Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When did the GM become Evil Incarnate?

Interesting thread on rpg.net at the moment, critiquing the attitude of Luke Crane in The Burning Wheel as 'anti-GM'. This is based on the premise within that game that the players can, and indeed, are encouraged, to have more power at the table than in so-called 'traditional' rpgs. The roleplaying game adage that 'The GM is God' is, apparently, fundamentally challenged and there are a number of people who don't like this. And naturally a number of people that are.

At the heart of it, however, I believe lies a very basic question - who's game is it? Traditionally, the answer would look something like this.

The GM creates and controls the world, the NPCs and the adventures.
The players create the player characters and control their actions.
They control all aspects of the character, the GM controls all aspects of the world.

Fundamentally though, that places a massive onus on the GM to be very much on his game throughout every session, and that simply isn't going to happen. I have, in the past, seen this of games where the GM is literally tasked with entertaining his friends, almost despite their best efforts to thwart him. It's not pretty. I've also seen times when the GMs performance has been critiqued down to the last nuance of his speech, but the players? Their behaviour is almost sacrosanct. Normally, someone will now say, 'ah, but he chose to take up the GM position. It comes with the territory.' Really, thats bollocks and you know it. These are your friends, your buddies. These are the people you choose to hang out with and spend quality time. This is not a cabaret bureau or some indentured service that people have volunteered for. There has to be some redress of the balance, surely? However, that simply isn't so. Scan your eyes across any roleplaying forum and see how many threads there are on GMing, improving as a GM, how to be a good GM, world building, adventure design and all the trappings of the GM centric game. Vast mountains of them. Why? Because thats the way it has always been and for many there is no reason to question that.

And yes, there are 'indie' games which take a different direction. Sometimes they share the burden of creation from the GM. Sometimes they allow the player to be the one that adds the spark of creativity to the game. Sometimes they shake up the narration. Sometimes they ditch for the formalised GM role altogether.

However I don't think this is the solution.In my opinion, the problem seems to be that people are looking towards a game to solve this problem when in reality it is based in respect and responsibility. You don't need a rules system to engage these principles of human nature. You need to have some emotional conscience that looks at the lonely GM and says 'can I help?' or 'Is there something I can do to enhance this game?'. These things aren't the purview of traditional or indie games, they are something any player can do if they want to. It doesn't have to be whatever the current hot technique thats just popped out of a 'Forge' game - it can be something as simple as bringing along a special soundtrack CD or drawing some sketches of the PCs or taking the time to detail your characters family tree (if appropriate).

The thing is, whilst some games have these things built into their mechanics, the games that don't do not have rules which specifically prohibit them. No Wizards of the Coast ninjas are going to leap from the shadows and eviscerate everyone at your Eberron table if you allow the players to create backgrounds with taggable keywords that give the GM some flags about your desires for the character. (And remember, there is a fundamental contradiction in the premise that a game which is the story of the players character has virtually no direction from that player and all the direction from the person at the table who has no character). I'm sure that Kevin Siembieda isn't going to unleash the Palladium lawyers if you allow the players to dictate some of the NPCs their Coalition Shocktroopers answer to as they crush the world under their jackboot.

There's nothing exclusively indie about being a considerate player and there's nothing engulfing about 'traditional' games that wouldn't allow an under pressure GM to spread the joy a little bit. Do what you need to do to have the fun you want to have, as an individual and as a group. As a GM, look at the players and say 'Is the way I am running this game truly reflecting the fun that my friends, the players, want?'. As a player, look at the GM and say 'Am I supporting my friend in his undertaking to run this game?'

Thats the message I take from the way Luke Crane approaches Burning Wheel. This is what he needs, as a GM and as a player, to have fun. More power to him.


ps. A bit of podcast serendipity on this topic from Sons of Kryos #42 if anyone is interested.

Monday, May 28, 2007

AP: A Faery's Tale, Part Three

We reconvened this morning for an epic tale of love and questing across the breadth of Brightwood. Jennifree and Sarah continue their adventures and we see a little more of what lies beyond the borders of their forest. We had a little talk beforehand, reprising the second session and talking about which flower they represented as 'Lady of Flowers'. It was decided that Sarah the Pooka would be Lady of Bluebells and Jennfiree the Pixie would be Lady of Snapdragons.

The adventure began in mid-Spring with the announcement throughout Brightwood that Queen Leanan was holding a spring ball in honour of all Ladies of Flowers. J&S prepared for the ball, making sure they had the correct flower hat, contributed some decorations and had a gift for the Queen. Soon, an escort arrived and took them to the castle where the party was well underway. All of the Ladys of Flowers were there as well as a load of noble Sprite knights. Some of the knights asked them to dance. Jennifree did but Sarah was more interested in launching into some more ... boisterous dancing and was soon rocking the party!

The festivities were brought to a close by the arrival of the Knight of Spiders (remember him?) escorting the Lady of Firelilies (the only flower that can grow in Darkwood). She presented the Queen with a fiery rock which burst into an image of animals and faeries performing the solemn act of trading a boon. The Knight of Spiders announced that through a great deal of trading, the Goblin King had secured that most precious of commodities - a boon over Queen Leanan. In enacting it, he has requested a tournament be held in one month. Knights alone could enter the tournament (barring his enemies, J&S) and the winner would have the hand of the Queen's guest of honour - who was then introduced as Gossamer, the Lady of Orchids from Silverwood, the third of the four woods in the Great Forest (the fourth being defined as Greenwood)

Leanan was furious with this, and the ball ended there and then. J&S were approached as the party disipated by the Captain of the Guard. He revealed that he was in love with Gossamer and desperately needed to win the tournament. However, he would need many magical items to defeat the Knight of Spiders but his duties here at the castle prevented him from getting them. He therefore wished to use the boon that he gave Sarah in the last adventure to request she get the items for him. She accepted and he gave her the list of items, a golden star that would pay for any travel they needed and a flower with thirty petals - one of which would drop off each day until the tournament.

