Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dungeon Saga pt 1

Mantic Games are a company with whom I've not had much dealings with, though I think I have some of their miniatures. It's yet another company run by ex-GW and aims to produce games at a reasonable price. A Warhammer-style career exit from Games Workshop Employee must be Disgruntled Ex-Employee with Own Company as Nottingham is littered with wargames companies managed by ex-GW staff like Mantic.

Their latest game, Dungeon Saga, is a co-operative dungeon basher where one or more players take the role of four heroes and play against the neccromancer. There are clear shades of Heroquest but it is much more tactical, taking into account facing and allowing the necromancer to animate or reanimate undead to engage your warband.

This was a game I played at the UK Games Expo, where this guy severely trounced us by taking out our wizard in a few turns, or ate our dwarf:-

Eyes of a killer.
Never one to be beaten I managed to acquire a kickstarter set - which comes in 2 impressive boxes shaped like tomes so they look neat on your bookshelf. The miniatures are a bunch of undead and the four stereotypical heroes - the barbarian, the dwarf, the elf and the wizard. There is a scenario booklet, a quick-start set of rules and everything is streamlined so you can just play on opening the box. There are 2 tutorial missions which deal with firstly learning how to handle melee with the barbarian and the dwarf, then the more tricky areas of magic and archery with the wizard and elf.

Overall a pretty slick pack. The miniatures are fine - nothing remarkable but they paint out well from the illustrations. If I had some criticisms it is that the monsters are solely undead in the core set, and that there are no gender versions of the archetypes. The elf is a gal, while the other 3 are male. Since my significant other is playing it is nice to be able to have girl alternatives for the other 3. I worry about these things, she doesn't.

The Kickstarter also included various expansions - the Return of Valandor, which comes with more undead and two new miniatures (one of which is Valandor, the other is his arch-demon nemesis). I'm not sure what's so remarkable about this, other than it continues the story in the core set.

The next expansion, Warlord of Galahir, introduces the greenskins - orcs, goblins and trolls, with the heroes roster now including a female cleric and a tree-man druid with telepathy.

Then you've got your demons in Infernal Crypts, with abyssals/demons, and a massive green dragon features in the Tyrant of Haloi. Add in a halfling thoef, a paladinsylph demon huntres and you have your core heroes. So far so good but in part 2 we'll run into problems.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#RPGaDay18 - Favourite SF RPG - Star Wars

Not really much of a Sci-Fi RPGer. I likes me swords, not blast-guns, but I suppose it's probably one of the Star Wars iterations - probably the original d6 Star Wars. Though Jedi are severely underpowered in the d6 Star Wars, making it better for Rebellion era campaigns.

It predates the prequels, by the time Episode I was out it was D20 Star Wars and everyone was a Jedi, but there's some cool sourcebooks for the (now presumably non-canon) Zahn trilogy.

During one of Brad's campaigns we invented the term "to Death Star it", which means two human PCs running around an Imperial base in Storm Trooper disguise with a Wookie.

#RPGaDay17 - Favourite RPG

Used to be D&D, but thanks to the chaps at DURPS I got exposed to other games. Now it's WFRP 2E - low magic, simple rules for the most part and heroes are very squishy. What's saddest is the line was cancelled just as it was really hitting its stride - the first few releases made it clear that Black Industries didn't really know how to produce a decent sourcebook (lack of maps, plot-hooks, explanations of the settings) while the rarer supplements like Realm of the Ice Queen, Night's Dark Masters and so on are quite imaginative.

Am I the only one who thinks the chick looks like a white haired Billie Piper?

#RPGaDay16 - Longest Session

So many to choose from but probably when I was a teen we'd go over to a mate's house in Kirriemuir and I would run AD&D Dragonlance, for about 16-20 hours straight. Now I'm a DM who likes to have written out a loose script, so by about the 12 hour mark I'd have run out of plot.

Gregor: Alright we walk into the alley.
Me: Yup. You walk straight into the alley.

