A year on the Grog

I’m sat in the den, packing away the tinsel for another year, because Dirk Towers is saying farewell to the festive period. I’m back at work, serving The Master in return for food tokens, so I’ve begun to console myself in looking forward to 2016.

The first 6 months of the new year look like a veritable feast of gaming with an unprecedented 20 sessions planned between now and June. We haven’t done this much RPG since those heady days of the early 80s.

If we pull it off … if we pull it off … if …


The next episode of The Grognard Files podcast will be about Games Conventions in general and Dragonmeet 2015 in particular.While I was there, I got a (signed) copy of Nights Black Agents and I’ve been reading it ever since. The hardback is packed to the brim with resources and enough inventive ideas for you to shake a stake at, but I’ve had a difficultly getting my head around it. I suspect that there’s less to the Gumshoe system than meets the eye. It’s an example of what my English lecturer, Chris Baldick, used to refer to as ‘periphrasis’, in other words, a lots of words to say something very simple.

That said, when I’ve watched actual play demos, it actually seems workable, and I’m looking forward to being the director of a Bourne-meets-Buffy type extravaganza because I think it will suit my style of Games Mastering perfectly.

There’s a great demo-game available for download that will get them into the pace of the action in media res with an exciting car chase emulating the high-powered super-spy genre with great panache.

Night’s Black Agents is an improvised story game that uses the idea of ‘spending’ resources to improve the chance of success for your actions. Numenera uses a similar principle and for most of today, in between nursing a sick child, I’ve been preparing my character, because we’re going to start playing next month with Judge Blythy as the Games Master (or whatever irrelevant variant on the GM title Monte Cooke Games have devised).

It’s ages since I’ve enjoyed creating a character as much as I did making the choices for the Numenera. It’s relatively simple and allows a great deal of flexibility for the player to use their imagination to develop someone that they want to play, rather than being at the mercy of dice rolls.

Zadie Zenokey IV (or Zen 4) is a nano (a kind of Numenera magic user) with the descriptor of ‘Mechanical’ which gives her a great insight into the ways of the Numenera magic. Her focus is flesh and steel, the source of her magic is through ports in her spine and cables under her skin to a cpu on the right-side of her brain and her cybernetic left-arm. Her back story concerns her ancestors who were all but wiped out by a virus, the survivors and subsequent generations developed mechanics to cope with their mutations. Zen 4 has developed a secret order who are seeking the remaining Zenokey so they can reunite.


It’s not all about the new stuff. Some of the highlights of the coming months include the continuing campaigns of Fungi from Yuggoth (CoC) and the Aramis campaign (Traveller), keeping it old school.

In February, I’ll be opening the Grognard File labelled STORMBRINGER, Fantasy Role-playing in the world of Elric. Over the past few weeks I’ve been rediscovering Moorcock and hitting e-Bay, filling the gaps in my collection of supplements. I’ve been overcome with an impulsive desire to consume souls, however it seems unlikely that I’ll be sated, therefore I’ve decided that I’ll run a game instead. We have one scheduled for the end of the month.

In the coming months, the Runequest classic bonanza will be released from Moon Design’s epic Kick Starter campaign, marking the celebrations of 50 years of Glorantha. In the podcast we have talked about our group reviving some of the classic Choasium games, so I’m going to continue this endeavour by resurrecting another OSR classic for my group.

On top of all this Armchair Adventuring, we’ve been invited to a marathon session of D&D 5th edition, which is very exciting.

So, as I plug myself into the collective unconscious of work, facing minor disappointments with stoic indifference, I can console myself that there is an escape pod available. As long as the Fun Prevention Officer gives me the key.

Episode 3 (Part 2) Traveller RPG Micro-Grog Pod


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In this episode, we return to Traveller, and look at some of the supplements for the game. When it comes to politics, we are as woolly as John Stewart Mill riding a sheep and wearing cardigans, so we examine our attitudes towards the politics of the Imperium.

Games master’s Screen: Judge Blythy enjoys the benefit of High Passage, as his status demands, however he is less enamoured the concept of the D66.

The usual memories and discussion around the selected supplements take place.

Postbag: There’s been much interest in Traveller including a game description by Andrew Cousins. I also reflect upon the recent Runequest Classic kickstarter.

