If you have been paying attention you’ll know that my gaming has taken a thematic thread this year. I have been playing games that use the concept of the multiverse as a setting. This was not planned, I just fell into it backwards like Dr Strange, but without the eye-popping special FX.
There’s no better metaphor the gaming multiverse than virtual GROGMEET.
This is an online convention that we organise every April. This time, there were forty different pocket universes being discovered by over a hundred registered players, who participating from the comfort of their own homes, exploring new worlds, with new people.
Visiting a million-spheres, near to your kettle while sitting in your favourite chair.
The breadth of games on offer is always astonishing. This year in particular included an impressive menu that embraced the traditional to the indy and everything in-between. Since it first begun back in 2017, it has launched many online gaming groups. It remains an encouraging environment to start online GMing as well as introducing different people to … different people.
PLAY IS THE THING
“You’re playing in all of the sessions?” is the puzzled exclamation I usually hear at various points over the virtual GROGMEET weekend. People can’t understand why would sign-up from Thursday to Sunday. I block out the entire weekend and treat it like I have left the house to go to a convention. There’s a sign put on the door that says that I’m ‘in’, but I’m not ‘in’ in – for all intents and purposes I’m in another place, anywhere in the multiverse.
This play report is in the 1d6 format, five highlights and a fumble.
The weekend kicked off with the usual Thursday night quiz which was the rematch of the pub quiz from the Moorcock/ Tolkien weekender. Players were invited to choose their side to pit Moorcock knowledge against Tolkien knowledge. Really, you needed to know both to win, as there was twenty-five questions on each. If you want to decide if you are Moorcock or Tolkien, follow the links to test yourself at home.
The first of two games I played using Chaosium’s Stormbringer rules was a Hawkmoon game. Someone had breached that most sacred of trust; stealing the very thoughts of the immortal King-Emperor Huron of the Granbretan Empire. The player characters ‘get to the ornithopter’ in an investigation to undercover the conspiracy. The scenario had a fittingly sinister atmosphere which was very evocative of Londra under the Empire.
Designs supplied by @tomtremendously
In the late-night slot (11.00pm – 3.00am) on Saturday night, I was in the Young Kingdoms waiting in Dhakos Harbour as an emissary from Pan Tang delivered gifts to secure an alliance with Jarkor. The player characters were nobles of the court responding to steady corruption of chaos that follows. Beware Pantangians bearing gifts. This was Stormbringer 5th edition rules, a first for me, and it creates characters that are more powerful than the 1st-3rd. It was quite refreshing to be competent, not that it helped against the machinations of Jagreen Lern.
Adventuring across the multiverse was not constrained to Moorcock.
Following the last month’s Book Club I have continued to study the Planescape output from TSR in the early 90s. I was told that players tend to stick in the central city of Sigil rather than taking a tour of the planes.
The Great Modron March addresses this by having episodic adventures that follow the the strange clockwork Modrons parading from Mechanus across Outer Planes of the Great Wheel and the gate-towns of the Outlands. They have started their march 150 years too soon. The campaign is made up of eleven wonderfully inventive scenarios, it was a pity that I could only do three of them.
The joy of running games over consecutive nights is the camaraderie it creates among the players. The characters can experience a range of highs and lows over the nine hours of play. The little characterful events that make a game interesting can be called back as they are still fresh in the memory. The exotic sausage shop of Automata was never far away, for example.
When the group finished on the Sunday night, there was a real sense that they would continue adventuring together, following the Modrons on their journey, because they had formed such a strong in-game companionship. Great. Same again next year? Maybe.
3. CALL OF CTHULHU
For the first time in a long time, I’ve not got a regular game of Call of Cthulhu on the go.
A Saturday afternoon session seemed a perfect chance to stay connected to what remains my favourite game. Why is it my favourite? I love the versatility of the setting for creating mood and engaging situations.