Hoppy: Do I hear anything.
Me: Not at first. But then suddenly behind you there is wicked laughter.

In the other room Gregor's Wicked Stepmother then proceeds to laugh in a manner that would make the Witches from the Wizard of Oz envious.

And sadly that was an accurate indicator of her personality.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 15 - Longest Campaign

Serial DM and all-round good guy Paul was ending our disastrous run as mercenaries in Mechwarrior and starting up a new campaign of Rolemaster. My last experience of playing Rolemaster, which was possibly my first session at Dundee University Roleplay Society, saw my pregened monk bleed to death at the bottom of a well when ambushing a group of monsters.

So it was fair to say, despite four or so years elapsing since that fateful encounter, I was not expecting this character to last terribly long either.

I thought I might have fun though, and as the incredibly long character generation went on Paul told me that Paladins in Rolemaster don't have the whole Lawful Good restriction on their behaviour and that they got access to quite a large range of clerical spells.

So I figured that since my character would last fewer sessions than I had fingers on my hands I might as well have fun with this. I designed an ass-hole paladin. Not an evil paladin, but a Lawful Neutral paladin and since I was neutral that meant getting access to the Harm and Curse spells as well as the Healing.

So this monstrous character, Dasmius of the Blinding Light, stormed onto the table. Any obnoxious trait a paladin could have, this guy had. D&D Paladins had Detect Evil, Dasmius has Detect Good and Detect Enemy, and woe betide you if you didn't show up on the latter, or showed up on the former. And he cast these spells all the time. So he knew which of the party were dodgy.

Once I greeted a peasant as, "Ho there peasant!" and the rest of the table laughed, so it became a running gag that the party would say, "Ho there ."

The rest of the party thought he was a dick. And he was.

But both Paul and the Gods loved a bastard and he survived where many other characters died. Seriously, every other player went through at least 1-2 characters a year. Not me though and this just made Dasmius even more unbearable. My memory's a bit hazy, but things like this happened:-

He rolled a 66 on a piety roll when he foolishly woke up a dragon by yelling at "Demon horse! Demon horse!" at a horse that had come from seemingly nowhere. The Gods teleported the Dragon away, but if you ask him the Blinding Light smote the foul creature.

He, with his twin mage buddies, took out 3 powerful undead in a single epic game session.

He survived another PC's attempts to corrupt him to evil.

He acquired a squire, called Shamus, who started off as an NPC and convert to the Blinding Light, who later became a PC in his own right controlled by one of our new players, and when danger lurked would yell, "Bitches in the hold!"

He gained access to the Theocrat list of spells, which allow forceful conversion of PCs and NPCs to his religion (but sadly required a full day's worth of casting minimum).

He survived Two-Bradleys tower (in other words a romp that killed two of Bradley's characters in rapid succession. I think actually it was the same trap or monster).

He survived said tower, even after being abandoned by the rest of the party (including Shamus - never let someone else play your retainers!) near the end of it. Sheer bloody mindedness saw Dasmius descend to the lowest level alone and learn the secrets of the Unlife that was threatening the world... and despite the fact the entire party abandoned the tower and Dasmius, the DM made all of them roll up replacement characters, while I played a replacement character (much less successfully) with their main PCs on alternative weeks.

Then after realising he couldn't keep walking the fine line of neutrality without being corrupted by Unlife he chose the lightside, but wasn't much nicer, even if he did loose such tasty spells as Bleed III.

Then after about a year of play-time romping around with everyone's replacement PCs in disguise as a mercenary, stopping ritual after ritual, he and the rest of the group finally stopped the spread of the Unlife, but not forever...

5 sessions I thought, more like 2-3 years.

Man, I miss those guys and those Wednesday nights.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 14 - Favourite RPG Accessory

Probably Campaign Cartographer 3 - I like maps, I like making maps. I don't think my maps are that great (though I'm aiming for professional standard) but CC3 is leaps and bounds better than any handdrawn effort ever would be.

