Wednesday, 18 July 2018

"Tales From the Loop" TV series coming to Amazon

I just had to share this press release from Free League Publishing. Tales from the Loop is one of my top RPGs and to find out that it's going to come to life is simply amazing.

"Tales From the Loop" TV series based on the art of Simon Stålenhag coming to Amazon

Free League Publishing - Jul 18, 2018 12:05 BST

The retrofutristic art book and tabletop RPG ”Tales from the loop” will become a TV series. Amazon Studios is developing the show, which is based on the internationally acclaimed artist and author Simon Stålenhag's art. Stålenhag's paintings blend elements of futuristic science fiction with images of rural life in Sweden. Free League Publishing is the publisher of the art book and of the award-winning “Tales from the Loop” tabletop RPG, based on Simon Stålenhag's universe.

“Simon Stålenhag's paintings are renowned for their vision of a not-too-distant, futuristic landscape. We are looking forward to bringing that to life and sharing it with our Prime Video audience,” said Albert Cheng, co-head of television at Amazon Studios.

The retrofutristic “Tales From the Loop” explores the town of people who live above "The Loop," a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe, making things possible that were previously relegated to science fiction. In the fantastical, mysterious town, poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences while drawing on the intrigue of storytelling.

Amazon's eight-episode drama is based on Simon Stålenhag's art is a co-production between Fox 21 TV Studios and Amazon Studios. The series will debut globally on Amazon in more than 200 countries and territories. Legion's Nathaniel Halpern will serve as showrunner and executive producer. Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go) will direct the pilot and exec produce alongside Halpern. Matt Reeves (Netflix's space drama Away, Felicity) will exec produce via his Sixth & Idaho banner alongside Adam Kassan and Rafi Crohn, who is working with Reeves on Fox drama The Passage, also will exec produce.

Swedish production and management company Indio, founded by Mattias Montero and Johan Lindström, also will exec produce the project, which is its first U.S. foray. The company's Samantha Taylor Pickett also exec produces.

Quotes about Tales from the Loop

“Incredible paintings of sci-fi suburbia will make you wish you were Swedish” ~ THE VERGE (art book)

“RPG Tales from the Loop lets you channel Stranger Things and ET” ~THE VERGE (tabletop RPG)

“Tales From The Loop could very well be the RPG phenomenon of 2017.” ~Geek & Sundry (tabletop RPG)


[The Tabletop RPG was Awarded five Gold ENnies - among them Best Game and Product of the Year 2017 ]

In 1954, the Swedish government ordered the construction of the world’s largest particle accelerator. The facility was complete in 1969, located deep below the pastoral countryside of Mälaröarna. The local population called this marvel of technology The Loop.

Step into the amazing world of the Loop, encounter the mysteries that evolve around strange machines and weird creatures that have come to haunt the countryside after the Loop was built. Escape your everyday problems and be part of something meaningful and magical – but also dangerous.

Acclaimed scifi artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of Swedish 1980s suburbia, populated by fantastic machines and strange beasts, have spread like wildfire worldwide. Stålenhag’s portrayal of a childhood against a backdrop of old Volvo cars and coveralls, combined with strange and mystical machines, creates a unique atmosphere that is both instantly recognizable and utterly alien.


The acclaimed artist, concept designer and author of Tales from the Loop (2014) and Things from the Flood (2016) published by Free League. Simon Stålenhag (b. 1984) is best known for his highly imaginative images and stories portraying illusive sci-fi phenomena in mundane, hyper-realistic Scandinavian landscapes. Tales from the Loop was ranked by The Guardian as one of the ‘10 Best Dystopias’, in company with works such as Franz Kafka’s The Trial and Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca. Not only have Stålenhag’s unique and cinematic images earned him a worldwide fan base, but have also made him a go-to storyteller, concept artist and illustrator for both the film and computer gaming industry. Simon Stålenhag’s work can be seen in films such as Searching for Sugarman (2012), directed by Malik Bendjeloull, and in games such as Ripple Dot Zero (2013).

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Inspiring art #10 - 'Mos Eisley cantina standoff' by Ralph McQuarrie

To me, Ralph McQuarrie will always be the artist of Star Wars. His unique style and the amazing atmosphere he manages to invoke in his paintings captured the world of Star Wars before Star Wars was even released. In fact, much of his concept art is being used in Star Wars today.

This particular piece is a concept of the cantina in Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke apparently goes for his pistol as an armed figure looms from the shadows. C-3PO and R2-D2 stand in the corner while a stormtrooper, who honestly doesn't seem to give a hoot about what the locals get up to, stands and watches. Aliens of varying types with varying levels of interest sit around, probably used to this kind of thing, and a seeker hovers overhead.

Luke stands in the light while the alien stands in the shadow - whether done on purpose or not it's great symbolism - and two worlds are reflected in the painting. When we were running Star Wars RPG games in the 1980s and 90s we predominantly played in the underworld of the galaxy and I always used this painting as a jumping-off point to get me in the mood. I based more than one adventure off of the image.

I find it a wonderful, evocative image that really captures what I loved about running RPGs in one of my favourite settings.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspiring art #9 - 'Game of Thrones Map' by Francesca Baerald

Francesca Baerald has done some amazing work for some big publishers but it's her maps that really caught my attention, specifically her 'Game of Thrones' map.

Game of Thrones Map

I love old maps and the design and layout of this one really struck a chord with me. I've only ever read the first three books, up until the Red Wedding, and I'd recently watched the TV show as well as read the Guardians of Order RPG, so I was pretty high on all things Westeros. As I was trying to visualise the whole world, this map appeared.

I find this the most amazing map of one of my favourite settings ever; the detail of not only the landmasses but also the surroundings give it such depth and atmosphere I feel like taking a boat and a compass and sailing to the Seven Kingdoms right now. This is exactly the sort of illustration that not only honours the source material but also has my creative synapses firing off all at the same time.

I interviewed Francesca back in November of last year.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Inspiring art #8 - '2001: A Space Odyssey' Album Cover by Robert McCall

I do like the movie - I'm not in love with it but it is an incredibly visually stimulating movie - and the soundtrack is excellent. However, one of the reasons I got hold of the album was the cover art by Robert McCall.

McCall is an amazing artist that has done work for all kinds of things. His NASA work is amazing and he also worked on images for another favourite sci-fi film of mine, 'The Black Hole'.

I love this work because there's a lot of energy in it, with the shuttle blasting from the space station, and the station itself seems under construction with plenty of work that needs to be done. What do they still have to finish? What machines do they use in it's construction? I used to ask myself all kinds of questions like these whilst staring at this image. And in the background is the movie's next destination, the moon.

It's a great painting and it's the perfect cover for the album.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Inspiring art #7 - 'Castle on a Rock' by Karl Friedrich Lessing

When I was running lots of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games in the 1990s I needed visuals beyond what the books were giving me. As good as the game's illustrations were, I wanted to give a new visual style to the game, and I found that in the work of Karl Friedrich Lessing.

Lessing did a lot of landscapes but my favourites were the ones in which he included castles and other buildings, and his 'Castle on a Rock' is excellent. His lighting and overall mood is somewhat mystical and the landscape is wonderful. This whole place tells a story; I interpreted it for a game where the PCs had to reach the castle via boat (as in the picture) and the castle was abandoned and had been built to keep incredibly dangerous people imprisoned.

If you put Karl Friedrich Lessing into Google Images you'll get lots of amazing pictures. There are some really inspirational paintings that will get your imagination going and you'll be able to give each location a story you can use in your game.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Inspiring art #6 - 'Middle-earth Roleplaying' by Angus McBride

One of my favourite historical illustrators is Angus McBride, and his work spanning all areas and eras of history and the realms of fantasy dominated my shelves. When MERP hit stores I was still trying to get a visual cue and it was McBride's work that really gave the realms of Middle-earth life for me.

Image result for angus mcbride

His painting for the cover of Middle-earth Roleplaying was a feast for the eyes and really encapsulated the story of The Lord of the Rings for me. I think my favourite part of the piece is the look on Sam's face; while everyone else is looking to the journey, Legolas and Gimli look back at something that may be a threat; after all, Gimli has his axe at the ready. Sam's face is concerned and bewildered, which is fitting.

