FARSIGHT GAMES

Sunday, 29 April 2018

RPG Review - Tales from the Loop

by Nils Hintze and Simon Stålenhag

Published by Free League

‘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.

Acclaimed scifi artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of Swedish 1980s suburbia, populated by fantastic machines and strange beasts, have spread like wildfire on the Internet. 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.

Now, for the first time, you will get the chance to step into the amazing world of the Loop.

In this  game, you play teenagers in the late Eighties, solving Mysteries connected to the Loop. Choose between character Types such as the Bookworm, the Troublemaker, the Popular Kid and the Weirdo. Everyday Life is full of nagging parents, never-ending homework and classmates bullying and being bullied.

The Mysteries let the characters encounter the strange machines and weird creatures that have come to haunt the countryside after the Loop was built. The kids get to escape their everyday problems and be part of something meaningful and magical – but also dangerous.’

This game is about me.

I was born in 1971 so my formative years, the age range and era that this game represents, are perfect. My memories and experiences are the things that this game evokes, and I clearly remember the style, fashion, music and games of the 1980s with nostalgia and extreme fondness.

The 1980s were my teenage years so everything that happened in that decade made a huge impression on me, with tabletop games, the emerging computer game market and the amazing adventure movies the era had to offer. Casting a shadow over all of this was the ongoing Cold War, a conflict that I had been born into and knew little about. However, the ever-present threat of nuclear conflagaration and the ongoing troubles in neighbouring countries were always pushed to the side, out of sight and out of mind. I was a teenager, so I had other, more important things to worry about such as the next school disco, or if I could get to the games shop in the next city to get hold of the newest roleplaying book I needed.

The Loop universe is the game form of artist Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of surburban Sweden in the 1980s, fantastic images of a normal landscape inhabited by robots, strange towers and peculiar wrecks. The images themselves are an amazing thing, and they not only create the atmosphere they give the visual style that’s prevalent throught the book. The 192 page hardcover has an excellent cover and the layout throughout is crisp, easy on the eye and easy to follow. One thing Free League always does well is presentation, and this book looks great.

The game is set on Mälaröarna, west of Stockholm, and concerns the ‘The Loop’, a particle accelerator created by the government agency Riksenergi. There’s another facility in America at Boulder City in Nevada, but you can create a Loop pretty much anywhere in the world. I’ve already made notes on one in the Peak District in England, hidden under the rolling hills with the towers rising high over Mam Tor. The book gives plenty of scope for your own adventures in your own part of the world, so no matter where you’re from the townyou’ve created, or even your home town, could have a Loop underneath. With robots working in all civilian sectors, magnetrine vessels floating through the air like cargo ships and liners, and strange creatures and incidents popping into existence because of the Loop, there’s plenty going on.


Players take the roles of Kids aged between ten and fifteen. The templates on offer are Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Popular Kid, Rocker, Troublemaker, and Weirdo, although these are easily adaptable to other types of Kid the player may want to portray. They have normal lives with school and family troubles – elements that the game reflects really well – but they also go on adventures and experience the stranger things the Loop produces. Think 'Stranger Things' meets 'The Goonies' meets 'Super 8' meets 'E.T.' meets 'The Explorers' meets 'Chocky’s Children' meets just about any other child-focused adventure movie or TV show you can think of… kids on hair-raising adventures that grown-ups won’t ever believe, and they can only rely on themselves and each other to get through it.

The game encourages the player to create elements of the character that create something more than just some goofy teenager out of their depth; possible home troubles, their social circle, bullying, teacher trouble, hobbies and their relationships with the other Kids all make for some excellent story elements as well as some amazing roleplaying opportunities.

Players choose a Kid aged between ten and fifteen years, the older they are the more experienced they are but the less luck they have. They divide points between Attributes – Body, Tech, Heart and Mind – and these have relevant Skills. Rolls are dice pools of D6s, adding Attributes and Skills together to create a number of dice, and any that score a six garners a single success. They’re the same mechanics found in Free League’s previous games ‘Coriolis’ and ‘Mutant: Year Zero’ and they work just as well here. Low dice pools can be extremely frustrating with continued failed rolls, but that just makes the single six that sometimes appears all the more exhilirating.

Failing a task can hurt a Kid, but the children will never die. They can be hurt which results in a Condition, which can be emotional as well as a physical injury. To negate these Conditions, a Kid can be helped out by friends but can also turn to a supportive adult – a parent or a teacher or a kind relative – for help. This reduces the Condition and gets the Kid back on track for another adventure.

The Kids themselves get involved in Mysteries that are created by the Loop, Mysteries that the Kids become embroiled in whether it’s their fault or not, adventures that will introduce something that a child would find fantastical and possibly change them forever.


All said, the book is an excellent example of a collaborative storytelling game done right. There’s plenty of scope in here for the GM to create hair-raising adventures and play a traditional RPG where the player’s interact with the story the GM has created, but the game positively pushes for a more group-focused creative approach, where the players have a hand in the setting and the dynamics of the group. The relationships between the Kids and their peers are encouraged to help drive the narative and the roleplaying opportunities, so when the Kids reach their final goal or uncover the mystery the emotional impact is so much more intense.

So, how did we get on with it?

The Loop created under the Peak District is owned by Oxford Age, a government-sponsored firm that has just been privatised. The three towers, as seen on the front cover of the book, dominate the landscape and the small village of Stuttabury (a made up place) sits in their shadow. We created Stuttabury as it was something that we all had in common; we had all spent holidays as Kids in the Peak District or places like it so we knew it well.

One evening during summer holiday, as the Kids are playing in a stream, one of them sees something crawling down the side of the tower. Human-sized but with multiple legs, the shadow creeps down and disappears into the woods. The next day, sheep are found killed but not eaten across several fields…

The mix of Kids gave the game an immediate sense of reality beyond the real-world location we were playing in. A Bookworm, a Computer Geek and a Troublemaker made up the group and to give a sense of a ‘Stranger Things’ mystery (I asked the players to watch at least one of the seasons before we played) I introduced an NPC friend, a Weirdo. Inevitably, this NPC friend who lived on one of the farms that had their sheep killed, the first Kid to see the thing crawl down the tower, goes missing and the Kids, after failing to convince the adults that they saw this thing, have to find him themselves.

Straight away we were not only involved in the game’s plot but we were emotionally connected to it, as well. We had spent an hour creating the characters and deciding their relationships with each other, and we even ran through the last day of school before the holidays, with problems from uninterested teachers, bullies and social awkwardness. It wasn’t played as some kind of ‘this is how I wish I was at school’ angle, but in a more muted, ‘this is why I hated school’ way with no glorification and no ‘defeating the bully to the cheers of classmates’ revenge fantasy. The rules called out for an emotional reflection on not only how the Kid was at school but also gave enough hints to remind you what life, and the world, was like back then. Playing the Kids as normal children just trying to get by was incredibly rewarding and the connection that they had to each other drove the narrative. The players really felt they were involved.

Being a teenager of the 1980s was a huge advantage in the game for sure; the book explains the era but actually living it made it much easier for me as GM to evoke the period. The music, movies, fashion and the gloom of a Britain under Thatcher was easy to recreate, with references to the miner’s strike in the form of radio and television broadcasts, Live Aid, and the Kids getting excited about the new James Bond film ‘A View to a Kill’, which is what they were playing when they saw the thing crawling down the tower. In fact, the missing Kid was playing James Bond, so when they finally faced off with the thing it would not let him go and kept referring to the Kid as ‘my friend Bond’. It added a whole new level of reality to the game and paid off exceptionally well.

