Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When did New Year stop being important?

I remember when I was younger, New Year was THE event of the year. It would be a time when I would import a girlfriend to bring home, just to go out at New Year. It was definitely the social highlight of the year. It was a time to drink and make merry, to really let your hair down.

A little bit of me thinks that part of the New Year magic died on 31st December 1999. The millenium celebrations erupted like some sort of social abcess and tried to out-do anything that had gone before. I feel that since then, the world has been trying to play catch-up to a feeling that they will never feel again in their lifetime.

Being a parent doesn't help. Wasting babysitting credit on New Year isn't always good value. We don't have a massive social circle and due to Christine's medical condition we aren't the best party animals. And to be honest, we're a little long in the tooth to do the trawling around town thing. We don't drink anymore so getting plastered at home is a non-starter. And the TV is reliably dreadful.

Its all a bit of a damp squib. One thing that this change of emphasis has done is to allow me to be a little more cirumspect about the entire affair. Whereas before I never made resolutions, nowadays I use the time as a milestone to plan things by. You get to thinking seriously about whether your lot is better this year than it was last year and what sort of a year you have had. You also get to thinking about what real positive steps you can take to effect change in your life. Last year I stopped drinking alcohol. This year .... who knows?

Maybe New Year hasn't stopped being important - maybe its actually become more important, just in a different way?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gaming Resolutions 2009

As has become a tradition on my little Blog, I'm going to be setting myself five Gaming Resolutions for the coming year. I managed 3.5/5 last year - hopefully I can do more this year!

1. Publish 'Beat To Quarters'
Yey! I have a resolution that says 'MAKE MONEY!'. The second part of my Duty & Honour trilogy has just started coming together and I am confident that it will be ready for the off in the summer. However, I am also determined that I don't rest on my laurels and lose some of my focus that helped bring D&H to the table. My timetabling is aggressive because I know that if it isn't, it will get lost in the shuffle.

2. Be a better player
Whilst this is something that we strive, in theory, to be all of the time, do we actually do anything about it? There have been a number of times this year when I have been stroppy, petulant and argumentative. Thats got to stop. I have also managed to come to the table with a complete lack of focus and tend to drift into games rather than be gagging for them from the get-go. In some ways, its 'do unto others...' etc. so I am going to pull my socks up on this one a little.

3. Run one campaign of a reasonable length
Ironically, the title of Iron DM hardly fits me anymore. I find it exceptionally hard to prep and plan games and rely upon my well-honed improvisational techniques and 'play it by ear' style to see me through most of my games - even con scenarios, which is suicide! I want to run one, reasonably lengthy campaign this year. Lets put a length of at least 8 sessions on it. As we are up to our necks in D&D4e, this would almost certainly be a G2 activity and it may or may not be Seven Curses. Who knows.

4. Game with the girls again
I'm going to port this one over from last year. It is crucially important to me to build that amazing link we had when we were gaming before, again. I'm not concerned about which game it is, just that it happens again to see whether it was just a one off or whether now that they are older its something that they really liked.

5. Spend with prudence
No, this has nothing to do with the bloody credit crunch! I have just got rid of 80% of my old RPG stuff this year and I could really do without replacing it with games that I am only going to read and not run. So, my resolution is that I shall not purchase a new RPG unless I am determined to run it within the reasonable future. That seems fair enough!

So there we go, five. Anyone else got any of their own?


Monday, December 22, 2008

Secret Films Of Our Youth

We talk alot about the hot new films that we like and if you are like my group of friends, the films that we absolutely despise. However, one group of films that we rarely talk about are those that exist in a dim and distant warm spot from our childhood. For me, the one that stands out in this nature is Fiddler on the Roof - the story of everyday Orthodox Jewish folk just before the Russian Revolution. Its a musical and I know the words to just about every song. Why? Well, when I was a kid, we only had six records in the house - Dougal and the Blue Cat, The Best of ABBA, the Best of Shirley Bassey, 'Please Please Me' by the Beatles and the soundtracks to South Pacific and Fiddler on the Roof. Strangely, I am word perfect on South Pacific as well...

Anyway, I had the chance to watch Fiddler on the Roof again recently thanks to late night ITV3 and the wonders of Sky+ and it was still as good today as it was when I was a kid. From a modern point of view I think that the embattled father, Tevye, is a latter day version of Homer Simpson and I can recognise a lot of the strains put on him by his need to maintain order in the face of his love for his daughters in modern parenting too. Of course, I just do that with less singing!

Its the singing that does it for me. I love the songs in this film more than any other musical. They have a wonderful playfulness to them and most of all, many of them are sung in a pitch that allows men to sing along to them without sounding too bad. Awesome. Stuff Mamma Mia - there should be Men Only Sing-a-Long versions of Fiddler on the Roof .... well, at least until it all goes sad and pear-shaped at the end. Yes, thats the kicker in Fiddler. It isn't like virtually every musical of the time where everyone is happy and the world is a wonderful place. The entire village is moved on by the Czarist authorities, demolishing their community, one daughter 'escapes' to Kracow (!), one lives with her dissident husband in his gulag in Siberia and the other is disowned for marrying outside the faith. And yet, there is still a message of hope right at the end, as the Fiddler follows Tevye to America and you realise that it represents the traditions and spirit that are escaping to survive what is to come in Russia and out of Germany.

Its a fucking fantastic film and I recommend everyone to see it.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nostalgia Gaming

I have watched with some amusement at the re-release of Dragon Warriors. It was devoured at Dragonmeet like mana from heaven by men of a certain age who really should have known better. I never owned Dragon Warriors but I have played it once and whilst the session itself ranks up there with root canal surgery in my pantheon of unpleasant experiences, the system itself never struck me as anything special. It was there, doing its thing, but nothing that couldn't be done with D&D or Runequest or one of a dozen other generic fantasy systems. So why all the excitement? Could it be that a full set of Dragon Warriors has been quite a rare thing and it has created a mystique that has to be sated? I don't know.

In some ways the same holds true for other games - the current incarnation of D&D is currently rocking our game group's world and providing a remarkable amount of entertainment. If you had told me a year ago we would be enthusiastically using a 'battleboard' and maps and we would have collective gasps of excitement when a large mini was revealed by the GM, I would have laughed in your face. However, we are. Do we play the game straight? I think we do, in that we don't really change the rules of the game, we just bolt on some techniques we have learned from playing other games to add to it.

Yesterday I picked up the pocket rulebook version of Traveller by Mongoose (which is abbreviated sometimes to MongTrav....). I'm a sucker for pocket rulebooks but this seems to have really hit it just right. Traveller is an old favourite of mine and there is something amazingly comfortable about UPPs, hex character stats and those strings of planet stats. At Dragonmeet, I picked up (as in, lifted up, rather than bought!) Starblazer Adventures ... its a fucking BRICK. Pocket Traveller is a slim booklet. What would I find more useful? Moreover, which would I be more likely to play? MongTrav, almost certainly.

I wonder if there are any other old-school games on the horizon that could be resurrected for the modern age? I know Gregor Hutton's game-in-planning 'Good Morning Britain' is a supers game set in the 80s which uses the Marvel Superheroes system, polished up and made nice. Anyone for a new version of Rolemaster? No? Really.....?

Just think of the crit tables!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Phasing and You!

One thing that I haven't mentioned recently is that I have started playing WoW again, casually. Sunraven has been transfered to a PvE realm, joined a guild with some old faces and levelled to 80. Wrath of the Lich King, the new WoW expansion, has proved to be a very entertaining little buy and I have been continually impressed by both the improvements to the game and the depth of the content. However, last night I realised that I had missed one of the most important features new to the game: Phasing.

It was like being punched in the jaw.

Flashback to the early days of WoW. I remember Gorthaal, my druid, battling hard to free the Crossroads from the threat of the Bristleback Motherf*ckers and their seek-and-destroy hyena allies. No matter how many I killed, no matter what rewards I gained, no matter what level I returned to rain hell and damnation on them, they were still a Clear and Present Danger to 11-14th level characters in the vicinity. My pwnage was for naught.

Jump to Age of Conan. Gorth, my Bear Shaman, rescued the City of Tortage from the evils of some nasty dude during the instanced Night period, whilst doing all manner of jobs for people during the Day period. My Night was my Night and my Day was shared with everyone else. In the Night my actions were persistent, in the Day they were not .... until the end of level 20 when I owned the bad guy and the place changed. Under the veil of loading screens, transitional NPCs etc, we had the vestige of a persistent world.

Back to today, well, I won't talk about Wrathgate but I will talk about Shadow Vault. I was on a mission - infiltrate the Shadow Vault for the Knights of the Ebon Blade and deal with it's undead denizens. Fair enough. Kills a few, grab some items - standard fare. However, I then had to convert some NPCs onto the side of the Ebon Blade. OK. And now me and the NPCs attack the Elite Boss Man. We own, naturally and I get sent to tell someone far away that Shadow Vault has been taken.

Now in old WoW, I would return to find that Shadow Vault was still held by undead, my new allies are now enemies and everything has been reset.

Not now. Now I return to find a thriving Ebon Blade supply camp. My new allies are now Vendors or guards. There is a flight point and a Quartermaster and even, I believe, an Innkeeper. The game world has changed.

There are other points in the game where this happens. It doesn't happen everywhere though but when it does it is very subtle indeed. No loading screens. No transitional NPCs. Its just like a story unfolding before you.

This, I believe, has been one of the things that has been requested of MMOs for some time - a truly persistent reality. Of course, this is still a single perspective reality but it goes some of the way. I was truly stunned by it last night because it meant that, in the story, for once, I had really made a difference.

Good stuff.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Top Three Gaming Moments: 2008

Here we go again! - you know the score.

