Tag Archives: horror

Betrayal At House On The Hill, With Widow’s Walk Expansion – First Impressions

Last night a few of us got together to play Avalon Hill’s classic 2004 spooktacular: Betrayal At House On The Hill with the 2016 expansion: Widow’s Walk. Now, this first impression review will focus on the style and function of the base game; as this was my first time playing the game, I have no frame of reference to tell you whether the expansion makes a difference or changes anything. From what I can tell though, Widow’s Walk mainly adds new bits and bobs to expand your options if you’ve played the base game a few times.

I felt very excited when I sat down and saw all the little pieces laid out ready to play. One of our group (Doddy, of SummonedGames) had played the game a fair few times so we were in safe hands, but everything seemed pretty intuitive and not much prep was really needed before we got right in and chose our characters.

You get a little pentagonal card with your character’s identity and stats on it which has plastic slider clips to keep track of the numbers; a very nice little tracking system, better than a load of counters clogging up table space that you get in games like Talisman.

Once we’d picked our character (I chose the erstwhile Professor Longfellow) and claimed a pre-painted playing piece, all which were fairly thematic, we placed our “explorer” on the Entrance Hall tile and were ready to kick off.

The game starts you out with a few tiles on the board which represent the “landings” in the house, which are points from which the floors of the house branch off. Each of the landings are connected to each other , so you can actually travel in 3 dimensions in the game, which is very interesting.

The style of the game is very simple: you have a “speed” stat, which allows you to move that number of spaces along the board, until you hit a doorway, at which point you declare that you are heading into the next room and you pluck a new, obscured, tile off the top of the stack. Theses tiles can include all kinds of special room with rules on them which surprise you or give you choices you can use to gain effects or items. Normally there is a little symbol on the tiles which correspond to one of the three card types in the game: Item, Event or Omen. If the tile you draw has one of these symbols, you draw that type of card and resolve the effect, or claim the item if it is one.

The above describes the gameplay loop when you begin, so each character goes off on their own, usually exploring a different part of the house and laughing at each other’s misfortune as you face spooky ghosts in the garden or fall down the coal chute into the basement, or becoming envious of the shotgun they just found in a drawer.

The game heats up when, after a few rounds, you begin resolving more and more of the Omen type card. Whenever you draw a tile with an omen symbol, you draw an omen card, which can be good or bad or even an item – after which, you must roll a “Haunt Roll”. At the beginning of the game, when you’ve only drawn a couple of omen cards, you’re not at a high risk of resolving the Haunt, but as more and more get flipped and the Omen Counter grows higher and higher, each Haunt roll gets more and more risky and the tension builds.

Then it happens. If you roll under the number of omen cards that have been drawn on the Haunt Roll, then the Haunt resolves and the game pauses while the players look at the grid table that will determine which particular Haunt scenario is going to befall the group.

The Haunt is really where the game comes into it’s own: depending on the scenario outlined in the “Traitor’s Tome”, one or more players – determined randomly, become a traitor and from that point on, each side has specific and secret objectives which they have to meet in order to win the game. So the traitor takes the tome and rushes into another room to read their secret dossier and the remaining explorers do the same. After that, the traitor comes back in with a smirk on their face and quietly sets up the various tokens and adjustments to the board as specified in the special rules of the Haunt.

In our playthrough, I was actually the traitor. My explorer immediately died and became a zombie lord with accompanying undead minions and it was my objective to mercilessly murder the rest of them. Only one player could harm the zombie lord, so what was a casually paced exploration game with a few twists and turns, became a mad dash to grab as much stuff as possible to be able to face off against the enemy.

I quickly dispatched the players who were unable to harm my zombie lord and after a few turns, on the first floor landing, there stood poor Peter and his loyal dog, wielding a sacrificial dagger covered in chalk. He drove it deeply into the zombie and won the game.

One thing you can really say about this game is that it’s exciting. You never really know what you’re going to get and most of the strategy in the first phase, before the haunt, seems to be gathering as much stuff as you can in the hopes that it will help you post-haunt. The amount of emergent gameplay is astounding, I’ve never really seen a game like it for this; you can literally play tens of thousands of times and never play the same game twice. Very good value for money at being around the 35 dollar mark, with the expansion another 15 or so. There are tons of other haunts too; the scenario we played was only one of around 150 or so unique scenarios if you include the expansion.

I’d say the strengths of the game are also its weaknesses. The game is more of a wild ride that you feel yourself taking part in rather than a true test of your strategic thinking; you make choices and go your own way, but I’d imagine that most of the time you’re basically trying to make the best of the random items you’ve picked up by the time the haunt rolls round, at which point a lot of your agency goes out of the window as the game state changes altogether.

The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating and so it really speaks volumes to how I’d rate this game when the first thing that came into my head when we’d finished was “I want to play again!”. You can’t really put a price on a game that values your time like this one does, especially with the plethora of replayability options on offer. I’d say that Betrayal is good for gamers of any skill or experience level – not necessarily the best intro game, but I don’t think anyone would object if it was pulled out of the cupboard.

Click the link and head over to SummonedGames to check out the video of our Playthrough

Damnation: The Gothic Game, Revamp of the 90’s Classic Horror Game (for all the family?)

You walk alone down a dark corridor, footsteps muffled on an ancient red carpet. Candles burn in the gloom, their light muted by the cold and damp. You pause, as a familiar figure glides across an intersection – it was someone far worse than Dracula…

It was your friend.

The Gothic Game, a game of murderous mayhem for friends, is getting a revamp (pun intended) from the original game edition from 1992. Soon we will see Damnation: The Gothic Game!

What was the Gothic Game?

Originally dreamt up in 1966 by Nigel Andrews & Robert Wynne-Simmons, the Gothic game didn’t get an official release as a full board game until the early 90’s, when the game was published with full artwork board by Angela White. The game-play is described as a battle royale of player elimination.

The game took place in Dracula’s castle and involved fast paced action, with the last player standing as the winner. Much like a game of Cluedo, players travelled around the board using a maze of corridors and rooms, making discoveries and collecting items with which to kill others or defend themselves. Players could end up in the moat, stuck in the dungeon or in a bottomless pit of doom.

Each player started the game with 100 points of stamina, which were lost when another player attacked them, or they draw a card from a room they entered and set off traps or suffered supernatural events. If they were lucky, they’d find a weapon or armour of some sort.

To top it all off, Dracula could use an unfortunate player to roam the corridors of his castle draining others of blood and eliminating them from the game!

