Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rogue Trader Imagery makes me drool

Just one of many reasons I'd like to run a Rogue Trader game. This is a great image below:

Oh, man... if only my Dragon Warriors game wasn't going so well... How many of you have ever started to run a game, really enjoyed it but then got distracted by something else that got you excited? How many campaigns have suffered because the GM started wetting their pants over something they really wanted to run?

I need to keep my focus on Dragon Warriors. If I become disenfranchised with it now and play it to 'get it out of the way' for another game that excites me then the campaign that I and my players have put so much work and time into will deteriorate. Everyone will lose out.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rogue Trader/Dark Heresy Resources

Here's a pretty good fan-created unofficial site for players of the WH40K Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader RPGs:

There's plenty of stuff there and, of course, you can use the Dark Heresy stuff in the Rogue Trader game and vice versa.

I also found a Rogue Trader character generator here: http://cbpye.net/rtchargen.php. It's very good and makes life a lot easier, especially if you're looking for an original NPC.

Wormhole EXTREME!

Did I tell you that my son Bruce has joined Stargate Command? It's true. He met his new SG team last Saturday.

It was a long time coming but he got his Cheyenne Mountain and Offworld travel pass, and he goes to planet P65565xc next Tuesday. I drew the line at allowing him a P90, though.
If my son wants to follow in his mommy and daddy's footsteps and get geeky then that's fine by me and I'll nerd him out as he wants. I'm not going to push him and parade him around in costumes. If he goes the whole hog and gets into RPGs then that'll be the icing on the cake.
If he doesn't grow up to be a geek... well, that's unnacceptable. He will bow down to the Nerd God!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Memorabilia Fair Bargains

I'm a regular attendee of the Memorabilia Fair at the NEC in Birmingham (the UK version) as I love checking out the myriad of stands and collections. I don't usually look for roleplaying stuff but sometimes I get lucky, like I did at the last show when I got the hardbacks Codex Arcanis and Accordlands: The Master Codex for three pounds each.

At this show I had bought Strange Frontiers by New World Games for a quid and I was looking at a boardgame stall when I noticed a stack of Games Workshop's White Dwarf issues. I'm not generally interested in the magazine but I was looking for some inspiration for a possible Rogue Trader campaign. In the stack I found a 2000 printing of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook, the Mordheim book, the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Strategy Battle Game rulebook and the Codexes for Space Marines, Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Daemonhunters, Imperial Guard, Assassins, Tyranids, Armageddon, Eldar and Orks. All complete, all in good nick. 'That's interesting,' I thought. 'I have WFB to WFRP conversion rules in my WFRP 1st edition book so I can use these for sourcebooks'. They were mostly in good condition and, even though they were dated from just over a decade ago they were completely usable for what I had in mind.

So, I said to the guy on the stall, 'How much for these?'

He smiled and said, 'I've been trying to shift those for ages, nobody wants them anymore. You can have them.'


'They're free.'


'Just take them!'


So I grabbed them and ran like a bastard in case he had made a mistake. Good day out, that.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Dragon Warriors Video Review

Thanks to http://www.youtube.com/ and Sean Connors of TheOutsiders68.

It's a good review of Dragon Warriors and he likes it for a lot of the reasons I do. Easy, simple and old school.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Gamer

Click this link and read something wonderful from RPG Blog II.

You got the wrong guy, pal

As a sequel to my previous post I found an old post about a test Blade Runner game I ran a while ago. I ran this as a tester with a simple system to see if we could game in the Blade Runner universe.

'I've ran a couple of games and it worked just fine, but it had more to do with the atmosphere, and that's something that the simple rules helped with. There was no stalling over rulings and the players were able to get their teeth into a flowing, emotionally charged adventure.There were three players - one was a Blade Runner, one was a police detective, and the other was a private detective working under contract with the police (a bit of an Adrian Monk character).

