Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 5 December 2022

Miskatonic Monday #157: Annals of Flint’s Detective Agency Chapter 2: MESISTOPHELES’ MALICIOUS MILK

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Mark Potter

Setting: Jazz Age Chicago
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Thirty-Four page, 1.82 MB Full Colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Plot Hook: Investigating a young man affected by the demon drink leads to demons!
Plot Support: Eight NPCs, six handouts, five maps, four Mythos artefacts, 
and three Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Variable.

Pros
# Many Hobbit jokes
# Throws the Mob and the cops into the mix
# Decent investigation
# More than the Mythos involved for extra storytelling elements
# Familiar set-up and plot, but not badly done
# Selaphobia
# Dipsophobia

Cons
# Needs a strong edit
# Familiar set-up and plot, but not badly done
# Too many Hobbit and other jokes
# Maps a little too small

Conclusion
# Solid investigation at the height of Prohibition undone by too many jokes and uneven production values, and a degree of familiarity with other Prohibition-set scenarios.
# Good mix of the Mob, the Cops, plus extra storytelling elements gives some good roleplaying opportunities.

Sunday, 4 December 2022

Less Anger, More Advice... Eventually

The Angry GM has made a name for himself dispensing advice and guidance on how to be a better game Master on his blog, which promises “RPG Advice with Attitude”. Some of that advice has been collected and collated in Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way. This promises that you can “Learn to play fantasy role-playing games”, “Run your first Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder game”, and “Improve your GMing skills and run great less worse games”, and if you take the advice and implement elements of it, then that is likely the case. This a book for the prospective player initially, but mostly the prospective Game Master, which has got her first roleplaying game—most likely Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and wants to start running it for her friends or her existing group. It discusses narration and adjudication of running games, running the first game and then starting again, engaging with the players, handling combat, addresses risk and failure, portraying NPCs, dealing with problems at the table, and more. Though full of good advice, but for the most part, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is not a book for the experienced Game Master as she is likely already implementing the book’s suggestions and guidance. Of course, there is nothing to stop her from perusing the book to at least pick up the odd tip, or even confirm that she is at least game master the ‘Angry Way’.

However, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is not without its problems which get in the way of the good advice to be found in its pages. The first of which are its price and its length. The book is simply too expensive and too long. At over one-hundred-and-seventy pages, it is far too long. It could and should have been shorter and more concise. It is often overwritten and all often feels as if it could have got to the point a lot earlier. At $15 for the PDF, there are better looking books with more focused advice on being a good Game Master for less. Similarly, there are better looking books with more focused advice on being a good Game Master in print for the same cost as the PDF. Then there is the issue with tone and remit. The title of the book suggests that the book is going to be written a sense of energy and urgency, with anger, and there is none of that. Anyone coming to the book after reading the blog with its near rants and use of deleted expletives will be severely disappointed, for the style of the book is light and chatty—often too chatty. Which leads into the issue with remit, because if the book is written by the ‘Angry GM’ and he never gets angry in the book as he does on the blog, what is the point of the title? What 
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way really means is that the player and prospective Game Master should be playing using the advice from a writer whose nickname is ‘Angry’, not be a Game Master with that emotion in mind. Which is misleading.

Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is divided into three parts. ‘Part I: The World of Role-Playing Games’ is intended for the new player, ‘Part II: Getting Your (First) Game On’ is the first time Game Master’, and ‘Part III: Running Less Worse Games’ is the Game Master who wants to improve her skills. The opening of ‘Part I: The World of Role-Playing Games’ starts with first principles, taking the reader through the first steps of a Dungeons & Dragons-style game, what options has in terms of purchasing roleplaying games and what they offer, and giving a first examination of what a Game Master is. Veteran players and Game Masters are advised to skip this, but it feels too basic for the book, too much of a focus upon being the player in a book that is primarily for the Game Master. Perhaps this could have been saved for a book of advice on how to play roleplaying games the ‘Angry Way’—that is, a book of advice for the player, or retooled for the intended audience, the Game Master?