The Gothic Game had a great feel to it, from an age where the objective was to have fun with family and friends. It was easy to learn and fast to play, with scope to outwit your opponents or throw yourself into danger to not give them the satisfaction of killing you!

Even when Dracula assumed a player, that player had limited turns to kill and get back to his vault. The more Dracula killed the more time he got to roam and hunt, making a terrifying prospect a legitimate game tactic!

But all of this passed quite quickly, and the Gothic Game was lost to the annals of time. And that was it for decades – a limited edition board game that was popular, fast and fun.

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Until now…

We have been fortunate enough to play the old version of the game. But what about the upcoming revision by Black Letter Games (BLG)? BLG has assumed the rights of the game and plans on kick starting in late October (suitably, near Halloween).

I was even luckier, because Summoned Games invited me over to trial the revised version of the game, and I’ve got the chance to write up the review! There’s a chance to get your hands on the old version of the game, which I’ll give you the details for later on.

First though, let’s take a look at the new, darker and grittier Gothic Game, Damnation: The Gothic Game!

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What’s New?

First off, it’s a hell of a lot darker than it once was. Reading the top paragraph of the rule book makes it pretty clear:

“Damnation: The Gothic Game takes place on a plane of Hell where Count Dracula holds dominion. Here, a group of villains from the Victorian era find themselves damned for all eternity.”

It gets worse, as the introduction unfolds: each dusk the villains are both resurrected and cursed – cursed to have no memory of the day before, stuck in endless horror of stalking and stalked by one another, presumably for the terror and violence they caused in their lives.  Already this game sets the tone quite clearly: you’re not good people and you’re not getting out. It makes perfect sense for a board game where you pay the same game over and over again, and yet retains its charm!

The Artwork

You know we mentioned Dracula? Well the art for Damnation: The Gothic Game has been brought to life visually by two Romanian artists, that of Hue Teo and Anca Albu. We’re impressed with how much (un)life they’ve brought to the graphics and art of the game. We could go on and on about it, but you can see for yourself what they’ve managed, just read on!

Characters

Character cards did not exist in the original version of the game. It is a sign of game development over the years, as Gothic turns from board game for all the family to a game that is heaped in atmosphere. These nameless anti-heroes fit particular character archetypes from the Victorian era, adding layers to the dark and Gothic vibes.

We have the Gentleman – dashing, refined, but is this gentleman all that he seems? The dark Stranger from a foreign land, and the Mystic a traveller driven from her homeland who conceals a terrible power.

These are just a few of the six playable characters in the game so far. Frankly, these changes make the game more colourful and characterful (obviously), lending the game that extra personal dimension compared to the original which provided simple coloured, plastic meeple!

Characters have some special abilities and a wound tracker, and we’re told there may also be the introduction of a sanity tracker too – even more ways to die!

Extra Dice

Players would roll a dice and work out in what direction they want to move, but now there’s a special extra dice which can make the game harder or easier: roll a candle symbol and your character may move one space more or less, which can be the difference between falling into a trap or not.

Or roll the castle symbol and draw a card from the special Castle Deck… hoping to god you don’t uncover more horrors!

Or you could roll the dark circle, where you trigger the first trap you come across regardless of how far you could move past the trap space!

Card Decks

The new version of the game adds literal variety in the form of card decks. No, don’t get put off, this isn’t a deck building game. These new decks are used to create tense moments at the roll of a dice or provide solace as the night unfolds.

The obvious deck are those found in each room which are unique to that room. When a player enters the room they draw a card, which may be beneficial or utterly crushing. And be warned, these decks are not huge or countless, and cards drawn are placed back into the deck after use… it pays to keep your attention on the other players!

New to the game are the Heirloom deck and the best deck in my opinion the Death Knell deck!

Heirlooms are provided to the players at random at the start of the game. They are given three, which are made up of trinkets and curiosities to help you win the game.

The Death Knell cards are randomly placed face down on the board. When a player is eliminated a random death-knell card is turned over by that player. In rare situations they may be saved, but likely it will hinder those players still alive, such as Hunters Moon; a curse that means players to the left cannot use protection cards to prevent incoming damage. Nice!

Finally, the Castle Deck, which as mentioned before only gets drawn from if you roll the necessary dice. These cards are random encounters, such as a ravenous wolf hound (which may or may not savage you or an opponent, if you play your cards right).

Once again, the new edition is adding many modern layers to the older Gothic Game, but in doing so it’s not taking away some of the charm. It felt nice to play the game, but the feeling was improved by the breadth and depth of these new decks.

Don’t get me wrong, the old game is full of charm, but by today’s standards it lacks that personal feeling of involvement. According to the Damnation: Gothic website, there are in total 130 unique cards, presumably portioned out into the many various rooms and play decks. Layered up like an onion – prepare for tears!

Game Board Revamp

Although the layout is similar, the artwork is vastly updated and improved. The addition of the cemetery adds a location outside of the castle itself, which carries with it risks and rewards of its own. Then there’s the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’ve claimed another’s soul (token)!

The board is littered with secret passageways, and trap points. What we found fun about the traps is that trap tokens are placed face down at random, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the same setup each time, unlike in the original. Step onto a trapdoor and find yourself drowning in the moat. Trigger a classic trap, the Pendulum, and lose half of your health. Or worse still, discover the Oubliette and end the game for yourself!

The artwork is second to none and instils the dark and seething dread that the game evokes so effortlessly: lonely narrow corridors and dark and mysterious rooms filled with thinly veiled threats all add to the atmosphere. This is a game for dark and windy winter nights.damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

 

Fate Tokens & Character Talents

Characters now have some extra abilities with which to survive! Fate tokens are added to a character sheet, providing some universal one-off abilities. Each character has at least one unique ability. The extra layers provide a bit of variation to the game, which is never a bad thing!

Soul Tokens

Yup, not only can you kill each other with an array of weapons, you can steal their soul too… and use them in a certain place in the castle to unlock new cards, items and abilities… harvest them as much as you can, you’ll need them win! You can trade soul tokens for extra fate tokens, or as mentioned earlier, gain access to the Dark Tower.

Special Rooms

There’s a lot we could talk about here, so we’ll pick a couple to give you an idea of the mayhem and suffering you can inflict on your friends!

The first is our favourite – The Vault. This is the lair of Dracula. When a player enters the vault and Dracula is not already in play, they become the beast! This can be an entertaining venture for the players – Dracula has a limited number of turns to roam the corridors of the castle, hunting for the other players. If he passes over a character, he gains more blood and a little more time to keep hunting. If he gets back to the Vault in time, the player assumes their normal role, perhaps a little dizzy and unsure why their mouth is filled with the tang of blood!

