Sunday, 18 September 2011

So I Went to Workshop Today...

To buy two pots of paint for a slotcar racing project. And the guy at the till said "Hi" and finished with "Have a nice one", rang up the paint and didn't try and sell me a White Fraud subscription, didn't try and sell me a big box and didn't jig about asking me what I was painting while using the word "kewl" a lot and giving the impression that he hadn't actually listened to a word I was saying.

I could get used to this.

I'd say at exactly which GW store I received this surprisingly pleasant and respectful customer service but I'm sure that if I did that somebody would lose his job over it. :(

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Rod of Seraillian

The second-hand racks at Waylands Forge were good to me again yesterday, this time with a copy of GM5 - Rod of Seraillian, the last of the semi-regular module-magazine hybrid published by Paul Cockburn and some other refugees of TSR Inc's massacre of TSR UK's Imagine magazine. And all for a mere £1 as well. Curiously I didn't have to flip through the racks for this - it leapt out at me from the other side of the shop - neither did I have to search for the two Prince of Shadows books from last week which were also serendipitously on top of the pile. They found me so to speak.

GM5 (February 1987) is a perfect-bound publication (think thin card cover with a right-angled, flat spine), the bulk of which is taken up by Carl Sargent's 38 page adventure Rod of Seraillan (yeah I know it says 40 pages on the cover...). Aside from that there's a few interesting articles/editorials.

The editorial apologises for this being the last issue, blaming TSR's cancelling of advertising as being the final straw, a tit-for-tat response to GMPubs questioning if the downsizing of TSR UK was suggesting it was being wound up. There seems to be a lot of politics going on here, what with the GMPubs thing being distributed by GW and Cockburn beavering away on WFRP.

Interesting news and opinions frozen in amber in late '86 - WFRP is vastly outselling AD&D in the UK, industry opinion is that Lorraine Williams has bought a white elephant in the form of TSR which has supposedly peaked and is losing shelf space in the US and there is a Celtic campaign background for AD&D written by TSR UK that will probably be butchered by TSR Inc. That would have been interesting to see - TSR UK's talent (basically the original WFRP crew) writing up Slaine The Barbarian for AD&D. It's a great shame that that is lost to posterity.

Also, Cockburn doesn't think that the much-needed 2nd edition of AD&D will ever see the light.

All of this should of course be read through the lens of coming from a organ only one part removed from GW Head Office and from a man whose magazine was terminated by TSR.

Reviews look at the AD&D Dungeoneers Survival Guide and Wilderness Survival Guide and the D&D Immortals set and the reviewer isn't impressed by any of them.

GMPubs served the role of being a sort of borderlands refugee camp for the famous Pelinore campaign which had started life in Imagine and was an attempt to produce a semi-official D&D setting tuned for UK tastes. I can't tell you very much about Pelinore as I never saw an issue of Imagine back in the day but I do know it was the house campaign of people like Paul Cockburn and Tom Kirby (yes that's the Tom Kirby, the one you can blame for the modern day Evil Empire - clearly he was a gamer once...). So the last Pelinore article turns up in here and is a brief thing about Sages and a couple of academic establishments wherein they may be found.

(Sages were essential parts of the PC party economic engine in D&D/AD&D, identifying unknown magical artifacts and acting as stop off points for DM's to dripfeed out rumours and legend about this evenings dungeon entertainment).

Of course, Brit Old Schoolers will be delighted to see that the 1980s British tradition of stupid punning NPC names was being used here - we have NPCs called Pana Seer, Gimble Gyrewabe, Methurtyd Vill and Gottun Himmel, the latter of whom presumably didn't make the cut for The Enemy Within.

(There's even more Brit Old School nostalgia in the included scenario which has plenty of good old references to something called "Page XX". Oh Page XX, how we miss you in this modern CTRL+F age...)

Finally, off to Rod herself, the Pelinore scenario for this issue.

Rod is 38 pages, it's Carl Sargent-authored and it's dual-statted both for AD&D with D&D (effectively Cyclopedia D&D but before that compilation volume was ever published). There's a plot about going to the dungeon to recover a holy artifact that's at risk but...

An ex-work colleague of mine once ranted long and hard about people who tell you about a film or book they've read, give a very rough outline of what it's about and then, with a glint in their eye exclaim "BUT THERE'S A TWIST!" therefore allowing anyone with a modicum of intelligence to immediately realise the twist ending whether they wanted to or not.

(Apposite to this - another ex-work colleague once recommended a new film called "Sixth Sense" to me, finishing up with the gushing praise that "and you never realise Bruce Willis is dead until the very end!". Suffice to say, I have never bothered to watch Sixth Sense. Although I gather that apparently Bruce Willis is actually dead throughout this film.)

And now I'm going to do precisely this.

There's a plot about going to the dungeon to recover a holy artifact that's at risk but...