The feel of the painting, with it's epic overtones coupled with a sense of reality (Aragorn there on the right is ready for travel instead of just standing proud with little to show for his ranger ways), is excellent and managed to get my imagination burning. It will always be one of my favourite Middle-earth illustrations, even though the rest of his Tolkien-inspired work was stunning.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Inspiring art #5 - 'Dragon Issue #126 Cover' by Daniel Horne

I hadn't bought Dragon magazine for a long time as I was reading a lot of White Dwarf magazine before it became focused on Games Workshop games, but issue 126 in late 1987, with Daniel Horne's amazing cover, quite literally leaped from the shelf and landed in my lap.

I love it because there's a story in there; there's so many ways you can interpret this image as a huge skeleton warrior looms over a lone warrior. Now, it appears that she's had a right old fight with this thing. There are arrows stuck in the creature already and there's a sword jammed into it's armour - I'm assuming she's the cause of all of that - and she has an empty quiver with a single arrow on her bow. I'm hoping it's a powerful arrow as the cock of the creature's hand tells me he's about to deliver the killing blow and she's been through a lot already, what with her torn leggings and empty quiver. It's quite an encounter, but who will be the ultimate victor?

I've loved this image since I first saw it. I originally thought the creature was bursting from the snow in ambush but the closer I looked the more I saw. This is the climax of a long battle; she's got some hits in, even one through the head, but the damn thing just won't go down. I could feel the cold coming off the image, and the detail is excellent. Also, it was one of the first images in my hobby where I saw a lady in action instead of an unrealistically dressed woman in form-fitting armour standing like she's posing for a photograph (or whatever appealed to young men at the time).

It's a fantastic image and I based an encounter on it, in a D&D game set in Icewind Dale. As soon as the encounter was over one of my players said, 'Why am I thinking about Dragon magazine now?'

I parted with my entire Dragon magazine collection years ago. This is the only issue I kept.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Inspiring art #4 - 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' by Albert Bierstadt

I adore Albert Bierstadt's work. Out of all of them I find his 1865 painting 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' to be the most inspirational as it's just gorgeous and could easily be used as an otherworldly location.

It's the lighting that does it for me; even though that's the sun creating the light it can easily be interpreted as something greater, as if adventures abound where the imagery ends. Bierstadt's landscapes are gorgeous and he captures lighting wonderfully, so the paintings feel both real and mystical at the same time. Looking at the painting I can imagine all kinds of things in addition to the scene that's been depicted; a small town, maybe, situated around the river or a castle on the high rocks to the left.

I have a great love of landscapes, especially mountains and forests with no human or artificial presence, and Bierstadt really does it for me. I can take any one of his paintings and add a fantastical slant to it, but that's usually after I'm done drinking in how gorgeous his work is.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Inspiring art #3 - 'Dragon Warriors' by Jon Hodgson

I allowed Dragon Warriors to pass me by in the 1980s because I was involved with Fighting Fantasy and other games. However, I saw the Magnum Opus book and immediately fell in love, and why? Because the Jon Hodgson cover was crying out 'Jonathan! This is your game!'

Dragon Warriors by JonHodgson

The reason why I find this image inspiring is because it represents everything I love about fantasy tabletop roleplaying games and the kind of adventures I like to run. There's a nicely mixed party of warriors and magic users, and they're descending into a dark ancient ruin ready for action.

I love the mood the image creates; there's tension and darkness but the characters are tooled up for adventure. There's a nice nod to the original Dragon Warriors cover image with the skull in the winged helmet in the bottom right - the unfortunate soul - and there's a large clash of cultures; robed sorcerers, an armoured European knight, a powerful Nordic warrior, all descending into what seems to be a tomb built by indigenous South Americans. It's excellent and really helps spark the imagination.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Inspiring art #2 - Chris Achilleos' 'Blood Royale'

There's so much going on in this image it gave me adventure ideas for a long time. I never played the boardgame but I do remember seeing the image in Games Workshop's 'White Dwarf' magazine and being bowled over by the painting.

artsytoad:  “ Chris Achilleos, Blood Royale  www.artsytoad.tumblr.com  ” 

Chris Achilleos has always been a favourite of mine and has produced some of the best covers of some of my favourite games and books. This one in particular came along at a good time for me; I was between campaigns and could not think of a new adventure, but after seeing this image I ended up running a long War of the Roses-type game.

The main foreground image of the two warriors, especially the big dude with the sword, is tremendous. Even with all the pageantry and heraldry on the clothes and armour - this grandiose statement of apparent nobility - the act of bloodshed and the lack of mercy is still a brutal and nasty job. There is no compassion in this knight as he prepares to plunge his sword into an unarmed foe. The lady looking on with part shock and part anticipation is very telling and the only person who seems even slightly horrified is the jester, the one person in the room whose opinion everyone no doubt disregards. The act also appears to be the start of something bigger, what with the warriors in the background preparing for action.

This is a fantastic image and I found it inspiring for all kinds of reasons, especially the gaming angle of warring nobility and the duty of warriors.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Inspiring art #1 - Michael Whelan's 'Elric'

I'd like start a short series detailing the artwork that has inspired me and/or really triggered my imagination over my years of gaming. I'm not sure how long this will go on for, to be honest, but I've been going through my books recently and some images have really jumped out at me so I thought I'd share.

I thought I'd start with an amazing painting, 'Elric and the Sinking City' by Michael Whelan.

I first came across Elric when his stories were reprinted by Grafton in 1989 and I bought the entire run. This was my favourite of the Whelan covers because it captured both Elric and his world for me; he's muscular but not overbearingly so, and he has obviously has a deep connection to the sword Stormbringer as he cradles it, with a flat, expressionless face that speaks volumes about his torment. As well as that, the surroundings are obviously ancient but also bleak, disturbing and in a state of decline, just like him and his people.

It's a fantastic image and is one that I find not only inspiring but also incredibly evocative of Elric and his saga.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018


Image result for first conan story
Conan Illustration by Mark Schultz
'Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.'

- Robert E. Howard "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932)

Read that aloud with the Basil Poledouris 'Anvil of Crom' theme in your head and I guarantee that you're thinking of gaming in Hyborea right now! When this huge larger-than-life Cimmerian hit the shelves for the first time in December 1932 in the pages of Weird Tales they surely could not have imagined that he would still be going strong eighty six years later, cleaving his way through the imaginations of millions of people worldwide, and yet here we are. There's an excellent roleplaying game from Modiphius out now and there's a TV show in the works which is going back to the spirit of Howard's original stories - although, we heard a similar thing when they were making the Conan movie that came out in 2011, and all we got was a horrible messy mish-mash of sources, mainly from the 1982 John Milius movie (saying that, I liked Momoa as Conan, and with a little tweaking of the hair and an accent change I still think he'd fit the part quite well).


Image result for The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary EditionAs with most people, no doubt, my first exposure to Conan was the 1982 movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger smashed his way through a pretty good film with plenty of atmosphere. I enjoyed it, and I continue to enjoy it, but I came to realise early on that this movie really wasn't Conan.

I realised this when I started buying the Marvel comics a few years later. There was a difference in tone to the movie, a world richer in history and a Conan character more boisterous and dramatic than what I had seen on the screen. From this I managed to get hold of a copy of a book by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter from a second-hand bookshop, and upon reading this I began to see that the movie was far removed from the stories. However, it wasn't until I bought and devoured the Gollancz two-volume edition and then the 'The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition' that I realised just how far removed from the world of Hyborea the movie was. In fact, I felt the comics reflected Howard's world much better. Don't get me wrong - I still like the 1982 movie and I even have a soft spot for the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, but these are not Conan to me, now, just fun fantasy stories.

Oh, and I did see the Conan the Adventurer cartoon and the Conan TV show with Ralf Möller. The cartoon was trash but I kind of appreciated what they tried to do with the TV show, but it ended up being a cheap attempt to get in on the success of Hercules and Xena.


As all these parts started falling together and Howard's rich world was laid open to me, my thoughts quickly turned to gaming. What kind of game could I run, and what system would I use?

