Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Heroclix Blackest Night

Today I treated myself to the Heroclix Blackest Night starter set. It's absolutely beautiful.

The quality of the sculpting and finish is far ahead of anything else I have seen in Heroclix (admittedly from seeing it played rather than collecting it). Scarecrow is moulded with a translucent yellow plastic murder of crows circling around him, The Atom is effectively three models in one with three different sized Atoms on the base, the largest two of which are moulded in translucent indigo plastic thus creating a impression of him shrinking down from man-size to smaller - just as it would be drawn in a comic.

By getting that rid of that dreadful black wash they slap over everything, they've managed an ineffable "comic book" look as the models are all in flat colours devoid of shading and realistic "mutedness". I much prefer this look to the older, cack-handed attempts at "realism".

It's just a shame that the cheap DC 75th Anniversary commons I picked up at the same time are all a bit dull - tedious straight-up-and-down poses fit for shop window mannequins.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Risk Balance Of Power Apparently Very Popular

In the past week no less than 29 clicks from Google searches have ended up at fightingfantasist following searches all along the lines of "how to play Risk Balance of Power/Risk Balance of Power rules". And this happens every week. After John Blanche, the biggest single Google search subject that lands here is how to play this obscure two-player version of Risk that I mentioned ages ago (and have never actually sat down and played). Every single week. I check the stats and it is always that week's second biggest source of traffic. Most odd.

Germans On British Old School

We appeared in a German-language post here.

I hope they didn't notice the post where I was extremely bloody rude about German book covers.

Recent Gaming

Bastard bloody freezing in the Midlands at the moment, although as I write a mild drizzle is starting to thaw it all out. Iced-up roads near Coopdevil Towers means that I've been reduced to dumping the MX-5 on a mate's drive a good mile from my house (downhill there, very much uphill back) and having to walk there in a morning to start the commute, swinging a full kettle of hot water because that's the only way to thaw out the door hinge, glass to weatherstrip joint and lock to allow me to get in (Christmas afternoon at the parents it excelled itself by opening the drivers door and then freezing the lock mechanism solid in the three or four seconds the door was open requiring twenty minutes of waving baby sister's hairdryer at it). So I've been effectively snowed in, this being probably the worst snow in this part of Mercia since 1963, and therefore doing a lot of gaming stuff.

Christmas Eve saw a couple of games of Dungeonquest and Risk Express. I introduced the not-really-a-nephew-nephew to DQ with some trepidation as he's at an age when he tends to throw a strop when a game goes against him, so obviously HA HA FUCK YOU YOU'RE DEAD YOU TWAT might not have been the best game to play. But with Uncle Coop fucking it up early in the first game and not-really-a-nephew-nephew's Dad being shite as well he just found our misfortune much more amusing than he found his own. Having fallen down a bottomless pit in game #1 he asked after game #2 and we were packing up "Is my man still falling?" with some relish. That's my boy.

DQ is pretty old school -it's the only game I've ever played where entering a dungeon chamber and drawing a dungeon card that read "Empty" is the best thing that could possibly happen. It says a lot about it in that turns in which nothing happens are all little victories and you are grateful for them.

(Oh and, DQ veterans - Game #2, into the catacombs early doors heading towards the centre of the castle, Naga, Vampire, Giant Diamond worth 4000GP, Exit, emerge in first explored chamber, leave dungeon, laugh. Suck it up.)

Not-really-a-nephew-nephew really gets into Risk Express as well - properly vindictive little bastard he is when it comes to attacking other player's taken cards just for the hell of it. I have high hopes for him.

Tomorrow is the Stourbridge club's annual all-day gaming sesh where we hire the church hall for an entire day from club funds and club members get a free day. We are planning on going for a big battle of Star Wars Miniatures and my GW foam case is packed in readiness. This is a brilliant game, it's something of a minor tragedy that I only discovered how good it was after it was discontinued (then again if that hadn't happened, the competitive "outspent you so I win" players wouldn't have dropped it and I wouldn't have looked twice at it).

Also proving of interest because it's gone a bit low-key locally in recent times is Heroclix. It seems that every time a Saturday in which I am free to get up Waylands Forge in Brum rolls around it corresponds with Heroclix day so it's about time I pulled my finger and bought into it.

Now, Coop hates superhero media with a passion (except Batman and Watchmen, which is effectively Batman and realistic Batman) and has no interest in the comics. But having been tempted in dipping my toes in the water I have to say this is a clever game and not much is required to get up and running. Antony pointed me at the Fantastic Four starter set which has the rules, two maps and seven figures but the real beauty of it is that each member of the FF costs 100 points which makes force construction (typically 300-400 points) quite painless without being stuck with odd points left over.

Merely announcing that I'd bought the starter set saw a huge number of figures flung at me gratis so I'm looking forwards to playing this a bit more. At least until I bump up into a "outspent you so I win" player...

Most of the snowed-in days were spent in front of Fable III on the 360.

Now this is an odd game. If you follow all the signposts, and advance the plot whenever you can then the whole thing is over with 8 hours and you get a very unsatisfactory ending. Replay whilst ignoring the nagging to get on with it and you can get a perfect ending and see a million times more stuff that was off the beaten track last time around. It seems an odd design decision to throw yourself upon the mercy of games reviewers and the shrieking WORST GAME EVER internet chorus who perhaps only see one playthrough and rate accordingly.

Something I will say whilst trying to avoid spoilers is that the game must be at least started a second time. Much the dialogue in the first part of the game appears innocuous first time around but takes on a second meaning when you've already sat through the denouement of the plot.

And it's wonderfully English with Manc, Bristolian and Cockney accents all round with roles for Ben Kingsley (as a South Walian old mad bastard), Stephen Fry, Zoe Wanamaker, Sean Pertwee, Bernard Hill, Simon Pegg and what I suspect is a specially written cameo for Jonathan Ross with more words beginning with R and W than one would normally expect to find...

So loved it but only after a second play through. The writing and voice work is the best I've ever experienced in a game and the dungeons are inspirational as well - lots of multi-level structures within vast caverns or vertical shafts.

