The GROGNARD Files

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

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INTRO: We’ve had another iTunes review (we’d love to get more!)

GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN: Graeme Davis takes us on a whistle stop tour around his career so far: check out this book-listing  at Graeme’s site for all the references mentioned.

WHITE DWARF: @dailydwarf has given another insightful perspective of all of the adventures that appeared White Dwarf for the game.

OPEN BOX: Blythy and Dirk talk about Warhammer and how they can fit it in their gaming repertoire.

OUTRO: Only a few days left to register for a hard copy of the GROGZINE 2019.

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There was something about Blades in the Dark that captured my imagination when I read it last year. Apart from a couple of games, it has not become part of our regular repertoire, so when the opportunity to take part in the 24 Hour RPG came up, Blades was my first choice to run at the event.

It’s an annual event; I did RuneQuest Borderlands for 24 hours last year. It takes place the week after GROGMEET which affects the number of people available to participate. Neil and Will were great players and between them they gradually brought their characters to life in the world of Duskvol: starting as lucky chancers in the thrall of Bazo Baz, to finally becoming the Kings of Crowsfoot, seizing the turf from under the noses of The Lamp Blacks.

Donations to Mind are still being accepted at the Just Giving site. Thanks to the generous support of the GROGSQUAD we have helped the event burst through its target of £1500.

Five highlights and a fumble …

The Dark Needles 

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The players created a created a ‘Shadows’ crew as it was the best fit for their characters’ Playbooks (a Lurk and Slide). The most satisfying element of the day was seeing the crew grow its resources during the long session. Their lair was beneath a shop that sold fine Iruvian cloth, needles and thimbles had a number of upgrades. Once the crew began building up their capacity by upgrading and investing in long term projects (such as mapping the underground network of tunnels beneath Crowsfoot) it spurned them on to become more ambitious and take on more audacious scores.

Blades … allows mechanics and imagination work really well together in the crew creation rules.

Crowsfoot

To keep things simple, I limited the hunting grounds to a single district: Crowsfoot, where the three factions of The Crows, Lamp Blacks and Red Sashes, are on the brink of a gang war. One of the highlights of the 12 hour session was seeing the loyalties and allegiances shift from score to score. The players were smart in how they played the factions off each other and developed relationships when it was expedient.

Fortune Rolls

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I was more confident this time with some of the core mechanics of the game. There’s a structure to the game that imposes some discipline to provide focus for the action. On the previous occasions I’ve played, I found it stifling and the moments of Freeplay and Downtime seemed to merge into each other. I was more strict with it this time as the nature of the session allowed more space to impose a rhythm to Freeplay, Score and Downtime.

In previous games I’d ignored the ‘Fortune Rolls’ that are made at the start of each score.

This sets the level of the situation. Depending on the outcome of the roll, the score can be Controlled, Risky or Desperate, with each stage representing increasing danger.

This time the Fortune Rolls added an exciting dimension to the scores mechanically and contributed to the narrative in the game world. Thanks to meticulous planning they were able to stage an audience with the leader of The Crows and pull off an audacious trick on her, while their attempt to shake-down a barber and steal some action from his gambling outfit was Desperate as there was an unexpected encounter waiting for them.

Once a rhythm is established Fortune Rolls work really well.

Flash Back!

The use of the ‘Flash Back’ device was stunning in all of the scores completed by The Dark Needles. They were used sparingly, just they allowed the game to keep moving without the need for endless planning. For example, they forged a pardon to boost an assassin from prison, as the Blue Coat constable was about to study the paperwork, they flashed back to a moment the night before when one of the Skulks from the crew, swapped his eye-glasses. Neil rolled a triple critical.

The extra dice added to the scene meant that there was another critical. The constable, embarrassed that he was unable to read the document fully, released the prisoner.

It was so easy. That was only the beginning of their problems.

A cast of Thousands

Before and during the event, I was receiving numbers from members of the GROGSQUAD who were making donations. At the back of Blades in the Dark there are a number of tables that allow you to create NPCs and situations at random during the game.

Roethe Hellyers was an emaciated, annoying, ruthless assassin who bargained with The Needles, they reunited him with his daughter, so he became an asset of the crew, until he met a tragic end (Andrew Cowie).

“Twelves” was Baz Bazo’s beautiful capo and handler of The Needles who met them in the dark corners of The Leaky Bucket to give them scores. (Lee Carnell)

‘Wicker’ was an assassin preparing an ambush for Roethe in league with Twelves. The Dark Needles stole him away before he could make an attack. (Matt the Clownfist!)

