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Achtung! Cthulhu – An interview with Chris Birch of Modiphius

Ever wondered what the world would be like if Allied forces had to contend with the Great Old Ones as well as the Nazi menace during the Second World War? A new RPG setting called Achtung! Cthulhu has all the answers you need and more besides. I caught up with Chris Birch, one of the co-writers and man behind the Modiphius publishing house, to talk about it.

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AchtungCOVERS

Michael Fox: So, lets kick off with a simple question that’ll need a tricky answer: give us the speedy tour of Achtung! Cthulhu – how would you describe it in a couple of sentences?

Chris Birch: Achtung! Cthulhu unlocks the secret history of World War Two – stories of the amazing heroism in which stalwart men and women struggled to overthrow a nightmare alliance of science and the occult, of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time, and the unbelievable war machines which were the product of Nazi scientific genius – and how close we all came to a slithering end!

MF: So, what are we looking at? Is it a whole new role playing system or is it based on something gamers are already used to?

CB: It’s a complete setting for use with either the Call of Cthulhu or the Savage Worlds roleplaying games. The books contains rules and stats for both systems.

MF: Nice – not locking it to one system must have been a challenge though?

CB: We’ve been doing the same for our first releases – the Zero Point campaign – Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea that we put out last year. It wasn’t that hard to re-stat and it opens up a much bigger audience.

MF: So, tell us a little bit about your history with RPGs – how did you get into creating these campaigns?

CB: Well I started with D&D Basic when my brother and his girlfriend introduced me to it aged 9 years old, then my other brother got interested in games and we played Metamorphosis Alpha. I’d thought we were playing D&D and I remember the sense of awe and wonder when I realised I was on a giant starship! I continued with AD&D, then Star Frontiers, Paranoia and Star Wars, and kept coming up with my own ideas all along the way. Back in the nineties Stuart Newman (an old gaming friend) and I set about creating a sci-fi RPG and war-game called Blaster Array set in the alien engineered Modiphius system (and yes, that’s where the name came from). It was a bit of fun but we gave it to R Talsorian supreme Mike Pondsmith when I met him, but of course it never went anywhere!
Around 2005 I was working on licensing the old Starblazer Comics by DC Thompson to make some cool sci-fi t-shirts and mentioned to my friend Angus Abranson the art would be perfect for an RPG – he said ‘well why don’t you write it?!’ and off I went. Six-hundred pages and three years later Starblazer Adventures was nominated for an Ennie and I went on to write Legends of Anglerre based on the fantasy versions of the comics with Sarah Newton, Mike Olson, Tom Miskey and Marc Reyes – it was a great team!
I then had a break from working on games but my love for it couldn’t keep quiet and I was soon pondering starting my own games business now that PDF sales were making such a big impact. I wanted to control who, why and how we made games and develop more cool projects with other creatives. When we were writing Legends of Anglerre Sarah and I considered the idea of a FATE based weird World War Two game but shelved it to get Legends finished. I also play 15mm WWII games like Flames of War and wanted to do something strange or Cthulhu orientated. I had been devising some plans when Sarah came to me with her first Zero Point adventures; the stars were aligned and our adventures in the world of Achtung! Cthulhu could truly begin! I have a deep interest in the Second World War and since I was a kid I’ve loved playing soldiers, whether dressing up in silly outfits when we were seven or playing war-games with plastic soldiers. My dad and grandfather told me so many stories of growing up in the war and this inspired me to create a truly fantastical world that drew you in with tales of mystery and horror, yet hopefully unlocked an interest in this incredible time in our history when so many forgotten heroes gave everything.
MF: And all that led to this latest project then! Now, you’re already funded on Kickstarter and the numbers keep rising – what made you decide on the KS route? Did you consider attempting to publish on your own?
CB: We were already publishing the adventures and planned more books but Kickstarter let us speed things up – there was so much potential and we didn’t want to drip feed it out – particularly it was so important to get the core books out as this is the foundations for all the adventures and supplements being produced so it’s really helped bring forward a lot of the cool projects we have planned for the Achtung! Cthulhu universe like boardgames, tiles, miniatures, along with the whole RPG setting!
MF: Big plans for the future then!
CB: Yes but in stages, have to take it step by step and not over promise! 
MF: Could you tell us about a few of your favourite elements of Achtung! Cthulhu?
CB: What I love is the sense of desperate heroism, ALL the odds are stacked against the heroes, not only the vast power of the Third Reich but of Cthulhu and his minions’ own machinations too – I love this style of game because it is in these types of situations that humans prevail and overcome the most incredible opposition. What’s not to love about exploration of the weird war machines being invented by the Nazis, the mythical powers, the ancient entities striving to make everyone’s day end VERY badly and the simply incredible feats of ingenuity from the Allies in defeating not just the powers of the Nazi’s but also what we have planned? Doing Achtung! Cthulhu is doing what I love the most – building a fantastic world with new imagery with a great team of creative people.
MF: Fantastic stuff! So, are we allowed to know any of your future plans for the Kickstarter campaign? Any potential stretch goals that you’re dreaming of?
CB: Well we are going to introduce some very cool Allied investigators & heroes later on if we hit our main supplement and campaign stretch goals, plus there’s a rather big infamous Cthulhu campaign announcing this week – all I can say is you’ll need to wrap up warm…
MF: Cool! Now, wrapping up – what sort of stuff can people expect when they head on over and check out your campaign?
CB: Well we just unlocked the full colour hard cover for the second book, and if you pledge £35 (which is the PDF Master Bonus Level) and above you get every single stretch goal on PDF – already that includes a 98 page Part One of the Shadows of Atlantis campaign and the Eastern Front Guide is on it’s way next! So it’s amazing value already – there’s also the £40 Print Master level gets you two full colour hard backs (128 pages and 248 pages) plus a bonus 98 page PDF.
MF: And finally, anything else you’d like to say?
CB: Well we are also re-booting the Mutant Chronicles roleplaying game this year – it’s 3rd Edition so watch out for that!
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The Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter campaign ends on April 2nd 2013. If you’d like to find out even more about Modiphius, check out their site – and thanks to Chris for his patience during the interview!

