Wednesday, 12 July 2017

First There is No Mountain

This is going to sound weird, probably, but it's one of those internal contradictions that make human beings so interesting. I've mentioned in these pages my Twin Peaks-inspired game, LOST PINES, and the game I wrote for Game Chef a couple of years ago, THE LONG SLEEP. I'm unreasonably proud of both of those games, despite the fact that neither one of them have been published or widely distributed. LP is a dramatic game in the style of soap opera, where everyone plays a part in the main cast. TLS is a meditative, internal game that's set in dreams, a kind of free-flowing improvisation on a theme. Neither one of those games has a GM role.

But I'm actually not a fan of games with no GM.

Monday, 10 July 2017


I was a latecomer to the Kickstarter game, mostly because cash is often tight for us, and sometimes a Kickstarter is a dodgy prospect. Eventually, my love of games (and desire to support the people who create them) got me to dip my toes in. MONSTERHEARTS 2 was one of the first products I ponied up the dough for, and I did so without hesitation. The first edition of Avery Alder's now-classic game of supernatural romance was the text that opened up my mind to the world of Powered-by-the-Apocalypse, thanks to Avery's lucid writing and tight focus on dramatic play. Getting the finished text via e-mail recently was like gaming Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review: THE VEIL

I was a teenager when I got my first taste of cyberpunk: Mike Pondsmith's CYBERPUNK, to be precise, a "Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future" that sunk its hooks into me deep. I was at exactly the right age for Mike's heady mix of violence, loud music, black leather, and style over substance, and we played the hell out of that game for a few years. I sought out Neuromancer to get a sense of the source material, and I loved it profoundly, but felt a little cheated. There was so much more to cyberpunk than CYBERPUNK actually brought to the table.

Later games like SHADOWRUN also got a lot of play, but the problem was always the same. Cyberpunk roleplaying games always seemed to get the trappings of the genre, but not the ideas that were its beating heart. Style over substance was the ethos, but it had become a kind of trap, leading us to game after game that was basically a dungeon crawl with guns and grenades.

Almost thirty years later, I've finally found a cyberpunk game that wants more than that.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Have a Game Plan

Roleplaying games are all about spontaneity, and usually that's a good thing. A high-functioning group is able to improvise an experience that's much richer and more interesting than a pre-planned adventure packaged and run by a GM.

In dramatic play, this can be a problem, however. A lot of times, players will find themselves in a two-person scene where no one has a strong need to push for something right now. Sometimes this is out of a feeling that "it's too early" in the story for characters to have a big conflict, or out of an misguided sense that it's interesting just to place two characters in a scene together "just to see what happens". Usually, without a conflict, the answer to that question is "nothing".

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

BreakOut 2017 Convention Debrief

Whew. After a long weekend of gaming, we're back in Merrie Olde London Towne. And BreakOut Con Toronto, even for a Canadian convention only in its second year of operation, did not disappoint.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Into the Breach

This weekend, Megan and I are going to our first gaming convention. It's Breakout Con in Toronto, and we're pretty excited about it.

Sure, we've been to small gaming conventions put on by the local game club at Western University, but this is a whole other level. It's three days of games, with industry professionals there to run games and sit on panels about the hobby, and maybe, if we're lucky, let us fans buy them a drink or two.

Thursday, 2 March 2017


I wrote here recently about the struggles I'd been having getting my head into a new game. I kept waffling about what I wanted to do, and what game system I wanted to use to do it. I am happy to report that I've made some decisions at last, and I couldn't be happier with the game I've settled on. It's a wonderful D&D-derived game called BEYOND THE WALL AND OTHER ADVENTURES, by John Cocking and Peter S. Williams, from Flatland Games. I wrote a review of it just about a year ago, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. Buy it.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Role With It

Most of the time, I write here in my capacity as a GM, an occasional game designer, and fan with his nose in a lot of games (specifically, with an intention to steal anything that isn't nailed down for his own games). Lately, I haven't spent as much time in the Big Chair as usual, so I thought I'd talk about what's going on in my life as a player. My last post was about the formative (pre-formative) moments I go through as a GM when I'm getting ready for a new game, so this is kind of a companion piece about getting ready to play a new game from the player side.

We play a lot of games at our table that are focused on character, so there is always an extra level of pressure on players when a new game starts to come to the table with some character ideas in hand. Sometimes we play games like APOCALYPSE WORLD or its many cousins, which really demand that you generate a character and decide on details on the fly (which is fair enough, because it asks the same commitment from the GM), but often we will go into a game with a lot more ability to create the character we want to play. I think both methods have their virtues, but since HTHD play demands a certain level of commitment and creative investment from the player, it makes sense that they should have the maximum level of freedom to put their stamp on the game. If you're going to be playing a game for 8-12 sessions and reaching for deep emotional places, you need to want it.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Zero to One

"The distance from zero to one hundred is nothing compared to the distance from zero to one." That's a mangled paraphrasing of the great science fiction writer Spider Robinson, who clearly knows a little something about starting up a new roleplaying game.

We've been in a roleplaying hiatus here in Merrie Olde London Towne since October, with occasional bursts of one shots and social gatherings since then. My friend Rob is about to start a TIMEWATCH game, using a hack of the Cortex Plus rules, and I'm super eager to start that game -- especially since Rob has set it in the Weird 70s a la In Search Of.

But I'm a GM at heart, and I'm never happier than when I've got a game of my own to put my creative energies into. So I've been thinking a lot about getting my own game running, and lately my tastes have been running towards running an old-school fantasy game via CASTLES & CRUSADES. I wrote a while back about wanting to go back to the roots of the hobby and see what I can do by bringing 21st century HTHD ideas and indie gaming technology to the party, and that idea still appeals to me. It's everything else that's been driving me crazy.