Role-playing styles


Another year has passed, and a chance to review the games I played and the great things I did in them, as well as to preview what I hope to play (and GM) in the year to come. This year was a relatively quiet one in gaming, actually, possibly because business travel for me interrupted a lot of gaming opportunities and possibly also because, by the standards of the two previous years, gaming has been a little bit low key in 2017. Besides a few minor side sessions, 2017 has been about playing in one major Shadowrun campaign, and running the new Mutant system. But playing, particularly, didn’t reach the heights of the previous two years. Here’s a brief review.

Undriel: The Gaelic high fantasy that floundered

I started the year playing a series of adventures in a world called Undriel, a classic fantasy setting with a Gaelic twist, which was run using a home-brew system our GM developed based on World of Darkness. I was officially very resistant to playing in World of Darkness rules, which I have had bad experiences with and really don’t like, and flat-out barred using the standard magic rules of e.g. Vampire: The Masquerade, which I think is a terrible system. The magic system we came up with was quite flexible, however, and I liked my character quite a lot: Xenobia the unwilling necromancer, a young noblewoman who was accidentally infected with necromantic powers by a dark ritual gone wrong. I enjoyed playing her as a creepy girl aiming to do good, but the system didn’t work as I expected (WoD, natch!) and for some reason this campaign floundered after about session 5 or 6, only 2 of which I joined for reasons of travel. I think in truth that all the players carefully avoided further participation in this because we all just did not like the system, and the Gaelic twist on the fantasy world meant we had to know too much detailed mythological background to figure out what was going on. So this campaign died in the arse somewhere around April, quite stillborn but sadly not especially mourned.

Shadowrun: Continuing the New Horizon campaign with magic

After Undriel failed a different GM stepped up, to run a short and low-demand Shadowrun campaign. This was a continuation of our excellent and wonderful New Horizon campaign, a classic cyberpunk setting run in Cyberpunk (which is an awful system). The New Horizon campaign was amazing, and featured probably my all time favourite PC, The Druid (aka Drew), a rifle-toting teenage girl with psychopathic tendencies, and we were all eager to run a continuation. The New Horizon campaign ended with our characters waking a dragon and bringing on the Awakening that heralds the opening of the sixth world, and the shift from Cyberpunk to Shadowrun. So our new, 2017 campaign was set 50 years or so later, in the ruins of New Horizon, in a world of magic and assault rifles and metahumans. This Shadowrun campaign has been a lot of fun, with nine sessions completed in the second half of 2017 and a lot of tense and fun adventures featuring a fairly tight-knit and well-functioning group. My character, Jayden, is a bit boring compared to Drew but he is a highly effective melee combatant and I have really enjoyed playing a character who is competent and completely comfortable in his world, without any of the psychological baggage that made Drew and Xenobia a little bit thorny for the other PCs to be around. Shadowrun New Horizon hasn’t had as many memorable moments as the original New Horizon Campaign, even though it’s run by the same GM, but this is partly by design: After a couple of high-tension high-stakes campaigns, he consulted with us and we all agreed we wanted something more low key and traditional, just a bunch of guys and girls running in the shadows and getting by as best they can. It’s been a good chance for us to explore Shadowrun pretty much as it’s written, in a Hong Kong-type setting with our GM’s flair for exceptional settings and tense scenarios but without the demands of an over-arching story. We’ve all been enjoying it and we expect it to continue into 2018.

Mutant Year Zero: A startling new system and a fun world

For the second half of the year I have been GMing a short campaign using the Mutant: Year Zero system by The Free League. As I stated in my review of the game, I have been really stunned to find this system which is light, highly playable and extremely flexible, and has made GMing fresh again for me. It’s a simple system that really finely balances risk and reward, and seems to have been really popular with my players. On balance over the past couple of years I think the game I ran that my players enjoyed the most was Flood, a post-apocalyptic waterworld setting run in Cyberpunk where the low-tech setting made the terrible system almost bearable, and I really really wish I had known about Mutant when I ran that campaign, because I think this system would have made it even better. Instead I’m running a campaign set in post-apocalyptic London, with the PCs doing nothing more really than exploring the area around their Ark and slowly uncovering things about the ancient world and the history of the Ark. I expect this to only run for one or two more sessions, but the players all seem to have been really enjoying it and they all really love the simplicity and elegance of the system. I can’t say that the Mutant campaign has been a masterpiece of GMing on my part but it has flowed smoothly and the system has inspired me enough that I (and I think my players too) really feel like I’m there, crouched around the trashcan fire after the fall of the world, when I break out those dice.

GMing in 2018: Coriolis and a real high fantasy campaign

Our other regular GM is moving away from Japan in mid-2018 and I am hoping to be able to take over the core GM role for our group for the foreseeable future, which I am hoping will give me the opportunity to run a long, detailed campaign of the type I haven’t run for years. After Mutant finishes I intend to stick with a similar system by the same company, Coriolis, and run a short campaign in that setting until I take receipt of the Forbidden Lands RPG, which is currently in production stage. That is Free League’s attempt to merge the system used in Mutant: Year Zero with a high fantasy setting, and everything I have seen in the reports on the kickstarter suggests it is going to be an awesome high fantasy system that – for the first time in years – makes me want to GM high fantasy.  I am hoping to take that and make it our group’s primary campaign setting for at least the next year and hopefully longer, running the kind of sprawling, 1st level-to-lordship fantasy campaign that historically has only really been possible in crappy systems like D&D. My whole group have been wanting to run a high fantasy campaign but we just can’t get into any of the current systems, and Forbidden Lands offers the real possibility of a setting and a system that finally work. So having played Coriolis to adapt to a richer version of the Mutant: Year Zero system, we will switch over to a full fantasy setting and get to grips with the kind of fantasy role-playing we’ve all been yearning for for years.

That’s my 2018 Big Plan!

Playing in 2018: Muskets and Magic

I have joined a second group which is running a GURPS-based muskets and magic setting. I haven’t started playing with them yet but I’m hoping it will prove to be an excellent addition to my gaming in the new year. I haven’t played GURPS before, it looks complex and fiddly but viable, but the setting will be very similar to the Compromise and Conceit setting I was GMing when I first started this blog. I’m hoping that will provide not just a refreshing setting and a chance to play in a world I only ever GMd in the past, but also a chance to meet new players, new GMing styles, and new ideas. Hopefully this will mean that 2018 brings with it a whole bunch of fresh new game worlds and experiences.

Real life in 2018: Less business, more exercise

I have been making adjustments to my work life in 2017, including scoring some big successes, and I am hoping that in 2018 I will do less business travel, spend more time in my home, and have more time for both gaming and blogging. This blog has taken some hits in 2017, with posting dropping down to fortnightly or even monthly at times, and I have been less enthusiastic about it at times than I would like. Next year will be 10 years since I started the blog, which has held together over that whole time, and I’m hoping that in 2018 I will be able to pick up the posting a bit and get back to where it was at a few years ago. I have also discovered a much better kickboxing gym in 2017, where I am slowly recovering my love of kickboxing, and I’m hoping that in 2018 I will be exercising more and regaining the fitness that drained away slowly over the past few years. So overall in 2018 I’m hoping for less exotic destinations in the real world, and more exotic destinations in my imaginary life – which is way more interesting, anyway, than traveling for work.

