Sunday, 21 December 2014

How to create your own RPG maps?

This is going to be a links post rather than a detailed explanation. The reason being is that there are a lot of good explanations already out there. There are a lot of programs on the internet you can create rpg maps with, I'm just going to talk the ones I've used.

Lets start with the easiest


This is a flashed based website embedded tool that allows you to draw grid based dungeon maps. Its wiziwig, just click on the style of tile you want, select rectange, eclipse, custom polygon etc and draw some shapes. Its a very quick and easy way of producing room/dungeon layouts. The end result isn't very graphically distinct and creating unconventional shapes can be a bit of a pain but it works. You can export your creations as image files.

I used Pyromancers quite a bit at first, as it was a very easy way to create excessively large dungeon maps.

Hexographer comes with a free ware version, download this and try it out. Based on OSR blogs this seems to be what most people use.

Using the freeware version you can create simple old school hex maps very quickly. Visually its comparable to some D&D stuff from the 80s.

There are a few other freeware hex mapping bits of software. I tried using a java script one (forget its name and link) but Hexographer seems to be the most accessible/best. I used it for my Mutant Future campaign to create the game world map. The colours of Hexographer didn't really suit the setting so I opened the output image in Gimp and altered them a bit. Hexographer does the hexes well, but lines for rivers and boundaries always look a bit crap.

This brings us to GIMP, that is GNU Image Manipulation Program

Currently at version 2.8 this is one of the best pieces of freeware on the net. It is essentially a freeware version of Photoshop. Unlike most bits of freeware, once you learn the ropes its pretty much as good as its commercial competitor (it's definitely better than corelpaintshop). 

Gimp can be used to create any sort of map, dungeons, cities, worlds etc.

All of my maps are built on the basis of these three Cartographers guild tutorials

I recommend starting with Toristan's dungeon map tutorial if you are new to GIMP. Its an easy in and explains stuff in some detail. Then look at the second link, Roba's mapping. It will show you some more of GIMPs potential.

In general cartographers guild is great. There are a lot of tutorials and the forums are full of friendly folk who will answer questions. Critically, you don't need to be able to draw or have any real artistic tallent to produce any of this stuff. It's all process and effect. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Point to Point roleplay mapping

Other than AFS magazine, Chris over at the Hill Cantons blog is a big proponent of point to point rpg maps.

Another point to point map I created was for a climbing session. There is a 'flare' at the top of a column in the great cave that switches on and off irregularly. The players are sent to fix it. At the top if an ancient structure / device that is essentially a light house. A lot of the adventure involves climbing the column and choosing different paths up it.

Makes more sense to use point to point for such a map. Hexes give granularity but sometimes it's too much. Some modern games like Dungeonworld recommend point to point maps / flowchart campaign structures. This got me wondering a bit. There are a lot of forum threads along the lines of; How do I actually run an rpg session? Part of the cause of these threads is in my view the move of rpgs away from something simulated and structured to something very abstract. I don't have an issue with abstraction but it is more counter intuitive. In a world where the explorable area is mapped and rules govern how far you can move it is easier to understand the imaginary. If the game is series of connected 'scenes' it is harder to conceptualise.  My advice to any new GM is to draw maps of your world, dungeon, village etc. Make the world as real as you can.

Point to point maps have their origin in war games;

They were a response to a problem with area maps. 

The argument being, that area maps are sometimes unclear.  For instance if four areas meet at their corners can you move diagonally between them? Usually not. Point to point maps show clearly all the routes an army can take. I usually think that point to point maps can look a bit ugly in war games and prefer areas. Also when I'm thinking about conquering a country, I think of capturing areas, territories, not points. Sometimes point to point can look very good though, and in wars where the pathways were more important than territories it makes sense. I know Martin Wallace used point to point for A Few Acres of Snow because it was the routes down rivers and trails that were important in the war. Another advantage of point to point is it is easier to show movement restrictions. If you have a path between two areas that only one army a season could fit down, showing it by colouring the point to point line is easier than colouring a border on an area map.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Hand drawn style maps

Working on a new session/mini campaign for Hyperborea. I am creating a hand drawn style map for it. This cartographers guild post is a great help 

Here is the progress so far.

The Season of the Wolf.

The concept is to bring together a number of ideas that have been kicking around in my mind. I intend to create a point to point style map and have the world simulated to a limited degree. Normally in rpgs stuff happens when NPCs show up, otherwise it does not. I plan on putting a time track into the game and having the werewolfs that the players are hunting move around and do things through time. Depending on how much time the players loiter things might happen ahead of them.

A lot of the inspiration for this has come out of AFS magazine.

Issue 3 (i think) talks about using point to point maps over hexes, Issue 6 includes a new huntsman class and a great adventure by Joseph Salvador set around an icy Fjord.

The close to finished map;

There is still stuff that needs work. The celtic north arrow and swastika are sort of just stuck there and need reworking or removing. I also need to put in a neat border and a scale bar of some sort.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Posts I blog in other places November 2014 Edition

I generally keep this blog for RPG and more complex war game material. I post more regular board gaming type content over @ Fortress

Here are some links to some recent produce review type posts for Brass by Martin Wallace, and Storm Over Dien Bien Phu from MMP


Storm Over DBP:

There are other posts on my members blog over there, some of them interesting, some of them with terrible English.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Somme 1918, a review of sorts

I've turned a corner of sorts with hex and counter war games, and probably war games in general.

I can no longer be bothered to learn new rulesets. Or at least not rule sets of more than a few pages. Its probably unfortunate then that I tried to have a look at WW1 wargaming through the lens of Somme 1918 from Nuts publishing.

WW1 games were long thought to be dull grind fests much like the years 1915-1917 were. Many deaths, few gains, valuable for historical insight but little else. My limited experience of Somme 1918 is similar to this. I say limited because i packed it in after slightly under 1 turn (turns can have three mini turns within them), so take what I say with a dose of salt.

