Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Looking ahead

Happy Hogmanay! A time to reflect on endings and beginnings as well as a year’s achievements.

I would like to be optimistic for the year to come. Better than this year would be something.

Chris Hadfield helps put some things in perspective. (Mental note - add a reference in a Trinity setting detail somewhere.)

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys

A lot of urban fantasy stars cops and detectives - this lets them in to investigate weird murders and the like, naturally. But currently watching Leverage has me thinking along those lines - as the creators note, they have to be detectives in a way too. (It also solves the problem of why the PCs don’t call the cops if they’d get arrested if they did.)

If an organised crime cartel gets taken over by monsters, who is better set up to notice and do something about it than another bunch of criminals?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Compliments of the season!

Thoughts on Doctor Who on the other channel. Off to watch make sure my new Marvel movie discs work.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

io9's short films of the year

The end of year list includes Wanderers of course, but more besides. Utopias, dystopias, comedies, horrors, wonders, and of course plot hooks, all packed into just a few minutes.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Vampire: Red Nativity

About to use the last plot hook from my previous Vampire Christmas Special post so I thought I would write it up for others.

In which a vampire is horrible at Christmas.

Now on the current-ish RPGnet list of seasonal adventures, some of which are hopefully a bit more... festive.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Die For You

Inspired by the Carmilla series, Rose Bailey made a game this afternoon.

3D Printed Custom Minis

CreateYourMinis on Kickstarter. Seven dollars for one figure is starting to get competitive (although shipping one mini dents that pretty badly) compared to fifteen or twenty-five depending on material from the last 3D printing minis company I checked out. (To be fair, that one had more options and a slider for expressions which was nice.)


As a fan of Golden Heroes from way back... I may have to get this book.

(Apparently it includes the Phil Master GH adventure from the first issue of White Dwarf I ever got. As I mentioned to Phil masters while GH creator Simon Burley was sat next to him at the Dragonmeet bar.)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Tales From The Black List

The annual roundup of unproduced screenplays, as usual, includes some interesting genre ideas alongside historical dramas and stories ripped from the headlines. We may see them on screen some day, but in the meantime, the short blurbs are adventure ideas ready to grab.

Trying to talk a smart house into helping you? A film with deadly subliminal images? A murder investigation whose key evidence is a stone tape?

Sadly, Shadow Run is not what you might think.

Carmilla, college comedy

A fairly extreme example of adaptation across genres, a light-hearted webseries told to camera by a potential victim of the legendary vampire.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Wild Days

Just back from going out in pretty bad weather (not quite as severe as advertised, but still) and thinking about how easily something like that could disrupt the best-laid plans of mice and PCs. Of course if it isn’t randomly generated it looks like the GM dropping obstacles as acts of god...

Monday, 8 December 2014

The father of video games

Ralph Baer, designer of the first home video game console, has died.

Dragonmeet 2014

(Or 2015 as a presentation slide at the diversity panel insisted...)

New venue - bigger, loads of room for stalls, got 80% of my remaining Christmas shopping done in one room. RPGs are all tucked away in rooms, which I was not so keen on. One good seminar room, one with... a non-mobile dividing wall issue. Charity auction felt squeezed in the Bring And Buy side space. Still, not a huge list of issues, especially for a first-time run in a new place by a new company. Being able to get a room in the attached hotel also right nice.

Good mix of panels. Looks like a fair bit of organised play. Did not see a full list of RPGs. Since various spaces were available in the evening and there was a cosplay contest I was a little surprised nobody put on a LARP. (Isles Of Darkness had a stand, too.) This may be my Conpulsion-y bias showing there, but I imagine a drop-in like Ruin Raiders doing well if there was a suitable location.

Hanging out the day after also very nice. Should really consider staying until Monday if  do this next year so I can see everybody.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

What would go into the video game of your setting?

Like creating a trailer, or a film poster, this is another chance to look at what the essentials of a setting are. Kotaku asks what the next Assassin’s Creed game should have in its Victorian London setting (apart from fixes to ongoing complaints of course!) and in so doing provides a good list for a Victorian adventure. This also applies to quick visits like a one-shot or an adventure in a game that jumps times or realities.

What are the key plot possibilities, landmarks and personalities of your setting? What should someone coming to it fresh see? And to carry the analogy on, what kind of game should it be? An Assassin’s Creed game suggests stealth to kill villains in positions of power, of course, but also speedy action, intrigue and betrayal, and chances to see the highs and lows of a setting, the palaces and slums in turn.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII

The Force Awakens.

In twelve and a half months.

Looks like we have new Stormtroopers, battered speeder bikes, slightly improved X-Wings, unreliable lightsabres, rolling R2s and, oh yes, a new radar dish for the Millennium Falcon.

And a story we don’t already know the end of. We’re going into uncharted territory for the first time since Return Of The Jedi. Even if nothing else works, that’s genuinely thrilling.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Showing on Amazon Prime Video On Deman in the UK, Constantine is Hellblazer, the series. Pretty close, although John himself isn’t quite enough of a git in the average episode.

So far, a mix of basic MOTW and Hellblazer stories.

Keeps the exorcist angle and sharply dressed angels from the film. Protective tattoos as well, although not as big and blatant as Keanu had. Indeed, that sums it up all round.

The pilot brings in a potential partner who is written out in the broadcast version - and replaced by someone kind of similar.

It runs at a slightly higher starting Weird Level than Supernatural, the show which has borrowed its clothes (literally in the case of Castiel) but lower than Gotham or the actual DC Superhero shows (which cross over with each other but not with this or Gotham).

Also, having a go at Gypsies? Really?

Still, nice use of Hellblazer art in the automatic drawing scenes.

Monday, 24 November 2014

D&D's influence on culture

Gaming is everywhere.

As a small personal example, my local garage is currently selling an energy drink which is offering double XP in the new Call Of Duty console game as a promotion. Experience Points are that normal.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Dance off. You and me.

Well, of course this happened. How could it not?

The actual version in the film has Ronan perfectly mirror the confusion of a GM when a player tries something like this.

Winter Is Coming

Currently running two games, both of them roughly set around real time.

The Buffy The Vampire Slayer game is set somewhere warm. It’s more likely to deal with summer storms than heavy snows.

The Vampire: The Masquerade game, though... There are less people on the streets, but more time to hunt, so that balances out. And it gets so cold that breath steams... who will notice if a vampire’s doesn’t?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

I knew it was close, so I looked it up, and yes, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines came out on November 16th, 2004. This was several months after the release of the Gehenna book, so its plot concerning talk of the imminent Gehenna was rather amusing in retrospect.

It was pretty buggy on first release (there’s one level you can’t finish without the first patch) but still earned a lot of critical admiration. Even now, people are still tinkering with patches and mods, and in the case of one group reverse-engineering a system upgrade and multiplayer version.

To mark the anniversary in tonight’s Vampire: The Masquerade session, I made a smallish number of jokes... and had a major NPC show up, introducing a new plot thread... after running a Hallowe’en session heavily inspired by its most acclaimed level (as well as plans for the MMO).

One of my players got into the World Of Darkness through Bloodlines, and her first time GMing was a Vampire one-shot about someone trying to steal a sarcophagus... Has anyone else borrowed from it?

Also, the stealth and conversation options fall away badly in the last sections, but you still have to kill less vampires in the entire game than Christof Romuald does in the average building.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Hallowe'en Specials

I managed, a week late, to run the second of these yesterday. Buffy last week featured a killer scarecrow with a pumpkin head and a scythe, and Vampire: The Masquerade last night featured the ghost of a murder victim. The two approaches are pretty telling, I think.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Dracula Dossier

The Dracula Dossier by Kenneth Hite and Gar Hanrahan, from Pelgrane Press, for Night’s Black Agents. Just how much of Dracula is redacted? Already well Kickstarted as I write this and clawing its way up the stretch goal list.

(Disclosure - I have provided vampires for at least one of the production team to destroy.)

