Wild Tangents

Lost the thread of RPGaDay, yet again. Time has moved on and now social media is all about moving from, you know, that place, to somewhere else. In case it all burns down in a fit of pique.

This is just a test of a thing: Mastodon

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RPGaDay2022: Day 10 (late)

The question was: When did/will you start Gamemastering?

I was a GM within days of getting D&D, as far as I remember how it went. Things were a bit shambolic to begin with, and then there was a bit of a break where I didn’t do much GM-ing at all for various reasons. And by bit of a break I mean it was probably years, as I was just a player for a while in various groups. The second game I ran after D&D was probably the original Judge Dredd RPG, which I’ve just remembered was the next game I bought after Maelstrom.

stock image, no idea where my copy is and this seems to be a hardcover book rather than the box of stuff I bought

I’ve just remembered designing a whole Mega City One sector featuring slightly off-the-wall Judges, lots of mysterious goings-on and multiple cross-overs with other games. Odd.

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RPGaDay2022: ‘This is me in day nine, baby (this is me in day nine)’

Today’s question: What is the 2nd RPG you bought?

It was MAELSTROM, a reasonably obscure release from the early days, written by (then teenager) Alexander Scott and released by Puffin Books in 1984 as part of the same line as the Fighting Fantasy game books and such like. Maelstrom was set in a vaguely 16th/17th century milieu, and featured nobles, mercenaries, priests and the like; not to mention herbalists and folks who could work magic to shift the world to their own liking. Sort of a proto-Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I guess.

As a book format game, it had the benefit of being sold in my local newsagents/stationers shop Stewart Millers, which is where I saw the tremendous cover and had to buy the game/book.

stock image, can’t find my copy at the moment

To be fair, I only ran combat trials with it a couple of times, and don’t think I ever ran it as an actual game, but I remember it fondly. Great setting, interesting magic system, very dangerous combat.

The whole thing has expanded since then and all of it is still available in PDF format for anyone interested in something a bit different.

Way back then I had the benefit of being part of a group that owned a lot of RPGs, so I mostly just had to turn up. Aside from some AD&D bits and bobs, I think the next RPG I bought after Maelstrom was probably Cyberpunk 2020 in 1988. Or maybe Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in 1986? I could be wrong. It’s so long ago I can’t remember half of what we played.

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RPGaDay2022: Day 8

Interesting question this one: Who introduced you to RPGs?

As I mentioned before, I discovered RPGs by reading advertisements, buying D&D and then just flailing around with that for a couple of years and running various trial combats and also Dungeon Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Midjourney tries for The Keep on the Borderlands. Gets close.

I met some other gamers in a local shop, or rather I asked the bloke behind the counter if they knew anyone who played D&D and they did. After four or five years of just that particular group, and some friends of friends, things expanded a little with the QUB gaming society and people heading off and starting their own little groups in various places, myself included. So, certainly so far as I remember it, RPGs just kind of happened, and then I went looking for others who played. And found my people.

the list of prompts that I keep forgetting to add

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RPGaDay2022: Day 5/6/7

Playing catch-up, as is traditional, and on to day five, Friday’s question, which was: Why will they like this game?

It’ll be fun. Simple as that really. I mean, I presume they understand the general idea of RPGs, of what they’re getting into by showing up. The first game will be not too taxing stuff — maybe with pre-gen characters, maybe not — where the characters have to find this, stop that, rescue the whoever. Adventure, excitement, and really wild things. What’s not to like?

Day six, Saturday’s question: How would you get more people playing RPGs?

Tough one. I’m not sure there are many people who are unaware of RPGs at the moment, as they seem to be getting into more and more ‘general culture’ spaces these days. I think if I really wanted to give them a boost I’d maybe try for a big budget, star-name action adventure movie that shares the name of one of the main RPG systems. That might work?

Day seven, System Sunday: Describe a cool part of a system that you love.

If you’ve read any of my previous years of RPGaDay (I figure there’s bound to be one) then you probably already know I’m not that focused on systems. I’m more concerned with background, setting, genre, overall vibes, you know? I like a system that doesn’t get in the way. That said, there are bits and pieces of various systems that I do like.

For example:

The ‘tags’ for gear in the slow-dying-Earth environments of Apocalypse World are a neat aspect of the rules. They can be mechanical (eg combat rules stuff like armour piercing, amount of damage), constraints on how an item is used (takes time, needs to be close etc), or merely cues that suggest something to be said about the item (it’s big, it’s high-tech). Take for instance a revolver, rated in the game as “2-harm, close reload loud” – which describes the damage it does, the range, that it needs reloading, the fact that it’s not subtle. Say it’s a revolver with a scope on it and that adds ‘+far’ to the range options, meaning you can hit stuff further away. If you want it to be ornate, that adds ‘+valuable’ to the weapon – maybe it’s a particularly shiny example of the type.

It’s easy to come up with any amount of makeshift and custom weapons for your post-apocalyptic wanderings, simply by saying you want a big, messy, loud, bladed nightmare, or whatever else comes to mind.

