Saturday, 21 April 2018

Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG: 'The Inn of Lost Hope'

My second official Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG adventure 'The Inn of Lost Hope' is being finalised and will be available next week!

I love this part - seeing it laid out and tweaked ready for publication is a great feeling, and this one is especially nice because I fully illustrated it, too. I know that I did a couple of drawings for my previous adventure 'The Floating Dungeon of Varrak Aslur' but I've gone the full hog with this one.

Saying that, I'm even more excited for this one than I was for the first one! It's a much more involved story with plenty of action and it has a hint of horror. My next adventure, 'The Crooked King's Cup', is much larger and I'm going to detail a new town for players to use as an ongoing location. That's a long way from completion, and the drawings for that one are going to take me a very long time.

I'm hoping for a Monday release, but we'll see. Should be fun!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Interview - Kevin Watson of Dark Naga Adventures

Dark Naga Adventures have been giving us entertaining adventures for our RPG needs since 2016 - 'The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil', 'The Buried Zikurat', 'The City of Talos', 'Confronting Hastur', and soon 'Carcosa'.

I threw a few questions at Kevin Watson, the owner of Dark Naga Adventures, to find out more.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Kevin Watson, the owner of Dark Naga Adventures. I’m 48 and have been gaming since I was 10. I live in Memphis TN, with my wife and a pair of dogs.

What got you into the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

It was something creative some of my school friends wanted to explore. We ended up in a rotation where every other weekend we were at one of our four houses from the close of school Friday until after lunch Sunday, pretty much playing the whole time.

What made you start Dark Naga Adventures?

It was the intersection of the ideas I had been creating since I started DM’ing at 11, the OGL, an edition I wanted to write for, and the publishing and crowdfunding platforms necessary to execute the
ideas. Publishing in the TSR era was nearly impossible. Mostly due to the lack of resources and distribution. The first editions under the OGL didn’t appeal to me due to more rules complexity than I enjoy. I ran games, but I didn’t want to write for them. When the fifth edition was published, everything converged. Kickstarter and OneBookShelf solved the remaining missing pieces: resources and distribution platform.

You've got four adventures already out there and a fifth,'Carcosa’, due soon. What are your design processes?

I start with an idea, outline the idea, and let the elements percolate in my brain for a while. Then I start filling in the outline and playtest until I have a complete draft. I massage the draft with my content editor until it is clean with respect to the levels of editing that he manages for me. Once that is reached, it is time to start the Kickstarter. Usually, by this point, I have commissioned and received
the maps, and have a vague idea for art. During the Kickstarter funding period, I work with my copy editor to clean up the draft with respect to the levels of editing that he manages, and I commission the art.

It is very important to me that the draft is in really good shape from a creative perspective (content editors help with clarity and logic of a document). This removes a big wild card from the process before backers ever pledge on the project. It seems so many projects spin out of control because they run the Kickstarter before they have a workable draft, and the myriad of things coming at them after the funding period ends distract them from making solid progress. To help manage this risk, I do things in a different order. It makes me more comfortable and that seems to spread to backers as well.

What makes Dark Naga Adventures stand out from the rest?

I try to write the adventures I don’t see in the market today. Personally, I am tired of 'combat, combat, skill challenge, combat, done' linear adventures. I love the open, sandbox adventures from the TSR era of Dungeons and Dragons. I write nonlinear adventures and most conflicts can be solved with or without violence. In most cases, this decision can be made for each encounter/conflict.

You release your adventures for 5e, Pathfinder and OSR games. Do you have any plans for other systems? What is it that attracts you to the D20?

I dropped Pathfinder from the conversions after DNH2 – The Buried Zikurat, the numbers just weren’t there. I suspect the lack of PFS compatibility was a factor. I keep coming back to the d20 games because they feel like home. I don’t find the fifth edition to be a hindrance to an exploration or interaction heavy session. I don’t feel any system prohibits roleplay. I know many do see certain rulesets favor or inhibit roleplay. I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m open to converting to other systems. I just don’t know where the interest lies.

Are there any plans for adventures in other genres, such as horror or sci-fi?

I have an idea that I plan to develop for Top Secret: New World Order, and an eight-part series for Metamorphosis Alpha. The Top Secret idea is based on something that happened to a school I worked for, mixed with some current trends. The Metamorphosis Alpha idea involves a different generational ship, with a different mishap, and a series of adventures that take place over four generation of party members as the ship becomes more and more troubled from the mishap and the subsequent damage. Each stage of decay will be explored over a pair of adventures. Early successes and failures could impact later generation conflicts.

What else can we expect to see from Dark Naga Adventures in the future?

When the Haunting of Hastur series is completed, I am developing a fifteen-part complete campaign, one that might include some separate setting material. It takes the party members to a previously unknown continent for the bulk of their progression from level 1 to level 20.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Elite: Dangerous Roleplaying Game

Quickstart cover

…where the police shoot on sight, entire systems are overrun with space pirates, and money is the only thing that talks.  Gear up with high tech equipment to overcome heavily armoured combat drones, elite corporate assassins, and over-gunned soldiers of the interstellar powers.'

Er... yeah, okay then.

The new Elite: Dangerous Roleplaying Game has released a whole load of free stuff for you to download and have a play with, to make sure that this system is for you. There's a free adventure with the basics of the rules, some story hooks, ship and character sheets, and some game maps and resources. That's quite a haul, and it gives an excellent idea of what the game is all about.

Just to start me off, I downloaded the quickstart adventure and I like what I see, especially the art style and the layout. I've not played the new Elite: Dangerous yet; the last time I played Elite was on the Spectrum 128+ (with built-in datacorder!) and then on the Amiga 500 (with the 1MB upgrade!) so that's a while ago. I've followed the development of the new Elite but lack the time to give it the attention it deserves, even though I have it here for the PS4 still in it's shrinkwrap. The videos I've seen and the love people have for it convinces me that this is a game for me.

From the quickstart PDF
The layout is great and the artwork is really good. There's a good solid sci-fi adventure feel to it and the system - roll a D10, add a skill score and beat a target number - looks like it'll work pretty well. There are no full character rules in this, but there's plenty to give you a more than decent insight as to how the system works, both with characters and the starships that dominate the computer game.

I've yet to try the adventure but the quickstart tells me it's something for me to seriously consider getting hold of. In the adventure you get the adventure 'The Worst Intentions' with four pre-generated characters including their ships and equipment. You get partial rules for personal combat, spaceship combat and ground combat. However, you don't get character and adventure creation rules, spaceship modification rules, full equipment lists, and the full combat rules.

'The players begin as police detectives for the independent Asellus Primus system.  Each player has a Viper Spaceship, a police interdiction and combat ship used to enforce law in the sector.  Their ships also contain a special vehicle called a Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV) which is a little like a super advanced moon buggy.  The SRV is designed to be used on any planet, even those without atmosphere.  It is basically the player’s ‘police car’.

Good luck Commanders and enjoy!'

Sounds like fun to me.

From the quickstart PDF

Sunday, 15 April 2018

On January 28th 2012 I ran my own convention - Gamma Con.

It was a really good day and went a whole lot better than I expected. I expected about 40 people through the door and got near 100, and I had local games designers and a gaming store set up and sell and demo games. I even had a little support from Cubicle 7 and we helped raise money for Help for Heroes. Everyone seemed to have fun and the day went by pretty quickly for me.

I learned quite a lot from the experience. First and foremost, organising a convention is a difficult exercise but when things fall into place it can be very rewarding. There are all kinds of levels of stress, don’t get me wrong; when a GM calls you up to let you know that he’s not coming to run his sci-fi game five minutes after the doors have opened to the public, that’s stressful. When you get to the venue and realise that your table plan has been scuppered due to incorrect measurements, that’s stressful. But these moments are fleeting and you’ll be glad when supportive fellow gamers help out. People aren’t going to stand there and let you run around like a headless chicken whilst shaking their heads with disgust as you try and sort out the problem. They’re going to muck in and help shift tables, make suggestions. It all works out and, even though there was some last minute jumping around, the room was ready and the doors opened on time. Everyone was understanding and helpful. It was my first convention, there were bound to be some teething problems.

