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Evolution of a Gaming Site & the Dark Side

When I began writing this post become something far different than I’d envisaged. Then I realised: it’s May the 6th – May the Sith be with you. Welcome to the Dark Side.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me

– Star Wars, The Sith Code

Of course, the Jedi have a different perspective.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

– Yoda

They’re both valid perspectives in my view. I’ve been considering lately the direction this site has taken, as well as my own direction in life for the last few months. Many years back themandragora.com was merely an off-shoot of the Nova Games PBM site that I’d created for my Mandragora games. Since then I’ve been through several versions of CMS and themes. It’s a long way now from the same pages in 2002. Of course back then, I wasn’t running the ORC Edinburgh website, nor was I involved much in the Edinburgh RPG scene. And my personal circumstances were very different. This post is a bit of a ramble but I hope it makes sense: there’s a certain kind of logic behind it.

The site was largely a dumping ground for my ideas back then, a vanity project for stuff wot I’d done. It’s become more polished(?) over the years as I’ve attempted to try and get more of a gaming community in Edinburgh together. The Edinburgh Gaming page is consistently popular. I’ve cut out a lot of the inconsequential posts that provided a little too much insight into my time. These web pages have a modest set of daily visits, and are pretty specific. I sure as hell don’t consider myself a gaming celebrity. At all. I’m just a bloke with a blog.

A lot has changed since 2002. The world has become smaller, sometimes frighteningly so, through social media. Words, and even numbers, now have sinister overtones (gitmo, 9/11, 7/7 for instance). Celebrities – sometimes who only famous because they are on reality TV – are all over social media tweeting their lives. Self-promoting themselves first chance they get – freeloaders of fame. Or worse, someone like Katie Hopkins.

Twitter is often largely to blame for this I reckon. I’ve recently heard of Joss Whedon quitting it as a result of hate tweets and Rio Ferdinand subjected to some horrible tweets regarding his recently departed wife. That’s pretty sickening behaviour and sadly it seems to have become part of our culture – I’ve heard some pretty horrible things about Gamergate too. Twitter (and sites like it) have no “buffer” zone or DMZ of geography or security. People are able to interact directly with their target or idol, often saying things that they’d never say in person to the object of their hate/affections. Complete strangers will make personal remarks. It’s not just Twitter either – go on an online gaming site and you’ll be subjected to some serious verbal abuse. Anonymity encourages the worst in people it seems. It’s almost a culture of savagery.

This New Year was something of an epiphany for me. It wasn’t much of Hogmanay. All I could think of, alone in the flat, were negative thoughts – and trust me, this wasn’t depression. I was angry. Furious. Angry at myself for not getting more done. Resentful of those who’d been more successful over the previous year. Then I realised that the only person who cared about it was me. At that point “the scales fell from eyes” as it were. What was the point of it? It wasn’t achieving anything. At all. So I’ve pretty much ditched it. Or so I’ve thought.

A result of this online “culture” we’ve got this strange sense of entitlement. We want it all right now. Netflix and torrents mean we don’t have to wait for a show to be picked up by UK TV stations. And we don’t care how we get it either. For example, “We backed it so we should get it first/early” – especially Kickstarters. I’ve been fighting an urge to rant about Chaosium and their “Horror on the Orient Express” Kickstarter earlier. The European Kickstarter backers are still waiting on their copies, despite it being sold in the local games stores – and we’re not happy about it. As geeks we’re very passionate about our hobby. Who can forget the Edition Wars of D&D? Remakes vs. original cuts of Star Wars?

Anyone can start a podcast and become a “celebrity” coasting on the backs of others – however some podcasters (Nearly Enough Dice, Hazard Gaming, for example) do stay objective! My sensorineural deafness means I can never really listen to podcasts except if I’m there in presence. So instead I’ve been writing review of conventions and RPGs. Writing reviews has become something new to this site. I never try to be unkind, I only point out what could be improved, and don’t set out to try tocrush the dreams of game writers. Last thing I want is a visit from the gaming equivalent of Jay and Silent Bob (cf. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.). Then again….

Use it… – Blade, Blade Trinity

I’ve been very unimpressed with the work I’ve done on my short stories and novel so far. So I’ve decided to try and invoke a darker aspect to them. It’s an element I’m more than familiar with. The Oath of Shadows characters are going to be less than clear cut, no Chaotic Evil vs. Lawful Good. There’s going to be a sense of loss, an anger at the world as it exists. It’s a bit of a departure from my original concept, but much more of a challenge.

For me, the most maddening things about modern day gaming are time, space, and money. But I suspect the results of the General Election tomorrow are gonna make me angry and force choke something. Thanks for reading this.

Something. Something. Dark Side

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 playbymail.net 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!

POD, Casting, and Podcasts!

I’ve recently taken part in my first podcast. Podcasts are a relatively new experience for me. I’ve never had the chance to participate in one before, so when Brian from Hazard Gaming contacted ORC about participants for his Penny Red podcast I thought I’d have a go. I’m not sure how well I interviewed for Inside the Roleplayers Studio, but at the very least it was an interesting experience for me. It isn’t up on the Penny Red site yet, and I’m not sure if the background noise from the Gaming Hub may have drowned out what I was saying. Brian basically talks to RPGers in towns he visits and incorporates the interview into the Penny Red podcast. Gamers in Edinburgh also can listen to the Nearly Enough Dice podcast at http://nearlyenoughdice.com as well, focussing on groups and events of all kinds – not just RPGs, but boardgames, wargames and other subjects of interest.

That was the other new experience – the Gaming Hub in Tollcross looks pretty good. It has a huge basement, a lot of boardgames, and is going to prove very popular with those playing CCGs, RPGS, wargames, and boardgames! It is also air-conditioned, something that I’m all to grateful for – some gamers are far from fragrant in the summer! The EGH also has decent seating, food, and drink and the tables are perfect for games. There are even small “breakout” tables for overspill books or playing pieces.

During the interview I was asked about the supplement that I’m most looking forward to – right now that’s got to be the next Cthulhutech supplement entitled Burning Horizons. Dealing with space and the lost off-world colonies, it will also feature the Great Race and the war against the Rapine Storm in Australia. Wildfire’s lack of distributor may mean that this has been delayed since last year, and that they may have to offer it as Print on Demand (or POD), which may mean that the book won’t be of such good quality as their current products. During the podcast I mentioned some of the controversy surrounding Cthulhutech, but I’m not sure I did such a bang-up job of clearing things up. The “rape camp” controversy always seems to be focussed upon. The concept is briefly mentioned in the text relating to the inhuman Esoteric Order of Dagon’s Deep One and hybrid members. Cthulhutech is a game of horror, and as we are all too aware such places have existed within human history – in Bosnia most recently and other places. I, along with everyone who have some sense of decency, find the concept abhorrent – it is mentioned in the game, and adds to the horror, that’s all. No game should condone any form of sexual enslavement – CT doesn’t – any GM that allows their players to play through such actions should have their heads examined…

Anyway, moving on. I’m also looking forward to the Judge Dredd movie. It looks like casting for Judge Dredd has been inspired – when they told Karl Urban that Dredd never removes his helmet, Urban replied “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if he did.” Here’s hoping that it works out!