enjoyed it immensely. I think I read more slowly because of the short story format giving definite break-points to switch off the light when reading in bed! I read a similar sized tome which wasn't a shorts collection (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) last month, and went through it a lot faster.

Breakdown by Type


I think one of the other contributing factors was my attempt to read all the RPGs that I had sitting on the shelf, and they seem to take longer than other books. Perhaps it is because of the rules and lack of a natural flow in a lot of the books?

Anyway, it's going to be interesting to see what 2006 brings.

Crusader Rex - Shortened Playtest

Having watched Kingdom of Heaven earlier this week I was itching to get a game of Crusader Rex, so Friday night finally gave the opportunity that I was after. Jill was preparing some shoe-boxes for work's entry into Operation Christmas Child, so I dug out the game and set it up on the lounge floor.


Before I started, I also had a quick skim through the various forums on the Columbia Games site to get an idea of tactics and strategy. From this, it became apparent that there were a number of challenges. The Franks (Crusaders) were perilously exposed, and an aggressive strategy could rapidly result in them being wiped out. In addition, their generally lower quality forces left them attacking second in a battle until the Crusading forces arrived. The final controversy – for which there were repeated heated discussions on the forums – was that the 'Knights Charge' rules were somewhat deadly to both sides. It gets the Franks doubled attacks, but exposes them to the risk that any roll of a '6' on the D6 causes damage to their own sides. The rules have recently been changed, and the designer, Jerry Taylor, makes a spirited defense of their accuracy on the games' forums.

Anyway, I played both sides, so the fog of war was limited, and the game ran from 1187 to 1189 (when I had to abandon because it was too late).

The first year's play (6 turns worth) started in a very edgy way. I wasn't sure how deadly combat would be, so decided to muster the Saracen forces at a four locations to try and get some reasonable sized armies. As a tactic, it works very well, provided you've allowed for the winter turn at the end of the year. By the third month these were moving into Outremer, with forces from Damascus and Egypt threatening Jerusalem, forces from Aleppo threatening Antioch and a final group threatening Krak des Chevaliers to the north. There's a game map here if you want to have a look at the geography. Movement is limited to roads - major routes (think lines) can have 8 units pass, and minor routes can have 4 units.

The initial fighting was at Tiberias (ironically, near Hattin, the major defeat that triggered the Third Crusade), south of the Sea of Galilee. The Franks repelled the initial forces threatening Jerusalem, but at the cost of about two thirds of the military orders after a bodged Knights Charge. These were lost forever as the military orders can't be replaced. The attack was effective though, and one of Saladin's relatives was killed. The rest of the Saracen casualties went in the draw pool to re-emerge later in the game.

A minor push at Krak des Chevaliers was repelled, but again casualties were taken by the military orders. By the end of the first game year the Franks only had two military order units left, both at reduced strengths.

The end of the year saw a mistake on my part as Saracen commander. I'd overcommitted high value movement cards so didn't have enough to regroup around logistical bases for the winter. The limits were set at 1 block per number at the location; for example, Jerusalem can support 3 units, but Krak des Chevaliers only 1 block. Any excess blocks are disposed of, which resulted in the effective destruction of the Egyptian army. From this point on, both sides were careful with move cards and also used retreats and regrouping moves effectively at the end of the year.

The second year sees the draw-pools in action, so each side draws a reinforcement block every game turn (of which there are 6 in a year). The Franks ended up with two of the three English Crusaders, and a German and French unit too. This was somewhat pleasing but also worrying to the Saracen side. Pleasing, because there were no effective additional defenders in play, but worrying because there were heavy reinforcements very close to arriving with the right draw.

The fighting went badly for the Franks, with the complete loss of the south at the second battle of Tiberias, followed by a retreat from Acre with a late year follow up attack. King Guy and most of the remaining Outremer nobility from the south died. Antioch fell, proving that protective walls weren't enough to save against a strong attacking force, and a desperate retreat followed south down the coast. The only upside to the Franks turn was the attack by the assassins on Saladin. Sadly, this didn't quite succeed in taking him out of the game. End of turn saw the Saracen forces dispersing to blockade the ports to the south against the crusaders' arrival.

1189 opened brightly for the Franks, as Richard the Lionheart deployed to Tripoli along with the Aquitaine Crossbowmen. The Franks didn't have enough movement points to bring Robert of Normandy in as well. King Guy re-appeared as well. The Saracen forces launched a savage attack at Tripoli and Krak des Chevaliers, which finally fell. Faced with an overwhelming force, and nowhere to retreat, Richard Kinght's Charged, causing massive damage (6 points) but the newly arrived Crusaders were wiped out to a man. The final remaining military orders were also finished off. Next turn, Robert deployed to Tartus, and launched a heavy counter attack with the forces that had retreated from the north and Krak. This blunted the Saracen attack, and left the crusaders in possession of the ports from Beirut to Latakia, helped by drawing the right forces from the draw-pool. King Guy mustered a small force to Jerusalem. And that's when I ended the game.

The position looked better, but far from rosy for the Franks. They had a good stronghold around Tripoli, and the French Crusaders were ready to arrive. The south had a good enough force to be making the Saracens consider re-mustering to engage it. However, doing so would open the way for the Crusaders to arrive in one of those ports, threatening the south of Outremer. I guess that a higher risk, all out attack from the Saracens could settle the game by 1191, but it would potentially leave them exposed.

I really enjoyed the game - I do think that possibly some tweaks are needed, but don't feel that there are any major flaws. It took two and half hours to get to the point I was at!

