In their podcast about Burnout, the Smart Party rightly advise caution against committing to a large book campaign; disappointment is almost inevitable because it’s difficult to sustain over a long period, when people’s lives are busy. When you do finish a big book campaign against those conditions, it makes it even more sweet.
Almost exactly 2 years to the day and 32, 2 hour long, sessions we completed The Two Headed Serpent in an epic finale. Every session had its thrills and spills, adventure and excitement as the players trotted around the globe, but the final session was great: every player made a contribution to the audacious saving of humanity from certain destruction.
Between the sessions, I created a recap in the form of a comic, which was one of those things that once I’d started, immediately regretted, as it was a time-sink. Now that it’s complete, I’m glad I did it for a record of one of the best series of adventures that I’ve ever taken part in.
It was down to the players, so I’m handing over to them to choose their highlights. Warning, there are spoilers.
The usual format is 5 highlights and fumble, but this time there are no fumbles, other than I’m sad it’s over.
Has to be the nightgaunts attacking the plane. The pilot dead and no one with above 2% pilot. Pure pulpy Indiana Jones stuff and a perfect example of how the system works using luck. Blythy
The disease camp in North Borneo, really loved how the plots slowly revealed there to culminate in a high speed escape whole defusing a mythos nuke!Phil the Dice Mechanic
There’s a few I can think off… Percy’s chat with Gary the Ghoul in Borneo is probably my favourite.Old Scouse Roleplayer
For me I liked the Icelandic base as it slowly collapsed while we were there giving a real sense of urgency, the theft of the brain case and the escape over the lava flow.Mark Kitching
My favourite bits were when Jock got to yell at some Bawbag before opening up with the devastating shotgun! Also, the scene where Percy was grappling Meadham and aided by Jock was driven into the whirling propellor blade! In 40 years, Jock is maybe one of my favourite ever characters.Sam Vail
For me, I loved Oklahoma (I’d just read The Grapes of Wrath) as it was a bit of a different pace from the high-adventure of the other episodes. I could see the players feeling disturbed and unsettled about what was happening and their role in it. I also loved playing gangster NPCs in New York and terrifying Neil, not his character, but Neil.Dirk the Dice
A Pulp adventure in the Savage World of ‘The Day After Ragnarok’.Across the world, lies the trillion-ton corpse of the Midgard Serpent, raised from the sea by the nazis and destroyed by Truman’s atomic fire: poisoning the Earth with every night that passes.A small band of mercenaries under the command of the Royal Navy have been deployed to escort a volatile tanker of Ophiline from the Hereford Cut to a small coastal town in Wales. A local separatist politician, Solo Man, is rumoured to have a stock-pile of precious resources to trade, in exchange for the valuable fuel.
The mission to play a different post-apocalyptic games each month in 2020 continues. This time I used Savage Worlds in The Day After Ragnarok setting created by Kenneth Hite in 2009.
The world in 1948 reeling from the intervention of the Nazis who summon the Midguard Serpent to the sound of Wagner (the players joined in with the Ride of the Valkyries) from the depths of the seas; Odin’s son reaps havoc upon the world.
Truman’s Trinity Device is despatched and it destroys the serpent’s brain “in torrent of of atomic fire … Dark crimson rain fell from Dublin to Denver. Where it struck the seas boiled and the Earth drank poison. And things engendered, mutated horrors born of dragon’s blood and broken strontium atoms …”
The serpent body (350 miles across) lies as a curtain across Europe, wiping out most of Britain. The Empire stays intact as Australia was untouched by the events, so Prince Henry serving as the Governor-General set up Sydney as the new Imperial capital. The Royal Society (and the Royal Engineers) have begun to drill into the serpent to extract precious resources from its gut. For the sake of Crown and Country, the grit of the Brits are keen to keep calm, carry on and rebuild from the wreckage.
This adventure begins at the Hereford Cut, the location of the serpent mine, where a group of mercenaries volunteer for a suicide mission, transporting 20 canisters of volatile, un-refined orphaline across the Brecon Beacons to coastal town. They’re acting on a rumour from ‘Douglas’, who was played by Michael Douglas, that a separatist movement are building up a power-base using resources that have washed up on the coast of Wales, including planes (in kit form) which were heading for RAF Burtonwood.
A forward party which would include a negotiator will accompany the 2 1/2 truck filled with canisters of orphaline with the intention of negotiating with the group, exchanging their technology with oil from the serpent.
Here is a play report in the usual format, 5 highlights and 1 fumble.
Bennies – Check!
Special ’snake skin’ playing cards as the action deck – Check!
An extra action deck of playing cards for the ‘chase’ sequence – Check!
Status cards – Check!
Traveller minis – Check!
Adventure cards – Check! Wild dice – Check!
A play mat downloaded for each player so they can layout all of their dice and stuff – Check!
Natty new GM Screen – Check!
I think I’ve said before that there are a lot of ‘bits’ to Savage Worlds if you get carried away (like I do). Most of the extra things that came out from the Adventurer Edition kickstart don’t really add much other than more palaver to manage. The Adventure Card deck on the other hand is a really good addition to the game. Every player gets an adventure card and they can play it once during the session.
These operate in a similar way to MOS in Nights Black Agents – a game-changing advantage that can be used to great effect if used at the right time. In this game, a stash of gas masks were found, some cards were played to ensure that they had initiative advantage at the best time and one was used to roll away from an exploded wreckage.
Sorcerer! Most of the fun from this session came from the ‘Wages of Fear’ set up they gingerly overcame obstacles in their truck, most of them taken from the original film or from Sorcerer (the William Friedkin remake).
They faced a tight turning circle over a rotten platform, a giant boulder, and sharp, tyre-shredding rocks on the road.
This was mechanically represented with usage dice. Prior to the journey, each character had a chance to make an adaptation to add a dice to the pool. Depending on their relevant talents they improved the suspension, loaded the canisters in sand and reinforced the canvas sides with steel-plate (which would prove very useful).
