Sunday, April 29, 2007

AP: A Faery's Tale

While Mam is away, Dad and the girls shall play. Yes, finally I had the chance to try A Faery's Tale out on my daughters - Lara (9) and Emma (7). We'd been talking about it for a while and it proved the perfect opportunity to fill in a Sunday afternoon.

So we all sat down in the conservatory, with some dice and beads and pieces of paper. I explained to them what a roleplaying game is and how it differed from make-believe. We looked at rolling dice and how AFT handled successes. We then wrote out the basic character sheet so I could answer their questions about the stats and gifts etc.

Emma created 'Sneaky Sarah', a B5/M2/S2 Pooka with Agile, Hardy, Sneaky and Strong gifts. She lives in a tiny cottage, which she described in the faery village. She also insisted that Sarah was naughty but brave.

Lara created 'Jenifree', a B3/M3/S3 Pixie with Charming, Fortunate, Magical and Musical gifts. She lives in a tree in the forest outside of the faery village, with her squirrel friends.

Naturally the two faeries are best of friends.

The Mystery of the Missing Cygnet began!

It was the day before the Faery Queen made her spring procession down the river from her castle and through Brightwood Village. Riding her beautiful swan, she visited each of the children in the village and have them an acorn shell full of nectar, which granted them good luck through the next year.

A guard from Queen Leanan's palace arrived at Sarah's house and told her that one of the Queen's handmaidens needed her help! Being a good faery she went straight away and was met by an elfin handmaiden called Goldpetal. The handmaiden explained that the Queen's swan was upset and ill with worry because one of it's cygnets had gone missing. Sneaky Sarah was the best person they could think of to find the missing bird! Emma decided that the swan pond was on the same path as Jennifree's Tree! She also decided that she would need a weapon (a small buckler shield and a stabbing sword) and a pack with some water and cheese to eat. She went to get her friend.

Explaining the dilema to Jennifree, the pixie decided to press home her natural resources and persuade her squirrel friends to take part in the search. She decided that the father of the squirrel family was called Knakfree and she successful got him looking - even though he was reluctant because he didn't like getting wet!

They went to the pond and Sarah changed into a fish to investigate under the water, whilst Jennifree looked around the pond. They found some goblin arrows, a cart track and some feather down - a sure sign that the cygnet had been abducted by goblins!

Following the tracks, they realised that they were leaving Brightwood and entering Darkwood, the realm of the Goblin King. Soon, they realised that they were being followed by two four-armed spider goblins, who challenged them and told them to give up this silly search. The girls were tentative on whether they should be using magic, violence or talking to get around the situation (which was kind of cool in itself) until one of the Goblins started trying to stab at the flying pixie and we saw POOKA POWER for the first time. Sarah stabbed at one goblin when it stabbed at her. They both defended and then she asked whether she could have shattered the Goblins spear on her shield. I explained that she would have to spend an Essence which she did. Meanwhile, Jennifree used some of her Pixie Dust to turn the other goblin into a puppy! Needless to say, they retreated.

The pair found the day drawing to a close and needed somewhere to camp, in the depths of the horrid forest. Emma decided that Sarah had built her own house before and she would gather some sticks, if Jennifree would help, and build a camp 'like Ray Mears does'. Well, that was worth an Essence point! She then, thoroughly getting the hang of this, spent said Essence point to have one of the Faery Queen's falcons appear above them in the night, watching and making sure they had a good nights sleep. After some food and drink they slept.

The next morning they continued their journey and finally came to a swamp, infested with goblins and a black iron cage, holding the missing cygnet. They concocted a plan where Sarah would distract the goblins by hurling huge rocks whilst Jennifree swooped down and popped the lock using her Pixie Dust. Sarah also decided that some of the swamp would be icky mud like quicksand and if she did really well, some of the Goblins might fall into it. She threw her big rock (on the back of 7 dice and 6 successes!) and scatted the Goblins whilst Jennifree freed the weak and feeble cygnet.

And then the Goblin King arrived with his troll champion!

In true villainous style he revealed his plan. If the Queen could not ride her swan she could not give out the gift of luck to the children of Brightwood and therefore his goblins and wolves and smelly things could pick them off in the forest throughout the next year and Leanan's magic could not save them.

Throughout his monologue the two faeries were adamant that the cygnet was not his, and it belonged to the swan and that he would have to give it back. He laughed at the concept of them taking it back and Sneaky Sarah drew her sword and squared up to the massive troll!!! I explained the disparity in power and size and she thought about it for a second and then said that she had to protect the cygnet (and earned another Essence point for bravery). Jennifree, in the meantime had concocted a cunning plan (they had also been talking about what to do, working out that Troll vs Bear might not work, Troll vs Mouse was too risky and a plain tickling defence was also unlikely - I kid you not).

