Monday, October 29, 2012

No Mr. Bond, I Expect You To GAME!

I thought I'd do a blog post a little earlier this week as it'll possibly be the last normal post before the madness of NaNoWriMo takes over and I end up pulling ridiculous late nights trying to hit my word count.

Also, I've just come back from seeing SKYFALL, the latest (and almost greatest?) James Bond movie.

Bond, overlooking London, in SKYFALL (2012)
I thought I'd write a little about Bond, and how the most famous of secret agents has been a constant in my life, both in normal life and in gaming.

Bond blasted his way into my life when my parents took me to see The Man With The Golden Gun. Scary to think that was waaay back in 1974. I don't think I'd have seen it upon immediate release, it would probably have been the following year and I'd have been around seven years old. I didn't really follow the plot, but I loved the car chases, and the end fight in Scaramanga's little theme park shooting alley had me mesmerised.

Corgi Stromberg helicopter!
My folks took me to see The Spy Who Loved Me as well, in 1977. This was before we managed to go and see Star Wars, and at the time it was amazing. Mostly because of the car - the Lotus Esprit that turned into a submarine. I remember coming out of the cinema, and my dad decided that we should get the car. We stopped at every toy store on Holderness Road in Hull on the way home to try and get the Corgi Lotus Esprit. The final shop was still a failure, but he got me the next best thing - the Stromberg Jet Ranger helicopter that Caroline Monro was piloting in the iconic chase.

Pan Paperback edition, '60's
I loved Bond movies, watched them avidly on TV, and my mum gave me all of her Fleming books, the old 60's Pan paperback editions that I would later read at a great pace in my time working for the Council when they didn't have enough work for me to do.

In the meantime, however, Star Wars came into my life and Bond was a sort of side-pleasure. It wasn't Sci-Fi, but it was still cool. I still watched them, through the silliness of Moonraker and Octopussy. However, the franchise really got back on track with Dalton's The Living Daylights. Dalton was easily my favourite Bond, at least until the Daniel Craig movies... I know, controversial choice, huh?

But Dalton did get me back into Bond in a big way, and it lead to gaming again with Victory Games' James Bond Roleplaying Game.

It was an odd one, a great game with really good production values that had some minor problems with not being able to use SPECTRE or Blofeld, but their substitutes (TAROT and Skorpios) were pretty cool.

Cover of the Victory Games James Bond 007 RPG
- Although most copies in the UK had the tagline
"Enter the Victory Games World of..." blacked out.
(You do know if she was real, the woman on the
cover would be about 8 or 9ft tall?)
The game itself was rather smart, and one of the only games I have that not only included detailed damage and combat rules, but also rules for gambling (especially the incredibly odd Baccarat), seduction and being able to recognise the vintage of your booze of choice.

But it was the supplements that really showed off how cool the game could be. Sure it did its own stories, including Goldfinger II - The Man With the Midas Touch, and You Only Live Twice II - The Back of Beyond (written by future Bond novelist Raymond Benson), but the adaptations of the actual movies were genius. Instead of just presenting you with the same plot and story as the original movie, things were slightly different.

For example, Goldfinger wasn't about irradiating the gold in Fort Knox, so if your party of novice agents or your cocky 00 agent decided "Oh, I know how this is going to go," and tried to skip to the end, they'd be in for a serious surprise.

The insides of the rather awesome "A View To A Kill" adventure.

Add to this the amazing level of production that went into each adventure. Each adventure (barring a couple of them) came in a boxed set, with a whole host of cool extras. Most came with a "For Your Eyes Only" envelope to put things in, usually a set of nicely painted "photos", some cool maps, as well as props, letters, invoices, and other excellent items that gave the players a great insight into the adventure ahead.

I ran just about every adventure there was for the game, some I'd even GM more than once for different agents to see how they'd do. I wasn't a great GM, and some of my players would say I made stupid decisions (even worse than some of the decisions the players made) but it was great fun, and I enjoyed every game.

Even though I had a period when I didn't really game, Bond seemed to follow me. While working in Bournemouth at the Odeon, I worked their lavish charity premiere of The World is Not Enough. It was pricey for the time (£10 a ticket, £25 for premiere seats) and a boat like the one Cigar Girl was driving at the beginning of the film was parked outside the front of the cinema. I didn't see the film that night, I was an usher, and I spent the entire film cleaning up the vomit on the stairs outside the main screen before the glamorous attendees in their tuxedos and cocktail dresses came out and staggered through it. (Some people shouldn't eat take-away before attacking the free booze at a cinema event!)