Under the clock, they headed off to retrieve the first item - a coat of Golden Leaf Armour from the Hall of the Mountain King. They walked for days towards the Middle Mountains, which sit between the four forest kingdoms. As they scrambled up the rocks they saw evidence of goblin battles. Negotiating entrance with the rock spirit that guarded the massive golden doors to the Dwarf lands under the mountain, the continued in the dark. They were then aware that they were being watched by hundreds of small goblins. What were they doing in the dwarf lands? The goblins began pinging at them with dart-like arrows and soon they were surrounded with slavering, hungry goblins arguing about which spice to use when they ate them! Drums began to sound and horns and loud banging. S&J were convinced that they were facing trolls, but then dwarfs appeared and rescued the faeries, putting shields of iron between them and the goblins that ran off into the darkness. Taken to the old dwarf king, who remembered Leanan fondly, it was revealed that the goblins have been tunnelling into the dwarf lands and some of their tunnelling had caused some rock collapses. These had trapped some of the rabbits that the dwarfs used as friends. The dwarf miners had informed them that any further digging would cause more collapse. What they needed was something small that could rescue the rabbits. If the faeries could do it, he would grant them the armour. Jennifree is small enough to fit through the gaps between the rocks and Sarah turned into a mouse, slipping through. Jennifree then (after spending an essence point for a clue) used her pixie dust to shrink the rabbits down, leading them home whilst Sarah watched for further rockfalls. Delighted, the King granted the faeries the gift of the armour (golden armour coat made of tiny golden oak leaves, ala scale mail) and performed a ritual informing the spirits under the mountain that J&S would be allowed free and easy passage through the mountain in the future.

The next part of the mission was to find a suitable mount for the Captain of the Guard. The Knight of Spiders has a giant dragonfly. The Captain wanted a specially trained Hummingbird from Bobbit, a Pooka who lives in the fetid swamp known as the Stinking Meadows. The faeries travelled by boat down river from Brightwood Village along the boarder between Brightwood and Darkwood, to the small rivertown of Stench. There they heard the story of Stinking Meadow, a once beautiful field that was filled by the Goblin King with sewage, mud, slurry and effluent so that he could have somewhere to grow his Smelly Things - the spies of his dark army. J&S punted out into the swamp, incredulous that the locals had grown accustomed to the smell. The crossing was problematic because the smelly things tried to drag the punt down, slap the faeries with mud and drag Sarah under into the mire. They nearly succeeded but Jennifree performed a feat of strength and determination that would be more likely to come from her companion and rescued her. Jennifree also used her pixie dust to get rid of the smell from Sarah.

On meeting Bobbit, a rather pompous and self important pooka waxed lyrical about the value of his highly trained and expensive hummingbirds. Did they realise how long it took to train one? How difficult it was to get nectar into the swamp? How it was necessary to train the hummingbirds in the swamp so that they could handle the nastiness of facing the Goblin Kings forces? Did they have anything worthy of trade for such a magnificent beast? After some attempts with mundane items like swords and flutes, they remembered that they had acorns holding magical lucky nectar, given to them by Queen Leanan after their first adventure. They surrendered this nectar to the pooka and he handed over a blue hummingbird, that was soon delivered back to Brightwood.

Finally, and most difficultly, they needed to get the Captain a sword from a old sprite called Flynn who lives at the end of a moonbeam far to the west!! Luckily, Brightwood Village has a moonbeam express station - a massive toadstool that sits in the middle of the town (a town which now has a small port, a castle and a toadstool in it - rapidly growing!!) At it's base are shops selling goods from all Four Kingdoms, further up are the perches for the mounts of the Sprite Knights and at the top a family of Brownies runs the moonbeam transport. Once per month, on a full moon, faeries can travel on a moonbeam to anywhere they want. However, they only have until sunrise to catch the beam back, or they will have to wait a month for the next one! If J&S were tardy in this mission, they would never get the sword back in time.

After some comedy lean forward-lean back 'fast travel' stuff and some shaking off the moondust they find themselves on a series of floating islands in the middle of nowhere, far far to the west of the Great Forest. J&S discovered Flynn at his forge. Apparently they are not the first faeries to have come here asking for a weapon. The Knight of Spiders had already been, having his thorn sword enchanted. Flynn then produced a slender rapier which he said he would happily contribute to the cause of love if J&S could get him the liquid to temper the final heating of the blade - the water that collects in the starcup plants that bloom on the highest island in the chain. Jennifree takes a waterskin and flies up to get the liquid but when she is out of sight, Flynn remembers that he should have warned her about the dragon. Doh!

Jennifree collects the liquid but she also disturbs the dragon. Lots of bellowing and growling and blowing of smoke as the dragon demands that she leaves his sweet water and gets off his island. On hearing this below, Sarah changes into a swallow and speeds to her friends side, just in time to get her shield (which Jennifree makes fireproof using pixie dust) between a massive gout of flame and her friend. The dragon decides he is going to eat them and Sarah looses her temper with the dragon bully and smacks it on the nose. Hard. No really very hard. Hard like only the luckiest person I have ever seen with open ended rolling can smack. Blinking back tears, the dragon is confused as to why it is being attacked by such a small thing and tells them to take the water and go! And they do! The sword is forged and they make it back on the correct moonbeam, fulfilling their mission with almost a week to go.

