Monday 31 January 2011

Books - Retribution Falls / Science Fantasy Stories

It's not a review, it's a small piece about a couple of books I've got my hands on.

First of all there's 'Retribution Falls' by Chris Wooding. I've not read any of his work before and it was the cover that grabbed my attention in the bookshop. After some perusing of the internet it seems that this novel is the kind of book I love and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to it.

Then, in a charity shop, I found a as-new copy of a hardback book I used to have when I was kid - Science Fantasy Stories. This is a 1987 printing by Cathay Books and I can't find an image to share, suffice to say that I lost this book 21 years ago and I always regretted that. Now I have it again, in a better condition than when I first owned it, I somehow feel incredibly content, like all is right with the world and karma and balance and some such shit. Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Fighting Fantasy: Interstellar Adventures

Considering that I'm a tad bored with game design, and the fact that I'm falling in love with old systems all over again, I decided to have a stab at messing around with the game system that got me started in the RPG hobby - the Fighting Fantasy system.

Taking my cue from the 'Fighting Fantasy The Introductory Roleplaying Game' book I set about getting hold of the rules (quite simple as they're all on Wizard Books' Fighting Fantasy website and can be copied and pasted quite easily) and then tweaking them to suit. I introduced a new set of skills and a Difficulty Number resolution system to keep the die rolling conventions similar. Physical combat remains the same and I've introduced the ranged and starship combat systems from Gamebook 4 'Starship Traveller' to the system. All in all it makes for pretty fun, simple game.

Right now I'm hoping to get some kind of nod from Wizard Books so that I can distribute the game for free across the internet. If nothing is forthcoming then I'll just change the combat resolution system and change the names of the stats. Simple as that. Hopefully, they'll say yes and then I can release:

Sunday 23 January 2011

3D Movies - It's RANT time!

The Green Hornet - great film. But in 3D? Impressive. Initially. Then twenty minutes later it annoyed the shit out of me. Not again. 3D movies really do put you there... if you wanted to be put fifty years into the past. Make movies, not spectacles.

It's why Avatar, in the long run, turned out to be a bit shit. It was great on that initial viewing because of the whole spectacle and the new 3D stuff, but ultimately it turned out to be a shallow story with dull two dimensional characters who were there to serve the special effects. I mean, come on. If I wanted a colourful spectacle I'd go and see a fireworks display.

You can't really excuse the triteness of some films because they made money to make other films, because that's the only reason why the big production companies make them - to make as much money as they can, and they'll produce any old tut and use any old gimmick to get people in the theatres to watch the films so that they can fill their coffers. This means that future big movies aren't created on merit but on market research and demographics which has turned studios into industrial mass-marketing machines of money-making mediocrity.

I think James Cameron saw an angle and went for it, made a an (initially) stunning visual feast and opened the floodgates for more fireworks displays. Now people are so wrapped up in the spectacle, the movie itself partially passes them by so characters, plot and development go out the window in favour of a dead scuba divers in a shark mouth reaching out of the screen with a grenade in their hand, to make the audience react physically and not emotionally. Sure, some films are probably made to utilise the 3D (I only saw it in 2D but I imagine Tron looked amazing in 3D - and, yeah, it was a great film) and any other technology but I think they fool themselves into thinking the movie will have any longevity after the 'wow' factor has worn off.

And the money being pumped into these spectacles are denying other films their chance, because studios won't want to do a 3D movie of a family drama, or a political thriller, or a slow-moving sci-fi epic. They just want wam-bam-thank you for your cash-maam. I understand that they're a business, but forcing the little guy out is the same as building a faceless Tescos or Wal-Mart in the middle of the city and watching the small personal-service shops dwindle and die, only visited by those who care and hardly making an impact or closing completely.

Now, movies that use technology the accentuate the film - fine. Subtle effects, tweaks and even full blown events to make a point, fine. But making it a technological marvel in spite of the movie immediately destroys any credibility the movie might have had.

Friday 21 January 2011

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game opens my eyes

Me and some friends sat down and did a Star Wars game last night, using the West End Games first edition Star Wars D6 rulebook, the first edition Sourcebook and the Gamesmaster's Pack.

It was absolutely bloody brilliant.

I've not run a full-on Star Wars game for my old group for years and it took me way back, long before I got really serious about RPGs and game design and even longer before Farsight Games was even a twinkle in my eye. It took me back to a time when I played the games because I loved to play, to a time when gaming was simple, fun and exciting. It took me back to a time when I enjoyed playing roleplaying games much more than I do now.

