Sunday, March 30, 2008

Evil Neutral : It's The Future

No, this isn't a roleplaying article.

Long-time readers of the Bottom of the Glass will know that I have a bit of a thing about moral hypocrisy, the media and the way that the masses tend to latch onto whatever is dangled in front of them as 'truth' without questioning it once. Yes, I said 'the masses' - sue me!

Well, whilst I was being told that I should that I should be pumping students full of caffiene in order to help them burn through their busy lives whilst also only selling them stuff that enhances their need for organic, natural and traceable produce, I had a revelation.

It is actually impossible to live in this world without stumbling across hypocrisy.

Everything you do has a fucking carbon footprint. Everything you eat is either destroying you, the planet or both somehow. Every job is either a cynical manipulation of the capitalist system or exploiting someone or something. No-one can be trusted, no-one can be believed in, no-one is good anymore. Really, it's all a bit shit.

So how do you live in this whirlpool of personal effluent? Well, I've decided to champion a scheme similar to that which our green friends have been doing for years. They have 'carbon neutral'? Well, I'm going to have 'evil neutral'.

What is Evil Neutral?

Well, everytime you do something heinous or wicked, something that exploits someone or something, destroys you or the planet or generally fucks about with people, you have to do something kind or generous, something that helps or heals someone or something, something that improves you or the planet or generally makes people better.

Can't get by without your cheap-as-chips £1.99 chicken breasts, even though you know that they are cut from cruelly treated battery farmed fowl? That's fine - you can always buy some overpriced organic cheese from a local farm to balance things up. Send someone a rip-snorting flame of an email? Why not write a review of your favourite fanfic writer as a balance? Cut someone up on the motorway yesterday? Help an old lady across the road today!

You cannot escape the shitstorm of the world we are living in, but you can do your bit to make things not quite so shitty all of the time.

Think Good. Think Evil. Think EVIL NEUTRAL TODAY!


Monday, March 24, 2008


So, you're sat in a pub in Edinburgh, nursing your lemonade (because you barely have any cash because you have lost your wallet) and you are sitting with people you have spoken to online but barely met but who all know each other. Opposite you is one of the world's most well received independent games writers and to your right is arguably one of the most influential men in rpgs. You've decided that, at this moment in time, it might be better to hold back your normal gregarious nature, shut up and listen. And then one of the people turns around and says ' Hey Neil? Did you get anywhere with the Sharpe licence?'

Welcome to my weekend!

In many ways Conpulsion was a mixed bag of successes and failures. On a personal note it was a massive success. I got to finally meet a slew of people from the etheral world of t'interweb face to face and see them at their gaming work. I ran a really rather pleasing successful demo/test/session of Duty & Honour which ran perfectly well and gave me a great deal of enthusiasm back after a week of what could have been termed hard slog. I did a fun session of Hot War which was horrific in a pleasing fashion for me. I played Piledrivers & Powerbombs, an excellent light wrestling game and won the World Title and I played Burning Empires and saw what happens when you take all those words and turn them into a game - and it works really well.

On the downsides, the convention was sparesly attended and there were so many fractured events running at the same time that the crowd was spread very thinly indeed. Plenary events were booked against normal sessions (I was in competition with the Auction, for example) which seemed like a schoolboy error. As a result the Collective Endeavour stall never seemed too busy with custom although it took a fair bit of cash. From a CE point of view I think that there were a number of organisational balls dropped which hampered things at points and a general lack of leadership and discipline that lead to a few questionable decisions being made by individuals. I learned a lot.

Indeed yes, I learned a lot. I learned that the people posting on Story Games about mutualism being dead have never obviously experienced the people associated with Collective Endeavour! I was humbled by the enthusiasm and support that these relative strangers gave to me for my project and how they offered up so much in the way of advice and general egging on. When someone who you have never seen in the flesh before PIMPS you and your game to strangers better than you can yourself, thats something to behold! Any cobwebs of self doubt definitely get blown away in those circumstances.

So yes, that was my weekend. Swimming with the sharks, warm cuddly sharks with tangy lemon pie and plentiful advice about printers....


