Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Battle For the Monolith

It is the Space Year 1987. Long before his adventures in the wilder regions of space, Fateweaver Duu'ey of the Ad Hoc Craftworld, fresh out of Farseer Academy, is sent on his first mission: to investigate a strange monolith on the jungle planet Brytonn IV. An easy job, the space elf wizard thinks, until he detects an alien psychic presence on the planet...

We're playing Rogue Trader! The first proper edition of Warhammer 40,000! Neither Stuart or I have played it before! What could go wrong?!

Rogue Trader is a chaotic -- small c -- mess so at least three Eldar army lists and three different Genestealer Cult lists were published during its lifespan. I picked my Eldar from the list in White Dwarf #127 while Stuart's cult was from the Tyranids-but-not-really list in WD #145, so we're not quite authentic to 1987, but close enough.

The book does have quite an extensive section on generating scenarios but we decided to use one from Sci-fi Skirmish Scenarios by John Lambshead; after five to seven turns, whichever side was in control of the monolith -- not that one -- in the centre of the table would win. Nice and simple.

I was worried from the off as I got out my 13 miniatures and Stuart just. Kept. Deploying. Troops. We both had 1000 point armies but I was hugely outnumbered and we hadn't even started!

I expected a cagey, tentative start as no one would want to go for the central objective, and so it proved. The two forces inched -- ha ha -- forward but no one put their heads out. The Avatar, the bloody-handed god of war, must have been fuming at all this weak posturing.

Stuart sent some Genestealers around to his right and I, being well familiar with how deadly Genies are in second edition -- the best edition! -- sent the Howling Banshees and the dreadnought over to stop them. I was concerned that sending the dread over too was a bit overkill, but as it turned out the Banshees, despite being close combat specialists, had a very difficult time dealing with their opponents and it took the big war machine to break the deadlock.

The first major turning point came when the Genestealer Magus used his space magic to switch the allegiance of my Guardians overlooking the central square. Suddenly Fateweaver Duu'ey found himself surrounded by hostile enemies!

I had sent the Avatar on a speculative foray over to my right to perhaps assassinate the Magus but with Duu'ey surrounded and with more Genestealers on the way, I brought the war god back and charged the Guardians. While the Genestealers were immune to fear, the Guardians weren't, and they broke and fled, giving Duu'ey a chance to get to safety.

At the rough halfway point I had two units tied up with one enemy unit over on my left, and the Guardians gone over to the other side, so only the Avatar and Fateweaver Duu'ey were available to contest the objective. With the entire Genestealer army in front of them. Oh dear.

I decided to switch tactics and take advantage of the erratic jumble of rulesets that make up Rogue Trader. Eldar have a bespoke magic system that is nothing like that used by everyone else, so I used Duu'ey's Mind War power against the Patriarch. It cost me nothing to cast, so at best I could take control of the cult leader, and at worst I would chip away at the monster's power points, until it could no longer resist. All I needed was time.

The scenario has a variable length, between five and seven turns. The Genestealer Cult had the advantage in numbers and position, but if I could turn the Patriarch I could cause some trouble in the middle.

On this day, fate smiled on the Fateweaver.

The Patriarch turned, then literally turned, and charged into the back of his own cultists. This was a win-win for me; either Big Daddy would die, or his cultists would die, but either way that was two units tied up unable to claim the objective. I was still outnumbered, but there was a chance.

The Genestealers in the middle had been engaged in an inconclusive mêlée with the Avatar but withdrew -- Attack of Opportunity! -- to fall back and claim the monolith. Meanwhile the "combat specialist" Banshees finished off the Genestealers on my left with the help of the dreadnought, and moved into the middle. The dreadnought used its JUMP PACK -- because dreadnoughts in RT have jump packs, because this game is ridiculous -- to get there quicker.

At last, Duu'ey broke down the Magus' psychic defences and took control of the opposing space wizard. We ruled that although the Patriarch and Magus were not dead, the Eldar mind control meant that the psychic link between the leaders and the rest of the cult was severed, and so the cult turned feral. The Genestealers in the middle were confused and could not contest the Monolith, and everyone else was either engaged with the Patriarch or was stumbling around in a daze, so the only "Genestealer" forces that were in contact with the Monolith at game end were... two alignment-switched Eldar Guardians.

So the game ended as a draw by the scenario rules, but Stuart did also have a single confused Genestealer in contact with the monolith, so there's an argument that he may have had a slight edge, or maybe not, because the Genestealer was confused and not really in control of anything. I don't know. You decide!

We had a lot of fun playing the original 1987 Rogue Trader. We were expecting it to be baroque and difficult but there is enough shared DNA with later versions of 40K that it played quite well. There is a lot of randomness but for the most part it added to the fun; Stuart's Magus and Patriarch had some funky space magic, some useful, some not -- you can teleport a mile! -- and my Avatar and Farseer had random statistics, which led to a god of war that was more or less invulnerable but also comically unable to hit anything.

The rules are weirdly granular at some points but handwavery and vague in others. You have to take into account encumbrance, and miniatures can't turn during their move without giving up distance in half-inch increments, but there's nothing in the book about climbing or falling off buildings, not even in the detailed section on... combat in buildings. The game is designed to be run by a referee and I imagine a lot of the edge cases would be ruled on the spot by them, but it's odd looking back from the future, where this sort of thing is covered in the rules. There's a definite loose OSR type feel to the game.

