The GROGNARD Files

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

Robin of Sherwood (with Graham Staplehurst)

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INTRO: In this episode we are continuing our exploration of the context of gaming in the eighties, by looking at one of the TV series that influenced how we played.

POTTED HISTORY: This is a quick summary of how the programme came to be made and a bit of background about Richard Carpenter. If you’d like to know more, I recommend the wonderful, comprehensive books by Andrew Orton 

OPEN BOX: Graham Staplehurst talks about his writing in fanzines, for MERP and his role in bringing Robin of Sherwood to life in RPGs. He mentions Other Minds magazine and the audio dramas available from Spiteful Puppet.

GROGGLEBOX: A new feature. Blythy and Ed join Dirk to do a commentary on The Seven Poor Knights from Acre episode.

OUTRO: A quick update on our latest projects. Also a shout out for The Lost Art of Ray Willner: The Adventures of Robin Hood.

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There’s still time to submit your photos of the supporting material that you’ve made for your games.

Handouts, minis, floor-plans, counters, character sheets, improvised props or anything you’ve produced to enhance a game. Send it before the end of the month and the best, selected by our friends Jo and Cris from bonhomiegames.uk will be sent a copy of HeroQuest Glorantha as a prize (kindly donated by them).

Send them to me at dirk the dice at gmail dot com, or by twitter, or me we, or on the Facebook page.

We’ll show a selection of the images on here in a scrapbook.

The competition is inspired by the preparation that I’ve been doing ready for Convergence.*

Last year was an incredible learning experience as I managed to get loads of time playing with different people in one-shots at conventions. For years and years I’ve played with a small circle of people who know what to expect from my games (and I know what to expect from them as players). Playing one-shots with people that you don’t know or only know as gamers presents a number of exciting challenges that ‘up your game’.

Famously, when it comes to prep, when I play with the Armchair Adventurers, it usually amounts to a few scrawled notes on post-its and, if they’re lucky, I’ll sketch a map in front of their very eyes using my trusty note-board and dry-wipe pen. Chutzpah, ‘barrelling on’ and a sense of humour manages to pull me through the * deepens voice * Theatre of the Mind.

I ran @dailydwarf ‘s rather brilliant Judge Dredd scenario A Better Living Through Chemistry on a couple of occasions last year. Thanks to the artistic efforts of Roger Coe, it came with floor-plan maps that really enhanced the experience.

Playing in other people’s games have really given me clues on how to manage and track elements of the game in interesting ways. At GROGMEET I played Price of Freedom which was more like a tactical war-game than I was anticipating. The experience of play was helped by the visual bits-and-pieces used to support the descriptions. Not just floorpans and miniatures, but all of the equipment was presented on cards with the stats and a photograph: my Judd Nelson character looked cool with an Uzi open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun.

In a Dying Earth game, the illustrated cast of characters were displayed to the players as they were introduced which made sure everyone knew who the NPCs were and could refer to them (by pointing at them) without having to remember their names.

There’s advantages to having physical stuff at the table.

Gaz from the Smart Party said on Me We, “They instantly make your game better. Having character names on the table, maps with places on, Termination Warrants with the mission writ large… All provide more texture. Plus, lazy players are reminded of details they couldn’t be arsed writing down or memorising. Attentive players are rewarded with cool artefacts to mess about with.”

I really admire these trappings in other people’s games, but generally I find them hard work to create with minimal returns. For the Strontium Dog game, I’ve thrown myself into making Warrant Cards, equipment cards, character sheets and customised counters. It seems that having a generic game like Savage Worlds encourages the GM to create home-made stuff.

I’ll post some of the stuff I’ve made when we’ve played the game: If you show me yours, I’ll you mine.

 

* Convergence in Stockport 9th – 11th March – a great, small, friendly convention that first got me into running games for strangers. All of those strangers have become friends.

