Monday 29 September 2014

A word on monsters and the monstrous...

Because it's a worthwhile consideration to think about what makes a monster a monster, my own thoughts on the matter to come tomorrow when I've had time to knock the essay into something vaguely resembling shape, but in the meantime...

What does make a monster, Monstrous....

Sunday 28 September 2014

Story September - Lightning fiction tryout - A time to weep

Templeton looked across the battlefield at Jasar atop a mound of the dead, head to the sky as the rain started to fall, washing the bodies clean of the blood clinging to them.  Templeton sheathed his sword and looked down at his tabard, once white, now covered in dirt and blood, then up to Jasar as he turned to face Templeton, the last two men upon the field.

"Was it worth it?" Templeton yelled, shielding his eyes from the sun as Jasar made his way down the mound. "What difference did this make...? Are you happy now?"
Jasar reached the bottom of the mound and put his left hand on Templetons shoulder. "They think so," He pointed up towards the peaks in the distance.
"The mountains were there before us and they'll be there long after we're gone," Templeton felt an unbearable weariness in his heart, "Nothing we do will make any difference to them."
"The mountains?" Jasar stood in front of Templeton and raised both his arms high, tilting his head back to feel the rain wash away the markings on his face, "Lift your head up my friend, feel the tears of their gods for what we did to their people today."
"Their gods?" Templeton blinked the rain away as Jasar brought his face back down, "Do you think we made their gods notice today?"
"I know we did..." Jasar grinned, his eyes holding an edge of madness within them, "Come on..."

"They're not far now..."

Saturday 27 September 2014

Story September - The Last Light of Autumn

“There’s only four of them over there,” Mitchell ducks back down below the level of the roof, “I can drop two if you lot can get the other two.”
“It won’t just be four of them,” I look at Mitchell and load the last four shells into my rifle, “They wouldn’t leave something like that unguarded.”
“Maybe,” Mitchell shrugs, “Tell you what I do know, I know that they’re warm in there and we’re out here, I’ve got no intention of spending another night out here when I could be spending it in there.”
“It’s a couple of hours before the sun goes down,” I look up at the shining white star in the sky.
“Like It’ll make a difference,” Mitchell looks at me.
“It’ll be dark when the sun goes down,” I glance upwards, “The temperature won’t change, but it’s easier to sneak up on things when they’ve all been looking in the light for hours.”
“Good point,” He slumps back against the edge of the roof and sighs, “Sorry, this close to being warm all night without ten layers of blankets, I can almost taste it.”
“There’s time,” I nod, “Come on, we wait for everyone else to get here then we take care of it.”
“Or we take it now and keep it for ourselves,” He grins.

There’s an edge of insanity in that grin, too many years without hope...

“And that’s exactly what they thought,” I glance over the side again, “And now the whole area is saturated with the bodies of those they had to kill to keep it theirs.”
“Yeah, but we know what we’re doing.” He glances over the side again.
“Which is exactly what everyone else down there said when they had a go,” I nod, “We wait, when everyone’s here, we make a go of it.”

The sun is down when the rest of the gang arrive, Denise, James and Richard only...

“Where’s Johnny?” I look over at Denise.
“Still running to the south I’d have said,” Denise looks tired, moreso than usual, her face gaunt with the lack of sleep and food, “He decided that it wasn’t going to be a good idea to take on the power and made a strike out for the river.”
“The River?” Mitchell looks incredulous, “That’s over fifty miles from here.”
“Yeah, but they’re still taking people on and they’ve got a functioning Hydroelectric there.”
“Suppose,” I nod
“So what’s the plan,” Denise glances over the side, “I mean the place used to be a bunker didn’t it?”
“Closest thing to it,” I take a look down through the binoculars, “It’s a nuclear power station and the core went active only a few months ago, there’s enough power in there to keep us running for centuries if we’re careful.”
“How’d they manage to get an unused core and get it installed, and get it started without any other power...?” Denise sits against the edge of the roof next to me. “Surely everyone would have heard about it.”
“We did,” I smile
“Point, Reckon they’d want to share?” Denise raises an eyebrow
“Would you?”

“Time’s wasting,” Mitchell takes his rifle and moves close, “I’ll take the two on the roof, you just make sure you get the two on the ground.”
“And then what?” I look at him, “The gates still got a few million volts running through it, how are you planning on getting through that?”
“No guards outside make it a lot easier,” He smiles and lines up on the first target.
I line up on the guard standing outside the door to the left as Denise lines up on the right.  Mitchell nods and three rifles spit bullets without noise at the targets, I see Mitchell shift and fire again.  He raises his head from the scope and then looks back down it again.
“What’s wrong?” I ask
“I definitely hit them,” he doesn’t take his eye from the scope, “But they’re still standing.”

I sight down the rifle at the one I shot, still standing.  I adjust the magnification to see that there’s a huge ragged hole in the neck where I hit them, but the body is still standing.  Looking to the rear of them, it looks like there’s a framework of some sort keeping them up.

“Already dead,” I say, “What about yours?”
“Yep,” Denise nods, “Been dead a while from the looks of it.”
“Why would anyone stack cadavers outside the building,” Mitchell brings his rifle down.
“To make everyone think there were more people in the building than there are?” I look at each of them in turn, “And if they have to staff the outside with dead people, there can’t be that many live ones in the building either.”
“Come to think of it,” Richards looks from one end of the building to the other, “I can’t see any lights on inside either.”
“Don’t want to advertise they’ve got power?” Denise looks at him, “I wouldn’t.”
“What if they don’t have power?” I muse, “What if they only said they did, I mean, all we’ve got to go on was the guy that told us, and he was going the other way...”
“One way to find out,” Mitchell looks down at the gate, “I’m going to take a look.”
“We’ll cover you from here,” I lean out over the top of the roof, “Denise, you take the left side, James the right, Richard cover the main doors, and I’ll stay focussed on Mitchell.”

It’s ten minutes before I sight Mitchell on the road leading in, he’s got his rifle slung over his back so as not to get anyone worrying when they see him.

