Bill Heron: Gaming in Edinburgh and other RPG stuff

World of Darkness Setting

eBay, Werewolf and Shadows of Esteren Kickstarter, and WFRP MP3s

Ebay and Kickstarter have a lot to answer for really. I sold off my 5,000 point Warhammer Undead army over 15 years ago along with a lot of my other miniatures, and a lot of my RPG materials. I seriously regret it now. I wish I’d kept them – we’re talking Werewolf: the Apocalypse  (1st and 2nd edition), Vampire: the Masquerade, and a huge number of AD&D materials. I’ve also picked up the Return to the Tomb of Horrors, Dragon Mountain, and the Menzoberranzan AD&D boxed sets. I need to watch my spending on them! A few years back I actually made a nice bit of cash speculating on ebay but the time taken to bundle everything up and list items was a nightmare.

There’s also some real idiots out there on ebay who will screw you over any chance they get for postage or Paypal fees. There are also those who claim 100% positive feedback, often through somewhat unscrupulous means, particularly when they are selling multiple items (usually over-priced) through a single listing or “Buy it Now”. Some individuals have huge amounts of games listed but most collectors will avoid having anything to do with those who threaten and browbeat customers – check the Acaeum forum if there’s any warnings and always look closely at the feedback. Make sure that any maps or similar are included as some fail to list these missing items.

I’ve recently contributed to the Werewolf: the Apocalyse Anniversary edition on Kickstarter. I’m not really looked at the game since late second edition when it was beginning to collapse under its own meta-plot weight as with all the original World of Darkness games. Can’t believe it was 20 years ago though! Along with AD&D, it was one of the first games I ever ran as a campaign – and I understand Samuel Haight may reappear (or his clone anyway!)… Also on Kickstarter, I’ve backed Shadows of Esteren, a medieval horror RPG that looks gorgeous and has a lot of extra stuff for backers.I know that Numenra, Monte Cook‘s new game has recently been funded, along with Robin D Laws Hillfolk, but neither really interested me. UPDATE: Unfortunately the Legendary Realms Kickstarter failed to secure their funding so that’s a pity.

I’m starting to see what makes Kickstarter so attractive for established companies – they can offer free PDFs of their stuff and memorabilia and it makes for a good business model. However smaller companies will probably get crowded out – they need to offer something special, rather than regarding it as a revenue stream. Just using it to get your game published is one thing, but using stretch goals is a proven way of raising the bar considerably – it encourages folk to up their pledge. Also, it’s nice seeing a bundle of goodies rather than a single book…

I’ve recently begun playing the Rogue Trader RPG again after a few months break. I quite like the wh40k universe but it does take itself a bit too seriously sometimes. When we play, it’s more Red Dwarf than Dune in style 🙂 – and we get away with it. Post-game, a couple of the other players and I headed off to the bus stop and we began talking about war-games.It has been a long time since I played a war-game. I think I’ve kind of lost my appetite for destruction in that respect – whether it is wh40k, fantasy, or historical.

Perhaps its just the sheer logistics and the actual time involved in getting the games setup or maybe I’m not as tactically minded as I used to be.  I’m just not that competitive these days. I’m hardly ever on the X-box for LAN games these days, and my time seems to just fly out the window these days. Although I’ve been playing Black Mesa (Valve’s Half Life game re-imagined) recently I’ve done very little PC or X-Box gaming. I’m waiting to hear what X-Com is like…

I’ve been looking at trying to get the audio from the last WFRP: Enemy Within sessions uploaded but I need to split the somewhat large audio MP3 file down into much smaller sections, perhaps using Audacity. The files were too large for YouTube!  I also forgot the recorder for one session so I’m kicking myself over that. We had two players absent so I ran a game set in Weissbruck as part of the Mistaken Identity storyline. The Bounty Hunter Bad Guy, Adolphos Kuftos will return, despite a crossbow bolt to the head (NPCs can have Fate points too)! The group wound up hunting a Chaos Spawn, who had been attacking and killing townsfolk – a mutant who had been brought back from the Kislevite city of Praag by his father, once overrun by the forces of Chaos.

I pulled out all the stops for this game I’m calling the “Legacy of Praag“- we had bugs in the walls, Silent-Hill style images of mould and decay, and huge (non-monstrous) slugs in the garden. I based the house on the Haunting Horror adventure from The Restless Dead campaign. I decided against running TRD as it stands as it doesn’t quite gel together so I’m planning to use the adventures standalone as part of The Enemy Within, linking some of them together. I might put up the stats and a brief summary for the Spawn in the future, but it looked like a mixture of the Alien Queen, a giant spider, and one of B5s Shadows, so all good 🙂

One of my WFRP house rules is that you roll 1d10, not 1d6 as mentioned in the rules. It works well. Although this can make combat deadly it cuts both ways – PCs can get taken down as easily as monsters. It definitely makes things a lot more gritty, more like Joe Abercrombie than David Eddings! NPCs and PCs can still use skills like Dodge Blow, so the fact that the amount of damage can actually cause a critical hit in one blow makes my players very wary of their PCs picking a fight with competent melee opponents! There’s always Fate points too 🙂

RPG Meta-plot: is it needed?

Meta-plot is one of those concepts that you either love or hate. Basically, the term is often used in RPGs and elsewhere to describe an over-arcing plot-line or extended storyline. You can see examples of meta-plot in the media too – the Shadow War in Babylon 5, Lucifer rising in Supernatural. Game of Thrones is one huge example of epic meta-plot, with lots going on and not all of it related to specific characters.

Yet RPGs often have a problem with meta-plot. Sometimes, even the sheer weight of meta-plot material can kill a product line. This is roughly what led to the White Wolf  “reboot” of the World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf etc.) – they had loads of supplements and source-books that had largely bled (for want of a better word) the creative opportunity for GMs. Wizards of the Coast had quite a history of doing meta-plot resets, e.g. From the Ashes and the Greyhawk Wars series that rebooted Greyhawk for A&D 2nd Ed. Sometimes it is easier to start afresh and might also generate fresh revenue and invigorate a product line I suppose!

Players only appreciate meta-plot when they are active participants to some extent. It also often assumes some prior familiarity with a setting on the part of your players – and that in itself can be hard work for someone new to a particular setting. Here’s some examples.

Babylon 5 RPG setting

Gods, where would you start with Babylon 5 for someone unfamiliar with the series? Even watching a couple of episodes wouldn’t really bring someone unfamiliar with B5 up to speed with 5 years of plot. You’d have to be really hard-core fans of the series to make it work, unless you set it before the formation of the ISA and coming of the Shadows. The sheer volume of plot and events make it inscrutable to anyone who hadn’t watched a season or more!

Cthulhutech RPG meta-plot

You could say that the whole setting of Cthulhutech is one big meta-plot. I’m eagerly awaiting Dead Gods and Burning Horizons for Cthulhutech. One is likely to be a Storybook that features meta-plot and the events of 2086, the other “splat” book for the Rapine Storm faction (a cult of Hastur that purges/scours the earth for the arrival of the Great Old Ones). The Storybooks are interesting in  that it gives your players a chance to participate in some of the major events/revelations of the year as part of the CT meta-plot. However, there’s  a lot going on across the globe and its unlikely that your players would be at the Fall of Juneau or Shanghai. In my own Through the Looking Glass games, I’ve hinted at what’s to come, but can’t really bounce the players across the planet (or space in the case of Burning Horizons!) to a new location every session!

Ashes of Freedom (D&D)

Contrary to popular  belief at ORC, much of the meta-plot for the Ashes of Freedom D&D game at ORC did not come out of any long-term planning on my part as such. It worked as a result and I could tailor the plot toward the PCs actions. Yes, I did have a few ideas for the long-term, but fitting it around the players worked far better. Also as the world was my own creation it meant that I didn’t feel compelled to preserve it, or avoid any events. To be perfectly honest, some of the plot was derailed from the first session so I had to come up with some new ideas quickly!

To answer my original question: is meta-plot needed? No – never let it get in the way. If you want a simple dungeon bash, for instance, you might not need it. Live free, and only use meta-plot when you want to give the game some flavour, or involve the players in some new conspiracy!  Kill off a significant NPC? No problem. The PCs thwart the invasion that might have led to the founding of a empire of a thousand years of peace and prosperity? Oops! The whole party gets wiped out? GMs, it’s your game: you can do what you want with it.

The Secret Fire RPG: The Demons Shall Arise!

Last year I did some work on The Secret Fire RPG for Secret Fire Games – much of the flavour text in that book is from my own twisted mind as it were – mainly the monsters, a lot of the spells, and the setting descriptions. One thing I’ve learned from the game’s release is to develop a thick skin, especially online. Any product will come under scrutiny and the anonymity of the internet allows people to be far nastier than they would be in a face-to-face conversation.

The RPG.NET forums are especially unpleasant these days. I’ve never liked them as there seems to be a a fairly nasty undercurrent to a lot of the posters there – often it seems its little more than a thinly veiled ego trip for a lot of the posters there. Coleslaw on the Cthulhutech forum (on Cthulhutech’s own site) sums it up thus:

My brief stint at can be likened to having to use a porta-potty in August.

The other thing I’ve learnt is not to build expectations – The Secret Fire RPG had a number of problems during its creation, and I think there’s a lot that could have been done differently. I don’t think it was the game itself that raised people’s hackles, more the way it was built up and marketed. However, I’m unlikely to visit RPG.NET again – I’m a member of many other online forums and it’s no loss to me. The signal to BS ratio has pretty much made me give up on it.

Although I’ve a few misgivings about how I’m going to find the time or if indeed I can stick to the deadline, it looks increasingly likely that I’ll be responsible for a chapter on the Demon/Druid war in the first supplement. I’ll also be including some information on the Soul Reapers, TSF RPGs equivalent of Supernatural‘s Crossroad Demons. I’ve got a number of ideas for them, as well as their origin and how demons are really are the Big Bad in the world of the The Secret Fire RPG. Hell, or Infernus, as it is named by the Soul Reapers, isn’t actually the home of Demons. It’s a crossing-over point.

I’ll examine why Demons are fascinated with humans and souls – and why the  Druids hate them so much. As well as the more Faustian ones I’ll also be looking at how the Soul Reaper bargains are designed so that there’s what I’ll call The Catch: it’s not just your soul they want: chaos, misery, pain, and discord will give it a far more seasoned flavour…  For example, a character that wants to live forever? “No problem,” says the Soul Reaper,”of course, I’ll give you the ritual”. The Catch: the ritual requires the death of a mortal every month – and the ritual sends the soul straight to Infernus. Failure to complete the ritual, and the Soul Reaper comes to collect the forfeit…

The Paths of Damnation

If there’s space, I’ll also look at something called the Paths of Damnation: how a mortal can become a Demon Marquis and the powers they wield. I suspect that a few players would love to take this route through a campaign. Its nothing new: it was done in both Realms of Chaos volumes for WFRP and the Book of Vile Darkness for D&D (I recently read that filming of the D&D movie of the same name is currently under way in Bulgaria!). In the past supplement that have dealt with demons or their powers are often held up as examples as “proof” of the corrupting nature of RPGs.

Hopefully we’ve outgrown this. Ascension toward Demonhood (or should that be descent?) wouldn’t be an option for any PCs, but it could make for a fun campaign. The PCs are duped into procuring items for the Demon-Wannabe NPC or are running around trying to prevent their Ascension in the first place. Remember the Mayor in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer?

Dark Edinburgh

Dark Edinburgh Logo

The Dark Edinburgh Project – Edinburgh’s Dark Side

Dark Edinburgh was originally an idea I had many years ago. At the time I was seriously considering writing a werewolf novel and compiled a huge dossier on things like the Beast of Exmoor and other crypto-zoological entities. I started drafting my vision of Edinburgh in the future (this was the mid-1990s incidentally), and wrote a few chapters before thinking that it was just getting too corny. I sometimes wonder that if I had persevered Fenris Caine might be up there with the *gag* Twilight or Sookie Stackhouse series (True Blood is half as clever as it thinks it is). My first (execrable) piece of fiction set in Dark Edinburgh can be still be downloaded, but it I only keep it here for posterity – it’s safe to say I’m no Jim Butcher or George RR Martin.

Although the “novel” never came to pass, the concept was used in a standalone game of Vampire: the Masquerade, as part of an all-nighter session. The PCs were mortals, actually playing as their own selves 20 years on, using Caine as an incentive and the group hunting down a vampire culminating in a showdown in a deserted tower block in Gilmerton! I’m not the only one to have had this world view: Edinburgh has two Vampire LARPs (Live Action Role Playing). are one of them (don’t be put of by the website – might not be safe for work). The other is Isles of Darkness (part of Camarilla UK).

At this time it was still a germ of an idea, until I picked up Cthulhutech after hearing how it was so cool. Whether you think Cthulhutech is a good game or not, it lead to me creating the Edinburgh in the Aeon War of 2085. This is what became the Through the Looking Glass series of games (at ORC Edinburgh), a somewhat Dystopian view of life in Auld Reekie, and really marks the realisation of what the Dark Edinburgh concept is: a twisted view of Edinburgh. I let my imagination run a little wild, but I’m a little more proud of the fiction I wrote for the Cthulhutech adventure, When the Ocean Wept: Under a Heavy Rain, Corporate Ties, and Vanguard Vengeance. It is not Cthulhutech (CT) canon – that has Scotland under the control of the Migou (Fungi from Yuggoth) and everyone is holed up in Manchester. I took umbrage at this, to the extent of posting publicly on the CT forums on why it didn’t work.

For me, the scariest part of Dark Edinburgh really comes from a dream – actually, a very vivid nightmare – and essentially boiled down to my idea for Arunstoun, a Call of Cthulhu setting. I’ll likely run it at ORC Edinburgh at Halloween or thereabouts. It’s inspired by the A70 road to Lanark, known as the “Lang Whang” (see the wikipedia entry… stop sniggering!). It’s pretty desolate and occasionally there are small communities or isolated farmhouses, the fictitious Arunstoun being one of these. The fact that the road was also used by the grave-robbers, Burke and Hare, to transport cadavers adds a whole new sinister light to it as well.

So that’s Dark Edinburgh in a nutshell – as I said, they’re very loosely connected!

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.