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

Earlier this week, I appeared on What Would the Smart Party Do podcast, celebrating their success at reaching the milestone of 100 episodes. The discussion included a reflection over the past 5 years of their existence and a projection of what gaming may look like in another 5 years.

During the projections, we concluded that D&D 5e has established itself as a solid set of rules and was in effect the ‘End Game’ of the story arc of the 40 years of edition wars. Over the next 5 years, it would be alternative settings that would be offered to satisfy those that crave constant change from RPG publishers.

Back in the day, many players of D&D would shun the official worlds offered by TSR in favour of creating their own campaign settings, not caring too much about the internal consistency as long as it fitted within the ‘story’ being created by their character progression.

Published in 12 issues between October 1983 to December 1986, Tortured Souls was a fanzine, with semi-professional sensibilities, that was dedicated to publishing scenarios (mainly for D&D, but there were some RuneQuest and others too). Unlike some of the other ‘zines of the time, this was not concerned with the cut-and-thrust of the fan discourse, instead it delivered detailed scenarios as a ready-made resource for Games Masters.

Each issue contained at least one adventure set in their own campaign world of Zhalindor. The scenarios were incredibly detailed and offered background to the places and people within the world, with some unique monsters to encounter too, but what made the world interesting was some of the variants to the rules that were modified by the setting. There was an ‘hex crawl’ element as it encouraged players to explore different areas of the map.

Treasure was downscaled to avoid too much power-play and they suggested that Player Characters were only from the primary classes (Clerics, Magic User, Fighter or Thieves). There was a clear influence of RuneQuest too as the world did not use alignment and many of the adventures were morally ambiguous, challenging the players to think of the consequences of their actions. Clerics could choose weapons and armour that was determined by their deity.

Each scenario was set in ‘hex’ that was allocated a ‘zone’ which affected spell effects. Depending on the spell type the results could be bonus, malus or special and the player characters are unaware of what the geographical influence there is until the spell is cast. A great idea.

Many of the detailed scenarios remain an excellent resource for OSR gamers. The odd issue appears now and then on eBay. References to Zhalindor also appeared in early editions of GamesMaster Publications.

As for the next 5 years, there’ll doubtless be many more fan made worlds added to the D&D multiverse, but will they have so many brightly coloured floor-plans?

This is a first in a series of articles and other material to support our Fanzine Festival to mark the release of GROGZINE19. I know it was promised for April but it may stretch into May. This is a phenomena known as GROGNARD time – where time moves quicker but I move more slowly.

Tortured Souls was published by Beast Enterprises who also produced modules
The covers were distinctive with blood dripping from the type and primary colours (this one is by Jon Baker)
Tortured Souls also featured the occasional light-hearted scenario
The cut-out and keep floor plans were compatible with Endless Games’ Endless Plans –
Proof that it wasn’t all D&D – there was RuneQuest (with Broos, obvs)
Some of their scenarios also featured single-player adventures.
The scenarios for the Zhalindor campaign appeared on card-stock in the centre of the zine
Most of the above are taken from the collection loan to The Great Library of RPGs by Simon Kind (@yorkist on twitter). We’re pretty sure that he also played my Ice Fields PBM in 1985 – he drew this cover to the newsletter. Thanks Simon.

Monsters! Monsters! RPG with Ken St Andre

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INTRO: 00:00:16 – This is the first part of a two part episode looking at the games and worlds created by Ken St Andre. He’s one of the founders of the hobby and tremendously influential on the development of RPGS.

OPEN BOX: 00:04:40 – Live from his Troll Cave in Arizona, The Trollgodfather tells the story of his origins and influences. Find Ken St Andre works at Trollhalla.

WHITE DWARF: 00:40:40 @dailydwarf is back! He’s looking at how White Dwarf provided advice on how to get the best out of your monsters!

FIRST, LAST, EVERYTHING: 00:55:10 A brand new feature for the GROGPOD – a member of the GROGSQUAD selects three of their favourite games – the first they played, the last game that got them excited and the game that means everything to them. James Holloway from the Monster Man podcast is up first.

GAMESMASTERS’ SCREEN 01:03:40 Blythy and Dirk in the room of roleplaying rambling playing monsters.

OUTRO: Check out Save for Half and their episode about Monsters! Monsters! The most recent edition of What would the Smart Party do? podcast covers 70s games. If you’d like to hear a Monsters! Monsters! actual play, go to Whartson Hall.

The GROGZINE is coming as a gift for Patreons.

I’m still cock-a-hoop. The podcast has been selected as the Pod Pick of the Month in Issue 460 of Starburst magazine. Regular listeners will know that the magazine has always been close to my heart. It was via an article in Starburst, written by Steve Jackson, where we first learned about the hobby. There is an interview with me and Alister Davison talking about the podcast.

In the interview I make the point that there is a community that has developed around the podcast, “people are rediscovering the hobby, sharing their experiences and, more importantly, playing the games again.”

Last weekend, was a good example, as it was virtual GROGMEET: an online version of our annual meet-up in November. There were 15 games on offer over two days and 4 slots. The GROGMEET GMs did a fantastic job of hosting the event and it sounds like a good time was had by all.

