Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Games Chef - Cooked!

Well Games Chef is over for another year and this time I managed to submit a game! Well, sort of. Its not really a roleplaying game - more a sort of short parlour game which involves roleplaying. You can read 'Toybox of Terror' here


What was the competition like? Well it was ... OK. I have no qualms in saying that I am not going to win or even get near to winning. Not even in the same atmosphere of the winners. The game is far too simple, not straight-up and nowhere near 'indie' enough to get near as a Games Chef winner. It references the art, but it doesn't use the art in any meaningful way. Its ... there. However, the winning wasn't the point. The Super Secret Hidden Agenda was to give my brain something else to fixate upon before I start the final attack run on Duty & Honour, this week. That worked quite well, for a while, but as always real life intervened to muddle the mix.

I don't feel I was a massive part of the much vaunted Games Chef community, but then again I didn't really go out of my way to take part either. There's not really a lot of time to dedicate to your own game and other people's games as well. The feedback groups are a great idea but if you get a dud one (not that mine was, but it only really had input from three members from the six) it must be a lonely experience. Get a livewire like Jason Morningstar and well, you're going to have a very different experience!

Was it worthwhile? Sort of, yeah. Will I do it again? If the ingredients are right, its a nice mental exercise. Otherwise its like forcing out a really determined to stay turd. Will I do anything with Toybox of Terror in the future? Doubtful. I suppose it could be easily turned into some sort of multiplayer card game with barely a flick of the wrist, but thats not where I am at.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Being ... Right!

It's not often that I watch Points of View - usually because I hate the bile filled reactionary claptrap of Mrs Davies of Chippenham, complaining about a bare female ankle being shown before the watershed. In fact, I am not quite sure why I was watching it yesterday, but I was. And this was a Good Thing because I saw some Head of- woman from BBC3 announce that 'Being Human' was being commissioned as a series for BBC3. And indeed, on the BBC website, there's actual confirmation!


Being Human was one of six pilot dramas shown a couple of months ago on BBC3. Its the tale of a house-share between a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. I thought it was excellent and apparently, so did a vast number of other people because it got riotous reviews. (Obviously the guys in my previous blog-post were on their venom recycling day... *wink*)

I'm thrilled. Not only because it is a good series but because for a flicker of a second it appeared that something had gone right. Victory had been snatched away from the jaws of defeat. Something I liked was getting a break! Hurrah!

And then Songs of Praise came on. Well, you can't win them all!


Friday, April 25, 2008

In Which I Lambast the Critics! [spoilers]

Anyone that knows me will be aware that I am a glass-half-full kind of guy and I have no time for people who lambast creative work for no real reason other than they can. Its a bit of a bugbear of mine. Well today I was thrown over the edge.

The stars have come together and I am currently in genre TV nirvana. Battlestar Galactica, Dr Who and Heroes are all on at the same time. Throw in a handy re-run of The Dresden Files after BSG on Sky and I am a very happy puppy. However, it appears not everyone is in the same boat as all three shows (I've already resigned TDF as 'an acquired taste') have been greeted with a resounding 'meh' from the newspaper critics in the UK. The crunch point for me was the Metro's innane write-up for Heroes, which debuted Season 2 last night.

Apparently it was slow, dull, already out of steam and not as exciting as the climax of last season. Well no fucking shit Sherlock! What masterclass of critique did that one come from? So, lets just recap what we had last night - a slack handful of new heroes, a plague, an infiltation of The Company, a mad kid, Hiro in Japan, Claire in cheerleader outfit again, a dead Sulu, Nathan is mad, Peter has no memory, mysterious assassins and more. And thats before Psycho-Mirror Woman, I Talk to Computers Lad and the others come back into it. Isn't that enough for 45 minutes? What do you want exactly? I'd happily watch The Mr Bennett in Photocopier World show for half an hour as it was hilarious - like James Bond meets Clerks.