Wecommended as Wossy would say.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Even Leo Hartas Does It

From "Island of Illusions" at the Fabled Lands blog, here.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Every 2000AD Cover One After The Other In Under Four Minutes



And They Shall Know No Fear...

US woman has no sense of fear after brain damage and life is at risk accordingly - looks like fearless Space Marines (and the Chainsaw Warrior, another GW creation with his fear "cut out") would suffer with behaviour "lack[ing] any sense of desperation or urgency"

It does seem to infer that a fearless soldier could be created following surgery to his amygdala;

"SM suffers from a rare condition that has destroyed her amygdala, an almond-shaped region of the brain strongly linked to fear reactions."

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Star Wars History By Coop

After the defeat of the Rebel Alliance at the Battle of Endor, the Empire launched several military campaigns to subdue rebel systems. Foremost amongst the leaders of these campaigns was Grand Moff Hor, widely recognised as the finest military mind the Empire had.

The Rebel Alliance had been an attempt to usurp The Emperor and replace him with a ruling psychic elite that would have split the galaxy into a two tier social structure with a superior ruling class and a vassal class below them. This nightmare avoided, it fell to the Empire to unify humanity and eradicate the last of these psychic witches that threatened the future development of mankind.

At some point during these campaigns of unification Hor got corrupted by remnants of the heretical Jedi faith and turned traitor and launched an attack upon Coruscant, determined to usher in a new age of psychic elitism with himself on the throne of Coruscant. Fully one third of the Empire's forces followed him, one third remained loyal to Emperor Palpatine and one third tried to remain neutral as the Galactic Empire burnt in civil war.

Ultimately Hor was defeated. Leading 12th Stormtrooper Legion "The Eaters of Worlds", Hor killed the loyalist Grand Moff Sanguin, head of the 9th Stormtrooper Legion "The Angels of Blood" and greviously wounded Emperor Palpatine. Hor was distracted from landing the telling blow by a sole Imperial Trooper known to history as Olan Pu, allowing Palpatine to slay him. Hor's forces fled from Coruscant bearing his corpse, intending to clone it.

Mortally wounded, Ugnaughts encased Palpatine's shattered body in a Golden Throne allowing him to use his psychic might to shepherd humanity in the dark centuries to come.

Many millenia pass and Palpatine's Empire has sunk into a morass of religious bigotry and superstition.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Word Association Dungeon Stocking

Influenced by Zak's Two Minute Dungeon and the sort of "word-association test" results that came out of it.

Take a piece of paper and write down 100 words. Number them 00-99. (I did it on a single sheet of A4 in three columns). Which words? Any of them. I'd publish my list but the idea is that your list is your list and your results are your results. So DIY.

What I did is to start with a word influenced by something in my living room and immediately (i.e. with minimal thought) scribbled down the next word that the first word inspired and so on. Don't think about it, don't worry about the apparent usefulness or not of the word as I suspect that the more unlikely a word is to be dungeon-related, the more imaginative the results will turn out. When I didn't think up a new word straight away I just looked around for something like a colour or shape or an object and started again from that.

That done, throw d100 two or three times. Write the words down, try and link them to create a dungeon room or encounter. Job's a good 'un.

From my list the very first five test-shots came out like this.


(Very shiny spiked shield hanging on wall with impaled Barbarian's head. Either a red herring or a +1 shield but with some social and criminal implications as to using it in public. Magical status lost if head removed from shield).


(Vast rough cavern, large enough to create it's own micro-climate. One cliff face is carved to resemble huge lion face, slick with condensation and damp. Can be climbed to upper level, abseiled down back to cavern floor).


(A statue plinth where the original statue has been hacked off above the ankles and is missing. If climbed on, falls through floor, chance of falling A - into underground river below room or B - if not geographically possible into small black room which is a magical portal to position thirty feet above cold, fast-flowing underground river elsewhere in dungeon).


(Vertical catacomb niches, sealed with stone slabs each painted with figure reminiscent of Scandinavian Black Metal musicians - black clothes, corpse-paint. Slabs held in place by crude electro-magnet built by Chaos Dwarves, opening one breaks circuit, all open. Undead daubed in black and white paint within)


(Half a Dragon skeleton, split neatly along length of spine. Curiosity/Red Herring - where's the other half and what happened?)

The next two failed to take-off (PRESS, BLOCK started off OK but went downhill with PINK & SILVER, whilst GLASS, BUTTON, RED summed to suggest that the dice wanted a fire alarm button but that just seemed silly and anachronistic) but then HAMMER, RIVER, GRASS sparked off the idea of a Warhammer, either magical or of great value located on a small island in the underground river mentioned above with the island formed from black rock and carpetted with black grass. Presumably guarded in some way.

My word list is a motley collection of barely-related entries but you could take your time and theme your list - so that you compile 100 words of funeral theme of 100 words of steampunk theme and go with that to create a more unified dungeon design.

(*) CHROME was a word I was thinking would be useless even as I was writing it down.

(**) I was downloading the Fable III trailers from XBLA as I did the original list.

(***) Copy of Cradle of Filth's Midian album lying on the sofa.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hirelings Will Be Splintered

There's a rule in Warhammer Fantasy Battle called "Look Out Sir!". This states that if a unit is at least 5 strong, an independent character with that unit is immune to incoming missiles and may only be targetted by other independent characters. In other words casualties are taken from amongst the rank-and-file, not the heroes.

You might be familiar with the "Shields Will Be Splintered" houserule used in some D&D-variant campaigns. In this a shield may be sacrificed to cancel out a blow. It's quite genre-appropiate, aids the PCs a little bit and creates a bit of drama.

Yes, we are going to combine the two like so;

Whenever any trap that is going to target one PC activates, the PC may sacrifice an NPC hireling to avoid taking the damage himself before discovering what effects (damage, poison etc.) the trap may have. The hireling will always be killed or, if the trap is not lethal, will suffer it's effects to the worst degree.

The exception is where the PCs has taken a specific action to trigger the trap such as pushing a tempting button or placing his head in the mouth of a carven, green Devil's face - this is intended for tripwires in corridors, motion sensors, pressure panels, loose bricks linked to pit traps etc. The other exception is a trap that has a wide area effect, such as gassing an entire corridor, which would realistically catch most or all of the party within it's effects.