I hope you, my reader(s), who have patiently stuck by this blog over these past few years, will get to see more gaming reports and more interesting worlds in 2018, posted more regularly, and hopefully follow my players as they grow from first level adventurers to mighty heroes, in a fantasy world worth adventuring in. And I hope you too get to enjoy a rich and varied imaginary world in 2018, with large dice pools and mighty deeds. Bring it on!

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Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after a headshot

Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after taking a headshot

The original Cyberpunk rulebook has a simple and nasty system of armour, which is completely broken. In this system your gun does a handful of dice of damage, between 3d6+1 for a good submachine gun to 7d10 for a high quality sniper rifle, and your armour has a stopping power (SP) that ranges from 4 for a leather jacket to about 24 or 30 for full-grade military armour. If the damage you roll exceeds the SP of your armour, you take damage, from which you can subtract your body type modifier (BTM) before you take any actual damage to your body. BTM is usually between 2 and 4, and you can take about 30 hits before you die, but you can only take 8 hits before you start having to make shock checks to stay conscious, and 12 hits before you start making death checks. These checks become progressively harder, and these wound states (in blocks of 4) come with increasing penalties to activity. This means that taking damage is a rapid death spiral, and as soon as you can you buy one of the basic, easily-accessible armour types that makes you immune to low level damage. See the example at the bottom of this post for more details.

The result of this rule is the exact kind of nihilism I decried in a post on cyberpunk some time back, which attracted a lot of negative attention. It also drains out a lot of the sense of tactical battle skills and planning that seems like it should be the essence of a fight in cyberpunk, because highly-protective armour is much more easily accessible than highly-destructive guns: for example, “Motocross Armour” (SP 24) is easy to get, but the most easily accessible gun is the FN-RAL assault rifle (Drew is a proud owner of one of these) which does 6d6+2 damage, not enough to get through the Motocross Armour + BTM, and definitely not enough to penetrate Drew’s Motocross armour + body-weave + BTM (total target: 31). So instead of dashing from cover to cover, worrying about getting hit, Drew can just stand in the middle of the room gunning people down. If she’s up against people with SMGs she can use the same tactic naked (SP12+BTM=target of 15). Under this rule system you don’t need cover, tactics or planning, you just need a good set of motocross armour and a spine of steel (or, in Drew’s case, a complete lack of any sense of self-preservation and a COOL of 9). This rule is also, I suspect, unrealistic: although this blog says that armour has outpaced guns, this highly entertaining youtube video suggests that even a normal pistol firing certain kinds of normal ammunition can go through very effective armour and still do a lot of damage (the hole from the Hungarian bullet at the end looks to me like it must be at least a Mortal-2 category of damage!) Obviously we don’t want to play in a world where the first shot kills us, but as players we want to keep at least some sense of that furtiveness and care that we assume real soldiers must engage in, especially in close-range firefights of the kind we’re regularly caught in, and we don’t want the game to degenerate to a slugfest between heavily-armoured foes at 10m.

Our house rule, that bullets that don’t penetrate armour still do one point of stun damage, completely changes the dynamic of combat. When someone lays down suppressive fire on a small area you suddenly value cover very highly, because if your dodge/escape check fails you’re looking at 1d6 points of shock damage; you can only sustain this for a few rounds before you’re out for the count. And finding cover makes fights tougher, because moving around and ducking in and out of cover reduces the number of shots you can take and increases your activity penalties. This is why Drew bought her armour-cracking gun …

Drew’s Beautiful New Gun

Realizing that we are usually outnumbered in combat, and with this new rule making force of numbers a dangerous foe, Drew decided to invest in a weapon that can even the odds rapidly. Our street dealer, Coyote, can’t buy really good guns easily (probably because he is so ugly), and so Drew hasn’t been able to get the sniper rifle she keeps asking him for, but he is also very good at modifying existing weapons. So Drew bought herself a cheap, easily-available Nomad 7.62 bolt action rifle, and Coyote modified it to fire electro-thermal (ET) shot. Neither Drew nor I know what this means, but we don’t care: it adds 50% to her damage. This mod can only be applied to non-automatic weapons with caseless ammunition[1], but it means that Drew now has a 9d6+3 damage rifle with an accuracy of +2 and a six-shot cartridge. The accuracy bonus for this gun means that if she is not moving and focuses on just the one shot she hits the head with a roll of 2 or more on a d10; if she has to perform a second action she hits on a 4 or more. Head shots do double damage after SP and BTM modifiers, which is why in our last session Drew killed 3 men with 5 shots.

This gun is also in a tasteful pastel blue. Drew tries to avoid pink when she is working with other combat teams, because she wants to be taken seriously as a riflewoman.

Tactics for breaking armour

In our last session we ended up facing off against five guys with power armour, which has an SP of at least 28, carrying fairly heavy automatic rifles (probably FN-RALs, like Drew’s) and at least one shotgun (scary!). We lucked on a very effective method for breaking down armour within the revised rules, however. This was pretty simple: Coyote used a high-rate-of-fire Kalashnikov to lay down suppressive fire when they first arrived in combat, forcing them back through the door they were entering by, and Pops dropped burner grenades on them. Burner grenades don’t do huge amounts of damage but anyone who is hit by them has to make a COOL check to stay in combat and not put out the flames, and the flames themselves continue for a few rounds, causing additional stun damage under the revised rules. Drew, of course, was laying out head shots, because a single headshot with her beautiful new gun will probably kill someone even if they have SP 30 and BTM 4, especially if it has armour piercing ammo. Once Coyote and Pops had expended their initial ammunition, Coyote switched to throwing fragmentation grenades and Pops switched to three-shot bursts with his FN-RAL, which don’t do heavy damage but are likely to wear down single opponents fast with stun damage. Meanwhile Drew continued with the head shots, aiming at individual opponents who posed the most threat.

Unfortunately Pops and Coyote are really shit at delivering grenades, so most missed, but two of our support team managed to do that job. With this tactic, Drew cleaned up the riskiest guy in the first round, a lot of damage was laid down on the enemy in the second round, and in the third round the burner grenades caused two of the remaining guys to expire; the last two went down from another fragmentation grenade after that. None of these guys were dead (except Drew’s first target), just shocked and exhausted; but Drew soon fixed that.

This tactic works because it maintains a heavy pressure of stun damage on the whole group, because no one can stand in the blast zone of three grenades while they’re on fire and being shot at without eventually giving up the ghost. Under the previous rules, everything we had thrown at them except Drew’s ET round would have done nothing. If Pops now improves his heavy weapons skill so his grenade launcher is actually effective, and we find Coyote a better suppression weapon (e.g. a mini-gun) then this tactic will be even more effective. Even power armour won’t stop us now!

Example: The original rules

Ghost has come out of his hidey-hole in our first adventure, and finds himself facing off against a squad of three gangers armed with SMGs, who are there to kill him. He has warning, and has donned a set of full combat armour that he spent much of his starting money on. He needs to get down the hallway to the lift. The three gangers fire 3-shot bursts at him, hitting him twice and delivering 1d3 shots per successful burst, for a total of 3 hits. They roll damage, but their SMGs are crumby, doing 3d6 damage, and his SP is 24, so there’s no risk he will take any damage. He walks down the hallway towards them, shooting them down one by one as the rest of the group catch up and start gunning them down with assault rifles. Ghost is a hacker.

