A Year in Gaming – A Review of 2018

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.

And finally…

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.

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

Star Wars RPG (D6) – A look back at a favourite

The Star Wars RPG D6 system is for me one of the best to teach, and easy to learn, game systems out there. Using the films Star Wars IV-VI as a backdrop, it’s largely outside of the Expanded Universe (but see later 🙂 !). II’ve probably used this game to introduce more people to RPGs than any other. Nearly everyone has seen one of the Star Wars films in some shape or form. The background is instantly familiar to most people. It takes only a few minutes to create a character. And, by using Force points, any PC can be a hero.

The Star Wars RPG used a simple D6 dice pool derived from the Ghostbusters RPG. See my previous post for thoughts on that game, but first a brief history of the Star Wars RPG.

The Star Wars RPG  – A Brief History

Star Wars RPG (1987).jpg

Star Wars Role-Playing Game (1st Ed.1987)

The 1st edition of the Star Wars RPG was published by West End Games in 1987, who had the official license from Lucasfilm to produce both RPGs and boardgames derived from the license. Published in hardback, its a book that’s worn very well over the years I’ve owned it (I bought mine in 1989). A second edition followed in 1993. A number of source books also added to the Star Wars RPGline – all were lavishly illustrated with pictures from the films. As well as some other game aids like a Companion and Campaign pack/GM screen, a number of adventure modules were released. There’s a very loose chronology (no meta-plot) and most can be played on their own, although some NPCs crop up in more than a few adventures.

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (abbreviated to the Star Wars RPG for the rest of this post!) also won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules in the same year.

In the UK, Grenadier Miniatures UK (closed since 1996) produced a 25mm miniatures line of various characters and villains from the films featuring their Star Wars RPG stats. They were very well cast – I still have a boxed set of the heroes.

When Timothy Zahn was writing the landmark Heir to the Empire series, Lucasfilm sent him Star Wars RPG materials from West End Games, and this pretty much lead to the whole Expanded Universe as result. Every journey starts with a first step. 🙂 – loved those books. I think they’re the only Expanded Universe novels that I really liked.

Sadly, as with a number of games companies of the time, West End Games fell foul of the slump in the RPG market in the late ’90s. They  declared their bankruptcy in 1998, and lost the Star Wars license as a result. Ironically, this was the same year Star Wars: the Phantom Menace came out.

Wizards of the Coast picked up the license and produced both the D20 and Saga editions until 2010, as well as a miniatures line (although this was phased out). Fantasy Flight picked up the license in 2011, releasing their own edition.

More information can be found on Wikipedia, on the page for the Star Wars RPG (D6).

The Game

Like Ghostbusters before it, the Star Wars RPG system uses a D6 (six-sided dice) dice pool derived from Attributes and Skills. This affects everything from Force Powers and Droid repair to firing a Blaster and piloting a ship. You roll the dice, add them together,  and try and beat a difficulty number (3-5 is Very Easy, 6-10 Easy, 11-15 Moderate, 16-20 Difficult, 21+ Heroic!). PCs can take multiple actions but are penalised by a reduced dice pool (-1D for two actions, -2D for three, etc). The six attributes total 18D for every Character Template (including Force Powers). Those seeking to use the Force tend to have lower attributes than others (the default attribute is 2D – 2 Dice). Droids can be created by allocating 18D directly, although they cannot use the Force.

It’s a very intuitive system to learn and combat is fast-paced. Consequently, most folk pick it up quite quickly. Even those that haven’t role-played before will understand the concepts. PCs can combine on actions, but only up to the PC’s Command Skill pool. Remember how Stormtroopers can’t aim straight? Well…

These blast points… too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Stormtroopers can combine their shots in an unlimited fashion. In a room of 10 stormtroopers, they’d add +9 to their dice roll. No wonder Han legged it in this scene:

All PCs have something known as Force Points, and all PCs start with one. A PC can spend a number of Force points per adventure. Spending a Force Point allow them to temporarily double their dice pool for a single round. If they use these heroically, they’ll get it back, plus another one. Save their own skin and it’s spent. However, use it to kill, wound or manipulate will lead to a Dark Side point. They can also spend these in the same way, although there is a chance that a PC becomes consumed by the Dark Side (see below).

Rather than spend ages buying equipment, the gear is kept pretty simple. Given the cinematic style of the Star Wars RPG, the PCs are often up to their neck in it, right from the get-go. It’s not a game for PCs to become attached to equipment- although the Smuggler and Mon Cal Pilot both begin player with spacecraft, the PCs are usually assigned one anyway.  The Star Wars RPG isn’t really focussed on gear and wealth anyway.

Character creation is by far the simplest of any RPG. The templates are bare-bones equipment, personality, often humorous quote, and a capsule background. It also suggests links to other PCs. You have 6D to add to Skills. After that you’re ready to go. One of my favourite things about this system it doesn’t care if you’re human or not (although the Mon Calamari, Wookiee, and Ewok each have their own templates). I’ve actually bundled the templates here, if anyone is interested.

For GMs, there’s a huge section on running the Star Wars RPG in a cinematic fashion, complete with terminology. Using cut-scenes, dropping PCs right into the middle of the action (in media res), plotting, scale etc. It’s all covered. Even if you’re not that much up on film terminology there’s some great suggestions for adventures in the book (with a humorous introduction to each), plus a solo adventure to learn the rules. You don’t blow up buildings in Star Wars, you blow up planets – it’s all about being as heroic and bombastic as possible, especially when using/adding Force Points. I love how the system doesn’t focus on one particular class, to the detriment of others. In fact, GMs are encouraged to give all the PCs a chance to shine, and encourages heroic acts if it furthers the storyline or experience. I love running games in a cinematic fashion – it’s not easy with fantasy RPGs, but you EXPECT it in Star Wars! It’s probably the closest I’ll get to film-making despite my HND in Audio-Visual Technology…

Set just after the Battle of Yavin, there are very few Force users in the Empire or Rebellion (after the Jedi Purge). The game system reflects this in the Templates. Force Powers (Control, Sense and Alter) are at the cost of the Template’s Attributes. All the favourite powers are there – including a few Dark Side ones – and would-be Jedi need to adhere to the Jedi code. If you’re Force user, you’re not going to be high-powered except in a few small ways – obviously the Sith are not mentioned with the exception of Vader. There’s possibly a few Dark Jedi out there, but they’re not PCs. The Force skills aren’t over-powered either: if the Jedi is using telekinesis for example, the “size matters not”, but the Force skill roll does… Lightsabers are incredibly powerful damage dealers when used by a Jedi – they add their control bonus to the 5D damage. So Luke just after the Battle of Yavin, with a Control Force Skill of 3D – does 8D damage. Twice that of a Blaster. They’re also illegal, though.

There a number of Wound levels: Stunned, Wounded, Incapacitated, and Mortally Wounded. Obviously this is on separate scale for NPCs – Incapacitated or Mortally Wounded will take them out of combat. For PCs, there’s still a chance they can survive a Mortal Wound if they can get to medical treatment in time. Or alternatively they can heroically stagger to their feet, and yell “I’ll cover you! Get outta here!” or “Run, Sara!”. Another aspect I like is that although Skills can increase, Attributes can’t. You’re average PC has 2D+2 Strength. That won’t change with experience – if you’re hit by a regular blaster, the damage is 4D. Chances are you’ll be Wounded, even if you were Boba Fett (armour reduces the damage by adding up to 2D to Strength for damage purposes though). PCs can also declare that they are Dodging either as a Full Dodge or a Reaction Dodge (DEX skill).

There’s a strong vein of humorous banter in Star Wars and the Star Wars RPG is no different. For example, in the GM section, here’s a quote relating to “An unsuccessful use of the Con skill”.

Han Solo: Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal.
Comm Voice: What happened?
Han Solo: Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
Comm Voice: We’re sending a squad up.
Han: Uh, negative, negative. We have, uh, a reactor leak here, uh, now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Uh, large leak, very dangerous.
Comm Voice: Who is this? What’s your operating number?
Han: Uh…[FX: ZAP!] Boring conversation, anyway.
-Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Sounds like something a player would do, doesn’t it? Not to mention the bickering that features so often in the movies appears in  module scripts (see below), as well as the adventure suggestions and solo adventure in the book.

There are a few darker adventures for Star Wars (like Domain of Evil), but by and large there’s always time for a one-liner, comic relief moment, or corny dialogue. It actively encourages it. The number of times my players have used quotes from the movies just adds to it. It’s a game of heroes, not villains. You don’t really get to play Dark Jedi or Sith Apprentices. You’re the Good Guys. Ultimately everything should go down to the wire, and the PCs escape with mere seconds to spare. And trust me, your players will get really caught up in it.

Star Wars RPG Adventures

If there was a particular shining gem in West End Games crown, it would be the modules for 1st Ed. Star Wars RPG. Usually a 64-page staple-bound module filled with illustrations. These were not always from the movies either, and most really evoked Star Wars. So much so that I made them into a collage for the GMs screen, or to use as a montage or cut scene. Later modules usually were published as soft-bound books with no extras.

The modules often featured counters for Star Warriors (a companion board game), or another Star Wars board game, but usually had a large A3 colour map of some kind (such as cross-section of a Victory-Class Star Destroyer, a floor-plan of the Mos Eisley cantina). Or even a Sabacc deck and rules. These alone were worth getting the module in most cases.

