THE Gazebo Issue2
Taking the pulse of the Gaming Scene
M: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo. Player: A gazebo? What colour is it? GM: It’s white, Eric. Player: I use my sword to detect good on it. GM: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo. Player: (Pause) I call out to it. GM: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo. Player: I shoot it with my bow (roll to hit). What happened? GM: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it. Player: (Pause) Wasn’t it wounded? GM: OF COURSE NOT, ERIC! IT’S A GAZEBO! Player: (Whimper) But that was a +3 arrow! GM: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a GAZEBO! If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a @#$%!! gazebo! Player: (Long pause.) I run away. GM: (Thoroughly frustrated) It’s too late. You’ve awakened the gazebo. It catches you and eats you. So, issue #1 currently has received over 2, 500 views... When we first released issue #1 we were crossing our fingers for something around the 500 ballpark. The enthusiasm and support we’ve received has been wonderful, encouraging and occasionally daunting. Yep, definitely daunting as the difficult ‘second album’ foreboding invited itself in for issue #2, drank all our coffee and smirked as it slobbered on our dice. It’s been very enjoyable, though, and we hope that you’ll have as much fun reading the articles as we did writing, organising, editing, blackmaili- uh, I mean, asking our writers nicely for them! We’ve tried to include something which will be of interest to all flavours of gamer, with varying degrees of success. If you think we’ve missed some-
thing, you are part of an event we haven’t listed or you’d like to get involved then please get in touch about contributing to issue #3. We would also like to thank the wonderful and talented Gareth RyderHanrahan for being our first guest editor for the RPG section and Edel Ryder-Hanrahan for agreeing to worship at The Gazebo’s foothills and assist in layout and general mastering over space :) And we’d like to welcome Nick Huggins on as LARPs Man Extraordinaire! (And editor.) For this issue we decided to have a Dystopian Future motif, which you’ll probably notice as you peruse the e-zine. You’ll see several articles centred on how this theme has been interpreted throughout the hobby, including an article on Dystopian Future Setting Mining, the Top Three Dystopian Future Video Games and a review of 5th ed 40k as well as a plethora of non-Dystopian related articles. And finally, we are hoping to provide a platform for debate and expression; opinions expressed by contributors are not necessarily ours but perspectives we find interesting. Happy Gaming, Anita Murray & Noirin Curran Editors-in-chief email@example.com Follow us on Facebook, G+ and Twitter @Gazebo_ezine
Nick Huggins Nick has written LARP, written about LARP, lectured about LARP and translated LARP written by non-English speakers. He runs the ongoing post-apocalyptic LARP “Midway” in Dublin, Ireland and ran the ongoing sci-fi LARP “JumpTech” at Irish conventions. He doesn’t recommend running two ongoing LARPs at the same time.
Donagh McCarthy Donogh has been gaming in some shape or form since school. Though he’ll happily engage in a quick pickup boardgame or indie roleplaying game, you’ll usually find him running participation wargames at conventions. Read his latest wargaming exploits at Land War in Asia: http://donoghmccarthy.blogspot.ie/
Edel Ryder-Hanrahan is a woman of many hats. She’s an artist, a teacher, a mathematician and a layout fish. She also claims not to be a gamer, but that hat inexorably descends towards her like the bowler of Damocles.
Gareth wrote the Mongoose Publishing edition of Traveller and the 25th Anniversary edition of Paranoia, as well as the novel Reality Optional. He’s currently managing the Doctor Who, Primeval and Laundry Files roleplaying lines for Cubicle 7, while also being 1/3rd of Serpent King Games (www.serpentking.com) and ½ of Milkyfish Press (www.milkyfish.com).
Mike Brown A geek for all seasons, Mike has been involved in gaming of every type over the years. He is a wargamer a heart and has been playing with little plastic men since you could get a whole army of them for £10, but don’t let that put you off.
Wayne O Connor @druakim Music, art, theatre, games. I Try. · http://pyramidlagota.deviantart.com
ARTISTS CREDITS Cover Page: Wayne O Connor Editorial: “The Creature Beneath “Mary Lillis Eva Widermann Interview: All Artwork by Eva Widermann. Copyright in order of appearance: “Tech”Paizo Publishing 2010, “Dungeons and Dragons Eberon Players guide “Wizards of the Coast 2009, “Dungeons and Dragons Eberon Players guide “Wizards of the Coast 2009 , “Dungeons & Dragons Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons “Wizards of the Coast, 2008 , Pathfinder Campaign Setting: “Book of the Damned - Volume 2: Lords of Chaos “Cover art © Paizo Publishing, 2010 Tricks of the Trade: Leo Hartas How to Write a Con Scenario: Paula Grogan Dystopian Future: Talkin bout my De-Generation: Mary Lillis Top 5 Dystopian Future Rpgs: Paula Grogan Spanking the Larper: Wayne O Connor Dystopian Nightmarish Future Hellscapes and you: Wayne O Connor Top 3 Dystopian Games: Wayne O Connor Robo Rally Review: Mary Lillis BackPage: Dermot Canniffe MARY LILLIS: Full time Graphic Designer, part-time t-shirt designer, artistic dabbler. Find me on twitter @marvfortytwo www.marv42.deviantart.com/ www.marylillis.blogspot.ie/ LEO HARTAS: Many people will know me as Leon the Artist from the LARP award winning Dumnonni Chronicles. In game at the events I draw portraits of players for free. It’s great fun and this will continue. I also work as a freelance illustrator, comic artist, portrait artist, children’s books, and expo artist. Check out some of Leo’s artwork at Standing Heroes.
PAULA GROGAN: “Paula is not a gamer!! She does of course feel immense shame at admitting this in such a place and hopes she will not be hunted down and dismembered by some crazed fanatical gamer. Her redeeming feature is that she is lucky enough to have some friends who are gamers. She is also a painter and illustrator and has a good eye for being mental.”
DERMOT CANNIFFE: a graphic artist and photographer based in Galway, Ireland. He’s been an I.T. Engineer, a storm trooper, a reporter, a stand-up comic, an alien musician, a superhero, a sniper and an ice-runner. Making pictures makes him happiest. Http://www.elementaldesign.ie “
NEWS ~ New, Entertaining and Weird Stuff ~
General News AEG has thrown down the gauntlet to board and card game designers worldwide. They provide the theme, you bring the mechanics. Interested? Check out: http:// geek-news.mtv.com/2012/06/22/ f ive - g ame s - we - w ant - to - s e e in-aegs-new-tempest-setting/ Box Ninja, in cahoots with C7, has announced AD 316 (which is the Roman historical version of 3:16). Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land has launched on Android. If you’re new to this cult title it’s a turn based RPG inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Chaosium have released a Call of Cthulhu scenario in aid of Cancer Research – good Chaosium, have a cookie lovingly made by the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young Dockside Dogs is written by the hugely talented Paul Fricker, so you get to do something charitable and get treasure in exchange... C7’s RPG Primeval, based on the successful TV series, is now available to pre-order. Kings of War Lands has landed at Mantic Games and started shipping. A Moon Design affiliate and Issaries licensee, The Design Mecha-
nism is announced as the publisher of the sixth edition of the RuneQuest roleplaying game. If you’re a Pathfinder fan then be prepared to start salivating and counting your pennies. As part of Paizo’s tenth anniversary they’re releasing a deluxe – and they mean deluxe – edition of Rise of the Runelords. Hell on Earth, the dark future of Deadlands is now available to pre-order. Postmortem Studios, publishers of Eclipse Phase, have announced that after an incubation period of one year they are finally assuming full control over
Results from the Origins Award • Best Roleplaying Game:
• Best Roleplaying Supplement /Adventure:
Cthulhu Britannia – Shadows Over Scotland
• Best Boardgame:
Conquest of Nerath
• Best Traditional Card Game:
• Best Family, Part, or Children’s Game:
• Best Miniatures Figure or Line:
Storm Strider, Privateer Press
• Best Miniatures Rules or Expansion:
The Wars of Reaving -Battletech
• Best Collectible Card Game /Expansion:
Innistrad – Magic: The Gathering
• Best Game Accessory:
Shadowrun Runners’ Toolkit
• Best Game-Related Publication:
The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design
• Best Historical Board Game:
Strike of the Eagle
• Best Historical Miniatures Rules /Expansion: Cassino - Flames of War • Best Historical Miniatures Figure or Line:
Bolt Action WW2, Warlord Games
• Best Play by Mail/Correspondence Game:
their publishing operations. This is very good news. And they need support, so go subscribe to their news feed!
• Crowdfunding, with a particular acknowledgment to Kickstarter for being the major presence in the field.
Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming:
• Nordic LARP, a book by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, detailing the history of the Nordic LARP scene.
The shortlist for the 2012 Diana Jones Award for Excellent in Gaming has been announced. There are five wonderful and interesting nominees this year. • Burning Wheel Gold, which is the newest edition of the Burning Wheel fantasy RPG system. The Burning Wheel system is renowned for having introduced a swathe of design innovations over the years.
• Risk Legacy, for its ground breaking innovations of the classic family game. • Vornhem, an RPG supplement by Zak S. and published by Lamentation of the Flame Princess. This is an amazing book that is a wonderful resource illustrating how to construct from the ground up and run any city – not just Vordheim – in a medieval setting.
GAMING CALENDAR Conventions & Events Brocon Conspiracy Gaelcon Dominicon Warpcon Leprecon Itzacon Vaticon Q-con Continuum Congenial Grand Tribunal 2012 Concrete Cow 12½ Furnace Fabulous Consequences Dragonmeet Conception Concrete Cow 13 Con-Quest UK Games Expo Conpulsion
EVA WIDERMANN The Gazebo’s Wayne O’Connor Interviews Eva WiderMann
Describe the typical process for you to create an artwork?
I usually get a briefing by a client, describing more or less exactly what they want me to do. I read the description and in 9 out of 10 cases I instantly have an idea popping up in my mind. Getting the idea is not a big deal, but putting that idea to paper is. Sometimes I start to scribble and it works from the first attempt on. It also can happen that I spend one or two days until I can nail an idea down, which can be frustrating, of course. So, depending on how the artwork should turn out in the end (with outlines, painted, etc.) I start by drawing a sketch, either traditional or digital. I love the lively look of sketches, especially hand drawings, but I don’t always have
enough time to spend it on a sketch, mainly in Concept Art you have to be fast and flexible, so I go 100% digital there. Once the sketch is approved, I have a few different ways to approach an artwork. Sometimes I block in shapes and colours quickly and randomly and see if there’s something interesting coming out. I love experimenting and quite interesting effects can happen by toying around with shapes and different techniques. Sometimes I exactly know what I want and what I have to do to make it look like the image I have in my head (or at least create a resemblance to it :)) Sometimes I start with colour from the first brush stroke on, another time I create the whole artwork in black and white and add colour afterwards. That’s where digital art comes handy, you have so much freedom and possibilities, change colour, brightness, saturation, vibrancy, etc, until you think “That’s it!”
What are your biggest artistic influences? Artists? Films? Books? Games? Mythology?
Well, there were sooo many... Much has started with my mum’s Santana records (beautiful art on the cover) and of course, there was “The Last Unicorn” movie =D During my childhood I was highly influenced by the Disney movies (“The Black Cauldron” was my favourite). I spent a lot of time studying and drawing the style. As a teenager I came in contact with video games, SNES, Zelda, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy – which all led me to another fascinating style of art: Manga and Anime! I adored Nobuteru Yuki’s precise and detailed character art and still do, even if I grew out of Manga and Anime many years ago. Later my interest in so called Franco-Belgian comics started to grow and the art of Enrico Marini, Thomas von Kummant, Juanjo Guarnido and Barbara Canepa was just brilliant!
And in between of all of that I read a ton of books, mainly fantasy and history of course ;) I read the good ones and the crappy ones, but it took me more than four years to get to the second book of Lord of the Rings... shame on me, I know! Now, when I look back, I think my style is a good mix of Disney, Manga and European comic art. I never tried to copy somebody, but I learned a lot from many different artists and it all merged together and formed me.
What’s your favourite subject to draw? Characters of all kinds. And organic shapes of all kinds.
Biggest advice to an aspiring artist/concept designer?
Be aware that you have to be an artist as well as a business person! Act like it, there’s no place for a Primadonna. You deliver a service, you have to satisfy your client to get your money.
Do you have a preference to Traditional or Digital work, or does one merely compliment the other?
I actually enjoy both! Art is art, no matter what medium or technique you choose, in my opinion it’s all about the result. Especially now, in a time where so much happens digitally, digital art becomes a major part of our creativity as well. The only drawback of digital art is that you don’t have something physical to hold in your hands, no paper, no canvas, no paint. I don’t know if our bits and bytes will survive as long as Leonardo’s paintings =)
You’re a key participant and organiser of Drink and Draw Cork. Tell us a bit about it?
I love creative people and I want to get to know them. But that’s not easy, right? Usually, artists have a tendency to hide themselves rather than going out and talk to random
strangers. The Drink & Draw is a fun concept that’s been going on around the world for quite a while now and it grows more and more popular. When I moved to Cork a few years ago and found out there was no such group in town, I tried my luck. Basically, it is what it says: Getting together in a pub, draw and have a drink (not necessarily alcoholic, of course). It’s a fantastic way for creative folks to
meet other local artists which they wouldn’t meet otherwise, learn from each other or just have a good laugh and make new friends. So many ideas, projects and little events have been created since we have the Drink & Draw in Cork, I am super proud of everybody who’s participating and making this group what it is now!
You’ve had your work featured in several RPG supplements including D&D and Pathfinder. So are you a big gamer? If so, what are your favourite games (boardgame/console/CCG/RPG, whatever!)
Unfortunately, I hardly have any time for gaming these days... I was playing AD&D, Vampire and stuff quite regularly, but once you draw day- in and dayout just fantasy and RPG art, you really don’t want to be surrounded with it in your time off. I enjoy a good RPG session now and then, no question. I’d love a creepy Cthulhu session again, I think! ;)
What are your favourite gaming conventions?
I don’t have a preference there, every convention has their own charm. I have a ball, no matter where I go!
You’re married to an Irish Guy (I hope I’m correct, he is Irish right?) and live in Cork. What’s the best thing about Ireland for you?
You’re right, I married a proud Corkonian and live just a few mins from Cork City. The best thing about Ireland? Ireland IS the best thing ever happened to me! :) People are awesome, country is awesome, culture is awesome, weather is... awesome when it’s good! I thoroughly enjoy every day on this island. The mentality of the Irish is just great, I like honesty, humour and strong beliefs.
You’re part of the Shadowcore collective. Can you recommend some other rising illustrators/artists that our readers should check out?
Again, it’s hard to pick names here as there are just too many great artists out there, famous and nonfamous ones. So many deserve attention! So forgive me if I skip this question ;)
What’s the best German Food/Beers that any travelling gamers should try out in Germany!
That has to be the Munich Augustiner beer for sure! And in Bavaria we say that 3 beer is a meal anyways (considering that we have the 1-litre glasses!). If you are looking for food, nothing better than the German bread culture, I think ;) Go into a bakery and indulge yourself in carbs...
What is the image/project you are most proud of creating?
The RPG “Engel”, I think. I am proud of so many things I created, but this dark and gloomy game is just so fascinating. Bummer it was never successful outside of Germany, it has a brilliant story and creating the world and characters has been such a fun and intense part of my career. It also has been my first job as a freelance illustrator. I highly recommend to search the web for English translations of the core book and some additional details if you’re interested in playing the game, there are some PDFs out there. I am not sure if White Wolf is still distributing the few books they once printed.
Dream Project/Future working plans?
Publishing an art book. And having the spare time to put it together. Some day... some day... ;)
And finally, how did you break into the industry?
First of all, I started my career as a graphic designer. After five years of working in several agencies I felt that graphic design was cool, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in that field, and there was just a lack of something more creative than pushing pixels and Photoshop wrinkles away. My last job in an agency was actually really lovely, I worked with architects and archaeologists, visited excavation sites and designed whole exhibitions and museums. But the company was led by a choleric tyrant and work was unbearable to a stage where I had to make a decision: Quit the job or bury an axe in my boss’s brain! I was wise, I chose the first, so I ended up unemployed for two months because I was just fed up with agency mentality and I was craving a change. It happened that there was the games fair “SPIEL” in Essen, Germany, coming up. I knew there would be many publishers open to looking over portfolios of artists, so I decided to count on my luck, put my stuff together and travel to Essen. I showed my (amateur) art to a publisher called Feder & Schwert
(Feather & Sword), and the Art Director was quite pleased with my style. One day later I had my first contract as a new born freelancer: Creating art for the RPG “Engel”. Now, I had a professional reference and I was published. From that point on, every printed book or magazine was advertising for myself and this was getting the ball rolling, getting other publishers interested in my art, contacting and hiring me. I made use of every chance to get my stuff out there and talking to publishers personally, i.e. at book fairs and conventions, really helped a lot! When you’re starting out, you have to take on every chance you can get to get published, even if it means low payment and lots of working nights. It will eventually pay off! I also took on a part time job as a freelance graphic designer, just to secure my monthly payments for rent, food, car, etc. And the rest of the day I was painting, drawing and doodling. It was a perfect balance and I had time enough to build up my illustration career whilst not having to worry about money too much. This went on for about 4 years, then I quit the part time job and fully concentrated on my freelancing as an illustrator. I had enough clients and regular contracts to make a good living out of it, but it didn’t fall from the sky, I had to
work hard for it. I think, sometimes aspiring artists don’t consider the sacrifices you have to take to become your own boss and have the business running in a steady pace. There’s so much more to it than just drawing pretty pictures. That’s where all my former experience from working in the advertising industry came in quite handy for me. So, if you have no experience in advertising and marketing, I highly recommend taking a course or at least read a few books about it. You will need it! We’d like to thank Eva for letting us interview her and if you’re interested in viewing some of her lovely art check out the links below: Website: www.eva-widermann.de Facebook: https://www.facebook. com/EvaWidermannArt Store: http://evawidermann. bigcartel.com/
THE GAZEBO’S HISTORY OF GAMING, PART II Brian Nisbet’s second instalment beginning with 18th century wargames
he history of gaming, like any other history, is not a linear thing. The stories branch and merge, stop suddenly and start seemingly from nowhere. Different cultures seem to come up with the same concepts at the same time, while on other occasions an idea flourishes and dies in one part of the world, only to suddenly reappear hundreds of years later, thousands of kilometres away. This leaves anyone trying to chronicle the history of a subject with a choice, be selective or exhaustive. Unsurprisingly, although mainly because I can’t take up the entire Gazebo with my articles, I’ve gone for selective.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that what they were mostly doing was trying to kill each other.”
Having covered very early games in Part 1, we’re going to skip through history and come closer to the present day. Primarily we’re going to concern ourselves with what the
European gamers were doing from the 18th century onwards. It will come as no surprise to anyone that what they were mostly doing was trying to kill each other. While games of all sorts continued to be played around the world the particular thread we’re picking up is the one that descends fairly directly (and most obviously) from chess and Go. The core mechanic was of one army facing off against another, of players having to think strategically, of crushing their enemies before them etc. etc. These games are not my own forté and this may be the part of the history I know the least about, but I shall attempt a fair treatment. As always, please let me know if I fail in this endeavour. It would appear that less abstract wargames had cropped up prior to the late 18th century, but it is only in Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century that we have the first documented instances of Kriegsspiel. These are likely the first games that would be instantly recognisable by modern gamers. They involved block figures and dice but it seems they didn’t spread far beyond Germany, at least not in this form, until after the Franco-Prussian war towards
Brian Nisbet Brian Nisbet has been gaming since the early 80s and because just doing is never enough for him, he’s been writing about it and organising events since the early 90s. He is more than willing to discuss almost anything to do with gaming, politics, history or networking and you can find him on twitter as @natural20 or in the bar. the end of the 19th century. It is with this move out of Germany to Britain that the Kriegsspiel stop being purely about military training and start being about fun. The real milestone in this journey is
HG Wells and Little Wars. I still remember the reaction amongst wargamers when an alleged first edition of this book came up for auction at Gaelcon many years ago, but at the time I didn’t truly realise just how seminal it was.
games are really only known now as fantasy worlds and RPGs but as the origin story of modern role-playing shows us, it is seems that it was impossible for wargaming not to be in the mix.
Little Wars itself was the second book Wells had written on the subject, but it was more focused than its predecessor Floor Games. The first book, written in 1911, covered a variety of games, while in 1913 Little Wars was just about putting rules around toy soldier engagements. Wonderfully, both books are available on Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats. With toy cannons that fired small projectiles and many metal figures, crawling around on the floor in his suit, Wells inspired and informed so many of the games we play today. As the 20th century progressed more people were playing wargames for professional and hobby reasons. Metal figures and Napoleonic battles predominated, but we hit the next real marker in the 1950s with the first game that I certainly think of as “modern.” I’m speaking about Diplomacy, invented by Allan B. Calhammer in 1954 and released in 1959 and still played all over the world today. While Diplomacy is a large scale wargame, the core of it revolves more around social interaction, the shifting sands of early 20th century European diplomatic activities, of treaties and preparations for war, of notes and deals in dark corners, of lasting alliances and sudden stabs in the back.
We can see in this so much of what would become the grand scale wargames that are played today and so many elements of what is now recognisable as LARP, a game arguably so core to how things had to develop that it wasn’t so much a question of would it be invented as who would invent it and when. During the 60s more and more “known” names start to crop up.
Diplomacy... a game arguably so core to how things had to develop that it wasn’t so much a question of would it be invented as who would invent it and when.”
Tekumel’s creator Prof. M. A. R. Barker was developing his world through wargaming and Greg Stafford was doing something similar with Glorantha. Both of these
It is in the early 70s when things really begin to split into the sub-genres of gaming we know today. At the University of Minnesota two men were working on different projects. Gary Gygax was developing his medieval wargame Chainmail while Dave Arneson was working on Blackmoor. Gygax’s game started as a purely historical endeavour, but later additions included multiple fantasy elements. Blackmoor, on the other hand, was fantasy from day one and while it featured hex maps and miniatures, it was very much a single player RPG with distinct characters, experience points and so many things that are still integral to RPGs. Gygax and Arneson started to work together and in 1974 they published the first commercial RPG and still the most famous of them all, Dungeons & Dragons. Part 2 of The Gazebo’s History of Gaming ends with this genre defining moment. In the next instalment we’ll pick up the threads of early RPG development as it spread from North America out across the world.
DIPLOMACY WORLD CHAMPIONS We asked Conor Kostick, a member of the The Irish winning team, a few questions...
1) Tell us how you first started playing Diplomacy and how it led to you playing on an international level.
I personally got started years and years ago, when we got a Diplomacy set at home. It proved nearly impossible to get seven friends around for a game though, and the very rare time we managed it, the game lasted too long. It is much better suited to play by mail – email these days – or tournaments where there is strict timekeeping. I learned a bit about the game playing against my friends, enough to motivate me to read Richard Sharp’s The Game of Diplomacy and then go and test my skills by playing at Manorcon, one of Europe’s major Diplomacy tournaments.