Example: The revised rules

Drew is lying on the ground unable to move, in plain sight, after a lunatic ganger tried to wrestle her and get her helmet off in our sixth adventure. Two men at the end of the hallway armed with assault rifles let rip on her with suppressive fire, and unable to dodge properly she takes 5 bullets. The men are using kalashnikovs, which do 5d6 damage, but Drew is wearing full combat armour plus SP12 sub-dermal armour (she’s a sensible girl!) so she has a total SP of 28. All five bullets hit her for less than 28 damage each, and she takes nothing. The GM, in a fit of rage, makes up the new rules, and so Drew takes one point of stun damage from each bullet that hit her. The GM, who is a complete bastard, also degrades her armour slightly. Drew is now in the lightly wounded category (-2 on everything) and if she takes 3 more bullets, even if they don’t penetrate, she will need to start making stun checks to stay functional.

fn1: One amusing thing about this game is that, since I’m not a gun nut at all, with no experience of any form of projectile weapons (I have never touched one, and have only even seen one in someone’s hand once), I have no clue what any of the language means, I just treat it as categories of stuff like magic items. One of our players was a conscript in his national army, and has a lot of familiarity with the various barbaric instruments of death that Drew deploys; I leave the details to him.

Our World of Darkness campaign, that we began by accidentally exterminating a native American tribe from history, ended today when we accidentally reset history to a parallel world ruled by a Thousand Year Reich built on justice and honour.

In the process we went from a group of ordinary mortals struggling to understand why we were trapped in a pocket universe with a genocidal spirit, to generals of a supernatural host, leading armies of magical beasts in a war against heaven. My character, John Micksen, went from a washed-up, ageing hippy sitting alone in a bar, to Winter Knight wielding a sword out of legend (Excalibur!) and leading an army of the four courts of faerie.

We did great things while we wound our ugly and complex path to this brutal ending. In the last session alone we caused an angel to fall from heaven, destroyed an army, killed a god, had lucifer sacrifice himself to open a gate into the primal stuff of the universe, and reset the world so that an evil god never existed. As we wound our way across continents seeking the keys to the destruction of the God Machine we did great things, and saw great evil. From the first moment we opened a door in the basement of a psychiatric hospital, to find an infinite space filled with chains and cogs, we knew we were up against something relentless and evil, and our actions had to be bold, powerful and often cruel.

We started small, rescuing children from paedophiles who were smuggling them to an evil corporation; we burned the paedophiles alive and fought a fatal battle with the petty angel they served. We crossed into the land of the dead from an abandoned concentration camp to save the children’s’ souls from undead scientists who were performing hideous experiments, and while we were there we liberated lucifer himself from a thousand years of captivity. We fled destroyer angels who laid waste to whole city blocks trying to find us, hid in anarchist squats in East Berlin and vegan fascist terrorist lairs in Chicago. We dealt in pride and babies with the courts of faerie, so that we could betray a demon to a vampire, in service to a cause we didn’t yet understand. We did a deal with an ancient dragon and crept into hades to kidnap its ruler in trade for a faerie queen; that same god of death we later saved from a hideous experiment that used his essence to resurrect Jesus – and that same queen rode back into the faerie land of winter on the back of a Russian T34 tank, that our demon violinist drove. We carved a kingdom out of faerie, and bought a mansion in Ireland to connect to it using gold stolen from hell. For a while Cerberus itself (an intellectual and arrogant beast if ever there were one!) was our mansion’s guard dog, but of course we had to flee when angels came to destroy our mansion – a destruction John Micksen watched while speaking of lost love with an angel more terrible and beautiful than the sun. “The Winter Knight,” he said, after fleeing from her wrath, “Tires of this shit.”

We tired of many things, because we were constantly fleeing from great powers. We destroyed corporations digging around for the answers we sought – literally, leveled their offices and killed their officers. Anyone who helped us or even met us died – bodyguards, wives, children, allies, friends, political fellow-travelers, anyone who sheltered us, anyone who did business with us, and almost everyone who crossed us. They died in fire, the rubble of apartment blocks razed by enraged angels who sought after us, in the pits of hell or in the snowy wastes of faerie, they died chained to a steering wheel in a flaming gasoline stand or savaged by berserk werewolves on vast fields of battle. Some of them were pounded into red mist by the Winter Knight, some left to experience an eternity of frozen pain in the deepest darks of the wastes of faerie winter. Some were tortured by our enemies, or just disappeared into nowhere by ancient powers we had angered. For every one of our allies or friends who suffered, our anger grew and our list of retributions extended. We were not patient, or careful, but we did all we could to destroy those who crossed us.

We were no match for our foes. An implacable god without emotion, possessed of infinite patience, sought to change the world to suit its cold mechanical whims, and the angels that served it felt no mercy, fear or compassion. They slowly reworked the political landscape of the world to suit the mysterious machine passions of their master, turning America  into a fascist dystopian nightmare, laying waste to whole nations with plague and war, exterminating races and cultures with machine precision that no human could ever master. They sought to tip the balance in every dimension. For a short time the courts of faerie waged war against each other and a strange machine god, and all the seasons were thrown into chaos – until we intervened to restore peace and kidnap a mad faerie queen wed to a despicable machine. But for every victory our terrible foes became more ruthless and more wrathful, so that we were forced to flee, and flee again, always running and hiding.

Some of us died three times. Some of us were infected by the God Machine’s sinister viruses, rebooted, cleansed and returned to us unrecognizable. Some of us were cast down from our powers and left to rot and die, before we rose up again to take on new and greater roles. Some of us tried to strike out for freedom and failed. Some of us had to dig deep and fight hard to uncover the secrets of our past, and strike a path into the future. Some of us lost everything, rebuilt, and lost it all again. We reached our wits’ end, burned our patience, rampaged through our enemies’ lairs in rage and anger destroying everything in sight. We stole a sacred stone from Mecca, and books of gibberish from under the noses of angels that could destroy whole armies. We were epic, and constantly terrified.

All of this came down to a final battle on a dusty plane in the American mid-west, to find a gate that would change the past and the future. Our Demon Violinist opened the gate, while armies fought to end the world, and we reset everything so that all our enemies were extinguished. We triumphed! And the world was restored to an order of peace and justice that could never exist in any boring, cold reality.

Truly, this was a glorious campaign of great deeds, terrifying struggle, mysteries unraveled and paedophiles flame-grilled. It was exhilarating, terrifying, deeply absorbing, sometimes incredibly frustrating, confusing and exhausting. I don’t think it had anything in common with a normal World of Darkness campaign, and the Demon book on which it was all based only arrived for the last session. But it was amazing in its scope, its power and its content. And it ended in glory. It was role-playing at its finest!

Over the past few years I’ve looked at a lot of the probabilistic and statistical aspects of specific game designs, from the Japanese game Double Cross 3 to Pathfinder, including comparing different systems and providing some general notes on dice pools. I’ve also played various amounts of World of Darkness, Iron Kingdoms, D&D, Warhammer 2 and 3, and some Japanese systems, that all have quite diverse systems. Given this experience and the analytical background, it seems reasonable to start drawing it all together to ponder what make for some good basic principles of RPG system design. I don’t mean here the ineffable substance of a good RPG, rather I mean the kind of basic mechanical details that can make or break a system for long term play, regardless of its world-building, background and design. For example, I think Shadowrun might be broken in its basic form, to the extent that people who try playing it for any length of time get exasperated, and this might explain why every gaming company that handles Shadowrun seems to go bust.

