Category Archives: RPGs

The Zen-like minimalism of The Quiet Year

As I have referred to in a previous post, I went to 1d4con last week, for the first time, in Martinsburg, WV.  I had a great time!  But we’ll get to that.  I got there Saturday, played Cthulhu Wars, OGRE six, and on Sunday, I really wanted to try out a game that I had noticed before and actually downloaded the PDF (for a nominal price).  This is a small “map game” (as the designer terms it) called THE QUIET YEAR, published by Buried Without Ceremony press, designer Avery Adler.

The premise and execution of The Quiet Year are deceptively simple.  Roughly speaking, this is a cooperative game about building a community for long term survival.  Components are also deceptively simple.. you aren’t playing a character in a dungeon or anything remotely like it, so it’s pretty innovative as a “roleplaying game”, at least based on this oldster’s experience.   Instead you are given a narrative premise, which is always the same– some form of apocalypse has happened.  Your community was in a conflict with the Jackals (who are not explained) and have about one year of relative peace before some big unexplained baddy called the The Frost Shepherds are expected (which ends the game).  What will you do to keep the community alive?

The Rules, such as they are. Each person can Hold a Discussion, Start a Project, or Discover Something New.. all of which are “told”.. no dice are rolled.

The standard narrative is read aloud, from the small booklet that comprises “the rules”.  Rules is a descriptor that doesn’t seem to fit here; Almost 100% of this game is played through talking– and there are very few limitations on that.  In general, a turn proceeds around the table.  You have a blank piece of paper in front of you that becomes the map.  Each of you has a small pile of tiny dice to represent projects– since projects take time to complete the dice are a great visual marker of the passage of time, week by week, until a project completes.  Note, you don’t roll those dice.. they are just there to be project clocks.

Our Guantanamo Bay Colony, with rusty ship sunk on the docks, remnants of the old prison, my tree farm project (bottom left) the agricultural attempts (blue dice with a 1 showing), Zombie weaponization project (green dice with a 2 showing), forging recycled scrap from the shipwreck (yellow 2) and establishing a new trade route with Capitano Rodriguez (red 1 showing).

The real fun is the map itself.  You start with a generalized idea of where and when you are and what you want to accomplish.  Then you take a blank piece of paper and start drawing.  Each player draws one feature on the map and passes it around.   Then the game starts in earnest.  As turns progress, more and more is marked on the map– each turn the players introduce story concepts and new characters and challenges.. even ones that harm the colony.   For instance, in the map above, there is a zombie outbreak in the old army barracks.  The zombies become a major plot point.  There is some form of mutant sea lion that is raiding food supplies and killing people (in the water).  There is a tribe of cannibals to our Southwest, which become another major plot point as spies are sent there and found beheaded at our perimeter.

The passage of time is measured by the Seasons deck. Each player starts his or her turn by turning one of these over and reading the event on the card. The player who turns the card must, to the best of their ability, work out the events on the card and invent a new plot point to fit the card. For instance, I drew “one of your projects fails spectacularly. Which one? What caused the failure?” At the time that card was drawn we had sent one of our people over to the nearby village to see more details about the new tribe we detected to our SW. I had to choose one ongoing project to fail, so I chose the spy mission. In my narrative, the spy’s head was found in our perimeter one morning, perched on a small cairn of rocks.

The passage of time is drawn from a prepared deck of cards– the seasons deck is arranged so that Spring, Summer and Fall have active cards and I think there are relatively few Winter cards.  Once someone draws the card: “The Frost Shepherds show up”, the game ends.  That’s it, that’s all there is.

Abundance, Scarcity and Names are they only things that really change, and I get the feeling the GM just does this to remember things.

The thing is, this is a ton of fun.  I’m pretty inexperienced as an Indie RPG player, but I have tons of what we now call “Conventional RPG” experience.  I’ve never played the narrative games like Vampire or its ilk, although I have played Fiasco once or twice.   So open-ended games where there’s no experience points, no leveling up, nothing to gain from your session except the quiet satisfaction that you did a pretty good job is kind of new to me, and actually quite satisfying.   Our Guantanamo Bay project had everything going wrong with it at first– zombies in the barracks, no sustainable food, the island was losing timber quickly.  I found myself actually identifying with these nameless, conceptual people, and caring if my colony lived or died.  When a fellow colonist desired to clear cut all the trees on the island, I jumped in to passionately argue for creating a sustainable tree farm so that we would have timber forever, not just this year.  When I introduced “Capitano Rodriguez” a Portuguese coastal trader who sailed around the islands trading for food and goods, my fellow colonists wanted to capture him and his ship since it attracted sea marauders.  I argued against it, since it was yet another source of sustainable food for the colony.. “this is an island” I complained.. “there won’t be MORE land to farm..  we have to work expanding our food sources.. not just for this year, but for next year..”  They came around, and let him go after we helped fix his boat.  It’s fun how caught up you get in this stuff.

The GM was quite good and understood this system perfectly.  She kept the discussion focused and kept us steering by the minimal rule set.  One of the players had played it before and was responsible adding some really fun and Machiavellian plot lines– like the social divide between the descendants of the soldiers who used to staff Guantanamo and the “newcomers” who were looked down upon them.  I added the additions of the cannibal tribe, the slightly more advanced island that traded with Sea Rovers, and the idea of sustainable tree farms and harvesting scrap metal.  Our GM was very complimentary about our efforts to keep the colony alive.  I really enjoyed this low concept RPG, and I’d certainly play it again.


retro Dungeon Delvin’ in the Crypts of the Pervy Lord Thule

Saturday evening, the second meeting of the Second Saturday Scrum club met in Langley Park, MD.  Namely, Jared, John, Francesco, me and my son Garrett were in attendance. We were caught up in a “dungeon crawl” using a mishmash of rules consolidated and augmented by Joe Procopio.  The core of the game is the Majestic 12 Ares system, with a little overlay of Songs of Blades and Heroes.   Joe did that one better by creating a system where the dungeon delve is created by cards and special dice.  The dice determine the size, composition and special features of the room, if any, and the cards amplify what’s found in the room.   It’s actually a pretty neat concept.  One big problem we had was rolling overly large rooms in a finite space; it became clear, quickly, that the map’s free space would be used up rather quickly if we relied on the dice mechanic as-is.  The rooms were just too big and we didn’t have infinite table space.  So we winged it and knocked the “room generation dice” down a few pips when rolling– or we would have a dungeon with lots of gigantic rooms that were having problems linking with each other.  The other part of Joe’s design that I personally liked was that we engaged as teams– Joe and Francisco played one team, Garrett and I another, and Jared and John the remaining team.  As teams made their way around the dungeon, all encounters were rolled (or pulled from the deck) by the team to the current player’s right.  This is a clever way to keep people engaged and preventing the game from going stale.

