Saturday, 16 March 2019

Concrete Cow 19.1

TLDR: despite falling numbers, Concrete Cow ALWAYS delivers.

Anyone who's read my conventions reports on any format knows about Concrete Cow. Twice per year in Wolverton near Milton Keynes. Superbly organised. Perfect location and venue. IMHO simply the best TTRPG games day on the circuit AND its twice per year!

Normally I catch a train from Birmingham early doors Saturday and miss the evening game, going back up in the evening. This year I booked into a nearby hotel. Quite expensive but, as it turned out, worth every penny.

Concrete Cow is in a community centre near the station. Though you're invited to advertise games before the day on their massively informative web-site (a model for others to follow) nothing is decided until you get there. You turn up and put down your sign up sheets. For example, I swapped out one of my games at the last minute.

Signups follow a scrupulously fair random ticketed system. There were a LOT of games on offer in the morning and the number of attendees seemed to be slightly down. My 13th Doctor game garnered no players. So I signed up for a 2d20 Conan game. This was great but possibly a little bit TOO much on trope. We rescued the Aquilonian noblewoman from the Lizardman cultists but our barbarian went down fighting their tentacled God in its pit.

My first time with the system. I feel about it exactly the same way I do about 5th Ed. The basic system is fine but there is a little too much character customisation built in for my tastes. Too many bells and whistles which add nothing major.

Some great banter and quotes from players though. Following the evisceration of one NPC the statement "We live intestine times" broke me up.

For lunch you nip next door to a massive Tescos for sandwiches etc. Perfect location.

The afternoon game was the one I'd swapped out. There seemed to be fewer games offered and more people present by this time.  I offered the Dinosaur and Steampunk game that's sold out at Expo. TBH this is one of the one hour scenarios I've been offering as a demo game. I've extended it and wanted to see if the additions worked. Could I pad it to four hours without it seeming stretched? The answer was a resounding YES. In fact we ended up pushed for time. Great players slowly sucked into crazier and crazier situations.

For tea you go over the road to grab whatever take out suits your fancy. I got fish and chips. Perfect venue.

I returned to find the raffle and afternoon signups had taken place. Too me this seemed earlier than previously announced. But I had a full table for my Blakes Seven game. Most of the players weren't born when the series originally aired and we had the strangest team ever. Soolin, Dayna, Cally, Jenna and Avon. Gan was with us for a while but the player had to leave leaving an almost completely female team.  Dayna took charge. Her player had played in the Steampunk game in the afternoon - his first experience with my games - and was happily teaching everyone the rules. In fact at one time I found myself with two ad hoc assistant refs and could just sit back and watch things unfold.

Remember I'm normally home in Birmingham by this time but this game totally justified staying.

It finished a bit early so a couple of us popped over the road for a print. As I say - perfect venue.

I cannot speak highly enough of Concrete Cow. It is one of the truly essential conventions on the circuit IMHO. Which is why it's such a shame to see numbers falling. They were healthy enough - at least six full games morning and afternoon (though only three in the evening - one a board game). However, it's been twice this size in the past and the venue could easily accommodate many more players. There are many great new conventions springing up, but we don't want to lose the old classics. Use it or lose it. If you can get to Milton Keynes, Concrete Cow should be on your list of conventions to attend. As far as I can see it's faultless.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Liverpool ComiCon

TLDR: Large, friendly ComicCon - moderately successful at introducing people to TTPRGs.

Any who's read my  TTRPG convention reports knows I've got a side project - visiting non-gaming Geek conventions to try to introduce fellow nerds to our wonderful hobby. Steampunk, Anime, Sci Fi etc. To date I'd never managed to get my foot under the table at a big ComiCon. But I kept writing emails.

Eventually, I got a reply from the organisers of Liverpool ComiCon saying they'd give me a try. So I decided to give it a go rather than going to the wonderful AireCon, a general gaming convention in Harrogate. (They seemed to have enough TTRPG referees anyway.)

