Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Interview - Joe Theis of Lone Wolf Development

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Joe Theis of Lone Wolf Development, the people behind the digital gaming aid Realm Works.

Realm Works is the tool every Game Master has dreamed about for managing campaigns. Spend less time preparing, more time creating, and focus on sharing the story with your players! Built by a team of experienced GMs, Realm Works can be used with any game system and allows you to create and manipulate your world like never before.


Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Joe. I’m a designer and software engineer for Lone Wolf, specifically Realm Works. I’m an avid PC gamer and builder, miniature painter, and RPG game master and player. I also enjoy running and target shooting, along with personal software development side projects. I’m married to the wonderful Liz, who you might already know from Lone Wolf’s forums, website, or social media. We have an adorable and energetic Formosan mountain dog named Kaylee.

Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

My first game was a long time ago. My friend’s older brother was running a game and the group needed a cleric (of course). I had no idea what was going on, but I thought it was weird and cool. After that, I didn’t think much of it. Years later, some friends and I discovered the board game Hero Quest, which is sort of like a proto-RPG. There wasn’t really role playing, but there were random/variable dungeons, killing monsters, avoiding traps, collecting and spending loot, etc. After lots of Hero Quest, one of our friends introduced us to Dungeons and Dragons 3.0. Since then, I’ve played with a number of different systems and genres.


What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

I suppose now I should mention that everything in my answers is my own personal opinion, and doesn’t in any way reflect the opinions of Lone Wolf Development as an organization. I also recognize that these are my own personal preferences and opinions, and that others can and should feel free to have their own differing opinions.

My love of computer gaming undoubtedly colors my RPG preferences. There are certain things that I believe computer games are just better at as a medium: complex mechanics and computation, physical simulation, visual and audio immersion, etc. If I want a grid-based tactical challenge, I’ll prefer a video game like Civilization or XCom. If I want mechanical character progression, loot, and itemization, I’ll look to games like Diablo, Borderlands, Elder Scrolls, Planetside 2, etc. It’s not that I won’t play a combat and mechanics-heavy RPG (you’ll see that below), but it’s not what attracts me to RPG’s. I believe that video games are not (and perhaps never will be) good at deep social interaction with NPCs, open-ended storytelling, and player/GM freedom. I think RPG’s can reliably provide these things, and that’s why I come to them.


What's your favourite game? What games that are out there at the moment float your boat?

I’m a big fan of the new Star Wars games coming out of Fantasy Flight (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, etc). Part of this is because I’m a fan of the original trilogy, some of the novels, and these games are set in the thick of that. The systems are very different from the d20-based systems I’ve been used to for so long, and change can be a good thing in my opinion. They are a deliberate departure from heavy mechanics, and also have a clear focus on interaction, storytelling, and freedom (see above). The things I love about the system itself aren’t Star Wars specific though, and could apply to any genre really. The same game designer made an earlier, similar system for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, for instance.

Do you still get time to play? What are you playing at the moment?

I don’t have a ton of time for RPGs lately, but I’m currently involved in a long-running Pathfinder game with the Savage Tide adventure path. I joined it at around 9th level when it was being run under D&D 4th ed. We’re now in the high teens (18th or 19th) with a few Mythic tiers to boot. While Pathfinder is undoubtedly a mechanics-heavy game, it’s a solid system, I like playing with my friends, and our GM is able to inject a lot of personality into the NPCs and storylines.

Tell us more about Realm Works. It's been seen all over, most recently at PaizoCon, and it's a handy tool for world building and makes campaign management much easier; what was the attraction in making such an application?

In general, I think the big attraction people have to Realm Works is that everyone wants to have immersive, believable worlds but that getting there is so hard. I remember my first attempt as a GM to make a system for myself involved a big stack of index cards and tabbed dividers. It was helpful, but limited in a lot of ways.

I think another attraction for people is that it refocuses RPG tools on the major strength of RPGs: role-playing and collaborative storytelling. Most tools have been centered on managing mechanical complexity: character creators, dice rollers, initiative trackers, combat grids, and so on. You’d think that tools for managing mechanical complexity would reduce the complexity of our games, and they do to a certain extent. From my perspective though, complexity is inherent in the system and mechanics and doesn’t go away, but becomes easier to deal with thanks to the tools. I also think that easing this burden results in more game sessions focusing on mechanics, which is great if that’s your preference.

