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

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This is a GROGPOD extra, made possible thanks to the generosity of the GROGSQUAD patreons. This is a Newstalgia podcast talking about the things we are playing now.

It is focused on the preparations for the RPGs played at UK Games Expo: Savage Worlds, PSI World and Lyonesse.

Here are some links mentioned in the pod:

Role-Play Rescue: Che Webster’s GM Journal inspired the approach to this podcast

Keehar’s Blog: An occasional blog where Keehar shares his preparation and play reports.

The Smart Party: Listen to the full seminar ‘How to GM at Conventions.

Bud’s RPG Reviews: I met the man behind ‘the hands’ check out his channel.

The Design Mechanism: Follow them to catch the Lyonesse preview when it comes available

A random roll on the d100 as thrown up 37 (4 issues later than the first one) which was dated January 1983. The magazine had started to get into the stride as a monthly publication after years of coming out every two months.

This was the month that wearing a seat belt became compulsory in the UK, despite protests from people bemoaning their loss of the civil right of being thrown through a windscreen. BBC launched its Breakfast Time programme with Frank Bough jazzed out in his jazzy jumpers and the Green Goddess preened in green.

ET won the Golden Globes for film drama (with Tootsie winning the comedy) and Hill Street Blues won the TV awards. Steve ‘interesting’ Davies won the Snooker Classic in St Helens. Superman: The Movie is shown on TV for the first time.

Let’s look at this together: What did you make of the cover? Did Alan E Paul’s FAERIES appear in your games? Did you learn your Traveller referring ropes from Andy Slack? Some classics appear in Open Box … did you play Crasimoff’s World? Vampire tables! Don Turnbull is getting cross on the letters page… How did you make use of issue 37?

A new feature recommended by the GROGSQUAD. A weekly White Dwarf Book Club, so we can read the same issue together and talk about some of the features, scenarios, reviews, adverts, letters and other aspects of the magazine.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. If this is popular, I’ll roll on a d100 every Tuesday and post it here. This week, let’s begin when I begun, issue 33.



I have at least 2 more chins than last year


We tromped around those big halls several times: sensory overload, how many copies of Pandemic can you fit in one place?


“Hida San uses the full might of his indomitable will to wield the otsuchi above his head to shatter the carapace of the evil manifestation,” and misses


Unleash the Strontium Dogs!


This is moments after my Caroline Munro Bollywood dance demo during Caparnaüm: The Tales of the Dragon-Marked


Watching us, watching you, watching us … thanks to everyone who attended the seminar hosted by The Smart Party


Doc ‘Con’ Cowie was the designated ‘card monkey’ for PSI World


The Smart Party! “Always pictured with a pint” Gaz and “Much taller than you think” Baz


I had five bags full of books and bling. Blythy used PDFs on a tablet and fitted it all in a tiny, tiny bag. Next year he’s appearing as a hologram.


Silkspindle Spire emerges before the eyes of the players during Lyonesse (the cursed dice cup – remember that? – makes an appearance)


Daily Dwarf, Judge Blythy, Old Scouse Role-Player and OrlanthR do some post-con analysis


My purchases – I couldn’t find a KeyForge Starter Set for love or money

Sigh. That’s it. Over for another year.

This is the third time that I’ve been to UK Games Expo and it was my best experience so far; I know the geography of the place and feel more comfortable than I have on previous occasions.

I met loads of great people, missed many more; play’s the thing, I spent most of the time in the ‘Devon’ room in the Hilton Metropol, as a GM and player, which meant I didn’t have enough time to socialise outside of playing.

Somehow I even managed to fit appearing in a seminar into the schedule. It featured the collective wisdom of Baz & Gaz from the Smart Party with Paul Fricker from The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias with some inspiring, fluent and engaging tips on running games at conventions. I’m on there too, mumbling about middle-management for some reason. You can listen to it on The Smart Party feed.

“There’s a massive queue for your seminar!” someone tweeted. I thought, “they’ve gone to the wrong one.” Sure enough, Paul and I found a queue for another seminar running at the same time; he shouted over the crowd, “If you want the How to GM at Conventions seminar, follow us.”

