Thursday 31 December 2015

2016 - The Playlist

Well. we're almost at the end of 2015 and, as ever, I've been looking over my collection and I've been thinking about where to go next with my tabletop gaming hobby.

My gaming group will once again convene in the New Year, and at this time we're looking at D&D 5th Edition. It's a great game, probably the best iteration of D&D I've ever played, and it's something to look forward to. I'm not sure what adventure we'll be doing and it's doubtful that I'll be DMing the game, so that's something to look forward to.

Saying that, I also have the option of mixing with other groups and gamers I've come into contact with over the last few weeks. This includes a possible DM role for D&D 5th, and another player eager to run a Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG, set in the new era of the Resistance, a la Episode VII. That sounds great, and I'm sure there are members of my existing group who'd be more than up for that.

As I was writing this short blog post I received a message that reminded of a game I've not played in a long time, and a game that I love for both the system and the setting - Dragon Warriors. I'd love to GM a game again, even if it's just a short adventure over a month or so, and the thought of gaming in the Lands of Legend is too much to resist. I think I'll make Dragon Warriors my priority in the new gaming year.

The thing is, there's plenty of other games we have in our group that we've discussed. There's Shadowrun, a game we played in 2014 and had a huge amount of fun with. Then there's Hulks & Horrors, the D&D sci-fi game that we were eager to return to. Then there's Call of Cthulhu that I've wanted to run for a while, especially the Dark Ages version, and of course I'd love to continue my Warhammer FRP 1st Edition game I began back in early 2015.

So, right away you can see the problem. There are plenty of games I want to run and yet there are only so many gamers, and each of those gamers (in my primary group, at least) all have games of their own they want to run. I'm also a family man these days, with a full-time job and a dog and everything, so I don't have the buckets of time I used to have.

So with little time and lots of games, how do I divide my time and get them all in? Well, the simple answer is - I don't. I'll have to choose which games I want to run and stick with my choices, and drop the ones that I'd like to play but don't have the 100% commitment that a gaming group would require. If I'm going to game I need to make sure that I'm committed, or the group as a whole will suffer if I'm sat at the table wanting to be somewhere else. There's no point in shooting lasers at alien nasties if I'd rather be crossing blades with orc meanies. That's no fun for me or the rest of the group, especially the person running the game.

I'll see what the New Year brings me once we're pasty midnight tonight, but if I had to choose a game right now I'd choose Dragon Warriors. I'm in a pseudo-historical mood right now, and I've had ideas regarding ancient ruins beneath the mead-halls of the Thulanders, but I think watching the first three seasons of Vikings back-to-back may have something to do with that.

No matter what happens, I'm looking forward to gaming in 2016. We start from scratch in January, with all new campaigns to start and fresh adventures to be had, so here's to a new year of gaming.

I raise my mead-filled drinking horn to you all. And yes, I have a drinking horn and I have mead.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday 26 December 2015

Team building - D&D Style

Every year on Christmas Eve, the company department my wife Lisa works for has a morning of team-building exercises. This can take the form of crafts, boardgames, or anything else that takes their fancy, anything that makes them work together.

This year, Lisa convinced them to play D&D.

The original  plan was for me to show her a few pointers and for her to run the game, but as I wasn't working on Christmas Eve it was decided that it would be easier for me to DM. It was going to be a quick two-hour blast through a simple dungeon, and I figured it would keep them entertained for a while.

Now, these guys have virtually no experience with the tabletop hobby, let alone pen n' paper RPGs, so I was shocked when they really got into certain elements of the game even before I arrived on the scene. Characters had been created with detailed backgrounds, their role in the team had been worked out and they'd even made their own swords and weapons out of cardboard. At first, I had this feeling that it was going to be a bit of a piss-take game, and because they weren't gamers they wouldn't take it seriously.

Well, didn't I feel like the prat when we started.

They got well into it. A few minutes into the game and we were fighting giant rats in a cellar, which lead to a secret entrance to an abandoned dwarven tomb. There were conversations about tactics, shouts of encouragement, and the first victory of the game got a cheer. Then there was caution, questions, exploration, some encounters that created some real tension and fun moments, and a final confrontation that created some excitement and a satisfying climax.

It was the energy from the players more than my abilities as a DM; there was nervous expectation and some trepidation, but once I showed them that they could be as relaxed as I was they settled in to the game quickly. It was great fun and I think some will be doing it again, outside of work.

I learned some valuable lessons with this session; for starters, don't pre-judge the game and the players. I expected some fun and a dismissive playstyle, a casual game of no real significance, but they seemed to enjoy the game and I had a great time with new players. Secondly, D&D is a great team-building game. They started out a little disparate but soon came together as a group to defeat the (hugely underpowered) dragon at the end. It was a great ending.

Finally, always listen to your wife when she says 'you should run this game for us'. You never know what you might miss out on.

Friday 18 December 2015

Book Review - Old Mars

Edited by George RR Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Published by Titan Books

'Fifteen all-new stories by science fiction’s top talents, collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and multiple-award winning editor Gardner Dozois

Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Heinlein’s Red Planet. These and so many more inspired generations of readers with a sense that science fiction’s greatest wonders did not necessarily lie far in the future or light-years across the galaxy but were to be found right now on a nearby world tantalizingly similar to our own—a red planet that burned like an ember in our night sky . . . and in our imaginations.

This new anthology of fifteen all-original science fiction stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, celebrates the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do. Before the advent of powerful telescopes and space probes, our solar system could be imagined as teeming with strange life-forms and ancient civilizations—by no means always friendly to the dominant species of Earth. And of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars.

Join such seminal contributors as Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, Joe R. Lansdale, S. M. Stirling, Mary Rosenblum, Ian McDonald, Liz Williams, James S. A. Corey, and others in this brilliant retro anthology that turns its back on the cold, all-but-airless Mars of the Mariner probes and instead embraces an older, more welcoming, more exotic Mars: a planet of ancient canals cutting through red deserts studded with the ruined cities of dying races.'

When I sat down to read Old Mars I was pretty excited. I'd had a great time between the pages of the previous collection Old Venus, and here I was expecting some more of the same. Adventure stories, compelling stories, thoughtful stories; basically, a nice mix of talent and different approaches to the subject matter that would have something for everyone.

Mars has always been fascinating, and my love of the red world stems, of course, from classics such as 'The War of the Worlds', 'The Martian Chronicles', and, perhaps strangely, the movie 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars'. It's an amazing world, in real life as well as in the imagination, and when I began reading Burroughs' planetary romances I then found the adventure. Later would come more serious books on the planet, and then actual theories on how we really could travel to the red world and exist there. Now we had rovers there and we were learning more about the nature of Mars every day, the mystery seemed to be fading.

This is why this book is so enjoyable. It takes us back to the days when Mars was still an inhabited world we could have adventures in, where races unfathomable were fighting wars unthinkable, and when civilisations we could barely imagine or hope to understand walked the shifting sands.

The mix of stories is wonderful and the editors, George RR Martin and Gardner R. Dozois, have made an excellent selection. The tales move from stories about lost civilisations or misunderstood aliens to tales of incredibly imaginative adventure, action and sometimes insane scenarios. One moment you can be contemplating attitudes of the human race towards an indigenous species, and the next you're trading shots with floating ships and screaming enemies. If you want thought and introspection, you've got it. If you want swordplay and blaster fire, you got that too.

The stories might sound disparate but they mix really well and, although there might be a point in the book where you don't really want to read about yet another unfathomable Martian civilisation older than Mankind, the stories never get boring and the tales are never too preachy. There's a good mix of approaches to take, opinions to mull over and downright out-and-out fun to be had in this book.

So, if you're looking for a Burroughs-esque battles across the sands of Mars, you got it. If you want a Heinlein-inspired trip through the soul of a planet, you got that too. You really do get the best of both worlds.


Thursday 17 December 2015

My Original Star Wars RPG designs from 1987/1988

So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my first ever game designs for West End Games Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game, from way back in 1987/1988.

This one is very first map I drew in 1987, the day after I bought my copy of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. I wanted my own Rebel base, and I created a small one on an idyllic world of boating ponds and woodland walks. It was designed as a retreat, a place where player characters could go to rest and recuperate, pick up missions and generally hang out.

These two were created in 1988, and the image on the left is a downed starship being used as an outpost. At first it was controlled by smugglers, but after being outed the Rebels used it as a small strike base deep in the Mid-rim territories. I remember liking to idea of it but don't remember getting much use out of it.

The crash site on the right is a downed Star Destroyer, the impact of the mighty starship hitting the ground devastated the land for miles around, but the crash also bought trade and industry as the locals used it as place of interest and melted parts of the destroyer down to use - they were a pre-industrial race and they needed the metals for their own wars. By this time, the Empire and other scavengers had already taken what they could and left the rest to rot.

