The GROGNARD Files

Table-top RPGs from back in the day and today.

MERP Part 2 with Liz Danforth

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Welcome to the second part of the MERP episode. I recommend Menion (AKA Rob’s) podcast ; we speak to Liz Danforth – why not support her on Patreon? Thanks to Per Broden for his excellent First, Last and Everything, the an ad for our good friends at The Good Friends …. and we roll some crits on our new Patreons.

“Why don’t you go out and get some fresh air?” my mum would shout through the airlock of my teenage bedroom.

My whole damn life has been preparing me for this moment: Staying indoors is one of my super talents. It’s something that I’m really good at.
On Sunday, I released the virtual GROGMEET games that had been offered by the GROGMEET GMs, in the hope that we’d manage to muster some people, because the event clashed with other conventions. Those other conventions were cancelled and virtual GROGMEET is the only show in town, so it went gangbusters. All the games were filled and the waiting lists grew and grew.

It’s clear that we needed more!  

This year virtual GROGMEET is having a TURBO-BOOST to make it a fully fledged online convention with games, a seminar and a virtual trade hall.

No experience of online play needed. If this is your first time, let your GM know and they’ll accommodate.

Here is the itinerary. Places on the games will be offered to Patreons of the GROGNARD files first (on Sunday 22nd March) prior to being opened to all on Thursday 26th March.

 
17th April, 2020 – Friday – 8pm – 11pm 
Operation Deep Freeze: The Morrow Project

The Jewish Gene: The Jewish Gene

The Mad Queen’s Jewels: A Midderlands Adventure (Sharp Swords and Sinister Spell)

The Master and Fellows of Balliol College Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts: Ghostbusters

Werewolves of London: Monster of the Week

Knight Takes Queen: Pendragon (Gaz from the Smart Party)

Not All Kiss Me Quick, Strange Goings on in Tenby: Liminal (Dave Paterson)

Hell Gate: Alien RPG (based on the GrogHell scenario) (Steve Ray)

Poetry Night: Call of Cthulhu 7th ed (Keeper Matt)

18th April, 2020 – Saturday – 10.30am – 1.30pm

A Death in Dublin: Savage Worlds

Greenwood of the Fey Sovereign: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Legion of Gold: Gamma World (Dirk the Dice)

The Mark of the Hunter: Cthulhu Hack (Steve Ray)

18th April, 2020 – Saturday – 2.30pm – 6.30pm 

Defiling the Doomcrypt: Mork Borg

Once More Unto the Grind Core:Five Torches Deep (OSR 5e)

The Freedom of Pelargir: Adventures in Middle Earth (Rick Knott) 

18th April, 2020 – Saturday – 8.00pm – 11pm 

Jelly Manelly’s Done A Runner!: Strontium Dog (unpublished GW game 1987)

Sun Up High Noon Sun Down: HeroQuest QuestWorlds

Black Thumb: Delta Green (Bud from Bud’s RPG Reviews)

Manoeuvres on the Moor: Call of Cthulhu (Paul Owen)

Tower Trouble: Traveller (Ed from F-Side Games)

19th April – Sunday 11.00 – Noon

GROGFringe – Interview with Pookie – “How RPGs Taught us to survive the apocalypse” and other stories

The Iron reviewer from Reviews From R’lyeh  joins me in the Virtual Room of Role-Playing to talk bobbins about his Role-Playing life and to act as a consultant as explore the weird and wonderful world of post-Apocalyptic gaming. The interview will be used in a forthcoming GROGPOD but this is a chance to join in a live-stream.

19th April – Sunday 8.00 – 11.00pm

The Difference Between You And Me Is That I Am Not On Fire: Punk Apocalyptic RPG – (Dr RPG Griff)

An Affray at the Blue Milk Cafe – Star Wars Edge of Empire (James Done)

Ghost in the Shell: Ghost is infected – FATE – (Carl Clare)

Ruckus at Worm Creek – DeadLands ReLoaded (Chimpion’s Mark) 

The Pit of Katullu – Conan (Wayne Peters)

Virtual Trade Hall There will be offers from our friends at D101 Games, All Rolled Up!, Bonhomie Games, Fenris Games and Fannyside Games too. 