While I enjoyed the Brosnan films, it wasn't until Daniel Craig took over as Bond that I re-discovered my love of Bond movies. I bought the complete Bond DVD set, and when Sir Roger Moore signed his book (My Word is my Bond) at the bookstore where my wife works, I managed to get him to sign the DVD set. One of my prized possessions!

After Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space came out, I'd hoped to continue the success by trying to get one of the other two "Holy Grails" of gaming - Harry Potter, or James Bond (both things I'm a huge fan of). I even got as far as getting a particularly talented graphic designer friend of mine, Will Brooks, to put together a mock up of a "pitch" for a possible Bond RPG. (You should check out his publishing site

Sample Layout from the Licensed to Kill: Roleplaying in the World of James Bond RPG pitch.
All content is (c) 2012 David F. Chapman / Autocratik / Will Brooks design
I really liked the idea of starting from scratch, creating a modern Bond RPG that was purely "Craig" centric, but would have adventures like the old Victory Games RPG where the stories had been tweaked, only modernised for a new generation and a new Bond. Possibly even with the option of running the adventures as "period pieces" set in their original eras.

Nothing's come of it of course... maybe one day... if the guys at Eon see this, I'm very keen (hint, hint). There are many more pages already set out as a sample!!

So, that brings me to SKYFALL. How awesome was that? I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet, but it's excellent. I did have a slight problem with them making Silva slightly camp. It could be seen as the typical "make the Bond villain have something wrong with him", like they did with Blofeld, but being gay isn't a defect. Silva was scary enough as he was, and the bit with the teeth...  ew! If they'd played him more like No Country For Old Men then I think it would have worked better.

Other than that, it was genius. Amazing set pieces, brilliant action scenes, really cool characters, brilliant finale. The best Bond? Possibly... I do love Casino Royale, but I'll reserve judgment as to whether it's the best one after I've watched it a couple more times.

Meanwhile, happy anniversary Bond. May there be another 50 years of your adventures!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (13) - Talkin' 'bout my Generations

Last post I mentioned that Debs and I got very into playing Vampire: The Masquerade. I was intrigued by the adverts in the rulebooks for something called "The Camarilla" and so I started looking into what it was and how we could get involved.

The Camarilla took LARPing (that's Live Action Role Playing) to its logical next level. A global RPG, where Storytellers organised regional games, and reported what had happened to national and international coordinators to create a huge international game where everything was connected. It was like MMORPG without the internet. Genius.

We signed up, and started to get involved.

There were a couple of groups organised in Norwich, and we tagged along - they didn't really amount to much. I guess the problem was that we tried to meet up in public places - I remember a great meeting at one of the oldest pubs in the city, there were about ten of us meeting to discuss what we were going to do and when the next game should be, and it was like An American Werewolf in London. Not so much "beware the moon, lads," and more "we don't want your kind in here!"

Being a northern lad myself, we also went to the regional meetings in York. These weren't in a public place, rather in a hired hall, or at the "Prince of York's" house. We met some really cool people there, and made some good friends.

We also attended a huge meeting in Basildon. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. A huge LARP with hundreds of gamers all partaking in one massive event. It was like a convention and a party all in one, with everyone in-character and running around pretending to be vampires.

The Basildon event, and the Camarilla as a whole, introduced us to the Prince of London, Angus Abranson, and his deputy, Andrew Peregrine. Of course we didn't get to see much of either of them at the Basildon meeting, everything Angus did was surrounded by a gaggle of obfuscated vamps following him around hoping to overhear some vital information that they'd be able to use in the future. Angus and Andrew seemed to be at the heart of the London gaming scene, and they would become important parts of my game writing career in the future. You can see some pics from Angus' Livejournal account here so you can see what the UK Camarilla scene was like.

We got very into the Camarilla, but I'm an inherently antisocial type - I don't really do public functions. However, Debs and I had graphic design backgrounds so we volunteered to help put together our clan newsletters. Debs worked on the Toreador one ("Rosa Nocturnus") and I put together the Tremere one ("Convocations"). They were illustrated A4 black and white newsletters, around 8-16 pages every quarter, with art, poems, game updates, rules, photos, and all that kinda stuff. Debs and I had a blast doing it, and the powers that be in the UK deemed that our hard work should be rewarded by promoting us in the ranks. Debs was made head of Clan Toreador, and I was promoted to 2nd in command of Clan Tremere (there was already a Clan Head).

