FARSIGHT GAMES

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Interview - Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance

Shades of Vengeance is a roleplaying games company that has already given us the ERA games, such as the sci-fi Era: The Consortium and the post apocalyptic Era: Survival. Their newest game is Era: The Empowered, a game of superheroes and the world they inhabit, and - as of this blog post - it's running on Kickstarter now.

I had a chat with Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance about the new game.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger, Ed! Tell us something about your gaming history; how did you get into the hobby, and how did you get into the business side of things?

Thanks very much!

I had played before, but I really got into the hobby when I went to university! I joined the indoor gaming society and quickly became one of the regular GMs in the mix. I ran a lot of Paranoia in those days, along with various other things, from Firefly to World of Darkness. There's a tradition at Durham University in the society that we run a 24-hour game each year. 6 GMs create a setting and world, along with a campaign to explore it. The previous year had been fantasy so it was decided to be Sci-Fi.

I worked very hard on that setting, creating two types of alien race, complete with weaknesses, and fleshing out the majority of the setting from the concept of "Firefly", which was where it started. The game went very well, and I stopped playing for several years after that, because I started working.

About a year later, I was really missing it, so I got a group of friends and family together and revisited that campaign. It went extraordinarily well, and my brother asked me to write down the rules so he could run the next campaign.

That really kicked things off, because I spoke with a friend in Canada about it, showed him what I'd written, and he convinced me to publish it.

The rest is history: I've now published 7 RPG game lines (several of which has expansions), comics, card games and more - 38 products in total, so far!

Your newest project is Era: The Empowered, a superhero roleplaying game. Tell us more about the game and the setting.

Era: The Empowered is a special kind of superhero game.

It's based around a timeline which contains the various stages of a superhero world - from being the very first superheroes the world has seen to forming groups like the Avengers, to recruiting sidekicks and a more "Young Justice" feel, to facing extra-terrestrial threats on a scale unimagined by even the most pessimistic individual. You can encounter the troops of Atlantis, face down the Assassins Guild, or anything else you're used to in terms of the stories which we're able to experience through movies, tv series and animated styles in recent years.

In this game, you choose the time period you want to play in, meaning it's every kind of superhero game in one - you don't need to homebrew settings to play something else.

The game itself is based on our critically acclaimed Era d10 Rule Set with some special modifications to allow for superpowers. You can build any superpower you like in this system, using our "power tree" method, and ensure that everyone is balanced. You can also, if you want to add more powers, give your character a second or third power tree!


How did this come about, and what was the attraction to the superhero genre?

I've loved the superhero genre for years, but I've also been working with Johnathan Lewis since I started creating games. He's worked in the comic industry for some time and Era: The Empowered was actually the game I had planned for development second, once Era: The Consortium was complete. We worked together on the storyline, him from the storytelling perspective and me from the universe creation angle.

Back then, I did create the Rulebook Primer, which offered the rules but no equipment. Although I had the mechanics sorted out in my mind, I felt I needed to playtest creation a lot more. Other projects got in the way sometimes, but I never stopped working on Era: The Empowered. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a big inspiration to me on this project - it's the kind of storytelling I aspire to!

I'm happy to have finally got to the point where completing the Core Rulebook is in sight, although there's much more to come!


What makes this superhero game different from the others available?

As I explained earlier, the timeline approach to the history allows people to play any kind of superhero game they like. Most games give you a specific scenario - you're the first hero, or you're the third generation of heroes in a world which has become used to them.

This game doesn't: it gives you the chance to play any or all of these types of setting, by following with a timeline from the moment of emergence to the point where the world looks like it's about to end.

The story actually goes on beyond that, into parallel universes, but that's a tale for another book...!


You've also got fully illustrated comics available. How do these tie into the game?

The comics describe adventures of some of the major characters in the Empowered universe.

Lacuna and Penumbra have both had this treatment, and Blue-Shift is on Kickstarter now!

We've chosen these characters because they are the ones we offer for play in the example sessions we run, as well as being major figures in the general storyline. In short, they expand the universe further through a medium which suits superheroes nicely!


How will the game be supported in the future? Can we expect to see sourcebooks, adventures and campaigns?

