The GROGNARD Files

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

The Armchair Adventurers were only getting together sporadically in August 1987; our relationship with the hobby was in the throes of the freeze (we went to Games Day in London, advertised in this issue, then our regular games stopped).

There’s some interesting material in this issue that largely passed me by at the time.

The Book Club is taking a break while I’m away. Back in September.

Look forward to your comments.

December 1983, we all huddled in the school library to watch the Thriller video, Chris Foy had taped it off Channel 4 the night before. It was so good, we watched it twice.

Yes were in the pop charts with Owner of a Lonely Heart, as was Roland Rat. On the TV we were scoffing at A Day After Tomorrow, it looked like a walk in the park compared to A Guide to Armageddon, the QED documentary that had rattled our heads the previous year.

Strong on content this one: assassins, The Lone and Level Sands, Demons, Goblin Cults and a daft Giant game. Looking forward to seeing your views…

Mike Brunton: a tribute

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Mike Brunton, our special guest for Episode 29, suddenly passed away on 18th July 2019. This is the interview in full, released as a celebration of his gaming career. It also features Paul Cockburn adding a tribute to his old friend and colleague.

I was preparing the final touches on Episode 29, part 2, of the GROGPOD last night when the sad news of Mike Brunton’s sudden passing came through via Paul Cockburn.

Mike was very keen to be interviewed for the podcast and very gracious with his time. He enjoyed sharing the stories from his days at TSR (UK), working on Imagine, editing White Dwarf, acting as ‘the fixer’ for the Games Workshop design studio, finishing the colossal work on The Realm of Chaos supplement for Warhammer and his days working in the computer games industry. He conveyed his humour, his thoughtfulness, his imagination and industriousness in the short time we were together.

Our condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

In a change of schedule, we will release the full interview as a tribute to Mike in a few days. Part 2 of Episode 29 will follow later.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate his work with this week’s week’s Book Club with issue 85 from January 1987. Daily Dwarf refers to this as The Second Golden Age of White Dwarf, as Mike cleared the decks and injected a new lease of life into the magazine.

As ever, we look forward to your comments and contributions.

The dice have tumbled to number 65 featuring a cover that was replicated in plastic on the back page: The Fantasy; The Figure; The Finish.

May 1985, I was in deep with my PBMs. I couldn’t tell you what was happening in the rest of the world because I was locked in my bedroom writing entries to be licked, stamped and posted all over the country.

It was shortly afterward that I faked my own death to get out of it.

This issue features a scenario that nearly resulted in Simon cutting my throat with a scalpel; Smile Please is a bait and switch classic. This issue is at the height of when White Dwarf was picking up some of the debates that had been played out in zines for years: check out Mike Lewis’ article and Graeme Davis’ letter.

There’s loads of content to go at in this one!

We don’t normally promote stuff on the GROGNARD files, but there’s always an exception to prove the rule.

I implore you to pledge to The King of Dungeons KickStarter, before it’s too late.

One of the most articulate and engaging commentators on the RPG scene past and present is Baz Stevens, from the What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast. Along with his co-host Gaz, he has always been incredibly supportive of the GROGNARD files and has contributed to several episodes. Over the years he has challenged and informed my thinking about RPGs and made me a better player.

He’s written an RPG rules set within a framework that imagines “Adventuring as a career” in a way that is flexible enough to fit in any setting. What would your obligations be to your guild? How would the clauses a contract be negotiated? How do you compete in a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is chasing the same gold piece?

At GROGMEET this year, the game is being set in both Glorantha and the worlds of Earthdawn.

The rules are based on 13th Age but stripped down to the essentials, so there’s a familiar old-school feel to how the rules operate. The character creation is great fun (you’ll spend evenings just generating interesting player characters with quirky features) and the resolution is quick but puts drama first.

The rules are written in a disarmingly chatty style that is like a mate, enthusiastically explaining how to play while drinking a pint.

Many GROGSQUADers are supporters of the campaign already, but in case you missed it, this is your alarm call. The best adventurers always have an eye on the prize.

Dirk the Dice

I’m an RPG addict. I can feel it every waking moment and I can’t resist the impulse. Maintaining a constant feed of the habit requires scheduling. Here’s an up date on my plans:

Here at the Armchair Adventurers, we like to have a broad thematic approach to our gaming. When I say ‘broad’ I mean that we feel free to ignore the theme if it doesn’t quite fit. This year we are exploring some of our influences from when we were playing in the eighties. You’ll notice from the recent GROGPOD episodes with the introduction of the GROGGLEBOX segment, we are revisiting some of the film and television that informed our imagination as we were discovering RPGs.

Now that I’m at the half-way point of the year, with great games behind me, I’m looking forward to what’s coming and the theme is still ‘broadly’ influencing what I intend to run as a GM and play as a player.

I’m pleased that we have managed to get the momentum behind continuing serials of games as well as one-shots. The Two-Headed Serpent campaign continues to surprise and impress me with its inventiveness. This is Cthulhu gaming at its most adventurous and, following over a year of play, I don’t feel any sense of ‘campaign-fatigue’; the central conundrum that the players are trying to negotiate is still an intriguing premise after 16 plus sessions. It helps that there is a great group of players who have really got into the pulp spirit of their characters.

Our fortnightly D&D 5e group has been dabbling in the sandbox of WaterDeep during Dragon Heist, with a cast of thousands. We’ve been playing factions against each other to progress our reputations in the city and to deal with the sometimes contradictory motives of the player characters. It has been fun being a Teifling-Monk landlord of a hostelry, but we have hit the next act, which is going to involve some old fashioned dungeoning and dragoning.

