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Zoats: From Warhammer to 40K (and back again)

March 28, 2020 24 comments

A little while ago, I wrote a post about the Ambull, a Warhammer 40,000 creature that had a (very) short career in WFRP. I was inspired in part by the Ambull’s reappearance in Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress, and back in January Games Workshop revealed a new Zoat miniature for the same game.

The Zoat’s history in Warhammer and 40K is a troubled one. Its origins are tied up with those of the Fimir, which the excellent Luke Maciak discussed in a post on his Terminally Incoherent blog a few years ago.

In short, Bryan Ansell came in one day with a sketch of a Zoat, and wanted the creatures added to WFRP as a new race which would be distinctive and unique to Warhammer. We already had Warriors of Chaos and the recently-released Skaven, so we writers thought Warhammer and WFRP were pretty safe on that score, and to be honest we didn’t find the sketch too inspiring. By the way, I vaguely remember that Bryan put a note on the sketch giving the pronunciation as “Zow-at.” I don’t know if anyone else spotted that at the time, but we all pronounced the name to rhyme with “goat” and as far as I know everyone else has done the same ever since.

Bryan was not discouraged by our lukewarm response to his idea. He told us that Zoats would have to go in, or we would have to come up with something else that satisfied the same requirements. That was when Jes Goodwin, Tony Ackland, and I began to develop the Fimir.

WFRP1

Zoats from the WFRP 1st edition rulebook. Left: Bob Naismith. Right: Tony Ackland.

To be on the safe side, I also wrote Zoats up for the WFRP 1st edition rulebook. Perhaps some memory of The Dark Crystal was rattling about in my brain at the time, because I ended up making them reclusive forest mystics and possible Wood Elf allies. Rules for Zoat allied contingents appeared in Ravening Hordes for Warhammer 2nd edition and Warhammer Armies for 3rd edition, but they never really caught on and by 4th edition Warhammer they were gone. They reappeared in the Storm of Magic supplement for Warhammer 8th edition in 2011, but never re-established themselves firmly in the lore of the Old World.

Warhammer Armies

Zoats from Warhammer Armies.

Zoats did rather better in Warhammer 40,000. The masters for the slow-selling fantasy miniatures were given face masks and futuristic weapons, and they got a new backstory making them a servitor race of the Tyranids. More on their 40K career can be found on the Warhammer 40,000 wiki, and of course that is how they came to Blackstone Fortress, in the form of a single miniature.

zoat-2020-1

The new Blackstone Fortress Zoat.

I don’t expect Zoats will reappear in Game Workshop’s reboot of the Old World setting, or in anything Cubicle 7 publishes for WFRP. Still, for those who may be interested I have done a quick WFRP 4th edition profile for them, based on the entry in the WFRP 1st edition rulebook. Let me have your thoughts. Also let me know if you feel inspired to use Zoats in a WFRP adventure, or if you know of any appearance in an official Warhammer or WFRP publication that I have missed.

Needless to say, what follows is in no way official and should be considered a fan work. No challenge is intended to copyrights or trademarks held by Games Workshop, Cubicle 7, or anyone else.


ZOATS

WFRP1_RulebookIn many parts of the Old World, Zoats are regarded as creatures of legend. They are solitary by nature, living in the depths of the most ancient forests. Despite their bulk, they are quiet and reclusive, and can move through the densest undergrowth with hardly a sound. Occasionally, they have dealings with the Wood Elves, and on rare occasions they have been known to make contact with Humans. It is said that they strive to keep the forests free of monsters such as Beastmen and Goblinoids. Ancient Elvish songs tell of single Zoats coming to the aid of beleaguered Wood Elf settlements.

Zoats are centauroid in appearance, standing some six feet high and eight feet long. Heavy plates of fused scales cover their shoulders, back, and hindquarters. Their heads are reptilian in appearance, with a broad, slightly domed skull, large eyes, and a wide mouth that gives them a wry expression. Colour ranges from dark brown through maroon to purple. They do not wear clothing or armour.