I also like the dice mechanic that I think I first encountered in Amazing Tales, which is that there’s a single target score of ‘3 or more’ for everything, and what changes is the level of skill your character is using, represented by different dice. So if you’re playing a swashbuckling pirate, your sword skill may be a D12 but your horse-riding might be D6. You still have to get three plus whether you’re rolling to win a duel against an angry duke, or stealing a horse and fleeing the town.

In fact, I liked this mechanic so much I used a variation of it for Decadence, my game with vampires in it. Indeed I said much the same thing back when I was talking about that.

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RPGaDay2022: Day 4

I expect this will be a short one (cue inevitable rambling), in answer to the question: Where would you host a first game?

Somewhere quiet, with a table.

Over the years I’ve typically gamed (played and run) in people’s houses. So there’s been a lot of ’round the kitchen table’ stuff. Once upon a time I was part of a weekly RPG thing at the Dragonslayers gaming group at QUB in Belfast…but that was way-back-when and these days I prefer something a bit more…if not private then at least less actively loud and busy. A library would seem ideal if they have the room(s).

Which is not to say I don’t like running games at cons – and I’ve done that many times, with varying degrees of success over the years. It’s just that for a stable, ongoing gaming night, and especially for a first time game, tables to set all your stuff on are great. Essential even.

And, again, it’s not like I haven’t played or run games when everyone has been sitting around a room in comfortable chairs. But it’s not the same. I think you need the demarcation, the creation of a ‘space for gaming’.

Also, if the ‘new gamer’ is someone the group already knows, then I guess we could just stick with bringing them into the group at whatever location we normally play, otherwise, maybe go back to a gaming group for the initial sessions, while everyone gets to know each other. Even if that does involve someone shouting their way through Tomb of Horrors two tables over.

There’s a whole other aspect to this question and I did muse for a bit on the idea of maybe running a first game in a castle, or a haunted house, or perhaps an abandoned fairground on a pier. On reflection though I suspect that might be trying too hard, and in danger of overwhelming the point of the gaming session. It is tempting though. Maybe one day…

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RPGaDay2022: Day 3

Today’s question–which I had prepared for and yet somehow still ended up leaving to the last minute–is this: When were you first introduced to RPGs?

Initially I would have said it was around 1981, but checking the dates of various relevant things, it seems more likely that it was sometime in 1982 that I actually got my hands on a copy of an RPG and commenced playing.

The concept of RPGs came slightly earlier, in the form of advertisements in a UK science-fiction/fantasy/movie magazine called STARBURST (still going strong to this day, albeit after a slight break in the early 2000s). I remember ads for D&D, but oddly the one I recall most clearly (scientists fleeing from something awful) was for “Attack of the Mutants”, which was apparently a board game and not an RPG at all.

In summer ’82 I worked in a shop in a forest park, and used some of my wages to buy the 1981 Moldvay variant boxed set of Basic D&D. Which looks like this:

Classic Erol Otus cover (my copy doesn’t look anywhere near this good)

I then attempted to run Basic D&D for a couple of friends. With variable results. But obviously something went right because I’ve not stopped running games since.

Oddly, I also remember the influence of ET: The Extraterrestrial, a book about RPGs called What is Dungeons & Dragons?, and the first Fighting Fantasy book, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but looking back those all seem to have appeared after I’d already bought and started playing D&D, so… shrug :-/

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RPGaDay2022: Day 2

Scraping in under the wire (depending on time zone) for day two of this thing, and the question was: What is a great introductory RPG?

Most recently I’ve used AMAZING TALES and HERO KIDS; both are simple systems that are easy to pick up and play, and both are mainly aimed at getting kids involved in RPGS.

My own kids enjoyed them both, and whilst the older ones have since moved on to other more complicated systems with their own groups, the youngster still enjoys the occasional game of Hero Kids (when not distracted by Minecraft or some other electronic entertainment).

Obviously, for the older potential gamer, I’d be more inclined to run something like Call of Cthulhu: it’s a pretty solid basis for a beginners’ game–especially if you play dilettantes and academics, just ‘helping out a friend’–as long as you don’t rush headlong into the non-euclidean geometries and SAN loss. There’s even a starter set now with pre-gen characters. There’s a similar thing with Runequest, but it might be a touch overwhelming for a first game.

I should probably mention Broken Rooms, a game about variant worlds and multiple disasters. Players start as ordinary people facing terrible events, and then find out they’re not so ordinary people after all.

Maybe even Electric Bastionland, which starts strange from the off but has a fantastic style and sense of place: that place being a bizarre, new-weird, last-city-standing metropolis with a heavy dying earth kind of vibe over everything.

Any game could be a fine starting point. It all depends on the group, which is true for everything RPG related really: what does the group want, what are they expecting, how can you best provide that so everyone has fun.

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RPGaDAY2022: Day 1

In which I stumble over my plans to do this ‘properly’ this year…after an extended break…and instead just post some random thoughts.