Absolutely! In fact, we've already been supporting it with sessions on our Patreon.

As I indicated earlier, the Core Rulebook provides a timeline, but it doesn't finish the story entirely. In the best comic traditions, there is an ending, but things may happen beyond that!

I've also set up the first Source Book as a stretch goal - Golden Age Heroes! The slightly cheesy feel from the 60's with colourful characters and terrible puns will be upon us if we reach that!

Dice and Stuff are also supporting us with another entry in the Cowl Cops series. The first 5 podcast episodes are here.

What else do you have in the works? What else can we expect to see from Shades of Vengeance?

I have loads more in development, as always.

You can expect to see our first licensed property this year - the Battlecruiser Alamo series of books by Richard Tongue is being brought to life through the Era d10 Rule Set. We're also working on several more large games, not least Era: The Chosen, our latest entry for the era universe, which we expect to release in October!

It's a busy time for us, but we're rising to the challenge as we find more and more people who are interested in our work. I can't say how inspiring it is!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Major problem players

Angry black sheep by leoggThat awkward moment when you realise that the new guy you invited to the game isn’t a nice bloke at all. In fact, he’s a nasty piece of work.

I’m going back to the late 1990s, here, and I was at the height of a huge Warhammer FRP campaign. It had begun with a single player, then another player who was a friend of mine had joined and he suggested I allow a gamer he knew from university to join as he was looking for an epic game. Without asking any more about this person I said yes, he came along, we quickly talked him through the game and helped him with a PC, and we got stuck in.

The game started to go wrong very, very quickly. This new player – I’ll call him Roger – didn’t seem to care about what other people thought of him. This first became apparent with his foul mouth, eating habits and uncomfortable sense of humour. I’ve talked before about how certain jokes at the table make me feel uncomfortable, and this guy had an entire plethora of bad, inappropriate jokes to share, primarily of a sexual nature. In the game he was even worse. First and foremost he was rude. A comment he made that sticks in my head was, ‘If you do that then you’re a f***ing idiot’, in response to another player’s idea. ‘Is your PC saying that?’ I asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘I’m saying that.’ And it was pretty much downhill from there.

If things didn’t go his way he would get angry – I mean, spitting angry. More than once Roger launched his dice across the room or snapped a pencil. In one instance he jumped up and kicked over a chair as he stormed out to the bathroom. He’d let other players explain their actions before snorting through his nose or berating them, and if anyone, and I mean anyone, disagreed with a plan of his, his first words were, ‘What’s your problem?’ as if the player was insulting his parentage. I never thought for an instant it would ever become physical – I’ll save that story for another blog entry – as he was all piss and wind, but he was highly offensive and spent all his time complaining or getting upset. He had no interest in roleplaying and took great delight in killing NPCs in a variety of ways, whether they deserved it or not.

I noticed, after this single session, that the guy who introduced him to my game suddenly couldn’t make it anymore. I found out he was playing in another game on another night, and I knew that Roger had been in that group, so I got the impression that he’d been dumped on us to rid the other group of his presence, like they’d found him another game to play in so that they could get rid of him. He was bloody obnoxious and I can fully understand why they wanted shot of him. I hoped things would improve in the second session but they didn’t. After the second session I declared I was taking a break and that I’d be in touch when the games began again, and he was fine with that. Of course, I never got in touch and I never heard from Roger again.

What amazed me the most was the fact that he acted this way in front of complete strangers from the very first minute he met them and thought it was okay. That’s some serious social dysfunction, I have no qualms in saying that, and I can only assume that he had very few interpersonal skills. What am I saying, there’s nothing to assume; he had no social skills at all. I guess he was in his early twenties, and to throw such tantrums and talk in such a way, well… it’s simply not acceptable. I have no idea what he thought he was getting out of the game acting this way.

These days I screen potential new gamers for two reasons; One, to avoid this kind of thing ever again and two, it’s nice to meet people outside the game first so that you can get to know them as non-gamers. It’s a simple meetup at a pub or cafe, a few drinks and a chat and we can get to know each other as a gaming group before we get into the game proper. I’m not being rude meeting up with people like this, I think it’s only fair, to them and to me. What if they don’t like the way I or my group do things? It’s an opportunity to find out if you all click without going through the trauma of being involved with a disastrous game and is the best thing for everyone.

