Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Cosmetic Brain Surgery


As per usual at our last meet we had solved all the worlds major problems of course and had time spare before the games to have a chat about the role playing market. Whilst I find Roleplayers in general to have both creative as well as problem solving intelligence, the combination can have a slightly mad scientist effect. Whilst we did think about a  Dragons Dens pitch for new cosmetic brain surgery products along the lines of a Lobe Lifts, Cortex Botex and Brainstem Waxing, we did manage to steer the conversation onto the less insane roleplaying market as a whole.


In my mind, the roleplaying market is a very tough arena to survive in. Yes, there are a lot of kickstarters fueling a demand for games and even if one is not a collector, an inevitable pile of tomes do seem to appear over the years, but where the creative arts are concerned it can difficult to sell into someones imagination. For example I have a soft spot for AD&D 2nd ed as it was extremely prevalent back in the day and whilst we created our own adventures it raises the question as to what else is ever needed ? Once you have a manual then what else do you need and it is the case that some GMs stick with a system all their lives. For many there is the natural interest in narrative as realms are re-invented or developed and of course there is a technical interest in systems for those who enjoy the mechanical side of game play but looking back at GM Mike's last adventure all we needed were pencils and a scrap of paper for one of the most enjoyable games.

My point is that if you are thinking about roleplaying then all you need is to bring yourself along and if possible bring a newly polished brain. But for those with a wider interest in roleplaying paraphernalia as we approach Christmas, can I interest you in the indispensible  D20 waffle maker?




Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Hamming it up


The world is a media meltingpot these days where there is real news about fake news and podcasting is as prevalent as spellcasting in the roleplaying genre (Is a podcaster an actual character class or does every profession get a certain number of recording slots depending on their background options?). As with my usual viewing  habits I have drifted up a few youtube channels and seem to have settled on a couple of subscriptions.

There is the Hollywoodesque Critical Roll which both in production quality as well as Matt Mercer's  background draws a professional style and as glitzy as it is I catch the occasional Satine Phoenix who runs her own media from Maze Arcana. Whilst both are contributors to Critical Roll on Geek and Sundry, there are other shows listed though CR will tend to be my first visit for 5e content. 


CR also do an excellent set of GM Tips content to the point of almost full counselling. It would be nice on occasion to have a psychiatrist that could patiently listen to how you had to kill several people in both a fair and unbiased manner and even though you were being completely neutral about the whole thing no one is speaking to you at the moment for some reason.... a sort of post traumatic party disorder. I suspect though that respite may come in the form of ground unicorn horn and a full moon so I guess you get what you give.


There is DawnForgedCast also for 5e but for those with a passion for the Pathfinder system this is an excellent channel - not something I have played myself but I know there are plenty of people at the club who have and I would definitely sign up for a game.

Also, as its so bad its good, The next series of Harmonquest is now out. If there was a cheap end of  cheap end productions this is it! Sporting the GM mastery of Spencer Crittenden, the wit of Dan Harmon and the same bowl of crisps from last series, the hapless adventures continue of people who have no idea what is going on or why they are there.


On a final footnote, Hem and Andy who used to frequent the club and are often seen on the scene about town have now released their own marvelous 5e podcast - see what great things people go on to after being nurtured, molded and guided by our wise and inebriated council.



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Jackson Six



We had a GM on  holiday in Ireland last week hunting leprechauns which always gives us a chance to kick back and fiddle with our bags of holding. We can pretty much always rely on Jamie to conduct such affairs and offered among other weird and wonderful things, the classic Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games. As I am developing an interest in collaborative card based roleplaying games and I am a huge fan of the Steve Jackson genre, I did have a go at this classic which turned out to be enormous fun. 


As it is within the category of Dungeon Bashing, its quite a quick pickup for an evening and you know exactly where you are right  from the start. Basically you draw cards, both from a treasure pile and action pile into your hand and then you have some choices regarding which cards to play, albeit fighting monsters from your own hand to gain levels and treasure or looking for  trouble in the action pile which can give your character extra classes, weapons and armour. Satirical items can be found such as the Boots of Butt kicking and the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment and at the lower levels you can come up against the Potted Plant or alternatively there are higher level monsters such as the Eyefull Tower which can fall on you in an instantly dead sort of way.


