All your dungeons are belong to me

I possess the following editions or versions or descendants of D&D. Forgive me.

D&D Moldvay/Cook

D&D Mentzer

AD&D

D&D 3rd

D&D 3.5

D&D 4th

D&D 5th

Pathfinder

Dungeon Crawl Classics

13th Age

Dungeon World

World of Dungeons

Old School Hack

Red Box Hack

Beyond the Wall

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Whitehack

Labyrinth Lord

OSRIC

Adventurer Conqueror King

Torchbearer

Hackmaster

Heroes Against Darkness

Swords & Wizardry

Monsters & Magic

And that’s not getting into the realms of things like Earthdawn, or Runequest, or Dragon Warriors, or Warhammer….

When is enough enough?!

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Old Flames

its been ten years since I left Games Workshop, after a decade in the front line of the Hobby Stores. I loved that hobby as much as anyone and was lucky enough to paint and play for a living. Since that day, I haven’t played a single game of Warhammer.

The reason is simple and nothing to do with bitterness or sour grapes. It’s because I’m one of the very few in my circle of friends who has the necessary kit to actually play a game. I have (had, thanks to eBay) a good half dozen full sized armies, boxes of terrain, and all the gubbins. None of that matters when you have limited time, limited space and mates who put minis gaming only somewhere in their list of cool pastimes. So it all got sold off, with few regrets actually. I occasionally got my paints out, and did a few bits and pieces (Freebooters Fate mostly) but not much.

Last year I looked at getting back into wargames properly. I checked out the options, which were legion, and decided to see what GW had been up to in my absence. The End Times was en route, and looked cool, but a bit impenetrable, even to my veteran eyes. I nipped into my local shop and picked up the Island of Blood boxed set, which made the assistant raise his eyes a little as he explained it was all about to blow up. Heh, I remember having to stay current all the time. Don’t miss that. I went home and busily painted up loads of Skaven, loved doing it, then put hem back in the box and that was that.

Until Age of Sigmar. Turns out GW really meant it with the End Times. The Warhammer World is no more, and neither is the traditional game. The new one is different. The rules are freely downloadable and they run to four pages. I shit you not. The army lists are also free, and they  are different. They don’t have points values, and they do have comedy abilities. You’ll either laugh or cry when you read them. Suffice to say, I have a lot of old friends and colleagues who are snapping their brushes and burning their templates.

But I’m interested again, and crucially, so are my mates. If we can can just bring our collections to the table and just make something up at the table, then the chances of us actually playing the game are suddenly real. There’s every chance that my Skaven are going to come out of their box, throw away their movement trays and get busy with whatever Steve and Dan can scrounge up. Trust me, that would never have happened with the ‘old’ game.

I’ve heard backseat commentators talk about how GW are targeting the kids demographic with this. They said that about everything post Terror of the Lichemaster. That’s never been the case. GW target everyone who is interested, age being nothing but a number. They don’t do demographics, but if they did they found a new one with people like me, 40s dad with a wallet, a passion and a memory of fun times over a green board.

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Get on your bikes and ride

I’ve been bitten by the Netrunner bug. It’s a card game, but it’s so much more than that. I’m not going to attempt a review, I just want to gush a little bit about the setting. I played a bit of Cyberpunk back in the day (though I was more of a Shadowrun fan to be honest) and I like the whole dystopian future city idea. And of Blade Runner is a classic. I even played the WotC first run of Netrunner quite a bit. But the new game is all of that turned up to 11.

It’s the stories I like, and who knew how many scenes would start popping simply from the notion of hackers trying to break into corporate databases? Last night I played the Weyland Corporation from their space station high above the Beanstalk that connects New Angeles to orbit (cool already right?) My sparring partner Dan was playing the runner, an idealist who helps the disenfranchised stick it to the man. I was trying to tag her so I could burn down all her friends family and property. She was using Itinerant Protesters and Undercover Journalists to rack up Bad Publicity for me. But her hacks ended up stopping my Space Camp program, and that made kids cry. She won in the end by raiding my R&D department and snagging some secret project data I had. 

What’s incredible is how much you get from just a bit of art, some very occasional flavour text, and the interaction of mechanics. My fave card from last nights game shows you just what I mean. The hacker rides a motorbike, with their computer built in, so I can’t tag her, find out where she lives, and arrange a nasty accident. Awesome.

