I am a bit of a system tart, always attracted by the new. And of course my current favourite, Coriolis, isn’t that old. So what games, even if not my favourite, have stayed with me. Traveller is like a comfortable old shirt. I can just slip it on, pull a character together, and slip into the Imperium, even though I have not played it for years now. I can play with anyone. I think the current integration (2nd Edition Mongoose, not T5) is the perfect distillation of decades of rulesets.
Pendragon is a game that I have played a single campaign of, for over 30, getting on for 40 years. I love it’s generational scope. RuneQuest or rather Glorantha is a world that inspired me 40 years ago, but I only got to experience it properly recently.
But my true love is Coriolis and I guess it stays with me because about five years ago, I started a podcast about it. I am kind of committed.
I want to let my British readers (or those that can travel) in on a little secret. D&D in a Castle is all very well, but for the price of that event, you can play all sorts of your favourite games in lots of evocative locations. The Lamdmark Trust a conservation charity saves builds ing by turning them into holiday cottages.
On my fiftieth birthday I ran Nights Black Agents for a group of friends at Goddards, an Arts and Crafts house in Surrey. This is one of the most popular houses on the list and phenomenally expensive. A once in a lifetime experience. But other places are cheaper, especially in winter. They are not to cold and many have huge open fires to play games by.
Manor Farm is cheap enough to be an annual occasion for us. But there are other places too and I have just selected few that are big enough to rub games in.
A Victorian fort that I stayed in for an earlier birthday. Lots of tunnels to explore.
Woodspring Priory is another place I stayed in. We didn’t play an RPG there but being of a certain generation, but we did run around playing “war”, shooting each other with finger guns. It also has loads of hiding places for the best game of hide and seek ever.
A lighthouse on an island I didn’t stay here, but in another place on the island. It’s cheaper in winter, but they discount is offset by having to go there by helicopter. None of the places below are places I have stayed, but if you want to play D&D in a Castle, or Horror on the Orient Express in a railway station these are places you might consider.
Well, my favourite game in Coriolis, that that is set in the future. But there is more to talk about here. I would assume that, given the prominence of D&D, and fantasy gaming in general, that “the past” would be the expected most popular answer. But are fantasy games set in the past? Just because they use mostly medieval technologies it doesn’t mean they are historical. Indeed some, like Numanera are explicitly set in the far future.
I have already said that fantasy settings are my least favourite, but historical settings can be fun. Again, I have already said that I am less keen on supernatural elements in those historical settings, but Vaesen is a favourite, because the supernatural elements are not necessarily the antagonists. Indeed they are often a symptom of human activity in the area. For this reason, if I had to have magical elements in the past, Vaesen would be the game I choose.
I am more relaxed about supernatural elements in present day games. My favourite present day game though, is Unknown Armies, where the supernatural is broadly all the fault of normal, broken, people trying to make the world a better place. So it’s still not externalised, it is still all about people. That said I also love Night’s Black Agents where it is clearly all the fault of vampires. And I am looking forward to giving Rivers of London a try.
But the future is where most of the games I play find a home. Be it Traveller, 2300AD, Firefly and now Coriolis. The beautiful thing about sci-fi is that it can be influenced and product of the past and the present.
When Dave and I recorded answers to these questions for our podcast I flippantly said that my perfect games was the one we have written and are looking into publishing. But it’s not so flippant, in creating Tales of the Old West (still possibly a working title), Dave and I really have made the game we want to play – even where the game each of us wanted to play might differ.
So why is Tales of the Old West a perfect game for me?
Firstly it is not about supernatural creatures. For a long long time I have resented how RPGs create some sort of evil “other” as an antagonist. I have always much preferred games where the “evil” is in competing human (or whatever you are playing) agendas. I like my roleplaying to be people vs. people. I don’t want my game to be Cowboys vs. Vampires, or Cowboys vs. Zombies, or Aliens or Werewolves.
Of course one of the reasons why Old West style games create supernatural antagonists is because in the actual history of the west the antagonists were white folk, moving Native Americans on, or killing them, and claiming their land in the name of Manifest Destiny. We are not looking to re-create this with our game, but we don’t want to ignore it either. So our game is about people seeking, and coming to conflict over, opportunity. The antagonists are the environment, capital, and other people.
Our original intention has been to to create a Hex Crawl system to emulate long journeys like the Oregon trail or the cattle drive in Lonesome Dove, but we soon realised that we were most inspired by the development of the town in Deadwood, and especially the resentment of the “civilisation” that comes with development. The Capital mechanic tries to represent that dichotomy – what seems a tool to abstract cash in larger transactions and offer PCs a sort of “credit rating” can work against the PCs too, when a robber baron NPC arrives to buy the characters out of their farm (or whatever) to make way for his railway.
The other thing we want to do is show the diversity of the west. We have two methods of character generation, a quick archetype based system and a more rewarding life-path style random generator, both systems attempt to represent the diverse backgrounds of the people who worked in the west.
Have we got all this right? To be honest, only some of our patrons have seen it sofar. You can too if your join our Patreon at Stationary or Privileged level. I doubt it is the perfect game. But right now, it is my perfect game.
I have had the pleasure of playing RPGs with a number of GMs, all of very different styles but all great fun to play with. Andy Brick was, a stalwart GM through what many would call their “dark- or ice-age” – when the teen group scatters around the country and many RPGers find themselves playing not all. Through sheer force of will he kept a group going, inviting us to his house to play Traveller or a World of Darkness campaign. His style was very responsive to players, which was good because we would often “turn left” and do something he had not expected, but he improvised very well and good times were had by all.
The other Andy in our group, Gibbs, does not run often, but he runs well, especially when there a historical aspect to our adventures. His Dark Ages version of Pendragon ran for over 30 years.
