Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff
Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts.

Join 1,432 other subscribers.


RPG Retrospective 2014

Another “Year in Gaming” post! This time it’s the RPG Retrospective 2014! Almost as traditional as turkey, but possibly not as dry. This is my annual look at my gaming experiences over the year. As always, these views are my own and may be the result of my own warped perceptions. This year was very much one of highs and lows for me, both in gaming and in my personal life. I’m not going Emo, so I’ll focus on the gaming 🙂

Edinburgh Gaming in General

In general, gaming in Edinburgh is going from strength to strength. We have a lot going on in this city. Where possible I try and keep my Edinburgh Gaming page up to date. Conpulsion is still running although I’ve heard that there’s fewer of the local RPGers going there each year. Hopefully, when I’m there (see below) I can rekindle some interest.

6s2Hit moved out of the Games Hub basement to their own premises on Bread Street nearby. Although there’s no RPGs, they’ve a substantial number of gaming tables in the venue. They’re also selling miniatures and scenery etc. which I know was always hard to find when I used to play WH40K. I’ve not been there yet though.

The Games Hub continues to be popular among many ORC GMs and for boardgames like X-Wing and Star Trek: Attack Wing. 6s2Hit‘s departure meant they’ve got their own shop now which also stocks RPGs and boardgames. The place has also been refurbished to a certain extent, and the place looks better for it.

Black Lion continues to provide a quality service to gamers, and hopefully the distribution problems that have plagued Europe and the UK will cease to be an issue for them. As always they’re happy to help RPGers and still remain one of the friendliest shops I know.

ORC Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Open Roleplaying Community (ORC Edinburgh) had something of a turbulent year. We used to run games in the Meadow Bar, but we discovered in the New Year it was closed indefinitely. It also came as a bit of a surprise to us that we accounted for most of their custom on the Saturday afternoons. It does go to show that having gamers in does not hurt your profits, especially if you’re serving food!

This was a bit of a blow to those of us running games there (and also the FAQ Boardgame society, who are now at the Southsider pub, I believe). Fortunately the wonderful staff at Peartree House gave us a new venue (big thanks to both Marc F and George F for this) and made us welcome. We also began gaming at the Kilderkin pub in the Royal Mile, which is also a good thing. Since then we’ve asked the Meadow Bar if we could use the room, but apparently they decided to show football there instead. Their loss.

We also had a large number of GMs step up and begin their own games. Some fell by the wayside, some are still going. My own games are still going strong, although I’ve hit a few hiccups with the D&D 5e game (see below!). I’m given to understand that a few more new games will be starting soon. Pathfinder is still popular, as is the new D&D 5th Ed, and the games are often over-subscribed as a result.

We also held a few more successful pub meets, and I’m pretty sure that people enjoyed themselves. Pub meets can be tricky to organise but I think they do encourage us gamers to be more sociable. A couple of my players are now in a relationship after meeting during one of my games.

As well as the obvious issues with venues, managing the ORC website itself was something of trial (and continues to be), although this is no one’s fault. I’ve managed to update and patch nearly the entire site. I’ve decided to make use of a system template rather than a generated one for when we have to move to Joomla 3 (the CMS). There’s also going to be an issue with Mediawiki when we move to the next version. There’s a software Bridge needed to link the Joomla user database to allow authentication, but it’s now outdated. I’ll deal with those issues later in 2015!

Over the years, ORC has attracted a lot of interest locally. Although we had a large number of old accounts I’ve since cleaned out, the site now has 300+ members, although it seems that a handful (maybe 50 or more folk) check the site regularly. This is no bad thing, but it sometimes feels like herding cats…

Personal Achievements

I’ve had a pretty busy year, all things considered.

