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. :)