I think it’s correct this last year has been something of a roller-coaster. There’s been a lot of ups and downs for me personally, and it is safe to say I’m very much in a better place – literally – than earlier this year. I moved out from my flat in Albert Street, which is going on the market next month. There’s a lot of baggage I had attached regarding that place, and I’m feeling far better away from it!
Conventions & Events
Anyway… I didn’t make the UK Games Expo or Conpulsion this year. Both would have taken a serious toll on me this time, given the way things were. The amount of personal stress and anxiety I was suffering was sending me off the deep end. Since then, I’ve become far more clear-headed and remain firmly grounded in this reality.
That said, I’ve been busy in a few other realities! I ran a few demo games of the Conan RPG and Achtung! Cthulhu at Red Dice Games as part of Free RPG Day. I had a lot of fun – as did the players, plus I caught up with a few old acquaintances during the day.
Tabletop Scotland was a blast. I didn’t feel the same sense of mental pressure that I’ve felt at other gaming conventions, possibly since it’s the first year to run. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about the event which takes place in Perth. It’s on again from 24th – 25th August 2019. I’d have loved to have caught up with more folks but it was such a fun weekend, running Infinity RPG, Mutant Chronicles and Achtung! Cthulhu – all of which were well-received and gave much-needed feedback and new ideas.
Dragonmeet (earlier this month) was really busy for me. Again, I still didn’t manage to catch up with everyone I wanted to. I may try and make it more of an extended trip next year and spend a bit of time pottering about London, and catching up with folks beforehand.
Much of my time this year has been involved in writing for the Infinity RPG. As well as writing a sizeable chunk of material for the Infinity GM Guide, I’ve also been responsible for outlining and writing the massive forthcoming Infinity: Shadow Affairs Campaign book. It’s been a fairly deep-dive into the Infinity lore for me, but I’ve hit the ground running, just like my character (yes, that’s me on p.488 of the Infinity core book!). As a result of my work upon that, there’s a fair amount of work I’ve done on the forthcoming Paradiso source book too. Looking forward to seeing both of those in print. More on Infinity later…
I’ve also been heavily involved in converting Achtung! Cthulhu to the 7th Edition of the Call of Cthulhu rule-set, notably both the Investigator’s and Keeper’s Guide. I’ve also been responsible for a chapter of the new Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 rule set, running several demos at Dragonmeet a few weeks ago. Lotta fun running that, along with the post-apocalyptic Devil’s Run game (which went a bit off-piste, but I enjoyed it). .
Mutant Chronicles has taken a bit of a back seat, although I’ve done some work towards some of the Siege of the Citadel, and converted some of the Dark Soul’s creatures to and from the game’s rules. Compiling the Mutant Chronicles Universal Index (plus the errata and timeline) were very useful in getting me up to speed in that respect. The Mutant Chronicles Universe is still very much alive. More on that later, too….
New for 2019…
As is my custom for this annual post, I’m trying to set out some clear goals (writing and otherwise) for myself over the next year. To be honest, quite a few have been carried over from previous years. So I guess that makes them traditional.
This year, I’d like to actually play some tabletop games of Infinity and Achtung! Cthulhu Skirmish/Tactics – I’ve got a number of the starter sets (including the Combined Army one) like Red Veil for Infinity, and a load of miniatures for both now. I’d like to get back to painting miniatures again. Quite likely I’ll post any work in progress here. Aside from various discussions involving Dettol and airbrushes, techniques don’t look to have changed that much – I went to Wonderland earlier in the month and bought Milliput. Looks exactly the same, too.
I’ve a pile of the RAFM Kickstarter minis for Call of Cthulhu, and also the Battletech starter set. My Cthulhutech/Battletech mecha mash-up is still a pipe-dream right now, but there is a good place to start! In the past, the size of my old flat and lack of time (and application!) meant that I had no room or inclination to paint. That given, we’re considering a summer-house (or shed!) although we also have two outdoor 10×10 cellars that might easily be converted to a workshop/painting studio given a little work. They are pretty damp though…
Writing and gaming goals
Board gaming is also something I’d like to get into again. Games like Siege of the Citadel, Thunderbirds, Burning Suns, and Legends Untold are all on my hit-list to play. I’m avoiding X-Wing and other Star Wars games as their miniatures are hideously expensive. Got to admit though, I would like to have a go of whoever produces a new version of Talisman, Fantasy flight or not. Deep Madness also looks like it might be worth a look – I missed both the Kickstarters but it looks terrifyingly fun, and not as bulky as Cthulhu Wars… famous last words, perhaps.