Their characteristic weapon is a long, two-handed mace whose tip is a cylinder of black stone bound in a silvery metal. The head is carved with strange runes that are indecipherable by other races. All Zoats seem to speak a common grinding, rumbling tongue; they may also speak Eltharin and occasionally the local Human language.

M WS BS S T I Ag Dex Int WP Fel W
7 59 25 50 50 50 25 43 45 43 40 19

Traits: Arboreal, Armour 3 (body/hindquarters, Armour 1 (elsewhere), Night Vision, Size (Large), Stride, Tracker, Weapon +8

Optional: Spellcaster (Amber)

Zoat Mace

Price Enc Availability Reach Damage Qualities and Flaws
N/A 3 Exotic 3 +SB+6 Damaging, Impact1, Pummel, Unbreakable, Tiring2

1. A Zoat Mace wielded by a spellcaster is normally inscribed with a mystical rune that gives it the Impact Quality.

2. Only if the wielder’s SB is 3 or less.


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The Ambull: From 40K to WFRP (again)
Viydagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mardagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mabrothrax: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Jabberwock: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Devil Eel: A New Monster for WFRP4
Gargoyle: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
The Toad Dragon: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
The Spectral Claw: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
The Mud Elemental: Two Old Monsters Combined for WFRP4
Ngaaranh Spawn of Chaos: A Very Old Citadel Miniature for WFRP4
Leaping Slomm Two-Face, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Zygor Snake-Arms, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Independent Daemons for WFRP 4th Edition
Chaos Snakemen – A Forgotten Warhammer Race
Menfish – Another Lost Warhammer Race
Golems in Warhammer

Great Cats and Elven Beastfriends for WFRP4

March 19, 2020 5 comments

Those of you who have seen the Enemy in Shadows Companion for WFRP 4th edition will have seen a mention of “great cats” in the chapter “On the Road.” This little encounter features a werecat as well – a creature never seen before or since in Warhammer. It all dates back to the very first days of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in late 1986.

I’ve blogged about “On the Road” before, and if you are interested in why and how I wrote this piece you can read all about it here. As the Warhammer setting developed, werewolves and other were-creatures disappeared: to the best of my knowledge, the last mention of a lycanthrope in an official Warhammer publication was in a WFRP 1st edition adventure called “The Howling Season,” published in the Warhammer Companion (which Cubicle 7 has just made available in electronic form). That was published by Flame in 1990.

Lycanthropes in the Old World are a subject for another day, when I have more time than I do today. But since Andy Law just posted an intriguing short article on cats in the Old World – complete with a Henchman career – I thought I’d take a moment to tell you what I know about the great cats of the Old World’s forests.

It started, like most things Warhammer, with a miniatures ad in White Dwarf.

Image result for citadel elf animal keepers

Game stats for Warhammer 3rd edition appeared in Warhammer Armies, with a name doubtless inspired by a fantasy movie from 1982.

Beastmasters

I made sure that the 1st edition WFRP rulebook covered all of these beasts, including the cats. I imagined markings like those of a European wildcat (Felis silvestris), but a size and shape somewhere between cheetah and mountain lion, like the miniatures.

WFRP1 cat

…and I wrote up a Beastfriend career for Wood Elves which appeared in the Warhammer Companion (did I mention that you can get this rarest of WFRP supplements in PDF form? I’m sure I did.) which was reprinted in Apocrypha Now.

Beastfriend illo

And there it ended. The great cats disappeared from Warhammer lore and were forgotten. When the Enemy in Shadows Companion went to Games Workshop for approval, the mention of great cats raised some eyebrows because no one remembered them. A small text box was added to the 4th edition version of “On the Road” for the benefit of surprised readers, along with a stat box for the cats themselves. (Sorry, I’m not going to violate copyright and show it here, but then you’ll already have it in your copy of the Enemy in Shadows Companion – or the one you’ve been meaning to buy, right? Right?)

Well, then, all this is very interesting, but who cares, really? I suppose it depends on whether you like cats, or Wood Elf careers, or both. One day I hope I’ll get round to writing up a Beastfriend career for WFRP 4th edition, but until then you can improvise one.

