Writing, life, politics

Category: Roleplaying (Page 2 of 2)

Roleplaying related posts.

Last Night’s Game

Towards the end of the weekly start-of-game discussion in which I try to remember what we were doing last time…

Me: [stumped] Sorry, why are we buying a load of cleaning equipment again?

TAFKAC: That’s you saying that, right, not your character? You’d better not be saying that in the shop. If you say that out loud I’ll kick you. And it will be a proper kick!

General Tangent: Yeah. The sort where you get to tick the box afterwards.

For those who’ve never played the game, Call of Cthulhu – along with its fellow Basic Roleplaying Sytem cousin Runequest – has an experience system in which your skills improve through use. Next to each skill on the character sheet is a little box; if at any point during a scenario you make a successful test when using that skill in a non-trivial situation, you can tick the box. At the end of the scenario, you can make a roll for each ticked skill to see if it’s improved.

While perhaps more realistic than D&D’s experience and level based system (“Dammit! I don’t think I know enough physics to get more than a grade B in my upcoming GCSE exam. Better go out and beat the shit out of a few homeless people so I can push for a grade A!”) it does have its flaws, such as the “Runequest Weapons Caddy” syndrome, in which combat participants switch weapons each time they score a successful hit, gradually working through the contents of their weapons bag.

And of course, you are prone to get sequences like:

Player: I’ll jump up onto the table, see if can I spot anything while listening for any unusual chatter, and then climb down. [Picks up dice]What happens? Should I roll?

GM: No. You don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything, everyone in the pub now thinks you’re a wanker, and the angry landlord gives you a rag to wipe off the mud you’ve left on his table.

Anyhow. He didn’t kick me. (And we were planning on forcing someone out of his house using some kind of chemical stink weapon, if you were wondering).

Last Night’s Gaming Session

We’d parked ourselves in an extremely expensive, albeit dubious, club, and had dinner. Post-dinner, talk had moved onto the bill.

General Tangent (GM): The waiter tells you that the bill is three pounds.

[A discussion ensues about the size of the bill. It is eventually, and reluctantly, accepted.]

General Tangent (GM): [To TAFKAC] Okay, make a credit rating roll.

TAFKAC: Failed.

General Tangent (GM): Okay you haven’t got any money with you. Emily [TAFKAC’s PC’s NPC personal assistant] normally carries it.

TAFKAC: But she’s here with us.

General Tangent (GM): No she isn’t.

TAFKAC: Yes she is. She was outside in the street with us, and I’m not going to leave her out there, am I?

General Tangent (GM): Okay. [Thinks for a moment]. In which case the bill’s four pounds.

On Reviews…

One of the things I find most interesting about reading reviews of stuff I’ve written (I originally wrote that as “reviews of my works” but realised I was pushing the bullshit needle right into the red zone marked “deeply pretentious”) is the degree to which the score, assuming there is one, can often seem to not match the text.

Sometimes, there’s a reason, such as in a review of my Slayers Guide to Games Masters that included the line:

I guess if you like your humour course and black, this will have you rolling on the floor laughing.

…but then proceeded to give it a score of 1 out of 5 (appalling). It did so because the reviewer then suffered a moral meltdown upon reading certain parts of what I’d written.

And similarly, the person who when reviewing Game Night included a final line – which minus the first word would actually make a quote I’d be happy to put on the cover – of:

However, the story is very good (and original), the characters grow on you, especially as the book progresses, the universe is interesting, the ending is superb and I will probably buy any follow-up book that might be published.

…and then gave it only a 3 out of 5, did so because he didn’t find the book particularly funny. Which is fair enough, really.

But then you get the reviews where the apparent discrepancy is due merely to the different ways in which different people interpret the meanings of such scores. Upon reading a book which he finds highly enjoyable and without any apparent flaw, one man might score it as five out of five, while another man might give it only a three, reserving the “perfect” score for those products so great that they rocked his world to its foundations and left him changed for ever.

I think sitting somewhere in the middle are two reviews that a Google Alert of mine has just uncovered on GeekNative.com. I think they might be reposts, as they have only just been posted but read as though they were written when the products just came out.

The first review, which scored a solid 7 out of 10, is for the second issue of Mongoose’s gaming magazine Signs & Portents, which I had a column in. The review is quite complementary both about the magazine itself:

Signs & Portents remains good value for money – if you’ve enough interest in Mongoose and can use most of the magazine. If you’re fairly neutral then encourage someone in your gaming group to buy it and then share. In fact, at about US $5, the price is about right for a GM to buy and bring along to a monthly weekend of gaming. It’s the sort of reading that can be flicked through in a long break, a dinner for example, that still counts as a break but doesn’t throw players out of their gaming mindset. If you’re not a Mongoose fan then there’s nothing at all in the Mongoose magazine for you – but what did you expect?

…and about my article:

Johnny Nexus tells us why we he hates monks. It’s a funny article – but no doubt some D&D fanatics will send him hate mail. Poking fun at the D&D class system is like shooting fish in the barrel, the only thing easier is poking fun at the alignment system, and so it’s the tone of this article that makes it a winner.

The second review, by the same author, is of my Slayers Guide to Games Masters, and scored a slightly less impressive 6 out of 10:

It works, it might be British humour and therefore alien to many readers, but I find it funny.

I’d like a higher score, obviously (because I’m horribly insecure), but the review is actually really nice and positive. I’m not quite sure why these reviews popped up now, but it’s really nice to read some reviews of older stuff I’ve done.

Last Night’s Game…

…was virtual.

“Which one of you has got the lowest luck?”

