Sunday, 31 July 2016

Pen Review - Wality Eye Dropper Pen

On recommendation from the fountain pen group on Google Plus, I took the opportunity to look into the nature of eye dropper fountain pens.  For those not familiar, most fountain pens use either a converter or a cartridge to hold the ink, whereas an eye dropper has the ink placed into the body of the pen and feeds directly inwards.

The brand recommended was Wality, available in a spectacular range of different nib sizes, flow rates, and body types, and all being available in dollars with the shipping somehow included in the low price...

Suffice it to say, for the equivalent of less than a tenner, I wasn't expecting much from the pen...

I was pleasantly surprised...

The packaging was one of the surprises, most things from overseas arrive in sealed cardboard, this however came in a pen case with a cloth wrapping that had been sewn shut at the top and sealed with wax...

Curious indeed...

The pen is very light, being made of thin plastic, the nib is equivalent to a european medium nib, but one with a very fast flow.  That said, unlike other eyedropper pens that I've used, this pen doesn't leak all the ink out the second you put it to the paper.  Easy to write with, not at all scratchy on the paper, but it does take a while to start flowing in the first place.

Overall, quite impressed with the pen, may consider getting another at some point.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Thoughts on the best way to teach how to GM...

There's been a lot of interest in the call that I put out last week, and a lot of it from quarters I wouldn't have immediately thought would have responded, such as the indies and a huge number of people wanting specifically to teach women and children, and while unexpected, that's been a great source of joy to me over the last week.

I've had offers of articles, programs, youtube videos and even turning up at conventions to impart knowledge to those who are just learning, and that got me to thinking...

For me, GMing is a skill best taught by another GM who's already done their time in the trenches, you can't teach surprise, and you certainly don't want people looking through the how to guide when they first take the step to running a game, doesn't inspire confidence in them or the game they're running if they're still looking things up.

The format of the program that's been put together has all the different aspects to it, from written word to live display, but I wanted everyone's thoughts on how they think it best to impart the knowledge?

For me, having run a games team for years, it's starting the new GM as a player and working them up from there.

Reason?  Because if they can see how you do it, they'll get the idea of how easy it looks, and it's only afterwards, when you tell them how much was made up on the spot, that they get the idea of what they're getting into.  For me, an adventure is an outline of a story that then develops into something else, I know full well that most players don't follow a set path and that sometimes the adventure you had planned will go the way of all things and be seen never again, and you as a GM have to run with that.

Case in point this wednesday when one of the werewolves in the party had given their word to attack something that was decimating the other wolves in the area (it was a Nexus Crawler...Look it up...) and was walking to their certain doom knowing that it was their certain doom, but their character would not allow them to walk away from their stated word.

What to do?

I could have fudged the rolls to have it knock them out, but they'd have known that I'd done it and I don't believe in having characters saved by me.  The path they were on would have only one outcome, and in this case, I knew that the character in question also had a promise to save its packmates and always act for the greater good of the wolves, I spoke to one of the other characters who pointed out that the wolves needed to retreat and gather the information, thereby giving them a reason by which they could walk away from the fight without losing their honour, because saving a pack mate is more important than fighting a hopeless fight.

But there was a moment when that wolf kept walking forwards and I was actually thinking about getting out a blank character sheet...

Things like that, you don't learn from articles, you learn from seeing them happen and seeing people react to them, from seeing what needs to be done and knowing the characters and the world enough to make that call.

So for me, teaching people directly, face to face, is always the better of the options, but I'm interested in others thoughts...

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Last Minute addition for review in Tabletop Gaming Magazine

As some of you are aware, I write a quarterly column in Tabletop Gaming Magazine that promotes RPG's, and as part of this, I like to make sure that the smaller companies doing games get a mention where possible.  To this end, I've put aside a space in this months column for a release that might not otherwise have got the press...

The problem with this is that because they haven't had the press, I myself may not have heard about them either, so I'm asking for the communities help, nominate a game that's out (or coming out in the next three months) from an independent publisher and I'll promote it in this quarters column.

Don't mention one being brought out by a major publishing house (because I've already got lots of those), and don't mention something that doesn't have a solid release date yet (which includes kickstarters), and I'll need a link to where it will be available to buy so I can put this in the magazine as well.

I may not be able to do this often, but I've got the chance now, so I'm going to make it while I can.

The other thing to mention is that Tabletop Gaming Magazine is going to need a new editor, as Rob Burman has moved on to greater endeavours, if anyone is interested, please check the link at  Excellent opportunity to work with a good group of people.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Dragonmeet GM/Event/Seminar submissions are Live

We've opened the website earlier on today, but this is the official announcement, games and events submissions for Dragonmeet are now live, we're running the same three slots we always do, 10:00 till 14:00, 15:00 till 19:00, 20:00 till Midnight, and we're looking for a broad range of games this year, with a view to expanding the selection available as we grow.

The link for the games and events submissions can be found at

We're going to allow prebooking for games, with half the money raised from prebookings going towards charity, there will still be a number of games to sign up to on the day, but we know how much getting a game in means to many of you and how popular games are on the day, so we feel this is the best way around it.

