Friday, October 31, 2008

20 Years Later...

Twenty years ago was the last time I ever bought anything from or took part in something from Games Workshop. I was seventeen and it was almost certainly some Warhammer 40k stuff. Just after that I seriously discovered girls, got a job and never had time to paint figures and do stuff like that again. Even if I say so myself, I used to be a decent painter - not Golden Demon standard - but I wasn't ashamed to whip out the odd model during a roleplaying game.

Twenty years on, we have been dragged back into the world of Blood Bowl in the latest of our gaming group diversions. Ben, who is acting as our Commissioner, is an enthusiastic NFL fan (who has incidentally rekindled my love of the sport) and he is running the league. Of course as money rich, time poor adults we are acquiring teams en masse. Some are coming painted, others are being processed through the Gow Paint Shop as it opens its doors again.

I shudder to think what this is going to be like. Some people have never played the game before. Others are hard worn veterans who can remember the stats of nearly every player on a team. Some have experience in board games and sports tactics. Others can barely remember which way the ball will go. Its going to be very interesting, hugely competitive and something quite unlike anything we have done before.

I'm playing humans, btw. I believe I could be getting squished quite regularly. I will keep you informed!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Like Father, Like Daughters

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is the day I bought the Empire Strikes Back Movie Special from the newsagent around the corner from our house. I had been waiting for weeks for this sneak peak magazine to come in and I was thrilled. I had diligently saved my money and ran, clutching it in my grubby little mit to the shop.

By the time I got home, I was in tears.

Why? Because Han Solo was DEAD! Locked in a tomb of carbonite! The sneak peak mag just had pictures of the scene near the back without any context for the decision. Han Solo, my hero - the no-brainer choice for my first Star Wars figure - was dead. Now, I was a sturdy lad of 9 or 10 at the time but I cried like someone had just thrown my pet rabbit in a blender and then force fed me the bunny slurpee. My mam was even considering keeping me off school because of my apparent grief!

This morning, twenty-something years on, I had nearly the same situation when I had to break it to the girls that David Tennant was not going to be Dr Who for much longer. It was painful. There were cries of disbelief, tears, huffing and more than a little hoarding of Dr Who memorabilia just in case this meant that I would be confiscating it - although I'm bemused at that one.

It was bad enough at the cliffhanger episode of S4, when there was more than a little bit of child-edited bad language thrown at the TV screen. I can only imagine what will happen when the moment comes. They have a year to get used to the fact.

But the pain lasts forever ..... damned carbonite!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Week in Geek

In Heroes, Tim Kring continues to tear comic classics and mash them together, with Sylar doing his very best to create Kingdom Come, there, on my screen. I'm really getting into S3 of Heroes but I can see why some of the less comics-savvy people might be getting a tad confused. They have never had to handle a 'Crisis...' after all.

In Fringe, 'The Observer' does things, people get injected and shot, the mad professor is madder and the cow makes another essential cameo. Series is still good and might even have had a sniff of metaplot here, but I have no idea what. Still struggling to find the female lead attractive, which is kind of refreshing. At least the old woman from the massive corp who are obviously the baddie/goodie flip flop wasn't in it again with MacGuffin of the Week.

In Spooks (yes!), Adam Carter bites the big one in one of the worst written episodes I have seen. A little too much pro-soldier, 'we must do it for the troops' monologuing for my liking. However, Harry is still bad-ass and HorseFaceWoman killed someone with a fork. YoungBlondeOne will become Wolverine too. Mark my words. (Note: Its never worth learning anyone's name in Spooks until they have been in three series. They're dispensible...)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Indulge me...

So MI:666 popped back up again as I finally had the lightbulb moment about mechanics.

OK, so you have paired sins and virtues, as has been suggested. - e.g. Lust/Chastity. Each of these will have a value and ala Pendragon, they will be linked and the value of the sin/virtue will be reflected as a dice pool. So, for example, you could have Lust (4)/ Chastity (3). When acting lustfully, you roll 4d6, when acting chastely, you roll 3d6.
When you make an action within the game that falls into the realm of a sin or a virtue (Almost all actions can be stuck into one of them. A combat situation is Wrath. A chase scene is Pride. Stealth is Sloth, Social skills are Lust, Endurance style situations are Gluttony, Medical can be Envy (its more like Kindness, the virtue). Still struggling a little for Greed) you roll your dice against a target number. Roll over, win etc.
The trick comes when the GM takes the role of the Tempting Devil. In any action, the GM can offer you extra dice, but will cost you points from your virtue. So, for example, the GM might off you an extra +2d6 on your roll, at a cost of 1 point of virtue. You stand a better chance of succeeding if you move towards the 'dark side'.
I'm also looking at having the difficulty numbers being ... fluid ... so that the more infernal influence there is in an area, the higher the difficulty numbers are - so you may have to be tempted or risk the horrors of probability.
The final arm of this mechanic would be that whenever you are successful tempted 'Hell' gets a point to their total and this would eventually move Hell towards an endgame. And yes, this would get to a point where the agents might well tip the scales and start that endgame.
Now, this is about the vaguest representation I can think of, and as usual my initial mechanics for games tend to rotate around some sort of bluff, barter, game-theoryable mechanic.
I would appreciate your thoughts on whether this is madness!