Vond ‘Rooster’ Coleburn was an accomplished fence who was offered to The Needles as a contact in return for favours.(Andrew Clark)

The Birch and Thorn were leaders of the sword academy of the Red sashes (Ty Callaghan-Jones and Per Boden)

Vey Hellyer or ‘Thistle’ was Roethe’s daughter. (Rick Knott)

Hix Haron or ‘Ogre’ was a Cutter, employed by Baz Bazo as an assassin to kill Lyssa (the leader of The Crows) when Roethe ‘disappeared’. (Glen Robinson)

Crowl Sevoy a Crow who flipped to the Lamp Blacks following the death of Roric: a valuable source of information (Andrew Jones)

Rustol was Lyssa’s personal bodyguard. In a flashback, The Needles commanded Roethe to abduct his only son. (Mike Watson)

Skannon Harvon was the barber who ran a cock-fighting operation between the hours of Smoke and Ash. (Mike Hobbs)

Wester Dalmore appeared as an assistant alchemist for the Red Sashes producing spark-bombs for the explosive finale (Chris Miles)

Skinner was the faithful Skulk who aided in the final raid of The Crow’s lair (Daily Dwarf)

All of you who pledged appeared in the game, if you haven’t seen your character on Twitter or elsewhere, let me know and I’ll tell you who you were. Thanks for taking part and donating, it’s really appreciated.

24 Hours 

The organisers also were very accommodating and willing to allow me run to adjust the format and run the game for 12 hours. The time zipped by and my only regret was not playing for longer. This was one of my most satisfying moments as a GamesMaster this year: collaborating with the players to construct adventure on the fly and producing unforgettable dramatic scenes. Fantastic.

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Tomorrow I’m heading to Southport to take part in the 24 Hour RPG – an Annual Event hosted by Tim from the Old Scroates (and others) – to raise money for charity. You may remember that I ran RuneQuest Borderlands last year.

This year I will be running a 12 hour game of Blades in the Dark. Not quite the feat of endurance as last time, but nevertheless it’s a good cause and you can take part.

HOW TO TAKE PART

Pledge some money on the Just Giving page, leave your name and 4 numbers between 1 – 6, so that I can generate ‘a score’ for the characters. You’ll appear as an NPC in the game. I’ll tweet to let you know when your character has appeared and the results of the heist.

This year the charity is Mind.

Report to follow.

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The generous amount raised at GROGMEET has been added to the total. Thanks again to all those who contributed!

These are a selection of sights from last weekend for the archive. The sun sets on another GROGMEET.

The next meet-up is online on 12th April 2019 for Virtual GROGMEET: A chance to participate in the GROGMEET for Patreons who can’t make the trip to Manchester, or for people who attended who would like to have a crack at one or two of the other games available.

Dirk

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Dirk, Neil, Ste and Rick – the GROGFIGHT Games Masters

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Steve R receives his magnificent Cognitive Merchant GamesMaster Screen

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Gaz introduces lipsnsnout sausages to another group of Warhammer 4e players

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Andy Hemming presented another of his epic dioramas – this year Gaslands

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Over at FanBoy Three — The Pendragon Crew were about to go on a Crusade!

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Paul Baldowski was Chief Judge – insisted on the technical accuracy of phases in his Judge Dredd

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Drakes Seven – Ducks in HeroQuest heading for the Red Moon

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Doc ‘Griff’ RPG did a sterling job – two sessions of T&T with over 16 players

 

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It’s not ‘Grog’ Meet for nothing

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A HeroQuest recreated in the pub

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Ian Cooper interviewed. The ridiculous Home-Made Shrine to the actor Caroline Munro looks on

According to Tabletop Gaming Magazine, GROGMEET is the UK’s favourite “Manchurian” RPG games event; who can argue with that?

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Tabletop Gaming Magazine, November Issue 24

Back in the eighties, we would dream about having people to play with and it took thirty odd years for us to reach out and find more gamer friends. What started out as an experiment has become a regular feature of our gaming calendar. This year there were more events as we added a couple of ‘fringe’ meetings for those in the GROGSQUAD who arrived early on Friday and could stay a little later on the Sunday.

It’s now a three day event, how did that happen?

Mad Lab may have changed locations – transforming itself into a replica of Eddy’s shed complete with woodworking tools, 3D printers, and blood-splattered walls (eh?) and there were lots of new faces replacing familiar ones – but the atmosphere was the same as always; GROGMEET creates an enthusiastic, sometimes eccentric, energy fuelled by a friendliness that’s hard to ignore.

