Sunday, July 16, 2017

It's About Time

When I was around seven or eight I would play Doctor Who in the playground at school. I would play the Doctor and my friend Louise Griffiths would play Mel. We'd make up adventures in which we'd run away from imaginary alien monsters and pretend to fall off cliffs. I'd like to think I was being clever and wise beyond my years but I can't manage that now, so I doubt I did it when I was seven.

The programme was more or less cancelled a year or so after that and didn't reappear until 2005 by which time I was twenty-five so I sort of missed that window in which I could have told the careers adviser that I wanted to be an actor, director, or writer so that I could work on Doctor Who.

I mean that; if the programme existed during those formative years I probably would have tried to get involved in it somehow. Oh well.

That's not a problem the youth of today have. Children watching it when it came back in 2005 are now going to be making their way in the world as young adults and I'm sure there are a few who have decided to become actors or writers or props people or composers because of their love of the programme, and that's brilliant.

What's not so brilliant is that the girls and young women who love Doctor Who and want to be actors because of it will never get to play the main role.

Oh, hang on.



I think the only thing I've seen Jodie Whittaker in is Attack the Block and I remember thinking she was good in that. Well, everyone and everything is good in that; it's ace, but that's beside the point.

I'm sure she'll be good in the role and I'm keen to see what this new Doctor Who will be like, but it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that now is that a door has opened and non-male fans of the programme know that they can not only write for it, or direct it, or act in it, but they can also play the lead part.

That is, as the Ninth Doctor used to say, fantastic.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

LASERBEAR

This is an older one but I don't think I've posted it before and it seemed a shame to miss it out given that a theme seems to be developing.


This fine fellow was drawn for Fight On! #6 in 2009. Yikes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frostgreat!

Somehow, despite it being one of those hectic weeks where nothing seemed to be going right, Stuart and I played a game of Mordheim Frostgrave on Thursday. You can see Stuart's summary of the game here and I think he overstates the scale of my victory; I scraped a 4-2 win but I rather suspect it should have been 3-3 or 4-2 to Stuart, because:

  • Stuart misplaced one of his miniatures at some point during the first turn so wasn't playing with a full strength warband.
  • I misread the description of poison dart and KO'd Stuart's apprentice early on with a spell that doesn't cause damage! I did roll a critical hit with the attack so there's a wafer thin in-game justification, he says, convincing no one, not even himself.
  • Stuart's last surviving warband member -- and treasure carrier -- was killed by a wandering monster, rather than through any deliberate action on my part.

All in all, I think it was closer than the score or Stuart's account suggests and I suspect the next battle will be closer still now that we're both more used to the way the game works. I'm looking forward to that forthcoming skirmish as the first outing was great fun. You probably got that from the title of the post.

The mechanics are swingy, with lots of random events and tables, and that makes the game unpredictable. My orc barbarian -- one of the tougher types of henchman available -- charged into combat with one of Stuart's dogs -- one of the weakest types -- and managed to incapacitate himself, because the wide range of results on a d20 roll -- most miniatures wargames I've played use the less granular d6 -- lessened the impact of the barbarian's combat bonuses.

That's going to annoy some people but I like being surprised by the game, and it's not as if events are out of the players' control; for example, I lost an expensive warband member as a result of a post-game d20 injury roll but I wouldn't have made that roll if I hadn't thrown that character into danger in the first place.

I'm also fond of the wandering monster mechanic. It's an optional rule but I can't see myself playing without it, as it makes the city of Mordheim Frostgrave seem alive and it gives you something else to think about aside from what your opponent is doing; that clear run to the table edge could fill up with angry albino gorillas at any moment.

I also like that the game is about grabbing treasure, rather than killing off your opponent's warband. The latter is a valid tactic, but often not the best one; I found myself forced into doing so by Stuart's superior positioning, it felt desperate at the time, and I was lucky -- see above -- to pull it off. What's fun about going for the treasure is that it changes the tempo of the game; it starts off as a hectic scramble, but once the loot is acquired the game becomes more cagey as those carrying treasure are slower and less effective in combat. Furthermore, every gang member that makes it off the table with a treasure chest is one gang member you don't have available for the rest of the skirmish. As such there are distinct phases of play in a game of Mordheim Frostgrave and you have to keep them in mind when plotting your overall strategy.

There's a fair bit of complexity there, but it's all on the tactical side as the rules are super simple. Almost everything is resolved with an opposed d20 roll, characters have only a handful of statistics, and there are almost no special rules or exceptions. From my perspective it's a close to perfect mix; less maths and page-flipping, and more fighting and stealing!

