Monday, 21 September 2020

Unboxing 'Escape the Dark Sector' from Themeborne

As lockdowns increase again I'm finding it hard to get a group together for a review play, so join me as I unbox the new game from Themeborne, 'Escape the Dark Sector'.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #5

Under Pressure.

In this blog I'd like to talk about the effects of Pressure on the characters, groups and the game overall.

Pressure is a game mechanic that tries to emulate the effects of mental stress and emotional hardships that the PCs may have to face. Depending on your stat choices some characters are more susceptible to the rigours of space exloration than others, but it's not the immediate effects that may cause problems...

Characters have a Pressure Bonus which is added to a roll, and the higher the better. Failed rolls result in your Pressure Level going up and this can lead to Episodes; you may be tremendously shocked or terrified and that will negatively affect your rolls, or you'll be rooted to the spot, or you'll go into a violent frenzy as you try to get away from the horror. However, this Pressure Level goes up and it might not trigger an Episode right away, so the higher it goes the more chance you'll have of triggering a response and the worse it'll be. It's like you've been bottling up your fear and at some pont the pressure will be so great you'll explode in a far worse way than if you'd reacted to it sooner. This can not only affect the individual player it can create problems for the group as they have to deal with a weakened colleague, a catatonic crewmember or a terrified violent friend.

However, it doesn't end there. These Episodes can have ongoing effects. Once the player has had an Episode they write down what triggered it, and if they are ever in a situation similar then the memories of the initial shock can come flooding back and have a negative effect on their rolls. In Those Dark Places, players don’t just make the rolls and suffer the consequences; they're encouraged to role-play it! If the situation means your character has to face their fear, then make sure it becomes part of the story you’re telling.

If characters do face their fears they can slowly overcome them, and successful rolls means reduced negative modifiers. The memory of the shock will never go away, but they will learn to perhaps accept it and with support from their colleagues they can get through it. This means that incidents such as these are not limited to a single session or adventure; perhaps a few weeks of play down the line the situation arises again. In every case the players are encouraged to roleplay it out and not just state that they have modifiers that may affect their performance.

About to be sent into a narrow air duct? “No way, man! You ain’t getting me in there!”

Being told to get into a leaky spacesuit and go outside the ship? “You’re kidding, right? I don’t care that I’m the only one here that can fix it, get someone else!”

Have to dive underwater? “Do you not remember what happened at the refinery? I’ll wait here, thank you very much!”

Pressure Levels can be reduced between adventures with R&R and time in a LongSleep chamber, but during the game the players will have to suffer the possible effects of Episodes and the repercussions of pushing too hard and too far against the terrors in the darkness.

Art By Nathan Anderson

Video - Unboxing the Alien RPG Starter Set and the Alien RPG adventure 'Destroyer of Worlds'.

 A quick video of me opening boxes with Alien RPG stuff in them and trying really hard not to get too overexcited about it.

Subscribe for some reason! Share the vid! Smash that like button! I have no idea what any of that means! Why would you smash the like button, you might break it! Just press it carefully! A tap will do, just calm down!

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The Farsight Podcast Episode 8 - Dune and my RPG hobby

 In this episode I have something of a rant about my love for Dune, and what I would expect from roleplaying game session (most of it unrealistic and really selfish).

The Farsight Podcast Episode 8

Thank you to Ryan Hicks for the awesome intro music!

Monday, 31 August 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #4

 In this designer's blog I'd like to talk about my influences and what it was that helped inspire the idea that became 'Those Dark Places', as well as what kind of adventures the group can have out there.

My initial inspiration came from such movies such as 'Alien', 'Outland', 'Dark Star', 'Silent Running' and even the Disney classic 'The Black Hole'. These movies dealt with a theme I found fascinating; space is big, vast, and when you're out there you are - quite literally - on your own.

These movies dealt with different ideas and each one of them really helped me form my setting. 'Alien' gave me some stunning visuals and the aesthetic and overall design I longed for, as well as the horror of the unknown. 'Outland' gave me the fear of an indifferent company, much like 'Alien' did, and what a person must do to fight against it, as well as deal with the claustophobic place they work in where hard-pressed workers could go off at any time. 'Dark Star' gave me the awkward silliness of it all, the depressing idea that not only would you lose your way you'd lose your identity way out there in the deep black where sheer boredom and errant technology could do you in. 'Silent Running' gave me desperation and hopelesness, where a mind might crack under the pressure of indifference and ignorance. Finally, 'The Black Hole' gave me that sense of what a person might do to realise their ideals and their twisted dreams out where they feel there is no consequence, as well as what - and who - they'd sacrifice to get there.