“Anything?” I don’t take my eyes off Mitchell
“Nothing,” Denise says.
“Nothing,” James and Richard speak at the same time.
Mitchell gets close to the gates and I see him take the tester from his pocket, pressing it to the fence.  He’s too far away for me to see what he’s doing or the results from the tester, but he looks back up at me and raises his thumb, then pushes at the gate, sliding it open without any resistance and walking up to the front door. There’s no resistance from that door either and he motions for us to come down to him. 

Fastest building descent ever...

We gather at the door and push inwards, the insides of the plant are dark, no sign of any light anywhere.  I wind up the torch I’m carrying and strap it on to the underside of my rifle, turning back to the door and pushing the bolt closed on the inside.  I advance into the darkness with the others following, everyone in close formation.  We make our way to the middle of the plant and see the control room high above.  I look all around and then turn back to the others.
“What’s going on here...?” Denise turns to look at me, her face underlit by my torch, “This place was supposed to be active...”
“Don’t know,” I nod up, “I think we need to take a look up there before we write the place off.”
“I...” Denise shakes her head and looks around, “I feel a bit...”
James turns to face me and pitches forwards to land on his face.  I look around the room as Richard drops down to his knees and then falls sideways. 
“Gas...” Mitchell looks at them, then up to me before falling backwards, landing hard on the deck.
I turn as my limbs feel heavier, looking upwards as I see lights from above, the ground rushes up towards me.

I wake with the others laid next to me, all of us tied down with thick ropes. I realise with a shock that it’s still dark outside and the light above us is coming from the overhead sockets.
“Oh yes...” A mans voice from the gantry above the lights, “This place definitely works.”
The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs and Denise strains to look at him.
The face comes into view above me and I try to angle my head.

The guy fleeing from the station...

 “Why are we tied up?” I look up at him
“Easier to handle people when they don’t get ideas about running around,” He says, “Besides, you wanted heat and light didn’t you?”
“All we were after,” I nod, “You were the one that told us about this place.”
“There’s a few of us here,” he says, “We take it in turns to go out there and tell people about this place, it’s easier than waiting for people to find out.”
“But why...?”
“Well, we’re not going to run out of power anytime soon,” He nods, “and most people are put off by the ‘guards’ we leave out there, so we have to get attention somehow.”
“Looks to me like you don’t really want the attention,” Denise looks up, “I mean if you wanted people to come here, you wouldn’t be gassing them when they got here.”
“You misunderstand why we want people here,” The man looks down at her, “You see, the rest of the world is out of power, so we have what they need. Our problem...?”

He turns his back to me and picks up something metal from the desk behind him, turning back, the light reflecting off the blade as he raised it above Denise...

“We ran out of food...”

A theory on the new Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar...

Because of film that I've been interested to see, Interstellar rates as one of the ones that has the most of my interest.  Not because of it's director (although that helps), but because the initial trailer had me actually thinking, indeed the concept that a man could give up his family to go and save the universe is one that's fairly close to me.

But I've been thinking that if the film is in fact going to be that he leaves his kids behind and does not get to return to them, then that can only be seen as not a good thing, not from the point of view that saving the world being a bad thing, but that it came at the cost of your childrens happiness.

So I've been thinking...

Because like many I've been watching avidly as the various teaser trailers have come out and while I know that Christopher Nolan as a director doesn't shy away from endings that aren't traditional hollywood happy happy endings, but I have to consider that if, as is seen in the various trailers, there's transmissions from his children, then his children in middle age, and then his children when they are older than him.

And there's a whole lot of crying in those trailers...

However, the premise is about using wormholes to travel vast distances, and there's something in the trailer where Michael Caine's character asks for trust, thereby possibly implying that he knows something about the wormholes that the other characters do not...

What if the wormhole's passage through space and time is a two way point, after all, if you looked at things from the point of view of science fiction, then it has to be reasonably confirmed that such things are possible, and last I checked, they haven't proven the nature or details of wormholes, only the theories...

So what if the wormholes are passages through time and space to another time, another space, but like any two way street, you can go both ways...  So the transmission sent by his children when they're older are sent because Matthew McConaugheys character moved out of time and then moved further out of time, and each time his children were still back on earth, decades having passed in their time, but only the blink of an eye to the man travelling instantly to that other time, that other place...

My theory then, is that he goes out into the black, there finding things well beyond the realms of our understanding, but when he finds a world that they can stay upon, he can then travel back through time and space to return to the world that he left behind, with only the time he's actually been away having elapsed...

Well, it's either that or it'll be a one watch film for me, not that I consider this concerns our man Nolan, but I might not be alone in that prognosis...

Friday 26 September 2014

Running out of new things to review, suggestions?

Loads of old stuff in the catalogue, but a lot of it is beyond the point of being available and has little to no relevance to the gamers of today. I'm also short on books and other interesting things and while there's things I can write about, most of them are long term books and things that I'm doing for other side projects...

I'm keeping up with Story September, but there's about six on the go at once, spent a good part of the day today with my family, because I haven't done enough of that recently.  Took mum to Reds Barbecue up in Leeds today, she agrees that the meat there is some of the best she's ever had.  There's also a few other things I'm putting together, but none of them are seeing the light of day anytime soon and I have a little posting guilt because I'm not putting things of interest up on the blog.

That said, tomorrow things may be better.

Thursday 25 September 2014

So who else is going to Essen?

Because finally starting to come out of the flat on my back stage of life, I can start to look forwards to things that I should have been looking forwards to for the whole of last month, one of which is going to Essen for the Spiel games convention...

Biggest games show on earth by all accounts, but almost all of it board games rather than RPG's, which begs the question of whether or not anyone else has been to it and if so, what their opinions of it have been?

Wednesday 24 September 2014

So there's been no wordcount recently, and there's a good reason for that - Required 734250, Achieved 757386

Because you realise sometimes...

It’s a funny thing, but I’ve only just realised that I’ve not updated the wordcount in ten days, and more importantly, I haven’t been aware that I haven’t been updating the wordcount....

That stops today, I know everyone’s not been keeping up on it, and there’s probably good reasoning to just keep it to a once a week update, but the reason why I’ve not been keeping up with it is because I’ve been in Pain...

Capital P there...

