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...)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Standoffish Local Gaming Shops

Look around on blogs and forums and you'll see two complaints raised about the local gaming shop, wherever it is and wherever it is local to. In fact you'll always see the same two complaints viz

"I went into the shop and nobody spoke to me."


"Everybody there seemed to be in a group and knew each other and I didn't know them."

Well, yeah. Welcome to England.

The idea that a gaming shop is committing a great sin if the owners or till monkeys don't buttonhole a browser strikes me as an odd one and one that seems almost exclusive to the gaming scene. Off-hand I can't think of a single UK high street store where anybody entering the shop is greeted or to be fair, even acknowledged. Well, I can think of one and you can to and I believe since this is a gaming blog and you are a gamer and I am a gamer we are in fact thinking of THE SAME ONE. And we'll deal with them later.

Much of this is basically because in England we just don't do that. Shop staff don't initiate contact with customers unless spoken to or the customer looks woefully lost and confused, and to be fair then they'll usually find an excuse to be somewhere else anyway.

Maybe this is a hangover from a class thing - when a department store was staffed by people "below stairs" and people able to afford the free time and spending money to leisure shop were their social superiors. In those days (the 1970s I believe...) there were so-called floor walkers and they were superior sales assistants employed to help and smooth the visit of shoppers - the till monkeys were just there to ring up the bill.

It is socially acceptable for this man to address you unbidden in his employer's department store.

More likely I think is this is an English thing to do with insouciance. It might appear to an outsider to be a haughty state of contempt and ignorance but it's not, it's more a respect for personal space. The assumption is always that the customer doesn't wish to be hassled. You'll know when you are really really being ignored because the Englishman concerned will actually have to pay you more attention just to point out how ignored you are being. (The unspoken equivalent of telling someone verbally that you aren't speaking to them with all the irony that implies). And we are talking England England here, not Britain - A Scot will tell you he is ignoring you, A Welshman will talk at you in Welsh so that you can't understand him and an Irishman will talk at you in, err, English so that you can't understand him either.

This Irishman does not wish to speak to you so is communicating to you in English such that actual communication is rendered impossible. (Posed by actor).

The assumption is that a English customer wishes to be left alone, knows what to do if they should require assistance and is fully aware that the ettiquette of shopping is such that if you wish to purchase something you take it to till and hand over money.

When I've entered shops in the US I find it a culture shock that the owner will go out of their way to say hello. Mostly this is because Americans are actually friendlier upfront than Brits but initially it put my back up. Because if it were happening in England I would know that really, deep down that "Hello son" was actually saying "I'm watching you for shop-lifting you little bastard". And in England that would drive customers away.

So why do we expect one niche hobby out of a whole raft of niche hobbies to have a pro-active meet-and-greet philosophy when supermarkets and corner shops and WHSmiths don't? The local RC specialist doesn't acknowledge customers they don't know by name and neither do customers expect them to. I've never wandered in there and taken umbrage that the staff don't say hello and ask me if I know what I want.

Right then, now to that aforementioned not-mentioned UK high street shop.

I said that there are two criticisms made online of every gaming shop ever. There is actually a third and it's specific to this one which is of course, the Evil Empire. It goes like this

"I've stopped going in there to buy their paints because I just can't fucking stand the way the staff leap on as soon as you have one foot across the threshold and they treat you like you are wet behind the ears and it's bloody obvious that you know more about gaming than they do."

Here's a truth. I will only set foot in my local GW if one of two members of staff are present. One is a fellow club member, the other a close friend of a fellow club member. Only if they are present do I feel that I'm not about to go cornered and given the full false bonhomie, I'm-your-new-best-mate-I-am-what-are-you-painting treatment. (Ridiculously because I am inbetween stages 1 and 2 of laser eye surgery I have to stop five yards short of the entrance, find my specs and put them on thus enabling me to see all the way to the back of the store to check who is in attendance on that particular day).

This may work quite well in the US where meet-and-greet is the norm. (The Warner Brothers merchandise store in my local mall used to do this, no doubt under instructions from USA HQ, but the attitude of Black Country folk was a baffled "What the fuck are you standing there collaring me for? I can walk in the shop under my own power, I can see the goods and I can see the tills. Now fuck off and stop hassling me."). In England it just pisses people off.

Yeah, it's full on. Toned down it might not be so bad. You could argue that a simple "Good afternoon, if you need anything just shout" would suffice but then the attitude would still be "Well yeah, I know that because you work here that's clearly your job".

So let's give the gaming store a free pass here. Nobody else does it and if you are incapable of asking the staff a question then you must surely struggle when on the customer side of any customer-facing outfit.

