As you may be aware the Swedish 1984 version of Mutant was my first Roleplaying (Rpg) experience and it was love at first play. I was cajoled into buying it by my cousin who was visiting us when I was 12. We spent about a year with Mutant being the main game we played in our little group, but then moved on and played a wide range of games throughout the teenage years – it was a bloody good time and apart from grinding a bass guitar in a death metal band formed the most important part of my teenage years. I was invited to the Grognard files to give my First, Last and Everything last year where I go into more depth about this, should you be interested (link here). It is with fondness I think back to those times and the adventures our group of friends shared. This post is really about a few reflections and thoughts on me running my first convention scenario for some 28 years.
Rpgs became something I used to do for a long time and when I started to get back into the wider tabletop gaming hobby I felt more drawn to wargaming – perhaps because it is a more solitary activity in that a lot of progress can be made without having to align your life to someone else’s diary. It is also about the stigma of asking your neighbour at the annual barbeque session whether she or he fancies rolling some dice and fight a bunch of mutated land sharks in Post-apocalyptic Scandinavia.
I wrote a summary in an earlier blog about the Grognard Files – it is a podcast, that does conventions and other stuff -actually what is really is, is a great community.
“I really enjoy the Grognard files podcast and the throwback to the good old days of 1980s roleplaying. If you have any interest in roleplaying games (rpgs), whether you were around then or not, this is a fantastic show and you should try it out (here is a link to get you started). Being of the somewhat mature nature (not old! – I still bloody play with toy soldiers, so I go for mature or perhaps in need of some maintenance, but never old!) for me this is a proper non-imaginary deja vu experience – I do not just feel like I did it, but I really did this before. I have played many of the games, back in the day, covered so far (often in multiple podcasts, and in addition podcasts have covered rpg magazines and fanzines):
Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Stormbringer, AD&D, Tunnels and Trolls, Top Secret, Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, James Bond Rpg and Judge Dredd
Each game is thoroughly discussed, analyzed and reflected upon. Being a guest on the British Isles since the mid 90ies it is at a level of eccentricity that I recognise well and that is hard to find anywhere else. It is similar to the exploits of those Victorian chaps who invented industrial breakthroughs in their back garden sheds. I absolutely love the concept. Bravo to Dirk, Blythy, Ed and the rest of the crew (not forgetting the eminent Daily Dwarf, link here). I suggest you brew yourself a cup of tea and get a pack of hobnobs and sit down in your favourite chair and listen to the first episode on Runequest. The only thing that may prevent you from having a fantastic time is your ability in making a decent cup of tea!“
The Grognard files have been a nice gateway drug back into the hobby, initially focusing mainly on nostalgic cheap tricks, luring you in with old solid showstoppers like Runequest and Call of Cthulhu, but then expanding to more modern games and concepts, provoking not just the re-purchasing of all the old stuff our parents had slowly binned whilst we were chasing the dream but also buying new and very often shinier things. Almost like a conversion kit really, like my friend’s old Ford Escort from the 80ies that he proudly keeps in pristine condition, not like a museum curator, because there is constantly new gadgets and gizmos being added. “It is still a Ford Escort mate!”, but as he perhaps correctly says, “you do not get it!”. Anyway, enough cars, if I was making a living selling games I would try to find a way to follow in the wake of the Grognard files, like a seagull and take advantage of what it throws up! Well maybe not just games, what about Runequest socks with the Death and Air rune on?.
Sorry think I drifted away again, stay focused …
So in this newfound nostalgia of the old days I got out my old Mutant rulebooks from 1984 (with the Purple Covers) a few years ago and so my wargame/miniatures project #Mutant1984 was born. I have had some great fun with this pressing the world and the miniatures into service to enjoy a wide variety of miniature wargaming rule sets, including Sharp Practice, Infamy, Infamy!, The Men who would be Kings, Mutants and Death Ray Guns, to name a few. Most of the miniatures are conversions from other ranges with headswaps, etc, but there are a fair few things out there that fits in really well with minor modification – well perhaps not anything, but most things, goes in #Mutant1984.
It is a clear contrast to my more “serious” wargaming, where I anal-retentively worry what uniform colour the Queens Life Regiment had in the Summer 1702 following some notes on a large purchase, in the regimental records, of cloth in a different colour than previous uniforms, in early May the same year – did they have time to make new uniforms or not for this particular battle? Joke aside, I am as serious about all my pursuits just in a different way.
