Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff

Dark Edinburgh

RPG retrospective 2012 – Edinburgh Gaming

In what’s become something of an annual tradition, I’m taking a look back over the year in a RPG retrospective. By that, I mean to talk about stuff that happened over the last year in various RPGs I’ve been involved with over the year. And events at ORC Edinburgh of course.

I’ve had little chance to do much PC or Xbox gaming this year, although I loved the free mod of Half Life‘s Black Mesa (which has a cracking remixed soundtrack for free too) and played through it. It recreates the original Half Life game but with new graphics, audio and game-play. Worth a look – the next part Xen will be worth the wait I reckon. Still no news on Half Life 2: Episode 3 either. I’ve also backed the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter (see below), because I loved that game so much on the BBC micro (and, yes, I did reach Elite status).

Edinburgh’s tabletop gaming scene got itself a new venue in August – the Edinburgh Games Hub. Their Tollcross basement has become something of a Mecca to all kinds of tabletop gamers – CCGs, boardgames, war-games and of course RPGs. I myself can be found there on Thursday nights, continuing the adventures of Diogenes “Basilisk” Valexos in our Rogue Trader RPG. I’d have provided a link but their website has been hacked and shows no sign of getting fixed any time soon, but you can find them on FB at They also have a boardgames and miniatures shop in the basement, 6S2Hit.

As well as Rogue Trader, which I didn’t make it to half as often as I would have liked, we started the year off playing on the Dresden Files RPG on Wednesday nights, followed by the Pathfinder (Isador) game. My workload hit nightmare levels though and I was forced to drop the Wednesday night games.

Yet again, I didn’t make it to Conpulsion, the Edinburgh RPG convention run by Edinburgh Uni’s RPG club, GEAS. I really must try and make it there. I’m considering running my eBranch game there as a one-off next year. It uses the Call of Cthulhu rules, and features physic spies and Brian Lumley’s Wamphyri vampires. It is set in the New Forest, close to Southampton where I was born.

ORC Edinburgh – RPG Retrospective

No RPG Retrospective would be complete without me mentioning ORC – Edinburgh’s Open Roleplaying Community. ORC Edinburgh saw many new faces and also a number of new games, and we had a lot of fun at the pub meets throughout the year. This gave us a chance for many of the community to socialize outside of scheduled games and actually lead to the creation of at least one group. However, the last one wasn’t quite so well attended and the venue let us down somewhat.We’ll need to think about an alternative next time.

We definitely need more GMs at ORC – we had games running at the Meadow Bar, the Games Hub, Illegal Jacks and also Cafe Renroc. Unfortunately these were often on the same day – many of our GMs are also players too, but some of us (like me) rarely get the chance to play. This is partially my choice, but some of the other GMs would love a chance to kick back and let someone else do the work (and so would I really). And of course anyone wishing to try their hand at GMing should feel free to do so.

Call of Cthulhu was definitely popular this year at ORC. We had two home-brew campaigns running (and one still is) and the also Cubicle 7’s Shadows of Scotland campaign – which was over-subscribed at one point! I’d thought about running my Arunstoun setting, but didn’t need to in the end. It did feature in Cthulhutech though! I considered running Masks of Nyarlathotep, but it has significant flaws and pretty much suffers what I call Cthulhu Syndrome where the PCs get drawn to a remote location for a minor reason and the players just know the Mythos is involved.

I put my Cthulhutech game, Through the Looking Glass, on hiatus (to give me a break really). The Dark Edinburgh setting really worked and I’ve been looking forward to getting my mitts on the new Burning Horizons supplement. With Pacific Rim out in 2013 (Guillermo del Toro‘s new movie featuring giant robots – mechs or mecha), I can see there being a few mecha-based games turning up in the future (Cthulhutech or otherwise). Wildfire, the makers of Cthulhutech have had a bad year with distributors so I hope things pick up for them in 2013!

Pathfinder was also popular this year at ORC and continues to be a successor to D&D. The campaign paths of Jade Regent, Raging Swan, Carrion Crown, and Kingmaker all put in an appearance, along with Dee’s Critical Missions home-brew. Nuno’s Shapes of Grey home-brew setting returned in Pathfinder form too. For those of us looking for an alternative to 4th Ed. D&D, Pathfinder provided the necessary fixes it seemed.

