The Day of The Dice Men

I attended the book launch of the extraordinary Dice Men, The Origin Story of Games Workshop with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. I’m still recovering. It’s a MUST for all listeners of the GROGPOD.

Ian Livingstone, Dirk the Dice and Steve Jackson

“You’re the GROG man!” Ian Livingstone has a smile of recognition as he met me in a smart Sardinian inspired restaurant in Belgrave, Westminster. He’s here with Steve Jackson to launch the new book Dice Men, The Origin Story of Games Workshop. It tells the tale of how these two friends from Manchester created a global gaming phenomena from humble beginnings. There are ten other lucky people sitting around this long table, who supported this ambitious project created by crowd-funding publishers Unbound. At the highest pledge level it was possible to attend this launch party in the presence of these two legends of gaming history. 

A chance to spend time with my childhood heroes, was too good to miss, but what to say? Where to start?  

Everyone is curious about Ian’s recent knighthood, so he shared the story of going to Windsor Castle to receive the honour from Princess Anne, passing around his low-res photos from the day on his phone. There’s a promise of better ones that can be paid for from the official photographers. He looks justifiably proud standing in the colonnades of the castle holding his medal. The award is in recognition of his contribution to the gaming industry. He assures us that Princess Anne had a genuine interest in his achievements during the brief ceremony.

Ian at Windsor Castle (from Twitter)

I am struck by how easy the interaction is between us all at the table. There’s a common ground between us, whether it’s sharing the stories of going excitedly into our local Games Workshop when we were young, or reading articles in White Dwarf, or being foxed by Steve Jackson’s infernal maze in Warlock of Firetop Mountain gamebook.

Scott went to the same college as me and he says he took over the war-game society in the year that I left and transformed it into an RPG society. An extraordinary coincidence and my life could have been very different if we had met 31 years ago, perhaps I’d have kept on playing through the nineties. 

The common ground we share was created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, almost by accident.

Back in the seventies, thanks to determination and a lucky break they were the ground-zero of British gaming culture. When their newsletter ‘The Owl and the Weasel’ reached Gary Gygax (to whom the book is dedicated) he made a business deal which gave the pair exclusive European distribution rights to Dungeons and Dragons. This was the foundation of everything that was to follow, propelling them from the back of a van to a globally recognised brand.

One of my fellow diners pointed out, we know the story as we are obsessive, but even for us who thought we knew everything, there’s much more revealed in Dice Men.

THE DICE MEN COMETH

The Vitelli Tonnato and Galletto al Forno was consumed, the conversation was flowing and the book appeared.

It’s a labour of love that took longer to develop than anticipated as it involved exploring the loft to find the archive of material to support the compelling story.

The first invoice for Just Games was recovered and is reproduced here, as are copious lost artefacts from the period including the original Robert Crumb inspired Games Workshop logo (drawn by Ian), facsimiles of The Owl and The Weasel newsletter, so called because game players need “the wisdom of an owl and the cunning of a weasel” (I always assumed it was due to Ian’s round owl-like glasses and Steve’s hair colour, but there you go) and many more generous reproductions of documents and memorabilia from the era. 

My package – The Book, a Games Day Poster and The Owl and Weasel

My favourite chapter of the book is the American tour, when Ian and Steve headed to the States in search of burgeoning game companies that they signed up for distribution and exclusivity in the UK and Europe, including RuneQuest among others. The photographs and the accompanying commentary portrays the spirit of adventure they experienced as they travelled coast to coast, delivering cars and a race against time as they headed to Wisconsin in time for Gen Con. It’s Two-Lane Blacktop, with dice. They finally met Gary Gygax who gave them the big break in the first place, when they were at their most unkempt and unshaven, but their appearance did not shake his confidence in the pair. Later, TSR offered to merge with Games Workshop, to move into the UK market. They declined and lost the exclusivity of D&D distribution when TSR UK was formed. Ultimately, a very wise decision.

GROGPOD illustrated

If you have listened to Tim Olsen, Jamie Thompson, Marc Gascoigne, Ian Marsh and others tell their story in The GROGNARD files podcast, you’ll need this book as an essential companion.

It provides the player handouts to illustrate the stories that will be very familiar, such as the Dalling Road staff baseball teams, the banning of ‘Killer’ in the Sunbeam Road offices and ‘the great flood’. This could have been a business book, charting the entrepreneurial skills and ambitions of a growing company and the brinkmanship of Brian Ansell, compelling them to invest more capital in miniatures; those stories are covered, but this is a personal memoir, an affectionate reflection of a time when creative people converged to make something wonderful.

Ian explains the challenge of creating the book was separating the chapters into the different themes while retaining an accurate chronology as events overlapped. The Owl and the Weasel evolved into White Dwarf, supporting their commercial ambitions, while at the same time creating a community of players who shared the spirit of the Games Workshop retail stores. The early Fighting Fantasy books were being developed at the same time as the retail operation was growing. A real hive of activity. There’s a great photograph of Ian composing pages of White Dwarf by hand using letraset on a light-box. The tee-shirt I’m wearing features the cover of White Dwarf 33, “it’s the first issue I bought.”

