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 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 – 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.

Monday 21 May 2018

WFRP 4th Edition - System Preview

Cubicle 7 have released a nice preview of their upcoming WFRP system changes. There's not a lot of detail but there's enough to give us something to mull over until the release.

They say the new system is '"..a new implementation of the familiar d100 dice system, that you’ll be able to modify it to suit your play style, and that it will offer resolution options with a variety of levels of detail."

I thought I'd go over the preview and I've put my thoughts under each of the points below. Bear in mind that 99% of my WFRP gaming has been done with 1st Edition so that is what I'll be comparing it to.

"When a test is called for – generally a situation where a character is attempting an action, or reacting to an action affecting them – the GM has three choices:

1 – GM decision based on the characters’ abilities

Keeping the game flowing smoothly and quickly is important to keep everyone actively engaged in the adventure. Sometimes, especially when the outcome doesn’t really matter all that much, or the most likely outcome is pretty obvious, the GM is better off eyeballing the relevant character(s) abilities and making a call as to whether or not the action succeeds.

When situations are resolved this way, players will need to show trust and respect to the GM – the decision will need to be accepted as logical and impartial and not signal the start of a discussion!"

This leaves a lot to the GM and may not work in every situation, but this is something that I've done before, usually after taking a look at the character's stats and deciding that after modifiers the skill roll is as good as successful, and especially if the progress of the plot depends on success. If it's a high tension situation or a combat and there's still a chance of failure, I'll still ask for the roll to make sure that everything is fair, even if the chances of failure are one or two percent, and if it does go south then I'll make the most of the tension; this is a grim game, after all.

"2 – A simple pass/fail test

This is the one most players are familiar with! You decide which characteristic or skill to test, adjust for the difficulty of the test (for example, a hard difficulty subtracts 20 from your ability) and then roll equal to or under that total to succeed. It’s simple (hence the name), quick, straightforward, and tells you if you succeed or fail.

The downside of the quick pass/fail test is that the action stops dead if you fail. It’s fine in many situations, but that hard ‘No’ can be unsatisfying. And if you have grim and gritty, low-skilled characters, they can fail a lot, and that can get frustrating."

This is the norm for me, and to be honest the failure is just as good as the success as it can really create some interesting situations and can also be really challenging for me as the GM to deal with the fallout. Either roll, success or failure, can really throw the story into chaos and it's up to me to get it back on track or make sure that the resulting story is as entertaining as my original design. Some of the best adventures came off the back of unexpected roll results, but there is a negative effect to this, too, when a bad roll throws the game into disarray or derails it altogether. The nature of roleplaying has changed somewhat since 1st Edition came out and I'm much more focused on creating a great story with my group.

"3 – A more nuanced dramatic test giving a range of outcomes and success levels

Sometimes you need to know what happens next, rather than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. The Dramatic Test helps you generate an outcome instead. Using Success Levels to show just how well or poorly you’ve done, these tests give you a result that keeps the story moving.

Rather than just failing to jump across the ravine and plunging to your death, maybe you almost made it and are left hanging onto a root at the other side of the gorge. The negative success levels of a Dramatic Test can help to keep the game interesting and help guard against arbitrary and disproportionate dice-based punishment.

Similarly, the positive success levels mean you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams, with unanticipated consequences piling good fortune at your feet, or scrape past by the skin of your teeth, achieving most of what you wanted, but with some complications.

The Dramatic Test is a tool for the GM to make tests meaningful and… well… dramatic!"

This is the part that interests me, and excites me, the most. If the rules are able to give degrees of success, or give an 'out' to those situations that arise when a bad roll occurs, then that will make for a much more malleable game that forgives any derailing issues. This may seem a little opposite to the spirit of WFRP I love so much - if you fail and die, that's just because the world's grim and it sucks but that's that - but it helps those situations when a bad roll really messes things up. There have been a few times when the players have gotten to a key moment and it's all gone wrong or they've played for weeks only to die at the hands of the big bad or one of his minions. Levels of success can make for some great story options and if done right can make events much more exciting. Let's hope that it sits well with the grim, hopeless atmosphere of WFRP, but these three  options are just that; options. By the sounds of things if you don't like the roll interpretation you can go back to what you know.

Sunday 20 May 2018

Interview - Paul Mitchener

RPG Writer Paul Mitchener joins me to have a chat about epic myths, countries torn apart by civil war, and games. All nice and casual.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us about yourself and how you got started in the tabletop roleplaying hobby. 

Thank-you Jonathan. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm Paul Mitchener. I'm 43 years old and live in Sheffield with my partner and two cats. By day I'm a mathematics university lecturer, and by night I'm an RPG writer.

I first started with tabletop roleplaying games when I was around the age of 12, and a friend at school sold me second-hand copies of the Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets. I devoured them, and gathered some people together to game. And I was DM - I ran a game before I played! For some reason, my adventure was a long journey across a desert, featuring a river which paralysed anyone who touched the water. The player characters weaponised it and used the water to rob a magic shop in the middle of nowhere, since that was the state of my first piece of world building. The session ended when the wizard shop owner of the store they had robbed came after them, and caught the entire group in a magical web. Before the next session, I remember notes being passed at school all week with plans and plots and schemes to get out of the mess. And I was hooked.