Keep watching the GROGMEET page for more developments (I still have more games awaiting confirmation).

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Popular demand has insisted that we look at MERP from Iron Crown (1984). In this first part we come to terms with Tolkien and our relationship to Middle Earth.

Thanks to Liz Danforth, Daily Dwarf , Graham Kinniburgh, and Steve Ray for their help in putting this Episode together.

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The Wages Ophir GoPlay Manchester 8th February 2020

A Pulp adventure in the Savage World of ‘The Day After Ragnarok’.Across the world, lies the trillion-ton corpse of the Midgard Serpent, raised from the sea by the nazis and destroyed by Truman’s atomic fire: poisoning the Earth with every night that passes.A small band of mercenaries under the command of the Royal Navy have been deployed to escort a volatile tanker of Ophiline from the Hereford Cut to a small coastal town in Wales. A local separatist politician, Solo Man, is rumoured to have a stock-pile of precious resources to trade, in exchange for the valuable fuel.

The mission to play a different post-apocalyptic games each month in 2020 continues.  This time I used Savage Worlds in The Day After Ragnarok setting created by Kenneth Hite in 2009.

Bolton, destroyed by the belly of The Serpent

The world in 1948 reeling from the intervention of the Nazis who summon the Midguard Serpent to the sound of Wagner (the players joined in with the Ride of the Valkyries) from the depths of the seas; Odin’s son reaps havoc upon the world.

Truman’s Trinity Device is despatched and it destroys the serpent’s brain “in torrent of of atomic fire … Dark crimson rain fell from Dublin to Denver. Where it struck the seas boiled and the Earth drank poison. And things engendered, mutated horrors born of dragon’s blood and broken strontium atoms …” 

The serpent body (350 miles across) lies as a curtain across Europe, wiping out most of Britain. The Empire stays intact as Australia was untouched by the events, so Prince Henry serving as the Governor-General set up Sydney as the new Imperial capital. The Royal Society (and the Royal Engineers) have begun to drill into the serpent to extract precious resources from its gut. For the sake of Crown and Country, the grit of the Brits are keen to keep calm, carry on and rebuild from the wreckage.

This adventure begins at the Hereford Cut, the location of the serpent mine, where a group of mercenaries volunteer for a suicide mission, transporting 20 canisters of volatile, un-refined orphaline across the Brecon Beacons to coastal town. They’re acting on a rumour from ‘Douglas’, who was played by Michael Douglas, that a separatist movement are building up a power-base using resources that have washed up on the coast of Wales, including planes (in kit form) which were heading for RAF Burtonwood. 

A forward party which would include a negotiator will accompany the 2 1/2 truck filled with canisters of orphaline with the intention of negotiating with the group, exchanging their technology with oil from the serpent. 

Here is a play report in the usual format, 5 highlights and 1 fumble. 

Stuff!

Bennies – Check!

Special ’snake skin’ playing cards as the action deck – Check!

An extra action deck of playing cards for the ‘chase’ sequence – Check!

Status cards – Check!

Traveller minis – Check!

Adventure cards – Check! Wild dice – Check!

A play mat downloaded for each player so they can layout all of their dice and stuff – Check!

Natty new GM Screen – Check!

I think I’ve said before that there are a lot of ‘bits’ to Savage Worlds if you get carried away (like I do).  Most of the extra things that came out from the Adventurer Edition kickstart don’t really add much other than more palaver to manage. The Adventure Card deck on the other hand is a really good addition to the game. Every player gets an adventure card and they can play it once during the session. 

These operate in a similar way to MOS in Nights Black Agents – a game-changing advantage that can be used to great effect if used at the right time. In this game, a stash of gas masks were found, some cards were played to ensure that they had initiative advantage at the best time and one was used to roll away from an exploded wreckage.

Sorcerer!
Most of the fun from this session came from the ‘Wages of Fear’ set up they gingerly overcame obstacles in their truck, most of them taken from the original film or from Sorcerer (the William Friedkin remake). 

They faced a tight turning circle over a rotten platform, a giant boulder, and sharp, tyre-shredding rocks on the road. 

This was mechanically represented with usage dice. Prior to the journey, each character had a chance to make an adaptation to add a dice to the pool. Depending on their relevant talents they improved the suspension, loaded the canisters in sand and reinforced the canvas sides with steel-plate (which would prove very useful).