Realm Works helps you manage narrative complexity, and in the same way, this doesn’t mean you’ll be spending less time on narrative because it’s less complex. It means that you can have more depth to your narrative before it becomes burdensome. Where before it was difficult to have more than a handful of NPCs and plot threads, you can now have Game of Thrones-level intrigue going on (and again, just my personal feelings, no endorsement from George R.R. Martin or HBO!) Much in the way that I believe mechanically-focused tools encourage mechanically-focused games, my hope is that  having some narrative tools will result in more game sessions with enjoyable role-playing, narrative and collaborative storytelling elements.

The big attraction for me personally is that there’s nothing really comparable to Realm Works. As a developer, working in uncharted territory like this is exciting, educational, and rewarding. It’s also very exciting to want to actually use the product you’re working on, which is something many developers can’t say.

It's very polished, so what went into building the tool? Was there a lot of work involved?

We’re happy to hear that! We’re a small team working on a big project, so it’s sometimes hard for us to look past what we see as obvious, glaring flaws. We’re often our own worst critics, but that keeps us always relentlessly pursuing quality and polish.

Realm Works has a lot of intelligent technology under the hood that hasn’t really been seen anywhere before, certainly not in gaming products at any rate. There was a lot of thought and effort put in to design and architecture for the engine that drives Realm Works, which took a considerable amount of time. Really the concept itself has been a lifelong dream for Rob (it’s creator and Lone Wolf’s owner), and technology has only recently caught up to make his vision possible.

Work is still ongoing, and will be for a long time. Realm Works is not really a product where there’s a finite set of features, where we package and deliver it in a final state and then never touch it again. It will be constantly evolving as the gaming and technology landscape changes.

The tabletop roleplaying hobby has been through a lot changes over the years and it seems that its death-knell is always sounded when newer hobbies come along, such as collectible card games and online computer games. It still seems to be able to hold it’s own, though – what do you see happening to the hobby in the future? What changes, if any, do you think will have to be made to ensure its survival?

I think RPGs are already seeing a split, with systems focusing on storytelling, player and GM creativity, and social interaction parting ways from systems that focus on mechanics, simulation, combat, and number crunching. There’s nothing wrong with having a personal preference for either, but I do think the narrative-focused branch will have an easier time in the long run. It delivers a unique experience that can’t be found elsewhere, while the more mechanical games will need to differentiate themselves from other mechanics-focused card games, board games, tabletop war games, and video games.

I also think we’re going to see technology playing a greater role in tabletop RPGs of all kinds. We already have virtual tabletops, telepresence, and obviously tools like Hero Lab and Realm Works. This is only going to become more common and mainstream as time goes on. I think there’s still a place for low-tech RPG play too. There’s something special about paper character sheets, miniature figures, pencils, books, and dice. Humans like concrete, tangible objects. We like sitting around a table, talking face-to-face. I think there’s a balance to be struck that is unique to each group and player.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m playing with learning the Unity 3d game engine, as well as some basic 3d modeling in Blender, both of which have been new and interesting challenges for me. But as a developer, artist, and gamer, it’s scratching a lot of my itches all at once!


Lone Wolf Development also bought us Hero Lab. Hero Lab makes character creation a breeze, automatically tracking modifiers for every stat, ability, item, spell, and option you select. The automated validation engine verifies that all prerequisites, minimums, and other requirements have been met, pointing out where your character is in conflict with the rules.Hero Lab also acts as an electronic character sheet at the game table, keeping track of your health, abilities, and more during the game. Once the adventure is over, use your experience to advance your character to the next level and beyond!

Many thanks to Liz Theis for arranging the interview.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Book Review - Dead Man's Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West

Edited by John Joseph Adams
Published by Titan Books


My first exposure to the Weird West was the tabletop roleplaying game ‘Deadlands’, in which magic, superstition and downright Cthulhu-esque shenanigans were afoot in the wild west of America of the late 19th century. It was an interesting premise but not one that I explored fully. After experiencing the horror that was the movie ‘Wild Wild West’ and the films ‘Jonah Hex’ and ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’… well, those three things alone were enough to make want to cast fantasy westerns away with a grimace of disdain.

After reading about ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ I was unsure as to whether I really wanted to dive back into the weird west again. If it had been a single novel-length story I would most likely have given it a miss, but as this was a short story anthology, with some high-profile names such as Alan Dean Foster, Alastair Reynolds and Elizabeth Bear… I felt that I had a better chance at enjoying at least some of the stories even if the genre didn’t appeal to me as a whole.

After experiencing ‘The Red-Headed Death’ by Joe R. Lansdale, the first story in the book, I pretty much knew I was in for something exciting. It’s a fast, violent story and the conclusion is satisfying and intriguing – there’s more this Jebediah Mercer character and I felt that I wanted to learn more about him. Not only that, but the story is the literary equivalent of knocking back three fingers of firewater and then having the editor slam your head into the saloon bar while pressing the still-warm barrel of a Sam Colt in your head and growling, ‘you will read the rest of this book’. You simply can’t say no.

