Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RIP Joe Dever

It is with great sadness that I heard of Joe Dever's death today. Joe was the man behind the Lone Wolf series and the world of Magnamund, something that Joe treated with the utmost love and care to create a magnificent saga of the lowly Kai Lord who saves the world.

He also produced many other gamebooks and also generously gave his permission for all of them to be made free on Project Aon in pretty much any digital format you can get.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe at the last two Dragonmeets. He complimented my beaten up copy of Lone Wolf book 5 and gave me and the other fans a lot of his time. I also listened to him talk about Lone Wolf and it was great to hear the love he had put into the series over the years, which never waned.

He will be sorely missed by many :(

Here is the Facebook announcement

RPG - Sword Noir

I like Sword Noir - it is a combination of sword and sorcery and film noir (hence the name).  It is a system
where characters are good at what they do, but they cannot do everything and they do not become super human like high level DnD characters.  Characters have attributes and the game makes tests against them.  A character's background, faculties and flaws gives bonuses and penalties to those tests.  All characters must have a background, some faculties and a flaw.  They can choose what these are and call them what they like, allowing some extra individuality to to characters.

Magic is present, but it carries a huge cost and will almost lead to madness and demonic possession (PCs might end up being NPCs).  This all fits in with the setting creed, which is broken down and explained in detail to show how Sword Noir adventures should work.  It shows that the system and setting of an adventure can be entwined to enhance the whole experience.  Magic is not just a set of tools, but something dangerous and corrupting, in keeping with the nihilistic nature of this world.  Characters are not ultra competent at everything, increasing the sense of danger.

  • Characters can be made up of more than just attributes 
  • It is better when the system and the setting are entwined.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls RPG

What's not to love about Tunnels and Trolls?

The game does not ignore this thing called balance.  Instead, it cheerfully pushes balance to the floor then kicks it in the nuts while it is down.  There is the DARO and TARO rules - if you roll a double with 2d6 or a triple with 3d6, you roll again and add them to the original roll.  Unless you roll a double or triple again, in which case you roll again and add both values to them and so on, leading to obscene values for stats.  On top of that non-human races can double certain stats.  And what's more, it's all dandy with Trollgod (Ken St Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls).

Yes, it's the game that spits in the face of logic in the name of enjoyment.  Who cares why there are dungeons full of gold and monsters scattered all over the place and that some people are mighty warrior, powerful wizard or all rounders who are quite good at both, or, if your stats are high enough, get to be the paragon class where you enjoy about 3/4 the benefits of warriors and 3/4 the benefits of wizards?  It's fun!

And what adds to the fun is that the rules are not overly complex.  D6s only are needed (although you might need a few of them!), monsters generally do not need a ton of stats, but a single value called a monster rating which determines how much damage they deal and their hit points.  Stalls in combat are broken by a rule called spite damage.

In combat, you roll a certain number of d6s depending on your weapon, and add a number to that value.  The monster does the same.  The one who rolls the highest deals the difference in damage - any armour that the defender is wearing.  However, for every 6 anyone rolls, they also deal 1 point of damage 'in spite of' (hence the name spite damage) armour or who won, and this can really add up when you are rolling 10d6 for a weapon (which you might - I told you about lots of d6s).

Magic is pretty useful, using a points system to cast spells (in 7.5, you use WIZ points to cast spells) and the
spells are useful, despite having 'comedy' names.

And then there are the solos.  Tunnels and Trolls has tons of solos as it's been doing them pretty much since it started.  I've written a few myself , so has Scott Malthouse and you can try some quick ones out here.  A lot of the older ones are quite deadly (Ed Jolley has put a lot of TnT posts in his blog and you can find them in the index here. Only one is highlighted yellow, meaning he beat it), but they are quite fun to read.    

And finally, another thing I love about Tunnels and Trolls is the aesthetic.  It hasn't lost its old school charm.  I don't know what it is, but I find the whole old school feel comforting.

Want to delve deeper into Tunnels and Trolls?

You can visit Trollhalla.

You can read the Zine for free.

There will be a new edition of Tunnels and Trolls out soon (it is probably out when you rad this).  Take a look!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Conan RPG

I don't remember where I first came across the Conan RPG, but it was the RPG that really opened up my
mind to the idea of a world where magic is not just a tool for flinging fireballs, there does not have to be a clear definition between good and evil and heroes do not have to be world saving noble warriors and wizards who all work together well.

I did not know anything about Conan or Lovecraft at the time, so it really opened up my eyes to a new world.

The game uses the D20 system, but most classes are combat oriented with the scholar being the only magic using class (though not all scholars have to become magic users) and magic being quite limited - there are few spells and most of them come with a heavy cost, such as human sacrifice, demonic pacts, allowing yourself to be brainwashed by a cult or corruption of the caster until they become possessed by a demon.  Magic is not the flash bang type either - there are offensive spells but they do things like draw the heart out of someone's body.

