Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Kickstarter Watch: Medieval Marginalia


Link here.

On offer are 12 minis (for £38.00) from Andrew May of Meridian Miniatures and other projects  (with a strong Kickstarter track record), more or less directly copied from the marginal illustrations of medieval manuscripts (do follow the link and compare the minis to the source materials).  It was fully funded in half an hour, and unsurprisingly so.

Here's one of those tempting Kickstarter that's produced a delicious idea, but you wonder if you'll ever use.   I think the answer with this one is that if you had the figures, you'd damn well create a scenario to fit!

Idea: party of adventurers after a hazardous journey through the wilderness are glad to know that their next stop will be at the Abbey of San' Umberto, renowned for its hospitality to travellers (and, the more learned of your party point out, its magnificent library and scriptorium).  But when you arrive, the usual welcoming party isn't waiting...

Now, would you play that as a medieval fantasy (think Dolmenwood or The Midderlands) or a Cthuhlu Dark Ages?  And would you let you're players know which it was?

RPG-a-Day 2021: 3 - 'Image'

Today I'm going for one of the subsidiary choices - "Image".

For a long time I maintained that I don't have a visual imagination.  This went hand-in-hand with "I'm no good at art" and "I couldn't possibly paint minis".  It's wasn't until relatively late in life that I was disabused of that.  

Of course I have a visual imagination!  Just look at the post I did yesterday on maps.  I chose to read  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (and thus got into fantasy) because of Pauline Baynes' wonderful illustrations.  I picked up my first Robert Heinlein (and thus got into Sci-Fi) because of cover art.  And if it's surprising to some that I can remember the first book I bought, it is in part because of the striking cover.  I don't remember any of the plot (no doubt smuggling and dastardly foreigners played a part), but I can shut my eyes and see the object.

It was the cockatoo on the spine that did it...

So how does all this feed into RPGs?

Well, I think I've save some of the answer for when I talk about Inspiration, but in a word that's it.

Whether I'm GM-ing or playing I like to find images that represent what's going on.  Of course, in the days of VTT everyone now does that, and much to the enhancement of the game.   

Done properly it creates feedback - I find an image for a character and, suddenly, aspects of that image seep into character development and how I'm playing them.  

A case in point...

Bolton the Mage

I can't remember how far I was into character development when I found this image.  I had stats and knew that I was looking for a Magic User (was it before or after seeing the picture that I decided that he wasn't 'a Wizard', he was 'a Mage'?).  I think I had a name, but not much else.  Armed with the picture, I developed a character who liked the finer things in life and who prefered to use his brains rather than brawn (though he was surprisingly handy in a fight).  Of course, it helps to have cliches to fall back on!*  And as the game progress, so extra bits were added - some were mentioned once and fell by the wayside, others stuck (his love of jewels, and over-fondness for dolphin-burgers).  The cigar became significant - it became a tool through which he projected his magic,  The GM even developed a "Hamlet moment" for him, whereby he got a bonus if he paused and smoked one. And of course, when we came to a city that had a Eunuchs' Guild...

*In this case I was thinking of Nichloas van Rjin and Nero Wolfe.

Yes, all this character development could have come out through other means.  I'm merely saying that an image is a good tool for the imagination.  Most of us have more than one source to pick from.  Other people get the same result from finding the 'right' accent.  Some actors claim that they don't get into character until they find the right hat or pair of shoes.  Whatever it takes.  This is a game of imagination, and we all need props.

"But!" I hear a cynic cry "Surely this stiffles the imagination!  Theatre of the Mind - that's where it's at!"  I suppose done heavy-handedly there is a danger of this - of creating a visual railroad (much like saying your Elf can't use dual weapons, because your mini of him only has a sword and a bow).  But that underestimates the power of the imagination - if every picture speaks a thousand words, how many combinations of those words are there?  Humans (even more so "Players") are adapt at interpretation.  Two people will look at the same picture or read the same book and come away with different things.  They will latch onto to different aspects and may choose to block out others.  I look at the picture of Bolton above and and see "fat man with cigar" someone else will look at him and see "be-jewelled bearded dandy".  From these initial impressions, two (or more!) interpretions may branch out.

Just a few pictures taken from the pages of this blog.  Who can say that they're not inspirational?

