The GROGNARD Files

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

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INTRO: Three years of GROGPODing and Forty Years of RuneQuest seems like a great point in time to revisit the game that we played the most back in the day. RQ3 contributed to us stopping playing, so this is a chance to revisit the game and see what happened when we stopped playing. The sound is a bit haywire on this podcast, hope it doesn’t spoil things too much.

OPENBOX: Chaosium’s Vice President tells the stories of his formative years in role-playing and how RuneQuest in Glorantha was so important to him. He was instrumental in keeping the flame alive as a fan as he wrote and developed Sun County, the first RuneQuest supplement produced for 8 years, following Avalon Hill acquiring the game in 1984. He wrote a report in the early nineties for The Tales of the Reaching Moon explaining how the game could be revived.  This is a great chat about the nineties renaissance.

THE WHITE DWARF: A survey of RQ3 as it appeared (and disappeared) from White Dwarf, written by the wonderful @dailydwarf

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES! Dirk and Blythy pick over the bones of RQ3 and there’s a monster quiz!

OUTRO: Check out the RuneQuest Actual Play with The Smart Party   . If you’d like the GROGZINE 19 and The Collected Daily Dwarf Vol 3 and Judge Blythy’s Book of Judgments — then please chuck us a tip in the beret and join the Patreon campaign

Part 2 will be out late August/ early September.

In the run up to UK Games Expo I was contemplating taking a break from gaming.

The preparation for the sessions I was running was a challenge due to the impositions of real life. I can’t complain, I’ve gone from playing one a month to almost every week.

I anticipated UK Games Expo would mark a turning point, a time to take a break; Storm King’s Thunder has come to an end after 18 months play; our long running Numenera campaign had reached a natural break and I intended to rest the one-shots I’d been playing for the past 12 months to focus on more campaign style of play. It was a perfect opportunity to slow down, watch some films, read a few novels and take some long walks.

I had such a fantastic time over the weekend that it has had the opposite effect. I’m more pumped up than ever. Playing games and meeting fellow gamers didn’t sate my appetite, it merely whetted it for more. Films, books and walks can wait, I’ve got games to play!

At the beginning of the year, I set out our broad plans for the year, this is a status report.

What are the plans for the next 6 months of the year?

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Two Headed Serpent is now approaching the fourth session. The players are really getting into the Pulp sensibility: temples are not for investigating, they’re for blowing up! I’ve been struck by two aspects of the campaign so far, firstly, the 7ed rules (with the Pulp variant) work really well and drive the play quite differently than previous editions. Secondly, the campaign is really packed with flavour and atmosphere to support the spirit of adventure that drives the action. There’s great story at the heart of it that I’m looking forward to unfolding over the coming months, I only hope that I can do it justice.

Curse of Strahd When one dungeon door closes, another one opens. Eddy is the DM for another big book 5e campaign that we’ll probably still be playing in 10 years time. We’ve had the introductory session where the table top was transformed into a Roll 20 ‘fog of war’ as we moved our character tokens across a tv screen. Amazing.

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Eddy and his TV tabletop bringing a whole new meaning to the GM’s screen

Conventions Plans are coming together for GROGMEET in November, but first there’s The Owl Bear and the Wizard’s staff: Warickshire RPG mini-con on 22nd September, where I will be running an all day RuneQuest Glorantha QuickStart adventure The Broken Tower, plus it’s soon-to-be-released sequel. After that I’ll be resting the one shots that I’ve been running this year and start the process of preparing new ones for the 2019 season. Do we dare to consider DragonMeet?

New Fangled stuff Daily Dwarf treated us to a Savage Worlds game in the setting of Lankhmar which was terrific fun and alarmingly savage. I liked the playing card initiative system and the simple resolution mechanic. I’m looking forward to seeing how he applies the system to Judge Dredd for his GROGMEET scenario which we are hoping to play-test over the summer. Also due over the summer is a game of FATE set in the world of Robin of Sherwood.