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INTRO: This is an unusual GROGPOD as it was recorded live at GROGMEET 18. Ian Cooper talks about HeroQuest and there’s a chance for you to win a copy of the game thanks to our friends at bonhomiegames.uk

Show us your favourite handout, character sheet, floor plan, prop, mini or any other physical item you’ve produced for your gaming before the end of Feb to be in with a chance of winning.

INTERVIEW: Ian Cooper talks about his formative years in gaming, oral story telling, Greg Stafford, HeroQuest and his Coming Storm campaign.

GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN: Blythy joins me in the Room of Role-Playing Rambling to talk about generic systems. Want to know more about Judge Dredd in the world of GUMSHOE? Then check out Steve Ray’s play reports.

OUTRO:  Patreon thanks, the latest news about the GROGZINE and the plans for the next episode.

IMG_0149.jpegI’ve been making the plans for 2019 game. Mrs ‘The Dice’ took one look at January and said, “that’s a game twice a week, isn’t it?”

“Well,” I said, “some of them are shorter than others, so don’t really count as full sessions.”

She gave me the eye-brow raised, eye-rolling combo followed by a “oh yeah, I forgot about the ‘short ones’.”

It has been a project four years in the making, but once again, gaming is my everything and I’m saying: “it’s a good thing”

GROGPOD

I’ve scheduled in the programme of podcasts for the next year. We’ve at least 12 months material to keep us going. I was concerned when a long time listener complained that there were too many interviews, but I think it’s talking to others from back in the day that keeps it interesting and draws new listeners to the GROGPOD, so I’m sticking with the format.

We have some great guests lined up too. They’ll be helping us explore our (very) loose theme this year: what were the influences on our gaming back in the day and how can they continue to inspire us?

The long promised episode featuring our musings on Robin of Sherwood is in production and will debut a brand new feature. GROGGLEBOX will be Eddy, me and Blythy talking about Seven Four Knights from Acre (season 1, episode 4). Do your homework before mid-February.

In the meantime, why not vote (classes 8th Jan) for us and the rest of your favourite podcasts in a new poll hosted by EN World.

 

INFORMATION SUPER-HIDE-AWAY

As much as I enjoy putting the podcast together, it’s only a means of finding more games and more players. I have some regular sessions continuing into the new year which is scratching that campaign itch that I’ve not been able to reach with one-shots. This has been thanks to online play, which allows me to disappear in my den for a few hours and be transported to other multiverses, while the rest of the family are waiting for a Hollywood handshake on The Great British Bake-off.

I’m looking forward to continuing the ongoing games as I’m playing with really great people. We’re currently in the dustbowl of Oklahoma in The Two-Headed Serpent for Pulp Cthulhu. All of the chapters are atmospheric, but I really like this one as it has a different mood that some of the others we’ve done. I really hope that we can sustain the momentum to the end of this campaign as every session has been both richly interesting and edge-of-the-seat exciting. There’s more adventure to come, I only hope that the game can continue at the punch and pace we’ve achieved so far.

The HeroQuest Glorantha Coming Storm campaign is getting to an interesting point in the story. Our Red Cow convoy as stopped off to make trade in Jonstown. Although our crew are mocked by the tribe as ‘Generation Cow Jumpers’ due to our disastrous initiation, we’ve chosen our sides and started a black-market of weapons for the Free Sartar movement, and it feels that we are becoming more important and valuable.

The one-shot that couldn’t be contained is continuing for Warhammer 4e. Hopefully you’ll have enjoyed the actual play recording of Lady Magdelena and her rag-tangle entourage as we try to make our way through the Old World. Gaz has offered to keep things going while they’re still interesting as we are loving playing the characters and discovering a game that completely passed us by 30 years ago.

We’ve also got further travels on board USS Thunderchild for Star Trek Adventures. I’m not a trekkie and the 2d20 system seems over-engineered for this ship’s engineer, but its really good fun because the players are great to be with and I’m enjoying playing a Tellerite with Vulcan tendencies.

