Sunday, 24 September 2017

Choose Your Adventure at Geek Retreat, 24th September 2017

Geek Retreat Birmingham, Sunday 24th February 2017

I came to  to "Geek Retreat" in Birmingham as I do on the last Sunday of the month to offer my "Choose Your Adventure" set up.

The store was very busy because of a "Magic the Gathering" collectable card game tournament. 

There were a couple of players who have been to my Sunday sessions more than once. I'm trying to get one of those to try her hand at refereeing a game. She's become quite familiar with 5th Edition D&D. I think Geek Retreat could do with a regular or semi-regular 5th Ed. D&D game group, but I'm not the person for the job for several reasons. So today I ran a D&D 5th version of my standard introductory dungeon with the two regulars and a player who was new to the game. I used the pregenerated characters from the excellent 5th Ed. D&D introductory set. When we started, only two of the players were present. They chose to play the High Elf Wizard and the Halfing Rogue. The Wizard generously cast a "Mage Armour" spell on the Rogue, allowing her to remove her own leather armour and move more freely. When they found the dungeon guarded by three goblins, they chose to manoeuvre round to a point on the cliff above them where the Wizard could attack them with his Ice Blasts. The brave Halfling distracted the goblins so the Wizard could attack. At this point the third player appeared and his Fighter saved the Halfling from the pursuing goblins. But, though they hid the bodies, whilst waiting for the Wizard to come down from the cliff top, and change of goblins guards came out, found their comrades missing and disappeared back into the dungeon below.

So by the the time the characters entered the complex, they found the children they were aiming to rescue set up as human shields by the goblins and their Bugbear boss. The halfling rolled herself in charcoal and sneaked in to free the children whilst the Fighter bravely charged in.

Good news! The two children kidnapped by the goblins were rescued and escaped with the halfling Rogue. Bad news! The high elf Wizard and brave human Fighter gave their lives in the rescue. But everyone seemed to have good time.

I then used my "Code of the Spacelanes" rules to run a Dr Who intro scenario with the two "regulars" and a young man whose mum convinced him to try. He has been running D&D using the introductory set and wanted to try a new genre. His mother was happy to watch him play, but I convinced her to play too. Everyone, more or less, chose from my pregenerated characters. The mother and son played - respectively - a student Timelord who'd sneaked into the Tardis museum after hours and the maintenance and cleaning robot she'd bumped into. The scenario started with them careering through Time and Space on an obsolete and rickety old Tardis, bickering about whose fault it was. Despite their attempts to get back to Gallifrey, all they succeeded in doing was to pick up an Ice Warrior and Cave Woman before crashing onto an abandoned space station. As they left the Tardis to explore, the cave woman accidentally activated the recall mechanism, sending the cylinder home to 
Gallifrey, abandoning the characters. 

Before they could find their bearings, they were attacked by a group of pigmen servitors sent from an spaceship docked on the far side of the station. After dispatching them, they tracked their route back to that ship where they encountered the evil Solomon, one of his giant red robots and more of the pigmen servitors. In the battle that ensued, every character was knocked unconscious apart from the Timelord Student. Despite obviously being an indifferent student, at best, and failing to recognise anything she'd encountered so far (Mars? Earth? Never heard of them!) she somehow recognised Solomon's robot and was able to pull up its command codes on her Sonic File. With its help, she won the battle. Everyone enjoyed the game, even the mother who'd been planning to just sit and watch.

After that second game the two "regulars" had to leave. As things quietened down and I started engaging customers in conversation to try and get a new game started, I bumped into the daughter of a fellow Tabletop Role-Playing game designer. It's a small world.

The proprietor  brought me three players who wanted to try D&D. So I ran my introductory to D&D 5th Ed. adventure again. One of the player's mother arrived and was going to watch but, again, I inveigled her in.  This is a hobby for everyone. This time, the team tackled the dungeon in a more headlong fashion, using a Sleep spell to take out the goblin sentries. However, the final battle proved to be extremely bloody and the adventure resulted in a TPK or "Total Player Kill". Everyone still enjoyed it though.