The day of the tournament came about and the forces of the Goblin King arrived to be met by the shining horde of Leanan's sprites and their Captain (resplendent in his golden armour, shimmering blue hummingbird and star-touched rapier). At the end of the tournament it came down to the Knight of Spiders against the Captain of the Guard. The Knight drew his thorn sword, dripping with green poison from the enchantment by Flynn. The Captain whips out his star rapier and slices across the Knight of Spiders, shattering his thorn sword. Knowing when he is beat, the Knight and his retinue beat a hasty retreat, foiled again by Jennfiree and Sarah.

The Captain of the Guard and Gossamer, Lady of Orchids are reunited and she is so pleased that she grants each of the faeries a boon. Sarah returned home to find one of the rabbits she had rescued had followed her home, and now wanted to live with the kindly pooka, under her vegetable garden.

They are then summoned to see Queen Leanan, who reveals to them through her scrying mirror, a Queen in the Lands of Man, holding her stomach as she is with child. The child will need guardians when it is born... faerie godmothers. Are J&S ready for the responsibility?

To be continued...

The session was delayed a couple of times due to wholly adult pressures and this caused it to take quite some time to get them settled down. Emma (Sarah) was particularly excitable during the entire session. I tried to make the session as cohesive as possible, linking back into the actions of previous adventures. However, one of the joys of playing with kids is that they are a lot more forgiving with some more out-there plot elements (like hummingbirds in swamps). And by way of explantion - the damned rabbits. Emma wants a rabbit but cannot have them because of the two dozen cats living in the street. Not a great place for a rabbit. So she wanted a rabbit friend in the game but she thought she could just have one by asking (which was what Lara did with her squirrel companion, but that was authored in, rather than as a whim). So this was a way to get her a rabbit (no reason why she should not have one) but making her work a little for it. No silver platter.

Another thing came up in talking during the game. The characters have no apparently family which both girls find quite bizarre and want something doing about. Oh and they want a map too. Looks like I have my work cut out for me....


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why I Love/Hate SotC!

One week on from CottageCon and my gaming group is picking the bones out of the various experiences we had there. For me, there were two direct revelations. The first was that Duty and Honour worked as a system and is worth pursuing into further development. Thats the minor one. The second however, is more wide-ranging and that was the experience of playing Spirit of the Century.

In Ian's Blog he's been talking about the game and the various things that it revealed at the table, as well as the coming of fruition of one of his gaming journeys. In some ways, I feel that it was the same for me too, in a less stated fashion, because SotC pulled together a lot of the styles, theories and practices that I have been reading about, talking about and blogging about over the last year. In my reply to Ian's post today, I said that it acted as an ink and paper lens that focused some of the things we have done as a group since we formed in 2001. It was a great game.

Since then however, I have got my hands on the pdf version of the SRD and printed and bound myself a copy. In a plain format without the 'flavour' I actually find the system far easier to absorb and appreciate. It was during this appreciation that I realised the most damnable thing - this game is echoing so much of my own desires about games, it's actually annoying. For example, it's long been a source of curiosity that I like to use the system of chargen to form the character that I play rather than the other way around. I see a STR 16 on my Pendragon character sheet and I think 'OK, I wanted him strong, but what else does that strength say about the knight? What about his attitude? What about his relationships etc.' Oh look at SotC and it's wholly character developing character generation system, all sat there, on paper, in front of me! Its great and yet it's distressing. And the ability to form that strength into an Aspect and then impose that strength on the game in a special manner, unique to your character is just so correct in my eyes. I could go on, but that SRD is really quite an inspirational read for me.

So why the hate? Well, three things. Firstly, I can think of about a dozen games I could run NOW based on those rules (or a very quick and easy mod) but I know we just don't have the time in the gaming schedule to do it nor are we likely to soon. The freeflowing combat and open minded character generation system just scream 'fantasy' game to me - pulpy fantasy heroes and dastardly sorcerous villains. Ah, happy days.

The second thing is that I spent the afternoon dissecting Pirates of the Caribeean III through the bloody lens of Aspects, Invokes, Compels and 'Escalate! Escalate! Escalate!'. Pleasant but distracting fun.

Sadly the final thing is that I am rapidly coming to an unfortunate conclusion regarding my own Omniverse system. I think it might be superfluous and in some ways rather accidentally derivative. This came up when we first did SotC chargen and Aspects came up. My system uses virtually the same thing, albeit in a slightly more abstract manner. And my Flux is a less elegant version of Fate points (especially seeing some of the more mundane uses for Fate points from the SRD). Barring the stress track and the inbuilt 'progression' my game uses, the two are pretty damned close. Moreover - and I take some cold comfort in being big enough to admit it - that game is written really well, in a way that I wish I could actually put the words down on the paper. It's become apparent to me that there is a great difference between being able to think up a system, writing the crunch and actually transcribing that crunch onto paper in a way that is understandable by someone who isn't called Neil and doesn't have Neil at the table!

I hate being a fanboy and I know that in some circles SotC is seen as the newest fad, the next so-called big thing and something that is just having it's time in the spotlight. However I am genuinely entranced by the bloody thing and thats not something that I have been used to from game systems. How can I put it? Where some games are great despite the system and some are great and the system facilitates this by not being crap, SotC is the second game I have ever found that really powers a great game through the system itself. Pendragon is the other one but I am a self-confessed Pendragon fanatic, so thats a given.