“You’re a relative new-comer then,” Ian says, as everyone begins to share their personal origin stories. I explain that it was Steve and his article in Starburst which described how role playing games worked so cogently, that I had to go and buy RuneQuest immediately. Similar articles appeared in Space Voyager and others. Games Workshop success has been down to their appeal beyond scIence fiction geeks and hobbyists to seek out and create new audiences, I said, “that article promising adventure if you were tired of reality changed my life.”

Jackson smiles and shrugs. “I don’t remember writing that at all.”

The article that changed my life …

JUST DESSERTS

Homemade, blackberry gelato allo yoghurt is served and the pens come out for signing. I presented an illustration by Simon Perrins, a pastiche of the RuneQuest cover, featuring my friend Doc Cowie who wasn’t able to come, so gave me the opportunity to attend instead. “I recognise this,” Ian says as he writes the dedication, “I have the original Iain McCaig at home. I have all of the covers that he did for me.” Holding up a copy of City of Thieves, “you can see the origin of Darth Maul’s horns in the design of Zanzar Bone, can’t you?”

“I know which one gave me more nightmares,” Carl, one of the fellow diners quipped.

Other copies of the Fighting Fantasy series are signed, including a forty year old edition of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Someone mentions the American Steve Jackson, “there were TWO Steve Jacksons!”

“There are many more than two,” Steve smiles, “But, you’re right, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games wrote a book for us. It was very confusing as we needed to say “Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson presents” Steve Jackson.” 

After a brief photo-call Ian declared that it was time to “get back to work” we looked shameful as we gathered our coats to head home. 

He says that he does not anticipate ever retiring, there’s still so much to do. 

Dice Men is the origin story, but it’s not reached the finale, quite yet.

Dice Men is available now from all booksellers – if they haven’t got it – order it! Thanks to Ian and Steve and Unbound for organising the event, it was incredible, the food was delicious. Thanks to attendees for great company. Special thanks to the generosity of GROGGIE of the year (and every year) Doc Cowie.

Another incredible design by Simon Perrins

GROGMEET2022 – Scrapbook

As you listen to the GROGMEET22 podcast, why not browse through some of these images from the event. You find more write ups and reflections from Clarky, Stef, and Graham . (Let me know if there are more).

The GROGMANIA GMs – about to get spug-happy!
Ajen is a BOING! TM Direct Hit!
Sam killed more perps on a fast-moving Skegway than Dredd on a good day
“More rum” Film Fan Mike tries to keep out the cold
Kaye and Cris contemplate the Gods War. Kaye went on to win the Mike Hobbs Trophy.
GROGMEETeve game of Titan Effect using Pallas The Sentinel GM Screen
Posh Beans all round!
Doc Cowie presents ….
Pendragon … in Space!
Paul Baldowski introduces – Rick Wakeman meets The A Team
Pookie is either a Mercenary, Spy or a Private Eye here ….
Tangled Andy’s Dark Heresy Game had a splendid tabletop and …
an amazing player hand-out
Frankenstein Dave shows off his impressive spy-glass
Welcome to my Kingdom. Gaz is about to go Savage with zombies!
GROGSQUAD!
Chris McDowall taps the ridiculous home-made shrine

PROGMEET competition

I know what I like in my wardrobe. Study the incredible PROGMEET illustration to win a prize.

This weekend is GROGMEET 2022. For some long forgotten reason it has a progressive rock theme. Some of the games have taken their influence from Prog Rock classics from Genesis to Gong.

The wonderful illustrator Simon Perrins was commissioned to produce this incredible image.

You can get stuff with it on at the Redbubble Store.

You can win a prize for listing the most references to prog, gaming and music that you can spot.

The winner with the highest verified list will be announced on 20th November 2022.

Make your submission by using this form.

Closing date is 17th November 2022 (midnight).

Dirk

Scarred for Life by RPGs (with Stephen Brotherstone) Ep. 54 (Part 2)

This is the second part of our exploration of Scarred for Life, the fantastic series of books about growing up in the dark decades of the seventies and eighties. Gen X-rated popular culture shaped our imaginations and informed our gaming.

Buy the books here.

Content warning for this one as we quote directly from a couple of controversial games from the 80s.

I’ve had a go at putting chapters on this one. In case they don’t pull through, here is the menu:

00:00 INTRO: The incredible ghost voices that appeared on the free flexi-disc from The Unexplained magazine.

03:53 The GAMESMASTER’s Screen. Ste Brotherstone give us insight from the forthcoming volume of Scarred for Life. Phoenix Command, Alma Mater, The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space, & Time, The Price of Freedom, and 2000ad. I also mention the wonderful Save for Half podcast who did a recent episode on East Texas University.

57:30 Library Use. Judge Blythy joins me in the Room of Role-Playing rambling to look at Unexplained magazine. I make a mistake – it didn’t last for 115 issues, it was 157!

1:33:0 Advert. Frankenstein’s RPG podcast – I appeared on a recent episode about Magic/ PSIonics and Investigation in SF role-playing games.

1:34:0 I’ll Get mi Coat. Closing time chatter about Agon, Delta Green and a brief mention of the UNIT campaign.

1:46:Outro. The Book Club is on the first Sunday of every month at 09:30 GMT for 90 minutes. Owl Bear and The Wizard’s Staff convention is scheduled to take place on the weekend 2nd September. I will be supporting an online version of the event. Watch this space for more details.

Support us on Patreon

UK GAMES Expo 2022 – Scrapbook

The platty jubes weekender! Cod bless ya!
Benjamin Smith GM, looks over the GODSWALL
“I have in my hand, a piece of paper …” yeah, yeah, whatever
GROGSQUAD Assemble! Paul, Dave, Ed, Jim, Pookie, Bud, Mike and Steve.
Traveller – a raft heading to the surface … The Vargr’s head stuck outside of the window
Doom, Fortune, Momentum and other bits flying across the table for Conan.
The accidental spoons incident
Bed time reading … the incredible Cults of Cthulhu
The Priest of Honen and Hotath meditating was a lot cooler in my head than it looks here
(by Julian Haley)
Making the way around the Trade Hall with Old Scouse Roleplayer

King Arthur Pendragon RPG (with David Larkins)

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In this episode, we finally draw the sword from the stone and examine a game that had an enormous impact on gaming in the 80s: King Arthur Pendragon.

David Larkins, the Pendragon line editor for Chaosium, joins us to tell us about the history of the game, how it works and the future developments.

Judge Blythy, our resident rules-lawyer, reviews the mechanics and we discuss how the game works conceptually.

We also have some closing time chatter about hot topics on our table top.

GROGMEET 2021 – Scrapbook

If you have listened to my brief play-reports on the latest GROGPOD, you can use these images from the weekend to illustrate the event before your very eyes.

GROGMOOR GMs gather to put the swords and the sorcery into Barbarian’s of Lemuria’s epic six table adventure.
Sam Vail’s heroes gather to defeat the demon hoards (“Turn around and look surprised”)
Dave Paterson brings Frankenstein’s RPG to life.
Doc Cowie amasses the Light Bringers against the hoards of Chaos in Gods War.
He donated this amazing trophy in memory of Mike Hobbs (won by Jeremy this year). The award was made and sculpted by Fenris Games and painted by Roy Duffy. Fantastic.
Armchair Adventuring with Daily Dwarf and Blythy
Steve has brought his Potion of Sobriety rolled from a table, apparently at random.
It’s the old school and essential scouser Neil Benson.
Bushido returns with Asako_Soh
Rob demonstrates a strange fist mutant in Troika!
How long is that cheese?
The g-men of Lake Front City relax after bringing the hoods and the unions under control. (strictly non-alcoholic, obviously)
Bud scares the bejesus out of these Call of Cthulhu players
The Fitzgerald
Where is that potion of sobriety when I need it? Playing Paranoia online, into the night.
Kong was much bigger and more impressive in my head

Extra – Dirk and Blythy grogMEET Frankenstein (with Ian Cooper and Paul Fricker)

Dave Paterson hosts Frankenstein’s RPG with Dirk, Blythy, Paul and Ian

Welcome to another extra all about this year’s GROGMEET. This time it includes a live recording made at Fan Boy Three.

Frankenstein’s RPG podcast has been pulling together the best bits of role-playing games this year to produce an epic monster of a game. We got together to decide which would be the best supplement to support the game.

You can catch up with the Frankenstein’s RPG over at anchor.

Also in this extra podcast, I give a personal reflection on the games I played and recommend some podcasts that you may enjoy.

I played Paranoia with Iain Wilson, you can catch some of his actual plays and discussion on his podcast Roll to Save.

Pookie makes quizzes and reviews RPGs.

Newt Newport is a publisher D1o1 games and organises Go Play Manchester.

Tale of the Manticore

What am I Rolling (Vurt actual play)

Breakfast in the Ruins (Wizardry and Wild Romance)

Fictoplasm (Corum)

Weird Studies

Gaming & BS

The Gauntlet Podcast

Fear of the Black Dragon

Smart Party (Jason Cordova interview)

Orlanth Rex’s Gaming Vexes

Titterpigs

You can find out more recommendations by following the newsletter on Patreon.

MOBTOBER – The Gangsterfest

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.

Dirk

Episode 50 (Part 1) Fighting Fantasy (with Ian Livingstone)

Armed with no more than 2 dice a pencil and eraser we are delighted to have special guest Ian Livingstone on Episode 50.

Also in this episode, the return of face to face recording in the Las O Gowrie. Judge Blythy talks to Dirk about his experiences of Fighting Fantasy and reveals his thoughts of the rules. We also talk of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, Troika, and Quarrel and Fable.

Mr Jim Moon, host of the fabulous Hypnogoria shares his first, last and everything.

The return of the excellent Sea Shanty from Daily Dwarf and Lichway Ed Foster.

You can support the GROGNARD files at Patreon.