I missed out on the TSR Conan RPG from 1984 but, to be honest, I don't remember even seeing it available. If I had I would have most certainly bought it as it was then I was getting into gaming and I was experiencing Conan for the first time. I've read it and it seemed like a playable game and I'm always on the lookout for a copy. I also didn't see the two modules they created for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, either.

The GURPS versions totally passed me by. I wasn't that into GURPS and my gaming at the time mainly consisted of Star Wars, MERP and Warhammer FRP so it wouldn't have got a look-in anyway.

My first attempt at a Conan game was using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages rules. I thought the historical feel to the game would reflect the Hyborean age nicely and it mostly worked. There's a creepy Lovecraftian feel to the nameless horrors that Conan comes across and this game was pretty good for it. I feel that with a few passages from Howard's books and an introduction to the world of Hyborea, Cthulhu: Dark Ages may have made a pretty good Conan RPG.

My biggest success was using 13th Age, the Tweet/Heinsoo game that came out in 2013. It was heroic, fast-paced and a lot of fun, and the Icons were replaced by Hyborea's Gods (of course, everyone worshiped Crom because he laughed at all the other Gods from his mountain). As the players started out pretty damned heroic straight away it was easy to throw them into the fray with no real fear of dropping them into the 1st level meatgrinder. In fact, it was the players that ended up doing the grinding so managing to carve their way through a host of mooks gave them an immense feeling of satisfaction as well as give the game that feeling that they were carving their way through the hordes of evil. It was suitably epic.

I wrote an article a while ago about how I felt about running a game in Tolkien's Middle-earth and how difficult I found it because I was emotionally attached to the source material. As I had already been exposed to the 'wrong' version of Conan through the 1982 movie, the better interpretation through the comics, the edited version from L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the cartoon, the TV show and then - finally - the true version, I didn't have the same emotional connection to Conan and his adventures as I did to Tolkien's work. I can't compare them - they are very, very different kinds of fantasy literature - but I did find it so much easier to game in Howard's world because it was so much fun, and I felt no qualms about making changes here or adding things there because it had been done so much previously, so much so that when the phrase 'Conan the Barbarian' is used most people will think of long-haired Arnie in a pair of furry pants swinging a sword - and that's a real shame, truth be told, because Howard's stories are so much more than that.


Now we have 'Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of' from Modiphius Entertainment. By Crom, this looks good. I've read the quickstart and intend to purchase the main game but if the core rulebook is anything like the quickstart - if they have put even half the love and attention into that game as I felt coming off the pages - then I think I'm going to have fun with this. The 2D20 system seems flexible and easy enough to use, the layout is gorgeous and the book itself seems to invoke what I love about Conan; dark and dangerous yet adventurous.

I have a lot of love for Conan, for the world he inhabits and the journeys that he has taken me on. It's only been since the turn of the century that I have truly appreciated Robert E. Howard's work and the sheer energy that leaps out of his Conan tales, and the world of Hyborea is one I wish to travel again, and crush the shining dice of civilisation under my slippered feet. My venturing into the world via RPGs has been brief but always fun, and it's getting the right system for the setting that counts; high adventure, brutal combat, mind-bending mysteries and monsters and the chance to be a larger-than-life hero.

'What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs—I was a man before I was a king.'

- Robert E. Howard "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932)

Monday, 18 June 2018

The influence of Hollywood epics

Image result for The Fall of the Roman Empire hollywoodWhen I first got into tabletop RPGs in 1984 there were very few movies or TV shows around; I think I'd seen the animated Lord of the Rings, Dragonslayer and Hawk the Slayer at this point and other than the books themselves that really was the only visual representation I had as to how these games looked and felt.

The other imagery I used to draw on was from the huge Hollywood epics from the 1950s and 1960s. I'd watch El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Land of the Pharaohs, The Vikings, Prince Valiant and all kinds, along with movies like Jason and the Argonauts and some huge Italian classics. Along with the TV show Robin of Sherwood to keep me 'grounded', I absorbed these movies and allowed them to colour my games.

So, my first Fighting Fantasy games had the wonderful artwork of the gamebooks to give them flavour, but my D&D games needed a different injection of visuals as the few pieces of artwork in the red box Basic D&D set I had to source inspiration from another source, and this ended up being the Hollywood epics.

So, when I was describing a fallen tomb I took my cues from the great sets from The Fall of the Roman Empire, when I was describing raiders hitting the shore I used elements of The Vikings, and when the players found themselves in a huge battle between two nations I used the great war scenes from Alexander the Great and Spartacus. As soon as I said 'have you seen Quo Vadis? The city is burning like Rome' the scene was set and it made for one of the best action sequences I think I've ever run in a game, with the collapsing buildings, panic in the streets and the struggle to get out of the city as the capital was ransacked, and the players had find the way to their tavern to get hold of the riches they had accumulated over the last few games.

These films were a great source of inspiration for me in my formative gaming years, and they still have something of an influence on me now. After Gladiator hit the screens I ran a huge Warhammer campaign with those elements, using stills from the film to get my point across, and recently I've been thinking about a Conan game and I used images from Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments to help visualise ideas. As well as being amazing movies they can really help fill out a world and can be source of amazing melodrama.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Culling a game collection

I've been subjected to a lot of cyberpunk recently, especially after the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, and I've been looking at other games like Deus Ex, Syndicate and the Blade Runner game from the late 1990s that I still can't get to work on my machine.

Because of this I thought a hell of a lot about the roleplaying games, so I dug through my boxed RPG collection to get hold of my copy of Cyberpunk 2020 with the intention of settling down for a couple of hours to enjoy that retro gaming feel.

I couldn't find it. I found my old copy of Shadowrun first edition - which was nice - but I still couldn't find my CP2020. Then, as I wondered at the missing book I suddenly remembered... I'd sold Cyberpunk 2020 and the supplements I had back in 2006. My son was on his way at that point, and to help pay for his impending birth I sold a huge swathe of RPG products. I made a lot of money; my collection turned out to be a hell of an investment and it pretty much paid for my son's first year on the planet. More than worth it, but when I realised that this particular game was gone my heart sank.

However, I did hold some games back, games I didn't think I could part with for all sorts of reasons, but sadly Cyberpunk 2020 didn't make the cut. It was one of my favourite games, but I think I was putting the feelers out on Ebay and I was made an offer that was amazing. I remember parting with quite a few things I said I wouldn't; my MERP modules sold really well and a lot of my more obscure and collectable games ended up in bidding wars.

So, how did I decide what was going and what was staying? I remember sitting down for an entire day going through the collection and making three piles of books and boxes; To sell, to possibly sell, and to keep. At first, I just went through the games deciding what it was I didn't want anymore, but in the end the 'possible sell' pile was the highest and it made very little difference to the collection. I decided to have a look at what had been sat on my shelf for years without being used, and that was a lot! It was a shame to hold on to stuff that wasn't going to be used, I'd rather they went to people who would appreciate them more.

Then I did the hardest thing, and that was to go through my collection to see what I'd get for it on Ebay. That drastically reduced my collection; the impending arrival of my son overshadowed any emotional connection I had to some of these games, and I think Cyberpunk 2020 fell into that category. Over the following few weeks my collection went out across the world, and I like to think they have a place on someone else's shelf and they get used often.

Selling a collection is not an easy thing, but I had to be realistic. I needed the space more than I needed the money, and being a dad meant that the majority of the games I owned would never see the wood of a gaming table again. I had no qualms about parting with about 80% of my collection for my son, but there were a few games I didn't want to let go. Regardless, sitting down and going through the collection piece by piece and deciding what to sell and what to keep, and then looking at it all again and being honest with myself as well as checking prices, meant I got the collection down from more than 300 books and boxes to less than 60.

Three entire bookcases, one entire wall, of games was gone. For a long time it kind of hurt as there wasn't a single game in my collection that I wasn't connected to in one way or another, but I realised it was necessary and in the long run the best thing to do. There were a few things I sold that I regret parting with - Cyberpunk 2020 and my five D&D Basic boxsets mainly - but that can't be helped. I can still get hold of CP2020 on POD and I got an original copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, so it's all good.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Preview: Dave Bezio's X-plorers RPG

A preview? Of a game that's more than a decade old? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, JONATHAN?