Pain the likes of which I didn’t imagine could exist, Pain unlike anything I’ve ever known before, to the level that it actually managed to put me down, something which before now I hadn’t considered even vaguely possible, I’ve had issues before, I’ve had muscle pains, and I can usually get through them because I’m used to how to deal with them.  This was nerve pain, and for those who’ve never had it, good, because I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  For those thinking they may know what I’m on about, chances are that you’ve had bad muscle pain, because when it’s your nerves, you know, because you can’t stop it, and unlike anything else you’ve had, it’s either on, or it’s not, but the muscles around the nerve carry the back end of the pain, so while you’re writhing around trying to get the pain to stop, you’re only aggravating it more and then setting it off again.

So, I’ve spent two weeks in a more or less horizontal position actually fearing that it might not get any better, that this is it, this is how my life would close up, reduced from something that can lift any two people he knows and walk with them without missing a beat to something that can’t even stand in front of the sink long enough to get shaved because the pain caused too much trembling to risk razors.

And in that time, I went from ten thousand ahead on the count to twenty five thousand ahead on the count, and while it does feel like a bit of a cheat because I’ve had the time away from the day job to catch up on it, I’ve taken everything else the worlds thrown at me and said “Fair enough,” so why not this.  I had to do something to remind myself that there was more to me than the pain and that brought me back to thinking about my most prolific times of writing, the times when things were darkest, where it was a choice of write or fail, and I wasn’t willing to fail, and that brought me back to the realisation that I work my very best when things are hardest for me, and things have been hard these last three weeks. 

I have the very best family, who have shown me every understanding, every care, and that has been the hardest thing of all for me, because I’ve always felt that it should be me doing the caring, that’s ever been my role in life, the thing that I was most proud of, and to be struck low like this and no longer be able to do even the most basic thing without weapons grade painkillers, well, it’s not just a wakeup call, it’s a call to arms. 

For all those who’ve been volunteering to help with things over the various games and books and things, there’s going to be a whole load more things coming out soon and by the end of the year, I want to be ready to put out both games and finish the million words with days to spare, and while I know that no one but me will ever know that the million words were all new this year, I’ll know, and that will be enough...

So, nearly three quarters through the year and already above three quarters on the count, the pain won’t win (and it’s still there even now), because I have around me the same support network that I’ve always given to other people, and my heart soars in ways that I cannot describe that I have people of such character as my friends and loved ones.

This is John Dodd, Once the Pagan in the Darkness, writing still, and Goodnight England, Wherever you are... 

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Building a Great Convention Part Three

Building a Great Convention Part 3

So in parts one and two I talked about the need for the absolute basics of any convention, the people who are going to run it with you and the data with which to ensure that going forwards you’re working on fact, not supposition.  Now comes the point where you need to look at what will get the rest of the world to the convention and get them there every year...

This is where it becomes necessary to consider the reason why people go to conventions in the first place.

People go to conventions to find things they can’t find at home, to find things that they can’t find at their local games store.  People won’t make the additional journey to get to the convention if you’re only offering them things they can already do within a short hop of where they are.

At Expo we consider this every year, as strange as it sounds, it’s not enough to simply be the biggest games show in England, that’ll get some, but not all, not even most... Last year we ran a Laser Tag event, the year before that we were so preoccupied with making the move to the new, larger premises, that we didn’t have time to do anything else (but we moved the convention to the biggest hotel in the area, only a stones throw from the NEC), and the years previous to those, we’ve run Living Munchkin and had live action groups running demonstrations for people.  Before then, before we knew about having to do new things, we just provided loads of games for people to play. 

And here’s the other problem with making conventions better...

Once you’ve started doing it, you can’t stop, not even if you wanted to, you’ve set a precedent and that precedent is now what leads you forwards, your public will demand nothing less...

Cheerfully we have no issue with any of this, we just get on with it and keep finding new things, but there’s something that works in our favour when it comes to these things.  When a lot of people say they’re going to do something, they talk, but they never do.

We Do...

And because We Do, others will take our lead on this, when we ask for people to do things, we ask because we know it’s going to be something good and they know that we’re good for our end of things.  For any convention to succeed, that’s where the work has to go in, when you say you’re going to do something, you have to deliver it, so it’s doubly important to make sure that no one says anything till the deal is already done, I can tell you about a million things that we’re planning to do at Expo, but until we’ve actually got them secured, sealed and delivered, I won’t be saying a thing because that would get peoples hopes up, and while we’re probably going to deliver on the promise, we’ve built this on being sure that the promise has already been delivered when we tell people. 

So what does that have to do with coming up with new things...?

It’s difficult to keep coming up with new things, so when you ask people what they want, listen to every suggestion, no matter how far out of the park it is, no matter how unlikely it is that you’re going to do it, listen to it because it might give you an idea for something that works...

Three years ago, a good friend of mine won the Cthulhu Masters Tournament over at Gencon and when he came home, he asked me why we don’t do something similar.  I had to agree, and on the first year that we went to the Hilton, we held the first UK Cthulhu Masters tournament.  In the aftermath, a lot of other people interested in cthulhu took note and the following year we had everyone from long term GM’s to line developers from the Cthulhu lines asking to be involved. We improved the prizes, got things that most people didn’t think we could, and we held it again, and this year, I handed the final over to someone else, because no matter how much I wanted to do it myself, I know that there’s a million things that I need  to be doing, and so I gave it to someone else, and the trust I showed there paid dividends when they came up with scenarios, plans, props (full and accurate replica of the Indiana Jones Grail Diary anyone...?) and a game that was just as good if not better than the one I would have run...

Last year we ran the first D&D Battle Royale that has ever been run outside of the US, we had the people in place, they got the support, and we got the event...

Next year...?

Well, I haven’t got the promise yet, so I can’t say, but it’s going to get bigger and better, there’s going to be other tournaments and games that you can’t play anywhere else, and we’re going to keep finding ways to improve things, to making Expo a place that you can do the things you can’t do anywhere else, and we’re still listening...

So keep talking...

Monday 22 September 2014

Building a Great Convention Part 2

In part one I talked about the need for data, not guesses, with which to build the future.  In part two comes the more important part of the plan.

The Team...

And I say team, even if it’s one person at the top organising everything, they still need a team around them to make sure that everything comes to pass.  At Expo we’ve got to the stage now where we need a number of levels to the team to make sure everything works properly.  Starting at the top where we have a set of jobs that are allocated to all of us at that level. We have the greatest autonomy in our roles, but that comes with the price of having to ensure that whatever we do delivers what we need to.

From there we go to the volunteer captains, and we’ve got a bunch of them, from the three volunteer captains who make sure that all the other volunteers know where they need to be, to the desk captains, responsible for making sure that the million questions that are asked of the front desk are always answered and answered right.

Then we’re down to the most vital of the volunteers, and those are the people that run the errands, move the tables, show people where things are, even just stand on guard against those that want to sneak in and get the shiny first, and they’re most vital because of all of us, they get the least reward from the event, usually the day pass to come in and look around when they’re not on duty.

But the most important thing for all these people, the single defining characteristic of someone who wants to be part of the team that runs a convention...?

They have to love it...

And I don’t mean the rewards, because to be fair, for the rewards any of us get from running a convention (including the people on the top layer), we’d earn more working mcdonalds for the time we put in.  I mean that they have to love it, they have to want to be there, not just turn up for the free entry and the can of coke and chocolate bar.  It’s what makes a convention into a great convention, all those who work there being delighted that they’re part of this, knowing that everyone’s having a good time because of something they’re doing and getting a kick out of that.

And that’s where a lot of places fall down, when it gets to a certain size, it’s difficult to keep a track on everyone, it’s difficult to make sure that you’ve got the right people doing the right things, and it’s only by continuing to take an interest from the top down that we manage this year in, year out.  We watch our people more closely than anyone else does, and we do that because if they’re not enjoying what they’re doing, if they don’t want to be there, then we need to do something with that. 

Which is not to say bring them in like Alan Sugar and start pointing fingers, but instead to find out why they’re volunteering for something that they don’t want to do, when they could be doing so many other things.

For myself, it’s a matter of finding GM’s that actually want to be GM’s, not because they think it’s the easiest way to get room and board at the convention.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve built up a list of go to people that I know I can rely on, that I know love running games and even more so, love running games well, and it’s that spirit that makes the best conventions, people who want everyone else to have a good time.

The management team had a meeting today that lasted a few hours, we had to cover a number of things in that meeting, and while I can’t give you the full details of the things that we covered, one of them was the allocation of the jobs that we take on ourselves, and the need to make sure that we don’t overreach ourselves in our need to make things excellent, because it’s so very easily done.  It’s difficult sometimes to trust things to others, knowing that they might not care for it in the way you do, but as the conventions gets larger, so the trust must grow with it, and the trust you place in people is often repaid because they can see that it’s all part of a greater endeavour, and those that want to make it better will work with you to make that so.

But everything starts with a first step...

Sunday 21 September 2014

Building a great convention - Part one

We’ve been running Expo for some years now, and every year we get the same questions.

“What’s going on next year/How are you going to make it better?”

The problem here is that a lot of people think that building a better convention is very much like Kevin Costner sitting there in Field of Dreams, with the forever misquoted line of “If you build it they will come”.

The actual line is “If you build it, he will come”.

He, singular...

And that’s why building it isn’t enough, you need to know what worked, what didn’t, what people said they wanted, and what they actually wanted when they said that.  I get people all the way through the year asking me for more of one game, less of another, why didn’t I do this, why did I do that, why can’t I just put on more GM’s and give everyone the game they wanted...

There are times when it gets a little much, times when you sit down and you think to yourself (because no one else is listening), “Is it worth all this hassle...?”

I spoke to Simon Powell, organiser of DragonDaze, a new convention down in Newport, England, a short while ago.  He hadn’t managed to see a single thing of his convention, he’d been too busy dealing with things on the day to try and enjoy any of it himself.  The thanks he’d got were from people who were leaving, having had a great time.

And you know what?

That was enough for him, as it is for me every year...

For a first year convention they did very well, best part of 750 attendee’s and everyone from traders to the public were happy with the event, so there’ll be a second year and he’ll be doing some things the same and some things differently.  The problem with forward planning anything is making sure that you don’t put too much in and end up bankrupting yourself, so you’ve got to know your audience and you’ve got to know what they’re going to go for and what they’re not.

So how to do this?


It would be nice to say that you could just look at it and get the feel for what’s going on and what’s not, to think that your gut instinct has the idea of what your convention needs, but it’s simply not the case.  You need Data, pure and simple, to make things better.

In the various conventions I organise, I’m responsible for the organised play.  In a few of them I’m responsible for more than that, but for the most part it’s figuring out what people want to play and then making sure that someone is going to run it for them.  Between the RPG’s, the boardgames, and the other games too numerous to mention, from the card games (who always want to stage tournaments because that’s how they sell more cards), to the more abstract games  that everyone plays once, loves to bits, and then never plays again, that’s what I do.

In a lot of ways, the first year of a convention is easier, you don’t really know the audience you’re going to get or the numbers that will be coming along, so you put a little of everything on and then plan for the year following. 

At Expo though, we’ve had a number of years, and because we run it like a business, I need to justify what we’re doing for the following years, so to give everyone some idea of what we do to get that data, here it is.

We have a front desk that gets split into two sections, the games section and the sales section.  If you’re looking to get in or buy an entrance ticket to the event, it’s the first desk, if you’re looking for a game to play or something else, it’s the desk I run.  That desk has a number of people who man it constantly through the entire event, there’s never a time when there aren’t at least two or three people there to make sure questions can’t be answered, but the desk has a secondary purpose, and that’s to collect the tickets from the GM’s and with those tickets, prove how many games ran, how many players were in each game, and how popular each event was. 

Then we have to get all that data, collate it all, put it in a spreadsheet, analyse the trends, and see where things went.  It’s not as easy as you might think it is, for every event we’ve got to get the tickets in and you’d be amazed how many GM’s can’t be bothered filling in a slip and handing in the form at the desk, or when they haven’t collected the tickets, getting a slip in and putting “Sorry” on the front.

When you’ve got all the data, you need to then go through all the GM’s and make sure that the front desk team didn’t have any feedback from anyone else, because it’s all well and good for GM’s to put in a form saying they had six players for a game, but if that game was no good, then what’s the difference....?

And here’s where there’s an unexpected bonus that comes from the customer service that we provide.  When people come to us to ask for game recommendations, we tell them to come back to us with feedback, we want them to tell us their honest opinions of what’s going on and if they liked or didn’t like the game.  When players come to us asking where they’re supposed to be, we always ask them to come back to us and let us know how things went. 

