On games, politics, and blowing up vampires

When I asked the boys – about a year ago – what they wanted their character arcs to be in the new game, Ryan’s answer was to do with Aaron’s leadership, character growth, heroic deeds…

Sam just wanted his food-obsessed werewolf to have eaten at every McDonalds in the local area. I laughed quite hard.

The game and the city for my wolfpack had grown out of the Dresden Files game I’ve played for the past three years or so. We left it in Swindon, but picked up on some unused elements – a pack of werewolf hackers in the Museum of Computing, the Paranet of magical talents, a few new characters, a few revamped old characters (including one unsavoury character called Tom Logan, a derivative from my Winter Knight) and some new arcs. The boys had both settled down in the city, and so for the arc we’ve just played I added some politics and some complications to their heroic do-good quest. So I had Aaron, a lovesick and slightly single-minded hero, and Willy, food-obsessed and sarcastic sidekick, running around Swindon causing every type of havoc there is to cause.

One of the things I loved about the world was the possibility for tangents. Ryan caused one of the most fun ones; I’d included a White Court vampire (who feed off sex) and Aaron had cheerfully gone to see her to try to solve a mystery. She got ‘interested’, Ryan gave me that big grin and said “nope!” when I asked if he wanted his character to get a clue and leave, and after a glossed-over night of debauchery that I definitely wasn’t going to roleplay we ended up with a sex-obsessed werewolf with half a soul and a revenge raid on Foxxies’ strip club that involved a bin lorry and ripping hearts out. As GM, I was sitting there laughing my ass off and cheerfully encouraging them on.

The latest arc was an offshoot from that political mix-up, and says a lot about why I loved playing. The ghouls that had been used by the White Court for people-trafficking were still in town, and people were still vanishing. But despite more cameras, more systems, more checks, the wolfpack couldn’t find any evidence of the victims in the White Court hangouts, which obviously meant they weren’t looking hard enough *GM roll of the eyes*. Incidentally, our heroic heroes were also working for one of the local mafia bosses, innocently assisting with creating drugs and not noticing that said mafia boss might have a hand in the people-trafficking…I swear, sometimes you gotta beat your players over the head with clues!

The game we’d just played was one of the most enjoyable and simultaneously frustrating for me. We were hitting the finale; Aaron’s love interest had been kidnapped, and the wolves had taken the bait to run off someplace else rather than use their heads (all planned, cue GM smirk). They’d finally twigged where she was after an in-game day, and were planning a raid on the place to get her back. I was sat there answering questions on the house layout, letting them wonder if quadcopters could be rigged to carry thermite and how big a sewer was, and knowing that as soon as it got dark I’d be playing my own move. They had so much fun, and I knew it was all potentially for nothing…best-laid plans and all that!

And then as soon as dusk fell, the Red Court vampires turned up with an offer to negotiate. They wanted to see Aaron. Now.

The wolves went. Found the girl. Agreed – reluctantly, and surprisingly without Aaron trying to tear anyone’s head off – that the wolfpack would negotiate a truce with the Red Court, and agree to join forces against Cornetti. Aaron got handed the girl. They left.

And then said girl tried to eat him.

It’s the little things.

I had – as GM – to step in at that point and do a minor amount of meta-gaming. Noelle was Ryan’s creation and character; even though he’d allowed me free rein over her (up to and including killing), I was still reluctant to see her turn Red Court and have her kill everyone, which was one of the options at that stage. And so while Sam dozed on the sofa and occasionally interjected a comment, Ryan nodded seriously and said, “Yeah, I can fit that in. Noelle, you have to go back to safety now, we’re taking you back to the Museum. I love you. And I kiss her forehead.”

“Roll for it. Your conviction against her discipline.” The strength of Aaron’s love against the bloodlust taking over his girlfriend.

And he won.

He got a grin, part relief that all my planning had finally played out and part happiness that he succeeded, and a nod as he started to smile back. “You did it.”

Of course, they still had the Red Court to blow up in revenge…why waste a good attack plan just because you’ve got the girl back? But that was the next session, and that never happened.

So the game ends there. I’ve got notes on the next arc – Ryan wanted to play Logan, a foul-mouthed and selfish wizard who had a tendency to tell everyone to have sex with themselves and push people’s buttons just to piss ’em off, and who was just ridiculous amounts of fun to play. Sam was considering plotting another game using his wizards and secret society, and my planned arc had a secret vault, a stolen book, a shadowy organisation, the world in danger and time ticking down…

Wolf by Paul in Seattle
From http://wolvesbystrangers.com/images/from-paul-in-seattle1.jpg

I miss two people. I miss Ryan, my friend and my reader, my inspiration. And I miss Aaron, ambitious and loyal, athlete, leader, werewolf and absolute bloody idiot. I loved Ryan’s grin when his character did something stupid; his frown when they were trying to make sense of my clues; his emails and pings with another snatch of story or idea for the game. He loved the world and the characters – he wrote fanfiction and short stories, wrote up the snippets of game, gave me ideas, gave himself confidence. I wanted him to run his own game, once he’d got the confidence – I wanted him to learn to GM, knowing that he’d love it as much as I did.

We’ve shelved the game and the world now; I won’t play another game in it, not yet. I need time to let the characters go and let the ideas fade. But I loved it, and I know he did too.


My friend Ryan Rogers, @UnlicensedBrony, was killed in an accident on the 5th January in Stonehouse on his way to see us. He was a regular gamer (aka. every week) with my housemate Sam and I, and he’d often stayed with us over the past year – helping with DIY and gardening, learning to cook and drive, watching films, playing board games, talking about writing and occasionally actually doing some writing. He was someone I considered a very close friend, and someone I spoke to nearly every day.

And now he’s not here.

It still hasn’t sunk in.

I still go to text or email him – I think of something he’d find amusing or interesting, or that I want to get his opinion on. I’m waiting for the text to say he’ll be at Stroud station, or the email from him with a new story or plotline idea. I’ve got notes for the next Dresden RPG game, now abandoned; plans and snippets of ideas that would have been so much fun to play. I’m still expecting him to walk in the door and give me a quick hug before getting sat on by the cat and handed the remote so that he can choose the cheesy 80’s film for the evening.

Everything just ends so abruptly.

I’ve lost my alpha reader, my inspiration, my friend.

I’ve lost the man with an infectious smile, bright eyes, unexpected hugs, thoughtful words. I’ve lost the athlete who beat me easily in a race across Coaley Peak in the sunshine and bright frost with the view stretching out ahead of us, the world at our feet. I’ve lost the adorable idiot who let the cat sit on him until 1am and his legs had gone numb, just so that he didn’t wake the furball. I’ve lost the gamer who sighed in relief when he got his character out of danger and then promptly plunged back into it just for the fun of the game. I’ve lost the reader who loved my stories and somehow got into my character’s heads almost as well as I did. I’ve lost the caffeine addict who was always up for another cup of tea but would always offer me one too, despite knowing I don’t have tea for blood like he did. I’ve lost the opponent who regularly matched three potions before I could, and the colleague who drowned in sand with me as we failed at Forbidden Desert. I’ve lost the quiet company during our walks down the canal and our seat on the lock gate, just watching the leaves and not having to talk. I’ve lost the roleplayer who would chime in with an unexpected grin, a sharp retort, a sneaky plot. I’ve lost the insecure, broken soul who was learning how to speak out about the hurt, and say what he needed to be able to heal. I’ve lost the teenager who laughed with excitement at catching a Pokemon and always knew what they were called. I’ve lost the sleepyhead who curled up in my arms on the sofa and nodded off halfway through Poco Rosso. I’ve lost the derp who drilled through a mains water pipe and panicked at the resulting water fountain, and then learned how to solder to fix the mistake. I’ve lost the singer who corrupted me with Taylor Swift and whose unexpected voice brightened the moments when he relaxed enough to bring it out. I’ve lost the child who sprinted across the park to get the kite into the air and the adult who sprinted back, laughing as it flew. I’ve lost the writer who loved my world so much that he wrote his own stories, delved into parts I never could have created and brought so much life and imagination to a fantasy of a city. I’ve lost the student who would have a go at anything, from making lasagne to using an impact driver for the first time to taking a corner at 40mph. I’ve lost the friend who knew exactly what I was talking about when I talked about depression, about inspiration, about feeling lost, about finding your path.

I’ve lost someone who meant so much to me. I’m still crying every time I think of him; I’ve got a lump in my chest, a cold fog across my thoughts. I can’t focus for long, can’t concentrate. Every thing I see reminds me, somehow, of the person that I can no longer contact, the friend that I desperately miss.

But. The last time I saw him I got that beaming Ryan smile, and my final words to him were, “You’re awesome too. I’ll see you Wednesday.”

He knew he was loved, and that means that every memory I have makes me smile even as it makes me cry. He knew that he was cherished, valued, accepted – I told my friend that I loved him so many times and he believed me, and that’s everything I could ever want for anyone. I’m so glad that I knew him and that I took the time to listen and relax and just be in his company. He was my friend, and I cherish all the time that he chose to spend with me.

Ryan, you’re an absolute derp, and I miss you like hell. I might even finally get round to watching My Little Pony in your honour.

Edit: update here, TW: suicide.

On chaos, confusion and werewolves

So my RPG players are causing havoc, again. All they had to do last game was go and talk to someone. But no, they decided to smoke-bomb a police squad and tear a house to pieces. I can’t take them anywhere!

We’re entering the final few games for this arc. It’s been quite a political section; I didn’t entirely intend for it to get quite so involved, but at the same time it’s been a lot of fun! The players have had to think, and unfortunately for them, the consequences of some of their actions – mostly their choices to go in guns blazing and try to Do The Right Thing – may come back to bite them in the ass…

The next arc is going to be a little more Saving The World; we already have a six-month time limit running due to a one-shot that one of my players did, and I’ve happily run with it! It involves Denarians, Knights of the Cross, Ivy, Venatori, a troublesome library and a whole dose of chaos. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

With this game – and these players – I have very much let them sandbox. I’ve put scenarios in front of them, but it’s been entirely up to them what they do (and in one notable case, hooking up with a sex vampire led to an entire arc which resulted in a bin lorry being used as a siege weapon – you know what I said about not being able to take them anywhere…) So I’ve been doing politics on the fly, and reacting to the players as they make the decisions. It’s a different style of game to a plotted one, but no less fun, and it’s given the players a lot more freedom. That said, the next arc is going to be a bit more prescriptive, mostly because the opposing team is on their own timescale and therefore it’ll be up to the players to respond.

So that’s the latest! We’re playing weekly at the moment which is brilliant, and hopefully that’ll continue into the New Year. Bring on more chaos!

DFRPG: Apocalypse…not exactly averted

We’re finished! After two years, the Dresden Files game that I’ve been in as a player, the one that first got me into role-playing games, has finished.

The world’s…sort of intact? Mostly? And we didn’t kill anyone too badly?

Well, we survived.


Anyway! The world’s still there, even if most of Wiltshire isn’t. So it’s fine.

Overall it was a good game, and for most of it, I loved it. I’ve written 160k of fanfiction for the world and my character’s background story. I’ve spent way too much time plotting my own casefile. I’ve been making notes on the books to help me remember details. I’ve started my own games in the same universe, just because I love it.

But towards the end, much as I hated it happening, my enthusiasm definitely vanished.

I think one of my major frustrations with it was the slow pace. We could only play once a month and if everyone was busy, we had to pass on to the next month. As I’ve got my own games running (amongst other projects) the delay meant my headspace drifted – it’s like finishing a book and sending it off for editing, and then I’m writing the next one, and when I get the first one back it’s a surprised moment of “Oh! Yeah! That! Now I gotta remember what the heck was going on with those characters…”

I had some gaming style issues as well. I have (now!) learned not to argue with the GM, but it is hard when I know the world and rules; however, it mostly comes down to different play styles, and as a player you just have to step back and admit you’d do things differently. I get annoyed by fellow-players, too; it’s very easy to go off-track in a character-heavy game, as you are RPG’ing the actual interactions! Staying in-character is difficult, but…ragh. Still. They’re minor frustrations that didn’t spoil the overall game. The campaign had a nice mix of investigation, action, various allies and groups and enemies, and it added a realistic element by being set in a location we knew.

I’ve gotta write up and finish my little project, and then it’s done; one chapter of the game closed! I was originally going to run a second campaign in the world but as I’m already involved in other groups and games, I’ve opted not to. I have more than enough on my plate with the Wolfpack, particularly as they’re currently attempting to start a war…*sigh* players, who’d have ’em?

On rpgs and tools

As you might have gathered by now, I like role-play games! I only started two years ago and had never played before, but I now GM regularly for a Dresden Files game, I’m just finishing playing in another DF campaign, and I’m just starting to play in a Pathfinder one. And while I have put some sites that have helped my GM’ing and playing on this website already, I thought a brief overview of what tools I actually use might help.

Eldritch fate diceFirst, Fudge Dice…pretty! I have the eldritch set (a nice present for Christmas from our DF GM, knowing that I needed some of my own) but there’s lotsa pretty ones. I also use the Simple Fudge Dice app by Aviv Beeri for when I forget my dice…it happens :-/

We also use props; the wolfpack have ears (hey, I’m crafty…) and I have a jester’s hat for when I’m GM’ing (versus when I’m being an NPC). We use random props too; not as many as we could, but then the ears are fun!

We use fillable character sheets which are awesome; there’s a whole load of Dresden Files resources on DFRPG-wikispaces if the link above’s gone. There’s also a stackload of resources on the Dresden Files over at Evil Hat.

Vicky in wolf-ears
Vicky in wolf-ears

For the Dresden Files campaign, we’ve mostly been playing on paper/online docs during the actual game. We’ve set up WordPress sites for each game to write up notes and provide information; it’s brilliant as they’re so flexible and the add-ins mean you can display pretty much anything (character information, sheets, notes…)

And I’ve also just started using Roll20! The Pathfinder game means I’m using it as a player, but I was squeaking with one of my wolfpack members about the possibilities for Dresden, too. You can change system, add character sheets, add tokens to the board, roll fudge dice, add in maps…I don’t think it will be particularly brilliant for the actual roleplaying aspect (aka. if we’re not using the display board, we may as well be in Google Hangouts) and it will take a bit of set-up, but for heist games or things that do need maps, it’s going to be great. We’re currently bouncing ideas for two games as a trial, so that could be really fun.