Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Paranoia the RPG

This is one of my most important RPG because of it combining dark humour with quite nice mechanics and making player conflict a pleasurable part of the game, rather than a serious problem. I like the setting in Alpha Complex, which is a huge underground bunker ruled by an insane computer and populated by the remains of humanity. In Alpha complex everyone is a mutant, which is illegal and a member of a secret society, also illegal. Characters are troubleshooters recruited by the computer to perform missions including seeking out members of secret societies or mutants and eliminating them. Troubleshooters missions can involve exciting chances to try new R&D equipment with its famous reliability or helping their friend the computer in many other ways.

The rules are simple and fairly easy to understand, though as a GM there was always the nice touch that any player knowing too much on the rules was obviously a traitor and therefore their current clone could be terminated preferably in an amusing way (amusing to the GM that is). The characters have a skill system which is used against a D20 roll with the aim being to roll below the skill level, this gives a clean easily understood definition of success though of course the GM should make sure as many potentially random modifiers as possible are applied so that players are not always sure what will be successful. There are no classes or levels in the game though within society clones have a security clearance between the Infrared drones at the bottom through to the powerful Ultraviolet High Programmers at the top. In a secret society a character can have a rank with this influencing what benefits they can get from their membership.

There is possibly more scope for different types of games with Paranoia than with many supposedly straight RPG as it can be played in the classic manner with a darkly humorous approach, as an outright straight RPG of a grim future or with the comedy element increased. Personally I've always favoured the classic manner as I like the combination of humour with the darker subject matter.

Paranoia is an unusual RPG in that player cooperation is deliberately made limited with all characters having good reasons to turn in the others as traitors and make themselves more popular with the computer. It is also nice in that it makes rules lawyering pretty much impossible, as arguing with the GM about the rules is one of the quickest ways to get a character terminated (at least till you run out of clones). Long term character development is again a small part of the game as it is rare that a player will not run out of clones before any character has completed a few missions with pregenerated characters often being a better way to play the game.

I have the hardback Games Workshop reprint of the rules which incorporated several small adventures and a number of others I bought at the time and recently on e-bay. Paranoia was one of the few RPG that kept my interest in the twilight years of my gaming between the late '80s and the start of the new century precisely because of the simplicity of the rules and the break with the standard tropes of RPG.

In short: Paranoia is fun, trust the computer, the computer is your friend. Other games are not fun and playing them is treason.

I was glad to see this revived by Mongoose with a new edition written by Allen Varney in 2004. To date I've not picked up the new Paranoia, but it has been well reviewed at

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Maps and Legends

Well after having seen the British Library's latest free exhibition London: A Life in Maps it has made me think about the fascination that maps hold for me. I always find historical atlases particularly fascinating both for the old maps they contain and the ones using modern topography that show events developing in history. I think part of it is being able to think what might have been and how things are often driven by landscape in the past with the low countries being fought over so much because of their location and topography.

It was striking seeing how long the roads that I know even in the outskirts of London have been there with 18th century maps of the environs of London having familiar roads like Ferry Lane, Wood Street and Marsh Street (now the High Street) in Walthamstow. Though from the rest of the content there is little around them except for farms and houses of the wealthy as retreats from the city, with Samuel Pepys amongst them. This applied to many other parts of outer London that I've been too with the development of the Railways showing up as the critical driver for growth. The outer areas and the East End are relatively little mapped until the 19th Century when the city was growing outwards and social reformers wanted to make their mark.

One of the most striking things is Henry Mayhew's maps of the social standing of areas showing that many areas of poverty were close to those of extreme wealth in a pattern that still continues today in London and in some other cities like New York. This survey called London Labour and the London Poor was one of the influences which lead to proper slum clearances in London and some efforts to replace the desparate conditions of the poor with housing by the London County Council and the Peabody Trust.