A meet-up rather than a convention with an emphasis on games – play’s the thing – but there’s also plenty of grog at GROGMEET as the convivial chats in the pub are often the most memorable moments of the weekend.

It’s a testament to the munificence of the GROGSQUAD that there was a stunning display of raffle prizes donated which generated £402 for Mind (the charity supported by the 24 Hour RPG in 2018).

The following table features five highlights and a fumble from my own personal experience of the event. There are other blogs popping up with different perspectives from The Welsh Wizard, Gaz (from the Smart Party), Guy Milner, Pookie and Keehar.

  1. GROGFIGHT – an Old School Brawl & Crawl

The Old Scouser himself, hosted an opening fringe event that was ambitious in scope: four tables, four systems, four GMs, in four hours with twenty players moving around which would include an old school brawl and dungeon crawl. The four tables represented four dimensions where the five adventure archetypes had been dispersed by a Soul-Forge that they had destroyed. Shards of the Soul-Forge had been scattered to different dimensions as had the souls of the adventurers. Simultaneously, the characters had to rediscover the Soul-Forge and bring it together. Are you keeping up?

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The Old Scouser advises that the Soul-Forge is throbbing, and it’s time for a player to be carried away to another table.

My table was The Fantasy Trip, the MetaGame skirmish rules from back in 1978, designed by Steve Jackson and a forerunner to GURPS.

The location in my dimension was The Lamia’s Lips brothel in Endlespace, a ruined, decadent place at the end of time. This was my homage to the dungeons I created as a spotty teen. The brothel was the kind of puerile juvenilia that might be found in ‘zines in the 80s. I even used the Harlot Random Encounter table from AD&D’s Dungeon Master’s Guide, really.

There were hilarious scenes where the Wizard, whose magic didn’t work in the presence of halflings, was chucking ‘Saucy Stumpets’ off the balcony to land on the blind-fighting, eunuch hobbits below.

When the Soul-Forge throbbed, new players joined the table and the situation was explained to them: “We’re in a tower with a domed roof, with two circular chambers underneath.”

Soon the innuendo became tiresome and the players a bit ‘judgey’.

I don’t think the Lamia’s Lips will be opening again.

2. The Price of Breakfast

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John Bender under the Soviets: “Being bad feels pretty good, huh?”

GROGMEET eve (6pm-9.30pm-ish) is the more traditional ‘pre-GROGMEET’ slot for newer games or a more experimental approach to older games. Doc Con ‘Cowie’ pitched an idea for West End Games Price of Freedom (1984), featuring the characters from The Breakfast Club, at UK Games Expo.

I was excited about the prospect as the game was extremely controversial in the pages of White Dwarf when it was reviewed. The concept of America being occupied by the Soviets and the armed struggle against the Red army was seen as problematic in the fevered context of the cold-war. Letters to White Dwarf reflected this moral panic. Throw John Hughes into the mix and there’s a winning formula.

The rules have an unfair reputation for being overly crunchy, as it is a war game after all, so in spite of its endless modifications and precise ‘statement of intent’ turn management, the mechanics worked really well for simulating a cinematic, yet lethal battles.

Doc Cowie has an indefatigable energy and the game cracked on at a pace. He offered us the option of three modes of play: ‘Punisher’ mode which were rules as written; ‘Red Dawn’ which meant that the opponents took damage one step higher than the player characters; and A-Team where the ‘death’ step is removed from the player characters. We went for Red Dawn mode and put the lethality to the test immediately at a check-point.

I was flagging a little and my ability to insert John Hughes references into my responses was failing. My reference to Abe Foreman, Sausage King of Chicago, fell on deaf ears as I’d lost the ability to speak due to lack of sleep the night before.

There were some great moments in the game, as well as epic scenes of conflict, the Doc wove in the ‘dad-issues’ themes from the movie which produced satisfying moments.

I got to see Molly Ringwald take down a helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, so I can cross that off the bucket-list.

3. The Dying Earth

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I’m a massive fan of Jack Vance. His Dying Earth novels in particular are a firm favourite, so I was very keen to participate in the RPG based on the novels designed by Robin Laws.

I was Quens a pedantic character who was a master of pettifoggery details who finds himself in The Hotel Grand Perdusz a manse of Urbotast, a magician, who has seemingly trapped the player characters into a contract to be his servants. The morning after the apocalyptic, party the night before, we had to work out what had happened to the previous servants and extract ourselves from eternal slavery.

The hotel had plenty of exotic locations to explore and NPCs to interact with, to piece together evidence: not so much ‘whodunnit’, more of a ‘how did they do it and can we escape in the same way’.

