Owlbear and Wizard’s Staff 2022

Was up in Leamington Spa this weekend for Owlbear and Wizard’s Staff convention, run by Matthew Broome.

Arrived on Friday evening for drinks then curry at the excellent Kayal Keralan restaurant. It was good to meet some old friends and meet some online people for the first time in real life.

Convention day one on Saturday saw a new venue, the very well-appointed and welcoming St Patrick’s Irish Club. Matthew’s excellent organisation saw everything run smoothly.

My first game was one of a parallel pair, tying the convention’s name (a play on the bear-and-staff county arms of Warwickshire, by the way) in with a story using the characters from the Blackadder TV series. I found myself playing Baldrick, downtrodden as ever – until he proved the only one able to control the ferocious owlbear we had to steal. I think the experience gave me renewed affection for Baldrick – a good-hearted, unassuming, innocent soul surrounded in the series by selfishness and cruelty.

In the afternoon, I was in the GM’s seat for Arashi – Shakespeare’s Tempest translated to feudal Japan. I had had fun adapting my source material and building a plot to actively engage the players. Aside from some issues with the game – the notoriously dry and dense Bushido from 1981 – it went well; some great players picked up the essence of their characters and collectively told a story that at times felt quite Kurosawa-like, even if I do say so myself. I put in a couple of group challenges – I re-used the starting point of my lockdown OSE campaign and had them decide from a list what items they saved from the wreck. Ever since doing that exercise at a work training on communication and teams. I’ve felt it belongs in an RPG. I also gave them a set of Kanji to draw to open a portal, and watched for ten minutes as they picked up Sharpie markers and tried their hands at Japanese calligraphy.

Matthew had arranged evening drinks, and further good conversations were had at the White Horse. I found myself getting more and more tired though, and headed back to my hotel before closing time. I’m becoming a lightweight in my old age.

Sunday saw the final games. I fortified myself with coffee, and later in the morning Pepsi, and played a really fun game of Deus Vult run by Carl Clare who had played in my game the previous day. Special forces medieval monks, fighting the forces of darkness. My character had tricked out automatic crossbows, and I played him somewhere between Hawkeye and the sniper from Saving Private Ryan (quoting Bible verses and all). The action-movie heroics were tempered by a strong moral imperative, as Carl presented us with a monstrous enemy to defeat.

Another great weekend of games and conversation. It’s true of RPGs, and of cons that it really is the people who make them – and a smashing group of people made this another weekend to remember.

Virtual Grogmeet 2022

“Nothing’s forgotten”. Favourite TV shows from your youth, favourite old games – nothing’s ever forgotten. Grognards – older gamers like myself – have a fondness for these unforgotten old favourites. The Grognard Files podcast is based around old (and sometimes newer) RPGs, and its host Dirk the Dice has run a series of conventions, face to face and online, celebrating those games.

This weekend was Virtual Grogmeet 2022. I batch-cooked meals and laid in snacks, chose favourite geeky T shirts, and looked forward to gaming from Friday to Sunday.

The first game I played in was Jules Hayley’s DCC “funnel” – a format where each player controls a number of inept characters through an ordeal, trying to keep as many of them alive as possible. Great fun, and my CofE minister steadfastly protected his granddaughter though my Wolverhampton butcher Michael died heroically at the last.

A convivial debrief at the online “pub” chatroom rounded off the evening.

Next morning was my turn as GM. The “nothing’s forgotten” quote comes from Robin of Sherwood, a big influence on my gaming. I tried to bring echoes of Richard Carpenter’s medieval fantasy to a game of Romance of the Perilous Land, a game set in mythic medieval England. I set it in the Anarchy, the Twelfth Century civil war, and tried to weave history and myth together. I had some really nice feedback from the players. My favourite moment in play was Howard’s white witch sparring verbally with her evil counterpart while they were both guests at an abbey and unable to confront each other openly.

More early medieval excitement after a quick lunch, as I played in Sean Hillman’s gritty historical adventure 757: The Flight of Beornred. I took the role of a Mercian noble arranging the escape of his liege lord after defeat by Offa. No magic, no supernatural here – just men trying to stay true to their oaths and trying to protect the victims of a civil war. Neil Benson had fun as Wilfred, a brave hammer-wielding warrior with shades of Wulf from Strontium Dog.

In the evening, I played the old Indiana Jones RPG – as Indy himself. Great fun, from a game which Robert the GM loved for its transitional place between simulationist and narrative-driven gaming. It was fun having to invent a series of Norse-themed traps off the cuff and explain how Indy evaded them. A beautifully dramatic ending saw the Norwegian archaeologist’s player choose to have her sacrifice herself to become a valkyrie, defending the Spear of Odin from the Nazis.

Next day saw a book club followed by author talk with game designer and writer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. I learned a lot about both RPGs and approaches to writing from him. It was well-positioned in the weekend – three games in a day had been quite full-on, and this was a welcome change of pace to start the last day of the con.`

The last game was classic Traveller from Andy Random, with a classic tramp freighter crew on a dodgy mission, doing what we had to to earn enough to keep flying. There was a nice pay-off at the last as we discovered that we had been working for the good guys all along. I named my pilot character as the cousin of my old trader captain from Traveller in the 90s.

A good range of games, with some fellow players and GMs I knew before and others I met for the first time. As always, there were many more I would have liked to play. The British grognard community is a friendly and supportive one, and one I’m happy to be part of. Thanks Dirk and all who took part this weekend.

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.