Tuesday, 30 November 2010

How to game on little energy

I am now ‘progressing’ into my mid-40s, and somehow, thanks to having tolerant gamers in my gaming group, am still able to game!! Admittedly, folks have been very flexible to help me (and Stuart) out in this regard….. Insane amounts of work (I teach social sciences and thus have tons of marking, and an ever shifting teaching / knowledge domain) coupled with commuting 2 hours a day....

And also wanting to enjoy Brighton and go to the occasional gig, stay in touch with non-gaming friends, see a film, play some boardgames..….

How has the show been kept on the road (for me at least)?

Flexible & nice bunch of fellow gamers
(and their wives) – who agreed (well - their wives did) to let me and Stuart shift the game to Friday so we are able to get more than 2 hours of gamage in an evening… and sometimes, somehow, from 7.30 to 12.30+...

Playing games which are more cathartic/ cinematic…. Like D&D / Pathfinder more and less heavy on the investigative games we all played when we had more energy (like Kelvin still does!!)….. (I do feel very guilty on Kelvin’s behalf – how he copes hanging around with a bunch of old fogies is beyond me. ;) If I am not jumping up and down, shouting and throwing dice I tend to fall asleep (yeah – like Father Jack – urg – is that me??!! Don’t answer that!)

Pathfinder too has helped…. I remember creating a pc for a 3.5 Eberron ‘campaign’ (it only lasted 2 sessions when the GM got distracted by Red Hand of Doom, and scrapped the campaign to run that, again for another 2 sessions or so, before quitting the DM’s shield!!)…. But to create a 3.5 edition D&D pc I was using 4 books: the Players Handbook, The Complete Adventurer’s Handbook, Eberron Core Rulebook, and Warriors of Might (I seem to remember) – Stuart used 5 since he was playing a Shifter, found in the Races of Eberron book…. MADNESS!! With Pathfinder, all you need (currently) are the Pathfinder RPG and - MAYBE the Advanced Players Guide……. And maybe the Bestiary if you are being a fussy b*gger and want to play a talking crow. ;) BUT for most folks, all you need is one book. PHEW!

Other things that help speed up play, and save on DM time:
Get tons of preprinted cardstock dungeon tiles. WotC are bringing out boxed sets now.

A battle mat – such as the Chessex one Leisure Games sell (see right)

Prepainted minis – invaluable – it is taking me ages to find time to paint my metal ones. These can include ones from eBay – as in children’s toys – which you can get on the cheap. Stuart has just got some after the last insane session where our mage, Grameer (aka Manoj) summonsed about 4 rhinos to take down ‘Owlzilla’, a giant Owlbear in mail barding, along with the other creatures in the party which included a Griffon.

Play games for which there is plenty of online support. Pathfinder Adventure Paths offer this – in the form of free pdfs of the scenarios if you subscribe; forums with tips and resources from other GMs; software tools such as ‘Free PDF Image Extractor’ – freeware – which enables you to strip a map from a pdf down to its image without any text/ labelling so you can copy and paste it into word, blow it up into a bigger size and print it off to game on.

Healthy eating! Well - sometimes - but we try! Diabetic Fridays has calmed down a little!!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Ministry of Blades : The Madness of Angels, episode 1

Marsh follows his nose; Miss Sharpe tries out her new toy.


4th November 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Rodney Marsh - a Partially-reformed Thief.
Mr Erasmus Rooke - the Boss.
The Chief Verger of St Paul’s Cathedral.
A number of Industrious Cleaners.


Shaftesbury Avenue, October 1888.

Returning from Highgate Cemetery with the corpses of the werewolves stowed in the Ministry’s own hansom cab, the group were asked to produce their reports as soon as possible. Once this was completed, they were asked to come into Mr Rooke’s office.

Their superior informed them that he had just heard about the apparent suicide of the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend Reginald Green. As the Dean was a good friend of his, he wanted to send his best team to investigate; unfortunately, they were occupied with the Ripper case at the moment, so he was having to send Captain Curruthers’ team instead. Rooke did not believe it was a suicide, so they were to take special care to confirm that this was a murder and find the culprit - starting immediately.