Well, this game has been on the scene for a long time but in the last few years it's slipped out of the spotlight. As an OSR sci-fi game it has kind of been eclipsed by other games of the same ilk.

I've been through the other games and, as good as they are, I chose X-plorers because of it's simplicity, which meant I didn't have to worry too much about stats and figures and I could concentrate more on stories and adventures.

Player Characters are class-based - Scientist, Soldier, Technician and Scout - and they level up as a good OSR game should. They have four attributes; Agility, Intelligence, Physique and Presence, scored from 3 to 18, and each class has skills which is basically a score the player has to beat on a D20 roll. It's quick, simple and smartly laid out, and the rules for aliens, robots and starships are fully fleshed out with enough room for referees to make their own game out of it.

Even though the game is about 'Galactic Troublshooters' in a Golden Age sci-fi kind of setting, with a 'Buck Rogers' action adventure feel to it, it can be used for any kind of sci-fi; action, mystery, horror, you name it. It's roots are firmly placed in the D&D ground with levels and experience points, and the grind that may come with that, but it's flexible enough to do what you will.

I'm also giving it a preview because I'm going to be writing new material for it under the OGL and releasing it through Farsight Games on DrivethruRPG. The rules can be bought from DrivethruRPG but you can also download the entire rules for free from the game's owners, Brave Halfling Publishing. And, at only 40 pages long, you can print it off quite cheaply and use it as an old-school black-and-white RPG book.

I've purchased the POD version in book form and it's smart and incredibly old-school, even down to it's presentation, and I like that a lot. Let's give X-plorers some love.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018


After having a lot of fun helping with the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition 'Stellar Adventures' rulebook and writing two adventures for the original fantasy game - therefore fulfilling two childhood fantasies I had, writing and drawing for Fighting Fantasy - I've decided to bring my Farsight Games label out of retirement to publish my own work on DrivethruRPG.

Since hitting the tabletop gaming hobby in 1983 and falling in love with pen & paper RPGs in 1984, I’ve always wanted to communicate my own ideas and adventures to the rest of the gaming community. I set up Farsight Games to do just that.

At Farsight Games we like to keep things simple and fun and try to reflect that in our work. The majority of our products will be uncomplicated PDFs of a low page count and cost; keeping these down means that you can print at your leisure or read from a device with ease, without having to spend lots of extra money on PODs or professional printers.

We'll keep things basic; this means we can produce material that’s perfectly suited to a gamer’s needs, make it available quickly and cleanly and always have something new in the pipeline.

Welcome to Farsight Games - we’re looking forward to gaming with you!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Cyberpunk 2077 Trailer

If I was going to set up a new Cyberpunk 2020 game, this is the trailer I would show my players to get them in the mood as it's an amazing representation of how I see the excellent Cyberpunk 2020 roleplaying game.

I used to use game videos to capture the atmosphere of games I was wanting to run - the trailers for the 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' MMO, the trailer for 'Dead Space' and the 'Modern Warfare 3' trailers received some play time and got my players in the mood for the game I wanted to run.

However, this Cyberpunk 2077 trailer is a step beyond all that and captures the essence of the game beautifully. The atmosphere, the music, the visuals are spot on and, even though I'd have liked a few more 'rain-soaked neon evening' images, it still shows you what Cyberpunk is all about.

Not only does this trailer force me to look forward to this game, it's kicking me in the creative nuts and telling me that everything I imagined, every detail I thought up, was lacking compared to what this game is going to offer. This trailer alone has made every synapse linked to my imagination go into overdrive and I have the need to play the game.

Cyberpunk 2077 had better be good. After all these years, and all this buildup, it can't be anything other than excellent. Such is the nature of hype.

Friday, 8 June 2018

D&D in Spaaaaace!

I've always had ideas about an old-school sci-fi adventure using the old-school D&D rules. I was always amazed that TSR never created a sci-fi version of their flagship game in the 1980s/90s, and even though I had fun with their 'Buck Rogers in the XXVc' game - which used the AD&D system with it's own skill system - I wasn't overly hot on the starship system.

It's a shame that TSR decided to use the Buck Rogers licence for the game - I won't get into why they decided on that setting - because I do feel that if they had made the system more generic, less setting focused and scaled back the starship system a bit it would have made a really good D&D sci-fi game.

I still have the game and every now and then I get it out and wonder 'what if...', but I've come across other games that take the OSR system and make it their own and, in many ways, use it better.

The primary one, which always impressed me, is 'Stars Without Number'. This is an excellent game from Sine Nomine Publishing that really puts the rules to good use, gives the GM plenty of material to recreate their own setting and is just a really well presented and laid-out game. If I was going to create a huge, long-running campaign this is the game I'd choose.

Next, I had a look at 'Hulks & Horrors' from Bedroom Wall Press. I've played in this and, as a group, we really enjoyed it. It was quick and smooth and really fun, and as an OSR sci-fi game it felt a little closer to the original D&D game. With more visuals this would be a lot bigger than it is, and I love the game's cover; very 80s retro/Traveller.

The game I settled on, and ordered a POD for, is 'X-plorers' from Brave Halfling Publishing. Now, this is probably the furthest removed from the OSR as far as stats are concerned, it's a trimmed-down version of the game with very simple starship rules, and there are only four classes to choose from. 

Why did I choose this? Well, for that very reason; it's fast, simple and very malleable, and I was looking for a game that wasn't only retro but also cut back, so that I didn't have to go through 100-plus pages to see how the game interpreted the original rules. At 40 pages, in which we're given everything we need to run a game, I think this is the D&D in Spaaaaace! game for me.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

DrivethruRPG POD purchases

I've got quite a bit of credit on DrivethruRPG, so I thought I'd get hold of a couple of books on POD that really grabbed my attention recently.

The first is 'X-plorers RPG' from Brave Halfling Publishing. I had a look at this a long time ago and I returned to it recently, and even though I got hold of a free PDF copy I really wanted the POD book as it looked really retro. I do like the cut-down OSR system and it seems to work really well.

"The Universe is a big place with big problems - that's where you come in!

Put on your space suit, charge your ray rifle, and flip ignition on an outer-space adventure!

Here is a simple RPG of interplanetary adventure, rules-lite, fast-paced, and inspired by a passion for science fiction. In X-plorers, you're part of a group of galactic troubleshooters on the look out for the next job-whether it be salvage, search, or rescue on an alien world.

Players: Explore, defend, and save the galaxy!

Be a SCIENTIST: Unravel the mysteries of a new alien race!
Be a SOLDIER: Take aim and defend against enemy invaders!
Be a TECHNICIAN: Pilot a spaceship through imminent danger!
Be a SCOUT: Foil the overlord's plans using espionage!

Character generation is quick and easy so you can get to gallivanting around the galaxy.
Choose from four character types with a simplified four-attribute skill system. Then outfit your team and prepare to make planetfall!

Game Masters: Create a cosmic sandbox using basic rules."

The second book I went for is 'OneDice Space' from Cakebread & Walton. Apart from the cracking book cover, this game is a simple six-sided die system and, as I'm really drawn to simple systems at the moment, this was another game I liked the look of.

"Quick and easy space roleplaying rules.

OneDice Space is a game of space travel and adventure. If you want to play space games in a universe of your own devising or adventure in the ready-made futures described within, all the rules you need are in this book.

Whether you want to play shady traders in a beat-up cargo ship, the captain and crew of a massive exploration vessel, rebels fighting against an evil galactic empire or artificial intelligences downloaded into cyborg or uplifted animal bodies, there’s something in here for you."

No doubt the PDFs would have been cheaper but, unfortunately, I can't read a screen for any length of time and I'm a bit of a grognard when it comes to gaming books and anything over 12 pages has to be printed so that my head doesn't explode with the migraine.

The last PODs I got from Drivethrurpg were for the Star Frontiers books 'Alpha Dawn' and 'Knight Hawks', which were printed directly from the PDF and were of pretty good quality. I'm looking forward to getting hold of these books and checking out the quality. I'll post again once I receive them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Interview: Maxim Krylov of Studio Ludens

I came across 'Interbellum RPG - War Adventures in a World of Technomagic' and Studio Ludens recently after it was suggested to me that I check out their Kickstarter, and after reading about this world where 'adventurers and soldiers try to survive on the battlefields of the first mechanized wars with magic and strange technologies', I became more than a little intrigued.