So, here is a brief list of what I think might be some important principles to use in the development of games. Of course they’re all just my opinion, which comes with the usual disclaimers. Have at ’em in comments if you think any are egregiously bad!

  • Dice pools are fun: everyone likes rolling handfuls of dice, and the weighty feeling of a big hand of dice before a big attack really makes you feel viscerally there, in comparison to a single d20
  • Big or complex dice pools suck: Big dice pools can really slow down the construction and counting parts of rolling a skill check, but on top of this they are basically constructing a binomial distribution, and with more than a couple of trials (dice) in a binomial distribution, it’s extremely hard to get very low numbers of successes. So large and complex dice pools need to be limited, or reserved for super-special attacks
  • Attacks should use a single roll: Having opposed skill checks in combat means doubling the number of rolls, and really slows things down. Having cast around through a lot of different systems, I have to say that the saving throw mechanism of D&D is really effective, because it reduces the attack to one roll and it makes the PC the agent of their own demise or survival when someone attacks them. On the other hand, rolling to hit and then rolling to damage seems terribly inefficient
  • Where possible, the PC should be the agent of the check: that is, if there is a choice in the rules where the GM could roll to affect the PC, or the PC could roll to avoid being affected by the GM, the latter choice is better. See my note above on saving throws.
  • Efficiency of resolution is important: the less rolls, counts and general faffs, the better.
  • Probability distributions should be intuitively understandable: or at least, explainable in the rules – and estimates of the effect of changes to the dice system (bonuses, extra dice, etc.) should be explained so GMs can understand how to handle challenges
  • Skill should affect defense: so many games (D&D and World of Darkness as immediate examples) don’t incorporate the PC’s skills into defense at all, or much. In both games, armour and attributes are the entire determinant of your defense. This is just silly. Attributes alone should not determine how well you survive.
  • Attributes should never be double-counted: In Warhammer 3, Toughness determines your hit points and acts as soak in combat; in D&D strength determines your chance to hit and is then added again to your damage. In both cases this means that your attribute is being given twice the weight in a crucial challenge. This should be avoided.
  • Fatigue and resource-management add risk and fun: Fighting and running and being blown up are exhausting, and so is casting spells; a mechanism for incorporating this into how your PCs decide what to do next is important. Most games have this (even D&D’s spells-per-day mechanism is basically a fatigue mechanism, if a somewhat blunt one), and I would argue that where possible adding elements of randomness to this mechanism really makes the player’s task interesting. But …
  • Resource-management should not be time-consuming: this is a big problem of Warhammer 3, which combined fatigue management with cool-downs and power points. Too much!
  • The PCs should have a game-breaker: we’re heroes after all. Edge, Fate, Feat points, Fortune … many games have this property, and it’s really useful both as a circuit-breaker for times when the GM completely miscalculates adversaries, and as ways for players to escape from disastrous scenarios, and to add heroism to the game
  • Skills should be broad, simple and accessible: The path of Maximum Skill Diversity laid out in Pathfinder is not a good path. The simplification and generalization of skills laid out in Warhammer 3 is the way to go.
  • Wizards should have utility magic: the 13th Age/D&D 4th Edition idea of reducing magic to just another kind of weapon is really a fun-killer. The AD&D list of millions of useless spells that you one day find yourself really needing is a much more fun and enjoyable way of being a wizard. It’s telling that D&D 5th Edition has resurrected this.
  • Character classes and levels are fun: I don’t know why, they just are. Anyone who claims they didn’t like the beautifully drawn and elaborate career section of Warhammer 2 is lying. Sure, diversity should be possible within careers but there should be distinction between careers and clarity in their separate roles (something that, for example, doesn’t seem to actually be a strong point of Iron Kingdoms despite its huge range of careers). At higher levels characters should really rock in the main roles of their class
  • Bards suck: they just do. Social skills should be important in games, but elevating them to a central class trait really should be reserved for very specialized game settings. Bards suck in Rolemaster, they suck in D&D, they suck in 13th Age and they suck in Iron Kingdoms. Don’t play a bard.
  • Magic should be powerful: John Micksen, my current World of Darkness Mage, is awesome, but mainly because he is cleverly combining 4 ranks in life magic and 3 ranks in fate magic with some serious physical prowess and a +5 magic sword (Excalibur, in fact!) to get his 21 dice of awesome. Most of the spells in the Mage book suck, and if you made the mistake of playing a mage who specializes in Prime and Spirit… well, basically you’re doomed, and everyone is going to think you’re a loser. Mages should be powerful and their powers – which in every system seem to come with risk for no apparent justifiable reason – should be something that others are afraid of. You’ll never meet a World of Darkness group who yell “get the mage first!” What’s the point of that?
  • Death spirals are important: PCs should be aware that the longer they are in a battle, the more risky it gets for them. They should be afraid of every wound, and should be willing to consider withdrawal from combat rather than continuing, before the TPK. Death spirals are an excellent way to achieve this combination of caution and ultra-violence. Getting hit hurts, and players should be subjected to a mechanism that reminds them of that.

I don’t know if any game can live up to all these principles, though it’s possible a simplified version of Shadowrun might cut it, and some aspects of the simplified Warhammer 3 I used recently came close (though ultimately that system remains irretrievably broken). Is there any system that meets all of these principles?

Sometimes my regular RPG group runs a thing called “downtime,” which I think might be a well-established concept in role-playing methods, though I’d never encountered it before. Basically this is meant to be in-between time, where you interact with the GM electronically and handle irrelevant stuff like shopping, sorting out a few personal plans etc. Unfortunately our downtimes tend to be potentially fatal, high risk adventures in their own right. They happen on facebook and I really don’t know where our GM finds the time for them – he runs downtimes for 4 or 5 players, and sometimes they come together to form a group downtime with several solo downtimes intersecting. Up until now my most memorable downtime was a sudden explosion of chaos, in which we were all attacked by assassination squads simultaneously, and the first I knew of it was a text from another player (arriving in my facebook chat while I was at work): “Been shot, bleeding out, they’re coming for all of us, get out now”. This situation is tough because you’re on your own, so when they come for you you can’t consult and you suddenly realize how much role-playing depends on consultation with your colleagues. That downtime lasted 3 hours (broken up by work – I had to rush home and come up with a plan, then spend an hour or two getting out of the assassination situation). It’s really gripping, tense stuff.

That downtime was surpassed by an epic effort this week, a downtime so stunning it took role-playing to a new level.

Our group had just killed a vampire, who we knew was a Nazi in world war 2, and we had a couple of days’ grace before the next stage in the adventure. We’d secured a funky loft apartment in Berlin, we thought we’d escaped the attention of most of our enemies, we knew roughly what we were aiming at, though a lot was still shrouded in mystery, we had money and time. Great opportunity to consolidate! So we all did our downtimes with quiet confidence. My character, John Micksen, called on some political allies to investigate the associates of the vampire he killed. He figured that a WW2 Nazi would be using modern neo-nazis as muscle, but neo-nazis being dumber than a bag of hammers, they might by their activities give away some information. He soon discovered that the neo-Nazis had been active in violent street activities, including abducting children, and had contacts with companies and politicians that were … dodgy … to say the least. He decided to use some magic to hack their communications, but he could not speak German. So he set up a ritual, bought a parrot, and imprinted the comms on the parrot so that it could repeat all the conversations for someone else in the party (Helga) who speaks German. Feeling super clever, and looking forward to stunning everyone with his cunning parrot idea, he returned to the apartment.

All this is happening in Facebook chat.

He returned to the apartment, and was just relaxing and getting ready to reveal his super clever parrot trick to the amazement of his colleagues, when everyone smelt burning and hurt strange noises from Jade’s room. He came charging out a moment later, and chaos started.

The characters are:

  • John Micksen (me)
  • Jade, I’m not sure what he is, a Brazilian dude who can’t die, but who had to give up his child to the Faerie because some arsehole stole his memories and the faerie could give them back but it was me who gave away his child
  • Helga, a violinist. No, I don’t know why we’re adventuring with a violinist either
  • Jason, a werewolf. Useful. Not yet clued up to the full enormity of the trouble we’re in
  • Andrew, a mage, who works for the company we thought was trying to kill us (but apparently isn’t)

This motley crew was all we had when this happened (all of it in Facebook chat):

 

Jade   
Jade comes into view, walking slowly into the room. He is talking nonsense to himself, in a language you don’t understand and giggling like a little girl. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes.[Like saying “ah, kids today, eh?”]. He steps into the common room, and stops. He notices you all gathered, looking at him. He cocks his head to the side with questioning eyes, then is like he realized something and he smiles broadly. He starts laughing, LOUD “HAHAHAHAHAHA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHA” pointing at you. You feel like you are the butt of some psychotic inner joke. He doubles up roaring in laugher, holding his stomach, his eyes going wide and tear coming down his cheeks. His head goes down, he bangs the side of the doorway with his fist laughing. You swear.. you swear his skin color changes a bit, but it’s too quick for your eyes. Then you notice something behind him. Ambers…. fire… the smell of smoke, coming from the hallway. Jade laughs a bit, coughs and lets out a breath. “Ha…Aah…”. Suddenly he grows very quite. He trembles a bit and raises his head in quick jerk. He looks up at you, his face the mask of absolute fear. “RUN!” he says.
Jason   
Jason comes in, with one hand holding a deep, brutal looking wound in his chest and in the other a bag full of bananas
“you GOT to be kidding me”
GM
Actually jades room is on fire primarily and part of the hallway as it is spreading
Jason      
i run outside
John Micksen
“Andrew, can you do something about that?” says John, as he steps out to the stairwell to get a fire extinguisher.
He is very calm.
“Helga, can you pick up the box on the table? We may want it.”
Andrew    
In that case, Andrew is not following Jade entirely to the room, but he indeed tries to put out the fire. Though he’ll keep an eye on what’s happening in the room.
John Micksen    
He walks back into the room with a fire extinguisher. “Andrew, are you dealing with this or are we doing it the old-fashioned way?”
Jason   
jason rushes in again, obviously really angry
John Micksen 
“Jason, grab a blanket and get it wet. We need this out before the fire brigade get here.”
Andrew   
Andrew is looking at the flames quite intensely.
John Micksen   
“Go check in the stairwell for a fire blanket”
Andrew  
“I’m working on it”
Jason  
“what paranoid asshole did this!” he shouts more to himself than you
John Micksen      
John decides this is no time for patience, and lets rip with the extinguisher as well
Jason  
and looks for someway to help you
John Micksen    
“GET A FIRE BLANKET”
John Micksen  
“IN THE STAIRWELL”
Jason    
“A BLANKET? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I M NOT GETTING THAT CLOSE!!”
Helga  
Helga has the.box and she screams “forget the fire! GET OUT NOW!”
GM    
Okay please everyone tell me what you are doing.
Jade  
Jade looks at them, he steps towards john slapping the fire extinguisher off his hands. “They are here. RUN.” He runs for the door.
John Micksen
I am helping Andrew with the fire, and telling Helga to get the box down to the street and ordering Jason to get a fire blanket
Helga
Helga has the box and she is RUNNING.
John Micksen    
oh ffs
Helga    
SHE SCREAMS  ANGEL!
John Micksen
John joins the panic. He thinks to grab any bags of documents that are close by.
Andrew      
Andrew looks slightly frightened “John, this is supernatural shit. I can’t put them out…”
John Micksen
“FUCKING RUN OLD MAN”
Jason  
Jason takes a few deep breaths, sings a silent song,
John Micksen
ooc  why the fucking fuck do our downtimes do this?
Jason      
graps the extiguisher and some blankets
and goes near the flames
Andrew  
Slightly confused, Andrew moves away from the flames, back to the common room where the others are. On the way he tries to stop Jason.
Helga 
“JOHN FORGET THE DOCUMENTS!”
Jade    
Jade goes through the door. Bursting it to pieces, laughing.
John Micksen 
John gives Helga a brief, cold, hard look
Jason      
When they first touch he screams in pain and rushes back, obviously surprised and angry
“AAARG WHAT THE FUCK”
John Micksen  
Then he grabs the nearest laptop (his, probably) in one hand and Jason’s shoulder in the other,
GM   
Out of the doorway you see a figure coming out. It seems to be the warped shape of a girl, her hair flowing around her, blood streaming down her face while her tattered wings fold to fit through the door. Her eyes are the darkest black, and the flames emanate from her. As she sees you all she smiles, her teeth sharp like needles.
John Micksen  
ooc  Oh FFS
GM  
Her eyes are the darkest black
John Micksen      
John is now running
Jason
Jason follows
Jade   
“Look john!! Is my only pride! Hahaha” He is crying, running.
John Micksen   
Hurtle down the stairs, yelling
Jason    
jumps into his car, starting engine
John Micksen 
WHAT DID YOU DO JADE?
Helga
Helga thinks, Oh Jade…
Jason
“GET IN YOU BASTARDS” ”
Helga  
Jumps in.
John Micksen    
Jump in the car as soon as I am out the door
GM    
She is followed by another, who seems to bring a searing light into the room. It’s skin is almost translucent and it’s face holds no features except for the hollow eyes that follow you as you run. It’s fingers end in long narrow needles and it’s feet are claws that grip the ground. It’s wings of serrated blades wrap around it as it walks through the door

So you’re trying to work, and suddenly you’re being attacked by two angels. Your apartment is being burnt down and everyone is in a state of panic. We managed to get out of this situation, but we had nowhere to go. John made some phone calls, burnt some more political favours, and found a dodgy warehouse squat in a dodgy part of town. They drove there in Jason’s dodgy car, not being followed yet. The squat was dodgy – home to the black bloc, and a bunch of radical vegan activists, the people who met them were unwelcoming and rough looking, there was no running water and they were given just one night in a dodgy room. But still, it was something. A new chat opened: “At the vegans.”

At the vegans

Make yourself at home ...

Make yourself at home …

They now started talking about what to do next. During this conversation John’s patron – the Faerie Queen of Winter – came up a lot, and not all positively. John had mistakenly given away Jade’s child to the faerie and Jade wanted that child back. He had essential information about how the angels had exploded into our apartment, but he dug his heels in: he wouldn’t tell anyone anything until John could secure Jade’s child, and in order to get that child back John could make no bargains involving Jade. Any sacrifices would have to be made by John. John agreed. Furthermore, John was getting really sick of the way all the greater powers in their world would appear, insult them, give them no information, but then expect them to do something to prevent these great and mighty powers from destroying the universe.

As if by coincidence, the Faerie Queen appeared in the room. Of course she knows just when to arrive, but did she arrive when they were being attacked by two angels? No. Yet she wants our help!

John decided to rebel. And this is how it played out:

GM
The temperature in the room drops noticeably. “MY Knight is correct and has made me curious. Why is the man of sand a catalyst for such destruction?” She is standing in a corner, her clothing closely resembling that of the others around, yet she stands out from them in such an alien way, whilst fitting in almost perfectly. Her eyes stare at you all, draining the colour from your cheeks and fingertips.
John Miksen
“My Queen. Well met!”
GM
She inclines her head briefly, letting John know he has been acknowledged. “My knight, it bodes ill that you are hiding in such a place unfitting of your status.” She looks back at Jade “However the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
John Miksen
“My Queen, I feel I’ve been reduced to a vagabond. And the man of sand has been reduced to silence”
GM
She turns her gaze to Helga “You are here? Why? You put much at risk and risk bringing the wrought of those who wish to destroy upon these people.”
John Miksen
Jade
Jade turns slowly to meet to eye to eye with Andrew. He looks at him intensely for a second. He shakes his head from side to side(only by a small fraction) a few times very slowly. Then Jade turns to face the Queen again, rising his chin and striking the same pose.
ooc: you can see like his eyes are saying SHUT . THE . HELL . UP xD
Andrew
Andrew frowns, but his eyes widen slightly as he meets Jade’s gaze. You see a minimal apologetic shrug, then he turns back to look at Helga, who currently seems to have her attention.
GM
The winter queens gaze is quite piercing. She waits patiently for Helga to show the appropriate manners and respond.
Helga
Helga is looking at the Queen wondering, but Jade hasn’t answered her question! does that mean I can ignore her too? But she says, “Azazel had asked me to assist them.”
GM
The winter queen turns her head slightly studying you. “So you follow the fallen one along with the man of sand? You are interesting…. But the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
Her gaze is incredibly unnerving.
John Miksen
The man of sand is oathbound to silence
Andrew
You see Andrew start to speak, but he closes his mouth again.
John Miksen
He has reached that place from which mortals fix to make their last stand
Is this passion not the reason you are drawn to us?
Helga
ooc: i have sinister music playing in the background right now
Jade
Jade steps towards John and places a hand on his shoulder. He nods and looks at the queen. He starts speaking in tongues, a language noone understands.
GM
She watches him impassively waiting for his reply.
Jade
“Ich nack dook al matih. Isnastella arkik.” He goes on speaking some language you don’t understand.
GM
She nods in understanding and replys in a similar manner.
John Miksen
To secure a word from the man of sand, you will have to make an oath with me
GM
The room drops several degrees. She shifts her gaze directly to her Knight. “Explain.” Is all she says.
John Miksen
Our man of sand is at his limit
He lost his child to a deal he believes breaks the laws of contract
GM
She raises an eyebrow “Explain”
Andrew
Andrew is following this exchange with clear interest.
John Miksen
He had no memories. He was offered a bargain for his nemories.
GM
She raises an eyebrow “His memories have returned.”
John Miksen
But how can a man with no past make a contract
Twere as if you bargained with a slave for his freedom? He has nothing to give.
The man of sand believes he was robbed, not traded with
Ooc: john pauses
Sighs
Andrew
ooc: is he now saying that giving a slave freedom with nothing in return is a bad thing? I don’t understand?
GM
“The contract is made and the words were spoken. They are binding. It is binding.”
John Miksen
Says:i agree with him
Helga
ooc: bart I think it means, you asked a slave to give you his freedom, when he had none to give you
Andrew
ooc; good point! got it 🙂
GM
“That is irrelevant. The words were spoken and the contract was made.”
GM
Jason comes into the room.
John Miksen
Now the man of sand will not give any further succour to our mission while you stand on a bargain made in bad faith

[at this point the werewolf returns from outside, just walking through the window]
Jason
Jason steps in and has no idea what’s going on. He comes in dangling a pair of keys in is fingers “Got us a new ride boys, better not mess this one up as well” than notice the hot chic in the corner, looks at her, lights his cigarette, smiles at her and says “wow, and who might you be?”
John Miksen
Ooc:awesome
Helga
ooc: awesomeness
Andrew
ooc: win ^^
Jason
he notice the icy silens
Jason
“…”
Helga
“…..”
Jason
looks at you all
Jason
“What …?”
GM
The temperature drops again. “Then the life is forfeit.”
Andrew
Andrew is actually trying to stifle a laugh now.
John Miksen
John has a hint of a smile
Jason
” guys whats going on?”
GM
She turns to John “do you concur?”
Helga
ooc: are we all like hypothermic by now?
Jason
Jason starts to grasp the weight of this conversation turns to Andrew and whispers “wait, dont tell me thats …”
GM
It is visibly cold. The walls and floor have turn white with frost and ice.
Jason
whispers “oh shit!”
Andrew
“Jup”
Jade
Jade sighs. He takes a long breath like deciding something then looks at the queen again. And speaks in tongues.
Jason
“I , I am sorry. I wasn told of your coming … your highness?! . I m not used to the presence of royalty”
Jason
” I , I will shut up now!”
GM
She points to Jason and he freezes.
Jason
arkwardly by trying to make a bow he holds in a weird position
Jason  
ooc: damn
Helga
Helga’s eyes are darting around among each person in the room, but the rest of her face is unreadable.
Andrew
Andrew moves towards Jason to see whether anything can be done.
Andrew
ooc: about unfreezing him, I don’t think he’s frozen solid?
GM
He is literally frozen solid.
Jason 
ooc: never felt cooler 😉
GM
The Queen responds to Jade in a language you are not familiar with.
Jade
Jade is unconcerned with the wolf, full attention on the queen.
Andrew 
Andrew is staring daggers at the queen.
Jason
ooc: I’m tough. All focus on queen!!
Helga
ooc: so THIS is a fairy
Jade
ooc: wait for it…
ooc: shitting bricks here…
Helga
Helga watches the queen and Jade, concentrating on memorizing what they are saying. She burns the sounds onto her mind though she has no idea of the meaning.
GM
They stop talking and Jade takes a step back.
John Miksen
John Micksen ignores the frozen werewolf
Jade
Jade steps back doing a very slight nod of recognition. Then looks at john and shakes his head negatively. [at this point Jade and I had a conversation in which he advised me against further negotiation]

