One-D-Six – The Fire Opal of Set

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Ours is not the only existence – not the only time stream on which there is an Earth. There are others and, like the planets in space, there are an infinite number…

Luther Arkwright, Roleplaying Across the Parallels, is a supplement that has been developed for Mythras (RuneQuest 6), based on the worlds created by Bryan Talbot in his great comic strip from the 1980s. Back in the Imagine episode of the podcast, I pledged to convert The Fire Opal of Set, an  adventure that appeared in issue 14, from Traveller to Mythras and run it at ConVergence, the new convention in Stockport.

The player characters are Valhalla agents, with special traits, who are sent to eliminate disruptors who are manipulating the time-streams with various nefarious schemes.

It came round faster than I anticipated and the conversion required more work than I appreciated (I’d forgotten the effort required when creating Mythras pre-gens and NPCs), but on Saturday I had a fantastic time, overcoming my recent GM doubts to participate in a cracking 6 hours.

The success was down to the original scenario written by Bryan Talbot and James Brunton as it’s an incredibly inventive, full of imaginative twists and turns, and down to the players, who were all very engaged with the their characters and were up for having fun in the story.

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Here’s my 6 part digest of what happened – 5 great moments, and a duff fumble – that’s the format.

1.Escalation Dice – The scenario sets up a race against time as they have to seek the FireFrost codex which is concealed on a disruptor knight known as Monkton. The FireFrost is a powerful weapon that threatens the very fabric of the multiverse.Fire Frost Briefing.jpg

The original scenario was intended to be run over several sessions, but this was a one-shot, so it needed forward propulsion to keep things moving. The player characters travelled through the time-streams via the TPV (a glorified TARDIS, but with pipes), otherwise known as ‘The Van’. It’s a precious bit of kit, so it would disappear if they didn’t get back in time, which would leave them trapped in time.

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My big escalation dice made its debut appearance … they raced on quad-bikes – falling off and being attacked by wolves with human-like faces. Later, they defied the entropic effects of FireFrost that almost sent them plunging to the Earth from the charter flight. There were several races against time to make sure they reached the van. The big dice worked perfectly to create the tension as time counted down, encouraging them to move on to the next parallel.

2. 00-66-74 Post Urban Collapse

The team are in search of one of Monkton’s indigenous pawns by the name of Snorty Hargreaves in a London that has been affected by successive chemical attacks. The atmosphere is toxic.

The Thames is arid and the ruins of London are overgrown. Snorty is dead. They discover that he is a revered supplier of much needed drugs to the people of TomsTown.

Through questioning and slight of hand the team discover that his death has been faked and the drugs he is supplying the town are contaminated by poisonous substances.

A zither was playing as they made their exit.

3. 03-02-47 Cha-no-yu on a Dark Afternoon

After some bargaining, the team agreed to trade some of their precious luck points in exchange for additional ‘game changing’ equipment. This included a unique Hokusai print that is only available on one of the time parallels.

They arrived at a parallel where Japan dominated Earth and the disruptor pawn was the Emperor’s geisha. Fortunately, she had weakness for exotic items so they used the print to get into the Emperor’s Palace.

Following an elaborate infiltration scheme they avoided being drugged and ended up with the geisha slung over their shoulder as they made a getaway in a chopper.

They extracted the information they needed and reprogrammed the TPV to head towards their target!

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4. 00-73-87 Puritan Protectorate Variation

The TPV was destroyed on appearance on the banks of the Thames.

They headed for The Maze, a rag-taggle buildings in a London where the fire of London hasn’t brought in ordered town planning… yet. Cut-throats, pimps and other n’er do wells gather in the mean streets.

A new NPC voice was added to my repertoire as I characterised Harry Fairfax (one of Luther’s contacts from the comics) as Danny Baker. He gave them a lead to Monkton and built up the tension, “He’s a crackshot, he never misses, I’ve seen him take out gorrillas!”

“He’s been out with a gorilla?” a player asked tentatively.