"I have a little, ah...  'job' for you."

Who wouldn't want to fly around the
 'Verse with this crew?


Monday, 2 August 2021

RPG-a-Day 2021: 2 - 'Map'


Today's word is an easy one for me as it allows me to rehash one of my favourite RPG stories.  When my FLGS group celebrated the first anniversary of our delve in Barrowmaze I decided to have a hard-copy made of the progress we'd made.

End of Day 1

...and a year later

I was annoyed when Snappy-Snaps got in touch to tell me that it wouldn't be ready at the time they'd promised, and thus I'd have to pick it up on the way to the session.  When I got to the printers, it turned out that the lad who'd took my order had confused centemetres and inches.  That ruler lying on the map is a foot long...

Last week, someone posted on the Old School Essentials FaceBook group about all this.  "Why do you grumpy old sods hide things from your players?" he said*.  "I give my players the whole map and let 'em at it!".  Well good for him, and good for his players,  That's the game they want to play.  Exploration (of the 'dungeon') isn't their priority.  But I found it a bit odd.  I'm old-school in my approach.  I like mapping and record-keeping.  Why is that?

*Not really, but words to that effect.

Well there are those who will insist* that Dungeons & Dragons is primarily an exploration game (and by that they don't mean exploring one's character or motivations!).  So, when played in that Old-School** way, mapping is an essential part of resource-management.  

*Ad nausium sometimes.

**Note I use the initial capitals here that I avoided in the previous paragraph.

For me, it's because maps and imagination are closely linked.  I've posted before about R L Stevenson's 'Land of Counterpane'.  Technically the poem's not about maps but the link is there; and I'm not the only one who has lain in bed looking at cracks in the ceiling and instead seen rivers and coasts.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

My introduction to fantasy was Narnia.  Not The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I picked up a copy of that in the school library because I liked the picture of the ship, but it also had a map!  Even better was the one in Treasure Island which had all sorts of strange symbols on it.  I've always loved coasts and islands.*  The first book I bought with my own money was Enid Blyton's The Island of Adventure**.  For years afterwards I'd doodle island maps.

*Inevitably our holiday desitnations when I was a kid.

**In a secondhand bookshop opposite Exeter Catherdral while on one of those holidays.  I must have been about 8.

Treasure Island

My next literary map was of Middle Earth, and I'm sure I don't need to write much about that one.*

*Partly because once one starts, where do you stop?

Of course, it all got rather out of hand in the fantasy genre.  All the sub-Tolkein writers determined that books had to come in threes*, have over 800 pages* and must start with a map.  Joe Abercombie** famously reacted against that and resisted having maps in his books (but they're just too damn useful!).

*At least!

**Who I rate very highly.  Follow the link and read his eloquent and amusing dismissal of crap maps.

So why do I like maps and record-keeping in my games?  I'd like to say that it's because of all this.  But really, it's because I'm anal.  There is a joy in making the unknown known.  I know that capturing the butterfly and pinning it to the page is unnecessary, but it's a question of control.  I must be a micro-managing control-freak.*

*No accident that I became an archivist then (and though I was bad at it, that was solely due to vice and laziness).


After posting this, I was reminded of my first book-with-a-map.  How could I forget the Hundred Acre Wood!  My Mother used to read Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner to me in bed.


Sunday, 1 August 2021

RPG-a-Day 2021: 1 - 'Scenario'

Day 1, and as I said in my Day 0 post, I've been caught hopping.  I have nothing prepared.  This is going to be even more stream-of-consciousness than normal...

When I think 'RPG Scenario' my mind goes to one-shots.  I know this isn't really what the word means in this context, and that a published setting can also fit in there, but because I tend to think of these as 'campaigns', one-shots and 'short-campaigns' are what I'm going to talk about.

I'm very lucky in that since I returned to role-playing two or three years ago, I've fallen in with a couple of regular crowds.  One, at my FLGS, plays the Barrowmaze mega-dungeon as an open table.  The other, which is an on-line crowd (the membership of which is fluid) I've met since lock-down.  In neither of these cases do we often play one-shots.

But thinking off the top of my head, there are a few one-shots I've played in the year which I don't count as scenarios - for example, the Flash Gordon using the Index Card RPG and the attempt we had at playing Under Hill and By Water.  Is this because they weren't following a 'published scenario'?