Hey, and I'm playing Pendragon and SotC at the moment. Woot!

So yes, love SotC because it has pushed all of my buttons. Hate it for coming at an unfortunate time and possibly deep sixing my own game. Well, one of them. Duty and Honour ftw!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Reviews Beware - It's Rant Time!

It's Pirates 3 weekend and the kids are literally chomping at the bit to see what happens to Captain Jack and the crew next. They have been running around the house, all hyper (two plates and one cup down) and ready for the weekend. Even me and Mrs G. are quite looking forward to it. However, I have to say that I always find my enjoyment of these things marred by my nemesis... the film critic. I know, I should just look away. Turn the page in the newspaper. Walk on by and let them do their job. But I can't. They just make my blood boil.

I've never really forgiven them for the condemnation of Pirates 2. You see, I quite liked it. The kids LOVED it. We watch it on DVD pretty regularly, probably more than Pirates 1. However, it is universally condemned as being too complicated, too slow and coming to an abrupt end with no conclusion.

Hello? Are we all a little too young or too cool to recognise a direct Empire Strikes Back rip off?

To summarise, Will Turner is Luke Skywalker (common lad drawn into adventure by beautiful woman with a hidden (pirating) past). Elizabeth Swan is Princess Leia (aristo lass in love triangle and not afraid of a fight). Captain Jack is Han Solo (swashbuckling buffoon with a heart of gold, in the end.). Barbaosa is Lando Calrissian (Former owner of ship, appears at the end of the second film to fly... sorry, captain it). The First Mate is Chewbacca. The comedy pirate duo (the bloke from the office) are R2D2 and C3P0. The guy from the East India Company is the Emperor, Davy Jones is Darth Vader, Jack Davenport's English officer is Boba Fett and the Voodoo Momma woman is friggin' Yoda!!

Put it this way - if P3 doesn't have Ewoks, I will be mightily disappointed! Criticising Pirates 2 for not having a conclusive ending is like pulling the various Harry Potter movies apart because the scamp hasn't graduated, boned Hermione and WTFPWNd Voldemort at the end of each one! They are set-ups, cliffhangers, steps through a larger story. A long winded throwback to the old days when every weekend kids would see the Flash Gordon cliffhanger at the flea pit theatre on the corner.

No, they are not arty. No they do not tackle subjects like a orphaned half Liberian victim of dissentry trying to make their way in life as a plumber in darkest Kyoto, through the lens of a passing caterpillar (which, btw, is apparently the touchstone for a five-star review in Metro). And yes, they do use .... CGI!!

Now, here's a thing. Did I miss a memo? When has the use of CGI suddenly become a heinous sin, contributing, apparently, to the downfall of the worlds eco-system, racial tensions in sub-saharan Africa and the lamentable state of Newcastle's defence? Some of us were talking recently about the propensity of films nowadays to do 'real time' superfast action scenes (eg the Transformers Yahoo trailer) which make it very difficult to see whats happening. We realised that 'bullet time' had become almost extinct as a photography method now because of over-use. However sometimes a little bit of slow-mo is a good thing. Similarly, you simply CANNOT film a massive fleet on fleet battle of crusty, fantasy ships blowing seven colours of crap out of each other without the aid of the computer. Well you could, but it would either look dreadful or cost an even more obscene amount of money.

All of this leads me to my final rant, to the editors of these drivelling pieces of shite called reviews. Please PLEASE stop sending arts critics to summer blockbusters?! Please PLEASE stop sending people who have no children along to see animated movies aimed at .... kids! It hurts me, physically, when I see what is probably a perfectly decent movie being shredded in the papers by somebody who appears to have a marking scheme of 'I start at Citizen Kane and work down....'. Indeed, I wonder if anyone can truly enjoy a film if they have been sent to find holes in it and write something interesting about it - we all know that bad news sells better than good. No incentive to like things too often.

Right. Sated. Phew.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

100 Not Out

18 months ago, if you had said that I would be a dedicated blogger now, I would have laughed in your face. I was adamant that blogs were a pointless affection of people who feel they are more important than they actually are and need to tell the world about it - but cannot tell the world everything because of the people that might read their inner feelings. It all seemed very hollow to me. However, at the time, I needed somewhere to get my thoughts and stresses worked out in a place that allowed me some chance for reflection. It was either a blog or a diary and I am a geek so blogs win!

Of course, now I see it as so much more. It's my corner of the web for me to wank on about whatever fills my mind. Usually roleplaying but not always. Its a place for my friends to contact me and keep in touch with me and how I'm thinking at the time. It's almost becoming a homepage for me as I add my essential links to it and some other stuff soon. The question is, has it sorted out my issues that caused the launch? Have I settled my hobbies.

Yes. Absolutely.

Indeed, in this 100th post to the Bottom of the Glass I would like to announce that any pretense of this being some sort of self-help tool is now being retired. My self has been helped quite nicely thank you. How, you ask?

- All the Raw Deal obligations have blown away on the breeze as has any real active participation in the game for me. I still 'play' but only socially on the very odd occassion.

- World of Warcraft was indeed, the great villain of the piece. It ate my time, it soured my relationships, it cast a shadow over everything I did. It's gone now and after a short period of mind fuzz I am open to a whole new world of opportunities.

- Fanfic is a gogo again, but on a nice low-key venture. I write when I can get the focus and it's good stuff when I do. It's fun rather than a task, which is the point.