Numenera – a grognard’s guide from Blythy


I recently acquired the Numenera core rules. I’d heard a lot about it and it thought that maybe an old grognard like me should enter the 21st century or, to be more precise, the ninth age, the time in earth’s future when Numenera is set. The ninth age is a billion years into earth’s future and while the setting is essentially pseudo medieval fantasy (humanity has slipped back to that kind of era) there have been eight great civilizations that have risen and fallen. These civilisations are mysterious and unclear in their nature. However, some weren’t human and some had interstellar and even inter-dimensional travel. This means that there’s lots of technology lying about to be found and used by the human population. Moreover there are strange and mysterious energies in the atmosphere that some humans (Nanos) can harness and use rather like magic. That’s the basic setting but it’s important not to think of this as some post holocaust RPG – Aftermath or Gamma World. Yes, there will have been holocausts perhaps that brought down the previous great civilizations but this isn’t some post nuclear primitive world where the players will unearth a machine gun or an old iphone. It’s much stranger than that and much more like science fantasy. In literary terms I think the creators of the game have mentioned Gene Wolfe’s book of the new sun series. Another comparison could be Moorcock’s Hawkmoon books.


When I first got into RPGs in the early 80s one of the great advertising lines of RPG publisher’s was that to run fantastic adventures for your friends, “All you need is this book.” But it was never quite true. Dungeons and Dragons meant you had to buy three rule books at least (Player’s Handbook, DM’s Guide and Monster Manual), Runequest meant you really needed at least Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror. But with Numenera it really is the case that you only need the core rules. There’s masses of background for the setting, lists of artefacts, and monsters, all with full colour illustrations. Yes, you’ll want to buy the supplements (I’ve already bought the Ninth World Bestiary) but you don’t have to. I honestly think you could play regularly for several years with just the core rules.


The rules to Numenera are pretty straightforward and slick, deliberately so given that the game wants to encourage action and story rather than crunchy simulationist stuff. For a BRP grognard like me, I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and logic of the central concept. In the same way that BRP reduces every action and task to a percentage, Numenera reduces it down to a score out of 10. Sometimes the score is determined by the rules (monster and NPC combat being the best example) or by the GM. What’s appealing is that it’s easy to conceptualise degrees of difficulty. How difficult something is on a score out of ten isn’t far removed from the way people think in ordinary life. For example, the players have to climb a rock face. The GM says it’s pretty difficult and gives it a 5 out of 10. The 5 is then multiplied by 3 and to climb the rock face, the players must each roll a 15 or more on a d20. Now I imagine that some of you are ahead of me at this point and have seen the obvious problem with such a system – anything given a difficulty level of 7 or more is literally impossible if multiplied by 3 and rolled on a d20. Well, yes it is because tasks like that are pretty difficult. For example, suppose that rock face had been made from some strange alien glass and covered with ice. The GM may have said it’s a 8. So a 24 or more on a d20. This is where skills, artifacts and stats come in. Your character might have a climbing skill and so he/she can reduce the difficulty  two grades (now a 6) and then spend some points from their agility stat poll (more on that later) to reduce it by another grade (now a 5). So the roll to climb is now a 15 or more. Now difficult but do-able.


For grognards like me and my group, the most unsettling thing about Numenera is the stat pools or “spend system” element of the game. I know these type of systems are out there and nothing new these days but old timers like me are used to stats  (STR, INT, DEX etc) being fixed and the only stat that goes up and down is hit points or maybe power in Runequest or SAN in Call of Cuthulhu. Numenera has three statistics – Strength, Agility and Intellect. As described above, the player’s use these stats as points to spend to achieve certain tasks or combat rolls. To go back to the example above of climbing the sheer glass wall. To reduce that 8, your character can spend three points from, for example, an agility of 12 to knock the difficulty down. Thier agility is now 9. Points replenish throughout the game, but it’s an odd concept on first reading when you’re used to fixed stats that give bonuses or penalties. I think this is the element my group might struggle with, especially when you consider that the stat pools also operate as hit points. It’s a big leap to ask players to consider using points they might need to soak up damage later to achieve tasks.


That said, I can see how the spend system ties into the idea of a more narrative form of RPG, which is one of the things Numenera wants to achieve. Imagine a point in the game where the villain raises his sacrificial dagger to strike and your character wants to knock it from his hand with a well placed arrow. A difficult shot but wouldn’t it look great in the film? Spend some stat pool points and you have a better chance of achieving it. The spend system allows the players to influence that narrative and events in a more dramatic way.