First question was: Who would you like to introduce to RPGs?

Everyone, basically. Which is a glib and obvious answer I guess, but I do believe they are a tremendous entertainment, education and maybe, if we’re lucky, enlightenment. Who wouldn’t benefit from a more advanced form of “Let’s pretend”?.

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Killing Rune – My Black Library Submission 2018

Fresh off the rejection train from Blacklibraryville, and here submitted for your approval, my pitch for the open door, and the 500 words of example writing.

First up, the opening pitch, comprising at most a couple of sentences that nevertheless fully encapsulate every element of the excitement, action and adventure that I’m trying to get across; outlining the situation, the protagonists, the goals and the consequences of failure. No pressure there.

KILLING RUNE is the Saint-Nazaire commando raid, in space. Chaos tainted interstellar pirates plot to unleash daemonic forces from within the wandering moon base they call Rune, and when these pirates emerge from hiding in a backwater, best forgotten system, only Kale von Balen, disgraced planetary defence officer, is there to stand in their way. With Imperial support still sectors distant, Kale leads an improvised assault group on a could-be-suicide collision course mission to avert disaster, repair a tattered reputation, and destroy the pirate moon.

As might be obvious from that, I got the idea from the Second World War combined operations mission against Saint-Nazaire, known as Operation Chariot. A bold as brass raid on the only dry dock capable of servicing the German warship Tirpitz, Operation Chariot involved ramming a boat full of explosives into the dock gates at Saint-Nazaire. And that was just the start of the operation. I thought it might be interesting to recreate this kind of daredevil exploit in terms of Warhammer 40K and the eternal struggle against Chaos. 

Along with the pitch, Black Library wanted some words to show that you could string a sentence together. I’m fairly happy with what I wrote for this part, although to be honest I endlessly tweak my writing so I’d probably go over this a few more times if it was going anywhere.

Anyway, here is the opening section, introducing the main character, and suggesting the operation ahead:

On the first morning, Kale had the non-coms bring their candidates out to the training camp at Kerrows’ Barracks. Put them through their paces and let Kale see what they had to work with sort of deal.

The camp had acres of assault courses, cross-country tracks, firing ranges and tunnel-trench systems for practicing attack-and-defence in field conditions. The whole place blanketed by cameras and sensors, monitored from a command centre in a grey-block building beyond the distant trees and far from the action. Kale ignored the high-tech trappings; better to see the dirt and smoke of the live fire lanes. You needed to breathe in the aggression and the fury.

Meeks, local boy, stood with Kale on the side-lines, holding a sheaf of flimsy papers in one gloved fist. Now and then, Kale heard Meeks reacting, trying to be quiet but not doing well. Intake of breath. Click of teeth. Unit Two, hammering down a narrow defile between two bunkers when a servitor gun-carriage popped from the mud and tagged them all. That drew a snort from Meeks.

“I asked for the best,” Kale said. “For the insertion group, I mean. For the tip of the spear. Didn’t I?”

Meeks directed his reply more at his boots than to his commanding officer. “I ain’t saying they’re not rusty, boss.”

“What are you saying, exactly?”

Kale looked out across the mock-battle ground. Unit Five now making a shameful fist of whatever it was they were meant to be doing…

The snap-snap-snap of heavy projectile weapons echoed off the high dirt berms surrounding countless separate attacks and counters. Here and there the crackle of lasgun blasts. Twists of pale smoke drifted over the confusion.

“The thing is,” Meeks explained. “Planetary Defence Forces, they tend to fight on planets, right. Strongholds. Surfaces.”

“I think I remember that from Basic, yes.”

“What I mean, boss, is,” Meeks carried on. “They don’t go looking for trouble.”

Now and then, however, trouble shows up at your door, Kale thought.

“Have they seen space combat. At all?”

Meeks may have been tutting at this point. A masterful selection of noises the man produced. Truly a marvel for the ages.

“Outside of vid. Very few,” Meeks said.

No surprises. “They’ve had the training? Simulators, virtuals, gone up the ladder and such?”

“Absolutely, boss.” Meeks rustled papers for a moment, shifted some things around. “Orffen, Chale and Hepping. All scored very high.”

If Kale was not mistaken, Orffen was the current play-dead leader of Unit Two. Perhaps near-zero grav would prove to be her natural habitat.

Kale took a last look. “It is what it is.”

“Boss?” said Meeks.

“It’ll have to do,” Kale said. “Get them sorting their equipment, light order, whilst I go talk to Hengel about the ship.”

“Hengel?” Meeks said. “You’ll be wanting Jantis, right enough. Best pilot this side of Saldani.”

Shake of the head from Kale. “I don’t expect Hengel to fly the Cathama. I want him to make it explode.”

So there you have it. My unsuccessful attempt at getting to write 40K fiction. I look forward to trying again the next time the door is open.

This is of course unofficial and not endorsed by GW or Black Library in any way and, looking at it now, it may in fact not mention anything 40K specific at any point. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong… 😀

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