Monthly Archives: December 2014

The State of the Lodge

With Venture-Captain Mike away, I’m taking it upon myself to review the year. Our first State of the Lodge address.

And what a year it’s been. Twelve months ago there was no UAE lodge. Now we have up to 20 regular players , with others dropping in now and again. We’ve got at least half a dozen rock-solid GMs ready to run at the drop of a hat. We’ve introduced people to roleplaying, we’ve even had people take their first seat behind the GM screen.

With rare exceptions at certain high feasts and holy days, we’ve run at least one table a week since May, often more. We’ve learnt summer is our rush time, when most home campaigns are on hiatus for the holidays and stray gamers look to us for their fix.

More than that, we’ve become friends. This first year of the UAE lodge, I’ve not only gamed more than I have in many years, I’ve met people who have enriched my life. I’ve become closer to people I knew a little before, and I’ve met some wonderful new people.

That spirit of friendship shines through at our tables. It has touched me deeply when I’ve had players sell their character’s goods to help collect the fee to raise a fallen colleague. Explore, report, co-operate – and it brings a little warmth to my ice-cold GM’s heart to see the level of co-operation common in this lodge. I feel proud to be a part of it – even if my part is often the merciless bit.

We started fairly slowly. I recall Mike running the first PFS game, at Change Initiative on January 16. Three players – myself, Jo and a visitor passing through the Emirates – made a legal table with an NPC. Mike ran the Confirmation so well that I’ve stolen his ideas every time I’ve run that scenario.

We had occasional sessions in February, March and April , but it wasn’t really until June that things picked up in Dubai. By that time we’d moved out of people’s living rooms and made our home at the Bean Machine coffee shop. That opened tables up as people who’d perhaps been a little reluctant to take on the role of GM in other people’s houses willingly – and ably – stepped up to the plate.

And then Ramadan. There seemed to be a game every other night. No one could get enough.

If I can pinpoint a point at which the Dubai PFS community became a living, breathing entity that could sustain itself without constant nurture from the VOs, it was the move to Bean Machine, which coincided with several stalwarts volunteering to GM. We haven’t looked back since (except now, because a review of the year without looking back would be very short).

Gaming in public, alongside the Geeky Lizard Card and wargamers gave us visibility as well. People walking past asked what we were doing. Card and wargamers decided to give it a try; some of them have become regulars.
We haven’t looked back. There have been games at GRC minicons, in 5-star hotels, occasional games at people’s houses, but most weekends there’s at least one table at Bean Machine – usually more.

We’ve even gained some notoriety in the global PFS community for running a couple of games in the desert.

There are ways we can improve. I need to contact Kinokuniya to see about running games there. We’ve yet to find the formula to generate in Abu Dhabi the vibrancy that infuses the Dubai community. We need to get the Adventure Card Game up and running. These are tasks for the coming year.

But the vibrancy is certainly there in Dubai. We have the GMs, we have the players, we have the venues.

And now, it seems, we have the arsenal. Over the months we’ve been running PFS, Kinokuniya’s stock has gone from a Core Rulebook or two and a Bestiary to a stack of Core Rulebooks, every hardback you can shake a stick at, Map-Packs, Flip-Mats, softcovers: Adventure Paths, Player Companions and Campaign Settings. They have both versions of the Adventure Card Game, and a stack of boosters as well. Have they noticed people have been buying Pathfinder product as soon as it appears on the shelves? I can’t help but feel we are in large part responsible for that.

Head up to Comicave at Dubai Outlet Mall, and you’ll even find Pathfinder Battles minis. Sadly, despite a lot of promise before their opening, they ended up with no RPG rules on their shelves, or gaming tables. Perhaps that will come.
I’m not going to name names for fear I’d miss someone out, but to our GMs, thank you. Without your efforts prepping, printing , presenting and running damn good games, we wouldn’t have a lodge to speak of. To our players, thank you: you are a joy to run games for, and to play with.

Pathfinders, the state of the lodge is strong.

The Dice Must Flow: PFS in the Desert

The GRC desert camp. Panorama by Omar Ismail.

We’ve talked about it for a couple of years, and we finally did it: the Gulf Roleplaying Community‘s great desert gaming session.

Co-ordinating a desert trip for a score of people is a non-trivial exercise. The hero of the trip was Mohammed N. Al Khan, an experienced desert driver, who not only went on recce missions to find a suitable location, both isolated and accessible to novice sand drivers, but provided a lot of the equipment.

