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.

Recommended.




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 www.rpg.net 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.