Finally, another Rebel base on the left and a space station on the right. The base was a complicated warren of abandoned tunnels and caves in what was one of many single towers of land on an otherwise ocean world, and as the world had no natural resources of note it was ignored by the Empire. What the Rebels didn't know is that the original inhabitants of the world were returning, and they wanted their homes back...

The research station was created for a standard 'trapped on a station with killer aliens' game. You know... Aliens. It is much larger than you can see in the picture, but the game was pretty derivative and didn't really go anywhere. I always liked the design, though.

You know, I might use all of these again. The 1980s were a great time to be a tabletop roleplayer.

Star Wars D6 RPG - designing it old-school

I've been trying not to get into the Star Wars swing of things, but after looking through my old first edition Star Wars RPG game, and thinking about how I create my games now, I've decided to throw myself back to 1987 and create an old-school D6 Star Wars campaign the way I used to do it. On paper, with pens and pencils.

This means no sitting at a computer typing, or copying and pasting stats and images off the internet, the things that have made me lazy in my game design in these days of the internet. This means handwriting my plot ideas and situations, stats and character backgrounds, and drawing new places, people and tech. Just the way I did thirty years ago.

I'm trying to remember why it is I got into Star Wars, and the Star Wars RPG, in the first place, so I'm starting from scratch.

Saying that... who's up for a Star Wars D6 1st Edition game?

Sunday 13 December 2015

Comic Review - Orbital 6. Resistance

Writer: Sylvain Runberg 
6 - ResistanceArtist: Serge Pellé
Published by: Cinebook

'After fleeing Confederate space, Caleb and Mezoke are hiding among a community of exiles disgusted by the corruption and violence infecting the galactic government. Caleb is recovering slowly, just as Angus, the living ship, is doing on a different world. But a powerful, dangerous psychic link seems to exist between them, and all are actively hunted by both the authorities and a terrorist group. When running ceases to be the answer, the only option left is resistance...'

I've followed this space opera series since the very first volume 'Scars'. I was amazed by that first issue, and then even further amazed by the second volume, 'Ruptures'. The setting was further expanded by 'Nomads', then rattled by 'Ravages', then it was torn apart by 'Justice', and now, with 'Resistance'. the entire galaxy seems to be falling apart.

I think the most frustrating thing about this series is the huge gaps between volumes.; of course, not only do we have to wait for the writer to create and the artist to illustrate, lazy single-language persons like myself then have to wait for the translation. Was it worth the wait? Yes. Yes it was. In fact, I think I'll need to learn another language to help me cut down the waiting time for the next instalment.

It's hard to explain what happens in this book for two reasons; one, if you haven't read any of the previous volumes then you'll simply have absolutely no idea what it is I'm talking about. In fact, if you haven't read the first five volumes then please, stop reading this and go and purchase copies of each one right now. Two, if you have read the other volumes in this series then the very last thing I want to do is ruin the surprise for you. You've waited long and hard for this volume and me shouting out about why I was so shocked and amazed by what happens next will only spoil it all.

And this is one of those series where you don't want it spoiled for you, I guarantee it. The unfolding of the characters and the setting - as well as the politics and the intrigue - is one of the things that makes Orbital riveting from beginning to end, and then slaps you around the face at the end of each volume when you realise you have to wait months before you can find out what happens next. Sylvain Runberg's writing is always a joy to experience - he has a great talent at worldbuilding and his star-flung setting, as huge and as expansive as it is, is never too big for the characters that he creates. Each individual has a specific and identifiable character, and they always have a depth and quality to them which means that they're never simply 'the bad guys' or the 'good guys'. While there are characters that may come across as a little 'evil', they're never portrayed in a way that's too pantomine, or simple moustache-twirling villains, the same way that the heroes don't have shining teeth and untouchable hair. The two primary characters, Caleb and Mezoke, are as rich and enjoyable as they were from the first volumes and their characters continue to grow and change as the galaxy about them twists and convulses in what could be the end of the... oops. Said too much. I need to stop getting carried away, but that's what the story does.

And to accompany great writing you need great art, and once again Serge Pellé has not only knocked it out the park, it's gone out of the city and into orbit. His design and feel is so atmospheric you can almost reach out and touch it; the very alien-ness of the stars beyond Earth makes you wonder if Pellé knows something we don't, and even though the designs are so far out there that they can't be seen by Hubble they still feel tangible and that they belong there, within the reality of the setting that Runberg has created. In fact, it was Pellé's artwork that originally drew me to this series. That first cover, of Caleb and Mezoke posing for the camera with the might of an Orbital towering behind them, caught my eye and upon opening the book I was amazed at the quality, the colour and the design. He hasn't compromised with each volume and has stayed consistent all the way through the story, and to imagine anyone else illustrating these adventures is unthinkable.

I'm so high on this series it's difficult to find fault. Yes, I had to go back and re-read some of the dialogue to make sure I had absorbed the facts; there's a lot of exposition in this (and I do not like exposition very much), but it all makes sense and fits together nicely, and brings us back to the events of the opening of volume 1... but that's all I'm going to say about that. A couple of the panels were slightly confusing as I tried to make out what was going on, but in both of these cases it made very little difference to my overall enjoyment of the book. In fact, even mentioning it feels pointless as it didn't change how much I enjoyed experiencing this.

And that's what this book is; an experience. You experience the story through the eyes of the heroes, you experience the worlds through the eyes of the different races and the individuals vying for power, and you experience the galaxy as whole when all these things are bought together. Sylvain Runberg has created a space opera setting of action, intrigue and character, and Serge Pellé has given it life and dimension. It's a fantastic thing to behold and I only wish that more people would experience it. I'm a tabletop gamer and when I think of a new science fiction setting to game in, I always think of Orbital first. A board game, a roleplaying game, even other forms of media... hell, I'd love to see Pellé's images animated, that would be a wonderful thing to behold. I can but dream.

Orbital 6. Resistance doesn't let up from where volume 5 ended and even ups the ante. I cannot imagine any fan of this series being disappointed with this newest instalment, and even though you will be annoyed at having to wait for another few months to see where this new cliffhanger will take you, I guarantee that the wait will be the only thing you will be annoyed about.

Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé have done it again - now for the long wait until they do it a seventh time.

Very highly recommended.

Thursday 10 December 2015

The Witcher TV Show (Wiedzmin)

I'm a great fan of the Witcher setting, especially the books, and my recent foray into Witcher 2 (not great), Witcher 3 (amazing!) and the Witcher boardgame (great fun!) has really got me back into it.

I was made aware of the Polish TV show from long ago, 'Wiedzmin', and although the production values are low and it plays fast and loose with the Witcher, it's not a bad show and I found it quite watchable - in fact, I ended up enjoying it.

What struck me was the soundtrack by Grzegorz Ciechowski - it's excellent. It took me ages to track down the music and there were four tracks that really stuck out at me, and these were the Dandelion songs, or 'Dandelion’s advices'. They're great songs, though short, and I've always wondered what he was singing about.

But I have contacts. ie, I work with a lady called Patrycja who not only isolated the lyris, she translated them for me... and the lyrics were better than I expected.

So, here they are, the four advices of Dandelion (Jaskra); Pierwsza rada Jaskra, Druga rada Jaskra, Trzecia rada Jaskra and Czwarta rada Jaskra.

First in English:

Dandelion’s 1st advice
Stay on your destiny's path,
which is the fight.
Your sword will not rust,
will glare from blood.
And one more right of yours,
It´s the surprise.
Whoever will object to it,
The sword will be destined for him.

Dandelion’s 2nd advice
And even though your heart burns,
She was not meant for you.
This is how fires of hearts end,
in an ocean of split-up. X3

Dandelion’s 3rd advice
This night you´ll see no stars,
it’s a glow above Cintra.
It will flame up and punish the world,
the world that will die.
Like a flock of black ravens,
enemies rush along.
You got away but your destiny,
still fulfil inside of yourself.

Dandelion’s 4th advice
You ask what did you do wrong,
You’re still asking questions.
You try to fool the destiny,
so you get the punishment.
Your fortune is already written,
You efforts are useless.
Like a thrown stone,
that wants to be a star on the sky.

And you are ashamed of yourself,
So what is this fight for ?
You can´t run away from love so,
surrender to it.

Now in Polish:

Pierwsza rada Jaskra:
Na szlaku przeznaczenia trwaj,
A jest nim walka.
Twój miecz nie pozna smaku rdzy,
Zalśni od krwi.
I jeszcze jedno prawo Twe,
To niespodzianka.
Ktokolwiek się sprzeciwi jej,
Przeznaczony mu miecz.