The sadistic and brutal abilities of Monkton filled the team with dread when they finally hunted him down to the Merry Widow, where he was stripped to the waist using a woman as human shield, with his mad piercing, blue eyes.

“His brown eyes are blue, the codex is hidden on a contact lens!” they realised as hell-fire broke lose as they tried to apprehend him.

5. The Valhalla Team

They managed to recover the codex and head to St Pauls’ Cathedral to Monkton’s TPV to return to Zero-Zero as incendiary devices ignited around the city.

It was a testament to the ingenuity of the players that they all managed to survive a deadly adventure using a deadly system. They were innovative in the application of their traits: The gadgetry of Vladek Kasyatkin got them out of some tight spots, Persephone McPherson’s analysis of drugs revealed the treachery of Snorty Hargreaves, Boston Singh nutted the geisha with his steel skull cap when she tried to drug them, Mycroft von Neuman devised schemes and launched grenades to provide cover for escape and, last but not least, Orlando Bridgeman*, the leader, used his slight of hand and tactical approach to give the team an impressive edge over the disruptors.

Thanks to Ed, Ste, Ian, Neil and Tom – it was great!

Also, thanks to Snowy and Kris for organising the event, Element Games is a good venue (with beer!) and highly recommended. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

6. Dice Loss

Every time I play somewhere away from home, I always lose a die, this time I lost 2 D12. At least I won’t miss them much.

*Interesting Bolton fact – James Brunton, the author of the scenario, lived in Bolton. Orlando Bridge is a railway bridge in the town!

 

Episode 11 – Top Secret RPG

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For your eyes only. Don’t accept this Podcast if the seal is broken.

INTRO: I love the world of espionage and this is the first in our ‘Spy Sequence’ that we’ll be peppering through the next year. We’ve had another iTunes review too – please give us one if you haven’t already.

OPEN BOX: Top Secret was one of those games that we only played a few times, but it made a lasting impression on us. In this section we remember those early games and I challenge Blythy about whether or not he really likes spy-based games.

POTTED HISTORY: The game emerged from a single vision, born from a college dorm, in this section I talk through the history of the game. If you want to hear the story from Merle Rasmussen’s mouth, then seek out The Dead Game’s society’s interview with him from 2014.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES!: We roll a character and Judge Blythy complains that there are far too many tables. In a thrilling exchange, there is a transformation as Judge Nutmeg transforms into Mr Hand-Wavey Davey.

THE WHITE DWARF  DRAGON: Top Secret didn’t appear in White Dwarf, so we turn to Dragon – a magazine that fully supported the development of Top Secret.

STARBURST MEMORIES: Blythy and I discuss our favourite spy moments from films and television in a brand new feature that includes an overly complicated audience participation feature.

OUTRO: There’s a chance to play Top Secret if you join our Patreon campaign. This is a thank you bit for all those who are already supporting us.

Grogmeet 2017: the Liver Bird has landed 

Kehaar of The Dissecting Worlds podcast developing his pitch for his #GROGMEET … sounds great! (11th November – Mad Lab – Manchester – tickets available in April) – Dirk

A.L.F.I.E.S Antics

I am once again honoured to be running a game as at Grogmeet 2017 the annual convention run by the excellent Grognod Files podcast.

This occasion I am going to revisit my roleplaying version of Solway Minatures Very British Civil War 1938 background. Edward VIII has refused to abdicate and appointed Oswald Moseley his Prime Minister. Amongst the forces opposing this unconstitutional government is the Liverpool Free State.

The player characters are spies and commandos of the Amagumated Liverpool Free Intelligences and Espionage Service (ALFIES.) There are plenty to choose from.I will add some female potential PCs too in addition to Maria the cleaner.

In the convention game ‘The Liver Bird has landed’ (OPERATION LADYBIRD) the players mission is to rescue George Formby who is being held prisoner by government forces in Peckforton Castle.


