Tag Archives: role-playing-games

Dragonmeet and widening the RPG audience

I had a great time at Dragonmeet on Saturday. It may surprise some people to know that this was my first Dragonmeet (London’s premiere roleplaying convention which I believe has been going since the 1980s) but in fact, UK Games Expo this year was the first gaming convention I’d gone to since, I think, Games Day ’88 (around the time Games Workshop was transforming from a distributor to just focusing on its own miniatures games).

I had a game of Durance, Jason Morningstar’s next game after Fiasco which can best be summed up as “early colonial Australia – in spaaaace”. I wish I’d played a couple more games, especially Microscope, but Durance took a long time and I needed a break and some shopping time.

As for purchases, I picked up My Life With Master, Psi*Run, Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne and Becoming Heroes – all indie games with their own little quirks. I’ve read the rules to Psi*Run thus far and it looks great – essentially the players are amnesiacs with psychic powers who are being chased by some unknown threat: maybe they’re alien abductees or the victims of some government experiment. They start the game asking themselves a series of questions and end the game when one of them has answered all of them (as is common with indie games, you get to make these up as you go along).

I only went to one seminar, and I regret not going to the one with Robin D Laws about his new Hillfolk game which I’ve invested in as a Kickstarter. I’m still toying with investing in the Guide to Glorantha Kickstarter (I deeply love Glorantha as a setting both because it is highly original and the setting of the first RPG I ever owned), so it would have been nice to go to that, but it would have meant not having a morning game. Priorities!

The one seminar I did go to was about the future of the UK RPG “industry”. But the main point that was rammed home at the seminar was that there was no industry, just four games companies which operate out of the US (Pelgrane Press, Cubicle 7, Chronicle City and Mongoose), a distribution company (Esvedium) and a scattering of shops. And while the general consensus seemed to be that its decline from the “heady” days of the 1980s has probably levelled out now, no one could envision any sunlit uplands ahead to look forward to. There was an agreement that with the internet, we probably don’t even need an industry for the hobby to continue, but it would probably plod along in any case. There was no prospect of a renaissance.

I found it to be quite an interesting talk, not quite depressing although in many ways it should have been. It reminded me a bit of the very similar conversation going on within the comics ironic-quotation-marks-industry and the heroic but seemingly futile efforts of a handful of people working within it to persuade it that there is a mainstream audience out there to exploit if only it would haul itself out of its self imposed ghetto (I promise not to segue into a discussion about Giles Coren being a cock, except to say that Giles Coren is a cock).

I’ve written about RPGs and the mainstream recently. At the risk of repeating myself, if you want to expand your audience, you should focus on games that do not require (at least) 3 expensive “core” hardback books to play and which encourage the sort of play in which one individual dedicates huge amount of personal time preparing a game for everyone else. You should probably look at games which put as much emphasis on plot and character – possibly even sex – as they do on action and violence. You should look at games with a wide range of genres, not just another flavour of fantasy-horror-scifi. None of this is to say that any of these things are bad or that all games should contain none of these elements, just that variety is the spice of life and a narrow idea of what is and isn’t roleplaying doesn’t help anybody. Don’t mistake a genre for a medium.

Of course, there are games out there which tick these boxes, but they are known as “indie” games and seen as niche (from my experience, by their advocates as well as others in the RPG scene). I don’t think there are any particular villains here: most of the industry panellists at the seminar were enthusiastic about the indie scene. Indeed, the host James Wallis wrote The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and is in many ways a godfather of the indie scene*. All the UK RPG publishers produce games which are to a greater or lesser extent “indie” in style or tone. The issue to me is more one of mindset, and a realisation of the opportunities that games like Fiasco bring to the market.

