2019 Review

In preparation for this I was reading my review of 2018 – it showed a very busy game filled year. I’m pretty certain though that 2019 has been even busier, with more games, more cons, meeting more gamers, all great stuff. Once again Roll20 played a massive part in my gaming life, in fact apart from con games all others were on Roll20.

January

I’m not really sure where I found the time for all this, but I started 2019 with a number of ongoing campaigns, the longest running of which is Two Headed Serpent for Pulp Cthulhu with @theGROGNARDfile as GM. It also has the longest surviving character I’ve ever played, my Scouse Greasemonkey Percy, who is just about keeping in the game, despite a slowly decreasing sanity. The campaign really is fantastic, a globe spanning adventure with lots of twists and turns; the Pulp is ever present, the game never really feels deadly like Call of Cthulhu and our characters are way tougher than regular investigators which for me that’s a big part of the appeal. This game is due to go on until mid 2020…

May 2018 saw a load of campaigns kick off that continued into 2019; @OrlanthR‘s Dredd: Death’s Dark Embrace and RuneQuest Glorantha and my Better Than Any Man campaign for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Dredd started with the Mongoose Traveller system, but after a whole evening on one minor combat @OrlanthR switched to his homebrewed Night’s Black Agents hack which worked incredibly well. This really nailed the feel of Judges fighting crime in Megacity One and @OrlanthR once again delivered in bucket loads with the gameplay – a series of clues and events leading us to an inevitable climax against the Dark Judges in Deadworld and Judge Kowalski bravely offering her life to save Megacity One. It was an emotional moment… and @OrlanthR followed it up with a printed book of our adventures based on his session reports with a gorgeous custom cover by @K_0.

@OrlanthR‘s RuneQuest Glorantha game was no less impressive, an intricate plot with many strands in a Glorantha expertly brought to life. While our characters were centre stage the world still felt very much alive, with events moving forward in the background. The first season ended with a cliffhanger in July, a full 14 months after starting, with an epic uprising scene against the traitor king Kangarl and his Lunar masters… and picked up again in November with our heroes striving to destroy Kangarl, but ultimately fleeing with our tail between our legs (apart from the diplomatic Randel who managed to keep in Kangarl’s favour). The adventure continues on into 2020 with us headed into the Upland Marsh to retrieve a legendary sword as part of an Orlanthi Marriage contest…

Since coming back to RPGs in 2015 I had wanted to run a campaign or at least a decent sized adventure, so when I got my mitts on Better Than Any Man for Lamentations of the Flame Princess I knew I had to run it. Having started in May 2018 a great deal of progress had been made so when we picked it up again in January the adventurers (I can’t call them heroes for that would imply a certain moral aspect that became less evident as the campaign progressed) were nearing their end goal… literally crawling through shit to get the job done. When the game came to a conclusion in February the characters had achieved many goals, killed many of the Seven and seen Karlstadt fall. It was truly grim and entirely appropriate.

Reaching that point was very satisfying – I can’t recommend Better Than Any Man highly enough, although it would not suit everyone’s tastes. But if you want something truly dark and gritty rooted in history it is well worth looking into. BTAM was the last adventure I produced session reports for – although I did enjoy writing them, it was a time consuming activity that took time away from actual game prep.

Towards the end of 2018 I had started thinking about Barbarians of Lemuria, an excellent, light, heroic Swords & Sorcery system that is very different to the OSR style games I usually run. I decided to start a short campaign using the one and two page adventures in the rulebook – it would be episodic with each adventure being more or less entirely isolated. However, after recruiting players and going through character generation there were quite a few nice background details (which came out of boons and flaws in game) which I decided to pull into the game. After the first session I had abandoned the episodic idea, and inspired by @OrlanthR‘s use of a Kanban Board to track his very open RuneQuest Glorantha campaign, I decided to try the same thing. I pulled loads of items together into a board and each session decided what to draw on – for a GM who likes to prep everything it was a unique experience for me. In the end I found a rhythm where I plan sessions using the Kanban Board, put together brief session notes and update the board afterwards. It worked really well from my point of view at least, bringing in elements from the characters backgrounds while moving towards a bigger goal which emerged from one of the adventure ideas in the rulebook. This campaign ran until September when we had a climactic battle on top of a sea drenched obelisk on a stormy night in the bay of the Port of the Sealords… I’m hoping to pick this up again early in 2020.