Druga rada Jaskra:
I chociaż płonie serce twe,
Ona Ci nie pisana.
Tak kończą się pożary serc,
Oceanem rozstania.

Trzecia rada Jaskra:
Tej nocy nie zobaczysz gwiazd,
To łuna nad Cintrą.
Zapłonie i ukarze świat,
Świat, który zginie.
Jak stado czarnych kruków gdzieś,
Pędzą wrogowie.
Uszedłeś ale losy Twe,
Dokonują się w Tobie.

Czwarta rada Jaskra:
Ty pytasz co zrobiłeś źle,
Wciąż zadajesz pytania.
Oszukać przeznaczenie chcesz,
I spotyka Cię kara.
Twój los już napisany jest,
Twe daremne starania.
Jak kamień co rzucony chce,
Gwiazdą w niebie się znaleźć.

I sam przed sobą wstydzisz się,
I po co ta walka.
Miłości nie uciekniesz więc,
Poddaj się jej.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Boardgame Review: The Witcher Adventure Game

Published by Fantasy Flight Games

'The Witcher Adventure Game takes players on a journey across the world of the critically acclaimed Witcher franchise. Based on the best selling novels and award-winning video games, the Witcher universe makes its way to your tabletop with The Witcher Adventure Game.

You and up to three friends will take on the roles of beloved characters from the Witcher universe and travel across the dangerous wilds, battling monsters, completing quests, earning gold and victory points, and vying for ultimate triumph. Along the way, you’ll craft an unforgettable narrative, unique to each and every game.

The Witcher Adventure Game contains:

One learn-to-play guide and one rules reference booklet
One game board
Four hero sheets and four plastic heroes
Nine custom dice
Over 200 assorted tokens
Over 250 cards'

I've learned my lesson regarding Fantasy Flight Games boardgames after my experience with Forbidden Stars. Even though we went on to enjoy that game, I realised that my group had to be better prepared for a complicated game, and even though The Witcher Adventure Game isn't overly complicated I made sure we were ready.

One of my gaming group got hold of the game and spent a good couple of hours going through the rules and familiarising himself with the mechanics, so when the four of us came to sit down to play, three of us being new to the game, we were briefed and playing at a good pace within thirty minutes.

The game gives you four heroes of the Witcher world to play - Triss Merigold, the sorceress; Dandelion, the bard; Yarpen Zigrin, the dwarven warrior; and,of course, Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher. Each character comes with a detailed figurine to represent them on the board.

In fact, the game is up to the usual Fantasy Flight Games standards - good quality packaging, great miniatures, robust cards and counters, and excellent presentation.

The game itself is one of quests based around the ideals and thrust of the Witcher stories. You can investigate the goings on around the world and complete quests as you do so, as well as do side quests, and get involved with some rather brutal but simple combat; even though characters cannot die in this game, they get beaten around pretty badly.

Players can explore the land and adjust their character as they see fit with development cards, which can be collected as the game progresses to improve dice rolls. Each character also has special skill that helps strengthen them and improve their chances of success, and al these options are controlled by the player as they move across the board. All of these options create diverse and different sagas and stories with every game. There are a lot of rules to get through so the best thing to do is download the 'Learn to Play' PDF available for free on the Fantasy Flight Games website. The aim of the game is to complete quests and defeat foes, all the while collecting Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game is the winner.

We got into game pretty quickly and after some initial stalls - the use of the development cards was something that was overlooked a few times, resulting in a few depressing combats - we got into the swing of things. The first thing that struck me was that when the question 'who do you want to play?' was asked, everyone paused.... so I dove in and grabbed Geralt. Of course I did. Who wouldn't?

It became apparent very quickly that the game was a co-operative one; there is a rule where you can help another player with a quest if they are in the same area as you, and this not only helps the player who's quest it is but benefits the one giving aid even more, resulting in more Victory Points, so it pays to be friendly. Geralt's abilities and dice seemed to be better than everyone else, but it soon became apparent that this didn't matter; I lost more combats then I won and Geralt got a serious battering - which, to be honest, reflected the books quite well. In fact, the quests were pretty grim and even if you succeeded the results were somewhat negative.

But across it all we had a great time. the dark, somewhat grim atmosphere of the Witcher world was well represented and you do feel the darkness as well as the bad luck inherent in the setting. Fans of the Witcher will get a lot of fun out of this.

It is the longevity of the game that I was concerned about; the quests and side quests are all different but they are all a means to an end - collect resources and Victory Points - but we found ourselves skipping the detail of the cards just to get to the meat of the matter; what were the rewards? When you're fighting to get the most Victory Points, the flavour of the game suddenly becomes superfluous and, as well presented as they are, they become secondary to what you want to accomplish. I don't think that's a flaw in the game, but the details get lost when all you're thinking about is getting those resources and Victory Points. If that's the only thing you play for, then the game may become a little repetitive as you go on and even adding new quests is just adding more detail that may go unappreciated. Perhaps more characters to play might give the game more life as time goes on.

The Witcher Adventure Game is a great game and it plays well with the full set of four players, as there's plenty going on and you spend a lot of time keeping an eye on the movements of the other characters in the hope that you can benefit from them. The game is competitive but not in a 'defeat the other players!' way, and a pleasant evening of gaming can be had without trying to grind the other players into the ground.

Good fun and well worthy of the Witcher franchise. Highly recommended.

Monday 7 December 2015


On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

There are quite a few roleplaying groups out there. Which type are you most suited to?

A myriad of different gaming groups has spawned a lot of different styles of gaming. You get your heroes, your wargame-types, your freeformers... each group has a different approach to how the game should be played. Roleplaying has come a long way since the days of ‘don your armour and draw your sword to kill lots of nasties and get the gold from the dungeon’ type games.

Hundreds of groups all over the world have their own little quirks and house rules that make their game unique, but on the surface a lot of groups share the same traits. How do you play your games?

The SOCIABLES don't take their gaming too seriously. In fact, as soon as they are distracted by anything that they think is more entertaining, they'll drop their dice and take off. Oh, they'll get together on a pre-set evening to do a game, but there's a chance that the game will fall apart half-way through the session, or maybe it won't even take off. This is because that roleplaying is just another way of getting together. Groups like this don't usually last long. Sometimes they'll have a good game where they'll get into a situation they can relate to, but those games are few and far between.

WARGAMERS are almost exactly what the term means- they play the game to conduct detailed combat situations, and roleplaying pretty much takes a back seat. Their characters are two dimensional, almost always being a part of a military outfit, or at least trained that way. The term 'hack n` slash' applies to these kind of groups, who don't think they've had a decent night's game unless someone has been killed or something has been blown up. Considering a lot of games are especially created for conflict and war, these kinds of groups are quite common.

The FLAMBOYANT groups are the ones that belong on the stage. Their games are more or less freeform, with the rules used only to govern confrontational situations. They'll jump from their chairs and wave their arms about to physically express their character's actions. The place they play their games will be decorated to suit the mood of the game, like having candles lying around or drapes over the windows. Each player is an actor in their own right, and would rather decide a situation using their skill as a thespian rather than what they have written on the character sheet.

Another common kind of group is the RULESMONGERS. The rulebook is law, and deviating from that law is wrong. These gamers will quote rules for every situation, be it combat or climbing a rope or NPC interaction. Half the evening's session will be taken up by flipping through the rulebook or companion volumes, checking charts and tables and passing books across the table. Some of it is also taken up by disagreements on a rule interpretation. The players question each GM decision and the GM checks every player action carefully.

MOTIVATED roleplayers are the ones who only really want what's best for their character. They want decent equipment, better skills and a higher status. They'll play their characters to the hilt to get the most out of it, and try to reap in rewards and prestige. They'll place their character sheet and applicable notes in clear binders, and flesh out the character with complicated backgrounds and a predetermined goal. Likewise, the GM will have detailed notes on all the NPC's the PC's will meet detailed locations and maybe even draw up a sequence of events that happen around the players.

These sorts of groups' spawn the STORYTELLERS, who play the game to unfold a plot that has the traditional beginning, middle and end. These groups can be quite linear with their play, with the GM guiding the players along a story already conceived. They can also be quite unpredictable, what with the players wanting their characters to do what's best for them, and the GM trying to cater for all the different PC's by introducing alternate plots.

INTENSE groups are the ones who get right under the skin of their characters, giving PC's and NPC's alike psychological traits which go beyond what they have written down on their character sheet. They play characters with dark pasts or horrible phobias, and react to situations with intricately fleshed out actions. They have personal reasons (at least, personal to their character) why they are acting in a certain way. Their campaigns revolve around personal tragedy and psychological trauma, with moments of high drama and tense atmosphere thrown in.