Monday, October 20, 2008


So, how was it for me?

From a game point of view, I have to admit that Furnace was a very mixed bag. I played Dread:The First Book of Pandemonium (GM:Scott Doward) which was a nice visceral way to kick off the convention. Its a game based on demon-hunting, madness, ultra-violence etc. All very graphic, all very gory and definitely very stylised. I felt sometimes the system tried to hard to be cool - when powers are described as vicious lampreys bursting from your stomach to attack the bad guys, it makes it quite hard to feel like a good guy! Also the use of terms like 'Clusterfuck' and 'Cockpunch' as game terms seemed ... gratuitous? Regardless, it was a decent game and produced a number of very memorable moments.

In the evening I played Poison'd (GM:Graham Walmsley). This is a game I have been wanting to try for a while and whilst I was not disappointed by the game itself (I thought it was quite elegant) some of the subject matter around the table just made me sigh inwardly. Lets see ... rape, homosexual rape, child abuse, necrophilia, group sex, group rape... oh what a wonderful advert for the hobby! Now I can see how some people might see these themes, in the context of the game and comment on how the game allows us to explore the range of human depravity in a society without rules or boundaries. I would say its just an excuse for a lot of cock-jokes and rudeness. I'd like to play Poison'd again, but I'd like a little less quite literal butt-fuckery.

On Sunday I played Monkey (GM and Writer: Newt Newport) which I had played last year. I even got to play the same character again which was a lot of fun. He's an administrator from Heaven and well, he has a different way of dealing with things! The power of the manifest, the filing system and the index card! The game itself suffered a little from very low energy around the table and quite a lot of explanation from Newt regarding the game which ate some of the time. It too had a number of memorable moments.

I ran two sessions of Duty & Honour, which officially launched at Furnace. The first (Cadiz or Bust) had four members of the 22nd Lothian chasing a spy from Badajoz to Cadiz. The second (City of Vipers) had the same soldiers rooting out a spy in Cadiz and saving the entire Mediterranean station, as well as getting the girl, dodging debts and (not) saving reputations. From the feedback, the games went well and I am obliged to Mr Walmsley for making a couple of suggestions which I wrapped into the second game to great success. D&H sold like hot cakes all convention - 16 copies sold in total - and gained a lot of praise from people. I was especially pleased because it got props for the layout and design of the book.

Last year Furnace blew me away with the quality of the games. This year, it would have been almost impossible to match it. I suspect that my expectations might have been a little too high as I left feeling a little disappointed. In retrospect, each game had its own highs and lows but the entire event was well worth the money. Roll on next year.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fringe Ep2

Still good. Lead female growing on me, a little. Elder professor is still barking and still very entertaining. I called it to Christine that the black guy would look like a baddy but be a goody. Still more going on than meets the eye. Oh, and the cow was back again, which made me very happy. Not enough Fresian Representation on mainstream TV.

Mining Moria

One other thing that we have had a great deal of fun doing in the last couple of sessions of 4e is playing 'lets mine classic cinema for scenes'. I think every game does it at one point in time or another - there were certainly a number of Two Towers moments in our Crescent Sea game.

In the current game we did the Chewbacca Move, we did more than a little Fellowship of the Ring including just about every key scene from Moria except 'Tsk! Fool of a Dragonborn!'. We did a bit more Star Wars Princess Leia rescue as well and as Ian pointed out in his blog, Earthome, the first citadel of the dwarves was more than a little Emerald City. Oh and we even squuezed in the Klingon Court from Star Trek: Undiscovered Country as well! And we usually have a little Rocky moment or two.

Now, we have played games before where this sort of thing has happened - I'm thinking specifically about Pulsars and Privateers although the entire run of Buffy could well have been one extended exercise in this. I don't think they worked as well as these have and here is my theory why - in this current game we have established the game world, its ethos and our personalities BEFORE we have done this stuff. Therefore the background of the scenes seems to be superfluous to the actual execution.