Friday, 31 October 2014

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Another week, another genre show, here showing in double bills despite being only eight episodes long. Intruders (adapted by Glen Morgan from The X Files from a novel by Michael Marshall Smith) is probably helped by the double bill, pairing the deeply unrevealing first episode with a second episode that appears to explain the main plot in tell-not-show format. Hrm.

Monday, 27 October 2014


Gotham leads the way in DC Comics big push into live-action TV, following the solid success of Arrow leading to a spinoff for The Flash and to Hellblazer Constantine getting a show as well. Unlike the other three its on primetime on a free channel. And... it’s a mess.

It’s mostly a police procedural about crimes slightly too weird even for CSI Miami. And partially a somewhat OTT gangster saga. And a bit of a “hey look, a thing from Batman!” show.

Sometimes the former works reasonably well. The child-snatchers in episode two were pretty creepy. And then sometimes it does Balloonman. Not sure it was a good call to have the first major vigilante to emerge after the Wayne murders, in the third episode of the show, be so... hilarious.

The overall effect is a bit like a splicing of Batman Begins with Batman Returns, where the grim down-to-earth stuff is suddenly interrupted by ninjas and circuses. It reasonably reflects what Gotham is like in the comics, but the shifts seem less jarring there.

The design work to make it look like 70s-80s hellhole New York never cleaned up is great (and could provide fodder for loads of World Of Darkness visuals).

And it’s making its own continuity, separate from (a) the other DC shows and (b) the DC movies. So the built-in possibilities for crossovers have been deliberately cut. (And apparently Arrow and The Flash will be separate to the movies as well, with a movie version of The Flash announced several years in advance complete with casting a week after the first episode came on TV, which is... not the direction I would have gone.)

Ultimately, Gotham is a backdrop for Batman. Does the city need him or not?

Hallowe'en Treats from DTRPG

All on one page this time... it seems.

So far includes the totally-not-Firefly Cinematic Unisystem issue of Eden Studios Presents, a zombie apocalypse for Ravenloft... and the first edition of Wraith: The Oblivion.

Edit: Add a Kaiju Kardgame, a Dungeon Crawl Classic and a Penny Dreadful for Victoriana.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season two

And we’re off! 2.01 Shadows gives us a new status quo, establishes the new base and parameters of the team and series, plays a classic Marvel villain pretty much straight complete with gimmick as well as power, delivers an old-school Whedony emotional gutpunch, and on top of all that it starts with Agent Carter and the Howling Commandos stopping some Nazi Hydra officers in 1945.

So let’s see. What can we take from it for a S.H.I.E.L.D. style game?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Rebooting one character: Batgirl goes to college

Despite comics loving to restart series at issue 1, Batgirl gets a big reworking with a new creative team, base of operations (Burnside, the none-more-cool part of Gotham for college kids) and costume in issue 35.

This is coming after the previous reset to being able to walk (after almost as many years in a wheelchair as out) and generally moved her towards young while keeping the super-capable genius bit. Since things tend to remind me of Buffy, it reminded me of issue 1 (see?) of Season Nine, in which our hero also gets a new apartment, new roommates and overdoes it somewhat at a party.

In a sense, it’s a reboot without going back to origins. Character X Goes To College always is, it’s just a reboot that a lot of us actually go through. Add the new look and new creative team, and the emphasis on modern issues (she uses her smartphone more than Sherlock and fights Web 2.0 crime with it) and this is really a new book. How much it will involve ongoing Bat-continuity is unknown, but I hear fairly low.

Which is where roleplayer rambling comes in. Ever had a player shake up a character like this, due to in-game events or otherwise? I’ve mostly seen it in supers games, and then mostly with one character who went up and down the power curve from needing power armour to extinction-level event. But a heavy-duty modernisation could also come from a new edition or sourcebook. And a new player taking over an existing character can have a similar effect as well.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play - Nobody Wants You


The complete series.

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play End Notes

Nobody Wants You was, as noted, a pre-release game of Vampire: The Requiem second edition, aka Blood And Smoke: The Strix Chronicle. As such, the players had not had a chance to see the chapter on the Strix, so it was kind of natural to make them the primary antagonists. I didn’t cheat on what they could do, except maybe keeping a dusted vampire as a vessel. Being the result of a summoning ritual, the mass of them were vulnerable to being expelled in turn. Lang, on the other hand, was already possessed when he guided the ritual. So who knows where he might turn up next...

One last thing... I made this. (Original plan was to set the game in New Orleans, but that section did not make the final cut.)

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 24


Monday, 22 September 2014

I may do the same plot twice to see what happens

I have players for Buffy in the afternoon and V20 in the evening at GEAS. Not the same players, so they won’t get to see how much of a contrast this is. (Or how little...)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The big moments are gonna come...

The next twenty-four hours are hugely important to me and mine.

It’s Talk Like A Pirate Day tomorrow.

Okay, seriously, voters in Scotland are about to vote over independence. The future is uncertain.

(Go and vote. This is a once in a generation chance. People have fought and died for less.)

But to talk about it game-wise, have you ever had a major political change in a campaign, which was beyond the scope of what the PCs could affect? Were they swept up in events, caught in villainous machinations, sent to war, suddenly in or out of favour due to their allegiances?

In political games, the PCs are often movers and shakers.

Ousting the Prince in Vampire might not be easy but it’s certainly possible. Even an unaligned and unrecognised vampire is on the inside track - getting to see him on a pressing matter is a lot easier than meeting your MP in real life. The Man has a face and a name.

Characters in Legend Of The Five Rings are as likely to hear about a succession war from one of the would-be successors as a passing newsteller in the country. There are character types built around courtly life.

One thing that bothered me about Rebellion era Star Wars games is that the PCs were generally pitched at a lower level of galactic significance than the heroes of the movies. Only Luke could talk Vader around. Another reason to play in a different era.

Characters from other genres might get pulled into power politics for an adventure or two, and when they do it’s usually at the top tier. The assassination of a king or a megacorporate CEO is a more enticing adventure hook than that of the assistant head of the local cobblers’ guild or the manager of a Kwik-E-Mart. (Although it can work, and not just in Warhammer - White Dwarf 90 had a great little AD&D adventure about rival silk merchants, although it did feel decidedly WFRP-y.)

Superheroes save the President. The Doctor saves the Queen (apart from Liz 10, who saves herself). They also save shop assistants and wait staff. Each is given equal importance.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

This Orc has all the dump stats.

Why it sucks to be the smallest Orc in the warband.

Possibly NSFW due to massive amounts of (black) blood.

Ties in to Shadows Of Mordor, about a Ranger turned good Wraith... thing. Dunno about that. Orc makeups based on Scream Team prosthetics as seen in photo references in my Buffy games. (If I ever did a Buffy LARP I would have to order some.)

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 14


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 11


Both Vampire: The Masquerade computer games share...

Some things in common between Redemption and Bloodlines, some of which are natural resemblances caused by both drawing from Vampire: The Masquerade but some of which are just odd...

To the Abyss with thee!

By the power of a sale on GOG meaning it cost me 6p more than today’s Guardian, I have replayed Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption.

Unlike the much-loved Bloodlines, it’s a straightforward fighting dungeon bash with a rather melodramatic plot, but I do still like that the core story has Christof slaughtering his way through Kindred society for love. And slaughter he does - I kept a running tally of how many vampires he and his followers kill, and while I may have missed one or two, the numbers are pretty impressive. Vampires aren’t quite as rare as they really should be in the setting... yet.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Destiny Calling

Destiny is nearly out, and now has a semi-live-action trailer. Very nice visually. And... the PCs in the video don’t seem to be taking this interplanetary battle against alien invasion terribly seriously.

It makes a change from the artsy quiet thoughtful tone of earlier publicity. Compare the opening cinematic with Bill Nighy providing wistful voiceover and the one whole joke Peter Dinklage gets in the final trailer to snarking their way across the solar system.