Nights Black Agents was the clear winner in the recent GROGSQUAD poll to determine future GROGPOD content. The film sequence poll was less conclusive. Casino Royale pipped it, but The Man with The Golden Gun and Tinker, Tailor, Spy came close, so it makes sense to include elements of all of them in the scenario. Patreons will be able to enter the ballot to play the game, details will be released later in the year.

No more! I’ve written a note to myself, “don’t commit to anything else” as there’s also The Coming Storm, a HeroQuest campaign that I’ve commenced playing on alternate Mondays, we’ve just undergone tribal initiation with some horrifying results; there’s ad-hoc Star Trek Adventures as well as the Wednesday night group resuming in September to enter the Ninth World with Numenera.

Have a break from gaming? I’ve hardly even begun!

The Night’s Black Agents GROGPOD was the final part of the so-called ‘spy sequence’ which began with Top Secret and included Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes and James Bond RPG. At the beginning I promised an Actual Play recording using one of the games to replicate a scenario from the movies.

We discussed some of our favourite spy sequences and have selected a couple more for you to consider. The Actual Play will include elements from the most popular sequence selected by you the listener.

Therefore the poll will include both the rules and the sequence.

The Rules Poll is live on Twitter

The Film Poll is on Patreon.

The results will be declared in the comments below on 7/7/18 and will include an invitation to play (names will be drawn from a beret).

Got that? Good.

Three Days of the Condor (Pollock, US, 1975)

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One of the greatest political thrillers ever made. Robert Redford is a CIA bookworm looking for clues in international literature. Within the first moments of the movie his world is turned up-side-down and set him on the run from the GamesMaster, Max von Sydow. Don’t answer the door to the postman, because he’s wearing brown shoes.

Casino Royale (Campbell, UK/US, 2006)

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The brutal fight between Bond and Obanno in the stairwell of The Casino Royale was a statement of intent for the rebooted franchise. Improvised, hand-to-hand combat can be ugly and the bad guys are not going to roll over like weak mooks.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Alfredson, UK/France/Germany, 2011)

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Agent Prideaux is sent to Budapest by MI6 to make a rendezvous with an Hungarian General who has indicated his desire to defect to the West. In an exceptionally tense scene, carefully set up to make the audience uncertain of who to trust. There’s an assassination. Trust no-one.

Spooks: Love and Death (Season 3, Ep 5, UK, 2004) 

A veritable toolkit for 21st Century espionage RPG adventures as it features a team of MI5 agents working various homeland security missions. This episode has a moral dilemma at its heart which captures the dramatic conflict within most spy fiction: killing another human being may be the right thing to do, but it’s still ethically challenging (try replicating that in an RPG!).

The Man with The Golden Gun (Hamilton, UK, 1974)

Nick Nack is the ultimate death-trap Dungeon Master in the Fun House maze to test the wits of assassins. It may have been the least financially successful of the Bonds, but it is one of my favourites as Scaramanga is a perfect villain: poised, charismatic and cunning.

VOTE NOW for your favourite!

 

Nick Edwards has previously given us a tour around his collection. In this piece he looks at some of the Time Travel games that are on his shelf. There’s more from the GROGSQUAD coming soon.

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The success of the rebooted Dr Who has seen a mini resurgence in roleplaying games based on time travel – Cubicle 7 do a range of rulebooks and supplements for its official Dr Who game and Pelgrane Press recently published Timewatch.

In the ‘golden age’ of rpgs (1974-1984, I say, arbitrarily) it wasn’t a popular genre – which is strange in a way because you’d think it was a handy way of throwing lots of diverse settings at the players. Perhaps that was the problem – too much variety, not enough anchoring. 

Anyway I have come across only three time-travel games – all very different: the original Dr Who RPG from FASA published in 1985; Time Lord from Doctor Who Books (Virgin) from 1991; and Timeship, published by the little known rpg company Yaquinto in 1983 (they also did the marginally more successful Man, Myth and Magic and a bunch of boardgames).

