Saturday, January 16, 2016

Marvellous

This was drawn in the summer for a charity auction. I have no idea if it sold, let alone for how much.


If anyone wants to have a go at colouring it -- I am rubbish at colouring -- then feel free!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Talkin' 'bout a Resolution

I don't do New Year resolutions because they're a bit naff and seem dishonest; if you're going to make a significant lifestyle change, why wait until the first of January? If it's worth doing, it's worth doing now, yes?

That said, here are some things I'd like to get done in 2016, but none are of the life-changing sort:

Run The Dracula Dossier. I love Dracula and the idea of mashing it up with a Bourne Identity style spy Eurothriller and making that the basis of a role-playing game is exciting. Alas, I am unconvinced by the Night's Black Agents ruleset and I am unimpressed by the minimal support given in The Dracula Dossier itself for running the thing, but I will persevere.

Run Eyes of the Stone Thief. I've been itching to get back to 13th Age for a long time, and this campaign looks like great fun.

Paint my eldar army so I can play some second edition Warhammer 40,000 with Stuart, although he will probably play necrons and necrons were a bit overpowered experimental in 40K2, so I'll be painting them only to send them to their deaths. Oh well.

Read more. This is my unread book pile as of right this second:



That doesn't include about a dozen larger-format books that won't go on the pile without collapsing it. I was starting to catch up, then Christmas happened.

Write more. Forgive Us came out a long time ago and people have asked for a follow-up. I've had some ideas but nothing has yet made it past both my own self-doubt and James Raggi's keen eye; I think we have something now, so I hope that will appear before June. Well, I hope it will appear before March, but let's be realistic.

Catch up on computer games. I have a rule that I don't get a new computer game until I've finished one, but that doesn't stop other people getting them for me and throwing the system out of whack. I've got my eyes on some upcoming releases so I need to clear the queue before they arrive. This would be easier if PlayStation trophies didn't sit there, glinting and taunting and implying that no, I haven't really finished the game, even if I did beat the final boss.

Play more and different games. I didn't quite manage fifty-one different games in 2015 but I got closeish. I'd like to try lots of different things in 2016; I have a number of unplayed games on my shelf and I know that the rest of my group is the same even worse, so this shouldn't be too difficult.

"Shouldn't be too difficult" I say, but some of those books have been in that teetering pile for over three years, and the eldar have been sitting in an undercoated state for about two. Oh dear.

But I shall be confident! I'll revisit this post this time next year and see how well I did. I bet you cannot wait.

Have a good New Year everyone. I don't do the party thing but for those who do, enjoy, and for those who don't, enjoy whatever it is you'll be doing.

I shall be reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back in Black

Those of you looking forward to more of Guthrun's Viking Diary -- hello Mike! -- will have to be patient; our GM is taking bit of a break so we'll be returning to our longboat in a few weeks. Until then, Stuart has stepped in and has resumed his Deadlands Noir campaign and has summarised the most recent session in two parts here and here for those interested; I am playing Doctor Ross LeBoeuf, a character with zero combat ability but a knack for persuasion.

I am having great fun. The game is based on Savage Worlds, a system of which I am quite fond, and Stuart has done an excellent job of creating a vivid playground full of interesting options; the adventure with the supersoldier-turned-boxer that took up a couple of evenings of play was a side job quite unrelated to our characters and their goals, and I have no doubt that there are plenty more of these off-piste tangents hidden in the setting. Each of our characters does have what could be called a main plot that is there to be pursued should we so choose, but there's also a real sense that we can wander off and do anything we like; after a few years of packaged adventures -- some of which have been quite good, lest this be seen as an attack on the published campaign format -- it's quite refreshing to play in a game that seems to offer so much freedom.

I've wanted to run a game of this sort for a while. The last time I had any success with such a format was a bonkers Fighting Fantasy campaign that I made up as I went along in my teens; my Rogue Trader campaign was an attempt to do something similar but it collapsed for a number of reasons, and my Stardust Investigations Call of Cthulhu thing was supposed to be an open, player-led game, but I don't think I communicated that idea to the players, so that didn't work either.

One day I will try again - perhaps with Modiphius' post-apocalyptic Mutant Zero -- but for now I have a number of more structured but exciting campaigns to run, and I'm quite happy roaming around Stuart's alternate 1930's New Orleans.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Guthrun's Viking Diary, Part One

I don't know how we found the island, because Blind Skellig is blind. Snorgun says that he is touched by the gods but I don't see how that helps if Skellig doesn't have eyes.

There was a thing made of wood on the beach. The others called it an "effigy" but it looked like a witch to me. I don't like witches. They were afraid to go near it so I ran over and chopped it down with my axe. I found the axe when we killed Uncle Bjorn for the second time. The witch came to life but axes are good for chopping wood and lopping heads and it fell over.