Dr Who has met with the same wave of 'meh'. I can understand this because well, it is a British show and it has succeeded. Therefore we are all, apparently, just DYING to see it fail. No really, we're desperate. Add to this the bonus detrimental feature of Catherine Tate (who naturally isn't playing a young, slim, attractive intelligent character and therefore just isn't right) and it is car crash TV surely? Well, no actually. Whilst I thought the first episode was rather average, the next two have been quite entertaining. Moreover, the subtext of the series is vastly different from those that have come before. In each episode Donna questions one of the fundamental 'truths' of the Who-niverse. So in the Pompei episode, she questions whether the Doctor can actually intervene in a personal timeline to save someone' life from an event that he caused. In the Ood episode she questions his detached view of things such as slavery and exploitation when he can do something about it. I can see this leading to a sea-change in the Doctors attitudes and him doing something drastic like, oh I don't know, changing the outcome of the Time War? Add into that the numerous foreshadowings of Rose's return, a smattering of Martha and a relatively short season and its very watchable. Unless you want to see buckets of FAIL!

And finally, la piece de resistance. Battlestar Galactica. Apparently its impenetrable and complicated and slow and confusing and ... oh, this is your first season of BSG is it? Some of us have been watching from the start. Some of us watched the handy recap special that aired the week before. Some of us like our drama served in a way that makes us watch and pay attention rather than being delivered on a plate. I haven't watched Eastenders for about a year but I wouldn't lambast the show because I didn't get a blow-by-blow account of the characters and their histories in every episode! There reaches a point when the old adage 'every show is someone's first' has to be replaced by 'just buy the feckin' boxed set and catch up!'. This is the last season of BSG and it will build to a final crescendo unlike any other series I can remember, except maybe Buffy. It's not to be dismissed after the first episode. Oh and if the ending of the second episode ('MILF in spaaaaaaace!') didn't throw the metaphoric cat amongst the pigeons, I don't know what will.

So there we have it - I've vented steam. Like adults who are sent to review kids movies, a TV critic without the context of a series in mind is simply going to rip it apart because it is different. In the UK it would seem, TV shows have to deal with another factor - it was always better in the past. What a load of toss.

Saturday. Sontarans. Shudder.


Monday, April 21, 2008


I am not a nervous person. My ability to be cool, calm and laid back in even the most stressful situations has been pointed out to be numerous times over the years. I was still engaged in matters of the flesh minutes before my first finals. I never flinch when walking on a stage or speaking before a large audience. Through family bereavement, loss of jobs, chaos and general confusion, I know that I keep a cool head and a sensible demeanour.

I am also chronically shy. For those of you that know me, that may seem like utter bullshit, but it is true. I find it hard to ring a taxi for fear that I will say something wrong and offend the person on the end of the phone. I almost never instigate conversation with someone I don't know. I have never chatted someone up that I didn't already know. My ability to avoid conflicts is legendary in my own head.

I have to admit that I am bricking myself about Duty & Honour. The game is so close to completion and therefore release that I can almost taste it and all that taste is doing is making me more and more nervous. I have, for a couple of moments, considered just leaving the project there as it is. There's no need to take it any further. What good will that do? Of course, that is bollocks and a total disservice to all the people who have bought into the project and of course to myself.

This isn't a cry for help or affirmation or what not. Its more just wanting to get things out into the open so that I can deal with them. I don't know whether it is confidence, fragile ego, hidden concerns or whatever, but something is nurgling away inside me about the game. Last night I had to remind myself that in the end I know at least one group of players who love it and have had a great time playing it and thats really all I have ever wanted to do with the game. It isn't going to be for everyone because of the subject matter so what the fuck?!

My problem is that I cannot juxtaposition the way I am feeling with my usual confidence and cool. I fronted up two CCGs in the UK without the slightest tremor of performance anxiety. I crisis manage every day of the working week and my work is constantly on the front line of criticism and yet, no nerves.

And yet with this, nerves by the bucket full. Maybe its just ego? Maybe its just knowing what a vicious cess pit of bile it will be released into. Maybe its just total and utter illusionary bullshit. I don't know.

Its strange. I can recognise and handle my shyness. Nerves are a new thing to me.


Iron Game Chef 2008

This is not a Game Chef...

But if it was, it would be taking part in Iron Game Chef 2008. Its the annual 'make a game in a week' competition ran by some of the guys involved in Story Games. Last year I 'tapped in' but never even started my game. Older and wiser, I've jumped in this year and I have the bare bones of something already.

Each year the competition has ingredients which the chef has to make into a game. This year the ingredients were art drawn by fellow gamers. Some were ... well, terrible. Some were almost too good to be true. Others made me feel railroaded into a certain game. There was only one set that really stood out instantly and those were the Toybox Terrors of Ashok Desai.