It might well better reflect how the game plays as it’ll be full of gamers chatting and showing off, but it makes me think that adapting it to tabletop would need more powerful PCs than I had previously imagined, and maybe death is off the table? (I don’t know how respawning works, but obviously it does.)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Second World War

75 years ago today the UK declared war on Germany, 25 years and a month after the First World War. The Second World War is mythologised in popular culture like no other:

“I sometimes think the second world war has changed our entire western civilisation’s view of war, because, of all the wars in history, the second world war is closest to fantasy war, in which there is a dark lord, whose guys are actually evil and dress in black and wear skulls on their uniforms. The first world war was a much more typical war: what were all those people really fighting for?”
George R.R. Martin

“Nazis. I hate these guys.”
Indiana Jones

There are RPGs about the horror of the front lines, the suffering of resistance fighters, alternate histories, an entire GURPS line for thorough historical analysis, and lots of opportunities to punch out Hitler.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Something Something Vampire Something

New games at the games soc. Picked to be straightforward, new-player-friendly, out of a book or two.

I have a more unusual drama-heavy rather than action idea, but will keep that for another time.

Vampire. I had some success with Requiem 2nd Edition (although it wasn’t even called that yet!) and I would still like to put V20 Masquerade to good use as well.

Or Buffy. It’s been five years, I could give it another go. Series idea: Graveyard Shift, about the PCs’ first job being a hellish nightmare of apocalyptic proportions.


In other news, away and soak your head on behalf of Motor Neurone Disease research and treatment.

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 6


Sunday, 31 August 2014

RPG A Day - All Month

A handy roundup of #rpgaday.

1: First RPG Played
2: First RPG GMed
3: First RPG Purchased
4: Most Recent RPG Purchase
5: Most Old School RPG Owned
6: Favourite RPG I Never Get To Play
7: Most “Intellectual” RPG Owned
8: Favourite Character
9: Favourite Die / Dice Set
10: Favourite Tie-In Novel / Game Fiction
11: Weirdest RPG Owned
12: Old RPG You Still Play / Read
13: Most Memorable Character Death
14: Best Convention Purchase
15: Favourite Convention Game
16: Game You Wish You Owned
17: Funniest Game You’ve Played
18: Favourite Game System
19: Favourite Published Adventure
20: Will still play in 20 years’ time...
21: Favourite Licensed RPG
22: Best Secondhand RPG Purchase
23: Coolest Looking RPG Product / Book
24: Most Complicated RPG Owned
25: Favourite RPG No-One Else Wants To Play
26: Coolest Character Sheet
27: Game You’d Like To See A New / Improved Edition Of
28: Scariest Game You’ve Played
29: Most Memorable Encounter
30: Rarest RPG Owned
31: Favourite RPG Of All Time

Quite a few answers involve havering. Six of them refer back to TWH to some extent. And of course, Day 4 is already out of date.

RPG A Day 31: Favourite RPG Of All Time


Day 31 Question - Favourite RPG Of All Time

Well then.


Corebook or line? Or the Actual Play rather than the games themselves?

Oh sod it, do all three. Be thankful I only have three answers.

Corebook: Adventure! is the book I wanted when I bought the official Indiana Jones game when I was twelve.

Line: Vampire - and cheat further to include both Masquerade and Requiem.

As a GM: The Watch House. Well, duh.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

RPG A Day 30: Rarest RPG Owned


Day 30 Question - Rarest RPG Owned

Some pretty darn obscure ones. Some published in a single issue of a magazine. Some very small press. The Dragonmeet 2002 game-in-a-day Incarnate, which was never quite actually published.

But for rarity of something that could have been mainstream, that I picked up in a high street John Menzies book department near the Fighting Fantasy types it imitated: Monster Horrorshow.

It features a slightly more complex gamebook-style system, has monsters drawn from Celtic mythology, spends about the last third of the book on a great big one-use adventure, and insists on calling the GM “Werewizard”.

But it features some great GM advice.

There’s this golden rule:

And it also discusses player psychology, mixing genres (a horror game in modern-day Madrid will stick out more than one in 19th century Transylvania...) and the sample adventure has one of the PCs become a werewolf... and advises picking the smartest player who will make this work.

I’ve never run it in a quarter-century of owning it, and likely never will. But I still value it.

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 5


Friday, 29 August 2014

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 4

4: GO

Sheridan Le Fanu

Google informs me that today is Sheridan Le Fanu’s 200th birthday. Raise a glass to Carmilla. A glass of something red.

RPG A Day 28: Scariest Game You've Played


Day 28 question - Scariest Game You’ve Played

Probably the Call Of Cthulhu session I GMed where one of the players was rather tired and emotional and threatened me with a chair. Realistically I could have taken him, but still.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

RPG A Day 27: Game You'd Like To See A New / Improved Edition Of


Day 27 question - Game You’d Like To See A New / Improved Edition Of

I’ll sidestep starting my own edition war...

I admit bias again. I look forward to the planned new edition of Adventure! because it will likely mean supplements and adventures and the like.

And also because I might get to write for it.

But if I were to pick a game I’d like to see a full-on shiny new edition for...

Star Trek game that imitates the space opera action, breakneck pace and emotional content of the new universe would be cool. (Saying that is, of course, inviting an edition war already going on.)

A second edition of Marvel SAGA with more thorough playtesting would also be nice.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

RPG A Day 26: Coolest Character Sheet


Day 26 question - Coolest Character Sheet

I admit bias here. Gregor Hutton’s Best Friends puts character generation on the character sheet and is still nicely legible and thematically styled in an A5 sheet.

(Gregor replies: Thanks Craig! I hate you as you’re Cooler than me.)

The Playbooks (customisable pregen / templates) from Apocalypse World and its descendants are a great idea, but not quite character sheets as such...

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 3


Monday, 25 August 2014

RPG A Day 25: Favourite RPG No-One Else Wants To Play


Day 25 question - Favourite RPG No-One Else Wants To Play

Favourite RPG I Never Get To Play was Day 6, so I answered for playing then and will answer for GMing now.

Unfortunately Aeon / Trinity gets to appear on both lists, as I have never run it as written, except a few online sessions. I have used the system and some of the tech (but not the setting or the psionics) for a military SF game that ran for an academic year, that’s all.

I could add games I’ve pitched and gotten one or less players for, like a Heroes-style plainclothes-supers game and a modern-style Star Trek game.

And then there’s historical settings for Vampire. I got to play Dark Ages for a few weeks once before the ongoing game set in Spain dissolved on contact with the Transylvania Chronicles. And three more weeks with someone else. And a one-shot. And as an historian I’ve never gotten to run it. Or Victorian Age. Or Requiem For Rome. Or even New Wave Requiem. (I have gotten to run games set in the 30s, 40s, and 70s, but never from an actual book.)

Oh, and Demon: The Fallen. Zero sessions.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

RPG A Day 24: Most Complicated RPG Owned


Day 24 question - Most Complicated RPG Owned

Let’s say in core rules rather than overall. I do, after all, own GURPS.

Shadowrun was a pioneer in dice pools and counting successes. A lovely simple little system. But then it added a complex magic system with its own rules in two main varieties (with more in later books) and a complex cyber-decking system with its own rules and subspecies for every Tolkien-y race and more cybergear than Cyberpunk 2020 itself in the basic rules and multistat weapons and special rules for vehicles and Physical Adepts and other kinds of Adepts and... It gave you a lot of options, maybe more than needed, and a lot of gamers really like that, but to me a whole lot of them felt like they could have streamlined.

Most unnecessarily complicated RPG? MERP.

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 2


Saturday, 23 August 2014

I just heard that Lucy and Doug’s baby has been born. They met through The Watch House.

RPG A Day 23: Coolest Looking RPG Product / Book


Day 23 question - Coolest Looking RPG Product / Book

Inevitable answer: Nobilis 2nd Edition.

Now that said, I really liked the Shadowrum Duels fighting game action figures. Big and chunky, weird and fun. Never got them myself as they were expensive, though, and no idea how the game played.

The logo badges for assorted World Of Darkness games are nice and neat, especially the smallish black and silver Vampire ones.

