Tuesday 27 September 2011

Fighting Fantazine

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

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

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

Saturday 24 September 2011

Stream of conciousness

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

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

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Take your seats, please

For the movie is about to begin.

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

Full version.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Goodbye, RIFT

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

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

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

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Star Wars: The Next Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d just forgotten how to be one.

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

Sunday 11 September 2011

Star Wars D6

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

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

Sunday 4 September 2011

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

Holy crap!

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

I'm going to assume it was never published.


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Dear Dragon,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your time,


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