Saturday, July 22, 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Announcing #RPGaDAY, again!

A few years ago I felt there was a negative undercurrent in our hobby. Sorry to say that, but I felt it was there, and inspired by one of those "aDay" things for bibliophiles I thought that I could try to get the world talking about tabletop RPGs in a positive and encouraging way. I know, it's sappy and you probably think I'm being ridiculous, but it's all positive and it's a bit of fun - just trying to get people talking in a good way about tabletop gaming. After all, it's a great hobby that gets us talking in person, socially, without staring at a screen. It stimulates the imagination, forms bonds and friendships that can last a lifetime, and gets you thinking outside of the box.

So, I came up with a list of 31 questions for August (GenCon month, seeing as I couldn't go and I wanted to feel involved in some way), and the internet joined in. Well, a few did, anyway. All over the world, from America to Australia, from Brazil to Berlin, people were joining in the conversation, hashtagging everything #RPGaDAY so you could see what people were saying on the various social media.

If nothing else, it got people blogging and vlogging.

The following year, I thought I'd run it again with new questions. I also managed to get cool people from the gaming industry to join in on my daily videos, and it was great.

Last year, I was a little busy. I thought about not doing it, but Anthony Boyd and the RPGBrigade stepped in and said they'd run the event for the month. It gave them some publicity (which is great, as their BrigadeCon raises money for charity) and the few posts I did do that month reached a lot further than I could alone.

So this year, while I'm not massively busy, I thought I'd let Anthony and the RPGBrigade run things again. Hopefully I'll join in as much as possible.

I recorded some video footage to join with Anthony's to announce this month's event.

You can download the infographic, brilliantly designed again by Will Brooks, from the images below...

There's also a high definition if you it find easier to read -

You can also find translations into German here.

More information can be found at the CastingShadowsBlog here. and check out the Facebook page here.

Join in if you can, and tag everything #RPGaDAY.

Until the start of August, stay multi-classy!!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon...

Announcing the 13th Doctor - Jodie Whittaker
It was only to be expected - an albeit brief post about Doctor Who. Today, they revealed the new face of the Doctor, the 13th (or is it 15th?) incarnation, in the form of Jodie Whittaker. All I can say is - AWESOME!

I haven't been this excited about the future of Doctor Who since I was sat in the BBC offices with Dominic McDowall-Thomas (head of Cubicle 7) and we were given the scripts for Series 5 (Matt Smith's first series) to read in preparation of the new edition of the RPG, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (as it was then - now it's just Doctor Who The Roleplaying Game). We weren't allowed to take the scripts out of the room, but we were allowed to make notes, and I remember reading "The Eleventh Hour" thinking "This is going to be brilliant".

I remember we knew we weren't going to get through all the scripts in one day, so we split the pile randomly. I still have my notes somewhere. I remember one particular line, I was so disappointed they cut from the episode "The Beast Below" where Amy asks the Doctor what it must be like in his head. His reply was simply - "A rollercoaster of geniuses, all going Wheeeeee!!!" (or something like that - I have it written down somewhere in that notebook).

I loved Matt Smith as the Doctor, and while I thought the stories weren't as strong as his tenure gave way to Peter Capaldi, this last series (series 10, or season 36 if you're being like that) has been bloomin' brilliant. Bill (Pearl Mackie) has been a great companion, and even Nardole (Matt Lucas) has surprised me with how good he's been.

That said, Doctor Who is all about change, and the brilliant casting of Jodie Whittaker (who was great in Broadchurch, and that really haunting episode of Black Mirror - "The Entire History of You") is certainly a great change in its fifty-plus years.

I'm really excited to see what they do with her Doctor - new TARDIS? What will the companions be like? Chris Chibnall has stated it's going to be a new approach, and I'm very intrigued!

I, for one, will definitely be watching.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Next time, Indiana Jones, it will take more than children to save you...

I'd been thinking about writing a blog post about Indiana Jones for a little while now, and today being the date of the release of the original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, waaaaay back on the 12th June 1981, it felt like today was a good day to do it.

I have very vivid memories of seeing Raiders for the first time. I was 13, and I remember my grandparents were up in Yorkshire visiting from their home in East London. They came to stay for a week, and the first weekend they were up they sent "the kids" off to the cinema to see Clash of the Titans on its last week of its run. The trip went well, and we enjoyed the film loads. So the end of their visit, at the end of the week, they sent us off to the cinema again to see a new film that I knew nothing about called Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was from the makers of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so it was bound to be good, and it had Han Solo in it. What's not to love?

This will probably have been the Friday 31st July 1981, opening weekend in the UK. It was a bit of a shock to me as, after Star Wars, I mostly watched science fiction or fantasy stuff, so I wasn't really expecting a traditional action adventure. Needless to say, it was ace, but I do remember being a little freaked out by the more horrific elements - the impaling of Satipo, the gross crypt of skeletons, and, of course, the melty nazis. I was only 13, and wasn't really a horror watcher, and the image of Toht's face melting off like a candle would remain in my unconscious for many years.

But it was great. Not a clean cut, perfect hero. He was bruised, tired, and a little quick to leap into foolishly dangerous situations. I bought the book (which was something I had a habit of doing - after all, you couldn't rewatch the video so you bought the book and reread the movie), and the comic adaptation. When my parents bought our first VHS recorder, Raiders was one of the first movies to come out at a price that was affordable to buy - £20 if I remember rightly. I bought it straight away after many weeks of saving up pocket money for it.

And that first time on VHS... when I put the cassette in and the first thing you saw was the red line going over the map, telling you where they were filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom... awesome.

Strangely, despite being criticised for being more violent and darker than Raiders, I actually loved Temple of Doom more. Possibly thanks to its relentless pace and crazy action scenes (the mine-cart sequence is still brilliant, as is the final bridge scene). I was such a fan of Temple of Doom that I asked to buy the VHS of it when it came out to rent. Our local rental store agreed to sell me a new one at cost (£55 if I remember correctly) which I paid for in weekly instalments before its release.