That’s what I should have done with Roger. It would have certainly saved me the pain of having to go through those games, that for sure.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Games that waste time - or, 'a 6 for 20 Game'

Game piece group by bugmenot'6 for 20' - This phrase is personal to me as I use it to refer to games that, as far as I’m concerned, completely waste my time. If I feel that I’ve wasted my effort in preparation or playing I’ll call the event a ‘6 for 20’.

The phrase came about after being asked to take part in a Rolemaster game. I’d had some experience with MERP so I was interested, but the GM running the game went over every single tiny detail of character creation. In the end, my PC took 6 hours to create. Yes, you read that right - 6 hours. Once the game started, two weeks later, my PC was killed in the first 20 minutes of the game by being backstabbed by the GMs NPC assassin, the very first roll of the game.

One lucky critical roll and I’m dead. 6 hours of work for 20 minutes of gameplay. As it turned out I had a lucky escape as the rest of the game turned out to be a railroad nightmare, so when asked to create another PC for the next game I politely declined.

When I design and run a game I like to think that everyone is catered for and at no point anyone’s time is being wasted. I hate it when I attend a game as a player and spend most of it staring blankly at my character sheet for lack of anything else to do. Most of the time these situations arise because:

1 – The GM has favourites at the gaming table and spends the majority of his time attending to them.

2 – The GM has put no thought into the game and is running a series of encounters. I’ve been through an ‘alphabet of monsters’ game and I hated every minute of it.

3 – The GM is railroading the players, using the game to show off his acting, narration and creative skills. If I wanted to watch a show I’d go to the theatre.

4 – The GM simply does not have any creativity when it comes to designing games and one feels much like the other.

5 – The GM is running a published scenario and is spending time reading the text and going over every detail before involving the players. Plenty of times I’ve been part of a group who has sat back for ten minutes whilst the GM prepares the next part of the adventure and reads the scenario book.

6 – The GM simply isn’t in the mood but thinks he’ll be letting down the players if he doesn’t run a game, no matter how half-hearted the game is. Trust me on this as I’m horribly guilty of this myself – if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it. You’ll be doing everyone a favour. Running a game with no passion communicates that lack of heart to the players and you’ll be in real danger of derailing the ongoing campaign completely by quelling player enthusiasm.

7 – It’s the players that have no heart for the game. No matter what the GM puts into the games the players don’t respond, and their decisions are communicated with disinterested tones and bored faces.

The first thing the GM does, of course, is try to figure out why it is they’re bored by looking at himself and how he’s running the game, but sometimes the players may just feel that way about the game. This lack of interest rubs off on the GM who feels his work has been wasted and then he, too, becomes depressed about the whole game. It only really takes one person to make a game a ‘6 for 20’ experience. A GMs lack of interest steals the game by the very nature of the GMs involvement but even a single player, even in a large group, can affect the dynamic and reduce a gamer’s enthusiasm to pretty much nothing. While everyone, especially the GM, is trying to figure out why you don’t want to get involved with the game they’ll forget that they’re supposed to be playing the game in the first place.

The answer is quite simple. You either get yourself in the mood for the game and try really hard not to disrupt it – after all, most groups have a regular ‘game night’ so you should be in the mood when that night comes around – or you simply don’t go. If you’re not in the mood, or if you’re really not enjoying the game for some reason, then don’t make it worse for yourself or the group by attending. Make your excuses beforehand, or just be honest and say ‘This game isn’t really for me’ and let the GM know why and also what it is you’d like to play. It’s a game at the end of the day, a hobby, a pastime – turning up is not a legally binding contractual obligation.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

More Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay news

Cubicle 7 are still working on the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - which I'm super excited about, of course, as it's my favourite roleplaying game ever and I can't wait to see what they do with it - so in the meantime they're releasing PDFs of the original Warhammer FRP campaigns for the first edition of the game.

As with the other releases, The Enemy Within Campaign: Power Behind the Throne isn't just a starightforward scan and publish. They've carefully scanned every page to create a PDF that maintains the appearance of the original, as well as being bookmarked for ease of reference.

