The GROGNARD Files

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

A collection of photos featuring my stupid face with people I met at UK Games Expo 2018.

Crack open the Top Deck … Birmingham we’re on our way (slowly)

Dirk in the Land of the Giants. Dimbyd has Pookie on his shoulder – kindly making sure we caught the train back to Birmingham on time

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Kat Simmons Smith (@MeerforBeer) was the first GROGSQUADer we met. She was promoting the great work of the RPG Haven in the Trade Hall

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Andrew Cousins (@TakasakiAndy) was one of the first listeners to the GROGPOD – he introduced us to Roll20 and online play. He had just had his US version of Dicing with Dragons signed by Ian Livingstone.

Blythy GMing Numenera with @richgreen01 and @OrlanthR

Neil Benson is a proud member of the DCC universe

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The Iron GM, Simon Burley, creator of GOLDEN HEROES

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In the bar, getting leathered with Gaz from the Smart Party. I got a bonus version of The Ten Commandments of Games Workshop.

Doc Cowie gets on bended knee to pitch his “The Breakfast Club goes Red Dawn” concept to Chaosium’s Ian Cooper

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Mike Hobbs from The Meeples and Miniatures podcast – rediscovering his RPG mojo!

One of my favourite moments from the weekend. I was there when Paul Baldowski found out he’d won The Popular Choice Award for Best Role-Playing Adventure for Three Faces of the Wendigo. It was emotional.

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Judge vrs Judge

My swag from the trade halls: a cup of tea and this battling cars in the aftermath game: Aslands? Shurly shum mishtake?

I think I’m just about coming back into the real world. Entering the UK Games Expo is like entering a liminal space where everyone is at ease with themselves and their place in the Universe.

Why can’t every day be like Expo?

Last year, it was about playing story games and understanding what had happened since we left the hobby back in the early 90s.

This time it was about running games.

After several anxious days preparing (I’m convinced that RPGs are part of a conspiracy to sell more printer ink), plus significant pre-match nerves the GM muscle eventually kicked in …

Judge Dredd

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I ran Better Living through Chemistry, the scenario developed by @dailydwarf for the GROGZINE ’18 (soon to be available on DriveThru RPG). It’s an entertaining ‘Judges on patrol’ adventure littered with witty asides and incident to provide an amusing three hours in Mega City One, capturing the golden age of 2000ad perfectly. This was the third time I’d run the game. Similar to the other occasions, I felt that the system creaked a little. It was a less deadly this time, but no less frustrating for the players who found themselves missing rolls when they needed them the most.

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There was some clever play from the Judges along the way, chaotic scenes and an hilarious interrogation involving a pedicure, astrology and surgical tape.

At one moment, words failed me, I wanted to describe a “golden fountain” but ended up saying “shower” despite myself. I don’t think anyone noticed.

HeroQuest

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Chaosium’s Ian Cooper is a terrific Games Master. If you get chance to play HeroQuest at a convention with him, then take it, you won’t be disappointed. He works hard to create an imaginative, immersive experience to compel you to engage with the story.

The adventure was a whodunit set in Forint, in the southern continent of Pamaltela. The wonderfully drawn pre-gens were members of masarin Jamader’s household in Garduna, a city of ragtag islands joined by bridges of different design. Blythy was a haughty Agimori sorceress and the rest of us were house slaves in her thrall. The relationship between the characters made for intriguing moments of interplay as we explored the city following a trail of clues.

Forint is to be developed as a future book for HeroQuest, which will allow players who are worried about imposing upon the canon of Glorantha publications: a chance to develop adventures within an exotic swords and sorcery setting. In the theatre of my mind it was Meereen twinned with Camorr written through the lens of Gene Wolfe

A great session. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Neil Benson’s view.

Nights Black Agents

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1984, Leeds, England. The miners strike is intensifying, the British Government have recruited deniable assets to pull off a black bag operation: wiring the room where a branch secretary of the National Union of Mine workers is planning a rendezvous with his counterpart from Transylvania, who has promised cash in exchange for … something … something mysterious.

