A Heart for Madness

I’m running a Barbarians of Lemuria adventure, A Heart for Madness, at UK Games Expo. The characters start the adventure in the employ of the merchant Rustus in the old trading city of Oomis, acting as guards for him and his family.

The heroes are a hard as nails ragtag band of adventurers. Like all such heroes they have blown the fortune from their last adventure on carousing, and now find themselves in gainful employment. They are:

Barbarians of Lemuria is a classless system, in addition to their attributes and combat abilities characters are defined by careers. The titles above are there just to give an indication of the careers the characters have and perhaps their archetype when I created them.

Barbarians of Lemuria is a simple system, the key elements are:

  • Roll 2d6 + attribute + career (if any) vs target of 9 to succeed
  • Roll 2d6 + attribute + melee/ranged – targets defence vs target of 9 to hit
  • Every roll is against a target of 9
  • Bonus die; roll 3d6 rather than 2d6 and drop lowest
  • Penalty die; roll 3d6 rather than 2d6 and drop highest
  • Boons give good stuff and often a bonus die on certain actions
  • Flaws are bad stuff and often give a penalty die
  • Heroes start each session with 5 hero points, these can be spent on cool things in the game

That’s about all you need to know to get started, the rest is so easy to pick up in play. Can’t wait to run this!

BurritoCon3

Wasn’t sure that it was going to happen, but the happy circumstance that lead me to organising the first BurritoCon last year has happened again (my daughter wants a lift to Manchester ComicCon with her mates and I’m on taxi duty; rather that driving to Manchester and back to Liverpool twice I thought it’d be nice to get some gaming in).

As at previous events it’ll be held at the fantastic Fanboy 3. I really love that store, they have a great attitude towards small events like this and also have a load of great gaming stuff to tempt you while there. If only they’d relocate to Liverpool…

The event will run from 10am to 5pm with two three hour slots (10-1 and 2-5), maximum 6 players plus a GM per table. That’s space for 21 to attend, and I already have quite a few names on the list. The only cost is the regular £3 per game for players to Fanboy 3, GM’s get £1 store credit for each player in their game (at least it was last year, I’ll double check with them). The store is only 5-10 minutes walk from Picadilly station and there are loads of food options nearby (including but not limited to Burrito’s).

I’ll post more details about the games on offer once I have that, if you fancy getting along contact me on Twitter @OldScouserRPing or in a reply to this post.

DevaCon 3

Now in its third year, DevaCon is the same small friendly con with a big heart held in the super posh Crowne Plaza in Chester. Stephanie McAlea has done a great job pulling the event together with everything you need for a full day of gaming in one place (ok, food and drink can be a bit pricey being in a big hotel), and everyone there out to have a good day.

In my mind the fun starts when I leave the house, giving a lift to gaming pals Tony, Andrew, Dave and Cliffy. The gaming banter starts way before we get to the venue. We arrived in plenty of time which gave me an opportunity to catch up with some other great gaming mates I’ve got to know in recent times and get to meet some new faces. Unfortunately the start of the event was held up slightly due to a technical issue, but we were soon underway not long after the official 10.30 start time.

This year I had offered two adventures; The Road to Hell by D101 Games, a nice adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Swords & Wizardry Complete (I picked the LotFP version), and my homebrew Barbarians of Lemuria adventure, A Heart for Madness (yeah, stupid name I know, but you have to call it something). I have already ran the BoL adventure twice before at cons and so while I knew it was a good adventure, I was worried about the timing; it took 4.5 hours at Convergence and 5 hours at Virtual Grogmeet – could I fit it in to a 3.5 hour slot? I had the same concern and a few others with The Road to Hell

