Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Plane Sailing

So, games are ending and we have a very busy and eagerly awaited Warhammer that GM Max has begun. Last week I walked in on some sort of clerical meeting with several people busily scribing character sheets with various large tomes scattered about sprouting post it notes akin to a nest of jostling birds at lunchtime. I though it prudent to take my overflowing beer to another table. This leaves remaining players to choose between GM Jon's Star Trek and GM Krzys's Part-Time Gods. 

Now we are hovering on the awkward three and a half games worth of players but as seven adventurers have climbed aboard Max's game it may just be enough to balance us out across the three in total, depending on the other GM requirements. But if one player sneezes in the Warhammer and flies off their seat and another lost soul should wander in then I have prepared a fourth game which may suddenly be needed.

To keep it interesting for myself I wanted to run a D&D to get some more GM hours under my belt following a few practice sessions I had last year. But which sceanrio ? Well, with a nod to a few pages in the new 5e and an ancient but pristine box set that has been sitting on my shelf for twenty years, I have prepared a Planescape adventure set in the center of the Multiverse encapsulated within the most splendidly impossible of cities, Sigil - The City of Doors. Planescape adventures do need some attention to detail as every opening (doorway, fireplace, chest or cabinet) could be a portal to absolutely anywhere so there can be a tendency to uproot an experience and leave players spinning and never having a feeling of structure or heritage. But I think this is unwarranted - even though Sigil is a city of portals, it is in all respects also just a City, with a guard, blacksmiths, taverns, merchants, builders etc etc. Whist its packed inhabitants are either planar natives or just prime travelers, the wild variety of species that crowd its streets do not have to detract from specific tasks or narratives. Basically if you combine Tokyo with Gatwick at rush hour, you begin to get the idea of day to day life. But people not only survive in such environments but they can also set down roots and thrive.

Sigil itself is a fascinating place, partly because of its toroidal physics but more so because of its quasi Ruler (or perhaps prisoner), the Lady of Pain. Wandering the streets seemingly for all eternity, she will dispatch any force, army or entity that attempts to unbalance or claim her realm. Her very gaze will shred any opponent instantly and as if that wasn't enough, she has the ability to fold dimensions and trap insurgents within an infinite Maze. Not even the Gods can sway any leverage here and they stay well away. I heartily recommend the excellent bite size videos by Jorphdan on all aspects of the D&D universe  and his Sigil and Outlands brief is no exception.

For now the game may not be needed but as always, it can be added to the list and is also sympathetic to one-shots on the occasion a GM is away. I might even run it as a home game if I can find enough players.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


One might think it a little alarming to start the year off by musing on how to kill people, tho it is normal for role players have slightly psychotic conversations from time to time. To be fair I am a little unsure as to how many people we will have settled on for the next round of games starting soon, or more specifically with the winter rush we often get I would be concerned to have 10 people trying to squeeze themselves into a single game.

So given the fact that its been at least six months since I have killed someone, I have volunteered an overflow D&D if required. This necessarily includes challenges and of course consequences but I will endeavour not to be too contrived, except to say that the most ludicrous trap I have come across was a Kobold on a rope suspended above a pit trap behind a closed door. Given the relative ease at which Kobolds can be dispatched one would naturally think nothing of charging straight in. Rolling my eyes under such circumstances tends to be a prelude to rolling a new character and this instance was no exception, though I have since harboured a deep seated hatred of all things rope like. And I do see some ropy things.

I will go back and double check the PHB for specific rules on swinging. Certainly there is a climbing skill and associated falling damage but I suppose a swing would just be a variable difficulty class depending on its challenge and also whether any drama is also included. Swinging for dramatic effect though should really only be attempted by experienced players such as Erol Flynn or possibly Harrison Ford.

Having said all this I am reminded of a previous Chill session regarding an undead Hangman the party had to deal with. That was roprey of an entirely different kind.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Its a date

So its 2018 in our universe and we are looking forward to another grand year of mucking around so clearly everyone's new year resolution is to come along to their local role playing club, have a beer make some new friends, play some games, have some arguments, throw some things around and storm out. An experience not to be missed and all are welcome. But in keeping with our temporal temperament here are a few other notable dates for your diary..