You’ve got a list of games under your belt; ‘Age of Arthur’, work for ‘OpenQuest’, ‘Crypts & Things’ and ‘Mindjammer’, as well as a few projects for different systems such as FATE. What’s your preferred genre and system? 

You want me to choose my favourite child? Okay, to pick just one genre, I'll have to pick history, maybe played straight, maybe with a dose of fantasy. That gives me huge amounts to play with, from the ancient world through to the Cold War, though I'm still going to count it as one genre! I'll still mourn for the loss of science fiction.

In terms of system, I've done quite a bit with Fate - Age of Arthur, some supplement work for Mindjammer, Hunters of Alexandria, and more on the horizon. So that's one of my favoured systems. Again, there are other things I like - I'm fond of Gumshoe, the One Roll Engine, and some of the d100 games for instance. In terms of less generic systems, I'm still absolutely in love with The One Ring, for roleplaying in Middle Earth.

You’ve got a game on the way called ‘Age of Anarchy’, about the civil war in England and Normandy in the 12th century. What was the attraction to this era and this particular historical event?

The Anarchy is cool. There are two contestants for the monarchy, both are creating earldoms and gathering support, and everything is up for grabs. The conflict drags on for years, with long periods of near peace, and it's remarkably swingy from one side to the other. In a way this isn't so unusual- none of the early Norman monarchs gained the throne without a fight- but the extent of it is. The Normans are also fascinating people - so worthy and so vile at the same time. And the Anarchy's full of interesting characters - not just Stephen and Matilda, but some of the bishops and earls from what we know from history. It's a rich and very gameable period, with lots of colour and lots to do.

It’s a historical game, so what can players expect to be able to do? What’s the drive of the characters in the game?

The player characters support a noble, their patron, and help them both deal with issues and rise in status in this turbulent time. They could end up landless and in disgrace, or an earl who is close to the monarch. And as they rise in status, the player characters, their most loyal vassals, rise with them. So there's always something to do, in terms of dealing with the patron's problems as well as the characters' own issues, and each scenario drives the next. There's a really clear objective for the player characters.

Can you tell us something more about the mechanics, the Perpetual Motion Engine?

Sure. There's two parts I'd like to talk about here. The first part is the patron engine. The patron of the player characters faces a number of issues at any one time, and the players decide which they need to be dealt with. Dealing with an issue promptly helps the patron rise in status, but issues which are neglected or ignored get worse, or can even explode, and deal the patron a blow. As the patron rises in status, they might receive greater feudal titles, rising to the status of a baron or earl. And when a patron rises in status, the player characters grow in influence, gaining more assets they can use.

Player characters are defined through a number of professions and associated skills, any assets they have from their patron, and special abilities which refine a profession. A player character also has a passion and an issue. The system is simple enough in that it's a case of rolling 2d6 and adding a relevant skill, but parts are abstracted. The system is designed so that adventures can be quickly put together or improvised entirely, with non-player characters defined by their ability level and a few strengths and weaknesses. In play it's very fluid.

What kind of support will the game receive? Supplements, adventures, sourcebooks?

The game is self-contained, and covers England and Normandy. One thing I'd love to put together would be a sourcebook covering Scotland in more detail, including the business going on in the highlands and islands such as the last real push to invasion by the Vikings. Another thing which is definitely on the cards are further games of a similar scope covering different periods of history and conflict adapting the same mechanics. An Age of Sail game could be on the distant horizon.

What else can we expect to see from you in the future?

At the moment, my biggest thing is Liminal, a modern day British fantasy game based on the country's history and folklore. The Kickstarter funded well above expectations, the beta draft is out there to backers, and it's going to be absolutely gorgeous. The Kickstarter also funded a line of supplements, which is going to keep me rather busy, but I've drafted in a team of other RPG writers to help me out. The book will be out there by the end of the year.

I'm also working with Chris Gilmore on a historical sourcebook for Mythras, with the title of Mythic Babylon: Gateway to the Gods. That should be out in the wilds in 2019.

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Gaming in a science fiction setting vs. a fantasy setting

Danger In Deep Space 14 by ArtFavor
You know, I love my science fiction gaming but, in my experience, it's always fantasy that makes for an easier game to play as far as RPGs are concerned. Why is this?

The only sci-fi game I played for any length of time was D6 Star Wars, but I think this is mainly because we all knew Star Wars and the fact that it has a basic grounding in fantasy. It's not hard to imagine what the GM is talking about in Star Wars; lightsabres, star destroyers, stormtroopers, ewoks, it's all very familiar and instantly recognisable. It didn't matter that we were all huge Star Wars fans at the time; the setting is so ingrained in pop culture it's easy to reference.

The same as fantasy games. As most fantasy settings are basically medieval-inspired settings it's easy to imagine what things look like. In fact, any historical period and location can be invoked so that the players have a mental image of what is around them.

The same can't be said for other realms of science fiction. There are so many design ethics and possible levels of technological advancement that influence the situations the PCs find themselves in that it's incredibly difficult to simply say 'this is where you are' without being inundated with questions about details. Unless the players are as educated about the setting as the GM then making them feel comfortable in the game, to make sure that they know what they can and can't do and what kind of tech is available to them, is going to be difficult.

This is all in my own experience, of course. In fantasy you can picture yourself on a horse in armour riding to a castle tower in the rain. That's easy. In science fiction you need a little more detail than that to set a scene.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Keeping it all in-game

#I've addressed the matter of taking in-game arguments into the real world before, so I thought I'd share another.

