One of the great aspects of the Golden Heroes podcast is discovering players around the world who have a fondness for the game. Jerry Nuckolls from Texas, for example, was impressed at the sight of the original, self-published edition, so I sent it to him. He’s going to write a piece for us, comparing the original rules with the Games Workshop version, until then, here’s a short video:
GM SCREEN (with Simon Burley) Simon Burley returns, to talk about Imagine magazine, his role as a ‘zine editor, his passion for the UK convention scene and the design principles behind his Code of … series of games.
POST BAG We head for birthday drinks in the hubbub of the Las O Gowrie snug and review some of the correspondence that we’ve received
WHITE DWARF @DailyDwarf has written an essay about the articles and scenarios that appeared in White Dwarf to support GOLDEN HEROES.
SHAGGY DOG A long rambling story about the worst game ever.
OUTRO The usual parish notices and thanks to Patreons.
“Thank you, you’ve inspired me to go up into the loft and start reading my gaming stuff again, “ is the sign that my plot to awaken the sleeper cell of RPG gamers is working. Making that tentative step of sifting through the tea-chests in the attic is the start of a journey of bringing the past into your future.
Play is the thing. Reading rules and supplements is never enough. I’ll avoid the onanicistic metaphors, but having a well-thumbed book on the night-stand will never substitute the real thing. To have a proper, active, GROGNARD sleeper cell, you need to play. How do you do it? How do you reconnect to the hobby from a standing start?
It’s easier said than done when you’re a time-poor, middle-aged, put-upon denizen of the early 21st century: the toad ‘work’, the stresses and strains of family life, and lack of a gaming network conspire to frustrate even the most resolute reawakened gamer.
I’ve been there. I’ve studied the finer points of strike-rank with the nagging doubt that I’d ever see them in play. It took a force of will and a determined effort to get where I am today, with a bit too much stuff going on.
To help the GROGSQUAD realise their ambitions, I offer the following tips to kick-start your gaming future:
SMASH A CLIQUE
You’ll know if you are the kind of person who can cope with difficulties of integrating into an established group. If you’ve not played for a while, it’s a little daunting to put yourself in the thick of people who look like they know what they’re doing. I know of some people who have managed to bide their time before staging a coup, but it’s not for everyone.
Most of the tips that follow, assume you’ll be starting from scratch.
If you learn just one thing from these tips, it must be this: establish a fixed date in the calendar.
I looked upon my friends who were soccer fans attending every home match every other week: They could break away from their commitments in a socially accepted hobby; why can’t the RPG gamer?
When I asked them how they did it, they said, “everyone knows that it’s ‘what I do’”
You need to do the same. Establish a fixture; build it up, because it’s what you do.
Having a set fixture such as ‘Every First Sunday of the month’ or ‘fortnightly on a Wednesday’ is much better than trying to coordinate diaries on an ad hoc basis.
Set a rule that the meeting will take place as long as there are two people.
It’s a principle that we’ve applied to the Traveller Adventure and Storm King’s Thunder over the past couple of years. Within the narrative, characters can sit out a session “on the ship” or “back at camp” to allow the game to continue, if the player can’t make it in real-life.
It sharpens commitment to the fixture, who wants to miss out? It also establishes a pattern, to keep your eye on maintaining the fixture.
A MEDIOCRE SESSION IS BETTER THAN NOTHING
We all seem to want different things from the hobby, that’s why we tend to use ‘fun’ as a common-ground. Fun has a wide continuum. It’s possible to be slightly dis-satisfied and have tremendous fun too. Especially when you’ve been reading and rereading in preparation.
Back in the day, we had a mantra that said “playing a bad game was better than not playing at all”.
Now that time is precious, we can’t afford that luxury, so there’s a tendency to place too much weight of expectation on each session. It feels like every session should be “wonderful”. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to have such high expectations.
As a rule, prepare yourself for a mediocre sense of fun. If it turns out better, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re going to GM for the first time in 30 years, having high expectations of yourself can be incredibly intimidating. It can also induce procrastination.
Aim for everyone to have a fair to middling time and you are guaranteed to succeed, and start playing again.
Finding likeminded players remains a challenge. ‘Likeminded’ is key here.
The best approach is to try and reacquaint yourself with the people that you knew back in the day. They’re probably sharing your desire to reacquaint themselves with the hobby that they left behind.
If Friends Reunited is not possible, then I encourage you to seek out other members of the GROGSQUAD. Over the past couple of years, I’m aware of at least 5 different groups forming as a result of connecting with others who listen to the GROGPOD.