2019 - Replicant terminations via the Blade Runner initiative

2022 - Soylent Green distributed to offset global starvation
2032 - Terminator kills John Connor
2035 - Positronic robots extend the Three Laws  to enslave mankind

2054 - PreCrime police department set up in LA
2063 - Zefram Cochran completes the first Warp Drive test in the Phoenix
2122 - Nostromo lost
2164 - Daleks invade Earth
2256 - Babylon 5 construction completed
2274 - Sandman Logan 5 leaves the Domed City
2381 - Cmdr J.J Adams lands on Altair IV
2491 - Buck Rogers emerges from coma
2517 - Crew of the Firefly uncover the Reaver conspiracy
3001 - Frank Poole revived
4846 - Commissioning of the Andromeda
10191 - Year of the Atredies governorship of Dune

802701 - H.George Wells encounters the Eloi
3000000 - Dave Lister wakes from stasis
5000000 - Yithians inhabit the bodies of the insectoids of Earth
End of Time - Everyone has lunch at Milliways

Monday, 25 December 2017

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Things to come..


There are natural cycles to the universe - galaxies collide, black holes rage and stars explode. But in the midst of such cosmic destruction, new stars are born from the remnants and elements of old, hot galaxies coalesce from cold, dark matter and even black holes evaporate their information back into the light. 

Likewise our games this year started in the blazing bright heights of the summer and have burnt long and strong, but nature has taken its course and as we approach the longest night, arguments have settled, players have been killed off,  princesses were slain and their gold has now been rescued. Over the next few weeks the Phoenix Dawn will go on hold (as its campaign length really and sports several more scenes even after six months), The DnD has formally ended and I believe GM Jack is wrestling down his Gods in the Exalted.

So this means fresh adventures and a chance for people to pick new characters and causes, wield novel and powerful items and explore the full range of fumbles and failures. So in the new melting pot we have a selection of GM Max's Warhammer Fantasy, GM Krzys Part Time Gods (not one I know) and GM Jon's Star Trek. Interestingly GM Jon has offered to run an additional quick stop gap Star Trek parody whist the new games get into sync. My understanding is that this will take the form of a Tarantino/Roddenberry mashup along the lines of Kill Will or Reservoir of Targs.... I'm not sure whether you could actually get a blood bath with phasers or disruptors which vaporise organic material but I would be very disappointed not to see judicious use of transporter "malfunctions".

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Time waits for no half-elf

Time travel is a tricky business. Brave is the GM who decides to take on board a campaign involving cause and effect or indeed effect and cause. Often used as a plot device, time relocation is a handy way to place characters back in the good old days which often turns out to drop them into the great mythological stories of a given world. For richer narratives like Lord of the Rings, Warhammer Fantasy or Cthulu  this is an opportunity to dabble in world creation or glimpse the gods - not that that would make for a a very long game in Cthulu mind you. Moreover I would say it's a more appropriate environment to play high level characters and become part of the Mythology of a system itself; a chance to become part of Lore.

However, as tempting as it is to run such a scenario, role players will insist on doing their own thing. Off roading in temporal sensitive games can require the GM to take an overly heavy hand jus to keep a world intact. Whilst there is the argument that history cant change - attempts to achieve goals that a party is fixated on, such as the assassination of Hitler lets say, may result in repetitive play and whilst fun, are basically a dead end. Paradoxes proliferate if players start to meet themselves (always embarrassing) and create duplicates of items. Things will also spiral when they start to bring other time machines back through time.

There is a more forgiving option of sending players into the future where actions cant be judged in practical terms but there is always the possibility of bringing back knowledge or items that may  unbalance a game. But also, to be fair, there is little point in running a future time travel campaign that has no interaction with the present - it may as well just happen somewhere else as far as plot is concerned.

And there is also the eternal issue of temporal ticks in the real world. Whilst we are all time travelers, spare a thought for the D&D game that has been running for 30 years ! If any of us got caught in that particular time trap, it would still be a first level adventure after the first year and then 29 more of arguing...

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Its been emotional

Generally speaking, I have a slight aversion to watching live streams or episodic recordings of roleplaying games for several reasons, predominantly because these can be very lengthy and a lot of time can be spent eating biscuits. In addition much of the subtlety is lost as people can shout over each other and whilst it does add to the drama, critical moments can be missed. There also isn't a great deal of production value in video session where imagination is involved and it can come across as amateur dramatics to the casual observer unless you are there in person.

But it does remind me of where my games are weakest, manly due to laziness and time constraints, but like a lot of GMs, I usually come up with interesting problem solving scenarios backed by a half decent plot and a few key characters with a bit of GM roleplying on the fly. There is a need to create enough space in a game for characters to develop themselves and roleplayers are their own content to a large degree, tho I would never leave them unsupervised with sharp pencils.

