Now and Then: A GROGNARD’s Guide to Roll20

Hot on the heels of Virtual GROGMEET, we started two simultaneous, online games of TWO HEADED SERPENT (the world-spanning, two-fisted, Pulp Cthulhu adventure) last night. Playing online has revolutionised our gaming over the past couple of years. We are often asked “how do I get started on Roll20?” 
Thankfully, Steve Ray (@OrlanthR on Twitter) has come to the rescue with some useful tips and his experiences of thawing out after the deep freeze.
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All that remained after The Great Purge. Even with the few new additions, it’s a wretched sight.
My emergence from carbon freezing was triggered by a request from my daughter that I run D&D for her over the Christmas holidays. I’d gone into the carbon freezer, Han Solo-style, over 16 years previously. Before that, like most Grognards, I’d gamed with the people I’d grown up with but time had its way and RPGs fell out of favour. In the years since, I’d done a lot of wargaming but never thought of once of picking up an RPG.
In response to my daughter’s request, I remembered that I still had an old copy of RuneQuest second edition in the attic and I decided to use that rather than buy 5e. As soon as I held the book in my hands, the memories came flooding back and I knew I had to play again. My daughter had of course lost interest immediately as teenagers do, so my rediscovered enthusiasm had no outlet. Searching for podcasts to feed my craving, I found the first Grognard files episode and that was it; nostalgia had me in its grip, and I was hooked.
Of course, I now needed someone to play with. I determined to start small by contacting some old friends to see if they were interested. But their lives had moved on too, and I wasn’t able to lure them in. Deflated, I was stuck with rereading old rulebooks and buying far too much stuff on pdf than I’d ever be able to use. Whilst working through the Grogpod back catalogue, I came across the discussion between Dirk and Blythy regarding Roll20.
That was three months ago; I’m now running a fully-fledged short RQ classic campaign and fully intend continuing to play online. As Dirk says, “play’s the thing’ and whilst face-to-face play is superior it’s better to game online than not at all. If you’re reading this and are thinking about taking the plunge into online play (Roll20 or otherwise), I’ve put together some thoughts that may help you (or prove to be complete bobbins; you can judge)
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Strange things are afoot in the Starfire Ridges, and our Heroes are none the wiser thus far….but they have found the stolen cattle!
 • Get into an online group as a player: as with so many things in life, the best way to learn is to watch someone else. Finding a game to play in on Roll20 is dead easy, particularly if you plump for 5e or a similarly popular system. If you can, pick a GM who has lots of experience on Roll20 (next to the GM’s name will be a number showing how many hours they’ve played for; my first GM had over 1000 hours of play under his belt) . Whilst you’re playing, take some notes as to how the GM uses the Roll20 interface (tokens, handouts, maps, combat, etc). For example, I struggled with the concept of showing pictures to the players (on the desktop or via handouts?) until I saw someone else do it.
 • It’s still role-playing: Don’t worry too much about the bells and whistles to start with. Some of the things that virtual tabletops are cool, but you can spend ages learning to do something that you’ll never use (trust me, I’ve done it). Instead, focus on some basics and run the rest as you would any other RPG. Most importantly, do the preparation that you would for any other game (cool story, NPCs, etc) and the rest will come with time.
 • Use Twitter to find a group: This was one of the brilliant benefits of online play compared with live play that I didn’t expect. With my mates in the ’80s, I was really stuck with playing the sorts of games they wanted to play. Now, with the internet, if you really want to play that obscure game that almost no-one has heard, of you’ll probably find two or three players somewhere in the world. As long as they’ve got the hardware and the connection, you’re good to go. Twitter has been great for this; there’s a thriving and not-too-grumpy group of old school gamers that have congregated around The Grognard Files on Twitter, so that’s a good place to start.
 • Be clear about what you’re offering: Along with finding the niche gaming experience you’re after, it’s a good idea to be up-front about where you’re coming from; ‘managing expectations’ we call it when we’re at work. In my case, I said that I wanted to run a version of Classic Runequest that was going to be very relaxed, run about every two weeks and that I was a GM returning after 16 years (so no Critical Role level gamesmastering!). This way, everyone goes in with their eyes open.
 • Start small: Related to the above, start with just a few players (two or three) and commit to running for a few sessions to start with. I said I’d start with six sessions and we’d review once we got to that point. Again, it means you have the chance to bow out gracefully if you find online play isn’t for you after all.
 • YouTube is your friend: as with everything in life, YouTube full of videos about Roll20. There are some really good tutorial videos out there, and can really help to solve problems as well as to show what’s possible. I’d recommend Roll20’s own channel for the basics, as well as as the ‘Taking 20’ channel for some of the funky stuff.
So that’s it. If you do decide to give Roll20 or another online platform a go, hopefully the above will give you some pointers. For me, as I travel a lot for work the opportunity to run and play games when away from home certainly beats the prospect of sitting in another identical hotel room watching TV. I expect to play more this year than I ever did back in the 80’s, and most of that online. If you’d like to ask me any questions or share your experiences of online play, please feel free to get in touch via Twitter on @OrlanthR
Good luck!
Steve Ray
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Now & Then: WoD to MoM to OSR