For me that was most obvious during my character-defining 'None Shall Pass' moment. I didn't see Gandalf on the bridge against the Balrog. I saw Morn, all dodgy ragged plate, massive shield, bronzed granite sledgehammer, bald head and almost manic attitude - the skull of a dragon as one shoulderpad and the skull of a god as the other - standing, ranting and taunting the swirling giant black chaos beast and the baying pack of beastmen behind it. I saw him bringing the hammer down and channelling the power of the Earth Titan to bring the ancient structure tumbling down. I saw that adrenaline moving on to deal with the stubborn dwarven guards that blocked their way and then him praying and centering himself.

Fuck Gandalf. That was my Paladin of Freedom doing his bit!

The thing is, those amazing mental images would not have been possible without the context of the cinema shots that we were emulating. They provided that mental backdrop for the scene. Without them, it would have been something totally different.

Feel The Power!

The first of two posts regarding our last 4e session - I couldn't find a way to wittily combine the two.

[insert usual message about the great game, the high drama, the great GMing yadda yadda]

Right, down to it. POWER.

I have commented in the past that because of the ratcheting of the bad guys' power with our increases in power, the relative power felt the same. There was no real feeling that we were the glowing heroes of a fantasy novel, carving the City of Kings open with our presence. Scrub that notion - the power has arrived. I'm not sure when it arrived, but it has. As a group of characters we have matured into a pretty formidable team. Morn and Azhanti form a line of battle, Assamber messes with the bad guy's mobility and Artemis unleashes shafts of death whilst skipping around the extremes of the battle. Should any of us be hurt, we have more than enough healing to deal with it. We even have our patented 'Rocky' move. We are hurling volleys of splintering arrows, massive hammer shots, illusionary weapons, icey fists - its pretty damned awesome.

Whilst the main boss of this adventure was pretty tough and, had we not been sneaky bastards, might have caused a little more of a problem, the smaller 'threats' were brushed aside. That was very cool. Posing such a threat as to be the centre of attention for two chaos tainted earth demons and the most ineffectual shock trooper in the world was an epic feeling. Maybe its the stunt points or just a general level of competency slipping in.

This session was Morn's chance to shine. There were slaves that had to be rescued and he did the rescue thing. I even got to hold off the risen Undead 'thing that man should not comprehend' on a hastily narrated bridge (thanks Matt!) with a suitable amount of shouting! In fact there was a lot of in character verbals in this session - battle cries, death threats, bullying and intimidation. Hehehe - awesome. Anger issues.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Idea That Will Not Die...


It just won't go away. Every time I have a lull in my thoughts about Duty & Honour, MI:666 raises its ugly head and tries desperately to persuade me to pay it some attention. I think I may have to put it to bed in some way just to stop these interruptions!

The premise, for those not familiar with it, is that Christian Hell exists and the only people that know about it are the British Government. They have to keep the existance secret to stop the world falling down around them and the people that protect the Worlds Biggest Secret are MI:666, a covert branch of the security service.

Why would the world fall down around them? Well, the problem is two fold. The problem is simply that the existence of Hell implies the existence of Heaven, Biblical Heaven. If this fact was ever to get out the explosion of religious fundamentalism and warfare would destroy the world! Therefore the secret has to be maintained, even though the effects of Hell are now being realised around the globe.

Last night, in a fit of creativity, I thought I would try to sketch a set of rules of the game. I decided that rather than look for something mechanical, I would go for something a little more esoteric. I thought about the seven deadly sins (Lust, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony and Pride). The idea being that the characters are fighting a battle against the forces of Hell who are trying to corrupt them through these sins. So, if you lost your temper and beat up a suspect, you would be weaker in Wrath. If you shagged a colleague, you are nearer to being tempted over in Lust. If you insist that you should lead the investigation, its Pride etc.

I'd want the mechanic to work so that the GM could tempt you with something, like a whispering voice in your head. This could work something like the Fate Points and Compels in SotC. There would have to be consequences, but thats for later.

The vibe I want to recreate is a sort of pseudo-religious version of TV shows like Silent Witness (the new one), CSI, Fringe etc. Investigations but powerful character pieces as well.

More later, maybe.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Horrors of Fatherhood

Oh a horror happened today.

The girls discovered eBay a couple of weeks ago. They were amazed that rather than saving up their pocket money for toys, they can convert it quickly and easily into cheaper toys via the computer. So far this has resulted in the Cabbage Patch doll population of the house rising from 3 to 9 for the princely sum of £8 in total.

Of course, it didn't take the dynamic duo much time to realise that they could generate more money by making their unwanted toys available to others on eBay. In some ways, this would be well cool. We have tons of Sylvanian Families that go for a pretty penny. I wasn't opposed.