The point is that ever since Homer put pen to papyrus, there have been such things as plot formulas and character development traits that underpin professional narratives but whilst not always there in roleplaing games (and they should be), they are the bread and butter for writers. For some reason Gladiator comes to mind as of course Oliver Reed died unexpectedly during production and a lot of effort went into finding a quality resolution - William Nicholson OBE stepped in here as one of the writers and his deep understanding of character provided a seamless and respectable end to Proximo. He's very engaging and more interestingly as a roleplayer one can instantly identify with his conversations on character. Here is a fascinating interview with him.

Or course I haven't had my OBE for services to roleplaying yet and broadly speaking such creative minds are not available to the GM but I did find the epic end of the recent Critical Roll game run by Matt Mercer a dramatic case in point. In fact the moment is beautifully explained by here by the engaging Matthew Colville - I highly recommend  a watch - spoilers for 400 hours of roleplaying btw.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Fashionable Roleplaying

Creativity is an outlet, more so for the technical mind I suspect, crowded in by business workflows, engineering problems and the day to day challenges of making sure your underwear is not inside out. Whilst Roleplaying exercises a very underused muscle these days, it can be a quick fix and something to look forward to in an otherwise ordinary week. There is the matter of talent of course - not sure exactly what talent looks like in roleplaying but I have fond memories of Chris dancing around with a couple of carpet tiles when he was playing a sort of  animated jukebox, most entertainment I have had since Top of the Pops went off the air.

Nevertheless I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the amazing artwork that comes with the trade. Having visited a MegaCon event in Florida several years ago you do get overwhelmed  by the enthusiasm and effort people go to to decorate themselves. In fact its worth just going in a crowd for the crowd.

Physical Representation, or phys-rep as we call it in the trade has utility when you are actually playing but there are artisans that go above and beyond - there is a point where skill becomes art and some pieces are phenomenal. 

From the large to the very small, with skills more reminiscent of neurosurgery are the miniature armies of the war gaming tables. Lovingly attended  and and in fact impossibly crafted using something akin to a quantum paintbrush. In fact I believe there are still annual awards for such detailing and whilst I would be happier to bump into an army only two inches tall rather than some of the other characters depicted here, I think they would be more challenging in game.

Finally I do think its important to say that its the taking part that counts and whilst passion is a wonderful thing, imagination also has its place...

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Never Give In, Never Surrender

There are mumerings in sub-scpace and possibly even the first Starfleet missives regarding crew assignments that might be happening for a StarTrek game that could possibly be in effect in the perhaps nearish future. Despite practicing my non committal communications, GM Jon is starting to have initial chats about launching a Starfleet vessel, so watch this space, pun intended.

It moves me neatly onto the trending subject of the new Star Trek Discovery currently airing and as I am a roleplayer and I have never seen any of the episodes I am going to immediately Troll it and say its the worst pile of crap ever to have come into existence. Now I am clearly having to use the scientific method to extrapolate opinion and craft a Trek Theory. Correct me if I am wrong, but arbitrary character led story arcs are completely alien to all that Star Trek ever was at is core; an episodic, hard hitting philosophical series regarding contemporary moral and ethical dilemmas that ultimately resolved themselves - a mirror to the human condition that not only describes our contention but also challenge us in what it should mean to be human.

Whilst TNG was excellent, it did show the occasional crack in stepping away from the clarity and focus of TOS, possibly related to Gene Rodenberry's passing. In my mind dilution continued through Voyager, although there were occasional gems, and was swallowed up almost entirely by DS9  which was just a pointless drama bar a very few poignant scenes. I appreciate the Pinocchio condition of Data trying to be human and the trauma of 7of9 regaining her humanity, which were excellent lenses for existentialism, they were just too interesting to balance against the rest of the banal crew - substituting good plot for character development ultimately causes too much strain on outward looking issues.

So I am getting the impression that I am not the only one on board here and stemming on from the wonderful Galaxy Quest that somehow managed to be a parody if itself as well as Trek, I find myself being slowly captivated with the crew of the Orville. Yes, there are the awkward first couple of episodes but this is settling very quickly and some of the humour is just side splitting. Whats more, there are extraordinarily hard issues that are faced, such as child death during war and extreme infant gender reassignment. There are episodes regarding religious isolation, democratizing facts, commoditising people and animal captivity. Combine such fresh issues with likable and flawed characters who's interactions are so familiar we can feel part of the crew ourselves - we may well finally have a comedy drama for the first time in 40 years to rival the quality of MASH. 