I’ve actually managed to get to a couple of conventions this year. I actually managed to run three different RPG sessions at Q-CON on the same day (three 3-hour sessions), so I think I’ve passed the “Iron Man” GM test. You can read of my convention experiences of Q-CON and Dragonmeet. At both conventions I ran my Achtung! Cthulhu scenario, “A Prayer for St. Nazaire”. Looking back on it, if I run the game again, I’ll use Savage Worlds next time as a rule-set. It’s more accessible. Certainly it’s the impression I got from the games I ran – Call of Cthulhu is better for slow-burn (or creeping sense of menace) games. Plus the whole A!C world inspires PCs to sock Hitler on the jaw, very much in keeping with pulp – or Captain America/Agents of SHIELD! 🙂

Speaking of demo games, I ran two very fun sessions at Black Lion to demo the new 5th Ed. D&D game, using the “Lost Mines of Phandelver“. It may have brought a couple of new people into the hobby, but I suspect there were more people interested in the 5e ruleset! Unfortunately, the European distributors had underestimated the demand for D&D (seriously? They must be the same team that cancelled Babylon 5: Crusade and Firefly) so there still aren’t enough Player’s Handbook available to FLGS.

Lost Mines of Phandelver” is actually a pretty good module in itself and worth getting. Not only is it an introduction to D&D 5e, but the adventure is actually pretty good. It’s non-linear and allows both GM and players a certain amount of freedom. You also get some decent characters, dice and a few handouts. Pretty much all you need to play. For less than twenty quid, it’s pretty good value. I actually rate it better than “Tyranny of Dragons“.

I’m also a Modiphius Silvershield, a gaming “evangelist” for their products. This has allowed me to run games for credit in their store. Achtung! Cthulhu is the game I’ve focussed on for now, and The Mutant Chronicles may be next. I’m not sure if this scheme will work out as I got in on both Kickstarters! Either way, it was good to meet the Modiphius team (briefly!) and volunteers at Dragonmeet. I do have a spiffy Modiphius T-shirt as a result. And I’m grateful 🙂

Flowing seamlessly from one topic to the next, here comes the Kickstarter bit. For various reason, I cut back on my Kickstarter backings over the year, but that didn’t stop the previous KS stuff coming in. Deadzone from Mantic Games delivered, as did Adventure-a-Week‘s Rise of the Drow. Modiphius consistently delivered on the Acthung! Cthulhu Line, as did Evil Hat with FATE Core. Hopefully I’ll be getting Chaosium‘s “Horror on the Orient Express” and Frontier‘s “Elite: Dangerous” soon as well.

Special mention goes to the Shadows of Esteren team. Not only did they go above and beyond for their Kickstarters, they’re great to chat to at conventions like Dragonmeet. Their latest KS, for SoE is here. The art is great, and I’ve even been able to play a few games. It’s really worth a look.

On a campaign note, I finished my AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil” game. Sadly, illness meant I could give folks the proper send-off they deserved. Ahem. I had some fun times and so did the players…

What’s the one thing we know about bugbears? They’re dicks! – Euan R

It also lead to some PCs being nibbled to death by rats (sorry, Max!). The only reason I ended it was because of the fact that I realised I was running old systems and it wasn’t really engaging folk new to the hobby.

My WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay) game has been a huge amount of fun to run (despite the system feeling a bit antiquated on occasion). We’ve managed to move from Death on the Reik to Power Behind the Throne and I hope my players are enjoying it as much as I am. I think it’s safe to say that both my players and I will remember a lot of scenes from this game – whether it’s the Merry Bande, or the bat-crap crazy stuff players come out with that I, as GM, choose to act upon. There’s a fair bit of improv required but it is fun!

Oh, and I started my novel as part of NaNoWriMo. It didn’t go well. I looked at the 3,000 words I’d written and thought it was drivel. So I’m my own worst critic. Still, I’ve got the ideas…

Plans for next year

I’ve a fair bit planned for 2014.

At some point in the new year I’d like to run the “Knights in Shining Armani” RPG, Corporia – I’ve been lax in getting around to it and I need to apologise for it.

I REALLY want to get this novel started, as well as the Cthulhu-based short stories. I’ve also got plans to try and get into the Black Library as a writer. I’ve a lot of ideas, and I’m somewhat hopeful that I can bring some personality to the often one-dimensional Space Marines of WH40K. It’s a challenge!

In a similar vein, I’m also looking at creating (or possibly revising) a Cthulhutech-inspired Battletech game pitting mechs against the forces of the Cthulhu mythos. If there’s one KS I regret missing out on, it’s the Cthulhu Wars one, which has some great miniatures. I’m personally starting to develop an antipathy towards miniature-based games, as they’re usually expensive. If all else fails, I should be able to use counters.

