Saturday, 11 December 2021

Gaming in Sep 2021

Still playing catch-up with these summaries!
  • 3 Sep - Wasters Elite (cyberpunk OSE) - on-line
  • 17 Sep - Wasters Elite (cyberpunk OSE) - on-line

Wasters is a third-party hack of the Old School Essentials RPG with a post-apocalytic/cyberpunk setting.  More details can be found on Adversity Games' website here.  

Our playtest of the 'Elite' levels continued.  In effect, we started at Level 9/10 to see how that played as none of our 'Basic' characters had progressed beyond Level 6.

  • 3 Sep

After a long wait (of over a month), the cliffhanger we ended the last session on - being surprised by three Enforcement Bots - turned out to be an anti-climax.  Winning the Initiative and stretching our high-level muscles, we found just how devastating functions can be at that level, being able to disable two of the bots before they were able to act.  The advantage didn't last long, and the last bot standing wasn't a push-over, killing one of our retainers.  The prolonged combat also attached a number of hover bots, but these were soon jammed and picked off one-by-one.

This had all happened as we finished our mission and were about to head home.  The rest of the session was taken-up by a long transit through the Wastes.  During their night watch two off our remaining retainers deserted, taking their loaned equipment as as much loot as they could carry.  We gave serious consideration to putting a contract out on them once we got back to Club Lavender!

We were now down to four PCs and one retainer.  Unfortunately for our reputation, the final retainer was killed in an encounter with The Butch Killers, who set ther attack dogs on us.

  • 17 Sep
For our next job we had the choice of two missions.  One - to kidnap a police lieutenant - we'd be avoiding for weeks, so we chose to destroy some power transformers in a block controlled by one of the Corporations.

As with all these high-level missions, it involved a long trek through the Wastes and several encounters of varying difficulty.  The most challenging took place on the second day and involved a group of four Heavy Loading Bots, perfectly comfortable picking up wrecked cars and throwing them at us.

On reaching the Corporate Compound we weren't surprised to see that it was heavily-guarded, and three combats in quick-succession cost us dearly in retainers.  Eventually, we were able to reach the transformers, only for our Engineer to be killed by a booby-trap while placing breaching charges.

The charges went off, but unsurprisingly all hell broke loose.  A helicopter gunship appeared from nowhere and immediately cut two of our crew in half with fire from its Vulcan cannon.

With only three surviving from our original crew of eight, and massivily out-gunned, our Ronin made an epic Hail-Mary move, using his jet-pad to get close enough to engange the gunship in melee!  Miraculously, this paid off and he was able to do considerable damage to the tail-rotor and down the helicopter!

And that seemed to be a fitting place to end the session...

Monday, 29 November 2021

Books and Stuff (NS, No 22) - Reading in Nov 2021

I only read two books this month:  British science-fiction first published within two years  of each other (Earthlight in 1955 and The Black Cloud in 1957), though set a couple of hundred years apart.  They make an interesting comparison.

Arthur C Clarke, Earthlight

Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud

Clarke (1917-2008) and Hoyle (1915-2001) were contempories, and both renowned populisers of science during the White Heat period (linked in many minds for their non-RP accents - Clarke from Somerset and Hoyle a Yorkshireman).  History has been kinder to Clarke, who's widely regarded as a visionary; Hoyle, though not forgotton (but note I feel it necessary to link to his Wikipedia entry, and not Clarke's!), is best remembered for being on the wrong side of too many important arguments (which may have overshadowed his other work and cost him a Nobel Prize).  Part of this was down to his belief that "it is better to be interesting and wrong than boring and right".

Clarke wrote more about concepts than people - Brian Aldiss wrote that his problems were always ones that could be solved by engineering.   When I went through my big Science Fiction phase in my teens I read some of his books, but wasn't inspired by them - they were rather worthy bull dull.  The Concept in Earthlight is the colonisation of the Moon (though the futility of war pops in).  The 'realistic' descriptions of the habitats there were apparently inspirational, and a crater near the Apollo 15 landing site is named after the book.