Using her Musical talent, Jennifree started to sing a lullaby (which Lara made up on the spot) to make the troll fall asleep. Lots of successes followed and the Troll fell into a deep sleep. The Goblin King roared in impotent fury and the two faerys and their swan friend made a run for it, pursued by Goblins. Sarah used her Travel Magic to create a path in the forest that lead STRAIGHT HOME and they escaped.

The cygnet was returned to it's mother who perked up no end and the Queen was able to do her procession. Knakfree did do a search and found a load of old nuts which Jennifree offered to cook up into acorn stew as a show of thanks. Both of the faerys were summoned to the Queen's Palace and she thanked them for the great task they had done for her. She noted the bravery of Sarah's stand against the trolls and goblins and the beauty that Jennifree's voice had. She said that Sarah would no longer be called Sneaky Sarah, but now Sneaky Sarah The Brave, Lady of Flowers. Jennifree became Jennifree the Beautiful, Lady of Flowers and both were welcome in her court. She also gave them a drink from the children's nectar, giving them a one-shot +2 success to any roll made in Brightwood Forest, to be used in the next year.

And that ended the tale.

The aftermath was a cacophony of excited kids, all very enthusiastic about playing it again next week! They loved the idea that they would be playing the same characters and that they could become better etc.

For me, it was simply amazing. If I was to look at it from an analytical POV, even though it was very rudimentary they thought around problems, didn't use violence as an answer to everything, performed in character when needed, owned their own environments and edited mine to make the game more exciting and added their own NPCs etc. as needed. Not bad for a first stab at rpgs!

Apparently the mission next week is to get Mammy to play. I'll believe it when I see it!


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's Fun Is It Anyway?

In my previous post I stated a sort of manifesto that defines a 'good game' for me:

I want a game where vital and active characters come up against personal and dangerous plots with relevant bad guys and epic monsters. I want the players and the GM to engage with a plot that weaves them all together - forestory and backstory - against a common foe. I want the game to reflect the desires of the players rather than the ego of the GM. Rather than saying 'I will entertain you, this is how, enjoy!' I want to say 'How do we want to be entertained? Cool - right, we can all help make this happen, lets go!'

Reflecting on this, I realised that I had missed out one aspect - fun. Fun is paramount for me as part of the roleplaying experience. Like many people of my age I have limited spare time between work and family commitments and I like to use it wisely. Therefore I seek to maximise my 'fun' whenever possible. Sometimes this drives me to almost maniacal degrees of activity but hey, thats half the enjoyment!

So I was ruminating on how we bring 'fun' to the table and indeed, what 'fun' is?

I settled on a reasoning that 'fun' was when a game delivered the groups expectations. Even this answer, in my mind, was a little surprising as I naturally disassociated my personal fun from the groups fun - which I placed as paramount. If the group is not having fun, then an individual (unless possessed with some sort of egocentric issue) cannot be maximising their fun.

Of course, this suggests that the group needs to be aware of their expectations, have the ability to communicate them and to measure fairly whether they have been met. That all sounds very academic but in the end it just means being able to be honest at the start of a game about the sort of game you want to play, what you think would be cool to feature in the game and having a sound feedback mechanism - fora, blog, phone, email, pub, whatever - to let the GM know whats what. Oh, and having a GM that can take that feedback and channel it constructively rather than having a stroppy diva moment.

So therefore, how we 'bring the fun' to the table relies on us all being clear about what we want and also buying into the idea that we can make that fun ourselves but we can make it far better as part of a group.

The question is, how do we 'bring the fun' in practicality, as players? Two things spring immediately to mind.

1. Use the Knowledge to Press the Button
If you know that someone has a certain agenda for their character and you are in a position to offer them a route to advance that agenda in a fun manner, then press that button for them. In Pendragon I knew that Ian needed an 'intervention' to turn Aeryn from the path of unintended evil and back to the path of righteousness. Ian knew that Brion needed someone to focus his rage into some constructive (well, destructive really) weapon. Both of us needed that moment when our pain and our confusion could be rallied into one point and then moved on. An email to Nigel and voila! Two knights braying seven colours out of each other in a forest in the tradition of many an action film. It moved the game on for the characters in a fun and appropriate manner.

