Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff

Star Wars

GM accessories – a wish list
It is GM’s Day today at DrivethruRPG: as a GM I’m often looking for cool stuff to give to players, and to make my life as a GM easier (I’m lazy that way!). I recently picked up a number of old boxed adventures for AD&D on eBay recently, like the Dragon Mountain set. I’d forgotten how much material was included in them. I thought it might be an idea to put together my wishlist of GM accessories that I’d like to see in RPG adventures/supplements. If an adventure is being crowd-funded like Kickstarter for example then these could easily be stretch goals i.e. the GM accessories are added when a certain level of funding is reached. I’m not even sure why I’m doing this, but here goes. It’s what I would like to see in the ways of GM accessories for adventures – who knows? Perhaps some module/adventure designer may take this advice to heart when they produce their product.

Stuff for the players

GM accessories like handouts are always a winner. They provide a quick and immersive way of engaging the players, as well as providing visual clues – be they maps or letters. They also need to be readable if there’s any text, unless that’s the actual point. If the handout needs to be printed then it should work on a standard black-and-white printer without looking muddy. Colour is all very well, but can be expensive in ink/toner to print! Call of Cthulhu games may benefit from handouts, like authentic period tickets or menus (like in Horror on the Orient Express). I created the dossier for eBranch by using the Courier font (resembling typing), then carefully stained the paper with a mixture of lemon juice and teabags to give an authentic looking appearance of an old document. Although they can be tricky to produce, props and items requiring assembly provide a great deal of enjoyment –  some games have items that require assembly as part of the gameplay (like the Rod of Seven Parts artifact, or the amulet in Dragon Mountain).

Dragon Mountain has some stand-up card counters of the many monsters. These sort of things are very handy in games like D&D 4e, where miniatures are often needed and maybe too large to transport to a game. Having miniatures isn’t always easy on the table, so the counters can help. They don’t even need to be heavy duty card, just something simple. Likewise, model buildings that can be assembled (like Cities of Mystery), although they are of limited use unless you are also a wargamer.

If there are new rules for players to use, I’d like to see them in the same format as the rulebook, ideally in the same layout and typeface. I’d like them to be separate from the main adventure too (e.g. in loose-leaf form or in their own book), so players can refer to them without stalling the game.

If there are maps, they should be scalable to allow GMs to position miniatures, or there are floorplans that can be used  (or used with a Battlemat). A few years back I ran the AD&D Ravenloft adventure Feast of Goblyns using some generic room templates that I’d created. They worked really well – but they were fairly crudely drawn, but at least were laid out in grids (or hexes). Again, these are probably necessary for D&D 4e.

GM Accessories

Maps are great GM accessories, but I’d prefer maps to be in their own booklet to make it easier to refer to, preferably numbered sections in the main adventure. The Temple of Elemental Evil did this well – a separate A5 pamphlet within the adventure made it easy to refer to, rather than flicking back and forth through the text. I hate having to refer back to particular pages in an adventure. Player maps are great to include so long as they aren’t printed on the reverse of a GMs map! If the map is A3 or larger it should withstand continued unfolding!

As regards fluff and descriptive text – I’m never a big fan of background fluff in adventures, especially when it relates to stuff the PCs have no way of knowing or are just there to fill out the page count. The GM shouldn’t really have read more than a quarter page of text to the players for each room. It should also be easy to read! I like being able to find the rules I want in the correct area, indexed and with clear section/chapter headings – not scattered amidst the background fluff (the wh40k RPGs are especially guilty of this). An index is a must (perhaps also listing the page numbers where items/monsters can be found in the adventure or main rulebook). Content pages with subheadings are also good. The text should also be readable without being tiny and at the very least it should have been proofread (not just spell-checked). If its a boxed set, the box should be sturdy enough to be carried in a rucksack! Layout isn’t a black art, but more than two or three columns and it becomes a nightmare – please keep it simple.

Artwork. I like being able to show my players the artwork. To use the old cliché, a picture is worth a  thousand words. When the Dark Sun setting for AD&D first came out they used flipbooks which also various images from the adventure,and I’d like to see something similar as it really evoked the setting. I know artwork is re-used a lot but I’d like to see some new art in an adventure. The Babylon 5 RPG (and supplements) is very text-heavy with stills from the show, but it would have been nice to see some actual artwork in the product. For my D6 Star Wars game, I put the artwork from the adventures into a collage – this gave players a sort of visual history too, when I affixed it to the GM screen (the part without any charts obviously). Its not difficult to get good quality artwork, and is less expensive than people think. Cthulhu Invictus has terrible artwork and production values – so much so that I actually regret getting the game.

Playtest the adventure. Seriously, I sometime wonder if the designers have playtested some of their adventures. Some adventures seem to have a requirement for GMs leading the PCs around by the nose from plot point to plot point – others seem flawed from the outset, or fail to deal with such simple aspects as player choice. I’d like a page from the designer(s) on how to run/stage the adventure, or how the game went during playtesting, as well as possible adventure hooks.
A mind-map or timeline of plot points of the adventure – not as complicated as it sounds really.