#RPGaDay2015 13 - Favourite RPG Podcast

When it comes to RPG Podcasts, there's none better than Games From the Perilous Realms podcast. Especially the Scottish guy who DMs every session - I could listen to him all day.

Best podcast EVER... oh never mind, here's the real post...

Actually probably my favourite RPG podcast is RPGMP3 - which is a hub for many podcasts. I was listening to their WFRP: The Thousand Thrones podcast. My thought was I was thinking of running that module but the module's text is tiny, dense and convoluted, so why not listen to someone else's sessions and get the jist of the plot?

Their playthrough doesn't go well - it's amusing, and the DM definitely softballs it. I'd love to be able to pull the DM aside and give him a few pointers on how to handle the PCs when they get themselves stuck due to lack of planning and poor interaction/roleplaying with the NPCs. Something you might get away with in D&D but not in WFRP.

#RPGaDay2015 12: Favourite RPG Art

I'm not a big fan of 1E D&D art as it was too cartoony, while most modern D&D fantasy art looks too computer generated and fake, and in the continual quest to be "diverse" it lacks the strong European medieval flavour that just tickles my fancy (and is a reason I don't like D&D Kung-Fu monks). Pathfinder rulebooks are particularly jarring in this regard - though I imagine the images are appropriate for the campaign setting.

As an example, if you have the 5E PHB the illustration for the Soldier background looks like a Samurai to me. It just seems a little jarring - I'd have expected a bog standard soldier. Similarly the Fighter image is some sort of tribal warrior - who could be a ranger for all I know given his relatively light armour, the Paladin is inexplicably a half-orc with an axe and heavy armour and the rogue looks like an assassin.

Probably my favourite pieces are Elmore's cover for the Companion Set of D&D - which I've never owned, going from Red Basic + Immortals, to the Big Black Dragon box and then directly to the Rules Cyclopedia. Remember I'm the guy who started gaming  - with Advanced Heroquest. I've always been hardcore.

The image was used on one of the D&D Novels, the Tainted Sword, Book 1 of the Penhaligon Trilogy by D.J. Heinrich, which is a surprisingly mature book and is easily the best in the trilogy. That's where I encountered this lovely artwork that represents aging Sir Flainn Flinn fighting the evil dragon Verdilith:-

There's your Dragon, now where's the Dungeon?

Of course there is the old classic, though when I looked in awe at the adverts in grainy imported comics I could never tell which way that warrior was facing. It still looks like an odd pose, and the armour is being worn by the gentlemen badly.

That Barbarian is going to have one heck of a back problem.

But the other contender is the cover to the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2E PHB. There's just something very cool about that fighter on horseback and the shadowy party of riders behind him that could be your characters. Very restrained, these days Marketing would probably send it back with anote saying, "Add Dungeons, Dragons and big monsters to the cover" which is clearly how we got the 5E covers to... well.. any of their products.

Onward to High Adventure (tm).

That said there's been a ton of amazing artwork for things like LotFP, Shadows of Esteren, the various Song of Ice and Fire RPGs and Warhammer.

Monday, August 10, 2015

#RPGaDay 11: Favourite RPG Designer - Carl Sargent

1970s Carl Sargent I assume (and hope!)
Without a doubt my favourite designer of RPGs is Carl Sargent. Carl is an English writer with a PhD in parapsychology who was co-opted into TSR UK and Games Workshop in the 80s and wrote some of the best supplements for Greyhawk and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, as well as working on Fighting Fantasy and Shadowrun stuff that I'm not familiar with.

Among these seminal works are Warhammer: City, The City of Greyhawk Boxed Set, From the Ashes, The Marklands, Iuz the Evil, Ivid the Undying, DMGR4: Monster Mythology and the Night Below Boxed Set.

When Carl Sargent wrote a sourcebook its text was chock full of dense, vivd prose that would paint the landscapes in an astounding level of detail. 1 page of the Marklands or Ivid the Undying could spark ideas for dozens of scenarios. It's the benchmark I hold any RPG writing I do up to.