It's an amazing adventure and I can't wait to get my teeth into it. Again.

Refugees fleeing town, ridiculous taxes, priests of Ulric and Sigmar fighting in the streets, and rumours of beasts in the sewers – something is very wrong in the City of Middenheim. In the confusion of the city’s carnival, only the cunning and the brave will be able to cut away a web of conspiracy and aristocrats with secrets to hide, to uncover the hand behind a plot to control the city itself. Or there will be death, and hell to pay for it.

A small Reikland village is savagely attacked, and the hand of Chaos tightens around the greatest City State in the Empire. The adventurers face their greatest challenge yet as they find themselves in a net of violence, deceit and betrayal. They must use diplomacy and negotiation as well their weapons and magic to work out what is threatening the city – and who or what is behind it all. But they must be vigilant: the minions of Chaos will stop at nothing to destroy those who oppose them.

Power behind the Throne is the third adventure in the epic The Enemy Within campaign, set in the city of Middenheim (as described in Middenheim: City of Chaos). It comes complete with maps and hand-outs, plus reference notes on 22 major NPCs, and also contains details of carnival events for adventurers to enjoys, from aristocratic garden parties to vicious minotaur fights. It can be played as a stand-alone adventure.

This edition of Power Behind the Throne includes ‘Carrion Up the Reik’, a prologue to the main adventure, and an additional chapter of the Enemy Within campaign, which adds background, challenge and depth to this classic Warhammer FRP supplement.


This PDF reissues the Hogshead Publishing Edition of the Power Behind the Throne book. We’ve painstakingly scanned every page, and created a PDF that maintains the appearance of the original. This does make for a slightly larger file than we’d normally produce, but on this occasion, we think it’s worth it for all the great First Edition feel! The PDF is also bookmarked for ease of reference.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Interview - Tomas Härenstam, CEO of Free League Publishing

It's been a stellar few years for Free League Publishing - Fria Ligan in Swedish - and I caught up with CEO Tomas Härenstam to find out more.

Hello Tomas, and welcome to Farsight Blogger! I always ask this of all my interviewees; what got you involved in the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying games?

I got my first RPG - the Swedish "Mutant" - as a birthday gift from my dad in 1985 when I turned 11. I think neither he nor I had any idea what it was. I sometimes wonder what he would think today about the fact that RPGs are now a major part of my life, 33 years later!

With all the games on the market, what do you yourself enjoy playing the most? There’s a lot going on with Free League Publishing at the moment, so do you even get time to play?

It's hard to find the time, but I really feel it's important to play RPGs, and not only playtesting our own games. I have played a lot of indie games in the last few years, but right now I'm starting up a campaign in 1st Edition Twilight: 2000.

Free League Publishing has made a huge impact on the roleplaying game scene this last few years; did you see this popularity coming when you started in the business, or did it come as something of a surprise?

Well yes, it has been a very welcome surprise! Of course we knew that we were making high-quality games, but we had no idea beforehand what kind of impact we would make on the international market. It's been amazing!

You’ve got some excellent award-winning games out, and they’re all different genres and styles. Tales of the Loop stormed the 2017 ENnies, Mutant: Year Zero enjoyed its own list of achievements and Coriolis – The Third Horizon has received some excellent reviews. Do you intend to release further support material for these games, such as campaigns and adventures? What do you have in the works for your existing products?

Absolutely! All of our games are, and will continue to be, supported by a line of expansions and modules. Some examples:

Mutant: Year Zero: The robot expansion Mechatron is next up, it will been sent to print in a few weeks and released in the spring.

Coriolis: The epic Emissary Lost campaign moduel will be released in the summer.

Tales from the Loop RPG: First in line is an expansion based on Simon Stålenhag’s Things from the
Flood artbook. It expands the game into the 1990s and lets you play a little older characters in the upper teens rather than the lower teens.


The movie-like trailers you produced for Mutant: Year Zero are outstanding. How did these come about and what was involved in getting them made? Will we see any more for the other products?

The particular trailer you mention was a cooperation between us and a team of animators we know. We generally can't afford to make trailers like that, but have had some great trailers later as well I think, among the Kickstarter video for Forbidden Lands and The Electric State artbook.

