Tuesday, 21 March 2017
It was back in the halcyon days of 1998 that the bug of tabletop gaming bit me, leaving a red mark that would last a lifetime. Back then I was part of a local youth club connected to my school where kids would get offloaded for an evening to play games and dance to innapropriate music (Sex on the Beach was a perennial favourite back then for obvious reasons).
One night I got talking to one of my friends, who was prostletyzing about this game involving space marines, weird aliens and jetbikes. Jetbikes! This was my introduction to Warhammer 40,000 and the world of tabletop gaming. It sounded incredible.
Some years earlier I was bequeathed a pile of yellowing second hand Fighting Fantasy books by my step dad, who got them from a local university book shop. Looking at the Russ Nicholson and Iain McCaig art boggled my tiny mind and set all the right neurons firing. These books planted the roleplaying seed early on, but back then I had no idea it would grow into a lifelong hobby and a small business for me.
The smell of the cookie shop in the shopping centre wafted over me as I set foot for the first time in a Games Workshop. The shelves were packed with colourful boxes of minis - so many I found it difficult to comprehend where I should start. A nice employee told me I should grab a paint set because it came with five Space Marines. It was also a fiver, so this seemed like a good deal (hard to believe now), so I bought it, went home and painted my first Ultramarines.
Soon I would be playing in Saturday morning games in the store, matching my pathetically painted marines against whatever new nonsense was pitted against me that week. I would buy White Dwarf every month to marvel at all the things I couldn't afford, but I loved the play reports. Issue 233 was my first and I still think it's my favourite issue, although I stopped buying them over a decade ago.
At around this time a certain craze was taking off. Pokémon was all the rage and the cards by Wizards of the Coast were a hot commodity in schoolyards across the world. I was perhaps the first to bring in a deck, having spotted it in a toy store and thinking it looked like a fun game. But it blew up and I realised that people didn't even want to play the game, or if they did they butchered the rules something terrible.
Not long later I was on a caravan holiday and I was allowed to peruse Game (the holiday was boring, so this was my moment of fun). There something caught my eye. It was the Portal starter set for Magic the Gathering.
Now THIS was right up my alley. The art blew me away and I loved the intricate strategies around the game. It began a hobby that continues to this day, though admittedly I have stopped buying the cards and just use my vast collection.
Now I was deep into a new world. Whereas I knew a lot of kids who played Warhammer and Pokémon, nobody knew about Magic. I felt like a member of an exclusive club. I became a fully fledged nerd.
A couple of years later I was talking with my best friend about a board game I was given a while back about warriors and sorceries. I couldn't actually remember what it was called (I still can't, but I remember there was a tower in the centre that was interactive in some way), but I assumed it was Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately I couldn't find the game at home - I have no idea where it went, but this led me to my FLGS where I asked about Dungeons and Dragons. What I was presented with wasn't the board game I remember - it looked way better. This was the year 2000, when 3rd edition was fresh from the publisher and everyone seemed really excited about it. There were still shelves stacked with 2e, but I went with 3e because the previous version was 'Advanced', so I assumed you had to work up to that. What an idiot. I picked up the Starter Set, you know, this one:
Oh the joy that came from this box. The contents were actually really good - lots of tokens and a big old dungeon map, along with a book of adventures. This is where everything clicked into place. The lite roleplaying of Fighting Fantasy, the tactical minis of Warhammer and the art and, well, the magic of Magic: The Gathering. Everything in D&D conspired to hook me in and enrich my life, and dammit that's exactly what it did.
So that's the story of how I found gaming, or as I like to think of it, how gaming found me.
Saturday, 18 March 2017
Typical number: 1
Weapon: Rotbreath +3*
Specialisms: Flight +4 (A), Stealth +3 (A)
Treasure: Spoils of the dead (2d10 x 100 shards)
Special: Exhaling Putrescence - when using its rot breath, the Necrowyrm can hit 1d6 targets within 60ft. Those hit must make an Action test or vomit bile for 1d3 rounds, reducing any rolls they make by half.
Rising from the fetid air above a coagulation of corpses, the Necrowyrm (also known colloquially as a grave bastard) is often found at sites of mass killings. The faces and limbs of the dead cover it's tattered flesh and it's call is the scream of the damned. When it uses its breath weapon it exhales gore into its enemy.
Thursday, 16 March 2017
Typical number: 1-3
Weapon: Marrowblade +2
Specialisms: Riding +2 (A)
Treasure: Pale skull (20 shards)
Special: When mounted the Pale Rider gets a +1 to attacks against unmounted foes.
From the dark moors of the Blightland to the Dripping Cliffs, the Pale Rider makes its gloomy home. Raised a thousand years ago by the Yellow Necrocaster Ildiun Doomslake, the Pale Riders are cursed to guard the treasure sites Ildiun deemed sacred.
The lead rider is known as the Chained One - it's torso wrapped in silver chains. A Chained One has armour 2 and Action d10.
Sunday, 12 March 2017
So when Troika! cropped up, a game that is heavily influenced by Fighting Fantasy, I had to take a look.