It was the build-up to the convention that was the hard work. My wife Lisa and I started in earnest in August the previous year and kicked the whole thing off by viewing the local venues and comparing costs. This was a bit of a tricky moment; the closer the venue was to the city centre and areas of public transport the more expensive it was, and the places we found further out were indeed cheaper but much more difficult to get to. As a first convention it’s a difficult choice to make as we could spend hundreds of pounds on a top-notch location and find that hardly anyone attends. We weren’t in this to make profit, but then I didn’t fancy paying for this out of my own pocket.

In the end we were very lucky. We found a church hall two minutes’ walk from the city centre and one minute’s walk from both the train station and the bus station, and there was ample car parks right on the doorstep. It was almost perfect. It was a great location and at a decent price, but a little smaller than I wanted.

There was also the problem with clashing with other conventions. I had made sure that I wasn’t clashing with any other small conventions or events in the area but, due to the fact that I could only get the hall on one particular weekend, I couldn’t help but clash with a big convention that was being held in the south of England. What was on my side was the fact that I was catering not only to RPGs but also to wargames, cardgames and boardgames. The convention in the south was primarily RPGs, so as far as I was concerned I was okay.

Then I began to send out the first notifications that I was putting on a convention. Local gaming groups, clubs and stores were informed and I invited gaming stores to come and show their wares. I never expected the stores to be too keen as it was a first convention and it may not have been worth their while. This initial notification was to start a buzz, send the word around the local gaming community. It was at this point that I realised that the gaming community was a hell of a lot larger than I realised! There were plenty of people interested and, even though some of them never turned up on the day, they were very keen and that no doubt helped put the word around.

The intention here was word of mouth, the news that there was a gaming convention on spreading from group to group, club to club. I posted on their message boards, sent messages to the webmasters, made sure they had links to the websites I needed them to look at, primarily the Gamma Con website that Lisa had built and the Facebook event page where they could get updates on the convention. After contacting Dave McAlister at UK Roleplayers I got my own message forum and entry onto the convention calendar. Then, I contacted Andy Hopwood and Kyle Daniel, two guys I had met in my shop days, and invited them to demo their games, which they accepted. Then I contacted the local gaming stores and, surprisingly, was turned down by one (after a long time of indecision), ignored by three others and had my invitation accepted by only one, Spirit Games of Burton-on-Trent. I was a little surprised at this as, with the economy as it is, the first thing I thought shops would need is exposure. For anyone demoing and selling their wares there was a small table hire fee.

Next, I needed to make sure that attendees would have something to play on the day. I managed to secure four GMs to run games (one of which cancelled before the event, the other cancelled on the day) and two local wargaming groups agreed to come on the day and set up tables. Anyone bringing these huge fold-out terrain tables was granted free admission on the proviso that they allowed other gamers and members of the public to game on their table. In this regard my thanks go out to Ed for his huge Warhammer 40K tables, Dragon Art Models for their table and Chase Wargamers for their Flames of War table. I also made sure there were a couple of smaller tables available for spur-of-the-moment games, and that was the hall pretty much set up.

Now that I had an idea of what was going to be there I then decided on a price of entry. I settled on £3.00 as it was low enough to be small change as any higher may have made the attendees feel that they weren’t getting their money’s worth. I just needed enough to cover the hall and event insurance costs, and with the trader’s table hire covering a third of that cost already I just needed a decent turnout to cover the rest. Regardless, I made sure I had enough personal money to cover the costs in the event that something went wrong or the day failed miserably. It would have pained me to pay out of my own pocket, but that’s the risk you take.

With three months to go I began the advertising. A4 posters, A5 flyers, all very cheaply done; I formatted it all on my home PC and printed them out at work and my local library, so paid virtually nothing for it. I posted the flyers and a couple of copies of the posters to local stores, schools, colleges and the library. Then I canvassed the local shops and my poster appeared in the windows of cafes, newsagents, supermarkets and even my local hairdressers. With permission I left small piles of flyers in pubs and coffee shops. I then got in touch with the local paper and, as the event was helping to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes, I got a free write-up. I hassled the primary RPG publishers in the country and got some support from Cubicle 7 in the form of a free adventure for me to run for Starblazer Adventures (which, sadly, the sci-fi GM was going to have a look at but never turned up), and I got a copy of Starblazer Adventures to raffle off for the charity. Jedi News were also on hand to rent a table and push their website and some RPG and collectible goodies and gave us some publicity, and Mark took care of the Help for Heroes requirements.

For all their efforts, everyone trading or contributing had free exposure on our website, Facebook event page and were included on message board updates. This meant that their table hire fee also paid for roughly three months of free advertising across the internet. That was a pretty good deal for them.

Over the weeks and months leading up to the convention Lisa and I simply made sure that Gamma Con’s profile was kept up. Message board and Facebook updates, messages to potential attendees, answering queries and concerns quickly and efficiently. Throughout all of this I was still only expecting around 40 attendees.

It was great to see our Gamma Con posters up in shop windows, and see our name crop up on websites. There was some concern about us clashing with the convention in the South, and this was pointed out to me on our UK Roleplayers message board which, to be honest, I felt was a little unfair. The other convention was an established multi-day event that catered for roleplayers and our event was for all kinds of gamers and as a very small and very new convention there was no way we were going to compete or even affect a show on the other side of the country. I didn’t choose the date on purpose, it wasn’t a choice but a lack of options. Regardless, this is something for me to bear in mind in the future if I arrange another one.

On top of all this we bought extras and supplies; an 8 foot by 2 foot GAMMA CON banner to go up outside the building, some sticky paper wristbands for attendees to get in and out, paper, pens and pencils, and bumbags for the money taken on the door.

The closer I got to the date the more I pushed the event, conscious of the fact that I only had a few weeks left to get the advertising in. In the last week I had a lot of messages from potential attendees and people wanting to bring their games and represent their clubs.

During this last week I secured another gaming table from another local wargaming club and a GM offered his services to playtest his own game. I also received a couple of cancellations, which was a worry, and then a few messages of apology and regret for not being able to attend. It was at this point, the last week before the event, that I started to get worried. With a few days to go I made sure the traders were aware of arrival times, setting up and everything else they might need to get them through the day.

The day before Gamma Con I got the keys to the hall from the church, made sure I was fully aware of fire exits, light switches and alarms, and tried to get an early night.

We were up very early the next day. My mate Andy picked me up at 08:00 so that we could transport the gear and we got to the venue nice and early. The first traders turned up at 09:00 and we began to set up and it was then the first problem reared its head. I had measured the tables for the traders and decided on how the tables were to be set up in the hall. Unfortunately, the measurements supplied to me were incorrect so the venue wasn’t as long as it appeared on paper. With some quick changes, some help from the traders and some creative positioning we were set to go.

The doors opened at 10:00 and, five minutes later, the second problem manifested. I received a phone call from the GM who had agreed to run a sci-fi game telling me he couldn’t make it as something had come up. There was no other explanation other than that and there was nothing I could do, so instead of dwelling on it I just let it go and declared the table I had earmarked for him as free to use. This turned out to be a good call and quite a few gamers used the table for a multitude of games.

The attendees arrived. In fact, a lot of attendees. It was a mixture of ages and as the day went on they would casually come and go. Going by takings at the door there were at least 100 people who attended on the day and one of the GMs said that he was sure there were more. In the end we made enough money to cover all our expenses and had some left over to sink into the next convention.

The games went well. The arranged RPGs were enjoyed and then any straggling players set up their own games. The demos were popular, the wargaming tables were always attended. There were a couple of people whose table was sometimes empty but I had to remember that I could point newly arriving attendees to certain tables – I spent most of my time on the door - but couldn’t make them take part in anything. I just had to realise that there were certain things that were out of my control.

Other than that the day went really well. The atmosphere was good, people had fun, the games flowed and the community came together just as I had wanted it to. I chatted with plenty of people and got to know new gamers, I met up with people I’d not seen in a long time, and helped introduce new blood to the hobby. The winner of the Starblazer Adventures book was very pleased with his prize, and on every table there were games, both organised and improvised, and people having fun. It was somewhat sad when the day ended at 17:00, but everyone went away happy and some went to the pub to carry on gaming. By 20:00 I was in the pub myself for an after-show celebratory drink.

