Songs in the key of life

The Monday night online game group has been playing a post-apocalyptic campaign, inspired by the GM’s thoughts on holiday many years ago. Inspired by Terry Nation’s Survivors, post-cataclysm Tenerife is a grim and gritty place, with the PCs perhaps bringing just a little hope to the world.

We had a lot of input into world-building, defining the community our pilgrims came from and our story, and also in a quirky idea that’s been popular with us all. Ennio the young engineer has an old mobile phone powered by solar cells, and we’ve been building a playlist for it. The songs reflect what happened each session, and everyone has been suggesting tracks. We can imagine This Hard Land as the theme song of this if it were a TV show, and one of the other tracks as a “playout” at the end of each episode as we carry on our journey. IT’s eclectic as you’d expect, but between us we’ve picked some great songs so far and I look forward to seeing what else makes it on there over the next few weeks.

Powerful thing, music.

Burritocon 6

Three years ago, Neil of Old Scouser Roleplaying blog fame found himself going to be in Manchester all day with time to kill so he organised a mini-convention of roleplaying games. Since then there have been more iterations, the latest – due to the global pandemic – all run online. This Saturday saw the sixth of these, and the third in which I have participated. I have fond memories of my first, a weekend visiting friends in Manchester and then running a mash-up of Star Wars and Casablanca for a mostly-bewildered group who had never seen the film. Last summer, I offered “sonnetpunk” Shakespearean D&D online. Both times, I also had great fun playing classic RPGs with great GMs.

This event saw me running Modiphius’ Klingon Empire RPGs, with a crew of Klingons hunting a Federation “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship. I felt this game really landed – my fourth convention game as GM, my second run online. Reflecting, I think I have learned a lot from experience over these games. Pacing, structure of session. Not over-preparing or trying to deliver too much. Putting interactive activities in early in the session to engage the participants, rather than later when you may already have lost their attention. All things which have applied to my teaching, in person and online. Once again, those similarities and transferrable skills between teaching and GMing show up.

I had a great crew of Klingon players to work with, They embraced their roles and feedback showed they liked the narrative and felt we had created a story that would not have been out of place in a Star Trek film or show. Matthew, Shane, Neil, David and Ozzy brought glory to the Empire and honour to their houses.

The afternoon game I played in was a delightful return to a game I’d played a lot many years ago, Middle Earth Role Playing (“MERP”). Thanks to Dave who ran it, and another great group of players, we had fun with a system which by contrast with the narrative-led modern Star Trek game showed its age in its rules-heavy simulationist “crunch”, but which was no less entertaining and was in its way a good fit for Tolkien’s detail- and lore-heavy world.

A day which saw some seventy people come together to socialise and enjoy a shared hobby, in a way we would all have loved to experience face-to-face but which worked and brought much joy even online. Perhaps some people were even able to attend a virtual con who wouldn’t have been able to in person. I certainly met one of my longstanding online friends to speak to for the first time in fifteen years when he played in my game.

Thanks again, Neil, on behalf of the players and GMs. You’ve not just organised some events, you’ve built a community.

#RPGaDay2020: rest

Is a change as good as a rest? When do you need to take a rest as player or GM? My Saturday campaign ended recently, and in the intervening two weekends I’ve run one-off convention games – one virtual, one socially-distanced outside a games cafe.  I’m now eager to start another, different campaign.


#RPGaDay day twelve: message

Do RPGs have messages? Should they? I would say they do send out messages consciously or not.

  • It’s OK to resolve everything by violence.
  • Extermination of an enemy based on race is good, actually.
  • Your actions will bring no negative consequences.
  • Society’s laws don’t apply to you.
  • You are entitled to win every time.

If we don’t present an alternative message, these toxic ones that the oldest among us will remember from the worst of the games of our youth will still be there. Those of us still playing from thirty or forty years back have a duty to decide what message our games carry.


#RPGaDay2020 day eleven: stack

My first thought was “which of these game effects or modifiers stack with each other?” And then I thought about a stack as a term for a group of counters in a war game. Which started me thinking how my gaming context, born of my own experience, is subjective – I doubt any of the library games group would have thought that way given this prompt. A couple of times in my recent D&D campaign, I put the players in quite “wargamey” situations and they resolved them quite differently than I might have. A reminder that there is no “one way” to play and run RPGs, despite what old grognards like me might think.


#RPGaDay2020 day ten: want

“What do you want to play?”

“What do you want your character to do?”

“What do you want to get out of this class?”

All seemingly helpful, open questions. All though putting pressure on the person asked from a person in perceived position of authority. Not that they shouldn’t be asked, but how we phrase them, whether we have made the context supportive to scaffold our players and learners, are worth thinking about.


#RPGaDay2020 day nine: light

(almost caught up).

“Let it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out”.

We have seen some dark times, and continue to. The games, mostly online, I have run and played in have been a light to me this year. Not the only light by far, but an important one. And that light comes from the people, from the community of gamers and friends kept going by playing together and sharing our lives, and supporting each other.


#RPGaDay2020 day eight: shade

(Still catching up).

Evocative word, shade. It’s cooler in the shade. Shades are shadows, suggesting images to the viewer. Things hide in shadow, or in shade. A stranger sitting in a shaded corner of a bar has sparked so many RPG quests…

There are also shades or degrees of morality, of how individuals or groups are presented – and there a re some important conversations around that happening at the moment.


#RPGaDay2020 day seven: couple

Another catch-up.

This can only go as a shout-out to Rob and Jo who met at one of my D&D games and have been married twenty years this year. But it also goes out to every couple whose relationship includes playing together or involves negotiations around gaming when they don’t share that hobby. There is a part of a garden which acquired the nickname “Gamer’s Corner” this last month for my taking myself off to play online RPGs there while my SO does her own thing.