More recently (though before lockdown) I have been playing RuneQuest under Nick Brooke, who has been involved in the RQ scene for years, and is now the the Community Ambassador for Chaosium’s Jonstown Compendium. During our campaign, we were playtesters for officially published adventures as well and Jonstown Compendium stuff by Nick himself, but whatever he is running, he runs with the enthusiasm of a teenager and the deep deep knowledge of the oldest of old grognards. It’s a wild ride.
Even more recently I have had the joy of playing games with a global community of GMs from among our patrons, Craig, Thomas, Paul and Toby have all thrilled me with they mastery of the games that ran. Calling out Red Markets, Tachyon Squadron andHarlem Unbound
Even my podcasting partner Dave is an adequate GM.
All of them I would play with like a shot. And many more than I have not called out here (it’s late and my battery is dying). But I feel this call to action seeks a never before played with GM.
In 2020 I ran a panel for the Virtual UK Games Expo, and had the real pleasure of working with B Dave Walters. I would love to play in a game run by him.
Well thank the Icons! One rolled, plus one equals two. Just two games to recommend and two friends to tag. My mate Nick Brook, my RuneQuest GM is not huge fan of games by Robin D Laws, so I am going to recommend Laws’ Hillfolk, which I think is the most distilled version of his gaming philosophy.
And while in that circle, my mate Chris Gidlow introduced Nick and I and he hates Dice Pool games. So to him I recommend Alien of course.
I think the real difference between when I started playing RPGs and now is that back then, nobody (except a very few thousand people in the whole world) actually knew what an RPG was. Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago my kids were playing with Lego. They had each built a small community of figures (and their houses), who were “mining” the pile of Lego and trading bricks with each other. Eventually a disagreement led to a declaration of hostilities between the two communities, and then between the two children as one of them claimed the other’s action (I can’t recall the specifics) was unfair.
At this point I intervened, explaining that when there is a disagreement in “grownups’ games of let’s pretend” they often roll dice to work out who’s idea gets into the story. And soon I was explaining the basics of Fate Accelerated.
I didn’t create two gamers then. Yes we played a few actual games. But my daughter didn’t carry on. The boy retains an interest, but it’s not as all consuming as it was for me. But what’s important is that it was for him and his sister, presented as something “normal” like, for example, playing an instrument, or football.
Laying games was fun when I was a kid, but as teenagers, my friends and I suffered mockery and bullying from our peers. I could have done without that. And it seems this generation of gamers don’t suffer the same derision.
Start? When you put it like that it makes me think I never started. I was always roleplaying. I was a soldier on the playground, I was a trader in my friends shed, I was a superhero as I walked out of class, I was a starship captain as I sat on the bog.
All RPGs did was add the Gaming, the rolling of dice, the determining success. And all that stuff I did as a kid. I still do it now, even when I am not gaming.
Burn the land and boil the sea, You can’t take the sky from me,
There’s no place, I can be, Since I’ve found Serenity
The Ballad of Serenity, lyrics by Joss Whedon
I thought this might be hard, but my Co-host Dave knew the answer. And I am there. If anyone argues that both of us can’t live in the ‘Verse, then I call dibs. I was the first one raving about Firefly to my friends. It’s said that Joss Whedon based it in part upon a Traveller RPG he ran or played in when he was at school in London. I have no idea if that’s true but when Jayne tried to take over the ship in the second pilot, The Train Job, I immediately recognised John Learner, a regular mutineer with ambitions of leadership in our Traveller campaigns.
There have been two official Firefly RPGs, both from Margaret Weiss Productions. The first was Serenity based on the movie if that name. The second, and my favourite was Firefly. But many other games, including Orbital Blues, and even Coriolis have been influenced by it. And between the Serenity and Firefly RPGs I also converted an adventure I had designed for Serenity to Traveller and then Savage Worlds.
It’s such a pity that Joss turns out to have indulged in some shameful behaviours, especially around women. But I love Firefly, love the ‘Verse, and I won’t let the collaborative efforts of the team behind the show VE forgotten because of accusations against one individual, even if he was a main creative force.
One point though. When Dave suggested living in the verse, he pictured himself on the Serenity with the crew. Don’t kid yourself Dave, if you were that sort of person you would be on an Alaskan crab fishing boat even now. You, and I, would be safety coddled on one of the Alliance core worlds. One of the things I love about the ‘Verse is that the creators never intended the Alliance to be an evil empire. Yes people did bad things in the Alliance’s name, but people on the other side did bad things too.
So, you can:
Take me out to the black, Tell them I ain’t comin back.
I can’t remember, seriously, it was over 40 years ago. But this question makes me think about that time a can’t remember and what it might be like to start GMing now. The more interesting question is, was is easier to start GMing then? Or is it easier now?
On one hand, nowadays we have all sorts of Actual Plays and GMing advice available on YouTube and excellent podcasts which I didn’t have back in 1979 or whenever it was. I had a copy of White Dwarf, if I was lucky. A counter argument to that is the excellent quality of GMing from the likes of Matt Mercer might put people off GMing. I don’t accept that, and if there is any truth in it all all, then I point out that my own decidedly non-Mercerish amateur shite GM style is also available on the You Tube. And my Co-host Dave is even worse! (I am contractually obliged to say that.)
A more insidious threat to new GMs confidence could in fact be the quality and quantity of pre-published adventures and scenarios. I heard anecdotally of a group that only played published adventures. “Back in my day” most new GMs were encouraged to create their own dungeons (or whatever), if only by a lack of pocket money. But even then, within the clique that are our Patrons on the podcast, I am not seeing any reluctance of have a go at creation.
And of course they now have channels to distribute their creations around the globe.
So it’s easier I conclude, to start GMing nowadays, but I will admit, it still isn’t easy. well done to any new GMs about to take the plunge.