I picked up The Black Cloud expecting it to be hard-going.  I'd bought it as an oddity, not really expecting it to be readible.  Surprisingly, it was far more interesting and readible than the Clarke.  Both books are based in observatories and the scientific establishment.  The Black Cloud, set in 1964 (a decade after writing) starts as a procedural, scientific novel with the discovery of a cloud of dust rather closer to the Solar System than is confortable, it outlines the series of natural disasters that would then occur, before introducing a sudden twist.  A maverick professor of Astronomy at Cambridge (a post Hoyle held) is wrong for interesting reasons, high-handed with politicians and personal liberties and thereby saves the world (he's also the only person in either book who has sex, but that's another matter).

On balance I certainly preferred Hoyle's book - "interesting and wrong" rather than "boring and right"!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Gaming in Jul-Aug 2021

I'm sorry I haven't kept up-to-date with these reports (and even less so with the write-ups of actual sessions).  I can't help but think they are of minimal interest to those who weren't involved.  Partly, the reason for not keeping up was that in the Summer the games I was playing dropped off (as you'll see, I didn't manage a single session in August).  The easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK should have made gaming easier, but as Real Life intervened, it became as difficult to pin people down to a Discord game as it had previously been to get a face-to-face schedule together!

And I was at blame here as well.  A shift in job responsibilities meant that from the beginning of July I have been working on Sundays.  So not only did I have to drop out of the Wasters game we'd been playing (happily it continues), but when my old group reconvened in our FLGS for delves into the Barrowmaze, I had to miss that too.  What was most galling, was that they are on alternative Sundays, so in theory I could have made both!

I'm writing this at the end of October, and it seems that I've settled into a new schedule, so I'm going to try and catch-up here.

  • 2 Jul  - The Evils of Illmire campaign (OSE) - on-line
  • 9 Jul - Wasters (OSE) - on-line
  • 16 Jul - Wasters (OSE) - on-line
  • 23 Jul - Wasters - Elite (OSE) - on-line
Evils of Illmire

Our group has undertaken to clear a lake of Fishmen.  To do this, we're first making friends with the local Froglings (who will give us the materials necessary to breath underwater).  They want us to clean out a nest of Mantismen.  Last session we had reconnoitered the Mantis Mound (which proved to be a lot more substantial that we'd anticipated)
  • 2 Jul

After a quick return to the village in order to regroup, we decided not to be subtle and to do what accounted to a full frontal assault on the mound.  Surprisingly, we were able to fight our way down to the lower chambers (we'd killed off half the warriors in our previous visit), where we confronted the Queen in her egg chamber and defeated her.

And here our Illmire campaign ground to a halt.  As of the end of Oct we haven't had another session.  In a way it's our fault - we'd gone more or less straight into the Big Problem and only had the side-campaigns left.  Nevertheless, I would recommend the Evils of Illmire campaign, and want to run it sometime (and get to see some of the bits I'd missed!).

  • 9 Jul
Our crew of Wasters (including a small pack of dogs we seem to have accrued) got the job of recovering surveillance cameras which had been placed in a trading post established by The Radient Family, a cult we'd had run-ins with before.  We had the usual tricky time traversing the Wastes to our target (with a hireling and a dog being killed before we got there).  Our Sentinel jacked into the net to gather info from the cameras and was about to disable them when the GM clarified that the job was to go in and physically remove evidence of the surveillance.  This was going to be trickier, as we'd counted at least 30 cultists...
  • 16 Jul

Having gone into the shop and made a pig's ear of trying to knock the lights out and ransack the place, we ended up doing a night-time raid through the back.  This was tricky, but fortunately most of the cultists in the dormatory were low-level members and fled when the shooting started.  Nevertheless, one of our PCs, a hireling and a particularly characterful dog were killed in the firefight.