Mo and I combined the gaming trip with a camp for family and friends beforehand, so we were in the desert for three days, with Mo making numerous trips between the roadside mosque where those without SUVs could park, and the campsite 7km as the crow flies into the desert near Margham, Dubai. The ground distance was considerably longer, as straight lines and sand dunes aren’t compatible. A more relevant measure is that the camp was about 40 minutes’ drive into the desert.

The camp site in the morning mist, before the GRC arrived.

The camp site in the morning mist, before the GRC arrived.

All the necessary supplies had to be driven in: shelter, food, water, firewood, tables and chairs, even ice for the cool boxes. The journeys did give us a chance to ssee some of the desert wildlife – dhabis (Arabian gazelles) and even a glimpse of a desert hare, an animal so reclusive that even Mo, who’s been camping in the desert since childhood, had never seen one before.

A small herd of dhabis (Arabian gazelles) spotted on the way to the campsite

A small herd of dhabis (Arabian gazelles) spotted on the way to the campsite

We set up Mo’s bulky canvas marquee for the family camp, and it remained our base throughout the gaming event. The GRC assembled at the mosque in the early afternoon, and I ran family back home while Mo led a small convoy of SUVs to the camp. Only one driver got stuck in the sand and had to be towed out.

We’d underestimated the length of time it would take to get people to the camp and settled in, and it wasn’t until nearly sundown that Mo could get back to the mosque to pick me up. That meant my first PFS game, 1-39 The Citadel of Flame, was run after sunset, rather than during the afternoon as I’d planned. That presented some unexpected challenges – cold temperatures, darkness and, more problematic, heavy evening dewfall, which left character sheets soggy and caused ink on flip-maps and combat pad to run. Still, we managed, and although the players – Mohammed Al Khan, Tarek Fadel, Jerome Devie and Matt Wilson – didn’t gain both possible prestige points, their characters survived the tier 4-5 challenges.

Andy Staples running Citadel of Flame. Note the head light and the camel blanket worn as a poncho. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Andy Staples running Citadel of Flame. Note the head light and the camel blanket worn as a poncho. Photo by Jerome Devie.

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, most of the GRC struck camp and headed back to civilisation. But the bitter-enders still had another game to play. Even though I was getting tired and tried to wriggle out of running #3 Murder on the Silken Caravan, my players simply wouldn’t let me – and I’m glad they didn’t,  as it proved extremely enjoyable, and highly appropriate for the desert.

But Mo’s duties as guide left him tied up in the morning, when I’d planned to run the game, and it was noon before he made it back to camp. This left us facing a game in the early afternoon sun. In the end, we set the game up outdoors – largely because I desperately wanted the photo of us playing in the lone and level sands, then dropped as much of the marquee walls as we could to clear the stuffy heat and moved inside for the shade.

Murder on the Silken Caravan. Andy (Barwickian) GMing for Wendy Farmer, Mohammed N. Al Khan, Jerome Devie and Tarek Fadel.

Murder on the Silken Caravan. Andy Staples GMing for Wendy Farmer, Mohammed N. Al Khan, Jerome Devie and Tarek Fadel.

Andy sets up his tripod for the shot. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Andy sets up his tripod for the shot while Mohammed Al Khan and Wendy Farmer wait for the game to start. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Even inside the marquee, there were unanticipated problems – the breeze which cooled us also blew pawns off the maps. Fortunately, my portable GM kit contains Blu-Tack.

Andy  GMing Murder on the Silken Caravan. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Andy GMing Murder on the Silken Caravan. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Mohammed Al Khan prepares to battle desert raiders in a sandstorm. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Mohammed Al Khan prepares to battle desert raiders in a sandstorm as Tarek Fadel rolls his dice. Photo by Jerome Devie.

Jerome makes his move. Photo by Wendy Farmer.

Jerome Devie makes his move. Photo by Wendy Farmer.

By the time we finished the scenario (I’m pleased to report the players achieved all objectives on this one, and earned their 2 prestige points), light was fading, and we struck camp as the sun set on an amazing weekend. Playing Pathfinder Society in the desert has to rank as one of the craziest things we’ve done, but also one of the most enjoyable. I hope we’ll do it again soon. Next time I’ll remember to apply sun block.

Camp Location