So then why suggest this houserule?

In the past I've often designed dungeon-based maps with a faulty or already tripped trap near the entrance, just to warn the players that traps are present. You know the sort of thing, a previous adventurer impaled on a spiked board or a spear trap that just graunches and seizes up due to neglect rather than firing off properly. Create a bit of paranoia and fair warning that the players need to be cautious.

Allowing for hirelings to be sacrificed to "take one for the team" does much the same but offers the potential for more drama. Lets be honest, in cinema, red shirts only exist to get killed and to show the danger inherent in the adventure without actually having to off a main character. Satipo, Indy's untrustworthy assistant at the start of Raiders is a good example and that scene creates much more drama and excitement than both of them secretly rolling high enough to not trigger a trap and then nobody knowing anything about it.

It also gives a little bit of a safety net for times of great paranoia in the dungeon. I've been reading James Raggi's Green Devil Face zines recently and some of the traps are so fiendish that the players would be wise to suspect everything. Don't get too close to the skull on a pedestal with the jewel in it's mouth because it might be trapped. Then again, it might be devious enough to have it's trap located 10' away to catch pole-prodders. Then again more bluff and counter bluff might mean that not taking the jewel is the action that triggers the trap when the party leave the chamber.

This can end up leaving the players frightened and unwilling to do anything because the nature of funhouse traps sprinkled with magic means that anything could happen regardless of any of the laws of reality which takes much of the skill and cleverness away from play. (A similar thing occurs in the Fighting Fantasy books written by Ian Livingstone whereby choices are so often meaningless in terms of weighing up sensible or risky options that the player might as well just flip a coin for it. I always felt that Steve Jackson's books were better written in this respect)

Knowing that there is a bit of slack because if the worst comes to the worst we can get through Nobbyfoot and the Kinky Chaosette before risking the PCs frees up the player's "analysis paralysis" and paranoia.

It also allows for the interesting and grim death-traps to be used to their full extent without holding back because the DM can always reap the dramatic benefits of such without saying "Wasn't that dramatic and grisly! What a end to the game! Now roll new characters up and try harder in the future".

So how do we stop this being abused and watching as the party hire thirty hirelings for each expedition and return home with none?

For a start nobody will take their coin if they keep seeing hordes of villagers leave with the PCs but not coming back. What are they doing, eating them? Do they need to supply the Septic Bungblatter Beast with 101 souls before their own are free?

Large parties should encourage more Wandering Monster rolls and ensure that any trap in the vicinity gets set off pretty much every time. You can stop two or three employees from trying to lift the obviously trapped jewel because you can keep an eye on them but when there are fifteen or more? More trouble than they are worth.

And of course each hireling shouldn't just be a one-shot meatshield, a free life for a PC. If they have useful skills, can swing a sword, cast Cure Light Wounds, are the only one who can translate the native lingo or navigate across the desert then every loss is a loss of potential functionality within the party unit.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Whatever Happened to Oriental Adventures?

I was browsing through some White Dwarfs back from when I first started buying it and noticed that this colour ad crops up in every Dwarf from about that time. So TSR UK were clearly on a big push for it and took it seriously but - where is it now?

You don't seem to hear anything about OA in the OSR blogosphere. I seem to recall that apart from the ads I didn't hear anything about it Back In The Day and can't recall seeing a copy but I certainly must have done at GW Birmingham when it was current and on the shelves.

In retrospect it seems a strange decision to follow up the PHB, DMG, MM etc. with a cod-Japanese supplement but I suppose there was the 1980s Ninja craze in full flow so that might have influenced TSR thinking. I can't imagine any market research suggesting that this was what AD&D players were crying out for. Bushido had come out in 1981, was well-regarded and surely any Western players attracted to playing samurai and bushi would have migrated over to there.

Does it's complete invisibility on the OSR scene reflect that nobody really cared? Or just that it was AD&D and these days people are more interested in OD&D and variants?

I remember thinking it must be a big, premium label AAA release because it was advertised heavily, had a great cover and had the all-important, imposing, "grown-up" word Advanced in it's title and obviously looking back that is simply evidence of the naivety of youth!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

2000AD's Dice Man 3

Back to the occasional series of RPG magazines what I had back in the day.

Dice Man was a short-lived gamebook magazine (just five bimonthly issues) from the 2000AD boys featuring comic strips in gamebook format revolving around 2000AD properties. I only ever owned this one from June/July 1986.

Mixing 2000AD comic characters and FF gamebooks might seem like a marriage made in heaven but sadly it doesn't really work that well. Partly this is because of the format of using comic book frames. The reader reads as normal from frame to frame (all of which are numbered) until a redirect or choice crops up. In FF terms this would be like being at paragraph 310 which has no redirect or choices so you go on to 311 and on to 312 and so on until 315 gives you an option or forces you elsewhere.

This means that games are not as long as their "section" count may imply (95, 97 and 103 in this issue) and end up feeling disjointed on a readthrough due to the lack of much bridging text to pick up the plot from several different input threads. Furthermore, the effects of deadlines, budgets or editorial space have some impact with two pages of brief textual descriptions suggesting that at some point during the project, somebody ran out of something. On the other hand, it does allow for the writers/artists to create visual puzzles and drop hints within the game - if you are familiar in Lone Wolf 2 - Fire on the Water, you might remember the Gary Chalk illustration whereby sharp eyes picked out which of your fellow travellers was the villain by a partially-concealed snake tattoo. That's very similar to some of the things in this issue.

Anyway, to the games themselves.

Killothon is a Rogue Trooper story in which the player plays Rogue, tasked with escorting the only child of clones to be born on Nu-Earth to safety. A typical "journey" format game with some interesting encounters in a post-apoc warzone jungle.

You can see the format used here, reading consecutive panels until told otherwise.

The other two are a bit more interesting. Second tale is Dark Powers featuring a character created especially for Dice Man called err... Dice Man. Well, Rick Fortune is his actual name, but Dice Man is the character's nickname.