France, then Turkey, then England. On the other hand, if the tournament situation is all or nothing for you, then Austria is a good country because you’ll either be wiped out in a couple of seasons or else have a chance of a really big score. Russia, too, tends to be a good country if you need a big score and have nothing to lose from being eliminated. In a team tournament I let my teammates pick first and play whatever is left over.
4) What is your favourite aspect of Diplomacy?
Not many games, especially wargames, have no element of chance in them at all. The really great feature of Diplomacy is that it all comes down to your powers of persuasion.
5) What are the qualifying criteria for the 2) What kind of playing Internationals and what style do you use? Aggressive, traitorous etc.... are they like? Traitorous? Me? Never.
3) Do you have a favourite starting country? If so, why?
The game is uneven at the start, but in theory that shouldn’t matter as players should take the unevenness into account in their negotiations. In a singles tournament I feel it a definite advantage to have
There is some good online information about this in French, the English language version then appears in due course. You have to click ‘afficher’ at Membres des équipes finalistes sur le podium des Coupes du monde par équipes nationales to see the teams. Basically, teams are gathered together on a national basis.
Because the tournament does not want to be too small and restrictive, the larger Diplomacy playing communities are allowed to enter multiple teams. So the USA, France and the UK had more than one entry. Ireland had just the one team: it was more or less the same group of people who had contested the previous world cup, unsuccessfully, except that I managed to persuade one of the world’s strongest players, Brian Dennehy, out of retirement in order to play for us. After the teams are formed and validated by the organisers, there is a qualifying round and then a final consisting of the top seven qualifying teams. Given that the qualifying round takes nearly a year, you can understand why the world team championships are on a twoyear cycle. We finished second in our qualifying group, behind New Zealand. Then we spent another year battling. It is strange to be competing over such a length of time and although the amount of time you spend in any one day is minimal – e.g. writing one or two messages – it does preoccupy your mind. Now it’s over I feel like there is something missing. It was enjoyable. But there is something odd about Diplomacy team tournaments that makes them less
fun than playing as an individual, which is that the logic of what is happening on your board can be completely overturned by what is happening elsewhere. Having to act in a way that suits the bigger picture spoils the purity of the original game, although it makes for some interesting assessments of the overall pattern of seven games.
6) How does it feel being ranked first in the world?
The world team championships have only had two cycles. The first, 2007-9 was won by France. Ireland are the winners of the 2010-12 cycle. It feels great. For whatever reason, Ireland actually has quite a strong Diplomacy tradition. Such a tradition tends to emerge around clusters of players who are willing to travel to tournaments. And I really like the fact that we’ve been rewarded for our involvement in the game with this result. And it’s a result that will be a matter of record in the future, whatever happens to the level of play here. At the moment I’m so worn out by the experience I don’t know if I’ve the energy to try to defend the title. I’ll have to see what the rest of the team thinks when the registration phase begins for the next championship.
7) Who were your toughest competitors?
France. They play the team game in a very different way to everyone else. They swapped their players around from time to time for a start, which is very disorientating. They also kept an eye on the bigger picture and as soon it was clear that Ireland were in with a real chance of winning, did the most to organise the other teams against us. Toward the end, however, it was Italy who became the main threat to our winning the tournament. They had some very strong
had been bought off.
8) Diplomacy has been launched on Facebook. Do you prefer playing face to face or online?
All the Gazebo Hunting Party would like to extend their congratulations to the team on their win
I haven’t done it for a few years, because it takes up too much time but face-to-face. When you have young children, however, being able to play by email is much more convenient.
9) Any tips for new players?
There are lots of good online resources now, with the Wikipedia sites about the game full of good tactical advice. But really the best way to learn is to play lots of games.
10) What other games, besides Diplomacy, do you regularly play?
I used to play Chess a lot, for TCD. Again, time constraints in the past few years have scotched that. I’ve a good friend who I play games with and having gone through a phase of playing Agricola and Puerto Rico we are now playing Twilight Struggle, which is a really good game if you’ve only two players.
11) Sooo, any good treasure come with the title?
Nothing. Well, we each have a nice medal with a tricolour ribbon but when we go for our celebratory meal, we’ll each be paying our own way. The kudos within the Diplomacy world is treasure enough. And in any case, it is not the sort of game that could ever attract notable prize money, because that would distort it massively. Can you imagine the sort of negotiations that would take place if thousands of Euro were at stake? It would be horrible, with crazy moves taking place on the board, whose only explanation would be that a player
The team consisted of: Aidan Duggan (Captain), a software developer in Dublin working for a leading provider of financial software. In his spare time he plays as many games he has time for, from boardgames and cardgames to roleplaying games and rugby. Rick Powell, an IT project manager for a worldwide retailer. Brian Dennehy, a Software Development manager for a large online retailer. Conor Kostick, an author and lecturer in medieval history at TCD. Nigel Phillips, a former archaeologist now working as Director of Planning and information at the University of Huddersfield. He is a keen sword and country dancer. Mike Cosgrave, who lectures in history and international relations at UCC. He is co-ordinator for the new MA programmes in War Studies (online) and Digital Arts and Humanities. He blogs at mikecosgrave.com. Cian Ó Rathaille, Science Communicator and Co-founder of Fusion Factory. Liam O’Tailliuir (sub), a Telecoms Engineer from Dublin. His part time pursuits include teaching Water Safety and hosting a weekly podcast on gaming in Ireland (http://theadventuringparty.net)
MISTBORN ADVENTURE GAME Mike Brennan reviews the new RPG set in the world of Brandon Sanderson’s hugely successful Mistborn trilogy
There’s going to be a lot of spoilers in this review. If you haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy yet proceed with caution. Or better yet go read the books. I’ll wait.
There’s always been a firm link between sci-fi / fantasy authors and gaming. H.G. Wells arguably invented Wargaming with the publication of Little Wars. Erikson’s Malazan series started life as an RPG campaign, and now Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy (plus a highly entertaining novella) has been forged into its very own roleplaying game. Crafty Games, publishers of Fantasy Craft and Spycraft, have been tasked with distilling the essence of the books into a playable system. So how did they do? At first glance, the 500+ pages seem a little daunting, yet the writing is well structured and the art (though rare) is well suited, and has the familiar Fantasy Craft look. That’s where the similarity between the products ends though, Mistborn Adventure Game (http:// www.crafty-games.com/category/ line/mistborn) isn’t based on the Fantasy Craft engine; it has its own system which tries to be both story driven, and rules intensive. [Not
exactly rules heavy, more rules husky/could stand to lose a few kilos]
Mistborn Adventure Game (hereafter MAG) is set in the world of Scadrial. If Scadrial had to be described in one word, that word would be bleak. If it was two words, they would be very bleak. If it was five words it would be postindustrial revolution dystopian fantasy. The world is dying, by day ashmounts (volcanoes to us) spew an unending torrent of dust high into the sky, dulling the red sun, and blanketing the world below in a grey ash. At night the Mists arrive sending the more superstitious folk scurrying for the safety of their hearths. Socially the world is organised into an enforced fealty system. Right at the bottom sit the downtrodden Skaa (literally a separate race from the Nobles), above them the nobility (a scheming bunch of one percenters). Above the nobility sits the Steel Ministry, which is comprised of Obligators, a mix of lawyers and priests, and the Steel Inquisition, terrifyingly altered through the use of Hemalurgy into brutal enforcers of the Lord Ruler’s will. Right at the very top sits the Lord Ruler, the Sliver of Infinity, the big
Mike Brennan Mike has been gaming since before he was old enough to know better. Now he is old enough to know better and still hasn’t stopped. He lives in London with his boyfriend and a cat. You can follow him on Twitter @ohcrapzombies if you’re prone to that sort of thing.
bad God-king, who’s so evil he has to live in a menacing tower right in the middle of the capital city. Magic in the setting is divided into 3 different forms, collectively known as the Metallurgic Arts. Each utilises the same set of 16 metals, both pure metals and alloys.
in another person, and grants that person various powers depending on the location of the spike, and the metal used.
The rules are extremely well laid out, well written, and are quite extensive. One nice touch is the asides from Sanderson himself explaining the design decisions behind the system. It’s nice to know that the author of the setting had an input in the design process.
Allomancy, the most common in the novels, involves ingesting metals and then “burning” them for different results. Allomancers come in two types: Mistings who can burn only one kind of metal, and Mistborn who can burn all of the metals. Feruchemy, the rarest form, uses metals as storage. Feruchemists can store up attributes in metalminds, and then later tap them to withdraw the attribute stored within. Unlike Allomancy which uses the energy from the metal, Feruchemy requires that the feruchemist provide the energy themselves. In order to store up health, for example, the feruchemist will spend days or weeks sickly and frail, diverting their natural health to a metalmind for future use. Hemalurgy is the bloodiest of the three arts. It requires that a metal spike be driven through a living person, killing them. A portion of their power is then transferred to the spike, which can be implanted
The system is geared towards a participatory form of storytelling, giving the players almost as much input into the outcome of a contest as the Narrator. MAG uses a d6 based system, with modifiers and traits adding and subtracting from a pool before it’s rolled. The Narrator gives you a target number between one and five, sixes don’t count (more on this later). You need to roll doubles or better of a number higher or equal to the target number to succeed. Sixes are turned into nudges, which allow you to determine how well you succeed or to mitigate the consequences of failure. Extra nudges can be obtained from various sources, most commonly Allomancy, or another of the Metallurgic Arts. The system seems complex initially, but it’s the kind of system that will build familiarity through play. Creativity in describing your actions awards the player, but this could leave less descriptive players at a distinct disadvantage. The character creation process is
incredibly well laid out and may actually be the best written character creation I’ve seen in an RPG. As is the trend with recent games, it’s a collaborative process. Creating a character at home and showing up with a filled out sheet isn’t going to work. The players form a crew, decide on a goal (get rich, improve their status, or some other loftier goal), plot out the various steps needed to achieve their goal, and then decide on the role that each will play in the plan. It’s an interesting approach, and one that ensures that all the players have a function within the crew. The plan itself acts as a handy road map for the Narrator and the players, reminding them of their ultimate goal, and hopefully preventing too many side-tracks. Secrets play a vital part in the game, each character and major NPC has a well fleshed out secret, along with ways that secret can be discovered, and the consequences of it being found out. There’s a large portion of the book devoted to the Metallurgic Arts, with each metal being given several pages, and its applications thoroughly examined. It’s refreshing to see this attention being given to a magic system, as most RPGs tend to rush through the magic chapter(s).
This is a tough one, I personally enjoyed the book immensely. If you’re a fan of Sanderson’s trilogy, or of kung-fu action crossed with Ocean’s Eleven crossed with high fantasy, then go for it. You’ll enjoy the book, and your players will too. If you’re ambivalent about the setting, you’re going to find some parts of the system worth stealing/adapting for other games, but it’s hard to justify the purchase for this alone.
DEAD INSIDE Charles Dunne reviews this game of soul hunting and ghost digesting...
ell, this little game intrigued me when I discovered it. On first glance it appears to be another modern urban fantasy game where the world is an analogue of our own with barely discernible differences, and those differences are only discernible by the protagonists who are, wait for it, DEAD INSIDE! Roll up! Roll up! See the fabulous soulless characters! Wonder at how they got that way! Be amazed at where they are going! Strike bargains with Limbotastic creatures and witness the wonders of spiritual mastication! A wonder for the age and kids of all ages! Terms and Conditions apply, contains no actual souls, players must be aged 18 and over. This game surprised me with its willingness to be vague. Many games are vague because they are badly written; the authors want you to buy another book or some other nonsense. Dead Inside isn’t like these. The vagueness arrives upon one as part of the process of playing. I’ll have to stop here and rewind a bit first. Dead Inside is the TRPG where the characters are soulless. For whatever reason, hellish contract gone wrong, accident with a vacuum cleaner, broken heart or born without one, each character is missing
their soul. Create your character and give a reason why that character is missing that spark. The characters know it is missing and it nags at them. I’d like to say it torments them but you need a soul for that. Every day is like that opening scene in Fight Club where life feels like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. I am Jack’s missing soul, please find me. And that is it. The premise is as simple as that. Missing a soul you must, with your band of fellow shamblers, head off into the wilds and find another. The setting allows unique origins for a character that will affect the tone and theme of every game so a wise GM will be careful with this. Notice how I said a soul. You can steal someone else’s. It may be gratifying to find your own but it isn’t necessary. This is where things get vague and very precise at the same time. The cosmology of Dead Inside tells us that all souls waft from the Source through the Spirit World and into the flesh of the inhabitants of the Real World. Eventually, if a normal life is lived, that person shuffles off to the Void and the grand cycle begins anew. In Dead Inside the gears have skipped and the body and mind live on but without the soul. And once you discover the truth of this, rather than feeling like your life is being lived constantly queuing, you can
Charles Dunne Charles Dunne has been frequently described as insane, immortal, invincible and sleepless. He is none of these things, preferring as he does a nice snooze of an evening with a copy of The Strand magazine and a slipper of good tobacco. The other slipper he wears as an odd type of shoulder ornament. do something about it, including visiting these otherworldly dimensions. Except the Source. Well, you can visit but that is a bit like moths bumping off the sun. The things you can do are very specific and detailed and almost all involve the minutiae of gaining/regaining that essence.
The Real World is riddled with spirit gates and soft places where the strangely wonderful cross through from the Spirit World. Strangely wonderful also encompasses downright horrible as well, which is where the Imagos come in. No, they’re not horrible in themselves and some are lovely but they are dangerous. Imagos, for want of a better description, are Archetypes. Avatars of something, engines of the unknowable and creatures that can be outwitted but never defeated .Are they gods or monsters? I don’t know. Whether they are incarnations of ideals or notions, such as “Truth” or “Justice” or even “Small Frogs” will depend on how the GM wants to build their specific version of the Spirit World, usually in response to the nature of the characters’ origins. The type of game that can be run is quite varied, from conspiracy adventures to alien soul snatchers. It really does depend on the characters’ origins as those who are Dead Inside and how that origin meshes with the existing game world. Or you can eat a ghost. I
wouldn’t recommend it though. Each character faces their fate or destiny alone and this lends itself to some possibly powerful gaming experiences that can either come through your window like some kind of John Woo helicopter or be as gentle as the last cherry blossom falling on the cheek of a dying samurai. Remember I told you it was vague and specific? This is really what I meant. Vague in the sense of personal choice, true personal choice over character class ridden genericism and definition by trope, and specific in a detailed crafting of a characters final journey that no other may share. Character creation is based on the PDQ, which is short for Prose Descriptive Qualities, though I still see it as Pretty Damn Quick (which is the point, I’m certain) and is found in other publications by Atomic Sock Monkey. A 2d6 roll based on variable modifiers versus a target number where the modifiers are descriptive positives
or negatives which scale up or down around a stat and its difficulty rating (DR).Nothing complicated. Poor (-2), Average (0), Good (+2), Expert (+4), and Master (+6) and Bob’s your uncle. What you do with them, as per any game, is the key. It is very simple and yet that simplicity can cause you difficulties if you are running this game. You need to know exactly what to set your target numbers at or your players face either a game of idiotic simplicity with no challenges or they can’t get out of bed in the morning. But this is merely a mechanic. The joy of this game is the world and the stories that can be told through it. Verdict: This game merits reading and playing if you like your games thoughtful and peculiar. Mind you, you could easily run it as a session of soulless monsters eating and devouring all those who get in their way but that would miss most of the games delicate nuances. It is not easily digestible but well worth the price of the dinner.
GAMING RESOURCES Who GMS Magazine Games Gazette RPG.Net IrishGaming.Com The Adventuring Party Cam Midway LT Profound Decisions Isles of Darkness Age of Essence
UNHALLOWED METROPOLIS James “Grey” Lloyd-Jones reviews the most Victorian of dystopian futures ...
December 9th, 1905.
he dead rose and claimed millions for their own; seventy percent of the world’s population within a year. Life is tenacious, though, and in time, with effort and sacrifice, Britain was reclaimed save for the sepulchre-cities of the dead. It is now 2105, and London is greatest city in the world. The Unhallowed Metropolis. The setting of Unhallowed Metropolis is rich, detailed, and researched. With the last golden age before the Plague being Victorian, Neo-Victorian Britain clings to many of the fashions, foibles, and traditions of the age, melded with an all too necessary pragmatism. It is a game of horror and gasmask chic, as noblewomen show off their latest protection from the fog while the poor are hunted by feral vampires, and the soldiers of the Deathwatch stand poised to purge any district showing sign of zombie outbreak. London is packed with nine million souls and twice as many bodies; where poverty, violence, illness or accident might mean your end, as in any large city, and a
host of supernatural terrors ensure things can only get worse. There’s a huge scope for different types of games. Horror games of slum dwellers hunted through the narrow streets of their home, more adventurous games of those same slumdwellers becoming Undertakers and hunting monsters for cash. Tense, action filled games as Deathwatch soldiers containing an outbreak. Slow-burn mysteries among the aristocracy, political clashes, or ghost stories, of a sort. Even bids to overthrow, or prevent overthrow, of the government. A huge amount of detail has gone into the game; everything from the police force to funerary customs to corsetry and etiquette, all wellresearched and logically extended to fit the setting. In particular the strict mourning customs (highborn ladies are expected to spend a year in heavy mourning, then sixmonths-to-life in milder mourning, and a remaining six months in more fashionable mourning) and class divide give a distinct feel the setting. Character creation is equally diverse and pleasingly flavoursome, with various Callings provided from Aristocrat to Doctor to
James “Grey” Lloyd-Jones
Grey is a writer and gamer living in Cork. He enjoys cats, imported beer, long walks on the Plateau of Leng, and inventing terrible monsters to inflict on his players. You can follow the rickety progress of his RPG Crucible: Dark Age.
Criminal, and guidelines for customizing one of your own. Some of the more unusual options include the troubled dhampir, and the elite ladies of the Mourners Guild. Each Calling may have a selection of free Qualities, not necessarily unique but automatic at creation, and unique Features. The Aristocrat, for example, has no Qualities,
but plenty of useful Features. Qualities are, in a nutshell, merits, bought with bonus points. And more bonus points can be acquired by taking Impediments, which would be your flaws. Features are unique strengths and weaknesses, such as the Alien Grace of the Dhampir, or the Exculpus Mastery of the Mourner. The system is a very straightforward 2d10 + modifiers to beat a specific difficulty. Easy enough for new players to pick up, robust enough for the game. And my word, this game has robust rules; detailed tables for a wealth of suitably grisly injuries incurred, the not-too-lethal and elegant combat system, wellresearched and mechanically represented mental disorders, a wealth of weapons and tools provided with both statistics and typical cost in setting. The bestiary is relatively short, but the content is welldetailed. There are rules to support so-called galvanic prosthetics, alchemy, and even Frankensteinian reanimations. One of the more interesting core mechanics, however, is Corruption. No character can avoid being Corrupted, either in their Body, Drive, or Desire. Physical Corruption takes the form of mutations, Drive may be an obsession with one’s work, and Desire could take the form of an addiction. Char-
acters begin the game Corrupted, and making dubious moral choices can lead to further Corruption. It’s almost unavoidable. Like many games, Unhallowed Metropolis features a mechanic for characters to avoid certain death, and here that mechanic functions by corrupting the character further, forcing the player to consider the risk of the decision – once a Corruption path is maxed out, the character becomes unplayable. Fortunately, rules exist for therapeutic treatment of Corruption, although falling off the wagon can be devastating. In terms of layout and artwork, the book is wellorganised, easy to read, and easy to reference. The artwork is well suited to the mood of the game, if sometimes incongruously saucy (Page 110, I’m looking at you). All in all, Unhallowed Metropolis is an excellent play on the zombie post-apocalypse, and a nice alternative to other Victorian flavoured games, particularly by excising steampunk. The system is fluid, the setting is fascinating, and the book is detailed. I’m not sure if I want to play it or run it more. Things I loved: The Ticker, a prosthetic heart that leaves you on borrowed time; Corruption; mechanics for Scandals; proper use of fainting couches, page 110.
HOW TO WRITE A CON SCENARIO Gar Ryder-Hanrahan seeks out some pearls of Wisdom
riting a scenario for a convention is something every gamemaster should try. There’s nothing quite like pitting your writing and refereeing skills against a table of six unknown players. So, how do you write a convention scenario? We asked three experienced convention GMs to describe their techniques…
How do you start writing a convention scenario? BRIAN NISBET
Start every scenario with “Once upon a time...” and end with “...and they all lived happily ever after” and you can’t go far wrong. However, as it turns out, the middle bit can be very tricky indeed. When I started writing scenarios for cons around 1992 I followed the fashion of the time. The plots were linear, every encounter was meticulously statted and I attempted to account for every possible eventuality. There was also an assumption that whatever the PCs did either they could be dragged back to the main plot. I don’t write scenarios like that anymore.
ters will do.
Writing I’ve done for a long time, but fiction is a different beast to a con-scenario.
When you’re writing a game, you want people to have fun. You have a beginning, middle, and end, but should know the middle and end might not go as planned. You have no control over the characters.
I ran a scenario or two before I started writing them, but for one reason or another their written component didn’t make as much of an impact as running the game. Besides which, players and plot are like opposite ends of a magnet. Which, as it happens, suits me pretty fine.
Start every scenario with “Once upon a time...” and end with “...and they all lived happily ever after” and you can’t go far wrong.”
When you’re writing an item of fiction, you have complete control and specific intent – you want to tell the story, you might have themes to explore. You have a beginning, middle, and end, and generally you know what charac-
I’ve never felt like people came to a con-scenario to hear a story, and I’ve never written a scenario when a work of fiction will do. Not true all of the time, of course, but close enough for me. As such, I like to write character driven games. There is a plot, of course, and a goal to achieve, but it’s a backdrop to the roleplaying and character interaction. CHARLES DUNNE Writing a convention scenario is a task fuelled by insanity, murder and a descent into the dark soul of ...no, hang on, that’s the other thing. Writing a convention scenario is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a TRPG gamer. I’ve been doing it for several years now and have developed my own variations on the method. Like every creative endeavour, the scenario starts with an idea. Sometimes the idea is amazing. Sometimes it is ridiculous but mostly it
is a variation on “What if...” What if every human in the world developed super powers? In the 13th century? Go and write a scenario using that idea. Don’t be precious about it either because ideas, like seeds, need to be watered and pruned and, if need be, clipped back or weeded out to make way for a different idea that will bloom brighter and longer.
As long as you know how NPC will react to player tomfoolery and how it will affect their plans, you can wing it well enough.”
