INTRO: Warning, there’s an unnecessary David Bowie impression in this bit, as the Judge Dredd Board Game appeared in Labyrinth.
POTTED HISTORY: (00:05:00) A brief publication history of Judge in RPGs and news of the forthcoming game from EN Publishing.
OPEN BOX (with Marc Gascoigne): (10:44) We are joined by a giant in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing. He tells stories about his time editing DragonLords fanzine , working with Games Workshop and designing Judge Dredd.
DAILY DWARF: (00:48:24) @dailydwarf writes an introduction to some of the great material that appeared in White Dwarf, before the sun set on its coverage of RPGs.
ATTIC ATTACK: (01:07:00) Blythy joins Dirk in the loft to reflect on 2000ad and how it influenced our play.
Groggies Pt 1: Our annual awards are determined by the random subjects written on the spurious envelopes. In this section we look back on the year in games mastering – some of the highs and lows – we award the Messianic Megalomaniac award for the year.
The Trial of RuneQuest: Earlier in the year, Dirk took the RPG Academy to Apple Lane. This is an edited extract. You can find the full version here and the you tube video here (if you really need to).
Groggies Pt 2: This is the Olive Kinnisberg Memorial Award for players, playing and players and the games that we play. There’s a mention of UK Games Expo, The Heroes Journey and Star Trek Adventures.
Postbag Pt1: Mark Hides has written a memoir of his experiences of RPGs in Sheffield. You can get his book here.
Groggies Pt 3 There have been lows as well as highs
Postbag Pt2 Rog Coe and Wayne Peters are regular correspondents to this site.
Groggies Pt 4 The new game that we have been playing and some of the hopes for the new year.
Outro: Thanks to Patreons and you’ll find details about the Spaghetti Conjunction here
We are returning to one of our favourite games, Call of Cthulhu, to consider what has changed for the game over the past 2 years, since the last episode.
OPEN BOX (with Mike Mason) 06.00
At the time of recording, Mike had just returned from his trip to NECRONOMICON and was fresh with the news of the great success for Call of Cthulhu at GENCON.
Mike shares his experiences from his formative years of role-playing and how his fascination with horror, drew him towards Call of Cthulhu.
ED’S BRAND NEW SHED 50.00
Ed is the first of us to hit 50 and his family have treated him to a brand-new metal shed. He talks us through his Fungi From Yuggoth scrapbook. You can get Mutable Deception from Drive Thru RPG.
GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN 01.08.00
We’re on a Jolly Boys outing – this is the player reflections on playing the Fungi … campaign.
We had many new Patreons joining us in September. Thanks to you all – sorry for mangling your names – we are very grateful for your contributions and look forward to making the ‘zine available in the next couple of months.
GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN (with Ian Marsh): Ian Marsh returns to talk about his editorial-ship at White Dwarf and his involvement in Games Workshop. He also talks about Dr Who and his TimeLord game, before bringing us up to date with his latest endeavours.
DAGON (with @dailydwarf): @dailydwarf gives his usual insightful analysis of literary criticism covered in Dagon ‘zine.
ATTIC ATTACK: Blythy joins me in the attic to talk about ‘zines and comments provided by listeners. I mention Monster Man, a new podcast that is being developed by James Holloway, check out progress at his site.
OUTRO: We’re making a ‘zine – sign up at Patreon – before the end of September 2017 to get a copy.
Thank you to all our Patreons for your continued support; without you, we would not have been going for so long.
If you would like a PDF of the last GROGZINE you can get it at Drive Thru RPG and The Complete Daily Dwarf too. All proceeds will go to YSDC to support the community there.
“What fools we are,” I said to my wrinkled reflection as it stared at me disapprovingly at five thirty AM yesterday. I was off to Spaghetti ConJunction 2a, the twice yearly convention hosted by Pookie, Simon Burley and James Mullen, at the Geek Retreat cafe/ game store in city centre Birmingham.
The early start was brought on by the interminable rail-replacement between Adlington and Manchester. Don’t get me started. Despite getting on the bus at quarter to seven, I still had to run, that’s right, run to get on the train to meet Blythy at eight thirty. A journey that normally takes 40 minutes had taken the best part of 2 hours. Mutter. Mutter. Grumble. Grumble.
There were plenty of games available: Hot War, HeroQuest, Prime Time, Manifold, RuneQuest Mythic Britain, Blades in the Dark, Tales from the Loop and more.
Here’s my report in the usual format: 5 highlights and a fumble.
