April 28

Top 10 RPG list – number 8

Cyberpunk 2020.

I encountered the first edition of Cyberpunk at my local Games Workshop in Hammersmith back in the day when Games Workshop sold more than just their own products.

I was intrigued by the line-art on the box and the blurb on the back really gripped me as I had seen no other game where you could play someone who could hack into satellites to play music they liked.

While I liked the system, it did seem to be a little unbalanced in places especially in the way it handled combat as the combat system Friday Night Firefight had rifles that do enough bullet damage to vaporise an un-armoured person.

So I put the game aside after running it a couple of times and thought no more of it.

It was a few years later that I purchased the second edition titled 2020 and it is this edition that I used to run several campaigns with.

I was surprised to find that very little had changed from the original version, some things were simplified and the combat system had been given an overhaul.  Best of all my favourite part of the game remained intact:  The lifepath.

I have mentioned before how I like systems that give you a background for the character and this not only did that but it would also give you plot hooks galore as well as allies, lovers, friends and enemies.  Fitting in with the dystopian hedonism that certain cyberpunk books had the lifepath could as a result of a few dice rolls dictate that your character could be straight, bi or homosexual.  Of course I never made a player accept any result that made them feel uncomfortable with.  The lifepath was such fun I had one player try to make his character as old as possible so that they could play this mini game for as long as they could.

The game was also resplendent with chrome and had all sorts of stuff that a player could desire; whereas some games publish veritable arms catalogues as supplements, the four Chromebooks are a futuristic lifestyle magazine the products within are presented as fake advertisements.  It looks like the design team took some cues from the film Robocop and the Chromebooks added a much needed touch of polish and some great 21st century ideas for household living.

Cyberwear was a big part of the game and you could implant all sorts of gadgets into your body.  Cyerbarms and legs were par for the course and owing to the lessened lethality of the combat system which meant you no longer turned into red mist you could instead find your arm or leg being destroyed.

Honourable mention.


I think I picked Shadowrun 1st edition up after Cyberpunk as I was drawn to the evocative cover painting on the hardback and I although found the system a bit wonky in places it was good fun to play.

It was touted as fusion of cyberpunk and fantasy, it had the classic fantasy races; humans, orcs, elves and dwarves.  The lack of an integrated lifepath system also irked me but the archetypes made up for it.

This was one of the first games I encountered to use an archetype based character creation system and the archetypes where just that a standard character you could pick up and with a small amount of customisation play.

There was also a full blown character creation system but that to me is where the system started to break down;  a lack of guidance on how to handle to priority system led to some incorrect characters which were naturally more powerful than the archetypes by several orders of magnitude.

Second edition tried to simplify the system which it did but the creep of the splatbooks didn’t help either as it appeared to me that each book was trying to outdo the previous ones.  By the time the bioware book came out things were tottering on the edge of collapse.  This one volume gave your character several implants that could function with cyberwear and having this book at character creation you could turn out some very potent characters.

My personal favorite was Rockwell the troll who was the very epitome of a meta-human tank.  I sank all I the attribute points and cybernetic enhancements I could into his Body stat which ended up at a mind boggling 17!  He once endured three rounds of hand to hand combat with a dragon and got away with nothing more than a moderate wound; it was at that point the GM cheated and decided that the dragon would use magic against him, something that Rockwell couldn’t cope with and he dropped like a stone after one mana bolt later.

Wonky rules aside, Shadowrun did have a meta-plot which runs through the supplements and the comments in the sidebars and footers of the books are very witty and add to the feel of the expanded universe.

I’ve discussed two books which rode the coattails of the popularity of the cyberpunk genre, Cyberpunk 2020 for me is best when it comes to Style but Shadowrun has the edge when it comes to substance.


April 26

Random generators

Back in the pre-internet days one of the things I struggled with was trying to come up with  plausible sounding names. The only reliable resources I had was to be found in gaming  magazine and Dragon used to have the more interesting small ads.

It was through Dragon I learned of the Judges Guild product the Revised Treasury of Archaic Names and I managed to acquire the new reprinted edition; at last I had the means of creating realistic sounding names by rolling on the tables but there was a catch and that was it took some time to get a name that didn’t sound silly.

So I sought another method and Dragon provided the answer once more a program called TableMaster and with ad text like this it had to be good:

Do you need the time to be a good gamemaster — and the power to be a great one? You’ve come to the right place for unique RPG gamemaster’s aid software and other cool roleplaying game goodies.

