Lunchtime Lairs 2: Hack, slash, kill!

After a slow paced start to Lunchtime Lairs last week with much investigation, reaching out to contacts and trying to discover just what the hell was going on I had expected there to be a bit more action this week.  I wasn’t disappointed, from kick off axes slashed and heads rolled.

Before I get into more of that though I have to mention our players.  Twice as many as last week – if we carry on like this I have no idea what we’ll do.  Bar room brawl anyone? In addition to myself, Clarky (Romula the Cleric) and Matt (Andromeda the Thief) from last week we were joined by Dave (Faqual the Sorcerer), James (Fean the Quick, a Thief) and Alex (Blegrin the Warrior).  Perfect.  With characters chosen and a quick explanation of the rules (which takes all of 5 minutes) we were underway.

The new players were brought up to speed with a summary of the previous session and the current plan.  It was a sensible plan; stake out the temple and look for an opportunity to get inside, maybe taking out a guard or two, while other party members would investigate the diseased pustules appearing in parts of the slums.  While Romula and Faqual visited the Sisters of Mercy, a benevolent religious order caring for the poor and sick and lead by the mysterious Brother Eldritch, Blegrin, Andromeda and Fean observed the temple.


Everything was going according to plan until Andromeda and Fean where disturbed while peaking through a window and Blegrin took the opportunity of a distracted guard to chop his mates head off.  Thus combat was entered and chaos ensued.  Blegrin quickly found himself outnumbered by guards and their captain, while the thieves took out a guard at the rear of the temple and quickly found themselves embroiled in a combat with more guards, their leader Elias Goldtongue and huge hairy psychic beetle.  Faqual arrived and was slinging about sleep and charm spells with mixed results, and so we had to end the session there in mid combat.  There’s no doubt the party are in a tricky situation.

And where was Romula while all this was going on? After an losing her lunch emptying a bucket of filth and vomit she had to get some rest, convenient as unfortunately Clarky had to leave early, real life once more proving that it is far less fun than living in an imagined fantasy land.

The Black Hack in combat

The Black HackI was interested to see how combat would work with the Black Hack and with the rest of the session being one long scrap we were able to take the rules through their paces. There are some clever ideas in the rules, for example, to determine initiative players must pass a Dexterity test (roll under it), with a success meaning they get to act before the bad guys and a failure meaning they act after.

To score a hit with a weapon the player must roll under their characters relevant attribute with various modifiers, Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged. Attributes are the gold standard and created as nature intended. Damage is based on class, for example a warrior always does 1d8 damage with an axe or dagger.  When a monster or NPC attacks a character the player rolls for them to avoid the attack, with a +1 to the roll for each level the enemy is above the character.  A couple of the characters had Strength of 16 which meant they had a 75% chance of hitting, and also a 75% chance of avoiding being hit.

The armour system is unique, I’ve not seen it any other systems.  Each item of armour has a number of points which reduce damage, but once used they are spent until the character takes a one hour rest. Leather armour has 4 points, Chain Mail 6 and Plate 8.  After a couple of hits armour is generally depleted and anything beyond that comes straight off the characters hit points.

The characters were very effective in combat, with the percentages being in their favour, but when they do get hit their armour quickly diminishes and they are much more exposed.



Sorcerers and Clerics (from level 2) have spell slots which they can either fill with remembered spells or use with any spell from their spellbook. After a spell has been cast they have to test their Intelligence or Wisdom, with the spell slot being retained on a success. This meant that Faqual the Sorcerer with his single level 1 spell slot was able to cast a number of spells – sleep a couple of times and charm person.  It’s a neat idea, but I can see a situation where a Sorcerer at higher levels rarely runs out of spells and is just blasting through everything.

The Wild Bunch

All great adventures have the odds stacked against the heroes and that’s just what we have here.  Will the characters survive next weeks session or will it end in a Wild Bunch style TPK?