How do you structure a scenario? BRIAN NISBET
These days I tend to describe my scenarios as “Tabletop LARP”, which is a description with many flaws, but it works. I also tend to use the word “systemless”. I’m at a point now where the notion of putting numbers down for every PC & NPC puts me right off the notion of applying finger to keyboard, so I’ve had to work around that and make sure the game still works. From a rules point of view there are multiple occasions in any game where a die could be rolled. d20s are my favourite, but the decisions and ideas of the players always have more influence than the result of the roll. Describe something cool and innovative and a low roll will have a good result, do something truly stupid and even a natural twenty may not save you. Stepping away from a particular rules
system does have its drawbacks, but I feel it allows me to write a game of which people will have far fewer expectations and therefore I have far fewer restrictions in what I write. Of course these characters need a plot to wander around in. Any scenario document I write these days contains a number of elements. First off they’re written in quite a conversational style. I try to explain my thinking to the prospective GM, give them as much information as possible on the underlying plot and environment so when the players go off on a tangent there’s a flight plan there to help with the winging. Then we have background (this often includes important info about the “world” the game is in, things I could likely exclude if I was writing for published settings), then I move into a series of scenes. Each scene is full of possibility, mostly things that could happen, along with things that probably should and, now and again, things that must. The aim is to give the players a chance to roleplay, while letting the GM move the plot along. Often there may be ninjas. Parts of this plot will still be linear, but a mix of the illusion of choice and real choice can work wonders. I try to anticipate possible player choices and sketch out a few “what ifs”, but really it’s all about providing enough background information to make the world solid outside of the confines of the scenario. And finally I write 2 or 3 endings, broad outcomes of player choices, for the GM to read out or paraphrase, because I am enough of a traditionalist to believe a story should have an ending. JAMES LLOYD-JONES So, when I write a con-scenario, I do actually begin with plot. Plot as
an event of some kind. A new drug is sweeping through the vampires of London. A neighbouring Lord is attacking your village. Someone on the cruise has been ritually murdered. I have an outline of the overall plot, but I don’t expect anyone, players or GM, to stick to it. The opening is the only solid part of it. One of the main things I try to do, though, is write the antagonist and NPCs well enough to carry things. If you have NPCs with their own motivations, rather than Macguffins and infodumps, the plot becomes more dynamic and believable. It’s not as fixed – if the players think of a way, even accidentally, to thwart the antagonist, a GM need only examine their motives to determine how they’ll handle it. It also helps with their reaction to the players even on friendly terms, or how they might try to interrogate some NPCs. I wouldn’t say I write the setting of the game last, but I do write it down last, if you know what I mean. I try to account for all the important locations and some flavoursome locations that while not necessary do add some texture to the world as the players explore. I’ve taken to adding little descriptive passages before scenes for GMs who haven’t had a chance to read ahead. It’s also important to include contingencies. What if players do X? How do NPCs react to Y? They’ve set the church on fire while still inside, what now? NPC motives help in most of these situations. As long as you know how NPC will react to player tomfoolery and how it will affect their plans, you can wing it well enough. CHARLES DUNNE Your ideas are the bones of the world, of the convention scenario, while the lifeblood, lineaments
and soul are contained in the plot. One cannot exist without the other and to write the plot one must flesh out the conceptual world. We have super powered humans in the 13th century, how does that change the world? Super peasants standing up to nobles and overturning the feudal order? Or being used as weapons in exchange for a knighthood and better food? Super powered nobles for example are less of a “what if ” to history given the nature of feudalism, so the “What if ” must stir the imagination and should be embedded in the world where that possibility causes choice, conflict and resolution. This is the basis of almost all the scenarios I write for conventions. The world and the idea must be inseparable. The trick is to describe it in sufficient detail and tone, to enable it to breathe by itself, to engage a potential player with wonder or at the very least curiosity. If you can engage a player’s curiosity then you’ve already won half the battle. If your plot seems alien to the world then you need a different plot or a different world.
Your ideas are the bones of the world, of the convention scenario, while the lifeblood, lineaments and soul are contained in the plot.”
What about characters? Most convention scenarios use pregenerated player characters. BRIAN NISBET
The characters are the single most important aspect of any game I write. Without them the plot is just ink on a page. We don’t roleplay to be told a story, we roleplay to make one. Each character tends to weigh in around 800 words, plus or minus a couple of hundred. The absolutely vital aspects here are a description of a basic personality and motivations and a sentence or two on their opinions of the other PCs. This is only absent if the plot calls for a lack of knowledge and in this case the motivations/outlook needs to be beefed up to give them plenty of information on how they might react when they encounter the rest of the group. What the player does with this information is, of course, up to them, but it must be provided. The bulk of the background is written in the second person, with a short section at the end in third person. After the group takes a couple of minutes to read what they’ve been given, I find it really eases the transition into the game. People have instant opinions, first lines of interaction ready to go and the atmosphere creates itself. JAMES LLOYD-JONES The thing I write in tandem with that, and with more effort, is the cast of characters. My games have rapidly become very character driven. They’re not about following a linear plot, they’re not about hearing the story and solving the mystery, they’re about playing the characters. I just write them such that playing them well also resolves the plot. So, the characters first and foremost have a connection to the plot. They have a personal stake in the outcome of the game, a reason to be there. They need to be interesting characters, fleshed out, and powerful in their own right. If I can link them to each other, I do. It helps to explain
why they’re working together, rather than other people being involved. My favourite example was Good Intentions from Warpcon XXII, where the party was comprised of a small group of townsfolk whose town was about to be attacked. They couldn’t run, and they were all attached to their home town, they knew each other in one way or another, and they all had a reason to stay and fight. One table, to my delight, resolved the plot within the first hour or so, and then played out the interpersonal drama of the cast without any cajoling.
CHARLES DUNNE Now, here is where I don the mad facial hair of Captain Redbeard Rum. Everyone else says having a crew is important, I say it isn’t. Everyone else says that the characters of a scenario are the most important things of a scenario, I say they aren’t. What IS important is players, and players and characters are not the same thing. Players are there to be entertained and intrigued, wined and dined, bamboozled and amazed by the sleight of hand and wonders that your magical game provides. They are not there to be given a personality info dump and told to entertain themselves while you eat popcorn and watch them. Convention players haven’t time to invest in a character like they do in a campaign so these characters should have the skills, stats and identity that will allow a player to don them like a glove in order to interact with the environment, the plot , have working relationships with their fellow players and, if need be, save the world!
Any final thoughts on the topic?
BRIAN NISBET All of that said, however, how I really write my scenarios is I sit down at my computer with good choral music, whiskey and an idea and I write and edit, repeating as required until I’m happy or the deadline has hit. I go back and forth between plot and characters, building the two up together to try and form something coherent, something that will hopefully entertain the players and give them a decent chance of all living happily ever after. It’s worked pretty well so far. JAMES LLOYD-JONES So, how I do I write a con scenario? I create characters, and make the rest up as we go along. CHARLES DUNNE And a final caveat for making the magic show magic:it is easy to write a three hour scenario with a beginning, middle and end; each with terribly important clues leading from A to B throughout the scenario so that players can shuffle along like a caboose on a railway inexorably heading towards the planned ending whether they like it or not. It is easy to do this but it isn’t fun for the players or the writer. Rather than shunt the plot along on these rails I prefer to nail them to particular unconnected areas. These nails are yours to hammer but you can let the players wind the string around them with as much variety as you like and it gives them the illusion of choice. The human propensity to find patterns will do what needs to be done for you and engage them in the scenario.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE Wayne O Connor gives you some Gm tips for your game
o I’ve been games-mastering in some form for almost 25 years. It all started with a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Red box. Over those 25 years, I’ve led players through trap filled dungeons, flown and explored the galaxy, sat them down for the Tea Ceremony with samurai, had them hurling pies at one another as a manic toon, scared them witless as they confronted Things That Should Not Be and got them involved in the dark politics of the supernatural creatures who lurk unseen among us. Always I’ve strived to provide a solid evening’s entertainment to my players in whatever worlds we chose to thread for a few hours each week. Usually when I buy a new system book the first sections I read are the background section and the tips on games-mastering. I’m always looking for techniques that might aid me in my role as storyteller for the evening. So, I’ve decided to put fingers to keyboard and try sharing some of the tricks and techniques that I believe have helped me create and sustain a good evening of games-mastering. So without further ado… Being Prepared: Know your plot and have at least a workable knowledge of the rules. If it’s a pre-written
scenario it really is more than necessary to avoid breaking the flow of a session to find the information that you overlooked or crucial info you forgot that NPC was meant to share! The more experienced GM can probably fight on and know how to backtrack but save yourself the hassle. Read it through, highlight the important parts. Flowcharts: I like to have a flowchart on hand behind my trusty screen with a rough breakdown of the scenario flow. In my flowchart I’ll link to the most obvious possible routes and link from them to further routes. Sure, the players will (always) do something unexpected but having a clear flowchart can be a nice simple aid to help you highlight things that you need to get across and can help you quickly envision a way to get back on track. Usually I include such info as a Location, Key Event, NPC in my individual flowchart bubbles. Handouts and Props: Players love having things to read, interact and look at. Anything that aids their imaginations and helps clearly envision the scene. Maps of their locale, pictures of characters/ places (there’s plenty of great stuff online). For example: Running Cthulhu in the 1920s, get some
Wayne O Connor @druakim Music, art, theatre, games. I Try. · http://pyramidlagota.deviantart.com
real world pictures of the era, of the people, the style etc. Likewise if you’re sending them into the heart of the Forgotten Realms, there’s a ton of great paintings, images and more to source out there! The choice use of handouts can aid the
atmosphere too. I’ve run games where I’ve given messages to individual players and sometimes even the act of seeing another player receive something they are not all party to can get the other players anxious, tense and alert. On some occasions that’s the point, with red herring messages that are vague or purely just to aid the tension or mess with their minds! In one Conspiracy X game, the required paranoia was heightened so much by this method… “Why is he getting a note? Why is he passing a note to the GM? Oh my God, he might be one of THEM!!!” Name lists: It’s going to happen. You’ll need NPC or place names sometimes that you haven’t created, so it’s handy to have a list of names ready among your notes. You might also have on hand some random generation lists of things like character quirks, monsters etc Music: I personally have to have some background tunes, which is all fine as long as it remains background. If possible, try select music to suit your game, or even choose tunes that are good to underline a particular scene. Choices here need be a little cautious, if you’re running a rousing action sequence some far too obvious music choice might actually work against you. Yes, Indiana Jones is a great theme, but perhaps sometimes a little too recognisable and likely to distract more than aid your scene. I think instrumental music works best, though I recall one Cthulhu session that was aided greatly by a low volume bit of Portishead going on in the background… Embodying: I can’t sit still when it comes to combat sequences. I move from the seated position I’ve adopted during the calmer parts of the story to standing up, doing big gestures, adopting the poses of
characters. Waving my imaginary sword or aiming my imaginary pistol. Feels silly? Not at all. Spot the difference in reaction between saying there’s a guy charging at a player to actually being the guy charging at a player (observe all necessary safety, don’t actually hit/ throw punches that might accidentally land on their target, it’s only a game!).
Oh my God, he might be one of them!!!”
It’s not just about getting up and jumping around. There’s a lot you can convey seated too; facial expressions, body language. Watch the movies you like and see how different actors adapt to a role. Take note of things you like. Bear that in mind when it comes to sitting down and playing the latest NPC you have to introduce to the party! You don’t need to be Jack Nicholson, but anything that sells the difference between you and the NPC you’re trying to play, also helps to sell the game and story!
Voices: While you’re at it, Why not try work on the voice of the individual NPCS. A dwarf charging? Let loose your best dwarven battle-cry! Look at word rhythm, tone and accent. Does he speak in whispers or does he have a big Brian Blessed style sonic boom of a voice? Think of your favourite movies and characters and incorporate things you like. But for God’s sake, no “Meesa Happy Gun Gun” Jamaican aliens! In both the above aspects of voice and physicality, when it comes to playing a NPC, I sometimes find it good to try get three key words that describe him. If he is “Quiet, intense and moves with caution”; having those three key words/ descriptive summaries on view behind the GM screen can help define the character and inform how I portray him vocally and in movements. Beyond those three key traits, feel free to conjure up and be aware of his motivations within your plot. They all aid your performance. Setting the Stage: Get rid of distractions and do what you can to create an immersive game environment. Make sure the TV is off! Change the lighting or the arrangement of furniture within the room. I ran a game once where my players, the crew of an intergalactic space vessel, showed up to the game session and found the seating arranged to mimic the cockpit of their vessel. Adventure Scripts: Came across this little trick many years ago in the West End Games’ Star Wars game. It’s essentially a short 1-2 page script which sets up the scene. Ideally you get the players to assume the roles. This scene might involve something pertinent to the current action, or be a cutaway to activity happening elsewhere. These can
be great at helping establish a cinematic feel or help foreshadow and build up tension or offer a hint to the villain’s activities. In one long running Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I had the players being pursued by a ruthless assassin. Each week the game would start with a scene involving the assassin meeting or visiting places the players had recently been to, which helped reinforce the chase subplot.
tee you, the players will be on their toes and prepared and working out their tactics, if possible, well in advance!
Pacing: I personally try adopting a very cinematic flow to a game if possible. Keep it focused, keep it flowing. I hate when a game breaks down for a “shopping session”. I’ve seen games where the whole thing stops for an hour or more while people try decide what they like. Boring, unless the GM has some nice character role-playing opportunity in mind! If possible, try getting that out of the way at the beginning or ending of a game and preferably outside the game story session itself. Maybe have players make up a shopping list of items before the game with priority of what they want so that should they have an opportunity in game, it’s all just a matter of asking if the items they want are available and people don’t end up leafing through the book all night.
Maybe you can even get some of the dice rolls out of the way prior to the game. Get them to roll a list of dice rolls before they start. I like the inherent tension of a crucial die roll being called on the fly during a game, but having pre generated rolls that you might consult for other more mundane activities can help speed things up sometimes.
In an action scene things need to ramp up even more. Players need to be acting quickly, don’t let them dwell… GM:”The orc charges you, his axe held high! What do you do?” Player: “Uh…hmm…I m not sure…maybe I will…no, I will… hmmm…” GM: “Too late. He’s on you, eyes gleaming with bloodlust as his axe comes down.” Do that a bit more and I guaran-
Similarly in quiet moments if there’s an opportunity for good role-play definitely provide it, but don’t let things stop too long. If the main bulk of the action is in the next room, keep it moving and get them there!
Go, go! It’s going to blow!”
Keep them Involved: This is a tough one sometimes but you need to be constantly going around the table and dealing with each player or offering them input. If they’re being quiet or shy, possibly throw out some suggestions for them. If the party splits, as they inevitably do, try avoiding running the scenes one after the other; try run them concurrently, shifting between both scenes. Again don’t ruin a nice role-playing opportunity, but just don’t dwell so long that the players not involved are getting restless or bored. Hell, maybe try involving the players sitting in the wings somehow. Get them to do the rolls for the characters you play or to help you by playing characters involved in the other scene. This can give up some
degree of GM freedom and control, but ideally remind the assisting players that they are just assisting and you have veto rights if they act beyond the spectrum of the characters they were given.
The Two Towers: If the party does split, why not actually split the players? Run a scene out of sight and earshot with one group in another room. Remember, don’t leave the others sitting bored, and move between both groups. I ran a Conspiracy X game once where one team in the party boarded an alien vessel, finding it to be set to explode. The remaining players were sitting in the other room, when I returned to them I ran a brief scene on their side, before giving the signal to the first team to come back in. As they returned they were screaming “Go, go! It’s going to blow!” The outside team’s reaction was priceless and a mad panic ensued! Take a break: It can help, particularly if the plot’s gone a bit off track. Announce a short break, sit down and take a moment to think it through and see what you can do. It can also be good for you and players. I’ve run games where after four hours I realise I haven’t sat down or eaten because I’m so into it. But within that, you can get
tired and make mistakes, so give yourself a break. Time flies when you’re having fun but don’t run yourself into the ground, you’re probably not doing yourself or the session any favours. Rules are made to be broken: It’s your game. Adapt or change rules that are too cumbersome. Not sure what it does right now? Don’t waste time trying to find a vague reference somewhere in the book. Compromise! Take note of the problem, check it up outside the game session, inform the players at next session. The story is master, the rules serve it. Storytelling: There are many methods and books that can help you understand the structure of a good plot or story. Joseph Campbell’s work comes immediately to mind, which had a huge influence on George Lucas and his Star Wars movies. Also look at some drama techniques and lessons that might help you. Pay particular attention to improvisation techniques as, of course, improvising is 90% of the GM’s game! At the end of the day, the gamesmaster has a huge role to fill in an evening’s game. The players contribute but it is you, the gamemaster who carries the bulk of the weight and responsibility in regards to whether a game will work and whether players walk away hungry for more! It’s tiring, it can involve a lot of work - sometimes a little thankless. On occasion, you’ll get a bad night where your best laid plans and the session just don’t click. But when a game works… well, that feeling at the end of the session is addictive. It’s the thing that will inspire you to try again and succeed again!
THE TOP FIVE DYSTOPIAN RPGS Mark Kinahan counts down the top five RPGs that focus of social opdys•to•pi•a [dis-toh-pee-uh]
the most interesting dystopian RPGs out there.
noun A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.
ystopias have been commonly featured in our media. Books like 1984 and Brave New World, films like Blade Runner, Brazil, and THX-1138 have all shown us societies which are dehumanising and oppressive, and generally not the nicest places to live. Dystopian settings are quite popular for RPGS, providing a dark, moody backdrop for the events of the game. But, while there are tonnes of games out there with a setting that could be characterised as dark or dysfunctional, in many cases, this backdrop isn’t overly relevant or developed in the grand scheme of things. The games I’ve provided here are dystopian in the sense that not only do they provide dysfunctional or oppressive societies, but that those societies are an important element of the game, where players will have to interact with this new society and its rules, where the dystopia is a relevant. So here, in order of good to gooder-est, are five of
SLA Industries represents a less conventional take on the dystopian setting, offering us a game world in which most of the known universe is the property of the monolithic hypercorporation SLA industries, run by a mysterious, immortal entity known as Mister Slayer. Players, usually mercenaries in the employ of SLA, act as corporate troubleshooters, investigating news stories before they are published to ensure the facts of the case end up matching the official version of events. The game’s mood and tone are alternately fantastic and bewildering: much of the rules (it uses a basic 2d10 system for most things) and the
Mark emerged from the ash cloud that ended the Cretacious era with an insatiable hunger for fresh carcass and all things geek. His interests include video games, comic books, RPGs, books, tabletop wargames, movies, and even some non-nerdy pursuits, which must be kept top secret lest they risk his convention cred.
corebook’s information on the setting feels incomplete, which allows room for the GM to improvise and write their own material, but is occasionally confusing and frustrating, especially to new players. The game’s setting also has a some-
what surreal feeling to it, reminiscent of an older Judge Dredd comic, with splatterhouse violence, ambiguous morality, and bizarrely incomprehensible terrorist factions vying for attention amidst a populace numbed by a lifetime of free television. It almost feels like David Cronenberg wrote a splatterpunk sci-fi RPG and didn’t tell anyone about it. While it seems fascinating, it’s genuinely hard to recommend SLA - I think people will either love it or hate it, like some kind of dystopian Marmite.
Corporation runs using an extremely simple 2d10 system called Brutal. While it does allow for a certain degree of flexibility, the corebook emphasises vivid descriptions and immersive playing over dice rolling at virtually every turn. Corporation represents perhaps the most ‘classic’ dystopia on this list, seeing humans congregating into large megacities after most of the earth is rendered uninhabitable in another world war. It features ridiculously powerful and influential corporations who dominate all aspects of civilian life (and even have their own corporate cities), and the classic erosion of
civil liberties. Criminals are officially designated non-people and have literally no rights whatsoever, while the typical player characters, the corporate agents, surrender their citizenship and are essentially company property.
Dystopian settings are quite popular for RPGS, providing a dark, moody backdrop for the events of the game.”
Corporation’s corebook is quite sparse with certain details and leaves much to the imagination, but in a novel twist, online support for the game is really well developed, with the game designers interacting with players online to answer questions about the setting and rules, constantly expanding the work, something other companies would do well to take note of. There is also an absolute wealth of expansions available at the moment, presenting a more complete picture of each of the game’s various factions, as well as a vast array of cyberpunk modifications and weaponry.
placing players in an almost mindboggling variety of roles (inquisitorial agent, rogue trader, deathwatch marine, and chaos renegade, to name a few) across the various publications (all of which are cross-compatible, should you wish to further complicate the hell out of everything). The standard d100 system governs people’s capabilities, and every corebook offers an entirely different system for character progression, with hundreds of traits characters can buy to customise their characters, although this can feel very bloated, with so many traits making it impossible to remember which does what, and makes generating NPCs extremely time consuming. While there is a wealth of material provided on any number of topics, there are still huge and obvious gaps in the lore that can leave anyone attempting to run a game with quite a bit of improvising to do.
3. 40k RPG
40k RPG is a catch-all term I’m going to use to cover the numerous games and slew of supplements Fantasy Flight have released under the 40k umbrella in recent years. Most people are at least passingly familiar with the 40k setting, although the 40k RPG has done its best to develop this further, moving away from the battle lines of the tabletop game (and most of the novels) and focuses more on intrigue, horror, and high-action,
40k’s dystopian setting is perhaps the bleakest of any on the list - the empire of humanity is an impossibly vast, crumbling edifice, impossible to govern or maintain, and beset on all sides by recidivists, aliens, and demons from another dimension who are obsessed with consuming souls. Everything is gothic, pointed, spiky, and has skulls on it. The focus on tech-
nology and progress which often characterises futuristic settings is entirely absent here: humanity has entered a new dark age, where progress is illegal, and the superstitious pray to the machines of yesteryear so that they’ll keep working. Rather than the focus on corporations and financial bureaucracy, 40k’s social oppression takes on an almost religious tone: citizens worship the divine emperor, who is dead and yet still lives (sort of), worship of anyone or anything else is illegal, the Imperial Inquisition can burn planets on command for heresy, and spaceships all look like intergalactic cathedrals. 40k presents us with a dystopia that is less science fiction and more dark ages fantasy in space, depending of course, on which corebook you’re playing. Deathwatch is a corebook focusing on alienhunting spec-ops warrior knights (Games Workshop’s divisive space marines), while Dark Heresy is the first, and as a result crudest, incarnation of the rules thus far, but is more well-rounded, focusing on investigation, combat, and social situations than Deathwatch’s more martial theme.
Paranoia has been knocking around since the 1980s in one form or another, and has built up quite a
cult following. Set primarily in a megacity known as Alpha Complex, Paranoia is rife with dystopian trappings; an all-powerful central computer who represents absolute authority, a tiered society where some have more rights than others, secret societies rebelling against the totalitarian state almost like a checklist of dystopian tropes. Paranoia is a little different from the other games on this list in terms of its tone: the rulebook is written in an accessible, conversational tone, and the ‘rules’ (which players are forbidden to show knowledge of) are deliberately kept as simple and streamlined as possible. Paranoia, you see, is designed to make players laugh.
Of course, each item on this list is purely personal preference, my opinion of what each game offers in terms of richness of setting and storytelling opportunity.”
