The GROGNARD Files

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

I made an appearance on The What Would the Smart Party Do? Podcast chatting to Gaz about Reviewing Games Master Advice currently available in print and featured on blogs. 

Baz is on holiday, so like a supply teacher, I had the general feeling of ‘I think I’ve got away with it’. It’s available on their site, and wherever you find your podcasts. 

During the show I mentioned how I turned to Robin’s Laws of Good Games Mastering in an hour of need. It was at the point where I was playing with people outside of my normal gaming group for the first time. I had also seen myself as a GM on video. Urgh.

This post is to supplement the discussion and point you towards other publications that you may find interesting. I have also reiterated some of the points that were made and expanded upon them.

Guides to GMing are usually shaped by the following broad topic areas:

Scenario design, these include ‘story’ or ‘structure’ generators

Preparing for a session, tips and techniques to ensure that you are ready to run the game

Running a session, a guide to some of the ways to keep a session moving while in play

General tips, some pointers towards good practice is applicable to all areas of game-play

Many are a combination of all of the above, but some specialise in a particular aspect of GMing. The best ones are the ones that don’t offer an overall philosophy, instead they offer ideas for particular circumstances.

This follows the usual 1d6 format of 5 highlights and a fumble.

1. Peterson’s Rules of Good Gaming – these are a set of five ‘rules’ to use during a game session that I have adopted through osmosis as I’m not sure I’ve actually seen the original source. The Design Mechanism quotes these in their ‘Games Mastery’ section of Mythras.

The principles are ‘baked in’ to elements of Basic Role-Playing (which after several dalliances elsewhere, remains my go-to system). 

I mentioned the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule during the discussion, which means that players should always have three opportunities to make an informed decision to escape their fate. I sometimes summarise this as ‘three dice rolls from death’.

‘The Right to have fun’ is Peterson’s ‘Rule of Cool’ to make sure that you inject pace and hook the characters into the action at every opportunity. 

I also like the principle of ‘Make Bonuses Worthwhile’ – don’t mess about with a 5% boost – go big or go home. If the players come up with something, make sure they have a good chance of succeeding, otherwise their clever plans will result in disappointment. 

Perhaps it’s a bit rich coming from Mythras given that it’s possible to have a 1d2 damage bonus.

2. The Alexandrian – During the discussion we focused primarily on Justin Alexander’s essays on running investigative games. Here are some of my favourites from the random Games Master Tips section to pep up your game:

How about some random text so you can ‘speak in tongues’ when representing an Orc? 

Or, a guide to presenting locations, reminding the GM that the description doesn’t end at the beginning when the scene is framed?

Or, practical advice on preparing cheat-sheets, again, reminding you to return to them and refresh them as you play.

This blog is an excellent resource and should be part of every GM’s toolkit.

3. The Angry DM. I have been blocked by The Angry GM on Twitter for asking him a question at the wrong time. He really is *that* angry. Grrrrr. 

The Angry schtick is what made Scott Rehm’s blog exciting. Anger is an energy and this is energic writing about RPGS. 

Game Angry: How to RPG the angry way is a collection of the writing from the blogs which is not confined to GM Advice – this is geared towards making you a better player whether you are new to the hobby, a player character, or a Games Master. 

He starts from the basis that “this is not complicated”. 

He’s frustrated that people who are curious are put off by the apparent complexity. He remarks that playing RPGs is the most fun you can have with your friends and FOR GOODNESS SAKE, DON’T MAKE IT COMPLICATED – the people are responsible for explaining it are rubbish and make it too complicated. 

What follows is 220 pages, about not making it complicated.

The tone is a consistent, demystifying explanation from a ‘man of the people’ trying to make this as easy as possible. 

I like his short-hand for representing NPCs if you don’t have the energy to keep it going. He has his patented “Four Ps of Play Acting” one of which is “PFIDGET” – a little thing that the character does to make them distinctive, such as pulling their fringe, puffing on a pipe or stroking the chin.

It does it all in a much less stuffy manner than the Ultimate RPG Game Play that I referenced in the show.

4. Liminal If like me you like the laconic and cogent: it doesn’t get much better than Paul Mitchener’s guide to developing the multi-factional, investigative scenarios that drive Liminal.

Tales from the Loop adopt a story generator approach, but Liminal has much leaner recommendations on how to think of structure, twists and building cases.

It guides GMs on how to form a structure for investigations and use appropriate, varied conflicts as obstacles. 

Ideas will generate just from reading this chapter and being absorbed into the setting.

5. Seth Skorkowsky – This stretches the remit a little as this is a YouTube channel rather than published advice, but Sly Flourish also dispenses his advice on a vlog as well as his respected Lazy Dungeon Master series, so I’m giving it a pass. 

Skorkowsky has a pragmatic, unpretentious approach to RPGs that he presents in an easy-going, comic manner. His series of GM ToolBox, RPG Philosophy and Running RPG programmes are informative and entertaining.

