Pulham MarCon

A month ago, I sat down in our hired cottage, and started writing this. I never quite finished it. Or rather, I did finish it eventually, but never actually posted it. So, to round out the year, I’m putting it on-line just over a month late.

A week before DragonMeet, I’m at a smallest “convention” I’ve ever attended. It’s Sunday morning (as I’m writing – you won’t see this until I get back home, there is no WiFi here) and I’m sitting in the cosy lounge reflecting on games played so far, and games still to play. Since arriving on Friday evening, I’ve played seven and a half hours of Coriolis, and seven and a half hours of Pendragon. Which isn’t bad, especially when you consider that we’ve also enjoyed a four mile walk and a lovely pub lunch.

Of course it is’t really a convention. It’s four of us renting a lovely cottage, near Pulham Market in Norfolk, to play games all weekend. And the cottage is lovely, it’s a thatched vernacular farmhouse built around 1580, the parlour I’m in right now was, it’s thought, added shortly after 1643. There isn’t a level floor anywhere in the house. Two fireplaces share the chimney, meaning we can have a blazing log fire in the parlour and in the dinning hall beyond, which, with a long oak table, makes a perfect gaming room.

Over the weekend, we’ve seen: the crew of the Mukafa’a get into serious trouble, trying to steal a book from a library in Coriolis; the High King of Britain and his knights rescuing his son from the witch Guinevere in Pendragon; Potboy and Radish helping Grendel recover his patent’s hearts from the underground threshold to a lost city in Symbaroum; and, three low ranking Samurai get a job from the Emperor herself in Legend of the Five Rings. We each took a turn running a game, and we all agreed that there was particular pleasure and reward gained from the residential experience. Each game had time to breathe without us feeling we’d have to wrap up in time for three of us to get home in the evening. To give an example, for various reasons we started the first game a little later than intended on Friday evening. That game went on till about midnight, then all through Saturday morning, until we broke for lunch after rolling initiative for the only combat. We walked a couple of miles to a pub for lunch. Then after walking back got into the fight, which turned out to be the climatic scene of the adventure. All in all, about seven hours of gameplay, but with no-one reaching for their phones (the signal is very poor) or getting uncomfortable in their seats.

Would we do it again? Hell yeah! We’re already planning another weekend next year.

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The results are in

A while back, we offered listeners of the Coriolis Effect a chance to shape the show in 2018 by answering some questions in a simple on-line survey. Given that 2018 is just a few days away, I have closed the survey and started to to look at the results.

First of all we asked listeners to rank the various elements of what we’ve done so far, in order of their favourite to least favourite. Some people don’t like that question because it forces them to make choices when they might like two or more things “about the same”. But I like the question because it forces people to make choices. However it was great to glace at the table of results and to see that pretty much every element was somebody’s favourite, that pretty much every element was somebody’s least favourite too shows me that our “magazine” style format seems to have something for everybody. Nothing came out as heavily disliked.

Averaging out the rankings, the most popular bits are what we call “Horizon fluff”, new locations, characters, ships etc. So we’ll endeavour to produce more of that. Second came our middle-of-the-podcast discussion topics, followed by mine and Dave’s banter, which is good to hear. We enjoy chatting on the podcast, but there’s a deep seated fear I think we both share, that no-one could enjoy listening to us. So its good to see that fear is unfounded. In the middle of the popularity league, separated by only one point, are our house rules and campaign reports. Then come three tied topics: Talent of the Episode; Interviews; and, Wider World of Gaming, but its worth pointing out that this is on average, some listeners rate one of these there as their favourite element of the show. The least popular element in 2017 was Players in the Hamam, which was the only one not be ranked as somebody’s favourite. But even that is not for the chop as it was one listener’s second favourite, and by no means the element that got the most “least favourite” rankings. Incidentally, w also asked later in the survey whether there was anything listeners would like to hear less of. Only a few people ticked anything. Just one person on a few items, and at most three people (for The Wider World of Gaming, and Talent of the Episode segments). So its all good.

Ninety-three percent of correspondents thought the length of our episodes was “about right”, so no changed required there.