It’s a very black kind of humour: players are issued seemingly nonsensical or impossible commands by the Computer (which of course may not be questioned), and the game’s various secret societies are all humorous pastiches of modern pop-cultural references and philosophies, such as the Seal Club -militant nature enthusiasts who have never actually encountered wild nature and whose understanding of it could generally be described as dubious at best. The players are issued equipment which routinely malfunctions and kills them, and
to top it all off, rather than working together to achieve a goal, Paranoia games routinely pitch the players against each other, as everyone seeks to curry favour with the Computer and further their own private agenda at the expense of the other players. Of course, all of these player machinations are further complicated by the feature that allows players to be killed and still continue the session (standard procedure gives every player a ‘six pack’ of expendable clones to burn through in an amusingly violent fashion), making betrayal a very complex process.
1. Eclipse Phase
Eclipse Phase is a very flexible game in that it need not actually be dystopian when you run it: the default setting provides a bunch of directions for games to go in, from space-station based survival horror scenarios to socially motivated political and journalistic wrangling. Set (mostly) within our solar system after World War III renders the earth completely uninhabitable, Eclipse Phase sees humanity scattered and fractious. Various societies exist, from loosely policed communes, to military autocracies. The game has various political factions, with their own differing philosophies, and options for creating some of the most interesting and diverse characters of any game I’ve seen that makes even a passing stab at ‘realism’. I’m including it in this list though, because it lends itself quite well to dystopian settings, with the game’s well fleshed out systems for surveillance, currency, and reputation allowing your GM to find all kinds of methods to ensure you feel suitably oppressed and kept in
the dark. Not to mention that EP is a universe featuring dictators who have amassed the wealth to transcend death, in which artificial citizens are downloaded into robotic bodies to serve as slave labour. Immortality is available only to the powerful and wealthy, while others live their entire lives without basic recognition as people. Eclipse Phase’s most notable feature is its focus on Transhumanism (and Posthumanism): characters, both NPC and player, can buy, rent, or steal new bodies, transferring their consciousness and modifying their flesh almost at will, providing characters have the resources to make it happen. Memories and experiences of player characters can be backed up digitally, creating ‘save points’ for players that they can return to
(and providing plot hooks galore) should anything untoward happen. And let’s face it - in RPGs, untoward things tend to happen all the time. Social and combat rolls are governed by a fairly simple d100 system, although the use of reputation as a stat is quite interestingly implemented: players have several different rep stats, owing to the fractured nature of society, and their social cred within the various different factions is an important feature. Of course, each item on this list is purely personal preference, my opinion of what each game offers in terms of richness of setting and storytelling opportunity. This is of course entirely subjective - good games are really, at their core, about a collision of the right story, GM, and players. However, each
game here has a certain something that makes it stand out, whether it be a meticulously thought out and well written set of ideas, or having one core concept, or a certain look and feel, that sticks in the imagination, even without any of the books or art to hand. Each of these games distinguishes itself one way or another - it’s simply a matter of finding one that makes you want to be a part of the story.
DYSTOPIAN FUTURE “TALKIN’ ‘BOUT MY DE-GENERATION”
ail Computer! We Love the Leader! Thoughtcrime is death! Welcome to the false future, with autovended pudding for all true followers. We’re all familiar with Dystopia: the idea of a false utopia, a world gone mad to all but those who are its warped heart. Unlike some dirty cyberpunk world on the edge of collapse, it is not the polar opposite of the bright gleaming spires of high-brow science fiction. Rather, it wears the same face as utopia. This is possible simply because...utopia isn’t. Utopia doesn’t mean “Good place”. It means “No Place”. The word ‘utopia’ comes from the Greek: οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) and means “no place”, and was coined originally by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 political tract Utopia, which described a idealised fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. However, utopia is pronounced the same as the word eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ (“good” or “well”) and τόπος (“place”), means “good place”. The ironic double meaning was well intended. In the case of fiction, a Utopian Future is used to describe that
rare, positive, altruistic timeline where mankind’s baser instincts have been tamed and goes forth in a spirit of peace and tranquillity. You know, like a dentist waiting room. Even in that most positive strain of sci-fi that is Star Trek, there is an acceptance that even the main characters can have weaknesses and biases; it offsets the accusations that everyone in that world is brainwashed into loving the Federation. William Shatner’s Kirk was the greatest Maverick in that universe, but he was always well within the lines of hero, albeit a cheeky one; Chris Pine’s Kirk was a loveable drunken loser hanging about Starfleet bars who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to his destiny, not out of some mopey childishness, but due to the epic stubbornness that came to define Captain James T. Kirk.
the veneer of utopia, and then have it rotten to the core.”
Baz Nugent Baz Nugent is a semi-professional game writer as well as graphic designer, theatre technician and general scatterbrain. He’s been involved in organising many cons, having directed Gaelcon 2010 and Leprecon 29, and done graphic design work for many more. He is also a former NST of Camarilla Ireland, and a founding member of Ireland’s newest gaming convention, Hobocon. Anyway, where does dystopia fall, if utopia is a false concept, or at least one that is so rare, so hard to genuinely fathom, that it must be taken with a pinch of fallacy. Well, utopia is almost defined by
the fact it is unobtainable. Take Star Trek, again - free energy, limitless replicator technology, holodeck entertainment, cheap interstellar travel and numerous friendly alien species who generally operate a kid-gloves approach to new arrivals to the galactic scene (Take that, Fermi Paradox aficionados. Blame the Vulcans for that one). People call it a dystopia because no-one ever is seen disagreeing with the Federation. Sure, it’s apparently a democracy, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of that outdated notion of “political party”. In other words, it’s easier to flip a utopia into a dystopia then it is to create a utopia. All you need do is have the veneer of utopia, and then have it rotten to the core.
WHAT IS DYSTOPIA?
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it – it’s “wrong”. Essentially, for it to be a dystopia, something has to have gone fundamentally wrong. Not just a little banana republic, you have to go full Third Reich on this one. The populace can be under the thumb of stormtroopers and giant screens may tell them what to do every moment of the day, but essentially the population has conceded to The Authority; it has bought into the lie, for the sake of peace, security, survival, revenge, or worst, a rewrite of history. So many statues, so much polished marble - this is not some street gang. In a dystopia, the bad guys are in control and have no shame about showing off. The stormtroopers are not street thugs who do the upper classes dirty work; they are uniformed, armed, and in charge. In this world, Might is Right, and displays of state authority will be everywhere, from imposing architecture to
universally worn status logos. Mutuality is Mandatory - sedition will not be accepted. Difference from the Party Line is Thoughtcrime - report. There will be a secret police whose job is to make sure that transgressors are vanished or “corrected”.
WHAT ISN’T DYSTOPIA?
Future Imperfect - Transmetropolitan, Star Trek, Mass Effect. The future isn’t perfect but it’s not evil either. Just because you have one asshole in government doesn’t mean there will be round ups of some token hate group. In Transmetropolitan, there is an apparent attempt at creating a dystopia but it’s really more of a epic grudge against Spider Jerusalem. People mostly have a good state of life, much like today but with more robots and hologram TVs. Near or Post Apocalyptic - Grime and ghettos don’t make a dystopia. That requires fanaticism and fancy uniforms. The Megacorps of Cyberpunk settings are more about money than power, and running a dystopia requires spending a lot of money on a lot of technically unnecessary uniforms and edifices. A lot of dystopias are set after an apocalypse, usually after some warlord has dragged people back together, but as the Galactic Empire in Star Wars demonstrates, the transition to dystopia can happen in a wealthy functional democracy too.
the bad guys are in control and have no shame about showing off”
Teh Evil Empire - This is straight up good versus evil. Dystopia is where Evil is the norm or wins by the defaulting of the masses. Star Wars is sort of half and half in here, as there are plenty of people who are willing to fight back and there are plenty who apathetically accept the Empire or go along for their own ends. The difference between Evil Empire and dystopia is that everyone knows the Evil Empire is evil, but are too downtrodden to do anything until the hero shows up, like in Stargate. In a dystopia, the hero is more likely to be someone who existed in the system and has somehow fallen off the grid or become unmutual due to bureaucratic error. Dystopia is coming back into vogue, but like many genres, it has done so in cycles before. Two key eras in the 20th century were hotbeds for dystopian fiction. The 1920s - 1940s was a great time for dystopian fiction. The rise of communism and fascism, the collapse of the world economy in 1929, and the seeming endless march of technology. All of these things stirred fear for the future. Many works from this time are parodies, some are warnings. 1970s American Cinema is another great source. 2001: A Space Odyssey opened up “highbrow science fiction” to the visual medium, the American New Wave was in full swing, and Watergate had eroded faith in the highest authority. Many of the films from this era look cheap and dated now, but there are wonderful ideas and some amazing production work from directors who are household names today, but were struggling indie directors back then.
MANDATORY READINGS CITIZENS Literature:
• Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games
• Battle Royale - seriously, what right thinking society thinks the best way to solve delinquent crime is to have them murder each other for the LULZ? • Dark City • Logan’s Run • Brazil • Gattica
• The Great Dictator • Avatar (the Earth scenes in the extended cut), Star Wars (anything to do with the Empire, really)
• The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment - the alternative world where Ned Flanders is a brutal dictator - report for ReNeducation! • The Prisoner • Avatar the Last Airbender (Ba Sing Se City in Season 2)
• Warhammer 40k • SLA Industries
• Judge Dredd - Seriously, he’s a superfacist who dishes out punishment on the spot. Sure, it’s a crapsack world, but never forget the Thatcherite satire at the root of the strip. • Nemesis The Warlock • V for Vendetta • Superman • Red Son
DYSTOPIAN HALLOWEEN COSTUMES A How to Guide to…Dystopian Future-esque Halloween Costumes
ummer. It may be an odd time to start thinking about this, but since it’s only three months away, better start thinking about and planning this year’s Halloween costume. With the world and its wife attempting the Avengers Assemble or the Batman Halloween look this year, how do you stand out from the crowd? Never fear dear reader, the Gazebo is here to help you navigate that particular minefield! We’re here to make sure that you stand out from the crowd, and most importantly, win that Best Costume prize. Cos that’s what it’s all about really. We’ve got everything from your Hunger Gamesstylee to your Matrix-esque to your Total Recall and Mad Max. If there’s a style of Dystopian Future costume out there, we’ve tried to cover it for you. So sit back, relax [get a pen and paper if needs be] and enjoy our How to Guide to Dystopian Future-esque Halloween Costumes. Our apologies if we have forgotten to include your favourite dystopian future film – there does seem to be a running theme on costumes for these films].
Battle Royal (2000)
Ah yes, one for those of us who still have our old school uniforms. With a grey school uniform and a
black tie, you too can look like a ninthgrader the Japanese government has sent to an island for a fight to the death. Make sure to accessorise with a backpack and some sort of large weapon for that authentic look.
Ais A Cork Gamer who, while not being the best dressed person in the room, understands that there is more to Gamer ‘fashion’ than Con T-shirts. Society Hoodies for example.
Ah yes, one for those of us who still have our old school uniforms. With a grey school uniform and a black tie, you too can look like a ninthgrader the Japanese government has sent to an island for a fight to the death. Make sure to accessorise with a backpack and some sort of large weapon for that authentic look.
The Matrix (1999-2003)/ Equilibrium (2002)
A staple of Halloween parties for many years now, both these films have a surprisingly similar view of what humans will be wearing in that dystopian
future. Who’d have thought leather jackets would be so fashionable in dystopian futures? For those of you out there with full length black or black leather jackets and a pair of sun glasses, this one’s for you. Make sure to accessorise with some sort of retro looking weapon [cos that’s totally what they use in the future] and try not to pass out from the heat or walk into anything.
Mad Max (1979)/ Total Recall (1990)/ Blade Runner (1990)
When it comes to dystopian future films, there seems to be a number of trends within the costume departments of their film sets. Notable trends include leather, khaki, dirt, sunglasses and lots of guns [please see above pictures for examples of these]. The Gazebo wouldn’t like to speculate on why these
The Hunger Games (2012)
2012’s take on a dystopian future might not be to everyone’s taste but you can bet all your d20s that you will see at least one take on this surprisingly bleak [for a young adults book anyway] future. There are a few ways to go with this look. You can go for the District 12-style look, complete with plain denim and cotton [and perhaps a little dirt to make it look authentic] or alternatively the Hunger Games itself
particular items of clothing keep reappearing in the imagined futures of dystopian future films but it does make your thinking of a Halloween costume much easier. Go crazy! [Accents optional extra].
look, complete with khakis, tshirt, rain jacket, backpack and bow and arrow [who knew that raincoat might come in handy?]. However for those of you out there really looking to stand out, you could go all out Capital-stylee on your Halloween costume. Think big hair, over the top makeup, ruffles, frills and shoulder pads. Just make sure you can still get through doors at the end of it.
Clockwork Orange (1971)
Finally, one for a group of friends out there who all won tophats and white trousers and donâ€™t know what to do with them. Fear not dear reader, the Gazebo has the answer. A Clockwork Orange style costume is just the thing for you. Accessorise with some eye makeup and a British accent [walking sticks optional]. Best to go in a group, safety in numbers after all!
See what we mean about the repetition? A firm favourite with gamers everywhere and easy to copy costumes, who needs the Avengers when you can be the cast of Firefly instead? So go on, act out all your crazy space-cowboy geek and accessorise with long coats, boots and big guns [and silly hats if you feel the need]. Itâ€™s Halloween afterall!
GAMING CLUBS Club Name FanSci WARPS Other Realms IGA Games Night @ The Dark Horse QUB Dragonslayers UCD Games Soc
UK Roleplayers Club List London Indie RPG Meetup
MOB MONEY Gerry McEvoy talks about the current darling in the industry... Crowdfunding.
h, Kickstarter, the stuff of legends! You have heard the tales of fabulous riches gained, of awesome projects funded and made. There seems to be a notion out there that as long as the idea is good, the ‘internet people’ will rally round and throw money at you until you are sated. Not quite. Let’s start at the beginning, Kickstarter was set up in 2008 by some nice people. It is a crowdfunding platform; meaning that instead of going down the traditional route of asking a bank or venture capitalists to invest a large amount of money, you instead ask thousands of people for a small amount in exchange for a reward related to the actual product, or the product itself. These rewards can go from something small like a game character badge to something big like an author coming to your town to give you a private reading. These rewards are scaled to how much someone contributes. In gaming Kickstarting is rapidly becoming the best way to pre-order new games. One of the drawbacks with Kickstarter is that it is only available to those with a bank account in the US. There are other services, however, that only require a bank
account, such as Indiegogo. The benefit of Kickstarter, and the UK and Irish equivalents (Crowdfunder and Fundit respectively), is that they are ‘All or nothing’ funding platforms. This is good for the backer as they will only be charged if the project reaches its specified funding target. This means the backer can be fairly sure the project will go ahead assuming the project’s creator has got their sums right or that any of the other horrible things life throws at people on an alarmingly regular basis don’t happen. There are no guarantees though; there have been some instances where projects have been removed by Kickstarter when people have raised valid concerns about the legality or feasibility of a project due to things like copyright infringement or failures of the creators to deliver on previous Kickstarter projects. Like any investment you have to make a judgement call on whether you believe it is a feasible project. However, the low level of financial commitment means you are considerably less likely to lose your house. For the project creator this is where having an established reputation in the field will help immensely.
Gerry McEvoy “I am made of victory with a slight tinge of epic and a twist of pure rock and roll” Gerry is currently setting up a new business yet still finds time to be a keyboard warrior, gamer and writer on all things tech. Prone to doing crazy things for charity. @Legendgerry on twitter
Other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo allow project holders to keep the money raised (in exchange for a 9% fee with Indiegogo) regardless of whether or not the target funds have been raised. Kickstarter backers do not have the money taken from their accounts until the funding target is met; Indiegogo will take the funds immediately.
Note: On Indiegogo the project creator can chose to refund the backers instead of keeping the money but the site will take service charges out both times. The intention of these platforms is to fund creative projects, and thankfully they count games of all types as creative projects. Three of the top ten most funded projects were video games, one of which was a new video game of the popular tabletop RPG Shadowrun (Shadowrun Returns), and one’s a board game (Sedition Wars). The Order of the Stick comic is also on the top ten, and Steve Jackson Games’ Ogre (Designers Edition) hovers just outside it. Kickstarter has a failure rate of 44% and not all of the projects that fail are bad ideas. The problem for them is exposure. If you don’t have an established reputation in the field you’re trying to get a project funded in, or are not a celebrity of some sort, then you’re going to have an uphill battle. In the beginning of the crowdfunding era it worked quite well for start-up companies and imaginative individuals. It had a simple layout, was easy to use and spelled out what the project was. A lot of low cost projects hit targets fairly swiftly. This of course lead to more buzz about the site and eventually industry leaders had to sit up and take notice of the amounts being raised. There lies the problem for startups and a source of joy for many of the backers. Bigger name companies who are dubious about the profitability of a project tend to put together a project and put it on Kickstarter to see what support it can garner. If it works then they have covered their costs without any of that pesky finance business,
like shares and whatnot. If not then they have only lost a day or two of productivity from a small number of people.
To get funding from a crowd you first need to draw that crowd.”
As well as pushing projects from relative unknowns back into the shadows of comparatively obscure print on demand platforms, the bigger names have brought something else to Kickstarter, videos. In the beginning you might have a short video, web cam style, from the project creator giving a brief overview of the project and perhaps holding up some drawings or a prototype of the project to the camera. Now, videos are professionally shot, FX laden epics with guided tours of the facilities and celebrity guest stars. Bit hard to compete with that if you are just an average dude who has a great idea for a board game. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying it can’t be done; it is just a lot harder than most people seem to think. So, gaming in general is doing quite well out of this whole thing it would seem. If you’re a big name with a side project then you already have the publicity and a goodly part of the crowd needed around you to make it work. However, if you’re a relative unknown you will have your work cut out for you to succeed. To get funding from a crowd you first need to draw that crowd. It has to be said that the real beauty of Kickstarter is that your backers will attract other backers
since every page has sharing and linking options. For example the Shadowrun Returns project was posted to my Facebook page and tweeted countless times by friends who knew I loved the RPG. It is a source of pain to me that I was broke at the time and couldn’t back it. They were giving Doc Wagon cards as part of the rewards! If you can draw a few hundred people to your project, you can swiftly turn that crowd into thousands more as they spread the word for you. Just remember most of those new people won’t have the same enthusiasm as the original crowd and will need to be impressed with your presentation. A final note for those who are considering going down the crowdfunding road; as I researched this I came across a few stories of people who had succeeded in hitting their Kickstarter target and still made a loss. Remember Kickstarter takes out 3% as a fee. Double check all your costs, especially shipping on all levels, particularly the lower ones. Posting a badge may seem to be negligibly cheap but doing it 1,025 times can add up. My number one tip for the relative unknown, however, is: If you can get somebody well known in your target market to tweet about or otherwise plug your project that really helps. Websites have been crashed with the sheer volume of visits after certain authors or creators have mentioned them in passing.
“Spanking the LARPer” Nick Huggins Talks about the Joys of Sex
on’t tell me you haven’t seen it. It doesn’t matter what brand of LARPing you’re used to – sooner or later you’re going to see two characters slip out of the room, hand in hand. Maybe you’ve been the GM who blinked a couple of times before responding “Yeah okay… go spend ten minutes outside and come back in with your clothes dishevelled” (ten minutes is reasonable right?) If your LARPing tastes are more immersive and you’ve played a fest-style rubber-sword game you’re probably used to the idea of the tent containing the in-character hookers. Having relatively recently answered the “but how do we physically represent the actual act?” question for my own ongoing LARP game I thought I can’t be the only one who’s interested in what mechanics for boinking there are out there. So firstly, to lay out the problem – the act of “calculating your partner’s THAC0” is central enough to the human condition that we can’t avoid it in our games. Even if a romantic subplot never exists in a game, the average player group will fabricate something. And it’s one step from staring soulfully into each other’s eyes across a crowded room to rolling saving throws together in the room next door.
Much like other forms of physical contact, though, it’s unwise to actually act this out. Even play-acted sex has its pitfalls; being touched by another person in the presence of a jealous lover, or being forced to touch someone whose character your character loves but who you find unpleasant. It would be a game very serious about its immersion that would suggest actually doing this. And yet it does happen – in a run of the Jeepform scenario “Doubt” by Frederik Axelzon and Tobias Wrigstad I played in it was actively suggested that a sex scene was acted out, and in front of an audience, no less. Not everyone is comfortable with contact. Not everyone is comfortable with the opposite sex.
I can’t be the only one who’s interested in what mechanics for boinking there are out there.”
From my own research there appear to be two approaches – either assume that “fitting the sword into the scabbard” happened and move on, or else model it sys-
Nick Huggins Nick has written LARP, written about LARP, lectured about LARP and translated LARP written by non-English speakers. He runs the ongoing post-apocalyptic LARP “Midway” in Dublin, Ireland and ran the ongoing sci-fi LARP “JumpTech” at Irish conventions. He doesn’t recommend running two ongoing LARPs at the same time.
tematically. I’ve seen the former approach used most often in games I’ve played in the UK or Ireland. In practice, the parties involved remove themselves from the game into another room, another tent or another area. They talk quietly,
one might even lie down. In many fest-style LARP games in the UK one party might massage the other’s head, hands or shoulders and I’ve even seen a game where sexual contact was played out as highly explicit dirty talk. But beyond that, no actual contact happens. The advantage here is that if someone were to walk in and commit “LARPus interruptus” they would see the two characters together, alone. They may see one of them with their hands on the other. The implication would be pretty clear.
Enter the world of systems designed to simulate the mechanics of humping in a precise fashion.”
Of course there are disadvantages too. This approach doesn’t allow for any mechanical, system-oriented detail. Just how well did that couple “roll their saving throws”? What acts did they get up to? How skilled were the parties involved, and how satisfied were they afterward? Enter the world of systems designed to simulate the mechanics of humping in a precise fashion. A method that seems to crop up in a lot of discussions online is the use of ribbons to simulate “tapping your opponent’s mana.” A ribbon is tied around the wrists of the participants, tying them together for a period of time. I’ve read about several variants of this, where different coloured ribbons are used to represent different acts, or where some sort of conflict resolution (dice, cards etc.) is used to determine how well the activity went. Obviously the ribbon makes the
whole thing a bit more visual. If you see a ribbon tied around two wrists then you’re actually seeing them involved in the… manatapping. The different colours of ribbon indicate exactly what happened, the duration of the tie shows how long. The Finnish “Ars Amandi” method suggests that the erogenous zones of each player are “mapped” to their forearms or another part of the body (“above armpit and below earlobes.”) One can then do exactly what one would do with the erogenous zone, but with another player’s fingers, or elbow. Rather than stroking their unmentionables you might stroke the back of their hand. Using this technique it’s perfectly easy to simulate a playful romp, or a rough and drunken game of “hide the pink +1 sword” depending on the touch. It has all of the advantages of the non-system approach, but there’s a much greater element of role-play. The act itself is well described, only not verbally, and the participants free to elaborate with heavy breathing, noises, etc. That said, there’s still actual physical touching involved, and not everyone is comfortable with that. Ars Amandi in its
original form also allows for neckstroking – in itself an intimate activity. In a gaming environment where it’s considered bad form to slap another player across the face even gently, it’s perhaps unsurprising that more intimate forms of touching are also frowned upon. Many LARP writers and organisers revert to the simplest method they can use in order to get the job done – my own ongoing game now uses head-massaging - but there’s always room to push the envelope. Of course it takes two players to successfully push the envelope, and they have to agree on the method of modelling sex they want to use. One thing is clear. Successful sex in LARP is like successful sex in the real world. Communication is key.