As part of Lockdown I have, when possible, attended a Virtual Painting session on Saturdays and as part of that I ended up playing in a Runequest group every 2 weeks herded by Jeremy Short. It has been an absolute blast and we have had some great fun exploring Sartar and getting involved in some excellent adventures. I ran a Call of Cthulhu for this group over Christmas based on a convention Scenario I wrote 30 years ago and really enjoyed GM:ing again.
I attended the 2020 Grogmeet as a player (being virtual due to the pandemic), and had planned to attend in 2019 but some work issues got in the way. Grogmeet is the annual event organised by Dirk and his merry people where people gather to play old and new games. I had an excellent time and played in some amazing games.
I decided to do something for Virtual Grogmeet 2021, that is also an annual event but intentionally virtual. I had to figure out what to run and sat down and reflected for a second on what the whole Grognard thing meant for me. I could have run one of the two Cthulhu scenario that still exist from way back, but thought that there would be a fair share of those offerings. I actually ended up playing James Holloway’s Call of Cthulhu Dark Ages scenario at Virtual Grogmeet this year, this was a fantastic immersion into the Crusader states era with a small scenario but well thought out and presented. This was a story about a delegation arriving from the archbishop looking to buy a relic and with the inhabitants (the players) of a small fief in Crusade-era Lebanon must try to protect the sacred remains without making a powerful enemy.
I was thinking about what I could offer that was a little bit unique and from back in the day, so I flipped through the introductory scenario for the 1984 Mutant book – Uppdrag i Mos Mosel (Mission in Mos Mosel) and realised that it is actually a workable scenario divided into two parts – an initial detective type of situation where the characters are trying to find out what is going on in the village and a second part where they find their way to the lair of the beast – so to speak (that contains it own little quirks with the possibility of forming an unexpected alliance and enough potential radiation damage to allow the characters to survive the scenario but still die after it – life is not fair, not even if you are a hero).
The scenario can perhaps be seen as the love child resulting from the union of Gamma world, D&D and Call of Cthulhu. It offers opportunities for both roleplaying and action (as if they were any different! but I hope you know what I mean). I do not want to go into the detail of the scenario itself as perhaps one day you may find yourself with Nicholas von Rijn in his Palace. The scenario is said to be heavily influenced by the AD&D Adventure Against the Cult of the Reptile God from 1982 (issued two years before Mos Mosel).
The old Swedish 1984 version of Mutant was based on the Basic Roleplaying System, with the typical stats from 3 to 18 with some exceptions and skills being percentage based. I found our house rules from 1985 or 1986 and included these because it felt right and charming – this was mainly a revision of the set of skills rationalising some skills and including some communication skills (there is a summary of this later on in the handouts presented). The rules are simple and will not get in the way to get started immediately with a group of new players. I feel that too clever rules sometimes fails to shine in one offs, the key is not in how ingenious they are but how easy they are to quickly pick up and use efficiently in a short amount of time.
Mutant 1984 is of course the game that started the whole Swedish Post-Apocalyptic RPG era that is still going strong in the excellent Mutant Year 0 game by Free League (more here).
The first thing to decided was how to run it and luckily the group I have been playing in has successfully used Roll20 for the visuals and rolling dice and Google Meet for video and audio. Google Meet is basically a virtual meeting platform that allows you to do an online meeting with multiple individuals and allows sharing voice and video. Roll20 also allows video and audio sharing but is on occasion a little bit wanting (well at least from my experience), but what it does allow though is the ability to manage visuals, as well as combat using maps and tokens for where characters are, and rolling for skills etc in an open way. There is a little bit of a learning curve and I tried but failed to align the character sheet with the ability to press on a skill and roll for it automatically. I run the session rolling in the app and then “manually” checking the character sheet – this works fine.
In addition I fleshed out the scenario a bit by adding some play aids that I have included here (in addition to the few presented in the actual scenario, I have just shown a fragment of one of them here, if you are interested in getting these to run this scenario, let me know).