I highly recommend his How to Run a Module programme as it is a topic seldom tackled. He talks through his method of working through pre-written adventures to get them into your head before running.

This channel is my lockdown discovery. It’s entertaining as well as informative.

6. Gary Gygax – at the point when he was in the wilderness following his split from TSR, Gygax wrote two mass-market paperbacks: Role-Playing Mastery (1987)  and Master of the Game (1989). These are densely written paperbacks with prescriptive set of rules to “bring forth your personal best during play” and “total mastery” of the game by players and GM.

In some ways, it’s a toned down version of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, but no less Gygaxian in its approach. You could never accuse him of understatement. There’s a portentous declaration in every sentence. Here’s a quote concerning the ‘problem GM’ dealing with different players inconsistently:

“…This kind of attitude can spread like a cancer through the playing group if the players who are being treated properly feed the GM’s ego even more by supporting and approving of his actions toward the downtrodden ones. No campaign containing such participants can exist for long. The reasons are obvious, and I will not deal further with the subject. A new campaign must be had, and that suffice.”

Master of the Game – Gary Gygax

Sheesh…

Dirk the Dice

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Apparently at random, Pookie has rolled a 19 and conjured up this issue from 1980. I say ‘apparently’ at random as it is a remarkable coincidence that he as rolled an issue featuring a RuneQuest scenario that he has revived for the Jonstown Compendium. Mmmm. Let me see those rolls.

This is from the early period when the magazine was produced every two months, available on subscription or for specialist game shops.

I always find the adverts in each issue striking. Due to the lack of colour, the advertisers relied on words to make their pitch. Look at full page ad for Foes; the words create fabulous characterful imagery for a book with computer stat-blocks for NPCs. Don Turnbull writes a letter setting out the mission for TSR UK. He writes … a letter!

The Les Edwards’ cover would reappear later as a colour plate within Call of Cthulhu Third edition by Games Workshop. It’s an image of great intensity and a nostalgic resonance.

Look forward to your views.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

Apologies for the gratuitous bum-cheek; don’t blame me, blame the d100 rolled by GROGSQUADer Dave Paterson to pick a random issue.

Interesting one this issue as it appears to be another one of those ‘on-boarding’ issues that seems to be reaching out to new readers who are new to the hobby. Was it a new distribution deal with newsagents? Was it at a point where there was a marketing campaign reaching out to new players?

The content is pitched at new readers too with an introduction to the hobby from Marcus L Rowland, with a great colour illustration from Iain McCaig (I tried copying it with my coloured pencils, but reader, it was rubbish).

There’s also a solo adventure from David Morris, a beginning adventure for ‘the Big One’ Dungeons and Dragons, and a new column about miniatures (I can’t see that catching on).

Do you remember this one? Did you use any of the material? Share your memories and thoughts with the Book Club.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

By some strange quirk of fate, this issue precedes the issue that was selected last week! Don’t blame me, blame the cursed dice of Hattifattener who rolled it on their d100 over on our Discord channel (if you’d like to join, then please let me know).

In this month a toilet caught fire on Air Canada’s DC-9 killing 23 people, Mrs Thatch was elected with a landslide and Octopussy was released. We needed something to cheer us up.

Fortunately this was the hey day of the hey day of White Dwarf and the covers don’t get much better than this John Blanche classic. As Daily Dwarf once pointed out, there’s about three scenarios at once playing out in that city. Inspirational stuff.

The internal content is just as classic. Part 1 of Irillian, ‘To catch a Thief’ one of the best ever Traveller articles (to my mind), Cthulhu Now! and a great Griselda story to boot.

I’d be really interested in how many of products and services that you used from the ads in this issue too.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

In the latest GROGPOD we watch Conan The Barbarian (1982) in the GROGGLEBOX section. There’s an animated difference of opinion between Judge Blythy who finds the film interminably boring and Ed in his Shed who declares it to be “The Best Fantasy Film of the 80s.”

It’s fair to say that I am somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but I do still carry the scars of disappointment from the first viewing. My expectations had been built by Starburst, the long running ‘Magazine of television and cinema fantasy’, as they had featured the film with some eye-catching stills from the film prior to its release. At the time I was in a vortex of playing one RPG session after another with my friends and the images alone provided fuel and adventure hooks for my games.

“The pictures are great, until they start moving,” says Blythy in during the discussion, while Eddy says that it’s “perfect RPG fodder.” I think they’re both right. One the one hand the film has great Conanesque set-pieces, Schwarzenegger has not yet acquired the charisma and screen presence that he would bring to his later films in the decade. I thought he was a klutz. Conan is not a klutz. He’s a thief, a mercenary, a brigand, a pirate, an adventurer and a king, but never a klutz.

He looked the part and maybe, with hindsight, it was enough to enjoy the film.

The reviewers at the time were savage, even in Starburst, with Arnold getting the bulk of their ire; not one of them would admit that, in the words of Eddy, “he’s perfect for the role, he’s a five out of ten.”