- Which brings me to the big winner and thats ROLEPLAYING!!! (Hey, you'd never have guessed eh?) I'm reaching greater gaming heights with my current group and soon will start properly with a secondary group. I have started writing not one, but two games. I'm going to freakin' GenCon (!!) and I'm even roleplaying with my kids. The RP life is very sweet at the moment.

For the first time in literally years, I have spare time. Its a bizarre new concept to me, one that I am still growing used to. Moreover, for the first time EVER I am not in any hurry to fill up that spare time with responsibility or new stuff. It's quite intoxicating! I may even be having a holiday and the laptop will be staying at home. Yes, I know, I'm breathing slowly.

So, in this Happy One Hundred address, I would just like to thank everyone who has helped me along this road over the last 18 months. Whether you are the old friends I see every week, the new/old friends I see very occassionally or truly new friends I have never met yet, whatever you have done, it's helped me and I truly appreciate it.

So goodbye introspection and hello to The Bottom of the Glass, the non-emo angst years!!!!


Monday, May 21, 2007

Whats that coming over the hill? Is it a Panzer?!

Spirit of the Century was the real new game for the weekend. We had already generated some awesome characters in a chargen that has influenced a lot about how we look at things. Ian took his seat and probably the most anticipated game of the weekend began.

The set-up was magnificent. Ian gave Matt's Scientist's 'Greatest Show on Earth' as much room as it needed to allow the characters to mingle and grow into each other. Sometimes you don't need an 'in media res' orgy of violence and 'sfx' to kick start a game. Sometimes you just need a truly evocative setting. Everyone had a little moment when they could interact and some had some scene setting flashbacks. And then Matt did his 'performance' which was masterful. Honestly, you had to be there to believe it. Everyone was rapt as he explained how he was wowing the audience with his show of 'tomorrows science, today' and extolling the virtues of learning and logic.

And then the shit hit the fan, energy started arcing around the room, a woman was killed and a woman appeared - the princess of the Hollow World! Aha! I disposed of the dead womans body for my Gentlemen and we discovered tales of a civil war and coup in the Hollow World, a crystal that could jump between dimensions, Cthonic entities, lost Lemuria and then BATTLE GOLEMS!! All great stuff, all dispatched with aplomb. The Doctor created a scanner (a massive one that drained the power from half of London and then a man-portable one) to find the missing crystal. As a result we were off to Iraq and chugging around the desert in an airplane, finding the crystal in .... a nazi camp!

However, we were all a bit tired and it was getting late so we decided to adjourn until tomorrow morning. We had a very important conversation first however. We talked in depth about the way that the system worked and what we thought we were doing right, and what we were doing wrong. We decided that we needed to make Compels truly negative, we decided it was fully expected for everyone to suggest compels to other players. We really got our head around what made the game kick. And then we slept.

The next day we reconvened and the MADNESS began. This was more like it in a very chaotic yet hugely pleasurable way. Of course, the scouting party looking at the base was ambushed by a nazi patrol. The rest of us moved in the truck to intercept but our axle broke and then a truck of Nazis arrived - and one of them was an officer. There was all manner of chaos going on. The Doctor unleashed a gas propelled spare tire at the truck, which was shot by Hollow World rayguns. Someone shot my butlers teapot which sent him into a considered paddy and had him storming their ranks. Ms Ashcroft, the angel of vengeance was shot to pieces but carried on. And then I compelled my 'Out of the Fat, Into the Fire' and a tank appeared. Ian's face was a picture. He handled it magnificently however, and after we dispatched that as well, those of us who were not 'Built like a Brick Shithouse' dressed in nazi uniforms and bluffed our way into the camp, finding the crystal in a typically pulpy cavern avec abyss, being used by Lord Chatham (a former Gentlemen of mine who had betrayed my trust - a true no-no for my character) to open reality to the aforementioned Cthonic entities.

Battle was joined, Nathanial was a hero and then a villain as he succumbed to his dark side. The Doctor unleashed his ornithopter and I squared off against Lord Chatham. Ms Ashcroft tried to stab him but I took the blow, compelling my 'Get Behind Me Sir!' to instinctively protect even a former Gentlemen. And then the bounder stabbed me in the back! I punched him into the abyss and narrated that he was hanging off the edge. He swore I would never defeat him and I offered him my hand to raise him up. He took it and I smiled. "You're a cad and a bounder. You cheat sir, you die!' and I let him fall into the ravine. (You Cheat, You Die! is another aspect of mine) Thats two Gentlemen I have killed for being cheaters....

There was a mad scramble for the crystal between all of the other characters, trying to keep it away from the possessed Nathanial. The Doctor performed some sleight of hand and had them chasing a bag of stone instead of the crystal. I hoisted the madman over my shoulder and we escaped. It may have been the end of the session, but we knew that the matter in the Hollow World needed to be dealt with.

I have to say, this was just skimming some of the stuff that was going on with the characters. The game was THICK with issues and story and character THERE, NOW, all over the table like a rash. It was a smorgasbord of potential. A truly memorable game with some great moments that will live with us forever. We will be playing it again.

