Sunday, 22 October 2017

RPG REVIEW: GATEWAY - The d20 Tabletop Roleplaying Game

GATEWAY - The d20 Tabletop Roleplaying Game
By Aurican's Lair

From the website: 'GATEWAY is a simple, fast-paced, rules-light and universal D20 Roleplaying Game framework that is perfect for introducing new players to tabletop RPGs. The system allows for any theme or setting, from Fantasy to Cyberpunk, from Horror to Noir, for whatever your imagination can create. The light rules and open world provide a great format for ‘One Shot’ adventures with your fellow veteran players and Game Masters.'

As I get older I find myself having less and less time to design, prep, and sometimes even run roleplaying games. As a result, I try to find games that are quick and easy to run, so that I can concentrate on what I think is important (such as the story and the unfolding plot) and less on the mechanics and statistics.

Unless it's a game system that me and my group knows well I don't usually delve into my thick, comprehensive rulebooks that much these days. I have my favoured systems to introduce new players to the hobby, and these are pretty generic, but every now and then there's a group who wants to experience the system that dominates the RPG market; the D20 system. Or, to be specific, the D&D game.

Usually I'd use the starter pack, but for those quick and easy games I've found a new and even easier system, one that emulates the D20 game and addresses some of it's key features, and yet is so stripped back that it takes no effort to set a game up.

GATEWAY is an introductory game that takes the standard D20 stats and make them the key focus of the game. At 16 pages it covers everything you'll need to run a game, and not just in the fantasy genre. It's a really good little system. What stops it from being great is that it's lacking a lot of polish and some focus, and I feel a re-write and restructuring of the layout would help immensley.

It works like this; a character has the standard D20 system abilities - Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Instead of being given scores, each is given one of three types of roll; Proficiency, Deficiency or Normal. Each ability is also given a selection of skills.

When called upon to make a roll, the player rolls D20s; if they have a Proficiency in the ability, they roll two D20s and keep the higher result, very much like the D&D 5th Edition advantage roll. If they have a Deficiency, they roll two D20 and use the lower result. A Normal ability is a straightforward D20 roll. The target number is determined by the GM, from 2 to 5 for really easy, up to 20 for impossible.

And that's it in a nutshell. There are small tables for working out Armour Class and Hit Points, but in general that is the entire game, and as it's simple to print off you can have a small sixteen page document, or you can download it as an app and keep it on your phone or tablet. In fact, with a form fillable sheet and a dice rolling app there's no need for any pencils or paper, and interested parties can download the rules and be ready to go in a very short period of time. And the greatest thing of all? It's free.

Now, I really like it. I like the idea of numberless abilities and using the proficiency angle as it just gives a dice roll and that's it, and even though you won't get an incredibly well-rounded character you will get a playable PC you can use for a few sessions. I like the simplicity of the rules and the idea that you can use it for anything, although I do feel it's more angled to fantasy games than any other genre, and I like the freeform feel of it all. It's a nice little system.

But what lets it down is the presentation, both in the free downloadable rules from the Aurican's Lair website and in the app itself. The rules are badly laid out in a very basic format, with some errors in the text, and the rules are spaced out in different areas which lends a little confusion, such as explaining how to roll against target numbers and then not having the target numbers explained until well into the rules section. There's also a lot of GM advice, but this is supposed to be a gateway into tabletop gaming so without a proper explanation of what tabletop RPGs are about these are somewhat superfluous. If the system is for existing GMs to use to introduce new gamers to the hobby, then this section is pretty pointless.

There's also a lot of attention on the saving throws covering incidents from being blinded to being unconcious, and this seems like a lot of wasted effort and betrays the focus of the game - to be simple and easy - and complicates things somewhat.

With some polish, some better imagery and layout, with a huge edit and much more focus on what and who the game is aimed at, GATEWAY could be an excellent introductory game, and may even be used for longer campaigns for experienced groups who just want to dive in and out of a game. It is a great little system, and it's one I have no problem in using on gamers who want to experience D&D or roleplaying in general for the first time, but the general presentation lacks finesse and may put some people off, and that's a shame because the core idea here is really quite good.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Hints & Tips - 6 Tips On How To Bring Disparate Characters Together

Games and campaigns revolve around a core group of player characters all working together to either complete their own agendas or a larger quest. Usually, when the players are creating their group, they share out careers, abilities, and skills to make a balanced bunch of PCs who can handle almost every eventuality thrown at them by the GM. However, this may not always be the case.

While players can work as a team and design their characters that way, they have almost total control over the creation of their PCs as far as personality, trade, and background is concerned. In some cases, GMs may ask the players to create whatever they like and then bring the PCs together in the first game. This gives the players free rein as to how they want their PCs to be, but can create a problem as to how these PCs come together.

So, let's say the players have designed a group of PCs who comprise of a baker-turned-mercenary, a nurse, a noble from a high-born family, and a horse thief. What do these PCs have in common? At first, nothing. So, how on earth do you bring them all together?

Because They Were Ordered To

There's nothing more decisive than the Queen/Emperor/Ruling Faction pointing a long bony finger at the PCs and saying, for example, 'I command you to walk to the Ring of Fire and defeat this evil!' Already the PCs have been given a good reason as to why they should adventure together – they've been given their orders!

Of course, you have to ask the question, in some respects, as to why a certain PC should agree to such a thing. Let's take the example group:

The mercenary might go because that's his job.
The nurse might go because the group might need aid on a perilous journey.
The noble might go because, as a relation to the ruling body, it might be a requirement, a proving of the ability to defend the family/realm.
The horse thief might have to go to pay for a crime. 'You will prove your loyalty or you will hang, horse thief!'

The group has been given their orders by their ruler and will do all they can to win through, even though they are a mismatched group of PCs from very different backgrounds. It makes for excellent role-playing. It's also an excellent way to bring the PCs together and keep them together.

Because They Are Friends

Even though PCs may come from different backgrounds, it is still possible they might be friends. Although there might be a class system in effect in your game world, it is still possible that certain people might go against the grain and mix with whomever they wish and not with their social class or kind.

The noble in our example group might be a man who likes to 'slum it', a PC of great esteem who dresses down and walks the lower streets of the city, mixing with what he would usually see as undesirables. In this group he finds new friends: a mercenary, a nurse from the local physician's guild, and (unknown to him) a horse thief.

Alternatively, the mercenary could have gotten a job as a guard at the noble's castle, the nurse could work as a surgeon there, and the horse thief could 'work' in the stables. As the three mix on a daily basis they get to know each other.

So, when disaster does strike or one or more of the PCs are drawn into a quest, the others are motivated or bound by loyalty to help. Something might happen to them all when the whole group is together and this gives them impetus, as a group, to set out on their quest.

Let's say the PCs are all together in the Great Hall when an attempt is made on the life of the Queen. They might become the only witnesses who saw the assassin so they are sent as a group to track down the enemy.

Because They Are Involved For Different Reasons

The PCs might come together because they are all after the same thing but for a different reason. They may be searching for a murderer, an enemy who has affected their lives in some way, or an item that has the ability to solve their particular problem. Each PC has their own agenda and reason as to why they are on the quest and they come together to benefit each other.

This might be tricky. Of course, if they are all after the same thing, then when they do finally achieve it they will all have their own claim to it, especially if it involves an NPC. Unlike an object, which may be shared between the PCs, they will all want their own revenge or justice against the enemy – and there is only one of them to go around. This could make for a fantastically charged role-playing opportunity at the end of a long campaign, but it may be best to split enemies up and have them all part of a greater threat so that each PC has their own closure at the end of the game.

So, for example, the mercenary may be after a man who killed his father, the nurse might be after the same man because he stole her family heirloom, a Pendant of Healing, the noble might be after him to stop him from threatening his borders, the horse thief might be after him because he has been hired to. Each PC has a different reason to go on the quest but, ultimately, they are after the same thing.

Because They Are Involved For The Same Reason

A simpler way to get the PCs together is to have them all go on a quest for exactly the same reason. They can then work together and share any rewards reaped at the end.

This can be anything from 'stop the bad guy' to 'find the treasure'. They all believe in the same thing and that shared belief brings them together. It could be a loyalty to a religion or figure of importance, or they know that there is a lot of gold to be made and it serves them all to work together and split the booty. A shared goal, especially when each player is aware that there is more chance of success in greater numbers, is a fine reason for them all to come together.

For example, the PCs hear in a tavern that there is gold in them thar hills and they all share a common need for more gold. The mercenary is up for a quest because he knows his sword may be needed and wishes to make sure his skills are justifiably rewarded. The nurse might want money for her hospice and joins the quest to help finance it. The noble might join to increase the wealth of his family's and his personal coffers, and the horse thief might join because, hey – it's money, and it sure beats stealing horses.

Because They Have Been Thrown Together By Fate

Wouldn't you believe it? The PCs are all in the same place when bang! something terrible occurs and they are all forced to work together to solve the problem. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Starting a game this way gives the PCs something to focus on straight away and also provides an excellent reason as to why they are required to work together.

Each player has their own reasons and agenda, that much is sure, but when events transpire against them and they must rely on those around them then they will still have their illusion of free will but know they have to team up to survive or overcome the immediate problem. Once that problem is solved or avoided, then the PCs with their knowledge of the threat or problem can continue to work together.

For example, they could be arrested together as scapegoats on a drummed-up charge, or be in the same village when it is attacked, or be in the same castle when it is besieged.

Or, let's say the PCs are all journeying across an ocean on a huge passenger ship when suddenly they're attacked by the forward ships of an invasion fleet. The PCs, close together in a confined area, had to fight side-by-side to defeat the threat. The mercenary will fight because that is what he does. The nurse will fight to defend the wounded. The noble will fight because it might be his ship the raiders are attacking, and the horse thief might fight because where there are bodies, there's looting. Saving each other's lives or aiding in battle will introduce the PCs to one another and strengthen their new relationship.

Common Problems With Running Disparate Groups

Although complete player control over the creation of a PC might be great for the dynamics of the character, it may present some problems the GM may have to overcome.

The Player Runs The PC By The Letter

As the game progresses, a player might decide to run their new PC as designed. Therefore, when certain things happen, the PC might not get involved because 'it is not in their nature to do so'.

Playing so closely to the letter can slow a game and create a huge problem for the GM. To combat this, ask the player two questions:
What can you do as a GM to get the player involved a little more?
What they are playing the game for?

It is a game of fun and adventure, after all, unless the group has something else in mind. If the player is going to refuse every road, avoid every danger, and otherwise do the opposite of what is required to complete the quest, then there's not much point in that PC being present.

The Group Does Not Get Along In Part Or As A Whole

Bringing such different PCs together may present the players with some great role-playing opportunities. However, certain PCs from certain backgrounds might not get along for one reason or another. This may be fun but may also slow the game as PCs bicker and argue.
To combat this, throw in a scene where two or more of the arguing PCs rely on each other to complete a task or save each other's lives. This will change the attitude somewhat and make for a great story.

Fresh Ideas

As campaigns come and go and new PCs are created the reasons as to why disparate PCs should come together might grow thin. Be careful not to repeat yourself or go over old ground. On the flip side, it may not be important to the plot – the players might just say 'yes, we're all different, but we're mates so let's get on with the game', which would be nice!

Complicated Plots

Don't try to be too clever when designing the plot threads as to how the PCs are part of the bigger picture. Complicated reasons will slow the game as each PC will want time spent on their own dilemma independent of the group. This depends on the size of the group, of course, but it's best to try and keep it as simple as you can when first trying out this method of PC introduction.

Introducing PCs

The problem with concentrating on new PCs, especially when they are so different as to warrant special attention, is that time will have to be spent building up their role. This can be done in two ways:

Run a single game for each player independently to come to grips with the PC's role and position. This takes up a lot of time and might be difficult to make sure every player ends in a position where they will serve the plot or even meet up with the rest of the group. This is the trickiest of the two and contains the most work for the GM.

Spend a game or two actually introducing their characters and getting them entwined with the others before the big picture actually starts. This is easier and establishes a sense of group dynamic before the game starts proper.

At the end of the day, the players are all at the table for the same reason: to take part in an adventure and have a good time. Considering the social aspect of the role-playing hobby, they'll probably want to just get involved and game together. However, adding reasons as to why the PCs have come together can help enhance the atmosphere and can also give you a backup in case the PCs don't mesh as well as you'd like.

Monday, 16 October 2017

How grim is too grim?

I'm writing an adventure for a dark fantasy game and I like the background blurb I've done; a few paragraphs describing the location, it's history, and what the adventurers find when they arrive here. I've talked a lot about the bleakness of the place and even offered some hints on just how miserable, damp and grey the location is. This is for a miserable, horror-laden scenario that I hope will tax not only the strength but the sanity of the player characters.

Then I found myself editing a lot of the bleakness out; I read it back and part of me thought, 'How depressing - why would anyone want to play this?' It really was overbearingly miserable. I'm all for setting a scene, but not to the point where players walk out of the room crying after realising that their existence is pointless.

I've got to strike a balance between what makes an adventure atmospheric and what makes it enjoyable. Yes, it's a bleak horror story but there can be a side to it for people to find the experience fun, but I think I have to trust the GM of the game to invoke that atmosphere, or at least invoke a level of grimness that the gaming group enjoy. After all, that GM knows his group and the group know what kind of game they want to play in. I can't impose my play style on people I've never met. All I should do is present my story and adventure and let the GM do the rest.

In the end I've expressed the atmosphere in the intro and some of the background, and I'll no doubt use the words 'grey' and 'miserable' during writing, but I'll not enforce a type of game or a style of gaming that a group might not want to play in. That's not up to me.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Designing adventures

I realised today that I have no patience for statting out a roleplaying adventure.

I love designing the plot, writing the story, creating the characters and fleshing out the adventure, but when it comes to giving the main NPCs and monsters statistics based on the system and the experience of the characters the adventure is designed for, I simply slump my shoulders and press on. To me, statistics are a part of designing adventures that feel like a chore.

All I'm interested in is the situation and how the players react to it. I like introducing new elements to a story as it progresses, twists and incidents that might bring out the player's characters, create in-game tension around a table, or get a few pulses racing.

But when it comes to statting a character... I always leave it to the end as I don't want the wind taken out of my sails as I'm writing. They're usually adjusted after playtesting, anyway. I guess it's because of my background of fiction writing and, of course, you don't have to worry about a character's stats. You just want to get on with the story.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG - First Impressions

I'm a huge Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fan. I wrote an article a few years ago about my top ten RPGs, and WFRP's position at the top hasn't changed since then.

'Number 1:
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition)
The original rulebook was a mighty tome and had absolutely everything you needed to run a game in Warhammer’s Old World – character creation, careers, a full magic system, histories, location details, a bestiary, even charts and tables on insanity, phobias and random magical items. This one book alone was enough to keep a gaming candle burning for years, and indeed it did. I ran WFRP games for years and in all that time I could simply refer to the rulebook for everything I needed, even inspiration for new games and adventures. I bought some supplements, sure, but they were never used. In time the adventures, campaigns and extras I gathered were sold but I never parted with the main solid rulebook, which has been on my shelf for over twenty five years and still gets some use. To me, WFRP is what a RPG rulebook should be – it contains every detail you need to run a succesful campaign, and it’s atmospheric and a pretty good read to boot. I love the system and I even like the idea and implementation of careers. With more than 8 years of continuous campaigning with many, many player characters, and delving into the Old World’s history and possible futures, WFRP is, by far, my game of choice.'

I'm really excited that Cubicle 7 are going to release a new Warhammer RPG, using elements of the first two editions. They're also doing a game for the new Age of Sigmar which I will no doubt purchase as I'd love to see how they handle the RPG aspect of such a huge setting. I'm still not happy about the whole End Times thing, and the destruction of the Old World and pretty much everything and everyone in it was just ridiculous, but the Age of Sigmar wargame is really good and very playable, and the setting itself is pretty good, if not to my taste of fantasy setting.

1st Edition will always be my favourite for the reasons above, and as much as I liked 2nd Edition - especially the rules changes - it never had the same atmosphere as the original. The 3rd Edition I never owned but I played a few times and it was fun, but there was never any longevity in the games and it felt more about the components of the box than the actual story, and that belongs in a boardgame.

Image result for zweihander rpgUntil that happens we have a Warhammer-esque game created by Warhammer fans, a retrocolone-homage-restyle-oldschool-heartbreaker-fan version of the game I hold very dear to my heart: ZWEIHÄNDER. I've been reading the PDF of the game with clenched jaw and nervous twitches, wondering just how the guys at Grim and Perilous have changed the game to my dissatisfaction but up to yet I've been really, really pleased... no, impressed by what they've accomplished. The art choice, the design, the details, the rules have all been heavily redone. It's not a reskin or a filing off of serial numbers, it's a full game of a professional quality. I don't review PDFs, but I will have the physical book soon so I'll have a proper review done in next few weeks once I've had time to digest it and try it out.

Do I have issues with it, being the Warhammer fan I am? Yes, of course I do, but I'm reserving final judgement for when I have the book in my hands to make sure that my issues are justified, and not just confused by initial reading or the problems I have with PDFs. Safe to say that I think any problems I do have are going to be outweighed by the good things I have to say, but I'll save all of that detail for my review.

ZWEIHÄNDER is a game to get excited about, whether you're a Warhammer fan or not, and Grim & Perilous should be proud.

Check back regularly for my full review.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Farsight Blogger 2 - The Sequel

I've had a long time away from Farsight Blogger. I never intended to get fully back into it but with major things going on in the industry, and my own work starting to take on a life of it's own, I've decided to start it up again.

So what have I been up to? Well, I did some work on Advanced Fighting Fantasy 'Stellar Adventures' which was released earlier in the year and did well. A lot of my work wasn't used, but the game has my name on it and it was gratifying to see that; it was Fighting Fantasy that got me into this hobby and to see my name on an official product is just amazing.

I'm also working on other writing projects, and getting back into my art, and that's another reason I'm restarting this blog. I'd like to share what I'm working on, give progress reports, and explain why I make certain decisions during the process.

As far as the wider hobby is concerned, there's a lot going on that I'm excited about. Primarily, my favourite fantasy RPG is getting all kinds of love. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is making a return in more than one iteration.

First, there's the retroclone ZWEIHÄNDER, a huge tome giving us classic WFRP rules with a twist, but setting neutral. It positively drips grimness and I love what I've seen up to yet. There'll be a full review of this soon.

On top of that, Cubicle 7 are releasing their own WFRP under license from Games Workshop, allegedly a mix of first and second edition. Not only that, they're doing a seperate RPG for Age of Sigmar, the epic wargame setting that replaced the Old World after it was utterly destroyed, something I'm not bitter about at all. The bastards.

I'll be following these developments. and others, as well as getting new reviews in as well as interviews, three of which I already have planned and hope to share soon.

I'm happy to be back on Farsight Blogger. Hopefully I'll be able to mix things up a bit but I'm not making any solid plans. I'll just set out, and see where it takes me.

After all, it's about the journey, not the destination.

Get back on the horse...

There's far too much going on in the hobby for me to stay away from blogging. There's people I want to interview, things I want to review, and my own material I want to show off.

Time to get Farsight Blogger back in the game.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Hints & Tips - Modern Gaming Tips

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

A lot of gamers want to game in the fantastical, but gaming in a contemporary setting is a mirror of real life, so you have to ask the question - what's the point? I've combated that by placing the players in a setting they hardly know from experience, such as a Vietnam game and special ops in South America. Removing the players as far as possible from their real life environment can be as effective as placing them in a fantasy world.

Because the world you are in does not require a lot of imagination (as the details/settings/items are all provided for you) it can be difficult for the GM to maintain that suspension of disbelief. In a fantasy setting, the players know none of it is true and they allow themselves to be immersed in the setting. With contemporary games, the real world can pretty much drag the players 'back to reality', and they can feel the limitations and constrictiveness of normality.

To combat this, I try to keep the game moving at a good pace. This is possible because I don't have to spend time describing the appearance and function of many of the items and locations. If you can't keep the game going with atmosphere then keep it going with plot and action. The problem is, burn-out usually tends to come sooner rather than later because of the pace.

The players may feel restricted in their actions and capabilities because they are within a real world environment where all those real world rules and regulations are going to apply. So, the players will have to be wary of actions involving the police, their own skills, and the impact of their actions (because the GM is more likely to realise the effects in a world they know inside-out). Also, most gaming systems I've come across reflect this real world feel, where there is great danger in over-zealous actions and a high payment (death) for certain mistakes in judgement or hits from weapons. With these kind of restrictions, the players will soon get bored, tired, or frustrated.

My answer to that is to throw out the rule books. Be more forgiving to the players, allow them to do James Bond-style stunts and Indiana Jones-style rescues. The more latitude they are given, the more 'into' the game they will get.

Most games in contemporary settings are a mixture of the real world and the fantastical, involving alien conspiracies, vampires, magic, and great old gods come back to reclaim their world. This is good news because it puts the players within a familiar environment whilst allowing their imaginations to work on the fantasy elements of the game.

However, the game can be limited because the game world limits the exploration of the chosen genre. How many vampires can you dust in different ways before it gets repetitive? How many times can the "truth" about the government conspiracy slip through your fingers before you just give up? How many sacred artifacts do you have to recover before you begin to think "hold on... this is all very familiar"? Once you've defeated the foe and saved the world - where do you go from there?

A great way to get past this problem is to have a deep well of imagination, which is why I started GMing in the first place! Fantasy and Sci-Fi games open up many possibilities in their own realms of fiction, but contemporary games consist of the same setting, the same world, the same attitudes. This can limit the adventure, sure, but it can also help you in your quest for a new idea. After all, the world is set and you already have your guidelines as far as the setting goes - all you have to do is come up with the plot. Sure, the game may be another murder-mystery, but it's the reason and circumstance surrounding the murder that makes it unique.

My favourite idea is turning the world up on its head. A vast plague leaving few survivors, a new Ice Age, a holocaust, an alien invasion, the Rise of the Machines... You take the world and twist it all out of sense and proportion. This works great because then the rules don't apply any more. There's no restrictions on society or law, and you can change the rules to reflect that.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Hints & Tips - Running A Sci-Fi Game Setting Well: 8 Tips For New GMs

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

During a game GMs come across all kinds of situations they have to deal with on the fly, but there are certain situations in Sci-Fi games that crop up again and again that can throw the everything into disarray.

The most difficult problem is if the players aren't getting 'into' the setting. GMs might look across the table at any time and see one or two of the players (and in the most extreme cases, all of them) looking a little bored or lost. This might have something to do with the way things are progressing or because they can't get a feel for the game.

So, below I've included nine ways a sci-fi GM can enhance and colourfully portray their game's setting.

Use Pictures, Photos, Printouts

Have pictures ready to hand out for certain aspects of your game so the players can better visualise their surroundings.

There are an abundance of visuals on the Internet and in books and it's good to have a visual representation of what it is you're trying to explain.

For space shots, use photographs from the Hubble Telescope, for starships there are plenty of movie and actual space agency design sketches you can utilise. Even a rough sketch by you can serve the purpose.

Base Your NPCs On Actors

Saying that the captain of the starship looks like Pierce Brosnan or the assassin looks like Angelina Jolie can take all the work out of the need for descriptions and speeds the game along. It gives the players a good point of reference if they can match the face to the name.

Choose The Right Game System

Make sure your system is suitable for the players. There's no point in running a Star Trek type of game if the players want to kick Aliens-type backside. Chopping and changing the game you have designed so that it will suit the tastes of the players is not a big job and in the long run it will serve its purpose.

Know Your Game World

Sci-Fi settings can be vast, and constantly referring to sourcebooks during play can be tedious for the players and detach them from the game setting itself if they feel the GM is not in full control. Not knowing what a certain alien is capable of, especially at a crucial point in a game, might destroy the suspension of disbelief. Also, the players not only need a GM's narrative ability, they also need to be secure in the fact that he can supply them with a tangible world.

Know The Setting As Well As The Players, If Not Better

There's no point in running a game where the players know more about the setting than you do. Let's say you're running a Star Trek game - you've seen a few of the episodes and the movies, have got the gist of the genre and know the rulebook inside out. Unfortunately, the player(s) know the series inside out, can quote lines from specified episodes and have lots and lots of supplementary books. You can see where this is going.

Situations will constantly arise where the players will say they can do something you did not foresee and you know that if they do it might Upset the route the game is taking, or make the game too easy for them

There are only so many times where you are able to say 'I can't allow that' before the players feel as though they are being restricted within a setting they know well. Also, how do you know they're not making some of these things up? Be educated in your chosen setting.

Make Sure You're Within Your Chosen Genre's Boundaries

There are generally three different types of Sci-Fi genres. These are:

'Hard Science Fiction', where the technology and physics are based on actual real-world capabilities and possibilities, with the abilities of equipment based on actual theory.

'Space Opera', where it doesn't matter how something works - it just does, and Star Wars-type action abounds with large space battles and even larger technology.

'Science Fantasy', where the powers of psionics, outlandish technology and science-altering abilities exist.

Most of these genres don't intermix, and if they do then they usually just touch on each other. If the players are running through a 'Hard' setting, with theoretically possible vessels and ecologically viable planets, and then it suddenly switches to huge laser battles and starfighters, they may find it a little disorienting. It's best that the genres are not intertwined so that the players can identify with their surroundings and are able to concentrate on exactly what is expected of them.

Be A Good Mimic

This sounds a little strange, but having a talent for vocal diversity and being able to do sound effects with your voice can help. The 'pyoo' of laser bolts, the 'brmmmm' of rumbling starships, the 'swoosh' of hovercars, the 'bloop' of computers... Yes, it all sounds very embarrassing, having to sit at the head of the table and basically rip your throat out with silly noises, but if you become good at it and it's close to the desired effect, then it can help.

Keep Things Moving

Even if the story promotes slow investigation, speed up the pace. Throw in a bad guy, have the characters get shot at, do something that will grab the players' attention. If they're suddenly cast into a life-threatening situation then they won't have time to wonder at their position in the game.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Star Wars™: The Roleplaying Game - 30th Anniversary Edition

You may have heard a thing or two about Fantasy Flight Games creating aStar Wars™: The Roleplaying Game - 30th Anniversary Edition, a reprint of the first two books of the West End Games D6 roleplaying game released in 1987. This game exploded onto the roleplaying game scene, and the easy rules and the melodramatic, fast-action games it encouraged got players excited and salivating for more.

Star Wars had waned somewhat by the middle of the 1980s. The last film had been ‘Return of the Jedi’, and there had been nothing huge for a while. With the roleplaying scene at it’s height around this time, it was only natural that a Star Wars roleplaying game would emerge.

Back in 2012, we spoke to Greg Costikyan and Bill Slavicsek about the importance of the game. I asked Greg about the how the game was part of the ‘First Ten Years’ celebrations, so that must have put some pressure on. “Lucasfilm told us that they saw an RPG as one way to keep Star Wars fandom alive,” he said, “during an otherwise fallow period, with no new movies on the horizon.”

I asked Bill if he realised how big a deal it was. “We knew we had a good game, and we knew the sourcebook was unlike anything ever created for an RPG, let alone a movie franchise,” he said. “And later, when novelists would call me or reference one of our game products or my Guide to the Star Wars Universe, well, that made me very proud.”

The material the game produced over the years went on to form the foundation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and breathed new life into the franchise. Not only were gamers excited about the products, so were the collectors; here were books building the Star Wars galaxy, with details of characters - both main and background - places and things. Small pieces of fiction also filled out the books, always teasing at the drama of a bigger Star Wars galaxy just waiting to be told. Star Wars™: The Roleplaying Game had revitalised the franchise, and not only were people learning new things they were taking part in it, experiencing the galaxy as never before with their own stories, adventures and creations.

It’s difficult to explain what is was about the game that hit us so hard as gamers. I myself had been gaming since 1984 after falling in love with the red box basic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, and spending much of my time enjoying Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. We had tried to do Star Wars-inspired games, using a game called Traveller and the Fighting Fantasy rules, but it never really worked and the games trailed off after very few sessions. Even as huge Star Wars fans we found it hard to get into the spirit of the setting, let alone the game.

But here was an entire book dedicated to Star Wars, with an excellent system that encouraged cinematic over-the-top action gaming and a sourcebook that had us amazed at the depth that the Star Wars galaxy had to offer. The writing in the rulebook was conversational, fun, light-hearted and exciting, with a touch of darkness; everything a Star Wars story should be. As a sixteen year old boy, that was quite something to experience. In fact, the Games Master and gaming advice in that book is still something adhere to today.

For years we played in our own corner of the galaxy, the Setnin Sector, and we created a huge region of space where we could have huge adventures that didn’t intrude on the galaxy-spanning stories of the movies and novels, but sat alongside them, slightly scaled down, so that we could feel as though our creations could exist in the same galaxy as the damn big heroes on the screen. We wanted to be part of it, and the great thing about these books, the very books that Fantasy Flight Games are about to reprint, was that they gave us all the information we needed to fill out the universe and create our own material. It was an amazing time, and probably one of the most creative periods of my gaming history.

No automatic alt text available.

I truly hope that those of you who haven’t experienced these books before get a chance to have a look. As a chapter of both Star Wars and gaming history these were very important books and they inspired gamers for years. You may find them a curiosity, but I truly hope that some of you see the same magic in them that I did, and allow your excitement and creativity to take you across the stars.

Make sure you take an astromech ‘droid along with you, just in case. No job is above this little guy’s head.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Hints & Tips - 7 Tips On Creating Moments Of High Drama

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

It might sound like a bad thing to say, but let's face it, a lot of roleplaying games are often two-dimensional. You have sword fights, defeat the monsters and bad guys, solve mysteries, and blast about in high-spec ships popping bolts of light at the enemy. There's magic and explosions and lasers and bombs and monsters and... that's pretty much it.

It's very easy to look at roleplaying as a black and white thing, and in many respects it is. When you first see classic good-versus-evil movies, like the original Star Wars, you want to cheer the good guys and throw popcorn at the bad guys. It's easy to see it as a big, dumb, action movie.

However, what about that scene when Luke Skywalker went racing back to his uncle's farmstead to find the bodies of his guardians torched, the home burning? Highly dramatic music coupled with heart-wrenching visuals. It pretty much hit home with everyone and made for an emotional scene. Or, how about when Gandalf fell from the bridge in Moria? Who wasn't moved? Or, Luke finding out that Darth Vader was his father? Or, when the Colonial Marines are first attacked in Aliens?

Take a long hard look at these kinds of films and you'll see scenes far beyond black and white. I'm a bit guilty myself. For a long time I craved adventure in the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars settings and I simply re-created the highest- octane scenes from the books and movies. I didn't see the drama behind the narrative or the special effects, which was not wholly my fault considering the tension scenes are what you take away from things like that when you're young. And, after a while, my games and creations started to suffer from it. Unoriginal games gambolling over into the next one, each one the same as the last but with different locations and names.

So, what am I talking about here? Well, what if you could insert these emotionally dramatic moments into a scenario or campaign and make the players do two things:

Throw a shocking revelation into the works that forces the players to rethink the direction of the game.

Give the players something to sink their roleplaying teeth into instead of the next puzzle or threat. The emotional shock of a sudden revelation or an unexpected incident during a campaign can heighten emotion and make quite an impression on the players.

Making The Scene Work
The difficult thing is also the most important thing, unfortunately: how are you going to insert a scene that makes sense to the story and is an emotional shock to the players?

Let's use Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back as an example. The scene with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is a classic and is down as one of the most dramatic moments in cinema history. The revelation of the father and son relationship is well placed and totally unexpected, yet subtly clever.

You knew that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Vader knew each other. You knew Vader was Obi-Wan's pupil from the talk they had in Episode IV, and you knew Vader was supposed to be responsible for Luke's father's death. The only thing you didn't count on was Obi-Wan keeping it all a secret, but when the truth does come out, you can understand why.

It all slots in nicely and makes a lot of sense, but the crunch comes when Vader reveals to Luke that he's his father, and not in a roundabout kind of way, mind you. He waited until he'd beat the snot out of him, cut his hand off, and had him hanging off a vane over a shaft before he told him. Now that's drama!

So how can you set up such a thing in a game and make it work? Read on...

Mine PC Backgrounds
The first thing you can do is take a long hard look at the character backgrounds the players have created for their alter egos. There are always little snippets of information in there you could use, and more times than not, the players have created things about the past and haven't really taken much notice of it, or they have detailed friends and relatives they knew but don't take much notice of.

Take the details of the NPC, flesh them out (without the player's knowledge) and introduce him or her (or it) at a key moment. Alternatively, you could have them be a long- term NPC whose identity isn't revealed until later. Wouldn't it be cool if the players spent game after game trying to figure out who the bad guy is and it turned out it was one of their brothers? Or a friend they bullied at school? Or a relative they thought dead?

Take Copious Notes
If you keep notes during a game then so much the better. Even the smallest plot point from a previous game might come back to haunt the players. Perhaps, in a game a long time ago, the players hired some help and they all went on an adventure. Let's say the hired NPC was killed and the players escaped without him.

Wouldn't it make for a good story if the NPC wasn't killed? Wouldn't that NPC swear revenge on the PCs for leaving him for dead? In this way, the game crafts its own internal plot that, because the players were involved with it, makes it resonate more.

Seek Out Crystalizing Moments
Use the game itself as the driving force behind the drama. As the game builds and builds, and more and more NPCs are thrown into the mix, perhaps the plot can seem disjointed for a while until a huge dramatic event brings the seemingly unconnected events together.

Alternatively, the actions of the players are having an effect they have not noticed or did not count upon. The people they thought they were saving are turning against them, or maybe it happens that they're fighting for the wrong side.

Pick An Interesting Revelation Location
Pick a location where the dramatic revelation can take place. This will have to be a place that will be detailed to the players so that the importance of the dramatic event has a visual representation.