From Pegasus, the Judge’s Guild RPG Magazine. Read the final paragraph on the page.

By popular demand, it’s the return of the White Dwarf Book Club!

Every week, for as long as people comment, I will roll on a d100 and select an issue of the 1980s, UK-Role-Playing magazine, White Dwarf for us to read together.

This week issue 43 has been rolled apparently at random. It was dated July 1983 at a time when some role-playing companies were closing, or “turning their attention to making computer software games” according to Ian Livingstone.

Thankfully, the role-playing industry has since revived so that we can continue outsmart and pour verbal abuse on our friends.

Please comment below.

P.S. If you look at the comments under the link to Issue 33 you’ll find a link to a copy – shhhh!

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Know o prince … the GROGNARD files produces another epic (take your time …). We’ve been playing Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of, by Modiphius and having great fun emulating the Hyborian world of Robert E Howard.

Jason Durall is an enthusiastic player as well as designer and he gives a great interview talking of his formative years in the hobby and how he approached the Conan project.

We take a look at the rules that seem to provoke a love-hate relationship in players. Are they really as crunchy as they appear?

Finally, Eddy joins us as we discuss Conan The Barbarian (1982). If you can persevere the pops and crackles of Zoom compression, you’ll hear a significant difference of opinion.

Newsletters, one-shots, an incoming ‘zine, why not join The Patreon?

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Loz Whitaker from The Design Mechanism returns to face The GamesMaster’s screen. He talks about The Eternal Champion, Strontium Dog and Mythras.

We have been enjoying a Hawkmoon series of adventures using Mythras using elements of Chaosium’s Hawkmoon and the Mongoose version.

Doc ‘Con’ Cowie shares his First, Last and Everything.

In a new section, we look at vintage magazines Different Worlds and Adventurer.

Support the podcast at Patreon.

Lyonesse RPG

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Welcome to a new GROGPOD about a new game that we are very excited about.

Lyonesse, Fantasy Role-Playing based on the novels by Jack Vance has been released by The Design Mechanism. We are joined by Lawrence Whitaker who tells us about the project and his formative years in role-playing.

Daily Dwarf looks at some of the other literary worlds that were brought to life in the pages of White Dwarf during its hey day.

STIMBOT5000 Andy Stimpson of Breakfast in the Ruins podcast tells us about the first game he played, the last game he played and the game that means everything to him.

Blythy and I look behind the Games Masters Screen to look for inspiration from Vance. We also cover The Dying Earth by Pelgrane Press.

There’s a new ad, produced by the UK’s Premier RPG podcast The Smart Party (I resisted the urge to put Premier in inverted commas).

Steve Ray has started Orlanth Rex’s Gaming Vexes over on anchor.

Please support The GROGNARD files at our Patreon site to catch actual plays and other gubins.

In their podcast about Burnout, the Smart Party rightly advise caution against committing to a large book campaign; disappointment is almost inevitable because it’s difficult to sustain over a long period, when people’s lives are busy. When you do finish a big book campaign against those conditions, it makes it even more sweet.

Almost exactly 2 years to the day and 32, 2 hour long, sessions we completed The Two Headed Serpent in an epic finale. Every session had its thrills and spills, adventure and excitement as the players trotted around the globe, but the final session was great: every player made a contribution to the audacious saving of humanity from certain destruction.

Between the sessions, I created a recap in the form of a comic, which was one of those things that once I’d started, immediately regretted, as it was a time-sink. Now that it’s complete, I’m glad I did it for a record of one of the best series of adventures that I’ve ever taken part in.

It was down to the players, so I’m handing over to them to choose their highlights. Warning, there are spoilers.

The usual format is 5 highlights and fumble, but this time there are no fumbles, other than I’m sad it’s over.

Has to be the nightgaunts attacking the plane. The pilot dead and no one with above 2% pilot. Pure pulpy Indiana Jones stuff and a perfect example of how the system works using luck. Blythy

The disease camp in North Borneo, really loved how the plots slowly revealed there to culminate in a high speed escape whole defusing a mythos nuke! Phil the Dice Mechanic

There’s a few I can think off… Percy’s chat with Gary the Ghoul in Borneo is probably my favourite. Old Scouse Roleplayer

For me I liked the Icelandic base as it slowly collapsed while we were there giving a real sense of urgency, the theft of the brain case and the escape over the lava flow. Mark Kitching

My favourite bits were when Jock got to yell at some Bawbag before opening up with the devastating shotgun! Also, the scene where Percy was grappling Meadham and aided by Jock was driven into the whirling propellor blade! In 40 years, Jock is maybe one of my favourite ever characters. Sam Vail

For me, I loved Oklahoma (I’d just read The Grapes of Wrath) as it was a bit of a different pace from the high-adventure of the other episodes. I could see the players feeling disturbed and unsettled about what was happening and their role in it. I also loved playing gangster NPCs in New York and terrifying Neil, not his character, but Neil. Dirk the Dice