The story revolved around a powerful and influential - but very, very lonely - businesswoman in her sixties trying to hide a replicant by pretending it is her long-lost daughter. The London PD (the city was partially flooded so a lot of people got about in motor boats and spinners) knew there was a replicant in her company but, because the woman had contacts in the police (namely the Police Chief) they were limited as to who they could use the Voight-Kampff machine on. The businesswoman kept trying to convince them that the replicant was a boy who worked in the post room, but he failed the Voight-Kampff test because he was partially mentally retarded.

Once the players realised this - after chasing the boy through the building and taking a couple of shots and almost killing him - they had to go after the buisnesswoman. They fought through her heavies (the private investigator was unfortunately killed) and forced the false daughter to take the Voight-Kampff test. She failed after the first ten questions and accepted her fate. The Blade Runner retired her. The police detective tried to arrest the businesswoman but the Police Chief interceded and she got away with it. Now she has sworn revenge on the Blade Runner and the police detective. It was all done with minimal dicerolls (except for the firefight, of course).

The simple rules I used did not slow the game or interrupt the emotionally tense moments, and that was perfect. We agreed that the best way to run a Blade Runner game was with a simple, flexible system that would allow GMs to add their own twists and moral/ethical dilemmas.'

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

He say you Blade Runner

The more I think about it the more I think that this would make a really good game. Not only do you have the whole of Earth to play with, with the ecological concrete nightmare it has become, you could take the game off-world to the colonies.

The game would be driven by investigation, not just Blade Runner units but maybe normal law enforcement or government/corporation agents. You'd have the normal Replicant-hunting games, chasing after different models for different reasons and all the existensialist and moral dilemmas that incurs, but you could also have investigations into normal, everyday crime, and even tech-crime you find in many cyberpunk-type games. The added bonus is that you have the very definitive atmosphere that Blade Runner offers - you're not trying to emulate it in a Gibson-inspired game but actually live in the world that Blade Runner presents. If you go off world you could even mix the two genres that Ridley Scott helped visualise - what's stopping Weyland-Yutani from the Alien franchise being in it, or at least a version of that company, and the type of interplanetary travel could be Alien/Outland inspired? That way you could keep the dirty, used industrial feel of the original movie and not lose the atmosphere, which is what the original tacked-on studio ending did to the original Blade Runner release (if there were great swathes of forest to escape to, with sunshine and trees, what the hell were people doing living in that crappy crumbling city?)

You'd need basic rules, of course, a detailed description of the setting using stills from the movie, or at least artwork inspired by the movie, and stats for very few extras. Deckard's gun, for one (how cool would it be to pull that baby in the heat of the gaming moment?), the abilities of Replicants (which won't be far removed from standard human stats, anyway, and maybe you could have a random emotional reaction table when something stressful happens to them, which makes them unpredictable - could you imagine playing such a character?), off-world colonies (you don't need hundreds of pages, just enough to let the players know that travelling there is a possibility), spinners (cars that fly - how difficult can it be?) and possibly starships and spacestations and any extras that the setting would require, maybe taking elements from Scott's movie, Dick's original novel and Jeter's sequels.

It'd be an excellent setting. If Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun can produce years of material using the imagery of Blade Runner then I'm sure that Blade Runner itself can do it.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Chicks dig guys with skills, man

What I've done is I've taken 36 skills from the skill list from WHFRP2e (they have them listed at http://www.liberfanatica.net/) and modified them a bit. Now the players of my Dragon Warriors game can choose one of these skills every time they advance a Rank in addition to the skills they already get from their profession.

I just figured I'd cobble together a skill system to see how it panned out. Basically, you roll against the relevant Statistic associated with the skill. I'm also dropping the 2D10 skill roll and going 1D20 for everything in an attempt to streamline things for my players. At the moment the skills and the 1D20 roll has gone down quite well. It's all subject to change, of course, depending on how it handles over long-term play.

If anyone wants a .doc copy of the modified skill list then drop me a line and your email address.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy - FIGHT!

You know, I like me a bit of science fiction gaming but, in my experience, it's always fantasy that makes for an easier and more enjoyable game to play as far as RPGs are concerned. Why is this?

The only sci-fi game I played for any length of time was D6 Star Wars, but I think this is mainly because we all know Star Wars and the fact that it has a basic grounding in fantasy. It's not hard to imagine what the GM is talking about in Star Wars; lightsabres, star destroyers, stormtroopers, ewoks, it's all very familiar and instantly recognisable.