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This is the third time that I’ve run Operation: GroundWorm and it’s one of those that has matured the more it has been played. There were some cracking scenes: a chase through the streets of Leeds, ending on the roof of Dolcis, punching the lights out of each other; a great bit of disguise fast-talk, squeezing information from a reluctant community; and finally Harry Reeves, the leader of the crew, finishing off the enemy, while smoking a Benson.

This was one of my high-points of the weekend and provided some food for thought for the forthcoming Episode 21.

RuneQuest

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I played The Broken Tower, the QuickStart adventure that was released for Free RPG Day last year. The new RuneQuest Glorantha PDF dropped on the Friday, so I felt a real burden of responsibility to inspire these players to get into the new game. There was a mixture of experience around the table, complete newbies, others who last played the game in the 80s and others who had loyally followed the various iterations.

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This was the first time that I had used the shaman. I was a little concerned that the complexity of the character (with its llama mount, baboon fetch and spirit combat rules) would distort the party, but it actually added a great deal to the weirdness and intensifying horror.

I wanted to at least inspire one person to run their own game of RuneQuest: Achievement Unlocked!

Losing a D8 

I lose a dice at every convention. This time it was a D8.

We had a list of stuff we while we were there: buying stuff, demoing some board-games and having a proper meal somewhere. The bucket list ended up being a ‘feck it’ list because when were weren’t playing RPGs we were having a really good chat with people we met on the way to doing things.

It was a great weekend, great people and over much too soon.

Next: Expo ScrapBook

 

One of the great aspects of the Golden Heroes podcast is discovering players around the world who have a fondness for the game. Jerry Nuckolls from Texas, for example, was impressed at the sight of the original, self-published edition, so I sent it to him. He’s going  to write a piece for us, comparing the original rules with the Games Workshop version, until then, here’s a short video:

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Download Episode

 

INTRO We’ve had a great, positive response to the first part of the episode, and a new iTunes review from Steve Race, host of Squadron Chatter, the Unofficial Podcast for Squadron UK RPG.

GM SCREEN (with Simon Burley) Simon Burley returns, to talk about Imagine magazine, his role as a ‘zine editor, his passion for the UK convention scene and the design principles behind his Code of … series of games.

POST BAG We head for birthday drinks in the hubbub of the Las O Gowrie snug and review some of the correspondence that we’ve received

WHITE DWARF @DailyDwarf has written an essay about the articles and scenarios that appeared in White Dwarf to support GOLDEN HEROES.

SHAGGY DOG A long rambling story about the worst game ever.

OUTRO The usual parish notices and thanks to Patreons.

The world looks down on role-play gamers and the world of role-play gamers looks down on Super Hero role-play gamers.

Simon Burley makes this comment in Part Two of the interview that I did for the GROGNARD files episode 20 (currently in production).

I’m not sure if it’s the case that the RPG hobby has a complete downer on supers, but it is a niche within an already niche hobby that needs to fight its own corner against the opposition of the available alternatives. This activism probably accounts for the longevity of GOLDEN HEROES in the hearts of its fans; despite it’s relatively short shelf-life, there are enough supporters out there to ensure its continuation in the form of it’s most recent, wholly rewritten iteration Squadron UK. 

Since producing the podcast about GOLDEN HEROES, I’ve become aware of the enthusiastic fans that have been the driving force behind sustaining active interest in the game, for example, Steve Race and Kevin Rolfe host a podcast SQUADRON CHATTER which is the unofficial podcast of Squadron UK. It’s currently on an hiatus, but episodes are still available to enjoy. There’s examples of actual-play as well as progress reports on Kevin’s ambition to revise and update the supplements for GOLDEN HEROES. They also tell the story of a mythical project that was promised but never produced: “The Lancelot Caper” is mentioned by Pete Tamlyn in passing in a White Dwarf article but disappeared until it was uncovered by Kevin. 

Steve and Kevin’s interest was maintained through Yahoo Groups, which connected them to others who still had an interest in the game and developing a ‘back story’ and rationale for the GOLDEN HEROES universe. Back in the eighties, Simon Burley encouraged a like-minded team of Super RPG fans to develop scenarios and articles for his fanzine Superhero UK. He produced the first few before it had a life of its own and continued for 20 issues. 

It’s thanks to the fans that the game continues to Sunday Punch above its weight: “It’s Clobberin’ Time!

Thanks to Duane Woolley and Graham Kinniburgh for sharing some sample covers and pages from their collection.

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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.
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All that remained after The Great Purge. Even with the few new additions, it’s a wretched sight.

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)
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Strange things are afoot in the Starfire Ridges, and our Heroes are none the wiser thus far….but they have found the stolen cattle!

 • 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
Good luck!
Steve Ray
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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.
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Neil, sending his players ‘Round the Bend’ using Hero’s Journey

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).
Along the way I overcame some of my old prejudices; I had a strong dislike of RuneQuest based on past experiences. But a stab at the RQG quickstarter adventure with Dirk, Judge Blythy and Eddy started to win me over; then a 24 hour game of Borderlands with Dirk as GM drew me further in. I’m now playing in a fortnightly game with @Orlanth_Rex and thoroughly enjoying it.
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…
Neil Benson
Follow Neil’s blog: Old Scouser Roleplaying. The RPG mutterings of an old school roleplayer, to read his play reports, reviews and views.

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Download Episode

INTRO: This is a game that embodies the spirit of the podcast. It belongs to a period when the players were informing the gaming industry. Games Workshop decided to do a big budget version of the game. You can see the short film I made here (it’s less than 5 minutes)

OPEN BOX (with Simon Burley): As the co-creator of the game, Simon shares the story of its ups and downs. You can find SQUADRON UK at Drive Thru by following the link.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES: We examine the rules with our resident rules lawyer.

OUTRO: News of the latest Patreons. and the aims of the campaign.

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

There’s more play reports from Neil and Kehaar, and on google plus from Andrew Jones and Andy Cousins

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WarHammer Fantasy Role-Playing: A rousing version of Summer Holiday, a bar-room brawl, death and destruction in the opening scenario of The Enemy Within. Asako_Soh

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Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Having climbed into the Butchers through the roof the party encounter a mutated dog in an attached room.  Engaging their OSR drive by trying to avoid unnecessary conflicts, they came up with a clever plan which became known as the Norwich Gambit.  Their scheme in place they opened doors while keeping out of the beasts reach and felt some degree of cleverness as their ploy worked and the external door was closed behind the dog as it wandered outside.  They were later to discover the consequences of that cleverness. Neil Benson

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Judge Dredd RPG (GW): Andy, Mark and Brett – were soon in the middle of a firefight. All three really committed to the game, and inhabited the characters of their Judges really well. (The phrase “Eat Judge boot, creep!” was deployed to much satisfaction.) They were very inventive both in their use of the tech, and in their theories of what the clues they uncovered could mean … (continues)

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Judge Dredd RPG: Their detection methods were also top-notch, leading me to short-circuit one part of the adventure as I thought their ideas deserved to be rewarded. The big finale played out well (sound effects on roll20 at least worked out very well), although at times I felt I was losing “flow” somewhat – I think that might have been down to the system showing its age, coupled with my inexpert hacking of the rules.
Overall, good fun for me to run again – I had an excellent set of players who threw themselves into the setting with gusto, and Mega-City One remains a great playground for roleplaying. Next time though, I think I might try a different rules system, more geared to pulp action.
Savage Worlds anyone? Alan Gairey

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Night’s Black Agents: 1984, Harry Reeves pulled together a crew; a wheel wizard, box man and wire rat to black bag Frank Holton: a miner with connections in the USSR: “BagPuss is in the building”. Dirk.

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Cthulhu Hack: Good time was had by all. The use of my artwork murals and a trap based portion of the game generated a real ‘adventure game’ feel to play. Cthulhu hack worked well especially sanity erosion to build the players sense of dread and I’ve at least 3 different threads out of the game. All in all a result. Keehar.

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HeroQuest: I had 4 players, with limited experience of Heroquest, so it was good to take them through the character generation system & how contests work. Heroquest is one of those systems that truly opens up through play, rather than reading the corebook- which reveals it’s pearls of wisdom after play.
Highlights included grabbing the heart of Orlanth from a Lunar Demon and then just about defeating that demon mid air in the Otherworld- the first time running the scenario we had had major conflict. All because of a “over-confident” character trait from one PC. Andrew Jones.