From them I have concocted a simple game of abuse and mental torture called 'Toybox Terrors'. In the game you play one of six toys who have realised that the next morning The Kid is going to be throwing all but one of them away. So that night the toys have to destroy each other in every way imaginable, whilst maintaining their attractiveness, so that they are the chosen toy. It's competitive, GM-less quick play stuff. I can see it being played for laughs or I can see it being played in a very black comedy-horror style. Christ, I fear for the person who brings a real childhood toy related memory to the table!

And yes, its another one of my '4xA4' sized game ideas. Easy to play, read, learn and carry for a quick fix rather than a massive campaign.

The rough first draft is http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dg7pcbmq_12rn4jk4g2

I'm not winging to win the contest, but it's nice to know that given a couple of hours thinking and a couple of number matrices I can rattle something vaguely playable out. I'll keep everyone informed as to what is going on!


How Are You?

You don't care how I am.
I don't care how you are.

Please do me the courtesy of not answering my enquiry as to your state before I have even asked, in expectation of the now ubiqitous greeting. It makes you look like the superficial idiot that you are.

Please do not sound flustered or offended when I answer your question with 'OK, but I didn't sleep too well last night and my back is giving me a little trouble, oh and I have two overdue bills as well.' You asked - I answered. Live with it.

Please do not stop in your verbal railroad tracks when I say 'Canny' rather than 'Fine, how are you?' like the rest of the braindead sheep in the telephone world.

Thank you!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Aliens! Dragons! Monkeys! ... it has to be RBH!

When last we met, the brave adventurers Garoc (Warrior), Pharos (Magus), Screwtail (Fox) and Balan (Bear) had successfully recovered the Dragonheart Emerald from the minions of the One Eyed God and were rest on their laurels in the wilderness town of F'ked

Whilst they were resting Garoc took his leave of the party to store their ill-gotten gains (the player could not attend the session) whilst the remainder drank and made merry. Their merriment was interrupted however by a massive explosion. Upon investigation the conflagration they discovered that the smithy had been totally destroyed. Smoking pair of shoes for the Blacksmith etc.

After some cursory investigation they were approached by an irate merchant who told them that the blacksmith was working some strange metal that he discovered off the Road of Broken Glass in the lands near the Crater of the Fallen God. The metal was pocked with gems and shone with a weird light and he was told by the smith that it could be made into an amazing set of armour. The merchant would gladly pay the adventurers an impressive amount of money if they were to travel to the smoking crater and retrieve more metal. How could they refuse.
Setting off they reached the Forest of the Lonely Druid by nightfall but after Screwtail pissed in the druids bed the last time they were there they decided they would camp out rather than visit. Sadly they were assailed by a pack of carnivorous semi-intelligent Iron Monkeys in the night but after a few scrapes saw them off and hightailed it out of the woods towards the crater.
They reached the crater at the dead of night but decided that they would press on, being determined adventurers - and blatantly mad. They scrambled over the rubble and pressed through the savage rocks for the rest of the night, coming across nothing except a few tribal carvings making groaning metal noises. Confused, they pressed on and at morning they reached the lip of the crater to look down and see a palace had been built there! A beautiful towering city built from strange materials and populated by genderless, featureless automatons.

They decided to approach the automatons but the workers scarpered and a ball of fire came to greet them. Sadly, Pharos had a sparker moment which the guard took as an attack, spawned into a fully fledged Fire Elemental and attacked them. There was a lot of Assisting from Screwtail and the elemental was seen off but they didn't have time to rest on their victory as they were being pressed by more guards so they barrelled into the palace, with singed tails for their troubles.

They descended down into the depths of the palace, where they encountered more automatons, weird technology and eventually an Air Elemental guard which they beat - oh, and a doorway with strange glowing lights around it. Curiosity overwhelmed the fox, who dived through causing his fellows to follow.

They appeared before more automatons - gold, silver and bronze ones - who they interrogated for a while about their purpose. They were aboard the Sky Chariot of the Great Hunter God Akuma! And yes, they were indeed, in space. Balan professed that there were no gods whilst Screwtail was adamant that the Fox god brought all good foxes a mate with many cubs. Before the philosophical debate could continue they were greeted by a human called Carin, who claimed to be the son of the Great Hunter God Akuma.

