In November, the GROGPOD will be featuring GangBusters, the TSR role-playing game of the roaring twenties.
In preparation, MOBTOBER is a short season of gangster films, a mini-film festival at my house, that you are invited to participate and follow online.
Elsewhere people with more stamina and stronger stomachs are participating in the October Horror Challenge, a more seasonal list. This is a similar challenge, but with a more leisurely pace. Instead of watching a film every day, I will be watching 10 films in 20 days and will write about them on the Dirk Malcolm world of film site.
Why have crime RPGs had such a continuing appeal from Lankhmar to Duskvol?
Heists are a standard adventure for most RPGs, but its difficult to find an RPG that reflects the daily paranoid grind of the fictional mobster: the moral descent into personal oblivion, the need to maintain networks, manage heat from rivals and settle scores. In the realm of genre emulation GangBusters and FGU Gangster! offer little to support this kind of play. The 1980s RPGs were more on the side of the authorities trying to break up organised crime. Of course, we had other ideas and were keen to play the mobsters. Recently, Blades in the Dark offered innovative mechanical features dealing with these matters. It will be interesting to explore some of the tropes of the genre more closely and consider how they might be brought to the table.
A couple of points to note as you study the list: this is not meant to be definitive. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious and focus on films that I haven’t seen before, or in the case of Miller’s Crossing and The Long Good Friday, films that I saw so long ago that I’ve forgotten about them.
Gangster films tend to gather cult status as they are not only ingrained in geek culture, the cliches and tropes appear in mainstream culture through advertisements and are referenced in music, television and every-day discourse.
The second criteria that I have adopted is related to gaming – what are the gameable elements of these films? What are the characters, situations, plots, structures and setting details that lend themselves to RPGs? How do they create the points of contact within the fiction and how can they be used in constructing scenarios?
As I have been pondering this list there have been a number of great suggestions made by the GROGSQUAD over on the discord server and twitter. There’s always the thorny genre issues to mull over, “is it a gangster film or a crime movie with gangsters in it?” In this list I have selected films that attracted my attention and seemed to fit into what I was looking for in a mobster movie. If you don’t think it qualifies as a mobster movie, that’s okay, because this is my list.
Here goes, this is when I’ll be watching the films and where you can find them online.
6th: Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Disney Plus (Star)
8th: Gotti (1996) – You Tube
10th Free Fire (2017) – Prime
12th Scarface (1932) – You Tube
14th New World (2013) – Prime
16th Underworld (1927) – You Tube
18th The Mission (1999) – You Tube
20th The Penalty (1920) – You Tube
22nd The Long Good Friday (1980) – You Tube
24th Boondock Saints (1999) – You Tube
Watching these films is going to be great, but it will be even better if you can take part in the discussion over at discord, on twitter or the Facebook group. If you need the details, then let me know and I’ll send them to you.
This should be a good exercise and will get us all in the mood ready for the trip to LakeFront City in November.
“There were no RuneQuest articles or scenarios in the first issues of White Dwarf I bought. That however didn’t stop me from buying the Chaosium second edition boxset; I saw it nestled on the shelves of my friendly local games store F.C. Parker in Cardiff,” thus begins the very first contribution of @dailydwarf to the GROGNARD files Episode 1. The mention of F.C. Parker was a trigger word for dozens of listeners of the podcast. The toy shop had a very special place in the memories of grognards in the area.
Since it was mentioned, the team at The Armchair Adventurers have been trying to track down more details about the store. Last year, the South Wales division of the GROGSQUAD, led by Wayne Peters, conducted an interview with David Miles who grew up in Cardiff and worked at FC Parker and Encounter Games. He now lives in Kent, but enjoyed reflected on the days in the old store:
For those who are not native South Walians, and not filled with wistful nostalgia, can you describe what FC Parker and Encounter games as you remember them?
FC Parker and, particularly, Encounter Games were THE place to be if you were into Role playing or wargaming, either historical, fantasy or sci-fi. I like to think that amongst a handful of other similar stores, FC Parker and Encounter Games drove gaming to new heights.
The Royal Arcade incarnation of FC Parker was about traditional board games – I recall hundreds of different types of chess-pieces, backgammon sets, Go!, mahjong and at the end a few RPGs and a square cabinet in which miniatures were stored.