Troika!, created by Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan, is the British equivalent to an OSR game. Whereas the likes of Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord and indeed my own Romance of the Perilous Land are influenced by the original Dungeons and Dragons rules, Troika was created to harken back to that gritty, weird stable of games that originated in the UK. It doesn't use the polyhedral d20 system, instead opting for something more akin to Advanced Fighting Fantasy, a game that has seen a decent rejuvenation through Arion Games and bloggers like Stuart Lloyd who are taking a keen interest in the system.
Being of Fighting Fantasy stock, the ruleset is on the light side of the spectrum, which suits me to a tee, but will automatically put crunchers off. Oh, and the baked in setting is deliciously bizarre.
I say baked in because the setting is implied through character creation, spells, items and enemies. There isn't a 'setting' section - so it pays to read absolutely everything to pick out plot hooks and nuggets that will help realise the world of Troika. Readers who pay attention will gather that great golden airships sail the skies and aether, fuelled by plasmic cores that are sometimes huffed by wizards. They will discover that monkeys are often sold as snacks, and that witches shun the rain as their skin is made of literal paper.
The richest vein of setting in this short book is certainly through character backgrounds, which are essentially classes. Many of these are just wonderfully evocative - the Befouler of Ponds who pisses in ponds for their toad god, the Caliviger who is obsessed with opening locks, and the Fellowship of Knidos - mathmologists who seek to open the door to the universe with numbers. Each background has a list of skills, some starting equipment and some also have a special ability. For instance, the aforementioned Befouler of Ponds is able to drink stagnant water with no ill effects. Quite the niche ability but, as I say, entirely evocative.
Character creation is supposed to be random. Roll 2d6 and find your background. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of balance, but this feels absolutely intentional. Like in Fighting Fantasy, you get Skill, Stamina and Luck, which are added to a 2d6 roll along with any skill. If it's a contested roll, like in combat, you have to roll higher than the opponent. Otherwise, it's a roll under system. Being a Fighting Fantasy system whoever gets the highest roll on combat wins and does damage, which is dependent on the weapon used. Roll a d6 and consult the damage chart for the weapon. All very simple, although it's not immediately apparent how ranged combat works. Presumably if you miss with a ranged attack the opponent doesn't get to hit you, but this isn't spelled out.
Spells cost points, which are taken from stamina - so if you want to use magic you have to hurt yourself. This penalty exists because spell users have access to all spells from the beginning. To cast, it's a roll under, with a double 1 always succeeding but a double 6 being an Oops!. Yep, you get to roll to see how you fucked up your spell, something I love. This could be as innocuous as growing a tail to all money you're holding turning into butterflies and flying off. All of these consequences are inventive and super fun (probably not for the player in question). However, many of them are indefinite, meaning that you could end up turning into a pig forever, which is slightly irksome, so it's likely that GMs will build in a cure quest into the game.
Troika captured my imagination as soon as I read through it. Coupled with a simple system, this is a fun one shot or short campaign game. However, with no advancement it's unlikely that players will get a tonne from a prolonged campaign.
Wizards of the Coast has launched a new site allowing users to apply to become a beta tester for D&D Beyond, a digital toolkit for 5e.
From the looks of things, the application will have pretty much everything on it - character builder, glossary, bestiary, character management and, reading between the lines, a digital tabletop - but I'm not too sure on this last part.
"D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” said Nathan Stewart, Senior Director of Dungeons & Dragons. "These tools represent a way forward for D&D, and we’re excited to get them into the hands of players soon!"
Wizards has previously attempted to dive into a toolkit for 5e, but this ultimately didn't take off. Since then the company has offered their licence to both Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, two of the most popular virtual tabletops out there. If Beyond does indeed facilitate a virtual tabletops then it remains to be seen what happens to these licenses.
I've signed up for beta, so if I get to play around with Beyond I'll give you a preview of what it's all about.
Monsters - I love 'em. Few things happening make me happier than kicking back with a creature feature and a load of chocolate. Unfortunately, today I don't have any chocolate, but I do have a game about monsters to look at.
Champion of Earth is a card game that's just launched on Kickstarter and already has hit its £1000 goal (not a particularly large sum for a card game, it has to be said). The brains behind the game, Shades of Vengeance, sent along some preview material for me to wrap my eyeballs around.
From the outset, the game seems pretty simple. Each player controls characters - monster hunters, who battle against a row of bad guys set out in the centre of the board, nicely referred to as the oncoming horde. Players pick equipment, fight monsters and win corpses. The winner is the player with the most corpses. Pretty simple, right?
Monsters are split into undead, aliens and creature, so there's a mix of zombies, wererabbits, alien babies, mummies and more. It's like every b-movie has been thrown into a blender.
Equipment cards are equally weird, with ultraviolet light for taking down undead, toasters, segways and teleportation packs, making Champion of Earth feel like a bizarre 80s flick with modern day toys. I particularly like the Martian Pants, which allows you to trade for another piece of equipment - delightfully strange.
In terms of mechanics, it's all kept very simple, presumably in order to keep it quick paced. All you have to do is make sure your equipment score is equal to or above the monster's score. Of course, monsters and equipment have different abilities, so it's never going to be that cut and dry.
Also, good news for those who like to play solo, as you don't need anyone else to play - just see how you survive against the deck.
If Champion of Earth feels like something you would enjoy, support the game on Kickstarter.