So that’s big and elegant, big and chunky, or small and elegant. Cool means different things. I can’t think of a small and chunky example at the moment.

Friday, 22 August 2014

RPG A Day 22: Best Secondhand RPG Purchase


Day 22 question - Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

Do auction lots count? If so, the Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein art collection.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Vampire: The Requiem - Actual Play chapter 1

On RPGnet...

NOBODY WANTS YOU - the game I ran before Blood And Smoke came out, thanks to Rose Bailey for sharing it in advance.



Happy 10th birthday to the new World Of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem.

RPG A Day 21: Favourite Licensed RPG


Day 21 Question - Favourite Licensed RPG

Guess what my favourite licensed RPG is.

Go on, guess.

Okay, I’ll explain why Buffy The Vampire Slayer gets the nod.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Myths at the table

Noah is very much a film of two halves. Russell Crowe leading a pretty if rainy mythic adventure with special guest disfigured stone Watcher Angels, and Russell Crowe going mad on a boat in the dark. Both are roughly accurate to his bit of the Bible, although the Watchers are a bit of an embellishment, and the end really is.

Before the rain starts it’s largely set in horrible rainy wasteland east of Eden which I can imagine being the version in the classic World Of Darkness, enlivened by glimpses of beauty and flashes of strangeness. And rocky Ent angels. The portrayal of The Creator (aka God) as a source of visions and miracles who never appears on-screen works well, I think, while the depicton of the Creation as a super-accelerated version of the Big Bang and evolution with a discreet gap between monkeys and (glowing golden) humanity doesn’t.

We play with a lot of myths in gaming, from real-world pantheons in everything from Scion to Marvel to angels and demons next to faeries and Frankenstein in the World Of Darkness settings. I for one don’t want to cause offence, but view Biblical stories as just as much fair game for interpretation and inspiration as history, Greek or Norse myths, Tolkien, or Star Wars.

I’ve never had Cain(e) on stage in Vampire: The Masquerade for example, but that’s mostly because he would shift the games power and Weird Level way too high. If I ran Demon: The Fallen I would probably feature its Miltonian/Byronic Lucifer. I’ve never gone as far as The Exorcist, but that’s on general grounds of taste.

I probably wouldn’t set a game in Biblical times because it would be sure to hit potentially offensive themes in all directions. And also because all those shabby robes and sandals lack a certain panache...

RPG A Day 20: Will still play in 20 years' time...


Day 20 Question – Will still play in 20 years’ time...

Personally I’m hoping that in twenty years’ time I’ll be a cybernetic immortal living on Titan. And not a garishly painted skull adorning a cannibal’s dirtbike in a post-apocalypse wasteland.

But assuming a middle course, I’ll probably be running some version of Vampire and playing a superhero game of some kind.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

RPG A Day 19: Favourite Published Adventure


Day 19 Question - Favourite Published Adventure

I like published adventures, though I hardly ever run them. For one thing, I keep making up my own settings and tend to have adventure ideas pouring out of me. For another, Storyteller games don’t get very many.

Once again, I have a few answers...

As an independent thing, it’s a choice between Over and Under - Shadows Over Bögenhafen for WFRP and Grace Under Pressure for Call of Cthulhu. Oddly, Shadows is more trad Cthulhu than Grace. I ran Shadows when it came out, and it was probably the most successful of the Enemy Within adventures for my group. I haven’t had a chance to run Grace.

For a mini-campaign in one book, Giovanni Chronicles IV: Nuova Malattia for Vampire: The Masquerade. As an “epilogue” to the previous three books, it gives the players new characters and a view from the bottom of vampire society and organised crime in a 20th century Mafia epic. The main drawback is the connection to the first three books, so the last of the adventures it contains is about tying them together.

Vampire also gets my vote for best adventure in a rulebook. 1st and 2nd edition Masquerade end with Baptism by Fire, in which a group of young Kindred go to a party. It changed what an adventure could be for me. I talk about both of them here in the Vampire Challenge.

Last but not least, a magazine adventure. Fated Voyage, from Challenge issue 46. While I hardly ever run them, I got this in 1990 and have run it twice, both times in the last three years, neither time for its intended system or setting.

Monday, 18 August 2014

RPG A Day 18: Favourite Game System


Day 18 Question - Favourite Game System

Kinda has to be Storyteller and/or Storytelling really. Specifically when applied to low-powered characters like Kindred in Vampire or Psions in Trinity, as it often gets unwieldy once the number of dice you roll for something you’re good at passes double figures. Below that, it gets out of the way and the dice pool gives a nice probability curve, and the character sheets are easy to read, and it mostly gets out of the way of the game. Favourite variation would, naturally, be Adventure! - which adds some meta to the game with its Dramatic Editing system, but it’s fun meta so I don’t mind.

Favourite specific rule - initiative in Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space is ordered based on what you’re doing. Talking goes first, then Running, then Acting - doing anything else - and finally Fighting. A simple idea that captures the show perfectly.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

RPG A Day 17: Funniest Game You've Played


Day 17 Question - Funniest Game You’ve Played

One-shot, probably the Secret Society Of Supervillains.

Consistently funny per session, TOON. Also a key game in my GMing development.

Funniest among other things... well, that really has to be Buffy The Vampire Slayer and specifically The Watch House.

As SteveD who was inadvertently responsible for TWH’s concept has previously noted, one of the great game-friendly things about Buffy is that it takes the genre-savvy snark players will be doing around the table and lets it go in-character.

Another element of TWH in particular is that the players went all in for it as well. Some of the funniest sessions and episodes came from their ideas and plot hooks, either on the night or pitched in advance. The super-awkward body swap was suggested by the players involved a few weeks in advance. The invasion by the revived Milli’s home dimension was another player’s idea. That time we made Henry Cavill a superhero five years before DC did was the result of the players on the night getting an idea and running with it wildly. Going behind the scenes of the TV series was me ripping off Eerie Indiana, but the players playing each other rather than themselves was totally their idea.

The No Permanent Damage rule that was in place was also a factor. Being kidnapped or body-swapped or split into two beings or flung into a nightmarish future would all be more-or-less okay in the end. This led to the players conspiring to get their characters into trouble in a way that a game with permanent stakes generally doesn’t. This counted for drama as well (hence the Memorable Character Deaths) but especially for comedy. Like TOON, where it’s no big deal if you walk off a cliff, it provided a safe space to mess around and show off.

And it had a long time to develop running gags and motifs. The phrase “pig bit?” has a special place in my heart.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Congratulations to the ENnies winners.

nWOD 2nd Edition and Beast: The Primordial

nWOD Second Edition will now be called nWOD Second Edition.

And the game for 2015 is Beast: The Primordial, developed by Matt McFarland.

Trinity news coming later today. ;)

RPG A Day 16: Game You Wish You Owned


Day 16 Question - Game You Wish You Owned

Since I have a great big collection... actually, the answer’s fairly obvious, after Favourite Dice not being dice.

Marvel SAGA. I didn’t get a copy at the the time and it’s now very OOP (there have been two official Marvel games since) and rare. I should note that the powers are an unplaytested minefield of wonky rules exceptions and I’d never run it as written, but that card mechanic is just so neat I want a copy of my own.

Supplements I wish I owned? That’s easy again. The Buffy/Angel supplements that were written and going through editing when the line was cancelled.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault

I think Fantasy Flight just announced the Star Wars skirmish miniatures game I never knew I always wanted. A Descent style game that comes with character miniatures and has a small group of highly badass Rebel heroes blasting lots of Stormtroopers and sometimes avoiding Darth Vader during vital missions.

(Speaking of Stormtroopers, this is post TWH 1138.)

Friday, 15 August 2014

RPG A Day 15: Favourite Convention Game


Day 15 Question - Favourite Convention Game

Let’s do this thoroughly. Playing and GMing, at cons in general and at the Nationals.

An unexpected hero

New trailer for World Of Warcraft: Warlords Of Draenor (I don’t know who/what/where Draenor is, and must admit it’s not the MMO release shortened to WOD I would have cared about most) brings up the headlined character...