We made good friends in the Camarilla, met some colourful characters as well, but that would come to an end. Some took our ascent to power personally, unhappy that we'd risen in the ranks (and in Generation as it worked in the Camarilla) just because of our creative and organisational input. We started receiving hate-mail, but in- and out- of character. We decided that nothing we did was worth that kind of feedback and we withdrew from active duty, quit the Camarilla, and I sold 90% of my Vampire/Werewolf/Mage/Wraith rulebooks. I still have the Vampire corebook, and the Mage: The Ascension one (I actually always preferred Mage to Vampire anyway - I liked the idea of being able to change your reality with your mind... a theme that would continue in my games to this day), and I have the corebooks of the re-releases, but I haven't really ventured into the World of Darkness since.

Debs, however, is currently enjoying a game of Mage: The Awakening.

Despite how it ended, I don't regret my time in the Camarilla. Without it, I'd have never met Angus and Andy, and the Doctor Who RPG (Adventures in Time and Space) may never have been made.


Okay, enough reminiscing - on the subject of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, check out this video of unboxing the new 11th Doctor core set.

I was thinking about making my own unboxing video for this, but this is a pretty good look at the contents of the box.

I'm still planning on making some videos, but the timing's just not right at the moment. Maybe in the new year...

Until next week, possibly my last blog entry for a bit as it's the one before the madness of NaNoWriMo begins!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (12) - The Long Dark Teatime of Gaming

Strangely, there was a time when I didn't play RPGs. I guess it happens to us all, we "put away childish things" and I went back into education. Ironically I guess. Back to school I went, but my schooltime hobbies didn't come with me. I call these the Dark Times.

Me at work in the Archaeology Unit, 1989
At school I do remember being told specifically that I wasn't smart enough to go on to college or university, and the best I could hope for would be to leave after the sixth form and find a menial job somewhere. So I did. I left school, became a doley, wrote adventures for West End Games in a desperate attempt to get into the games industry, and then ended up working for the County Council in nature conservation as a cartographer. 

The program closed down and I was transferred to the Council's archaeology unit, where I spent most of my time drawing the bits of pot or bone that had been recovered from various digs, and on occasion going to the dig sites and drawing the finds on location. Not being much of an outdoor person, this wasn't ideal, but the rest of the team in the Archaeology Unit were awesome. The Unit was run by Ian who'd published his own comics as a small press publisher, so we were bound to get along. I also met Gareth, one of the most talented illustrators I've ever come across, and became the best of friends. Seriously, check out his site - the artwork is amazing.

Anyway, the project insisted that we all went to college one day a week to get more qualifications, so we ended up doing Art "A" Levels, which pleased my mum immensely as I'd dropped out of Art at school.

The A Level progressed and encouraged us to do a BTEC in Graphic Design, and soon life was dominated with college, commuting, and the desperate and angst socialising that went along with it. My mind was on drawing comics, and trying to get someone from the opposite sex to even acknowledge my existence for more than a second.

This isn't talking about games much is it? Sorry. Don't worry, I'll get back to that in a second. As I said, these were dark times on the game front, and my focus was on drawing comics, the college work, and the social life that went along with it. I got so into the college work though, one course wasn't enough. While I was doing BTEC Design during the day, I was on a Fine Art Foundation in the evening, and the second year I added an "A" Level Film Studies evening class to boot. I was a learning machine.

The BTEC really forced us into applying for a further qualification - something I'd not really considered. I had no intention of moving out from home, in my mind I was still 14 and most of the time I still acted like it. But the BTEC staff insisted, so I applied for a number of Graphic Design degrees, aiming initially to stay within reach of home. However, fate would dictate otherwise, and soon I'd been accepted on the degree course at the highly regarded Norwich School of Art and Design. I had to move out, leave my little home town, and branch out on my own.

Luckily, I didn't have to do it alone. Gareth managed to get on the same course, so we moved down together, shared a house with a US Air Force veteran who'd rented out a couple of rooms in his house to students, and set out making new friends in a new town.

Some of these new friends were gamers - I hadn't really partaken in RPGing for a very long time, my mind had been elsewhere, but the invite was given to try a new RPG called "Vampire: The Masquerade" and I happily went along.

Vampire:The Masquerade -
You have a lot to answer for...
It was like that first cup of tea when you come home after a holiday. It was fresh, but felt like home. Gaming was back in my life, and I wasn't going to let go. That week I went to the local game shop and bought about fifteen of the Vampire books (corebook, clanbooks, player's and storyteller's books, the lot) and more D10's than I could carry. I blew most of my student grant (yes, remember those days? Grants? I think I was one of the final year's worth of students to actually get a grant before the student loans came into force) on gaming supplies.