The same as fantasy games. As most fantasy settings are basically mediaeval-inspired settings it's easy to imagine what things look like. In fact, any historical period and location can be invoked so that the players have a mental image of what is around them.

The same can't be said for science fiction. There are so many design ethics and possible levels of technological advancement that influence the situations the PCs find themselves in that it's incredibly difficult to simply say 'this is where you are' without being inundated with questions about details. Unless the players are as educated about the setting as the GM then making them feel comfortable in the game, to make sure that they know what they can and can't do and what kind of tech is available to them, is going to be difficult.

In fantasy you can picture yourself on a horse in chainmail riding to a castle tower in the rain. That's easy. In science fiction you need a little more detail than that to set a scene.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Life Rolls On

Do any other players take into consideration how much the numbers that are rolled for stats mean beyond the scores and benefits/penalties they give? I mean, do you consider why the character you're designing has ended up with those particular values in those particular stats? When I do design a detailed PC I try to imagine why the character ended up with such scores and then try to give them a bit of background to explain them.

Let's say I'm rolling a Dragon Warriors character (3D6 in each stat) - there must be a reason why my PC has such numbers. Let's call him Bralbuck.

STRENGTH 11 - Bralbuck is of average build. He never really stood out in the place where he grew up, but he wasn't exactly a weakling. To get in such good shape perhaps he grew up in a community where physical work was required, such as a helping hand in a castle or on a farm.
REFLEXES 15 - He was quick, though. Quick on is feet with speedy reactions. Perhaps his job required him to be nimble, such as looking after sheep or doing a lot of climbing, or perhaps he was practised in avoiding beatings from bullies or particularly nasty peers.
INTELLIGENCE 9 - His education wasn't up to much, so perhaps he is of a peasant or serf class.
PSYCHIC TALENT 9 - Where he comes from there's not much call for magic. Maybe the Church has dominion and does not approve of such practises.
LOOKS 13 - He's a good looking fellow, which probably resulted in some jealousy from other less blessed people which resulted in the beatings and the increased reflexes.

So, going by the numbers, here's Bralbuck's history:

'I grew up in Cornumbria in a small farming village called Break Beacon. We were one of many such villages under the so-called "protection" of a noble to the north who returned from the Crusades when I was just a boy, glowing with fierce piety. His devotion to the True Faith was so strong that within weeks of his return those of a magical disposition found themselves burned at the stake or imprisoned. My father remembers a time when magic users would aid the farms and villages with their crops and cattle. Now any who come to these lands are chased away or arrested. He has told me of some of the wonderous things they used to do and I imagine, sometimes, of weaving my own spells.
My father was a good man and cared for his family well, but he and my mother were not from Cornumbria. They had travelled from Ereworn in search of a new life; the people here were accepting but my parents always felt like outsiders. Because of this growing up was sometimes difficult - the local thugs would single me out and chase me down, and more than once I suffered a beating. I had to learn quickly to be quick on my feet. All this left me with little chance for an education; I rose and fell with the sun working on my father's farm so the opportunities afforded to those of a higher rank passed me by.
I got through my childhood and early manhood relatively unscathed, but always I dreamed of something more. I loved my father and mother dearly, and I loved the friends I had made, but there as always something in me that yearned to see beyond the hills and the fields that surrounded us. My father always said that I would one day feel this, this wanderlust, this need to break free of the bonds of servitude and travel in search of adventure. It was why he left Ereworn, after all, and he had told me of some of the adventures he had on his journey.
I thought this feeling nothing but a fancy, until one day a Knight came riding through the village...'

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Big Brother Sucks!

So, I was thinking about doing a near future campaign with the players taking on the role of runners of the shadows (see what I did there?). One of the things I'd considered was the PCs getting past the multitude of security cameras that constantly watch us every day and that they would need to take this into consideration. That made me think about how far we had come in the age of surveillance and the different ways the PCs could be filmed; street cameras, shop cameras, ATM cameras and even home video cameras.