At one stage in the seminar, one of the audience members asked the panel what they were doing to bring children into the hobby and got quite finger jabby. While enticing a new generation is important, I wonder whether too much concern about making it accessible for “the kids” is missing the point. I couldn’t make head or tail of Runequest 2 when I was 8 (or MERPs for that matter; I always seemed to buy complicated fantasy games when I was a kid); it didn’t stop me from playing it numerous times. I persevered because it seemed cool, because my media was saturated with science fiction and fantasy, and – crucially – because there weren’t shinier, easier ways to sate my appetite for immersive fantasy gameplay. Since the latter factor has now been irrevocably lost thanks to computer games and to a lesser extent miniature war games, I can’t really see how efforts to entice them will ever be enormously successful.

I think it’s the slightly older generation that is a more likely prospect and the one thing that isn’t likely to excite them is tabletop versions of something they can do on the computer in a way that is infinitely more immersive. What that suggests to me is that “old school” dungeon bashes are unlikely to cut the mustard.

Tabletop roleplaying’s potential appeal is in providing things you can’t do on a computer, and that means stuff other than killing things and solving puzzles. You can create worlds, endless situations, flawed heroes (and even not heroes at all) with a few simple rules, some friends and possibly some dice in a way you can never do on a computer (and the moment you will be able to do that will also be the singularity; best not to think about!).

Roleplaying’s potential therefore is its ability to provide boundless creativity in a social environment, if only the scene could get over its obsession with stabbing orcs. And what goes for teenagers is also likely to appeal more to women.

What all this suggests to me is that if the industry is to be truly ambitious, it needs to start eschewing notions of “old school” play and deliberately look towards games which offer things that are unique to tabletop roleplaying itself. Surprisingly (to me at least), that would suggest that the approach of moving to simpler boardgame “gateway” games such as Castle Ravenloft may not actually be the right approach. It suggests that, for example, while the Dungeons and Dragons Next project may result in a game the existing fans love, it will be a cul de sac rather than a way of bringing in new gamers.

Psi*Run offers an alternative approach. A 60 page rulebook clearly designed to be accessible to a younger audience, offering a type of game that you couldn’t do better on a computer. I’m thinking of buying it for my niece. The recently released Dungeon World appears to offer old style fantasy adventure with more of an indie aesthetic; maybe this is the way forward?

Piers from the London Indie RPG Meetup made a salient point at the seminar when he suggested that in many ways indie games are more like traditional RPG scenarios than game systems in that they are intended to be played a couple of times before the players move onto something else rather than a game you go back to again and again over a number of years. In some respects, this is a bit like novels as opposed to a massive TV franchise like Star Trek; a one off story focusing on one or two ideas rather than a never ending saga. And that also has a lot in common with how boardgames have developed over the past decade where the designer is becoming ever more important rather than the franchise.

Overall, I think there needs to be an injection of ambition into the RPG scene. There has been more innovation over the past decade than we saw throughout the 25 years before that. Accessible games like Fiasco have the potential to break into the mainstream. What the scene needs is a little more self confidence and a little less comfort with the idea of wallowing in obscurity. There’s already Free RPG Day (itself a spinoff from Free Comic Book Day) but from what I’ve seen of what most companies produce to promote this event, it is more aimed at promoting upcoming stuff to an existing base than building a new one. Perhaps this day, or another, needs to be adopted for evangelising about the mediums true potential – and potential audience.

* (UPDATE) It would appear that I stole that description of James Wallis from Robin D. Laws. But he’s right.

Fighting Fantasy


A filmmaker is attempting to raise £40,000 on Kickstarter to make a film about the development and legacy of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. It’s an ambitious project which I’d love to see happen, so I’ve chipped in and would encourage you to do the same.

I was one of the first generation of Fighting Fantasy fans, starting with the publication of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982. We didn’t have the Puffin Club at my school; we had the Chip Club. Nonetheless, that was how me and my sister discovered the series and I quickly graduated onto the Forest of Doom, City of Thieves, Starship Traveller and Deathtrap Dungeon.