My Saturday evenings since August 2018 were often taken playing a Swords & Wizardry campaign set in the Lost Lands. This was with an established group who had been playing together for a couple of years, so initially it was a little strange as a newcomer. Generally the group were very welcoming, although I always had a feeling of being a guest rather than a resident… perhaps as much due to my missing sessions because of conventions and other weekend commitments as anything. I really did enjoy the game, Swords & Wizardry is an excellent OSR system – but ultimately the commitment was too much and I left the group in February. I’m sure they are still causing mischief in the Cyclopean Deeps.

Of the campaigns continued from 2018, last but by no means least is Pink Gin and Googlies by @DissectingWrlds using the Cthulhu Hack rules. Another globe trotting campaign with a Pulp feel, it follows the adventures of a female cricket club touring the world with unlikely but exciting and intriguing adventures happening along the way. These adventures range from investigating drug rings to weird science, parallel worlds, lost worlds and beyond. I am in awe of @DissectingWrlds imagination. I have missed a few sessions throughout the year though as it does clash with the monthly Two Headed Serpent game, however when I have been able to play it’s been great to see Mavis and the other girls take on the world! Can’t wait to see how this develops in 2020…

The other game that I played in January was The Eleven Lights for HeroQuest Glorantha run by @Corsair1973… we are still part way through that adventure, it would be great to pick it up again at some point.

February

With Better Than Any Man coming to an end @Lintillaz started running his Darker Than Duskwall campaign for Blades in the Dark. Having played it at the 24 Hour RPG event in 2018 I was keen to give it another go. It’s an interesting game with lots of little subsystems to give structure to gameplay in a way other RPGs traditionally haven’t, and of course it has the marvellous Flashbacks mechanic. I played Silverspoon, a young noble who was drawn to the criminal lifestyle – our group had some great adventures with all kinds of crazy stuff going on, from fighting ghosts to taking down powerful politicians and gang leaders. All amazing fun and expertly GM’d by @Lintillaz. The campaign ran across a few months, ending in September – I’d like to think our little gang left Duskwall in a better state than they found it, although I’m sure many folk wouldn’t agree.

I attended the first gaming event of the year this month, @goplaymanc, at @three_fan in Manchester. @goplaymanc is was a small, friendly event at my favourite game shop (although January 2020’s WinterCon promises to be a much bigger event) and I was lucky enough to get a slot on @NewtusBad King John adventure, written for one of his homebrew d100 systems – I really liked the game and am hoping @Newtus will publish it at some point.

March

The Convergence con really marks the start of the convention season for me. This was my third visit to the Stockport event run out of @ElementGames_, and was just as good if not better than the previous events. I ran a homebrew Barbarians of Lemuria adventure A Heart for Madness (a crappy name I know, coming up with adventure names is hard), which I also ran at Virtual Grogmeet, DevaCon and UK Games Expo (I like to get my money’s worth from all of that work). It was the first time I had ran the game, and while it did run over a bit timewise, it worked out better than I could have hoped and all of the players seemed to really enjoy the game – in fact, this was my experience each time I ran it. I may resurrect it for a 2020 con.

I played in @theGROGNARDfile‘s Savage Worlds/Strontium Dog mashup adventure Bring Akill-Eaze to Heel. Our mutant band of bounty hunters had to deal with the criminal Akill-Eaze, a straightforward job in many ways, but after we crash landed it was thinking on our feet. It was a great session delivered in @theGROGNARDfile‘s usual style, pulpy, fast moving with lots of space for characters to shine, and the Lego props really added to the flavour of the game. The last game of the con for me was The Abduction by @ConvergenceUK1 – I picked this because I hadn’t played WEG Star Wars for a long time and the session really delivered. So much so that I grabbed a copy of the Star Wars Redux rules not long afterwards.

Perhaps the highlight of March was The One Ring Roadtrip, where a few gaming mates and Tolkien fans got together to play The One Ring over a weekend. We hired out a cottage in Tolkien country and spent two days pretty much gaming, with good food and beer to keep us going. Our GM Graham is a Tolkien nut and that came across in the game, the adventure itself and the whole weekend was just fantastic. We’re planning on doing the same again in 2020.