The World of Darkness was my home now, and I was going to bring everyone into it. I started running a game that would incorporate some of the gamers from my home town, and the gamers from Norwich, in one massive setting. The events of the game in Norwich would effect the other and vice-versa. It was huge, and I was revelling in my slightly sociopathic urges to control everything around me.

I branched out, running Werewolf: The Apocalypse for another group from people I'd met in the local comic shop, and then moved onto Mage: The Ascension (we'll come back to that later), but one advert in the back of the rulebooks intrigued me - The Camarilla. What was that all about? (That's definitely one for a future blog post).

The massive game kinda collapsed - the demands of running games concurrently with nearly twenty players in two or three different groups, mixed with the strained social life of college and the dramatic changes that were taking place in my social circles meant that I had to give up on the bigger scheme of things, and concentrate on a smaller group.

However, in the middle of all this, I did meet some particularly good friends, and even met my wife, all through World of Darkness. Scaling back from the bigger game, I started concentrating on Mage: The Ascension, with a small group consisting of me (as Storyteller), Debs (my future wifey), and three guys we'd met through the comic shop - Stoo, Edge and Tetch. 

KULT - still one of my fave games ever
These Mage games have to be some of the most amazing gaming experiences I've had as a GM. The characters were awesome, and would become the stuff of legend. When I turned my back on Mage, and found a new game system (Kult) the characters were adapted and their epic stories continued - and became even more epic (if that was even possible). They time travelled, one gave birth to another character in the past to try to restore a wrong that had been done, one had been killed and haunted the group as a helpful spirit...  I hardly had to write anything (and if I did, the players would ignore any plotline and do their own thing). It was storytelling with characters that the players knew well, and the stories created themselves. There was a magic there that I've not encountered again in GMing... and I doubt I will again. 

These characters went on again when I changed system to CJ Carella's WitchCraft, and their tales have been adapted and became some of the inspiration behind some of Debs' fiction writing (especially her dark fantasy novel "Black Clothes, Blue Fire"). The change to Unisystem would lead to other opportunities but that's getting ahead of the game (so to speak). Next time, we'll rewind to cover Debs and my time in the Camarilla, and the important friendships that were formed there...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And you may say to yourself... "My God! What Have I Done?!"

It's October, nearly the end of a particularly crap year. This time last year, my lovely wife signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. (Why it's still National and not International I don't know... maybe InNoWriMo doesn't sound as good)

Foolishly, I decided I was going to try to keep up with her, matching her word count, and progressing with my little fiction project called "The Case of Lost Possibilities". You can read about my entry from last year here.

It went okay for me, it certainly motivated me and showed me that I could do 30,000+ words in a month, but real life got in the way (the wonders of working in retail at this time of year) and other writing projects came to light, so I had to drop out.

My lovely wife went on to smash through the 50,000 words in November target, but she hadn't finished the book, so she kept going... hitting over 80,000 words by the first week of December. The story is an excellent one, but "From the Library of Parker Prentice" remains mostly unseen as she's working on a second draft. Hopefully, it'll see the light of day soon, and everyone can enjoy the spooky tale.

So, this year, she's planning on doing NaNoWriMo again, and the initial ideas she's been chatting about sound fantastic. However, stupidly, I've decided to join in...  Officially this time...

I've signed up on the NaNoWriMo site, and I know what I'm going to write... I have no idea if I'll "win" as they call it by hitting the target, but I do know that the incentive to keep going, and to keep writing, especially when you find your enthusiasm failing, is going to produce a lot of words. Whether these words are going to be any good or usable in any way is another matter. Either way, it'll keep me distracted from the harshness of real life, especially at this time of year when everyone is trying to show their "family values" through ridiculous consumerism.

WILD has a backstory - a reason for the technology that allows dreamshare to be created. The fiction that I'm planning on writing for NaNoWriMo is the story behind the game, told from the point of view of those who experience the dreamshare tech for the first time, and the dreamworlds that they encounter. It's under the working title of "Running WILD" (yeah, I know it's awful), but that's likely to change.

The bizarre surreality I learned while writing The Case of Lost Possibilities will help, and it doesn't hurt that I'm reading David Wong's sequel to John Dies at the End at the moment (This Book is Full of Spiders - Seriously Dude, Don't Touch It!), so hopefully it'll mean that the story of WILD will be suitably dreamlike. Even if I don't end up polishing it off for a "book", it'll be a parallel fiction that'll be spread about the core rulebook to fill in the backstory.