Slot 1: The Road to Hell is a fairly lengthy adventure with 4 main acts; while I’d like to go into considerable detail here I don’t want to drop any spoilers. I’m hoping to run the whole thing at some point, but for this 3.5 hour con I knew I’d have to strip it right back; Newt Newport the author had sent me some advice on doing this and so I came to the day well prepared but still not sure of a couple of bits and pieces (I have read the adventure a few times including proofreading for Newt, so I knew it pretty well). I was pleased to have a full table, so characters selected we were soon underway. I could tell the players were experienced and they quickly engaged with the adventure, but I had to work hard to hold their attention, at least for the first half of the session. As things moved forwards they became much more involved in the tale and we ended with a fun and interesting ending. The big takeaway for me for this adventure is that the ‘happy path’ for the players needs to be more clearly sign posted, I have an idea about this for Expo.

Dr Dee’s employees. Yet to travel The Road to Hell

Slot 2: Signups for the afternoon session where a little all over the place. By the time I’d packed my GM stuff away and grabbed a bite to eat most of the afternoon tables were booked (some of them had been filled up before the first slot!) This bit of the con could definitely use some improvement – signups on the day is fine, but it has to be well coordinated so everyone has a decent chance at a game they wanted to play. As it turned out I was happy with the table I ended up on; there was a final slot left for Dragon Age. I’ve played and enjoyed all of the Dragon Age video games so had a passing knowledge of the setting; I was particularly interested in the Age system it uses. I’ve often considered grabbing Fantasy Age, so I was looking forward to getting a taste of it.

The session had been put on as a last minute filler and the GM by his own admission was running an adventure that he last ran/read four or five years ago. I don’t know how he managed it, but he ran the whole adventure from a PDF on his smartphone! The adventure saw us investigating a farm, finding the residents slaughtered and a wounded Dalish Elf the only apparent survivor. We followed the trail of the perpetrator, another Elf who had been corrupted by a demon from the Fade, finally confronting him in a nearby town. It was a nice adventure, but I wasn’t impressed by the system – it felt a little flat to me. Perhaps that’s due to the nature of a one shot; it could be a system that requires more time to get the best out of.

Slot 3: Now more than a little tired I set up the table for my Barbarians of Lemuria game. Like the previous times I’ve ran it we all had a lot of fun. I was much happier with the timing – it took 3hrs 45 mins, so that should be perfect for the 4 hour slots of UK Games Expo. One big take away from this is not to GM for the last slot of an all day con with a bar; I like to keep a clear head when GMing so tend to avoid booze, but fully endorse players enjoying themselves with a drink or two. There are limits though…

Barbarians! Run Away!

A cracking day all in; it’s set me up perfectly for UK Games Expo as I’ve now had a run out of the adventures I’ll be GMing there. Bring on DevaCon 4!

Virtual Grogmeet 19

After only running a single game VG18 I’d decided to step up this year – still running one game, but joining in some others. My initial plan for Virtual Grogmeet was:

Friday evening play in @Sam0Vail’s Pendragon adventure, The Jewish Gene, set in 1963 and using Sam’s homebrew rules.

Saturday morning I was running a Barbarians of Lemuria adventure, A Heart for Madness which is super tropey, but a lot of fun.

Saturday afternoon I had signed up for The Strigoi Taint, a Savage Worlds adventure written by @DailyDwarf set in the 2000AD Rogue Trooper universe where we would play a team of Nort commandos (the original baddies in the early comic strips). However this was postponed, so while gutted not to be playing it Virtual Grogmeet weekend, it is something to look forward to in the future.

I signed up late to @doc_griffiths‘s Something from Down There, a Down Darker Trails adventure for 7th Ed Call of Cthulhu, but unfortunately I had to cancel.

I had great fun with the two games I did get to play.

Sam’s game was set in 1963 where a hidden Arthurian world coexists with our own; fae, magic, sorcerers and of course vile nazi’s are day to day for agents of Excalibur (myself, @kitch66uk and @awdscrawl), charged with defending the realm from magical and occult threats. The game was pacey with twists and turns full of interesting (and some very odd) characters… I don’t know when Sam is running this next but I would advise playing it if you get a chance.

