Writing, life, politics

Category: Gaming (Page 1 of 3)

General gaming related posts.

44 Per Cent: A Party Game About Populist Politics

Type: Party Game

Players: 5 upwards (20 is ideal)

Duration: ~20 minutes

Equipment: Paper and pencils

Complexity: Simple

Risk of Conflict: High

44 Per Cent is a fun and educational party game that takes its name from the fact that in the 1933 German General Elections, Hiter’s Nazi party achieved a 44% share of the vote, on a highly populist platform that combined violence with the following broad themes:

  • An emphasis on rhetorical appeals to emotion over logical appeals to reason.
  • A rejection of conventional economic and political theories, and of the “experts” that expounded them.
  • A commitment to make Germany “great again”.
  • Assertions that Germany was the greatest country in the world.
  • A belief that Germany’s problems were not internal in nature, but instead had external causes:
    • Persons living in Germany who were deemed to not be German in culture and ethnicity (i.e. Jews) and who supposedly therefore did not have Germany’s interests at heart.
    •  Other countries (chiefly the United Kingdom and France) who were actively conspiring against German interests for their own advantage.
  • A belief that the rule of law and established political structures should be subordinate to anything that might be deemed “the will of the people”.
    • A belief that anyone (such judges or politicians) who attempted to block or defy measures that had the support of the people were “traitors”.
  • A belief that there existed an “establishment” which served to promote its own selfish interests at the expense of the people.
    • A belief that anyone who might be termed an intellectual or progressive, including artists and academics, was likely to be a member of that establishment.
    • Assertions that existing political parties and movements were part of the establishment, even those that purported to represent the working classes.


44 Per Cent is best played in a mixed group that contains participants from a range of political persuasions and demographics. Family gatherings are particularly ideal.


The setup of the game is simple:

  1. Count the number of players and calculate (rounded to the nearest whole number) what 44% of that number is. This is the Nazi Voter Number. For example, if you have 9 players, then the Nazi Voter Number is 4.
  2. Read the above description of the Nazi’s party’s 1933 populist platform to all participants.
  3. Two participants should be selected to serve as vote counters.

The Game

Each participant is given a piece of paper and a pencil. They must then write on that paper a list of other participants of a number equal to the Nazi Voter Number.  For example, if there are 9 players and the Nazi Voter Number if 4, then they must write the names of 4 of the other 8 players on their list.

The participants they select should be those who they feel would have been most likely, had they been living in Germany in 1933, to have voted for the Nazi Party’s populist platform. Participants should not write their own names on the lists (i.e. the lists should be anonymous).

If prepared in advance, pre-written lists can be made where participants merely have to put ticks against names.

Once all lists have been written, they will be folded and then gathered up (in a hat or other suitable container). The vote counters will then count the “votes” for each participants, then rank them in order, highest to lowest, and then select the Nazi Voter Number highest names. These names will then be revealed to the participants as the people who would have voted for the Nazi Party in 1933.

For example, in a game with 9 players, 4 players will be declared to be persons who would have voted for the Nazis.

The True Story Behind “The Campaign for Real Monopoly”

Seven years ago, as part of the penultimate issue of my gaming web fanzine Critical Miss, I wrote a short filler article about an interesting fact I’d discovered about the board game Monopoly (which was that if you land on a property but opt not to buy it, it gets auctioned off by the bank). Critical Miss was never serious; pretty much everything in it was very tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken literally. I’m not actually expecting you to start invading people’s space at wedding receptions or introduce yourself to complete strangers in the street, for example.

Brighton Monopoly

Yes, they’ve even done a version for Brighton

I always aimed to give Critical Miss articles a good angle and a snappy title; for my Monopoly article I wrote it using the narrative conceit of a “campaign for real Monopoly”. There was never any campaign. It was just a neat story angle and an eye-catching title. The issue came out and a good few people read it, but I don’t recall there being much in the way of comment about that short filler article about Monopoly. And that was that. Except that it wasn’t, because in the digital age of the Internet, nothing truly dies; like Great Cthulhu it merely waits, sleeping.

The article first woke nearly two years ago, after someone – I was never able to track down the “patient zero” who’d started it all – found it, read it, and tweeted about it, causing it to go viral. For three days the link was passed around the digital world. According to the web stats of my web site, around 40,000 people read it during this period, and it even found its way into an online blog published by the Washington Post. That was cool, but it pretty much passed me by. The pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook (pre-blog even) technology and design of Critical Miss was so old that none of it traced back to me in any way. It wasn’t my Tweet that was being retweeted, and so I got no “digital dividend” from the attention my article was getting.

Then, last Wednesday, when I was on holiday in Spain with my family, I received a text from my friend who back in the Critical Miss days had gone by the nomicker of “Bubba”:

Your monopoly post just hit twitter, buzz feed and gizmodo.

This was news to me, as with data roaming turned off on my phone, I was completely out of the digital loop. I didn’t expect this to be anything other than a rerun of the “viral event” of two years before, but I figured I ought to just touch base with what was going on. So when we got back to the hotel I bought a 24 hour wifi card and hauled out my laptop. (I wouldn’t normally take a laptop with me on holiday, but I’m just in the process of finishing off my latest novel, prior to submitting it to agents, and so had been sitting in beach cafes for an hour or so a day, working on it).

What I found waiting for me was pretty stunning: an email from someone working for the BBC World Service, asking if I’d be available for an interview. Within hours, other requests were coming in, from stations in the UK, Australia, Ireland and, for British expats, in Spain.