His adventures are pretty good too, though perhaps not as exceptional. He wrote the Night Below boxed set, which is a 2E prerunner to the Adventure Paths Paizo now produce (in other words a campaign to take one from Level 1 to a really high level).

In Warhammer he wrote Power Behind the Throne, the seminal Warhammer city adventure that is the fourth part of the seminal origial Enemy Within. It sees a mid-level Warhammer party trying to interact with the royalty of Middenheim and relies heavily on roleplaying. His notes were so detailed on the city that they were published as the Warhammer City sourcebook, the definitive gazetteer of Middenheim city that has been rehashed in later products like Ashes of Middenheim and even FFG's new Enemy Within.

He was tapped to write Empire in Flames as the conclusion to the Enemy Within campaign, rushing out a pretty linear but interesting finale that probably could've done with a redraft or two to make it actually close up some of the campaigns threads. I would happily run it with a few modifications and allowing the PCs free-reign to deviate from what is a pretty tight script that sees the PCs follow a trail of breadcrumbs around the Warhammer world.

He seemed to churn out a lot of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay dungeon romps - Castle Drachenfels is Tomb of Horrors for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Lichemaster looks interesting, and Death's Dark Shadow is a solid "Twin Peaks" style village-based campaign.

His shorter adventures are quite well regarded, the sort that used to appear in magazines like White Dwarf when they were actually good. Grapes of Wrath is considered a classic Warhammer adventure, his Rescue the Paladin adventure is a hilarious change on the damsel-in-distress trope.

He tied together a lot of the White Dwarf scenarios into the Restless Dead Campaign, an amusing collection of adventures I ran several of a few years back, though it seems hampered by the fact the original texts of those adventures are unmodified (but are surrounded by notes telling you what NPCs to change for the campaign version) while his new addition The Haunting Horror is a dungeon romp, something WFRP does not do well.

In Greyhawk he wrote 2 adventures that were prequels to the Greyhawk Wars, as well as City of Skulls - which is a deadly adventure for mid-level PCs trying to infiltrate Iuz the Evil's capital.

Unfortunately Carl left the gaming scene in the late 90s when he was tapped to take a job at FASA working on *ugh* Shadowrun, another range he was prolific in. It marked the end of his RPG writing career as the great James Wallis, who republished a lot of Sargent's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay work under the Hogshead imprint says,

"Around 1995/6 he accepted a job with FASA as the Shadowrun editor, in Chicago. He left Nottingham to fly to Chicago, but apparently never got on the plane. Nobody knew where he was, though many people in the games industry were trying to locate him. He wasn't answering his phone, emails, anything. Finally about a month later he was seen at his house in Nottingham by someone who knew him well.

"... FASA never heard from Carl, and eventually rescinded the job offer.

"After the incident Carl broke off contact with old friends and colleagues, to the extent of walking past them on the street and not acknowledging them."

And like that he was gone. Hope he's well.

#RPGaDay 10: Favourite RPG Publisher

That's a tough one. TSR of old might've been my favourite, but now there isn't much. Paizo and Green Ronin are ok, but overall I'm going to give it to LotFP again as they produce some really lovely books and are more Indie while Paizo and Green Ronin are definitely "the Man".

Sunday, August 09, 2015

#RPGaDay 9: Media Adaption RPG

A day late again, apologies, but I'm a real sour-puss when it comes to forthcoming RPGs. I really feel most of the products I'm interested in are already published, and I don't think I own any media-adapted RPGs, so finding something to comment on was difficult.

Enter the newly announced Witcher RPG - based on the set of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and the trilogy of video games set after those novels (though declared non-canonical by the author). Imagine a mix of medievalism, Eastern European mythology, with a hodgepodge of a post-apocolyptic events, a little bit of the samurai and even a little wild west.

The titular Witchers are an order of warrior-wizards, mutated (in the X-Men sense) in infancy with an influx of herbs and poisons, to fight the foul creatures that inhabit the world. They are distrusted and outright hated by the ungrateful populace and travel on "the path" from town to town, dealing with monsters in exchange for ludicrously low fees.