Honourable Mention: Spirit of Exalted Lite at CottageCon II

CC2 was a great event, even though I think it is fair to say that some of the games didn't quite measure up to the heights of CC1. My highlight was Andrew's Exalted game, which used the Exalted starter rules combined with some aspects of Spirit of the Century (no pun intended). The game was high drama and played across a massive vista. It certainly laid the groundwork for things to come from Andrew.

Honourable Mention: Horror in Hot War

We played a playtest of Malcolm Craig's Hot War and I tried to run a 'horror' game. Now I have a big problem with horror games and horror in gaming in general, so this was a bit of a challenge. I ran a game called 'The Square' dealing with an isolated survivor community in London which was a facade for a horrendous social pact. I had a great time running the game and we gave the system a good working through. However, the best thing was that I got a real 'eewww!' reaction from at least one of the players and thats the best I have ever managed in a horror campaign. A victory. (I ran the same scenario as a con game as well, and got the same reaction!)

Number Three: The End of Pendragon
Nigel's Pendragon campaign was a roaring success and is currently, I believe, the longest campaign that I have played in. We lived long enough to see the Boy King come to the throne and to help in the formation of his new kingdom. Hell, Sir Brion, my character, even knighted the King! However, these five knights were always doomed to a sorry end and they warred on Cerdic, the saxon pain-in-the-ass and ended the conflict by taking his town of Hantone. The Death Flag was flying and slowly but surely, each knight was overcome in the battle - except Sir Aeron the Younger, who survived somehow. Brion died fighting on the steps of the keep, surrounded by saxon warriors and taking many of them down with him. It was an excellent end to an excellent campaign - one which in many ways rescued our groups gaming.

Number Two: Running Duty & Honour for Keary
As I have developed D&H, there have been people who I have been aware that I would eventually have to show my game to. The first is Keary, one of the guys who I gamed with in Rugby and well ... lets just say, not the greatest advocate of so-called indie gaming. Ian is part of my gaming group but he probably knows the most about this sort of stuff. I've ran the game for both of them and they had a good time. For me, that was the personal triumph I needed. I'm sure Ian will be horrified to read this but it's true!

Number One: The City of Kings

Take D&D4e - a fair whack of crunch - add four gamers, an inspirational GM with a elephantine memory, some indie-game sensibilities and a whole bucket of sword and sorcery inspiration and you have 'The City of Kings'. Its been a rollercoaster ride of adventure and intrigue leading to Sunday's 'season finale'. Andrew has done an exemplary job as a GM and I like to think that we, the players, have added a little ourselves. There have been precious few games over the years where I have been eager to play again, desperate to know what happens next. Thats a Good Thing. (Post-End of Tier Edit: I held back on this post because I knew that there was one more session of this phase of this game to go and it rocked. We rocked, despite some really quite atrocious dice rolling. It was an epic end to an epic campaign phase. It maintains the #1 spot!)

So, those are mine - what are yours?

2008 Gaming Review: Part One - Last Years Resolutions

So, last year I made five gaming resolutions - how did I do?

1. No More Games
WIN! - I have managed not to get involved with any more gaming exploits. Group One continues every other Sunday, as we have for eight years now and we are knees-deep in our epic D&D4e campaign. Group Two has met sporadically but we have enjoyed some short game success with PTA, Hot War, Cold City and others. The massed gaming family still meets for boardgames and Blood Bowl.

2. Go to More Conventions
WIN! - I've been a bit of a con-whore actually and they have all been a lot of fun. I started with Conpulsion in Edinburgh and then GamesExpo in Birmingham. That was followed by Furnace in Sheffield and finally Dragonmeet in London. I missed out on Conpulsion and Indiecon but you cannot go everywhere. This is definitely something I want to continue next year.

3. Finish Duty & Honour
WIN! - Exactly on time, D&H was published on the first of October 2008 and has been doing very nicely indeed. 2008 has been a big year of change for me (hey, thats a new one - I've never blogged that sentence before...) but this has been my major achievement.

4. Resume by position as the Iron DM
Work in Progress - Whilst I have ran a number of sessions of D&H at conventions, I have yet to get my teeth into something longer term back at home. Partly this has been because Andrew has a game that I would simply never want to end and partly because my head has been so fucked up. I have just started a new game though - a urban horror/fantasy campaign called Seven Curses, using the Fate 3.0 system. Hopefully this will kick off into something at least more than a few sessions long.

5. Start gaming with the kids again
FAIL! - Just not had the time or indeed the inclination. OK, there's a caveat - the house has been in uproar for large parts of the year and this has meant that there hasn't really been a gaming space. However, thats not really an excuse. The Dr Who RPG will, undoubtedly, be Lara's break-in game if ever there was one, so next year could seen a new 12-year old gamer. Or not, as boys and music and stuff could be more important.

3.5 out of 5. Not bad Neil, not bad.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Dragonmeet 2008

Well, that was an exceptionally interesting weekend. It was the first time I had been to Dragonmeet, one of the UK's 'premier' conventions and it was a decent affair. I think I missed a lot of stuff due to being trapped in the trade hall for 95% of the event, but it was clean, clear and nice in a lovely venue (Kensington Town Hall).

From a personal point of view, it was a tremendous success. Duty & Honour sold like the proverbial hot cakes, with a lot of enthusiastic people coming to the Collective Endeavour stall and chatting to me about it. That was very cool. I even met some of the great and the good of the gaming industry who were interested in it, which was also pretty damned cool. More encouragingly, there was a lot of interest in the future D&H projects I have on the horizon. The Endeavour did great business and busted the £1k sales mark for the first time I believe. The stall ran like clockwork and looked the business (a woman's touch, I believe, helped). I had a great time meeting with everyone again and I am indebted to Civi, my buddy from SQC, for letting me use his house as a crash pad and generally showing me around for the weekend - what a star.

There was one thing that was pointed out to me by Karen of House Atreides, and thats the small scale of the UKRPG community. She was mentioning a convention in Germany that attracts 120,000 roleplayers - not 'gamers' - ROLEPLAYERS. An italian one regularly gets 30,000. UK Conventions are back-slapping and high-fiving if they get 2000. There has to be something wrong there, surely?

Anyway, D&H is a sniff off 100 sales within two months of release, which I am utterly thrilled about and it has settled my mind on exactly what I am doing next!

Excellent stuff

Is this the worst novel ever?

Stuck on a bus for nine hours each way this weekend, I decided to polish off the last unread Anita Blake novel on my bookshelf. Sadly, I have broken and this will almost certainly be the last Anita Blake novel I purchase. It is, I believe, the single worst book I have ever managed to finish (through no other options presenting themselves on the bus) in my life. Terrible does not begin to describe the utter utter pointlessness of this story. Bilge, tripe, shite - words that don't come near. It is TERRIBLE.

For those of you new to the world of Anita Blake, I will attempt a synopsis. She started as a rather prim, single, sexually inactive vampire hunter who was also an animator (ie. she can raise the dead) in a version of the world where vampires and werewolves etc are legit. The early books are pretty good horror murder mysteries with a little romantic friction built into it. And then it all went wrong. Very very wrong indeed. Somewhere around books 5-7, the author decided to ramp up the sex and Anita was possessed by the ardeur, an almost uncontrollable need to feed magical energies through sex. This has resulted in an increasingly uncontrollable parade of various sexual angles for stories which have boggled the mind. Anita is now a three-out-of-four bound human servant of a vampire but SHE has her own vampire servant as well, she is part of two supernatural triumverates of immense power, she is the head woman and enforcer of the local werewolves and queen of the local wereleopards, she houses FOUR seperate strains of lycanthropy, she is not just an animator but not a necromancer AND a succubus. It goes on and on and on. Its ridiculous.

In this book she is, I kid you not, trialling fuckbuddies to feed her hunger whilst she is worried about being pregnant. Of course she finds out she has not one but TWO sorts of foetal abnormalities, but hey, she's not pregnant anyway, so whats the problem. Oh and she sends just about anyone she is near mad with lust. We have a bisexual ass-sandwich, a good old four way, some exhibitionist stuff, some borderline suggestions of woman on pimped out teenager sex, some attempted incest. And in the end NOTHING HAPPENS except, of course, Anita gains yet more powers, breaks more supernatural rules and is every more special and unique than she was before.

This book didn't even attempt to have a story. It was just one long series of very long, very dull, very complicated inter-character debates about the nature of her powers, how they might test them, the consequences of the testing, the way the people felt about the powers, the testing and the consequences of the testing and then how others felt about the way they felt. And after that went on for literally dozens of pages, poor old Anita has to have a shag again.

What makes this worse are two things. One, Laurel K. Hamilton doesn't know when to fade to black. Ever. So you get everything is vein-popping, cum-spraying, ass-pounding detail. The second is that in the middle of the book, Anita tries to will herself to not have any powers, which would kill her AND I WANTED HER TO SUCCEED!! Anything would be better for the once awesome character than to be tied to this albatross of a storyline forever.

Please. Kill the character. Please.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Max Payne...

I have very little to say about this film that can't be described in three words. Bridge to Terebithia.

OK, I might need a little explanation on top of that. Exhibit A - the Max Payne trailer

OK, so what can we take from that trailer? First half tells be, in words and pictures, that this is a supernatural movie. The second half tells me that this is an action film? Is that a fair assessment? I think it is.

I am, of course, wrong. Just like Bridge to Terebithia was advertised as a Narnia-esque children's fantasy and turned out to be an examination of the effect of death on the young psyche, Max Payne has no more to do with the supernatural than Toy Story II. Those winged creatures? Hallucinations brought on by some sort of supersoldier serum which the ... oh I could tell you more, but its just too silly. There are vague references to Norse mythology that have no tie to the film. 'The Devil is building his army...' - he might be, but not in this film, randomly injected voodoo stereotype. There is a woman who is some sort of russian ... I dunno, its never explained. She has a gun. Her sister gets killed. She has goons which disappear as soon as she gets a speaking role. She even says 'You know what I do...' No, pet, we don't - you have never said it. And your Russian accent disappears half way through the film as well!