Picking up Marsh outside the Quartermaster’s Office, the team headed for the City. Entering the Cathedral, they were introduced to the hassled-looking Chief Verger, who said he had been expecting them, immediately raising some suspicions given the lack of Police on the scene. The Chief Verger was somewhat surprised when Lady Antonia and Captain Curruthers complained about the removal of the body to the Crypt and subsequent cleaning of the floor. He explained that early services would be starting soon and that this couldn’t be allowed to disturb the congregation.

Curruthers dismissed the cleaners while they attempted to divine what they could from the blood stains between the tiles. The body had landed almost directly beneath the open central occular of the dome: either the Dean had made a prodigious leap from the Whispering Gallery or he had fallen from the walkway around the occular Inspecting the body, they confirmed that he had indeed fallen from a great height (and rather messily). The Dean had been a very tall, thin gentleman in his sixties, bald, with a fringe of white hair. His face appeared to be locked in an expression of extreme fear and there was a fresh, horizontal wound across his forehead, such as might be inflicted by a club.

Proceeding upstairs, they investigated the Whispering Gallery, confirming that there was no evidence of him jumping from there. Curruthers spotted a staff doorway leading to a spiral staircase up into the dome, so they made this their next destination, discovering a five foot wide walkway around the occular at the top of the dome. It was little-used and covered by a thin layer of dust, showing up footprints clearly, and they found a scuff of the right size on the ballustrade, which seemed to indicate he had jumped. Miss Sharpe, meanwhile, decided that this was an ideal opportunity to test her new device, Sharpe’s Detecteronatron, designed to detect spirits and other magical emanations; she did not detect anything, other than an odd glow from Marsh, indicating a need for further tinkering, perhaps? Taking a copy of the footprint, they located more prints on the stairs, indicating someone running up them, a prodigious feat for an elderly minister. Marsh remained on the walkway, planning to shapeshift into his rat form and sniff around. Distracted by a strong smell of cheese and nearly killed by a powerful rat trap, he abandoned this approach rather quickly.

The remainder of the team followed the footprints back out onto one of the walkways above the false ceiling of the Church, winding in and out of a series of low beams and rafters. Locating a bloodstain on one of them, indicating that he may have hit his head, the found that the trail ended at a fenced off area at the far end of the roof. Some maintenance work had been taking place here and stonemason’s tools were scattered around an opening in the facing of the wall, which revealed the rubble infill. They determined that something (a block about 18 inches square) was missing from the infill, but were unable to locate it. Miss Sharpe tried her gadget again and, momentarily, thought she saw a screaming face in the mists inside, but was unable to get it to come back. Shaken, she switched the device off, turning to see Lady Antonia and Marsh extracting what appeared to be a pocket book, complete with a key ring, from under the eaves.

Pathfinder's Kingmaker

Hiya folks, if you have been following Kelvin’s blogs of the Kingmaker story, eg ‘Living in a Box’, and likewise by Stuart on his blog, The Great Game, eg: ‘A Short Cut to Mushroom (soup)’, you may be aware there are a bunch of us playing Paizo’s Kingmaker Campaign using the Pathfinder rules. Having completed books – or as I call them – ‘Acts’ / or Story Arcs 1 and 2, I thought I’d offer up a little commentary and some thoughts on them.

Well – we decided to go ‘retro’ and return to an older edition of D&D having given 4e a go (I ran Paizo’s Rise of the Runelords for Acts 1 and 2, and Ric had run some of Open Designs ‘Wrath of the River King’ slotted into his homebrew setting). We were after a more open, sandbox game – our interest sparked by Kelvin’s Rogue Trader game that was VERY open. ;) & we were also after that retro feel where we had more options than simply killing everything, and only using powers…. A return to skills and a more open game-play. Paizo had produced the sandbox campaign Kingmaker, and with its ruleset Pathfinder, we decided to give it a go, and see where it took us!