The late Phat Dog

This proved to be my last mission with the Old Crew for the time being, as that game returned to Sundays.

Wasters (Elite)

As long-term followers will know, the Wasters campaign is by way of a play-test of a hack of Old School Essentials, transfering it into a Cyberpunk/Post-Apocalytic world.  Although a few of our PCs had reached 5th Level, the author (our GM) wanted to try out the higher levels.  So the Friday night sessions of Wasters morphed into an Elite version and, equipped with 300,000 XP, a couple of us rolled up some 9th and 10th Level characters.
  • 23 Jul
The Job was to position probes around a block to observe the haywire bots there.  

This block was further into the Wastes than we'd been in previous sessions, and getting there didn't prove easy.  Almost as soon as we started we had an encounter with a group of corrupt cops who tried to shake us down.  After some failed negotiation, we managed to defeat them, only for the gunfire to bring another patrol down on us!  We didn't ascertain whether these ones were corrupt or not as, given that we were standing over the smoking, irradiated bodies of their colleagues, they didn't stop to talk.   Cops are tough, but we found that at these new high levels, we could punch it out with them.

We then had no less than three encounters with gang members (albeit that one group were children) before getting to the target block.  We managed to deploy three of the four probes, tackling nano-sludge and a military-grade soldier bot along the way.

As we were setting up the third, an instruction boomed out "You are in a Restricted Area!  Leave Now!  You have 15 seconds to comply!  14...  13..."  Three enforcement bots were 90ft away.

And there things stood for over a month, as the next session (and my next RPG session) wasn't until 3 Sept.

Books and Stuff (NS, No 21) - Reading in Oct 2021

Currently Reading

William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World

Dampier's account of his meandering voyage around the world, more often than not employed as a buccaneer (he was later recruited to lead a naval expedition, but could shake off his piratical ways).

This might end up being a slow read, not because it's not interesting, but because of the format.  Nevertheless, I'm giving it a go and it is a ripping yarn.

This edition has been sat unread on my shelves since I bought it on publication - I'm shocked to find that was back in 1998!  A cautionary tale...

Finished Reading

J D Davies, Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy

As I said last month, this study of Charles and James's naval policies is one I've been looking forward to reading for some time.  And it was worth it.  It really is an excellent, well-written book, not in the least bit dry.

Michael Moorcock, Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles

I've not read any Michael Moorcock and thought that a Doctor Who book by him might be a way in.  Perhaps my lack of a grounding in his other works was an issue, as apparently he's liberally mixed his own multiverse into the Doctor Who setting.  Given his reputation, I kept expecting something clever or interesting, and was quite disappointed when it was neither.  A rather dodgy pastiche of PG Wodehouse didn't help (if I want poor Wodehouse parody, he wrote enough himself...).

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Shiny! Lightbox

It's a long time since I had any newly-painted figures to post here, but many mini-painting blog-owners will tell you that one of the worse things about sharing photos of  WIP and finished mins is the actual photography.

So when I went into my favorite charity shop and saw a light box (apparently designed to photograph cupcakes!), it was a quick purchase.  It doesn't appear to be branded, but it looks as if you can buy something similar very cheaply (£5-£10).

Very easy to set up.  The LED lights run off a USB.

So, some comparision photos (click to enbiggen).  Minis from Crooked Dice, first posted (with their chums) here.

Fig. 1

This was photographed in natural light (outside in March 2017 on a wheelie-bin) using a camera.

Figs. 2 & 3

Taken inside on a dark October evening using my phone.

It's interesting that use of the two provided backgrounds should produce such different images.  

Fig. 4

After spending 30 seconds' more care in staging the photo.


I'm not sure there's a huge difference.  One great advantage is that I won't have to wait for natural light of course.

I suppose the conclusion to draw is I need to hone the actual photography skills and that more playing about experimentation is required.  