In truth, there’s nothing stopping you from setting the game in any other era; with a little tweaking it could be set earlier, or later, in the 1990s or the 2000s. However, the game’s heart is set firmly in the 1980s and the political, cultural and social framework are well represented by the setting. In fact, with the lack of mobile telephones, computers and all the gadgets we rely on these days ot makes for a much more intense world as you can’t rely on a text message or GPS to get you out of the predicament you’re in.

There’s also a cut-off point in the game; when a Kid reaches the age of 16 they retire from the adventuring lark. However, I see no reason why a group couldn’t create older characters and just cap the character creation points at the age of 16, and even go on to create adult characters for more mature stories. After the game we discussed what the Kids would be like all grown up, especially after experiencing the thing on the tower, and what would happen if they found evidence that would prove their stories were true after being disbelieved their whole lives. That’s a great concept, and it’s a story for another time.

But that’s what Tales from the Loop does, it pulls this story out of you. It recreates an age I love and miss dearly, and it takes you back to thinking and acting as a Kid, reckless and ignorant, and it gives you a three dimensional character with heart and drive, which is something that is sometimes sadly lacking in other RPGs.

Tales from the Loop is easily one of the best roleplaying games I’ve come across in many years. It offers a wonderful setting and concept that allows you to be as creative as you please but grounds it in a reality that everyone can identify with, one way or another. The setting of the book is most emotionally resonant with myself, being a child of the 1980s, but it can work as a straight forward adventure game for anyone of any age, and can even be moved to another decade with very few tweaks. I’m already having ideas of a game set in the 1960s.

If you’re looking for a crunchy simulation you’ll not find it here; the rules system is simple and light and focuses more on the story rather than the stats. If, however, you’re looking for a game that is not only rewarding on a storytelling level but an emotional one, too, you can’t go wrong with Tales from the Loop.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Interview - Ken Spencer of Why Not Games

PictureIt was an absolute pleasure to catch up with Ken Spencer of Why Not Games to talk to him about his hobby, his company and the games he produces.

A firm favourite game of mine over the last couple of years has been 'Rocket Age' - my love of the pulp exploits of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers adventures, as well as 1950s Republic Serials, was my initial draw to the game but I was impressed with the rich, detailed world that Ken had created for his high adventure science fiction game.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am Ken Spencer, writer and game designer. I am also the co-owner and creative director at Why Not Games. Before embarking on a writing career I have been an archaeologist, GIS technician, and educator.

What got you into the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

I was a lonely Navy brat tired of being jumped form posting to posting. I had always been interested in sci-fi and fantasy and my father was an avid board gamer (mostly Avalon Hill). We were living in this wonderfully creepy house in the foothills of the Appalachians. The house was a classic Victorian, creepy basement, attic, old oak tree outside my bedroom window. There was a cemetery between the town and us that added to the overall vibe. I was new to the town and not making friends, so I spent a lot of time reading. I discovered Lovecraft and was introduced to Heinlein and Niven there.

I saw an ad in the back of a Conan the Barbarian comic for this Dungeons and Dragons game. It looked like my father's Avalon Hill games: bookshelf box, colorful cover, dice, and tables. I saved up my allowance and bought it at a Kay-Bee toy store at the mall two towns over. I fell in love that first night playing through the solo adventures in the book and just kept going.

You've got quite a writing history, with work for Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Chaosium, Frog God Games, Alephtar Games and Steve Jackson Games. What kind of work did you do, and how did it feel working for such illustrious publishers?

I have worked on a lot of projects in only nine years, mostly as a freelancer. My first paid writing gig was with Alephtar, I wrote two adventures for Veni, Vidi, Vici, a mini-campaign for BRP Rome. I still do some editing work for them. They are a good outfit that is easy to work with and pays on time. For Steve Jackson Games, I wrote several articles for Pyramid, including my first foray into pulp sci-fi with the Europa Universalis series detailing a GURPS setting where Romans go to Mars and Venus. These articles were a headache to write. The system is complex and unforgiving, but they always paid in full and on time.

My first big project was with Chaosium, a BRP pirate setting that ended up being called Blood Tide. I really pulled all the stops out on this one. I love the BRP system and pirates, and being a Navy brat maritime lore was right up my alley. I threw in all manner of things, an Undying Ponce de Léon ruling a decaying kingdom in Bimini, multiple magic systems including a flexible casting voodoo system inspired in part by Ars Magica, killer mermaids, a blend of Old and New World mythologies, clockwork puritans, you name it. I love writing settings and fiddling with rules systems. At the time Chasoium was in chaos. This was before the new management took over and it took years for Blood Tide to be published. The entire process was frustrating. There were delays, confusions over how many books they wanted, months with no response from the publisher, and all manner of trouble. In the end, the book was published and I was paid, so there is that.

About the same time I was finishing up Blood Tide I started work for Frog God on Northlands Saga. What started as a series of adventures grew into a campaign length adventure path and setting guide. Frog God is easy to work with and pays on time, something that cannot always be said about publishers in this industry. In the end we created Northlands Saga Complete. The kickstarter was successful, and the book that resulted was huge. The Pathfinder edition is over 800 pages long, plus there are a hundred pages or so of fiction and adventures that were part of the kickstarter.

Most of my work has been with Cubicle 7. I created Rocket Age and took the idea to them for publication, and worked on their World War Cthulhu, Lone Wolf, and One Ring lines. While I enjoyed the work on Rocket Age, I had less creative control over the other projects, especially working with One Ring. This is to be expected when working full time for a publisher and especially so with a licensed property.

What made you want to start Why Not Games?

I wanted to write what I wanted to write in the manner I wanted to write it. I also wanted a larger share of the profits from my work.  One day I was having coffee with Sam Parish and complaining about all of this when she interrupted by saying, "Why Not?" That was the moment Why Not Games started, the dream of running my own shop. Not too long after that I bought Rocket Age from Cubicle 7, partly to get control over my own IP and partly because they were planning on ending the product line and there was still a story to tell.

A big part of making this decision was that my wife was on board from the start as co-owner. She brings a lot of business, marketing, and graphic design experience to the company. With her, some friends, and even our son pitching in, well, what's better than launching on a Quixotic quest with your friends and family?

Rocket Age is your primary game (I bought it a couple of years ago and really enjoy it), so what was the attraction to pulp-action art-deco sci-fi adventure?

I am glad you like Rocket Age. I have always been a big fan of sci-fi. I grew up watching Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica and others. The first novel I read that wasn't children's literature was Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Even the fantasy I write tends to be rather sci-fi in approach.

Most of my writing has a very pulpy feel. I like over the top heroics, dastardly villains, and lots of action in my games. The group I have played with the longest pointed out that all the games I run for fun are pulpy. We've done pulp Ancient Rome, pulp fantasy, pulp Noir, pulp Cthulhu, pulp Westerns, and more. I think this style of game builds memories that can last, especially if the players can work in some melodrama. Even Northlands Sage is in part pulp inspired, or at least the sort of theme that 9th Century Scandinavian pulp would take. What is the Saga of the Icelanders or Beowulf if not heroic action and adventure? Aren't the heroes bigger than life and the action epic? Isn't that what most role-playing games are aiming for?

Part of my love for pulp has been a fascination with the world of the 1930s. You have the world at a cusp, the boundary between map and the blank areas is closing just as technology and society are changing. You have huge social upheavals, a restructuring of the economic order, and the looming threat of fascism. Why not add in aliens, rocket ships, and RAY guns? The look and feel of the era, both the gleaming art-deco and the gritty soup kitchens, are easy for the reader to grasp. You have room to tell stories of two-fisted heroes, but also space to talk about the plight of the worker and effects of rampant greed, racism, and sexism. It really is a pivotal and intriguing era in world history.


What else can we expect to see in the future?

