Tuesday, 30 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 30

Day 30: Rarest RPG Owned

I don't own any rare RPGs, only common ones and a load of PDFs (inherently not-rare). By that argument, the answer is either:

Hellcats and Hockeysticks, because the least common RPG must be the rarest; or

one of the ones I'm writing myself, because nobody else owns them. Technically this would be De Jure, the only one that I think is arguably complete, although it's more a hack than a game per se.

The Voyages of Dr Charvik: professional interest

Led astray and abandoned by my companions, I had found myself prisoner in a hateful frozen waste, awaiting an abrupt termination to my career at the hands of murderous authorities. Freed by the kindly intervention of a passing dragon, I had reluctantly fought my way free of the blazing ruins and followed a native guide to a nearby village in search of shelter, food, and more amenable company.

My guide Had Var led me into a dwelling and introduced me to the residents. These poor but generous folk welcomed me in with only a modicum of staring, and shared their meal with us. In truth, the cold had slowed my metabolism sufficiently that I had not yet digested my meal of, it emerged, two days earlier, when I was knocked unconscious and captured. More welcome was the roaring fire, where I warmed myself eagerly. Had Var was a little shy of the fire, presumably still shocked by the fiery destruction of his place of employment. I expressed due condolences, and offerd my hope that he would soon find fresh occupation with some more amenable employer. Looking around, I very much doubted that severance pay or unemployment benefits existed at all in this place.

Had Var assured me that he would cope, but was more preoccupied with a practical matter. The keep (a place called Hell End, I believe - how appropriate!) had been destroyed by a dragon, and someone ought to be informed. This had not, I confess, have been my first thought, but I realised as I considered the matter that there would undoubtedly be paperwork to complete, reports to write, and so on. Would I, perhaps, be willing to undertake a journey to the local jarl (some species of secretary) and pass on the news? He was naturally shy in asking me, considering how I had been treated. However, I was most willing. For one thing, though the house where we rested was warm and dry, I suspected that more salubrious quarters could be found elsewhere.

Moreover, the proposal showed once more the good sense he had always so far displayed. As the local man, he no doubt had all manner of responsibilities to perform, bodies to identify, salvage work to undertake, and so on and so forth. He was well-placed to take care of these matters. I, on the other hand, was a trustworthy, educated stranger with no immediate responsibilties in the area, and an obvious distaste for any further involvement with matters in Hell End. Nor could I possibly receive any censure for supposed dereliction of duty, always a risk for any underling delivering unwelcome news. Who bettter to carry a clear, reliable message to a town some distance away? It would, no doubt, also be an opportunity to receive apologies for my treatment, make appropriate arrangements for my return to civilisation, and perhaps even enjoy some more refined company.

Gathering a small bag of food in case of trouble, I strode outside. It was only an hour or so's walk to this town of White Run, and soon I would be on my way back to... actually, I could not quite recall the name of whatever benighted town had been our last port of call. Presumably, however, my baggage would still be there. Or at least, I could find a way to contact the traders I had been travelling with. That, at least, should not be difficult. One of them, I was almost certain, had been called Master Something. Another had a beard, and both of them wore dull-coloured limb-fitting garments much like those my recent host had sported. Was that not one of them across the street, perhaps looking for me? No, it would seem not. But that fellow over there had a beard! Ah, my mistake.

It appeared this might be a little more difficult than I had hoped. Still, first the brief stroll to White Run in the warm evening sun - the chill wind was less helpful, but I now had a warm cloak - and then all could be dealt with comfortably. I nodded politely to the guards as I wandered out of the town gate, turned a corner along the stream, and was immediately set upon by a pack of wolves.

With some difficulty, I extricated myself from the animals, with many benevolent thoughts towards my military tutors. It occurred to me that perhaps these animals were in some sense domesticated, living as they did so close to the town, and bent to check the bodies for brands or collars. Could it be simply that they had never before encountered one of our people? I found neither, but noted that the pelts were of a different subspecies to any encountered in our home shores. As such, I deemed it wise to remove them for later study. Comparative biology is not my primary field, but a scholar should always have an open mind and a wide range of interests. If they did not prove to be scientifically valuable, they might at least be of some use in keeping out the cold.

Finding the pelts a little inconvenient, I returned to the village and sought out a local trader. The family was apparently engaged in debate of some kind, and I politely waited for them to conclude. With some difficulty, I was able to converse in pidgin Human and persuade them to part with a few sacks in exchange for gold. I took the opportunity to also purchase some small jars and boxes to store the botanical specimens I had so far obtained. When the subject of the wolves was broached, with particular reference to their immediate proximity to this village, my interlocutor seemed rather offended than concerned. Perhaps wolves are a taboo of this proud people? Perhaps his civic pride was hurt at the implication that a traveller had been inconvenienced by their rather lax environmental management? I did not care to enquire further.

Observing me with interest - and one must assume that few of our people, and perhaps fewer educated folk, travel to this land - the male attempted some conversation that I struggled to follow. Luckily, his partner intervened. Apparently, something they described as a "golden claw" had gone missing, presumed stolen. I presumed this to be some species of local herb or fungus, prized for its medicinal properties, or perhaps a trinket; mildly interesting on a better occasion, but I could not immediately see why they wished to discuss it with me. However, at length I realised that they were discussing a relic that, if authentic, must undoubtedly be of genuine archaeological importance. A ten-inch golden object, with mobile joints, in the shape of a reptilian foot? You may be assured that this secured my attention.

The couple seemed to know where the purported thieves had taken their relic, and this made me wary. It is so easy for a visiting researcher to find themself involved in local matters and pressed to take sides. Was this truly a theft, or simply a case of disputed ownership? These cases are sadly common where historical artefacts are in question, and even in Blackmarsh it is not unknown for cases to proceed to the High Court itself. In this desolate place, where mere gold is prized so highly, there were undoubtedly other considerations in the case. My natural caution warred with my academic's inquisitiveness, and scholarship won the day.

The thieves, I was told, had travelled to a nearby ruin known as Bleak Fells, or Black Falls, or possibly Back Ferns, said to hold ancient crypts. This, I felt, disclosed the truth of the matter. Such a site would be an obvious draw for any scholar. It seemed to me that the most likely explanation was this: an archaeological expedition had travelled through the area and enquired in the village about relics, as is common practice, for many items are unearthed and kept for decades by laymen unaware of their true significance. The merchants had possessed this golden claw, and displayed it to their visitors. Perhaps they had agreed to a sale and later changed their mind, for often and often an owner will wilingly render up some item, only to later wonder whether they settled for too low a price, and have been cheated by the stranger with a greater knowledge of an item's value. However, let us be honest; it is by no means uncommon for underfunded researchers to resort to other means as necessary to secure a vital artefact.

In either case, my course was clear: I must immediately make contact with this expedition. As a scholar of architecture and associated matters, I had a natural interest in their work and was keen to learn more about it. Moreover, such a group was bound to have links to more civilised lands, and might be able to assist me in resuming my own journey. Perhaps I might even find one of my correspondents was present! In any case, I would take the opportunity to raise the question of this golden claw, and suggest that they carry out further negotiations with the previous owners. Such matters are, as readers will know all too well, of vital importance in maintaining the good reputation of scholars and their institutions. It is easy for one bad apple to impede future research by sabotaging relations with the local community, whose practical assistance and oral tradition is often so valuable to us.