My only real regret from the first game is that all of the treasure was at ground level -- aside from one chest that I suspected was an illusion created by Stuart's wizard -- so neither of us got to push anyone off a building!

As a result of the battle at the mausoleum Grotbag's gang has ended up with a big pile of gold, some spellbooks and a magic staff; the magic loot is, at this point, useless so will go into storage, and poor Snozzrot, the "mighty goblin sorcerer" took a dwarven axe to the face so most of the cash will go towards replacing him.

Grotbags herself is now a level three witch, having gained lots of experience points through frequent spellcasting during the skirmish. She is also getting on the Mordheim Frostgrave property ladder and is looking for headquarters for her warband. She's got her eye on an old wizard's laboratory, but the ruined First Metropolitan Bank of Mordheim Frostgrave also has fixer-upper potential.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mammon Returns

I was not expecting -- let alone intending -- to do this again so soon and it makes me feel a bit queasy, but here are some new things to buy if you have any money here in the middle of the month.

In the ancient past of 2011 I drew some pictures for JB's B/X Companion, a, um, companion volume to the classic Basic/Expert D&D rules. It was out of print for a long time -- only available as a pdf -- but there is now a limited number of physical copies back on sale.

More recent and available in pdf and print is Wormskin #6, which contains the adventure "The Baker's Dozen"; I drew the maps for the adventure and went over the top with lots of fiddly detail. Again.

Also recent and also available is Mike Evans' Death is the New Pink, an apocalypunk rpg based on the Into the Odd rules and influenced by Borderlands and Tank Girl. Mike is some sort of machine, pumping out a new project every other month, it seems. You can tell the pictures I drew for DitNP because they are the ones that aren't as good as the ones Jeremy Duncan drew. Gosh, he's good.

That's your lot for now. I've got some other bits and pieces in the works but they are nowhere near finished, so with any luck it will be a long time before you have to put up with another of these awful and desperate money-grabbing posts.

Friday, June 02, 2017

A Winner Is You

A few days ago I ran the first playtest of CUFFS SHRIEK, the -- long-gestating if not long-awaited -- follow up to Forgive Us. The players torpedoed the adventure but I came away with lots of ideas for improvements and tweaks; I hope to run at least one more test online in the next couple of weeks, but this isn't about that.

In the post-game discussion one of the players asked what the win condition for the adventure was, and I had no idea how to respond because I have never thought of role-playing games as having winners; indeed one of the key features of rpgs for me, the thing that distinguishes them from other types of game, is that there are no winners and losers.

That said, I know what he means; even if there's no winner as such the players are competing against the adventure in a way, so in that sense there is a way to win, even if it's just surviving the adventure or getting to the end of the story. Even so, the question caught me off-guard.

I think one big reason for that confusion is that I don't tend to play to win when I'm playing with other people, even if it is a competitive game. I'm much more happy engaging with the mechanics of the game and exploring them just because they are fun, rather than to win. I suspect this is a source of frustration for my gamer friends as I ignore the most optimum strategy and instead wander off to build a fun little mechanics engine in one corner of the board.

I suppose that means I lack the soul of a winner, I will never amount to anything, and if he were still alive, the Ultimate Warrior would be disappointed in me, but so it goes. Play on!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Being the Bad Guy (But Only If There's Profit to Be Made)

Bear with me, this does come together. Sort of.

Thought one. I like role-playing game mechanics that give players things to do that aren't "my character does this". I'm thinking of things like the winter phase in The One Ring or Pendragon, where we see what happens between adventures, or the domain management rules in D&D, or the way the player-characters' survivor community in Mutant: Year Zero works. This is stuff that affects the game world and the characters but isn't about playing the characters themselves.

Thought two. In cyberpunk games the setup tends to be player-characters versus the evil corporations. I can see why; the source fiction supports it, faceless corporations make good villains, as the real world shows us -- ooh, politics! -- and it's a fertile ground for adventure and conflict. What you don't tend to see is players as corporations. I'm sure there's a Shadowrun sourcebook for playing as a corporation, because there's a Shadowrun sourcebook for everything, but otherwise the only instances I can think of are the card game Netrunner, which puts one player in the role of the corporation, and the computer game Syndicate, in which the player takes the part of the COO of struggling Eurocorp, in a setting in which corporate disputes are resolved with minguns and rocket launchers.