They had a d10, d8, d6 and a d4 to begin with. Every time they made a manoeuvre without a raise, they had to roll over 2 on highest the dice, otherwise it was removed.
At the point when the dice decreased, the oil released a cloud of vapour, if inhaled it gave them the ’snake bite’ and made them more vulnerable to the Serpent’s thrall.
The ‘unlucky’ driver seemed to suck this up every time!
Nunbush! The forward company (including the negotiator) were ambushed while the player characters were undertaking a tricky manoeuvre.
“When you get closer, you realise that the bandits with sub-machine guns are dressed as nuns.”
“Nuns, with guns?!”
They were actually members of the Daughters of Dionin, but it seemed funnier describing them as nuns.
It’s a savage world
I have the FATE version of The Day After Ragnarok, but after using its Adventure Generator to get the bones of the scenario I soon decided that I would take the Savage Worlds approach.
There were a couple of reasons: I know it better and the current Adventurer version has new chase rules that I wanted to test out.
I feel that Savage Worlds is better for the ‘fighty Pulp’ excitement that I wanted to generate.
The swingy exploding dice and the unexpected results add a more spectacular, unpredictable element that’s harder to achieve with the more controlled FATE.
Explosive End To prove the point, the finale was an exciting confrontation within the serpent temple. They were outnumbered. The driver spiked the eye of the ‘Aunt Jenny’, a serpent-witch who had devoured their contact Douglas and had assumed his form. The driver only had a Philips head screwdriver, but thanks to exploding damage dice he managed to kill the creature with a single blow. As the GM, I didn’t have enough bennies left to soak up the damage.
A lucky hit with a thrown orphaline canister took down the big boss Solo-Man followed by the shrine to the serpent.
Then, as they reversed away, the delusional character thought he’d finish it all off with another canister, “I’m rubbish at throwing, but don’t worry, I have 4 bennies.”
Sure enough, he burned through the bennies, and the canister landed on the truck. A couple of them survived that explosion, but not the moment when the final usage dice rolled a 2, causing the remaining 18 canisters to explode.
The delusional character managed to roll away to safety after causing a TPK. It was a great moment, and a very fitting conclusion.
The adventure card was played to ensure that the team got commendation. King Henry IX bestowed a post-humous Victoria Cross on the team.
My fumble: I forgot that the nuns had laid mines to protect them from being flanked. Ah well, the explosions got them in the end.
The next Go-Play is 28th March 2020 (follow the details on the web-site). The next post-apocalyptic game is The Morrow Project on 15th March (which was opened up to Patreons).
This is the third time that I’ve been to UK Games Expo and it was my best experience so far; I know the geography of the place and feel more comfortable than I have on previous occasions.
I met loads of great people, missed many more; play’s the thing, I spent most of the time in the ‘Devon’ room in the Hilton Metropol, as a GM and player, which meant I didn’t have enough time to socialise outside of playing.
Somehow I even managed to fit appearing in a seminar into the schedule. It featured the collective wisdom of Baz & Gaz from the Smart Party with Paul Fricker from The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias with some inspiring, fluent and engaging tips on running games at conventions. I’m on there too, mumbling about middle-management for some reason. You can listen to it on The Smart Party feed.
“There’s a massive queue for your seminar!” someone tweeted. I thought, “they’ve gone to the wrong one.” Sure enough, Paul and I found a queue for another seminar running at the same time; he shouted over the crowd, “If you want the How to GM at Conventions seminar, follow us.”
He rolled against CHA and 1d4 hirelings emerged.
Here are my 5 highlights and a fumble.
1. Legend of the Five Rings
Earlier this year I bought the new edition of Legend of the Five Rings as I was intrigued by its setting of Rokugan, the Emerald Empire. The concept of a fantasy Far East is really appealing and the books are beautifully produced, but after reading it, I had no idea how to start playing.
It’s the kind of game that will be a hard-sell to our group because it needs a certain level of absorption to get the most out of the intrigue between the different competing dynasties. Asako_Soh (from Twitter) created an introductory adventure that focused on the House of Crane and the House of Crab being united by a wedding. We played samurai who discover that the bride-to-be has gone missing.
I’m still not entirely sure how the dice work (it’s a bit like reading tea-leaves) but the pre-gens and the setting allowed for some good interplay between players. There were some nice role-playing moments where the mannered, cultured and very judgey Crane were trying to hide the truth from the cruder Crabs.
The end was spectacular featuring an epilogue with a duel between the one-armed Samurai of the Crane, and my brutish, Crab samurai who was better with a blunt instrument than the finesse of the katana, so was struck down, across the clavicle.
It was an excellent introduction to the game. A great start to the convention.
2. Strontium Dog
“Bringing Akill-Ease to Heel is my homage to the early Pat Mills satirical Strontium Dog stories from the early 80’s using Savage Worlds and the Mongoose supplement. This was a Cecil B. DeMille production with lego and relentless events thrown at the Stonts from the moment it begins to the very end.
Thanks to some unfortunate rolls, their transporter craft Daze-14 (Fortnite -geddit?) crash-landed into the killing zone leaving many of them injured and confused, but they were cool and ruthless when dealing with their warrants.
There was a satisfying cheer when Leonard Stump was grappled around the ankle by Harpi Harry’s wire-launcher and yanked off a balcony to his death, prior to being rescued from the planet by Johnny Alpha himself.
I was very excited to play this game as I was promised a Ray Harryhausen experience by the GM Dimbyd. He didn’t disappoint. Translated from French by MindJammer games, this is a setting that creates a fantasy Arabian Nights and ancient world infused with magic. At its heart is a simple d6 dice pool system that works very easily and the characters were full of flavour.
I played a betrothed princess, heading out across the desert with a caravan; I liked to refer to the other players as my entourage (not sure how they felt about it), when we were invited inside a magnificent palace that appeared to us in a mirage. It is the first time I played Caroline Munro, Bollywood dancing through a bazaar in search of followers, I hope it is not the last.
“Anarchic” was the description offered by the players at the end of this session.