April

Besides my regular ongoing games there were two gaming events that I enjoyed this month: Virtual Grogmeet and DevaCon. Virtual Grogmeet is organised by @theGROGNARDfile entirely over Roll20, it’s a great way to catch up with many of the Grogmeet gamers. DevaCon is held in a posh hotel in Chester, and despite being slightly disorganised is a small, friendly event – I’m pleased to see it is continuing in 2020, although it does clash with Virtual Grogmeet (I need to decide how to manage that, maybe Friday night Virtual Grogmeet and Saturday DevaCon).

Virtual Grogmeet games:

  • The Jewish Gene, Pendragon (GM: @Sam0Vail) – set in the 60’s with us as agents of Excalibur, this featured magic, a neat investigation and unsurprisingly nazi’s
  • Barbarians of Lemuria, A Heart for Madness (GM: me)

DevaCon games:

  • Barbarians of Lemuria, A Heart for Madness (GM: me)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess, The Road to Hell (GM: me) – a cracking, rather dark adventure by @Newtus, I also ran this at UK Games Expo and it went down really well on both occasions.
  • Dragon Age (GM:?) – this was a last minute option, the game was ok, didn’t leave me with a good impression of the Age system though

@Corsair1973 was keen to run Traveller for me, @TonyLayter and another old gaming mate Dave, who joins us in online games from time to time, and having enjoyed playing Traveller with @Simplikissimus at BurritoCon2 in 2018 I was keen to try it again. I don’t know if this was a published adventure or a homebrew, but it was very good with us escaping from a crashed ship and trying to help out a remote research site. It had… dark moments. Really hoping to play this again in 2020.

May

This was a huge month in gaming with UK Games Expo, but the earlier part of the month I also played a neat Call of Cthulhu adventure, Buried Histories with GM @thegrampus. This was a truly horrific Cthulhu adventure, a homebrew no less and the second of @thegrampus‘ I have played – some GM’s just have a knack for running a particular type of game and Call of Cthulhu is his. I was also pleased to play in a trial adventure for Romance of the Perilous Land with author and GM @trollishdelver – this game was already in my shopping cart even though it wasn’t due to be released until December. It exceeded my expectations on all fronts; although a short session @trollishdelver delivered a pacey, flavourful, exciting adventure… I now have the game and can’t wait to run it myself.

UK Games Expo was a glorious event – 4 days of gaming with some top gaming people, eating and drinking, spending some cash on new games and just having an amazing time (plus I was able to watch Liverpool become Champions of Europe). There’s much more detail in my event report, but here are the games I played:

  • Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Inn at Five Points (GM: @BrendanJLaSalle) – this was a pre-Expo meetup at Bean Gaming Cafe in Leicester that I was invited to by @M0RT75, a great way to start the weekend. @BrendanJLaSalle is the definitive DCC Judge, you should try to get on one of his games if you can..
  • Barbarians of Lemuria, A Heart for Madness (GM: me)
  • Terror in the Tempest Hills, Ironsworn (GM: @gspearing) – I read Ironsworn a while back, but was unable to get my head around it. I enjoyed it very much, but I’m certain it’s not a game I’d run.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics: Sailors on the Starless Sea (GM: @LeeJNeilson) – I’ve not played or run enough DCC, so I was made up to get to play with @LeeJNeilson, another great DCC Judge. I’ve heard this was a classic DCC adventure and it didn’t disappoint.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess, The Road to Hell (GM: me)
  • Lyonesse, Coddefut’s Stipule (GM: @theGROGNARDfile) – running a beta version of the Lyonesse rules and the module, @theGROGNARDfile brought the strange setting alive with plenty of flavour and a nice system based on the Mythras rules. This was a great way to close the con.

June

BurritoCon was resurrected in June as BurritoCon3… it was all really a last minute affair so I was pleased to get 3 tables of great gamers together. I ran an old staple, For the Honour of the Tribe from Imagine Magazine Issue 2 using the Old School Essentials rules. I’d previously ran this adventure with The Heroes Journey and S&W Whitebox, but Old School Essentials felt like a much better fit. I was able to play in @whodo_voodoo‘s Project Cassandra adventure Ich bin ein Berliner – it’s a light, clever, narrative game based around a rather famous speech. Overall I was delighted with BurritoCon3, we had great GM’s and players in attendance, and before too long I was considering running the next BurritoCon.