You can see where I'm going with this. How about, instead of the usual cyberpunk setup, or even placing the player-characters as corporate agents, letting the players be the corporation itself? Let's take Syndicate as the basic structure, with the players taking control of a minor corporation's business affairs. We could split the gameplay into two main phases.

The first would be a "boardroom" -- for lack of a better word -- phase in which projects and research are funded, intelligence on rival organisations is gathered, and shareholders can demand certain actions. We could probably cannibalise Mutant: Year Zero's ark mechanics for this.

The second part of the game -- which I will call the "street" phase -- would be more traditional, with corporate agents -- the player-characters -- going out into the neon-drenched city to disrupt the schemes of other corporations by recruiting their employees, stealing their plans, and eliminating their agents. Perhaps there could be some sort of resource mechanic that puts a limit on the mission; once the situation on the ground becomes unprofitable the team is ordered to pull out, unless the players can convince the board to extend funding. Maybe that's too spreadsheety.


The end goal would be up to the players, but becoming the pre-eminent corporation is the obvious one. I wouldn't want to delve too much into the business side of things; the idea is to provide some background and structure for the adventures, not to spend half of every session going through an accurate simulation of corporate economics.

If your group isn't into cyberpunk -- I suspect at least one member of mine wouldn't go anywhere near this in that genre -- then the same kind of structure could be applied with ease to something like Eberron and its dragonmarked houses, or a colonial setting, whether it's the East India Company or the Eastern Galactic Arm Company.

Would anyone play this? The fact that Hostile Takeover: The Faceless Corporation RPG doesn't already exist suggests not, but I think it could be fun.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Frostgreen? Greengrave?

Over at his blog Stuart has been putting together some warbands for Mordheim Frostgrave. There are piles of random miniatures clogging up Brainsplurge Towers and I thought I could use them to put together a gang of my own, so Stuart loaned me the Mordheim Frostgrave rulebook.

The game seems to be quite anthropocentric so hardcore Mordheim Frostgrave players will probably tut into their beards, but here we go.

GROTBAGS' GANG



Mordheim Frostgrave doesn't do shamans as such, so Grotbags is a witch. She's searching the ruins of the Frozen City for the legendary Pink Windmill and the treasures it is said to contain. Grotbags is armed with a staff and a flint dagger, and her spells are absorb knowledge, brew potion, fast act, grenade, mud, plague of insects, poison dart, and raise zombie.

Grotbags' apprentice is Snozzrot, a "mighty goblin sorcerer". He carries a dagger and a bulky moon-headed staff that he claims makes him a more powerful spellcaster but probably just makes him an easier target.

Bazz, Chazz, Gazz, and Wazz are Snozzrot's thuggish cousins and used to spend all their time bullying him. Now that he's a "mighty goblin sorcerer" they are hanging around on the off chance he finds some treasure.

Robbo and Orkeye are supposed to provide long range support but are not averse to using goblins as target practice should the opportunity arise.

Choppa was encountered one day trying to head-butt a rock to death; Grotbags saw potential in the idiot barbarian and brought him on-side by promising unlimited rice pudding.

Fido is Grotbag's pet, er, "warhound" and just wants to play.

I have no idea how this will work in play. I suspect the barbarian and warhound are wastes of gold but barbarians are always fun and I couldn't resist that squig miniature. I've gone for area control and buffing magic, with only a couple of direct damage spells, and this may end up a mistake, but we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Quiet Hordes

Back in January, Brian C asked me -- because I’m always banging on about how much I like Call of Cthulhu -- for my thoughts on both the new Delta Green role-playing game and Kevin Crawford’s Lovecraftian Silent Legions. I had a look at Delta Green in March and here’s the belated follow-up.

In terms of game mechanics Silent Legions is more or less B/X Call of Cthulhu, although you won’t see that stated anywhere in the book, for legal reasons probably. You’ve got character classes, levels, hit dice, saving throws, and all that classic D&D stuff, only transposed to a modern day horror setting, and with a sanity system bolted on. There is a skill system in there too, and it looks a bit like the one from Traveller, but I don't have a lot of experience with the venerable space game, so I may be way off.

It all looks quite robust but it does little for me. I didn’t grow up with D&D and I’m not one of these people that tries to use one ruleset to fit every genre -- says the person who used Call of Cthulhu to run a Night’s Black Agents campaign -- so there’s nothing here that grabs me and makes me want to play it. It’s not a bad set of rules but I can’t get my head around the idea of 6th level librarians as anything other than a joke, and you’re never going to win me over in the Space Year 2017 with odd artefacts like descending armour class.