And, who knows, this might prompt me to do some painting...

Monday, 18 October 2021

Miskatonic Repository Con 2021

The weekend of 15-17 Oct 2021 saw the Second Miskatonic Repository Con.  I took part in last year's event and enjoyed it very much.  MiskRepCon is a virtual con celebrating the Miskatonic Repository, the online collection of user-made content for Call of Cthulhu supported by Chaosium, the CoC publishers.  Details of the Miskatonic Repository and several hundred products (mainly scenarios) can be found on DriveThruRPG here.

Last year I only took part in one game - a play-test of Bill Adcock's 'Without Warning'.  That's now available (and currently on sale cheaper than a cup of coffee).  I'd recommend it.

This year I thought I'd commit a bit more and booked to take place in three games, all of which were to be hosted by their authors.
There were also a number of panels geared towards those who want to write and publish their own material (only one of which I caught live).  
  • Respect in Writing.  Panelists: Lynne Hardy, Helen Gould, Oscar Rios, and Sam Riordin. "Topics include sensitivity, respect in writing, research, and steps that creators can take when presenting communities outside of their own with respect and consideration."
  • Agents of Chaos: The Chaosium Ambassadors Panel.  Panelists: Allan Carey, Nick Brooke, and Bridgett Jeffries. "Topics include Print on Demand, branding, creative and most effective marketing methods, compliance, community resources, pricing, etc."
  • Dramatic Structure in Scenario Writing.  Panelists: Sean Branney (HPLHS), Michael Fryda (RPG Imaginings), Lynne Hardy (Chaosium), Mike Mason (Chaosium) "Topics: Elements of a plot, building tension, developing strong characters."

So, what did I make of the experience?

Well, unfortunately, events conspired against me.  I only got to play in one game out of three.  The first was cancelled as Sean Smith was ill, and unforseen circumstances at my end meant that I missed the last.  This was particularly galling as I'd caused the cancellation one regular game to make one and had taken a day off work for the other.  But, as everyone knows, Real Life gets in the way.

"The Kolakalee Thunderbird"

This was another chance to playtest new material from Bill Adcock, so isn't yet available with Bill's other works (don't worry, when it is published, I shall be plugging it!).
You are the cast and crew of "Haunt Hunters: Coast2Coast", a middlingly-successful paranormal investigation TV show. You're actually a spin-off from a more successful show, so you get the less-impressive hauntings, bigfoot encounters, UFO sightings etc., and get told to make good TV out of them. Mostly you're used to running around yelling "what was that?" and pretending there's something just out of sight.
This is a kind of initial set-up that we've seen before (for example, it's not a lot diffent from Brian M Sammons' "Forgot-Me-Not" scenario which I've played).  But there's a reason for this: it's because the investigative [sic] film-crew are for modern CoC what the hard-boiled gumshoe teamed up with a dilettante partner is for the 1920s or the war-veteran FBI agent for the 1950s - a damn good shortcut to various skills and motivations.  Interestingly, Bill let drop the fact that he's thinking of writing three linked scenarios for The Haunt Hunters, which would be fun as there's a huge scope for character development (or devolution!) in CoC.

Back to the plot...

It started as a nice trip out

Like most of Haunt Hunters' hottest tips, this one came from YouTube.  A shaky, poorly defined video clip appeared to show a large bird which had apparently be seen by tourists at the Kolakalee Springs Family Fun Park (an attraction in the Everglades that had seen better days).  Encounters followed, including the unfortunate Pork Belly Pot Pig (the petting zoo's star attraction), an island which was touted to us by a tour-guide as "the spookiest place in these parts", a surprising abscence of gators, and a house in the Everglades that was much, much spookier than the island.

Who lives in a house like this?

Great fun was had!  Hopefully the scenario will be published soon, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing its partners.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Books and Stuff (NS, No 20) - Reading in Sep 2021

 Finished Reading

James S A Corey, Abaddon's Gate

The third book in 'The Expanse' series.