1 Geek Retreat.
Geek Retreat is in a good central location with amiable hosts who bring your food & drink orders to the table. Despite its lurid signal-yellow and purple colour scheme, it turned out to be a good, simple space for playing. The prices for food and drink reflect its central location, but the quality is good and worth it to support their provision of gaming space.
2 Morning Dredd
I was running Better Living Through Chemistry for Judge Dredd RPG: the adventure that appears in the 2018 ‘zine, written by Daily Dwarf. It’s an intriguing, witty adventure packed with layers of pop culture references, subtle jokes and Easter eggs that went over the heads of some of the younger people playing.
I was surprised that the only awareness of Dredd for three of the six players was the Karl Urban film. This was the first time that I have run the game for 35 years – we’ll go into detail about the actual game in the next part of the podcast – but it went surprisingly smoothly.
The Judges’ methods were questionable, but we’ll leave that to the SJS who are reviewing the case. A spell on Titan is on the cards.
Over in the corner, Blythy ran a game of Numenera, this is what he said:
“So you’ve never played Numenera before?
“I’ve never played an rpg before actually.”
Gulp. The hobby’s reputation rests on my shoulders… I handed him my dice and he went on to roll two ‘1’s (automatic failure) at once. Great start.
A rerun of the Judge Dredd game, this time the group was a little more experienced, with only a couple of players with no knowledge of the comic version of Mega City One. There were some exciting chases, including the Rookie Judge keeping up with an escaping perp, but no resources or skill to stop him in his tracks: bike cannons, rubber ricochet and loud, persuasive shouting all failed.
There were some additional scenes to this version. These players were more tuned into the nostalgia, so I propelled things along to get them to points of interest, rail-roady maybe, but I think there was enough opportunity for them to interact with the scenes and engage with the entertaining set up. The limitations of the mechanics were exposed with this group of more mature players, I could sense the nostalgia wearing off, the rules were found wanting.
Gaz, from the Smart Party, described the GM style as ‘Cabaret’. Not sure if it was a compliment, but it’s the last time I wear a basque and bowler hat to a convention.
I never win anything, so it was a great delight to win, not once, but twice. There were generous donations for the charity auction from a number of different publishers. I picked up Sixty Stone Press’ ‘Cathulhu – Velvet Paws on Cthulhu’s Trail’ with rules for playing a cat investigator in Call of Cthulhu, and The Midderlands, from Monkey Blood Design which is an OSR bestiary and setting (recommended by Pookie).
I’m normally a ‘theatre of the mind’ GM, but this adventure came with floor-plans, figures, counters, skull tokens, hand-outs, flash cards and all sorts of props. I was in a muddle. Within 10 minutes, I flipped a cup of tea over everything and remained in a state of flustered disarray for the rest of the day. A genuine fumble.
In the words of Travis Bickle, one of these days I’m going to get myself “organized”.
The rail replacement meant that I was home just after mid-night, but it was worth it, a throughly enjoyable day. Thanks to the three organisers, Geek Retreat and all the players for making it such fun.
Since returning to the hobby, I have always been GURPS curious. Recently, my curiosity has been piqued further by its coverage by the Improvised Radio Theatre with Dice podcast. The hosts, Roger and Mike, are fans of the versatility of the system. They will often refrain, “I’d have to have a good reason not to do this in GURPS” when faced with a new RPG concept or setting.
From an outsider, faced with the overwhelming number of publications supporting the system, I just can’t find a way in … even if it is a ‘forced entry’.
How do you get started with the game? How do you navigate through the editions and different source books? Why does it have a reputation for lethal, simulationist crunch? If it is such a generic system, how does it change to accommodate different settings? People said that is dead, can it be brought back to life? What is Bane Storm any way?
Whatever you do, don’t head for ‘GURPS for Dummies’, head for Mike and Roger answering these questions. Apparently, I am from an Empire from the North. I was glad to send an emissary to Buckinghamshire to discover the unknown pleasures of GURPS.
“Thank you, you’ve inspired me to go up into the loft and start reading my gaming stuff again, “ is the sign that my plot to awaken the sleeper cell of RPG gamers is working. Making that tentative step of sifting through the tea-chests in the attic is the start of a journey of bringing the past into your future.
Play is the thing. Reading rules and supplements is never enough. I’ll avoid the onanicistic metaphors, but having a well-thumbed book on the night-stand will never substitute the real thing. To have a proper, active, GROGNARD sleeper cell, you need to play. How do you do it? How do you reconnect to the hobby from a standing start?