After this story I thought that the rest of the book would follow a similar tack, with the supernatural, death, demons, vampires and gun-toting werewolves bursting through saloon doors and fast-drawing on shotgun-wielding priests. As cool as that sounds, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Dead Man’s Hand is a collection of pretty much every type of science fiction, horror and fantasy cast into the old west. Vampires? Check. Aliens? Oh, yeah. Dinosaurs? What? Er… okay then. I saw ‘The Valley Of Gwangi’, how bad can it be?

Not bad at all. In fact, I think Tad Williams’ ‘Strong Medicine’ is my favourite of the lot. In Medicine Dance, Arizona something peculiar occurs once every thirty-nine years. Time goes crazy and all kinds of prehistoric creatures emerge. It sounds insane but the story is much more layered than that and it makes for an excellent character driven story with an unexpected reveal at the end.

Dead Man’s Hand doesn’t really have any bad stories in there. There were two I wasn’t totally sold on but they were still good stories, and the others range from very good to excellent. It’s a cracking book and I imagine it’s an anthology that I’ll come back to more than once.

The complete list of stories -

‘The Red-Headed Dead’ by Joe R. Lansdale
‘The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space’ by Ben H. Winters
‘Hellfire on the High Frontier’ by David Farland
‘The Hell-Bound Stagecoach’ by Mike Resnick
‘Stingers and Strangers’ by Seanan McGuire
‘Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger’ by Charles Yu
‘Holy Jingle’ by Alan Dean Foster
‘The Man With No Heart’ by Beth Revis
‘Wrecking Party’ by Alastair Reynolds
‘Hell from the East’ by Hugh Howey
‘Second Hand’ by Rajan Khanna
‘Alvin and the Apple Tree’ by Orson Scott Card
‘Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle’ by Elizabeth Bear
‘Strong Medicine’ by Tad Williams
‘Red Dreams’ by Jonathan Maberry
‘Bamboolzed’ by Kelley Armstrong
‘Sundown’ by Tobias S. Buckell
‘La Madre Del Oro’ by Jeffrey Ford
‘What I Assume You Shall Assume’ by Ken Liu
‘The Devil’s Jack’ by Laura Anne Gilman
‘The Golden Age’ by Walter Jon Williams
‘Neversleeps’ by Fred Van Lente
‘Dead Man’s Hand’ by Christie Yant

My first ever Basic D&D game design

This is the very first page of my very first Basic D&D adventure I wrote 30 years ago, when I got into D&D and the RPG hobby became one of my favourite things.


I created my own campaign world and the idea was that as the players explored they opened up new areas of the setting. Sadly, it wouldn't get used for another five years in a short-lived campaign I can barely remember.


The rest of the document is quite detailed, with every location mapped and every point of interest in that location detailed and statted. I liked to think that I was ready with a foe or an encounter no matter where the players decided to go and so I'd design accordingly. I was a first-time DM then, and I'd try to plan for every eventuality. I also had this 'me-against-them' view of the game as I was new to the hobby and still the boardgame mentality, as if I was challenging the players to defeat my adventure. I still have that in me, but now I'm less interested in them beating my scenarios, and more interested in seeing how the players react to them.

I've also got my first ever Star Wars map somewhere, from 1987. I'll have to dig that out of my hefty Star Wars RPG folder, which has more than a decade of material in it.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Podcast - NOMCAST Episode 2

NOMCAST

Nerds On Mic

Episode 2 - 14th July 2014

Welcome to NOMCAST Episode 2, a podcast in which we talk about random nerd stuff. 


In this episode -

The power (and scariness!) of Fandom

The legacy of 80's movies
Anime - Sailor Moon and Knights of Sidonia
Alien: Isolation and the amazing DLC



With:

Jonathan Hicks

www.farsightblogger.blogspot.co.uk
@jonmarkhicks

Mark Newbold

www.jedinews.co.uk
@jedinews2010

Lisa Hicks

www.thebathobbit.blogspot.co.uk/
@bathobbit

Nancy Petru

@dasmoosh

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Advanced Fighting Fantasy - Science Fiction sneak peek

Right now I'm working again on the science fiction version of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy rules by Arion Games, under the working title of Stellar Adventures. It was a project that was put on hiatus last year, but this time around I'm coming at it not as a complete core rulebook but as a supplement to the original AFF 2nd Edition rulebook. This means that I can write some additions to the game without having to worry about the meat of the system. This also means that I can concentrate on the setting a little more.