What did I take away from all this? What did I learn?

- Organising a convention location and date is pretty taxing but the hard work is convincing people that they want to be there.
- You can’t plan for everything and constant improvisation is the norm.
- Working on a convention for the better part of four months takes a lot of time and sometimes you may feel that your life is being dominated by it, but it is worth it.
- No matter what people tell you, organising this kind of thing is a lot of hard work.
- Only plan for what you can foresee.
- Checklists rule!
- There’s no such thing as too much advertising.
- Don’t do it all alone, have someone alongside you to help and advise. In my case I had my wonderful wife Lisa to help me through it all.
- That given enough attention and work, organising and hosting a successful convention can be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you can do for the gaming community.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Cubicle 7 Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay image

Did I ever tell you just how excited I am about the new version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay due out soon? I'm not sure I did.

Cubicle 7 have just updated their Facebook header with this:

Click for a higher resolution image
It's a fantastic image and really grabs the craziness of the Old World. If this is the artistic direction they're going in with this then I think we're in for some fantastic atmosphere. The two images they released last  year were excellent and work really well as covers, but it's the overall art choices I can't wait to see.

But what I'm really waiting on are the rules. I really want to see what they've done with the rules!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

My roleplaying genesis

Netherstowe School, where I
was first corrupted.
This photo was taken while I was accompanying my son to a swimming lesson at the secondary school I used to attend in the 1980s. The set of windows on the ground floor tucked into the corner is Room 1A; well, it was back then, I have no ideas what it is now.

I went to Netherstowe Comprehensive School from 1982 to 1987. It wasn't the greatest time of my life and nor was it the worst as I simply kind of existed there, I never got involved in any of the groups and I pretty much kept myself to myself. School came and went.

I was already into fantasy and science fiction before I came here and it was something that I did on my own. I never had a solid circle of friends and those I did know weren't really into the same things that I was. I met my best friend Mark in 1983 and we soon hit it off with our shared love of Star Wars.

But in 1984 I was invited to Room 1A at the school to take part in 'Dungeons & Dragons' club. And for the first time ever I mixed with like-minded people who wanted to use their imaginations and indulge in the stranger things in life.

And for the first time, I actually felt comfortable. I didn't mind talking about what it was I enjoyed doing and I shared my love of all things strange and fantastical. I never felt awkward and I never felt like I needed to hide my passions. I felt liberated, and a great sense of relief washed over me; I wasn't alone.

It was all thanks to this room. I've not stood here, on the grounds of the school, for more than 3 decades. Seeing the room and remembering what happened in there hit me pretty hard and I started laughing as the memories washed over me.

A couple of people looked at me like I was crazy. But I didn't care.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The UK Games Expo 2018

From the 1st to the 3rd of June I'll be attending the UK Games Expo, my yearly pilgrimage to the biggest tabletop gaming convention and trade show in the United Kingdom.

Held in the NEC and Hilton Hotels, Birmingham, the show builds year after year and is a major date in the calender of tabletop gamers and firms across Europe and the world. There's an average 20% increase in attendance year by year.

I caught up with Michael Pearson of the UKGE to find out what's in store this year.

'This year on the lake area we have two camps - one is a Viking camp and the other a Tolkien camp - complete with wolves (two of which can be petted!).

There are lots of highlights... we are headed to fill two halls in the NEC this year, with a considerable increase in exhibitors. Everything else gets bigger, partly because people see that their genre of exhibitor is attending, so they come along.

We already have 157 games/products submitted for our awards, well ahead of last year, our Design Track of events is growing - supporting game makers to create their games. We have the Wyverns Lair event again - like Dragon's Den for games.'

It all sounds great, and I'm really looking forward to attending this year. There's always so much to do and see that one day is never enough.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Wargame review - Star Wars: Legion

Released by Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight Games has already wowed us with their Star Wars product line; roleplaying games, card games and other miniatures games with starships and heroes battling the Empire. After a long list of successes, can Star Wars: Legion live up to the expectation of another hit?

‘Warfare is an inescapable part of the Star Wars universe, from the blow dealt to the Rebel Alliance in the Battle of Hoth to a few Rebel strike teams taking on a legion of stormtroopers stationed on Endor. Seize your chance to get your boots on the ground and lead your troops to victory with Star Wars™: Legion, a miniatures game of thrilling infantry battles in the Star Wars universe!

Star Wars: Legion invites you to join the unsung battles of the Galactic Civil War as the commander of a unique army filled with troopers, powerful ground or repulsor vehicles, and iconic characters like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. While innovative mechanics simulate the fog of war and the chaos of battle, the unpainted, easily assembled miniatures give you a canvas to create the Star Wars army you’ve always wanted to lead into battle—whether you fight for the monolithic, oppressive Galactic Empire or the ragtag Rebel Alliance.’

So, what do you get? The starter set comes with 33 plastic models (unassembled) of Rebels and Imperials. The Rebels get eight troopers, two leaders, two pairs of heavy weapons, an AT-RT walker and Luke Skywalker. The Imperials get eight stormtroopers, two leaders, two pairs of heavy weapons, two speeder bikes and Darth Vader. Along with counters, markers, some plastic barriers you can use as cover and obstacles, and special game-specific dice (a staple of FFG games), there’s a lot to fill the sturdy box.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games
The miniatures will need assembling and painting and are of excellent quality, so modelers will have a great time with these. I’m not a modeler myself, but I can appreciate a decent miniature and these are really good. I’ve seen them painted up and a cracking paint job can result in some amazing detail, and the option for modifications are always available; I’ve already seen a sandtrooper mod and the dirty armour, heavy backpack and damaged shoulder pad had all been lovingly crafted. It adds nothing to the game, but it’s visually pleasing and adds a lot of atmosphere.

The game system is broken down into cards and dice, the cards used for unit details and commands and the dice used for resolution. Each unit has its own descriptive card and those cards can be given upgrades. Each unit has its own skills and abilities to use which means that tactical thinking is required, making you think twice before unleashing soldiers on Vader, or sending a speeder bike after a small group of rebels. When you attack you create a dice pool based on the weapon type used with different types of die used for different types of weapon.

Of course, the game is much more complicated than the brief explanation I’ve given it and I’ll be doing it a disservice if I try to explain the rules in just a few paragraphs, but being the helpful people they are FFG have saved me that chore; you can view the rules yourself by downloading the ‘Learn to Play’ document for free here.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games
The game itself plays really well and there’s a sense of tension during the combats; you find yourself trying to second guess your opponent as you issue your commands, and this can create a somewhat chaotic battlefield. However, such is the nature of war and there were plenty of fist pumps as battle plans succeeded and lots of headshaking when they didn’t. If I had to compare it to a Star Wars movie I’d compare it to the battle on Scarif at the end of ‘Rogue One’; there was a plan, but you had to make a lot of it up on the fly. The uniform high adventure battles of the original trilogy and the prequels were evenly paced and quite focused, a bit like the combats in FFG’s other miniatures game ‘Imperial Assault’, but this is more in line with the confusion of the mass fight.

There is a learning curve to be had, as with all FFG games. This one, we found, was a little steeper than we anticipated. You have the basic rules and there are expanded rules for further play, and I suggest you play a few games with just the normal rules before delving into anything more complicated. The first two games we played resulted in some confusion as the rules weren’t straightforward, and with some re-reading and clarification we finally got our heads around it. However, once you get a few games under your belt the battles flow quite nicely.

Another downside was the dice – there simply wasn’t enough in the box. Another packet of dice would have been beneficial, and as they’re specially designed for this game you can’t just swipe them from another game or your own dice collection.

Apart from this, Star Wars: Legion is a solid, well-made game that got us quite excited at the gaming table. The contents of the box are enough to give you what you need to create many battles for quite a long time (although I would suggest more dice!) and with the expansions that are out, and the many others on their way, this single box is a game that’ll keep us occupied for a while. Tactical wargamers will enjoy the system, modelers will enjoy the miniatures and Star Wars fans will enjoy the chance to fight battles in a galaxy far, far away.


Image from Fantasy Flight Games

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Character Sheet Management

Image result for red box d&d character sheet
The original Basic D&D
Character Sheet
Who hangs on to the character sheets between sessions - player or GM? I figured I'd share with you why it is that I as GM take care of the character sheets and hand them out/collect them every session.

1 - It keeps everything together and lessens the chances of someone forgetting their sheet. As GM I keep everything for the current campaign in a single bag so it doesn't get mislaid or left behind.

2 - In between games or campaigns I like to have the sheets to hand so that I can tailor certain parts of the game to certain PC abilities so that everyone gets a shot at the limelight. Having the sheets to hand is a bonus.

3 - I don't like several copies of the same character sheet because they are all set to change as the PC grows. I don't want any 'that's not what it says on mine' arguments, which may sound strange if the player has a copy of the exact same sheet but it has happened.

4 - It minimises the sudden appearance of phantom skills or equipment between sessions. Some of my players over the years have added beneficial stuff to their sheets in the hope that it isn't noticed by the next session.

5 - If any players want to write up info on their PC they can write down their skills and abilities and base it off that. They don't need a copy of the character sheet to make detailed background notes for their character. If a player desperately wants the character sheet for any reason then I have them write it out again/photocopy it for their own use but I have them use the character sheet that I have during the game.

6 - I prefer any upgrading/advancements to be done at the table in front of me and the other players so that everyone is aware of any changes to the PC (that they want made public, at any rate). This way I can keep an eye on any rulebending that might go down.

7 - If the player does not turn up then we have the character sheet to run as an NPC during the absence.

It's not just a question of me not trusting my players (although, over the last 3 decades I have run across some who 'modify' their character between sessions, which is why I started keeping them in the first place). It's also a question of practicality; it's simply easier for me to hang on to the character sheets between sessions so that nothing is forgotten.

Nothing is ever forgotten.

Friday, 30 March 2018

RPG Review - Coriolis: The Third Horizon

By Tomas Härenstam, Nils Karlén, Kosta Kostulas and Christian Granath

Released by Free League Publishing/Modiphius Entertainment

‘Coriolis – The Third Horizon is a science fiction role playing game set in a remote cluster of star systems called The Third Horizon. It is a place ravaged by conflicts and war, but also home to proud civilisations, both new and old. Here, the so called First Come colonists of old worship the Icons, while the newly arrived Zenithians pursue an aggressive imperialistic agenda through trade and military power.

In this game, you will crew a space ship and travel the Horizon. You will explore the ancient ruins of the Portal Builders, undertake missions for the powerful factions and partake in the game of political intrigue on Coriolis station – the centre of power in the Third Horizon. You might even encounter strange beings from the Dark Between the Stars.

From the Monolith in the jungles of Kua to the floating temples of Mira, the Horizon is yours to explore. You can be traders, explorers, mercenaries, pilgrims or agents. Whatever your calling is, together you will make your own fate. In the end you might even discover the truth about the mysterious Emissaries and the threat of the Dark Between the Stars.

Coriolis – The Third Horizon was awarded the ENnies Judges’ Spotlight 2017 and is produced by the makers of critically acclaimed Mutant: Year Zero (six-time nominee and winner of a Silver ENnie for Best Rules 2015).’

When Coriolis: The Third Horizon landed on my doormat I was already intrigued about the game. I’d read about it and enjoyed the excellent artwork, and the game felt like something I’d love to play. Mysterious, dark science fiction with mystical powers and supernatural, sometimes horrific occurences. That sounded like my kind of game.

I had no experience with Free League’s other games such as ‘Mutant: Year Zero’ or ‘Tales From the Loop’ and I knew little about the game’s system, so when I cracked open the 388-page book and started reading it I was expecting a comprehensive, detailed system so I was quite surprised by the light rules and the expansive setting.

The hardback tome is of excellent quality and the cover illustration by Martin Bergström, showing three about-to-get-into-trouble characters on a dark, forbidding world really starts the mood. In fact, the artwork throughout the book is of high quality with some shadowy, inspirational images and it’s supplied by Christian Granath, Martin Bergström, Gustaf Ekelund, Christian Granath, Magnus Fallgren, Tobias Tranell and Joakim Ericsson.

First we start with an introduction to the game; what we have here is a far-future setting in a cluster of stars far removed from Earth, and the entire setting is inspired by Middle Eastern culture, from the way religion is practised to the clothes they wear; this isn’t a straight-forward copy of any region or belief system, however, this has been designed and tailored specifically for the game. There is a short explanation about roleplaying games which gives a general overview but is pretty standard stuff. Is it new player friendly? Well, if you’re a regular GM and your players are new to it yes it is as the system is quite user-friendly and intuitive, but for a completely new group coming into the hobby cold maybe not so much.

Chapters two through to seven contain everything you need to create a character, use them in the game, crew a ship, equip them and travel the stars of The Third Horizon. The game’s premise is that the players are playing the crew of a starship and are travelling the Horizon to gather fame and fortune, with plenty of character templates to choose from to get you started - Artist, Data Spider, Fugitive, Negotiator, Operative, Pilot, Trailblazer, Preacher, Scientist, Ship Worker and Soldier – each with three of their own concepts to choose from to really help you individualise your character.

Each character has four attributes; Strength, Agility, Wits and Empathy. These are numbered between 1 and 5 – the higher the better – and also affect the skills each character has. There are General skills which everyone can do and Advanced skills that can only be performed if the character has training in them. You can also choose Talents, in-game abilities to help with rolls or situations.

There is a large focus on a character’s background; the game encourages talking about personal problems, their relationships with the other players, where the character comes from and their upbringing. Some of this has no real mechanical effect on the game and serves to give the character impetus, a reason for travelling the stars and a great starting point for roleplaying. There are hints and choices as to what kind of problems and backgrounds to consider but the game does encourage creativity and allows for players to create their own histories and issues. It’s a nice little addition that really pushes you to think a little deeper about the character.

This extra detail may be because the game system itself is really simple and easy to explain. When you want to perform an action you take a number of six-sided dice equal to the Skill score added to the Attribute score it’s associated with. Once you have a number of dice you roll them and any die that rolls a six equals a success. Just one six will succeed, but the more sixes you roll the better the level of success.  The number of dice rolled is modified up or down by equipment, the situation and any other factors but as long as a six is rolled it’s a success, and if you get extra sixes then the success may have other benefits, such as a bonus effect that aids the group or a critical hit in combat.

So, for example, the Skill ‘Infiltration’ is an Agility-based Skill, so with an Infiltration score of 1 and an Agility score of 3, I get to roll 4 dice. If I roll any sixes it’s a success. The system is really easy to grasp, and the character sheet is simple and good to use. But what happens when things go awry and the players need help?

Well, then they can pray to the Icons, the religion of The Third Horizon. The Icons are a supernatural force that can help – or hinder – the players and if they fail a roll they can ‘Pray to the Icons’. This gets them a re-roll and increases their chances of success, or even add to existing successes, but beware; invoking the Icons results in a Darkness Point that goes to the GM, who can play this point at any time in the game to foul up the players; a NPC can re-roll, a clip empties, or a personal problem comes back to haunt the PC. So beware on calling for the powers for help – that can come back to haunt you. These Darkness Points can also be generated by using Mystic Powers; yes, players can also play characters with mental powers that can see through time, read minds and move objects… at a price.

I’m a big fan of the game system. It’s quick and easy to use, the rolls and their effects can be decided upon quickly and the combat is fun. There’s a critical chart for major damage which helps decide the severity of wounds and the chances of death, and I do think that this could have been stripped down to something a little less complicated to reflect the rest of the simple system. It can slow down the pace of an exciting encounter a little, but overall it’s still a great mechanic and it’s light enough to allow players to concentrate more on the actual character rather than the numbers on the page.

Continuing with character creation, the players then get to design a ship and then they decide who mans which role on the vessel; a Captain, an Engineer, a Pilot, a Sensor Operator and a Gunner. This helps to define their position on a vessel as the game revolves around their adventures on their own starship. There’s plenty of detail here, with rules for flying a starship across the Horizon to combat and everything in between but I can’t help but feel that, as with the combat critical chart, there’s a level of complication here that can slow down the game. Starship encounters revolve around a sequence of events that allows a Captain to issue orders and the players then have a pool of points allocated to them to enact those orders. There’s the Order Phase, the Engineer Phase, the Pilot Phase, the Sensor Phase and the Attack Phase. These phases give each player a chance to perform their designated ship duty – for example they can pilot out of trouble, divert power, and fire a weapon. As the players decide what to do the action can slow, and once again this felt out of place as the rest of the system flows so quickly. However, the nature of this aspect of the game calls for crew positions and the rules being split into phases really helps to highlight that as it gives a chance for everyone to be involved, with space combat being less about quick barrel-rolling dogfights and more about tactics and planning.

The second half of the book is chapters 8 through to 15, which detail the setting and it’s history, The Third Horizon, creatures and finally an adventure. This is the real meat of the book and it’s what gives the whole game it’s power.

The setting of Coriolis is one of mysticism, darkness, exploration, intrigue and adventure. This section will give you background about the setting, the Factions that live there and their political, sociological and spiritual leanings and influence, and a basic rundown as to what they’re like which can also help during character creation. There are ten major Factions and a selection of smaller groups that have great power in different areas, and then there are darker, more mysterious organisations that hide in the shadows. All of these Factions work with or against each other, openly or by subterfuge, and create all kinds of trouble across the Horizon. Throw in the Emissaries and reportedly dead Factions and you’ve got some serious political tension that can make for an amazing gaming backdrop.

However, there was a part of me that felt that there was more to the details presented, that we had been given a large chunk of data about the setting and the Factions but there was more below the surface, with some details being mere teasers. I imagine that this will be expanded upon in later supplements and adventures, but for now there’s plenty to be going on with.

The setting itself, as explained earlier, has a Middle Eastern influence. The dress, the names, the design, the whole aesthetic is of an Arabian style, and the artwork reflects this. The whole game, from the way people practice their beliefs to the writing on the hulls of starships, has an ethereal quality that really helps to enhance the atmosphere. Do you need to follow this theme? Not at all. The game allows for any ethnicity and you can easily change this aspect of it but I think this would take something away from the setting itself. The game literally oozes the Middle East vibe and that, I think, is one of it’s strengths.

This is then followed by a more detailed look at a star system, Kua, and the Coriolis, the space station that is there, and then an atlas of the Third Horizon as a whole. Beasts of both the normal and more exotic versions are then presented; there isn’t much here and more illustrations would have served it well, but there’s enough to be going on with. The book is then rounded out by an adventure and then a much-needed index.

So… how did I get on with it?

I’m not going to beat around the bush. I loved it.

At first I wasn’t sure how to sell this to my group. It was a little removed from the type of things we’d played before and the setting and system was new to me, but it was an easy sell in the end. I just told them that the game was a combination of the TV show ‘The Expanse’ and Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’. You see, I’d just come out the other side of a Frank Herbert book session when Coriolis reached me and it couldn’t have hit at a better time. I was pumped up on the spiritual aspects of the classic novel and the ideas of religious fervour and misguided hero worship, and I’m also a huge fan of ‘The Expanse’ and the political turmoil it presents, not just on the solar system but on the little people, too. Once I sat down, gave that analogy, and then explained the setting of the game and the basics of the system we were ready to go.

Explaining the system to the players was easy. Add Attribute and Skill, roll, and I want to see sixes. None of them had any experience with the system and they took to it quickly, with hisses when no sixes showed and smiles when they did. I was on hand to explain extra effects and the only slowdown and page-turning occurred during combat, but that’s to be expected with any game. The first combat was a simple firefight, four players against four bad guys, and it was resolved in perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes.

However, the starship combat really slowed things down, and it was agreed (after a forty minute vessel encounter) that we’d leave the starship rules for a while until we were totally okay with the rules at large. When we did come back to the next starship combat we were ready for it and it worked out much better, but it was still long and felt out of place with the rest of the system. It wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, the players appreciated the chance to have ship positions where they were able to have a hand in the entire proceedings. Some game systems allow players to blast across the cosmos while the groundpounders have to pick their nails, but this game gets everyone involved.

The setting is where the game shined. The mystical science fiction Middle East really helped set the  tone as not only was it science fiction, with all the tech and space travel trappings that comes with it, but it also had an exotic quality to it that gave it an edge of unreality. The players really got their teeth into it and had fun with it, and by the end of the session we had (badly reproduced) accents and web surfing looking for Arabian clothing and designs. It made for a great game, and the game designers should be applauded for their design choice.

I think I clicked with Coriolis straight away because of my ‘Dune’ stint and the frame of mind I was in at the time, but don’t let design choices put you off. If the setting isn’t your thing then change it; there is nothing in the setting that affects the game mechanically. Don’t like the choice of setting? Then change it to something else, maybe Far Eastern or African. If you don’t like the mysticism then drop that, too, and then you’ve got a perfectly useable science fiction roleplaying game that you can use in quite a few different settings, including settings such as ‘The Expanse’ and ‘Dune’. It makes for a pretty decent science fiction roleplaying game as it is, and the detailed setting is a huge bonus.

It was an excellent experience with the easy to use system, the wonderful setting and the way the player characters are encouraged to have a depth and an important role in the game. It really gets everyone involved from character creation, through starship design and crew designation, and through to the game itself. Players can have an influence on the fate of their characters and the story with the Icons, and suffer problems as a result, and this in itself creates a high level of drama that is only accentuated by the mysterious, powerful setting. It allows you to play games filled with adventure, mystery, spirituality, investigation, horror and exploration. It not only allows you to travel The Third Horizon, it allows you to experience it with a character you care about because they, too, have histories, dreams and goals. And for the GM it’s quick to set up a game as the system is easy to use and NPCs easy to create, so you can focus on the story and the plot and really create a saga for players to grab hold of and dive in to.

I have my issues – the slowing of gameplay during combat encounters, the compexity of starship creation and combat, and the somewhat incomplete feeling I got from the setting – but these are far outweighed by the positives of the game and I’m sure that these issues will smooth out over time and experience with the game and the inevitable expansions and supplements.

Coriolis: The Third Horizon is one of the best games I’ve come across in years, both in setting and mechanics design. It’s wonderfully presented and it’s a great read, and if there was such a thing as a ‘Farsight Blogger Seal of Approval’ then this game would be getting it.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

My invisible playtesters

Comic character 21 by Firkin
When I'm writing an adventure I need to give it an initial test to make sure that it's going to appeal to an average group. To do this I can't sit down with my gaming group and ask them if they'll enjoy certain aspects of the adventure as that'd ruin the surprise for them, so I have to look at the adventure from different angles to make sure that everyone has something to do.

To deal with this I began to build the game in my head with several invisible friends with different play styles to make sure that the adventure I was writing was going to appeal to everyone in the group. I would sit down with a pad and list out the five kinds of player that I've experienced over the years. Of course, if there are others these can be added too, but for now I'll stick with the five I know.

I would then make notes on each type to make sure that they were catered for in the game. If I was designing for a regular group and I knew the players it made the job much easier and I'd make sure that each one was catered for as best I could, but for new groups or general adventures I needed to be a bit more aware of the possibilities.

Of course this didn't work for all games as some games have a specific play style or genre that they're trying to emulate, but for general adventure games the full five usually worked out well. If the game was going to be more angled to a certain play style, or the game turned out that way, then I'd simply drop one of the types or at least reduce their importance.

I especially began to do this when I started writing adventures for public consumption, as the many varied play styles or attitudes to the game that groups out in the wild have will need catering for, or at least acknowledging to be sure that it appeals to a larger number of groups. The adventure would go through playtesting anyway, but I always felt the initial design needed attention before that point.

So, for example:

The Action Player - This one is simple; is there enough action to keep this player happy? The game doesn't have to be filled with it, and depending on the game the combat encounters might take up quite a bit of time, so making sure that the Action Player gets to hit, shoot or outmaneuver an opponent is dependent on the game system.

The Storyteller Player - Is the story good enough to keep this player happy? If the adventure has a plot that can be followed or the overall story of the adventure is relatable then the Storyteller Player should be satisfied.

