Monday, 16 January 2017

Bundle of Holding

Sometimes, I forget I have a games company.

I run Freeform Games with Mo Holkar. We publish murder mystery games - but they’re actually larps in disguise. Our target market is ordinary people rather than gamers, so we don’t tell them that they’re roleplaying or larping.

Our games don’t involve polyhedral dice (or dice of any sort) or complex rules. Most of them are set in the real world. We do have a small number of games with magic in them, but our games don’t have elves or spaceships or vampires. (Yet - you never know.)

So when I’m hanging out at Continuum or Furnace and chatting to people like Dr Mitch, Graham W, Graham Spearing, Paul Baldowski and the many others forging their creative path in tabletop roleplaying, I sometimes feel a bit inadequate.

So please forgive me for being dead chuffed that the prestigious Bundle of Holding is currently running a murder party bundle featuring eight of our games!

As I type this, we’re only a few days in and already we’ve raised nearly $9,000 and sold over 280 bundles. Woo hoo!

We have no idea how this will impact on our regular sales, but given that our target market doesn’t really know what Bundle of Holding is, and two of our most popular games aren’t included in the bundle, then I’m hoping it won’t have a disastrous impact.

It might even be good for us as a new bunch of gamers discover a way to introduce their non-gamer friends into this glorious hobby.

1000+ person hours of fun


Marcus Rowland writes about our Bundle of Holding offer here.

I like the bit where Marcus notes that there's 1000+ person hours of fun in the package. (I think he's exaggerated slightly - at my estimate, assuming each game is full and entertains everyone for three hours, then you've got over 450 hours of person entertainment. But why quibble?)

He picks up on something I noticed on the main Bundle of Holding page - and that's the comment about printing lots of pages.

Well, I suppose so.

But it's possible I've just become used to printing out lots of paper - it's what these games do.

I don't remember any complaints about paper use from our customers. So perhaps that's just gamers.

Not very “polished”


Here’s a mildly enthusiastic discussion about the the murder party Bundle of Holding.

The comment about our games not being “most polished” is fair, but that’s because we’re aiming for the “readable by people with bad eyesight in dim lighting” look. Which isn’t a jazzy look compared to a modern full-colour RPG. (But then I think most RPG designs are, graphically, a mess. I prefer clean and simple for my RPG design.)

Each to their own - although I admit we could probably do with better covers.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

2016 in games

It appears that I am unable to refuse the seductive lure of reflecting on the past, so here is my 2016 in games. Along with a few plans for 2017.

Larp: 2016 was okay for me in terms of larp. Here’s what I ran/played/published:
  • I co-ran Once Upon a Time in Tombstone.
  • At Peaky I co-wrote Ex Nihilo (the new game for ReGenesis), played Trenches and Miss Maypole and the Case of the Missing Admiral.
  • Played Disaster! at Continuum.
  • Published Venice and Mars Attracts using a creative commons licence.
  • Started work on getting Sword Day ready for publication.
  • Started work on a collection of Peaky freeform larps.

Writing at Peaky 2016
The one thing I wish I’d done was run a freeform larp in Leeds or York, so that’s something I want to try and do in 2017, perhaps linked to GoPlayLeeds.

My other larp plans for 2017 are to get Sword Day published, which requires some help from the original authors, and finish the collection of Peaky freeforms (I’d like to include Sword Day in that, so these are linked)

Freeform Games: I’ve written about Freeform Games’ 2016 on the FFG blog, so no need to repeat that. My biggest job in 2017 is likely to be getting The Reality is Murder into shape.

Playing Pandemic: The Cure
Board Games: According to my boardgamegeek log, I played 208 board games in 2016. To my surprise, the game I’ve played most has been Rummikub, which I first played at Mum’s back at Easter and was such a hit with the family that we bought a copy as well. X-Wing was a close second (boosted by several solo games).

I didn’t play any Cosmic Encounter in 2016, so I will try and fix that in 2017. I also have an unopened copy of Pandemic Legacy, and I need to find someone to play that with. (Mrs H is ambivalent about Pandemic and doesn’t want to commit to it.)

Playing Monsterhearts
at Continuum
Tabletop RPGs: I played more tabletop roleplaying in 2016 than I have in a long time. That’s thanks to a semi-regular Google Hangouts group, GoPlayLeeds, Continuum and Furnace. One thing I haven’t done is more roleplaying with Megan, which I’d like to change (as she enjoys it very much).

I’ve also ran some scenarios - the first time I’ve run anything serious in a long, long time. I ran The Crasta Demon (Fate Accelerated) twice (once at Furnace and once online), and I ran In Whom We Trust (Call of Cthulhu) at Continuum. I also facilitated an online game of Microscope.

