Reading Is Fun

Elizabeth I of England, the Armada Portrait, W...

Reading about Sir Francis Walsingham and the shadowy war of espionage and counter-intelligence in the Court of Queen Elizabeth has been entertaining me on multiple levels. I’m covering several bases here – which is nice.

Firstly, it’s my period of choice.

I never consciously made a decision to solely focus on one period, but somehow it has happen. I seem to have focussed, over time, on late Tudor. Mainly social history, though I’m willing to venture into politics, warfare and other areas as the occasion takes me.

I’m currently reading The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I and Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe, while I’ve recently read The Sorcerer’s Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England and The Queen’s Conjuror.

It’s proved entertaining, to say the least – though you personal opinion on how enjoyable it would be might vary. For me, this is heaven. I could read this stuff all the time if only someone would allow me to retire gracefully from the humdrum life of working for The Man.

Why the specific reading around spies and sorcery in the Tudor Court?

Well, that’s the second base – my work on the 214 game system and The Dee Sanction game background. You can see more about that at complex214.com and omegacomplex.com, where I have been posting a fair bit. I’m seeking to keep focus by posting a lot. If I’m writing about it, I’m thinking about it. While I think about it, I get flashes of inspiration and fresh ideas. Usually in the shower.

Getting back to writing has been good. I have been working hard supporting my wife in getting the All Rolled Up business moving along. That has absorbed me for a good 18 months or more now. We have spent a lot of time creating the product, marketing online, and selling it to people directly at conventions.

Once, we attended the conventions as participants. I generally went along to GM something. Now, we spend a lot of time on the All Rolled Up stall enlightening people to the new world of the ARU game roll and dice bag.

I still get to GM. That’s where the third base gets coverage.

While I will be running sessions for 214, I also want to keep my hand in with other systems. Reading all this history offers me background for The Dee Sanction, but occasionally it offers other insight and ideas. Yesterday, my cross-referencing got me an idea for TimeWatch – and I plan to run that at conventions next year. It would be nice to have my Kickstarter copy of book in hand. Fingers crossed.

That’s why I’m having fun reading – it gives back far more than the effort it takes to do it in the first place. Probably explains why I spend my time juggling a half dozen books at a time instead of reading just one – I’m enjoying myself that much, I just want more.

Outliving the Dead

English: A participant of a Zombie walk, Asbur...

A participant of a Zombie walk, Asbury Park NJ, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Halloween fast approaching, thoughts might well turn to running a horror game for your friends or family. And with the recent return of The Walking Dead, my mind has turned to zombies (though I’m starting to get really bothered about this ‘The Road‘-like fascination with Long Pig Appreciators).

I have to draw attention to Outlive Outdead. I have run a couple of adventures of OO for my local gaming group – and we rarely get the chance to run anything more than once (we’re a bit Mayfly with our approach to RPG – they flutter through then pass away, rarely to return). My wife often mentions that she’d love to play more and why don’t I run OO at conventions. My answer… well, not enough conventions to run all my games. However, I do always carry it as a backup just in case I need to fill a slot unexpectedly.

The neat thing about the system is the whole business of personal motivations and Breaks. You have a reason to push on and reasons to freak out built into the mechanics. It feels natural, not awkwardly crunchy. Breaks, for example, simulate the stress of your experiences. Faced with a zombie game, players quite often just play kick ass hunters, hefting heavy ordnance and mercilessly laying the dead to rest. In all honesty, going from a normal lifestyle in our modern age to an unthinking and unswerving killer (even of the already dead), isn’t (and shouldn’t be) easy. Something’s gotta give. When you roll against a challenge, poor luck or pushing yourself too hard will get you success at a cost – and that cost comes in the form of Break. You snap, freak out, run screaming… whatever. It would be expected of most…

The Outlive Outdead core book comes with a bunch of advice, guidelines and support on creating different kinds of zombies and zombie settings. It also contains a modern day zombie adventure. However, if you want more ideas on zombies, picking up the Outlive Outdead Companion throws your options open.