Using this program you could generate all manner of things using the language of the program, the problem I faced was it was shareware and so limited in functionality; twice I tried unsuccessfully to send my registration fee to the author and after a few emails she told me that she’d moved from that address.  After chasing her for a while to try and figure out what happened to the International Money Orders I had sent she stopped answering my messages and I gave up.

I did manage to cancel both of them after telling her I intended to do so and that she needn’t bother trying to investigate.

Not long after I heard about a program called TableSmith another shareware program which not only looked good but was still being maintained and the author does accept registration fees. I tried it but found the scripting language somewhat daunting and after a few abortive attempts to figure out how to make it generate tables I gave up.  There is a support group for this package and the author is still developing it but it just wasn’t for me.  TableSmith can be found by following this Hyperlink: http://mythosa.net/wiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.TableSmith

It was only when I stumbled across NBOS softwares offering Inspiration Pad Pro that I ventured back into the realm of table creation and I had more success with this application than any of the others I had tried before.  The main selling points of the program for me is the integrated table editor which automatically highlighted the correct syntax of the scripting language, the portable version which doesn’t require installation and there is also a web version available.

With this tool I was able to create some awesome tables and my Pulp Adventure Creator which I based upon several other lists that I had acquired.  With a few clicks I could create a three act pulp adventure complete with; plot twists, heroes, villains, supporting cast and all manner of exotic locations.

I intended it for use for Spirit Of The Century but that game is on a break at the moment, I suspect that someday I shall craft an adventure for my players and see what they think 🙂

Inspiration Pad Pro 3 can be found here: http://www.nbos.com/products/ipad/ipad.htm

With a little time and effort it can be a worthwhile project to hand craft some tables that you can roll on and give your players some interesting results. If however you seek some top notch random tables which can be rolled on via a web page I humbly direct you to The Seventh Sanctum Codex http://www.seventhsanctum.com/, which has links to other random generators as well.

April 24

April 2014 Blog Carnival: The Game Master’s Binder



This is my contribution to Aprils RPG Carnival, The Game Master’s Binder.

This month Scot Newbury of the Of Dice and Dragon blog is hosting the blog carnival and wants to know whats in our Gamesmaster’s binder.

I never really had what you’d call a traditional game master’s binder.  If you ever found yourself stuck and rolled on one of those random book description tables and ended up with a result of “a loose sheaf of leaves tied together” that would pretty much sum up all of my binders or collection of unsorted notes.

Being British I never really had the traditional three ring punched binder that I understand that my colonial cousins use, here a binder is a two ring binder with the holes close to the centre of the document.

When I started game mastering I used to use reporters notebooks to keep track of my campaigns and since I am a proliferate note taker I used to fill them up at a rapid pace.  I then turned to A4 pads to retain my notes; being a superstitious sort each new campaign got a brand new pad and also a new set of dice 🙂 .  Being loose leaf I started to use foolscap folders to hold everything in place and certain colour folders represented important parts of my filing system.

When I moved onto the epic Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer I moved on to using an expanding document wallet, all the pockets gave me plenty of space to hold all my notes, blank character sheets, maps, calendars which also included lunar phases and handouts.

Now I’ve moved into the Information Age and my iPad is my binder.  I use the notepad app to keep my notes before I upload them somewhere else like Obsidian Portal where  I keep track of my current campaign.    I mentioned before that Obsidian Portal is a structured Wiki and collaborative space where I can give my players access to things that they should now and important npcs they have encountered.

I did try using NBOS software The Keep for a little while and although it keeps everything in a relational database being a PC only package means I can’t always keep it with me.  Having access to information in a relational database is light years ahead of trying to find a sticky note or random piece of paper that you may have lost.  The other downside is that unless you’re willing to create new database files it tends to lump everything into one database which can become problematic.  However the software does have access to their integrated table rolling tool which is a useful addition to the package.

I’m also testing the waters with Lone Wolf Development Realmworks to see if I can use this to track all my important notes on say for example new factions yet to be discovered or other characters yet to be found.  It’s also a relational database with some extra knobs on and each campaign gets its own database or Realm to use their terminology.  Realmworks does look good but it requires me to be at my PC whereas my iPad doesn’t 🙂

So far that’s described my filing system but what did my binders contain?  Apart from blank character sheets, maps and handouts I would also ensure that I would have some random names to hand for that moment when someone asks “So whets his name then?” I’d also have lists of moon phases and even weather descriptions for the next few days; although the early days of using the tables in the books did lead for some interesting weather conditions 🙂  I even used to have the odd random menu for a tavern in case someone asked for it and a floor plan of said tavern.