The others saw a raven and tried to shoot it with their arrows. I didn't have any arrows and I was tired anyway, so I sat down and looked at the sea.

We found a village where everyone was frozen stiff and in the long hall there were skeletons covered in ice. They got up from the table and tried to eat us but we smashed them. Taavi said they weren't real but I smashed them so I don't know what he meant.

We went to the top of the hill in the middle of the island and from there we could see for miles. We saw some smoke rising from a village on the mainland and we also saw a longship sailing away from our island. Fat Erik said there was no one else up here so we didn't know who the others were.

We cleaned up the long hall. I lit a fire but the others said that was bad because of the ice god but I didn't see any ice god and I was cold.

I woke up in the night to see Snorgun and Taavi chasing a squirrel around the long hall. It was funny to watch them but then they told me to get up because they were going to follow it outside in the cold and that wasn't as funny.

Taavi must have good eyes from being half aelf, because he said he could follow the squirrel's tracks in the snow. We ended up back at the beach, close to an old ruined hut. There was a witch inside who tried to cast spells on us but Taavi set her on fire. She had lots of treasures. The others gave me a cloak that made me feel stronger but was too small for me so I tucked it in my belt.

The next morning we decided to go in our boat to the other island, but we bumped into the other longship on the way there. The men on the other boat looked like us, except they were covered in frost and when they looked at us we felt cold. We got closer and I jumped over to their boat to fight them. Snorgun came too. The frost men were angry like I sometimes am and their aim was not good so we killed them all except one. He told us that there were two other witches living on the mainland.

I don't like witches.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Last Night a d10 Saved My Life

I went to a birthday party a few days ago and it was awful. Well, to be fair, the party was fine but I went as a Plus One -- which is not to say that it was a Google-themed costume party -- and I didn't know anyone there. Some people are fine in that sort of situation, some people even thrive, but for me it was difficult, painful even.

I was a quiet child and while I had friends and I did spend time with them, I often preferred my own company, reading and drawing and using my toys to enact epic stories -- more often than not ripped off from Simon Furman's Transformers comics -- in which members of Action Force or the Rebel Alliance were recast as characters of my own making.

It will come as no surprise that I was bullied. Nothing too horrific but enough that it made an awkward and quiet child even more awkward and quiet, happier to stay in with a Fighting Fantasy gamebook rather than going out to play.

Things got better as I got older but it's fair to say that I have never quite overcome my social discomfort, as I showed at the aforementioned birthday party; even if I know you -- even if I know you well -- it's not uncommon for me to fumble and splutter through a conversation, like Hugh Grant with a head injury. Sometimes I just go quiet; I am not being unfriendly, I am just so scared of messing up that I mess up.

This doesn't happen with a game. I can sit around a dinner or pub table with a group and I will probably embarrass myself, but sit the same people around a board or role-playing game and something changes. That's not to say that a handful of dice is like Dumbo's magic feather and all of a sudden I'm sliding around the room gladhanding and hobnobbing, and it also doesn't mean that conversation is limited to the game, but the game becomes a sort of focus and that takes some of the pressure away; I don't have to entertain anyone or maintain their interest, because the game will carry that burden.

(And yes, I know there's no obligation to entertain anyone, but there's nothing rational about fear.)

When there's a game involved, the clumsiness and anxiety you would expect to see in me dissipate and I become more open and talkative; so much so that I have made good friends at the gaming table, and I even served as the best man at the wedding of one of them.

Perhaps it's a crutch. Perhaps I should try harder to deal with the anxiety because I can't lug a copy of Call of Cthulhu or Blood Bowl with me to every social gathering -- or can I? -- but perhaps it doesn't matter.

I don't know; I just wanted to get this out there. It's what blogs are for, after all.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

You're So Chuffing Special

Well well. Games Workshop has already surprised me once this year by producing a version of Warhammer Fantasy Battle with charm and character and -- most surprising of all -- a sensible price point. I thought that was a one-off and that the company would soon return to its predictable and unadventurous form, but it seems that I was quite wrong.

Back in the good old days Games Workshop produced all sorts of wonderful stuff but as time went on, more and more of the interesting games disappeared and the company began to focus its attentions on Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battle and, in later years, The Lord of the Rings. Some of those other games survived for a while as part of the so-called Specialist Games brand before that too shuffled off into oblivion.

The Specialist Games family included Blood Bowl -- one of the greatest board games ever created -- and Necromunda and Mordheim, two smaller-scale skirmish war games that I have never played but are always being discussed in glowing terms by those who have. The Specialist Games site also hosted the Dark Future rules as a free download for years after the game went out of print, a gesture that was so uncharacteristic of Games Workshop that it seemed like it could only be some sort of clerical error or cyber-vandalism.