In 2017 I want to run more games (or at least run no fewer) - and I’d like to run something at GoPlayLeeds. I’ve also started preparing a London-based urban fantasy scenario using Fate Accelerated, which I will finish and run in 2017. I also want to get a bit further with my plans for an Orkney Neolithic game (so that probably means writing a scenario).

Tales of Terror: At the start of 2016 I restarted republishing Tales of Terror using Blogger. So far I’ve published 41 (which means it will be five or six years before I’ve got all the old tales uploaded). The nice thing about Blogger is that it’s easy to label the Tales, so that if you just want to see all the Tales involving, say, witches, you can do just that.

Even better, I wrote four completely new Tales of Terror: The Gibbet Frame, The Tower on Dulas Island, Gargoyle's Watch, and Homunculi. I think I did a really good job with The Gibbet Frame and Homunculi.

I will continue with Tales of Terror in 2017, and I might even see if I can create a print-on-demand collection using Lulu and/or Createspace. We’ll see how much time I get.

Videogames: On my tablet I’ve mostly been playing World of Tanks Blitz (which I find a bit too addictive, and reminds me why I stopped playing computer games), Star Realms, and Ticket to Ride.

I tried playing Sorcery #3 (Inkle’s highly praised version of the legendary Steve Jackson gamebook), but found it much too irritating. I quite liked the first two episodes, but I found #3’s sheer size and randomness a bit too much. I haven’t tried Sorcery #4, and I don’t know if I will.

I suspect 2017 will find me playing more World of Tanks Blitz, as I’m still addicted to it.

Garrison Hotel - home to
Furnace
Games weekends: Games weekends in 2016 included: Co-running Once Upon A Time in Tombstone in Retford), Peaky, Continuum, and Furnace.

2017 should see me at Across the Universe (another weekend long freeform), Airecon (where I hope to run something), Peaky, and Furnace.

Other numbers: I read 67 books in 2016, 38 of them fiction. Yes, that’s more than one a week - but I’m counting audiobooks in that (that I listen to in the car and whilst doing chores). Favourites included: The Truth About Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencioni, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. Black Box Thinking: The Truth about Success by Matthew Syed. The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained by Peter F Hamilton.

That’s my usual mix of business books and science-fiction/fantasy with a little bit of gentle humour thrown in. I don’t read too many RPG books (I tend to treat them as reference books and dip into them here and there rather than read them cover-to-cover, which is how I track my books), which is why there aren’t many listed here.

2017 will no doubt continue the trend - I’ve read/listened to two books already.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Jurassic World: disrespecting dinosaurs.

So I’ve finally seen Jurassic World, and I’m disappointed in how they treated the dinosaurs. I’ve always liked dinosaurs, and what I really liked about the first two Jurassic Park movies was that they treated the dinosaurs with respect. In those movies the dinosaurs behaved how I would expect such creatures to behave.

The rot started in Jurassic Park 3. First the pterosaurs - there was no way they could carry off the humans, and even if they could, why would they? Surely they’d be interested in easier prey? Such as fish? And why did the spinosaurus chase everyone all over the island? And why were the raptors so precious over a single egg taken from one of several nests, each full of eggs? When animals lay that number of eggs, they don’t expect them all to survive - so it made no sense for them to get all sentimental over a single egg.

(This article has more to say on the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park 3.)

Jurassic World again disrespects the dinosaurs. Why did the pterosaurs and pterodactyls attack the humans? Why didn’t they just fly off? In fact, why did they bother to leave the aviary at all, given that presumably it was safe and full of food?

I didn’t mind that the Jurassic World dinosaurs didn’t have feathers - they kind of covered that and hinted that they bred them to look like everyone expects dinosaurs to look like. (But maybe one day soon we’ll have a movie with feathered dinosaurs.)

I didn’t mind the trained raptors and the impressive (but over-sized) Mosasaur, and the Indominus Rex wasn’t dreadful, but why did it kill all those apatosauruses? For sport?

Mind you, Jurassic World didn’t treat the humans with much more respect. Surely a basic risk assessment would have the park equipped with tranquilliser guns powerful enough to penetrate dinosaur hide? And if you’re going to fit your raptors with head-cams, wouldn’t you also include a tranquilliser in case they turn on you?

So, bah. Some nice moments but mostly a disappointment.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The last five books

Prompted by this blog post, I've been thinking about how I find new authors and where I buy my books. I must admit that I'm not great at finding new authors - I tend to rely on old favourites rather a bit too much. So I thought I'd look at the last five books I bought (and I'm pleased to say that three of them were by new authors to me).

