Post Bag of Holding – Entries Required

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Later this week, Judge Blythy and I will be heading into the Room of RPG Rambling to reach into the Bag of Holding and pull out post from listeners. In the next, final part to the epic Advanced Dungeons and Dragons episode, I’ll be responding to listener contributions with Hizzoner.

The next podcast will be the footnotes, the Silmarillion, the UnEarthed Arcana of the Dungeons and Dragons Episodes, with various odds and sods from pulled together from the shelves of the GROGNARD files. Odds and sods that include:

  • The Potted History of D&D – rescued from the cutting room floor from the first part of the episode is the usual whistle stop tour of the history of the game
  • Dirk meets the Old Scroates -Dirk hit the road to meet listeners Ric and Tim to talk about their experiences of playing different editions of D&D (and some great Runequest anecdotes too)
  • Post Bag: An extra special Postbag, reviewing listener comments regarding their own experiences playing D&D back in the day and some people taking issue with the comments that we made during our discussions

If you would like to contribute to the discussion about D&D, it’s not too late, please add to the comments on this post, and we’ll try to respond to as many as possible.

We’ve got the Random Dungeon Generator covered. Brace yourself Judge B. Dirk

 

1D6 Directing Monsters the Spielberg way

In the latest podcast I have advocated that Dungeon Masters should adopt a “Spielberg’ approach to directing monsters, rather than Peter Jackson’s method. I’ve been asked a pertinent question: that’s all very well, but how do you codify it?

I have attempted to channel my inner Robin D Laws to pick out the dramatic beats that Spielberg uses so they can be adopted into an RPG session.

Strictly speaking, Spielberg has directed three monster movies; Jurassic Park (1993), its sequel Lost World (1997) and the best of them all, Jaws (1975). It seems like he’s done more, because he incorporates these techniques into the characterisation of objects and people in other films he’s directed: in Saving Private Ryan (1999) the tank is portrayed as a lumbering T-Rex and the malevolent truck in Dual (1971) is as relentless as a great white shark.

Here’s some quick thoughts on what I meant by ‘directing monsters the Spielberg way’ and some suggestions on how they can be built into your games. The key device is ‘suspense’ which is part of the grammar of film, but difficult to replicate in games, however I believe that it’s still possible to inject the creeping anticipation of jeopardy in the most world-weary, jaded gamer with the application of Spielbergian tactics …

1.FORESHADOW HOW NASTY THE MONSTER IS …

The oft cited reason for players becoming jaded with monsters is the meta-gaming knowledge of what the monster is capable of and its vulnerabilities. “Everyone knows what to expect, where’s the thrill in that?” Long term players can no longer get excited about the prospect of a band of goblins because they’ve killed them a thousand times before.

However, Speilberg uses this meta-knowledge to share with the audience the potential threat of the creature, so they can anticipate it’s appearance. If a monster has a special attack, a strategy of combat or vulnerability then there’s no harm in revealing it to the players, as it will sharpen their thinking.

Include an NPC with a Cornish-American accent to tell  stories of previous encounters, how armies have been eaten by the creature, exaggerate the size … “from the dorsal to the tail” and it’s capacity to kill.

2.MAKE MONSTERS FEEL LIKE PHYSICAL ENTITIES

Both Jackson and Spielberg owe a debt to Ray Harryhausen, a monster auteur who was so dedicated to his creations that he left the direction of humans to others. His stop-motion method used physical models, painstakingly moved frame by frame, which gave the creations a sense of gravity which is sometimes lacking in Jackson’s monster films. Due to limitations of the technology, Harryhausan depended upon the suggestion of the potential of his monsters through sound effects and partially concealed glimpses.

Never wholly convinced by CGI, Spielberg adopts a similar approach, choosing to mix computer animation with animatronic puppets. In addition, Spielberg is masterful at combining sound and subtle visual effects to add weight to the creatures: the ripples in the cup as the T-Rex approaches, the click-click-click of the Velociraptors claw on the tiles, and the movement in the water of the shark in Jaws.

In game, it’s useful to pepper the approach of a monster with similar techniques to tantalise and tease the players’ senses: the acrid smells, the distant rumble, the displaced dust and the euphoric screech as it enters the scene.