And most of them do...

Some of the feedback is amusing (Best GM in heels and Lipstick), some of it from the GM’s themselves (One handed their forms in all at once, the first one had “Exhilarated” on it, the second, “Tired”, the third, “Exhausted”, the fourth “Hoarse” and the fifth “Zombied” on it.), but the key thing here is that we’re very serious about wanting people to have a good time, so when the GM doesn’t turn up or runs a bad game, they know to come back to us and tell us because we will refund them every time and we’ll task other GM’s to provide them with something to do in that slot.

And that makes for interesting data, because this year, I found out that one GM at Expo this year offered five games, got two with no players, one with two players, one with five players, and one game where we’d sold five tickets to, he didn’t turn up for the game...

So we spoke to that GM separately, and found that they were delayed somewhere else so couldn’t get to their game on time...


Every GM at Expo has my personal number, it’s there for that very reason, if you have a problem, I understand, just tell me so I know that it’s coming and I can do something with it.

But apparently as well as not being able to get to the game in time, they also didn’t manage to send me a text to let me know that they couldn’t make it.

Well, he was upset that he’d not managed to make his game and we’d had to give out refunds, but not so upset that he didn’t immediately run to another game to make sure he could do what he wanted to.  Except interestingly enough, the GM’s for the game he was in let us know that the absentee GM had asked them to save him a place...

So he’ll not be back this year, or indeed any year after that...

But every year, the data we have grows, we learn that beginners love shorter games, and that there’s very little interest in events that are chained together across the course of the day unless it’s by special arrangement with whole massive groups of players in advance. 

I’m at another set of meetings tomorrow regarding Expo, at which I’ll be presenting the data that we’ve gathered from this year and my recommendations for next year.  When Expo began, there were less than ten tables of RPG’s across the convention, this last year there were more than three hundred and fifty. 

The last thing you need for building a convention is the dream of where you want to be in five years time and ten years time. 


I want the whole NEC...

I want every hotel in Birmingham sold out with Gamers, just like Gencon...  

I want not to sleep the whole time, and I want others to be standing that watch with me because they don’t want to miss a thing...

And it’s a dream to be sure, but it’s a dream worth working towards, so count those years with me and see where we get to...

T Minus Ten...

Saturday 20 September 2014

Forty years of games looks like...

Stuff I use all the time...

Stuff I don't use all the time...

Story September - The Bottom Drawer... #amwriting #amwritingsf

“You can’t be serious...” Miles looked down at the map as General Arrett moved the figures across to the front line. “You think you've got nothing left to lose at this point.”
“Remind me if the unit I’m asking for has ever lost a battle.”
“Lost is a loose term,” Miles looked down at the line, “The Bottom Drawer aren’t a regular unit of soldiers, that’s why they’re not enlisted military.”
“I know, and that’s the only reason I’m stood here and not just ordering them straight in.”
“If you want the Bottom Drawer, I’ll put the offer to them, you’ll need to sign the waivers and the pardons in advance.”
“For whatever it is that they do while they’re out there.”
“Is what they do that bad?” Arrett leans back from the table.
“They didn’t get the name ‘The Bottom Drawer’ by accident if that’s what you’re thinking...”
“How bad could it be?”
“If you have to ask, you haven’t thought enough about it...They’re not a scalpel, General, you don’t ask for that unit if you want to keep something neat.”
“Alright, I’ll come back to you by tomorrow morning, can you have them ready to move?”
“I’ll keep them on standby,” Miles nodded, “Leave the deposit with me, if you don’t need them, we keep the deposit.”

Miles woke early in the morning to the sound of the phone from the operations office.  He paced out of the bunk and into the office.
He picked up the phone, “PB solutions, Miles”
 “I need them on the border in four hours,” Arrett sounded like he hadn’t slept the entire evening.
“Are you nearby?” Miles opened his desk and picked out the contracts, leaving them on the top.
“I’m near the border myself,” Arrett said.
“I need you back here to sign for them,” Miles frowned, “I won’t release them until you do that.”
“I don’t have time to do that,” It was all but a growl, “Just get them here...”
“No...” Miles shook his head, “That won’t happen General, you sign or they stay here...”
“I don’t have time to get over there and sign for them.”
“Send someone with authority,” Miles shrugged, “They’re not leaving till they’re signed for.”
“I don’t think I’ve got anyone close enough.”
“Not my problem General,”

Why is it military types always try and get away with the responsibility side of things?

The phone went silent for a second and then there was a click as the phone was transferred again.
“Brigadier Graf here,” The voice was deep and calm, not a voice used to being refused, “I want those men here now and I don’t have time to mess about with paperwork.”
“Brigadier...” Miles sighed, “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough to the General, no paperwork, no men, simple as that...”
“Do you realise who you’re talking to?” Graf’s voice got quiet
“Do you realise you’re being recorded?” Miles grinned, “And don’t bother with the threats General, you know what happens if something happens to me.”

A pause on the line

“Yes...” Another pause and then a sigh, “General Arrett will be with you in two hours.”

The line went dead...

Two hours later, General Arrett finished the paperwork and handed the originals to Miles, along with a set of co-ordinates for the drop point. Miles looked at the paperwork and checked over the request.
“Hold Perimeter one, collateral approved, no friendlies in the area.” Miles checked down the paperwork, “Why do you need us for this?  You could use the regular army...”
“They outnumber us sixty to one,” Arrett looked down, “We just need something to hold the line while we get our people out of there.”
“We’re not a defensive unit,” Miles folded the paperwork and put it in the safe, “You know that.”
“We know,” Arrett nodded, “Are your people ready to move?”
“Stood outside,” Miles glanced to the window.

Arrett walked over to the window to look down at the courtyard where some twenty men and women were milling around in casual clothing.

“That...?” He looked back at Miles, “Is that what a hundred million dollars is paying for?”
“You’re not paying for how they look,” Miles shrugged, “You’re paying for what they can deliver.”
“And those...” Arrett looked back with a scowl, “Those will deliver what I asked for?”
“You wanted a forty mile line holding,” Miles made a show of looking at the paperwork, “They’ll hold it, you’ve specified that collateral is approved and there’s no friendlies, so if you have no other questions...?”
“No, that was it, let me know when they’re finished.”
Arrett left without another word and Miles looked out of the window.