To help you to make these connections, our friend the RPG Kitchen is developing a forum. It’s looking good so far and we are looking to launch before the summer.
Even if you can only find ONE other player, go for it, start small and build from there.
Try to make your first game a physical, around the table, game if possible.
Playing online through Skype, hangouts or mediated through Roll 20 is a great way of stealing time and getting an extra couple of sessions in, but again, it will never replace the real thing.
If you can avoid doing it online, then I urge you to play around the table. There’s a few reasons for this: technology is disappointing, the dynamic is different which takes a while to learn and it’s harder to have a really good laugh at rubbish rolls online.
However, it is good, once you’ve built up confidence, to experiment with online. Seek out a sample game as a player before you start GMing.
When you feel ready, then online can be a great option for those ‘away’ fixtures; “I can’t go to the game, I’m watching it on the telly!”
Online games are a great way of establishing an additional fixture.
If you are in the UK, there’s loads of meet-ups happening within a train ride, so you could go a whole year having a monthly field-trip.
Going to meet-ups are a different dynamic than entering an established club. Everyone is in a different mode. There’s a greater deal of openness and willingness to try something different and welcome all comers.
If you’re feeling a bit rusty on the rules and how to play, then the meet up is a licence to adopt the role of the faux-naif and no-one will be judgmental.
Once you have been playing at home or at a friend’s house, there’ll come a time when you’ll realise that you want to build up from your small base and open it up to others.
This is the tricky step as it usually means finding a more public space to play.
In my experience so far, finding a public-space for a regular session has been the most difficult transition to make. Game shops are ideal if you can guarantee that there’s enough space and it isn’t too noisy. Pubs are ok, but they introduce ‘drink’** into RPGs which can cause problems.
The best option is to book a cheap space. Tell the participants that they need to pay a sub to cover drinks and snacks so it doesn’t feel like you are charging them to play with you.
Mastery of this ‘step up’ is my resolution for 2018.
If you want to join me and Blythy in playing at a meetup, then here’s a reminder that we are appearing at Spaghetti ConJunction on 10th Feb and at UK Games Expo in June. The Golden Heroes game I’m running at ConVergence has sold out, but there’s lots happening and it’s a friendly experience.
If you want to try out online gaming, then there are more plans for the online GROGCLUB over at Patreon. Watch this space for the forum to connect with other like-minded players.
- ** I like a drink. Compared to Mother Theresa, I’m like Oliver Reed, compared to Oliver Reed, I’m like Mother Theresa. I’m a classic mid-life, metropolitan-elite, imbiber who functions on a regular dose of woolly ale and the odd whiskey. We decided a long time ago that drink and RPGs don’t mix. Your experience may vary.
We are returning to one of our favourite games, Call of Cthulhu, to consider what has changed for the game over the past 2 years, since the last episode.
OPEN BOX (with Mike Mason) 06.00
At the time of recording, Mike had just returned from his trip to NECRONOMICON and was fresh with the news of the great success for Call of Cthulhu at GENCON.
Mike shares his experiences from his formative years of role-playing and how his fascination with horror, drew him towards Call of Cthulhu.
ED’S BRAND NEW SHED 50.00
Ed is the first of us to hit 50 and his family have treated him to a brand-new metal shed. He talks us through his Fungi From Yuggoth scrapbook. You can get Mutable Deception from Drive Thru RPG.
GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN 01.08.00
We’re on a Jolly Boys outing – this is the player reflections on playing the Fungi … campaign.
We had many new Patreons joining us in September. Thanks to you all – sorry for mangling your names – we are very grateful for your contributions and look forward to making the ‘zine available in the next couple of months.
Mike Cule and Roger Bell West over at Improvised Radio Theatre with Dice podcast apply two criteria to any new game before it is introduced to a table of gamers. I like to call this the IMPROVRAD test, and it goes like this (I’m paraphrasing):
- The players MUST be able to understand their place in the setting with a very simple pitch. Why are they here? What are they supposed to do?
- A GM should only take on a new game if they are able to write at least six story hooks, ideas, NPCs quickly on a side of paper.
The first test measures the game’s ability to frame the context for the players so they can work with the material and the second is the GM’s test, to ensure that they can invent ideas on the fly, if needed, and can create sustainable game ideas to support the game in play.
Blades in Dark passes the IMPROVRAD test with the aplomb of a cold assassin.