As a result of this, I’m also looking at trying to get more involved in the wargaming side of things. [elg] is just around the corner from me when it is on, so I may be considering that. As well as Battletech, I may also look at playing Deadzone, although I don’t like the miniatures (they do remind me of the old Airfix soldiers!). I know I said this last year but: Hey! Time is a commodity!

I’ve also decided that as a Modiphius Silvershield and local “Z-list gaming personality” (said ironically!) that I’m going to try and get to more conventions. I’ve not been to Conpulsion yet (seriously!), despite it being hosted in Edinburgh. I plan to remedy that this year. I had a great time playing Marc Farrimond’s Cliché RPG where I had a huge amount of fun as a deranged psychopath known as the Artist. This should probably worry me.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Let’s find out… <snik> – The Artist

Either way, I’ll be back at Q-CON this year. It was an amazing experience, although social anxiety on my part didn’t help. I’ve since beaten that as a result, and all I can say is this – if you were there, you’ll know what I mean! I’m also planning to go to Dragonmeet again, although I hope to play in some games this time, and maybe actually go to the pub meet this time! I’m also considering going to the UK Games Expo as well. And I’m planning on maybe going to Gaelcon as well.

Games-wise, I plan to try and finish the WFRP: Enemy Within Campaign and also start Achtung Cthulhu’s Shadows of Atlantis when it comes out. I’m also running a 5th Ed. Dungeons & Dragons game using the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. I’ve never run a game in the Forgotten Realms before so it should be interesting. There’s also Horror on the Orient Express for Call of Cthulhu


So that’s my year. It’s been busy and I don’t think I’ve achieved anything close to what I’d planned last year. I’ll be at those conventions I reckon, as a GM or player. I definitely should try and get a few games in as a player at the Cons. Ultimately, though, I need to get better at either the writing or the proof-reading. I’m not the Jedi I could be…

Games referenced in this post.

[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0786965592][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0786965649][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1910132004][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00H7IPZV2][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1613170297][amazon template=iframe image&asin=193687685X]

Dragonmeet 2014

So, after Q-CON earlier this year, I decided to try and make it to Dragonmeet, a gaming convention held in London’s Earls Court. I had a pretty pleasant train journey down from Edinburgh, although London rush hour is not a favourite of mine now. I was staying with my sister in Hackney so, accommodation-wise, things were OK. What follows are my perceptions of the Convention as a first-timer to Dragonmeet. Were you there? If so, shout it out!

Dragonmeet is currently a one-day convention (focussed primarily on RPGs), and this year was being run by Chris Birch and Modiphius Entertainment for the first time. Before I continue I should point out that I’ve backed a lot of the Modiphius Kickstarter Campaigns (Achtung! Cthulhu and the Mutant Chronicles, so far!)  and I’m also a Modiphius Silvershield so there’s a certain bias on my part.

Like in my Q-CON review, I’ll also add a few tips in. As usual, most are common sense, really.

The Con

Getting There

I was staying in Hackney and could take the District underground to Earls Court from Mile End. As it was a Saturday morning the trains/buses weren’t too busy, but I left a little later than I’d planned (10am, with the convention starting at 9am). With my usual unerring ability to land myself in it, I managed to exit Earls Court station from the wrong damn exit. This lead to me taking a huge unnecessary detour before I arrived at the somewhat underwhelming-looking ILEC Conference Centre. I got there about 11am, so had missed the lines at least. I got my programme and red band fairly quickly as I’d pre-registered, but the entrance to the convention seemed a bit cramped to me. There were big hoardings up all over the place, each detailing the games that were going on, along with the sign-ups.

TIP: It’s pretty warm in the hall (not uncomfortably so) and crowded, so make use of the free cloakroom to stash your coat and/or jumpers.

The hall is vast. It is huge. There were 1,600 people through the doors I heard later, and there were a colossal amount of games going on. A lot of the UK gaming scene was there in the form of trade stands, with quite a lot of stock. And there were guests!  I wish I’d brought my “YOU ARE THE HERO” book by Jonathan Green, and my Lone Wolf RPG book. Joe Dever (Lone Wolf gamebooks) was there signing books, and so were Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (Fighting Fantasy/Games Workshop etc.) and the artist Tony ‘H’ Hough. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to the guest list.