The day rounded off with my standard introductory steampunk scenario. I saw two young ladies perusing my game display and they chose the genre. They elected to play the Businesswoman (with mechanical wings) and the dissolute aristocrat (with her electrified sword-stick). One of the players remembered me from running the Actual Cannibal Shia Lebeouf RPG at London Anime con. It's a small world. We were joined by a young man who was interested and just wanted to watch. Of course we shoved a character sheet under his nose (the  soldier turned hunter) and brought him into the game. After a short detour where the businesswoman was convinced the poor innocent Italian sausage merchant was putting human meat into his produce, the group soon tracked the true villain - an evil Prussian vivisectionist - to his lair and convinced him of the error of his ways.

One of the players wanted to see how she could make her own character and soon produced a werewolf she could play in a future game.


So today I ran four games. I introduced at least ten new players to our hobby including two mums who, originally, were just there to watch. I call that a successful day.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Concrete Cow 17.5

I try to report on my visits to conventions factually. I try to let people know what the convention is like so they can decide if it's an appropriate for them to attend. I don't give explicit ratings. Sometimes, my personal feelings might slip through.

But, dammit, Concrete Cow is simply the best RPG games "day" in the country. There - I've said it.

The website contains all the facts you need to know in a clear, easy to access format. Despite the fact that organisers and devotees are active on a range of social media, there's no crucial fact buried in an obscure Facebook post which only those in some kind of inner circle see. Everything is put on the website. Potential games are advertised in advance but nothing is prebooked.

My experience has evolved over the years. Recently I've started bumping into a fellow hobbyist on the train down and our wonderful chats have evolved into our own Spaghetti ConJunction, a games day where we blatantly steal everything we can from the organisation of Concrete Cow. This year we were joined by an enthusiastic young games designer who I know from other conventions. We seem to be developing a Birmingham Faction to attend.

An easy and, always, efficient journey from Birmingham - under 90 minutes, just over £20 return - and we get to Wolverton railways station just outside Milton
Keynes. A quick, 5 minute, walk to the venue and we're there. It's a bright community centre with a larger central room - split into two using dividers when the games start. There are loads of smaller rooms off, free coffee and tea and a high street outside with a supermarket right next door. It's perfect.

When you arrive you pay £5, write your name on a printed ticket and stick it on your chest. If you're intending to play, you also take a tombola ticket. A new group of wonderful people having taken over the running of the convention and the young lady taking the money was asking everyone if it was their first Concrete Cow so she could issue them with a special "Golden Ticket". I was incredibly gratified when I was asked the question and the guy next to me in the queue burst out laughing and made a crack about the number of conventions I attend. It's nice to be noticed.

Being hypercritical, there are usually raffle tickets on sale at the front desk. I always pay £5 to get in in buy 5 tickets at £1 each. I didn't this time. Throughout the day us crusty old timers were bemoaning how difficult it was to buy raffle tickets (someone usually brings them around) as we had to go and search them out. Ultimately, I didn't buy any this year.

Talking of which I dropped a hardback proof copy of my new game "The Code of Warriors and Wizardry" into the raffle. I later realised I'd mistakenly brought my expensive glossy full colour version rather than the cheaper "standard" colour one. Whoever got it had got a good book. I also asked to organiser to allow us to promote Spaghetti ConJunction, but she did it for us as part of the opening speech.

Sign up sheets for the morning games are on a table for perusal. I proposed to run game based on "Fireball XL5", a TV puppet show which is over 50 years old and rarely repeated due to it being in Black and White.

People are called up in turn based upon the last numbers on their lottery tickets. A fair and efficient system. My game was one of a few that only got one signup. I pulled it and chose to sign up for another game. There are always more excellent games on offer than their are players to play them. Numbers seem to be a bit down this year. (There are lots of conventions to choose from, I suppose.) And my personal rule is to run my game and try to horse trade for more players if I get two or more sign ups.

My respect goes out to the young lady who got no sign ups who refused to give up. She announced that she was happy to run for one player and - eventually - ended up getting two.

I signed up for game of "Hot War" - which I'd seen people rave about on line but never played - set in the Warhammer Fantasy RPG universe (another win) run by a referee I know from other conventions and online forums. We had five players. Perfect!

The game revolved around a conclave following the assassination of the emperor. We played dodgy types who were manoeuvring, Game of Thrones style, to grab the throne for ourselves. It was a massively well prepared game with the referee distributing superbly detailed background sheets. I think there were 5 sides of typing for each of us - all different. Alongside the 5 player characters there were ten or so NPC nobles with votes and myriad threats to the empire which needed dealing with.