When I ran my BoL homebrew adventure ‘A Heart for Madness’ at Convergence earlier this year I exceeded the 4 hour time slot by half an hour. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit it into the 3.5 hour slot that Virtual Grogmeet gives; I have a bit of a habit of taking too long at cons and it seemed likely I wasn’t going to fit it into the 3.5 hours this time either….

With 5 great players (@dracowie, @HobbsTheGamer, Ian E, @jaje7406 and @LaticsExile) who really engaged with the adventure it was easy to see that the time would be eaten up, luckily they were all available to extend the session by a further hour and a half. Just like at Convergence I had a cracking time running this game, and it was great to see the heroes prevail in true Swords & Sorcery fashion.

A huge thanks to @theGROGNARDfile for organising Virtual Grogmeet and to all the folks I played with over the weekend. Roll on Grogmeet 2019!

One Weekend to Rule them all

You know you have those weekends, the special ones, the ones you look forward to for weeks or even months in advance. Maybe it’s to celebrate a big life event, a break away with the family, or a gaming weekend (especially gaming weekends!). Whether it’s a one day con or a whole weekend like UK Games Expo or Grogmeet, when it’s first booked and many months away it’s given an occasional thought… maybe you have to write an adventure or do some other preparation. But as the event looms closer it occupies a much bigger slice of your waking thoughts, and then when it arrives it’s just like Christmas.

I’ve just had one of those weekends, and I would suggest it is the best gaming weekend I have had ever, certainly it’s right there at the top.

Wrapped up in a bundle of great company, gaming talk, hearty food, plentiful beer, fine whisky and a roaring fire, the focus of the weekend was Cubicle 7’s Tolkien epic, The One Ring. We all owned the game, but none of us had played it much (as far as I know only me and @OrlanthR at DevaCon last year), and so we wanted to set that straight. Tolkien whizzkid, top GM and all around nice guy @kinnygraham was keen to run the game and so in preparation we created characters in advance online. Our fellowship was formed of two Dwarves, the noble Vidar Stonesong of the Blue Mountains (@OrlanthR), his companion, the wayward Hanar of the Grey Mountains (@Lintillaz), a Dunedain Human Ranger, Iorlas (@oilpainting71), and my character, the optimistic, inappropriately adventurous and naive hobbit, Brogo Burrows. I have met and gamed with @kinnygraham, @OrlanthR and @Lintillaz at events before and we often play online so I knew I’d get along with those chaps, and it was great to have @oilpainting71 along as well – it’s always a pleasure meeting new gamers and we all got on like a house on fire.

Our adventure started on the Friday afternoon and took us through to midday on the Sunday. I reckon we had somewhere in the region of 16 hours solid gaming; a sufficient amount of time to give The One Ring a great play through and explore the area around Bree. Our company was thrown together on the road heading east and settled down in the comfortable surroundings of the Prancing Pony. All was peaceful until young Thomas Heatherton ran in with tales of a monstrous white skinned creature in the graveyard… the rest was pure Tolkien inspired adventure with some true epic moments.

In the preceding weeks I had read a fair amount of the rules. There are a few fiddly bits, but the one method of resolution (a d12 feat dice and a varied number of d6 skill dice to beat a target number, usually 14) means you always know what to roll. It didn’t take too long before you get into the swing of things. The One Ring has subsystems that capture the feel of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings; travel plays a big part as does the ever present threat of Shadow, overcome through Hope. Each time the dice are rolled all players are keeping an eye on the d12 feat dice for the Gandalf rune (cheer!) or the Eye of Sauron (groan); the former gives an automatic success while the latter is worth zero and makes it much harder to be successful. The Gandalf rune and Eye of Sauron are reversed for evil creatures – their evil overlord powers their actions, while the light of Gandalf deters them. And if a roll is successful, a 6 on any d6 gives a great success and a second 6 gives an extraordinary success; on the funky The One Ring Dice each 6 is marked with a t symbol which is a Tengwar rune. Even dice rolling felt flavourful and thematic.