Finally, there are the CASUALS, who are willing to play the game but are indifferent to the outcome. They'll crack jokes throughout the game, make light of grave situations and generally be laid back about aspects of the session that would mean a lot to any other roleplayer. These groups tend to change GM's frequently, and PC's are quite expendable. The players will play their characters, sure, but if they died it would be no big deal. The scenarios are pretty much open, allowing the players free rein of their environment with the GM winging the games to give the players something to do.

Different types of groups produce different kinds of players and GM's. Some players don't mix well, however. Could you imagine taking a rulesmonger and slapping him in the middle of a flamboyant game? It doesn't take much to realise that it would not work. A rulesmonger would probably fit in better with a group of wargamers. A motivated player would probably mix well with a group of flamboyants. A sociable type would probably get bored very quickly with any other group.

So which of these groups would you fit in well with? Perhaps you would fit in with more than one. You may be a rulesmonger who likes to be intense about the games, or you may be flamboyant gamer who has a lot of motivation for the character being portrayed.

Better still, which of these groups is like your group?

Tuesday 24 November 2015

When a RPG campaign begins to go stale...

I've been in this situation a couple of times as a GM: the first time, after more than a year in the campaign, we all realised that the game was losing it's shine and we weren't as committed as we once were, and we let the game fizzle out. Although it was a relief to be able to let it go - too many plot threads and avenues of possibility - there was, much later on, a twinge of regret. Regret at not finishing the campaign, at not resolving certain character arcs, and not giving a proper ending to a game we'd been playing pretty much weekly for over a year.

So, the second time it happened, after nearly two years of campaigning, we realised that the game was starting to become stale but were reluctant to let it finish with a whimper. I asked the players 'If you knew the game was going to end over the next two sessions, in what manner would you like it to end?' After feedback, I then designed a fitting, epic ending that tied up the very few plot threads that I'd allowed to grow. We all agreed that, even though it may not have felt like a full and proper campaign, we had at least given it closure and weren't always having 'Maybe if we'd done this...' conversations.

I feel that properly finishing a campaign is the right thing, but if you have to cap an ending on just to finish up a failing campaign then do so, or that sense of incompleteness can leave a nasty taste and even have a negative effect on your attitude towards the next campaign.

Monday 16 November 2015

Game Review: Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord

Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich LordBy Joseph A. McCullough

Published by Osprey Games

“Thaw of the Lich Lord is a complete campaign for Frostgrave that will challenge both new and veteran players. Through a series of linked scenarios, players discover the existence of a new power in the Frozen City, one who was old when the great city was still young, and who saw both its rise and its disastrous fall. Warbands will confront the Lich Lord's minions, race against his agents to seize possession of mysterious artefacts, and brave the perils of Frostgrave in search of his lair. Eventually, they will need to muster all their courage to venture into the depths of the city and face the Lich Lord himself. Not all wizards will seek to stop the Lich Lord, however, and full rules for giving into his corruption and following the dark road to becoming an undead lich are presented for those who crave power and immortality above all else. While the campaign presents many new threats against which wizards and their warbands must test themselves, including an expanded bestiary, it also offers additional resources, such as new henchmen that can be recruited and unique magical treasures that can spell the difference between survival and oblivion.”

Thaw of the Lich Lord is the first of what I hope will be a line of campaigns for the fantasy skirmish game ‘Frostgrave’. These ten linked scenarios, building in difficulty and detail as the players travel through the cold, dark and dangerous streets of Frostgrave, tell a long, doom-laden story about the dreaded Lich Lord, his awakening, and his terrible plans for the city he has been frozen in for more than a thousand years.

To tell you the story of Thaw of the Lich Lord will no doubt ruin some of the surprises within the 64-page book. Suffice to say that from the atmospheric opening scenario, where the warbands have to fight during an ominous eclipse, through to the epic ending, the players will be treated to a story of legendary proportions.

The layout of the book is sharp and well presented. The full-colour glossy pages contain some wonderful photography of the quality miniatures available for the Frostgrave game, but the true wonder of the book is the amazing artwork by Dmitry Burmak. Dmitry’s art is evocative and perfectly captures the style of the Frostgrave setting, and really defines the look and aesthetic of the game. I really like the artwork and it helps set the mood and tone of the game.

The scenarios are what we’ve come to expect from Frostgrave’s easy and simple rules. The first scenario is a page long and they don’t get much longer. Each one tells a different story and as the game progresses the true intentions of the Lich Lord are exposed and the stakes get higher. As I said, I don’t want to ruin the story for potential players but if I had to choose my favourites it would have to be Scenario Two: The Battle on the River. We played this through a couple of times; just you try to run a fight on a frozen, icy river. I also really enjoyed Scenario Six: The House of Longreach, as you need two playing areas to simulate two areas of conflict, and the random magic portals make things incredibly interesting.

Not only does the book give you some great scenarios, you also get some extras for the Frostgrave game. There are new soldiers, the Bard, the Crow Master and the Javelineer, as well as the Pack Mule. New spells fill out the grimoires of the Witch and the Necromancer, and new Treasure gives new items for the warbands to battle over. New creatures for the bestiary include the Banshee, Blood Crow, Death Cultists, frost Wraith, The Ghoul King, Rangifer, Spectre, Wraith Knight, Zombie Troll and the dreaded Lich Lord himself. That’s ten great scenarios and extras for the main game; not bad for £9.99 (RRP).

The writing is functional and to the point – there’s no messing about and after a brief introduction the action begins. Although this is great as it allows players to simply dive into the action, I find it a bit of shame that the overall world of Frostgrave is not only unexplored but unexplained. Perhaps one day I’ll finally read about the rest of the setting and find out why the world is the way it is; I think this is my only peeve with the Frostgrave setting, but no doubt we’ll learn much more as the game goes on.

We played the scenarios over five nights and have already used the extras in our own games, but the one thing I came away with was this; Thaw of the Lich Lord reads and plays more like a tabletop roleplaying campaign than it does a wargame. I’ve played wargame campaigns that detail a situation and the resulting battles but never one that told an ongoing story. It’s a great way to play the game but it also makes me yearn for a Frostgrave RPG - the city is strewn with roleplaying opportunities.

Thaw of the Lich Lord is an excellent addition to the already excellent Frostgrave game. The scenarios are fun and creative, with extra rules here and there which are designed for the singular scenario but can be adapted to your own games, and the extra soldiers, spells, treasure and creatures are useful and quite welcome. Basically, it’s great fun and well worth the asking price. I look forward to seeing what else this game has to offer.

Highly recommended.

Thursday 12 November 2015

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Thinking about it in greater detail, I think I’d go down the post-war apocalypse route for a tabletop roleplaying campaign. Natural disasters would make for a good story and viral outbreaks are fine for that ‘it’s like everyone just disappeared!’ angle, but it doesn’t really lend itself to an exciting setting, in my opinion. Veterans of the original war, the people having to live with the legacy of the conflict and old grudges and hatreds can make for a great game.

I think I’d avoid the zombie apocalypse scenario. It is a great setup – and God knows I’m really enjoying The Walking Dead right now, that’s the zombie thing done right for me – but I can imagine myself getting bored of it after a while. Shuffling zombies, abandoned cities and man’s inhumanity to man is a great tale but I don’t think I could get a long, ongoing campaign out of it. Mad Max falls into that category, too; I adore the setting but I can’t see myself getting a long campaign out of it.

Games Workshop’s old ‘Dark Future’ setting, while not strictly post-apocalyptic, would make for a good game. Factions, points of light in a dying world, cars with heavy ordnance mounted on them – sounds like fun. Other than the primary areas there’s an entire world you could build from that, and things could change as the world slips away into total anarchy.

For variety and scope, the setting of Bethesda’s ‘Fallout’ series hits the right tone for me. It’s sharp and well-defined, the setting has a rich history and the design is fantastic. With supermutants, ghouls, crazy beasts and different factions all vying for power and influence spread across a world that still has plenty of gaps to fill, it’s a prime place for gaming. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously; ‘Mothership Zeta’ is proof of that. It’s gruesome and over-the-top violent and sometimes cartoonish, but the choice and variety the setting gives you enables plenty of scope.

Every post-apocalyptic setting has it’s benefits, and at the end of the day it the tastes of the group, but you have to go with what gives the most options and avenues of adventure. Post-war gives me the options I’m looking for, and I know what my group is like. Any chance to get their hands on any military equipment.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

The End of the World is Nigh!!! ...apparently

After watching ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, catching up with ‘The Walking Dead’ and getting all googly-eyed at the first three hours of ‘Fallout 4’, I’ve realised there’s a genre I haven’t really spent much time in at the roleplaying table; the post-apocalytic.