The answer to what the Protomolecule is doing on Venus seems to be closer with its creation of an artifact that is placed in the Outer Solar System.  But as the planetary governments posture and scramble to be on-site, it becomes clear that the problems they are going to face are ones they're bringing with them.

Terry Pratchett, A Slip of the Keyboard

A collection of some of Pratchett's non-fiction writings, many autobiographical.  There's humour here (I laughed out loud a couple of times), but also musings on writing and the nature of fantasy.  And of course, towards the end, he was writing a lot about dementia and assisted dying,

Julian Whitehead, Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II

This is a book that has been sat by my bed for a while (I see that I started reading it in January).  The fact I haven't been reading isn't a reflection on the book itself - which I found excellent.

This is a chronological study of the many threats (both real and imagined) to the Restoration of the monarchy, Charles's own reign, or Duke of York's right of succession.  It does so by examining the intellegence-gathering functions of the various Secretaries of State (not above plotting themselves).

Fredrich Durrenmatt, The Judge and His Hangman

According to the blurb this is genre-bending and a precursor of post-modernist fiction.  Well, perhaps -  I don't know what impact it would have had when it was published in 1950.

To me it wasn't special, and  (with nothing to back it up) I'm sure had been done before.

Currently Reading

J D Davies, Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II & The Royal Navy

This I'd been looking forward to reading.

The Restoration navy is neglected both by general and naval historians - and when Charles and James's role is mentioned it's as dilettantes, only interested in yatching and gingerbread decoration.  

But Davies is an authority, and perhaps only he can only shift the prism of Pepys's writings to demonstrate that the kings had a real knowledge of naval matters and were behind many of the developments in 'Pepys's Navy'.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Adversity Games

This post is going to be a heads-up and plug for Adversity Games.  I have no connection with them other than being a playtester for their currently-in-development cyberpunk RPG, Wasters. 

The reason for the post is that AG have just had two major milestones.

The first is that their first Kickstarter is in the course of fulfilment.  Nightlancer is a cyberpunk tabletop game for up to 4 players - with solo, competative or co-operative options - set in a dystopian future (Birmingham, actually).  In it players are "living out the career of an underworld operative in a world turned to hell, struggling to escape the corrupt society and find freedom".

Nightlancer was 205% funded on Kickstarter last year.  As well as being delivered to backers, it's now available through the Adversity Games website (there's no news there about wider distribution, but there is a page for making enquiries).  Details of the game, a Wiki about the Nightlancer universe and a shedload of reviews (video and otherwise) can be seen on the Nightlancer page of the website.

And the website is the second milestone that I'm flagging - it's just been relaunched.

As well as the section on Nightlancer there is info on other games in development (including Wasters).

Monday, 13 September 2021

Books and Stuff (NS, No 19) - Reading in Aug 2021

I'm sorry that this is a little late; but to be honest, I doubt if any of you were on the edge of your seats waiting to be updated on my reading... 

Patrick O'Brian, The Yellow Admiral

After their long circumnavigation and service in West Africa, Aubrey and Materin are closer to home in this book.  Aubrey is concerned with Parliamentary business (no least opposing the enclosure of the common where he is lord of the manor).  At sea, they are employed in the tedious blockade of Brest with a superior who just happens to have an interest in the enclosure.

And above all is the deadful spectre of a looming peace, with Aubrey close to the top of the Captains' List and in danger of being retired as a 'Yellow Admiral'.

Patrick O'Brian, The Hundred Days

Well, the peace didn't last for long.  With Napoleon's return to France, a semi-official mission to Chillie is cancelled and our pair return to active service in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.  Much time is spent trying to prevent a shipment of gold from North Africa intended to buy allies for Napoleon in the Balkans.

Maturin goes on a lion hunnt.