Inner London has seen remarkably little change with parts of the City of London still having the medieval street plan, with this really showing up on the ground in the narrow alleyways say between St Paul's Cathedral and the Thames. The area of the Great Fire was originally planned to be replaced with a gridded system, but Wren and co were not able to get this adopted leading to the traditional roads largely surviving. Indeed it is still possible to navigate through many areas using Victorian or earlier maps. This is less true of the West End where schemes like the building of Kingsway or Shaftesbury avenue have changed the road layout considerably. A major driver has been commercial speculative development and this is shown by exhibits where a developer was soliciting contributions before building new roads and the shopkeepers would have pre allocated areas.

Another striking feature is areas changing name as some of the old names have fallen into disuse for example at one time Elephant and Castle was known as Newington as was Stoke Newington in north London.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


RuneQuestII or RQII was one of the first RPG I bought rather than using my elder brother's copy, though it was preceded by Metamorphosis Alpha, Bunnies & Burrows and Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo.

As it broke away from the D&Disms like levels and classes it was intriguing mechanically and far more comprehensive than early versions of D&D and the other really strong factor was the background of Glorantha.

The mechanics using the D100 or percentile rolls for success became the Basic Roleplaying System (BRP) that Chaosium used for other games including Call of Cthulhu. The BRP system works pretty well, but like any other ruleset has its limitations, which are mainly that it focused mechanically on low level skills and character attributes in common with most of the other early RPG. Advancement in skills by successful use or practice is a mechanism that I prefer to the level based 'okay I killed a dozen orcs so suddenly I'm better at opening locks' from D&D.

Magic in RQII is more pervasive than some settings, but the common battle magic is quite limited in its effects and the powerful Rune Magic takes a long time to be available to a character and requiring membership of a cult. The cults in RQ are a better approach to depicting religion in game in my opinion than the default options in D&D, with this helping to integrate the rules into the gameworld with the choice of cults and their associated gods.

Dragon Pass and the other areas in Gerentela were the usual settings for the game with this area of the world of Glorantha having also been used as the basis of the board game that was released as White Bear and Red Moon and later rereleased as Dragon Pass. As a setting it contains many common fantasy tropes, but with distinctly different takes on them. The Aldramyi (Elves) are actually plant folk rather than generic humanoids, Trolls have a mix of types and are more interesting than in many games, the Dragonnewts are a complex race related to the dragons that give Dragon Pass its name and there are no 'orcs' as such.

The races of RQ include the much maligned Ducks, who I always felt gave an interesting edge to the game being a race under an ancient curse that could be played straight or for comic relief. Personally I tended to play the ducks fairly straight though at times with a temper resembling that of Donald Duck.

This is a game that I'm really keen on playing again as it brings back good memories and I feel that mechanically it still holds up quite well in comparison to more recent games like 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer FRP. I prefered this edition to the later Avalon Hill produced RQ3 as it is fundamentally the same mechanisms, without the sorcery rules for magic which I don't regard as a loss. Most importantly though RQ3 lacks the Gloranthan setting which to me is a major loss as that is one of the critical things in the games appeal.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dragonmeet 2006

Well I went yesterday and thought that the Dragonmeet games convention in London was probably better attended than last year. I'm glad that this con is running regularly again as I remember the 1980s version with some affection and it is good to have a con that features RPGs as a major item in London. At the moment London seems better served for miniatures wargames cons, such as Salute than RPG ones.

It was good to catch up with some of my gaming friends who don't live in London anymore so I don't often see. We ended up playing Shadows over Camelot getting the team win and defeating the traitor player, the old GW Judge Dredd which is the antithesis of team play and Munchkin Impossible. With Munchkin Impossible I was impressed by the cards where there are some fun descriptions and monsters, though the rules are pretty much standard Munchkin.

I didn't go mad to buy stuff only getting my brother an xmas present and a Mighty Armies Wild Elf army from Mongoose for myself. I was saved a bit of temptation by the fact that there were not as many minis companies as at the wargames shows as I might be able to resist most RPG stuff on the grounds that I have plenty of things to run, minis still have that "shiny" factor.

Now just a case of looking forward to next year's con I suppose.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another dumb poll

Well being a sucker for these I did another of these What Type of Roleplayer are you and got another set of results with a a similar set of scores for the different categories.

You scored as Combat Monster. The ringing of steel on steel is music to your ears. You must slate your thrist for blood. Hopefully there will be enough monsters to go around, or else you'll have to get inventive all over some NPC's faces.

Combat Monster




Drama Queen


Rules Lawyer










What type of RPG gamer are you?
created with

Thursday, November 23, 2006

So what kind of roleplayer am I

After trying an online poll posted by Charles Ryan I got the following result. Overall very close on lots of the categories which I think matches my feeling I don't have a dominant RPGing style.

You scored as Character Player. The Character Player enjoys creating in-depth characters with distinct and rich personalities. He identifies closely with his characters, feeling detached from the game if he doesnâ??t. He takes creative pride in exploring different characters, often making each new one radically different than others heâ??s played. The Character Player bases his decisions on his character's psychology first and foremost. He may view rules as a necessary evil at best, preferring sessions in which the dice never come out of their bags. For the Character Player, the greatest reward comes from experiencing the game from the emotional perspective of an interesting character.

Character Player


Weekend Warrior


Casual Gamer




Power Gamer






What RPG Player (Not Character) Type Are You?
created with

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


This game was one I played for a number of years, starting with it in around 1978 or so. The lack of classes and move to career based characters with minimal development once chargen was completed was an eye opener after D&D's class and level approach. The big frustration with Traveller was always the chance of characters getting killed in chargen with there always being a tradeoff between the chance of death and the skills gained.

Traveller soon picked up plenty of supplements many of which we bought and I remember ]Mercenary, Striker and Azhanti High Lightning. With Striker I remember spending endles amounts of time crunching numbers for modern AFVs for it, but rarely playing it.

Like most games in the '70s and early '80s there was a lot of support in the gaming magazines in the UK, with White Dwarf having useful stuff before it was a pure GW housemag. I particularly remember the Sable Rose Affair scenario as one that we played from WD.

In the end I drifted away from Traveller for a number of reasons including the fact that I had less time for RPG after having started work and the lack of in game advancement for characters was unappealing compared to D&D or BRP mechanics.

Friday, November 03, 2006

My five most important RPG

I've been thinking about which of the many RPG that I've played or read have been the most important to my gaming. Of course these may have been hugely different for other people. In the end I've boiled it down to these few:

    Dungeons and Dragons
    The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen

Dungeons & Dragons
The granddaddy of them all, the first commercially published RPG. Personally I started in 1977 a little bit before the real boom in D&D in the early '80s. My introduction to the game was with the Original Game in the White Box with the three booklets of Men and Magic, Monsters & Treasure and Wilderness Adventures. Initially we didn't have the polyhedral dice so everything including to-hit rolls and saves were done using D6. For combat that will have had an impact as the probability curves will have been very different for a number of dice than a single D20.

I started initially playing with my older brother GMing, at first it was just me as a player with a number of characters at once including Theo the elf, Acquila the fighter and Eskel the Cleric. We soon started playing with some of my brother's school friends and I get very hazy now on characters partly as many were very short lived.

Funnily enough despite being a miniatures gamer before I played D&D, using Airfix and Matchbox 20mm and 54mm plastic figures to play games I never really used minis with D&D that much until 3e.

When I came back to RPGing in 2003 after a number of years of very infrequent RP gaming, with that little I did being Call of Cthulhu, I restarted with D&D, but this time 3e. This was at GenCon Europe in Easter 2003 playing throught the Wizard's Amulet and Crucible of Freya from Necromancer Games. From there I've been playing D&D pretty regularly going over to 3.5 to run a campaign in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and playing in a campaign in another GM's homebrewed setting.

The Acaeum is a really useful resource for finding out about the many D&D products over the years and also useful to see what a book on ebay might be worth.

