Thinking Gaming: 2

Is there hope for RPGs with the way everything’s going? Absolutely. In a very real sense we’ve ‘won’. RPG elements are turning up everywhere from Facebook to computer games of every type, even things that have nothing whatsoever to do with gaming. So many apps and gadgets incorporate game ideas, experience ideas, reward ideas, payoff ideas and most of that can be traced back to gaming.

Having influenced lots of people is small comfort if you never get any kudos for being that influence though. RPGs may have had a massive impact on a huge number of spheres of development but is there any hope for RPGs as we know them?

Yes and no.

Gaming isn’t going away, I strongly believe that. It’s changing and we need to not rest on our laurels. We need to continue to innovate, push, develop and spin out ideas. These are things we’re good at. We just need to take some time for reassessment but we also need to stop being reactive. We need to set the pace again.

Social Gaming
Roleplaying is found across social gaming and networks. People have character profiles. Games with RPG elements are found in abundance. There are groups devoted to all manner of roleplay and roleplaying games, but it’s very scattered and bitty. Communities are fractured and it’s hard to achieve a critical mass interested in any single particular topic. RPGs are everywhere though, they just might not be familiar. The social networking arena is a potential boon and massive opportunity for RPGs to do something new but we’re not quite getting there yet – for some reason.

RPing still goes on
Roleplaying still goes on, everywhere. There are people playing on forums and social networks all over the place. They’re just not playing games you might recognise, or even ‘proper games’ at all. One can lose count, easily, over how many Twilight forum RP games there are, journal games on LJ or other blogs, SecondLife ‘sims’… you name it there are people RPing it, just without any rules, support or even any knowledge that they’re roleplaying. These folks are a huge, potential, untapped source of players, if you can figure out what might appeal to them.

Certainly the stigma of RPGs and games in general has largely vanished, the satanic panic is a distant memory, vampire murders are forgotten and the idea that video games cause childhood violence appears to have lost what little traction it ever had. If gaming has a problem now it’s that it’s ubiquitous and even… boring.

Another huge arena that hasn’t been tapped into is sexuality. There are huge numbers of people online engaged in sexual roleplay and while it might be somewhat freaky or deeply sunk into obscure fetishes there’s a huge amount of it going on. Much of it not so different to what we might recognise as ‘campaign play’, with sprawling plots, well realised worlds and imaginative concepts abounding. There’s a lot, a huge amount, of adults roleplaying adult concepts and adult ideas – sexual and otherwise.

Roleplay is going on EVERYWHERE.

RPGs were a leader in the adoption of Ebooks, little wonder really as we tend to be a tech-turned-on crowd with an eye for a bargain, and early adopters. The proliferation of ebook readers and tablets suggests that there’s going to be a greater and greater future for device-based RPG books as they get cheaper and more prevalent. The trick will be getting noticed, as ever, but there’s great hope that we’ll be able to leverage our early experience and understanding of the medium – especially hard lessons learned about DRM.

What made RPGs a success?
In looking to what we might do to succeed in the future it’s worth looking back to the past. I don’t mean getting lost in nostalgia or trying to replicate the successes of the past – though there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, rather, that we should look at the historical and cultural context in which that success took place and seek to understand it, to see if we can exploit the current context in a similar way.

The initial success of RPGs was in no small part down to the role of universities. People living in close proximity, shared houses, the intelligent and creative vanguard of the 70s and 80s, influenced by the 60s. There’s little question that RPGs had a massive influence on the people who went on to create the computer industries and I’ve lost count of how many genre fiction writers, actors, screenwriters and so on were influenced by their playing of games. This ‘hothouse’ environment baked a whole generation of gamers, brought them together and gave them plenty of opportunities to play without much distraction. Gaming was CHEAP, it was SOCIAL and it paid back investment of TIME.

More and more people go to university, more even than in that time. People of all sorts are more connected and linked than they ever were in the past – though there’s more demands on people’s time and a lot more pressure in education and in work.

