Tag Archives: evil

The last 5 years

My old friend Gaz asked a great question recently over at UK Roleplayers.  I responded there, but wanted to also let my readers here know where my gaming journey has taken me in the last 5 years.

He asked:

Frequently in job interviews and such you’re asked where you want to be in five years, when actually what you’re interested in is getting a job right now. How often do we look back and reflect on how things have turned out though and what you’ve achieved or not?

Look back at yourself five or ten years ago. Not pretty is it? However, get over yourself and describe how your gaming has changed since then – if indeed it has. Do you now GM? Are you a Dirty Left Field Indie Hippy? Do you exclusively play D&D after swearing you’d never go back? Do you attend conventions? How has your style or preference changed?

As for me, I’ve been Indie-Curious for a while and have now gone from dipping a toe in the Sea of Hippiness to being in there up to me nadgers, and then wading back to shore again. I can see the benefits and attractions of some small press games, but still abhor others. I look with surprise and pity at those who cling to the long outdated BRP system, yet from the same era, I have run more Pendragon in the last 2-3 years than any other game (bar Savage). I’ve probably got a much better appreciation of what different groups of people want from a session having run several games at half a dozen conventions a year – and yet with that breadth of knowledge am probably more clear on what I want from a game and narrowed my focus.

I’ve also learned that it takes more for me to think a session is Good than it does your common or garden roleplayer. The other side of the coin being that I perhaps don’t have to beat myself so much about some of the games I’ve run, because even though I’m hyper-critical of myself, most other people got more out of a particular session.

From GenCon Manchester in 2000 I learned that you get more out if you put more in, and I’ve spent the last decade proving it.

What about you?

My gaming life has completely changed in the last 5 years (as has my personal life to be honest). It actually came about by design.

I’ve been playing, mostly GMing since the late 70s, and I was getting to the stage where no matter how I tried, I felt like I was getting less and less fun out of gaming. I was often bored, especially in con games. I was still excited reading the books, and planning sessions, but in play, there was a strong feeling of adequacy at best. With that, came the growing realisation that I wasn’t getting any younger. I had 100s of books and systems, some had been waiting on my shelves for decades, just for the right time and group to come along. It was time to make a decision. So I sat down and had a long hard word with myself about what I wanted from my hobby.

My starting point was to think about the games I’d enjoyed most in the last 30 years. WFRP Enemy Within, Shadowrun mega adventures, Earthdawn, Orpheus one shots, Dragon Warriors campaigns, AD&D Desert of Desolation, D&D3 Banewarrens. The common theme was fantasy, that seemed to be my favourite genre, and the one I was happiest running. I also took a look at my player pool. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that the group as a whole has to be on board. There’s no point me running my beloved Supers games if my players want to treat it as something it’s not. My players, back then, were a mix of my Uni mates who I’d played with for 10+ years and their WAGs, who were newbies. I tried Trail of Cthulhu as a hobby reboot, thinking that the invisible system and familiar world would help. It didn’t, but that’s another story.

Back to the drawing board and I picked up with my old Castles & Crusades game I’d been running. It was cool stuff, but I knew my players wanted more mechanical juju than C&C offered. So we messed around with D&D3.x for a while until we ran into the same issues as many gamers do when they get past 10th level.

And then 4e was announced.

Overnight I became a born again D&Der. It was like coming home after a long time away settling for less. It was (and remains) the system I’d been looking for all this time. It made my life as DM easier, without sacrificing the detail I like. It was perfect for my old buddies who frankly, like hitting things with swords. And for the newbies, it was surprisingly easy to pick up, and they loved the tactile nature of the game.

Fast forward to today. We play every week and our regular game has just hit 20th level. We play another game with one of the newbies as DM, and it rocks. We love the kit that comes with it, it’s a complete hobby. It’s got me blogging properly so I can indulge my writing with an appreciative audience. I can roll up to a con with a great game in my bag that I’m happy to run for all sorts. They’ve given me great feedback.

I’ve really not played much else in the last couple of years. I picked up Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, and Eclipse Phase. They went back on the shelf soon after. Same with cons. With a young family I can’t get away as much as I used to. But honestly, I don’t think I’m missing much. The ‘net means I’m more connected to the gaming community than ever. I don’t miss 4 hour endurance tests playing godawful Cthulhu one shots where nothing I do matters. I do love blogging, and the feedback I get from that is enormously gratifying.