There are other elements of the system that also play into the idea of narrative and giving everyone the things they want from the game. There’s the idea of GM “Intrusions.” these are points in the game when the GM can offer experience points for giving the players a chance to accept a challenge. For example, maybe the players go into some ruins and have a map of the area. The GM may suggest that the map turns out to be wrong and useless. The players can accept this intrusion and earn experience points. It’s possibly the strangest element of the game and it remains to be seen how it will work out when we play. However, I can see how it could be the GM’s equivalent of a stat pool. While the stat pool’s allow the players to decide what they think is important to achieve, intrusions allow the GM to develop the story in ways that they players will enjoy. Moreover, the intrusions idea taps into another key these in the design of Numenera and that is that everyone should have fun and play the kind of game and character they want to play. The character creation system is a good example of this. Rather than roll dice, you describe your character in a phrase from a list of words in the rules. So for example you may choose to say your character  is a Clever Glaive (fighter) to fights with two weapons. This then generates points and skills in line with the chosen words. Worth noting as well that that’s one of the more pedestrian descriptions available. You can be a shape changer who “howls at the moon” or a mutant with a “halo of fire.”


Again, for us grognards this seems a bit odd. But ask yourself this – how many times have you wanted to play a strong warrior and rolled a low STR score? Or a clever thief and rolled a low INT? That can be dissatisfying and resolving the problem by allocating points can lead to power gaming and min/maxing. Numenera offers players the chance to be what they want but without allowing them to power game the stats.


There are lots of other interesting elements of the system. The idea that the GM never rolls a dice is a very unusual idea. The monster and NPC stats are very easy to create on the hoof, which give the GM lots of flexibility.


It remains to be seen how Numenera will work in play. I’m still wading through the detailed setting. I think my group will find it a challenge in some ways but not in a bad way. If things get tricky when I’m running it I may just have to spend some intellect points and lower the level.


Episode 3 (Part 1) Traveller RPG

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Introduction – The origin of the game

Section One – Open Box – reliving the memories of playing the game for the first time with Blythy, who was our referee back in the day. We introduce ‘the prime directive’ and Blythy has a black mark on his wall.

Section Two – White Dwarf – @dailydwarf talks about his early experiences of playing Traveller and makes a selection of an article, scenario and ‘Starbase’ column from the pages of the UK’s best gaming magazine.

Section Three – Judge Blythy Rules – Listing three great mechanics and one that doesn’t quite work, the resident rules-lawyer goes ‘under the bonnet’.

Section Four – An invitation to listeners to contribute their stories of playing Traveller. What’s your favourite supplement?

Look out for a Micro Grog-Pod (Traveller – Part Two) coming soon featuring a list of our favourite Traveller supplements and a current online pricing guide.

Episode 2 (Part 2) Call of Cthulhu RPG Micro-Grog Pod

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This is a supplement to the Second Episode of The GROGNARD RPG Files – Call of Cthulhu.

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Behind the screen I have a table of Call of Cthulhu supplements. I’m joined by Judge Blythy who rolls the 1D100 to select 5 for detailed discussion.


Ed, The Armchair Adventurer’s Chief bargain-hunter provides an e-Bay price index for the supplements under discussion.


A selection from listener comments, including a fascinating look at The Lovecraft Variant – an early Cthulhu adaptation for Tunnels and Trolls.

Follow me on Twitter @theGROGNARDfile

Episode 2 (Part 1) Call of Cthulhu RPG

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Introduction – The origin of the game

Section One – Open Box – reliving the memories of playing the game for the first time and the faltering start.

Section Two – Judge Blythy Rules! – The Armchair Adventurers’ Resident Rules Lawyer discusses the finer points of the rules and style of play. We also speculate on what horrors have faced British Prime Ministers.

Section Three – White Dwarf – @dailydwarf talks about his early experiences of playing Call of Cthulhu and selects his favourite item from the pages from the halcyon days of the UK’s best gaming magazine.

Section Four – An invitation to listeners to contribute their stories of playing Call of Cthulhu in the early days.

Look out for a Micro Grod Pod coming soon featuring a list of our favourite CoC supplements and a current online pricing guide.

Episode 3 will feature TRAVELLER RPG

Runequest RPG Ep. 1 (Part 2)

The second part of Episode 1 of the GROGNARD files which covers the potted history of the games.

In the second episode of the GROGNARD files podcast, Dirk the Dice looks at the history of the game, where did it come from and where was it going back in 2015.

Potted History: Glorantha was the glorious creation of Greg Stafford. This is the story how his creation became a fantastic role-playing world and spawned different editions of RuneQuest.

Post Bag 27:00: People were actually listening to the first part of the episode. Dirk reviews some of the responses to the discussion about RuneQuest and the ‘duck’ issue.

ReMaster Refelction 37:00 looking back on the first episode, eight years later.

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