Thursday, April 2, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 7)

Tales From The Loop - Fria Ligan (2017)

The final entry on my "Games That Shaped Me" little blog series is the most recent one too. I've tried to make it as chronological as possible, and this is definitely the game that has had a big impact on me. You're probably already familiar with the game set in the 1980s where a mysterious company has built a CERN-like particle accelerator style facility known as The Loop. It's the 80s you remember, kids on bikes, walkmans, VHS-tapes, skateboards and so on. But it's "the 80s that never was", so the world is the same, but there are robots, anti-grav vehicles, and weird science experiments that have unleashed dinosaurs and portals onto the rural landscape.

Based on the amazing paintings and art book of Simon Stålenhag, the art alone was to sell the game to me, but then the reviews started appearing and it was obvious that the game was something special.

Why did it have such an impact?

I grew up playing tabletop games in my teens, and so you could kinda call me an old-school gamer. I was used to pages and pages of rules, options, systems, and intricate details of how combat or car chases or crazy science works. Combat turns, rounds, initiative and the like...

Then along comes this game. This simple, beautiful game.

I mean, Character Creation is 16 pages. And 8 of those are full page descriptions of the Archetypes.

The whole game system is on 12 pages. And these are heavily illustrated with the gorgeous art.

Okay, I don't want to name and shame anyone so I'll pick a game I designed. The Doctor Who RPG, in its most recent incarnation (12th Doctor) has 46 pages of character creation, and 51 pages of rules. And I thought when I was working on Doctor Who that it was rules light, and I think it was for the time! I guess it is when you compare it to something like 5e D&D with 154 pages of character creation (just in the Player's Handbook). 

I read Tales from the Loop and thought "I need to rethink my life choices!" 

Okay, so Loop has a great system, but sometimes actually succeeding at a task is hard (nothing like rolling nine D6 and not getting a single success) but that's helped with the way you can push a roll, use your Pride, or take a condition to succeed. And you're playing children. So battling a security robot with a stick, a water pistol and a flashlight is going to be tough. 

It has certainly shaken up my game design. I guess at my age I can't be bothered to read pages upon pages of rules. I want it to be simple, quick, and not take me out of the story, while still influencing the narrative. Something I hope the Doctor Who RPG does anyway.

Looking at the rules for WILD I've been working on, the simplicity of Tales From The Loop (and to come extent Blades In The Dark) have certainly made me consider what you need to detail. At the moment, the complete rules for WILD run to about 10 pages. While it's a far cry from the awesome games that are being produced on a single page (I don't think I can ever be smart enough to do that), I feel this is a step in the right direction for me. 

We played Tales from the Loop for ages last year and it lead to some really cool and quite tense gaming - something I haven't encountered since those old Kult games. We took a break for some Aegean and Scum & Villainy, but have recently returned to Tales From The Loop - this time set in the late 80's ready to progress into its sequel game, Things From The Flood - where the Loop has closed after something bad has happened, and weird creatures are emerging from the floodwaters. Awesome


Well, that's the last of my seven Games That Shaped Me entries. I've just been challenged to do something similar with TV Series, which is going to be really difficult considering the amount of TV I've absorbed over the years...

Stay tuned...
Stay Safe...
Stay Home!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 6)

C J Carella's WitchCraft - Eden Studios (1999)

After ditching using White Wolf's World of Darkness to run my massive urban fantasy game of mages, werecreatures and vampires, I converted the whole game over to Kult. I must admit, I loved Kult, especially 2nd Edition with its cool black and white cover and bizarre typography, but something caught my eye on the game store shelves and had me intrigued...

C J Carella's WitchCraft was a smaller paperback than the other game books on the shelf (yes, paperback - the hardback came later). Flicking through it looked like it was just what I needed. It had magic users in different cabals, using different magical traditions, to fight of a rising threat of taint that could corrupt the world. 

I particularly liked the cover - simple, gorgeous and gothic. I picked up the main WitchCraft rulebook and the Mystery Codex (as it detailed vampires and spirits) and set to converting my Kult (formerly Mage) game over to Unisystem - the game system that powered WitchCraft.

One thing lead to another, and we relocated across the country, but I quickly found the local comic/game shop and discovered the new game they had - All Flesh Must Be Eaten. A game of zombie survival horror, using the Unisystem that had powered WitchCraft, and in the same, smaller, digest sized rulebooks that made transportation easier. 