Then some friends found this on Google and emailed it to me.

That's me, walking to work one morning of last year and unknowingly having my picture taken by Google Earth. My players won't have a chance in the modern world, let alone a near future one.

Monday, 15 March 2010

When dice attack!

It's great when the dice help decide the story.

Last night's Dragon Warriors game went really well - there had been a couple of hiccups with the last session, what with a bit of difficulty I had with player attention (but that was no fault of mine) - but last night was good. The players are trying to find a way back home and their investigations have led them to Ereworn. They're trying to find a legendary lost city in the mountains where, they hope, they will find the means to return to England.

First, however, they needed to find a map that they have heard might lead them to the city, but this was in an old Dwarven mine that was overrun by goblins and giant man-rats (basically exactly the same as rat-ogres from Warhammer Fantasy). The idea was to sneak into the mine and steal the map.

That's when things went a little awry. The manrat was chained to a hobgoblin, who was obviously it's keeper, and it appeared to be manic, straining at the leash and trying to get away to feed on a corpse in a great hall where a sacrifice had just taken place. The players felt that if they killed the handler then the manrat might go out of control, creating a diversion they needed to get past the other hobgoblins without the need to fight. So, they aim with two crossbows and a bow and they all unleash their missiles at the handler. They all hit but not one of them pass the Armour Bypass roll. The arrows bounce.

Of course, the hobgoblin turns, sees these three men looking somewhat shocked, and unleashes the manrat on them. The party consists of a Rank 2 Sorcerer, a Rank 2 Knight and a Rank 2 Assassin. The manrat was Rank 7. What followed was a 30-minute combat as the players wore the thing down.

The dice really conducted the flow of the encounter. Fumbles occured just when the players didn't want them to which added extra tension, a critical occured just when they needed it and won the day, which resulted in lots of cheering, high-fives and handshakes. After the encounter several random rolls came up trumps for the players when they finally located the treasure room and the map (a +1 sword for the Sorcerer, a set of +1 plate armour for the Knight and ten +1 quarrels for the Assassin, plus some random potions). On top of all this they all advanced to Rank 3.

As far as the flow of a story is concerned I'm all for GM input as they are the ones who control the environment and the advancement of the story, but when the situation calls for dice rolls then I like to let the dice talk. I'm not a great fan of GM fiat or obvious fudges as that gives the GM too much power at the table and takes away not only the illusion of free will but also the randomness of the dice roll. Players won't enjoy the game if they feel that they are not in control of anything during the game and may also feel that their dice rolls are pointless.

You can't rely on dice rolls to make every encounter better but when the dice roll well, especially at just the right moment, it adds a level of enjoyment and accomplishment to the game that everyone can appreciate.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Dragon Warriors Introductory Book

It's probably become apparent to those of you who are mad enough to read my blog regularly that I kind of like Dragon Warriors.

Well, it's true, I do like it a lot. In fact, if you click on the image below you'll be able to download a completely free introductory book which will give you the full character-generation rules, two of the game's seven basic character classes, the combat system, full background on the territory of Ellesland and a short introductory scenario.

I'm just loving the back-to-basics approach of the game as I've been playing crunchy rules systems for years. A nice, simple system coupled with a great setting, that's what I've got here.
Saying that, I've been musing over the idea of a crunchier version of the game, kind of an Advanced Dragon Warriors. Would this suck the fun out of the game or add extra depth? I'm not sure. I do know, however, that I always preferred Basic D&D over AD&D.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Ordo Draconis Review

The fantasy role-playing game Dragon Warriors has a healthy following and the Lands of Legend have been around for many years; as such there are a lot of stories to tell from around this vast pseudo-mediaeval land and more than enough places to visit and people to meet. With that in mind, a small group of Dragon Warriors fans - following the lead of Bill Edmunds who volunteered himself to produce the magazine - decided to produce a fanzine dedicated to the game, to include articles on locations, new professions, creatures, adventures and all sorts of stuff to support the Dragon Warriors line. Toward the end of 2009 the first issue of Ordo Draconis: The Journal of the Dragon Warriors Role-Playing Game, was released for free download.