While I think sticking the D20 system onto it wasn't perfect (it seems more apparent to me that the mechanics of a game should fit the flavour and sticking a generic system onto it loses some of the flavour.  Engel is another example, where the German version used something that sounds way cooler than D20),
the Conan RPG really opened me up to other genres of writing and other ways to play an RPG.

It seems that the Conan RPG is not for sale any more, but you could probably find it second hand from somewhere.

Happy gamebooking!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Black Vein Prophecy playthrough

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Written by Paul Mason & Steven Williams, Artwork by Terry Oakes

Hey guys. First up, a quick word. I am now on Patreon. Now, this is a great opportunity for people to support not just this blog, but my writing career as well. As a special 'thank you' to my Patreon supporters, you can access next Sunday's blog post... right now! Go check it out. But now, let's discuss Black Vein Prophecy!

I never played this book when I was a kid.

Look at the cover and tell me you don't understand why. If not, I'll explain. When I was a kid, I was visiting my local library to borrow a copy of Frankenstein. Yeah, I was a weird kid. Anyway, I found two books. One had a simple off-yellow cover with the book's title in gothic font. The other was a more gaudy paperback version with a lurid painting of Frankenstein's monster, its body a mass of scars, its face twisted in rage, its ragged stitches open to reveal red gore beneath.

Obviously I took the book with the monster on the cover. People do judge books by their covers, and sadly the cover for this book is terribly underwhelming. And also rather misleading to the adventure within, which immediately sounds interesting from the very minute you read over the blurb on the back.

Y'see, as you start this adventure you know nothing. Nothing at all. You don't even roll up stats, like you do in Creature of Havoc (which we'll be re-playing soon, too). You're thrown right into things, and have to learn on your own. It's the first FF adventure where you start out with a blank sheet. Mysterious, indeed!

You awake locked inside your own tomb. Just like I do most Sunday mornings. You break through the tomb sarcophagus with significantly less trouble than Uma Thurman would have, and stagger around inside what appears to be a huge sepulchur for a while, surrounded by other sarcophagus... sarcophagi... sarcophaguses... whatever.

It's at this point that I start to experience crippling headaches, which means that this is very much like a usual Sunday morning. I try to inspect as much of the chamber as possible, but with my head spinning, it's difficult to gather anything cohesive other than fleeting visions of a figure. I leave the chamber, only to find that that the building is far larger than I'd expected, with a new chamber filled with statues.

When one of the statues seems to move, and I experience memories associated with the statue's figure, I begin to surmise that I've been brought back from the dead somehow. Seems that my earlier comments about Frankenstein may not have been entirely unconnected to this book. Creepy. Anyway, the main theme of this part of the book is spinning headaches and haunting images flashing before my eyes, much like you experience when watching an Uwe Boll film.

The chambers seem to gradually collapse as I move through them. I wonder if it is my awakening that has caused them to collapse (much like when you kill a boss in a video game, which causes a temple to collapse due to it being a load-baring boss), or if it is simply my presence passing by that is spreading some kind of corruption to the building. I glance back at the statues, to see that they have collapsed - and seem to be constructed with human bones. Maybe they're not statues after all. Ewww.

The doors in the catacomb all possess seals. As I pass through them, the pressure in my head seems to ease. As I move along, I gradually roll up my stats, starting with luck (required as I run through a chamber that drips a curious liquid), stamina (as I flee up some stairs to escape their collapse) and skill (which I note is set lower than most FF books, as you only add 4 to your roll rather than the usual 6). I procure a sword a backpack with five provisions, and a haunting voice tells me to remember all that I have forgotten. And then I pass through the final sealed door, and emerge into the sunlight.

It quickly becomes apparent that the catacombs I was entombed within lie beneath a large city, one which seems to have been under siege at some point. The streets are empty and the inhabitants seem long dead. As I stumble through the wreckage, I find a curious object lying against a building - I look closer, only to be encountered by a mirror image of myself, which attacks.

It's a long fight due to the high stamina, but I manage to kill the mirror image and am blinded by a flash of light as it perishes. In the wake of the light, I find a small wicker box. When I open the box, a cloud of fiery wings and madness flies out, knocking me to the ground and flying off. I... have no idea what's going on. At all. This is just weird.

The entire adventure gets weirder. Before long, I have encountered a strange mutant horse creature, who speaks about rats being stuck in mazes. When I approach this being, I start to remember the ability to control mutations, and am told that this will be useful for me later. Staggering my way away from this strange creature, I eventually work my way into one of the city's siege catapults and fire myself into the sea. I don't know why I do this, I just do.

I'm dragged from the sea by the crew of a ship, who ask me about a dead man I encountered in the catacombs way back when, and then tell me to man the sails. This isn't what I'd have said to the character if I were the captain of this ship. More likely I'd say "Oh my god, man! Did you just fire yourself into the sea from a catapult? What the hell is wrong with you? And why do you look as if you've been stuck in a sarcophagus for so long? What is going on?"

We sail along the sea for a while, until a large sphere emerges from the mist and attacks the ship. I shrug my shouders and say 'Oh, sure' and fight the giant ball. My sword manages to pierce it, and an insane maddened criminal emerges from inside the sphere and I need to chop his head off. The ship's captain then comes along and tells me that, as punishment for their crimes, criminals in this part of the world are sent into the sea encased in large bubbles, which is... about the standard level of sanity I've come to expect in this book so far.

That night, one of the crewmen called Velkos awakes me to tell me that there is a strange brooch on my clothes, which I had not noticed before. I open the brooch, and an evil baby falls out. I can tell it's evil, because its face is twisted with wickedness. And I can tell that it's a baby because oh fuck it whatever. This makes about as much sense as the film 'The Happiness of the Katakuris'.

  It occurs to me at this stage of the playthrough that nobody who is reading this who has not also read the book itself will have any idea what I'm rambling about. I'm sorry. This playthrough must sound like the product of a demented mind, full of mutant horses and strange lights and men in bubbles and evil babies. I'm sorry. I'm trying my best to make this all into something that can be understood, but I'm not really sure this is possible. It kinda defies the minds of mortal man.

Remember the Sorcery! book "Khare: Cityport of Traps"? It was crazy in that it was a wild adventure filled with utterly bewildering events. This is different. This is crazy in a David Lynch kind of a way, where things kinda make sense in their own respective ways, but it's all so utterly 'stream of consciousness' that it's difficult for you to effectively describe it to another person. And that is NOT to say that I am not enjoying this book. On the contrary, I'm enjoying it immensely.

The ship comes to ground, leaving me and Velkos opting to venture inland for a while. Soon we see a large monkey-type creature being chased by a group of angry people. I follow the monkey as it hides in a cave, but I lose track of it when I discover a buried trove of gemstones worth around 3000 gold pieces. As I gather them up, a strange and obviously sinister mist starts to descend around me. Not wanting to be trapped in a cave with the fog monster, I use the power of evil baby, summoning it like a demented pokemon trainer.

The evil baby leads me out of the cave and away from the fog monster, which is a sentence I never thought I'd say in my entire life. I don't other to tell Velkos of my discovery, but no sooner have I emerged from the cave do I see a group of people who are under attack. I slip closer, despite Velkos' warnings of the contrary, and I notice that they're being attacked by a mass of light and twisting bubbling insanity that would twist the mind of Lovecraft himself. Basically, I'm up against the 5th Angel, and I don't have Eva Unit 01 around to help me out.

What else can I do? Evil baby, I choose you! I hurtle the evil baby at the Lovecraftian horror (do you ever feel that you need a less insane hobby to spend your Saturdays doing?) and they are both destroyed in a giant explosion that destroys time itself, ushering in a Singularity. As my body melts into a liquid mass and my mind becomes part of every other mind in the cosmos, the entirety of Titan is reborn into a single being... actually no, that doesn't happen. But it wouldn't surprise me if it did. Instead, the monster is destroyed, but so is my evil baby thing.

Oh well, I still have that mutation power that I got from the horse-thing earlier, in case I need some bizarre power to perplex the minds of humanity with. I decide that I actually want to find where Valkos has run off to, and eventually stumble across her fending off some bandits. We fend the bandits off and head into a nearby forest. In the depths of the trees, we can hear some people approaching and promptly we climb up some trees in order to hide. The men find me, but do not catch Valkos. I don't bother to tell them about her, because I don't really like her all that much.

I tell the men that I'm a powerful sorcerer and will cast a spell on them if they don't let me go, and they believe me without question. I decide to leave Valkos stuck up the tree and head off on my own. Before long I find a pair of villagers who seem to be trapped in some mud. I try to offer to help them, but as I do, a giant cloaked monster sneaks up behind me and hits me. It flies off with me to its lair, and we fight there for a while. I kill it, and don't find anything of any use.

On the way back to the road, I find some discarded clothes. Eager to find this nudist, I instead encounter a helmeted man who has been tied up and had a scroll of paper shoved in his mouth. I take the scroll, hoping it will contain a clue of some sort. Instead it contains nothing, and the helmeted man walks off into the sunset. I don't know what the point of this was, except to confuse me more. It's working, in that case.