The characters were give out by the Referee. I was given the crusty old Pope-type. I'm not aware of any choice in this. The referee seemed to know his players and gave them the characters he thought were most appropriate. I liked this approach.

The game was well run and created a good fictional storyline. The other characters were the Emperor's dissolute son, a General from the Northern marches, a Count from the South (secretly the host of an ancient demon) and a conniving Countess/business woman.

The game itself is slightly "zoomed out" covering the resolution of the various threats facing the empire and the credit this brings to the various pretenders to the throne. Not to my personal preference. Feels a bit board gamish. The resolution is through building large  "dice polls". Also not a personal preference of mine. The winner of the contest then has to narrate what happened in the story. Again, not my favourite. It feels a bit like "now entertain us".

But, all of this was offset  by an excellent referee that knew what he was doing and a very personable group of players - as I'd expect from Concrete Cow. And a great game was had all. We weren't allowed to kill or otherwise remove from the game any other PC until the last hour. I had the conniving Countess (selling promises of political marriages all over - ugh!) on the ropes but was not allowed the finish her off because it was 5 minutes (5 minutes!) before the DEAD line.

So - as we entered the last hour - the southern count - who'd been clearly losing up until this point - ambushed the northern baron, shucking his current "shell" and taking a new host. With their combined abilities, he soon finished off the young prince. Seeing an experienced player clearly gaming the system, I gamed back, forcing a conflict in the only ability I had left which clearly outranked him, Faith. Rather than Roleplaying, I gamed to "win" the game - well, to stop him winning. That's not my usual preferred style of play. The ancient demon was revealed in the light of the powerful Artefect I'd recovered and was destroyed/banished.

Unfortunately, that took us to the end of the session and the referee called the remaining conclave to vote. Players of dead PCs still controlled NPC votes and - with just my Pope and the conniving Countess left standing - she won convincingly.  (5 minutes!)

Good game. I won't turn my nose up at Hot War at conventions in future but it won't  be my first choice. This game was made by the excellent players and the superb Referee rather than the rule system.

Lunch was a couple of meal deals from the Supermarket and then it was into the afternoon signups.

I offered my new Fantasy rules - The Code of Warriors and Wizardry. The scenario from the rulebook. A sprawling romp. BUT I can't put anything specific on the sign up sheet without giving the plot away, so I wasn't sure of getting players. As it turned out, I picked up three plus a referee whose game hadn't filled. These were experienced gamers out for a good time. They didn't use the system to create gonzo events, but preferred to sit back and let things unfold and role-play a romp.  It was fun, but one of those games where clever play let them avoid the climax and succeed brilliantly despite every substitute final battle I tried to improvise into events so I felt it ended with a bit of a damp squib. But it was one of those when the journey is more important than the destination. Gobbo the Goblin developed the battle halibut, Barg the Troll responded by using a shark as a club, Jim Bob the explorer acquired a battle flamingo and Barleycorn Bran, the yokel,  drifted through events inadvertently leaving disaster in his wake like some kind of medieval Frank Spencer.

There IS third game in the evening but most people don't stay. I headed out to catch the 7:00pm train and found the entire Birmingham contingent from the morning making the same trip, joined by another personable long time hobbyist and convention organiser who got off at Rugby.

It's a shame that the growth of conventions seems to be eating into Concrete Cow's numbers a bit. The organisation, games and players remain exemplary. If any newbies come to me to ask "which convention should I go to first" my answer will be - without any hesitation - Concrete Cow.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

FantastiCon 2017

FantastiCon 2017

FantastiCon is a Science Fiction convention in Hull. I first went to it in 2016 as part of my plan to try and visit non-RPG conventions to introduce people to the joys of the RPG hobby. (I find many preconceptions are dispelled within minutes of playing their first game.) WhyFantasticon? Two reasons. It fitted in with my diary for 2016. But, more importantly, the organisers responded to my initial approach and were extremely welcoming. Many a time when I write to convention organisers saying "Do you want me to come an run some Tabletop Role-Playing Games?" I receive no reply.