This could be anything: the top of the highest tower in a thunderstorm; a deep, lava-filled cavern; the top of a collapsing starship hull; the thin bridge over a deep rocky gorge (Indiana Jones, anyone?).

Conspire With Your Players
In some cases, you can get together with a player to sort out a private agenda for the player's character that he carries out. When the other PCs find out, it's even more of a shock!

Be very careful with this option: the other players who aren't in on the secret might feel left out or even a little used and offended if they think the GM was favouring or singling out a player that was working against them or had a secret agenda.

For example, let's say that a character called Jevin Dayy has had her background fleshed out in a sci-fi game by the player. Just to make the character more interesting, the player has entered details about her father, a business man, who she ran away from because of his anti-adventure and miserly feelings. This explains her well-spoken manner, but also reveals the source of her dislike of safety-conscious people and money-hoarders. She loves her father but can't condone what he is doing: a nice little detail she added just for effect.

Jevin has been used for quite a few games and is very good at what she does (a technician with the group), but the GM decides that one day on-planet she works on a vessel she recognises - one of her father's business vessels.

What will she do? Carry on as if nothing has happened? Run for it? She's quite capable of doing these things, but then she finds out that the man who is now running the company is her fathers' brother who has basically murdered his predecessor to take over the business.

This is revealed during a moment of high drama to increase the emotional charge of the event. Let's say that her uncle knows she is trying to find out about how her father died and has sent men after her. She assumes it's her father's murderers trying to get her but, whilst she's crawling to safety over an old rickety steam pipe over a shipyard, her uncle catches up to her.

  "Jevin!" he cries.

  "Get away from here, uncle! It's dangerous!" The pipe creaks and she hangs on for her life.

  "Jevin, come back, it's dangerous out there!" He holds out a helping hand.

  "It's the men who killed my father! We have to get away before they get you, too!" She despairs for her uncle's safety and grabs hold of his offered hand to pull herself to safety.

  "No, Jevin, I came out here myself. These men are my employees." He tightens his grip.

  "You're lying!"

  "I'm not lying, Jevin. I killed him."

  "Nooooo!" she screams.

See how that works? It doesn't need to be a character that was created for the PC background; it can be a long-running NPC that the players know from previous scenarios or campaigns.

The Golden Rule Is:
Don't Embarrass Anyone!

You have to be sure that the emotionally charged scene you're about to drop in isn't going to make anyone at the gaming table uncomfortable.

After all, some of them are there to just game and not get emotionally involved, and having one of the NPCs suddenly leaping forward shouting, 'I love you!" or something or other can be a bit of a shock, especially when most of the game has centred on action and adventure.

Remember, also, that the scene you're going to introduce has to be a shock that's not out of context and that doesn't suddenly appear out of nowhere. This can be embarrassing for the GM as well as the player.

Here are a few lines you could use as a basis to charge the scene, just for a bit of fun. Try to see if you can insert these NPC phrases into a game and get the emotional response needed.

I'm not your father
I sold out your family/city/planet/race
It wasn't me who killed him
I'm your mother
He's been dead for years
She's the commanding officer of the new garrison
I am here to take you back
You are not who you think you are
This is my home
(my personal favourite) I'm your sister's husband's friend's cousin's flatmate's former roommate

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

New worlds to plunder

I've been considering what kind of RPG I'd like to run next and I'm definitely doing a fantasy game. My recent Game of Thrones readings, and the D20 book I have, makes me want to get into something creative but grounded in some form of reality.

This got me thinking about what game worlds I enjoy playing in the most, and I came up with this list:

1: The Old World (Warhammer FRP) – one of my favourite settings period, but I love gaming in this world as it has so many different ways you can come at it there’s always something fresh to do. Horror, mystery, high-fantasy adventure, you can run them all with this game. I’m a huge lover of the 1st Edition, dodgy magic rules and all, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Cubicle 7 do with this.

2: The Lands of Legend (Dragon Warriors) – This is really grounded in our own history and just oozes atmosphere. It’s a great world and quite dangerous to play in, making the players think twice before getting into a scuffle. I keep my magic users low-key in this, just to add to the mystery.

3: Allansia (Fighting Fantasy) – I like the world of Titan as a whole, but Allansia is my favourite. Although it has a high-fantasy feel to it, and some of the monsters are a little peculiar, it’s always been a fun place to explore in the gamebooks and the RPG.

4: Forgotten Realms (D&D) – Although high-fantasy isn’t really my thing, the Forgotten Realms is great fun to play in, even for nostalgic reasons. Some of the best D&D games I’ve been in have been here, and the Underdark is one of my favourite places to explore, both as a player and a DM.

My favourite fantasy setting is Middle-earth, but I find it a nightmare to run adventures in. Every player has a defined idea of the world and the kind of game they want to be in, but it doesn’t always marry up and Middle-earth is one of those settings where people ideas of what kind of game they want to be in conflicts. In my experience, anyway.

tl;dr – I like playing games in made-up worlds. Yay.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Hints & Tips - 6 Tips For Creating Aliens For Sci-Fi Games

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

Aliens. When you think of these you immediately think of two things - Star Trek-type rubber faces, or movie-type dark killing machines. But the ecology and personality of aliens are as diverse as the worlds they herald from. Here are a few pointers on how to give your aliens a little more depth than having them look like a man with pointed ears saying 'what is this human emotion called love?'


For ease of use, many aliens have a humanoid form, which is handy in the great scheme of things. You don't have to worry how they'll interact with the technology and setting.

But they don't have to be like that. Environment and location dictate the appearance of a living being, not the make-up artist.

Take a few examples from our own world. In the deserts of the equator, creatures have developed a metabolism and appearance that protect them from the searing sun. In the depths of the ocean, fish have developed a physique that helps them glide through the water and breathe its limited oxygen. Birds have developed their form and abilities to exist in the most inaccessible places of the world. Even the human race walks on two legs, which reflects their origins in the tall grasses of the African plains. The world the alien heralds from should reflect their physique.

So, for example, let's say that the planet is a desert world with very few locations where there is water. A single great ocean surrounds the planet's equator like a belt. The aliens would have built their civilisation about this water. Physically, they may be insectoid, with huge carapaces that bend over their heads to protect them from the searing sun. They may be long-legged for ease of moving over the dunes, and have large sack-like growths on their backs to store water, like a camel. Their eyes have multiple eyelids to protect from the UV glare, and they have tendrils over their mouths and nose to protect them from the sand storms. Alternatively, the aliens could be lizards, piscine, bird-like, or invertebrates. They could even be huge gas- filled floating jellyfish!

So, there's the first phase of the creation process: Environment equals physical appearance.


In many respects, people think that to reflect an alien language the aliens just speak differently, as different as English from Japanese, or Russian from Spanish. But this does not need to be the case.

Many creatures on this earth communicate in different ways. Insects use both touch and scent, mammals use growls and calls (like dolphins), birds use a variety of whistles and hoots. Some creatures even use colour to communicate their intentions.

So this could translate into the alien world. How about if the aliens didn't communicate through speech but through a series of clicks and whistles at different pitches. Or they communicate through sign language. They could even be telepathic. This will make them exceptionally different.

This works well on different levels. If the players encounter them for the first time, talking will be difficult, and will make for an excellent roleplaying opportunity.


As mentioned before, the world the alien heralds from may dictate their appearance, but how will that affect their interaction with other species? Perhaps the alien needs to be segregated from other species and kept in a room where the atmosphere and pressure suits their biological makeup. Perhaps they have to wear environment suits to traverse other places. Perhaps they simply need a face mask so that they get a quota of gases that can only be found on their own world.

Aliens that walk, talk, and interact normally in any environment are just men with strange appearances. Limiting, or even increasing, their abilities and function due to their biology adds an extra dimension.


Not all aliens have to be a race of super-beings, far beyond the capabilities of the human race. They also don't have to be evil two-dimensional killing machines either.

Intelligence has a large bearing on the function of the alien. A creature of bestial intelligence cannot be considered evil, it is simply doing what it must do to survive or procreate. So, when you land on that planet and a bunch of razor-sharp ripperlizards come bounding out of the purple trees, they don't want to kill you because they're evil, but because it is in their nature to do so.

It's a simple matter of discerning two things: their diet and their timidity. A vegetarian creature of a timid nature will not be much of a threat to the PCs, but then a vegetarian with an aggressive nature might be. The same goes for meat-eaters.

Intelligence in an alien should not dictate their attitude and feelings towards outsiders. Higher intelligence does not necessarily mean infallibility or greater moral standing. The aliens will have several different levels of intelligence, ranging from the neanderthal to the super- brain, but this doesn't reflect their morals.