He rolled against CHA and 1d4 hirelings emerged.

Here are my 5 highlights and a fumble.

1. Legend of the Five Rings

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We had sake to get us into the mood of the wedding celebrations

Earlier this year I bought the new edition of Legend of the Five Rings as I was intrigued by its setting of Rokugan, the Emerald Empire. The concept of a fantasy Far East is really appealing and the books are beautifully produced, but after reading it, I had no idea how to start playing.

It’s the kind of game that will be a hard-sell to our group because it needs a certain level of absorption to get the most out of the intrigue between the different competing dynasties. Asako_Soh (from Twitter) created an introductory adventure that focused on the House of Crane and the House of Crab being united by a wedding. We played samurai who discover that the bride-to-be has gone missing.

I’m still not entirely sure how the dice work (it’s a bit like reading tea-leaves) but the pre-gens and the setting allowed for some good interplay between players. There were some nice role-playing moments where the mannered, cultured and very judgey Crane were trying to hide the truth from the cruder Crabs.

The end was spectacular featuring an epilogue with a duel between the one-armed Samurai of the Crane, and my brutish, Crab samurai who was better with a blunt instrument than the finesse of the katana, so was struck down, across the clavicle.

It was an excellent introduction to the game. A great start to the convention.

2. Strontium Dog

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Wild Dia – an arsonist who burn Rhyl to the ground, has jerry-built a huge gun to protect Stump Valley

“Bringing Akill-Ease to Heel is my homage to the early Pat Mills satirical Strontium Dog stories from the early 80’s using Savage Worlds and the Mongoose supplement. This was a Cecil B. DeMille production with lego and relentless events thrown at the Stonts from the moment it begins to the very end.

Thanks to some unfortunate rolls, their transporter craft Daze-14 (Fortnite -geddit?) crash-landed into the killing zone leaving many of them injured and confused, but they were cool and ruthless when dealing with their warrants.

There was a satisfying cheer when Leonard Stump was grappled around the ankle by Harpi Harry’s wire-launcher and yanked off a balcony to his death, prior to being rescued from the planet by Johnny Alpha himself.

3. Capharnüm


I was very excited to play this game as I was promised a Ray Harryhausen experience by the GM Dimbyd. He didn’t disappoint. Translated from French by MindJammer games, this is a setting that creates a fantasy Arabian Nights and ancient world infused with magic. At its heart is a simple d6 dice pool system that works very easily and the characters were full of flavour.

I played a betrothed princess, heading out across the desert with a caravan; I liked to refer to the other players as my entourage (not sure how they felt about it), when we were invited inside a magnificent palace that appeared to us in a mirage. It is the first time I played Caroline Munro, Bollywood dancing through a bazaar in search of followers, I hope it is not the last.

4. Psi-World


The Bandersnatch Cell rescue the PSIonic in Transition from certain lobotomisation at the hands of the PSIonic Protection Agency

“Anarchic” was the description offered by the players at the end of this session.

I like to think it was an extremely balanced and controlled session, filled with suspense, emotional highs and lows of the anxieties of  teenage life in the 80s by reflecting on the turmoil of realising that you are different and society is  oppressing your burgeoning desires.

The players could choose which side of the social divide they wanted to play. The PSIonic freedom fighters or the PSIonic protection agency. They chose to be the PSIonics with their special powers. Each player had their own school of PSIonic talents and they all deployed them in ingenious ways as they tried to track down and rescue a PSIonic in transition in Hiddenwood.

I made a school boy error that would get me drummed out of the Smart Party. I didn’t realise that the legend on the handout map actually revealed the location of the hideout of the target teens.

Well, to be fair, there was a Pre-Cog on the team, so I think I got away with it.

The session became increasingly frenetic as the PPA closed in on them.

In emotional and action-packed scenes they rescued the target. A levitating motorcycle caused a dramatic crash, a critical ‘Plumbing’ roll fixed the dripping tap of a water witch who was revealed as the grandmother of the target PSI and two lovers were reunited in a dramatic ‘hands across the divide’ moment.