When the GROGPOD has done and dusted, it will be times like this that I’ll remember. Thanks GROGSQUAD!

Dirk the Dice


Baz Stevens, (from What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast) has been putting the finishing touches to his forth-coming game ‘King of Dungeons’. He gave the game a test-drive during the event:

Grog times had by all! looks like I have a few more King of Dungeons fans at the end of the session. Thanks ever so much for setting the event up.
Here’s a snap of Mark (“Rusty the Angelic Warrior”) as he decides to eat the treasure rather than let it fall into the wrong claws.

CALL OF CTHULHU with Matt Wrycraft

Next month, I will be playing in this game with @Askako_Soh at UK Games Expo, so he’s done a spoiler free review of his virtual GROGMEET experience:

Three brave samurai, Kakita Soetsu, duelist (@zos93), Doji Ojijiro, diplomat (@thegenemayes), Hiruma Nezu, scout (@comicevangelist), risked honour, life and limb against foul creatures of the Shadowlands to ensure that the path of true love runs true. We used the most recent edition of Legend of the Five Rings, from Fantasy Flight Games, and managed to get the dice roller working in roll20 and enjoyed the dangerous criticals and the mechanic of strife and unmasking, with the samurai losing face and honour in times of intense stress.  I had some fantastic players who brought great insights to the game and should a true understanding of Bushido.


Kehaar is an enthusiastic advocate of FGU’s Flashing Blades RPG. Everyone who plays has a rollicking great time. You can find out more about his game on his blog.

The players all threw themselves into the game with gusto being it hanging off a German assassins neck while lackey attempts to insert his ramrod where the sun doesn’t shine or speeding across Paris to farcically gather rare gifts for the beautiful Madamoseille Rosalind. 


Sam Vail offered an interesting proposition: a home-brew version of Pendragon set in 1963 where there is a hidden, Arthurian world coexisting with our own.

The brave Agents of Excalibur managed to track down a Weapon of Mass Destruction and successfully neutralise it and bring the conspirators to justice. Overall, the game ran for 3.5 hours and there was a lot of role playing and laughing along the way.Looking forward to Grogmeet 19 where I may run this scenario again.


Neil Benson, the Old Scouse Role-Player, ran his home-brew adventure A Heart for Madness, that’s currently on tour. You can read a spoiler free review on his blog.


There were 7 players for the sequel to the Enemies Within, miners’ strike scenario that I did last year. The first part appeared on the podcast and this adventure reunited some of the characters (and players). It featured emulated scenes from the overly complicated audience participation event: Tinker. Soldier, Tailor, Spy and The Man with The Golden Gun. It was good fun with some very cinematic moments. When Harry Reeves and his crew came face-to-face with Dracula, it came to an explosive end.


I bought PSI World after a drunken visit to Fanboy 3 last summer. Since then, I have been determined to get the best value from the game: if you buy it, you have to play it, right? This was a very entertaining session with federal agents tracking down the cause of a psionic-energy spike in a small town. They tried to be discrete, but their armoury was too irresistible. It was Scott Pilgrim directed by John Hughes – imagine Rob Lowe, having his head blown off by a jet propelled bullet, that kind of thing.

Stormbringer Actual Play

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I was kindly invited to Games Master a game of Stormbringer by the wonderfully macabre actual play podcast Red Moon Roleplaying.

These is a teaser for an upcoming special guest, listen to the show to find out more …

Adventure: The Fang and the Fountain from Perils of the Young Kingdoms
Music by: Ager SonusCryo Chamber

At the end of February we closed our HeroQuest competition. We asked the GROGSQUAD to “show off your stuff ” the home-made enhancements that made you proud.

Our friends at have been reviewing the submissions and you can see the runners up and their work below. Scroll to the bottom to see the winner.

Jo: “Thank you to The Grognard Files for allowing us to sponsor your HeroQuest RPG competition, and thank you to all the entrants for your many and various ingenious table top inventions. Yes, even the cocktail umbrellas.”

“@Roll_a_one – for the most edible looking table top creation”
Andrew Cousins – “for the gaming-and-beer shed that I would most likely lose Cris in for a week”
Dimble Nackle the Gnome’s character portrait: “@oilpainting71 – whose funky Bowie Gnome created a literal squeal of delight and laugh-out-loud that I had to explain to my poor confused children when I first saw it.”
@Andy Hemming – turning the cover of a D&D book into a game setting
But – the winner is – (drum roll please) @wayne_peters – for the steampunk airship.  As well as being an engineering marvel, this one really spoke to my own love of things steampunk, and is clearly the tabletop setting most like to have both the players AND the characters enjoying tea and digestives at the table and in the story.  And yes, I’d even allow for an in-game Hob Nob or two.

In April virtual GROGMEET, the online version of our annual meet-up, will be in full swing on the 12th and 13th. Patreons are currently signing up, remaining places will be made generally available next week.

To celebrate the event and the release of GROGZINE 19 we will be having a celebration of 80s fanzines here on the blog and the You Tube channel. I’ll be browsing through the collection of Doc ‘Con’ Cowie to unearth homemade GOLD.

The third edition of GROGZINE features a new and exclusive cover created by Russ Nicolson: I’m looking forward to revealing the spectacular, extremely dramatic and detailed image when the zine is released.

Added to the GROGSHOP, with permission from Russ, you can get merchandise featuring the covers from the first two issues. Keep your eyes peeled for offer codes. All proceeds from the ‘mark up’ on Redbubble’s costs will go to Russ, so it’s a great way of showing your appreciation to a treasured old-school artist.

Be a hit on the Summer Convention scene with ‘zine tee!

Three years ago I had my debut running a con-game at the first ever Con-Vergence in Stockport. The event will always hold a special affection my heart, and last year I hosted Golden Heroes, which was one of my personal gaming highlights of 2018.

This year I could only get there for the Saturday afternoon, so I missed some of the other games that were on offer as I flew in and flew out. It was great to catch up with gaming buddies who I normally only see in a small square window online or at other conventions.

I ran my Savage Worlds of Strontium Dog game. I’m doing it at Uk-GamesExpo on the Friday evening, so forgive me if I’m a little coy about the details in this play-report: no spoilers.

As usual, 5 highlights and one fumble.

  1. Role-Play Relief: Simon “Iron-GM” Burley was there this time to offer a full complement of games for every session (he’s done one of his comprehensive review of the Con). It was good to catch up with him briefly as it’s 12 months since I interviewed him for the GROGPOD. He had copies Role Play Relief that he has edited and published to support Comic Relief. It comes in two volumes: Beginners and Expert. I bought both as I simultaneously know nothing and everything about Role-Playing Games.
You’ll recognise many names from the British gaming scene contributing to these books.

2. Character Class: This was a Savage World game that used the Mongoose supplement written by Loz Whittaker for Traveller. I rolled on the mutations tables provided in the supplement and translated them into Edges and Hinderances. The resulting crew of Strontium Dogs pre-gens are both interesting, varied and down-right weird.

3. Play’s the thing! I’ve been messing about with this adventure for a number of weeks now. I’ve even run it online for a play test prior to it appearing here. These characters don’t really come alive until they have a player imagining their reactions to situations. There were some really entertaining moments as the players came up with mad-cap plans: “All clear *squark!*”

4. Le’ go of the Lego: This was the game where I was experimenting with ‘stuff’ to enhance the game. I didn’t go as far as miniatures, but I did use my son’s Lego collection to build up a scene using the whole of the table. We had to improvise with empty bottles of HobGoblin beer standing in for buttes in a magnificent canyon. I’d forgotten my battle mat and tape measure so my phone was used to make the measurements. I’m not sure how much the lego added to the enjoyment of the players, but it created a talking point for people not actually playing

This was the moment that Harpi Harry was gliding to cover while under fire from a hail of gun fire.

5. Pat Mills would be proud … At the start there were a couple of people playing who had never heard of Strontium Dog and didn’t really like westerns. I was concerned that this game wouldn’t be right for them. Thankfully, they seemed to come along for the ride as everyone else seemed happy to recreate the mad cap action scenes from the comic. There was a great moment when Brightman Rock chucked a plasma grenade in the range of another character who whacked it back with his Happy Stick; the bomb exploded on Brightman’s calcified head.

Overview of Stump Canyon

6. The little hunt! On reflection, I’ve realised that there’s a couple of issues with the scenario that need to be ironed out before the next session. There are a couple of important skills missing from the pre-gens, for one thing, “You’ll need to roll ‘shooting'”

“I don’t have it!”

Most significantly, because of the time restraints, it didn’t work out as a ‘hunt’ as I had planned. The opening set up ended up being so compelling that the action came to the location, rather than the players going looking for it.

Above all, it was entertaining, and I had fun playing it. Not sure I convinced everyone that “Westerns are not *that* bad.

Dirk the Dice

Thanks to Kris and Snowy for organising the event.

The auditorium was massive!
Call of Cthulhu Actual Play (with How We Roll and Scott Dorwood)

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I attended the first ever PodUk Convention in Birmingham and appeared in a live show. How We Roll podcast hosted a live, actual play, with Scott Dorwood (from The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias) as the keeper.

Hope that you enjoy listening to The Necropolis.

Robin of Sherwood (with Graham Staplehurst)

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INTRO: In this episode we are continuing our exploration of the context of gaming in the eighties, by looking at one of the TV series that influenced how we played.

POTTED HISTORY: This is a quick summary of how the programme came to be made and a bit of background about Richard Carpenter. If you’d like to know more, I recommend the wonderful, comprehensive books by Andrew Orton 

OPEN BOX: Graham Staplehurst talks about his writing in fanzines, for MERP and his role in bringing Robin of Sherwood to life in RPGs. He mentions Other Minds magazine and the audio dramas available from Spiteful Puppet.

GROGGLEBOX: A new feature. Blythy and Ed join Dirk to do a commentary on The Seven Poor Knights from Acre episode.

OUTRO: A quick update on our latest projects. Also a shout out for The Lost Art of Ray Willner: The Adventures of Robin Hood.