TIP: My Achtung! Cthulhu haversack (or bro-bag!) worked well for the books (and dice and adventure notes) I was carrying. However, I also carried a small Reisenthel fold-up rucksack (like the ones here) that proved very useful. These fold down to approximately 4″x6″x1″ and easily fitted in the A!C bag. This proved useful later on!

Demo Games

I was there to run three demo games of Achtung! Cthulhu, so I introduced myself to the folk at the Modiphius stall and made myself known (pics here) and scouted around the hall.  It was a bit cramped in the demo areas and I was slightly worried that I’d have trouble hearing during my game. I was needlessly worried as it turned out – the hall must have some form of acoustic dampening installed. However, I did have trouble hearing any announcements – maybe a big screen would have helped?

TIP: if you’re running multiple games, make sure you’ve got some Strepsils or throat lozenges. You’ll be a bit hoarse by the end of the day.

Throughout the day I ran three games of Achtung! Cthulhu. I used the Prayer for St. Nazaire scenario I’d used for Q-CON, split into three parts. I had full sign-ups for all three games (4 players), but only had a full table for the second game. Running a 1-hour demo game is harder than you’d think – it’s pretty exhausting, especially when you’re trying to give people a good experience.

TIP: If you’re running a Demo game watch the clock, but make sure your players get a great ending, Start building up to a finale in the last 15 minutes. It may not be what you had planned, but give them something to remember.

This was the second time I’ve run “A Prayer for St. Nazaire” using Call of Cthulhu rules, and if I’m going to be honest, it’s the wrong system for the adventure. I’m looking at Savage Worlds for next time. It makes no difference to A!C as it uses both systems.

One of the GMs running the Mutant Chronicles Demo had one of the game’s original developers in his game, so no pressure there! He’d come down on the night train from Plymouth and still managed to run games and help out.

TIP: If you’re a GM running a Demo, get yourself in place on time and make sure you’re prepared. The players shouldn’t have to wait on you.

 I’d brought both the GM and Player’s Guide for Achtung! Cthulhu and they were eagerly examined by ALL my players. The attention to detail in the books really helped get across the whole concept of the WW2 theater of operations. For one of my players, it was “Quite an insight into WW2”.

Dragonmeet – Bill at large

When I wasn’t running, I used the rest of my time to wander round the hall, looking at the stalls and games. There were a lot of stalls selling miniatures, but the majority of games going on were RPGs (Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurers League included) and board games going on. Dragonmeet is still very much an RPG convention – there’s not really a huge amount of space set aside for wargames or CCGs. Personally, I think this is a good thing – many gaming Cons marginalise the RPG play areas. I can understand why they do (so they have quiet), but ultimately an RPG con should focus on RPGs in their main areas!

I also got a chance to meet the Shadows of Esteren crew, who produce some fantastic-looking games (Shadows of Esteren for one!) and great Kickstarter campaigns. Their display looked amazing and they gave me a Christmas card when they found out I was a backer of their Kickstarters :). It was great to meet both them and the Modiphius Crew (and other some of the other Silvershields!). I also now have a Modiphius T-shirt (ho ho ho).

I also bumped into some former members of ORC Edinburgh – Peter, who was running a Svavelvinter game (I’d never heard of this game until Peter talked about it at ORC), and Dee (who’d nearly forgotten Dragonmeet was on!). If you’re reading this: Hi guys!

 TIP: if you’re a vendor trying to flog stuff, engage anyone actually taking the time to look (within reason). If a sale means listening to them talk about their character so be it. But don’t let them bogart you! A signature/notation in a book costs nothing really if you’re the writer/developer. At the very least that customer will walk away feeling special… that’s what happened with Sopio at Dragonmeet ; and at Q-CON; Laurence “@LarboIreland” Donaghy and Folk’d (NSFW!).