Take the Roman Empire, for example. They were the most civilised, artistic, and prolific race of the time in ancient world. Their Empire is the basis of modern society. Their mathematics and architecture outshone their neighbours' yet they still thought it perfectly alright to watch men slaughtering each other in an arena. And they found nothing wrong with it. Because they were greater and (allegedly) smarter, they thought this allowed them to do such things.

Intelligence will also affect communication with other species. Lesser intelligent aliens would have little to share or offer, whereas higher intelligence species may have plenty to talk about and discuss. Where species connect on an intellectual level may help determine the outcome of relations.

Morals And Attitude

Talking of morals, this is something that will make the alien far different from other species. They may see violence and death as a natural order and actively seek out species to kill. They may decide that all other species are greater than them and worship them as gods, or that other species are lesser beings and need to be exterminated. As far as the alien is concerned, their morals and attitudes regarding themselves, existence, and other species is completely justified. It is not just the views of individual aliens you must take into account, but the entire continent or world.

So, the aliens may revere life, or hate it, or are indifferent about it. They may have religious overtones or a completely different theory on evolution to suit their existence. Although there is always room for a little variance on the individual aliens, the broader belief system or attitude must be considered as a basic layout for the personality.


What are the aliens capable of with the knowledge and intelligence that they have? Do they exist in a permanent middle-age society or have they unlocked the secret to interstellar travel? When encountering new races, the PCs will be confronted by not only the sheer difference of an alien but also what help or hindrance they present. If they land on a medieval world and are treated as the enemy, then they won't be under much threat from bows and arrows as they take off in their starship.

Alternatively, if the aliens have nuclear power then getting whacked by a missile may cause more than a few problems.

Technology need not be limited to the physical boundaries of our own world. The technology of the aliens may be quite, quite different. What if they grew their technology, flew the spacelanes in huge creatures bred for spaceflight? They may even want to use the PCs as raw material! If the aliens have a greater technology to our own, they could be a great help to the future of mankind or possibly a great threat. If they have lesser technology than ours then perhaps mankind could help them grow and increase in ability, or perhaps not...

On a personal note, when I began sci-fi roleplaying I developed something that I called the 'Theory of Mirrored Evolution' that helped me through my first games. I didn't have to worry about the ecology of the aliens. I just assumed that because the Earth was created due to a galactic chance from the same star stuff that other suns are made of, then why couldn't the other worlds be similar to our own, with differences noticeable enough to make them alien? It was a simple matter then to utilise humanoids with different features and attitudes. This took the work out of alien design so that I could concentrate on the game and get used to the setting. Nowadays, I use the above guidelines and the games have more depth because of it.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Hints & Tips - Creating Basic Character Personalities

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

A very long time ago I had an unfortunate incident during a short fantasy campaign of my own design that I was GMing for my friends. I'd had a stereotypical age-old threat come along from the depths of time to threaten the stability and future of the land and it was up to the PCs to stop it.

After four games of slashing their way through the minions of the Shadow Lord, they finally managed to get into the lair of the threat and face him. Suddenly, in the lull just before the final battle, one of the PCs looked at the evil lord and asked, and I quote, "Why have you done all this? What the hell is wrong with you?" I was gob smacked. Reeling, I stammered for a few moments and blurted out something to do with prophecies and revenge, but this didn't stop the PC from then asking, "But why? What do you hope to gain? You'll slaughter and blast and defile until there is nothing left for you to rule. There must be more to life than this." Clearly, the player had not realized that motivation was not forefront in my mind when I designed the game but it certainly gave me something to think about.

I had always concentrated on the plot and the action, basically running the game as a sequence of encounters and situations, but had never really gone over the reason why certain people did certain things and what drives them to act the way they do.

In this article, I hope to give you some ideas on motivation based on upbringing, and give a few ideas on what to consider before deciding why a character, NPC and PC, is disposed to act a certain way. It may help to add more depth to the game as whole personalities are revealed, and it helps open up more role-playing opportunities as players start to question their own motives.

What a child is exposed to can have an effect on their personality and perceptions at an older age as incidents throughout childhood mould their character. Their childhood will, in general terms, depend on the environment they were bought up in, with different ideas on how their position in life affected them, both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.

A ‘positive’ influence is an indication of how events can improve a character's personality, whereas a ‘negative’ influence details how events can transpire to make a character a danger to society. All these can be chopped, changed and added together.

Poor/Lower Class Family Background

Social Background
Positive: Perhaps the father of the character was a poor man, but he had pride that made him work hard to improve his situation. Although the family had little, the mother was satisfied to have the love of her family and did not need anything material to make her happy. An upbringing like this might make a character less greedy than most, more patient, or able to weather hardship.

Negative: The father is angry at the ruling body who have allowed him to end up on the bottom rung of the social ladder. He spends his time drinking and working, creating dissent, and taking out his anger on his family. The mother cares very little for children she did not want and sends them out to work and thieve so that the little they earn can go into her pockets. An upbringing like this may make the character violent, angry at peers and institutions, and learning skills that are generally regarded as anti-social.

Peer Teachings
Positive: The friends of the character are enjoyable, well- rounded people with good hearts and friendly attitudes to everyone. They frequently go on trips and small adventures together, and bonds are formed and honoured as the group shares what little they have to improve their lot in life.

Negative: The people the character knows are cheats, liars, and unfriendly. The small social group the character falls in with have a reputation for cruel or anti-social behaviour, and the only way they can get their kicks is by preying on those weaker than them. This often leads to in- fighting and distrust.

Positive: The location the character hails from is wide open and spacious with plenty of places to lose themselves in and appreciate what they have. Alternatively, it is a well cared for part of a larger town which, even though it has very little in the way of wealth, makes do with what it does have and appreciates its existence. This creates a community spirit.

Negative: The location the character is forced to endure is a dangerous place, with creatures or individuals a constant threat to the people who work and live there. Neighbours distrust and, frankly, hate each other. It's dirty, grimy, and has the atmosphere that if you say or do the wrong thing you'll be found in a shallow grave.

Positive: The character is taught that all things are equal, that good virtues are always a benefit to the individual and those about them. Their religion may take the form of a passive or defensive stance on violence, and they may also believe that, whilst they do not have much in the way of belongings or wealth, money and material goods are no substitute for a good heart and health.

Negative: The character is bought up to believe in 'survival of the fittest.' Those willing to do what they can to get what they want are all that matters because life is one huge battle for supremacy. Friends, family, neighbours, guests - they are all usable, disposable, and crushable. Their religion may revolve around intolerance of other beliefs or cultures, and violence is the only true solution.

Comfortable/Middle Class Family Background

Social Background
Positive: The father of the character is a generous man and he has a pride that makes him work hard and share his fortunes. Alternatively, the mother had the love of her family and acquired material goods for them to make them happy. An upbringing like this might make a character less greedy than most, appreciate what they have and the value of it, and be willing to help those less fortunate.

Negative: The father is angry at the fact that he only has so much. Perhaps he has progressed up from a lower social standing but still wants more. He spends his time working (although he shirks his responsibilities), creating problems for those around him, and taking out his anger on neighbours and family. The mother cares very little for the children who are a drain on what she has, so she does all she can to get them to leave home as soon as possible. An upbringing like this may make the character angry at and distrusting of others and create abandonment issues.

Peer Teachings
Positive: The friends of the character are good people with their own lives but with friendly dispositions. They frequently gather at social venues, share trusts and stories, and great friendships are honoured as the group gathers to appreciate each other’s company and personalities.

Negative: The people the character knows are shady and always know 'someone' with a finger in the larger pot of trouble. The social group the character joins has a penchant for anti-social behaviour and this often leads to infighting and distrust of others in the group and outsiders to the group. Perhaps the 'gang' builds a reputation that leaves a lasting impression.

Positive: The location the character comes from is a beautiful, natural place, or a whole estate/quarter of a city that has good security and wealth. This creates a community that enjoys gatherings, social activities and a general atmosphere of well being and safety.

Negative: The character is forced to handle themselves in a dangerous place, with dangers a constant threat to the community who lives there. Because of this danger, maybe in the form of crime or gang problems, neighbours distrust and feud with each other. It's an unsanitary, lawless, and uncared for place. The atmosphere is one of continuous, oppressive danger.

Positive: The character is taught that although all things are equal, hard work and commitment reaps its own rewards. Their religion may be a way of bringing together the community and preaching their non-aggressive stance on life and, whilst they have a comfortable existence, money and material goods are a way of defining your success.

Negative: The character is bought up to believe in 'if you want it, take it.' Those who want to better themselves had better be prepared to fight, cheat, and tread on others to reign supreme. Their religion may incite distrust of other religions and encourage closed ears to other opinions and conflict.

Rich/Noble Family Background

Social Background
Positive: The friends of the character are of their social class and they mix frequently at expensive restaurants and venues. They share their leisure time doing exciting activities and traveling to far places, always under the protection of the security the family needs. Friendships are solid as they all appreciate the lives they lead.

Negative: The people the character mix with are always trying to throw off the 'leash' of their superiors, trying to do things that are the opposite of their position, such as dangerous sports or 'slumming it.' Even though they oppose the rules set by their peers or security, they still use their position as a retreat or an excuse. This makes them spoiled and ignorant of the consequences of their actions.

Peer Teachings
Positive: The father of the character is a hard-working honourable man and his main aim in life is to make sure his family has everything they need to grow up to be good people. Perhaps their mother acquires tutors and materials to help them to grow. An upbringing like this might make a character appreciate their lofty position and the value of helping others less fortunate.

Negative: The father has so much that he become a selfish, uncaring miser. Perhaps he has fallen from a higher standing and hates the fact, or risen from a lower class and still wants more. He might spend his time playing and squandering his money, ignoring his family in pursuit of other distractions. The mother cares little for the welfare of her children and leaves them with nannies and caretakers for the most part. A childhood like this may make the character unemotional and selfish in his actions.

Positive: The character comes from a beautiful estate that has been taken care of by the family past and present, and the cities they invest in or govern have good security and wealth. This creates a community of good feeling and safety, and so the character appreciates their lot in life and is sympathetic to lesser-privileged people.

Negative: The area the character hails from is a dangerous place, with violence a threat to the ruling, higher- privileged families who live there due to their lack of concern for those less fortunate. This danger causes civil unrest and riot problems. It's an oppressive place, and the family regards the lower classes as misfits and miscreants.

Positive: The character is taught that hard work and responsibility is the way, no matter how much you have or how much you can delegate. Religious ceremony may be a way of showing the community that the family is not all-powerful and even they answer to a higher power. Whilst they have a comfortable existence, more so than those above them, this brings the higher families and the lower classes together and promotes solidarity.

Negative: The family ideal is ‘the power is yours, so you can do what you want.’ Those without power or money are good for nothing but service to the richer or ruling elite. Their religion may incite hoarding and selfish acts, and encourage violence to take whatever makes the family or estate more powerful.

Monday, 1 May 2017


On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

Simple things to remember so that your games run smoother.

Everyone relies on the GM to provide a solid, enjoyable adventure with memorable NPCs and fantastic settings. What can players and GMs do to make the game better? What responsibilities can a GM and player have other than simply sitting at the table and playing that game?

The tips below are for GMs and players to identify potential problems and nip them in the bud. With all the new-fangled technology, silicon chips, and such, a roleplayer's problems can only get bigger. Of course, not all these tips apply to every group, but there are always exceptions and if you game with a lot of people in a lot of groups then the chances of coming across these incidents are higher.

(All the tips are references to personal incidents that were probably some of the worst times I ever had as a GM or player during my long tenure as a roleplayer. I've included some of the worst ones I remember in italics. Names have been omitted to protect the innocent. Just call me Jonathan "axe to grind" Hicks).

1. Punctuality Is Politeness And Consideration In One

The GM may have a limited amount of time to play the game or have a set sequence of events he/she wants to play out before the night is over. To aid this, be punctual. If the GM says 7:00, then try your best to get there for 7:00. Arriving an hour late can be awkward for the GM and the other players, as time will be wasted with greetings and filling in the latecomer with game details and plot events.

It's understandable that certain occurrences may cause you to be late, and these incidents are well out of your control, but if there is no other reason to be late then try your best. There's more than one person at that gaming table to keep happy.

Case: I once ran a game in which the night's scenario was going to be the finale of the Warhammer campaign before friends returned to university. Only one player had the knowledge of how to progress and he was an hour and a half late getting there for no other reason than he was watching a film he had bought that day, which left me only an hour and a half to finish a Summer campaign. Hmmm...

2. Turn Off Phones And Pagers

I don't know how many games I've run where I got to the plot-bursting, emotionally dazzling finale and then someone's mobile phone or pager went off. Precious moments, even minutes, are wasted when a player is distracted by a call, and then the atmosphere is lost and cannot be reclaimed.

Switch off those mobiles unless there's a good reason why they should be on!

Case: Halfway through an intense MechWarrior game, just at the point when the bullets were flying and enemy 'Mechs were advancing on our position, the GM's mobile went off. He was gone for nearly half an hour. Frustrating or what? To compound the problem, when the GM came back and the game resumed, a player's mobile went off. It wouldn't have been so bad if it had been anything other than a social call.

3. The Items In The Room Are Not Always Part Of The Game

So, we got to a turning point in the game. Do the players turn north to the Eaglenest Range or do they head east to the Skaven Breeding Halls. What do they care? There's a PlayStation/Gameboy/PC in the room and they're having an ace time!

It may be up to the GM to remove or make unavailable anything in the room that may provide a distraction, but this is not always the case. A little self-control would be handy.

Case: Whilst running an enjoyable game set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we realised that two of the players, who had left the room for a secret discussion, had been gone for quite a while. Upon investigation, we found said players in the other room playing Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation which, whilst an enjoyable game, had absolutely nothing to do with the scenario.

4. Paying Attention Is The Core Of A Game

Well it is isn't it? How can you expect to progress if you've hardly listened to anything the players or the GM has said?

Let's say the last five minutes has seen the PCs decide on their tactics and strategy and declare their intentions, then they go flying into the demon's cave with swords high and plan ready. You're not going to be much use if you spent those five important minutes with your nose in a magazine, are you?

What if the GM has explained a vital clue or piece of information? What use is that to you or the group if you didn't give due attention? Prick up your ears when the GM is speaking to you and/or the group.

Case: Whilst running a Twilight 2000 game I spent a good while explaining in-character the PCs' covert requirements. Their mission was to meet the corrupt President of Sunken Madagascar, find out why he has increased his military output, and try to support a coup that had been growing. Upon arrival at the President's, two of the four players asked, "So, what are we doing here?" Much shaking of heads ensued.

5. Being Funny Is One Thing, Being Annoying Is Quite Another

We've all had those moments in games where something has happened that just had us rolling on the floor. There's always comments and events which illicit a laugh or a chuckle from the players and GM alike. These are good moments, especially during a non-serious game, and can be great fun. But let's not overdo it, eh?

Continuous jokes and remarks, especially during a serious game, can be a little annoying. Repeating the same joke over and over again to get the same laugh...can you imagine such a thing? Jokes and having fun are part of the game, but there is a time and a place for such things and, depending on what the game is being played for, players and GMs alike should realise their limits.

Case: A long time ago, in a Star Wars game far, far away, there were five players and a GM. One of the players would wait until a critical part of the game, pretend to drop his pencil, and then re-emerge from under the table with the wraparound sticker off a large Coca-Cola bottle over his face and declare "Coca-Cola Man has come to save the day". Every week, on cue. No, really, I’m not making this shit up.

6. Being Loud Does Not Mean You're Right

We've all got something to add to a game such as ideas, tactics, revelations, and character stuff. It's a sign of a good roleplayer when they can put forward their own opinions and thoughts, and deal with any arguments "in character", PC-to-PC instead of player-to-player.

Some gamers find it necessary to raise their voices however, talking over the other people at the table so that their opinions are heard and acted upon. With players it's annoying because it's as if the one viewpoint is the be-all and end-all of group decisions. With GMs it's annoying because constant interruptions and opinions can disrupt good roleplaying and make the game feel linear.

The answer is simple: don't do it! Have a little patience. The players haven't gathered about the table just for your benefit.

Case: During a game of Rolemaster, an excitable GM decided that the players were not going in the direction he wanted them to go, so he decided to usher them onto the right path. He'd talk over every decision made, raising his voice if the players decided on a certain course of action with phrases such as "Why do you want to do that?" and "Oh, that's a stupid idea". When asked to allow a little latitude he would simply talk over the players until they followed his pointers. Strangely, nobody turned up for his next game. I won’t even tell you about the time we tried to kill an evil wizard by setting fire to his doorless tower, only to find we’d failed because he was ‘out shopping’.

7. The Rules May Be Guidelines, But They're Still Rules

Roleplaying games have a set of rules to adjudicate actions and abilities and these are reflected, in most cases, in the use of dice. So why do some roleplayers feel it necessary to cheat? The idea of a high adventure game is to inject a little of the chance and danger inherent in such things. If a bad roll is made, it does not reflect badly on the player, it's just the way things turned out and it's a sign of good roleplaying to take the rough with the smooth.