It’s easier said than done when you’re a time-poor, middle-aged, put-upon denizen of the early 21st century: the toad ‘work’, the stresses and strains of family life, and lack of a gaming network conspire to frustrate even the most resolute reawakened gamer.
I’ve been there. I’ve studied the finer points of strike-rank with the nagging doubt that I’d ever see them in play. It took a force of will and a determined effort to get where I am today, with a bit too much stuff going on.
To help the GROGSQUAD realise their ambitions, I offer the following tips to kick-start your gaming future:
SMASH A CLIQUE
Conventional wisdom will advise you to use an app, such as ‘Meet Up’, or study forums like the soon to be retired UK Role Players, or RPG Net and seek out an active group in your area.
You’ll know if you are the kind of person who can cope with difficulties of integrating into an established group. If you’ve not played for a while, it’s a little daunting to put yourself in the thick of people who look like they know what they’re doing. I know of some people who have managed to bide their time before staging a coup, but it’s not for everyone.
Most of the tips that follow, assume you’ll be starting from scratch.
If you learn just one thing from these tips, it must be this: establish a fixed date in the calendar.
I looked upon my friends who were soccer fans attending every home match every other week: They could break away from their commitments in a socially accepted hobby; why can’t the RPG gamer?
When I asked them how they did it, they said, “everyone knows that it’s ‘what I do’”
You need to do the same. Establish a fixture; build it up, because it’s what you do.
Having a set fixture such as ‘Every First Sunday of the month’ or ‘fortnightly on a Wednesday’ is much better than trying to coordinate diaries on an ad hoc basis.
Set a rule that the meeting will take place as long as there are two people.
It’s a principle that we’ve applied to the Traveller Adventure and Storm King’s Thunder over the past couple of years. Within the narrative, characters can sit out a session “on the ship” or “back at camp” to allow the game to continue, if the player can’t make it in real-life.
It sharpens commitment to the fixture, who wants to miss out? It also establishes a pattern, to keep your eye on maintaining the fixture.
A MEDIOCRE SESSION IS BETTER THAN NOTHING
We all seem to want different things from the hobby, that’s why we tend to use ‘fun’ as a common-ground. Fun has a wide continuum. It’s possible to be slightly dis-satisfied and have tremendous fun too. Especially when you’ve been reading and rereading in preparation.
Back in the day, we had a mantra that said “playing a bad game was better than not playing at all”.
Now that time is precious, we can’t afford that luxury, so there’s a tendency to place too much weight of expectation on each session. It feels like every session should be “wonderful”. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to have such high expectations.
As a rule, prepare yourself for a mediocre sense of fun. If it turns out better, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re going to GM for the first time in 30 years, having high expectations of yourself can be incredibly intimidating. It can also induce procrastination.
Aim for everyone to have a fair to middling time and you are guaranteed to succeed, and start playing again.
Finding likeminded players remains a challenge. ‘Likeminded’ is key here.
The best approach is to try and reacquaint yourself with the people that you knew back in the day. They’re probably sharing your desire to reacquaint themselves with the hobby that they left behind.
If Friends Reunited is not possible, then I encourage you to seek out other members of the GROGSQUAD. Over the past couple of years, I’m aware of at least 5 different groups forming as a result of connecting with others who listen to the GROGPOD.
To help you to make these connections, our friend the RPG Kitchen is developing a forum. It’s looking good so far and we are looking to launch before the summer.
Even if you can only find ONE other player, go for it, start small and build from there.
Try to make your first game a physical, around the table, game if possible.
Playing online through Skype, hangouts or mediated through Roll 20 is a great way of stealing time and getting an extra couple of sessions in, but again, it will never replace the real thing.
If you can avoid doing it online, then I urge you to play around the table. There’s a few reasons for this: technology is disappointing, the dynamic is different which takes a while to learn and it’s harder to have a really good laugh at rubbish rolls online.
However, it is good, once you’ve built up confidence, to experiment with online. Seek out a sample game as a player before you start GMing.
When you feel ready, then online can be a great option for those ‘away’ fixtures; “I can’t go to the game, I’m watching it on the telly!”
Online games are a great way of establishing an additional fixture.
If you are in the UK, there’s loads of meet-ups happening within a train ride, so you could go a whole year having a monthly field-trip.
Going to meet-ups are a different dynamic than entering an established club. Everyone is in a different mode. There’s a greater deal of openness and willingness to try something different and welcome all comers.
