Sunday 28 October 2018

10 better caravan guard hooks

Caravans are a boring mainstay, so here are some interesting caravans.

1. The caravan consists of several young yellow dragons, each with a little canvas tent on their backs.

2. The caravan is carting an unstable phase emerald that periodically shifts the entire caravan into a new, increasingly awful dimension.

3. The caravan is transporting a vampire clan who must stop to feed every two days.

4. The caravan shrinks by a meter every three days until it reaches its fairy city destination, 4 inches high. Of course, enemies appear much bigger.

5. The caravan is headed for the realm of the dead. Of course, the adventurers will have to die to get there.

6. The caravan is transporting dungeon sections, but one that has become inhabited by a hitch hiking race of crystalline humanoid. The PCs can communicate with the caravan head to move dungeon sections when they like.

7. The caravan is transporting a dying goddess to her final resting place. She's leaking divine magic, attracting angels like carrion.

8. The caravan is transporting cursed treasure from a shipwreck. The ghosts of pirates follow them. The curse causes random effects daily - d6: 1. Caravan members turn into rat people 2. Caravan members' feet are replaced with sponges 3. Clothing becomes heavier than lead 4. Speaking becomes impossible 5. 1d3 random caravan members' heads melt 6. Caravan members become deathly afraid of their own hair.

9. The caravan is an ancient nomadic frog tribe whose nightmares become reality when there's a full moon.

10. The caravan needs to keep the lamps burning, otherwise the shadowplague will get them. Oil is running low. The oil comes from the livers of fire giants.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

An old school British roleplaying retrospective

I sometimes find the OSR a bit too stars and stripes, which makes sense considering patient zero was D&D. American fantasy has always interested me in its depictions not of sweeping fields of emerald grass, but it's dustbowl aesthetic borrowed from sword and sorcery. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, but I wanted to delve today into the British side of the OSR, since it may be our sole export after Brexit.

We were late to get D&D over here. It wasn't until Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone set up Games Workshop in 1975 that we heard about this weird little game. While the States were pumping out games, we were still pretty much infatuated with wargaming.

Lock up your daughters

Ok, I could be wrong here but I believe that 1979 saw the release of the first British roleplaying game - Heroes. This was a historical game set in the dark ages with a cover by the venerable John Blanche. From what I can tell, this is a grim and gritty game - a reflection of the state of Britain at the time. You can still buy the game.

When I think British roleplaying, really the first thing that springs to mind is Fighting Fantasy. Despite being solo books (up until Dungeoneer's release) I count these as OSR. Plus the art was so much better than what D&D was doing at the time. What kids were doing around a table on the other side of the Atlantic, we were doing with FF books. Fighting Fantasy spawned a slew of pretenders, but one of the most successful was Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's Lone Wolf series.

In 1984 FF publisher Puffin were keen to capitalise on the series' success with a fully-fledged roleplaying game - Maelstrom, a game I own but have never played. It's basically a d100 historical fantasy game famed for its attention to historical detail. The game has since been re-released by Arion Games, who also brought back Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

Speaking of which, 1989 saw the release of Dungeoneer by Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn. This was the first book in the Advanced Fighting Fantasy system, introducing the FF world to the tabletop. This was followed the year after by Blacksand! And in 1994 by Allansia (which goes for a pretty penny on eBay). It's basically the same Fighting Fantasy system with, uh, some advancements. It's good. So good that Daniel Sell based the awesome Troika! on it. More of that in a bit.
AFF is still around, updated by Arion Games and still coming out with material, like Stellar Adventures.

If we trot back a few years to 1985 Corgi (who produced the UK edition of T&T 5e) published the first in a series of Dragon Warriors books by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson. I don't know what it was with UK publishers putting out novel sized books, but I dig it (aside from the fact that there were six core books). Again, it's a simple enough game - no universal mechanic but it seems like it plays well (another one I own but have yet to play). Also another one that has been re-released in recent years in a big hardback.

Art from Dragon Warriors

round the same time Standard Games released Dragonroar, which had an adventure on cassette! That's pretty damned 80s. The game has since been lost to history and was pretty unremarkable aside from it listing a war hedgehog in its bestiary (of 12 creatures). It was more of a minis combat game, with no rules for non-combat abilities.

A year prior to Dragonroar (I know, I'm all over the place), Games Workshop released  Golden Heroes, the first British superhero roleplaying game. Originally created as a Marvel property, Golden Heroes allowed players to roll random heroes and retrospectively give them an origin story based on their powers. I don't own this, so I'm unsure of its mechanics, but combat was done in frames, adding to the comic book feel. This had a bit of a re-imagining by Simon Burley in 2015 as Squadron UK.

Add for Dragonroar. That hedgehog is a PC

It would be remiss of me to forget Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay from 1986, a game that still thrives today under Cubicle 7. It's grim, dark and humorous. You know the drill by now..

So where does the UK OSR stand now? As you can see, there are loads of reprints and new editions of AFF, Maelstrom and Dragon Warriors, which I'd say make up the trifecta of the British old school roleplaying scene. Troika! is a recent piece of hotness inspired by AFF but featuring some gonzo classes and world building - a far cry from the spit and gristle that became the hallmark of British gaming. Warhammer Fantasy has Zweihander, which I don't own but hear good things about.

There's definitely room in the hobby to revitalise some of these games and offer further support. Maybe not Dragonroar, though. Let's leave that in the basement.

Friday 12 October 2018

Farewell to Greg Stafford

There are few legends left and now another one has said farewell.

Very sad news today that Pendragon designer and Glorantha creator (among many other achievements) Greg Stafford has passed away at the age of 70.