It has three saving graces. Minor ones at that. First, the action scenes are reasonable. Nothing we haven't seen before, better, but at least they didn't mess it up (except for Max taking a shotgun blast and a full burst from a sub in the chest and just carrying in as per usual). Second, the Sin City style cinematography was pretty sweet. Not sweet enough, but very nice. Third, there is a rather nice sequence with Olga Kurylenko thats almost worth the price of admission *wink*

However, for the lame ass plot, the absolute fabrication of a trailer which completely missold the film, the holes in continuity that you could drive a planet through and just about some of the worst acting I have ever seen - and so much more - Ladies and Gentlemen, The Scorpion King has been dethroned. We have a NEW NEILS WORST FILM EVER - and it is MAX PAYNE.

I watch them, so you don't have to!

Monday, November 10, 2008


... is one of the strange words that my screwed up Geordie accent cannot handle. Rather than mAsterclAss or ma(r)stercla(r)ss, I pronounce it mAstercla(r)ss. An aside.

Now, I know this is going to embarass him, but I can honestly say I think I saw a masterclass in GMing yesterday from Andrew, our 4e GM. We give him a rough time sometimes and he consistently churns out awesome. This week was a session which was focussed on one of our characters, a dragonborn. It was the pivotal session for his character, a session with some iconic martial and political scenes. It was a session that established part of the metagame for the Paragon tier. It had everything and it was, to all intents and purposes, focused on one player.


Not in the slightest. The session was designed - crafted, almost - to keep the other two players involved. The battles were done in such a way that we played as a team. The political scenes were such that either we could be involved in some little way or they were so entertaining that the theatre was worth watching! There were little side scenes where we could help out and get involved with the interactions. There were scenes in the City of Kings where we could push the plot whilst other, more central things, were happening. It was, to be frank, superb.

I have tried to think about a way I would have handled the situation better and I simply cannot. Kudos needs to go to Nigel as well, for one of the most eloquent, quick-witted and politically barbed sessions I have seen as well!

Great stuff. And next session, it gets better!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bits and Bobs

Loads of little things happening at the moment.

1. My self-imposed Duty & Honour rest period appears to be working. At least now if I consider looking at stuff for it again I don't feel like ramming a pencil through my eye. I think, partly, this has a lot to do with the remarkable success of the game now that it has been unleashed on drivethrurpg and rpgnow. Its been selling really quite well and the Almanac is flying out. I've also had to do a small reprint, all within budget, to see me through Dragonmeet and probably Conpulsion. Things are going very well indeed - I had no real data point for pdf sales so I didn't factor them into my budgets, so strong pdf sales are a welcome boost!

2. We kicked off a new G2 game on Thursday, using Fate 3.0 SRD to create a dark urban magic game based in Prague. The characters are all quite different and the background that we came up with was excellent, especially the idea of the magical iron curtain, which was inspired. I'm looking forward to sitting down and getting my teeth into it. That said, I'm not 100% convinced that Fate is the best system for it, but we shall see!

3. The preparation for Blood Bowl has began in earnest. We have our first date - hopefully for pre-season games - on the 16th November, and I have started what I think will become a marathon painting session, bringing the Marienburg Stealers to life. Its been twenty years since I have painted a figure in anger and it took a little while to get my eye worked in. Its great to know that Games Workshop have still not sorted their pigments out, so red and yellow refuse to make orange still... I have to admit that some of the fine detail work is shocking. I think I might have to accept that my eyesight, whilst still pretty damned good, simply isn't what it used to be!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No We Can't!

So, history has been made. Not only do we have the first black Formula One champion but we also have the first black American president. OK, the former might not quite be on the same scale as the latter but poor old Lewis is being forgotten in the rush. He'll just have to console himself with the attentions of his Pussycat Doll. Poor lamb.

I stayed up and watched the election results until about 05.30am, just after Obama's acceptance speech. It was a funny old night. I chose to watch the BBC coverage because I cannot abide ITV and I think I would have cried at the overload of the CNN/FOX coverage. I should have probably watched SKY. The BBC coverage was atrocious. The technology was barely working, the studio was in chaos, the OB stuff was rarely prepared. It was embarassing. Bumble-by in the chair looked mostly pissed, was padding like a champion and rarely seemed to be able to get any enthusiasm up for it all.

Some of the guests were awesomely bad too. Simon Schama decided that the BBC should have called the election at around 100/200 and just mocked them for being scaredy-cats. The former US UN Ambassador was on, basically bad-mouthing anything that was said anti-Republican as BBC and liberal media bias. He was a cock. There was another guy on who I sort of recognised and all he did was rip into Sarah Palin at any opportunity. The best of the bunch was the politics professor with the dodgy wig who was just like an American version of Jon Snow!

In the depths of the night however, I did finally get it. For years I have become increasingly interested in America, Americans and Americana. I have found the marked differences between Brits and Yanks to be fascinating. Last night, listening to Obama's acceptance speech (and McCain's concession speech) the penny finally dropped. I may be making massive generalisations here, but America's history has been shaped by its politicians in a way that ours simply has not. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and now Obama. Even their none-political figures, like Martin Luther King, seem to have a greater resonance in popular culture. I watched the crowds and I listened to the passioned rhetoric and I realised that deep down, the Americans really do LOVE their country and the ideals that it stands for and whilst they may not like big government, they love big personalities to lead them and to champion those values that they love so much.

In contrast, we just don't. The majority of the population has precious little respect for the Royal Family - tolerance is about the best it gets. We despise anyone who dares call themselves a politician, from the lowest student politico to Gordon Brown and David Cameron. We have no core of values that we would dare own up to as the beliefs that bind the country together - look at the reaction of any exercise in 'Britishness'? We're even in a situation where if someone was to stand in the UK and make a speech like Obama did last night, I honestly believe some people would accuse him of being right-wing, racist and draped in nationalism. Well, he certainly was the latter because that is something that Americans have never had a problem embracing. We have and we will continue to until we overcome a little bit of our inner turmoil over Empire. Do we need an Asian Prime Minister? Could we handle an Asian Prime Minister? I don't think we could and thats sad.

I thought last night, as I was brushing my teeth, what sort of impact Obama could have on UK politics. Could Cameron capture that zeitgeist or is he too wrapped in the cloth of the established politic system? I doubt Brown could. Maybe the nearest we came to it was Blair in 1997 but even that wasn't quite right. What would happen if someone stood up in the UK and said that there was no North, no South, no Scottish, Welsh, English or Irish, no working class, no upper class, we are all British. What would happen if someone said to the British people that we have to stand by our core values - democracy, social justice and equality? What if someone asked the British people not to be a bunch of blame-game playing, super-cynical haters? To throw away the attitude of 'why the fuck should I?' and 'its not my fault!' and instead use the simple credo of 'yes we can!'

Sadly, I suspect the answer would be 'No, we can't. Now lets turn over to Eastenders.'

OK, so I might be being a little harsh on us here, romantacising the Obama charisma and generalising like a bugger but wouldn't it be fantastic if, just for once, we had someone who could wash away the self-hate, the distrust and the apathy and unite the United Kingdom? In our time maybe?

Friday, October 31, 2008

20 Years Later...

Twenty years ago was the last time I ever bought anything from or took part in something from Games Workshop. I was seventeen and it was almost certainly some Warhammer 40k stuff. Just after that I seriously discovered girls, got a job and never had time to paint figures and do stuff like that again. Even if I say so myself, I used to be a decent painter - not Golden Demon standard - but I wasn't ashamed to whip out the odd model during a roleplaying game.

Twenty years on, we have been dragged back into the world of Blood Bowl in the latest of our gaming group diversions. Ben, who is acting as our Commissioner, is an enthusiastic NFL fan (who has incidentally rekindled my love of the sport) and he is running the league. Of course as money rich, time poor adults we are acquiring teams en masse. Some are coming painted, others are being processed through the Gow Paint Shop as it opens its doors again.

I shudder to think what this is going to be like. Some people have never played the game before. Others are hard worn veterans who can remember the stats of nearly every player on a team. Some have experience in board games and sports tactics. Others can barely remember which way the ball will go. Its going to be very interesting, hugely competitive and something quite unlike anything we have done before.

I'm playing humans, btw. I believe I could be getting squished quite regularly. I will keep you informed!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Like Father, Like Daughters

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is the day I bought the Empire Strikes Back Movie Special from the newsagent around the corner from our house. I had been waiting for weeks for this sneak peak magazine to come in and I was thrilled. I had diligently saved my money and ran, clutching it in my grubby little mit to the shop.

By the time I got home, I was in tears.

Why? Because Han Solo was DEAD! Locked in a tomb of carbonite! The sneak peak mag just had pictures of the scene near the back without any context for the decision. Han Solo, my hero - the no-brainer choice for my first Star Wars figure - was dead. Now, I was a sturdy lad of 9 or 10 at the time but I cried like someone had just thrown my pet rabbit in a blender and then force fed me the bunny slurpee. My mam was even considering keeping me off school because of my apparent grief!

This morning, twenty-something years on, I had nearly the same situation when I had to break it to the girls that David Tennant was not going to be Dr Who for much longer. It was painful. There were cries of disbelief, tears, huffing and more than a little hoarding of Dr Who memorabilia just in case this meant that I would be confiscating it - although I'm bemused at that one.

It was bad enough at the cliffhanger episode of S4, when there was more than a little bit of child-edited bad language thrown at the TV screen. I can only imagine what will happen when the moment comes. They have a year to get used to the fact.

But the pain lasts forever ..... damned carbonite!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Week in Geek

In Heroes, Tim Kring continues to tear comic classics and mash them together, with Sylar doing his very best to create Kingdom Come, there, on my screen. I'm really getting into S3 of Heroes but I can see why some of the less comics-savvy people might be getting a tad confused. They have never had to handle a 'Crisis...' after all.