Want to try battling zombies with tree branches and thigh bones in 30,000BCE southern Spain? US Marines in war torn France at the start of the 20th century facing something more than German soldiers in the dark woods? Fancy wrestling for control of the Holy Grail against the evil might of Mordred and his undead knights? Well, you can try the zombie genre across five different settings in OOC – then combine those ideas with your own to conjure up yet more.

Personally, I’m going to recommend you give the Neanderthals versus zombies a go – as I wrote that one! Most of the adventures in the Outlive Outdead Companion will fit in a single session, or expand to fit two or three if you choose to use all the options offered. Extinction Event, for example, includes additional encounters and a short end game alternative that allows you to see the survivors wander off into the sunset, uncertain of their future but alive for the moment.

You can pick up Outlive Outdead and the Outlive Outdead Companion separately, or opt for a bundle offer on RPGNow. Or, if you’re still not certain, give the game a go with the Outlive Outdead Quick Start available from Happy Bishop Games.

Conventional Diplomacy

Golden-Crown-Awards-FurnaceI had a great weekend in Sheffield, as the gaming-focussed Furnace event. A little poor health aside, I had a lot of fun and All Rolled Up has the chance to show off some product to old and new customers alike.

We clashed with Spiel this weekend. That meant my wife had to make up SEVENTY All Rolled Up to send to Germany last week. Having made up that big package, we had only about a dozen ARU left in stock – so, the sewing machine was going all hours of the day creating more for Sheffield. And she managed to make another two dozen, all finished and quality checked.

Furnace is, like I say, focussed on the games. While Patriot Games (from Sheffield), Arion Games and All Rolled Up attended (and Newt Newport waved the 101 Games flag while also GMing), the event runs for the 70 or so attending players, giving them 5 official (and one unofficial) slot of gaming across genres and systems. Packed into the function room and cells of the Garrison Hotel, it makes for a cosy environment. Plenty of chatter and energy, though the late night revelries seem to cause energy to wane as early as the afternoon session…

We arrived on the Friday night and had a curry with friends. The following morning we returned to the hotel to set-up and then both my wife and I had a chance to play some Fate Core – she in Age of Arthur and me Fate Accelerated in some cowboys versus dinosaurs action.

After lunch, I initially looked to play something – though I avoid the frenzied scrum of the initial sign-up – then discovered a slot had come free unexpectedly leaving a bunch of players adrift. Always prepared to GM, I pulled Night’s Black Laundry from my bag and ran a mission some brief notes, hand-outs and memory in a somewhat tight 3.5 hour slot. Tight especially as it included actual character generation – using my method pulled from The Gaean Reach – rather than pre-gen sheets.

It went well enough, from memory. I could have done with a bit more time, but I just about squeezed in the essentials. It was a pared down version of Legacy Code (by W J McGuffin) from Unconventional Diplomacy. While it ended up in eastern Europe, it almost went to Skegness – which could have been an adequate diversion.

In the evening, we had takeaway sushi in our room, then played card games in the function room.

I seem to have frittered away my energy reserves over the course of the day, because the following morning it all caught up with me. I had a headache on ther Saturday evening and it persisted to Sunday, along with a general malaise of fatigue.

We met a lot of nice people, had a chance for a fair few conversations, played a little, sold a little – all good stuff and well worth the trip. I plan to be less ill for future visits to Sheffield and run more games, as this environment feels very welcoming and safe. Recommended.

My First RPG Played

picture of Dungeons and Dragons with various dice

My first role playing game experience with Red Box Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons

Well, that would be red box Basic Dungeons & Dragons.

I’m guessing it would be in 1984, when I was 12, or thereabouts, and in my second year at Beanfield Comprehensive School* – in the small industrial newtown of Corby.

I had managed to show enough interest in music to find myself a member of the School Brass Band – a privilege of which was the option to use the Music Rooms during breaks. That meant no more hanging around the playground in poor weather, dodging the attention of bullies.

At some point – and I absolutely cannot remember the circumstances or nature of the invitation – a chap called Graham suggested D&D. One lunch time, the Red Box appeared with copies of character sheets, and I rolled up a Fighter, Ironheart.