All the standard fantasy tropes and races (elf, dwarf, halfling) are in Sapkowski's world but subverted. There's a wonderful murkiness of morality and a refreshing political incorrectness in the Witcher's world. Demihumans have been sidelined by the advance of human civilization and are treated as 2nd class citizens, distrusted and often the victims of pogroms when things go wrong. This is largely not helped by the actions of the Scoia'atel, a terrorist organisation dedicated to fighting a guerilla war against humans and reclaiming their dominance.

Kings and nobility are generally a horrible lot, and have been practicing incest long before George RR Martin made it cool. Add in scheming sorceresses, pyromaniac witch hunters and xenophobic human knights and priests and you have a pretty dark setting where often times the supposed monsters are actually the nicest characters! Indeed, part of the meditations of the books and games are who truly is the monster?

If you really want to get a feel for the world I recommend the novels (I'm currently on the 2nd book, which was inexplicably translated from Polish after Books 1, 3 and 4), but playing the first chapter of the first game pretty much encapsulates the entire series's mission statement, having the feel of a horror game mixed with a little bit of the first story in the Dark Tower Cycle.

One I'll be checking out.

Friday, August 07, 2015

#RPGaDay 8 - Favourite Appearances of RPGs In The Media

Finally an easy one - the Gamers films of Dead Gentlemen, all of which are hilarious. These essentially do for Dungeons and Dragons what the Princess Bride does for storytales. Also worth checking out is their Journeyquest series.

DG do seem to be milking the formula (which is fine), as well as milking the old Kickstarter and other crowdfunding ventures by funding repeatedly their projects through it - which is odd as these movies must be making a profit and Gamers 2 onwards has tons of product placement in it (courtesy of Paizo, who sell the DVDs of the film).

The first one, available for free on Youtube (though there is a director's cut) is the best for me. It's a little rough around the edges but all the humour is there.

Dorkness Rising is the sequel. But first the teaser, which had nothing to do with the movie...

... and the movie itself, which is far slicker than the first, but also a bit more preachy, complete with Mary-Sue character Joanna, who seems to be playing a different version of Pathfinder to the one I've read (see 27:20 in the movie below):-
... and its sequel, which has more to do with CCGs than RPGs but is still amusing...

and the spin-offs Gamers: Natural One, where the play a suspiciously *urk* Shadowrunny Cyberpunk game
and the spinoff Humans and Households, about a group of adventurers who gather to play a game set in a fantasy realm of cars, lawyers and white privilege.

#RPGaDay 7: Free RPG

LotFP is actually a free game - you can get the rules here, but that's not the interesting part.

Usually when a company does a Free RPG Day product it is a 8-16 page sampler with a very basic scenario and/or a quick start set of rules.

Not so with LotFP. Their first free RPG Day offering in 2013 was Better Than Any Man - a 96+ A5 page campaign and mega-adventure set in 17th Century Kstlstadt during the Thirty Year Wars (and you can play an elf, dwarf or halfling in this in theory) and concerns a coven of witches who have decided to take over the region. It's low-level, gritty, and it's fricking huge and the PDF is still free and weighs in at 180 A5 pages with extra material not included in the print version!

If that doesn't float your boat, there's also its successor, LotFP's 2014 Free RPG Day Entry, the module The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, also free as a PDF. Another epic adventure, 58 pages of old school goodness, this adventure was spawned by Mr. Raggi to feck with politically correct puritans who had banned Better Than Any Man from stores as they thought the module was about killing children (which it wasn't, though it's definitely NSFW). So he made sure the cover of the next module clarified the child killing.

Sadly LotFP didn't do anything for Free RPG Day this year, but after these memorable entries I think they deserve a rest - Free RPG Day must be a huge drain on Indie publishers.

I'll leave you with more choice words from Mr. Raggi in BTAM's foreword.

"Welcome to LotFP’s Free RPG Day adventure! It isn’t what it is supposed to be.

