Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Resolution Will Be Televised?

"Bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
Assail him, impale him, with monster-truck force."
- Cake "The Distance"

I know, this is a bit of a shock, an update that isn't looking back to the dim and distant past! Instead, we look to the present, and the future. It's been a while since I've updated regarding what is actually happening, instead of being reflective and pondering over nostalgic memories. So, what's been going on?

Conspiracy X

First of all, the Kickstarter for the 4th book in the Conspiracy X 2.0 line (The Conspiracies Sourcebook) finished with an overwhelming success. I was absolutely stunned and blown away by the response. While that Kickstarter was finishing, I frantically proofed George's excellent layout and setting of The Paranormal Sourcebook, the 3rd book in the line, and it has now gone off to print.

The Paranormal Sourcebook is available now on DriveThruRPG here and a fine addition to any Unisystem fan's library it is too.

The Kickstarter for The Conspiracies Sourcebook was so successful, it unlocked the chance for production to start on Extinction, the official sequel to Conspiracy X, a possible future of the ConX universe where the aliens have invaded and humanity must fight back. Think Falling Skies, or V meets the high tech near future of something like Total Recall or Halo. It's gonna be awesome. 

The first promo art for the forthcoming game - Extinction
Most of it is already written by the god of Unisystem himself, CJ Carella, I just need to bash it into shape and plug in the game system. Tricky, but doable. Should be very, VERY cool. I've made a start already, just need more hours in the day!

WILD RPG (Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming)

Things with WILD have been a little on the back-burner with Conspiracy X and Extinction coming to the fore. I'm still working on it, and recently a large chunk of the "meta-plot" or backstory of the setting has fallen into place. The system is just about sorted, the setting is there, I just need to get writing more of it. I've made a start on that too, it's early days yet, but I'm hoping it's going to be cool. 

Been discussing interesting new avenues for it as well, interactive character sheets and animated/interactive eBook versions of the rules... but again, it's early days.


It's been a while since I parted ways with Cheesemint (or Cheesemint Productions Ltd as they are now), yet both my wife and myself have had comments congratulating us on becoming a Limited Company. So, just to set the record straight, Debs and I are no longer involved in Cheesemint's endeavors, and haven't been for a while. I'm still proud of what we accomplished with Unlocked. Matt and Adam made that climatic episode more amazing than I could have ever dreamed, and there's more drama, comedy, action and geek references in the 90mins of that webseries than the whole series of The Big Bang Theory. And the end credits of episode one is still one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.

But that's the past! This is about the present and the future! Unlocked has been rebooted, and Debs and I have moved onto other things.

However, I have a camera. 

I've been reluctant to free it from its case, and have been for some time. I don't know. It just feels odd. I've considered selling it, it'd certainly help go towards buying a computer that is from this century - one that actually works with Facebook, or Youtube. But part of me is concerned that I waffle a bit much on here to be interesting and that a little video here and there would spice things up a little. Not too often though, after all, it is a little time-consuming - one of the reasons why I left the webseries production thing behind in the first place.

It wouldn't be anything too complicated. Sure, I had this idea for a webseries called "Players" which was about 30-somethings who met every week to play RPGs. You saw them dressed in the outfits of their characters and talking both in and out of character but in the setting of the game, so they could discuss girlfriend problems or issues at the office while battling orc armies. It would have been like Friends meets the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. But that was over a year ago, and I think I've lost my motivation for that.

I was thinking about something simple - just a video every now and then about RPGs, maybe taking a closer look at a particular game, as a supplement to the text blog here. The first one I was thinking about was covering the original Ghostbusters RPG to tie into the retrospective I'm going through at the moment. Maybe once WILD is actually playable I'd film some of the actual play. I dunno...  what do you think? Should I bother?

The future is in your hands.

Anyway, I'll return to my nostalgia trip next week, continuing the tale of the Ghostbusters RPG and how it shaped my gaming future.

Until then, stay multi-classy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (6) - Who ya gonna call?

Part of a page of The Travellers
from Issue 55 of White Dwarf
Before I go onto the continuing story of my sad little existence, I do have a couple of things I want to share with you. Last week's post about The Travellers, the old comic strip that ran in White Dwarf in the UK, back before it just printed stuff about Warhammer - the comic that inspired the Wormbusters? Well, it turns out that a lot of it is online on Scribd.

The Travellers was a work of comedy wonder, mostly because you could read it, then go back and read all of the little jokes in the background - I'll always remember the ship taking off and the shot looked like the bit in Star Wars IV when the Millennium Falcon takes off from Mos Eisley, and you get another ship nearby and someone shouting "Don't bother to indicate, I'm psionic!" Fantastic.