Can I really squeeze in another regular online game? Turns out that the Wednesday night crew are back for one, last job in the form of D&D 5e Dragon Heist. I’ve decided, the time has come for me to play a monk.

On the 12th/13th April we’ll be hosting virtual GROGMEET (more details very soon) which is a great chance to learn online play and to get the GROGMEET experience if you can’t make it to the live event in November.

WHITES OF THEIR EYES

Online play is great, especially now the technical issues are minimised through practice and improvements in the platform, but it’s a synth-substitute to the real thing. Nothing beats the table.

Our sessions around Eddy’s table in his humble shed is one of the highlights of the month. It’s not the game or the cups of tea, it’s just great catching up with the three of us, doing what we’ve been doing for years. Eddy is enforcing his ‘corrective’ and making sure that we do not stray from ‘the old school’ by running Classic RuneQuest scenario set in Judge’s Guild Duck Tower. I’m looking forward to it as it will be the first time that I’ve been a player character in RQ since we finished playing Borderlands three years ago.

I’d been scheming with Neil Benson about setting up an irregular session in Manchester when Newt Newport announced the re-opening of Go-Play Manchester: a monthly club of one-shot games at Fan Boy Three. I’ve no doubt that having a regular game club on our door-step is going to feature heavily in our gaming experiences in the new year.

We’ll be on the road again too. We are heading for UK Games Expo. I’ve submitted some games to GM. On Friday evening I’m running my ‘The Savage Worlds of Strontium Dog’; Saturday Afternoon is an adapted version of FGU PSI World (I love it. 1980’s nostalgia for the 1950s riddled with teenage angst and nuclear anxiety) and Sunday morning is Lyonesse, The Design Mechanism’s stand-alone game based on Mythras, which won’t be out, but I’ve been promised a preview to share.

We’ll also be attending Convergence, The OwlBear and The Wizards Staff as well as hosting GROGMEET 19.

ZINE SCENE

I’m behind with the layout and preparation of the GROGZINE, so I will be turning my attention to it over the coming weeks. I also have an idea of a side-project that will start to appear in Spring. On the You Tube channel, I’ll be showcasing a scrapbook of zines from the British scene in the 80s. This is Doc Con’s collection that will be archived for the nation.

I have loads more plans and schemes, but I need to put them to one-side while I perfect the manipulation of time and space, before Mrs The Dice’s eyes turn from a roll to a permanent spin. Dirk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In this episode we review our year in gaming and dish out our GROGGIE awards.

It also features WFRP actual play, hosted by The Smart Party.

Subscribe to their feed to catch the rest of it, when it is released.

Podcast recommendations: How we Roll, The Chimpions, Vintage RPG podcast, and Appendix N.

We never played WARHAMMER Fantasy RolePlay back in the 80s, so we’ve been making up lost time over the past few weeks to catch up on what we missed.

The WARHAMMER Grogpods have been produced with the help of The Smart Party podcast. Baz joined us as a locum judge in Part One to dissect 1st edition rules: we managed to play using the rules with Asako Soh (from twitter).

The co-host of The Smart Party, Gaz, has been touring the autumn cons (including GROGMEET) with his WFRP 4e adventures. We played “Here comes the Prince!” set in an Empire backwater of his own design.

Here’s the play report from those sessions. Five highlights and a fumble.

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1 The Enemy Within – Asako Soh revived ‘Mistaken Identity’ for last year’s GROGMEET and this year’s virtual GROGMEET. From the start of the session when we answered the call of a proclamation, it felt like we were in the throes of a classic.

It starts off simply enough with a straight forward across country journey, but an encounter with vile chaos sends the adventure spiralling into warped direction.

The adventure is cunning as lures the players into a tempting get-rich-quick scheme that quickly becomes complicated.