Look at all them counters!

Somme 1918 is a two counter sheet game, so not that bad. But, it took me about 2 hours after I had punched and clipped them to sort them. It is normal in wargames for a counter to have information on what army or formation it belongs too as well as its actual unit designation. Not here. I had to go through and sort each unit into its correct army group on the setup display.  My relationship with this game got off on a bad foot, and never really recovered. 

Once the game was sorted, setup and the 16ish pages of the basic rulebook were read I was ready to go. 16 pages of rules, thats not too bad you might say, and its not. The rules in  many respects are similar to the OCS or SCS rules from MMP games. Probably about a half way mark between the two. The use of reserve markers and exploitation are very similar. The problem is in the application of all the chrome rules, and arguably the combat system itself.

But back to the counters. Theres a quite a few and they are in some quite big and rather dense stack forests. Some of those unit stacks contain artillery and some Stross trooper units. In play I had to constantly be searching these stacks for those units. Pain in the backside.

The object of the game is for the Germans to breakout and take the town of Amiens. What unfolds is a German attempt to focus their best units and fire power at a few points on the trench lines to make some holes. Once through the gaps they can start to encircle the allied forces unless they can successfully disengage and fall back to form new lines. It is rather one directional early. According to the history and the reinforcement schedule the allies will eventually bounce back and turn the direction of movement around. This is fine and could be both historically insightful and entertaining if the combat system were not such a grind.

As each unit can have its own status counter and attached support units, those stacks can get pretty high.

Much of the game revolves around achieving the best differential on the CRT table (as most wargames are). To achieve this in Somme 1918 you need to maximise the artillery you can support the attack with, and you need at least a few more than your opponent is going to fire as counter batteries. You will also need numerical superiority in units. If your opponent unit is in a trench you'll need a lot more units. Finally Stross troopen give you +1 shift on the CRT and a high moral value leading unit could give you even more shifts. The result is that in setting this up in the movement phase you'll be peaking through your stacks and doing a lot of tedious unit shuffling. Once this is done you first resolve battery and counter battery fire and take losses. Then you get to combat resolution. You roll 4 dice, two for the CRT, and one for each sides tactical cohesion. The CRT is straightforward enough even if there are a few too many modifiers, but add in the tactical cohesion effects which determine advance after combat, retreats and a few other things and each combat takes several minutes of fiddling. Then you finish and realise you forgot to add in some of the additional chrome the game gives you for that specific game turn. The result is something that feels like a really solid WW1 milsim loaded with historic detail but very tedious in play.

Wargaming is always a fine balance between effort and reward. OCS games can be a fair amount of effort but the reward is so great. Napoleonic 20 is very low effort and a reasonable reward. Somme 1918 doesn't cover its effort deficit. I say i've turned a corner in wargames because I think I am going to pick a few series based games and just stick to those. With a series you only learn the main rules once and you already know you like the system. OCS, Napoleonic 20, and Great Battles of the American Civil War are on my list, and I might add Kevin Zuckers campaign level games. Outside of these I doubt I will buy many war games.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Operational Combat Series!

I've been in a war game mood lately. Not really done a great deal of RPG or regular board game. The urge to push counters across hexes is too strong.

Having made a trade for Reluctant Enemies, the new Operational Combat Series title, I've taken the plunge and learnt OCS.

It wasn't as hard as I expected.

Heres a link to the playlist of videos I made on it;

The quality of the videos is a bit ropey early on. I had to learn the ropes with the camera, focusing and lighting etc.

heres a later video that is a little better;

I don't cover everything in these vids, and there might be some rules mistakes, but they are enough to help anyone understand OCS and get playing.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Korean War by Victory Games is Awesome

I've played two slightly truncated games of the Korean War recently and it has quickly become my favourite hex and counter game.

This is a mid 1980s design out of Victory Games an off shoot of the dying (or dead I forget which by this date) SPI games but based in New York under the Umbrella of Avalon Hill. It'd designed by Joe Balkoski and covers the first 12 months of the war, which is where all the action was in history, at the divisional and regimental scale. Each turn lasts a month and you have 12 turns taking around an hour each. It has two medium sized paper hex maps that put together will fill a typical dining room table. As it is a divisional scale game (to non war gamers that means most units represent a full division of an army which is a lot of dudes), you don't have that many counters, which means no big counter stats and not too much time sorting them out at the start of play. This scores big points in my book.

Yesterday I played the Communists and my friend, Dave P McArthur played the UN. He decided to leave the strategic opening decisions of the UN entirely up to Washington and so rolled a die to determine each of them.

On turn 2, after the North Koreans have swept over the border and hammered the south, the UN intervenes. At this point the UN player has to make some strategic decisions. He or she has to choose the UN intervention level, mobilization level and rules of engagement. These three decision essentially determine how many troops the UN get, when they arrive, how quickly than can transfer between ports and carry out amphibious assaults, where they can bomb, and whether they can drop atomics. 

Dave decided to let the die decide rather than choose, because he wanted to see what might happen if some distant politicians made decisions for him. He ended up with a a very low initial intervention, so few troops early on, but high mobilization and liberal rules of engagement so he could bomb anywhere. The downside is this ramped up the global tension level quite a bit. This tension level, if it reaches 7, the Communists win. Further, and this was Dave's downfall and lead to his resignation on turn 4, the UN subtracts 5 times this tension level from their vps scored each turn. 

There was no Pusan perimeter in this game. I got stuck around Seoul. I did take Seoul but crossing the river and securing Inchon before American started landing proved to be harder than I expected. I also got road blocked down the east coast by a US force. IN the end I did manage to encircle Inchon but by now it was turn 3 going on 4. Whilst this was slow, from another perspective I had forced the UN to waste time and play hard slowing their victory gains to the point where they could only realistically win by a military victory conquering the whole of North Korea, something they were unlikely to achieve, hence Daves resignation. 

Why do I like it so much?