Thursday, 14 August 2014

RPG A Day 14: Best Convention Purchase


Day 14 Question - Best Convention Purchase

We have entered the chart’s mysterious Gold Zone. Gen Con, I guess?

I have been at other conventions over the years, mostly Conpulsion but also the Nationals, Dragonmeet, the UK Games Expo, Gen Con UK, and the Grand Masquerade. I have gained a variety of interesting things at charity auctions and general sale, as well as putting a variety of things into charity auctions too.

The physical winner really must be my TGM copy of Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, signed by just about everybody involved from Justin Achilli to Tim Bradstreet to Rose Bailey to Dhaunae and Lorenzo, fellow panel-question-askers turned models. I went to New Orleans (partially) to get it, after all.

The play-a-game-with winner must be Call Of Cthulhu GMed by SANDY PETERSEN. Not only that, but I was the first PC to die. Dracula stomped on my gut and he said it was “like putting a foot through soft snow.” I remain proud to this day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

RPG A Day 13: Most Memorable Character Death


Day 13 Question - Most Memorable Character Death

The first I ever saw in a game where death was entirely optional. Followed a few real-time months later by the first resurrection I ever GMed as the player came back. And then a PC becoming both a vampire and a ghost. After two separate self-sacrifices.

Otherwise, probably the guy who tried to betray the party in a Vampire game and got shot in the back of the head and dumped in a scrapyard shortly before dawn. It was the last session of a violent game, this kind of thing happens. And I say this as a GM with a pretty low PC body count in general.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

I'm meeelllltiiiinnnng!

1939 was quite a year for pop culture. As well as Batman in the comics we also got Dorothy on the big screen, 75 years ago today. I suspect the Winged Monkeys have caused more nightmares than the Caped Crusader...

RPG A Day 12: Old RPG You Still Play / Read


Day 12 Question - Old RPG You Still Play / Read

Not oldest, just an example?

I got a new edition supplement for Advanced Fighting Fantasy a few months ago, but haven’t run it in decades. (And thanks for that stab of nostalgic ennui...)

Call Of Cthulhu was already around when I started, and I’ll get The Unspeakable Oath when it comes out, but again, haven’t played or run since... early 2000s maybe?

Okay, summer 2012 I ran a slight hack of WEG’s Star Wars first edition. That was its 25th anniversary. (The slight hack being DIY advantages and disadvantages, and counting 4s as successes of the D6 dice pool rather than adding all the dice together.) I think one of the players I had was born before the rulebook came out.

Monday, 11 August 2014

RPG A Day 11: Weirdest RPG Owned


Day 11 Question – Weirdest RPG Owned

All RPGs are weird... from a certain point of view.

Foregoing the purposely weird one-shot games like Violence and Puppetland, there are still games with in-depth tactical systems for playing Watership Down, games about running a fast food delivery service while studying ninjitsu, games about being in high school without monsters to fight, GURPS books for The Prisoner and Riverworld and Horseclans, Ducks in RuneQuest...

Consider what a weird idea Call Of Cthulhu is without the benefit of hindsight. I’m sure I’m not the only person doing #RPGaDay who heard of H.P. Lovecraft through the game. And it’s a game about highly vulnerable characters (generally with no powers or magic weapons or even armour) fighting these obscure monsters. And it’s set in the 1920s!

Or how about Paranoia? It’s a comedy take on 1984 where every PC has six lives and the stories players tell are almost all about how they died.

But okay, my winner here is probably The World Of Tank Girl. Yes, you read that correctly. The World Of Tank Girl. For WEG’s Masterbook. Based on the film rather than the comics. Bought sight unseen. There’s one thing about it I like, which is the character quirks table. And I say this as someone who just Kickstarted the best-of comic. In hardback.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

RPG A Day 10: Favourite Tie-In Novel / Game Fiction


Day 10 Question – Favourite Tie-In Novel / Game Fiction

Five examples - none actually novels. (I really should get around to reading The Subtle Knife.)

The Beast Within for Vampire: The Masquerade was a short story collection rather than a novel, so it was essentially a bunch of liftable characters and adventure hooks. Not all of them worked for me, but enough did that I happily reread it last year when preparing a Requiem game set in the same city.

Do purely in-character artefacts like The Book Of Nod count?

Both examples that are directly useful in-game.

But for fun?

Showing obvious bias, George Alec Effinger writing for Trinity and Warren Ellis and Greg Stolze for Adventure!

Game Fiction for a game I hardly ever play: the Dungeons & Dragons comics by Leverage creator John Rogers.

A novel I considered but disqualified, Drachenfels by Kim Newman as Jack Yeovil, because it charges headlong away from the Warhammer universe with nary a backward glance.

And finally a real oddball choice. GDW’s Challenge magazine had a regular feature, the Traveller News Service, a page or two of news stories in the Traveller universe - adventure hooks, and fallout from published adventures and the Traveller metaplot. As someone not into the game, it still made for interesting reading.

And then in the issue previewing Traveller: The New Era, in which a sentient computer virus destroys intergalactic civilisation and decades pass before recovery begins, this happened.

And the next issue’s TNS page was all like that. Even the page listing in the contents was. And the issue after was a test signal interrupting it, before normal service was restored, decades of game time later to support the New Era setting.

I love that kind of thing, when the story intrudes on the format, like when an episode of a TV show has a modified credits sequence.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

I Was A Teenage Player Character

A bit of a follow-up to Batman Week, as Comics Alliance discusses the importance of Spider-Man and the teen or otherwise just-starting-out hero standing up to adult worlds they are not quite ready for.

Remember when you were the weirdest person in the world?
Of course you do.
You were strange and a stranger, a misfit hoping to pass until adulthood set in. Everything about you was wrong - your looks, your attitude, your parents, your skin, your strength, the gaping glowing fiery hole in your face where your mouth and lower jaw used to be.
During this period, your inner thoughts were shaped by two fierce hopes. One was that somewhere, someone would appreciate your uniqueness. The other was that this uniqueness would one day cause everyone to admire you or at least take you seriously.
What you were, of course, was a teenager.
Warren Ellis, pitch for Generation X

When I was a teen coughty-cough years ago, I often played youngish adult characters, somewhere around Batman’s perennial age of 28. I didn’t really want to identify that directly with my characters, I wanted to play a grownup - much like Spider-Man does. I wanted to play a character who had his act together and knew what he was doing. I’m still waiting for that part of my life to start.

I went back to late teens and early twenties for an ongoing Buffy game starting when I was... 28. And quite a few of my players were also contemporaries of mine, although some were actual freshers playing freshers.

There’s a lot of adolescence to new Kindred in Vampire (especially early Masquerade) as they are brought in to a stagnant world and encouraged by the game to stick it to The Man. I’d consider a high school game now - it would very much be about the ups and downs of youth.

It basically says “Everybody who made it through adolescence is a hero.”
Joss Whedon on the mythologising of Buffy

Playing a character just starting out and making their first mistakes may need the benefit of hindsight.

RPG A Day 9: Favourite Die / Dice Set


Day 9 Question - Favourite Die / Dice Set

As I mentioned in answering the same question in the 30 Day Vampire Challenge, I don’t really have dice superstitions or find them pretty. But that was just for Vampire, so here I guess I can expand to other RPGs and randomisers which aren’t actually dice.

The Marvel SAGA card set packs a lot of nice ideas into a small space. You get to choose which “roll” to use from your hand (which varies in size with how capable your PC is) and since the suits map to the game’s stats and using the right kind lets you add another card from the deck (or more if that trumps as well) the highest number isn’t always the best. There’s also a fifth suit, DOOM, which goes to the GM after use and can pretty effectively model the villain-beats-everyone cliffhanger of ongoing comics (although not as well as being able to do it at will). You take damage from your hand, so could be unexpectedly flattened if you take damage while holding a bad hand. The positive, negative and neutral symbols are keyed to recovery from damage as well, so they can bring in sudden reversals and second winds. And there are the optional events, boosts for character callings (Guardian, Repentant, Etc.) And there’s always the option to have a random superhero or villain from the card art pop up and join in a battle in New York.