I had a bit of a pro-Ian Livingstone bias, which was probably unfair in retrospect and I suspect was limited to the fact that I got Forest of Doom while my sister got the more experimental Citadel of Chaos. That changed when I discovered the Sorcery! series, with its spellbook, overarching plot and gorgeous John Blanche artwork. I was pretty hardcore, buying Warlock magazine from issue 2, the Out of the Pit monster manual, the background book Titan, and so on.

They weren’t perfect. Like most RPGs at the time, they tended to be both combat heavy and leave you rather dependent on the luck of the dice, which was a little redundant as if you died, you would tend to simply ignore the result and carry on. But the Fighting Fantasy books opened so many avenues for me. Like many other people, they encouraged my reading, and it will be no surprise to anyone to learn that they got me into roleplaying games. But I’d credit them with something more fundamental than that, in that they made me realise at a young age that I didn’t have to just be a consumer, but an active participant in my media as well (of course, this also came at the same time as the rise of the home microcomputer – which had a similar democratising effect. As it happens there’s also an open Kickstarter at the moment to fund an updated version of Elite).

This is an important part of my personal history, so I’m keen to see the documentary get made. Plus, it is possible I might be making a minor appearance in it as they appear to be using footage from Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s presentation at this year’s UK Games Expo in it, in which you can quite clearly see me in the audience! So please have a look at the Turn to 400 Kickstarter and consider putting some dosh behind it.

Primetime Adventures: a review

Smallville RPG is one of the games that lead me to discovering the wonderful world of more collaborative, story based kinds of roleplaying. Not a fan of the TV show (beyond the first couple of seasons), I was interested in its different approach to gaming and the way it incorporated TV tropes and conventions into the game itself.

Reading about Smallville online, I kept seeing it compared to Primetime Adventures, an earlier game with a similar philosophy. But all I could find about it was the publisher’s website promising a new edition of the game in “2011“. Then, on Friday, I discovered you could still get the second edition, published in 2005, on Indie Press Revolution. I snapped it up (alongside a couple of other games) and read through it. Here are my first impressions.

Whereas it is clear that you can use Smallville to play pretty much any kind of Smallville type TV show such as Roswell or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Primetime Adventures promises even more scope: Battlestar Galactica to the Gilmore Girls and Desperate Housewives and everywhere in between. The reason it can promise so much is that the system is so simple. Characters are, for the most part, summed up by a handful of descriptive words. The only “stats” used in the game are the “budget” (a pool of points that the gamemaster – or rather the “producer” – can draw on throughout the game to provide a challenge for the players), “fan mail” (a pool of points which players accrue in the course of play for good roleplaying) and “screen presence” (a number between 1 and 3 which determines how central each player character is to the plot of any given episode – these rotate so that a different character gets the spotlight in each episode).

The game mechanic to determine whether Wash manages to outfly and escape the fleet of Reaver spaceships is essentially the same as the one used to determine whether Cordelia wins that slanging match against her rival at high school: combine your screen presence with your traits, add any fan mail and see if you can beat the score which the producer gets, which itself is based on the amount of budget he allocates to that test. Instead of rolling dice, the players all draw playing cards: for each red card you draw, you get one point.

That’s pretty much it as far as the system goes – not quite the simplest game system ever devised, but certainly pretty close (contrast that with the Smallville system which, while it looks like fun, I still find a bit baffling in places without having given it a go). I have a slight concern that in practice it might be too simple in certain places. While I really like its mechanism for changing the focus of the series from episode to episode, and quite like the rules to playing a scene, the rules for how an episode should work seem a little light. I have concerns about how you maintain momentum throughout an episode and ensure you hit the right dramatic beats. The rule book itself has quite an interesting section on how acts work in a standard four act TV episode format, but I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t provide a system for how this might work in practice. I wonder if you couldn’t have a rule whereby you should move on to the next act after a certain amount of the budget has been spent, to ensure the game stays pacy.

For a game that discourages pre-game preparation in favour of collaboration and improvisation, a mechanism for helping the players out with ideas for plot twists and complications would have been nice (a bit like the Fiasco tilt system) – especially given the fact that by using the core mechanic of playing cards you have a very simple system for randomly generating 52 different options right in front of you.