In issue one you’ll find the very first map ever drawn of the Lands of Legend by Leo Hartas in 1984. That’s very nostalgic and quite a coup for a free fan-produced online publication. Of course, that’s improved upon later on by the interview with Dave Morris, one of the original creators of Dragon Warriors in the 1980s and James Wallis of Magnum Opus Press, the man who brings us the new Dragon Warriors in all its glory. That’s very impressive and it gives an insight into where Dragon Warriors came from, where it is now and where it’s going.

There then follows several articles that most Dragon Warriors GMs will find useful. There’s a few house rules you might want to use in your game, the Friar profession, some encounters, details of a PBM Thuland campaign, the details of the county of Anglicia in Ellesland, an essay of the Faerie in the Lands of Legend, an adventure and, finally, a detailed (but sadly incomplete – the skills section is missing!) Dragon Warriors character sheet.

Issue two follows the same design path but this time there are plenty more pages and more people contributing, so it’s hardly surprising that they’ve started charging for the 97 pages the fanzine has grown into. With another excellent cover by John Hodgson the PDF is filled with more useful articles, but this time there’s an addition to the fanzine. Now the stats presented are accompanied by their Pathfinder equivalents. That’s right, the role-playing game from Paizo Publishing is being represented in the pages of the fanzine.

The contents of issue two include a poster map of Northern Cornumbria, the Thane profession, a detailed look at the Darbon Barony, a spooky short story, a closer look at Eastmarch, the ‘Codex Cryptozoologica’ which showcases a creature of the world, more encounters, more from the Thuland PBM game, a review of the Dragon warriors supplement ‘Friends or Foes’, a new adventure, some atmospheric words and names from Cornumbria, and finally the corrected character sheet from issue one (and very functional and detailed it is, too).

So, how do these two publications measure up?

Let’s get my bias out of the way first. I play Dragon Warriors, I enjoy Dragon Warriors and I have every one of the new Dragon Warriors publications up to yet. I like the Lands of Legend and so I’m always on the lookout for new stuff to add to my collection. Ordo Draconis fills this need quite well – as a GM I’m looking for new encounters to run and new locations to game in, new ideas to inspire and new characters to use and abuse. So, this fanzine has come along at the right time for me. With that in mind let’s press on to what I thought about the publication.

The wording is clear, the font used is easy on the eye and the layout is excellent. It’s all black on white with some (but not many) illustrations. To be honest, it’s surprising that the 38-page issue one PDF is free – the John Hodgson cover is very evocative and both issues definitely appear to be something you’d see on a newsagent’s shelf. Full cover, clearly worded and professionally done. That’s a good start.

In fact, the thing that impressed me the most about these fanzines is the professional look of them both. The fact that the first one is free is a massive bonus as its laid out and presented like a product ready for purchase. All it needed was a cover price and a shelf and I would have been quite happy to buy a copy. In many respects the fact that it’s free and useful is almost too good to be true.

As with many fanzines the first issue is text heavy – it would have been nice to see more illustrations to break up the walls of text, or maybe some diversity to the page layouts as the articles are in the two-column format, as they are in both issues, all sharing the same font and style. Saying that, there are some very nice full colour maps later in the fanzine.

I found the most useful articles in issue one to be the ‘Along the Road’ encounters, and the adventure ‘The Ruins of Castle Cerreg’ as I can put these to good use. Another scoop is the article by Dragon Warriors author Dave Morris ‘Believing in Faerie’, an excellent essay about the use of the creatures and races of Fay in the game. There was some wasted space, especially at the end of articles, and the text-heavy layout wasn’t a bad thing but I found myself wanting more illustrations to help stoke the imagination. Some small sketches for the encounters would have been nice, and some more atmospheric illustrations for the adventure would have been better, but bearing in mind that the fanzine was free what you get is more than sufficient. What was highly disappointing was finding out that the detailed character sheet included at the back of the magazine did not include space for skills! This is corrected in issue two and is an excellent character sheet, but finding this out after printing twenty copies was a little disappointing. All in all, Ordo Draconis issue one is an excellent fanzine.