That said, we are also looking for volunteers and events other than RPGs to run at the event

Last year we had a multi room LARP going on that proved very successful, a number of games with massive prop support (you never knew Lego could be so much fun), a large seminar schedule and a number of shorter demonstration games running throughout the hall.  We had full day games of Wings of Glory and Zombicide, the Best of Essen, the Playtest teams, and a slew of new games, many of which are now finished and being sold at Dragonmeet this year.

But this year...

This year we want more games and more variety, if you've got a game you're nearly ready to send to the printers, we want to know about it, we want to see the range of things that everyone is dreaming of, and we want them all there for everyone else to enjoy.  The thing about games is that they're as unlimited as our imagination, this year, and every year after, we have intentions of showing the world just how unlimited we can be in our dreams.

So it doesn't matter how outlandish the idea or how you think its never been tried before, we want to hear about them, so get in touch and lets see if we can work together.

The other thing, of course, is volunteers...

Volunteers get the not so fun jobs, the ones standing by the door or helping with tickets, helping with the bring and buy, and having to make sure that everyone else gets to their games whilst not getting into them yourselves.  I have a great admiration for those who give up their time to work the con like this, and this year, we need more of you than we've ever done before.

Volunteer slots are going to be in four hour segments, 0800 till 1200, 1200 till 1600, 1600 till 2000, and after that time, the only people left in the building will be core staff, but we'll be needing a few people to help on cleanup at midnight.  We're offering free entry to the con for a single shift of volunteering, and we're flexible on timings if there's things at the convention that you want to do.  If you or someone you know want to help out, we're very interested, reply to this post or mail me direct and we'll gladly take your help.

The last thing is Seminars...

We always have a few seminars by the sponsors and guests, but we still have a few spaces for seminars to run, so if you have an idea for something that you think people might like, get in touch and tell us all about it, direct mail to me or PM via facebook/google.

But whatever you can and can't do with us, come and join us for the show, it's going to be awesome...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Kickstarter Advance Review - Temp Worker Assassins.

I do back a lot of kickstarters, some of them because the concept is awesome, some because the person is awesome, and some...

Some just capture a mood that you can absolutely relate to...

Intriguing from the beginning, it's a little on the meta side of things as you're playing a group of assassins who have been contracted to kill the occupants of an office, but the security in the office has got all your weapons, so you have to make do with the things that you can find in the office...

This game succeeds on several levels, but most of all on humour, if you've ever had a moment of office rage and considered stabbing your co-workers with a pencil (which of course, I never have...), then this is the game for you.

This is Temp Worker Assassins...

I downloaded the print and play files, so I'll apologise in advance for the rushed cutting job on the cards that you see, but the artwork is the same as will be on the main cards.  The idea is simple, each players has a number of assassins to place on each day, you either use them to prepare for the hit by going to one of the rooms in the school, or use them to attempt the kill.

There are a good number of different buildings in the office, and each of them has a different use, from drawing cards from your own deck to acquiring new bits of lethal stationery from around the office.

It has to be said that from a purely combat accountant point of view, it's clear that the designer of the game has had the same thoughts I have on a great deal of things that seem like everyday pieces of equipment.

Each turn starts with a new hand of five cards, at the end of the turn, you discard all your remaining cards and draw a new set of five, recycling the deck each time you come to the end of it.  It's not quite a deckbuilding game, but it's certainly been influenced by a number of them, which is certainly not a bad thing.

Dead by Five pencils, a pair of scissors and a CD shuriken

When the assassination is attempted, the player may use as many cards as they have, adding the total together till they have scored enough damage to kill the target, or they run out of cards.  If they run out of cards, nothing happens except the assassin being held in the security department till the next turn (after all, security offices are incompetent as well) where they get out and are free to try again.

I've only managed to play it with two players, and while the tactical aspect of the game was present, it will be far more present with more players as the rooms that you can visit to prepare for the assassination will be used up more quickly (you can't go into a room that's already occupied) and the hits will become more frenzied as each players builds up a larger stack of cards.

It's a two minute teach for a five to ten minute game, plays well, has sufficient variety to keep playing for some time, and could easily be expanded to fit a number of different genre's, very much looking forwards to seeing this come out.

You can still back it at

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Gamesmastering....The Next Generation...

No updates from two days this week, and that's because I spent both Thursday and Friday in meetings regarding RPGs that I can't yet talk about (But believe me I'll be yelling when I can), and then travelling back to yorkshire for the day job...

However, one thing that came from both meetings was that in general, the UK doesn't have a large enough pool of GMs, and if we're going to grow the hobby beyond what we have, we need to start building for tomorrow, today...

And that needs the help of those who already run games who want to see the hobby grow the way I do, and who are willing to give some of their time and wisdom to those just starting out on the path...

Would you like to know more...?

I already have a large number of GMs who I go to for the various conventions that I organise, and they cover a lot of the UK, but this particular program goes beyond that, and will be drawing on the knowledge of all those who participate.  I'm not asking for much in the first instance, just input on the process that I'm putting together, but that will build into essays on how to run games, ideas on how to make games better, advice for those new to the craft as to how to get into games and eventually, seminars on how to run games, conventions for gamesmastering (and you know I'm good for conventions), and the wealth of knowledge that most of us had to learn the hard way.