I like to think it was an extremely balanced and controlled session, filled with suspense, emotional highs and lows of the anxieties of teenage life in the 80s by reflecting on the turmoil of realising that you are different and society is oppressing your burgeoning desires.
The players could choose which side of the social divide they wanted to play. The PSIonic freedom fighters or the PSIonic protection agency. They chose to be the PSIonics with their special powers. Each player had their own school of PSIonic talents and they all deployed them in ingenious ways as they tried to track down and rescue a PSIonic in transition in Hiddenwood.
I made a school boy error that would get me drummed out of the Smart Party. I didn’t realise that the legend on the handout map actually revealed the location of the hideout of the target teens.
Well, to be fair, there was a Pre-Cog on the team, so I think I got away with it.
The session became increasingly frenetic as the PPA closed in on them.
In emotional and action-packed scenes they rescued the target. A levitating motorcycle caused a dramatic crash, a critical ‘Plumbing’ roll fixed the dripping tap of a water witch who was revealed as the grandmother of the target PSI and two lovers were reunited in a dramatic ‘hands across the divide’ moment.
An emotional meeting between grandmother and grand-daughter was interrupted when the young psionic was teleported away to safety. Their van squealed into the scene, taking down the PPA and rescuing the PSIs, delivering them to a place of safety in the Enclave. Mission accomplished.
Anarchic? No, poetry.
The Design Mechanism kindly wrote Coddifut’s Stipule, a scenario for their forthcoming Lyonesse game based on the Mythras system, specially for this convention; it was an honour to debut the adventure as I am a huge fan of the Lyonesse novels.
“Begin in media-res,” we recommend in the ‘How to GM at Conventions” seminar. How about ‘begin at breakfast’ instead? The rules provide four pages of tables that create an exotic Vancian breakfast, the name of the tavern they’re eating it in and the town where the scenario is based.
Within moments, after several dice rolls, we created a scene straight from the pages of the novels. The characters introduced themselves over a meal of boiled fish and sea urchin in a white wine celery infused sauce accompanied with stewed effervescent parsnip. The landlord of the Dreadful Mule served it to them before the burgher of Swinspool Water appeared.
What followed was a wonderful three hours encounter Vancian fairy magic culminating in a classic scene of cruel trickery where the players conspired to get the upper hand. The Mythras passions worked really well by compelling some of the action and there was an ingenious application of the Impspring Twinkle-Toe spell to get one of the players out of a tight spot.
I don’t want to reveal too much as the scenario is going to be made available as a taster of the new game. Follow the Design Mechanism
It was excellent. The highlight of my weekend. Thank you to Loz Whitaker for making it possible.
6. Beer Drought
This time the event was bigger than ever which is great for the organisers, but is it getting too big? Places felt uncomfortable, the queues for food were ridiculous, there weren’t enough staff serving at the hotel (there had a system where you had to queue twice for a cup of tea; a queue to pay, a queue to make it.)
As in previous years, the gamers and the Masonic Order of Ladies share the Hilton. This year, they drank the bar dry by Friday lunch-time.
We had to drink lager. I know. It was terrible. Next time they’re going to need more beer or ration those ladies.
Three years ago I had my debut running a con-game at the first ever Con-Vergence in Stockport. The event will always hold a special affection my heart, and last year I hosted Golden Heroes, which was one of my personal gaming highlights of 2018.
This year I could only get there for the Saturday afternoon, so I missed some of the other games that were on offer as I flew in and flew out. It was great to catch up with gaming buddies who I normally only see in a small square window online or at other conventions.
I ran my Savage Worlds of Strontium Dog game. I’m doing it at Uk-GamesExpo on the Friday evening, so forgive me if I’m a little coy about the details in this play-report: no spoilers.
As usual, 5 highlights and one fumble.
Role-Play Relief: Simon “Iron-GM” Burley was there this time to offer a full complement of games for every session (he’s done one of his comprehensive review of the Con). It was good to catch up with him briefly as it’s 12 months since I interviewed him for the GROGPOD. He had copies Role Play Relief that he has edited and published to support Comic Relief. It comes in two volumes: Beginners and Expert. I bought both as I simultaneously know nothing and everything about Role-Playing Games.
2. Character Class: This was a Savage World game that used the Mongoose supplement written by Loz Whittaker for Traveller. I rolled on the mutations tables provided in the supplement and translated them into Edges and Hinderances. The resulting crew of Strontium Dogs pre-gens are both interesting, varied and down-right weird.
3. Play’s the thing! I’ve been messing about with this adventure for a number of weeks now. I’ve even run it online for a play test prior to it appearing here. These characters don’t really come alive until they have a player imagining their reactions to situations. There were some really entertaining moments as the players came up with mad-cap plans: “All clear *squark!*”
4. Le’ go of the Lego: This was the game where I was experimenting with ‘stuff’ to enhance the game. I didn’t go as far as miniatures, but I did use my son’s Lego collection to build up a scene using the whole of the table. We had to improvise with empty bottles of HobGoblin beer standing in for buttes in a magnificent canyon. I’d forgotten my battle mat and tape measure so my phone was used to make the measurements. I’m not sure how much the lego added to the enjoyment of the players, but it created a talking point for people not actually playing
5. Pat Mills would be proud … At the start there were a couple of people playing who had never heard of Strontium Dog and didn’t really like westerns. I was concerned that this game wouldn’t be right for them. Thankfully, they seemed to come along for the ride as everyone else seemed happy to recreate the mad cap action scenes from the comic. There was a great moment when Brightman Rock chucked a plasma grenade in the range of another character who whacked it back with his Happy Stick; the bomb exploded on Brightman’s calcified head.
6. The little hunt! On reflection, I’ve realised that there’s a couple of issues with the scenario that need to be ironed out before the next session. There are a couple of important skills missing from the pre-gens, for one thing, “You’ll need to roll ‘shooting'”
“I don’t have it!”
Most significantly, because of the time restraints, it didn’t work out as a ‘hunt’ as I had planned. The opening set up ended up being so compelling that the action came to the location, rather than the players going looking for it.
Above all, it was entertaining, and I had fun playing it. Not sure I convinced everyone that “Westerns are not *that* bad.
Dirk the Dice
Thanks to Kris and Snowy for organising the event.
The co-host of The Smart Party, Gaz, has been touring the autumn cons (including GROGMEET) with his WFRP 4e adventures. We played “Here comes the Prince!” set in an Empire backwater of his own design.
Here’s the play report from those sessions. Five highlights and a fumble.
1 The Enemy Within – Asako Soh revived ‘Mistaken Identity’ for last year’s GROGMEET and this year’s virtual GROGMEET. From the start of the session when we answered the call of a proclamation, it felt like we were in the throes of a classic.
It starts off simply enough with a straight forward across country journey, but an encounter with vile chaos sends the adventure spiralling into warped direction.
The adventure is cunning as lures the players into a tempting get-rich-quick scheme that quickly becomes complicated.
Phil The Dice Mechanic made the observation that the skills are very well considered in the 1st’ed as they quickly establish the character and their place in the world. He also observed that the critical tables are very lurid and colourful but at the top end of the tables, the descriptions are likely to reoccur. Never mind ‘hit left leg’ we had many ‘shattered pelvis’ results.
I thoroughly enjoyed the session, as it was full of sardonic humour as well as the gross-out pestilence. The scenario is smart too, probably a little rail-roady for modern tastes, but it never felt like that in Asako Soh’s hands.
2. Game for a laugh?
“I know that it’s a darkly comic game, are we playing it that way?” asked Matt.
“No, we’re playing it straight as games played for laughs are annoying,” said Gaz, carefully framing the scenario, “if comedy emerges then we’ll go for it, but otherwise it will seem forced.”
We solemnly nodded, before Gaz went into a description of our Lipsensnout Sausages and mash served by a man with sausage-like thumbs – we’d had wurst.
3. Get thee to Mittleburg
The marriage of Ines von Horgen to merchant’s son Frederich Friccen is rumoured to have been brokered to inject cash into the ailing fortunes of Baron von Horgen’s house, while elevating the common, yet wealthy, Friccen household to minor nobility. Scandal enough, but a week before the impending nuptials, Frederich has ridden off to Mittleberg for seven days of Volksfest revelry and a Junggesellenabschied to remember (or forget).
Our small band of ‘resourceful and discreet’ souls were sent to recover Frederich and treat him to ‘hair of the dog’ to get him back to fulfil his duty.
Mittleburg was packed to the jowls with grotesque NPCs who were brought to life with great gusto creating some memorable encounters.
Encounters such as Cunz Gunther, the sausage chef at The Boar and Truffle, or Juergen Schmidt who was abducted from a palanquin by our group, and forced to pay debts to the brothel in a wonderfully ‘Richard Lester’ Three Musketeer moment.
The setting in both editions is really rich.
4. Pre-Generation of the next generation
The character sheets were a little more complex than the 1st edition, but no less colourful.
Blythy was Magdelena von Horgen, an impatient, duellist of lesser nobility, who was easily distracted by her desire to seek out and confront her rival Marx Tuschman. She was guarded by her man-at-arms, who had seen better days, Hans Maiger (played by Mat Hart from Steamforge games).
Helping us to find out way around the city was Grete Vesars, a well connected racketeer (played by Dan, one of the original Smart Party).
I played Elspeth Voltz, a taciturn, single-minded Thief Taker who was more used to tracking down less salubrious characters. She is the impatient side-kick to the more deliberate Barold Loffen, an investigator, a literate and learned locator of missing persons (played by Baz).
5. Something wicked, this way comes …
Before long, we realised that there was something more pernicious at work. Rather than a stag-do that had got out of hand, the infiltration of chaos, symbolised by a dance-of-veils featuring a costumed sex-worker with a lobster hand and an exposed breast.
The final confrontation was satisfyingly horrific. The mechanics work differently than the first edition as it employees ‘degrees of success’ where oppositional tests are compared on a scale of 1 – 10 depending on the ‘tens’ rolled on percentage dice. There’s no example of combat in the rulebook, which means some of the finer points of ‘advantage’ are difficult to work out in play.
The comparison of scales of success means that if you fail less than your opponent, it is still possible to succeed: a rule that proved to be decisive in the final confrontation.
6. Corrupted files
We attempted to record the sessions for use as podcasts. When it came to playing the tapes, the file was ‘corrupted’, which was fitting, but frustrating. No one will hear of Mat Hart’s character dressed for a masked ball wearing a costume that made him look like he was riding a griffin, a la Bernie Clifton.
You won’t hear Phil The Dice Mechanic recreating Benny from Crossroads playing Werner, “SPEAK UP. YOU’RE VERY SHUSSHY.”
Fortunately, Gaz blessed the third attempt by Tzeentch, and it will appear in Episode 25 of the GROGPOD and followed up in a Smart Party bonus episode.
There was something about Blades in the Dark that captured my imagination when I read it last year. Apart from a couple of games, it has not become part of our regular repertoire, so when the opportunity to take part in the 24 Hour RPG came up, Blades was my first choice to run at the event.
It’s an annual event; I did RuneQuest Borderlands for 24 hours last year. It takes place the week after GROGMEET which affects the number of people available to participate. Neil and Will were great players and between them they gradually brought their characters to life in the world of Duskvol: starting as lucky chancers in the thrall of Bazo Baz, to finally becoming the Kings of Crowsfoot, seizing the turf from under the noses of The Lamp Blacks.
Donations to Mind are still being accepted at the Just Giving site. Thanks to the generous support of the GROGSQUAD we have helped the event burst through its target of £1500.
Five highlights and a fumble …
The Dark Needles
The players created a created a ‘Shadows’ crew as it was the best fit for their characters’ Playbooks (a Lurk and Slide). The most satisfying element of the day was seeing the crew grow its resources during the long session. Their lair was beneath a shop that sold fine Iruvian cloth, needles and thimbles had a number of upgrades. Once the crew began building up their capacity by upgrading and investing in long term projects (such as mapping the underground network of tunnels beneath Crowsfoot) it spurned them on to become more ambitious and take on more audacious scores.