Rapidweaver 3.2

Well, I've been patiently waiting, and finally, Rapidweaver 3.2 is out. And it feels faster and even more together. Altogether excellent. I'm going to have to check how easily I can update some of the custom 3.1 themes I've made, but that shouldn't be a problem.

Hubble/NASA image of Neptune

RW3.2 adds a lot of features, such as the ability to include inline graphics more easily (scaling and rotating!), and more scaleable pages. As an example, here is an image of Neptune from NASA/Hubble imagery.

RapidWeaver - more thoughts

I've just finished my first customised RapidWeaver site, and it was surprisingly easy. Far more easy than I thought it would be. The customer is pretty demanding (my father-in-law) but seemed reasonably happy with the end result. The site needs some developing yet, but you can judge for yourself how good the final result is. I guess that this means that I really need to start on updating the BITS and Power Projection sites now!

Ex Machina - Tri-Stat Cyberpunk

I've just finished reading Ex Machina and very nice it is too. Tri-stat implementation seems good (although I need to do some char-gen and combat to get a feel for the system).

Settings are interesting;

Heaven over Mountain is a biotech closed world orbital beanstalk game. Nicely written but didn't float my boat too much.

Underworld is a dark dystopian future American Empire game that reminds me of a number of B Movie SF films in the late 80s and early 90s. The idea is that the US has large work complexes in occupied territories where civil rights have been removed. Lots of potential. I loved the idea that the corporation which sells neural interface chips also sell surplus cycle time on them for processing exercises.

IOSHI is a very different setting - value is based on skills and talents which are developed by people in a virtual state ('Sparta'). There are dark edges to this which could be interesting, but I couldn't think of an 'in' to run this.

Daedalus is a beauty of a setting. Imagine a world where the government decided to implement a universal ID by implementation of a future development of RFID chips. This is implanted and trackable. Later generations of the chip can administer drugs and further keep people happy. Society is tweaked and increasingly controlled in the ongoing fight against terrorism, and the people in it slowly see it as more and more of a utopia. Emotional responses are moderated to drive society towards someone else's ideal of 2.4 kids and a job for life...

What if one day you woke up in this Utopia to find your chip didn't work anymore and you were an outsider.? Surgery to fix it doesn't work, you loose your citizenship rights, and can only hold a menial job because you have no valid ID that is trusted properly? You become an outsider. What if you find out the truth?

Columbia's Block Games

'Hammer of the Scots' and 'Crusader Rex' arrived on Friday. I've not had a chance to play them yet, but the components are very good quality, the rules clear and the map-boards look superb.

I've only tried a basic set-up and followed the rules through to see how they both work, but I think the games are going to be really good fun, and teach me a lot about the geography of Scotland and the Middle East, albeit 700 to 800 years ago!

Symantec... Why?

I use Macs at home, and have done since 1996 when I got fed up of Windows and all the messing about to keep the system optimised that I used to have to do. It was fun when I was a teenager, but I reached a point where I was fed up and just wanted to focus on using the machine rather than making it work.

Anyway, I'm just about to upgrade our iMac G4 (with a gorgeous 20" screen) from OS X 10.3 Panther to OS X 10.4 Tiger and decided to check that absolutely everything was compatible. As usual, it turned out that most software had patches on line (which would work with the older Panther) with the exception of Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus 9, which needed an upgrade to the new version 10.

Now, I expected this. It'd happened with AV8 when Panther came out, so I went and followed the links to the Symantec site, and selected the upgrade, which would then only give me an option to upgrade to the version I was already on!! After two emails to their support (based in India by the looks of the email) I'd found the correct links. These showed that you could only buy a physical package rather than a download. I was annoyed (I wanted it now!) but ordered it anyway. Three days later I get an email saying it's on backorder. Their *own* software.

It's times like this that I wonder why I bother. So far, in 4 years, there hasn't been a virus on OS X (and I've used all the releases from OS 10.0!) – I mainly have the anti-virus to make sure I don't send on viruses to my PC friends. I know that Norton has a bad reputation now with the Windows world, but it's the most commonly updated and supported version for the Mac. If there was an F-Prot I'd use it as quickly as I could!

So, by my reckoning, there are four reasons to be annoyed with Symantec;

1) Poor website link software for upgrades.
2) Lack of a downloadable version.
3) Poor stock control.
4) Lack of a simple patch to move between versions.

But I guess I'll carry on using them until I can find anything better.

a|state RPG

Ever since it came out, I've been a big fan of the a|state RPG by Contested Ground Studios. It is a unique game, which reminds me very much of (amongst other things) China Mieville's excellent 'Perdido Street Station'. The system is very like the Chaosium BRP engine, but very rules light. I knocked together a quick reference sheet for the combat rules using OmniGraffle, and sent the PDF to Malc at CGS so they can put it on the website. To my surprise they said that they'd like to use it in their forthcoming GM Screen! So I agreed.

Anyway, if you want to see what all the fuss about a|state is, go to their website and download the free PDF file of the 'lite' rules. In reality, it's all you need to try a game out. Fantastic stuff.

Eager Anticipation

A couple of weeks ago, I finally succumbed to temptation that had been building over the last year and ordered some of Columbia Games blockgames. I'm eagerly waiting for Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex to arrive from across the Atlantic. After they arrive, there's only the challenge of sorting someone to play them with. I hope they don't languish like the copy of Serennisma that I got last year, another one that I really want to play.