Yeah, that was quite a blow. It sort of hit me at the end of the game when everyone was really up for the next installment and seemed to really get excited about their characters, as new and as off-the-cuff as they were. There was no pretence - we weren't trying to delve into psyches, or experiment with new systems, or try a new way of or approach to gaming. We sat down, had fun and wanted to play it again.

I've not done that for years. Games that I've played or designed for recently have been an exercise in what makes the game tick, how it runs and how it works. Not if it was any fun. This is mainly because the fun is slightly sucked out of the game for me because I'm too busy juggling playing with note-taking and analysis. I'm a bit tired of that, now.

Playing Star Wars last night reminded me how much simple fun and excitement I've been missing out on. I kind of feel I've been reminded of a time when I used to play games for enjoyment, whereas now I've turned it into something of a job, almost a chore. I don't want to get under the skin of games and into the mechanics of a system anymore. I just want to have some fun. When did this happen? When did I forget the original reason why I got into roleplaying games in the first place?

So now I'm looking fondly at games of old that bought me great joy; Basic D&D, Star Wars D6, MERP, WFRP. Now I'm looking at having fun again.

Goodbye for now, game and setting design. Maybe I'll look to you again in the future if gaming becomes a little hard to come by but right now I want as much enjoyment out of the game as possible while I can still appreciate it.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Stars Without Number

I'm pissed off. I made a lot of notes about a D&D system science fiction game, even promoted the use of the original TSR Buck Rogers XXVc game that used the AD&D 2nd Edition as a great example of what a D&D-type sci-fi RPG could be. I even messed about with my own version.

Then suddenly Dave 'Grubman' Bezio comes along with
'X-Plorers', the game that asked the question '
What if the fathers of the role playing hobby were more into science fiction than fantasy when they wrote that first set of official rules back in 1974? What if that game was about humans expanding and exploring their universe, instead of delving into deep dungeons to kill monsters to earn treasure?' It was a great game.

Now we have an old-school old-skool D&D inspired game from [S.]ine [N.]omine Publishing, and they've kicked arse on several levels. Here's the blurb:

'Stars Without Number is a retro-inspired science fiction role playing game influenced by the Old School Renaissance. The contents are compatible with most old school clones and are designed to be easily imported to your own favorite gaming system. In addition to a complete pre-made stellar sector, Stars Without Number offers GMs and players the tools to create their own sandbox-style adventures in the far future. * Compatible with most retroclone RPGs * Helps a GM build a sandbox sci-fi game that lets the players leave the plot rails to explore freely * World building resources for creating system-neutral planets and star sectors * 100 adventure seeds and guidelines for integrating them with the worlds you've made * Old-school compatible rules for guns, cyberware, starships, and psionics * Domain rules for experienced characters who want to set up their own colony, psychic academy, mercenary band, or other institution.'

That's brilliant. And the fact that you can download the PDF for FREE is even better! It's what I want to see in a sci-fi game - creativity and an appeal to both current and new gamers. Well done both of these products for putting sci-fi space opera out there and proving that you don't need a convoluted technical system to represent high-tech games. It's good old dungeon bashin' - in spaaaaaace!

Monday 17 January 2011

Hunting Deer - The Horrible Truth

I hunted deer at the weekend. No, not with a gun - I'm not that weird - but with a camera.

Ten minutes from where I live in the beautiful cathedral city of Lichfield is Cannock Chase, a huge conservation area forest where the wild things are. Me and my three year old (might-as-well-be-four-year-old) son Bruce went for a nice drive and a long walk across the hills and through the forests.

There's a great little place called Milford (there's a Wimpy burger bar there! Hooray!) and that's where we parked, slapped on our hiking boots and started our long trek into the deep, dark forest. It was hard going - after all, I'm trekking with a might-as-well-be-four-year-old so we're stopping every five seconds so that he can investigate bushes, run away from creaking trees and pick up rabbit poo. He finds a magic wand (stick) and then it transforms into a magic sword (he finds a bigger stick) and decides he wants to hunt for monsters (walk behind daddy and assure him he will help if we find one). Basically, I'm the tank and he's melee DPS.

We go a little off the beaten track (ie get somewhat lost), and then all of a sudden there's this thumping sound in the trees. I'm expecting a dog or something similar, but when a full-grown deer comes bounding out the bushes followed by three or four others I'm amazed. Wildly they crash off down the hill, across the path and then up the next hill. After convincing Bruce that they're not monsters and, no, he's not allowed to hug them if we find them we set off in pursuit, camera in hand.