The Burning Wheel is one of those games I’d heard about, it had a reputation for crunchiness that was beyond my comfort zone. @Corsair1973 offered to run it in the Harn setting which seemed a good match for the grittiness of the game. We played a great adventure set in the estate of a local lord who had long been absent; there was a nice investigation, we attempted to navigate the social hierarchy, absorb Harnic lore and flavour, explore a tomb and scrap it out in exciting combat scenes, overall an excellent few sessions. Another game I’d like to play again.

July

The summer months are typically quite with many folks on holiday, so it was great to see @TonyLayter step back into his GM shoes after many years of absence and run an introductory Delta Green adventure. He ran a great game with good pace, an intriguing investigation and an exciting ending… More please @TonyLayter.

August

Still a quiet month, but we were able to start one multi-session Star Wars D6 campaign with @OrlanthR at the helm, and I started Night’s Dark Terror, an old Basic/Expert D&D module using the Old School Essentials rules for two groups on alternating weeks. After playing Star Wars D6 at Convergence I was keen to try it again, playing a Brash Pilot for a second time – this game was a huge amount of fun, running on until November. It’d be great to get involved in a big Star Wars D6 campaign at some point.

I was lucky to get two groups for Night’s Dark Terror, both with great players. It’s an adventure I owned back in the day and tried to run it a couple of years back without success. This time I was determined to do it. Both groups of players have engaged with the old school sensibilities of the adventure, and so far I’ve been able to keep the actions of the two groups separate in my head. We’ve had some great sessions so far for both groups with some really memorable moments including a partial TPK. This game is going to continue well into 2020.

September

By now I was thinking very much about games for the Owlbear and Wizards Staff con and Grogmeet. I had been working for some time on an adventure using the Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells system by @diogo_oldskull set in @Monk3yBlood‘s The Midderlands. I wanted an open adventure that would have different encounters each time it was played; it took me quite a while to reach an outcome I was pleased with; a reverse heist where the party have to escape with The Mad Queen’s Jewels. I did a trial run over Roll20 in advance of Owlbear and Wizards Staff, and after a few tweaks ran it at the con where it went down really well – I was very pleased with the result. I also played in @M0RT75‘s DCC Lankhmar game – Acting up in Lankhmar. @M0RT75 is a another great DCC Judge and ran an excellent set piece game based around a theatre; the whole thing dripped Lankhmar atmosphere.

Overall the Owlbear and Wizards Staff weekend was brilliant, small enough that you know many of the gamers there, big enough that there are loads of great games to play and people to socialise with.

Another highlight in September was the 24 hour RPG event held in Southport. The last couple of years it has been held in November, so initially I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it, but I was lucky to grab a late space on @theGROGNARDfile‘s Legend of the Five Rings game. A 12 hour extravaganza in the Scarisbrick Hotel, we played through the Masks of Oni adventure. It really was a session that had everything – exciting combats, puzzling investigations, characters with breadth and depth, an interesting modern system, and a competition (in game with real world outcomes – @sjamb7 won a set of dice!). The nice thing about this type of event is that it goes beyond the gaming and gives a good opportunity to catch up over food and a brew.

Master of the Mythras system @Corsair1973 started a multi-session Luther Arkwright adventure as well, with our mixed bag of Zero Zero agents working to undermine the scheming Disruptors, curse them! We’re near the end of the current adventure which is excellent, a social intrigue/investigation adventure with a fair share of danger and weirdness, I’ve really been enjoying this game.

October

I’d taken a different approach to BurritoCon4; rather than the ‘pick a table on the day’ game selection of previous BurritoCons I used Warhorn to manage game sign ups. It was an interesting experience that certainly gives more control and insight around sign ups, but it also felt a little more stressful. For a larger events though I think advanced sign ups are very useful – I’ll use Warhorn for future events. This time around we had five tables booked, although we only used four on the day – again I was delighted by the interest and commitment shown by gamers to get stuck in and give a little event like this a go. As before @three_fan were amazing, making it easy to book the event and manage payments. Games wise I ran the Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells adventure I’d used at Grogmeet17, Who Watches the Watchfires, a Fantasy Age adventure I had converted over. It’s a tidy little adventure, pretty much a skirmish, but lots of opportunities for heroic action – although an OSR system SS&SS characters are a bit tougher than traditional OSR level 1’s. I also played Goblin Quest, a perfect one shot game GM’d by Joy – it was a huge amount of fun that I’d recommend trying if you get the chance. We ended the day with a few beers in @theGROGNARDfile‘s favourite pub.