While I only ran All Flesh Must Be Eaten once (for part of the Ottakar's RPG "book group", after we'd relocated back across the country to where we began), but I did love Unisytem.

A friend of ours, Jason, knew I was a massive fan of The X-Files and loaned me the rulebook for the RPG he'd been reading called Conspiracy X. I read it through and loved the setting - loved it so much that when I gave him the book back I bought my own copy from the local RPG shop - only to discover it was the same publisher (Eden Studios) who did WitchCraft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. (Jason's older version was published by Eden's forerunners - New Millennium Entertainment).

My comic publishing efforts had come to a grinding halt, and I reached out to Eden Studios - so enamoured I was with the Conspiracy X setting - that I initially thought about writing and illustrating a comic set in the Conspiracy X world. But comic publishing wasn't going to be the way for me, and it all kinda fell apart.

BUT... I kept in touch with Eden. George and Alex were fantastic to chat to over the internet, and they were very encouraging. I asked if I could write game material for All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and they wanted a sample of my writing - so I got a bit carried away. I wrote a whole supplement for AFMBE that has never seen light of day, called Summercamp Stalkers And Unstoppable Evil. It was a twist on AFMBE that allowed you to switch the genre of the game from zombie survival horror to 80's slasher movie - just one "nemesis" who threatened you and seemed to be unstoppable. The Jason/Shape/Freddy that you'd expect from a good 80's slasher. 

And that was the door opener that got me writing stuff for Eden Studios. I just kept getting as involved as much as I could, helping out with All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Army of Darkness, Ghosts of Albion, and Terra Primate... before I finally asked the question that was a bit of an elephant in the room - why are all of Eden's games Unisystem except Conspiracy X? Which lead to me spending a couple of years completely immersed in files as I converted Conspiracy X's system over to Unisystem for Conspiracy X 2.0.  
But it all started with WitchCraft. It really did have a massive impact on my life, and without it I may never have gone back into trying to join the ranks of game writers and designers. I have very fond memories of helping out at one of the last couple of GenConUK conventions, working on Eden's stand while C J Carella was in the UK to promote the Buffy RPG. Shame I didn't get my books signed...  One day...

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 5)

Vampire: The Masquerade - White Wolf (1991)

It was the long, dark tea-time of gaming for me. I'd left school. My gaming group had been fractured by some going off to university. I'd started working for the local archaeology unit, and tabletop roleplaying games were the last thing on my mind. The archaeology unit encouraged me to go back into education, and after taking a BTEC in graphic design and a fine art foundation course, I was soon on my way to another part of the country, away from my home town, and off to university myself.

One of the first things I found while in my new location was that a group of students on my course had started roleplaying. A relatively new RPG at the time that was taking the world by storm - Vampire: The Masquerade. Hot on the heels of Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, White Wolf's Vampire RPG paved the way for a new generation of gaming. Everyone played vampires - members of different clans, struggling to survive in a "World of Darkness" where you wrestled with your own humanity, and desire to feed.

The game was really cool, and I was instantly hooked. I blew a lot of my term's money on buying out the local game shop's stock of rulebooks, clanbooks, guides and so on, and heap of ten-sided dice.

I got so into it that I started running the game for a group in my hometown when I went back between terms, set in the same game that I was running while at university. Then I started another game (this time Werewolf: The Apocalypse) with a group of people I met at the local comic shop that again crossed over with the other game. It was a mass of storytelling, narrative connections, and a whole lot of blood sucking.

I met my wife through the game, and we (foolishly) signed up to join The Camarilla - the live-action global LARP with a storyline and narrative that spanned the world. As we were both into making zines and graphic design, we started making newsletters for our clans which got us promoted quickly through the UK ranks (and Generations) - Debs became head of Clan Toreador, and I became 2nd in command of Clan Tremere. It was at these LARPs that I was introduced to Angus Abranson and Andrew Peregrine, which led to a host of game writing later down the line - and without those introductions I doubt I would have written the Dr Who RPG.

But, some people in the clans were not happy at our promotions, and Debs and I started getting hate mail - both in character and out - and we quickly decided to retire from the Camarilla and I turned my back on White Wolf.

Ironically, while Vampire: The Masquerade had such a massive impact on my gaming, my favourite of the World of Darkness games isn't Vampire. The aforementioned Werewolf gaming group went on to play Mage: The Ascension, and it was freakin' amazing. Paradox realms, secret dimensions, reality changing magic. Absolutely loved it. Vampire quickly took the back seat, and we played Mage a lot.