Now, in a lot of fantasy roleplaying games I play a ranger/hunter type character. I've got a skill in tracking and hunting and he's usually quite competent. I mean, I've seen people hunt in the movies, how hard could it be? Pick up a track, make sure you're as quiet as can be and sneak up, and take the shot. In games we've gone into detail about what we would do to hunt game and it all sounded pretty plausible. The better the description the better the bonuses on the dice roll.

After more than twenty years playing RPGs I kind of like the little bits of factual knowledge I've picked up about hunting. Living in England I'd never get the chance to hunt for real - in fact, I wouldn't even consider killing a living creature even if I had the opportunity - so this will be the closest I ever get to tracking and taking a (snap)shot at a deer. It all seemed so simple in my head.

Alas, real life sucks really, really hard. I found the tracks, but they were so mashed up I had no idea where they were headed. Snapped and bent twigs and branches? They were all snapped and bent! By my reckoning there were roughly ten and a half thousand deer passing through this area every few seconds. Caught fur on fences and tree trunks? Erm... no. Even if I did find fur it doesn't tell me what direction they were heading in. The wind was so high that I couldn't hear them. What was I supposed to do?

After an hour we finally found them, deeper into the forest. Could I get close enough to get a decent picture? Could I bollocks. If I even twitched they'd bolt. At one time I'm pretty sure that a sparrow eighteen miles away farted, and that was enough to send them crashing away into the trees. If I couldn't get a picture from any distance with a simple line-of-sight snapshot, how on earth could I even hope to fire a weapon, bow or otherwise?

Another half an hour later we found them again. This time, I thought, I can't go wrong. Then the might-as-well-be-four-years-old jumped to his feet when he saw them and shouted, 'There they are!' All hope was lost. With a crash of tree branches they hoofed it.

It was then I realised I was slightly lost. I say slightly, I mean utterly. The only thing I knew was that Milford was to the north of us so I used the moss-on-trees trick and headed north. That bit of woodland knowledge helped me out, at least.

So there you have it, people. Forget all you know (or think you know!) about tracking and hunting knowledge you may have gleaned from the skills lists in roleplaying games. It won't help you. Using that information and taking a might-as-well-be-four-years-old with you is a bad idea.

This is why I play roleplaying games. Reality is such a let down.

Monday 10 January 2011

Eclipse Phase

The more I read about this game the more intrigued I become.

The turn-ons for me are the fact that it seems to deal with a slice of the science fiction genre that I'm new to but enjoying, that of high-concept transhumanist sci-fi, and it also has a healthy dose of horror thrown in. Sitting here listening to Jerry Goldmsith's ALIEN soundtrack and looking at that cover is making me nod my head. That and the system is percentile based, which is one of my favourite resolution systems coming as I do from a WFRP background. I downloaded the quickstart from and I'm impressed. I'm considering a full purchase in the near future.

It's nice to come across a game that I haven't had thrust down my throat by banner ads and drooling gamers. I've always known it was there, like we've been looking at each other across a crowded bar for the last few weeks, and I think I've got the courage to buy it a drink.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Mini Six, Mini Six, ooooh, loooolly-lolly-lolly

Mini Six. (POP!) Badum-dum-dum...

I think the elegance and simplicity of the Mini Six system, a cut down version of the D6 System that's now available on OGL as OpenD6, has won me over. The great guys over at have done a cracking job and well done to them.

What makes this great for me is that I think I've now decided on a system for my magazine-format printed project. I was so intent on creating a whole new system for a whole new game I lost sight of th ereason why I wanted to do this. I wanted to present a whole new setting for players to gamein, the system itself was secondary. As a lifelong fan of the D6 System thanks to WEG's original (and, in my opinion, by far the best) Star Wars RPG I'm more than happy to use Mini Six for the game. Now I just need to get an SRD from the guys at Antipaladin that's not a PDF - I like to make my life easy and there's nothing easier than copy n' paste.

People complain about the D6 System, stating that it's easy to 'break'. Well, don't fucking break it, then. That's like buying a dog and seeing how many times you can kick it before it dies.

Monday 3 January 2011

I'll be damned

Yesterday me and the wife went on a little jaunt to the local places of interest, one of them being a small place called Barton Marina (, especially a toy shop and museum ( that dealt with new and classic, antiquarian toys.

After my last post about the old Star Trek RPG, what do I find tucked away in the corner? Yes, a complete and good condition Star Trek RPG box set, exactly the one I was talking about. I don't see one in years and then one turns up in the middle of nowhere in a shop I didn't even know existed until I went to the marina on a whim.

That's fate, that is. Fate is telling me I have to play the Star Trek RPG.