John Micksen
John gets off of one knee and walks over to the window of the squat
As he does so he is slowly unbuttoning his shirt
oblivious to the cold
“You know, we had quite a party here,”
he says
“Organic vegan beer, vegan punk chicks, furries …”
“It was all happening.”
He pulls his shirt off, revealing a huge tattoo on his back
it’s some kind of snowflake, constructed out of a fine filigree of pale blue that stretches across his whole back
Jade
Jade raises an eyebrow.
John Miksen
if you look closer in the half light you can see it isn’t so much a tattoo as a network of veins and capillaries, filled with some sort of icy blue fluid
Helga
Helga takes one step back, ready to bolt in any direction
John Miksen
He turns back from the window
“Unfortunately, you turned up.”
He looks at the queen
“Fashionably late, of course, but making threats and demands like you always do”
Andrew
Andrew looks at John
John Miksen
“I offer you advice, freely given.”
“You should get an MBA at one of the better institutions”
“Because your management style sucks”
He reaches behind him and touches his neck, just above the shoulders, where the network of snowflake pattenrs converges
Helga
Helga closes her eyes and sighs. Then she immediately reopens them
John Miksen
Slowly he draws his hand away and the tattoo comes with it, drawn slowly out of the skin. He hisses in pain as he does it, and you can see it takes all his effort to draw it out
After an excruciating couple of seconds the whole thing is out, hanging like a limp sack of anti-freeze from his frozen fingers.
Andrew
“That’s going to be trouble…”
John Miksen
He throws it on the floor in front of the queen, where it shatters into a million pieces of ice that start to steam
“You are lost and confused, up against a god you don’t understand.”
“we are your only hope but you lie and trick us, rob us when we are desperate, cheat us.”
“You won’t tell us anything, you abandon us to the enemy you depend on us to fight.”
“You are senile, useless, empty, and now you have no winter knight.”
“go find someone who enjoys pointless service to the demented.”
“I’m off to find a beer.”
Helga
ooc: awesome!
John Miksen
“Made with meat”
And with that he walks out of the door
Jason
ooc: BAMM
John Miksen
ooc: if you want servants, don’t employ washed up anarchists
Andrew
Andrew glances at Jason, then mutters under his breath “Not having a knight must be utterly horrible to her…”
Jade
Jade shakes his head slowly, sad look on his face. He nods to the Queen, and starts sinking in the ground.
Helga
Helga follows John out the door but once outside she goes off in a different direction from him
John Miksen
ooc: wise move!
Jason
ooc: sooo, is there gonna be a next session? Lol
Helga
ooc: it’s dark now right? believe it was night
GM
The Queen laughs as John attempts to walk away to find himself caught in the doorway. The rooms temperature has dropped below zero. She ignores Jade as he sinks into the ground but turns towards Helga as she tries to move away, trapping her where she stands. She looks upon the werewolf and simply blows upon him and watches him fade out of sight. The she lifts John by the back of the neck and casts him back into the room.
Andrew
Andrew tries to catch Jason, which obviously fails.
Jason
ooc: I’ve got the best instincts and I didn’t run lol. … Well couldn’t
John Miksen
ooc: I feel now is the time to observe that I am an ex anarchist with a composure of 4, who has watched everything he believes in dissolve into ruin, and child-fucking.
ooc: not the kind of person with much to lose, or much fear
Helga
ooc: sigh it’s hard when your allies have no survival instinct
Andrew
ooc: wait, aren’t anarchists the people who like to have no rules?
GM
Andrew fades out of view, appearing beside Jason
Jason
ooc: i m a freacking wolf and actually have a score for instinct 🙂 didn t help much 😉
Can jason move?
ooc: our scene goes on somewhere else
Andrew
ooc: the afterlife 😛
John Miksen
ooc: this is seventy seven shades of fucked up
Andrew
ooc: always was 😛
ooc: don’t try to deal with gods, they’ll always bite you in your ass
John Miksen
ooc: she’s not a god
Andrew 
ooc: possibly not, but as close to one as Andrew saw so far
John Miksen
ooc: well hang around for just a few more seconds …

[there follows a separate scene in another room, in which John is thrown around a lot and argues a lot; meanwhile Jade is outside running from angels. Wolf and mage are also transported somwhere else by the Queen, and have their own confrontation]
John reappears in the room
he is bleeding from several deep cuts, and looks haggard and drawn
He is also obviously using some kind of magic to warm the room
He yells “Where is the CHILD!?” as he does this
Helga
Helga yells, “Jason! Andrew!”
John Miksen
ooc: I should say “try and warm the room”
Helga
and in a softer tone, “…Jade!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
John is looking around the room in a measured but angry way
His entire upper body is covered with goose pimples nad he is shivering
GM
The room remains empty, but it is warming up considerably.
John Miksen
but he looks ferocious and full of joy
“Jade!”
Helga
ooc: Jason and Andrew not here yet right?
John Miksen
ooc: furry stupid has come back insde [I am referring to my cat here, but at this point …]
GM
You see a giant wolf smash through the window, tumbling along the ground.
Jason
ooc: hahahahaha
John Miksen
ooc: well that’s alright then
Jason
ooc: best timing ever
John Miksen
ooc: win!
Helga
“Andrew?”
ooc: Bart… this is your cue!
Jason
a big redbrown wolf
turns around and growls in ferious rage at the entrance door
you know something terrible must be outside this doors
John Miksen
ooc: I think a lot of punks must be dead
ooc: though the remaining punks probably will rally and attack
ooc: but it’s a shame the black bloc are out of town …
Helga
“Jason. What is outside?”
John Miksen
“where is the CHILD!?”
Andrew
You see a blur in the air suddenly hurtling through the same window that was just broken by the wolf.
Andrew
As the blur comes to rest, it seems to stabilize and fade into the background. You hear Andrew from there though “Fucking Angels again!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
GM
You hear a door smashing nearby followed by a sweltering heat that rushes down the corridor
Helga
“Outside?”
John Miksen
John is on his knees in the middle of the room, tears running down his face
Helga
ooc: great… it’s extreme temperature day
Andrew
ooc: any other escape routes other than the door that now is hot and the window?
John Miksen
“I WILL join the god machine!”
Helga
“JOHN!!!!’
John Miksen
“I swear I will you wear you as a WATCH if you cheat me now ice queen!”
Jade
You all receive a text message. “Angels. I have the child.”
Helga
None of you have ever heard her speak so sharply
John Miksen
John stands up
Jason
fuck this: the wolf starts to grow
GM
There are screams that turns quickly to gurgling sounds of pure agony. People run past you screaming and the room warms up more and more.
Helga
“Jason — the car?”
Andrew
” No fucking shit. Which way did you have in mind?”
John Miksen
“We have done all we can”
Jason
jason is now in shape of a huge direwolf
Andrew
“Fight through the angel with blade wings outside, or the fiery one inside?”
Helga
“The same ones? Sariel and the other one?”
Andrew
“The same”
Helga
“Is anyone here able to open a portal to another plane or something???
Andrew
Andrew moves towards the window. Still an angel standing outside?
John Miksen
John steps up to a space in the wall
It holds an ancient, grimy picture
the “belle dame sans merci” by waterhouse
or whatever
he pulls the picture back, there is a brief shimmer
and a hole opens in the wall
beyond it you see a land of ice and snow
Andrew
“The fuck?”
John Miksen
it looks cold, windy, frozen
“Go.”
“Go now.”
Helga
“um… don’t tell me that’s the winter queen’s realm”
Jason
the wolf jumps in
John Miksen
“Do you care? Just get the fuck out of here, violinist”
ooc: WE ARE MADE OF WIN!
Helga
She stares at you
Looking very reluctant
John Miksen
“I can’t hold this open forever you know”
He is visibly wilting in front of you
Andrew
Andrew jumps through the portal “We’re going to have words about this… A great many.”
John Miksen
also, he is distracted becaues he is texting Jade
Helga
“Jade would never come again to Faerie would he”
Jason
ooc: again?
John Miksen
“JUST FUCKING GO”
Helga
ooc: i really really really don’t want to but Helga mutters something under her breath and finally jumps in.
John Miksen
ooc: is that everyone?
Helga
ooc: yeah except jade
John Miksen
ooc: ’cause my precious little toosh is getting warm
GM 
OOC: Yep The angels hand reaches around the frame and it pulls itself through, its sightless sockets turning towards you. It hisses, the razors that comprise of its teeth glint in the light, its wings unfurl….
John Miksen
I’m out
I jump through and close the hedge behind me
if i can make the barbs of the hedge score that angels face I will consider myself to be a winner
GM
It gives a roar and dives at the entrance as it closes behind John. The door slams shut and you find yourselves in a deep freezing snow, the wind howls and the snow comes down heavily. John stands before you, armoured in beautifully wrought plates of pure white, his appearance having changed considerably.
Helga
“John. you’re still the Winter Knight? HER Winter Knight?”
John Miksen
John looks at you all with frozen eyes
“We are in her realm. Do not stray from the path I cut for you.” [at this point I received a separate message from the GM: “You are now in faerie, you are changed. You will abandon anyone who cannot keep up. They are nothing to you]
Helga
“Then again, she did call you “my knight” as she disappeared… even though you had pulled out the mark from your body..”
John Miksen
“Speak to no one.”
“Give nothing, take nothing.”
He turns and begins to walk away
After a few steps he turns back to look at you
“This realm saps the will of the living. Too long here and you will… dissipate”
“We must leave as soon as we can. I know a way”
Andrew
Andrew is visible again, apparently comfortable despite the cold. “I guess I should’ve taken my chances with the angels…”
John Miksen
John gives Andrew a look cold enough to freeze gin.
Jason
“grrrr”
John Miksen [At this point I got word from the GM that in the land of faerie I am cruel, hard and cold – alien]
He turns away and walks through the snow
You notice that he does not struggle with the snow
He is cutting a wake
now he is ignoring you
Jason
the huge direwolf is following him
John Miksen
the wake closes behind him quite quickly
Shadows are gathering in the trees
the shadows move
Andrew  
“Well, there’s little more to it but to follow no?”
Jason
ooc: if i change im barefeet and shirtless, so ill be a doggie as long as we re in the cold