Here comes the swag bit…


More than a few folk at Dragonmeet were there to pick up their Kickstarter Pledges. As a Keeper of Terrors KS Backer for Achtung! Cthulhu I already had the PDF versions of much of the books but I picked up the books themselves on Saturday. These were the Achtung! Cthulhu Guide to North Africa and Guide to the Pacific Front and the artwork is amazing by Dim Martin. I also finally managed to get my hands on Mindjammer – I’ve both the FATE and Starblazer Adventures ones now. I also picked picked up the Sopio card game, the basic set. And, because (!), Lamentation’s of the Flame Princess – I picked up their FreeRPG scenario.

Ze Low Point

The worst thing about ILEC was the pub. The Dragon and George is one of those awful IBIS pubs that charge you a fortune for a pint. The seats were those stupid 6-seater ones that no one ever uses because there’s only two of you. That’s not Dragonmeet’s fault – it’s the venue. Plus, there wasn’t enough staff. If the queue at the bar  waiting time is >= 10 minutes there’s something wrong. I’d originally planned to go to the Pub-meet that Dragonmeet holds on the Sunday. But trailing across London for a sub-par pint wasn’t something I was prepared to do. Plus it was cold and wet. I ended up checking out 221b Baker Street (a bit expensive for what it actually is), and the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at Museum of London  instead. Worth a look. Its called “The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die” and is on until  April 2015.

Summary of Dragonmeet 2014

Dragonmeet is a great convention if you live in London, but could be a bit pricey if you’re not local. London prices for accommodation and food aren’t cheap. For a one-day convention there’s a lot to cram in and they are considering making it a two-day event next year. Having said, that it was fun – the people I talked to were friendly and the convention ran pretty well. The only criticisms I have is that it was quite cramped and the bar obviously wasn’t equipped to deal with the volume of requests. The games I ran were well-received and hopefully got more people interested in Achtung! Cthulhu. As always for me its good to meet new people, and add another convention to the list! Will I go back? Yes. However next time I’ll likely stay over the weekend in the hotel and actually play some other games too! There were a lot of industry people there and I did feel a bit of an outsider initially, but that wore off later.

RPG retrospective 2013

RPG retrospective 2013 is the latest in what has become something of an annual tradition for me. I’ve let the GMs and players over at ORC speak for themselves on the ORC website, but its been quite a year for me.

Personal achievements

I’ve not written so much on this blog this year, as to be quite honest I’ve not had time. What content I have put up has hopefully been of some use to anyone using the site. I hope to try and blog more over the next year, but will try to include more quality content, both specific gaming content, and otherwise.

Games I’ve been running this year included PathfinderAD&D and WFRP, and Wildfire’s new RPG, The Void (part of the Cthulhu Saga, a review of the game can be found here). The Pathfinder game I ran was part of the Ronin GM idea I had. I used the Sands of Time setting I made up (some of the places are detailed on the ORC wiki here), an Egypt-meets-Cthulhu, style setting. I only ran it for five or six sessions and although it proved a lot of fun to run, I didn’t really achieve aims I had for my role as  “Ronin GM”, although a few people that had never played RPGs or Pathfinder got the experience! I’ve described the Void RPG elsewhere, but it has potential.

AD&D has been something of a cathartic experience. It’s nice to have a simple dungeon bash that doesn’t challenge GM and players yet remains considerable. I’ve run it using AD&D before and its surprising how easy it came back to me, and even new players find it fairly intuitive over 3.5/4e. It also had the first PC fatality I’ve had in a game for quite a while. The group has finally got a full complement after a few folk dropped out during the year, and the new mage seems to even the score a bit. Expect a more detailed description on how I’m running the mega-scenario “The Temple of Elemental Evil” in a future post, or posts.

WFRP has gone from being bleakly grimdark (and po-faced) to something that hopefully has been fun to play and run – after my mistakes running Shadows over Bogenhafen (detailed here), Death on the Reik has been a joy to run. A number of fantastic experiences have been had by the players and the Queen of the Reik (under Captain Priscilla) now feels like home to the party. Heart of Chaos and Legacy of Praag were two of the encounters I came up with to spice up the adventure. I’ve chosen to skip “Something Rotten in Kislev” after Power Behind the Throne, choosing to run Drachenfels instead. SRiK isn’t a good module, and I got bored just reading it.