Anyway, here are the last five books I've bought: the why and the where.

Gut by Giulia Enders


Why? I've seen Gut in bookshops before, and there have been enough hints on some of the health programmes on television that have piqued my curiosity. So I was always going to get this (or something like it.)

Where? I bought this from Paragon Books in Sidmouth, a small independent bookshop. I must admit that I don't normally buy paperbacks (I'm too fond of my Kindle Paperwhite), but I know the owner and I wanted to support him.

So what did I think? I don't read too much popular science, but I found Gut fascinating. I've suffered in the past with a dodgy tummy, so it was about time I learned more about my gut. It's a great book for some choice quotes to share, but maybe not at the dinner table.

Gut is the first book that I've ready by Giulia Enders, so a new author to me.

The Fifth Witch by Graham Masterton


Why? I've been reading rather a lot of urban fantasy lately, largely because I've been thinking about a London-based urban fantasy game and I'm mining the genre for ideas. Overall, I'm finding urban fantasy a pretty mixed bag - a few gems with an awful lot of dross. The Fifth Witch, however, isn't urban fantasy: it's horror. And frankly after all that teenage angst it was a pleasure to read about some really nasty witches.

Where? I bought this for my Kindle, via the BookBub newsletter which sends me daily bargains. I probably wouldn't have tried it if it hadn't been cheap. I can't say it was brilliantly written, but I did enjoy it.

So what did I think? A bit of a guilty pleasure. I can't claim it was brilliantly written, but I liked the evil witches.

Graham Masterton is hardly a new author, but this is the first book I've read by him, so he counts as new to me. I'd read another one.

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.


Why? A few weeks ago I received my character hint for Across the Universe, uk-freeforms' next weekend freeform. Rupert Venables, from Deep Secret, is one of the inspirations for my character and so I thought I'd better read it.

Where? I bought this from Amazon, for my Kindle.

So what did I think? From what little I know about Across the Universe, this novel appears to be share a lot of the same concepts. It will be interesting to see what they use. As for the book itself, I enjoyed it overall, although I found the story flagging towards the end. I'd try another by Diana Wynne Jones (maybe even the next in the series).

And again, Diana Wynne Jones is new to me.

The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler


Why? I've been reading Christopher Fowler for decades, and I really enjoy his doddery old detectives, Bryant and May. This is twelfth in the series - although the detectives turn up in his other books as well (such as Soho Black).

Where? I bought The Burning Man from Amazon, for my Kindle.

So what did I think? I was always going to like The Burning Man, and so I did. I wouldn't start my Bryant and May journey here, though, I'd start with The Water Room the second in the Bryant and May series. (The first in the series, Full Dark House, has too many flashbacks and in my view needs to be read once you understand the characters.)

The Truth about Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencioni


Why? I've read quite a few of Patrick Lencioni's management books, and they've never been anything less than good. This was one that I hadn't read yet. (And technically I read Three Signs of a Miserable Job, which was the book's original title.)

Where? I listened to this via Audible (so Amazon, again).

So what did I think? Again, I enjoyed this. It's never rocket science, but Lencioni's advise is always straightforward and common sense. And as they always say about common sense, it's rarely that common... I'd recommend Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team first, though.

Looking back


This is fairly representative of the stuff I'm reading (or listening to) at the moment. Some genre fiction (fantasy and horror in this case, but often urban fantasy and science fiction), and some business/management/psychology stuff. Gut is probably the odd one out as a) I didn't buy it from Amazon, and b) I don't read that much popular science.

There are more new (to me) authors in this selection than normal. I am normally more of a creature of habit and I tend to return to the authors I know.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Crasta Demon

Dunstanburgh: my inspiration
for the castle in The Crasta Demon
"Ah there you are, Captain Wickham. I need you to take Senior Librarian Helsing here up to Crasta to investigate a reported demon. It’s probably nothing, but take Crowe, Loxley and Brikk with you. I’ll expect a full report on my desk on your return."

And so The Crasta Demon begins…

I wrote The Crasta Demon for the Furnace XI tabletop roleplaying convention using Fate Accelerated. Set in a fantasy world called The Great Circle, The Crasta Demon uses pre-generated characters because I find that works best for conventions and one-shots.

With five characters it took about three hours to play, with a fifteen minute break. We spent the first twenty minutes on character creation, including creating some DramaAspects (as I’ve named them).

The Crasta Demon: scenario, pre-gen characters and background.

If you enjoy the scenario, I’d love to hear about it.