And in the Wasters games that are my current expression of the hobby, we have a 'job/mission' to go out and complete, as we did when we were playing Odd Sci-Fi.  Why don't I see these as 'scenarios'?  They obviously are.

There are definitely some games I've played that I do consider 'scenarios':-

  • 'Hole in the Oak' - the module from Necrotic Gnome which I GM'd over three or four sessions.
  • a scenario from the Call of Cthulhu starter set that I ran at home
  • 'Without Warning' - another Call of Cthulhu game set in the Arctic

None of these were less enjoyable for being a 'scenario'.

So to me, a scenario is

  • short and contained (not a campaign)
  • structured
  • probably published
Hm, if I'm not careful I could start writing about the difference between a sandbox and a railroad.  And that's a more involved thing.  Certainly you can have a published sandbox, and not all scenarios are railroads.

Perhaps it's because of the nature of the games I play and the people I play with - the OSR is supposed to free-flowing and to abhore railroading - that I don't think in terms of scenarios when I look back at the sessions we've had.  No doubt I am kidding myself!

I think I've talked myself into the conclusion that in RPG terms I equate 'scenario' with 'published module'.

The dictionary definition of 'scenario' is a description of possible actions or events in the future, but in this context, my mind is latching onto the subsidiary meanings: - a setting, in particular for a work of art or literature and a written outline of a film, novel, or stage work giving details of the plot and individual scenes.

I've never tried to write a 'scenario', but I have had a go as creating a 'setting'.  I see that one of the words of the month is Inspiration, so I shall talk about it then.


RPG-a-Day Month: Day 0

August is RPG-a-Day month.

I'm so out of touch with blogging and the blogging community that I hadn't realised until today.  I therefore haven't got anything prepared.  But I've always enjoyed reading the posts generated by the prompts.  So I'm going to give it a go.


Saturday, 31 July 2021

Books and Stuff (NS, No 18) - Reading in Jul 2021


Patrick O'Brian, Clarissa Oakes

On leaving Botany Bay, it takes Aubrey a little while to realise that the odd atmosphere on board is due to an attractive stowaway.  He decides not to return her to the authorities, allows her to marry her lover and undertakes to put them ashore once they reach South America.

This does not solve the problem.

In order to save Polynesia from French Utopianism, Aubrey has to conduct some solid British Imperialism.

Patrick O'Brian, The Wine Dark Sea

The ship finally reaches Peru for Maturin's long-delayed mission in support of Independence.  Let's just say that he ends up fleeing over the Andes, is fed up with guinnea pig and looses some toes.

After a long circumnavigation (five books' worth), home is in sight.
Patrick O'Brian, The Commodore

Aubrey raises his broad pennant and heads out to West Africa on an anti-slavery mission (with some French action tacked on).

Maturin meets a potto.

Charles Stross, Halting State

A cop in newly-independent Scotland is called in to an IT company.  The crime?  A gang of orcs has broken into a bank it runs in a MMORPG.  Soon things become more complicated...

For those who - like me - enjoyed Stross' Laundry Files series, this will be a welcome read.

Jack Finney, Time and Again

I'd not come across Jack Finney before.  I read this book because it as in the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series and that (and its Science Fiction counterpart) is a good source of new authors.  Seeing that he wrote Invasion of the Body Snatchers seemed to hold promise.

Sadly this is a book I didn't get on with.  I just found it..  dull.  I read the first hundred pages, but then gave up on it.

For the record, it's the story of a man from c.1970 who's recruited into a secret government time travel experiment.  Said time travel is achieved by immersion in period detail and self-hypnosis.  What happens when he reaches 1880s New York, I can't say - I didn't get that far.  There's a plot summary on Wikipedia.

And according to the Wikipedia page Stephen King, Carl Sagan and Robert Redford think highly of it, so there.

Bridget Collins, The Binding

This starts with a good, strong premise - that in Collin's world books are created by Binders, who take people's memories and lock them away.  Unfortunately, when it moves on to second section of the book (reconstructing the memory) it turns out to be an rather obvious love story and delves into YA melodrama.