In Fringe, 'The Observer' does things, people get injected and shot, the mad professor is madder and the cow makes another essential cameo. Series is still good and might even have had a sniff of metaplot here, but I have no idea what. Still struggling to find the female lead attractive, which is kind of refreshing. At least the old woman from the massive corp who are obviously the baddie/goodie flip flop wasn't in it again with MacGuffin of the Week.

In Spooks (yes!), Adam Carter bites the big one in one of the worst written episodes I have seen. A little too much pro-soldier, 'we must do it for the troops' monologuing for my liking. However, Harry is still bad-ass and HorseFaceWoman killed someone with a fork. YoungBlondeOne will become Wolverine too. Mark my words. (Note: Its never worth learning anyone's name in Spooks until they have been in three series. They're dispensible...)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Indulge me...

So MI:666 popped back up again as I finally had the lightbulb moment about mechanics.

OK, so you have paired sins and virtues, as has been suggested. - e.g. Lust/Chastity. Each of these will have a value and ala Pendragon, they will be linked and the value of the sin/virtue will be reflected as a dice pool. So, for example, you could have Lust (4)/ Chastity (3). When acting lustfully, you roll 4d6, when acting chastely, you roll 3d6.
When you make an action within the game that falls into the realm of a sin or a virtue (Almost all actions can be stuck into one of them. A combat situation is Wrath. A chase scene is Pride. Stealth is Sloth, Social skills are Lust, Endurance style situations are Gluttony, Medical can be Envy (its more like Kindness, the virtue). Still struggling a little for Greed) you roll your dice against a target number. Roll over, win etc.
The trick comes when the GM takes the role of the Tempting Devil. In any action, the GM can offer you extra dice, but will cost you points from your virtue. So, for example, the GM might off you an extra +2d6 on your roll, at a cost of 1 point of virtue. You stand a better chance of succeeding if you move towards the 'dark side'.
I'm also looking at having the difficulty numbers being ... fluid ... so that the more infernal influence there is in an area, the higher the difficulty numbers are - so you may have to be tempted or risk the horrors of probability.
The final arm of this mechanic would be that whenever you are successful tempted 'Hell' gets a point to their total and this would eventually move Hell towards an endgame. And yes, this would get to a point where the agents might well tip the scales and start that endgame.
Now, this is about the vaguest representation I can think of, and as usual my initial mechanics for games tend to rotate around some sort of bluff, barter, game-theoryable mechanic.
I would appreciate your thoughts on whether this is madness!

Monday, October 20, 2008


So, how was it for me?

From a game point of view, I have to admit that Furnace was a very mixed bag. I played Dread:The First Book of Pandemonium (GM:Scott Doward) which was a nice visceral way to kick off the convention. Its a game based on demon-hunting, madness, ultra-violence etc. All very graphic, all very gory and definitely very stylised. I felt sometimes the system tried to hard to be cool - when powers are described as vicious lampreys bursting from your stomach to attack the bad guys, it makes it quite hard to feel like a good guy! Also the use of terms like 'Clusterfuck' and 'Cockpunch' as game terms seemed ... gratuitous? Regardless, it was a decent game and produced a number of very memorable moments.

In the evening I played Poison'd (GM:Graham Walmsley). This is a game I have been wanting to try for a while and whilst I was not disappointed by the game itself (I thought it was quite elegant) some of the subject matter around the table just made me sigh inwardly. Lets see ... rape, homosexual rape, child abuse, necrophilia, group sex, group rape... oh what a wonderful advert for the hobby! Now I can see how some people might see these themes, in the context of the game and comment on how the game allows us to explore the range of human depravity in a society without rules or boundaries. I would say its just an excuse for a lot of cock-jokes and rudeness. I'd like to play Poison'd again, but I'd like a little less quite literal butt-fuckery.

On Sunday I played Monkey (GM and Writer: Newt Newport) which I had played last year. I even got to play the same character again which was a lot of fun. He's an administrator from Heaven and well, he has a different way of dealing with things! The power of the manifest, the filing system and the index card! The game itself suffered a little from very low energy around the table and quite a lot of explanation from Newt regarding the game which ate some of the time. It too had a number of memorable moments.

I ran two sessions of Duty & Honour, which officially launched at Furnace. The first (Cadiz or Bust) had four members of the 22nd Lothian chasing a spy from Badajoz to Cadiz. The second (City of Vipers) had the same soldiers rooting out a spy in Cadiz and saving the entire Mediterranean station, as well as getting the girl, dodging debts and (not) saving reputations. From the feedback, the games went well and I am obliged to Mr Walmsley for making a couple of suggestions which I wrapped into the second game to great success. D&H sold like hot cakes all convention - 16 copies sold in total - and gained a lot of praise from people. I was especially pleased because it got props for the layout and design of the book.

Last year Furnace blew me away with the quality of the games. This year, it would have been almost impossible to match it. I suspect that my expectations might have been a little too high as I left feeling a little disappointed. In retrospect, each game had its own highs and lows but the entire event was well worth the money. Roll on next year.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fringe Ep2

Still good. Lead female growing on me, a little. Elder professor is still barking and still very entertaining. I called it to Christine that the black guy would look like a baddy but be a goody. Still more going on than meets the eye. Oh, and the cow was back again, which made me very happy. Not enough Fresian Representation on mainstream TV.

Mining Moria

One other thing that we have had a great deal of fun doing in the last couple of sessions of 4e is playing 'lets mine classic cinema for scenes'. I think every game does it at one point in time or another - there were certainly a number of Two Towers moments in our Crescent Sea game.

In the current game we did the Chewbacca Move, we did more than a little Fellowship of the Ring including just about every key scene from Moria except 'Tsk! Fool of a Dragonborn!'. We did a bit more Star Wars Princess Leia rescue as well and as Ian pointed out in his blog, Earthome, the first citadel of the dwarves was more than a little Emerald City. Oh and we even squuezed in the Klingon Court from Star Trek: Undiscovered Country as well! And we usually have a little Rocky moment or two.

Now, we have played games before where this sort of thing has happened - I'm thinking specifically about Pulsars and Privateers although the entire run of Buffy could well have been one extended exercise in this. I don't think they worked as well as these have and here is my theory why - in this current game we have established the game world, its ethos and our personalities BEFORE we have done this stuff. Therefore the background of the scenes seems to be superfluous to the actual execution.

For me that was most obvious during my character-defining 'None Shall Pass' moment. I didn't see Gandalf on the bridge against the Balrog. I saw Morn, all dodgy ragged plate, massive shield, bronzed granite sledgehammer, bald head and almost manic attitude - the skull of a dragon as one shoulderpad and the skull of a god as the other - standing, ranting and taunting the swirling giant black chaos beast and the baying pack of beastmen behind it. I saw him bringing the hammer down and channelling the power of the Earth Titan to bring the ancient structure tumbling down. I saw that adrenaline moving on to deal with the stubborn dwarven guards that blocked their way and then him praying and centering himself.

Fuck Gandalf. That was my Paladin of Freedom doing his bit!

The thing is, those amazing mental images would not have been possible without the context of the cinema shots that we were emulating. They provided that mental backdrop for the scene. Without them, it would have been something totally different.

Feel The Power!

The first of two posts regarding our last 4e session - I couldn't find a way to wittily combine the two.

[insert usual message about the great game, the high drama, the great GMing yadda yadda]

Right, down to it. POWER.

I have commented in the past that because of the ratcheting of the bad guys' power with our increases in power, the relative power felt the same. There was no real feeling that we were the glowing heroes of a fantasy novel, carving the City of Kings open with our presence. Scrub that notion - the power has arrived. I'm not sure when it arrived, but it has. As a group of characters we have matured into a pretty formidable team. Morn and Azhanti form a line of battle, Assamber messes with the bad guy's mobility and Artemis unleashes shafts of death whilst skipping around the extremes of the battle. Should any of us be hurt, we have more than enough healing to deal with it. We even have our patented 'Rocky' move. We are hurling volleys of splintering arrows, massive hammer shots, illusionary weapons, icey fists - its pretty damned awesome.

Whilst the main boss of this adventure was pretty tough and, had we not been sneaky bastards, might have caused a little more of a problem, the smaller 'threats' were brushed aside. That was very cool. Posing such a threat as to be the centre of attention for two chaos tainted earth demons and the most ineffectual shock trooper in the world was an epic feeling. Maybe its the stunt points or just a general level of competency slipping in.

This session was Morn's chance to shine. There were slaves that had to be rescued and he did the rescue thing. I even got to hold off the risen Undead 'thing that man should not comprehend' on a hastily narrated bridge (thanks Matt!) with a suitable amount of shouting! In fact there was a lot of in character verbals in this session - battle cries, death threats, bullying and intimidation. Hehehe - awesome. Anger issues.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Idea That Will Not Die...


It just won't go away. Every time I have a lull in my thoughts about Duty & Honour, MI:666 raises its ugly head and tries desperately to persuade me to pay it some attention. I think I may have to put it to bed in some way just to stop these interruptions!

The premise, for those not familiar with it, is that Christian Hell exists and the only people that know about it are the British Government. They have to keep the existance secret to stop the world falling down around them and the people that protect the Worlds Biggest Secret are MI:666, a covert branch of the security service.

Why would the world fall down around them? Well, the problem is two fold. The problem is simply that the existence of Hell implies the existence of Heaven, Biblical Heaven. If this fact was ever to get out the explosion of religious fundamentalism and warfare would destroy the world! Therefore the secret has to be maintained, even though the effects of Hell are now being realised around the globe.