Monday, 10 October 2016

Furnace XI

The Garrison
Last weekend I had a wonderful time playing tabletop roleplaying games at Furnace XI, held in Sheffield’s marvellous Garrison Hotel. As usual I drove down and back each day, but this year for a change I actually ran a game.

Here’s how my convention went.

Slot #1: Fate Accelerated


This was my slot - I ran The Crasta Demon, a  Fate Accelerated demon hunt set in my own fantasy background. I had a full group (five players) and we finished just about on time, with a fifteen minute break. Everyone looked like they were having fun, and they threw me some curve balls that I had to think about, so that was good.

I tried out my "DramaAspects" again, and again some players took to them and some didn't. I'm certainly going to continue with it.

Because I knew that time was likely to be tight, I didn't roll the dice much, Instead, I assumed that all the bad guys would always roll zero on their Fate dice (actually the most likely result anyway), and that speeded up combat as I always knew what my result was.

There were only a couple of things I would do differently next time, both of which concern preparation rather than my running of the game:

  • For Fate pregens I would give each character five useful stunts, and let the player choose three.
  • I would give each character the rules summary and the background summary (which Richard did for his Owl Hoot Trail game).

Anyway, I'll post the scenario on the blog when I've made a couple of minor amendments to it.

Slot #2: Owl Hoot Trail run by Richard Lock


I played Tuco, a taciturn orc gunslinger in this fantasy Wild West game. Our mission was to find a railroad engineer and save the day from an evil railroad rival. While I took the name from Eli Wallach's character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I think I was channelling the Man With No Name as I pursued a shoot-first-don't-say-much-at-all policy.

I'd not played Owl Hoot Trail before, and I put my character in significant peril early on when I called out my arch enemy to a duel. It was the right thing to do storywise (him being my arch enemy), but I didn't realise quite how badly it could have gone until much later. Luckily the dice were with me.

I liked the character packs (character sheet, map of Perdition, rules summary) that Richard provided - I will do that next time.

Slot #3: An early night


The biggest downside of not staying on-site is that I miss the Saturday evening slot. But they have a habit of dragging on into the early hours of the morning, and I know I wouldn’t be safe driving back.

The upside, on the other hand, is that I see my family instead, and I was so tired on Saturday that I ended up with a relatively early night.

Slot #4: Spirit of 77 run by Matt Nixon


I played Father Nick ‘The Priest’ James, a tattooed martial artist, and one of four deniable government black-ops assets. Our mission was to capture a triad leader in the top of an office building, which we accomplished after wading through dozens of mooks and causing untold property damage.

Very enjoyable, although once again I found myself slightly dissatisfied with a PbtA game. I’ve now played three PbtA games (Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and now Spirit of 77) and in each case I’ve come away thinking that I’m missing something.

I don’t think it’s the system itself, as from what I can see it should be right up my street. Instead, I suspect that in each case it has been my lack of familiarity with that particular variant, and how the GM is running it; each time I’ve played convention one-shots, which probably doesn’t help.

In this case, although I was playing a tattooed martial artist, my reading of the character playbook suggested that he was more effective in battle using his revolver. So that’s what I mostly did. It was only at the end of the game, when I mentioned this, that Matt pointed out how effective my martial arts skills could be. It wasn’t that clear to me from the playbook, and I think if I were playing a second session then I’d be more likely to play the character ‘properly’.

Slot #5: Shadow Hunters run by Declan Feeney


I played Claudia Hawk, a vampire combat medic (and yes, that went about as well as you might expect). I was one of six members of a team of government demon hunters – except that we were the clean-up crew hoping to break into the big time. Our adventure involved encountering the kraken at Hoover Dam, demonic possession and a strange ritual at a roller derby. Shadow Hunters is ‘supposed’ to be a comedy-horror roleplaying game, but Declan played it straight, with full-on angst for some of the team, and it was all the better for that.

I found the Demon Hunters system a bit frustrating. It’s a Fate hack, but in my view it’s not an improvement. It seemed much more complicated, and I spent much of the game wondering why they didn’t just use Fate or Fate Accelerated.

Over for another year


So that was Furnace XI. Overall a huge success – I played in some great games, met some new people, and I didn’t disgrace myself running Fate Accelerated.

Here’s looking forward to next year!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

In Whom We Trust for Call of Cthulhu

In Whom We Trust was the last Call of Cthulhu scenario that I wrote - although to be honest it’s almost system-less and there’s barely any reference to the Cthulhu Mythos.

I originally wrote it for the Call of Cthulhu tournament at Convulsion ’96. Since then it has been played a number of times and suffered a variety of edits.

In Whom We Trust was also used as the RPGA tournament scenario at GenconUK 2001.

Anyway, here are the game files: