King Arthur Pendragon RPG (with David Larkins)

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In this episode, we finally draw the sword from the stone and examine a game that had an enormous impact on gaming in the 80s: King Arthur Pendragon.

David Larkins, the Pendragon line editor for Chaosium, joins us to tell us about the history of the game, how it works and the future developments.

Judge Blythy, our resident rules-lawyer, reviews the mechanics and we discuss how the game works conceptually.

We also have some closing time chatter about hot topics on our table top.

Episode 21 – Night’s Black Agents RPG (with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan)

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INTRO (00:00) The GROGNARD files finally sells out to one of those new fangled games. There’s a new iTunes review too, that compares us to Ridley Scott’s Hovis advert. 

OPEN BOX (with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan) (0:07) We are joined by Gar who tells us about his formative years in RPGs, his role in relaunching some of the 80s classics for Mongoose and his role in developing adventures for Night’s Black Agents.

ACTUAL PLAY (41:31) The Virtual GROGMEET twittercrew take on Operation: GROUNDWORM.

JUDGE BLYTHY: (1:02:00) Judge Blythy sinks his teeth into the finer points of spending points.

OUTRO (1:40:02) Up date from the Patreon Projects.

1D6 UK GAMES EXPO ’18 exposed

I think I’m just about coming back into the real world. Entering the UK Games Expo is like entering a liminal space where everyone is at ease with themselves and their place in the Universe.

Why can’t every day be like Expo?

Last year, it was about playing story games and understanding what had happened since we left the hobby back in the early 90s.

This time it was about running games.

After several anxious days preparing (I’m convinced that RPGs are part of a conspiracy to sell more printer ink), plus significant pre-match nerves the GM muscle eventually kicked in …

Judge Dredd


I ran Better Living through Chemistry, the scenario developed by @dailydwarf for the GROGZINE ’18 (soon to be available on DriveThru RPG). It’s an entertaining ‘Judges on patrol’ adventure littered with witty asides and incident to provide an amusing three hours in Mega City One, capturing the golden age of 2000ad perfectly. This was the third time I’d run the game. Similar to the other occasions, I felt that the system creaked a little. It was a less deadly this time, but no less frustrating for the players who found themselves missing rolls when they needed them the most.


There was some clever play from the Judges along the way, chaotic scenes and an hilarious interrogation involving a pedicure, astrology and surgical tape.

At one moment, words failed me, I wanted to describe a “golden fountain” but ended up saying “shower” despite myself. I don’t think anyone noticed.



Chaosium’s Ian Cooper is a terrific Games Master. If you get chance to play HeroQuest at a convention with him, then take it, you won’t be disappointed. He works hard to create an imaginative, immersive experience to compel you to engage with the story.

The adventure was a whodunit set in Forint, in the southern continent of Pamaltela. The wonderfully drawn pre-gens were members of masarin Jamader’s household in Garduna, a city of ragtag islands joined by bridges of different design. Blythy was a haughty Agimori sorceress and the rest of us were house slaves in her thrall. The relationship between the characters made for intriguing moments of interplay as we explored the city following a trail of clues.

Forint is to be developed as a future book for HeroQuest, which will allow players who are worried about imposing upon the canon of Glorantha publications: a chance to develop adventures within an exotic swords and sorcery setting. In the theatre of my mind it was Meereen twinned with Camorr written through the lens of Gene Wolfe

A great session. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Neil Benson’s view.

Nights Black Agents


1984, Leeds, England. The miners strike is intensifying, the British Government have recruited deniable assets to pull off a black bag operation: wiring the room where a branch secretary of the National Union of Mine workers is planning a rendezvous with his counterpart from Transylvania, who has promised cash in exchange for … something … something mysterious.


This is the third time that I’ve run Operation: GroundWorm and it’s one of those that has matured the more it has been played. There were some cracking scenes: a chase through the streets of Leeds, ending on the roof of Dolcis, punching the lights out of each other; a great bit of disguise fast-talk, squeezing information from a reluctant community; and finally Harry Reeves, the leader of the crew, finishing off the enemy, while smoking a Benson.

This was one of my high-points of the weekend and provided some food for thought for the forthcoming Episode 21.



I played The Broken Tower, the QuickStart adventure that was released for Free RPG Day last year. The new RuneQuest Glorantha PDF dropped on the Friday, so I felt a real burden of responsibility to inspire these players to get into the new game. There was a mixture of experience around the table, complete newbies, others who last played the game in the 80s and others who had loyally followed the various iterations.


This was the first time that I had used the shaman. I was a little concerned that the complexity of the character (with its llama mount, baboon fetch and spirit combat rules) would distort the party, but it actually added a great deal to the weirdness and intensifying horror.

I wanted to at least inspire one person to run their own game of RuneQuest: Achievement Unlocked!

Losing a D8 

I lose a dice at every convention. This time it was a D8.

We had a list of stuff we while we were there: buying stuff, demoing some board-games and having a proper meal somewhere. The bucket list ended up being a ‘feck it’ list because when were weren’t playing RPGs we were having a really good chat with people we met on the way to doing things.

It was a great weekend, great people and over much too soon.

Next: Expo ScrapBook


virtual GROGMEET 2018 ScrapBook

Last year, we reached a tipping point where we realised that most of our Armchair Adventuring was taking place online. Our never-ending quest to get more people to play games with continues. To support our endeavours we created virtual GROGMEET to complement the annual event in November.

Some of the GROGSQUAD wanted to discover online play for the first time and have the opportunity to play with the GMGMs that make GROGMEET in Manchester such a distinctive experience.

Squadron members from all over the UK plus others from British Columbia, Australia and North America were joined games of Numenera and Maelstrom and others listed below.

Of course the curse of online play bedevilled it with glitches and interventions from real life, but it was an enjoyable event by all accounts.

Hopefully, new gaming connections were made during the event and this is the beginning of more groups forming, because “play’s the thing”. Dirk

There’s more play reports from Neil and Kehaar, and on google plus from Andrew Jones and Andy Cousins

WarHammer Fantasy Role-Playing: A rousing version of Summer Holiday, a bar-room brawl, death and destruction in the opening scenario of The Enemy Within. Asako_Soh

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Having climbed into the Butchers through the roof the party encounter a mutated dog in an attached room.  Engaging their OSR drive by trying to avoid unnecessary conflicts, they came up with a clever plan which became known as the Norwich Gambit.  Their scheme in place they opened doors while keeping out of the beasts reach and felt some degree of cleverness as their ploy worked and the external door was closed behind the dog as it wandered outside.  They were later to discover the consequences of that cleverness. Neil Benson

Judge Dredd RPG (GW): Andy, Mark and Brett – were soon in the middle of a firefight. All three really committed to the game, and inhabited the characters of their Judges really well. (The phrase “Eat Judge boot, creep!” was deployed to much satisfaction.) They were very inventive both in their use of the tech, and in their theories of what the clues they uncovered could mean … (continues)

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Judge Dredd RPG: Their detection methods were also top-notch, leading me to short-circuit one part of the adventure as I thought their ideas deserved to be rewarded. The big finale played out well (sound effects on roll20 at least worked out very well), although at times I felt I was losing “flow” somewhat – I think that might have been down to the system showing its age, coupled with my inexpert hacking of the rules.
Overall, good fun for me to run again – I had an excellent set of players who threw themselves into the setting with gusto, and Mega-City One remains a great playground for roleplaying. Next time though, I think I might try a different rules system, more geared to pulp action.
Savage Worlds anyone? Alan Gairey

Night’s Black Agents: 1984, Harry Reeves pulled together a crew; a wheel wizard, box man and wire rat to black bag Frank Holton: a miner with connections in the USSR: “BagPuss is in the building”. Dirk.

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Cthulhu Hack: Good time was had by all. The use of my artwork murals and a trap based portion of the game generated a real ‘adventure game’ feel to play. Cthulhu hack worked well especially sanity erosion to build the players sense of dread and I’ve at least 3 different threads out of the game. All in all a result. Keehar.

HeroQuest: I had 4 players, with limited experience of Heroquest, so it was good to take them through the character generation system & how contests work. Heroquest is one of those systems that truly opens up through play, rather than reading the corebook- which reveals it’s pearls of wisdom after play.
Highlights included grabbing the heart of Orlanth from a Lunar Demon and then just about defeating that demon mid air in the Otherworld- the first time running the scenario we had had major conflict. All because of a “over-confident” character trait from one PC. Andrew Jones.