There are five general types of cheaters:

1) The "Pooper Scooper" who will roll their dice and pick them up straight away before anyone else has a chance to see the result and claim they succeeded.
2) The "Ready-To-Rumble Roller" who will claim they succeeded with the dice that are already lying on decent numbers on the table, which were not actually rolled.
3) The "Bombardier" who will roll their dice one at a time, and every time a low dice comes up they will slam their next roll into the previous dice in the hope of knocking it onto a better number.
4) The "Houdini Skills" players who suddenly acquire a skill or increased ability to help them out of a situation, usually added to the character sheet secretly during play.
5) The "Phantom Equipment" player who will suddenly have an item or tool appear on their character sheet, again added during play.

There is no sure way to guard against these cheaters, especially in large group games where there is a lot to be aware of. There are some precautions you can take, however. Make sure that, before play starts, the group is aware that all rolls are to made in the open and watched by others. (The GM may be exempt from this, depending on their use of GM screens and wanting to have the chance to have more control over the game). Then the player/GM has no choice but to make the roll. Also, rolls must be made with all the required dice thrown at the same time. This way, the group is aware that rolls are being monitored and pre-warning them means that players don't feel picked on.

Don't worry too much about weighted dice. These little monsters are easy to spot as they don't roll naturally and have a tendency to spin when landing on their set number. You can check most of the dice before play, anyway. Have photocopies of the PC character sheets to hand to the GM, and make sure as a player that you've had a good look over other player's sheets (group style/policy permitting). This way you'll have an idea what each player is capable of and what they own, and have an insight into the possibility of cheating.

Case: During a strange game of Call of Cthulhu, the group was skulking about a sunken church in the Black Forest of the Rhine when they were suddenly attacked by ghouls. Single handed, one of the weakest characters in the group managed to hold off the ghouls with a machete and pistol while the others grabbed artefacts and made a run for it. He was hailed the hero of the encounter...until it was realised that no-one had actually seen any of the rolls made, and that the items "pistol" and "machete" were not actually on the player's character sheet equipment list.

8. Arguments May Be Healthy, But Stress Is A Killer

There can be many discussions during a game regarding the interpretation or application of rules, and this is a good thing in many respects. It clearly defines capabilities and limitations of PC and NPC alike, and it can result in well-conceived House Rules.

Unfortunately, there are situations that arise when disagreements on rules and capabilities grow from discussion to heated debate to full-blown shouting matches. Both players and GMs alike have their own idea how certain things should be utilised from the rulebook and how things should be played out.

The answer is simple: chill out! When playing a game remember two things:

1) It's a game.
2) The idea of the game is to socialise and have fun.

If you can't agree on an aspect then defer to the GM after making your point. After all, the GM's word should be final. If an honest mistake has been made, then make a note of the problem and carry on, backtrack if necessary then continue. Always be ready to have an opinion, but don't think that arguing the point will make it any better. Discuss the problem, come to a compromise, then make a note on the problem and how it can be solved.

Failing that, the GM's word is final, if that's the only way to stop it. And don't take the disagreement out of the confines of the game. Getting cranky afterwards or during other activities because of the argument is pointless because, as in the concept of the game, it has nothing to do with real life at all. Ask yourself the question is it really worth it? Raised voices make for raised blood pressure - not good.

Case: A player in a game of Cyberpunk decided to steal a car after a firefight at the local casino, but his hotwiring skill wasn't good enough. There was a long drawn out argument about the technicalities of stealing a car, but the GM basically said that regardless of what the player knew, the PC couldn't do it. After the argument (which got a little out of hand) the player sulked, made stupid comments, and generally disrupted the game. Towards the end of the night, the GM took the player's character sheet, crumpled it up and popped it in the garbage. "What was that?" asked the player. "Random psycho sniper in a church tower just took you out", said the GM. "Don't I get to roll?" asked the player. The GM just smiled. "He's a really good shot." The player got the point.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas and a few things to think about. Most of these are intended to help you deal with those incidents that crop up during the actual act of gaming and will hopefully help you to have a smoother, happier experience.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Hints & Tips - Tips on Generating Sci-Fi Locations

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

We've all experienced the thrill of space exploration through science fiction movies, books and other media. We've seen some amazing things, from imagination and from deep- space pictures. How can you inject some of that wondrousness into your own Sci-Fi locations?

Flying through space and having adventures is fun, but there's another angle to the experience and that's discovering new things that really stick in your mind.

Take the following two examples, and see which description stands out more:

(a) The starship landing pad is made of slabs of metal, overlooked by several domed hangars and a small tower-topped control tower.

(b) The starship landing pad is a huge circular affair with a great roof that opens like flower petals when ships approach. The surrounding hangars are domed, covered in blue-grey vines. The control tower hovers above the hangars, continually moving on its jets to watch over the area. Great cliffs surround the location, and green waterfalls cascade into the crystal clear waters that surround the site. Lizards hop from tree to tree.

Example (a) could be any landing pad on any world, whereas example (b) is defined by the technology, the foliage and the terrain, adding not only an identity but an atmosphere.

Make It Big

Why make a location normal when you can make it huge? The greatest way to inspire a player is make something large. If the PCs are going to meet a contact on a world, then don't have them meet in a small copse of trees next to a stream - that sounds too much like Earth. If they are to meet in such a place, then make it big! The trees are three hundred feet high, fifty feet thick. The leaves are the size of men. The ground is covered in huge four-foot fern-like growths, red in colour. The clouds roll overhead at great speed.

Simply taking what would be a normal location and making it larger than life increases the spectacle of it all.

Make It Better

Why have a car when you can have a jet-powered hover vehicle? Why live in a building when you can live in a pre- fabricated geo-dome? Why fly your spaceship to a satellite when you can fly it to an orbital sat-habitat, two miles long and housing a hundred thousand people?

Increase the concept of the visuals of the location you are trying to describe. To do this, just take an everyday object - such as a car, a toaster or an elevator - and add a bit of pizzazz. A car can be an air vehicle, zapping between the towers of a future city; a toaster can be a small hand-held unit that you just wave over bread and, hey presto - toast! An elevator can be an anti-gravity tube - just step in it and float to the next floor. Adding these details into a location can add a dimension of difference to increase the atmosphere.

Make It Different

Let's say the PCs have crash-landed their shuttle on a jungle world. It could be easy to simply say that they're in a moist tropical environment, like the jungles of Earth, and that would most likely describe the location well. At least, well enough if the PCs actually were on Earth! If they're on another planet you want to add some details so that they feel they're interacting with something fantastic. For example, let's take two places: natural and man-made:

To get across the idea of a different natural locale, you could add details such as:

The trees have translucent leaves, and the sap is visibly coursing through them.
They grow so high they bend under their own weight, so the top of tree touches the ground and takes root, creating strange half-hoops.
The hills are almost uniformly high, with the strongest trees growing straight up on top of them.
The ground is covered in dead leaves and foliage, a grey- blue mass of wet grime.
There is very little sound except for the soft hum of the wind, and a weird hooting call that echoes through the trees.
Lizard-like creatures with six limbs and bright pearlescent feathers on their backs leap from branch to branch and chitter noisily.
Long smears of cloud stretch from horizon to horizon.
The ringed sister planet hangs in the pink sky.

Why talk of a simple jungle when your players can have a go at visualising that?

As for the man-made setting, you could go something like this:

The building is nestled into the side of the mountain as if it grows from it, the sheer face of he rock blemished by the ugly, six-tiered, ninety-floor construct.
Its face is glass and steel so the rest of the landscape is reflected in its surface.
The waterfall that cascades from the top of the cliff pours down half the building to the wide river below, the only access to the place is across a single, raisable suspension bridge.
On each tier sits observation domes for the security personnel, and on the third tier is an extended platform for incoming starships.
Vehicles swoop and hover about the whole scene like angry bees. Cars swarm across the bridge continuously.
Great floodlights illuminate the building, so from far off it appears as a blinking crystal in the mountains.

Take something normal and place it in a location where it shouldn't be, surrounded by things that shouldn't exist. This creates a great visual for your players and also helps define the alien, otherworldly quality of the place. Science fiction deals with things that can be considered archetypes, such as wheel-shaped space stations and dome-covered moonbases. And all these things are good but can become stagnant with continuous use. Add some flair, take some risks; it doesn't matter if the place you create is a bit strange and that the things you describe shouldn't work or even exist in the natural order of things. That's what makes a great science fiction setting.