If you’re interested in Lunchtime Lairs and can get into Liverpool city centre between 12 and 2 on Wednesdays get in touch with either Clarky (@DissectingWrlds on Twitter) or myself via this blog or @nfbenson on Twitter.


When the Grogmaster calls…

Dirk the Dice, master of all things Grognard and anchor stone of the Grognard Files collective kindly asked me to write an item for his blog about my resurgence back into the amazing world of RPG’s.  Chuffed, nay honoured to be asked, I put my metaphorical pen to paper and scribbled down some stuff which you can read on his blog here.

If you don’t already read the Grognard Files blog and listen to the podcast I’d heartily recommend you do.  Right now.

Lunchtime Lairs Session 1

Today myself and Andrew Clark (@DissectingWrlds) started Lunchtime Lairs, our attempt to fit in weekly short RPG sessions.  The venue was Just Play in Liverpool, the time 12-2.  As part of our planning we had decided on a generic fantasy setting and a simple system – The Black Hack – the idea being that all adventures would be short and completed in a single session. Then anyone could step up and GM the following week.

We had one other player turn up (Matt, a chap I work and whose ear I have bent about RPG’s for some time) for a total of two players and a GM.  Taking on the GM role for this inaugural meetup, I had determined to go for light preparation with theatre of the mind delivery which is very much not my usual approach or style of GMing.  For ideas I turned to Frog God Games Tome of Adventure Design; there are many products of this type around, but this one is fairly comprehensive and gave me more than enough idea to get started.

The Adventure

Darkest Dungeons

Andromeda the Thief and Romula of the Red Hand (a Cleric) were our characters, rolled up in the first half hour.  Within no time they were in the employ of Olga the leper, a merchant struck down by the disease; their mission – to recover her daughter, Mina, who has disappeared into the Temple of Joy and Serenity, drawn in by the preaching of the priest Elias, the warden and keeper of the temple.

Tapping into underworld contacts a dark picture unfolds, poor and vulnerable folk from the slums are being drawn to the temple and disappearing within.  Worse still, pockets of diseased, pustulent flesh have been seen clinging to the walls of building in the slums, exploding and spreading disease.

The duo stake out the temple and learn something of the movement and patterns of it’s inhabitants.  Carefully they lay their plans which shall be put into action next week…

With one new player to RPG’s, a fairly cautious approach was adopted, so this first session was largely discovery and planning.  We only scraped the surface of the Black Hack rules with a handful of ability checks – I like the roll under stat mechanic; whether it has any significant shortcomings is yet to be seen.

I’m looking forward to next weeks session; seeing how the party approach the temple and testing out the TBH combat system.




Virtual Grogmeet 18

November seems such a long time ago now, but I still have great memories of games played and people met at Grogmeet 17.  Organised by Dirk the Dice, host of the Grognard Files podcast, this is an evening and full day RPG meetup in the heart of Manchester.  For those who were unable to attend Dirk arranged Virtual Grogmeet, an evening and day of gaming taking place this weekend over Roll20.

The event was arranged well in advance with lots of time to consider what adventures to run.  I had thought of running something Pulpish, but ultimately decided to stick to my favourite system, offering to run one of the published Lamentations of the Flame Princess scenarios Forgive Us.  Yesterday evening I was joined by Andrew, Graham, Howard, Steve and Tom as they set out to recover a green porcelain demon mask from the Tenebrous Hand.

Roll20, as brilliant as it is, once more failed us on the voice and video front with players dropping in and out. We fell back on the more reliable Hangouts which I will use as default if I have more than 3 players in future.  Characters were chosen and we got underway.

Spoilers ahead if you plan to play Forgive Us at some future point!

Cover Teaser

Kick off: Too clever for their own good

Having climbed into the Butchers through the roof the party encounter a mutated dog in an attached room.  Engaging their OSR drive by trying to avoid unnecessary conflicts, they came up with a clever plan which became known as the Norwich Gambit.  Their scheme in place they opened doors while keeping out of the beasts reach and felt some degree of cleverness as their ploy worked and the external door was closed behind the dog as it wandered outside.  They were later to discover the consequences of that cleverness.