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have a secret passion. I'm a massive fan of 'future sports' comics, TV and films. When I was a kid I was enthralled by Harlem Heroes, Inferno and Mean Arena in 2000 AD. They really connected with me in a way that I could never really explain. Maybe it was the mixture of SF and sport? The theme of heroic sacrifice? The inevitable setting in 'working class' venues? I have no idea, but it has lived with me into my adult life, festering. Recently, 2000 AD has reprinted Harlem Heroes and Mean Arena in their entirity which has triggered my interested again and naturally my game writing gene kicked in!

The product of all of this was squeezed out in the last 24 hours as a simple 'pick up' game called Deathball. The central mechanic is a simple target number roll but the real meat of the game comes in linking a characters personal issues into their ingame performance. Tougher issues make it easier to succeed but failure is inevitable and the crash from a tough issue could take the character out of the game permanently. Does it work? Who knows - its just meant to be a bit of fun.


ps. my other childhood obsession was big production musicals. Expect 'Fiddler on the Roof: The CCG' anytime soon...

Pre-Conpulsion Thoughts

Well, this weekend is Conpulsion - the start of this years convention season for me (Conpulsion, Games Expo, GenCon US and Furnace plus hopefully another CottageCon?). Its based in Edinburgh and I have very fond memories of playing Raw Deal there in years gone by. This time the con has a little more hanging on it as it is my first outing as an official 'member' of the Collective Endeavour stall and play team.

I think its fair to say that CE has been having a bit of a tough time of late with some painfully public arguments about convention organisation. I see Conpulsion as a bit of a watershed - a chance to refocus and get a little momentum going.

I'm going to be running Duty & Honour on Saturday morning and Hot War on Saturday evening. Both games are still playtests but thats no excuse not to deliver quality gaming. Hot War will probably be the easiest as I have a full scenario written already. D&H offers a wholly different challenge as the very nature of the game dictates that the players have a lot of input into the way the scenario develops. All I can do is get into the correct mindspace and go for it! Honestly, why do I do this to myself? *rolls eyes*

Regardless, this is the beginning of the home stretch for D&H. Version Three has been finished and I'm very pleased with the results so far. It feels, once again, better than the last version by far. I found the original Pendragon hack that started the entire thing off last weekend - its almost unrecognisable!


Monday, March 10, 2008


I was dreaming about cannons a couple of weeks ago. It was a surefire sign that I have read far too many dense fictions and non-fictions about the Napoleonic Wars and that I needed a change of reading matter. I am very much an intellectual chameleon-cum-method actor. When I am writing fanfiction I will read loads of comics, when I am running a fantasy RPG campaign I will watch loads of fantasy films and when I am writing a Napoleonic rpg I will read and watch loads of ... well musket and cannon stuff. It gets me in the correct headspace but it also messes with your mind if you do it too much.

So I changed my book to something else and finally picked up 'Storm Front' by Jim Butcher, the first of The Dresden Files. My relationship with this book is a strange one. I wasn't aware of it until I heard that the guys who made Spirit of the Century were making a roleplaying game based on it. Thats kind of cool as it is 'urban fantasy' - my absolute favourite genre of trashy fiction, especially the 'strong and resourceful female protaganist' style of Kim Harrison and Laurel. K. Hamilton. Oh I know, its dreadful, but sue me! However, before I found time to read the book the TV series came out and well, it was just ... nothing. Dull. Uninspired. Flat. Lifeless. Missable. And that was a great disappointment to me. It didn't make me want to read the book!

So anyway, with nothing else pending in the reading pile that didn't involve killing the French, I delved in and it was a surprisingly good read. Not inspiring and not troubling the Booker Prize judges but a pretty good read with some excellent characterisation. I quite like Harry Dresden.

So, yesterday, I downloaded an episode on SKY Anytime for free and watched it. And it was something. Good. Inspiring. Vibrant. Full of life and very watchable. It struck me that it was all about context - because I had read the book, I 'knew' the characters a little better than when I watched the series first time around. I understood some of the relationships and that made them easier to understand in the TV series. I have a sneaking feeling that the Dresden Files may have suffered from a Firefly scheduling problem and the originally intended #1 episode may be hidden in the middle of the series.