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The Great Spiral Staircase. This bad boy is a slippery slope to death. If a player ends up in this room, they can only use their movement to travel down the staircase. At the bottom of the Great Spiral Staircase? Death, instant and inexorable! The only way to escape this room is by rolling a six on the dice, which you can then combine with your normal dice roll. You could be there a while!

“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”

But why would you want to enter this room? Well kids, life isn’t always fair. A player can invoke the power of adjacency over players they pass in the castle corridors. This essentially allows them to decide the direction in which that player must move on their next turn… like a horrible pit of death!

Battle in the Darkness

When in possession of a weapon card, players may target each other to perform attacks, dealing damage to their victim. Of course, the target player can use items to defend themselves in the form of equipment or action cards. So be careful who you target – they may be more than they seem! 

Not all death comes from Dracula, traps and hidden rooms – the players are here to be the winner, the last player standing. Naturally, this will involve direct conflict with each other.

What we would like to see…

We played the prototype version of the game, but there are few things we’d like to see:

  • Reference cards, which may reduce the amount of rule book referencing.
  • More character choices, but in honesty, we’re just being greedy!
  • Sudden Death Mode for the final players (optional).
  • Someway of making doors more visible (a simple standee could add a bit more dimension!)
  • Some different ways to play or ways to win (which BLG say they may be looking into!)
  • Expansions: extra rooms to tag onto the board or replacement tiles for extra variation and playability!

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Final Overview

This game is fast paced, amusingly adversarial and filled with graphic, bloody fun. It can be quite a quick game to play, although we found towards the end with just two players left it can become a face-off (later we learned we had not played some things correctly, however). That said, there are hundreds of ways to die in Dracula’s hellish domain, and he is just one of them!

Overall, we think the game is set to receive a lot of interest over the next few months. It looks great, it feels great and as we mentioned several times already, there’s so many layers of interest to keep even the most jaded tastes interested.

There’s a lot going on in this game, but it’s not too heavy to take the fun out of playing. It is definitely a game for friends and family, although some of the concepts are a little more grown up.

We still have access to the prototype, so if you have any questions, drop us a comment down below, or find us on Twitter (@FerrisWrites) or our Facebook page.

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Want to Win a Copy of the one of the few remaining Original copies?

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. They are offering an original copy of the game, from 1992 as a prize. To enter, you just need to subscribe, comment on the video and / or like their Facebook page. What’s more, it is open to anyone anywhere in the world – they’re willing to ship it anywhere in the world.

We’d like to thank Summoned Games for letting us take part in the early game, and of course, Blackletter Games, for creating an amazing revamp of the original Gothic Game, and having faith in letting us see, play and review the game before its release and kick start.

We’re reliably informed it will be available for pledges late in October, and be in the region of £40-£50 (though this is still to be confirmed).

That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites on Twitter

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich – Horror that won’t let you win

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich (HiD) is a stand alone deck building game for people who find fun and mirth in being repeatedly defeated.

Allow me to explain…

HiD is set in the Cthulhu mythos, based on the legendary cosmic horror from the fiendish mind of H.P. Lovecraft. The mythos is a popular area to explore for anyone wishing to be caught up in the dark cults and weird extraplanar horrors found in any of Lovecraft’s stories.

If you’re not familiar with the narrative of Lovecraft, the best way to explain the concept is that normal everyday people get caught up in supernatural tales utterly beyond their control. Humanity is so insignificant, it simply will not last should the dark and awesome power of beings far stronger than any human concept of Gods, awaken.

HiD is a game that brings this existential dread to the fore, and it does so with an abundance of gritty flare!

Synopsis

HiD is a stand alone expansion to Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. This just means that it is a continuation of the story, as Investigators (you) are thrown into the unbearably harsh task of defeating the Elder Gods and their horrific minions.

The investigators are called upon again to defeat the terrors of the night in Dunwich, a place well known to readers of The Dunwich Horror (Lovecraft, 1928). Invited by Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University, the investigators must research strange and terrible spells and tactics to defeat nameless and cosmic forces to save the world.

Characters

Each player assumes a character which posses a set number of sanity and health points (counted with some funky Cthulhu clips that attach to the character card). Each character also has a special ability and an ability which can be used each turn even if the investigator has died in the cosmic struggle, the After Death ability.

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Setup

There are many variables here that the game could be played so many times before getting the same game twice!

Depending on the number of investigators, a number of Elder Gods are randomly deployed. These Elder Gods are the likes of Cthulhu himself or Dagon from under the sea. Elder Gods are picked at random.

Next, a Location is randomly picked. Locations offer up effects for the duration of the game. In our play through we fought in an ancient tomb, where minion creatures had double their health points!

Finally a deck of Mythos cards and Library cards are shuffled a stacked up. Mythos cards are bad stuff that happen each round, helping the Elder Gods in their diabolical schemes, and Library cards are the skills and tactics that you use during play.

 

 

Mechanics

HiD is pretty standard for deck building games. Players begin with a simple and very small deck of cards, and take it in turns to purchase more cards from the library, with Moxie as the currency.

Interestingly, not all the starting cards in the investigators library are good cards. Amongst the cards are three damaging cards (Stagger cards) aimed at wounding the investigator – sometimes an event during the game, such as a Mythos card, will force a player to use all of the cards in their hand – woe betide the investigator who gets an axe to the ribs!

 

 

The game is split into 3 phases: planning, combat and cleanup.

Briefly…

Planning is when cards are “bought” from the library, but only the cards on display. When all the cards are bought that’s it for the turn, no more until later! During planning the investigators use their Moxie as a currency. Be warned however, any moxie you spend now can’t be used in the later steps so spend wisely!

Combat is when the elder god and its minions act! This also includes drawing a mythos card which is usually a special twist to the combat round… to the detriment of the investigators, no less! After the elder god(s) have beaten you to a pulp or shredded your mind and their minions have taken their fill, it’s your turn to fight back, assuming you can!

Finally in the Cleanup phase damage is calculated, the corpses are cleared away and the investigators get to check out what other tactics or spells they can use next time (assuming they made it thus far!)

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How does it feel?

From the outset it feels difficult. You need to create a deck of cards quickly. This is a frenetic feeling, so when you combine this with the systematic destructive powers of the elder gods the game gets dark fast.

The odds are stacked against you before the start, and randomly picking the elder gods and location create an amusing sense of tense dread. It’s nice to know that you’ll likely never play the same game twice.

This after death malarkey for each character is actually quite good because it allows unfortunate players who are out of the fight early on to stay in the game as more than just an adviser or spectator. Kudos to Wyvern Games!