EDIT: I also ran Fires of Perdition, and, although it ran for a short time, was immense fun to both run and play. This was a mash-up of the Only War rules with the PCs as members of the Adeptus Arbites. Set in the Hive city of Perdition, on the world of Crucible, it was pretty much a knock-off Judge Dredd setting (more info on the setting here). If I ran it again, I’d definitely try to be little less epic – the players said they enjoyed playing a “street level” judge without the whole Chaos-warp-doom that pervades so much wh40k.

Other achievements? My freelance work on demons (and the artist’s interpretation) finally appeared in the supplement: Fragment 1: The Way of Tree Sword, & Flame, working alongside designers such as: George Strayton, Logan Bonner, Tony Reyes, Thomas Reid, Bill Smith, Ptolemy Slocum, Ron Corn, Ed Greenwood, Mike Curtis, John Adamus, Steve Winter, and Jim Ward. I recently appeared on Hazard Gaming’s Penny Red podcast, as part of their “Inside the Roleplayers Studio” series. I was recently interviewed by about my part in the Nova Games PBM partnership, for Issue 2 of the new PBM magazine “Suspense And Decision” (yet to be published).

I’ve backed a lot of RPG Kickstarters over the year (and other games). I’m especially looking forward to getting Deadzone setup and running (although I’ve a few gripes about the mini construction). Also the “Horror on the Orient Express” boxed set for Call of Cthulhu and “Rise of the Drow” Pathfinder campaign are due for release next year.

RPG plans for 2014

As well as running WFRP and AD&D, I’d like to get cracking on my novel idea. I’m not having troubles with ideas of the plot, it’s the actual linking them together and getting the words out of my head 🙂 .I’ve also decided to run a game session on Sunday evening called Survival Sunday; where we play Shadows of Esteren, The Void (the Stygian Cycle in all likelihood), CthulhuTech, and of course, Call of Cthulhu. Once “Horror on the Orient Express” arrives I’ll be running that.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

William Heron’s 40, ‘K?

It was my 40th birthday earlier in the week. The last twenty years seem to have passed so quickly, but its quite a long time when I think about it. In that time I’ve changed careers form Audiovisual to Computing – I probably wouldn’t have been the best AV guy anyway given that I was diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing problem. I’d probably had it for years, perhaps when I had the mumps or a fever as a child. Basically, it means that I can’t hear mid-range frequencies like human speech as easily a normal person, but the rest of my hearing is pretty good. I’m definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago. Hard times make for hard lessons, but I’ve managed to stay upbeat over the years. I’ve stayed relatively healthy, although I think my sanity has undergone a stress test occasionally. All things considered,  despite a few bumps in the road recently, I’m pretty good. Plus I still have all my hair – and also 100% free of preservatives, colourings, or additives.

I’ve travelled around a bit. I’ve never felt the temptation to go backpacking, but I do like arriving in a new city, and more often than not getting lost in it. I’ve been to both sides of the Pacific,  but never crossed it. I’ve been to Las Vegas, Vancouver, Tokyo, Antigua, Prague, and Rome so far; and I’d love to visit more, in the EU and elsewhere. As usual, as is so often the case, its expensive!

Speaking of new experiences, I’ve done a lot more gaming in recent years, as this blog illustrates. I’ve not been much of a console gamer, but do own an X-box 360, although that’s largely consigned to running DVDs these days. I prefer the cooperative kind of game, where you can work together – or short arena games with friends, like Left4Dead or Halo. Loved Batman: Arkham Asylum too. I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t want to play Batman…

Ironically my two RPG campaigns that I’m running these days are from the 1990s. The Enemy Within campaign for WFRP, and also AD&D 2nd Edition. You’ll find some of my suggestions for running these elsewhere in my blog, too. Its ironic that these games still work well for modern players, despite today’s insistence on catering for munchkins and power gamer style games. In the last ten years I’ve run a lot of other RPGs too: D&D (both 3.5 and 4e), Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhutech, Marvel Superheroes, Pathfinder, the Wh40k RPGs, and Star Wars (both D6 and Star Wars). Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, some my players enjoyed more than I did!