Blades … allows mechanics and imagination work really well together in the crew creation rules.
To keep things simple, I limited the hunting grounds to a single district: Crowsfoot, where the three factions of The Crows, Lamp Blacks and Red Sashes, are on the brink of a gang war. One of the highlights of the 12 hour session was seeing the loyalties and allegiances shift from score to score. The players were smart in how they played the factions off each other and developed relationships when it was expedient.
I was more confident this time with some of the core mechanics of the game. There’s a structure to the game that imposes some discipline to provide focus for the action. On the previous occasions I’ve played, I found it stifling and the moments of Freeplay and Downtime seemed to merge into each other. I was more strict with it this time as the nature of the session allowed more space to impose a rhythm to Freeplay, Score and Downtime.
In previous games I’d ignored the ‘Fortune Rolls’ that are made at the start of each score.
This sets the level of the situation. Depending on the outcome of the roll, the score can be Controlled, Risky or Desperate, with each stage representing increasing danger.
This time the Fortune Rolls added an exciting dimension to the scores mechanically and contributed to the narrative in the game world. Thanks to meticulous planning they were able to stage an audience with the leader of The Crows and pull off an audacious trick on her, while their attempt to shake-down a barber and steal some action from his gambling outfit was Desperate as there was an unexpected encounter waiting for them.
Once a rhythm is established Fortune Rolls work really well.
The use of the ‘Flash Back’ device was stunning in all of the scores completed by The Dark Needles. They were used sparingly, just they allowed the game to keep moving without the need for endless planning. For example, they forged a pardon to boost an assassin from prison, as the Blue Coat constable was about to study the paperwork, they flashed back to a moment the night before when one of the Skulks from the crew, swapped his eye-glasses. Neil rolled a triple critical.
The extra dice added to the scene meant that there was another critical. The constable, embarrassed that he was unable to read the document fully, released the prisoner.
It was so easy. That was only the beginning of their problems.
A cast of Thousands
Before and during the event, I was receiving numbers from members of the GROGSQUAD who were making donations. At the back of Blades in the Dark there are a number of tables that allow you to create NPCs and situations at random during the game.
Roethe Hellyers was an emaciated, annoying, ruthless assassin who bargained with The Needles, they reunited him with his daughter, so he became an asset of the crew, until he met a tragic end (Andrew Cowie).
“Twelves” was Baz Bazo’s beautiful capo and handler of The Needles who met them in the dark corners of The Leaky Bucket to give them scores. (Lee Carnell)
‘Wicker’ was an assassin preparing an ambush for Roethe in league with Twelves. The Dark Needles stole him away before he could make an attack. (Matt the Clownfist!)
Vond ‘Rooster’ Coleburn was an accomplished fence who was offered to The Needles as a contact in return for favours.(Andrew Clark)
The Birch and Thorn were leaders of the sword academy of the Red sashes (Ty Callaghan-Jones and Per Boden)
Vey Hellyer or ‘Thistle’ was Roethe’s daughter. (Rick Knott)
Hix Haron or ‘Ogre’ was a Cutter, employed by Baz Bazo as an assassin to kill Lyssa (the leader of The Crows) when Roethe ‘disappeared’. (Glen Robinson)
Crowl Sevoy a Crow who flipped to the Lamp Blacks following the death of Roric: a valuable source of information (Andrew Jones)
Rustol was Lyssa’s personal bodyguard. In a flashback, The Needles commanded Roethe to abduct his only son. (Mike Watson)
Skannon Harvon was the barber who ran a cock-fighting operation between the hours of Smoke and Ash. (Mike Hobbs)
Wester Dalmore appeared as an assistant alchemist for the Red Sashes producing spark-bombs for the explosive finale (Chris Miles)
Skinner was the faithful Skulk who aided in the final raid of The Crow’s lair (Daily Dwarf)
All of you who pledged appeared in the game, if you haven’t seen your character on Twitter or elsewhere, let me know and I’ll tell you who you were. Thanks for taking part and donating, it’s really appreciated.
The organisers also were very accommodating and willing to allow me run to adjust the format and run the game for 12 hours. The time zipped by and my only regret was not playing for longer. This was one of my most satisfying moments as a GamesMaster this year: collaborating with the players to construct adventure on the fly and producing unforgettable dramatic scenes. Fantastic.
I took my players through not one, but two QuickStart adventures: firstly, in search of The Broken Tower, from the ENnie Award-Winning, Free RPG Day supplement, produced last year; then in the afternoon they explored A Darkness at RuneGate (as yet unpublished preview).
I’ll do a Scrap Book about the mini-con, until then, here’s the game report, delivered in the usual format. There are five highlights and a final fumble.
Against this background of fevered anticipation for the new game I approached the two sessions as a ‘demonstration’. Most of the players had a very limited experience of the RuneQuest, so I decided to show-case its capabilities.
Rules lawyers, cover your ears.
I also went with the run of play rather than limiting proceedings with a pesky rule. The runic inspirations were enjoyable, so I wasn’t going to ruin things by saying ‘you can’t do that’. It’s called maximum game fun (MGF), I believe.
I must of done something right as one player bought the game using his phone before he left.
I had a bad case of ‘gamers’ back’ on the Sunday. Schlepping all of my gear in a ruck sack for two days took its toll. There’s just so much wonderful stuff for RuneQuest to share. I used my new Q-WorkShop, turquoise dice-set, complete with its hit location ‘left-leg’ bias. There are new ones on the way apparently, but I think it’s traditional for the left leg to be the first place hit. It always raises a cheer.
The Glorantha Source book was also useful to share with the players. During down-time it was an opportunity to flick through and admire the art and study some of the cult relationships. One of the players was well-versed in the cosmology of Glorantha. He was playing Sorala, the pre-generated character from the rule-book who is the scribe from Nochet, an initiate of Lhankor May. I was very grateful when he provided information about Dragon Pass at different points during play as it prevented a GM info-dump.
