Games People Play

Posted: 9 November 2012 in Reflections

This one is for Charles F Blakely (Hi Charles!), who wanted a summary of what I’m playing and using…


These are the games I’m currently gamemastering.

Savage Worlds: Far and away my favourite. You can do anything with this, really. At the moment what I’m doing with it is Beasts & Barbarians, the Conanesque setting from GRAmel.

Labyrinth Lord: I’m intermittently using this one; several of my players are diehard Original D&D players and would rather play something more like that. Of the available retroclones, I think LL is most suited to how I play. However, my original intent of recapturing the feel of late 1970s gaming didn’t last long; I’ve already done the 1970s once, and although I remember those games fondly, they aren’t quite what I want to play any more.


Frankly, I can’t see anything shifting me from Savage Worlds and THW; I expect to drop LL at some point. I could see myself using SW in a range of different settings, and playing THW games in their built-in settings, easily enough; but changing game system again? It would have to be a dramatic leap forward in playability, and I don’t see how that would be possible.

Next up is running ATZ: FFO as a GM. I know how well THW games work solo, and I want to see how they work for a group. However, initially I will be the GM rather than another player, as I need to interpret and explain the rules to the others.

Every so often I have nostalgic thoughts about OD&D, Classic Traveller, and 2300AD; and then I read the rules again, and remember that my tastes have changed over the last 35 years of gaming.

Other games that have tempted me, at least momentarily:

  • Empire of the Petal Throne: The 1975 original. The rules are a bit clunky by modern standards, but they’re easy to learn and use, and they work. The setting is perhaps the best ever done for an RPG. There is, however, a distinct lack of robots, Vikings and thieves, which my players would immediately want to introduce.
  • Stars Without Number: Everything you could want from a space opera RPG, in one book. And it’s free.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing 2nd Edition: Two things stand out here; the use of careers for character advancement, and the way wizards blow themselves up every so often. Both highly entertaining in their own way.

Other things I’d like to run under Savage Worlds:

  • Empire of the Petal Throne. See above.
  • The Games Workshop dungeon crawl games: Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Warhammer Quest. The last of these would probably be easiest.


For the kind of solo gaming I enjoy, there is nothing to beat Two Hour Wargames. I’d especially single out 5150: New Beginnings and All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out. Of the two, I suspect 5150 NB will have more staying power; I can see myself exhausting the possibilities of ATZ more quickly. I’m also waiting for the new edition of Warrior Heroes.

As a player in other RPG groups, I’m currently playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition, Shadowrun, and Original Dungeons & Dragons. WFRP3 is too complex for my taste, and has far too many fiddly components; but the GM is extremely good and as long as I don’t have to run it, I can cope. Shadowrun is surprisingly straightforward and simple in play, despite the level of crunch in the rules. The OD&D game again has a very good GM, and that more than makes up for any shortcomings in the game itself.

I could see myself running a game in any of those settings, but I’d use Savage Worlds to do it.


Mouse Guard, out of pure curiousity to see (a) how the game itself works (b) what the potential GM (Nessime’s player) would do with it.


  • Maps and battlemats. I think the best source of these is boardgames from the 1970s and 1980s. I regularly use the maps from Cry Havoc! and its supplements, and from SPI games like Sniper! and Demons. Among more recent products, I most often use cityscapes and ship deck plans by Wydraz.
  • Figures. Not strictly games or supplements as such, but I regularly use figures from eM4, the Wizkids Pathfinder range, and Reaper’s Legendary Adventures. If I can ever motivate myself to finish painting them, I have quite a few Copplestone Castings figures as well – to my mind they are the best SF figures currently available in 28mm.
  • Mythic. Sometimes I use this as a GM emulator; it works pretty well for that. You only need the charts for success and random events, really.
  • Anything from Sine Nomine Publications is a good source of materials. I have most often used Stars Without Number, Red Tide and An Echo Resounding, but there’s something usable in anything Kevin Crawford writes. Any future sandbox game I run will draw heavily on his work.
  • Anything in the Beasts & Barbarians line is not only usable, but renews my enthusiasm for the hobby. An enthusiastic GM means a better game, yes?
  • Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. This has a lot of ideas for running a city crawl, some of them good rules additions, some of them absolutely barking setting ideas that are so elegantly disturbing you just have to have them in your game.

So there you have it. Subject to change without warning as shiny things attract my attention!