Then came issue two. This issue is being charged for (just to cover costs, there’s no profit involved) and at a whopping 97 pages I’m hardly surprised. With another John Hodgson cover and much more meat within the pages I delved in with high expectations.

I wasn’t disappointed. There was plenty of material in the fanzine for me to use in my games and, whilst I found the very good story entertaining but a little redundant as far as game use was concerned and the PBM game very interesting but of no real use to me, I think I’ll be able to put each and every one of the articles to use. Although once again there are large clumps of text there are now more illustrations that fill it out nicely and add a little extra depth to the fanzine.

I was surprised to find that the fanzine was now dual-statted - players of Paizo Publishing’s ‘Pathfinder’ game will find stats for the characters included. The stats take up very little space and do not intrude on those of us who use and enjoy the Dragon Warriors system and are an excellent idea as it will draw players of another highly regarded and enjoyed system to the Lands of Legend. Legend is such an atmospheric and evocative setting that it deserves all kinds of attention and this is a clever way to draw more players into the world.

Issue two, although similar in layout to issue one, is a whole new magazine. The articles are much longer and have much more detail in both the writing and the additional rules and statistics. This especially shows in the detailed look at the Darbon Barony, the Eastmarch article, the ‘Codex Cryptozoologica’ and the new adventure. The additonal details give you plenty of material and that’s what you want from a gaming fanzine – stuff you can use in your own games. Issue two has this information in abundance and just these four articles alone are well worth the asking price.

What I like most about issue two (and this can be said of issue one, too) is the fact that all the people who have worked on it have captured the flavour of Dragon Warriors really well. There are no high-fantasy influences or sudden changes of atmosphere or design to suit an author’s interpretation of the game. The articles all share the same pseudo-historical fantasy feeling of the Dragon Warriors game and this is to be highly commended as this whole thing could have easily been a cheap fan rag written as an interpretation of the game, with insane extra spells and high-fantasy creatures and locations. No, the writers have kept the content in line with the Dragon Warriors design, so much so it could easily be considered part of the official Dragon Warriors product line. Indeed, Magnum Opus Press are fully supporting the fanzine even though it is not an official publication. This is what gives Ordo Draconis its strength – the fact that you could easily believe that this has been designed for the game under the watchful editorial eye of the publishers.

I have no trouble whatsoever recommending Ordo Draconis to not only fans of Dragon Warriors and Pathfinder but of any fantasy role-playing game. It’s professionally made, well laid out, cleverly realised and there’s plenty of material to give you plenty of inspiration. What more could you want from a fanzine?


Ordo Draconis homepage http://draconismag.com

Previews of OD 2 http://dragonwarriors.wetpaint.com/page/Northern+Cornumbria

Buy Ordo Draconis 2 on the DTRPG website http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=79261&src=REV_2_1

The Magnum Opus Press (publishers of DW) website http://www.magnumopuspress.com

Friday, 5 March 2010

Other Fantasy RPG Settings

Considering that most fantasy is set in a Dark Age/Medieval era, what other historical settings would work well with a fantasy slant? Every culture has their mythos so you could play about with them all.

The most interesting thing in an Egyptian setting, of course, is axe-wielding men with dog heads. In loincloths. What else do you need? I always thought the dynasties were interesting - you could have plenty of fun with political intrigue and scheming.

But what do I know about Egyptian history? Well, I've always found this book helpful:

It covers archeaology from all over the world and has some amazing illustrations, maps and floorplans to help you along. it also gives a brief overview of the culture which I've found more than enough to help me through historical games.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

That Old School Feeling

I've been designing some dungeons and underworld enconters for Dragon Warriors recently and I've had a thrill that I've not had for a while - I bought some square graph paper and I'm drawing black lines on it to represent the corridors and rooms of a dungeon, red box D&D style.

I've not done that for years, probably way more than a decade. I drew the dungeon from the opening, a long staircase into the crypt, and then branched off random rooms and corridors, all the while trying to imagine why it was the designers had built it all this way and what the rooms were originally used for. Before i knew it I'd created four dungoens and a huge undergorund city.