Dark Powers is pretty much ahead of it's time. It's a full-on pulp adventure of the type that RPG'ers started to rediscover over the last decade. 1930s, Ahnenerbe, Indy-ripoff, Nazi Zombies, Mausers and Schmeissers, Blonde Aryan honeys in swastika armbands. The lot in other words and a good twenty years before the rest of the RPG world caught up.

Plot-wise the Nazi's have found the body of Odin/Wotan hanging above an entrance to hell at the Externsteine in the Teutoburger Wald. (This would presumably draw it's inspiration from Odin hanging himself from Yggdrasil in attempt to gain great inspiration and wisdom from self-mortification). The illustration of Wotan shrouded in a swastika flag is one of the most awesome/chilling/haunting things I've ever seen in a gamebook.

Rounding off the collection is The Garden of Alien Delights, a Torquemada story (he of villain status in the superlative Nemesis the Warlock) based entirely upon Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Co-credited as "An Original Idea By Hieronymous Bosch 1450-1516", Torquemada himself later rather cutely breaks the third wall by stating "What a load of Bosch!" when confronted with the famous pair of ears with blade from the right panel of the triptych. Philistine here has to admit that his initial introduction to the works of Bosch came through this comic book.

And it's a remarkable idea and visual work for a comic strip that deserves a wider audience.

Makes me wonder why nobody ever published a Garden of Earthly Delights D&D scenario. (Unless someone did of course and I'm merely unaware of it).

Mechanics-wise, the Rogue Trooper and Torquemada games share the same mechanics. A single stat is generated as 15+d6 and labelled according to flavour of the game - Rogue calls this COMBAT RATING, Torquemada PURITY RATING and other issues in which Slaine the Barbarian starred it's called WARP RATING. The hero and the the opponent roll 2d6 a piece with the hero adding +1 (Rogue because he's a Genetic Infantryman, Torquemada because he's a "such a bloodthirsty fanatic". The difference between the two scores is taken straight off the losers WHATEVER RATING. Once a enemy is defeated, his original WHATEVER RATING can be added to yours as a mix of healing and experience. Other bonuses and penalties to your WHATEVER RATING occur throughout the game.

Dice Man uses a finite resource system of Physical Strength and Mind Strength which simply get depleted (usually by d6 or 2d6) as Rick gets into scrapes. Running out of either is fatal.

So Dice Man was OK really, not great as a gamebook but letting the 2000AD writers and artists lose on the gamebook produced enough great ideas to excuse the slightly clunky and disjointed format. So why did we only see 5 issues?

It's obvious on a read through the problems inherent in the format. I can imagine, and the pages that "didn't get drawn" do point towards this that the magazine was extremely resource-intensive to produce and plan, probably a lot more so than filling the same number of pages with pre-plotted comic strips. Coupled with the slightly clunky format and the fact that some of these great ideas would get a wider audience in the pages of 2000AD proper and you can see why it didn't last forever or indeed anywhere near as long as PROTEUS. But a worthwhile experiment none the less and that Swastika-clad Wotan picture has haunted me ever since 1986.

Finally, by the miracle of the Portable Document Format (actually as somebody who worked on PDFs at a programmatical level for a few years - PDF is total dogshit once you look at the internals) I do have the other four issues and this is the last section of the first game in issue 1 written by Pat Mills and blatant pseudonym "T.B. Grover". Judge Dredd has just survived a haunted house that was harbouring Judges Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis and wants the place razed...

Nice one. :)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Jackson/Livingstone Expo 2010 Interview

I mentioned back in June that I'd been to the GW history seminar presented by no less than Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

It transpires that taped the talk and have released it as an mp3 here. Thanks to Newt of Sorcerer Under Mountain for the tip-off.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Empire of The Petal Throne 1974 - A Pictorial Review

I had no idea this was still available until all the Tekumel posts started up in the blogosphere a couple of weeks ago and so I bought the 1974 version as a PDF for a mere $11.

It's wonderful - a great looking OD&D variant, written properly as opposed to the crib notes of the original brown box and the background is nowhere near as intimidating as I always believed it would be. Perhaps it's because it's from an era before the setting fetishists had got hold of it but I think also because Prof. Barker is relaxed enough to know that what most players would want is a "lite" version of his world, tweaked for dungeon-based RPGing. And that's what we get.

It's immediately leaped up to the top of the pile of "RPGs I want to play some day".

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Spiderbite from White Dwarf 55

Over at the Fabled Lands blog, Dave Morris has reprinted Oliver Johnson's classic low-level D&D/AD&D scenario 'Spiderbite' from White Dwarf 55 (July '84). Well worth a look-see. It was used many years ago at Stourbridge & District Wargamers club as a tournament adventure for our annual(*) fantasy competition.

(*)Annual in this case meaning "annual whenever anybody remembers to organise it and assuming there is any interest". This is in no way synonymous with "every year".

Monday, 15 November 2010

Powdered Rhinoman Horn

Citadel of Chaos illustration, Russ Nicholson.

Rhinoceros are illegally poached for their horn which is supposedly regarded as an aphrodisiac in China (this actually is a myth, it's really for traditional medicine to treat fevers and convulsions. But the poaching problem is real).

Allansia, the Fighting Fantasy world has intelligent Rhinomen (I used to treat them as Bugbears under Mentzer Red Box rules). Who have horns.

There's a lot of encounter material potential from combining those two ideas.

Friday, 12 November 2010

It Has No Name

It has no name. Many brave men died to bring it here from the Galaxy of Pleasure... It will make your nights with Ming more... agreeable.

OK, that's not actually the right scene in the picture but I always rated Ornella Muti over Melody Anderson so that's what you get. (Anyway Princess Aura was clearly very, very dirty and probably really enjoyed Klytus and his bore-worms...)

That's a really inspirational line, reminiscent of the "Many Bothans died to bring us this information" line from Empire. Why do I like this and find it sets the ideas a-flowing when it's clearly just a throwaway thing in the original script?