Pendragon followed. Its hard to write about Pendragon in the same way as the other games because we have been playing the game for 9 months now! It was 501/2 and we finally dispatched the last knight from the county of Marlborough and claimed it for the grey shading of Salisbury. We told the saxons to bugger off again and then faced some personal issues early in the next year. Sir Aeryn the Elder had to face his father in mortal combat, winning (just) but suffering a terrible wound that crippled him (losing 2 SIZ) now and later in the year (losing another to aging). Sir Guillame faced Aggric the Black, the druid tormentor of his family and killed him. I was challenged by The Falcon, the faerie betrothed knight of my beloved wife Epona. After a terrible attempt to bluff him (which failed magnificently with a critical Honest role - trule Brions love for Epona shines through) we were due to meet on the field of battle. I was told to retrieve my sacrificed sword from Morrigan, via my son (who is 17 and virtually an alt now) who met with both her and her flower goddess aspect. I met the knight and we parried a number of times before he ran me through... only for the power of my love for Epona to make his sword explode!! I threw him a new sword but he was too injured so I went to help him up when he told me I had passed (whatever that meant?) but that Morganas child (oh dear... ) will be terrible for my family. Thats not good. That little daliance with the teenager will come back and bite me in the bum!

Pendragon was a truly fitting end to the weekend because it was like some sort of sweeps week episode. We know that we are rapidly approaching The Sword in the Stone. The characters are beginning to age. Its the endgame for these characters and it's time to clear off their storylines before the big finale. The quality of the game is testimony to Nigels ability to come back again, time after time with an engaging story and managing a game which has grown to magnificent proportions.

And thus the weekend ended. I will no doubt have missed a load of things from each of the games, but Andrew is doing a full Actual Play thread on rpg.net which I expect to be far more accurate.

As I said, the weekend was an unqualified success. We had some great gaming. It was knackering but well worth the money and the effort. We also learned a lot about how we game and what we can do with games when we put our minds to it. Is it too much to suggest that we may have moved from a group of friends that do roleplaying games to a gaming group who use that friendship and respect to power better games? Maybe, maybe not. However I will say this. This last year or two has been the best gaming experience I have had ever. It has grown RPGs from something I do because I do them to my #1 hobby and that is in no small part due to the amazing people that I get to game with. You couldn't ask for a more considerate, respectful, generous and thoughtful group of people to game with.

Roll on CottageCon II!!


Now, Thats Soldiering... and Devilling and Solaring

It's the CottageCon report, part the first.

Lets get the operational stuff covered first. Drive down was miraculously clear of traffic and had rather good weather, the venue was wonderful and very clean and spacious and everyone arrived on time with muchos awesome pizza. We watched an episode of Sharpe to get us in the mood for Duty and Honour. OK, it was also to allow me to write something approaching an adventure as my ability to time manage was wtfpwnd by a Girls Aloud concert and 28 Weeks Later earlier in the week.

Duty and Honour was the first fix playtest of a new system I have been fiddling with to emulate Sharpe and other such Napoleonic properties. It uses a career progression based character generation system and a playing card based resolution system (because gentlemen don't play dice!). It's very much a bare bones system at the moment and it needs a lot of depth put into it.

The premise was to take the action away from the 95th Rifles, Wellington and Sharpe and focus on the much maligned (and if fact totally fictional) actions against the French in the south of France. In prepping the game I had to focus on three things. The first was a story problem in that the players all belonged to seperate regiments! The second was that I needed to keep it quite simple as everyone had come from a day at work and needed some mindless fun. The third was that I needed to give the systems a thorough work out.

The set-up was that the British army had recently taken heavy casualties in the South and the players were part of a rag tag group being reassigned to the 70th Glasgow Lowlanders - a scum ridden band of ne'er do wells, known for their infective storming and general uselessness. Quickly we established the pairing of the Sergeant (who is a rogue pretending to be company man) and his Corporal (who was a sergeant in the militia and is a stickler for discipline) causing chaos in the ranks and providing no small amount of humour for the former priest Grenadier who has been watching them from the ranks. Their new officer, a member of the Kings German Legion, gets into a squabble in the Officers Mess and refuses to bet his men's behaviour with a fellow officer 'as I don't gamble about army service, it is my job!'. However, his commanding officer believes that it would do the regiments morale good to see the offending annoyance of an officer taken down a peg or two so he requests that the KGL officer undertakes a mission. Go to a village and blow up some Moorish cannon emplacements before the French take them. A simple job for a group including a sapper.

Of course as the small group sets off, things are never that easy. They are harried by French cavalry, which to be fair, they decimate with some rather fruity firing. They discover that the French have already entered the village! A peasant girl reveals that they are being sold to an Algerian slaver who is holding the women and children in the church! (Watch the burly former priest spring into action!). At night, following an old goat path, the small company descend in almost silence into the village, dispatch the picquets and begin to plant the explosives. The French rally, and the units that have been disembarked down in the bay take notice of the small arms fire and start to investigate. The corporal, a rifleman, takes a position in the church tower and acts as a sniper of sorts, saving the Lieutenant who was shot down by a Frenchman. HEADSHOT indeed! The private, leaving his charge laying duties, deals with the Arab slaver with cold hard steel. As the gun emplacements explode, the mostly intact company make double time back to their ranks and the praise of their new found regiment.

OK, it wasn't the greatest of storylines and given more planning there could have been so much more done with it. However it did show that the system worked almost invisibly and seemed to please the players. There were some suggestions about things that could be added to chargen related to rank, which were very good. Oh, and some of the talents need to be tweaked and beefed up as well. All in all though I was very pleased.

The next day, Ian arrived and we commenced our E-P-I-C D&D 3.5e session. This was a completely new venture for all the players. 18th level characters in all their glory are something we have never even contemplated. They really are more like superheroes than fantasy characters. It was a game that I personally was dreading. Whilst the characters were great, they seemed just so smothered in the claustrophobic crunch of the D&D system. I had foolishly taken the Sorceror Summoner route and thus HAD to take my laptop to be able to moderate the madness that was ensuing with my small army of devils. I detest overt non-story related crunch and I was convinced that this was going to become a festival of dice rolling direness.