If you’re feeling a bit rusty on the rules and how to play, then the meet up is a licence to adopt the role of the faux-naif and no-one will be judgmental.
Once you have been playing at home or at a friend’s house, there’ll come a time when you’ll realise that you want to build up from your small base and open it up to others.
This is the tricky step as it usually means finding a more public space to play.
In my experience so far, finding a public-space for a regular session has been the most difficult transition to make. Game shops are ideal if you can guarantee that there’s enough space and it isn’t too noisy. Pubs are ok, but they introduce ‘drink’** into RPGs which can cause problems.
The best option is to book a cheap space. Tell the participants that they need to pay a sub to cover drinks and snacks so it doesn’t feel like you are charging them to play with you.
Mastery of this ‘step up’ is my resolution for 2018.
If you want to join me and Blythy in playing at a meetup, then here’s a reminder that we are appearing at Spaghetti ConJunction on 10th Feb and at UK Games Expo in June. The Golden Heroes game I’m running at ConVergence has sold out, but there’s lots happening and it’s a friendly experience.
If you want to try out online gaming, then there are more plans for the online GROGCLUB over at Patreon. Watch this space for the forum to connect with other like-minded players.
** I like a drink. Compared to Mother Theresa, I’m like Oliver Reed, compared to Oliver Reed, I’m like Mother Theresa. I’m a classic mid-life, metropolitan-elite, imbiber who functions on a regular dose of woolly ale and the odd whiskey. We decided a long time ago that drink and RPGs don’t mix. Your experience may vary.
It’s that time of the year when I’m blasting out the e-mithers to all and sundry to wrangle them into gaming action. This year the GROGPOD is exploring Games Workshop’s booming RPG period (in the mid to late 80s), the planned games over the next couple of months will help us get into the GW zone.
I’m running The Judge Dredd RPG at Spaghetti ConJunction and UK Games Expo, which I’m very much looking forward to. @dailydwarf has furnished me with the counters and floorplans he prepared for GROGMEET to replicate the mean streets of Better Living Through Chemistry (the scenario he wrote for the GROGZINE). It has investigation, hard rain, muties and a series of stunning set-pieces; a perfect one-shot.
Golden Heroes was supported by a couple of great scenario packs. The people of twitter selected Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail by Marcus Rowland for my 7 hour slot at ConVergence in Stockport on 10th March. Simon Burley will also be at the event, running his new game Manifold, so I’d better be on my best behaviour.
The Patreons voted last year for us to do a podcast about PARANOIA, so I’m planning a one-shot in the next couple of weeks. Looking at the rules, I’m as baffled by it now as I was back in 1986. Thankfully, I’ve asked for help from none other than Paul Baldowski, who assures me that the computer is not *that* bad.
Last week, I ran a game of RuneQuest for the on-line GROGCLUB which is open to Patreons (play report to follow) and there’s a game of GANGBUSTERS planned for next week (I’ll be running Keehar’s game from GROGMEET ’16). The first ever Virtual GROGMEET was also unleashed. There will be games from the GROGMEET GMs available to play 13th and 14th April. More information will be available next month; follow Patreon for details.
We’ve also been invited to a meet up in Leamington by the Midland’s Massive in September (more details will follow).
Blythy continues his ongoing commitment to the Ninth World with a continuing adventure of Numenera planned for our monthly face to face game. He’s also coming along to Birmingham and running a game at Spaghetti ConJunction and UK Games Expo (assuming the government manages to hold itself together).
There’s quite a bit of D&D on the slate too. Storm King’s Thunder is coming to its climax as we’ve discovered the location of King Hekaton, so we’re off to recover his glory, restore the Ordining and collect the gold. A walk in the park, when you say it like that. My sorcerer Himo is becoming more emboldened and teleported into the middle of the fray after months of skulking at the back sipping on his hip-flask.
The Wednesday, fortnightly group is now well established after a couple of years, so we’ll probably continue playing together. Blythy has a copy of Tomb of Annihilation, which I bought from Bonhomiegames.uk when they visited GROGMEET. It looked like something that I wanted to play rather than GM, so I handed it over to him.
There’s something attractive about the big-book campaigns available for 5e. They’re rich with encounters and incident, even if the overarching stories are a little flakey. Over at Ed’s Shed, he’s got Curse of Strahd on the night-stand and has promised to unleash it at some point during the year.