Below is a teaser of a place I'm designing called Titanreach, a gateway to adventure and danger out in the deep dark black. I'm trying to incorporate as much of the Fighting Fantasy science fiction gamebooks as possible, but unlike the fantasy books core setting of Titan they do not have a centralised setting. With that in mind, I'm taking some specifics of the books and mixing them with the spirit and elements of others, and in that way I hope to please most of players. Regardless, the system is key so it can be used for whatever setting the gaming group wants to use it for.

TITANREACH

Titanreach. Called so because it truly is the gateway to the greater galaxy, no matter what part of the Galactic Federation you are from. From this place you can find any kind of job for any price, and reach any part of the galaxy you wish. If you have recently come into possession of your own vessel and you’re looking for trade, transport or simple adventure, then Titanreach is where you travel to first. If you’re a Federation agent, maybe a Marshal or a Rogue Tracer, then this is your first port of call if you’re looking to track down your quarry. If you’re looking to travel the stars and you need a ride, then your first thought should be to visit Titanreach.

Titanreach, and the billions of beings that dwell and pass through there every day, has everything, but be careful; it will easily swallow you up.

The moon of Titan over Saturn does not appear to be such a thing upon approach. In fact, the thin atmosphere of the moon, even now being changed by dozens of mountainous Atmosphere Processing Stations, is alight with millions of sparkling lights as the entire surface of the planetoid is now covered in a huge, constantly buzzing city. Great spires bridge the gap between the surface and low orbit, tethered to gigantic city-sized space stations that sit above the moon. Thousands of starships flock to these stations for access to the surface, and a special few hundred are allowed to descend to the actual surface to dock.

To stand on the surface is a strange experience. Imagine standing on the roof of the tallest building and gazing across the city, and the city goes on forever in every direction. The dull atmosphere is still being treated by the Atmosphere Processing Stations and you can’t stay out in it for long without a suit, a few minutes at most. It’ll be decades before the air is even remotely breathable. Dozens of starships come and go from surface platforms and landing pads, and above there is a constant cloud of starships and blinking lights as thousands of vessels from hundreds of star systems governed by dozens of alien races come and go. Titanreach has become the unofficial trade hub of the majority of the races in the galaxy and the technology of every newly discovered race has only served to increase the rate of development on the moon. Where there was once the brutal, industrial design of human construction there are now hundreds of areas that reflect the architectural design of the alien race that built it, both on the surface and in orbit.

As well as the vast view of buildings there are the huge, mountain-sized Atmosphere Processing Stations that are constantly trying to purify the air, but dwarfing even these are the Orbital Spires, the huge towers that begin as gigantic clusters of skyscraper-sized buildings and then continue up, until they have gone beyond the atmosphere and are then into space. These are then tethered to space stations the size of small cities and these stations help manage the thousands of starships that come and go each day. Unless they are given special permission to travel to the surface, 99% of vessels will dock at these stations to load, unload and trade. To reach the surface they take the two hour ride in gigantic elevators that can carry several hundred beings plus cargo, even smaller starships if necessary. This is an incredible feat of engineering and runs smoothly as the flow of traffic, beings and goods cannot be drastically interrupted if Titanreach is to function.

(Work in progress - not final draft - subject to change)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Book extract - The Quest for the Golden Group

Here's another extract from my book 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas, available now on Kindle. This article was more of an observation than it was a hint or tip.


THE QUEST FOR THE GOLDEN GROUP

There are quite a few roleplaying groups out there. Which type are you most suited to?

A myriad of different gaming groups has spawned a lot of different styles of gaming. You get your heroes, your wargame-types, your freeformers... each group has a different approach to how the game should be played. Roleplaying has come a long way since the days of ‘don your armour and draw your sword to kill lots of nasties and get the gold from the dungeon’ type games.

Hundreds of groups all over the world have their own little quirks and house rules that make their game unique, but on the surface a lot of groups share the same traits. How do you play your games?

The SOCIABLES don't take their gaming too seriously. In fact, as soon as they are distracted by anything that they think is more entertaining, they'll drop their dice and take off. Oh, they'll get together on a pre-set evening to do a game, but there's a chance that the game will fall apart half-way through the session, or maybe it won't even take off. This is because that roleplaying is just another way of getting together. Groups like this don't usually last long. Sometimes they'll have a good game where they'll get into a situation they can relate to, but those games are few and far between.

WARGAMERS are almost exactly what the term means- they play the game to conduct detailed combat situations, and roleplaying pretty much takes a back seat. Their characters are two dimensional, almost always being a part of a military outfit, or at least trained that way. The term 'hack n` slash' applies to these kind of groups, who don't think they've had a decent night's game unless someone has been killed or something has been blown up. Considering a lot of games are especially created for conflict and war, these kinds of groups are quite common.

