Wednesday 1 January 2020

This year I have mostly been playing...

Lots of my tabletop gaming friends have been blogging their gaming year in review and whilst I didn’t consider it, Chris ‘Dirk the Dice’ Hart of the Grognard Files asked if I was going to and I thought perhaps I might, even if it’s just a cathartic exercise for my own benefit.

I started the year playing Mutants and Masterminds and I did not like it. It was mostly my fault.

After DMing D&D5 for a year at my local club I decided to take a break and play for a bit. The only game not booked up before it was even advertised was M&M being run by one of my previous players. The other players from my previous group, also having nothing else to sign up for also joined the M&M group.

The GM had created a really quite fantastical setting that weirdly felt disappointingly mundane when we interacted with it. He kept having his villains escape and return which is admittedly very much in the vein of comic books but made the process of taking them down feel utterly pointless and futile. Combined with things like putting a sprawling, complex map of a villain’s lair on the table and then locking every door and having nothing of interest behind them once they were forcibly unlocked.

However, that said, I might have enjoyed the experience more had I not railed against the idea of superheroes and created a thoroughly miserable anti-hero which I instantly disliked playing. That was stupid and childish on my part and I have to own that one.

I should have said that this isn’t for me and left but I felt really bad for the GM. It would have felt like a personal insult. This was compounded by the fact that the other players did leave, almost immediately. It then turned out that it was intended to run over two blocks, so six months. I could have cried when I found out but still couldn’t bring myself to leave because I felt like the GM, despite his failings, had put his heart and soul into it and I would have felt awful.

So we plodded on with two new players and the occasional rando. Needless to say, I was utterly relieved when it finally ended.

The system itself, I’m not keen on either. It’s horribly slow and clunky and the character sheet is bafflingly unintuitive. I had a list of powers with numbers but had no real concept of just how powerful they were. I just couldn’t get a handle on my character. Superhero games to me should be fast, frantic and cinematic. M&M most definitely is none of those things.

Conversely after this I then started running Call of Cthulhu at the club.

Sometime during the period of playing M&M it occured to me that I enjoy running games more than I do playing them and resolved from then on to keep my playing to one-shots rather than get involved in campaigns.

Also, my New Year’s Resolution for 2019 was to avoid buying new games and concentrate on playing the ones I already had. So, with this in mind I decided that the next couple of years would be spent working through my shelf either finally playing games I own for the first time or games that I’ve not played for decades.

First one out of the bag was Call of Cthulhu. I traded the Day of the Beast with Lee Carnell a couple of years ago, having been alerted to its existence by Ed in the Shed on the Grognard Files.

I decided to run this as my first game of this new period. It worked out brilliantly. It was a little nerve-wracking to start with. On the first session, I asked if anyone had played CoC before and one guy, without looking at me, pulled his shirt sleeve up to reveal a Chaosium Elder Sign.

This one tended to act all aloof and disinterested when we first started each session, giving me the distinct feeling that I, as a keeper of Arcane Law was being judged for my competence. Adorably, though, once we got into the meat of a session and the mystery kicked in, he seemed to forget his ‘too cool for school’ persona and got quite invested. He did drop out about half way through the first block citing work commitments but then, without saying a word seemed to join another group a few weeks later. This didn’t bother me. My CoC KoAL-ing style obviously wasn’t for him and that’s fine. Everyone else seemed to really enjoy it.

It became obvious at one point that there was no way the campaign was going to be wrapped up in one block (3 months) so I asked if everyone was okay carrying on into a second block and remembering the situation I’d been in earlier in the year made it absolutely clear that if folks wanted to move on there would be absolutely no hard feelings. To my delight, everyone stayed and we managed to wrap the campaign up just before Christmas. Despite my concerns early on, they were an absolutely great bunch and they are apparently staying with me for the next block starting in a couple of weeks which is Classic Traveller. I just hope they enjoy it as much.

The Day of the Beast campaign itself is great fun and a few people pointed out that it is very pulpy. Despite using CoC 5th edition rules, I did run it kind of pulpy and for the first half took it easy on the players worried that constantly cycling through characters due to death and madness might put them off. I regret it now because if anything, doing that might have actually spoiled their experience of CoC.

There were some jarring plot holes and some toe-curling railroading but it was always met with good-natured eye-rolling and grins and they set off after the plot like seasoned roleplayers.