This naturally brings me to 4th edition D&D (4e). Oft-requested by players, yet only a handful of people were willing to run games. I’m not going to go in a debate about the version wars, as I’ve posted about that elsewhere. EmbraCraig continues to run Perils of the Nentir Vale at the Games Hub fortnightly, but Jill has wrapped up her War of the Burning Sky game. Radonir’s Scales of War continues to run, although he had some early recruitment problems with players.

At ORC, I began running the WFRP Enemy Within Campaign. As campaigns go, its tough to beat – there’s a lot of background info, not fluff for once, and I’m enjoying running it immensely. I’ve a good bunch of players to work with too, most of whom are enjoying themselves immensely I hope. I started recording the sessions but they’re such a large size that I’ll need to work on compressing them down to a manageable size.

However, my biggest disappointment of the year was Marvel Super Heroes (the original set from the 80s). We had a full session of character generation, but a third of the group then dropped out. As a result I (somewhat petulantly, I admit) decided to cancel the game in its entirety. I’d planned to run the Nightmares of Futures Past storyline, having fond memories of when we played it back in the late ’80s.

We even had a game of Vampire: The Masquerade scheduled to run at ORC at one point. For one session. Then the GM involved disappeared. VtM is one of those games that seems to be something of a Macbeth for ORC RPGers! Every time someone mentions they want to run it something happens, and the game only lasts a few sessions. Many of hose who liked the original VtM have now moved onto the Embraced and Isle of Darkness LARPS (I’d never be able to suspend my sense of disbelief for LARPS – I’d continually have to bite my tongue). I’ll possibly be running Werewolf: the Apocalypse in the future so who knows? Maybe we will get a proper Vampire campaign at ORC too!

And of course there’s D&Dnext, the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons RPG. Surprisingly there’s not been much interest in the Playtest packs at ORC. I think that everyone has largely adopted a wait-and-see attitude, possibly brought on by the whole 4e debacle. There’s a couple of games going on, but no one is seriously participating right now.

We also ran a few pub meets that I’ve mentioned  elsewhere – these have rapidly proved to be a great way to meet other players in a non-RPG setting. So that’s the year at ORC really. Here’s to another year of great RPGs there!


2012 for me was the “Year of the Kickstarter”, or more likely “Year of the Stretch Goal”. Also “Year of the Stretched Bank account”. I backed a number of Kickstarter campaigns, some of which are still ongoing.

So that’s it. My RPG Retrospective. Sorry if I rambled on a bit, but it has been quite a year. Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!

Deep Ones! With Guns!

In my [amazon asin=1568821816&text=Cthulhutech&chan=default] game yesterday, the PCs were dealing with a group of Deep Ones who have apparently taken up residence within the Shore area of Edinburgh. If you’ve read HP Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth (you can read it here, along with other works of HP Lovecraft at , you’ll know what I’m talking about:

I think their predominant color was a greyish-green, though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their necks were palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed. They hopped irregularly, sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four. I was somehow glad that they had no more than four limbs. Their croaking, baying voices, clearly used for articulate speech, held all the dark shades of expression which their staring faces lacked … They were the blasphemous fish-frogs of the nameless design – living and horrible.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

For me, what makes the Deep Ones truly horrifying is the fact that they are often descended from humans (and can also breed with them). They are just as intelligent  (if not more so), are practically immortal, and have their own civilisation. In the Call of Cthulhu RPG they’re often portrayed as being little more than savage fish-men, there to be gunned down by Investigators – they are brutes hurled at the PCs in order to wear them down. Some of the concepts from Cthulhutech may make some readers uncomfortable, but I should point out that Cthulhutech is supposed to be a game of horror, and you should be horrified at how the Deep Ones act.

However, not all Deep Ones are inhuman – hybrids become more like Deep Ones with age, likely losing more of their human emotions but they can still retain some human emotions and intelligence. What happens when a Deep One hybrid begs for mercy? They will also retain much of their knowledge – remember that Deep Ones are effectively immortal – and they retain any skills and training they might know.