The FLAMBOYANT groups are the ones that belong on the stage. Their games are more or less freeform, with the rules used only to govern confrontational situations. They'll jump from their chairs and wave their arms about to physically express their character's actions. The place they play their games will be decorated to suit the mood of the game, like having candles lying around or drapes over the windows. Each player is an actor in their own right, and would rather decide a situation using their skill as a thespian rather than what they have written on the character sheet.

Another common kind of group is the RULESMONGERS. The rulebook is law, and deviating from that law is wrong. These gamers will quote rules for every situation, be it combat or climbing a rope or NPC interaction. Half the evening's session will be taken up by flipping through the rulebook or companion volumes, checking charts and tables and passing books across the table. Some of it is also taken up by disagreements on a rule interpretation. The players question each GM decision and the GM checks every player action carefully.

MOTIVATED roleplayers are the ones who only really want what's best for their character. They want decent equipment, better skills and a higher status. They'll play their characters to the hilt to get the most out of it, and try to reap in rewards and prestige. They'll place their character sheet and applicable notes in clear binders, and flesh out the character with complicated backgrounds and a predetermined goal. Likewise, the GM will have detailed notes on all the NPC's the PC's will meet detailed locations and maybe even draw up a sequence of events that happen around the players.

These sorts of groups' spawn the STORYTELLERS, who play the game to unfold a plot that has the traditional beginning, middle and end. These groups can be quite linear with their play, with the GM guiding the players along a story already conceived. They can also be quite unpredictable, what with the players wanting their characters to do what's best for them, and the GM trying to cater for all the different PC's by introducing alternate plots.

INTENSE groups are the ones who get right under the skin of their characters, giving PC's and NPC's alike psychological traits which go beyond what they have written down on their character sheet. They play characters with dark pasts or horrible phobias, and react to situations with intricately fleshed out actions. They have personal reasons (at least, personal to their character) why they are acting in a certain way. Their campaigns revolve around personal tragedy and psychological trauma, with moments of high drama and tense atmosphere thrown in.

Finally, there are the CASUALS, who are willing to play the game but are indifferent to the outcome. They'll crack jokes throughout the game, make light of grave situations and generally be laid back about aspects of the session that would mean a lot to any other roleplayer. These groups tend to change GM's frequently, and PC's are quite expendable. The players will play their characters, sure, but if they died it would be no big deal. The scenarios are pretty much open, allowing the players free rein of their environment with the GM winging the games to give the players something to do.

Different types of groups produce different kinds of players and GM's. Some players don't mix well, however. Could you imagine taking a rulesmonger and slapping him in the middle of a flamboyant game? It doesn't take much to realise that it would not work. A rulesmonger would probably fit in better with a group of wargamers. A motivated player would probably mix well with a group of flamboyants. A sociable type would probably get bored very quickly with any other group.

So which of these groups would you fit in well with? Perhaps you would fit in with more than one. You may be a rulesmonger who likes to be intense about the games, or you may be flamboyant gamer who has a lot of motivation for the character being portrayed.

Better still, which of these groups is like your group?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Podcast - NOMCAST Episode 1

NOMCAST
Nerds On Mic

Episode 1 - 30th June 2014

Welcome to NOMCAST, a podcast in which we talk about random nerd stuff. This is new to me and a first attempt at a simple, easy and relaxed format.

In this episode -

New DC TV shows
Spoilers in movies
Goodness of E3
Blade Runner - will it work?


Of course, these are things we wanted to talk about, but there's plenty of digression.

With:

Jonathan Hicks
www.farsightblogger.blogspot.co.uk
@jonmarkhicks

Mark Newbold
www.jedinews.co.uk
@jedinews2010

Lisa Hicks
www.thebathobbit.blogspot.co.uk/
@bathobbit

Nancy Petru
@dasmoosh

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Interview - Jesse Galena, creator of Timeline Fracture

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Jesse Galena; gamer, writer and gosh darn it, a damn fine fellow.

Right now he's got a Kickstarter on the go; Timeline Fracture is a tabletop RPG campaign setting that lets you to use d20 books (3.0, 3.5, etc) regardless of genre together. You can take the races, classes, weapons, feats, and skills from multiple d20 books and create the most interesting characters you can imagine. When creating a campaign, the setting allows you to use the diverse material in a coherent and consistent way.

The rich setting offers a living, unique world where all these elements can come together. Timeline Fracture provides world-based solutions that solve complications that would arise from mixing different d20 books together. It also allows you to get the most out of all of the d20 books you own, breathing new life into them. If you discover new d20 books of any setting, they can be used to enhance Timeline Fracture even further.

Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a twenty eight year old fiction writer who recently married an intelligent, wonderful lady. I love to write, create, and learn as much as I can.

Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

Unlike most of my friends who play RPGs, I'm a bit of a late bloomer. I wasn't introduced to it until I started college. While visiting a friend on spring break, he told me about this game his friends got him into playing. At the time, I was only familiar with video games and board games, so I was confused that his character had a defined look but no actual picture and intrigued that he created his own character. He told me to join them, so I did. In the basement of one of the dorm halls, we played Dead Lands for seven hours. That was my first experience, and it was enough to hook me.

I have joined and run games ever since. Games like Vampire: The Masquerade, Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, Savage Worlds, and Numenera have all left a positive impression on me. It wasn't long before I started making and running my own systems and games that fit niches that were not being satisfied.

What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

I love the idea of theater and communal story telling mixed with rules and regulations to make the experience balanced and dynamic for all the players. You are playing an important role in an ever-shifting story you and others help shape. That kind of creativity is intoxicating.

When playing RPGS, you have choices that are not limited to specific paths, the bane of every GM's planning efforts. Your options of what to do with your character are vast. I once made an entire encounter for my players in a ten-story building. Different events would trigger and different people showed up depending on which floor they went to and how long they took. Instead of investigating the building, my players made a fertilizer bomb out of a van, put a brick on the gas, and dove from the speeding van before it struck the building and blew it up. I never expected them to do that.

I also love that failure usually makes the story more interesting rather than simply penalizing the players, though it can do that as well. In many board games, video games, card games, failure has a specific outcome. If you fall in the pit, you die. If you don't roll high enough or answer a question correctly, someone will beat you to the end of the board. The effect has to directly relate to the mechanics of the game. But RPGs mimic life and real interactions which allows for a far more dynamic possibility of negative outcomes. You could lose HP or drop something you care about or even have an NPC you liked refuse to speak with you anymore. The consequences can transcend the mechanics of the game.

What's your favourite game? What games that are out there at the moment float your boat?

My favorite game is a tabletop RPG where everyone plays to have a good time, tell a story, and help each other. I've been a part of several games like that, and they are always fun regardless of the system we use.

For specific games at the moment, I love Numenera, Storium.com, and Timeline Fracture. I enjoy Numenera because it is in-depth but not too complicated system, Storium because it can be RPGs on your time, and Timeline Fracture because no matter what idea for a character or story I have, I can make it work.

My wife and I have also pumped about one hundred and fifty hours into Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, so I feel it would be doing those games a disservice to leave them out.

Do you still get time to play? What are you playing at the moment?

I do have time to play, but my wife and I just moved to a new city that lacks my regular RPG groups. Now that we're unpacked and settled, I am finding new people to play with. I am up for most games, so I am excited to join a new group or two.

The tabletop roleplaying hobby has been through a lot changes over the years and it seems that its death-knell is always sounded when newer hobbies come along, such as collectible card games and online computer games. It still seems to be able to hold it’s own, though – what do you see happening to the hobby in the future? What changes, if any, do you think will have to be made to ensure its survival?

That's a great question. I think inclusiveness will keep it viable. Rather than only playing with our tried and true party members, its good to extend a hand to newer players. You can help teach them table etiquette and show them how much fun being in a friendly group can be.

I think innovation will make a difference. Many games have gotten simpler over the years, allowing new players to have an easier time learning the rules. That being said, there are still great games with 300+ page books that learned from previous games and made a wonderful, very large system.

I think variety will draw people in. Vampire: The Masquerade doesn't play like Pathfinder and neither play like Numenera. There are so many good games and systems that one of them will probably deliver what you want. If you can't find one that does what you want, you can make your own.

I think the social nature of RPGs is one of its strengths. I love video games, but none of them, even those I play online, have fully captured the experience of being in a room with people and playing an RPG. There is a different feel to the experience, and I think once you've experienced it and liked it, you'll know there's nothing else quite like it.

Out of all your projects, what are you most proud of?

I cannot say for sure. I will say there is a very special place in my heart for Timeline Fracture, for it is the first time I have tried to appeal to such a large audience. I've made other games and ran them successfully for years, even had other people run those games without me for different people. Timeline Fracture is even larger than that. I want everyone to have the chance to experience it and have as much fun as we did. For all the work I've done for it and how I have seen it succeed as a game, I am quite proud of it.

Tell us more about Timeline Fracture and the crowdfunding project; what was the attraction in making such a game, and why choose crowdfunding?