Start by creating a Wood Elf Scout or Hunter character (or some other career, at the GM’s option) with suitably high scores in Animal Training and possible Charm Animal and Animal Care. If these skills are not available within the career path, follow the Training rules on page 199 of the WFRP rulebook.

Next, create the beast using the stat block from the Enemy in Shadows Companion (What? You still haven’t got a copy? Do I have to stop being subtle?) and run it through the Henchman career in Andy’s blog post.

If you prefer a Beastfriend with a hound, Andy’s got dogs pretty well covered here. For bears and boars, you can find base stats in the Bestiary of the WFRP rulebook. After that, you can either design your own Henchman career, or use the Trained Trait to cover the beast’s abilities.

What do you think? If you design and/or play a Beastfriend using these improvised rules, comment below and let me know how well it worked – or didn’t work. Meanwhile, I will add a 4th edition version of the Beastfriend to my long, long list of things to get round to when I have the time.

The Ambull: From 40K to WFRP (again)

March 14, 2020 21 comments

The Ambull is a beast that originally comes from the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook. It was adapted for WFRP in an adventure called “Terror in the Darkness,” which appeared in White Dwarf 108 (December 1988). Back in 2014 I posted about this adventure, and the series which it was intended to kick off.

Ambull 1

The Ambull from 1988. Art by Tony Ackland from the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook. Miniature by Citadel Miniatures.

That was the Ambull’s one and only appearance in WFRP to date, although the beast has made a comeback in a Warhammer Quest product titled The Dreaded Ambull. There’s a new and terrifying miniature to go with it, and now seems like a good time to update the Ambull for WFRP 4th edition.

The Ambull in 2019 (Games Workshop)

The Ambull

The Ambull is a large, barrel-chested creature with an ape-like stance. Both arms and legs end in iron-hard claws used for tunnelling through stone. It spends most of its time underground, preying on other subterranean creatures. As it moves, it creates vast tunnel systems·of remarkable complexity. Ambulls are uncomfortable in large, open spaces and do not enter them willingly. Stalking and ambush are their favourite tactics, closing rapidly with prey in order to minimize exposure to spells and ranged attacks.

The Ambull attacks with two claws and one bite. It can divide these attacks between two Average sized opponents if it wishes, attacking one target with one claw and using its other two attacks against a second target.

M WS BS S T I Ag Dex Int WP Fel W
6 50 50 50 50 20 20 14 43 20 38

Traits: Armour 2, Bestial, 2 Claws +8, Dark Vision, Enclosed Fighter (as Talent), Jaws +8, Size (Large), Tunneller (see below), Tunnel Rat (as Talent)

Optional: Armour 3, Belligerent, Brute, Hardy, Immunity to Psychology, Size (Enormous)

New Trait: Tunneller

The creature can dig through soil at 2/3 its normal M score, and rock at 1/3 normal M.

In “Terror in the Darkness,” the lone Ambull was said to have come to the Warhammer world from its 40K home on the Deathworld of Luther MacIntyre IX by some unknown means. At that time there was a strand of Games Workshop lore, never fully explored, which posited that the Warhammer world might be a remote feral world in the 40K universe. You can use that explanation if you like, or you might decide that Ambulls are native to the underground parts of the Old World, and the existence of their species is well known to the Dwarves, the Skaven, and other underground peoples.


More Like This

Zoats: From Warhammer to 40K (and back again)
Viydagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mardagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mabrothrax: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Jabberwock: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Devil Eel: A New Monster for WFRP4
Gargoyle: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
The Toad Dragon: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
The Spectral Claw: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
Ngaaranh Spawn of Chaos: A Very Old Citadel Miniature for WFRP4
Leaping Slomm Two-Face, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Zygor Snake-Arms, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Independent Daemons for WFRP 4th Edition
Chaos Snakemen – A Forgotten Warhammer Race
Menfish – Another Lost Warhammer Race
Golems in Warhammer

 

My Top Five RPG Monster Books

January 18, 2020 13 comments

Ever since I saw Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts on my parents’ black-and-white TV, I have been obsessed with monsters – especially those from myth and folklore. In my first D&D game, I played two thief characters, both of them killed by a minotaur. In the Games Workshop printing of the basic rulebook, I saw other names I recognized, and I was hooked right away.