This does, as that big paragraph indicates, make it pretty game-y and a bit tactical rather than fading into the background, but the added element of gambling and picking tricks can be a lot of fun.

Friday, 8 August 2014

RPG A Day 8: Favourite Character


Day 8 Question - Favourite Character

Let me tell you about my character...

As a player, of my own?

Generally I GM more than play, and when I play I often take the “and we need one of these” roles rather than having an idea that jumps out at me. But there are exceptions.

The character I’ve had the most interesting character-based play with is probably Charity Chance, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 60s-style Marvel SAGA. Originally designed to be nice and simple - Emma Peel / Modesty Blaise in the Marvel Universe or the Black Widow with the serial numbers lightly painted over - over a hundred issues and more sessions she became more of a Sydney Bristow as she acquired a troublesome sister, a secret connection to a Golden Age hero, an arch enemy, a few romantic complications and a temporary position of command, and only avoided acquiring superpowers because I specifically wanted her to stay mundane, while staying true to the original goal of kicking bad guys in the face.

(This game also saw Corona, the best example of comics-style powers rising and falling I’ve seen in a game, and Steamhammer, a great badass who was also a rich source of comedy.)

As a GM, which PCs am I the biggest fan of?

This probably goes without saying for those who have read my Actual Play stories. Hint: pink hair.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

City adventures and adventure series

During discussion of Chicago By Night and its supplements for Vampire: The Masquerade getting to Blood Bond, this occurred to me:

It’s a pity that Chicago-set adventures fizzled out soon after, because a series of connected adventures would have made for interesting reading and good game material, like a violent crazy drama series that the PCs are the stars of, and very different from the epic quest model that most RPG adventure series default to.

Of course, each would be based on assumptions about how the previous ones went, which would get hard to manage pretty quickly. “If Lodin died three adventures ago, Modius has been deposed and Neally didn’t go off to become a Sabbat whipping-boy, change X, Y and Z...”

I think it’s a pretty interesting idea, if rather niche. Start with a setting book laying out the major NPCs, and establish where they are likely to go across multiple adventures planned down the line if the PCs don’t change their fates.

All the adventures would have to have some plug-and-play elements and room to be adapted out of the series and for changes made to the series as published - for example, Blood Bond concerns a specific NPC having his existence ruined by a rival, and as noted in the thread could work with several other NPCs in Chicago and environs.

Each adventure would build on the default setting, while hopefully also being useful outside. And after a dozen or so, the city would be a very different place, whatever the PCs chose to do...

RPG A Day 7: Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned


Day 7 Question - Most “Intellectual” RPG Owned

Scare quotes!

Hm. RPGs are by their nature cerebral and emotional, enlarging vocabularies, improving mathematical skills and encouraging social interaction. This is why roleplaying sees use in educational and therapeutic contexts.

But I have quite a few purposely highbrow games.

Vampire: The Masquerade for spreading ideas of story and theme and character?
Nobilis for the deconstruction of Jungian archetype and nihilism?
Polaris for the tight focus on recreating the inevitability of tragedy in the passing of a golden age?
Pendragon for the thorough analysis of Arthurian story and the discussion of history, myth and popular storytelling?
De Profundis for the Psychodrama section?

Yeah, De Profundis is probably a good bet here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

RPG A Day 6: Favourite RPG I Never Get To Play


Day 6 Question - Favourite RPG I Never Get To Play

Favourite RPG No One Else Wants To Play is on the 25th, so I’ll address games I never get to GM then. So this is me being a player now, rather than a GM, which is more common.

Aeon / Trinity. This is a game I own the whole line for (except the Battleground skirmish wargame and the dice), wrote part of a fan supplement for and am working on the new edition core rulebook for the setting. And not counting a few online games, I’ve gotten to play this for one session.

Vampire: The Requiem. GMed both editions (including Blood And Smoke before it was released thanks to the generosity of developer Rose Bailey) and played one session. At a convention. For World Of Darkness games. In America.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

RPG A Day 5: Most Old School RPG Owned


Day 5: Most Old School RPG Owned

This depends on one’s definition of Old School, of course. Random character generation? Books of monsters? Ampersands?

RuneQuest, I guess? The GW reprint. Bought several years into my gaming career. Call Of Cthulhu is too genre-specific, I’d think. Warhammer is too... British? These goalposts seem decidedly mobile.

No, I don’t own any D&D rulebooks.

Monday, 4 August 2014

RPG A Day 4: Most Recent RPG Purchase


Day 4: Most Recent RPG Purchase

It’s been a whole month! Since I got the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition quickstart. I missed out on Free RPG Day and had to buy it (although the PDF is free). And in my defence, the month before GenCon is pretty quiet.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

RPG A Day 3: First RPG Purchased


Day 3: First RPG Purchased

I imagine these first three questions yield more varied answers from people who started with groups rather than self-starters.

So as to not say the FF RPG book again, I will step back to why I got it. I had already started in on the Fighting Fantasy books - not sure which one I started with, but I definitely remember getting City Of Thieves from my cousin Lesley (eldest of the five) and the straightforward adventure story, nicely detailed horrible setting and Iain McCaig artwork really helped hook me.

I wrote about Bad Cities like Gotham, Lankhmar and Port Blacksand recently. Nice to adventure in but I wouldn’t want to live there...

By that point, the books had already included Starship Traveller, a Star Trek style space opera (which I couldn’t actually solve, but never mind) and were starting to show what RPGs could do in their format. Other gamebooks started to appear, notably the Lone Wolf series (those attending Dragonmeet 2013 got to see me geek out about meeting author Joe Dever) and experimental versions like the 2000AD game-comics Dice Man and historical educational gamebooks, as well as magazines - Warlock for FF and Proteus for a gamebook in one.

It was a bit of a golden age for geeky kids with a couple quid pocket money, and helped bring me and quite a few of my generation into the hobby, to pick up miniatures stocked next to them, to grab a copy of White Dwarf when it was still about RPGs...

This is why we miss RPG magazines on shelves even if the age of the net has smashed magazines - a visible presence people can stumble on without looking for it can make all the difference.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

RPG A Day 2: First RPG GMed


Day 2 Question - First RPG GMed

As Day 1, only with a couple weeks’ insight into being a player that lead me to conclude that (a) killing loads of PCs wasn’t actually fun and (b) coming up with full-on Fighting Fantasy go-left-or-right decision trees was not necessary, and the PCs could and would wander off any map I drew, however large a sheet of paper I used.

Second RPG GMed was total freeform systemless gaming for one player as we wandered around at lunchtime at school. Kinda where I learned my style.

Friday, 1 August 2014

RPG A Day 1: First RPG Played

Let’s do this.

Day 1 Question - First RPG Played

Fighting Fantasy: the Introductory Role-playing Game. (Something I share with Jon Hodgson, it turns out.) As I have mentioned on this here blog thingy before. A familiar super-basic system, a little book of how to GM, two dungeon bashes. Played one (and died due to a GM call I still think is unfair) and GMed another, then had to make up my own so the group (my brother and our five female cousins) could keep going. I was the only one who really got hooked as far as I know. Then my cousins moved, I went to high school and built a regular-ish group, some of whom I still roll them bones with today.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy will probably amuse most people reading my blog on purpose.

Unless they’re looking for a nuanced portrayal of the Kree.

And yes, there’s a post-credits bit. As well as some really unexpected cameos. And an opening emotional grounding bit that doesn’t really work for me but you can’t have everything.

It’s absolutely Space Opera NOW! - a big day-glo explosion-heavy version to be exact. Star-Lord as token human is sort of required, even though everybody will be cheering for Rocket and he actually demonstrates the most genre savvy.

You could therefore totally run this with any knockabout action system which can build some superpowers in with the spaceship piloting and laser gunslinging.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Batman and Bat-Genre

Batman Week ends with a look at his entire run in terms of genre.