The entertainer is not only an inspiration to the Resistance but also knows about rebel…

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I fought the Law and the Law won

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What if I’m no good at Games Mastering? How do you know when you’re doing it right?

Now, I’m not going through a crisis of confidence, nor am I fishing for complements; it’s an inevitable period of soul-searching that every GM reaches at some point when they’ve been playing for a while . When I posed this question to Judge Blythy (the co-host of the GROGNARD files), he inevitably confirmed that I was wonderful … “one of the best” and that I should stop worrying and just get on with it. He would say that, wouldn’t he? We’ve been playing together for years. He doesn’t know any different. When we counted how many GMs we had actually played with, we realised it was only 8 different people.

“Know your Players” is the first of Robin’s Laws of GamesMastering. Robin D. Laws provides a systematic process of how to tune your games to make everyone around the table have fun. The truth is, I know my players too well. Like long term lovers, I know how to press their buttons, how to tease them, how to get them to a climax in a satisfying manner. It may not be a spectacular climax, but it does the job.

Over the past 12 months I have played with more players than I’ve ever played with before. Thanks to the podcast, I’ve become more RPG promiscuous and have run a campaign and a series of one-shots with different players; people that I don’t know in ‘real’ life. Many of these new virtual friends have not played since back in the day, so they’re flush with the excitement of rediscovering the hobby.

Now that I am practising my tried and tested technics on new players, I’m using my tabletop ‘love-making’ with people who are able to judge me against others. What if my finely honed pleasure-making talents are not compatible with other players?

I AM THE LAW

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Last month, The RPG Academy posted their Actual Play podcast of the RuneQuest game that I ran for them. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of AP podcasts – they’re not something that I enjoy listening to (with a couple of notable exceptions) – but, as it’s the first time I’ve seen myself GMing. Hence the reflective mood.

The Academy guys were very appreciative of my GMing in the recap episode, which was very generous of them, given they were resistant to the idea of percentile games. They didn’t like RuneQuest much, but they had fun, so in their own words, “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”

Robin Laws makes a similar Golden Rule in his book of advice: “Role-playing Games are entertainment; your goal as GM is to make the game as entertaining as possible for all participants. If you and your players are having fun, you are a good GM.”

There you go. Blythy is right, I am wonderful.

Hang on, before I get carried away with blowing smoke up my own fundament: there’s always room to be better, maybe there’s more fun to be had, if only I was a better GM.

I know my strengths and I play to them. Fortunately, I’m a naturally laconic person, so I’m not the kind of GM who hogs the game. My instinct is to get the players talking and working as much as possible. I foster cooperation and participation at the table and players naturally seem to want to work together towards a common goal. I also have the ability to ‘sell a scene’. I take a lot of care to describe the action with a cinematic eye combined with other sensory details like smell, sounds and taste.

I’m an impatient player and that translates into my GM style. Sign up to my game and you’ll expect pace and action to keep things moving. I like to make sure that PCs are absolutely clear on their options, so they don’t waste any precious time prevaricating.

Don’t waste any time… there’s the problem … there’s the blindspot.

LOSING CRUNCH

When I listened to the play back of the RPG Academy podcast, I couldn’t help but cast a critical eye towards my deficiencies as a GM. I sometimes get so keen on driving the story forward that I’ll wave away the rules.

I know that there’s a general feeling that GMs should give a ruling rather than consulting the rulebook however, there’s merit in precision, there’s a delight in making a rule work for you, a triumph in turning the tide by the tight application of a spell. Too often, I’m guilty of waving things through because they suit the moment, or help the narrative progress.

Blythy has been running Storm King’s Thunder (D&D 5e). He has a much tighter style than I have (he’s not the rules lawyer for nothing) and I can see how the power-play of the rules draws out more player engagement. The participants are enjoying the thrill of building their character meticulously and applying their esoteric feats at the most opportune moment. Blythy has shifted the balance by saying, “get the Player’s Handbook, understand your character, make it work, because I’m not doing it for you.”

