Friday, 30 December 2011

RPGs are NOT doomed!

Thank heavens! After seeing countless threads on message boards about how the RPG hobby has taken yet another nosedive, or the industry is DOOMED!! and therefore the hobby is DOOMED!! also, Bottg started a thread on www.rpg.net asking about how gaming is thriving.

It makes a hell of a change to hear positivity regarding the hobby. More of this please.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Dragon Warriors... again

I'm a massive fan of Dragon Warriors, especially the new version released through Magnum Opus Press that I pushed with a passion. Now a new company called Serpent King Games have picked up the torch and are re-releasing the game.

And good luck to them - Dragon Warriors is a great, simple and atmospheric game and they deserve all the good fortune they can get. They're dead lucky and they have a stable platform to work from - if I was to release my own version of Dragon Warriors there wouldn't be a single thing I'd change.

Well... maybe one or two things.

1 - Introduce a skill system. I'm a sucker for skill-based games and a skill system to reflect general skills and career-based skills would be cool.

2 - Random damage rolls. As much as I like the Armour Bypass system I'd like to see a random damage roll. I know there is an optional version in the rulebook but a more solid version would be nice.

3 - Lots more careers. You could get another dozen careers in the book easy by paying atention to number 4 below.

4 - Don't give the Assassin career half the book. Because that was just plain stupid. Yes, we've all seen Robin of Sherwood. Yes, we all wanted to be Nasir.



Dragon Warriors is a great game. If I could convince my gaming group I'd love to run a long campaign in the Lands of Legend with a whole slew of new PCs. If you can get hold of a rulebook, and I know there are plenty floating around still, then do so. If nothing else it'll give you a whole new campaign world as Legend is definitely one of the best out there.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

On The Table

I was a tad shocked today to find a TV show called 'On The Table', that featured all manner of tabletop gaming thingies, from miniatures to rules to all kinds of things. It's run by the guys over at www.beastsofwar.com, supported by Wayland Games, and it's a pretty good short show letting everyone know what's going on in the market. I'd like to see a little more roleplaying in there, but it was good enough to hold my attention for the time it was on even though I don't have much interest in the wargaming hobby. It was slick, well made and really very good.

For UK Sky viewers it's on Showcase TV, every other Thursday.

Nice one, lads.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Using game trailers as RPG campaign teasers

So I was wondering how to entice players to play my games, or how I could get them excited about what they could do, or give them a taster of atmosphere... you know, there is nothing you can write that will get them all on the same page because everyone will imagine something different from what is written and in many respects expectations will be either too high or too low. Either way there's a good chance my game won't work, might not even take off.

One way to get them on the same page is to show them visuals, and recently I've been perusing some computer game trailers.

Let's say I wanted to run a gritty, dangerous fantasy game. Well, of course, I'd show them the live action Skyrim trailer - not that they'll be playing in the Elder Scrolls setting, just to invoke some atmosphere.



Then I thought about a World War Three post-apocalyptic military game. MW3, anyone?



Science Fiction horror? Dead Space is pretty perfect.



Like I said, it's not the game setting I want to use, just the atmosphere that the trailer is trying to invoke. Game trailers really try to push the envelope with imagery whereas movie trailers can sometimes feel stilted and forced. Game trailers also tap into the part of you that just wants to play and have fun, makes you want to experience what they're advertising instead of being a passive observer, like in a movie.

Roleplaying games want exactly that - involvement. Yeah, I think game trailers are pretty cool for advertising the kind of game you want to run.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Music Memories

When I started out gaming in the 1980s I was never bothered about music in my games, but I used to always listen to it when I was designing stuff.

I used to write up a lot of stuff for my basic red box D&D games, fantasy adventures in which I'd try to emulate my two favourite fantasy things at the time, the John Boorman movie Excalibur and the HTV show Robin of Sherwood. I designed a fantasy version of middle England and I'd listen to classical music while I did it. I've still got my notes here - I'll scan or photograph them sometime and put them up.



The music of choice was Beethoven, and I'd usually listen to his Fifth Symphony. It's a famous piece but most people can't get past the dot-dot-dot-dash V for victory opening. The rest of the piece is incredible. In fact, it's become so embedded in my memory as a piece of music associated with my 1980s roleplaying and basic D&D in particular that every time I hear it, it sends me back to the tiny box room that was my bedroom, and the hours I spent under a lamp scribbling notes, drawing maps and imagining grand adventures in my make believe country. It was a grand time, when creating and designing were just as important as the game itself.

I've been a bit lacklustre in my creativity lately, mainly due to time constraints, but I'm wondering if putting on some Beethoven might stoke my creative fire.

Hey - it worked twenty plus years ago.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

GAMMACON update

Here's an update about what's happening at Gammacon 2012:

Angus Abranson of Cubicle 7 has kindly donated an adventure for the wonderful Starblazer Adventures game. I want at least four players for that so let me know if you're up for it! It'll be a first time for me with the FATE system!
http://www.cubicle7.co.uk

Kyle Daniels will be there on the day, creator of 'Braggart - The game of heroes, lies and unfortunate fish...' with demos and copies for sale.
Braggart Card Game
http://www.spiralgalaxygames.co.uk
UK Distributor of Board Games and Card Games

Hopwood Games will be joining us, with the charming Andy Hopwood doing demos of his games MIJNLIEFF (winner of the Best Abstract Game Award at the UK Games Expo 2011) and Niche.
Hopwood Games
http://www.hopwoodgames.co.uk

Jedi News, the largest UK Star Wars fansite with 6 million monthly hits and all kinds of sway in the Star Wars community will be there for charity and promotional work.
http://www.jedinews.co.uk

http://www.gammacon.moonfruit.com

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Anne McCaffrey



Anne McCaffrey passed away on Monday 21st November 2012.

And I’m not sad about it.

Her Pern books were the first novels I read that catapulted me into a world that I could escape into on my own. I shared Star Wars with my friends, Lord of the Rings with my brothers, but Pern was all mine and nobody read that but me, and in 1986 I fell into the pages of Dragonsong. I ate up the Harper Hall series and then went back to the first book, Dragonflight. I was hooked. It was 1986, I needed a place to escape to, a place that was just mine, and here it was.

In 1987 I took the plunge and wrote a letter to Anne. I poured out my sixteen-year-old heart and gushed to her about how much I loved her books, how they moved me and how I would love to write myself. I posted it and thought nothing of it, just enjoying the cathartic experience of finally releasing the pent-up emotion the books had instilled in me.

A month or so later, I got a reply. From her. From Anne. From the woman that had created this wonderful world. She appreciated my words, she loved the fact that I loved the books, she told me of other books that I should try and she wished me luck with my own writing endeavours. She typed the letter, wrote my address on an envelope and licked a stamp to get it to me. I can’t tell you how amazing I felt, how special she made me feel by taking the time to answer my letter. She had no doubt done this a thousand times but, at sixteen, I didn’t care. I knew that for a few moments, while she read my letter and wrote the response, that I was her focus, the only person in the world she was thinking about. She had spent time thinking about what I had written and she had taken even more time to write back. Anne McCaffrey did something for me that nobody else has ever done – she told me that it was okay to like what I like and that I should be proud of it.

From then on I absorbed her other books religiously; Dinosaur Planet, the incredible The Ship Who Sang, the beautiful Restoree, the Crystal Singer. I read them all. I loved them.

Ten years ago I packed her books delicately away and I haven’t touched them. Last week I was looking at random websites and there was a mention of her book The Ship Who Sang and I thought, ‘Wow, it must have been more than a decade since I last read a Pern book’ and I decided that once I had finished my current read I’d dig them out and dust them off. Yesterday, I read that she has passed on. I have cried for her and I will mourn her.

But I will not be sad. I absolutely refuse. Because if I’m sad about her passing then that is how I will remember her. I’ll think of her and feel sad that she has gone. All I want to do is remember what joy she gave me, what happiness, what wonder she unleashed into my sixteen-year-old head.

In fact, it’s not that I won’t be sad. It’s that, after everything she did for me, I simply can’t be.

Bye, Anne.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dungeons and Dragons Online

The online game I'm getting a kick out of at the moment is Dungeons and Dragons Online. It's set in the world of Eberron (admittedly not my favourite place to adventure - give me Forgotten Realms!) but it's a well put together game and lots of fun. The best thing about it, it's free! Well, not completely free, you have to pay for certain aspects, but there's enough free stuff to keep in gameplay for hours.



This is my good dude Bulward Whitehair (level 4 Fighter) getting tangled up with a bad dude. Check out the D20 on the right! Nice little addition, that.



The locations and vistas are excellent.



The graphics settings can go pretty high and it runs on my 3GB RAM machine really well. It's a well designed game and is very nice to look at, with a pretty intuitive user interface. It's all left click for interaction and combat, and it's not turn based so you don't have to just sit and watch the action unfold.



Although it doesn't feel like an open world the way World of Warcraft or Rift do, there's plenty of things to do. It's a bit more like the game Guild Wars, where there's a central area (in this case, Stormreach) where the players gather, and once they go out into instances the game becomes private. It's a neat system.

It follows the rules for D&D 3.x pretty closely and you even get a little D20 die rolling in the bottom right hand corner! You primarily go off on dungeon adventures, and they can get a little samey, but there are wilderness adventures, too.

All in all it's a good, fun game, and I like it as a pick-up-and-play game, just to kill half an hour or an hour if I've got the time spare. It's well designed and looks and plays great and, even though you might tire of it after a short while, it's good while it lasts. I can recommend it.

And it's free!!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Eh? What?

Has it really been a month since I last posted? Wow. Time flies when you've got better things to do, eh?

I've been hard at work on my GammaCon, the gamer's convention.

And I've been doing other things, too, such as:

- Beta testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Don't ask because I can't tell.
- Playing in my mates Pathfinder campaign. Is it fun? Yes. Have we got anywhere in the 8 months we've been playing? Erm... no.
- Working on Gamma Con and all that entails.
- Writing. Bit of this, bit of that. I've got a lovely new screenplay to play with and I'm looking at my older works for inspiration.
- Starting to fall in love with Traveller, the original game. It's lovely and simple and the Mongoose version appeals to me. Looking forward to running a dark science fiction game, inspired by classic movies such as Alien and Outland.
- Reading classic Harry Harrison.
- Catching up on recent movies. Jonah Hex? Rubbish. The Green Lantern? Terrible. Thor? Pretty good. Inception? Brilliant.
- Catching up on old movies. I watched my favourite movie Alien in HD for the first time. Wonderful wonderful film.
- Lamenting the death of my PS3. You could have waited for me to finish Killzone 3, you piece of crap!
- Trying not to get too excited about The Hobbit movie.
- Or John Carter of Mars.
- Or Prometheus.

So, yeah, I live a thrill-a-minute life.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

WING AND MILK - or: How to run a game without really trying

Before I go any further, can I please thank Andrew C, a once regular player of my games, for the title of this article. It was originally written for a Star Wars website, hence all the Star Wars references, but it's pretty much applicable to every gamer.

We (Andrew C, Mark Newbold and myself) sat in my living room on Monday 25th of June, 2001, about to start a role-playing session (set in the universe of Buffy and Angel) and we were discussing where the characters were going to go from here.

I said I had a few things designed when Andrew suddenly said, ‘whatever happens your games are usually wing and milk, anyway’. Both Mark and myself looked at him quizzically.

What do you mean by wing and milk?’ I asked.

Andrew shrugged. ‘This game. You’ll wing it and milk it’.

We all laughed. ‘Top line’, Mark said. ‘We’ll have to write that up.'

Oh, fine. A funny quip at my expense and they want to write an article about it?

Okay, then.

LESSON 1 – COMPLETELY IGNORE EVERYTHING THAT'S EVER BEEN SAID

There are plenty of articles already on the internet that concern preparation, design, ideas and atmosphere. They detail advice on how to get a game together and how to run it. Because there are a few things to consider before running a game the articles detailed most things you can do and, therefore, were quite long. That, in turn, might mean a lot of work.

But what if you simply don’t have the time to spend designing and preparing a game? You might have a busy work or social schedule, might be running more than one session for more than one group and can’t afford the energy and effort. What if you don’t want to prepare in detail? Hey, you might be laid back or easy-going and think ‘the hell with it; we’ll just see how the game goes’.

If this is the case, then ignore the other articles. They won’t help you now. What you want to do is get down to it, get the game on and just let role-playing nature take its course. Isn’t this lazy? Hell, yes!

This will mean less work in preparation – unfortunately, it will mean more work when the game is actually running.

LESSON 2 – YOU’LL NEED SOMEWHERE TO PLAY

The usual thing is to get yourself a location. Make sure you have a place where the game can take place and then insert the PC’s. But surely this means you have to design a location, a planet, a city?

Not really, no. Just take a location you know or have seen and just Star Wars it. If the players go to a busy shopping station then take your local shopping centre or mall and jazz it up. Escalators become anti-gravity tubes, computer game shops become speeder showrooms, and clothes shops become multi-species clothing specialists. People don’t walk about; they zip along on rolling conveyor walks, or fly about with personal replulsorchairs. What’s more, you don’t even have to take the effort to describe in detail what the place is like – tell your players what location you’re basing it on.

GM: ‘So, you know the shopping mall down the road?’

PLAYERS: ‘Yes?’

GM: ‘Well, this place looks like that, except where the escalators are there’s two discs which send people floating to the next floor. The roof is polarised glass to keep the sun’s rays at bay and every species you can imagine is walking about. People fly overhead with jet belts and repulsorchairs and the noise is deafening.’

Is this cheating? Hell, yes! What’s more it gives the players an instant visual and they can even interact with it better if they know the location, too, because they’ll tell you exactly where they want to go. All you have to do is decide what changes (if any) have happened.

The same goes with a city. Take New York, slap a few starships overhead and roads between the buildings and what do you get? A city suited for Star Wars. Need a small town? Grab a town local to you and stick a crashed starship in the middle, remove the second stories of all the buildings and replace them with glass domes and there you go – instant Star Wars location. All you have to do is ignore real world references.

Need a Planet? Pick terrain. Rocky, icy, sandy, windswept, green fields, mountainous – just define the land and you’ve pretty much defined the planet. Throw in a couple of weird creatures (six-armed apes, two-headed gazelles, that kind of thing) and job done.

LESSON 3 – INSTANT CHARACTERS

So, you’ve got the location, now for the people who will be there.

I’m not even going to insult you GM’s out there by detailing how to do it, so I’ll just make it simple – what do you think character templates are for? Need an NPC who might need to make some rolls? Is he/she a smuggler? Take the template and there you go – instant stats. Need a bounty hunter? Same thing. Need a professional? Normal stats and then the extra dice for their profession – done.

That’s it. Unless you don’t have access to these details (which is highly unlikely, being a GM) then you’ll have to do that extra work.

But isn’t that cheating in character design? Hell, yes!

LESSON 4 – NAMES AND PLACES

It’s all well and good describing these places, but what are they called?

Look around you. Take an average household item and do either one of these things – pronounce it backwards, remove a couple of letters or say it wrong.

What’s the planet called? Well, right now I’m looking at a calendar, so I’m calling it Calend or Radnelac. Or I could have looked at stapler, and called it Stapeel or Relpats. Or I could have looked at a picture on my wall, and called it Pikchoor.

Doesn’t just need to be a planet. A city could be called Pikchoor. An alien could be called Pikchoor. A bar could be called Pikchoor’s Place. It’s all the same market.

Isn’t this cheating a little, not putting much thought into the creation? Hell, yes!

LESSON 5 – SO, WHAT HAPPENS IN THE GAME?

This is probably the only part of the game where you’ll have to do at least a little work but even then you can get away with limiting how long you take designing stuff. It’s a simple case of this – watch some telly, or a movie or listen to the radio, or read a book, or a magazine.

You can refresh games by taking ideas and plot threads from popular media. But, in this case to minimise work, you actually take the story and re-create it in a Star Wars setting. All you have to do is change a couple of the plot threads (like who it was who actually committed the murder, or stole the jewel, or whatever the program deals with) and just change it all for Star Wars. Fair enough, the players may have seen the same program but when you do introduce that plot change they won’t be able to second-guess you. Word of warning, though; don’t re-create the program scene-for-scene, changing the New York Cop for a Imperial Security Bureau agent or a London taxi driver for Speeder Taxi pilot. That would be dull. All you need is the elements of the story.

Is this theft of other people’s ideas? Hell, yes! But you’re not making money out of it and it’s for personal not public use, so it’s legal.

CONCLUSION – YOU LAZY, LAZY PEOPLE

Let’s face it – there’s not much to this article, is there? All I’ve done is make you all very lazy creators and GM’s, relaxing in front of the video an hour before the game, looking at stuff in your room and twisting the words and thinking of someplace you’ve been to or know of and adding a couple of aliens. It’ll be game time soon but you’ll just take another sip of your drink, shrug, and say ‘I’m ready’.

How lazy of you.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

GAMMA CON - JANUARY 28th 2012

That's right - I'm arranging a convention. Just a one-day affair where gaming geeks can gather and plot world domination. And game, if they're so inclined.



GAMMA CON is a brilliant new gamer's one day convention coming to Lichfield, Staffordshire in January 2012, showcasing all the sellers that strive to bring quality products to the hobby we support and love. We aim to back all the independent traders and clubs you don’t want to see whither away and give them a presence and regular place to trade and play.

If you’re a player or someone who wishes to demo a game they created or simply wish to run a large or small game with your local group please get in touch and I can send details on running a game or demonstration (once we've sorted it all out, of course).

The West Midlands has a large Role-Playing community and its time we had our own event, so if you live in the surrounding Shires... get in touch!

You can join our Facebook event page HERE.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ah, the good old PSX...

I loved the 1990s. One of the greatest things I used to enjoy was coming home from a night out, slightly the worst for wear, and sticking on the Playstation 1. First of all, there was the classic Playstation noise which brings back so many great, warm memories - I could listen to it again and again. Until I get bored of it, then I'd stop.



I had plenty of favourites, and they all catered for the mood I was in at the time. For some great action I'd haul out Syphon Filter -



That was a kick-ass game. Nothing could better it. Well,not until Syphon Filter 2 came out, that is.



That was much better, and an amazing sequel. It was my first foray into split-screen player vs player games, too, and me and my gaming buddy Andy would play long into the night blowing the crap out of each other. I wanted him dead so badly. Great times.

As a Star Wars fan I bought the game of the film. The film had reached out of the screen and punched me in the nuts, but the game was amazingly good. A bit of free roam, some RPG elements, pretty good action. I loved it!



To fulfill my fantasy needs there was Diablo. Other fantasy-themed games didn't really do it for me but this one kept me up all night. Again, I'd co-op with Andy with this title, and the bugger would always 'accidently' shoot me. Damn that Syphon Filter 2!



And next is my all-time favourite - Colony Wars. An amazing background fleshed out by a fantastic in-game encyclopedia that really gave some history and detail to the settled worlds, and some great gameplay and wonderful imagery. Not only that, the soundtrack was amazing. I loved it.



I was somewhat disappointed by Colony Wars: Vengeance, I thought the gameplay and visuals were lacking, but Red Sun made up for it. It did slightly dilute the Colony Wars setting with more of a multi-species angle, but it was great fun. Soundtrack was great, too.



And an honourable mention goes to Metal Gear Solid. Cutscenes were too long and it was more melodramatic than every daytime soap rolled into a great ball of cheese, but the gameplay was stunning. And then the sequels came out on PS2 and PS3, and they were all shit. So that was that.


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fighting Fantazine

As some of you may know, and maybe even some of you care, I'm a big fan of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series. Not only is this fondness borne out of nostalgia, I also think that the system is perfect for introducing new gamers to the hobby, both via the gamebooks and actual roleplaying games. Indeed, I used this system to introduce young gamers to the hobby the end of last year and they went away to form their own D&D 4th and Pathfinder groups.

The fanbase for Fighting Fantasy has always been active and there's a whole new slew of books due out, but in the meantime the fans have been hard at work - so I present to you 'Fighting Fantazine', a magazine by fans for everyone to enjoy.


There's lots of interviews, games and resources for Fighting Fantasy gamers but there's plenty of stuff even non-Fighting Fantasy players can use, stuff that can be used for inspiration. I like this magazine a lot as it's incredibly well put together and very professional. I heartily recommend it.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Stream of conciousness

So, I've been wondering what to blog about and I've decided to just write what I'm thinking as I think it.

- I think RPGs are an amazing pastime.
- I think many gamers are elitists who think their way of pretending to be a magic elf is the only way that matters.
- There is no such thing as 'gaming theory' because the reasons why people play, enjoy and create games is subjective. There's just games.
- I think the hobby is slowly decreasing but will never truly vanish. The days of the corporation gaming empires is over.
- Dungeons and Dragons is still a good game. Depending on which version you play.
- Guilds ruin online MMO gaming for me because in general they'll always contain opinionated sneaky ignorant little bitches.
- I couldn't give a flying monkey's toss about abiding by the rules in a game. I won't drastically alter them but I won't ruin the moment by spending ten minutes page-flipping either. It's my game, and contrary to some beliefs I can do what I want with it.
- RPGs promote communication, problem solving, group interaction, social skills, numeracy, imagination, creativity, lateral thinking, emotional and artistic expression and responsibilty. There should be more of them in schools.
- People whine a lot about what's wrong with the hobby but never really talk about what's good about it or how to make it better.
- RPG internet forums are a great idea, but useless for asking gaming advice because everyone posting wants a slice of that action.
- In all my years of gaming I've hardly met any proper full-on nerds who were so wrapped up in the hobby that they had no time for anything else. Like a life.
- Running my own gaming shop was the best thing I ever did, and the most heartbreaking.
- Gamers are fickle creatures.
- 'Mature' games, such as the White Wolf stuff, are anything but. Players will play any game as they see fit, and if they play them in a 'mature' fashion, then they will.
- Savage Worlds ain't all that.
- Too many games promise a lot but deliver very little.
- I know it's just a game. But I love it. And it's mine. And I'll be as serious, melodramatic and possesive about it as I see fit, and it's not your place to judge.
- And I know none of it exists, dickweed. It's called having an imagination.
- One day, I will rule the world.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Take your seats, please

For the movie is about to begin.

Need some fantasy inspiration? Well, get your notepad out and feast your eyes on the greatness that is... The Magic Sword.

Full version.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Goodbye, RIFT

You know, Rift is a good game. It plays well, it's very intuitive (especially if you're from a Warcraft background as it's basically the same game) and it looks great.

But in the end I found it somewhat boring. Uninspiring, even. It looks great and the backstory is wonderful, but it felt like I was simply walking from drab location to drab location twatting enemies. There were no moments where I found a location and marvelled at the imagery, like I did with Ironforge in WoW or the dwarven realms in WAR. There was no 'Cor, look at that!!!!' factor. It was a good game to play but was ultimately rather dull for me.

But don't let that put you off. My wife still plays Rift and she's loving every minute of it. If Star Wars: The Old Republic wasn't coming out I wouldn't have cancelled my Rift subscription, to be honest. Give me the choice between swords and lightsabres... sorry. No competition, really. But that's a matter of taste, not quality.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Star Wars: The Next Generation

I was eight, maybe nine years old when I first saw Star Wars in 1978. I was the perfect age for it, being young, impressionable and full of beans. Even though I hardly remember anything about actually seeing it for the first time on the big screen I do remember how I felt. Amazed, excited, deliriously happy; Star Wars encompassed my life at that time and, even though the theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back passed me by (you can blame Tolkien for that) I still retained my enthusiasm for it enough to see The Return of the Jedi three times in one week when it came out. After that, along with bestest buddy Mark Newbold, I continued my love affair with George Lucas’s creation. Together we wrote stories, recorded audio dramas, created worlds and characters and locations, spent years playing the West End Games roleplaying game and the computer games and then falling in love with it all over again with the Special Editions. I like to think that I was one of the millions of fans that helped keep the Star Wars torch burning.


So when Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was announced, I pretty much spent a couple of years in an excited daze, trying not to read or watch too many progress reports because I was sure my body couldn’t produce that much saliva.


To say that Episode 1 was a disappointment to me would be an understatement and I’ll not list the reasons why I disliked it here; there’s been more than enough opinion, discussion and downright hatred sprayed over the internet pretty much every day since the film was released. I will say that the primary thing that upset me was that I felt that I had been let down as an adult fan of the saga. After waiting for the possibility of a new film for fourteen years, and then waiting for the actual film for another two, I was hurt when I was pretty much told, ‘Yeah, but this film is for kids, isn’t it?’ So… I supported Star Wars for all these years to be told that this new film isn’t for me? That was quite a blow.


How would I ever get past that? That notion would discolour my view of Episodes II and III no matter how much I tried to like them and I could feel my love for the Star Wars universe unravelling.


My son Bruce is four years old, now. Recently I tried to sit down with him and watch Episode IV: A New Hope but – and it’s hard for me to say this – he didn’t like it. After the initial battle and the droids escaping the blockade runner, he got bored. Big vistas with lots of sand, some people talking, some weird old guy making funny noises to scare away ‘men in bandages’… he wasn’t impressed. We didn’t even get to Mos Eisley. I was kind of sad about that but he’s only four, though, plenty of time for him to appreciate it when he’s older.


So, I decided to sit down with him and watch Episode 1. I put in the DVD and sat back, settling him down with a drink and some lunch.


He didn’t just like it, he loved it. He was in danger of losing interest during the opening sequence, but once the battledroids approached the gas-filled room and the lightsabres appeared he was transfixed. He laughed at the battledroid’s silly voices. He sat and marvelled at the Jedi leaping about. He laughed at Jar Jar Binks and even had me wind back to watch his first encounter with Qui-Gon Jinn again as he thought it was hilarious. He loved the Gungan city and once again I had to wind back so he could watch Boss Nass again to laugh at his antics. When they were travelling through the planet core, he was on his feet yelling, ‘Look! Look, there’s something behind them! Oh no!’ During the escape from Naboo he got upset because the droids were getting shot off the ship. We had to watch the pod race three times – three times! – because he loved it so much (although I did laugh when, during the first viewing, he turned to me and asked ‘Is this a computer game?’). He cheered Anakin’s win every single time. He gave me a hug when Anakin left his mom behind and kept asking, ‘Will he go back?’ to which I had no answer. He even sat there and watched the senate stuff, and had a good laugh at Yoda’s voice and all the strange aliens on the screen. Then the space battle, the Gungan fight and the lightsabre duel amazed him. When Obi-Wan fell down the shaft he grabbed me tight – I had to tell him what was happening, as he couldn’t watch - and at the end he smiled, laughed and asked, ‘Can I watch it again?’ And through it all he laughed at everything Jar Jar Binks did, everything he said and every fart/poop joke he participated in. He loved him. He loved the film.


Most importantly, I felt all this with him. I felt every bit of excitement, fear and amazement he felt. I watched his eyes widen, silent wow’s spread across his face and I smiled every time he turned to me with a huge smile or a request to wind it back. I could feel everything he was experiencing and through him experienced it myself, saw the film through fresh, young eyes and enjoyed it as if I was watching it for the first time. I realised that he loved the film for the same reason I loved Episode 1 thirty-three years ago; it was something he’d never seen before. It wasn’t an obvious cartoon or a computer animated feature, it was actual people interacting with real starships, robots and aliens. The world of Star Wars was alive.


How can I stay angry at a film that does that for children? Amazes and impresses them? I know Bruce is only four, almost five, and no doubt he’ll have his attention drawn away by the next sparkling thing he sees, but this was the first movie he sat all the way through and responded to with such enjoyment.


Not only that, but I experienced Episode 1 in an entirely different way. Gone was the expectation, gone was the fear that the movie would be bad, gone were the years of creating the perfect Star Wars movie in my head. I hadn’t watched it for a long time but I was expecting the same feelings to surface; annoyance, frustration and disbelief to rear their ugly heads at certain points in the film, but none of them did. I felt no anger to the film at all because it was as if Bruce was loving the film for me, and I was finally seeing, through him, what all those moments in the movie that I disliked or hated were designed to achieve. There were no preconceptions, hopes or fears. There was just the experience, the experience of watching the film for the first time and loving it because I once again felt young enough to love it.


I’ll never rid myself of those impressions of seeing Episode 1 for the first time. I’ll never forget how I felt when I left the cinema, or the moment I realised that I shouldn’t be actively defending the film because if it was that good a film it shouldn’t need to be defended. That will always be with me.


But I’ll also never forget the day I realised how good the film is, not for me but for those who are going to inherit the saga. How much fun it is, how amazing and how dramatic.


It took a viewing with my four year old son to make me realise that I can enjoy the film. That I don’t have to have it on my DVD shelf just to ‘complete the collection’, and that I can pop it in my player and watch it and enjoy it, and rid myself of those dark thoughts of 1999 and immerse myself in the fresh child-like experience of 2011. I could fully love and appreciate Star Wars again. All of it.


It took me this long to realise it, but Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace really was made for children.


I’d just forgotten how to be one.




This article originally appeared on http://www.jedinews.co.uk/

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Star Wars D6

All this talk about the new MMO 'The Old Republic' has gotten me all excited about roleplaying Star Wars again. I've been looking over the setting, which can be found at the official website, and I just love it. The look, the feel and the sheer amount of fun you can have in this time period is just so appealing. I'll no doubt give the game a try when it comes out - I'm a Star Wars fan, of course I will - and I'll see how I get on, but I really want to run a D6 game for this. The sheer amount of info on the official page is more than enough to set me up for a campaign or two.

Just to prove my point, have a look at the three promotional videos below and tell me that this stuff isn't perfect for a Star Wars D6 game:





Sunday, 4 September 2011

Problems with AD&D Part 2 - I've been here before!

Holy crap!

I've been sorting my folders out this weekend, trying to manage my work and get everything tidied up, and I found this letter I wrote and posted to DRAGON magazine waaaaay back in the late 1990s, before 3rd Edition was announced. Even back then I had a bee in my bonnet about AD&D 2nd Edition.

I'm going to assume it was never published.

JONATHAN HICKS

* ******** *****

******** ****

*********

*************

**** ***

ENGLAND

Dear Dragon,

I have noticed a trend recently for players to continually discuss the necessities of certain rules and rule applications during a game. From what I can tell from the sort of enquiries you get in your regular SAGE ADVICE feature, there are a lot of players and referees who need clarification on how certain aspects of the rules system works. I am sure that this goes for other games, and not just the AD&D genre.

This worries me. I get the impression that more people are worried about the adjudication and interpretation of the system instead of the actual game itself. This leads me to conclude that there are many gamers out there who haven’t bought their games to role-play, but to take part in an elaborate wargame.

I think this stems from the old days of dungeon-bashing, when a wicked referee would design a cruel dungeon to pit his friends against, and not care about how the players would react in a role-play situation. I would like to think that the game has come a long way since then, but it appears not. Although I understand that many new gamers will treat the game in such a way, and this column helps them along the road to becoming a better role-player, it does not encourage any of the players to optionalise or find a way around the ruling to make everyone happy. I get the impression that the whole game is on ‘hold’ whilst the enquirer waits for an answer to the question.

In fact, the whole of DRAGON magazine is fundamentally the same. It appears to be a monthly book of charts and tables to add on to an already overbearing and outdated role-playing game. There are new characters and creatures, but they lack depth and just appear to be another monster with a long list of statistics and abilities. They have histories, sure, but these are just to make them appear more of an individual than the last monster or character.

You have to remember that yours is probably the only major international magazine on the shelves, with every other magazine either folding after several months or not even getting the kind of exposure you do. Personally, I think it’s time for you to change. I know that a lot of your readers will stand and cry ‘there is no need to change! Everything’s fine, and the magazine is just right for us! We will keep it that way!’ Remember, TSR are not their own company anymore now that WotC have taken them over, which, considering that TSR were supposed to be the biggest role-playing company around, does not bode well for the gaming industry as a whole. Now that other big companies have gone (such as Games Designers Workshop and West End Games), I think that Dragon magazine should reconsider it’s duty as ‘The World’s Most Popular Role-Playing Magazine’ and start to include other games for it’s major articles, and not just the AD&D game, which may be the original role-playing game but is now also the most stagnant.

AD&D was an inspirational game but now it’s time for a change. Keep the Statistics, such as Strength and Charisma, but lose the saving throws, which seem very contrived, and introduce a better skill system, maybe something based around the skill check roll or the percentile skill roll. This will broaden the abilities and scope of the game and make it a hell of a lot easier to understand. I don’t actually play the AD&D game anymore, I haven’t played it since the second edition came out, but I have continued to buy Dragon because I still like the nostalgic feeling I get when I read it. Now I am very disillusioned with the magazine, because all it does now is repeat itself.

I understand that this letter will probably not get printed; after all, it is not exactly a letter of praise, but my intention is not to offend or be unsupportive of your future. It is to make the readers think a little more about role-playing as a whole, and not just the AD&D game, and if they support the entire hobby as they support TSR, then the role-playing world will get the boost it needs to grow once more.

My final message is this - it’s time for a change, Dragon. Maybe you should shed your scales and start again.

Thanks for your time,

JONATHAN HICKS


Conclusions? Well, I obviously knew shit all about WotC's take over of TSR.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Problems with AD&D

Now, I played a lot of Basic D&D in the 1980s and then went on to AD&D 2nd Edition. As much as I enjoyed Basic D&D I could never get my head around AD&D. My first opinion of it was that it was too complicated but that was to be expected, coming from Basic D&D as I did. I played it for about a year and during that time I slowly changed from simply disliking it to outright hating it. It just didn't work for me.

There were several reasons I didn't like it and quite a few things I couldn't quite put my finger on, but I recently found this website that lists a dude's problems with AD&D. He pretty much nails what I thought, and even though his crusade to make people discover other gaming systems seems pretty arrogant and some of his opinions are a matter of taste he makes some very good points, and reminds me why it was I stopped playing D&D for twenty years.

You can read the page here. It's an old collection of articles but I think they're still relevant.

I rediscovered D&D with 4th Edition in 2009 but didn't like that much, either, and I took a step back and bought the D&D 3.0 rules. Now, that was more like it. Even though there was still a lot of crap in there it was crap I could work with to get a decent game out of it. In fact, I've found an excellent website that converts the Birthright Campaign Setting to 3.x et al, and the documents are free to download. Birthright is my kind of setting and I'm seriously considering creating a campaign for it. In fact, if anyone out there has the old Birthright Conspectus and they don't want it anymore then let me know as I can give it a good home.

Right now I'm enjoying my mate Jason's Pathfinder campaign. I can watch him run it and, as it's pretty much 3.x in new clothes, I can observe how it plays and how he handles certain situations. I'm definitely interested in running a game but I know for a fact there'll have to be some trimming of the rules for me to fully enjoy it.

ADDITIONAL:

I'm not one to blow my own trumpet but a message a friend of mine left me has made me feel all warm and glowing inside. I'd been talking about the D6 Star Wars RPG and spoke about how those first few games taught me a lot. He left me this message:

'That's always been your biggest strength as a GM, as opposed to other gamers who only focussed on the rules and technical aspects of the game. You're always striving to finesse your GM skills and not get too stale, while always keeping the 'feel' of a Jon Hicks game. I think that's why your settings and game systems are so spot-on, you understand what makes a game work so well.
Yeah, thinking on it those first few months of SW RPG (I still have the map of the first game you did, the warehouse with the security guards) were pretty generic, but we were all so stoked to be playing SW RPG - who cared! It would have been easy not to analyse it, but you did, and what followed was far better!'

Cheers, Mark. I can't begin to tell you how much that means to me.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Gamers of the world - UNITE!

I'm a big fan of bringing gamers together, and I didn't realise this existed over at ENWORLD:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/gamersseekinggamers.php

It's a way to find other gamers, stores and events for a variety of players.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The HARD SIXES Ebay store - NOW OFFICIALLY CLOSED!!!

But how can this be???

Well, I need to take Hard Sixes in new directions and the amount of competition on the internet, especially on Ebay, is so huge that even larger companies with lots of stock are finding things difficult, and they outshine little old me in the corner pleading for scraps.

So, I'm refocusing Hard Sixes and I'm going to concentrate on the convention circuit. Where I live is a nexus for gamers and we have to travel far for a gaming fix. I'm going to change all that.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

HARD SIXES - making some changes!

The HARD SIXES Ebay store - we still have plenty of stock to sell off. We're moving from the world of retail into the world of conventions, so we want to get rid of this stuff to help fund our new ideas! Some good deals to be had, from very old collector's items to brand new material.

http://stores.ebay.co.uk/Hard-Sixes-Games

Tell your friends! Tell them to tell their friends! And tell them to tell their friends to tell, oh, you get the idea.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

And now for a word from our sponsors...

I've been downloading lots of free RPG stuff recently and I've come across all kinds of wonderful stuff. Some of it is quickstart rules, some of it complete rules systems, some of it just fun stuff you can get some use out of, maybe even a campaign.

So, below are a few links where you can find some cool free downloads. (If the link doesn't work then apologies, but it's no doubt been changed since I posted this.

I've started this with Darkshire's list of links to free games in general - this is a fantastic list and there's some great games on here.


Then there's Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu Quickstart stuff.

Oh, and their Basic Roleplaying Quickstart.

Rob Lang's ICAR is always a winner.

AntiPaladin Games Minisix - a cutdown version of the D6 system - is excellent.

MicroLite20 is a great game for all you D&Ders out there who want things less complicated.

The Dragon Warriors Introductory game is always worth a look. (This link takes you straight to the PDF).

Savage Worlds is a good 'un.

A Song of Ice and Fire has a quickstart - and as I'm enjoying Game of Thrones right now, this is a good one.

An excellent Deathwatch Introductory Game from Fantasy Flight Games is here.

And I think I'll leave it at that for now. Some of these games you can get a half-decent campaign out of, but nothing quite takes the place of the full game, with all the options and opportunities it gives.

More FFG 'Star Wars' News

Thanks to my best buddy Mark Newbold over at www.jedinews.co.uk - he's sent me some details about the upcoming Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars games, courtesy of www.clubjade.net and www.thehopelessgamer.blogspot.com - no news as of yet on the RPG, mind.

Gencon: Fantasy Flight previews Star Wars games


Just in from Gencon - X-Wing and Star Wars the Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games


New From Gencon - Star Wars the Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games Picture Megapost!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Warhammer 40K Movie

Let me explain to you why I feel let down by the WH40K movie 'Ultramarines'.



The WH40K universe is big. Like, utterly huge. It’s bigger than the car park at Asda/Walmart, that’s how big it is. It’s so big, it would take longer than ten minutes to walk across it. A lot longer. The history is huge. HUGE! 40,000 years worth of HUGE. It’s an intricate story spread across thousands of light years and encompassing billions of souls – THAT’S MORE SOULS THAN THE COMBINED NUMBER OF SUPPORTERS OF EVERY FOOTBALL TEAM IN THE LONDON AREA! Can you even get your head around that? Mine hurts just thinking about it.

But primarily, it’s rich in design, atmosphere and sheer batshit insane gonzo baddassery. The imagery is something to behold and some of the artwork over the years has been incredible. This cyber-gothic-grimdark-religious-psychotic-conspiracy feel it has, that every dark place in the universe is out to get you and that the threat can only be answered with explosive bullets. It’s insane.

So what do we get from ‘Ultramarines’? Some pretty standard CGI animation that looks like it belongs on a Saturday morning cartoon. I’m wondering if the guys behind Dan Dare simply had free weekends. I watched a story about some Space Marines getting into shit on a planet I didn’t care about, shooting other Space Marines who were bad. I’ve been told that if I didn’t like it, then I’m not a true WH40K fan and that this was made for the fans.

It really was made for the fans, because only the fans would buy it. This does not bode well for a full-on blow-my-balls-off Space Marines movie. It’s almost as if the guys who own the IP are afraid to show the greater world, like there’s some kind of continuity that nobody else gives a shit about that cannot be intruded upon. You want to impress me? Tell me a story that affects the whole WH40K universe. Like a huge crusade. Or the collapse of the Imperium. Or the God Emperor waking up. DO SOMETHING BALLSY. Because I don’t give a crap about a Space Marine chapter that nobody really likes, anyway. God, even Space Wolves might have held my attention better.

I understand what went into the movie, the talent, money and man-hours, but WH40K, that huge insane conglomeration of panic, fear and imagery, deserved so much more than this.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Fantasy Flight Games acquires Star Wars IP

Well, well, well - I have to say, they're a good choice for a publisher as they do some great games. No idea how they'll handle a roleplaying game, though. Will they do what they did with the WH40K games, going back to the original Warhammer game system, the percentile dice, but use the classic D6 system*? Will they create a whole new system? Or will they create a boardgame/RPG hybrid like they did with WFRP 3rd?

Full report here from my friends at Jedi News.

I guess we've got a wait on our hands.

*Here's hoping! But it's unrealistic.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Warhammer Online - Age Of Reckoning

It's not often that I find any kind of inspiration in a computer game. I've played many over the years and apart from the obvious console games like Fallout and Mass Effect, games that would would make great RPGs, I've never really been inspired by them. I'll rob ideas, sure, but I've never actually thought, 'I'd love to game in that world!'

I played Warhammer FRP extensively in the 1990s/early 2000s and so it might seem strange that I would draw inspiration from a computer game of a world that I'd already been playing in. The thing is, this was the new updated version of Warhammer's Old World, and as I'd also bought the collector's box I also got a gorgeous hardback book filled with artwork for the game.



I saw Warhammer in a whole different light, this highly stylised and atmospheric game far removed from the pseudo-historical low-magic games I'd been running more than a decade before. The PvP was the best I'd ever played and the huge battles were incredible. It was wonderful and gave me a whole new outlook on and drive to run Warhammer FRP.

It also gave me the chance to physically design my characters as well as create their WFRP stats. I played each of these characters extensivley in the online game world. First, there was Salmonius, the human Witch Hunter melee DPS:



He was my first experimental PC for the game - I never take my first toons seriously and just use them to get a grasp of the world. He turned out pretty good, mind.

Then there was Beerswiller, my dwarf Warrior tank:



He did a little better and I got him the furthest, but as a tank I have to rely on too many other players to have my back and... well... let's just say I couldn't count on anyone, especially in Tier 1.

Then there was the cream of the crop, Hellfeur, my human Bright Wizard ranged DPS:



Definitely my favourite, and his AOE attacks were devastating. He was maxed to the... well, max.

For each one I created a past and a backstory, and created their stats for WFRP. The artwork book gave some imagery that sent me into giddy giggling fits, I was so excited about opening the book to show the players different characters or locations. I even had the strategy guide book filled with more art and maps! It was going to be... AMAZING!!!

Of course, it was going to be, but it never happened. Pisser. I still want to do it!! DO YOU HEAR ME, GAMING GROUP?!

Oh, and I stopped playing Warhammer Online about three months after I began. Why? Well, the game was excellent, far better than most MMOs I'd played, but the gaming world felt small and limited and once you'd fought everywhere in every tier you'd pretty much covered the game. Also, the business minds behind the game had rubbish support and customer updates, and they kept dangling teasers in front of our faces as if something huge was about to happen - you know, game-changing Warcraft Cataclysm huge. But no, it never happened. Shame. Warhammer Online could have been huge, but I think EA/Bioware's new Star Wars: The Old Republic might give it that final push into an undeserved grave.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Call Of Cthulhu... in SPAAAACE!

Well, not exactly.

After perusing some of Chaosium's free downloads on their website www.chaosium.com, I realised that a science fiction version of their flagship horror roleplaying would be amazing. If you took the basic Call of Cthulhu system, kept the sanity rules, and added a few skills to represent the sci-fi then you'd be on to a winner. You don't even need to include stats or rules for starships, really, as you could just use all that as window dressing, like an ocean liner or aeroplane in CoC. Like in Cthulhu: Dark Ages you could keep the rules to a basic minimum and flesh out the atmosphere with the rest of the book, making it self contained so that you can use it with the mythos or use your own creations. I was thinking of running a Dark Ages game minus the Cthulhu mythos, and use creatures from the Runequest games. Dark Ages is a wonderfuly simple fantasy roleplaying game, if you want to use it like that.

Anyway, I digress. So, you could keep the Cthulhu mythos if you wanted (that would be proper cool - imagine searching long-abandoned asteroid bases overrun by Mi-Go, or travelling to the other side of the galaxy and finding a Great Old One's ancient, deserted city) but you could also use it for other sci-fi horror/mystery games and do your version of Alien, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Outland.

It's something to consider, for sure. I know we've got Cthulhutech, but in my book Lovecraft, mechs and anime don't mix. Take me back to the dark sci-fi of the late 1970s.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Horror Science Fiction

It's official. I'm in love with Eclipse Phase.



I love the idea, the atmosphere and the rules system. The thing is, it doesn't do exactly what I want it to do...

I've been getting back in to my science fiction horror recently and enjoying it immensley. I think it's because I'm getting all excited about Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' movie that comes out next year. I remember those horrible feelings of terror, of the fear of the unknown, when I was a boy watching 'Alien' and 'The Thing'. This kind of horror these days is done for the shock value, the kind of nervous jump and disgusting visuals we now come to expect. Yeah, I know, The Thing was pretty damn visceral and gory, but the story and the characters held up well in between the moments of fleshy explosions and the horror was palpable. Alien even more so.

So, I'm wondering what system would I use to run a game such as this?

Eclipse Phase would do it, but the horror level isn't exceptionally well represented in the game. It's there, but it's not the forefront of what the game is about and the whole morph/resleeve coolness would overshadow the terror.

Call of Cthulhu is perfect - the Sanity rules alone help, but the far-future concept isn't really covered. Sure, there's CthulhuTech, but that doesn't appeal. Maybe a combination of classic Call of Cthulhu and Basic Roleplaying to get hold of the sci-fi aspects of the game system?

My next port of call are the Warhammer 40K RPGs: Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader and Deathwatch. The thing is, I'm looking for PCs that are normal and out of their depth, whereas 40K PCs will solve any terror situations by either calling in an orbital strike or standing behind the guy with the heavy bolter. Great games, but not sure about how much of a threat the terror could really be in the face of explosive bullets.

Of course, any of these games - or any game - can be tweaked to make the setting work but all things considered I think I'll stick with the tried and tested system; Call of Cthulhu. The 6th Edition has details of the modern day in it's system so, adding a few extra skills to reflect the sci-fi era the PCs are in, I can make that work and get my own seven man crew on an interstellar commercial towing vehicle in no time.

'Oh, God, it's moving right toward you! Move! Get out of there!'

Sunday, 24 July 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 29 - 2011

So, here we are.

I've come a long way with this series of blogs. There's a heck of a lot of other things I could talk about but what I've written here are the bullet points, the important incidents that I thought were worth recording. I'm of the mind to take the whole series and expand on it, filling in lots of smaller details and letting all and sundry know of the full story, of the gamers, incidents and upheavels that have changed my hobby, my perspective on life and my life in general. There's a lot more I can say (a lot I haven't included due to the nature of the incidents, but I now feel that I can address these as long as nobody is incriminated) but I'll gather together all the blog entries and consider filling in the gaps at a later date.

So, I was unemployed in a recession and becoming desperate. I managed to secure small amounts of money that kept my family afloat but then, out of the blue, I found a temporary job that managed to solve most of my problems. I was back in my dayjob mode, back into customer service and account management, and even though it wasn't where I wanted to be it got me through. Recently they decided that I was more than just a temp and made me permanent so now I have job security.

Hard Sixes still exists on the ineternet as an Ebay store but the money it makes hardly covers the monthly outgoings. I'm looking at it as an account for a possible future gaming convention, to be held in Lichfield where I live and to help support the gaming community and other local stores.

I still play every Thursday night and we have a new gamer in our ranks called Nic, who I met at my shop, and he's an experienced gamer who brings a whole new dimension to the game. I've also been in talks with my old Warhammer pal Andy and he's thinking of rejoining our group. Paul is attending when he can, too, so it looks like we're getting the band back together. In fact, now that my home is up for sale and we're looking to move on to greener pastures things are looking good and for the first time for more than two years I'm starting to feel relaxed and happy with everything. I find it almost humorous that my simple hobby of make believe that I love so much almost ruined me.

So, there you have it. This, as they say, is the end. Now I can get back to blogging about normal stuff.

Define normal.

My Gaming Memoirs Part 28 - 2010

Now, I didn't totally give up MMOs. I had a stab at quite a few - Guild Wars, EVE, Lord Of The Rings Online - but I couldn't quite get into them, The only one I had any success with, and truly loved, was Warhamer Online: Age of Reckoning. That was brilliant, and as a lover of Warhammer it gave me all kinds of fun.

My game of choice was Dragon Warriors, a game recommended to me by James Wallis, the publisher, who sent me a preview PDF to tip me over into the game. I bought it, and the supplements, and ran it. It was highly successful and I felt that I was getting back into gaming proper. After this I ran Buck Rogers XXVc, and then Jason took over with a Pathfinder game that we're still playing today.

This year also took me into an area of the RPG hobby that I had always wanted to do. Own my own hobby shop. So, with my friend Richard, we opened an account, located a small store in an indoor market and got in the stock. My dream had come true - Hard Sixes: The Hobby Shop was born and opened early August. It was a much smaller enterprise then an idea that my wife and I had envisioned earlier in the year, a full gaming shop with gaming areas and clubs. We were going to call it 'Halfling House' and had even registered it as a limited company and secured suppliers, right before the money people ripped the financial rug out from under us.

Now, I had spent a couple of months on the pulse of the local gaming community and the support for the shop was great. As far as I was concerned, this was the greatest thing to happen for gaming in my local area and now gamers wouldn't have to travel for miles and miles to locate a gaming store.

Let's just say that the support was very vocal. Unfortunately, it wasn't backed up by purchases and the shop was forced to close in the following December. I managed to introduce lots of new gamers to the hobby - and they're still gaming today - and met lots of great people and interesting groups. I miss my shop terribly but I knew the risks when I opened. So now, when people accuse me of taking my hobby too seriously, my answer is - 'Yeah, I opened a shop and managed to get myself more than ten thousand pounds in debt. You're damn right I'm fucking serious about it'.

So by the end of the year I was jobless, in debt and in danger of my whole life being turned upside down on every level because of the risk I had taken in opening the shop. Things couldn't get much worse, surely?

Monday, 18 July 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 27 - 2009

Well, well, well. World of Warcraft. The game I said I would never play because, well, it's not real roleplaying, is it? No. It isn't. What it is, is a very good computer game.

I never played it much for the first couple of months as it my wife was the one who loved it. It was a pretty good arrangement - get the little one off to sleep and I'd work on my writing whilst she played WoW. It worked really well, until I noticed she was having a lot of fun with it. So, I thought I'd give it a bash, as well.

Warcraft was very addictive. We played it as often as we could, joined guilds, did raids and dungeons and festivals. We got very friendly with people from all over the world and I figured I was finally getting some gaming done. I was sadly mistaken. I was playing a repetative, linear and somewhat dull computer game given depth by the illusion of interactivity. It took me several months to realise that it wasn't a pastime, it was dominating my life and that of my wife. It wasn't a pleasant realisation.

I had also started gaming with Mark, doing one-on-one Star Wars D6 games. The old buzz was back and I remembered what it was like to get truly excited about roleplaying games and I started wanting more.

During all this I was contacted by Jason - the poor bugger had broken his leg and had become bedridden for a few months and during this time he purchased and absorbed Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. 'Fancy a game?' he asked, and with that me, Mark and Paul started spending Thursday nights at Jason's house playing the new D&D.

Now, D&D 4th is a good game but it's not my kind of game. It felt too much like a boardgame and the similarities to WoW (which many people will deny but are unmistakebly there) stood out to me. Although I didn't fall in love with 4th I realised that I missed roleplaying terribly. Slowly and surely World of Warcraft's grip on me started to slip. It all came to a head later in the year and both me and my wife dropped WoW for good and swore never to go back to that kind of gaming.

I was back at the gaming table and, with new gamer Andy joining our ranks, we ran through D&D 4th and I eyed a new system for us to have a go at, a fresh game that I could run.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 26 - 2008

So... this was the year in which I never gamed. At all. Not once.

The entire year went by and I never gamed, bought any gaming material or even sat down with anyone and just talked about games. Nothing at all.

So that's pretty much it for this year.

Oh... except for the time I started my own gaming company. Okay, that's probably a bit misleading - I never started up a huge enterprise with shedloads of money and stuff. I started a small company I called 'Farsight Games', I designed a dead simple game system called the SKETCH system and I published a free e-zine called 'ODDS' magazine. I was pleased with the work I did - I know I only spent time doing it due to the fact that I wasn't gaming and I needed to get a gaming fix somehow, but I also felt - probably wrongly - that I had spent so much time in the hobby that I wanted to kind of give something back, put my experience to use and put my own work out there. And start small, too, after the disaster that was The League of Seven.

My e-zine 'ODDS' did well - I managed to secure interviews with business names such as Bill Coffin and Eric Gibson, covered events, did competitions and generally had a high circulation. Sadly, lack of material forced it to cease and I do miss it.

My SKETCH system got some good reviews and di the rounds but only for a short while. Already established free games such as Risus were all that gamers needed and a small, simple and free system wasn;t worth that much time. I experimented with some settings, some established and some of my own design, and let the system rest.

What did I learn from all this? That editing an e-zine and developing and promoting a game, even a free one, is hard work. It was satisfying, though, and given a little more time I'd do it all again.

By Christmas I had exhausted myself and just wanted to rest, so my wife suggested we have a go at World of Warcraft.

Damn.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 25 - 2007

This year was somewhat better for me. Gaming was still scarce but I managed to get half a dozen games in with my old friend Andy, the guy who I kicked all kinds of roleplaying rear end with in the 1990s. We dived into a Warhammer FRP game which I set in the city of Remus - basically Rome. I was going to use some of my Roman knowledge and set up a deep, involving murder-mystery (and shedloads of ultraviolence).

It was great. It felt natural, slipping into an old system with an old friend and the game flowed well. The murder happened, the mystery deepened and the ultraviolence blossomed. It was a fun, deep game that taxed us both.

Taxed us both for two reason - Andy was running around after three kids, and I was running around after one and I also got married. Yes, that was quite a year!

It was this year I published a short story anthology called Those Dark Places, which got me into the local papers and a few copies were sold. I was going to follow on with another two novellas called All Fall Down and a historical fiction novel called A Soldier Of Rome, but these books never materialised as I had got the roleplaying bug again. I had some time on my hands - most of my nights were spent looking after my wife and my son.

Sadly, Andy didn't have the time. The game ended on a cliffhanger and Andy couldn't make the next game. Or the one after that. The game stopped and Andy couldn't make it anymore. I realised then that I had to stop looking back for my gaming fix, I had to start looking forward, try and find other games and start new games and adventures. If I wanted to game, I had to start afresh.

Strangely, I saw Andy for the first time in a long time today, just a few hours ago, totally by accident, and we didn't even have the time to reminisce about our adventures. I miss our games.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 24 - 2006

And this was the year that I realised that my gaming could only go in one direction, the direction that any avid roleplayer at least considers dabbling in to test their mettle, try their hand and attempt to revolutionise the industry.

I was going to attempt to self-publish my own roleplaying game.

So I did.

And it was shit.

I had done loads of work on The League Of Seven years before but it had petered out and all that work was still sat on my hard drive, doing nothing. I had to do something with it and with support from my wife-to-be Lisa I set up an account with www.lulu.com to try it out. Did I playtest, edit and scrutinise the work I had done? No. No, I didn't. The system was broke and useless, the setting wasn't filled out properly and the art... the art I did as fillers and guidelines for a proper artist. But, considering that an artist was not going to work for very little (ie free), I ended up using that. And it sucked.

I suppose I was under a bit of pressure. You see, I was also going to be a dad.

That's right. Nerds breed.

I had taken a long, hard look at my roleplaying collection which consisted of pretty much an entire bookcase and decided that 90% of it wasn't being played and it should go on Ebay, to fund my son's arival into the world.

So, my collection went from this:

2300AD plus 2 supplements. Advanced D&D 2nd Edition plus 8 supplements. Advanced D&D. Alternity. Amber Diceless. Basic D&D first three boxsets. Battlelords of the 23rd Century. Buck Rogers XXVc plus 1 supplement. Bureau 13. Call of Cthulhu plus 14 supplements. Champions. Conspiracy X. Cyberpunk 2020 and 2 supplements. Darksword Adventures. Elric! Everway. FASA Star Trek plus four supplements. Fighting Fantasy plus one supplement. Ghostbusters. Golden Heroes. GURPS. Judge Dredd plus 2 supplements. Manhunter. Marvel Super Heroes. Mechwarrior. Megatraveller. Men in Black. MERP plus 18 supplements. Mutant Chronicles. Paranoia. Pendragon. Prime Directive plus 1 supplement. Runequest and Advanced Runequest plus 1 supplement. Shadowrun plus 2 supplements. Star Wars D6 (including 2nd Edition and Revised) plus every supplement published except for 2 books. Stormbringer. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plus 2 supplements. The D6 System. Twilight 2000 plus 3 supplements. Vampire: The Masquerade. WFRP plus 6 supplements. WFRP 2nd Edition plus 2 supplements. I also had the games: Aliens Boardgame, Dark Future, Dragonstrike, First Quest, Star Trek III Starship Tactical Combat, Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

To this:

Star Wars D6 RPG (1st edition) with the Star Wars Sourcebook, Imperial Sourcebook, Rebel Sourcebook, Rules Companion and Gamesmaster's Screen. WFRP (1st edition) with Warhammer Companion and Gamesmaster's Screen. Buck Rogers XXVc. MERP boxset. Fighting Fantasy.

Yes. That was quite the cull. Still, it not only paid for my son Bruce, there was lots of money left over for other things, too. I have no regrets. Well, maybe the Cthulhu stuff. But that's it. And my Basic D&D boxes.

So, my life was changing and roleplaying was still helping me through it.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 23 - 2005

And another slow year. But, to be fair, that wasn't totally my fault.

I discovered two things this year. One, I found that blogging was helping me with my lack of gaming and was giving me focus and something to write. It didn't help that the blog was basically me ranting about everything I hated about the world, usually after a few drinks. My nights became alcohol-fuelled rages about anything that even mildly upset me, and after several hours of typing, a bottle of Southern Comfort and smoking a packet of twenty Embassy No1 I was usually pretty much useless for anything else.

So gaming came to a juddering halt. No games here or there, no swift scenarios or a quick bashes. There were no games, period. I didn't write for them, didn't run them, didn't play them, didn't even read them. There was no gaming, at all. None. Zilch. My roleplaying days were over. Gone. Finished. Behind me. I was destined to never sit behind a GM's shield ever again, or roll dice, or imagine myself as an otherwordly hero.

You get the picture.

The second thing was finding out that my writing skills were getting me paid work. I was approached to draft a treatment, design the missions and write the dialogue for a video game of the new re-imagined 'Battlestar Galactica'. I had seen the whole first series so I jumped at the chance and within a couple of days had written the entire thing, including the presentation for the pitch to Universal and extra bonus missions. The contract was won and my work was turned into a video game. At last! My work was being recognised!

It was a thrill, but I still wasn't gaming. In fact, my gaming really had seemed to have come to an end.

Now that I think about it, I should have just skipped a few years until 2009 when I got back into gaming proper. Still, a few things did happen between now and then.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 22 - 2004

So my gaming had taken a turn for the worst but my writing hadn't. It was this year I decided to have a serious stab at getting published and I did so by being featured in the British Science Fiction Association writer's magazine 'FOCUS' with a short story based on part of a huge science fiction roleplaying campaign I had done years before. It got some pretty good feedback and gave me the impetus to try some more. My League of Seven setting began to take form in a detailed novel, the first eight chapters I managed to complete, but this was abandoned and the chapters incorporated into the Lo7 game as short filler stories to help invoke atmosphere.

I found myself longing for the old days of my gaming. I wanted the 1980s back - not the music or style, just the gaming - as I missed the wide-eyed wonder of new games, discoveries and realisations about what I could do with the hobby. I missed dungeon-bashing, and those first few emotionally-driven games that I would throw my heart in to with abandon, and laugh and fantasize and not care about anything else except being there, in the game, as that character. Now I was working, I had responsibilities, I was much more self-conscious about the level of emotional involvement I had in the game, and was now very coy about expressing myself as wildly as I used to. I was playing at being grown up and I wasn't being very good at it.

I realised then, as I do now, that one of the things I missed the most about the old games was becoming invested in a character. It seemed I had gone full circle - the stats on the paper were just numbers to me when I first began in the hobby, and they were number on a sheet to me once again. The PC was a playing piece, not a character by any stretch of the imagination. I still think I feel that way and I still long for games I can lose myself in.

This was mainly due to the lack of gaming. The games were quick, one-off, simple, with next to no chance of blossoming into a larger campaign. I was becoming lethargic about the whole thing, cynical. I needed a kick, something that would re-ignite my passion for the hobby. I was spending my time writing and that was just fine, but I needed game time.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 21 - 2003

And like that - my gaming ceased.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly happened. I know that my gaming friends had moved away, become too busy or had conflicting schedules and my main gaming partner Andy had moved a couple of hundred miles away for a new job. It suddenly stopped and I was left in RPG limbo. I still socialised with my non-gaming friends and had fun at weekends, but my weeks were primarily made up of me designing lots of stuff for RPGs and then ultimately binning the ideas. That was pretty soul-destroying as I was having some great ideas, some of which I have or am hoping to replicate in upcoming campaigns, and they were being discarded or forgotten about. My initial enthusiasm for the projects was being extinguished by there being no game to give the idea an outlet. I became incredibly frustrated.

This led to finding other avenues of creativity. I joined the British Science Fiction Association and became interested in submitting work for their writer's journal 'Focus', I delved into more script writing and I wrote setting bibles for different projects. Now my ideas were being given flesh outside the RPG hobby and it was amazing how my years of gaming aided me in my endeavours. I was pretty fluent in story and plot creation, characterisation, dialogue and even art that helped me visualise my ideas. I then started reading books on writing and filmmaking and world creation by established and famous authors and through those I learned a lot.

But even though I was learning new skills that would utlimately lead to publication I still wasn't gaming. All that year the same thought burned through my head - could this be the end of my hobby?

Don't be daft.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 20 - 2002

Well, my gaming plodded on. There were some great WFRP games still, but they were dwindling. A lot of my time was now being spent on reading and writing games, and even more was being spent on tweaking my D12 system game 'The League Of Seven'.

A non-gaming friend of mine, Lee, was a bit of a computer genius and we spoke at length (during one of our drunken conversations) about making games available online. You sign up, pay a subscription or just a flat fee and you get access to the game, gaming materials and extras. We decided to use my D12 game and he set about building the website and I wrote the game.

It was long, arduous work. I redesigned the game system, the setting, the adventures, the history, the suppplements - I created everything from scratch. Lee built the website from the bottom up (sadly, it no longer exists) and created everything we would have needed to get the project started. I even did the artwork, simple sketches to fill the gaps until proper artwork could be sourced. It would have been amazing, if it had actually happened.

I have no general idea why it was we never took the plunge and just released the game. I know I wasn't 100% satisfied with the game. The system was still a bit clunky and I was leaning further and further away from using a single D12 as the main die and was angling more towards 2D6. I couldn't get much playtesting done as my gaming circle had reduced to virtually nothing quite dramatically and Lee had other things going on in his life that he had to attend to. There was never a moment where we said, 'okay, we've gotta let this go', we simply stopped working on it. It was a real shame.

In other gaming related areas, the Lightsabre website was still going strong and more material was being added to it all the time as we found old notes, drawings, gaming material and books. The Setnin Sector was larger and vaster than even we had realised, until it got so big we had to cut away a lot of the planets in it and call it a region, not a sector. It amazed me just how much material a gaming group could create over a few combined years of gaming. Everything was being edited and used, everything from every GM that had run a game in Setnin. It was numbering tens of thousands of words and filling our allocated website space quite rapidly. It was something to be proud of. In fact, Lightsabre was becoming so popular that we had started to interview the stars of the books and movies - Kevin J Anderson, David Prowse, Kenny Baker. In later years Anthony Daniels, Irvin Kershner and Rick McCallum would join the illustrious roster as Mark email- and telephone-interviewed his heart out. Lightsabre had become much more than a resource for the Setnin Sector and took on a life of it's own, becoming one of the most popular Star Wars fansites in the world.

After this year, my writing and roleplaying would start to pay off in ways I didn't see coming.