Things happened and I kinda fell out of love with White Wolf, selling about 80% of my World of Darkness collection. I continued the Mage game we were running by converting the whole thing over to Kult. It was darker, messy, and really quite horrific at times and lead to some of the most intense roleplaying I've GM'd.

Kult drifted away and I converted the game once again - keeping the characters and setting but running it with the next game on my Games That Shaped Me...

Monday, March 30, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 4)

Star Wars - The Roleplaying Game - West End Games (1987)

This, along with James Bond and the Ghostbusters RPG, constantly vie for the top spot in my personal "Greatest RPG of All Time" list. When I was a kid it was all about Star Wars. Star Wars was just about everything to me - when I first picked up Star Frontiers as the first RPG I ever bought and GM'd, it wasn't because it was a cool game (which it was). It was because I looked at that gorgeous cover and thought, "I could play Star Wars with that".

In an act of typically bad timing, just as most of my gaming group had gone off to universities around the country and the remaining members were cutting back on their gaming time (to have something called "a real life" - I know, right?) along comes the perfect game for me. A tabletop RPG of Star Wars, made by my favourite game publisher at the time. I bought just about everything they'd produced already - Paranoia, Ghostbusters, The Price of Freedom - and this partnering of publisher and property had me far too excited.

Upon release I purchased the core rulebook (see above), as well as the Star Wars Sourcebook (on the right), and was completely blown away by how cool they were. Most, if not all, of the RPGs I'd played in the past were completely black and white inside, so the punctuation of some gorgeous full colour inserts in the corebook was amazing. Especially the one that looked like a recruitment advert of the Imperial Navy.

The game system was basically a more complicated version of the D6 system that I'd played before with Ghostbusters, but not too much more complicated. It was fast, easy, and above all, fun. The players quickly created characters, tweaking the templates at the back to suit their own needs, and before we knew it we were playing in a galaxy far, far away.

The smuggler (Deeko Smiggins) piloting the Ballistic Wombat led the group of misfit rebels, tackling ridiculous odds and seeming to come away pretty unscathed. I think I may have let them progress a bit too quickly with experience, as I remember the ship dodging a complete attack wing of TIE Fighters pretty easily to sound of a dozen or so D6 clattering across the table.

Star Warriors slowed ship combat down a bit, a board game spin-off with advice for using it in the RPG, but strangely that was where my gaming of Star Wars (WEG) finished.

I think that may have been when my tabletop gaming came to a bit of an end in general for a while. I was busy writing those adventures for Ghostbusters for West End Games, was unemployed for a little while before I started working for the local council (thanks to being a gamer, I got my first job as the interviewer knew about D&D and knew it would help with my teamwork, map making, and puzzle solving) and it all kinda ground to a halt.


Since then, I have purchased every incarnation of a Star Wars RPG - Wizards of the Coast's D20 version, the Star Wars Saga edition (gotta love those square books), and now the Fantasy Flight Games triple threat (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny), and while each is very cool, none of them got me as over excited as that 1st Edition West End Games one. Heck, just last year my lovely wife managed to find me the West End Games' 2nd Edition at the charity shop she volunteers at. It's really nice, but again, I didn't feel that buzz like I did before.

Must have been something about the time and the game being just right for it. That 1st Edition and the Star Wars Sourcebook that came out with it are such stuff of legend that Fantasy Flight Games reissued them for their 30th Anniversary in a slipcase. Just proves I wasn't the only one who thought they were something special.

Maybe I can convince my GM to start up Star Wars again with that system, just for fun...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 3)

James Bond 007 Roleplaying Game - Victory Games (1983)

Oh boy. Number three in my list of seven tabletop roleplaying games that had a massive impact on me and my gaming is another one of my favourite games of all time. Victory Games' James Bond 007 RPG. It's hard to know where to begin with this one.

My gaming group had diminished a little as a huge chunk of them had vanished off to university, and I was looking for a game I could run with fewer players. Couple that with me being a massive fan of James Bond, it was an ideal choice. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The game is simply stunning and presented some revolutionary game design that has inspired game systems for years since. It ran brilliantly, and tackled aspects that you'd expect from being a secret agent in Bond's world - chases, shootouts, gambling, seduction, torture, and being an expert in high class luxury.