Theres a number of things this game does very well.

Firstly I like war games that give you different objectives or victory conditions that you can work toward. There was a point in this recent game where I chose to go from an all out assault victory to an attritional strategy. Even in attack, do I strike at my opponents supply sources, the key cities for vps, or the  instant win condition of Pusan? Balancing the priorities and working out what is really strategically essential and what is no longer realistic or important is satisfying armchair general material.  

Secondly I like manoeuvre. Games with lines pushing each other back and forth can be fun, but can be a bit boring. I like encirclements, break outs etc. 

Thirdly both sides get to attack, both sides get dramatic phases in the game. The North Koreans swing first, the UN second, the Chinese third. It gives the game narrative acts and switches the footing of both players.

Fourth, the game has plenty of clever tactical systems. The way depots are deployed and supply calculated is simple and interesting, the UN air chart, deciding how to use action points for each unit. It all adds up to a detailed but still manageable tactical puzzle each turn. 

And fifth, the external events. The game has plenty of historical what ifs? chromed into its rules. What if Nationalist China, or the Soviets joined in? What if Atomics were dropped? Whilst I have a read a history of the Korean War, I haven't studied it in detail enough to comment on the accuracy of the game as a simulation, but it does produce a believable account. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Learning to map part 2

My world building with Gimp continues. I've had a couple of cracks at putting together a city map and now having something that will probably get into my campaign. It is still a work in progress but it at least looks interesting. The concept is to have a city built on the back of a giant crab. This has some novelty to it, evokes the weird fantasy vibe im shooting for and allows for lots of interesting rationals in the world detail. For instance the city has a massive rain collection system to generate the needed water.

To put this together I got a photo of some spiny species of crab, used the magic wand to select everything non crab in the image and remove it. I then dragged the contrast way up and darkened the crab to get a silhouette of the crab. I then used the path tool to design in the roads and then the buildings. I added in some of the spines in grey as these will be hollowed out to form some of the bigger buildings in the city.

The background is a bit nuts, and whilst I do like the aesthetic, I think it might be a bit too far out. The crab is supposed to reside in a cave and I may redesign the background to reflect this. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

There will be Blood! Blood and Roses and SPQR in Review

I think I remember Martin Wallace once criticizing war games, in particular battle based ones, for giving the players, commanders, too much control over the chaos that ensues. It was probably on a podcast, I forget which.

Whilst I can definitely see where Wallace is coming from, having played two of Richard Berg’s battle field war games I can say that not all war games fit this mold.

Blood and Roses covers seven battles in the English Wars of the Roses, a medieval dynastic study between two noble families. SPQR Deluxe has a ton of scenarios most involving the early Roman republic and its conflicts with it's ancient world rivals.

Foolish Lancastrian mounted knights charge the Yorkist lines only to find out what longbows can do.

I’m posting about both together because the two games have a lot of mechanical similarities. In each you will pull out a map sheet, arrange maybe 20-100 counters per side with some deployment decisions, then start activating and swinging your masses of spears and shields to try and out flank, shock,awe, or grind out your opponents army into dust. Its riveting and made of the stuff of Homeiad epics and medieval sagas. When an enemy line breaks to then recover, or an elephant runs amok at a critical time it brings out some of the most colourful narratives in gaming.

Both games include a significant unknown, other than the dice combat, that answers Wallaces criticism to an extent. Armies are split into sections, called either lines or battles each with their own leaders. Activating your main leader and his troops is fine, but getting the other groups and their leaders to actually fight on cue requires some special dice rolls. If you roll badly, either the don't move at all and the game flips back to your opponent's turn, or you only get to move and fight with a few limited units. This creates a punishing unknown in the game. How far can you push your luck be reactivating troops at longer odds, and when planning when do you expect your opponents longbow men to fire next? Most of the time you simply don’t know. It can be very punishing, In my defeat as Henry at Bosworth the Yorkists activated troops nearly twice as often as I did, but its worth the price for the suspense it brings.
I am Pyrus, He who shall not be named is Rome. His Velites are slaughtered as they cross the stream

In games with a lot of chaos like these, there is a question as to how much of the game is a competitive challenge and how much is it roleplaying with counters? Its definitely a mix. From the two games apiece I have played in both smart decisions have swung the battle one way or tother, but you do need lady luck to really execute on your plans. If I win a game of either I don't really consider myself to have out thinked my opponent, as often a few crucial roles and it would have gone the other way.

Other than setting there are some other differences between the two games. SPQR is quite a bit more complex and time consuming than Blood and Roses. SPQR is part of the Great Battles of History series and B&R is a Men of Iron game. The former is a more hardcore simulation and has a rulebook probably twice as long. There are a lot more exceptions and the tables have even more numbers on them. Berg loves tables in his games. Combat in both games requires you to lookup and often roll on at least two if not three or four tables to get a complete result. You get used to it and it does bring a vivid chaos to the battlefield.

My phalanxes from Macedonia try to hold off the unstoppable Roman tide.

The only other major difference is the overall tone of the two games. The Wars of the Roses were notoriously bloody for the period and both sides were focused on killing opposing leaders. This is reflected in the game. in B&R lots of little counters will die, in SPQR most will get knackered and flee the field.

I probably have a slight preference for SPQR as I like the bigger variety of units and tactical peculiarities that come with them but I'm glad my friend groked the rules and payout the cash for it. B&R is a both cheaper and easier option, although I wouldn't describe it as a simple war game.  I'd recommend either, both paint a reasonable interpretation of the history and definitely fulfill their role as educational games on their respective periods. Berg writes great battle books, he gives it some personality by expressing his opinions but also gives it some academic weight telling you the rational for some of his choices.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Learning to Map

Making good maps is an easy way for someone with little to know art talent like me to make ones adventures look good, and perhaps even publishable (Will send some to fanzines at some point). 

I've been steadily learning the ropes with GIMP.