Heck, Temple of Doom is one of the only reasons I passed my English at school - part of the exam was to do an oral element, reading aloud from a book. I picked the section from the novel of Temple of Doom with the bug filled corridor ("We... are going... to DIE!!") and it went down far better than my previous attempts.


You know where this is leading don't you? Yes. My obsession with licensed RPGs. The same year as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984, TSR released the Adventures of Indiana Jones roleplaying game. I loved TSR - Star Frontiers was the first RPG I purchased. The prospect of playing daring adventurers punching nazis around the world sounded awesome, and I managed to pick up the game from my not-so-local game store (hidden above a picture framing shop an hour's bus ride away).

The Adventures of Indiana Jones boxed set - (1984)
Yes, this is still the same one I bought way back then. Scuffed, and loved.
The game came in a boxed set, with a rulebook, Judge's Screen (Gamemasters were called Judges), character sheets for the main characters, dice, and 3D cutout "minis", as well as a map of the world, the reverse of which doubled as a square grid for the minis.

The Judge's Screen (a bit marked by sellotape), the main rulebook, and the slide-rule that helped
calculate the results of your roll.

The minis were a bit of a gimmick, as I really didn't use minis for any of my gaming, but I had a bit of a laugh trying to put them together (rather badly, using tape and UHU). Most of them, though not the more complex pieces like the truck and jeep, have survived the years in storage in a cake tin.

The Indiana Jones minis: Sallah, Willie and Indy face off against a Nazi (tm), Mola Ram and Toht.
In the foreground is a tent, and a rather square motorcycle-sidecar.

We played a few games, but the biggest frustration was the lack of character creation rules. The game expected you to play as the main cast of the first two movies, with some secondary characters in the mix like Jock the pilot.

I guess this may be where my RPG writing first started. Equipped with a typewriter, film magazines they gave away at the cinema, a pair of scissors and a glue-stick, I set to creating a supplement for my own use that was mostly character creation.

My character creation rules from 1984 - do excuse the bad pun.
I even discovered if you laid out the character sheet using graph paper, and letraset, when you photocopied it at the local library the squares didn't come out. This way, you could create character sheets that had straight lines, and looked fairly neat.

Handmade character sheets, and the master sheet, along with gun stats.
The character was Bragi's character, Joan Wilder, based on the character from
the movie Romancing the Stone (1984).
Of course, a year later the Judge's Survival Pack came out and rectified the lack of character creation rules, bringing in the official way to create new heroes for your adventures. But the Judge's Survival Pack had a couple of even more essential elements - the random ruins tables and charts, and the endless chase flowchart. The chase charts in Indiana Jones were brilliant, and only surpassed by the James Bond chase system (which I think I used the Indy flowcharts for to help with the scenery).

The Judge's Survival Pack, and the epic chase flowcharts! (1985)

Along with the Judge's Survival Pack, they released six adventures. The first two were the obvious Temple of Doom and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The adventures for The Adventures of Indiana Jones

The remaining four were considerably thinner and shorter - The Crystal Death, The Golden Goddess, Nepal Nightmare and The Fourth Nail. The Golden Goddess and some elements of the last two adventures featured the "Magic Viewer" system which obscured the text - the whole of the text in the case of the Golden Goddess adventure (designed for solo play) - unless you held a small piece of red plastic over it to clear the red mess.

The inside of "The Golden Goddess" showing off how the pages looked without the Magic Viewer!

The actual adventures for IJ3-IJ6 were based upon the Marvel Comics "The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones", so players who had read the comics kinda knew what was coming.

However, it didn't last, and besides a set of metal minis (which I didn't get - never been much of a minis person) that was all for TSR's Indiana Jones RPG. Of course, the game has gone on to be immortalised. Legend has it when the license expired, all unsold copies were destroyed and employees at TSR had some of the burnt cardstock minis encased in perspex. Only part of the name survived in the perspex, and it became the trophy for the coveted "Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming".

Indiana Jones would return to the tabletop ten years later, in 1994 with West End Games' "The World of Indiana Jones". I really wish I'd picked it up, even though the Masterbook system that powered it wasn't something I'd tried, and it was West End Games (who produced two of my favourite games ever - Ghostbusters and Star Wars). However, I'd moved city, was in the middle of my degree, and the only game I was playing involved brooding vampires, and reality shifting mages.


With the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull released in 2008, I was half expecting someone to take another crack at the whip of Indiana Jones roleplaying. Alas... nothing. But with Lucasfilm being taken over by Disney, and them doing such a fantastic job of breathing life into Star Wars - pleasing fans old and new - you have to wonder, with a new Indiana Jones movie scheduled for 2020, will someone try again to bring Indy back to the gaming table?

Monday, May 22, 2017

It is happening again...

As the 80s turned into the 90s I became obsessed. My first experience of the genius of David Lynch came with Dune, adapted from a book I hadn't read. I loved science fiction, so checked out anything remotely SF, and the movie of Dune was a visual masterpiece. My friends in the old D&D group pointed out the differences between the movie and the book, but while I didn't *get* bits of it, I still loved it.

Off of the back of that, and when most (but not all) of my gamer friends had gone off to university, I rented Blue Velvet. Hell, I rented just about everything from the local video store. I had time to kill. But Blue Velvet was a complete mind-frell. Hey, it had Paul Atreides in it, so it should be good. Oh, it's the same director as Dune. Cool...

After that, I was a bit obsessed. I checked out David Lynch's other works, and being late to the party it wasn't long before I discovered a VHS tape called Twin Peaks at the video store. A "made for TV" movie.