The supplements are something I absolutely adore. Each supplement (well, most of them anyway) came as a boxed set with an envelope of props marked "For Your Eyes Only", along with a mini GM screen, maps, and more. The added genius of it was it took the plots of the movies/books and turned them completely on their heads. If you went into an adventure and you were familiar with the movie, you could assume the way the plot was going to head - but it wouldn't do you any good. It updated the plots, twisted them around, and kept the players on their toes.

The "A View to A Kill" adventure - so darned cool
I ran a lot of the adventures - I seem to remember running For Your Eyes Only two or three times with different players, each with very different outcomes.

I managed to complete the collection a couple of years ago (though I still haven't tracked down an affordable copy of Assault! The tabletop battles game based around the end of You Only Live Twice) when I finally tracked down a relatively cheap copy of Octopussy.

It's still an awesome game, and one I've longed to revive in a new edition for many, many years. Heck, I've written to, called and emailed EON a few times, and even started to put together a pitch for a new Bond RPG... but I wonder if it, like Harry Potter, is an impossible quest.

One day maybe.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 2)

Ghostbusters - West End Games (1986)

Next up on the games that had a massive impact on me is another one of my favourite games of all time. Ghostbusters.

I was obsessed with Ghostbusters (the movie that is) and I desperately wanted to be Venkman when I grew up, so hearing that there was a roleplaying game? I was sold before I'd even looked at the back of the box.

The only disappointment for my youthful brain was the lack of character sheet. Looking back now I see it was a revolutionary work of genius, but despite the character sheet problem (that I remedied with some homegrown efforts) I could tell even then that the game was something special.

I mean, look at the thing - it was a work of perfect simplicity. It didn't need to be full colour, it didn't need anything except that logo on the front, and some dice. And one of those had the logo on it as well.

The thing about it was how quick and simple it was. The rules were possibly the most minimal thing I'd ever seen. And it introduced "Brownie Points", something that I'd never encountered before, allowing the players to fudge rolls, to tweak the outcomes and to generally make the story funnier, better and cooler.

The start of the Rules Chapter from
The Ghostbusters RPG
with thanks to
And story was what it was all about. No longer was it a simple dungeon crawl, it was about telling a cool (and funny) story. There were investigation elements, working out who the ghost was, what its typical behaviour was like, and then there was the fun of blasting the place to pieces with Proton Packs. And there was no dying. Buildings could be destroyed (and frequently did) and your characters would stagger out of the rubble in their underwear with a Wile E. Coyote dazed look on their faces.

There were adventures published in the Ghostmaster's rulebook, and what was a revelation, dozens of Story Hooks. Short adventure ideas that could be expanded to complete adventures. Brilliant.

We played Ghostbusters continually, I zipped through all of the Story Hooks in record time. We had some of the most bonkers characters (Coop's character of note was Mr. Oook, an orangutan with a Proton Pack) and some of the craziest adventures ever (I do remember the published adventure "Hot Rods of the Gods" was particularly wacky!).

Of course, without adventures (we'd gone through all the ones published) I had to design my own. And so I did something I hadn't considered before. I contacted the publisher...

A little self portrait I did at the height of
my Ghostbusters writing in 1987
I wrote a letter to West End Games and gushed about how cool and funny their game was, and they kindly supplied me the necessary release forms for budding authors. I saw this as a huge "Go For It!" sign, and promptly set to work.

The problem I had was that my life revolved around gaming and watching movies. So a lot of what I started writing was parodying movies in some way. Also, this was at a time that may seem alien to some... it was B.I. - Before Internet.

Writing was a laborious task involving a huge electric typewriter (not electronic, just electric) that had fans and stuff built in to keep it from overheating. It was about the size of a Volkswagen and when you needed to change the ink ribbon, the front lifted up like the hood of said car. Everything was typed up (double spaced), corrections made with those little Tippex Correction Strips, and then it was all photocopied and posted as a huge mass of A4 paper by airmail to New York to be read by those cool guys at West End Games.

So, what nonsense was I turning out?