Thankfully, ‘Part II: Getting Your (First) Game On’ does begin getting to the point and telling the reader what a Game Master is and does. It starts with simple advice, such as ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’, preparing the first adventure, explains the basic conversation involved in playing a roleplaying game, how to be a narrator and what the four types of narration are, and how to adjudicate the rules. This though, is forty pages in… It breaks down the nature of combat, examining the four things that the Game Master has to handle in the process—as a Referee, as monster wrangler, an accountant, and as a jockey, the latter to keep the pace of the combat appropriately fast and free flowing. Then it returns to the basic conversation involved in playing a roleplaying game, but examines it from the point of view of combat. This all sets the prospective Game Master up with the basic elements of her role.

At more than half its length, ‘Part III: Running Less Worse Games’ is the longest section in the book. It includes interesting sections on player agency and the power they and their characters have within a game, breaks down the time and framing units of roleplaying—action, scene, adventure, and campaign—before using them to build back up a Game Master’s approach to the structuring her game. There is standard advice too, such as only rolling the dice when it is important and running a Session Zero, and for the most part, the advice and suggestions are rules agnostic, but the book is heavily weighted towards playing and running Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and Pathfinder, and where it does get mechanical it is always with those roleplaying games in mind. It also includes some mechanics of its own. This includes ‘Angry’s Ten-Point Scale’, used to track a Player Character’s success or failure and potential reaction points along that scale when he attempt’s a task that takes longer than a single roll, developing that as a means to handle loner, more involved conversations, for example. It differentiates between scene and encounter, and it also provides advice and suggestions as to how to create and portray NPCs in interesting and dramatic fashion in what is one of the more enjoyable sections of the book, and it also has advice on tone, a degree of improvisation, and finally potential issues and conflicts at the table. Here Game Angry moves into the social space of gaming. Lastly, the advice takes the reader to the verge of beginning campaign, but no further. That perhaps is the subject of another supplement?

Physically, 
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is a plain affair interspersed by pieces of cartoon artwork, much like the author’s blog posts. Here the artwork only serves to separate the chapters and adds nothing to the content. The writing is often over blown and it could have done with tighter editing for length and focus. The book lacks an index. Similarly, the author makes references to outside sources, such as to ‘The MDA Design Approach’, but does not cite them or include a bibliography. This is inexcusably unprofessional.

As decent as the advice in
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way is, it has dated slightly and it does not take into account different forms of gaming. Or even ways in which it can be consumed, stating “Now, RPGs don’t have audiences.” whereas even when the book was originally published, they did. Hence Critical Role. Anyway, no convention games or online games, the latter increasingly important and common since the pandemic. Now of course, the book was written before that occurred, but a section on running convention games would have been a very useful inclusion.

The author, the ‘Angry GM’, has neutered his voice for 
Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way. Had he not, then perhaps the book might have stood out from the range of titles on how to be a good Game Master. The advice given is good, but for experienced players and Game Masters will probably be familiar, whilst for the new or prospective Game Master, Game Angry: How to RPG The Angry Way takes a while to get the point and could have been far more concise.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Devoid

The crew of the Pavel Sukhoi, an Albatross Class Armed Explorer, has been assigned to the Rizpah-160 system on a search and recovery mission. Operated by mankind’s preeminent space exploration and transport company, Galilee Heavy Industry, the Pavel Sukoi is to enter orbit above Rizpah-160B, recover a probe, Mother Three, and then descend to the surface to recover the three landers it launched to explore the planet below—the comically named Sister Nancy, Sister Sledge, and Brother Ben. Galilee Heavy Industries does not like to waste equipment, but it also wants to keep the fact that Rizpah-160B is potentially habitable a secret. Whilst in orbit, the Pavel Sukhoi is also conduct further surveys, but the Player Characters are assigned the recovery missions. This is the set-up for Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World, a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition published Stygian Fox as part of its ‘Cthulhu Tomorrow’ line.

Unfortunately, Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World is spectacularly uninteresting. To begin with, the plot, such as it is, is little more than series of mechanical rolls and skill checks to see how well the Player Characters recover the lost pieces of technology, enlivened by alien species of tree-like hunters which will attack the Player Characters, who are expected to run away. The scenario calls the Player Characters Investigators just as you would in any other Call of Cthulhu scenario, but the scenario does not call for any real investigation. The scenario is written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but does not involve any of the Mythos. Of course, there have been plenty of scenarios published for Call of Cthulhu which do not involve the Mythos and it is perfectly acceptable to have a non-Mythos horror scenario for the roleplaying game, but to not make that fact clear until fourteen pages into the scenario when discussing the rewards and repercussions? Rewards which include Sanity gains when there is no Mythos involved? Similarly, there is no scope for interaction or roleplaying either, since whilst six pre-generated ‘Investigators’ are provided with the scenario, they lack roleplaying hooks or hints as to the relationships between them which might have engendered or encouraged roleplaying.