3.DUMMY DECOY … THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING WORSE

Once you’ve established the creatures’ abilities by foreshadowing, it’s possible to use ‘dummy’ effects to rattle the players: a rustle in the long grass, a silhouette through the tent, or a cardboard dorsal fin.

There’s always deniers who have a vested interest in ensuring the status quo is restored and the disruption caused by the monster is resolved. What if they’re wrong? What if the monster they caught isn’t the monster that’s causing the trouble?

4. THEY’RE RELENTLESS, LOOK FOR COVER!

Arguably, Spielberg created cinema’s first relentless, faceless terror in Dual (which was actually a TV movie, but you know what I mean) it’s a trope that has been repeated often by many filmmakers since.

Characters in Spielberg’s movie are more prepared to run away than the average RPG player character, nevertheless, there’s always occasions when they may reach for a place of safety, a place of safety that can only resist the terror for a certain length of time, before the horror is going to break through.

The monster tipping over the wagon, pushing it to the edge of a cliff, breaking through the defences, the weather isn’t helping either … when will it end?

5. TO DEFEAT A MONSTER, YOU HAVE TO BECOME A MONSTER …

Robert Shaw* as Quint in Jaws, Bob Peck as Muldoon in Jurassic Park in some ways, have characteristics of the creatures that they’re trying to defeat. It’s a trope that Spielberg uses in Schindler’s List (1993) too. Liam Neeson’s Schindler is a counterpoint to Ralph Fiennes’s Amon Goth.

What if the monsters have some of the characteristics of the player characters. The same spells? A mirror of the attributes and skills of the player characters?

6. SOMETIMES, SET-DRESSING IS OK …

There are times when you need to have vistas of monsters with John Williams music while monsters stampede, act out rituals, or just make the place look colourful.

 

* Robert Shaw is from round our way

 

GROGMEET 16 – June Update!

 

GrogMeet 2016 (corrected)

More tickets have been released for GROG MEET 2016 and a waiting list opened (to be advised of cancellations.)

The event is being held on 12th November at Manchester’s Mad Lab, in the heart of the city’s Northern Quarter. Doors open at 10.00 for board games and chat, RPG sessions begin at noon and will finish at 4.30. The GROGNARD files ‘zine will be launched at the end of the event and every attendee will get a copy to take home.

Use the eventbrite page link here – let me know if you have any issues.

THE FELLOWSHIP IS ALMOST COMPLETE

New games have been added. I’m awaiting details of the final member of the Magnificent 7, but the confirmed games are:

ACHTUNG CTHULHU! *NEW*

Operation Twitcher: 1938, American Explorer Richard Byrd is quizzed by the Nazis about the South Pole, he informs the British and American governments of the Nazis interest but no action is taken at this time.

1942, reports are received of strange phenomena in the far South Atlantic. Richard Byrd now an Admiral in the US Navy is called in by the admiralty to brief a select team of marines and scientists on dealing with with the Antarctic conditions.

GM: Katherine Simmons-Smith

BOOT HILL *NEW*

Boot Hill 3rd edition Wild West Role-Playing Game, one of TSR Inc’s forgotten gems. Boot Hill is a game of grand adventure in the American Frontier; a world of cowpokes, gamblers, sheriffs and gunslingers. This is an original adventure based in the official setting Promise City entitled “Matthew 12:43”

GM: Ian Griffiths

ALSO…

  • Judge Blythy from the GROGNARD files will be running a STORMBRINGER adventure to feed Arioch with souls.
  • We’re delighted to have GM @Asako_Soh on the team, who is fresh from running games at UK Games Expo and the D&D Tweetup,  to run a classic adventure for West End Games Star Wars RPG
  • Dirk the Dice will be taking players to Glorantha in a Classic RUNEQUEST scenario: Assault on Lunar Outpost XIII.

The event will begin with demonstrations and ‘pick up and play’ board games hosted by bonhomiegames.uk – the home of convivial gaming. Cris Watkins will help us get in the gaming mood with mass participation games and a pop-up library of sample games to play.

