About shortymonster

So, text box, what you appear to be asking is, 'how do you define yourself, Wordpress user'? Kind of an easy first question; geek. A big ol' geek in fact. That should give you some idea about what to expect in this blog, but in case you're curious, my geekiness is broad and covers several topics, so expect to find in the blogs that follow topics such as Comic books I love (and loathe), webcomics, table top RPGs, console gaming, sci-fi and fantasy literature/TV/movies, any other kind of literature/TV/movies, pop and not so pop science and maybe even a socio-political rant every now and then. Although I will try and keep those to matters concerning global significance or stuff that annoys me that was BBC breakfast news that day. Mostly though, I'll be talking about my biggest hobby/love-affair; table top role playing. I've been doing it for years and show no signs of stopping. I will be talking about hot topics, games I've run/been in, advice for players and GMs, and - if you're lucky, may even get some interviews with published writers. Why don't you join me?

I’m not at GenCon or play testing D&D next, but…

I know that a lot of the people who read this blog will be doing those things, and if at GenCon won’t really have the time to digest anything huge at the moment blog-wise. The people who aren’t there at the moment though, who may not be too fussed about D&D next themselves (I know I’m not the only one; I tried to get a play test group together out of my local gaming society, and had only two volunteers out of a possible 25 players) might be in the mood for something that has nothing to do with either. Presented for you then is inspiration. Inspiration in the form of an article I came across on the BBC news site a couple of days ago that had my mind going into overdrive, thinking about what I could do with this information. So I present for you here, China’s ghost towns and phantom malls.

I hope that like me, it gives you some inspiration, and if it does, feel free to sound off below and share them with anyone else not lucky enough to be at GenCon.

Some advice on running a Horror RPG

This is not going to be a masterclass on how to do it right every time, but more a look at the things you can do as a GM to make the game as memorable an experience as possible for your players, along with a few things that you might want to avoid.

Before we get into the advice I just want to say that the horror game I’m talking about running isn’t a splatter-punk/zombie survival kill fest kind of game, although it could very well include elements of any of those things. No, what I like to run are games of creeping terror. Games that stay in your players’ minds and make them nervous to perform even the simplest action while playing. Think about some of your favourite horror movies and how terrified the characters are when all they want to do is close the refrigerator or check on a strange noise. That’s what I want my players to be like when I’m done with them; shivering, in a fetal position and cursing my name.

One of the most fundamental ways of getting this response from them, is letting the players know from the start that they’re going to be playing a horror game. If everyone’s on the same page, it means there’ll be less mood breaking chatter and horse-play coming from your players; something that would be totally totally understandable if they don’t know what kind of atmosphere you’re trying to achieve. If they know what’s expected of them with regard to the genre of the game, they’re going to be more likely to stay in character and respond to in game threats like they’re lives actually depended on it.

Another consideration is the size of your group. This comes from my own experience of trying to keep the intimate ambiance needed for a horror game with a group of seven gamers. Ideally I would try to keep the group at four players, and absolutely no more than six. Smaller games are great, and I really don’t think there’s a minimum number for a horror game. With your group set up, it’s now time to look at the place you game.

I have in the past gone all out on the room dressing for my horror games, but the simplest stuff to get right is also the most important. I know not everyone has as much control over their gaming space as they would like, so take this next bit of advice as what to do in an ideal world. You’re going to want a smallish space, ideally with the players all pretty close together. Intimacy is very much what you should be going for here. Keep the lights low, as this helps just a little bit, but make sure everyone can still see their character sheet and dice. Keep noise to minimum, and if you’re going to use a soundtrack, put some thought into it. One of my favourites for this at the moment is a band named AKLO, who do some great Lovecraft inspired music. Suno))) are also worth a look, as they manage to put together some of the best blackened creeping drone music out there. Maybe not the kind of stuff you can dance to, but it does its job of creeping out the players very well indeed.

One last thought on the room and atmosphere, and this is something I’ve done myself and seen done very well by other GMs too; get the group to sit facing each other, while you as GM sits apart. Make sure everyone can still hear you, but that they will have to keep the noise down a little to catch your disembodied tones coming in from he darkness away from the table. This may not seem like much, but if you can pull it off, it’s well worth the effort.