Worse, Darkness in the Void completely fails to follow through on the promise given in the blurb on its back cover. It states, “The planet holds mysteries and terrors the likes of which they have never dreamed of, or experienced in their worst nightmares.” There are no mysteries whatsoever in the scenario, and whilst being attacked by an alien species, might be described as a terror, it is such a raging cliché that it will probably bore both the Keeper and her players. Some possible mysteries—the other regions of the planet might hold other horrors and treasures, the Pavel Sukhoi might detect a strange alien signal or remnant of an alien civilisation, are suggested under ‘Further Adventures’, but why promise them on the back cover if the scenario is not going to deliver and simply leave them for the Keeper to create?

Worse, there is an interesting setting behind Darkness in the Void, one which involves Galilee Heavy Industries’ links to the Mythos. Like everything else which might be labelled ‘interesting’ in Darkness in the Void, it is only hinted at. Salo’s Glory, another Science Horror scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition published by Stygian Fox, addresses it in more direct fashion and does involve the Mythos.

Besides its thin plot, Darkness in the Void includes basic deck plans of the Pavel Sukhoi, details of the various pieces of equipment the Player Characters will use throughout the scenario, new skills for the Science Fiction setting, stats for various NPCs and two alien species, and the six pre-generated Player Characters. The illustrations are at least decent, especially of the pre-generated Player Characters, In fact, they may actually be the best thing about Darkness in the Void. Otherwise, Darkness in the Void is poorly written and developed, intermittently edited, but on the plus side, the layout is decent and it is in colour.

Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World might be written for Call of Cthulhu, but it is not a Call of Cthulhu scenario. It is at best—and it should be made clear that there is nothing in this scenario which can be described as ‘best’—a Science Fiction scenario with a plot that is not only paper thin, but so much of a cliché, it would have been labelled trite at the dawn of the genre. How a scenario so unremittingly boring and uninvolving could have been foisted upon Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition beggars belief. Avoid at costs, and if you have bought it, seriously, not only ask for your money back, but ask for compensation for your time and effort. Stygian Fox should be paying you to read this scenario, not the other way around.

Maritime Mutant Mystery

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is the twelfth release for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman GamesDesigned for Second Level player characters, what this means is that Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is not a Character Funnel, one of the signature features of both the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game it is mechanically based upon—in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In terms of the setting, known as Terra A.D., or ‘Terra After Disaster’, this is a ‘Rite of Passage’ and in Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients, the stress of it will trigger ‘Metagenesis’, their DNA expressing itself and their mutations blossoming forth. By the time the Player Characters in Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths have reached Second Level, they will have had numerous adventures, should have understanding as to how their mutant powers and how at least some of the various weapons, devices, and artefacts of the Ancients they have found work and can use on their future adventures.

Mutant Crawl Classics 
 #13: Into The Glowing Depths the Player Characters in a totally unexpected direction—under the sea—but begins in assuming fashion with the party travelling somewhere. The where is not important, but it means that the scenario is easy to set up or add to a campaign, because essentially, it is a side trek adventure. An interesting and engaging side trek adventure, but a side trek adventure nevertheless. On the journey, the Player Characters come across a small tubular building in a clearing which is clearly built by the Ancients and is being ransacked for artefacts by a band of the mutated humanoids known as Tri-eyes. After persuading the Tri-eyes to leave, whether through force or bribery, the Player Characters have  the opportunity to investigate themselves and hopefully find some useful devices left over from the Great Disaster which befell the Ancients. Unfortunately, their curiosity and their greed first gets them trapped, and then flings them into great danger.