The biggest problem I find these days is time: I’d love to run games like Shadows of Esteren, The Void, Eclipse Phase, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Werewolf, and 13th Age. I’d love to play these too, but as well as the time, its often the case that I can’t find someone to run. It takes a time commitment to be a GM, and to be honest, not many folk can do that. I’ve seen it happen a lot at ORC unfortunately. Someone starts a game, then can’t find the time, or they find themselves over-committed. For this reason I try and tell folk to keep to 1 or 2 games a week, be they a player and/or a GM.

I’d hoped to start writing a novel this month, but although I have a notebook of ideas, and hoped to start using the Scrivener software to get it organised. I’ve failed to begin NaNoWriMo again! Having said that, some of my stuff has been published, in THE SECRET FIRE RPG, and the first supplement, THE WAY OF TREE, SHADOW, AND FLAME. That was also the first time I did some proper freelancing. I also did some voluntary proof-reading for ACHTUNG, CTHULHU! from Modiphius Entertainment. Proof-reading maybe the way forward for the time being, as the time needed to develop my own games just ain’t happening. If I can get the custom, it might also be a good earner.

I’ve no idea what the next few years will be like. There’s nearly always something for me to do. There’s likely going to be a few DEADZONE, BATTLETECH, and possibly even BURNING SUNS games in the pipeline. I’m not much of a boardgamer, but reckon I should be able to get into those games without too much hassle. WH40k is too expensive! I suspect I’m going to be busy over the next few years, so things are going to be interesting! I’ve been a gamer for over 25 years now. Gonna keep rolling those dice for at least another 25 with any luck 🙂

The Pragmatic GM approach (being a GM is hard work)

Being a GM is hard work. There’s no bones about it. Sitting down and planning an RPG campaign is a huge undertaking these days, even if it is only for a few sessions. A lot of players simply think that a GM spends his time thinking up new ways to kill their PCs. Let’s be honest, there’s a tendency for the GM to be portrayed by some media as power-mad evil geniuses – and some are – but there’s no Evil GM school! You also need to be fairly tolerant of materialistic psychopaths (and their PCs).  Also GMs don’t kill characters, players kill characters, usually through their own actions (or lack thereof).

Being a GM is immensely rewarding but you may not get out what you put in. By far the biggest issue most GMs have is time, and I’m no different. When I was younger I used to meticulously plan my AD&D campaign areas: each location had their own encounter tables, local flora, monsters, a travelogue, and the maps were created in intricate detail, encounters would be richly detailed and described. Nowadays I just can’t afford that level of detail – over the next fortnight I’m running WFRP, AD&D, and Pathfinder. I’m also playing in a Pathfinder game. Yes, that is a lot and maybe I am over-committed, but on the other hand that’s with a number of different groups at ORC Edinburgh.

There is also a sense of frustration among GMs when they plan games and players don’t turn up or cancel. I’m no different, but I’ve found a way around problems like that. It may require a bit of work on your part as GM, and possibly on the part of your players, but you’d be surprised at how it can make things run smoother. I call it the Pragmatic GM Approach.

The Pragmatic GM Approach

It could easily be called “the GM with no time”, but “Lazy GM” also covers it pretty well. The concept is pretty basic but requires minimal planning and allows you to be a bit more flexible. I’ve mentioned some of these ideas previously in various posts on running RPGs, but I’ll cover some of them here again. Apologies if it seems I’m repeating myself!

Don’t plan everything. Seriously, don’t. Running a dungeon bash is easier than running a free-form game like FATE, but the players will still find ways to surprise you. Sometimes winging it is fun, but you should try and keep a basic framework in your head or notes – even if it is the various plot points. Micro-managing your games will also lose you players if you start rail-roading them.

Keep an ideas book. It can be anything ideas for an adventure, an encounter, NPCs, maps, or anything. A5 or A6 notebooks can fit in your pocket, great for scribbling in when the urge takes you. They’re relatively inexpensive too.

Write for the group, not for players. Consider your players and give everyone their moment to shine – even games with lots of battles should give the wizard (“I recognise this script/spell”) or rogue (“Get the damn door open!”) a chance to shine. Take your cues from them, but don’t ignore the quieter players.