I just find it really odd that gaming shops get hammered for this in a culture that actively discourages it.

Are gaming shops cliques? Yes, but so are pubs, workplaces, football terraces. There are lots of social circles in which everybody knows each other except for the new guys. Again if people struggle with this in a gaming shop they must struggle with it in a lot of places.

In many ways a shop that doesn't have a clique of regulars on first name terms with the staff is like a restaurant that's half-empty at the busiest time of the day - it suggests that it's not that good.

If there is a hardcore, if the same people are in weekend on weekend that's a good sign. It shows the local gaming scene, even if it's just the scene within the shop itself is strong and that the stock is accurately reflecting what people play and what they might move into playing. It shows there is a good rapport between staff and customers and in an age whereby it's nearly always cheaper online the fact that people keep coming back should be taken as a sign of the shop keeping people happy. Here are a crowd who appreciate the shop and want for it to stay in business. Despite appearances this is a social hobby we have. People support businesses like this when they are face-to-face arrangements.

I'd be leery about a shop that didn't have a hardcore regular customer base cultivated. Somethings gone wrong and either the staff are nonchalant about repeat custom or what they wish to sell is out of kilter with what people what to buy.

Now there are instances were the two criticisms are valid. Being ignored when you go to till because the staff are busy playing or chatting is not acceptable. A clique that treats a noob as a second-class citizen because they are purchasing a game the clique doesn't rate or is not well-versed in what is available is also a bad sign. But these are hopefully extremes. There are a myriad of sins that a retail outlet can commit (don't get me started on CEX or we will be here all night) but the two mentioned back at the start shouldn't really be counted amongst them. Merely disliking a shop because nobody comes over to you or because a group of regulars mysteriously all seem to know each other is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Afterthought written after reading all that back - I wonder if perhaps there is an issue of people within a hobby oft held to be socially awkward feeling this quite strongly in a new environment. If a newcomer to a shop is the sort of person that deep down prefers somebody else to initiate social contact, and is actively wishing for this to happen, then perhaps the old "nobody spoke" suddenly becomes a major thing whereas somebody without social awkwardness would not find it even noteworthy if he went into Halfords to buy spray paint and nobody offered to help.

Likewise the hardcore of regulars. Perhaps it's felt strongly because they see not knowing these people, their foibles and in-jokes they feel excluded rather than taking a more realistic line that they don't know these people and indeed why should they when they've never before met? Maybe after all that, this is why gaming shops seem to held to these standards that aren't expected from other shops.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Cthulhu Dice - The RPG

I think that this looks fantastic in it's simplicity and all-inclusiveness. I'd love to run it and the way it handles skills by having a wide-ranging "career" and a narrowly-focused "hobby" is fantastic. If it's covered by either you've got it, if not you haven't. Handles my main gripe with skill-based RPG systems which is that there ends up being 200 of the bloody things each with their own exceptions to the main rules.

There is a display tray of packs of the Steve Jackson Cthulhu Dice at Waylands Forge, I must remember to pick one up next time I am in there.

If an introductory mass market paperback ever comes out again with an RPG system for begineers in the modern day it needs to be something this simple and elegant.

The Power And The Glory - Part 3

Despite originally stating that the Fighting Fantasy system had too many dice rolls in it, I've come around to thinking that it's a perfect fit for TPATG.

It's nice and simple and playing a couple of FF gamebooks recently has pointed out two little psychological quirks (for want of a better word) that are interesting and may work well in this context.

The first is that because of the bell-curve results of 2d6, differences between SKILL in two combatants turn out to be much more important ingame than may first appear. For example a SKILL 10 versus a SKILL 11 looks evenly matched, but because 2d6 are added to it (average score = 7), on average rolls the SKILL 11 chap will win every time = 18 against 17. It isn't half psychologically imposing (maybe morale sapping would be a better word) to look at an opponent who is only 1 SKILL better than you but keep seeing him outscore you time and time again and for you to only beat him on fluke rolls.

Secondly, in combat average blows (ignoring Test Your Luck and creature/weapon-specific grit) do 2 STAMINA points. Mechanically you could halve STAMINA scores and do 1 STAMINA point per round won which will bring you to the same place in the same time, but somehow that 2 STAMINA damage system imposes more upon the loser. A STAMINA score like 20 looks nice and big and comforting but take 4 hits and suddenly you are looking at 12 which bizarrely looks and feels much worse than going down from 10 to 6 in single STAMINA point steps. It's a curious quirk.

