One-D-Six – Queen Victoria and The Holy Grail

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The last time I played GOLDEN HEROES was in 1986 and it was the worst experience of my RPG life.

I’ll recount the story in Episode 20 of the GROGPOD (due in April, 2018), but it was that bad that I stopped playing RPGs for a while afterwards. ConVergence 17 provided a cure for my GMitis that I experienced at the beginning of last year, so I was confident that it would have a similar restorative effect on a deeper, more profound RPG wound.

I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty tense in the run up to the game. Memories of that ’86 experience kept resurfacing as I read through the rules. My anxiety wasn’t helped on the day by rail-replacement providing a similar nightmarish journey that I’d experienced on the way to Spaghetti ConJunction last month. I was 45 minutes late. Welcomed to the gaming table by slow hand-clap.

I needn’t of worried. I was amongst GROGSQUADers and they totally bought into the game and brought their own imagination and gaming insight to the adventure. It was cracking fun and I have a new found love for super hero games.

Here’s the play report, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers for the scenario as I may run it again at a convention near you…

The usual format : 5 peaks and one bum-note.

CHARACTER CREATION

Anyone who has played GOLDEN HEROES will know that part of the fun of the game is its random character creation. Although more modern games allow you to pick your feats and abilities, with GH, you have to spend points to get a roll on a ‘table of powers’ or on an ‘advantageous background table’ to generate your hero.

I didn’t want to lose this element of the game so, I created a card deck of powers and advantageous backgrounds and let the players to draw at random. They had 8 counters to spend on drawing from either deck or they could re-roll one of their initial attributes (which were strictly 3d6), or enhance an existing super power.

The character generation process was slick. Within 40 minutes we had seven heroes. The Players managed to pull together interesting and convincing origin-stories for them all too.

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The Players got into the spirit of ‘comics code’ adventures

I provided a back story: they were part of a secret army that the monarchy had retained following the formation of Parliament. King Charles II secured this clandestine army and deployed them to protect the Empire and latterly the Commonwealth.

In a secret medical hospital in a remote part of Dartmoor, the King Charles Academy was founded, to enhance the army through experimentation and future tech..

One of the players coined the excellent team name:

‘THE IMPERIALS’

Intangible Man: a rich industrialist whose molecular structure was displaced through years of self-experimentation. His gravity manipulation was decisive in the final scene, preventing the Holy Grail plummeting into the depths of Hell.

Sub-Opitmo:  A psionic grifter who inadvertently stole some of the future tech developed by Intangible Man’s company. The stolen glider was activated at the most opportune moment.

Mercuria: a wily, silver-skinned, indefatigable, super-fast agent who had adopted the properties of a super car that she’d stolen. Her ricochetting ‘steering’ wheel weapon was hurled at vital battle scenes.

Catalyst: Dr Colin Jervis a highly accomplished Chemist who was a director of the King Charles Academy. Probably better known for his years at Eaton, using molecular chemistry to enhance his right-hook in boxing. His famous ‘Sunday Punch’ is delivered with a cry of ‘It’s time for your Chemistry test!”

Captain SpyFly: Connected and ‘connected’ with a cyber-super-brain of valves and switches, the best that the sixties could offer. He was an agent in active service thanks to his chameleon ability to slip into the shadows.

Newton Einstein III: A psi-onic expert who provided temporary super powers to the team at their hour of need, but most notable for his phenomenal strength,

Professor Penn: Affected by his encounter with a Tibetan mystic and demonologist, he has insight into ancient ways and used his powers to conjurer fantastic beasts to do his bidding.

FLASHBACK!

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The Armchair Adventurer rule is that every session needs to start with the characters hitting the ground running; in medias res. The adventure had a fairly conventional ‘you meet a wizard in the tavern’ opening (albeit the wizard is a cryonically persevered corpse of Queen Victoria and the tavern is the vaults in Buckingham Palace).

Therefore, I devised a scene ‘twenty one years before’ in 1963 where the Imperials are asked to stop a run away postal train, heading to London. The train is carrying high value packages and is being robbed by thugs ‘Buster’ and ‘Ronnie’ helped by Skyrider and Beacon (characters that come with the starter set).

