The GROGNARD Files

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

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Blimey, we’ve been doing this bobbins for five years! Good grief! In this episode, we go back to the beginning to look at RuneQuest with Jason Durall, as well as other highlights from his career in role-playing.

Blythy and I face the randomly selected Thunder Phase suggested by Patreons.

First, last and everything is presented by Bud RPG Reviews.

I make a reference to Full Fathom Five, a Call of Cthulhu game that’s currently on Drive Thru Rpg via the Miskatonic Repository.

Here’s to another 5 years!

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Know o prince … the GROGNARD files produces another epic (take your time …). We’ve been playing Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of, by Modiphius and having great fun emulating the Hyborian world of Robert E Howard.

Jason Durall is an enthusiastic player as well as designer and he gives a great interview talking of his formative years in the hobby and how he approached the Conan project.

We take a look at the rules that seem to provoke a love-hate relationship in players. Are they really as crunchy as they appear?

Finally, Eddy joins us as we discuss Conan The Barbarian (1982). If you can persevere the pops and crackles of Zoom compression, you’ll hear a significant difference of opinion.

Newsletters, one-shots, an incoming ‘zine, why not join The Patreon?

This week’s bookclub subject was rolled on a d100 by Paul Baldowski, which is fitting given the cover and the subject of Paul’s latest game design project is The Dee Sanction.

The cover by Nicholas Bibby is one of the best ever to feature on the magazine. An image that launched a thousand scenarios in our young minds. The more you look, the more you discover: a lurking homunculus, a shrivelled grell in a glass sphere, a monster in a bell jar, a naked apprentice or flesh golem lurking in the shadows and the severed head of Michael Holland from year 5 at St James’ Farnworth (circa 1981), or at least it looked like him.

Inside there are some gold-bottomed classic features: Monsters Have Feelings Too, An Introduction to Traveller, the legendary Khazad Dum! and a tantalising glimpse into the forthcoming (never to appear) Games Workshop Questworld supplement by GROGMEETish2020 guest Dave Morris.

I hope that you all have fond memories of this one. I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

Wait for one woman in a bikini flying on a strange thing and another one comes along shortly afterwards. It seems women in bikinis riding on strange things was deriguour in the 80s. This time the magic d100 was rolled by Wayne Peters, a very active member of the Book Club.

At this point, it was clear that the magazine was repositioning the adventures as the core of its content. Following the popularity of the RuneQuest special (number 85), the editor Mike Brunton had almost removed the regular departments and replaced them with more substantial pieces covering fewer games. Dungeons and Dragons was being purged in favour of games on the Games Workshop roll-call.

Derek the Troll by Lew Stringer had found a new home in White Dwarf, a refugee from Warlock, the Fighting Fantasy magazine. He’s even muscled in on the White Dwarf icon. Shocking.

Another low roller, this time the d100 was rattled by Bud from Bud’s RPG Review, the ‘First, Last and Everything’ contributor for the latest episode of the GROGPOD. In the episode we celebrate 5 years of producing the pod which all began with Runequest. In the first episode, @dailydwarf declares Lair of the White Wyrm to be the best Runequest scenario: it’s a classic zoo-dungeon showing off the Gloranthean bestiary to the full.

It may feel a bit slight compare to some of the other issues we have looked at, but it’s a significant issue not least because Ian Livingstone, fresh from a trip to Origins, includes an interview with Gary Gygax. In the editorial, Livingstone wonders if Brits will ever have the stomach for a three day convention.

Last weekend, it was the virtual version of UK Games Expo, which included streamed-seminars where former member of the editorial team of White Dwarf Marc Gascoigne gave a shout out to The GROGNARD files. Much has changed over the past 40 years, not only can the Brits stomach three day cons, we can enjoy them from the comfort of our own homes.

If you’d like to play Lair of the White Worm, then come and join me and others at Glorantha Games where I will be running it using 13th Age Glorantha.

Let us know what you think of this issue by responding in the comments below.

P.S. You can find links to the issues in the comments of the first Book Club.

Rattle, rattle, rattle the d100 has rolled again, but this time James ‘Humakti’ over on the Discord channel has a -1% adjustment, because he rolled an issue that has appeared before.

This is a classic issue, not least for its concealed poetry from Ian Marsh (find out more Episode 14 of the GROGPOD). This was a point when the magazine was transitioning into something more interesting, more challenging than the versions of the magazine that had gone before.

Miniatures were beginning to get increasing prominence, but so was more rigorous writing from Colin Greenland, Pete Tamlyn, Graeme Davis and Graham Staplehurst… the migration from Imagine was in full flow.

Not sure about some of the adverts (what was Ringquest about?).

Let me know what you think in the comments …

Dirk

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

I made an appearance on The What Would the Smart Party Do? Podcast chatting to Gaz about Reviewing Games Master Advice currently available in print and featured on blogs. 