And lots of Prince August moulding kits, they were a big part of the business at that time.
I worked there twice – once I was a Saturday lad in FC Parker on the corner of Royal Arcade and, then full-time for FC Parker, which became Encounter Games in the High St Arcade. I was just cheeky, walked in and asked for a Saturday job at first, but I cannot recall how I came to work there the second time came about, but I am both glad and sad it did.
I have only a very fleeting memory of Roger the proprietor, what do you remember about him? Was he a gamer himself?
Roger was Roger Harris – a giant of a man – with a massive heart and with the deepest voice I have ever known. Sadly he had health issues, which were aggravated in later years of the business and wouldn’t have helped him at all. He was interested in all the traditional games – chess and the like – but not the RPG side of things – he was a keen business man to boot though – he knew when something was going to be big! He was very generous and someone to look up to – to aspire to be like in fact.
Were you, yourself a keen gamer back then, how did you get involved in the hobby and what did you play?
I was … D&D, Runequest and Traveller, then I moved to Warhammer – the first box I can still remember vividly; Rogue Trader came soon after, that was the forerunner to Warhammer 40k. I loved and still love Space Hulk, plus some Call of Cthulhu, Mechwarrior and Shadowrun were always in the mix. And a part of my youthful heart will always belong to Vampire: The Masquerade.
Are you still a gamer? If so, what do you play now?
Gaming – hell yes – consoles but still tabletop in a big way, in my active gaming cupboard at the moment, The Awful Orphanage, KillTeam, the Batman Miniatures game and X-Wing – plus I really fancy Journeys in Middle-Earth to be honest – so can see that being added
What were the shop’s big sellers?
Well Traveller, D&D and Runequest were always immense – the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game was massive, Vampire: The Masquerade was extremely popular as was Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mechwarrior was really big and RoboTech was pretty popular too. But then a heavy move towards GW products saw the real growth of the shop – anyone who recalls it, will remember rack upon rack of miniatures hanging on the wall and a gigantic stand in the centre – which held more stock inside and opened up. Roger made that stand himself, it was so heavy, packed with so much great stock too. It was like a record store display, but full of every RPG book and supplement known to man!
Why did FC Parker move to the High Street Arcade and why did the name change to Encounter Games?
Space constraints drove the move, a desire to expand and become THE goto place for gamers in Wales – I think the move was proven to be the correct one. The name change was part of the rebranding alongside becoming the first Games Workshop Specialist Stockist, a change months in planning and execution – in conjunction with John Stallard, now of Warlord Games.
What was your relationship like with the competition (Bud Morgans, Beatties, Virgin and GW)?
Bud Morgans were great, they were in a different sphere to us and although we overlapped no bad words – Beatties were the same, VIrgin we didnt have a real relationship with, Games Workshop, well, less said the better I think, we all know how events transpired and what happened.
Even before the change to Encounter Games, was there a sense that interest in RPGs was waning, with miniatures war games becoming more popular?
Yes – the acceleration was obvious – but other games came to the fore, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was immense for us, possibly because it was a bloody good product and partly because there was a great little group who were into it and enthusiastic about it. But other games were massive too, Shadowrun was enormous and had a range of miniatures, even if people only bought one as their character avatar, it was all good.
We also saw how big the hobby was getting when we launched the Encounter Games mail order service and catalogue – this was before eCommerce and we were shipping out enormous amounts per week, worldwide – that was the point when the juggernaut was appreciably massive – it got bigger and bigger from there onwards – it helped having staff who were gamers and loved the hobby, that buzz and enthusiasm came through. That is something I have carried forward in life, I do what I do because I love it, not because it’s a job, whatever you do, enthuse and be genuine about it, it will make the difference.
FC Parker were involved in organising Welsh Games Day – any memories / stories from those?
At that point Games Workshop were being really supportive of Encounter Games, so they really did help out a lot. We also wanted to make it inclusive of other manufacturers and other games; those two conflicts were an interesting conundrum to resolve.
Did you ever have any celebrity customers?