The event is taking shape. More information will be released next month. Sign up sheets for the RPGs will be released nearer the time.

Beginning to get very excited about it now!

 

GROG CLUB Unlocked!

Last week, the $100 monthly goal was reached, which means that we’re opening the doors to the Saturday GROG-CLUB. This is a 6 monthly online meet-up that one of The Armchair Adventurers will Games Master using the Roll 20 site. The club will be open to $5.00 patreons (although we may open it up if there isn’t sufficient demand at that level).

Four places are available for each session, if there are more wanting to play, attendance will be determined by a ballot and unsuccessful applicants will be carried over to the next session.

This post is to ‘put the feelers out’ to get a sense of what people want from this activity, so your feedback (in the comments) will be welcome.

THE PROPOSAL

The game will take place at the weekend 17th – 18th September for about 5 hours.

There will be a short ‘session zero’ the week before to familiarise yourself with Roll 20, the pre-generated characters and to introduce each other.

I will be the Gamesmaster for this session. The games under offer are:

THE SEA CAVE – RUNEQUEST – A previously unpublished scenario written by Greg Stafford which was released as part of the Runequest classic Kick-starter last year.

or

A TIME TO HARVEST – The ‘Open Game’ scenario provided by Chaosium to introduce players to Call of Cthulhu 7th ed.

or

SAFE WORD – Play-test the Fate Core seventies, spy-caper featuring Jerry Cornelius which is to appear in the GROGNARD files fanzine.

THE QUESTIONS

Are you interested in taking part?

What is the best time for you during the weekend?

Which of the three games under offer would you like to play?

Do you have any questions or suggestions?

Thank you for the continued support of the GROGNARD files!

 

White Dwarf – “Citation needed …”

250px-White-Dwarf-1-1993Sunday marked a significant Anniversary for theGROGNARDfiles podcast. Last year, @dailydwarf filed his first submission on 22nd May, selecting his favourite RUNEQUEST material from the hey day of the magazine.

It matters, because it was the moment that I realised that I needed to actually *do* something about the crazy notion of producing a podcast, as someone else had put time in to contribute to the idea. Someone who I didn’t really know. Someone who had put the work in, based on a speculative e-mail I’d sent to him.

Having White Dwarf at the cohesive centre of the podcast was essential, as it was such an important element of our experience of the hobby in those early years. I didn’t count on the quality of the submissions from @dailydwarf, for which I am eternally grateful.

My nasal drone and slightly pompous characterisation of the dwarf, doesn’t do justice to the quality of the writing in @dailydwarf’s submissions, so I’m pleased that we have decided to offer a pamphlet containing the collected essays. We’ll produce it as an insert to the ‘zine that we’re putting out in November. If you want to be assured of getting a copy, then please give us a tip in the beret.

One of the great consequences of producing the podcast has been meeting lots of great people. It’s possible that the GROGNARD files would have never had happened if I hadn’t got that submission in May ’15. I count @dailydwarf as one of the great ‘virtual’ friends I’ve made over the past 10 months.

I’m looking forward to publishing the collected works, in the meantime, these are the references to articles/ scenarios covered in the podcasts so far (as requested by some listeners):

RUNEQUEST

Oliver Dickinson: Lucky Eddi #29 Griselda Gets Her Men #30

John Bethell: Lair of the White Wyrm #14

Michael Cule: Rumble at the Tin Inn  #33

CALL OF CTHULHU

Review of Call of Cthulhu in Open Box  #32

Andy Bradbury:  The Heart of the Dark # 75

Marcus Rowland: The Paddington Horror #88

Graeme Davis: Ghost Jackal Kill #79

Simon Nicholson: Ghosties & Ghoulies &… Squid? #91

TRAVELLER

Review of Traveller in issue #6

Andy Slack: Backdrop of Stars #24

Neil Cheyne: Amber to Red #26

Bob McWilliams: We Have a Referee Malfunction!  #35

STORMBRINGER

Review of Stormbringer  #29

Matt Williams: The Madcap Laughs #95 to #98.

ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

Roger Musson:  The Dungeon Architect #25 to #27.

Martin Hytch: Gamesmanship #75

Lew Pulsipher: The Necromancer #35.