They had a d10, d8, d6 and a d4 to begin with. Every time they made a manoeuvre without a raise, they had to roll over 2 on highest the dice, otherwise it was removed.

At the point when the dice decreased, the oil released a cloud of vapour, if inhaled it gave them the ’snake bite’ and made them more vulnerable to the Serpent’s thrall.

The ‘unlucky’ driver seemed to suck this up every time!

Nunbush!
The forward company (including the negotiator) were ambushed while the player characters were undertaking a tricky manoeuvre.

“When you get closer, you realise that the bandits with sub-machine guns are dressed as nuns.”

“Nuns, with guns?!”

They were actually members of the Daughters of Dionin, but it seemed funnier describing them as nuns.

It’s a savage world

An additional adventure deck to manage ‘the chase’

I have the FATE version of The Day After Ragnarok, but after using its Adventure Generator to get the bones of the scenario I soon decided that I would take the Savage Worlds approach.

There were a couple of reasons: I know it better and the current Adventurer version has new chase rules that I wanted to test out.

I feel that Savage Worlds is better for the ‘fighty Pulp’ excitement that I wanted to generate.

The swingy exploding dice and the unexpected results add a more spectacular, unpredictable element that’s harder to achieve with the more controlled FATE.

Explosive End
To prove the point, the finale was an exciting confrontation within the serpent temple. They were outnumbered. The driver spiked the eye of the ‘Aunt Jenny’, a serpent-witch who had devoured their contact Douglas and had assumed his form. The driver only had a Philips head screwdriver, but thanks to exploding damage dice he managed to kill the creature with a single blow. As the GM, I didn’t have enough bennies left to soak up the damage.

A lucky hit with a thrown orphaline canister took down the big boss Solo-Man followed by the shrine to the serpent.

Then, as they reversed away, the delusional character thought he’d finish it all off with another canister, “I’m rubbish at throwing, but don’t worry, I have 4 bennies.”

Sure enough, he burned through the bennies, and the canister landed on the truck. A couple of them survived that explosion, but not the moment when the final usage dice rolled a 2, causing the remaining 18 canisters to explode.

The delusional character managed to roll away to safety after causing a TPK. It was a great moment, and a very fitting conclusion.

The adventure card was played to ensure that the team got commendation. King Henry IX bestowed a post-humous Victoria Cross on the team.

Enemy Mine

My fumble: I forgot that the nuns had laid mines to protect them from being flanked. Ah well, the explosions got them in the end.

The next Go-Play is 28th March 2020 (follow the details on the web-site). The next post-apocalyptic game is The Morrow Project on 15th March (which was opened up to Patreons).

As an addendum to Episode 35 and our guest Paul Fricker’s interview, this is a quick overview of Demon’s Drawl, the fanzine that first gave him his lucky break.

First launched in July 1983 Demon’s Drawl was produced for a couple of years before transforming into Telegraph Road. The energy behind the zine was editor Jeremy Nuttall who was based Congleton in Cheshire and it originally emerged from the Chaos Tribe Fantasy RPG Club. Overall, it has the appearance of a collaborative effort with ‘a team’ of contributors who are diligently acknowledged in each issue. The list of participants include some familiar names: David Robinson and GROGSQUAD regular Nick Edwards.

The overall tone of the zine is ‘sensible and committed’ as it lacks some of the fripperies that marked the zine-scene of the time. The resources for its campaign world of Galadra are serious minded, inviting contributions from the readership to create “a consistent, good and believable” world.

At its peak, it had a print run of 400 copies with 80 subscribers, which confirms Nick’s theory that this represented the entire active fandom in the UK at the time and that one in four of them were producing their own ‘zine.

The tone of the ‘Let us talk’ letters-pages debate about ‘Classless Systems” is representative of the general earnest approach: “what happens if I don’t want to play a character who falls within this strict categorisation?”

Most articles were inviting participation by adopting a conversational rather than an authoritative tone. It’s a great example of where the RPG gamers who wanted to push the boundaries of what they were playing could have a space to share ideas.

The editors clearly had an eye for talent too – they must have spotted something in Paul’s contribution: subtle shades of cosmic horror and a precise articulation of the human condition.