It was too late to get on the website or in the programme. And getting a hotel in Liverpool that weekend turned out to be difficult and, potentially, expensive. But I found a cheap B&B on the edge of town.

I was working and so missed the first day of the event, on Friday. Even so, I found it easier to go up Friday night rather than "stupid o'clock" Saturday morning as I usually do. Luckily the B&B was amazing value. The owner apologised for not upgrading me (I didn't ask) explaining it was due to them being full owing to "the match". That explained why hotels were expensive and hard to come by. If you're visiting Liverpool, try not to do it on the weekend of a match.

Early morning, I got a taxi into town. The convention was in a massive hall in a new exhibition centre looking out over the Mersey. I was given two tables at the quieter end of the hall, away from main part of the convention. I was in between the stage - which was in the main hall rather than a side room - and the celebrity signing booths. My one request was to be placed away from the PA, so I had my misgivings at being so close to the stage. There was plenty of space at that end of the hall, however, and I was told I could set my tables up however I wanted. Unusual for such big event where space is usually at a premium. I was also given the six chairs I requested. Three of them were linked together, but this later turned out to be a godsend.

I set up and found I'd left my waistcoat - and essential part of my "gaming persona" - back at the B&B. Luckily I still had my trademark flat cap. (I'm pretty forgettable without these gimmicks.)

Apart from the stage the rest of the hall was filled with the usually ComiCon stands and displays. A full size X-Wing, Daleks, the A team van, KITT, the time travelling Delorian etc. etc. The local Gaming Cafe had a stand with their own "Iron GM" - a very impressive young lady - offering intros to 5th Ed D&D.

The signing tables behind me included:

Jayne Cobb and  Simon Tam - off of "Firefly"
Lois and Clarke - from "The New Adventures of Superman"
Paulie from the "Rocky" films
Eric Roberts
Boysie - "Only Fools and Horses"
Someone from the Twilight movies
And Sting (The Wrestler)

So a pretty fair crop of celebrities. There were also several "Power Rangers" actors elsewhere in the hall.

About an hour after I arrived, other stands began setting up around me - classic computer consoles, face painting, and rescue dogs. An eclectic collection. They asked if they could have my chairs and when I said "no" they begin taking chairs away from the area in front of the stage.

Doors opened at 9am. 15,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday. It took a while but I eventually inveigled some people into a game. Two wonderful young ladies - new the hobby. They wanted to try Steampunk. THEY introduced the "lady of the night" into the scenario. Quote of the game - "OMG we lost the prostitute but got a Giant Gorilla instead." They seemed to enjoy themselves.

It was then that I discovered that people had been taking my chairs when my back was turned. Luckily no one took the three that were linked together.

After that I ran two games of my standard D&D introduction - Matt Colville's "The Delian Tomb" using David Black's "The Black Hack" rules. A perfect combination that always delivers. Because of the lack of chairs, I often had to referee standing up.

As I'd feared, the noise from the PA could be a problem - not during the celebrity panels so much, but mainly when the host tried to whip up the audience in between. She was LOUD. Also, Steve Guttenberg - from "Police Academy" - wasn't at the convention but had sent a short message explaining his absence recorded on his iPhone - which they showed every five minutes between panels. That got a bit trying.

I also had to move my gaming table when the queue to see "Sting" got so long that it began to run right past us.

My fourth game was Steampunk again,  for a family of four. When I gave my standard intro - which included the bit about Darwin finding Dinosaurs in Australia - the daughter's eyes lit up, so I ran my "One of our dinosaurs is missing" scenario.

The fifth game was "The Delian Tomb" again. This was for a family of three but I grabbed a passerby to make up the numbers. It was the classic situation of the mother not wanting to play because she was "no good at games" and then having a great time.

My sixth and last game was Superheroes - "Superheroes vs. dinosaurs".

After 4pm things began to wind down a bit, but having run 6 one hour games in the 9 hour convention day (9am to 6pm) I count it a moderate success. Most of the players were complete newbies to the hobby. I also managed to sell a "Role Play Relief" book.

l went to see Captain Marvel in the evening. (When did cinemas get so expensive?)

I got up early for breakfast - "help yourself continental" at that hour. The 24hr reception guy asked what I was in Liverpool for. When I explained,  he asked “which genre”? !  It turns out he’s a Warhammer/Bloodbowl player - and a silversmith who makes figures and Dragons out of silver and semi-precious stones. The world is getting smaller!

I got to the hall early again and stole back the chairs from the stands that had raided me on Saturday, covering them with my table cover between use.

It was another successful day with six games:

1. Superheroes vs Dinosaurs. One player was a young lady who'd been introduced to 5th Ed D&D at the gaming cafe stand on Saturday. The freedom of TTRPGs was going to her head a bit. All she wanted was a Raptor as a pet to set it on people to eat. This lead to a Hero vs Hero fight with one of her more moral team-mates. Oh, and everything they tried to close the portal to the past just kept making it bigger - so we ended up with Dinosaurs overrunning Birmingham.
2. A Grandmother and her two primary school age grandsons. One had the 5th Ed starter set and wanted advice on how to get started. I ran my usual "The Delian Tomb" adventure and pointed them towards the Gaming Cafe.
3. Another run out for "One of our dinosaurs is missing". Quote of the game from Lady Melissa "Well done, Lucius. I shall save my pheromones for another day!"
4. "The Delian Tomb" again, this time I nearly had a "Total Party Kill". Sometimes the adventure is easy. Other times it's a killer.
5. "The Delian Tomb" AGAIN. We had a couple of players with more joining in later, so I steered them towards to hidden final room to allow the latecomers to play a bit more.
6. I rounded off my games with a Dr Who adventure. I had 6 players including the raptor-lover from earlier in the day. She wanted to play Hitler which I - foolishly - allowed.  Her companion chose to play The Queen . As you'd guess, things went a bit wacky, with characters being sucked out into space as one of the more mundane encounters. I only went with this as it was the last game of the convention and it was what the six players wanted.

Things petered out later in the day again so I was able to watch and enjoy the "Firefly" panel - and hear them moan about the constant showing of the Steve Guttenberg video.

One of my weaknesses is that I don’t yet have a “where to next” leaflet or business card to hand out. Of the dozens of people I introduced to the hobby this weekend. I don't know how many will be taking it up. I gave anyone who asked my email address, directed them to the local Gaming Cafe and to the online forum “The Tavern”.

That aside, 12 fun one hour games in 2 days is a success, so I may be back again next year.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Convergence 2019

Convergence 2019 - Stockport

TLDR: seems small but delivers a full weekend of games - Friday to Sunday - at a good venue.

This was the third Convergence convention. I first found out about it last year but had to drop out due to conflicting claims on my time. So this was my first one.

It's in Stockport, which I'm familiar with due to my bi-annual visits to StabCon in the same town. It's based at Element Games - which occupies several massive rooms in what seems to be a redeveloped warehouse. There are inexpensive hotels just over the road - though I chose to get a taxi to and from the one StabCon takes place in.

The venue is very impressive. Through the doors is a games store packed from floor ceiling with all manner of games and accessories. Through this is a massive hall with a basic cafe type counter - selling mainly drinks , including bottled beers, and snacks. There are supposed to be food offerings on site but these seemed limited. However, the venue allows you to order in food from outside - there is a pizza menu on the counter - or bring in your own. There are shops and a fish and chip shop only a couple of minutes from the front door of the venue.

The hall is full of tables which are mainly used - it seems - for Wargames. The walls are stacked from floor to ceiling with all manner of massively impressive Wargames scenery, from all ages and genres, and battles maps abound. You feel the urge to grab some to use on your table.

The convention is a full weekend convention - that is it offers a Friday night games slot, three on Saturday and two on Sunday. There were loads of Wargames but how many were native to the venue and how many "belonged" to the convention I couldn't tell.