The artwork really inspires the Lovecraftian theme, with the spells, action and equipment cards looking dark and detailed. The fact that you can play the Hobo wearing chain mail and carrying a rifle really helps too!

Ideally you’d play this game as a group of 3 – this optimises your chances of winning… well, not that your chances are good!

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Cost

At the time of writing, the Kickstarter has already closed and late backing is no longer possible. We were told by Wyvern Games (via Twitter) that you can talk to your local gaming store who can place orders through Impressions – I suspect this is US based only, so I’ll poke for more information!

We estimate the game to cost around £40, using the Kickstarter pledges as a guide.

Find Wyvern Gaming here!

Conclude…

If you want to watch us bumble our way through the first game you can follow the YouTube link here, by Summoned Games. Mr Dodd is steaming through his reviews and we’ll be working closely with him to bring you more helpful content.Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our micro review, if you’ve got any questions or comments you can post them below!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

 

Creator Consortium’s Summer Project Update

For the last few months we’ve been working hard on many levels. With full time jobs and weekends away for creative role play events, it’s quite easy to forget where we’re up to and what we’re doing. August is the end of the LRP season and the summer is waning slowly to the darker hours of the winter – the perfect excuse to stay in and play games or write reviews without the guilt!

So, that said, it’s time to give an update! Here goes…

The CC Website

We’re hoping to be taking the website to a different level, stepping away from WordPress.com and switching to WordPress.org. We realise, now that we’ve played around a bit with various site settings, that wordpress.com is quite expensive, more so when you want some simple functions.

We’ve got some help in the form of friendly expertise and hopefully, in the next couple of months we’ll be switching sites and porting everything over. We’ll keep you in the loop when this is likely to happen and chances are we won’t be posting any content during that time.

You probably won’t notice any immediate changes, but there will be space to properly organise our articles and feed. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan without a hitch!

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Pulp RPG

We’ve not had chance to get much more written for our various Pulp RPG game systems, and as always, there’s bound to be some creative differences. Hopefully by the new year we’ll have something more concrete to present! We still have ideas for the chase across Panama to stop Zombie Hitler and his diabolical plans! And of course, our Fantasy game still needs a lot of work, along with Mr Steadman’s space combat pulp RPG (which we did play test a while back and we’re keen to see where it goes!)

The Godless Realm

We’ve been plugging away at the Godless Realm, CC’s (currently) system neutral fantasy setting. While we have the majority of the metropolis written and planned out, we’re now moving to the outer regions of the setting. If you use Twitter, @FerrisWrites has been posting teasers about the various aspects of the setting.

We’ve made some changes to the cosmology and fleshed out some of the unwritten context for the eyes of the GM only. This, we hope, will provide a lot more variation for future writing and give us writers a bit more juice when we’re dreaming up ideas!

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The 9th Age

We caught the eye of the 9th Age assembly and they liked our review! The 9th Age is a tabletop war game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. It mirrors very closely (and frankly performs better) than the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles (no longer in production) by Games Workshop.

We’d like to take a moment to thank them for all of their support, and look forward to seeing 2 out of 3 articles in their online magazine, the 9th Scroll. Part three of the trilogy will be ready when we’ve mustered up some players and miniatures and get some battles under our belts!

We’re also going to have a look at the 9th Age Army Builder site and app and compare it to BattleScribe to see which of the two we think is easier to use and provides the best output regarding army lists and details. We’ll do this in our part three article and run the battles with those outputs and see how seamless they are!

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Upcoming Reviews

Cthulhu Mythos (5th ed) – Sandy Petersen has done it again with Cthulhu Mythos, a source book for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons… and it’s more than just a list of monster stats!

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Low Fantasy Gaming by Pickpocket Press, a grim and gritty variant on mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, and possibly a better spiritual successor than 5th edition D&D? We shall see!

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Key Forge, made by the same guy who created Magic the Gathering only this is better than MtG, for your pocket and your blood pressure!

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Arcworlde, a skirmish game for 32mm miniatures in a fantasy setting! With rumours of a second edition, Alex Huntley is set to impress us yet again with his miniature line and games!

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All of this extra content should keep us going over the next few months!

Calling all Artists!

We’re getting to the point where we are hoping to start formatting our content for the Godless Realm fantasy role-play setting. Although we have the skills to manipulate some free media, we would really like to get some budding artists to donate sketches and doodles that could appear in the final PDF.

We’re still not there yet and we obviously need to get everything into one place, but in the distant future we’re considering kick-starting the Godless Realm to get professional editing, proofing and formatting. This means that if you’re able to donate some art, we may also be able to provide you with some financial rewards for artwork you’ve developed (if we successfully kick-start) – essentially, get in early and join us in this endeavour and perhaps we can create something amazing!

Of course, the written content will always be free in its raw form, we’re not taking that away from the world, but it would be great to have a print-to-order service from the likes of DriveThruRPG!

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New Friends!

Last but not least, we’re having a bit of fun with Summon Games, where we’re having a go at playing games for the first time under the scrutiny of YouTube viewers. It’s early days yet for Mr Dodd (@Doddymaster). You can find Summond Games YouTube channel here.

Stay tuned, and if there’s anything you want us to take a look or, or indeed join us as an affiliate Creator, get in touch!

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter, or on our Facebook Page!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

Warhammer Quest, Blackstone Fortress – Hero Quest in Space or More?

Blackstone Fortress is the latest adventure board game to come from Games Workshop set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, Warhammer 40K to most nerds. It is labelled as Warhammer Quest. For those you in your thirties this will take you back to the glory days of heroic ineptitude – the golden age of adventure. For everyone else, it’s the latest in the Warhammer Quest Series. Alongside Blackstone Fortress in the Warhammer Quest series are Silver Tower (currently discontinued) and Shadows of Hammerhal both of which are set in GW’s fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar. All of these games follow similar game styles and mechanics, so if you’ve played one you should be able to pick up the others with relative ease.

Blackstone Fortress promises exploration and adventure in the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium, a vast void of horror and terror.

It delivers.

With character choices ranging from outlawed Artificial Intelligence robot, rogue trader and Imperial Navigator to fanatic, Ratling snipers (who are twins) and alien hunters, there should be something for anyone who has an interest in grim and gritty science fiction.

A few of you older players out there who have not ventured in table top adventure games in some time may be thinking ‘is this just Hero Quest in the modern era of gaming?’ I think it’s a fair and realistic question. So is it just Hero Quest in space? Well yes, at least in concept.