* If you want to see more, check out the Patreon only GROGLOCKER at the end of next week.

Dirk the Dice

by Paul Fricker

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What makes Pulp “pulp” we ask ourselves in this episode.

It features the interview with Paul Fricker that we recorded at GROGMEET19. He’s one of the hosts of The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias, who we joined in the E.N.World Hall of Fame, thanks to the generous votes from the GROGSQUAD.

There’s also a First, Last and Everything from Lee Williams and much more.

The date has been in my diary for months, but I’d left the prep for WinterCon 2020 too late. It’s a new meet-up hosted at Fan Boy Three in Manchester and organised by Newt Newport as an off-shoot of the monthly Go-Play Manchester (home of the one-shots).

As part of my pledge to play a different Post-Apocalyptic themed game every month in 2020, I had pitched Gamma World (first edition) and the first module The Legion of Gold for my submission: both are available on drive thru rpg, as is the game upon which it is based (Metamorphosis Alpha which can lay claim to be the first ever, mass-produced, SF RPG).

Reading the game this week I realised that it is not really aimed towards one-shot play. It encourages hex-crawling through the desolated waste-lands of post-devastation America and furnishes the GM with encounter tables and examples of artefacts and creatures/ flora and fauna that can be found when PCs explore the map. The Legion of Gold provides a pre-populated area for the PCs to explore with three ‘mini-adventures’ (the supplement is of really good quality compared with some of the TSR material of the time).

How could I transform it into a one-shot? I decided early on that it needed more to it to make it pop, so I turned to Baz Steven’s King of Dungeons to introduce some explosive elements:

  • I knocked down the bonus threshold and was generally more generous with the application of positive modifications in the player’s favour.
  • Advantage dice, crits, fumbles, escalation dice and standardised target numbers were imported from King of Dungeons. As were, montage scenes (to cover the travel through the hex map) and the guild bonds

If you’ve played Gamma World in the past you’ll know that one of the features of the setting are the ‘Cryptic Alliances’ (factions that have developed following the apocalypse). We started the session by randomly generating a Cryptic Alliance (their very own guild) thus the Union of the Pure Mutant Animals was born – their symbol was an ‘animal’, so they became mutant-humanoid otters. Yes, it had to be otters. Their enemies were the Badders (this randomly generated the foes for the final encounter).

Part of the fun of Gamma World is creating characters by generating mutations, some of them favourable, some of them disadvantageous. I decided to give the players a character sheet that was a ‘playbook’ format that would allow them to choose aspects of their character.

Generating 5 character sheets in the style of a playbook turned out to be a time-consuming task. Each one took about an hour, so I had an early start (4.30 am!) to get up and finish them off!

It was worth it as it turned out to be a fun session that included toxic belching, waist-coats, a land-pedalo in the shape of a swan and clever use of a phillips-head screwdriver. I had ‘Mad Max written by Edgar Rice Buroughs’ in mind, but it was a bit more gonzo. I will definitely play it again (with the King of Dungeons elements) as it makes a good con game. It also proves that King of Dungeons is effective as a framework that can be overlaid on vintage d20 systems to fire them up a little.

Hero, just for one day

My daughter Amelia came along to play her very first RPG. This was either her attempt to ‘try new things’ and discover the world of role-playing games, or a clever attempt to legitimately avoid revising for her exams: you decide.

She chose to play Black Panther alongside my Wolverine in a game of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (using the Cortex Plus system) hosted with aplomb by Guy Milner. He always does a great job of plainly explaining the system and framing the session in an engaging, easy to follow manner.

He had his work cut out with Cortex Plus as it is a quirky, dice-pool system with some interesting bells and whistles to complicate matters (plot points for the players to bump up their dice or activate effects, and a doom pool that allows the GM to bring in reinforcements, or, if they have 2 d12 they can end a scene).

I thought the system worked really well as a superheroes mechanic as it allowed us to narrate our actions and build up a dice pool based on the effects deployed from the character sheet. It’s a gamey game that works best at emulating comic strip punch ups : rip apart a T-rex with adamantium claws? I don’t mind if I do.

Stability affects physical and emotional states and once effected, it adds another dice into your opponent’s dice pool (which is neat). “Wolverine is a sensitive soul,” I said to Amelia.