Why I’d recommend Kingmaker (using Pathfinder):

It is a sandbox game,
in which players can affect the story, and is not driven by a linear plot development. (Yes – players are limited to a certain size of the map – via their charter from Brevoy, their noble sponsors – but what they do, who they kill, who they ally themselves with in the realm is up to them)

The Pathfinder rules – they are better, IMHO, than 3.5 D&D, more like a souped up version of D&D (influence of Iron Heroes here?), and the tweeks from 3.5, although making it a little fiddly for those of us who are familiar with 3.5 and thus have to declutter our brains from 3.5 gobble-di-gook, the tweeks and changes are welcome ones, and make game play better! Stuart has written a few words here about 4e v Pathfinder – in a fair way IMHO. :)

Pathfinder rpg is well supported – with the Pazio prd, as well as a fansite pfsrd.

Paizo’s Adventure Paths are also well supported – via fan postings on the message boards. I was able to mine these posts from folks who were ahead of me in running the game, and learn from their problems, their ideas on bring some parts of the game to life, and reflecting on how to foreshadow future issues and so on and so forth. Ideas about climate, culture, names, working out some tricky points in the game, how to make sure the players have a background that will advantage them/ link them into the setting etc. Really useful to have a community of other GMs to converse with about the materials, rather than do it all on your own. This is a key advantage of any Pathfinder Adventure Path.

We have really enjoyed it. And players have responded. We have 2 bestiaries now – one for the players for their companions and summonsed creatures stats; 3 copies of the Advanced Players Guides, I have pre-ordered Bestiary 2… and we are looking forward to the new Magic book in April 2011….. None of us have played at this level before in D&D (bar me – level 9 was my limit in a game I ran – The Night Below for 2nd ed way back in 1995-1997)

I am looking forward to playing in Kelvin’s ‘Carrion Hill’ scenario for Pathfinder level 5 and our Winter BenCon all day gaming sometime over xmas – where we get together and play games (rpg one shots/ board games) all day! I am also looking forward to recharging my GMing brain, and having time to paint some minis before I get back into the hot seat! Kelvin’s turn first! Carrion Hill - & Rogue Trader?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

On the Boil

I can't recall ever having so many gaming projects on the go at once. Back in my wayward youth, I'd concentrate on one game or setting for months, before moving on to the next game and doing the same, all of which often came to naught as the group decided to play something else anyway. I'm sure this is not uncommon within our hobby.

I am working on three unrelated projects at the moment, but on the plus side, much of the work is already done for two of them:

  • Our Pathfinder GM has expressed a desire to experience the game as a player for once. In fairness, this situation has arisen because he's always so full of enthusiasm for running his latest idea for a D&D-variant game, so we let him get on with it. Even so, I've volunteered to run a scenario so he can try the game from the other side of the screen; I have chosen Paizo's Carrion Hill, which is rather appropriate, as whenever I run something it seems to end up as Call of Cthulhu, and now I have an excuse.
  • In the summer, I finally got a chance to run an Eberron game, albeit using Savage Worlds as the ruleset. At some point in December, I'll be running the sequel to that: Savage Eberron II: The Jewel of Galifar. Most of the work is done, but I've taken Stephen King's advice and have put the scenario away so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes in a few weeks. My plan is to run these once or twice a year, as a series of linked adventures, but not quite a campaign.
  • Most recently, I've been brainstorming ideas for a return to my Rogue Trader game. I now have a good outline for the plot of the next chunk of the campaign, which will be a bit more linear before returning to the sandbox of the first "season". Players being the special snowflakes that they are, I expect it to be nowhere as direct a journey as the word "linear" implies.

In other news, we hit seventh level in our ongoing Pathfinder campaign last night, although since I've been blessed by Nurgle I decided to stay away and play via Skype. Which was fine until the camera cut out at their end and the microphone cut out at mine -- so I could only hear them and they could only see me -- and communication consisted of me attempting to figure out what was going on from their discussion and holding up handwritten notes to the camera in response.

From what I could tell things got a bit hairy, with at least two characters into critical condition -- perhaps Stuart can provide a more detailed synopsis -- but the party emerged from the troll caverns victorious and with a sizeable haul of treasure, including a +2 thundering great sword for Stuart's barbarian Artemisia, further nudging her towards the Weapon of Mass Destruction prestige class.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Ministry of Blades: The Werewolves of Highgate

Curruthers scores a bullseye; Antonia takes the charge.