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Tales from the Fireside – Choosing Sides

The siren blares, the sun has barely poked a sleepy eye over the horizon, and you and your friends are already there on the field, hoping that today won’t be the day. It’s war, my friends. General Campfire is here to rally the troops.

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“You are God and this is the universe you created. It took six days to find light in the darkness, place galaxies in the heavens and raise life on the planets you scattered about them. On the seventh day you rested, and dreamed for untold billions of years.

Today is the eighth day, the day on which you finally awaken.

Go anywhere. Do anything. Be anyone. The universe will react accordingly.

You’re in a room. You hear a beeping sound: an alarm clock on the cabinet next to your bed. Everything is dark.

What do you do?”

I ran an RPG. I did! It was a game of my own devising, the sum rules of which are written above, and though I didn’t run it for very long I did learn something very important from the experience:

Being a Games Master is hard.

Most of us gaming fellows play unaware that we’re bang in the middle of a great gaming cold war. On one side are metronomic robots: the dedicated war-gamers who play campaigns for days at a time and flip out when they discover the map of Italy they’re trying to invade has a section of concave shoreline where it should be convex, convex, damn it – you’re doing it all wrong! I bet Mussolini never had to work under these conditions.

On the other side, all flounce and forsooth are dedicated role-players who keep handy supplies of lightning bolts masquerading as bean bags, whittle their ears to points and spend their days in the woods hitting each other with foam battle-axes and running away from badgers they’ve disturbed with their lute playing.

If these descriptions sound like lazy stereotypes it’s because, with clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right I’m stuck in the middle with you guys, where all the fun is. There’s nothing wrong with a little war-gaming or role-playing in moderation – in fact I’d heartily encourage both. But these extremist gamers don’t have ‘moderation’ in their vocabulary except as:

“moderation, verb: to preside over.”

One lot’s obsessed with recreating historical war campaigns in bewildering detail while the other enacts ongoing battles to determine the fate of fantasy worlds. One lot never leaves character while the other never leaves their basement, and both sides have catheters fitted to their nether regions and wee baggies of urine strapped to their inside legs. Let not the call of nature interfere with the call to battle!