I think the only celebrity would be a certain artist, who was also a gamer, Mark Gibbons, who I was friends with then and still am – it was at the start of his career – which is how we got him to illustrate the Encounter Games catalogue for us, with a caricature of both Roger and myself. He was a figure painter, a gamer, a budding artist and in a rock band. I was lucky enough to often see what he was working on and some of the artwork blew my mind at the time. He produced some of the iconic pieces of artwork; of course, he is too modest and always pushes praise on others, notably John Blanche and Jes Goodwin – but he was one hell of an artist – and still is. His work was never art for arts sake, it was a glimpse into his head, how he saw the miniatures in their settings, which is why much of it stands up to modern scrutiny and it remains inspirational! It took GW 30 years to resculpt the Blood Angel Mephiston, but when they did, it was Mark’s artwork that was the foundation – of course, he thanks Jes Goodwin for the original inspiration! He’s very modest and genuine as a person.
Anything else that you’d like to say that isn’t already covered by these questions?
I wouldn’t change the years spent at FC Parker and Encounter Games. I met some great people over 30 years ago, some of whom I am still in contact with, I met Mark who I remain in contact with and friends with, and my best mate after all these years is Mike, if anyone remembers a ginger guy who worked Saturdays for me in the shop, that was Mike. We’ve grown up, been each other’s best men, seen kids – in Mike’s case – come into the world, watched them grow. We’ve gone to many, many rock gigs together and spent many a night drinking beer and being stupid – so from a games shop, a great friendship came – that’s worth its weight in gold!
Thank you to David for the interview and to Wayne for organising the interview. If you have any more information about the store, then please let us know, particularly if you have a photograph.
The next GROGZINE which will be published in time for virtual GROGMEET next year.
I’m looking for submissions from the GROGSQUAD.
This time I want to make a bit different.
Previous GROGZINEs have featured articles and useable content like scenarios and reviews that were a homage to White Dwarf, Imagine and 80s ‘zines.
This time, I want to create a ‘peoples’ history of RPGs’, looking back at some of your home-brew creations from back in the day.
What were the worlds you created?
Who were your favourite characters?
What happened in your epic campaigns?
What were the conventions that you attended?
Who were you playing with and how did you get together?
I’m looking for articles, features, scenarios based on the ideas above: please let me know if you want to be part of the project.
It will have all the same illustrations and look and feel, but this time it’s all about your experiences. What about retro-fitting your favourite characters from back in the day to bring them into the 21st century? Or redesigning your favourite scenario to make it playable now? Or sharing the photo-scrapbook of your favourite session?
If you have an idea, or want to crawl up into the loft to discover your lost treasures, then contact me at the usual address: Dirk The Dice At Gmail dot com.
I would like to finalise content before the end of January 2020, so please contact me as soon as possible to discuss your idea.
Join us in a collective memoire of the 70s, 80s and 90s heyday of RPGs!
Dirk the Dice
Patreons who have recently joined since March will start to receive a hard copy of GROGZINE19, until they run out. Watch your doormat during September!
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).
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.
In Episode 22 of The GROGNARD files our special guest, Michael O’Brien (MOB) the Vice President of Chaosium, discusses his formative experiences as a role-player in Melbourne and how he was motivated to revive Glorantha by producing new material for the game that could inspire new players in the nineties.
The supplements produced MOB, under the editorial guidance of Ken Rolston, over this period was known as ‘The RuneQuest Renaissance’. The first volume in the series of supplements was based on MOB’s house campaign set in Sun County: RuneQuest Adventures in the Land of the Sun. He describes it as ‘Spartans in the Wild West’ as it focuses on a highly civilised society trying to cope within the wastelands on the edge of Prax. It’s a cracking adventure packed with loads of interesting NPCs and exotic locations.
At the centre of it all is the Sun Dome Temple, a distinctive building which is the seat of religion and government in the Sun County. The book explains the day-to-day life of the Yelmalio (Sun) worshipers, it also describes some of the local features, such as the Retirement Towers that hold Yelmalio priests waiting in solitude for great insight from their god.
MOB hasn’t lived in Austailia all of his life. After a career in Higher Education, he went to live in the United Arab Emirates for 10 years, he came back in 2014. He had a job in a university there, as part of the senior leadership, which was, “an interesting, yet demanding and intense job. There was not much opportunity for gaming during this period, because I think my entire life there was like a live action roleplaying game.”
“There were many great things about living in the UAE, I really enjoyed my time there. I did have some gamer friends, Andrew Bean who helps out at the Chaosium booth many times. He lived in the UAE and his wife and my wife would play board games there quite frequently as well down at the British club; she talks about it in her women in table-top gaming interview.”