We’ve also enjoyed more sporadic campaigning in the Old World of Warhammer, the final frontiers of Star Trek and Glorantha HeroQuesting in Dragon Pass.

1. Ed’s Shed

Last year, we experienced the ‘Eddy Corrective’ when Eddy slammed the brakes on our endless ‘pursuit of the new’.

He suggested that we should stop, reflect on what made us excited about coming back into the hobby in the first place and rediscover the old school magic. Instead of delving the depths of The Curse of Strahd D&D 5e style, we went back to the relative simplicity of RuneQuest 2nd editon (The Rainbow Mounds) and OpenQuest in Hårn.

Now we are playing Monster of the Week.

I know. It sounds like the Eddy Corrective has gone off the rails. I never thought that Eddy’s negative response to the new games in our repertoire would end with us playing PBTA, AND really enjoying it, but that’s what’s happened.

However, the ‘corrective’ was more about a return to simplicity than about ‘keeping it old’ and Monster of Week is perfect in that regard as it is both simple and focused in a way that suits our gaming group.

Following our recent White Dwarf Book Club, I’m going to use The Black Hack to resurrect Troubles at Embertrees over the summer with a view to running the StarStone adventures from The Northern Sages. I have an idea of how the story could continue and the elegant design of The Black Hack will suit it perfectly. I think.

2. Blake’s Seven

On the Kanban board, the next row that is being attacked is ‘Blakes 7 – the Role-Playing Game‘ using the fan-made rules from Horizon. Andy Cousins has created the crew and I’ll sticking the the first season as I’m not a mega-fan like Blythy. I hope that I can recreate the TV episode experience with the same aplomb that Blythy managed with FATE for Robin of Sherwood. All being well, you should hear the results in a forthcoming episode of the GROGPOD.

3. Vurt

For Owlbear and the Wizard’s Staff, I’m preparing a one-shot game of Vurt: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game from Ravendesk games.

I’ve always been a fan of Jeff Noon’s vision of Manchester as Utopian cityscape, where it’s possible to slip into a consensual dream space and encounter the weird and wonderful in experiences that may impact on your circumstances in the real world. It seemed the perfect fit for an RPG, so when it was available for retail last year, after a successful Kickstarter, I bought it.

It is based on the Cypher System devised by Monte Cook games and it fits the setting really well as the feathers that invoke the dreams, act like one use cyphers.

I have an idea for an adventure that explores some of the weirdness of Bolton’s past and some of the characters that you might encounter in my home town. I can feel an epic production coming on.

4. Legend of the Five Rings

The annual charity RPG event held in Southport, is earlier than usual (the week after Owl Bear on 28th and 29th September. There are a couple of 24 hour games available, but like last year, I’m going be a wuss and offer 12 hours.

It’s a perfect opportunity to complete a campaign in one sitting, the time flies while you raise money for charity (this year the chosen charity is Galloway’s Society for the Blind)

When I went to UK GamesExpo, I really enjoyed the Legend of Five Rings session, so I’m planning on running one of the pre-written adventures at the charity event.

If we can understand the results of dice at the end of the 12 hours, we will have succeeded.

5. Wednesday Game Day

Blythy and I have managed to squeeze in some time during the week to visit a local gaming coffee shop. We’ve been trying out some card-based games. We really enjoyed Miskatonic University Restricted Collection. KeyForge, not so much (it’s already gone on eBay). We’re going to continue to experiment and extend our range (perhaps some Nights’ Black Agents Solo Ops?).

6. I’m ‘peak gaming’ yet I still can’t get enough. Following all the White Dwarf chat, I’ve started to pine for Traveller.

The addiction continues.

This week, the dice have revealed another gem from The First Golden Age of White Dwarf, as defined in the 7 Ages of White Dwarf by Daily Dwarf (more about that in the next GROGPOD).

So True, funny how it is, Spandau Ballet were top of the charts in May 1983. It was a month where Polish people demonstrated against military rule in a show of Solidarność and the retro-virus we now refer to as HIV was discovered to be the cause of AIDS by two independent research groups

The Return of the Jedi was released in the US (we would have to wait until the Summer to see it).

I was on holiday on a campsite in Morecambe, reading novelisations of The Professionals into the night using my torch (my mum got them off one of those racks spinning in the wind next to the fishing nets, refusing to get me a Gor novel). I was also reading the Five Eyes Temple scenario for Borderlands as we were about to spend weeks in there (hard to believe that I eventually did the whole campaign in 24 hours 34 years later).

If you’ve listened to the GROGPOD 29 you’ll know that Blythy refers to a couple of items that appear in this Issue. Have you played The Snowbird Mystery? Is anyone else surprised at the amount of Car Wars we’ve seen in the issues so far? Did you encounter Phil Master’s Inhuman Gods? What did you think of Oliver Dickinson’s Grisselda stories? Yay, finally, I can use the disc as a weapon in D&D! Plus, Another amazing cover!

May 1984, I was supposed to be doing my exams, but I was staring out of the window looking forward to a state sponsored summer of RPGs.

Duran Duran knocked Hello by Lionel Richie off the ‘top spot’ with The Reflex. In the cinema Indiana Jones was getting a second outing in The Temple of Doom. As I was hitting 16, so was Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (one of my favourites from the year) and Spinal Tap hit the road.

A strange issue this one as it followed an ‘on boarding’ point where the magazine was relaunched to appeal to newcomers to the hobby who were playing Fighting Fantasy. Many of the articles are ‘part 2’ of a series.

A great cover. What do you make of this issue?

This book club will continue for as long as there is interest. Please comment and pass it on. Thanks, Dirk.