Your newest game is Forbidden Lands, and it’s already had an incredibly successful run on Kickstarter. What is the game about?

Forbidden Lands is a new take on classic fantasy roleplaying. It is an open-world survival tabletop RPG where the player characters are not heroes sent on missions dictated by others - instead, they are raiders and rogues bent on making their own mark on a cursed world. They will discover lost tombs, fight terrible monsters, wander the wild lands and, if they live long enough, build their own stronghold to defend.


There’s a lot of fantasy RPGs out there, so what do you think Forbidden Lands will bring to the table? What makes it different?

I think it's the perfect blend between old school and new school fantasy gaming. It's truly built to let the players explore the world the way they like, while still offering an epic, overarching campaign experience. This modular approach to campaign play is unique and very much a Free League trademark. And the art and graphic design is awesome!

You’re using the same rules from Mutant: Year Zero and Tales from the Loop. What changes and additions have you had to make to the mechanics make it work for Forbidden Lands?

There is an Alpha of the game recently released to all backers, including almost the complete rules.

The core rules are closer to Mutant: Year Zero than our other games, but there are significant changes:

Talents are now tiered, allowing greater customization and improvement options.

The system for melee combat has been expanded, making swordplay a core feature of the game.

The system for exploring the map is based on Mutant: Year Zero, but it is developed further and has rules for pathfinding, making, camp, hunting, foraging, etc.

There is a system for random encounter where each encounter is a mini-scenario, not just “D6 orcs”.

There’s a system for building your own stronghold, a little similar to the Ark in Mutant: Year Zero but different in several aspects.

There’s magic!

What kind of support can the game expect after publication? What kind of books do you plan to release to help the game along?

There will be a big campaign book, called Raven's Purge, released alongside the main game, and after that, we are planning a range of expansions, each expanding the game map in a particular direction with a complete new map to place alongside the original. To the north, there will be an arctic landscape, to the east, there is a huge archipelago, etc. Each expansion will include a complete campaign.

What else can we expect to see from Free League Publishing in the future?

Lots of cool stuff! Some things we need to keep under wraps for a while longer, but stay tuned!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Interview - Jonathan Green, author

It's been a while since I last spoke to author Jonathan Green, and back then we were anticipating the release of 'You Are The Hero', the first volume of his history of Fighting Fantasy.

Since then he's written a sequel to the book and released other things besides so I thought it'd be nice to catch up Jonathan to see what else he has in store, and to find out more about his upcoming gamebook 'Neverland - Here Be Monsters!'.

Hello again, Jonathan! It’s been a busy few years for you; the ‘You Are The Hero’ books, ‘Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland’, ‘The Wicked Wizard of Oz’, and now ‘Neverland - Here Be Monsters!’, coupled with Fighting Fantasy Fest 2 and all other manner of stories and work. How on earth do you juggle it all?

With great difficulty! I also have a conventional part-time job and children to get to school, or Guides, or wherever. I always have four or five projects on the go at once, with usually one that demands most of my time at any one time.

I write in the morning, go to work in the afternoon, and then write in the evenings, at weekends and during school holidays too!

About ‘Neverland - Here Be Monsters!’. What made you want to twist the original J. M. Barrie stories into this mash-up with monsters and pirates and dinosaurs?

I’m not sure really, but it was an idea that had been percolating for a while. I had wanted to write a gamebook in which Blackbeard the pirate went to Skull Island (as seen in Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’), but when I started writing the ACE Gamebook series it seemed like a good idea to transfer the adventure to Neverland and make the pirate Captain Hook. I’ve never been a fan of Peter Pan, but everything’s better with dinosaurs… right?

What can we expect to see in the pages of the book? What can you share regarding the plot and the system you’re going to use?

With each ACE Gamebook I’ve always made some advancements. ‘Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland’ introduced the ACE ruleset, ‘The Wicked Wizard of Oz’ introduced the RPG element of playing as different characters, and ‘NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters!’ will add steeds to the mix.

The adventure follows the basic plot of ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ but with elements of ‘The Lost World’ thrown in.

J. M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan and Wendy' meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Lost World' in this brand-new, thrilling gamebook adventure!