We were told “Include quickstarter rules!” We were advised to create a short introductory/teaser adventure. We were warned to make it suitable for all audiences. We didn’t do that. You know why?


That is the amount of fucks we give about what we’re supposed to do.

What we did do is create an expansive, epic adventure bigger than any we’ve made up to this point. We made it layered and complicated and figured that as a tabletop role-player, you’re an intelligent, creative adult who is capable of working things out. We didn’t avoid “controversial” content because bowdlerizing our content would be dishonest, lame as hell, not to mention it would misrepresent the rest of the LotFP product line. Basically, we wanted to make this the best and most awesome thing we can possible make with no boundaries. This is role-playing. You can do anything! And so can we.

Because that’s what we give a fuck about. And for us, Free RPG Day is all about finding the sorts of people who love the same things we do. So here’s a free adventure. If you appreciate it, welcome aboard. If you don’t, well, sucks to be you."

#RPGaDay 6: Game Last Played

D&D 5th Edition's starter box scenario, ably DM'd by Bruce Cunnington. Not the most serious game, and the part of the scenario we played was a bit of a linear dungeon bash, but it was a lot of fun, though 5th Ed has a lot of changes I'm not sure how I feel about:-
  • Disabling traps and opening locks as a rogue is now somewhat confusing as it is not a skill, but rather a proficiency in thieves' tools (meaning if a thief loses his tools he is at a massive penalty, so no picking locks with a paperclip I guess without your DM's approval).
  • Clerics and mages now choose a subset of their spells to have available, and can choose which of these spells to cast with each of their spell slots.
  • Magic missile is now a room-clearer against smaller monsters, launching 3 magic missiles at 1st level. Cantrips are as deadly as 1st level spells were in 3.5 and they're unlimited use which is dumb.
  • My 1st level Fighter can now heal himself once per day?!
  • All in all 1st level PCs pack quite a punch in D&D 5E, compared to 3.5 (never played 4th). And they were exactly slouches in 3.5

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 5 - Most Recent Purchase

My most recent RPG purchase is one I just got from Kickstarter - the Numenera Deluxe Boxed Set. I had the good fortune to play this at UK Games Expo and this literally arrived in my mailbox today.

Kind of a "Dying Earth" and "Magic meets Technology" setting in a distant future world that has in many ways regressed socially and technologically the boxed set is utterly beautiful, containing loads of stuff, including 2 cloth maps!

Here's a lowdown of the contents - I went "Reliquary Edition"...

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 4: Most Surprising Game

Definitely had to be Lamentation of the Flame Princess - or more precise the adventure, The Monolith Beyond Time and Space. Oooh boy is there some weird, way out there stuff that really fits the Beyond Time and Space part. I love the mechanism for resolving becoming lost

I'm just going to leave another of Mr Raggi's humorous dialogues here...

Bob (playing Jake the Fighter): So we both see this featureless tunnel?
Referee: Yes.
Sarah (playing Veronica the Specialist): I look at the wall to my left.
Referee: There is no wall. It’s just a passage going forward.
Bob: I have an idea! We get back to back.
Referee: OK…
Bob: Now we will both walk forward, away from each other.
Referee: Sarah?
Sarah: Yeah, I’ll do it.
Bob: After I walk ten paces, I turn around.
Referee: You see a featureless white tunnel going forward into infinity.
Bob: But do I see Sarah’s character?
Referee: Oh yes, she’s right in front of you. Looking at you.
Bob: What?
Sarah: What do I see?
Referee: You were still walking down the passage, right? You don’t see anything, but the passage.
Bob: What? She’s right in front of me though?
Referee: Yes.
Sarah: I don’t see Bob in front of me?
Referee: Well you do now. You are looking at each other now face to face.

Monday, August 03, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 3: Favourite Game of the Last 12 Months

I was going to be boring and say that D&D 5E was my most favourite game of the last 12 months, but no, technically I think Once Upon a Time is technically an RPG and is my most favourite game of the last 12 months, certainly the one I've been playing most. It also works as a surprisingly wonderful ice-breaker game when you have a group of players at a con or wherever you do not know.