This guy I’ll call Bob. Bob liked to roleplay. He liked to get right into character. The thing is, no matter what kind of character he played he also liked to argue. And when I say argue I mean shout, loudly, and also let the in-game argument spill into the real world and then beyond the game.

Let me give you an example. After a particularly long and boring session of Shadowrun (I wasn’t running it!) he decided his character was going to take umbrage at the fact that another PC was spending quite a long time deciding on what equipment he wanted to take on a job. He started by calling him out, in character, and when the PC answered him back he took it personally – that’s when the shouting started. ‘What the hell is wrong with you? We’ve been here for ages! We’ve got a damn job to do and you’re just pussyfooting around buying junk! What the hell’s the matter with you?

At first you think, ‘Good roleplaying, Bob!’ But when Bob then starts to refer to the player by name and not the character, making comments about laziness, tardiness and general personal observations you begin to realise that there’s no roleplaying going on here. Upon being challenged on the fact that he was taking the argument outside the game his volume went up. And up, And then up a little bit more. It got so bad that anyone trying to say anything at all, even if it had nothing to do with the initial argument, was shouted down. After the game he declared that he was just playing ‘in-character’, but in my experience whenever anyone says ‘it’s what my PC would have done’ they’re usually just trying to justify why it was they were acting like a moron.

But it had nothing to do with character though, did it? Bob had gone off on one because he was bored and frustrated and, whether he realised it or not, decided to take his frustrations out on another player. When that player tried to answer him back – in character, I might add – he took actual offence that his demands had been questioned and let the fact that he wasn’t enjoying the game get the better of him, and the result was his personal comments and remarks aimed at the player and not the player character. He let real-world emotions influence his in-game emotions. The rising volume was simply a defence mechanism, as far as I could tell, in an attempt to ‘win’ the situation with decibels rather than reasoning. It was obvious that he knew what he had done wrong and, instead of admitting to it or letting it go, exacerbated the situation by winding himself up and raising his voice.

As a GM I’d have called a time-out straight away and asked Bob to calm down. Any attempts at using the ‘I was just roleplaying’ defence will still be met with a five minute break and a request that the voices are lowered. Rising volume in response to that request will then result in an immediate stop to the game. This is simply one of the things I don’t put up with in my games anymore. Any arguments that I feel are spilling out of character – and it is glaringly obvious when that happens – are halted with a curt warning and a reminder that we’re playing a game and any continuation of the climbing volume and attitude stops the game completely. And that’s it. I don’t have any words of wisdom about emotional states and handling people with kid gloves. This is simple bloody-minded rudeness and it’s not something that I, my players or my neighbours should have to put up with.

Thursday 10 May 2018

RPG Review - Star Trek Adventures

Image result for star trek adventuresPublished by Modiphius Entertainment

'Star Trek Adventures takes you to the Final Frontier of the Galaxy, where new discoveries await keen explorers of Starfleet. Your duties may take you to the edges of known space, or to Federation colonies in need, to the borders of neighbouring galactic powers or into the eye of interstellar phenomena. Your ship and your crew epitomise the best Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets has to offer, and you are needed more than ever.’

I've not got hold of my own copy of this nor had time to properly play it, so in the interests of full disclosure please bear in mind that even though I've thoroughly read the book this will be more of a capsule review rather than a full delve into the game and what it did for me.

Now, I’ve had a long relationship with Star Trek; I used to watch it every now and then as a kid but I didn’t really pay attention until ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ came out. Then, when ‘The Next Generation’ hit I watched it as often as I could, and when ‘Deep Space 9’ came along I watched it religiously. I enjoyed ‘Voyager’ for the most part but then started to drift away when ‘Enterprise’ came out, and I could take the last two series or leave them. I realized that I loved Star Trek but I wasn’t in love with it, but ‘Deep Space 9’ would remain my favourite Trek show, as well as one of my favourite ever TV shows. I watched the entire DS9 series in a single week, on old-school video cassettes. That’s probably why I’m so attached to it.

I played the roleplaying games but they were never a constant in my hobby. I started with the FASA game and we enjoyed it for a while as we adventured in ‘The Original Series’ period, the movies and the fledgling ‘The Next Generation’ show. It was a good system and we had fun with it. Then I moved on to the Task Force Games ‘Prime Directive’; I wasn’t enamoured with the game system so I used the character sheet and incorporated the WEG D6 system. The adventures were a little more action adventure, but fun nonetheless. I let the LUG game pass me by but then got hold of the Decipher game, but sadly never used it.

So, I’ve been in a state of Star Trek RPG limbo for the better part of a decade and, to be honest, I never felt the draw, not even after the J.J. Abrams movies or the new ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ show. However, I did follow Modiphius Entertainment’s development of this new roleplaying game, and as it progressed I revisited my old Star Trek games and began to think about how I’d run a new campaign. Since the release of the game I heard many great things about it but I still wouldn’t commit, so I have borrowed a friend’s copy to look through to see if I would consider taking the plunge and finally purchase the game.

The book, a 368 page hardcover, is gorgeous. The layout – like the LCARS screens seen on the TV show – is crisp and clean, the artwork is excellent and the images are really evocative. Already the book is getting my heart racing and I’ve not even read any of the text yet. It’s a great looking tome and if I was going to award it just on looks it’d get full marks.