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths will pull the Player Characters out of their comfort zone, because it takes place entirely under the sea and on the ocean floor. This is an environment which the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game has not yet explored, so no one has any idea idea of what the undersea world of Terra A.D. is like—both in-game and out of game—until now. What is revealed is the undersea world was only beginning to be explored and inhabited before the Great Disaster, and much like the world above, the seas of Terra were affected by the nuclear, biological, chemical, nanotech, and other weapons of mass destruction used in the Great Disaster. However, it took a lot longer, being protected initially by the oceans. Like the world above though, there remains pockets and outposts of civilisation from before the Great Disaster, and it is to one of these that the Player Characters find themselves in what should be an epic opening scene.

Many of the adventures for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game combine a mix of exploration and combat, often in what are the isolated remains of buildings, facilities, outposts, stations, bunkers, museums, and the like of the future, now long in the past of Terra A.D. Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths does this too, but it differs because it involves a plot and a number of tasks which the Player Characters must complete in order to finish the scenario, survive, and save the world. Consequently, the scenario feels more proactive, providing the Player Character with objectives and things to do, rather than just exploration and extermination.

The Player Characters find themselves  in an undersea outpost, partially flooded and only partially operational. They will find themselves sloshing through half-lit and darkened rooms, in a series of mini-quests. The first of which is restoring power, the second holding off an attack against invading forces, and the third preventing a further invasion—not just of the undersea outpost, but the whole of the surface world of Terra A.D.! Throughout, the Player Characters are guided by the A.I. which runs the outpost, a surprisingly benign presence in comparison to other computer intelligences found in the world of Terra A.D. (Or Science Fiction in general, especially post apocalyptic Science Fiction.) She—and it is a a she—impresses upon the Player Characters that time is short and invasion from the depths below is imminent.

Thus Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is played out in several steps, beginning with what is effecting the abduction of the Player Characters by the A.I. of the outpost. Then following an explanation, exploration of the outpost’s various levels to find the means to restore power—the latter involving an excursion along the seabed, followed by the defence of the outpost and then the attack on the invaders. Consequently, the scenario is really written in two halves. The first details the outpost itself, whilst the second the events which propel the scenario’s plot forward, culminating hopefully in the successful defeat of the invasion and saving of both outpost and life on Terra A.D. itself!

Both the outpost and the A.I. itself are described in some detail, the latter important because she is a major NPC in the scenario. The outpost is mapped out in pleasing detail, including wavy grid lines rather than straight to indicate locations which are under several feet of water. It is a lovely touch. If perhaps there is an issue with the scenario, it is that the outpost A.I. advises the Player Characters on much of what works and how, aboard the outpost, replacing the usual artifact checks of the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. In some ways, this unavoidable, since there is so much in the outpost that the Player Characters have to know how to work in order to complete the scenario and if the players have to roll, there is a chance of failure.  Another issue of course, is that the scenario opens a whole new world in the form of the subsea environment, but never goes beyond the outpost. Hopefully this world will further detailed in a future supplement or sequel scenario.

Physically, behind a suitably briny cover, Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is cleanly and tidily laid out, clearly written, and decently illustrated. As already mentioned, the maps are really nicely done.

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is a real change of pace and environment for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. As a side trek scenario, it is really easy to add to a campaign, but it is also a thoroughly engaging scenario for both player and Judge, opening up a whole new world in Terra A.D., one which will hopefully be revisited again in Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, as there really is a lot to explore.

Friday, 2 December 2022

The Other OSR—DURF

DURF: An Adventure Game For Brave Adventurers
is a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game in the vein of games like Knave, Troika!, and Into the Odd. In fact, it is inspired by and draws from those roleplaying games in terms of its design. For example, it uses an Inventory Slot mechanic for both the equipment carried by the Player Characters and the casting of magic from Knave, and employs the three attributes, deadly combat, and absence of Classes commonly found in the lighter micro-clone designs emanating from the Old School Renaissance. The result is a generically light, retroclone-derived roleplaying game which emphasises the risky nature of combat, simplicity of rules and play, and the need for preparation prior to setting out on an expedition, whilst also adhering to reduced bookkeeping, quick character generation, and a simple advantage system. DURF is also intended to be hackable and purchasers are encouraged to alter and adapt as is their wont.