TTRPGs are partly prebooked using WarHorn with some places being reserved for sign up at the event. Prebooking was sporadic, and the event seemed to be rather quiet. However, half a dozen games ran in most slots, most with full tables. They seemed to be mainly standard games such as 5th Ed, Pathfinder, StarFinder, Cthulhu, Traveller, Paranoia etc. However there were several interesting "skins" - including
Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog. The Pathfinder game was one full weekend adventure run by a personable and extremely impressive "Iron GM" I know.

I offered games in all six slots. And ran games in 5. The Great Martian Tripod race, two d6 Hack classic Dungeons from White Dwarf and Dungeon Magazine, a Manifold Horror game and a Code of the Spacelanes game. All - bar possibly the last - were great fun with good players who just wanted to have a good time. I also played in a 5th Ed game with lots of Bling.

The number of games fell to three per slot by Sunday. Many people seemed to treat the convention as a one day event, coming just on Saturday. My last game on Sunday only had two players. I can run a good game for two players. I can run a good game when I'm tired. I can run a good game when the players are tired. I can reskin a Blakes Seven scenario on the fly if a player has already played the Dr Who scenario I was intending to run. But I found it hard to manage all four at the same time and the scenario finished early without a satisfying climax. So, for me, my last game was a bit limp. The heating at the venue also seemed to be struggling by then and things got a bit cold. So I left a bit early.

Convergence is a small, friendly, convention at a good venue in an area with lots of inexpensive accommodation, making it a cheap residential convention with offer and delivers plenty of TTRPGs. Nothing flash, just fun.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Revelation 2019 by Nigel Clarke

Revelation 2019

This was the third Revelation which is one of the weekend cons that run at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield several times a year. Revelation, Seven Hills, North Star, Longcon and Furnace round out the list (although there's a PFS con that uses the hotel for a con as well). Revelation focuses on Powered by the Apocalypse games.

As usual there was a varied selection of games and about 40 attendees. Things start around 10 am on Saturday although there is always a group in the bar Friday evening to start the con off on the right note of sociability.

Games slots are 10 to 2pm, 2.30 to 6.30 and 8 till midnight on Saturday. Sunday slots are 10 to 2pm and 2:30 to 6:30. All the games were pre-booked through the good graces of Elaine, the Games Czarina, so there was none of the scrum to sign up that characterises some other conventions.

As the con is laser focused on PBtA games most if not all of the attendees know the basic mechanics of the system and it's only variants or odd differences that need explaining and that cuts down on explanation time at the start of a game.

I ran two games and played in a double slot game. Saturday afternoon I ran Vagabonds of Dyfed a mashup of PBtA mechanics and OSR style D&D and used the Dark Sun style city of Dortoka as the setting. Seemed to work pretty well and another GM ran the core game in two further slots.

Saturday evening I ran a game of Cartel. Much mayhem happened in the city of Durango Mexico and drugs were moved towards the US but foot soldiers died as did civilians in droves due to the gang war between the player's Cartel and Los Zetas. Again loads of great roleplay and a lot of fun.

Sunday I signed up for a double slot game of Legacy with the Generation Ship supplement. The game uses Families to play at the higher level of intrigue and politicking and individuals to play at the character level. This led to a bit of confusion when switching from high level to low level play.

The game played out as a sort of Metamorphosis Alpha and was loads of fun but for a con game I think I'd go with pregenned Families and allow the players to choose playbooks to ensure things got to the action quickly. A double slot allowed us the luxury of going through the whole Family and PC character gen stuff.