Anyway, the point is that it was a sad day when the Specialist Games division disappeared.

Today, Games Workshop announced that it's setting up a new Specialist Design Studio and some of the upcoming titles include Blood Bowl and Necromunda. This has come as a bit of a surprise; even after the official announcement, it still feels like a hoax. Games Workshop said these games weren't worth supporting, that the cost was too much and the audience too small, and yet here we are.

I wonder if it's because this ponderous giant of an organisation that doesn't do market research and doesn't watch what its competitors are doing has at long last noticed that Fantasy Flight is making plenty of money republishing old Games Workshop board games and role-playing games, that Hawk Wargames is doing well with something that looks a lot like Space Marine, and that Mantic has had considerable success with more or less reviving the entire Specialist Games range?

Perhaps it's something more boring about maintaining copyrights and trademarks, or maybe there's someone new in charge who has a fondness for the old days. Perhaps the company is desperate and is trying anything to win back customers. Whatever the reasons behind the move, it's exciting news and I'll be watching this new studio with interest.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Die Drop Campaign Maps at the Whistle Stop Cafe

In 13th Age, the icons are the setting's powerful non-player characters. They are not the Drizzt types who go off and have adventures at the expense of the player-characters, rather they are the rulers and wizards that send the player-characters on quests, or that send agents of their own to thwart them. An icon could be an end-of-campaign boss, or an ally against one.

Each player-character gets a number of relationship points to allocate to the various icons, so Alice of Zengis could have a two point relationship with the Dwarf King, for example. Each relationship is also defined as positive, ambiguous, or negative; if Alice's relationship with the Dwarf King is negative, it suggests that she hates dwarves, or he has betrayed her, or umpteen other potential disagreements.

For each relationship point a character has they get a six-sided relationship die; these are used in a number of ways but one of the more common is to determine which icons are going to be involved in that session's adventure. Everyone rolls their dice and each die that comes up as a 5 or 6 means that the relevant icon has taken an interest in events; a 6 means that the player-character will receive some sort of benefit from their relationship, while a 5 means that the benefit has some sort of cost.

The benefit could be something as prosaic as a bag of cash, or it could be something more narrative based; perhaps the wraith recognises the player-character as an agent of the Lich King and so lets him pass untouched and unleveldrained. Negative relationships tend to suggest that the benefit comes at a cost to the icon; Alice may use her Dwarf King 6 to recall that she knows a secret entrance into a dwarven fort, for example, allowing the party to bypass the guards. Ambiguous relationships could go either way, depending on context.

When I run 13th Age I tend to ask for these rolls at the end of a session so that I have some time to tie them into next week's adventuring, but the other day I wondered about using them at the start of a campaign; I was also thinking about die drop tables and the combination of the two trains of thought has resulted in this hideous chimera.

First of all grab a map from somewhere. You don't want too much detail, as the dice will be telling you where to put things.



Then each player -- or the GM on the player's behalf, but I think it would be more fun to involve the players -- takes it in turns to roll their relationship dice on the map. You want to know which dice are associated with each icon; roll them in separate chunks or use different colours, or something like that. Each die's final position determines a location associated with the relevant icon.



A 6 indicates that the location is some sort of stronghold of the icon. It could be a literal stronghold, or it could just be a town where everyone thinks the Crusader is a swell guy. A 5 suggests that while the place is associated with an icon, there's something else going on; perhaps the location is a new fortress and the local area has not yet been tamed. A roll of 1 to 4 indicates that the location is associated with the icon, but that there is little of campaign-level interest there, although something may come up in an individual adventure.

A negative die probably indicates that the location has been abandoned, or is in fact associated with one of that icon's enemies, or something like that. An ambiguous die suggests that the icon's control and influence over that location is not absolute; perhaps it's been conquered and the locals aren't too happy with the new regime.

Then you do the same again for the next icon.



If dice from two -- or more! -- separate icons share the same space then things get even more interesting. Perhaps that location is held in an alliance between two icons, or perhaps it's the site of a conflict between them. Maybe their forces are fighting a guerilla war in the streets of a ruined city, or the location is a dungeon into which both icons are sending adventurers to look for a great treasure.

Carry on until all the player-characters have rolled all their icon dice and you have something like this.



Bosh! There's your campaign map. You know where the major points of interest are, now it's time to tidy it up and expand as desired. If you started with a blank map, you could put forests wherever Druid or Elf Queen dice landed, or mountain ranges wherever the Dwarf King or Orc Lord dice fell.