So yes, good fun! It's basically a skirmish wargame and there are more recent skirmish wargames that I prefer overall, but it's clear why this game took over the world.

Arbitrary numeric score: 1987 out of 40,000.

Next up in the 40K Project: 1993's second edition, the best edition!

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Last Straw

As I may have mentioned before, Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite computer games ever. When the team behind that announced a follow-up, The Last Guardian, in which the giant-thing-on-which-you-can-climb is a friend rather than a foe -- although the Colossi aren't enemies as such, but that's a bit of a spoiler -- I knew I had to have it.

I waited, and then it was announced it would not be coming out on PlayStation 2, but rather the upcoming PlayStation 3.

I bought a PS3 for the sole purpose of playing TLG. I waited.

It was delayed so long that the PS3 release was cancelled and it would instead be released on PS4. In the mean time I had found other games to play, so purchasing a PS3 wasn't a total waste.

I was lucky enough to win a PS4 in a competition, and so I waited.

The game was released! I got it! I... got busy and distracted and didn't play it.

I got a PS5. Just last week a gap appeared in my life and I, at long last, booted up The Last Guardian.

I didn't like it much.

Oh dear.

It's not bad. It's fine. It looks amazing, most of the time, the music is beautiful, and the central gameplay idea is very clever; your big furry buddy Trico does feel like a real creature and the way you interact with it in order to progress through the game is for the most part well-implemented. I also have to give the designers considerable credit for basing a game around collaboration rather than combat; it reminds me of the sort of quasi-puzzle games you'd get in the Amiga days, and in fact I'm sure there was a game of that era which had a similar pet-and-puzzles premise, but I am old and fuzzy now and I don't remember.


The controls are borderline terrible. There's an attempt to go minimalist and simple, and the controls are context sensitive to an extent, but recognition of the context is a bit wonky, so you may be trying to walk along a platform but instead find yourself bouncing off a wall. The camera automatically rotates to point at Trico, which is a lovely touch except if you're trying to line up a precise jump. Basic movement seems to go from a single tentative step to a flat out sprint, with nothing in between, which again is not much good when you're hopping about hundreds of metres from the ground. Trico doesn't always do what you want it to do, which is fine because it's part of the central concept of working with a wild beast, but you'd expect your actual playing piece to respond to the buttons you're pushing, given that precise movement is such a big part of the gameplay.

The game also has a habit of taking control away to show off the more dramatic jumps, which I suppose on the plus side means you're not wrestling with the controls. In fairness these cut scenes are impressive, but would probably have been more fun if I'd been allowed to be involved.

I finished the game but I didn't complete it -- there are secrets to unlock -- and long before the end I knew I would probably never play it again. It would make a wonderful animated film but as a game it's a huge disappointment. I wonder if I just waited too long. Maybe it could never live up to my expectations.

Arbitrary score: PS3 out of PS5

Here you go, you can watch the beautiful production and my less beautiful struggles with the wonky gameplay:

Monday, May 20, 2024

Golf Bag Syndrome III

Here's a piece for an upcoming issue of Fight On!; the magazine that refused to die.

I'm very rusty, but it's been fun to draw again.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Yoo Hoo New Who

The BBC released the first two episodes of the new series of Doctor Who on Saturday and I very much enjoyed both, although I'm not blind to their faults. It's a bold and confident new start and the series seems to have regained some of its wild energy.

Ncuti Gatwa is great, but then all the best Doctors are Scottish. I'm much less convinced by Millie Gibson's Ruby, but it's clear that she's carrying the big mystery of this series, so let's see where the character goes.

Here are some disorganised thoughts. Not quite reviews, not quite analysis, and I don't know if I'll do more, but I'm enthused enough about the new series to write this, so we'll see.

There will be some SPOILERS, so beware.
  • "Space Babies" was a bit weird and a lot stupid, and a lot of fun, although it went a bit flat in the scenes without the babies.
  • There's some crashingly unsubtle but glorious social commentary. Russell T Davies is angrier than he was in 2005.
  • The Doctor was scared! This was explained with some technobabble, but it is still unusual to see the Doctor openly frightened.
  • There's a fair bit of 2005's "The End of the World" in here. The viewing window scene. The converted mobile phone. I get it. It's a soft reboot, so we're going to get some repetition.
  • There's a lovely Doctorish moment as he decides to save the Bogeyman from an Alien death.
  • Nanny seems to suggest that she's never seen the Bogeyman before, but later on reports that it turned up six years ago. Is that a script error? Or something significant?