I spoke with Maxim Krylov of Studio Ludens to find out more about the game, where they are in development and what else we can expect to see from this war-torn, magic-fuelled dieselpunk world.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us about yourself and how you got into tabletop gaming.

Hello! My name is Maxim Krylov, I'm 26 years old and I live in Russia. Over the past 8 years I've come a long way in the game development industry, although I can not boast of great achievements. I developed modifications for video games, was a freelancer, worked on a few casual games, and now I'm freelancing again as a game designer. From childhood I liked to create my own worlds - or, as it called now, worldbuilding. Of course, I read Tolkien and many other classic sci-fi and fantasy books which influenced me. Like many other teenagers I tried to write my own short stories but they were terrible! However, I think my worlds turned out to be quite interesting. I had to put them in some kind of interactive form, somehow play with them. I tried to create my own board games with my rules, almost blindly and without any experience. For a long time I was familiar with RPGs only in the format of video games and later tried their original source - D&D and other tabletop RPGs. Alas, I lived in a small provincial town, where only a few knew about such games. This continued until in 2008, when I acquire a personal PC, got access to the Internet and finally plunged into the world of RPGs in all its diversity. And here I am!

What is it about tabletop RPGs that gets you excited? What's the draw to this particular hobby?

Oh, it's hard to say... as I said, since childhood I've been craving to create my worlds and games based on them. I like tabletop RPGs for their immense freedom of action for players, GMs and their developers. In fact, games occur in the minds of players, in their fantasies. It is in them that I can revel in my potential as a creator. But I had quite a strange relationship with the mainstream products. I feel in them the stagnation of ideas, some inertia of thinking. Therefore, I am more interested in homebrew systems and settings, experimental ideas. Perhaps, from large systems, GURPS and Fuzion had the most influence on me.

Let's talk about 'Interbellum RPG - War Adventures in a World of Technomagic'. The blend of magic and early 1900s warfare is an intruiging idea, and the artwork is already evoking a very dark atmosphere. How did this particular idea come about?

The origin of the setting is a long story. Many years ago, one of my favorite pastimes was to experience grand strategies via text games, through forums or chat. Diplomacy, planning, betrayals, building temporary or permanent alliances, provocations and intelligence – I am fond of it, especially when more than a dozen players were assembled on such games. It was reminiscent of the classic ‘Diplomacy’ board game, but we had a much more detailed and complex rule system.

In early 2013, me and two of my friends created a setting for another such game. In short, the idea was to play for the revolutionaries during the civil war in the fantasy world that had entered an era of technological progress. We were inspired by the Civil War in Russia, but wanted to transfer this spirit to another world with magic, monsters and the like. I still have a brief design document and a map of this world. For a number of reasons, this idea was abandoned and would have remained forgotten, but I was tasked as part of a recruitment test for game development company, Elephant Games. To judge my abilities and skills I was required to come up with and describe an interesting world, to provide it with references and other things. So I remembered my old idea, I detailed it, describe countries, factions, visual style, a short timeline and even asked a friend to create a couple of illustrations.

So the world of Interbellum was born, which I continue to develop. Why the combination of magic and technology? I want to experiment; I wondered how magic could be used with technological progress if it could be rationalized and studied from the point of view of science. This is a very interesting field for experimentation, both for the worldbuilding and for artists too. In addition, this combination gives greater freedom of choice in the use of game mechanics and introduces many familiar elements for players.

The last line of defense trying to stop the dreadful technomagically driven flying fortress.

The game is set during a huge war and seems very combat orientated. What kind of things can players expect to do in this setting? What kind of adventures do you think they can have?

Well, I understand that this kind of setting is unusual and it is not so easy to imagine an exciting adventure in such a military-focused setting.

Okay, here's an example of one of the scenarios being developed; one of the largest cities in the empire, a metropolis, turned into a war zone and was ruined due to a sudden enemy breakthrough and assault. Remnants of the garrison, reinforcements and guerillas trying to resist overwhelming enemy force, become trapped and often without the possibility to escape from this city. Civilians did not have time to evacuate, many were killed. But even so, the damaged city is still strategically important because of the many factories and depots with supplies and weapons in the territory.

Players will be able to perform different tasks in this war zone; hunt enemy leaders, seek traitors, combat raids in the enemy's positions, look for ways to evacuate civilians and save them.

Another example. A distant colony of your empire, lost in the sands and steppes. Archaeologists have recently excavated the remains of an ancient city of an unknown civilization. Rumors talk about the untold riches in the catacombs of these ruins. Adventurers and bandits come here in large quantities, attracted by the profit and the treasures and artifacts, extracted from the catacombs and sold on the black market. You have a choice - you can play as military police and protect the law, or desert and become an adventurer, or just generate a character as a civilian treasure hunter. But what if the owners of the artifacts and the ancient city return? What kind of curse are you warned of by local residents who suddenly leave this place? And what is the source of such strange and horrible sounds at night from the catacombs?

Can you tell us more about the game mechanics? There appears to be a D6 involved and there also seems to be a levelling system. How does it work?

It is a combination of old ideas that have been used in many games. Each character has its own class, which makes it possible to develop certain skills to the maximum. Also the class gives unique class perks, which further strengthen specializations. Through performing missions and defeating opponents, the character gains experience points and when a certain amount of them accumulates  the character moves to the next level and receives several skill points. Pretty classic system. Skill points are spent on developing skills. Also through 2 or 3 levels the player can choose a new perk with an interesting bonus. There’s also also traits, chosen during character generation. Does it remind you of anything? :)

In general, this concept is still imperfect and we are thinking how to improve it. We would like to see a system in which a character could progress with what he basically uses and what he specializes in.

As for the main game mechanics and combats, our rules are now based on the principle of quick contests of player’s and opponents results of action successs. This is not the best solution and we are looking for convenient alternatives, but for now it's quite convenient on tests. We try to make simple and obvious rules for players. Honestly, the current state of the rules is very early and we honestly state this. There is still a lot of work and playtesting to do and we very much look forward to feedback.

Istalian Bastion-class landship. 100 tons of perfect engineering.

The stretch goals include tank battles, air battles, more magic and all kinds of extras. What else can we expect to see released to support Interbellum in the future? Adventures, sourcebooks, that kind of thing?

Yes, all of it; new sourcebooks, campaign books, maybe expansions about underground and mountain war, etc. Of course, only if backers and other players like our game and our world.

The artwork and setting details we've seen up to yet is excellent. Has the setting been fully fleshed out and how will the game world be expanded upon?

As you know, even the amount collected on Kickstarter is not enough for such a large setting as ours. Artist’s drawings make the fictional world more believable. This requires a lot of visualization, which means big spending for artwork. Anyway, the setting will develop in depth - each country will be described in more detail, the races will be divided into separate peoples and ethnic groups, they will have their own cultural differences, own pantheons, own technologies. And, of course, new races, equipment, weapons and the like will be added.

Already, two of my friends are writing short stories based on Interbellum and they will be canonical. This is an interesting way to view the world from within. Unfortunately, we do not have time to finish them by the end of our campaign on Kickstarter, but we will definitely post them later and will write our own fiction later, too. I have a modest hope that Interbellum may be attract the interest of professional writers, but this is only a hope.

When do you think we will see Interbellum on general release?

So far, I avoid calling specific dates. We want to polish our game and release it as complete and in as high a quality as possible, to make sure the backers are pleased. In the end, we monitor our reputation, and if backers trust us and want to see a quality product for their money, we must meet their expectations. Therefore, we will be sensitive to their feedback.

We plan to reach 80% of readiness this autumn and start a closed beta test among the backers. Depending on the feedback, the open beta test with quick rules will begin soon after, in January next year. Accordingly, we plan to make the release late winter/early spring.

Note: English is not Maxim’s first language so some very minor edits to the text may have been made for clarity.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Interview - Spidermind Games and the Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game

No automatic alt text available.Elite - I used to hammer my rubber keys on my Spectrum back in the 1980s playing this game, and the never-ending free-roaming nature of the game has been beautifully realised in the new version on PCs and consoles across the globe.