Rules errata – I’d like adventures to include rule errata from the main rulebook as standard. I really don’t know why they don’t.

Re-usability – I love being able to reuse adventures or their materials, especially items such as floorplans or background info. The book or box should be fairly robust to handle repeated handling – the wh40k Chapter Approved book fell apart within a year of me getting  it ( and it was brand new!).

Give us gamers free stuff! Whether its a unique download of a character class or a font (like my Mandragora Glyphs Font) or even a discount off another products, give us a reason to purchase the full version of  a module. I suspect that a huge proportion of the RPG community use illegal PDFs, so give us a reason to go for the full products (rather than locking them down with DRM).

More by the same author. There’s usually some blurb about how the designer came up with the ideas for the adventure. Why not list some of the other products if it is a series (together with the product code and ISBN)?

Games & Settings

I play and run a large variety of games. I’ve also created several settings over the years. I’m trying to list them all here!

Where have all the GMs gone?

It’s a little ironic that up until recently, the Open Roleplaying Community Edinburgh ( suffered from a lack of players and a venue. Now we’ve got plenty of players and venues… and no one to run RPGs 🙁

Seriously. That’s how much it has changed recently: from what used to be lots of people wanting to run their campaigns and one-shots, there’s now a small handful of GMs at ORC (myself included). We’ve got a lot of folk saying they want to play, but hardly anyone wants to run something  (or are already committed to another game).

I know there are folk out there reading this and thinking that ORC only plays D&D: WRONG! I’m running a playtest of Cliché: the Game of Predictable Horror on the 23rd (from Drunken Badger Games, a couple of local RPG designers and friends of mine). Star Wars and Dominion: Tank Police are also running, as well as a number of D&D games (3.5, 4 and customised).

It would be nice to see some old faces coming back as well, even if it is only to play a couple of games. There’s no GM “screening” process, you just need to make sure that you’ve a bunch of folk interested in playing in Edinburgh. You don’t even have to come to Saturday afternoons: use ORC to recruit for your home game if you want (plus you only have to ask me to get your own wiki space for your game).

So if you’re looking for a chance to get back into gaming in Edinburgh and would like to dust off your GM screens, drop me a line (via the Contact Me page or the ORC Website).

Oh and before I forget, ORC are celebrating our birthday tomorrow from 5pm in the Chanter on Bread Street (see here for the map). Expect geekiness, RPG recollections, and much quaffing of ale (but no pole dancing: that was last year!)!

Dark & Dangerous

Well, I completed my work on the The Secret Fire RPG yesterday, right on schedule. Having never been involved on developing an RPG on a real basis, this has proved something of a learning curve for me. It will be officially released at GenCon – yes, THAT GenCon!

When you design as part of a team, there’s a sort of momentum to things. You can throw ideas into the mix and you often find that one person’s discarded idea is another’s inspiration. One of the earliest decisions was to go non-OGL, and this freed us up to take a look at what we liked, and what didn’t work. It’s interesting to note that the L&L team at Secret Fire games come from different generations of RPGs. I started with the 1st edition Dragonlance series, and Fighting Fantasy (I still have that dungeon somewhere); others started with original D&D or 3.5. The system is crunchy enough for sticklers, but there’s a lot of flavour to it as well.

When we ran Nova Games, the PBM partnership, it was very different. Dave and I both had our own games, and although we did dabble a little in each others games but we never went the road that Secret Fire is going with TSF. It’s a huge undertaking, more so when there’s a big whammy involved too (which I can’t say more about at this time!), and the whole process is actually very interesting. I’m going to love to see the finished book especially in its printed format – I’d love to be able to do bookbinding or similar, but I don’t know where I’d find the time or materials.

What I also find interesting is that more people are returning to the RPG hobby, often introducing their children to it. TSF should appeal to folk of all ages, especially those returning to the hobby. It encourages creative thought as well. I’ve hated that whole sameness of character that you get with feats and min/maxing of characteristics that happens these days in RPGs, especially D&D. TSF rewards a player who plays his character, not a group of numbers that have been tweaked. There’ s no such thing as a bad character in L&L.

What also strikes me is that we’ve come full circle, with many people returning to the fantasy genre. For a number of years we’ve had fads for particular games, some of which are vastly different from the fantasy genre – this doesn’t mean that they are any more adult or “better”. Like the whole division between LARP, computer RPGs,  and pen and paper RPGs – they appeal to different people, and for different reasons. Just because a game is advertised as “dark” or “gritty” doesn’t mean that its a particularly “grown-up” game – let’s not think about what a Twilight series RPG would be like (there probably is one, or will be – where’s Yog-Sothoth when you need him?!). The dystopian future idea was big in the 90s (Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020), and still is (CthulhuTech) – but became a little stale. They became victims of their own success, with cyberpunk time-line canons needing constant revision in later editions.

The point I’m trying to make is that no matter what genre of RPG you play, you shouldn’t treat those who like a different genre any different: there’s a lot of arrogance in the RPG hobby, a perception that if you play or run a fantasy RPG (D&D or L&L for example) then you’re not a “proper” GM. That’s total nonsense. Yes, some games are more complicated than others, but we’ve had a lot of fun with simple systems like Star Wars D6, and a lot of my players have fond memories of these games. A complicated system like CthulhuTech’s Framewerk or Shadowrun have done the same thing.

Oh, and one final thing. I was speaking to a friend who participates in Edinburgh’s Vampire LARP, Embraced ( I thought I’d mention the fact that they’re always on the lookout for new blood  (sorry!), i.e. new players as it were. They’re quite a close knit group so if you’re new to Edinburgh it might be worth a visit if you’re looking for new friends. There’s always ORC Edinburgh as well 🙂 – it’s also worth me mentioning my Gaming in Edinburgh page as well.

ORC: Looking forward, looking back

It is hard to believe that I’ve been maintaining the site at for over a year after taking stewardship from Dave @ KOA. I got my renewal reminder from the hosting company the other day. Hopefully I’ve managed to continue the same tradition of keeping the community open to all gamers in Edinburgh. The various bells and whistles I’ve added to the site seem to be working okay, especially the wiki.

For me, it’s been an interesting year: I’ve had some great times with the RPGS I’ve run and the games I’ve played.

  • Participating in the New World as Rafael has been a blast – I’m enjoying playing a totally manic PC with a truly jammy streak, even if I’m partially responsible for the real nastiness of the setting.
  • My Through the Looking Glass (Cthulhutech) game was enjoyable, and I may return to Edinburgh 2085 in the future – although it is a complicated system, it gets easier to run over time. Some day I may even get to play in a Cthulhutech game myself again.
  • Ashes of Freedom has been fun to run and people have said good things to me about it, and will continue next year, at least till the end of the current story arc. The Dwarrowdelve scroll incident was one of my best ideas ever, and the sounds of the player’s jaws dropping was music to my ears. Mix in a cursed dagger and time travel and you have good times!
  • Against the Odds has been building up slowly, more due to the dates involved and will continue next year: Elven terrorists, zombie workgangs and the bad guys are serious, organised, and in power. I’m planning to keep at least one spot open in the game for new/visiting players.
  • I intend to run Masks of Nyarlathotep for Call of Cthulhu next year, but will need players for this epic campaign, which will also include some side adventures, including one in Arunstoun, a setting near Edinburgh. There’s something of a pattern there – hopefully familiarity doesn’t breed contempt!
  • I’ve played a variety of characters in the 40K RPGs, mainly on Thursday nights – had a whale of a time there. Although the background can make things a little complicated when you don’t know much about 40k, the systems work well.
  • I’m hoping that the Star Wars Dawn of Defiance campaign is resurrected. The Squib Jedi will rise again! Given his past history this may result in him getting spaced by the other PCs…

ORC itself has changed a little over the last year or so, maybe due to the new location.  Although we have less regulars weekly, we certainly have more folk coming along. Many are first timers or returning to RPG after “many years in the wilderness”. Campaigns are now pretty much a regular occurrence at ORC Saturdays and many of our players turn up just for those games. In the main, everyone has at least been civil and friendly to each other and there haven’t been any critical hits – I’m always surprised at how well-behaved ORC members are!

My personal highlights a player this year and thanks to:

  • Any game in the New World where my PC Rafael has been amazingly lucky, whether it is riding a T Rex or hitching a lift on a Pteranodon (thanks, Chris).
  • Whorl, the Dark Heresy Assassin, using a combine harvester to liberate his colleagues from manor house (thanks Craig).
  • Valexos, my Rogue Trader Navigator: from being a pretty naff PC to something else when he started to mutate – thanks, Stephen.
  • Sammeal the Space Marine literally bringing the house down with a Krak grenade (full of Genestealer cultists, so it was justified). Thanks Grant.

As a GM:

  • Revealing the Dwarrowdelve scroll to be a fake in Ashes of Freedom.
  • The “Where/when the hell are we?” moments in Ashes of Freedom during the Storm of Ages.
  • When the Leviathan Mech and Deep Ones turned up in Cthulhutech: Through the Looking Glass to face off against the PC Tagers in Leith. Actually, creating the setting was a highlight too.
  • The first game I ran of Against the Odds, for the sheer what-the-hell-just-happened moments.

The release of Deathwatch (one the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, along with Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader) has encouraged a lot of  wh40k gamers into the hobby too. I guess there’s something in Deathwatch that appeals to the power gamer in all of us, including me (I’m playing a Dark Angel Apothecary Marine called Sammeal on Thursday nights): maybe because you’re the ultimate bad-ass!

Unfortunately this can be a bit intimidating for many people (newbies and oldies alike 🙂 ) at first, but hopefully this will change over time – I encourage anyone to welcome new folk to ORC. GMs, you can keep one PC free for visiting players perhaps? In a similar vein: if you’re a GM and looking for players, it is worth posting in other forums at ENWorld or WoTC that you’re running a game at ORC. Plug the website at every opportunity :)!

What games do people want to run/play next year? More D&D? Shadowrun? Ecplise Phase? Cthulhutech? Call of Cthulhu? What’s been the rpg highlights of the year for you?

To all my players, GMs, and those on the ORC site: Merry Xmas!

Here’s to another year at ORC and RPGs!