Well, not until Emma decided that the first thing that would be going were her books. Not her current books! No, I've trained them a proper respect for them. No, these were the baby books that she has had passed down from Lara. The ones that really did it for me were her Dr Seuss books. These were the books that taught both of them to read and to enjoy reading. I never thought for one moment that she would ever want to get rid of them, but she does. I had to intervene and rescue a couple of them - specifically The Cat in the Hat and the Cat in the Hat Strikes Back - and slip them into my library.

It was bound to happen and I know that we cannot keep everything forever, but it made me understand why women seem to want to keep every babygrow and bootie. These were the artifacts that represented the change of the girls between being babies and being children and really the passing of them from the domain of the nursery into well, my domain of reading and imagination. Oh I know that sounds very silly, but it really struck a chord.

All subsequent references to boyfriends, nightclubs, drinking, pregancy and 'Grandad Neil' will be treated with the contempt they deserve...

Monday, October 06, 2008


I approve.
More later
[Six Fingered Hand]

Permission to Stunt Has Been Engaged!

More 4e yesterday and much fun was had.

It feels quite strange playing a character who is essentially socially incompetent and rather just a lethal weapon/wall of steel to be deployed when things go to shit. There are some times when I just shut up at the table and fall silent into 'bodyguard mode' which is quite a change for me, but its very in-character. I love playing Morn because he is so different from my other characters from previous games.

I particularly liked the visuals from this game. The rugged Badlands, the beastmen plagued valley, the ancient city outpost of scum and villany, the smokey tavern filled with miscreants and the assault on the ancient dwarven gatehouse. All excellent. The battle through the gatehouse was great too. We are much more at home with the system and the way that our characters work in the system and how that relates to the roleplay. In particular, the way Artemis - the ranger - is used as a highly mobile 'hunter killer' whilst Assamber - the mage - creates an environment that suits us rather than our opponents. Azhanti - the cleric - and me, Morn, the paladin - are the 'tanking team' and when we get into the zone, none shall pass.

We had a classic moment in this session where the dwarf-changeling turned into a giant and TWATTED me from nearly full health to -2hp and dying. When we first started playing, this would have worried us. Now, Ian makes the 'oh, its the Rocky II moment!', Nigel flings in a healing touch and I do the rest. -2hp to 59hp in less than one round and I am surging forward and planting my hammer in the giants skull. Visually, the idea of me rising from the ground, bloodied but unconquered like some armoured Stallone takes some beating. I love it.

However, the real innovation this week was the introduction of stunt points. We have had problems with stunting, which is daft considering a number of us would count ourselves as dirty hippy gamers! I think the trappings of D&D and the implicit and deep-grained GM as Authority figure business might have something to do with it - and we have had some GM vs Player atmosphere discussions lately which didn't help. Stunt Points act and are given just like Action Points but they specifically allow you a sizeable leeway when it comes to stunts. I suspect that some level of parity will be reached in how they are adjudicated but I was very pleased with the way Andrew did it. We used them twice. In one, Artemis pinned a fleeing defender by his heels (ok, he also killed him, but the thought was there). In another I tipped the table that the dwarf was fighting on onto its side, tipping him into the noxious cloud that Assamber had created and keeping him in it for another round. Cool, cinematic stuff that might have failed otherwise. I like it. A lot.

Next week (yay!) we see whether we can save the slaves, escape the evil wizard, find the dwarves and more stuff. Awesome.

So, How does it feel... be a published author?

I got asked this last week and its a very strange question because I am not, not really. Well, I suppose I am - 13 people have a copy of my book in their hands which they have paid real money for - just not in the traditional sense. Its not like I have been through the turmoil of submitting manuscripts to publishers or touting myself around agents. I've done it 'the easy way' through self-publishing. Still, its a very cool feeling. Not something that I would get carried away with in any way, but quite cool nonetheless

Just as a report from the front lines, there was no bolt from the blue, no trumpet of angels, I do not suddenly feel superior to everyone else and I feel no more qualified to talk about publishing and game design than I did a week ago. I have no made a fortune, nor have I lost one penny.

I do count my blessings though. I know my way around a graphics and DTP program or two and I have a decent research library, talented friends and honest testers and editors. I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have been such a smooth ride without all of these things - if I had been forced to seek out 'professional' (i.e. paid) layout, design and editing functions, things would have been very different.

Of course, now that I AM a published games designer (oh that sounds so fucking pretentious!) the next question is usually 'what's next?'. More of the same, I'm afraid. The second half of the three book series (bear with me, I've gone all Douglas Adams on your ass) and a load of supplemental material - but thats a topic for another post some day.

So how does it feel to be a published author? Kind of cool, but not mind-blowing.

If anyone is interested in a copy of Duty & Honour, paypal £12 + £2 P&P to and I will be more than happy to send you a copy.

Maximum pimpage!