The book covers the Federation, characters, conflict, starships, running the game and the foes and friends that you’ll come across. In fact, the contents cover everything you’ll need to run a game of Star Trek, and I feel that there’s plenty of material in here to keep you in games for a long time. The big draw for me is that the game is set in 2371, when the USS Voyager is heading into the Badlands, the Dominion War is gathering pace and great change is about to hit the Alpha Quadrant. That’s my era, but there’s nothing stopping you from playing the game in any Star Trek eras, even the Kelvin timeline. Although it’s the TNG era that’s catered for, the game is perfectly suited for any period.

Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook

The game system is the 2D20 system, as used in Mutant Chronicles, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, John Carter of Mars and the Infinity RPG. It's a system I have some experience with but one I haven’t delved into in any great depth. Each character has six Attributes scored between 7 to 12, and these are Control, Daring, Fitness, Insight, Presence and Reason. Then they have six Disciplines ranging from 1 to 5 and these are Command, Conn, Engineering, Security, Science and Medicine. To complete an action, a character rolls a number of D20s and they have to roll below a target number that is the character’s Attribute score plus their Discipline score, plus or minus any other modifiers. Each roll that scores under the target number is a success, and these number of successes have to beat a difficulty number set by the GM, the number being between 0 and 5, with 1 being a standard action and the higher the number, the more difficult the action.

At first, I felt the mechanic was strange as not only did you have to score under, but the results also determined if you beat another difficulty level, almost like two systems rolled into one. Once you get used to it, it’s a very good system and serves the game well.

A clever thing about this game is that players will be expected to control more than one character. It would be easy to play a bridge crew character and, when something needs to be done, order a subordinate to do it. In this, you can play the characters that are sent on away missions, or into the bowels of the ship to do the dangerous work. This expands the scope of the game and allows the players to increase their involvement.

The starship section is also a great addition, and this enables the game to recreate amazing starship battles and helps give starships a character of their own, which is a huge part of Star Trek. In the book we are given several classes of ships to use; the Akira, Constellation, Constitution, Defiant, Excelsior, Galaxy, Intrepid, Miranda and Nova. It’s a great selection and gives you a lot of scope to create your own ships, but there’s obviously more to come in further supplements.

Now, at this point in a review I usually go into a lot of details about how the game played, and what we as a group got out of it. After playing the game, I get a much better insight into the game and how it works as a Star Trek RPG, what it does for me and how it plays.

I can’t do that here. After reading the book it pains me that I’ve not yet had the chance to play the game and that this has to be a capsule review. However, from what I’ve read - and the atmosphere the book creates – it’s convinced me that I really, really need to get hold of a copy of this book. It feels like Star Trek, it reads like Star Trek and I feel that I have found a game that not only reflects the setting it generates a sense of excitement I rarely get with a licensed roleplaying game. It works for me as it’s set in my favourite era and the layout is the period of Star Trek that I love the most. That in itself was a selling point for me, but in reality the system works and it evokes the show exceptionally well.

Star Trek Adventures is an excellent game and has stoked my excitement for Star Trek once again. It’s a great system that serves the setting incredibly well and Modiphius have done a great job of capturing Star Trek - no matter what era or reality you want to game in - between the pages.

Highly recommended.

• Create your own Star Trek stories of discovery and adventure on the Final Frontier with 368 pages of content (check out the sample spreads in the images). Full colour hardback, features a matt laminate cover with reading ribbon. 

• Complete 2d20 game system from Modiphius Entertainment adapted for Star Trek Adventures, used in Mutant Chronicles, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, John Carter of Mars and the Infinity RPG.

• An extensive exploration of the United Federation of Planets and its galactic neighbours in the Alpha, Beta and Gamma Quadrants.

• Guidelines for Gamemasters old and new, on how to run an adventure of exploration and discovery for the crew of a Federation starship.

• A full catalogue of aliens and antagonists including Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, the Borg and the Dominion.

• Brought to you by a team of expert Star Trek writers including writers from previous editions of Star Trek roleplaying games and other gaming talent.

• Personal logs and intercepted communications by Starfleet Intelligence provide a new perspective on Star Trek and its events.

Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Interview - David Donachie

David Donachie is a gamer and writer, creator of the RPG Solipsist, and has contributed to such games as Mindjammer and Legends of Anglerre.

With the release of his book ‘The Night Alphabet’, I caught up with David to find out more about his gaming and what else is on his horizon…

Hello David! Please introduce yourself and tell us something about how you fell into the world of tabletop gaming.

Hi, Jonathan. I'm David (Morvryn, Sylvanus, Keith) Donachie. I'm 44, from Edinburgh in Scotland, and I write, draw, program, and design games.

I first encountered tabletop gaming when I was a little boy. My parents had French friends, and their son was a good deal older than me, but not so much that we couldn't relate (I guess he was a teenager, but at the age of nine or ten that was infinitely old). One time he brought over a French copy of Call of Cthulhu, so this must have been in the early 80s, perhaps '83 when 2nd Edition came out, and showed it to me. I couldn't read the book, and I certainly didn't get to play, but something about the whole concept of Roleplaying set my mind on fire. From that moment on I wanted to play Roleplaying games.