I don't regret reading it, but I'm not going to rush out and devour Collin's other books.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Gaming in June 2021

A belated update on my June gaming (the section on face-to-face was written in mid-June, the rest towards the end of July).  In the end, the Barrowmaze group still hasn't met, however, Wasters now alternates between Sundays and Fridays, so I'm getting some games in.

Face-to-face gaming is coming back!  Well, it's been back for a while, but I managed to get back into my FLGS for the fist time since it opened in April.  It was good to see it busy, with several tables in play even on a Friday afternoon (it certainly seems that the arrangement with the resurant upstairs and getting an alcohol licence are helping!).  While I was browsing Keiran, the proprietor, came over and had a chat with me about how things were going, which was nice.

With the relaxing of COVID restrictions, our face-to-face group (The Tamson Relief Expedition) is going to be meeting again to continue our long-term Barrowmaze delve.  Sadly, at the beginning of this month I started working on Sundays so will miss both these games and many of the sessions of the on-line Wasters game I've been involved with in the last year.

Nevertheless, my visit to The Games Table has inspired me, and I'm hoping to get some boardgame action in (even if that means going on a Thursday night and playing with strangers) or looking for a weeknight RPG group.

So, what have I been playing?

  • 9 Jun - Evils of Illmire campaign (OSE) - on-line
  • 11 Jun - Wasters (Cyberpunk OSE) - on-line
  • 18 Jun - Wasters (Cyberpunk OSE) - on-line
  • 25 Jun - Wasters (Cyberpunk OSE) - on-line

Evils of Illmire
  • 9 Jun

After a long break due to players' work commitments (we last played on 28 Apr) we resumed the second version (with new, Lv 1 characters) Illmire campaign.  Unfortunately, this was the only game we managed that month.

Our party have undertaken to clear a lake of Fishmen.  To help, we've done a deal with the local Froglings to get stuff that will enable us to breath underwater.  The Froglings want us to murder a nest of Mantismen (who have a tendency to hunt and eat them) and bring us the head of their queen.  This rather clumsy set-up is a rare off-tune note in Illmire.

So, accompanined by three young Froglings, we made our way to the Mantis-mound.  Things started well, with some decent scouting and ambushes of a hunting-party and some guards.  When we entered the mound, things got a little complcated...  It was bigger and more complex than we'd given allowance for - our plan of poring oil in the top and setting it all on fire was a little too basic.  We managed to clear some of the top levels, but it seemed likely that we'd merely concentrated the opposition into the lower levels.


  • 11 Jun
A new player joined us from this session, which was a pleasure.  We carried on with our task of pacifying a block to extend the Safe Zone and establish our own base.  

Only one building was left to be cleared.  This turned out to be full of Raiders (think Reivers from 'Firefly').  It was a bloodbath...  

All our retainers and all but one of our PCs were killed.  Our bots (including the invaluable brute, Klunk) were disabled and left behind.
  • 18 Jun
Surprisingly, the survivor from our last session was able to persuade some of the rest of the Crew (it being OSE, we all always have two PCs rolled up) to go back to the block (and even recruit some new PCs).  The main reason was to get Klunk back - he was far too useful.

The late Klunk

This time were went in loaded for bear, and spent more time in careful scouting and prep.  Despite all this, we couldn't even manage to get into the building and ended up having a major firefight on the roof.  Again, we lost PCs and Retainers, but in the end got the upper hand.

Klunk wasn't salvagable, but Henry - our hover-bot - was.  We also managed to loot the Raiders stash of cybertech.  

The block finally salvaged we reaped a reward.  Frankly, after four or five bloody and costly sessions, I wonder whether it was worth it.  But that's the bleak, distopian Wasters way.
  • 25 Jun 
The Crew was now free to take on new jobs, but we didn't like any of those on offer at Club Lavender this week, so we thought we'd go a-wanderin'.

Phat Dog

We found an interesting building, tried to recruit some urchins as Irregulars and ended up adopting a dog and a cargo drone.

Fruits of the Kickstarter - Soviet Women of WW2


Today I got delivery of the first Kickstarter I've backed in ages (over two years?).  This one was Women of WW2: Soviet Russia from Bad Squiddo Games, which finished on 15 April and in true Bad Squiddo fashion is being fulfiled quickly and promptly.