I’ve resolved to abdicate from the role of The King of The One-shot and GM a campaign too. In April, I will be kicking off the Two Headed Serpent, Pulp Cthulhu campaign. It’s a terrific, world spanning adventure that will be available to the online GROGSQUAD. Two parties of investigators adventurers will launch simultaneously with Doc RPG (Ian Griffiths) as a second Keeper of Arcane Knowledge. Looking forward to running that for a couple of years!
From the very moment I began the GROGPOD, listeners have been asking “when will you cover Woof-Rough”. I had no idea what they were on about. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing (WHFRP) passed the Armchair Adventurers by … it looked like too much of an investment at the time and we were locked into RuneQuest set in our home-brew world, drinking home-brew. I’m going to run the first couple of instalments of The Warhammer Campaign for Eddy and Blythy, so we can see what all the fuss is about.
The Smart Party salivate over the ‘new hotness’ in their podcast. I’ve been introduced to new concepts and ideas over the last 18 months, we need to pushing into new corners of the hobby, to explore all those areas that we missed when we stopped playing for nearly 20 years.
I’ll be running the Night’s Black Agents scenario set in the midst of the British miners’ strike in 1984 for UK GamesExpo. I need to up the stakes (through the heart) following the playtest on GROGMEET eve, it needs a bit of work, but the context of the strike and the ‘Ken Loach meets Jason Bourne’ approach worked well.
Also, Blades in the Dark was my favourite discovery of last year and I’d like to keep the momentum of what we started, I’m keen to see if the Lamp Blacks deduce Phin the Thin is the murderer of their boss. The greatness of the game is that as a GM, I don’t know; I’ll be discovering what happens at the same time as the players.
I’ve bought a gift to myself, Vurt The tabletop Role Playing Game, which is a licensed product using the cypher system (similar to Numenera). Its filled with some fantastic artwork and background information to recreate the post-cyberpunk experience of Jeff Noon’s vision of a near-future Manchester. It’s been fun reading the rule book, not least for its depiction of Bolton of the future as some power-house of respectability. I need to plan in a game at some point in the year.
FATE captured our imaginations, but other than a Jerry Cornelius one-shot, we haven’t taken advantage of its clever resolution mechanics. Blythy has been promising a Robin of Sherwood game using the system, maybe this year we’ll get around to doing it.
There’s lots of old is new projects in the pipeline from various publishers. It’s difficult to tell which will grab our attention and take the traditional ‘August experimental slot’.
As for GROGMEET 18, well last year we had a terrific meet up in Manchester. We’re going to do it again this year on the 10th November. Details are being finalised, but watch this space. Super heroes, there’s going to be super heroes. Bigly.
Another busy schedule for The Armchair Adventurers, but play is the thing.
Fenris Games is the creation of Ian and Jo Brumby, also known as The Brothers Brum: the home of incredible miniatures and table-top modelling sculptures. Before they found fame, perhaps not their fortune, in the world of model-making, they created WyrdWorld, the world base for a play by mail (PBM) in 1987/88.
Manual PBMs need a lot of effort to make them work. In Episode 14 I talked about my descent into madness trying to keep up when the turn-rate and the level of detail seemed to grow exponentially. My paltry efforts are nothing compared with the herculean campaign worlds created by Fenris.
They ran other Play By Mail games (Children of the Morning Star, MMCII), but it’s WYRDWORLD that has captured my imagination. Inspired by the Alan Dean Foster Spellsinger series of books, the players become humanoid animals. The animals have become people with fur and claws and teeth, “Fancy playing Conan the Barbary Ape? Then this is the game for you.”
The rule book reveals a story based approach that was way ahead of its time with indy sensibilities: Magic? Tell me what you want to do and the effects, and we’ll work it out from there.
Ian has sent me some of the turn reports that he completed, they’re like mini-novels as they are full of inventive verve. Thankfully some of the essence of the PBM can be found in their Prachettesque novel Genesis (well worth reading, available from Amazon)
The characters of WyrdWorld Inspired some of their greatest miniature creations, including the menacing SNUURG himself.
The independent model-making trade is a tough business, the amount of effort to produce fabulous, finely detailed, expressive miniatures, is rarely rewarded with sufficient income. If you want to learn more about the trials and tribulations of the business, I recommend listening to Ian being interviewed on GMS Magazine podcast. It’s worth listening to, just for the sound of the dog’s ears flapping with vigour every so often.
They have some ideas about developing WyrdWorld in the ‘some-day-maybe’ tray (perhaps the power of the GROGSQUAD can tempt them). Until then, here’s a glimpse into peoples and magicks of Urth.