Cultural movement
The early RPGs rode the crest of a cultural zeitgeist of fantasy. The resurgence of The Lord of the Rings, originally released decades earlier. Star Wars cannot be brushed aside either, nor can the massive amount of classic 70s and 80s genre television. The tail-end of the hippy movement and the dawn of the environmental movement created a sympathy for fantasy and an interest in the future – the threat of nuclear annihilation must have had a great deal to do with the appeal of escapism, along with speculation about what a post-apocalyptic society might be – if there even could be one.

We’ve a rich vein of new genre fiction, particularly SF, revisitation of the superhero genre and near future/weirdness and conspiracy. Not to mention all the semi-science fiction crime series. There’s no imminent threat of nuclear annihilation, our threatening apocalypses are slow, dragged out and don’t have the same impossible strength of atomic war. Very different.

There are similarities and differences, but it’s clear that success comes about through exploiting opportunities and tapping into what’s going on around us.

Ace of Hearts released!

Ol’ Rose is dyin’ of the consumption.

Rose’s House, the finest – and only – cathouse in the town of Jezebel is up for grabs.

It’s every girl for herself and only one can earn the deed to the house and Rose’s stash of gold all to herself.

A rootin’, tootin’, moochin’, adversarial story game for 2+ players.

  • No GM.
  • Pack of cards needed.
  • Poker chips or beads needed.

Buy the PDF HERE
Buy hardcopy HERE
Coming to other PDF download sites imminently.

Hellcats and Hockey Sticks (Review by Ian Warner)

So here it is my review of Hellcats and Hockeysticks. It was somewhat inevitable I have a look at this as I am in the process of writing a game that imposes an all female characters restriction and Hellcats and Hockeysticks is another game that does this by virtue of its St Trinians like setting. What stood out about Hellcats and Hockeysticks above all other all girl RPGs was its faithful genre emulation combined with a wacky creativity that as my readers should know is really to my taste.Anyway let’s get started on this little madam…

St Ersian’s is, like St Trinian’s, a fee paying public school with a really bad reputation. Unlike St Trinians however hints are made at a darker supernatural connection in order to justify the rules for Magic and Mad Science.

Amusingly St Ersian’s only exchange program is with Japan (who apparently think they’re sending their daughters to a quaint English Public School) meaning one of the “Cliques”, which I will come, to later gives you a choice between a Samurai or Ninja upbringing!

St Ersian’s is supposed to be the Headmistress’ (the hilarious term for GM) personal sandbox so background details are left relatively sketchy. There is no dedicated background chapter and the background is scattered throughout the book.

Seeing as this is supposed to be a ‘create your own’ game this is understandable. After all while one Headmistress may want to play “straight St Trinian’s” another may find the gonzo elements to their liking (ME!)  Some may say a bit more of a sketchy modifiable background may have been helpful but I’m not overly familiar with St Trinian’s and can easily rustle something up from what’s available so it really shouldn’t be much of a problem. If you really are stuck wiki it you lazy bugger!

Anyhow what there is of background is flexible enough to adapt to the Headmistress’s own perversions… I mean preferences. If you really need more you should put the effort in and do a bit of your own research.

The game mechanics are amongst the most basic I’ve seen and as a GM who tends to run games for noobs that can only be a good thing.

The system is based on skills codified in terms of school subjects ranging from 1-5. This gives the Character Sheet something of a Report Card aesthetic. If there is a LARP conversion in the works this may be worth playing on.

Unless it’s something really specialised like flying a plane, stabilising a nuclear reactor or piloting the TARDIS (hey it could happen) everyone gets 1d6 basic for each action plus their skill if they have one. The target number is variable dependent on the Headmistress set difficulty level.

Willpower can be spent to give you bonus dice but that comes with its own risks as when you’re running low you’re distracted and when you’re out you go into a typical teenage girl sulk (“don’t want to play with the stupid Zombies.”)

In addition you can sacrifice 3 dice to lower the target number by 1 which becomes necessary when the target number is 7 or 8 because the Headmistress thinks you are taking the piss!

It’s a solid set of base mechanics fleshed out with rules for madcap chases, weird shit and combat in a separate chapter.