  • "The Devil's Chord" was even more over the top and odd. Very bold and gutsy, although a little similar to "The Giggle", for perhaps obvious reasons.
  • The Doctor is scared again. Again, there's an explanation, and this one's better -- the Toymaker did kill him, after all -- but it's still a bit weird twice in a row.
  • Jinkx Monsoon is really good as the Maestro.There are some effective scenes in here, really leaning into the over-the-top campiness of the character, but there's also some successful horror too, like the hiding-in-the-cellar sequence.
  • The fourth wall breaks were lovely. I'm intrigued by this idea that the Doctor has broken the universe and allowed fantasy and magic to creep in. It's a big idea and I hope RTD and crew can pull it off.
  • There's not much of an actual plot, but it's done with such confidence and energy it almost doesn't matter.
  • There are some odd performance choices. Why does the Doctor have a chuckle just after saying that his grand-daughter Susan may have been destroyed at a cellular level?
  • The reference to Susan was itself a surprise. I'm pretty sure she's been referenced in the new series, but never by name. is that significant?
  • This is the second episode in a row in which the resolution is revealed via voiceover flashback, which feels a bit lazy. I've never liked this device, so maybe I'm overly sensitive to it.
  • Chris Waites and the Carrollers is an existing reference, but coming right after a line referring to "The One Who Waits" seems a bit suspicious.
  • The Maestro has been killing/eating music since the 1920s, so does defeating them reset everything, going back 40 years? I assume the rules of magic and storytelling are in place and everything goes back in its box -- literally in this case -- otherwise the Doctor is being a bit negligent by going off on his next adventure and leaving behind four decades of the "wrong" timeline.

In terms of recurring mysteries, why are the Doctor's memories of Ruby's "birth" changing? Who is the cloaked figure who was there that day? Why does Maestro recognise them? Is that the One Who Waits? Is the One Who Waits someone else? What's going on with the recurring appearances by the actor Susan Twist? Will the universe get fixed so it's no longer operating on fairy tale rules?

I'm looking forward to finding out.

Friday, May 10, 2024

I Love You, Doctor Sessan!

My print copy of Ruination Pilgrimage arived today, so I tested it out by making a character!

Doctor Sessan, itinerant surgeon:
  • Strength: 30
  • Agility: 37
  • Intellect: 39
  • Combat: 20
  • Presence: 28 (I rolled 666, which seems like it should be significant in this game!)
  • Body: 22
  • Fear: 29
  • Sanity: 37
  • Resolve: 29
  • Faith: 7
  • Sorrow: 2
  • Health: 17
  • Skills: Literacy 10, Mathematics 10, Surgery 20, Pottery 10
  • Vice: Wrath!
  • Previous job: Potter
  • Background: Caught thieving and pilloried. Has a thief tattoo on his ear.
  • Kit: Nice clothing, spyglass, blank scrolls, candles, 20 coins (double 10!).
  • Patron saint: Arevadah, Saint of Combat (which seems a bit optimistic given his combat score!)
  • Hat: classic Roman-style helm. (From JB's excellent random hats tables.)
I imagine Sessan was picked out of a life of -- apparently angry -- pottery and petty crime by a kind-hearted physician, who took the lad on as an apprentice. I feel like that 666 for presence should probably present -- ha ha -- as a slightly "off" feel. Maybe a whiff of brimstone about him.

Character generation was quick and simple. The full instructions are split across multiple pages and chapters, but most of the process is covered on page 2 and it's intuitive enough that there's not a lot of page-flipping. The only murky area for me was the patron saint; you are directed to a table later in the book to determine your character's saint, and there's a lot of data on that table, but I think all you care about during character generation is the identity of the saint. The other stuff comes up when you pray and conduct rituals for your patron. I think. Maybe. Ish?

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Friday, May 03, 2024

Warty Thou

I may have a problem.

This doesn't even include the two copies I own of the best edition -- second, obviously -- nor the army books.

(In my defence I only have two army books for each edition. Sort of. Ish.)

There is a plan behind all this, it's not just nonsensical collecting; although it is that too. Stuart and I plan to play at least one game in each edition, for fits and shiggles.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Carry On Carrying On

A very long time ago I played through the CARRION CROWN campaign for Pathfinder, and good fun it was too.

Also a long time ago but not quite as long ago a time as when I played Carrion Crown, I pondered rewriting the campaign. I never did get around to that rewrite, but when clearing up some old blog posts last week I uncovered my preliminary notes for what I was planning. I don't know if I'll go any further with it -- time has moved on, I have moved on -- but in the hope that it may be useful or at least interesting, here it is.

(Please bear in mind this is all based on decade-old memories and also that I was a player, so I didn't get to read the adventures. I also won't be going into rewrites of the individual adventures here, although most of them were fine. It's the campaign as a whole that needs work.)

Carrion Crown has a great central concept: each of the adventures is based on a classic horror monster, so there's a werewolf adventure, a Frankenstein adventure, a ghost adventure, and so on. It's a bit artificial but otherwise a very strong hook for the campaign, so we're absolutely keeping that.

The general plot is functional: a conspiracy of cultists wants to resurrect an ancient lich king, they need a bunch of items to do so; get the quest tokens before they do! A multi-part fetch quest isn't the most innovative setup but it is tried and tested, and anyway it's the classic monsters concept that's the selling point.


art by Kurt Jakobi
None of it matters. The cultists do the ritual anyway, whether the players have seized the "essential" items or not. They don't summon the big world-ending lich king, but they do summon a big end-of-campaign lich boss, and there's very little practical difference.

(I don't know if, as written, there's any possibility for the original ritual to succeed, but I'm fairly confident in guessing that there is not.)

Carrion Crown gives the impression of flexibility and an open quest, but it's an illusion. At the beginning of the campaign, the players are given clues about the ritual and the items needed, but it's only possible to make sense of the clues -- and go to find the next piece -- when the campaign says so. The cultists are always already there waiting, so the race against time is just as illusory.

In short, despite appearances, there's no meaningful choice and no real control over the outcome. And that's terrible.