Rod is a fairly high level beast, it's for 6-9 PCs of levels 6-8. Structurally it's just a five level dungeon with a high degree of Gygaxian naturalism. Sargent starts each level with a discussion of what the denizens of each level will do in response to discovering that there is a full-scale enemy incursion going on. This is neat and makes the dungeon other than a static place whereby evil clerics hide in their rooms until their doors are opened. So they should respond intelligently to what the PCs are doing elsewhere but...


Anyway, the climax of the adventure is a battle with a 155hp being from another plane. Assuming the PCs can sort out the holy artifact's at-risk status and tie up the loose ends, a great big Deus Ex Machina will turn up, thank them and then resurrect any of the casualties. I'm uncertain as to how I feel about this sort of thing - it just smacks of "but it was all a dream!" and if the scenario assumes that resurrection of this kind is necessary (and up to three dead PCs a day!) perhaps it's not that well designed. Maybe this was an accepted part of high-risk, deadly scenarios in the Pelinore campaigns of Cockburn, Kirby et al.

Not bad for a pound and BTW, the cover has precisely sod all to do with the contents. It's actually the cover for a Gor novel (hence the slavegirl who, Gor being Gor, probably chained herself up) called "The Gamesmaster".

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Chimps Outside For First Time In 30 Years

I'm not entirely sure why it took until now for AIDS research chimpanzees originally rescued in 1997 to actually be allowed outside but having seen this, the first thought that came to mind?

Paranoia troubleshooters. Sent outside of Alpha Complex to a strange place with a really, really high blue roof. The only thing missing from the video is one of the chimps acting to backstab another with an experimental plasma-powered vacuum cleaner.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New 40K Gamebook

Games Workshop have published a gamebook - Hive of the Dead, set in a 40K millieu.

Now, Space Marines aside, have you ever wondered how you would cope in a zombie apocalypse? Would you be food for the Undead, or the hero of a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Well, now you can find out. Hive of the Dead, the first ever Warhammer 40,000 gamebook, is released today. This is not a normal book. Rather than reading it in a traditional linear manner, the end of each story section will present you with a number of options, allowing you to control the direction of the story with the decisions you make. You will also need a pencil and a standard six-sided dice (if you're anything like us, there are probably a dozen down the side of your sofa) in order to combat the Undead denizens of Hive Septus.

(source:GW website)

It's a £13, Print On Demand book only available from the Black Library webstore. Sounds pricey for POD but it's a claimed 288 pages so might be a big beast.

Thanks to Scott H for the headsup.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Prince of Shadows

A nice find in the second-hand racks at Waylands Forge yesterday.

Prince of Shadows was a two-gamebook series from Gary Chalk and David Kerrigan dating from 1988 and 1989, urban-based and published in an unusual format - each book is 8.5" x 10.5" and has only 64 pages with a 200+ paragraph length.

One of those gamebooks that, like the two-player FF book Clash of Princes, I only saw once or twice Back In The Day, didn't pick up and regretted it ever since.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Pete Tamlyn On Gamebooks, 1986

Looking at a gamebook in pure game terms, as a contest between you and the writer, the book is simply a succession of game turns in which you have to choose one of three options. This is not a very complex game: even in noughts and crosses you get an average of 4½ choices per turn. The sad fact is that if a gamebook writer plays fair and gives you the chance to make an intelligent decision each time, then the game will be much too easy to solve. Instead they rely on dirty tricks: withholding information from you, giving seemingly sensible choices that lead you into inescapable danger, and killing you off as often as possible. That way the game takes longer, and the player gets more value out of it.

Pete Tamlyn, Crash 31, August 1986

For me this encapsulates the difference between Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy.

In it's day, Lone Wolf appeared to blow the doors clean off FF with it's believable world and branching structure that relied upon intelligent decision-making rather than luck/brute force/whim of Livingstone and a refusal to get drawn into "got to Boss encounter - only two of three required geegaws" territory. It's also how I managed to complete some of the early LW books (sans dice admittedly) on their first run through and then had no real desire to return to them.

It's clear to me now that, despite the criticisms of the FF format on, the FF books have dated better than LW because they adopted the latter approach to gamebook design. A decent FF game is a great puzzlebox that requires multiple passes to completion and even then still has the "AAA" game to go after - the promised solution that minimizes the dice rolling and allows Mr. SKILL 7 STAMINA 14 LUCK 7 to get through.

Your correspondent here has the memory of a goldfish so gets a lot of replay value out of FF books that he hasn't touched for a decade or so. I don't really get much replay value out of LW books in the same way that I don't get much replay value out of RPG scenarios I've played in. It's odd, but back when I discovered LW I would never have believed that I would come around to thinking that this new approach to gamebooks, almost a real RPG campaign and everything, actually didn't have the legs of the approach that it appeared to be making obselete.

I still pick up FF books off eBay, I've only bought one LW book in the past 17/18 years or so and that was a second-hand Caverns of Kalte last week in order to fill an annoying gap in the run of the first 12 on my bookcase.

(The exception that proves the rule is of course Castle Death which has all the hallmarks of Joe Dever trying to write an FF book. It's one of my favourites and notably one of the LW fanbases least favourites).