Baz is on holiday, so like a supply teacher, I had the general feeling of ‘I think I’ve got away with it’. It’s available on their site, and wherever you find your podcasts. 

During the show I mentioned how I turned to Robin’s Laws of Good Games Mastering in an hour of need. It was at the point where I was playing with people outside of my normal gaming group for the first time. I had also seen myself as a GM on video. Urgh.

This post is to supplement the discussion and point you towards other publications that you may find interesting. I have also reiterated some of the points that were made and expanded upon them.

Guides to GMing are usually shaped by the following broad topic areas:

Scenario design, these include ‘story’ or ‘structure’ generators

Preparing for a session, tips and techniques to ensure that you are ready to run the game

Running a session, a guide to some of the ways to keep a session moving while in play

General tips, some pointers towards good practice is applicable to all areas of game-play

Many are a combination of all of the above, but some specialise in a particular aspect of GMing. The best ones are the ones that don’t offer an overall philosophy, instead they offer ideas for particular circumstances.

This follows the usual 1d6 format of 5 highlights and a fumble.

1. Peterson’s Rules of Good Gaming – these are a set of five ‘rules’ to use during a game session that I have adopted through osmosis as I’m not sure I’ve actually seen the original source. The Design Mechanism quotes these in their ‘Games Mastery’ section of Mythras.

The principles are ‘baked in’ to elements of Basic Role-Playing (which after several dalliances elsewhere, remains my go-to system). 

I mentioned the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule during the discussion, which means that players should always have three opportunities to make an informed decision to escape their fate. I sometimes summarise this as ‘three dice rolls from death’.

‘The Right to have fun’ is Peterson’s ‘Rule of Cool’ to make sure that you inject pace and hook the characters into the action at every opportunity. 

I also like the principle of ‘Make Bonuses Worthwhile’ – don’t mess about with a 5% boost – go big or go home. If the players come up with something, make sure they have a good chance of succeeding, otherwise their clever plans will result in disappointment. 

Perhaps it’s a bit rich coming from Mythras given that it’s possible to have a 1d2 damage bonus.

2. The Alexandrian – During the discussion we focused primarily on Justin Alexander’s essays on running investigative games. Here are some of my favourites from the random Games Master Tips section to pep up your game:

How about some random text so you can ‘speak in tongues’ when representing an Orc? 

Or, a guide to presenting locations, reminding the GM that the description doesn’t end at the beginning when the scene is framed?

Or, practical advice on preparing cheat-sheets, again, reminding you to return to them and refresh them as you play.

This blog is an excellent resource and should be part of every GM’s toolkit.

3. The Angry DM. I have been blocked by The Angry GM on Twitter for asking him a question at the wrong time. He really is *that* angry. Grrrrr. 

The Angry schtick is what made Scott Rehm’s blog exciting. Anger is an energy and this is energic writing about RPGS. 

Game Angry: How to RPG the angry way is a collection of the writing from the blogs which is not confined to GM Advice – this is geared towards making you a better player whether you are new to the hobby, a player character, or a Games Master. 

He starts from the basis that “this is not complicated”. 

He’s frustrated that people who are curious are put off by the apparent complexity. He remarks that playing RPGs is the most fun you can have with your friends and FOR GOODNESS SAKE, DON’T MAKE IT COMPLICATED – the people are responsible for explaining it are rubbish and make it too complicated. 

What follows is 220 pages, about not making it complicated.

The tone is a consistent, demystifying explanation from a ‘man of the people’ trying to make this as easy as possible. 

I like his short-hand for representing NPCs if you don’t have the energy to keep it going. He has his patented “Four Ps of Play Acting” one of which is “PFIDGET” – a little thing that the character does to make them distinctive, such as pulling their fringe, puffing on a pipe or stroking the chin.

It does it all in a much less stuffy manner than the Ultimate RPG Game Play that I referenced in the show.

4. Liminal If like me you like the laconic and cogent: it doesn’t get much better than Paul Mitchener’s guide to developing the multi-factional, investigative scenarios that drive Liminal.

Tales from the Loop adopt a story generator approach, but Liminal has much leaner recommendations on how to think of structure, twists and building cases.

It guides GMs on how to form a structure for investigations and use appropriate, varied conflicts as obstacles. 

Ideas will generate just from reading this chapter and being absorbed into the setting.

5. Seth Skorkowsky – This stretches the remit a little as this is a YouTube channel rather than published advice, but Sly Flourish also dispenses his advice on a vlog as well as his respected Lazy Dungeon Master series, so I’m giving it a pass. 

Skorkowsky has a pragmatic, unpretentious approach to RPGs that he presents in an easy-going, comic manner. His series of GM ToolBox, RPG Philosophy and Running RPG programmes are informative and entertaining.

I highly recommend his How to Run a Module programme as it is a topic seldom tackled. He talks through his method of working through pre-written adventures to get them into your head before running.

This channel is my lockdown discovery. It’s entertaining as well as informative.

6. Gary Gygax – at the point when he was in the wilderness following his split from TSR, Gygax wrote two mass-market paperbacks: Role-Playing Mastery (1987)  and Master of the Game (1989). These are densely written paperbacks with prescriptive set of rules to “bring forth your personal best during play” and “total mastery” of the game by players and GM.

In some ways, it’s a toned down version of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, but no less Gygaxian in its approach. You could never accuse him of understatement. There’s a portentous declaration in every sentence. Here’s a quote concerning the ‘problem GM’ dealing with different players inconsistently:

“…This kind of attitude can spread like a cancer through the playing group if the players who are being treated properly feed the GM’s ego even more by supporting and approving of his actions toward the downtrodden ones. No campaign containing such participants can exist for long. The reasons are obvious, and I will not deal further with the subject. A new campaign must be had, and that suffice.”

Master of the Game – Gary Gygax

Sheesh…

Dirk the Dice

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Apparently at random, Pookie has rolled a 19 and conjured up this issue from 1980. I say ‘apparently’ at random as it is a remarkable coincidence that he as rolled an issue featuring a RuneQuest scenario that he has revived for the Jonstown Compendium. Mmmm. Let me see those rolls.

This is from the early period when the magazine was produced every two months, available on subscription or for specialist game shops.

I always find the adverts in each issue striking. Due to the lack of colour, the advertisers relied on words to make their pitch. Look at full page ad for Foes; the words create fabulous characterful imagery for a book with computer stat-blocks for NPCs. Don Turnbull writes a letter setting out the mission for TSR UK. He writes … a letter!

The Les Edwards’ cover would reappear later as a colour plate within Call of Cthulhu Third edition by Games Workshop. It’s an image of great intensity and a nostalgic resonance.

Look forward to your views.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

Apologies for the gratuitous bum-cheek; don’t blame me, blame the d100 rolled by GROGSQUADer Dave Paterson to pick a random issue.

Interesting one this issue as it appears to be another one of those ‘on-boarding’ issues that seems to be reaching out to new readers who are new to the hobby. Was it a new distribution deal with newsagents? Was it at a point where there was a marketing campaign reaching out to new players?

The content is pitched at new readers too with an introduction to the hobby from Marcus L Rowland, with a great colour illustration from Iain McCaig (I tried copying it with my coloured pencils, but reader, it was rubbish).

There’s also a solo adventure from David Morris, a beginning adventure for ‘the Big One’ Dungeons and Dragons, and a new column about miniatures (I can’t see that catching on).

Do you remember this one? Did you use any of the material? Share your memories and thoughts with the Book Club.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

By some strange quirk of fate, this issue precedes the issue that was selected last week! Don’t blame me, blame the cursed dice of Hattifattener who rolled it on their d100 over on our Discord channel (if you’d like to join, then please let me know).

In this month a toilet caught fire on Air Canada’s DC-9 killing 23 people, Mrs Thatch was elected with a landslide and Octopussy was released. We needed something to cheer us up.

Fortunately this was the hey day of the hey day of White Dwarf and the covers don’t get much better than this John Blanche classic. As Daily Dwarf once pointed out, there’s about three scenarios at once playing out in that city. Inspirational stuff.

The internal content is just as classic. Part 1 of Irillian, ‘To catch a Thief’ one of the best ever Traveller articles (to my mind), Cthulhu Now! and a great Griselda story to boot.

I’d be really interested in how many of products and services that you used from the ads in this issue too.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

In the latest GROGPOD we watch Conan The Barbarian (1982) in the GROGGLEBOX section. There’s an animated difference of opinion between Judge Blythy who finds the film interminably boring and Ed in his Shed who declares it to be “The Best Fantasy Film of the 80s.”

It’s fair to say that I am somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but I do still carry the scars of disappointment from the first viewing. My expectations had been built by Starburst, the long running ‘Magazine of television and cinema fantasy’, as they had featured the film with some eye-catching stills from the film prior to its release. At the time I was in a vortex of playing one RPG session after another with my friends and the images alone provided fuel and adventure hooks for my games.

“The pictures are great, until they start moving,” says Blythy in during the discussion, while Eddy says that it’s “perfect RPG fodder.” I think they’re both right. One the one hand the film has great Conanesque set-pieces, Schwarzenegger has not yet acquired the charisma and screen presence that he would bring to his later films in the decade. I thought he was a klutz. Conan is not a klutz. He’s a thief, a mercenary, a brigand, a pirate, an adventurer and a king, but never a klutz.

He looked the part and maybe, with hindsight, it was enough to enjoy the film.

The reviewers at the time were savage, even in Starburst, with Arnold getting the bulk of their ire; not one of them would admit that, in the words of Eddy, “he’s perfect for the role, he’s a five out of ten.”

From Pegasus, the Judge’s Guild RPG Magazine. Read the final paragraph on the page.