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.