I left at about 5:15 to catch a train home and the con wrapped up an hour or so later. The date for should be February 2020 I'll be booking a spot for one of the friendliest gaming cons about.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Congestion Games Day II - a report by Darran Sims

Congleton Games Day II
Saturday 23rd February 2019

Set off nice and early from Derby on the train taking in the misty landscape from the train window as I crossed counties. I got to Congleton with no issues and arrived in pleasant sunshine.
With a short hop in a taxi to the venue due to my broken leg still healing, I got there with the Games Day in full flow. The venue was a church community hall, stone built with modern amenities, and accessed through the graveyard. I was greeted warmly on arrival at the reception desk and offered help and assistance in joining games.
There were over forty people in attendance in the church hall with seven full tables of roleplaying games, board games, and war games taking place. More people arrived during the afternoon too so it was nice and busy.
They also had a huge board game library of new games and a Bring & Buy stall too.

As my game wasn’t taking place until the afternoon I joined in a board game based on the film ‘The Thing’. There were seven players for an intense game of trying to survive in the Antarctic Outpost with an alien thing infecting the human crew. I managed to remain human throughout but the things were able to beat us. It was a fun game to play so I hope to try it again soon.

Next I set up my Tales from the Loop game, Atomic Butterflies and Feral Buddleia. I had six players signed up but only four players showed up, two being a father with his young son. He was the youngest player I have ever had at my gaming table.

I started straight away with character generation and we got some cracking characters.
We had young Joe Thompson, a Hick with a German Shepard called Dave as a companion and a love of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’.
His older brother was Tucker Thompson, a Troublemaker armed with a sharp knife and constantly plays Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’.
Next up was the Weirdo called Ratty, carrying his pet rat Stubs, who rocks out to ‘Touch’ by Daft Punk.
Last but not least is the Computer Geek, Maximilian Smyth, who listens to AC/DC ‘TNT’ as he codes his computer.
Their Hideout was an old barn with a cellar on Stocker Flats Farm with electrical power for a TV and multiple computers. There were comics, board games, magazines scattered around and a nice supply of cigarettes and alcohol.

The game started with scenes from home life and the Thompson Brothers were doing their chores and collecting hens eggs. They noticed two of the laying chickens had escaped out of the chicken coop and were nowhere to be found. Joe fixed the hole in the chicken wire whilst Tucker followed the tracks of the two chickens. The chickens were gone, escaped beyond the farm boundaries so they could only hope they return of their own volition.
Ratty wasn’t at home but instead was with his friend, Simon the Conspiracy Theorist, who was tending his ‘tomato plants’ and mumbling about missing pets, Government vans, and thunderstorms.
Max was at home on his own, emptying the food cupboards to fill his back pack full up of sweets, crisps, and bottles of Coca Cola before heading out to the Hideout.

The Kids has no real plans so headed to the ‘Meadow’ to play. The ‘Meadow’ is waste ground near the Loop Facility that was destined to be a housing development but the Government stopped the works. Trenches were dug for the utilities and the foundations before the work stopped so the whole area has been left fallow, overgrown with weeds and summer flowers. It’s ideal to play in and out of the trenches, games like War, British Bulldog, Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, and the like.

As the Kids investigate the area they discover strange contraptions, lots of little bones, an absence of animal life, unusual tracks, and stories of missing pets.
When the Winfields, a family of school bullies, arrive on the scene then things heat up and the adventure continues.

It is the first time I have ran this game that the players chose not to seek the help of their ‘cool’ science teacher, but instead got the help from the annoying school swot, Specky Neubert. It is also the first time the Kids used the Atomic Butterflies *against* the Feral Buddleia, that was a nice touch to get rid of both issues in one fell swoop!

This was a great game, the father and son team playing brothers was sweet to behold and the rest of the players were creative and also did a great job keeping the content clean for the young player.

The Games Day was great too. The new venue works very well. The kitchen with flowing coffee, cake and chilli con carne was a marvellous too. The attendance for a con held in a provincial town was high, better than some big city conventions that have been running for years.
Well done to the organisers and the volunteers for such a great convention day. Let’s hope that they continue for years to come.


The Dudley Bug Ball

Dudley Bug Ball

TLDR: a small convention punching above it's weight. Massive range of activities on offer. Incredibly friendly.