More Rocket Age. We just published our first entirely in-house episode, Slaves of the Earthlings that pits our heroes against slavers from Earth who want to kidnap freed Martians and force them back into bondage. The characters must work with an agent of the Tubman Battalion, an arm of the Lincoln Brigade (an Earthling-Martian organization that is seeking to end slavery on Mars and has already sparked one successful slave revolt). Krystal, wife and co-owner, is working on getting all the existing Rocket Age products ready for POD. We started with Heroes of the Solar System since it had been out of print for so long.

Next month we hope to release our first Rocket Age fiction anthology with stories by Ed Greenwood, Andy Peregrine, James Spencer and me. Depending on how well received the first anthology is there will be more, and possibly even a novel or two. A major part of growing out IP is to branch outside of tabletop games. We want everyone to enjoy Rocket Age, tabletop gamer or otherwise.

Currently there are two other Rocket Age products in the works. Imperial Jupiter, the long awaited sourcebook on Jupiter and its moons is finished and waiting for art to be completed. There have been some delays, but we are back on track (and looking for artists by the way).

I am nearly finished writing the adaptation of Rocket Age to the 5e system. This has been eating up most of my time the past few months with writing, editing, and playtesting. We hope to have the first book, Player's Guide to the Rocket Age ready for outside playtesting in a few weeks (contact Ken at ken@whynotgames.com to join the playtest). Tour of the Solar System, a setting and GM's guide, will be done shortly afterwards. You can follow our journey on rpg.net in the Rockets Away! column starting in May. Both will be previewed at GenCon this year with several events and we hope to launch a kickstarter in the fall.

After that, even more Rocket Age. The sourcebook for the outer planets, Edge of the Solar System is being worked on; it is too early to even hint at a release date. We have four more episodes ready when the schedule opens up. There are also going to be adaptations of all the current books and episodes to 5e. Speaking of the episodes, we are looking at getting those into larger print distribution, possibly as a complication. From this fall going forward all Rocket Age products will be published in two versions, one for the Vortex system and one for 5e.

After that, we have some vague plans but nothing more than a few outlines and a stack of butter themed post-it notes (thanks Brian). I would like to do a technology book that gives more Ancient Martian artifacts, rocket ship design rules, and other goodies. There are notes for a book of alien beasts and other foes. I have a little more than an outline for Canal Era, a new core book for Rocket Age that is set on Mars thousands of years ago at the height of the Canal Era. It has a very post-apocalyptic science-fantasy feel to it.

Your other games include 5e compatible supplements…

Right from the start we wanted to do some 5e compatible products. We saw a need for races beyond the usual elf, dwarf, human, and so forth. Weird Races (5e) is an attempt to not just add more race options, but to look at races in an entirely different way. While we have the stat blocks, feats, spells, and other play material you need, we also take a more anthropological perspective. What do they eat? How do they marry? What are their philosophical and religious views? When you begin with these as the questions you develop something more than a set of numbers on a character sheet.

We started with anthropomorphic animals since they give an easy hook for people to imagine. We all know what a cat is, and the Caturday are very cat-like, just as the Surial are based on bears. Going forward, we plan to branch out into some utterly weird territory. Next up is Little Grey Aliens, which takes the grays of popular folklore and turns them into a playable race. This book focuses more on their technology and how to use them in your campaign, which we hope is a fish out of water. Imagine a member of a Grey survey team who wandered off and missed the ship back home. Now, lost on some strange world, they have to find a way to survive with nothing but their wits and a proton blaster.

There are around a dozen weird races in the playtest stack and as we work through them we will polish up and expand the bare bones outline and stats into a full book. Rocket Age is our primary product line, but we plan to put out at least four weird races a year. Just a hint of what we have going on, there are two reptile based races, a set of races inspired by Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu, as well as a set inspired by classic horror monsters.

Tell us more about Weird Planets.

Weird Planets is our planned Starfinder compatible product line. They will be small books, around 25-30 pages, each detailing a solar system, the planets there, and the native intelligent species. A lot of Weird Planets comes out of our experience with Weird Races, particularly how to make a short title of utility to both players and GMs. Each Weird Planet title will feature adventure hooks, new gear, new monsters, one or more new playable species, and other goodies we can fit in.

The first Weird Planet is Catopia Prime and details the Kåtze System, its planets, and the native Caturday. Yes, we are going for cats in space with this one, though not all of the Weird Planets will be Weird Races in space. The Caturday are explorers, traders, and pirates with technology on par with other species in Starfinder. Their home world and the rest of the system provide a fine place to stop over as well as sources of adventure. We detail every planet, from the smallest dwarf planet rock to the biggest gas giant. We are nearly done with the art on this one and are looking at a release early this summer.

What does the future hold for Why Not Games? More RPGs, or perhaps some branching out into other tabletop games?

We want to take Rocket Age to the very heights of geekdom. There are not any solid plans as yet, but we would like to do other types of tabletop games using Rocket Age. I have some notes and a mock up card game I have been working on, and there are notes for a board game but nothing definite. Although they are nothing we are equipped to do in-house, we are open to other media for Rocket Age, such as comic books or miniatures. We just aren't there yet. Keep in mind that my education and work experience is as an archaeologist, I tend to think in rather long time frames. In short, Why Not Games and Rocket Age are not going away, just going up, and who knows what we will find out there among the stars?

With Slaves of the Earthlings we feel we have started to hit our stride, keeping in mind Why Not Games is not even a year old. We have had some success with Caturday (5e) and Surial (5e) and got some of the kinks out of our process. There will be more of these small products, more weird races and some weird planets for Starfinder (I am looking at the art for Catopia Prime and it is going to be a gorgeous book of cats in space) plus some small 5e books. I have to take a break every now and then from Rocket Age to clear the palate. Check our website at www.whynotgames.com for the latest updates.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Wargame Review - Burrows & Badgers: A Skirmish Game of Anthropomorphic Animals

Burrows & BadgersBy Michael Lovejoy

Published by Osprey Games

‘The Kingdom of Northymbra is a land in turmoil. King Redwulf is missing, and his son rules as regent in his stead, facing threats from within and without: growing dissention among the knights and nobles of the realm, whispers of revolution from the Freebeasts, Wildbeasts encroaching on the borders, and bandits of all stripes making the most of the chaos.

Burrows & Badgers is a tabletop skirmish game set in the ancient realm of Northymbra, a kingdom where mice, badgers, toads and other animals wear armour, wield swords, and cast magic spells.

Your tabletop becomes part of the Kingdom of Northymbra, whose ruined villages, haunted forests, and misty marshes play host to brutal ambushes and desperate skirmishes. Lead your warband from battle to battle, and uphold the name of your faction, whether you stand with Reinert's Royalists, the Freebeasts of the Fox Families, or simply for your own glory or survival.’

I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered running a game of anthropomorphic animals, where woodland creatures walk, talk and dress as humans and their species determines their personality or capability. In fact, the closest I ever got to talking creatures is Watership Down, so my only frame of reference is a book about talking rabbits. It’s not a great leap to imagine them in armour and swinging swords, so here goes.

The hardback 144-page book is well presented, with black and white illustrations and full colour model photographs. Something that Osprey Games does really well is presentation, and this book is no exception.

The location is excellent too – the ‘animalised’ (is that even a word?) version of England, with borders, history and troubles, is a great setting for the game. It concerns a missing King, terrible weather (well, it is England) and enemy raids, so there’s plenty going on for your warband to get their teeth stuck into and gives plenty of scope for stories and plots to unfold in a possible metagame.

Players will create a warband with various allegiances. These warbands – Royalists, Rogues, Freebeasts and Wildbeasts – are each unique in their own right and have special rules that best represent them. For example, the Royalists will have access to specialist training that makes them much more effective in combat. Your chosen warband is given a Den that acts as a central base which gives certain bonuses and aid between battles, depending on where you decide to set up home. Then you can arm and armour your troops.