The Daily Mail (Spanish edition) from Thursday 30th May 2013

The Daily Mail (Spanish edition) from Thursday 30th May 2013

The next day things got even stranger, when my article hit the newspapers, with pieces referencing it being published in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Metro and the New Zealand Herald to name just some, to go with the online articles at Buzzfeed, Gizmodo, AOL, news.com.au, the Huffington Post, Yahoo Games, FoxNews.com, Time.com  and Penny Arcade (who might have been the people who started the event, as their piece was dated 16th May). Even my favourite paper, the Guardian, mentioned it, albeit tacked onto the end of an article about single mothers.

But the newspapers had completely misunderstood the nature of my article as well as getting certain details incorrect (in a manner that showed all their articles had come from one common news source). The situation was actually summed up rather nicely by Mark Green (@mgreen) in a post on Facebook:

I can’t believe that several actual newspapers today are running a story about “Are you playing Monopoly properly?” and talking about the “Campaign for Real Monopoly” run by Johnny Nexus and his “London-based gaming blog”, Near Miss.

Let’s see:

– The guy’s name is Jonny Nexus, not Johnny Nexus.

– The site is a fanzine, not a blog.

– It’s called Critical Miss, not Near Miss.

– The “Campaign” thing was just the article title, not an actual organization.

– The article was written in 2005.

Seriously, what the heck news agency managed this one?

When I talked to the various radio stations, they all turned out to be operating under the same misapprenhension: that this was an actual, real campaign that I was running now, as opposed to merely an article I wrote seven years ago. Obviously, I wanted to get onto the radio. What aspiring author wouldn’t? But equally I didn’t want to go on under completely false pretences, nor have to pretend that I was actually running a serious campaign on this issue. After all, while being on the radio is one thing, being an apparently obsessed nutter on the radio is something quite different. So when I had a chance to discuss things in advance with a producer I made sure to explain the full situation to them, whilst stressing that I was still keen to go on and discuss my “tongue-in-cheek” campaign.

BBC Radio 5 Live dropped out after this discussion, although in a very nice email they said it was because they’d decided to go with stories about the Mary Rose and Simon Schama, and I’ve genuinely no reason to doubt that. I’d also been in talks with a programme on the BBC World Service (which apparently also goes onto NPR in the US), but that fizzled out. And finally, I was asked if I’d be available for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with John Humphrys, but while they did go ahead with the feature, it was with a Monopoly world champion explaining what I’d said rather than me, a decision which I am in no way bitter about. Honestly. But I did end up doing four interviews:

  • The Peter Levy Show on BBC Radio Humberside.
  • iTalk FM (an English-language station broadcasting in Spain to the expat community).
  • Call Kaye (with Kirsty Wark standing in) on BBC Radio Scotland.
  • The breakfast show of Phantom 105.2 in Dublin (this is a pre-record that will go out some time this week).
A couple of better alternatives to Monopoly

Monopoly is more than eighty years old. In that time, great advances have been made in game design and better games have been created. Two that I would recommend, for both adults and children, are Mississippi Queen and Trans America.

In each one, I ended up making the same points. I wasn’t running a campaign, but if I had been, it would have been for people to see board games as a reasonable leisure pastime for adults.

That in the English-speaking world we have a weird attitude to board games. Unless it’s Chess, Scrabble or something that uses playing cards, we think it has to be targeted at children. As a result, we dumb down and sanitise games in order to render them child-friendly – making them, as a result, boring for adults – only to then make the circular argument that board games are only for children because adults find them boring.

And finally, that the way we consider Monopoly to be the archetypical board game which defines what a board game is and who it should be enjoyed by is a stupid as it would be were we to use the Wizard of Oz to define what a feature film is and who it should be enjoyed by. Children can be entertained by a cardboard box; do we really want to restrict and retard an entire category of leisure pursuits to fit in with their tastes?

It wasn’t all plain sailing. It turned out that the direct line into my hotel apartment didn’t work, so I did the first interview standing up at the reception desk after sprinting across the complex, using the reception desk’s phone, and hoping to God that no-one tried to check in or complain about their toilet not working or ask when their bus to the airport was arriving (because they’d have been standing right next to me). For the other three interviews, the hotel was kind enough to let me use their admin office, although this might just have given me more time and space in which to worry.

Since getting home, I’ve listened to two of the interviews via the wonderous tool that is the BBC’s iPlayer. I think that narcissists aside, listening to yourself being interviewed on the radio is always going to be a cringe-worthy experience. It’s bad enough hearing your voice as others hear it, rather than as it sounds after vibrating up through your skull; but to know that tens of thousands of people were listening to you is a truly weird thought to have. I’ve always hated the sound of my recorded voice; to me I sound a bit posh and just a tad pompous. But having listened back to two of the interviews on iPlayer, I actually think I came across okay.

Since then, I’ve been interviewed by the local Brighton Argus, and hunted down a few links, but I think that for now my little viral Monopoly adventure is over and it’s time to get back onto the novel. I’ve enjoyed it though. It’s been fun. It’s very cool to be able to put appearing on radio on my writers’ CV. And I’m walking away knowing that in one trivial, but hopefully fun way, I’ve changed the world a little bit. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of people now know something they wouldn’t have known had I not wrote that article seven something years ago.

And you know what? That’s a pretty cool feeling.

Alas Vegas: A Seventh Holy Relic?

Ocean’s Eleven directed by David Lynch. Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas by way of Dante’s Inferno. The Hangover meets The Prisoner. A new style of RPG by James Wallis, named by Robin D. Laws as ‘the godfather of indie-game design’, with art from this year’s winner of the World Fantasy Award, John Coulthart.