I remember watching it with one of the guys from the D&D group. It was weird, intriguing, and had a strangely sinister feel that was very reminiscent of Blue Velvet. But, what would be known as the International Pilot, wrapped everything up with Laura Palmer's killer, and had a weird epilogue dream sequence that provoked "huh?"s. This was before the internet, so I knew nothing else of it. It was a strangely mesmerising little video that captured my imagination, and I thought it was over.

My parents used to buy the TV guides (remember the days that you bought the Radio Times for BBC listings, and the TVTimes for ITV and Channel 4?) and every week we used to go through the four channels and highlight the programmes we were interested in. One fateful week in 1990 I picked up the Radio Times and found that cover...

(I think I still have that issue somewhere in the loft) ->

That little "made for TV" movie was actually a TV series. There was a diagram in the magazine to introduce the characters for this new soap opera that had taken America by storm. I was ready for it. I bought a pile of blank VHS tapes, and every week on Tuesday nights I would sit there, tuned to BBC2, with that agonising wait through the last ten minutes of Alan Bennett's monologues that seemed to last ten hours. Fingers poised over the record button on the VHS machine to record the latest episode.

(Yes, I still have the VHS tapes of those recordings).

I was quickly obsessed. I wore my Agent Cooper trenchcoat all the time outside the house. I bought a dictaphone. I bought the books, the soundtrack, and rewatched the series on tape.

At art college one of the big projects was to create something to explain something to a newcomer. Whether this was "how to fold a paper plane" or "how to bake a pie", I decided to explain Twin Peaks - taking that initial, simple diagram from the Radio Times and incorporating every character into a massive flow diagram / relationship map. I passed, but I don't think it really explained anything...

When Twin Peaks ended, I was a bit lost. That cliffhanger...

I filled the hole in my entertainment life with The X-Files. It shared a lot of sensibilities. FBI agents investigating the weird, mentions of Project Bluebook, and it had the guy who played Denise Bryson in it.

I never thought I'd see more Twin Peaks, or ever discover the aftermath of that cliffhanger...

Who'd have though it?

Twenty-six years later, I've just watched the first two parts of Twin Peaks season 3 (or Twin Peaks: The Return as it's sometimes called). The first two parts, being the first two hours - shown as one feature length episode. Thanks to Sky Atlantic, they're showing it at 2am in the UK, the same moment the States gets to experience the wonderful and strange.

No, we didn't watch it live - we recorded it and watched it at 9am this morning, with a large box of donuts, and hot beverages - just as Twin Peaks is intended.

I had that moment just before we watched it, and I said to Debs, "What if it's rubbish? I've waited over 25 years for this, what if it's no good?"

In my head I had worked out what I wanted from a Twin Peaks revival.

1) A new murder case. Things should start with a murder case, just like the original Twin Peaks, and the FBI (and Gordon Cole's strange division) should get called in to investigate. That way you can start afresh, and resurrect elements of the original series as necessary to tie things up.

2) Lots of new characters, with a sprinkling of the originals.

3) Some Black Lodge stuff, so we can resolve some of the cliffhanger from season 2.

That was about all I'd hoped for really. And thankfully, all of those boxes were ticked.

Needless to say (and I'm keeping this spoiler free for those of you who are going to watch it on Tuesday night on the normal primetime broadcast slot - ah, 9pm on a Tuesday, it's just like 1990 again) I loved it. Every confounding, uncomfortable, sinister, hilarious, bizarre and mindblowing second of it.

I'm already itching to rewatch it. I'm worried that Debs is going to witness another strangely obsessive phase for me where I sit and stare at the glass for hours watching for something to happen...

Probably not the last post you'll see from me about Twin Peaks in the coming weeks...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Live and In Stereo

This blog post is about audio tapes. I know it's a strange topic to pick, as I've not really discussed music here before, but it's mostly inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and its "Awesome Mix". With the release of the second movie just a few days away, what better time to talk about Awesome Mixes, mix tapes and cassettes in general.

A few of my old tapes (yeah, very Goth) and my wife's old Walkman (that still works - mine died long ago)

This was also partly inspired by both my lovely wife deciding to sort out part of the spare room for her projects and stumbling across our boxes of audio tapes (and a couple of old personal stereos), and also by watching Th1rteen R3asons Why on Netflix - a series that stunned, shocked and left me in an emotional puddle on the floor. Before you complain and say "doesn't that glamorise suicide?" I'll stop you there and say I don't think it does. It's horrible, traumatic, but is getting people talking, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, this post isn't about Th1rteen R3asons Why. I may come to that in a later post.

This post is about audio tapes. Remember those? I do. Yes, I'm old. Audio tapes for me had double the use as not only where they a great way to record music, and even voice recordings, but they also held data for my old, trusty ZX Spectrum. Nothing quite like the old days of waiting thirty minutes for your game to load from the screeching sound of data transfer.

But Guardians of the Galaxy really made tapes popular again. Maybe the combination of that and Th1rteen R3asons will bring a new renaissance of tapes, just as vinyl is now the go-to media for real audiophiles?

Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mix (vol 1) is the tape that Peter Quill's mother gives him before he is abducted from Earth. They're tunes his mother loves that she has selected for him, and so have an emotional resonance as well as being great choices of music.

At my day job, we decided to take this one step further. While I can't get my parents to make an Awesome Mix for me anymore, we decided we'd each try to create our own Awesome Mix. The rules were simple:

1) Select 12 songs that have an emotional meaning for you - remind you of your childhood, your parents/guardians/friends/family.
2) The first 11 must be songs that you listened to before you started buying your own music.
3) No duplicate artists.
4) Compile them into a list - an Awesome Mix - think carefully of the running order.
5) The final song on your Awesome Mix should be the first single you ever bought for yourself, not bought for you.
(That last rule is one I added, not everyone at my day job has stuck to that one)

There you go! Your very own Awesome Mix (vol 1).

So, without further ado, I present my own Awesome Mix for your audio enjoyment.

