Friday 29 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 17 - 1999

My gaming was now running at a steady pace. I was primarily running WFRP with Andy, but every now and then we'd all partake in a quick Star Wars game. It wasn't the full group - in fact, it was mainly only Mark and Paul who'd join in - but we had fun. I had no other games running anywhere else and things ticked over quite nicely.

Mark and Louis had pretty much finished their work on the Setnin Sector, Mark doing all the consolidation of material and Louis working on the internet site, and was launched. It doesn't exist anymore, the link here goes to an archived version of it (and you'll see just how fans built websites back then - ah, the wonder of animated gifs!). A more up to date version of it can still be seen at and you'll see the sheer amount of information that had to be collected, written out and entered. We also wrote a lot of short stories over the years, primarily based on our gaming adventures but many were original. It was also the year that 'Episode I - The Phantom Menace' came out and we had plenty of new material to play with, both on the website and in the RPGs. It was a good year for Star Wars gaming.

I also started work on putting my Spirit game onto a PC and changed the setting. I ditched the underwater setting for a high-concept science fiction setting called The League Of Seven. It was a grand space opera inspired by Dune, Star Wars and Star Trek and I spent a lot of time adapting the system and re-writing it. Which, as it turned out, was a massive mistake because I managed to overcomplicate the game and lose what made it fun in the first place.

My collection, now, was huge. It took an even larger leap in content when I managed to secure the entire collection of Star Wars D6 books from a friend. I now had everything I needed to run a massive, detailed Star Wars campaign with the Revised and Expanded rulebook. My games were about to leap into hyperdyperlightspeed!

As it happened, we ended up sticking with the first edition rules and the mass of books I had acquired sat on the shelves gathering dust as we used the Lightsabre website as source material and a way to introduce new players to the gameworld. I figured out I didn't need that many books as I was perfectly happy with what I already had.

You live and learn, and it was after this that I seriously cut down on the number of books I was purchasing for my hobby.

Saturday 23 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 16 - 1998

I think this was the year when I realised that I was a collector of games as well as a player.

My bookshelves were groaning under the weight of the number of books I was buying. My disposable income was going on weekends out ( I was still enjoying socialising and the odd beer) and gaming materials. I was spending a lot of time in a shop called Dungeons & Starships and nosing through their second-hand bins. It wasn't that I was going to play all the games I bought, I was mining them for ideas and information. If there were charts and tables I could use then I'd nab them, too, and I took a huge interest in game mechanics and how they worked.

I was still writing a lot - short stories, articles and the such - and one of my articles had been accepted for a roleplaying magazine called 'Arcane'. They also accepted a rant letter I sent them as the article for their feature 'On The Soapbox'. If you've got the very last issue of 'Arcane' magazine then the soapbox article in there, 'Please Hug The Roleplayer To Your Left', is mine. Sadly, even though I got a letter of acceptance from 'Arcane' and a monetary offer, the magazine ceased publication.

Still, I enjoyed writing the articles and it gave me the push to have a go at writing a game. For no creative reason whatsoever I started work on a game called 'Spirit', which used the lowly D12 as it's only dice. I think I chose the D12 for no other reason that there were no other games that really used it. I know nothing of probability curves or maths, so there you go.

'Spirit' was a post-apocalyptic game set on an Earth where the atmosphere was somewhat toxic and the oceans had risen and then mainly frozen over, so everyone lived underground and travelled by submarine. I got my inspiration from 'Das Boot', 'Crimson Tide' and 'The Hunt For Red October', and the system was simple; you had a skill level from 1-12 - the higher the better - and you had to roll less than the skill level on a D12 to succeed. I only ran a few games in playtest and it went down quite well. I liked the setting, but the system needed some work. I think, to be honest, the players were more interested in the setting than the game. Indeed, I ran the same setting using Twilight: 2000 and the the D6 System a couple of years later.

So this was my first foray into proper game design. I'd been playing with mechanics for some time but this was my first attempt at putting them into practice. My WFRP and some new Star Wars D6 games were still going strong and drawing crowds so I was satisfied in that regard. My gaming hobby was ticking over nicely.

It was this year that best mate and fellow Star Wars gamer Mark realised that there was far too much sporadic information regarding our Setnin Sector, and he decided to get together all the stuff we'd created and build a definitive, accurate setting bible, of all the characters, locations, technology and incidents. With Louis, they would build a website that would hold all this information and they'd make it available to everyone.

