This is the 80th GROGPOD and there is a sense of celebration in the air. We are delighted to have Marcus L Rowland as our guest. He was a stalwart of Whit Dwarf during its hey day. Cthulhu Now! Green Horizon, To Live and Die in Mega City One and the Fear of Flying, his contribution to our gaming imagination back in the day is inestimable.
@DailyDwarf provides a retrospective of his work in White Dwarf.
The first ever Patreon of The GROGNARD Files was Sam Vail and he reveals the first game he played, the last game he played and the game that means everything to him in a lifetime of gaming.
Blythy joins me in the Room of Role Playing Rambling to answer listener questions in the Thunder Phase!
A random roll on the d100 as thrown up 37 (4 issues later than the first one) which was dated January 1983. The magazine had started to get into the stride as a monthly publication after years of coming out every two months.
This was the month that wearing a seat belt became compulsory in the UK, despite protests from people bemoaning their loss of the civil right of being thrown through a windscreen. BBC launched its Breakfast Time programme with Frank Bough jazzed out in his jazzy jumpers and the Green Goddess preened in green.
ET won the Golden Globes for film drama (with Tootsie winning the comedy) and Hill Street Blues won the TV awards. Steve ‘interesting’ Davies won the Snooker Classic in St Helens. Superman: The Movie is shown on TV for the first time.
Let’s look at this together: What did you make of the cover? Did Alan E Paul’s FAERIES appear in your games? Did you learn your Traveller referring ropes from Andy Slack? Some classics appear in Open Box … did you play Crasimoff’s World? Vampire tables! Don Turnbull is getting cross on the letters page… How did you make use of issue 37?
INTRO Blimey Charlie! This is the twentieth podcast!
1:53 GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN Rick Meints, President of Chaosium, joins us once again. This time we roll on a special ‘plunder’ table to search his fabled collection as he recounts past adventures from back in the day.
42:08 OPEN BOX Borderlands is Chaosium’s classic campaign from 1982 – we’ve played it twice, once in ’83 and again in ’13 – find out why this is very much our ‘foundational document’.
I’m 46 Live in Southport not far from Bolton and like you we used to play rpg’s from the age of 12 many years ago through those long summers.
And have recently got in touch with the old gang & are doing a 5th ed d&d ‘old scrote’ once a month session. Would you like to join sometime ?
1st Jan, 2016 – Ric Gillett
It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. On the very first day of this year we were invited to join the ‘Old Scrotes’ club in nearby Southport. After a few exchanges of emails, it seemed a perfect opportunity to learn more about 5th edition D&D.
We have played an online opening game of Mines of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Pack, which starts at 1st level and works up to 4-5, but how do the new mechanics handle adventures at a high level?
Blythy and I made the journey through the endless fields of sprouts towards the quaint seaside town of Southport that’s known in Bolton as ‘God’s Waiting Room’, as it is the place where people of the North West gravitate towards to retire.
The Old Scrotes Club very generously invited us to join in their quarterly game, where they congregate from all corners of the North, to gather for a mammoth 12 hour session. They have an ongoing campaign in the Under Dark titled ‘The Steam Dwarves’ as the party are all Dwarves. In previous adventures, they have mastered huge Iron Suits with fire and water elementals bound into them that give them steam-powers and flame-throwing abilities.
I’ve interviewed Ric and Tim (the Games Master) for the podcast and will be appearing soon, where they’ll talk about their experiences back in the day and how they have found playing 5th edition D&D.
It’s all good stuff, but in the mean time, these are my top 4 highlights from the session and one low blow.
We were to play gnomes. Deep gnomes. Svirfneblin (bless you.) At first we thought it was some kind of joke. They are after all borderline scousers, so we thought it might be some way of cutting the Woolly Backs down to size.