Highlights of the weekend included some fantastic props such as a hand-drawn map of the area around Bree; the paper had been treated (dunked in tea, burned and marinated over a cigar) to make it look old and dry. The first mystery of the map were the dwarfish runes which we translated (through a combination of @OrlanthR‘s Middle Earth knowledge and the internet) , but then our delight only grew as we discovered the secret of smoke runes! Utter genius. A big fight with a Troll allowed us to test the combat system and explore tactical options; it really felt like an epic combat.

I was just a little sad when the weekend was over, but we had such a fantastic time. Huge thanks to our GM @kinnygraham for running such an amazing game and putting in so much prep, to @OrlanthR for arranging the whole thing, adventuring companions @Lintillaz and @oilpainting71 for being excellent fellows, and of course to @theGROGNARDfile without whom we wouldn’t know each other. Hope we can do it again soon.

Convergence 2019

This small, friendly con is my first in 2019 and holds a special place; it was the first RPG con I ever attended two years ago now, and the first time I met some of the great gamers I enjoy playing with still. As the first con of the year I like to think it sets the standard for cons to come…

After the date was set and the call went out for GM’s, I knew I’d want to run a game. Last year it was The Greater Share of Honour, a homebrew adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This year I wanted to try something a bit different, indeed something considerably different from the OSR games I love and usually run. Earlier on in the year I started running a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign on Roll20 and have found it to be great fun – it’s a fast and simple system that makes a ton of sense while offering a style of play which is far more heroic than my usual OSR fare. My game choice to run then was BoL. There are few published adventures for the system and a few more in the core rulebook, but I felt that none gave me what I wanted from a con game, so I rolled my own adventure A Heart for Madness and put it forward for the morning session at Convergence.

I had four players for this early session, all but one of which I played with before. Barbarians of Lemuria really delivered; it didn’t take long for the players to get into the swing of things and before long they were mowing down rabble, battling toughs and defeating villains, all the while tempted to spend their hero points which make them totally badass. It also gave me a gauge on timing to work with when I run it at Virtual Grogmeet and UK Games Expo – I ran over by nearly half an hour so I’ll need to trim it a bit to fit the 3.5 hour slot of Virtual Grogmeet. A huge thanks to the players Brendan, both Steve’s and Tom.

After a quick lunch (because I ran over by a bit) I joined Dirk the Dice‘s Strontium Dog game Bringing Akill-Ease to Heel, a homebrew using the Savage Worlds system. A ragtag gang of the weirdest muties in the galaxy, we were sent from the Dog House to the planet Caytor with a fistful of individual warrants and a group warrant to bring the criminal Akill-Ease in alive. It was easy to imagine our characters appearing in an episode of Strontium Dog; my character GlassJaw Vargas was a huge and hideously strong and deformed mutie, yet he was far from the weirdest, and could be considered a norm next to The Grimby Reaper. From the off it was proper Strontium Dog comic book stuff and the Lego props and huge table were used to good effect. It’s the second Savage Worlds 2000AD homebrew game I’ve played (and I’ve signed up for more at Virtual Grogmeet) – it seems to me that SW really works with 2000AD settings and characters (sorry World of 2000AD folks), with it’s easy to understand system, Edges and Hindrances which help characters stand out, but still keeps it simple. Bennies always give you that epic moment of action or a get out clause provided you use them carefully. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I would say if you get a chance to play it you really should.