Carin explained that Akuma and his kin travelled the void hunting dragons and the Black Dragonlord Bazal had landed on this sphere. He was currently burying into the planet and when he reached a deep enough level he would lay his egg in the planet and leave. When the egg hatched the planet would be destroyed and a new dragon would be born! Akuma would stop Bezal before he could destroy the sphere. He had gone down to settle his palace and then gather forces to assault Bezal - much as Bezal would gather forces to defend his egg.

Slightly taken aback by all of this, the adventurers decided that they would leave. Fast. However Carin was quite taken with Screwtail - a species he had not seen before - and he wanted to examine him. Words like dissection were used. At this point everyone decided to fight their way out but Carin and his 20 mooks were beyond them and they were all KO'd. No-one died.
Later they were awoken to discover they Carin had examined Screwtail but he was so impressed by the Foxes art with the bow they he realised he was way beyond animal and didn't operate. Carin then confessed that he had not heard from Akuma for some time and he was concerned for his whereabouts. His sister, Darra, had decided to travel down to the sphere herself and carry on the hunt for Bezal but she would surely die.

He asked the players if THEY would find Akuma for him and tell him that his daughter had gone to finish the job he started. He promised the players riches beyond their wildest imaginations if they succeeded. Naturally, they agreed. Finally he gave them each a pendant to wear which would allow them in and out of the palace freely without troubling the elemental guards.
They travelled, with the metal they needed back to F'kd, collected their reward and then continued to the small village of Totalee. Totalee used to be part of F'kd until the Independent College of Invokers moved into it and F'ks shuffled across a little to get out of the way of the random magical explosions and sporadic mutations.

They visited the magical school (which is bigger on the outside than it is on the inside, after a particularly annoying mistake) looking for a scryer who could find the God Akuma. They went into the Scrying Tower (which is taller than it appears, but the College has never secured levitation funding). The Scrying team (wearing large lens arrays on their faces and looking through massive lens windows in their tower) placed in the rose-tinted filters and looked out for a god. Which they could not find. They looked everywhere for a number of things and could find nothing.

It was then that the players asked the scryers to look for the merchant they had been initially hired by and he was running from a giant black wyrm, attacking F'kd.

They were teleported back to F'kd (1 in 12 chance of losing a random stat for Teleport, I decided) and attacked the Wyrm, who was hammering home the message of the huge illusionary dragon in the middle of the town. 'All those who wish to live will join the army of the Black Dragonlord Bezal'

The Wyrm was a stern test of the team. Pharos couldn't hit the broadside of a barn. Screwtail lifted Balan and threw him onto the Wyrm. We had a small debate on whether a Bear with a Heavy Reach Club in a Wyrms maw was a Close or a Hazardous arena! The bear was chewed up and spat out. The Magus was clubbed down with a flick of the Wyrm's tail and finally it came to flying dogfight between Screwtail and The Wyrm, which the fox won... just.

Recovering from their injuries and watching the people of F'ked picking over the remains of the corpse, the heroes reflected on the fact that they are the only ones who know the truth about what is about to happen to their world...

Character Changes
Balan added +1 Size and gained Yari Mastery (to combine with his Heavy Reach Weapon ... ouch)Screwtail added +1 Eloquence and gained Commanding VoicePharos added +1 Stubborness and gained Enchantment

Game reflections?
It's still very fun to play and the system melts into the background pretty well. I used the 'harm' rules more this time around and they worked a treat. Balancing the monsters is still a skill that you have to learn rather than something that happens easily. Both Carin the Godspawn and The Black Wyrm were really hard work for the players but we reckoned that with the Warrior present they would have been easily overpowered (Long Shadow allowing him to tank)
we do have a situation with one of the characters, who is Screwtail the Fox. He has now taken Strategist and Commanding Voice, which allows him to use Eloquence for Assists. He now gets +8 in total to his Assist which means he can never fail to add Awesome Tokens to his party. He will never ever get involved in a combat unless he is the last person and on average he is adding 4 tokens a turn, without fail. Additionally he can fly, which means that I have to come up with some quite curious methods for people to hit him... every time.

+1/+1 Awesome tokens work fine. No problem there. Inner Fire will have to be reworked so that it mirrors the nerfing of Awesome Tokens.