I still love monsters, mythology and folklore, and monster books are still among my favorite types of tabletop roleplaying supplement. In this post I will discuss some of my favorites, looking especially at what each one offers the reader beyond the basic description and stat block.

Some of these are old – very old, but then so am I! – and there may very well be newer, even better books out there that I have not yet seen. If that’s the case, let me know! The comments section is right there at the bottom of the page. I’ll look forward to reading your views, and discussing what makes a monster book good, or great, or amazing.

So here they are, in no particular order:

Monster Manual 3.5

 

D&D Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual tabletop roleplaying rpg monsters Wizards of the Coast TSR

The original Monster Manual from 1977 was a landmark product in many ways, and just about every monster supplement published since has been influenced by it. Still, the 3.5 edition is better in my opinion. This is for three main reasons:

First, each monster description includes a ‘Combat’ section which covers the creature’s combat-related abilities and its preferred tactics. This makes it far easier to design encounters and run combats.

Second, the chapters at the back of the book – Improving Monsters, Making Monsters, and Monster Feats – make the book far more than just another collection of creatures. Following their instructions, the DM can customize monsters and create new monsters, providing the sort of endless variety that will keep players on their toes.

Finally, the list of monsters by challenge rating saves a lot of trouble when creating adventures. Page for page, it might even be the most valuable part of the book.

Today, no self-respecting monster book would be without these three features, and that makes the 3.5 Monster Manual something of a milestone.

Buy it at DriveThruRPG.

 

Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors

 

Petersen Chaosium, Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying tabletop rpg horrors monsters Lovecraft

There are Cthulhu Mythos monster books aplenty, but Petersen’s Field Guide stands out. It starts with a jokey-looking flowchart titled “Identifying Monsters of the Mythos” which is actually very useful indeed.

Fifty-three full colour spreads describe monsters in detail, including brief notes on their habitat, distribution, life and habits, and distinguishing features. A full-page main image is supplemented by sketches and notes illustrating different life stages and other peculiarities, as well as a human image for scale reference.

The lack of game stats is both a positive and a negative feature. On the one hand, they are something that readers expect in a monster book published by a game company; on the other, their absence makes the book system-independent. There are a lot of Mythos-based games on the market, from Call of Cthulhu to Delta Green to Arkham Horror, and their various rulebooks provide game stats for  pretty much all of the creatures covered here.

The book ends with an extensive bibliography, covering game supplements, fiction, and other sources. The section headed “Bibliography for Other Monsters” winks at the reader, for its contents are entirely fictional. However, it makes a great list of documents for player characters to find in-game.

One very nice touch is the provision of initial letters on the page edge. This makes it very quick and easy to riffle through to the creature you are looking for.

Buy it from Chaosium.com.

 

Old World Bestiary

 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Old World Bestiary 2nd edition tabletop roleplaying rpg WFRP momnsters

I’m allowed to like this one, because I didn’t work on it. Packed full of grimdark Warhammer atmosphere, it is broken into two parts. The first presents common knowledge about various creatures, consisting of equal parts useful information, rumor, and prejudice, while the second, aimed at the GM, contains the more familiar descriptions, stat blocks, and rules for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s second edition rules.

The presentation works well enough, and although it can sometimes be annoying having to flip back and forth to find everything on a particular creature, the atmospheric material is gold for a GM who needs something to tell a player who just made a successful Lore or Research roll. Another nice feature is the appendix of hit location tables for different body plans.

Buy it at DriveThruRPG.

 

GURPS Fantasy Folk

 

GURPS Fantasy Folk Steve Jackson Games Tabletop Roleplaying rpg Monsters

Fantasy Folk differs from a standard monster book (such as GURPS Fantasy Bestiary) in that it looks in depth at 24 races, providing enough detail on each one’s ecology, culture, and politics to create an almost endless variety of NPCs from each– and player characters too, if desired.

Centaurs, great eagles, and other non-humanoid races are covered in addition to the usual elves, dwarves, goblins, and so on. Best of all, each race is provided with a worked example of a character – essentially a detailed NPC, ready to go – and a selection of adventure seeds.