2. Share the Limelight
I'm aware that the concept of niche protection in RPGs is a little bit of a hot potato but in a long running campaign 'niche at the table' is a palpable sign of players identifying their own fun. Again in Pendragon we have players who are quite blatantly angling their characters towards certain areas - Guillame is 'the Courtier', Brion is 'the Warlord', Merrin is 'the Manipulator', Aeryn the Younger is 'the Warrior' and Aeryn the Elder is 'the Pious'. By recognising this we can guide our play and give each other room to shine. So when we are at Court, barring a few angry outbursts Brion shuts his mouth and lets Guillame and Merrin do their thing. On the battlefield however, everyone has been gracious enough to allow me to 'be the Warlord' - not just as a matter of fact by title in the game, but also in that I get to write the troop lists and lay out the field of battle etc. That willingness not to just scream 'me! me! me!' all of the time and take pleasure from other peoples gaming pleasure is something I believe is crucial.

There are indeed more - feel free to add more as comments!

Of course there is always the flip side of this and thats when players suck the fun out of the game or worse, steal fun from other players. This is an area of the game that I think rarely gets a mention because it lends itself to direct criticism of the play style of other players in your group and sometimes that can be a little spikey! However, nothing loathe, I am always willing to be the first to cast stones at myself!

Impatience is something that I think comes from my background as a serial GM. Obviously one of the things that is pretty idiosyncratic to any GM is their idea of good pacing and how to manage the ebb and flow of a game. As a player, I naturally have a lot of sympathy with any GM I am playing alongside and I do find myself having to bite my tongue a little if I try to push the game along if I sense it getting slow, or worse being slowed by a player who maybe isn't quite firing on all cylinders. The need to recognise when someone else is enjoying their fun is paramount here. Sit tight, shut mouth and enjoy their good times.

Stepping back is also I problem for me sometimes. I has been said, occassionally, that I have quite a forthright attitude. Not backward in coming forward. Quite opinionated. Maybe even a little gobby (for those not from the NE of England - mouthy and loud.) As such, on occassion I recognise that sometimes I can force myself onto a game and a style of play and despite the intent of my character, become a defacto mouthpiece. I saw this in Ian's Mistridge game when my bard (an arab teacher on the run in drizzly West Yorkshire - you had to be there, it made perfect sense) almost acted as party leader despite being the lowest of the low, barely speaking the language and generally not having any business to do that. I don't think that was good roleplay and it is certainly something that made me aware of this issue even though I haven't mentioned it before! Indeed, in SotC @ Cottagecon, my character is absolutely NOT the mouthpiece and by design never can be, and thats quite on purpose!!

So, there you go - some initial thoughts on fun and how we can make it, and how we can harm it.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Seeking Games Without Frontiers?

I am preparing to run a game of Scion, the new offering from White Wolf. The premise is about as 'up my street' as you could possibly get. The Elder Gods have left this plane, leaving behind their children (the titular Scions) in their wake. The Titans have escaped their Underworld prison and are now trying to invade the Overworld via their children the Titanspawn. All that stands between humanity and the decimation at the hands of these monsters are - The Scions! Magically enhanced beings who twist fate and perform legendary deeds. Sounds rather super doesn't it? Well, it is - it draws from everything that gets me hot under the collar - modern urban fantasy, mythic storytelling, mythology and pantheons in general, pseudo-superheroes and OTT action.

So whats the issue?

Well, and after that above paragraph, it seems silly to say this - it all seems a little ... dry? Basic? Ill-defined? When I look at the character generation, it seems rather one dimensional. You have a demigod. He or she has great power. They are the Scion of a Deity. They have skills and a human life. They are drawn by Fate into the battle. But??

In Scion I have seen where my gaming 'voyage' over these years has taken me. I don't want a game where cookie-cutter PCs come up against cookie-cutter plots with cookie-cutter villains and cookie-cutter monsters. I don't want a game where the players engage with a GM-generated plot to thwart a GM-generated nemesis. It just doesn't seem right anymore.

I want a game where vital and active characters come up against personal and dangerous plots with relevant bad guys and epic monsters. I want the players and the GM to engage with a plot that weaves them all together - forestory and backstory - against a common foe. I want the game to reflect the desires of the players rather than the ego of the GM. Rather than saying 'I will entertain you, this is how, enjoy!' I want to say 'How do we want to be entertained? Cool - right, we can all help make this happen, lets go!'

This is the design brief I have used when I have created Omniverse and MI:666 and I have realised that it is the design features that make games like Burning Empires (moreso than Burning Wheel imo), Spirit of the Century and Primetime Adventures seem so appealing to me.