Norwich Gambit

Half-time: Praise God for PraiseGod!

Further exploration of the complex was hindered by all of the doors being locked. The party’s specialist, PraiseGod Barebones was essential to their continued exploration of residential areas and The Dog & Bastard alehouse.  The evening became weirder with pools of stinking black goo, a madman and a revealing and unnerving suicide scene.  A letter found at this scene left the adventurers wondering whether the Norwich Gambit had been a good move.

Further Exploration
Andy as Whitehead the Cleric, ponders with some consternation on descending the stairs having heard movement down there…

End-game: The Vault of Doom

Poor Whitehead

Further investigation lead the party into the cellar and the Tenebrous Hand’s vault.  Even I found that bit creepy, a room full of stationary, undisturbed gribbly monster things in a room full of treasures.  Dynamic lighting really created suspense here as the players were unable to see each other or the number of creatures.  Needless to say the party found the treasure they were after but having lingered too long saw the monsters stirring.  As the party fled to the exit O’Neill the sorcerer covered the floor in sticky webs; holding the monsters as intended, but in doing so made it more difficult for the other adventurers to escape.  Poor Whitehead, even as the rest of them fled they could hear his screams.

As they fled from the complex into the cool night air of Norwich, the screams across the city made it clear why the Norwich Gambit had not paid off.

Final thoughts

Forgive Us is a fantastic set piece adventure with an eerie atmosphere which grows as the game progresses.  I did have concerns about fitting the game into the allocated time slot, and conversely had to make tweaks to accommodate the time constraint; I can see the adventure fitting more comfortably into two or three sessions.  Like much of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess material the adventure is perfectly presented and eminently usable at the table.  There are two other smaller adventurers in the package as well which I would hope to run sometime.

Despite the video issues Roll20 delivered on it’s promise – dynamic lighting is perfect for an scenario like this (although can be a pain to set up), limiting each players view of their environment and sometimes the other characters.  I used a few sound effects for fright value and some background ambience; I reckon these add to the game if not overused.

A huge thank you to the players, Andy, Graham, Howard, Steve and Tom who threw themselves into the game and came up with really creative play. And a big thanks to Dirk the Dice for organising Virtual Grogmeet – onwards to the next one (via Grogmeet18)!

DevaCon 2018


Making a return for a second year DevaCon is a small and friendly tabletop gaming convention running out of the ever so posh Crowne Plaza in Chester.  The event was organised by Stephanie McAlea, the owner of Stygian Fox who have published some amazing Call of Cthulhu material (as I don’t GM Call of Cthulhu I take that on trust from a good friend who’s opinion I highly trust).

The start of the day was a little chaotic, but that’s part of the fun of a smaller event and well before the first session kick off at 10:30 everyone had settled down to play.  The day was split into three slots, 10:30-14:00, 15:00- 18:30 and 19:30-23:00.




Despite The One Ring being the first RPG I bought after coming in from the cold I’ve not played it, indeed I haven’t looked at it since a cursory reading of the rules nearly two years ago.  I was keen to try the game out and for slot 1 managed to grab a space on the game GM’d by Steve Turner.  The group randomly selected characters, I picked Beran of the Mountains, a hardy Beorning who was pretty handy with an axe and so we set off on our adventure.  After a quick explanation by Steve, the system seemed intuitive and flowed well at the table, and it didn’t take too long for us all to get into the swing of things.  With all of the characters feeling very distinctive and riffing of archetypes that felt very familiar we had a lot of fun; the haughty elf, a happy go lucky hobbit, a taciturn dwarf and a couple of rugged, fatalistic humans.  Combat was exciting with the clever tactical element of stances which determine how effective your character is and when they can act in a round. I enjoyed the narrative, it had a strong Tolkien feel to it; we brushed through much of the travelling, but I suspect that was due to this being a short one shot session.  With my focus on other games at the moment I don’t expect I would run this anytime soon myself, but would happily play it again, particularly in a campaign where I can see the real strengths of the game shining through.