It was a fun knock-a-bout encounter that they resolved through clever application of their powers and gave us all a feel for how the game works.

I also managed to sneak in a subtle nod to Diana, Warrior Princess, in the opening scenes.

QUEEN VIC

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Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail was the second scenario pack published by Games Workshop and was written by Marcus L Rowland. It has a both a dungeon AND a dragon, but its old school credentials do not stop there. The scenario is on rigid tracks on a rail road so defined that it inspired the pre-credit sequence. There are many instructions to the Scenario Supervisor along the lines of “under no circumstances allow …” or “the players will not be able to do …”.

However, it does have a cracking set up, a great villain at the centre of it, some creepy elements, and a couple of cracking set pieces. Once things were loosened up a little, to meet modern sensibilities about player agency, it worked well.

DRAGON PUNCHING

What about jeopardy? That’s the issue with super heroes. That’s why the third act Marvel movies are so eye-poppingly disorientating – crash! bang! wallop! this has GOT to hurt!

The joy of this scenario is that the final scene is a dramatic climax, on the top of a famous London landmark, and it worked really well with all the characters having a decisive impact on the story.

Newton, a character that had been relatively quiet throughout, punched the dragon repeatedly with decisive blows. The villain was pushed into the very flames of Hell (even though the scenario said that she shouldn’t be killed). A very satisfying conclusion.

DIVISION 

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Spyfly’s cybernetic brain was working overtime attempting to decode the clues to unraveling the conspiracy behind the events. It would have been better deployed trying to calculate the division of damage. Divide it by eleven?

During the course of the six hours, I developed ‘mental arithmetic’ as a super power.

That said, overall, the rules played much easier than they read: fun, loose, the potential to send characters to the brink of incapacitation (in exciting ways) and emulated the genre very effectively.

Another ConVergence triumph. Thanks to Snowy and Kris for organising and to the players (Amy, Neil, Steve, Conrad, his mate Martin, Ian and Blythy) for making it such great fun. The GROGNARD file on GOLDEN HEROES will be released in April.

Fanzine Scrap Book: Nick Edwards (Part Two)

The second part of  memoir and ‘zine scrap book. If you can help Nick find some of the ‘zines that he worked on, (Runestone, Iron Orchid and Manic Depressive) then please let me know and I’ll pass on the details. If you have a collection or a story to share then get in touch, we’d love to hear it.

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Another gratuitous shelfie from Nick’s Collection 

At some point, I either threw out or sold all the games and zines (including copies of my own zines), or had them thrown out for me by my mum.

That was that, until about 2004, by which point I had a career in business journalism and then general management in publishing.

I was ill in bed with some kind of horrible virus and in a kind of comfort food kind of thing, re-read Lord of the Rings over a couple of days. It was a reconnection with the past, and a revelation; the new film had just come out so that may have contributed.

At the same I was in a very bad marriage and my Dad was dying. In retrospect escapism was what I needed!

Over the course of some months, I gradually dug back into the past. I rooted out some stuff in my parents’ garage which had escaped the 80s purge – some White Dwarfs and some games.

I rooted round on the internet and found a blog by someone calling himself hyperbear which was a writeup of a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Delta Green universe. I was amazed how gaming had moved on since I had been away – it was dark and gritty with really good stories. I bought the Delta Green sourcebooks on ebay (really expensive) and read them like books. I started reading yog-sothoth.com  (everyone seemed much nicer to each other these days).

Then I went crazy on ebay and basically bought everything I had ever owned and more – all the games from the 70s and 80s, a pretty much complete set of WDs and whatever zines I could get (sadly I wasn’t able to find any of mine – clearly the market had voted on the need to keep them for posterity!). I got the original white box D&D set, the first edition of Call of Cthulhu, obscure things like Metamorphosis Alpha, Land of the Rising Sun, Bunnies and Burrows etc. Just like when I was 14, I bought many more things than I could ever play or even read.