The first official Dr Who game, with Michael P Bledsoe as lead writer, comes boxed with three books (one for GMs, one for players and a sourcebook). I also have a standalone scenario, The Hartlewick Horror, set in the 1920s (the cover features an odd looking Tom Baker brandishing the universe’s biggest sonic screwdriver). A loose products page lists four other published scenarios and a small range of minatures. 

Although Colin Baker had just taken over from Peter Davidson by the time the game was published, it focuses firmly (in content and art) on the era of Tom Baker. Quite right too. (There may exist photographs of leather-clad companion Leela which the publishers did not use to illustrate the books but there must be very few…)

The game mechanics are fairly standard for the era (there are a lot of rules) although the interaction matrix you use for judging successful use of skills seems more complex than necessary. But there are some pretty nifty mechanics for creating planets and alien civilisations. You can play timelords but the game advises to start out as companions because they are simpler to play. The conceit is that they work for the Celestial Intervention Agency (the volume of middle initials involved in the various author credits is another giveaway that FASA is a US company). The sourcebook is quite interesting for fans of the TV show as it runs through the various races, organisations, planets from the series – including a timeline of the universe and Earth in terms of TV episode events.

All in all, the game is no disaster but just a little dull (something that could be said of FASA games generally). 

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Time Lord, by Ian Marsh and Peter Darvill-Evans, is unusual in being published in book format (cover art depicts a sinister looking Sylvester McCoy and a very camp cyberman) and is clearly aimed at people new to roleplaying. It starts with a 20-page snippet of a Dr Who story to give a flavour of the show for people who hadn’t seen it, which seems an odd decision (although to be fair the series had actually stopped by the time the game was published). There is then an intro to roleplaying (which mentions in passing that there was once a rpg based on The Beatles called Yellow Submarine!) and a very short solo adventure to spell out basic gaming concepts. The mechanics themselves are concise and neat, in less than 40 pages – it is pretty similar to Gumshoe in fact (which seems more in keeping with the series than the more combat-oriented FASA game). 

The bulk of the book covers details of possible PCs/NPCs and advice on running games – it ends with a substantial and interesting introductory scenario. Overall it’s really well-written and evokes the feel of the series much more successfully than the FASA product (how successful it was sales-wise I don’t know – the game doesn’t seem entirely ‘official’ despite BBC Books being involved).

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The final game, Timeship, is also completely different and has its own special bonkers charm. The concept is that the rulebook is a translation of an artifact written by a dying race from the future. It is therefore written in a cheerfully cheesy style as the authors (lead author is Herbie Brennan) pretend they are futurenauts – in the future people use a lot of exclamation marks and desktop publishing has degenerated. 

The box has one 48-page rulebook, a strangely thick set of character sheets (as per below, you basically play the same character every time), some maps and handouts for scenarios, and the two smallest d20 dice ever recorded in human history. 

Brennan strings out his playacting for all its worth. There is even a wonderful ‘ritual’ to start every game (the GM always facing east, lights being dimmed so losing any chance of seeing what the tiny dice rolls are, and so on) with the GM (a “Timelord”, copyright fans) and players reciting a litany. This involves all sorts of fantastic nonsense (Timelord: ‘Now begins the Great Ritual of the Timeship. Is it your will to travel through the time stream?” The voyagers: “It is!”) that is worth the price of the game alone. (Although it misses out the essential part of any game, Timelord: “And hail, the person who always misses the beginning of the game and blames the Northern Line even though we all use the tube and they should have left a bit earlier but everyone’s too polite to complain!”