It's not until you gather all the stories, creations and details of a long-term campaign setting that you realise just how huge it's become. What Mark and Louis were attempting would be back-breaking work and take the better part of a year to fully realise.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 15 - 1997

The Warhammer games grew in intensity. Now Andy's character had inherited a small kingdom, old enemies surfaced to wrestle it from him, he had to save his wife and unborn son, then he gave it all up to go back to his small town and run his inn, which culminated in a huge campaign in which he survived to make it home, only to die on the edge of town... oh, I could go into all kinds of detail, but suffice to say that it was huge, epic and world-shattering.

We also dabbled in MERP, with his last-of-the-elves character in Dark Age England, and we brought Star wars out for a dusting every now and then. But WFRP dominated, and when he created his new female elf character Herenya, things went from great to amazing. Other gamers drifted in and out but me and Andy were the hardcore. We started up a Call of Cthulhu campaign which I wasn't happy with, but then something amazing happened. I realised that my emotional state influenced games incredibly.

I found this out when Anne, my girlfriend I had been living with for four years, up and left me because I wasn't ready for marraige. Her leaving had nothing to do with my gaming - she let me get on with it as she had no interest in gaming, computers, sci-fi or fantasy, or anything even remotely connected with imagination - but had everything to do with me not doing what she wanted to do, i.e. get married and have lots of kids right now! She tried to emotionally blackmail me by threatening to leave me if I didn't propose. That's not a solid foundation for a life together, so I called her bluff and said goodbye.

That night she left me, a Monday, I ran a Call of Cthulhu game I had already arranged. I was in a daze and didn't even think to cancel, the players turned up and I went into auto-pilot. I was so down, feeling betrayed and terribly angry, that the game I ran was bleak, angst-ridden and dark.

It was amazing. Maybe one of the best games I have ever run. I realised that my mood meant everything to the atmosphere of a game so since that incident I have tried my best to mentally prepare myself for the game to come, and tried to invest myself emotionally in the campaign and the setting. If I feel it, the player's feel it. That was my goal and the games prospered.

My new-found preparation techniques paid off immediatley. The new WFRP games with Andy were incredibly enjoyable, more than his previous character, and a whole new campaign arose. The campaign went from strength to strength and now that I lived on my own I could dedicate more time to my games. I could purchase and invest in more material.

And, boy, did I do just that.

Sunday 17 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 14 - 1996

So. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay it was, then.

I knew that Andy enjoyed his Warhammer. His skill at the tabletop wargame was testament to that. But we'd never really talked about roleplaying in the Old World. I'd not really seriously played the game for ages, just odd adventures here and there, so we both sat down and went through the book with a fine tooth comb. After some deliberation, he decided to play a gnome.

Bear with me, it's not as bad as it sounds.

We decided that he'd roll up a halfling character and that the place he came from referred to them as gnomes. That was fine. Then I introduced a magical bow, a flute that cast random spells and a small town called La Mortineux, a slice of Bretonnia in the lands of the Empire. These small details would result in our first great RPG epic.

Years ago, Paul had sucked me into a fantasy world and gotten me creatively and emotionally involved to such a level that I couldn't imagine going back to the old dungeon bashing games. Now, after all the years of experience I had accrued with different games, players and GMs I stumbled into the same role. Now it was my turn to create a world that a player would fall into.

I can honestly say that it was the most satisfying thing I have ever done, even now. We ended up gaming twice a week, starting early and gaming into the small hours. It went from small adventure to epic journey, complete with memorable NPCs, locations and events. The town took on a life of it's own, to such a point that whole gaming sessions were taken up with Andy doing odd simple quests around the place to help out before buying the local inn outright, and I even had to change the Old World history and a lot of the setting to suit the huge game it had become. Together we created a world and a story I still think about even now.

It was my chance to really get under the skin of the characters, really create some shocking and adventurous scenarios and stage fights and battles that were, to be blunt, batshit insane. It was the grim Old World in all it's bloody and frightful glory and we loved every minute of it. There was no way we were going to improve on this.

Not this year, anyway.

Saturday 16 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 13 - 1995

The Setnin Sector. Our own slice of the Star Wars galaxy. It was independant from the rest of the galaxy although it was severely affected by the goings on in the Republic and then the Empire, but it was our own playground to have Star Wars adventures with the grandiose feel of the movies without treading on the toes of official canon. Star Wars D6 was the game of the moment and we were loving every single minute of it.

Me and Paul were the primary GMs - we knew each other well and swapped the GMing role once our campaigns were finished. Because we had a similar attitude to the games and the setting we were pretty much interchangeable and the players could use the same PCs in either game. Great. When three other players asked if they could run their own games we were like, 'Sure! Why not? Bring your own ideas to the sector and add to the mix!'

In hindsight, maybe it wasn't such a great idea.