So I have a new series to read and watch - which is groovy, especially as it gets me into the headspace for the forthcoming 'Ben's As Yet Unnamed Horror Campaign: The Moderning'. Oh dear, this is where we came in, isn't it?


Sunday, March 09, 2008


Finally facing my Waterloo!

Barring a 'Dummies Guide to the Peninsular War' and some examples of play, the latest iteration of Duty & Honour is finished. I have to say that the game is getting to the point where the changes are becoming smaller and smaller each time and the additions are more like chroming the rims rather than a full scale MOT.

The major additions in this iteration have been around expanding the Skirmish rules to add a little more tactical play and more granularity rather than the one flip conflict resolution version. Thats still there, if you want to use it, but the new optional system adds a whole lot more to the game. Its also allowed me to add a simple system to handle cavalry and artillery to the game as well -and indeed, has given me the framework to create the sort of battles I want when I expand the game to the sea in Hearts of Oak.

The other major change has been the expansion and promotion of the regiment section. This was a direct response to feedback from my awesome team of playtesters and some reflection on my thoughts on player ownership following my recent experiences with Hot War, Red Box Hack and Primetime Adventures. Its interesting that what started as a few card flops has turned into an integral part of the game as it has developed.

The rest of my art arrives on March 10th from Peter, which is really exciting and now I have to consider my options for layout and printing of some ashcans for Conpulsion. Oh and I probably need to find an editor. And some more playtesting. And those examples.

It will end sometime soon ... sometime very soon!


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gary Gygax RIP and the Social Politics of Death

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons died yesterday. He was 69. Across the internet literally 1000s of gamers have been expressing their feelings at his passing with a mixture of sadness, shock and mellow contemplation.

As I noted in a previous entry, my friend Barron Vangor Toth - another games designer - has also died. Whilst I know Barron never saw the point of rpgs, I doubt even he would have put himself on the same level as Gygax.

And recently actor Heath Ledger died. Ledger will be the Joker in the upcoming Dark Knight film, the sequel to the highly successful Batman Begins franchise relaunch.

I have been watching how people have related to these three deaths on messageboards and how people are reacting. I think it says something about each one.

Ledger's death was met with shock and regret on my Squared Circle messageboard but quickly this shock was followed by calls of dramatics and hypocrisy from some members. No-one had ever met Ledger - they had only ever seen him in film - and hundreds of other people who may have lead more credible lifestyles died each day but were not mourned, so why him? Why take a knee at the alter of celebrity for this young death and ignore the others? Its a valid point I suppose but in the end it speaks to the link that we make in our minds with the people we see on the screen more than the people that may be living and dying around us.

Barron's death has been met with a number of tribute threads across the sites that he impacted - SQC, Team Canada Online, Gutshot etc. The Raw Deal related ones have been curious in the tone of their comments. Barron was an incendiary figure in Raw Deal and created a lot of enemies because of his style and manner. He was indeed, by some, 'hated' - in that horrendous internet exaggeration that really means 'annoys me' rather than 'I would stab him in the face rather than speak to him'. Therefore a number of the tributes have been cautious, guarded and balanced. Those that met him are able to seperate the Online BVT with the Offline BVT. Those that have not do not have that option. Only one poster on TCO has stood up and said 'the truth' (ie. you had nothing good to say about him when he was alive...) and he has been roundly lambasted. What I wonder here is whether this event has made people realise that messageboard communications are not cast-iron spoken contracts but rather interactions with a dash of drama, acting and impersonation? They are rife with overexaggeration, posturing and hyperbole and the reactions that people have to them are such as well.

Gygax has gone beyond that. Very few people knew Gygax but they knew his game and his legacy. It appears that the legacy is by far and away the most important thing in his case. Without Gygax there would not be a roleplaying hobby and by extension there would probably not be a CCG hobby, a LARP hobby, a Games Workshop hobby or a MMORPG hobby. His impact on world hobby culture has been immense and I was pleased to see that even the BBC acknowledged it, deep deep into its pages.

