Saturday, 27 April 2019

DevaCon III - 27th April 2019 - Chester

DevaCon III - Chester 27th April 2019.

DevaCon is a typical one day, three slot, games day held annually in Chester. What makes it slightly different from most other similar events on "the circuit" is that it's organised by the Stygian Fox TTRPG publishers, a small but - as far as I can see - successful company. So I'd describe it as a "semi-professional" event rather than the  "amateur" ones we usually see.

Before the event, Referees are asked to submit games but there is no prebooking. This seems to be mainly to promote the event and so that the organisers can keep an eye on the games vs players numbers and - I presume - the range and type of games offered.

Tickets are sold on-line through a professional booking website in advance of the event. They can be bought at the event itself but are slightly more expensive. Because the event takes place at a high quality hotel the convention tickets are a bit higher than those for similar amateur events, but the more salubrious setting justifies this.

As usual for "Games Days" I arranged to travel to the event in the morning and travel back in the evening, missing the third gaming session. (To stay for the third slot would mean I'd have to stay at a hotel overnight, which isn't usually worth the cost for just one more game session.)

I set off early and, despite British Rail delays and attempts to derail me, arrived at the event early. The convention takes place in a large conference room in the hotel but we were asked to wait outside - in a comfy area with chairs - whilst final setting up took place. This was a pleasant and social atmosphere. However, when there was a slight delay with the ticketing system, someone took out the sign up sheet for his morning game and some people signed up to it. So we all took out our sign up sheets and touted for players, which was a bit chaotic.

However, there was an extremely co-operative and nice atmosphere and the signups actually seemed to go well.

After a few minutes, we were allowed into the room and told our tickets would be checked later. The rooms contained 6 TTPRG tables, a further demo table with an impressive 3D fantasy town set up, a local TTRPG trader and a desk where we could order food and drink laid on especially for the convention. Being a decent hotel it was a very pleasant room with table covers on every table.

As usual I'd been concerned about getting players for my game as its not one of my local/regular events. I needn't have worried. Every one of the six tables seemed to have a full complement of 5-6 players plus referee. The match of Games offered to number of players seemed almost perfect. (That's actually an understatement. It seemed perfect.)

I had 5 players for my 13th Doctor game. All new to me, so I was able to trot out my "standard" scenario that I've been running for 5 years and refereed dozens of times. This time we had The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and two "guest stars" - a Caveman and The Marquis de Sade(!)

Great players. Much scenery chewed. The convention organiser personally went round every table to see the Referees and buy them each a drink as thanks.

At lunchtime I bought some of the "nerd food" laid on especially for the convention. This was well priced - much cheaper than the food and drink on offer in the hotel bar. (At the bar Lager was £5.10 per pint, exactly £2 more than my local club. This is the one drawback with holding conventions in hotels IMHO.)

The afternoon was pretty much the same as the morning. Every table was full. Everyone seemed to be having great games and there was a large variety of systems on offer. There was one 5th ed game and every other table seemed to have a different system. I got 6 players for my Manifold East End Heist game. These players were so proactive that when the organiser came around to offer to buy the free afternoon drink, she had to double check that I was actually refereeing the game because I was just sitting and watching.

Rather than the usual thugs I often see made for this scenario, many players made thinking/sociable characters. This combined with some great dice rolls meant that they worked their way around most of the bank's defences before even setting foot in the place. Luckily there were a couple of more "hands on" characters and we had enough kidnapping and intimidation to bring the Police down on the gang and get their mugs plastered on the TV news.

Because the bank raid went so smoothly, I actually had time to play the dark twisted "bait and switch" ending I'd always planned for this adventure - but it ended up even darker than I'd planned. (Think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets Night of the Demon, with most of the characters being co-opted by the Demon to torment and shred their friend's soul.....)

I sold one of my leftover Role Play Relief books and gave some to the trade stand  upon their promise to send any money they made from selling them directly to Comic Relief and left early to catch my train home.

DevaCon is a great day out. Slightly more expensive than most similar games days but slightly posher. I really nice crowd, with a really nice atmosphere in a superior setting. Good stuff! It would be nice if this were held twice a year like Concrete Cow and Spaghetti ConJunction.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Seven Hills 2019

Seven Hills 2018 - Theme Historical

TLDR: a nice weekend of Role-playing. Not a single thing out of place.

Anyone who doesn't know yet should. The Garrison Hotel is the northern hub of TTRPG conventions with something like six there every year. Seven Hills is still the young cousin of the grand-daddy of the Garrison cons - Furnace - with the same excellent 5 slot, with limited presigns, set up. It's just a bit smaller, a bit more intimate,  a bit more relaxed and has an annual theme. This year it was "Historical".

The convention has a plethora of excellent Referees and, as usual, the presign system encourages you to offer two games and play in three. You have to submit your games several months in advance, to allow the presign system to work. I'll admit my tastes in TTRPGs run to more outrageous fantasies (hey, I STARTED with Superheroes) and the Historical theme didn't ring any bells with me. So I submitted a couple of bland signups (Sherlock Holmes has been killed, investigate his murder and Something has gone wrong with Time, The Doctor is missing, investigate) planning to write the actual scenarios nearer to the event.

Come the convention and I hadn't actually had any ideas as to what to write.

Because I got to loads of conventions, I usually travel up to the Garrison events Saturday morning, stay one night, and travel back Sunday. They are not weekend conventions, they are two day conventions. Friday night is just "socialising". So saying one night makes economic sense.

At the last minute, however, I decided to travel up Friday and use the evening to finally write my games. But I got involved in socialising in the bar. And eating and drinking. The beer is a reasonable price and the food at The Garrison is always good. What was nice about the evening was new people walking up and introducing themselves. Somehow we must have just looked like gamers to all the new faces.

So I got up really early Saturday morning and sat down with Wikipedia and an exercise book to write my Saturday game. To my joy I discovered a real Victorian scandal which the Royal Family might have killed Holmes to cover up and loads of other events which happened on the random date I'd chosen to set my game. It virtually wrote itself - though I decided the Royal Family hadn't done the dirty deed. The Germans had done it intending to bring the scandal into the open and frame them.

There were signs of refurbishment in the Garrison rooms and at breakfast. Smashed Avocado was available.  The "Full Yorkshire Breakfast" was described as being "sprinkled with cubed spring onions" which, luckily, didn't actually materialise.

My first game was "The Blue Planet". Not actually historical being science fiction. It was a playtest of the new 3rd edition starter set. I played a dolphin. We also had a semi-gorilla game warden, ex-marine boat pilot, a human adapted to life in water and a young businessman. Great setting. Good starter scenario with a very strong opening. Confident and experienced referee and an adequate game system that is probably more fun to read than to play.

Though the food at The Garrison is good and worth the money, it's a lot cheaper to nip over to the nearby supermarket to buy lunch - which I did.

My Sherlock Holmes game was offered in the afternoon. However, I wasn't  certain it would run. I'm competing with some elite referees at Seven Hills. As it turned out, I did get three players, all old friends. Two of them are a wonderful German couple that always seem to pick my game when I've got German bad guys!

The scenario I'd thrown together that morning went like a breeze. Excellent players loving the actual historical twists and turns. An ex-army surgeon/barber, a persona non-grata "gentleman" and John Watson's estranged brother teamed up to solve the mystery and ended up changing history. And luckily I didn't need the "it was the Germans all the time" twist. This scenario is going in the bank and I'm going to run it again. One player commented that he'd gone from a scenario in the morning where the referee had loads of props and had three device screens going at once to mine - with handwritten notes in an exercise book - and both were good.

You prebook your meals at lunchtime so after the game it was easy to decamp to the bar to collect it. I spent the time between the afternoon and evening games socialising again. This is unusual for me. There was just such a nice atmosphere.

Then the evening games. This was Owl Hoot trail, the D&D western with Elves, Orc, a halfling gunslinger and me - a steampunk dwarf - investigating zombie-based shenanigans in a frontier down. I loved the OSR rules which encouraged much scenery eating from the experienced players. A brilliant end to the first day.

On Sunday I got up early again to write my "something is wrong with time" scenario. Again, Wikipedia gave me a string of historical dates to hang the game on. And it became clear as I wrote who the villains just HAD to be.

I opted for the lighter "Eggs Benendict" breakfast and the portion was massive.

My game was due to run in the first session. Again I got three players but this time they were new to my games. The Timelords chose to send "The Vetinarian" to investigate in lieu of The Doctor. Shows what they think of humanity. She picked up a far future Janitor and an 18th century French Musketeer. It went well - despite the Timelord piloting her Tardis straight into a black hole followed by a supernova (double critical) -  but ran short. However, everyone was happy with this. I'd overbought at Morrisons the day before so still had loads of food left for lunch, though The Garrison does offer an excellent Sunday Lunch.

After lunch was the raffle - well managed and not tedious with excellent prizes. And the announcement of next year's theme - "Punk".

Though I could have presigned for the afternoon game, I hadn't. I went to the sign up sheets after the queue had died down and got into a Vikingrs game (not a typo) involved a shipwreck, monastery, Troll and Demon. Good on-trope fun.

I travelled home with friends - more socialising - on a train that was criminally over-crowded.

Seven Hills was, for me, a perfect event. Perfect synergy of hotel and convention with good value food and drink. Numbers seemed a bit down and - being hypercritical - I was reminded of the old "Incredibles" observation - "when everyone's special no-one will be". It was an event of all highs with no lows to act as contrast.  Literally just too good to be true.

And so flipping friendly that even a socially awkward sod like me enjoyed the chatting in between games.

It doesn't get any better than this.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

For your consideration....

I used to maintain a list of conventions on my blog. However, since I discovered this wonderful list maintained by David Wright, gave up:

I publicise those as much as I can and advise you all to check it regularly.

Recently, however, I've realised some things:

1. the list contains raw data. It just gives raw basic facts. Nothing to help you choose one over another.
2. Though I report on a lot of conventions here, if you like a report and think "I'd like to go THERE" you've usually got 12 months to wait.
3. My reports are intended to highlight the good things about this hobby. I don't tend to say anything negative about an event on the "if you can't say anything good..." principle.

But if you're think of trying out some TTRPG conventions, you might find some more proactive information useful.

So here is a list of upcoming events in the UK with some quick comments. It's my intention to highlight some hidden gems, encourage you to come and enable your planning.

I haven't listed every event. Some because I don't know about them and some for the reason I stated above. Just because I don't list an event that you find out about doesn't mean YOU shouldn't go.

I'll tell you which of these events I intend to visit. Remember that in between these I'll be going to SciFi, Steampunk, Comicons etc. promoting TTRPGs.


CONPULSION - Edinburgh Fri 5th-Sun 7th April
Basically the Edinburgh University student union convention but it's been running for years passed from committee to committee with an excellent set structure. Punches well above its weight with games, traders, seminars, quizzes, auctions and other events. Superb venue - student union with bars with cheap beer and food in an historical building.  Getting to Edinburgh and finding accommodation there can be pricey. I used to absolutely LOVE this event because it had slightly shorter game slots with seminars in between which let you do BOTH. At most events you had to choose. I was happy to pay to fly up from Birmingham. Recently they extended the game slots so now you have to choose between gaming and  seminars like at most events. This plus it conflicting with Seven Hills (below) means I'm not going this year. Oh, and it's lists itself as a Friday to Sunday convention but not much happens on Friday.

But I still highly recommend it - especially if you're local.

SEVEN HILLS - Garrison Hotel, Sheffield Sat 8th to Sun 9th April
You'll notice I list the venue as well as the town with some conventions. That's because The Garrison has become a TTRPG fixture and you can pretty much guarantee any event there is going to be great. 7 Hills is actually the little brother of the immaculate FURNACE (see below). Well organised. General TTRPGs - not much 5th Ed etc here. It's USP is the fact that each year has a theme - this year it's "historical" - which forces the excellent referees to be super-inventive. In fact so many superb referees attend that they have to make sure no one offers too many games. So I'll be offering two games and playing in three.  The organisation and co-ordination with the hotel is seamless.

Oh, and it advertises itself as a two day convention but the Friday night, slot zero, chat in the bar is well worth turning up for.

Close to perfection.

DEVACON. - Chester Sat 27th Apr
A well-meaning one day, three game slot event at a proper hotel in Chester, organised by Stygian Fix a small publishing house. Wide range of systems on offer and a well organised and friendly event. Punching slightly below its weight given the quality of the venue. (If you're a "grown up" and you're now used to your comforts, you'll feel happy here.) An event that is trying to do everything right and deserves more attention and needs to grow a bit.

I'll be going to this one, probably treating it as a day out - arriving in the morning, offering two games and then going home before the evening slot.

If you're free this Saturday can get to Chester  it's well worth your attention.

CONTROLL - Dorchester Sat 27th April
Another well organised three game-slot Games day. This time in the historic "Corn Exchange" in Dorchester. When I went the USP was that food was included which meant everyone queued and ate together in between games making it a really friendly event with a real family feel. Lovely. Alas it's too far away from me to be treated as a day out and I can't justify the travel and accommodation  costs for one day of gaming, no matter how good.

If you're free this Saturday and can get to Dorchester  it's well worth your attention.

(Aside: I think I've just found one thing the Romans DID do for us - gave us a couple of great TTRPG venues.)

NORTH STAR - Garrison Hotel, Sheffield Sat 11th - Sun 12th May
Science Fiction themed event at the Garrison Hotel with all the superb organisation this implies. I was going to this one but then a personal event conflicted. (I DO have a life outside TTRPGs, apparently.) I've never been to a North Star but I know it's going to be good because - hey - it's at the Garrison. A no-brainer especially for SciFi TTRPG buffs.

UK GAMES EXPO - Birmingham NEC Fri 31st May - Sun 2nd Jun
The big one. Everyone should go to Expo. They do everything right. The only issues are that it's so big that it can be overwhelming and that the catering is provided by the convention centre and attached hotels and their aim seems to be the gouge the captive audience. But both of these are worth putting up with because this event is just so bloody good.

In fact it's TOO good. You could split yourself into 5 clones and still not do everything. You have to plan your event in advance to get the best out of it. You can just turn up and you'll have a fantastic time, guaranteed. But you'll end up going away feeling you missed something.

I'll be there. I usually run EIGHT TTRPGs across the weekend but this time I'm going to try (try) to limit myself to a mere five so that I can attend some of the other stuff at UKGE.

If it's your first time, I'd plan to come for one day. Friday preferably. (Saturday gets really busy and Sunday doesn't have an evening slot.) Travel down early and back late. Bring a packed lunch.  Or eat at the food huts the organisers have set up in the car park outside the Hilton Hotel. Still a bit pricey but, unlike the Exhibition Hall fare, well worth the money. Do the trade hall in the morning, book into a TTRPG in the afternoon, book into a show/event in the evening and travel home at night. You'll arrive home after midnight, knackered but the happiest you've ever been.

If you want to do the weekend, remember there's open gaming on Thursday night. It's well worth turning up Thursday evening to collect your tickets early (much less queuing) and start the event early. I wouldn't pay for a hotel on the NEC campus. They're expensive enough normally but for Expo they seem to double their prices. There are plenty of cheaper options nearby. You came easily travel in and out by train each day from nearby locations - even Birmingham city centre itself.

You have no reason NOT to come to EXPO.

SUMMER STABCON - Stockport Fri 5th - Sun 7th Jul
Large long running family board game and TTRPG event in a cheap hotel Stockport. The level of integration between the hotel and convention is at Garrison levels. I love it. It's one of my regular events, like a comfy old T-shirt. I don't recommend it for beginners, though it's incredibly welcoming and friendly. If you do get along and get in (it's very popular) expect to get hooked and find yourself coming twice a year every year. Missing a StabCon would be like having one of my arms chopped off. I'll be running 5 games and playing in one. (It's the only event where I look forward to playing in a game.)

LONGCON - Garrison Hotel, Sheffield Sat 6th - Sun 7th Jul
A grand experiment and wonderful idea for a convention. You play one game for the entire weekend. A whole campaign in two days. I've attended twice. Once the campaign I offered didn't garner players. The second time I found out that - even though can run 8 separate games in a weekend and once ran a game for a solid 72 hours without sleep - I'm no longer match-fit for this long form gaming. The game I ran was good but was not as magnificent as some of the other memorable  ones offered at the event.

And that's the point. If you come LongCon you will almost certainly play in game that's so immersive that it will stay with you for the rest of your life. I may not think that I can cut it as a Referee here (and fortunately StabCon has stopped me having to decide whether to try again or not) but the other referees here CAN.

It's well worth coming. It might be best to try to book into a game with a referee you've played with before and trust and with at least one other player that you know well, rather than picking a game merely from its description.

It's at the Garrison hotel so you know it's going to be good. Though it IS in the summer so the Napoleonic Gaol Cells - which are such perfect TTRPG venues normally - do get a bit hot and are best avoided.

This is a bold idea and deserves to succeed. Expect a further post in the future waxing lyrical about this event and exhorting you to attend.

GRAND TRIBUNAL - Cheltenham Fri 17/8 - Sun 19/8 August
Originally a convention devoted to the Ars Magica game, this event is now so much more.

The Friday is usually a social meet up at a local eatery and/or hostelry. Nice but not essential. Saturday starts with a short LARP/FreeForm game. It might not be to your tastes - it's not to mine - but it's only a couple of hours and makes a great ice-breaker. And this is what Grand Tribunal is really all about, being sociable and making friends.

After that it's just two days of solid TTRPGs. The games sessions are 2-3 hours in length in place of the usual 3-4 of most conventions, so there are a lot more games which are all short and punchy. Which suits my tastes.

It's  still called Grand Tribunal and there are some hold overs from the old days. There is at least one Ars Magica game offered in each slot and there are a lot of Scandanavian attendees. But there are also several other TTRPGs offered in each slot - Cthulhu/BRP has a good showing but there are others. - so you can do the whole event and not play a single Ars Magica game. (Though the short, often experimental, AM games offered here can be fun. These guys really push the boundaries of the game.)

Cheltenham is a bit pricey to stay at but is pretty accessible from most places. This event is incredibly inclusive and friendly.  It's like it throws its arm around you and welcomes you as an old friend as soon as you get there. It's in a small community centre. The organisers will look after you with offers of lifts, fetching a fish and chips supper etc.

I'm not going this year because it clashes with an SciFi con I HAVE to do.

Alas the event seems to be dwindling a bit so expect further post from me waxing lyrical about Grand Tribunal and exhorting you to go. This is a true hidden gem which most people don't even consider. And they should.

REUNICON - Brighton 31st August
A very good one day, three slot, games day in Brighton. I've been a couple of times and can highly recommend it, if you're local (and I consider commuting from London to be local enough.) Alas it's too far from Birmingham for me to justify the travel and accommodation costs. I HAVE done it as a "day out" in the past, travelling down, doing two slots and travelling back. But with the state of trains in this country, I can't guarantee getting home. (That's a fact, not sarcasm or hyperbole).

A good day out.

CONCRETE COW - Wolverton, Milton Keynes Sat 14th Sep
For me the perfect, essential, one day, three slot games day. The one that wrote the rulebook. The one everyone should attend.  It's a fixture on my convention calendar. I usually treat it as a day out, travelling down in the morning, offering games in two slots and travelling back in the evening. It's so good, though, that I sometimes pay for a hotel just to get to do the third slot.

Everyone should attend Concrete Cow. So it's surprising to find numbers a bit down on its hey-day. Expect me to wax lyrical in future posts about this wonderful event, exhorting you all to attend.

THE OWL AND THE WIZARD'S STAFF - Leamington Spa Sat 21st Sep
I shouldn't post about this as I've never been. I think it took place for the first time last year and seems to be devoted to nostalgically looking back to the old days of TTRPGs. However, the good reviews and the fact that it seems to be growing before my very eyes is making me consider throwing my hat into the ring as a referee. One to watch.

WYNTERCON - Eastbourne Sat 28th - Sun 29th Sep
This is a real anomaly and I'm not even sure if I should list it here. Wyntercon is like a ComiCon without the superheroes. Or a sort of Frankenstein merging of a SciFi, Steampunk and Comic Con. It's not a TTRPG con as such and maybe should be listed under the same heading as the other non-gaming events I attend.

Except that something, strange, wonderful and unique happens at Wyntercon. The one hour intro to TTRPG demo games that I usually struggle to offer alone at most conventions have become a fixture here - not through anything I did. It happened in a year I gave the event a miss. There's a whole team of Referees organised by a wonderful and enthusiastic couple who just keep feeding us groups of players. "Here's a family of 7. They want a Superhero game." "These two young ladies want something like Harry Potter." It's non-stop and fantastic. There must be people in Eastbourne who play TTRPGs once per year for an hour at WynterCon as treat, I guess.

So not one to attend if you're a TTRPG player so much. But if you're a TTRPG referee addict like me, it might be worth seeing if there are any slots available for a new referee.

DRAGONDAZE - Newport Sat 5th Nov
This is a large full-on gaming Convention. It promotes itself as also being a ComiCon but it isn't really. I mean there ARE comics there but they're not front and centre. Large trade hall (the main room at a large leisure centre), board games, cosplay, Wargames, attractions (eg. starship simulator). The TTRPG offering is good with plenty of referees willing to offer great games but has struggled because the local TTRPG community don't seem to want to turn out to play something new. They stay home with their usual games.