These warbands will consist of different creatures great and small; Small Beasts are mice and small birds, Medium Beasts are your cats, rabbits, adders and lizards, Large Beasts are foxes, rats and otters and Massive Beasts are badgers and dogs. In all, there are 39 species to choose from, all have a point cost to decide what you can and can’t have in your group. Each character is represented by statistics; Movement, Strike, Block, Ranged, Nimbleness, Concealment, Awareness, Fortitude and Presence. There’s a selection of dice to use from d4 to d12 – the higher the die the better - and when you fight you roll off between the two skills and the highest number wins.

There are modifiers to help, and damage is determined by the difference between the scores. So, in combat you’ll use your Strike value against your opponent’s Block. If you were shooting you’d use your Ranged value against your opponent’s Nimbleness to make a hit. It’s very simple, quick and a lot of fun.

There’s magic, too, and your magic users can cast spells from different schools; Natural Magic, Light Magic, Dark Magic, Wild Magic, Unbound Magic and Noble Magic. Each school has six spells so there’s plenty of choice between damage, buffs and healing.

The large number of choices gives plenty of scope for players to create pretty much any kind of warband they like, capable of all sorts of things both physically and magically. The choices are very good and a lot of time will be spent deciding exactly what kind of warband you want to go with.

Then there’s a selection of eight scenarios to play through, from simple one-on-one combats to more story driven co-op conflicts, and these are good fun and give you an insight into how to set up your own fights.

Image from the rulebook
All in all, it’s a decent system with a great background. So, how did we get in with it?

First of all, it’s worth noting that I didn’t feel there was anything about the system that truly got me excited. It played well, that’s for sure, and it was quite simple and easy to use. I like the fact that it made me think about how my warband should be constructed based not only on the point cost but also on the abilities of the creatures I was choosing. The game does an excellent job of reflecting the setting and your animal choices do make a difference, but the game system itself didn’t really do anything for me. It works well and we had a good time with it, so the fact that it’s functional and represents the idea of warring anthropomorphic animals well is a huge bonus.

However, it was the setting that I enjoyed the most, and the fact that this translated into the gameplay was what I found satisfying. If you do love talking badgers and foxes with swords – if you’re a fan of Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’ and Brian Jacques’ ‘Redwall’ novels – then you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this. The background gives some excellent scope and I could imagine these creatures running around a fantasy 16th century England having battles and adventures.

As a tabletop roleplayer I could see plenty of potential in this as an RPG; the setting needs fleshing out and the history needs expanding, but when started naming the members of my warband then I knew that the game had succeeded in pulling me in. Booris the Badger Knight is my favourite, and we’ll never forget Takout the Otter, may he rest in peace.

One thing I have to say is that this game will look great with dedicated miniatures, such as the ones supplied by Oathsworn Miniatures. Sadly, we had to use card counters with crude drawings on them to represent our playing pieces and I do feel that we would have gotten so much more out of the game had we used personalized painted figures.

So, all in all? I really enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a straight forward skirmish game with some decent mechanics it’s worth a look but I’m not sure seasoned wargamers will find anything new here, but if your heart is in the wild world of armed talking rabbits then this is most definitely worth the purchase, and you’ll be crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war on a regular basis.

Recommended.

Image result for Burrows & Badgers interior images
Image from rulebook

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Taking in-game conflict personally

Fine Crosshairs by GDJPlayers shouldn’t take in-character events so personally. I think, however, that this can’t be avoided, especially when it’s player-versus-player. If a random GM NPC gets the better of a player character then the player generally accepts that as failure against an element of the game (unless of course, the GM is playing a Mary/Gary Sue GMPC, but that’s a different matter entirely). But if another player gets the better of them then things can get pretty colourful.

I was running a Star Wars game many moons ago in which a player created a character working against the other players, an Imperial spy feeding information back to his superiors. He had to make rolls to make sure he sent this information out without being discovered but I did not tell him if he failed or not. In fact, I was rolling secretly for the other players and once they beat his roll I let them know, secretly, what he was up to. It was up to them to decide whether to confront him or feed him false information. In short order they set him up, confronted him and then, after a failed escape attempt on his part, they dealt with him. One dead traitor PC and two very satisfied PCs.

The player in question wasn’t happy about being found out and killed so quickly – even though it was him that wanted to create a PC to work against the players and make himself an enemy – and it made it even worse in the fact that he had been found out and stopped not by an NPC but the other players. He quickly created a new character. In the very next game, the first chance he got, he dropped the other players into trouble and tried to kill them. For no reason. At all. There was nothing about the character that would justify such an action, and he put all his dice into combat skills to make him incredibly tough to beat. He simply created a combat-heavy PC so that he could kill the other PCs for stopping his previous character from doing his nefarious deeds.

I can understand players being upset with other players if they obstruct, kill, loot and otherwise annoy their PC simply to be annoying. God knows I’ve seen enough of that at the gaming table. But some people take it too far, take it very personally even if the events and actions in the game are justified based on decisions and actions, and they let it colour their perception of the game for a long time. In fact, the games with this player broke down very quickly after his assassination attempt because no matter what characters they played or what game they played in they simply couldn’t trust him not to make an attempt on their lives at some point. Their in-game decisions weren’t based on the characters they were playing but on what kind of mood this particular player was in. That’s not a game, that’s a joke.

Keeping the feelings of the player separate from the player character is a definite in my book. You can get emotionally involved with the PC, that’s for sure, but when the game is over then the game is over, and harbouring resentment against other players isn’t the way to go. If the player is being a total dick and is simply out to get you then that’s a justified complaint but it should still be dealt with outside the game. ‘Hey, mate, I’m not really enjoying that and it’s kind of ruining the game for me. Can you not?’ It’s as simple as that. But getting revenge for some imagined slight by plotting and scheming and trying to kill a PC that another player may have spent months investing their time in, and in turn derailing the game to pursue personal vendettas – that’s not great.

Just remember, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it’s not personal, it’s roleplaying. And if you set yourself up as the bad guy, working against the rest of the group, don’t be surprised if they stick a targeting signal transmitter in your backpack and then bomb you from orbit.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Interview - Scott Wainwright and the Brutality Skirmish Wargame

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Say hello to Scott Wainwright, the creator of the popular skirmish wargame 'Brutality, an excellent tabletop skirmish game and, better yet, it's completely free!

'So What Is Brutality?

- Use any scale models from any game
- Create your own stats
- Play with points, or not!
- Alternating activation
- Skirmish Wargame with RPG-lite aspects
- Campaign System
- A setting that allows you to bring your favorite characters together
- A model’s facing matters and different assault tactics get different bonuses!
- Free rules and no models to buy! What could be easier?'

I caught up with Scott and asked him a few questions about the game and the history behind it.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the tabletop hobby.

Hi Jon! I am a weekly 40k author over at BoLS who goes by the name Pimpcron. I was looking to find a new hobby about ten years ago and stumbled across the 5th edition Warhammer 40,000 starter and it caught my eye. I got talking to the store owner and learned that they had a weekly group that met and I ended up joining that. My first army was purple and gold Necrons, which my friends called "The Pimpcrons" which I  adopted as a pen name.

'Brutality' is a great free wargame as it enables players to bring their own miniatures to the table, no matter the scale or genre. What was the genesis of this idea?

Kickstarter. Haha. Over the years, my friends and I had Kickstarted so many miniature wargames and never played them much. I had boxes of unused minis in my closet, and felt really bad about not being able to use them. Given that I have been making board games, card games, and RPGs my entire life, I decided to make a game that would plausibly allow me to bring any characters from any universe I wish. I have made dozens of warbands and some of them are from my childhood such as Star Trek, Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, etc. I made this game for my own use with no intention of releasing it to the public because I am an avid solo gamer. But after having several friends help play test it, they all said that I should release it so that other people could play it as well. And so, two years of play testing and revisions later, we officially released the rule set in the Fall of 2017.