“I won’t need to.” His mouth quirked in a half smile.

The General was back on the line within the hour.
“I don’t remember authorising tactical nuclear weapons.” His voice was barely a whisper.
“I don’t remember you excluding their use,” Miles leaned back in his chair, “I’ve got here that you had no problem with collateral and there were no friendlies.”
“How can you be sure you didn’t get any friendlies with those nukes?”
“Well, two things to consider,” Miles pulled up the report from the first plane, “They didn’t hit anything on your side of the line, and they’re not using nukes, so you don’t have to worry about the fallout problem.”
“Not Nukes?  How do you explain the amount of damage that got caused, I felt the impact from here...”
“I told you they weren’t a scalpel,” Miles shrugged again
“And I was expecting a bit of a ragged slice, not something to take a scoop out of the earth, if they weren’t using nukes, what were they using?”
“That’s Classified,” Miles smiled, knowing the response that was going to be forthcoming.
“CLASSIFIED?” Arrett spluttered down the line, “There’s nothing you’ve got clearance for that I haven’t.”
“Well then, you shouldn’t have any problem in finding out what they were using.”
“I’ve got satellite imagery of the areas coming up in the next hour, I’ll be able to find out.”
“Well, good luck with that General,” Miles nodded, “If I were you, I’d be spending the next few hours making the best of the free space you’ve got.”
“We’ll be doing that...”

The Line went dead.

Miles stepped out onto the balcony and looked down towards the concrete strip outside as the figure in the air circled and dropped down, landing lightly on her feet and slowing to a halt.  She looked up, zipping her flightsuit up as she trotted up the stairs, the name “Meteor” emblazoned on her shoulders.
“Are they happy?” Meteor looked up at him, “We’ve made a line of holes down the whole forty mile stretch.”
“Think we’ll need to keep it patrolled for the rest of the night,” Miles looked down at her, “I think the general’s got a little curiosity going.”
“Anything we need to stop?”
“Ask Copernicus to keep his eyes skywards,” Miles nodded, “If he so much as feels something looking at any of you, tell Gravity to bring it down.”
“You know Gravity isn't that accurate,” Meteor grinned at him, “Might get a bit messy if he picks too much out of the sky...”
“So get Flightpath to bring it down where we’re being paid to keep things clear,” Miles nodded and turned back to Meteor with a grin, “Do I have to think of everything?”
“Not at all Boss, just like to keep you involved with these things.”
“What makes you think I haven’t been?” Miles looked at her
Meteor rolled her eyes and floated upwards under her own power, “No worries Boss, we’ll keep things clear.”

It was five hours before the next call came in.

“You’ve got Prometheans on the ground,” Arrett’s voice was quiet.
“I’ve got what on the ground?” Miles kept his voice level
“Prometheans,” Arrett over pronounced the name, “Rogue leftovers from the Eugenics wars, you know what I’m saying...”
“Oh I know what you’re saying,” Miles smiled, “But if I had a team of Prometheans on the hook, the price you’d be paying would be fifty times what I just got from you.”
“And maybe that’s why you’re keeping the price as low as you are doing, to make sure that no one suspects what you’ve got.”
“Tell you what,” Miles leaned back in his chair, “You come to me with some proof that I’ve got rogue superhumans on the leash and I’ll be happy to talk to you, as it is, all I’ve got is some well targeted rocks and a very expensive satellite relay system with which to throw them by.”
“Yeah...” Arrett’s tone turned sharp, “I’m sure, I’ll be in touch...”

Miles leaned back as the line went dead, then brought down the microphone on his headset.
“Line, Did you get all that?” He kept his voice low.
“Yeah,” a quiet womans voice answered, “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Send Glass,” Miles nodded to himself
“Glass?” The woman’s voice rose, “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Miles said, “Message only, wait for my call.”

Another two hours went by, the call came in again, this time from a different line. Miles flicked his microphone down.
“Be ready,” He picked up the phone, “PB Solutions, Miles...”
“We’ve got footage of people walking around in those craters,” Arrett sounded smug, “Seconds after the explosions went off...”
“Yeah, you do,” Miles nodded, “And that’s why you moved to another location before calling me, let me guess, nice shielded bunker to stop me doing anything to stop you?”
“That’s right...”
“Alright, what’s your play then General?”
“Well, we’re going to start with names.”
“Thought you had one.” Miles rubbed his forehead with his other hand, “I can think another one up for you if you like...”
“Cute,” Arrett’s voice turned smug again, “We’ll start with the names of all those you’ve got working for you, and when we’ve got those, we’ll keep going to all the people who’ve used them before.”
“Now...” Miles said, then paused a second, “General , you need to consider what you’re threatening here, and ideally before you really start threatening...”
“You can’t get to me here...”
“Me?” Miles mused, “No, I can’t...”

The sound of something scratching in the room down the phone echoed and the line was silent for a second.

“Glass, on the other hand,” Miles nodded, “Glass can get anywhere he likes, and he’s not the most sensible of people in the first place.”
“The Glass...” Arrett’s voice has lost all it’s smugness, “It’s making words on it...”
“I’d read them if I were you...” Miles flipped the phone on to loudspeaker as the sound of scratching glass continued.
“We....Can....See....You...” Arrett’s voice read the words as they appeared on the screen in front of him, “We....Do....Not....Get....Paid....To....Be....Threatened....”
There was a commotion of people in the room on the other end of the phone.
“Oh General,” Miles called, “General?”
“I’m here.” Arrett’s voice had a tremble to it now.
“If you go outside, you’re dealing with the one called Meteor, not the one called Glass...”
“You can’t get away with this,” For a second, Arrett recovered some of his composure, “We know where you work from.”
“And we know where you are now and where you live...” Miles said, “General, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had this conversation and with how many leaders of nations.  We’re not loose cannons, you’re dealing with professionals that just happen to be able to break the world if the mood took them...”
“You understand that we can’t allow that sort of threat to exist,” The sound of glass being scratched echoed down the line again.
“And you understand that if I’ve had this conversation with the President of the United States and he backed down, I’m not likely to be cowed by you, am I?”
“Back....Off....Or....We....Get....Creative....” Arrett read the words on the glass.
“He’s just saying what I was thinking,” Miles rocked back and forth on his chair, “Do we have an accord General?  I’d like to recall my people before you end up paying them overtime.”
“Overtime?” Arrett’s shock was apparent down the line.
“You hired us for an Eight hour window, we’re on seven and a half hours now, much more and you’re paying overtime for us.”
“I...” There was the sound of angry and scared voices in the background, “No...No, we’ve got all we needed from this. I...Thank you for help in this matter.”