This kind of starship-centric game may not seem to be the kind of thing that would make it into a tabletop roleplaying product, but Spidermind Games were up the challenge. I spoke with Oliver Hulme and Jon Lunn about Spidermind, the Elite: Dangerous RPG and the excitement of blasting through the stars.

Hello, and welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please introduce yourselves and explain how you managed to fall down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of tabletop gaming.

I’m Oliver Hulme, the Lead Writer of Spidermind Games.  I’ve been playing roleplaying games for 3D12 years, and was suckered in with a combination of Fighting Fantasy and AD&D when I was about nine years old.  In all that time I’ve been a player for only about two weeks and a GM for the rest of time.

I’m Jon Lunn and I am the producer for Spidermind Games. It was cake that got me involved. At school we were always allowed cake during break times on Tuesdays and Thursdays but only every one and only after we had queued up for what seemed ages in the cold and the rain. Not so for the D&D players who seemed to be showered in cake… well that was good enough for me.

Tell us about Spidermind Games; how did it come about, and what was the inspiration for the name?

Spidermind Games was created so I could have a reason to work together with Jon, and to fulfil a dream about being published. I create games and rule systems in my head even just walking down the road, so Spidermind has been a good way to channel that weird energy into something useful.

The name, Spidermind, was created by my long-suffering partner, Melanie, who has been roped into all my RPG playing and testing for the last decade, or so. I think she had a vision of an evil genius who created games to thwart his enemies. Our designer, Bruce, came up with the iconic image of the spider with a human brain. I particularly like that its mandibles look like a bow tie. He’s a clever man, is our Bruce.

Your most recent product is the highly anticipated Elite: Dangerous Roleplaying Game (EDRPG). Elite has an amazing history (I played it to death in the 1980s on my Spectrum) and the recent incarnation is epic on many levels. What's your history with the game, and what drove you to create a tabletop RPG version of it?

So we both played Elite on the original 8-bit computers, including the Spectrum 48K and Commodore 64. I think it was the first computer game that actually made sense while still being fun to play. By that, I mean that the spaceships you encountered in the game behaved like real people. Traders only bothered you if you attacked them, bounty hunters pursued you if you were a fugitive, the police would come to the aid of the innocent, etc. In other early 8-bit games it seemed like everyone was against you all the time.

Also, Elite was a role-playing game without dice, in the sense that it was always told from a first person perspective and you had agency to do as you wished. The first RPG I made about Elite was in 1988 – however, since I was only eleven it might not have the kind of ground-breaking mechanics you would expect these days.

In terms of why I bit the bullet and made a fully produced and licenced version of Elite: Dangerous – well, Frontier Developments (the producers of Elite: Dangerous) only have themselves to blame. About three years ago they began inviting licensing applications to companies that wanted to utilise the Elite: Dangerous brand. Jon and I saw the advert, kind of nodded to each other, and then gave up a lifetime of job security to plunge into the tabletop game market. I’ve no regrets, really. I think this is what I was born to do, and I’m just horrified it took me so long to realise it.

The original Elite

Elite the computer game is 100% about the starships, so what were the challenges in including the character-driven human element into EDRPG?

Well, on the one hand, there was a lot to do. Clearly the mechanics of human combat had not been explored in Elite: Dangerous at the time we began writing. Ironically, though, the types of equipment available for spacecraft give a writer a strong indication of the types of technology that exist in the game world. I already knew there were pulse and beam lasers, as well as cannons, rapid-fire ballistic weapons, missile launchers and explosives. It made sense that this technology also existed on a personal scale.

In terms of everyday interactions and how the galaxy actually functions, fortunately there are lots of references. Frontier Developments created a world-building guide for the universe as part of their development of the game. As one of the licenced authors I was given access to it, and it really is fantastic, explaining all about the medicine, transport, governments and everyday lives of people. In addition a number of licensed books had been released by the time I was working on the RPG, and these very much helped me get the flavour of the living worlds beneath the spaceships.

What amount of freedom were you given to create your own material and content for the Elite setting? Did you find working with the license constricting?

It was quite interesting, really. Frontier Developments began on a strong note, wanting to see everything that was written and to check it for accuracy. As the project went on, and they began to trust us more, they became less stringent. I think the guiding factor for us was less a fear of upsetting Frontier, but more about getting the essential facts about the Elite: Dangerous universe correct. Fans of the computer game would tell us off for the rest of time if we got the lore wrong.

Eventually Frontier decided on a non-lore licence, which basically meant that, in terms of canon, the events and descriptions in the computer game would take precedence over what was written in the RPG. That didn’t mean that we were suddenly off the hook. We wanted to make the game as lore-accurate as possible. But the non-lore licence did give us all the room we needed to spontaneously create enemies and technology that didn’t currently exist. It was a matter of being respectful the hard-science lore of the main work when creating new work.

For instance, many of our wheeled vehicles are based off the Frontier-developed SRV (Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle), a type of moon buggy, ruggedly presented with flexible suspension, jump jets and large wheels. Creating other types of wheel-based SRV’s, transports and gangland battlecars involved taking existing elements from the SRV in the computer game. It helps that our lead artist, Kevin Massey, has a phenomenal eye for the little design details in Frontier’s work, and is able to echo those design philosophies in his artwork throughout the book.

Tell us more about the mechanics and the reasoning behind them; I imagine combining the character side of things and the starship elements was somewhat challenging.

I had one over-riding rule when making the rule system: it had to be fast. Once I had created a basic design I went back through it and stripped back more and more to make it faster, faster, faster!

In the 80’s I think so many of us were overjoyed we got to use guns and laser beams in RPG’s that we forgave anything. But the agony of waiting your turn while someone else spent five minutes calculating their weapon attacks and positioning used to drive me mad.

I decided on two inspirations for EDRPG that would drive the game onwards. The rapid-fire spaceship combat of the computer game needed to be emulated, and the phaser-slapping, karate-chop antics of Captain Kirk needed to contrast it in personal combat.

For spaceship combat I decided to replace precise positioning in space with a combination of different manoeuvres that you could undertake depending how far away from the action you are. Essentially, in space combat there are two zones – up-close and at-distance. When you are up-close the lasers and bullets are streaming past you, and you can see the ships attacking you at visual range.

You can try to dogfight an opponent like a space Spitfire, drop mines, fire turrets, or rely on real-world physics to spin around and shoot your pursuers, like a Babylon 5 space fighter. Or you can try to bug out and recommence an attack at-distance. When you are at-distance you can joust, strafe, snipe – or even try to play a game of chicken with your opponent, threatening to ram right into them! By replacing fixed measurements of distance and speed with just a general sense of whether your opponent is near you or far away, you can do away with a lot of the time-consuming measuring that tends to go on with most spaceship battle systems. It’s fast, and more than that, it feels very close to the kinds of battles you end up in with the computer game.

For personal combat there is a sort of virtuous triangle between ranged, melee and fist fighting combat. Ranged combat does the most damage, fist fighting inflicts the most debuffs, and melee combat provides you with the most attacks. It’s not that these fighting forms are equal – most people prefer guns in combat for good reason – but those who specialise in close combat can really ruin a gun-fighter’s day. To go back to my Captain Kirk example, phasers are pretty deadly in combat, but get Kirk up next to his opponent and he’ll send that weapon skittering into the dust. To reflect this idea in EDRPG, close combat fighting attacks have an automatic chance of disarming someone as part of their damage roll. This is because the first thing anyone tries to do when wrestling with a gunman is get that gun away from them. It’s such an automatic action that it doesn’t require the player to do anything special – basically if they inflict an even amount of damage with a punch or kick they will knock the weapon out of their attacker’s grasp. Because this mechanic is built into the damage dice roll it saves a good deal of time. This is, obviously, just one example, but hopefully it demonstrates the kind of thing EDPRG does.

elite: dangerous 5

Let's say that I'm a fan of the computer game but haven't touched RPGs before, or I do play RPGs and I'm in two minds about EDRPG. What is it about the tabletop game that you think would persuade me to dive in?