“You’ll have no problem with that, you cried like a baby all the way through Little Women.”

Yeah, thanks for that, don’t you have some revision to do?

E.N. World Poll

To make a fantastic day even better, the news came through that we came top of the Top ‘Talk’ Podcasts of 2019 in E.N. World’s forum. The GROGNARD files joins The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, the winners of last year’s 1st poll, in the Hall of Fame. It’s a ‘just for fun’ poll, but it’s really reassuring that people are listening and enjoy the podcast enough to take the time to vote. Thank you to the GROGSQUAD for mobilising.

The GROGPOD has had a fantastic year and it has been good to collaborate with other podcasts that have done well in the poll too: we are always grateful to Baz and Gaz at The Smart Party for their encouragement and helping us discover different facets of the hobby that we’ve missed, they have helped to boost the GROGPOD profile by inviting me to a panel at UK Games Expo and to a couple of round-table discussions; we also worked with Red Moon Roleplaying to produce the brooding, intense Actual Play of Stormbringer and appear live on stage with How We Roll and Scott from The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias for a memorable Call of Cthulhu recording, live in front of an audience.

We’ve got at least another 12 months in us and we’ll continue to do the best we can.

In many ways, this isn’t a gaming podcast, it’s a convoluted means of reuniting everyone who attended Marillion’s Welcome to the Garden Party on 28th June 1986 at The Milton Keynes Bowl.

Thanks for your support.

Innovative use of a bun tray to keep those Cortex Plus dice tidy
Some of the mutations are a bit “off the wall”
Example of one of the ‘play books’
The Union of Pure Mutant Animals Unite – I can’t believe you’re not Otter.
The King of Dungeons elements made the combats more spiky and fun
Gamma World has a ‘mini-game’ that’s used to ‘unlock the secret of an artefact’ – it can blow up in your face if you’re not careful, but it mainly involves going in a loop.
Amelia was the only mutant otter with a laser rifle.

She missed every time. This is the point when she thought it was a good idea to shoot a laser rifle at @clownfist ‘s head to remove a Zarn attached to his neck. It worked!

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, but we feel fine, because we’ve been gaming, a lot. We review the year in gaming over a pint with Clint, the pub dog.

Jamie Thomson is back looking over his career in Fighting Fantasy, The Way of the Tiger game books, The Fabled Lands and The Dark Lord Series (to the sound of a very noisy computer fan).

Check out EN World and vote for your favourite podcasts.

Recommended here are dPercentile, Role Play Rescue, Monster Man, Smart Party, Improvised Radio Theatre with Dice, Red Moon Roleplaying, GROGTALK, Appendix N Book Club and Breakfast in the Ruins.

Please keep us going by pledging to our Patreon.

Live Action RPG (with Jamie Thomson)

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INTRO: We are still recovering from a successful GROGMEET19. I picked up some new games along the way, including Pendragon and the new Eberron supplement for D&D (thanks to the coverage that they received on The Smart Party).

OPEN BOX (with Jamie Thomson): Features editor for White Dwarf between 1981-84, author of Fighting Fantasy books, the Way of the Tiger and Fabled Lands gamebooks. He has been working on Dice Men: Games Workshop 1975 – 1985 with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.

OPEN BOX LARPing: Blythy and I have been friends for 40 years, so we celebrate with a memoir of how we met and share our thoughts on Killer, which is still available for download.

FIRST LAST AND EVERYTHING: Shannon Ferguson aka Angry Monk shares the first game he played, the last game he played and the game that means everything to him.

LARPING part 2: We talk our experiences of DIY Larping in Newton Le Willows.

OUTRO: More details of our Patreon projects.

Handing out Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls
The Supreme Scenario Supervisor Simon Burley
Andy Hemming created a world fit for Galactic Heroes (to kill each other)
Chocks Away! Mercenaries Spies and Private Eyes – Cross of Iron Bru
MERP or an Ent Poetry Jam
“Let’s consult the Resistance Table”
In Space … no one can hear you scream! The new Alien RPG
Doc Con Cowie is crowned “King of Dungeons”
GROGNARDs Assemble at the pub!
GROGPOD live! With Paul Fricker