Yes, yes; it’s a very lazy stereotype I know. The point is, us moderate gamer types who don’t mind playing a bit of Memoir ‘44 alongside our Pathfinder campaigns try to ignore that there are people who fit these stereotypes, and to a frightening degree. Maybe we’re a little self-conscious about it, and overexplain to our unimpressed co-workers that, yes, I do have a model tank in my cubicle and yes, it is from a war game, but gaming’s okay! It’s normal! You don’t have have to be a nerdy obssessive to play games! Look, the tank means nothing to me. I’ll throw it into the bin like a normal person, and as soon as you’re gone I’ll take it back out from under the banana peel where it’s fallen and see the cannon barrel’s snapped in half and wail to myself Oh God, what have I done, I’m so sorry, toy tank, I’m so, so sorry!

And you already know, don’t you? You know which side you’d pick if the cold war ever turned hot.

The guy above – who’s totally not me, by the way – would be a war gaming commando. He’d go to war equipped with pencils, protractors and set-squares. He’d delineate targets based on line of sight from his gun barrel to the centre of the square his enemy is standing on. He’d wait hours for his turn to roll around, all the while coldly plotting the demise of anyone within a 13.8” range. His best friend is a calculator. His wife is a calculator. His favourite game is The Campaign for North Africa.

The Campaign for North Africa isn’t a game: it’s a prison sentence. It’s playtime is upwards of forty days – that forty days of consecutive play. You can grow a beard in the time it takes to play a game. Women’s legs start looking like kebabs that have been rolled around on a barber shop floor. Tellingly, even the guy who designed it has never finished a game. It’s meticulously, ridiculously detailed: you don’t just keep track of the planes you have in the air but also the pilots flying them. Infamously the game contains rules concerning the water Italian soldiers use to cook their pasta.

The war gamer doesn’t sleep often – to him sleep is a sign of weakness – but when he does, he uses the map that comes with The Campaign for North Africa as a duvet.

But like I said, that guy isn’t me. I ran an RPG. It was a game of my own devising. And if push came to shove and war erupted I’d take a potato peeler to my ears and hey-nonny it up with the rest of the lads in tights because in this gaming civil war I’d be a LARPer, and proud of it.

We have women in our army. You see that wargaming woman with the hairy legs up there? She doesn’t exist. No woman has ever played The Campaign for North Africa out of anything other than hipster irony, but we have them here on the freeform RPG side: buxom wenches serving flagons of mead (or Mountain Dew, if mead is unavailable), pale and gothic wampyr with a kink for crushed velvet, who wear so many silver charms they chime when they walk; bow-toting Amazons who, okay, are a little obsessed with George R.R. Martin, but if walking on my knees and calling myself Tyrion suddenly makes me attractive then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. At least they’re not obsessed with Himmler.

Maybe this all sounds like drooling adolescent fantasy but isn’t that the point? Maybe everyone in our army is a little goofy, a little warty and a little crooked of tooth. Maybe we all wear glasses so thick our eyes risk catching fire every time we venture out in daylight. Maybe our waking lives are so crushingly depressing we want our dreams to carry over into the real world, where we can be Skulldar the Conqueror or Morlia the Witch-Maiden and see new realms in every forest, and magic in every beanbag.

Our game is a game of our own devising. We laugh at your mundane mortal rulebooks – and our laugh is tinkling and musical, and not at all like the asthmatic snorting you might expect it to be. We abide by rules, but they cannot be bound in anything as mundane as the common tongue. You may find the seeds of our philsophies in Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade, but we’ve progressed beyond attributes and scrawled down skill sets. We play characters when we go to work, have our hair trimmed and shop in Budgens; this fey being you see before you, with a +4 sword of bludgeoning with blood trickling down his earlobes? This is who I really am.

Is what I’d say if there was a gaming civil war. Which, understandably, I hope there bloody isn’t.

And the rest of us get on with our games, moving pieces, having fun, never taking things too seriously until it’s too late, when we realise “Crap, we just bought every D&D Essentials book in the range and we don’t even have a group to play it with.”

 “Damn, we just shelled out £30 for a card to help power our new World of Warcraft deck.”

“Hell, it’s six in the morning, we have to go to work in an hour and a half and we’ve spent all night following eBay auctions for first edition Blood Bowl expansions.”

Or in my case, “Dear Lord, I created and ran my own role-playing game.”

Gaming’s a slippery slope, my friends. Let’s hope it never spills us into war.

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Which side are you on? Let the General know, he’ll inform you where you’re posted. Email Campfire Burning at campfire@littlemetaldog.com, soldier!