An emotional meeting between grandmother and grand-daughter was interrupted when the young psionic was teleported away to safety. Their van squealed into the scene, taking down the PPA and rescuing the PSIs, delivering them to a place of safety in the Enclave. Mission accomplished.

Anarchic? No, poetry.


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The Design Mechanism kindly wrote Coddifut’s Stipule, a scenario for their forthcoming Lyonesse game based on the Mythras system, specially for this convention; it was an honour to debut the adventure as I am a huge fan of the Lyonesse novels.

“Begin in media-res,” we recommend in the ‘How to GM at Conventions” seminar. How about ‘begin at breakfast’ instead? The rules provide four pages of tables that create an exotic Vancian breakfast, the name of the tavern they’re eating it in and the town where the scenario is based.

Within moments, after several dice rolls, we created a scene straight from the pages of the novels. The characters introduced themselves over a meal of boiled fish and sea urchin in a white wine celery infused sauce accompanied with stewed effervescent parsnip. The landlord of the Dreadful Mule served it to them before the burgher of Swinspool Water appeared.

What followed was a wonderful three hours encounter Vancian fairy magic culminating in a classic scene of cruel trickery where the players conspired to get the upper hand. The Mythras passions worked really well by compelling some of the action and there was an ingenious application of the Impspring Twinkle-Toe spell to get one of the players out of a tight spot.

I don’t want to reveal too much as the scenario is going to be made available as a taster of the new game. Follow the Design Mechanism

It was excellent. The highlight of my weekend. Thank you to Loz Whitaker for making it possible.

6. Beer Drought

This time the event was bigger than ever which is great for the organisers, but is it getting too big? Places felt uncomfortable, the queues for food were ridiculous, there weren’t enough staff serving at the hotel (there had a system where you had to queue twice for a cup of tea; a queue to pay, a queue to make it.)

As in previous years, the gamers and the Masonic Order of Ladies share the Hilton. This year, they drank the bar dry by Friday lunch-time.

We had to drink lager. I know. It was terrible. Next time they’re going to need more beer or ration those ladies.




More Tunnels & Trolls (with Ken St Andre)

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INTRO: A new review of The GROGNARD files

INTERVIEW: A list of interesting things referred to by Ken: His mini, Trollhala Press, Fours, and Big Jack Brass

ACTUAL PLAY: Hook up with The Smart Party to hear more

FIRST, LAST, EVERYTHING: This time : Steve Ray

GROGGLEBOX: At The Earth’s Core

Outro: Thanks for supporting

I’ve spent the weekend packing and addressing envelopes stuffed with the GROGZINE19 (and associated extras for Patreon backers at different levels). If you live in the UK, you can expect to receive it around the weekend.

This year we have designed the zine as a homage to the golden age of UK RPG zines from the early to mid 80s. One of the favourites from the era was Quasits & Quasars. There were 10 issues, including a team-up with DragonLords, and it is the latest to appear in the sluggish, Fanzine Festival.

“Played once, never again”

Edited by David Hulks, supported by his friend and GROGSQUADer Neil Hopkins (he’s done a great First, Last and Everything for Episode 29 of the GROGPOD), Quasit & Quasars was more about good content, rather than fiery exchange of opinion, by providing scenarios and other GM resources for both fantasy and SF genre games.

Unlike many others, it also featured solo games, Neil recalls carefully cutting and pasting the paragraphs together, using real scissors and glue, when composing the adventures.

From the three copies that I’ve studied (on loan from Doc Con’s Marc Gascoigne wing of his extensive RPG library) there’s a certain bias towards Tunnels and Trolls, which split opinion on the letters page. It was protected by the editors, promising a feature every other issue; as for Gangster! well, Gangster! got hit!

Dirk the Dice

The covers represented their coverage of the fantastic and the futuristic

You can almost feel the time draining as you read the page
There are loads of examples in zines where the editor apparently runs out of space or is filling space with a plea (chortle)
There was always a good, lively coverage of T&T, this provides an overview of the available material …
Hit Locations in Tunnels and Trolls!
Thieves in T&T!
Handwritten letters!!

Earlier this week, I appeared on What Would the Smart Party Do podcast, celebrating their success at reaching the milestone of 100 episodes. The discussion included a reflection over the past 5 years of their existence and a projection of what gaming may look like in another 5 years.

During the projections, we concluded that D&D 5e has established itself as a solid set of rules and was in effect the ‘End Game’ of the story arc of the 40 years of edition wars. Over the next 5 years, it would be alternative settings that would be offered to satisfy those that crave constant change from RPG publishers.

Back in the day, many players of D&D would shun the official worlds offered by TSR in favour of creating their own campaign settings, not caring too much about the internal consistency as long as it fitted within the ‘story’ being created by their character progression.

Published in 12 issues between October 1983 to December 1986, Tortured Souls was a fanzine, with semi-professional sensibilities, that was dedicated to publishing scenarios (mainly for D&D, but there were some RuneQuest and others too). Unlike some of the other ‘zines of the time, this was not concerned with the cut-and-thrust of the fan discourse, instead it delivered detailed scenarios as a ready-made resource for Games Masters.

Each issue contained at least one adventure set in their own campaign world of Zhalindor. The scenarios were incredibly detailed and offered background to the places and people within the world, with some unique monsters to encounter too, but what made the world interesting was some of the variants to the rules that were modified by the setting. There was an ‘hex crawl’ element as it encouraged players to explore different areas of the map.

Treasure was downscaled to avoid too much power-play and they suggested that Player Characters were only from the primary classes (Clerics, Magic User, Fighter or Thieves). There was a clear influence of RuneQuest too as the world did not use alignment and many of the adventures were morally ambiguous, challenging the players to think of the consequences of their actions. Clerics could choose weapons and armour that was determined by their deity.

Each scenario was set in ‘hex’ that was allocated a ‘zone’ which affected spell effects. Depending on the spell type the results could be bonus, malus or special and the player characters are unaware of what the geographical influence there is until the spell is cast. A great idea.

Many of the detailed scenarios remain an excellent resource for OSR gamers. The odd issue appears now and then on eBay. References to Zhalindor also appeared in early editions of GamesMaster Publications.

As for the next 5 years, there’ll doubtless be many more fan made worlds added to the D&D multiverse, but will they have so many brightly coloured floor-plans?

This is a first in a series of articles and other material to support our Fanzine Festival to mark the release of GROGZINE19. I know it was promised for April but it may stretch into May. This is a phenomena known as GROGNARD time – where time moves quicker but I move more slowly.

Tortured Souls was published by Beast Enterprises who also produced modules
The covers were distinctive with blood dripping from the type and primary colours (this one is by Jon Baker)
Tortured Souls also featured the occasional light-hearted scenario
The cut-out and keep floor plans were compatible with Endless Games’ Endless Plans –
Proof that it wasn’t all D&D – there was RuneQuest (with Broos, obvs)
Some of their scenarios also featured single-player adventures.
The scenarios for the Zhalindor campaign appeared on card-stock in the centre of the zine
Most of the above are taken from the collection loan to The Great Library of RPGs by Simon Kind (@yorkist on twitter). We’re pretty sure that he also played my Ice Fields PBM in 1985 – he drew this cover to the newsletter. Thanks Simon.

Monsters! Monsters! RPG with Ken St Andre

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INTRO: 00:00:16 – This is the first part of a two part episode looking at the games and worlds created by Ken St Andre. He’s one of the founders of the hobby and tremendously influential on the development of RPGS.

OPEN BOX: 00:04:40 – Live from his Troll Cave in Arizona, The Trollgodfather tells the story of his origins and influences. Find Ken St Andre works at Trollhalla.

WHITE DWARF: 00:40:40 @dailydwarf is back! He’s looking at how White Dwarf provided advice on how to get the best out of your monsters!

FIRST, LAST, EVERYTHING: 00:55:10 A brand new feature for the GROGPOD – a member of the GROGSQUAD selects three of their favourite games – the first they played, the last game that got them excited and the game that means everything to them. James Holloway from the Monster Man podcast is up first.

GAMESMASTERS’ SCREEN 01:03:40 Blythy and Dirk in the room of roleplaying rambling playing monsters.

OUTRO: Check out Save for Half and their episode about Monsters! Monsters! The most recent edition of What would the Smart Party do? podcast covers 70s games. If you’d like to hear a Monsters! Monsters! actual play, go to Whartson Hall.

The GROGZINE is coming as a gift for Patreons.

I’m still cock-a-hoop. The podcast has been selected as the Pod Pick of the Month in Issue 460 of Starburst magazine. Regular listeners will know that the magazine has always been close to my heart. It was via an article in Starburst, written by Steve Jackson, where we first learned about the hobby. There is an interview with me and Alister Davison talking about the podcast.

In the interview I make the point that there is a community that has developed around the podcast, “people are rediscovering the hobby, sharing their experiences and, more importantly, playing the games again.”

Last weekend, was a good example, as it was virtual GROGMEET: an online version of our annual meet-up in November. There were 15 games on offer over two days and 4 slots. The GROGMEET GMs did a fantastic job of hosting the event and it sounds like a good time was had by all.

When the GROGPOD has done and dusted, it will be times like this that I’ll remember. Thanks GROGSQUAD!

Dirk the Dice


Baz Stevens, (from What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast) has been putting the finishing touches to his forth-coming game ‘King of Dungeons’. He gave the game a test-drive during the event:

Grog times had by all! looks like I have a few more King of Dungeons fans at the end of the session. Thanks ever so much for setting the event up.
Here’s a snap of Mark (“Rusty the Angelic Warrior”) as he decides to eat the treasure rather than let it fall into the wrong claws.

CALL OF CTHULHU with Matt Wrycraft

Next month, I will be playing in this game with @Askako_Soh at UK Games Expo, so he’s done a spoiler free review of his virtual GROGMEET experience:

Three brave samurai, Kakita Soetsu, duelist (@zos93), Doji Ojijiro, diplomat (@thegenemayes), Hiruma Nezu, scout (@comicevangelist), risked honour, life and limb against foul creatures of the Shadowlands to ensure that the path of true love runs true. We used the most recent edition of Legend of the Five Rings, from Fantasy Flight Games, and managed to get the dice roller working in roll20 and enjoyed the dangerous criticals and the mechanic of strife and unmasking, with the samurai losing face and honour in times of intense stress.  I had some fantastic players who brought great insights to the game and should a true understanding of Bushido.


Kehaar is an enthusiastic advocate of FGU’s Flashing Blades RPG. Everyone who plays has a rollicking great time. You can find out more about his game on his blog.

The players all threw themselves into the game with gusto being it hanging off a German assassins neck while lackey attempts to insert his ramrod where the sun doesn’t shine or speeding across Paris to farcically gather rare gifts for the beautiful Madamoseille Rosalind. 


Sam Vail offered an interesting proposition: a home-brew version of Pendragon set in 1963 where there is a hidden, Arthurian world coexisting with our own.

The brave Agents of Excalibur managed to track down a Weapon of Mass Destruction and successfully neutralise it and bring the conspirators to justice. Overall, the game ran for 3.5 hours and there was a lot of role playing and laughing along the way.Looking forward to Grogmeet 19 where I may run this scenario again.


Neil Benson, the Old Scouse Role-Player, ran his home-brew adventure A Heart for Madness, that’s currently on tour. You can read a spoiler free review on his blog.


There were 7 players for the sequel to the Enemies Within, miners’ strike scenario that I did last year. The first part appeared on the podcast and this adventure reunited some of the characters (and players). It featured emulated scenes from the overly complicated audience participation event: Tinker. Soldier, Tailor, Spy and The Man with The Golden Gun. It was good fun with some very cinematic moments. When Harry Reeves and his crew came face-to-face with Dracula, it came to an explosive end.


I bought PSI World after a drunken visit to Fanboy 3 last summer. Since then, I have been determined to get the best value from the game: if you buy it, you have to play it, right? This was a very entertaining session with federal agents tracking down the cause of a psionic-energy spike in a small town. They tried to be discrete, but their armoury was too irresistible. It was Scott Pilgrim directed by John Hughes – imagine Rob Lowe, having his head blown off by a jet propelled bullet, that kind of thing.