The cover I did for Spooky Science.
This is a black and white photocopy
from 1986
I wrote two big adventures. The first was called "Spooky Science", a parody of Call of CthulhuIndiana Jones and Weird Science. 45,000 words of bizarreness where an automated computer system attached to the containment grid goes mad, a fitness cult open a portal to unleash their god, Yogurt-Soggoth, onto an unsuspecting New York, and the Ghostbusters have to escape from the Temple of Yogurt in an epic chase involving shopping trollies. I seem to remember the finale involving New York being flooded in yogurt, and the Ghostbusters arrive on the scene on wet-bikes.

Flicking through the photocopies of the manuscript that I'd recently uncovered, it isn't baaaad...  it's just filled with typos, and it's a little derivative. Mulu Pram, the high priest of Yogurt-Soggoth was an obvious rip-off, but it was a bit of a laugh, and a satirical dig at the fitness craze that was big at the time. I blame Olivia Newton-John. Hell, we all loved Olivia Newton-John at that time.

Anyway, I packaged it up, sent it off, then waited the expected three months for a reply from WEG.

I called New York, which in the days before Skype and Facetime was a costly and scary affair from the UK, and talked to someone at West End Games to confirm it had arrived okay. Then, a couple of months later, I received a reply. It was very positive, but explained that they'd already published a food-based adventure (with the first official scenario, Ghost Toasties) and I saw it as an encouragement to go ahead and write more.

The cover I'd supplied for Back to
Transylvania. Really, not good... (1987-8)
The second of the adventures I finished was "Back to Transylvania"a bizarre time travelling adventure where, through a freak accident in history, Dracula had started a vampire plague and the Ghostbusters had to travel back to 1859 in a time-travelling DeLorean to take on the dark master himself, to prevent the world becoming overrun by vampires.

Again, it drew heavily from Hammer movies, Back to the Future and even had a moment where the filming of the TV series Moonlighting was interrupted and Bruce Willis became a vampire (the scene that initially tips the Ghostbusters off that there's something strange in the neighbourhood).

The scenario also introduced new rules for having non-human Ghostbusters (mainly to include Scooby-Doo as a player-character) and a basic magic system.

Again, I photocopied it, and posted it off to New York, and eagerly awaited a response.

And again, I had a really nice response from the guys at West End. I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan who wrote to me (or it may have been Bill Slavicsek) to let me know what they thought. I have the letter somewhere (though it's in a pile of stuff that has moved since the "moving everything out of mum's house" thing happened), but I remember what it said even now, nearly 25 years later.

It said that "you can obviously write, but..." and then went on to explain that Bruce Willis and Scooby-Doo's owners may sue for using them in a comedy adventure like this. While I understood what they were saying, about not using real people or copyrighted characters, the key thing was that letter said I could write.

I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan (and if it wasn't I'm sorry, and this is directed at you) who wrote to me, and without that positive reply I would never have continued writing. I'd have just packed it in there and then, got a boring job in retail (this is called irony) or something, and given up. So whoever it was who wrote to me, thank you.

The cover to an adventure I didn't finish, based
on John Landis' fake movie title
"See You Next Wednesday" (1988)
Encouraged by this, I kept going, but I didn't get every far. I started work on a new scenario called "See You Next Doomsday" which was going to be a fairly basic zombies and "Evil Dead" inspired story, as I'd just seen Evil Dead II and the idea of a Sam Raimi style comedy-horror with the Ghostbusters sounded awesome to me. The title came from John Landis' "See You Next Wednesday", a non-existent movie that appeared in the background of a lot of Landis' films, which in turn inspired our RPG group's name.

I came to a grinding halt a handful of pages in, when I was inspired to do a different game... based upon the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" I ran a proper horror game (strangely, using the Indiana Jones RPG system from the original TSR game) which involved going into peoples' dreams and facing their night-terrors. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought about changing it and doing it a little more light-heartedly as a Ghostbusters scenario.

Again, taking its title from another John Landis movie, I started work on "Into the Nightmare", but real life interrupted, and I found myself a real job. It wouldn't be until many years later that I would go back to writing RPGs based on dreams...

Since then, I've been able to continue my obsession with Ghostbusters with a project I did for EN Publishing for their WOIN system. I thought I'd do my take on Ghostbusters with Spirits of Manhattan. Must admit, I loved going back to that comedic style of writing. Just great fun. Check it out - you too can drive around Manhattan in a converted Pope-mobile and face a giant building sized Edgar Allan Poe. 

[Disclaimer - Some of this post was originally featured on this blog back in 2012]

[Disclaimer 2 - My wish to bring the Ghostbusters RPG back with a new edition has not changed.]

Friday, March 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 1)

My last twenty posts have been one of those Facebook meme things where I was challenged to list twenty albums that had an impact on my life. It was really quite a challenge as well, but fun trying to think of the music that really changed me.

Right in the middle of that challenge, I was tagged in another one by Anthony Boyd who helps moderate and run the annual #RPGaDAY initiative. This time, I was tasked with listing the games that had the biggest impact on my life. Luckily it's not twenty this time, but D8+2, and I rolled a 5. So the next seven posts will be the tabletop RPGs that had the biggest impact on my life.

So here goes with the first (I'm going to try to do these in chronological order if possible).

Star Frontiers - TSR (1982)

I've written a few times about Star Frontiers on my blog. After my first couple of games being introduced to tabletop roleplaying games, starting with Traveller, and then moving onto Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, when I went to the local game shop - an hour's bus ride away, and hidden in a secret store above a picture framers and gallery - I saw that cover. Okay, so it's a bit beaten up in that picture, but I wanted an image with the cool title text on it.

But look at that cover. It's freakin' gorgeous. It's just oozing potential, crashed spaceships, cool aliens, laser guns, alien planet, freakin' cool goggles. Woo! I was sold. Straight away.

First game I purchased, and we played it a LOT. Our campaigns were epic and mostly silly, involving powered armour, whole armies of Sathar agents, vast space battles, and ridiculous media tie-ins that I added like The Terminator, Transformers, and the like.

The way I played it was far from serious, but it was epic and crazy fun, and I loved it.

When Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space came out, everything changed (including the game system) and we were fuelled with more to inspire bigger and bolder games. That was 1985, and it wasn't long before a huge chunk of my gaming group went off to University the following year.

Still have very, very fond memories of Star Frontiers, and often wonder why no one has tried to bring it back? I mean, Gamma World, TSR's post-apocalypse mutant game that came out before Star Frontiers has had seven editions by different publishers. Why hasn't Star Frontiers seen the same love?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 20)

Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile (1999)

This is it, the last entry in my Twenty Albums that had an impact on me meme that I was tagged in many, many moons ago. And I thought for the last one, I'd save my favourite album of all time. The one album I really couldn't do without - the one album I could never tire of.

Nine Inch Nails' album, The Fragile.

For me, it is the perfect album. It's long (2 CDs designated Left and Right) and contains a wide variety of musical styles. The first track, Somewhat Damaged, builds by layering industrial noises to incorporate Trent Reznor's softer vocals, to eventually ending with Reznor's shouting "Where the f*** were you?" over deep noisey guitars.

A few tracks into the album and we're presented with my favourite song of all time - The Wretched. Best listened to with The Frail instrumental track before it serving as a build-up to an angry shout at the world and how things just suck...

"The clouds will part and the sky cracks open,
And God himself will reach his f***ing arm through,
Just to push you down, just to hold you down.
Stuck in this hole with the sh** and the piss,
and it's hard to believe it could come down to this..."

"It didn't turn out the way you wanted it to,
It didn't turn out the way you wanted it, did it?"

God I love that track.

Just after that we're treated to the first proper single of the album, We're in this Together, which Debs and I always listen to when the world seems to kick us in the ass. Amazing .

I could go through the rest of the album like this and rave about how great every track is, but I won't. It's perfect. There are no bad tracks on The Fragile.

And then, Trent Reznor had to top it off with another couple of versions of the album. I mean, who else has three versions of the same album on their iPod for walking in to work? The Fragile: The Definitive Edition was released in 2017, with additional tracks and slightly extended versions of a handful of others. And then there's The Fragile: Deviations, an instrumental version of the album, with instrumental versions of all the tracks with vocals, and slightly different versions of all the instrumental ones (if that makes sense)? Anyway, it's different. It's great. And essential for a sad Nails-fanboy like me.

(I post this just as Nine Inch Nails have released another two albums of instrumental work for free to see us through the hard times of virus isolation. God, I love Nine Inch Nails. Thank you Trent.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 19)

Thirty Seconds to Mars - The Is War (2009)

Here's where there may be a lot of people who follow me on Facebook who suddenly think I've lost all cool and credibility. Not that I really had any. Yes, Thirty Seconds to Mars.