My first actual experience was at a summer camp, probably a couple of years later. Some older kids were playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I wanted to take part. They weren't keen, but the DM was a camp counsellor, so I was allowed to take control of their retainer, a kid with no skills or character sheet. I was so excited! The other players handed me the lantern to carry ... and then abandoned me in a wood where I was eaten by wolves. Oddly enough that didn't put me off.

You’ve got a decent list of game writing credits; Starblazer Adventures, Mindjammer, Legends of Anglerre… how did you get into game writing?

When I came across the fifth book of Dragon Warriors in a bookshop near my school (so this would be a couple of years later than the D&D anecdote), I had a gaming system to examine close up for the first time, and right away my first instinct was to write my own — so you could say that I've been into game writing as long as I've been into gaming. That first game was called Termite, and featured talking ants, termites, and squirrels, as player characters. I made my Dad play that one, and then went on to run it for others, both at school, and at University.

Over the years I wrote and ran a bunch of other games, before eventually sliding over into a more typical pattern of creating campaign worlds instead of game systems, but I always stayed interested in the world of game design. I had lots of friends who were involved in the Indie games movement, and kept an eye on games forums, so I heard about the idea of a game based on the Starblazer comic well before it got going.

Now Starblazer was another childhood love. I used to take my pocket money all the way to Waverley Station bookshop, on the other side of town, to buy my copies — two a month — since that was the only place that sold them. The SF and Fantasy stories in Starblazer were a big influence on my writing, and also on my development as an artist. My first big art hero was Enrique Alcatena, the Argentinian comic artist, who I knew only from the pages of Starblazer. I actually wrote him a massive fan letter when I was young, not realising that he lived on the other side of the world (Starblazer didn't publish artist names, so I didn't know who I was writing too, let alone where he lived), and then was blown away when a 20 page reply full of art tips came back from Argentina many months later. So when I heard that there might be a game featuring the Starblazer art and IP, I wanted in. I'd met Chris Birch at Gaelcon, so I got in touch offering my services as an artist, a writer, whatever it took to get involved. In the end I did a few art pieces, and a chapter on the various possible game settings that the SciFi issues of Starblazer offered.

That work led naturally into the followup game Legends of Anglerre, which — if anything — I was even more excited to work with, as it featured Mike Chinn, who had written my favourite (Alcatena illustrated) issues of all. In the end I didn't actually do anything in conjunction with Mike, but I did do some major art pieces, and again a big settings chapter, which led to even more work on the follow-up Legends of Anglerre Companion. It also led me to work with Sarah Newton, the incredibly prolific (and competent) creator of Mindjammer. As a result when she was putting together a writing team to work on her Kickstarter products a few years later she tapped me to do some of the work — Mindjammer : Children of Orion being the most significant result.

What did you bring to these games?

Words? Drawings?

Seriously, I think a better question is what did working on these games bring to me; the answer being a degree of professionally my game work didn't have before, a wealth of contacts in the gaming industry, and the inevitable improvement in writing that comes of having a professional editor giving your prose a good kicking. I'd like to think that I also brought something of my own fervid imagination to these games, something that you can see best in the ghost worlds of the Orion nebula, or the coherent theology I constructed to match the scattered glimpses that Mike Chinn created for Starblazer, but it's hard to let my imagination truly rip when I'm working in someone else's universe, who knows what I might do to it!

Your diceless role-playing game ‘Solipsist’ has been out for ten years now, and it’s still available on drivethrurpg. What were your inspirations for creating this game?

Now there's a game where my imagination wasn't pulling punches!

Solipsist began life as a 24-minute 'design an RPG contest' entry at Conpulsion back in 2006. The contest gave you a selection of random words to work with, and mine were (I think) Reality and Paramecium. From them was born the idea of a world where reality itself was just an illusion created by microscopic life-forms and the subconscious desires of the people who lived inside it. It was inspired by University philosophy courses, 2000ADs Indigo Prime, the Heretics RPG, my own impressions of Mage: The Ascension. More than that, it was a game about the concept of roleplaying and telling stories in general, a sort of meta-rpg, if you like. The characters in Solipsist consciously create their own stories, and their own rules. In fact that is Solipsist's only rule — If you don't like the rules of the game, change them until you do. In that way a game of Solipsist moves from genre to genre, or even from physical law to physical law, as play progresses. Of course the GM gets equal powers to cheat out the sort of game they are running too. It can be a wild ride.

Solipsist also owes a huge debt to my friend Gregor Hutton (of "Best Friends" and "3:16" fame). Gregor encouraged me to write the game, and helped me playtest, layout, and publish the thing. The first edition was produced through his imprint, Box Ninja.

You’re currently working on a new game ‘InBetween’, about the ‘tiny Hylin mice that live unseen in the Between — their name for the spaces between the walls of our houses’. How did this game come about?

All my answers seem to be about ancient history, so here's another tale from the past.

A long time ago I ran a website called "The GEAS Village". At that time (the early 90s) the Village was one of the foremost RPG websites out there — this was before proper forums and the like — with live RP boards and a wealth of material. One of the features was a grandly titled "Encyclopaedia of Roleplaying", full of articles on game mechanics. Back then I had this cute idea to hide an actual game in the rules examples, and InBetween was that game. The character generation system was given as the examples in the character generation article, the main mechanics were in the dice-rolling article and so forth. I think that's where the idea of having the game be about mice living in human houses came from, because they too were hidden.

