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Monday 25 October 2010


You may have got the impression from his introductory Dragon Warriors scenario, "The Darkness Before Dawn", that Frazer Payne is one of those referees (I don't like the term "gamemaster") who force the players to jump through the hoops of a pre-planned story.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the games we've played in Frazer's worlds have given us all the freedom of action you could wish for. In his Paragon campaign (described aptly by Fraz himself as "Manga-meets-Kafka-in-a-Bavarian-forest") we were set loose in a city ruled by fear and allowed to find our own plotlines, to the extent that at one point we abandoned the city that Fraz had mapped out and detailed with such meticulous care and went cruising off to a far outpost of the empire where my character planned to muscle in early on his inheritance. A lesser man would have thrown his notes in the air and told us to stick to what he had planned. Not Fraz, who was happy to wing it, improvising an ever-wider web of characters and intrigues that allowed him to give us a little unexpected insight on the workings of the Paragonian state while pursuing our own goals.

Paragon is a fabulous game world and a really elegant set of rules. Even more to my tastes is Frazer's follow-up campaign The Ghosts of London. The game background notes alone are some of the best writing I have ever seen - yes, including Faulkner and Fitzgerald. To give you an idea how effective this campaign was, we had to abandon it because one of the players was suffering from nightmares after each session. (If it had been me, I would have wanted to play more often - but à chacun son goût.)

I would love to put up the Ghosts of London material here but what happens to it is up to Fraz. Both GoL and Paragon are absolutely crying out to be published - the world needs both of them a lot more than it needs another elves-n-dwarves fantasy RPG, for example. Frazer is in fact currently at work on a German version of Paragon, though the English language version is yet to be signed by a publisher and the real gem, Ghosts of London, remains on the back burner. To whet your appetite, take a look at this description Fraz wrote of our second-ever Paragon session:

Brother Asp disentangles himself from the straw-pile with as much dignity as he can muster and marches back into the inn. He passes the lawman, Stone, on the stairs, dragging unconscious bodies down feet first.

The common room is a tangle of overturned pallets and bedding, silent except for the night wind blowing through the jagged window frame. With a determined set to his jaw he hoists a couple of pallets free from the mess, stomps back down to the bar and slings them onto the embers in the hearth.

The hospitality of this town leaves much to be desired, he thinks, and in adversity one must look to one’s own abundant resources to ensure a good night’s sleep.

He makes two more trips until he has enough materials to make a tolerable bed before the fire, then settles in. He’ll be glad to be away from here, that’s for certain, and trusting that God will illuminate that intractable airman overnight, he falls asleep.

The tailor enters silently to find the holy man peaceful in the centre of a sumptuous nest of all the bedding in the building. He sits in a booth, tucking his legs neatly up in front of himself for warmth, and enjoys the fire until his eyelids sink down with the flames.

The sun creeps grudgingly over the treetops, giving a cheerless glow to the village rooftops and the airship in the field. The airman pops up from his cabin in a swathe of steam, wrapped head to toe in his altitude leathers, and squints at the sky. A tap on a gauge here and a tweak of a dial there confirms what his keen eye tells him about the weather conditions. It’s cold, misty, and it’s time for breakfast. He slides down the anchor-rope and marches briskly across the field, eyeing the broken glass on the ground beneath the inn window before ducking inside.

It’s no warmer in here, and empty of customers it smells of mould. The holy man is slumped dishevelled against the bar. He’s on his second mug of wine. Stone is on his first pint jug. Both straighten as the airman comes in. Smelling some stiff negotiation in the air, he strides straight past them, ducks under the bar hatch and disappears into the kitchen. The innkeep, doddering around in the pantry, hasn’t even turned to see who’s come in before the airman has plucked a pinch of spice from a forgotten pot on a high shelf, sprinkled it over the sausages sizzling on the hob, decanted them to a plate and swept out again. The innkeep looks forlornly at his empty pan and decides to go back to bed until the strangers have gone.

He’s just snuggled down in his cold sheets when the door to his bedroom bursts open and the lawman strides in, deals him a stiff fine for harbouring thieves in his establishment, and strides out again. It is at that moment that the holy man plants a crate under his window, climbs on top of it and begins to sermonise roundly to the village square at a volume that greatly belies his diminutive stature. There seem to be four bleary-eyed, bedraggled men in the stocks that weren’t there last night, and one of them looks to be unconscious or worse. As the holy man’s voice rises to the heavens, they all look as if they wish they were, too. The innkeeper nearly falls over himself in his hurry back to bed, where he plants his pillow firmly over his head.

As the sun melts the frost from the field so it creeps as mist, sinuously through the grass, back to the brambled eaves of the forest, the airship rises, swings low over the gatehouse and thunders over the crests of the trees.

Below, the holy man can be seen tottering through the archway, and a little behind him, the tailor. The engines’ thud sets the tree tops shivering. Then it climbs, climbs into the low, morning cloud and is gone

into an opaque limbo. For an interminable time the airship creaks and rattles as it churns against the stiff wind, clouds pouring around the gasbag and over the bow like sea spume. The ship becomes at once ghostly in the mist and more solid, every sound close and thick in the wet air. The dark wood, Rope and brass grows a pale fur as beads of moisture cling to every surface. The steeply angled deck is soon streaked with rivulets. Then it breaks into dazzling winter sunlight. The cloudscape is like a frozen ocean, wreathed in gold, and the wooded hilltops like islands. The sky is a vast azure dome, it's distant ceiling glimmering with the last stars.

The air is so crisp it snatches the breath away. Stone stays near the aft mast, holding it tight with one hand. The vibration of the engine through the dense wood has made his fingers numb.


  1. Hey Dave

    Any chance you could elaborate a bit more on Ghosts of London? Anything that can induce people to nightmares has got to be worth exploring in more depth!

  2. Hi Alberto - I replied to your comment but Blogger is having one of its periodic meltdowns and losing comments :(

    Anyway, just to reiterate: I think Fraz should get on with Ghosts of London right away, but I fear he may get sidetracked doing some zombie gamebooks that a publisher wants to commission. GoL is mercifully free of zombies. It's a *lot* scarier than that...