I find a small village, where I spend the night with a few other travelers. I wake the next morning to find a large horse-drawn carriage parked in the middle of the village. I have a closer look, when a man emerges and confuses me for a captain in his army. As you do. I play along, and before long he is asking me for strategic advice on the battlefield. When it becomes clear that I don't know what I'm talking about, he attacks me and I need to beat him down.

I continue my adventure alone, and it occurs to me at this point that I don't really have any set goal or destination in mind, and that I've been simply walking in random directions for a while. I stop my a cliff-side and watch the birds for a while, somehow learning a mystical art of harmony by doing so. I'm not quite sure what this will do, but at that point I'm drawn by a disembodied voice into a tunnel. In a large chamber, I meet a man called Credas. He tells me that my name is Maoir. Ah-ah!

This is pretty big. I've met someone who knows me. He tells me that he knows a lot more, including how to use my powers to their fullest extent. He may even be able to make this entire adventure make some kind of logical sense. After all, he can give me the context to what is going on, and context is important. I help the man clear some bandits from his caves by combining our magical ability to control their minds, and then he tells me the catch - he wants me to do something for him first before he'll tell me anything.

He asks me to find an item from the jungle to the south. I head down there, ready to hunt through the entire place for one arbitrary random item for an old man who is clearly capable enough of finding it on his own, and with very little description as to what item it is that I should look for. Nevertheless, it's not too long before I am able to find a river. And as I'm sure you've noticed, my new hobby in these Fighting Fantasy books is to fall into any river that I come across, usually resulting in my death (see Island of the Lizard King, Sword of the Samurai, and so on).

So I get eaten by killer eels.

And despite that, I'm not too annoyed, because I actually really enjoyed this book. I still have no idea what was going on, but I feel that's more to do with it all being intentionally mysterious. The book does become more easy to grasp as it goes along, which pretty much mirrors your character's disorientation and confusion.

The world itself feels very infused with magic in this particular book, with far more emphasis on the mystical and mind-altering than in a typical Fighting Fantasy book. More than anything else, it left you wanting to replay it, in order to find all the missing pieces of the puzzle and figure out the details that you were unable to grasp on the first playthrough.

It's definitely a good book. If you're in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, it's one I'd recommend strongly. But only if you're in the right frame of mind for it. Otherwise you're likely to reply to it with "What did I just read?"

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ten Magic the Gathering pieces of equipment I would use if I were an adventurer

If I were an adventurer, however, I would take different items than if I were a wizard.  All of these items are equipment cards from Magic the Gathering.

Everything but the
kitchen sink.
Every adventurer needs adventuring gear.  you know the stuff.  Ten provisions, a waterskin, rope, a mirror (how many times do they come in useful?), a warm cloak and a bag of gold in order to see them through their journey.  

Adventurers also need sturdy and adaptable clothes to see them through their long overland travels.  If they are able to go through the lesser known harder trails, they will be able to avoid hostile encounters.

Bob was prepared for
power cuts.
If you're not trading these with gnomes for dragon artefacts, a good telescope will show you that you are heading in the right direction or give you plenty of warning that something is approaching.

As an adventurer, you will explore many dark places that may be infested with undead.  The bright light of your blazing torch will keep them at bay.  If you get desperate, you can fling it at an opponent in an attempt to kill them.

Adventurers always need to scale things and a grappling hook can help them do that.  They can also use it as an extra weapon in order to ensnare and wound opponents.

Every warrior hopes for a mighty sword and you don't get much mightier than this.  Plus what is cooler than attacking someone with fire and ice at the same time?

You will need a bow for hunting or in order to inflict damage on enemies from a long distance.  

This is a dagger that every adventurer hopes for.  If it is thrown it will never miss.  Chadda Darkmane definitely found a similar dagger useful in his adventures.  

Comes with fairy lights.
Every adventurer appreciates good armour and you don't get much better than darksteel.  

Finally, adventurers always have to sneak around places and a cloak of invisibility is just what they need.  

There we go.  So if we take me as a 0/1 Creature - human, after equipping myself with all those goodies, I am now a 4/4 indestructable, unblockable creature with double strike and shroud.  In addition, I can tap to deal 1 damage to a creature or player, unnattach the heartseeker to kill a creature, or sacrifice my torch to deal 2 damage to a creature or player.

When I attack, I have the chance of finding and new land and I can select a creature that can block me, or, if I decide to not be blocked, I can draw a card and deal 2 damage to target creature or player, putting my opponent on a 2 turn clock (4 first strike damage, 4 regular damage, 2 damage from the Sword of Fire and Ice).  Nice.  I can't be killed by anything other than sacrifice effects or non targeted effects that remove me from the game.

What equipment would you like to use?