Last, but not least, it was the Strike Rank tracker from Infinity Engine what broke the gamers back. This is a beautifully engraved wooden strip with rules and a twelve phase gauge to keep a track of turn order. There’s also matching Rune tokens which can be used on the tracker and to mark ‘augments’ when characters have active ‘runic inspiration’.
It’s hard for an old dog to learn new tricks. In the thrill of battle, I forgot to refer to it, using instead my ‘keep it in your head’ system that I’ve used for years. That said, the tracker is a nice thing to have at the table as a talking point and useful for explaining strike rank initiative order rules.
The Broken Tower
This is the forth time that I have GMd this scenario: the first time was around the time of its release, the second was recorded for The Smart Party and the third was at UK Games Expo. This time the players really bought into the mythic setting and brought their own ideas and concepts to the scenes, there was more of an eerie quality to the journey through the bad lands.
They were certainly a single-minded party of adventurers who were determined to complete their task. Vostor, the Lunar exile, was particularly forthright.
The Grey Dogs never stood a chance.
Asako-soh was the genial host for the day and he looked after us throughout the weekend. The night before he arranged a meal at Warwick Spice, there were samosas for lunch and a GM goody bag containing a liquorice pipe.
Lunch was a time to re-group and say hello to podcast listeners.
The highlight of the weekend came from a couple of people who were grateful to the GROGPOD as they had started playing regularly thanks to listening. Like the samosa, they gave me much needed nourishment to get me fired up.
A Darkness at RuneGate
Thanks to Richard August, one of the members of the GROGSQUAD, I was given a preview draft of a new QuickStart that’s in development. Rich is one of the writers who designed the adventure. It was a real privilege to playtest something that only a handful of people in the world have played before.
If you know Rich’s work from such supplements as Three Faces of the Wendigo you’ll know that he has a real flair for the macabre. A Darkness … is no exception. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an investigation with a pervasive stench of the horrific.
The players enjoyed the distinctive ‘The Wicker Man’ folk-horror elements as they encountered people of RuneGate who had embraced a new way of life, adopting a sinister, yet appealing serenity while those around them were in disorder.
RuneQuest fans new and old will enjoy the climatic encounter.
The pre-generated characters that appeared in the original QuickStart appear in the new rule book. I used the new ones as they are laid out over two pages which makes things easier to spot, however I failed my roll and missed the fact that there are some new features in the character sheets.
The last time I played GOLDEN HEROES was in 1986 and it was the worst experience of my RPG life.
I’ll recount the story in Episode 20 of the GROGPOD (due in April, 2018), but it was that bad that I stopped playing RPGs for a while afterwards. ConVergence 17 provided a cure for my GMitis that I experienced at the beginning of last year, so I was confident that it would have a similar restorative effect on a deeper, more profound RPG wound.
I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty tense in the run up to the game. Memories of that ’86 experience kept resurfacing as I read through the rules. My anxiety wasn’t helped on the day by rail-replacement providing a similar nightmarish journey that I’d experienced on the way to Spaghetti ConJunction last month. I was 45 minutes late. Welcomed to the gaming table by slow hand-clap.
I needn’t of worried. I was amongst GROGSQUADers and they totally bought into the game and brought their own imagination and gaming insight to the adventure. It was cracking fun and I have a new found love for super hero games.
Here’s the play report, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers for the scenario as I may run it again at a convention near you…
The usual format : 5 peaks and one bum-note.
Anyone who has played GOLDEN HEROES will know that part of the fun of the game is its random character creation. Although more modern games allow you to pick your feats and abilities, with GH, you have to spend points to get a roll on a ‘table of powers’ or on an ‘advantageous background table’ to generate your hero.
I didn’t want to lose this element of the game so, I created a card deck of powers and advantageous backgrounds and let the players to draw at random. They had 8 counters to spend on drawing from either deck or they could re-roll one of their initial attributes (which were strictly 3d6), or enhance an existing super power.
The character generation process was slick. Within 40 minutes we had seven heroes. The Players managed to pull together interesting and convincing origin-stories for them all too.
I provided a back story: they were part of a secret army that the monarchy had retained following the formation of Parliament. King Charles II secured this clandestine army and deployed them to protect the Empire and latterly the Commonwealth.
In a secret medical hospital in a remote part of Dartmoor, the King Charles Academy was founded, to enhance the army through experimentation and future tech..
One of the players coined the excellent team name:
Intangible Man: a rich industrialist whose molecular structure was displaced through years of self-experimentation. His gravity manipulation was decisive in the final scene, preventing the Holy Grail plummeting into the depths of Hell.
Sub-Opitmo: A psionic grifter who inadvertently stole some of the future tech developed by Intangible Man’s company. The stolen glider was activated at the most opportune moment.
Mercuria: a wily, silver-skinned, indefatigable, super-fast agent who had adopted the properties of a super car that she’d stolen. Her ricochetting ‘steering’ wheel weapon was hurled at vital battle scenes.
Catalyst: Dr Colin Jervis a highly accomplished Chemist who was a director of the King Charles Academy. Probably better known for his years at Eaton, using molecular chemistry to enhance his right-hook in boxing. His famous ‘Sunday Punch’ is delivered with a cry of ‘It’s time for your Chemistry test!”
Captain SpyFly: Connected and ‘connected’ with a cyber-super-brain of valves and switches, the best that the sixties could offer. He was an agent in active service thanks to his chameleon ability to slip into the shadows.
Newton Einstein III: A psi-onic expert who provided temporary super powers to the team at their hour of need, but most notable for his phenomenal strength,
Professor Penn: Affected by his encounter with a Tibetan mystic and demonologist, he has insight into ancient ways and used his powers to conjurer fantastic beasts to do his bidding.
The Armchair Adventurer rule is that every session needs to start with the characters hitting the ground running; in medias res. The adventure had a fairly conventional ‘you meet a wizard in the tavern’ opening (albeit the wizard is a cryonically persevered corpse of Queen Victoria and the tavern is the vaults in Buckingham Palace).