Finally the monster version of Blast doesn't have any additional damage on it, so it divides 1 between the adventurers that are hit. There should be some guidance (like 'round up' or minimum of 1). It only really became useful when the monster had Awesome Tokens.
I'd also like to see a Regeneration monster power. Just a simple 'The monster regains 1 HP at the beginning of each round of combat'


Sunday, April 06, 2008


Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Hartlepool Maritime Museum including going aboard the HMS Trincomalee (a frigate built in 1817). I was never really taken to museums when I was a kid but the girls love them so they're a no-brainer for our holiday trips and naturally a proper 19thC naval fighting ship is right up my alley! The attraction itself was remarkably, a full afternoon's entertainment. There was a good number of highly detailed harbour shops with loads of stuff to do and read in them, a short film about being pressganged, a really quite impressive tour called 'Fighting Ships' and naturally, the ability to wander around the Trincomalee herself. And you could wander everywhere - the Captain's cabin, the Ward room, the tiny magazine room, the huge hold. It was brilliant!

And of course it got me thinking about some of the changes that I will have to make when I convert Duty & Honour to Hearts of Oak. One of the major challenges will be that the disciplinary divide onboard a ship is far bigger and stricter than in the army. I suspect that the Captain will remain a NPC role. I'm toying with the idea of a wholly midshipman and lieutenant 'party' or a wholly seaman party, or even troupe play. However, I am also aware that I want to differentiate the game from In Harms Way as well. On the more positive side, the place that the ship takes, akin to the regiment in D&H, is even stronger and naturally the breadth of the adventures to be had is even more varied. The character generation will have to be broadened as well to cover a lot more nationalities, which will test the system to its limits. The stuff I have added to the Expanded Skirmish rules will act as a model for ship-to-ship combat, which is something that I am quite excited about.

All in all, it's going to be a bit of a challenge, but one that I am looking forward to embracing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


As some of you might know, I have a simpleton's fascination with collaborative technology. I don't think I'm particularly good at it but it sits out of my reach like a beautiful siren, calling to me.

I think part of the impetus has been that I have been part of so many collaborative projects in the past. I never did archive fanfiction - I jumped straight into the wacky world of shared universe chronological fanfiction. Essentially setting up a faux comics publishing company. Its a lot more work than just writing some fanfic - there are release schedules, editors, continuity and web presence to consider. Back in the day, the coordination of these things was a nightmare. How much easier it would have been with a wiki and a Facebook Page.

Every week I seem to discover a new Google toy to play with. Google documents are a really interesting way of document sharing, Google calendar sort of works, but like so many other things it only works when everyone uses it. Google Alert is amazing when you want to know what people are saying about something on the web. GTalk (the instant messaging function of Gmail) is really useful as it is a messenger that you can have on any PC, wherever you can log-on.

Of course, there is always something in the back of my head that is crying 'tech for tech's sake!'. For years our gaming group has managed to get by using a messageboard, the pub and the worlds most elaborate IM system (some people call it World of Warcraft...). However I can't help thinking that there is a gaming solution out there that can use these new collaborative technologies and bring them together to enhance and enrich the gaming experience.

The question is, what is it?

The no-brainer would be a wiki or a set of Google documents that would hold collaborative world data for your campaign. If a player wanted to add something, it goes into the shared documents and is approved by the GM. A Google calendar can be added, not for the group's timeline, but for the game's timeline. Could the social aspects of Facebook somehow be brought in to allow for some sort of bluebooking affair online? What sort of game could use access to Youtube videos or Flickr photo archives to it's benefit?

Could this open your game up to more participants? I remember the nature of the old Chains of Steel vampire larp I was part of and wonder how that would have used this new technology? The LARPers played the national politics out and that formed the backdrop to the on-the-table game. How would that work now with the possibility of international participants having a real impact and adding that extra layer to the gaming experience?

And the greater question - would this media rich gaming experience actually deliver anything more satisfying that you would get from pen and paper and a bit sheaf of loose leafed notes?

It fascinates me. I'm pretty certain it can only be of value in a game which is longer term and greater depth than some of the ones that we have been playing recently (Pendragon excepted, obviously) but it would be a case of making the technology fit the game rather than the game fit the technology...