You seem to enjoy playing with the classics, as seen with ‘Neverland’ and the previous books ‘Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland’ and ‘The Wicked Wizard of Oz’. Do you have your sights set on any other properties?

Yes, plenty, but nothing I want to reveal just yet. ;-)

That said, it’s probably about time I got round to writing ‘Beowulf Beastslayer’. :-D

Fighting Fantasy Fest 2 was a huge success. What did you do differently with the second convention, and are there plans for another one?

I asked for feedback from guests and attendees of the first one. People seemed to like pretty much everything about the con itself, but they said that the venue was too small, there wasn’t enough time to game, and food with either too expensive or almost non-existent.

So, we moved to a larger venue, there was much greater variety of food at an affordable price, and the day itself was much longer. We even had a pub quiz the night before to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, in memory of ‘Freeway Fighter’ illustrator Kevin Bulmer.

I would like to organise another event to mark the 40th anniversary in 2022, but I think we could also fit another in before then. It just depends on us having something new to bring to the event, but by then Charlie Higson’s ‘The Gates of Death’ will have been published.

What was your personal favourite part of Fighting Fantasy Fest 2?

Being greeted by Iain McCaig as if we were long lost friends (when we were only just meeting for the first time), meeting Charlie Higson, and just seeing everyone have such a great time. 

You released ‘You Are The Hero Part 2’ at the convention. The first book was an excellent view on the history, world and fandom of Fighting Fantasy, so what did you include that was new for this volume?

Since Part 1 was published, I had managed to track down more of the creators, or they had been in touch with me, so I could interview them. There had also been developments with the ‘Freeway Fighter’ comic, ‘The Trolltooth Wars’ graphic novel, and Scholastic publishing the series for a new generation with a new title – ‘The Port of Peril’ – by Ian Livingstone.

I was also able to expand on what the fans had been doing in the interim.

Is there enough material for a third instalment?

I expect there will be, I have some notes made already, but I’m also wondering about re-editing and revising Parts 1 and 2 into one volume, with new material included.

I’m also keen to write a history of non-Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and have an outline already prepared.

Now that Scholastic are printing old and new Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, do you have any plans to pen another adventure for the series?

It all depends on whether they ask me to or not. I have one idea in particular that I’m keen to explore.

What else are you working on at the moment? What can we expect to see from the mind of Jonathan Green in the future?

At the moment I’m working on ‘NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters!’, but I’m also writing more Scrooge and Marley (Deceased) stories – the first one, ‘The Haunted Man’, came out in time for Christmas – and I’m planning my next Kickstarter. I just don’t know yet whether it’s going to be for a new horror anthology or a card game.

Scrooge and Marley (Deceased)

Sunday, 4 February 2018

The Floating Dungeon of Varrak Aslur

I'm really happy to announce that my first official Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventure 'The Floating Dungeon of Varrak Aslur' is now available!

'The town of Chalice is in danger from a very unexpected source: A Floating Dungeon!

This new self-contained adventure for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Ed sends the Heroes into this unusual dungeon to stop the rain of undead overwhelming the Allansian town. 

What could be up there and can the Heroes stop it?'

I'm fond of this adventure for two reasons; firstly, I've had an adventure published for the very gaming system and world that got me into tabletop games way back in 1983 (thank you, 'The Citadel of Chaos'!), and secondly I illustrated it myself, which means I've both written and done the art for Fighting Fantasy which kind of fulfills two dreams of mine.

I hope you enjoy this adventure, and be on the lookout for my next one due soon, 'The Inn of Lost Hope'.

Note: I hope the above blog post seemed suitably calm and professional. The truth is that I'm so over the top excited that I pretty much leapt out of my skin when I finally saw that the adventure was available and that it was finally out there. It's hard for me to explain how happy this makes me; I know I contributed to the Stellar Advenures game, but this is all my own work and it's set in one of my favourite campaign worlds.

Okay. Time to calm down.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sometimes, Basic D&D forces creativity

Image result for basic D&D
The original Basic set
The very nature of Basic D&D's pre-high level player character meatgrinder means that for any kind of campaign idea to outlast unlucky die rolls, the gaming group needs to be on their toes and ready to change tack pretty much on the fly.