Last night, in a fit of creativity, I thought I would try to sketch a set of rules of the game. I decided that rather than look for something mechanical, I would go for something a little more esoteric. I thought about the seven deadly sins (Lust, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony and Pride). The idea being that the characters are fighting a battle against the forces of Hell who are trying to corrupt them through these sins. So, if you lost your temper and beat up a suspect, you would be weaker in Wrath. If you shagged a colleague, you are nearer to being tempted over in Lust. If you insist that you should lead the investigation, its Pride etc.

I'd want the mechanic to work so that the GM could tempt you with something, like a whispering voice in your head. This could work something like the Fate Points and Compels in SotC. There would have to be consequences, but thats for later.

The vibe I want to recreate is a sort of pseudo-religious version of TV shows like Silent Witness (the new one), CSI, Fringe etc. Investigations but powerful character pieces as well.

More later, maybe.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Horrors of Fatherhood

Oh a horror happened today.

The girls discovered eBay a couple of weeks ago. They were amazed that rather than saving up their pocket money for toys, they can convert it quickly and easily into cheaper toys via the computer. So far this has resulted in the Cabbage Patch doll population of the house rising from 3 to 9 for the princely sum of £8 in total.

Of course, it didn't take the dynamic duo much time to realise that they could generate more money by making their unwanted toys available to others on eBay. In some ways, this would be well cool. We have tons of Sylvanian Families that go for a pretty penny. I wasn't opposed.

Well, not until Emma decided that the first thing that would be going were her books. Not her current books! No, I've trained them a proper respect for them. No, these were the baby books that she has had passed down from Lara. The ones that really did it for me were her Dr Seuss books. These were the books that taught both of them to read and to enjoy reading. I never thought for one moment that she would ever want to get rid of them, but she does. I had to intervene and rescue a couple of them - specifically The Cat in the Hat and the Cat in the Hat Strikes Back - and slip them into my library.

It was bound to happen and I know that we cannot keep everything forever, but it made me understand why women seem to want to keep every babygrow and bootie. These were the artifacts that represented the change of the girls between being babies and being children and really the passing of them from the domain of the nursery into well, my domain of reading and imagination. Oh I know that sounds very silly, but it really struck a chord.

All subsequent references to boyfriends, nightclubs, drinking, pregancy and 'Grandad Neil' will be treated with the contempt they deserve...

Monday, October 06, 2008


I approve.
More later
[Six Fingered Hand]

Permission to Stunt Has Been Engaged!

More 4e yesterday and much fun was had.

It feels quite strange playing a character who is essentially socially incompetent and rather just a lethal weapon/wall of steel to be deployed when things go to shit. There are some times when I just shut up at the table and fall silent into 'bodyguard mode' which is quite a change for me, but its very in-character. I love playing Morn because he is so different from my other characters from previous games.

I particularly liked the visuals from this game. The rugged Badlands, the beastmen plagued valley, the ancient city outpost of scum and villany, the smokey tavern filled with miscreants and the assault on the ancient dwarven gatehouse. All excellent. The battle through the gatehouse was great too. We are much more at home with the system and the way that our characters work in the system and how that relates to the roleplay. In particular, the way Artemis - the ranger - is used as a highly mobile 'hunter killer' whilst Assamber - the mage - creates an environment that suits us rather than our opponents. Azhanti - the cleric - and me, Morn, the paladin - are the 'tanking team' and when we get into the zone, none shall pass.

We had a classic moment in this session where the dwarf-changeling turned into a giant and TWATTED me from nearly full health to -2hp and dying. When we first started playing, this would have worried us. Now, Ian makes the 'oh, its the Rocky II moment!', Nigel flings in a healing touch and I do the rest. -2hp to 59hp in less than one round and I am surging forward and planting my hammer in the giants skull. Visually, the idea of me rising from the ground, bloodied but unconquered like some armoured Stallone takes some beating. I love it.

However, the real innovation this week was the introduction of stunt points. We have had problems with stunting, which is daft considering a number of us would count ourselves as dirty hippy gamers! I think the trappings of D&D and the implicit and deep-grained GM as Authority figure business might have something to do with it - and we have had some GM vs Player atmosphere discussions lately which didn't help. Stunt Points act and are given just like Action Points but they specifically allow you a sizeable leeway when it comes to stunts. I suspect that some level of parity will be reached in how they are adjudicated but I was very pleased with the way Andrew did it. We used them twice. In one, Artemis pinned a fleeing defender by his heels (ok, he also killed him, but the thought was there). In another I tipped the table that the dwarf was fighting on onto its side, tipping him into the noxious cloud that Assamber had created and keeping him in it for another round. Cool, cinematic stuff that might have failed otherwise. I like it. A lot.

Next week (yay!) we see whether we can save the slaves, escape the evil wizard, find the dwarves and more stuff. Awesome.

So, How does it feel... be a published author?

I got asked this last week and its a very strange question because I am not, not really. Well, I suppose I am - 13 people have a copy of my book in their hands which they have paid real money for - just not in the traditional sense. Its not like I have been through the turmoil of submitting manuscripts to publishers or touting myself around agents. I've done it 'the easy way' through self-publishing. Still, its a very cool feeling. Not something that I would get carried away with in any way, but quite cool nonetheless

Just as a report from the front lines, there was no bolt from the blue, no trumpet of angels, I do not suddenly feel superior to everyone else and I feel no more qualified to talk about publishing and game design than I did a week ago. I have no made a fortune, nor have I lost one penny.

I do count my blessings though. I know my way around a graphics and DTP program or two and I have a decent research library, talented friends and honest testers and editors. I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have been such a smooth ride without all of these things - if I had been forced to seek out 'professional' (i.e. paid) layout, design and editing functions, things would have been very different.

Of course, now that I AM a published games designer (oh that sounds so fucking pretentious!) the next question is usually 'what's next?'. More of the same, I'm afraid. The second half of the three book series (bear with me, I've gone all Douglas Adams on your ass) and a load of supplemental material - but thats a topic for another post some day.

So how does it feel to be a published author? Kind of cool, but not mind-blowing.

If anyone is interested in a copy of Duty & Honour, paypal £12 + £2 P&P to and I will be more than happy to send you a copy.

Maximum pimpage!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Game On!

The order has been placed. 50 copies of Duty & Honour incoming to Chez Gow. Hurrah!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Duty & Honour ... NOW!

Post #200 is reserved for the arrival of my very own roleplaying game, Duty & Honour. I'm finding it quite hard to believe that I started this blog unsure whether any of my hobbies had a purpose and I'm sat here now, with my own rpg in front of me. Its amazing. Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way - I couldn't have done it without you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Babylon 5 was last of the Babylon Stations. There would never be another...

I missed the UPS man today by three minutes, so my proof of D&H isn't in my hands. If it was, the latest piece of serendipity would be even more vivid. As it is, its kind of cute. I was cleaning out some old gaming stuff today and I came across a stash of old newsletters - Black Omega Squadron newsletters. Not many people will know what they are, so I will explain.

Ten years ago, I used to play a lot of the B5CCG. I was a 'Ranger' - a tournament organiser and it was good. I had just discovered the internet and I was contacting other rangers. It was really the first time I had ever done internet communication and I seem to remember it being very scary and very prone to misinterpretation. I remember it was using Pegasus Mail as well. Those were the days. Anyway, this was just before GenCon '98 in Loughborough and we, that being me, Phil Nicholls and Bruce Mason, decided we should do a newsletter and some t-shirts. We did, it all went swimmingly and indeed snowballed from there. Skip forward two years and we were the official arm of Precedence Publishing in the UK and Europe, we ran their promotions and we produced our bi-monthly newsletter, a websites, t-shirts and regular quite large tournaments. The game folded and we moved on. Some left the CCG hobby altogether whilst others drifted into WWF Raw Deal and indeed, the rest is history.

Reading those old newsletters I was amazed by the quality of the content and the nice layout, considering it was done by me on Word 95 with not one moment of training or experience. And in that realisation I understood the place that newsletter had in my development as a person. It was the first time I actually stood up to the plate and not only joined a community but threw off my oft-held belief that I am a crap leader but a great #2. It was the first time I ever used a web application (Hot Metal Pro...) or a graphics package (Paintshop Pro) in anger. It was the first time I had used my contacts in 'the industry' to source advertising and distribution. It was the first time I had tried to make an impact in gaming. I read some of the things - home organised prize distribution, home organised rankings, massive tournaments drawing people from far and wide, a real sense of community - these are all things that I have taken into other fields and used to great effect and within B5 was where I learned them. It wouldn't be too big a leap to say that without my experiences in B5 and Black Omega Squadron, there would not be a Squared Circle, there would not be Omnihedron Games, there would not be Duty & Honour and there might not even be a roleplaying version of Neil today.

Ten years ago. It makes you wonder really. There are names on those newsletters of people that I still see regularly now - Andrew, Graham, Craig, Gordon - and other people who I had forgotten even existed. There are memories that still get talked about now - like massive long finals - and there are others that have passed into memory - like the uncertainty towards the end of the game when we were handed total power.

Ten years ago, I realised I could make a difference and that in the wacky world of gaming if you didn't make yourself one of 'those people that do things' then no-one else would. Tomorrow I should see whether my own self-published RPG is ready for release. Its one big long journey.

I wonder where it will take me now?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mid-Tier Thoughts

I never blogged about the last session. Bad player. So I thought I would give Andrew what he always craves and thats thorough feedback in a double session extravaganza. Rather than look at the individual sessions I thought I would look at the game as a whole and see where it is going.

My first observation is that we have a potentially repetitive story structure. In five sessions we have had three where we have had to meet a lot of new NPCs, interact with them in order to attempt to influence their decisions and then end up undertaking a side-quest in order to bring them onside. We did this with The Grub (and the Titan's Barge), the Rebellion (with the quest for the Dwarves) and now the desert clan (with the Denrobi ... or Dragon, as well like to call it in civilisation). There is a possibility that we could face the same with the Kireshi and the Dwarves. The problem I forsee with this approach is that we will simply default to the couple of characters with the accomplished social skills in these situations, sidelining the others.