THERE, AND BACK AGAIN

Round about 2006 I started actually playing again. A friend (ex boss in fact) used to play D&D with his brothers decades before and was still into scifi/fantasy/Lovecraft so was open to discussing Delta Green. In fact we did the first session in the bar of the Groucho Club (the show biz private members club in Soho) without dice or paper based on an idea I had been knocking around set in modern Britain and using the Pisces section of the Delta Green campaign. Over the course of the next few years we ran through a sprawling campaign with a session once a month (which I wrote up in a yog-sothoth blog) mashing up DG scenarios, my own stuff, an old WD scenario from Marcus Rowland, bits stolen from different campaigns and then culminating in a present-day version of Beyond the Mountains of Madness. It was pretty messy and I am not the best games master but I was pleased with it overall – I seem to remember one of the characters ended up making the ultimate sacrifice at the end (if you have ever done that BMOM campaign you will know what that entails) which was satisfying. By this time we had a group of five players and since then I have run a number of games: a couple of shorter Delta Green campaign, a Cthulhu-esque thing set in the far future, some rule-light adventures set in Lankmar, and most recently the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign for 13th Age. I started going to Dragonmeet again (and am going to UK Games Expo for the first time in June).

So now almost 40 years after first opening the red box Basic D&D set, I am happily married with three boys (12, 8 and 3), living in South London and managing about 130 commodities analysts for my job.

Despite all of this responsibility, a part of me will always be 14. I basically like all the things I liked when I was a kid but just have more money to indulge it. And my Christmas lists these days? Last Xmas my mum bought me a Mansions of Madness expansion pack which pleased me greatly.

Scrap Book

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Journal of The Senseless Carnage Society
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Runestone 3 which has, perhaps, my first letter published – I have apparently just bought Call of Cthulhu and expect Bill to get cracking writing me some material

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A song from News from Bree 21, one of the very early (1977) zines. I have a hazy memory of joining a D&D game at Games Day run by editor Hartley Patterson a few years later
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A Paul Mason scenario from Thunderstruck 3 – this is one of the few zines to print the year it was published March 1982 so I would have been 13 and a third when I bought this.

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Fanzine Scrap Book: Nick Edwards (Part One)

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A glimpse into Nick’s gaming library in this wonderful shelfie

Another entry in the Armchair Adventurer’s archive. GROGSQUAD member Nick Edwards was an active collector, contributor and correspondent to the British ‘Zine Scene back in the eighties. He contacted me about helping to fill gaps in his collection, specifically Runestone, a ‘zine he was involved in. He very kindly agreed to share some of his collection and his experiences to add to add to the expanding Armchair Adventurer Library.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons when I was in primary school, aged 9 or 10 in 1980 – by my older brother who played with a couple of friends in the pub over the road (the landlord’s son was the DM).

Playing in a pub was great as we were allowed the amazing treat of a free coke each. It’s also why the smell of stale beer that you get in old pubs always reminds me of childhood. Pretty soon I bought my own gear (the shop in Bristol was Forever People which made up the entirety of my Christmas list for a number of years) and in those first few years we ran D&D (then AD&D), Traveller, Bushido, Gamma World, Golden Heroes, Boot Hill, Aftermath and a few I can’t remember. Pretty soon I was keener on DMing than playing.

For AD&D, we played through Tomb of Horrors, the Giants series, the Slavers series, Queen of the Demonweb Pits and so on. Call of Cthulhu came along and captured my imagination, as did creating my own scenarios and even games. I remember running Order of the Silver Twilight from one of the early campaigns and the lack of combat was eye opening. This was a time when the hobby was reinventing itself regularly as games and gaming became more sophisticated – from the dungeon to the wilderness to the city to story-driven and looser adventures. Through senior school I continued playing with a couple of other friends although it had largely petered out by the time I was 15.

SMALL ADS

At the same time, I had started getting into the fanzine scene. I answered ads in the back of White Dwarf. Dragonlords was the early one that everyone has heard of but I remember Acoloyte, SEWERS, Beholder, News from Bree, among others. The early ones were largely about the mechanics of the games themselves and written by students but Dragonlords seemed to start a move towards more general.

Being at school, living in the countryside and not knowing anyone who had ever been university, I found this completely engrossing. Fanzines were a major thing when they came through the post. It was a glimpse of a different kind of life, more intellectual, more challenging and with better music (I liked heavy metal at the time and my musical taste today remains an odd combination of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Smiths, Joy Division and Talking Heads – basically everything I liked between the ages of 13 and 17 but mixed together.