There's a history to The Dudley Bug Ball. Apparently it used to run regularly a decade or so ago, successfully - progressing to the Birmingham Hilton before even Expo got there. Then it petered out.

I knew nothing about all this (though I may have visited one with my son when he was going up). So when the comeback was announced, I didn't know what to expect. I was torn because it was on the same date as the wonderful ConQuord in Bristol.

But given that it was nearer and cheaper, and one of the organisers personally approached me about coming, I opted to give it a go. Rather than offer games in the organised TTRPG track, I enquired if my "Choose Your Adventure" set up of one hour introductory adventures would be appropriate and was told it would be. As is typical for UK conventions, they had plenty of Referees willing to offer games.

Dudley Bug Ball is a one-day convention in a Big hotel in Dudley in the West Midlands. I'd call it an extended one-day convention because it was timed to run from 10:00am to 11:00pm. (More on that later.)

As I live in Birmingham, I could have travelled to and from the event in a day but that would have meant leaving before the official end time of the event (as I said,  more on that later) and I wanted to give it my full support. So I booked into the hotel where the event was due to take place for the Saturday evening. £25 for the night. (Actually I visit a lot of places and had accrued some points with my booking web-site and got the room for £4.) That was so cheap that I decided to book in Friday night as well. I had a lot to carry on public transport - my Demo set up and Role Play Relief books to sell - and travelling at leisure Friday afternoon meant I'd be fresh for the big day.

I travelled by train and taxi as the fastest option. But in hindsight, bus might have been better. The hotel isn't right by a train station and buses go straight to the hotel.

It's been a few decades since I've visited Dudley. The Hotel was near the famous Zoo. Alas from the outside it seems to have fallen on hard times. I'm sure there are nicer,  more modern parts of Dudley but the bit the hotel and zoo are in seems to have been abandoned in a cul-de-sac of history. Let's just say that if you were filming a post apocalyptic Mad-Max type film, you wouldn't be short of backdrops or locations to shoot in.

The Hotel itself is massive. As I'd expected from the dirt cheap price tag, it was a typical "faded glory" place that must have had a great hey-day in the mid 20th century. Peeling paint but some glorious architectural features. However, it's far less run down than most establishments of its ilk because of the wonderful friendly staff. And it's busy busy busy with event after event. Dudley Bug Ball was just one of several it was hosting that weekend.

(The Friday evening I arrived it was hosting a Psychic Fair. The Hotel Facebook page announced that one of the mediums attending had been replaced due to "unforeseen circumstances"! True story.)

One of the organisers booked a table for us at a famous nearby "Pie Factory" where we enjoyed good company, Black Country ales and various forms of comfort food. Then back to the Hotel for more socialising and drinks in the hotel bar.

I paid extra for breakfast the following morning. Inexpensive and generally of the standard you'd expect - though there were a couple of touches that again showed the staff were trying to exceed the hotel's limitations. (The sprigs of Parsley on the sausages and bacon trays was a bit odd, but the fresh strawberries and raspberries in the fruit course were a bonus.)

The convention itself was based around a vaulted banqueting hall, adjacent to the hotel bar. The convention offered:

- traders (mostly indie/unusual publishers, artists, etc.)
- Demonstration games (board games, pathfinder, 5th Ed, general TTRPGs)
- A full range of TTRPGs in three organised slots across the day*
- Bring and buy
- Raffle

In other words, it was a full and proper CONVENTION in every meaning of the word - rather than being just a "Games Day".

In addition most (I think all) attendees got a free figure of "Duggley" the convention Icon - a nice touch.

* though some were pre-advertised, games were signed up for on the day at a table at one end of the main hall. The organisers had prepared sheets for pre-advertised games but people were free to offer games on the day. Games took place in nearby smaller rooms away from the hall. I didn't take part in any of this but think they were the usual 3-4 hour slots and people seemed to have a good time. (Though the planned third slot didn't materialise. See below.)