I'll talk about the other games in subsequent posts

Friday, April 21, 2006

Castles & Crusades Redux

Well I've now got the second edition of the Casltes and Crusades Player's Handbookand have been immediately struck by the improvement in the layout and design. The rules changes seem to be fairly minor with encumbrance being clarified and made a bit less restrictive on many characters. The equipment section has a fair number of new weapons added, but these have some typos in the stats and lack descriptions or illustrations, which is a pity as some are not necessarily obvious to those of us without a background in medieval history or D&D's love affair with obscure pole arms. "You are attacked by the orc with it's glaive-guisarm"

The layout helps a lot in the spell descriptions and lists where it makes the book much easier to use. I've not had time to read it in any detail yet so I'll have to leave my more detailed impressions for when I write a review of it on ENWorld. Art seems to be similar, but some new pieces have been added and some others removed from the 1st edition.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

C&C Houserules part2 Wizards and magic

Now the next part that I really feel like houseruling, the other spellcasting classes of Wizards and Illusionists. In a lot of ways I welcome the return of the Illusionist base class as I'm not so keen on the use of specialist schools of magic as in 3e to create an illusion or necromancy specialist Wizard. I am tempted to add a specialist Necromancer base class to my C&C game with obviously adjusted spell lists and some specialist class abilities.

My main thoughts are similar to those about clerics in having schools of magic replacing the domains of the clerics, but using constrained spell list though C&C has considerably less spells than say D&D plus splatbooks, but it would not be hard to convert over spells from other sources than the core C&C PHB.

Types of wizard apart from the aforementioned Illusionist and Necromancer could include a conjuror, diviner and evoker. This then requires the meaning of these types to be clear and different enough to give some flavour and reason to use these rather than the base spell lists. More of that in a second part to this post.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

C&C Houserules pt 1 Clerics

Inspired by houserules from the D&D 3.5 campaign that I'm playing in and comments from my 101 days of Castles & Crusades thread at RPG net I've decided to start developing my own houserules for C&C.

Start off with Clerics, a class I seem to play with some frequency in all versions of D&D or similar class based RPG. In fact one of my first three D&D characters back in the original days of the White Box was a cleric, Eskel, along with a fighter Agrippa and Theo the elf (of course this was when an elf was as much a class as a race).

Initial thoughts are to use a set of domains based on what a deity is a god of, including the four traditional elements and things which I might use a synonymous domain for like harvest and fertility.

First cut list: Earth; Air; Fire; Water; Healing; Thunder; Fertility; Death; Sun; Moon; Hunting; War; Love; Sea; Sky and gods with trade or skill based domains like brewing, smithy and weaving. One that I might add is something like Trickery because of gods like Loki in the Norse pantheon or the West African Anansi.

This is very much my inital thoughts and many would overlap so much that I'd probably make them synonymous like Air and Sky or Sea and Water. The domains would be used to give a limited list of spells so that it was appropriate for each god and avoided the usual D&D cleric trope of combat medic, which is not particularly satisfying to me.

I'll add some spells as well as the first edition of the C&C PHB has a relatively limited set of spells for clerics so depending on domain add some Wizard or Illusionist spells would fit quite well. For a trickery domain I'd certainly think that a lot of illusion based spells or things like polymorph fit into. Fire domain has things like fireball and burning hands.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Joining the (Castles &) Crusade

I've recently been reading through my copy of the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook to write a review, which got me started on a thread in the 101 days format at C&C looks like a good system for my fantasy gaming as it combines a lot of features that I was looking for, such as: unified mechanics, easy character creation, and a rule framework that allows ready customisation.

Weaknesses: with the first edition of the PHB the amount of typos is high and this can affect some of the rule interpretations, I think my biggest example is Power Word Kill where there are two different figures for the total HP of creatures affected. Not enough examples of play are present which is not a weakness for the veteran gamers that C&C has attracted to date, but is less helpful for newcomers.

Strengths: Price, C&C is reasonably priced; Consistent rules: pretty much everything works on the basis of roll D20 add modifiers and try to beat target number; simple and easy to learn, largely due to limited options, but this makes it easier to customise than 3e D&D where you have to replace existing rules and consider the impact on everything else.

Though I will still use other RPGs (Conan for example) I suspect C&C will now become the default fantasy system for me to use as a GM.

I'll start to develop houserules to expand my version of C&C with my blog as a workspace for this.