The Goal

The whole point of Blackstone Fortress is to find your way into the Hidden Vault, deep inside the drifting hulk of the mysterious Blackstone Fortress. To do this, players need to discover clues during their expeditions. These clues will lead to special scenarios called Strongholds, which will eventually lead to the hidden vault. Even when a stronghold attack can be mounted, the players still need to get to them, with a 4 card expedition, purely of combat – more of this later. Getting to the hidden vault will take a lot of gaming hours, but I am certain that it will be a challenge and a worthy one at that!

In the game fluff, the Blackstone Fortress learns and adapts after each incursion of adventurers. Legacy cards add to the danger in this aspect, increasing the threat level for some monsters, such as the Spindle Drone. They up the ante during the expeditions. Once in play they stay and generally add flair and layers of danger to the expeditions. Once there are no more legacy cards in left in play, you’ve run out of time, and lose the game, no matter where you’re up to!

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with the character ships, two varieties of the Grav-lifts and the Leader token.

Let’s take a look at the goods first though…

Manufacturing Quality

The important bit to most gamers and war-gamers: are the miniatures any good? Yes. The miniatures are amazing and better still, they clip together – no glue required. You just need something to cut them from the plastic sprue. This took me a couple of hours whilst watching a series on Netflix so anyone with more experience may get it done in half that time.

The miniatures are constructed in such a way that they appear seamless, which took a bit of jigsaw magic to see how they fitted together – but as previously mentioned, no glue is required, so you can take your time. The same great GW quality of miniature manufacture is found throughout. I think my Kill Team just got bigger too – the models are in hot demand, check out ebay if you don’t believe me.

The game tiles are a really thick and good quality card. They pop out easily, which reduces tearing of the precious printed sides. They’re double sided but unlike Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight, there’s not a million small pieces to get lost or confused with. The game counters are all pretty unique, with the majority of them being wound tokens (which are double sided for critical wounds). The rest are for game effects and inspiration points, which I’ll mention later on.

There are three rule-books.

Don’t despair.

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Five books from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress. One is fluff, one of rules for Warhammer 40K and the other three are for game play.

Each one is written chronologically for each section of the game as you progress. They are written to the usual standard for GW, guiding you through in simple steps. The terminology may be a little different if you haven’t tried GW games before, so take your time. If you are familiar with any of the GW games, such as Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, you’ll find the turn sequence and rounds familiar.

Once you have the turn sequence in your mind, it’s pretty straight forward from there. There is a bit of juggling with the game on the first play through, as you consult different books to figure out when you can heal or how to carry out certain actions. This is a minor point, however it does highlight the importance of reading through the rules before the gaming session!

Blackstone Fortress is split into two game sections by exploration cards; challenges and combats, which are drawn randomly from the Exploration card deck. The exploration deck is large, 36 cards, so it should always be a different combination. You randomly pick 4 challenge cards and 4 combat cards which make up the Exploration deck for the Expedition. When combined, these are like a campaign story arc. These are shuffled and placed on the Precipice board, which is like the character staging area.

There are 18 cards each for both challenges and combats (36 cards in total). By drawing 4 of each randomly, you’re looking at 1 in 18 chance of drawing the same cards each time you create the exploration deck. The chances of drawing the same 8 cards are something like a 1 in 105,000 chance, by my shoddy calculations. That’s a lot of gaming before statistically you get the same play-through.

Challenges

The challenges are narrative encounters which do not make use of models and board pieces. They are usually a way of grabbing gear and tech (treasure, clues to future explorations), usually by causing damage to assailants. They include short narrative pieces such as ‘Get them all!’ where the players are required to inflict as much damage as they can to a fleeing group of hostiles – anyone who can deal 4 or more wound gets to draw a card from the discovery deck. Simples.

On a balancing note, these may be to help characters build up with less risk than combats or offer special cards for future explorations.

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with two of the character ships, the Destiny dice, Exploration cards and Discovery cards.

Combat Setup

Combats involve board pieces and miniatures and are the biggest portion of the game. Each combat exploration card shows how the map tiles are set up so anyone can setup the board while others are chasing through the rules books or determine where the bad guys and monsters are placed. They also mark where certain mission specific specials may be placed.

Keeping track of the game during combat is achieved with the Initiative tracker. The players get the option to attempt to help each other by swapping places with allies or attempting to swap their place with the enemy to get the drop on them. This all happens in the Initiative phase, followed by the Gambit phase. The Gambit phase can be costly as an action dice has to be spent, followed by an ability roll to determine success. These mechanics help to really bring the tension to the game, forcing the players to plan ahead. The players feel the pressure when the cards are redrawn each round, as their plans will likely need to change.

Hostiles and bad guys are drawn from the Encounter cards deck and placed in the starting positions according to the combat exploration card, which are given a specific place on the board and the tracker. The number of hostiles on a card are determined by where on the tracker they are, for example, you may get 2 drones on position 1, or 4 on position 2. Hostiles gain reinforcements each turn and are spawned on their turn in the Initiative track with a roll of a 20 sided dice, called the Blackstone Dice (which is black and looks like a stone if you’re not familiar with 20 sided dice). This adds threat, because even if all the bad guys are dead, they can keep re-spawning as happened with our test games!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

Hostiles in the game are given over to an AI system, where they react depending on a dice roll. It is not completely random, as each action they are given depends on a set few variables which allows them to act organically. Each set of rules for the monsters appears on very handy cards, giving you everything you need to know in a single place. So much easier than consulting multiple books!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop. The reverse side shows how the AI results on a dice roll.

Hostiles are terrifying in their own specific ways; if they’re not ripping you to ribbons with frenzied claw attacks they’re punching through your armour and ignoring your save rolls with shocking power! Case in point, UR-025 (or Mr Robot man to you and I) is a heavy duty fighter, with a better chance of rolling saves against wounds, with an added re-roll too – then he gets hit by a Negavolt Cultist and suddenly he has no armour saves. Surprises await those unprepared!

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Game tiles for Games Workshops Blackstone Fortress. Double sided and durable for all your grim and gritty science fiction adventures in the hopeless voids of Warhammer 40K!

Characters in the Game

At the start of each combat round Characters are allocated action dice, regular six sided dice. The dice are stored on their character card with whatever score they rolled. These dice are used / spent on actions which require a set number on one or more of those dice. Moving require a dice with a score of 1 or more, other actions may require 4 or more on a dice etc. There are standard actions and character specific actions, which are found on the character cards, usually weapon actions.