CREATING CHARACTERS FOR ONE SHOT LARPS Johanna Mead chats Dos, Don’ts and Nevers…
wesome! You’ve got a super idea for a LARP. The plot practically writes itself and you’ve already got two dozen of your gaming chums ready to join the event at a moment’s notice. It’s great when a plan comes together, isn’t it?
Your fantastic setting and awesome plot are not going to go very far without characters that entice and engage the players.
Except for one thing: the characters. Who are they? What do they want? What will they do to get it? Your fantastic setting and awesome plot are not going to go very far without characters that entice and engage the players. How do you create characters that will do that and mesh with your plot? Here are some tips - and potential pitfalls - for character building that I’ve picked up over the course of running various one-shot LARPs.
Has Something, Wants Something
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s the one thing you must keep in mind when creating a character. They must not only have a goal that can be achieved within the game, but be in possession of something - tangible or otherwise that another PC wants with almost every fiber of their being. As to what that something should be, I strongly suggest you stick to intangible things - information, agreements to a plan, etc - lest the covetous PC decides to go the kill the other guy and take The Thing off their body route. That’s not very much fun.
Have More Than One Goal
Never, ever worry about overburdening your players with too many goals because you can’t be sure how quickly they’re going to romp through your plot*. However, do make sure that only a couple of them are vital to the plot and that the character goals are presented in some sort of hierarchical order in their character briefing. In general, players are pretty good at prioritizing what’s important to their character and acting as needed, but beware of placing more than two vital-to-the-game’s-success type goals on a player, unless you are certain that they will have both the time and the resources to
Johanna Mead Much to her embarrassment, Johanna has been creating LARPs longer than some of her players have been alive. Her other hobbies include writing and costuming. An English expatriate, she currently lives near San Francisco. If she’s not online, she’s probably asleep. Visit her collection of LARP advice at http://johannamead.net/larpdex.html. pursue all of them. If they decide to drop the optional goals in favor of the Big Stuff, there’s no harm done to the game.
Be Interesting. Be REALLY Interesting
No-one wants to play the cook unless the cook is, in fact, a secret agent pursuing some internationally vital mission. Alright, it doesn’t have to be that grand but always bear in mind that RPGs are about escapism and a change from the humdrum. I’m certain that my players don’t want to be handed Bob Smith, Insurance Agent unless Bob is packing a .45 and a stolen Picasso in his briefcase.
Connected To At Least Two Other PCs
Sometimes, it’s easy to make connections between characters. The mayor of your Smalltown, America event is going to know almost everyone, naturally. But what about Miss Pennyweather, the shy town spinster? You can have a lot of fun with this, stretching beyond what you might consider plausible. Remember, this is an RPG, not a documentary. When I’m stumped to make connections, I’ll resort to random numbers. I’ll pick two characters at random, and roll a d6. A roll of 1 or 2, and they get along. A roll of 3 or 4, and they’re fairly neutral. At 5 or 6, the hate starts bubbling? Why? That’s the next step that you have to figure out. Why on earth should Miss Pennyweather, churchgoer and pillar of the community, hate Pastor Brown? That’s a very good question. Answering it will provide material for both characters. Don’t forget to roll to see what Pastor Brown thinks about Miss Pennyweather!
Quite often, in the process of determining the background of Miss Pennyweather’s animosity will create any number of background nubbins for several other characters also. Bonus!
Use The Three-Adjective Summary
No matter how long or short the character briefing is, always kick off the PC summary with three adjectives. This gives the player an immediate sense of what the character is about and, with luck, immediately fires up their enthusiasm. For instance: Miss Pennyweather. Town spinster. You are duplicitous, pragmatic and conflicted. You want to know more right away, don’t you? Unless I’m certain that the character should be played a certain way I avoid making all three adjectives the same “colour”. If you tell a person that they’re selfish, egomaniacal and cunning don’t be surprised if they turn in a performance that would make Iago blush. On a related note, I try to avoid the blander adjectives, like intelligent or funny as that might not provide sufficient direction to the player. Intelligent covers a lot of ground, but cunning is much more specific.
Remember, this is an RPG, not a documentary.
Most of my players have bragged to me that it’s impossible to overwhelm them with background information while they’re preparing for a game. That may be so, especially if the event is one that allows for several weeks’ collaboration between the GM and the players. But if you’re running a typical convention game, where characters are distributed with little input from the players, and the players have only a few minutes to get a
No-one wants to play the cook unless the cook is, in fact, a secret agent pursuing some intentionally vital mission.
grasp on what they’re playing, the three-adjective summary can be extremely helpful. If you keep these concepts in mind when creating the characters for your LARP, your players will be engaged and enthusiastic as soon as you call “Game on!” Good luck! (*) The number of times I’ve had a six-hour plot resolved in four hours has taught me this one. Emphatically so.
FIRST TIME LARP REVIEW Richard Hensman talks us through the world of Larping!
’d like to think that, as role-players go, I’m somewhat socially able. Especially amongst those who collect board and card games, waste hours a day on computer games, and program computers for a living. In other words, I’m an uber-geek, hanging on to the last scraps of social acceptability. My introduction to role-playing was through LARPing. Not the type that springs to most people’s mind when they hear the term, but a single-event, single-location socialonly role-playing event with acting and costuming thrown in. A few years later, and this couple-timesa-year habit grew into “campaign LARPing”. Mind’s eye theatre: Vampire LARPing, with character progression over time, and character interaction whenever you wanted it, but still social-only, with no combat. And so it would have stayed, if I had stayed where I grew up. But then I moved to London, and started hearing about the many boffer-style LARPs that take place around the UK. And I was intrigued. The plot- and character-progression of campaign LARPing, with real boffer-sword combat thrown in. The excitement of SCA fighting, with role-playing incorporated! How could this be anything but the perfect role-play-
ing hobby? There is a certain attitude to LARPers amongst the members of other geeky hobbies. They are often seen as the least acceptable of all the geeks, and shown in popular culture as having the least social graces. This portrayal of LARPers as the geekiest amongst us concerned me somewhat (and made it difficult to find people to go with!). The potential for the reality to be as it is so often described - grace-less people making a mockery of the world they seek to portray - made me reluctant to risk my fantasy of what it could be.
There is a certain attitude to LARPers amongst the members of other geeky hobbies.”
So I admit, the social stigma of LARP kept me away for awhile. That and my own general lack of motivation to start anything new. But this year, I decided I was going to get involved. And with that decision made, there was noth-
Richard Hensman Rich is a long time role-player, card and boardgame collector and all-round games enthusiast. Other than gaming he is a SCUBA diver, a ski instructor, an airsoft player and generally much more active than a geek usually has any right to be.
ing stopping me. This is the story of my first foray into the world of boffer LARPing. The ups and downs, and my general reviews of my first event.
Step one: Choosing an event.
Most of the recommendations I had received over my years in London were for the same LARP system: The Lorien Trust, so it was the natural choice for me. However, a little research turned up Maelstrom (an event I want to check out this year, but which ends at the end of 2012), and Labyrinthe (an underground LARP in a system of caves South of London). I’m sure there are plenty of others, and no matter where you are in the UK, I’m sure there is an event near you. Choosing an event is important, as different events have different races present, and your costuming and equipment is going to be affected by this. I made the mistake of creating a character concept, buying equipment and making a costume for it, and then realising while it was legal in Lorien Trust, it wasn’t exactly easy to place into an existing group. Admittedly, part of this was because my wife and I wanted to fit ourselves into the same group, which narrowed our options somewhat (there’s only so many places Trolls and Drow get on, after all). So I ended up making a last-minute second character, re-tasking equipment, and making new costume. Even if you get this right, don’t spend a fortune on costuming, as you won’t know the general mood of the event until after your first game. My second character is still not quite a fit for the Lorien Trust world, as I interpreted a race differently to the way their system does. The Lorien Trust (and as far as I can see, most other LARP groups) set out to make every race easily playable, and initially equal, so my depiction of a Troll as a savage near-beast wasn’t quite a fit for the intelligent, cultured creatures that
they are in this world. My quite comedic costuming wasn’t quite a match for the in-character group I ended up with either, as they are quite a serious bunch, being the honour guard of the faction ruler. I am currently in the process of building a character for Maelstrom, and I am quite impressed that they work with every player to make sure that what they are thinking fits the general world and background. But then, their costuming requirements to play any race but a human make it a more expensive costuming experience, and I would hate to arrive at their event and discover that I had misinterpreted something in this way.
My quite comedic costuming wasn’t quite a match for the in-character group I ended up with...”
Step two: Gearing up.
Resign yourself to spending a lot of money on LARP. Weapons are anything from £50 to hundreds of pounds, and once you see what the expensive stuff can look like, you will not want the cheap stuff. Shields are not cheap either, starting just shy of £100 and also going up to very expensive. Armour ranges from tens to hundreds, depending on what you want. It’s easy to save some money here if you look around a lot. In general, e-bay helped me save money on armour, but everything else seemed to cost the same no matter where I shopped. Bizarrely, there seem to be more stores selling LARP stuff online
than there are events. And at the event, there were 10 or so dealers, and none of them were the ones I had found online. With so many dealers, and so few events, I was surprised at how none of the dealers seemed to be aware of the events (even though the Lorien Trust event is one of the biggest on the calendar). However, on the whole, the dealers are friendly, and more than willing to try to help get things to you in time for your event, even if it’s a fairly lastminute thing (as mine was). The stores I found most useful were www.LrpStore.com and www.TheVikingStore.co.uk - I bought a lot of equipment, for a lot of different characters at these two, and I’m fairly certain I got the best prices going. Best prices don’t always come with the best service however, and I’m afraid that this is no exception to this rule. If you can’t choose, or want to get up close and personal with your items first, the big events have many traders present, and while the selection is not as good as online, it is certainly good enough, and the prices are at worst equal to what you will pay online, so don’t worry about paying over the odds to buy on-site. You may also be able to get some second-hand items on site, whereas I didn’t find many of those online.
Tune in to Issue #3 to find out how Rich got on at his first LARP event...
MAGIC THE GATHERING; COMMON IMPROVEMENTS Sam Costello gives some advice on playing Magic!
o, you’ve played a few games of Magic: The Gathering at the kitchen table, and you’ve decided to take your game to the next level, and head to a local tournament. It could be a Friday Night Magic, or a random Tuesday night casual event, but either way, you’ve sleeved up 60 cards, and you’re slinging spells on the competitive scene. And you want to get better. “But how?” you ask. Well... Assuming you’re a new player to the game (relatively anyway), there are a few things you can do in order to improve your game, without getting into any of the trickier concepts like card advantage. Here are the six main ones.
Use Your Life Total as a Resource
A lot of new players stress out way too much over losing life.
You should consider losing life instead of losing key creatures or casting spells which could be useful later on.”
They see a single figure life total as game over, and usually hate taking damage at all, often throwing away key creatures and spells just to preserve their life. Here’s the dirty little secret though: the only point of life keeping you alive is the last one. You only need one life to win the game. There are no prizes for ending a game on more than one life. Against certain decks, you’ll want to have a “buffer”. Say, against a deck with burn spells, you’ll want to keep your life total above three, so you don’t die from every burn spell, but this only matters in games where your opponent has access to red mana, and in general, you shouldn’t stress out over losing life. At the very least, you should consider losing life instead of losing key creatures or casting spells which could be useful later on. It’s a balancing act, and it can be tricky to get right, but always consider your options.
Run Enough Lands
New players often feel bummed out about having to run so many lands. “These aren’t cool cards! My dragons are cool. I want to play fewer lands and more Dragons!” While I can see the logic, and sympathise (I’d love to run nothing but big creatures too), the reality
Sam Costello I live in Northern Ireland, playing a children’s card game and taking it far too seriously. When I’m not playing Magic, I’m thinking about playing Magic, reading about Magic or playing some sort of RPG or video game. I could stand to be a lot better at this game. I have no right telling people how to get better, and yet here I am! is those Dragons aren’t going to be a lot of fun if you don’t have the mana to cast them. In general, a 60 card deck should be running around 24 lands, so roughly 40%. If you’re running more expensive cards, like more 6 or 7 cost cards, you should prob-
ably run more lands. On the same note, if you’re running a lot of really cheap cards (like, a lot of 2 and 3 cost cards), you can probably cut a land or two. Again, like the last point, this can be tricky to get right, but you also get more immediate feedback on it. If you find yourself with too few lands, try adding one or twp into your deck in place of some of your more expensive spells. If you find yourself with too many, take a land out and replace it with a spell you know is useful in your deck.
Use Dual Lands When You Can
Yeah, I know, lands aren’t cool. And yes, I know, dual lands are way too expensive. But trust me: they’re worth the extra money you spend on them. They’ll ensure that you’ll always have the right colour of mana. Also, tap your lands correctly, using basics first whenever possible, and only use duals if you have to. The rare dual lands can be difficult to get a hold of, and are often expensive, but if you’re on a budget, Magic usually has common lands or cards that allow you to fix your colours, though these won’t be as good as the duals.
Run 60 Cards
The minimum number of cards
you can have in a deck is 60, and you should always try to stick to that as a maximum number as well. Only having 60 cards in your deck ensures that you have the best possible chance of drawing relevant cards and/or cards you want to see. Try to keep it to 60!
Learn the Broad Archetypes
You should learn the differences between aggro, control and combo decks. You should try to understand how each of these decks wins, what they’re weak to, when they’re at their weakest, and when they’re strongest. Learn what kinds of cards give each broad archetype a hard time (for example, aggro will never be happy to see a creature with lifelink, control hates to see a ‘Thrun, the Last Troll’ hit the table).
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes habits can be a good thing. But, here’s something to think about: why cast things before your combat step? Most of the time, the only time it’s right to cast something before combat is if it changes combat in some way (for example, it pumps one or more of your creatures, it gives one or more of your creatures first strike, lifelink,
or some other relevant ability, or removes a blocker), or if the creature your casting has haste. There’s a post-combat main phase; use it! This leaves your mana open to use during combat, in case your opponent tries to cast spells to affect your creatures.
There are a few things you can do in order to improve your game, without getting into any of the trickier concepts.”
There’s also no rule that says you must play your land before you do anything else. Sure, it makes sense in the early turns, but not so much in the late turns. Keep your wits about you at all times, and know when you can breaking a pattern could be to your advantage; even holding a card in hand could fool an opponent into think it’s a burn spell, or some kind of trick. These might seem like really basic things to some of you, and, to be fair, they are, but you can bet that if you try to follow these guidelines, you’ll see your play skill start to increase!
A GAME OF CARDS Paddy Delaney and Mike Brennan review The Game of Thrones CCG and its re-invention as an LCG
Game of Thrones launched on to screens around the world last year and has proved immensely popular. Its high production values, gritty characters and plot have won over viewers as easily as the A Song of Ice and Fire books won over readers more than a decade ago.
your opponents, in a bid to have your house rule the Iron Throne of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. Players could initially choose from House Baratheon, House Lannister and House Stark. Now, additional houses are available; Greyjoy, Targaryen and Martell (who have yet to feature much in the TV series).
I was surprised to learn that even a few elderly people I know love the show, despite the fact that like many HBO shows, it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to sex and violence. I also find it interesting that even though A Game of Thrones is clearly fantasy, it has attracted viewers who have never read nor watched any fantasy besides the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Each player has a House card which displays the coat of arms and words of your house. These cards also have the phases of play listed neatly on them which really helps keep things ordered.
A number of years ago myself and some friends began playing the Game of Thrones collectible card game (CCG). Like the books and the TV series, the CCG was extremely accessible and ran, and continues to run in various editions to this day. Over the years there have been several major incarnations of the CCG, until 2007 when Fantasy Flight turned the CCG into the LCG, a Living Card Game no less. So let’s deal with the earliest version and see how it has evolved into the current edition, bearing in mind that all cards from every edition remain playable. The objective of the game is to reach fifteen points of Power before
Unusually, play begins with a Plot Card, which determines your house’s initiative, resources and claim value for the round. The claim value will be discussed presently. Different plot cards give the house various combinations of resources and really add to the strategic feel of the game. Like most games, cards are divided into: places which generate resources, items which confer abilities and character and creature cards who actually take part in the struggle. Character and creature cards may have one or more of the following icons; a red martial icon, a blue power icon or a green intrigue icon. Characters may only initiate or defend against challenge types for which they possess the relevant icon. Each character has a numeric weight which determines how powerful their challenge is and
Mike Brennan Mike has been gaming since before he was old enough to know better. You can follow him on Twitter @ohcrapzombies if you're prone to that sort of thing.
Paddy Delaney Paddy lives in Galway where he originally started playing RPGs and other assorted madness in the now infamous No. 57. Since then he has moved on to writing and running RPG games. He has written and run games for several cons across Ireland but Itzacon is his home con.
how difficult it is to fend off. When you win a challenge the outcome is
determined by the challenge type. Victory in a martial challenge means you may select an opponent’s character and kill him/her, whilst victory in an intrigue challenge means you may choose (blindly) from you opponents hand and discard that card. An undefended challenge means you earn your house one power point. Now power challenges are the real meat of the game. Should you win one, your house gains a point of power and gets closer to final victory. Some characters have a trait called Renown e.g. Jamie Lannister or King Robert. When these big guns are victorious they gain specialised power points – renown points – which go on their card, not on the House card. They are so kick ass they can garner fame personally. This tally adds to their House’s tally in the bid to reach fifteen power points. A word of caution though...should they be killed, then the renown points disappear with them. So as you can see, it pays to have characters who can engage in all challenge types but especially power challenges. Event cards are cards that depend on something else happening and usually occur in the challenge phase and capitalise on your gains. Here is where your claim value comes in. Let’s say Jamie Lannister engages in a martial challenge and kills someone but your claim value this round is two. Jamie actually kills another character (perhaps on the backswing). Obviously most characters and place cards are allied or associated with a great house. You need only pay the gold cost stated on the card but that doesn’t mean you can’t play non house characters in your deck, so if you want to throw Arya Stark into your house Lannister deck you can do so for a small, additional gold cost, which can be lots of fun.
In general each house has a particular strength, so for the original three houses it was as follows; Baratheon – power, Lannister – intrigue and Stark- martial. The whole game flows easily and if like us, you do your own commentary over the challenges you can rewrite the books as you play. “Ned will have his vengeance!” Each new edition to the game brought out further new houses and non-affiliated characters such as the Night’s Watch characters. The newer houses didn’t feel quite as enjoyable to play as the original three. House Greyjoy seems overly focused on destroying locations (okay, so it’s very thematic) and House Targaryen were burdened by expensive characters who made easy targets as soon as they were played (The dragon’s special ability is what? I attack it!). These of course keep to the mood and feel of the books but luckily you can play an alliance house card (from the ‘Ice and Fire’ addition onwards). This nifty house card lets you play two of the great houses without paying the extra gold cost. It also allows you to strategically blend the strong attributes of both your houses. The most striking drawback is that the artwork is very hit and miss, and some of the new houses are not very well balanced. So, as already mentioned A Game of Thrones CCG has since been rereleased by Fantasy Flight games as a Living Card Game. The main difference between a CCG (Collectable Card Game) and a LCG (Living Card Game) is that LCG expansions are released monthly, and are not randomised. Your £10 buys you all of cards in that expansion (2 or 3 copies of each). The monthly expansions are punctuated by deluxe expansions (£25), which introduce new houses, or focus on tightly themed decks, and contain
between 165-180 cards. The initial investment is higher than for your average CCG, but any CCG player will tell you that a £10 a month for all the cards is relatively tiny comparatively. The game retains the same mechanics, plot cards, challenges and resource management that made the original so fun to play. Some keywords from the earlier game have been deprecated and Fantasy Flight has a full list of errata for those cards on their website. The rule book is very well written and gives multiple examples of increasing complexity to explain the rules. The art seems to have been cherry picked from the best art of the earlier editions and all new art. Overall the game has the same “feel” as the original, which is welcome news to any fans of the CCG. There are some new elements, players are allocated positions on the Small Council which dictate oppositions and alliances during the game. Each council position also has its own unique power, from generating extra gold, to granting bonuses during specific challenges. Gold is tracked as a resource using cardboard coins, and some cards allow you to spend gold to activate an action. There’s some pleasure to be had as a Lannister player sitting behind stacks of cardboard coins while the other players stare at their lone token. All in all a very worthy successor to the name, and a welcome, walletfriendly addition to any gamer’s pile’o’games.
UNCLE SARKYS TOP 3 Sarky picks his top 3 Dystopian games
ystopian futures are awfully popular in video games. Whether it’s the corporate-dominated 1984-style leanings of Bladerunner or Deus Ex or the Darksiders styled setting where humanity has been wiped out completely and Hell came to Earth, liking it so much it set up a chain of discount stores for any biblical Horsemen that happened to wander along on a quest to restore the balance of the cosmos, gritty unpleasant future settings are probably the most popular in gaming, and there are so many it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. But no longer! Here is a short-list of what I reckon comprises the toxic cream on the highly irradiated mutagenic dairy allegory that is dystopian future-themed video games. Each name on this list is absolute top-grade material and should be purchased and played to within an inch of its life immediately, if not sooner. So, without further ado, here’s Uncle Sarky’s Top 3 Dystopian Future Games List:
3: Fallout series (All platforms (1& 2 are PC only)
Fallout has always had a special place in my heart. Since the first time my character stepped outside Vault 13 in Fallout 1 (and died soon after because HOLY CRAP IT’S HARD), I’ve been in love with its
brand of bleak post-nuclear style, which borrows more than a little from Mad Max, mixed with some of the most wonderful pitch-black humour you’ll ever see in a game. The games are set in an alternate time line where Future America kept the imagery and attitudes of the 50’s alive - all the cars still have tail-fins, the most provocative music genre is still country-western, and the Cold War never really ended, resulting in strange international tensions; China invaded Alaska; the US annexed Canada; the EU fell apart; and then the bombs fell and everyone died. Almost. Survivors found shelter in massive underground Vaults, which kept them safe for generations until the outside was deemed safe enough to recolonise. But of course all is not as it seems - the Wastelands of central and western America are home to ants and scorpions the size of cars, radioactive zombies, and other nasties. Not to mention the environmental dangers of radiation, poisons, and the survivors trying to scrape by on the surface, which consists of a few small settlements and roving hordes of bandits. The first 2 Fallout games put a wonderful amount of detail into your character. If you had a low intelligence character, most of your dialogue choices were along the lines of “Ugh, me no like!”, whereas if
sarky Ciarán “Sarky” O’Brien is originally from Galway, where he spent long nights in front of a computer screen ranting about how amazing Baldur’s Gate was before he first got bitten by the tabletop gaming bug. After a brief fling with wargaming he settled down into an relationship with tabletop RPGs and video games. He writes for any convention willing to pay him in single malt, hugs and baked goods.
your intelligence and speech were high enough you could eloquently reason your way out of almost every single fight. While Fallout 3 managed to pull off the transition from isometric 2D turn-based RPG to real-time FPS with RPG elements with a good deal of aplomb, it lacked some of the black humour
and grittiness, as well as a lot of the depth of character creation I loved most about its predecessors. And Bethesda being Bethesda, they made the game world and its denizens rather bland and soulless with, again, the old Elder Scrolls problem of cities populated by about five relevant NPCs and another five copy/pasted to bring up the numbers to a level that’s still too small to give a town any depth. The companions you could pick up were also totally underwhelming, with little depth or back story to them. New Vegas, despite being REALLY buggy, improved a lot in the immersion stakes, allowing item crafting, genuinely interesting companions and NPCs, and a hardcore difficulty that meant more than just tougher gribblies: you had to watch your hunger, thirst and sleep levels, healing took time rather than an instant block of regained health. It still suffered from Bethesda’s legacy, but not nearly to the same degree as Fallout 3 or the last two Elder Scrolls games. Probably because it wasn’t developed by Bethesda. All in all they’re a classic benchmark for dark gritty futures, and Fallout 1 and 2 are particularly well-worth getting for your PC. They’re available on Steam and Good Old Games (www.gog.com) for a pittance, and despite the graphics (which were pretty ugly even when they were released), they’re excellent games that may well blow your mind.