Beneath this placid surface lies monsters

Source Unknown

Deep Ones provide a GM with the means to show what the future of humanity might be – from the oceans we came, and to the oceans we may return – and that maybe Earth’s future belongs to the Deep Ones, not humanity. They are the only other intelligent race indigenous to Earth. The numbers of Deep Ones are unknown, but they may rival humanity, especially given that oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface. The Deep Ones also have cities – G’ll-h0o near Surtsey in Iceland, Y’ha-nthlei off the New England coast, and Ahu-Y’hloa near Cornwall – and there are hints of many more. In Cthulhutech, R’lyeh (where Cthulhu’s tomb is located) is lost to the Deep Ones and they are continually searching for it – but its not just lost on earth, it is lost in time.

They can hit any sea coast in the world, and use rapid hit-and-fade tactics when their normal techniques of gradual assimilation fail. Deep Ones likely use the night as cover for their attacks, as the darkness is no problem for them: they are used to the gloom of the deeps, so prefer to avoid bright lights. It also gives them cover as their eyesight is likely poor – much of their long range capability is also reduced by their need to remain close to the water. Hybrids and human lackeys are more likely to provide long-range fire support to enable the Deep Ones get close enough. However, their most favoured tactic is the gradual assimilation of a town, going unnoticed until too late: when they can simply escape into the waves. If you’re a [amazon asin=1568821816&text=Call of Cthulhu&chan=default] player or Keeper, [amazon asin=1568821158&text=Escape from Innsmouth&chan=default] covers the infamous raid on Innsmouth which pretty much details such an event.

Deep Ones freely make use of creatures such as dolphins and sharks to spy for them or even hunt for them -such as the prehistoric Megalodon AKA Great White Death in Cthulhutech. Deep Ones will make use of weather sorceries to becalm vessels or conjure storms to cover their attacks. A vessel attacked by Deep Ones will likely never know it is under attack as sentries are silenced, the propellers fouled, and rudder broken. Then the true horror begins as the Deep Ones swarm over the gunwales, cutting down the sleep-befuddled crew with their coral acrutha spears and sreltha knives. When they leave, they take the bodies with them, leaving the vessel adrift as another maritime mystery or sinking it.

Deep Ones are also scavengers of technology and make use of their hybrids and followers in that sense to supply or develop technology. That’s why this entry is titled the way it is. In Cthulhutech, The Deep Ones are part of the Esoteric Order of Dagon (or EOD), and they are part of the EOD military machine – not only do they have weapons, but they have mecha and powered armour. Their weapons use much of their technology (including deep-sea toxins), and they utilise their home turf – the oceans – to their advantage.  In many cases they may also utilise other mythos creatures, such as the shoggoths as servants.

They also use infiltration techniques as they did in Ponape and Innsmouth, also using their own “breeding”program in occupied EOD towns – which has lead to some criticism of the Cthulhutech setting. I should point out that the concept of the “rape camps” is pretty much a horrendous concept in itself, and that is mentioned once in CT (and does not go into any detail, thankfully). We know the Deep Ones are alien and emotionless, yet this whole premise adds to the horror as they are driven by base desires.

In the Through the Looking Glass game I’m running the PCs have split into two groups and raiding a former fertility clinic (a long story), used by Deep Ones and their hybrids. However, two of the group have got there first and are heading into the building – and the Deep Ones inside are possibly armed with guns, a fact that the players are only just beginning to recognise… and it has made them pause.

In Call of Cthulhu (and Delta Green), Deep Ones can cause SAN (sanity) loss. What should really worry the PCs is passing the roll and realising that the Deep Ones are packing Uzis. So if you really want to make your Deep Ones really scary, make them unseen, and give them guns.

2011 year end retrospective of ORC Edinburgh

ORC Edinburgh has had an “interesting” year – in the same vein as “May you live interesting times!”. This has been my second year as defacto ORC webmaster (and general heid yin) for ORC Edinburgh. I’m going to try to create these reviews on an annual basis.