Bear in mind that this was over a decade later than the publication of Sun County: “One of the most bizarre aspects of living in the UAE; if I looked out of my window, across to the break-water there was a building, a theatre, that was the exact image of the Sun Dome Temple. I found it fascinating.”
He said, “In many respects the whole place there very much looked like Sun County. It even has watch-towers spread throughout the desert and countryside like the retirement towers you see in Sun County.”
“I must have been channelling all of this as the book was written way back in the early nineteen nineties. Back then, I knew nothing about the UAE, my first experience was going into work one day at the University of Melbourne and my boss asked, “how would you like to go to a conference in Abu Dhabi?” I said, “I’d love to do that, where’s Abu Dhabi?” I had to look it up.”
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).
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).
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.
Hot on the heels of Virtual GROGMEET, we started two simultaneous, online games of TWO HEADED SERPENT (the world-spanning, two-fisted, Pulp Cthulhu adventure) last night. Playing online has revolutionised our gaming over the past couple of years. We are often asked “how do I get started on Roll20?”
Thankfully, Steve Ray (@OrlanthR on Twitter) has come to the rescue with some useful tips and his experiences of thawing out after the deep freeze.
My emergence from carbon freezing was triggered by a request from my daughter that I run D&D for her over the Christmas holidays. I’d gone into the carbon freezer, Han Solo-style, over 16 years previously. Before that, like most Grognards, I’d gamed with the people I’d grown up with but time had its way and RPGs fell out of favour. In the years since, I’d done a lot of wargaming but never thought of once of picking up an RPG.
In response to my daughter’s request, I remembered that I still had an old copy of RuneQuest second edition in the attic and I decided to use that rather than buy 5e. As soon as I held the book in my hands, the memories came flooding back and I knew I had to play again. My daughter had of course lost interest immediately as teenagers do, so my rediscovered enthusiasm had no outlet. Searching for podcasts to feed my craving, I found the first Grognard files episode and that was it; nostalgia had me in its grip, and I was hooked.
Of course, I now needed someone to play with. I determined to start small by contacting some old friends to see if they were interested. But their lives had moved on too, and I wasn’t able to lure them in. Deflated, I was stuck with rereading old rulebooks and buying far too much stuff on pdf than I’d ever be able to use. Whilst working through the Grogpod back catalogue, I came across the discussion between Dirk and Blythy regarding Roll20.
That was three months ago; I’m now running a fully-fledged short RQ classic campaign and fully intend continuing to play online. As Dirk says, “play’s the thing’ and whilst face-to-face play is superior it’s better to game online than not at all. If you’re reading this and are thinking about taking the plunge into online play (Roll20 or otherwise), I’ve put together some thoughts that may help you (or prove to be complete bobbins; you can judge)
• Get into an online group as a player: as with so many things in life, the best way to learn is to watch someone else. Finding a game to play in on Roll20 is dead easy, particularly if you plump for 5e or a similarly popular system. If you can, pick a GM who has lots of experience on Roll20 (next to the GM’s name will be a number showing how many hours they’ve played for; my first GM had over 1000 hours of play under his belt) . Whilst you’re playing, take some notes as to how the GM uses the Roll20 interface (tokens, handouts, maps, combat, etc). For example, I struggled with the concept of showing pictures to the players (on the desktop or via handouts?) until I saw someone else do it.
• It’s still role-playing: Don’t worry too much about the bells and whistles to start with. Some of the things that virtual tabletops are cool, but you can spend ages learning to do something that you’ll never use (trust me, I’ve done it). Instead, focus on some basics and run the rest as you would any other RPG. Most importantly, do the preparation that you would for any other game (cool story, NPCs, etc) and the rest will come with time.
• Use Twitter to find a group: This was one of the brilliant benefits of online play compared with live play that I didn’t expect. With my mates in the ’80s, I was really stuck with playing the sorts of games they wanted to play. Now, with the internet, if you really want to play that obscure game that almost no-one has heard, of you’ll probably find two or three players somewhere in the world. As long as they’ve got the hardware and the connection, you’re good to go. Twitter has been great for this; there’s a thriving and not-too-grumpy group of old school gamers that have congregated around The Grognard Files on Twitter, so that’s a good place to start.