For TPATG purposes I've renamed SKILL and STAMINA to DRIVE and DOOM since STAMINA's usage is changed from the original FF system. I was toying with the idea of DRIVE and DESTINE but destine is quite an archaic word and probably wouldn't widely be understood.

LUCK was mentioned in earlier blog comments, I won't be using it because it overlaps with STAMINA and is effectively the same measurement but in an entirely different mechanic that wouldn't sit correctly in the game.


Because the role of Gamesmaster changes rapidly in the game (I'm calling this role the Narrator) I thought it might be an idea to have a physical artifact that is handed around to indicate which player is currently in "the hot seat". This comes from a Legends of the Five Rings wargame I was once invited to whereby the players handed around a Not-Lego Samurai which was placed on the table-edges to show which side currently had initiative.
The Gonk can be anything, but ideally it should be "cultural" - themed to the game and the era. Perhaps a suitable model racing car, a spark plug, a driving glove, a slotcar speed controller, a miniature crash helmet etc.
I present this as a challenge to a gaming group's ingenuity and resources to go out and acquire themselves something suitable.


A driver is have a brief, perhaps only one sentence, backstory explaining how and why he is a racing driver. A simple phrase such as "spoilt playboy" or "working class mechanic made good" is fine. Also he will need a sentence describing what he expects to be doing after his racing career is over. None of this matters very much mechanically, but it creates a context for the driver character and a bit of pathos for those that don't make it.


With three dice rolls required, the player rolls all three and allocates at will - one to DRIVE and two to DOOM. This is much better than the standard FF system whereby the initial single d6 roll for SKILL often dooms an adventurer to failure as soon as it is rolled.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

White Dwarf 74

Yeah, I know I'd only got up to WD5 (and that all of nine months ago) and going ahead to WD74 is a bit of a leap but basically I couldn't find a lot to say about WD after the first couple of issues. Also, WD that early doesn't really speak to me as I wasn't around then. So instead lets just start with a few semi-random issues that are a bit more of my era or are perhaps more interesting to me even when they aren't.

Right then, lets look at the first one I ever bought. White Dwarf 74 bought by the 11-year old Boy Coop in February 1986 from WHSmiths in Dudley.

There was a magazine dedicated to this Basic D&D stuff I was into? I'm there, clutching my 95 pence...

So I'm in at the end of the Ian Livingstone era who hands over editorial duties to Ian Marsh who will only edit the thing for three issues before it all goes a bit tits up thanks to Mr Ansell. No wonder he was to express his unhappiness in such wonderful and eternal fashion on the contents page of WD77.

It's strange but with a lot of my early RPG purchases I remember quite clearly the circumstances in which I brought them, where I was, where I read them etc. and WD74 is no different. I'd gone to Dudley on the bus with two friends Jon and Ian, we went to McDonalds, they bought some computer games, we had a argument with some Dudley kids then we went back to Jon's house where his elder brother showed us how to turn a CFC-infested aerosol deodorant into an improvised flamethrower which we promptly fired through the keyhole of Jon's sister's bedroom door and blistered the paint on the inside. Then I went home and my Grandparents came around for tea. It's weird but I remember all this clearly and WD77 was part of this but these days I have no idea what I was doing last Sunday.

Back to Dwarf - right then, welcome to White Dwarf and GW's business practises young Coop Padawan. There's a strong body of grognard opinion that states that once upon a time WD was a wonderfully independent magazine that dealt with all games equally fairly but sadly this is bullshit. Dealing with this particular fallacy could and probably should provide a good blog post but in short - even when WD covered games that weren't GW games, they were often games that GW had exclusive UK printing and/or distribution rights for or it was AD&D which they sold huge quantities of and weren't able to really slag off until later years when they got a bit more cocky because Warhammer was starting to entrench itself in the Britscene. (And of course once upon a time they'd been exclusive European distributors for D&D, printed their own version of Holmes Basic and produced UK-printed softback versions of the AD&D books).


Page 1 - Cover.
Page 2 - Full-page colour ad for Judge Dredd RPG from Games Workshop.
Page 3 - Self-congratulatory editorial from Games Workshop.
Page 4 & 5 - Advertorial for new board Superpower from Games Workshop.
Page 6 -Full-page mono ad for Games Workshop Mail Order from Games Workshop.
Page 7 - Full-page mono ad for Talisman Citadel Miniatures from Games Workshop.

We then get a bit of a break from THE GAMES WORKSHOP HOBBY and then get

Page 12 - Full-page colour ad for Paranoia from West End Games.

Except that it then states "Available from Games Workshop Ltd., Chewton Street, Hilltop, Nottingham, England".

See? Always been a house mag.