If you need a pitch for your players, it provides it: Peaky Blinders meets Fafyrd and The Grey Mouser.
Not enough to get you hooked? Try this:
“You are daring scoundrels on the haunted streets of Duskwall, seeking your fortunes in the criminal underworld. Your legacy will be the gang you form in this dark city – the turf you acquire, the specialists you recruit, the scores you strike …”
That’s enough isn’t it? That’s enough to get your players intrigued and wanting to know more. I love the romance of The Godfather and The Lies of Locke Lamora, so it seemed the perfect setting for our group, with its promise of mechanics for pulling off daring heists and managing the escalation of a gang in a cut-throat world.
I’ve been reading the rules for the last few weeks and it is built on the shoulders of some of the Indy classics that emerged in the period of our deep freeze (1988 – 2010): Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, The Burning Wheel and Fate, amongst others. The mechanics seemed perfectly intuitive on reading as they were completely congruent with the setting.
Ideas have been flowing, image on image, stealing NPCs and plots from the Sopranos and Fritz Lieber. Thanks to the handy tables at the back it’s possible to generate a thousand stories without really trying.
It makes the IMPROVRAD grade, but what is it like to play?
The format of one-d-six means that there are 5 highlights and a fumble:
What’s your playbook?
Characters are developed using ‘playbooks’ which are more like foundational templates rather than ‘classes’ as they provide a jumping off point for the players, so they can understand their current reputation in the city of Duskwall.
As emerging street-thugs trying to make a name for themselves, the player characters could be good in a fight (a CUTTER), a tracker who picks his fights (HOUND), a dabbler in alchemy (a LEECH) or they may play confidence trickster (SLIDE).
Predictably, my Magic-Loving-player (Blythy) went for the WHISPER playbook that reaches out to arcane powers and wrangles the ghosts in the city of DuskWall and my tactician (Eddy) went for SPIDER, a mastermind of criminal manoeuvring, “never get into situation that you can’t walk away from within 30 seconds”.
There’s a step-by-step guide that gives the opportunity to add narrative colour to the character back-story, but it’s not heavy handed. Going through this process allowed the setting to come alive for the players. They were intrigued by the strange lightening wall that blocks out the light and the strange forces beyond. They wanted to know more about the demonic levevithan beasts that are hunted for their electroplasm which fuels the city’s industry.
The structure …
I’ve played this twice and on both occasions, I’ve developed the story at the table, with no preparation before the session other than the suggested starting situation provided by the rules. This is the most improvisational mode I’ve managed to achieve since the 1980s when all of our games were constructed in the playing. I’ve never been a belts and braces GM, but this time, I wasn’t even wearing pants.
Thankfully, the mechanics help to support this free-wheelin’, so as a GamesMaster, you’re never completely off-road. The stories have a sequence of play that provide a loose, but important foundational structure
‘Free Play’ is the point in the session where the characters explore the world and encounter the colourful non-player characters. Out of these interactions, a potential ‘score’ will emerge, which will trigger the action scenes. Once completed, there is downtime when players can indulge in vices to reduce their stress, or spend coin to reduce heat or develop the assets of the gang.
Despite my best efforts and the desires of John Harper, in these early sessions, it has been the mechanics that have driven the action rather than the fiction. Inevitably, for us old-time GROGNARDS, we were captivated by the novelty of the mechanics. Blades uses the idea of conflict resolution rather than task resolution. It was possible to hear the gears crunching as we navigated through situations. Instead of blow by blow we needed to understand what was at stake in a situation. The resolution rolls use pools of D6s where the likely result is “you succeed, but …”
Blythy did his usual flourish of the index finger, before settling on something on his character sheet, “I think I’m going to SEARCH.”
When I asked him to describe where he was going to search, how he was going to do it and to set up the scene, so we could agree on potential outcomes, he glared at me as if to say, “just let me, bloody roll for it.”
The opening situation (provided by the rules) places the characters in the centre of a turf war in the area of the city known as Crows Foot. The salt-of-the-Earth Lamp Blacks are in a face-off with the more elegant and organized Red Sashes.
The Whisper and the Spider had an audience with Bazso Baz, the leader of the Lamp Blacks, he had a mission for them, a chance to make their mark with a powerful ally by striking at the very heart of his rivals the Red Sashes. He wanted them to place a mysterious, rune-covered rattle-like device in the lair of the Sashes.