Abbie Fiore: The Lichway  #9

Marcus L Rowland: The Eagle Hunt #40

Graeme Davis: The City in the Swamp #37

Venetia Lee and Paul Stamforth: Castle in the Wind  #76

Janet and Peter Vialls: Terror at Trollmarsh  #74

Lew Pulsipher: Khazad Dûm #38 

Abbie Fiore:  The Halls of Tizun Thane #18

Paul Vernon:  Troubles at Embertrees  #34

To be continued!

New goals added to Patreon

grognard-headThe GROGNARD files has a Patreon campaign to help support it’s development and other projects. I thought it was a good time to provide a general update as new goals have been added.

PROJECTS IN DEVELOPMENT

The ‘zine. I’m in the process of commissioning artwork. The writing is in hand and we’ve put together a plan to get everything ready over the summer. There’s some interesting material being developed, in the style that will be familiar from the podcast. PDFs will be available to all backers. Hard copies will be sent to $3.50 plus backers (world-wide shipping). Hard copies will be strictly limited with only a handful available for open sale. The PDF will be released generally mid-2017.

The Grog-Meet. The ‘zine will be launched in Manchester on 12th November 2016 at the first theGROGNARDfiles meet-up. It’s great that so many Patreon’s have been able to book a ticket for the event. We’re very excited about it. All attendees will get a copy of the ‘zine.

The Online Grog Club. We are tantalisingly close to opening the 6th monthly Grog Club, available to $5.00 backers in a ballot. I’ll be flexible with the time to fit people in different time-zones. It will be a one-off session that will either be A TIME TO HARVEST (the Cthulhu 7th ed open play scenario) or THE SEA CAVES the previously unreleased OSR scenario by Greg Stafford for Classic Runequest.

NEW GOALS

The collected @dailydwarf. If we hit $120 per month goal, we’ll include a pamphlet of the collected essays by @dailydwarf written for the podcast, in the ‘zine. Richly detailed analysis, witty and filled with the rose-tinted reflections you’ve come to expect from the GROGNARD files.

The Armchair Adventurers Consume Media. If it’s good enough for Ken and Robin … Dirk will write capsule reviews of all the books, movies, TV seasons, longform articles and podcasts he consumes. A fortnightly digest for Patreons only. Unlike Ken and Robin, I can’t promise cooking, but I do know the optimum technique for the perfect Pot Noodle.

The Patreon also supports the important, but boring stuff around the podcast:

Hopefully, you’ll have spotted an improvement in sound recording in the latest podcast. I’ve invested in a massive YETI mike that has sharpened things up.

The annual hosting of theGROGNARDfiles is due at the end of this month.

I’ve put a link on the side-bar, but you can also access it at this link

Thanks for the support!

1D6 Old Scrotes and Armchairs UNITE!

I’m 46 Live in Southport not far from Bolton and like you we used to play rpg’s from the age of 12 many years ago through those long summers.

And have recently got in touch with the old gang & are doing a 5th ed d&d ‘old scrote’ once a month session. Would you like to join sometime ?

1st Jan, 2016 – Ric Gillett

It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. On the very first day of this year we were invited to join the ‘Old Scrotes’ club in nearby Southport. After a few exchanges of emails, it seemed a perfect opportunity to learn more about 5th edition D&D.

We have played an online opening game of Mines of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Pack, which starts at 1st level and works up to 4-5, but how do the new mechanics handle adventures at a high level?

Blythy and I made the journey through the endless fields of sprouts towards the quaint seaside town of Southport that’s known in Bolton as ‘God’s Waiting Room’, as it is the place where people of the North West gravitate towards to retire.

The Old Scrotes Club very generously invited us to join in their quarterly game, where they congregate from all corners of the North, to gather for a mammoth 12 hour session. They have an ongoing campaign in the Under Dark titled ‘The Steam Dwarves’ as the party are all Dwarves. In previous adventures, they have mastered huge Iron Suits with fire and water elementals bound into them that give them steam-powers and flame-throwing abilities.

I’ve interviewed Ric and Tim (the Games Master) for the podcast and will be appearing soon, where they’ll talk about their experiences back in the day and how they have found playing 5th edition D&D.

It’s all good stuff, but in the mean time, these are my top 4 highlights from the session and one low blow.

FULL-STEAM AHEAD

  1. THE ANTICIPATION
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Snacks, the Cursed Dice Cup, The Player’s Handbook and something to ‘get into character’.

We were to play gnomes. Deep gnomes. Svirfneblin (bless you.) At first we thought it was some kind of joke. They are after all borderline scousers, so we thought it might be some way of cutting the Woolly Backs down to size.

Using the 5th Edition, it is possible to create characters of different fantasy races with colour and interesting detail. Blythy played a druid (almost a boring cleric, but the daisy chains make all the difference) and he studied the spells very, very carefully ahead of play, waiting for the dramatic moment when he could transform to an elemental. Erky Ningle kept a scorpion in a box too, ready for the moment when he could make it giant, (cue endless debate over it being ‘Gnome Giant’ or ‘Giant’).

I was to be rogue with slippers of spider climb, hence he was known as Nackel ‘Sticky Foot’ Bilge, friend of the druid who accompanied him from recently destroyed Gnome Market to seek assistance from the Dwarves.

2.THE DWARVEN COUNCIL

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Tim the DM carefully wove a back story for why we were making contact with the Dwarves, who had successfully secured a fortified keep in the Under Dark. Drow, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Dwarves and Gnomes had all begun to behave strangely, as if in the grip of a madness. The gnomes had seen an Intellect Devourer escape from the brain of one of their clan who had been affected. They were keen to seek help to destroy the Illithid hive and put an end to the madness, so the Gnome Market could open once more.

Now. We have a small group, which usually means doubling up characters, so we have got into the habit of using reported speech, “well, I’ll say this in a harsh manner etc.” and tend to avoid to getting into ‘acting out’ the scene. We use it occasionally, at key moments, to crank up the tension.

The Old Scroates were masters at speaking in character, for the first hour Tim the DM went for a fag, while the players engaged in argument and counter argument in Scottish accents. The wizard believed that their small army should revive the Gnome Market and win the hearts and minds of the people of the Under Dark (a post-Iraq option), while the Cleric and Ranger believed that a recon mission, with force, should seek out the Illithid hive and neutralise it.

It was very absorbing. I felt like I was actually there, cowering before Cherry, the buxom member of council, pleading for assistance to free capital within the Under Dark.

The discussion was interrupted by green smoke emitting from the vaults below the keep.

3. UNLUCKY STICKY AND THE EVIL DICE

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Once in the underground vaults of the keep, exploring the haunted crypts, the Cursed Dice Cup managed to confound the Old Scroates as I managed to roll a row of successive ones.

At one time, when I had ‘the advantage’ I rolled a one and a two. My D20 was sealed in a small box that once stored baby rusks. It was banished there until it could learn to behave.

There followed an experiment where the dice was ducked in water to prove it had a bias … a bubble inside … or a witch …or something.

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4. UNDEAD ARMY

What does 5th edition do at high levels? Well, I don’t want to steal our podcast thunder, but it has the capacity to provide ‘the spectacular’. After creeping carefully through the crypt we were tormented by a Necromancer/ Litch type creature who was entering our heads, imploring to leave the place.

Evidence was everywhere that he had been attempting to zombify creatures and soon, we made the encounter – 200 plus dwarven zombies with wraiths, zombie beholders and ogres thrown in for good measure.

Spells were cast. Axes were swung in whirlwind attacks. The Cleric cried ‘turn again zombies, turn again’!

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“Those are not dots. They’re zombies!”

Meanwhile, Sticky Foot was on the ceiling, sneak-attacking with a bow and dodging disintegrating rays from the Zombie Beholder like Lionel Richie with a ferret down my pants. One of them hit too.

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5. BRING IN THE TANK

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We had late-coming Old Scroate. We had been missing a much needed fighter, but fortunately in the late afternoon he’d turned up when the rest of the party were exhausted and with his assistance the dwarves and gnomes thrashed through a zoo of zombies, including a Medusa, Gelentious Cube, a Grell and a rust monster.

OUT OF STEAM

6.WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

The only downside was that it seem to come to an end so soon. Time is transcendental as well as physical. Those 11 hours seemed to pass so quickly that it came to an end before had chance to realise the extent of the destruction that the Slaadi caused.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have hit the lid off that bottle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nights Black Agents – A GROGNARD’S GUIDE

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,

While night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.

Macbeth, Act III, Scene II

The Armchair Adventurers Club are at serious risk of losing their GROGNARD credentials. Our gaming experience has been trapped in small period of time between 1981 – 1987 and replicated during this renaissance in the Autumn of our lives. When we reformed in 2010 it was all about rediscovering the games we played together as kids and dusting off old campaigns to relive those experiences, but with a more mature perspective. This year, we pledged to look beyond this period and consciously explore some of the innovations that have influenced RPGs during our deep-freeze.

Earlier in the year, we stepped into the Ninth World of Numenera and its fantastically immersive setting. It was the first time that the concept of ‘spends’ was introduced to the table. We adapted to the mechanic well and enjoyed how it was possible to influence the dice-roll result by investing character resources at key moments. The possibility of failure is always there and we still had some ridiculously bad rolls during the run of play which meant our ‘spending pool’ was quickly exhausted. Of all the innovations within Numenera the most unsettling was the ‘player facing’ element … the GM (Blythy) was irresistibly drawn towards the dice, but the rules of Numenera put the dice exclusively in the hands of players: in combat, monsters don’t successfully hit you, you fail to defend against them.

I’ve been drawn to Nights Black Agents thanks to the relentless promotion of the Dracula Dossier campaign via Ken and Robin talk about stuff podcast. The ingenious idea that there’s been an historical attempt by the British Government to enlist a vampire as a military asset is too good to resist. Add to that, the most audacious player handout in RPG history; DRACULA (Unreacted) the annotated version of Bram Stoker’s fictionalised account of an after action report of successive attempts to deploy and negotiate an unholy alliance between vampires and government.

I was confused by The Dracula Dossier at first, I thought the idea of a ‘stand alone’ campaign meant that I didn’t need the core rules, however a cursory browse in a game shop in Manchester last year, made me realise that there was a core rule book. I assigned my Dragonmeet budget towards NIGHTS BLACK AGENTS and managed to bag myself a signed copy.

There’s something intimating about the game. I suspect it is the pure guile and energy of Kenneth Hite’s intelligence with its innate ability to join together serendipitous historical facts with a great deal of vim and vigour; like the illuminati on hypertextual steroids. I found my internal monologue developing the tone of Hite as I was reading through the rules, which helped, it certainly increased my reading speed. Once you hit the floor and dodge the ideas zipping from the page, you realise that you are completely immersed into the world and filled with inspiration to get going, create characters and set about destroying the vampire conspyramid.

CAN I HAVE A REWIRE?

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On first glance of the NIGHTS BLACK AGENTS rules, the GROGNARD brain has little to grab on to, as familiar mechanics seem to have disappeared – where are the character attributes? when do the dice come in? how do the characters stay alive? More than Numenera, Nights Black Agents is developed on the back of innovations in indy gaming in the early part of the last decade. The emphasis of the game is the collaborative construction of story around a  conceptual setting: Jason Bourne thrillers meet hammer house of vampires.

The GM becomes a ‘Director’ helping the players to emulate the thrills of a cinematic experience by using devices such as scene-framing and choosing the mode of play – what kind of spy movie do you want appear in? One where your agents are burned out by the job? One where you can’t trust anyone? One where the punches really hurt?

The players and directors and settle on the style of game they want to play and start to build up the skills and background colour that creates a character dossier. There’s some great backgrounds to choose from, such as a ‘Wet Worker’ (an assassin) or a ‘Cuckoo’ (an operative in deep cover). The central mechanic is the GUMSHOE system used in Trail of Cthulhu and EsoTerrorists. As the player characters are built, they assign points to Investigative abilities such as Forensic pathology, photography, Streetwise or Bull Shit Detector. These skills are spent during the game to get extra information above and beyond the core clues. Hunting for clues is always successful, to move the narrative forward; its not the hunting for clues that is the fun element of the game, it’s knowing what to do with the information once you have it.