This is a bath house I'm constructing for my current Astonishing Swords and Sorcerers of Hyperborea game. I need to create a good pattern fill for the pools, and probably design some more objects to give the map a more populated feel but the structure is there. I very loosely model it on some historical floor plans;

Monday, 9 June 2014

Cyberpunk 2020 Retrospective / Review

One of the committee at my gaming group is clearing out some old games from the cupboard, he gave me one of the copies of Cyberpunk 2020, so I decided to throw together a one shot and run it.

Here's the ground floor map of a down market retail hall I created. There were two other floors. I've been having a lot of fun with gimp lately.

Cyberpunk 2020 definitely brings the 'Punk' aspect out better than any other games, or even films in the genre I've encountered (Gurps Cyberpunk, Deus Ex, etc). If you read the books (which in my experience of RPG players very few read anything other than Game of Thrones), you'll find the protagonists are often petty criminals, down and outs and those on the slide. CP 2020 really nails this, its about survival on the ruthless streets more than high tech espionage. Neuromancer and When Gravity Fails both have heavily flawed low life leads (both great books). Stylistically it bleeds its age. Tech has wires and grunge, and characters can be Rockerboys, or Medias for classes. In many respects I find antiquated views of the future to be more interesting than the modern Ipod inspired white of The Island, or the I Robot Movies.

Mechanically CP 2020 is pretty standard fair. Its a late 80s game but its combat system and task resolution system are very similar to a simplified modern D20, or the D100 games like Dark Heresy. It has some interesting quirks, like all weapons having a concealability rating, which is quite important.

I only had two players, and improvised 90% of the adventure. I had one line descriptions for about 15 locations in the building and a general idea. On the top floor there was a wanted hacker called Cutter being hidden by a local crime boss. At 10pm the police are going to raid the joint and bag him. I had one PC, who was a cyber ninja attempting to bag this Cutter before the cops, and one Media, there to get a top story. It ran mostly as a sand box. I made it difficult to get to the top floor and into the apartment and gave the players lots of reasons to meet and talk to the various occupants of the shops, arcades, night clubs and fast food joints on the lower floors. It worked pretty well, and I managed to get a lot of Neuromancer flavour in there. Lots of drugged out techfiends, lots of shadey hackers, and a big gun battle between the cops and a gang.

Both my characters min maxed a little. it was a one shot, and I used the point buy rules (Cp2020 actually gives you point buy or rolled stats) so the Cyber Ninja had robotic arms and maxed out Aikido skills, meaning he could throw people through walls fairly easily. The Journalist had zero combat skills but could sweet talk anyone. It ended with the cops beating the Ninja to the prize, but the journo covering most of it and uncovering a few unsavory truths.

Advice for running Cyberpunk games;

Some GMs think that settings are designed by stuff. If I have wizards its fantasy, if I have implants its cyberpunk, if I have Wookies its Starwars. This is nonsense. You need to create the feel of that world, and the feel of the kind of stories that happen within it. With cyberpunk this is street attitude, and paranoia and a big dark city. Your vocab and NPC attitudes is more important than the stuff.

Thursday, 5 June 2014


With the rise of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) has come the rise of Fanzines and Magazines. I've had a read of Fight On!, Gygax Magazine, Footprints, & Magazine, Nod Magazine, Knockspell, Crawl!, AFS, and Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad. In this post I’m going to give a quick run down and critique of each of these.

Fight On!; I start with Fight On! because its my favourite and I think probably the best. Edited by IG with the help of Calithena and others, this fanzine gives you between typically 80 and 130 pages devoted to Old School roleplaying mostly focused on D&D Basic and OSR games that use a similar rule set.  About 70% of the content is material such as dungeons, cities, monsters or adventure hooks you can drop straight into your game.  Of particular note is the material from Gabor Lux who writes these vivid heavily appendix N adventures. There are on running features such as community mega dungeon that is added to with each issue. The other 30% or so is opinion articles and nostalgic history. I really like this content. Each Issue is dedicated to one of the genres forefathers, Gary Gygax is issue 1, Tom Moldvay is issue 10 etc. Somewhere in each issue is an article written about these individuals. One of the things that grips me about this zine over the others is this sense of will to survive and this notion that the forefathers are dying (quite literally) and what will happen next. Along with the range of authors, both well known such as Tim Kask, and lesser knowns and the art style which ranges from OSR staples like Peter Mullen to numerous amature but brilliant cartoonists the zine has a strong community vibe. Reading it makes me feel like part of this old school rather than just a spectator. The magazine had a hiatus for about 2 years but appears to be up and running again now with the release of the 12th issue.

Rating; The Return of the King

Gygax Magazine; This is a quarterly profession magazine with Luke Gygax at the helm. Unlike every other zine on this list it is professional and this shows in its layout, higher profile authors, and prolific advert content. There are a ton of adverts in this zine. Fight On! has some, as do the others but Gygax goes top. Of course they do have to actually pay their editorial staff. Of the first two issues (the only I've read) about 50% of the content is opinion and reminiscing pieces from back in the day, or speculation on where D&D goes from here. This is interesting, but a bit overwrought. I liked memories Fight On! shared with me, but in part because it was just a little with each issue, here there seems to be little else of substance at times. The first issue has no dungeons, and but one mapped adventure location, a village in a swamp by the notable Michael Curtis. There is an article on Banshees but most of the rest of the magazine is opinion or GM advice. Whilst there is nothing wrong with opinions, too often they seem to be set against my own. An article on D&D next and the evolution of D&D over time is at pains to explain that miniatures were a major part of D&D from the start and that Old school dungeons were deadly because they were designed to be competitive. Possibly true but it doesn’t really gel with me. Gygax isn't actually focused on D&D although this is clearly the core, the second issue opens with a strategy article for the board game Samurai Battles, a game I have reviewed here; There are also articles dealing with roleplaying generally and non D&D games. It gives the magazine an individual feel but also makes it seem scattered, consequently there are more likely to be articles you aren’t interested in. I’ve beat on this zine pretty hard I guess, but there are some real quality articles in here such as Jeff Talanian’s Weird Vibrations an article on weird fiction inspired Bard class.