1) Jive Talkin' - The Bee Gees
May 1975 - RSO Records

My dad was a huge Bee Gees fan. He seemed to play them constantly in the house and in the car. Our old house had a "front room" which was only really for when the weather was good, but it was where dad had set up the record player and during the summer the big bay windows would open onto the tiny street outside and the Bee Gees would fill the air (probably to the annoyance of our neighbours).

2) The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Feb 1977 - Warner Bros

I remember my sister saying to my dad, "Have you listened to Fleetwood Mac? They sound a bit like the Bee Gees and it's the music from Formula One?" My dad used to watch a lot of motor sport (hell, he used to watch a lot of sport), and I think this was my sister's way of getting him away from listening to the Bee Gees constantly. Thankfully, it worked. The Chain is still a work of genius (and it's no surprise that it appears on the official Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Awesome Mix).

3) Nightflight to Venus - Boney M
July 1978 - Atlantic

My dad used to play the drums. Not professionally, but he was in the "work band" at the hospital where he worked as a nurse. I knew he played the keyboards a little, but I didn't realise his musical background until we found his piano qualifications from the London Academy of Music when we were clearing my parent's house.

Anyway, being a drummer, he loved this. Probably because it owes a lot to one of his favourite singles, "Dance with the Devil" by Cosy Powell.

So that gets an honourable mention, but isn't on my Awesome Mix.

I do have a distinct memory of going to a "do" that was being held at the hospital where he was working. A Christmas do or something like that. I can't remember. I just remember it being in a big hall, with a stage for a band, and dad letting me sit behind the drum kit - but I wasn't allowed to touch them. Last thing they needed was an out-of-tempo racket ruining their evening. It was so cool. Shame I can't drum very well (if my playing Rock Band is anything to go by).

4) Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Kenny Rogers
1969, Reprise Records

My mum had a bit of a liking of country music. Well, both of them did really. I remember them videoing the Country Music Awards every year so they could rewatch the good bits - not that I remember them actually watching the tapes. I remember my mum liked Kenny Rogers, and for some reason this one always stuck in my mind. While I preferred "The Gambler" myself, this one stuck in my head for the bit about taking his gun and shooting her. Even as a youngster that sounded shocking.

5) Do You Wanna Dance? - Barry Blue
1973, Bell Records

You're probably thinking "WHO?" In 1973, this guy had a few hits including Dancin' on a Saturday Night, and this one. It was very glam, very over the top. Dad had the album - I remember it had a weird label in the middle of the vinyl that looked odd when it was going around. I can't remember much more than that, but after researching this Awesome Mix I've had this song stuck in my head for two days...

6) (I Lost My Heart to a) Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip
1978, Ariola Hansa

I was so obsessed with Star Wars when it came out, that I have a distinct memory of going to a department store with my parents and my dad deciding to buy a record. One of those compilation albums (long before the "NOW" series ever started). He picked out a few, and couldn't decide which one to go for and asked me to have a look. I knew a few of the tracks on them thanks to listening to the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, but Starship Trooper stood out as it was kinda sci-fi. So the album with that on it became the album of choice. This leads to the next one...

7) Denis - Blondie
1978, Chrysalis 

We put the aforementioned album on when we got home, and the first track on side 1 was "Denis" by Blondie. I can't remember what the second track was, but I remember my dad said that I'd picked the one with lots of punk on it, but he didn't mind the first one as his name was Denis, even spelled that way. And I would grow to be quite a fan of Blondie.

8) The Ballroom Blitz - The Sweet
1973, RCA

Not inspired by my parents' music choices this time. This one's thanks to my childhood friend from school who I'll just call Jinx incase he doesn't want to be named. Jinx was his nickname, though I don't think he liked it much. Jinx started with the whole "buying records" before me, and I remember going 'round to his house and him putting this on. I think his music tastes, and him buying singles, is what inspired me with my first music purchase, but that's a way off yet... Good choice of single, Jinx.

9) Misty Blue - Dorothy Moore
1975, Malaco

Not my usual music choice, but this one brings back fond memories of my dad. For some reason, he really wanted to listen to it, but he didn't know if he had it. Of course, I didn't know who sang it, dad proceeded to sing a bit of it for me, and I set to looking through all of his vinyl, every track on every compilation album looking for it for him. I don't think he had it in the end, but I know he always loved that song.

10) Tiger Feet - Mud
Jan 1974, RAK

Mum, however, liked her music a bit more up-tempo. While she couldn't dance due to her disability, she loved anything with a good beat that she could bop around to - and Tiger Feet by Mud was one of her favourites.

11) Summer Night City - ABBA
Sept 1978, Epic

As for choosing my own music, I do have a distinct memory of listening to ABBA (This was before I had my own music to choose from). My parents had a really cool "Best of ABBA" album (Greatest Hits Vol 2) and I remember listening to this on my folks' stereo in that front room. That was before I bought my own first single and everything changed.

12) Eighth Day - Hazel O'Connor
1980, A&M

Before this, I'd had a few records of my own that had been bought for me. I had a couple of singles (ELO, the Theme from Monkey, etc.) and a few albums (mostly Bond themes, Star Wars and War of the Worlds), but the first single I remember going out and buying for myself, with my own pocket money, is Eighth Day by Hazel O'Connor. Probably inspired by Jinx (who had Breaking Glass as an album if I remember correctly) and that music video that looked like Tron before Tron even happened (though I don't think I've ever seen the movie Breaking Glass)... It was epic, sci-fi, and unlike anything I'd ever heard before.


There you go. My Awesome Mix (Vol 1).

What would yours be? And what rules should constitute a Volume 2?

Until then, listen to music, dance, watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and enjoy.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Doors

There's a really cool track on the VAST album (Visual Audio Sensory Theater) called "Three Doors". It has been circling my head a lot these last few days, as I really do feel like I'm trying to pick a direction.