I'm not an expert on SciFi conventions but FantastiCon seems to me to be smallish one. It is run by a small publishing company but the aim seems to be to run a welcoming event with a family atmosphere with the focus being upon those that attend having lots to DO rather than lots to BUY. There are trade strands and the stage events include book readings by authors that the company publishes, but these are not the central focus of events. There is Cosplay, massive and organised NERF wars, computer consoles of all kinds from retro to VR, live music, live presentations from a scientist trying to reproduce Iron Man's armour and myriad other things I've forgotten.

It runs on Saturday and Sunday. I get in free, but I earn nothing from these events so I have to watch costs. Though Hull is a serious journey from Birmingham the high costs of train tickets on a Friday evening and the cost of a hotel Friday night (at the height of Hull's "Year of Culture" events) meant it would have cost me about £100 more to travel up on a Friday night. So it was a case of getting up at stupid o'clock on Saturday morning to catch the first train from Birmingham to Hull to arrive just in time to dash to the event and set up just before the doors opened.

The event takes place in Hull's historic Guild Hall. A very atmospheric venue. It takes place on the first floor. Basically there's a square central chamber with a stage, seating and some trade stands with an adjacent hall. There are corridors off with other rooms. Last year I was in one of the side rooms - the Board Room with a massive Board Meeting table surrounded by pictures of centuries of Hull's Mayors. It was an interesting venue for RPGs - but not the most suitable. This year I felt I'd been promoted because I was in the Hall adjacent to the main chamber, which had all the computer stuff in it, along with retro arcade machines, other gaming, trade stands (including a craft ale stand selling Mead and Specialist Ciders and Ales) and the Bar. Also a table which was kept full of free squash and biscuits throughout the weekend. The was good communication up front and I negotiated a change from a large circular table - which everyone seems to assume is ideal for all RPGs - to a set up of two smaller rectangular tables arranged in a L shape. One for my "Choose Your Adventure" display and one behind it to actually play on. The table was in prime position, being the first thing people saw when they left the  main chamber. I had the Elite Dangerous Table RPG ("Elite Frontier" I think) on one side and a table offering board games on the other. Perfect!

The convention was slow to start. The taxi driver taking me to the event knew nothing about it. I don't know how these events could promote themselves more. It obviously had capacity for more people. However, there were enough people to more or less fill the central room for the talks and occupy most of the event tables for most of the time. The feeling was of people who felt it was "their" convention - sort of like a large extended family.

I know my place at these conventions. It's not what the punters came for. I get quizzical looks at first, have to grab people and engage them in conversation. They all need to look around the convention first before any of them come back to play. But there are a good mix of people who've heard of RPGs and want to try them and people who've tried it a bit but want to see more of what's on offer. At this convention there were a large number of people who "used to play" when they were younger but have lapsed. And I even managed to grab a couple of people who knew nothing or had misconceptions and convert them.

On Saturday, I ran a total of four games. The first was a one hour demo of my Code of the Spacelanes rules using Star Wars characters. Great fun with the rebels rescuing the scientist with the "important information" from the Imperial Shuttle at Mos Eisley star port. In order to escape, the "Jedi in hiding" severed a coolant pipe to cause the ship's engines to overheat and explode. She got the scientist out but had to abandon her fallen comrades. She made a last desperate attention to telekinetically lift them out before the explosion. I carefully explained how difficult this was and how the difficulty increased with each additional person she tried to lift - only to have her roll a critical success. Perfect!

Before the next game, I nipped out to buy lunch. There were food facilities available somewhere in the venue, but I knew there was an M&S just down the road. I returned with two "meal deals" to see me through the day.

Over lunch I saw a drone buzzing a very active T-Rex in the gaming hall.

My second game was another Code of the Spacelanes (well it was a SciFi convention) but this time skinned for Blakes Seven. Another one hour demo. In fact it's exactly the same scenario as the Star Wars one, but I don't think many people would notice it. We had a couple of people start but drop out to attend events starting elsewhere but Gan, Dayna and Tarrant saw things through. Not all the players were familiar with the series and there was much hair-based humour. This went so well that the remaining three players didn't want to stop playing so I had to tack on a extra scene with Liberator pursuing and engaging Travis' pursuit ship. This pushed the game to almost 2 hours.

