I think 2017 was a pretty good year, certainly compared to the one before. Here are my 17 highlights from a year with lots and lots of roleplaying games!
- I started the year by playing in a 3-session game of Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, a pastoral/slice-of-life/anime game in which our gang of children investigated mysteries, learned to cook seafood, and mastered the mystic arts as a sea witch. The game was fun, the system was… weird, revolving around a hurricane of paper print-outs and a very, very big rulebook that doesn’t seem to have many rules in it. To be fair, it’s clearly designed for longer-term play, but like Jenna Moran’s previous game Nobilis, the weirdness is more of a turn-off than a turn-on for me. But, it’s delightfully charming enough that I’d play it again anyway!
- I also finally got my campaign of The One Ring going, a continuation of a short game I ran some five years ago and have been trying to restart ever since. In the end, I got three of the original players back together, and with a couple more newcomers to round out our fellowship, we’ve been traipsing over Middle Earth all year. This is my favourite campaign I’m running right now – as open worlds go, it’s difficult to match the vision of The Professor, and as GM I’ve had a lot of fun creating reasons for players to go ANYWHERE and finding out what matters most to their characters as they decide where they’re journeying to next. We ended the year with the kind of epic pitched battle that sold me on the fantasy genre in the first place. I think we’re about halfway through the campaign now; if so, this time next year, we’ll be done.
- For the third year in a row, I’ve been lucky enough to attend my friend’s Brunch and RPG Book Club, which is invariably the highlight of my month! We didn’t play as many games this year, but I did get to try out five games I’d never played before (Cloud Dungeon, Mythender, The Secrets of Cats, Dog Eat Dog, Royal Blood), along with one that I had (Magister Lor). Of the six, Dog Eat Dog stands out most to me – a thoughtful and challenging take on colonialism and its consequences in the Pacific islands. In our game, I played a native who prospered through assimilation; watching my more stubborn and principled islanders perish, I felt a peculiar sense of guilt and shame that left a lasting impression.
- Before a hard copy was even loose in the wild, I got a chance to play some Apocalypse World Second Edition, and whilst the campaign fizzled out it was great fun whilst it lasted. Elsewhere in indie land, Monsterhearts got a second edition too, and after what feels like years of waiting, Blades in the Dark has finally arrived. Time and time again I’ve been recommended Blades, and I’ve stubbornly held out for a hard copy even as everyone else moved on to the next big indie thing. But now it’s here, and I have a gaming group ready to try it!
- On a more mainstream note (sort of), the Cortex Prime Kickstarter funded in May, which after years of me telling myself “Oh, I should really try Leverage/Firefly/Smallville again”, turned out to be the shot in the arm I needed to get back to Cortex gaming. Since then, I’ve joined a friend’s supervillain game, started running a one-player Smallville-inspired game with my partner, and blogged about the system a whole bunch. Even as I type this, I’ve one eye on the most recent Kickstarter update, which advises that a new iteration of the system beta is imminent. I can’t wait!
- My first convention of the year was the UK Games Expo – and this time, I was lucky enough to attend for all three days AND get a hotel on-site (more or less). Even within the three years I’ve been attending, the expansion of UKGE has been… intimidating. But in a year where I wasn’t able to attend GenCon, it was nice to still attend a really big convention, and this year I got to moderate a panel too. I was determined this year to play in more convention RPGs (along with the usual seminar/live event/sales hall stuff), but I think I might have swung things too far – next year, I’d like to leave a little more time to play board games with my friends, and maybe try out more demo games in the hall.
- Embers of the Jedi, my Force and Destiny campaign, finally came to a close after 49 sessions of dogfights, saber duels and journeys to the Dark Side and back. To be honest I wasn’t delighted with how I ended things… I envisioned a multi-session, multi-tiered action finale, but ended up infecting my players with combat fatigue. But the year had plenty of other highlights – a rebel circus, podracing, training a new generation of younglings, and an “I am your father” reveal I’d been planning since character generation. So, a good campaign, albeit one that probably ran too long – I get too distracted by a million different campaign ideas to fully commit to long games. And yet, since watching The Last Jedi (which was GREAT), I can already feel myself tempted to return to a galaxy far, far away…
- This year, I got a new day job, which came with the incredible perk of only having to work four days a week. My plan had been to use that extra time for roleplaying: game preparation, blogging, and paid writing work. But the first demonstration of me putting more free time to good use was to enter Game Chef – something I’ve wanted to do in previous years, but that I never had time for. My game “Watchers on the Wall”, concerned a corps of Watchers manning the boundary between their homes and a forsaken outland, discovering secrets and forming bonds of fellowship before the inevitable final battle. I’m immensely proud of myself for actually completing a game for the contest, and pretty pleased with how the game plays based on an initial playtest. My dream would be to put the game together into something I could sell. Watch this space.