DURF includes rules for creating Player Characters, straightforward rules for handling most situations, opposed rolls, and combat, spells and spellcasting, NPCs and monsters, and magical items. Where possible, individual elements of the rules are kept to just a single page, and even when placed across two pages, the rules and their supporting content—for example, spellcasting and the spells themselves—are constrained to a page each. It makes everything all very accessible. There is no adventure in the core rules, but given that DURF is a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game and Old School Renaissance adjacent, finding a ready source of dungeons and adventures should not be too difficult.

A Player Character in DURF has three attributes, Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower, initially rated between one and three. They can go as high as eight. A Player Character also begins play with one Hit Die, which is rolled to determine if wounds suffered are fatal. He also has a number of Inventory Slots, and begins play with two Supplies, which can be swapped with common dungeoneering equipment during play, a dagger, three random Belongings, and some gold. A Player Character can be created in mere minutes.

Dirk the Dice

Strength 2
Dexterity 3
Willpower 1

Slots 12
Supplies 2
Gold 90
Spells: Drain Life
Belongings: Dagger, Light armour, Tonic of Health


Mechanically, DURF uses a simple roll of a twenty-sided die whenever a player wants his character to act. An appropriate attribute is added to the result and if the result is fifteen or more, then the Player Character succeeds. Opposed rolls are simply determined by the highest result. Instead of Advantage and Disadvantage mechanics of rolling extra twenty-sided dice, DURF uses Buffs and Breaks, rolls of six-sided dice. Individual Buffs and Breaks cancel each other out, but if a Player Character has one or more Buffs, only the highest is counted and added to the player’s roll, whilst if the Player Character has one or more Breaks, only the highest is counted, but is subtracted from the player’s roll. Buffs can be gained from any number of factors, but a Player Character can gain a Buff by Pushing himself. The downside is that the Player Character takes Stress and this fills an Inventory Slot. This can only be done when a Player Character has an empty Inventory Slot.

Combat is fast and employs opposed rolls. This is Strength versus Strength in mêlée combat and Dexterity versus Dexterity in ranged combat. The winner inflicts damage equal to the weapon he wields. Armour reduces this damage, but is damaged in the process. A roll of twenty is a critical hit and inflicts double damage, whilst a roll of one means the weapon is worn and inflicts less damage until repaired. Any damage left over is suffered as Wounds. When this happens, the player rolls his character’s Hit Die or Hit Dice and if the result is less than or equal to the number of Wounds currently suffered, then the character dies. Whenever a Player Character acquires a new Level, his Hit Dice also increase by one, and consequently increase chances of his survival.


Spellcasting in DURF is available to any Player Character. If a Player Character knows or learns a spell, he can cast it. This requires a roll against his Willpower and causes Stress, further filling the Player Character’s Inventory Slots. A roll of one indicates a Blunder, the accompanying table giving a number of entertaining options, including gaining twenty pounds (potentially weight or gold) or a small gnome turning up, ringing a bell as he shames the Player Characters. Accompanying the rules is a selection of twenty spells, which include the familiar such as Levitate, Charm, and Turn Undead, but also the more interesting, like Grasp of Yahzahar which enables the caster to grab his opponents and pin them with shadowy hands.

Rounding out DURF is a guide to creating NPCs, hiring Hirelings—probably a necessity given the deadliness of the mechanics and game play, rules for converting monsters from the Old School Renaissance, and some sample NPCs/monsters, like the Echo Gecko, Dragon, and Eelfolk. The Game Master will definitely need to adapt or create some more. Lastly, there is a selection of magical items and rules for their use.

What distinguishes DURF is its Inventory and Slot management rules combined with the Stress mechanics. DURF is likely to become a roleplaying of resource management as each player manages what his character can carry and then, if he can cast spells, how far he is willing to exhaust himself, gain Stress, and literally choose between what he can carry and what he can cast. This is not new, having been seen elsewhere in the Old School Renaissance, but DURF is a roleplaying game whose designer admits his influences. In roleplaying game designed to be one of purely ‘dungeon-fantasy’, they are notable though.

Physically, DURF is cleanly, tidily laid out. The roleplaying game is well written, easy to read, and quick to learn. It is lightly illustrated in a comic style.

