Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Tentacles, Podcasts and More (oh my)


As careful readers of my blog may have noted in between the weird stories and disturbing attempts at poetry I have occasionally made reference to my gaming hobby.   I've been involved in role playing games since I was a teenager - too many years ago to count without wincing - and most of those years have been spent taking on the role of games-master, referee, dungeon-master, keeper or whatever the term de jour happens to be.  Basically in those games of collaborative and communal story telling I always tended to be the one who laid out the framework of the stories, administered whatever rules were appropriate and played all the characters in the universe who weren't played by the players.

It's been a great hobby and I thought I knew it inside out and I suppose I'd become fairly set in my ways.   That changed recently and though I've never considered myself to have a particularly narrow outlook on gaming it's started to widen out incredibly.   I've looked into new games, new rule types, new genres and it's revitalised my gaming life as I've managed to find myself running games not only for my usual and long term gaming partners but also for their family members, for work colleagues who've expressed an interest and for people across the sea who I've never met except virtually.

There are a lot of reasons for this (displacement from some fairly trying times personally being one of them) but it's been facilitated by my discovery of new vistas of gaming mainly by my recent discovery of podcasts.   I have a long commute to and from work and I recently decided to investigate the podcast app on my phone which I'd previously ignored.   Were there, I wondered, any podcasts concerning my beloved roleplaying games.

Oh hell yes was the universe's answer.

One in particular has become my favourite.

The RPG Gamer Dad Podcast stands out from the crowd - and that's not to disparage the crowd.   This podcast's quality puts me more in mind of a professionally produced radio magazine-show than anything else.  Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy the podcasts that sound like friends sitting round a table and riffing off each other, but for consistently interesting content beautifully presented I go back to RPG Gamer Dad.

His shows are a careful mix of reviews, gaming news and interviews with gaming luminaries talking about their own work, creations and ideas.   He also includes some wonderful actual play involving other members of his family (RPG Gamer Mum, RPG Gamer Boy and RPG Gamer Girl to give them their nommes des jeux) which I guarantee will make any parent want to explore ways to bring their own kids into the hobby.    They've recently produced their own set of rules designed to be an easy introduction for younger players to roleplaying and I advise anyone interested to check them out here.

Occasional episodes are given over to actual play sessions with adult gamers covering a wide variety of systems which show off roleplayers and storytellers at their best and showcase a lot of games I'd never heard of before.

And that's really the only downside of my new listening habits.   Since becoming a regular I've spent more on new RPG systems than I had in the previous decade; I've heard game designers interviewed and thought I have to check out their work, I've heard play sessions and wanted to be able to do those myself, and in general my gaming life has kicked into a higher gear.   And just as people with a dependency try to mitigate their habit in their own eyes by encouraging other people to partake, so do I recommend anyone reading my blog to give this one a try.     The RPG information is informative and beautifully presented, the play sessions are great, the involvement of the kids is cute, charming and inspiring, and RPG Gamer Mum produces some of the most erudite stuff I've ever come across including some write ups of magical ideas that actually sound like magic rather than rules.

I could babble all day, but I won't.  Go check them out here.

One of the other podcasts I've discovered - and as a result of listening to RPG Gamer Dad - is the Cthulhu and Friends podcast.    This is centred around a campaign based on the fictional universe of the writer HP Lovecraft, dark horror, cosmic monstrosities and all.   Unlike most actual-play podcasts this one has been presented in seasons, each season containing multiple episodes telling a continuing story of a group of characters and their adventures.

Again the quality sets this one apart.   The role-playing is top notch with the players staying in character throughout, there's a bare minimum of non-game banter going on (the bane of many actual-plays --- in-jokes are only funny to the people that understand them and I can only listen to so many minutes of people laughing like drains before I find something else to do) and the keeper Veronica has a real flair for horror storytelling.   I won't post any spoilers but will say that I have never been so genuinely shaken by the appearance of kittens as I was during season 1.   I got hooked after hearing the crew being interviewed on RPG Gamer Dad's podcast and started listening from season one, episode one.   I enjoyed every moment and honestly looked forward to each new episode as I played them back to back.  I've just started season two and it's as good if not better than ever.

Cthulhu and Friends isn't really for kids though - not only are the themes somewhat adult but there is the occasional use of what I've heard coyly described as 'industrial language'.   This did give rise to some interesting rules amendments though so no harm done, and nothing the average Brit wouldn't hear in Sunday School.

Listening to this podcast has refreshed my long-buried delight in Lovecraftian roleplaying and I've recently started running some adventures using Graham Walmsley's amazingly simple "Cthulhu Dark" rules.    It's not often you can get a coherent rule set down onto a handful of pages but this one manages it, not least because the author understands what's important about Cthulhu inspired rules - which is really to focus on the characters, on the horror, and on the fact that if you try to fight one of the cosmic horrors of this setting you'll end up inside out.  Graham is also the author of one of the best resources for dealing with Lovecraftian fiction in a gaming sense that I've ever read - Stealing Cthulhu - which I recommend to any careful thief with an ichor-proof swagbag,

In honour of my newly rediscovered fondness for all things Lovecraftian I plan to post a few stories of that ilk myself here over the next few days since I have too many ideas buzzing around in my head that I can't turn all of them into game sessions (though who knows) and I may repost some of my earlier works in that vein.   I hope you'll enjoy them

In summary then - after this unusually lengthy post - go check out RPG Gamer Dad and Cthulhu and Friends - if you're a fan of stories well told that aren't written down in advance you'll love them.