My second observation comes from the system itself and the sliding DC scale. In theory, the characters gain a steady number of pluses through their levels. However, more likely than not, the DCs increase as well so our relative power stays the same. Wholly, this is part of the system but it does feel slightly ... disempowering? There is a distinct whiffle factor to parts of the game. Daily powers are exceptionally hit-and-miss affairs which takes a lot of their impact out of the play. To balance that, however, we have all identified that as a group we have an inordinate amount of healing and the monsters need to be resilient because well, we are! I do feel for our mage, who does seem to have the most ineffective dice on the planet ... only slightly less effective than Andrews, that is!

The game is developing a pace and a rhythm of its own and thats really strong. It is also developing a narrative signature which is really appealing. Travel happens at the speed of plot, we don't hustle through dungeons - zipping straight to the crucial encounters. The dragon encounter in the last session was excellent with a randomised dungeon, good areas and bad areas and a mo'fo' black dragon that posed our biggest threat yet. It really was terrifying and its mobility, threat range (I hate that extended threat business), breath weapon, stunning roar - can I mention its mobility again? I've never EVER played in a game where movement rate has been so important! It's ludicrous ... in a good way! The dragon erupting through the floor of the temple was an awesome moment. Killing it was even better.

There are, however, a couple of issues here. The first is a failure - at least at these levels - for the game to truly emulate the 'tanking' aspect of MMOs that it appears to attempting to do. My 'threat' of my mark is easily ignored by a monster who wants to eliminate our DPS (the ranger) and there's almost no way for me to mechanically save the guy from becoming a scoobie snack. These things come at later levels - but its buggeringly annoying at this level. The second issue is the perennial 'split' between the roleplaying and the monster smashing. We need to really concentrate to inject that into the game. Even if its just my exasperation at the ranger doing his very best to limp his bleeding bloodied ass as far out of my healing range as possible, it should be displayed IC rather than OOC. The third one - and I am a bugger for this - is denouement and there is nothing that can be done about that. We have a strict time limit now, which is needed and indeed for my benefit. However, it sometimes feels a bit flat when its 'And the dragon dies.... see you back here in three weeks to see how thrilled everyone is!' Thats minor however.

What else could change? I'd like to see quest sheets back because they were a very strong start to the campaign. I'd like to see follow-ons to the quests as well, without it becoming too sandbox. Maybe a couple more magic items? No, not magic items - but in lieu of them a smattering of masterwork equipment. I suppose we could buy it? We are loaded.

My favourite change to this session was the re-flavouring of the mage's spells to ice and water. He now truly is a force of nature and it feels so natural in the context of the game. In fact the amount of flavour that has seeped into the way the rules are interpretted is excellent. It feels like our game, rather than someone else's game we are playing.

Two week break now. Not good. Withdrawl symptoms ahoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What a wasted day...

You know when you just have a day where nothing of any worth happens? Today was that day.

I re-wrote some supplementary material for D&H. That was hardly taxing. I was dragged to the cinema by Mrs Gow. We saw Babylon A.D. - it was utter garbage. We could have seen The Duchess (Keira, moderate sexual scenes....) but no. Vin fucking Diesel. Accept it Vin, there is no life after The Pacifier! So I come home and I decide to make my Omnihedron Games website. Good idea eh?

Oh no.

So clever clogs here has already used a Wordpress blog as a website for Duty & Honour. So I thought, I know - I'll do another one. Bad idea. Wordpress, the three-toed sloth of application aggression decides to play up. And play up. And be a complete arse. Two installs later, things are working fine. But where are my Pages? Oh, this particular lovely theme I have been using doesn't have fucking pages. OK, ditch theme, find a new one. New one looks pants in comparison. Snarl a bit. Sort out links.... eventually. Hardly professional navigation but for fucks sake, I've just saved myself days of fiddling doing it this way. Give me a break.

OK, forum. That should be easy. I've installed phpbb a dozen times. No problem? Ah, this is phpbb3 so its a little different. Still, everything goes smoothly. I set up the forums, I look for ... hang on?! The Cache folder is generating an error. Bizarre. Deal with that. Find new template for the forum. Install it. Voila. ..... where are the new topic buttons? Oh ffs! Search support forums. Known issue. Fiddle. Doesn't work. OK, re-install. Wrestle with WTP program that doesn't want to work properly. Swear. Install. Same again. Fuck off!

Right, look to my current, existing old phpbb2 forum - thats actually working! And I install a new style that I can edit and push onto the site. Excellent. Oh... hang on. I remember now - this site is locked down tighter than nun's knickers to keep the spambots off it. Its absolutely useless as a forum. Scrub that idea. Fuckers.

Right - lets see whether there is a forum plug-in for WordPress. That sounds sensible, doesn't it? There is! Something called bbpress. Excellent. Oh, its a little complicated. Thats not good. I can learn. Oh look. The developers haven't caught up with the latest edition of WP - the one I have just installed. So its there, but I cannot use it.

That sound is my head hitting off the table. So I currently have two blogsites that sort of work but not like I would like them to, one forum which doesn't have any new topic buttons and refuses to delete, one forum which is like Pandoras Box of spambots and a timer ticking down on the WP devs to get their finger out of their arse.

What a great way to spend five hours. Oh and Vin Diesel sucks!

Duty & Honour .... very soon!

I sent Duty & Honour off to the printers to get a proof copy yesterday. I'm rather excited. As soon as it arrives, I will post some images and generally go SQUEEE! a lot.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Eye Of the Storm

Ah, Sunday mornings. Nice and early. A little oasis of calm for me. No-one else is up, no noise coming from Radio 4 or the Discovery Channel. Just me, my keyboard and the tweeting birds. Lovely.

The rain has finally stopped after two days of almost constant downpour. Luckily I live on the top of a hill at the mouth of the Tyne, so if I flood, you're all fucked. However, it does create a sort of stir-crazy mentality in the house. Luckily, due to the extension, we all have our own rooms now so yesterday we were able to retreat into the various corners and hide! I think there is probably more rain to come. The skies look a bit heavy and well, since we seem to have lost our delivery of summer this year, we should just get on to winter as soon as possible, if thats OK.

I've made up my mind to get a job rather than pursue the self-employed option. That was a reasonably hard decision for me but I made it. So I have four applications out in the wide world and two more heading out this morning. Its that lull period between the chirpy optimism of application, the crushing inevitability of rejection and the hollow dread of interview when you realise there are at least four other people who would happily shiv you in the face for the position.

Duty & Honour is, for all intents and purposes, done. I'm waiting for two adverts to come in and the replies from two people doing read-throughs but other than that, we are cooked. I have set up my account with the printer, designed the cover, sorted out the bleed and worked out what I can get initially with my scant budget. By this time next week, I will hopefully have a .pdf at the printers and a proof copy winging its way to Chez Gow. Pre-orders are good and if my maths is correct, a decent showing at Furnace will result in a tidy profit and future printing fund. Moreover, I have answered that perennial question - "What are you going to do now?" with the answer being "More of the same!". I've settled on a new name for the nautical version, 'Beat To Quarters' (because Hearts of Oak was taken already, dammit) and that will be next. I'll be going ahead producing my free .pdf almanac of extras and I'll have some content in the Collective Endeavour 2008 annual too.

In about 10 hours we'll be cracking ahead with our fourth session of D&D4e - a gaming fix which really cannot come around quickly enough every fortnight. This week, I believe we are going to suffer the consequences of our actions last time when we killed a high-up witch in the Cabal. They have rained retribution on the City of Kings and the Rebellion in general and thats going to come home to roost at our feet. It should be a lot of fun. There should also be a lot of intra-character conflict at the table as well, which I hope will really power the direction of the game. This could well be a pivotal session for our story and I have no idea where it is going.

So there you have it - everything is quiet and peaceful at the moment, just about ready to kick off in all sorts of directions. But until then, I think I'll sit and be mellow in my hole.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tiny Adventures, Usual Problems

This week I discovered a wonderful little application on Facebook called 'Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures'. It is the official WotC D&D application where you take the role of one of the eight iconic characters from the new game and, under a stripped down version of the game system, run through a load of adventures, getting loot and marching towards the mythic level 11 when your character is retired. Cool eh? There's almost no skill involved except buying the right equipment and using a potion at the right time. There's no special powers or abilities. Its just a random dice-fest.

Plainly, this is a promotional tool for D&D 4e. I know me and some of the guys from Collective Endeavour had a chat in March about the possibilities of something similar. Facebook has a massive latent geek audience who appear to have no problems outing themselves as fans of some pretty obscure topics, so having a roleplaying promotional app. seems pretty damned obvious.

However, as always, never underestimate the power of the internet to reduce people to their primal idiot. Already the applications forum is being deluged with complaints and whining. The most prevalent is that the app. is not particularly stable. It isn't. WotC blatantly underestimated the depth of geek on Facebook and the way that an app. which procs every 8 minutes or so is a gem in the world of the tabbed browser. There will obviously be a point where the expected conversion rate of people from D&D:TA to purchasing the D&D4e PHB makes any extra expenditure unviable - it is a promotional tool after all.

The next complaint is that it isn't complex enough. "Why can't my cleric heal?","Why can't my wizard blast things?" etc. Could that be because that would cause untold levels of programming complexity that this little side project doesn't need? Its not targetted at old school D&D players. Rather it is targetted at lapsed players or new players, letting them see the new system. It doesn't need to be complex - all it needs to do is get you to pick up a copy of the PHB the next time you are in Borders!

Another complaint is that there are only two female characters in the game. Two of eight. Oh the flame wars! Apparently WotC should offer male and female versions of each character. The fact that the character images are from the iconic art from the books seems to have passed by everyone who is complaining. 'Why does my advert for Sure not have a MAN dousing himself in deodourant?!','Why is the Admiral in Admiral Car Insurance not a woman on 50% of the adverts?!'