21st October 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
A Bloodthirsty Werewolf.
An Unfortunate Wolfman.


As the leaves began to fall in the autumn of 1888, London was gripped by the lurid tales of the exploits of Jack the Ripper. The Ministry, suspecting a supernatural involvement, assigned its best agents to the case.

Captain Curruthers's team meanwhile, was assigned to investigate an apparently unrelated series of attacks in North London. Taking place on the nights around the full moon in late August, the assaults had been bloody but not yet fatal. They were centered on Highgate Cemetery and were reportedly carried out by a “large man-like beast”. Judging that a lycanthrope was involved, the team, excluding Marsh, who was suffering from an unknown malady, and Miss Spit, currently assigned to work with the REG's Psychical Research Team, went loaded for wolf.

Arriving at the South Gate of the cemetery not long after nightfall, Currruthers and Lady Antonia began scouring the mud for unusual tracks, while Prentiss warmed up for a fight and Miss Sharpe fiddled with her latest equipment. Curruthers discovered the fresh prints of a large dog leading into the cemetery and, on further investigation, noticed that there were no front paw prints - the creature walked upright like a man! Now convinced that their target was a werewolf, the team ensured their weapons were loaded with silver bullets and pressed on into the dark graveyard.

Despite the fog, the tracks were easy to follow and led straight to the far corner of the enclosure, as yet unused for burials. As the silver fog snaked between the bushes, they spotted a powerfully-built humanoid figure ahead of them. As it raised its muzzle to sniff the air, it became obvious it was not human, and Curruthers fired a single bullet. The figure fell and, as they drew closer to the body expecting it to rise and attack them, it became clear that he had pulled off an amazing shot, hitting it between the eyes with a single shot from thirty paces - in the dark.

Unfortunately, they did not have long to congratulate each other on their immediate success, as a snarling sound preceded a rushing attack from the bushes to one side. Lady Antonia was clawed from behind and stumbled, saved from a mortal wound only by her heavy coat, as the attacker rushed on towards Curruthers. More shots were fired, and shrugged off, before they were able to surround it. Miss Sharpe finally got her Orgonator working and opened fire, catching the beast in a crossfire with Curruthers and Lady Antonia. It continued to fight, finally going down only when Curruthers hit it in the back of the head from near point-blank range with his pistol.

Both werewolves had reverted to human form upon death and, while one of them was naked in the traditional manner, the second wore a wolfskin as a headdress. The team decided to take both corpses back for further examination.


As before, this arc began with a simple fight unrelated to the rest of the story. In part, this was necessitated by the award and expenditure of experience at the beginning of the evening and it also provided an opportunity for us all to refamiliarise ourselves with the rules before we got in with the main plot.

There were two kinds of beasts involved here: the first was a wolfman, the victim of a werewolf attack, while the second was an actual werewolf, a human that actively seeks to become a wolf using magic. Rippers often provides different levels of monster like this, and it's handy when you want to have a boss and one or more minions.

Curruthers’ perfect shot was the result of an excessively high damage role - the lesson of this being that you should never get to attached to a villain in this game. Both sides spent large numbers of bennies to aid their survival during the fight and, for the first time, I finally felt able to try and actively kill the characters (and that I didn't have to pull my punches).

Super Dungeon Explore

I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't approve of such things, as role-playing games are a Serious Business, and things like this make our hobby look silly and immature, but I don't care. I ran a D&D4 cleric using a Lego Indiana Jones as my miniature -- both characters had hats, which was enough for me -- so that should tell you where I stand on such matters.

On a more serious note, the Japanese console rpg is a big part of gaming culture now, and is likely more influential than the tabletop hobby, so it's only fitting that the visual style of the former should cross over into the latter. I'm only surprised that it's taken so long. The miniatures come from Sodapop, and are part of their upcoming Super Dungeon Explore board-role-playing-hybrid game, but will be available separately.