Rating; Louis 14th, the Sun King.

Knockspell is nominally the magazine  for Swords and Wizardry, a D&D basic clone, but does cover 1st edition AD&D material too. Its edited by Matt Finch and in many respects is very similar to Fight On!, so much of my praise for the aforementioned can be reattributed here. It does run more articles focused on additional rules for Swords and Wizardry, extra classes etc and feels more focused than Fight On!. It has some great adventures by Gabox Lux, Talanian, Curtis and others. There is also a wealth of Items, spells, GM advice, tricks and world detail to forage from. What Knockspell doesn’t have though is many reminiscing on the past or questioning the future articles, this a purer game content zine. Also it only has 6 issues and might have run its course.

Rating;  Mangonel

Nod Magazine is written entirely by John M. Stater, and is published at around 80 pages on a bimonthly basis! This is a hex crawl magazine. Each issue is a map with several hundred hex locations on it. Most of the magazines content is descriptions of these hexes. The early editions use the Sword and Wizardry rules, the later focus on John’s own OSR rule set. I’ve read 3 issues, and its pretty impressive. Some of the locations are very imaginative and worth stealing if you don’t want to run John’s campaign settings wholesale. There are also monster manuals other other detail articles often included. I recommend having a look at the two free issues. Its a bit dependant on public domain art, but John is only one person with a limited budget.

Rating; National Geographic

Footprints; Footprints is free! and written by the dragonsfoot community for primarily 1st edition AD&D / OSRIC. This is campaign content, extra classes, items, house rules, the works for your 1st edition campaign. It really is focused on 1st edition, expect most articles to contain tables and specific rules with 1st ed in mind. However you can still easily adapt the content for other editions. The quality of the art is good, but its fairly sparse, again this is free so no complaints. I need to read more of Footprints (we are upto 21 issues, and I’ve read bits of 3) as I do like it. I would say it feels a bit too vanila D&D in terms of its imaginative content when compared with some of the other zines.

Rating; Lake Geneva

& Magazine: Is another free zine, also with a focus on 1st edition, but more system neutral in presentation than Footprints. Each issue has a theme like spells, or otherworldly plains. If Footprints is dominantly vanila material, this is less so. There is a rule set for converting AD&D rules to the Doom (the FPS by ID) setting and other nuts stuff. In a similar fashion to the other zines there is a lot of GM and player advice, extra rules, community interviews and a few small dungeons boot. I am probably more attracted to & Mag than Footprints, but again I need to read quite a bit more of it.

Rating;  ‘Can I play Daddy?’

Crawl!; We move from the world of D&D in general to a specific Zine. Crawl is a Dungeon Crawl Classics fanzine, and mostly deals in extra classes, patrons, rules and Judge advice. Its a solid product that retains the art style and ethos evoked so well by Goodman and Doug Kovacs in the game rule book but i’d say this is strictly for DCC fans.

Rating; Chuck Plympton

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad; This is also a DCC exclusive. Its a smaller a5 desktop published booklet of a few more than a dozen pages. MGoU focuses entirely on the writers campaign setting, the city of Ur-Hadad. Whilst it has limited scope, this is a cool zine. Theres a sub title on the front cover that states “This zine is to be played at maximum volume” which sums up the products attitude well. The whole thing has a feel of a garage bands tape demo. The writing is actually rather good. There is a short piece on the history of the city, an article on assassins and another mercenaries all written in a colloquial manner. The signature piece is probably the street kids funnel adventure though. Its an interesting spin on the funnel system and has some great tables. The art is also great, very off the wall, very heavy metal.

Rating; Metallica; Ride the Lightning

AFS magazine; What on earth does AFS stand for? I have no idea. This is a print only weird tales focused fantasy rpg zine. It has the lowest production values of the printed media covered, but there is a case for it being the best mag. It's run by one guy on a tight budget so its a ring bound 30 page ? (there are no page numbers!?) a4 booklet and uses a lot of public domain art. Issue 3 contains one of the best dungeon adventures I’ve read, a foray into a laboratory near a beach in the Astonishing Sorcery and Swords of Hyperborea system (a good AD&D variant). It really is hitting for the weird tales angle, and actually includes some examples, issue 3 has a short story first published in 1910 or something about celtic gods. There’s also the usual spate of item lists, extra character classes etc, but mostly with an OD&D or an ASSH focus.  In many respects this is like a trimmed down version of Fight On! and consequently really hits the right points for me.

Rating; Clark Ashton Smith

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A Netrunner Cube Draft; A recipe


4 netrunner starter sets (randomly generated using a program called netseal;

4 proteus boosters (also generated using netseal)

A ton of netrunner cards with which to assemble the generated sets from.

Android Netrunner now dominates the 'hotness' column on, and seems like its going to be a permanent fixture. I have about 800 netrunner cards, mostly acquired in one trade a couple of years ago for a copy of Core Worlds. The question in my mind for a while has been, should I flog off the whole set and buy into the new version? I prefer the early 90s campy cgi art and I'm tight fisted so I figured I'd try and breath some life into my cards by building a cube.

What is a cube? For the uninformed, in collectable card games (Magic the Gathering) you can play what is called a draft. This is when you all buy a bunch of sealed booster decks, open them, and then pass them around in a circle. Each player takes a card from each set that is passed to them and then passes it on. In this way you build a deck to play the game with. This is called a sealed draft. A cube draft is when you create a bunch of fake randomly generated booster decks from cards you already own and then do a draft. I think its called a cube because when you lay the cards out it often forms a square.