I've no restriction on system or style, the more we can get, the better, and it's all good.

In the first place, I'd like anyone interested to tell me that you're interested, I know everyone has commitments, and I know that none of us have all the time that we'd like, and I need to stress, this is voluntary, the only reward that's coming out of this is helping your fellow gamer, I'm not making any money out of it, and neither will you.

Send me a message at either doddherderofcats @ or john_automatic @ registering your interest and how you'd be happy to help.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Contingency - A new convention in the south of england

One of the major conventions that I enjoyed attending in recent years was Conception, a residential roleplaying event in January on the south coast held at the Hobourne Naish holiday camp, and this formed the basis for the only conventions I could get to to play games.

Earlier this year, Conception had to be wound up following the site changing a great number of the things that were central to the nature of that convention, and it left a large gap in the playing schedule for those of us who enjoyed it.

Cheerfully, several of the people who enjoyed Conception (myself included) have stepped up to see what can be done to cover for the loss of one of our major playing conventions.  Earlier this week a confirmation was received on one of several of the venues that were being checked, and as of now, it's on...

This is Contingency...

Full details of the dates for the event can be found on the facebook group at

It's going to be held between 25th January to 30th of January 2017, accommodation, prices for the convention, and more details will be forthcoming soon.  However, Paizocon is this weekend, and several of the organisers for Contingency are already occupied with making sure that runs well.

There's likely to be a few hundred games running over the weekend, and there's a few traders (although it's not a trade-centric convention) going to be there, as well as a variety of open gaming and people organising side events to play in the evening.  The previous convention put all the profits towards charity and raised more than a hundred thousand pounds over the years that it ran, and while it'll take a while to build the new convention to that level, it's off to a good start...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Dragonmeet - Contracts signed, It's on....

So after a few months of wrangling with the new hotel, we've finally managed to work out the kinks in the deal and ensure that this years Dragonmeet will be bigger and better than the previous years.  We've listened intently to the feedback from previous years, most of which started with.

Get more traders, Get more games, Get more open gaming, Get more, Get more, Get more...

And the only answer to all that was Get a bigger venue...

So we did...

This years Dragonmeet will be held at the Novotel Hammersmith in London...

We have the Champagne Suite upstairs and several rooms through the other levels of the hotel.  We know that the Ibis was a good fit for us in the first year, too small in the second, and if we intended to keep the event growing, far too small for the third, so the area that we've got from the Novotel (main hall only) one and a half times the size of the space that we had at the Ibis, and we have several side rooms and sub rooms for better gaming areas in addition to the main hall.

We are, as always, acutely aware that you need to get every part of the convention right to make sure it goes well.  With that in mind, we had to negotiate the food that was offered (so fear not, you'll not be getting charged £15 a meal like they suggested), the entry and exit times that were offered (so fear not, we'll not be kicking you out at 22:00 like they suggested), and of course...

The bar reserves...

So we won't be running out of refreshments before midday...

All told, it's taken us long enough, as it does every time any convention starts with a new hotel, but we've got there, the contracts went back this evening (about half an hour ago), and we're good to go.

We'll be opening official bookings for the trade and games shortly, but if anyone wants to get their game submissions in early, mail me directly and we'll make sure that your game is in the mix.  As before, running a game gets you free entry for the day, and as we did last year, we're looking for people to run single slots rather than all day long, because we need to grow the event and while we know that the veterans will give an excellent performance every time, we need to give the new GMs a chance to get into the spirit of things.

One thing that we do need more of is volunteers, from the runners on the floor to the people manning the playtest and demo areas, four hours of demonstrating games will get you in for the whole day, and there'll be snacks and drinks on the day for all those doing the running around.  We've got space for Seminars and the Bring and Buy will be returning through the day, but this year we've got the areas organised so that there won't be a crush as there has been in years previous.

Spread the word, we're back and better than ever...

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Longcon 2 - GM's report for the Dracula Dossier

LongCon is a unique British RPG convention that lets you play the same game with the same group and GM all weekend. Last year I played in Dr Paul Mitchener’s awesome One Ring game and offered to run something for him to play as thanks – he chose Nights Black Agents and I had the many resources from the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter to use… 

I recruited 5 good players via Facebook back in mid February who I knew and thought would be a good mix. In my experience, most awesome games start with the words “We had a great set of players” and this is never more important than when you are going to be spending 2-3 days together and gaming non-stop. We confirmed numbers in April and in May I created a private G+ group to organise character creation and talk about what we wanted for the game. I explained NBA was a mix of Bourne Technothriller and vampiric conspiracy horror, but I wanted to throw in the more British elements of Ultraviolet (great UK vampire hunter show) and some John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Here is what I wrote “So thats the game I want- a modern day, fast-paced technothriller with shifting grounds of trust and betrayal and a peculiarly British sense of espionage, all mixed with a healthy dose of Vampire lore and the supernatural”. And you know what, I think we achieved that along with some powerful emotional moments, exciting action scenes and an impossible moral dilemma. 