I was also inspired by computer games such as (obviously) 'Alien Isolation', 'Dead Space' and 'Alien Breed Trilogy'. While these games deal with monsters and body horror they, too, capture the feel I was looking for; starships and stations in the middle of nowhere where no help is coming, as well as twists and turns and the need for brains as well as brawn to get you through it. 

All of these things helped create the setting of 'Those Dark Places' and, while there is no definitive timeline or history to the backgrond, there is a definitive design idea behind it all - that the darkest reaches of space, where travellers are alone and surrounded by death, can be a physical and mental minefield, where old technology can be just as dangerous as vacuum and radiation because the machines that keep people alive are thousands of cheap, easily produced and replaceable parts built by the lowest bidder in a marketplace that puts profit ahead of everything else.

So, what kind adventures can a group have? Well, that's up to the group and what kind of mood they're in. There are plenty of adventure hooks in the game - 'Those Dark Places' calls adventures 'Reports' - ranging from espionage to exploration to investigation. Although science fiction horror and thrillers influenced the game there are no direct stats and rules for the horrors in the dark - aliens, eldritch horrors, genetic monstrosities and the like - but there is absolutely nothing stopping GMs from including this kind of thing if they feel that the experience would suit their group. The system is so simple that statting such creatures would be easy.

This design decision was done on purpose; I originally designed the game with monsters and creatures involved but as I wrote I realised that there was no need for this. If I included these things then the unknown would be known and the players would anticipate these horrors, but if the choice of danger or foe was left in the hands of the GM then they would not know what to expect at all.

And that's something about 'Those Dark Places' I wanted to make sure was prevalent - that sense of nervous anticipation, of the players not knowing what was coming and that unknown factor adding to the tension. It was why I added a level of success that was basically 'Yes, but...', so that the players knew that they had barely succeeded but that scrape might come back to bite them at some point... but when?

And how?

Artwork by Nathan Anderson

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Press release: 'The Cursed King' adventure for Dragon Warriors

Serpent King Games

The last few weeks have seen me working on a new project, and at last I can reveal what that project is - I'm writing a new full adventure for the Dragon Warriors fantasy roleplaying game from Serpent King Games.

I've been a huge fan if Dragon Warriors for a very long time but my love for the game exploded when the hardback book of the RPG was released. The setting, the system, the atmosphere is everything I love about old-school RPGs and I've played it a lot. I've always wanted to be able to write something for it.

Well, here I am! After finally getting everything published for it - in fact, it's the only RPG I own for which I have all the books and PDF supplements and adventures - I've absorbed the Dragon Warriors game and decided to delve into one specific location; Thuland.

The official press release is below. I'm excited to be adventuring in the Lands of Legend!

“Thuland welcomes you! The town of Oskild is celebrating a prosperous year and the Master of Rings Festival has something for everyone: games, hunts, song and plenty of food and mead. There is much to do here and the rewards are rich for those who are worthu. Oskild also has a myth, that of a cursed king who suffered for his people, a magical artefact used in revenge, and dwarves who retreated deep into the earth in shame…”

The next release for Dragon Warriors will be The Cursed King, by Jonathan Hicks. We are anticipating a February 2021 release date, as a 64-page print and PDF book. As ever we will round out the adventure with source material on the warlike kingdom of Thuland, and its jarls, merchants, farmers, smiths, and raiders, as well as adventure hooks so you can expand the adventure into a short Thuland campaign if desired.

The Cursed King is an adventure for players with characters of Rank 5-6, of any profession and heritage.

We are very much looking forward to exploring the northern waters and crags of Thuland with you!

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The Farsight Podcast Episode 7 - Influence and Inspiration

 In this episode I talk about my influences on my gaming hobby, and talk about a couple of ideas as to where to find inspiration for your own TTRPG stories.

The Farsight Podcast Episode 7

Thank you to Ryan Hicks for the awesome intro music!

Monday, 10 August 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #3

Welcome to another designer's blog for my upcoming roleplaying game 'Those Dark Places'. Today I wanted to talk about character creation in the game. Trust me, this is going to be a short blog entry.

Character creation can be as detailed or as simple as you want it to be. The majority of the decisions go into deciding what kind of person you want to play, their personalities and attitudes, and there are only three choices you need to make as far as abilities go:

Choose the scores for your four attributes CHARISMA, AGILITY, STRENGTH and EDUCATION. These are the number 1, 2, 3 and 4 - there's no rolling for scores or dividing up points.

Choose a primary Crew Position.

Choose a secondary Crew Position.

That's it.

I ran a game of Those Dark Places for Gen Con 2020 recently and it lasted two hours. There were six players - who had never played the game before, nor knew anything about it - and they had all created characters within ten minutes, I spent five minutes explaining the rules and then we played. Character creation was incredibly simple because everyone has the same numbers to choose from and decisions to make regarding their position in the crew. Choosing the position not only gives them their abilites but it also gives them impetus, something to give them a purpose and helps define who they are as a character as well as their role in the group.

The Crew Positions (including such positions as Science Officer, Navigation Officer and Security Officer) are linked to certain attributes but there's no need to take any notice of that if you don't want to. Sure, you might want to be an engineer, but that doesn't mean you'll be any good at it, does it?

There are no skill lists, no long descriptions regarding how skills work or how they affect the game. When a roll is made the player/GM chooses the attribute that suits it best and then adds bonuses depending on the Crew Position and any relevant equipment. So, if the player decides to repair an engine they will have a bonus to the roll if they have the Engineer Officer Crew Position and maybe some other bonuses from relevant equipment.

Character creation is quick, easy and simple and this gives the group more time to focus on who their characters are and how they interact with each other rather than how the numbers on the sheet work and perusing over a myriad of scores and bonuses. This also does away with charts and tables, reducing the time it takes to work out a roll and enables quick resolutions. This keeps the action moving and the tension high.

In the next blog I'll talk more about the setting and how exploring the dark can make for exciting adventures.  

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Create whatever player character you want

As long as players are at the table to game well, they understand and appreciate the mood and goals of the table and they're not there to make it about themselves, then I'm good.

The PC is yours to create - I'm not going to restrict you based on what the adventure or the game needs to function. You want to create a pacifist in a combat heavy game? You go for it. That's a challenge to me as the GM and THAT'S WHY I GM.

I GM for the challenge of doing things differently, being as spontaneous and creative as I can be. And other players should be the same, and adapt to the wildcard in the group because that's what makes the game fun and challenging.

So you want to create a combat-inclined character in a investigative mystery game? Cool! the sparks that will fly as other PCs try to keep that character in check, and for me to adapt the adventure to suit, is creatively challenging and should create some amazing moments.

There shouldn't be a 'requirement' in character creation, or PCs shouldn't be expected to function in a way that suits the game and group. It should be challenging, and as long as the group is good with it, and expect some turbulence, then a great game can be had with PCs that go against the grain. I don't want cookie cutter characters with specific roles in the group. That's a board game with set outcomes and definitive goals.

I want to tell a group story, and the best stories come from peculiar situations that are faced by characters that defy expectations. And it's fun for the players, too. They get to play what they want, and the others get to shine as they react to each other.

It's as much about the group dynamic and the relationships they have as it is about the unfolding story.

And I hate to tell a player 'you can't do that' when we're creating characters. Yes, I'll step in when things get insane or ridiculous, but I'll be damned if I step in because a player is being creative.

Create what you feel, what you're comfortable with. Don't let the game dictate what you play, even if the nature of the game requires specific types of characters. ESPECIALLY if that's the case.

Make it a challenge, not just as the GM but as a player, too. That's what gives an RPG fire.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #2

Artwork by Nathan AndersonToday I wanted to talk more about the game system that 'Those Dark Places' will be using.

The system is called 'ODDS' (although it is not addressed as such in the game), which stands for 'One Die Determines Success'. The game uses a single D6 for task resolution as I wanted the game to focus more on the story rather than the crunch. The system is very simple - take an attribute, add any relevant modifiers due to the position in the crew, any equipment and actual situation, and roll a D6. Add the scores together to beat a target number, and interpret the results depending on the level of success.

This produces three levels of success that translate to 'yes, no' and  'yes, but' results that will make for some tense games.

These three levels of success are key to the tension and uncertainty that I want Those Dark Places to offer - the players can make their rolls with their modifiers and they have a target number to beat, but they can kind of succeed if they hit the target number. So, yes, they closed the airlock but did it seal properly? They convinced the guard of their intentions but will he reconsider his decision later, perhaps sound an alarm? The simple threat of these incidents possibly coming back to haunt the players always hangs in the air, and it helps the GM to come up with some fun and twisted ways to make sure that the story is unpredictable, as well as giving them a chance to game on the fly and spontaneously create new and exciting situations.

I also wanted the game to be quick and intuitive - pace and tension can be disrupted when players have to do a lot of number crunching or table searching. Many games of this kind that i have played in have been slowed as rules are read, debated and interpreted and once the tension is gone the atmosphere is ruined; I wanted a simple system that avoided that. It leaves a lot of the work in the GMs hands, for sure, but the system is easy to interpret so they can just make a ruling and get on with the story. It's fast, ever so simple and easy to grasp so you can have a game going in minutes. It's also really workable, so if you want to make modifications to the rules and add a lot more depth then you can do so with ease.

In my next blog entry I'll talk more about character creation.