It's also what makes the initial presentation of Scion look so damned bland. Which leaves me in a dilema - well, actually it doesn't. The dilema would be what to do as I like to play games 'out of the box' on first showing. However, that sort of thing is going to have to go by the wayside now as I am going to have to do some more extensive campaign 'creation' with the players to satisfy my need for a more modern approach to the games we play.

So, Scion - awesome idea, well executed but really, 1998 is calling and they would like their model of roleplay design back please!


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Three Fears

Another gaming session rumbled through tonight and we experienced three 'fears'

The Fear of Evil

We created our D&D characters for CottageCon. These are not your normal characters and it was not your normal character creation. These are level 18 constructed characters of EPIC proportions. My Sorceress has a Charisma of 28 (!). The last hope for a dying world, they are suitably uber. They wield items of ... significant power. So where's the fear? Well, in a move that shocked me as much as it shocked the others, I created an evil character. Not just any evil character either, the daughter of an Infernal Lord, defacto General of his army and Queen of her own empire (which one of the other characters has attempted to destroy!). She wields a 'dark' version of the Staff of the Magi, has intangible armour woven from trapped souls and wears a demonic claw on her left hand that can drain the life of her witless foes. And in my minds eye she looks like the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls!

The strange bedfellows aspect that this brings to the game has filled me with interest in something that I felt might be more like a competitive convention scenario rather than a game of high drama. In the rest of the party we have a Cleric of the Sun God and a full blown Paladin - you know what there's going to be some fireworks at some point in time! Fear? FEAR ME!

The Fear of Success

Pendragon saw us finish off 499 with a great romp. We returned from our smashing of the Saxon army to find that our lands had been raided and Sir Merrin's wife (and some peasants) had been taken captive. Nothing loathe, we saddled up disguised as mercenary knights and travelled deep into the saxon King Cerdic's territory, infiltrated his capital, experienced anti-Briton prejudice, rescued the slaves, stole two boats, crippled the others and escaped. It was truly like an episode of Robin Hood and a smashing change of pace! We quickly moved into 500 and discovered that Bloody King Idris has moved to border us and is attacking Dorset - our ally. We gathered an army and marched to reinforce him. We gathered easily over 300 men and knights which was a bit of a shock. However, we have invested substantial monies into Salisbury and it has some pretty advanced defences. Anyway, we found ourselves inside a siege for once but our old campaigning ways worked well and for once we repelled King Idris' army. Ha! Back to Sarum it dawned on me how far we have come. We really have evolved into 'proper knights' rather than just jumped up footmen. With that success comes the responsibility of fulfilling our pledges and oaths and riding into battle again and again. Can we continue our winning streak?

Fear of ... Time!

Two inevitable things happened in Pendragon. The first was that finally, after so many rolls, one of our wives - the beautiful wife of Sir Merrin who we rescued from the Saxons - died in childbirth. None of us have lost a wife before so it was a strange moment, made even more potent by the knowledge that Merrin has pledged to marry the (evil, misunderstood, demonic - delete as applicable) Rhiannon, making him the defacto father of Aeryn the Youngers illegitimate child. Oh thats just going to go down SO well!

The second thing was ..... aging rolls! It became apparent, as Sir Guillame was RAVAGED by the savage nature of old age, that we have met our final foe. We can defeat massed armies, we can battle with giants, trolls, hellhounds and all manner of unearthly foes. But in the end, age will kill us if the battle field does not. We have nothing to fear except time. Inevitable time.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I was browsing through some stuff on recently and I came across this (which I have parphrased)

"But of course he got the information from Wikipedia, which naturally discounts it's validity"

I've seen this a few times now - the casual discounting of anything sourced from Wikipedia as being fatally flawed and almost certainly wrong. I've never really thought too much about it, but recently it has really gotten under my skin.

Our knowledge is the product of the inputs we receive from a variety of sources. We are assured that things happen, places and people exist etc. not by having experienced them ourselves but trusting in the words of others. That could be the words of our friends, the media or printed libraries.

Of course, we don't always believe the context of what we are told. We are nowadays veterans of a war against spin, bias and vested interests. Even as children we are filled with the dictum 'history is written by the victors' and then told to question it, as it might not be exactly what happened.

Of course, we cannot go to far in this pursuit of the truth. There are some areas that we hold such a powerful collective conscious belief in the absolute objective truth of the matter that their validity is unquestionable. And yes, I'm looking at holocaust revisionists here!