  

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This Gaming Life

I write an occasional column for the UK Roleplayers website. It’s a memoir of my gaming experiences over the years. You can read them here too.

Anything you can imagine

An Evil Empire

Best Xmas prezzie

Grey Dragon

Party of Smartness

On the rack

Romance

Sleeping in the Bath

Systems Error

Toy soldiers 1

Toy Soldiers 2

Unfinished Sympathy

University challenge rating

What I did on my holidays

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Drowning in Awesome

First world problem: I have too many games. I moved to PDF purchases a couple of years back, just to give me some space back in my house. But as least buying physical books slowed me down a little bit! Browsing DriveThru is too easy, and I’ve been picking up so much stuff recently that I’m struggling to even remember what I’ve got!

So today I’ve just looked through my Goodreader library, and my ‘holding’ shelf where I put recent stuff to see what’s in the to-do pile right now. Let’s see if I can make some sense of it.

Recently acquired (and chances of actually doing something with it, out of 5)

Iron Kingdoms Unleashed Box. This was half paid for by a GMing voucher, and half paid for by actual potential of getting table time. It’s the Hordes RPG, but with maps and minis. Interesting hybrid. 4.

Whitehack. From eBay, on a whim. An OSR set of Basic house rules. It’s all in the presentation, and this one is a delight to hold and read. 3.

Durance. Story game about prisoners. Snagged from raffle at Seven Hills Con. Possibly use this to game in the Nights Dawn setting by Peter F Hamilton, on the planet Lalonde with Ivets? 1.

Eyes of the Stone Thief. Ludicrous sized (and priced, by my personal standards) mega dungeon for 13th Age. Presses all my buttons. But it’s so big. 3 1/2.

World War Cthulhu, and supplements. Won as a prize. Having been stung by Achtung Cthulhu, was glad to get this. It’s probably why I abandoned my WW2 game. 2.

The Chained Coffin. Adventure box and setting for DCC. Again, a raffle prize. To be racked up with the other DCC materials I haven’t read! 2.

Blades in the Dark. Backed on KS, so just a QuickStart for now. Fantasy heists are definitely my jam. 4.

Eternal Lies. Big fat Trail of Cthulhu campaign. A good read. 1.

X Wing minis. Awesome dogfighting game. Gets a lot of love from my group. 5.

Netrunner. Living Card Game, and Dan plays it with me. 4.

Seems I’ve had a lot of luck with freebies recently! And then there’s the list of things that I want to explore, with the possibility of getting them played:

Age of Rebellion. My group likes all things Star Wars, and this is new and pretty.

The Last Parsec. I’m still looking for my perfect Sci Fi game. This looks close.

Dying Earth. I’ve got loads utterly unread on PDF. Looks like a hard sell on my mates.

Atomic Highway. Good old fashioned post apocalyptic fun with no big agendas.

They all want to push their way to the front of the queue, and might well succeed. But also, at the very back of the queue are a bunch of games that I’ve had, and played, for ages and are asking for another chance.

13th Age. Perhaps the ‘just right’ D&D variant for me and mine.

DCC RPG. Or maybe it’s this one.

Torchbearer. Or this one.

4e. I know it’s really this one, but who wants to go backwards?

Edge of Empire. We played the Beginners Box, and loved it, so….

ICONS or Venture City for Fate flavoured supers. Well, I’d like it.

Shadowrun. Played the heck out of this in the 2e days. Now it’s on steroids! If I pitch it, they will come.

At this point I have no idea what we will end up getting into in our weekly game, or what I will mess around with in my own time (they could well be different). I’ll let you know when I find out! What would you plump for?

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Taking 5e to the Con circuit

Just back from a weekends gaming at the Seven Hills Convention in Sheffield. A top Con in its second year now, that attracts the old guard of UK Con-goers (with a smattering of new blood too) who are all about the games with a side order of shopping thrown in.
My choice this year was to offer up a trilogy of 5e sessions, with recurring characters pitched at levels 3, 7 and 11, in a setting based on this years Con theme; Steel.
I’d prepped the games a good couple of months ago, yet still felt a bit underprepared on the way up. I know my way round 5e pretty well, but still felt the need to haul up the PHB and the MM just in case. The DMG didn’t make the cut, needed to watch the sheer weight of what I’d have to carry round all weekend.

Over the three sessions, with 16 different characters, and 11 different players I really learned a great deal about the game, and more importantly, how to best present it at a Con. The players were uniformly excellent, and up for the game. They did have a few minor struggles along the way, but I think I now know how to avoid those speed bumps in the future.
Lesson One: Better Character Sheets
The default WotC sheet is ok, and I’d grappled a lot of the rules onto the PDFs to hopefully make things easier for fresh players to grok. But they’re still very black and white with no real effort to teach the game from them. They’re fine for weekly play, but not for a demo. And even for players with some knowledge, it’s is a demo at a con because they didn’t hand rear that character up from level one. Back in the 4e days there were some beautiful one shot sheets released (I remember some amazing Dark Sun ones) and I wish I’d done something similar. Especially for the fighter manoeuvres, the rogues sneak attack rules, and everything to do with spell casting.
Lesson Two: More Effective Characters
I’d generated 18 characters based off little more than my own preferences and an eye on ease of use. I still put too much on there. The characters had more special abilities than were ever going to see table time in a three to four hour slot. Some of this is purely down to 5e; it’s still not that basic a game. I don’t really want to go right back to OSR rules sets, as I too often experience players looking lost as there are few solid options presented on the sheets. Yet, too many, or too fiddly, and they don’t see play either. Cantrips saw most use, and none of the magic items really got any spotlight.
Lesson Three: Polish the Scenario
I used the 4e adventure Reavers of Harkenwold as the spine of my adventure, heavily re skinned. I was pleased with how it went overall, but I wish I’d put more decision points in for the party, and more local connections so that the players had a chance to riff on there Bonds, Ideals, Flaws and Traits. I should have made more obvious connections to those in my setting.
Lesson Four: Detail the Encounters
I went for Theatre of the Mind, with the occasional sketch map for combats. Big mistake. I lost count of how often I was asked about ranges, and positions. The spells required a bit more focus on the map than my sketches allowed for too. I did need to travel light but I really wish I had dropped my tokens and dry wipes into the bag. 
Also, the encounter building guidelines in the DMG are ok, but no more than that, and the stat blocks in the MM are ok, but no more than that. I really should have planned out a few more encounters in more detail than I did. I got by with the MM on my lap, but prep would have been better.




Lesson Five: Manage the Spells Better
I knew it would happen, but wrangling the spells in 5e is hard work for me and the newbie players. You really need a PHB open, and referring to books in Con play is quite wasteful. If you’re a Divine caster, your options are so broad at higher levels that you wouldn’t know where to start. And the arcane classes are not much better off with their little sub systems and rider effects. My job as DM is no easier with monster abilities often keying off those spells too. So I need a cheat sheet, and frankly, a tactical list to be remotely effective. All this would come in time and practice, but that’s not for Cons.
Now don’t get me wrong, it was overall a really great experience, and I’m reliably informed the players dug it too. I just found it a bit more challenging than I would have liked, so am trying to get down a few ideas while they’re fresh.
So for next time, I think I won’t generate so many different characters. I’d rather recycle the first batch, or maybe allow for the players to level them up themselves. I’m also going to make for a broader fantasy experience with more time devoted to exploration and interaction, and characters who can enjoy those activities. I’m also going with better local maps, and with prepped up monster challenges.
Which makes my choice of rules really difficult and interesting! The OSR is too basic for my preferences I’m afraid (because I don’t think I’d get enough players sign up either; 5e was a draw based on its novelty as much as anything). 4e is too labour intensive with the physical demands of the sheer kit I’d have to carry. So, my current thinking is to use 13th Age as a nice blend of narrative and crunch. I’d still want to draw on all the lessons outlined above, but it might be the ‘just right’ Con Fantasy game for my needs.

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Firing up my recommendation engine

This podcast has more interesting facts per square inch than its possible to count. And it’s funny too. It’s called No Such Thing As A Fish.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/no-such-thing-as-a-fish/id840986946?mt=2

It’s brought to us by the once behind the scenes guys at QI. You get all the cool interesting stuff sans Fry, the scoring, the props, Davies, and the sat down stand ups. Which leaves nothing but pure cool.

It’s like Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, but possibly even more applicable to gaming (in a round about kind of way, honestly). In fact, I’d love to hear Messrs Laws and Hite opinions on it. Either it’s all bunkum, or it’s sixteen new scenario ideas in 30 minutes.

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