If you’re a fan of the Elite: Dangerous computer game you’re going to feel at home here. You can build and modify your spaceship in the same way as the computer game, and your combat choices – jousting, dogfighting, strafing, flight-assist-off, etc. – are going to feel very familiar. You’ve probably already got a backstory for your commander in your head. Well – now you can get out the cockpit and negotiate your own contracts, break into corporate bases, rescue civilians from burning ships, fight pirates in dune-buggies on abandoned desert worlds, fall in love with deadly assassins and be back in time for breakfast.

If you are an old hand at RPG’s, the main draw here is that every player gets their own spaceship. You are not all sharing the Millennium Falcon, or in charge of the sensors on the Starship Enterprise. Instead it will be you shooting down pirates and flying into narrow canyons. The combat system is fast, but with tactical depth, so you can fight as a lightly-armed fighter or as a heavy battleship. In addition, your character has a life outside the party, and you can earn money doing independent trading, mining, exploring or bounty-hunting. If you miss a game because of other commitments you’ll be able to fill the time with more of these between adventures actions to make sure you don’t fall too far behind.

The game is also gorgeously presented, filled with art, advanced design and lovely, lovely tables! Seriously, the whole thing is quite striking – go and buy it at once!

What kind of ongoing support will the game receive? Adventures, campaigns, supplements?

We’ve just finished the game’s fourth supplement, Exploration, so right off the bat the game is well supported. You’ll find downloadable character sheets, ship sheets and vehicle sheets, both in black and white and colour, and form-fillable. We’ve got a GM’s screen coming out in June, which is looking very striking.

If you want a taster, a free adventure The Worst Intentions, is available to download from www.edrpg.co.uk and DriveThru RPG.

What more can we expect to see from Spidermind Games in the future?

ED Battle Cards, which is our next project has just been released and is available to pre-order at www.edbattlecards.com – no, we are not just producing Elite Dangerous products it was just that of all the projects that we are currently developing, the card game was completed first. Later in the year we will take a break from Sci Fi and release our first board game – more to follow. We will also be announcing a tie in with a well known publisher to make an RPG of a bestselling series of books, but again more of this to follow later in the year – lots to look out for.

Image may contain: 1 person


…where the police shoot on sight, entire systems are overrun with space pirates, and money is the only thing that talks.  Gear up with high tech equipment to overcome heavily armoured combat drones, elite corporate assassins, and over-gunned soldiers of the interstellar powers.


Each player owns their own spaceship, which is completely customizable with multi-cannons, plasma accelerators, enhanced shields and super-fast Frame Shift Drives. Land on alien planets and get behind the wheel of your Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV) to explore, or strap yourself into your own battle tank and storm pirate bases.


Elite: Dangerous is the modern day incarnation of the seminal space trading game Elite. 30 years after the original game reinvented the way people experienced playing computer games, Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game seeks to immerse the role player in the same cut throat galaxy experience by online players."

The UK Games Expo 2018

This weekend (1st to the 3rd June) I'll be attending the UK Games Expo, my yearly pilgrimage to the biggest tabletop gaming convention and trade show in the United Kingdom.

Held in the NEC and Hilton Hotels, Birmingham, the show builds year after year and is a major date in the calender of tabletop gamers and firms across Europe and the world. There's been an average 20% increase in attendance every year up to yet and there'll no doubt be an amazing turnout this year.

It's an excellent venue and, quite literally, less that 15 minutes walk from Birmingham International train station and airport. With two halls in use and rooms in the Hilton hotel near the main entrance to the exhibition centre, the UK Games Expo is entertaining, easily accessible and a great weekend of all kinds of tabletop gaming.

I caught up with Michael Pearson of the UKGE to find out what's in store this year.

'This year on the lake area we have two camps - one is a Viking camp and the other a Tolkien camp - complete with wolves (two of which can be petted!).

There are lots of highlights... we are headed to fill two halls in the NEC this year, with a considerable increase in exhibitors. Everything else gets bigger, partly because people see that their genre of exhibitor is attending, so they come along.

We already have 157 games/products submitted for our awards, well ahead of last year, our Design Track of events is growing - supporting game makers to create their games. We have the Wyverns Lair event again - like Dragon's Den for games.'

It all sounds great, and I'm really looking forward to attending this year. There's always so much to do and see that one day is never enough.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Gameplay reports that help your game

Image result for dragon warriors rpg coverThere was a time when I was going to write up gameplay reports for the campaigns I was running, a blow-by-blow account of the session and the reactions of all those involved.

I was intent on improving my skills as a GM and this was going to be a way to focus on possible problems and issues that may arise. I ended up not writing the reports like this with any regularity as the note-taking during sessions ended up being quite the distraction and I was called out a couple of times for making the players wait while I scribbled in my notebook.

Making notes after the session while the game is still fresh in your head is a must, and it's always a good idea to focus on the positive as well as the negative so that you know where you were going right. If you can, make notes as to how you came to the conclusion that it was a failure/success so that you can trace back causes and possibly avoid or aim for such things in future sessions.

It doesn't need to be as detailed as the report below; I wrote it this way for a series of blogs I was going to do but ultimately abandoned the idea as I seemed to be spending more time writing for the game than actually playing it.

DRAGON WARRIORS – Gameplay report 

As I’m running a short Dragon Warriors campaign while my mate Jason takes a break from his ongoing Pathfinder game I thought I’d keep something of a record of what’s going on in the game and how it’s progressing. In this short (possibly short-lived) series of blogs, which I will do a little update after the game every Thursday. I’ll cover the story, how the game is going and how the rules dealt with certain situations.

I’ve started the game with all six players creating Knights, Barbarians or Assassins. I’ve excluded magic users for now and will allow access to the magical careers once the game is in progress. The group consists of two of each career. I’m not that fussed about game balance as long as the players are happy with their choices. Character creation was easy and quick – three players had already created their PCs and the other three took about half an hour to create theirs, and even give them basic character backgrounds. The Dragon Warriors character creation system is quick, easy and starts the player of with the very basics, including equipment and money. Unless the group agrees there’s no drawn out shopping for starting equipment. Some groups may find that a little annoying and restrictive but for a quick, simple game like Dragon Warriors it’s perfect. I did toy with the idea of allowing the players to exchange the starting items with a cash equivalent and then let them shop, but decided in the end to give them the basics and then let them shop in-game.

As the game was about to begin I used the optional rules for ‘Fate Points’, which will allow the PCs to change a single roll or cheat death, and the use of the below zero health points critical chart. I’m also trialling a variant of the damage system; in the core rulebook, damage is set at a static score depending on weapon used and there is an optional system that allows for a random damage roll to be made. I’m giving the players the choice; they can either take the set damage score or they can roll per hit. This means if they do choose to roll then they might do more damage, but then they also might do a lot less!

I’m setting my campaign in the Lands of Legend, just a little south of the Pagan Mountains in Ellesland, and I’ve decided to drop the entire ‘party origin’ story. There was no ‘you meet in a tavern’ or ‘you’re all brought before the Lord’ etc. They were simple travellers who had all met up on the road and decided to stick together for mutual protection. The rumours are that there are plenty of barrows, run-down castles, Selentine Empire ruins and caves to be explored and plundered. Sadly, they’ve been beaten to it and they’ve all been emptied. Cold, wet and miserable, they trudge north looking for a town called Dungully. The landscape is blasted and bleak, but as they approach the mountains the land becomes rich and bountiful, like they’ve suddenly stepped into spring.

Along the road they see a cart with a broken wheel, half in the trees, and an injured horse – obviously something is afoot. It’s at this point, after introducing the world, the landscape and the rainy weather, that I ask the players what they want to do.

This first encounter starts some confusion. As I’ve set the scene some of the group have been talking amongst themselves, sometimes loudly. This can be annoying but I’ve learned that waiting for players to be quiet or asking them to listen doesn’t really solve anything. I continue talking to the players that are listening with the intention of letting them benefit from what they learn. Once the players not listening realise they’re missing out they’re a bit more attentive.