And on the subject of being a house mag, the first article is Open Box. Actually no overt GW products this time around so my first exposure to Open Box wasn't quite as farcical as it normally was. AD&D Oriental Adventures and Dragon Warriors are raved about, also mentioned are Runequest Vikings, Nightmare In Norway for CoC, The Pendragon Campaign and two Star Trek scenarios.

I still haven't heard of any of the books that Dave Langford reviews in Critical Mass and I remember the 11 year old me being baffled by his chuckling reference to Jack Vance's infamously-renamed-for-the-UK Servants of the Wankh. I can't imagine modern GW doing that. (Well I unfortunately can but that's entirely a different matter...)

As ever the letters page is full of aspies who take everything fair too bloody seriously with letters grumbling about sexism and feminism, Marcus L. Rowland's earlier slagging of Twilight 2000, whether the usual cheesecake fantasy art is pornographic blah blah blah. Honestly did people not have anything better to get worked up about in the 1980s? I mean there were race riots and Greenham Common and CND and the miners strike etc. etc.

Moving swiftly on... hobby news. Some Belgian AD&D players have set a new world record for D&D marathon play at 61 hours 39 minutes and it looks like, typically for period, they had to get dressed up in LARP gear for the press photos. The Fighting Fantasy books (you know, by the editor of the magazine, that guy Livingstone from Games Workshop) have now sold over 4,000,000 million with the Japanese translation of Warlock of Firetop Mountain selling over 250,000 on it's own. (So why isn't Japan huge on pen-and-paper RPGs?). GW are printing Cosmic Encounter which I seem to recall getting lots of coverage in later issues of White Dwarf from Games Workshop for some strange reason.

There's also a bit of a strange slagging off aimed at L Ron Hubbard's publicity machine for Battlefield Earth. It's an odd thing for a gaming magazine to cover...

Could this be the first "shot across the bows" of $cientology that the gaming community made in print? It's from Dwarf's often-renamed industry-news-cum-gossip-column feature which always seemed to be hint at knowing much more than it wanted to risk putting in print and being sued for.

So that, nearly, was WD74 my first exposure to the magazine. And I was well chuffed as there was plenty to get my teeth into and in those days even the myriad of quarter-page mono adverts were inspirational with their artwork and lists of obscure gaming publications that suggested that outside of Red Box D&D and Fighting Fantasy there was a huge gaming world waiting to be explored - or ignored because it wasn't being sold in the Games Workshop above New Street Station in Brum and was therefore forged in solid unobtanium.

Except there was a cloud in WD74. The scenarios.

Normally the scenarios in WD were really good and as I've mentioned before where the US played modules and now reminisces about them, we played WD scenarios. But these two - these two just scared the crap out of me and made me doubt I was up to the job of being a DM.

First and worst offender is Terror at Trollmarsh by Janet and Peter Vialls, an AD&D scenario for levels 4-5. In this scenario the PCs are hired to go to the manor house at Trollmarsh to slay an unknown monster that is roaming the tunnels beneath the house and has slain a few servants. When they get there a peasant strands them there by demolishing the bridge and then nobody admits to hiring the monster slayers.

So what's so bad here?

This. Terror at Trollmarsh is open-ended to the point of being ridiculous. The manor house map has 86 rooms on two levels. There are 25 fully-detailed NPCs (not counting a load of 0-level guards, unnamed servants and the monster which turns out to be an Owlbear). There is a succession crisis, radical politics, unrequited love, a bastard son of the lord of the manor whom the lady of the house doesn't want around, somebody is secretly a penanggalen, a vampire is about to get resurrected, the stablehand is on the run from the thieves guild and there's an evil cult active who are using the Owlbear rampage to disguise their murder and kidnap of sacrificial victims. There's a plan of who will do what and to whom over the next week but no ideas given as to how this should be run other than a brief mention that it should be like Hammer crossed with Agatha Christie.

I didn't know what to do with all this mess in 1986 and I still don't know what to do with it over 25 years later. The problem was that although I now recognise it as an unplayable mess that effectively has it's head up it's own arse, back then I didn't, I was used to maps with keys and expected something that told me who was in what room and let the PCs wander through opening doors. In all honesty this was such an intimidating sight that it nearly put me off the idea of RPGs altogether. If it was this unmanageable disaster I didn't want to know. It was more of a mess than the paint on the inside of Claire's bedroom door after the flamethrower incident.

Not quite as bad but also off putting was The Hide of The Ancestor for Runequest II by Chris Watson. It's noteworthy for having what must be the most brilliantly pointlessly beautiful map ever illustrated for an RPG scenario.