Oh how wrong I was. And I raise my hands and say 'sorry' to Andrew for ever thinking this. What a fucking AWESOME game that was. The plot was basically a cross between World War Z and Star Wars. The planet was ravaged by a zombie plague caused by the God King Ozymandias and we, the gathered powers, were charged with stopping him in his ziggurat of Doom whilst the armies of Good distracted him. Andrews narration of this was brilliant, conjuring exactly the correct images whilst littering enough Star Wars references so subtley that we knew what he was talking about without him having to be explicit. The twist, for me, was that my PC was a servant of The Nine Hells and I had some agendas of my own.... Group conflicts ahoy!

Want to know how good it was? The GM even made a Gelatinous Cube a viable threat!

We moved through the pyramid (with attendent undead beholders, Vrocks and other nastiness) and then passed into the Suul Land of the Dead. There we confronted Sokar, the Bloody Angel of Doom. Oh that was fun. He tried to tempt us, we had none of it and kicked his ass. He teleported away, so we Miracled him back and kicked his ass some more. I got his sword. Mission One complete. Then we travelled to The God Kings demi-realm where we discovered that Dave's character was seen as a Goddess, the GK wanted me as an advisor and all manner of other stuff. Then Dave summoned a Solar to judge the actions of Ozymandias and all Hell broke loose - literally in my case. We had pit fiends, horned devils, ice devils, solars, Greater Air Elementals, ultra hard undead things, a pseudo-God and his bint. It was amazing. Actually, beyond the amazingness of the setting and premise was the ability of Andrew to make the crunch just disappear in a gentle puff of narrative. God, does he know his D&D stuff!!!! In the end, we won but it was a bit of a pyyric victory as we released some Demon King in the process.

Is it something I would want to do again? Possibly not - but 100% from the angle of not wanting to try (and fail) to recapture that lightning in the bottle. What we had was an exceptional session - and the first one EVER that I have spontaneously clapped at the end of.

And now, onto Spirit of the Century and Pendragon!



Thats the only phrase that comes to mind when I describe my post Cottage-Con state. Well, knackered and elated as the entire event was an unqualified success. The organisation was nigh-perfect, the venue was stunning, the food was great, the gaming was thrilling and memorable, the beering was pleasant yet restrained and the banter was, as always, second to none.

However, it does suggest that we are going to have to put in some 'training' before GenCon to get our long-session playing muscles toned if we are going to squeeze the most out of that gamefest on the back of a transatlantic flight!!

I'll wax lyrical later about the games themselves, because they deserve time for some contemplation and rememberance. However, as a plan that has been brewing for some years now and was triggered virtually on a whim in the aftermath of the first Steak and Cinema weekend, I have to say I am a very very happy gamer at the moment!


Sunday, May 06, 2007

AP: A Faery's Tale, Part Two

And so we settled down for our second installment of 'A Faery's Tale'. I have to say that I was a little concerned as the girls were exceptionally hyped for this session and I was a little tired. Second Session Syndrome is bad enough with adult games - I was desperate not to have it happen here. Of course I could have called it off, but in the end that isn't applicable when its playing with kids, especially when they are hyped like that. It would be like kicking them in the gut. So onwards!!

Of Trolls Noses and Fire Lilies

A little bit of consequences being played out today. The adventure begins near Jennifree's tree, at night, as she hears some shuffling and grunting outside. Inspecting the disturbance with her reluctant squirrel friend Knakfree, they find a baby troll (called Rocknose, on account of his rocky nose, natch) who has lost his family! Apparently he is the son of the Goblin King's Troll Champion. He hasn't returned home and his children didn't know where to find him. The other child trolls went into the forest and never returned, so he wandered and managed to find this tree with it's faerie resident.

(Astute readers will remember that the last time we saw the Troll Champion he was sound asleep under the power of Jennifree's magical pixie dust)

Despite the protestations of Knakfree that helping a troll was folly, Jennifree decided to help him (earning herself a point of Essence) and went to get Sneaky Sarah (who also agreed). Sarah went beyond that, determined that Rocknose should not come to any harm. She petitioned the Captain of the Guard in Brightwood Village, asking whether Rocknose could stay at her cottage. After granting the Guard a boon (the currency of the game and a new rule for this session) she secreted the troll with some tasty rocks and the two faeries went into Darkwood, looking for trolls.

They started at the last point Rocknose had seen his family, Crow Rock, a clawed edifice topped by a gnarled tree with a wooden crow on it. The crow, naturally, can talk and generally bad mouths the faeries for daring touch his branches. He also hates trolls because they eat the rocks around his trees base and confirms that he scared a bunch of them earlier that week, down towards the cottage of Griselda the Hag.

Bravely, the faeries continued to the cottage where they saw a beautiful presentation of folliage and rock gardens but no flowers. They met the pepper-addicted Griselda adding her favourite condiment to frog-eye stew. She confirmed that she did indeed have the trolls and she had planted them, nose up, in his soil to form a rock patch!! (this all comes from a tale I used to tell the kids about a local park, saying that the rocks along the pathways were troll noses...). She said that she would give them the trolls back if the faeries could get her some flowers that would grow in her garden. The only ones she knew of were fire lilies and the only way to get them was to win a contest at the Tournament of the Knight of Spiders - a redcap prince who lived not far from here, and held regular tournaments.

They travel, bravely in my opinion, into the rocky lands of the Knight of Spiders and face the mockery of the ogres, goblins, boggarts, snoggins, phookas and smelly things that are gathered there. The Knight of Spiders mocks them at first and laughs at the idea that they might be considered to take part in the tournament, but one of the goblins that they fought when they were freeing the cygnet in the previous adventure vouches for their bravery.