Our team was Sophia Irongrip of Felnore (some kind of fighter), Holford Stoutfellow (a cleric), Took Scratchbottom (a hobbit thief) and Archimedes the Grey (a wizard, whom I took to calling “Not Gandalf”).

There we all are, in our starting location on the map edge. We were about equidistant between the other two teams. That’s Archimedes and Took (whom I ran) in the foreground, and Holford and Sophia in the background.

We all started on convenient corners about as far away from each other as could fit on a large rectangular “Classic” Chessex dry-erase marker map, a map that gave the evening’s festivities a delightful retro feel. This is what I used to map D&D with when I was a wee lad.

These were our starting location templates. You can see where we started:

Our starting template (chosen by dice roll, natch) was top right. You can see it on the miniature view above. Photo from Joe P’s blog. Courtesy Ellen Procopio, used with permission

Our initial forays out of our start location led us to a couple of adjacent rooms. Oddly enough the choices that would have us moving to the West, and possibly connecting with tunnels that would lead to our dungeon exploring rivals, all ended in dead ends! So we moved out into areas we COULD explore, namely a room with a giant floor mosaic with a visage so hideous it would induce immediate vomiting. I decided it was a mosaic of a giant undead dolphin for some reason, probably just the comedic value. My hobbit dutifully blew chunks and moved on to the next door after searching the room.

The great chunks inducing Dolphin mosaic. Archimedes continues to search the starting area.

Initial efforts at searching didn’t turn up much in either the wandering monster or treasure departments.  We encountered a room covered with bones that made a rustling noise when we tried to stealth over it.  Not very stealthy.

On other fronts, the opposing team run by John and Jared encountered a lot of traps, and more random monsters than us.  Notably some trolls.

Encountering some random trolls. They put up a spirited fight.

Whoops, that could ruin your day.To be truthful it kind of did for that team, keeping them stuck in place and unable to fulfill their “background mission” cards.

An example of the encounter displayed above. The other team bumps into “querulous Trolls” and had to spend quite a few turns dislodging them.Credit: Ellen Procopio

The other team run by Francisco and Joe didn’t fare  that well either.

As we had to take over the duties of running the opposition encounters, we ran the Orc Captain and two archers that popped up in the next room to Joe and Francisco’s party. This little room with minor monsters in it became a kind of Hougomont for the other side– they poured their attention and focus into killing these guys and hardly progressed into the dungeon beyond two rooms.  Here we have the Orc Captain charging the Monk character solo with a polearm, which did some damage.

The game session went about six hours with a break for pizza included.  We had expanded the map to the point where most of the sections were JUST ABOUT touching, but there wasn’t a connection between areas on the map yet.

Jared and John’s view, other side of the table.  The map areas are almost touching, but not quite. The circular object is an improbably huge fountain in a tiny hidden room that got randomly rolled.

The capper of the evening was One of the advneturers on the Joe/Francisco team unearthing a “Major Room” with a large gang of undead orgy participants in a hidden room.

Yes, you read that right. An unending orgy of undead whose sole purpose is to suck weary travelers into the festivities and become NEW undead unending orgy participants. Erm.. yeah.

“Thule’s Unending Orgy” was about as close as we ever came to seeing the actual crypt of Thule which would have been nice.  We had a private mission to urinate on the crypt to earn ourselves 150 VPs, but we never found it.

At this point it was like 1030 at night and I had to beg my leave from our gracious host, as it’s still a haul to Northern Virginia.    Based on treasure count alone I suppose the victory goes to Jared and Johns’ team, who looted the troll bodies.

My team encountered some tiny critters here and there (Spiders, Death Scarabs) and generally dealt with them by shutting the door and going elsewhere.  Perhaps it wasn’t courageous but our fighter types kept wandering off and expanding the map, leaving the support staff (thieves and wizards) who weren’t the best fighters to bump into them.  My hobbit was a realist.  He just avoided them.

So that was my first foray back into old school dungeon crawling in a  long, loooong time.  I had great time, so did Gar.  It wasn’t so much the presentation (which was great), it was the retro feel, the friendly banter, and the overall great time we had doing a simple game much like ones I played in my youth.  I loved it.

Visit Joe’s Blog here to see an expanded writeup, nicer pictures (courtesy of Helen) and a lot more depth into his design process.

The Fantasy Trip comes home to SJG (and apologies)

Hi. Long time no blog to you, if you’re still reading this. Things.. happened. My house is rebuilt *mostly<* and we are moved back in, and life has become a lot of unpacking and sorting and continuous throwing of stuff out. LOTS OF STUFF out. I need to. I made a promise to winnow my gaming collection down to 1/3 of its current size. This is no small feat. So I admit it, I haven’t been posting a lot. Sorry. I’m going to change that, right now. I’ve been painting and playing again, and I’m enjoying that. More on that later.  — W.

The Now Not quite so young Steve Jackson, holding older copies of the Fantasy Trip, 35 years later.

My first post of 2018 is really kind of old news, but I couldn’t just let it just pop up on the radar without commenting on it. First, a little history. A long time back, in the bad old late 70s, there was a tiny company in Texas called Metagaming Concepts. Metagaming was on the forefront of a trend I like called “Microgaming”. This was a concept where pretty much everything you needed to play a complete, self-contained game was presenting in a tiny ziplocked bag, with stripcut counters and a kind of ho-hum map. For usually 2.95 SRP. Teen-aged me loved the idea of these (and I pay tribute to them with an entire page of this blog, actually). Most of these micro games were tiny standalone boardgames, but the third and sixt in the series were part of a tiny roleplaying game (the first publication was Melee, which dealt with fighting and monsters and such, and the sixth was Wizard, which picked up the magical end of things). The series encompassed by the two products was called “The Fantasy Trip” (TFT). They were the product of a very imaginative young man named Steve Jackson who already had a little game named OGRE under his belt. TFT became a big hit (for Metagaming) and generated enough revenue to expand the line, going from ziploc to small (crushable) cardboard box, then on to advanced melee and wizard (which were folio sized and jam packed with material) and Tollenkars Lair, which expanded on the system even more. Every kid in my social circle was at least noddingly familiar with D&D. Of course we were. Some had tried some of the alternatives in those days, such as Traveler, and Metamorphosis Alpha and one or two more non-TSR systems, especially the Fantasy Trip.