A thing of beauty by Leo Hartas but yes, that is the entire scenario map hiding in the bottom corner. A map of nine tents which isn't even needed because the scenario could say "there are nine tents in a clearing" and be done with.

This is a simple scenario in which the PCs meet up with some Ithilien-Fane (Lionmen-centaurs to you and I) and join them in raiding a Troll camp. And again this was a scenario that made me baulk at the requirements of being a GM as it was being suggested in WD74. The PCs basically get stoned with the Ithilien-Fane, have weird dreams rolled up on a random dream table and then the GM is just expected to be able to give the PCs a dream interpretation spiel off the top of his head. Just like that.

Honestly, that nice man Mentzer never mentioned anything like that.

So, according to WD74, GMs should be able to juggle 25 NPCs at once (with about 25 sub-plots) and do dream interpretation at the drop of a hat.

I've laboured the point here but that's because it was important to understanding my frame of mind at the time. I was eleven years old, hugely into D&D and FF and the ZX Spectrum and these two scenarios knocked my confidence for six. It was bad luck in a way because nearly every other scenario the Dwarf published was conventional in structure (a dungeon or a village plus dungeon or a journey via numbered encounter locations) and had my first issue been just about any other I'd have been OK.

Suffice to say, I've never run either scenario nor I envisage doing so. These days I could probably go a quick Google and bluff the dream interpretation but as for Terror at Trollmarsh - I doubt anybody ever ran this and neither I suspect did the authors. It bears all the signs of being written to a formula of "this looks adult and grown up because it's massively intricate" and written to be sold for publication rather than for play. It's dreadful.

I wonder how many others were put off by the demands of these two scenarios.

Secret Doors In Dungeonquest

(Secret Door card from the Swedish original, Drakborgen)

Dungeonquest's handling of secret doors is pretty funky and ripe for thieving and incorporating into Old Skool RPGs.

In the boardgame they sometimes turn up when searching rooms and offer a one-way, one-time only method of escaping from the current tile and moving to any orthogonally adjacent tile or space. They mainly serve two purposes, firstly to enable a player to make progress across the board and avoid being trapped by unfriendly tile draws and secondly as a gambling mechanism when leaving the dungeon. Since there is a strict time limit, spending the maximum of two turns searching for a secret door might waste time, but then again it might allow the player to shortcut a huge section of the map and therefore save time. Mechanically of course this procedure could be a teleport to an adjacent space (the result would be identical) but the secret door "theming" suits the game. It's important to remember that once used, a secret door no longer exists in the game world and can't be used to return.

Something that has happened three times in the game sessions of the modern version that I have played is where a player finds a secret door and uses it to move to an empty, previously undefined space by moving across/through a solid wall. The tile draw then, in both instances, turns out to be a dead end room. A dead end draw is normally merely an annoying timewaster but in this scenario can be game-losing as the tile is placed so that there are no exits whatsoever - the only exit from the tile is invalidated by the prescence of the solid wall in the adjacent tile. The player has fallen through a one-way portal into a sealed-off cyst of a room. If the player doesn't turn up another secret door or a catacombs entrance in his two allocated searches his adventurer is out of the game and will be killed when the gameclock reaches nightfall. In one game this happened, in another the player found a catacomb entrance and escaped downwards and when it happened to me I found a secret door on my second search and escaped Dragonfire Castle with my loot.

So, in $YOURMEGADUNGEONNAME many secret doors operate in a similar fashion. Once found and used they will vanish off the plane of existence as soon as somebody stops looking at them. Therefore a party can travel both ways through them so long as somebody keeps the door in their field of vision at all times. As soon as it is out of vision, it shuts (if open) and vanishes - all that is left is solid wall. Any spikes or solid objects left to keep the door open simply vanish with it. Many wild rumours in $YOURADVENTURERSLOCALBOOZER carry the advice to never take your eyes off a secret door once it is found.

A variation upon this is the one-way secret door that ceases to exist as soon as it is used. Even if somebody is watching it, the outline will fade and then only solid wall remains. Whether this is before or after the entire party has travelled through is up to the DM...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Power And The Glory RPG - Part 2

(Don't despair - this is an RPG-related post)

In the 1957 & 1958 seasons, Scuderia Ferrari suffered the loss of five drivers and a co-driver.

Up and coming Formula One star Eugenoi Castellotti was killed testing a sportscar at Modena in 1957. In the same year at the Mille Miglia road race, the team elected to save time on a pit-stop by not changing the tyres on the sportscar of F1 driver Alfonso de Portago. At 150mph a tyre blew causing a crash of such violence that the car flew not only across a canal but still had enough force to bounce back and re-cross the canal. Ten spectators including five children were killed, two of the children by a concrete milepost that the car had uprooted and flung through the air. de Portago and navigator Edmund Nelson were killed instantly, de Portago's body being severed in two. Team owner Enzo Ferrari was prosecuted and privately sued.