Of course the GEAS Village passed away, but the game stuck in my mind, just waiting for its time. This year, after my short story collection was published, I was nosing around in my old files, and there it was, a game full of cute mice waiting to see the world.

Now, I didn't keep a lot of that original game. There was a strong First World War vibe about the original, all barbed wire and trenches, which I discarded, and the system got a complete overhaul. Instead of the vague d12 roll-under system of the original, I took the Dice Pool mechanic out of another game I wrote "Eekamouse in Atlantis" and transplanted it to InBetween, which has also gained a slightly gentler, tribal, vibe, that you can hopefully see coming out in the art.

When can we expect to see InBetween ‘in the wild?

Good question, and the answer is I am not certain yet, but hopefully before the end of the year. I've just had the first proper playtests, and run the game at a convention for the first time (and great fun was had in the process), which threw up lots of things to change, as first playtests usually do. I'm in the process of turning that into something that I can send out to a few trusted people, and then I'll be producing an open playtest packet, so if anyone reading this is interested in doing some playtesting for InBetween drop me a line, and I'll get back in touch when the pack is ready.

You’ve also released a book of short stories and flash fiction, ‘The Night Alphabet’. What was the driving force behind this book?

I've always written fiction as well as designing games. When I was younger I wrote a lot of short stories, but like many fantasy-reading writers with aspirations I transitioned away from those into weighty fantasy novels. Each manuscript would take years, and then go nowhere, either because I failed to find representation for them or, most often, because I lost faith in my own book by the time I was finished. Over the years I wrote less, and drew or gamed more, because somehow those things were easier to be confident about.

A few years back I decided to try another novel. This one (it's called The Drowning Land), took two years of full-on writing and research — it's set in the middle of the mesolithic, 8000 years ago, so I spent a lot of time reading scientific papers, corresponding with re-creationists, and visiting dig sites. Once it was finished I hit the same old roadblocks. I lost faith in the work, I reacted badly to critique, I didn't find an agent, and so on. So for the first time in twenty or more years I went back to short fiction, and found it much easier. Writing short stories (and as you say, some of my work is very short indeed) meant that I didn't loose faith in them, and didn't react badly to critiques, because I was less precious about them. I rediscovered my love of the short form, which had been born out of a childhood of SF anthologies, so I kept on writing.

It was actually my wife who suggested putting some of the stories together in a book; the alphabet style was her idea. After that it was only a matter of finding a theme — dreams and nightmares were already a strong part of my writing so that was easy — and producing enough material that I could throw away the bad stories and still fill the book. Right from the start I knew I'd be self-publishing this one. I have a number of self-published friends (a lot more now that the book is out), and everyone told me that it was the way of the future. What they didn't tell me was that all the real work in the wold of self-publishing came after the book was out, in the relentless drive to promote!

What else can we expect to see from David Donachie in the future?

In the short term you'll be seeing InBetween and, all going well, a companion fiction volume that I am tentatively calling "Mouse Tales from the Between" (or maybe just Tales from the Between). I also think it very likely that there will be another volume of short stories in the not to distant future, probably featuring a smaller number of stories than The Night Alphabet — I've written one longer story already and may continue in that vein.

I'd also like to think that people will see The Drowning Land in book form. Ideally it will get snatched up by some agent and come to you through an established imprint, but I'm not ruling out going down the self-published route with that as well.

Beyond that ... anything could happen!

Sunday 6 May 2018

Interview - Thia & Greebow of Cognitive Merchant

The Cognitive MerchantIt was my great pleasure to interview Thia and Greebow of the fantastic bespoke gamer's products makers Cognitive Merchant. They've been producing hand-crafted individualised tabletop, RPG and LARP products for a while and it's great stuff.

I love this interview because I got a message from them about it saying 'We just pretended you was with us and got somebody to ask your questions', so they quite literally roleplayed their answers. I'm going to have to add a point to their 'awesome' board for that.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us about yourselves and how you got started in the tabletop roleplaying hobby.

(Thia) Hey I'm Thia, I am a leather crafting wood elf! But in real life I run a dance studio, I'm a fire and side show performer along with my amazing girls at Monster Cirque. Plus I create leather gaming goods with my partner at The Cognitive Merchant.

I started playing D&D when I was a kid in Poland. I gamed with my brother and his friends. I was the only girl, but it was never a thing, I was just another geek at the table.

(Greebow) Hi I'm Greebow. I'm a shape shifting Gnome wizard! But unfortunately in the real world I'm just a very flawed human LOL. I used to work running bars and office work until I got diagnosed with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Now I host the odd event but mainly work creating geeky goodness for mine and Thias' business The Cognitive Merchant. I got into TTRPG's just over four years ago after I met the love of my life Thia. She knew I had always been a comic book and fantasy geek but had never real played any table top games apart from a little Warhammer fantasy.

She told me of her love for D&D and that we should find a place to try it. We found the awesomeness that is Fanboy 3 in Manchester (go check them out!), went down for the Sunday Adventure League session of D&D. And I instantly fell in love with that as well! They have both been my world ever since. I love them both so much, maybe Thia a little more.....but only just.

Cognitive Merchant is something pretty special; the bespoke crafted items you create for gamers are unique and quite gorgeous. What made you decide to try your hand at this?

(Greebow) Thank you. Hearing words like that means so much to us, you have no idea. We put a lot of time and love into each one. There all hand crafted by us in our tiny work room or on our front room table. Its a running joke that the only time we are not creating is when we are eating. Projects come everywhere with us!