Thus, I delayed my visit to the jarl a little, in order to pay a brief call to Black Fells. His, her or its paperwork would have to wait; I saw no particular urgency.

Black Fells turned out to be a large temple-like building high on a snowy mountain. Even at a distance, I was impressed that something of its age and primitive human craftsmanship had survived the centuries. While simple squares and walls may stand, it is unusual for complex and fragile arches to last in exposed positions, still less when subject to the gales and icy temperatures of this clime. All the more reason to study it.

I made a careful entrance, moving quietly and cautiously to minimise potential damage to the archaeological site or startling the workers. Inside, I found the pleasing glow of a warm fire crackling nearby, adjacent to a tunnel leading further into the complex. Two figures stood warming themselves at the fire, while I noticed the corpses of several large rodents scattered around the building.  Sadly, it seemed that the complex had not survived as well as I hoped; large sections of the roof had fallen in, weakening the structure and leaving it liable to sudden collapse. The urgency of the survey work was clear, and I could see that the team had wasted no time in delving deep into the subterranean section while it was still accessible.

I stepped forward and called a greeting to them, waving my axe to attract their attention in the flickering firelight. To my surprise, they shouted agressively and drew weapons. Presumably, they feared I was a bandit of some kind, come to try and raid their camp. To soothe their fears, I lowered my axe, gripping it near the blade with my spare hand to show I meant no harm, and bared my teeth. Now, to the lay reader this may seem a curious way to show friendship; but humans have a gesture called "smile", used extensively as a sign of humour or peace.* I had had plenty of recent opportunity to observe the phenomenon, and even discreetly practiced it in my private chambers. The lips are curled back, the jaws slightly parted, the cheek muscles tightened, and often a sharp exhalation follows.

* Ziltrach and Hbiss, in their Comprehensive Introduction to Human Gesture, write extensively on this gesture and its subtle cultural and social connocations. Hbiss argues convincingly that it derives from a gesture of mercy to a physically weaker person, indicating that although fully capable of doing so, the smiler has made a moral decision to refrain from eating them. Ziltrach offers several interesting counter-hypotheses, including the argument from social advantage; that is so say, displaying a full set of teeth as an indicator of fitness, marking the smiler as a capable and valuable individual whose friendship is likely to be beneficial.

Despite my efforts, the humans remained alarmed, and one loosed an arrow at me while the other circled round. Unable to retreat through the door, I was forced to defend myself. Searching the bodies, I came to the conclusion that these could not possibly be academics. Most likely, then, they were guards or porters hired by the expedition leaders. It was most unfortunate that I had been obliged to kill them, but seeing my own extensive injuries I could not wholly sympathise. Thankfully, a schooling in basic healing magic allowed me to repair the worst of the damage.

At this stage I should, perhaps, have left a polite explanatory note and withdrawn. However, I was enchanted by the historic site, and felt a strong urge to follow the footprints leading deeper within. Perhaps, too, I would be able to speak with the expedition leader and make my apologies in person - surely any guards found within would be more sensible. In fact, a rational person would likely conclude that, since I was present in the inner chambers, I must have been allowed passage by the guards, since it was statistically improbable that a single and (I might add) physically unimposing stranger could have overcome them by force. Thus, I saw no reason for concern, and began my descent.

The catacombs were not splendid, but of respectable artistry and containing many ceramics that had survived the years. Sadly, large roots had broken through the roofs and walls in many places, shattering stone and blocking passageways. I doubted that funding would ever be available to fully excavate the ruins. There were sporadic signs of habitation - a brazier here, a footprint there - but I saw no-one. The tunnels grew increasingly thick with cobwebs, some of them both large and recent, and at last I came to a heavily-webbed chamber from whence a faint noise issued. Presuming this to be my fellow-scholar, I pushed through the fresh webs, announcing slowly and clearly that I was a friend, for I had no wish to meet with further violence.

Such a scene met my eyes. The room was a high and once ornate chamber, but now every inch was covered in layer upon layer of spiderweb. The bound corpses of rodents, and of humans, littered the floor. Against the far wall, I saw a faint struggling motion, and I realised at once that the archaeologist must have been seized and imprisoned here. But where was the culprit?

As it happened, the culprit was at that moment directly overhead and descending with great speed. It was only the faint clattering of cuticle against carapace that alerted me, and I sprang aside in mounting horror as the thing dropped. Its mandibles chattered, its myriad eyes glared balefully, and it approached with obvious predatory intent. Naturally, I turned tail and sprinted from the room at full pelt.

Having rounded the corner, I soon recollected that the entrance had been very narrow, and surmised correctly that the spider could not possibly have pursued me. My course of action was clear. I must free the unfortunate who had been captured, before their organs were rendered into a soupy broth by digestive enzymes; and, incidentally, take samples from this remarkable arachnid. It proved a straightforward matter to bring the creature down with repeated bowshots, though its intriguing habit of expelling globules of some neurotoxin was something of an impediment. Having no sample phials, I was obliged to collect some of the subtance in a small pot and seal it with wax. Thankfully, there were many candles nearby. Having secured my specimens, I took brief sketches of the web architecture and certain anatomical features, since it seemed improbable that I could convey the creature's corpse to any really competent taxidermist. I also secured some unhatched eggs from amongst the webbing, taking care to close and label these jars.

Having dealt with the urgent matters, I began to saw through the webbing around the latest victim, who had been shouting in a rather distracting manner for some time. Once his mouth (for it was a male) was free, and taking care not to loose any limbs in case of violent reactions, I introduced myself and enquired as to whether he was the gentleman studying the golden claw. He eagerly confirmed this; I could not quite make out his words due to his extreme zeal, but he clearly stated that he understood its secrets and would show them to me. This I took to be a sign of coherence, for he had apparently grasped that I was a fellow-scholar with whom he could talk sensibly.

My analysis proved to be a little inaccurate, for no sooner had I finished unbinding him than he sprang deeper into the tunnel, calling out in his enthusiasm. I deduced that some chemical action of the spider's venom had affected his mind, for he was clearly heedless of danger. Concerned that further spiders might be present, I followed at pace but a little more cautiously, and we entered a long burial chamber lined with decomposed bodies. Passing by, my keen eyes noted the once-fine burial cloths, obviously human bone structures, and extensive grave goods.

To my astonishment, my companion's progress was suddenly interrupted by some of the dead lurching upright and striking at him with rusting weapons.

Before I could intervene, he was struck down. It was all I could do to fend off my own attackers. Even now, I have not yet forgiven myself for this carelessness. Now and again, the scene will rise again to my eyes, and I wonder whether there was not something I could have done differently. If I had only been a little faster - been more hesitant to release him - performed a simple phlebotomy and sanguinochemical distillation - this fearless scholar might have lived to finish his work.

Having destroyed the creatures, I went to my companion's aid. Satisfied by the gaping wounds in his chest, cranium and neck, and the total absence of heartbeat or breath, that he was beyond my help, I carefully emptied his pockets. My hope was that the man carried some form of identification, along the lines of a personal seal, that would enable me to identify him and report his death; perhaps also return any notes to his department. Alas, there was none. Moreover, I found no documentation whatsoever, despite a thorough search of both corpse and the upper chambers. I was forced to conclude that whatever observations he had made, they were purely cerebral, or hidden so well that I could not discover them. Only the claw remained. It was exactly as it had been described: remarkable workmanship for its age, if rather crude. Geometric spirals decorate the digits, while the palm is inscribed with three stylised animals.**

For further particulars, consult Antique Dragon Claws of the Skyrim Region, Charvik U., AQ342, Press of the Eight Winds. The items can be inspected at the Academy by special arrangement.