Then it was time to introduce a family - mum, dad, teenage son, two (early teens?) daughters - to "Dungeons and Dragons - via "The Black Hack" and Matt Colville's "Delian Tomb".  This was the usual romp but I had to apologise to the dad at the end. He kept trying to get his family to stop, ponder, plan (vacillate) whereas they were all diving in head first after the fun, fun, fun and I went with the majority.

After clarifying the timings - I knew there was an evening musical event in the main hall but didn't know if the gaming hall was staying open (it was) - I ate my second meal deal of the day and corralled some people for an evening game. For this I checked they were up for a longer game and pulled out my Doctor Who scenario. If you don't know what this is, this must be the first one of my convention reports you've ever read. Three years I've been running it, and here it was again. My Favourite.

We started with two players. Make anyone you want from anywhere in Time and Space. So we got a Lizardman Space Corsair and Prince Thundarr with his Sword of Power! (Not He-Man, not at all, no way!)

These two started off by losing the Tardis - the first group in three years to do this. I kept corralling passersby. They were first joined by a 23rd century scientist whose time travel device had gone wrong and - later - by a Witchfinder General who'd been ambushed and banished by a combined coven of all of his most powerful enemies. Again we lost a couple of players before the very end (Thundarr and the Witchfinder) but the Lizardman Corsair and the Scientist saw it through. Not before the scientist threw a dead body into a cyber converter and accidentally created an eight-limbed cyber monstrosity. They never met the real "big bad", choosing to create their own instead.

They were also the first group in three years to simply leg it and leave the J'Duhn to deal with things - seeing the J'Duhn ships as a great way to escape. Another first and - if you think about it - pretty sensible. Which means that they were the first group ever to be in orbit, nuking the moon (it was the only way to be certain), rather than underneath being nuked.

The convention ran until 11pm but my game wrapped up at about nine so I was able to make my way to my hotel quite early.

Sunday was quieter than Saturday. I was warned by the taxi driver taking me from the hotel to the Guild Hall that I wouldn't be able to book a taxi to the station that evening because of all the events on in the town. It was only a short walk anyway. I guess this contributed to the smaller turn out.

But I played two games on Sunday. The first was a group of older teenagers. The girl in the group has discovered 5th ed D&D and has been GMing some games for her friends. However, she was frustrated with the combats being so key to the game. Cue a one hour demonstration of the more storytelling approach, in this case my Code of Steam and Steel one hour demo. (Yes, basically the same scenario as the Star Wars and Blakes Seven one but you wouldn't know it.)

As always, riotous fun, but this group seemed to specialise in influencing others and acquiring followers. It's funny how different groups adopt different styles with the same scenario and the same pregens. So the hunter shot a feral dog and adopted its puppy.* A giant alligator turned up in the sewers to chomp on the cybernetic giant rats. Lampwick, the caretaker of St Pauls catacombs, was so grateful that the posh nob had turned up to fix things, that he offered to help out. In the final battle, Lampwick and the puppy helped fight off the giant rats (Lampwick dying in the process), the giant cybernetic gorilla also took a shine to the knight of the realm and Igor turned on his master who - seeing his evil plans come to naught - chose to kill himself rather than be captured. An unusual but satisfying conclusion.

* During the game we were visited by Death, enquiring about fatalities in the game. We grassed up the dog slaughtering Hunter. Death said he'd refer the matter to John Noakes.

After nipping to M&S for two more meal deals and consuming one, I had a request to run a Firefly game. Two of these were players who'd experienced the Blakes Seven game but not known the series. They wanted to see how it worked with characters they knew. The guy who'd played Gan chose to play Jayne. (Nuff said). His mate chose River. We were joined by a third player who selected Shepherd Book. I'm always  pleased when someone chooses Book because it shows we have subtler type of player in the group. A fourth guy, who I'd chatted to earlier and who had expressed an interest in the games, but who was loathe to join in, asked if he could watch and see what it was all about. We convinced him to have Wash's character sheet in front of him and said he could just sit in the mule outside the bar if he wanted to. (Ha! Got 'im!). I checked everyone was up for a longer game and pulled out my more complex Firefly scenario. (I don't think they'd spotted if I'd run the Blakes Seven one again, but it didn't hurt to be sure.)