Every Star Wars RPG adventure started with a script with up to 6 players reading out their part. Although hit-and-miss sometimes, they were great in creating an atmosphere, getting players into the action, and starting banter just like in the movies. Not to mention setting the scene without the GM having to go through a lot of exposition as well. There were usually hand-outs you could photocopy/print out as well as a pull-out section that had the NPC statistics and GM maps.

Most of the plots see the Heroes (they actually call them that) foiling some Imperial Plot or escaping some kind of peril, usually over a number of “Episodes”, featuring cut scenes, chases, and explosions. The plots were designed to be more than just be all shooty – social interactions, flight skills and technical abilities are often required, and usually build up to a climatic scene. SPOILER: There’s a summary of some of the adventures I ran for my group here. Most are published, although the summary for Incident on Iyuta is my own adventure.


So Star Wars RPG over 25 years old. Star Wars is even older, and still has an enduring appeal as Space Opera. Regardless of how I feel about the Prequels and Expanded Universe, the original D6 Star Wars RPG is the game that  still faithfully recaptures the spirit of the films, unlike its successors. I know there’s been a tendency in recent years to focus upon darker “edgier” characters . It got darker with the Expanded Universe such as the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, death of Chewbacca, etc. so I’m looking forward to Abrams effort.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” still resonates with me.

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 🙂

Magic and Technology in RPGs

Magic and technology in RPGs are usually unhappy companions. Allowing players to get their hands on technology can often unbalance the game. Occasionally, technology is little more than a kind of MacGuffin and plot device, like in the D&D adventure, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks or the Legends of Skyfall gamebook, The Black Pyramid. Fiction like the Shadows of the Apt series merge the concept of magic and technology well in a steampunk fashion, but the concept of magic is largely ritualised. The Dresden Files series has wizards unable to use complex electronics or technologies: light-bulbs explode, computers fizzle, and mobile phone reception dies. In Shadowrun, cybernetics interfere with the body’s aura, reducing magical ability.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. – Arthur C Clarke

However, what happens when magic is the technology? Babylon 5‘s Technomages use science to give the appearance of magic, through cybernetic implants created by the Shadows, but that’s not the same thing. Don’t get me started on genetics, and the midichlorians, in the Jedi of the Star Wars prequels. I’m talking about when magic sees everyday use.

Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom will feature characters of varying levels of magical ability. Even those without any magical skills will be accustomed to seeing its use in daily life. As I’ve mentioned before its likely that I’ll use the FATE system (Fantastic Adventures in  Tabletop Entertainment). I’m relieved to hear that in the new version of FATE (which raised funds at a near-astronomical rate on Kickstarter) will feature a new magic system as an extra – it is a bit confusing in the Dresden Files RPG as it currently stands.

Back to the original focus of this blog, and that’s the use of magic as an everyday technology. I’ve broken it down into concepts as to what magic might be used for.

Magic as a tool. A magic-culture is likely to use magic everyday. Water Elementals keep the streets and sewers clean, stone-shaping spells are used to work minerals and strengthen walls. Spirits or demons are bound into compacts or agreements that bind them to a family line for protection or favours. Magical constructs and items are commonly used by artisans or craftsmen.

Magic as a plot device. More for GMs, lost magical devices or knowledge can provide a significant hook for PCs. It certainly appears to be magic anyway – a lost device, cursed item, sword that will save the realm etc.

Magic is outlawed – those who practise magic are persecuted and even actively hunted by society. This may the “wrong” kind of magic, a misguided view of magical purity, or there are very real dangers in casting spells or using powers (like warp entities in WH40K!).

Magic as science – there’s very little difference between a golem and a robot (or Terminator!). Streets are lit by continual light spells. Magical fire is used to forge metals into far stronger alloys, burning far hotter than forge’s fire. Research carries on into making magical spells more effective and theory becomes reality. universities teach magic as part of their syllabus.

Magic for defence – do not mess in the affairs of wizards, particularly when they are organised. A high-level wizard is a nightmare on the battlefield, able to deal with a force many times larger than himself. If your entire nation of wizards and magic users are given military training then it is unlikely weaker nations will pick a fight (no one wants to wake the dragon!).

Magic for decoration – illusionary artwork, magical tattoos, cosmetic appearance – all these can be achieved using magical spells.

Economy of magic – it’s quite possible that magic itself can have an impact on the economy. Wizards that can transmute gold can devalue the coinage. Travel spells render normal land travel obsolete for the shipping of goods or people. Precogs can advise on investments.

Social status – magicians are the nobility or cultural elite, especially in feudal states. This “Pureblood” outlook often creates a cultural elitism that can itself springboard into an adventure.

Magic for travel – as well as mentioned under “Economy of magic” above, states that make heavy use of travel spells like teleport or Elementals will be able to move far faster than normal. They can also move people and objects quicker, including armies.

It is fairly easy to come up with ideas once you have concepts like this in mind!