Using the 5th Edition, it is possible to create characters of different fantasy races with colour and interesting detail. Blythy played a druid (almost a boring cleric, but the daisy chains make all the difference) and he studied the spells very, very carefully ahead of play, waiting for the dramatic moment when he could transform to an elemental. Erky Ningle kept a scorpion in a box too, ready for the moment when he could make it giant, (cue endless debate over it being ‘Gnome Giant’ or ‘Giant’).
I was to be rogue with slippers of spider climb, hence he was known as Nackel ‘Sticky Foot’ Bilge, friend of the druid who accompanied him from recently destroyed Gnome Market to seek assistance from the Dwarves.
2.THE DWARVEN COUNCIL
Tim the DM carefully wove a back story for why we were making contact with the Dwarves, who had successfully secured a fortified keep in the Under Dark. Drow, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Dwarves and Gnomes had all begun to behave strangely, as if in the grip of a madness. The gnomes had seen an Intellect Devourer escape from the brain of one of their clan who had been affected. They were keen to seek help to destroy the Illithid hive and put an end to the madness, so the Gnome Market could open once more.
Now. We have a small group, which usually means doubling up characters, so we have got into the habit of using reported speech, “well, I’ll say this in a harsh manner etc.” and tend to avoid to getting into ‘acting out’ the scene. We use it occasionally, at key moments, to crank up the tension.
The Old Scroates were masters at speaking in character, for the first hour Tim the DM went for a fag, while the players engaged in argument and counter argument in Scottish accents. The wizard believed that their small army should revive the Gnome Market and win the hearts and minds of the people of the Under Dark (a post-Iraq option), while the Cleric and Ranger believed that a recon mission, with force, should seek out the Illithid hive and neutralise it.
It was very absorbing. I felt like I was actually there, cowering before Cherry, the buxom member of council, pleading for assistance to free capital within the Under Dark.
The discussion was interrupted by green smoke emitting from the vaults below the keep.
3. UNLUCKY STICKY AND THE EVIL DICE
Once in the underground vaults of the keep, exploring the haunted crypts, the Cursed Dice Cup managed to confound the Old Scroates as I managed to roll a row of successive ones.
At one time, when I had ‘the advantage’ I rolled a one and a two. My D20 was sealed in a small box that once stored baby rusks. It was banished there until it could learn to behave.
There followed an experiment where the dice was ducked in water to prove it had a bias … a bubble inside … or a witch …or something.
4. UNDEAD ARMY
What does 5th edition do at high levels? Well, I don’t want to steal our podcast thunder, but it has the capacity to provide ‘the spectacular’. After creeping carefully through the crypt we were tormented by a Necromancer/ Litch type creature who was entering our heads, imploring to leave the place.
Evidence was everywhere that he had been attempting to zombify creatures and soon, we made the encounter – 200 plus dwarven zombies with wraiths, zombie beholders and ogres thrown in for good measure.
Spells were cast. Axes were swung in whirlwind attacks. The Cleric cried ‘turn again zombies, turn again’!
Meanwhile, Sticky Foot was on the ceiling, sneak-attacking with a bow and dodging disintegrating rays from the Zombie Beholder like Lionel Richie with a ferret down my pants. One of them hit too.
5. BRING IN THE TANK
We had late-coming Old Scroate. We had been missing a much needed fighter, but fortunately in the late afternoon he’d turned up when the rest of the party were exhausted and with his assistance the dwarves and gnomes thrashed through a zoo of zombies, including a Medusa, Gelentious Cube, a Grell and a rust monster.
OUT OF STEAM
6.WHERE DID THE TIME GO?
The only downside was that it seem to come to an end so soon. Time is transcendental as well as physical. Those 11 hours seemed to pass so quickly that it came to an end before had chance to realise the extent of the destruction that the Slaadi caused.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have hit the lid off that bottle.