While most GMs will not use every single race in this book, it offers a solid starting-point for developing races for use in a campaign. Better still – and perhaps without meaning to – it provides a template for describing fantasy races of one’s own, which is far better than starting from a blank screen.

Buy it from Steve Jackson Games.

 

Trollpak

 

Trollpak Chaosium RungeQuest Glorantha tabletop roleplaying rpg troll

Chaosium’s Trollpak for RuneQuest was one of the first tabletop roleplaying supplements to describe a single race in detail, and it is still worth reading if you can find a copy. The boxed set consists of three booklets: Uz Lore (“Uz” being the trolls’ name for themselves) covers their nature and history, The Book of Uz presents rules and information on playing troll characters, and Into Uzdom is a selection of adventures. Also included are two more adventures and a 22” x 17” map of the troll heartlands.

Both atmospheric and useful, Trollpak sets a standard that is hard to beat even now, and anyone planning a single-race roleplaying supplement would be well advised to study it. There is much here worth plundering.

Buy it from Chaosium.com.

 

Honorable Mentions

In addition to these five, I have to mention two series of magazine articles that, to my mind, significantly advanced the art and craft of rpg monster descriptions.

The “Ecology of…” series in Dragon magazine established a very good format for looking at monsters in greater details than the Monster Manual allowed. Sections on history (including, where appropriate, a short box on the creature’s origins in myth and folklore), physiology, psychology and society, and lair design offer invaluable information to the DM, and notes on the creature’s presence in various D&D campaign settings are useful to those who set their campaigns there. The sweetest meat, though, is saved for last: options for developing advanced versions of the creature, with at least one worked example. Like GURPS Fantasy Folk, these articles also establish a template which can be used for developing monsters of your own, which can only enhance both the monsters and the campaign setting.

Before the first “Ecology” article appeared in Dragon, though, TSR’s British arm published a short-lived magazine called Imagine. It ran to only thirty issues but contained a lot of innovative material – including the “Brief Encounters” articles. These presented a single new monster using a showcase encounter which was specially written to demonstrate everything that was new and interesting about it. Brief Encounters continued in Imagine’s even shorter-lived successor, the indie magazine GM Publications, and when most of the staff from both magazines joined Games Workshop, there was talk of re-using the format for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. However, the only published fruit of this effort was “Terror in the Darkness” in White Dwarf 108, which introduced a creature from the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook to the Old World. More about that here.


 

These are my particular favorites, and I’m sure you will have your favorites too. I’m sure I have missed a great many very fine monster books, particularly given the way tabletop rpgs have proliferated in recent years. So don’t be shy – let me know about your favorites in the comments section. I’m always up for discovering a new monster book.

At some time in the future, too, I will set modesty aside and look at some of the monster books that I’ve worked on over the years, explaining what I was trying to achieve with each one and discussing how well I succeeded – or didn’t. (I did. It’s here.)

I’m looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions!

2017: The Year in Review

January 8, 2018 1 comment

2017 was not the best of years, but it still brought several things on which I look back with pride – and a few things that make me look forward to 2018. Here are the year’s professional highlights from my point of view:

HAWK: Freedom Squadron
I have blogged before about my love of aviation, so when My.com approached me to work on this bullet hell shooter game I was intrigued. I crafted the main storyline about a ragtag band of heroes coming together to help a peaceful nation resist its brutal neighbor. Released last January, the game has topped five million downloads and seen a billion enemy planes destroyed. It is available at the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.

 

Fenix Magazine

 


This tabletop roleplaying magazine from Sweden has a mix of Swedish and English content, the latter provided by renowned writers like Kenneth Hite, Pete Nash, Will Hindmarch – and lately, me. I highly recommend checking out their all-English Best of Fenix volumes, which are available in PDF form from DriveThruRPG and other online retailers. I describe their content as “thoughtful articles for grown-up roleplayers,” and whatever games you read or play, you will find something useful and interesting within their pages. I contributed to four issues in 2017, and I have plans to continue in 2018.