• Be clear about what you’re offering: Along with finding the niche gaming experience you’re after, it’s a good idea to be up-front about where you’re coming from; ‘managing expectations’ we call it when we’re at work. In my case, I said that I wanted to run a version of Classic Runequest that was going to be very relaxed, run about every two weeks and that I was a GM returning after 16 years (so no Critical Role level gamesmastering!). This way, everyone goes in with their eyes open.
• Start small: Related to the above, start with just a few players (two or three) and commit to running for a few sessions to start with. I said I’d start with six sessions and we’d review once we got to that point. Again, it means you have the chance to bow out gracefully if you find online play isn’t for you after all.
• YouTube is your friend: as with everything in life, YouTube full of videos about Roll20. There are some really good tutorial videos out there, and can really help to solve problems as well as to show what’s possible. I’d recommend Roll20’s own channel for the basics, as well as as the ‘Taking 20’ channel for some of the funky stuff.
So that’s it. If you do decide to give Roll20 or another online platform a go, hopefully the above will give you some pointers. For me, as I travel a lot for work the opportunity to run and play games when away from home certainly beats the prospect of sitting in another identical hotel room watching TV. I expect to play more this year than I ever did back in the 80’s, and most of that online. If you’d like to ask me any questions or share your experiences of online play, please feel free to get in touch via Twitter on @OrlanthR
An occasional series of posts from members of the GROGSQUAD telling their story of getting back into the hobby following a ‘real-life’ imposed freeze. This time, Neil Benson, The Old Scouse Roleplayer himself, talks about how rediscovered the past.
It seems odd now that for 20 years or more I didn’t think once about tabletop RPG’s. House, kids and work kept me occupied and World of Warcraft was enough to scratch my gaming itch.
A game of Mansions of Madness at the end of 2014 stirred the flames for tabletop gaming; it felt so fresh and exciting after decades of video games. The banter, rolling dice, the gorgeous physical components, puzzle solving, strategising, decision making and the elation of surviving were a thrill. I was hooked. like an old addict giving into their habit, feeling that rush, the realisation that I had 20+ years of gaming to catch upon. Most of 2015 was spent exploring board games; I didn’t have a gaming group and so tried a few solo games and watched a few videos, but everything felt very much under control. Funny thing was that during this time, although I thought about RPG’s I never once considered playing them.
Early 2016 a old gaming friend (let’s call him Steve, seeing as that’s his name) offered to run Trail of Cthulhu on this Roll20 thing. Steve lives in San Diego, but said that it would be like playing in the same room. It turned out I was the only player in that first game, but decided to give it my best shot. Within half an hour I felt like I’d hit the mother lode… screw boardgames, this was the good stuff. Ohhh yeaaah…
That game still stands out, the Gumshoe system was perfect, the game perfectly paced, the outcome highly satisfying. I wanted more, and so Steve ran a few more adventures – our heroes moved from the mysteries of Bletchley Park to the horrors of occupied Paris. Great stuff.
Over the next few weeks I became obsessed with the idea of GMing myself, I’d always thoroughly enjoyed running games back in the day. When I turned my attention to DTRPG and Kickstarter I was overawed by how much things had changed in the past 20 years, but was also drawn in by the basic premise still being the same. Technology has made games far more accessible, and the number of games available has increased a hundredfold at least, but it’s still about people, stories, characters, adventure and kickass rules.
Overwhelmed by choice my first purchase was a game that even now just sits on my shelf gathering dust: The One Ring. A beautiful tome of a book, I reasoned that my love of Tolkein’s work would make this my perfect game. But it was too complex for me back then, I needed something simpler. Having played TOR recently at DevaCon I found the game fairly simple and intuitive, maybe I need to give it another look.
My quest for games with simpler systems started with Barebones Fantasy, a modern d00 based game with some clever mechanics. I ran a few games for my old gaming buddies on Roll20, but found it wasn’t for me. I went through others, including following a dead end into PbtA territory with Dungeon World – I still can’t make sense of that game. Ultimately my path took me back to the game that really kicked it all off, D&D (my first game was Tunnels & Trolls but it was D&D that made sense). Or more accurately the retroclones; Basic Fantasy, Tombs & Terrors, Swords & Wizardry and my current favourite, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (which I only tried last year being put off by some of the negative press it received).
Con’s have played a big part in meeting fellow gamers as has The Grognard Files and all the events around it – one off games, Grogmeet and vGrogmeet. A friendly, welcoming community has made this whole journey incredibly rewarding and I feel I’ve only just started to scratch the surface.
Perhaps the best thing about my RPG revival is that I’m not obsessed like I used to be, I’m fully in control, honest. Now excuse me while I just pop on over to DTRPG…
Last year, we reached a tipping point where we realised that most of our Armchair Adventuring was taking place online. Our never-ending quest to get more people to play games with continues. To support our endeavours we created virtual GROGMEET to complement the annual event in November.
Some of the GROGSQUAD wanted to discover online play for the first time and have the opportunity to play with the GMGMs that make GROGMEET in Manchester such a distinctive experience.
Squadron members from all over the UK plus others from British Columbia, Australia and North America were joined games of Numenera and Maelstrom and others listed below.
Of course the curse of online play bedevilled it with glitches and interventions from real life, but it was an enjoyable event by all accounts.
Hopefully, new gaming connections were made during the event and this is the beginning of more groups forming, because “play’s the thing”. Dirk
Now and Then is an occasional series of blog-posts from members of The GROGSQUAD, sharing their stories, hints and tips and images from their ‘thawing out’ after the Deep Freeze. First, is Rog Coe, who you may recognise from the ’18 GROGZINE, he laid out and illustrated the scenarios in the distinctive White Dwarf style, he also wrote the Call of Cthulhu adventure. Find out about his return to gaming:
The realities of real life seem to slowly cripple your gaming over the years.
It’s like being an RPG Gulliver, slowly pinned down by ropes, hammered in by little people; and not just your children; partners (no matter how easy going) work and responsibilities, all cause that time-destroying mallet to swing.
Gaming changed from 90’s Traveller sessions of 8 players round the kitchen table all weekend, down to 3 player D&D games in the 20-teens, crammed in the man-den once in a blue moon; and ultimately to nothing.
Until all you can do is lift a hand clear of the ropes to read an old supplement or click on a certain Bolton-based podcast.
‘Play is the thing’
Like an activation code for a sleeper agent, the Grognard Files’ steady drip of ‘newstalgia’ re-ignited my urge to play. The first ropes snapped, and the idea for the ‘RPG Club’ was born (catchy name I know).
It would have to involve new blood as well as the few old regulars, be in a venue that everyone could get to easily, and (at least until it was fully fledged) involve one shots, so it would feel light and fun, and if people didn’t like a system one time, (especially the first time players), there’d be something new the next.
Most importantly other people would have to step up and run their own adventures after my initial run of four, after 30 years of always being the GM I’d finally get a chance to play again. Grogmeet had whet my appetite.
And it’s worked so far, very well, we’re three games in, and everyone’s having fun.
We meet on the 1st Friday of the month, (be there or miss out), in a stylish games café, (full of everyday people of both sexes, all ages, all gaming), with good food and drink, and in reach of a disreputable pub (for post-game analysis).
We’ve got a core of up to 8 potential players, with a couple of super subs in reserve so there’s been a good number round the table for the first games, and likewise the number drawn to the pub after is increasing, people whose Venn diagrams might not coincide have an excuse to get together to game and beyond. I rolled in at 1.45 after the last game; don’t judge me, there was a lot of adrenaline to counteract!
Games I’ve had sitting on the shelves and never played are being dusted down, there’s fun to be had mashing up, retrofitting and adrenalin-pumping old scenarios, ‘Pimp My Module’ if you will. Like an awful singing show on TV – if they do well as a one shot a glittering campaign may await next year.
I’ve stretched new muscles GM’ing, after playing in a different style to long campaigns, it’s a lot of prep work each time, yes, and more of a workout because of the pace, but the results are worth it. Pre-gen bios for the players for instance, a new thing for me, have led to much fuller interaction, players are bringing relationships and grievances to the table.
And as the one shot is not so daunting for first time GMs there’s more than one player now reading rulesets and putting together a scenario. It’s not just a re-awakening of the group, it’s an evolution, into a many GM-headed beast.
My initial stint is up after our next game, (Marvel Superheroes RPG does Strikeback), and a new GM has the next game ready: ’55-ish Days At Peking’ where we’ll be playing troops of the colonial powers holding out against hordes of Boxers.