What can I say? A romp. Fun, fun, fun. As always, Mal, Zoe and Simon are missing (I don't have them available as pregens). Wonderful misunderstanding with Jayne and River being caught on CCTV holding a watch-house at gun-point. River (as always when I run this) running right into Patience's hands to demand where her brother was and (as always, against the odds) getting away with it. And a great final showdown in Reaver space to rescue an ungrateful Mal. "Who's just brought my ship into Reaver space with the gorram LIGHTS ON!" Pause. A calmer voice comes on the radio. "Wash, dear. Go dark. Now."

As Zoe and Mal - who'd been hiding in a wrecked ship - turn everything on to attract the Reavers away from Serenity, the crew throw everything they have at it, eventually succeeding with much ingenuity and much luck and much depleted on weapons and shuttles.

The game finished in good time for me to pack up and head to the station. And the British rail system has been fine this weekend.

FantastiCon was a success for me. I ran 6 games in two days, three of which were extended far beyond the one hour demos I'd expected. And great, fun games with engaging and inventive players. I sold some books! Not enough to cover the cost of the convention (Mr Taxman) but every little helps. I feel guilty sticking to my table and not taking part in the wider events I was repeatedly invited to, but I'm an RPG junkie and, anyway, the computer addicts were glued their screens and googles as well. If the dates line up, it'll definitely be on my calendar for 2018.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

August 2017 - a digest

I attend lots of conventions, but no-one can be everywhere at once. For various reasons, in August there were half a dozen I didn't get to. However, I thought I'd still publish a "digest" to tell you what I know about them.

The conventions in question are:


Nine Worlds
This was a huge multi-strand "Geek" convention in London. There are talks, craft panels, all sorts of things. I went to the first one a couple of years ago to help run RPGs. However, in subsequent years there doesn't seem to have been a specific RPG strand at the convention. I spotted one Facebook post following the convention which seemed to indicate that some people had met up  and played a couple of games, but I wasn't able to find out anything more. Worth a look if in 2018 you're a Geek but maybe not if you're a gamer.


BritCon
This was Britain's biggest residential, multi-period Wargames convention. It took place in Manchester, as it does every year. It seems to have a long tradition. To their credit, the organisers tried to offer RPGs this year - which is very forward thinking and welcoming of them. Unfortunately, the pre-convention interest wasn't enough to justify them continuing with the idea. At established and popular conventions, RPGs can sign out well in advance of the event. However, when it's new event or offering them for the first time, they can take a while to "get traction" and advance booking just doesn't seem to work. It's a chicken and egg situation. People don't book into games unless they know it's an established convention for RPGs and the games will definitely run. But unless people book games, they don't run. I really hope BritCon tries again next year. It looks like a great event for us to make inroads into.


Grand Tribunal
From the organiser, with my immense gratitude:

"Grand Tribunal 2017 was as always a convention dedicated to Ars Magica, Unknown Armies, Feng Shui, Over The Edge and other Atlas Games rpgs and board games. This year even Rune and Furry Pirates got run! The con runs from Friday to Sunday but Friday night is a boardgames social element, while the rest of the weekend was rpg.

This was the eleventh convention and as always we had a strong international presence - the Norwegians and French attend every year. However numbers were the same as most years - with only 30 delegates this is an intimate con. We will be back in 2018 raising even more money for charity and running our fabulous raffle. The website is at www.grandtribunal.org"

It took place in Cheltenham, as always. I tend not to go to conventions devoted to game systems I don't Referee but I was invited last year and was encouraged to referee a couple of sessions of my own games - even though I'm patently nothing to do with Atlas games. The convention IS small and intimate but it is incredibly friendly and welcoming. The game sessions are shorter than most conventions to allow you to fit four different games into a day. And the Atlas games are very good and they are offered by excellent referees. This would be a wonderful convention for anyone new to try hobby or attending conventions as it is so small and friendly. It certainly deserves to be larger.


ShaCon
This was a convention devoted to the "Savage Worlds" game system. It took place in Sheffield, at the Garrison Hotel, which has become THE Hub for RPG conventions in the North of the U.K. Just look here:

http://garrison.omnihedron.co.uk/

Savage Worlds is a generic system which can be used to play role-playing adventures in a variety of settings and genres. In fact the publishers actively encourage people to produce and publish their own Game Worlds using the rules. Because of this there are literally hundreds of different settings out there. I've played Savage Worlds at conventions in all sorts of different, usually highly imaginative games. It's a good, reliable system. But it's not one I referee, and I like to referee RPGs. So I didn't attend ShaCon.