Explore with caution. When you are wounded the dice you roll at the start of each round are blocked, covered by wound markers, meaning the potential number of actions you can make are severely impaired! Fear not however, each round an extra pool of destiny dice are rolled which any one can use – but the power of the warp means that any duplicate scores on these dice are removed, so you better roll fresh to get the most out of destiny! A lot of dice multiples came up during our game, causing tension and nail biting in equal measure.

A second type of dice rolls are attribute dice which are used to evade damage, carry out special tasks and try to recover wounds. There are wounds and then there are critical wounds – wounds can be recovered during the combat part of the game, whereas critical wounds require a trip back to your ship to try and heal. As with Warhammer Quest back in the golden age, however, there’s always a chance something may not heal fully…

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The Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

The dice rolls are easy to interpret: you either fail, succeed or critically succeed. Each of the ability dice (6, 8 and 12 sided dice) are colour coded to match the information on the character sheets. These dice rolls are not always friendly, you can feel like the end of times can result from a failed roll. On the plus side, there’s very few calculations as in some GW games – just check to see how many symbols you rolled and away you go. GW have followed Fantasy Flight in this – so don’t lose those dice! Otherwise you could end up paying for more specialist dice in the future…

Toward the end of the combat sections, characters need to escape by summoning the escape lift, usually under duress. There’s no way out otherwise! When the remaining characters get to the escape lift, they have to decide to carry on fighting the growing horde, or to head back to their ships to lick their wounds. Heading back restarts the exploration so if you really need to finish you’re gonna find it hard to do!

When a character kills a number of monsters on their turn, they can roll the Blackstone Dice to see if they gain Inspiration points, where they are required to roll under the wounds they caused on a 20-sided dice. Inspiration points are used to re-roll some dice throughout the game, usually the activation dice at the start of the round, or give flip your character card over to increase their effectiveness. A bit like leveling up!

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The ‘Inspired’ Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

At the end of each round of the game, in combat or otherwise, a leadership token passes around the table, allowing each player to call the shots in equal measure (with a discussion, of course).

First Impressions & Thoughts

In a single evening gaming session, including learning how to play the game, we managed to get through 1 challenge and 2 combats. Assuming we don’t have to relearn the game, we could probably manage drawing 4 of the Exploration cards, which equates to half an Expedition. At this rate, in theory, we could spend hundreds of hours playing this game. So unlike Hero Quest, there is a seemingly limitless combination of events from challenges, combats and encounter (monster) cards. There’s probably scope for fan made or self made encounters too, let’s watch the internet pensively for these.

The game has a very nostalgic feel to it, similar to previous board games from GW decades ago. The hostile creatures are just as deadly as you’d expect, in their own ways. Players without prior knowledge will make mistakes which make the game intense and ups the challenge rating greatly. In this way, very much like Hero Quest!

The open form and random generation of each Expedition is a similar mechanic used by other games and it works just as well in Blackstone Fortress. It will take some serious play testing to get through all of the different combinations. In our initial play-through we had four players and one person acting as the games master. We felt this worked best for our first game so we could focus on the different parts of the game – just like in Hero Quest! You can play this game solo or without a games master, as the monsters follow an AI system, meaning all you need to do is move the pieces around and roll the dice.

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Dice, lots of six-sided dice, with the special ability dice, from 6, 8 & 12-sided dice. The 20-sided dice is the Blackstone dice…

What we did wrong…

We went wrong in some parts, missing the exploration round which would have made the combat a little easier if we had rolled on the event table. Although, the table isn’t all good – sometimes it can go horribly wrong… So it’s not all bad!

Why did we miss this section? It’s right at the end of the combat book, and there’s a lot in some sections. As we frenziedly played through the rounds we completely missed it! No one said nerds were thorough. So be sure to have all books to hand and refer to them often.

Value Ratio

It is a thorough and playable game. It has the same high quality of most Games Workshop products, but you will pay through the nose for it if you don’t shop around. I was lucky, I found an ebay seller with about 20% off the RRP, I then applied a free 10% discount from ebay to get it even cheaper.

If bought from a third party retailer the price becomes a little more affordable for a game of this type. The miniatures are worth a heavy bit of gold. The card tiles are sturdy. Even the box is sturdy (I mean, it has to be, it’s a heavy one). You get all the dice you need.

Edit: This may look like a silly thing to say, but £95 is a hefty price tag for any board game. Shop around, GW will get their money, so it helps smaller businesses if you go through them!

Since this is a complete game (£95.00), there’s no expansions as far as we know, and given the replay ability of expeditions is very high, it is feasible to play over a hundred games. Maybe even twice that. So you’re looking at about £0.5 – £1 per game. Let’s be conservative and say each full expedition takes 4 hours. You’re looking at £0.25 to £0.50 per hour of play. That’s really good money for a game that should be different each time. You’re snacks will cost you more to eat!

In Conclusion

The Feels – a dark, desperate setting with mechanics that fit those feelings. Thrilling, because when you do score a critical roll it feels like the cosmos is backing you up – any other time it’s trying to eat you!

No silly measuring distances, just count the hexes. Can you draw a straight line from the centre of a hex to the hex your target is standing in? Then you have line of sight, roll your dice. It’s that easy.

Edit: Downsides include what some players have described as ‘chaff’ play. This means that a few players think the amount of combats that are required to complete the game can get a bit samey. GW, do we need to go through quite so much to complete the game? On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand that the fighting during the combat sections are not about clearing the board – it is about surviving the battle and gathering the clues before time runs out. Perhaps GW could do with giving us more information on the bigger picture of the game earlier on.

So is it like Hero Quest? Yeah I think it is, it certainly has that heroic quality to it, and I’m sure it will one day be one of those nostalgic games we all reminisce about.

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them! you can find us on our discord server.

You can get a few more articles by us on other Games Workshop products here or here.

Enjoy!

 

*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.

 

The Awkward, the Bad and the Great – Dealing with the Players

It is often all down to the DM to run the game and make it a good one. There’s always the expectation that this game is going to be as good as the last one or better. It’s capitalism of the RPG world – they want more and more each session. But the game isn’t purely the responsibility of the DM; players are there too and the expectations of all involved should be considered.

The expectations of the players are more varied than we might think; some are there for the story, others for the thrill of the dice and fewer, thankfully, are there to roll dice and crunch the numbers like Scrooge on Tax Day. Unfortunately for you, as the DM, you have to balance all of these aspects, but you shouldn’t pander to them all – it’s your game too.

I’m going to assume that you play with people you know, that they are reasonable people. I expect there are unreasonable players out there – the internet is full of those stories, so I’ll touch on those style of players too.