Beyond the satire lies the interaction where players can team up to fight against monsters, for a share of the treasures of course, or if you take a disliking to someone you can throw your monsters at them as well as frustrate their combat abilities using other cards. The overall winner is the one to reach a certain level. Funnily enough we didn't have quite the time to finish the game partly because we were mucking around so much but the amusing outcome was that Nick who had built up quite a high powered character with lots of weapons, classes and armour was still  only level 1 by the end as we had picked on him so much; power gaming munchkin style.


By a pure coincidence I had stuffed a couple of random games into my rucksack one of which was also a Steve Jackson game. I had brought along Illumanati - the classic pyramidal paranoid power building game where your faction influences other weird and wonderful society groups to gain traction and wealth enough to crush your opponents..

I also brought along Nuclear War, which as it sounds, tends to end up only going one way - comes with a wonderful spinometer appropriately enough for drunk superpowers.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Bluffing the Dead



Last week I had occasion to sit in on GM Krzys's Phoenix Dawn Command. Whilst I had sat in on the game a few times, as I find the narrative driven card based game quite refreshing, it was my first time actually playing the cards themselves. With a little familiarity and a lot of help I did get the general idea of making plays of cards combining their face value that had to beat a certain GM set score given the constraints of whether I could use Grace, Intelligence or Strength card categories to do so. There are also situational modifiers in our favour as we could add narrative for additional attack points, burn sparks for bonuses and augment scores for other party members.

.

Having a strong poker background proved to be absolutely no help whatsoever as the particular Undead Warrior we were fighting didn't seem phased by bravado, but given the fact he was also regenerating a bit each round did inject a bit of urgency. Perhaps I should have been prcticising with Tarot cards rather than the usual fifty two card deck. Ultimately we did take him down which required several of us to combine our face value cards to exceed quite a high total (armour) before the remainder came off his hit point pool but it stuck me how well balanced the encounter was. Worth mentioning that one of us was dead when the encounter began and another Phoenix died boldly during the fight, which is not the end of the world as you get seven lives and dead phoenixes can give spiritual aid to players - think glowing blue Jedi. The debrief at Eerie Command was amusing tho but I think we got an above average appraisal as it seems that we have discovered that the great undead army marching upon the south of our world are particularly vulnerable to Shamanic magic and all have a history as individuals that perhaps, could be levered.


Credit must also go to GM Fade as when I stole his Phoenix Dawn place, he began a new D&D to fill the gap from GM Mike's enormously fun makeshift adventure and as we finished for the evening, characters were created and dead things were found on beaches. More of that later I am sure.

Exalted continues on with the promise of Andras extending the experience and a welcome shout out to Alfie who joined the club last week so, for now, we are as busy as the Borg and backed up further than a constipated Ogre. I wont post the usual glib picture in this instance.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Food for thought


Life in role playing is like a day on the farm, every ration a banquet, every reward a fortune every encounter is a parade. And when I am paraphrasing Sgt. Apone from Aliens then you know I really have attained even thinner altitudes in the Blogsohere. Not that we would seek to host any Masterchef events but there is a certain amount of creativity when purveying the exotic corner shops of Brighton for snacks. For a long while I was a proponent of the Onion Ring theory as  snack zero from which all others derive but of late there are some strains of nuts that find their way onto our tables and there is also the missing link forming the breads branch of grazing including cheesy sticks, croissants, rice cakes and seedy buns. However as much as I am willing to shave off a few hours of my life eating Pringles, can I ask how far you would go in pursuit of new delicacies. How about a tube of Purple, N127, No-Brand crisps ? I can't tell if we are on the brink of a great collapse or at the cusp of a new golden age for mankind...


Whether you believe that nachos evolved naturally or we in fact were designed by a savory deity is neither here nor there as all are welcome at the club but let us give our thought to those who give thought to others and spend their hard earned cash on a Thursday so others don't have to go hungry during our sessions.