In Robin’s Laws, crunchy rules hand power to the players, as they are shifting the balance away from the GM and activating their ability to change the outcome of a game.

I like crunchy rules, but with the players that I’ve been playing with over the past 12 months, I’ve known the rules better than the players. I’ve encouraged them to get on with the story and leave me to worry about the rules. Ultimately, this has allowed me to have more control over the outcomes and the players flailing around at increasingly mad cap schemes to turn situations in their favour. They don’t know the rules, so they’ll give anything a punt, and I’ll let them run with it!

That’s where I went ‘wrong’ with The RPG Academy guys. If I’d taken more time with their character sheet ‘on screen’ rather than sending them a brief summary over e-mail, they’d have been able to work the crunch in their favour and applied a more tactical approach.

Similarly, with The Traveller Adventure, which was a tremendously entertaining experience, if I’d have taken the time to explain the rules more fully, a more rigorously tactical approach may have been adopted. My vision was to have an earnest version of Space 1999, in the end it was more like Red Dwarf meets Dark Star: “I want to pilot the launch into the enemy ship and eject prior to impact,” could have been, “I will deploy my Tactics – 2 and ascertain the space-craft’s vulnerabilities.” Maybe.

TIME-SHIFT

My next assignment is Luther Arkwright at ConVergence. It’s a reprise of The Fire Opal of Set that originally appeared in IMAGINE using Mythras rather than Traveller. I’m going to look over my shoulder, check my blind-spot, and take some time to familiarise the players with the rules, so they can understand their powers, to understand the influence on the game.

Thanks to Robin’s Laws I can spice up my well practiced RPG-life and make things fifty shades … player.

-Dirk the Dice

There are still tickets available for ConVergence at Stockport on 18th March. Why not join myself and Blythy and see if I reach the peak of GM enlightenment.

 

 

Episode 10 (Part 2) More RuneQuest RPG (with Rick Meints)

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INTRO Blimey Charlie! This is the twentieth podcast!

1:53 GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN Rick Meints, President of Chaosium, joins us once again. This time we roll on a special ‘plunder’ table to search his fabled collection as he recounts past adventures from back in the day.

42:08 OPEN BOX Borderlands is Chaosium’s classic campaign from 1982 – we’ve played it twice, once in ’83 and again in ’13 – find out why this is very much our ‘foundational document’.

1.25 POSTBAG We’ve revamped the Patreon campaign – join now and get access to the ‘zine PDF  – also, you can join the Valhalla agents at Convergence

A year on the GROG – 2017

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“You’re so rock n’ roll!” declared @oilpainting on Twitter. This was following my RPG Academy all-nighter, as I was on my way to work, bleary-eyed after the excitement of the night before.

“I’m only doing this because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” I replied, echoing President Obama.

I operate the Armchair Adventurers much The Boss operates the E-Street Band: old friends who enjoy playing together under the control of a benevolent dictator. At this point of the year, my messianic megalomania kicks into overdrive as I fill up everyone’s diaries with the plans for the next 6 months of gaming. There’s method in this madness, as when it comes to negotiation with the fun prevention officer (FPO) it’s essential that you declare your intentions on the family calendar because once it’s on there, it’s happening.

Last year was such a remarkable year. The number of games we played and the hours that we managed to commit was at levels not seen since the 80s; it’s going to be hard to sustain. I’m moving house for one thing. Dirk Towers has moved in its entirety to a half-way-house until the new site is ready. It was a difficult and exhausting exercise. We’ve already filled hundreds of boxes and have barely made a dent on the years and years of accumulated stuff.

Thankfully, the ridiculous home-made shrine to the actress Caroline Munro has been diligently bubble-wrapped.

STONKIN’ THUNDER

Judge ‘Little Steven’ Blythy has been on hand to step into the GamesMastering duties for the Wednesday Night Roll20 group. The old gang is together once again after the triumph of Old School The Traveller Adventure, this time joined by none other than the Daily Dwarf, to take on the revival of Against the Giants in the New School Old School D&D 5e STORM KING’S THUNDER.