Okay, that's it for this week. I thought it only apt to have a break from the "Roll Your Own Life" autobiographical entries as I'd reached the point chronologically when I'd had a break from gaming. Don't worry, it didn't last long, and next time we'll get into the world of darkness...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (11) - They Mostly Game at Night... Mostly...

If I continued writing about my history of "life" in gaming, I'd be reaching what I sometimes call the "long dark teatime of gaming" when I really didn't do anything at all. I didn't game, didn't write, I just became a self-absorbed misery and tried to do college stuff and desperately try to get a member of the opposite sex to see me as more than "just a friend".

I'm going to skip that game-less era, and head straight onto the "Second Renaissance" of my gaming, but that'll be next post.

Before I move on though, I want to mention a particularly influential movie and the amazing game that it spawned.


Back in the mid-late 80's, right through to the end of the decade, we had a regular tradition at our house which was "Friday Night Videos!" Basically, we hired a movie from what was our local video rental store (Dixons) and we took over the living room at my mum and dad's and we watched a movie. My folks were usually out until the mid-evening, and they hid in the bedroom until the movie finished, but every now and then we'd hire something that my folks were interested in and one or both of them would join us.

For some reason my dad thought that watching "The Terminator" was a great idea (which caused a slight awkwardness at the Reese / Sarah Connor love scene), but we all agreed (my dad included) that it was awesome. It wasn't my mum's cup of tea, but it didn't stop my dad describing the most violent and gruesome moments to her with a giggle of enthusiasm.

Aliens - What are you looking at Burke?
James Cameron was the new god, and when we first saw the trailer and making of documentary for his sequel to Alien, the Eight were all pretty keen.

I think I saw Aliens about three or four times at the cinema in the end. It was the first 18 certificate film I saw at the cinema, and I managed to see it with various members of the Eight at different times. Even today, Aliens is still awesome, and we can all recite most of the lines word for word.


Bill Willingham's ELEMENTALS
Meanwhile, as I mentioned briefly in the previous post, Pete had created his own game system called Odyssey. I don't really have much recollection of the system - Pete has mentioned that it was a 2D10 system, and I do remember having skills over 100% which allowed you to do extra actions. That's about all I can remember. But the real test for any game is whether you remember the system (and its faults and interruptions) or whether you remember the games themselves. And Odyssey certainly produced some of the most memorable games I'd ever experienced as a player.

What started as a more realistic and authentic RuneQuest style game proved that it could be used for any genre when Pete decided to use the system to run a superhero style game based on Bill Willingham's "Elementals" comics (published by Comico).

But the game really came into its own when Pete decided we'd play as Colonial Marines in the Aliens universe.

Most of us were troops. JR showed his natural born leadership skills by being the Gorman of the group, remaining in the APC and watching us all balls-it-up through our helmet cameras. I thought Vasquez was the coolest, so I played a similar character. A short, stocky, and hard-as-nails female Smart-Gunner.

Aliens. We were not as smart as these Marines...
Pete had predicted the similar space-colony background that would form the Spartans in the Halo-verse, having our group of marines being sent out to outlying colonies to quash resistance elements and rebels. The Smart Gun was rationalised, and made super cool with a really efficient tracking system, firing punched disks (rapidly bashed into a sharp cone of armour piercing metal) which made the ammo carrying easier. But it was the encumbrance rules that really stick in the mind.

I have very vivid memories of the colony's terraforming reactor being overloaded and damaged, about to cause a huge nuclear explosion (I think part of the damage may have been from stray gunfire, I'm not sure). We'd stopped the rebels, but the explosion was imminent and the squad had to run the 5k back to the dropship as our APC had been taken out, before the nuclear explosion wiped us off the planet. The encumbrance rules really added to the tension, as we realised we were never going to make it to safety without dropping all of our guns and equipment.

The later games had us encountering the xenomorphs from the movies, and we had a great one shot with different characters where each member of the party was taken out by an unseen force (that was revealed to be my character, under orders from the GM from slips of paper he kept passing me under the table).

Nothing really much to add there except that Odyssey introduced me to the idea of gaming in a group where one of the player characters was the secret villain, showed me how to do a faithful game that was tied to an existing universe, and showed me that you could create a game system from scratch and have some seriously kick-ass adventures with it. I really hope that people have as much fun with the games I've worked on as I had with Odyssey.


Next "Roll Your Own Life" brings us to the Vampire years...