If DURF is missing anything, it is a scenario. Not necessarily to see how the game is played, since the rules are very light and easy to understand. Nor is it to see what the world of DURF is like, since there is no world implied, since DURF is meant to be a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game and we know what such a world is like from Dungeons & Dragons and its numerous iterations. Rather, the point of having a scenario or dungeon in DURF is to get to the point where the Game Master can start running DURF and her players can start playing it. DURF is obviously designed so that it takes minutes to create a Player Character, so why not make it minutes to start play after that?

Overall, DURF: An Adventure Game For Brave Adventurers is what you want in a micro-clone. Rules light, quick to play, deadly where it counts, and open to tinkering and development if the Game Master wants too.

—oOo—

Lair of the Gobbler: A Dungeon for Low Hit Dice Adventurers (1-2 HD) is the first official adventure for DURF. It is not part of the core rulebook, but is available to download. It details an eight-room dungeon location in a hill in the Barrenmoot Swamps, which the Player Characters will discover is where a missing chef is being held. The complex has a muddy, sodden feel to it, its locations nicely detailed and flavoursome. As per DURF’s remit, it is very easy to prepare and the Game Master should be able to run through it in a session or two.

Friday Faction—Dice Men

The influence of Games Workshop upon the hobby—certainly in the United Kingdom, let alone beyond—cannot be underestimated. From its founding in 1975 to its current status as a FTSE 250 company, Games Workshop has come to represent the gaming hobby and latterly the wargaming hobby to first the United kingdom and later the world. Notably it imported the first commercially available copies in the United Kingdom of Dungeons & Dragons and as the first distributor and publisher of licensed versions of the new rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, it would grow and grow the hobby in this country. Its main vehicle for this would be White Dwarf magazine, which would not only support Games Workshop’s titles licensed from publishers in the USA, but also its own growing range of board games and roleplaying games. So Apocalypse (or The Warlord) and Talisman, the Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game and Golden Heroes, and many more. Its spin-off, Citadel Miniatures, produced licensed miniatures and its own, ultimately leading to Warhammer The Mass Combat Fantasy Role-Playing Game and from there, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Alongside this, Games Workshop opened retail shops, if not on the high street, then at least close by, thus enabling games enthusiasts to pick up the latest games and miniatures, but also beginning that long road to normalisation and wider acceptance for the hobby, as well as being somewhere where hobby enthusiasts could meet. The refocus of Games Workshop in the late eighties and eventual buyout from the two surviving founders—Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson—in the early nineties would send the company down a different path to the company that it is now. That though, is another story, and not the one told in Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop.

Written by Sir Ian Livingstone with Steve Jackson—two of the three founders of Games Workshop—Dice Men is a memoir of the company’s first fifteen years. It begins with the two of them, together with their friend John Peake, deciding to set up their own games company. Initially, this was producing wooden puzzles and games, along their gaming fanzine, Owl & Weasel, but when a copy of that fell into the hands of the co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons, E. Gary Gygax, they were first offered a copy of the game to review, then placed an order to sell, and then were offered the distribution rights for the United Kingdom. Proselytising the merits of the first roleplaying game in the pages of Owl & Weazel and then White Dwarf, Livingstone and Jackson, now without Peake, would build the company as a games wholesaler, a magazine publisher, and then a retailor, with its first shop at Dalling Road in Hammersmith, and an events organiser, with Games Day. The company would publish its board games, beginning with Apocalypse: The Game of World War III, Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space, Valley of the Four Winds: An Epic Game of Swords & Sorcery, and Warlock: The Game of Duelling Wizards and become a licensee for numerous roleplaying games as well publishing its own. Time and again, Games Workshop would publish fondly remembered titles, many of which have been reprinted since or remain in print today. Setting up Citadel Miniatures too to support fantasy gaming in general as well as Games Workshop’s own titles, ultimately of course, lead to Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Physically, Games Workshop would grow too, moving from a flat to an office, the latter with Livingstone and Jackson living out a van, before opening the company’s first shop at Dalling Road, acquiring offices and warehouse space at Sunbeam Road, Citadel Miniatures opening premises in Nottingham, and so on, with many of the addresses being familiar to British gamers from the eighties. The book also looks at other aspects of the authors’ involvement in the hobby, most notably the Fighting Fantasy series of solo adventure books—detailed in You Are The Hero, but also the beginnings of the computer games industry.