Episode 9 (Part 2) Imagine Magazine (Paul Cockburn) and RPG Review 2016

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Special thanks to Paul Cockburn for his contribution to these podcasts.

This podcast is dedicated to Joe Dever, creator of The Lone Wolf adventure books, who sadly passed away in November.


Paul Cockburn is behind The GamesMaster’s Screen to pick out some of the regular highlights from Imagine Magazine: Nick The Novice, Pelinore, and more. He also tells the story of the rise and the untimely fall of the magazine.


Our review of the a year in gaming: Roll 20, Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Nights Black Agents, Call of Cthulhu and Numenera are all discussed.

The Last Bit

Thanks to Patreons, reviewers and listeners. Have a great holiday and all the very best for 2017 to you and yours.

Nights Black Agents – A GROGNARD’S GUIDE

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,

While night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.

Macbeth, Act III, Scene II

The Armchair Adventurers Club are at serious risk of losing their GROGNARD credentials. Our gaming experience has been trapped in small period of time between 1981 – 1987 and replicated during this renaissance in the Autumn of our lives. When we reformed in 2010 it was all about rediscovering the games we played together as kids and dusting off old campaigns to relive those experiences, but with a more mature perspective. This year, we pledged to look beyond this period and consciously explore some of the innovations that have influenced RPGs during our deep-freeze.

Earlier in the year, we stepped into the Ninth World of Numenera and its fantastically immersive setting. It was the first time that the concept of ‘spends’ was introduced to the table. We adapted to the mechanic well and enjoyed how it was possible to influence the dice-roll result by investing character resources at key moments. The possibility of failure is always there and we still had some ridiculously bad rolls during the run of play which meant our ‘spending pool’ was quickly exhausted. Of all the innovations within Numenera the most unsettling was the ‘player facing’ element … the GM (Blythy) was irresistibly drawn towards the dice, but the rules of Numenera put the dice exclusively in the hands of players: in combat, monsters don’t successfully hit you, you fail to defend against them.

I’ve been drawn to Nights Black Agents thanks to the relentless promotion of the Dracula Dossier campaign via Ken and Robin talk about stuff podcast. The ingenious idea that there’s been an historical attempt by the British Government to enlist a vampire as a military asset is too good to resist. Add to that, the most audacious player handout in RPG history; DRACULA (Unreacted) the annotated version of Bram Stoker’s fictionalised account of an after action report of successive attempts to deploy and negotiate an unholy alliance between vampires and government.

I was confused by The Dracula Dossier at first, I thought the idea of a ‘stand alone’ campaign meant that I didn’t need the core rules, however a cursory browse in a game shop in Manchester last year, made me realise that there was a core rule book. I assigned my Dragonmeet budget towards NIGHTS BLACK AGENTS and managed to bag myself a signed copy.

There’s something intimating about the game. I suspect it is the pure guile and energy of Kenneth Hite’s intelligence with its innate ability to join together serendipitous historical facts with a great deal of vim and vigour; like the illuminati on hypertextual steroids. I found my internal monologue developing the tone of Hite as I was reading through the rules, which helped, it certainly increased my reading speed. Once you hit the floor and dodge the ideas zipping from the page, you realise that you are completely immersed into the world and filled with inspiration to get going, create characters and set about destroying the vampire conspyramid.



On first glance of the NIGHTS BLACK AGENTS rules, the GROGNARD brain has little to grab on to, as familiar mechanics seem to have disappeared – where are the character attributes? when do the dice come in? how do the characters stay alive? More than Numenera, Nights Black Agents is developed on the back of innovations in indy gaming in the early part of the last decade. The emphasis of the game is the collaborative construction of story around a  conceptual setting: Jason Bourne thrillers meet hammer house of vampires.

The GM becomes a ‘Director’ helping the players to emulate the thrills of a cinematic experience by using devices such as scene-framing and choosing the mode of play – what kind of spy movie do you want appear in? One where your agents are burned out by the job? One where you can’t trust anyone? One where the punches really hurt?

The players and directors and settle on the style of game they want to play and start to build up the skills and background colour that creates a character dossier. There’s some great backgrounds to choose from, such as a ‘Wet Worker’ (an assassin) or a ‘Cuckoo’ (an operative in deep cover). The central mechanic is the GUMSHOE system used in Trail of Cthulhu and EsoTerrorists. As the player characters are built, they assign points to Investigative abilities such as Forensic pathology, photography, Streetwise or Bull Shit Detector. These skills are spent during the game to get extra information above and beyond the core clues. Hunting for clues is always successful, to move the narrative forward; its not the hunting for clues that is the fun element of the game, it’s knowing what to do with the information once you have it.