TFT was remarkable in its simplicity. Everything, and I mean everything, derived from three simple statistics. You started with a template character and customized him with remaining points. You were limited by things like strength and dexterity so there were some weapons you just couldn’t use. Spells were even simpler (and kind of painful). I loved the system, myself, but wasn’t a fanatic about it.. even though D&D was miles more complicated and did a lot of the thinking for us, we liked poring over all those misleading charts, I guess. TFT was cooler than that– it made it so simple, we mistrusted it. That’s all there is? It would take a couple of years for me to grasp something Steve Jackson understood from day one.. you’re playing a story, you’re IN a story, when you are playing RPGs. You’re not in a rulebook. It’s about the story, first and foremost, so why not make the rules as simple as possible?  That’s what I like about TFT, and why I collected everything they made, mini-adventures and all, before Metagaming went out of business.

If you know your hobby history, you already know that Steve Jackson and the head of the defunct Metagaming Concepts, Mr. Howard Thompson, did not (from all reports) part ways amicably. Steve Jackson left Metagaming with the rights to his OGRE/GEV universe intact, but he could not come to an agreement with Thompson about The Fantasy Trip. Rather than sell the rights back at a reasonable price, Mr. Thompson shuttered the doors, turned off the lights at Metagaming and disappeared from public view. And so it has been, for thirty five years. The rights to the coolest alternative RPG from the distant past was in a legal limbo– held by a company that had long since ceased to exist. Sigh.

Until now that is. This statement was posted on the daily Illuminator at the Steve Jackson Games website, somewhat recently:

December 26, 2017: The Fantasy Trip Returns Home

The Fantasy Trip:  At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I’m very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar’s Lair.This is just an initial announcement, to invite you to celebrate with me a day that has been a long time coming!I have no idea yet about release schedules. I will probably have to answer most questions with “I don’t know yet” – but feel free to use the button below to go to the forum discussion of this post, and try me . . . or just share memories of the game!— Steve Jackson

Wow. That’s some amazing news there.  The Fantasy Trip comes home, at long last!  “But wait, SJG already HAS a RPG system, one that they have been supporting for 35 years– GURPS*, right?”  Well yes, that’s true, and SJG has put a lot of work into supporting it, too.  Although GURPS 1.1 certainly bore some resemblance to Melee/Wizard, they really were different systems, and the GURPS of today really bears little resemblance to the TFT of 35 years ago.  There will be a lot of work to be done to get the older system up to snuff– in a lot of ways.  The graphics for the old TFT were funky, and  I like them, but they are from a very different time and place than 2018.  There are a lot of conventions to work out to make the TFT titles fit into the SJG portfolio.. how will it fit in the product catalog?  A GURPS alternative?  A competing product?  This is going to be more complex than just reprinting an old game (which is becoming the craze these days).

In any event, I’m delighted to see these old friends resurface again, after being in limbo for so many decades.  I look forward to seeing TFT back in print again.

GURPS: Generic Universal Roleplaying System.   See here.

Quill: A letter Discovery Series #2

QUILL: A letter-writing game for single players
by Scott Malthouse
available on DrivethruRPG (and presumably direct from Mr. Malthouse)

Quill is a short little game (available as a PDF only, I think) that defies easy description. It categorizes itself as being an “roleplaying game”. In the strictest sense, that’s certainly true. Players assume a role (there are six of them), the roles have statistics associated with them, the statistics have lower or higher number to judge successful attempts at doing something in a RPG setting, and there are actual skills that increase your chances of success as a bonus versus rolling against our statistics.

That is about where the similarity to any conventional RPG you are familiar with ends. Quill is a game about writing letters. Letters in Quill are very rigid and formalized exercises and they are written to achieve an outcome, which is defined by the scenarios provided with the game. Letters are the sole means of determining success or failure in this game– characters only are used to create letters. To give an example of “a character”, a Quill player may choose one of six– say, a Monk. Monks have statistics (there are only three in the game: Penmanship, Language, and Heart). The character’s statistics are pre-defined, so the monk has Good Penmanship, Average Language and Poor “Heart”. Our monk is also chooses a skill in Augmentation to bump up his poor “Heart” Skill (This will grant him +1 dice to a “Heart Test”).

The monk receives the scenario, which gives him his “Superior Words” (high scoring words) for his letter. He must write a five paragraph letter (always) to some person. Using my first example of playing Quill, in the fourth scenario, the task is to write to King Gerald V. The Monk is now corresponding with the King (known to be a bit of a sourpuss) on account of a suspicious person that has been seen lurking about town– he might be a spy! You have an “ink pot” full of words you need to use to bump your score up. There are several, like “Your Majesty”, Smith/Blacksmith, Curious Individual, etc. etc.

My monk sets himself to the task. Superior words in bold.

Gracious Majesty, King Gerald V,
from the Abbey of Beresford, I send you greetings.

Your Majesty, I beg pardon any intrusion of my humble self into the weighty matters of state might cause, but I felt compelled to write you out of concern for the security of the kingdome. For the past two fortnights there has been curious individual loitering about Beresford Common, his manner is sly and retiring, but there is something about him that I find worrying in my soul. He is a sneaky fellow of ill aspect named Roger Calloway, late arrived as a laborer in a merchant caravan, but he has stayed in town a week after market day, which has caused suspicion.

Calloway is hardly an imposing man, but buggered of face and possessing a furry lip that he allows to droop down and conceal his aspect to great effect. It is hard to see what he is thinking. I have often seen him walking about the Common and visiting the market place and various shoppes about town, all the while making notes on pieces of parchment he keeps concealed on his person.

This behavior may seem innocent in its face; certainly listing prices for hemp and cordage or a pound of ha’penny nails is not an ill deed akin to dropping deadly nightshade into the village fountain, but it does beg the question: why? What advantage could be gained from this information? One can only speculate, and of course mention the matter to wiser heads such as yours.

My theory is that he might be an agent from a trading cartel in Holland or Flanders, and he is here posing as an Englishman to keep an eye on products and prices compared to Continental markets. The advantages in trade would of course be obvious to your Majesty, and acted on should you decide to act. I am unlettered in the matters of law and trade, and do not know what the consequences of apprehending this individual might be.

Calloway keeps his own counsel and consorts with nobody I have seen, although I have seen him loitering at the Smithy kept by Will Ramsay, also on the commons. Their friendship, it that may be the word for it, does seem strained. I saw them have words the other night and Calloway left the forge in a hurry, with Ramsay following behind, red-faced, his hand raised as if to strike him. I made no further inquiries into this matter, deciding there and then to bring it to your Majesty’s kind attention.

I trust I have been of some service in this matter, which I hope is really nothing to find alarming— but one may never know.

Your humble servant,
Roger, Assistant Abbot, Abbey of Beresford

(actual letter, my first time playing)

Let’s “score this letter” in game terms– this is the next part of the “RPG”.

My Monk’s stats are: Penmanship: Good (3D6) , Language: Average (2D6), Heart: Poor (1D6).
For every Superior Word, add 1 point.
(He has augmentation in reserve for Heart checks, once per scenario)

Rolling Language for each Superior Word I attempted to use: I hit on a 5 or 6, 4 times for 4 points.
I didn’t really “get” flourishes (using the HEART skill) as equating to using adjectives, so there are not many in the above letter directed towards Superior Words. I will fudge a little and say “Gracious Majesty” is one, and roll 1D6 for Heart, and use my Augmentation skill to add a dice. Once. Miraculously, I get a 5 and a 6., for 2 points.
Next is Penmanship. My Monk has GOOD penmanship, so I hope to clear up, with five rolls of 3 dice: for a score of 5 more.

Totaling it all up, I get 4 + 2 + 5 for 11 points on this letter. According to the scenario outcome, my result is:

11+ points: The King writes you personally, with great thanks. He has positioned his guard close by and the spy will be caught. You are invited to the King’s court as a guest, and a hero.

Not bad, not bad at all. I might have done better with more flourishes, but I did end up using my Augmentation Skill to great effect, which got me the best result possible.

Okay, so all this is pretty amusing and creative, but…..

Well, it’s not really a RPG, is it? You run a character but it’s not really a role-playing exercise. Your only interaction with a character is with an off-board NPC, and it is in the form of a letter. You don’t really make a lot of decisions above and beyond choosing how to use Superior Words in a letter. Writing a letter is a fun creative exercise, and I was impressed that I could easily make up a narrative thread to encompass all (or most of) the Superior Words in my Scenario.

Summary: So what is Quill? Perhaps an interesting classroom exercise developed by a creative instructor, who said to himself “Hey, self, this could be an RPG with a little polish!”. It feels like it is a fragment of something larger to me. The game’s theme is a thin patina indeed, and might improve with some expansion material in a follow up. Quill is amusing, EXTREMELY affordable, and a lot of fun. It will not bear up to repeated plays before becoming a bit tedious. Until then, it’s quirky and interesting, and worth a look. At the asking price, you can forget what you paid for it easily if you want. Enjoy!

REBLOG: Check Out This Library of Over 200 3D Printed Dungeons & Dragons Monsters


“Oh Magic 8 Ball…”

Pig Hitler must DIE!! aka, Mutant Future session 4

Last Saturday night, our MUTANT FUTURE online RPG group  met for session 4 of the Big Sky campaign.  We play using Google hangouts and the Roll20 RPG app.

PIGMEN, what we called Pazis, in Mutant Future


We’re continuing the adventures of the BIG SKY campaign.  This was a continuation of Episode 3, Nazi Pigs, Nazi Pigs, F*ck off!  starting  the day after the events of the last session.   We concluded that the Pig Men would become a problem  not just for the people in the Fishing Village of McOwster, but eventually they would impact the bunker complex we come from.  So something has to be done.  The raids seem more well led than they had been in the past; Pigmen exude the same kind of negative empathy effect that my character, Larc Killstrike, does.. only all pigmen do it as a racial trait, not as a mutation.  So this is not a group of people that chip in and display teamwork as a trait.  As mentioned, the Pigmen were very cleverly led in the attack the night before; they infiltrated the buildings at the bridge and set up a distracting fire while their main attack originated from a different direction.  This demonstrates pretty advanced tactical thinking.  You know, for pigs…  (I described our adventures taking out the Pigman outposts on the other side of the river using the Vampiric Field in Episode 3).   The Sheriff appreciated our efforts the night before but doesn’t think we’ve put a dent in the Pigman threat.  He’s afraid that one individual may have arisen to lead the pigmen (aka, the Pazis) in more intelligent, coordinated attacks.  We instantly dubbed this hypothetical Pazi leader “Pig Hitler”.  We decided to go out on a patrol in the general direction  (we’re guessing) from which the attacks originated.

Almost immediately, we encountered a random Pazi patrol.  This was led by an Officer (?) with a carbine, a Pistol Packing Pazi, and a Axe-Pig with a couple of grenades.

Engaging Pigman Knuckles (the pistol pig out of ammo) and Pigman Officer from a distance.

Making an end run around the right. CLICK TO EMBIGGEN.

Van Cleef, Maduro and Johnnie Walker engaged from a distance with crossbows. As mentioned last time Pigmen are a tough breed– these had a naturally hard hide and didn’t take a lot of damage quickly.  I decided to try the Vampiric Field again, by advancing on the Pazi line obliquely from the right flank, using cover.  The plan was to double back behind them and hit them with VF from a hiding place.  It didn’t work– I was detected by the Axe-pig and he whacked me pretty good with a giant man-cleaver.  The last thing I wanted to do was go toe-to-toe with a Pazi in a standup melee. I turned on the Vampiric Field as my comrades were the maximum distance away from me and wouldn’t get damaged by it.  Almost immediately I got back the points I lost in temporary HPs sucked from the Pigmen.

George! Bad Monkey! Get out of the killing zone!!! Click to enlarge

Scratch one Pazi Putz! I kill Axe-Pig solely with the Vampiric Field mental mutation. Sadly I got a little piece of Curious George with this one.

Scratch one MORE Pazi putz! Down from multiple wounds, WIth the left and right dead, the Officer beats feet, erm.. hooves, out of there.

This strategy was slow but it was working; the officer and the pistol-pig were engaged on the left flank, and as long as I was draining the Axe-Pig and Officer Pig on the right, there was a decent chance I could stay ahead of the damage he was do to me every turn. That was, until my colleague Curious George climbed through the trees and right over the killing zone. Unfortunately I ended up draining points from him and the two pigmen.. great for me, bad for George as he takes double damage. Poor mutant! Right about then the Axe-pig went down with all his points sucked out.. this is the first creature in Mutant Future I’ve killed solely with a mental mutation.  I have to hand it to MF– I’ve never cared for the “Life Leech” mutation (the Gamma World mutation MF’s Vampiric Field appears to be modeled on) but if you use it with the proper setup, with some long distance cover from your teammates, you can really play havoc with an enemy’s plans.  I don’t mind being the mutant kamikaze in this context, in fact, it’s kind of fun to have something that can mess with lots of targets at once.  One thing I’ve noticed is that our mutation rolls were all pretty underwhelming in terms of hitting power — there’s some telepathy, and 2 mental concerts, and a few other mutations of value, but nothing to cause broad spectrum physical damage.  So that Vampiric Field is starting to come in handy in ways I didn’t expect.

The left flank had done a solid job, and the Pistol Pig, now a Knuckles pig (after running out of ammo), went down in a mess of blood and chitlins on that side.  The Officer pig shouldered his carbine and ran out of there.  We gave chase, and passed an intriguing “House of the Ancients” during the chase, but didn’t have time to stop to investigate.  The Pazi Officer got away, but he left a blood trail that was easy to track.. and we found him laying an ambush at the camp of the Pigmen, which was North of the city.  This was just an outpost.. two tents and a bunch of traps laid around to catch intruders up so they could shoot them.

The Traps set at the Pazi Camp.

The Pazi officer unfortunately died from the ensuing firefight. Too bad, we wanted to interrogate him. So it goes. So that, with the exception of a small infestation of carnivorous butterflies, was that. We moved the tents and traps out with some extraneous things we found, setting up camp about a mile away, with traps out, so it helps guard us. That was pretty much the evening.  We ended the session back at Mac Owster.

This was a great game, with a decent turnout. I’m really enjoying Mutant Futures.  Eric’s doing a bang-up job.

NEW: Mutant Future character sheet as an adobe form


Taking advantage of technology as one might do, I have built an editable PDF form for Mutant Future.  You may recall me posting about the campaign kicking off recently, and how we are playing by remote RPG methods using RollD20 and Google Hangouts.  Rather than keep track of all this information on a text note like I was doing last time, I’ve added the information from the previous session onto this form, more or less.  I have to check the notes for the status of a few things like saving throws.

LARC KILLSTRIKE (filled out example)

Blank Mutant Future Character Form

If you play Mutant Future, please feel free to make use of this form for your own use.

An old dog tries out Mutant Future, by Goblinoid Games

My friends and I played the early versions of TSR’s  GAMMA WORLD and METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA to death when we were kids– generating tons of campaign material some of the most memorable games ever.  These early SF role-playing games had lots of things going for them– none of the minutiae associated with D&D but roughly the same structure we were already familiar with and a conversely lots more open ended than their older brother, D&D.  Sadly GW and MA went by the wayside as I got older and my RPG group kind of drifted apart.

With the advent of the Internet and streaming cameras, Google Hangouts and a decent webcam and Mic, much of the problems of distance and time that drive someone out of roleplaying are solved. I have written about my adventures trying something new with remote play of RPGs before with a RPG called Labyrinth Lord from Goblinoid Games.  LL is a fairly obvious D&D clone that harkens back to a time when TSR/Wizards of the Coast allowed for outside development by putting D&D out as an open license.  The result was a multitude of RPG games similar to Labyrinth Lord– the most famous being Pathfinder.   Mutant Future was Goblinoid’s second product.  To say it’s “just a Gamma World clone” is perhaps overstating it.. the mechanics of GW were not released under open license, after all.  So Mutant Future is essentially a post-apocalyptic RPG skin of Laybrinth Lord, which is based on the D&D license.  With that stated up front.. yeah, it’s a lot like Gamma World.

Lone mountain bunker, where the adventure starts

We played members of a village called Lone Mountain, which is built around some ancient bunkers that still have a few tech items left from the pre-apocalypse days. The Eldars are concerned about the encroachments from the outside and sent out a scouting party that never returned. The preliminary returns from the reconnaissance brought back the map fragment you see above. We were sent out to determine who lives around us and to assess the threat situation more accurately.

My character was a mental mutant with four mental mutations, only one of which appears to be much use:

Larc Killstrike

Larc is a dark-visaged youth, in his early 20s who is apparently human, but for some reason he exudes a sort of anti-charisma not usually associated with humans. His negative empathy generation has caused him to grow increasingly paranoid and defensive as he has gotten older. As he spends a lot of time alone, he talks to himself a lot and he frequently fidgets. He favors dark colors– another culture might accuse him of being “goth”.

STR — 17 +2 mod TH, DMG, Door
DEX — 12 0 Mod
CON — 13 0 mod
INT — 13 +5%
WIS — 12
CHA — 13 -1 RA, 5 Ret 8 RM
58 HPS

Mutations: 1D4
Mental Mutant

1) Vampiric Field
2) Negative Empathy
3) Neural Telepathy
4) Metaconcert

110 GP starter


2 Ball Bearings

 L Crossbow 17 GP
+ 20 quarrels 1d6 dmg
Longsword 10 GP 1d8 dmg
studded Leather Armor 30GP
Shield 10GP
– clothes
– small items
– bedroll & blanket attached
– rope wrapped around
– mushrooms

Unless stipulated, in pack:
Bedroll 1 sp
Blanket, winter 5 sp
Crowbar 2GP
Flint Steel 2GP
pole 10 ft 2 sp
lantern 9GP
rope 10GP
9 days trail rations at 5GP
Waterskin 1GP

=102 GP
8 left

Vampiric Field This mutation grants the mutant the ability to absorb the life essence (hit points) from all creatures (friend or foe) within a foot radius equal to 30+WIL. This power absorbs 2d4 hp per round from all creatures in the radius, and these absorbed points go into a separate reserve for the mutant. All damage to the mutant is taken from these reserved points until they are gone; after this point the mutant’s regular hp begin to be affected. Stored hp will disappear after 24 hours.