In 1958, the Scuderia started the Formula One season with four drivers at the season-opening Argentine Grand Prix. By the time the 1959 season was to start, only one of that quartet would still be alive.

Luigi Musso was killed in the French GP at Reims in July. In August Peter Collins was to join him having been flung from his car at the Nurburgring and suffering fatal head injuries after striking a tree. Collins' best friend Mike Hawthorn went on to win the 1958 World Championship at Ferrari and immediately announced his retirement from motorsport at the final GP of the season in Morocco. Six days later fellow Briton Stewart Lewis-Evans died of burns sustained in a crash in his Vanwall during this race.

On 22nd January 1959 Hawthorn crashed his road car (a modified Jaguar Mk1) and was killed. After an infection in the mid-50s he only had one kidney and the other was starting to fail - there is some belief that he had no intention of waiting around for it to catch up with him.

Of the four that started the Formula One season in Ferrari colours, only the German Wolfgang "Taffy" von Trips survived to February 1959, but von Trips was destined never to win the World Championship. Needing only a third place to guarantee the title at Monza in 1961 he tangled wheels with Jim Clark, launching his Ferrari 165 "sharknose" into the air and into a spectator enclosure. von Trips was flung from the car and killed - 15 spectators lost their lives.

How grim is this? I haven't even mentioned the 1955 Le Mans race yet... (here and here - viewer discretion advised as they say on the television)

So this is backdrop across which The Power and The Glory is to take place. Lots of men going out to race cars because they feel they have the skill and luck to get away with it, and lots of them not doing so.

Anyway, to rules and my current thinking.

The two most-read posts on FightingFantasist are almost certainly the John Blanche one and the major shitstorm that was the All Weapons Do D6 Damage in OD&D one. The latter one is surprisingly important to this particular project in that the discussion of what D&D Hit Points actually represent, at least to my way of thinking.

To summarise, I hold D&D Hit Points to represent a form of "survival expectancy under fire", the fire being the environmental hazards of the dungeon or wilderness trek, everything from pit traps to monsters to falling rocks to the effects of running out of water. None of this is particularly relevant to TPATG but the basic idea strikes me as the way to go - a finite resource that represents how long the driver will get away with, basically, acting in a shockingly reckless and foolhardy fashion i.e. racing cars before the 1980s. And then, when they run out, the driver crashes and has to go to the coloured bead hidden by the player to his left which back at the start of the game secretly foretold whether he was destined for life or death.

So a driver has a whole load of Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points and the game will revolve around each driver losing all his Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points and seeing if he survives that moment.

I had another thought while out do the shopping the other day. Imagine the Fighting Fantasy system and a "monster" entry that looks like this:


or like this


FF fans will recognise the usual FF monster stats and will know how combat goes - a series of rounds whereby the player tries to outscore the opponent and the loser suffers 2 STAMINA points. In our world that monster could actually be a hazard the driver has to confront when at the wheel, and the SKILL is it's nastiness, the STAMINA it's "survivial under fire" where the fire is the driver's attempts to avoid the crash, correct the skid, escape the burning car etc.

So if the driver "beats the monster" he gets away it - the crash is avoided, the skidding car brought back under control, the burning wreckage escaped before it goes up. But each time the risk is there to lose "STAMINA" (i.e. our Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points thing) and so evantually fate will catch up with the driver and we see if he gets away with it or the Gods have demanded another sacrifice.

(I don't think I'd actually use an FF system - I think it involves far too much dice throwing for a game of this nature but the idea came to me fully formed in FF terms so that's how I've expressed it above).

Last post I mentioned that it might not need a GM. I think I can get by with a system whereby the players propose difficulties for each other, either taking it in turns or a randomisation system to determine "proposer" and "victim". Player A could then tell Player B that he suffers a blow-out at speed and write down the stats for the BLOWOUT. Once resolved Player B has either succesfully "defeated" the problem with the result that he is alive but out of the race or lost so many Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points that he has to "go to the bead" and determine if he lives or dies. Each time this interchange occurs, the driver may be losing Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points - we play until everyone has run out and "gone to the bead".

So who wins these races?

We don't care. Players score points for facing problems and the highest scorer wins the game as a whole which probably represents several races. The points for overcoming a problem are directly related to the difficulty of it - so that Player A can give Player B a really nasty problem to contend with but will have to face up to Player B scoring lots of points should he overcome it.