A trail leads to a bandit camp, who have obviously just raided the cart and taken two men on it captive, and a fight ensues. I’m not using minis so I quickly sketch out a combat map – in a small clearing with a fire at the centre – so the players have to use their imaginations. The bandits are somewhat weak, being a first encounter for a system shakedown, and easily dispatched. There’s little to no confusion regarding the combat rules, even for those new to the system, and the encounter runs smooth and fast. By the end of it a couple of the PCs are injured but eleven bandits lie dead and the rest flee into the woods. The cash-starved PCs promptly loot the bodies and then free the captives.

As quick and as easy as the fight was, I had three main problems with the combat:

One, the players who were used to minis and a battle mat were a bit lost at the beginning as the entire encounter was played out quickly and easily with nothing but small sketches. They got into the swing of it but their initial instinct was to plan their tactics and move their pieces.

Two, Lots of people shouting over each other to get attention. This is a problem in any game but with the additional job of handling the players new to this game system it got a little loud and frustrating.

The trick is not to take that frustration out on anybody, in or out of the game, and handle each situation calmly and quickly. Most of the time the players will accept a quick judgement call from the GM, especially if you keep the action flowing and move away from the problem as fast as you can.

Three, there was immediate party conflict. One of the players spent time picking up dropped coins, as he was low on funds, and when the combat started another player knocked all the money out of his hands and into the river. This resulted in the offended player sauntering to the fight and getting involved in the dying moments, then realising that he had not earned any experience as the others had done the work. It was obviously frustrating for him so I moved the action on quickly and made a mental note to give the player something to do to earn extra points later on.

The freed captives are traveling to Dungully to take part in a huge festival and are so grateful for their lives, and agree to travel with the PCs. Upon arriving at the town after dark they find the place packed, the streets full with drinking and eating, dancing, games and general merrymaking.

This town, and the introduction of the obligatory inn, gives the players a focus, a central area they can use as a marker and a possible place for rest and recuperation. The town is bright and packed with happy, friendly NPCs and the players get into the swing of things by taking part in archery contests, a melee, and a race to climb to the top of a flower-covered wooden pedestal in the town square.

Dealing with these different minigames was difficult but fun. All I needed to do was concentrate on one thing at a time and make sure that those not directly involved were also excited about the outcome of the dice rolls, in which I asked for basic attribute rolls, and in extreme circumstances it was a simple case of who rolled closest to ‘1’. I even allowed florins to change hands as bets were made on the outcome, and a couple of the players came away with healthy wins. It all made for a few exciting moments.

All of this was a misdirection of sorts; as they played the minigames, laughed and joked, a young lady, the Queen of the Festival was paraded through the cheering crowds throwing flowers. The players made remarks and joined in. As a result of me trying to give him something to do, the player who had had his money knocked out of his hands became involved with a minigame but was having a bad night with some bad dice rolls. When he yet again lost a competition he elected to punch the NPC who had just beaten him, obviously frustrated by the evening’s play he was having. When he even failed to thump the NPC who staggered back shocked and was about to call the guards, he finally passed a roll and convinced the man he was only joking and then staggered into the crowd.

There’s not a lot you can do with frustrated players, especially if they’ve lost out to the other gamers at the table as he had done with experience points, and the best way to deal with them is to let them vent. If he had gotten into a fistfight I would have inserted the idea that the men he was fighting thoroughly deserved a good beating.

During all this one of the Assassin players decided to pick a pocket while the attention of the crowd was on one of the barbarians (with a score of 17 in Looks!) as he regaled them with tales of his deeds. Sadly he failed his roll and the portly merchant caught him and cried out for guards. Flustered, and a bit frustrated that he had been caught, the player opted to stab the innocent NPC he had tried to rob.

The other players bawled him out, shocked at the decision, and so the player elected to punch him instead. I’m not entirely sure why he decided to suddenly turn nasty, it was as if he suddenly realised that he was in the middle of a huge pressing crowd and dozens of eyes were watching him – he acted impulsively, maybe even panicked a little, and there were going to be consequences to his actions.

This was the perfect opportunity to introduce an NPC blacksmith who I had intended to bring in later. Seeing that there was going to be trouble and not wanting the game to go too far off track, I threw in the blacksmith – who was desperate for the help of strangers but wouldn’t speak to them in the crowd – and he staggered in and proclaimed the failed pickpocket a drunken bet that the PC had lost, paid the merchant some money and staggered away pretending to be drunk with the PC. ‘If you want to live until morning, do what I do. Do not drink or eat their food. Meet me at my smithy in the morning.’ Adventure hook in place, the blacksmith staggers away. Even though the player’s decision to pickpocket and then assault the NPC was highly questionable it was a good way to bring the NPC in and set the scene that not all was at it seemed. It also enforces the idea that there was something to trust about him, or at least listen to what he has to say. He had not only imparted this information but had also risked exposure to what he knew by helping the PC, stopping a nasty fate befalling the pilferer. That was plenty of situations solved right there; important NPC introduction, the idea that the festival was dangerous, the PC saved from a nasty (and potentially game-stalling) fate, and an adventure hook was delivered. That was something of a lucky break for me.

As the minigames progress a great shout has gone up and people are rhythmically beating drums, blowing whistles and cheering the Festival Queen who has climbed to the top of the pedestal and is raining flowers and money down onto the crowd. The PCs even join in; shouting, banging, calling out lewd remarks that other townsfolk join in with, shouting jokes. The noise reaches a crescendo. It’s now midnight.

Then a huge, bellowing scream is heard from the darkness. A winged shape blots out the stars and talons grab the ecstatic Festival Queen by the shoulders and carry the white-clad maiden into the darkness. There’s a huge rush of air and the crowd fall silent. A moment later a huge cheer goes up and the party continues.

That’s where I ended the session.

I’m not sure if the players saw this coming, getting involved with festivities  as they were, and there were a few moments of surprise and then a short discussion about what had happened. Being a large gaming group it’s pointless trying to get a single group reaction to a sudden event and a good thing, too - there were different opinions as to how people felt about it all. A couple were shocked, one was actively indifferent because as far as he was concerned it was their town and they could do what they liked, one now felt obligated to obliterate the entire town. It was a good mix, and with that the game ended.

All in all it was a successful night. In the two hours we fully played we got a lot done and the easy rules helped tremendously with that. The combat with six players and almost twenty mook bandits took probably about fifteen to twenty minutes and everyone seemed to have a good time. I know a couple of the players got frustrated for different reasons, but for the most part they had good reason to be with some of the bad rolls being made.

The Dragon Warriors rules system handled the game really well. I like a good skills system and this game is lacking one, but the general rule of thumb is choose one of the five main attributes and roll against it. It worked for the most part, although I did have to make a couple of spot rulings to keep the game moving, but the simple rules really helped as I didn’t get bogged down in detail and was able to concentrate on the adventure. The players coming from more complicated, tactical-based systems may have missed the lack of detail on the character sheet and may have been a tad confused by the initial mini-and-battle-mat-less combat, but once they got into the flow of the game it worked out fine. For the most part I’m sure they had a good time and, hopefully, they’re looking forward to the next game.

Friday, 25 May 2018

A dicey friendship

Say hello to two guys who have been my best friends for more than 35 years.

Way back in 1983, when I first started in the roleplaying hobby with my first Fighting Fantasy gamebook 'The Citadel of Chaos', I used two six-sided dice from whatever boardgame that was lying around. Inevitably, as I took the book with me wherever I went and played it avidly I lost the dice and the number of six-siders we had in the house dwindled until the ones we were left with were like gold dust, and protected in a such a way that even Indiana Jones would have found it difficult to get hold of them.

So, if a board game was in full swing the chances were that I had no dice to play my gamebook with. If I was desperate I used to cut out hexagonal shapes and number the sides, stick a matchstick through it and spin it, but this was a pain the backside. The feel and the clatter of dice was what I wanted and I hated it when I couldn't get hold of them.

Seeing this rather silly dilemma, my mother decided to aid her youngest son by buying him his first pair of dedicated gaming dice as one of his Christmas presents. These are the dice you see in the picture. I have no idea where they came from or who made them but even after thirty years they're still in great shape, there's no chips or scrapes and the white of the dots is immaculate, so well done die manufacturer.

They're retired now. They sit in a small chest, safe and snug and six-side up. I have a lot of affection for these dice, and they helped set me on my path to adventure.