It was 'two years in the making' before release; what was your design process? How did you mold the final product?

At the start, I listed the elements that were most important to me in a game.

The choice to make it a skirmish game was two fold: As much as I like mass-battle games such as Warhammer or Kings of War, I wanted to be able to make an army without painting hundreds of models. Brutality usually uses 5-10 models per side. The other reason was that I have a love for tactics and strategy. I have always felt like skirmish games make every action count more due to the small number of components. If you lose a soldier in a mass-battle game, it's no big deal. But if he makes up 20% of your army, that is a big impact.

I also wanted to add RPG-lite elements to it in order give it another layer of customization and a narrative feel. Campaign games are where this game really shines because your characters slowly lose their mind as they die time and time again and it can lead to some really heart breaking moments. My very favorite character recently went crazy and wandered off in our store campaign. He will be coming back as a wandering monster in the future, confused and angry. Other players have a Knight who have became a pacifist due to PTSD, or a Sniper who has become dead inside and unable to pray at altars anymore. These models aren't useless, but you have to work around their mental issues.

All of our missions are designed around narrative encounters that warbands would stumble into while exploring the Ether Realm. So it makes perfect sense that any two warbands might have to set aside their differences in order to stop a rampaging behemoth. Or in order to gain Ishtar's favor, one warband decides to go on a killing spree in a populated area while the other side wants to stop them.

Another important part for me was adding as much depth to the rules and options as possible, while making the options balanced and generic enough that it could fit any genre. Two players could potentially create identical Support characters, give them the same perks, and the exact same Powers. One is a technomage that harnesses nano-tech to produce barriers of nanites to create cover, while the other is a Woodland Elf who forces the ground to jut up in front of him to stop oncoming fire. But of course with several hundred combinations of character creation, you would have to purposefully try to create two identical characters.

Game design has always been a passion of mine, so creating the initial game rules took only a couple months. The rest of that two years was play testing, play testing, play testing. Balance is paramount to me in a game and countless tweaks and changes have been made over time to make sure both players have an equal chance of claiming victory. I wanted choices (and a bit of luck) to determine winners.

What do you feel makes this game unique from other wargames?

For starters, everything is free. Free rules, free supplements, and you use your own models. I'm not selling anything, I just want people to enjoy the game.

The custom character creation is a big difference from the norm. It is more than just equipment or weapons; you can cross genres and franchises. You aren't narrowed to a certain couple factions, your imagination can go wild. After playing a "big name" game like Warhammer for so long, I have found immense joy in finding all manner of 3rd party miniature sites to make warbands with. I feel like you can really own your army versus being told what they are like. But like everything in Brutality Skirmish Wargame, if choosing an already established faction is your thing, we have over a dozen major factions in the fluff to choose from; each with their own motivations and alliances.

My favorite part of tabletop gaming is when the dice tell a story, which is why I added the Wound Charts. You don't just lose Health when you are injured, there are other effects depending on where you were hit. A Head Injury involves your Willpower being deduced, causing the use of Powers to be more difficult and upping your chances of being Confused. Just got yourself a Leg Wound? Enjoy your diminished movement and running distances until you can get that healed up.

The setting is really interesting. How did that come about, and what came first, the setting or the rules?

The idea of an ancient belief-fueled God hatching a secret plan to regain power has been an idea I have toyed with for years. I have always enjoyed reading about mythical characters and enjoyed in how brutal they were. People back then didn't mess around apparently.

Another aspect to this was the idea that I never liked about nearly all other games: Your hero dies, but is somehow back next week to fight again. Well did he die or didn't he? I liked the idea of every in-game death being real and having lasting effects on your character's psyche. Nobody can kill or be murdered over and over again without mental problems. Once I established that I wanted death to be a temporary but horrifying element of this setting, the rest kind of wrote itself. If you witnessed brutal violence, bloody treachery, and a your own murder countless times, what kind of mess would you be psychologically? This is a very fun game but the setting is quite dark.

After figuring this out, I set about making the rules with traumatic stress being a key element.

There is a supplement out for it, 'Lands of the Ether Realm Book 1'. What can players expect in this, and is this the first of many?

I created a huge, intricate map to go along with this game, and I wanted to flesh out the people, animals, plants and factions that live in these different areas. Lands of the Ether Realm Book 1 covers just one region in the Land of Ishtar called The Wastes which is home to four large and distinct biomes. Here you will find backstory to each area, along with campaign events and items you can find by exploring them. On the last page is a special mission that pertains to a particular bloody pastime in a settlement called Redcamp which is a fun diversion from senseless killing.

I have mapped out roughly a dozen different zones that will be made into Realm Books like this one. This supplement is the first of many, and absolutely free.

What other kinds of support will Brutality receive in the future?

I have tons of secret plans for this game! I can't disclose them all, but I would love to have authors make an anthology of short stories outlining the horror of living in the Ether Realm. The supplement Realm Book 2 is almost finished. Eventually we will be having a hardback rulebook printed (but the rules will remain free online). A token and template set is also on the horizon (but not required to play). So, I truly love this game and our community is growing by the day. I have a lot planned for this, and hope people enjoy it.

The rules, supplements, videos, photos, and our community can be found on Facebook or people who don't Facebook can reach me at brutalityskirmishwargame (at) gmail.com for get the rules.

This has been fun Jon, thanks for your time!

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition - 'The Inn of Lost Hope' available now!

I'm happy to announce that my second official adventure for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition RPG is now available!


'The old Inn stands derelict and rotting. But within is rumoured to lie a great treasure, stolen from dying adventurers by an unscrupulous landlord. Dare you enter to try and find it?

This new self-contained adventure for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Ed describes the Inn and it's terrible denizens and can be dropped into almost any AFF Campaign with ease.'


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG: 'The Inn of Lost Hope'

My second official Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG adventure 'The Inn of Lost Hope' is being finalised and will be available next week!

I love this part - seeing it laid out and tweaked ready for publication is a great feeling, and this one is especially nice because I fully illustrated it, too. I know that I did a couple of drawings for my previous adventure 'The Floating Dungeon of Varrak Aslur' but I've gone the full hog with this one.

Saying that, I'm even more excited for this one than I was for the first one! It's a much more involved story with plenty of action and it has a hint of horror. My next adventure, 'The Crooked King's Cup', is much larger and I'm going to detail a new town for players to use as an ongoing location. That's a long way from completion, and the drawings for that one are going to take me a very long time.

I'm hoping for a Monday release, but we'll see. Should be fun!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Interview - Kevin Watson of Dark Naga Adventures

Dark Naga Adventures have been giving us entertaining adventures for our RPG needs since 2016 - 'The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil', 'The Buried Zikurat', 'The City of Talos', 'Confronting Hastur', and soon 'Carcosa'.

I threw a few questions at Kevin Watson, the owner of Dark Naga Adventures, to find out more.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Kevin Watson, the owner of Dark Naga Adventures. I’m 48 and have been gaming since I was 10. I live in Memphis TN, with my wife and a pair of dogs.

What got you into the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

It was something creative some of my school friends wanted to explore. We ended up in a rotation where every other weekend we were at one of our four houses from the close of school Friday until after lunch Sunday, pretty much playing the whole time.

What made you start Dark Naga Adventures?

It was the intersection of the ideas I had been creating since I started DM’ing at 11, the OGL, an edition I wanted to write for, and the publishing and crowdfunding platforms necessary to execute the
ideas. Publishing in the TSR era was nearly impossible. Mostly due to the lack of resources and distribution. The first editions under the OGL didn’t appeal to me due to more rules complexity than I enjoy. I ran games, but I didn’t want to write for them. When the fifth edition was published, everything converged. Kickstarter and OneBookShelf solved the remaining missing pieces: resources and distribution platform.