However the real food for thought are the upcoming games - whilst the Phoenix Dawn and Exalted are running quite happily we seem to be healthily queuing up GMs for other new creative experiences. Whilst I have a D&D proper on the back burner now following my technical training GM Jon has availed himself of a very new shiny Star Trek system, GM Andras - one of the other major investors of the Exalted system - has a hankering for continuing the dynasty and GM Rob has offered about a dozen other options.

Our mission still bodily goes where no half-ogre-halfling-cleric-ranger has gone before.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Schlooping


I do enjoy a good schlooping. When over hammed it can come across as a little pretentious and when under done it can seem a little amateur. But you do need that special someone to schloop just right and by Jupiter we have that man. All good things must come to an end and in that vein GM Mike completed his marvelous freeform D&D last week in classic style with the party nicely squared up for a human sacrifice to some sort of hideous, giant Cthuluesque Thing.

Having been guided into a large underground cavern on our way through a subterranean labyrinth we were clearly in the proverbial as a contingent of Goblins had entered battle with a group of Humans. For reasons that escaped me our giant ogre had decided to put himself right in the middle of the battle which did nothing except grind his hit points down but meating out plenty of damage nonetheless.


Whilst the rest of us scrambled around various piles of "treasure" - think scrapheap challenge - battle blood slowly trickled its way down into a foreboding hole out of which emerged something from a John Carpenter film. In keeping GM Mike masterfully articulated our dilemma  with flailing his arms around and provided complete atmospheric immersion by adding slobbering schlooping sounds as the monster dragged its hideously bloated body towards us. At least I presume that was what he was doing rather then asking us to pass the biscuits that Lee brought with her.


Having all our magic points and almost all our hit points taken away from fighting The Thing, the real issue was that we were being beguiled - so whilst I was rescuing one of our team, they were under the impression that they were being dragged away by a horrible creature. The rules here worked a treat as the player described their action under the impression that the world around them was behaving in one way where in actuality they had actually lost grip on reality entirely.

Sanity can be a bitch but somehow we all got out of there on little more than a few hitpoints ...but then again I may have imagined it and am already being slowly digested along with my fellow morsels...

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Technical Teardown


Whilst rich content and accessibility are basic concerns for all new systems and kick starters, its often the actual round by round mechanics that are glossed over. Like a good idea in a dragon's den, it's simply not enough by itself. At the Roleplaying club we have seen our fair share of games from the wonderfully over flexible and under engineered original Star Wars D6 system to the legendary Exalted super mechanics. But I have yet to come across that perfect system. Of late I recall the Escalation Die of the 13th Age whereby at the start of each round a D6 is incremented as a global modifier to all attack rolls - this has a combined effect of ratcheting up the fervour of battle by accelerating the action as well as ensuring an encounter doesn't last overly long.

Whilst this is definitely my favourite approach so far, an old friend of mine was recounting the new Conan system by Modiphius featuring Momentum and Doom rules which do sound intriguing, more so as they can inject narrative. I understand that Modiphius were actually there at last weeks Reunicon at the Dice Saloon running their Conan remake, but briefly:

Basic Rules: Roll 2d20 against Attribute + Skill. If you roll under Attribute + Skill on a die, that's a Success. If you do it on both dice, that's two Successes. It's also possible to get two Successes on just one die, if you roll low enough. So, with a basic roll and lots of luck, you could get as many as four Successes.

The Difficulty of the task determines how many Successes you need. You need one Success for Average challenges, and two for Difficult challenges. The scale goes from 0 to 5.

Extra Successes are called Momentum and go into a pool that all PCs can use on their turn. Momentum is used to power various things, like more damage, special effects, or a narrative result. You can buy more dice by spending Momentum or Doom, either to attempt a higher Difficulty challenge or to generate more Momentum. The GMs pool of Momentum is called Doom.

For those with a passion for Robert E Howard's Conan legacy here is a link to an equally passionate group of role players play testing in his Lounge !




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Immortality



In GM Jacks Exalted game last week, we seem to have come across an old problem. When I say old, I mean senile. Handling people who have succumbed to the ravages of age is a sensitive affair where you cant always do the right thing but as long as you do your best with as much respect as you can then you will have no regrets. Handling the criminally insane may require a certain amount of intervention despite the context of their trauma and taking up arms against a psychopath may be a singular choice as I am unsure to what extent such people can be considered human. 'Though wise men know at their end that dark is right' to quote Dylan.