Some clarification and expansion would also have been helpful. What should the producer do, for example, if a character leaps out of an aeroplane without a parachute with the intention of catching up with the bad guy and stealing his? In this case, if the character fails he will die (assuming the setting is at least semi-realistic and a dimensional portal wouldn’t fit the genre), so does that mean it should be assumed that he will automatically succeed? If not, what should happen if the character fails (which is possible even if the producer doesn’t spend any of his budget to resist)? The rule book has nothing to say about character stress, injury or death – a bit of an omission. I would certainly be inclined to have a similar mechanic to that used in FATE and Apocalypse World/Monsterhearts whereby characters with a specific named “condition” (e.g. “broken arm”) would have to suffer some kind of penalty if they try to do things that that condition would make harder (or a bonus if they could justify that the condition would make things easier). And I’d be inclined to make character death possible – but only if the character in question was being spotlighted in that particular episode (after all, cast members on TV shows die all the time).

In short, Primetime Adventures is a decent game, but the fact that the second edition was seven years ago now shows when contrasted with the more recent game rules I’ve been reading recently. I’d be tempted to write up quite a few hacks before playing it. But it’s flexibility and simplicity is extremely clever and inspiring and I really love the rules for providing characters with character arcs throughout the season. It would be an interesting experiment to run a game with non-gamer players and a non-supernatural or science fiction theme at some stage.
NaBloPoMo November 2012

Roleplaying, complexity and mainstream appeal

NaBloPoMo November 2012This was meant to be Monday’s blog post, but I’ve had a really busy week – and ended up making this blog somewhat longer than I’d originally intended. Oops! Looks like I’ll be writing two a day for the next few days to catch up.

My colleagues-cum-friends Emily and John are also doing NaBloPoMo this year. Yesterday, both of them wrote about their experience of roleplaying and story games and so today I thought I’d respond to some of the points they make. You can read their articles here and here respectively (John has actually written a follow up, but I’ve deliberately not read it yet as I wanted to get this article finished).

(As an aside, it is noteworthy that up until now I’ve rarely mentioned my interest in RPGs on this blog, even going so far as to set up a separate Tumblr to write about it. I’ve often wondered why, given that I’m quite happy to write about my other geeky obsessions here. Perhaps it’s because, at its best, roleplaying is the most intimate thing you can do with a group of people with your clothes on – and like all forms of intimacy it feels deeply personal. That, and the whole devil worship, sad sack thing – basically it’s all Tom Hanks’ fault.)

John and Emily have widely differing experiences of RPGs. John has been a hardcore gamer for 10 years, playing several different games on a weekly basis. He’s also deeply involved in the LARP scene. Emily’s first experience of RPGs was just over a year ago. Aside from an abortive game I ran using the Savage Worlds system and the Slaine background (and another game currently in limbo which I started organising but haven’t actually started), her gaming experience is currently limited to Fiasco.

My experience is different again. I’ve pretty much literally been playing RPGs since before John was born. I know this because the Warlock of Firetop Mountain celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year and John is turning 30 at the end of this month. As a teenager I played a lot of games and even helped to set up a gaming club. I got out of the habit at university but began again when I returned to London in 1998 and kept it up when I moved to Leeds in 2000-2. Since returning to London in 2004, I’ve had the odd game here and there, but the last year or so has been the most intensive period of roleplaying for a decade – which is pretty much the whole time John has been playing.

So it was that when I got excited that Mark Rein·Hagen, the creator of two of John’s favourite games Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, had not only reemerged after years of disappearance but was actually promoting a new game on Kickstarter, John was unimpressed because Rein·Hagen was some remote figure who had little to do with the game he had got into. Similarly, while I feel that the relaunch of Vampire, now resubtitled The Requiem, was a welcome, get back to basics, step, for John it represented trashing the game he knew and loved.