I wrote a SKETCH game called ‘The 13th Year’ a few years ago after a long stint playing Fallout 3, a game about an alternative atomic-ravaged world after World War 2, but even after playtesting and running a few short games I never got a full campaign on the go, and that surprises me because the post-apocalyptic setting is rich with opportunities for drama, adventure, combat and inventory management.

And I think that could be the core of a post-apocalyptic game; inventory management. Yes, let’s worry about the wild animals, the supermutants and the nuclear fire-breathing ants, but let’s also remember that this is a world after a huge disaster, and we’ve been thrown a thousand years back from our comfortable internet-enabled lives into what could be the end of the world where very little is available. Where’s the next meal coming from? Is that six-legged cat okay to eat? Is the water poisonous, dirty, infected? When will I next be able to change my underwear? Do I use these last three bullets for hunting, or will I need to protect myself? Can that man on the horizon be trusted? Yes, I know they just ate my mates but maybe they’ll trade for some of that spam?

Keeping the players constantly guessing is a must for a game like this, not knowing what threats are around the corner in a possibly morally ambiguous world is a great impetus and almost forces a group to band together, but having them make sure that they write down everything they own, have scavenged and are able to carry or hide is a game in itself. Every drop of water becomes precious, every bullet is something to be treasured and food is a commodity as well as a source of life. You’ll be amazed at how the equipment and inventory lists become the most important thing on the character sheet after a short while in the wastes, and every item on that list can be an adventure in itself. When they need a replacement item, ammunition or fresh supplies, that’s a quest. A mission. An adventure hook that already has the goal and the rewards set up – continued survival.

And what is beyond simply surviving? Building a new community, with new philosophies and laws? How big do want to make it? How will you treat your lawbreakers? Are people with two heads allowed? What would you do, how low would you stoop, to protect the things you own and the places you have built?

The posy-apocalyptic setting has so many possibilities far beyond the window dressing and the reasons why the world has ended. Nuclear war, asteroid impacts, natural upheavals, resulting in mutants, insane petrolheads, zombies or crazy psychic magic powers are the visual and world-building cues and can help create amazing adventures filled with tense, blood-pumping moments of high adventure, but inventory management… that’s where the heart of the post-apocalyptic game lies, and characters can die from a badly managed equipment list just as easily as from a blow to the head from a missile covered in barbed wire.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Book Review - Halo: Last Light

Inline image 1By Troy Denning

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

'An original novel set in the Halo Universe and based on the New York Times bestselling video game series!

It is 2553, and the three-decade long Covenant War that defined a generation has suddenly drawn to a close. Yet, in the remotest parts of human space, tensions remain that threaten to overflow into another full-scale conflict. Beneath the surface of the planet Gao lies a vast cavern system renowned for its therapeutic effects and rumored miraculous cures. But now Gao natives are turning up brutally murdered down there—violent acts that happen to coincide with the recent arrival of a UNSC research battalion protected by Spartan Blue Team, led by the renowned Spartan-II Fred-104.

Maverick detective Veta Lopis of the Gao Ministry of Protection is only trying to do her job as the Special Inspector assigned to catch a serial killer—one who is possibly hiding within the Spartan ranks—but she never anticipates the situation spiraling out of control into an all-out crisis. When Gao is revealed to harbor ancient Forerunner technology that could solidify the UNSC’s military supremacy for centuries to come, Insurrection loyalists within the planetary government will do anything—even align with a vicious faction of what remains of the Covenant—to ensure that never happens…'

I tend to approach Halo books with a fair amount of trepidation. Being a Halo fan I get very annoyed by the stories that I think aren't up to scratch and because I'm such a picky bugger that tends to be a lot of them. However, with Last Light, I have found myself pleasantly surprised and enjoyed what I feel is a well plotted, fast paced and authentic Halo story.

Once again the action takes place on a Human colony world and once again the population are straining at Earth's leash with some people working in the shadows to engineer all the reasons the colony would need to declare independence. Thrown into this scenario is a UNSC team working to extract information and a vital artefact from a Forerunner site buried deep beneath the surface. Included in the team are a group of Spartans because it would be commercial suicide not to include them.This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you like settings to mix things up but I think it's safe to say that most Halo fans want some Spartan action. So if you are such a fan then breath a sigh of relief because there is plenty of it and very convincingly written.

There are some familiar faces for long time readers of Halo fiction (which you would expect, I suppose, given the fate of most Spartans prior to the Spartan IV program) and we once again follow Fred-104 and his team as last seen in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx. The other major character being introduced in this book is Veta Lopis who is described on the back of the book as a 'maverick detective'. This was one of the things that led me to believe that I wasn't going to enjoy the book because if there's one character stereo-type that I'm sick to death of it's the maverick detective. I never thought I would long for a plain old goes by the book, wears a suit and carries a standard issue sidearm police procedural kind of character but God help me I do. Why do they always need to carry a gun that isn't regulation? I'm guessing Dirty Harry is to blame but maybe it started before then I'm just not old enough to remember. Anyway, I had my concerns about the maverick detective Veta Lopis. Thankfully she is not even half as annoying a character as I was expecting and by the end even a bit likeable.

There are a couple of things that I didn't like about the book. Firstly this book has clearly been written post-Halo 4 and makes significant and important references to things that I'm pretty sure people wouldn't know about until the events of that game. I'm speaking in relation to knowledge regarding the Forerunners and their terminology for technology and philosophy. More hardcore fans of the series might disagree with me here but I've almost everything Halo and I thought it seemed like it didn't belong in this book.

Also there has been the reusing of characters from other books, as previously mentioned, but sometimes they don't come across how their original authors and creators wrote them and, given the minimal impact these particular characters have on the events of this story, I think Denning might as well have created some bog standard place fillers.

The descriptions of the Halo technology and universe feel right to me and the action is well written so, with those two boxes ticked, I'd think it very hard not to recommend this book to a Halo fan. A fun and enjoyable read that looks set to be part of an ongoing series.

Monday 2 November 2015


On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

If you're a veteran roleplayer, then you probably know the problem of coming up with new and interesting ideas. If you're new to gaming, then you'll need inspiration. Jonathan Hicks looks at ways to get those creative juices flowing.

It's Sunday evening. There are five people sitting around a table. Four players Bill, Bob, Brenda and Belinda and a Gamesmaster. The atmosphere is quiet and expectant. All eyes are on the GM, waiting for those few words to start the evening's session.

GM: Right. It's evening, and you're speeding towards the town of Boord-um...
BILL: Is this the town from the other week where we killed those bounty hunters?
GM: (Suddenly remembering the PC's had been here before) Yeah... yeah, that's right. The whole place seems to be deserted...
BOB: Like that place we visited where pirates had kidnapped all the people?
GM: (Scrapping the notes he'd made about the evil pirates) Yeah, something like that. There are signs of savage fighting, but no bodies are to be seen...
BRENDA: Servitors.
GM: What?
BRENDA: I bet Servitors killed them all. We visited that space station last month and they'd been attacked, remember? The place looked like this.
GM: (Forgetting his idea about the Servitors) Well... it doesn't look exactly like this, there's more blood. (Starts making notes about giant worms)
BELINDA: Like when those giant worms killed all those colonists on Tedee-um and ate their bodies?
GM: Sort of... but... Oh, I give up.

Well, it happens to us all. We dry up. Sometimes the GM may just need a bit of a break from running games to recharge and re-evaluate their campaign. Sometimes it's because of lack of ideas.
Scenarios and whole campaigns are up to the GM to supply. They must create and breathe life into their NPC's, locations and gaming worlds. Each different character and location must have some form of originality to keep the player's interested. After all, you can only defeat a particular type of arch-villain only so many times. Even pulling the planet back from the brink of destruction can be boring if the players do it every other week.

So where do all these ideas come from? Lets say the average GM runs one game a week, fifty weeks of the year. If that GM has been gaming for five years, that means they would have overseen at least two hundred and fifty games. That's two hundred and fifty original story lines and scenario ideas. Phew! That's some creative genius! Surely the ideas department would have run dry even after the first fifty!

Not at all. A lot of games are very similar in overall plot, but are very different in execution. Fair enough, the game this week may be about investigating another murder, but it's how the murder took place - and for whatever reasons it took place - that make the game original. A number of games can revolve around the same plot device but the events in that game can run in a very different order to resolve a very different situation. This is what keeps the players interested.

But what happens when the plots get thin, the action becomes repetitive and the NPC's sound all the same?