The writing style is very funny, often unintentionally. There are repeated waspish comments to the effect that Timeship isn’t like one those ‘run-of-the-mill” RPGs (you know, the ones that people actually bought and played). The conceit is that players play themselves but as time-travellers (rules are mostly about equipment as characters are basically un-statted). The main effect seems to be that most PCs aren’t much good at anything and the GM is supposed to guess their chance of doing things and associate a 100% roll to it (if you have eyes like a hawk). The rules themselves cover only a few pages – you expend ‘personal energy’ by doing things and getting hurt and that’s about it. One further oddity is the occasional ‘wild talent’ superpower (Arc Dream’s Wild Talents superhero game presumably borrows the term for a common source – I don’t know enough about the genre to know what it is) created randomly by time travel. This has effect of further unbalancing the game (“so the party is three nerds who can’t climb without getting out of breath and a guy with telekinesis…”) 

The fun continues with the three scenarios, which are all odd in their own way. The first is set at the end of time and is a cod-Moorcock, fairytale-based murder mystery. The second is set in Gomorrah and ‘may be unsuitable for children’. Too right, officer, given the preponderance of naked slave auctions, threesomes, brothels and so forth involved. And we finish with the old favourite of assassinating Hitler in the bunker – a scenario where torturing information out of NPCs is an essential element. 

I had never heard of Timeship when I was a kid playing RPGS in the 80s. I only bought it again a few years ago for my collection based on its obscurity value – and I didn’t even have a good look at it until today.

But I’m glad I did – it’s a genuine oddity.

Nick Edwards

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INTRO (00:00) The GROGNARD files finally sells out to one of those new fangled games. There’s a new iTunes review too, that compares us to Ridley Scott’s Hovis advert. 

OPEN BOX (with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan) (0:07) We are joined by Gar who tells us about his formative years in RPGs, his role in relaunching some of the 80s classics for Mongoose and his role in developing adventures for Night’s Black Agents.

ACTUAL PLAY (41:31) The Virtual GROGMEET twittercrew take on Operation: GROUNDWORM.

JUDGE BLYTHY: (1:02:00) Judge Blythy sinks his teeth into the finer points of spending points.

OUTRO (1:40:02) Up date from the Patreon Projects.

A collection of photos featuring my stupid face with people I met at UK Games Expo 2018.

Crack open the Top Deck … Birmingham we’re on our way (slowly)

Dirk in the Land of the Giants. Dimbyd has Pookie on his shoulder – kindly making sure we caught the train back to Birmingham on time

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Kat Simmons Smith (@MeerforBeer) was the first GROGSQUADer we met. She was promoting the great work of the RPG Haven in the Trade Hall

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Andrew Cousins (@TakasakiAndy) was one of the first listeners to the GROGPOD – he introduced us to Roll20 and online play. He had just had his US version of Dicing with Dragons signed by Ian Livingstone.

Blythy GMing Numenera with @richgreen01 and @OrlanthR

Neil Benson is a proud member of the DCC universe

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The Iron GM, Simon Burley, creator of GOLDEN HEROES

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In the bar, getting leathered with Gaz from the Smart Party. I got a bonus version of The Ten Commandments of Games Workshop.

Doc Cowie gets on bended knee to pitch his “The Breakfast Club goes Red Dawn” concept to Chaosium’s Ian Cooper

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Mike Hobbs from The Meeples and Miniatures podcast – rediscovering his RPG mojo!

One of my favourite moments from the weekend. I was there when Paul Baldowski found out he’d won The Popular Choice Award for Best Role-Playing Adventure for Three Faces of the Wendigo. It was emotional.

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Judge vrs Judge

My swag from the trade halls: a cup of tea and this battling cars in the aftermath game: Aslands? Shurly shum mishtake?

I think I’m just about coming back into the real world. Entering the UK Games Expo is like entering a liminal space where everyone is at ease with themselves and their place in the Universe.

Why can’t every day be like Expo?

Last year, it was about playing story games and understanding what had happened since we left the hobby back in the early 90s.

This time it was about running games.

