Monday, 20 January 2020

What Makes a Good RPG Session?


When a roll on a random table gives the discription of a tavern as being known 'as a site of violent yodelling duels' and on the basis of that the GM improvises a yodelling competition which leads to 45 mins of hilarity.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Old Guard and the New, 1977

I couldn't help sharing this...

It's from May 1977 editorial of Donald Featherstone's Wargamer's Newsletter (which rather marvelously is online at

It actually ties in with some discussions I've been having recently which touched on the influence of wargaming on early RPGs.  I was pointing to the debt that Gygaz et al owed to Tony Bath.  It's interesting to read Featherstone pontificate* on the subject.

*I suspect that this is an 'Editorial Voice' and not necessarily reflective of his own view.

I particularly like the last sentance.  To paraphrase: 'this D&D stuff is rubbish, but at least it's brining youths to proper wargaming'.  It's a sentiment I hear today about 5e.

But there's also a rather sensible letter in the following issue  (which is every editor's hope in writing a provoking editorial). 

I was interested to see your, and Mr. Griffith's remarks on the direction in which wargames are going. I hope however that rather than looking back we can go forward to new and better developments, rather than indulge in a rather pointless debate about whether Fantasy games are "wargames" or not. 
All this is doing is defining wargaming, when we could be pursuing studies of strategy and tactics rather thant Just as we are all free to devise our own rules, based on personal interpretation of the facts, so I hope this hobby will never become ravaged by a debate as to whether a particular activity belongs to it or not. 
Rather than criticise Fantasy and/or Boardgames, which after all must entertain their respective adherents, unless they are masoehits!, we should strive to improve "standard" wargaiming so as to lure these heretics baek to the true faith! 
Long may Wargamer's Newsletter continue. 
A. Harman of Walsall.

Actually, there's quite a lot of interesting stuff in the magazines even if you fall on the D&D side of the table.  The Minifigs' advert for pig-faced orcs alone... And it is very well put-together, given that it was the age of typewriters and rotorary duplications.  I see many zines today that can't match it's production qualities.

A Birthday Reading

A few gobbets from the professor...

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Reading Highlights in 2019

According to Goodreads I read 37 books in 2019, almost entirely fiction.  I'm not going to talk about them all, but I thought I'd mention my highlights.

More or less in the order I read them...

David Mitchel, Cloud Atlas.

This was a hangover from 2018, during which I'd discovered Mitchel and read several of his books. 

Like all of Mitchel's books it plays games with Time and narrative - it's a matyoshka doll of stories nested around each over.  I've not seen the film, and can't imagine how they managed to convey all this.  Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I found it stunning.

Margaret Attwood, The Penelopiad

Attwood had a good year, and I made my small contribution by reading The Penelopiad and The Handmaiden's Tale.

This is Attwood's retelling of The Odyssey, which of course she did from the viewpoint of Penelope rather than Odysseus.  It's a "feminist retelling", but being Attwood it's much more than that.  A very impressive work.

This was apparently the first of the Canongate Myth Series, in which contempory authors were invited to reinvent myths from various cultures.  Looking at the list of authors and the stories they've tackled, I think they may be worth digging into.

 Joe Gores, Hammett

A fictional episode in the life of Dashiell Hammett, set in 1928 San Fransico, just as he is becomming known as a writer.  His past as a Pinkerton agent results in him being involved in a devilishly complicated case.

In know nothing of San Fransico in the 1920s, but Gores did a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere of it, I'm sure authentically.  Hammett's life-story is worthy of a whole heap of novels, and Gores left me hungry for more.  So...

 Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon and The Continental Op

I read The Maltese Falcon back in the late 80s and hadn't read The Continental Op.  But I was glad to have picked them up this year!

The Maltese Falcon must be my pick of the year.  It is the epitome of a detective novel.  Little more than a novella, but perfectly-formed.  A masterpiece.

I like The Continental Op too.  I think that these stories are always overlooked, which is a damn shame.

 The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross

After reading all the San Fransico stuff I had an itch to read something pulpy and a little Cthulu Mythos.  I'm not sure who had recommended the Laundry Files, I picked up the first book and then during the year (and not without a break!) read all nine currently in the series.

The series premis is that the things that inspired the Lovecraftian Mythos are real, that the stars are aligning and that there is a small department of British Intelegence (the Laundry) tasked with countering the threat.  The first book is compared to The Ipcress Files in depicting the mundanity and work-place boredom involved in secret intellegence work, but as the series progresses the stakes are raised and (without any spoilers) things moved out of dingy offices and onto the world stage.  I recommend it.

Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide

This is another take on the Mythos.

At the end of The Shadow Over Innsmouth in 1928Lovecraft tells us that the US Government bombs Devil's Reef and takes the inhabitants of Innsmouth off to concentration camps.  This book (the first in a series) follows the story.

By 1942 all but a handful of the People of the Water have died in their desert camps, which are converted to hold Japanese-Americans.  When the latter are released, so are the last two of the People, children when they were interned.  It's now 1950, the Cold War is afoot, and the Government has need of them...