Sounded like he nearly choked on those words...

“You’re welcome General,” Miles kept his voice light, “Glass,Call, come on home, and General, I trust we won’t be getting any more nasty phone calls in the night?”
“No...” the voice was Brigadier Graf’s, “You won’t...”
The phone went down and Miles listened through the down receiver as Call kept the line open a short while longer to hear the Generals Rebuke.
“I don’t think we’ll be getting any problems from them,” Call said, “But we’re going to run out of clients if we keep upsetting them like this.”
“We’ll never run out of clients,” Miles said, “Simple rule of gardening, when you’ve got a big problem, you don’t use a small tool, and when you haven’t got the strength to do it yourself, you send for those who can.”
Miles sat up on his chair and looked at the in tray overflowing with requests for work to be carried out.

“Well, I don’t think we’re going to be short of landscaping work for a while...” 

Friday 19 September 2014

Dominion - Game Review

So last night we had two different games to try out, the first being Elder Sign, which set us up for bad moods all over, which meant that Dominion had a whole of bad blood to get over to win us for the night.

Billed as a Deck building game, we were a little curious at the rules as they were presented as most of us are Magic the Gathering Veterans of some years experience, so to us, a Deck Building game is one where you build a deck and then go out there and beat people with it.  There were certainly enough cards in the set to enable us to go out there and build decks, but then we read the rules and a little confusion set in.

“So you throw your whole hand away every turn...?”

Was the thing we didn’t get around immediately, the whole point behind most card games is to have a hand full of cards that will prove useful and then hold on to those till you can make use of them, how are you supposed to do that when the game has you throwing the cards away every turn.

So we started playing to see if it made more sense when you were looking at it in real time...

Curiously enough, it did...

The premise behind Dominion is that there are several piles of supply in the middle of the table, you start with a few coppers and you buy cards from the table that are then put in your discard pile, when you get to the bottom of your deck, you reshuffle the discard pile and start again, at which point the cards that you bought on your way through the deck the first time will then be available for you to use.

The game gives a suggestion on the cards to play the first game with and there’s a number of other cards in the deck that can be used to allow permutations of play and different strategies to be put down to make for more interesting games depending on the types of players you’ve got around the table.  Once we’d got the idea that you were buying cards to be used at a later point and that’s how it’s a deck building game, things became significantly easier to work with. 

The turn sequence is simple, A, B, C.

A for Action, you play an action card from your hand, depending on which action card you play, this can set you up to play more action cards, get gold, get more buy actions, and a number of other things. You get to play one action card each turn unless you can get more actions by playing that one card, we had combinations late in the game where we were playing seven and eight action cards in a turn because of the combinations of cards that were coming up. 

Once the Action has been played

B for Buy, you get to buy one card from the table if you have the appropriate funds in your hand.  If you’ve played action cards that allow you to buy more things, then you do that in this phase also.  This is also the phase where you can buy victory points the same as everything else, but beware buying too many victory points earlier on as the victory point cards go in your deck like everything else and drawing a handful of victory point cards can severely curtail what use you can do on your turn...

C is for Cleanup, all the cards you’ve played, bought, used, and spent go in your discard pile and you draw another five cards, if your deck is used up, you reshuffle your discard pile and form the deck again.

Play continues till you’ve got to the bottom of the province cards pile (high scoring cards) or you’ve exhausted three supply piles on the table, at which point all players count up the score they’ve got from their decks and the highest point score wins.

It’s a deceptively simple game, plays very well (you can see why it got game of the year), and can be learned in very little time (less if you’re not used to other card games), we liked it a lot and will be playing it again a few times before deciding whether or not it’s worth putting out the extra money for the large number of expansions that are available for the game. 

Elder Sign – Or What chance do we have anyway...?

Having played Arkham Horror once and found that the real horror of it was that when they said ninety minutes on the side of the box, what they forgot to put down there was that that was the set up time for the game, not the playing time, it was with some trepidation that I took a look at Elder Sign.

Fantasy Flight, so as always, the production values are godlike, all the counters in the world, full colour, specialist dice, nothing less than what you’d expect from them. But increasingly I’m asking the question that while it’s nice to have excellent production values, if the game itself cannot be played, what’s the point of all the shiny...

So this was to be the test of it...

Set up is easy enough, you set aside a number of missions, choose which elder god you’re trying to prevent waking up, choose your investigators for the task, and then start to solve the missions.  Each mission takes three hours on the clock, with other effects taking place at certain times on the clock.

Solving missions is done by matching the symbols on the missions cards to the symbols that have been rolled on the dice.  With equipment, spells, and unique items that you start with and can earn from completing missions, you can get extra dice to help with getting the symbols you need.

It’s not easy...

I’ll make that point as a side thought, because when I say it’s not easy, I mean to say that it’s very bloody hard.  If you fail at a roll on the things you need for a mission, you make another roll with one less die, and then one less, till you have no dice left to roll or you can’t complete the mission.  In this particular game, we were nearly knocked out a number of times on the first missions that we attempted, and while I’m assured that the missions that we got were difficult, a check through the deck at the end of the game suggests otherwise.

Results on the missions can generate monsters that are placed on the missions to make things more difficult, and there are doom cards that are played every time the clock goes around once that make things...

You guessed it...Even more difficult.

We managed a few missions before one of us went insane, and then something happened that put me off the game for good.  From the Doom cards, we had one that was already existent that cost everyone two sanity points, and then a second card cost everyone else another two sanity points.

Given that most characters start out with five at most and we’d been playing the game for a full turn of the clock, the sudden and unpreventable loss of four sanity points from all players on the table represented a total party kill with nothing that anyone could have done to make any difference.