The idea of Timeline Fracture came about while I was making another game. I liked the idea of having a first-generation astronaut, a warrior, and a cyborg in a party together. I looked into several genre-bending game systems, but none of them quite clicked with me. Aside from that, the rule books were so thick I questioned if I could convince an entire group of friends to dedicate enough time to learn a new, extremely dense system.

That's what got me looking more into d20. The massive amount of content meant that nearly everyone I knew had experience with playing one d20 game or another. If you were only experienced with a particular fantasy game, you could make a character for Timeline Fracture without using any other books. If you were a seasoned player or wanted to explore what could happen when you started mixing different games, you had a great wealth of possibilities before you. Both kinds of players could play Timeline Fracture and have a wonderful time with it.

Since all those d20 games used the same system, everyone knew the basics. I thought players could make characters using any class, any item, and any feat they could find. My work was done, and I didn't even have to do anything.

In my first game, I learned how wrong I was. While d20 games all use the same base system, there are a lot of changes between each of them that don't mesh. With that in mind, I started finding solutions for these problems. It took quite a while and a lot of research into different d20 games, but I found the answers to converting all this wonderful content into a tangible game that everyone could enjoy.

I chose to crowdfund Timeline Fracture for several reasons. One reason was because RPGs are social games, and I wanted to make the development a more social experience to mimic that. I made a forum for the backers and myself so we could communicate. I made pledge levels that allow people to shape the game. I wanted to hear about people's experience with it directly.

What else do you have planned?

Aside from constantly writing new works, I have written a fantasy novel and am looking for an agent, I have more to add to Timeline Fracture, and of course I have not stopped making new RPG systems. What order these get released is not fully in my hands, but all of them are sure to happen.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Comic review - The Ripper Legacy: A Raven Chronicles thriller

Review by Richard Williams

Published by: Tranzfusion
Author: Jim Alexander
Artist: Mark Bloodworth


I’m always a little leery of titles dabbling in Ripper territory. They rarely do justice to one of the greatest criminal mysteries of all time and seem small when cast in Jack’s shadow. Nonetheless I decided to cut The Ripper Legacy some slack and put aside my reservations.

Ripper Legacy follows the tale of a team of paranormal investigators working with the FBI to crack a murder case like none other. None other, that is, except a certain spate of murders in London back in 1888. But what appears at first to be a simple yet convoluted case of human malevolence turns into the deadliest case of their lives with more riding in the balance than anyone imagines.

What strikes me immediately about this work is the quality of the art. Mark Bloodworth is an illustrator worth watching out for. His strong, dynamic and characterful style makes maximum use of the black & white format and suits this story brilliantly. His detailed anatomical drawings are especially accomplished and plants this book firmly in the ‘not for young children’ category.

All of this could have been for nothing, however, if the author had not held up their end of the bargain. Great artwork only gets seen if the reader keeps turning the pages. I have read Jim Alexander’s work in the past and he is, for me at least, a ‘hit and miss’ writer. Imagine my relief, therefore, when I tucked into Ripper Legacy and found that this is undoubtedly one of those hits.

What has been crafted here is a suspenseful mystery with solid pacing and decent characterisation (excepting the name Edgar Allan Raven). The supernatural elements are good (when they can so easily be naff) and the dialogue is, largely, good material. The twists and turns are not out of character or lacking in sense or internal logic and I found myself scrolling down the pages quite quickly. Had I not been stopping repeatedly to admire the artwork then I would have finished much sooner than I did.

All of which being the case I find myself recommending The Ripper Legacy for anyone who enjoys macabre tales of suspense, murder and the paranormal. If Care Bears and unicorns are more your thing then maybe give it a miss.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Comic Review - Death Sentence

Guest review by Lisa 'Bathobbit' Hicks 
(Who, incidentally, is my rather amazing wife)

Published by Titan Books
By Monty Nero & Mike Dowling


Firstly, I thought that at 36 I was never able to blush again. This book made this happen.

The world we live in is pretty shitty, let’s not pretend it isn’t. The places we grew up in are not the same anymore and the people are pissed off and angry. We use photo editors to make photos look happier and inject a bit of colour into the humdrum daily toll of life or if we feel we just can’t be bothered we grey scale them. Not to put a dampener on anything but we stroll through our daily lives accepting the quiet chaos that is bubbling under the surface. The riots…they were a perfect example of how quickly this country *if any* can erupt when it needs release, benefit streets and closures of N.H.S buildings, changes in government and the degradation of moral values and the respect for a child’s innocence have all piled up into something quite filthy and like a big black shadow its making its way through the cities into out quiet cul-de-sacs and homes.