And if you have no idea what I'm on about, or how to play it then Wil Wheaton's Tabletop got you covered.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 2: Conan the Board Game - Kickstarter

What is good in life? Backing the Kickstarter of Conan: The Board Game. Seeing all other games driven before it and hear the lamentation of the women.

It looks pretty sweet - a kind of strategic Heroquest style game. Based on the actual original prose of Robert E. Howard, rather than the bastardized later texts, backing this was a no brainer, though how I'll ever get all these figures painted is beyond me!

Saturday, August 01, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 1: Forthcoming Game You're Looking Forward To

Sadly most of the RPG stuff I'm really passionate isn't in print anymore. No new Greyhawk, Ravenloft, WFRP. D&D 5E doesn't seem to have a lot of forthcoming releases that grab my fancy. That said I'm most looking forward to the last edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess's DM Book.

Long overdue, but supposedly it will go long past the standard DMG filler. James Raggi has a great sense of humour and is politically incorrect to the point of endearment. He takes a Death Metal approach to the product, for nowhere else will you find a scenario called "Fuck for Satan" featuring a unique foe.

Plus the book will look gorgeous...

Also his "Example of Play" is the funniest and most accurate I've ever seen in an RPG manual.

Enrico (about the party's henchmen): "What good are they then? Just draining our gold and XP!"
Saara: "And allowing us to carry more treasure out so we’re getting more XP."
Enrico: "If we find any…"
Saara: "And having an extra sword in a fight is always a good thing."
Enrico: "Having one of these guys to take a hit instead of us is a good thing."
James (DM): "You realize you’re having this conversation right in front of them?"

There's about 10 pages of this brilliance in the Grindhouse Edition.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Doctor Stu on Doctor Who

So, new Big Finish stuff is allowed to play with New Series stuff even more than just their UNIT Spinoffs.
  • 8th Doctor & River Song - ok, they never did enough of the romantic stuff with Paul's doctor. Or given him amnesia any time recently...
  • River Song Boxed Set - fine by me.
  • 5th Doctor & Weeping Angels - ok. Dunno how that will work on audio.
  • 6th Doctor & Judoons - my least favourite doctor, paired with an equally forgetful villain, so fine, will probably pass this over.
  • 7th Doctor & Sycorax - interesting pairing.
  • 8th Doctor & Time War Era Sontarans - Interesting again, though Sontarans aren't New Series monsters.
  • The Churchill Memoirs - presumably Ian McNiece doing a series of audiobooks featuring Doctors 9-11. Showing they really need to get the real Tennant, Eccleston and Smith in the studio some day soon!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Swamp Silliness

So, I amused myself a little too much writing a bio for the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay scenario that I have decided to run at this year's UK Games Expo...

When the Bretonnians first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said it was daft to build a grail chapel on a swamp, but the Lady of the Lake demanded they build it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So the Bretonnians built a second one. And that one sank into the swamp. So the Lady decreed they build a third. That one was gutted by fire, razed by demons and lost to the mists of the swamp.

Then the King did venture forth and say, "There's an old saying in Quenelles - I know it's in Brionne, probably in Quenelles - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

And that was that for building grail chapels in the middle of forlorn swamps, for the King had a way with words that brooked no further arguments and the Lady was silent.

Even the bravest of Bretonnia's questing knights have not been able to reach the ruins of the Chapel de Marais, where precious relics of the the Lady of the Lake are said to reside. Instead there are tales of lost knights crossing swords with the swamp's one-eyed demons and being stimied by the magic fog they wield.

Surely your rag-tag group of ne'er-do-wells led by an errant knight will succeed where the cream of Bretonnia failed? Surely there is nothing odd about the aging castle that lies on the edge of the swamp, with its equally decrepit Castellan and his beautiful daughter.