However, that wasn't the only find that John pointed out to me. In that very issue is an advert that Milo posted in the classifieds looking to recruit new members...

The Classified Section of White Dwarf issue 55
I must admit, I'd forgotten that as a group we were initially called "The Rheinrhehm Travellers". Why "Rheinrhehm?" There seems to be a myth behind it starting in Digby's house, taking the name from a bottle of wine. Of course the name changed over time. We discussed being called "See You Next Wednesday" after John Landis' in-joke, and the fact that we used to meet on Wednesdays (and Thursdays, and Fridays, and Sundays, and...) but in the end, we're just "The Eight".

So... back to the story...

I'd already mentioned that I was rubbish at plots. The games I'd GM'd boiled down to "10,000 Sathar have landed on a planet, what do you do?" - cue a series of explosions, and Bragi the walking battleship wades in with guns blazing...

Cover of the Ghostbusters RPG
"Training Manual" (or Player's Handbook)
with thanks to 
That all changed with possibly the most influential game I'd ever played - Ghostbusters. I was obsessed with Ghostbusters (the movie that is) and I've already mentioned that I desperately wanted to be Venkman when I grew up, so hearing that there was a roleplaying game? I was sold before I'd even looked at the back of the box.

The only disappointment for my youthful brain was the lack of character sheet. Looking back now I see it was a revolutionary work of genius, but despite the character sheet problem (that I remedied with some homegrown efforts) I could tell even then that the game was something special.

I mean, look at the thing - it was a work of perfect simplicity. It didn't need to be full colour, it didn't need anything except that logo on the front, and some dice. And one of those had the logo on it as well.

The thing about it was how quick and simple it was. The rules were possibly the most minimal thing I'd ever seen. And it introduced "Brownie Points", something that I'd never encountered before, allowing the players to fudge rolls, to tweak the outcomes and to generally make the story funnier, better and cooler.

The start of the Rules Chapter from
The Ghostbusters RPG
with thanks to
And story was what it was all about. No longer was it a simple dungeon crawl, it was about telling a cool (and funny) story. There were investigation elements, working out who the ghost was, what its typical behaviour was like, and then there was the fun of blasting the place to pieces with Proton Packs. And there was no dying. Buildings could be destroyed (and frequently did) and your characters would stagger out of the rubble in their underwear with a Wile E. Coyote dazed look on their faces.

There were adventures published in the Ghostmaster's rulebook, and what was a revelation, dozens of Story Hooks. Short adventure ideas that could be expanded to complete adventures. Brilliant.

We played Ghostbusters continually, I zipped through all of the Story Hooks in record time. We had some of the most bonkers characters (Coop's character of note was Mr. Oook, an orangutan with a Proton Pack) and some of the craziest adventures ever (I do remember the published adventure "Hot Rods of the Gods" was particularly wacky!).

Of course, without adventures (we'd gone through all the ones published) I had to design my own. And so I did something I hadn't considered before. I contacted the publisher, West End Games...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (5) - Story? What Story?

So, Star Frontiers. That was where things really took off for me. Free of the shackles of fantasy, and after being obsessed with Star Wars since it first came out, this was a great chance to fuel my need for more space opera.

I don't remember much of the initial party, it was probably the same craziness that always accompanies the first game - everyone wants to try a different race to see what they're like, even the six legged insect dudes or the sentient lumps of putty.

Milo was taken by Star Frontiers as well, running his own game with a group of Dralasites (the walking putty) who were part of a rock group causing chaos around the galaxy, calling themselves the Dark Judges. But my game was lacking something. A story.

I really never had any idea about plots. D&D was simple - go into the dungeon, kill nasties, steal their stuff. That was all RPGing was to me back then. Soon, Star Frontiers was little more than an excuse for the characters to don ridiculously oversized powered armour (yes, there's a "u", I'm British!) wading into impossible amounts of Sathars and kicking alien butt.

While this wasn't inspiring game-play, it did inspire other things. I'd started doodling caricatures of the players, adapting events in the game into little comic strips. Soon, we'd started playing these characters of ourselves within the game, building a bizarre mythology of "The Eight". The movie Ghostbusters had just hit the cinemas and I'd gained a new obsession (yes, I wanted to be Venkman when I grew up), and these cartoon versions of ourselves became the "Wormbusters" - dedicated to stamping out those pesky lizards wherever they appeared.