Therefore, I devised a scene ‘twenty one years before’ in 1963 where the Imperials are asked to stop a run away postal train, heading to London. The train is carrying high value packages and is being robbed by thugs ‘Buster’ and ‘Ronnie’ helped by Skyrider and Beacon (characters that come with the starter set).
It was a fun knock-a-bout encounter that they resolved through clever application of their powers and gave us all a feel for how the game works.
Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail was the second scenario pack published by Games Workshop and was written by Marcus L Rowland. It has a both a dungeon AND a dragon, but its old school credentials do not stop there. The scenario is on rigid tracks on a rail road so defined that it inspired the pre-credit sequence. There are many instructions to the Scenario Supervisor along the lines of “under no circumstances allow …” or “the players will not be able to do …”.
However, it does have a cracking set up, a great villain at the centre of it, some creepy elements, and a couple of cracking set pieces. Once things were loosened up a little, to meet modern sensibilities about player agency, it worked well.
What about jeopardy? That’s the issue with super heroes. That’s why the third act Marvel movies are so eye-poppingly disorientating – crash! bang! wallop! this has GOT to hurt!
The joy of this scenario is that the final scene is a dramatic climax, on the top of a famous London landmark, and it worked really well with all the characters having a decisive impact on the story.
Newton, a character that had been relatively quiet throughout, punched the dragon repeatedly with decisive blows. The villain was pushed into the very flames of Hell (even though the scenario said that she shouldn’t be killed). A very satisfying conclusion.
Spyfly’s cybernetic brain was working overtime attempting to decode the clues to unraveling the conspiracy behind the events. It would have been better deployed trying to calculate the division of damage. Divide it by eleven?
During the course of the six hours, I developed ‘mental arithmetic’ as a super power.
That said, overall, the rules played much easier than they read: fun, loose, the potential to send characters to the brink of incapacitation (in exciting ways) and emulated the genre very effectively.
Another ConVergence triumph. Thanks to Snowy and Kris for organising and to the players (Amy, Neil, Steve, Conrad, his mate Martin, Ian and Blythy) for making it such great fun. The GROGNARD file on GOLDEN HEROES will be released in April.
I think my ‘old-timer’ body clock is almost getting back into synch after last weekend when I participated in the 24 hour RPG charity event.
This is the fourth time that the event has been run, but the first time I’ve taken part. I was kindly invited by Tim from the Old Scroats, (see the UnEarthed Arcana part of the D&D podcast episodes.)
WarGames, the huge games store that can be found on swanky Lords Street in Southport, UK, were the generous hosts for the event.
If you’ve listened to my appearance on The Smart Party podcast, you’ll know that I originally intended to run the new RuneQuest rules in Dorastor, however at the last minute, I decided to make things easier for myself and keep it old school: I ran the BorderLands campaign using the Classic RuneQuest rules.
I can run those games in my sleep, which is just as well as the plan was to run the game from noon Saturday to noon on Sunday.
The whole experience was tremendous fun and for a good cause too. So far, with the Just Giving account and cash collected, the event has raised a whopping £2281. Thanks to all the participants and the generous pledgers.
You know the format … 5 highlights and a fumble.
1.Once more, with character …
Rather than turn up with a fistful of pre-gens, we created the characters at the table (a session zero, if you will). The process took a little longer than I anticipated, but it allowed me to do a quick prima on Glorantha as well as the rules.
In the end, I think it was a good idea for the players to create their own characters as it allowed them to establish relationships and rivalries with the other players. There were a couple of siblings, for example, which meant that they looked out for each other more (jumping in the river to rescue a brother in distress), or they had deep rooted antipathy towards each other (“You are a coward brother!”).
A party of six mercenaries gathered at the fort of Raus of Rone, ready to tame the wild lands and broker deals with the local beast-riders and other nomad tribes in the region. The fusty old Lunar Duke-in-exile plans to create a new colony of settlers from the North, but first, order needs to be brought to bare on new frontier.
The episodic format was perfect for the 24 hour long session as it was straight-forward, “go there, do that” mission based with a punitive contract that encourages the party to break the rules.
One of the players was a veteran of the BorderLands campaign, so he became Gerontiios, the right-hand man of Daine, the Duke’s sergeant at arms, (the lapsed Humakt Rune Lord and stoical NPC confident for the players.)
Gerontiios was bold, leading the unruly sell-swords, around the wilds of the Zola Fell valley. They encountered High Llama riders, dinosaurs, chariot-raced with Morokanth, battled with crocodile riding ducks and much more.
3. Gift from the Gods
This being RuneQuest, there were limbs flying and fumbles galore, but I gave them a little advantage. At the start of the game I gave them a packet of wine gums. This was their luck pool. They could use the sweets to reduce their roll so that a near miss could be a hit.
In addition, some of the players had been given extra rolls thanks to sponsorship donations. They came in handy at some crucial moments.
There were other games being played: Numenera, StarFinder and D&D 5e.
The GMs agreed beforehand that we would have a common theme of “an evil presence, breaking through the dimensions, aided by acolytes in the different Universes.”
An obscure symbol would unite the campaigns, to identify the influence of this cosmic evil as it attempted to penetrate the different realms of the multiverse.
Using ‘whats app’, we shared elements that had escaped from our games. Ethan sent “500 tonnes of rock and dirt from a plane,” from Numenera which manifested in Glorantha as a rain of silt which formed into a congregation of Whirlvishes – a vortex of sand.
I followed Baz & Gaz’s advice and had a group of rival mercenaries tormenting the PCs. The Sartarite bandits led by Rattle Poisionknife, a Sartarite bandit who had a tattoo of the symbol on his arm and was leading some of the locals towards his sinister faction, who were intent on awakening the dormant Nosferal.
At midnight, Gerontiios was sent on a HeroQuest to another table. He ended up in a dimension of sound in Numenera.