As I understand, Wikipedia is like a moderated collective work, yes? So if there is an inaccuracy in the presented facts, you can challenge it, assuming you know for absolute certain that they are wrong and you are right? So whats the problem? I have to listen to so-called experts talking utter utter bollocks about a load of subjects every morning on Radio 4 but that doesn't mean that I discount everything that the BBC presents as ill-informed misinformation! (Although if someone can retroactively edit the recent England cricket scores with new, better versions I would be most grateful)

If we discount Wikipedia as an invalid form of information, then we have to discount all of the information provided on the internet and indeed, everything in books too! Why? Because they are written by one person - without the rigour of the panel of thousands of know-it-all critics either! Totally useless in our objective world of knowledge.

Wikiphobia, I think, is just a sympton of a greater malaise and thats an inability to divine the trurth of a situation from the frenzied hyperbole of the twenty first century media driven society. It's an easy target for a society that is maybe coming around to the realisation that many of us walk around with the wool voluntarily pulled over our eyes for most of our lives. A society that is happy to live being force fed one point of view, without analysis or doubt, because it makes life easier. Force fed so that we can be farmed for the fois gras of acceptance and cooperation.

I have waited for someone, in response to the horrific killings at Virginia Tech (although don't get me started about how those killings command so many column inches and yet the same number of deaths, to the multiple of 10s and 100s in Africa and the Middle East are passing soundbites) to ask for 'pix pls or it didn't happen'. You know it will come sometime...

Sorry for that little bit of politics. Back to the gaming!


Monday, April 16, 2007

Finish it!

For those that care, I used to work in corporate training with the HE sector and one of the models that was constantly flung around was Belbin's theory of key roles in teams. I've done the various tests numerous times and the same answer always comes. Happily, for someone who now works in marketing, I score really highly as a Shaper ( dynamic team-member who loves challenges and thrives on pressure. This member possesses the drive and courage required to overcome obstacles) and as a Plant (A creative, imaginative, unorthodox team-member who solves difficult problems). However, I think if I could score any lower in one category, the trainer would probably suggest I was trying to flunk the test! That category?


I'll have, over the years, readily accepted that my ability to fulfil the role as an 'ideas' man, or to deal with complicated problems in a conceptual nature outstrips my ability to carry things through to their absolute conclusion. At work, it's something I have to really concentrate on and develop those finishing skills and the diligence to apply them.

To the same extent, I have had to work hard in my gaming to develop some finishing skills too. Believe it or not, before I met my current group, I had NEVER taken a campaign to a finite conclusion. This was a combination of running games that simply ran out of steam (as open ended games tend to do) or just losing interest altogether. Crescent Sea (our initial 3e adventure) was the first campaign I have ran with an eye to a definite conclusion, although even that for the first two-thirds of the campaign was pretty much open ended. Slaying Days Seasons 1 & 2 offered something new in that I could say very early on exactly how many episodes each season would have and this allowed for the inclusion of TV tropes such as 'sweeps week' two-parters mid-season.

Pulsars and Privateers sits in my gullet as a campaign that I never saw through to a conclusion. Whilst the campaign saw the end of it's first 'movement' when the crew of the Khanjar defeated One-Eyed Elijah and got their own moonbase. Behind the scenes, hinted at through the episodes, there was something happening in hyperspace and eventually the aliens that lived there would invade and cause the chaos that would make the Khanjar famous. Tales that never happened as work took its toll on the campaign. Its very hard to leave something like that and it annoys me.

Omniverse is currently at a crossroads. I've shelved it for a month or so. One reason is that I wanted to get my head around some of the concepts and judge whether I had honestly just recreated Fate. Another was that I wanted to get the work finished on Duty and Honour in preperation for CottageCon. And if I am honest, another was because after the short formal playtest that we did, I sort of mentally relegated the game to partially done.

Thats bullshit really and deep down, I have known it for a while.

I challenged myself today, in one of my Metro thinking sessions to consider Omniverse as an unfinished work. To think of myself going to GenCon with it unfinished. I was horrified. Thats not something that I am prepared to do. Then I wondered what I really wanted to do with it. Did I really want to present a generic system, with all of the generalities that it brings.

And in the end, I decided I didn't. I need to do something more focused. The generic system that I love can exist within another game (and another and another) but it needs some structure. It needs to be a Crescent Sea or a Buffy and no some adolescent campaign that drags on and on without any purpose.

The best idea I have ever had for a game setting has been MI:666 - it compels me and it enthuses me. So Omniverse will become MI:666 and it will be finished. And then... well, Pulsars and Privateers is unfinished business.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Indie? Pah!