We are abstracing the race finishing orders out of the game and instead you win through an accumulation of race finishes, positions, kudos, admiration, fan base and future promise. Oh and probably money and trophy wives as well.

So to sum up what we have so far in bullet points

1 - You know, in secret, if the player to your right is destined to live or die.

2 - The player to your left knows if you are destined to live or die.

3 - Players take it in turns to throw "monsters" at another player, but the monsters are hazards - perhaps from a list of such in a player's handout. The player narrates what happens - as if he were a GM for just this particular "encounter".

4 - The players lose Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points confronting and overcoming these hazards and all this is basically hack-and-slash in disguise. They score dependent upon the nastiness of the situation.

5 - When (not if) a player is reduced to 0 Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points the player to his left, reveals whether he was fated to die or not.

6 - When all are reduced to 0 Hit-Points-But-Not-Hit-Points the game is over and score decided.

I think that a game will represent a season or more and that every say 3 or 5 hazards the clock ticks and we are in a new race. It will up to a player to tell the rest of the group what the next GP is, where it is, which country, what the weather is like etc. - setting the scene as if he were a GM for five minutes. This will mean that drivers that confronted race-ending hazards such as punctures can now re-join the action.

I foresee two types of hazard - a loss of control hazard is race-ending if failed, but if overcome the player continues in the race. Conversely a puncture ends a race if overcome but has potential to "go to the bead" if the hazard is not overcome - so that a burst tyre might see the driver limp to a halt and exit the car or might turn very nasty indeed. I need to produce a list of all hazards, their "stats", points scored for overcoming and whether they are race ending or not.

More soon.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Power And The Glory

The Power And The Glory is a idea for an RPG that has been knocking around at the back of my mind for about an year now - an RPG of being a racing driver in a deadly era, i.e. the 1930s, the 1950s or the 1960s. It draws it's inspiration from reading motorsport history and seeing how shocking the fatality rate was in those days along with the classic films Grand Prix and Le Mans, both of which have an air of impending death/serious injury that seems alien to anybody brought up on modern motorsport in which "nobody gets killed".

I have only inchoate ideas for the game at the moment so have decided to start doing my thinking in the open and seeing if that helps shift the logjam of ideas (translation - blog about it).

For a start, TPATG needs to be something unique in RPGs - a RPG in which a PC (or several PCs) has to die. No ifs, no buts. It's dramatically important that at least one fatal racing accident happens.

So at the start of the game, which represents "highlights" of a season in the 30s, 50s or 60s I was thinking that each player would draw a bead or chit or similar in secret, that indicates whether the driver to their right is destinated to live or die. And they keep this secret until the relevant time and so you don't know whether your PC can survive or not. It's in the lap of the gods and the hidden bead that the player to your left has.

At some point, a PC will be in a life-or-death situation, a real 50/50. At this moment, the bead is revealed.

That is effectively the start and end point of the game mechanism. Dramas will be narrated around the table, PCs will invoke some mechanism to try and avoid trouble and somehow benefit (what exactly this will be I'm not sure yet - possibly some way of pushing that 50/50 back as long as possible) and for each player there will be a dramatic denouement whereby they offer themselves up to the Gods and see what coloured bead the other player has for them. I suspect that this won't need a GM.

It's the bits inbetween I haven't sorted yet :)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Why Doesn't Warhammer Look Like This Anymore?

The Tragedy of McDeath Gamesmaster's Guide, John Blanche 1986

Completely and utterly mental.

(WFRP enthusiasts may notice that while this picture wasn't re-used in it's entirety, sub-sections from it appear all over the WFRP 1st edition rulebook.)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

When 40K Went Bad

For me, this is where 40K went wrong. It was a sad day indeed.

So what went wrong here and why?

It's simple - the Space Marine army list printed in this issue of the Dwarf. This is the tipping point where 40K went from being a great big goodie bag of sci-fi skirmish "stuff" where you were expected to run scenario play with a Gamesmaster and off into the boring, dull realms of equal pointed, "fair", "1500 point super-armies", line 'em up on opposite sides of a table and have at it. Exactly the sort of crap that had blighted the Ancient wargaming world pretty much ever since the early 1970s. All the early promise in Rogue Trader was immediately extinguished and it became about shit like "balance" and "optimising" and "tournaments". The game had gone from being the bastard child of Laserburn to a clone of WRG Ancients or something. Disappointing. Very disappointing.

It was now a competitive game and much the worse for it.

It's interesting that RT was launched in WD93 and this issue is WD105 so the original state of play was only around for 13 months - but it seemed a very long thirteen months in which it had single-handedly shifted the scene of Brit Gaming from fantasy (which was the only thing people played) over to a sort of sci-fi, which had previously been regarded as a red-headed stepchild.