If you've been following my blog for any length of time you know I've been working for many years on WILD, an RPG of Dreamsharing. Open, untethered, and born from my love of Inception, Dreamscape, Paprika and The Matrix. I've been working on it off and on while doing other projects and its always bubbling away at the back of my mind, like a constantly spinning top locked away in a safe, in a house, in the city of my subconscious.

But I keep suffering from doubt, and also hearing tales of how horrible our hobby can be. Ignorant, vocal men, mostly. Threatening creators, posting abuse online. I'm sick of it.

I tried to voice some positivity years ago by creating RPGaDAY, trying to get people talking about the positive aspects of gaming. But I'm so ashamed of the abuse and discrimination in my hobby.

WILD Fiction

The door next to working on WILD is to concentrate on the fiction. For a NaNoWriMo many moons ago I wrote the first book of a trilogy, set in the WILD universe. A teenage school-leaver finds herself trapped in a nightmare she cannot wake from, while her father tries to create what will eventually become the dreamshare technology of the game to try to guide her back to the waking world. It was bizarre, a little personal, and weird thinking as my lead character - an eighteen year old girl facing the pressures of leaving school, going to university, her strained relationships with her parents and the betrayals of her friends.

Once again, doubt has reared its ugly head. Can I write fiction? Would anyone want to read it? What's the point?

And behind door number 3?

Something else?

My desire to write the Harry Potter RPG has never subsided. I know it's a mostly fruitless exercise, but there's that part of me that knows it's a good thing. It could be great for kids and adults alike, getting kids using their imaginations rather than staring at a screen. But while things seem to be more likely now than ever before, with the Fantastic Beasts - Cases from the Wizarding World game on iOS, as well as the forthcoming Harry Potter miniatures game, I'm still just a dreamer. A lone writer with no financial backing or big company to put the money where my mouth is.

I know how it could work, how it wouldn't even really be an RPG, and part of me just wants to write a good chunk of it, and digitally print a couple of copies to really show off what I have in mind. Send copies to WB and JK Rowling. But even then, I'm just me.

Besides, I'm sure there are already others out there who are working on it.


So at the moment, I'm standing there, like the guy in the stock photo above. Looking at the doors.

I had a birthday recently, and there's a big one coming up next year. Part of me is just thinking "You're too old for this crap" and there's another part of me shouting "Get it done! Do something before the next birthday. You have a year. Get off your ass!"

Well, I'm off my ass. I'm just lost looking for the right door.

Monday, April 3, 2017

He thrusts his fists against the (blog) posts...

...and still insists he sees the ghosts...

Pennywise illustration by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Had weird dreams last night again. Clowns this time. I guess I shouldn't have watched the trailer for the remake of "IT" in the evening beforehand.

IT has long been an important book to me as it was the one that got me into reading for pleasure. Before IT I wasn't a reader at all. Sure, I bought a lot of books, mostly adaptations of movies that I'd seen at the cinema so I could replay the best bits long before we had a VHS player. But I recounted my experiences with IT before - how the cover used to stare at me at the tiny bookstore in my small hometown, how I became haunted by it and finally had to read it - in an earlier blogpost that also related my meeting the legendary Stephen King himself.

IT was one of those books that really resonated with me, mostly because I always felt like our D&D group was our version of the Losers Club. Not that I'm saying the rest of our group were losers, but (probably much like a lot of kids in school) I never felt like I fit in with the rest of the school. The D&D group was the one place I really felt at home and comfortable. School was always trying to avoid being bullied, struggling to get through the lessons, and failing to get the attention of that girl in your class who made your heart quicken but didn't even know you existed.

Our D&D group met two or three evenings a week, during the week, with games usually filling day and evening at the weekends. When most of the group disappeared off to Universities, leaving only two or three of us behind, the games dwindled, and real life kicked in - having to find work, etc. While I tried to get into game writing, I spent my time discovering reading for pleasure, with IT being the gateway drug of choice. Even though I was only 18-19, I was already nostalgic for the earlier days of gaming with the group, and the routine of school. What a messed up teen I must have been.

IT, and its Losers Club, really struck a chord with me - though the time period was a little off in the book to really hit home. Of course, that's something that has been rectified with the new movies, with the Losers Club taking place in the 1980s, rather than the 50s.

Of course, with the 80s being when I was a chubby, weird-looking, unliked teenager, the Netflix series "Stranger Things" really appealed to me too. I've just started watching it again, and its IT influence is obvious. Damn, that's just about a perfect series.

Illustration of The Demogorgon from Stranger Things
by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Stranger Things was a brilliantly executed series that fed people of a certain age's nostalgia. The group of teens (again, united by their "outsider" status and playing D&D) were familiar to us, not only because of movies like ET, The Goonies and the like. But also because we were those teens. 

Of course, none of our RPG group were abducted by creatures from the Upside-down. At least, not to my knowledge.

But the IT trailer drew me back to a rewatch of Stranger Things, and I started wondering again about RPGs. Maybe Stranger Things is the perfect source for an RPG? I know there have been a few "fan created" RPGs or D&D supplements inspired by Stranger Things. And you could easily play Stranger Things using the rather awesome Little Fears, or the new Tales from the Loop RPGs. (Both highly recommended and inspired in their execution).

That train of thought, and April Fool's Day, reminded me of a couple of April Fools products I touted on here a few years ago (No, I didn't do an April Fools this year, as I know a lot of people who get pissed off by them). 

Cover for fake RPG I posted a few years ago
I posted about Ka-Tet, the RPG of Stephen King's The Dark Tower - I really did approach Stephen King's lawyers about that, but I think it must have been just as the movie rights were being finalised and it all came to a grinding halt. Of course, a Dark Tower RPG would have incorporated elements from most of his books, including IT, The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, etc... That would have been amazing...

I also posted about Full of Secrets, the RPG of Twin Peaks. Though I never tried to get the license for that, it still would be cool. I do love Lynch, and Twin Peaks' return is only a couple of months away. Cannot wait!