The year started off in a neo-Ice Age with many us either negotiating the icy planes of Edinburgh or trapped in drifts of snow. However, we persevered, both players and GMs alike traipsing through the snow and ice to game! Then in February, disaster struck: the Meadow Bar suffered an extensive fire that gutted the function room where we played, depriving both us and the Edinburgh University boardgame Society (FAQ) of a venue. It’s happened before: Cafe Nero, The Royal Engineers Club, the Three Tuns…

ORC Edinburgh has a history of getting together and adapting, and its definitely one of our strengths – for a community of (essentially) volunteers we do quite well. Thankfully a member of ORC (Deleriad) noticed that board games and the like were being played in Illegal Jacks, a new bar and grill on Lothian Road. It turned out to be an astute choice of venue, with very nice food and a fine choice of music (I might be wrong, but most RPGers tend to be fans of rock music of some kind).

With Illegal Jacks as our new “base of operations,” we were able to run two or more games a week there. IJ made us very welcome there, even to the extent that we had our own table! It gave us the chance to welcome screenwriter and RPG designer George Strayton and playtest his game, the Secret Fire RPG (then called Legends & Labyrinths). Edinburgh’s own Drunken Badger games also provided ORC with the opportunity to playtest their RPG, Cliché: The Roleplaying Game of Predictable Horror as well.

We also said hello to a lot of new members and farewell to others – and also farewell to some  long-running campaigns. Both my Ashes of Freedom game and the New World were wound down, although it is likely that AoF will return later in the year. We’re also back in the refurbished Meadow Bar function room which has much nicer décor now as well, but still run games in Illegal Jacks and Cafe Renroc as well.

By far one of the most popular games to play at ORC was D&D. Love it or hate it, the granddaddy of them all was still going strong. Regardless of your feelings about the game it remains as popular as ever with many new people entering the hobby. Quite a lot of new players are looking to play D&D – some have been influenced by web comics like Penny Arcade or via computer games such as Neverwinter Nights. There appears to be a bit of a dearth of DMs running games though  – however Embracraig is running a consistent game at Cafe Renroc on a fortnightly basis. This new venue proves popular with those gamers who live nearby!

Another old favourite, Call of Cthulhu, returned in the form of the mini-campaign Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows Over Scotland. This is currently hugely popular at ORC – I may also run some of these adventures next year myself, as well as finally getting my Arunstoun setting completed! In related news, my Cthulhutech campaign (The Damsacus Road) has finally got off the ground in the Through the Looking Glass setting. The wh40k games have all been popular too with the most recent, Black Crusade, starting a new campaign at ORC this December.

ORC also hosted a few pub meets this year: these proved to be hugely successful and gave us all a chance to socialize outside of a game for once. It looks like we’ll be running a few more of these over the coming year – it gave those new to ORC the chance to chat and get to know the other members, old and new.

I think its safe to say that ORC is going to be around for a while to come. We have a pretty substantial membership now, although attendance fluctuates wildly – however this seems to be one of those things that happens these days. If you’re running a game, I’d suggest you get at least six players. That way you’ll also cover any possible absences and still have a fun game!

Anyway: Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!

September break!

I’ve been a busy guy over the last fortnight, both at work and at home. Work has been mad, but I’ve found some time to complete the following at long last.

Secret Fire Games – website

I’ve built a new website for Secret Fire Games, using WordPress and also phpBB3 for the forum. I created the theme with Artisteer. I’m hoping that this will help highlight the Secret Fire RPG, and Secret Fire Games as a “micropress”. Like microbreweries, a micropress is to my thinking, to paraphrase the microbrewery definition from Wikipedia, something that  “produces a limited amount [of product], and is associated by consumers with innovation and uniqueness,” which is pretty much how I’d describe what we did with The Secret Fire RPG. I’d love to hear peoples reactions to the game (and the site!).

I don’t consider TSF to be a fantasy heartbreaker – mentioned here –  despite it having its roots in OD&D (Original D&D) and other FRPGs. What I’m finding interesting is just how polarised reactions can be to a game like The Secret Fire. Some old school gamers love it, some hate it – new gamers love it, some hate it too; but its the level of polarisation that interests me: it gets a very strong reaction often with no middle ground. I’m glad that the name was changed from Legends & Labyrinths and became non-OGL: it instantly become its own game as a result rather than sounding like yet another d20 system  fantasy heartbreaker. Some online reviews have even said it outweirds LotFP  (Lamentations of the Flame Princess): I consider that a job well done.