  • Fenix 2/17 included a reprint of “As God is My Witness,” a systemless article on the Medieval practice of trial by ordeal which was first published in Imagine magazine in 1984, and “CSI: Fantasy,” a new article on forensic folk-magic from European tradition.
  • For Fenix 4/17, I wrote “Bloodthirsty Blades,” a review of cursed swords in myth and fantasy literature, with some ideas for the GM to make them into a major part of a roleplaying campaign.
  • Fenix 5/17 included “When is a Dragon Not a Dragon?” taking examples from myth and folklore to show how dragons can be more than just a powerful boss monster.
  • Fenix 6/17 included “Creating Cults,” an examination of cults and cultists, examining the structure, organization, and goals of six different types of cult for a fantasy campaign.

 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 4th Edition

WFRP-4th-Logo-550Toward the end of the year, British tabletop RPG publisher Cubicle 7 announced that they had won a license from Games Workshop to produce a fourth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the game that arguably started my career thirty-odd years ago. I am not allowed to go into too much detail, but I have contributed some writing to the core rulebook and I am currently in the planning phases of a project called The Enemy Within Director’s Cut. I will be going back over the beloved campaign, making some changes based on the experience of thousands of games played over three decades, and adding some new material to bring this version more into line with the vision that Jim Bambra, Phil Gallagher, and I developed for the original. That is all I can say for now, but keep an eye on this blog and the Cubicle 7 web site for more details.

 

Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond

Another proud achievement this year was the publication of this anthology of early American horror fiction, all set in or around the Colonial era. I tracked down some great stories by writers famous (Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft), obscure (Charles Brockden Brown, John Neal), and better known for writing outside the horror genre (James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The book has garnered some good reviews, and I am hoping to edit more anthologies in a similar vein.

 

WFRP Memories: A Rough Night at the Three Feathers

October 27, 2017 7 comments

 

Orlygg at the Realm of Chaos 80s blog has just posted a very nice piece about “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” which I wrote back in 1987. I wrote it largely as an experiment, to see whether multi-plot adventures could even work: people liked it, and it has gone on to be one of the most-reprinted pieces written for WFRP. After its original publication in White Dwarf 94, it appeared in The Restless Dead, Apocrypha Now, and – with Second Edition stats – in Plundered Vaults.

I’ve returned to the same format twice for WFRP, and once for d20. “Nastassia’s Wedding” appeared in Pyramid #19 in 1996, with stats for GURPS Fantasy was well as WFRP, and the Third Edition adventure The Edge of Night included a society party where Skaven were just one of many problems. “The Last Resort” in Green Ronin’s Tales of Freeport returns to an inn location, on a night beset with mummies, assassins, loan sharks, serpent cultists, and more.

In 1987, though, all this was in the future. My initial impetus for writing “Three Feathers” was the popularity (at the time) of bar-room brawl scenarios. White Dwarf 11 started it off with “A Bar-Room Brawl – D&D Style” by Lew Pulsipher, which was reprinted in The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios. Others followed – including “Rumble at the Tin Inn” for RuneQuest – and when WFRP was published in 1986, we knew it would need some adventures and articles in White Dwarf to support it (more on that here). One possibility was a bar-room brawl scenario – they were simple in structure and should be fairly quick to write, which was just what was needed since there was no official budget and schedule for producing WFRP support material during work hours.

I set to work, coming up with the Three Feathers inn (though in my mind, the feathers were bunched together on the inn sign, like the three ostrich plumes of the Prince of Wales’ insignia) and a diverse cast of characters, each with a reason for being there and some cross-plots that would bring them into conflict with others. But, as I always do, I had way too much fun developing the characters and plots, and the concept grew beyond the needs of a simple bar-room brawl scenario. First, I thought I would pick one plot, develop it, and file the rest away for future use – but then I had an idea: why  not use all of them at once?

In my mind, the Three Feathers’ inn sign looked a little more like this – but without the crown.