I differ from both John and Emily in one other significant respect in that while their gaming experience has mostly been (in Emily’s case exclusively) as players, my gaming experience has predominantly been as a referee/games master/storyteller (all games have different terms for the role but in layman’s terms this is the person who moderates and facilitates the game and plays all the secondary, non-player characters).

The difference in experience between GM and player is tremendous. John tells me he has tried being a GM in the past but didn’t enjoy it. I by contrast have tended to be a GM not simply because I tended to be the only one willing to do it, but because if I’m honest, I got a kick out of it and it suited my temperament better. At its best, it is a real blast running a game in which the players are all deeply committed and essentially wallowing in a sandpit of your creation. I’ve seen a lot of writing about the games master as world builder and as a player, but one of the enjoyable aspects of the role I find is as spectator, suppressing your ego while watching the players perform in front of you and jerk on cue when you pull the strings (I feel a maniacal laugh should be inserted here).

I don’t mind admitting that one of the things I’ve noticed since I started playing Fiasco (which I won’t go into detail about here but you can read my previous article about it here) is that I tend to play more passive characters, happy to leave the dramatic heavy lifting to others. In that respect, I’ve been lucky to find a group of players who are more than happy to do so, but it is a bad habit I need to get myself out of.

This all neatly segues into the the debate over “traditional” RPGs and indie story games. Of course, if this was 20 years ago, John’s preferred mode of gaming would be regarded as pretty radical and cutting edge (I certainly remember the waves Vampire made when it first came out), but by traditional I mean a game which has a pretty meaty ruleset which focuses on detailed statistics defining each character and how well they can “do” things (I believe the vogue term is “crunchy”), an expansive and ever growing list of sourcebooks (or “fluff”), and, of course, a games master to keep it all in check. Not all “indie” games do away with the game master but typically they have a much simpler ruleset, a focus on story and relationships and encourage much greater collaboration between the players in terms of world building – in preference over big chunky sourcebooks which basically tell you how the world works.

Fiasco takes it about as far as it goes, having as it does just two statistics for players to keep track of (the number of black and white dice they have been rewarded respectively), no GM, and a mechanism that assumes you will create a whole new setting – and pretty much wreck it – in each game. There are no ongoing, 10 year Fiasco campaigns whereas for most traditional games that is regarded as all but the default – something which I’ll come onto.

John and Emily are split across this divide. John’s view of Fiasco et al is that “I like them as an occasional thing, but they’re not something I’d want to do every week… they’re more about creating an overall story that’s interesting, rather than individual character’s influence on the story/world.” Emily, by contrast, writes about her experience of Fiasco and trad roleplaying thus: “Taking out the gamemasters and limiting the number of scenes is a real advantage… My first impressions of role play games was that they requires hours of commitment, character development where learning how to fight required homework… Appealing to my somewhat scatty attention span, the great thing about Fiasco is its length and flexibility… The game doesn’t go the way you expect or is tricky to bringing the different story threads. But like any good game [it] has replayability and the scope to build on of what you’ve learnt.”

On balance, my own position is probably closer to Emily’s than John’s. I really could play Fiasco every week – the only problem being I wouldn’t be able to fit in any other gaming. I’ve never had a bad Fiasco experience. As Emily said, adding the special zombies add on to the parliament playset didn’t work especially well, but everyone still seemed to enjoy themselves. On the other hand, our previous Fiasco game was sublime. Using the Camp Death playset, which draws its inspiration from slasher films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween, the game we played was a wonderful blend of homage and inverted tropes, in which the slasher was also the scream queen and the real villains were just as colourful. We managed to hit all the right beats in all the right places – it wasn’t just a fun game, it was a film I fervently want to see (to only a slightly lesser extent my first Fiasco experience was also pretty awesome, and you can read about it here).

In short, Fiasco has completely opened my eyes to the possibilities of story gaming in a way I didn’t think was possible. The Fiasco games I’ve played are the first where the rules have served the story rather than the other way round.