But we did ask about change. We put some thoughts on how the podcast might develop, and asked how keen our listeners were for each change. Of the four options we offered for each, only one was entirely negative (“I’d prefer not”). A few of our suggestions had no dissenting thoughts: Publishing more regularly every three weeks; and more interviews with both players around the world and creators. Of those, more interviews with creators was the most popular improvement we could make. There are a couple more of the Fria Ligan team we didn’t see in Sweden that we’ll have to grab for an interview.

The least popular developments were: going weekly (thank god! I’m not sure we could); and expanding to cover RPGs in general, which as some correspondents said, might rob us of our “USP”.  There was some demand for more actual plays, but not as part of the main programme. We do have a couple of recording waiting to be edited into actual plays, but I think we’ll need to improve our recording equipment if we want to do more, as improving sound quality was also quite popular.

We also asked about whether listeners would support the ‘cast through Patreon or similar. The response was broadly positive (only two people said “no”), but not massively enthusiastic. Given the recent kerfuffle over Patreon changing their terms, we’re not eager to jump in that pool, ourselves.

Finally we asked about our listeners. Most the respondents were male, aged between 25 and 54, and with university degree or higher. Sweden was the location of the highest number of respondents, with the UK and USA tied in second place, then Germany. But people also replied from Denmark, France and Japan, which is cool.

The RPG Crowd 4

The big RPG campaign launch since last time I looked at Kickstarter is 7th Sea: Khitai, from John Wick, the man (and company) that brought us possibly the most successful RPG Kickstarter ever last year, the relaunch of 7th Sea itself. I kicked in for that (PDF only) and the flow of books arriving in my inbox after that has been astonishing. John Wick was one of the brains behind the Legend of the Five Rings role-playing game, at it was said that the original 7th Sea was what t(e world outside Rokugan was like. Now the two IPs are entirely separate, and Khitai is the oriental half of the second edition’s world. It’s not just a sourcebook however, it’s a game in its own right even though it shares a system. You need nothing else to play. 

I don’t normally feature setting books in this survey, but another famous name coming to Kickstarter is worth a mention, especially when it’s Frank Mentzer, author of D&Ds redbox edition, sharing his own campaign world with stats for ten systems. 

Worlds of Empyrea isn’t doing quite as well as Frank may have hoped though. Only just over 600 backers have contributed so far, and he’s still way off his $250,000 was target. 

A more modest target of a few dollars under $5,000 has been reached for Heavy Metal Thunder Mouse. It’s about Mouse Biker Gangs (obviously), and mashes Fate and Powered by the Apocalyse mechanics together , which surely is a thing we’ve waited too long to see happen. 


We’re big on Zombies this month, with The Living, Ruins of Humanityand Outbreak: Undead competing for the KS dollar. Of the two, Outbreak, which is actually raising funds for second edition is more successful – it’s almost three times it target and still has a month to run. Outbreak has a reputation for its mechanics that represent not some ex-Navy Seal* as your character, but you. Not an idealised version of you either, but you, now, warts and all. They even have an on-line questionnaire to help you translate yourself into game mechanics. 

Another second edition campaign, that’s going a lot less well, is The Fade. Just three backers so far – I guess the first edition didn’t manage to create many fans. 

If surperheroes are your RPG drug, then AMP: Year Four might mainline your need. I think it’s a stand-alone ruleset, but the fourth in a series that has unlocked over the years a long  campaign.

Then, there’s Gobblin’: The Goblin RPG, which is a game … erm … about Goblins. Post-apocalyptic goblins, mark you. It’s a modest goal, and they are a third of the way there, with most of the month still to go. 

Similarly a third of the way towards their goal, with 28 days to go, is Aliens and Asteroids, which despite its OGL sounding name, offers a streamlined mechanic for space horror. (Not as streamlined, I’ll bet, as the space horror game I played last night, which featured just the wounds and a d6 (with an advantage/disadvantage mechanic. It was great … but I digress). Let’s looking at it, this game is almost as streamlined, with a hint of Symbaroum to it. I wish them well. 