This article is about the bad players, the awkward players, but also the good players – and we’ll cover how to deal with the bad ones, and encourage the good ones. But first, let’s talk about the ones that aren’t bad players, they’re just… awkward.

This is all my opinion, and you’re welcome to discuss them, share some stories of your own – we can only learn more.

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The Awkward Ones

The awkward ones, like the Deep Ones, are often hidden at first. We may think that their first character is just a bit of a buffoon and that soon they’ll get into the story. Sadly however this will not always be the case; sometimes we see an Awkward One develop and we need to make sure they don’t derail the story accidentally, or otherwise.

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Comedic or one-dimensional characters may seem like a little light relief the first time have a tendency to become habit for some players. The first time it’s all fun and there’s no problems, but often these players will see it as scoring social points for themselves; it will feel good for them and so the habitual pathology sets in, the player now thinking that funny = best game ever! Eventually this will ruin the flavour and immersion of the game.

How do you deal with this sort of situation? In my experience the best solution is tact. Quite often a player like this needs attention, which in itself is not a bad things; we all need attention sometimes, but for the comedic player, it feels new and good and they probably don’t realise.

Give them a bit of space to enjoy being comedic, but encourage wit and humour rather than outlandish and excessive. A quiet chat after the first session to explain to them that actually, yes it can be amusing, but the harmony of the game is broken by the ever increasing hair brained ideas. People will laugh, then chuckle, then get tired real quick of it. There’s no need to kick them out of the group, if they’re willing to keep their exaggerated theatrics in check. Promise to reassess the situation if they seem amenable to the idea.

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The DM who Hijacked your game thinks they know better or perhaps don’t realise they are not the focus of attention anymore. This is normally purely accidental; as DMs we can grow accustomed to the idea of being the focus of attention, since we run the game and very little interaction or action occurs without our help. This one is fairly simple, you call the shots for this game, don’t be bullied into changing your mind, unless of course the idea they put forward is sound.

Chatter boxes, or social annoyances, who talk about non game stuff and don’t know when to stop, potentially ruining the immersion and tension in the game. I tend to get this out of the system of players before the game starts by having a catch up chat, getting all the news out in the open and discussed before sitting everyone down. I also ask that all media that isn’t relevant to the game is taken away or turned off, or at least not in sight.

If it’s persistent, you can ask that player, politely and aside from the others at a later time, if they want to be there to play the game or just because their friends are there. It’s cool to hang out, but don’t detract from the fun of the game that we enjoy.

Showboaters just love the attention and want to get in on the action whenever they can. This isn’t bad for a game that needs a bit of life injected into it (especially if it has been a hard day at the office). What isn’t cool is overriding other players or butting in on their turns to act.

This is a hard juggle, but as DM you are justified to point out whose turn it is, and that if a player needs the showboaters help or advice, they can ask for it. Remember, we don’t want to cut off their enthusiasm, we just want to let them know that other players are entitled to the limelight too.

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The Bad Ones

Before I get into the stereotypes of bad players, I’m going to talk about the nature of the conversation around your gaming table (or wherever). It is best to openly discuss with your players before you start playing what sort of behaviour you all find acceptable during the game and on the sidelines; I’m talking about racism and sexism, amongst others.

It is perfectly acceptable to have these as elements in the game, it is after all usually set in a backward or less liberal society than our own. For this reason, you should let people have a say in what they find comfortable. If it’s a no from them, it should be a no from you, and vice-versa. D&D is an inclusive and cooperative game, and relaxed participants make far better adventuring buddies!

If it does crop up during play, as the DM you should be able to tone it down and talk to the offenders after the game session to suggest they tighten up – it’s ok to hate another race of people in character, but it shouldn’t spill into the real world, the same applies for sexism. If it happens that either of these topics comes out into play and is directed player to player, rather than character to character, you must stop it right away. Call it out, quash it dead. You are the DM, and you run this game.

So, the Stereotypes…

Player stereotypes have come to be identified from the internet – the internet has given us names for the power gamers, the min/max’er, rules lawyer, and the metagamers. Before the internet (I know, was there ever such a time?) we just thought they were annoying players who happened to enjoy the same hobby, so we were delighted at having the new player along for the ride. How wrong we were!

I’ve run a good number of gaming groups beyond my primary group over the years, this is how I dealt with the unhelpful ones.

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Not to be confused with the player who creates an efficient or optimised character, the power-gamer and the Min/Max player are those who either have to have it all at the cost of nothing, or throw everything out of the window to maximise a single attribute, ability or power – and use it at every possible moment. Normally a maturity issue, or the feeling of helplessness in their real lives leads them to want to show the world that they can do the thing, and force it on every situation.

Dealing with these players can be tackled in two ways in my experience: critically evaluate any character sheet prior to your game, with time to allow for changes, or subject your players to constrained resources, for example, only character material from the core Player’s Handbook may be used. As much as I love unearthed arcana and supplemental material, they tend to promote niche ideas into the game which can feel over balanced. These players will then latch onto these cool ideas, and completely overplay them.

Rules Lawyers: Players who spend most of their game in the source material, or spend all their free time reading the books and remembering every single bit of detail are fine, even helpful, like little biological libraries you can call on just by asking. However, it is the ones who keeping calling you out as the DM for your mistakes or lax enforcement of the rules who are the problem. Nothing ruins a cool cinematic moment when the party are about to hit the jackpoint with an amazing idea when the Rules Lawyer calls a stop to the game with the immortal opening line “I think you’ll find…”

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There are very simple ways to explain this or overcome the problem.

First, all the source books ever made for games like Dungeons & Dragons, every single one, are purely guidelines given the misnomer of rules. You, as the DM, are capable of overriding some of those rules now and again if you think it works or if you think for this occasion they can be fudged – heck, most of being a DM is fudging the rules to get the most out of player interactions.

Secondly, if you’re more diplomatic and want to avoid arguments in game, call upon your powers as a DM to completely override their opinion, but only with the promise to review the rules stated after the session and come to a compromise. Or, for this session only you can maintain your DM ruling, and endeavour to assess the rule for next time. Rules lawyers can be compromised with – if they don’t want that, then they are free to evaluate their expectations of your game. You’ll welcome them back with open arms if they wish to return.

Metagamers are those players who use information or knowledge beyond the scope of their character. Weirdly, if you’ve been playing D&D for decades, it is almost impossible to not metagame on some level. There are always repeat or extreme offenders though. It may seem like they’re just being lucky in their assumptions about that monster at first, but eventually you’ll realise that the metagamer is using his or her outside knowledge to influence their actions and maybe even the actions of others.