Jill Murphy, The Worst Witch, The Worst Witch Strikes Again and A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch

Jill Murphy died on 18 August, so I read some of her Worst Witch stories.

James A Corey, Calaban's War

After watching the first season of 'The Expanse' on dvd (which ended on somewhat of a cliff-hanger), I decided to re-read the second book in the series.  

[It didn't take me long to realise that TV show had played cut-and-loose with the chronology of things - so I had to read the last third of Leviathan Wakes to fill the gap.]

In this book it turns out someone has weaponised the Protomolcule and that the planetary governments are intent on war - on the basis that it's best to sort out local differences before tackling any threat from outside the Solar System.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

24 August - Ancient


If I'd kept up with the RPG-word-a-day, one of today's choices would have been 'Ancient'.

I would have chosen this one because today is my 54th birthday.  It's also the 9th anniversary of this blog.  It's hard to avoid the feeling that the time (or at least peak) of blogs has passed (and that podcasts are on the way out too), but that's probably just my extistential crisis talking...

Monday, 23 August 2021

On Cheap DVDs

It would be surprising if my readers haven't noticed that streaming tv is now a Big Thing.  Perhaps only those of us who work in Charity Shops (Thrift Shops for those of you in North America) will have realised the corellary - we're now getting bags and bags of DVDs every day.  As a result most are selling them at 'please-take-them-away' prices (in our case five-for-a-pound).*  Even tape cassettes sell for more.**

*Sometimes the message doesn't come across.  A lady commented to me that we seemed to have a lot of DVDs.  "Yes", I replied "We can't sell enough of them - they're five-for-a-pound."  "Good", she said, "I'll bring you some in". 

**We can't even sell DVDs or cassettes to those bulk-buyers who give us 5p-a-kilo for books

But, of course, that provides an opportunity.  I've got an completist friend who's now got almost all the MCU films (and many of the tv series) on offer.  I'm not as committed as her*, but even so, I'm now up-to-date with that output.

*Being 30 years older, I value my time and storage space a little more.  I won't be spending 20p on 'Ironman 3' in a hurry.

In such a completist mode, I recently got all the 'Star Wars' DVDs.  I watched 'Solo' for the first time and realised what a turkey it was - and why Disney hasn't got a "Star Wars Anthology" series to rival the MCU.  On the other other hand, I the next night I watched, 'The Last Jedi' and enjoyed it.

As an aside, my favorite rendering of a Star Wars film is just 5mins 36 sec long...

When First Lockdown dawned I bought the complete 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' in order to recapture some 90's vibe.  I didn't watch them all, mainly because it's no longer the 90s (which made it creepy watching as a 50-odd-year-old).*

*But also because I got caught up in the whole continuitiy issue with 'Angel'.  And then the things came out about Joss Wheedon being a dick (see "creepy" above).

In prep for Second Lockdown I bought box-sets of "Blake's Seven".  What can be wrong with watching a beloved series from my adolescence?*

*I don't know, I still haven't got around to it.  But don't worry, it's definitely blog-fodder!

This week I've been watching the first season of 'The Expanse'.  Those of you who follow will know that I've read the first couple of the book series that this is based on.  Despite the fact that the fact that the pictures are always better in your head*, this is a great adaptation, and I'd recommended it.

*My vision of Detective Miller (in his hat) would have been played by Dennis Franz c.1983. But I'm old - my picture of asteroid mining is still framed by von Braunn and Isaac Asimov.

The point is that if there's anything out there that you to watch cheaply, you can probably get it on DVD (and you may be able to chuck some coin to charity at the same time).

Thursday, 12 August 2021

RPG-a-Day: 'Failure'

OK, so I have failed spectacularly in keeping up with the RPG-a-Day posts.  

But I think it was worth the attempt, and I'm going to carry on with the words (perhaps not all of them) as prompts for posts.  At my rate, this will give me material for the rest of the year!

Also, I've got my hostages to fortune...

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.


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