OK, firstly what is The Galaxy of Pleasure? A whole galaxy dedicated to hedonism? The mind boggles. Perhaps it's a myth, a Shangri-La that many adventurers have died trying to find. So maybe that's just a story, there is no "Galaxy of Pleasure", but the thing with no name has such a reputation that popular myth can only see it coming from such because it's much more romantic than the reality which might be quite prosaic.

This doesn't help your adventurers when the artifact-of-the-month has a back story like this that gives no clues about it's location. Also, perhaps there is a Galaxy of Pleasure hidden away, and perhaps it gets better the closer to the centre you get, but then the flip side is that it becomes more difficult to drag yourself away. Obviously this doesn't have to a galaxy and for D&D it's almost certainly better than it isn't a whole galaxy. An Emperor's palace laid out in concentric rings? A temple of Slaanesh? The private estates of a decadent Dark Elf? You'd always be wondering what was at the very centre.

Secondly, the idea that this soma or liquor has no name. Why not? Maybe a superstition. If many brave men died whilst transporting it to Mongo and probably carry on doing so to fetch more perhaps it's regarded as akin to the Koh-i-noor and cursed because of all the blood metaphorically splashed up it's side. A treasure so whispered about and so potent that nobody dared to put a label on it. Names have power (as any demonologist is aware). If it has no name, then nobody can discuss it and that itself has power in a Newspeak fashion - I can imagine Ming making the uttering of it's name punishable by death to stop the peasantry getting any ideas above their station. Imagine if saying "The One Ring" brought Nazguls to your door. Imagine if saying it whilst in the servitude of Sauron brought swift execution.

(I have a half-memory from somewhere in Tolkien, that the inhabitants of Mordor were forbidden from speaking Sauron's name, but I may be wrong in that respect. Even if not it's a good idea).

Thirdly, it's clearly a fantastically valuable treasure and it's acquisition is as much a demonstration of raw power as anything else. How do your adventurers feel about a well-paid quest to recover something so trivial but the whole job is so dangerous and possibly other big cheeses feel the need to demonstrate their raw power and take it from the adventurer's cold, dead hands. It's one thing to risk life and limb bringing the important antidote to Nurgle's Rot back to your home city, another thing entirely to risk life and limb admittedly in exchange for fabulous wealth but for something this trifling - I find that an interesting proposition. You could even take it to it's logical extreme in that the item is of no real value at all - the wine is dreadful and barely palatable but the difficulties involved in reaching it's lands of production such that it becomes priceless.

Flip flop that and perhaps the patron wishes to prove his power by taking something that is priceless and of incomparable quality and then showing how he gives it to his slaves to clean the drains with. How do your bloodied and battered adventurers sitting on their newly minted piles of gold think about that one?

The Quincunx

I had an idea many years ago for a puzzle in a text-adventure game. It never got used, but it would work well as a player-testing puzzle in a dungeon. (What's a quincunx? Five points arranged with four in a square and the fifth point being central. Look at the #5 face on a spotted d6).

The PCs hear of a level known only as the Quincunx. Descent into the level is via a vertical ingress, such as a ladder, spiral staircase or even a fireman's pole. If they hadn't previously heard of the name then perhaps it's engraved on the floor "You Are Now Lost In The Quincunx" or a Magic Mouth solemnly intones it. Entrance may even be one way - once they are in they are committed to solving the puzzle.

Quincunx Take #1

The level is vast, empty and smothered in magical darkness or magically opaque purple fog or similar. Only by heading off in a NE, SE, SW or SE direction will the party find an exit. Each exit is of the same type and the entrance and levels to the level below. If they wander off in any other direction, they get lost and face whatever hazards people lost in magical darkness in a dungeon face.

Quincunx Take #2

In this version, the ingress leads to a central chamber with eight straight passageways radiating off into the distance with the far ends of the passageways far beyond the reach of the party's light sources. The NE, SE, SW and SE passageways all lead to exits down a level with exits of the same type as the entrance (as in Take #1). The cardinal directions all lead to very nasty traps and nothing else.

Quincunx Take #3

This is a large and sprawling maze with shifting walls and magical illusions hiding passageways and implying that non-existant passageways exist. Navigation is all but impossible unless the party aim to set out in a NE, SE, SW or SE direction and try and keep on such in which case they will eventually lead to an exit, again of identical type to the entrance.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Harry Clarke (1889-1931)

A trip to The Works (remaindered bookstore) in Birmingham on Saturday was rewarded with finding a lovely large-format hardback of Edgar Allan Poe's works with the classic 1919 Harry Clarke monochrome plates, and for just £6.95.

As a small child I found the above illustration for "The Premature Burial" absolutely terrifying and to a degree I still do - Clarke's masterful use of that expanse of black space with the hungry tree roots that take the eye down and then the contorted shape in the coffin with the staring, mad eyes. Fantastic composition.

Happily somebody else has already scanned all of Clarke's full-page plates from this work so have a look here for more wonderful monochrome grotesqueness. Fans of Russ Nicholson (i.e. most of you) really should click that link.

Sadly, like Poe, the Irishman Clarke died incredibly early - he was a mere 41 years old when tuberculosis claimed him.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Links from Facebook?

As a man of taste and sophistication I obviously have no truck with Facebook, nor indeed Twitter. I've noted a fair few hits coming over from Facebook (to the Brit OSR post) but have no idea why nor can get on and take a look! Anybody able to offer me a link so I can see what (if anything) is being said? Cheers.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Power And The Glory RPG - Bulletpoint version

This is, I believe, all the rules and game format so far and should be complete to play. Ideally I'd like to follow this with a nicer PDF version with a crash course in 1950s/1960s motorsport but this is where we are at the moment.

Buyer Beware - Totally unplaytested.


DRIVE is d6+6, DOOM is 2d6+6, roll 3d6 and allocate at will. Pick a name, nationality, and one sentence "elevator pitch" for your driver. Pick a team for him to drive for.

Stuck for suitably international driver names? Pick up the newspaper and scan the team sheets for last weekend's football. Note that there were very few top-level racing drivers from Asia, Africa (excluding white South Africans), the Middle East or Communist countries in the 1950s and 1960s - off-hand I can't even think of one. Don't let that stop you though.


Lorenzo Totti, Italian, Scuderia Ferrari
Spoilt brat playboy.