My flat’s painter/decorator has also asked me to run a Pathfinder game for him and a group of his gaming group. I also got my dentist back into board-gaming, and quite a few folk at my work have expressed an interest. Yeah, you’ve read that right. I’m thinking I’ll go for the classic Rise of the Runelords campaign, or a least getting them started upon it. It’s been a while since I ran Pathfinder.
In the process, I’ve also considered combining my former sandbox (ahem!) Sands of Time Pathfinder setting and Against the Odds into a single setting, for use with the Conan 2d20 RPG rules – I’m quite keen on consolidating them in that rule-set, as Conan’s low-magic rules really make the setting far more dark (no fireballs, but lots of sinister necromancy!).
Regarding my RPG freelancing I’ve a number of writing projects for Achtung! Cthulhu (inc. the 2d20 version), Mutant Chronicles and Infinity RPG in the pipeline, plus a few other projects I can’t talk about yet. Infinity’s Shadow Affairs and Paradiso took a huge chunk of my time last year, but it was well worth it. Looking forward to seeing the hard-copy, after it gets approved. I recently acquired Kult, the latest edition, using my points from the Modiphius store. This horror RPG comes from the same origins as the Mutant Chronicles and uses certain aspects in both. I may plunder it for some scenario ideas…
Speaking of aspects, it’s no secret that Modiphius are now publishing Vampire: The Masquerade after recent events required a realignment of White Wolf’s material (to put it mildly). Something I’ve been considering for some time is a source book for Edinburgh that can be used with horror RPGs. It’d be a fair bit of work and system free, but would collate Edinburgh ghost stories, places like Shrub Hill and the Heart of Midlothian, individuals like Burke and Hare, and Edinburgh setting across the eras (including references to the Dresden Files, Necroscope and other Brian Lumley material): provisionally entitled “Edinburgh by night”. I’d be interested in working with any writer on that – not a solo project!
To be honest my workload and events such as moving flat have caused me to neglect a lot of the Edinburgh Gaming scene (and page), and I hope to rectify that in the New Year. ORC Edinburgh continues to expand, although the lack of a central venue means it’s difficult for me to keep track of the games that are going on, and harder still to encourage new players to try something other than D&D. Attracting players to non-D&D games is something of side-project – games like Star Trek Adventures, Infinity and wh40k may provide a little insight, provided I have time. A few one-off (one-shots) games in a regular venue might be the way forward – that seems to be a major sticking point – with a experienced GM (like me, I guess) of some traditional RPGs may fire up the creativity of would-be GMs.
The Open Saturdays group are continuing to run some unusual RPGs of interest, such as Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA), Night Forest, etc. so that’s also a good alternative for those bemoaning the lack of non-D&D games. ORC once had a tradition of a lot of one-shot games, but the dispersal across “time and space” for want of a better term has been problematic (i.e. location and scheduling). Something towards that may require something other than my efforts though.
With that in mind, I’m seriously thinking of channelling my energies into creating an Edinburgh branch of The Role Play Haven, a non-profit Community Interest Company – possibly as a replacement to ORC. I’ve been asked to look into creating a Scottish branch and it would solve a lot of ORC’s existing problems. Notably in organisation, charity funding and more of a community feel regarding reserving possible venues. It’d have a central pot for funding venue bookings and locations, and also cover GDPR and a more formal structure, along with a membership fee. I’ll need to take a good look at how to implement it: a more organised structure and paid membership fee requires something of paradigm shift for ORC members. Pitching games is also something new. All requires careful consideration…
Given my other half’s ownership of the 5-star Craster Tower apartment, I’m considering weekend RPG away-day sessions. Spend the weekend in an elegant 1,000-year old haunted tower, in the middle of rural Northumberland and the only other building nearby is a pub… This would be great for some intensive weekend gaming (RPGs or LARPS). Given the decor, definitely a good option for murder-mystery weekends too. It’s close to Alnwick and the LNER East Coast line rail links and the A1. I know its a thing/fad to game in an unusual place. Will be interesting to trial a weekend one this year 🙂 – it wouldn’t be cheap, but there’s plenty of castles and ruins, Newcastle, Holy Island etc. and coastal walks nearby for those who want a break from gaming.