After several anxious days preparing (I’m convinced that RPGs are part of a conspiracy to sell more printer ink), plus significant pre-match nerves the GM muscle eventually kicked in …

Judge Dredd

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I ran Better Living through Chemistry, the scenario developed by @dailydwarf for the GROGZINE ’18 (soon to be available on DriveThru RPG). It’s an entertaining ‘Judges on patrol’ adventure littered with witty asides and incident to provide an amusing three hours in Mega City One, capturing the golden age of 2000ad perfectly. This was the third time I’d run the game. Similar to the other occasions, I felt that the system creaked a little. It was a less deadly this time, but no less frustrating for the players who found themselves missing rolls when they needed them the most.

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There was some clever play from the Judges along the way, chaotic scenes and an hilarious interrogation involving a pedicure, astrology and surgical tape.

At one moment, words failed me, I wanted to describe a “golden fountain” but ended up saying “shower” despite myself. I don’t think anyone noticed.

HeroQuest

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Chaosium’s Ian Cooper is a terrific Games Master. If you get chance to play HeroQuest at a convention with him, then take it, you won’t be disappointed. He works hard to create an imaginative, immersive experience to compel you to engage with the story.

The adventure was a whodunit set in Forint, in the southern continent of Pamaltela. The wonderfully drawn pre-gens were members of masarin Jamader’s household in Garduna, a city of ragtag islands joined by bridges of different design. Blythy was a haughty Agimori sorceress and the rest of us were house slaves in her thrall. The relationship between the characters made for intriguing moments of interplay as we explored the city following a trail of clues.

Forint is to be developed as a future book for HeroQuest, which will allow players who are worried about imposing upon the canon of Glorantha publications: a chance to develop adventures within an exotic swords and sorcery setting. In the theatre of my mind it was Meereen twinned with Camorr written through the lens of Gene Wolfe

A great session. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Neil Benson’s view.

Nights Black Agents

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1984, Leeds, England. The miners strike is intensifying, the British Government have recruited deniable assets to pull off a black bag operation: wiring the room where a branch secretary of the National Union of Mine workers is planning a rendezvous with his counterpart from Transylvania, who has promised cash in exchange for … something … something mysterious.

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This is the third time that I’ve run Operation: GroundWorm and it’s one of those that has matured the more it has been played. There were some cracking scenes: a chase through the streets of Leeds, ending on the roof of Dolcis, punching the lights out of each other; a great bit of disguise fast-talk, squeezing information from a reluctant community; and finally Harry Reeves, the leader of the crew, finishing off the enemy, while smoking a Benson.

This was one of my high-points of the weekend and provided some food for thought for the forthcoming Episode 21.

RuneQuest

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I played The Broken Tower, the QuickStart adventure that was released for Free RPG Day last year. The new RuneQuest Glorantha PDF dropped on the Friday, so I felt a real burden of responsibility to inspire these players to get into the new game. There was a mixture of experience around the table, complete newbies, others who last played the game in the 80s and others who had loyally followed the various iterations.

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This was the first time that I had used the shaman. I was a little concerned that the complexity of the character (with its llama mount, baboon fetch and spirit combat rules) would distort the party, but it actually added a great deal to the weirdness and intensifying horror.

I wanted to at least inspire one person to run their own game of RuneQuest: Achievement Unlocked!

Losing a D8 

I lose a dice at every convention. This time it was a D8.

We had a list of stuff we while we were there: buying stuff, demoing some board-games and having a proper meal somewhere. The bucket list ended up being a ‘feck it’ list because when were weren’t playing RPGs we were having a really good chat with people we met on the way to doing things.

It was a great weekend, great people and over much too soon.

Next: Expo ScrapBook

 

One of the great aspects of the Golden Heroes podcast is discovering players around the world who have a fondness for the game. Jerry Nuckolls from Texas, for example, was impressed at the sight of the original, self-published edition, so I sent it to him. He’s going  to write a piece for us, comparing the original rules with the Games Workshop version, until then, here’s a short video: