Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Comitatus


A filler image for Wormskin#7, coming soon. Again I'm messing around with colour, in an attempt to become a bit more confident with it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Hashtag and Eggs

Oh okay then, let's have a look.


I'm not going to do one a day; no one wants to see that. Let's bash through the whole lot in one fat hit.

Here we go!

1. What published rpg do you wish you were playing right now?

What, right this moment? I'm okay thanks. I like games but I don't want to be playing every moment of every day, like some sort of...

Oh.

I want to play Mutant Year Zero. It's been sitting in my reading pile for a year or so but I haven't got it to the table yet.

2. What is an rpg you would like to see published?

I may write a longer blog post about this but I think it's fascinating that computer rpg series like Final Fantasy spit out a complete ruleset and setting every couple of years and then move on; would anyone buy or play these games if they were released as tabletop rpgs? I would be interested, at least.

3. How do you find out about new rpgs?

I don't follow any news sites or anything like that, so I tend to pick up on new releases when people get excited about them on Google+.

4. Which rpg have you played the most since August 2016?

I am a sad loser and I have logged everything I've played and because these things are true I can tell you that it was the Frankenstein patchwork d100 game I used to run The Dracula Dossier. Thirteen sessions in all.

5. Which rpg cover best captures the spirit of the game?

That's a great question. I can think of lots of covers I like but do they capture the spirit of the game? Fifth edition Call of Cthulhu has a wonderful cover but I don't think it's indicative of how the game plays, as such.

Of the games I own, I'm going to go with the second edition of Shadowrun; it's not the best image in the world -- the composition is a bit flat and that drain is given so much prominence that you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a main character -- but does a great job of showing what the game is about.

6. You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

Assuming I've done all the preparation and I'm ready to go, I'd probably try out a bunch of games and play a different one each day. Maybe two a day, one after lunch and one after dinner.

I know. Rock and roll.

7. What was your most impactful rpg session?


"Impactful" is a horrible word. Eurgh. Stop it.

Anyway, probably the most influential -- much better, see? -- session was the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I'd played other rpgs before that, and it was Shadowrun that probably got me hooked, but that first CoC session was a profound and enlightening experience.

8. What is a good rpg to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

"2hrs"?

Good gravy.

(Mental note: stop being an arse.)

Anyway, two hours doesn't seem long enough to get going, once you've taken into account making the tea and moaning about what the Tories have done this week, but I'd go for something quick and easy, like Fighting Fantasy. I imagine you could rattle through a lot of content in two hours with that game.

9. What is a good rpg to play for about 10 sessions?

Most campaigns I run last about ten to twelve sessions, so the easy answer is "any of them" but that's not very helpful.

There's a suggestion in 13th Age to run a campaign in which everyone gains a level with each session and characters have ten levels in that, so you get this focussed and neat sort of "zero to hero" thing. I don't know if that means 13th Age is a good rpg to play for about ten sessions, but I'd like to give it a try some time.

10. Where do you go for rpg reviews?

Reviews from R'lyeh is good, as is tenfootpole. Ramanan Sivaranjan knows what he's talking about, and I will always pay attention to what Patrick Stuart or Zak Smithsabbath like, although our tastes can often vary.

11. Which "dead game" would you like to see reborn?

TSR's Saga System -- the one with the cards -- was ahead of its time and had a lot going for it, but died when TSR did. I'd love to see a new version.

12. Which rpg has the most inspiring interior art?

Death is the New Pink or Troika! because Jeremy Duncan is a genius. So are Jez Gordon and Zak Sabbathsmith, but I don't think there's a published rpg out that features their work. Yet.

(I also have some pictures in DitNP but if you're looking at my stuff instead of JD's then You Are Doing It Wrong.)

13. Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I was going to blog about this. Maybe I did. I'm old and can't remember everything. Hrm. It was when I was running The Enemy Within II: The Enemy Within and the Temple of Doom and I noticed that WFRP2 sort of expects you to build non-player-characters according to the same rules as player-characters and I remember thinking "no, I'm just going to do what I like" and made up the statistics.

It's sort of obvious and everyone else has probably been doing it for years but it had never occurred to me before and now I do it all the time.

14. Which rpg do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

I'm not sure how to answer this one because every open-ended game I've played has fallen apart at some point. I would imagine that the best sort of rpg for this kind of campaign would be something where characters don't change much in terms of power level; perhaps something like basic D&D, the Chaosium d100 rules, or Traveller.

15. Which rpg do you enjoy adapting the most?

I don't understand the question. Is this asking if I enjoy hacking games? If so, then I don't do it often because if I have to change a ruleset in order to run something then there's a good chance that there's already a different ruleset that's better suited to what I want to do.

That said, I am a big fan of the Chaosium d100 rules and I find them easy to tweak and modify, so maybe that's my answer.

16. Which rpg do you enjoy using as is?

See above. I'll drop rules if they make no sense or slow things down but for the most part I'm not much of a hacker. Fighting Fantasy and WFRP2 are both games that I run without changing much, if anything.

17. Which rpg have you owned the longest but not played?

Probably Lacuna Part 1: The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City. I've had it since 2009 and I've never got around to playing it. I find it interesting and I'm excited to play it but I also find it a bit intimidating and all I can imagine is making a right mess of running it.

18. Which rpg have you played most in your life?

Ooh, crikey. I've played a lot of Pathfinder in recent years, and I played a stupid amount of Shadowrun when I was but a wee sprogling, but I reckon it's probably Call of Cthulhu. I've run three big-ish campaigns and have played double figure one-shots.

It may be Pathfinder because that takes ages to play, but I don't like it nearly as much as I like adore Call of Cthulhu and I would be sad if I have played it more often.

19. Which rpg features the best writing?

Small but Vicious Dog.

20. What is the best source for out of print rpgs?

I get mine from eBay because all the shops that used to sell ancient rpg books have closed down around here.

In the brief time during which I lived in Minnesota, the local Half Price Books was like a treasure trove of old rpg stuff, but I wasn't gaming at the time so I didn't pick anything up. Tsk.

21. Which rpg does the most with the least words?

Probably one of these twenty-four hour games or two-hundred word rpgs but I don't think I've read any of them.

Troika! is quite lean but also good. Let's go with that.

22. Which rpgs are the easiest for you to run?

I have no patience for fiddly games any more so I only run games that are easy to run. This is one reason I like 13th Age; for the players it's like AD&D in terms of complexity and options but for the GM it's more like Basic D&D.

The easiest for me is probably Call of Cthulhu because the d100 system is super simple to use, and almost everything is on the character sheet.

Then they ruined it by Pathfindering the seventh edition but I've already moaned about that.

23. Which rpg has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Rifts.

Oh, did you mean jaw-dropping in a good way?

24. Share a PWYW publisher that should be charging more.

I don't know of any PWYW publishers off the top of my head. Lamentations of the Flame Princess sometimes does it but it seems to work for James, so what do I know?

25. What is the best way to thank your GM?

I think it depends on the GM. I always appreciate it when the players tell me they enjoyed the game and would like to play more.

Alas, they tend to tell me this either (a) after the final session of the campaign, or (b) years after the game dribbled away into nothing because of -- I thought -- a lack of interest.

Fist-shaking bitterness and tearful self-doubt aside, it never hurts to just say "thank you, I had fun".

26. Which rpg provides the most useful resources?

What?

Does this mean the core rules, or anything published for it?

I use the d1000 mutation tables from Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness whenever I can, but that's not an rpg.

27. What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Whahuh? These are getting vague and weird now.

A game and some people to play it. Anything else is optional. I mean, it doesn't even have to be a good game as long as you have good people.

I keep thinking of when I played Mutant Chronicles when I was seventeen and it was terrible so we drank whisky as we played and I was sick in a bush.

28. What film/series is the biggest source of quotes for your group?

We don't do quotes. Stupid comedy accents, on the other hand, we do a lot. Comedy German is a popular one.

(Sorry, Germany.)

29. What has been the best-run rpg Kickstarter that you have backed?

The standard for rpg Kickstarters seems to be set so low that "deliver what was promised and on time" is considered some sort of achievement, rather than basic competence. That said, the Mutant Year Zero people know what they are doing and the Hubris Kickstarter was run well.

30. What is an rpg genre-mashup you would most like to see?

I'm not a singer as I lack both the ability and the confidence, and it would probably be insufferable torture to watch in action, like a thousand Frozen Youtube videos in one, but I reckon there's potential in an rpg in which singing is used as some sort of resolution mechanic.

31. What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

That's a bit odd. Why not "the next twelve months" so it ties in with the next time everyone does this?

(Mental note: remember the first mental note.)

Anyway, the thing I'm most excited about is that there will be not one but two new editions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay coming out soon. One will be based on the first and second editions and the other will be based on the absurd high fantasy of Age of Sigmar; I'm keen to see both. I have no idea if they will be out in 2018 but let's say they will be just to end this on a positive note.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Knows How to Party

I drew this pointcrawl map for Mike Evans' Barbarians of the Ruined Earth role-playing game project.


I am trying not to hate it, as I tend to hate everything I create about five seconds after I finish it. I don't work in colour often, but I don't think this turned out too bad.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Killing Each Other Over Shrubbery

Up until last week, the last time I played Warhammer 40,000 was in 1997ish. I had a Genestealer Cult army and when the third edition of the game came out Genestealer Cults weren't supported, and I didn't have enough money to start a whole new army, so that was that.

(It didn't occur to me that I could just keep playing second edition. I was, in many ways, an idiot.)

I kept up with developments in the game and over the past couple of years I've been collecting and painting classic Eldar miniatures in order to build the army I always wanted but could never afford at the time.

Then a couple of months ago Games Workshop announced a new edition of 40K, one that applied some of the lessons learned from the Warhammer Fantasy Battle reboot. The rules seemed to be simpler, discarding much of the fiddly cruft that had built up, and then GW released five low cost army books that covered the entire range of miniatures.

I decided to give it a go -- it didn't hurt that the rules are free -- and roped Stuart in, because I was getting the Eldar book anyway and I knew it also included one of Stuart's armies; there's no point playing 40K if you don't have an opponent, after all.

Stuart's son Sebastian also wanted to get involved and so we ended up playing a three-way battle. I brought my vintage Eldar, while Stuart dusted off his Necrons, and Sebastian fielded a Dark Angels-Imperial Guard alliance.

It was a bit choppy, because even though the new rules are streamlined, the first play of a new game is always a bit wonky. We were all a bit rusty too; Stuart hadn't played 40K in a couple of years, I hadn't played in twenty, and Sebastian had never played at all!

Sebastian set up a nice desert village with a ruined Imperial factory complex on the western edge of the board; Stuart's Necrons deployed in the south-west corner, my Eldar took the south-east-ish corner, while the Imperial forces came in from the north-north-west-ish.

(I'm getting Metal Gear Solid V flashbacks looking at these pictures.)

We'd each chosen sixty power levels of troops, but I was worried from the start as both opposing armies outnumbered mine. I wasn't too concerned about the Imperial Guard because while they do travel in large numbers they are squishy and easy to kill -- apart from the tanks, but we'll get to that! -- but there also seemed to be an awful lot of Necrons and they didn't exist last time I played so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Power levels are one of the new ideas introduced with the eighth edition; while you can still select armies the old way, tinkering with details to get an exact points value, power levels are an off-the-shelf abstract approach that gives you a general idea of a unit's, er, power level, more suited for casual games like this one. It's quick and easy and I like it a lot.