As far as I knew (and still know) it had never been done in roleplaying games before, but there were strong precedents in other media. On stage, colliding plots have been an element of farces since Roman times. One commentator described “Three Feathers” as “a classic British hotel farce,” and anyone old enough to remember the names Ben Travers and Brian Rix will know exactly what he means. I wanted to capture the manic action of farces like Fawlty Towers, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, and so on, blending it with the sneaking action of caper comedies like The Pink Panther.

I had to think quite hard about how to present the adventure. There was no way to know what might happen with all these plots taking place at once, especially when a group of PCs got involved. So I simply described the location and the NPCs, outlined each plot, and compiled a timeline of what should happen if the PCs weren’t there. A few words of encouragement for the GM (which can be summarized in Douglas Adams’ timeless words, “Don’t Panic!”) and off it went to White Dwarf.

Honestly, I had no idea whether it would work or not. I knew that I could handle it as a GM, therefore it was theoretically workable by others, but had I set things out well enough? Would it just confuse people, or would it all come crashing down mid-game leaving players and GMs dissatisfied and angry? It was a great relief when the first positive responses began to come in.

Oh, and WFRP did get a bar-room brawl scenario of its very own, just a couple of months later. Jim Bambra and Matt Connell wrote “Mayhem at the Mermaid” for White Dwarf 96. Then the fashion for bar-room brawl scenarios faded, and as far as I know people simply stopped writing them. Today, they are a largely forgotten style of adventure: perhaps a blogger somewhere will trace the history of the form and assess its lasting contribution to RPG adventure design. I would certainly be interested to read it.

Oh, and one last piece of trivia. I got the title from a Western called A Rough Night in Jericho. I have never actually seen it, but evidently it includes a bar-room brawl scene, as I saw a still somewhere or other and the title stuck in my mind until I stole it for “Three Feathers.” Make of that what you will….

More
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography
The Restless Dead: The Forgotten WFRP Campaign

Night’s Dark Terror – in Kislev!

March 2, 2017 2 comments

b10_nights_dark_terror
Remember the UK AD&D module B/X1 (a.k.a. B10) Night’s Dark Terror? It was written by Jim and Phil (with Graeme Morris) shortly before they came to GW to work on WFRP. I gave it a favorable review in White Dwarf #78, and I’ve always liked it as a campaign setup and adventure.
Well, Gideon at the Awesome Lies blog converted it for WFRP 1st edition recently, and set it in Kislev. Check it out here: https://awesomeliesblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/nights-dark-terror/

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

March 9, 2016 1 comment

gamasutra_logo

 

Ubisoft’s AAA shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division is making a big splash in the industry, and this article from Gamasutra caught my eye.

It’s a question that becomes more significant as games become more photo-realistic: how to justify the gore and high body counts that are part and parcel of a high-end shooter. Another question, asked less often, is how to develop additional and alternative ways to create tension and challenge the player so that body count is not the only leg on the stool.

the division

It reminds me of a crossroads that tabletop games faced in the mid-80s.

D&D was all about kicking in doors, slaying monsters, and collecting treasure, and then Call of Cthulhu came out, in which combat was almost never a good idea and the focus was on investigation, uncovering a backstory, and figuring out the best way to resolve a situation.

For a while, the tabletop RPG hobby was split into “irvings” (a British term of the time, equivalent to today’s “munchkin”) who loved to boast about their best kills and the obscenely high level of their character, and “rolegamers” who loved to boast about how they gamed for an entire weekend and never touched the dice once.

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One of the things we tried to do with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the Enemy Within campaign in particular, was to take the best of both worlds. The deadliness of the combat system was a major tool in achieving this goal, since it forced players to think of more creative solutions to problems. The other vital components were a game system (range of skills, character types, spells, and equipment) and a design mindset (communicated through scenario design and, in our case, advice to GMs) that gave players a wide range of potential actions to choose from in any given situation.

Now I know that there are some fundamental differences between tabletop games and electronic games, but it is very interesting to see AAA shooters facing a choice, as a genre, that tabletop games encountered 30-odd years ago. Maybe there are some useful ideas from that time that can be used now, and maybe there will be some new solutions that leave everyone stunned. I can’t wait to see.