Long time followers of mine will know that one of my big heroes, both personally and in the fields of writing and gaming, is James Wallis. James is charming, witty and charismatic and very much the geek I metaphorically wanted to be when I grew up (metaphorically, because I was already grown up when I first met him, he’s only a few years older than me, and frankly it would have been a bit freaky for me to turn myself into some kind of stalker clone). A few years back I even (jokingly! honest!) created a fake Internet religion around him, “The First Church of James Wallis, Sanctified”.

Back in the day, James produced (writing one, publishing the others) a series of revolutionary RPGs. Between them, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen, PantheonPuppetland/Powerkill, Violence and De Profundis extended the possibilities of what it meant to be a roleplaying game, and arguably led to the development of indie, story-telling games. Now James is back (in the tabletop RPG field, in the geographical sense he’s been living in Clapham all along) with a new RPG which promises to be just as revolutionary, but more importantly, just as much fun. Perhaps it’s best if I just let him explain what it is:

James is publishing via Kickstarter, which for those who haven’t yet come across it is a crowd-funding site that allows members of the public (you, me, that bloke on our morning train we’ve spent the last five years avoiding making eye-contact with) to become patrons who fund creative works or new technological advances. This is your chance to both help Alas Vegas get out of the door as well as being among the first to get hold of it. James has already got past his initial £3000 target, which for you means two things: a) the game is going to get published; b) lots of extra goodies are being unlocked via stretch goals.

To find out more visit the Alas Vegas Kickstarter page. You can also find out more by reading the interviews James has done with OgreCave, Starburst MagazineRPGnet and Farsight Blogger.

My Next GMing Project

I’ve fancied doing some GMing (games mastering) for quite a while. (In roleplaying, the GM is the one who sets the overall storyline and runs the game). I needed something that would suit my style and my abilities, as well as hopefully working when done via a Skype video link.

This is what I’ve pitched to the guys, and the cool thing is that they’re pretty keen.


The sky above the starport was the colour of television, tuned to a cable radio station. It was three hours to midnight, and the last of the salary dogs were heading home with shiny briefcases clutched in clawed paws, fur glistening from the driving rain, snouts already twitching at the thought of an evening meal of meat and biscuits. Behind them, the rats were emerging from their day-time hideaways, some with hairless tails casually wrapped around their wares, others with neon signs above advertising their services. Expensively coiffeured cats stepped out of sleek aircars, seeking thrills and kicks, the crueller the better. A dog could lose himself here, end up just one more dead hound when the sun returned the morning after the night before.

Furtown was not a place for the pure of paw.

The Elevator Pitch

Furtown is an anthropomorphic cartoon series, with a vaguely noire / cyberpunky theme. (Think Bladerunner with fur). It has a witty, ironic, satirical tone, aimed as much at unemployed slackers as the children it supposedly targets.

The three PCs are the joint proprietors of a private detective agency who find themselves hired to investigate a mystery deeper and more dangerous than they could possibly have imagined. This single story line will be told over the course of an entire series.

(This will not be an open-ended campaign. It will be one big story, like a novel, with a beginning, middle and end. Although we could then go on and do a second “series”, with a new story, if we wanted.)


The system I would use is Toon, from Steve Jackson Games


I want a system that is very fast and abstract. This is partly because that’s the sort of system I want, but also because if I’m doing this via Skype, it really needs to be very simple and straightforward. I also want to focus on story, with combats being resolved quickly. (There will actually be a proper mystery plot to be solved, but it’s what comes after combat that I’m interested in – either you knock them out and then question them, or they knock you out, and either run away and capture you).

By doing it as an ironic cartoon that plays with the tropes and clichés of noire mysteries, I can (metaphorically) sketch quickly with a broad brush, and avoid getting bogged down in details. And I can also put in some humour without detracting from the tone.


Furtown is a star port city that may be either on Earth, or on another world. (This is never defined). It is entirely inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. There no humans. There’s no reason, hidden or otherwise, for this. It’s just the way Furtown is.

Furtown’s system of government is never specifically defined, but is strongly implied to be a harsh and corrupt republic of some kind. (It would be a cynical Californian liberal Democrat’s view of what the USA would be like, some years down the line).

Races of Furtown


Dogs are the largest group in Furtown, forming the bulk of the middle-classes as well as the “old-money”, paternalistic rich and the respectable working classes.

They always walk upright.

Upper class dogs are always pedigrees, whilst mongrel’s tend to be more lower class. (There’s no reason for this, it’s just the way it is – if you want an explanation, it’s that the animators drew upper class dogs as good-looking pedigrees, and lower-class dogs as tufted, mongrel scruffs).

Dogs are generally decent and hard-working.


Cats are mainly in the upper-classes, although in more of the nouveau riche. They always walk upright. They are slightly smaller and slighter than dogs. But they have very sharp claws.

Cats are generally cruel, selfish and hedonistic, but intelligent and stylish.


Sheep form the lower parts of the working class / underclass. They are stupid, superficial, and of often questionable morals. Most are on benefits, spending their time watching mindless TV quiz shows. When they do work, female sheep aspire to be hairdressers, males to be footballers.

They always walk upright, except for when they’re pissed (drunk), which is often.


Rats provide Furtown’s criminal underclass. They often live in the sewers andunderground tunnels. They make their money from petty larceny, businesses of dubious legality, and charging utility companies protection money. (“Nice fibreoptic cable you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”)

They stand upright, but often scuttle about on all fours. They are about half the size of dogs.

Rats are devious and amoral, but will often abide by some form of moral code. (It’s often said of Ron Rat and his twin brother Reg that they’re nice to their mother, and they keep the sewers in some kind of order).


Horses are a minority group. Traditionally, they worked in the transportation sector, initially in front of carriages, and then in the driver’s seat when the carriages were motorised. They have now started to enter other employment sectors, especially Shires, who typically work as bouncers or hired muscle.