The evening session was GM’d by Kris, one of the Convergence hosts; Star Wars, the West End Games 2nd edition. I’ve developed a real liking for the OpenD6 system, and having played in one of Kris’ games before I knew we’d be in for a great adventure. I played a Brash Pilot, a young, enthusiastic, optimistic, willing to do anything for the Rebel Alliance kind of guy. We were sent on a mission to track down Crying Dawn Singer, a Shashay entertainer kidnapped by criminals out to discredit the alliance. Our adventure took us far and wide from an abandoned research centre to the bustling planet Narg. This was a huge amount of fun, Kris really captured the Star Wars vibe; the templates help players quickly understand their character, and the D6 system works incredibly well (although one thing I would change is how rolls of 1 on the wild die effect outcomes, it seems that a series of bad rolls could lead to a chain of unrealistic complexities). Another bonus was playing with a chap I’d worked with 20+ years ago and have only met briefly once since at an earlier Convergence – if I’d known he was a gamer back then…

This was a long day in the best way possible – a very early start, then picking Clarky  up in Liverpool, and not getting home until after midnight – but with so much great gaming in between. Kris and Snowy run a great con, it’s friendly with good facilities and a load of great games on offer. I’m really hoping it will run for a 4th year in 2020, if it does you should try to get there. Next, onto DevaCon, 27th April in Chester.

The Lemurian Seven: Thoughts on BoL

Last Friday I started running Barbarians of Lemuria… it’s a game that has been on my shelves for ages and I thought it would be worth a trying it out. I read the rules a couple of times (for it’s 200+ pages BoL still feels like a light game) and had a plan to run each of the brief adventures from the core book in an episodic format. Each episode the heroes would start somewhere new, with no thought or acknowledgement given to how they would get there. That was the plan at least…

BoL

I decided to run the game on alternating Friday’s just to give me a bit more prep time between sessions and also so I had opportunities to do social stuff without having to cancel. I had in my mind I would be lucky to get three or four players, and that I would be content with that. After putting it out there on Twitter I found there was quite a bit of interest… I can manage 6 players, I’ve done it before, so I went with that. But somewhere along the way I lost count, so we now have 7 players; I really didn’t want to have to drop a player, and as I’d not been too fastidious in tracking who had asked to join last, it would have been unfair to randomly drop someone. Although it would have given me a practical use for my Dungeon Crawl Classics D7 Zocchi dice…

Now I’m not a huge fan of big character backgrounds, but BoL encourages players to establish simple backgrounds to tie in with their careers. In this my players went above and beyond; I have excellent backgrounds, not too detailed, but filled with the right stuff. Adversaries and interesting characters have all been included. Every question I asked I was given an interesting, engaging answer. And as time went on I started to wonder how I would use all of this great background material with the episodic format I had planned. I couldn’t see a way to do it.

I’ve since decided to abandon that idea and go for a much more player directed campaign, one where their backgrounds, and most importantly the NPC’s they have identified are a big part of the adventures. After mapping everything out using a Kanban board, I feel I’ve got a good grip on all of the moving parts – certain threads will come into focus for different sessions. In fact, I have so many threads and possibilities that I will have to leave some out for now, otherwise the players will each be going off in different directions to complete their own quests. BoL provides some great mechanisms to bring out backgrounds as well, such as the Hunted flaw which means each time a hunted character enters a city, on a 1 on 1d6, the hunter or an agent of the hunter will turn up and cause problems.

“How’s it been managing seven players online?” I hear you ask. It’s been amazing fun! Some players are more vocal than others, but I try to ensure everyone remains engaged with the game – it was great to see the players chatting amongst themselves using Roll20 chat, making plans while I was dealing with another encounter in Hangouts. We’re still finding our way with the game etiquette and balance, and I think we’ll get to where we need to be before too long. Plus with seven we have the added bonus that if up to 4 players couldn’t make it, we could still have a game!

I need to give more thought to how I prep for sessions as well; too much means I’m pushing the players where I want them to be all the time, not enough means the game can feel a little slow. I felt part of last night’s session was like this and hoped that writing this up might help identify the improvements I can make. We finished on a climax, so I’m hoping to start the next sessions with some pace and continue it from there…

Any thoughts or advice on how to proceed would be appreciated!