According to Malcolm Gladwell, there are people who are natural ‘connectors’ in a community. They know large numbers of people and are in the habit of making introductions to others due to their “ability to span many different worlds (and) intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy.”
This morning I heard the shocking news that our community has lost one of its great connectors. Mike “The Welsh Wizzard” Hobbs who was known in hobby circles for his miniature painting (displayed on twitter), his generosity of spirit, good humour combined with a sly wit (expressed in his blog) and for being the co-host of the long running podcast Meeples and Miniatures with his best mate Neil “The Brummie Dwarf” Shuck.
The GROGNARD files owes a great deal to Mike. He discovered the podcast at a period when it was running out of steam back in 2017. Thanks to his connections in the wargaming convention world, he was spreading the word about it: “I happened across this podcast on Twitter and thought I’d have a quick listen, as I used to play RPGs back in the 80’s, I was hooked from the start … over the past 2 weeks I’ve listened to the back catalogue.”
He mentioned the GROGPOD on Meeples and Miniatures 223 with an enthusiastic endorsement and as a result we had a huge influx of new listeners. He was such a respected figure that people could not resist his recommendation. Although he wasn’t pouting on instagram, he was a true influencer, drawing more and more war-gamers to the idea of rediscovering the lure of RPGs. The new listeners he brought boosted our energy to continue and it grew the GROGNARD files community massively.
At UK Games Expo 2018 he joined my game of RuneQuest, Broken Tower and he presented me with a fantastic painted figure of Judge Dredd. “Keep going mate, it’s fantastic,” he said in his gentle Welsh accent. He recounted the experience of playing on his blog ‘Musings of the Welsh Wizzard’ with real excitement to be playing, even noting my perplexed look as I tried to hurry on the discussion about the parking arrangements of the bison mounts.
Before long he was back into RPGs, bringing along armfuls of delicious welsh cakes for the attendees of GROGMEET, he played Jenner in our Blakes Seven game and this weekend he was playing Numenera at virtual GROGMEET.
He was a caring, humble and generous soul and I will miss him deeply. My thoughts are with his family, Neil and his many friends.
I was always ribbing him about how guilty he sounded about his ‘accidental’ purchases. Last year he revised his review of the GROGPOD, adding a warning, “beware as you might find yourself buying lots of new things that you never know you needed in your life, but hey that’s not a bad thing, is it?”
Gladwell said that connectors are vital to create a ‘tipping point’, so the next time something tips off the wobbly shelf into my hands at my local games store, I’ll be thinking of Mike.
Dave Morris joins us in the Room of Role-Playing Rambling and discusses White Dwarf and other projects he’s been involved with over his long career in gaming. You can join his Patreon to support JewelSpider and follow his blog.
There’s a new twitter account for you to follow @theRPGLibrarian follow it and direct mail me if you’d like to know more about the monthly Book Club, starting in Feb.
Follow all of the GROGNARD files projects on Patreon.
“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.
This interview features in the November Webzine for Patreons. Paul (Cthulhu Hack) Baldowski is launching a new Kickstarter for his RPG set against the backdrop of Elizabethan England. I recommended Derek Jarman’s JUBILEE as a good source of a potential scenarios, let’s see how that idea is getting along as well as the rest of the development:
What’s the pitch for the Dee Sanction – why should people back it?
On the one hand, I hope that people will back the game on Kickstarter or pick up the game afterwards because I’ve written it. It feels sort of egotistical to say — that’s not me at all! — but The Cthulhu Hack has won several awards, and The Haunter of the Dark was nominated for an ENnie.
The pitch is a standalone tabletop role-playing game of traitors seeking absolution through investigation and magic in the age of Doctor John Dee.
This is a game set within a tumultuous period of history. The status quo, on so many levels across the breadth of society, was changing for everyone, from the bottom to the top. Traditions, privileges, rights, beliefs – they were all in doubt, and it’s that doubt that has allowed magic and creatures of the supernatural to proliferate throughout the land.
Is it built on Cthulhu Hack mechanics, are these now the house rules for Just Crunch?
That’s a simple question to which I can offer a long and odd answer. The quick response would be No on House Rules.
A couple of years ago, someone on Google+ (remember that) asked if The Cthulhu Hack could be run without the Investigative Resources. For context, the base game is a D20 roll for Threats — where you need to roll under to avoid harm or hindrance — and a roll on a Resource where discoveries might tax your humanity. The Resources include Sanity and the investigative values of Flashlights and Smokes, and you roll a die and hope to avoid a 1 or 2. You progress regardless, but that low roll means the value of the die drops to the next down in the series, say a D4 from a D6. I came up with some rules for just using the D20 mechanic.
The Dee Sanction started — back in 2013 — with the principle of ordinary people who were reasonably capable of doing some things. A lot of other RPGs are like that, but I wanted a simple way to simulate it. The original idea was to roll 2D6, and a 7 represented a success. Everything else failed. If you had a skill, you could succeed on a 6, 7 or 8. I had it boiled down to percentages really; characters could have a chance of success on almost anything and a fair chance with something they were good at.
It sort of worked, but I never really settled on it. Then 2016, The Cthulhu Hack happens, and 2018, that question came up about blending investigation into the D20. And something clicked. What about going the other way and using elements of the Resource die? That’s what The Dee Sanction does. You have core abilities with a die value, like D6. When you try to do something where failure is a possibility, you roll. You always make progress, but if you roll a 1 or 2, you will have to fix or fail forward—success with a price or complication. Circumstances may raise or drop the die; preparation or assistance might allow you to roll a D8, while a powerful foe or a challenging environment could force you down to a D4.
I like messing with game mechanics. I have been developing this system — the Utility System — as a separate document with a plan to use it as a sort of House System going forward. It’s a simple idea, and I like that at the tabletop; just enough crunch to make it a game rather than a story.
What’s the core activity of the PCs?
The player characters are traitors who have narrowly avoided the noose. They work for the Queen now to defend the realm against the unknown and the unknowable. That might be something entirely ordinary like spies or assassins, or it could be supernatural threats like witches or Fae. The European landscape in The Dee Sanction is dotted with individuals dabbling in the occult arts, whether for power, wealth or some other more obscure cause.
The PCs might find themselves sent to find someone or something for Dee or Walsingham, or they could get mixed up in strange goings-on that develops more organically around them. There’s also a possibility of something akin to dungeoneering, treasure-hunting in the monastic ruins of England, for example.
Bottom line, the PCs are an expendable asset doing their bit for the Crown in pursuit of a pardon. Beyond that, there’s potential for arcs and campaigns, as well as one-shots.
Will there be supporting scenarios?
Absolutely. I’ve spent several years toying with the concept, struggling to come up with a mechanic that satisfied me. As a result, I have run many sessions of the game playtesting those ideas, usually running the same adventures time and again to determine whether the mechanics do what I’d hoped. I have many ideas, a few of which will appear as stretch goals in the Kickstarter if it raises enough interest and pledges.
The core book itself includes an adventure — Lost in Translation — to get you started, along with some thoughts about repurposing adventures from other games. The Dee Sanction is close enough to the periphery of fantasy, horror and modern espionage that conversion and plot theft represent a genuine possibility.
Why does Dee have such an enduring appeal?
He’s a man who feels like he should have existed on the periphery of the Court at best. However, he was an extraordinary polymath who could turn his impressive knowledge to all purposes—alchemy, astrology, geography, maths, cryptography, theology, and, with some infamy, angelology and the pursuit of the original pre-Babel language. I’ve read various studies and books about the Elizabethan Court, and Dee’s influence always lingers somewhere in the background, even if just in passing with something like his reputed astrological reading to define the best date for the Queen’s coronation. He studied the fringe lore of the time and things like scrying and cryptography have suggested a connection with espionage and intelligence. At the same time, alchemy and geometry offered means to refill the near-empty coffers of the Court, either through the philosopher’s stone or discovering new lands filled with precious metal through his Paradoxical Compass. I have found almost every reference I read about him reveals something strange, rife with potential for gaming.
Please give an idea of the ‘Appendix N’ for this – what should I be watching / reading to get me in the mood?
In a way, that’s a tough one. It depends. Viewing is as simple as: Fringe, The X-Files, or, probably more thematically, Constantine or Supernatural. I get it that only one of those series is “recent”, but what I’m trying to suggest is weird and supernatural investigation represent the touchstone for play. Really, Fringe and X-Files make better sense because the protagonists possess a base level of knowledge but lack the tools and the means to “win”, or at least to absolutely overcome the adversary. To grasp the actual historical themes, try Mary, Queen of Scots or Elizabeth. I cannot recommend Jubilee, though Richard O’Brien made a fantastic John Dee. It’s just too weird.
For reading, I recommend The Arch-Conjuror of England, by Glyn Parry, for the core non-player character; The Elizabethan World Picture, by E. M. W. Tillyard, for the frame of thinking; and something pretty straightforward as background reading, like Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England. The game doesn’t expect in-depth knowledge, but the more you know the greater the potential for creating your own adventures and campaign.
What are the Kickstarter details?
The Kickstarter starts on 1st November and runs for three weeks. You will find it here:
This week’s bookclub subject was rolled on a d100 by Paul Baldowski, which is fitting given the cover and the subject of Paul’s latest game design project is The Dee Sanction.
The cover by Nicholas Bibby is one of the best ever to feature on the magazine. An image that launched a thousand scenarios in our young minds. The more you look, the more you discover: a lurking homunculus, a shrivelled grell in a glass sphere, a monster in a bell jar, a naked apprentice or flesh golem lurking in the shadows and the severed head of Michael Holland from year 5 at St James’ Farnworth (circa 1981), or at least it looked like him.
Inside there are some gold-bottomed classic features: Monsters Have Feelings Too, An Introduction to Traveller, the legendary Khazad Dum! and a tantalising glimpse into the forthcoming (never to appear) Games Workshop Questworld supplement by GROGMEETish2020 guest Dave Morris.
I hope that you all have fond memories of this one. I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.