So, how would I fix Carrion Crown?

Well, as mentioned above I'd keep the classic monster theme, and the lich resurrection quest is acceptable and easy to comprehend. I would invert the ritual; rather than needing the items to complete the resurrection, I would say rather that the items can be used to weaken the lich if he does return. In fact, they were used to defeat him last time, which is why there is a legend/prophecy written about them. This may require some rejigging of the items; again it's been a long time since I played and I don't remember what all the quest tokens were.

I would give the players the full set of clues right at the beginning, and let them decide where to start. The clues can be partial and require visiting a person or location to fully understand, but in general the players will have all the information they need to find the items.

(I would also chuck some alternative "solutions" in there. One thing Eternal Lies did well was provide different options for resolving the campaign. From Eternal Lies I'd pinch the possibility of recruiting a Lesser of Two Evils type entity to deal with or distract the lich king. Enlisting allies to help out is another "item" the players could find.)

Right away, the players are faced with a choice: they can go straight to the ritual site right now to stop the cultists, or they can try to find some or all of the items to make it easier. It should be difficult for a bunch of level one characters to stop the ritual, but it also should be possible in theory. Think of Frodo and Sam in Mordor; it's a different sort of campaign, but the, er, path is there if the players want to, um, find it.

In my version of the campaign the cultists would not be everywhere, mere minutes from claiming the plot tokens just as the players arrive, because that's rank nonsense. Instead, the main bulk of the cultists will be where they should be, preparing the ritual, with a couple of "strike teams" out and about, searching for the prophesied items. I would probably also randomise their destinations, at least at the beginning, so maybe the cultists are where the player-characters are, or maybe they meet on the road as they head to different locations.

There's potential here for the players to lose quest items as the cultists get there first, but this is good and interesting as it creates tension, and as the items have gone from essential to useful, it doesn't tank the campaign. It also encourages recurring baddies, if the same cultists keep turning up.

art by Dave Rapoza
In terms of levels and balancing, I think there are probably two main approaches. One is OSR-ey, setting up the Frankenstein adventure -- for example -- to be suitable for -- for example -- level four characters, letting players go in over-or-underpowered, and seeing what happens. I favour this approach, although it wouldn't work well for Pathfinder and some players may find it frustraing. The other option is more Quantum Ogreish, scaling the individual adventures to be an appropriate challenge -- eight Frankensteins instead of one, or whatever -- for the player-characters. I like this less and it would probably be more work for the GM.

One last, but important, thought. It's vital for me that the campaign feels like it is -- ironically -- alive. The cultist strike teams should be moving around, causing trouble. The ritual should be in progress from session one, and should complete at a certain time. The players should feel like they are not only racing against time, but literally racing against the cultists. If the players miss the ritual, the lich king returns and starts stomping about, and the players will have to decide what to do. One final big battle against the lich king and his followers, with whatever allies and items the players have managed to gather? Or do we finish and consider it a loss, because a bad ending is still an ending?

Of course if you're playing in a more old school style, or with an ongoing campaign, then a resurrected lich king is just a new element for your campaign setting. Enjoy!

That's about it for what I found in my ancient notes. Specifics are beyond me at this point, and I feel a bit of a fraud because it seems like anyone could have come up with these vague suggestions -- except for Paizo's editors, obviously, ha ha -- but I hope there's something useful in there.

Maybe I will find time to delve deeper and do a full rewrite at some point -- the vampire adventure is a complete mess -- but for now there is much to do.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Friday, April 19, 2024

Kangaroo Pills

RUINATION PILGRIMAGE is Donn Stroud's new role-playing game of wandering troubleshooters/troublemakers in a mediaeval setting a couple of steps sideways from ours, where angels and demons and saints are real and mostly deadly. It's a little bit like Pendragon and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had an unholy baby; regular readers -- or people that can click on links -- will know that I like both of those games, and I like this one too!

Before we get to the good bits let's look at some wonky bits, of which there aren't many. I'm reviewing a Kickstarter pdf, so some of these may be ironed out in the print release.

  • Ruination Pilgrimage uses a d5 now and then. That's just a d10 halved and is easy enough to work out, but I've never liked it. For no valid mechanical reason, I'm just not fond of halved die rolls in general, and there's no compelling reason for it here as far as I can see; the overall system is d10/d100 based, but it also uses d20s, so I don't think it's out of a desire to use only one die type. I would have just used d6s there.
  • The organisation is a bit off. For example, combat ranges are not in the combat section, but next to the wilderness travel and survival section. Natural healing is explained in the chapter on downtime activities, which makes sense, but isn't mentioned at all in the part about healing, which makes less sense. It's not a massive problem; all the information is there, it's just sometimes in odd places.
  • The rules on conditions and survival are rather more detailed and complicated than I would have expected. We're not talking Fantasy Games Unlimited levels of crunch here, but given that the rest of the game is simple and robust, the detail in this part seems excessive and in places redundant. It almost feels like it's from a different game.
On the other hand, there is quite a lot to like! Exclamation point!