I deal with this foible in a few different ways: I can ‘reskin’ my monsters in their appearance or stats to keep the metagamer on their toes by describing monsters differently or altering their behaviour style and resistance qualities and combat abilities (which can get exhausting without proper planning). But what if the player is metagaming the plot or story?

Plot metagamers use their vast knowledge of fantasy and sci-fi to guess where your adventure story is going by relying on troupes, or popular fiction to base their predictions on. When this happens, it can be frustrating; the story is often the most creative part of the DM process. How did I deal with this? Well if you can’t avoid current popular stories from movies and fiction, I suggest you plan your adventures with an open ending – whatever the plan was, whoever is the bad guy, make them the second to last badguy, and put someone else who they’ve met previously as the badder bad guy.

Or tell them to get out. 😉

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Good Players and Encouraging New Players

This is the nice, positive part to being the DM.

I’ll make this brief, but you get the idea:

Good players…

  • Role-play and encourage role-play from new and old players.
  • They go with the flow regarding your narrative choices and instead of sulking justify the response of their character to keep things going without selling out on their character.
  • They don’t argue with your choices but if they get really narked, they’ll talk to you about it after the session, like a grown-up.
  • They ask pertinent questions, sometimes thinking aloud and usually on their own turn.
  • They play balanced characters, even after 20 years of gaming and realise there’s more to the game than crunching the numbers.
  • Characters they create have flaws, and if they didnt at creation time, they relish the flaws that develop organically from the game – they don’t whine and resist when things go bad – its part of the game.
  • They don’t expect special treatment, but they enjoy their share of the stage lights.

Thoughts and opinions? I’m all ears!

J.D Ferris, CC

 

The Name’s Fiction, Pulp Fiction – why we owe cheap fiction of the past a debt for the glorious genres we love today

Say ‘Pulp Fiction’ and most people think of Tarantino’s 1994 cult movie – the violence, the disgust, the horror of it all. Little will they know however of it’s working title; Black Mask, or what that even means. I’ll tell you what it means, but first let’s look more at what the true pulp fiction was.

According to dictionary.com the definition of pulp fiction is:

“Fiction dealing with lurid or sensational subjects, often printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp.”

Pretty simple really, no set genre, not set style just cheaper printing and sensational content. But there is a history here and it’s quite cool – younger generations will have no idea what it was all about. Until now.

The pulps as they were also known as were counter to the slicks, glossy well made magazines for richer audiences. Despite the Americanisms, pulp fictions claim descendants from earlier styles and formats of literature; the penny dreadfuls of Britain and dime novels of the US. From these simple fiction papers came some powerful genres; those of us who love horror, fantasy and science fiction owe a lot to the pulp literature of the past – before the rise of those genres we only had pulps. And what a legacy to share.

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Despite their massive popularity of the time, it was never easy for early authors to become accepted writers; some famous authors of fantasy, such as Robert E. Howard never truly made it big in their lifetime, posthumous success becoming more common. Even Lovecraft, who spawned an entire sub-genre of cosmic horror by himself only managed to gather a few dollars for much of his extensive work, which are now more popular than ever across all forms of media from literature, film and game platforms of all kinds.

Indeed, many famous authors began or boosted their careers with pulp fiction stories: Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain even H.G Wells, the father of science fiction.

Pulp fiction covered everything from gritty westerns, dark crime thrillers, exotic fantasy and exceptional science fiction; all of which fell under weird fiction or some sort or other. But these weird tales grew into genres of their own, providing us with film noir and sword & sorcery, among others.

It wasn’t all great though. Often pulp magazines portrayed highly sexualised women in peril, a dashing hero nearby to risk his life in an attempt to rescue such a damsel – I’m not sure that sort of cover art would stand up in modern times, with good reason given the rise of equality since the 1950’s and the sexual liberation of women in the 60’s.

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Yesterday’s Sunrise

The rise of pulp fiction and its earlier descendants came primarily from financial reasons: the price. Quite simply, it was affordable fiction in a time before the internet, computers and films. It was your only escape that wasn’t the theatre, alcohol or underage pregnancy. You may be forgiven for wondering why the appeal seems to be lost in modern times.

Yet, at the height of pulp fiction there were millions of copies printed monthly, with some publishers boasting more than 300 pulp titles at a time, some from as early as the 1920s. The market truly was booming. The sensation didn’t stop in the US; the UK had its own share of pulp fiction, appealing to the young and the poor. You didn’t talk about which celebrity was fumbling their way through a dance-off, you talked about the characters and the situations of the latest pulp fiction. You probably had more in depth conversations about it too.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, IF Worlds of Science Fiction, and Unknown were all leading the market in Britain, spanning decades (with artwork a little less sexualised, although still present).

Inevitable Fall

It was not to last however. In Britain and most of Europe, the succession of two world wars left a shortage of paper material, forcing publishers to reduce the size of their prints and limit their publications to several times a year. What was monthly was now quarterly and this had a knock-on effect for the industry, which we are still suffering from now: it is hard for new writers to be read.

Not being noticed forced some authors into writing novels instead and a reduction in sales meant that publishing houses had to be picky about who they took on and what they published. Prime content became everything. It all started to feel very ‘safe’ and perhaps stale.

The effect is still felt somewhat today in that it is still incredibly hard to become a published author and make a living from it. Sure, as a consumer the content we have is better but the ideas are not as fresh, daring or fringe-worthy. And lets only mention briefly that now everything comes in the form of a trilogy of trilogies. Finding a single story novella is pretty hard in the bookshops of today!

Even self publishing is hard, at least to make your goal financially viable.

Gone is the golden age of the pulp writer.

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Dost the Embers Stir?

Let’s be clear and honest though; reading a short story is fun! It doesn’t take an age, it is valuable time with oneself and is usually cheap – no huge investment. You can buy a small novella for less than £5 and that’s all you need – no TV or monitor, no subscription to Netflix or Amazon, nothing electrical at all (unless you’re reading at night).

But perhaps the best news of all is that there’s still hope. Hope that with the rise of online pulp houses like ThePulp.net and New Pulp Press who sell e-fiction for as little as $3-$6, there’s still a place to hide away from the world and live the life of your favourite (anti) heroes.

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So back to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; the working title, Black Mask was a US pulp magazine in the 1920s covering dark, gritty and corrupt crime stories. There was plenty of gore, violence and sex to fuel the 1994 movie, summing up the Tarantino’s tastes nicely.

So we’re going to have a go at bringing you some pulp fiction of our own, with a blog to run alongside it with our notes, plans and sketches to give you an idea of how much shit we put ourselves through! (I may have had a drink or two of Port).