Sit back. Relax. Leave it. Stop designing and running games for a couple of weeks. The reason your drying up may be due to the fact that your just working too hard at it, especially if your GM'ing more than one game a week. That little break may be all you need to get your brain back into gear. You'll be surprised how many ideas just pop into your head when you're thinking about something other than roleplaying. If you need space, then run a couple of published adventures, that's what they are there for. Those scenarios you bought may give you ideas for a sequel in future games.

Also, try playing for a while instead of GM'ing. It can be quite refreshing to sit on the other side of the GM's screen for a change and actually participate in a game. You can watch the other GM run the scenario and think 'if I was running this game I would do this instead of that', and come up with your own ideas. Of course, it's not a good idea to do blatant re-hashes of someone else's scenario.


If the PC's have become quite powerful or they have explored pretty much every inch of the location they are gaming in then it may be time to start a fresh campaign. It can be difficult to come up with new challenges in an already well-used location for high-level characters, and so a change of place and PC's would be a good thing.

If the genre you are using is restricted to one planet then go to another area of that planet, say the tropics or the desert. If you can, change the planet. If your players are regularly planet hopping then take them to another sector of the galaxy. It is quite easy to change the gaming area, and a change of surroundings means a fresh new location for fresh new ideas.

If the players are a bit unsure whether they want to retire their favourite PC then just change the style of the game you are running. If your players are diverting world shattering events then bring them down to earth a touch by making their encounters more personal. It pays to read whatever background the players have written for their characters. Those little notes about PC childhood's and adolescence can spray forth ideas on how to get PC's more involved with the game instead of spending every waking moment battling the forces of Evil.

Vice versa, if the players are doing a lot of adventures that don't mean much in the overall scheme of things then run a huge groundbreaking adventure. Ending a campaign on a high note may make the players more comfortable about retiring their powerful characters.


If you have really bled the game dry then it may be time to change the gaming style. Go from soldiers to smugglers or from smugglers to bounty hunters. Of course, players may be loath to do this. After all, it is them you are entertaining and if one player is unhappy with the setting the game is in then the sessions will suffer. The gaming group will have to come to an absolute decision on how the game is to be played. It may take a little while for the players to get used to a new setting, but a new game may generate new story ideas. If the group is really serious about gaming then a change will not be a problem, but make sure that everyone is comfortable with it.


If your running games for two different groups, then it's not impossible to run the same story for each one, even if they are gaming in two different genres. Designing a setting that virtually any game can use is possible. With a little work you can quite easily adapt the game you designed for your smugglers to be used for your group who want to defeat the alien scourge. It's easier, of course, to run the same game for the two groups, but this may not always be the case. If you design your adventure without restricting it to a particular style, you can quite easily use it for two different sessions, and even save it for future use.


A great source of information and inspiration comes from one huge source that is easily accessible- entertainment. Television, radio, newspapers, the movies, novels... all these mediums can inject ideas. It can be very easy to take a movie plot and 'adapt' it to suit your game, although be careful... it can be quite annoying when one of the players has seen the movie or read the book and second-guesses you. The original movie or book plot can be 'tweaked' sufficiently to keep the players on their toes. It's also fun to take a few ideas and mesh them together. Wouldn't it be fun to run around a Blade Runner type city being hunted by Terminator type robots and avoiding Geiger's Aliens? I bet that's given you a few ideas already, hasn't it?

Even taking dull ideas from dodgy television shows and spicing them up can give you all you need for an evening's play. An edition of the news, giving you current affairs and important information, can inspire scenarios. That middle-east conflict or this political scandal can be easily adapted. The stories are there if you look hard enough.


Communication is a great forte of roleplayers, and so swapping ideas and stories with other GM's is an excellent way of keeping the fires of creativity burning. If you know of a local club then it may be worth going along and talking to other gamers about their experiences and favourite settings, and sharing in their character's exploits may give you the spark you need to start writing a new scenario. Talking to your own players and ascertaining what kind of adventures they enjoy and figuring out their passions... all these factors can contribute to original scenarios. In a lot of cases, as long as the game is done in a particular vein the players will appreciate, it doesn't matter how unoriginal a scenario is. If the players enjoy running around space stations, blowing up the bad guys and escaping in a battered old freighter, fine. As long as they have a goal to aim for they can pretty much do what they want.

So, as you can see, there are quite a few sources and methods to choose from. Even events in everyday life can inspire the GM. A good point to remember... if you communicate your ideas with the players and get their feedback, then you can all settle into a game that everyone will enjoy. The aim of the game, after all, is for everyone in the group to be social and enjoy the evening. At the end of the day it is the sole purpose of roleplaying, and continuous fresh scenarios is a major contributor.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

It's Holiday Time! So I'll leave you with this...

I'll be back in action early next month with new reviews, articles and interviews. In the meantime, here is some music. And visuals. And a return to greatness.

God, please don't let me die before December 18th.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Book Review - Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History

By Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk

Published by Titan Books

"Great Scott! Few films have made an impact on popular culture like the Back to the Future trilogy. This deluxe, officially licensed book goes behind the scenes to tell the complete story of the making of these hugely popular movies and how the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown became an international phenomenon.

Created in conjunction with Universal Pictures and fully endorsed by director/co-creator Robert Zemeckis and producer/co-creator Bob Gale, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History is a stunning journey into the creation of this beloved time-traveling saga and features hundreds of rare and never-before-seen images from the set of the movies, along with concept art, storyboards, and other visual treasures.

The book also features exclusive, in-depth interviews with key cast and crewmembers— including Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, and more—and tells the complete story of the production of the movies, from the initial concept to the staging of iconic scenes, such as the Enchantment Under The Sea dance and the hoverboard sequence, and the film’s groundbreaking special effects. The book will also delve into the wider Back to the Future universe, exploring the animated TV show, Back to the Future: The Ride, Back to the Future merchandise, and much, much more."

I was 14 years old when I went to see back to the Future back in early 1986. I was getting into my movies then - there were plenty of fun, action-packed movies to see and travelling to the cinema on my own or with friends was becoming a regular thing. I saw a lot of movies but there were few that stuck with me beyond the 1980s, and one of these films was Back to the Future.

All three films are fun, entertaining and thrilling, the first film especially, and I made sure they were part of my movie collection from very early on. They've not lost any of their sparkle or magic and even though their predictions of the future weren't exactly spot on - it's their arrival date on the 21st October 2015 and sadly we still don't have flying cars, hoverboards or huge holographic sharks - it's an amazing look at the ages as seen through the lens of the 1980s.

And this is what the visual history gives us - a look back at the attitudes and techniques of the people who bought us these wonderful films. From the original, and very different, drafts of the project, through the original shoot with Eric Stoltz to Michael J Fox's inclusion and beyond. It covers the films and even the non-movie projects such as Back to the Future: The Ride and the animated series. Peppered with interviews and comments from the stars and crew, as well as stories about the sometimes troubled production there's an absolute treasure trove of information in here.

I'm a fan of the movies but I've never been a collector, so I can't tell you what in here that die-hard fans of the franchise might find new and enlightening, but personally I found a lot of the content to be full of facts and figures I wasn't aware of. The Eric Stoltz stories especially piqued my interest as I'd heard that there had been issues with his involvement but didn't fully realise the extent of it. This book fills in those blanks, and even though it doesn't appear to be anyone's fault there's a sense of relief when Michael J Fox is bought in.

Beyond this fascinating look at the early production the book then talks you through the rest of the primary film, and then the next two films. We get first drafts of scripts and ideas, early designs, storyboards and even internal memos and casting calls; it really is fascinating, A lot of the attention to detail is on the first film, and with good reason, but the next two films are discussed at length and there's a lot to learn. It's a great read.

But just reading the book isn't the only thing it's good for - it's interactive as well. Inside the book there are plenty of little treats that you can remove and have as keepsakes, reproduced mementoes of the movies. It starts with the photo of Marty and his brother and sister that you see in the movie - and when you tilt it the brother and sister vanish. Then there's a 'Save the Clock Tower' flyer, then a Hill Valley High School Tardy Slip... there's so much in here that you can take out, handle, read and simply geek out over it's wonderful. I didn't think it could get any better until I got to the back of the book and found a poster of Jaws 19 in the inside back cover. Now I can't decide whether it stays in the book or goes on my wall. Each item is
held in with simple glue that means you can tale it out to have a look and then pop it straight back in again.

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History is a wonderful book and a great read. It fills you in with the details, the designs and the drama behind the making of the films and I had a lot of fun reading it. This book is what I hoped for in a 'Making Of' book. It was my density.

Highly recommended.