A long time ago Big J, our usual DM, wanted a night off so I stepped in with a throwaway idea to do a 'Game of Thrones' inspired game. While the players created their human-only no magic characters, I quickly drew the game map, a Europe-sized land called 'Nurthund'. Players were allowed to create their own family House names and the first ready for play could choose where their kingdom was, the second could choose next, etc. Then I filled in the last few kingdoms with random House names, designed a capital with a High King and then we rolled randomly to decide how the Houses felt about each other. On a single D6 a 1-2 meant they were 'OK' with each other, a 3-4 meant they disliked each other, a 5-6 meant they were openly hostile.

The players were also allowed to come up with a basic culture for their House and kingdom based on the real world, so one player who had placed his kingdom further south opted for a Greek/Persian-inspired design, the player on the mainland chose Medieval Europe, and the other, from the north, chose a Nordic feel.

Then we had to decide why they were together. As the three Houses they were from were at odds, I decided that a small kingdom to the south, who basically acted as bankers for the realm and who the Kings and the High King were in debt to, demanded diplomatic help with raiders who were coming up from the unexplored southern lands.

In an attempt to stop, or at least slow, the fracturing of the realm - strangely, most of the Houses had rolled a 5 and 6 in their relationship with the High King, telling everyone that the kingdoms were hostile to him and this threatened bloody war - the High King's advisor instructs the three most temperamental Kings (ie, the player character's fathers) to send their youngest princes who would band together and, in a show of unity, travel to the south and deal with the problem.

There was an hour of wrangling as each son argued, made demands, threw tantrums, and tried to con each other. They played their characters as they had rolled them and the conflict between their houses bled into their group dynamic. It was great to game, and everyone had a hand in the creation of the campaign setting and direction that we made up there and then. That's a great night's collaborative gaming.

They finally got themselves onto a boat to head south to the small kingdom, with plans and ideas at the ready. Sadly, they were boarded by pirates and, after a series of disastrous rolls not helped by high damage rolls and low hit point scores, they were all killed.

Well, damn.

All was not lost, however. There were still three sailors on the boat after the raid ended. So, the players rolled up three new characters and I suggested that these new PCs were the surviving sailors who, in an attempt to gain riches, notoriety and a half-hearted attempt to stop the realm from collapsing around their ears, are going to attempt to pass themselves off as the princes and complete their mission to the small kingdom. The story was saved!

The notorious first-level deathtrap that Basic D&D is may not have been the best choice for the campaign idea but the fact that we were having fun with it meant that we didn't want the almost inevitable TPK to be the end of it, forcing us to improvise.

Basic D&D forces a gaming group to be creative. We didn't want to let go of the central premise but also didn't want to restart the campaign with the same characters. So, what we end up with is the same ideas and goals but with a huge twist on the story and meatgrinder Basic D&D was pretty much responsible for that. All the players have to do now is get through the next couple of levels without dying, but I think the fact that I allowed them maximum possible hit points might help.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Playing to 'win' in a roleplaying game

toy soldier by johnny_automaticThis guy I’ll call Bob. Bob was a good gamer, he liked to play and he liked to adventure. The problem was, he also liked to win.

I never felt that Bob ever got away from the games of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Dark Future we used to play, games with a sense of winning and achievement through defeating your enemy. Bob was an old school wargamer and got into roleplaying for lack of any other wargamers in the area. He was a good roleplayer, don’t get me wrong, and we had fun, but he never shook that ‘me against you’ attitude.

Bob was a good wargamer and beat me every time, but in a roleplaying game he’d get a little lost, especially outside of combat. We never used to use miniatures that much but while Bob was in the game we had to so that he knew what was going on, and he would decide actions to the smallest detail. The problem was, if anything went against him outside of combat he would argue that he had been defeated at the whim of the GM and didn’t have any control over the fate of his PC. In short, he would accuse the GM of ‘cheating’ every time he was unsuccessful with anything that didn’t involve hitting anything with a sword.

This came to a head, and effectively ended Bob’s involvement in roleplaying (with me, at any rate), with a single roll he was asked to make. He rolled, not knowing the difficulty number, and the GM declared he had failed. It wasn’t a game-breaking failure, but Bob didn’t like the fact that he had made a roll and the GM had seemingly ruled a failure regardless. He demanded to know what the difficulty number was. The GM gave him a number higher than what he had rolled. And, quite simply, Bob didn’t believe him. The game played out, Bob left, and he never attended again.