I’m a happier gamer now than I have been in some time. It’s like when I was 11 years old and drawing dungeons in my maths books. Except this time I’m not hanging around. I’m playing games right now, not waiting for the mythical perfect game or group. I’m fighting dragons. I’m foiling dark rituals. I got the girl and killed the baddie.

Next 5 years? More D&D. And I hope to bring my kids into this glorious hobby. Wednesday nights are hero nights round mine. May it be ever thus.



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Clash of the Bodaks

We’re nicely into the last part of Demon Queen’s Enclave in our weekly game now. The drow have been left behind and the party have struck out for Hordethrone to confront the bad guy. Something happened in the last game that hasn’t happened  since, well probably the medusa encounter from way back in the heroic tier.

The players got scared.

It was a pair of bodaks. These are not creatures that I’d had much interaction with over the years, and my players will have had less. When I hit them up with some description and put the minis on the table, they still didn’t really make the players sit up and take notice. Even when they used  battleaxe attacks that weakened their opponents, still no fear.

But then they opened up with the death gaze.

Death Gaze (standard, at-will) Gaze, Necrotic
Range 10; targets a living creature; +20 vs Fortitude; if the target is weakened, it is reduced to 0 hit points; otherwise, the target takes 1d6 + 6 necrotic damage and loses 1 healing surge.

Ouch! The look on Julio’s face as his rogue went from 104 hp to zero, no save, no roll, no nothing. Priceless.

I’m enjoying this extraplanar jaunt. It smacks of Dark Sun, or Clash of the Titans. It got that whole swords and sandals vibe, along with stop motion monsters and passals of undead.  That may be because I saw CotT just the week before (don’t bother yourselves) but often films I see or books I read colour the gaming experience. At least my D&D games have a real 3d element.


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It’s been said of 4e that it’s difficult to really scare the players, that some of the risk of the original game has been eroded. I have some sympathy for that view what with surges, death saves etc. Encounters will very rarely result in a TPK and there’s good reasons for that. 

Last night’s session showed that there is still a part of the D&D experience that frightens players to their very core, the gaze attack. We are playing through Pyramid of Shadows, about as old school an adventure as you could get for 4e. One of the encounters on the second level is against an ogre and a medusa. When I read through this part of the adventure I don’t recall thinking there was anything particularly special about it, but D&D 4e continues to show that it’s a game to be played rather than read.

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The wizard did it

A thought occured to me while I was prepping for this weeks game. I’m running Pyramid of Shadows, and just like the previous adventures, it’s a wizard who’s behind the whole thing. That’s not reallt a spoiler to anyone who’s paid the slightest of attention. It’s always a wizard, except when it’s a cleric, either way it’s always a magic user of some kind. This is surely legacy adventure design. From Tomb of Horrors, to White Plume Mountain to the Banewarrens, there just has to be a high level spell caster with issues to resolve, lurking in a dungeon waiting for some PCs to come along and put things right.

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When Evil Comes Calling

So I was having a brief conversation with my old mate Danurai today. He’s been working up a potential new character for our weekly D&D game, a Drow Avenger. Fair enough. Then he wanted to know if it was ok to be evil. He’d been reading an article about just such a thing, so before I started replying to him in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS saying NO, I thought I owed it to him to give it a read. As I did I realised that there are all sorts of ways to play a game, but there are some that simply don’t sit well with your regular home game.

“Whether or not you agree to let one person in the game play an evil character, or let everyone in the game play evil characters, you should absolutely have the talk. What’s that? I like to call it the “don’t be a jerk and don’t be a baby” talk. It’s a real, honest discussion about the tone of the game you are about to play. It’s a verbal agreement to not let the nefarious actions of characters spill over into real-life arguments. It is the group realization that you are about to play something that will be challenging. It’s going to be more work than a normal campaign.”

Stephen Radney-MacFarland

A one shot is another kettle of fish though. Could an all evil game be just right if you had 4 or 5 hours to let rip with all your dark desires?

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