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The Golden Path – Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook review

I don’t get to play it as much as I’d like to, but I do love me some Dungeons & Dragons. Many people have a fair few criticisms of the latest edition, though. I’ve heard it described as World of Warcraft on a tabletop, which I have no problem with – I like WoW, and RPGs can be as light or as heavy as the DM makes them. I’ve heard people say that Wizards of the Coast jumped out of the traps too early with the release of the Essentials line which isn’t entirely compatible with “regular” 4th Edition D&D – me, I’ve not read many of the later books, so haven’t got an opinion (yet). One thing I hear time and time again though? People harking back to The Good Old Days of earlier versions of the game, in particular the shining diamond that is version 3.5.

WotC no longer support 3.5, left by the wayside so they could throw themselves totally behind the latest edition, but many long-time D&D players have forsaken 4th Edition and have returned to their well-thumbed tomes. The reigns have been taken up by other companies, most notably by Paizo Publishing, who have essentially taken the whole thing over, streamlined, improved and repackaged it into something new but familiar under the rather splendid banner of Pathfinder. And if you’re looking to get into the game, it’s heartily recommended that you pick up the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, 574 pages that contain everything a player needs bar the dice.

Despite being entirely based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition ruleset, you will not see those words mentioned at all – it’s always referred to as “the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game” throughout, but it’s evident from the outset that the whole game is deeply rooted in Gary Gygax’s legendary creation. Thankfully, rather than just being a rehash, Paizo (under the direction of lead designer Jason Bulmahn) have really worked to give Pathfinder a life of its own. This is no cut-and-paste job – Pathfinder is pretty much a total rebuild of 3.5, a new experience in a different world, albeit on some very sturdy (and recognisable) foundations.

When you pick up a copy of Core Rulebook, the first thing you’ll notice first that it’s massive. Literally every rule you’ll need covering is contained in these pages. Want to know how to roll up your first character? It’s in there, of course. Already got some experience in roleplaying and want to take things a bit further? Have a look at the Prestige Classes that are included. Fancy tackling things from the other side of the table? There’s expansive help on how to DM a game (although I will admit that you’ll need something like the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary to get a good array of monsters if you’re looking to create adventures and campaigns). Generally though, this book has all you’ll need in a single (hefty) volume – of course, there are plenty of extra releases available from Paizo should you wish to expand your game further.

Not a lot of art, but what's there is excellent.

The amount of detail that is provided in the book is impressive – you’ll be able to create and develop your character in whatever direction you want to go, down to the smallest detail. There are a huge amount of Skills and Feats on offer, but a nod really has to go to the Magic and Spells that are on offer should you choose to go down that path; over one third of the entire book is given over to the mystic arts, with huge lists and detailed descriptions of spells that allow you to fine tune your character how you please. Combat is easy to understand (even though it seems to be a bit more in-depth than the 4th Edition D&D stuff that I’m used to) and everything in the book is well laid out and easy to find.

One thing that’s missing though? A standalone mini-adventure that could really show how Pathfinder really works, a way to ease players into the world and get them used to the system, because to a total newbie Pathfinder Core Rulebook could appear somewhat daunting. I’d also like to have seen a few more examples throughout the book – the writers presume a level of experience that not all players will have, so in comparison to something like the introductory books you need to play D&D, this is a bit of a slog. I love the huge level of detail that’s available, but simple things like there being significantly less artwork than your average WotC title matter to me – the focus is definitely on information, tables and numbers, and lots of them.

The sheer size of the book could also be enough to put folks off, but if you’re willing to invest a bit of time and are seeking something a little more hardcore from your roleplaying, Pathfinder may well be for you. I’m not going to say which is the better between this and 4th Edition, simply because I see them as two sides of the same coin – both have their place in the gaming world – but Pathfinder certainly has its advantages, if only in the amount of content out there. The fact that it’s compatible with a huge amount of already-released material (that requires a bit of conversion work should you wish to use it with 4th Edition) is great, as is having all you need as a player condensed down into a single book.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook was published by Paizo – they’re currently on their fourth printing. Available in all good game stores (as well as from the Paizo website), it retails for $49.99 in the US, while in the UK the RRP £38 – shop around and you’ll find it for less though (like on Amazon, where it’s around £26 – well worth it!). Now, where’d I put my dice bag…?