I doubt there will be a Gygax backlash, not after all of the posts on the messageboards I have read. There would be a lynch mob.

I guess its really about legacy. Ledger left little legacy and what he did leave was a fleeting touch from a screen. Barron created an experience that cemented a community and despite his failings, his successes far outweighed that. Gygax was the Father of Gaming and without his inspiration the world would be a very different place today.

Watch a film, flop a card and roll a funny shaped dice and appreciate what people bring to us all - because you never know when they might not be here.

p.s. No more death posts, I promise!
p.p.s. Well, unless someone else of BotG importance dies!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Barron Vangor Toth R.I.P.

Over the weekend I discovered that my friend Barron had died of cancer, aged 34.

Barron was the co-creator of the Raw Deal CCG and was, for quite some times, essentially my 'boss' although it was a lot more complicated than that. We remained in communication for many years from my creation of Squared Circle to his seclusion during his battle with the disease.

I had to pleasure of meeting Barron four times when I was taken out to Wrestlemania to report the Raw Deal World Championships. There are many things that strike you about Barron. His size (he makes me small), his presence, his intellect, his force of personality, his beligerent attitude, his amazing self confidence for a man of his size and his sense of humour. I remember having long debates with him on wrestling, cards, comics, politics, Babylon 5 and the cultural differences between the US and the UK. I even taught him to swear in English so he could insult me correctly.

In his corner of the internet, and therefore the world, Barron was a provocative personality and earned himself as many enemies as he did friends. I have been proud to see however, tribute threads appearing on a number of websites and people putting their grudges aside to acknowledge the man who was the powerhouse behind the Raw Deal CCG.

My personal feelings on this are strange. I don't usually feel grief when people die. Even the death of my mother last year was met with a sort of stoic acceptance of reality. What I did realise at that time was that my immediate family was becoming radically smaller and smaller as the years passed, with only myself and my father remaining (and my wife and kids, obviously) and thus I combat a profound feeling of loneliness with an affirmation of the importance of my friends as an extended family.

This is the first time one of my friends has died since I was five years old. The world suddenly seems a little smaller, a little colder and a little bit more isolated.

Wherever you are now, BVT, I hope you and Canaan-Axl are happy and at peace and writing the great CCG in the sky.


CottageCon II is over!

Many years ago we suggested that it would be good if we all got away for a weekend and went to the countryside for gaming. Last year we grabbed the bull by the horns and CottageCon was born. This year we ploughed on for CottageCon II - it could have been 'that difficult second venture' but it wasn't. We had one more player, one less game and about a ton more snacks. It was great. The cottage itself, in a remote village between York and Hull, was perfect for the event with excellent facilities and more importantly a load of single beds!

The gaming was excellent - Andrews 'Spirit of the Exalted' game (he might not call it that but I do) was his now expected tour de force of high drame, epic powered, explosive action and as a self-contained experience a perfect way to visit the world of Exalted without all of the clutter that I associate with it. Matt's 'Ravenscar Manor' game of Call of Cthulhu had some excellent strong characters and was exceptionally atmospheric (especially as we were in a remote cottage in the moors at night with a gale howling around us!!) but I think we all agreed that the system sometimes doesn't help with the storytelling. My game of Pulsars and Privateers was, I believe, a qualified success for Primetime Adventures. It was definitely a very different play experience from our normal games and took a while getting used to which didn't quite give it the impact of some of the other games. However it was very pleasing to see the Khanjar in play again and to add (former) Ambassador Carabdis and Samono the Priest of the Fifth Creation to the crew.

Obviously there will be more expansion on the games in the future but I wanted to mention how valuable CottageCon is to us as a group. Rarely do we have the time to play out a game, relaxed, to the full. Rarely do we not have a pizza break. Rarely are we ever able to 'live' gaming for more than a few hours at a time and beyond the group that meets in the pub together, rarely do we get to really socialise. All of these things we did at CottageCon. It makes our gaming stronger. It gives us a chance to try something experimental and new in a safe environment. It allows us to grow together as a group of friends.

For £40 each, incl petrol, its an absolute bargain - roll on CC3 (bagsy no GMing this time!)