In fact, the TTRPGs were so popular that, when they were on, the main hall went a bit quiet. During those times there was a lot of networking amongst the traders and game demonstrators.

For myself, I ran three one-hour demonstrations across the day. Two were my standard The Black Hack version of The Delian Tomb to introduce newbies to "D&D". In both cases I had a couple of young people new to the hobby rounded out by one or two Grognards who seemed to really enjoy holding themselves in check to help the newbies enjoy themselves. The demo delivered as always.

The third of these was a steampunk adventure "The Great Airship Robbery" with three Grognards new to the genre/system. They managed to shoot down the captured airship in the channel before it got to France but were blasted out of the sky as they descended to finish it off, ending up in a French prison. Great fun!

I'd call it a 50% hit rate for the day. I got to run several games but could have run more.

I was flattered to be asked to call the raffle. I seem to be developing a reputation for getting through them quickly. As usual companies had been extremely generous and there were loads of great prizes worth an inestimable value.

Before the raffle two awards were given out (voted for by attendees) - for best independent published game and best demonstration game.  There was one for best Cosplay but there had been none evident on the day.

There was also a speech which explained why the convention had been brought back on this date in honour of the organisers' son. This was nicely handled and life-affirming rather than maudlin.

After the raffle, all of the traders left and so did most of the attendees. Amongst the people left, there wasn't any interest in putting together one last TTRPG. So the day ended with some drinking and socialising in the bar.

And this is what alway seems to happen at "extended game days" in my experience. (Concrete Cow, Dragonmeet et al.) Unless attendees are very local, then travelling down early, attending morning and afternoon and travelling back up at night is far more cost effective than staying for the evening session and paying for a hotel room for the night.

I'm merely making an observation, not making a value judgement. It would be nice if something could be offered on Sunday morning, but that would involve a whole new level of expense and organisation. So I don't have any suggestions to make.

For me though, that sort of sums up Dudley Bug Ball. The organisers came back with huge plans and delivered a well organised convention with a full programme of activities. On the day there were, I believe, fewer than  70 attendees so things looked at bit sparse at times. But the convention covered its costs and delivered over £500 to a very worthwhile charity. (More when the spare "Duggley" figures are sold). And even if people spent a significant minority of their time networking with friends old and new, rather than gaming, everyone enjoyed themselves. The whole event had a friendly atmosphere. So, by any measure, it was a success and I'm pleased to say it will happen again next year.

What I will say is that in its current form the convention has massive capacity for expansion. It could easily cope with double the number of attendees without changing a single thing or offering any more activities. And they'd have a great day out. But Dudley seems to me to be a little bit out of gate way for many casual convention attendees. So I'm not sure where we're going to find them from.

I hope we DO find them though, because Dudley Bug Ball is a proper old-school convention that deserves to succeed.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

SCJ3a - another great day out

TLDR: small, friendly, relaxed "decide what you want to do on the day" event in Central Birmingham. Nice.

Spaghetti ConJunction is a sweet little games day in central Birmingham which I  was lucky enough to set up with James Mullen and Matthew "Pookie" Pook. We offer two days per year at Geek Retreat in Central Birmingham - one in February and one in October. I believe that our "a" day in February is the first non-residential TTRPG con in the country each year.

This one was 3a. (In our third year already?) Prior to the event Pookie does a superb job of posting press releases and I had some fliers printed. We invite people to submit games they intend to offer but nothing is decided until the day itself. There is no prebooking.

I, myself, planned to offer a scenario from the "Role Play Relief" books - which had just become available - and a 13th Doctor adventure. However, as the day neared, I came down with quite a nasty infection in my larynx and - come the day - decided not to referee unless absolutely necessary.

The three amigos met at a bistro round the corner for breakfast and a chat. We don't actually chat much except at SCJ and maybe Concrete Cow. Checked social media and swapped messages with a few attendees. Just before start time - 10:00am - we went to Geek Retreat. As always the proprietor was on his way and there was a crowd waiting outside - I'd say about 2/3 for SCJ and 1/3 Geek Retreat regulars. Door was opened about 10:01 and it was a mad dash upstairs - the whole top floor is ours for the day - to get started. I sat at a table and just started taking money (£3 for a ticket, £1 for raffle tickets). By the time that mad blur was over, we were ready to start. There were about 30 people present and 8 games on offer. Some people bring preprinted sign up sheets but about half were hand-written on the day using a pile we provided. I didn't need to offer a game.

I felt able to do the intros, but it turned out to be a nice blend of the three of us chipping in.

Signups are organised. Newbies get first dibs. Then the numbers from 0-9 are drawn in order. If you have an entry ticket ending in that digit you get to sign up. The order is reversed in the afternoon to make it fair.

Most games filled with 3-6 players. One didn't get any and one only gained one sign up - so that referee and those players swapped to other games. The Dr Who referee kindly agreed to run with two players and take in any late arrivals.

Maze and Minotaurs, Dr Who, Is it a plane? (running a Zootopia scenario), Dungeon Crawl Classics, 5th Ed and something Runequesty with Trolls.

I didn't feel well enough to play and sat at the desk for the morning, sorting my social media, folding raffle tickets, chatting with the proprietor and people during breaks etc. There was one late arrival who I introduced to the Dr Who game.

Everything seemed to go smoothly with a steady flow of food being brought to the table by staff. With the morning slot running from 10:30 to 2:30 it's best to eat your lunch (usually a burger or toasted ciabatta) at your table.

Games wrapped up 2:00pm-2:30pm. We put out the raffle prizes. 17 total with the total retail value probably being worth more than the entire convention. Pookie has some extremely generous contacts in the hobby.

I ran the raffle very quickly. Unfortunately I failed to time it exactly,  but we all agreed it was under 3 minutes to get all 17 prizes drawn and claimed. So that's a rate of 10 seconds per item.

(Beat that Grogmeet!)

There didn't seem to be quite as many afternoon games offered and  there had been a couple of late arrivals swelling the numbers. So the Dr Who and IIAP/Zootopia games were offered for a second time.

Both filled. As for the rest there were a LOT of games which ended up with two players. I've never seen that before. There was a bit of horse trading and I think we ended up with six games -

Dr Who, IIAP, Inspectres, Lovecraftesque, 5th and something OSR.  I decided to join in the Lovecraftesque game, taking the table from 3 to 4 players. The game was fine - better than Fiasco, not as good as Intrepid. I'm not a huge fan of "wicker man" type pre doomed horror. But we had a fun and eclectic table. The guy offering it was doing it as his first time facilitating a game at a convention. We had another player only used to die-based TTRPGs. Another who was new to the country from Italy - at the convention to practice his English. And me.

The game wrapped up after two hours with a satisfying ending that I wouldn't have predicted from the outset.

I felt a bit better and offered to run a short 13th Doctor adventure to fill the time. As none of them were familiar with the new Doctor, they chose to play the three companions with the Dr being mysteriously ill. They were searching for some medical tech to help her - in an edited version of that usual Dr Who scenario I've been running for 5 years (it won't die!) They found a really high tech medical device which could cure all human ills, put the Doctor in and - yup - Cyber Doctor! Great fun.

Though games were due to run until 7:30 they seemed to wrap up from 6:30 onwards - though the 5th Ed game ran until the end.

SCJ is always pot luck for us. We don't know how many people will turn up on the day and what games will be offered or will turn out to be popular. It's a "suck it and see" event. And all the better for that.

I'm happy with the 30-40 size we had this time but am also happy we've got capacity  to increase in size if we get a rush one day. It's in a good location, well timed in the year. There's a small hard core who seem to always come and always many new faces. But though the people might change, the type of people that attend are always the same. Calm, friendly, fun, relaxed. It's just a nice way to spend the day. Thanks guys!