Of Sorrow and Clay is a mystery set in the 1920s Appalachian mountains. The Keeper piled on the atmosphere as we explored the disappearance of our Pa who had gone mad in the woods. Despite some discord technical issues, I’d say that this is one of the best Call of Cthulhu sessions that I’ve played in a long time: beautifully constructed, well developed player characters, and an extraordinarily creepy revelation. Highly recommended.
4. DARK CONSPIRACY
Since virtual GROGMEET started back in 2017, its primary aim has been to introduce people to online gaming by providing a supportive place for people to try out new ideas and run games online for the first time. It was great to play with Lee Williams, running his first online game and first convention game.
Ever since I have known Lee I have been interested in his fandom of Dark Conspiracy, GDW’s setting of near future horror. He did a hack using Liminal, as he is a fan of the setting, but not the rules. The post-economic-crash setting is right up my street. We went up a street and ended up in a sinkhole. There were encounters with giant grubs and a weird bunker. We believed we were in a kind of Narnia, but with Abi Titmus standing in for Mr Tumnus in our imaginations. It was a game from the nineties after all.
5. FANZINE BOOKCLUB
The Book Club remains the highlight of my month, so it was good to get an extra in for the virtual GROGMEET weekend. It was a fanzine special looking at two British ‘zines from April 1986. Dead Elf by Andrew Fisher and Runestone by Bill Lucas and our very own Nick Edwards. We were joined by Nick (Quasits and Quasars) and Justin (Drune Kroll), editors from back in the day, who were able to support the discussion with some insider knowledge.
This was a period of the the wild west of FRP zine publishing in the UK, partly driven by cheaper off-set litho printing and the publicity from Imagine magazine’s coverage. The print runs for these zines was very small, most of them given away in exchange for other ‘zines. They were talking to each other: kicking against Games Workshop and TSR for most of the time and rehashing the ‘roll’ gamer and ‘role-gamer’ arguments.
A fascinating discussion and a real step back in time. We are going to do some more ‘zines in future meetings. Dagon is coming soon.
6. There has to be a fumble. We rolled on the table and … a cock-up with the world clock, due to British Summer Time, meant that the interview with Jon Cohen has been postponed. You can find the details here.
virtual GROGMEET is a highlight of the year. This year was no exception. Thanks to GMs who hosted games and the players who brought them to life. Play is the thing.
As you listen to the GROGMEET22 podcast, why not browse through some of these images from the event. You find more write ups and reflections from Clarky, Stef, and Graham . (Let me know if there are more).
GROGMEET2020, the fifth annual meet-up of the GROGSQUAD, had to be held online to avoid pathogens. It didn’t stop us having a fantastic weekend which included a Pub Quiz, a Mausritter Tournament Dungeon, and an eclectic mix of games over four time-slots: seventy sessions in total.
To end the event we recorded this live panel in the Zoom of Role-Playing rambling (with an audience of over 50 people!).
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.
INTRO: This is an unusual GROGPOD as it was recorded live at GROGMEET 18. Ian Cooper talks about HeroQuest and there’s a chance for you to win a copy of the game thanks to our friends at bonhomiegames.uk
Show us your favourite handout, character sheet, floor plan, prop, mini or any other physical item you’ve produced for your gaming before the end of Feb to be in with a chance of winning.
INTERVIEW: Ian Cooper talks about his formative years in gaming, oral story telling, Greg Stafford, HeroQuest and his Coming Storm campaign.
GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN: Blythy joins me in the Room of Role-Playing Rambling to talk about generic systems. Want to know more about Judge Dredd in the world of GUMSHOE? Then check out Steve Ray’s play reports.
OUTRO: Patreon thanks, the latest news about the GROGZINE and the plans for the next episode.
These are a selection of sights from last weekend for the archive. The sun sets on another GROGMEET.
The next meet-up is online on 12th April 2019 for Virtual GROGMEET: A chance to participate in the GROGMEET for Patreons who can’t make the trip to Manchester, or for people who attended who would like to have a crack at one or two of the other games available.