But both of these are slightly nostalgic, and small town exploration. Sure, The Dark Tower has the potential to be epic fantasy with gunslingers, but a lot of King's work is set in small places like Derry, Castle Rock, etc. - King Country as I always call that area of Maine. Twin Peaks too is small town, supernatural elements... Much like Stranger Things' town of Hawkins. 

Maybe it's that urge to write about small town mysteries that's getting to me. I always liked the idea of having a setting (rather like Chaosium's awesome sourcebooks like Dunwich) which is filled with characters, secrets and plot-hooks. With a simple system, supernatural overtones, and a sense of the weird, you could easily do Stranger Things, IT or Twin Peaks. That's probably something that's really appealing about Tales from the Loop on top of its 80s setting.

Of course, this may just be my nostalgia kicking in again. Growing up in a small town, but living in a city for the last 20 years... Maybe I just feel the draw of a small town again. Get away from the cities, back to my roots. Small towns, full of mystery and secrets.


Sorry this post was a bit rambly and stream of consciousness. Normal service will be resumed soon. In the meantime, go read IT. Go watch Stranger Things if you haven't already (and if you have, why not rewatch it before season two in October?). Maybe rewatch Twin Peaks, ready for the long awaited third season in May?

Remember, the owls are not what they seem. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hip to Be Square

I hope you'll endulge me this post, as I'm going to talk about a weird obsession I have - square books.

Weird huh? When I first decided to go it alone and start work on WILD, thinking "I want to make my own RPG that's about dreamsharing", before I'd even considered what kind of system I was going to use, I'd already determined that the book was going to be square.

Nobilis 2nd Edition - the "Great White Book"
Look at it. Isn't it glorious!!

I love square books. There aren't too many of them in the gaming hobby, from the amazing Mouse Guard, to the holy grail of RPGs - 2nd edition Nobilis. There's just something stylish and cool about them. 

Page example from 2nd Ed Nobilis
Two column with two quarter column asides.

From a design point of view, you get the wonders of having a two column layout just as you would with a traditionally shaped book, but you get a cool half-column that you can litter with sidebars, notes and other info, or just keep it clean. 

Sorry, the old-school graphic designer in me was clawing its way to the surface for a moment there.

I'd always imagined WILD to be my Nobilis - but I knew I wasn't smart or prolific enough to produce something as vast or wordy. In my head, it was going to be about the size of Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars RPG (Saga edition). The same width as a normal RPG book, but shorter to make it square. Cool! Also, it'd mean you wouldn't give yourself a hernia picking it up, as Nobilis 2nd edition has a tendency of doing if you approach it wrong.

Star Wars Saga Edition
Force Unleashed supplement
Not only had I a clear image in my head of how big the book would be, but I also knew what I wanted on the cover. I wanted it to be reversible, with a person on the front (originally intended to be the lead character for the WILD spin off fiction novels) wearing the dreamshare device, and her hair flowing out behind to become part of a swirling image of the many dreamworlds. The back cover would be the same image, only with her father hooked up to the machine (creator of the device, hoping to wake her from her coma-like persistent hypersomnia). You could approach the book both ways, with the back being the reference for the cards.

I'd even had the idea that you could put the whole thing in a slipcase that would also contain the Tarot cards, so on the shelf it'd be the same height as the rest of your books...

But I've been having a lot of ideas over the last couple of weeks. A LOT. And the more I think about it, the more that could work with WILD. No longer is it just a one-shot deal. A one-trick pony. It could work as a line

Rough design for the corebook cover -
please excuse the art, it's very small (10cm x 10cm)
and I haven't drawn in years!
With a book that details nightmares and night terrors - turning the game into more of a horror game.

Rough supplement cover design -
again, only 10cm x 10cm, sorry.
Another book that looks at other ways of accessing the dreamspace, some being able to do it without technology either by meditation, ritual or psychic ability. Organisations and groups using the dreamspace to manipulate others, and even control or eliminate elements of the waking world.

Supplement cover rough number three!
Maybe a book on the real world. The waking world. How does the technology impact on the real world and the dangers involved. Does society accept the tech, or does it get out of control and lead to a disaster like the flash-forward episodes of Joss Whedon's underrated series "Dollhouse"?
Supplement cover rough number four!
A book on the collective unconscious. The raw dreamspace that hides at the heart of the dreaming, where creatures of myth and archetypes lurk, hoping to ride their way to the surface, to break into the real world.

And, before I knew it, I was doodling the covers again. Rethinking the design, and realising that the covers could all join together, as well as be reversible. If only I knew how to draw...

How the covers could fit together. The fifth cover, of the collective unconscious
could lay over the middle, changing the dreamspace to a new image.

Who knows. I need to finish the first one to begin with. But we can dream, can't we?

"But what about the rest of it?"

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Wildly did my mind wander...

Taking time away from everything, letting the mind rest, thoughts of that game keep coming back to me. It's the burden of a creative mind, at least that's what I've read. That need to work on something, to get it out there. If you've followed my blog, or know me at all, you know that I've been working on WILD for many years now - tinkering away in the quiet moments.

Well, I've been thinking about it again. Coming back to it after some time away has made me question some of my initial choices, and it's going to take some work, some thought, and maybe some changes. Nothing major or drastic, but a few tweaks to some of the cards of the Tarot, changing the names of some things, and I can get back to where I was.

The playtest roughs, nowhere near final artwork

The horrible thought that dawned on me just after Christmas was that I had been working on WILD on and off for five years. I'd hate for it to become one of those great unfinished projects.

I'm not going to over-do it. I'm not going to stress myself into illness again, but I'm certainly going to chip away at it with a little more determination. One day I'll get it finished. One day...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bryan Fuller-ing

Before we start, I just want to say I'm a big fan of Bryan Fuller, and I hope he doesn't mind that I've verbified his name for the purpose of what I have to say in this blog post. Bryan Fuller has made some amazing TV, including one of my favourites - Hannibal. I struggle to think of a more beautifully filmed, scripted and crafted series. It is simply gorgeous - if not one to watch while you're having your tea.

Bryan Fuller, as you probably know, got his start by being a huge fan of Star Trek. Back in the 90's, when Star Trek was producing multiple series as well as the movies, they had an open door policy where you could submit a script. This almost unheard-of process gave us a whole host of brilliant writers who have gone on to do wonderful things. Fuller, of course, went on to fantastic series like Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and the eagerly awaited adaptation of Gaiman's American Gods

Last year it was announced that he'd be showrunner on the new Star Trek series - Star Trek: Discovery, and fandom screamed and shouted for this was a genius move on behalf of CBS. Unfortunately, production has taken its time, and scheduling has meant that he's had to back out of Star Trek: Discovery completely. Speaking to Newsweek he said:

"Ultimately, with my responsibilities [elsewhere], I could not do what CBS needed to have done in the time they needed it done for Star Trek. It felt like it was best for me to focus on landing the plane with American Gods and making sure that was delivered in as elegant and sophisticated a fashion as I could possibly do."

Basically, he's defined how the series is, helped write the first couple of episodes, and he's had to pull out. It's not that he doesn't still love Star Trek, but circumstances beyond his control has meant that he's had to reassess the situation and pull out of the project.

I think you're starting to see where I'm going with this now.

Last year it was announced that Modiphius would be producing a new Star Trek roleplaying game, called Star Trek Adventures

In actuality, I knew about this a long time before as I had been involved since almost the second that the license with CBS was signed. I've known Chris at Modiphius a long time, and he was instrumental in getting the Doctor Who license for us when Cubicle 7 approached the BBC. Chris had seen my blog post many, many moons ago where I was ranting about how there isn't a Star Trek RPG, how I'd do it, and so on, and knew I was the person to ask to get involved. 

I, of course, leapt at the chance. Remember that time I was asked to write for Wil Wheaton's Titansgrave and turned it down? If someone asks if you're a God you say YES! So I did.

Modiphius, and Chris, were brilliant. They accommodated my day-job, and set me to work thinking how to adapt their house system, the 2D20 system, to suit Star Trek. Not only was I "lead writer" they had me consulting on artwork, how the miniatures looked, how the game would work, what supplements should be produced... everything. It was awesome. 

However, (and you knew it was coming) working two jobs, filling every waking hour with one job or another, was a bit too ambitious for me. When Christmas in retail came, along with a death in the family, I started to realise that something was going wrong. I wasn't sleeping, my health was suffering. I was breaking out in a rash, getting irritable with everyone, snapping and being just a misery to interact with. I couldn't concentrate on anything for more than ten minutes, and the docs pointed the finger at stress. I had to do something.

My last few posts have been about taking a "time out" from the world. Cutting back on everything for the sake of my health and sanity. Unfortunately, one of those things that I've had to cut was Star Trek Adventures

So, that's where the "Bryan Fuller-ing" comes from. I'm having to pull out of Star Trek Adventures. It doesn't mean I don't love Star Trek, and I have tremendous faith in the game. The vast team who are working on it are doing a fantastic job, and the line developer is doing a brilliant job of coordinating the various arms of Starfleet as they work on every aspect of the game - from the main RPG, to the Living Campaign, the miniatures, and the various supplements. 

It is going to be brilliant. 

Much like Bryan Fuller's input on Star Trek Discovery, there is a lot of me still in the game - the tone of voice, the "skills", freeing up the links between skills and attributes in a true IDIC-way, and the way the game is structured. Even the planned special editions are inspired by some of my suggestions. And, again like Bryan Fuller, I've penned a portion of the project, but alas I'm having to step away and reassess things.

I doubted myself, as you'd expect. I thought I was making a terrible mistake. But in the weeks since I made the decision, the stress is dissipating. My concentration is back - I'm able to sit through a whole episode of a TV without getting distracted. The skin is clearing up, and I'm sleeping better (when the cat lets me). 

If it's a choice between Star Trek and my health, then I'd have to listen to Spock and "Peace and Long Life". I'm sorry it has had to come to this, and I do feel like I've let Modiphius down, but if I'd have stayed on board my lack of concentration could have put the game at risk, and the project needed someone who could dedicate their time to making it the awesome game it will become. 

Keep up to date with Star Trek Adventures at - it's going to be great. 

Until next post, I'm going to watch some great TV, await American Gods, and put my head in order. Maybe book some time on Riza... Maybe, just maybe, in the future, if Starfleet will have me and when I'm fit to serve, I can rejoin their ranks in a lesser capacity.

Live Long and Prosper.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Back to Back to the Future

Taking time away from the noise, away from overstretching the mind, is difficult. Especially when you have periods of time where your mind can do little but wander. Standing on patrol in my dayjob, I found myself thinking about Back to the Future

That epic poster!
I miss the Eighties. Sure I was a nerdy teenager, full of desperation and angst. Stumbling through school, playing far too much D&D, and sitting in my room hunched over a ZX Spectrum.

I used to get obsessed with things far too easily. I loved Star Wars and everything that went with it. Was obsessed by Tron. No surprises there I suppose. However, one thing I was obsessed by in my teens that you may not know was Back to the Future

It's weird looking back. In this age when trailer and film posters just about give you the whole movie on a plate, Back to the Future was an enigma. The poster, that iconic Drew Struzan poster, gave nothing away. The trailers were really vague. But there was something about the wording of the title that got you interested. And it was that guy from Family Ties, so it had to be okay.

I mean, that was the only trailer I saw. It was cool, ambiguous and slick. Had me intrigued!

After the film I wasn't much better. Sure I was fourteen and too old for that nonsense but it didn't stop me from collecting the stickers (only one short of the album). I still have it somewhere, with that one missing sticker that even Panini couldn't supply direct as all the Michael J Fox fangirls had bought them all and stuck them on their exercise books at school.