2: Metro 2033 (All platforms)
This one is an under-appreciated gem. It came out of nowhere with little fanfare, and got nothing like the praise it deserved. So the nuclear holocaust happened and most of humanity was wiped out. In Moscow, some people survived by retreating to the subway
systems underground, which, thanks to the Cold War and such, happened to be built with nuclear attacks in mind. Now instead of cities there are Metro stations, claustrophobic-yet-cosy settlements for the most part. There are mutant monsters, of course: giant wolf things, flying gargoyle demons, and the terrifying Librarians - 12 foot tall gorilla things that are violently territorial but won’t attack as long as you keep looking them straight in the eye, which is hard to do when they thunder towards you growling and thumping the ground so hard it cracks. The environment is hostile too: there are creepy ghosts of people who died in the nuclear holocaust, but they’re invisible unless you shine a light on them, and even then they just show up as shadows. The surface air is unbreathable without a gas mask (which manages to make even the great outdoors seem really claustrophobic). If your mask breaks while being attacked, you’d better hope there’s a spare lying around before you choke to death on toxins. Oh, and the air filters only last so long, so make sure you stock up! Speaking of which, bullets have become so rare that they are the currency of the apocalyptic future. If you buy the best weapons, you won’t have enough ammo to kill everything. If you save your ammo, you’ll have to fire a lot more of it to kill something. There’s a really excellent balancing act involved here, and you’ll find yourself bravely sneaking up to that guy you just shot to retrieve the arrow from his neck because you just can’t afford to leave it behind. Stealth is, thankfully, quite well done, so you don’t have to take everything on to get from A to B.Why is everything trying to kill you? The plot revolves around your character, Artyom, trying to get word out to the other Metro stations that the
Dark Ones are on the move: Mysterious gangly shadows that kill by driving people insane. Along the way you’ll encounter monsters, scumbags, Nazis, Communists, and the hard-as-nails Rangers who fight them all. It’s claustrophobic, creepy and absolutely beautifully realised. Tense sneaking and epic shoot-outs crossed with rewarding exploration/survival and horror elements, all combined with topnotch visuals into a very satisfying whole as you take the fight to the Dark Ones and learn about the richly detailed setting. Metro 2033 lacks the open-ended nature of Fallout or S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but the story and level design are a lot more focused as a result, and there’s more depth of emotion to everyone you meet and shoot. It’s like Fallout and Half-Life 2 had a baby and named it Metro. Speaking of which...
1: Half-Life series (All platforms)
If you haven’t played these games by now, there’s probably something wrong with you. Half-Life 1 set the benchmark for FPS games for years, with its beautiful enemy AI, bizarre monsters and focused sci-fi storyline full of scripted behaviour that really drew you into the game instead of making it just another casual blam-blam-blamathon. It was an excellent jaunt through Black Mesa, a sprawling scientific and military research facility delving into crazy things like alternate dimensions. A routine experiment goes wrong, ripping open gateways in space-time and letting hordes of horrible gribblies pour through to overrun the compound. As a bespectacled experimental physicist in a hazmat suit, the protagonist Gordon Freeman is hardly the epitome of manliness, at least before he murders his way through most of the facility with a variety of clever weapons. The first
time you see the soldiers you think “Oh yay, finally some backup!” only to blanch in shock when they start killing everything to cover up the whole incident. And all the way through this mysterious man in a suit is watching you for reasons that don’t quite become clear, even in the sequel. Half Life 1 wasn’t exactly dystopian future, but HL 2 sorts all of that out by dropping you back into the world 7 years after the Black Mesa Incident. Apparently the attack in the first game was actually remnants of another civilisation fleeing something even worse, and when THEY arrived there was a global war lasting about 7 hours, during which most of humanity was destroyed until a someone brokered a deal with the invaders, called the Combine. Now humanity is confined to a dwindling number of Combine-ruled cities across Earth, with HL 2 taking place in City 17. It’s all gone very 1984; it’s a rather brutal police state overseen by administrator Dr. Breen, who looks a bit like Alec Guinness. The state food and water dispensers contain drugs to rob the populace’s will, the police (Transparently called “Civil Protection”) keep anyone who questions the status quo in line with beatings, raids, and an army of crazy alien hybrid monstrosities like semiorganic gunships and massive three-legged striders that seriously echo War of the Worlds. The easy way out is to join Civil Protection, but they don’t tell you that it involves a whole lot of surgery and implants, essentially turning you into a real slave of the Combine. This time, Gordon Freeman ends up leading the resistance in City
17, causing the eventual destruction of the Combine’s power base in that part of the world. The later Half-Life Episodes deal with the flight from City 17 and the preparation for a final blow against the Combine. Across the game you battle police drones through dystopian cityscapes, drive vehicles through zombie-infested canals and great big eastern European forests filled with Combine remnants and an assortment of nasty monsters that took over when the ecosystem went to hell. There are moments of horror (We don’t go to Ravenholm), slices of hilarity (Having gone to Ravenholm, and meet a delightful chap called Father Grigori. He has a shotgun, a manic laugh and a town-sized congregation of alien zombies), and immaculately-paced action sequences with some gloriously epic set pieces. There’s some very
nice philosophical stuff in there too, with humanity in its darkest hour, but still determined to see it through, and the technologically advanced Combine become more and more metaphysical and strange the nearer you get to them. Half Life and all its add-ons are just about the best FPS experience you’ll have, and if you have ever cared about gaming even the tiniest amount, it’s a must-play. It’s got it all; bleak outlook for humanity, horrible ecological disasters, paranoia, social unrest, a nice mix of ultra high-tech gear when you can find it and perfectly functional low-tech for when you can’t, and all sorts of profound questions about what it means to become more or less than human. And beating things to death with a red crowbar, because otherwise, what would be the point?
Unnatural Selection Gerry McEvoy looks at the Dangers of Information Technology
echnology has made media omnipresent in our lives, through our phones, electronic tablets, good old fashioned computers, televisions and radios. Relatively recent developments in software mean that the majority of people have their preferences recorded, from their choice of snacks through their loyalty cards or favourite kinky scenario through their late night web searches. These records allow media to be targeted to your tastes, not just advertising but videos, articles from newspapers, and other information. When you search for something online, the trend of what results you generally click on are factored in, as they should be, to provide the closest match to what you were looking for. So if you are constantly looking for cheesemonger hate sites, then your searches will be geared towards sites that contain that sort of information. Advertisements can be chosen by software to be served to people ages 18-35 who dislike cheesemongers. These would take the form of “documentaries”, books or podcasts revealing the “Truth” about the evils of cheesemongers and other unsavoury materials. At the recent E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo for the uninitiated)
Microsoft revealed their Smart Glass platform which connects all of your devices and allows you to surround yourself with information related to a topic, be it your favourite sports team, movies or TV series. Other companies presented similar products too, and given that amount of backing, I believe this is going to become the standard method of information presentation as we move into the future. Alongside a video presentation on your main screen, your smart-phone will be streaming little factoids about the matter and so forth. So, in the near future, information is going to be displayed across every available screen, indexed to your recorded preferences, which is probably going to be fairly handy for most people.
someone who has difficulty adjusting to reality”
In the last few weeks it was revealed that in 2010 Microsoft had filed a patent for software which reads a users mood and presents advertisements indexed for people in
Gerry McEvoy “I am made of victory with a slight tinge of epic and a twist of pure rock and roll” Gerry is currently setting up a new business yet still finds time to be a keyboard warrior, gamer and writer on all things tech. Prone to doing crazy things for charity. @Legendgerry on twitter
that mood. You can see the patent application here. Now all of your devices are combining to let you experience of all media based on past choices and mood across every media spectrum available. Recognising this reminded me of an article that I had planned to write after the massacre in Norway,
though after a conversation with an editor I know, I had put it aside, the societal wound was too fresh at the time. The original reason I had planned this was that in the days after the massacre, the details of the perpetrators life came out, every aspect of his life was filled with his obsessive hate-filled notion from his books, web searches, his choice of games and movies. Now that everything is going to get even more connected, having your life infected with the one overriding theme can be easier than ever. If you were already on the edge of darkness, this could well push you down the rabbit hole. Let’s pretend that we have someone who has difficulty adjusting to reality, and let’s call him Unsub. I used to watch criminal minds, Unsub was what they always called their suspect and that is potentially the type of person our little Unsub could turn out to be. Unsub meets people with some views. Those views are morally dubious but Unsub wants to find out more, so he goes looking for more information. He finds various hate sites, he looks further and he finds more. Eventually he has searched these bad things so often every generic search is connected to this radical belief. Further down the spiral he goes. Unsub finds movies and documentaries about the subject and generally how the world is against him, and for Unsub, “them” could be anything, cheesemongers if you need an example. He finds more reasons to be angry. His social media quickly fills with people of similar beliefs, news engines serve up stories related to this deluded belief.
Eventually Unsub decides to get active; most people caught up in such stupidity will get active by trying to recruit more people to their “Cause”. Paying lip service to the strength in numbers notion though it is, in my opinion, an attempt to justify morally repugnant views with the little kids “everyone else was doing it” excuse for badness.
This is more of a ‘what if?’
Thing is, Unsub is mentally set up to become a lone wolf terrorist; the little processes that prevent a human from going about killing people indiscriminately are simply not there. He most likely starts with bouts of vandalism and builds from there; aware of the consequences he probably avoids acts of direct violence.
These new heights of information technology come with a drawback which I don’t think can be fixed. If you eliminate stupidity from the internet there would very few sites left!
Then Unsub has a bad day, a really bad day, he comes home and turns on his machine. His machine senses his mood and finds things he likes that want to be shown when he is in a foul mood. He likes cheesemonger hate and there is a movie about the evil machinations cheesemongers, tagged to be shown to be shown when people are in an irrational mood. Unsub decides to take a stand. He finds ways of wreaking havoc People die. Unsub either escapes and continues on until the inevitable conclusion or people get lucky he gets caught thanks to many of the checks now in place. He is a different type of threat but it can be detected. It may sound farfetched but it already happens often enough for there to be a term, lone wolf. Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that every potential spree killer out there is going to go on a rampage, it takes a very special set of circumstances to trigger that.
That the latest wave of ubiquitous technology is going to increase the ease with which peoples’ lives can be consumed by something is a definite. As more people can be quickly immersed in radical materials, the odds of incidents like those in Norway, France and America are going to increase.
Are the search companies going to pull back from the monetisation of your every like, every dislike? Every mood that can be used to sell you things you’d never have considered otherwise? When they weigh a very slim chance that they could be the cause of an incident against the potential billions to be made do you think they will err on the side of caution? Would you? I mean it will be very unlikely anyone is going to tie these things together especially when there are other simpler things that can be blamed, music, movies and of course games. Will the bad people of the world attempt to use the various engines to further their own goals? Of course they will. Tomorrow’s terrorist is going to be a net savvy psychologist with a lot of patience. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be a cheesemonger.
NIGHTMARISH FUTURE HELLSCAPES AND YOU! Sarky looks at the appeal of the Bleak Future
f most of us are honest, we’d rather not end up living in a world where our actions are monitored by an oppressive corporate government, or some catastrophe has destroyed society. Nobody wants to have their day complicated by the Machine Rebellion. Dystopian futures are, I think we can all agree, undesirable. And yet they remain one of the most popular settings in gaming. Every tabletop RPG enthusiast has played something like Eclipse Phase, Corporation, Transhuman Space, or SLA Industries, every video gamer worth their salt has played S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Syndicate Wars or, well, the list really does go on. The dystopian future is a very popular idea, despite also being a terrifying one.
We brave the darkness in order to light it up.”
So what is it about depressing bleak futures that makes them so popular? Everyone has their own reasons, but I think a few are common to those who like a good dose of Bladerunner chic.
Most obviously is that, dystopian or not, the future is cool. Technological advancement results in gadgets, and gamers love gadgets. Batman would suck without his array of sophisticated equipment. iPads are all well and good if you’re rich and don’t mind lugging the bulky thing around with you, but how much more awesome would it be for everyone to have that technology implanted into their retinas (eyePads?), displaying street maps, waypoints, heart rate monitors for the joggers, traffic updates, incoming messages, and more besides? That’s not even getting into bionic eyes that can see beyond the regular slice of electromagnetic spectrum or calculating where to point a gun to lead a moving target. All of this is available in the future. In Eclipse Phase it’s considered an acceptable escape strategy to kill yourself and upload your consciousness to a clone body on another planet. And weapons and armour? All totally badass in the future. Power armour turns the weediest human into a two-legged tank. Specialised ammo bypasses shields, or contains guidance technology to steer itself. Guns use electromagnets to accelerate solid projectiles to hypersonic velocities, or they shoot unstable balls of superheated plasma. Close combat weapons boast monomolecular
sarky Ciarán “Sarky” O’Brien is originally from Galway, where he spent long nights in front of a computer screen ranting about how amazing Baldur’s Gate was before he first got bitten by the tabletop gaming bug. After a brief fling with wargaming he settled down into a relationship with tabletop RPGs and video games. He writes for any convention willing to pay him in single malt, hugs and baked goods edges or disruptive energy fields. There’s not an action fan in the world who wouldn’t salivate over the kind of lethal hardware available in most future settings.
The dystopia bit tends to cater for the more intellectual side of players, as well as giving the combat fans something to shoot at. After all, if the future is all smiles and sunshine, what is there to do? No, conflict is an essential part of games, and while a bright shiny future can provide conflict, it appears less frequently than might reasonably satisfy the typical gamer, who loves jumping from one adventure to the next. Dystopian futures usually involve a bunch of conspiracies, moral grays, corporate wars, oppressive regimes or mysterious horrors like sentient machines, radioactive mutants, high-tech serial killers or escaped projects from the local genetic engineering company’s bio-warfare lab. This requires plenty of investigation, problem solving, making deals, breaking deals, all that wonderful dramatic stuff. And philosophical conundrums! Do artificial life forms get human rights? What if they outbreed us, making us extinct? Or the blueprints for them fall into terrorist hands? If you can redesign your genes or have a mechanical body, what does “human” even mean anymore? This sort of transhumanism is like crack for gamers. Deus Ex dealt with those issues magnificently. Or, going further back, the original Fallout; The Master had a good point about humanity’s differences causing its own destruction, but forcing everyone to undergo mutation to remove those differences? A step too far, surely, but his flawed intentions were actually noble; humanity failed, so let’s turn it into something that won’t. Aside from drama and action potential, what else makes dystopian futures worth exploring? Well, exploration itself is awesome. In many dystopian futures, the world as we know it is barely recognisable. Landmarks and
cities might still exist, but with big changes: In Deus Ex, Shanghai still exists, but with Hengsha Island off its coast containing two cities, one literally built on top of the other. Who wouldn’t want to explore such an architectural feat? S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gives you an opportunity to explore the Chernobyl exclusion zone and some of the power plant itself, without dying from radiation sickness or being shot by the army. Fallout goes further, where the only recognisable pieces of America are bombed-out ruins, and everything else is totally new; Underground vault cities, bizarre towns inhabited by cultists, wastelands teeming with secrets. And that’s just Earth. In Eclipse Phase, players can visit most of the solar system. Mass Effect and Eve Online give you whole galaxies to explore, full of amazing sights; non-carbon-based life forms, glittering nebulae, remote mining stations in the upper atmosphere of gas giants... Yes sir, dystopian future easily rivals any fantasy setting for strange new places to explore. I would contend that the links dystopian futures maintain with our present reality can actually make them more vivid and exciting as you let a part of yourself believe “Hey, this might be possible some day!” Magic may not exist, but sufficiently advanced technology? The last few hundred years of human achievement have shown us that it’s something we can do. The chance to be Big Damn Heroes is also one of the great temptations of the grimdark games we love playing in. The bleaker the setting, the more you can do to improve it. We brave the darkness in order to light it up. Warhammer Fantasy and the 40K RPGs epitomise this particularly well. It’s hard to imagine a more dystopian future than Warhammer 40K; every alien is
out to kill all humans; humanity is riddled with corruption, betrayal, and superstition; the evolution of psychics has led to horrific draconian laws galaxy-wide, in the name of an Emperor who has been dead for ten thousand years. And who never asked for this: He was all about building an Imperium of reason and secularism and such. And as a result, Dark Heresy and its cousins are hilariously fun to muck about in. Yes, the galaxy is screwed. But you can make this part of it a little better. Or indulge your dark side and send it screaming into the Warp, that’s cool too. A little mindless genocidal gameplay is surprisingly cathartic sometimes.
what does “human” even mean anymore?”
Lastly for this piece, there’s an undeniable attraction to playing in these depressing grimy worlds because it’s not really you. Your character may be stuck in the radiation-blasted deserts of New France, low on ammo, about to get skewered by a giant mechanical scorpion, but you can look at this horrible situation and think “Glad that’s not me.” One of the nicest things about the escapism of games is that you have somewhere to come back to when you’re done. And when you’ve just been fighting off the cannibals of Cannibal City, or fleeing from amorphous abominations your expedition encountered on reaching the Horsehead Nebula, there really is no place like the safe, comfortable present, is there?
LABYRINTH – THE WAR ON TERROR, 2001 - ? Shane O’hUid reviews this intensely tactical, modern day board game ... and your opponent represent the loggerheaded United States’ government’s foreign policy and the global Islamic Jihad.
Kings and pirates, spies and politicians; military might and backroom diplomacy, bloody battles and daring escapes; global conspiracy and national revolts, covert strikes and terrifying secret weapons - when it comes to settings filled with adventure and intrigue, there’s no time like the present. The slightly depressingly-titled Labyrinth - The War on Terror, 2001 - ? is a board game with an unusual take on gamifying contemporary struggles between wealthy first-world governments and uppity religiously-inclined poor people. Instead of squadlevel combat or inhabiting the shoes of fictional intelligence agents, the victory points in this game are whole countries, and you
If you haven’t played Twilight Struggle, you owe it to yourself and one other person at a time to lay your hands on a copy and get down with the Cold War brinksmanship. Basically, in Twilight Struggle there’s a world map with stuff going on on it, and there’s one shared deck of cards. You play cards from your hand to take actions, which is where it gets fun. The deck is comprised of a mixture of your side’s cards, his side’s cards, and neutral cards, all with a point value and an event. If you play one of your cards or a neutral card, you get to choose whether to use the points to perform standard actions, or to execute the text event, which is beneficial. If you play one of his, though, you get the points but he gets the event. The hair-pulling of how best to limit the damage you’re obliged to do to your own cause by carefully choosing the order in which you play your hand is only relieved by the knowledge that your opponent is having exactly the same dilemma. Labyrinth borrows the same card
Shane is the manifestation of a poorly-optimised role-playing game character with a wealth of outdoor adventure and combat skills at very low levels and the irritating accent of a pathological expatriate. A role-player, wargamer, and boardgamer, Shane’s meandering pursuit of a career in paramedicine makes his greatest gaming peeve: people thinking a syringe is an effective melee weapon. mechanic. For veterans of that particular slice of history in board game form, Labyrinth differs in several important ways. For a start, it’s completely asymmetrical. Instead of two fairly identical superpowers squabbling over who
can launch the best space-monkey, and fund and train the most thirdworld dictators’ death squads, the play styles of the two sides and their victory conditions are completely different. With a shorter (so far) time span to cover, there’s only one deck of cards, rather than three smaller decks. Players play two cards at a time instead of one, and so on. Oh, and for the sad lonely orphan contingent, Labyrinth comes with a fully-formed solitaire play mode built right in. Asymmetrical, eh? Dicey proposition given that even chess can be accused of being unbalanced. The U.S. side’s rules operate on the assumption that, with the exception of getting people to like them, they have the resources to pretty much guarantee success at their objectives, if only they can spare enough of those resources to throw them at the problem. Want that pesky fundamental Islamist government gone because it’s making you look bad? Well, get the boys together and invade the snot out of it. Its government IS getting overthrown and replaced, although whether or not the locals are happy about it, and you can get out again smelling of roses, is another story. Bomb plot need foiling? Do it at the cost of some cards that would have been really, really handy. Even the worst day in Ambush Alley has no appreciable effect on the massive size of your military. Dice only enter into it when you want to bring governments around to your way of thinking, and even then aid packages and other firstworld governing attitudes provide foreseeable modifiers. On the other hand, your goals are lofty. Wipe out all Jihadist cells in the whole world, or get (and keep!)