The purple box of delights

WW2 isn't really my thing, so I did a very small pledge - a token of support really - chosing some items that would fit in with my Pulp theme.  As a result, I've got four figures, lovely sclupts by Alan Marsh, very crisply and cleanly cast.


Sniper team

Friday, 2 July 2021

Hostages to Fortune

I'm going to post this now, to spur me to make a number of posts this month.

  • I owe you the now regular posts "Gaming in [Month]" and "Reading in [Month]".  I still haven't posted Gaming in June as I wasn't writing it as I went through the month, so have to get my notes together.  I've already played my first game of the month and finished my first book in July.
  • I want to post something about a sprue exchange I'm a party to.
  • But mainly this post is to prompt me to post some reviews.  Every few months I 'earn' (because of reasons) Amazon vouchures.  On the last few occasions I've bought copies of Bayt al Azif, the Cthulhu Mythos RPG zine.  And each time, I've told myself that I have to write a review.  Well, I received Issue 3 today.
And, who knows, if I write those posts, it might get me back into the habit of writing more regularly here...

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Books & Stuff (NS, No 17) - Reading in June 2021

Again, insomnia and being a part-time worker combine to lead to a healthy shelf-full of reading this month.

Patrick O'Brian, The Reverse of the Medal

Several thread come together in this (the eleventh) installment of the Aubrey-Maturin series.  The influencial (and traitorous) men with a grudge against Aubrey finally bring their campaign against him to a head.  He is duped into being the pasty for a stock market buble, which leads to his trial and dismissal from the Navy (as in much of the series, O'Brian is borrowing from history here, leaning on the trial of Lord Cochrane).
Raymond E Feist, Magician

As a palette-cleanser from all this naval derring-do, I've embarked upon another shelf-groaning series, perhaps unwisely.

I've never read any Feist before, and this series (the Riftwars) was recommended as a different take from Vancian magic (I've never read any Vance either, but that's for another time...)

Good competent stuff.  Even reading this first novel, I can see that George R R Martin and Joe Abercrombie have both been influenced by it.  I still prefer Abercrombie, but that's just me.

 Patrick O'Brian, The Letter of Marque

Aubrey, ejected from the Service that has been his life, is in a low place.  Luckily, Maturin has come into a fortune and is this able to buy HMS Surprise -  also retired from service - and set her up as a privateer.  Plans are put on foot to find a Spectacular Action that will justify Aubrey's re-instatement.

Maturin has to deal with his complicated private affairs.

Ted Nield, Underlands: A Journey Through Britain's Lost Landscape

A geologist muses on the hundreds of thousands of holes - clay pits, gravel pits, quarries and mines - that used to scatter the landscape providing local (often very local) building materials and resources.   

He uses these holes to tell two stories.  On a human scale, he tells us of the generations of his family which lived and worked on the South Wales coalfield.  On a geological scale, he walks us through what science learnt from them and tells that their filling-in or amenitisation will hinder geological education.

Finally, he ponders what it means that we now find it more economical (because of low wages, poor safety standards and under-priced petroleum) to import these earth resources from Asia, and what impact that will have on our planet.  He makes a telling parallel between the unthinking siting of spoil-tips above the village of Aberfan and our persistant burning of fossilised carbon despite the lessons of geological history about its perils.

Patrick O'Brian, The Thirteen Gun Salute

Aubrey and Maturin's mission to ferment revolution in South America is blown, so they are given another reason to be in the Pacific - to escort an envoy to negotiate a treaty with a Malay Sultan who's also being courted by the French.  On the bright side, that means that Aubrey is re-instated to the Navy List and they get to give a couple of old enimies thier comeuppance.

Maturin meets an orangutan.

Jonathan Morris, Festival of Death

This is apparently one of the best Doctor Who novels - when eleven books were selected to be reissued as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, this was the one chosen to represent the Third Doctor.  Despite this, I'd characterise it as 'for fans only' - but then, perhaps that's the point...

Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation

Our crew manage to escape the island on which they were cast away at the end of the last book (not without incident, of course) and make their way to Java, where Governor Raffles treats them well.  They then go on to the Botany Bay Colony, which is a different story entirely - a squalidf, corrupt and brutal place.

Rats eat Maturin's personal supply of coca leaves and he meets a platypus. 

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