I also realized that all the main characters were men in the scenario, so I played around with this a little bit. One of the key characters in the Scenario is Wolf, the person that has disappeared, I made him a her called Wolf Babs (I took a picture of the Swedish singer Lill Babs 1960ies single Karl XII and mixed it with a picture of some American Civil war soldiers).
Similar adjustment was done to the actual town of Mos Mosel where I swapped the roles of the Mayoral couple with Mariana being the actual Mayor instead of her husband Gottfred. They were small changes that did not change the overall story but I felt made it more inclusive and modern than the 1984 version. I thank my two girls who has and are showing me that it is not always the big gestures that matter, but also that the small ones does too and as they are easier to achieve and it all adds up, they might be more powerful in the long run.
As for the characters I needed to create some kind of balanced group and decided to base the characters on some of the pictures in the original rulebook – now there is one character in the rulebook who we may assume is a woman and that is a picture of a Bear with a pram and some cuddly baby bears, but I could not find a picture of a second female in the basic rule book and had to go to another Swedish RPG supplement of the era (the City Book Kandra for the Drakar och Demoner RPG). The second female character was a PSI mutant and I felt that the power in the drawing was telling the right story and in terms of style aligned to the others (The drawings are all by Nils Gullikson who was a great inspiration with his drawings in the early Swedish RPGs and also in the Swedish RPG magazine Sinkadus).
I basically designed the Group in a two-role typical fantasy group with a Magician-Thief, the Barbarian-Hunter, Paladin-Bard and Warrior-Rogue. I find this blend works well and gives the characters some room for getting involved when the going gets tough as well as being the lead in some situations – in the rough part of town, in the forest, social interfaces, stealth operations, etc.
I issued each player with a character sheet, with an example below.
…and also a little summary what they know about each other (this to allow some familiarity but not knowing exact details about each other).
I also included a little note on the rules (high level)
finally I did a few slides about the setting (art from the original rulebook and two of the early scenarios).
In doing the first play test I realised that it would be difficult to play the scenario in the 3 hour session without making it a very stressful and possibly too linear experience. It took the play test group two sessions. So I decided to run the scenario in two sessions – then with what I call a forced fast forward if they characters had not figured out what was going on at the end of the first session, this would allow some start-up and investigation in the first evening and then the final showdown in the second session.
How did it go?
I did a play test of the scenario and the team managed to figure out what was going on indirectly and manage to find their way to the lair of the beast and successfully defeated her (They met with a caterpillar snake who was looking for a mate, the friendliest monster in the rulebook who you do not want to mess with, luckily they did not and carried on their own business).
Thanks to Max, Jeremy, Neil and Simon for helping me out testing the game.
For the team playing it on Grogmeet they also managed to get to the end and remove the problem to fon Rijn’s profits. I felt bad for Tom who tried to communicate in a friendly way in most of the encounters without success but the one time it did matter it solved the problem. Keep optimistic. The team had some unlucky rolls but so did the opposition, they players were relatively less unlucky which is all that matters in the long run.
Thanks Ian, Chris, Tom and Jim for spending two evenings with me!, hope you had a good time, I did.
I may do another scenario using the same characters again, at some future Grogmeet.
As a general comment with regards to the virtual tools available it is really easy to set up and although it is not as a real face to face experience these tools allow you to meet up with mates not just during forces isolation but perhaps also reconnect with that old scattered all over the place gaming group and run some games, both Roll20 and Google Meet are free.
I was a little bit nervous in getting back to running games but with a little bit of help from my friends and perhaps over preparing the scenario I got over it – overall a fantastic experience. All the old confidence is slowly coming back and the realisation is that it is all about trying to have fun and that people that are in this hobby, mostly, is in it for exactly this reason too. Things has not become more cerebral just because the hairline has receded and the waistline has become more generous – things are still ok! So whilst I may not understand the gloriousness of the Ford Escort 4th Generation, I do get this!
I also learned from Neil Benson (https://oldscouserroleplaying.com/), the importance and power of testing tech etc, in advance and also to get things rolling a little bit before, setting up characters, sharing rules information, links, etc. It really makes things easier and on the day and is worth considering if you have time. My best online experience to date was playing a Vikingr scenario with him where we were up and running immediately on the day of the scenario.
…and a Land shark did showed up…
/ Hope that was of some interest!
NOTE: I also managed to get Grandad into the scenario. He was a funny guy!