But I’m not spending my money on any of that, I pledged my money already, on Forbidden Lands. In fact, stop reading this, there are only 100 minutes left, go PLEDGE YOUR MONEY on Forbidden Lands, NOW!

*Unless of course you are an ex-Navy Seal

Unknown Armies 2:1 The GM’s role


The first chapter of book two, Run, is an introduction to GMing, but a more useful one than in many games.  Actually that’s unfair. My perception is being bamboozled by the three book structure of this game. Lots of games have GM sections that are just as good, but they are towards the back of the core book. It’s a very long time since I picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide, or anything similar, but that’s what I should be comparing this book with. 

I’m not going to though. As I said I haven’t seen a DMG in years. The first page of this book does allude to that one though:

master

these entertainments would play differently if the title was “game servant” and always had been

The role of the GM is says is to get the balance of antagonism and challenge right, too much challenge and the players will never achieve anything, too little and their victories will feel hollow. 

But this chapter is mostly about setting the tone of the game. And it starts off with mystery, which it says is not investigation, rather it’s the sense of something unknown. Which is difficult when the mechanics of the world, how magick works etc. is explained in the players book, and indeed the whole world is built during character creation. 

The remedy is to throw away all the stuff that the players have been told, once their characters are made, and populate the rest of the world with things they haven’t heard of. Make new stuff up as you go along, keep notes so that you are consistent (mostly – later Stolze talks about gaslighting), and only think about working out the details when it really matters. 

Always remember that mystery is a mood, not a fact. Make magick strange, let the players feel ignorant and out of their element, and you’re a good way there already.

The section also offers some advice on atmosphere: stark, monochromatic decor; decay; and occasional grotesquerie, played absolutely straight (Ken Hite recently tweeted that the latest Twin Peaks series made him want to pick up UA again) are the spices that favour his game apparently. 

There is a very apposite discussion on sandbox vs railroad. Stolze points out that many mystery games, especially horror games like Call of Cthulhu, and earlier versions of UA tend towards the Railroad.

Railroads can be fun! Someone once observed that gamers rarely complain about a railroad when the scenery is gorgeous and the last stop is Awesome Town.

This third edition tends towards the sandbox, with some direction set by the players deciding an objective before they have even created their characters. This approach gives the players some of the control they lose to railroad adventures, while offerin the GM the luxury of a bit of pre-planning too. 

Then there is a big discussion of “Fairness”

Games, especially ones with a GM and players, have a paradoxical relationship with fairness. On the one hand, fairness is essential. On the other hand, it’s impossible.

Given that truth, how does a GM tread the fine line between challenge and dickishness? Stolze suggests a fair GM can be: random; mean; and confusing, but not: personal; ignorant; boring; or, claw back objectives… caverlierly. 

Tidying up the blog

Well, the Coriolis Effect pilot episode was successful, and I see it’s brought visitors to this blog. The problem is, despite having pretentions towards being some sort of exciting public facing RPG magazine, it turned out to be a little backwater of the internet, where I threw a little stuff that I thought might be good “one-day”.  I was keeping it private until I’d built more quality content. 

When we put the Coriolis Effect together, I needed some way to generate a feed for Feedburner, and I realised linking to the AWS server from this blog would do the job. Which suddenly makes it public and, more scarily something that atttracts attention, that needs to be good(ish). 

So I promise any curious readers that yes, I will add content here regularly, and possibly, even proof-read that content so it looks professional. Who knows it might even be interesting. 

Catching up on #RPGaDay 2016

RPGaDay 2016

Well time flies doesn’t it? And I’ve had my head down all week, totally missing the start of RPGaDay, the hashtag campaign created by David Chapman, to celebrate August and Gen Con happening and I guess to raise the profile of RPGs generally within the Twittersphere. Normally I tweet a line or two and I still may, but as I’m generating content for this site before launching it on the world, and because I’ve missed five days. I thought I might catch up here.

Day 1: Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to roll?

Who doesn’t love the clatter of dice on table? Diceless games are fun in their way but, well, kind of predictable, much like Fate (Fudge) dice and even the stalward 2d6 of Traveller. I love the chance of extraordinary success (or failure!) so my slight preference is for systems with “exploding” dice like Feng Shui, Savage Worlds or L5R’s Roll and Keep system.