I might be peaking too soon, but the second block is almost certainly my gaming highlight of the year. Bless them.

Commemorative 'coaster' I made for the players of the Day of the Beast campaign.

There were of course cons during the year. Being quite poor I have to limit my con attendance and even then, the two that I do attend have to be done so as cheaply as possible. This usually involves me driving up and back in a day to avoid hotel costs, taking sandwiches and only window shopping in the trade hall. Having to do it in a day prohibits a lot of northern cons, sadly and so I have to keep things southern. Two cons stand out in that depressingly short list and I attend them both: UK Games Expo and Owl Bear and Wizard Staff.

I’ve got UK Games Expo down to a fine art now. I know exactly what time to set off to get there in time for the morning RPG slot, I know exactly how long it takes to tour the trade hall, which means I know exactly what time to book my afternoon RPG slot for and what time I’ll be getting home that evening. Like clockwork.

This year the morning slot was a demo game of John Carter of Mars using the Modiphus 2D20 system. I have a love/hate relationship with 2D20 - or more accurately a like/hmmm relationship. There’s so much about it that I like but I can’t help feeling whenever I play it that it could probably be simpler and more streamlined. That said, as a player I find it perfectly playable and the session was good fun with a great bunch of players. It was quite railroaded but I don’t mind that so much with a con one-shot.

I then toured the trade halls in baking heat, meeting up at the FSide Games booth with a very sweaty and clearly suffering Carl Clare who kindly gave me a Flames of War starter set he no longer wanted.

Playing John Carter with Ian Cooper and Sintain and other fine folk
The afternoon session was a bucket lister. I finally got to play in a game run by Dirk the Dice from the Grognard Files who ran an obscure 80’s counterculture game, Psi World. Also at the table was Doc Cowie, Bud from Bud’s RPG reviews and Andrew from RPHaven whom it was also a pleasure to sit at the table with for what turned out to be an hilarious and quite surreal couple of hours. This session is often remembered for Doc Cowie’s heroic plumbing skills but often forgotten is the fact that it was Bud’s driving (or more accurately, crashing) skills that actually saved the day.

Home by 9:45

My other con of the year was the Owlbear and Wizard Staff.

This was my second OBaWS and I decided to run a game again. I was a little apprehensive as I’d run Space 1889 using Savage Worlds the previous year and whilst many folk had appreciated my model-making skills, I got the distinct feeling that the game didn’t go down terribly well with the players.

It was mentioned in the aftermath of the first one that there was a high demand for D&D and so, I decided that I’d offer a D&D game this year and turned to one of the first modules I’d ever run way back in 1984 and that was Round the Bend scenario from Imagine Magazine. It turned out, unbeknownst to me that Neil the Old Scouser had actually run it the year before and so I was able to consult with him on the best way to update it.

It involves a gang of Half-Orc thieves being miniaturised by a wizard and sent down his laboratory sink plug hole to retrieve a lens of minute seeing. Once again, I put my crafting skills to good use making a vertical battlemat from card and nervously set up for the players. I needn’t have worried. We had a blast. They got into their characters, the scenario is a good mix of combat and tricky situations and one obstacle was resolved in an unexpected and highly entertaining way. They were a good bunch and I’m hoping that next year’s will be as successful.

Round the Bend vertical battlemats with ridiculous animal for scale.

Both times I’ve been to OBaWS, I’ve run afternoon slots just in case I’m late arriving (not being able to stay over the night before) and in the morning slot I’ve played and this year I finally got to try out Pendragon. It was run by Gaz from the Smart Party podcast and involved a little bit of Lovecraftian shenanigans. Gaz did a top job and I liked the system but I don’t think it’s for me. I’m not a fan of low fantasy really and Pendragon is as low as it gets. Still, it’s another ticked off the list.

In amongst the con-going I’ve done other bits and pieces. I’ve been a crewmember on the USS Thunderchild in Matt Broome’s Star Trek Adventures campaign which he’s been running via Roll20. It’s been a blast. As previously mentioned I can’t decide if I like 2D20 or not, I’ll gush about it one minute and then pull faces at it the next, but it’s perfectly playable and I much prefer it to the previous Star Trek RPGs. Matt’s campaign has been fun, departing - in true Star Trek fashion - from the established timeline with the destruction of DS9 and the fall of the Alpha Quadrant. It’s given me a chance to get a feel for the game in action and I’m planning on running it at the RPHaven club later in the year.

