Archive for ‘ January, 2014

Warpcon 24

If I run a Cthulhu game at the next two Warpcons, I’ll unlock the achievement “Great Old One – run a Cthulhu game at 20 Warpcons in a row.” I’ll have to do something special for that. This year, with two new distractions, I reused a pair of GenCon scenarios instead of writing anything new.

Saturday, I ran The Wind from the South, a One Ring scenario where the PCs have to rescue a princess of Rohan from Tyrant’s Tower. The players went rather spectacularly off-piste for around half the game, but then turned around and completed the quest with some rousing team-work and Hobbitry, culminating in the most improbable ‘use the evil ring’ check ever (3 sixs and two Gandalfs on a Hobbit’s Corruption test).

Sunday morning, I ran a Laundry scenario that’ll be part of an upcoming anthology. It revolves around HP Lovecraft and an attempt to summon a fire god. Half the players were Americans, which lent any Black Chamber jokes an interesting frisson. They all survived, despite one of them being devoured by said fire god (the others worked out a plausible way to bring her back from the dead as a transgender clone of Lovecraft, which the players then put on a Cards against Humanity card.)

After that, I ran a brief seminar on adventure design, which made me want to run another seminar on adventure design that takes advantage of all the things I learned doing the first one, and so doesn’t suck. My thanks to the audience for enduring my learning experience.

The annual Warpcon board game was  Yggdrasil, a co-op “you’re all Norse gods fighting Ragnarok” game. Very pretty, nicely thematic, but possibly a bit shallow. We’ve played it twice so far, but haven’t tried the Asgard expansion yet.

I did comparatively little socialising, and completely missed the guests other than a very brief flyby of Chris Pramas. The boys’ meal-time meant that I had to skip dinner in town, and I’ve never been comfortable in bars. Still, thanks to deli’s help, juggling twins and con proved successful (and I must thank the Warpcon committee for the twin-sized con shirts.)

My first Warpcon was Warpcon 4; twenty years ago, and twenty years before that was the start of D&D. Egad –  I may have already unlocked “run Cthulhu for half the time it’s been in existence…”

Warpcon 24, D&D 40, Boys 1, Infinity

Warpcon is done for another year. I always feel like my year really starts at Warpcon – more than the new year, more than Christmas, more than my birthday, it’s the axis around which the seasons turn. Every con brings with it revelation, or at least the illusion of revelation, some motif for the year to come, and this year I think it must have been continuity. The convention committee were young and inexperienced, but that’s how things should be. It’s in good hands. I remember feeling that things couldn’t possibly continue after my generation left college, that things would fall apart. They didn’t.

Dungeons and Dragons is 40 years old today. I can’t begin to quantify how big an influence roleplaying games are on me. Like Warpcon, I’ve always felt a sort of melancholy desperation about gaming; I was unable to shake the feeling that I’d come in at the end of the party, just before everything ended, that the great days were over and gone before I arrived, but that if I kept gaming, I could stave off that end for a little while. Fight the long defeat, as Tolkien put it.

(Tolkien has a lot to answer for.)

Screw all that. Here’s to Warpcon 25, and 35, and 50. Here’s to the next century of D&D. Here’s to making the future out of the best pieces of the past. Here’s to being part of an ongoing campaign, not a story moving inexorably towards an unwanted ending.





Darkening of Mirkwood

The Darkening of Mirkwood is finally out! It’s been in the pipeline for a very long time, and I’m ecstatic to see it released. I took Francesco’s outline and notes from  The One Ring’s Loremaster’s Guide, and expanded them into a thirty-year adventure modelled on the classic Great Pendragon Campaign. It may be the best adventure I’ve written so far; I’m certainly extremely happy with it.

It corrects one unavoidable issue with the GPG – the ending isn’t set. The Arthurian saga demands that Arthur perish fighting at Camlann, and be taken away to Avalon. The fate of the Woodmen of Mirkwood, though, is left unanswered by Tolkien, so I was able to put much more weight on the player characters’ decisions. There are significant NPCs running around the adventure – one adventure has both Saruman and the Nazgul, and another starts off with the PCs being sent to apprehend Gandalf – but they’re never the deciding factor in how the campaign resolves.

There are some sections that I’m very gratified to see in the final product. The melancholic ending, for example – the campaign inevitably ends in a defeat, although the PCs’ actions determine whether it’s a temporary setback for the Free Peoples, or a complete victory for the Enemy. The opportunities for player characters to take on mythical roles, or to retire and take on new character types who arose from previous events in the campaign. The very, very careful references to the earlier Ages of Middle-Earth. The absolutely stunning artwork.

Thirty years have passed since the company first met in Wilderland. Thirty times have the black leaves fallen in the wild wood. A lifetime, as the short-lived Northmen reckon time; a brief spell for the immortal Elves. This final year is an opportunity for the surviving companions, if any, to reflect on their deeds and even lay down their burdens. Characters who helped Prince Bain in earlier adventures can retire to the safety of Dale. Others may prefer to continue adventuring outside Mirkwood.

The forest itself lies under a dark shadow. The Woodmen, if they still endure, are few in number. Radagast remains in his cottage at Rhosgobel, where he has lived for many years, but his absences grow longer and longer as he wanders the forest. Some rumours claim he goes to visit the River-maidens, other stories say he travels through the wood in the shape of a bird or a fox.

In the south, the Messenger of Mordor leaves Dol Guldur. The Ringwraith is recalled to Barad-Dûr, to report to Sauron. What tidings does he bring the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne? Does the Nazgûl tell that the north is weak and divided, or does he speak of heroes that drove back the Shadow from the wood? 

Other minds, other hands, working the same black soil, growing their own cuttings of Tolkien’s great tree.


Cylons of Waterdeep

I’m just back from a board-gaming minicon. It’s become a Christmas tradition, as expat gamers return home for the holidays, then flee the loving embrace of their families to roll dice and move meeples. Two games dominated the day - Lords of Waterdeep and Battlestar Galactica. I’ve admired and adored the BSG board game for years, while Lords is a recent addiction. I don’t have the physical board game, but the iOS version is on the front page of both my phone and my iPad.

Both games hit a sweet intersection in a Venn diagram. Both are abstract enough to take a high-level approach to challenges – you’re not rolling to hit, you’re resolving whole conflicts at a time. Both are strongly themed, and even push a little towards roleplaying, although BSG is obviously much more immersive. Both are co-operative while also being competitive – admittedly, in Lords, that’s more the theme spilling into my impressions of the game. You could so easily push Lords towards the BSG/Arkham Horror model if you introduced penalties for failing to complete quests.

I’ve often said that Arkham Horror isn’t a great game, but it works as a fragmented recollection of a fantastic epic Call of Cthulhu campaign. The thought of a game that produces the high points and dramatic decisions of an entire campaign in a single afternoon, and fits in a box, is a goal worth pursuing.