But I wouldn’t want to go too far and claim that our Fiasco experience is somehow superior to John’s Exalted one. I truly envy John and his years of rich gaming experiences. It’s something I’ve hankered for myself for many years but never quite managed to find it – probably because I’ve tended to insist on being a GM, despite a lack of application, rather than a player in someone else’s game. And I couldn’t do it now, again because the level of commitment it would involve would have to come at the expense of other interests.

Equally, despite my love of Fiasco, it has it’s limitations. The mechanism is such that it only really tells one type of story: the type of story that ends in, well, a fiasco (to put it politely). I love Coen Brothers films, but that doesn’t mean I would want to watch them exclusively. So, is there a happy medium between Fiasco and more traditional gaming? Something which allows for more collaborative play, simpler rules and a focus on story but which also encourages greater depth than the frankly superficial Fiasco?

The short answer is I don’t know, but am optimistic. The next on my list of games I am determined to encourage, cajole and if need be bludgeon my friends into playing is Monsterhearts. Unlike Fiasco, this game has a somewhat more specific setting – teenage horror both figuratively and literally. Inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and films like Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body and (pfft) the Twilight Saga, the players each play a teenager with supernatural powers, be it a werewolf, vampire, ghost or something more obscure.

Intriguingly (at least for me), the game very much has a queer agenda. Straight characters are encouraged to go gay, male characters are encouraged to explore their femininity, dominant characters are encouraged to go sub… this is a game about exploring sexual identities – as we all do as teenagers.

The characters have statistics and, significantly, the game is overseen by a GM (or rather “Master of Ceremonies”). But in all other respects it is closer in spirit to Fiasco than a traditional RPG. In favour of extensive preparation by the GM, the Monsterhearts rule book suggests the “MC” deliberately avoids preparing much in advance at all in favour of “staying feral” and letting the players take the lead. And while the rules system is rather more complex than Fiasco, it’s pretty simple as rules sets go – with the focus on social interaction rather than combat. For the Emily’s of this world who lack the patience to play ongoing open ended campaigns, this game is designed to tell an overall story over the course of around half a dozen sessions – a fairly happy compromise. Further “seasons” are possible after that, but they provide a useful point for both jumping off and getting on board – and indeed finishing to move onto other things.

With Monsterhearts, the game master facilitates the players’ game; all too often with traditional RPGs, it’s the other way around. A growing number of indie games have adopted a similar approach (I’m also keen to try Mortal Coil and Monsterhearts itself is based on Apocalypse World). The question is, can you get rid of the GM altogether? Joe Prince certainly thinks so, and argues the case in this article on Geek Native. Personally, I think that’s a step too far. There is certainly a place for GM-less games like Fiasco and I suspect designers have many more amazing and ingenious GM-less to come up with. But in terms of building a larger, cohesive narrative over several sessions of play, I’m yet to be convinced you can get rid of the role altogether.

The real issue is not whether GM-less games are better or not but that traditional RPGs tend to encourage a type of GM which only a tiny minority can ever hope to aspire to. My RPG experience, and I’m sure I’m far from unique, is this: I started gaming at 8 with a game called Runequest. I didn’t really understand the rules or what GMing entailed, made it up as I went along and had a blast. As I got older I realised we were playing the game wrong and discovered others. I spent the next decade collecting games, playing by the rules and trying to get back to that original, rawly creative experience – but while I had some great times, that magic was lost. My mistake was to think that if I played by the rules, I’d find that magic. In fact the rules were stopping me.

Most RPG rule books like to emphasise how hard it is to GM and how much preparation you’ll have to do. This not only puts most people off, it encourages a very narrow view of how you can play the game. And while most RPG publishers are pretty amateur in terms of outlook (if not income), the simple fact of the matter is that if they encourage that style of play, they’re encouraging a model which puts pressure on wannabe GMs to buy every sourcebook and handbook they can get their hands on. So it is the RPG “industry” survives, but the cost is that the hobby remains niche and impenetrable for the vast majority of people.