The whinges go on and on. The problem, it seems, is that people are mistaking an advert for a game. Thats why you 'retire' at Level 11, the beginning of the Paragon tier in D&D. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a 'Want to continue your adventures? Buy D&D and build your own!' message at the end. As an advert, its fantastic - addictive, tongue-in-cheek and easy to use. As a game, it sucks massive wobbly throbbing monkey balls. As a catalyst for interweb angst and griping, its as good as ... well, anything else!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shades of Grey

In the past, I have been THAT roleplayer. Every character I played was a goodie-goodie two shoes who always fought on the side of the angels and never once strayed into dodgy territory. Indeed, every game I played in during my youth was very black and white, good vs evil and you knew damned well which side you were fighting ... and lets just say you didn't get the cool uniforms and classic sinister goatees!

Recently a number of the games I have played in and ran have deviated from this sort of game massively. The playtest of Hot War I ran essentially had three neo-facists dispensing justice to a terrified community. Cold City was a hot bed of potential nastiness and indeed, the one surviving character ended up being possessed by the spirit of Adolf Hitler. None of the characters appeared to be particularly nice people to me. Even Pendragon - that bastion of honour and chivalry - was tainted with some inter-character assassination attempts, a virtual cuckolding, the massacre of innocents, a bloody vendetta that wiped out an entire tribe and more random violence than you could shake a stick at.

And of course, the crowning glory of this is our current D&D 4e campaign where (most of us) are about as 'shades of grey' as you can get. My character is a paladin, but bless this new system in that it has removed that stupid 'lawful good' restriction. He is an absolute single-minded weapon of mass destruction. Born as a slave, raised by tieflings, used as a handservant, sex toy and bodyguard until he was freed, he is a scarred and wounded psyche in a brutal world. Our campaign is very Conan-esque sword and sorcery with demons, sacrifices, slave girls, deserts and all the trappings of a nasty nasty world. Its fucking fantastic!

We're all thirty-something gamers and I think its fair to say that at our age you have been brought up in gaming in one of two schools; you either thrived on the carnage of unabashed intra-player conflict or you were taught that this is BadWrongFun and should never happen. I am certainly of the second school and I still think that the random PC-killing I saw in my youth is totally counterproductive. However intra-character conflict is absolutely essential and indeed drives some of the most memorable parts of our games. These conflicts absolutely do not have to come to physical conflict but they can and should strain the relationships between the characters.

Even if we look back at the relationships between the characters in the classic RPG 'bible' - Lord of the Rings - we see conflict between everyone and Boromir, Gimli and Legolas (which is obviously resolved!), Frodo and the Fellowship etc. Star Wars? Luke and Han? Leia and Han? Han and Londo? C3P0 and R2D2? Even Luke and Yoda are at each others throats at times. Star Trek? Spock and McCoy? Worf and Pickard at times?

Of course, the real trick is that the driving force behind 'shades of grey' characters is a far more complex set of drivers than 'do good' (or indeed 'do evil'). The characters are more complex, less predictable and generally more intriguing. You can never quite be sure whats going to happen. Thats a good thing. It keeps you thinking at the table rather than simply falling into tried and tested character reactions.

I like Shades of Grey. Indeed, I wonder whether I could really go back to the White Hat role again and have the same level of impact? Who knows!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Englishman's Hole is his Castle

As an upshot of the Great Extension Erection 2008, I have managed to get myself a study/office/hole. Its been the first time since I left home for University that I have been able to have a place that is wholly my own. Its great. It is a total refuge from the madness of the world. Somewhere I can just go to and relax, be quiet and think. So, here it is!

As you see, I am not the only denizen of the hole. It would appear that Sam, our cat - as opposed to the streets cats who have adopted us, appears to have found a new place to sit. OK, so its on my desk and he is in the way, but its the first time in ages he has even come close to me in a non-food related context, so thats cool!

I have moved all of my books and graphic novels into the room and for the first time ever I have thrown some books out. Not a huge number - maybe two crates of stuff like chaff SF and new-age stuff that I was into when I was at Uni, but it was a watershed. My roleplaying games have suffered a purge too and the remaining ones will be making an appearance in here soon. This really is the underpinning of my room and its very gratifying to see.

Of course those aren't my ONLY books - there's also my burgeoning Duty & Honour reference library, which is shelved to the left of my desk. The desk was a bargain £20 from a local second hand shop, and the chair was £10. My one tip-of-the-hat to being a teenager at heart is my full wall Sin City poster featuring Jessica Alba. This is now my little nerve centre. If I get a phone on it, I may not have to move...ever.

One of the unrealised upshots of this is that I can now have sound on my PC without having to concern myself with anyone else. And that sound can be quite high apparently. Thats a new one for me and eventually when I get back to the world of MMOs, it will be cool to have sound again.

The piece de resistance however is my lovely worn two-seater leather-ette sofa. Its wonderful. I can happily sit there and sleep, read, relax, chat - its fantastic. And as a final touch, just out of camera shot is the ubiqitous little fridge for snacks and Pepsi.

All-in-all, the furniture in the room cost around £100 (with the shelving being scavenged from the living room) and it was so well worth it. Now, of course, this gives me the perfect creative environment, so no excuses now for things not happening!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Don't Watch with the Zohan

I'm a big Adam Sandler fan. Not a 'oh theres a new Adam Sandler film, I must see it now!' fan, more a 'Oh look, there's another repeat of 'Happy Gilmore' on Sky One ... thats a pleasant and assuredly pleasing way to pass an evening.' sort of fan. So, when Hellboy II was sold out this afternoon (!) we plumbed to watch 'Don't Mess With the Zohan' instead. It looked like it could be a good laugh. In some ways, it was, but in others it was a horribly painful awkward viewing experience.

The plot, if you haven't seen the trailer, is that Adam Sandler is 'The Zohan' - a legendary Israeli counter-terrorist who is tired of war and wants to move to the US and become a hair stylist. He does this, falls in love, has sex with lots of old women and then his past catches up with him and he is revealed! There are some other 'subplots' but really, thats not the point of the film - or indeed, this post.

As you would expect from most of these US Laugh Pack films, it is PACKED with cameo appearances - Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, Kevin James, John Turturro, George Takei, Henry Winkler and (for the pro-wrestling geeks out there) Michael Buffer amongst others. Its quite funny seeing them pop up and wondering how the hell they got involved with this ... thing.

The problem is two fold. The first is that this film is a massive pisstake of the Arab-Israeli conflict wrapped up on some of the bluntest and least sensitive satire about the character of both sides of said conflict you could possibly get away with. Indeed, I think it is the almost absurd levels of satire (like Israeli's brushing their teeth with hummus, all jewish men working in electronics stores and the really near-the-knuckle 'Hezzbullah Hotline' segments) that allow it to carry on without being too much. That said, the fact that the incredibly hot woman in the salon where the Zohan finally gets work falls for him, despite the fact that he has shagging the octigenarian clientele in the back room (and she condones it) just beggars belief.

The second problem is that a LOT of the jokes are verbal ones spoken in what I assume is Yiddish (I'll be honest here, I have no idea!). You can sort of infer what is meant but half the time people were just laughing uncomfortably because they sort of assumed that what was said was supposed to be funny. It was like painful real life canned laughter.

And that was the real problem. As I had to explain to an American that stumbled onto my messageboards a couple of years ago and decided to brand every other person an Anti-Semite, in the UK we just do not make jokes about Jewish people. At all. Its just not done. Now I can recognise that a large number of the actors in this film are Jewish and they were being rather self-depricating. I can also see that this was a very blunt edged swipe at the Israeli man stereotypes but it was as if people felt that they weren't allowed to laugh. As if they would be told off if they laughed. It was exceptionally uncomfortable.

My laugh-out-loud hooting and wailing probably didn't help. No doubt I will be being visited by the police any time now...

'Don't Mess With the Zohan' is not a good film. It has to go to levels of intense absurdity to be able to frame the subject matter in a way that is even palatable. I would recommend seeing it when it comes out on SKY, just to experience it.

Oh, and it was a 12A apparently. *shakes head*

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Post GenCon Blues

I remember the first time after four years that I didn't go to Wrestlemania/Raw Deal World Championships. On the day of the event, I was like a bear with a sore head. Intellectually I knew that (a) the free trips had to end sometimes and (b) I had chosen to end them, but it still really got under my skin that something that I thought was so cool and I had been such a part of for such a long time was happening without me.

I had similar feelings this weekend. This year will be the first year since 2002 that I have not gone to the USA. I know that sounds amazingly indulgent, and indeed it is, but the trips have been a real highlight for me and have acted as a watershed for me to sort my head on so many things. Moreover, being someone with a very broad and active online social circle, they have also been a chance to catch up with my friends. This year would have been particularly poignant as it would have been the first chance to see some people since the death of our mutual friend, Barron. He was a big part of GenCon - in more ways than one - and he would have been sorely missed.

I promised myself last year that I would NOT get it into my head that I could attend GenCon every year. The commitment of £1000 every year just for me to go on my jollies would be simply unfair on Christine and the girls. Indeed, finding myself currently 'between jobs', if I had commited to going I would have almost certainly have had to cancel. That still doesn't stop me being jealous as hell of the people that could go.

For a while now I have also been having a thought about how things like this will progress. The airfares to Indianapolis have risen by £100 since last year and given 'the current climate' I can only see them getting higher. You never know, give it a couple of years and we might have caps on our international air travel! I guess things will look a lot more achieveable if I was, you know, working but even then I can see another trip being an expedition too far.

So yeah, post GenCon blues and I never even went!

Lies, Damned Lies and (Olympic) Statistics

Just a little observation.