When it comes to running the game, there’s a few little bits you can do to heighten the tension and thus the fear. First, never worry about splitting the party. Isolation is a great companion to fear. If you do this, impose a strict ‘no OOC chat’ rule around the table, but ideally you should occasionally split the actual group up. If you do this though, try to keep moving between the players, as you don’t want tension you’re building to become boredom. If each player can still hear hushed conversation, the creepy music, or some unexplained noises, you should buy yourself a bit of time though.

Pacing is important in any game, but when it comes to a horror RPG, even the speed that you talk at can be used to ratchet up the horror level. Start slow, and quiet, but shift up when you need to, increasing volume and pitch, but never drop the scare on them when the players are expecting it. If you have the right players, you can even use them to help out occasionally. Dropping a note to a player you can trust, reading, ‘scream when I say the word “door”‘, and then waiting for it to catch the other players unaware is just priceless.

That’s just a few of the things I do to help keep my players gripping the edge of their seats, and since I’ve played more than my fair share of horror games as well as GM them, watch this space for advice for players soon. If you’ve anything you want to add to the above, or you just want share some stories of your own scary horror role playing games, then sound off in the comments box.

Revenge as a game hook.

So, the players have broken up a major crime ring/necromancy lair or some such, and fancy cutting loose and celebrating. This of course would be a great time for the kingpin/necromancer NPC to strike back! That is at least according to every film made ever about such things. But would they? Really?

What’s just happened is a small bunch of people have done possibly millions of dollars/gold pieces worth of damage to his organisation, and the costs still haven’t been counted for if they decide to restart the operation. What profit is there in going after those people? They have already proven themselves to be highly capable and resourceful killers who it would seem foolish to annoy further.

This post is inspired by the soon to be released film Taken 2, and the comic book series Sin City: Hell and Back by Frank Miller, touching on how the idea of revenge as a plot device could be handled in an RPG. A lot of what you take from this blog comes from the type of game you’re going to be playing. I’m not talking about sci-fi versus fantasy, but high adventure/Hollywood movie action versus dark and gritty/life on the line kind of games. If you’re rocking some high adventure kind of game, then you’re going to have players who are nigh invincible, especially if all the bad guys have to throw at them are mooks by the bucket load.

In this instance, I would advise sticking to using revenge as a motivator for the characters. It may be tricky to think of something that will drive all of the party to action. If the group are already well established this could be easier, as they may already share common goals and associates that could be compromised by the bad guys. In this kind of story the avenging angels (read:player characters) will almost always succeed, but the reverse is never true. Boss bad guys will look at the damage wrought on them by a group of heroes and send wave after wave of increasingly tougher mooks against them, all of whom will die without being much a challenge to the PCs. Only in the final act will the party face a real challenge other than attrition, usually in form of a right hand man, who’s been itching for a chance to take them out from the start. Even this will be an easily surmountable obstacle that will open the way to final Boss who will be the only real challenge before the thirst for revenge is satisfied.

This kind of thing is certainly fun, but the final speech from the head bad guy in the comic book mentioned above is far more realistic,

Revenge is a loser’s game. There’s no percentage in it. All that matters is profit… and power. …As for Wallace… let the man be on his way – and prey we never see his like again”.

After watching the trailer for taken 2, all I could think was, Why the hell don’t more bad guys think like that?!

Not every band of heroes is a mook grinding machine though, and if your game lends itself to more realistic combat, then it’s much more likely that the threat of revenge from a powerful criminal consortium, or even dark wizard, would be something worth worrying about. Handled well it will drive the players away from their safety zone, away from friends and allies, and will make them watch over their shoulder every second. It will take some thought on the GM’s part to give a sense of genuine peril without just killing someone,but there are plenty of ways to do it. My personal favourite is to play the first round of bad guys that are sent after them as way more clever and well organised/disciplined than the players would expect from a random group of NPCs.

Expect them to know how to use the terrain; know that trying to take out the PCs in a single rushed charge will do very little, but whittling away at them while keeping themselves as safe as possible makes a lot more sense. They will also know when to withdraw from a fight, and know to keep an eye on their own resources, not wasting anything while doing their job, but doing what they can to reduce the party’s supplies. It’s also a foolish evil overlord indeed who is stupid enough to send out only the one team. Don’t feel the need to swamp them with everything all at once, but use a second team to stymie the PCs as they seek to get themselves squared away after the first attack. Markets or inns that they would run to in times of trouble will be nothing but scorched remains, or closed to them, the owners fearing threats of violence for helping them in any way.

This all sounds very much like the characters are eventually going to die, or just stay on the run, fleeing for their lives for as long as the bad guy keeps his attention focused on them. There are a few ways to combat this, but if you have a strong group of role players, I’m sure they could figure a way out of it that their GM would never see. The opportunity to turn the tables on the  bad guy should be presented though, just to keep them interested.

Maybe one of an attack party over plays their hand and could be captured and ‘persuaded’ to give up some goods on the antagonist? I’m not going to do all the work for you, but you see where this could go. As long as nothing that happens is easy, and the threat from the bad guy remains constant, then there’s a lot of fun to be had with the consequences of your players’ actions, even if they were carried out from the moral high ground and especially if they thought they were doing the right thing. Eventually though, they will want to take the fight to the big bad, and this should be a hard slog indeed,but still a workable option. To deny the players closure after putting them through so much is just plain mean.

So, I hope that’s been useful, but if you have any ideas of your own, or some examples from play that you want to share, sound off in the comments and let us all know.

RPG Blog Carnival – What’s in your backpack.

This is my first attempt at a Blog Carnival post, and the hosts this month are the lovely people over at Game Knight Reviews. The question deals with what one would expect to have in a backpack. This could be a real life backpack or one from a game you’re either currently playing or have played. Since I’m not doing much playing at the moment, apart from a few mini adventures with pre-genned characters, I don’t have that much control over my possessions apart from what’s gained through play. So just for fun, I’m going to rock my zombie survival pack first, and then take a look at a game I’ll be running in just over a month and what people should reasonably expect to have about their person when running the edge in Cyberpunk 2020.

First off, the zombie plan. I have put some thought into this, and have even checked if all these things will fit into the back pack I use the most. They don’t. This is because I’m a cyclist and the back pack I use on my back is small and light , with only a few essentials in it. The bike is a very important part of my survival plan and as such I have a pannier rack fitted over my back tire and two bags that strap onto that. All my stuff fits nicely into those.

  1. Water purification tablets
  2. Flint and steel firelighter kit
  3. metal water bottle
  4. Camel pack
  5. Wind up flashlight
  6. Wind up radio
  7. hatchet
  8. Survival knife
  9. Basic fishing kit (pocket size)
  10. 18″ crowbar (wrecking bar)
  11. Rabbit snares
  12. box of matches
  13. 3 days change of basic clothes (all tight fitting)
  14. Waterproof light jacket and trousers
  15. two man tent
  16. sleeping bag
  17. mallet
  18. Puncture repair kit
  19. cycle maintenance multi-tool
  20. OS waterproof map of the area.
  21. Tin/bottle opener

There may be other stuff people think I should add. Please feel free to make suggestions; I still have a bit of space.

Now onto the cyberpunk!

  1. Back pack? I’m sorry, but do you realise how expensive this suit is? And you want me to ruin its lines with two straps over my shoulders? No no no, I may carry a briefcase on occasion, but it must be bullet proof and colour matched to the suit. Inside that? A laptop and basic data suite would be enough I think. I carry my life in my pockets. A wallet with a trauma team card and the ID I need to get places. Maybe a few hundred EB to see me through in the kind of dives that don’t have a cred-chip reader. Oh, and my phone. I understand the trend for on board cyber-telecommunications, but really, these days phones can do so much more than let you talk to people. A weapon? You’ll only find out what I’m carrying and where, the hard way. Anything else I need, I buy…

To be an archer

After watching the British Archery team go out in the first round of the Olympics, it made me realise just how much we have fallen in the world rankings in the last seven hundred years. So, presented here are my thoughts on the bowman in a role playing game. Enjoy.

The following tips and advice are all based on widely perceived historical fact, so feel free to use them, whilst I take some pleasure in using my History& Heritage degree for the first time since graduating over a year ago. The aim of this blog is to make being a ranged combatant in any medieval like setting a bit more interesting than standing at the back loosing arrows while staying out of trouble.

First let us consider one of the finest examples of a bowman from the medieval period, the English warbow user. This isn’t idle speculation, or a sense of national pride (why should I be proud of something I had nothing o do with, just because it was done by people born within a certain geographical proximity?), but is actually true. It wasn’t naturally the case though, it was actually a law that made the common Englishman so proficient. All males of a certain age were required to practice for several hours a week, giving them the barrel chested build one needs when trying to pull a big ass longbow. And I mean big. Taller than a man kind of big. One point of note is that they weren’t trained to hit targets as much as you would think. Ignore Robin Hood and the archery butts with round targets; that was very much what the better bred shot at whenever they lowered themselves to take part in this activity. No, what they were trained to do was pick a range and land an arrow in it. At the time this was key because they would be firing in volley and wanting to concentrate the arrows as much as was possible. Since most archers in roleplaying games aren’t loosing arrows with 200 hundred of their mates, we shan’t spend any longer talking about that.

Lets get to the good stuff. Why use a warbow instead of a crossbow? Sure, a crossbow is a devastating weapon, designed to work well over long distances, without losing much of its stopping power. It was also designed to be used from withing a castle shooting out, with a small team of men to cock and load it. For a quick reason as to why you shouldn’t rely on them out in the open, just look at what happened at the battle of Crecy. The rain plays merry hell with a bow string, and a warbow can be unstrung when required, with the string coiled up and put under a hat. It’s not exactly easy to re-string in a hurry – even the men who used them all the time and were built like oxen couldn’t do it that quickly – but a combat round or two is well worth it if you don’t want your arrows to fall very short indeed. If anything did go wrong with the bow, or for that matter the string or arrows, don’t fret. Due to the nature of using a bow, it should be safe to assume you know how to repair, replace or just make new bits, provided you have access to basic resources. If your GM disagrees, I’ll have a word.

On top of the basics, most bowmen would also carry around molds for arrow heads, and know how to melt down and reform metal to make new ones. This fact isn’t probably that important, unless you’re playing with a GM who likes to punish careless archers for missing their targets and instead sending arrows over the horizon. No, the thing to take advantage of here, is the type of molds you should expect to have:

Regular. Nothing too special about these, but just remember that they’re all barbed. Only way to get them out is to push them through. Nasty right? It gets better. If you’re going to be loosing more than a couple of arrows, take them out of your quiver or satchel and put a decent handful point down into the ground. Not only will this be quicker to grab them, but also give the arrowhead a nice coating of dirt. Just in case they survive the shot, the infected wound will kill them. This works for all arrow types by the way.

Bodkin. Armour piercing. Don’t get too cocky though, you’ll need to have your target within fifty feet and hit straight on. If you do though, they punch through a breast plate and right into the person wearing it.

Broadhead. Mainly used as a horse stopper, as most other arrows don’t do that much damage to the half ton of muscle that is a war horse.

To make it easier to swap arrow heads, and more of a pain to get them out of wound, they’re not stuck fast to the shaft. Simply spit down the join, then push it on to the arrow with a twist to keep it as secure as it needs to be. A simple twist and pull will take it off again meaning you can change arrow heads in a hurry if you need to.

And one final point; never rely on just your bow. Have a short sword or long dagger about you too. Sometimes an arrow will drop a chap, but not finish him off, and if they’re still wearing armour, you want something that get into the gaps between the plates (armpits are the best if you can get nice and close). And of course it wouldn’t kill you to get the blade of your weapon nice and dirty too, just to make sure it will kill the bugger you’re sticking it into.

I hope you all have some fun with that, and please feel free to show off about the cool stuff you’ve done with a bow in your own game. Next time, we discuss crossbows, and ask why they’re never as deadly in games as they are in real life.

A Call to Arms for Decent Men

This is not a full blog, as most of it will be a link that I was nudged towards this morning. Since I then had to work, it took me while to get around to a full read, and to get some thoughts together on it. First, here’s the link. The guy explains what’s going on very well, so I’ll just let you read it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.


So, I know that this isn’t the problem for table top gamers as it is for online gamers, I’ve mentioned as such already. I do however know that there are plenty of online forums out there that do afford those who desire it a little more anonymity. I would say that if you’re unlucky enough to see this kind of behavior, then the thoughts in the link above should give you some advice on how to deal with it. Big thanks to Mr. Adams for posting this, it was a great read.

Eleventh Hour, an Only War play test.

I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.

So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.

The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.

In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.

There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them

If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.

As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.

There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.

I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…