 

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

December 22, 2015 21 comments

Dark Future

Dark Future was released in 1988, the same year as Adeptus Titanicus. At least part of Games Workshop’s strategy was to get better at plastics before introducing them as a major part of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 product lines. It has been claimed that Bryan Ansell was also testing the competition’s tolerance by producing games that were very similar to two major titles of the day: Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars and FASA Corporation’s BattleTech. I don’t know if that is true, but no lawsuits resulted.

The title Dark Future came before the game. After reading William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, Jervis Johnson became very excited about the potential of a cyberpunk RPG. Cyberpunk was a very new sub-genre at the time, and no cyberpunk games existed. Marc Gascoigne and Jervis developed a whole setting for the proposed game, but the tide in Games Workshop had already turned against new RPGs and so far as I know the project never received an official green light.

Dark Future was developed by Richard Halliwell at the same time as Jervis was working on Adeptus Titanicus, and the work done for the cyberpunk RPG was grafted onto the car combat game. The spaces between Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay products were growing longer and longer, so I was drafted in as an editor/developer on both games.

Initially, no link was planned between the Dark Future setting and the Warhammer/WH40K mythos. This changed around 1990 when the first Dark Future novels appeared, with some stories featuring demons based on Realm of Chaos.

Another departure from the GW norm was the scale. This was so that players could adapt commercially-available toy cars for use in the game. The boxed set came with two types of cars: the Interceptor used by the Sanctioned Ops (the good guys), and the Renegade used by wasteland gangs such as the Mad Max style Maniax. GW never released any other cars for the game, but the line of metal miniatures included accessories for adapting other toy cars.

Dark Future was a modest success initially. A supplement, White Line Fever, was released later in 1988, and another was planned under the title Dead Man’s Curve. When sales plateaued, the Dead Man’s Curve material was published in White Dwarf 124-125. After that, the novels puttered on as a minor GW fiction line, but nothing was done with the game until 2015, when Auroch Digital announced an electronic version subtitled Blood Red States. It remains to be seen whether this will help revive the IP.

There are still Dark Future fans out there. I recently discovered the Oldhammer: Dark Future Facebook group, with over 500 members who are still modeling and converting vehicles and playing the game. There is also a fan-made wiki.

My involvement with Dark Future was brief and peripheral, but I’m still happy with it. It was a fun setting to play with during that time when cyberpunk was still new and cutting-edge, and I enjoyed writing a lot of the flash fiction and text vignettes that went into the two supplements. Here’s what I did:

Products
Dark Future (1988) – developer, color text
White Line Fever (1988) – developer, color text

Articles
“The Sand Cats,” Challenge #52, 1991 – author Buy it here
“Dead Man’s Curve” White Dwarf # 124-125, June-July 1990 – developer, color text
“Saint Louis Blues,” White Dwarf #112, May 1989 – developer, color text
“Redd Harvest,” White Dwarf #104, Sep 1988 – author

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

October 28, 2015 13 comments

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Fighting Fantasy gamebooks started in 1982 with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Over the next twelve years, a total of 59 gamebooks was published, along with a magazine, a multi-player RPG, and other spin-offs. I was by no means the most prolific contributor to the series, but here’s a list of my contributions to the gamebook craze.

Books
Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook, Puffin Books 1992 – “Rogue Mage” adventure (reprint)
Fighting Fantasy # 29: Midnight Rogue, Puffin Books 1987
The Adventures of Oss the Quick, Oxford University Press 1987 – 6 vols
The Adventures of Kern the Strong, Oxford University Press, 1986 – 6 vols

Articles
“Field of Battle,” Warlock #12 October/November 1986
“Into the Unknown,” Warlock #11, August/September 1986
“More Monster Conversions,” Warlock #10, June/July 1986
“Rogue Mage,” Warlock #10 June/July 1986
“Monster Conversions,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“Magical Items,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“The Ring of Seven Terrors,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“The Seasoned Adventurer,” Warlock #4, 1985
“Solo Voyages,” Imagine #22, Jan 1985 Download free here

Interviews
Fighting Fantazine #7 – downloadable here

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Also on this Blog
All posts tagged “Fighting Fantasy”

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends