Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Last minute locale: Port Ichorr

Port Ichorr is the place you find yourself when all hope is lost. With the Blacktongue Sea lapping against its shores, the port is not just a haven for scoundrels and scallywags, but all the things that go bump in the night. Take Gideon Foulsnare for example, the lich who runs the port. A former pirate and current cat lover (his undead panther Kanth is his pride and joy), Gideon resides in the twisted flesh tower.

- The only map of the Ribcage Islands can be found placed decoratively above the bar of the Grim Anchor tavern, shielded by a curse. Those who remove it have their eyes fall out. The lost obelisk of Nu'un can be found here, said to be able to bring everlasting life.

- The once submerged temple of Karnatha has risen and has been taken over by fish men who are kidnapping local villagers and dragging them to the temple where they are harvesting their organs to appease their elder god.

- Vampirates have discovered a chest of cursed treasure beneath the port. They have been possessed by the ghosts of feral gnolls.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Rebellion to open film and TV studio - colour me intrigued

Well this piqued my eyeballs. Rebellion, the videogame developer/media company who bought 2000 AD back in 2000, has announced the launch of a $100m TV and film studio just outside of Oxford. Well, itsi currently a space that will be a studio, but either way this probably means some hot 2000 AD properties on are on their way in addition to Mega-City One and the recently announced Rogue Trooper movie.

Does this mean more Dredd too?

Some gubbins from the press release:

The new space will house Rebellion’s forthcoming productions of the Judge Dredd TV sci-fi drama Mega-City One and the future-war feature Rogue Trooper, set to be directed by Duncan Jones, who also directed Moon and Source Code. The scale of the new site means Rebellion will also make sound stage and full production/post-production office space available to rent to the UK’s growing production sector. This will help increase the levels of inward investment into UK feature film production, which registered a 162% increase in 2017.

Company founders and owners, CEO Jason Kingsley and CTO Chris Kingsley were producers on the 2012 feature film Dredd and announced the creation of Rebellion Productions in 2017, to develop and produce film and TV based on its comics and games IP.

Jason Kingsley said: “This studio purchase is incredibly exciting, not just for Rebellion but for the global film and television industry that is booming but in desperate need of further infrastructure to cope with the demands for new and engaging content.
“We know first-hand the creativity and talent here in the UK and this new studio will bring in projects from all over the world, offering opportunity and income to many people in the industry, as well as local companies and services. It also means there will be demand for more UK production and we can export more of our work globally.”

Chris Kingsley said: “The levels of growth in television content for streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon, have been astronomical in recent years. The demand for ongoing original content is bigger than ever and we’re seeing more big players wanting to get in on the action. This is very exciting for the domestic and global film industries but it’s also meant that our infrastructure is under increasing pressure.
“The new studios will help relieve some of that pressure whilst also adding to the growing figures of people employed in the UK film and TV industry, which has increased by 20% in the last five years. Our creative industries are appealing to other markets for our talent and generous tax reliefs - and we must ensure we have the studio space and infrastructure to keep furthering this ongoing growth.”

Incidentally, this is an actual hairdresser in my city.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Review: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Switch)

Fighting Fantasy is back in the wider public consciousness, with Scholastic taking over publishing duties for the book series and several video game outfits producing new ways to experience classic gamebooks. Tin Man Games have spearheaded this gamebook revolution, first with their own Gamebook Adventures series and then snagging the Fighting Fantasy license. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the latest reimagining, taking a leaf out of Inkle's Sorcery adaptation and presenting things from an isometric perspective. It's essentially a tabletop RPG with the paragraphs and choices you'd find in Fighting Fantasy.

The game switches things up when it comes to character creation. Rather than rolling a character, you pick from a series of miniatures, each with its own stats, backstory and attacks. Let's unpack this, because there's some clever stuff happening.

Each character has a reason for heading to Firetop Mountain, whether it's to avenge their brother's death or simply to fleece the old magic-fingered fool out of all his cash. They will also gain a sub quest attached to this. In one, you have to steal a gem from a Cyclops eye to aid your quest, and in another you have to feed blood to a demon statue. In addition, denizens of Firetop Mountain will react to certain characters in different ways and new events can be experienced depending who you're playing as. Similarly, some characters have skills that unlock new options. Those with eagle eyes may be able to spot something to avoid a fight that would be compulsory for others. This means that while Firetop Mountain doesn't change on each playthrough, your experiences will, which is a fantastic way of getting replay value. The Switch version comes with the Goblin Scourge expansion, adding several new characters to the mix.

Combat has been spiced up from the usual FF roll-off. Now you're given a dungeon tabletop complete with miniatures who tactically battle it out. Characters and enemies have chess-like attacks, affecting certain squares around them. Attacking at the right time gets you automatic damage, while if you attack an enemy while they attack you it becomes the classic roll-off, taking Skill into account. It's nice and simple, but adds some depth to combat. It's fun to see how certain enemies will attack and move around the board, but you'll grok things easily after a few rounds. Murdering monsters nets you would, which can be used to buy new, better characters, though nobody seems completely overpowered.

One of the wonderful things about the original book was Russ Nicholson's art. While this still features, they have been coloured, which really detracts from the original detailed line art. It's a bit of a let down - Nicholson's art was created to be black and white and the colour versions simply don't look as good. At least they didn't use the FF art from the Scholastic line.

Due to the blend of interactive fiction and graphical RPG, movement can occasionally be a slog, especially when you're navigating one of the mazes. Still, the idea of presenting it as a tabletop game is a nice one.

Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a splendid reimagining of the classic book. While the game won't take long to complete with a character, there's a tonne of replay value. There's also a gauntlet mode which is just combat to see how long you can last. The souls gained here all count toward unlocking new characters, which is great if you don't feel like running through the story over and over again. I do have issues with the art, but visually the rest of the game is pleasing. In the end, chalk up another triumph for Tin Man Games.

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.