Menzies Lynch, Scottish, Ecurie Tipton(*)
Talented and taciturn driver from Highland farming stock.

(*) Does not exist. In-joke moniker for my slotcar racing exploits

Tokens aka The Short Straw aka "Beads"

(This assumes coloured black and white coloured beads or flat marbles in an opaque bag. Adjust according to whatever is available to your group. Playing cards with PLAYER LIVES or PLAYER DIES will also do in which case the former is WHITE and the latter BLACK).

Each player draws one bead from the bag and keeps it secret. It refers to the ultimate fate of the player to your right. White = destined to live. Black = destined to be killed.

Clerk of the Course

Randomize one player as "Clerk of the Course" (quasi-GM). He keeps in front of him the "Gonk", a small item with some motorsport significance that marks his role - spark plug, model racing car, Scalextric car, miniature helmet etc. Ideally this should be period-appropriate - a 1960s racing toy car for a 1960s game etc. When the role of Clerk of the Course changes, pass the "Gonk" on. This acts a reminder as to who is currently in the hot seat. Exactly what your "Gonk" is is left to the ingenuity of the gaming group.

Clerk of the Course sets the scene for the first Grand Prix (a round of play, shorted to GP). Describes location, type of race, weather, reputation etc.

e.g. Monaco GP, a street race around the principality, blazing sunshine, a race notorious for breaking cars, slow-speed crashes and difficult in overtaking.

This may be based upon a real venue (for the enthusiasts) or completely fictional even down to being set in a fictional, Ruritanian nation. In the 1950s some GPs were still being run on closed public roads.

Each GP consists of five hazards. The Clerk of the Course selects the first hazard from the list and it's "victim" and must narrate the run-up to the hazard. Note that harder a hazard the Clerk of the Course throws at the victim the greater the points the victim scores should they overcome it...

The victim then "fights" the hazard in the old Fighting Fantasy style with DRIVE replacing SKILL and DOOM replacing STAMINA. (Both roll 2d6+SKILL. Highest causes loss of 2 STAMINA to other. Repeat until somebody runs out of STAMINA. Check any FF book.)

If the victim wins he scores points based upon the hazard and becomes the new Clerk of the Course and takes control of the "Gonk". He narrates exactly how he overcame the hazard (recovered control, went wide onto the grass to avoid the backmarker etc.)

If he loses, he is out of the game and the bead held by the player to his left is revealed.

If black, the victim died and is out of the game and the Clerk of the Course must narrate the aftermath. The player may still be Clerk of the Course in later GPs.

If white, the victim survived the hazard and the Clerk of the Course must narrate the aftermath. The victim may no longer score points, nor be a victim again but may still be Clerk of the Course in later GPs. He is assumed to not make any impression in subsequent races for this season and does not get mentioned again.

If the victim beats a Race Ending hazard he may not be targeted as a victim again in this GP.

When the victim fails to overcome a hazard, the Clerk of the Course remains in that role and keeps the "gonk".

After five hazards have been resolved, a new GP happens. Randomize Clerk of the Course again.

Repeat procedure until all drivers have run out of DOOM points or a GP starts with just one driver left.

And the end of the season (one or no drivers left or you have run out of time), total points for a winner (if you care). This driver has amassed the greatest reputation even if it is posthumous. Actual race placings (which we ignore) are not particularly relevant (Stirling Moss never won the driver's championship).

In subsequent seasons, surviving drivers may be reused but their DOOM and DRIVE are rerolled. Their scores in previous games may be kept to show their "career" points against their whole career not simply this season but this has no real game effect.

List of Hazards

Those marked (*) are race ending even if overcome. Driver may not be targeted again this race.

HAZARD/DRIVE/DOOM/POINTS/If hazard overcome/Example "Black" outcomes
BLOWOUT(*) 8/4/52/Stops car safely/Crash
HIGH SPEED BLOWOUT(*) 10/8/100/Stops car safely/Crash
SKID 7/10/70/Regains control or stops car safely/Crash
SPIN 11/4/44/Stops car safely/Crash
OFF TRACK 7/6/42/Misses anything hard, returns to track/Crash, ditched, beached
TRAPPED IN BURNING CAR(*) 10/4/60/Escapes/Burns & Smoke inhalation
RISK OF HITTING OTHER CAR 10/4/40/Misses car/Crash
TANGLE WITH BACKMARKER 10/2/20/Misses car/Crash
SOMETHING BREAKS(*) 7/10/90/Stops car safely/Crash
SOLID OBSTACLE 8/8/64/Misses obstacle/Crash
BREAKDOWN(*) 10/2/40/Stops car safely/Crash
FIRE IN PITS 9/8/72/Avoids flames/Burns & Smoke inhalation
DEBRIS 9/6/54/Misses debris/Strikes debris, crash
FUEL LEAK(*) 6/10/80/Stops car safely/Fire, car stops in dangerous place
ANIMAL/SPECTATOR ON TRACK 10/4/60/Misses obstacle/Crash

Extending this list.

Generally speaking, a short, sharp shock (dodging a spectator) has a high DRIVE and a low DOOM because the hazard is resolved quickly. Something that drags on, such as a mechanical failure at speed has a low DRIVE but a high DOOM, requiring several relatively easy rolls to overcome.

Points are simply DRIVE*DOOM with a +20 bonus to all Race Ending hazards.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

D&D Level Drain As Injuries

I recently had two thoughts about uses of Level Drain in D&D variants.

(I don't actually know why these came to mind because I haven't been thinking about D&D much lately, but these ideas come to me none-the-less.)

Level Drain could be used to simulate big, long-term injuries. Hit Point loss gets recovered quickly in game terms with healing spells and potions all over the shop, but Level Drain takes a while - you have to build up the XP to get back to where you were and for a while you aren't as good as you know have been in the past.

So if you were running a "soft" game whereby you didn't want to kill PCs at 0hp, you could rule that 0hp for a PC means "bad injury". The PC is now totally out of it and has to be carried out of the dungeon and next time out, the hp will be recovered but a level has been lost. You can put an in-game gloss on what this injury is exactly but until the level is recovered, the PC is still recovering from it. And if they retire the PC thus depriving him of a chance to recover - well, Fanjion the Fighter's broken pelvis from that fall down the pit never set properly and so he retired in order to run the local spit-and-sawdust boozer.