I started writing letters to the zines and meeting some of the people at conventions like Games Day and the weekend one at Warwick. Presumably I was quite annoying – sorry guys. New fanzines came out with a fairly clear split between Dragonlords generation who had since graduated and those edited by schoolboys. The latter had a higher chance of being pretty lame but everyone was fairly understanding.

RUNESTONE

I started by co-editing a fanzine called Runestone by a guy called Bill Lucas – I can’t remember how it came about but a belated thanks to Bill (I was probably too self-absorbed to be grateful at the time).

Following that, I did my own thing called Manic Depressive (why I chose that name is beyond me – I wasn’t) which, I seem to remember, was a collection of mini-zines by other people (there was a term for it which I now forget). Then I did maybe half a dozen issues of Iron Orchid, which was all me and which I have fondest memories of – I was experimenting with design, politics, music and the gaming had largely disappeared (at this point the cool zines were largely devoid of actual gaming which was fine but there was a bit of a whiff of embarrassment about RPGs). And finally I co-edited (or perhaps I was more of a contributor) of some more occasional fanzines by Jez Keen, called Love in the Garden (his other zine was Next Stop Jupiter). He was more talented and older than me – so again I am grateful for the hand-up. The whole thing was a lot of fun but then the scene began to fracture – there were more cliques, more anger and feuds. Looking back some of it was just bullying. There wasn’t a lot of empathy or compromise – people with poor social skills are attracted to roleplaying after all (I count myself in this). People started to publicly drop out, closing zines in protest. I remember being sad about it at the time though I probably took my share of sides.

By the time I went to university (Warwick – chosen largely because some of the best fanzines were produced there a few years earlier). I was largely out of the scene and had certainly stopped being interested in the games. (to be continued)

SCRAPBOOK

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A typically ‘robust’ opening to a Letters page from Thunderstruck explaining to editor Tim Kalvis just how shit he really is. Fair play to him for printing it all

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Opening page from Shadowfire 1, one of the new wave of fanzines. I liked this one a lot though I think Richard Lee only did three issues
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Reviews page from Imazine 13 where Paul Mason makes my heart swell with pride by being kind about Iron Orchid. Bless him. It is the only evidence I own that any fanzine I did actually existed!

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Virtual GROGMEET 2018

Play is the thing.

There’s a point in all gamers’ lives when the reading, thinking and talking about games needs to end, and the playing begin.

Ever since we put that small ad in White Dwarf back in ’83, one of the missions of The Armchair Adventurers has been to extend our group and play more games with more people.

Thirty five years later, thanks to GROGMEET we have finally managed to realise our goal: games with great people. What can we say? We’re late developers.

We want to extend it further for those who can’t make it to GROGMEET, (or those GROGMEETers who just want to play more games).

Virtual GROGMEET ’18 is here.

It’s a chance to play online games and meet up with fellow members of the GROGSQUAD.

It takes place on 13th April  (virtual GROGMEET eve) 20:00 – Midnight and 14th April (Morning) 10:00 – 13.30 and (Afternoon) 14:00 – 17:30 (all times are BST (GMT +1))

This Saturday (3rd March), the games will become available for sign up to Patreons for a couple of weeks, before they are released generally.

Once you have signed up, your email details will be sent to the GM to contact you to make arrangements for your session. The slots are for guidance only.

Here’s the line up so far …

FRIDAY 

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Title: Shattered Hope (introduction adventure)
Number of Players:  4
System: Dark Heresy (1st ed)
Brief description: Make ready your chainsword, strap on your bolter, and say a prayer to the God-Emperor, for Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy. You as the the closest ‘Inqusitor’ agents are sent to a world to deal with a particular problem. – this quick start is for those wanting to learn the system and explore the dark universe.
Beginner level …. there will be blood shed.
GM: Jon Dawson

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Title: Forgive Us

Number of Players: 5

System: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Brief description: 

1625 was a plague year in Norwich. History tells us that it was an outbreak of the Black Death. History is wrong.