Mechanically it was a Mirrors (a game about Trust and betrayal) plus Stakes (high stakes, world changing drama) and a touch of the Russian Roulette capstone ending (the climax is Dracula trying to enslave Vladimir Putin) . The Dracula Dossier is an improvisational campaign toolbox that lets the GM select a palette of NPC’s, locations, plot’s and villains- it has a great core concept (British Intelligence tried to recruit Dracula in 1894, the eponymous novel is a barely redacted after-action report). I decided that vampires were Damned souls who could be cast back into hell when slain, but they would return to walk the earth (heralded by shakes and quakes) when their slayer died to explain why Dracula keeps coming back to life. Only another vampire can kill them forever and Vampires also can act only out of sin and never virtue. This meant the minimum number of vampires in the world is always 1, a plague of evil you could never entirely get rid of. And it also set up for enticing the players to consider becoming a vampire in order to kill Dracula forever, but at the cost of their soul – how to choose between lesser and greater evils? Moral dilemma’s are often the best challenge for any group as you cant shoot or dice roll your way past them. 

One issue with the Dossier is that as the product of both Kickstarter stretch goals, Ken Hites comprehensive conspiratorial knowledge leading to ever expanding nodes and connections (personally I still think trying to tie the passing mention of the Aerated Bread Company into the conspiracy is a step too far) meant that I had way more material than could ever be used, and for a 2 day campaign I had to hack back the extraneous growth and focus on the core of the campaign. So, I decided to keep the focus on Edom, Dracula and only use 2 cities- London and Bucharest. Keeping it simple and straightforward (using cleartext names mostly) kept it on track in our short amount of play time. 

In the spirit of that philosophy there were only 3 vampires in my game- Dracula (sin of Pride), Lucy Westenra (Sloth) and Mina Murray Harker (who’d become a vampire after 3 bites and decieved Van Helsing. Her motivating sin was Wrath against Dracula). Lucy Westenra was being secretly killed again once a generation by the Seward family line/Legacies and mostly confined to her crypt in Kingstead Cemetery. Mina was the 1894 Edom vampire who’d managed to suborn the agency over the years with mesmerism and cunning. She knew she couldn’t kill Dracula personally- too much chance of him dominating her or killing her, so she’s been recruiting and setting up agents to kill him whenever he resurrects. The PC’s are the latest group she’s going to manipulate and fire at him. Dracula last resurrected in 2011 and is looking to lure Vladimir Putin to Romania so he could Renfield the leader of a superpower. Ultimately Mina was a villainous intelligence analyst and asset handler and her interventions drove the plot. 


We had 5 PC’s,- Dr Mark Seward, shrink, hypnotist, medic and scientist for MI5. Expert on bio weapons. Sister is Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Seward, haemotologist and secretly Dr. Drawes. Her deal with Edom is that they didnt recruit Mark. Mark also knew Oakes (Duke Elah) who was an old friend and mentor. Drive: In the Blood 

Toby Greengrass – hacker, analyst and infiltrator for MI6. He was married to Hopkins (though she never spoke of the Dossier to him) and seeks revenge on those who killed his wife in 7/7, initially believing it just to be terrorists. Drive: Revenge 

Mary Morris- thrill seeking driver, asskicker from the Met Counter Terrorism branch and Quincey Morris Legacy. Born in Romania and losing her mother, her solace is Uncle Alan. She was recruited by Edom who had kidnapped her grandmother. She is Edom Duke Iram, the driver. Drive: Thrill Seeker 

George Esterhase – aging spook able to pass between borders with ease. Looking to retire soon from MI6. Solace is Uncle Peter (Guillam) in France. Our Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy reference/ LeCarre legacy. Drive: Patriotism 

Razvan Albescu – older ex-Romanian Secutitate hitter and wetworker, he seeks atonement for his past, after leaving his pregnant Romanian wife when he defected he never got back in contact and now has an almost equally estranged UK family. Nominally Catholic, he’d mentioned when setting initial Trust that Mary Morris reminded him of a girl whose mother he’d killed back in Romania. Drive: Redemption 

Venue: we were at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield (site of other UK gaming cons such as Furnace, Seven Hills and ShaCon) and in the summer in the top floor verandah- covered by canvas and with glass frontings. While we had some rain and humidity, overall it was well lit (except after 9:30 pm) and pleasant – like playing in an open sided tent. We were alone so could use the glass in the walls to blu-tack up various props and documents and prop up both a small corkboard and giant white board and play some background music. 

Music- I had built 2 main playlists for ambient background music- Espionage- consisting of Thematic Pianos’ Bourne Legacy music (instrumental only), Jack Reacher soundtrack, Arlington Road soundtrack, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (recent one) soundtrack and the themes from Homeland, James Bond and Mission Impossible. The ‘Vampire’ soundtrack saw less use but consisted of Ford Coppola’s Dracula sound track (two different versions), Silence of the Lambs soundtrack (great for building tension) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The one off funeral background music was Funeral Bells, Jerusalem, The Lord is My Shepherd and Adagio for Strings.(the saddest music ever) Generally anything without lyrics lets players focus on the game while letting the music set a background tone. 