Following an extended lunch and an opportunity to catch the second half of the Merseyside derby it was my turn to GM in slot 2.  I was running a Lamentations of the Flame Princess homebrew adventure The Greater Share of Honour, set on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.  I don’t want to give any detail here as I’m going to be running this adventure again at UK Games Expo on 2nd June.  What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed running the game and the players seemed to enjoy it to, bringing their characters to life and throwing themselves into their roles as members of The Aliquam Martialis (my entirely fictional King Henry V’s special police force).

The Aliquam Martialis (Left to Right): Chris as Old Letholdus, Matt as Lady Angmar Grey, Patrick as Aubrey Emor, Chris as Well’ard Harold, Dave as Sister Wulfled and Hugh as Ithel Coedffriend.

The Cthulhu Hack


Feeling just a little tired heading into the final game of the day in slot 3, I was looking forward to trying out The Cthulhu Hack GM’d by Andrew Clark.  Andrew is the Flashing Blades GM from a Mersey Game Knights Monday evening Roll20 group, so I knew it would be a good game.  Set in Egypt in 1800, Napoleon had invaded, intent on becoming a modern day Alexander the Great.  Our erstwhile band of investigators consisting of ruffians, soldiers, engineers and scholars set off into the desert sands following orders to retrieve an ancient weapon.  Right from the beginning things just didn’t go according to plan…

As Andrew is running this adventure at Virtual Grogmeet this coming weekend so I won’t say much more, other than Andrew takes his role as an evil GM quite seriously. In a good way.

My first DevaCon was a real treat, a great day of gaming.  The venue was fantastic with great facilities, there was a great range of games on offer and I met some amazing people. Hope we can do it all again next year!



After the cold and dark months of winter

As Grog’s slowly awaken from their long hibernation, it’s not only the fresh air of spring and the promise of summer that offer glorious days ahead, but also a quick scan over the convention calendar.  April is shaping up to be a great month for gaming.  On top of my regular games I’m been looking forward to these events with great enthusiasm (and you should be too).



It’s only two days until we head off to histrionic city of Chester for a glorious 12 hours of gaming in the rather posh Crowne Plaza for DevaCon.  I know there are still tickets left so if you fancy it, get yourself along.  I’m going to be running my Lamentations of the Flame Princess homebrew adventure The Greater Share of Honour, set on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.  My recent gamer pal Andrew Clark (@DissectingWrlds) is going all out and running three games; La Comedie Francaise for Flashing BladesThe Liverbird has landed for Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes and Sabeurs & Savants for The Cthulhu Hack.  The battle_of_agincourt_by_wraithdt-d948orfguy is a machine.

There are loads of other great games on offer including The One Ring, Chivalry and Sorcery, Mistborn, Firefly, Cthulhu by Gaslight and World of Darkness Glorantha.  Full listing here.  Also checkout the DevaCon Facebook page.


Virtual Grogmeet


Last November a bunch crusty old gits bearing the proud title of Grognard descended upon Manchester for Grogmeet 2017.  The gaming was great and I met some fantastic folks.  The organiser of Grogmeet and host of the amazing The Grognard Files podcast, Dirk the Dice (@theGROGNARDfile) has arranged a virtual version taking place 13-14 April as an way for those who were unable to get to Grogmeet to play some games with other followers of the podcast.  Although I’m not playing any games I am running Forgive Us for LotFP, really looking forward to that.

Lunchtime Lairs

Who wouldn’t want to spend one lunchtime a week playing RPG’s?  A friendly city centre game store, a light and easy system, great gamers.  Every Wednesday between 12pm and 2pm starting 18th April at Just Play in Liverpool, we’ll be running short sessions using the Black Hack; alternating GM’s, a pool of characters, each session must be complete, no carry over to the following week.  Fingers crossed we’ll get enough players to make it worthwhile.

Lunchtime Lairs