So for me this issue marks the change in the GW hobby that did start to leave me behind. If it wasn't for the emergence of the Epic scale side of things and the fact that WD was still publishing (admittedly not very good) WFRP stuff I'm fairly certain that all of my GW stuff would have donated to younger cousins and forgotten about. It was a real sea change for my hobby.

That said, it did have some nice beakie illustrations by our blogging friend Mr. Nicholson.

(I love the cheeky amused-looking Ork bottom right here. He reminds of a boxer bitch my family once owned who had suffered a broken jaw when run over as a puppy so ended up with a similar protruding tusk.)

(Note Rogue Trader era autogun carried by leftmost Marine. From the days when random generation could leave a Space Marine squad toting autoguns, lasguns or even Eldar shuriken catapults!)

Back into Dragonfire Castle...

15% Survival rate?

Save or die?

Save or die potentially on the very first tile draw?

Player elimination?

A viciously, unrepentantly brutal and unfair mocking of everything that should make for good game?

Fantasy Flight Games Reissue?

£45 at FLGS after my club membership discount?

Oh, yes!

I hugged it all the way home on the train. :)

Friday, 3 September 2010

White Dwarf 77 Contents Page

An old favourite from the 80s... :)

(Excuse the curious stitching - I had to put it together from two screenshots as the PDF was set up to reject the snapshot tool in both Acrobat and Foxit)

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Long Lead Times

Over the next couple of weekends two big releases come out in the shops, both of which I was originally looking forward too, but as release date comes around I've just lost all interest in the pair of them. I blame poor marketing here allowing the impending releases and rumour to ferment for just too long. I think this is a danger with very long lead times whereby a product is announced very early and then all that enthusiasm is allowed to just dribble away. I strongly believe this is what has happened here.

First offender is Saturday's release of the Warhammer 8th Edition boxed set "Island of Blood". This has the slim, A5 sized rulebook (all rules, no fluff) and Skaven and High Elf little mans. GW's mistake here was to release the big, fat £45 rulebook ages ago rather than keep it back and closer to the big box release date. This means that there is no anticipation of rule/game improvements for Saturday since we've seen them all already. Months ago in fact.

My initial plans were to skip getting the big rulebook and wait for the boxed set. This has had the effect of effectively shutting down my entire outlet for playing Warhammer as friends went over to the new rulebook and I refused to pick it up with what appeared to be much better VFM several months ahead in the pipeline. Stick your finger in the air and take a stab/guesstimate at how many people feel likewise and you can see a clear split in the Warhammer community whereby one group are playing the new rulebook, another group is refusing to move over until the box is out and the rest have mothballed everything waiting for the cheaper option. This isn't good for the game.

A lack of Warhammering over the Summer has meant a lack of drive and focus for painting which has ended up suggesting that I won't bother with either Skaven and High Elfses which has itself suggested that I don't really want nor need the £65 box set anymore. The obvious result of this is that I bought the £45 rulebook a couple of weeks ago and decided to concentrate on the Night Goblins. By selling the rules months ago, all the thunder has been stolen from the big launch and now Island of Blood boils down to just being a big box of two small sets of figures that I now realise I don't want.

It's been in the offing too long, lost interest.

Now Workshop probably think they are being clever by pushing the playerbase into buying both whereas if both were released on the same day they'd see people buying one or the other as sales of one cannibalise the sales of the other. Trouble is I think they've now scuppered their own big box launch with lots of players not deciding not to bother with the latter - we have the rules, the small form rulebook will be on eBay shortly and the box set is now only attractive to Skaven or High Elf players. I can see Island of Blood being a massive sales disappointment. It should have come out right on the tailfeathers of the rulebook release, no more than a month or so later.

Second up is of course, 4E Red Box on the following weekend. I've been excited about this but again, too long, didn't read maintain enthusiasm.

Now if this was announced and on the shelves within a fortnight, impulse purchasing would have made me pick this up and probably another copy at the same time to sit on the bookshelf until not-really-a-nephew is old enough for it. But it's been too long and given everybody the opportunity to see all it's flaws (no proper character creation rules) and to see through it's sham-beginner pretensions with it's original Mentzer version cover and now I'm not interested.

At this point it might appear simply that I don't want these games so what's the problem? There are lots of games I don't want. The problem is that when announced I wanted these games and had launch followed announcement very quickly I'd own both now.

Note to games companies - don't give people too long to think about non-essential, game luxury purchases. Interest to purchase ASAP, don't let people go away and think about it too much.