Props – I’d raided the Hawkins papers and used some of the original Committee reports on recruiting Dracula for background plus the one about Earthquakes in history to give them baseline knowledge. I’d created an Executive Summary of Dracula Unredacted for those who hadnt read the full book before the game (2 had, 2 had started, 1 hadnt). I’d also done a bureaucratic access list as to who’d had access to the Dossier since 1990 – and while it listed the various ‘C’s in MI6 and dates of access by a myterious ‘D’, it also hinted at murder and assassination of those who’d seen it without authorisation. The dates alone were a clue aimed at Revenge-driven Toby Greengrass. From the PDF of the Cards I printed off and cut out lots of head shots for a cork-board backed conspiracy collage. One of the players managed to bring along a huge white board to to help map the conspiracy and elements- it gave the whole thing a great police show/operational command vibe which was great. We also had lots of Index cards so whenever someone created a Contact or Cover or prepped a Safehouse, then they’d grab a card and write on it and we’d stick it up on the wall for all to see. Again it was great for organisation and keeping all the disparate elements visible and memorable. 

Timing: We had 3 players and I arriving at the venue on Friday evening, so I suggested that to get into the mood we play a session of “Fury of Dracula 3e” board game as we couldnt start then, but I wanted to set a theme. I almost used the board game map as a prop for an inter-city chase scene across Europe, but I’ll have to save that for another day. On Saturday we had the players all assembled by 10am and we played until 12:30. Session 2 was longer and more intense- 2 till 6ish. Then the game moved to Bucharest and ended on a cliffhanger for Sesssion 3 (8pm- 10pm) before the low light meant we couldnt see dice results. Saturday evening was then dominated by drinks in the pub and a terrible wedding party in the hotel that didnt quiet down till 2am. On Sunday we resumed with Session 4 from 9:30 till 13:00 and then concluded with session 5 from 2pm till 5pm, including the debrief and epilogues. 

Plot Outline and thoughts: 

My thought for a complete campaign arc was to begin with them as normal agents from a mix of backgrounds assigned to an inter-agency task force to monitor a ISIL inspired terror cell in Romford , near London. I wanted to establish ‘normalcy’ for a team of professionals before it gets ripped away by the machinations of Mina. Then something would happen inside the surveilled house and a few would run out in utter terror. I wanted the players to think “What could possibly frighten a suicide bomber?”. They would find the Dossier inside (stolen & planted by Mina, the attacker). They would get burned, and forced to seek meaning for these events and a trail of clues would seek out Dracula to kill him. I also wanted there to be a moral quandry for them to debate, so I made sure they learned that while they could kill Dracula, it would be a temporary thing that only lasted till the slayer died. Edom would offer them the chance for one of the PC’s to become a vampire and kill Dracula forever – is it better to sacrifice yourself and become a monster to defeat forever a more dangerous greater evil? 

I wanted to weave characters backgrounds into the plot from the beginning. The most obvious was to have killing Lucy Westenra be a thing the Seward heir does every generation on the death of the last slayer. Mark Seward had been estranged from his father so we open with Mark and his sister Jack attending their fathers funeral. As Mark leaves, the priest hand-delivers a letter from the deceased telling him that vampires are real and he should kill Lucy Westenra in her crypt. Thats crazy talk, but its useful set up. Toby Greengrass too is mourning at the same Kingstead cemetery for his dead wife – I mention how the flowers he’d carefully arranged now shook fell down when Alan Sewards coffin went into the ground. Then we cut back to the other 3 PC’s as the day shift of their Romford surveillance. Mary’s Romanian grandmother was her motivator as Edom leveraged her to ensure Mary’s loyalty. Rasvan had occasional references to his famil(ies) but that kicked more in when he returned to Bucharest. George Esterhase’s motivation was more patriotism and some lingering shame over Toby Esterhase’s activities during WITCHCRAFT in the 70’s.

Session 1: Funeral, Toby visiting gravestone. Seward gets fathers letter, disbelieves it. Surveillance of the terrorists. Something happens. Chase scenes, horror movie investigation. Discovery of Dossier and cover up. Mary drops a dime. Investigating Kingstead Cemetery at night- into the crypt and fighting Lucy Westenra. Mary recovers the Westenra Brooch and accidentally contacts Dracula. World news- terrorist attacks in Moscow and Bucharest. G8 summit called. 

Session 2 - Fake call out back to base for Rasvan, George & Mark- a trap! Assassin sent to Toby’s home. Mary to the rescue- killing Nails. Retreat to Staithes. Interrogation of Osprey and his execution by a crazed Toby before he could spill on Mary. Rest & recovery. Mary dreams of red eyes and white teeth. Mark tries hypnotic intervention- makes contact with Dracula. Discovers Dracula is in Bucharest. George and Mary have a heart to heart- she confesses she is Edom. Mark reaches out to Oakes. World News- G8 summit to be held in Bucharest. 

Session 3- Travel to Bucharest. George makes contact with SRI. Rasvan has a domestic drama when he meets his ex-wife, she rejects him. Toby investigates Fabricken Leutner. Mary discovers grandmother was in Strasba Orphanage. Rasvan and George meet their SRI contact on a misty bridge only to discover that the SRI is compromised and the agent is pulled into the mist by Dracula! However he left behind intel to show Dracula is targeting someone at the G8! 

Session 4- Rasvan and George evade Dracula and take sanctuary in church. Recuit Father Vaclav and get holy water. Reaching out to Edom about Dracula- offer of safe passage back to England from Oakes to discuss face to face. Given an offer – one of the PC’s can become a vampire in order to kill Dracula forever. Led by Mark they refuse as a group, but Rasvan and George go behind their backs and Rasvan volunteers to become a vamp. Mark finally talks to Jack who reveals she became Dr Drawes so that he didnt get recruited into Edom, just as her father had sought to spare them the horror of their heritage- a family of martyrs. 

Session 5- Rasvan becomes a vampire under Mina. The rest sett up the lure they spread rumours to reach the SRI that Putin will be in a secluded forest dacha the night before the summit. Fight at the Dacha with Dracula. Mark distracting Dracula with a Hypnosis MOS and psychically linking for a crucial round. Toby bailing out and abandoning the team to go after Edom. Rasvan reavealing himself as a vampire to hurl Dracula clear and George nuking him with a rocket launcher next to the petrol generator. Rasvan finishing off Dracula with a double stake. Rasvan succumbing to blood lust and almost devouring Mary before George terminates him. 

Starting off with a kinetic dual chase sequence as explosive vest clad IS-sympathisers race through Romford in utter panic. Twin chases on the white board kick us off at high gear! 
Exploring Lucy Westenra’s sealed crypt in Kingstead Cemetary… at night. Then the player jump when the coffin lead burst off and Lucy was savaging them… 
Intriguing and battling with Edom assassins when their Burn Notice came through. Toby searching through Hopkins things when he hears a creak on the floor below and has to hide in a coffin water tank to stay hidden. 
Mary working on a distraught, angry Toby, winding him up until he burst into an interrogation run by Rasvan and Seward and put a shovel through the skull of captive Edom agent Osprey just before he was going to reveal Mary was a traitor. 
Hypnotic interrogation of Mary who’d picked up the Westenra Brooch and had attracted dream espionage from Dracula to discover he was in Bucharest. 
George counselling a distraught Mary that it wasnt her fault and seeing her sob everytime he said that. Mary confessing she was an Edom spy who’d told Edom that they’d seen the Dossier and so earned them a Burn Notice. 
Rasvan trying to woo back his long abandoned Romanian wife with only 2 interpersonal skills- Flirting and Intimidation. She sobbed at his return, slapped him, started to reconcile and then when he was saying “I thought of you every day” remembered the letter she’d got from his UK daughter and started hitting him again! 
Rasvan and Mary wandering through Strasba Orphanage and Mary gradually remembering she’d been brought here years ago by a younger Rasvan… after he’d killed her mother in front of her. 
The ethical debate between Seward, Rasvan and George on becoming a vampire. Rasvan ready to do it, since ‘He’s done worse’ already. 
Every time the dysfunctional Seward family tell each other important things about vampires… way too late. 
Rasvan revealing he was a vampire, apporting into combat to tear into Dracula and throw him into the other room to open up a shot on him and… George firing a rocket launcher at Count Dracula. 
In the exploded ruins of the dacha, Rasvan biting into a pinned Mary’s neck, about to turn her… when George executes him with crossbow stake, per his pre-vampire living will. 

Epilogues – 
Mary retires to Romania, away from Edom and nursed by her grandmother due to her terrible injuries. 
Toby goes a bit mad and start’s trying to kill Edom one by one on his own. He dumps the Dossier onto Wikileaks but most dont believe it. 
George and Mark try to reform Edom, joining the conspiracy to see who can be saved and who needs to be eliminated. However Mark finds himself signing the Burn Notice and kill order on Toby after Wikileaks…. 
Rasvan’s letter reaches Mary telling her that he damned her soul to make up for killing her mother. He and Lucy will be slain by Mina when Mark and George eventually die. 
And in the shadows, Mina chuckles as her thoughts turn to new sins…. 

Final thoughts- this was a truly incredible game with many, many high points. We effectively made an critical incident operations centre with our various props and it worked perfectly for organising the investigation. We had a lot of immersion and constant roleplaying both with the GM and more importantly between the players- when discussing the moral dilemma we had players passionately up on their feet, pacing back and forth as they expounded. There were some really touching emotional moments, especially Mary’s two conversations with George and Rasvan. The combats were fierce and bloody, and the pace generally kept up . I’m eternally grateful to the players who all bought into the game and committed to it. It was a big ask, but fortunately the LongCon system lets people put in the investment and see it realised over the weekend. I felt like I had the whole plot juggling around in my head, but there was always something I could throw in. However it was exhausting and I’ve spent most of the rest of the following week decompressing or sleeping from it afterwards. 