You've got four adventures already out there and a fifth,'Carcosa’, due soon. What are your design processes?

I start with an idea, outline the idea, and let the elements percolate in my brain for a while. Then I start filling in the outline and playtest until I have a complete draft. I massage the draft with my content editor until it is clean with respect to the levels of editing that he manages for me. Once that is reached, it is time to start the Kickstarter. Usually, by this point, I have commissioned and received
the maps, and have a vague idea for art. During the Kickstarter funding period, I work with my copy editor to clean up the draft with respect to the levels of editing that he manages, and I commission the art.

It is very important to me that the draft is in really good shape from a creative perspective (content editors help with clarity and logic of a document). This removes a big wild card from the process before backers ever pledge on the project. It seems so many projects spin out of control because they run the Kickstarter before they have a workable draft, and the myriad of things coming at them after the funding period ends distract them from making solid progress. To help manage this risk, I do things in a different order. It makes me more comfortable and that seems to spread to backers as well.


What makes Dark Naga Adventures stand out from the rest?

I try to write the adventures I don’t see in the market today. Personally, I am tired of 'combat, combat, skill challenge, combat, done' linear adventures. I love the open, sandbox adventures from the TSR era of Dungeons and Dragons. I write nonlinear adventures and most conflicts can be solved with or without violence. In most cases, this decision can be made for each encounter/conflict.

You release your adventures for 5e, Pathfinder and OSR games. Do you have any plans for other systems? What is it that attracts you to the D20?

I dropped Pathfinder from the conversions after DNH2 – The Buried Zikurat, the numbers just weren’t there. I suspect the lack of PFS compatibility was a factor. I keep coming back to the d20 games because they feel like home. I don’t find the fifth edition to be a hindrance to an exploration or interaction heavy session. I don’t feel any system prohibits roleplay. I know many do see certain rulesets favor or inhibit roleplay. I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m open to converting to other systems. I just don’t know where the interest lies.

Are there any plans for adventures in other genres, such as horror or sci-fi?

I have an idea that I plan to develop for Top Secret: New World Order, and an eight-part series for Metamorphosis Alpha. The Top Secret idea is based on something that happened to a school I worked for, mixed with some current trends. The Metamorphosis Alpha idea involves a different generational ship, with a different mishap, and a series of adventures that take place over four generation of party members as the ship becomes more and more troubled from the mishap and the subsequent damage. Each stage of decay will be explored over a pair of adventures. Early successes and failures could impact later generation conflicts.

What else can we expect to see from Dark Naga Adventures in the future?

When the Haunting of Hastur series is completed, I am developing a fifteen-part complete campaign, one that might include some separate setting material. It takes the party members to a previously unknown continent for the bulk of their progression from level 1 to level 20.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Elite: Dangerous Roleplaying Game

Quickstart cover
'BLAST INTO A DANGEROUS GALAXY…

…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.'

Er... yeah, okay then.

The new Elite: Dangerous Roleplaying Game has released a whole load of free stuff for you to download and have a play with, to make sure that this system is for you. There's a free adventure with the basics of the rules, some story hooks, ship and character sheets, and some game maps and resources. That's quite a haul, and it gives an excellent idea of what the game is all about.

Just to start me off, I downloaded the quickstart adventure and I like what I see, especially the art style and the layout. I've not played the new Elite: Dangerous yet; the last time I played Elite was on the Spectrum 128+ (with built-in datacorder!) and then on the Amiga 500 (with the 1MB upgrade!) so that's a while ago. I've followed the development of the new Elite but lack the time to give it the attention it deserves, even though I have it here for the PS4 still in it's shrinkwrap. The videos I've seen and the love people have for it convinces me that this is a game for me.

From the quickstart PDF
The layout is great and the artwork is really good. There's a good solid sci-fi adventure feel to it and the system - roll a D10, add a skill score and beat a target number - looks like it'll work pretty well. There are no full character rules in this, but there's plenty to give you a more than decent insight as to how the system works, both with characters and the starships that dominate the computer game.

I've yet to try the adventure but the quickstart tells me it's something for me to seriously consider getting hold of. In the adventure you get the adventure 'The Worst Intentions' with four pre-generated characters including their ships and equipment. You get partial rules for personal combat, spaceship combat and ground combat. However, you don't get character and adventure creation rules, spaceship modification rules, full equipment lists, and the full combat rules.

'The players begin as police detectives for the independent Asellus Primus system.  Each player has a Viper Spaceship, a police interdiction and combat ship used to enforce law in the sector.  Their ships also contain a special vehicle called a Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV) which is a little like a super advanced moon buggy.  The SRV is designed to be used on any planet, even those without atmosphere.  It is basically the player’s ‘police car’.

Good luck Commanders and enjoy!'

Sounds like fun to me.

From the quickstart PDF

Sunday, 15 April 2018

On January 28th 2012 I ran my own convention - Gamma Con.

It was a really good day and went a whole lot better than I expected. I expected about 40 people through the door and got near 100, and I had local games designers and a gaming store set up and sell and demo games. I even had a little support from Cubicle 7 and we helped raise money for Help for Heroes. Everyone seemed to have fun and the day went by pretty quickly for me.

I learned quite a lot from the experience. First and foremost, organising a convention is a difficult exercise but when things fall into place it can be very rewarding. There are all kinds of levels of stress, don’t get me wrong; when a GM calls you up to let you know that he’s not coming to run his sci-fi game five minutes after the doors have opened to the public, that’s stressful. When you get to the venue and realise that your table plan has been scuppered due to incorrect measurements, that’s stressful. But these moments are fleeting and you’ll be glad when supportive fellow gamers help out. People aren’t going to stand there and let you run around like a headless chicken whilst shaking their heads with disgust as you try and sort out the problem. They’re going to muck in and help shift tables, make suggestions. It all works out and, even though there was some last minute jumping around, the room was ready and the doors opened on time. Everyone was understanding and helpful. It was my first convention, there were bound to be some teething problems.

It was the build-up to the convention that was the hard work. My wife Lisa and I started in earnest in August the previous year and kicked the whole thing off by viewing the local venues and comparing costs. This was a bit of a tricky moment; the closer the venue was to the city centre and areas of public transport the more expensive it was, and the places we found further out were indeed cheaper but much more difficult to get to. As a first convention it’s a difficult choice to make as we could spend hundreds of pounds on a top-notch location and find that hardly anyone attends. We weren’t in this to make profit, but then I didn’t fancy paying for this out of my own pocket.

In the end we were very lucky. We found a church hall two minutes’ walk from the city centre and one minute’s walk from both the train station and the bus station, and there was ample car parks right on the doorstep. It was almost perfect. It was a great location and at a decent price, but a little smaller than I wanted.

There was also the problem with clashing with other conventions. I had made sure that I wasn’t clashing with any other small conventions or events in the area but, due to the fact that I could only get the hall on one particular weekend, I couldn’t help but clash with a big convention that was being held in the south of England. What was on my side was the fact that I was catering not only to RPGs but also to wargames, cardgames and boardgames. The convention in the south was primarily RPGs, so as far as I was concerned I was okay.

Then I began to send out the first notifications that I was putting on a convention. Local gaming groups, clubs and stores were informed and I invited gaming stores to come and show their wares. I never expected the stores to be too keen as it was a first convention and it may not have been worth their while. This initial notification was to start a buzz, send the word around the local gaming community. It was at this point that I realised that the gaming community was a hell of a lot larger than I realised! There were plenty of people interested and, even though some of them never turned up on the day, they were very keen and that no doubt helped put the word around.