The Puzzle Solver Player - This doesn't have to be a riddle or a physical puzzle to solve, it could be a series of events or plot points that need to be put together for the Puzzle Solver Player to be satiated.

The Dramatic Player - Character interaction and melodrama can really make a game and the Dramatic Player can be pleased with some memorable NPCs, moments in the game where they have the chance to have in-character conversations with the other players and relish those moments of high drama during the game.

The Explorer Player - How big is the land or the location? What is there to do there? Some players love to explore and poke their noses into rooms, look for secret locations, walk down paths that aren't signposted or just experience the location in it's entirety.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Using 'TV Bibles' for RPG campaign design

Raseone TV by raseoneSomething I do when designing a campaign for any game is try to imagine what it would be like as a long-running TV show. If I can imagine the design and setting and lay it out for myself and my players - like a TV series bible - it helps to create the world and gives it depth and consistency.

With established settings this is really easy as the work is already done for you. Star Wars and Star Trek are the easiest by a mile, and pretty much anything that has a visual and emotional cue from a popular TV show or movie puts everyone on a level playing field and everyone knows why they're at the table and what kind of game they're playing.

So, to make sure that my Coriolis games have that sense of reality I'm going to have a go at designing a 'series bible', and as the setting work is already done for me - I've just purchased the PDFs of all the supplements so I have a huge playground to adventure in - I thought I'd concentrate on the look and feel of the game.

For example, I'll be addressing things like the below (I'll be talking about this like a TV show, so bear with me):

Every actor hired will be of Middle Eastern or Indian origin. If the actor can physically pass for anyone from that region then they're in. There are a few actors that automatically qualify from the Middle East and India, and there's all sorts of actors that would suit the part. As long as they have that presence then it would work.

The design should be misty, mystical and heavily influenced by the Middle East. If in one scene they're in a cantina that resembles a stylised version of a  bar in Morocco, with great piles of cushions and hookahs, then when they get onto a starship and it looks like the Nostromo from 'Alien' or have the clean white walls of a Trek starship, then the viewer will be pulled out of the setting almost immediately.

Apart from combat scenes, everything should be done in an ethereal, slow way that allows the viewer to drift along with the story, which will make any violence or moments of intense melodrama stand out, enabling them to be more effective.

The music will be background only and be of either an Arabian or meditative/yoga quality. There's plenty of long looped tracks on Youtube that can serve this purpose.

And the list goes on.

You can find details on how to create a show bible over on the ScreenCraft website here; it could help you get your campaign thoughts together and help pitch your game ideas to your group, giving details on the kind of game you want to run, what the sessions might be like and the route you intend to take. It could really help with the initial 'what game shall we play for the next few months' conversations.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Wargame Review - Kobolds & Cobblestones

Kobolds & CobblestonesBy Robert Burman

Published by Osprey Games

‘Kobolds & Cobblestones is a skirmish wargame for rumbles between gangs in the city of Ordinsport's seedy underbelly. Players hire gangs of criminals, thugs and enforcers from a number of classic Fantasy races, and attempt to take control of the underworld and establish themselves as the city's kingpins. Playing card-based mechanics and a cunning bribery element keep players on their toes, as a one-sided battle can turn around in a flash.’

There’s all kinds of fantasy wargames out there at the moment, from gigantic armies clashing in waves across huge battlefields to small warbands vying for power and glory in the ruins of dead cities. It’d be easy to say that there’s a certain expectation from games such as these and that’s to emulate the warfare between races, factions and kingdoms.

Kobolds & Cobblestones takes that world of fantasy but instead of the glory of battle and heroic sacrifice it has players running around seedy streets taking part in what is basically gang warfare.

The small 64-page softback book is full-colour with a very energetic cover by Ralph Horsley, who also supplies the interior illustrator, and it reflects the game and setting really well. The layout is fine, although the typeset is a little small, and the book is suted to being opened and left on pages with a bit of pushing, but don’t worry about the spine cracking or pages coming out; it’s quite robust.

The game takes place in a city called Ordinsport, a city where all kinds of different fantasy races live in harmony. Apparently. Underneath this veneer of happiness and justice for all is the underworld, a place of seedy goings-on and where crime bosses and their goons and thugs fight for control. It’s the aim of the players to try and take over the underworld and become a kingpin, using violence, cunning and bribery. Sounds like fun. There is also a small metaplot for the game but it’s not 100% required to follow it to play; a previous kingpin called Ja’kal has died and his treasures, hidden behind magical wards, are appearing across the city. Much fighting between rival gangs ensues, which is what gives your gang it’s impetus to fight.

First of all, a player has to create a gang –  the Gang Members section gives a few Gang Leaders and the gang members who can be added to your team. Leaders are represented by a stat line that includes any character traits and special abilities, and then you can recruit your gang members; Runts, Thugs, Big Guys and Specialists. Each gang member costs gold.

You’ll need a pack of playing cards for this; nothing special, just a standard everyday pack of 52 cards. These not only judge the outcomes of clashes but also are a handy guide for movement; you can move the length or width of a card so that does without the need for pesky tape measures. The cards are used for model activation and combat, and when you attack you pretty much play poker. The winning hand does damage and can even result in critical hits. Special Abilities can be used to help in conflicts and Wizards can also be a great help with some helpful, tide-turning effects.

Image result for Kobolds & Cobblestones interior
Image from the rulebook

With rules for campaigns and eight simple scenarios, Kobolds & Cobblestones is a great little book and at a RRP of £11.99 (£9.99 digital), and perhaps a pound or two if you haven’t got playing cards in the house, it’s a good game.

So, how did we get on with it?

Truthfully, it took us a while to get into the game. The game system is, basically, a fantasy skirmish game that’s decided by playing cards. It’s a neat rules system and it helps reflect the nature of the game, with the seedier backroom side of poker adding to the atmosphere. However, the skirmish wargames we are used to involve the quick roll of a die and the results determining the outcome. With Kobolds & Cobblestones we had to learn a card game – I’m not all that familiar with poker – and then use the tables in the book to determine the outcome of clashes. This took a little time as it felt like I was learning two games, but once I got into the flow of things the game sped up quite nicely and we were having rather fun encounters. They felt a little slower than the dice-rolling games I’m used to, but they were fun nonetheless.

The game itself is very well presented and the rules clear and concise. I especially liked the use of the length and width of playing cards to determine movement distance and the activation and moving of models was quick and easy. It had a great atmosphere and we especially enjoyed giving our Gang Leaders silly names; Gob the Guilder was a favourite of mine, Gods rest his soul.

At first a single encounter took us about an hour and a half once we started the game as we were fresh to the system and the card rules, but after several games we were happily belting out encounters with small bands of dwarves, lizards, ratmen and goblins – you can pretty much play any fantasy race you want - in half an hour to forty minutes. These were with models numbering 5 or so, and when we tried battles with larger numbers, around 15 each, that’s when the games would stretch out into two to three hour combats.

All in all it’s a good game with a great premise. I have a long history of dicerolling wargames so this was a nice change of pace, and although using playing cards wouldn’t be my go-to system it’s definitley a good addition to my gaming shelf for those quick and fun encounters with a difference, the chance to play a game where you don’t take it too seriously.


About the Author: Robert Burman has been hooked on wargaming and board gaming since opening a copy of Heroquest at the age of 11. Over the years he's dabbled in all manner of games, tried to improve his painting skills, written his own stories and created numerous scenarios. In 2015 he launched Tabletop Gaming Magazine to celebrate the many titles currently available.

About the Artist: Ralph Horsley is an award-winning artist who has worked in the print games industry for more than two decades. In that time, he has worked for leading games and game publishers, including Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and Warhammer.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Roleplaying in the Dune universe - the final chapter... house.

Image result for dune book coverI've been writing and musing over a Dune tabletop roleplaying game and how I'd like to run it. My last two blog posts have concerned this, primarily because of the RPG 'Coriolis: The Third Horizon' by Free League Publishing.