I remember my fondness for dungeon creation way back in the 1980s when I first got into the hobby. I'd draw tons of maps I'd never use - I've no idea what happened to them all - and I'd even try to emulate the look of the maps in the red box Basic D&D set. It was really great fun and it helped stoke my imagination.

So I've kind of come full circle. In the early nineties my desire to tell a story overtook my desire to adventure in pre-planned maps and so I spent years avoiding generic 'dungeon crawls'. Now I'm playing an old school game in which heroic adventurers travel in search of fortune and glory (and a way home to the 'real world' from the fantasy land they have found themselves in) and I feel this need to draw black lines on square graph paper again.

I'm really looking forward to my players delving into my creations.

What I learned from 'One Man Lord of the Rings'

I've already reviewed Charles Ross's One man Lord of the Rings show, and what amazed me most about the performance is how Charles Ross managed to immediately let you know who it was he was portraying on the stage, even before he opened his mouth to speak. Just by moving his hands in a certain way or crouching you knew exactly who was coming up next. That could translate into defining specific characters in a roleplaying game.

For example, when the character of Gandalf was about to speak Charles would stand with his hands holding an imaginary staff. With Legolas he ran his fingers through his hair from temple to breast as if straightening it. You knew Denethor was next when he put the palm of his hand on his forehead and pushed down, giving himself a severe darkened look. A GM could do the same thing to give his NPCs some kind of individuality – scowl continuously when the Baron speaks, or hold onto an imaginary staff when speaking to a wizard, or pull down the cheeks when the necromancer wants to speak. Couple this with identifiable accents and vocal ranges and you might not even have to introduce the NPC by name. There may come a time when you push forward your ears and begin to speak in a gruff, lisping voice and the players say ‘its Michael the night watchman!’

Not only that but the way Charles Ross enhances imagination with noises and grunts – his vocal special effects were very effective, not in all cases but the majority of them. His grunting Orcs, his wailing Nazgul and even his bellowing Oliphaunts were incredibly effective and helped carry the atmosphere.

Watching Charles Ross mimic these sounds, give every character in the show a visual cue and switch between them so effortlessly gave me plenty of hints on how to make my own NPCs much more individual and identifiable. Of course, I won’t be flinging myself about the room with as much vigour, but there’s plenty I can do from the waist up.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Born of Hope - A LotR Fan Film

Last year I watched an excellent Lord of the Rings fan film called 'The Hunt For Gollum'. The production values were fantastic and it was hard to believe that the whole thing had been created for no money - just people's time, energy and passion.

Now there's another one out - Born of Hope.

You can only see the full movie at the website (click on the banner above the trailer to get to it) but the trailer here gives you a decent taster.

I really enjoyed it. In fact, as far as fan films are concerned I'd say it was brilliant. The screenplay felt a bit clunky - in a bid to make the dialogue sound oldy-worldy-esque it didn't really flow and there wasn't much conviction in the delivery, as if the actors didn't really believe what it was they were saying. That said, the performances were all very good, especially the portrayal of Arathorn. The action sequences were very good with very few 'that looked stupid' moments, the troll attack was very well done, and the makeup was superb.

It'd be easy to dismiss the film for it's lack of polish but this was done on a budget that equalled pretty much nothing as far as a movie of this quality is concerned - you're looking at maybe £25K - much like the previous film, and you have to give them a standing ovation for that devotion.

Well done all round, I reckon. Do you know what I'd do next, if I were them? I'd leave Middle-Earth and make someting completely original, in a new world and in a design of their own making. That'd be a challenge and a half.

I'd be up for it. Let's do lunch.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Dragon Warriors Bestiary - Review

The Dragon Warriors Bestiary is a helpful and easy to use 90-page softback book that every DW GM needs. Although it details all the monsters you might come across in the Lands of Legend it can be used for any setting you decide to game in.

The layout is very simple – it begins with the chapter ‘Creatures of Legend’ and this informs you how the beasts in the book are used in a game, from their movement rate to their experience value to their vision types. These points are clarified, as they can be different from creature to creature alongside their normal ATTACK, DEFENCE and other scores. This chapter also covers what treasure they may be carrying, but you’ll need the Dragon Warriors core rulebook treasure tables to put this to good use.