Tailor encounters to the group. Random bandit attacks aren’t much fun, but they can provide some useful combat encounters particularly if there’s a bounty/ransom involved. A common theme such as a motif or NPC leader can also help provide some consistency. Perhaps a particular kind of monster is drawn to the PCs – their loot/magic items/weapons/blood/souls are of particular value. Then there’s always revenge for wiping about that goblin tribe for instance. Don’t be afraid to create and encounter that could see the NPCs wiped out if they don’t run: the whole CR thing is overrated. You can have a lot of fun where the PCs are essentially keeping a low profile or running away!

Standby filler sessions are great when players can’t make it for a single session. You can slot in a bit of a character-driven side quest that may or may not advance the campaign, or even play to the remaining group strengths – e.g a lot of fighting or special skills – like planning a heist or conducting an investigation. Some classes require a number of trials for PCs to advance so these can also work well. If you can try and have these on standby, just in case.

Finish game sessions on a cliffhanger. It means you have a snapshot of the party that you can then plan for. You can do a lot with this – downgrading or upgrading opponents, upping the numbers of their opponents, extending the plot, and planning for new PCs. Not only that, it encourages players to turn up to find out what happens next and gives a GM a chance to clear their head.

Get your Players to write up sessions, not you – if you’re using forums or other online media this is pretty easy. It also means that any absent players can get a quick summary without the GM having to explain what happened. This does sound lazy but the chances you’ve already put a lot of work in, and likely haven’t got time to do that as well. If a player writes it up as their character even better. Encourage Players to do it with XPs if necessary.

Let PVP (Player Vs. Player) happen. Seriously. NO, IT DISRUPTS THE GAME! I hear you shout in anger. Unfortunately if both players are keen on the idea you’re better off dealing with it, and going with the flow. If it kicks off let the PC wait their turn.Find out how the group are acting before the dice hits the table. Don’ t let it slow down the flow of the game and let the Players role-play it (not based on some arbitrary die roll) – but not at the expense of the rest of the group.

Extra books and mniatures are great but can be a faff to carry around. Either get your players to bring their own or try sticking some images onto counters or coins. Only consider 3D dungeon terrain and flip mats (and extra books) if you have room, and if you also have transport! If players want to use the rules from a particular book have them bring it with them.

Play Aids for the Pragmatic GM

Borrow images or maps, they can help cut out  a lot of planning time .I’ve often found floor plans from estate agency sales pamphlets to be useful for contemporary games for instance, and a nautical chart revealed the existence of the now-infamous Devil’s Hole in my Cthulhutech games. The internet has a wealth of images or maps that you can use – it’s often a good idea to print them out to use as handouts.

GMs screens are useful, if expensive, and there’s often a bit of blurb that you can paste extra information onto. Or you can make your own out of a ring-binder with clear plastic inserts. Most PDFs allow you to copy and paste from them so you can use these to copy any charts or reference tables. Use with care though.

If you have a digital version of a map, “white-out” portions of the map using an image editor like GIMP creating a “fog of war” effect. You can print it out and don’t have to spend  time drawing out the map of where the PCs have been. Or upload it to the net, like the ORC Wiki uses..

Create a basic local knowledge guide and map for your game area – perhaps detailing places and local rumour. They don’t have to be true though, and maps are always nice to have as play aids. Years back I created a travelogue for my AD&D game which talked in paragraph or two about each area, its distinctive politics or terrain and any local rumour (I believe the old Volo’s Guides were similar for AD&D). It also helps head off some obvious questions you may get.

If you can, record PC stats in a note book – things like thief skills or Perception scores, sixth sense abilities, etc. This way you can make rolls against stats without the players knowing something is up and helps add to the tension and drama if they don’t know there’s a test involved… or if they’ve failed to notice the bad guys sneaking up, the tripwire or landmine, etc.

Stand up sheets like the one I created for ORC here are my own innovation so that Players and GMs have a handy reference tool. GMs can see relevant stats, players can identify each other, and there’s no “what’s-yer-name- again?” – well, there wouldn’t be if I used them more!

Hopefully the Pragmatic GM approach is of use to you – feel free to comment with any other suggestions!