I was chatting to my friend from school at the weekend and he commented how, even back then, I have never really been part of any 'group'. At school I was neither a trendy townie nor one of the introvert theatre group nor a sporty type or a (shudder) Venutre Scout. I sort of existed, by myself, shuttling between them all. I've always hated the concept of tribalisation and in my adult life it's been something that has annoyed me about all manner of things .... indie.

Oh how I hate the term. In every incarnation I have encountered it, it - and it's attendent antithesis - has created up the same elitist, isolationist, tribal divisions.

In the late 80s it was 'Indie Music' - the logic went like this: all chart music is crap and therefore not proper music. Therefore the only proper music was stuff that was not in the charts. The so-called 'indie music'. The more popular this music became, the less 'indie' it was until eventually the band would disappear or /shock/ they would chart - therefore instantly moving from 'indie' to 'commerical sellouts'. Oh the fun I had watching people at Uni trying to out-obscure each other. Nowadays it's like something from a surreal sketch show but it was very real then. And the looking down the nose at anyone who liked yesterdays sweetheart group or, God help them, the more serious crime of .... bandwagon jumping! Oh yes folks, worse than being a trendy chart zombie was being an indie kid who didn't know about the obscure band and then started to like them as they were getting noticed! Find your own niche group to obsess over... this one is mine. I mean, honestly, what was going on there?

After Indie Music came 'Indie Comics'. Once again, the same riff applied. If it was made by Marvel or DC, it was pretty much dead in the water, derivative, mass produced rubbish churned out for the braindead masses. What you need to be reading are 'indie comics'! Obscure, badly drawn pieces of tatt which come out less regularly than a decent Boyzone single mustering a storyline that you can barely follow. Oh but they are so good, oh but they are written by writer such-and-such and he's great and ... GAH! Thankfully, I had my mate Stephen to guide me towards 'decent' indie stuff (although I suspect he still couldn't fathom my X-Men habit) but from other fans I got the same old litany. What made it worse was that the indie snobbery was coming from the comic shop owners themselves. I distinctly remember being virutally laughed out of Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham once because of my rather mainstream comic selections.

Of course, nothing generates quite the indie tribalism as 'Indie Wrestling'. Yes folks, none of the shine and showbiz of the WWE for the Indie Wrestling fanatic! If it isn't done in grainy film, shown in an old bingo hall or sports centre and features two or more men you have never heard of before then it simply must be bad. Now, I will admit that the difference between the punch-kick-finisher style of the WWE and the more technical/high risk style I have seen at many indie feds makes the two things almost different products, but essentially they have the same basis, require the same suspension of disbelief and aim to entertain within the same medium.

Indie Music, Indie Comics and Indie Wrestling - three things where the ability for people to create false divisions has plagued me. I simply cannot understand the reasoning behind the split? Is it because these people are seeking individualism in the arms of the obscure? Well, that would have accounted for the music at the time, but the others? Is it because of a deep seated hatred of the monolithic structures behind the big players - the EMI's, Marvels and WWEs of this world? Maybe it's because there is a degree of fairness that has been breached with regard to these properties. They are seen as equally as valid, equally as good as the more mainstream offering but the latter has far more promotion and exposure than the former and therefore is seen as superior by the un-exposed masses? That could well be it but I don't think I have ever seen the tribalism portrayed with that degree of analysis before. Snobbishness powered through a sense of social justice and anti-capitalistic zeal. Hmmmm....unlikely!

I love my (formerly) 80s (formerly) indie music and I still listen to it now. I'm also going to see Girls Aloud next month with my daughter and quite looking forward to it. I picked up my first ever Dark Horse comic last month - the company that was once the epitome of indie comics is now publishing the Season Eight comic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bought it alongside my Justice League and Avengers comics. I still mark out like a little girl when I watch the WWE and yet find it possible to catch Ring of Honour sometimes on the Wrestling Channel and enjoy it. Just like at school, never in one group or another. Just floating.

Which brings me to the phenomenon of 'indie roleplaying games'. Naturally my nerves are jangled by the continued use of that phrase. Coming from a city with one games shop which is very well stocked by still rather mainstream, these things come slowly into my world and I have come slowly into theirs. What I see are games made by people who clearly love their hobby, have some interesting innovative ideas and the know-how to self-publish and promote them. Hey, thats great and indeed it has inspired me to do similar things. However, what I also see are the same smoldering embers of internal division and tribalisation. Those that 'get' indie or story games and those that are happy to stay with 'traditional' games. Theres even an air of intellectual snobbery that runs through some of the conversations.