Friday 16 October 2015

Book Review - The Mutant Files: Deadeye

Inline image 1by William C Dietz

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

"Detective Cassandra Lee of Los Angeles’s Special Investigative Section has built a fierce reputation taking down some of the city’s most notorious criminals. But the serial cop killer known as Bonebreaker - who murdered Lee’s father - is still at large. Officially, she’s too personally involved to work on the Bonebreaker case. Unofficially, she’s going to hunt him to the ends of the earth.

In the meantime, duty calls when the daughter of Bishop Screed, head of the Church of Human Purity, is kidnapped by mutants and taken into the red zone to be used for breeding. Assigned to rescue her, Lee must trust her new partner - mutant lawman Deputy Ras Omo - to guide her not only through the unfamiliar territory but through the prejudicial divisions between mutants and norms…”

The Mutant Files is a series of books set in a not too distant future where the world has been ravaged by an airborne disease that has affected millions. This society is divided into mutants and ‘norms’ with the mutants getting the raw end of the deal. Special clothing and masks need to be worn and simple luxuries such as eating out have become a masterclass in trying to prevent the spread of infection with specially treated partitions, booths and masks/nasal filters.

In short it’s all a bit grim.

Our protagonist in these dire times is an LA street cop named Cassandra Lee and damn me if the author wasn’t trying to throw every cliché in the book into… well, the book. Lee is a tough as nails ass-kicking heroine who prefers to work alone because of the partners she’s lost in the past, armed with a non-standard issue weapon, tasked with a job that comes straight from the mayor’s office which is putting pressure on the department, who spends her free time trying to solve the murder of her father, also a cop, whilst being stalked by the very same murderer who is both seemingly omniscient and unburdened by too many demands on his/her time. So yeah, just about every cop drama cliché I can think of has been thrown at this book as though the creator said ‘gee, I wonder how you write something almost guaranteed to get picked up by a network’.

I say that because I get the strong feeling that this book would make a great bad TV show. The all-too familiar lead female with her textbook problems (which in TV land of course includes a homicidal stalker) working with poor unfortunate mutants that a costume department would love. I’m particularly thinking along the lines of the Buffy/Angel shows where you had ‘whatever the heck’ demon of the week and then a fairly harmless set of demons that could be shown enjoying a drink in a demon bar. The mutants in this book are the bar demons. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Buffy and I didn’t love angel but OK, it had some good moments, but in this book I found the idea of an airborne disease that gives some people long floppy ears like a donkey and other people tentacle arms and other people just seriously messed-up puss-filled wounds a little too much to take on faith. This story could have tackled the issues of segregation and divided societies whilst demonstrating the troubles of policing a near post-apocalyptic world without the Carnivale freak-show of mutations. Just replace those with some genuinely upsetting physical symptoms of disease that kills 40-70% of those infected and boom, you’ve got compelling drama without the dead cop father (which wasn’t very compelling).

But I shall try not to judge this book on what it isn’t and might have been. So what is it? It’s a short book with plenty of action that seeks to entertain you until you reach the last page and no further. I doubt you will be talking about this book long after you put it down. The bad guys are purely bad guys, the good guys have shades of light and dark and the setting is post-post-apocalyptic. It’s the kind of story where bad guys get killed and you’re allowed to feel good about it.

If you like a quick read that doesn’t make too many demands on time or attention and has the usual cast of hard-bitten heroes, refreshingly cruel villains and poor unfortunate victims that are either saved in the last minute or discover they had a hero in them the whole time then you might just love this book.

Alternatively you can just wait for it to come out on the Fox network.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Random nerd thoughts. I'm tired.

I'm going to be running a Star Trek D6 game for the next couple of weeks, just to see how we get on. I'm using the original Task Force Games' 'Prime Directive' rulebook and the 1st Edition WEG Star Wars RPG, and I've done a quick and dirty conversion so that we can use them both for the D6 system. Hopefully, something will come of it. If not - oh well, we have to try these things.

I'm missing my story-driven, heavy-duty roleplaying with some proper characterisation and melodrama. At first I think 'go complicated' and consider rules heavy games, like MERP or Pathfinder, but then I feel that the rules get in the way. That's why I like D&D 5th, it can be as lite as you want it to be.

In view of that, I'm now looking at Fighting Fantasy again, as keeping it simple might result in some decent roleplaying. Not only that, it'd be nice to game in Titan again.

Friday 9 October 2015

Book Review - The Autobiography of James T. Kirk

By David A. Goodmnan

Published by Titan Books

I'm a big Star Trek fan, but I've always leaned more towards the movies and The Next Generation and subsequent spin-offs. Recently I've been catching up on classic Star Trek and remembering just how wonderful a show it is, but to do 'The Autobiography of James T. Kirk' book justice I'm handing you over to my wife Lisa Hicks, who was into The Original Series before I was.

'The Autobiography of James T. Kirk chronicles the greatest Starfleet captain's life (2233–2293), in his own words. From his youth spent on Tarsus IV, his time in the Starfleet Academy, his meteoric raise through the ranks of Starfleet, and his illustrious career at the helm of the Enterprise, this in-world memoir uncovers Captain Kirk in a way Star Trek fans have never seen. Kirk's singular voice rings throughout the text, giving insight into his convictions, his bravery, and his commitment to the life—in all forms—throughout this Galaxy and beyond. Excerpts from his personal correspondence, captain's logs, and more give Kirk's personal narrative further depth.'

“I've already got a female to worry about. Her name is the Enterprise.”

CAPTAIN KIRK, Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver"

I first became a trekker at the tender age of 6. My imagination had become a solid base quite evolved from the dribbling and occasional dabble of Dusty Bin and Andy Pandy. Star Trek by day and Batman by night I quickly joined the ranks of baby Uber Nerd.

My mother had felt I was mature enough to cope with the technological age which brought us Metal Mickey so I was allowed to sit at my dad’s feet and through the medium of T.V I Boldly went where no man has ever gone before.

To our household the hero was always Scotty. That institution of my father’s Scotland that held everything together in a complete shit storm and managed to get the old girl ship shape in a space second or the ever dashing Dr McCoy who was the right degree of miserable for me and perhaps formed my current persona "Damn it Jim! I’m a watcher not a writer!".

In the end it doesn’t matter who your favourite was, all characters are surpassed by the charming and sly fox known as Captain James Tiberius Kirk. To be given a glimpse into the origin story of this Starfleet bad boy is a dream come true and with this book you are given full access to his humble beginnings and decadent space adventures.

David A Goodman gives you everything, setting, story and memories. Even watching the original series again from the beginning you can’t help but fill in the gaps of what happened after the extra special episodes back on ship or to Kirk's friends who you really should NOT become attached to. You feel for him and hear more from him on his relationship with Carol and his son David and you weep a little inside when you see pictures of them included as ‘The Search For Spock’ plays in your brain. 

On a read-back I know that this review sounds like a eulogy but when you are raised on Star Trek and then raise your own children on it, it’s special to you. Kirk is a family friend. His ideals and love for Starfleet gives you a morale boost and you long to be travelling through the stars on your own journey and I would definitely choose Starfleet over anything else any day! You also feel that his relationship with his one true woman ‘Enterprise’ keeps him together and you understand why its decommissioning and his desk job would have killed him. 

This book may not be classed as canon by the hard-core of us but to me it’s perfect. It’s well researched and just brilliant. Goodman captures the brilliant and heart-warming friendship between Kirk, Spock & McCoy wonderfully and you realise just how much you miss them all every week you walk with them through good and bad times and indeed their first meeting.
For me my favourite part was the bit I prayed for when this book fell into my hands; "Please please let the Kobayashi Maru be in here”...and without spoiling it... it is. If you’re a fan of Star Trek this is a lovely little read that really does no harm but continue on the legend when you need it the most.

If this was a eulogy...I would simply say Kirk led Such a tragic but beautiful life. One that was truly lived to every potential. 

Lucky Bugger.

Monday 5 October 2015


On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

What makes Gamesmasters act the way they do? Jonathan Hicks would like to know, but he can't be bothered to get involved with all that psychological rubbish. Let's have a look at some of the more common styles of refereeing instead. It’s much more fun.

Gamesmasters. The very words are enough to strike the fear of the gods into the heart of even the hardiest roleplayer. Why? Well, why do you think? The Gamesmaster (GM) is the one person with the power to allow your well-cultivated character to live- or die.

It's ultimate power. It's the ability to spend a few hours with total control over your group of friends. Nothing compares to the feeling of having all the PC's by the proverbials.

But that's not entirely true, is it? Other than being a dining table god, the GM also has a major responsibility to the players. The GM has to supply an evening's play that the players will enjoy, and if the job is done well they come back for more. But that doesn't stop a few GM's from abusing their power every now and then. So what do you look out for? What are the traits that make the power hungry megalomaniacs stick out?