Hired to retrieve an item from the Tenebrous Hand, a powerful criminal gang in the city, our players may well find out what really happened. Or die trying…

Beginners welcome.

GM: Neil Benson

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Title: “..and the dragonewts are dancing..”

Number of Players: 4

System: Heroquest Glorantha

Brief description:  Dancing dragonewts have been spotted not he edge of the Tula and you have been asked to investigate. Buried memories of your initiation resurface and you find your self reliving that very odd experience.

GM: Andrew Jones

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Title: Enemies Within

Number of Players: 4

System: Night’s Black Agents

Brief Description: “…the miners are the enemy within” 1984, deniable assets required for active measures: suppressing subversion in Leeds, UK. Industrial relations are about turn nasty. Late Ken Loach meets early Tarantino.

GM: Dirk the Dice

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Title: Sabeurs & Savants

System: Cthulhu Hack

Players: 4-6

Brief description: 1800, Napoleon has invaded Egypt intending to become a new Alexander the Great. Accompanied by scientists, he also intends to uncover the secrets of this ancient land. He’s despatched the player characters a mixed bag of scientists and soldiers to uncover an artefact from the desert sands….

https://clarkythecruel.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/sabeurs-savants-set-up-and-player-characters/

GM: Keehar

SATURDAY

MORNING

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Title: Better Living Through Chemistry

System: Judge Dredd RPG

Players: 4

Brief description: In the aftermath of the Apocalypse War, life is hard in Mega-City One, even for the Judges in Sector House 170. Widespread desolation, mutie incursions through the Cursed Earth Wall, and a scarcity of resources are making it hard to uphold the Law. But new teams are being put together to ensure the citizens are kept in line, and that law and order are maintained. While fighting crime on the mean streets of the Mega-City, the players will need all their skills and cunning, but can they also find… better living through chemistry?

GM: Alan Gairey

 

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Title: Dr John Dee’s Crows

System: Maelstrom

Players:  4

Brief description: Join the original Men and Women in Black protecting Queen Elizabeth’s England from Threats Corporeal, Magickal and Supernatural.

GM: Ian ‘Doc’ Griffith

AFTERNOON

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Title: Who wants to live forever?

System: Numenera

Players: 4

Brief description: The Queen of the red fleet pirates seeks immortality. She hasn’t aged for decades. Some say it’s just an illusion. Others think she found the Drowned City, a place legend says holds ancient secrets that can bestow immortality. Maybe you’ll find out the truth when you meet her to discuss a special and secret task.

GM: Blythy

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Title: Mistaken Identity

Number of Players: 5

System: WarHammer Fantasy Role Playing

Brief description: Wanted! Bold Adventurers…

His Excellency the Crown Prince Hergard von Tasseninck of the Grand Principality of Ostland hereby gives notice that he is currently resident in Altdorf and wishes to engage the services of a party of skilled adventurers as soon as possible, for an indefinite period.

Would-be applicants are forewarned that they shall be required to undertake a most perilous mission into unexplored regions of the Grey Mountains. The matter is of the utmost delicacy and absolute discretion is required.

No laggards, cowards, or dwarfs need apply.

Mistaken Identity is the first adventure in the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition and due to to be revised and re-released by Cubicle 7 for their new edition.

GM: Asako Soh

Episode 18 (Part 2) Judge Dredd RPG (with Marc Gascoigne)

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Download Episode

INTRO A new review on iTunes

WHITE DWARF @dailydwarf “2000ad and Me” a personal reflection on the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic

GAMES MASTER’s SCREEN Marc Gascoigne returns to talk about Fighting Fantasy, EarthDawn (!), The Black Library and Angry Robot. Also, the famous ‘lost’ RPG – Dark Future.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES an examination of the system and setting of Judge Dredd RPG

OUTRO Details of the GROGSQUAD patreon campaign and an interesting project to document the early years of Games Workshop.

1-D-6 Spaghetti ConJunction

IMG_0464.jpg“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

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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.

3 Numenera

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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.

4 Afternoon

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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.

5 Raffle

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).

6 Paraphernalia

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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.

Next part of the podcast out soon.

Next month, we’ll be at ConVergence in Stockport.