However, I have NEVER seen so many overwhelmingly positive convention reports for an event. Everyone had a great time playing in a breathtaking range of settings and genres. It seems to have been very very very successful. I have no idea of the size but I'd expect it was in the usual 50-100 size range you get at Garrison cons. If you play Savage Worlds, or are willing to play it for an entire weekend, then I'd say you simply HAVE to go to ShaCon 2018.

I've even considering writing a Savage Worlds setting book myself just so
I'd have something to run and could attend. Everyone who went just seems SO happy!


AlderCon
This was a weekend convention in Surrey. I haven't had any feedback about this one. It seems to have been quite small - it took place in a scout hut. I could be wrong but it seems to be a local club arranging to play games solidly for three days with a few extra invited visitors coming along to join in. Games were successfully booked in advance, I know many of the referees - who are all excellent - and it looks like the event did take place successfully.  So I'd expect there to be another one in 2018.


ShadowCon
This two day convention took place in North London. It is, again, the annual event of a local Games Club. However, this particular club is also known for being active at other RPG conventions across the country.

ShadowCon has a significant Pathfinder element, and those "living world" games are well supported with lots of pre-convention booking. The convention also ran in parallel with TobCon, a Con devoted to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which shared the venue and for which all the games were fully booked before the weekend. The report I had estimated that over 40 people were present.  Given that  games played included Warhammer, Hot War, Psi Run, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu and, possibly, Cypher planned, plus the fact that Board Games are usually played there, I'm assuming this to be a bit on the conservative side. It's a regular event which takes place every year and the range of RPGs on offer seems to be growing.


I've found August to be a bit of a drought in RPG conventions in the past, but this list shows that the scene actually seems to be thriving, with lots of opportunities to play if you're free.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

"Choose your Adventure " at Geek Retreat, Sunday 27th August 2017

One of the "weaknesses" of my introductory set up is that I use The Black Hack to introduce new players to Dungeons and Dragons rather than the "official" rules - which are currently 5th Edition D&D. The Black Hack rules are easy to grasp for beginners. However, I've been getting the impression that some people might want to start off with the official game - possibly having already bought the rules and wanting some guidance on how to get started.

So I prepared myself to run 5th Ed. D&D at Geek Retreat today and advertised it as such. And certainly, from the online interest I received, I really thought it was what people were looking for.

However, when I arrived the three players waiting indicated they weren't particularly interested in 5th Ed. Two of them had played my games previously so I asked them if they wanted to try MY new fantasy rules, The Code of Warriors and Wizardry.

I WAS prepared to run 5th Ed, honest. I'd put a lot of prep in, including producing laminated pre-generated characters. But unless it's asked for specifically, I'm always happier running my own systems. At least I've got 5th Ed prepared now in case anyone asks for it in future.

And I was happy to give my new game another run out.

I ran the scenario from the rules. It's set in a fairly standard fantasy world with Humans, Elves, Dwarves etc. But I allow players to create their own races if they want. Character creation is very open ended which can encourage player imagination but can lead to a tendency towards the gonzo with some groups. This, it turned out, was one of those groups.

We started out with a human mercenary illusionist, a goblin wizard (massively skilled in running away, not so good with the actual magic) and a "tentafolk" mercenary. This was from a race of octopus people. (Gonzo 1). The game started well with the characters escaping from the slavers' chains and seizing the ship. This was duly destroyed by a sea serpent, leaving them adrift on the ocean.

A fourth player arrived (Chris Dean of "I Love the Corps") who decided to make a manphibian - a scaled marine humanoid who desperately wanted to be found beautiful by sailors, a siren of the sea. (Gonzo 2).

The party washed up on an island and soon fell out with a clan of goblins - one of a number of clans disputing ownership of the island. The players then proceeded to use the rules - appropriately - to wipe out this first clan by causing the island's extinct volcano to erupt. This caused the rest of the goblins to be in awe of them and seek their help, rather than hunt them down and kill them. This sidestepped a lot of the political shenanigans I had in mind but, I think, counts as Gonzo 3.

This was a group of players keen to tell stories, act first without planning or working together and who, when they rolled a critical success, would tend to affect the story plot rather than playing tactically and reserving the right to make rerolls later in the game. I DID warn them.