Along the way, there are plenty of asides. They include Steve Jackson’s search for a copy of The Warlord, the map and key for ‘The Inner Temple of the Golden Skeleton’—Livingstone’s first dungeon, the authors’ first trip to Gen Con, and more. There are other contributors, including various employees, notably Bryan Ansell, who was so important in establishing Citadel Miniatures and eventually taking the company in a new direction. There is also a lovely message from Gail Gygax, the wife of the late E. Gary Gygax, highlighting how Gary felt about Ian Livingstone. In the main though, 
the voices heard are those of Jackson and Livingstone. There are controversies and failures along the way as well, but not many. Such as the time Games Workshop received a letter from Lucas Film because of an advert, the newspapers’ assertion that the company was distributing Mayfair Games’ War in the Falklands board game, and of course, Ian Marsh’s infamous acrostic in White Dwarf #77!

Physically, Dice Men is an engaging read, but what really catches the eye are its photographs. The book is lavishly illustrated. They begin the company’s first orders for its own games, covers for all of the copies of Owl & Weasel, catalogue covers, flyers for Games Day and Dragonmeet, photographs from these events and the authors’ Gen Con trip, White Dwarf covers, beautiful reproductions of figures from Citadel Miniatures, and more. The book is as much a visual history of the company as it is a personal memoir, and it is clear that the authors have dived deep onto the archives to pull out so many of its photographs.

Dice Men is not a history of Games Workshop. That book is yet to be written, whether of the first part of its history—the period covered here, or of the second part, its more recent history built around its own intellectual properties. It is instead a memoir, and so a personal history. As interesting as it is, to an extent this limits its readership. It is not necessarily going to be of interest to the fan of Games Workshop who has no interest in the company’s origins and for the roleplaying historian, it may not be critical enough. Yet what shines through is the hard work that both authors put into building and developing Games Workshop, as well as their love of games and gaming. 

For the role-player of certain age—especially if British, or the role-player with an interest in the history of gaming, then Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop is an absolute must-have. This is a sumptuously illustrated trip down memory lane for both reader and the book’s authors to look at the beginning of an institution and the gaming hobby in the United Kingdom.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Jonstown Jottings #70: Spirit Hunt

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—

What is it?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a five page, full colour, 1.13 GB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy. It is art free, but the cartography is excellent.

The map can be found here.

Where is it set?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is set in or near Esrolia. It is suggested that it be set in the hills between Helerdon and the Doktados mountains.

Who do you play?
Player Characters of all types could play this scenario, but as written they are expected to be connected to Esrolia. A Player Character with either Hate (Lunars) or Hate (Lunar Empire) can be driven to undertake this scenario.

What do you need?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt details the hiding place of the Nyctalope sent by the Red Emperor in 1610 ST which successfully assassinated Queen Valinalda of Esrolia. The Player Characters are either sent by one of the Esrolian Queens or Ernalda’s priestess to destroy the spirit, have to do so as part of a heroquest, or simply stumbled across the lair. The scenario provides the basic background, a set of random encounters, and the floorplans of the ruined shrine where the Nyctalope is hiding.

Although the map is excellent, GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is uninteresting. There is perhaps an engaging and intriguing scenario which explores the hunt for the spirit which assassinated Queen Valinalda, GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is not that. The Game Master could develop it further, especially if one of more of the Player Characters is from Esrolia, is related or has links to one of the Queens, or actively hates the Lunars. However, there is no roleplaying or interaction involved here, no mystery, no anything except combat. So why bother starting with this when there so little to work from?

Again, the Game Master should download the map by Dyson Logos and use that to create her own scenario. It would be unlikely to be any worse or more uninspiring than GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is and it is definitely less expensive.

Is it worth your time?
YesGLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is straightforward and easy to run, and requires relatively little effort to prepare.
NoGLORANTHA: A Grim Pilgrimage is another self-contained mini-dungeon which the author kindly leaves much of the interesting detail, stats, and flavour to be found in the back story—as is his standard practice—for the Game Master to develop herself. Cheap, cheerless, characterless, and charmless. Not mostly, but completely.
MaybeGLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is straightforward and easy to run, and requires relatively little effort to prepare, but the Game Master could easily come up with an alternative which was interesting and involving.