I also got to run a one-shot of The One Ring as well at Firestorm Games in Cardiff. It took us 8 months to actually organise and it was quite a railroady scenario and I struggled with the combat rules a bit but I got the feeling that everyone had fun and generally approved of it. Again, I want to run a campaign at the RPHaven club some time soon.

Trying to fathom the combat rules - pic courtesy of Andrew Jones

Alongside all this I started running a club at the school I work at. There was already a fledgling Warhammer club when I first started there in 2018 and this has grown around 300% with the intake of this year’s year 7s. We were doing Kill Team but that’s expanded now to full 40K and Age of Sigmar. We’re also running X-Wing and next year I hope to also throw in Gaslands and some historical games to tie in with the curriculum.

The club in full swing under the watchful eye of Commandant Gutsquelcher Ellis.

Toward the end of last school year I tried starting an after-school D&D club too but gave up after I’d had to cancel it too many times.

Once we came back in September both myself and my colleague, Carl who runs the Warhammer club went full time and we were better able to manage things. I used the school DT facilities to make scenery and I also started up a D&D lunchtime club. I didn’t want to run the club at lunchtime but I ended up with so many kids wanting to play that I had to split them into different groups. Also many of them catch a bus home after school so lunchtimes is easier. 30-40 minutes may not seem like enough to really get into a game but the priority seems to be dicking about, so they don’t mind if we only get one fight or social interaction in and it’s also giving them a taster. I know several of them play at home on the weekends.

A modular catwalk system following the video by Wyloch

Destroyed buildings cut from MDF on the school laser cutter.
I really must paint them at some point.

One of the highlights of running the club was that last summer, two of the boys won the Kill Team regional and we got to take them to Warhammer World for the regional playoffs which was a real treat as I’d not been since just after it opened way back when.

The regional playoffs in full swing at Warhammer World

We also took some of the boys for an end of term trip to the Warhammer shop in Cardiff where they put on a game of Age of Sigmar for us and I was finally won over.

Dwarves vs Orcs - sorry, Duardin vs Orruks!  

 I’d been quite sniffy about it up until then being an Old World fan but the game they put on showed me that it was still the same fantasy mass battle game it had always been and I really enjoyed it. I’ve since read the new simplified rules too and really become a convert. So much so that I ran an updated version of the Ziggurat of Doom at the club recently, replacing the ziggurat with the Stones of Blood!

Six brave Stormcast Eternals defend the 'Stones of Blood' against waves of Skaven and other horrors.

Another rather delightful turn that came from running the club was the fact that I was asked to go on the last but two episode of Meeples and Miniatures podcast to talk about it. That was fun and during the show, one of the hosts, Mike Hobbs asked if folk could donate unwanted bits and pieces to the club and both myself and Carl have been blown away by the generosity of the show’s listeners. Now we just need to find somewhere to store it all! :D

This year I also started re-collecting Skaven, having sold my rather substantial army some fifteen years ago, thinking I’d never play again. I spent the last couple of hours of 2019 assembling Stormvermin and I’m hoping to field them a lot next year.

In tangential gaming news I was asked, once again to provide the logo for this years Grognard Files Podcast meetup, 'Grogmeet' and was delighted to recieve some goodies in return. One year I hope I can make it to the actual con.

Honorary Grogmeet swag 

And I think that’s everything. Until I sat down to write this, I hadn’t realised what a packed year it had been. Next year, my plan is to run more games at the RPHaven club in north Cardiff. Starting with Classic Traveller, then The One Ring, Star Trek Adventures and finally Runequest Glorantha. The school Warhammer and D&D club will continue and hopefully grow again with next year’s year 7 intake. I’m also hoping to attend UKGames Expo again and run something at OBaWS again.

I plan to continue growing my Skaven army but also want to buy enough World War 2 Soviets to be able to finally play Chain of Command. I’m also quite keen to give the new Battletech a go if I can only get my hands on a copy of it.

Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great 2019 review Wayne, detailed and insightful, looks like you've had a great year in gaming. Hope to catch up with you at one of the cons this year.