This won't be to everyone's taste.  Emrys is deliberately setting out to subvert Lovecraft's racism and fear of 'the other', and some may feel that practically all her protagonists are shoehorned into 'otherness'.  But I enjoyed the book, and Emrys has a lyrical touch.  I shall read the next book.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Fantasy Thursday #3

Wow! My last Fantasy Thursday post (and that was only the second) was back in March 2016!  Nethertheless, given that it's my main hobby focus at the moment, I've decided to revive the series


The FLGS Group

As regular readers will know, our main campaign is the Barrowmaze using Old School Essentials. 

Sunday's session was a busy one: we had two and a half very well-paying delves (the half was a quick journey to pick up cached loot).  We had some classic encounters: a spectre, giant centipedes; an ochre jelly (which involved us setting fire to each other), giant crab spiders, a lich (arrghh!), and ghouls.  We play an Open Table, and were able to welcome a new player to the table (I think he may come back!).

And only three PC deaths!  Surprisingly my character survived.  Again, regular readers will know that I'm notorious for having my PCs killed at Level 1.  This character (a Cleric of Solis named Leofric) is my 15th for the campaign.  Much to everyone's amusement he jumped from Level 1 to Level 3 in an afternoon!

Next Sunday's session will be me DM'ing, running The Hole in the Oak.  The following session (22 Dec) will be back to Barrowmaze with our extra-long Christmas session in which we will be raising money for charity by having a jar which will allow us to re-roll on payment of a fine.  This is a week-long fundraising system across the store in aid of MIND.

The Home Group

The Home Group has had two sessions down The Hole in the Oak, which I touched on last week

They're far from being Murder Hobos, and by savvy use of the Charm Person spell have got involved in gnome politics and picked up a lot of useful intel about the dungeon.  I've no idea what they'll do next (but I hope they go on a mushroom hunt for a crone I've introduced them to!).

We play on a Thurday night, however tonight's session has been cancelled due to illness and stuff, so I'm dabbling in...

...Online Gaming

More about that later.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

More Shiny!

On the whole I behaved myself during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday nonsense.  I bought a few things on  But I also took advantage of the sale at Hasslefree Minis to pick up some extra figures.

Nothing exciting, a couple more female figures, a dwarf and an elf (he didn't come with a label - he's HFE007 - Ceril "Brooding Elf Lord").  I'm not keen on metal figures that require assembly, but that's down to my own inadequacy rather than anything else!

I think the pictures speak for themselves.  All nice sculpts as you'd expect from Hasslefree: Henn of Gar is by Tre Manor, the rest by Kev White.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Paint Table Saturday - 7 Dec 2019

I haven't done any painting since before the summer, but the prospect of hosting my own RPG sessions requires me to get some minis ready for the table.  The group often says nice things about the minis I put on the table, so I thought I'd let that be a prompt to get the brushes out (we all need some encouragement!).  In addition, we're having a bumper session at the end of December, so I thought it'd be nice to have some new options.

So what have I been working on?  Grouped here by manufacturer for ease of identification;

Shield Maiden and Lanterns from Bad Squiddo Games

Hirelings and Not-Bullwugs from Lucid Eye

Frostgrave Cultists

Gnomes from Krakon Games

Those photos are from last week as I did the prep.  I didn't get as far as I intended, but have made some progress...

Seconds after taking the second photo, I snapped the 10-foot pole the hireling is carrying.  Sharp-eyed readers may also spot that one of the gnomes has lost his axe-head.

Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge X

Also, it's that time of the year again.  The AHPC starts towards on 21 December.

I won't be taking part this year: for the past few seasons I've felt like dead wood and that I've been clogging up the limited roster of participants.  I know no-one would begrudge me, but that does take some of the fun out of it for me.  If you are interested though, I would recomend it.  Its not a competition: it's a group of painters working in parallel, having fun and being supportive of each other.

You can follow the Challenge here.

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Other Side of the Screen

Well, I'm now a Dungeon Master!

As I mentioned on my post about Old School Essentials the arrival of Kickstarter loot has prompted me to run The Hole in the Oak.

Hole in the Oak is a sweet module to run for a novice DM.  It's very well laid out and everything ties in neatly.  I can't put it better than this review here.

Due to scheduling problems (and electrical problems at our favoured venue), I've not yet had a session with my regular gaming group.  But the ad hoc group I put together 'to practice on' (henceforth The Home Group) have had two.  And they claim to be enjoying it!  I certainly am.

I'm not going to give any spoilers, but suffice to say that they went in a completely different direction than I expected (both literarily and figurately).  The interaction have been great, and the way they are taking up 'clues' and plot hooks a pleasure.  Not being one to waste effort, I place the location near a version of the setting of Heybrook that I drew up for my solo games, and the party have been merrily interacting with the inhabitants.  And as the indications are that we're going to continue playing as a group, I've been planting the seeds for further adventures...

So, without question a positive experience!

Finally, two of the players are doodlers...

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