It's not that the other GMs were bad GMs, it was that their idea of how to run a game was... different to what me and Paul had been doing for the past year. Their approach, attitude and style was far removed from what we had been doing and they didn't mesh well with the games that had come before. The PCs were suddenly in a very different place and had gone from sandbox to railroad. The games were becoming something of a struggle. Not only that, but the deviousness and subterfuge had gone beyond the characters and was starting to become a little personal. Certain players took great delight in the anger and frustration of others at being double-crossed or cheated in the game and it stopped being about the story and more about who could get one over on who. I'm all for player character conflict, but definitely not player. there was part of me that found it all quite childish and my frustration with the games grew.

Anyway, I'm not going to go into particular games, but I knew it was time to jump ship when the PCs were sucked through a wormhole and ended up in the Star Trek universe.


Me and Andy especially were starting to feel the squeeze, like the destinies and decisions our characters were making were making no difference to the route the story was taking. I felt I was beyond that kind of linear game and was rapidly losing interest.

Here's a hint - two GMs running games in the same world for the same PCs is difficult but possible, but five? Don't try it. It only leads to frustration and disappointment for everyone. In the end me and Andy bailed. The venue changed, anyway, and we had lost interest in the games.

So, burned out and dejected, Andy came around to my place and saw Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition on my shelf.

'Is that any good?' he asked.

Sunday 10 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 12 - 1994

There is a time when everything comes together in a roleplaying venue. The right players with the right attitude, the right game and the right location. With me it was Star Wars D6 at Paul's house with Paul, Mark, Andy, Darren and Louis (with an occasional visit from Jason, my first DM from 1984).

Paul's house was perfect. The room was a dining room far removed from the rest of the house. In it was a large oval dining table with a hanging light directly over the centre, with easy access to bathroom and kitchen and there were very few distractions inside. The head of the table was wide and great for a GM, with a table behind to put other stuff. There was room for paper, maps, dice, food, everything a gamer would need right in front of him without intruding on anyone else's space.

Here - I made a video a few years ago of that very year in that very room, check it out:

The second dude with the long hair who looks like he's trying to strangle himself - that's me. The hair, sadly, is no longer with us.

The games were run by me and Paul, and we'd swap duty every now and then to keep the games fresh. We both knew the Setnin Sector inside out and played the NPCs pretty much the same so we could flow on from adventure to adventure, using the same PCs, locations and NPCs. Because we were playing games set in the underworld the players soon got tired of double-crossing the NPCs and slyly turned on each other.

It was a case of outdoing each other, not through combat but through double-dealing and dishonesty. Notes were slipped under the table. Every now and then a couple of players, or a player and the GM, would call for a secret meeting and slip out of the room. Everyone knew that everyone else was out to get them. The games were, to be frank, brilliant. Andy and Mark especially revelled in the insidious nature of the campaigns and discussed the situations outside the game to try and get one-up on the other PCs.

I was also running games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for groups in two neighbouring towns - one group I got in touch with through an advert in a gaming magazine (I'm not sure which one but I think it was GM International), and one of the players in that group introduced me to another group. Luckily he was local to me so I got lifts to both places. The one group was good and enjoyed Star Wars games. That was easy, I just recycled the adventures I was running for the Sunday night guys, and the other group chopped and changed every three or four weeks; a bit of Star Wars, a bit of WFRP, a bit of Call of Cthulhu, it really depended on what mood they were in that month. Both groups were pretty good fun but they petered out after three months or so due to the members going back to their respective universities. It was nice to hear that they were running games set in my campaign worlds, but we lost contact soon after and I've not heard from any of them since.

It was, however, the Sunday night games I concentrated on and enjoyed the most. They were fun, exciting and every week bought new suprises because the players were so invested in the game. I'd finally cracked how to run large group games effectively, and the fun the other two groups in the week had was testimony to that as there was constant communication between players about the game between session. Each player was treated fairly, with time and attention equal between them all, the story flowed, the action was furious and dangerous, I didn't allow the game to get bogged down in details or rules interpretations or page-flipping... I went with the flow, created sandbox games and created situations, not stories. It was as much fun for me GMing by the seat of my pants and winging it as it was to play.

Yeah... that was a great year, and every game just seemed to get better and better. It wouldn't last - what does? - but I learned some very valuable lessons about running group games, lessons that I still adhere to today.

1995 was pretty much the same, but of course there were a few changes. Me and Paul were the main two GMs of the group, and two was enough. But five? Five GMs all running games in the same campaign world with the same PCs?