In NBA the Gumshoe mechanics are souped up to provide general abilities that match the thriller element of the game. These include Athletics, Shooting, Driving or infiltration, the character is built by assigning points to these abilities which can then be spent in the game to influence the result of a contest. The Director sets a number to resolve challenges and the players roll a 1D6 to see if they do it or not.

They also have the option to spend to increase the chance of success, or even ensure success, so they have the opportunity to spend their skill points. Want to do a handbrake turn in the centre of the freeway to escape pursuit? Give me 4 … you’ll need to spend something from your driving pool to have a chance of success. In addition, there are ‘cherries’ to skills to give an extra level of bad-assness. Additions such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ so you can boost vehicles as required.

My favourite element is the ability for the players to spend points building a Network; when they come into a city, they can describe contacts that are located in the area that they know – a local Hells Angel, a former girl-friend, an associate – they can assign points to them and use them as a resource to provide assistance in the mission.

Part of the challenge for the players is to think like a super-spy and have a bold outlook towards hurtling into harms way when all your RPG instincts tell you to be cautious. A tactical approach is rewarded and there are clever ways of deploying skills to defuse situations to provide an advantage, but the real fun comes from barging through places like Jason Bourne, regardless of the collateral damage.

COFFIN-SHAPED CARGO

Although I’d committed to the Dracula Dossier as a campaign, I knew that I wanted to break them into the tone of the game before we embarked on a ‘collaborative and improvisational’ mode. Pelgrane Press have plenty of resources to help the neophyte director find their feet.

After the character dossiers were created, I used EXCESS BAGGAGE (a downloadable demo game) which is an in media-res car chase through the streets of Krakow. A portable nuclear bomb has been stolen from a military facility, the agents are already in pursuit. It’s an opportunity to use the ‘Chase’ mechanic provided in NBA to track the excitement of a thriller chase and closing the gap during the hunt. Whether its gear-grinding driving, or clever free-running over roof tops, the chase rules are a nifty way of managing the successes and failures and providing cinematic colour.

Once the pre-credit sequence was over, a clue in the recovered attaché case led them to Odessa, and the opening section to THE ZALOZHNIY QUARTET, a free sample of which is also available on the Pelgrane site including some handy hints on how to knit the scenario into The Dracula Dossier. The scenario sets up the agents on a surveillance mission, tracking contraband passing over the Black Sea through Turkey from Iraq. They uncovered something more sinister than they were expecting, on the sight of coffin-shaped cargo, you could sense the tempo of the table change. It was the moment they were drawn into the setting. They’re now on a run for their lives to a safe house in Vienna.

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ON THE RUN

Thanks to the Peregrane Press resources, the first game went really well, introducing the key elements of the game and presenting some very dramatic scenes. The players developed their confidence and were more sure-footed when the confrontation with the bad guys happened. This will develop further when they have a better grasp of how to use the skills to good effect. They work a little like spells in D&D, where it’s possible to impress your friends with your ingenuity as you apply the skills in an inventive manner, “using my Architecture skill, I consider the age of the building, and possible exits …”

The shift in the centre of gravity from the GM to the players was gradually done during the session. One of the rules that came up during the run of play is the idea of ‘retries’. If you fail, you fail, and can’t have another go. “Shot your wad” as it says in the rules and you can only have another attempt if you can come up with a clever way of explaining your next attempt. This gave them the sense of participating in the generation of the story.

On the whole, it feels like Gumshoe would work better with a bigger group as it would allow the feeling of the spotlight shifting from player to player as their specialism comes into effect. The rules accommodate two player teams by adjusting the build points accordingly, but having another player in the mix would help the share the burden of fast-thinking and creating additional story elements.

At the next session, I will be laying the foundation for the revelation of the weightiest player-handout in history – Dracula Unredacted – so they’ll choose the path of the leads they want to follow and we’ll mutually compose a narrative adventure on the fly.

At that stage, the conversion will be complete, but until then, I’m clutching a random encounter table and a clove of garlic in my breast pocket. While I hold on to them, I’ll always be a Grognard.

  • Dirk