I quickly realised what my companion must have always known: the claw was intimately associated with this monument. Unable to resist the temptation to venture a little deeper, I was forced to dispatch a number of animated skeletons - truly an uncomfortable phenomenon of this region, and one of which future travellers would do well to beware.

The tunnels proved of considerable interest, and I spent more time than I initially realised in taking down my observations by the light of the many convenient braziers, presumably imbued with some illuminatory enchantment. I even discovered simple mechanisms built into this tomb by the ancient architects - a very impressive demonstration of early engineering. In several places I was obliged to rotate symbols to reflect the symbology of the chambers - hardly an effective security measure, but nevertheless a feat of engineering. Similarly, the claw proved to be a key to a very fine bronze-worked door; displaying the same short-sighted cunning, the door contained a symbol lock whose combination was inscribed upon the key itself, without which an intruder could not in any case proceed further.

Eventually, I realised the hour was becoming late and was forced to leave, since I did not wish to spend the night in an inhospitable place. Rather than make the long trek round, I crested the mountain and found myself descending into a valley where a huge fire was blazing. Naturally, I made it my destination.

I quickly discovered the reason for the size of the fire: it had been constructed by a pair of vast humanoids. These, clearly, were the giants of which I had read so many papers. Though the creatures did not seem overtly hostile, I was well aware of the peril these simple brutes can present to a traveller, and effaced myself quickly - very, very quickly, in fact. Seeing faint smoke on the darkening sky, I continued northward towards what I correctly identified as my destination of White Run.

But first, I simply must investigate the intriguing half-ruined buildings that littered the valley floor. The jarl's paperwork would have to wait.

Monday, 29 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 29

Day 29: Most memorable encounter

For all the wrong reasons, this would be the Deathwatch game where we didn't have any armour or equipment, so ran around bouncing daggers ineffectually off a Tyrannosaurus rex until our Librarian managed to microwave it to death.

Hell 4 Leather, part 5

A Role-Playing Game of Bloody Revenge on Devil's Night

Post-Game Discussion

In this episode, we discuss our playthrough of game of Hell 4 Leather, a Tarot-based game of vengeful murderous undead bikers. There are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Episode 5

The Episode

It's interesting listening back to this and hearing us all say basically we wouldn't bother playing it again, because right now it's kind of tempting. I know it sounded silly earlier, but I genuinely quite like the idea of doing a version based around a band of Speed Freeks whose dying outcast is saved by Mad Dok Snikbatz, to the point that I'd added it to my Games Wishlist sticky. Dan's suggestion of one themed around an adventuring party is also very appealing. This makes me wonder whether putting out a supplementary PDF of hacks for H4L might add a lot to the value; it's hard to say, though, because maybe with experiment I'd decide that the mechanics aren't satisfying enough to play multiple times anyway.

Despite what we say, I actually suspect you could mash together the Fiasco reality-building rules with the Hell 4 Leather scene-building rules to get something playable. I don't have either ruleset, so I can't try it. The point is that the Fiasco mechanics are basically roleplaying prompts, so all you'd be doing is helping players flesh out more usable characters for H4L.

Copyright and suchlike

Hell 4 Leather is copyright and/or trademark Price of Darkness Games. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest. The outro is Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 28

Day 28: Scariest Game you’ve played

I don't think I've played any scary games. A few have had individually tense moments, either because we knew an enemy was somewhere but hadn't found it, or because a combat was going badly. Arthur's AD&D games have had some quite tense, creepy sections involving strange ancient magics, usually coupled with the threat of enemies skulking somewhere nearby.

Apparently some of my games have featured very creepy sections, but then I tend to run either Call of Cthulhu or D&D games with lots of undead, both of which demand a lot of describing creepy things. I have a tic of describing completely harmless things in dire tones and being blandly innocent about dangerous things; I need to watch out for that.

Vessel: the Demon: the Fallen ripoff verbing

So, I said this:

It does strike me that Demon might serve as an interesting template for variations on the same theme, of spirits in mortal bodies. You could semi-easily do something more generic by assuming a kind of animist setting, and allowing characters to host animal, plant, rock, river, sky and so on spirits. This would immediately tackle the issue that most of the demonic powers aren't very demonic. Some of the others could be discarded, or turned into generic Lores accessible to anyone - although personally I'd want to drop or pare-and-merge some of them for being either incoherent or rubbish. Again, that seems like it would fit well with the idea of Generic Supernatural Power that spirits might be able to bestow on top of their specific spheres of power.

Money, meet mouth.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Voyages of Dr. Charvik: A Rude Awakening

Being in need of evening entertainment in Japan, I have recently begun playing Skyrim. I never managed to get any of the previous games to work without crashing for more than five minutes at a time, so I begin with the great advantage of being utterly ignorant of everything relating to Skyrim.

As such, I am playing it in the persona of a scholarly lizard researcher from a far-off land who has stumbled into a violent, frozen world he doesn't understand.

The author, relaxing in a local feasting-hall. The people of this land are violent, yet willing to give respect where it is due. The author earned the friendship of the local secretary, or jarl, with a few services performed in the course of his research.

A rude awakening

I awoke to an uncomfortable jolting sensation and an unpleasant mossy taste in my mouth. My thoughts were slow and heavy. After some moments, I realised that I could hear noises, as though from a great distance, and eventually perceived that they must be a dialect of human. It was over three years since I had, with immense relief, completed my compulsory instruction in the language. Moreover, the dialect was strange, and I was slowly beginning to perceive that I was immensely, dangerously cold. No wonder my body and mind were so slow to respond.

A graduate of the Eight Winds Academy does not panic. I calmly mustered what resources I could and began to evaluate my situation. Vague memories flitted back to my heavy skull. In the course of my researches on architectural history, I had reluctantly travelled to human lands to consult certain texts not held in our libraries. Letters of introduction packed, I set out with a few companions, planning to seek out new guides as necessary.

A few days ago, the argonian-speaking merchants I had travelled with from my last port of call insisted on a detour to some provincial town or other, and having little confidence in my navigation or ability to negotiate in this far-flung land, I agreed. I had been ill for some days with a fever, and on first emerging into a rather chilly landscape, I was ushered into a hostelry. There was a certain amount of revelry, and the merchants had plied with me with some honey-based drink which they assured me would be beneficial. It was sweet, soothing to my throat and strangely warming.

Other than that, I have only blurred recollections. There was an affray at a nearby table, and my companions bundled me outside. Was there snow? I remember the smell of horses. Perhaps also a clang of metal, and shouting.

Nothing more came to mind. Satisfied on that head, I started the painful process of trying to reattune my ear to the human speech. Opening my eyes, at this juncture, seemed too much. Gradually I began to make out a few words. There appeared to be some discussion of the weather, and some political matters. I would later realise that this was, in fact, an argument about the local "stormcloak" movement, a violent rebellion against the Empire. Horses were mentioned. The humans seemed somewhat angry. I deduced, then, that I our party had found passage on a convoy of carts, and that our beasts were delayed by poor weather. I was rather pleased with myself for recalling so much of the language, and it was thus a great shame that I was entirely incorrect.