12 points worth of countries with nice stable governments (oil-rich ones are, of course, worth more), or put democracy on most of the Muslim countries in the game - and of course building it up is harder than tearing it down. Over on the Jihadist side of things, luck plays a much bigger factor. Roll dice if you want to blow something up. Roll dice if you want to topple the government. Roll dice if you want to recruit new heroes to the cause. Roll dice if you want to get on a plane. Jihadist cells will be sent to their eternal reward by invasions, government troops, special forces, armed drones, and airport metal detectors, but they’ll leave behind an inspirational legacy and some rousing folk songs that might have others picking up arms before long. Cells can spring up anywhere in the world, and can gather faster than the U.S. can easily react. They are a disposable weapon in this holy war. To win, you need to have Islamist governments in six points worth of countries, most of the Muslim countries with unstable governments, or... detonate a Weapon of Mass Destruction in the USA! The problem there is you don’t have any of those. Better look into what leftovers from Twilight Struggle are floating around the former Soviet bloc, or get a sympathetic government installed in nucleararmed Pakistan. The surprising thing, and one of Labyrinth’s great achievements, is how evenly matched this makes the two sides. The majority of games I’ve played have ended with a very narrow victory for one side, often just one card play ahead of victory for the other. Because your objectives differ, you have extra plates to keep in the air - not only do you need to be chasing your own goals, but you need to be
foiling your opponent’s attempts at his goals, as well as foiling his foiling of yours. Combined with the need to plan how to best use your hand of cards, as well as remaining flexible enough that opposing card plays can be reacted to, you have to make every move count. It’s exciting, tense, and deep. The timeline of events has some clever ideas on how to handle things. The game actually came out some time before Bin Laden was whacked, but naturally at any turn things could have gone very differently. What if he’d been nabbed by the S.B.S. and friends at the Battle of Tora Bora mere weeks after the invasion of Afghanistan, instead of slipping through their fingers and remaining at large for ten more years? The game handles this by making his card, and those of other al-Qaeda masterminds, neutral cards rather than Jihadist ones. If played by the Jihadist player, then it’s bombs ahoy and they return to the deck, but if the U.S. player plays them it’s assumed they’re killed\captured, maybe spill some info or cause a propaganda coup, and are removed from play. In very few games does the U.S. player decide to invade Iraq, and in fact by default, doing so isn’t even a game-legal move until the card event for “Uhh, yeah, sure, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, you bet” gets played. Finally, there are a number of alternate game scenarios provided, alongside the just-afterthe-twin-towers-come-down one, Let’s Roll!. By changing some of the starting parameters, assigning different values to some countries, and removing a few cards from the deck, you can advance the timeline to a point the real world reached before branching off to do
things your way. Anaconda kicks off in early 2002 with Afghanistan invaded but al-Qaeda still strong, and Mission Accomplished? overstretches the U.S. into Iraq as well. There’s also the alternative-history You Can Call Me Al where better vote-counting in Florida has the 9\11 U.S. government a less enthusiastically warlike one. While it’s easy to be sceptical about these scenarios that seem to start with the game half-played, in actuality you still have to work through the full deck (or do so twice or three times - how many times to cycle the deck is a decision the players have to agree on before each game) so you don’t lose out on any fun and it does add a breath of fresh air to your games. In the pleasantly compact and well-stuffed box are an eight-fold board that lies nice and flat and takes up loads of table, good stiff cards, loads of counters for everything from terror plots to regime changes, rulebook, playbook with examples of play and useful info about what’s being represented by various happenings in the game, a comprehensive cheat-sheet for each side, and dice and wooden pieces in thematic desert-camouflage tan and balaclava black. The rules are well-structured for reference but take a bit of slogging through for the initial readthrough. To get started cold, you really need to set aside a few hours, break out the board and chits, and step through the example of play tutorial. While the game isn’t overcomplicated when you get going, it’s not one the average gamer will play effectively on their first go; a few practice turns before resetting and playing for real helps. When you’re all by yourself, there’s the solitaire option, allowing you to play as the U.S. against the Jihadist computer, as it were. A
few rules tweaks and some handy flow-charts of how to play cards for your virtual enemy make this not impractical once you get the hang of it. Nevertheless, although it’s a nice option to have, the lack of competition with another player and the battle of smarts that goes with it means that this is a pale imitation of the real deal. It could be fun against a decent computer AI, but the limitations of doing it manually mean it can’t hold a candle to going toe-to-toe with a devious friend - as you’d expect.
There’s a lot of extra fun to be gleaned from sending an armed Predator drone into France”
The game’s theme is of course potentially a sticking point for some. So fresh in memory it’s still actually happening, it may strike some a little too close to home and feel it’s insensitive to make a fun game of events that have cost them friends or family, or had torture carried out in their name. And while this review has admittedly been written in a flippant and gung-ho style, the game itself does a good job of sticking to the facts rather than value judgments. At first it’s fairly jarring to be playing as the U.S. and pull out cards like Patriot Act and Renditions that have only good effects, but on contemplation, the game is just about winning the so-called War on Terror. The curtailing of citizens’ freedom and the rules-lawyering of torture can have all the grave moral implications they like, but as far as the game objectives are
concerned they are just beneficial. On the other side of the coin, cards like Martyrdom Operation and Opium are just presented as game effects with some background facts available in the playbook, not as moralistic lessons. The terms used to describe government levels are “Good”, “Fair”, and “Poor”, but it doesn’t mean “good” as opposed to “evil”, it means as opposed to being weak and rubbish at providing governance. Finally, it’s worth thinking about who this game is for. Somebody with zero to one opponents, for a start. It’s a step of complicatedness above, say, Power Grid, but only one step. Someone who’s dead set against considering realworld issues in their games and exclusively into cartoonish themes will probably want to skip it, but is probably already missing out anyway. The theme is an important part of this game - while it’s mechanically clever and fun, it would not work as an abstract engine with the flavour stripped away. If you’re interested in the War on Terror or even just current events, there’s a lot of extra fun to be gleaned from sending an armed Predator drone into France, or getting Schengen visas for your operatives and having them smuggle the Kazakh Strain into the U.S., or talking Saddam around over tea and biccies instead of a Thunder Run at Baghdad. This is one of those rare games that makes you think, not just about game tactics but about bigger issues. Labyrinth - The War on Terror, 2001 - ? is a deep, engrossing, exciting, and thought-provoking game that’ll even accidentally educate you.
dixit Boardgames Lady reviews this popular game!
Dixit is a great little game. It plays in 30 minutes to an hour and has exactly the right amount of depth for a game that length. It also provides the players with the scope to make it as silly or as serious as they like. The first selling point of the game is how pretty it is. Marie Cardouat’s beautiful illustrations reach the edges of the cards, somehow making them feel more like art than game cards. Even the box, which doubles as the scoreboard, and the rabbit-shaped counters are really nice to look at. The game itself plays a lot like a more mature, less random, Apples to Apples. The cards are well designed so each player will see many different stories in each one. On your turn you play a card and say a word or phrase you see in it. Each other player plays a card and, after all cards are displayed, guesses which was yours. You get points if someone, but not everyone, guesses correctly. Other players get points for guessing correctly, for someone guessing their card, or if no one guesses yours. A combination of the abilities to find the balance between the obvious and the obscure and read your fellow players will win the game.
The rulebook is really great. The first page is a concise description of the rules; starting with setup and ending with game end and win conditions. The second page is an illustrated sample turn, game tips, variants, and acknowledgements. The rest of the sixteen page booklet is the same thing, in seven other languages.
...provides the players with the scope to make it as silly or as serious as they like.”
Since you play to the end of the cards, it only takes a few games to become very familiar with them. This can lead to a low replay value, particularly if you’re playing with the same people every time. However, a good reference to a chosen phrase from a previous game can get your clue across to just one person, which is ideal. And, failing that, there are expansion packs available. All in all, this game is great value for money, time and space.
boardgames lady Boardgames Lady plays boardgames whenever she can and has done for as long as she can remember. She owns more than is probably reasonable and prides herself on matching games to players. She’s also been known to dabble in CCGs, RPGs, LRPs, LARPS, and computer games and organise things so other people can play boardgames.
Heartily recommended by Boardgames Lady.
HORUS HERESY (FANTASY FLIGHT) Richard hensman Wages War in the Dark Future Type: Strategic combat board game Genre: Sci-fi By the box: Age: 13+ Players: 2(only) Time: 90-180 minutes In the box: Cards (many decks), board, plastic structures, figures (plastic), tokens, cardboard stand-up hero markers.
et me start with this: this is a Beast of a game. The huge box that it comes in is 100% necessary, as it is absolutely full of figures, cards, tokens, and other pieces to play the game. Leave yourself a couple of hours just to punch all the card and put it all together when you buy it. Then an entire evening to read and digest the rules. The game is set in the Warhammer 40k universe, and the designers have done their absolute best to represent the feel and complexity of that world in this game. But it is absolutely worth the effort. The first turn of our game took an
awfully long time, as we kept going back to the rule book and our reference sheets to see what to do next. But the pattern of a turn is actually quite simple, and after the first turn the pace of play picked up dramatically. The board is a lot smaller than it seems at first, and with the number of troops in the game, combat happens nearly every turn. The combat system is engaging and interesting, and a lot less luck-based than the table-top game, while retaining a lot of the feel of the original.
“this is a Beast of a game”
You will need to play this more than once to absorb all the depth of it. However, I suspect that having done so, playing repeatedly with the same opponent may get old fairly fast. The lack of changeability to the game may just be its one downfalling. The box says 90-180 minutes, and in my opinion, depending on how your game ends, this range is pretty accurate. Horus Heresy is strictly a 2-player game, so scaling issues
Richard Hensman Rich is a long time role-player, card and boardgame collector and all-round games enthusiast. Other than gaming he is a SCUBA diver, a ski instructor, an airsoft player and generally much more active than a geek usually has any right to be.
are non-existant. While I can see teenagers playing and enjoying this game, it is definitely complex enough to keep adults interested too. Whether you’re a fan of the 40k
world, or this is your introduction to it, if you are looking for a highly tactical 2-player board game, I can’t recommend this one enough. Literacy: Lots. Not only are the rules complex, but all cards and abilities are textual. Challenge: 5/5 - There is a lot to this game, it will definitely take more than one play to get the hang of it. Rules: 4/5 - Fairly well explained, but very spread out through a large rule-book. Space needed: 5/5 (1 being smallest, 5 largest) - a large board, 6 decks of cards, reference sheets, stockpiles of mini’s, etc etc etc. Huge!
Replayability: ?/5 - Unsure of this. I’ve only played it once. Portability: 0/5 - Forget it. Play this game in one place, with lots of space, and don’t bump the table! Packaging: 4.5/5 - Very large box, sufficient space for everything, could perhaps do with more organisation in box. Quality: 4/5 - Everything about this game is top-notch, and then FF let themselves down with the flimsy plastic structure pieces. Overall Rating: 7/10 - Very enjoyable game, lots more complexity than I thought, but still manageable.
ROBO-RALLY (VARIOUS EDITIONS) Richard Hensman Steers us through the Robot Factory Type: Tactical
and when other robots get in the way, planning is downright impossible. Much face-palming ensues as you pilot your robot into certain death, or get pushed into it just before reaching a check-point.
Genre: Racing By the box: Age: 12+
Players: 2-8 Time: 120 minutes In the box: Cards, board pawns, flags.
he concept is simple. Supercomputers racing robots around hazardous factory floors. Easy! Now for the catch. Every “turn” plans 5 moves ahead, and every robot moves autonomously for those 5 turns. So bad planning can mean sending you into a pit, riding a conveyor belt off the edge of the board, or riding through a laser beam. The more damage you take, the fewer cards you have to choose from each turn, meaning you can be forced into a bad move. The board has its own effect on your robot too, making that planning ahead part tricky at times,
Much face-palming ensues as you pilot your robot into certain death”
I believe this game is playable by nearly all ages, but the level of thinking means that a significant gap between levels of players will hurt game-play. Larger numbers of players don’t hurt, as more player interaction only makes the game better, and you get to design your track around the board to suit the number of players too. However, if you set up a large board with a lot of players, prepare for a very long game. 2 hours is probably more of a minimum than an average with this one. All told, this is a great game, and well worth the time it takes to play. From scratching your head to banging it against the table, it will bring reactions from everyone
Richard Hensman Rich is a long time role-player, card and boardgame collector and all-round games enthusiast. Other than gaming he is a SCUBA diver, a ski instructor, an airsoft player and generally much more active than a geek usually has any right to be.
at the table. Just don’t believe the rather comical box-top and believe that this is a casual game.
Literacy: None, card icons mean
no reading is necessary. Challenge: 5/5 - the rules are very simple, but a combination of forward planning and board interaction make the play very challenging indeed. Rules: 4/5 - Very well explained, no ambiguity at all. Space needed: 4/5 (1 being smallest, 5 largest) - a large board, and some space to play cards Replayability: 5/5 - Assorted pieces to build a board, and the potential for player interaction make many combinations. Portability: 2/5 - Too large to play
on the fly, but possible to pack up and re-start if necessary. Packaging: 3/5 - Standard square box, no real need for organisation in the box. Quality: 4/5 - tokens and cards from good stock, the original had metal figures, but now it sells with plastic. Overall Rating: 8/10 - Good game, plenty of challenge and replayability. Not for a light game-session. - Surprisingly good game given the subject matter.
FAREWELL 5TH EDITION Mike Brown Says his Goodbyes to 5th!
ith the end of 5th Edition Warhammer 40k now on the horizon, I’d like to take this chance to look back at the changes this edition has brought to the game, for better and worse. This is, by no means, supposed to be a full detailed analysis of everything that has changed, just some highlights that I think tell an interesting tale of how 5th Edition has changed the game.
The Transport is Dead, Long Live the Transport.
One of the biggest changes that 5th Edition has brought about is the (second) rise to dominance of transports. This trend began with the core rules increasing the survivability of vehicles and reducing the damage to passengers when vehicles are destroyed. Codex after codex reinforced the rise of transports with costs tumbling and transport fire power increasing with every new release. Cheap rhinos, fast blood angle razorbacks, chimeras with mass fire points, heavily armed vendettas, venoms mass splinter fire and now high armour open top ghost arks, it’s all lead to the dominance of transport heavy armies in the modern meta-game. While this does make for impressive battlefields and some complex tactics that transportless armies cannot
employ, it does mean that codices that can’t field a wide range of antivehicle fire power really struggle. Demons and Tyranids have taken the biggest hit from this trend, as they both have limited access to anti-transport weapons and can’t field transports themselves, subsequently they have few viable builds that are really competitive.
““the codices themselves have been better written than in previous editions” Mission Possible
Perhaps my favourite change from 4th to 5th Edition, and probably the one that was most complained about at the time, is the move from victory points to objective based missions. This change had the effect of removing ‘points denial’ as a viable strategy for 2/3 missions, which can only be a good thing. Kill points were clearly an attempt to discourage min/maxing, but they clearly didn’t really work as now people have realised that having more units than the other player is far from an auto-loss in this mission, small unit spam lists have once again become common.
Mike Brown A geek for all seasons, Mike has been involved in gaming of every type over the years. He is a wargamer a heart and has been playing with little plastic men since you could get a whole army of them for £10, but don’t let that put you off.
Big, Scary, but not very good
At the start of 5th Edition, monstrous creatures seemed to be the big winners. The combination of run and missions that forced people to come towards you had made them great, but it didn’t last. Jaws of the World Wolf was the first sign of their downfall. Nowadays, the indifferent new Tyranid codex, Dark Eldar poison spam and popular Gray Knight codex
jam packed with force weapons mean that you only really see them in list where they are an absolute necessity (Tyranids), used for a gimmick trick (scouting teleporting Dreadknights) or just seriously undercosted (Cypek Spyders).
So, going first means you deploy first and there is even a chance that your opponent will steal the first turn from you. Deploying first only makes sense, first turn is potentially such a big advantage that something had to be done to balance it. Take the initiative is a different matter. In theory, sure, it’s another way to balance out winning the first turn roll and putting some uncertainty into deployment choices, but the more I play with it, the less I like it; with two similarly skilled players, a successful Steal the initiative often just ruins the game, handing victory to one of the players. This risk means lots of players have started just placing everything in reserve and not running the risk of initiative being stolen.
The re-introduction of ramming was a nice little change that hasn’t really impacted on the game as a whole, but it does give you more options for weaponless vehicles, which is never a bad thing.
Run for it
At the time, run seemed like a huge change, but the predominance of transports and unreliability of run distances means that there are few armies that actually take advantage of it.
The introduction of No Retreat and the leadership modifier for losing combat has made combat much more definitive, in theory. In practice between Stubborn and
They Shall Know No Fear and assault units that are too elite to care, very few armies are actually affected by these changes. It does really hurt swarm armies and the new Necrons don’t like the ease in which whole units can easily disappear in combat. Overall, I think these rules were a good idea, but not implemented very well.
Kill points were clearly an attempt to discourage min/maxing, but they clearly didn’t really work”
This bug bear comes up every time a new edition/codex is released. Some people believe GW actively make more recent codices more powerful in order to sell more models. Personally, I think this really hasn’t happened in 5th Ed. What has happened is that the meta-game has changed, making some older books less effective that they used to be, but in contrast some old books also become better. Orks and Dark Angels are prime example of codices that have actually got better as the meta-game changed throughout 5th Edition. Orks: fewer Melta guns means battle wagons are better than ever, fewer land raiders is a blessing for Orks who’ve always struggled with them and Orks are well equipped to deal with the plethora of light transport that are now common place. Dark Angles: Well, more specifically Deathwing, while the FAQ gave them much better Storm Shields and Cyclone Missile
Launchers helped a lot, the move away from plasma and melta and focus on objectives are what has really made them an army to reckon with. Add this to the obviously lower powered Tyranids and Sisters of Battle updates, and I think it’s hard to see how anyone could see codex creep as being a major factor in 5th Edition.
Two big changes here. The first is the fact that specialist troopers are no longer the way to die. This change was good both for cinematics and helped some players justify larger units to protect those all important special/heavy weapons. However, a unfortunate side effect is the emergence of people using entire units of unique models to play tricks with wound allocation, assigning multiple killingwounds to single models and generally gaming the rules to make units more survivable. I hope thata more elegant solution is found for 6th Edition.
Overall, I think the game has got better, mainly through the focus on missions and less reliance on first turn. I also think that the codices themselves have been better written than in previous editions, with the possible exception of Tyranids which is far from unplayable, but has poor internal balance. Hopefully 6th Edition will continue on the trend towards gameplay that is both tactical and cinematic.
Next Issue: 6th Edition, Initial Reactions
Check back next issue, where I will dissect the new ruleset and guide you through the transition.
INSPIRING THIS GAZEBO HUNTER #2 Donagh gives us some sources for Inspiration
've always been interested in what inspires gamers to break new ground and start another project. This series of articles is a brief overview of things which caught my eye over the last few months - some have already prompted me to try something new, some may lurk in the long grass until their time has come. I hope that something here grabs your attention and calls you to action!
If you like that, check out this three-part BBC documentary ‘Our War’, where he uses helmetmounted cameras along with candid interviews to give a closein view of the Afghan War. The episodes show very different slices of the experience, not just action, but also the impact felt by the local population. It's available on DVD, but you should be able to get a flavour from the site.
6 Inch Move has been closely following Hawk Wargames' new sci-fi line ‘DropZone Commander’ and the photos of the 10mm miniatures have been breath-taking. Have a look. All of the factions have obviously-different design philosophies and that’s always nice to see in a game. If you’re wondering, the Post-Human Republic stuff is catching my eye!
Donogh has been gaming in some shape or form since school. Though he’ll happily engage in a quick pick-up boardgame or indie roleplaying game, you’ll usually find him running participation wargames at conventions.
If you like modern wargaming, then Elheim release consist
Dougie’s Wargaming Blog is a relative newcomer, but all of his stuff is top-notch. In this post on ‘Irrigation Ditches’ Dougie shows us the finished product for some really nice ‘Green Zone’ terrain for his Afghanistan games. Look back into some of the archives for a step-by-step guide, in case you’re interested in taking a stab at this simple but highly effective wargaming terrain.
Read his latest wargaming exploits at Land War in Asia:
countless versions on stage and screen. As befits an Osprey publication in their Raid series, photographs and illustrations as well as useful maps add flavour and detail. I’ve already started work moving this to a modern setting for a short series of wargaming scenarios …
ently great sculpts in 20mm. They increased their modern British range in April with some additional NCOs and a command team. As well as realistic poses, their inclusion of kneeling figures and specifically equipped soldiers for command (not just guys pointing!) is great for wargamers.
The Revenge of the 47 Ronin by Stephen Turnbull tells the famous tale of revenge in 18th century Japan. Turnbull dissects the historical events and looks at how this classic tale of Samurai values has spawned
I should recommend James Clavell’s Shogun, but if you are after for a dutiful path of violence, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is worth a look. Forest Whitaker gives a superb performance as a hitman who lives by the code of the samurai in service to a mob boss. Jim Jarmusch’s film is almost entirely character driven, even when there’s an action sequence it’s all about tone.
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. Poles apart from Cornwell’s usual fare, this multi-faceted tale of an obscure siege of the American Revolutionary War eschews a hero-led narrative. What’s compelling about the story is that we get to see both sides’ flawed thinking and how costly their mistakes are. I’ve previously described siege
warfare as the ugly sister to wargamers’ Cinderella, field battles; but if you are at all inclined to give sieges a go, try reading this one to help you off the fence. If you like that sort of thing, locate a copy of A Gallant Defense: the Siege of Charleston, 1780 by Carl P. Borick – a strong piece of writing which covers all the bases of the complexities of the campaign and siege operations while maintaining a clear narrative. What’s compelling about the story is that we get to see both sides’ flawed thinking and how costly their mistakes are.
After a long day of wargaming, recently, we sat down to watch The Losers , the film based on the comic series of the same name. Made to follow the first storyline of the series, there’s nothing hugely original or breathtaking about this, just an enjoyable action movie with lots of nice set pieces and one-liners. Discussing it afterwards, while we could see parallels in the main characters to gaming group’s behaviours we struggled to identify a good system (either for roleplaying or wargaming) which would encourage this kind of dynamic…
The Grimsby Wargames Society run a thriving club and they obviously have a load of talented people involved. They run games across the widest of interests and I’m always interested to click through to their latest gallery of battles played. Most recently they ran the Battle of Breslau 1757 but it’s their Chechen game from a few months back which won them plaudits all round.
BROADSIDE: THE BIRTH OF A GAME Mike Brown hatches a cunning plan...
his is the first in a series of articles following the rise (and possibly fall) of my latest gaming project: ‘Broadside.’ The goal of this project is to eventually commercially release a game designed and developed by me, my friends and the gaming community in general. Broadside: Magic and mayhem on the high seas.
The first thing to think about on a project like this is what you want the game to be. It is important to formalise this early on, to make sure everyone involved has a shared vision and so it’s clear what is new and innovative about your game (your USP or Unique Selling Point). Within gaming projects this is often called the Game Philosophy. With Broadside, after much thought, I have come up with: A strategic card based naval fantasy wargame. Let me break this down a bit: Strategic: The players’ choices will have both short and long effects on the game. For example, they will have prioritised unit production as well as making combat decisions.
Card Based: In order to keep the basic ruleset simple, but still have involving play, cards will be used for Ships, Events (including weather), Crew, Orders, etc. Wargame: Unlike traditional cardbased games, Broadside will use many of the standard conventions of wargames, such as a large playing area, dice used to determine combat outcomes and measurement for movement/combat.
how on earth do you get the cash to get it off the ground?”
Naval Fantasy: So, basically, a fantasy setting with a naval focus (no, I don’t mean everyone spends their days staring at their belly buttons). Everyone loves pirates, add a few mages and monsters in there, and I think you can come up with a really rich and engaging universe.
It’s All About the Money
Another important question you should ask early on with a project like this is ‘How, on earth, do you get the cash to get it off the ground?’ Development, Art, Design, Publishing, Distribution,
Mike Brown A geek for all seasons, Mike has been involved in gaming of every type over the years. He is a wargamer a heart and has been playing with little plastic men since you could get a whole army of them for £10, but don’t let that put you off. Marketing etc. has all got to come from somewhere, and unless you have tens of thousands of pounds you want to dump into it, you’ll need a business plan to raise capital and attract people with the skills you’ll need. My initial plan is fairly straightforward:
Stage 1: Develop a good prototype.
This stage will involve self financing, lots of work on my part and getting people to help with stuff I can’t do myself (for example, outside of painting little plastic men, my art skills are sadly lacking). Friends, family and the gaming community in general will be asked to contribute their skill in exchange for equity in the business (when it is formed), their work being professionally published and, if necessary, sexual favours. For example I intend to hold open play testing similar to beta testing often used in computer game development in order to get the entire gaming community involved in game development. I plan to spend about a year on this stage, ending with a playable version of the game.
sonable scale costs money, there is no getting around it. So I plan to raise capital via a crowd funding website (such as Kickstarter in the US or CrowdFunder in the UK). This should allow me to get enough money together to do an initial print run, some marketing and distribution.
Stage 3: World Domination!
Well, you never know. Seriously though, it’s hard to plan this far in advance, as it all depends on how well Stage 2 and the game release goes. Ideally, it takes the world by storm and I get to quit my day job, employ all the contributors and run a successful game design business. Reality? Who knows? The obvious advantage of this plan is that it doesn’t require me to get a big publishing company on board early on; the disadvantage is that I’ll have to self fund for a while
Stage 2: Crowd Funding.
This stage is the real crunch point; getting a game published on a rea-
and will need to use a lot of favours and promises of equity to get it off the ground. Overall, I like this approach as I think it maximises the chance of getting it to market at the cost of fewer shares in the profits for me. If you’re interested in getting involved or just have questions/ comments about this or any of my articles, drop me a line at: mab@ campus.ie
Next issue: Part 2, World Building
Check back in the next issue, where I’ll update you all on the initial progress of the game and explore the importance of world building in game design.
MALIFAUX Jack Evans gives us the lowdown on this Skirmish game
t’s like a mix of roleplaying, poker, skirmish wargaming and Magic: The Gathering. Oh, and with a bit of Steampunk and Wild West mixed in. You might as well call it the coolest Goddamned game out there because quite frankly, in my opinion, you’d be right. Malifaux is a skirmish game, set in an alternate universe. On our world, Earth, in the 18th century, a tunnel to another reality was formed, and a city founded there. Magic potential is increased there, and can be further enhanced with soulstones, chunks of magical rock that are mined and shipped earthside. At a glance, the game seems full of clichés, a dystopian alternate reality, a corrupt authority with absolute power over the common people, magic and its associated magical beings; gremlins, imps, zombies and robots.
I play Malifaux as often as I possibly can because of its ruleset: it’s unique, fun and unlike anything else you’re likely to have played.”
What really makes the game and world of Malifaux unique, however, is the veritable hotpot of themes. I can’t fully explain how differing concepts that really shouldn’t work together do, and quite how well they do so. There are giant Steampunk robots - working for the Miners’ Union but specially adapted for combat - fighting the Ressurrectionists - necromancers summoning zombified hookers, samurai and canines - who are hunted by the policing force of Malifaux, The Guild. Fighting against all of these factions are the original inhabitants of city, the Neverborn - a series of spirits, witches, and dragon like animals trying to reclaim their homeland - and various groups of Outcasts, fighting for their own ends and not afflicted with any of the other four factions. It’s this sheer scope that really sets Malifaux apart as a skirmish game. There’s a crew and theme for everyone and not a single model that doesn’t fit in the setting.
In case you didn’t notice, or just skipped the first section, I’m in love with the setting for this game. That said, I enjoy the setting for a bunch of games I rarely play, but I play Malifaux as often as I possibly can because of its ruleset: it’s unique, fun and unlike anything else you’re likely to have played.
Jack Evans Jack Evans is 16 and has been wargaming for as long as I can remember - My godfather first introduced me with Battle Games in Middle Earth, way back in 2001. I enjoy both casual and competitive play, but mainly enjoy the hobby as a creative outlet. I’m studying maths and economics, (nothing like a nerdy stereotype is there?) and in my spare time, when I’m not painting, I’m into amateur photography and blogging. Because of the varied audience, I’m going to assume most of you are, in some way, familiar with Warhammer 40,000 (40K). It’s one of the most widely-played wargames, and a good example of a “traditional wargame”, so I will compare it with Malifaux, and hopefully show you why it is so unique.
Most wargames, including 40K, decide the results of combat, shooting and other effects by the roll of a die. Malifaux, unlike any other game I’m aware of, uses playing cards: a standard poker deck, from ace to 13, including the two jokers. In addition both players have a hand of cards they can
This leads to a potentially ridiculous amount of different aims and objective, all of which form a story, which is why I’d recommend this game for those currently into roleplaying.”
choose to ‘cheat fate’ with. Your hero flips a two; you can cheat to a 13, ensuring he hits his mark. The downside? You may have needed that 13 a few turns later, to defend against an enemy’s strike, with either the same hero, or another critical model, who will now die. Managing resources like this is what the game is all about. The second thing that sets Malifaux apart is the objective gameplay. In its current, 5th edition, 40K has three missions: just three for an
army of a hundred men. In Malifaux, there are 13 core missions, and each player is dealt one. Under some circumstances, the players may play a ‘shared’ mission: the same set of missions, but inverted so both players can earn points from it. On top of this, players may pick up to two side objectives, out of a total of forty one, although some may only be taken by specific models or factions, as they are themed around those models. This leads to a potentially ridiculous amount of different aims and objective, all of which form a story, which is why I’d recommend this game for those currently into roleplaying.
The Hobby: Entry Price
Assuming you’re already into wargaming, or painting and collecting miniatures, I’ll take it you’re happy with whatever projects you’re currently working on. Due to the amount of different themes in Malifaux, there is a crew to suit everybody, and collecting them can allow you a much different modelling/painting experience to what you’re used to. Cost-wise, aside from paints, dice, tools, things I’ll assume people already have, my last 40k army cost
£300 for the models, £20 for the book, and £35 for the rulebook. I will never start a new army using Games Workshop models because of the price. Malifaux, however, can be broken down as follows: Rulebook – There is a free pdf on the wyrd website (http://wyrdgames.net/) with the core rules, although it does omit some options. Otherwise, the rules manual costs £8, and is a5 size, perfect for taking to gaming venues. So: free or £8. Cards – I said dice were included, but most people will not have a pack of Malifaux cards. Poker cards will do, so if you have a pack you know of, you can tick this one as another free cost, or you can buy poker cards for £0.99 on eBay. Official Malifaux cards are about £5 a pack, or £6.50 for a plastic higher quality set. So: free, £0.99, or £5 depending on what you choose. Models – Crew boxes vary from about £20, to just under £30. No-one says you have to use official models, although they are very nice. So: £20-30. As you can see, it’s completely possible to try this game, for as little as £20. If you enjoy the game, you can buy the official cards, the rules manual, and extra miniatures for your crews, but nothing is forcing you to buy them to try the game.
FLAMES OF WAR TOURNAMENT REPORT Brian McKenzie Reports on the U.K. Games Expo
n May 27th 2012, I played in the three-game Flames of War tournament at the U.K. Games Expo in Birmingham. James “Hammy” Hamilton ran this 1500-point, Late War tournament and it was a flawlessly run event. This was my first Flames of War tournament and my preparation focused on list design.
Hasty Attack is a Mobile Battle.”
Missions dictate list design. The three missions for this tournament were Dust Up, Hold the Line, and Hasty Attack. Dust Up is a so-called Fair Fight mission. This means that the normal Armour attacks Mechanized attacks Infantry sequence does not apply. A die roll deter-
mines who is the attacker and victory conditions require that you capture an objective in your opponent’s deployment area. Crucially, this mission requires that you start with half of your forces in Delayed Reserves. The earliest reinforcements will arrive is the third turn of the game and then only on a 5+ roll on a d6. Hold the Line is a Defensive Battle: the attacker wins by capturing an objective in the defender’s deployment zone. The defender wins if the attacker fails to do so. The defender has to place half of his units in normal reserves—reinforcements arrive on Turn 1 on a 5+ roll on a d6 and are automatic by Turn 3. In addition the defender can place up to two units using the Ambush rule. The attack begins with everything on the table. Hasty Attack is a Mobile Battle. Victory conditions are similar to Hold the Line but the defender is subjected to Delayed Reserves. In addition, the reserves arrive at a randomized location (left, right, or centre).
brian mckenzie Brian McKenzie is a licensed seamless gutter contractor and a longtime war gamer. He's the father of two future war gamers and enjoys thinking about war gaming when he's not war gaming.
Contemplating the above missions, I decided to take a Soviet Peredovoye Otryad (Forward Detachment). It has an Always Attacks directive if the Prepared Position rule is in use. This applied to both Hold the Line and Hasty Attack. This is crucial because of the Soviet special rule Infiltration. In both of these missions, the
attacker goes first. Infiltration gives certain soviet units a 16” pre-game infiltration move if 1) the Soviets go first and 2) prepared position is in use. The Always Attacks directive meant that in games 2 and 3 I would be attacking against any other force that did not have a similar directive—even a tank company. The chances of a Peredovoye Otryad getting an infiltration move in these two games seemed likely. The next consideration concerned the Dust Up mission. Set-up and deployment allows for a unit two start just over 16” away from an enemy objective. Even with half its forces off the table in Delayed Reserves the Peredovoye Otryad would be able to bring a serious amount of tonnage to bear on an objective quickly. Having made the above considerations I arrived at the following list:
• Peredovoye Otryad (Tank Company) • HQ: T-34/85 with cupola upgrade SMG riders, 2iC rifle team in jeep, 120 points • Combat Company 1: Gvardeyskiy Tankovy Company, 8 T-34/85s with cupola upgrades, 630 points • Combat Company 2: Tank Rider Company: 6 SMG teams, 2 HMG teams, komissar, command SMG, 200 points • Corps Support Company 3: Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Company, 3 IS-2 with riders and anti-air MGs, 450 points • Corps Support Company 4: Spetsnaz platoon, 2 SMG teams, 1 command SMG in captured German half-tracks, 100 points. Let’s briefly consider the implications of this list. It has four platoons. Points expenditure is
Even with half its forces off the table in Delayed Reserves the Peredovoye Otryad would be able to bring a serious amount of tonnage to bear on an objective quickly.”
weighted heavily on the two tank companies. In the first mission, Dust Up, I can start with my eight T-34/85s, three IS-2s, command T34/85, and 2iC on the table. That’s 1200 points out of 1500 points in the army—80% of the army. In the remaining two missions, I’m betting on being the attacker which will allow me start with everything on the table and, furthermore,
allow my spetsnaz to infiltrate the company of T34/85s.
I did lose my unit of T34/85s so I scored 5-2 for the victory.
What are the weaknesses in the list? The IS-2s have the greatest risk of under-performing. They are extremely durable, but their low rate of fire and lack of speed means they are not good at inflicting damage. Nevertheless, they can hit very hard in assaults and if they make it to an objective they might be impossible to dislodge.
The Games Game 1
My first game was against German grenadiers. It was a well-rounded list with significant anti-tank assets, recon, and veteran infantry. My hope was that I could capture the close objective quickly before the reserves turned the tide against me. I was able to do exactly that. In the photograph below you can see my swarm of T-34/85s and IS-2s charging toward the objective.
To make matters worse my IS-2s came on from reserves on my first turn and moved at the double.”
Next, I faced a Panzerkompanie. The list consisted of nearly a dozen Panzer Mk. IVs, two Hornisse tank killers, and other small supporting units. The mission allowed the defender to place two units in ambush and my opponent chose his unit of Hornisses and one unit of Pz. IVs. I was the attacker and made a charge straight for the nearest objective being held by a single unit of Pz. IVs. This was located in wood that I hoped would afford some line-of-sight protection for my forces. Sadly, it did not. As much forces stormed towards the objective my opponent sprung his ambushes. The two Hornisses were able to draw line of sight to the IS-2s and four shots knocked out two of them and the third then failed a morale check and quit the field. The battle was still a closerun affair. My T-34/85s suffered significant casualties but were able to reach the enemy objective on my second turn. Had the German Company Commander not be able to contest the objective victory would have been mine at the start of turn 3. I succeeded in knocking out a unit of Pz. IVs and the Hornisses before I conceded. A loss, scored 4-3 against me.
My final game was against a U.S. armoured division. Once again my Always Attacks directive placed the opponent in the role of defender. There were two objectives in the enemy deployment area spaced fair apart. Because the attacker deploys last the defender has to allocate some assets initially to the defence of both objectives. I was hoping to use the infiltration move to concentrate my forces gaining a quick victory before my opponent could bring reinforcements to bear. The battle would turn on the forest on the flank. My opponent had just two platoons of Shermans. A successful infiltration move put my T34/85s in close range and in my first turn they remained stationary to fire. The sixteen shots they put down range obliterated one unit. To make matters worse my IS-2s came on from reserves on my first turn and moved at the double. They would be in the thick of things after one more turn of movement. My opponent scrambled to bring his third unit of Shermans across the table but I was able to wipe out the defenders on the objective before they arrived. The game finished 6-1 in my favour.
I finished on 14 Victory Points, which was respectable. The list performed strongly. The IS-2s were punished mercilessly by the Hornisses in my second game but I had erred by keeping them out of the woods. Yet even that game came down to a measurement by a lone command tank. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to playing in more tournaments.
1984: A VERY BRITISH REVOLUTION Gary Mitchell guides us through a dystopian past game
hen I heard the theme of this Gazebo was to be dystopian futures I immediately thought, ‘Orwell’. He wrote the seminal ‘1984’ in 1948 - and simply flipped the date. ‘War without end and no freedom of thought’ was his nightmare. But 1984 is now history – so what about dystopian pasts? Heaven knows the 20th century saw plenty of those. Yet here in the UK we gamers seem obsessed with creating new ones at home. For example, there’s Solway Games’ magnificent ‘A Very British Civil War’, which proposes Edward VIII refusing to abdicate and a 1938 factional conflict. Likewise, there’s the (equally) fictional ‘The Winter Of ’79: Wargaming an Alternate Timeline of Thatcherite Britain’, this latter era of strife actually bestriding the real 1984. Politics aside – and love her or hate her – you couldn’t ignore Margaret Thatcher - the historical jury’s out, the only agreement being
A power-crazed junta - out to destroy the harmony and unbridled progress of the Sixties social, cultural and economic revolution - clings desperately to power.
that Meryl Streep did a good job in the role… When I started writing ‘Space Vixens from Mars’ we decided we wanted an arch villain to oppose the Galactic Coalition’s utopian rebuilding of humanity, so invented ‘Mrs Plumber’. You get the gag already, right? For those unfamiliar with our game, the ‘SVfM’ universe is not only a set of light-hearted ‘girls own’ adventure novels, but also a fully integrated miniatures gaming system for model ships and 28mm figures, freely referencing the cliché and metaphor of sixty years of sci-fi. With something for boys and girls of all ages the saga begins in Y2K with the abduction from Earth of seven young women by a mysterious race known as ‘The Greys’. Waking in the 26th century they are recruited by Mars to protect a humanity reforming in the aftermath of a lost war of aggression against the peaceful Galactic Coalition by the evil United States of Earth. Only the USE aren’t beaten – and they’ve resurrected Mrs Plumber – hidden in suspended animation since her overthrow…
Space Vixens from Mars, Episode 25G: A Very British Revolution
Dystopian futures lend themselves to ‘escape’ and ‘rescue’ games - if you’ve seen ‘Terminator’ or ‘Star
Gary Mitchell Writer and historian Gary was born on the last day of 1958. As a ‘veteran wargamer and author’* Gary belongs to the STaB club, and has written material for most top UK gaming journals. He’s most infamous for his role-playwargame ‘Space Vixens From Mars’, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Wars’ you’ll know what I mean. The problem with this game was re-creating something we’d already published as fiction. The aim is to rescue Queen Elizabeth II – the climax of the 1984 Revolution that restored UK democracy. When the Vixens ‘roadshow’ games at conventions, one of us always helps new participants get the hang of the rules, one acting as neutral ‘umpire’ – a ‘dun-
geon master’ to keep the game flowing. We also make sure every winner goes away with a prize so, as we work in the area where RPG and wargames meet, we decided the players would play against us, as the ‘bad guys’. So, it’s 1984 – and things are shaping up worse than Orwell’s most gloomy prediction. It’s Britain’s darkest hour since the German invasion of 1940. A power-crazed junta - out to destroy the harmony and unbridled progress of the Sixties social, cultural and economic revolution - clings desperately to power. But the tables are turning. As Mavis Plumber - self-styled ‘Lady Protector’ of the United Commonwealth of Britain - makes her getaway, can the punters complete the Restoration of democracy by saving the Queen from Mrs P’s National Conservation fanatics? The set-up was a small village at one short end of table defended by the Nat Cons’ ‘Protectoral Guard’. The Monarchists (including the incognito Space Vixens – conveniently sent back in time by The
Supreme Being) advance on from other side of table. As an added problem - to ensure history pans out correctly - Prince George and Marxist-Leninist rock-star Dave Wilson should enter the building, kill Colonel Norman Archer, and rescue the Queen. In actual fact we quickly discarded this condition to give players flexibility, but the Monarchists still only have ten turns in which to rescue and restore the Kingdom’s lawful sovereign. Being the good guys, they must also be careful not to catch civilians in the crossfire. So, after the usual rigorous playtesting, we modified the scenario. On turn one Mrs Plumber zooms off on her motorbike, plus 1D5 of Protectoral Guard rout off table. One Guard must remain with Archer and the prisoner in the farmhouse at all times. Assorted civilians were set up between village and the Monarchist entry point to block line-of-sight, and half way down the road is a Routemaster bus marking the start an impassable anti-vehicle minefield belt. This can be freely traversed by those on foot, and the rescuers
have been warned of this by local civilians. From Turn 6 onward Archer may decide to make a run for it with ‘Prisoner No. 1’ in a waiting car. On a dice score of 6 – rising to a 5 or 6 or turn 7 and so forth.
We obviously use and promote our own ‘Space Vixens From Mars – The Adventure Game’; a set designed to be simple and fast play ideally suited for ‘adventure’ skirmishes in that ‘grey area’ where wargame and roleplaying games overlap. The ‘main points’ for play fit onto a double-sided A4 photocopy, with character details provided on a separate sheet. Basically, each character has a certain number of ‘Strength Points’ (usually ‘2’ or ‘3’) that are cumulatively reduced by combat – at ‘0’ they are ‘killed’ (‘incapacitated’ in the case of ‘Heroes’ and ‘Main Characters’ meaning they return next episode, possibly played by a different actress who asked for less money!) In the case of ‘grunts’ they are simply eliminated – removed from play.
We also give each character a set number of ‘Actions’, the number of things a character may do each turn. ‘Heroes’ get ‘3’, all others ‘2’ because - as in all good adventures – ‘Heroes’ are better, aren’t they? Some characters also have ‘Special Skills’ which enable them to modify their die score and function as a ‘Hero’ at that particular task. For example, an ordinary ‘grunt’ could be a ‘Marksman’ so should shoot more accurately than a fellow grognard. Likewise ‘Heroes’ can also have special skills – how many times does ‘Major Blunte’ ever miss? As with many games rolls can made against skills and abilities. We also use an ‘Enable Test’ system whereby characters make a simple weighted die roll to achieve an unusual action; ‘Heroes’ and those with ‘Special Skills’ at that particular task adding ‘one’ to their score. One thing we prize is lack of complication and arguing. ‘Space Vixens’ is first and foremost a fun game - not a maths test or an exercise in judicial procedure! As suggested above, the rules utilise an ‘Initiative Point’ system (IPs) to control various phases of each game turn. Each side receives one IP per ‘Hero’ - plus five if you have at least five characters of any type in play (four IPs if four characters, etc). IPs are then allocated
by players to phases of a turn (‘Movem e n t ’, F i r i n g ’, ‘HandTo-Hand’, ‘Any Other Business’). Whoever ‘wins’ the allocation by bidding the most points chooses who takes their phase first. Put simply, if you ‘win’ you usually get your opponent to move first so you see what they do, then you move; by winning ‘Firing’ you shoot first to eliminate them before they can shoot you. It’s a game of bluff and guile, rather than pure numbers. Lose a ‘Hero’ – lose an IP. Fall below five characters on the table and you lose an IP. It works well. A few heroes can leave loads of grunts flat-footed, just like the movies – but superior firepower will out if you’re not sneaky and able to think ahead. If there is a tie of IPs, simply make a straight die roll for holding initiative. The events of each turn are in sequence, so take care. If you lose the initiative and get shot before you can fire – c’est la guerre. Our guiding principle with the rules is that the proverbial eight year old child should be able to pick up the basics and play within a few minutes.
What I don’t want to do is clog-up The Gazebo with rule-specific stats, so if you’d like the scenario, dear reader, mail me at email@example.com and I’ll send it gratis. Basically, with Mrs Plumber leaving the table Nat Cons had Colonel Archer (a ‘Hero’) and up to
sixteen Protectoral Guard (before some run for it), and an unmarked SPG car. This gave them an initiative of ‘6’. The Monarchists consist of all seven incognito Space Vixens (six of which are ‘Heroes’), a Warrior APC, standard armed civilians (Lady Lara Croft and Dave Wilson) plus a further ‘Hero’ in HRH Lt. Prince George (fictional) youngest son of Her Majesty. That’s an initiative of ‘12’ – so clever ‘bidding’ by the Nat Con player could de-rail and delay a plan. Ok, so clearly the Monarchists are able to ‘control’ any one initiative phase, but must approach on foot against superior numbers, hidden in cover, and not risk assorted civilians. They are also chasing a time limit. Tough, but not impossible. And so it proved.
We obviously use and promote our own ‘Space Vixens’ range, but to fill in the gaps we use a variety of manufacturers for civilians and extra military – in particular the ‘Ground Zero Games’ range is compatible plus ‘Copplestone Castings’ and many others. Our rules have been specifically written to explain the drafting of ‘character descriptions’ that allow players to use whatever they want. We’re a very broad church!
I hope this article has given you a flavour of our ‘dystopian past’ game, and some ideas for devising and running your own RPG scenarios using our flexible ‘initiative’ mechanism. As it says in ‘Starship Troopers’ – ‘would you like to know more?’ Visit website www.spacevixensfrommars.com or come and try our game system at one of our forthcoming shows.
Issue #3 will be out October 12th 2012. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if youâ€™re interested in contributing.