The intention here was word of mouth, the news that there was a gaming convention on spreading from group to group, club to club. I posted on their message boards, sent messages to the webmasters, made sure they had links to the websites I needed them to look at, primarily the Gamma Con website that Lisa had built and the Facebook event page where they could get updates on the convention. After contacting Dave McAlister at UK Roleplayers I got my own message forum and entry onto the convention calendar. Then, I contacted Andy Hopwood and Kyle Daniel, two guys I had met in my shop days, and invited them to demo their games, which they accepted. Then I contacted the local gaming stores and, surprisingly, was turned down by one (after a long time of indecision), ignored by three others and had my invitation accepted by only one, Spirit Games of Burton-on-Trent. I was a little surprised at this as, with the economy as it is, the first thing I thought shops would need is exposure. For anyone demoing and selling their wares there was a small table hire fee.

Next, I needed to make sure that attendees would have something to play on the day. I managed to secure four GMs to run games (one of which cancelled before the event, the other cancelled on the day) and two local wargaming groups agreed to come on the day and set up tables. Anyone bringing these huge fold-out terrain tables was granted free admission on the proviso that they allowed other gamers and members of the public to game on their table. In this regard my thanks go out to Ed for his huge Warhammer 40K tables, Dragon Art Models for their table and Chase Wargamers for their Flames of War table. I also made sure there were a couple of smaller tables available for spur-of-the-moment games, and that was the hall pretty much set up.

Now that I had an idea of what was going to be there I then decided on a price of entry. I settled on £3.00 as it was low enough to be small change as any higher may have made the attendees feel that they weren’t getting their money’s worth. I just needed enough to cover the hall and event insurance costs, and with the trader’s table hire covering a third of that cost already I just needed a decent turnout to cover the rest. Regardless, I made sure I had enough personal money to cover the costs in the event that something went wrong or the day failed miserably. It would have pained me to pay out of my own pocket, but that’s the risk you take.

With three months to go I began the advertising. A4 posters, A5 flyers, all very cheaply done; I formatted it all on my home PC and printed them out at work and my local library, so paid virtually nothing for it. I posted the flyers and a couple of copies of the posters to local stores, schools, colleges and the library. Then I canvassed the local shops and my poster appeared in the windows of cafes, newsagents, supermarkets and even my local hairdressers. With permission I left small piles of flyers in pubs and coffee shops. I then got in touch with the local paper and, as the event was helping to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes, I got a free write-up. I hassled the primary RPG publishers in the country and got some support from Cubicle 7 in the form of a free adventure for me to run for Starblazer Adventures (which, sadly, the sci-fi GM was going to have a look at but never turned up), and I got a copy of Starblazer Adventures to raffle off for the charity. Jedi News were also on hand to rent a table and push their website and some RPG and collectible goodies and gave us some publicity, and Mark took care of the Help for Heroes requirements.

For all their efforts, everyone trading or contributing had free exposure on our website, Facebook event page and were included on message board updates. This meant that their table hire fee also paid for roughly three months of free advertising across the internet. That was a pretty good deal for them.

Over the weeks and months leading up to the convention Lisa and I simply made sure that Gamma Con’s profile was kept up. Message board and Facebook updates, messages to potential attendees, answering queries and concerns quickly and efficiently. Throughout all of this I was still only expecting around 40 attendees.

It was great to see our Gamma Con posters up in shop windows, and see our name crop up on websites. There was some concern about us clashing with the convention in the South, and this was pointed out to me on our UK Roleplayers message board which, to be honest, I felt was a little unfair. The other convention was an established multi-day event that catered for roleplayers and our event was for all kinds of gamers and as a very small and very new convention there was no way we were going to compete or even affect a show on the other side of the country. I didn’t choose the date on purpose, it wasn’t a choice but a lack of options. Regardless, this is something for me to bear in mind in the future if I arrange another one.


On top of all this we bought extras and supplies; an 8 foot by 2 foot GAMMA CON banner to go up outside the building, some sticky paper wristbands for attendees to get in and out, paper, pens and pencils, and bumbags for the money taken on the door.

The closer I got to the date the more I pushed the event, conscious of the fact that I only had a few weeks left to get the advertising in. In the last week I had a lot of messages from potential attendees and people wanting to bring their games and represent their clubs.

During this last week I secured another gaming table from another local wargaming club and a GM offered his services to playtest his own game. I also received a couple of cancellations, which was a worry, and then a few messages of apology and regret for not being able to attend. It was at this point, the last week before the event, that I started to get worried. With a few days to go I made sure the traders were aware of arrival times, setting up and everything else they might need to get them through the day.

The day before Gamma Con I got the keys to the hall from the church, made sure I was fully aware of fire exits, light switches and alarms, and tried to get an early night.

We were up very early the next day. My mate Andy picked me up at 08:00 so that we could transport the gear and we got to the venue nice and early. The first traders turned up at 09:00 and we began to set up and it was then the first problem reared its head. I had measured the tables for the traders and decided on how the tables were to be set up in the hall. Unfortunately, the measurements supplied to me were incorrect so the venue wasn’t as long as it appeared on paper. With some quick changes, some help from the traders and some creative positioning we were set to go.

The doors opened at 10:00 and, five minutes later, the second problem manifested. I received a phone call from the GM who had agreed to run a sci-fi game telling me he couldn’t make it as something had come up. There was no other explanation other than that and there was nothing I could do, so instead of dwelling on it I just let it go and declared the table I had earmarked for him as free to use. This turned out to be a good call and quite a few gamers used the table for a multitude of games.

The attendees arrived. In fact, a lot of attendees. It was a mixture of ages and as the day went on they would casually come and go. Going by takings at the door there were at least 100 people who attended on the day and one of the GMs said that he was sure there were more. In the end we made enough money to cover all our expenses and had some left over to sink into the next convention.

The games went well. The arranged RPGs were enjoyed and then any straggling players set up their own games. The demos were popular, the wargaming tables were always attended. There were a couple of people whose table was sometimes empty but I had to remember that I could point newly arriving attendees to certain tables – I spent most of my time on the door - but couldn’t make them take part in anything. I just had to realise that there were certain things that were out of my control.

Other than that the day went really well. The atmosphere was good, people had fun, the games flowed and the community came together just as I had wanted it to. I chatted with plenty of people and got to know new gamers, I met up with people I’d not seen in a long time, and helped introduce new blood to the hobby. The winner of the Starblazer Adventures book was very pleased with his prize, and on every table there were games, both organised and improvised, and people having fun. It was somewhat sad when the day ended at 17:00, but everyone went away happy and some went to the pub to carry on gaming. By 20:00 I was in the pub myself for an after-show celebratory drink.

What did I take away from all this? What did I learn?

- Organising a convention location and date is pretty taxing but the hard work is convincing people that they want to be there.
- You can’t plan for everything and constant improvisation is the norm.
- Working on a convention for the better part of four months takes a lot of time and sometimes you may feel that your life is being dominated by it, but it is worth it.
- No matter what people tell you, organising this kind of thing is a lot of hard work.
- Only plan for what you can foresee.
- Checklists rule!
- There’s no such thing as too much advertising.
- Don’t do it all alone, have someone alongside you to help and advise. In my case I had my wonderful wife Lisa to help me through it all.
- That given enough attention and work, organising and hosting a successful convention can be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you can do for the gaming community.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Cubicle 7 Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay image

Did I ever tell you just how excited I am about the new version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay due out soon? I'm not sure I did.

Cubicle 7 have just updated their Facebook header with this:

Click for a higher resolution image
It's a fantastic image and really grabs the craziness of the Old World. If this is the artistic direction they're going in with this then I think we're in for some fantastic atmosphere. The two images they released last  year were excellent and work really well as covers, but it's the overall art choices I can't wait to see.

But what I'm really waiting on are the rules. I really want to see what they've done with the rules!


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

My roleplaying genesis

Netherstowe School, where I
was first corrupted.
This photo was taken while I was accompanying my son to a swimming lesson at the secondary school I used to attend in the 1980s. The set of windows on the ground floor tucked into the corner is Room 1A; well, it was back then, I have no ideas what it is now.

I went to Netherstowe Comprehensive School from 1982 to 1987. It wasn't the greatest time of my life and nor was it the worst as I simply kind of existed there, I never got involved in any of the groups and I pretty much kept myself to myself. School came and went.

I was already into fantasy and science fiction before I came here and it was something that I did on my own. I never had a solid circle of friends and those I did know weren't really into the same things that I was. I met my best friend Mark in 1983 and we soon hit it off with our shared love of Star Wars.

But in 1984 I was invited to Room 1A at the school to take part in 'Dungeons & Dragons' club. And for the first time ever I mixed with like-minded people who wanted to use their imaginations and indulge in the stranger things in life.

And for the first time, I actually felt comfortable. I didn't mind talking about what it was I enjoyed doing and I shared my love of all things strange and fantastical. I never felt awkward and I never felt like I needed to hide my passions. I felt liberated, and a great sense of relief washed over me; I wasn't alone.

It was all thanks to this room. I've not stood here, on the grounds of the school, for more than 3 decades. Seeing the room and remembering what happened in there hit me pretty hard and I started laughing as the memories washed over me.

A couple of people looked at me like I was crazy. But I didn't care.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Wargame review - Star Wars: Legion

Released by Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight Games has already wowed us with their Star Wars product line; roleplaying games, card games and other miniatures games with starships and heroes battling the Empire. After a long list of successes, can Star Wars: Legion live up to the expectation of another hit?

‘Warfare is an inescapable part of the Star Wars universe, from the blow dealt to the Rebel Alliance in the Battle of Hoth to a few Rebel strike teams taking on a legion of stormtroopers stationed on Endor. Seize your chance to get your boots on the ground and lead your troops to victory with Star Wars™: Legion, a miniatures game of thrilling infantry battles in the Star Wars universe!

Star Wars: Legion invites you to join the unsung battles of the Galactic Civil War as the commander of a unique army filled with troopers, powerful ground or repulsor vehicles, and iconic characters like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. While innovative mechanics simulate the fog of war and the chaos of battle, the unpainted, easily assembled miniatures give you a canvas to create the Star Wars army you’ve always wanted to lead into battle—whether you fight for the monolithic, oppressive Galactic Empire or the ragtag Rebel Alliance.’

So, what do you get? The starter set comes with 33 plastic models (unassembled) of Rebels and Imperials. The Rebels get eight troopers, two leaders, two pairs of heavy weapons, an AT-RT walker and Luke Skywalker. The Imperials get eight stormtroopers, two leaders, two pairs of heavy weapons, two speeder bikes and Darth Vader. Along with counters, markers, some plastic barriers you can use as cover and obstacles, and special game-specific dice (a staple of FFG games), there’s a lot to fill the sturdy box.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games
The miniatures will need assembling and painting and are of excellent quality, so modelers will have a great time with these. I’m not a modeler myself, but I can appreciate a decent miniature and these are really good. I’ve seen them painted up and a cracking paint job can result in some amazing detail, and the option for modifications are always available; I’ve already seen a sandtrooper mod and the dirty armour, heavy backpack and damaged shoulder pad had all been lovingly crafted. It adds nothing to the game, but it’s visually pleasing and adds a lot of atmosphere.

The game system is broken down into cards and dice, the cards used for unit details and commands and the dice used for resolution. Each unit has its own descriptive card and those cards can be given upgrades. Each unit has its own skills and abilities to use which means that tactical thinking is required, making you think twice before unleashing soldiers on Vader, or sending a speeder bike after a small group of rebels. When you attack you create a dice pool based on the weapon type used with different types of die used for different types of weapon.

Of course, the game is much more complicated than the brief explanation I’ve given it and I’ll be doing it a disservice if I try to explain the rules in just a few paragraphs, but being the helpful people they are FFG have saved me that chore; you can view the rules yourself by downloading the ‘Learn to Play’ document for free here.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games
The game itself plays really well and there’s a sense of tension during the combats; you find yourself trying to second guess your opponent as you issue your commands, and this can create a somewhat chaotic battlefield. However, such is the nature of war and there were plenty of fist pumps as battle plans succeeded and lots of headshaking when they didn’t. If I had to compare it to a Star Wars movie I’d compare it to the battle on Scarif at the end of ‘Rogue One’; there was a plan, but you had to make a lot of it up on the fly. The uniform high adventure battles of the original trilogy and the prequels were evenly paced and quite focused, a bit like the combats in FFG’s other miniatures game ‘Imperial Assault’, but this is more in line with the confusion of the mass fight.

There is a learning curve to be had, as with all FFG games. This one, we found, was a little steeper than we anticipated. You have the basic rules and there are expanded rules for further play, and I suggest you play a few games with just the normal rules before delving into anything more complicated. The first two games we played resulted in some confusion as the rules weren’t straightforward, and with some re-reading and clarification we finally got our heads around it. However, once you get a few games under your belt the battles flow quite nicely.

Another downside was the dice – there simply wasn’t enough in the box. Another packet of dice would have been beneficial, and as they’re specially designed for this game you can’t just swipe them from another game or your own dice collection.

Apart from this, Star Wars: Legion is a solid, well-made game that got us quite excited at the gaming table. The contents of the box are enough to give you what you need to create many battles for quite a long time (although I would suggest more dice!) and with the expansions that are out, and the many others on their way, this single box is a game that’ll keep us occupied for a while. Tactical wargamers will enjoy the system, modelers will enjoy the miniatures and Star Wars fans will enjoy the chance to fight battles in a galaxy far, far away.

Recommended.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Character Sheet Management

Image result for red box d&d character sheet
The original Basic D&D
Character Sheet
Who hangs on to the character sheets between sessions - player or GM? I figured I'd share with you why it is that I as GM take care of the character sheets and hand them out/collect them every session.

1 - It keeps everything together and lessens the chances of someone forgetting their sheet. As GM I keep everything for the current campaign in a single bag so it doesn't get mislaid or left behind.

2 - In between games or campaigns I like to have the sheets to hand so that I can tailor certain parts of the game to certain PC abilities so that everyone gets a shot at the limelight. Having the sheets to hand is a bonus.

3 - I don't like several copies of the same character sheet because they are all set to change as the PC grows. I don't want any 'that's not what it says on mine' arguments, which may sound strange if the player has a copy of the exact same sheet but it has happened.

4 - It minimises the sudden appearance of phantom skills or equipment between sessions. Some of my players over the years have added beneficial stuff to their sheets in the hope that it isn't noticed by the next session.

5 - If any players want to write up info on their PC they can write down their skills and abilities and base it off that. They don't need a copy of the character sheet to make detailed background notes for their character. If a player desperately wants the character sheet for any reason then I have them write it out again/photocopy it for their own use but I have them use the character sheet that I have during the game.

6 - I prefer any upgrading/advancements to be done at the table in front of me and the other players so that everyone is aware of any changes to the PC (that they want made public, at any rate). This way I can keep an eye on any rulebending that might go down.

7 - If the player does not turn up then we have the character sheet to run as an NPC during the absence.

It's not just a question of me not trusting my players (although, over the last 3 decades I have run across some who 'modify' their character between sessions, which is why I started keeping them in the first place). It's also a question of practicality; it's simply easier for me to hang on to the character sheets between sessions so that nothing is forgotten.

Nothing is ever forgotten.