The more I have considered it, the more I find it difficult to think of a campaign where the player characters would be able to have any kind of fun and not feel overshadowed by the huge events that occur within the Dune books. What might work is a game set before the events of the primary book and the following stories, as the sheer amount of influence the main events have over the entire setting may limit the options of a gaming group, unless the players are playing the characters of the book and creating their own version of the saga, but I'm not a huge fan of alternate realities in gaming. I much prefer my groups to have much more control over events and not feel swayed or pressured into doing what has come before.

I think the best route for me to take is to create a game set well before Dune and concentrate on smaller Houses, perhaps minor Houses of insignificant worlds that have their own affairs and vendettas to tend to. They're footnotes on Guild reports, or unread files on the Padishah Emperor's desk.

At this point I should mention that I have only read the first two 'Prelude' books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I didn't continue beyond those first two books and I'm sure there is a huge amount of material that can be used. However, I have no real knowledge of the content of these books so they don't have an influence on the direction I've decided to go.

Anyway, these Houses would have their own histories and banners and have access to the Landsraad but not have a seat there for all the major decisions. It would give the players a fantastic opportunity to create a dynastic family they are part of, are loyal to, work for or are secretly working against as a group. Perhaps the player's team are a collection of several Houses, either working together to improve their standing in the Landsraad or, better still, they are fighting to avenge their fallen banners against a larger force. Let the Atreides and the Harkonnens have their issues; we know how that turns out. A whole new set of Houses on the periphery of the Known Universe having their own problems opens up a lot of amazing opportunities.

That way I can keep my iconic Dune toys; Bene Gesserit, Mentats, shield fighting, smugglers and traders, novice Space Guild representatives getting their first taste of power, new Navigators flexing their minds... there are plenty of opportunities for the player's to really sink their teeth into the setting and be hugely creative. Every now and then I could throw in something hard hitting, like a Sardaukar visit or an Imperial inspection. I can even throw in something different; how about some Weirding Modules?

Image result for pendragon 4th editionAfter giving it a lot of thought, I think a great game system to use would be Pendragon, as the whole dynastic feel of the game and the fact that campaigns can cover many years would suit the setting down to the ground. I don't have to worry about space battles or travel as that's all taken care of by the Guild, but ground vehicles might need some stats. Thanks to shield technology the order of the day is swordplay, but some basic guns can be statted. As far as mental powers are concerned that would be easy to replicate.

Visually, I love the design of David Lynch's 'Dune' movie. It's not the greatest interpretation of the book, and the end leaves a lot to be desired, but the design is quite excellent and although I'd change some of the starship designs and bulk out the stillsuits, the look and feel of the movie gives it a fantastic atmosphere.

So, I'm already having some ideas. A player group could be an ex-smuggler helping a noble of a fallen House, the Bene Gesserit advisor, the House Mentat and the Captain of the Guard escape from a world that a rival House has conquered. Not a world, a moon. A simple garden moon where some of the most desirable and expensive delicacies are produced for the greater Houses, and the small House in charge stands to make a huge profit, as does the Spacing Guild Heighliner that passes through the system every few months. The invading House desired the profits and what better way to get them than to disgrace the House in charge, concoct a pretex for invasion and then drive them out.

The players get to create a House, it's family and history, the heraldry and uniform design, and the world itself. After that, the game is in my hands and I can create the rival House, their homeworld, and all the adventures and storylines that come with it. The Pendragon system then enables me to run a game set over years and even decades, and we can follow the fortunes of the House over generations.

Dune is an amazing setting, and the book touches on religion, politics, ecology, and all kinds of things that give the Dune universe a reality that's hard to find anywhere else. This opens all kinds of roleplaying opportunities for adventure, conflict and introspection. I don't want to intrude on the main story, but to take the elements of the story - the Houses, the spice, the different orders etc - and use them in my own games is quite exciting.

Sadly, I parted company with my copy of Pendragon (4th Edition) in the Great Nerdpurge of 2006. I'l have to source a new copy, but that shouldn't be too hard. Then I'll have to find players to actually take part on my madcap campaign idea. I'm a little fearful that I may not get that far.

But I must not fear, because fear is the mind-killer.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A 'Dune' roleplaying game

Image result for dune first editionIn my last blog entry I discussed my love of the Dune universe and the fact that I have never been able to run a game with that same sense of intrigue and mysticism. I thought I'd expand on those thoughts a little more and try to make sense of why that is. Bear with me; this is probably more for my own edification than anything else.

I have never owned an official Dune roleplaying game, namely 'Chronicles of the Imperium', so I have never seen an official interpretation of the science fiction and religious elements of Herbert's book in practice. That's a shame in many respects as if I had seen the game I may have had a better understanding of what it was I wanted to do with a Dune game, where I wanted it to go and what kind of story I wanted to tell. However, I couldn't find a gaming group to play that kind of game with. My group was casual and enjoyed having fun with the games - as did I - and even though I tried to surreptitiously sneak games with these grand ideas into the mix they never took off.

I used to think it was a decent game system I required. After all, it was easy for me to have grand ideas of star-spanning adventures, intricate plots and intrigue between the great Houses of the Landsraad, and soul-tearing tales of religious passion and persecution. Would I have run the game on Arrakis, and have the players members of the Fremen, or House Atreides, or even spies for the Harkonnen or the Padishah Emperor? Maybe they could have been simple traders, or smugglers, or perhaps I could have designed a lesser House for them to represent? The scope of Dune is huge and there's plenty that could be done, so all I needed was a game system that could reflect that.

I should mention that my desire to run a Dune game only included the first three books by Frank Herbert, and elements of the universe he created in the following books. I've only read the first two of the Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson books but never continued. I imagine that there is plenty more material to choose from in their books, but they are beyond the scope of what I wanted to do.

At first I went with my standard science fiction options, namely 'Traveler' and 'Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game' (WEG 1st Edition). These are two great games - the Star Wars D6 system being my favourite - and quite easy to create a campaign around. In fact, with a little tweaking the psionics and the Force rules could be modified into something that would suit the Dune universe, and the effects of the Spice could be interpreted by the rules. But, to me, Dune felt more like a science fantasy story, based as it was on feudal houses and mystical prophecies.

So, I looked at standard fantasy systems, mainly 'D&D' and 'Runequest'. I also looked at 'Starfinder', but to be honest the standard 'Pathfinder' game seemed more suited to the setting with some elements of Starfinder included. I came to the conclusion that starship rules weren't really a necessity as space battles weren't the order of the day in the Dune series. D&D was a default option - it was the game that my group played the most - but the leveling put me off as I wanted the players to concentrate on the story and not what their characters could get out of it and how they could improve, which is something that I feel D&D focuses on. With Runequest I found that I had better luck with 'Cthulhu: Dark Ages', what I see as a kind of Runequest-lite. It was quick and easy, and with a little modding I could bring in modern weapons from normal 'Call of Cthulhu' to reflect the weapons in Dune. Pathfinder is good, but I'm moving beyond rules complexity these days and it had the same problems as D&D.

I had choices as far as system was concerned, but I came to the conclusion that no matter how perfect the system was or how well I could adapt it to suit Dune, the real challenge was convincing a gaming group to sit down and play an epic game of intrigue and otherworldly powers.

And that was the real problem, I think. I couldn't force the players into spending their time focusing on a world that they may not have felt the same way about. The general feeling at the table was all about having fun and partaking in crazy adventures, and to ask them to reset their gaming habits to a more serious tone was a bit of an ask. I did try through other games to include a sense of seriousness and drama to test the waters, but inevitably the games reset to the fun factor. My attempts to find a group who were willing to play a Dune game the way I would have liked it to be played were fruitless.

So, I moved on to games that emulated the ideas of Dune but were not Dune; perhaps my players would play a game where they could still have fun but also allow me to introduce these elements into the game to satisfy my own needs?

Firstly, I attempted to create my own game. 'Spirit' was a game set in the League of Seven, seven star systems ruled by the Kerraph Empress Thane Cherin, and was set hundreds of years after a devastating civil war that tore the League apart. Hundreds of other star systems had moved on and created their own civilizations and empires, and the drive of the game was that the League was trying to bring them back into the fold with the promise of advanced technology and, if necessary, violence in the name of their Kerraph Empress, who was descended from a deified person who first created the Clans and the League... oh, I could go on for ages about that. I wrote it up and put it out there for people to play, but it wasn't complete or polished and it was more of a tester to see what people thought.