Jennifree takes part in the music making tournament, but quickly realises that in Darkwood, good is bad and bad is good. So she purposefully plays the worst music she can and wins the contest.

Sneaky Sarah enters the rock-hurling contest and has to defeat an Ogre! The ogre wins the first round easily but Sarah wins the second round. In the final round she makes a massive throw whilst the Ogre pulls off one of those amazing statistical improbabilities of scoring no even numbers on 6d6!

The Knight of Spiders is furious and taunts the pair into entering the Dragonfly racing against him. They agree, but then he asks where their dragonfly is? If they cannot find one, they forfeit the race, their prizes and will remain his prisoners forever! Sneaky Sarah uses her power to turn into a dragonfly and Jennifree rides her to victory (I believe Emma has realised that she has inadvertently created a nigh unstoppable physical character and she loves it!!)

The Knight begrudgingly hands over the three Fire Lilies which are hastily deposited with the Hag who in turn releases the buried trolls. While Jennifree reunites the brood and their brother, Sneaky Sarah finds a load of goblins searching for the children. They arrange the exchange and are met by the goblins and Granite, the Troll Champion of the Goblin King. He is passingly unfriendly with Jennifree for leaving him sleeping but is very thankful that his 'chips of the old block' have been returned and gives a Boon to both faeries as a reward.

The girls talked through a recap of the tale and commented that it was about actions having consequences and the value of helping others even when some people don't want to. They were buzzing again by the end of it and seemed quite pleased that they have made a stauch enemy in the Knight of Spiders!

When we all got going things were just as good this week as last. There were some issues with Emma (the younger of the two) simply wanting to narrate the story away right from the beginning as well as wanting to make the trolls her cousins...(!) but that soon dissipated. The two faeries are even beginning to develop distinct characters - the very sociable, clever and cautious Jennifree guiding the far more emotionally charged and morally absolute Sarah.

Next week, who knows where the winds will take us!


Thursday, May 03, 2007

OK, So I Cried...

Tonight, I took my WoW characters on what was likely to be their final journey. Likely, not definitely. It was actually quite an emotional experience. I felt I should tell the girls that 'Daddy wouldn't be playing WoW anymore' because they really enjoyed parts of me playing the game. At first they were laughing and joking about it but then they became quite concerned about the fate of Kylea and especially Gorthaal.

It's strange, because those are the two characters that I have really grown attached to. Indeed, the first thing I did tonight was clear out some of the chaff from my account. So goodbye to Barklee (my bank alt, made utterly useless by the enchanting nerf in the expansion), Madusa (my warlock experiment) and Gorthadin (a paladin, if you didn't guess). I was going to delete Swallow and Spit, but I thought better of it. She's a babe. Not one flicker of emotion crossed me when I typed 'DELETE' into the box. They are nothing.

Gortessa was my shaman, a figure of much mockery from me. At the time, I loved levelling her but she was such a pain to play - I simply fell out of love with her. She became the worlds best equipped bank alt. So it was fitting that she donned her armour and took vigil above the Orgrimmar bank.

Kylea used to be my alt, but she increasingly became my main. For someone that levelled as a resto druid for 60 levels, the sheer unbridled power of a mage was intoxicating. As a toon she really kicked ass, but she never really clicked with me as a character. She is now sitting on a flying oasis high above Nagrand, with her feet up, relaxing.

Gorthaal however, is another matter all together. Maybe the Tauren 'nature' connected with me somewhere hidden and deep? Maybe the role of the healer that I did for so long was my true calling? Maybe it is just because Gorth is my first character and my memories of his adventures are so vivid, even from Day One, EU Opening. He's been the workhorse character, slow and steady winning the race. He's the toon people associate me with. In essence, in WOW, Gorth is me. I wanted him to, in a very soft 'Toy Story' style ending, to have a peaceful place for his digital retirement. Little was I to know what would happen.

I was hijacked by Nathanial, aka Mark, my mate from the pub and the guy who took over the GM-hood of the Dungeoneers from me and he said 'You didn't think you were going there alone'. I nearly cried. In fact I did have a tear in my eye. In near silence we flew to Thunder Bluff and then rode through Bloodhoof and into Red Thingy Mesa. I found my hill and sat down. We chatted for a moment about my quitting and then with a /salute and a/sleep, Gorthaal finally got his rest. And yes, I found it sad. And that was really strange - it is just a game after all? No, it's more than that, it's a community and a representation of you within that community. It is more than just a game.

And so it ends. Just over two years of a wonderful gaming experience. I spoke at length with my wife about my cancellation and why I had chosen to do it. I think I might just not have the time or rather the regularity of time to be able to really PLAY another MMO ever. However I do not regret the experience one iota. It's been a fantastic experience, with the highest highs and the lowest lows. The worst bit? That has to be the split in the Dungeoneers and the seismic changes that made to so many people's games. The best bit? It's hard to say - seeing Ragnaros and Ossirian dead was great, being able to take part in taking down Azuregos and Kazzak was cool. No, the best bit was probably when Dave, Andrew and I took PAIN to the Alliance in Arathi Basin. Great pvp memories.

Now, it's time to concentrate on my writing - fanfic and roleplaying games - and to squeeze every drop of fun out of the kids before they grow too old to care.

One last time though.... FOR THE HORDE!!!!


Breaking News: WoW Cancelled

I cancelled my WoW account this morning, with 1 day left on my subscription. More on this later.