They always stand on all fours, except when they are driving a truck or riding a motorcycle.

Horses are very heavily unionised, with many of those unions having links to the rat underclasses. They are generally trustworthy and decent, if a little slow.

Furtown Style

The typical dress of a Furtown inhabitant is a jacket and shoes and perhaps a hat, sometimes with trousers, sometimes without. (It’s a cartoon, that’s how they do it). Clothing and other items are a mixture of slightly futuristic and retrothirties.

Furtown Inhabitants

Mayor Butch Slobber

The mayor is a decent Labrador, liked by all, but generally regarded as a wellmeaning but essentially useless puppet. They Mayor is rarely seen in public without his assistant Felix Creep.

Felix Creep

Felix is a lithe tom cat, always nattily, if conservatively, dressed. He is widely regarded as the power behind the throne.

Frankie Skinartra

Frankie is a rat crooner rumoured to have links to Ron Rat and his brother Reg.

Ron Rat

Ron Rat is the leader of a large chunk of Furtown’s criminal underworld. He is aided by his twin brother Reg, and their other brothers Rik, Rich, Richie, Ralph, Rob, Randy, Ramsay, Ray, Reed, Reuben, Regis, Rhys, Reece, Rene, Rio, Robin, Roger, Rock, Rocky, Rod, Roddie, Rocco, Roland, Ronan, Rolf, Rory, Ruben, Rudolf, Ross, Rudy, Roy, Rufus and Ryan. (They were part of a very, very large litter).


Dim even for a sheep Baabaara shot to fame on the reality show Furtown Shore, followed by a stint on Celebrity Get Your Brother Out Of Here – in which she memorably declared to Border Collie chat show host Rex Clever her belief that sheep dogs were called sheep dogs because they were “wannabe” sheep (dogs who wanted to act like sheep).

She is a regular in the pages of Baaa! magazine.

The guys have already come up with some very cool character concepts, but an actual start for the campaign will have to wait for me to come up with the full plot. (At present I have some ideas, but they need fleshing out).

I’ve also sent out some emails to them giving further thoughts about the campaign, which I might format up into a later post.

Last Night’s Game…

We’re still playing Spirit of the Century, but John has now stepped in to take a turn in the GM’s chair.

Moment of the Night: One

We were in a room at a museum, talking to an woman who wanted to hire Addison Grey, TAFKAC’s “I see dead people” private eye, to find an item (the Sioux chief Crazy Horse’s war-shirt) that had been stolen by a bunch of Red Indians on motorbikes. With Addison were Lord Edward Silver, my gorilla with a man’s brain, and Quintilious Drummond, General T’s Mountie character.

At some point we got:

Quintilious: [Says something that’s perhaps a little daft]

Addison: [Pointing at him] He’s Canadian.

Me: [Out of character] Sorry, is he wearing a full Mountie’s uniform?

John: Yes.

Me: So let me get this straight. You’ve just pointed at a bloke wearing a full Mountie’s uniform and said: “He’s Canadian”?


Me: Just seemed a bit of a “no shit?” job…

I don’t know why I found that funny. I think just the mental image of someone pointing at a guy wearing a full Mountie uniform (brown hat, red jacket, black jodhpurs) and pointing out that he was Canadian.

Moment of the Night: Two

A little later, we were discussing how we might search for the Red Indians (yes, I know “Native Americans” is the term used nowadays, but this is supposed to be 1920s pulp), and someone (can’t remember who) suggested that a lot of them work in construction, especially in skyscrapers. Suggestions were being made that we could go and talk to Indians working in construction, in the various skyscrapers that were starting to be built around this time, to see if any of them might know about the blokes (presumably Sioux) who had stolen Crazy Horse’s war-shirt.

Me: No, that’s not all Red Indians. It’s just one tribe, Mohawks I think, on account of them not being scared of heights. [As it happens, I was right! Yeh me!]

John: Is it?

Me: I think so.

John: Well if you spend a FATE point, you can make it be so. [SotC has a system where you can spend points to “declare” certain facts about the setting].

Me: Right. [Thinks].

John: Do you want to spent a FATE point to make it so that it’s only Mohawks work in construction?

Me: Will that screw things up?

John: Not really. It will just change things a bit.

Me: Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll spend a FATE point to make it so that it’s only Mohawks who work in construction.

There then followed a bit of discussion about where we could go to talk to Mohawk construction workers, which ended with us visiting the Chrysler building, which we decided would – in our game – be under construction during this mid-1920s point. We climbed all the way up and had a long, rambling conversation with some Mohawk construction workers who had absolutely no idea why anyone, Indian or otherwise, might want to steal a Sioux chief’s war shirt.

Note: Mohawks come from upper New York state. The Sioux are from about two thousand miles to the west.

At which point…

Me: Hang on a minute. Did I just spend a FATE point to make it so that we couldn’t find anything out by talking to Indian construction workers?

John: Yes.

Oh well. Next week, South Dakota.

Campaign Idea: Children Of Selene

I’ve been having a bit of a hankering recently to do some GMing (games mastering). Given that I’m not only at the other end of a Skype link from my gaming group, but also spending quite a lot of time writing novels, it’s pretty clear that I’d need something that:

a) was an abstract game not requiring much in the way of battlemaps or plans; and

b) could involve a lot of improvisation based on limited, sketched out preparation.

I initially thought of some kind of pulpy superhero game, but quickly ruled that out as superhero games tend to involve detailed combat, which wouldn’t really work via a remote Skype link. But when I thought about it further, I remembered that most of my superhero games then to devolve into detective stories where the characters spend most of their time “out of costume”.

So I started to think of something more detective based, and segued from there into a sort of pulpy new-age thing that might be way too overblown for a novel, but perhaps good for the broader-brush, larger than life setting that I think an RPG sometimes required.

Anyhow, this is what I eventually knocked up and sent to the guys in the group. At this point, it’s no more than a vague suggestion for some possible future date, but I figured that having written it, I might as well shove it up here.

(It’s as I sent it, except that I’ve added in links to make it more understandable).

* * * * *

Hi guys,

Been thinking of something. If I did it (big if, as yet), I’d probably use the Gumshoe system (Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu et al) modified to include some simple magic and ESP.

Children of Selene

New-age, paranormal private detectives on a living, breathing Moon.


It’s hard to remember now what the world was like before the 60’s, so utterly did they change things. New ways of living. New ways of thinking. And then came the revolutionary year of 1968, and two revolutions that were the seed in the ground and the crack in the wall that would eventually smash the old world apart.

In Paris, an alliance of students and workers overthrew the Fifth Republic and sent de Gaulle packing. And in Prague, the massed ranks of a people united stared down the tanks of the Soviet empire.(1)

The rate of change, already bewildering, increased yet more. Old ways fused with new. Old lore, long ignored but not quite forgotten, was relearned and regained: the power of the mind, ESP, and the power of the universe around us, magic. Equipped by the latest techniques in meditation and sensing, far-seeing scientists began to make break-through after break-through. And through all of this, both capitalism and communism continued to crumble, new organic, anarchic structures
growing up to replace them.

When Apollo 14 lifted off her pad in the January of 1971, she represented the last gasp of a dying order, a final flourish of a nation not far off existing in name only. On the journey to the Moon, Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell experienced some kind of spiritual epiphany. An awakening, even.(2)

When he arrived on the Moon, his consciousness now expanded, something happened, something incredible, something that could not have been foreseen and that is still not understood.

Selene awoke.

Dormant spell of unimaginable power? Intervention by the Gods? We do not know. We know this Before Mitchell landed on the Moon it was a dead world, bereft of both life and magic. This world was Gaia’s stillborn twin.

Mitchell’s arrival resurrected the twin. In just minutes, as he and his commander Shepherd watched, the sky turned from black to blue, grass, trees, birds and insects appeared all around them, and a wide sea filled the lowlands around the Fra Mauro Highlands upon which they’d landed.

Mitchell and Shepherd were now trapped; their Lunar Lander could not fly into orbit through a thick atmosphere. As the third member of their crew, Stuart Roosa, headed home alone in the Command and Service Module, a host of brilliant minds back on the mother planet were already mobilising to design a cargo carrier that could be parachuted to them through the Moon’s new atmosphere.

In the meantime, Mitchell and Shepherd explored what was now the island of Fra Mauro, surrounded by the Ocean of Storms to the north and west, and the Sea of Clouds to the south and east. They found a rich world, full of edible fruits and clear, fresh water.

More people followed, both to Fra Mauro and elsewhere. Shepherd would eventually return to Earth some five years later. Mitchell stayed, founding a spiritual study centre at what had become the town of Birthplace.

(1) In our world, both revolutions failed, and the idealistic dreams of the sixties gradually died, as the world moved into a more pessimistic decade of economic decline.

(2) Mitchell did actually have a kind of spiritual epiphany, and has spent the time since his flight promoting a new field of study that he hopes will fill the gap between science and spirituality.

The Moon Now

Thirty years have now passed since Selene’s awakening and the Moon is home to around 200,000 people. Most of these people are concentrated in the central area, between the Ocean of Storms to the west, and the Seas of Nectar and Tranquility to the east. The capital, Brighton, is located on the west coast, with the second city, Armstrong, on the east coast.

Birthplace, on Fra Mauro island, is small, but influential. A place of spiritualism and magic, it is regarded by the majority pagan faith as the holiest place on the Moon.

There are other smaller settlements scattered along the western coast of the Ocean of Storms, and the eastern coasts of the Seas of Fertility, Tranquility and Serenity. The far side has few seas, and is, for the most part, a wide expanse of hostile desert.

Like Earth, the Moon operates as highly decentralised, near anarchic state, with no government as such, and the only authority being a network of legislatures/courts used to determine laws and resolve disputes. Commerce consists almost entirely of co-operative businesses, most quite small.

Magic on the Moon is slightly more powerful than on Earth, perhaps reflecting Selene’s younger state. Whilst still subtle (magical practitioners can’t cast lightning bolts or fly) it can be a powerful


The Moon might be a peaceful utopia, but even a utopia is full of people, and people will always have problems. Worried people looking for missing relatives; plaintiffs in a dispute gathering evidence for
the courts; wives concerned that their hand-fasted mate might be straying.

That’s where you come in.

XXX, XXX and XXX: paranormal detectives for hire. Skilled in the use of conventional techniques, magic, and ESP.

Even a utopia needs people to peer beneath the rocks.

A Note On Magic and ESP

Neither of these are very powerful. As a rough rule of thumb, things which some people in our world think work (astrology, divination, curses, telepathy, precognition, “aura sensing”, love spells, and so on), in this world, do actually work. But things which no-one in our world would suggest might work (lightning bolts, flying etc) don’t work in this world, either.

Oh, and there’s two maps that might be useful. One shows the near-side of the Moon as we see it, and is useful for having the names of things on there:


The other shows a full, Mercator view of the entire Moon, including the far side:


As a rough rule of thumb, anything dark is sea, anything light is land. (i.e. The “seas” have become actual seas). Where it’s a bit murky, you’ll have chains of islands within a sea.