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Tales from the Fireside – Damsels and Dragons, Part Two

Another rainy evening, another minion shows up at my door. He pushes another scroll into my hand. I offer for him to come inside, to warm himself or at least get a moment’s respite from the shower. He grunts, turns away and walks into the wall of water. I crack open the seal. Campfire has done his duty once again.

(Part one of this interview can be found here.)

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It sounds like they rely more on their own adventure-building than they do published materials.

“Actually, I was recently made fun of for doing just that,” says Liz. “I miss my old D&D setting sometimes.”

Which was?

“Made from scratch. I drew up the map in my notebook before an 8am Latin class in college. I had fun creating a pantheon, different cities and regional characteristics, history – stuff like that.”

That sounds like a lot of work.

“RPGs can be very intimidating,” says Lexx. “I was afraid of them for a long time. It just seemed like too much information to understand.”

So how did she get over that intimidation?

“I guess by being thrown into a situation where everyone was willing to help me learn and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on knowing exactly what to do,” she says. “Friendly hints like, ‘Hey Lexx, your character can swim. Why don’t you go check that out?’ ‘How do I do that?’ ‘You roll x die and . . .’” She trails off.

“I’ve found a lot of people who didn’t have friendly groups when they started usually don’t stick with the hobby long.”

“My first campaign was AD&D,” says Liz. “My DM made my character and gave me a brief overview of the character sheet. I remember asking, ‘What the hell do all these numbers even mean?’”

“Yes, that definitely sounds familiar.”

“I think the learning process is more practical than book-based. You can read up on the rules on your own, and some do, but usually the group is ready to teach you.”

Again, the interview takes a turn for the conversational. This time Liz and Lexx talk about the horrors they’ve encountered in past groups – not barrow wights or slippery monsters from beyond the realms of nightmare but players who’ve introduced their significant others to role-playing. These introductions seem to follow a set pattern: Boy joins group, boy is favoured by their GMing partner and showered with gold, XP, loot and what have you; the couple break up messily and the boy’s character is devoured by a soul-scorching demon. It’s an unpleasant shred of the real world creeping into the land of fantasy.

“Some part of your personality is always going to leak into the character,” says Liz.

“This is going to sound kind of creepy, but sometimes my characters start becoming part of me,” says Lexx. “There was this one incident where I got mad at the therapist I was seeing and I started acting like one of my characters in mannerisms and language. It took a few minutes to realize what I was doing and stop.”

“It’s because if you have it in you to think of that for a character, it’s there for you to pull out in other situations. I’ve got an NPC in my game who I know embodies certain traits of my own: ambition, a more masculine approach to things, a certain discomfort with showing any vulnerability. I took traits familiar to me and fiddled with them.”

But not everything in role-playing games comes from books or from within the players themselves. What about the setting the atmosphere for the gaming table? What about props, music and mood lighting – do Liz and Lexx ever use those

“Whenever possible,” says Liz. “It adds to the fun. I like to have a soundtrack–I keep different playlists for different scenes–e.g., one for a fight scene, one for a tragic scene, one for when the scene is wacky enough to merit ‘Yakety Sax’.”

One for ‘ruddy mysterious’?

“Props are kind of fun,” says Lexx. “Like being able to hand out antiqued pieces of paper when you find a note instead of just being told what it says.”

“Lexx is actually going to help make a prop for my next one-shot.”

“I’m recording a few answering machine messages,” she says. “This way they’re not just hearing me do different voices.

“Actually Campfire,” she continues. “if you want to make a filler message you’re welcome to.”

Did I record the message? You bet your Amulet of Retributive Healing I did. I cussed my way through numerous takes before settling on a couple I thought lent dignity both to myself and the guy I was pretending to be. Even though I was only hashing out a couple of lines, I wanted to get it right. For those brief moments I wasn’t Campfire Burning, long-winded thirtysomething malcontent – I was Dexter, a trans-Atlantic grunger who’d vanished into a world filled with magic. In a single recording session I’d caught some of Liz and Lexx’s fever.

(And later, after Liz had run the game, she got back to me about the reaction to my performance: “They kept saying ‘An English accent? Something has to be up with that.”)

I glanced at the clock. It was getting late. For them, I mean; for me it was getting early. Time to wrap things up.

Of all the places RPGs have taken them and all the characters they’ve met, what are their absolute favourites?

“My favorite character of all time was Odion,” says Lexx, referring to the character she’d spoken about at the start of the interview. “He was a ninja-type character with a hell of a lot of issues, a sort of a cross between all of the worst things I’m attracted to and the merchant from Resident Evil 4. I like playing really obnoxious, apathetic, generally mean-spirited characters that are good at murdering people, but also have redeeming qualities. Don’t ask what that says about me.”

“My favorite moments are times when the players have come together to create a great story,” says Liz, obviously a woman after my own heart. “One was when a player character snapped and suddenly went to war with the city. He had been courting Maharej (my character) so when the group went to fight him it was really dramatic. He was about to strike her down, saying, “You were always weak,” when another character came up from behind and killed him. It was tense and thrilling–the romance, the arguments, the loss–and we all came up with it together.”

“Augh,” she says, choked. “Now I miss the group.”

I say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make her feel bad.

“Nah,” she says. “This always happens. As soon as you put more than one gamer in the room, they’re swapping stories for hours.”

Which is the wonderful thing about role-playing games. I don’t know if my game will work. I don’t know if I have the talent or perseverance to pull off such a thing. But if I and the other players have even a fraction of the fun Liz and Lexx have had over the years they’ve gamed together, it’ll be worthwhile.

As the conversation comes to an end they talk about the ‘season finales’ of their RPG campaigns and the gifts they’ve bought for one another, to celebrate.

“We got t-shirts on our last session,” says Lexx. “The girl who played Stone made rag dolls of our characters and distributed them to everyone.”

Which says it all, really. These games might be little more than pencil, paper and imagination, but I’ll tell you what: You don’t get your own customised t-shirts after a playing game on Xbox.

“Well,” says Liz. “You get shirts with your avatar, I guess.”

Shut up, Liz.

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Tell Campfire Burning your own tales. Email him: campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Tales from the Fireside – Damsels & Dragons, Part One

Campfire may be half a world away, but he recently sent a minion to my door clutching a scroll. Scrawled upon the parchment was the following…

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So I’ve decided to run a role-playing game.

It’s not a real role playing game you understand. There are no stats, no dice rolls, no characters or monsters to speak of – at least, not yet. It’s so free-form it’s almost ephemeral. It’s little more than two people hunkering down by the campfire, telling stories.

Which is just how I like my RPGs, really. I’ve attempted to roll characters and conjure worlds so many times before. “It’ll be fun!” I tell myself. “Or at least, it’ll make a nice story for next week’s Tales.”

Three minutes later and I’m throttling myself to alleviate dice-induced boredom. Oh, I know it’s not a problem with the game. Maybe if I had a party to adventure with and a kind, understanding games master it’d all seem worthwhile. But sitting here in the Campfire treehouse mansion I feel like an amateur fortune teller throwing bones and not understanding their cryptic results.

If I’m going to be a role-player extraordinaire I’m going to need to call in the big guns. To help in my quest I’ve enlisted my good friends Liz and Lexx – the Trinny and Susannah of RPG makeovers – who are veritable fountains of knowledge on all things White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. They know everything there is to know about every facet of role-playing games…

…except for live action role-playing, or LARPing.

“We aren’t LARPers,” says Liz, coolly.

“WE DON’T DO THAT HERE,” Lexx adds in block capitals.

Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t eat my face.

I cornered them online and coerced them into an interview which may or may not contain fevered elaboration. But that’s all right, isn’t it? I mean, tall tales – that’s what we’re all here for.

Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning. How did two young ladies who should have known better end up getting into role-playing games?

“This is a funny story,” says Lexx. “I was friends with a girl who was trying to impress a guy in her little brother’s gaming group. She didn’t want to join it alone so she roped me into going with her. The relationship never happened, she quit after a month, but by that point I was hooked.”

“A girl role-playing to impress a boy is probably the most ironic thing I’ve heard in a long time.” says Liz, who got into role-playing games through ‘nerdy friends’.

“I really liked the whole creating a world idea, talking with others to solve problems and killing things, whereas she was mostly using it as a way to spend time with people. I think she got a boyfriend in the end, but don’t quote me on that.”

For Lexx, Dungeons and Dragons was her ‘gateway drug’. For Liz it was White Wolf, the publishers behind Vampire: The Masquerade and the World of Darkness game series. “I found my first game through the girl who later stole my boyfriend,” she elaborates. ”It took place in those glass conference rooms they have at the library. I was a motorcycling vampire with sexy lips, as I recall. And a falcon.”

A sexy falcon?

“Oh, adolescence,” she sighs, obviously pining for the days of imaginary bike leathers and microfiche. I never realised RPG sessions could be so filled with tragic romance.

“Gamers are like actors,” says Lexx. “They love drama.”

Do they think there’s a lot of crossover between RPGs and acting?

“Yes, absolutely. Most of us were also in theatre,” says Liz.

“When I got to college,” Lexx interjects, “and we were trying to recruit friends to play, it was a lot easier to convince the actors than the non-actors.”

“I think there’s a certain appeal to one’s creative side,” says Liz.

I take it they’re more into the role-play aspect of these games than the combat and dice rolls?

“Yes,” says Lexx. “But combat has its time and place. Not to mention sometimes it’s fun to just ruin something.” She grins devilishly for a moment. “It just helps if there’s a motivation for it.”

At this point Liz and Lexx fall into one of their story-telling interludes, something they do quite often. Like pinballs they bounce and spark off one another, and when they get caught in reminisces of adventures long past it can be difficult to pull them back to the present.

“I still hold Stone and Odion killing Silhouette as one of my favorite sessions ever,” says Lexx, misty-eyed.

Whoah whoah whoah – who, who and who?

Together they tell a yarn that unspooled over a protracted campaign for Exalted, a White Wolf game about ancient gods and high adventure. The adventurers were plagued by an antagonistic duo – one, a little yappy ninja, the other a silent lunk reminiscent of Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill games. As the story goes, the two of them kidnapped one of the party members and trapped her in a tower.

“We went to go rescue her and he (“Tears Become Silhouette, the little talker,” Liz elucidates) decided to pick a fight,” says Lexx. “The scrappy ninja took a shot at us when we were trying to free our other player character and PCs Stone and Odion just ruined him.”

How many sessions did this take place over?

“I want to say he showed up randomly over a couple of months, but the murder took place in one session.” A beatific, time-lost smile spreads across her face, “One glorious session.” I half suspect that if she had a cigarette, she’d be smoking it right now.

Liz’s original hope was for Lexx and the other players to kill the larger of the two villains, sending the shorter one into a murderous rage. A few impetuous decisions and successful rolls of the dice later and her plans had been completely derailed. Not that she didn’t have back-up, of course. A good GM is always prepared.

“Killing the other guy caused me to branch off into a different murderous rampage.” she says, and shrugs.

“It also resulted in another bad guy who’d harassed us forever losing his arm,” says Lexx. “My favorite NPC got kind of messed up while my character was off killing this other guy. We weren’t sure whether or not he would make it. I was very upset by this and raided the liquor cabinet.”

In the game?

“It drove Lexx to drink,” says Liz.

So, not in the game.

“NPC friends are a great way to get to the players,” she continues. “Even the more action-oriented, kick-in-the-door types can get upset if their little sidekick is threatened.”

Yikes. So what kind of prep-work would be involved in creating a story like that?

“It depends on the GM,” says Lexx. “There are those who have scripted descriptions written out, and fully statted characters. I knew one guy who made a plot tree for some sort of social intrigue game. But there’s also a certain amount of just being able to come up with stuff on the spot if things don’t go how you planned. It’s great having a plan and games are usually better if you know where they’re headed, but it’s necessary to be able to answer the crazy questions you never thought of when a player asks them.”

“If Lexx and Anna hadn’t killed Silhouette, I can’t recall for the life of me what he would have done originally,” says Liz. “I just remember thinking, ‘Wait–they left the kids and mortal friend unattended, and the other guy is angry.’ I improvised from there.”

She continues: “I have ideas sketched for characters, and ideas for any major events or cool moments I want to happen – major events like ‘Siceon’s mother will be assassinated’ and cool moments like ‘They’ll see this guy fill a great hall with bloody writing’“ Quick thinking is necessary, in my experience.”

——————–

Part Two of this piece will be published on Thursday. Contact Campfire Burning via email – campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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