  1. Start running Tekumel! It’s one of my favorites, as well, having played it from the original Empire of the Petal Throne box set. Since your players like robots and Vikings and thieves, then have their temple or clan or government entity make them figure out where the Tubeway map disk goes to…and make sure they end up in an automated factory or automated defense center with plenty of robots and then the next stop can be the Nluss – the viking equivalents of Tekumel! And now everyone is happy, until they try to pronounce the names, but as long as YOU can pronounce them, then it’s okay.

    I sprang for the dead tree version of Stars Without Number and am enjoying it immensely. I’m just integrating it into Mongoose Traveller, but it has that D&D stat setup, so the players can love that too! Either show us some of your Traveller World Tags you created or publish an article with them so they are available, please..

    Mythic and Fate look like lots of fun. I am being begged to run D&D, so I may integrate it or run Fate in the Forgotten Realms setting.

    I still need to get ATZ and LL, but I do like Savage Worlds – do they have a Traveller-esque or at least far flung empire setting? Warhammer looks fun, but I would veer toward Warhammer 40-K because the Rogue Trader system/setting intrigues me.

    Thanks for the Games/Supplements I borrow from. A related resource I am starting to fill an Excel spreadsheet with is Tables – all kinds of SF game tables from Traveller, GURPS, and any other system I can use. Tables get my creativity going for plotting and dealing with players going off in unexpected directions.

    On a note related to your article, do you use any software – dice rollers, random adventure generators, random NPC generators, map utilities, etc.? I use both a dice roller on my iPhone and an Excel table of random numbers for dicing encounters in Mongoose Traveller. I suppose I need to learn C programming so I can create my own applications for gaming.

    I liked your Challenge magazine article on converting characters and games between systems. Enjoy!

    • andyslack says:

      I’ve been meaning to do a campaign page with the Arioniad worlds tagged up… but the zombies have dragged me away for a little while.

      There isn’t really a Travellerish SW setting, although there are a lot of fan conversions out there – take a look at Savage Heroes. There are grimdark science fantasy settings (Necropolis 2350, Nemezis) and 1930s style pulp SF (Slipstream), but no 1940s-1960s type Golden Age SF settings yet. Sadly. Still, I found it very easy to use SW in the Official Traveller Universe – a couple of extra Edges for ship ownership and TAS membership, and you’re about done.

      For PC software, I’d recommend:

      • Metacreator for SW character creation. It does other game systems too, but SW is the one I use.
      • Odds & Evens dice roller. Normally I prefer actual dice, but sometimes I am too lazy to get up from the PC and dig them out.
      • Hexographer for map creation.

      I also have an iPad, and for that I would recommend:

      • Hex Map Pro for DIY VTT-style mapboards.
      • SR4DiceLE for Shadowrun dice rolling. Again, normally I prefer to roll actual dice, but you need so many for Shadowrun…
      • GoodReader for PDF viewing/editing, and all the file and directory functionality that the iPad should have out of the box, but doesn’t.

      Maybe I should set up a page with my recommendations on it, what do you think?

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. Yes, I think making a page for your recommendations is a good idea. Then the readers can add comments with what they recommend.

      • I am assuming that ATZ is identical to Chain Reaction: Final Version. I’ve been reading up on the freebie download and it seems to correspond closely to your scenarios. Is there anything additional in ATZ that you use, which is not in CR: FV?

      • andyslack says:

        Oh yeah, tons. The basic combat rules are very similar, though not identical. Off the top of my head, the main differences are:

        • Zombies, obviously. Also, while figures in CR: FV are all soldiers, in ATZ: FFO they can be police, civilians, armed criminals, national guard or survivalists. There are pregenerated Grunts for all of those, with their possessions and attributes.
        • Body armour. (On the down side, you lose rocket launchers. My son was disappointed in that, but hey, we have CR: FV right there…)
        • Much expanded campaign system. The basic scenarios are very similar, but ATZ adds rules for resources, improving your Star’s stats (or them getting worse if things go wrong), and involuntary encounters (things that the NPCs do to you in between the normal encounters).
        • Skills system. Essentially this splits Rep into combat and non-combat applications, with different stats for each. ATZ has the fewest skills of any of the 3rd editions THW rules, I think.
        • Buildings, and movement and combat within them. Very simple rulings, but there is a free download on the THW website with the more detailed building rules as found in 5150: NB.
        • Interaction rules, in which you and NPC groups might just talk to each other, exchange info, or barter, rather than just shooting it out. There’s also a section on surrender, and whether it would be accepted or not.

        Of all the THW rules I’ve bought over the years, All Things Zombie has always been my favourite, and the current version (Final Fade Out) is the best of the three, IMHO. You’ll see a lot more of ATZ: FFO in coming posts.

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