This for me constitutes a fairly basic breach of game playing protocol.  If you’ve got something that can wipe out the party in a single hit, you give them plenty of chance to do something about it, you let them know it’s coming, and you make sure that it doesn’t just spring on them from the middle of the deck.  Any game that has within it the mechanics to wipe out a party, no matter how large or well equipped, with two random cards, is not a game that I’ll be playing.
Sanity and Stamina tokens, in a pile rather than on our characters...
I understand that the fight against the creatures of the mythos is a hopeless thing, I get that there’s no way to stop the dark gods, and I understand the hopelessness of the whole fight against them...

This is not something that any sensible person would want to get involved in and I understand completely that investigators have a short lifespan...


This is a game, or at least it’s supposed to be, games are supposed to have some element of fun to them and spending an hour failing very difficult tasks, only to be annihilated out of hand by a random card draw, was not fun...

It might be that others have had more success with this, perhaps a greater number of players would help (we had three), and different combinations of cards and equipment might have yielded fun for us, but as it is...

There’s easier ways to go insane...

Thursday 18 September 2014

A new RPG - Quest

The problem with being a convention organiser is that you spend so much of your time organising the conventions so that everyone else has places to go and things to do that your own projects invariably slip to the side.

In my case, I’ve been putting together an RPG and a card game for the last year or so, the card game is called Flatpack Vampires, and the RPG is called Quest.
Today it’s Quest that I’m talking about.

When I started making Quest, I didn’t look at what was popular or what’s selling or anything like that, I looked at what I’d want in a game if I was playing it and started there.  The first thing was system, because it’s too easy to just make a world and then tag someone else’s system on to it so that people don’t have to learn something new and you get access to all those players without having to do any work at all.

That was not for me...

So the system is D6 based, I’ve run it through a few maths masters to make sure that the numbers actually add up (because on the first run, they really didn’t, but not being a maths man, I didn’t know that.), and that you get to roll dice when you want to, but you also get to avoid using dice if you want to.  Not easy to do, but with the time I’ve spent on it, I think we’re getting somewhere.

The next thing was the world itself, I didn’t want everything to be in full colour with all the options already laid out, everything on maps, no place to go and find things, no place to go to places where the world had not already had footprints on it.  What interests me most about the worlds I go adventuring in is that I’m adventuring, if I’ve already got a map, someone else has already been there, and as I’ve got the map, they got back out and they probably had all the good stuff to begin with...

So there’s an A1 world Map on my wall next to me that has all the basic parts of the world and all the other parts that I’ve been adding in every time I’ve had an idea on things.  Presently it looks like this...

The mountains now all have names, the lakes have names, there’s places where the tribes are and the places where I haven’t yet put things.  I’ve been adding to it for some time, so there’s enough to go on for quite some time without having to come up with something new...

Which brings me to what I’m putting in the world...

People to be sure, plenty of them, but also monsters, and if the world hadn’t been explored completely, there’d be things out there that people hadn’t seen before, and they wouldn’t be in full colour single shot posed positions, they’d be things that people had seen out in the wild and sketched what they could, when they could.  For this I sought a particular type of artist, one who could do sketches of parts of a creature but make them look like they were real and all belonged to the same creature.  The basic bestiary ran to the following creatures...

Which when viewed up close look like this...

Then there was the question of how the world would look when you started seeing the cities, especially when you have to look at it through the eyes of the people who’ve only seen the parts of it and had time to sketch them.  On the one hand, full colour drawings with all the details in the world are lovely, but there’s nothing left to imagine, so I had images of the whole of the city done, rather than every single bit of it, and they started looking like this...

And then other locations that defied description, like the Titan's Causeway, a bridge that stretches between continents...

That brought me to the characters that would be a part of this world and adventure in it, and that brought me to the character sheet... 

It needed to be something that had a system that would not only use the character sheet, but would work with it and make things intuitive when you were making your character sheet.  In the beginning, the sheet looked like this, 

and then we went through playtesting and had a few comments made, and that changed things a little, ending up looking like this...

So with a system, creatures, people, and a world, what was left...?


And therein lies the question over things, to keep the sense of mystery to the world, you can’t have everything laid out in front of you, you can’t include the monster on the front cover and the map of the dungeon in the back cover.  It has to be something that gets the players engaged, they have to be thinking the whole time and that’s not easy to do with a published adventure because you have to make it interesting enough to get them attached to it, and when you’ve made it interesting, you’ve got to make it easy enough to run without having the scenario creator sitting at the table advising...

Adventures in Quest are made up of hints and clues that evolve into adventures.  There’s never going to be a map that you find that leads you to treasure, you may find a body in the dungeon that you’ve just gone into with the details of the things you’ve already been through and some idea of what got that person as they were coming through, but it’s never going to be laid out 10x10, not even for the GM.

An example of this is one of the introductory adventures, called Death in the Long Grass, from the book of the same name, wherein the players are asked by the Explorators Guild to investigate a new type of creature out in the Tyravig plains.  When they get there, they learn that it’s not something from the creature guide, it’s something else, and it’s not just the dumb animal that they thought it was.  This leads on to other encounters with the creature and the complications that they bring, giving all different types of characters chance to do something of benefit.

And that brings me finally, to the plans for the world and the campaign that goes with it, and I’ve been coming up with ideas for that for the last twenty years, most of them now semi fleshed out in handwritten notes, but more than a hundred different adventures that could be played before the world got into the really serious stuff.

The problem is that I’ve been organising three of the largest conventions in England this year, helping out at four more, and the work I needed to do for these things could not be done while I was working on Quest, so Quest took a back seat till I had those things done...

And they’re mostly done now, I’m releasing the starter edition of the game when the formatting has been done to gauge interest in it, after all, if people just look at it and go “Meh...”, then there’s no point in doing the rest of it in time to release it at the big convention that I organise, UK Games Expo, but I wanted to see from the rest of the world if my vision is something that gets people interested...

So there’s the question, there’s still playtesting required before the release of the starter set at the end of the year and I’m looking for as many opinions as I can get, pay’s not much, you get your name in the book and you get a copy of the full version PDF when I finish it, but you also get to make a change on something that’s going to be new and different to anything else you’ve seen before.


Get in touch...