An occasional series of posts from members of the GROGSQUAD telling their story of getting back into the hobby following a ‘real-life’ imposed freeze. This time, Neil Benson, The Old Scouse Roleplayer himself, talks about how rediscovered the past.
It seems odd now that for 20 years or more I didn’t think once about tabletop RPG’s. House, kids and work kept me occupied and World of Warcraft was enough to scratch my gaming itch.
A game of Mansions of Madness at the end of 2014 stirred the flames for tabletop gaming; it felt so fresh and exciting after decades of video games.  The banter, rolling dice, the gorgeous physical components, puzzle solving, strategising, decision making and the elation of surviving were a thrill.  I was hooked. like an old addict giving into their habit, feeling that rush, the realisation that I had 20+ years of gaming to catch upon.  Most of 2015 was spent exploring board games; I didn’t have a gaming group and so tried a few solo games and watched a few videos, but everything felt very much under control. Funny thing was that during this time, although I thought about RPG’s I never once considered playing them.
Early 2016 a old gaming friend (let’s call him Steve, seeing as that’s his name) offered to run Trail of Cthulhu on this Roll20 thing. Steve lives in San Diego, but said that it would be like playing in the same room. It turned out I was the only player in that first game, but decided to give it my best shot.  Within half an hour I felt like I’d hit the mother lode… screw boardgames, this was the good stuff.  Ohhh yeaaah…
That game still stands out, the Gumshoe system was perfect, the game perfectly paced, the outcome highly satisfying.  I wanted more, and so Steve ran a few more adventures – our heroes moved from the mysteries of Bletchley Park to the horrors of occupied Paris.  Great stuff.
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Neil, sending his players ‘Round the Bend’ using Hero’s Journey
Over the next few weeks I became obsessed with the idea of GMing myself, I’d always thoroughly enjoyed running games back in the day.  When I turned my attention to DTRPG and Kickstarter I was overawed by how much things had changed in the past 20 years, but was also drawn in by the basic premise still being the same.  Technology has made games far more accessible, and the number of games available has increased a hundredfold at least, but it’s still about people, stories, characters, adventure and kickass rules.
Overwhelmed by choice my first purchase was a game that even now just sits on my shelf gathering dust: The One Ring. A beautiful tome of a book, I reasoned that my love of Tolkein’s work would make this my perfect game. But it was too complex for me back then, I needed something simpler.  Having played TOR recently at DevaCon I found the game fairly simple and intuitive, maybe I need to give it another look.
My quest for games with simpler systems started with Barebones Fantasy, a modern d00 based game with some clever mechanics. I ran a few games for my old gaming buddies on Roll20, but found it wasn’t for me.  I went through others, including following a dead end into PbtA territory with Dungeon World – I still can’t make sense of that game. Ultimately my path took me back to the game that really kicked it all off, D&D (my first game was Tunnels & Trolls but it was D&D that made sense).  Or more accurately the retroclones; Basic Fantasy, Tombs & Terrors, Swords & Wizardry and my current favourite, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (which I only tried last year being put off by some of the negative press it received).
Along the way I overcame some of my old prejudices; I had a strong dislike of RuneQuest based on past experiences. But a stab at the RQG quickstarter adventure with Dirk, Judge Blythy and Eddy started to win me over; then a 24 hour game of Borderlands with Dirk as GM drew me further in. I’m now playing in a fortnightly game with @Orlanth_Rex and thoroughly enjoying it.
Con’s have played a big part in meeting fellow gamers as has The Grognard Files and all the events around it – one off games, Grogmeet and vGrogmeet. A friendly, welcoming community has made this whole journey incredibly rewarding and I feel I’ve only just started to scratch the surface.
Perhaps the best thing about my RPG revival is that I’m not obsessed like I used to be, I’m fully in control, honest.  Now excuse me while I just pop on over to DTRPG…
Neil Benson
Follow Neil’s blog: Old Scouser Roleplaying. The RPG mutterings of an old school roleplayer, to read his play reports, reviews and views.

Episode 20 (Part 1) Golden Heroes RPG (with Simon Burley)

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Download Episode

INTRO: This is a game that embodies the spirit of the podcast. It belongs to a period when the players were informing the gaming industry. Games Workshop decided to do a big budget version of the game. You can see the short film I made here (it’s less than 5 minutes)

OPEN BOX (with Simon Burley): As the co-creator of the game, Simon shares the story of its ups and downs. You can find SQUADRON UK at Drive Thru by following the link.

JUDGE BLYTHY RULES: We examine the rules with our resident rules lawyer.

OUTRO: News of the latest Patreons. and the aims of the campaign.

virtual GROGMEET 2018 ScrapBook

Last year, we reached a tipping point where we realised that most of our Armchair Adventuring was taking place online. Our never-ending quest to get more people to play games with continues. To support our endeavours we created virtual GROGMEET to complement the annual event in November.

Some of the GROGSQUAD wanted to discover online play for the first time and have the opportunity to play with the GMGMs that make GROGMEET in Manchester such a distinctive experience.

Squadron members from all over the UK plus others from British Columbia, Australia and North America were joined games of Numenera and Maelstrom and others listed below.

Of course the curse of online play bedevilled it with glitches and interventions from real life, but it was an enjoyable event by all accounts.

Hopefully, new gaming connections were made during the event and this is the beginning of more groups forming, because “play’s the thing”. Dirk

There’s more play reports from Neil and Kehaar, and on google plus from Andrew Jones and Andy Cousins

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WarHammer Fantasy Role-Playing: A rousing version of Summer Holiday, a bar-room brawl, death and destruction in the opening scenario of The Enemy Within. Asako_Soh
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Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Having climbed into the Butchers through the roof the party encounter a mutated dog in an attached room.  Engaging their OSR drive by trying to avoid unnecessary conflicts, they came up with a clever plan which became known as the Norwich Gambit.  Their scheme in place they opened doors while keeping out of the beasts reach and felt some degree of cleverness as their ploy worked and the external door was closed behind the dog as it wandered outside.  They were later to discover the consequences of that cleverness. Neil Benson
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Judge Dredd RPG (GW): Andy, Mark and Brett – were soon in the middle of a firefight. All three really committed to the game, and inhabited the characters of their Judges really well. (The phrase “Eat Judge boot, creep!” was deployed to much satisfaction.) They were very inventive both in their use of the tech, and in their theories of what the clues they uncovered could mean … (continues)
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Judge Dredd RPG: Their detection methods were also top-notch, leading me to short-circuit one part of the adventure as I thought their ideas deserved to be rewarded. The big finale played out well (sound effects on roll20 at least worked out very well), although at times I felt I was losing “flow” somewhat – I think that might have been down to the system showing its age, coupled with my inexpert hacking of the rules.
Overall, good fun for me to run again – I had an excellent set of players who threw themselves into the setting with gusto, and Mega-City One remains a great playground for roleplaying. Next time though, I think I might try a different rules system, more geared to pulp action.
Savage Worlds anyone? Alan Gairey
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Night’s Black Agents: 1984, Harry Reeves pulled together a crew; a wheel wizard, box man and wire rat to black bag Frank Holton: a miner with connections in the USSR: “BagPuss is in the building”. Dirk.
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Cthulhu Hack: Good time was had by all. The use of my artwork murals and a trap based portion of the game generated a real ‘adventure game’ feel to play. Cthulhu hack worked well especially sanity erosion to build the players sense of dread and I’ve at least 3 different threads out of the game. All in all a result. Keehar.
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HeroQuest: I had 4 players, with limited experience of Heroquest, so it was good to take them through the character generation system & how contests work. Heroquest is one of those systems that truly opens up through play, rather than reading the corebook- which reveals it’s pearls of wisdom after play.
Highlights included grabbing the heart of Orlanth from a Lunar Demon and then just about defeating that demon mid air in the Otherworld- the first time running the scenario we had had major conflict. All because of a “over-confident” character trait from one PC. Andrew Jones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Grogmeet 18

Today was Virtual GROGMEET … a scrapbook will follow shortly, until then, enjoy this post from @nfbenson

Old Scouser Roleplaying

November seems such a long time ago now, but I still have great memories of games played and people met at Grogmeet 17.  Organised by Dirk the Dice, host of the Grognard Files podcast, this is an evening and full day RPG meetup in the heart of Manchester.  For those who were unable to attend Dirk arranged Virtual Grogmeet, an evening and day of gaming taking place this weekend over Roll20.

The event was arranged well in advance with lots of time to consider what adventures to run.  I had thought of running something Pulpish, but ultimately decided to stick to my favourite system, offering to run one of the published Lamentations of the Flame Princess scenarios Forgive Us.  Yesterday evening I was joined by Andrew, Graham, Howard, Steve and Tom as they set out to recover a green porcelain demon mask from the Tenebrous Hand.

Roll20…

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Golden Heroes – Unboxing


Episode 20 of the GROGPOD is coming later in April and is all about GOLDEN HEROES: a very smartly produced game that had a dramatic appearance, so I’ve made a short film to demonstrate the material.

I was very lucky on eBay. For £22, I managed to get everything that was produced by Games Workshop (in very good condition too), including all of the counters for all of the scenarios.

The pièces de résistance  was the un-billed inclusion of the original A5 rules that were published by Simon Burley and Peter Haines. They would schlep these rules around the convention circuit back in the early eighties where they gathered a strong reputation for the ability to replicate scenes from popular Marvel and DC comics. 

The game caught the attention of the Armchair Adventurers thanks to the great Brian Bolland cover for the first scenario pack LEGACY OF EAGLES. I ran the game with disastrous results (listen to the podcast for details). At ConVergence recently, we revived the game and had tremendous fun.

The podcast will be released in soon, until then, enjoy this short film.

Virtual GROGMEET 18 – last few spaces

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Limited places are now available for The GROGNARD files first ever online convention

 

A handful of places are still available for the games listed below:

Friday 13th April (20:00 – Midnight)
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

Title: Sabeurs & Savant

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 14th (10:00 – 13:30)

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

 

 

JOINING INSTRUCTIONS

To register: Head to WarHorn, register your details, allow a short period for ‘clearance’ and then sign up to the game.

Games Masters will be in touch with participants shortly.

Thanks

Dirk