God, I loved Thirty Seconds to Mars. I first saw the video for Attack on MTV and thought "Isn't that guy the one from Fight Club?" and sure enough, Jared Leto was that singer. The track that followed, The Kill (Bury Me) was played all the time on MTV thanks to its cool video tribute to The Shining, and I remember asking Debs for that album, A Beautiful Lie, for Christmas that year. Had no idea what the rest of it was going to be like, but I really liked the singles.

The album was great, and after weeks of playing it a LOT, I tracked down their eponymous first album - which, strangely, I liked even more. A Beautiful Lie sounded like it had taken some influence from The Cure, while the first album felt a bit more U2. There is one track on that first album, The Mission, that has been a constant inspiration for my RPG, WILD.

"I opened up my head inside and find another person's mind..."
"Into the wild..."

Again, I listened to those albums a lot. and followed their fanbase, The Echelon, and kept track of Jared Leto's social media. There was a call out for vocal samples for their next album, and even photos for the cover (the tiger image above was the default cover, but 2000 fan photos were also used as covers - I don't think the ones Debs and I submitted were used).

This Is War is a crazily powerful album. Fuelled by the EMI lawsuit, it's filled with anger, operatic shouts, Queen-like stomping, and cinematic moments. My favourite track is easily Stranger in a Strange Land which still has me questioning why Jared Leto hasn't made that jump into film scores.

On November 25th, 2010, I drove us all the way down to Brighton to see them as part of the Into The Wild tour, and it was bloody amazing.

The next album is pretty awesome too, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams. While promoting this album I spotted Jared Leto tweeting about being at Soho Sq in London if anyone else wanted to go, and I messaged Debs instantly. Crazy that we were, within an hour we were on a train and headed to London where a group of fans had gathered. The band arrived, and played an impromptu flash gig for about thirty minutes before they rushed off to a waiting car and before the cops came and dispersed the crowd.

Jared Leto in his full-on Jesus look at Soho Square in London. Photo by me (standing on a bench)
We went to see them again 21st November 2013 at the Nottingham Arena as part of the Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams Tour, which was cool (and certainly easier to get to than Brighton for us). A tour where they added circus-style acts to spice things up on stage. 

And that's about it. Their last album, America, felt like a massive disappointment after the cool and edgy music that came before it. With weird collaborations with other artists, strangely looped synths and autotuned vocals, it just didn't do it for me. There were a couple of really stand-out tracks, and Monolith once again made me question why Jared Leto isn't doing epic film scores. 

With the departure of Tomo Miličević during that tour, leaving just Jared and Shannon Leto as the band, I wonder where they will go next. Hopefully, back to their roots...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 18)

Rob Dougan - Furious Angels (2002)

We finally hit the 2000's in my "20 Albums that had an impact on me" thing that was going around Facebook. This one's a bit like one of my previous posts - the one for Bush's Sixteen Stone - where I took a chance on an album with very little knowledge of it, and it turned out to be amazing.

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of The Matrix. I love all of the movies, the anime, the comics, and even liked the first video game (never played the Path of Neo, or Matrix Online). But I guess my first exposure to the music of Rob Dougan was The Matrix. I had a couple of his tracks from the soundtrack albums, and I remember being back in that Virgin Megastore (where we picked up the Bush album) and seeing the rather cool cover for Rob Dougan's album Furious Angels.

I don't know what did it, but I decided to take a chance on it. Maybe it's because it was two discs and the second disc was all instrumental, I figured even if I didn't like the vocal tracks I could listen to the instrumental ones, imagine I'm in the Matrix a bit more, and it would be great music to have on while I was writing.

However, the first disc, the one with the vocals, is just as awesome. I'd not heard Rob Dougan's vocals before, so when the first vocal track, the title track from the album, started up, I was kinda stunned. A strange, gravelly and defeated sound, like an energetic Tom Waits, with lyrics that often sounded like he was spitting them out through gritted teeth.

"It's not like you stayed at my side
Or you called me a priest
You searched through my mouth
To check for gold teeth
You were pawning my shoes as I bled
You left me for, left me for, left me for dead."

Fantastic stuff. With club-like drum machine rifts, mixed with an orchestral score that takes inspiration from Elgar and Chopin, with those gritty vocals. Amazing.

After that, Rob Dougan kinda vanished. He's resurfaced recently with some studio recordings - massive orchestral pieces with choirs. Must check that out.

Stay safe!

Monday, March 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 17)

Stabbing Westward - Wither, Blister, Burn & Peel (1996)

Disclaimer - I was going to put the next album by Stabbing Westward on this list (Darkest Days) as I think I prefer that album, but Wither, Blister, Burn & Peel is such an iconic album, and the one that really got me into Stabbing Westward that I thought I'd better go for this one instead.

Like Bloody Kisses and Metropolis before this, I was introduced to Stabbing Westward by local metal legend Steve. He did his usual "You like Nine Inch Nails, you should listen to this," and played a few tracks from this and their first album Ungod (which I was always know as "Ungoo" as the writing on the cover makes the "d" look a bit like an "o").

See what I mean?

Anyway, Steve was right. They really sounded like a mix of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, with plenty of really angry vocals and lyrics that pushed all the right buttons in me. First track on WBB&P I don't Believe starts with these amazing lyrics (just what I keep saying to myself even now)...

"I'm such an asshole,
God I'm such a stain,
I just keep f***ing up,
Again and again.

I don't believe, 
I don't believe,
That I could be so stupid,
and so naive."

Stabbing Westward are/were great, and I love their first three albums to bits. Their fourth album, just titled Stabbing Westward, didn't really do it for me, and the band broke up shortly afterwards. They have, thankfully, recently reformed with a new EP that is sounding pretty darn cool. Good to have you back.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 16)

Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses (1993)

Another one of those awesome albums recommended to us by local metal legend Steve. Steve knew we liked the cool, dark, gothy music and recommended this album by another band we'd never heard of - Type O Negative. Fronted by giant Pete Steele, I've never heard vocals as deep as that on a rock album before.

The standout track from the album, Black No1 (Little Miss Scare All) is the ultimate goth anthem, though at its heart it's really kinda mocking goths. I do have a bit of a soft spot for the noisy anthem We Hate Everyone.

Loved this album, and went out and purchased the slightly angrier Slow, Deep and Hard. Always blooming amazing, and the albums that followed are pretty darn epic too. Such a great loss when the world lost Pete Steele ten years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 15)

The Whores of Babylon - Metropolis (1994)

I have to thank our good friend "Metal" Steve (as we know him) who we first met at our local comic shop. Absolute legend that he is, and a recognisable face in the local metal scene with a collection of albums that would make even the most hardcore music collector jealous. Steve introduced us to a great deal of music that we would never have experienced that really stuck with me over the years. So much so, this entry AND the following two albums were all by artists that were recommended to us by Steve. Thanks man!

Steve knew I liked Nine Inch Nails and The Sisters of Mercy, and did his best (when he wasn't recommending extreme metal from bands whose names looked like thorn bushes) to find the coolest stuff we'd be interested in. One of these was a little known band called The Whores of Babylon.

Amazing album.

Dark and operatic, with fantastically epic elements that drew upon filmic scores (even incorporating dialogue from Hellraiser at one point), the album Metropolis came along just as we were starting to play the Kult RPG (which has a realm called Metropolis). So many elements of the album (falling angels, dark urban settings, biblical themes) resonated with the game, and it's a brilliant album on top of that.

I remember they came from Bristol and had ties to fellow Bristol musicians Portishead (Beth Gibbons appears on one of the Whores tracks if I remember correctly). I wonder whatever happened to Whores of Babylon? I'd have loved to have heard more...

Friday, March 20, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 14)

Bush - Sixteen Stone (1994)

Just a quickie today. I remember there was a big deal about Metallica's new album, Load, and the local Virgin Megastore (remember those?) was doing a midnight launch for it - this must have been summer 1996. Being a big Metallica fan, I dragged Debs to the launch night (there were no freebies) and we queued up to get Metallica's newest release.

While queuing, Debs picked up Bush's first album, Sixteen Stone. We were still watching a lot of MTV2, and despite the album being out for a couple of years we'd not really heard of them until they started showing the video for Machinehead that summer. I quite liked the single, and I remember the video for Glycerine being shown late one night too. So we bought the album, thought we'd give it a go.

Over the next couple of days we gave both albums a listen, and despite us going to the midnight launch for Metallica, the Bush album got more play. Just a really cool album, and just as we were getting into it (as we were late to the party) we were only a couple of months away from their follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase. While Swallowed was the big hit from that album, Debs absolutely loved the falling angels video for Greedy Fly.

Those first two albums are fantastic, and still get a lot of play here.

Great stuff!!