My great thanks to John Dodd for organising LongCon and making the logistics so easy. My eternal thanks to my players for such a great game- Dom for leading the team to the whiteboard and making sense of it all, Julian for some standout emotional confesssions, Nigel for his descent into bitter madness, Paul for his quiet psychiatric support and family conversations, and Guy for hilariously always making things worse when he tried talking to people… Thanks also to Simon Rogers and Gareth Hanrahan for looking over my initial premise and to Jonathan Turner for the excellent Technothriller Monologues that we used several times.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Dragonmeet Update and venues for conventions...

So the other part of the trip on Thursday and Friday was to sort out the remaining contract points for Dragonmeet with the new hotel, I should note that it's taken us a few months to get to the bottom of this, and in the end, having a face to face with them to make sure they couldn't squirm on things (or take three days to come back with another question to our question) seemed like the best idea.

All things considered, if they don't renege on anything that was said in the Friday meeting, we should be in a position to get things going (so trade halls, game bookings and all the other good stuff) by early next week, but it wouldn't be the first time that this particular hotel had delayed, so we're holding off on announcements until that is written and we've agreed it.

But it made me consider that for all those just starting out in conventions, a few things to ensure about the venue you choose...

First:  Be Pushy...

Because if they run away when you start asking for things in return, they're not looking out for your best interests to make a great event, they're looking for the greatest profit with the smallest outlay from themselves.  Find a venue that wants to work with you, not one that needs to be prodded just to wake up...

Second:  Get it in writing...

The problem with most people is that they don't like forcing others to do things, particularly if it's something where the other party has to go and amend things and change details, but the reason why you do it at this stage is so that there's no forcing at a later point, and by that, I mean them forcing you.  As you go on, you get the sense for the people at the venue you can trust, and writing may no longer be required, but in the first instance, be clear, and be covered, anything less may cause you a massive problem on the show day.

Third:  Read all the small print...

All of it, not one word missed, if they've said something in one part of the contract and their terms and conditions say something else (with the proviso at the end of the terms that standard terms overrule everything...), they can use whichever version they like best, and that'll be the version you like least...

Fourth:  Accept only what you want, not what they offer...

Most gamers won't pay £15 for a two course meal when all they were after was a pie and a can of drink for less than a fiver, and many hotels, particularly the larger ones, don't like to alter the menu they're offering.  Know your clients, know what they like to eat, get the Amuse-Bouche off the menu, hold firm to that, because most hotels are used to dealing with corporates who just agree to everything because they've got lots and lots of money...

Fifth:  Understand their chain of command...

Because of a certainty, there's a point where you'll have to go climbing that chain, best to know where the handholds are before you set foot on the cliff.  Deal with the people you start with, but when it's apparent that they don't have the answers, never worry about going one level higher, and if the person at the top doesn't have the answers, never worry about going somewhere else...

There are many other things of course, but get the basics first and the rest of it starts to fall into place...

Friday, 15 July 2016

Kickstarting Games - A panel at the Guardian

So no post yesterday for the first time in nearly a month, and there's a good reason for it, I was down in London to catch up with Chris Birch about Dragonmeet and Modiphius Organised Play (and more on that later), but I was also down to go to the Guardian and take in a talk on Kickstarter and more particularly, games on Kickstarter.

That it was being hosted by Luke Crane, the head of Games at Kickstarter, came as a tremendous bonus.  He was joined by Andy Robinson from Playtonic games (who made Yooka-Laylee) and Alex Fleetwood from Sensible Objects (who made Beasts of Balance) to give advice and answer questions regarding running a kickstarter for games.

There's only the one photo of the panel before the show because I spent the rest of the time making notes...

And here's the write up of those notes...

There was a lot of talk about how to do the preparation for the actual kickstarter, and the overwhelming thoughts were to have the preparation done long in advance.  One year of Prep, one month of campaign, consider every possible question that could be had and have a truthful answer for it, presume that if people care enough to back your kickstarter, they'll care enough to want the truth from you.

On the video pitch for the game, have it include the creator of the game, show people what they're getting, and be clear about what you need the money for.  If you've already made the game, why do you need their help? Andy Fleetwood said that if you're doing this, it's not a kickstarter to give you assistance in preparing the game, it's a preorder system for something you've already done, and for the most part, people like it when they're helping others to achieve something, not just ordering something for later delivery.  Luke's comment was that while this certainly wasn't what Kickstarter was designed and intended for, it does seem to be the way that several companies are taking it.

That said, have assurances to what can be done, what you can do, and what you're prepared to do.  Give people the reasons why they can trust that you will deliver what you've promised, show examples of when you have delivered previously, and if you haven't delivered previously, have examples of things that you have done successfully or good reasons why you will follow through with your promises.

On promises, don't make any you can't keep, beware of stretch goals and how much they can affect your end campaign.

On physical rewards, be aware that the works required for them are far more than most imagine, and if your kickstarter goes well above where you'd intended, you may be doing a lot more work than you'd imagined.

On communication, be transparent in what is going on, people don't mind if you're late, they mind if you're stalling.  Be clear in what you say to people, and make sure that when you say you're going to do something, you do something.  Don't tell everyone you'll update every two weeks and then leave it a few months before saying anything...