Warning: Scenario may include outrageous French accents and oppression of peasants. But not too much quoting from That Film.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Stuff I've Been Reading: The Return of Conan

When I started to read the Chronicles of Conan many years ago the first story (in published order) was a story of Conan as king. It was good. In "Phoenix on the Sword" King Conan foils a group of noblemen's coup. In the next story "The Scarlet Citadel" King Conan is taken prisoner by a wizard who takes over his kingdom. With the aid of a magic maguffin he returns and retakes his throne. Lastly in Howard's only full length novel "The Hour of the Dragon", later retitled "Conan the Conqueror" King Conan is taken prisoner by a wizard as part of a group of noblemen's coup. With the aid of a magic maguffin he returns and retakes his throne.

Never let it be said that Robert E. Howard didn't like to reuse an idea. "Phoenix on the Sword" was originally the Kull the Conqueror story, "By This Axe I Rule!", sacrificing Axe's plotline about slavery in favour of a demonic Lovecrafian baboon and all the better for it.

That said calling Howard repetitive is an unfair assessment. While all three King Conan stories have some elements in common they are quite unique, written in a viseral, exciting prose. Howard was a pulp writer and "Hour of the Dragon" was intended for a different market than the other two stories. It is also fairly episodic, occasionally veering into subplots as Conan rescues random Countesses or faces the monster of the chapter.

"Hour of the Dragon" was Howard's only Conan novel, and for a time was the last Conan adventure until the coming of L. Sprague de Camp, who decided to expand the Conan franchise with third party stories largely written or overseen by him. These works, referred to as the pastiches, often have quite a disconnect from the original tales - Howard's literature was not subject to the level of academic scrutiny that it is now, and the underlying themes of his work seemed lost on de Camp and his cohorts. In their works there is less of a Lovecraftian feel to the magic and supernatural elements and Conan now has a code of "chivalry" and often is a "champion of light" figure rather than the canny  mercenary who acts out of (often enlightened) self-interest.

The first such effort was the novel "The Return of Conan", retitled "Conan the Avenger" - a 'fan-fiction' effort by Bjorn Nyberg and edited by Sprague (who claims a co-author title). Much like "Hour of the Dragon" it is relatively episodic, but unlike Dragon the main plotline does not really hold together. Conan's wife, Zenobia (from "Hour of the Dragon"), is kidnapped by a flying gargoyle and he sets out to find her alone, inexplicably abandoning the crown and its resources. Each chapter is again fairly stand-alone, with little references to the main plot. He fights dragons, yeti, becomes both a hill-chief and a pirate again and even cheats on his wife twice during the jouney.

While Sprague and Bjorn are no Howard in terms of prose my main problem with this book is the ending. Conan traverses the earth alone for over 2 months, traveling to Khitai (basically China) and raiding the evil wizard's castle just in time to prevent him sacrificing his wife. There is no discernable reason why the wizard has waited 2 months to sacrifice Zenobia beyond good sportsmanship. His reason for the kidnapping is really just to get Conan killed on the long trek to her rescue. I also get a bit annoyed by Conan's whole renouncing his crown and going off to quest maguffin - a pretty common one in King Conan pastiches, though it occurs for the first time in "The Return of Conan". Howard avoided this silliness - his Conan is no idiot. I like to see King Conan stories where he uses the resources of a king, such as his armies or the intrigues of his court. However in the pas becomes a bit of a trope that whenever a quest comes along he leaves his crown and goes off to deal with it. Given there seem to be countless plotters waiting in the wings to usurp him this seems unwise.

Overall its a relatively solid and entertaining book, and paved the way for a lot of pastiches. Sprague altered a lot of Howard's work and rewrote a lot of his unpublished non-Conan stories as Conan stories. He even wrote another set of short stories featuring King Conan's son and a final hurrah for Conan where he renounces his crown (again) to go exploring the New World. In the 70s and 80s it was impossible to get Howard's stories without de Sprague's canon included. It is only really in the last 10 years or so the pure Howard texts were published. Now ironically the pastiches are difficult to get a hold of without buying 2nd hand books. While Howard's work is seminal this book is brainless cliched fun.