Comics have turned in that direction over the years addressing all of societies issue and hang ups and those writers and artists with big enough balls to be unpopular and the talent to translate their gripes and observations have been welcomed by the reader who yearns for that dirty realism we crave. I, myself,  have found myself wandering the aisles for something that will explode with realistic shit all over my face, I realise that sounded unhygienic but I KNOW you get the picture as I’m sure you found your way here… expecting the same.

I thought about re-reading the same old Dickens worthy hardback graphic novels that seem to be flooding in bulk and then came across a little gem that gripped on to my attention and manifested itself nicely for the ride.

‘Death Sentence’ is published by Titan Comics and written by Monty Nero with Art work by Mike Dowling and lettering by Jimmy Betancourt.

This book highlights all that is wrong with society, governments and indeed the ‘celebrity’ infestation we obsess with. The world is going to shit and we don’t need much imagination for that. Every week we seem to hear about some issue of health that is spreading like wild fire with no known cure or prevention, we still don’t have a correct response to H.I.V . Death Sentence chucks another into the mix, The G+ virus.

The G+ Virus is your clocking out card but man you are going to go in style. I think I might want to go out this way. It’s not pleasant but at least I get to be something different for 6 months! It is a sexually transmitted disease that is rife among the “Britain’s hardest club towns” culture roaming free all over ITV2.  Sexual liberation has brought with it some consequences and you have two choices. Sit there and mope…or do something about it.

Once affected you begin to show extra normal abilities and this story follows three quite fucked up main characters all of which are hugely developed and relatable. In my mind I had a vision of who they reminded me of and once there I couldn’t shake it off.

I don’t want to give too much away but the sheer honesty of it all is overwhelming. The first pane is brutal and it’s all up hill from there. I have always felt sorry for the Pete Docherty’s of this world and not so much the Russell Brands *wink* and I saw them slapped all over this. They all have a price to pay for such a shitty use of life and now they are paying it. It’s almost like the devil has come collecting and all those who pished their life away are now being called up to Hell's Gates. You want to like them you really do and you see so much more for them but the layer of self is always quite hard to break through.

Verity.  I like her; she has some amaze balls body ink. She is our young heroine *I’m not sure that’s quite the right word, her ex hates her but she is more or less getting on with it with gusto* A graphic designer who has made a stupid mistake. This mistake has led her down the G+ route and gifted her with a little extra kick. The one that can be reasoned with and the one who wants to make a difference, our bit of hope.

Weasel. I wanted to give him a bath but that is the mother in me. A Docherty like character whose record label drops him quite willingly when they could no longer profit through his imminent death.  Its not uncommon to see music celebrities misused and ruined by record labels and forced out with a level of popularity that it quite literally backfires morally and mentally. The one thing in life Weasel takes seriously, because let’s face it...he sucks at music, is his son. And this is a redeeming quality.

And let’s move on to our Anti-Hero…Monty *shudder* it has been a long time since I genuinely feared the ‘What if’ of a comic baddie. There are several key points in this project in which I sat open mouthed, the nun…the queen! One truly fucked up life that he doesn’t question as a catalyst only the way he wants to go out.  A misguided notion of helping  ‘free’ the people reminds me of the current wave of self-obsessed celebrity parading through comic circuits and t.v shows becoming the very thing they say they despise.

Criticising religion and politics and encouraging rebellion and parades of anger, it’s ok to chuck a t.v through a shop window and steal a bag of rice because your only doing what you feel is right! I won’t lie I thought about Russell Brand through all of this and whilst he can write a book dismissing his past because he has visited a guru in India, married a pop star then divorced a pop star all whilst doing some crazy arsed magniloquent Yoga positions is jaw dropping and infuriating. But we listen, we listen and we agree and when he posed the idea that perhaps we should all not vote…I almost found myself agreeing…UP THE ANARCHY!

Let’s face it. We all have thought about what we would do if we have a month to live. I personally would fuck up my works health and safety record of 456 days without an incident. I would then probably run up a bill on a credit card with Mickey Mouse. Chuck a bit of the super power life in with that and oh my god…I would be in heaven. I would choose to make a difference and this book makes me question just what that difference would be? If I had the power to make things better how far would I go and would I care if you disagreed?

The book is littered with great adages to suck you right into the world in which this virus exists the artwork is sublime and the attention to detail is a perfectionists wet dream. The replies, bubbles and dialogue of all characters and extras were spot on, poetic and flagrant. If you’re a screamer or prude then this is not the book for you but if you appreciate a modern comic from a team of modern artists and writers then my god you will love this book as much as me.

My collection is richer for it and my eyes are open wider.