The next chapter is the ‘Chance Encounters’ section, which is basically a sequence of charts that contain a list of random creatures you might encounter in certain terrains or locations on a D100 roll. There are some expanded ideas on some of the sea borne encounters that the GM might like to run, such as encountering pirates or ships of undead.

The next few chapters then cover the different kinds of creatures you will encounter. Each entry gives you an overview of the creature, such as a description and their general temperament, an idea of where they will be encountered and, if necessary, how to run them in combat and special rules for those with special skills of abilities. The entry then ends with a small stat block detailing in-game statistics.

Chapter 3 is ‘Men and Man-Like Creatures’, such as Dwarves, Elves and Orcs. There are a few hints on how to allow players to run Dwarves and Elves as player characters but there are no real differences between them and a normal PC, other than there are certain ability scores the player must have and the Elves have some special skills.

Chapter 4 is ‘Animals, Tame and Wild’, and this covers mundane creatures such as Bears, Dogs and Wolves.

Chapter 5 covers ‘Monsters of Legend’, and in here you’ll find fantastical creatures such as the Chimera, the Gargoyle, the Minotaur and (gulp!) the virtually undefeatable Dragon.

Chapter 6 brings you ‘The Supernatural’ which details those creatures with a magical bent, such as the hag, Lycanthrope and Imp.

Chapter 7, the ‘Creations of Sorcery’, has some interesting creatures that have been created by magical means such as the Golem, Moon Dogs and Skullghast.

Chapter 8 is ‘Infernal Creatures’ and this covers those devils that may have clawed their way out of Hell, such as the Hell Hound, Hellrot and the Succubi.

Finally, Chapter 9 has a healthy list covering ‘The Undead’, from Ghosts to Vampires to Zombies.

Rounding all this off is a one-page index with al the creatures listed in alphabetical order with their respective page numbers for ease of use and reference.

The book itself is functional and easy on the eye. The excellent John Hodgson cover depicting a small band of adventurers in the unfortunate path of a fire-breathing dragon is dark and foreboding and quite dramatic. The inside of the book is functional and plain; i.e. there are no fancy graphics covering the pages and the text and art is all black and white. Print is a fine readable size and it’s all laid out quite well.

What disappoints me about the book is the lack of artwork. There are more than 120 beasts and monsters in this book and, say, only 1 in 5 gets an illustration. The descriptions are more than enough to tell your players what they see but the ability to just hold up the book, point and say ‘that’s what’s bearing down on you’ is much more effective than any kind of long description. I’ve found myself more than once saying ‘you know the Orcs from Lord of the Rings? They look like that’ or ‘remember the dragon from Dragonslayer? The Wyvern looks like that’. That’s fine, but when the creature is more complicated than that then I’d like an illustration to hold up and just say ‘that’s it’.

Also there are a lot of spot rules. GMs may find themselves slowing the action to refer to the book for special situations or rolls for the creature. This doesn’t tend to be a problem if the monster is cued up and you intend to use it and it’s abilities in a set encounter but it can slow down off-the-cuff speedy random encounters.

What’s good about the book is that there are plenty of creatures in here to use in any location of the Lands of Legend, or anywhere in any world you have created or decided to game in. If you’ve decided to create your own world then there’s plenty to inspire you, and if you’re playing in an established world then pretty much everything is covered and, if it isn’t, then there’s an equivalent that’ll do the job. In fact, I’ve been perusing the book wondering if I can use the Dragon Warriors game in Middle-Earth and there‘s nothing stopping me from doing that. Every creature I would wish to be present in a Middle-Earth campaign is here.

All in all it’s a good book with some pretty good monsters inside, and even though the bestiary in the Dragon Warriors rulebook is quite good this books expands on those and offers plenty of other opportunities. It is one of those books that you really need if you intend to adventure using the Dragon Warriors rulebook as there are a plethora of creatures in these pages, some you may recognise and others you definitely won’t, to keep your average player character fighting in original encounters for a long, long time.