What I find comical about these things is that they seem to be the failings of all hobbies, large or small. I regularly hear football fans talking about Division Two football as 'proper football' as if they Champions League matches we have seen over the last couple of weeks were somehow all the more fake because of the lights and big-name players and lack of half-cooked pies on terraces at half-time. It also seems the smaller the hobby the more ludicrous the nature of the tribalisation. Take reading comics, for example? Hardly the biggest hobby in the world is it? A good selling comic might clear 70k copies WORLDWIDE. A comic on the brink of doom from Marvel/DC might get 20k copies. An out-of-this-world indie comic might clear 10k. Those aren't massive numbers. For RPGS, I guess you can knock a zero off those numbers!

I think thats my point as a whole. There is no one-true-musical-taste, no one-perfect-comic, no one-true-wrestling-style, no one-best-football-team and no one-godlike-roleplaying-game. They don't exist. What does exist is a wide variety of music that makes people happy, comics that allow a wide variety of people to thrill, numerous federations that scratch the wrestling itch for many and football experiences that match what the watcher wants. And a large and bountiful array of roleplaying games that we can enjoy - whether they are the product of a division of Hasbro or the maniacal brainchild of some teenagers computer in Wisconsin. If they entertain, theres really no problem.

So I say 'pah!' to 'indie' and tribalisation and 'hurrah' to fun and inclusiveness!


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Game of Two Sessions

This Sunday we played what was effectively the first of three 'double sessions' in the run up to CottageCon. This Sunday we teamed up our normal Pendragon game with character generation for Spirit of the Century.

SotC looks like a great game and the character generation was definitely an event. I'm a fervent advocate of group character design and that character design walking hand-in-hand with the flavour of the campaign. Not only does it build deeper, richer characters but it also welds the issues of the characters to the campaign setting and the adventure. It totally bypasses the old 'Patron meets you at an Inn (and associated variations)' stereotype and plunges fully flegded characters into their own action. SotC does this magnificently, especially with the 'guest novel' section.

Of course, muggins here had to make it a little more complicated by creating a character that is essentially a support character rather than a square jawed hero type. He (for he has no name yet, although it will no doubt be something alliterative) is a butler-par-excellence, a member of the League of Gentlemen's Gentlemen. Unflappable, immensely resourceful, contacts around the world, impeccably English with a thick streak of working class sensibility. Like The Rescuers, the LoGsG are dispatched to ensure that some irrational explorer isn't gobbled up by zombie pygmies in a creased suit during his sojourn to the depths of the Amazon.

The game threw up a definite African theme, with the main villain appearing to be the nefarious Zo Khath Ra! I'm thoroughly looking forward to serving up cucumber sandwiches and delivering stiff right hooks in defiance of the bounder.

One thing I find saddening about SotC however, and I have seen this of a number of so-called indie games, is that they do seem to have low repeat play value. I think we virtually covered every pulp base we could think of with our characters and whilst it would take many sessions to drag every thread out of that, if we were to run another game, I wonder how much variation we would see. I don't know why I feel that way - as opposed to say D&D - but its a possibility.

Then after the obligatory pizza break, we moved onto Pendragon and the climax of my feud with the Black Bear Clan. For those who haven't been keeping track, my knight Sir Brion, has been making quite the reputation for himself killing saxons since Day One of the campaign. As a result the Black Bear Clan declared a blood feud on him. Now, in the early days, this was simply an excuse for me to kill yet more saxons in exciting and bloody ways, but later they started playing things a little more canny. First, they attacked me directly in battle and *shock* went for the horse! And then they sent a raiding party to attack my homestead and killed two of my horde of children. Now, Brion is renowned for his Love (Family) so he went a bit mental, was shook out of it by Sir Aeryn the Elder and then progressed to enact a grand plan of revenge that included being blessed by Morrigan, travelling back to Ireland and invoking family law to raise his clan and enlisting the aid of his father-in-law, the King of the Forest Sauvage.

So, it came to pass that around 300 knights, bowmen, spearmen, mercenaries, swordsmen, hobgoblins, spriggans and elf-hounds met 260 Black Bear clan, Boar clan, trolls and turncoat BASTARDS from Huntingdon.

Now, we have a saying in our group - dramatically appropriate dice - and this session they were at home and having a party! Prior to the battle, Sir Aeryn the Younger (he who wants to be me) tried to lead the lifting of a siege and managed to fail around 75% of his battle rolls. The young pretender won the day, but his losses were grave and all of the enemy knights escaped intact. He still has a lot to learn about the art of war.