A nano from the Numenera game manifested as a purple duck at our table. He taught the Flintnail masonries how technologies of a ‘lifting device’ to help them in the construction of the Duke’s Fort. He defied being tied by a Waha rope by reversing his temporal existence.
Delirium began to set in at this point.
5. Five Eyes
“Avoid Five Eyes Temple,” Gerontiios commanded. Once they eventually went there, he was hit in the face with a manticore stinger and left for dead. Thanks to Divine Intervention (and a couple of wine gums) the Red Moon goddess revived him.
The River Horse temple had been taken over by the revived soul of Nosferal. The Newtlings were now undead servants in his thrall.
Despite his depleted power Gerontiios explored the far corners of the river caves and was possessed by a disorder ghost, who unleashed Nosferal from his tomb!
6. The 4am Wall (fumble)
By 4am, the esprit-de-corps was breaking down somewhat. 16 hours of play and things started to fray. They struggled to motivate themselves to reach the lofty heights of Condor Crags.
“What the hell are we doing this for? Why are we here?” they exclaimed. I’m not sure whether or not it was in character.
“We are all of us!” declared Gerontiios, rallying the band together to make the final push.
As dawn broke, the players found a second wind, an Orlanthi wind, which blew them towards a final confrontation with Nosferal, Rattle PoisonKnife, and the zombified bone-dragon Kerrang!
Their enemies were defeated thanks to the cypher recovered to Numenera (water from the River Styx) and a few remaining wine gums.
… down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.
He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
Last week, we played Judge Dredd the RPG, published by Games Workshop back in 1985, co written by former Dragon Lords editor Marc Gascoigne with Citadel supremo Rich Priestley. When I trailed this on twitter it generated a great deal of interest – more than any other tweet I’ve ever written in fact – so this is a follow-up play report for all those people who were interested in finding out what happened.
@dailydwarf came out of GM retirement, after a 35 year freeze, to deliver his own scenario Better Living Through Chemistry, as a online, dry-run ahead of its appearance at GROGMEET. It was a chance to stretch some of those muscles that have been dormant and to familiarise everyone with the rules. The scenario will also be appearing in the GROGZINE, so I’m going to avoid any spoilers here and concentrate on some of the experiences of playing rather than the details of the story.
Despite the usual setbacks that inhibit the gathering of grognards – including holidays, family commitments, the under-funding of public services creating staffing shortages, and dodgy online-gaming platforms – we managed to straddle our LawMasters to dispense justice on the streets of Mega City One.
“You’re not very good with your d6s are you?” complained @dailydwarf as I fell short on yet another zinger. Roll one on this table, five highlights from the sessions and one fumble.
“Be careful out there …”
In many ways, Judge Dredd is the perfect RPG set up: you are given missions to resolve, your motivations are straight forward, the setting is rich yet flexible and there’s plenty of opportunity for mystery and investigation. Every session begins with the report sheet of perp activity in the sector, packed with warnings, leads and specific tasks for your patrol as it hits the streets.
There were reports of an air-ship seen in the sector featuring costumed individuals, shouting about treasure … hang on, isn’t that our cast of characters from Storm King’s Thunder?
Very quickly, we felt like Judges, and adopted our roles very diligently, as we headed out into the wasted areas of sector 170. The scenario was set in the period after the Apocalypse War when the city was coming to terms with the devastation. Our judges were clearing through the wreckage of partially destroyed blocks. It felt like coming home, as this was the classic period of Dredd stories which generated nostalgia for both the game and the comics of the early 80s.
Unlike many licensed settings, the backdrop didn’t feel constraining. The city has been generating stories for 40 years and is richly populated with characters, perps, and imagery that provided instant immersion. @dailydwarf also used a slide-show of specially adapted elements from the strip to illustrate scenes and NPCs we encountered, which made it feel like we were part of a Prog.
Get me back to TEK
Each of our Judges had a role in the team: the grizzled Veteran, the giddy rookie, the hotshot, and I went for the Judge who had been reluctantly redeployed to the streets from TEK division. He was keen to impress upon his fellow judges the capabilities of their kit. In the first encounter he gave an impressive display of ‘high-ex’ bullets from his LawGiver to bring the ceiling down on perps. This was followed by a less impressive display as a close-ranged ricochet bullet hit one of his team members. Whoops, sorry ‘Holy Cremola!’
I’d forgotten about the levels of back up available to Judges and how they can get you out of trouble. There’s always Pat Wagons available to pick up perps, Clean-up squads, Meat Wagons, Med-squads and forensic support for those tricky investigations.
We traded one-liners as the incidents piled on us, we had some great fun with Chemical Brothers lyrics too: “Hey, isn’t that another one of those block bustin’ beats?”
@dailydwarf provided his “Dredd-Hack” cut down version of the core mechanics. Most situations are resolved through attribute based percentile checks. Depending on your Judge’s speciality, you may have some Special Abilities that allow for some additional investigative or combat edge over the perps. The combat is crunchy, and goes something like this: roll to hit, roll location (d100), roll for armour coverage if appropriate before rolling for damage. Perps are at a disadvantage as they’re not as souped up as the Judges, but they have the opportunity to strike first with their wild-fire. Judges have to be more measured in the their approach as they need to be able to pass sentence rather than shooting indiscriminately.
There’s a reference list in the Dredd Hack, providing advice on general sentences. I thought 20 years for illegal Boinging (R) was always too steep.
Why does it have to end?
Normally, when it comes to fumbles, I always complain about the interference of the online glitches (1-D-6 passim). I’m not going to this time. Sure, it was a right-royal pain in the arse for some of the time, but most of the time, it worked fine and the confusion, over-talking etc added to the experience as it felt more immersive.
The only fumble about this experience is when it came to an end. It felt like it should be the beginning of an epic campaign. Mega City One is a great setting, the rules are serviceable, the players were switched on, so it was one of those great RPG moments when you wanted to carry on with the characters and have more adventures.
“Hey, Grim, let forever be.”
As for @dailydwarf, his inert GM skills are now awakened, we’re all in for a treat. He’s a natural.