At this point we were joined by two more players. One made a cannibal (Gonzo 5) whilst the other made a Cleric. In order to bring them in at this stage, they both had to be goblins.

When the party finally stopped living off the the goblins' largesse and undertook the quest they'd requested, they found themselves caught in a magical trap. Lacking appropriate ways to affect the outcome (such as rerolls) this proved pretty devastating, with the Tentafolk mercenary being reduced to sushi - literally as it turned out - and several other characters suffering massive losses to their sanity and their very souls. Given the free and easy, humorous, tone of the game to this stage and the many, many ways characters can sidestep death in these rules, this came as a shock to the players. I think it was the first time in some of their playing careers they'd seen a character die.

Lesson learnt? In my games it's fun exercising narrative control but it's still worth playing tactically and saving the right to make rerolls first. Always save the option to reroll some dice for the climax.

Trap avoided, they then proceeded to the powerful ancient Artefect which was the reward for their adventures. And then spent a further 30 minutes dancing around before seizing it. The cleric even tried to destroy it after receiving a pretty clear message from her God that destroying it wasn't The Divine Plan.

Eventually, after a bit more unintentional goblin genocide, they twigged what they'd actually got their hands on and escaped.

A mad, epic, game. I knew my game was different from traditional D&D, I didn't realise it was THIS different.

I now have a decision to make. Twice now at these events I've started with a small table and it's grown to a much fuller one. I'm also getting a core returning players. If the group grows any more, I'll have to try and split it into two tables which means I'd need another Referee. Should I try "training up" one of the returning players?

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Spaghetti ConJunction 1b


Just over two months to go until the next Spaghetti ConJunction - the OTHER convention in Birmingham. (The one where the food gets brought to your table.) 21st October, Geek Retreat, Birmingham.

Get your thinking caps on and let us know what games you want to put on offer. Offer a game in advance in one slot gets you first sign up for a game in the other slot.

You know the routine. Please supply the following information:

Title: The title of the scenario

Description: What your game is about

GM: Your name

System: The name of the game system. Unless it is a well-known game, you might want add a sentence summarising the system.

Notes: Is the game suitable for a particular age group? Is there any content some people might find challenging or upsetting? Please state here whether your game is for a mature audience (that is, not suitable for under 18s).

Players: Preferred minimum and maximum number of players.

Slot: Morning (10:30-2:30) or Afternoon (3:30-7:30)


Sunday, 30 July 2017

Choose Your Adventure - at Geek Retreat - July

Sunday 30th July. It was my turn to host Tabletop RPGs at Geek Retreat in Birmingham today.

As usual I took along my "Choose your Adventure" set up. It was very successful. I had two players interested before I'd even finished laying out my display.

One had played my introductory The Black Hack scenario before and the other was beginning to put her toe in the water with D&D 5th Ed. I do have other D&D scenarios of course but I thought running TBH might confuse her.

(Note to self: get off your backside and put D&D 5th into your setup. It's the one everyone keeps asking for. And easy to do, given the starter set you've got.)

So they chose Steampunk and we started to run my 1 hour demo adventure "Evolution of Species", using my "The Code of Steam and Steel" rules. As we played, we were joined by two other players.

The scenario was as fun as always. This time the evil Prussian vivisectionist was felled by the superior moral arguments of the British aristocracy.

Having got the basics under their belt, they all agreed they were enjoying the game and wanted to continue playing. So they all made their own characters and it was off to Mars for "The Great Martian Tripod Race." Again, great fun as always - the best scene being the characters fighting their was out of the Martian city in a stolen tripod only to run straight into the artillery of the Sky Guard upon reaching the presumed safety of British territory.

The party resolved all the issues very effectively but ultimately had to cheat to win the race.

With a couple of hours left and facing players with seemingly indefatigable stamina, I ran "Superheroes vs Dinosaurs". This is meant to be a bit wild, what with Daleks in the Cretaceous period and all. But it went completely gonzo with Cybersaurs (Dinosaurs with Cyberman tech) and an Ice Warrior spaceship showing up.

This was a group that really embraced narrative control.

Everyone asked about other events at the venue and when I was returning, so I chalk this up as another successful day at Geek Retreat.