But the ravages of time take on a completely different meaning where immortality is concerned. Far beyond what would erode a mortal mind to dust, even an eternal consciousness should give way eventually as epoch upon epoch pile up like so many leaves in Autumn. And even then you have barely even begun your sentence. So it would seem that the only way to bear eternity is with a little amnesia thrown in; if you can forget about yesterday then why worry about tomorrow. 


The problem then for the Exalted players is that they need to convince a geriatric god that a long forgotten war ended millennia ago. Whilst he is shacked up in his tower too paranoid to look out of a window, every avenue of discourse can transpose to subterfuge; there is nothing that can be said that would not be indicative of an enemy spy at the height of hostilities. Quite the standoff but hopefully, if the players can somehow show the God the face of change in the real world, then perhaps progress can be made. Tricky.


On another radar entirely, this WE is the annual Reumicon of BURPS, the once mighty University role playing society, at its height, over 100 members. Can you imagine the arguments ? I can. I was there. And you can be too ~ Dice Saloon this Sat http://reunicon.uk/



Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Ambient Conditions



Its a little thing, but it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, which is completely untrue for role players as it actually starts with an argument, passes though a rope shop stocking exactly 6 lengths of 100 feet each, turns left at shouting and arrives at one of those tourist spots with a cluster of signs pointing in different directions. Navigating and DMing the D&D rules pulls against some old habits of mine, specifically in difficulty modifiers. The advantage and disadvantage rules are fun but I am used to simply altering difficulty targets on the fly where challenges are concerned and I forget to ask players to roll double D20s as well as some other basic rules.


In the last D&D play test last week the party wizard kindly or otherwise decided to cast grease up the party together with some zombies they were fighting whereupon a weird game of whack a mole ensued as individuals stood up for some rounds and then fell over for others. Added to this that the zombies were doing the same, each round had a combination of fighters up and down. Whilst the players kindly explained the rules for this sort of encounter whereby prone characters had restriction on their actions as did players when attacking prone targets in concert with their initiatives. 


We got through it in good order I believe but I went home wondering where these rules were in the PHB as I had gone over the combat section several times. Lo and behold, it transpires, that there is a "conditions" section at the back of the PHB among the appendices and here can be found the order of rules used for all these circumstances - prone, cover etc etc I had not bothered looking at this as I presumed that "conditions" referred to environmental factors such as wind, rain, ground conditions, temperature etc. Basically if you pay a lot of money for a book, its a good idea to read it. Nevertheless it highlights the value of support from friends when learning something new.

In other games I know that GM Max ran his Warhammer and GM Jack was back with his original Exalted plot so will catch up with everyone this Thursday. I have to thank the GMs last week for being bullied to let go of players as depending on numbers, if one game has a lot of players then it can leave too few players left to play a third game, but it seems it was eyes down for a full house.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Gods Themselves


With three games of any five running in clubland at the moment there is always the tempting and readily available option of whoring oneself about. Whilst it can be useful to make up numbers if a game is a player or two short, a bit like passport stamping, its a quick way of travelling between universes and experiencing a wide variety of play. Over the last few weeks I have been juggling with the nitty grity of D&D 5e, watching the card play of the Phoenix Dawn, popping in and out of GM Max's Warhammer as well as GM Mike's Freeform DnD. The one remaining game off my radar was the Exalted which I have sort of perceived from a distance as a beautiful orrery, spinning out its fate in a mesmerizing dance, but not to be touched in case it explodes in a cloud of springs.


Nevertheless, GM Jack took the opportunity of playing a one off flashback scenario, as I was a guest player and we had the pleasure of Ian's company again who popped in from running the government to say hi. 

The world itself is an infinite flat expanse where the characters walk as Gods, Exalted, akin in some ways to a virtual reality in that many things are abstract but obey their own set of rules. For example, in this particular scenario we had to go to a casino that people were frequenting but not returning from. Basically it transpired that another God was raising stakes whereby people could eventually gamble their souls. It was a bit of a head spin but what was interesting was that the God did obey its own principals and ran fair games but in question was the morality of doing so of course, so as a character one is forced to take a view as well as action. 


A bit like a rough whisky I think it was a matter of piecing together the flavours afterwards but I would gladly give it another go to get a bit more of handle on the universe. Oddly it remind me of some of the Tolkien back story with respect to Valinor, the land of the Gods, where enormous power sloshes around the little people and it becomes a struggle for the various overpowered Gods just to keep the world in one piece purely as a side effect of their own nature. It's a fascinating scale up of issues over the usual day to day and hack and slay.



Don't remember a casino in Lord of the Rings tho to be fair.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Dungeoninium Dragonus


Always a sticky point having someone on zero hit points. The D&D technical session last week saw a zombie attack take one of our elves down to a whisker. The history of zero is an interesting one and we must be fortunate that we did not inherit Roman mathematics as having to roll a DXX would be a somewhat lopsided affair given that one of the facets would have to read XVIII. The ancient Romans had this problem themselves of course and whilst they played AG&G - Advanced Gauls and Greeks - they did at least abbreviate their options on their D20s, but the zero never did add to their accomplishments.

5e is wonderfully simple in principal but this also means its quite stark in places and whilst I tried to buy a little flexibility on behalf of the character, there was little point, the rules are extremely clear. To be fair, all the party members with any sort of healing or medicine completely failed to make any positive expectation for the patient, so the tense and  necessary death saving throw was made at the 50/50 chance of getting into more trouble. Passed.

The zero is a special case as one is held at the border of consciousness or unconsciousness and if it was a proper scenario it would have been a wonderful opportunity for some visions or insights and possibly a bit of astral travelling; all hail Planescape. However it was a training session and whilst the players were patient, we went over the death and recovery rules quite meticulously and interesting to be taught about the short recovery rules where you gain a point of health every 1d4 hours which sort of worked out as by the time the party were shoveling random herbs down his throat the character was just blearily coming round.


In other games both the Exalted and Phoenix Dawn continue to go bodly which means that despite the seasonal summer lulls, we have actually been driving three games worth of players on a regular basis for some time now, if interest continues to grow, we may have to think about starting to worry about the possibility of maybe occasionally running a 4th game by the time Winter is Coming (bring back Song of Ice and Fire campaign will be printing badges soon). We shall see.





Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Number 6


As GM Krzys was on shift last week I had the impromptu opportunity to shuffle onward in my DnD5e training as the little module I fabricated on the back of an envelope nears its completion - I don't think it would quite qualify for a kickstarter as I feel would need a much better envelope - possibly a padded one. It was a slightly inebriated shock to me as I had though that everyone was either in the Warhammer or Exalted but an unholy 7 players piled into GM Max's game whilst I became dimly aware that there were a few others left over such that I could also run. Had I been less absent minded I would have worked all this out and not asked Max to give birth. All credit to him though for shouldering such a large group and including everyone who turned up, albeit my fault entirely.


The optimal number of players in a roleplaying game is an often touted conversation and varies between systems and GM opinion of course - whilst I can run with 3 keen players happily with an NPC, 4 is optimal with a 5th easily added. 6 is pushing it and 7 turns into a PowerPoint slide show from the late nineties when one adds too may graphics. The issue here is to always bear in mind the player experience as even with the best will in the world, not enough attention can be given to each player in a timely fashion. With even the most disciplined flow of mechanics, once you are into a round by round sequence, there is no avoiding a slow down, and people will feel the momentum suck from the play as time dilation takes effect where one can age more rapidly than those around you. My best advice for player, if you see a game with 5 or 6 people, stop, look both ways and don't be number 7. For a GM don't be a prisoner of your own mind, it may drive you insane.


As for the 5e training I feel happy enough with the system now to run proper as with the correct preparation for a scheduled game, a lot of the details will iron themselves out and the additional familiarity having run a few session have begun to round out my corners. What is a surprise to me is that I am getting quite an interest in the wider system and reading around the Greyhawk setting in general. Moreover I have fond memories of the acclaimed and original Darksun setting and although it portrays an arid and bleak world, there is a lot of inherent respect for characters that can survive such a dying realm. The temptation to migrate the system to 5e is quite compelling and I am not the only one:

https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/31y843/dark_sun_5th_edition_players_handbook_v20/


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hammertime


One of our games has rotated recently due to the fact that our new kid on the block, GM Max, has kindly agreed to step in and run his Warhammer Fantasy. Whilst the free form D&D has been shelved for now, as fun as it was, it was also a stop gap kindly volunteered by GM Mike but as Max was raring to go who are we to stop someone with Viking speakers and medieval shopping music? I sort of forgot the ambiance that a good tune can bring to an RPG as its been a few years since I was in a home game but these details lend themselves very well to atmospheric play.

In a nod to GM Jules it sort of brings part of the club full circle as one of the first blogs I posted was regarding the destruction of a dagger possessed by Demons in his Warhammer a few years ago; so in the new technical era of self affirmation do find my link below


I remember appreciating the Warhammer at the time and as accustomed as I am to percentile systems, I did find the character sheets a little poorly laid our but as I had previous experience, my eyes did seem to find the right sections when required.

Nevertheless, I manged to pick up the magnificent Friar Duck for the session and what better title for a gregarious over fed lady of the cloth - presumably the cloth in question being a table napkin  The adventure is currently involving the transport of a bandit ringleader who appears to be slowly running out of life; our party bounty hunting methods currently not falling entirely within the health and safety best practice.


Rolling around in his own excrement in the back of our cart, the accused to be had sustained a nasty infection to his leg which I had wholly failed to tend by way of a critical failure; jamming large clumps of mud into the gash did nothing to raise the poor chaps spirits but thankfully Jo stepped in with his character. Lacking any basic health skills he did however have the stab speciality, so after a spirited thrusting with his knife to the inflamed area we were suddenly in triage whilst our victim bled out. Professionally panicking we decided to quickly cauterise the entire leg and whilst he will never walk again, we feel confident that we can still make a bounty claim on partially damaged goods.

Moving on to an intermediate town where we hoped to rest, the remaining outlaws managed to ambush us by way of disguising themselves as the perimeter guard. Standing our ground with our assassin sniping from the shadows, we took them down in short order but trading a few blows and shots in the process. The particular star of that event was Lees's character that seemed to accumulate a rather impressive set of bonuses by charging in berserker fashion. All very well and good but in my experience such encounters are just a calibration exercise by the GM but for now we shall be drinking in the bar by sunrise and leaving our worries at the door.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Community


Last Monday saw the quarterly meet of the Brighton role playing club that operates out of the Craft Beer Co pub in Upper North Street. I have declared myself a regular to these meetings now and I get a kindly nod from Simon Appleton who co-ordinates the meeting through the on-line meetups groups. As always people were in high spirits and very welcoming and it seems that the hotter the weather then the smaller the crowd, though in this case rather than a packed venue like the Winter meet, there were just over a dozen people there. Oddly its sort of the same for us at the railway club - seems like people like to get out and about when the weather is warm and crawl in from the cold in the darker months. For my part I live underground hobbit style and have to do a risk assessment when wearing shorts but despite the heat, several GMs offered their games for prospective players and when I left there were a few late arrivals looking for a game.


At the Railway club meet we have considered and re-considered various organisational approaches to running a club and the Meetups site approach is a definite possibility - the issue I have with this approach is that there is actually no guarantee that a player will get a game - there appear to be a lot of players on the meetups waiting list but I actually suspect they are off the radar. We try and run a venue based system rather than an events based system. This has the advantage of pretty much ensuring that a newcomer gets into a game straight away and sets a low barrier to the hobby by providing a drop in or drive through service. On balance I prefer our approach although it does cause a natural volatility as many players cant make it all the time. Whilst we try and rotate games on a regular basis, opinions vary, some initiatives extend due to GM availability and also content is not always available on time where play tests are concerned. Some GMs are very passionate and insist on running with certain players or a certain number of session, others are happy to finish their games in less than the usual time frame. Herding cats comes to mind but by the same token its often just best to let cats be cats.


I don't think there is a magic bullet here though - In my mind as long as people can kick back, have a chat and get a game then its a win. In as much as you can win at roleplaying..