How about, instead of making preparation heavy games the norm, RPG publishers focus on developing their own gateway games where the rules are simple and the role of player and GM is as interchangeable as possible? Then, if people want to take it further, one option would be to move onto more complicated modes of play? To be fair on some of the bigger publishers, there is now a focus on producing simple introductory games. The introductory 4th edition rulebook of Dungeons and Dragons is written like a Fighting Fantasy game book in which you learn the rules as you play (and the book comes in a box which closely resembles the classic “red box” Basic Dungeons and Dragons set which my generation grew up with). Even then however, the publishers steer you pretty ruthlessly towards a style of play in which the GM does all the heavy lifting and has all the control.

There’s nothing really to stop people from playing D&D et al in a more collaborative manner, but that would challenge convention and – perhaps more significantly – encourage people to simply make it up as they go along rather than use endless sourcebooks as a crutch.

You can’t blame the publishers for keeping the hobby in its ghetto entirely though however. In my experience, there are few people more reactionary and conservative than gamers. One of my friends told me that when he tried more collaborative approaches in the past, he got complaints from players accusing him of “attempting to get them to do his job for him”. And there are parallels with the comics industry as well, which is stuffed with people who are determined to ensure that the medium is confused with a genre (superheroes) to as great an extent as possible.

I can’t help but feel that this is all holding the RPG industry back though and, again as with comics, preventing it from connecting with a latent mainstream audience that would lap up some of the material on offer if only it knew it existed. I also suspect the industry at large is missing the zeitgeist here; in the 21st century we seem to be inexorably shifting towards a blurring between medium producer and consumer, whether it is via blogs, YouTube and social media (I should acknowledge at this point that major RPG publishers do now regularly experiment with more extensive, collaborative playtesting and open source, but only within their existing base rather than attempting to reach out more widely).

My suspicion is that there are a lot of people out there who would get a lot out of roleplaying, who simply aren’t aware of the breadth of different types of games out there. Somehow, the gaming industry needs to do more to connect with those people.

Will Nick Clegg lose his saving throw?

This morning I thought I might blog a tribute to the late, lamented Gary Gygax. Then when I heard Nick Clegg on the Today Programme, I thought I should write about that.

Now, thanks to the magic of Comment is Free, I have combined the two for your perusal.

… 25 years later

Okay, I admit it, I’m a geek. Last night, I received a book from Amazon which I was first promised back in 1983.

Somewhere in my boxes at my parents’ house is a battered old copy of the very first Citadel Compendium. According to this, one of the products which Citadel Miniatures/Games Workshop was planning to produce was a science fiction roleplaying game called Rogue Trader.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader eventually came out in 1987, but it was a skirmish battle game not a roleplaying game. That quickly mutated into the full on war game that has impoverished spotty oiks ever since. The Rogue Traders (basically space pirates, only of the Francis Drake rather than Long John Silver variety) themselves were relegated to a few paragraphs of exposition.

What came through the post was the core rulebook for Dark Heresy. This is, basically, Paranoia for leather fetishists. The Rogue Traders themselves are mentioned but don’t even have so much of a subheading to call their own. But at least its closer to what I thought was going to be coming out in 1983.

It is slightly ironic that the aforementioned book came out a week after the world’s biggest Rogue Trader sent the stockmarket into a nosedive. Meanwhile, the announcement that the game, and indeed all other roleplaying games published by Games Workshops’ Black Industries imprint is to be immediately scrapped merely ranks as “bloody typical”. It’s deja vu all over again!

Oh, and also vaguely related, the 2000AD section in my local Borders lists Rogue Trooper as “Rouge Trader”, which is wrong on so many thousands of levels I don’t know where to start (“dispensing blusher and filofax, Rogue.” “Thanks, Handbagman.”).

Tom Hanks warned us this would happen.

Roleplayer blurs fantasy with reality? Clearly Rona Jaffe was right.

Ban this filth now, or face losing your knickers.