When the VHS came out it was surprisingly cheap, unlike some of the other movies I was sad enough to save up to buy as a rental version - (I'm looking at you Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom). 

Rewatching the film I became fascinated by a shadow that goes across a sign at the Twin Pines Mall car park at the beginning and I started formulating theories that it was Marty coming back and witnessing the events again, even though the mall's name had changed indicating it was a new timeline...

But, hey. I was young. It was before the internet. It kept me quiet. It still is an awesome movie, and for a socially awkward teenager it proved that someone as awkward as me (George McFly) could find the girl of his dreams.

The lame cover I made for my
Ghostbusters adventure
"Back to Transylvania"
When I started trying to get into game writing, Back to the Future loomed in my head again. I had already submitted one adventure for Ghostbusters that drew upon Weird Science and being frightened by a yoghurt in my youth. 

My next attempt at writing for West End Games would be influenced by Back to the Future, Dracula and Moonlighting. As you can imagine, it didn't see light of day...

Why now to write a blog post about Back to the Future? Not entirely sure. I was at my dayjob, patrolling and keeping an eye on things in the shop, and standing next to the Back to the Future merchandise. I started thinking about RPGing BTTF and thinking about how the DeLorean would work using the Doctor Who RPG rules.

Thinking about it, the DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine isn't too complicated as a gadget. The basic one from BTTF has Vortex (Special Trait - 8pts) as it can travel through time, but it probably has a Rare Fuel (Bad Trait - 2pts) to make it a little cheaper as it requires plutonium (or that lightning strike) to power it, and Frozen Hull (Bad Trait - 1pt) for it emerging from travel frozen up and covered in ice. It'll be up to the Gamemaster if the DeLorean actually travels through the Vortex, or does the film-like instant time-jump. It'd have 5 Story Points.

Of course, the later model loses the Rare Fuel Bad Trait, and gains Flight (Major Good Trait - 2pts). It'd probably have 9 Story Points.

Then I started thinking about Back to the Future as an RPG. You could have Doc and Marty going off on loads of adventures a bit like TV series. Remember there was a TV series of Back to the Future?

Doc could create weird new devices and things could go wrong and they could... oh... oh wait...

I just realised I've started thinking of a Rick and Morty RPG and have to stop myself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SING review

Before I decided I needed a hiatus from the internet, I was offered the opportunity to attend a review screening of a new animated film called SING. The film opens this weekend, but the review screening was months ago, before Christmas, as the film had already hit cinema screens in the US.

I have to confess, it's not my cup of tea, but I knew just the person who would be keen to see it - a colleague of mine from the dayjob who not only is a huge Matthew McConaughey fan, but also has a daughter who is the perfect age for this movie. Having these tickets to hand, I thought she'd love to see the film in advance, and in return I'd get a review written (so that I didn't have to!)

So, without further ado, Maz's review of SING!


A failing theatre owner decides to put on a singing talent show in an attempt to save his business. Auditions are held and contestants are chosen. Each contestant has as many of their own problems as the theatre owner, Buster Moon. All the characters are anthropomorphic animals, which makes Sing fun. I mean, a singing snail is funny!  Dancing bunnies, punk rock porcupines and gangster gorillas are also in there. Coming together in the hope of winning cash to solve their personal problems these animals find friendship, love and support. What came across most was a passion for singing, showing how music positively affects different lives. The soundtrack is a wonderful eclectic mix including Queen and Stevie Wonder which works very well.

The direction of the film is also great; the fast movement through the city gives it a live action feel at times. The cast is fantastic with Matthew McConnaughey's optimistic koala, Buster, Reese Witherspoon's singing, housewife pig, Rosita and Seth McFarlane's crooner mouse, Mike. 

Both myself and my 12 year old enjoyed Sing throughout, it's not going to change the world but it's a lovely uplifting film which touches on many human issues such as shyness, family ties and heartbreak. If only X Factor showed us as much talent, passion and fun as these animals in the world of Sing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Minute to Breathe

I once met a woman who wasn't there.
I followed her down to the pit of despair. 
She was not evil, she was kind. 
It was not her, but me who was blind.

I had a moment of revelation today. Continuing from my previous post about needing to take a "time out from the world", I've been cutting down on my commitments, taking time away from the internet, and trying to get my head into a better place.

Today, I started watching "Falling Water". Properly. I posted about the series back on the 7th October and I used words like "VERY slow" and said it was probably going to get cancelled. But if anything, this is indicative of my mental state. Back in October I was obviously doing too much. This was at the start of the build up to Christmas in retail (ug), as well as working seven days a week in two jobs.

I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had the attention span of about ten minutes before I got bored and needed to try something else, check the internet, see if there were any more bloody messages on that app, check my emails, make some notes or something. I couldn't focus, I couldn't see the end of the week. I was unable to sleep, felt tired all the time, constantly catching colds, being quick tempered and irritable with everyone.

Today, thanks to the complete season one of Falling Water making its appearance on Amazon Prime, and thanks to the trial month, I gave the series another go. I'd only watched the pilot before, feeling my interest drifting away every five minutes. Now, trying it again, not only is it a revelation - a whole host of ideas for WILD firing off in my brain in a good way, but it really has shown me what my mental state was like just a few months ago.

In the last few weeks I've made big decisions, taken a step back from things, and trying to give my head time to get back into a normal space. I'm still a way from getting 100% - I still worry about everything, still have times when I can't sleep, but I can feel things easing slightly and that things should ease more in the future.

I've been really enjoying the series too. I'm only four episodes in, but loving every moment of it. And being able to sit, and watch a series without feeling super-twitchy and distracted, has been a delight. 

I'll be continuing to cut back on things, giving myself a minute to breathe more often, before it all gets too much. Remember to do it yourself. Watch this video, listen to the wonders of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and give yourself a minute to breathe.

Stay safe, and look after you and yours.