Now, you may think that Bob had a point and that the GM should have declared the difficulty number before he asked for the roll, and I’d agree with you to a certain extent, but the fact is that I don’t think it had anything to do with that. Bob, in his mind, had ‘lost’ the game. And Bob hated to lose, especially to what he saw as GM fiat. He had no direct control over every aspect of the game the way he had with boardgames and wargames, and so hated not being able to make judgements based on the rules as they were set out, clear and concise and covering just about every combat angle as in a wargaming manual. He enjoyed the games, I enjoyed playing with him, but he couldn’t get past the competitive angle. It really was Players-vs-GM to him. No matter how many times we told him this wasn’t the case, that was always at the forefront of his mind.

I remember feeling this way about the game in the 1980s when I first started but this was mainly due to the fact that we were new to tabletop roleplaying games and didn’t really know any better. By the time we got to the games with Bob we were all experienced in the hobby and knew the no-such-thing-as-winners mantra and that the enjoyment came from a cooperative experience but couldn’t convince Bob that this was how the game was played. He saw it as a detailed wargame; if it had dice, rules and miniatures then it was a wargame. That was it. And that was a massive shame.

I think the only thing I learned from this, as an observing player in the group, that all you can do is try, and keep explaining the game. You can’t change the nature of the game to suit one player, unless that’s what the group wants to try, and you can’t change a person’s unwavering perception of how the game should be played.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

What happens in-character, stays in-character

Conflict Silhouette by GDJIt can be difficult, sometimes, to realise that certain events that happen in a roleplaying game are just part of the game. A PC arguing with another PC or an NPC is an argument between two characters, not two players. Unfortunately, some gamers don’t see the difference.

Although this has happened to me a few times there are two incidents like this I remember: the first was during a Star Wars game with a new GM, and my friend and I were playing two characters that simply did not get on. There was plenty of in-character sniping and many barbed comments but we’d always help each other out, but one particular argument turned into a shouting match. The GM called time on the game to calm us down and it took us a little while to explain that we were arguing in-character. To be honest we were pulled out of the conflict by the interruption and never really argued or bit at each other again – you’d have thought that the GM would have realised that what we were arguing about and the way we were talking was all in-game but I guess in the heat of the moment you miss those kind of details. It kind of ruined the character dynamic, to be honest, it was a shame.

The second was much worse. I can’t remember the game, I’m sure it was some horror adventure, and an argument began between two player characters about the distribution of equipment. It was very entertaining and the volume went up and accusations started to fly. Now, I don’t remember the game but I do remember the moment when the GM looked at me, his smile dropping and his face a mask of shock, and the words ‘What the hell?’ spilling from his mouth. One of the players was now red-faced and angry, and his comments had nothing to do with the game. He started to go into detail as to why the player himself was annoying; it no longer had anything to do with the in-game disagreement. Now it was personal. The game collapsed, the campaign was abandoned and both players stopped attending the games. They were pretty good friends outside the hobby and it took a while for them to make up and start talking again. All this because the player couldn’t draw a line between game and reality and was taking the comments of the other player’s character personally, as if he as a person was being directly accused of the antics of his player character.

There has to be defined, clear rules when entering a game where such things might occur. There has to be in-character and out-character indicators, even if it’s just the player saying ‘okay, in-character – what the hell is going on, are you some kind of idiot?’ and the argument or disagreement unfolds from there. Every player at that table needs to understand the line between in-game and out-game, they need to know that what the player is saying is through the mouth of his player character and doesn’t reflect his actual feelings. It’s very easy to do; before you say anything just think about how it will sound or how the other players may perceive it, make sure you’re not just arguing for the sake of arguing and that it’s all to do with the game, with the drama of the moment. Maybe precede your comments by saying, ‘Right, this is in-character’.

Whatever you do, don’t use the ‘it’s all in-character!’ comment to help defend yourself if you intentionally want to act like a dick. Other players, especially seasoned ones, easily see straight through this and it does you no favours.