The other notable game played in October is Heart, the sequel to Spire, which was in beta at the time. It took us a while to get our heads around how it worked, but once @OrlanthR guided us into the rhythm of the game it was flying and turned out to be an excellent narrative style dungeon delve with the characters and their reality getting more and more fragile the deeper they delved. I don’t think it’s a game I’d ever run, but would happily play it again, feels like there’s still a good deal more to explore.

November

Grogmeet was the focus of November. There was a big build up to the event, both in practical terms of game prep and just excitement levels. Much of my preparation over the preceding weeks had been focussed on the few days in early November when grognards from across the world (or europe at least) gather in Manchester for this ultimate RPG event.

At Grogmeet17 I’d organised a multi-table, multi-system bar-room brawl/dungeon crawl along with @theGROGNARDfile which was a lot of fun, but a bit chaotic. This year I’d suggested running a multi-table Mothership game, and so we recruited @OrlanthR, @Lintillaz, @Sam0Vail and @doc_griffiths as our crack team of GM’s to put together an adventure that would work across five tables. The adventure was written, we’d had a couple of trial runs, the second more successful than the first, and we were as ready as we were going to be. On the Friday afternoon of Grogmeet Eve we ran the game which seemed to go down very well with many unpleasant character deaths, betrayals and sanity lost, and got Grogmeet off to a flying start.

Across the weekend I also played:

  • Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells: Escape from Skull Prison by @diogo_oldskull (GM: me). I was lucky enough to squeeze a trial session of this in beforehand and the game went very well with just a few timing tweaks. I really enjoyed running it on Grogmeet Eve with the SB&CS system proving fast and light and the players getting into their roles of escaping convicts.
  • Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: The Mad Queen’s Jewels, A Midderland Adventure (GME: me). Having already ran it at Owlbear and Wizards Staff in September I had quite a bit of confidence in this scenario and it delivered again – I’m going to get this to the table again in 2020.
  • Middle Earth Roleplaying: The Dawnless Day (GM: @OrlanthR). Having ran and played MERP back in the 80’s I was keen to try it again, see how it has aged. @OrlanthR ran a great game, dealing with much of the complexity of the system. The adventure itself perfectly captured the desperation of a group of Gondorian rangers on the Pelennor field and had an exciting climax.

The Sunday morning of Grogmeet was an interview in @three_fan with @PaulFricker, it was a nice way to wind down. @Newtus had arranged a @goplaymanc to coincide with Grogmeet, and I joined @sjamb7‘s Troika adventure The Cage of Sermit. I played a Burglar and was the least strange of the characters, but the adventure was top notch with us setting off to free an imprisoned mage.

November also gave me an opportunity to join @mcookie123‘s Fall of Delta Green game. Coming in halfway through an adventure can sometimes feel a bit weird, there are lots of details to catch up on, but @mcookie123 had written fantastic session reports in the form of a typed up interview, great stuff. The adventure, which we have yet to complete, is set in 1960’s Alabama with all the issues that entails – it’s rich, incredibly detailed and immensely engaging, which makes it all the more shocking when weird stuff happens.

December

Like those summer months when people are away, there’s a winding down in the lead up to Christmas. However, it has presented an opportunity for a couple of little one shots and an extra session here and there… in addition to continuing Luther Arkwright over the break, I’ve also played in @BudsRPGreview Delta Green adventure, Operation Black Thumb; this was another excellent mystery with some clever tweaks and surprises. It was good to play Swords & Wizardy Complete again, this time with @OrlanthR who has a plan to work through a load of old White Dwarf D&D adventures. This was proper old school, the type of game I really love, again hoping to play this more in 2020.

The Gamers

All of this gaming is well and good and thoroughly enjoyed, but I have to say the thing that has made this year such a fabulous one in gaming is the people I have gamed with, both as GM and player. Really, just such amazing people, so thank you all for getting involved and letting me play in your games.

Now, here’s to 2020!

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