The old master however, warlord of the Countess' armies, lead his men to a total victory, with the mercenaries (and Aeryn the Elder) seeing off the men of Huntingdon, the main body of spear and sword (with Sir Merrin) decimating the Boar clan and myself, Aeryn, Guillame and my Irish horde laying waste to the Black Bear. It was a bloody affair - for them - with our side only suffering 9 casualties! The corn from that field will grow red with their Saxon blood for a long time.

The downside? I sometimes wish there was more room for roleplaying and showboating in the Pendragon battles. They are excellently executed representations of dark ages battle - random, visceral affairs - but in the end, my confrontation with the Black Bear Chieftain was simply a two round battle. He scratched me, I criticalled and gutted him. Maybe the denouement will come next session. Almost certainly I think that it is my responsibility to make more of it.

Next session we move from the sublime to the ridiculous, and the generation of 18th level D&D characters. I shudder to think....


Saturday, April 07, 2007

CottageCon is On!

And after more than a little wrangling with the lovely people at (Ho)seasons, it's great to confirm that CottageCon is on! Now some people don't like me calling it CottageCon because it makes it sound like some sort of sleazy gay outdoor sex gathering. And if you listen to the people at Hoseasons, it might well be!

After all five men sharing a cottage, and two of them sleeping in the same bed? There must be something going on! I had to endure quite a grilling from the nice lady from Hoseasons about who we were, what we did as work, why we were going to that place, what we were intending to do. If I hadn't predicted it, it would have been quite disconcerting. I can understand the possible reasons why as well, but it would have been nice to have had it explained to me, as a courtesy.

So anyway, we have a nice 5-man cottage just outside Robin Hoods Bay nr Scarborough. It looks absolutely delightful and just what we were looking for. We also have an itinerary of games lined up that makes the mouth water.

On Friday, I will be running the first - and maybe last - session of Duty and Honour. This is my adaptation of Pendragon to emulate the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell. I worked on the conversion document for a couple of nights and it has come out rather well so far. Its still a little rough around the edges and has absolutely no real gameplay direction within it, but it does allow you to make good Sharpe-style characters. As this is the first session I expect that it will start relatively late and probably finish late too. I'm hoping to keep it pretty light and have a fair bit of swashbuckling action involved.

On Saturday morning Ian is joining us and Andrew will be running a very high level Dungeons & Dragons one shot! It's Sword and Sorcery meets World War Z as we jump in at the climax of a battle against the creeping dead and their evil dark Lord. This is an intriguing prospect as it will be paramount for the players to REALLY bring the characters to the table and almost retcon in a whole swathe of stuff whilst we are tackling some of the big bad monsters that you rarely see coming out of the Monster Manual. Oh at first glance this should be a load of fun but I think it has a lot of potential to stretch our gaming if we go beyond the stats and spells technique of D&D.

On Saturday afternoon we will be playing the remarkably hyped Spirit of the Century ran by Ian. This is 1930s Pulp ran using a system that is very different from our usual fare (but far too close to my Omniverse for my liking!! ). Without putting too much pressure on Ian, I think this is the most important session of the weekend. Not only does it see his return to the GMs chair for the first time in ages, but it is with a game that I believe he can undoubtedly shine with and in an atmosphere that has to be made for what is undoubtedly a weekend of experimental gaming. I think if SotC succeeds, we could see these characters appearing again at some point in time and thats always good, and maybe it brings us a little closer to playing something like Burning Wheel etc.

Saturday night is set aside for a long, possibly drunken, session of Diplomacy. Now I will admit here and now that I am utterly shite at these games. There is a rather shocking irony there because my workmate laughs at my ability to conjure work related 'inexactitudes' to clients when needed, but with my friends I couldn't even lie about the time of day. The last time we played I was totally and utterly stitched up and I thoroughly expect the same to happen this time too. Still, we shall see....

When we arise again on Sunday, Ian returns and we settle down for a nice relaxed game of Pendragon. Well, I say nice and relaxed but things are getting very interesting in the world of Pendragon at the moment and I think that by then we could be knee deep in all manner of saxon mess. The campaign is moving on now, the characters are getting older and more powerful and the time of Arthur is slowly creeping nearer. The intervening years are painful though and some of the decisions are pretty tough. I'm sure Nigel will have something cooked up for us to make us sweat just that little bit more.

Thats whats officially happening, but I suspect there might be more as well. More boardgames maybe, definitely a lot of gaming conversation, maybe the odd DVD, some sightseeing (theres a tall ship at the bay apparently). Theres going to be some good food and good beer too. It just sounds like a really great weekend. Many years in the making, but it's happening on May 18th!