It never saw much play; I ran a few games using my systems, a D12 system that wasn't great and my own SKETCH system, but I ultimately settled for the D6 system. The games were fine, the feedback was good, but it didn't hit the mark.

So, I decided to read another game of the ilk and that was 'Fading Suns', which is right now being developed by Ulisses North America. It was excellent, the game system was usable and the setting was very close to what I was looking for, with Houses and a pseudo-Medieval culture. Sadly, I never got to play it.

Now I have 'Coriolis: The Third Horizon', but I won't repeat myself here. I talked about that in my last blog post.

So... what did I take away from all of this?

Well, for a start I think I approached the difficulty of running a Dune game the same way I did when I was trying to run Middle-earth games, which I talked about here. I was somewhat elitist in my view on how a Dune game should be played and was most likely rather limiting on options; because I had a definitive vision of what the game should be I didn't take the player's views into account. They may not have been interested in the deeper philosophical elements of the game, but they may have played it with a sense of melodrama that I would have no doubt enjoyed. It's that meeting half-way thing I think I struggled with, the point between getting really involved in a game and simply enjoying it for what it is.

System-wise, I don't think it really bothered me as long as we had a system to use. I don't think I would have enjoyed a crunchy system with hundreds of options as that can sometimes detract from the purpose of the game, but a system that was too light wouldn't have given the PCs much individuality, and detailed characters are something that a Dune game cries out for. I think that's why the D6 system would have worked for me, it's an easy intuitive system with enough detail to have really unique characters.

Actually playing in the Dune setting? Now that I look back on it, I'm not so sure it would have worked as well as I would have wanted. It may have been fun for a few games, but the overarching metaplot of the Houses and CHOAM and the Fremen... the players would have felt that they were playing second fiddle to a much bigger story, and as the fate of the human race had already been decided thanks to Leto II they may have felt that their actions were pointless, with much bigger things hanging over their heads. I get that, and it didn't need to be the case, but once again the vast scale of the setting - and it's fame - would have overshadowed things.

So that just leaves me with 'Dune-but-not-Dune'. I think this is going to be the best way to go. My own 'Spirit' game is always an option but it requires a huge rewrite and a better game system, but it means that the players can do things that will affect the overall story arc which is a much better experience for everybody. If I do use this I'll most likely use the D6 system, primarily the 'Mini Six' system from AntiPaladin 'games.

'Fading Suns' is an excellent choice and I liked the original game, but if I go down this route I'll wait for the new edition from Ulisses North America.

'Coriolis: The Third Horizon' is the game that set me off on this whole thing anyway, the game reminded me of what it was I wanted to do with a Dune-esque setting because of the ethereal Middle Eastern influences on the game setting, which is something I felt was present in Dune. Of all the options I think this will be the one that I end up pursuing as the mystical, intrigue and adventure elements are all there, so it truly is a game that will allow me to meet my players in the middle.

Alternatively, I could keep searching for a group who are as invested in the Dune world as I am. I'm no expert on Dune - far from it - but I feel I would get a lot from running a game such as that. It was what made my Star Wars games of the 1980s/1990s so successful; the entire group were already huge Star Wars fans so their passion for it came out in the games. That's something I'd love to replicate with this.

If you've made it this far then thanks for sticking with me. I think this was more to help me make sense of what I wanted from a Dune game in my head, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Coriolis - The Third Horizon

Image result for coriolis the third horizonNow, this product will get a proper full-on review in the near future, but I felt I needed to share a few things about how this game from Free League Publishing has managed to not only punch me in the face and shout 'LOOK AT ME, I'M BEAUTIFUL!', it's made me think about a level of gaming that I haven't thought about for years.

I'm a huge fan of Dune, Frank Herbert's sprawling epic of feuding worlds, mysticism and cult worship that hasn't been equaled, in my opinion. What always struck me about the story, and this is something I loved about the first three books in the series, was the effect that religion and blind devotion had on some of the characters, not because they had faith in Paul's abilities but the fact that these abilities were demonstrable and therefore quantifiable, giving an entire new level of passion in the beliefs of his followers. It's why I always found the jihad in the books terrifying, not because they were devoted to Muad'Dib and believed in his powers, but because they were actually justified in their beliefs because it was all real. I'm not saying they were right in their crusade - far from it - just that they kind of had a point.

Such was the impact that this had on me as a young man it stayed with me for a very long time. In fact, with the absence of a Dune RPG I could actually get my hands on I tried to emulate it with different systems, or at least find a game that had the same kind of approach. I tried a few different systems and games (quick plug, I had some success with 'Stellar Adventures' but I did write some of that book so I'm biased!) but I couldn't find one that scratched the itch. Not only that, I couldn't find the players to play the game with me as I needed players who were on the same page.

Middle Eastern culture had quite an influence on Dune, I think, with Arabic and Islamic themes that really enhanced the universe that Herbert had created. I loved that; from the feuding houses which felt very Medieval to the sands of Arrakis that felt incredibly Middle Eastern, the themes really stood out.

I ended up letting it go, and instead of trying to game in the world of Dune I decided to try and find a game that emulated aspects of it that I loved.

And that brings me on to Coriolis.

Coriolis wears it's Middle Eastern influences proudly, and rightly so. It even has it's own system of mysticism, with it's fledgling powers and Icons, and the Dark between the Stars. There is true power here and the people of the Third Horizon, with their designs and beliefs shaped after Arabian culture, exist in a world where this power exists, they can pray to it and get results and can exhibit powers that could drive entire nations into a religious fervour.

That's perfect. That's what I'm looking for. It's not the Dune RPG I hankered for, but then I'm not sure a true Dune RPG would ever really work as different people come away from the books with different impressions; some love the feudal warring Houses and the intrigue, some love the environmental references, some like the religious overtones, some love the action and adventure elements. That would make a Dune game difficult. However, Coriolis takes each of those different angles and mixes them all together... well, maybe not so much the environmental side of things. Action/adventure, mystery/exploration, mysticism/intrigue, and to cap it all off there's a metaplot that opens up all kinds of opportunities.

Can you tell that I'm quite excited about this game? Finally I might be able to play in a world that I've thought about since my first attempts at a Dune game, and I'll be able to cater for the different kinds of gamer that wants to sit at my table. I get to explore the effects of faith and belief and my players get to fly around in spaceships and blow stuff up. I think we'll meet somewhere in the middle, and Coriolis - The Third Horizon will facilitate that.


Coriolis – The Third Horizon is a science fiction role playing game set in a remote cluster of star systems called The Third Horizon. It is a place ravaged by conflicts and war, but also home to proud civilisations, both new and old. Here, the so called First Come colonists of old worship the Icons, while the newly arrived Zenithians pursue an aggressive imperialistic agenda through trade and military power.

In this game, you will crew a space ship and travel the Horizon. You will explore the ancient ruins of the Portal Builders, undertake missions for the powerful factions and partake in the game of political intrigue on Coriolis station – the centre of power in the Third Horizon. You might even encounter strange beings from the Dark Between the Stars.

From the Monolith in the jungles of Kua to the floating temples of Mira, the Horizon is yours to explore. You can be traders, explorers, mercenaries, pilgrims or agents. Whatever your calling is, together you will make your own fate. In the end you might even discover the truth about the mysterious Emissaries and the threat of the Dark Between the Stars.

Coriolis – The Third Horizon was awarded the ENnies Judges’ Spotlight 2017 and is produced by the makers of critically acclaimed Mutant: Year Zero (six-time nominee and winner of a Silver ENnie for Best Rules 2015). Features:

- Create your unique player character – including skills, talents, gear, and relationships – in mere minutes.
- Fight fast and furious battles, praying to the Icons to overcome your enemies.
- Build and crew your ownspaceship, to explore the many star systems of the Third Horizon.
- Experience thrilling spaceship duels, using a game system that puts all player characters at the heart of the action.
- Take part in the intrigue between powerful factions on the majestic space station Coriolis.
- Uncover the mysteries of the Third Horizon, a rich tapestry of cultures that have settled the stars.