I’m hoping to blog more a lot more this year. Ongoing painting work may well help with that. Provided I can secure the space required for work-in-progress shots, as such. I intend to get the cellar areas re-purposed and usable for something at least.
I’m also always available for advice, writing gigs, and general geek-related discussion. Use my Contact Me page or send me a message on the ORC website.
Since I last blogged, things have been busy. I’ve had a lot on, and the day job has been fairly frenetic. So what’s been happening?
My freelancer work has seen me doing indexes for a number of Modiphius core books: Infinity, Conan, and Star Trek Adventures (my name is front and centre in the credits!). I’ve also compiled the Universal Index for the Mutant Chronicles Universe (download it for free, here), and collated the timeline (see here). I’ve also written for the Cartel Tactical Center fanzine for MC. It’s not something I’m always credited for, but I’ve been on board the whole Mutant Chronicles line bar the core rulebook and two supplements over the course of two years.
I ran a number of games at UK Games Expo, and also worked on the Modiphius stand. I was exhausted by the end of it, and the train journey back was a real trial. I was a running on fumes when I got back. Not sure if I can keep running demo games, but it was fun. I was probably more weary than I thought as I discovered one of my hearing aids wasn’t working – two days later, of course. Both the Dark Eden Setting book and Dark Eden Campaign I worked on were submitted for consideration to the ENnies, but didn’t make it to the nominations.
This has given me a few ideas on what’s up next.
After my disappointment with Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I’ve largely avoided D&D and fantasy RPGs in general. I’m hoping to go back to them next year, possibly running a Symbaroum game. It’s a dark Scandinavian RPG that my fellow Modiphians have raved about.
I am going to write an Achtung! Cthulhu campaign, an episodic campaign that I hope to maybe see print. I’m going to start it in a few months with a new group at ORC Edinburgh. I plan to use the 7th edition rules to run it, but also plan to make the conversion available. I plan to finally get the Mutant Chronicles scenarios down in words rather than in my head… Notably “Life in the day”, “Ice-cold in Eden”, and “Rising damp”. Also, there’s the final errata log for the MC product line.
I suspect there’s more indexing work coming my way from future books, as well as possibly the Living Campaigns for both Achtung! Cthulhu and Mutant Chronicles. I’ll continue to write for both Modiphia (the free quarterly magazine from Modiphius) and CTC. I also intend to finally construct the Achtung! Cthulhu and RAFM miniatures I own. It’s only been two years.
EDIT: I’ll also be writing up notes on converting Achtung! Cthulhu to 7th Edition.
Spy-related or espionage games are great fun, whether you’re a player or GM. It’s quite rewarding creating elaborate schemes and plots for such games. If you’re going to do a spy RPG right as a GM, then you will probably need to do some preparation to an extent.
When you’re running a spy RPG, it’s a good idea to try and get as much info as you can from your players about their characters – who their contacts are, what their assets and drawbacks are, etc. Also, its often a good idea to find out more about PC family members and any secrets, whether its within the game rules or not. Most modern RPGs have some form of asset or drawback system that should then be fleshed out by the player ASAP. PCs are not largely machines (at least not in most spy RPGs): they may have home lives and their own dirty little secrets (see BBC TV’s Spooks for just how this can work!). These can later be used as possible story hooks – or as leverage by the bad guys.
It’s best to try and create character-driven games rather than shoe-horning PCs in to a specific scenario when it come to spy RPGs. For example, a Shadowrun game I played in involved a covert operation upon an oil rig. If there’d been a Decker or Rigger in the party they would have likely spent most of their time twiddling their thumbs – but the group of us worked well as a team because the adventure played to our strengths as a result.
You can also get considerable fun out of having some PCs being more than they appear – secret powers such as latent para-psychics in Cthulhutech, telepaths in spy RPGs like the Necroscope RPG (or my own eBranch game). When you add the fact that spy RPGs usually foster a certain sense of paranoia in players, you can also have fun when the implication is that the PCs all have their own agendas!
The Opposition (NPCs)
It is very easy to create a monolithic organisation – e.g. the Men in Black, Cobra, HYDRA, the Rapine Storm – but all need some kind of quirk that makes them different. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as making their viewpoints and goals different in such a way that they oppose those of the characters’ own – from financial gain and world domination (e.g. HYDRA and SPECTRE), to the complete destruction of the characters’ way of life e.g. the Rapine Storm in Cthulhutech, the Borg of the Star Trek universe.
Obviously these organisations are composed of individuals – even the Borg have their Queen(s) – but it is sometimes worth coming up with something that symbolises the organisation: a symbol, uniform or method; something that will instantly “click” with your players. Significant NPCs of these organisations should also be distinct in some way from the others, with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, to set them apart from the rank and file.
There’s also the “Other guys”. Every organisation has them: the IT support staff, the accountants, science techs. not everyone has to be James Bond: where would he be without Q and his team? If you watch programs like CSI, most of their cases involve a lot of support staff – video techs, lab techs, etc. A Hacker or Decker can be a dangerous opponent when they are powerful enough to compromise your security: see films like Enemy of the State or the Bourne Identity. A few pieces of info changed and suddenly your spies are burned (like TV’s Burn Notice – which is recommended for anyone running a spy game).
Here’s a few other things to bear in mind (and that I’ve found useful) for spy-related games.
Surveillance & Investigation.
In the real world, surveillance is long, arduous and gruellingly boring. Fortunately, you can compress time in RPGs, but you should feel free to embellish what the PCs see or do. You never know, they may miss the delivery, ransom drop, or hit, because one of them is too busy playing with the sniper scope or arguing with the other PCs: you don’t need to play out the surveillance day by day. Also, investigations by PCs can take far less time than in RPGs when you compress it. Bear in mind that intelligence-gathering, monitoring, forensics, or lab tests take far longer if the PCs don’t do it themselves – with the relevant skill rolls and successor failures relying on their expertise. If they decide to use a third party, it may take longer – but you can control the information that the PCs get as a result.
Spy games are all about bluff, deceit, obfuscation, and double-crosses. At the core of a spy game is information: who has it, the control of it, and the quality of it. A list of names can prove priceless in the right hands. The identity of a traitor or other individual, like Karla in Smiley’s People and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, could comprise a number of adventure sessions. A GM could even point it towards the players themselves, one of whom is the Mole.
Location, location, location
As a GM it falls to you to try and make your players aware of their surroundings and describe the setting. The internet is your friend in this case. Want to run a game in Malta? Use Google Earth/Maps and get some idea of the street level appearance, at least. Wikipedia will give you some idea of the culture and customs as well, but it’s often a good idea to use locations that you yourself have visited – it is much easier to describe places from memory!
Computers, McGuffins, cybernetic implants, guns, players love ’em. Most games have some form of gear supplement that players will go through and drool over. They’ll spend forever going through them: as GM, it doesn’t really help the game if the players are looting bodies for their cybernetic parts every five minutes, or loading up with stolen assault rifles. It is sometimes worth creating a standard field kit that the PCs are given. If the game allows your players to requisition equipment, it bears thinking about how portable it is or how reasonable the request is – you don’t necessarily take a tactical nuke on a diplomatic assignment! In fact, you can actually make an adventure out of acquiring the gear – such as stealing the equipment or smuggling it across the border.
Psychic powers and mind-spies
Any game that involves PCs with psychic powers is going to take a bit of work on your part as GM. Telepaths can pull secrets from people’s minds – the location of the villain’s secret lair? The identity of the murderer? That’s easy for a telepath to discover. It can play hell with your plot, but there’s ways to work around it: the bad guys have mental shields, telepaths are not allowed to scan unwilling subjects (it is inadmissible in court etc.), line of sight is needed for their power to work, etc.
Despite the difficulties in plotting games around psychic powers, mind-spies and telepaths make for interesting games (as in Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series). Telepaths are the ultimate espionage tool – they can look like anyone, don’t require equipment, and can rarely be detected. Opponents may have their own psychics blocking out any mind-readers, and of course there are creatures that have their own mental powers (again, to use Necroscope as an example, the Wamphyri have their mindsmog).
There’s a certain SQUEE!!!! factor to this: I was recently contacted by George Strayton, an Origins-nominated games designer (and also the writer for several TV series and movies: Xena, Hercules, Cleopatra 2525, Transformers, Star Trek, and the forthcoming Xombie movie). He also wrote the script for the Dragonlance movie.
He’s in Edinburgh in early May and is going to run a beta test of his new d20 game The Secret Fire (www.secretfiregames.com). Beta testers will get their names mentioned in the book too.
As the game at ORC has already filled up, I’m going to be running a second game if there is sufficient demand on May 7th. It is not the first time that ORC has beta- or playtested games: we’ve playtested Traveller scenarios, Runequest, and the Dogs in the Vineyard game to mention a few. It’s going to be the first time I’ve been more directly involved though.