Phil The Dice Mechanic made the observation that the skills are very  well considered in the 1st’ed as they quickly establish the character and their place in the world. He also observed that the critical tables are very lurid and colourful but at the top end of the tables, the descriptions are likely to reoccur. Never mind ‘hit left leg’ we had many ‘shattered pelvis’ results.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session, as it was full of sardonic humour as well as the gross-out pestilence. The scenario is smart too, probably a little rail-roady for modern tastes, but it never felt like that in Asako Soh’s hands.

2. Game for a laugh?

“I know that it’s a darkly comic game, are we playing it that way?” asked Matt.

“No, we’re playing it straight as games played for laughs are annoying,” said Gaz, carefully framing the scenario, “if comedy emerges then we’ll go for it, but otherwise it will seem forced.”

We solemnly nodded, before Gaz went into a description of our Lipsensnout Sausages and mash served by a man with sausage-like thumbs – we’d had wurst.

3. Get thee to MittleburgScreenshot 2018-12-17 at 23.53.36.png

The marriage of Ines von Horgen to merchant’s son Frederich Friccen is rumoured to have been brokered to inject cash into the ailing fortunes of Baron von Horgen’s house, while elevating the common, yet wealthy, Friccen household to minor nobility. Scandal enough, but a week before the impending nuptials, Frederich has ridden off to Mittleberg for seven days of Volksfest revelry and a Junggesellenabschied to remember (or forget).

Our small band of ‘resourceful and discreet’ souls were sent to recover Frederich and treat him to ‘hair of the dog’ to get him back to fulfil his duty.

Mittleburg was packed to the jowls with grotesque NPCs who were brought to life with great gusto creating some memorable encounters.

Encounters such as Cunz Gunther, the sausage chef at The Boar and Truffle, or Juergen Schmidt who was abducted from a palanquin by our group, and forced to pay debts to the brothel in a wonderfully ‘Richard Lester’ Three Musketeer moment.

The setting in both editions is really rich.

4. Pre-Generation of the next generation

The character sheets were a little more complex than the 1st edition, but no less colourful.

Blythy was Magdelena von Horgen, an impatient, duellist of lesser nobility, who was easily distracted by her desire to seek out and confront her rival Marx Tuschman. She was guarded by her man-at-arms, who had seen better days, Hans Maiger (played by Mat Hart from Steamforge games).

Helping us to find out way around the city was Grete Vesars, a well connected racketeer (played by Dan, one of the original Smart Party).

I played Elspeth Voltz, a taciturn, single-minded Thief Taker who was more used to tracking down less salubrious characters. She is the impatient side-kick to the more deliberate Barold Loffen, an investigator, a literate and learned locator of missing persons (played by Baz).

5. Something wicked, this way comes …

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Before long, we realised that there was something more pernicious at work. Rather than a stag-do that had got out of hand, the infiltration of chaos, symbolised by a dance-of-veils featuring a costumed sex-worker with a lobster hand and an exposed breast.

The final confrontation was satisfyingly horrific. The mechanics work differently than the first edition as it employees ‘degrees of success’ where oppositional tests are compared on a scale of 1 – 10 depending on the ‘tens’ rolled on percentage dice. There’s no example of combat in the rulebook, which means some of the finer points of ‘advantage’ are difficult to work out in play.

The comparison of scales of success means that if you fail less than your opponent, it is still possible to succeed: a rule that proved to be decisive in the final confrontation.

6. Corrupted files

We attempted to record the sessions for use as podcasts. When it came to playing the tapes, the file was ‘corrupted’, which was fitting, but frustrating. No one will hear of Mat Hart’s character dressed for a masked ball wearing a costume that made him look like he was riding a griffin, a la Bernie Clifton.

You won’t hear Phil The Dice Mechanic recreating Benny from Crossroads playing Werner, “SPEAK UP. YOU’RE VERY SHUSSHY.”

Fortunately, Gaz blessed the third attempt by Tzeentch, and it will appear in Episode 25 of the GROGPOD and followed up in a Smart Party bonus episode.

 

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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