The mission was to seize objectives -- the bushy green plants -- and hold them for as long as possible; we'd get a point for each objective we held at the end of a turn. I was lucky as three of the objectives had been placed almost in my deployment zone, and as a result I didn't need to advance much to get into a good position.

Not that I had an easy time of it, as Stuart sent his heavy floaty laser cannon dudes in on my left flank early on -- pictured above -- and this tussle lasted almost the entire game.

In the centre, my Guardian squad shuffled forward to claim an objective, but not too close, as Sebastian teleported a Terminator squad right in the middle of the table and I didn't fancy tangling with them.

I felt most exposed over on the right with a single Dreadnought holding the flank and two squads of Imperial Guard -- plus tank -- rolling forward. On the plus side, most of the Space Marines were over on Stuart's side of the table, well away from me and my space elves.

There was a brief wobble on the right as Sebastian sent both Guard units into hand-to-hand combat with my Dreadnought, but the war machine barbecued most of its opponents with its twin flamethrowers before they could get close.

A Space Marine character accompanying the Guardsmen made a nuisance of himself so I pulled the Dreadnought back and then mashed the Marine with concentrated missile launcher fire from my Dark Reapers. After that, Sebastian pulled away from his left flank -- my right -- and decided to concentrate on the battles in the centre and the Imperial factory in the west, where most of his Marines were deployed.

This is where the fighting was most brutal, as Stuart threw everything he could at the Guard tanks, to no effect; as it turned out we had made a mistake while writing down the tanks' statistics, and they weren't nearly as tough as we all thought. The Necrons were held up for so long trying to destroy the vehicles that it gave the Dark Angels enough time to get stuck in, including the heavy-weapon-toting Devastators who had up until then been jogging towards the fight instead of shooting.

With the Necrons fighting both Space Marines and indestructible tanks, and the Eldar being left alone to hoover up objectives on the other half of the table, we decided to halt the game on the fourth turn, rather than let it go on to the fifth.

The game ended with a narrow victory for the Eldar on nine objective points, with the Imperial alliance on eight, and the Necrons on seven. I think the placement of the objectives favoured me, as did Sebastian's decision to abandon his left flank and focus on the Necrons. Getting the tank rules wrong also had an effect, I'm sure!

Everyone had a great time, and all three of us want to play again. Stuart is thinking of rejigging his army and Sebastian is painting -- or rather is encouraging his father to paint -- more Terminators. I'm going to have a think about my army too; this time, I brought everything I had painted but I have lots of miniatures either gathering dust or soaking in Dettol so I have some options. My War Walker got blasted into bits early on and I don't think it fired a single shot, so I'm thinking of swapping it for a unit of troops to bulk up my numbers a bit, and I'm not sure about the Avatar; he's a bit of a beast but only killed one Necron in the entire battle, instead hanging back to provide a morale boost to the Guardians in the middle. It wasn't the best use of a fiery god of bloodshed.

On the other hand I'm happy with how the Guardians performed and with the Eldar being so light on numbers I liked having a big unit to anchor the middle of my line. I also enjoyed having the psychic phase to myself -- the Necrons don't have psykers and the Imperium didn't bring any -- so I'll field Warlocks again next time. The Wraithguard are brilliant and saw off Stuart's heavy floaty laser cannon dudes, so I'll be bringing them back, and I'll try to get more if I can find the miniatures for a decent price. The Dreadnought also did well and I have two more of them in the painting pile, so it's tempting to bring more for the next battle.

The game itself is not bad. It's a bit abstract and I did like the detail of second edition, but I suspect the game would have taken two days if we'd played using those rules! That said, I do like how the core rules are nice and simple with any complexity or exceptions -- and even then there aren't many -- restricted to the individual unit descriptions. It took us most of an afternoon to play four turns but we were learning the game and there were three of us, so I imagine both added to the time; the game itself seemed to run quite fast once we got going.

All in all, I think GW has done a good job with 40K8 and I'm keen to give it another try, but I need to get painting!

Update: Stuart has blogged about the battle here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

It's About Time

When I was around seven or eight I would play Doctor Who in the playground at school. I would play the Doctor and my friend Louise Griffiths would play Mel. We'd make up adventures in which we'd run away from imaginary alien monsters and pretend to fall off cliffs. I'd like to think I was being clever and wise beyond my years but I can't manage that now, so I doubt I did it when I was seven.

The programme was more or less cancelled a year or so after that and didn't reappear until 2005 by which time I was twenty-five so I sort of missed that window in which I could have told the careers adviser that I wanted to be an actor, director, or writer so that I could work on Doctor Who.

I mean that; if the programme existed during those formative years I probably would have tried to get involved in it somehow. Oh well.

That's not a problem the youth of today have. Children watching it when it came back in 2005 are now going to be making their way in the world as young adults and I'm sure there are a few who have decided to become actors or writers or props people or composers because of their love of the programme, and that's brilliant.

What's not so brilliant is that the girls and young women who love Doctor Who and want to be actors because of it will never get to play the main role.

Oh, hang on.



I think the only thing I've seen Jodie Whittaker in is Attack the Block and I remember thinking she was good in that. Well, everyone and everything is good in that; it's ace, but that's beside the point.

I'm sure she'll be good in the role and I'm keen to see what this new Doctor Who will be like, but it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that now is that a door has opened and non-male fans of the programme know that they can not only write for it, or direct it, or act in it, but they can also play the lead part.

That is, as the Ninth Doctor used to say, fantastic.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

LASERBEAR

This is an older one but I don't think I've posted it before and it seemed a shame to miss it out given that a theme seems to be developing.


This fine fellow was drawn for Fight On! #6 in 2009. Yikes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frostgreat!

Somehow, despite it being one of those hectic weeks where nothing seemed to be going right, Stuart and I played a game of Mordheim Frostgrave on Thursday. You can see Stuart's summary of the game here and I think he overstates the scale of my victory; I scraped a 4-2 win but I rather suspect it should have been 3-3 or 4-2 to Stuart, because:

  • Stuart misplaced one of his miniatures at some point during the first turn so wasn't playing with a full strength warband.
  • I misread the description of poison dart and KO'd Stuart's apprentice early on with a spell that doesn't cause damage! I did roll a critical hit with the attack so there's a wafer thin in-game justification, he says, convincing no one, not even himself.
  • Stuart's last surviving warband member -- and treasure carrier -- was killed by a wandering monster, rather than through any deliberate action on my part.

All in all, I think it was closer than the score or Stuart's account suggests and I suspect the next battle will be closer still now that we're both more used to the way the game works. I'm looking forward to that forthcoming skirmish as the first outing was great fun. You probably got that from the title of the post.

The mechanics are swingy, with lots of random events and tables, and that makes the game unpredictable. My orc barbarian -- one of the tougher types of henchman available -- charged into combat with one of Stuart's dogs -- one of the weakest types -- and managed to incapacitate himself, because the wide range of results on a d20 roll -- most miniatures wargames I've played use the less granular d6 -- lessened the impact of the barbarian's combat bonuses.

That's going to annoy some people but I like being surprised by the game, and it's not as if events are out of the players' control; for example, I lost an expensive warband member as a result of a post-game d20 injury roll but I wouldn't have made that roll if I hadn't thrown that character into danger in the first place.

I'm also fond of the wandering monster mechanic. It's an optional rule but I can't see myself playing without it, as it makes the city of Mordheim Frostgrave seem alive and it gives you something else to think about aside from what your opponent is doing; that clear run to the table edge could fill up with angry albino gorillas at any moment.

I also like that the game is about grabbing treasure, rather than killing off your opponent's warband. The latter is a valid tactic, but often not the best one; I found myself forced into doing so by Stuart's superior positioning, it felt desperate at the time, and I was lucky -- see above -- to pull it off. What's fun about going for the treasure is that it changes the tempo of the game; it starts off as a hectic scramble, but once the loot is acquired the game becomes more cagey as those carrying treasure are slower and less effective in combat. Furthermore, every gang member that makes it off the table with a treasure chest is one gang member you don't have available for the rest of the skirmish. As such there are distinct phases of play in a game of Mordheim Frostgrave and you have to keep them in mind when plotting your overall strategy.

There's a fair bit of complexity there, but it's all on the tactical side as the rules are super simple. Almost everything is resolved with an opposed d20 roll, characters have only a handful of statistics, and there are almost no special rules or exceptions. From my perspective it's a close to perfect mix; less maths and page-flipping, and more fighting and stealing!

My only real regret from the first game is that all of the treasure was at ground level -- aside from one chest that I suspected was an illusion created by Stuart's wizard -- so neither of us got to push anyone off a building!

As a result of the battle at the mausoleum Grotbag's gang has ended up with a big pile of gold, some spellbooks and a magic staff; the magic loot is, at this point, useless so will go into storage, and poor Snozzrot, the "mighty goblin sorcerer" took a dwarven axe to the face so most of the cash will go towards replacing him.

Grotbags herself is now a level three witch, having gained lots of experience points through frequent spellcasting during the skirmish. She is also getting on the Mordheim Frostgrave property ladder and is looking for headquarters for her warband. She's got her eye on an old wizard's laboratory, but the ruined First Metropolitan Bank of Mordheim Frostgrave also has fixer-upper potential.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mammon Returns

I was not expecting -- let alone intending -- to do this again so soon and it makes me feel a bit queasy, but here are some new things to buy if you have any money here in the middle of the month.

In the ancient past of 2011 I drew some pictures for JB's B/X Companion, a, um, companion volume to the classic Basic/Expert D&D rules. It was out of print for a long time -- only available as a pdf -- but there is now a limited number of physical copies back on sale.

More recent and available in pdf and print is Wormskin #6, which contains the adventure "The Baker's Dozen"; I drew the maps for the adventure and went over the top with lots of fiddly detail. Again.

Also recent and also available is Mike Evans' Death is the New Pink, an apocalypunk rpg based on the Into the Odd rules and influenced by Borderlands and Tank Girl. Mike is some sort of machine, pumping out a new project every other month, it seems. You can tell the pictures I drew for DitNP because they are the ones that aren't as good as the ones Jeremy Duncan drew. Gosh, he's good.

That's your lot for now. I've got some other bits and pieces in the works but they are nowhere near finished, so with any luck it will be a long time before you have to put up with another of these awful and desperate money-grabbing posts.

Friday, June 02, 2017

A Winner Is You

A few days ago I ran the first playtest of CUFFS SHRIEK, the -- long-gestating if not long-awaited -- follow up to Forgive Us. The players torpedoed the adventure but I came away with lots of ideas for improvements and tweaks; I hope to run at least one more test online in the next couple of weeks, but this isn't about that.

In the post-game discussion one of the players asked what the win condition for the adventure was, and I had no idea how to respond because I have never thought of role-playing games as having winners; indeed one of the key features of rpgs for me, the thing that distinguishes them from other types of game, is that there are no winners and losers.

That said, I know what he means; even if there's no winner as such the players are competing against the adventure in a way, so in that sense there is a way to win, even if it's just surviving the adventure or getting to the end of the story. Even so, the question caught me off-guard.

I think one big reason for that confusion is that I don't tend to play to win when I'm playing with other people, even if it is a competitive game. I'm much more happy engaging with the mechanics of the game and exploring them just because they are fun, rather than to win. I suspect this is a source of frustration for my gamer friends as I ignore the most optimum strategy and instead wander off to build a fun little mechanics engine in one corner of the board.

I suppose that means I lack the soul of a winner, I will never amount to anything, and if he were still alive, the Ultimate Warrior would be disappointed in me, but so it goes. Play on!