At this stage, the players opted for a ‘flash-back’ to a meeting with Mylera, the leader of the Red Sashes. The flashback is a clever device that prevents endless planning ahead of a ‘score’. The players crack on with the action, when they get to a point where they want to affect the result with some pre-planning, they can flashback to a scene where they set it up. For example, escaping through the window, they can flashback to the scene where they concealed ladders the night before.
In this case, they used the flashback to switch allegiances. In exchange for promise of hunting-ground turf within Crowsfoot and some protection from the Red Sashes, they laced a fine whiskey with poison.
Bazso could not resist the dram. Eddy’s character caroused him into drinking a salute to the deal. Thanks to a ‘devil’s bargain’ (an extra dice added to the dice pool) he scored a critical (two 6s) and Baz hit the deck.
In exchange for the bargain, the Spider is wanted. The Lamp Blacks have a long term project to seek out the mysterious assassin who killed their leader.
Faction Game – “Are you with me, or against me?”
The element that drew me to the game in the first place, was the ability to develop character AND your gang during the campaign. The crew becomes as important as the characters in the game, as you build up the alliances, rivalries, specialists, contacts in high places, scores, and turf.
Following the assassination, the escape from Baz’s ghost, and the general chaos generated, the downtime is a time when the book-keeping for the crew takes place. The Rattle Snakes were born.
Blythy and Eddy had an ambition to open a high-class house-of-ill-repute for reasons best known to themselves. The Red Sashes set them up with a Lair on the edge of Crows Foot. They’ve been planning and scheming their progression through the ‘Claims’ which acts like a track on a board that they need to move through and will determine the nature of the next heist.
They’ve also got this mysterious rattle to cause mischief.
Stop the clocks
One of its borrowed mechanics is the idea of ‘clocks’ or ‘pies’ as we like to call them. They are a way of measuring increasing jeopardy as the stress of failure builds up steadily. Situations can create clocks with segments determined by the GM. For example, Eddy’s Spider took a Devil’s Bargain (an extra dice) when he murdered Baz, so the Lamp Blacks have a long term project clocks that they are working on, to find the assassin.
The pies haven’t really got the player’s hearts racing yet.
Mechanically, there’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, as there are lots of different elements. A crude summary would be to see these factors as ‘narrative crunch’, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that: the structures and ‘gamey’ bits are the engine that allow the creativity to have a bit of a structure and provide the important motivation for the characters within the world. I suspect when we get used to the different aspects, the prominence of the pies will be more apparent.
Back in the day, we used to play long campaigns in cities. Since we began playing RPGs again in 2010, this is the most excited I’ve been as GM, and closest to reaching that special sweet spot that I thought we’d lost. It’s perfect for those time-strapped GMs who are willing to improvise. Once it’s mastered, it can generate great gaming experiences very easily.
When we were playing, it felt that we were discovering the places and characters together in a living world. It passes the IMPROVRAD test and the Armchair Adventurer’s test too: cracking fun.
Over on The Smart Party, they’ve just released a podcast about their experiences of playing the game. Give the original Bazso Baz a listen to find out more detail about this great game.
INTRO Welcome to the world of fanzines.
OPEN BOX (with Ian Marsh) The first part of an interview with Ian Marsh, who was the editor of DragonLords fanzine and went on to become the editor of White Dwarf.
DAILY DWARF For one episode only @dailydwarf becomes the Daily Dagon as he looks at Dagon and why he thinks is was such a special zine.
OPEN BOX Another one? This time it’s with Blythy as we look at our experience in the world of PBMs.
OUTRO: Thanks to Shop on the Borderlands for providing a copy of DragonLords issue 7 for discussion.
Let us know your favourite ‘zine and send us pictures for discussion in the next episode.
Why not show your love for the podcast, and join the activities of the GROGSQUAD by becoming a Patreon?
By a strange quirk of fate, Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes has suddenly become available as a PDF from Drive Thru RPG.
We’ve had another five star review on iTunes, this time it’s from Baz, of The Smart Party podcast.
OPEN BOX 05:30
STARBURST MEMORIES 30:00
Dirk talks about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Blythy introduces Spooks.
BIG JACK BRASS, RULES! 01:00:00
Wearing the wig this episode is the locum Judge Big Jack Brass, looking at the ins and outs of the MSPE rules.
Jon will be appearing on Desert Island Dungeons very soon
The GROGNARD Files 2017 annual fanzine and The Collected Daily Dwarf are now available on Drive Thru RPG.
Dirk gives news of the next ‘zine and thanks new Patreons. Why not join.