If you're new to roleplaying, then you may find the next few examples interesting. It may give you an idea of who to avoid. If you’re not so new to it all, then there may be a few descriptions you recognise...


GM: Right, you've broken into the warehouse, and as far as you can tell the alarms haven't gone off.
PLAYER 1: I'll sneak to the crates in the corner.
PLAYER 2: I'll cover him.
GM: As you sneak across, you hit a tripwire and a laser hits you in the back, doing damage... (The GM rolls dice secretly behind his screen. As the numbers come up, a slow smile spreads across his face and he slowly looks up at the player. His eyes are twinkling.) Boy, that's gonna hurt. That's gonna hurt real bad.
PLAYER 1: How much damage did I take?
GM: (Shaking his head and pursing his lips.) Oooh, painful.
PLAYER 1: (Getting exasperated.) How much damage have I taken?!?
GM: Oh, do I pity you... etc.

Oh, it makes you mad. Fair enough, the player may have made a mistake or an error in judgement, but there is no reason to lay it on so thick. The Smarmy Git GM will almost sneer at the player as the misfortune piles up, or they'll make the odd comment, such as 'I wouldn't have done that'. Well, of course you wouldn't have done that, you wrote the bloody scenario! Needless to say, this kind of GM doesn't hang on to players long. It's fair enough the villains of the game laughing in the PC's face when something goes wrong, but when you get the impression that the GM is getting some sort of sardonic pleasure out of your misfortune... well, would you stay in his games?


GM: You walk out of the starport.
PLAYER 1: What do I see?
GM: The street. Some people.
PLAYER 1: Anything else?
GM: Yeah, some speeders.
PLAYER 1: Any taxis?
GM: Not that you can see.
PLAYER 2: Any chance of a little enthusiasm, GM?
(The GM shrugs.)

You kind of get the impression that they don't really want to be there. The Bland GM talks in monosyllables, doesn't inject enough energy or description in his GM'ing. In short, they're boring. How can you get that sense of being somewhere when every location is as dull as the last? Games don't last long if the player's imaginations aren't sparked enough for them to visualise their surroundings, or get a sense of individuality from the NPC's. The name of the game is entertainment, after all.


GM: The mist swirls around your ankles as you approach the dark building. The trees loom over oppressively, the branches clawing at the sky. As the building comes into view, you see that the metal walls are gnarled, twisting like some architect's nightmare, the sides forming and reforming, as the glass roof appears to oscillate with dark and bright colours. The windows are warped, casting bent reflections across the glade. The mist appears to be pouring from the single exhaust pipe the building possesses, flowing from it like something alive, covering everything around with moisture from it's damp touch. The ground underfoot... etc.
(The players rap their fingers on the table and look at their watches.)

On the other side of the coin there's the Over-The-Top GM. In an almost direct contrast to the Bland ref., the OTT GM can go off on a descriptive tangent about a location, a character, and an object. Although it's good that whatever the PC's are looking at is well described, there is such a thing as overdoing it, and the OTT GM is probably doing the game more to show off his narrative skills than to actually get anywhere. Well designed and described places only work when your players are able to interact with them without having ten pages of prose jammed down their throats every few minutes.


GM: You turn the corner and you see four guards lounging around the door to the hangar, but they have their blasters out. What are you going to do?
PLAYER 1: I'll throw my grenade and hit the deck.
PLAYER 2: I'll take cover in a door alcove and open up on the first one.
GM: Right. Initiative rolls... good. They get the drop on you. They're very good shots. They fire... two hit you, the other one hits you...
PLAYER 1: Hang on; I thought you said they were lounging around. Don't we get surprise?
GM: No, they're professionals, and you'd better deduct some hit points.
PLAYER 2: Shit.

It's not a game; it's a competition to see if the players can beat the scenario he's designed for them. At least, that's the way the Competitive GM sees it. Roleplaying is not a form of entertainment, it's a set of rules designed to pit players against a GM's creations. If the players don't complete the goal set out for them, they've lost. Hmm. Now, I'm sure I've read somewhere that there are no winners or losers in a roleplaying game, and that the whole group is there for an evening's entertainment and to participate in a game where everyone can have fun. From what I can gather, the GM is supposed to supply stimulating stories for the players to get their teeth into. Oh, that's where I've read it. It's included in every roleplaying game ever written.


GM: So, what was it you wanted to do again?
PLAYER 2: I want to pull my blade whilst grabbing the rope and leaping off the building. If I've judged the length of the rope right, I should swing in through the window and right on top Baron DeGungey.
GM: So you want to draw your blade (flips through pages of rulebook and looks up penalties for drawing a weapon), leap off the building with the rope (looks up difficulty ratings for using a rope in the rulebook companion volume), aim for the window (flips through pages of another supplement for the strength of glass against a swinging human body), and land on Baron DeGungey (consults the book for stats and then quickly noses through the grappling rules in the rulebook). Right, roll for your leap.
PLAYER 2: (Looking at her watch) Actually, I've got to go now.

Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a ruling from the GM whilst he ploughs through tomes of rules to locate the adjustments for your roll, or to try and find a rule that covers your action. The rules of a particular game should be treated as guidelines because trying to find a reference to every player action takes up too much time. It's also impossible to allow for every idea a player has, but does that stop the Rules Lawyer GM? Oh, no. He'll spend the time looking for that particular rule that decides on the outcome. Even if the rule isn't included in the book, there are several supplements to choose from, no doubt. And even then, the rules will have to be interpreted from an amalgamation of several different rules if the rule isn't there... see what I mean? This is the exact way to stunt a game. GM's should be able to make rulings on the spot, not ruin the pace of a game with their noses in books.


GM: The door to the starship swings open.
PLAYER 1: What do we see?
GM: The figure that strides confidently down the ramp is dressed in dark armour, giving an evil look. The gun slung over one shoulder is huge and powerful. Yeah, this one looks as though he can handle a fight. Mean and moody, with a touch of danger, that's what you can sense.
PLAYER 2: I don't suppose this is your old PC from last year's campaign, is it, GM?
GM: Errr...

Let's skip this one quick, because it is one of the most annoying. The ego-trip GM will bring a powerful NPC into the game, maybe even his old character from an old campaign, and will run it as one of the group, saving the day and rolling high. And why? Well, this GM gets a sense of pleasure from showing up the party with a character that fits all his ideas of a good PC. You have to ask the question- whose pleasure is the game being played for?


GM: The hatchway looks unlocked, and you know for a fact that the computer centre is down there.
PLAYER 1: I'll make my down through the hatch.
PLAYER 2: I'll draw my pistol and get my flashlight out.
GM: (Ignoring player 1) You pull your gun and descend through the hatch.
PLAYER 1: I thought I was going first.
PLAYER 2: I'll check the floor for booby traps and sensors with my infrared.
PLAYER 1: I'll head over to the computer bank.
GM: There doesn't seem to be any traps or alarm systems, but your eyes do detect a heat trace in the corner.
PLAYER 1: Hello, GM? What about me?

This kind of GM is not too common and good job too. The Favouritism GM will pretty much give most attention to the player whose character he likes the most, or to the character whose player he gets on with better. Players have gone to a lot of trouble to turn up for a few hours of gaming, so can you imagine their frustration at being dealt with for a few seconds every few minutes? The ignored players are the ones that don't return to a game because they don't like the thought of sitting around while other players hog the game. I mean, it's alright for the GM; he'll constantly have a hand in the game. It's not much fun watching others have a better time.

See any you recognise? See any you would avoid at all costs? Do you see any you can relate to as a GM? The examples are nothing but surface observations. It would be way too difficult to postulate on why the GM does certain things in certain ways to certain characters or players. Not only would it relate to how the GM's mind works, but it would also have links to the relationship between GM and player. Once again, the diversity of the roleplaying hobby has bred different views on how a game should be run, but all games should have a common factor - that it should be entertaining to both players and GM's to further the enjoyment of participation and the growth of a healthy campaign. Fair enough, the examples may make you point your finger at your GM and shout, 'That's you, that is!' Just think about the similarities between the script and paragraph and your own games for a moment. Do you think what the GM is doing will ruin the game? Will it stunt the growth of the campaign? If the worst comes to the worst, will it cause animosity between friends? Maybe, as a player, you are used to that kind of GM'ing, and may actually enjoy the way the games are being run.

The examples can be used for three things- as a reference for new players, so they can think about what kind of GM they want to game with, or avoid. For experienced players, so they can be aware of problems in their game. And most of all the GM, who can look at the example and question himself... am I like that? What will happen to my sessions if I don't correct the problem?

It's also a bit of a laugh, so players can point the finger at the GM and say, 'that's you, that is!'