I used to explain that the coaching inns in the Warhammer universe were built almost identically.  I live in an area that used to be used as a coaching stop into London there is numerous old pubs around here that were once coaching inns and they all share similar features.

My Forgotten Realms campaign binder also used to contain lists of all the deities and their holy days, which almost filled it!  I also included various maps that I printed out from the Forgotten Realms Atlas including a players one and one just for my usage.

I hope you’ve found this somewhat rambling discourse entertaining and let me know what you think in the comments below.



April 21

Z Day +2

Following on from the last session.

The intrepid survivors make an unscheduled stop at a truck stop so they may repair a damaged tire on the bus.

While there they encounter two members of a motorcycle gang plundering the truck stop. After brief negotiations the group secures needed supplies and proceed to investigate a small shopping mall.  The mall yields some further supplies.

Heading back to the bus the sound of gunfire can be heard in the truck stop. A quick look through the front door yields a grisly sight,  a horde of zombies overwhelms the two gang members.

A decision is made and the party leaves only to return a couple of hours later to secure the truck stop, during which one of the party is bitten.

April 20

Top 10 RPG list – number 9


The latest step in the evolution of the worlds most popular RPG Pathfinder has a lot going for it.  Released when Wizards of the Coast moved on to do D&D4e there were always going to be gamers who refused to change to the new edition.  Pathfinder took the mantle of 3.5 and applied a lot of what I suspect to be several houserules and codified them into a single cohesive whole. This is a  game where you really can get away with nothing more than the core rulebook, sure the bestiary is a nice touch but you can find all of the Pathfinder monsters on the http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ Pathfinder System reference document.

I remember the resistance offered when TSR released AD&D 2nd edition, the wailing and gnashing of teeth as gamers perceived their beloved loopholes being closed up in the new edition.  There was a similar reluctance for D&D3 as the cleaner design removed many trappings of the system that some people held onto like a security blanket.  I was a little hesitant to get the new edition as I had recently purchased the excellent Core Rules 2 campaign package; a suite of digital tools that enabled character creation; writing handouts, dice roller and mapper in an all in one package.  The new edition put paid to me using it again which was a pity since Core Rules 2 was a most excellent tool.

Although having everything in one book does make for a monster (ho-ho) tome, it is not the largest game book on my shelf; something that I will discuss in a future top ten posting.

I think where Pathfinder really shines though are the adventure path series, a series typically containing six books which form the basis for a campaign.  In an age of every increasing splat books, it is a refreshing change to see a company willing to support their core line with a series of pre-packaged campaigns.  Even if you don’t use them as written you can always mine them for inspiration and use them as a basis for a new campaign.

Honourable mentions.

There are quite a few other fantasy games available and many appear to draw inspiration from D&D in one shape or another.


Pendragon casts you as a knight in the tales of King Arthur which isn’t a bad thing; using a familiar setting makes it easier for players to get a sense of what is going on and at least an idea of what may happen.  There is one campaign adventure available The Great Pendragon Campaign which enables you to play through the rise and fall of King Arthur.  Since this is a rather long campaign, the game provides you with the chance to create and play knights from different generations, with the game clock running it is somewhat important to find time to get married and try to start a family to ensure that there are future generations to carry the family name.  Since the system is derived from Runequest combat can be quite deadly and another reason to have an heir and a spare to hand 🙂

Maelstrom Domesday.

Back in the 1980’s, riding the wave of success of the Fighting Fantasy game books a slim paperback RPG appeared called Maelstrom.  It was simple to play and had everything you needed in one volume and this little gem quickly disappeared until the rights to the game were recently acquired and a facsimile edition was reprinted.

Last year a brand new edition was crowd-funded and subsequently released the afore mentioned Domesday edition which rather than being a small standard sized paperback is available in both soft and hard cover.  The game is set in York in 1086 and has a lifepath based character creation system that reminded me of Warhammer 1st edition and by the end of it you have not only a character but a rich background for you to hang plot hooks off of.  I’m always in favour of lifepath systems for this very reason.

Website: http://www.arion-games.com/MaelstromDomesday.html


April 19

Obsidian portal

With the new campaign in full swing I ran into a problem; I wanted a way of giving the group background information on the world and also a way to keep track of their adventures.

My other group has a campaign Wiki powered by Media Wiki.  I gave a lot of thought into setting one up for the group but the more I read the more I realised I didn’t have the knowledge, hosting or wherewithal to set one up. So on the urging of a fellow gamer I decided to try Obsidian portal which promised to perform all the campaign functions I desired.

Once I got started with Obsidian portal I saw the potential for it. All the hard work is done for you as there are several predetermined categories; Wiki, adventure log, characters.
Using these categories its easy to input the information you want and there are places to record GM only information so you can keep private notes.

The character tab deserves a special mention as there are several popular games systems available and the digital sheets look very nice. I was pleasantly suprised to find that the All Flesh Must Be Eaten template also calculates life points and essence points.

If you’re looking for a collaborative Wiki site to store your campaign information its worth a look. You can get a basic account for free, paid accounts get you a forum for your campaign, more space to store maps and the ability to make your campaign hidden or friends only.  

You can find the link to Obsidian portal here:


April 14

Top 10 RPG list – number 10

To kick things off number 10 on my list is a BASH Ultimate Edition the super RPG.

I’ve always had a thing for super-powered gaming, I guess this stems from my love of the comics.  My first super game was Marvel Superheroes basic set, a bright yellow box containing a few books, dice and maps.  From there I picked up one or two more other games but found myself desiring something else.

BASH is one of those happy accidental purchases which I seem to have made a few of in my time; as I thought I was originally buying a different game and was happily surprised with what I actually bought.

BASH was going to be the game to introduce a new player to the group and I wanted something that enabled everybody to be heroes and do good deeds while protecting the innocent.  It would also allow us to evaluate the new player before we could resume the regular Pendragon campaign.

I also wanted a simple game with flexible character creation options and BASH gave me all of them, requiring nothing more than a pair of six sided dice and using multiplication to do all the super stuff.  In practice the game does work rather well plus the book has a table reminiscent of the old Marvel table which I thought was a nice touch.

There are other point based systems on the market but since this was going to be an introductory game I eschewed them all in favour of this one.  Like most systems you pick a set point level and you can exceed the points you spend but your character tends to attract bad stuff.

There are supplemental power books with one or two new powers to be found within and the rest of the book is filled with powers based upon existing ones in the main book; as well as organising them into various categories like attack and utility powers.

BASH has some good advice on different eras of play and I had no trouble with the Golden Age, the characters were going to be part of a task force operating in the City Of London during the 1960s.

After some discussion we ironed out the kinks for certain advantages and the players certainly came up with some interesting concepts including; a water elemental from an alternate dimension,  an immortal Scotsman, a ghost who could posses the wheelchair bound host and someone in a suit of power armour.

I don’t normally discuss behind the scenes stuff about adventures but in this case I shall since it was such a wonderful idea I feel it has to be told.  I have no fear of my players using the information as I will not be returning to my unfinished creation because the sad news is that but three weeks into the adventure the new player suddenly died and I was unable to contemplate continuing it.

The idea was borrowed from an old episode of Doctor Who, something that was written as a period piece in the 1960s and concerned the Post Office tower, a slightly sentient supercomputer who could control minds and it was all under the control of the then postmaster general.  I had fun writing or rather adapting it to the group and I was able to use the stock resources provided by the main book to flesh things out.

Honourable mentions.

Mutants and Masterminds was probably the best OGL version of a supers game I ever ran across, it was flexible and you could certainly create the characters that you wanted but it got a bit fiddly in places and I found the odd point here and there which I couldn’t easily spend.  The system did away with hit points and had you make damage saves instead.  I have only experienced the first edition and I understand some changes were made in later versions but I never had the desire to purchase them.

Golden Heroes.  The second supers game I ever bought as Games Workshop had it all on sale and I was intrigued by it.  The first game I encountered that had everyone roll for their powers randomly and you had to rationalise them, any that couldn’t be explained had to be discarded.  This did have the wonderful rationale from one of the players that the CIA had messed with his DNA.   Until I found BASH this would have to be my favourite supers game as it was simple, elegant and had you rolling a detailed PC up in half an hour or so.  I understand the game lives on as Squadron UK.


April 13

Top ten rpg list.

Every gamer out there has a list of their favourite games; either ones that really resonate with the player as a result of a killer setting or perhaps it is that the game brings happy memories of a golden time.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to countdown my top ten list of pen and paper games and give you my notes on why it deserves a spot in my list.

Come back tomorrow when the countdown will start.