I had great fun trying to extract myself from employment by challenging “a contract predicated on the supposition of negligence” and bamboozling my fellow companions. There were elaborate arguments about haberdashery, petty pugilism over the status of one character over another and moments of hilarity as three different characters were persuaded to dunk themselves, head-first into a septic tank.

The epic escape at the climax hinged on a single dice roll. A real thrill, superbly handled by the GM Steve Ray (@OrlanthR).

If the session was transcribed, it would read like a Jack Vance story and I can’t give it a bigger compliment than that.

4. Gaming for Greg #WeAreAllUs

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Chopper himself tagged Nelson with the Greg Rune in @dailydwarf ‘s Savage Worlds Judge Dredd session: An American Were-Bear in Brit Cit

The weekend coincided with a memorial celebration of Greg Stafford’s life and work. Gamers all over the world were encouraged to include Greg in their games to connect with his spirit. I never met him, so it was great to hear the stories from people who had done. Over the weekend we played in Glorantha (RuneQuest and HeroQuest) and Pendragon, but he was also apparent in the other games too. His rune was the Soul-Forge, the instructions to closing the damn in Price of Freedom and many other inventive name-checks to the Grand Shaman of Gaming.

At the end of the day, the attendees clapped, cheered and shouted Waha! to thank Greg for his contribution to the hobby. I hope they heard us in Berkley.

5. The Room of Role-Playing Rambling with Ian Cooper

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Ian prepares to sit on the Ruby Throne

Memories of Greg appeared in the live recording of a future GROGPOD (Jan ’19) about HeroQuest. Ian Cooper is the line editor and he gave a fascinating interview about his formative years in the hobby, a demonstration of the core mechanic of HeroQuest and some tips on oral storytelling.

He chose Tolkien (the world builder) over Moorcock (the pulp, hack) which proves you can’t have everything.

6.Fumble

It was a fantastic event and ran like a dream. I anticipated it being more complicated, shepherding people around Manchester, but it was easy as everyone was so laid back about it all.

The pre-work left me a bit too knackered, so there’s a few changes that I’ll need to make next time, but I’m not complaining because it was great seeing everyone enjoy themselves so much.

There’s enough in my second wind to start planning the next one; the GROGSQUAD have asked for a theme of ‘Anthropomorphic Animals’. Sigh.

Next: GROGMEET Scrapbook

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Download Episode

INTRO: The GROGNARD files is dedicated to Greg Stafford (1948-2018)

OPEN BOX: Graeme Davis talks to us about the genesis of the 1st edition of WARHAMMER and some of the plans for the new edition. You find out more about his long and distinguished career in gaming on his website.

WHITE DWARF: The Daily Dwarf reviews the articles that appeared in White Dwarf for WARHAMMER, it’s a long list.

JUDGE BAZ RULES!: Baz Stevens from The Smart Party podcast (The UK’s Premier RPG Podcast… mmm?) joins us in the room of role-playing rambling to get deep and dirty into the rules.

OUTRO: Join our Patreon before the end of November to get a hard copy of the zine.

The last time I went to Leamington Spa it was in 1996, when I was on my way to a posh event at Lygon Arms, a nearby luxury hotel. It was ‘black tie’ and Mrs Dirk pointed out that I’d only brought my DM boots, so we had to call and buy some emergency shoes.

It is now the home of a mini-con for RPGs with the exotic title of ‘Owl Bear and the Wizard’s Staff’ which took place last weekend. It was hosted by the ever genial Asako_Soh who brought together this epic Tweet-Up. It was great meeting twitter friends and online gaming buddies who I usually see in a tiny window in my computer.

The venue was very good as it big enough to accommodate 10 gaming tables with up to seven players at each. When it isn’t hosting gaming conventions, it is a place where bands practice, so the acoustics were good. There was atmosphere, but the sound from other tables wasn’t distracting.

I’ve written about the game I played, and the samosas, so here’s some images from our trip.

I didn’t need my emergency shoes.

Thanks to  for organising a great event. 

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The Proclaimers have let themselves go

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A great logo by @MsGloriaSunset and dice tray by AllRolledUpUK

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RuneQuest’s Back! @dimbyd – a RuneMaster, bringing Glorantha to the con scene

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Warwick Spice 

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Come, it’s time to keep your appointment …

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Blythy taking his players to a place where time changes like the wind

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Wayne Peter’s Savage World had props, craft and everything!

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This lot look like they’re for the chop. The karate chop!

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This is the play report from last weekend’s RuneQuest marathon at The Owl bear and Wizards Staff mini-con held in Leamington Spa.

I took my players through not one, but two QuickStart adventures: firstly, in search of The Broken Tower, from the ENnie Award-Winning, Free RPG Day supplement, produced last year; then in the afternoon they explored A Darkness at RuneGate (as yet unpublished preview).

I’ll do a Scrap Book about the mini-con, until then, here’s the game report, delivered in the usual format. There are five highlights and a final fumble.

RuneQuest Glorantha

The day before the event, the physical books were finally available to purchase. The PDF has been with us for a couple of months, but there’s nothing like a rule-book appearing in the material plane to bring imagination to life.

Against this background of fevered anticipation for the new game I approached the two sessions as a ‘demonstration’. Most of the players had a very limited experience of the RuneQuest, so I decided to show-case its capabilities.

Rules lawyers, cover your ears.

I also went with the run of play rather than limiting proceedings with a pesky rule. The runic inspirations were enjoyable, so I wasn’t going to ruin things by saying ‘you can’t do that’. It’s called maximum game fun (MGF), I believe.

I must of done something right as one player bought the game using his phone before he left.

RuneQuest Paraphernalia 

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“They look like something from Biscuit Week on Bake Off” Daily Dwarf

I had a bad case of ‘gamers’ back’ on the Sunday. Schlepping all of my gear in a ruck sack for two days took its toll. There’s just so much wonderful stuff for RuneQuest to share. I used my new Q-WorkShop, turquoise dice-set, complete with its hit location ‘left-leg’ bias. There are new ones on the way apparently, but I think it’s traditional for the left leg to be the first place hit. It always raises a cheer.

The Glorantha Source book was also useful to share with the players. During down-time it was an opportunity to flick through and admire the art and study some of the cult relationships. One of the players was well-versed in the cosmology of Glorantha. He was playing Sorala, the pre-generated character from the rule-book who is the scribe from Nochet, an initiate of Lhankor May. I was very grateful when he provided information about Dragon Pass at different points during play as it prevented a GM info-dump.

Last, but not least, it was the Strike Rank tracker from Infinity Engine what broke the gamers back. This is a beautifully engraved wooden strip with rules and a twelve phase gauge to keep a track of turn order. There’s also matching Rune tokens which can be used on the tracker and to mark ‘augments’ when characters have active ‘runic inspiration’.

It’s hard for an old dog to learn new tricks. In the thrill of battle, I forgot to refer to it, using instead my ‘keep it in your head’ system that I’ve used for years. That said, the tracker is a nice thing to have at the table as a talking point and useful for explaining strike rank initiative order rules.

The Broken Tower

This is the forth time that I have GMd this scenario: the first time was around the time of its release, the second was recorded for The Smart Party and the third was at UK Games Expo. This time the players really bought into the mythic setting and brought their own ideas and concepts to the scenes, there was more of an eerie quality to the journey through the bad lands.

They were certainly a single-minded party of adventurers who were determined to complete their task. Vostor, the Lunar exile, was particularly forthright.

The Grey Dogs never stood a chance.

Hospitality

Asako-soh was the genial host for the day and he looked after us throughout the weekend. The night before he arranged a meal at Warwick Spice, there were samosas for lunch and a GM goody bag containing a liquorice pipe.

Lunch was a time to re-group and say hello to podcast listeners.

The highlight of the weekend came from a couple of people who were grateful to the GROGPOD as they had started playing regularly thanks to listening. Like the samosa, they gave me much needed nourishment to get me fired up.

A Darkness at RuneGate

Thanks to Richard August, one of the members of the GROGSQUAD, I was given a preview draft of a new QuickStart that’s in development. Rich is one of the writers who designed the adventure. It was a real privilege to playtest something that only a handful of people in the world have played before.

If you know Rich’s work from such supplements as Three Faces of the Wendigo you’ll know that he has a real flair for the macabre. A Darkness … is no exception. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an investigation with a pervasive stench of the horrific.

The players enjoyed the distinctive ‘The Wicker Man’ folk-horror elements as they encountered people of RuneGate who had embraced a new way of life, adopting a sinister, yet appealing serenity while those around them were in disorder.

RuneQuest fans new and old will enjoy the climatic encounter.

QuickStart apart

The pre-generated characters that appeared in the original QuickStart appear in the new rule book. I used the new ones as they are laid out over two pages which makes things easier to spot, however I failed my roll and missed the fact that there are some new features in the character sheets.

“How does sorcery work?”

Gulp.

I made something up. MGF. Right?