Negative Empathy The mutant sends out waves of negative mental energy, causing anyone with less than 17 Intelligence within a 90’  radius to have a 15% probability of attacking the mutant.  Only one check is necessary per person until they leave the field and reenter it.

Neural Telepathy Using this ability, the mutant can connect his mind with another creature’s mind and communicate directly, even if the two creatures speak completely different languages or are of different species. The range of this ability is 30 feet.

Metaconcert This ability allows the mutant to link its mind with other
mutants of a similar type or those who have the same mental mutation. These include those with the Metaconcert mutation, or other mental mutations that facilitate control between the minds of two beings. The
mutant may combine his WIL with the WIL of other mutants for conducting a mental attack, or some other joint  purpose.?

That’s right.  I’m playing a guy named Larc Killstrike who essentially can leach the vitality out of everyone in the room and automatically makes stupid people hate him.  This is going to be hilarious.  I’m playing him as shy and kind of anti-social, as he would be very self conscious of the hostility he creates just by walking into a room.  Fortunately our “Mutant Master” (GM) ruled that the party members know Larc and are used to him by now.    Of these mutations, Neural Telepathy came in handy (once) and I never used the Vampiric Leech thing.  Metaconcert seems nice in theory but really I’m not sure what we could use it with.  I have nothing that really “Attacks” mentally– and I don’t think any of the party members do either.

Our party headed toward the river (see map above), discovering some delicious truffle mushrooms on the way.   They turned out to be edible so I filled my pack with them.

We avoided an encounter with some cubs of a really awful monster called a vile slasher or something like that.  Sadly when we went north to the next riverside hex and tried to cross, one of our guys (Johnny Walker) got shreddded by mutated piranha fish.   We fished our volunteer out and headed north some more.. only to discover a group of friendly little pig men called the Suidioi or something like that.  Fortunately they were telepathic and we conversed easily– it helps to have telepathy.  They were a nice bunch.  I tried not to think of bacon too much.  We did some trading and one of our guys got a chain mail outfit out of it.    They turned us on to a building “that was very dangerous and had led to the death of many suidioi” or something like that.

where we were by the end of the night.. Southern edge of the lake in the north end of the map.

There’s also a lake with a human-ish village North of the drawing up top.  We got to the location of the single building and encountered a compound of sorts, with a large “box on treads” patrol in a very predictable path around it.  I tried to break into guard shack but failed twice, making too much racket and attracting the attention of the box.  I ran for it and it went back to patrolling.  The other guys did a circuit around the building to map it out for us.  When we got back together (behind the dumpsters in the drawing below) we called it a night.

The Compound, end of session. Yes, as you can see we had quite a crowd.

This game went well. It definitely had that old Gamma World, “exploring in the ruins of the ancients” without a lot of the paperwork modern games put you through feel to it. The GM, Eric, is a good referee, funny, and he admits when he doesn’t know something, and is creative enough to improvise as we move along. I’ve gamed with these guys (remotely) before, or at least many of them, and they are a good bunch. Technically I was beset by some problems. I got the impression that SOME people heard me over the mic and some didn’t. I think the problem came from RollD20 (the app about which I’ve spoken before– it allows you to run a RPG game over a browser) taking control of my mic when I was already using Google Hangouts to communicate– then when I muted it on RollD20 nobody seemed to hear me. Stuff happens. I communicated as best I could.

I’ll definitely play Mutant Future again. It’s a real blast from the past. I’m liking Goblinoid Games more and more these days.



How they come up with these results is beyond me.

Session 2: Labyrinth Lord- Barrowmaze Delve 2

Last Saturday was our second session of Labyrinth Lord, the original D&D clone published by Goblinoid Games.  Like last time we were playing over the internet using Google Hangouts for the audio/visual element and the roll20 application to handle mapping, character sheets and die rolls.  I added a cheap webcam to the mix, unlike last time, and I have to say it really helps with the communication.

Google Hangout syncing up.  That's our DM, Billy Compton, addressing the party.

Google Hangout syncing up. That’s our DM, Billy Compton, addressing the party.


We’re still on the Barrowmaze Campaign, and really haven’t’ scratched the surface of it yet. So we found ourselves remapping the stuff that we did last week and trying to remember where we had been before, avoiding the rooms with ghouls in them as much as possible. We were jumped by Stirges at the outset and a swarm of them nearly killed one of our fighters. We cautiously tried mapping in another direction, away from last week’s nasty surprises.

We made some headway, but came upon some secret rooms and rooms that had doors blocked, etc. The sounds of us hammering down the wall attracted more monsters– Rodents of Unusual Size, in fact. These proved easy to dispatch:

Chased by Rats!

Chased by Rats!

We did some more chamber breaking and entering and eventually found a nice burial chamber with a huge haul of loot inside. As many of our party, including your humble narrator, were down to 1 or 2 hit points left. So we called it a night and headed back to the nearby village, where wenching and carousing challenges await. Awesome games, but slow progress. I had forgotten what a first level character was like!

As far as we got Saturday night.

As far as we got Saturday night.

Verdict: I like LL a lot and will play it again, especially over a net work.

Virtuacon First Session and First Game of Labyrinth Lord

I’ve been on something of a retro-RPG kick lately. On a whim, I signed up for a session of Virtuacon, the virtual roleplaying convention run in October by volunteer GMs at (the Roleplaying brother site to Boardgamegeek). There were several games and session to choose from. I initially wanted to try FIASCO, but decided to go with LABYRINTH LORD instead. My reasoning was that much as I like Fiasco’s core concept, it is a storytelling RPG game at heart, and I have very little experience in that kind of RPG. Labyrinth Lord, by contrast, was as familiar as putting my foot into an old boot. Created under D&D’s open license, it is about as old-school D&D as it comes. There was literally nothing about the game I didn’t get or had some previous experience with in another form. We played on October 19, from about 6PM to 10PM. Considering that we were launching a new campaign, incorporating new characters and doing the scenario preamble roleplaying, we were surprisingly productive.

Outdoor Map using RD20 app. We are mapping the way to the central mound in the Barrowmaze.

Virtual roleplaying was accomplished using Google Hangouts for video and audio chat, and Roll20 mapping app for the maps and die rolls– really all the “gamey bits”. My computer doesn’t have a camera built in (or microphone) but I managed to plug in my snowball microphone for audio input and everything went splendidly. I didn’t really look at the live video feed much– it’s not required for playing a game anyway. Sound, however, is crucial. I had a hard time with the driver set for the Snowball, and that hung me up for a bit– until I rebooted my machine, and then it went well. I notice that nobody pays much attention to typed chat in a virtual game, so a microphone is the very least amount of equipment I would call essential for playing.

How did it go?

I think we all had a blast. I ran a pre-generated character call Bronn the Sell-Sword. A plain vanilla fighter with not much in the way of kit. Here’s the rather succinct summary posted by the GM:

“A recent party of adventurers returned from the Barrowmaze with many gems and gold only losing one valiant cleric that sacrificed his life to save the party.

They took with them a strange man by the name of Tronnan from a far off land looking for what he said was a river that supposedly runs through some part of the Barrowmaze. The party returned without finding it in the first delve after running from a pack of 4 ghouls and rescuing a former adventurer hurt in a pit.

Creatures defeated: 5 giant rats(alas no 2000 coppers!), 2 zombies (turned), 1 giant snake, 1 zombie, 2 giant carnivorous flies, 1 heucuva
6 rot grubs(2 killed). ”


1 Deela Danderfluff (884)
2 Kevlar Windbreaker (884)
3 Bross the Sellsword (844)
4 Pardue the Holy Man (844)
5 Mikos Zanzibash (0) (died from ghoul attacks)

I did manage to kill a few things but my luck was pretty bad much of the night– the dice weren’t on my side. So it goes. I redeemed myself by leaping into the last room full of ghouls and dragging the unconscious hobbit out by the hair, before the ghouls finished feasting on the cleric and turned their attentions towards the thief.

In the dungeon, JUST before we discover a room with a pack of higher level ghouls in it (bottom right, not mapped yet). They handed us our lunch from the inside out.

I liked the virtual RPGing experience quite a bit. Technology has advanced a lot since I tried something like this the last time and this time I felt like I was in the same room with the crowd of gamers. Everyone was polite, not greedy and very easygoing and funny. We are going to meet again to play another round in November.

RPGs: Old School Meets a New Technology

I played many a RPG when I was a youngster, and even a young adult.  Back when I had not much to do with my young post-graduate life but having fun, concerning myself only with getting up, going to work, paying bills and whatnot.  In those days, it was not at all uncommon for my friends and I to convene an AD&D game on Saturday day and play literally all the way around the clock, getting up to go out on Monday mornings with all the clean-suited commuters gazing in wonder at this gaggle of bloodshot, haggard looking youngsters going out for pancakes on a Monday morning while they were going out to  their jobs.  Gradually, girlfriends became wives, jobs became more demanding and serious, children started showing up, and we weren’t playing RPGs any more.  Why?  The time it took, mostly.  A single combat could take most of an evening.  Rolling up characters could do the same.  We played AD&D a lot back then, Dungeons and Dragons (old version) being the game most of started with and were still very comfortable with, but also Traveler, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Paranoia, Dragonquest, Runequest, etc.  We usually came back to AD&D in its assorted flavors, usually 2.0.  I’ve seen lots of chatter on the web about roleplaying over the years but I’ve not been that eager to jump right in again, being mostly a boardgamer and miniatures player.  And yet.. and yet…

The phenomenal growth of “Old School” gaming in the last few years (in response, I suspect, of the dumbing down of major commercial RPG products like D&D 4.0) has created some interesting alternatives for an “old School” player like me.  Games like Pathfinder and Labyrinth Lord are more familiar to me than anything TSR/Wizards of the Coast has released in the last ten years.  There’s a whole host of more specialized, narrow focus niche RPGs that have come out in the last decade, as well, and some of them are really quite clever, like Fiasco or Munchausen.   Many of them intrigue me, certainly the two I just named do.  I guess I’m just a sucker for the classics.

When Boardgamegeek introduced the notion of Virtuacon recently, I admit I had some interest.  The idea behind Virtuacon is to play in RPG games using collaborative technologies such as Google Hangouts, and the Roll 20 virtual tabletop service.   RPG Geek, the RPG arm of BGG, is sponsoring a wide variety of RPGs over the next month or so, in the attempt to get momentum going behind playing RPGs via collaborative (free) technology.  I have to say I’m behind this idea.  I love the “garage band” feel of this effort.  So what the heck, I browsed the choices available and selected a game called Labyrinth Lord.  This is essentially the old school D&D of my youth resurrected with some new covers and concepts to avoid the publishers getting their asses sued off.

Labyrinth Lord (or L&L??) has a nice visual appeal, which pulls my nostalgia strings:

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Labyrinth Lord Cover, the 80s called, and they want their art back!

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

Inside, the tables and interior illustrations are DEFINITELY old school

So I’ve joined a special Google plus hang out and tonight we ran the technical checks to see if I could connect. My creaky PC doesn’t have the capability to video camera anyone, but I could connect audibly, and the run through on D20 worked like a charm.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we'll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

Google Hangout Connect. This is what we’ll be talking into, and some will video cam in too.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE.  It's a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

The adventure is called BARROWMAZE. It’s a MEGA dungeon in the Labyrinth Lord universe, and a commercial product.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

Drilling down to the portion of the map where the party enters the dungeon, going over the D20 app interface.

All of the technology works fine, more or less. My Snowball microphone, which works just fine with this computer, worked as the input device and my flip phones were the earphones. I’ll post more as the campaign actually opens up. I’m liking this!

Snapshot from the earliest days of Dungeons and Dragons

Steve Jackson (the UK, tea-swilling and crumpet munching GW pioneer Steve Jackson, not Munchkin Pimpin’ Steve Jackson) wrote a small snippet about this odd new hobby game that had come across from the other side of the pond.  It was a bold new experiment in gaming that had grown out of miniatures games.. called Dungeons and Dragons. The snippet appeared in Games and Puzzles magazine (1).  In 1976.  I always had believed that D&D came about in 1974. From the text of Jackson’s article, the game had only been around for less than a year and had already achieved a trans-oceanic following.  That’s refreshing. Even in these days of the Internet, it’s hard to develop a buzz that quickly.  And D&D came around in an era that had no Twitter, no Facebook, and there really weren’t any trades around (yet) to promote new games with.  So D&D got all that momentum going for itself… in roughly ONE YEAR, by word of mouth.  Not bad at all!

Games Puzzles

Games and Puzzles Magazine, ca. 1975

Here’s some of the text of that article from 1976.  The Dungeons of the Ground Goblins was a sample dungeon written by Steve Jackson for the article.

by Steve Jackson

Dungeons of the Ground Goblins

Dungeons of the Ground Goblins map

(partial: only one level described)

Partial Transcription (from page 4 of the flier)
1: Entrance – base of hollow trunk
2: Well with bucket and rope. No special significance
3: Fountain guarded by two giant spiders. 100 silver pieces in fountain
4: Stairs down to level 2
5: Five Berserkers, each carrying 25 gold pieces. Leader carries ‘+1’ sword
6: Ten Gnolls guarding chest 100 gold pieces. Secret bottom contains Ring of Protection
7: Empty room
8: Stair down to level 2
9: Gorgon guards chest containing 1500 gold pieces, Boots of Levitation, Crystal Ball, Bag of Holding and Curse Scroll
10: Dungeon caretaker – will answer questions for fee
11: Endless passage
12: Ten Goblins – one carries Staff of Commanding
13: Secret door leads into space warp – transports to level 4
14: Goblin’s lair: 30 Goblins each carrying 5 gold pieces will answer questions if cornered
15: Four Zombies. No treasure
16: Six giant rats guarding chest containing 400 gold pieces and 200 silver pieces
17: Pit – sheer drop to level 5
18: Ghoul: 300 gold pieces scattered round room with ‘+2’ War Hammer and ‘+2’ Shield in one corner
19: Sloping passage leading to level 3
20: 15 Orcs guard chest containing 250 pieces and Potion of Speed

After applying all sorts of tests to the stick, the Magic-User gives up, but puts it in his backpack anyway, expecting to be a wand of some sort.
Venturing further down the passage, the Elf checks for secret doors and discovers one after 50 ft or so. The party enters but immediately feel themselves ‘lost in space’ unable to see or feel anything clearly. They eventually come to rest in a large square chamber. On each of the four walls are three doors. Which do they choose?
MAGIC-USER: ‘I pull out the stick and wish we were back at the crossroads with the old man!’
GM: ‘Nothing happens.’
ELF: ‘I check for secret doors and traps.’
GM: ‘You find none.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I charge the door in the south-east corner.’
GM: ‘The door bursts open. The room inside is 30ft square. There is a large chest in the far corner and standing over it is a green dragon.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I slam the door!’
GM: (Rolls the dice) ‘It does not close.’
MAGIC-USER: ‘I command the dragon to stay put.’
GM: (Noting that the Magic-User is still holding the stick). ‘The dragon becomes still and silent.’
(Jubilation in the party!)
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I approach the dragon – very slowly! Does it move?’
GM: ‘No.’
FIGHTING MAN: ‘I plunge my sword into its neck.’
GM: ‘It bleeds dragon blood but does not move.’
GM: ‘It eventually drops down dead. You have 450 Experience Points.’
The party rush into the room and open the chest to find 1500 Gold Pieces, 1000 Silver Pieces, a Potion and a Scroll. They are rich beyond their wildest dreams!
But they are also lost in the Dungeons of the Ground Goblins.

This is an interesting piece of nostalgia which I thought might be fun to share.  If you want to read the rest of the Snippet, it is shared out here.

I got a chuckle at the very end of the article, where Jackson wrote something like: “One hears that TSR is contemplating putting out a monthly magazine called THE DRAGON dedicated to this D&D hobby.  I think we’ll be hearing more of them in the months to come”

(1) After reading about Games and Puzzles magazine’s colorful history and wonderful depth and breadth of articles, I am saddened that this periodical has not survived to the present day.  GAMES is the only publication like it, and that should really be called “Puzzles with Games Reviews”. 

Children and Games: Changing and Staying the Same


Playing D&D across the generations

I came home the other night and was sitting down in my normal chair having a little post-work/post-school meeting of worlds with my son, Gar. I must have missed his first mumble or two, because gradually I understood he was describing an adventure he had taken part in, where he was a half-orc with a Jade Sword, and fighting Ninjas with different colored uniforms (and different lethality levels), and getting treasure. “And then we drew a map as Michael called out what the room looked like, on graph paper,and moved our guys around. It was fun!”

I blinked.

Gar was describing playing a tabletop roleplaying game. The old fashioned way. Not on a video screen. Not on a computer. With real, live people, using his own imagination to fill in the pictures. I pressed him for details. “It’s called Dungeons and Dragons, Dad. I play with Michael and some other kids at school during lunch. Didn’t you used to play that? You know what D&D is, don’t you?” (adopting a pained, “do I have to tell you everything?” expression). “Why yes, I may have heard of it somewhere.”

I was absurdly pleased. For all the noise about “growing my own set of opponents”, I don’t really push my hobbies on my children. The most we manage is a beer and pretzels card game at Chinese carry out (fairly regularly). These are not very taxing and for the most part, the kids love that kind of game. But anything really complicated? Nah. I don’t want to turn them off from games. Some things, like the Ameritrash collection in my basement, are an acquired taste.

So to discover that independently, with NO prodding from his bumptious father, Gar has A) hooked up with some gaming buddies, B) picked up D&D (which can be pretty thorny for newcomers), and C) plays it enthusiastically.. well, it’s genuinely heartwarming. That’s the only word for it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Vivat for the next generation!

Oh, I didn’t mention the best part: “Dad, could you run one of these for us some time?” “Oh, think I might be able to help you there. I’ll have to go look in my study for some materials…”