As to whether its actual bones or digital dice, well I have a soft spot for one of the earliest iOS apps, MachDice which was not only a great random number generator, but also made great early use of the iPhone’s capabilities with shake to roll and  a tilt for 3D effect. Back in the days when not everybody had a smartphone, its was simple tricks like this on a decent looking app that convinced people that the phone could be more than a toy (ironically). A quick aside, another iOS dice app, Dicenomicon is apparently scriptable, but also dreadful – avoid.

I’m a patron of Roll20, but actually my online gaming is best serve with a simple Google Hangout, enhanced with Dicestream, and elegant on versatile dice roller for on-line games.

At the table with friends though, I’ll opt for real dice 99 times out of 100.

Day 2: Best Game Session since August 2015

I’ve been running Fate with my old school mates. We meet every other month or so (sometimes not even as often as that) and rotate between four different GMs (and systems) so we don’t play Fate all that often. It was our first go with Fate, and we did it by the book, creating the game-world on the fly in our first session. In short it’s World War One veterans vs. Flesh-eating body snatching aliens. The paranoia levels have been mounting with each session and the last one we played it all came boiling over, with the players agreeing that absolutely crazy ideas were entirely rational. In an effort to capture one of the aliens alive and prove their sanity, they decided in an entirely “rational” way to murder two superior officers, who might have proved useful allies, but they decided “knew too much”. Their system of proving that they had not been taken over involved cutting the skin of their forearms, which they made a point of doing after every time that any of them had been separated, and this was only one of the many analogues for real mental illness (two of them started the campaign with PTSD) that they created through their actions and choices.

As GM, I’d of course prepared a scenario that went nothing like I planned. But it was one of the easiest session I’ve ever had to run, all I had to do was sit back and watch the mayhem.

Day 3: What character moment are you proudest of?

This one is easy. After almost 40 years of roleplaying, all the feats of heroism and derring-do have merged into one. In fact only one stands out, from first edition Warhammer (proper first edition when it was still a Role Playing game with mass combat, rather than a Mass Combat game, with a WHFRP spin-off). I was of an age when I invested a lot emotionally in any character I played. My Warhammer one was called Mithcollo Kirris (I think that how I spelt it), and he’s done pretty well for himself over the course of a campaign that my mate Andy G was running. I can’t recall exactly the circumstances, but he died, staying behind to hald back an army of snotlings, while the rest of the party legged it. But that’s not the character moment I’m proudest of.

The one I’m proudest of comes from towards the end of  Serenity RPG campaign my mate Dave S was running. My character Bobby Rashid had a wife who had, in the course of the campaign been kidnapped (she was a valuable psychic) and used as leverage. But we’d done what was required of us, or rescued her, or whatever and I’d brought her back the the settlement around which the campaign was based, where we lived on small holding. A casino has opened, and she was spending time their gambling. I went to confront her and she told me how much she hated our married life, how I’d trapped in a marriage and on a farm that she resented. This conversation all happening sotto voce at the casino’s bar while she drank whisky and I sipped espresso (espresso was a quick my character had). A quiet and devastating conversation with real pathos. Made more impressive in that it was two fat forty-odd year old blokes actually saying the words.

Day 4: Most impressive thing another’s character did

I could talk about an amazing die roll, like the time when an archer in L5R pretty much one-shotted the Scorpion clan General in a battle the Hare Clan was not meant to win, making my version of Rokugan forever divergent with the published materials. But I’m more interested in what a player (not their roll) made their character do to impress me. And that has to be a small moment but an important one, back in the late 90s.

I was running the first edition of Feng Shui. I was a very different system from what we’d played before, relying a lot more on the players’ ability to narrate the action, rather than be led by the dice. I was worried that my players wouldn’t “get it,” but when Andy G described his Killer standing though the sun-roof of a limo, both guns blazing, while the driver performed a hand-brake turn having rammed the gates of the enemy’s compound, I knew they did.

Day 5: What story does your group tell about your character?

Most recently? My Pendragon character being killed in his bed by another PC! (gumble moan)