After some time, I managed to force open my eyelids. I wished intently that my current companions had found a blanket to insulate me, but presumed that the ignorant mammals did not understand reptilian biology. Glancing slowly around, I realised that one of the reasons my body seemed to sluggardly and unresponsive was that my hands were tightly bound and attached to the wagon. Perhaps they were concerned I would injure myself in my sleep? A crude remedy, but it had clearly succeeded.

At the time, my fogged brain did not make the necessary leaps to the incredible truth.

Our cart eventually drew up at some fortress or other, of primitive but structurally adequate design. We all disembarked, and at this point I realised that my fellow travellers also had their hands bound. One even had his mouth bound with cloth. It became clear to me that we were prisoners. How embarrassing! Clearly, the fracas in that hostelry had attracted official attention, and I had been rounded up amongst the locals. Presumably my travelling-companions were in another wagon, or else had already been dealt with. Although I was entirely innocent, I judged that my grasp of the tongue would not permit me to explain myself. Human authorities are said to be rough and ready in such affairs. It would be simplest to make whatever apologies were necessary, however much this might pain my reason. Perhaps there would be a small fine. I hoped my purse had escaped the confusion, but could not easily tell.

At this moment, one of the humans beside me suddenly sprang forward and raced away towards the gate. He came to a sudden halt as an arrow embedded itself in his back. The shock was overwhelming. I had never before seen a sentient being cut down in cold blood, only in the midst of battle. The situation was more serious than I had realised. Hesitantly, I surmised that he had preferred death to the shame of admitting whatever conduct he had indulged in. Plagiarism, perhaps? I could well believe that, amongst these rather primitive humans, such a custom might have evolved. The archer, then, was a ceremonial duty, and certainly an unwelcome one to any civilised mind. I wondered idly what crime she had committed to earn such a duty.

I was ushered forward to an official and told to, as I understand it, explain myself. Apparently he did not have the proper paperwork. This seemed very likely - presumably entirely different forms are required for a non-citizen - and I hoped to be allowed inside to warm myself while the documents were arranged. He seemed sympathetic and professional. However, another human, apparently his superior, pushed forward and made some remarks that I did not quite follow, gesturing wildly towards a stone block nearby. This, presumably, was the ritual speaking-stone from which those accused of improper conduct admitted their fault. How interesting. In other circumstances, with a clearer head, I would have begun to mentally compose a paper on the topic. My anthropologically-inclined colleagues would certainly have been interested.

The polite man apologised deeply, and waved me to stand with the others. He said, I believe, that he would send word to Blackmarsh. I hoped it would not take long to arrange my release, as my research funding was of a temporary nature. I attempted to speak, but could not. My face was numb to the point of immobility, and I could only grunt helplessly. I shuffled towards the others. How would I make my apology? This promised to be a most embarrassing incident for all concerned. When they realised the straits their carelessness had left me in, even humans would be mortified. As I considered the recent death of my fellow-traveller, and the proud culture that clearly existed here, I could only hope they too would not feel it necessary to end their lives.

Another prisoner was pushed forward and berated. I did not catch the words. This was partly due to shock, and partly to the wind, but largely because at that moment a keening noise in the air attracted my attention. How interesting. Apparently dragons could be found even this far into the frozen wastes.

I was looking into the sky, hoping to ascertain which species it might be, when an unpleasant organic sound drew my attention back to the ground. One of the humans lay unmoving across a stone block, and blood was spilling into the snow. Another stood beside him with a large axe. It took me some moments to digest the horrible truth. These humans - these animals - had slaughtered one of their own as he stood helpless. More horrible still, it became clear that their intention was to dispose of us all in the same way, even I, a guest in their midst and clearly a peaceful innocent. Did not the purple feathers on my head proclaim me a man of the quills? Did not my long, curved talons indicate that here was a quiet and harmless soul, unused to physical labour or the hardship of outdoor life?

A calm rage overcame me. The sheer magnitude of this outrage was too much. Chilled to the very bone, my senses turned toward the ever-growing keening in the sky. The humans clearly had no idea what it was, which intrigued me even at this fatal moment. Did they not see the flitting shape that curved overhead? Their vision was too poor. There was a vague sense of apprehension amongst them. Then a faint satisfaction began to overtake the anger, as I realised that the dragon was circling us, and sensed its purpose. It had seen me, and it was preparing its descent. A smile crossed my lips as I realised what was about to happen. As a rough human forced me toward the stone block, I could not quell the malicious pleasure that was spreading slowly through my frozen veins. Just as the murderer raised his crude axe, the wrath descended.

The humans fled as my rescuer settled its mighty bulk atop one of their towards and unleashed a torrent of flame. There were screams. Hands still bound, I raised myself from the ground and nodded gratefully toward the dragon and enjoyed the wash of heat from the fires that were beginning to rise. Still, I too would be in danger, and would do well to remove myself from the grasp of this very uncivilised legal system, so I strode towards a door. Some of the soldiers were uselessly firing arrows at the dragon, and paid no heed. To my pleasure, I encountered the helpful administrator, who had kept a level head. Pausing to aid a screaming child, he led me through the burning castle to an armoury, where I was able to warm myself a little and find some thick clothing to ward off the chill of the snow. He untied my hands and pressed a weapon into them, speaking calmly and reassuringly, though I caught few of his actual words. Clearly, this fellow did not harbour any suspicions of me. I was impressed with his judgement.

The route outside led through a cellar where humans were fighting. My guide proved himself adept with a blade, and protected an elderly man from several warriors. Once peace descended, I realised that the cages around me did not contain chickens or pets, but the corpses of humans. Moreover, some of the objects around had distinctly unsavoury appearances, and were stained with blood. Straining my ears to catch the conversation, I heard the old man say that these attackers had been unhappy with his treatment of their comrades. The dead men in the cages and the attackers wore the same clothing style. With revulsion, I realised the truth. This man had been carrying out experiments upon the prisoners. Such conduct is unheard of. Have they no ethics committees in this wilderness? Or was this some rogue necromancer, lurking in the secrecy of this forgotten room and only now discovered? It would certainly explain how he had fended off his attackers until we arrived.

I was shocked to hear my guide instruct this fiend to follow us. Was he a man of lesser morals than I had thought? Was this another vile quirk of this brutal and irrational society? Or, more charitably, was he simply too focused on leading our escape to have grasped the situation? To my relief, the old man spurned the offer, with a few scathing words amongst which I caught only the term "dragon". Either he did not believe the administrator, or he thought his powers sufficient for his own protection. My guide shrugged and headed off down a tunnel, leaving me alone with the old man. I stared at him for a few moments, disgust clear in my eyes, and he sneered back.

Dear Reader, I have always been a man of peace, serving only the same three years in the army that every citizen must. Morality is of great importance to me. I realised, at this moment, that even though I be lost in a strange land, I must remain true to my self. Reaching into my soul, I conjured forth the sacred flame and unleashed it with a heavy heart. The man screamed, sending out tendrils of vile magic that seared my flesh, but I stood firm in my purpose. When all was over, none would know that he had not been a victim of the dragon's fire. His evil was at an end.