(Thia) Yeah we really do appreciate the positive feedback.

(Greebow) This all started after we saw the state of a friends players hand book, all falling apart with the cover all messed up. Thia told him she could probably fix it. She was just going to glue it back together.

(Thia) But I wanted to make it look awesome and not fall apart so easy. So I spent a little time working that out.

(Greebow) What she is not telling you is she spent a few days intensively learning how to rebind old books and then learning how to cover them in leather. She added lots of personal touches to his book.

(Thia) He was so happy when he got it. Made it all very worth it.

(Greebow) Other gamers saw it and just started coming to us with there books. Word spread pretty fast.

Then we decided we really wanted to make gaming products that are worthy of the folks using them. Let's face it, the gaming community is one of the very best to be part of. I'm always blown away by the imagination, love, support, and creativity it puts out there. We just want to bring a little of there fantasy to life if we can.

You do custom book covers, dice bags, dice, GM screens, all kinds of things that help to enhance the roleplaying experience. What’s your design and production process?

(Thia) First and most important, we talk to the folks wanting a product. Ask them what they are looking for and what its being used for. Like what game? Or is it something for LARPing! Then we talk to them about themes or colour scheme they like. Maybe they roll play as a Necromancer and a skull motif would be perfect. Maybe there gaming character just slayed an ancient red dragon and wants something made from its hide!

(Greebow) For us its all about keeping their fantasy world going and alive.

(Thia) Then I get to creating the design for it. Some times we have templates we have already made and know work. Sometimes a totally new template needs making.

(Greebow) The practicality and creation of the design is someing I feel Thia really excels at. I'm more about the colour and style. So together we like to think our skills compliment each other.

(Thia) Then we cut out the leather and treat it.

(Greebow) I get working on dying the leather, antiquing or distressing it depending on what's needed. If there is tooling or stamping to be done, we divide that depending on what it is.

(Thia) After that its assembly and adding the extras. This means hours or days of stitching just depending on the product.

Me and Greebow now have perminant tough calluses on our fingers from stitching and lacing LOL.

(Greebow) We then test everything. With the dice cups and bags we make sure they're strong and can open and close fine (leather is always tough and tight at first). With our all in one GM kits we test every part of it from the magnetic initiative board and the dice tray and roller to it actually transforming into the carry case. There expensive to ship out so everything has to be perfect.

(Thia) We always have multiple projects on the go at once as the orders just keep coming in, so its a big juggling act for us. But we have a digital order book as well as a hard copy one that helps us keep on top of things.

What would you say is your most sought-after item?

(Thia) That's an easy one. For sure its our all in one GM kit! There is a 20 week wait on those bad boys at the moment. They are our most complicated and detailed build. They're all custom made for the style and needs of the individual Games Master. There are just so many different aspects to the design, both seen and not seen from the outside.

(Greebow) I think its kinda important to say how that product came about. It was just over a year ago I think.

We had a GM (Jonathan Syson) who is just awesome, we have a lotta love for that guy, but he was always knocking his basic GM screen over.

(Thia) "Oh is that the beholder we must be fighting in the next room? I think we will go the other way!"

(Greebow) So when visiting Thias' family in Poland we decided to try to make some legs for his screen to stop it falling over. We had also been watching a lot of Matt Mercer and Satine Phoenix on their GM tips program. We realised just how hard a GM's job is to bring us all this adventure. How very little room is behind that screen for all they need.

(Thia) So we made the desicion to not just solve the falling over problem but as many problems as we could.

(Greebow) So we contact a big bunch of our local GMs and asked them to give us their top five problems, that are not players! Nothing we can do about them LOL.

Lots of things came up, such as, not enough space, forgetting when a character had a spell on them, dice rolling off the table, keeping initiative order, keeping notes and maps in one place, never having the info they need in view, working out who is in a spell radius, and lots more!

(Thia) They have so much to think about, let alone an entire populated world in their head.

(Greebow) We tackled every problem and listed possible ways to solve it. Brain stormed and brain stormed, and we eventually solved them.

Then we just had to find a way to put it all together so that it became compact. One of the problems that got mentioned was forgetting something vital to the game. Another GM said he kept everything in one big rucksack. THAT WAS IT! A carry case that you could also put your books in and transformed into an all in one GM screen.

(Thia) We made Jonathan and another of our GMs Dave a prototype kit at what turned out to be way less than cost price LOL. With the deal we could borrow them back over time to check them and ask lots of questions.

People saw the kits locally and wanted them. Orders started coming in, with folks wanting all sorts of colours and themes.

(Greebow) Then a friend we had made one for (Oli Wis) posted photos of his on Reddit. Next thing I know I'm getting a message and a screenshot telling me to get on Reddit and answer questions now. The comments and likes had gone through the roof. I was crazy surprised and very humbled at people's response.

(Thia) Lots of people asking how to get one and do we ship to the USA or Austria etc.

(Greebow) It was a really surprising and happy day for us. Big thanks to Oli, cheers mate.

I’ve got to ask; the photo of you two in costume and makeup on the front page is awesome, how did that come about?

(Thia) Haha yeah that was so much fun! We love dressing up as characters. We had an amazing make up artist called Sanita Liepina and one of the best photographers we know, Darren McGinn. Both just amazing creative people.

(Greebow) Basically when we created The Cognitive Merchant we wanted to keep it all in a fantasy world. So we made ourselves characters, Thia & Greebow. The Cognitive Merchant itself is a magical moving workshop that appears and disappears where needed. We create magic items to shape the destinies of adventurer's.

(Thia) For our website and advertising we wanted to bring these characters to life. So we did! You should check out our Patreon video we did at the same time (also created by Darren McGinn). It was so much fun it really was. We often even make stories up of how we adventure to get the materials needed for the magic items. Plus Thia and Greebow are D&D characters we actually play as. So its amazing to become them in real life when working at cons or doing promotion stuff.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

What else can we expect to see from Cognitive Merchant in the future?

(Greebow) Ooooh so so much. There is not enough time in the day for all the new things we want to make. But we are currently training up a couple of apprentices to help lighten the load.

One of the main things we are working on and waiting for a special event to launch it is our PLAYERS KITS! We have put a prototype out there and getting feedback, working hard on ways to improve it and patent it. It can be a long process that one. But soon.

I'm gonna be working with Thia to bring out more custom LARPing armour and accessories.

(Thia) We have a range of simple dice trays coming out. The other big project is a set of really cool leather projects for Magic the Gathering and other card games. All custom made and hand crafted as usual.

(Greebow) We are also going to be at some con's soon. First big one for us will be UK Games Expo in Birmingham , then Dragonmeet in London. There will me some con only merch available at our stall there. And if you are in the states we have the most awesome American ambassador, Baylor Banis from the B&B Tavern. He will be selling our magic items at Mechacon this year. He is a really great guy. Our very own happy Hobbit and his little furry face means the world to us.

(Thia) I think another thing that might be worth a mention is that we have just started streaming a fortnightly game with him and some friends. Its called Borovia Bites and you can find it on twitch and YouTube. Its just us playing D&D and making fools of ourselves, so not sure anybody will actually watch it lol. But its fun and a good excuse to play with friends from all over the place.

Thursday 3 May 2018

WFRP 4th Edition Preorders are now open

I'm at risk of becoming 'Farsight Warhammerblogger' but we are talking about my favourite roleplaying game of all time.

These books and boxsets look great and the more I see the more excited I get.

There's still no word on the system other than the hints Cubicle 7 dropped yesterday, and that's the real meat I'm waiting for. WFRP 1st Edition is my favourite, the 2nd Edition was a better system but I felt it lacked the atmosphere and 3rd Edition I only played a few times and couldn't get on with the game system. So, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has been quite hit and miss for me so will this new edition strike the mark? Will it scratch my Warhammer itch? Will I lay my beloved Warhammer FRP 1st Edition aside to delve into this new edition, which will no doubt be supported with new, exciting material?

That remains to be seen. All I know is that the Collector's Limited Edition sings to me.

'The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Rulebook contains everything you need for grim and perilous roleplaying adventures in the Old World.'

'The Collector’s Limited Edition comes presented in a beautiful, magnet-sealed box. The cover of the rulebook is leather-effect, embossed with a gorgeous Warhammer sigil. The pages are gilt-edged, and the book comes complete with cloth bookmarks. Included in the box is a numbered Certificate of Authenticity. This a must for any Warhammer collector!'

'The perfect introduction to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, this boxed set includes an introductory scenario designed to teach you how to play, beautiful character portfolios, a guide to the town of Ubersreik and two ten-sided dice.'

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition - Pre-orders!

More news on my favourite tabletop roleplaying game. Well, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition is my favourite roleplaying game of all time, but I'm excited for Warhammer FRP 4th Edition.

I'm excited to see what they do with it, and I'm more than excited to see if it'll unseat WFRP 1st Edition as best roleplaying game ever! (Answer - probably not, but we'll see).

The Enemy Within campaign continues with 'Something Rotten in Kislev' and - my personal favourite of the series - 'Empire in Flames', but now that we've hit the end of the cycle it's time to wheel out the big guns, and this means the build-up to 4th Edition's release begins with the chance to pre-order the game.

From their website:

'The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition pre-order opens later this week! To whet your appetite, here are 4 things you can expect from the new edition of this beloved game.

1. Your Warhammer for You!

Something that is really core to our WFRP is that we’ve created tools for you to play your Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We recognise and support that everyone plays their own version of the rules and the setting, and we fully embrace and encourage that. It’s your game! With 30 years of history under its belt, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay means a lot of things to a huge number of players.

2. Ideal starting point

Not much experience with RPGs? The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set is designed to be the ideal introduction, with a structured adventure to help you learn how to play. Also containing a guide to Ubersreik, there’s loads of gaming material for more experienced GMs too!

3. System matters

WFRP4 uses ten-sided dice, and a tuned-up version of the familiar d100 system. You can tailor the rules to your preferences or different in-game situations, choosing from a menu of fast ‘roll under’ Simple Tests, Dramatic Tests giving success levels where you need more than a ‘yes or no’ result, and even barely rolling at all, if that’s your style.

4. Passion for Warhammer

Our creative team are lifelong players of the three previous editions of the game, and between us we’ve worked on all these editions too! We bloomin’ love Warhammer, and we think it shows.

We’ll be bringing you more on WFRP4 regularly, so watch this space! And, very excitingly, pre-orders go live on Thursday…'