Me, years after all of the Wormbusters goings on, but the
same GM chair in my old backroom.
(1989 - about to run Star Wars) 
Libelously ripping off storylines from Howard the Duck and the amazing comic strip The Travellers that originally appeared in the UK's White Dwarf magazine, the adventures of the Wormbusters became a desperate attempt to gain attention from my school classmates as they demanded not only to see the next episode, but also to make cameo appearances in the strips.

Before you ask, yes - I do still have all of Wormbusters. Why? I dunno... it wasn't very good, my artwork was awful, and very little of it was original, but it was a little piece of history that evolved into bigger things - the characters became darker, more serious and contemporary. Milo started writing huge novels of their military and vigilante exploits, Pete wrote epic comic scripts and I started taking the drawing of comics more seriously.

But in both of these cases, I didn't have much input with stories. I was just plain rubbish at writing them, and my gaming remained in that state until I discovered what could possibly be called the first of the "story" games (at least in my opinion) - Ghostbusters - A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game. 

More on the awesome Ghostbusters RPG and how it inspired me to write RPGs next time...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (4) - Zebulon's Guide to Gamemastering

Despite the merging of several gaming groups, the prospect of playing in three to five games a week wasn't enough for me. I've been told on a few occasions that I'm an over-controlling, domineering, bossy git... I dunno, maybe they're right. But when I was a teenager, I wanted to be in control. I wanted to Gamemaster.

It was a bit of a shock to me to discover that there were other games out there. When I started gaming there really was just the big three out there - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (because Basic was just for kids), Traveller and Runequest. There was a bit of a rule the groups had which made perfect sense - if you were a player in AD&D you didn't bring a Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide with you to the game. It stopped all that nasty meta-gaming where the DM announced something like:

"You open the door and find that you're in the main Orc guardroom. Three Orcs turn to see you and stand."

First thing that would happen is the players would open their Monster Manuals and look up their HP and it'd become a boring wargame. Restricting the player's book access made the game much more exciting, and gave the DM more control. We could, however, each have our own Player's Handbook. (Later this would expand to include the various expansions such as Unearthed Arcana, and bizarre books that seldom saw use such as the Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guide.)

Where I grew up, there was nowhere to buy these game books. It was almost like a cult that required some secret knowledge to join, and the town had no way of getting hold of these books. All of the gamers in the town had requested copies of these books at the local library, and they did their best to acquire them - postcards would come through the door six months later to say that they'd managed to get a single copy of the DMG that would be fought over by a dozen or so of us.

The nearest place to buy the game books (again, the secret society initiation trials continued) was in the nearest big city. Hull.

Even that was a task of legend. 

A ninety minute bus journey into the city used up a fair amount of pocket money, and used up a fair amount of your Saturday. Precious gaming time! The bus had a nasty habit of taking the most scenic route possible as well, starting at our town and working out in random directions, sometimes going in the complete opposite way to get to Hull. My father always said that the roads were built by council workers who always had to have their backs to the wind, which explained why it was one of the bounciest, twisting, life-threatening journeys you could take.

Once in Hull, the only place to get games was a place called the Kingston Gallery. From the front it was an unassuming picture framers and gallery. I remember the first time going there with Cooper, my ever trusty companion throughout 90% of my schoolyears. We looked at the place, disbelieving the stories of game books that lurked within. But, in true Douglas Adams bureaucratic way, the real information you needed was up a narrow staircase that looked like you were venturing into the framer's bedroom, behind a locked door, and having to be escorted by the one member of staff keeping an eye on the framing business. Instead of a bedroom there was an open room with a counter, and a wall filled with rulebooks. Spinners held the smaller titles, like the many Traveller "little black books" and minis on blister-packs. It was like Nirvana. This was my place of worship. A dealer for my gaming addiction. Books, and books, and books and books of it!

It was here that I discovered there was more to gaming than AD&D, Traveller and Runequest. It was here that Cooper and I discovered that TSR had a number of other games out. It was here that I discovered Star Frontiers.

Star Frontiers was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Just the cover of it... wow. I mean look at it. Traveller was a plain black cover, this had a crashed spaceship, a cool guy with shades and an awesome gun, a hot girl, and what was that winged monkey thing? I had to buy this!! I could play science fiction and I could GM. Everything was in it, dice, counters, maps, two books, and...  a wax crayon! Amazing.

It had everything I could want to play cool sci-fi. I could run Star Wars...  it would be cooler than Star Wars, it had Sathars that could be shot in their millions, strange rubber dudes, and big bugs. Only thing you couldn't do with it?

Leave the planet...

That would require another quest into Hull for Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks

 (Although Cooper now has my Star Frontiers collection, I still have those dice. My first D10s...  It wouldn't be until I reconvened with the other gamers that I would discover what the wax crayon was for...)