We emerged from Winter at Berlin station, on the platform for the train to Dachau, to find Jade standing on the platform with this son. Success! We had escaped the Angels and won an argument with the faerie queen … now we just had to work out what to do next …

All in one Thursday night on Facebook …

What shall we do with the drunken prisoner, what shall we do ...

What shall we do with the drunken prisoner, what shall we do …

My current role-playing group hold minor adventures away from gaming sessions using Facebook. After our first Iron Kingdoms session ended with the war-caster killing captain Mayhorn in cold blood, one of the players opened a whole new chat session in Facebook to discuss the implications. This led to a long debate, mostly in character, about the implications of slaughtering this upstanding man and what to do about it. After much debate, we finally decided that the PC in question would be whipped 40 times – 10 times by each other member of the group – in front of all our crew, to ensure that everyone knew that we only kill people in battle, and only the people the captain decides to kill.

One of the great things about these (often impromptu) Facebook sessions is that they give all the players a chance to craft what their PCs say, rather than just blurting it out. It turns out that Captain Breaker’s player is excellent at writing a pirate, and did a great job throughout the downtime of producing piratical theatre. Here, then, is his final speech in front of the gathered crew:

Men and women of the seas!! Stamp yer feet and cry to the skies for today you have all proven yourselves as deserving sea wolves!! It is because of your bravery and strength that we have triumphed against an enemy twice our size and might.

Sea Dogs and scum we might all be, but no man here can deny that we have left our bite in the arse of those that believe themselves better than us! Remember the dead me hearties! They reach to us from Urcaen, their eyes demand that we continue to amass riches enough to slake their thirst, so that on the day of our judgement we shall have hands of gold to share with them in the afterlife.

Aye, but there is reason to mourn on this day as well, for our victory is not without stain. Mourn?! you say, aye says your captain, for today an act of vile thuggery has robbed us of both further glory and respect as sailors. I speak of the murder in cold blood of former Captain Mayhorn. Officer Carmichael!!! STEP FORWARD!

I accuse you of murdering Captain Mayhorn right after he had given up arms and begged for quarter. An act that not only is dishonorable, but more importantly robs this company of possible ransom money. Know man, that the actions of one man could brand your captain and this crew as pirates if it is not duly punished!! This act of impiety breaks the rules of conduct of the sea and carries the penalty of death by hanging. Carmichael! Do you deny these charges?!! Explain yourself in front of all and God!

There followed an extended section where we all indicated how our characters responded, and how Carmichael bore it all. I think most of us would have been too shy to work through all this stuff in so much detail and dramatic style in person, so it was a really refreshing and interesting way to run group interaction.

This was also the first time I’ve been a member of a group that actually took a cold-blooded execution seriously. We were generally concerned about both the fact that it was done at all, and its implications for our future as Privateers. And without the GM having to enforce any penalties in-game for the act!

This isn’t the only good thing about running downtimes by Facebook – I’ll try and say more about that in the new year!—

picture credit: Captain Breaker’s player was responsible for the picture of Breaker (Left) and Hrif the Younger (right) discussing what to do with a prisoner.

… and immediately turn into a nerd vs. arsehole flamewar. At the Guardian there’s a relatively fluffy piece describing the D&D edition wars for non-gamers, in the context of the D&DNext announcement. It’s nice to see D&D getting a bit of mainstream attention, even if it is from the standpoint of an incomprehensible nerd conflict. However, within moments the comments degenerate into some arsehole telling gamers they’re a cancer on society:

This, and World of Warcraft, and everything else that attracts people who desire to actually live in Middle Earth, and wear cloaks and swords, and chase wizards and dragons around, is a social cancer. Its only purpose should be to identify such people to facilitate their incarceration in a secure unit. The average cocaine addict is a more productive and useful member of society, and much more fun down the pub. I hate the lot of them, every single one

Remarkably lucid for a comments thread of a major newspaper, but nasty despite that rare moment of English ability. The immediate response serves to put this idiot in his place though:

Looks like someone was kicked out of their guild.

Someone else offers us a list of famous D&D players:

Confirmed Players include Graham Linner, Vin Diesel, Dame Judy Dench, Mike Myers, Robin Williams, Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Ewan Mcgregor, Wil Wheaton, Stephen Colbert.

That’s a pretty cool list: imagine a gaming group consisting of Vin Diesel, Judy Dench, Robin Williams and Ewan McGregor, with Colbert as GM. That would be pretty entertaining. What characters would they play?

The author pops up in the thread, which is an awesomely rare event on Guardian “blogs,” and in addition to actually engaging with the audience, manages to explain the LARP game they’ve been running, that is surely too cool to be true:

We run a sort of bespoke, portable zombie apocalpyse with NERF guns. Basically, you get three games starting as a human survivor, and one as a zombie. The human players have to complete a pretty basic mission in order to open the doors/summon the helicopter/kill the massive super-zombie etc. Generally survival rate runs at about 10% if I’m doing my job properly.

We were running it as a day-long event at an abandoned shopping mall in Reading, but sadly we can’t get the venue for the next few months so are looking into an abandoned school and a derelict embassy building instead.

That’s cool!

I think this may be the coolest thread on a culture-related thing that I’ve ever seen at the Guardian. And yet, apparently, gamers are a cancer on society…

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