Wednesday 6 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 11 - 1993

This was a bumper year for me, as far as roleplaying was concerned. I'd moved out of the house that I shared with my friends and into a flat I now shared with my then girlfriend, Anne. The roleplaying group that consisted of PaulG, Rob, Dave et al had drifted away and now I was gaming regularly with Paul and Mark, the guys who had stuck with me through everything, and the primary game, in fact the only game, was Star Wars D6. Oh, great and wonderful Star Wars D6. The Setnin Sector was huge, now, encompassing dozens of worlds and star systems, dozens of NPCs and literally hundreds of locations. Now Andy had joined the group proper, and with Darren and Louis regularly attending it was usually a great turnout for games. Everyone had their chance to shine.

That is... they would have if Andy could have kept quiet for more than five seconds.

Andy was a force to reckoned with in my RPG group. He was constantly thinking, pushing the story and the action forward, taking his time with certain situations when it suited him but if things looked even slightly awkward - BLAM! Out came the repeating blaster and down went the bad guys. He was loud, sometimes brash and he roleplayed his characters to the hilt. It was all everyone else could do to keep up with him. In most cases it may have been a case of him drowning out the other players, but he actually drove the other players to try harder, push faster and generally get involved more so that they weren't sidelined. The games were amazing. I revelled in the way he drove forward and didn't wait to be told what to do or where to go, or ask a thousand and one detailed questions about what he could see, hear and smell. He also loved stories and taking part in an overall plot and that was what I had been trying to do for the previous three or four years. I now understood that it wasn't just up to me as the GM to drive the story and do all the work with plot and character arcs... the players had to do their fair share, too, and buy into the world I had created to want to develop their characters in such a way. It was quite a revelation to me, and I realised that that was what Paul had done years ago with MERP. He'd allowed me to drive the story, which was another reason why I had been so emotionally invested in it.

Of course, characterisation and plot development aside, things kind of got out of hand when Andy decided to booby trap his entire base and left the othe rplayers out to dry so that he could run away with 15 million credits. I say 'he', Andy was playing Luschia Arkensaw, human female mercenary/bounty hunter/pilot/assassin/whatever she was in the mood for that week. The Star Wars games came to a juddering halt.

Other players drifted in and out of the games once I'd managed to get the games back on track (and anyone would even remotely trust Andy to game with him again) but the core players remained. I GM'd (mostly), and there was Paul, Mark, Andy, Darren and Louis. It was a fine group and we got some fine games in. Star Wars D6 in the Setnin Sector would be our go-to campaign for the next two years.

Which meant for the next two years, gaming at the greatest venue we ever gamed at ever would mean lots of secret plots, player-vs-player action and secret machinations. The gaming group was about to get devious.

Sunday 3 April 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 10 - 1992

I'm not exaggerating this - I can't rightly remember much about my gaming in 1992 because... well... I can't rightly remember much of what I was doing.

I was now living with two friends of mine; Nick (a serious gamer) and Stan (a casual gamer). Every night was party night and if I wasn't working I was down the pub. No, it's true, I was continually on the beers and not a night would go by without me getting partially or totally drunk. Even the Thursday gaming night wasn't safe and we'd generally slowly stew on tins that'd take us unto the early mornings. If I got more than four or five hours sleep a night I was lucky.

As a result, gaming suffered. Not only that but the amount of beer we were drinking and the things we were smoking resulted in some pretty colourful games. Alcohol-fuelled arguments, grandstanding, and even embaressing in-character physical attacks (and the reason why I'll never play Vampire: The Masquerade again) took place on those nights.

Then I met Andy.

Andy was a proper boisterous cigar-chomping gamer. He was loud and jovial, had hair down to his arse and he'd done shedloads of RPG-related stuff. He'd played some LARP, he'd helped with a fanzine in the late 1980s called 'The Jester', he'd even come second in the nationals of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle tournament. He wanted to play, get well into character and have some great, powerful games. And he was most certainly a force to be reckoned with. There were some great games.

Sadly, however, the majority of games are just blurs to me now. I do remember a lot of them were downright awful, thanks to the booze and marijuana, and I'm pretty sure there were times where I'd be running a game and I'd get so bored of the whole thing that I'd call Andy into the kitchen for a 'private in-game conversation', and we'd climb out the window and go down the pub. Once we left, came back hours later and the players were so engaged in their party conflict that they hadn't even noticed that we'd gone. Dicey.

So, the games wore on and the party house partied. It was this year we also met Louis, another gamer who wanted a slice of the Star Wars D6 action, and the Setnin Sector games really started to expand. It was, truth be told, the year that the Star Wars D6 Setnin Sector games really took off. The following year would see an explosion of Star Wars gaming that would shape the future of many gamer's involvent in the hobby and what they did with their spare time outside the game.

But my GMing mettle would be tested, also, as Andy, the incorrigable loud-mouthed git, pretty much threw everything he could at me and the other players.