ORC website update

Again on the web front: I’ve updated the ORC website, but I’ve still to make the move to the next version of Joomla (1.7). I’m worried what happen with the Kunena forum and some of the modules when I do. I upgraded the Community Builder and UddeIM PM software though. I got rid of the Gallery and Mobile version as the latter knackered the site logins and the the Gallery was hugely out of date (and not really seeing much use), so that’s two less things to upgrade.

Ashes of Freedom D&D3.5 Campaign

Again at ORC, my Ashes of Freedom game concluded on Saturday, with a certain amount of sturm und drang: pitched battles featuring undead and Mandragora, Red Mandragora flying the PCs off a cliff, a Red Dragon taking on a Lich, plot revelations galore, and Demogorgon nearly fully manifesting on the Prime Material plane. And a doomsday device beginning to count down…

I’m a little sad that its over, but the game has had a good innings and there’s a lot of material I’m very happy with. It may be that I return to Volkrania again some day as a setting, but for now it is at peace. I think that no matter how you feel about D&D, if you have a good campaign vibe like that, who cares? I’ve left it open to begin another chapter at some point – always a good idea to leave ’em wanting more.

Deathwatch Campaign

Our GrimDark 40k RPG gaming group are reaching the end of their sessions of the Deathwatch game. I’m not used to being in a position of command, but as Squad Leader Sammeal, I’m not doing too bad: patching wounds and leading a bunch of Adeptus Astartes (40k Space Marines) against a Genestealer threat is quite rewarding. I’ve never really thought of myself as having leadership skills – I’m always hero #2 in an RPG – but this has given me a chance to shine for once in a leadership role (or at least glow dully).

So that’s the end of what I’ve been up to.

As it stands, I’m kinda amazed that I have free time to do anything else these days. However, I’m taking September off: ORC can manage without me for a month, and I’m not running/playing anything (yet); we have multiple venues; plenty of folk running games, and the website is updated as much as I can (see above). The Secret Fire RPG is out and the website has been updated. I’ve still got some tweaking to do with the theme – for different screen sizes (a right damn pain, let me tell you), but that’s a minor issue. I’ve not yet begun proper work on my part of the first TSF supplement: Fragment 1: Way of Tree, Sword, and Flame, but I’ve a lot of ideas that I’ll put down later, not to mention an adventure for TSF.

LSD and I are away to the Caribbean, Antigua to be precise, for a week and we’ll be going off-grid. No mobile, email, ‘net, nothing. I’m loading my Kindle as I fully intend to relax: I’m not going running around the island. The accommodation is all-inclusive, and I intend to avail myself of this!


The Dresden Files RPG

The Wednesday night sessions I play will switch to a fortnightly one. I’ve only recently got into the Dresden Files and love the whole idea – especially a certain scene in Dead Beat which is just… so… mind-blowingly… cool. Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing the RPG!

Arunstoun & Cthulhutech

I’m finally going to get this Call of Cthulhu setting created. With Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows over Scotland out, I definitely need to run at least one game of Call of Cthulhu in that setting. Even if Shadows over Scotland is set in the 1920s, I may use the events to foreshadow another episode of Through the Looking Glass, my Cthulhutech setting (part of Dark Edinburgh).

Against the Odds

I’m still weighing up this setting for use with The Secret Fire RPG. There’ll need to be some changes to it, but I’m glad to report that at least one of the players from the original 4e game is using some of the events in the game to spur the plot for his own novella.

The Secret Fire

Well, I’ll contributing to Fragment 1: The Way of Tree, Sword, and Flame.

So that’s what I have been, and will be, up to!