“Literature holds much for the adventure gamer: a glimpse of worlds to which we are denied access by the complexity of modern life, ideas for character and adventure to supplement our own. Fantasy fiction is never far removed from the ‘real world’, and yet more than any other genre it refuses to be bogged down in ‘life as it is’ with all the defeat and compromise that that entails. As a way of exploring alternative modes of existence and remedies the world’s ills, it is unsurpassed. Enjoy …”
Kim Daniel, Editor
Some of the discussion about Imagine magazine, in the latest the GROGNARD RPG files podcast, ended up on the cutting room floor. I thought it would be worth looking at it in a bit more depth here, as it provides a useful connective bridge between The Stormbringer episode with the AD&D ones that are on the way. Imagine was published monthly by TSR UK between 1983 and 1985 ‘for the players of Dungeons and Dragons game’. I’ve written about how Imagine reached out to active gamers through it’s coverage of fanzines. It also had a policy of covering at wider genre features through it’s reviews of film, television and books. Occasionally it would dedicate the magazine to a particular author and through the magazine I discovered Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright and science fiction author Bob Shaw, amongst others.
TINY WORLD OF INSECTS
The Moorcock edition had a striking cover by Rodney Matthews, with the organic, angular shapes that makes his art so distinctive. It is a cropped version of a wider canvas titled EARL AUBEC OF MALADOR, depicting the incarnation of the Eternal Champion under pressure from insect-like creatures. Look closely and you’ll spot his cat companion, who detects danger with a preternatural instinct. Aubec is the subject of the scenario authored by Michael Brunton and Moorcock himself, who provided the story-treatment for the scenario.
The adventure is designed for one player who adopts the role of Aubec, with the option of another player taking the role of the ‘Companion to Champions’ Jhary A Conel, who appears in a number of Eternal Campion stories.
In the scenario, the players are seeking the Horn of Fate, which will ultimately be blown at the End of Time by Elric. Aubec is a champion that exists in an earlier period of the Young Kingdoms, when Melniboné is still a powerful force. He is seeking revenge after his lands are seized by his wife’s half-brother.
The Lords of Law wish to seek and find the Iron Galleon to recover the Horn of Plenty so it can be held in safe-keeping until the time is right.
Altogether, it’s a good one shot adventure notable for transforming AD&D alignment to deal with Chaos and Law as defined by Moorcock’s multiverse. Also, it adopts ‘Luck Points’ – a ‘spend’ mechanic that is familiar now, but innovative at the time – allowing players (and NPCs) to influence the results. The Luck Points can create results such as ‘ a death blow’ or ‘Hit Point recovery’.
SOME ENCHANTED FEELING
There’s also a short story (The Last Enchantment) which features Elric making a portentous encounter in with the Lords of Chaos. It’s slim pickings, but it does serve as a useful introduction to the cosmology:
‘Only the Greatest Power, of which we know little more than humans, can create fresh conceptions. The Greatest Power holds both Law and Chaos in perpetual balance, making us war only that the scale will not be tilted too far to one side.’
The Moorcock interview is interesting in the context of his literary career. This was prior to the publication of Mother London (1988) and it’s possible to see him becoming increasingly weary of his ‘fantasy Romances’. There is a sense where he is seeing the genre as moribund and ‘increasingly debased’ in the face of increasing infantilisation (cf Wizardry and Wild Romance). He wants to be taken seriously.
Thanks to Patreon backer and active supporter of the Podcast, Sam Vail, I’ve been introduced to Paul Cockburn, who was on the Imagine editorial team. He said of the Moorcock issue:
I met Michael as we planned that issue. It was a big thrill. Unlike the majority of my gaming peers, Tolkien never was my thing. But I love imaginative fiction, and that’s obvious from my stewardship of Imagine magazine, plus what was going on in the background before I left Games Workshop. So, getting to hang out with Michael, talk about fiction and where it might influence games, that was a big thrill. My time on Imagine and at GW gave me license to have some great conversations with the big authors of the 80s, and that was truly amazing for me. So yes, I wanted Imagine to show that you could draw on the inspiration provided by great writers and great writing, and game in those kinds of environments.