Batman stories are generally pretty grim and dark. (And sometimes GRIMDARK.) With some very notable exceptions - giant typewriters and trips to space and a certain 60s live-action TV series were deliberate attempts to lighten him up - he’s been pretty consistent ever since he stopped regularly killing criminals a few months in. These days when there is comedy in a Batman story, it is often about how grim and dark he is. He carries a certain Noirish sensibility with him.

This even applies when he crosses over. Even when visiting Metropolis he finds shadows to stand in. He fights crime, evil and insanity, in garbage-strewn alleys and boarded-up buildings. As Superman is about dreams of power and overcoming great odds, defined by hope from his origin onwards, Batman is about fighting back and taking a stand, defined by tragedy and loss.

Like most of my generation, I met Batman through a certain 60s live-action TV series, and this led to me picking up some of his comics. Unlike Spider-Man and the Hulk, where the main difference in tone between the 70s TV series and the comics was the much lower level of spectacle their budgets allowed, Batman was totally different from the series’ volunteer cop who wears a mask for no particular reason. The first Batman comic I got had him fighting Black Spider as he tried to slaughter a drugs cartel. It was pretty much entirely set around a port where no legal business was happening. At midnight. In the rain. Here was a guy who dressed as a bat to scare people.

So, how does this apply to gaming? Some games see players influencing the narrative around their characters as well as through them, and some have genre rules that can affect the setting. And some PCs just carry their genres wherever they go.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Batman and the Legend

Following on from observations about the Bat-Family, let’s look at the influence Batman has on the world around him.

First of all we have the likes of Nightwing and Batman Beyond - potential or actual legacy heroes.

Batman has more of these than average - he has trained various Robins and others to take his place when (not if) he dies, handed the role on the others, and when he went R.I.P. a few years back there were enough candidates for a Battle For The Cowl with more sides than Reign Of The Supermen before (a) the expected winner emerged and (b) the original inevitably came back.

Because the idea of Batman as a legend, the hero Gotham needs, is a powerful and interesting one. We know who Batman is, but if not for wanting to keep the original around he really could be replaced if he fell, and would be.

Ersatz superhero settings like RPGs often have built-in legacy heroes. The Superman, Batman and Captain America types are gone, and a new generation of inexperienced heroes have to take up the torch and in some cases the name. The first separately published adventure for Golden Heroes was actually called Legacy Of EAGLES and gave the PCs the chance to avenge a legendary team and inherit their base.

Would you want to create and play The New X? Might be interesting to try... either with an existing X you have to follow, or a made-up X to justify your characters.

(The closest I’ve personally come was a brief Marvel Superheroes game about a new X-Men team.)

And what other effects does he have on the setting? Some have blamed him in-character for encouraging the theatrical madmen he fights. He makes most of the Gotham police, reporters and other authorities look bad.

And he gives the people hope.

(Digression: the recent trilogy made a big point of how much more good a legend could do than one man. But as heir to the Wayne fortune, Bruce Wayne could do a lot of good. But a series about a crusading philanthropist paying for charities and encouraging urban redevelopment might not be very exciting.)

Would you feel more or less safe if you saw the Bat-Signal in the sky?

Marvel Universe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The TV series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a comic... set in the main comics Marvel Universe and introducing Marvel Universe versions of the characters, not their existing Marvel Cinematic Universe versions.

Okay, you have my interest.

(It increases our chances of getting figures, to follow the newly revealed MCU Agents Coulson and Hill figures.)

It’s also a great way to avoid continuity issues with a spinoff for an ongoing series.

What would change from dropping your core cast, almost as-is, into a Slightly Different Universe, perhaps using a different system?

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Batman, Gordon, Allies and Friends

Outside of Alfred and the Bat-family, Batman doesn’t have many allies in Gotham. One key ally is Jim Gordon, who is sometimes the questgiver with the Bat-signal, sometimes the one honest cop who has to hunt Batman down, and sometimes a detective story character in his own right, complete with a family member or two of his own, one of whom might be important in some continuities.

For a crimefighter, a friend on the police force can be vital to get clues and avoid being shot by SWAT teams.

Someone with medical training to patch up your injuries with no questions asked is pretty useful too. Dr. Leslie Thompkins is less prominent than Gordon (she wasn’t around in 1966, so she missed out on day-glo TV stardom) but she also acts as a moral compass and sounding board for whether he’s gone off the deep end.

Tech support is provided by Lucius Fox, among other people. Those wonderful toys don’t come from Forbidden Planet in-universe, after all...

Crimefighters often have petty criminal contacts to shake down for information. Batman uses disguises to fill this role himself.

A plucky reporter could be handy as well. Batman never really got one of these as Superman and Lois Lane had that covered already, but Vicki Vale pops up now and then...

What else do your PCs need regularly? Who do they talk to about their adventures, seek advice from, sometimes bring along? Which contacts are strictly business, and which are friends? How do they react when someone who helps them needs help in turn? (Don’t do this too often, especially with “bought and paid for” NPCs like Allies and Contacts in The World Of Darkness - something a player has spent resources on shouldn’t be more trouble than it’s worth.)

The main difference is one side gets One True Way supporters.

Total railroading in RPGs means that the GM doesn’t care what the players do, it doesn’t matter at all.

So does total sandboxing.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The huge action scene on the poster of your game

And as a break from Batman, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a mere nine months away, and here’s the concept art poster showing the kind of trouble our heroes are going to be in.

I often make posters for games I want to pitch, but they’re generally more abstract as I’m not much of one for painting, and of course they can’t generally show the main characters as the players have yet to create them...

But if you could, what kind of image would a big adventure suggest? What would be the poster for the movie, or the advert for the episode, or the cover of the comic?

Or the reverse, have you seen an image that made you want to include that scene in a game?

For The Watch House I might go with the horde of regenerating vampires from season four, the dragon from season six, or DEATH from season seven...

Batman, Bat-Family and the Justice League

Batman is the big draw in the DC Universe with he and his associated characters claiming ten of the starting New 52 comics (Superman second with just four) and currently sitting at fourteen, including a weekly series, and two more on the way. Note that this is him and his associated characters - the Robins, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing spun off from Batman Inc., Catwoman, Harley Quinn. With the exception of the villain books (and the forthcoming teen mystery series Gotham Academy) they’re at least peripherally members of the “Bat-family” - sidekicks, counterparts and associates.

Would you want to play something like that? A central PC and associates rather than a disparate team of diverse origin and equal power? They can be compelling characters in their own right, but how they relate to the “star” PC is always a factor.

Some characters naturally attach and interconnect - a Vampire Slayer and a Watcher, for example, and even then one isn’t essential to the other. I most often see this in licensed settings where that model’s already been established. For example, the option to play a vampire and retinue of ghouls has been suggested in Vampire but I’ve never seen anyone do it, indeed I’ve only seen a single PC Kindred and PC ghoul together on a few occasions. Sometimes playing the sidekick is interesting, but I wouldn’t want to have that status by default. 

An NPC mentor is different, of course - they might bring the PCs together and be the questgiver, but as NPCs they naturally fade into the background. A PC mentor is always there... and one who is an active team leader as well could double the issue of spotlight hogging.

It’s something I’d consider... but only with certain players in the leading role, just like I wouldn’t assign the Captain’s chair randomly in Star Trek. It also suggests group character generation... which is often a good idea but does not work for everyone. In this case, player 2 might have to create a character who could conceivably work with player 1 and fit their style as well, and that puts player 1 in a powerful position.

The other mentioned option is a team of otherwise unconnected characters. This is more normal, and is the case in just about every superhero game I’ve played in, with some limitations (which one player will usually fall outside, deliberately or accidentally) in some cases. 