Watch for the silent majority, if ten people are all talking about wanting something changed, and 2000 people are happy with what's going on, listen, but think before you make alterations.

Money, Figures, and Pricing (and I found this most interesting) in games, the most popular price levels to back things at are $35, $20, and $15, and the average spend on a kickstarted game is around $75, games are by far the largest portion of the money that comes to Kickstarter, and while the success rate of games is only 54%, over 90% of those that succeed deliver on their rewards.

It was a good seminar, reasonably well attended and by a lot of people who were just getting in to the tabletop industry, which gave me a great sense of hope for the number of creators out there and all the games that are going to be coming out soon.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Report back from one of the GMs at Longcon - Simon Burley, Two day Black Hack against the Reptile God

This was my second LongCon. Last year I was a player in two one day games which were both memorable - for different reasons. One of the games was refereed by an author offering his new "classic-style" dungeon module and I was struck how myself and a couple of old-school D&D players - returning to our roots - used our experience to terrific effect. It was like SAS D&D and it was great!

This year, I decided to offer to referee D&D myself - the classic module N1 - Against the Cult of the Reptile God. In my opinion, by far the best early module and one that everyone should experience at some point in their roleplaying lives.

Following the advice of John Dodd - and to sideline any issues regarding which exact version of D&D to use - I offered to run it using the new super-lite "The Black Hack" D&D clone.

The game was slow to attract players initially. However, the weekend before the convention, it suddenly booked out. For the most part, the players had not met before and they had different reasons for wanting to play. Some had played in other conventions with me. Some wanted to experience the classic adventure. Some were interested in trying out The Black Hack rules. And all of them just wanted to play a weekend of D&D.

The week running up to the convention was massive fun. Because The Black Hack is so cheap and accessible, everyone got their hands on the rules. I circulated a couple of house rules. Everyone  made their characters in a flurry of group emails.

We had:

Joseph Bugman - Dwarf Master Brewer
Blain Crimjaw - Human Cleric of the  Ram Clan
Philigri Chuddins - Hobbit Rascal
Adelion - Elven Conjuror
Master Curate Tideswell - Servant of Pholtus

I rounded out the group with a couple of NPC Warriors:

Elindel - an Elven archer
Bort - a street thug

The highlights of the preparation week were:

  • tying the characters' backgrounds together.
  • the players' subtle reworking of Bort's background. I'd presented him as a friend of Philigri, but it turned out he was really working for the local Thieves Guild. He'd been sent to bring the Hobbit in to account for her actions but had, somehow, found himself conned into taking part in an adventure.
  • The moment when, quite independently of me, the player characters started talking to each other. Not the players - the characters.

As they had signed on at the last minute, most of my players couldn't get rooms at the Garrison Hotel itself, but they seemed to have no problem finding other hotels nearby.

I arrived Friday evening and spent it chatting with the other early attendees in the bar. Some people chose to crack out a board game.

Saturday morning, after a short speech from John Dodd, we started. To get familiar with the rules and bond the group I threw the party straight into a short "beat up the goblins" scenario. (As a personal in-joke I downloaded and used the example dungeon from Matt Colville's YouTube series.) It was great.

Then we started the scenario proper. This was an absolute blast. Every character was chewing up the scenery. And, just like we'd done the previous year, their experience allowed them to cut directly to the heart of the mystery. It was a pleasure to see.

Two breaks, for lunch and tea, came far too quickly. The bar food at the Garrison remains superb. And the breaks took place at appropriate times in the plot.

I'll admit that, by the end of the Saturday this wonderful group of players had me on the ropes. They'd solved the mystery, sorted out the village, nailed the wilderness and were already into the final dungeon.

Overnight, I had time to marshal The Reptile God's resources. They knew the player characters were coming. The two Sunday sessions played out like a chess game between the characters and their opponents, building to an appropriate climax when they finally caught up with their Supernatural nemesis.

We finished mid afternoon on Sunday and said our goodbyes. For me, as referee, it had been a wonderful but challenging weekend. The players were all excellent and I look forward to meeting them again. The Black Hack rules had done their job. Whatever our background and preferred iteration of the game, we'd all been able to understand a common set of rules to run a classic adventure together. Great fun. I can't wait for LongCon 2017.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Report back from one of the Dracula Dossier Players at Longcon

LongCon over the weekend was truly amazing. Steve Ellis ran a beautiful game of the Dracula Dossier for Night's Black Agents, and it was an amazing time of revelations and tough choices, betrayals and second chances. It was an emotional roller coaster set to a background of investigation and punctuated by action scenes. We slew Dracula, but the cost was extreme.

It was one of the most incredible RPG experiences of my life. Maximum thanks to Steve for running the game, and to fellow players Nigel Clarke, Julian Hayley, Guy Milner, Dom Mooney, and to John Dodd for organising LongCon.

This is what it's all about...

Further to this, I've got a facebook community set up for the convention and I'm going to be opening up a Longcon UK community as well (there's already an international one going) to get the organising going early, the facebook group can be found at and has a number of photos from the event with more to come and more reports of the convention to follow...

Anyone with suggestions for the convention for next year, or any ideas for the games or formats, I'm listening, just get in touch.