The first session was hit by some technical glitches with video and audio, but the kit provided by Roll 20 for the campaign works really well. This is the first time that we’ve used ‘miniatures’ for years. Normally, we talk through locations and relative distances, but having the characters on the screen represented by tokens on a gridded map, brings a new dimension to the game. I was frantically trying to pick a spell that would have enough range to hit the goblin who was firing arrows at my Sorcerer.

A great start to what promises to be an exciting campaign.

The Armchair Adventurers – MONTHLY SESSIONS

The monthly sessions are sacred. There’s a change this year as we will be changing location. We’ll be moving from Eddy’s shed and heading for the FLGS in Bolton, Portcullis War Games Emporium. If you live in the area, get in touch, you’re welcome to join us. Sessions are on the first Tuesday of the month 6pm – 10pm, the first is on 7th Feb. Let us know if you’re coming, we’ll have a character ready for you.

When it comes to planning these, there’s always a tussle between on-going campaigns and one-shots. We alternate Games Master responsibilities, so we’ve found it difficult to have a really good run and develop a momentum. This year we intend to have a longer run to get to the end of  Fungi From Yoggoth, the campaign that we began in the Autumn of 2015. It has been a great campaign, shredding through characters, and illustrated by Ed’s sumptuous hand-outs. Ed is currently retro-fitting the final sections to fit with 7ed, so we can experience the differences.

Blythy has just concluded an episode of Numenera that left our adventurers fleeing the alternate planet of Star Swarm to find our way back to the Ninth World. It will be back later in the year, as will Nights Black Agents. We ran several sessions of excellent Zalozhniy Quartet last year, but I’ve decided to rest it for a while. Of all the games we played, it was the one that suffered due to the loss of momentum as we ‘GM-switched’. I’m keen to run the Dracula Dossier, but I think we’ll work out a way that we can do it over a sustained weekend of several sessions. It needs to be compact and have a certain dramatic intensity to work.

KING OF THE ONE-SHOTS

For my GM duties, I’m going to be the King of the One-Shots, starting with a couple of Mythras games in the Luther Arkwright setting. I’m going to have a play-test at the session mentioned above, to get me ‘match-fit’ for the session at Convergence – which is set to be a 7 hour epic, based on the magnificent ‘Fire Opal of Set’ which appeared in Imagine #14. Please sign up if you can come … so far it’s me and Blythy.

Also, I have a commitment to deliver a ‘one-shot’ for the Patreons. I’ll be polling them soon on a date and game. I’ll also be running Top Secret and GangBusters online soon too.

In our plans for the next 6 months is a trip to Southport with our Gnomes, to join the Steam Dwarves, with our friends The Old Scroates and believe it or not, we’ve been given a press pass for UK Games Expo.

This town rips the bones from you back. Baby, I was born to roll.

Sorry.

Episode 10 (Part 1)More RuneQuest RPG (with Rick Meints)

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INTRO We’re back for more podcasts in 2017! We’re returning to our origins and looking again at the game that we began with back in 1981.

OPEN BOX 4.31 – the only President from the USA who really matters is the President of Chaosium, Rick Meints, who joins us to open the box on his early years of play and to talk about how he transformed from a player and collector of Chaosium games, to running the company.

WHITE DWARF 36.50@dailydwarf examines my favourite department of White Dwarf – RuneRites with its new creatures, magic and rules for combat.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES! 50.00 – RuneQuest 6 has been rebranded as MYTHRAS . Ahead of Dirk running his Luther Arkwright scenario at Convergence in March, Blythy casts his critical eye over the rules.

OUTRO: I’ve been appearing on various podcasts as a RuneQuest zealot – Dissecting Worlds and the RPG Academy as well as appearing wild-eyed on Twitch.

The Patreon campaign is being reviewed and renewed for 2017.