Somewhere in the middle, we have not-exactly-fan-favourites The Outsiders, a bunch of otherwise unconnected characters who work together with Batman as their mentor and sometime-absentee leader because... uh... is that the time I must be going. None of them count as Bat-family characters (except Katana taking the place of Robin in the recent Beware The Batman animated series, with her mystical origin nearly entirely dropped) so they don’t owe anything to Batman in style or name, just work with/for him. This is the usual way to deal with a more powerful “leader” PC (like a Vampire Slayer with a bunch of Scoobies) - it loses the branding but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Batman, The Joker, Archenemies

Batman has a rogue’s gallery heavy on the Dick Tracy style weirdoes, more of them to be confined to an asylum than a prison when he catches them. #1 is of course the Joker, Chaotic Evil to Batman’s Lawful Good. A great crook, a world-class murderer, and unfortunately a pretty bad comedian.

I’ve written bits here and there about building a recurring villain before, and noted that much of it is down to player reactions. Popularity will always be a factor. There’s character hate and then there’s player hate - if you get that, retire the character, at least for a while.

Like Batman himself, the Joker has risen and fallen in power, danger and Weird Level from a guy with a skin condition to a possibly-immortal avatar of chaos depending on the needs of the story. Apparently the Gotham TV series will have a different potential future Joker in every episode - which seems like a joke that will wear thin pretty quickly, but points to his mutability.

His motivation shifts around as much too, although flat-out killing Batman is rarely the issue. That’s a key part of his longevity - he plays by the same no-killing-the-enemy rule Batman sticks to, except in the most grimdark variations, despite racking up an impressive bodycount of anyone and everyone else.

And of course, he has a great shtick. Clowns Are Scary is one of the classics. (I just Googled Clowns Are and it suggested Scary first.) And as Tim Burton noted in 1989, ironic considering the hero dresses up as a bat to try and scare people.

So where does this leave us? A variety of stories the villain can be used on, playing by the same rules to prevent complaints about unkillability, and a shtick. Sounds easy... but there are plenty of unsuccessful villains that prove it takes luck too.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Batman, Gotham, and Bad Cities

Following on from Batman Day, what else does this 75-year legend have to offer gaming?

It seems sensible to start with Gotham, the city that defines him, so much so that the show about adolescent Bruce Wayne coming soon is to be named after it...

Batman was originally based in New York, then moved to a fictional city to take more artistic liberties and “because we wanted anybody in any city to identify with it” as its creator Bill Finger explained. It was officially mapped in 1999, and the cartographer Elliot Brown explained that creating a fictional city “is about allowing the writers to have their freedom”.

Over the intervening decades Gotham has become a Bad City, an urban hellhole teeming with crime and corruption and scary architecture. Batman editor Denny O’Neil described it as like “eight million people living in a Gothic cathedral”.

Like Lankhmar, Ankh-MorporkPort Blacksand, Mos Eisley, 1980s pop culture New York and almost everywhere in the classic World Of Darkness, it’s the perfect place to get in trouble. It was designed so that Batman always has something to do when he goes on patrol.

Gangsters, street gangs, crooked cops, civil unrest, alligators in the sewers, an insane asylum with a staggeringly bad security record - every issue with city living and every bad urban legend can happen here.

This can tip over into absurdity when placed in a modern integrated setting (I would say it does in The Dark Knight Rises when the government fails to intervene with Bane’s reign of terror for six months after one attempt) but in smaller doses it can be very effective. I wouldn’t want to visit as a tourist (despite its many excellent galleries and museums) but I would as an adventurer.

Many settings have a city (or in space opera style SF an entire planet!) like this. And if the PCs don’t have to live there, they will probably end up visiting it at some point as part of a quest.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Batman Day - And Week

A celebration of Batman for his 75th anniversary, coming some months after the actual 75th anniversary, just to confuse matters. (And surely it should be Batman Night?)

But for me, it will be BATMAN WEEK.

Since his first appearance in 1939 he’s been through a lot of variations and adaptations and there’s always space for more - since I wrote that he was on the big screen this year as a terrible boyfriend made of Lego.

He even got his own roleplaying game! A cutdown version of Mayfair’s DC Heroes, a system designed to have Jimmy Olsen and Superman playable together by having stats rise exponentially from the human average of 2 to the human maximum of 4 to Superman being able to move planets with Strength 50, which gets really grainy and odd at the human-plus-a-power-or-two level Batman usually works in.

I will say I liked the introductory adventure, though - the Joker puts Batman on trial for apparently accidentally killing an innocent bystander in one of their fights.

Batman is, like Wolverine in the Marvel universe, an archetype for a “lone wolf” character who keeps working with partners and teams - which is one key bit that players of lone wolf PCs often miss in their keenness to be the solitary hero at the table while four other players are also sitting there.

He’s got the classic angry orphan background too. DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! Replace criminals with orcs and you have approximately 40% of fantasy PCs, especially those played by players who don’t want social ties.

There are Batman expies in pretty much every superhero universe including RPG settings, and quite a few other settings as well. Westeros has Darkstar for the style, and arguably Arya for the development. And Batman is something of a Zorro expy with a chunk of movie serial The Bat himself.

Does your game have one, and is it one of the PCs?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Face Off makeup/costume/monsters

This show has been running for six semi-annual series so far, and has given us lots of cool practical monsters. Some Buffyish, Whovian, some Star-Wars-y, some horrible. And those are just one set of picks, other sites have them all. Go find uses for them!

Discarded concepts for the use of

Will Ferrell plans to remake Manimal. Yes, Manimal.

I imagine a fairly comedic version, where our hero turns into animals at inconvenient times with little control. Something a bit Night Of The Museum perhaps.

I suggested this years ago (as a result of a dare on RPGnet) to be played semi-straight in an Angel kind of way. (One correction made since - Stan Winston Studios to do the practical effects, and give them more than three hours for each!) If you can do a fairly serious urban fantasy series of Teen Wolf, why not?

Got any other series setups lying around spare?

Recurring legendary heroes

Sky’s Sinbad TV series has appeared on their free channel Pick. Nice location work and monster effects, especially the water elemental. Not sure it needed quite as much explanation for Sinbad having to go adventuring. Hoping for a sword fight with a skeleton in a later episode.

Sinbad is a hero about whom a number of stories are told (like Arthur, as seen in Merlin which this show is built to emulate, or Hercules, who already had a show in the 90s) so a natural for series. A swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery hero with a pedigree going from the Arabian Nights to the Ray Harryhausen films.

Does your setting have them? Can we play them?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Apollo 11 45 years on

Remember the anniversary of the Apollo landing and consider what we are capable of.

(Could we please go back to the moon in my lifetime?)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Passing this on: RPG writer Steve Creech is seeking help with his medical bills (and giving PDFs to backers).

Casting Identify may not be required.

I'm not sure, but something tells me this piece of treasure may be cursed.

Going to The Cabin In The Woods

A refresher because, years later, people in horror movies still go there!

Rule zero: DON’T.

I considered a one-shot for The World Of Darkness about a scary house in the middle of nowhere (designed to test Breaking Points for the PCs) and worked on the assumption that I would have to start with the PCs already inside and the door locked behind them.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Delirium - a one-shot

The pilot for the apparently-not-ordered series based on a YA book series is viewable online. This seems more sensible than just burying things.

Anyway, Delirium is another single-issue SF setting, a dystopia where “love is a deadly disease” and is chemically switched off. A bit like Equilibrium with less absurd martial arts, and less threatening puppies. Another setting you can imagine the Doctor or Kirk stopping in one story. And being YA, it features a rebellious young hero (played by Emma Roberts) doing exactly what she’s supposed not to.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Montenegro, or Latveria?

MightyGodKing goes back after a long break to his amusing series about reviewing national anthems. And bring up this doozy:

Montenegro. Did anybody tell them that if you write your anthem in a minor key it sounds like a villain’s musical theme? No? Somebody should tell them that.

Assuming you have no players from Montenegro or its near neighbours, this is a gift to any GM looking for a suitable cue.

Scottish Superheroes

For comparison, an RPGnet thread once led to me creating a particularly Scottish superhero team, which looked like this. A just-happen-to-be-from-Scotland group would have been quite different.