In NBA the Gumshoe mechanics are souped up to provide general abilities that match the thriller element of the game. These include Athletics, Shooting, Driving or infiltration, the character is built by assigning points to these abilities which can then be spent in the game to influence the result of a contest. The Director sets a number to resolve challenges and the players roll a 1D6 to see if they do it or not.

They also have the option to spend to increase the chance of success, or even ensure success, so they have the opportunity to spend their skill points. Want to do a handbrake turn in the centre of the freeway to escape pursuit? Give me 4 … you’ll need to spend something from your driving pool to have a chance of success. In addition, there are ‘cherries’ to skills to give an extra level of bad-assness. Additions such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ so you can boost vehicles as required.

My favourite element is the ability for the players to spend points building a Network; when they come into a city, they can describe contacts that are located in the area that they know – a local Hells Angel, a former girl-friend, an associate – they can assign points to them and use them as a resource to provide assistance in the mission.

Part of the challenge for the players is to think like a super-spy and have a bold outlook towards hurtling into harms way when all your RPG instincts tell you to be cautious. A tactical approach is rewarded and there are clever ways of deploying skills to defuse situations to provide an advantage, but the real fun comes from barging through places like Jason Bourne, regardless of the collateral damage.


Although I’d committed to the Dracula Dossier as a campaign, I knew that I wanted to break them into the tone of the game before we embarked on a ‘collaborative and improvisational’ mode. Pelgrane Press have plenty of resources to help the neophyte director find their feet.

After the character dossiers were created, I used EXCESS BAGGAGE (a downloadable demo game) which is an in media-res car chase through the streets of Krakow. A portable nuclear bomb has been stolen from a military facility, the agents are already in pursuit. It’s an opportunity to use the ‘Chase’ mechanic provided in NBA to track the excitement of a thriller chase and closing the gap during the hunt. Whether its gear-grinding driving, or clever free-running over roof tops, the chase rules are a nifty way of managing the successes and failures and providing cinematic colour.

Once the pre-credit sequence was over, a clue in the recovered attaché case led them to Odessa, and the opening section to THE ZALOZHNIY QUARTET, a free sample of which is also available on the Pelgrane site including some handy hints on how to knit the scenario into The Dracula Dossier. The scenario sets up the agents on a surveillance mission, tracking contraband passing over the Black Sea through Turkey from Iraq. They uncovered something more sinister than they were expecting, on the sight of coffin-shaped cargo, you could sense the tempo of the table change. It was the moment they were drawn into the setting. They’re now on a run for their lives to a safe house in Vienna.



Thanks to the Peregrane Press resources, the first game went really well, introducing the key elements of the game and presenting some very dramatic scenes. The players developed their confidence and were more sure-footed when the confrontation with the bad guys happened. This will develop further when they have a better grasp of how to use the skills to good effect. They work a little like spells in D&D, where it’s possible to impress your friends with your ingenuity as you apply the skills in an inventive manner, “using my Architecture skill, I consider the age of the building, and possible exits …”

The shift in the centre of gravity from the GM to the players was gradually done during the session. One of the rules that came up during the run of play is the idea of ‘retries’. If you fail, you fail, and can’t have another go. “Shot your wad” as it says in the rules and you can only have another attempt if you can come up with a clever way of explaining your next attempt. This gave them the sense of participating in the generation of the story.

On the whole, it feels like Gumshoe would work better with a bigger group as it would allow the feeling of the spotlight shifting from player to player as their specialism comes into effect. The rules accommodate two player teams by adjusting the build points accordingly, but having another player in the mix would help the share the burden of fast-thinking and creating additional story elements.

At the next session, I will be laying the foundation for the revelation of the weightiest player-handout in history – Dracula Unredacted – so they’ll choose the path of the leads they want to follow and we’ll mutually compose a narrative adventure on the fly.

At that stage, the conversion will be complete, but until then, I’m clutching a random encounter table and a clove of garlic in my breast pocket. While I hold on to them, I’ll always be a Grognard.

  • Dirk


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.