Every medal table I have ever seen in all my time following sport has been ranked with the number of golds being the primary ranking factor, with silvers and bronzes deciding ties. I checked some news site - British, German, Australian, Canadian - they all use the same system. I checked the official Olympics site - that uses that system too.

However, CNN (via Sports Illustrated) doesn't. It ranks the teams by aggregate medal count i.e. all of the medals added together with no weight given to golds or silvers. And guess what? That just sneaks the USA ahead of China in the medal table.

I had to laugh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When is a MMO not a MMO?

When it's D&D4e!

OK, I'm being very specific here but 4e is raising very MMO-ish feelings in me.

1. There is a level of 'must play again'-ness rising in my mind. I want to see what happens next, not only in the game but also in the statistical development of the character.Optimising the choices that I make with each level is becoming an intricate process. Feats, Powers, Stats, Skills - its all very relevant and very enthralling for me on a certain level.

2. Builds! I've been running through different builds in my head and on paper and I have began to see different routes that a character could take. I realise now I have made a fundamental mistake with Morn, making his primary stat STR when it should have been CHA. However there are some great synergistic (is that even a word?) combinations of powers coming in the future. Its a lot of fun.

3. ALTS! Gah! One of the things that I have realised over the years is that we tend to play a game once. We rarely return to something we have already played. So this could be it for D&D4e! I only get to play a Paladin. But what about the Warlock? What about the Halfling 2H Weapon Ranger? What about the Eladrin Fighter? I want to make alts! I want to try new stuff out. Its almost tempting to seek a second group to try it out. (Tempting but inevitably flawed and deadly)

I can feel my MMO-senses tingling with 4e. The same feelings, the same thrill on levelling, the same development of powers and the same yearning to explore things from a different angle. Very clever.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The City of Kings Pt2 - Onion Skins...

...rather than banana skins. Congratulations to GM Andrew for getting over the difficult second session with consumate ease. I'm not going to go into the body of the game in detail as you can read it on his blog, rather I'll look at some interesting aspects of the game itself.

1. Invisible Skill Challenges.
In the previous session we had been introduced to the 'Win 3 before you lose 3' skill challenge technique. It was very explicit. This time the skills challenges melted beneath the narrative and no mention was made of them specifically. This made for a far less mechanical game and was, I think, better. As players I think it is imperative upon us to maximise our bonuses for skills. When I challenged the Captain of the Grub's Guard I could easily have used my Insight (+8) to size him up first and claim my +2 bonus. I didn't. We're still learning.

2. Oodles of Roleplaying
Thats more like it. Every character now has a voice in the game. The duplicitous tiefling hating Artemis, the blunt instrument of Morn, the cultured ambassador Assamber and the quite alien and pious Azhanti. Very good. I loved the interactions between the characters and the very 'shades of grey' that (mostly) they inhabit. There can only be trouble ahead between Morn and Artemis and thats going to take a little thinking about to stop it resulting in one of us being dead or dying!

3. A City ALIVE, I tell you, ALIVE!
My hat comes off to Andrew for his sheer verbosity and excellence in narration. He never stumbles over his words and never has less than an excellent description of that is going on. He covers all the senses and gives a real spark of life to the setting. The City of Kings lived yesterday. A broken guardtower in the spice district of the market, the derelict sea walls made poor by the Sundering, the deathly march of the Giant's Cradle, the chaos of the Night of Madness, the decadence of Jabb.... The Grub's Lair. It was all excellent.

4. However, too much too quick.
If I had one criticism it would be that the pacing of the nights adventures was too fast. We had individual issues which lead to doing a job for the rebellion which lead to doing a job for the Grub which lead to doing one of two jobs for the Cabal whilst still doing a job for Kyia and whatever else we had left over from our personal stuff. We saw the docks, the Night of Madness, the tieflings, the Cabal, the Rebellion, the Giants Cradle, The Grubs Palace ... it was all a bit of a blur. I missed the Quest sheet from the previous session as they gave these interactions a bit more solidity. I understand that the game needs to settle into a pace of its own and that will mean that the characters need to be established but it was just all quite difficult to take in. Or maybe thats my age!

5. Levelling without Scope
There is one more issue that I would highlight and that is the consequences of the storyline levelling that we are doing. We are aiming for one level per session (or set of adventures) which will see us through the game from 1-30 within say 18 months. One of the issues with this is that the characters are gaining 'power' at a pace. This means that a monster that last week would have caused us problems was now a reasonable inconvenience. The GM has recognised this and has signalled that he intends to 'ramp up the opposition'. This is cool but it doesn't allow us to wallow for very long in our new power level. This means that we have no real handle on how tough we are and we have to trust the GM that the things presented before us are beatable. Next session we have been contracted to either (a) kill the Cabal's Big Chief Bountyhunter Woman or (b) kill her boss. I have no idea whether this is achievable or suicide, because I have no real idea of our capabilities. A little consolidation, occassionally, might be in order?

Regardless, this was an excellent game and created some excellent interactions at the table. Looking forward to the next session a lot - oh, and I got my legendary item as well - the Uber Hammer of Knocking Over!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thanks Gary Rhodes!

Being a man of leisure for the last few weeks, I have been able to watch 'Rhodes Across China' this week. Its been good - more accessible than Rhodes Across India and probably more interesting as well. Anyway, after watching it a couple of times they made some dim sum. I love dim sum but, despite my quite decent culinary skills, it has always been something that I reckoned only experts could make. No. I just made some prawn and chicken steamed dumplings with a nice rich dipping sauce. And know what? They were bloody lovely. Thanks Gary!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The City of Kings Pt1 - Hot in the City

As no-one else seems to have blogged about last night's D&D game, I might as well kick things off. I've been giving Andrew all manner of grief over the last month about the levels of expectation for this game and in true Watsonian fashion, Andrew delivered. As the first session of a campaign, it was wonderfully evocative and played to our groups strengths. Not everything was perfect - it never is - but I left the session feeling like a 'proper gamer', which is silly, I know, but it was true.


1. The rules tweaks - 'Wealth levels' instead of money makes coin counting obselete. 'Legacy items' - iconic magic items which scale with level and include the balancing properties of all the necessary items in the game are wonderful. Abstract levelling rather than XP grind allows us to pace the game and see the run of the system without 'grinding'. We discussed them before the game and they worked well.

2. Peripherals - we used a battleboard, minatures, dungeon tiles, power cards - hell, we even had an official D&D pen at the table. It all worked really well. The combats we played out were so very different from the ones we have done before. They were tactical. They required thought. Every single roll of the dice had a weight of meaning that, on reflection, I have rarely seen before. Not one of the fights had a bit of wiffle in it. The minatures were evocative and worked far better than I ever thought they would. Even something as petty as the power cards really cut down the amount of book flicking that was needed. Really really good for this game.

3. Reskinned monsters - I loved the fact that Andrew had taken the time to create his own monsters for the game, even if they were reskinned versions of Monster Manual creatures. Faced with the slavering savagery of a Carnage Demon, what were we to expect? Skeletal Flame Priests? Hounds of Shadow? The risen cadaver of the Sun God Azhura. Hardened gamers reduced to second-guessing noobs. Love it. Total and utter ignorance.

4. Structure and Pacing - the structure of the game was great. We were straight into the action at the start of our rebellion sanctioned tomb robbing, rather than playing out the arrival in the City of Kings or our meeting with the rebellion. It kicked the game off brilliantly.

5. Skill Challenges - Andrew's interpretation of the skills challenge system is inspired. Rather than wander a tomb checking for traps, we have to make two successes before we make two failures using a selection of skills. If we succeeded, we narrated a situation and how we got around it. If we failed, it triggered an encounter prepared by the DM. Why was this gold? Threefold. First off, it took what could have been a dire dungeon crawl and made it very quick and dynamic, cutting to the good stuff. Second, it made us use an array of skills in very different ways. So rather than the Ranger/Thief stealthing through the entire dungeon, the Mage and the Paladin narrated the unpicking of a runic bomb trap using magic and religious nouse. Thirdly, once again, every roll counts. Feel the tension.

6. Missio... sorry, I mean Quests - We all have group and personal Quests to fulfil in true MMO style and they work magnificently. It adds a focus to the game, reinforces situation, tweaks conflict, plans out our rewards and generally makes the game a lot of fun.


1. FOCUS - Whilst I readily accept that this was due to it being the first session of the game, it did feel a little stop/start at times, especially around food ordering and breaks etc. They were the right times to do them, but I was so 'in the zone' that I didn't want to stop!

2. CHARACTERISATION - We REALLY are going to have to keep an eye on our characterisation if we are going to stop the game descending into a glorified game of Warhammer Dungeon. We can't let our characters just become pieces on a board.

3. NO TALKY TALKY - We had very few chances to actually roleplay within the adventure. There were some, I admit, which we may not have grabbed. However, we're dead good at this roleplaying lark and less so at this tactical combat malarky, so we probably needed the practice!

4. THE BOW OF ILLUSIONISM - Artemis got his legacy item, a magical phoenix style bow (very cool, even if he is now forever Ranger from the D&D cartoon). We were told not to take things from the tomb or we would have to face the wrath of the dead Sun God. The Bow was in the tomb. Oh, so we're fighting the Sun God then, regardless, because well ... we're not leaving someone's Legacy item behind. Or are we? We could have and then Andrew could have been placed in a real pickle. Would he have had to reintroduce the item at a future point? Would he have let Artemis continue the entire campaign hamstrung without his item? No, whilst we appeared to have a choice, we had no choice at all. But really, like we wanted to avoid a fight like that - which was tooth and nail awesome!

It was a great game which really hammered home that (a) system matters, (b) we really do love fantasy, (c) Andrew is an excellent GM and (d) we've got a whole lot of gaming in the City of Kings to come.

Personally, its the first time in well over a decade that I have levelled a D&D character and I was thrilled. Morn, the 2nd level Paladin, is an absolute S.O.B. and I'm loving it!