So at last to the point of this article - when do we get the Orville RPG ?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Retributive Strike

Its been a while since I've had a character blow up. Casting my mind back I believe it was a Paladin if memory serves and perhaps not so surprising to those in the extremist religion business - as it happens we were reminiscing at the club over several good old book burning memories with a view to perhaps introducing it as a national day - basically if I am allowed to talk like a pirate and celebrate keel hauling then as far as I am concerned, I should also be able to destroy knowledge in both a family friendly and socially inclusive way. In my case it was a Rolemaster Paladin, which, at 10th level gains Retributive Strike allowing him to lay down his life by channeling his deity's raw  power directly through himself into his enemy dealing a vast amount of damage in a final blaze of glory.

Whilst its not unusual to lose a Paladin under many circumstances including but not exclusively related to: charging in to rescue a  Princess, laying down ones life to save kittens, catching an acid vomit from  possessed teenagers and/or celibacy, my character did at least manage to take out a bad guy.

In the Phoenix dawn we were facing off against an seemingly ancient and powerful guardian, in fact a non corporeal Phoenix from before the Dawn Command came into existence that, for reasons unknown, was following a different authority. Whilst the damage thresholds were high they were potentially not insurmountable but it was getting clear to me that my fellow phoenixes were struggling on their last sparks and the situation was far from in the bag. Things were slipping.

As it happened, from my characters military leadership background it seemed entirely reasonable for it to come down to a shouting match. If this entity, specifically an ancient Phoenix on its last life, was not prepared to submit to the chain of command then we do what we do to all treason in the ranks and execute a court martial of an extremely brief nature. This basically entailed Nick stripping off some of the entity's armor and with a skill spread, filling up the void inside with gunpowder. Following up with my superhuman strength, I picked up the guardian, marched him into a separate room and ignited us both to chalk up the second of my seven lives lost. Very satisfying but not something I would recommend on a regular basis but it was in character and as we have just celebrated Guy Fawkes night, so also very seasonal !

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

String Theory

How long is a piece of string ? As mooted here on occasion, we have had many discussions over the years regarding the optimal length of a campaign. There are of course an enormous number of factors that affect the genre but it doesn't mean that we cant subject this to scientific scrutiny and aim to resolve a Universal Theory of  Roleplaying or as I am calling it, Rope Theory.

The hypothesis is that whilst to the general frame of reference, a game is a cohesive field of problem solving and creative interactions, on the smallest scale the fabric of the game is actually held together by a vast amount of tiny arguments (A), wrapped up so small that we are barely aware of their presence except when they surface from time to time due to fluctuations in the atmosphere that occur during player interaction.

It's important that a game is inclusive even when the player (P) base changes or when people can only make it semi regularly so let call this I, Imax being desirable. There can only be one GM in principal though I am aware of strange instances when two GMs have coordinated, but as this is a general theory, not a special one, we will assume a GM subscript m of 1,  Dm, in its  typical form. As we have to sum each game across an infinite number of realms R-0 to Rmax, there is of course an integral involved, and as there is an element of chance, probability comes into effect, or, more accurately, wave functions collapse when the dice have finished rolling, w0. This can affect the number of players due to character death,X , which also then has an implication on a campaign length L.

So in its first incarnation, let me propose that:

L= 0Rmax (([[Dm*P]/A] * w0)+(A^Imax)) -X*P

Of course I am trailblazing here and I am sure that peer review will hone this formula but in order to reach the stars we have to stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank you.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Happy 3.5e Homebrew Prestige class Day

The creativity of DnD fans has been a draw to the genre for decades of course, long before the Worlds of Warcraft and digital downloads, good art has always been the backdrop for good systems and I am reminded of equivalent examples in Comic lore. To capture the imagination at a glance is worth more than a hundred pages of a players handbook to a novice and there are cultural icons that inevitably find their way into systems.

The most notable one is probably the Vampire which has claimed entire systems such as Masquerade as well as system extensions such as Ravenloff. Werewolves come a close second in my mind and, again, whilst having a formal monster presence in D&D, they are a staple of other horror systems such as Cthulu and Chill; lycanthropy is very often found on disease/curse lists. I do note as an aside that my spell checker wants to change lycanthropy into philanthropy... does that mean if you get bitten by Bill Gates, you become really generous on a full moon ?

Arguably Witches have inspired a lot of content in RPGs tho I am not actually aware of any systems built around them exclusively, which would make for an interesting Kickstarater, although they have inspired a lot of NPC generation and do in fact get very challenging to deal with in certain situations.

But as we are both cutting edge and topical at BRPS, I would like to present you to a 3.5e prestige character class of the Pumpkin King, lovingly created in the home brew section of D&DWiki.


and in fact its been taken on into 5e using artwork by Phil Berry at enworld.org