Character creation is likewise simple with 9 Cliques based on a combination of Schoolgirl archetypes with, again, the batshit insane. If you do want to play a “straighter” game Goths, Scientists and Ninja Exchange Students are still useful as their skill set has over applications other than the wacky stuff in the advanced rules. Samurai I’m not so sure about. Their strength seems to be very combat-orientated and in a milder mannered game without so much violence they may struggle a bit. Their ability to get pissy when someone insults their honour may well not be enough.

There is also the Best Friend- Rival system that was inspired by Panty Explosion and fits in really well with teenage girls bitching at each other.

In an unusual twist hints are made that it is really the PCs not the Headmistress who should be determining plot. I’m doing something similar with Courtesans only unlike Courtesans Hellcats and Hockeysticks allows you to play with a conventional “adventure” too. This concept may strike a few as a bit “Story Game” but is perfectly in keeping with the genre. After all the Headmistress is so booze sodden she can’t be expected to do everything for her girls!

The mechanics aren’t perfect, no set of mechanics are. I have my suggestions I made in a previous article but apart from those I pretty much play Rules as Written which is unusual for a dedicated tinkerer at me.

Ersian’s really captures the anarchic spirit of its inspirational analogue. It’s violent, bitchy, unruly but NEVER murderous or TOO criminal. It is impossible to kill an NPC because you’re a teenage girl, a pretty messed up one but you don’t stoop to outright murder! The NPCs have the same restriction giving them something of a Bond villain quality. When they do beat you they lock you up in easily escapable dungeons and if they ever do get round to unspeakable torture it’s more likely to involve feather dusters, forcing you into a tutu or playing James Blunt on repeat! THE HORROR!

This will frustrate many roleplayers ingratiated as they are with the “kill them and take their” stuff mentality but if St Ersian’s girls really did go around killing people all credibility of the School’s survival would go out of the window. Mind you this is a British setting so murder would only get you 5 years and that’s if the Police can actually find their arse with both hands for once!

The Atmosphere is nigh on perfect for the genre it emulates. I was worried about the integration of the gonzo stuff like the Ninjas and Magic but if the St Trinian’s creators ever did the Fantastical it would look like Hellcats and Hockeysticks.

“Indy” games get a lot of stick for their artwork. It’s only natural seeing as they’re on a budget and have to employ the cheapest people. However I find that some of these cheaper artists are in fact a lot better at fitting the theme of the book than more expensive types who, while they blow you away with their awesome, may not quite fit with your silly little comedy game.

With the exception of the cover the artwork is basic black and white in a cartoony style reminiscent of Postmortem regulars Raven or Darkzel. This fits perfectly with the source material and the feel of the game.

What doesn’t fit so well is the full colour photo cover complete with model in full sexy schoolgirl get up. It conveys a wholly different tone from the interior art that is not so much cartoon fun as come hither for sexy schoolgirl hijinks. I suppose it sells books but seeing as all sexual content is innuendo (as it bloody well should be in a St Trinian’s game) it can be a bit misleading.

Overall the artwork is solidly within the realms of the genre with the exception of the cover which is a little misleading.

Hellcats and Hockeysticks is a great pick up and play game that, while it can be run traditionally, puts the focus on the players to determine most of the plot giving the Headmistress time to relax with more booze.

It’s both a nice “filler game” and has the potential for an extended Campaign: Something which I have strived for in my own comedy RPG works.

There is some reliance on genre familiarity but complete noobs won’t be too confused as the setting, while weird, is also quite familiar.

Finally I must give Mr Peregrine kudos for his Afterward which neatly fends off any accusations of sexism or male fantasy indulgence. This is a game about empowered young women finding their place in the world. Pretty batshit crazy young women but still empowered.

Overall it’s a fun read, simple to play, effort light to run and above all a great emulation of the anarchic schoolgirl of St Trinians with a bit of gonzo weirdness thrown in for good measure.


Style: 5/5
Substance: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Ian’s Updates

Tough Justice
Editorial Decision(The Removal of Appendices 3 and 4 to a separate Supplement. I decided to go ahead with that.)
Shadow World