Like the relationship dice themselves, this should be easy enough to use outside 13th Age; all you need to do is define your important factions and then give your players a number of points to spend on positive, negative, and ambiguous relationships with those factions. I suggest using at least seven icons so that there's plenty of potential for complexity.

As ever, if you do give this a try, let me know how you get on!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Scarface Was a Good One

Remakes are weird. Cover versions of songs are accepted and often applauded but in film -- a few exceptions aside -- the words "remake" or "reboot" are more often than not greeted with an all-consuming dread. Remakes seem to be far more uncommon in the literary world, beyond retellings of the classics, but I could be wrong about that because I am rubbish at reading.

Unless you count new editions of rulebooks, remakes don't seem to be that common in tabletop games either. Yes, there are umpteen versions of Keep on the Borderlands, the D&D people do love to rehash the big name classics every so often, and I have seen a few bloggers dissecting various adventures and offering suggestions for improvement -- one of my favourite things Zak S has done was when he condensed the aforementioned Keep into two one page dungeons -- but I can't think of many instances of an actual full remake of a role-playing adventure.

At this point, I expect the comments to be full of the many rpg remakes I have overlooked in my ignorance. It's okay, I am prepared.

I considered it myself after I played the Pathfinder campaign adventure path Carrion Crown; it has a good central idea but the structure of the campaign adventure path ruins everything, so I thought it would be worth a rewrite. I put that project aside for boring mathematical reasons that aren't relevant right now because I want to look at King for a Day.

(Or KIIng for a Day. No, I don't know why.)

According to the notes by the author Jim Pinto, King for a Day started out as the AD&D2 campaign Night Below, but as he tinkered and tweaked the adventure ready for play, Pinto realised he was more or less rewriting the whole thing and decided to release it as a unique product.

I played Night Below once in 1998, I think. I remember playing a fighter with 10 or 11 in all his statistics and I remember our party getting ambushed by bandits as we crossed a river. I recall nothing else about the campaign, so perhaps that encounter ended in a TPK, or maybe we all decided it was naff and we'd play Shadowrun or Call of Cthulhu the next week. As such I can't make a full comparison between the original campaign and the remake, but from what I can tell -- see Charles' discussion of one element of Night Below here for an example -- King for a Day does feature more or less the same individual elements as the original campaign, arranged in a different order, with different connections between them and different consequences attached.

One notable difference is that King for a Day puts much more emphasis on events above ground; most of the book's 300ish pages consists of an exhaustive gazetteer of people, places, and plots in a remote rural valley, but the original campaign devoted only a third of its overall page count to its equivalent.

(This isn't a review as such, but the formatting of the gazetteer is strange because it's written as if it's a web page, with lots of hyperlinks; a location, for example, will have links -- complete with little icons -- to the people that can be found there and the plots that involve the place, but of course none of the hyperlinks work because, well, it's a book. The detail-obsessive part of me appreciates the structure of this even if in practical terms it is bonkers.)

Once events draw the player-characters underground, King for a Day seems to be in a rush; there is a handful of locations -- albeit a couple of them are vast -- and then BOOM! there's the climax and it's done. Again, this isn't a review, but the underground bits do feel a bit underwritten, in particular the finale; I don't know what happens at the end of Night Below but I hope it's a bit more of a meaty finish.

The end result of all of this is that the remake seems broad but shallow; I don't mean this as a complaint, because it would be churlish and inaccurate to claim that the huge amount of content Pinto has generated for the main, above ground, part of the campaign is in any way superficial. Rather it's an observation on the structure of the adventure; it is more of a sprawling rural sandbox with a small but significant jaunt underground, and as such is more or less a total inversion of the original.

That's what I find most interesting about King for a Day. It is still recognisable as Night Below -- even to someone like me who has little knowledge of the original -- but at the same time it's quite different and you could play both and still be surprised. Reluctant as I am to encourage remakes, the success of King for a Day as a proof of concept makes me wonder what else is possible; maybe that Carrion Crown rewrite isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Chutzpah

Right then, first things first, I am involved in one of the stretch goals for Mike Evans' Kickstarter so I have an interest in seeing it succeed.


That said, it's heading into its third week and has around 95% of its funding It achieved its initial funding goal between drafts of this post; my maths skills are terrible but I think it will need to get to 175% in the next twelve days before I am activated or unlocked or whatever happens to me, and I don't know if there's enough time left for that.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I recommend you back it with no expectation that you'll put in enough cash that it benefits me. That's as unbiased a recommendation as I can give.

Mike will probably hate me for saying so but he's a lovely bloke, and in my few brief chats with him about the Hubris project he has shown great enthusiasm that I am certain will show in the final product. He's been blogging about it for ages so you can go and read a couple of posts to see if it's the sort of thing you'll like.