A 1st level character would be relegated down to 0-level status and forced retirement, his injury losing that little bit of superiority he once enjoyed to the man in the street. Alternatively they could just be dead.

You could also rule that if a physical or mental injury that occurs in-game and cannot possibly be handwaved with "just lost a few hp and had enough to not worry about" (e.g. shot in head at pointblank range, impaled on rusty spike, loss of limb) the hp could be lost and a level or two.

This also leads onto the second idea I had which was weapons that dish out Level Drains, mostly guns and blasters. D&D's "survival under fire" hit points have never really fitted in with guns so perhaps a Star Wars-type blaster could just dish out a Level Drain as it's damage and bypass hp altogether (other than that which is lost as a result of level drain). Perhaps a Save vs Wands to turn that hit into a narrow miss or a Save vs Dragon Breath if the incoming fire is more, well fire-like I suppose.

This would speed up record-keeping since in a firearm/laser fight, 1st level mooks (Stormtroopers) are just alive or dead with a single blow and don't really need hp at all (I believe 4E does something similar to this). It represents that fact that there is really no such thing as a mere flesh wound from a modern or futuristic firearm.

Once you take a blaster hit, you lose hp because of the level and just about everything you do as a D&D character that relies upon game mechanics gets knocked down a bit. Another quirk in this system is that once a PC gets to the high levels where the xp needed to level up is comparitively small (the +x hp per level with no CON modifiers sort of levels) he recovers from Level Drain injuries much quicker.

Everybody hates Level Drain but viewed like this I think it might be one of D&D's best mechanisms.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Croquet Dwarves

This is a picture of two NWOBHM Dwarfs with earrings and ponytails, in a dungeon, playing croquet. In a gamebook. In 1985.

I defy you to find a more Brit Old School picture than this. Go, on I bloody defy you to beat that!

(Jon Glentoran for Warlock No. 7 from the solo adventure The Temple of Testing, December 1985)

Monday, 11 October 2010

This Is Why...

I cannot honestly comprehend how I have had this blog for so long without mentioning The Greatest Roleplaying Game Ever Created Bar None. Please accept this mind-blowing introduction to the game from WD82 as recompense.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Warhammer Army Lists Done Old School

£17.50 army list books? Get stuffed. In Warhammer 1st edition days this was yer army list and served dual purpose as mail order form as well.

Note that S is probably one less than you are expecting (add 1 to get the figures used in 2nd edition onwards), T is bizarrely alphabetic despite being on exactly the same scale as S - C is third letter, add 1 = a modern 4. Also Warhammer did not shy away from fractional M scores in those days. In WFB1 and WFB2 Wizards came in four levels. Constitution was just a spell point system, spells costing Constitution as cast.

On the subject of Warhammer, I noticed this in WD95 (November 1987). There was a serious amount of butthurt on the Stourbridge club's boards back when WFB8 was announced as being only 4 years after WFB7 and this was generally felt to be not playing fair. However, back when WFB3 was released...

That's right three versions in five years in the eighties although Boardgamegeek tells me that WFB1 was 1983, WFB2 was 1984 which makes it three versions in four years, and two in two back at the start. Admittedly Boardgamegeek also tells me that Tony Ackland did WFB1's cover illo and that's bollocks since it was Blanche.

See, they were total money-grubbing bastards even back then.

The Key of Tirandor

News of Mongoose's forthcoming In From The Cold, a retrospective of Dave Morris pieces for the Dwarf reminded me of Key of Tirandor which is included within. Since it's a collection of Dave Morris articles I am assuming that Mike Polling is a pseudonym - a fairly common practise in the magazine industry in order to avoid letting on that the majority of editorial content is written by one or two people. Certainly reading the excellent Fabled Lands blog shows a strong similarity in style.

For me Tirandor was the subject of much curiosity for a very long time. It was serialised in WD49 and WD50 (Jan and Feb 1984) and while I've had a copy of WD50 for nearly twenty years, WD49 eluded me until recently. So I periodically used to come across the second half of this AD&D scenario that appears to be set inside the head of some doo-lally-tat wizard and wonder how on earth the plot had led there.

As originally published for AD&D the scenario is 10 pages long which doesn't sound very much (would cover about two encounter areas for a 3.5E dungeon I think...) but as was typical of the Dwarf in this era, there is a hell of lot of text densely crammed into those pages in the traditional small print. Break out your magnifying glasses anyone thinking of running it today.

Dense tiny text aside this scenario really packs the material in tightly. In the first five pages we get a campaign background to a stand-alone fantasy world, a world map, six high-level pre-gens, two player's introductions, four "handouts" to set the scene (fragments of manuscripts relevant to the party leader's magical research), a journey through three separate locations and two "dungeons" (actually a large house in a swamp and a subterranean city) with 25 and 103 "rooms" respectively.

Dungeon design is massively sped up by having several rooms sharing a single, gnomic description (e.g. G, H, I : Reception rooms; empty, dusty) or just titles (Cooking Area, Sleeping Quarters etc.). It's a good lesson in economical writing when designing dungeons and megadungeon aficionados should take a look at it.

Anyway, to the plot and atmosphere. Heavily spoilered so apply discretion.

Tirandor is the Atlantis of the campaign setting (a setting that lacks Gods and therefore functional Clerics), a mythical land that never existed except it did and as is the norm for this sort of thing, great power lies waiting for whoever can find it.

8th Level MU Kastarys believes it exists and assembles a bunch of 7th and 8th level pre-gens to help him look for it.

It might have something to do with that mountain range just to the south of the campaign start point, the one named THE MOUNTAINS OF TIRANDOR. Not that I'm giving anything away here.

Oh, and pre-gen Zanok has some worthless family heirloom called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR. Apparently this isn't thought to be significant despite the fact that the party are searching for a place called TIRANDOR which is, of course, only a child's tale in a place called MOUNTAINS OF TIRANDOR in a scenario called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR. The artifact called THE KEY OF TIRANDOR therefore can't be very important even though (SPOILER) this place called TIRANDOR which doesn't exist actually does.