This tragic deed fulfilled, I hastened to follow my guide into the outer world. The warmth of the chambers, and indeed of my spell, had dispelled a little of the chill and I was able to move more freely. Passing through a cave, we encounted another band of escapees, and they immediately attacked us. Apparently the hatred between these two groups was so great, they could not put it aside even at such a moment. My guide's blade, and (I reluctantly admit) my own, brought us safely through. We emerged from a tunnel into a world of snow, rocks and jutting conifers.

Having been thoroughly awoken by all that had occurred, my trained mind immediately drank in the scene, search for clues. I had no notion of where we might stand, but my attention was drawn to the natural riches around us. Disregarding my companion's words, I strolled around the area for a few minutes. Here a fascinating herb; there a strange fungus existing even in this cold climate. Having no notebook nor quill, I gathered samples and carefully packed them into the pockets of my outfit, hoping they would survive intact until I could properly document them.

At length, I looked up to realise that the human had begun to walk towards a cluster of buildings just visible on the horizon. I realised that, despite the promptings of my brain, this was not the time for scholarship. In fact, I had seized upon it as a mere pretext, to drive away the thought of my recent violence. Reluctantly abandoning my botanical examinations for another time, I hurried after him. His name, I would later learn, was Had Var.

RPGaDay, day 27

Day 27: Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…

Oh, wow, let me see.

My first instinct is to say AD&D, because while the 2nd edition ruleset is reasonable, the organisation is distinctly sub-par (try finding info on how you use holy water sometime) and some things could really do with being made more consistent. But there's a myriad of retroclones out there and I'm sure one of them does the job, it's just we use the real thing.

Um, I think I'm going to go with either Deathwatch or, bizarrely, Hellcats and Hockeysticks. While it's not necessarily what Fantasy Flight want to do, I personally feel Deathwatch would benefit from an overhaul to bring it in line with more recent games; with cutting out some of the generic 40K RPG stuff and transferring it to an appendix on cross-product gaming; and with a very serious look at balance, specifically all bolt weapons and reconsidering the somewhat all-or-nothing way the psychic phenomena rules work.

Hellcats seemed like a promising game, but felt like it was trying to do too much with one product, covering a wide range of possible genres while simultaneously not feeling very focused. I would like to see a new edition that took a narrower subset of Girls Behaving Badly as its basis and concentrated on doing that effectively, while also refining and improving the skill system, which was counterintuitive.

Friday, 26 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 26

Day 26: Coolest character sheet

This is another tricky one, as very often character sheets that look cool are also kind of unwieldy, and I end up tracking down (or making) a more pragmatic version that is more helpful in laying out information or including relevant details. A frequent gripe of mine is when there's no space to list modifiers in modifier-heavy games, so you end up with a final number and no idea how you got there or when it should change.

Another complication is that in a lot of the games I've played, we just used scraps of papar rather than the official character sheets, and often I don't know what the actual character sheet looks like.

I think I might go for Numenera here, for good intentions, although it had its downsides, like being designed for strange American paper. It's pretty. Others are more useful, but you did say "cool".

Thursday, 25 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 25

Day 25: Favourite RPG no one else wants to play

Pathfinder (which is the improved version of 3rd edition as far as I'm concerned), poor middle-child. Despised by AD&D friends and 4E friends alike, the unfortunate middle child never gets any love.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 24

Day 24: Most Complicated RPG Owned

Complicated is a difficult term to define and there are several ways to interpret this. D&D 3.5 probably has the most complex ruleset in terms of sheer number of bits and pieces. AD&D is the least coherent, because its fairly rules-light system is a set of one-off rules cobbled together in rather arbitrary order, split unhelpfully between different books, and with no attempt at streamlining them into something more unified. FATE isn't an especially intricate system, but I have never managed to get my head round how to combine the narrative unfolding before me, the things I or the players want to try and achieve, and the actual mechanics.

I suppose Deathwatch is another contender here because it has so many bits. Each skill has specific definitions for several ways it can be used and how to do so. Weapons have individual rules and effects. Spells are esoteric magic, so require rules-per-spell. Even the basic starting Space Marine has to bear in mind a couple of dozen special abilities, genetic enhancements and bits of tech that provide modifiers, immunities, rerolls and exceptions. These aren't overwhelming once you're playing, but it is a lot of stuff to bear in mind.

Hell 4 Leather, part 4

A Role-Playing Game of Bloody Revenge on Devil's Night

Post-Game Discussion

In this episode, we discuss our playthrough of game of Hell 4 Leather, a Tarot-based game of vengeful murderous undead bikers. There are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Episode 4

The Episode

It makes sense for us to have gone to see the Marquis again, although it's a little untidy in terms of the purported film we're making. Having two scenes with the Rider invading the Torture Garden is maybe not ideal in that respect, although it's a great opportunity to reuse footage! Still, no doubt the critics would complain.

I was just starting to get to grips with my character when he died. This is always going to be a problem in a game where characters may (or may not) die at any time, and most of them will. I'm not sure you can do anything about this.

I actually really like the concept for the final scene, and it did feel like a lot of cool (for me) stuff came together there, as though we were all getting more comfortable with this. I may have to keep that to reuse in a setting, and maybe thrash it out a bit more. I'm hoping Shannon will also like that one, the occult gang-base ice rink seems kind of like her thing.

The mechanics for the ending scene are annoying, but we'll talk about that later. It feels like it makes it much harder to match up narrative and mechanics as you work through than the earlier scenes, and because the whole point is you're creating cool scenes and setting up things as you go along, this is a pretty major flaw in my opinion. It felt a bit FATE-like in that regard to me, where really what you need to do is give a very small leadup and use a resolution mechanic, then weave a whole chunk of scene out of that, rather than trying to use it to resolve a fine detail in the way an attack roll might work.

The particular problem, though, is that in this scene the mechanic determines things relating to a random one of several characters, which means any attempt to do things in an elegant narrative way is going to be a mess.

On the whole, though, I had reasonable fun with this for a couple of hours and got a podcast out of it, so I'm calling it a win.

Copyright and suchlike

Hell 4 Leather is copyright and/or trademark Price of Darkness Games. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest. The outro is Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 23

Day 23: Coolest looking RPG product / book

Cool is relative. I think FATE looks pretty nifty in a shiny professional game kind of way, but D&D 3.5 Monster Manual is probably still my favourite here because it has a load of cool illustrations. It's prettier than it is usable, because some of that artwork and font choice rather cramps my reading style. It hasn't yet crept into the full-blown dungeonpunk of 4E, which isn't bad, but isn't my style of choice for fantastical art - I like something with that dash more realism to it.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Hell 4 Leather, part 3

A Role-Playing Game of Bloody Revenge on Devil's Night

Catching The Late Train

In this episode, we play through a game of Hell 4 Leather, a Tarot-based game of vengeful murderous undead bikers. There are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you. This particular game (specifically, episodes 3 and 4) briefly includes actual on-screen sex, for which blame the source material.

Episode 3

The Episode

I really like Arthur's character, which makes it something of a shame when he bites the bullet this episode. This is probably not unrelated to Paul being the most well-developed of the characters. In fairness, Arthur is familiar with the genre and also owns the game, so it's not entirely surprising that he came up with a good character - thinking of characters is what you tend to do when looking over a game with a view to playing it.

The gunfight is one of those scenes which would probably play out well in the straight-to-video film, which is basically the point. I do like the idea of Walker turning into this unkillable figure out of legend, but that's the wrong genre I suspect - either supernatural action or Warner Brothers, whichever you prefer. The gratuitous sex is gratuitous, but it is apparently a direct homage to Drive Angry and so I don't think you could complain about not staying true to the source material.

As discussed last episode, having decided that "is physically injured" is an acceptable reading of the "you are changed by your near miss with death" events, two of the near-misses this episode feature us doing this (a third, as far as I can remember, features very little happening, although I suspect Arthur had some ideas that weren't explicitly voiced). One of these would have been a good opportunity for some genuine character development, so it's shame it was missed out.

In my case the issue became moot fairly quickly, but I really regret not having thought about this beforehand after first hearing about the rule, and come up with some way for my character to be affected. The most obvious would be for his swaggering confidence (as poorly-depicted in actual play) to be shattered by having actually failed at something, which could easily switch round into desperation or fear at having run into something he couldn't bully nor beat up. He could also have moved into an angrier, frustrated mode, since I'd already established (OOC, admittedly) that he was resentful of being held back by Nick Crow, and just when he thought he had free reign, here the bastard is back from the f*cking dead to get in his way again - won't the guy ever give up? Can't he ever just be left to run his own affairs?

Copyright and suchlike

Hell 4 Leather is copyright and/or trademark Price of Darkness Games. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest. The outro is Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

RPGaDay, day 22

Day 22: Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

We're looking at a very limited selection here. I ought to say AD&D 2nd edition because I've actually used that one.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 21

Day 21: Favourite Licensed RPG

The only licensed RPG I've played is Deathwatch, so yeah.

The majority of RPGs (that I've ever heard of) come fairly explicitly from someone else's idea, whether they get a license, blur the traces, or mash together enough different sources to count as their own thing. A lot of licensed games are TV-based, and not owning a TV, I'm not likely to care about them (this is an accident of life, not a philosophical position). I'm generally more into books than other media, and book-based RPGs are generally either borrowing liberally from several authors to create a new product (either a general one or their own specific creation), using material old enough not to require a license, or adding a licensed skin to a generic system (FATE seems to do this a lot, also GURPS). The first type aren't licensed, and I'm only likely to play the second if I'm into that specific setting, which hasn't yet happened. Call of Cthulhu is out of copyright. So far, I'm the only person paying attention to the genres I'd like to play in.

Hell 4 Leather, part 2

A Role-Playing Game of Bloody Revenge on Devil's Night

Burning Down the House

In this episode, we play through a game of Hell 4 Leather, a Tarot-based game of vengeful murderous undead bikers. There are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you. This particular game (specifically, episodes 3 and 4) briefly includes actual on-screen sex, for which blame the source material.

Episode 2

The Episode

This episode is probably the fumbliest, as we try to work out the mechanics at the same time as trying to improvise a game based on a genre that only two of three players have seen. There are some nice touches though, although mostly these are set-dressing rather than plot sadly.

We'll discuss this later, but in hindsight we dropped the ball on this scene by letting the conversation drop and looking around for the Rider to show up and kill someone. What we should have done was used this to establish the characters firmly, devise some links between them and work out what exactly they were doing both in the gang and in the conspiracy. No criticism intended, but it didn't help that Dan is a bit uncomfortable talking in character and was playing a character who would naturally suggest dropping the conversation for now. I feel like the game could maybe do with having some structure to help encourage reticent players to go ahead and flesh out some actual characters?

Also in hindsight, allowing the "you are changed by your brush with death" to be read as "you are physically changed by narrowly surviving an assassination attempt" was maybe a mistake, because that became the default and only reading for the several times people survived. Once would be fine, but letting it become a habit undermines one of the plot-driving systems of the game. If we'd stuck to reading it as actual character change, then we'd have been forced to develop characters that could be changed, and this would have been a good precedent.

While we're at it, I really like the idea of a Molotov cocktail made from the soul of the original Molotov, and would like to incorporate that in a game.

Copyright and suchlike

Hell 4 Leather is copyright and/or trademark Price of Darkness Games. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest. The outro is Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 20

Day 20: Will still play in 20 years time…

Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons and Dragons are classics that are flexible enough to keep them fresh, even if I end up drifting from the default settings. I can't imagine not wanting to play either of them. I think the thing is, they're simultaneously specific and generic. You can run one of the actual D&D worlds, or you can use the same ruleset to run a massive variety of fantasy games with different tones, themes and content - even the magic system and metaphysics have alternative rules and are hackable. Exactly which edition would be a subject of, ahem, debate amongst my friends. Call of Cthulhu is again usable with any sort of vaguely weird fiction, and can be set in the past, future or an alt-hist if you prefer with only minimal tweaking. Neither has any very specific rules that the game is built around, so they're forgiving of tinkering, but even so they have their own distinct flavour in the default.

I'd also lay good money on Deathwatch because of my abiding love for the universe, although Games Workshop may have perished and/or decanonised all that I hold dear by that point.

Friday, 19 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 19

Day 19: Favourite Published Adventure

I haven't really played a ton of published scenarios, as we do a lot of semi-improv stuff, and also I hack about any scenarios I personally run unless I'm actually destruct-testing them. I haven't run anything more than once.

I quite enjoyed Wreck Ashore for D&D 3.5 once the players and I had resolved miscommunications (i.e. I'd explained that they were the kind of crown agents who went and dealt with problems, not the kind who sit around at banquets and send for military assistance). That being said, I did substantially rewrite it so the lizardfolk were basically an oppressed minority rather than gullible and vicious lackeys. I kind of want to say A Stony Sleep, but it has some issues at the very start and the very end. Ah, let's go with that anyway.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 18

Day 18: Favourite Game System

I like different systems for different things. Call of Cthulhu is pleasantly straightforward (especially for new players) but erratic, and has a very strong argument for being my favourite. I like the speed of AD&D in the hands of an experienced GM, but it's an arbitrary hotpotch. To confuse everyone, I may end up saying Traveller, which I haven't even played. I feel like for the specific genre it's aiming at, which isn't a bildungsroman and doesn't aim for rapid skill increases, the system sounds pretty slick from the extensive podcasts I've heard.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 17

Day 17: Funniest Game you’ve played

All our games are pretty funny, with the possible exception of Fiasco, but that was mostly because we weren't particularly enjoying it. Our Warhammer 40,000 games are hilarity itself (for me), so I probably have to go for that. Hellcats and Hockeysticks is possibly the only intentionally comic game we've played, and was fairly fun, but I was mostly stressing over attempting to remember the rules.

I suspect the intention here was "funniest game product you've played", but I haven't really played comedy games because we don't seem to own many. Aside from Paranoia (unplayed) or something similar, most games that set out to be funny seem to be storygames, which aren't our thing much.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 16

Day 16: Game you wish you owned

Ah... I dunno, really. I own everything I genuinely want to own, partly because I'm realistic about the amount of gaming I'll actually do. I already own many more RPGs than I've played or am likely to play, mostly in PDF (bundles, cheap deals, bought to check out some allegedly-interesting facet of a game). I suppose I vaguely like the idea of War of the Ring, but honestly we probably wouldn't play it because it's easier to just play more D&D if we want fantasy, and nobody's so into Tolkein that they'd go wild at the prospect.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hell 4 Leather, part 1

A Role-Playing Game of Bloody Revenge on Devil's Night

The Death of Nick Crow

In this episode, we play through a game of Hell 4 Leather, a Tarot-based game of vengeful murderous undead bikers. There are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you. This particular game (specifically, episodes 3 and 4) briefly includes actual on-screen sex, for which blame the source material.

Episode 1

The Episode

Our game is heavily influenced by three key factors:

  • Drive Angry, and thence to Nicholas Cage's entire acting career
  • The fact that I (as so often) completely lack genre knowledge for the "vengeful undead biker assassin" genre (I can't imagine how that passed me by) and therefore substitute whatever I have lying around, which is my case was an 80s/90s Flash film, which I now can't find any evidence it actually existed. This happens to me more often than is entirely comfortable. It's possible it was the first few episodes of this TV series, on video, although it looked like a film as far as I remember.
  • We are very silly

Remember The Wolverine Law of Roleplaying: when lacking inspiration, always play Hugh Jackman

The opening section here sort of sets the theme for the evening - we're a bit self-conscious and fumbly about coming up with scenes, which is something we'll talk about in episode 5. Also I sort of mess with the mechanics by giving away too much about the death at this stage, because you're supposed to use revealing an individual's part in the conspiracy as a way to earn more cards in your hand. Oops.

Copyright and suchlike

Hell 4 Leather is copyright and/or trademark Price of Darkness Games. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest. The outro is Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

RPGaDay, day 15

Day 15: Favourite Convention Game

Haven't been to a convention. These questions are not as universal as the author hoped, sad to say. That's three in a row I can't really answer.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Saturday, 13 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 13

Day 13: Most Memorable Character Death

I'm happy to say I haven't managed either to get my character killed (okay, Neverwinter Nights campaigns notwithstanding, but the engine is brutal) or to kill off any PCs in my own games, so far. The looks of horror on people's faces when I dropped them unconscious were sweet enough nectar for me.

Seriously, I adore my 4E D&D group for how non-mechanically they think about this stuff. It doesn't matter how mechanically difficult it is for a "dying" character to die, it matters that their beloved character is bleeding in an unconscious heap on the floor.

Friday, 12 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 12

Day 12: Old RPG you still play / read

I'm not sure if the intention is "RPG written a long time ago" or "RPG bought early in your gaming career". Mine is fairly short and compact so there's not a huge amount of difference between my early and recent purchases. Oldest in age is, still, AD&D 2nd edition. Earliest bought is 4E D&D, which I still run when those folks want to game.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Zoo of Worlds, part 4

Juggalo Hobbits and Mutations, Oh My!

This is a scenario dreamed up by Arthur, there are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please. As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Some episodes feature teasers for upcoming actual plays, after the closing music. Just so you know.

Episode 4

The Episode

I should probably explain that Juggalo Hobbits are one of our D&D in-jokes. We tend to treat hobbits and halflings as being vaguely suspicious (which, in fairness, the canon supports by making them the Thief Race), and ended up with a gang of chaotically-inclined hobbit bandits, which naturally ended up as sinister clown hobbits, which naturally ended up as Juggalo hobbits.

The ending scene was delightfully silly, especially with the mutations chart. It also allowed us to indulge some tactical tendencies, by working out how to mix-and-match various abilities to obliterate the demon most effectively. And I loved Arthur's final spin on the petition to heaven!

Copyright and suchlike

Beyond the Pit is copyright and/or trademark Arion Games, as far as I can tell. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is a mashup of the Funhouse theme with In The Hall of the Mountain King. The outro is One-Eyed Maestro, both by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

Idle musings on titles

I had a random thought the other night that it would be fun to devise games based on deliberate misunderstandings of the titles of actual games. I am easily pleased, what I can I say?

Hell For Leather - an intense card-based storygame of friendship, hardship and social ostracization in a medieval tannery. Cobweb Games / Prince of Darkness Games

Dogs in the Vineyard - many are bred, few are chosen. The blood of the vine is the blood of life. You are amongst the favoured few assigned to guard your owner's vines, and with them their family's destiny. Protect the vineyards from intrusion by vermin, thieves and saboteurs. Struggle for recognition with the other watchdogs. In ancient Israel or modern France, mediaeval Italy or 22nd-century Australia, grow from whelp to alpha in this immersive game of caninity. D Vincent Baker

Deathwatch - got wood? The life of a beetle ain't easy. With your clutchmates, seek out edible woods and devour them to grow strong. Battle termites, caterpillars, mice and even terrifying woodpeckers. Earn XP, grow additional limbs, mutate, devour the souls of trees, and become a beetle that will see the very end of days. Fantasy Flight Games

Dinosaurs in Spaaaaaace! - in the 23rd century, science knows no masters. The grant is all. Researchers on the space station Eureka engage in constant cut-throat competition for the next precious batch of funding. This intense chess-based game of social combat weaves together gratuitous insult, calculated seduction, stationery theft, all-night reading and nerve-wracking genetic engineering into a tense and action-packed whole. As your researchers grow and change, they may learn patience, friendship, love, and even succeed in the most prestigious of scientific aims: to breed their own zero-G tyrannosaur. Greg Stolze

Feel free to submit your own suggestions.

RPGaDay, day 11

Day 11: Weirdest RPG Owned

Either Grunting or Maid. I haven't played either so I can't guarantee their exact weirdness quotient. I would tend towards Maid on the grounds that Grunting is weird because it's doing something very different from a typical RPG, whereas Maid (from the very small amount I've actually got round to looking at) seems to have some of that intangible something that makes you want to edge away from people at parties.

Also, I feel the need to defend owning Maid, but not Grunting, which suggests Maid is weirder. It sounded like it had interesting mechanics, but I heard dubious things about it between buying and reading, so the reading never really happened. I still have a vague sense that if I read it, it might inspire me either with a fun game, an interesting mechanic, or an idea for hacking it into something I would like to play.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 10

Day 10: Favourite Tie-In/Game Fiction

Hmm. Not especially my thing, to be honest. I enjoyed a lot of the fluff in the tabletop Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 books, and some of the novels, but that's not an RPG and other bits were less good or less to my taste. I've read some D&D tie-in fiction, but mostly because it's very accessible fantasy rather than in expectation of high quality. The games whose setting I enjoy most both started out as not-RPGs, sef Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer 40,000.

Honestly, I can't think of any contenders here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 9

Day 9: Favourite Dice

I want to say I don't have any favourites, and this is more or less true, but I have to admit that my first ever d20 has a smidgen of sentimental value.

Monday, 8 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 8

Day 8: Favourite character


This probably needs to be Brother Nikolai, the Calculating Imperial Fist Assault Marine, simply on the grounds that he's the most well-established character by quite a long way, although I have some system-based frustrations with him. But I am also quite fond of the not-yet-discovered depths of my AD&D character Oswyn, straightforward as he appears. Or the barmy aristocrat who turned out to be an immortal sorcerer. Or my amiable Tibetan clay golem jock Brock Sands. Or the array of religiously-inclined dwarves.

The Zoo of Worlds, part 3

You Can't Go Wrong With A Dungeon

This is a scenario dreamed up by Arthur, there are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please. As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Some episodes feature teasers for upcoming actual plays, after the closing music. Just so you know.

Episode 3

The Episode

This is a pretty busy episode, with a quite nasty fight as well as couple of less violent encounters. I like how, having started with the premise of "meet random monsters and kill them in the face", this adventure is turning out considerably less violent than many games built around more realistic setups. Non-combat skills, rational behaviour and Just Being a Decent Humanoid prove far more effective than waving axes around would have been, as well as probably more interesting. You'd think this was a Teachable Moment or something.

The Replicants were a bit of a tense moment. I do feel like I overused my stealth abilities to some extent, but then there's no point having that stuff if you don't use it, and there's no particular reason to deny a player the abilities they've taken - I'm just not used to being so effective!

Copyright and suchlike

Beyond the Pit is copyright and/or trademark Arion Games, as far as I can tell. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is a mashup of the Funhouse theme with In The Hall of the Mountain King. The outro is One-Eyed Maestro, both by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 7

Day 7: Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned

I don't think I own any of those? Well, okay, I might have acquired on in some bundle or other, but I'm not interesting in running games around some kind of highbrow concept. Or in exploring deep philosophical issues through roleplay.

Oh, having glanced at a few other people's thoughts, it's probably De Profundis. I'm not entirely sure this actually qualifies as a roleplaying game, being rather more of a self-contained Mythos tome. It seems to lack most of the possible qualifying traits, like decision mechanics, randomisation, chance, pattern recognition, statistics, tactical play, or any rules whatsoever.

RPGaDay, day 6

Day 6: Favourite RPG I Never Get To Play

That's a tricky one, because if I never get to play them..? And honestly, I don't really get to play enough of anything. I've still never got to try Grunting or Traveller, both of which sound really fun, and I'm sure I'd like Traveller because I've listened to several hundred hours of it.

Sticking to the details though, perhaps bizarrely, it's going to have to be Pathfinder. Most games we've run in a loose rotation, so there's nothing I've really missed out on playing for ages. D&D 4E still appeals to me as a tactical game with fun stuff to try out and forgiving mechanics, but strictly speaking I don't think it qualifies because I have never actually played a single session of it - I'm the eternal DM.

Pathfinder, on the other hand, I've run precisely two sessions of, but I did also run a companion character due to my players creating a party consisting entirely of clothies. I liked it because it dealt with some stuff that was annoying about D&D 3.5, and added in enough changes to make some things feel genuinely more interesting (wizards vs. sorcerers, for example), while still being familiar enough from my years of playing Icewind Dale II and reading old 3.5 rulebooks that I felt comfortable in the system. I never actually got to play 3.5 at all, because it turns out everyone in my gaming group either a) doesn't really want to learn more than one system, or b) hates 3.5 with a fiery passion.

Friday, 5 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 5

Day 5: Most Old School RPG Owned

This would be Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which formed the basis of a Ventrilo/Roll20 campaign for a year or so, under Arthur's guidance. Not much more to say, really. I've talked about the system previously.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 4

Day 4: Most Recent RPG Purchase

Apparently, a pile of free and non-free stuff from Chaosium, including Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cathulhu, and Ripples from Carcosa. I'm currently writing up a not-really-very-Mythosy Gaslight scenario that would fit into the same setting as an occult Victorian game run by another player, and the Gaslight information seemed worth a look. Ripples I've heard some of the content from on the YSDC podcast, and they seem like reasonably shortish scenarios that could be used as various kinds of interlude or standaloe games. Cathulhu just seemed like fun, and most of my D&D players are obsessed with cats, so it might well persuade them to give another system a go.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Zoo of Worlds, part 2

Tourist Traps

This is a scenario dreamed up by Arthur, there are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please. As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Some episodes feature teasers for upcoming actual plays, after the closing music. Just so you know.

Episode 2

The Episode

We kick things off with basically the only kind of premise you can reasonaby use for a completely randomly-generated dungeon consisting of a string of fights. It works, because of the Magic of Roleplaying, by which you agree to enjoy doing something essentially preposterous with one or more of your mates.* Also because Arthur is pretty good at whipping up a framework that's convincing enough and solid enough to hang a game on, despite being extremely simple. In fairness, fantasy games really help with this, because magic explains so much.

I was pleased by just how quickly the encounter went, compared to both most other RPGs and the Fighting Fantasy books. The switch from 2 damage to a damage roll, plus using a full party of characters, just speeds up the process enormously, but I suspect probably doesn't change the odds much. The higher-skill party is always likely to win, it's just a matter of how many rounds of rolling are needed. With three players rolling, you're essentially thirding the time to win.

*So basically the same as all human leisure activities.

Copyright and suchlike

Beyond the Pit is copyright and/or trademark Arion Games, as far as I can tell. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is a mashup of the Funhouse theme with In The Hall of the Mountain King. The outro is One-Eyed Maestro, both by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

The Zoo of Worlds, part 1

In which there are lists

Yes, astonishingly, I have already finished editing another podcsat! This is a slightly oddball actual play, because this was ostensibly an exercise in testing the balance of the Beyond the Pit supplement and the Advanced Fighting Fantasy ruleset. Arthur bravely strung these together into something resembling a plot, so that we could go and kill random things.

This is a scenario dreamed up by Arthur, there are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please. As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you.

Some episodes feature teasers for upcoming actual plays, after the closing music. Just so you know.

Episode 1

The Episode

The actual character generation process is pretty simple, but having to explain the entire thing to everyone naturally extends it (and there is a certain amount of good-natured edition-warring from Dan). It's also a skills-based game with a fair number of lists for species, skills, special skills and spells, which of course makes for a lot of reading through lists and picking things.

To reduce your possible confusion, there is a certain amount of crossover from our Neverwinter Nights campaign and our AD&D campaign to come. Folt Slatebeard is an old ill-starred character of mine who died around five times a night, thanks to a mixture of a slightly frustrating game engine, my lack of skill, and a faulty internet connection. I feel like he got a much better deal this time around.

Copyright and suchlike

Beyond the Pit is copyright and/or trademark Arion Games, as far as I can tell. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's Má Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro is a mashup of the Funhouse theme with In The Hall of the Mountain King. The outro is One-Eyed Maestro, both by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

RPGaDay, day 3

Day 3: First RPG Purchased

As you might expect given it was the first game I ran, the first game I bought to play was also D&D 4E. Technically I didn't need it owing to the quickstart rules, but I was well aware how much was missing from those. One of the reasons was that I did in fact already own some gamebooks, the D&D 3.5 DM's Guide and D&D 3.5 Monster Manuals, owing partly to a long-standing interest that hadn't yet had an opportunity, and partly because I liked the monster artwork and descriptions.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 2

Day 2: First RPG Gamemastered

This as, inevitably, Dungeons and Dragons, and was actually my first first-hand experience of roleplaying full stop (I didn't get a go as a player for many months), though thanks to actual play podcasts I was still more experienced than the rest of my noble band, some of whom were half-minded to bolt in panic until well into the game. We played 4E, which remains the de facto game for that group, because unless you're really quite into games, learning new systems is a pain. I am quite into games, so I cheerfully learn new systems, but I'm not going to force them on my players.

Monday, 1 September 2014

RPGaDay, day 1

I was nudged towards this by Fiction Related, and hey, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing.

Day 1: First RPG Played

I'm 99.9% sure that this was something called After Sundown. It's a heartbreaker World of Darkness adaptation that some friends offered to playtest. We ran it as a high school story where our gang had a rivalry with Zombie High, and my amiable jock golem ended up stealing their brain-in-a-jar mascot, adopting her and teaching her to play Halo. Then we fell into an alternate dimension where everything was broken, and killed a powerful demon or whatever it was. This turned out to be a prank by someone we'd ticked off at school. It was pretty fun, but there were a ton of issues with it.