  • As mentioned above, the main mechanics are robust and simple -- which I like -- and are based on d100 -- which I also like -- so that's all good. RP is apparently based on the Mothership rpg, but I've not played that. If it's close to this I'd probably like it.
  • The mechanics are explained well and while some rules may be unnecessarily complicated or in odd places, there's never any confusion about how they work.
  • There are some great, evocative tables used for critical hits, diseases, and character backgrounds and histories. Randomness is used well, and the tables are full of flavour. Usually flavour that's inimical to the player-characters, but good flavour nonetheless.
  • The despair and sorrow system adds a "lovely" doom-laden feel to the game, making every action risky. Not all the despair results are negative, which is a nice touch. Having played rpgs with despair systems before I am a tiny bit wary of how this will work in actual play -- as they can sometimes lead to un-fun doom spirals -- but I'll wait and see.
  • There's a table of replacement body parts! Some have built-in weapons! Excellent!
  • RP ties character progression to a formal downtime system, and offers a variety of activities to improve and restore characters. I'm quite fond of the Making Friends one, which is a warm bit of simple wholeseomness among all the gore and mud.
  • The supernatural side of the game looks like it's got lots of toys with which to play. There are some fun-looking exorcism mechanics, and prayers and saint blessings also look like they will be interesting in play.
  • Angels are all wings and eyes, and not only have specific abilities and roles -- they aren't just generic combat summons -- but also cause distress and terror when they appear. It's a bit Call of Cthulhu, another of my favourites. Demons are less interesting, but the angels more than make up for it.
  • Adam B Forman's art is bold and evocative, and captures the mediaeval feel well. I would have liked more of it but what's there is excellent, and there are plenty of text sidebars to convey the mood of the setting.
The big question is: would I play Ruination Pilgrimage? The answer is a big mud-spattered, many-eyed, limb-lopping "yes!" If you like WFRP but prefer an "earlier" setting, or you like Pendragon but want more blood and mud, or you like Vampire: The Dark Ages but think vampires are dumb, then this may be right up your mediaeval twitten.

Arbitrary numeric score: 3d10+10

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

More Deadly Than the Male

Oh dear, I see the man-babies are apoplectic with rage about female characters in Warhammer 40,000 again. This time it's because it's been revealed that the Adeptus Custodes -- basically even more Space Mariney Space Marines -- include women in their ranks.

Gnash! Wail! Gasp! Etc!

This is sort of a retcon. I say "sort of", because I don't think it's ever been stated that the faction is all-male, it's just that no one's mentioned female members before.

Obviously the thing that's annoying these very mature and sensible people is the change to "established" canon and NOTHING ELSE, so I imagine that they are also furious about:
All changed or removed from canon, so all similarly rage-inducing, I'm sure, because it's about the sanctity of canon. Nothing else. Nope.

I don't always agree with Games Workshop's decisions -- release your old books as print-on-demand, you cowards! -- but this is glorious. Well done, GW.

Friday, April 05, 2024


I've been following The DOOMED since it was Grimlite and have been keen to get it to the table from the moment the final version was released by Osprey. Schedules -- and painted miniatures -- lined up at last and Stuart and I met up for an introductory conflict-slash-monster-hunt this week.

I put together a -- very expensive! -- Eldar band, mainly because they are the only consistent set of sci-fi miniatures I have painted, although Fateweaver Duu'ey stepped aside and let Ree'Parch lead the Exile Band into the DOOMED sectors.

(Which has nothing to do with me realising at the eleventh hour that my leader had a shooting re-roll but was armed with a sword. Nope!)

Stuart brought a much larger group of space killers, and we discovered that Reborn Covens look a lot like Genestealer Cults.

Here are the things I liked about The DOOMED before I played it:

  • The "use any miniatures you've got" philosophy, which has become trendy enough to be somewhat common in indie wargames, but I still like it a lot.
  • The semi-cooperative monster hunting aspect, which was added fairly late in Grimlite's development, but quickly became the main selling point for me.
  • The simple rules -- no measurement! Only one statistic! -- that promised a quick and easy game.
  • The rich campaign mechanics, offering lots of options and random events.
I am pleased to report that most of those things proved to be good and true in play too. It took us about three hours to play the suggested starting monster/scenario combo, but we were getting some mechanics around damage and monster actions wrong that were making the game longer. We were also a bit concerned beforehand that the simple rules would feel basic and flat in play, but they worked well and never felt simplistic. We quite enjoyed the damage table, which is just half a page but adds a lot of unexpected variety to combat. When you understand it. Which we did. Eventually.

My warband engaged with the monster early on and downed it, but it was the Coven that destroyed the beast, scoring one of the two victory conditions. Ree'Parch had been taken out by that point so the rest of the space elves legged it off the board, fulfilling the second condition. Well, Fl'Peebrd flew off the board, but same thing.

Technically a draw then, although The DOOMED is more about fighting against the game -- in a good way! -- than each other.

I hope we'll play again soon. We have generated the next monster and scenario from the impressive d66 tables in the book, plus some random events to make things even more DOOMy for our brave but DOOMED warbands. I'm going to have a look at Ree'Parch's band of exiles and perhaps bring some different, cheaper, soldiers next time.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Lost in Paris


It has come to my attention that the pdf versions of Terror in the Streets -- both the DriveThru version and the one you get with a physical purchase from LotFP in Europe or North America -- are missing the player map. I'll see if I can get the pdf updated, but in the mean time here are some download links:

Greyscale map (about 1mb)

Colour map (about 1.8mb)

If the links don't work, please let me know.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Mistaken Identity, Yes?

It's #DrawDeathsHeadDay the most freelance peacekeeping day of the year!

This year, as well as wishing Simon Furman a happy birthday, I must also apologise to Gene Colan for my artistic theft. Sorry, Gene.

(If it helps, I re-drew the entire cover, when a more sensible person would have just photoshopped Death's Head in. I have never been sensible.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

We Are Moved to Tears by the Sheer Size of This Thing

I am a terrible person!

I forgot -- or rather didn't realise -- that Monday the 18th was the 20th anniversary of the release of Katamari Damacy, one of my favourite computer games of all time.

I remember first discovering the game on a Penny Arcade text page. The description was wonderful, a gameplay first sort-of-puzzle-sort-of-action game of the kind that you would get on the Commodore 64 or Spectrum in the 80s, but had become basically non-existent by 2004. I knew I had to have it, and have it I did!

(Although I was apparently quite lucky as it had a limited release and only about seven copies made it to North America, where I happened to be at the time.)

It more than lived up to expectations. Simple in concept but often challenging, and quite bonkers, with bizarre imagery and a plot that had zero to do with the game itself. To get a feel for how mad it is, here's the first thing you see when you start the game:

As you can probably tell from that video, the soundtrack is great too.

I always thought it was a shame the series never made it to the Wii as it would be perfect there, but some version is available on pretty much everything else these days -- the first video above is from the PS4 re-release -- and you can even play it -- sort of -- in your browser if you go to google and search for "katamari".

Happy (belated) birthday Katamari Damacy!

Monday, March 11, 2024


Muscle Wizards are ace. Redbox Hack is ace. So here's a Muscle Wizard for Redbox Hack.

The Muscle Wizard was, I think, first birthed by Monstrous Television and then further developed and remixed by Basic Red, Ten Foot Polemic, and Goblin Punch.

Basically, I am very late to the party.


You are a wizard, but instead of learning magic through arcane study, your awesome power derives from your extreme muscularity. Books are for nerds. Armour is for nerds. Even weapons are for nerds. All you need is confidence, muscles, and lots of oil.


Maintaining your physique requires constant exercise. While others rest you work out, which keeps you nice and fit but the combination of increased endorphins and sleep deprivation makes you a bit erratic and strange.


You may never borrow a Cross-Class Talent from the Magus, nor may they borrow from you, but don't worry, you can still be friends.


ALWAYS AWESOME: You are flamboyant and impressive and you treat Showing Off rolls of 7 or less as 8.

CUTTING A PROMO: You have a knack for rambling and borderline nonsensical monologues that can nonetheless entertain and entrance a crowd for a scene, or minutes equal to your Eloquence score if you need a more exact duration.

MAGICO PUUUUUUNCH: You channel your sorcerous power through an unarmed strike, which doesn't have to be a punch! You always cause normal damage, plus anything from Awesome Tokens, and the target must roll Stubbornness versus TN7 or lose their next action as they are swept up in a swirl of magical energy. You must speak the name of the spell as you attack -- and please come up with your own evocative names! -- otherwise your punch is just a normal punch.

PHYSICALLY FIT, PHYSICALLY FIT, PHYSICALLY, PHYSICALLY, PHYSICALLY FIT: You gain a +2 bonus to Armour, Size rolls, and any other rolls involving feats of physical might, except attacks.

QUITE THE FLEX: You flex your mighty thews and in doing so warp reality in your immediate vicinity. You define what is true within a bubble of a radius roughly an arm's length from you, for as long as you gurn and strain. To maintain the flex for an extended length of time -- longer than a short scene, say -- or if you are somehow distracted, you can take a point of damage or roll Stubbornness vs TN 9, your choice.

Appendix MW:

I did have a few more punch spells in my original draft and allowed the Muscle Wizard player to choose which spell was "cast" when they attacked. I realised that this was both making the class more complex than the other RBH classes, and it was making the Muscle Wizard more versatile than the Magus, when they should be more or less equal. So I stripped the other spells out, but I also didn't want to lose them as an option, so here they are:
  • Blast: 2 Damage. A Magus will consider this a grotesque bastardisation of their Talent of the same name. You probably don't care what they think.
  • Confusion: the target rolls Stubbornness versus TN7 or loses their action.
  • Darkness: The target's vision is obscured until they Move.
  • Dispel: A single magical effect or spell is negated for a turn. Permanent effects can be dispelled if you sacrifice an attribute point.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Roll Out!

Look at this handsome lad!

This is the new "Missing Link" Optimus Prime. Or technically it's Missing Link Convoy as I seem to have the Japanese version, but whatever.
Anyway, he's quite special, or rather I think he's quite special, because he is something for which I've been asking for years.

The problem with almost every Optimus Prime toy -- that I know of, anyway -- is that they cheat with the transformation, usually with some sort of false chest. By which I mean the front of the lorry does not form Prime's torso, and instead there is some sort of hidden chest somewhere in the toy that only looks like the front of the lorry.

I fully admit that I'm being pedantic and more than a little weird when I say that I want the transformation to be "true" and not involve such deception. After all, he's an Autobot, not a Decepticon!

(Transformers joke.)

They got it right first time with the 1984 toy, but he's a bit clunky and not very poseable at all. And that's where Missing Link comes in. He looks more or less identical to 1984 Optimus; in fact the metal chest piece may be the same one from the original toy.

He has multiple points of articulation! He's super poseable! You can, in fact recreate the "jumping and shooting" pose from Transformers: The Movie that is subtly hinted at on the box art!

Now mine is a bit stiff around the upper leg joints and I don't think his, um, groin (?) would take the strain if I tried to force them, but overall I'm very happy with this Optimus. I had the original and broke his arm off almost immediately, then spent the following decades rejecting various replacement Primes for their misleading transformations -- which is more a me problem than a Takara/Hasbro problem, I know -- so it's lovely that the quest is finally over.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Strict Location Records Must Be Kept

I've had a handful of questions -- or rather what is more or less the same question restated in slightly different terms -- about my adventure Strict Time Records Must Be Kept. Before I try to answer it/them, I should explain the context.

In Strict Time Records Must Be Kept -- henceforth STRMBK -- the player-characters are dosed with a slow-acting poison and are given the task of finding an antidote hidden somewhere in a mansion, before they die a messy death. There are some "dials" that the Referee can use to adjust the difficulty and fairness of the adventure -- whether the antidote exists at all, whether there's one antidote or many, the speed of the poison, and so on -- but for today's purposes we are assuming that it's being played straight and there are enough doses of antidote available for all the player-characters.

(A brief aside here to answer another question that so far I have been asked only once. Yes, the antidotes can be scattered throughout the house; they do not have to all be found in the same place. In fact, I recommend that multiple doses are not found in the same location. That's far too easy.)

The idea is that the Referee looks through the description of the house and picks the locations of the antidote bottles based on their knowledge of their own players, but also -- and most important -- based on what seems most fun to them. As such, no specific locations are defined, and this is quite deliberate. The decision, Oh Referee, is yours.

That said, the question I've been asked a few times since release is something along the lines of: where should the antidotes go? I can see how that would be useful for the time-starved -- ha ha -- Referee, so here are my "suggested" antidote locations:
  • p18: Inside one mannequin, but only one! I would perhaps indicate a glint of something glass -- a bottle? -- in the folds of a mannequin's clothing, just to give the players the idea. Taking a whole Turn to search a mannequin seems a bit long, but it's consistent with other activities, and no one wants to be dicking around with Half-Turns or some other arcane nonsense. There are 26 mannequins and they should be everywhere around the ground and first floors, but I suggest putting the one with the antidote in the corridor outside the dining room (p49).
  • p37: The Abaddon or Mammon rooms -- but not both! -- with the blunderbuss traps. A relatively easy one, to give the players some hope.
  • p41: The Apollyon room, in the puzzle box. Another somewhat easy one, or at least an obvious one. There's potential for damage and wasted time here, so it seems only fair to reward those risks with an antidote.
  • p42: The Eblis room, among all the threads. I like this one because the bottle is visible but difficult to approach. I would consider making it more tricky even; maybe making it a five Turn task, with a saving throw each Turn.
  • p43: The Erasmus room, in one of hundreds of bottles. I like that this one isn't difficult, and isn't really a puzzle as such, but wastes time.
  • p53: Room F, inside the "corpse". Assuming the players work out that there's a bottle inside the victim, they then have to make a choice to cut them open, and that choice has serious consequences. This is one of the first puzzles I wrote for the adventure and I adore the gruesomeness.
  • p54: K, the barbed wire room. I would put the bottle in plain sight in the middle of the tangle. The bastard in me suggests a chance of smashing the bottle if someone falls in from above (p43); perhaps by rolling an even result on the Paralysation save.
That's seven doses; when writing these blasted things, I assume a party of four player-characters but I know that's a bit on the light side for many OSR groups. If you're running with more than seven player-characters then bear in mind that there are 10 puzzle rooms, plus 26 mannequins so there are plenty of places to hide bottles.

I hope that helps! If anyone has any more questions or thoughts then let me know in the comments. You could email or message me too, but I'll probably want to add any answers here. Also, if anyone needs any tech support for any of my other adventures, then I'd be happy to do more posts of this sort.

If you're reading this and thinking "I'd like to give Strict Time Records Must Be Kept a try" then that's a bit weird because the post is for people who already have the book, but stranger things have happened and you can buy it in print here and in pdf here.

Huh. I didn't need to shorten Strict Time Records Must Be Kept to STRMBK again after all. Except just there.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Fantastic! Fantastic?

Yesterday, Marvel announced the cast of the upcoming(ish) Fantastic Four film, and the announcement was Valentine's Day themed because... Reed and Sue are a couple?

(I've heard that there was a leak imminent and Marvel wanted to get ahead of it.)

Anyway, I hope it will be good. A decent film adaptation has been a long time coming -- yes, I know, The Incredibles -- but part of me does wonder if it's cursed and should be left well alone. But it's the Fantastic Four, you know? They are very much a cornerstone of Marvel, even if all the films have been rubbish and -- if we're honest -- no one really likes the comic either.


I have two main hopes for the film, neither of which I feel confident will be happening.

  • Skip the origin. The origin story of the Fantastic Four is by far the least interesting bit. They go up in a spaceship. Cosmic rays. Crash. Superpowers! If we really must have this on-screen, it can be covered in a credits montage, like the opening of Superman II, and the film can start with them already established.

  • Do not make Doctor Doom the villain. Doom is one of Stan and Jack's greatest creations, and he's an integral part of the Fantastic Four concept, but most of the best work with the character was done after they moved on and Doom engaged with the wider Marvel Universe. It would be an awful waste to reduce him to the bad guy who gets done over at the end of two hours. The rumours that Marvel is rejigging the big Kang metaplot to use Doom instead give me a bit of hope that he won't be squandered. Fingers crossed.

The casting of Pedro Pascal as Reed Richards also worries me a bit. Pascal seems to be one of the genuinely loveliest people on the planet, which makes me think that in casting him as Reed, Marvel thinks Richards is a nice guy. He really isn't. In the Four's very first appearance Reed causes an accident that gives his friends powers (yay?), calls himself "Mr Fantastic" in response, and dubs his alleged best friend Ben -- who has been transformed into a hideous rock monster and probably needs some support right now -- a "Thing". And this is in issue #1! His behaviour does not improve.

You can make a complicated, difficult Reed who is still a good guy; it occurs to me that Peter Capaldi's Doctor is probably the best accidental adaptation of Richards. He's fiercely intelligent, infinitely curious, generally on the side of good, but absolutely weapons grade terrible with people, because empathy is not a legitimate scientific discipline. Will Marvel go in that sort of direction or will it be Cuddly Daddy Reed? I fear the latter.

(At this point, I should link to my article on Reed Richards, which was apparently the most popular thing I wrote in my former life as a comics journalist. Enjoy.)

So there you go, my thoughts on the Fantastic Four film, which won't be out for a year and a half, if at all. A comics -- sort of -- piece on the blog. What is this, 2006 or something?

Friday, February 09, 2024


I feel terrible posting this video, because of my crippling self-loathing, but I also realise it's good for my "brand", whatever that is. There's also a US sale going on, so:

I feel sick.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Principle of Cola Made Flesh

While I'm getting back up to fighting fitness, here's the original Pepsi logo:

Pepsi Cola logo 1902

Carbonated soft drink or Scandinavian black metal band? Only you can decide!

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Best Laid

Well that didn't go according to plan, did it?

I was supposed to be finishing up [REDACTED] by now, but instead I've been bed-ridden for a month, with either one really weird ever-changing illness, or a sequence of ailments that have all run into each other like a Human Centipede.

I'm feeling mostly better now, and can actually get around under my own power, so maybe I'll be able to get back on schedule.


Thursday, January 04, 2024

Checklist 2024

Right then, with that said, what creative projects am I planning to get done in 2024? This list exists as much to keep me honest as anything.
  • Maps for [REDACTED]. This is my January job. Once this is out of the way, I can work on the other stuff.
  • The Gargantuan Ovum of Sir William Hatcher, an egg-cellent adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I'm hoping for a March publication for this one.
  • Untitled Adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. As long as this is published by the end of the year, I'll be happy.
  • WAR 16XX, which won't be the final title, unless we go mad. For Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Griffin Hill, a horror campaign/setting/campaign setting. I'm not sure of the system yet.
That'll do as a minimum, and we'll see what else crops up as the year goes on.

Monday, January 01, 2024

Masterplan 2024

I would have posted this earlier but I noticed that I had 69 posts in 2023, and I am a child.

Well, 2023 was a bit of a crapper. Indulge me as I moan about why, or just click here to skip to the optimistic bit.

I have had a day job since February in which I don't know how to do anything, and there's no one to train me in how to do those things, which ends up being massively demoralising every day. So that's great for my mental health.

My creative work has also suffered this year. I did get some books out, and got noticed by and The New Bloody Yorker, but I felt my creative energies fail and flounder in 2023. I struggled to get anything written after Winnie-the-Shit; it has felt difficult to write anything and what I did write felt bad and shonky.

At the same time, while I've never held any illusions that I am a great artist, I've always felt at least competent, but in 2023 I became more dissatisfied with my art than ever before. I feel like I've got as far as I can with my current style and I don't know what to do about that. Is it too late for me to develop a new style? Is that something I can even do, or is the way I draw just the way I draw, no backsies?

I haven't done much gaming this year and I have missed it. I've played a few games with Stuart over the year but I haven't met with the rest of my so-called-regular group since around October 2022 (!). Again I seem to have lost confidence, which is a bit weird considering it's a hobby and doesn't require much effort, but there it is.

A loss of confidence is an apt description in general. I feel like a bit of a failure in all walks of life. Incapable or incompetent, surviving rather than thriving. A pointless existence. Heavy, man.

So, 2024 then. How do I turn this around?

Well, the intent is there, so that's something.

I have some long-delayed projects that I am going to try to finish off in January, to start the new year off with a clean(ish) slate.

After that, I have two adventures for Lamentations of the Flame Princess that I want to get out this year, plus another non-adventure book.

That's probably enough to be getting on with and if I get those three out I will consider 2024 a success, but I've also got plans for a non-LotFP adventure book, and also branching out to work with some new people. There are also some tentative discussions about a couple of comics projects, which should be a fun return to an area I've long missed.

I hope I'll get back to some more regular gaming too. I'd like to play more Stargrave, and I bought a copy of The Doomed -- or is it The DOOMED? -- and that looks like good fun. And of course I would love to get Legions Imperialis to the table at some point.

It would also be nice to get to play some of those unplayed games too.

So let's see what 2024 brings! I'm going into it in a more positive frame of mind than I ended 2023, which is a good start. Let's go!