An ORC Horde

As I recently posted on the ORC Edinburgh site and Facebook page, ORC has a lot of players and the site is the busiest I’ve seen it in a while. I find it a little ironic really that D&D is the most popular game, yet so few want to run it. With that in mind, I’m planning to raise ORCs profile a little – I’ve already had a few nibbles at Edinburgh Gamers Journal on Livejournal. Hopefully a few more GMs will stick their heads above the parapet! it wouldn’t even have to be 4th edition either – AD&D, 3.5 or whatever would be as popular as the next. Every day, there’s someone new on the site and there’s a lot of activity.  I feel quite proud of what ORC has become over the last year; the site ticks along nicely now: occasionally there’s the odd hiccup (like the fire at the Meadow Bar, Cafe Nero closing, etc.), but like it says: we’re going to be around for a while.

I’ve never considered myself an overly creative person – given the amount of stuff on this site that may surprise some people – but I do have a certain knack for getting something right as it were. I think about things. That’s how I got the ORC site to the level it is now. Most of my settings are somewhat derivative, yes, but on the other hand, they work as a setting! Or they usually do: unfortunately I’ve decided to halt my Against the Odds D&D campaign for now. I think it needs more work and a fresh perspective upon it, as well as a better plot. I may return to it sometime in the future, but it is shelved for now.

I should be getting the first playtest pack any day now for the Legends & Labyrinths game in May. This is going to be quite cool, and its one of these things that I can go and do without a] having to over-think things as I’m wont to do, and b] don’t have to provide a follow-up. As of this posting we’ve still got a few spaces left at ORC.

I cringe every time I read the Urban Predator story I wrote years ago. For me it exemplifies the arrogance of youth as it were – and my writing technique makes it look like I wrote it with a chainsaw. I’m glad to say I’ve improved somewhat over the years – hopefully the fiction I wrote for my Cthulhutech: Through the Looking Glass adventures so far (Under a Heavy Rain, Corporate Ties, and Vanguard Vengeance) show a marked improvement in my writing skills.

I’m looking at completing the story arc in the Ashes of Freedom campaign. I still have a few sessions to run, but I’m winding it down: running it as a set of “seasons” has proven quite rewarding and I will likely return to it one day in the future. The seasons give me a chance to create a decent story arc, as well as an occasional breather! Now that I’ve had time to polish the setting a little, I feel it has actually come out pretty well for a setting I invented in a morning!

Although Against the Odds, Ashes of Freedom, and the New World are winding up (or have ended), I’m still going to try and get something lined up. I’d intended running Call of Cthulhu or Cthulhutech – but ORC members are definitely in favour of me running Cthulhutech. I’m going to use my Through the Looking Glass setting again, and it’ll be more of a “war in the shadows” style game where soldiers, Mechs and Tagers will be very much on the periphery – and the game will concentrate more on mortal “mundane” characters from agencies like the GIA or OIS. While Tagers are cool, they are a nightmare to run a game for. I plan to run some one-shot games too for those unfamiliar with C-Tech – and they may well include Mechs, soldiers and Tagers! It will also feature the Arunstoun setting once I’ve got it ready.

I’ve actually come up with a decent concept for my Edinburgh of the future: Dark Edinburgh. Its a nice simple concept, and one that I can use to link together my concepts of Arunstoun and Edinburgh in the future. I’ve actually use it before: Urban Predator had the first aft as it were, and I ran a White Wolf game where my friends were all twenty years older and working for Fenris Caine, the detective I describe in Urban Predator. It used the mortal rules for Vampire: the Masquerade as a ruleset and the group hunted down a vampire in Gilmerton. I guess that was the beginning of it really – Arunstoun is going to be a very weird setting for me: it came to me in a dream – no kidding, it did! One of these days I could approach someone at Embraced or Isles of Darkness (the Edinburgh Vampire LARPs) to see if they’d be interested in a game in that setting: who knows?

I’ve also decided to retire from the New World D&D game: playing Rafael de Fabrizi was great fun – especially considering the luck I had with dice rolls – I’ve lost count of the number of natural 20’s I rolled while playing him, especially when he picked up that magic +3 sword. However, time has now become something of a premium: I can’t play and run two campaigns as well! As I’m also committed to a Shadowrun game on Wednesdays, and Rogue Trader on Thursdays, my calendar is pretty full – I need some time to do other things!

I’m going to try and write another article when I’ve got a moment (and will add it to the GMtoolkit)- this time I’m planning to deal with combat and how to make it faster. Obviously this will be as time permits: stay tuned!