It’s a matter of personal taste, it’s probably irrational, and may even be hypocritical; there’s nothing inherent to Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu that makes them any more suited to Lovecraftian gaming than classic D&D, and I’d probably feel different if I had more of a background in the game. I don't, so it all seems a bit odd to me.

I'll stop going on about it now because the rules of the game only take up about a quarter of the book; the bulk of the tome is all about designing a supernatural horror campaign. To be more precise, it's about building a supernatural horror sandbox campaign, and this is what led to me backing the Silent Legions Kickstarter back at the end of 2014. Crawford has picked up a lot of acclaim for his campaign design systems in other releases like Red Tide and Stars Without Number, so I wanted to see what he could do with an investigative horror rpg.

What we get is a big, multifarious toolkit for designing a Lovecraftian setting, complete with gods, cults, monsters, and even alternate planes. There are procedures for designing the region in which the campaign will be set -- this could be something on the scale of Arkham County, or it could be the entire globe if you want to go full Masks of Nyarlathotep -- and the individual locations within that region. There are tools for such fine grade details as individual non-player-characters and even specific scenes.

All of this is presented as dice tables so it is possible to generate an entire random Xhoandhora Mythos. You can even roll up eldritch names, like I just did there. You can of course just pick the bits you like.

This stuff is all gold and while I'm indifferent to the ruleset in Silent Legions, I want to try the campaign generation tools right now. I want to generate cults, their histories, and their plans, I want to design pantheons of gribbly space gods, and I want to populate a map with blighted towns and sinister woods. Then I want to plonk a group of player-characters in the middle of it all and see what happens.

Perhaps the best bit is that aside from a couple of details, this vast chunk of the book is not tied to any particular system and you could use it in any horror game. It screams to be used and its utility is vast, cyclopean even, and it's well worth getting, even if you have zero interest in playing a 6th level librarian.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Guarding the Galaxy Again

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is good. It's not so much a sequel but a companion piece so if you liked the first one you'll like this one, and if you thought the first one was lacking something then you may find it in this one.

Read on, safe from spoilers!


My only real criticism is that some of the character development is heavy handed. The intended theme seems to be that you don't always get on with those you love, and I could have got that on my own without it being stated in dialogue, let alone stated multiple times. There are a couple of occasions where characters drop everything to talk about their feelings and again while it's not bad as such, it is a bit clumsy.

(The film is quite sweary too, much more than I'd expect given its rating, and there are a couple of willy jokes. That's not a problem for me, but bear it in mind if you're going to take kids.)

Other than that, it's all gold. The central characters and their performances are as good as before, except this time Gamora gets something to do apart from looking pretty. Baby Groot is adorable, and Mantis even more so. Kurt Russell -- that's not a spoiler; he's in the very first shot -- is as wonderful as Kurt Russell always is, although I was disappointed that he didn't at any point wear an eye patch.

The plot isn't complex but there are enough moving parts to keep things interesting. There are multiple factions roaming about, getting in each other's way, and the main antagonist is compelling; they are not an outright villain, just someone who made the wrong choice in the past, and that gives them a bit of weight. It's one place where James Gunn doesn't stray into overwriting his characters' motivations; other writers -- (cough) George Lucas (cough) -- would have wrung every bit of melodrama out of the villain agonising over their choice, but Gunn just gets on with it, and it works well.

Just as the first film was, the second is funny, more overtly comedic than the rest of the Marvel oeuvre, and most of the jokes land. Drax and Mantis get most of the best lines, but there's also a nice extended routine about a character's name, and some good visual gags scattered through the film.

The film looks good, with bright, colourful, and varied visuals, maybe even more so than the first. Perhaps there are a few too many characters wearing some form of muted leather jacket but that aside it's never dull to look at. Music isn't used quite as well as in the first film, but there are a couple of superb sequences; the opening credits are joyous and if you don't break out into a big stupid grin during them, then you are dead inside. That bit is up there with The Lego Batman Movie and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in my book.

(I don't have a book.)

On the subject of credits, there are loads of mid-and-post-credits scenes in GotG2 so if you're into that sort of thing, stay right to the end. I'd say only one of them is "relevant" but they're all good fun.

I love the first GotG; it's a big, bold, colourful space adventure, a pitch perfect adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon we never had. I didn't think they'd be able to capture that magic again so I was worried going into the cinema, but my worry was unfounded. The sometimes clumsy writing is a bit of a disappointment but otherwise Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is another triumph for Marvel.

If you do go and see it, please consider donating a little to help the creator of Rocket Raccoon pay for ongoing medical care.