I used netseal to randomly generate 4 starter decks, that is 60 runner and 60 corp cards with no replicates. Each starter deck was originally designed to be fairly balanced in terms of ice cards, ice breakers, resource cards, traps, etc. They work as functional decks to play the game straight out the box. I then generated 4 boosters. I don't own every netrunner card, so where i was missing a card from the generated set I would either put in a close equivalent, or throw in an extra resource or engine card (by engine card i mean a card that allows you to search your deck or draw more cards).

To create a legal / working netrunner deck each faction needs certain cards. The corporation for instance needs to have a certain number of agenda cards, the runner needs at least one of each type of ice breaker and ideally a baselink card or two. In old netrunner these cards are classed as vitals. All of the other cards are classed by rarity, being a collectable card game. To make the draft work for the corp each player took all of the vitals out of the starter deck. So they each had about 10 agenda cards. These would not be drafted. You had to build your deck around these cards. For the runner each player took all of the ice breaker cards and all of the baselink cards out of their deck and were allowed to keep one of each type of ice breaker and two baselink cards. Everything else was shuffled and drafted in two drafts, the first draft for the corp cards, the second for the runner.

It took about 2 hours, which is very long for a draft. After the draft each player cut down the cards they had drafted (typically about 60-70 cards) down to around 45-50 card deck. In future I might just run two proteus boosters rather than 4 to speed things up a little and cut down the surplus cards.

Since then I've played 6 games with the decks I created, 3 as each faction. I was surprised how well this worked. It is not as smooth as a magic draft but it does work. My decks work to their strategic design, and my opponents decks varying degrees do function. The cube does seem to have been a bit short on runner resource cards still. I knew going in that runner resources can be worth their weight in gold, so I drafted quite a few of them, but certainly some of my opponents struggle to get their decks monetized. I might tweak this for future drafts.

My corp deck works about as well as one of my constructed ones. I built it around the idea of being able to res my agendas as quickly as possible, so I drafted plenty of resource cards and any cards that allow me to drop a lot of bits onto my agendas quickly. The deck is a little short on cheap ice, but never the less it is still unbeaten.

I've seen a few threads around looking at Android drafts. I imagine it would be harder than old netrunner as Fantasy Flight games added the faction system but people seem to think it is workable. Personally I find drafting far more interesting than pure constructed decks, and would recommend giving it a go.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Mutant Future RPG, and thoughts on retroclones

I've started GMing a campaign using Mutant Future by Goblinoid games. My campaigns usually only last 2-6 sessions and we are now two sessions in. I've seen many of the games mechanics in action and feel comfortable committing my thoughts on the game to the screen.

I say I am using Mutant Future rather than running or playing it, because like many older school RPGs experiences and interpretations of the rules of the game will vary widely from group to group. Equally interpretations of the game setting can vary a lot. I'm not really that into the Fallout, Mad Max, dudes with sharp bits of metal and tentacles protruding from their bodies type of post destruction world. I either like the very grungy A Roadside Picnic, Stalker, or Metro 2033 type world with grimy guys climbing around in rain coats and cheap anti radiation suits with sawn off shotties, or a more low fantasy approach like Nausicaa Valley of the Wind (A great Manga/Anime). For this game I decided to set it in a more Nausicaa type world. A world long after 'the fall' with a medieval come age of gun powder tech levels and a very fragmented tribalistic society. Whilst it isn't a fantasy setting, it can feel like one, with myths, legends, cultures and monsters that create a world unlike our own.

A cover from Miyazaki's Nausicaa Manga.

Once I'd started down this comics track, I decided to throw Arzach in, and have some of the mutant factions riding around on dinosaurs and even use Arzach as a character.

Arzach, by Moebius, Heavy Metal Magazine

So thats the setting. When I run RPGs I tend to pick a few mechanics and focus in on them. Sometimes its unknown player objectives, sometimes its military manoeuvres or combat, sometimes its purist dungeon crawling. For this game I've gone for survival and exploration, consequently I've enforced all the rules for food and water consumption and getting lost in the desert, and for a brief time my players did get lost in the desert before eventually finding this place;

The game centres around a hex crawl map with this being a sort of 'hive of scum and villainy' locale. This is the first time I've run a hex crawl, and its a framework I like a lot. It works well and gives the players a genuine freedom. Using a good set of tables its not too hard to generate encounters on the fly, and as I've found making simple encounters really interesting is where the true quality of any adventure lies. I do have an overall mission for the characters but its really just there to give them some direction. Hex crawls can be a big preparation investment though, if you want many specific detailed locations expect to write a lot of stuff that isn't used.

But what about the book, and the game system itself? Mutant Future is Goblinoid games attempt to create a modern clone of Gamma World. I've never played Gamma World, it predates me so I cannot give a comparison. What I do know, is that the system is really just a tweaked version of Goblinoids Labyrinth Lord, which itself is a clone of D&D basic. This is the first time I've run a game using the D&D basic rules, other than Dungeoncrawl Classics which uses a lot of the modern 3.5 D20 rules engine. Mutant Future is purer old school, and I have mixed views on this. Older rule sets, D&D or traveller, were vague and incomplete, and this is what made them great. You could fill the gaps yourself, no rules lawyering, easy loose systems. In Mutant Future I've found myself plugging a lot of the gaps with rules from DCC despite it being a D20 system. There are two things that bug me about Mutant Future, and at one of them applies to D&D basic too. The first thing is the lack of one unified dice check system. Combat is done with a D20, hiring retainers 2D6, or trap detection uses 1D6, determining the function of ancient technology is a D100 roll, a moral check uses 2D6, an ability deck is a D20 but roll low etc. Each system or check uses a different die. This creates two problems for me, firstly I'm constantly look up rules, or just forgetting them and winging it, secondly when we come across a situation which is beyond the rules, such as blagging a guard, I am unsure which dice to use and what numbers or stats to use as the basis for the test. I can improv this, and do, but other games such as DCC make it easier to make the improvised decisions. Here I can get inconsistent, asking for one roll on one occasion, then a different one for the same challenge on another, because I simply forgot what dice we used last time. The second issue is health points. Mostly players start with 50ish. This may not increase that much in the game, setting the game apart from D&D where hit points start low and rise over time. Combined with many monsters having high hit points and the melee weapons at the start of the game being fairly low powered, D4-10 damage typically, combat situations can often turn into slogs. I like short deadly combat, where monsters or PCs can die at any moment and the fight only lasts 4 or 5 rounds and about 5-15 minutes of real time. With so many hit points the party had a fight with five sentient spear wielding bird men lasted nearly 30 minutes and only ended when the birds started to fail moral checks. Only about 20% off attacks connected, and then chipping away from pools of 30hp or more. Things take time. The game takes this route because the high tech weapons, plasma rifles for instance, do silly amounts of damage (8d6!). At the high tech level the high health makes sense, but at lower tech, a normal low level human should withstand at least one clip from a submachine gun. It creates a level of grindyness to the fights and forces me to adapt the rules heavily for taking out incapacitated or surprised individuals that could logically be one shotted. These shortcomings don't kill the game by any means, I still like it as a whole and will run this game through, and many others over time, but I would jump ship to a DCC post apocalyptic game in a second.