“That’s never a good question for the GM to ask.”

It’s been a while since I last blogged about my Tuesday night game. I initially stopped when I took a blogging holiday, but by time I restarted blogging, it was coming up to my move to Brighton and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do gaming-wise.

I’d initially thought I could perhaps still attend the game and crash at my parents’ house, but after looking at the timings of trains and buses and so on, I realised that it really didn’t work. And to be honest, much as I like gaming, I didn’t want to spend a night a week away from my wife. (And it wasn’t as though I would be seeing my parents instead, because I’d most likely be arriving home after they’d gone to bed, and then leaving for work before they got up).

Then it occurred to me that perhaps I could do something with Skype, which has a video-phone mode. And the answer is, we could. (That’s my view of things on the left, with TAFKAC looking at “me”, a.k.a. the laptop set up where I would have been sitting.

I discussed it before I left, and we agreed to give it a go. We’ve spent the time since the move checking out various options. £99 spent on a speciallised USB conferencing microphone/speaker for Skype turned out to be money down the drain; the microphone which came free with General Tangent’s Rock Band proved to be better. At that point, with my ears ringing from the hiss of just a half hour test, I was getting a bit worried that it was never going to work. That was why I didn’t blog about it; because if it didn’t work, I’d be depressed enough about not gaming with the guys anymore and the last thing I’d then want to do would be to blog about it.

But General Tangent (with, I think, some suggestions from John) tracked down an alternative microphone and a set of speakers, and when he and I tried a test last Thursday evening it sounded pretty good; good enough that we decided to go for a full gaming session the next Tuesday.

Of course, fate being what it is, my train decided to be 31 minutes late (only the second time it’s ever been more than a couple of minutes late since I moved to Brighton), so we didn’t get going until about eight. But then… well it basically just worked.

I couldn’t say it was quite the same as being there; actual reality has a 3D quality that a flat screen and a non-stereo microphone just don’t capture. (The video, however, helps a lot, since you can see the reactions to what you can say). But the point is that it was a hell of a lot better than not being there, and I’m sure that as time goes on, it will soon seem natural. And given that due to my now rather long commute, I don’t get home until 7:15 each evening, a gaming session that requires no travel and where I can happily eat my diner while playing, if late, is pretty good.

Although I do need to find the mute button. Apparently, the noise from the speakers when I munched on a cracker was slightly distracting.

Excavating The Buried Layers Of The Past

Well after two writing sessions in my new “writing office” (a.k.a. the 0700 Thameslink train from Brighton) I can report that it’s pretty much like my last one, save for having a nicer set of views out of the window. (As an aside, when I get a chance, I’ll put up the profile that Writers Forum did of my last “writing office”).

We’re happily settled in to Brighton, and at some point I’ll put up some pictures of our new home town. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been very worthwhile. Sorting out your stuff while moving feels a lot like archeology: you work your way down through the various periods of your life (the old house, the flat before that, the family home) until somewhere along the way you hit the life equivalent of solid rock – your birth certificate. (Although in my case said birth certificate was immediately on top of a bunch of stuff only a couple of years old. I have no idea how that happened.)

But along the way I uncovered some interesting nuggets from the past. Most of them are now in the many boxes still scattered around the house, and may well surface over the next few weeks. But when I found a D&D character sheet dating from the early 1980s, I thought that was worth scanning there and then, before packing it away.

Why did it interest me so? Well there’s a lot of talk nowadays about “old school roleplaying”, the emphasis of which is usually on recreating the feel of old-style Dungeons & Dragons. Some people play the early forms of game, no-doubt clutching dog-eared twenty-something year old rule books. A group of enthusiasts have created OSRIC, a modern, open clone of the original AD&D 1st Edition rules. And then there’s Castles & Crusades, a stripped down version of 3rd Edition D&D that aims to capture the feel of early 1980s Basic D&D, but with a modern and coherent structure.

But what is it about “old-school roleplaying” that so interests people? After all, by comparison with modern systems such as 4th Edition D&D, older games are inconsistent, incomplete and full of holes. But the proponents of old-school roleplaying argue that it is precisely this looser rules structure that makes them better games to play. A loose rules set which covers only basic, standard actions allows the participants to “free-form” through everything else, producing a rich roleplaying experience that supposedly makes modern rules systems look like a mere board wargame.

But is this true, or are we looking through rose-tinted spectacles when we look at the past? Were our Basic D&D games of the early 1980s really the rich, roleplaying and storytelling experience that the proponents of old-school roleplaying claim?

Which is where my character sheet comes in. Finding it gave me a chance to answer this question. What depth of roleplaying had my 14 year old self come up with when blessed with a loose and free-flowing system? What stories was I telling? What dreams did I dream? Did I have something then that I’ve lost now?

Erm… No. Look at the character sheet to the right. Yes, I present you with: “Hero Heroic the Hero” with his character mottos of: “Hero woz ere” and “Hero rules”.

I have no recollection of this character, although it’s clearly mine, not because it has my name on it (my so-called friends delighted in writing my name on things – books, walls, examination tables), but because I found it in my house and I’m afraid that scrawl really is my writing. I guess there are things in life so terrible (and let’s face it, creating a character called “Hero Heroic the Hero” is seriously terrible) that you either make damn sure to not remember them in the first place, or else plant them so deeply into your memory that only severe trauma or intensive therapy will ever break through the wall that exists between them and you.

I think perhaps that some boxes of old junk and crap are best left unopened.

Hero Heroic the Hero. Dear God. I know I was only 14, but what was I thinking?

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