That’s it…

Boardgame Camp

Last Saturday I headed down to Richmond to go to Boardgame Camp, a boardgaming “unconference” organised by my friend and publisher James Wallis. I will talk about how it went and what I did, but I should probably first answer the question that’s probably occupying the minds of a good chunk of those reading this, which is: “What the hell’s an unconference?” Well Wikipedia defines it thus:

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose.

…and with the exception of the regrettably American spelling of the word “centered” I think that’s not a definition I could improve on. But what does that actually mean, in practice? Well when I arrived I wasn’t quite sure. But within a couple of minutes, I found out, when I bumped into Jeff Sheen (@stargazystudios), who I’d met a couple of weeks previously at a James Wallis boardgame evening, and who turned out to be one of the organisers of the event.

We got chatting, and I – for reasons that now totally escape me – segued onto some kind of “I’m so old I remember the time before computer arcade adventure games stole the phrase roleplaying from us real roleplayers (a rant I previously wrote about in Critical Miss), and he said:

“You should do a talk about that!”

A “what?” a “huh?” and a “come this way” later, I found myself standing in front of the following board.

There were three tracks at Boardgamecamp: a design competition; playing boardgames; and the unconference discussion track. This board was the heart of the unconference track.

At a conventional convention, talks/panels/events are curated; that is the organisers organise in advance a programme of events and select people to appear/talk at those events. This isn’t the case with unconferences. At the start of the day there is no programme; whatever events may take place are decided by the participants, on the day.

Boardgamecamp did this via a board and postit notes (there are other methods). The board was marked up with half hour time slots along the top, and the six locations for event along the left-hand side. If you wanted to host an event, you simply wrote a description of it on a postit note and stuck it into an empty slot.

Which I did.

This was my first experience of an unconference, and it seemed to go really well. My own talk got a pretty healthy ten or so people, and produced what I personally felt was an entertaining and perhaps even thought-provoking chat (especially, given that it was really just a rant). And the couple of other talks I went to, about blogging and what a course on game design could teach, were both very interesting.

I also got to teach some people TransAmerica, probably my favourite boardgame of the moment, and I got to play in a game of RoboRally (possibly my favourite board game of all time).

On the basis of my first visit, I’ve say that Boardgamecamp (and its sibling Gamecamp) are well worth going to. The unconference track itself would make it worthwhile, but the opportunity to play a whole host of boardgames (they had a games library, which any participant could borrow games from, that weighed 61.7 kilos!) makes it a winner in my book.

I can’t wait until next time.

And I’d say hi to all the cool people I got to chat to, but there’s probably too many, and a lot of names I haven’t got. So apologies for that. But it was really good to talk to you all, and I hope to catch up with you in the future.

Boardgame Camp

Last Saturday I headed down to Richmond to go to Boardgame Camp, a boardgaming “unconference” organised by my friend and publisher James Wallis. I talk about how it went and what I did, but I should probably first answer the question that is probably occupying the minds of a good chunk of those reading this, which is: “What the hell’s an unconference?” Well Wikipedia defines it thus:

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose.

…and with the exception of the regrettably American spelling of the word “centered” I think that’s not a definition I could improve on. But what does that actually mean, in practice? Well when I arrived I wasn’t quite sure. But within a couple of minutes, I found out, when I bumped into Jeff XXX (@stargazystudios), who I’d met a couple of weeks previously at a James Wallis boardgame evening, and who turned out to be one of the organisers of the event.

We got chatting, I – for reasons that now totally escape me – segued onto some kind of “I’m so old I remember the time before computer arcade adventure games stole the phrase roleplaying from us real roleplayers (a rant I previously wrote about in Critical Miss) and he said:

“You should do a talk about that?”

A “what?” a “huh?” and a “come this way” later, I found myself standing in front of the following board.

James Wallis’s Cop Show… Doing Star Trek

I had an email from John this morning, filling me in on something that came up at last week’s meeting (which I missed due to be at the Discworld convention). They were talking about James Wallis’s (@jameswallis) unpublished game Cop Show, which he was kind enough to let me try out on the guys three years back. I wrote that up on my then blog:

Next Monday’s Game | Cop Show: Character Creation | From Last Night’s Roleplaying… | A Note On My Previous Entry | BlockBuster: Episode II (“The Norfolk Spaceman”)

One of the coolest aspects of Cop Show is the method of character creation, which is designed to create the classic miss-matched pairs of cops you see in film and TV. Each player takes it in turn to say something that their character is good or cool at; the person to their left is then bad/uncool at that. So it might go something like:

Player One: I’m really good at driving cars.

Player Two: Okay, I can’t drive. But I’m good with guns.

Player Three: Right. So I can’t shoot for shit. But I’m good at charming people.

You go round the circle three times, at the end of which each character has three positive aspects and three negative aspects. Of course, with most roleplayers it typically goes like:

Player One: I’m an incredibly fluent and charismatic speaker who can speak dozens of languages!

Player Two: Oh great, what am I supposed to be then, mute? Well maybe I’ve got absolutely incredible eyesight!

Player Three: Thanks. I always wanted to play a blind guy. Oh well, maybe I’ve got incredible hearing in return.

Player One: So I’m deaf?

I seem to recall that in the rules, James comes up with a couple of brilliant jokes along the lines of Ironside clearly having been screwed during character creation and Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased being an example of what happens when one player picks “I’m alive!” as an aspect.

Anyhow, it apparently occurred to John and the guys that the makeup of the character’s in the Original Series Star Trek could be easily explained had this sort of character creation been followed. I thought it was so good I asked John if he’d mind me putting it up on the blog, and he very kindly said yes.

Apparently, he had consumed quite a few squares of Green & Black’s Expresso chocolate when this idea was conceived…

The Captain: [smarmy smile] I’m the Captain. I’m charming, friendly and get on well with everyone I meet, especially the ladies (wink, wink).

The Scientist: [groans as he realises the other player has just shafted him] So I’m not charming, not friendly and don’t get on well with people, especially not with the ladies. But I’m a great scientist, sober, precise and know what I’m talking about.

The Engineer: So I’m never sober, my estimates are way off, and I don’t know I’m talking about. But that’s okay, I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer. I can fix the engines and build things.

The Doctor: [In character already] Damn it, I’m a doctor not a brick-layer. But remember that what I do keeps the crew alive.

The Captain: Erm.. Does that mean that what I do results in a lot of the crew dying?

The GM weeps.

Last Night’s Game…

The funniest thing last night in our Spirit of the Century game actually related to me remembering an event from the previous session (which was two weeks ago).

Now you have to remember that I’m playing a bloke whose brain has been transplanted into the body of a gorilla. We’re at a ski lodge in the Alps, and everyone there thinks I’m just a pet gorilla of one of the other party members (my NPC friend Georgina). So I’m supposed to be keeping my mouth firmly shut.

The previous week we’d found a body in one of the guest rooms. In the corridor outside had been the young hotel porter who’d let us into the room. I said that I was going to go outside and get him to come in and take a look, so he could see that the room’s guest was dead (I didn’t want us to get the blame).

I didn’t specify how exactly I was going to get him to come in. Fast forward to last night…

Me: [during discussion on event] No, they know that the bloke’s dead because I went and got the hotel boy to come in and have a look.

Someone else: You did what?

Me: Ah. Hang on a minute. Yeah. I didn’t actually say that I was speaking… but I didn’t say that I wasn’t did I? Oh well, it doesn’t matter. He’s just a boy and he’d seen something traumatic so if he tries to tell people that I can talk and they come to me and ask me about it, it’s fine…

[crosses arms, smiles triumphantly]

I’ll just deny everything and say he must have been confused! No, wait…

My Spirit of the Century Character Takes Shape

My Monday night group have just started playing Spirit of the Century, a free-wheeling pulp role-playing game based on the Fate system. We’re managing to take our time on character creation (three sessions and counting so far), but as we’re really enjoying it, the system’s looking good, and I’m really chuffed about the characters we’re coming up with, I thought I’d do a write up of where we are now, covering both the characters and what I’ve thus far learned of the system.

First off, the basics. It’s a pulp game set in 1925. You create your character in a series of five phases, which collectively cover the period of your life from your birth (for setting related reasons, all SotC characters were born on 1st January 1901) up to the start of play.

This is what I came up with for the first phase of “Lord Edward Silver”:


Events: Lord Edward grew up the privileged second son of the Duke of Buckinghamshire. After his elder brother was killed in the Great War he became the heir, to his father’s obvious disappointment.

First Aspect: Old Money

Second Aspect: Old School Tie

So he’s an English aristocrat, who from his childhood has acquired the aspects Old Money and Old School Tie (i.e. his family are wealthy, with that wealth being established at least several generations ago, and he went to a prestigious and exclusive school which grants him membership of a mutually beneficial social network).

I should perhaps explain how aspects work, as they’re pretty much at the heart of the Fate system. Aspects can be almost anything: a person you know, a thing you have, a background you’ve come from, something you are, something you do. Although the rulebook does suggest aspects, there is no set list. You simply make them up.

Now I’ve come across these sorts of “make up your own skills/attributes/whatevers” systems before but have always been distrustful of them. It all seemed too woolly. After all, what’s to stop someone coming up with an attribute called “Brilliant At Everything”?

But Fate does it differently, because in a stroke of sheer genius, aspects are intimately bound up with what in other games would be called hero points (but are here called fate points).

It’s probably best explained with an example. Firstly, imagine I’m playing a generic game in a system that has hero points, where spending a hero point allows you to either roll again or add +2 to a roll you’ve just made:

GM: Okay, the customs agent doesn’t appear to be buying your explanation that your 200 packets of cigarettes are for personal use.

Me: I’ll try and strike up a rapport with him.

GM: Okay, roll against your Rapport skill.

Me: [Rolls] Three?

GM: He’s still not buying it.

Me: I’ll spend a hero point to push it to five. Enough?

GM: Yeah. He smiles, shrugs and then waves you on.

Now let’s look at how it might play out in Fate, where you can also spend a fate point to allow you to either roll again or add +2 to a roll you’ve just made – but only if you can justify it using one of your aspects:

GM: Okay, the customs agent doesn’t appear to be buying your explanation that your 200 packets of cigarettes are for personal use.

Me: I’ll try and strike up a rapport with him.

GM: Okay, roll against your Rapport skill.

Me: [Rolls] Three?

GM: He’s still not buying it.

Me: [pushing a fate point token across the table] He wouldn’t by any chance have gone to the same school as me, would he? You know, Old School Tie and all that?

GM: Well as it happens, he is looking at you with narrowed eyes. “Weren’t you in Rochester house, a couple of forms above me?” he asks.

Me: I’ll make a bit of small-talk with him and push the roll to five. Enough?

GM: Yeah. He smiles, shrugs and then waves you on.

So far from aspects being something which makes the game woolly, they instead take something woolly (hero points) and give them substance and add some roleplaying to them.

Another key part of aspects is that as well as using them to spend fate points, they’re the way in which you gain/regain fate points. The best aspects offer both advantages and disadvantages, because when they work against you, you get fate points back. Take cowardice for example:

  • If you need to get away from something, you could use cowardice to spend a fate point and grant you +2 or a reroll.
  • But if there’s something you need and want to do which requires bravery, the GM might point out that your aspect compels you to run away. In this case you can either spend a fate point to avoid the compel (i.e. have your character overcome his cowardice) or instead accept the compel (and run away) and then get a fate point as a reward.

I then moved onto the next phase, which covers your early adulthood, in particular that Great War (WWI) and the period after it, and your introduction into an organisation called the Century Club, which is a key part of the setting.


Your Patron In The Century Club: Sir Humphrey Peterford (Great-great-great-uncle – mother’s, father’s, father’s, uncle)

Lord Edward became a dashing pilot and motor racer, achieving fame through a series of epic flights and races and even more epic society gatherings, until he pushed his luck too far and was dashed to Earth by an unearthly storm. Finding him lying dying in a remote hospital, his mad scientist great-great-great-uncle knew that only the full body transplant he’d been spending the last fifty years developing could save his young protege.

No donor body was available, but there was a local zoo. That night, a male silverback gorilla was stolen. Lord Edward lived, but he was no longer the same Lord Edward. Where once had strode a suave, charming, debonair human being, there now shuffled a suave, charming, debonair… gorilla.

Sir Humphrey introduced him to the Century Club. They needed him, but he perhaps needed them more. After all, it was now the only club he could get into if he fancied a fine cigar, a single malt, and some intelligent conversation.

First Aspect: Bright Young Thing

Second Aspect: Body of a Gorilla

Yes. I’m now a gorilla. Who loves to party.

Bright Young Thing can be a good thing: I’m fun, entertaining and charming at parties and other high-class social occasions. And it can be a bad thing: I’m very easily distracted from what I should be doing if I find out there’s a party going on.

And Gorilla’s probably self-explanatory. It will get in the way with pretty much any interaction I might make with human society; but you could activate it for things like hitting people, intimidating people, breaking things, using your feet to do things, and just plain damn avoiding notice because people “never suspect it was the gorilla”. (We’ve even worked out that in many cases, if I simply stand motionless up against a wall, people will just assume that I’m a stuffed animal, some hunter has put there as a trophy).

Edward can talk by the way. It’s just that people often aren’t prepared to listen to a gorilla, no matter how cultured his accent.

I then moved onto the third phase, which is where you imagine a novel that your pulp character has already been the star of:


Title of your Novel: Edward Silverback and the Black Baron of the Skies

Guest stars in your Novel: TBD and TDB

Events: Edward gatecrashes a New Year’s Eve fancy-dress party held on board Californian billionaire Roger Henderson’s dirigible (posing as someone wearing an awfully good gorilla costume). Among the guests are the British Ambassador to the United States, and the ambassador’s beautiful daughter, Georgina.

Just before midnight, as Edward is busily engaged charming Georgina, the dirigible is captured by a black-painted Zeppelin commanded by Lothar Von Richtofen (the Red Baron’s younger brother) who faked his own death in 1922, and now roams the skies seeking revenge for Germany’s WWI defeat.

The Baron’s stormtroopers capture all the guests save Edward and Georgina who get away. Helped by Georgina, Edward gradually captures the stormtroopers one by one and then rescues the guests. The Black Baron gets away in a biplane his Zeppelin carries, but turns back aiming to shoot down both airships (and thus eliminate all witnesses). Edward jumps into a second biplane, launches, and engages the Black Baron in combat. Edward’s plane is damaged, but he forces the Black Baron to flee.

First Aspect: Sworn Enemy of the Black Baron

Second Aspect: Georgina

The Black Baron was always going to get away. Having him as an aspect gives General Tangent (the GM) a good hook for future stories, and of course if he takes that hook (which he’s already planning on doing), I’ll be rewarded with fate points. We were brainstorming ideas last night and we were thinking that the Black Baron could have recruited a load of disaffected airship builders and designers (Germany was banned from building Zeppelins in the period immediately after WWI) and established a secret base in the mountains of Greenland, from where he can threaten both the United States and Western Europe.

A lot of planes used to crash around then. Maybe they weren’t all crashes…

Having Georgina as an aspect gives me a friend and ally who can help me negotiate a human-centric world. She can explain my presence by posing as my “owner”, with me as her “pet”. And of course, she is also someone who the GM can use as a hook, by putting her in danger.


Well firstly the guys need to write their “first novels”. So far they’ve come up with: a Chinese monk travelling the world looking for pieces of a powerful and cursed asteroid that fell to Earth hundreds of years ago (John); and a private detective who not only sees dead people but is frequently employed by them (TAFKAC).

Having done that, we move onto phases four and five, which is to take the “novels” of two other players (in our case, as there’s only three of us, we’ll all appear in all the novels) and write yourself into them as a guest star.

For my novel, we’re thinking that John’s Chinese monk, on the trail of a chess set constructed from a piece of the asteroid, could have got himself onto Roger Henderson’s dirigible by getting a job in the kitchen. Of course, he’ll then help me defeat the Black Baron’s stormtroopers.

I think doing the “novels” in this way is a really cool idea. (You don’t have to do them in as much detail as I’ve done by the way – they can just be one-liners). It gives the characters loads of background, gives the GM lots of hooks to work with, and makes sure that the characters start play being already friends and allies.

And then the final touch will be to give our characters skills. Not surprisingly, I’m going to have Pilot as my top skill and Drive as my second. That’s pretty well going to be my niche within the party, which could be interesting if we ever get stopped by the police who ask the two humans why they have a gorilla driving their car. (It might be a gorilla with the finest leather driving gloves, a nifty set of goggles, and a hand-made Saville Row suit, but I doubt that will cut much ice with Plod).

I can’t wait.


Forgot to say that the genius idea of me going to a fancy-dress party disguised as a gorilla came from John, and it was TAFKAC who said I should do something with dirigibles.

Also, I think the inspiration for the talking Gorilla itself came from Tony Lee’s comic The Gloom.

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