What I've learned is, that I am not a true 'old school' roleplayer I guess. There are many trappings of modern rulesets that I prefer to the old days. I do look forward to some AD&D and basic D&D, but only because of the ethos of the game, the superior art, and the wealth of good quality modules out there. I doubt I will invest in another pure retroclone for the love of the system itself.

For more info on the game; Print editions can be picked up at Lulu.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Paranoia RPG

We had whats called the GIAG this weekend, or the Give It A Go. In this case people were giving roleplaying games ago. I prepped and ran a game of Paranoia. I picked up a copy of Paranoia 1st ed of Ebay about a year ago and had been looking for an opportunity to inflict it on the unsuspecting ever since.

Welcome Trouble Shooter!

Your Loyal Service to Computer will be rewarded!

Remember Traitors are everywhere!

Paranoia is a comedic sci fi roleplaying game that puts the players in position of being police grunts in a cold war totalitarian society that lives in a huge underground complex governed by an insane computer.

Conceptually this is an easy game to run. Each player is a member of a secret society and a mutant, both of which are treasonous to Friend Computer (the GM). The players must work together to complete a mission, in this case restore power to the Marine Facility, whilst hunting for traitors (each other). What results is lots of, well paranoia, followed by mindless violence and lots of poor decision making.

I sent five trouble shooters to this place;

A map i drew in GIMP based on a tutorial on cartographers guild.

The Alpha Complex Marine facility. Each player randomly drew a pregen character sheet. They got to roll up stats and choose from a list of skills. but i had given them each a random mutation and secret society with its ulterior objective. Initially they were all very well behaved and sucked up to the Friend Computer, they didn't raid the security room (room 2) and take all the guns there in. They didn't lynch each other. Then two players murdered a technician npc they suspected of being a commie, another pc went exploring the flood facility by himself and lost his legs to a shark he tried to surf, and further pc fell afoul of a giant kraken.

30 minutes later im dealing with one player popping a grenade towards his 'comrades' before shutting a door. The blast took out the observation window glass flooding the room. All four players in the room failed their swim checks. Luckily all characters have clone replacements.

Two player characters ultimately survived. Only one of them wound up on the bottom of the ocean in a submarine he had no idea how to operate.

Paranoia is an excellent game concept. The rule book itself is rather a product of its age, and not entirely in a good way. The game ideas are good, but the rules detail is completely over the top for what is a comic game conducive to one shots. It uses two different dice systems for attribute and skill tests, look up tables cross referencing armour and weapons for attack damage, and a skill tree system with lots of maths for calculating skill levels. I take a fairly DIY approach to games so i stripped a lot of this crap out. I wonder whether the newer editions are an improvement, or whether they loose the flair of the original even if they sort the rules out. I probably won't find out either way, since I'll only play Paranoia on occasions and 1st ed fits the bill for that.


No post for a month, then three in one night!

Its 1977, Marc Miller has just released the Sci Fi RPG Traveller, which will set the standard for all Sci Fi games to follow, and GDW, the company Marc works for release Imperium. A board war game in the Traveller universe. I picked this up of a guy in the next city from mine for 5 wigwams. Deal since this sucker normally goes for at least four times that on ebay.

Its a pretty mint game too. This is a space opera board game, and its very asymmetrical. One side is the Terrans, the earthlings, the future us. The other is the Imperium, a massive conglomerate of alien races. The Terrans are the upstarts rebelling against the Imperium, and the much embattled Imperial regional governor has to put down this insurrection. This is one thing you get from older games that seem less common in the new, genuine imagination. I like Twilight Imperium as much as the next nerd but the back story for that game is very old hat compared with Chadwick and Millers design here.

The game is fairly simple. Both players spend resources to build units and then move them down the space lanes to fight each other. Theres a fair amount of nuance in how to spend and how to work your logistics but the game play quickly gravitates toward each side having a largish fleet and each trying to decide whether its worth pulling the trigger yet. The terrans make seek to find another route to attack the soft imperial worlds, the Imperium will try to hold all the choke points.

I said in my last post that wargames are about manoeuvre and the synergies between different units, but theres some thing else they are about, pulling the trigger and story. The best war games put you on a knife edge. Do you risk your entire fleet and go for the KO, or do you wait one more turn, maybe they will make an error, maybe you can get that one more ship into your fleet but times running out. The best war games (Hannibal Rome Vs Carthage does this excellently) ratchet up the tension and leave you hanging. Hanging until you pull the trigger and everything starts to explode. In Imperium, when a battle starts both sides line up their expensive irreplaceable ships and watch them get blown away.

Damn right its a trap, I had two extra cruisers in that fleet you weren't aware of.

Tension is the child of consequence. In Imperium, you don't play one game. You play many as part of a campaign. Each game only lasts until the imperial glory track either drops too low, or rises too high, resulting in either a victory or a defeat. The campaign only ends however when one side has been eradicated and lost all of its worlds. Waste that fleet, you might not just regret in this game, but the game next week.

Its a shame that this game is so long out of print. If it was brought back, i doubt it would sell well though. Whilst its not that complex, games like this are confined to niche blogs like this these days (not that i was around back in the day).

Bloody Hell: Operation Goodwood

Well the blogging schedule I had convinced myself i was going to keep hasn't worked out. Too much thesis writing...

I've had a slightly turbulent relationship with hex and counter war games. I've played several of the simpler ones; A Victory Denied (MMP), Hells Gate (VPG), Nuklear Winter 68 (LnL), Arnhem (SPI), and one a little more complex, It Never Snows (MMP). Of these games only It Never Snows really impressed me, and thats a sprawling monster that takes 17 hours to play and really at least 4 players (

Most of these games I found to be a combination of the fiddliness of hex and counter war games, and a little too simplistic in terms of the strategy they offered to be worth the effort. Bloody Hell: Operations Goodwood and Spring bucks this trend.

This game is a two player Hex and Counter simulation of the British and Commonwealth forces fighting the Germans in Normandy in WW2. For those of you with some historical knowledge Operation Goodwood happened in the area around Caen and involved Field Marshal Monte launching a some what disastrous assault against German defences. The operation was followed up by operation Spring which is a second scenario and map included in the game. The games I listed earlier were all published by fairly major players in the war board gaming world, MultiMan Publishing etc, this game was desktop published by a Canadian USAian guy who runs his own company High Flying Dice games. I took a bit of a risk on ordering it after listening to him fast talk on a war game podcast. It turns out to have been a surprisingly good decision.

The game has components to match MMP or any other publisher, that is to say they are still cheapass for a boardgamer. The maps are gloss printed and decent paper, the chits were die cut and had clear art etc.

Picture of game in progress

So whats the deal with this game? Why is it good? The thing with hex and counters is, because you save on miniatures, a mounted board etc, you can do things both big and detailed. You can have a big (relatively speaking) map, and lots of soldiers. If you have these two things, in a good hex and counter theres lots of room to manoeuvre. Good war games are all about manoeuvre. They are about flanking your opponent, cutting of their supplies, taking that key town, or hill, thats the geographical part, and its fun. The second thing hex and counters do well is give you lots of different units and give you interesting ways to combine their moves. So you can lay smoke with your artillery, suppress the enemy positions with your tanks from the flank and then move in your infantry. At least thats the plan, but then your artillery fires inaccurately, your tanks just get stunned or killed by enemy fire, and then your infantry gets bogged down in a war of attrition. Wargames are about creating beautiful plans and watching either the dice or your opponent destroy them, and then picking up the pieces. Bloody Hell gave me a enough pieces to play with, enough map space to play with, and just the right amount of rules detail to play with, to create this fun messy war that I look for in war games. The rules come in at about 8 pages and much of this will be bread and butter for regular war gamers, the game takes about two hours maybe three to run through. This is probably about the right weight of war game for me. A Victory Denied and Hells Gate were nice, but too simplistic, OCS Burma sits on my shelf unplayed because i just don't have that time at the moment.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Burning Wheel and the transition between Mid and New School games.

I spent some of my time on NYE this year playing the much belated second session of  Burning Wheel RPG campaign I've prepared. I only have two players, which is rather atypical for a Fantasy Swords and Sorcery style rpg, but with Burning Wheel this works quite well. Burning Wheel is a game where the relationships and development of the characters in narrative rather than statistical terms is the focus of the game. The key system that makes this game exceptional, and very innovative back in 2002, is its beliefs, traits, instincts method of defining characters. Really since DnD player characters in rpgs have been primarily defined by numbers as far as the game rules are concerned. The innovation Burning Wheel brought in was to have the player define a belief, or goal that defines their character, and then more detailed character traits and reactionary instincts to go with it. To give an example, one of my players has a squire character that is masquerading as a knight. So within the game he puts forth a pretence of virtue and knightly honour as he sees it, whilst trying to cover up his true low stature. When he does this he gets rewarded with fate points, that he can later use to fudge dice rolls to his advantage. Its a clever system that forces players to play their roles and define their arguably more interesting personality in dry ink terms.

There is a second reason however, that I am glad I only have two players. Burning Wheel is a heavy, crunchy, rules dense system. Its hard work to learn, teach, and play. Burning Wheel sits at the border between the rules heavy simulationist games that rose to popularity in the later ADnD days of the late 80s, and the New School of narrativist games, that focus on storytelling rather than numbers, that Burning Wheel is one of the fathers of. Burning Wheel has both this clever narrativist approach to defining and playing characters but it is also as number crunchy, if not more so than DnD 3.5, or GURPs, or any of the other technical systems. The book itself is full of self defined acronyms and terms that you forget if you don't play on a regular basis, and the experience, skills, and number systems all revolve around a cleverly interlocking fist full of D6's system. The influence of ADnD and WhiteWolf games is clear. Going forward in time, the idea of defining a character with a few key phrases and attaching a mechanical meaning to said phrases is central to the Fate system, and can be seen in FFG's new Star Wars Edge of the Empire game. Many Indie games such as Fiasco or Hot War also clearly owe a debt to this design.

Burning Wheel is hard work to play, it takes a good 5 minutes to create and stat a monster, and running a fight sequence or a verbal exchange can get bogged down in rules, and i don't know if i'd be that keen on running it with more than 4 players. If I want a narrativist game Dungeon World offers a simpler and more accessible, if more limited, system, or as more often than not these days, if I want a more old school gamey experience then Dungeon Crawl Classics or OSRIC will likely out compete Burning Wheel for table time. I will keep the book, its a very pretty book, and probably play it now and again after finishing this campaign but I wonder if the ever evolving RPG world has moved on. I suspect that rules light systems are the future.