Chaosium has a full obituary.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

The doom that came to Google Plus

In 2011 I became a beta user of a brand new social network called Google Plus. For me, it was a haven from people I knew in real life and a way to meet new people online. As users grew, I found that roleplaying fans were in abundance and the conversation was GREAT.

Plus became not only an amazing place to discover great new things happening in the DIY RPG community, but also a valuable tool for me in my game design. It's where I found playtesters, where people fed back and where communities around my games sprang up. Sure, there was drama, but at the end of the day the quality of conversation outshone the Twitters and Facebooks of the world.

And now as the death knell sounds for Plus, I realize how lucky I've been to be able to be part of that community. While I'm not jumping ship yet - there's 10 months left - I think it's worth saying that the network had value for a lot of us. Sure, people love to mock it. Why? They didn't understand it (and it was a bit clunky too). Those of us who did understand managed to make it worth our while.

A large exodus has happened. We're looking for a new home to accommodate our hobby. Right now a fair few of us have pitched up in MeWe, who have noted the influx of nerd refugees and are speaking to our number about adding features we loved about Plus. Will we stay there? Only time will tell, but as of now this blog will be my main way of communicating to the roleplaying world.

Our community might be fractured for a time, but it will never die.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD quick start first impressions

Being a 2000 AD and Judge Dredd fan, I've been following the recent Kickstarter by EN Publishing for the (wordy) Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD.

Recently they've released their free quick start rules and adventure to help people get a feel for the game, so I wanted to give my first impressions.

The WOIN system is simple enough - it probably translates well across genres, being an easy d6 pool system, which I guess is why it was used. I've not played NEW so I don't know how pared back the quick start is, but there are some stats we have to ignore in the QS that will come into play in the main game. It's certainty not crunchy - rolling a d6 pool of attribute + skill and attempting to meet a target. There are also exploits in the game, offering further abilities, but these aren't detailed here. While this won't be to everyone's taste, I like a lite game so I'd be happy to play this.

It's interesting that you can play as judges, perps or citizens. While the QS doesn't have character creation, I'd be interested to see how much these characters differ. Will there be perp scenarios and judge scenarios when the game releases? This would make sense, it's tough to wrap up two or potentially three play styles in a single scenario.

The QS does include a scenario and, honestly, if this is what they want a Dredd game to be like, then I'm seriously disappointed. The adventure takes place in the Empire State Building, where a crazy perp called Ricki Rocco is holed up with a load of gang members. You're offered hooks for judges, citizens and perps, but the scenario only comes with 4 pre gen judges. I suppose it could be played when the full rules are released, but that defeats the point, right?

The scenario has some weird errors. Some of the section sub heads dealing with intros for perps and citizens are inconsistent. At the beginning, it says the perp section is titled In and Out, but the actual section is called Criminal Empire. The citizen section is referred to as Lost and Found, but later it's called Little Lost Ray Fey. Also, the citizen hook is baffling, mentioning that they could be after the cursed treasure of skull island. Where the hell did that come from? Maybe I missed something, but it doesn't seem like a thing.

The scenario is fairly rudimentary, but suffers from wall of text syndrome. There are very few bullets, no key info bolded, so it's not super useful at the table. There are also some really boring rooms containing nothing. You can search an empty office for an hour and surprise, surprise, you won't find anything. There are restrooms, explaining that the juves keep clean. I don't think this needed spelling out. The third floor is a series of empty offices, but it also says it's full of booby traps - yet it goes into no detail about what and where those traps are. So lots of fun to be had in rooms where nothing is happening! I do like that there's a room full of helpful robots who will do whatever you want, which could lead to some interesting situations, but these little nuggets are few and far between.

I really think an intro scenario should help the GM and players get to grips with the rules by offering ways to use attributes and skills. Not so much in this scenario. I counted a total of two checks and one instance of using tactical cover. While I don't think this would be so bad as a scenario for experienced players, this is not that.

When we reach the basement, we again find another glaring error. From what I can tell, there's supposed to be a giant toad in its lair, but the lair text doesn't actually say this. Instead it just says 'suddenly an immense form comes barreling out of the refuse...' and that's it. No mention of a giant toad, but in a later room it refers to the toad's lair. Then under the city, it says that you can add in another toad, blind crocodiles or troggies. But it doesn't give stats for these other two creatures, so why include them?

Honestly, this adventure is a bit poor. Clearly rushed out of the gate, it definitely needed another editing pass. They were clearly going for a Dredd movie vibe so that people only familiar with that would grok it but dear lord is this stale. You have the entirety of the Judge Dredd legacy to build on, a comic noted for its larger than life characters and insane situations. I get they wanted a scenario that could be used by all character types without having to change much, but I really hope this isn't the norm for adventures.

I'm cool with the system. It's basic, but that's my jam. The scenario, however, really could have been better.

Friday 5 October 2018

D12 magic items of little consequence

Roll that d12.

1. A stone snail garden ornament. At dusk it mimics the call of a red stoat.

2. A black ring made of warg tongue. Emits a hum when bread is near.

3. A wooden doll shaped like a fairy. At night it polishes your boots.

4. A deerstalker hat that never gets wet.

5. A goat horn containing a powder. When huffed your eyes turn purple.

6. A scabbard of cloud. Anything inside it falls through.

7. An amulet of dinosaur tears that wards off blacksmiths

8. An eyeball on a chain. Wherever it swings there is butter.

9. A lantern of demon skin that casts shadow.

10. A hand harp that automatically plays the queen's second favourite childhood song.

11. A croquet ball made of glass. Smashing it releases a dancing mouse.

12. A compass that points towards your heart.