Quote "He has no idea of it's significance", suggesting that Int 12 and Wis 13 don't count for much these days.

This strikes me as causing some searching questions about five minutes into the first game session or alternatively never turning up at all as Zanok's player doesn't bother to read his character sheet. My solution would be a separate briefing for Zanok saying that the quest for non-existent TIRANDOR intrigues him because of the old family heirloom and he has agreed to it out of curiosity and a feeling of being fated to it - it then being up to Zanok's player as to when and if the heirloom is mentioned to the other PCs.

Off we go to Tirandor then...

First off is an attack by bandits which appears to be a bit of a random encounter except that when slaughtered their leader drops a gem which Zanok (or whoever is carrying The Key if he is not, for example he's dead already and mysteriously enough the rest decided to keep his it's-useless-right? family heirloom) feels a urge to keep and merge with the rest of The Key. This crops up during the scenario, both apparently coincidental encounters with people who have the other parts of the key and a certain degree of telling the PCs what they feel. I'm always leary of this sort of thing. It needs a party who are happy with being told what they feel and get on it. I'm not sure that many of the people I've ever roleplayed with are like that.

Then we enter the swamps after fighting off 12 fanatic wolves who oddly lack a pack leader (the fight to the death nature of the encounter and lack of alpha male is stressed but never explained). Random encounter table including the wonderful entry "Miscellaneous harmless creatures".

The swamp contains the House of Dorganath our 25-room dungeon. This is where I start to get a miffed with the set-up of the scenario. Dorganath is a pretty neat creation - he is an evil wizard who is mystically tied to the swamps and has a certain amount of Tom Bombadil in him in that he is a partial personification of the land. If one dies the other does, but this is never very clear to the PCs because they won't be hanging around to see the presumable drying out of the swamps after they off him nor is there any real scope of attacking him via the swamp - I can imagine a Mussolini-style piece of civic engineering to drain the swamps therefore draining all his power away but obviously that is never going to happen within the confines of a game session.

Where I start to get a little bit miffed and start to suspect that the scenario might not work for me is the nature of the way this is written - it seems to remove much in the way of player choice. For a start as it is setup the party can wander the swamp and go nowhere or follow the shifting patches of dry land that Dorganath is producing to lead them to his house. No real choice.

The swamps are also one of two areas whereby any attempt to resolve the problem by flying meets a real "you can't do that because it ruins my plot" suggestion which makes it seem daft to give two PCs the ability to fly (Zanok's Wings of Flying and Kastarys' Fly spell) and another access to a Djinn which presumably also flies. (In both instances, the answers are that the house and path cannot be seen when flying and later on any attempt to fly over a solid wall causes the wall to grow and not permit it).

Once at Dorganath's house he has access to a host of not-quite-zombies, animated souls of his victims and those of the swamp. These don't fight but effectively stop the PCs from doing anything that Dorganath/The DM doesn't want them to do. The PCs have to meet him for a chat and then kill him, even if they try to circumvent the plot by breaking in rather than knocking on the door, the plot armour zombies come along and through sheer bloody-mindedness force them back on the right track.

Secondly, a lot of the excellent ideas are opaque to the players. Case in point being Dorganath. Unless the DM has the swamps suddenly turn into virgin pasture within ten seconds of the wizard's death the whole idea will have to be explained later ("Here's what that meant and what was going on") and that's like having to explain a joke. Or like Donnie Darko whereby you have to read the director's website to find out all the stuff he never bothered to explain in the film - a film that I absolutely detest and believe that anybody who rates it is just trying to hide the fact that it's bollocks and they didn't understand it either. Emperors New Clothes and all that. But I digress.

Once out of Dorganath's house and into the mountains, the party runs into the sage Aroyendis. Aroyendis is basically a super being who can't be touched, quotes T.S. Eliot with the players expected to pick up on this OOC in order to twig that this is because of his quote "position at the precise point where all dimensions, all times, all universes, in short, all realities meet." In my book this makes him Yog-Sothoth but then it probably wouldn't because I wouldn't recognise T.S. Eliot unless it was that "whimper not a bang" business.

I'm being pretty down on this but actually I like everything in this scenario except the scenario. I like the ideas, I like the rough progression through the plot/journey but I don't like the way it is implemented with it's DM-exclusive details and lack of meaningful player choice. I like it, but I wouldn't run it this way. I'd much prefer to flesh it out drastically and remove much of the railroad feel.

We'll carry onto the Anak city and then onto metaphysical weirdness in a following post.

(Off topic - thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and words re eye op - very much appreciated and feels much better to be out of purdah so to speak and able to do things myself now. Just a matter of waiting for focusing to sharpen up now.)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Down Periscope, Stare Into The Eye Of The Warp And Despair

Eyesight correction laser surgery part 2 is due on Thursday so I'm probably going a bit "down periscope" for a week or so. At time of writing I'm uncertain whether the op will be as relatively minor as the first session or a bit more major (corrective sessions sometimes have to be more invasive than the first shot due to loss of corneal thickness) so everything for the rest of the year is pretty much on hold. Rest assured the procedure is somewhat more sophisticated than Dave Carson's illustration of ergasiophobia from a Call of Cthulhu article in WD89 makes it appear.

In the meantime have some random Britart from the Coop Collection.

(Yes, it's true, Games Workshop jigsaw puzzles. Note however that not one of those images is actually a Games Workshop image.)

(It didn't seem to last very long. IIRC I had one issue of it, now lost to posterity)

(Yeah, OK this is not Britart being one of Lucas The Elder's treatments of Judith and Holofernes. But let's me honest, she is the most WFRP'y thing I've seen in ages. Bizarrely and wonderful grimdark-ish, it was once the vogue for female portraits to be done as a treatment of this Book of Judith tale complete with severed head. Certainly an icebreaker at dinner parties...)

(Yes, once upon a time Games Workshop actually thought that Tintin In The Congo might be good inspirational material for 28mm white metal.)

(And that attitude continues today...)