I recall sitting in one of the practice rooms around the back of the main music room. We spent our lunch times working our way through the adventure, in the DM’s book, toward the illusive arch-villain Bargle. I’m not even certain we finished the adventure, but it definitely made Dungeons & Dragons my First RPG Played.

(Posted as part of Autocratik-inspired #RPGaDAY thing – http://www.autocratik.com/ – you can read about here: RPGaDAY)

* Beanfield Comprehensive School has since been demolished, leaving nothing more than cement foundations in an open field. Oddly, the Junior and Infant Schools remain. Possibilities that satanic or supernatural forces consumed the school exist – but, my understanding references something more real world and toxic causing the demolition.

NOTE: Originally posted on Google+

 

Free RPG Day with Whitehack

Whitehack proved to be quite an entertaining choice of game to run for Free RPG Day. Really, it provided a framework primarily for my GM style of largely ignoring the rules and forgetting the dice. However, what aspects of the game I did use ran well for me.

I like the positive and negative rolls. The hack of the Old School system has the standard six stats, but dispenses with skills, feats or similar by giving the character’s affiliations. These have a strong Fudge/Fate vibe (based on my experience), as they describe a general facet of the character that the player can turn to their benefit – or the GM can skew to their disadvantage.

So, a Dwarf character can have the affiliation ‘Dwarf’ against his Wisdom, for example. Firstly, the affiliation itself might be called out to signal possible views, lore or perceptions. You have Dwarf, therefore you’re likely to know about Dwarves… because you are on.

Secondly, rolls that call for Wisdom and might benefit from the affiliation can be highlighted by the player to the GM. So, the Dwarf might be travelling through underground tunnels and feel something’s amiss. If the GM calls for a roll or the player suggests one, he can note the affiliation – and here, mechanically, he benefits from a positive advantage. Instead of rolling a d20 – he rolls two, versus his Wisdom, and takes the better result.

Thirdly, the GM might induce bad times based on affiliation. For example, in the forest, a perception check using Wisdom may suffer a negative impact. The player again rolls two twenty-sided dice – but has to take the worst of the two rolls.

That’s the gist of things.

Anyway – affiliation also encompasses areas of study – like bombs – and spell effects – like ‘Impede Movement’ or ‘Hidden Ways’. At low level, a character with magical training might get away with weak effects or push for strong ones with a high cost. Spell costs hit points to cast – so that might mean a threat of death. If the player can come up with an excuse to reduce this cost – like a long casting time, rare spell component or a tricky ritual – the GM can reduce the HP impact.

Whitehack uses generic paths instead of classes – the Strong, the Wise and the Deft. They’re facet of the characters approach to his vocation, profession, or whatever. You could have a magic user fall into any of these categories – denoting a robust Paladin, a studious Sorcerer, or a sneaky gnome Alchemist. There’s fair room for variation.

Each path (or whatever the book actually calls them) has certain benefits. The Strong have slots for combat moves, while the Deft use them to exercise areas of expertise, and the Wise fill them with spells. The Deft and the Wise have active and inactive options in those slots to allow them to switch out day to day if the situation calls.

I created some rough character sheets and copied pregenerated characters off the back cover of the slim rulebook. I opted for one character from each path – and ended up playing a couple of encounters during the course of the day.

The kingdom has been threatened by a wizard who intends to foul the rivers with a noxious poison. The encounter started in the anteroom of the vat chamber, with flying gantries hanging over bubbling vats.

In the first game, which included a great kid playing with his own dice for the first time, the middle gantry gave way and the rubble draw ghoul-like corpse creatures from the noxious poison in the vats. When one character died and fell in, he emerged as a skeleton.

The kid, playing a bit of a rogue character, sneaked off and left the other two characters to draw the fire. He fired off a few crossbow shots (for which I ignored the reload time) before getting across to the other side of the cavernous room, and shutting down the vats. He escaped as the sole survivor, leaping the gap in the shattered gantry.

In the second game – an all female affair for the most part – they chose to skirt the edges of the cavernous chamber – and when the gantry collapsed, it draw the attention of guardian creatures from a doorway on the opposite side.

A mix of good and truly awful rolling led to dead ghouls and another collapsed gantry. When luck turned in their favour, it went from looking mighty grim to fostering a single ray of hope. In the end, all three escaped, though one character did so with a single hit point remaining.

Playing fast and loose, I didn’t pay much attention to the finer details of the classes – like the slots – and didn’t worry too much about anything. It was Free RPG Day and I wasn’t there to browbeat people with the letter of roleplaying law.

I had fun – and I’d certainly use the system again. In between games, I tried my best to assist customers with questions about games and chatted with a few people, including Haroon and Charlotte, who work there, and Emma, who played in the second game, press-ganged to come in and play by Haroon, and Guy, from my Monday gaming group.

The guys who played in the first game have played my Free RPG Day games for the past couple of years – and it was nice to see them again. Next year, I’ll try and run a proper adventure. I think I have been challenged to get a 13th Age game together.

I daresay I could spend my Saturday in many productive ways – but, this weekend, I felt really happy to spend most of my day in the centre of Manchester, loitering in a game / comic store. And, afterward, I enjoyed a great meal with my wife. Perfect.

Nokia’s Z Launcher: Day #1

letter Z

letter Z (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Downloaded Nokia’s Z Launcher this morning, after seeing an article about it.

At a most basic level, a launcher is what you see on your home screen when you power on your Android phone (and get through whatever security you may have in place).

The default state launcher will probably have a clock and a few app shortcuts on it.

Launcher apps replace this with something else.

For example, I have been using Aviate – which gathers your favourite apps on the first page, organises them by type a swipe to the right, and then shows them all on a further swipe right. Swipe left, and you will find a bunch of context categories – like Work or Home. Swipe down, and you see a context selection of apps – so, if you’re at Work, you’ll see apps you use there most often. If you’re at a cafe or pub, it may show that location and relevant apps. That sort of thing.

Nokia’s Z Launcher pares down to the way your home screen works to a single page. You have a clock top left, a single event top right. Tapping the clock goes to your preferred clock/alarm app, tap the event takes you to your calander. At the base of the screen, you have some key apps and a link to the app index. In the middle – well, here Z Launcher gets clever.

The middle portion of the screen shows six links – to things that you use regularly, by time of day / usage level. So, if you always read emails and check newsfeeds in the morning, those apps should appear on the screen at the time you normally use them. Commute to work? Maybe you will find the train time app, a map app and a link to your favourite sports coverage web page.

Z Launcher learns and evolves this selection over time, so it’ll be a little while before it gets in it’s stride. For the first few days, I dare say it will lean toward regularity of usage over time of usage. It’ll presumably take a week or two to start forming reliable data on usage patterns – one week wouldn’t be enough to get the feel for each day.

The other innovative feature, is Scribble. Draw a letter or number on screen, and it brings up apps, contacts, web suggestions, etc. that include that character. Draw a few characters and it will be more likely to include web search options, as you probably aren’t looking for things on your phone already if your first couple of letters didn’t bring up the right thing.

Scribble for Twitter or StumbleUpon once, and you’ll get it in the results by the time you reach the second or third letter. Next time, Z Launcher not only checks what you scribbled, but what you’ve scribbled before – so a T or S might well be enough to get what you want top of the suggested list of linked items.

We’ll see how this goes. I’m a sucker for new things and have tried other launchers. I’m interested in seeing whether this one works for me, or just aggravates me.

While the web site has noted a limit to downloads in this Beta phase and a limit of tested mobile devices, I got a download straight away and have it on a Moto G – which isn’t one of the listed devices.

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Out of the Blue Adventure Design

One good gumshoe studies another

One good gumshoe studies another (Photo credit: scampion)

I’m having a weird revelatory experience with roleplaying adventure design at the moment. Key features of a tabletop gaming session come to me at the last moment.

I always have an idea in mind – and then I get on with it. Recently, I have had ‘moments of inspiration’ that catch me utterly off guard.

These have been happening at odd moments. In the last fortnight, I have had revelations:

  • 20 minutes before a convention adventure, while in the bathroom
  • the same evening as a game when I was exercising on the stationary bike
  • a week before the next session, while pondering something unconnected in the shower

I don’t normally have these ‘moments’. I mean, I probably have done in the past – but, at the moment, they seem to be coming in relatively thick and fast. I have an adventure… I have a plan… And, then I have a last moment flash and change something.

I have had some very positive comments on the first revelation. The con game went from ordinary to rather different – starting at the end to ramp up the action and, as it happens, home in on mechanics of combat and general skills in Gumshoe.

The second revelation meant I started the Dragon Age adventure this week with an unexpected attack from within the party. The group, roused from sleep, found one of their number, the Circle Mage, raging and steeped with the blood of innocents. Swords out and game on! In a group that have a little history, this actually made for a nice turn of events.

Next – well, that would be telling. Don’t want my local gaming group knowing what I have planned. Suffice to say, it has changed from what I thought originally would come next, thanks to a eureka moment.

I kind of like this – but, I could do with a more predictable delivery mechanism! I suppose it might be useful when I’m coming up with adventures to make a few notes and then set them aside. Giving them a time to gestate could provide me with more revelations to work with. I have had a tendency in the past to stick to the letter of a plot too rigidly – whereas, over the last year or so, I’ve loosened a little and winged sessions more effectively through the use of a base of prep and nothing more.

TimeWatch especially has shown me the value of this approach. If I prepare too much, I’m only likely to end up with reams of notes going unused. As a result, I have tended to read a lot while coming up with an adventure, made a few notes – nothing more than a side of A4 – and then riffed on the notes, events in the game and player comments. It has led to some pretty entertaining gaming that fits the expectations of the players more and provides more entertainment as a result. Sometimes, tales of the expected works far better and turns out as more of a surprise.

I wonder what I’ll come up with next. I suspect it won’t bode well for the players…

Quick Weekend Achievements

Put on your Sunday best

How I would have spent Sunday in the Olden Days (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

I often beat myself up about what I get done at the weekend. I reach the close, the darkness of Sunday night, and wonder where all the time went. In that moment, I often also wondered what I managed to do with it all – and yet come out the other end with nothing much to show for it.

Well, OK… Despite the fact that I still feel like I haven’t done anywhere near enough with this weekend – and all too much of what I did do took place inside… I must admit I didn’t waste my time. Read more

Not Really Seeing, Yet


Wow… I’m reading a basic book on the buddha-dharma at the moment. If I’m taking anything away so far, it’s that if I think I have any idea what it’s about, I’m probably wrong. It would seem to have something in common with Heisenberg‘s Uncertainty Principle or perhaps Schrödinger’s Cat – something along the lines of if you observe one thing about the buddha-dharma and wrap your own conceits, constraints and mind around it, you will have unintentionally (or, possibly, intentionally) skewed your understanding (or potential for understanding).

You can only see the Truth (as the book would put it) by freeing your mind (and getting all Matrix on it’s ass).

If you impose yourself on it, or try to give something a name, a form, a purpose, a shape… whatever – then you’re seeing what you want to see, rather than Seeing it. In fact, the very act of writing this blog entry about the buddha-dharma and attempting to describe how I think it is probably takes me further away from seeing the Truth of the matter.

I need to find a place, a viewpoint… some sort of perspective. And yet, I can’t choose where that point lies, because that act alone would make for a subjective vantage and impose something of me on what I’ve seeking to See. I might have to go for a lie down now.

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Pray You Don’t Brick It

Firmware upgrade

Yesterday, I wiped the basic operating system (OS) off my 3+ year old tablet and replaced it. That took a leap of faith, I can tell you.

I have tinkered with a cheap tablet before (which came in fairly non-functional to a charity shop) and managed to utterly brick it within an hour. I suspect it always would have ended up that way, but it gave me pause for thought in this instance.

Having had this tablet so long, I sort of suppose intrinsic value rated far higher than actual worth. You can’t buy this model anymore, so I doubt anyone else would have wanted it for anything other than a back-up, a tinkering project or whatever. You don’t appreciate how quickly technology can go out of date sometimes. This tablet has been replaced three times over at least.

Whatever the value of the device in reality, replacing it would have cost me money if I had turned it into a lifeless brick. Read more