- 2017 was the year of Star Trek, with the first new TV series in 12 years, and a new roleplaying game released at GenCon. But before that, me and my gaming group were able to get started with our campaign by signing up to the open beta, transitioning through each iteration of the rules over the course of the year. We don’t meet often, but that works well for Trek – each session is designed to be functionally standalone, or a two-parter. The campaign’s not far from the end now, and I plan for the last few sessions to be a bit more serialised. We’re fans of Deep Space Nine.
- I got paid for my first piece of freelance RPG writing work: a scenario for the beloved science fiction comedy setting Paranoia by Mongoose Publishing. I don’t know how much I can talk about this, and I also don’t know in what format this scenario will see the light of day as a finished product. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, because it’s one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me this year. When I know more, I will share 🙂
- Whilst attending Nine Worlds 2017, I was delighted to note more representation of tabletop roleplaying than in any previous year. I myself attended three live roleplaying games (including the inimical Doctor Magnethands, my favourite Nine Worlds tradition) as well as, er, my own panel, which was about running RPGs set in existing intellectual properties or fandoms. I had a lovely time, as usual, but didn’t get to play in any of the offered RPGs myself. Maybe next year.
- Video games RPGs count as roleplaying right? This year I finished the Mass Effect trilogy. After getting through the first game at the end of 2016, I spaced out 2 and 3 throughout 2017 – I don’t play video games very often, so big ones like the Mass Effects take me a long time to get through. Anyway, I loved them, which isn’t much of a surprise – friends have been telling me to play them since release. I certainly have my fair share of criticisms (a lot of them typical tabletop roleplayer whines about not having infinite choices), but I thought the second game in particular was pretty incredible. It’s convinced me to give video games in general more of my time.
- Another year of Ferrymen takes us up to 60 sessions – and boy have we had our share of dramatic moments this year. The crew discovered a spy within their own ranks, joined forces with a former enemy, and most recently discovered their assumed-dead nemesis in custody whilst breaking out a PC. But perhaps the most impactful developments have resolved around their capturing and experimenting with slipstream technology – formerly the ultimate mystery in our hard sci-fi setting, the one element that could truly be considered “magic”. How they handle these new developments could decide the ultimate outcome of the campaign, but they’ve barely had time to think about that – the bad guys have hit back HARD, and don’t seem to be letting up. I’ve had difficulties running Ferrymen this year, mostly revolving around tone and balancing player contributions, but I think we’ve made it to the other side and to something very exciting!
- In October, I moved in with my long-term partner and found somewhere new to rent together. This is excellent, because our new central location is a convenient meeting place for most of the games that me and/or her run or play in, and because I now have another roleplayer I can reliably count on to play 1-v-1 games with me (like the aforementioned Cortex Prime game). It is also excellent for soppy, unrelated-to-roleplaying reasons.
- Halloween prompted another iteration of the Spooky Game Design Contest which, inspired by my follow-through in completing something for Game Chef, I decided to enter. The contest itself was not a big success, with very few entrants, BUT I designed a game and that’s still a really big deal to me! This one’s called “Crying Wolf”, inspired by the Aesop fable and the newly resurgent “children vs the horror” genre (minus the 80s nostalgia). Again, I’m hoping to release this in a format-to-be-determined in the future, once I’ve had a chance to playtest a bit more.
- As always, I rounded off the year with a visit to Dragonmeet, but this year between the seminars and hunt for Christmas presents I tried something a little different. Fulfilling last year’s rash promise, I GM’ed a game of Leverage for London Indiemeet‘s Games on Demand room, and was fortunate enough to play in a Masks game too! This was fun, and definitely something I want to do at future cons – two-hour games are just the perfect format to get a taste of a new game, or satisfy a roleplaying fix, without taking too much time away from the rest of the event.
- Finally, my partner and I finished off the second series of Stranger Things, just in time for Christmas. Even if the season 2 was a little underwhelming, I knew I wanted to mention it here, because Stranger Things is surely the biggest thing to happen to tabletop roleplaying in the last eighteen months. The celebration of RPGs in such a mainstream, critically-successful show is a rare treat, and now the serpent has started to eat it’s own tail, with RPGs paying homage to the show that paid homage to RPGs. Tales of the Loop beat out stiff competition from venerable RPG properties like 7th Sea and Call of Cthulhu to sweep this year’s Ennies, and the phenomenally successfully Kickstarter for Kids on Bikes indicates that demand for this weird sub-genre continues unabated.
So that was my year! Pretty good, all things told. And hopefully the prelude for better things to come…