If you come as a player, you WILL get a great game. If you come as a referee you might not get players. Offering a popular system or IP might might make it more appealing. I work quite hard as the TTRPG "Captain" on the day for this one and take up is slowly beginning to grow. Again expect further posts on this event nearer the time.

FURNACE - Garrison Hotel, Sheffield Sat 12th - Sun 13th Oct
The first and grandest of "The Garrison" conventions. Two days, five game slots. Perfect synergy between the convention and the hotel. Simple things like a pre-order form for food so that there's no mad rush when a game session finishes. It's a great venue, with the Napoleonic era Gaol cells being the perfect evocative venue for a Fantasy or Horror game. Seamless organisation.

Though it's billed as two days, the Friday night "slot zero" in the bar is usually well worth attending. I'll be there, offering two games and playing in three. (There are so many great referees offering games that we all have to ration ourselves.)

Pretty much an essential for anyone who's ever been. If you enquire now you might find the hotel booked out. If it isn't, book a room immediately. If it is, there are other hotels nearby and you can still come. Well worth it.

SPAGHETTI CONJUNCTION - Birmingham Sat 19th Oct
One day, two slot games day at a Geek Cafe. I'm involved in organising this one so won't comment much. Come if you want, you'll be very welcome.

Side note: I hate raffles at conventions. And the prizes at SCJ tend to be worth more than the value of the convention. More than one person has gone home in the past with prizes worth more than the cost of their day out. Madness!

GROGMEET - Manchester Sat 9th Nov
Largely, but not exclusively, organised by the producers of the popular Grogmeet (nostalgic?) TTRPG podcast and supported by its listeners. In fact I think it's already virtually sold out, mainly to Patreon supporters of the podcast. So a popular one day, three slot Gamesday that's probably well worth attending if you're local and can get a ticket.

I only mention it because it's been hinted that I could have a refereeing slot if I offer Golden Heroes - and I'm seriously considering the offer. These are good guys that know what they're doing and what their audience wants.

DRAGONMEET - London Sat 7th Dec
Another big one. Everything you could want from a Games Convention - including a very strong TTRPG track - all in one day. It's always been good, and an essential part of most people's annual diaries. But there's always been a nagging feeling that it could be even better. Well I know a few people behind the scenes involved in it who have thought the same and have finally got all their hands on the knobs and dials. (We're talking John Dodd and his team, here.) DM 2018 was already an improvement on previous years and DM 2019 looks like it's going to be something really special.

The perfect pre-Christmas treat. The gaming equivalent of opening and eating a whole tin of Quality Streets in one go.


If I've missed listing an event you're organising and/or want to go to - I'm looking at you here Tabletop Scotland (you look as if you're going to be fantastic but I've never been and don't know enough about you to commend you to people) - then please feel free to post, add comments, wax lyrical etc. below.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

AireCon - 9th and 10th March 2019

As you all know, a couple of weekends ago I elected to bring TTRPGs to Liverpool ComicCon. This meant me not attending AireCon in Harrogate. However, my friend and fellow convention Referee Martin Pickett DID go and has kindly given me permission to post his convention report:

Apologies in advance, this is a long one.

I've singled this out as a report on the RPG section, as it was a distinct sub-section (sideshow?) of the frankly heaving board game con.

I went to Airecon purely as a GM, signed up to hopefully run games in every slot I was there. This was my first time at Airecon, and I think also the first time they decided to get serious about pushing the RPGs. As such, there are obviously going to be teething problems and adjustments to be made on both sides.

The good:
- A clear RPG track, announced in advance on the website.
- Pre-submission of games so they could advertised.
- Pre-sign ups through the website (I know that's not universally regarded as a benefit. As a GM it gives me comfort to see that people are going to play my games. So sue me).
- A dedicated RPG area at the con.
- GM perks (free entry, cheap tea/coffee, food vouchers, t-shirts).
- A staffed RPG desk to handle on the day sign-ups.

The bad:
- Uncertainty! Lots of it! I mean, just tons and tons.
- A feeling of definitely being a sideshow, or possibly the ugly step-child...

Airecon had been on my maybe list, until I got an email from John Dodd (sent to his Expo GM list) asking for volunteers to run games. With that motivation, I signed up. The request was for 4-hour games, or 2x 2-hour games. I submitted 3 4-hour games and 3 2-hours (to be run twice each). The uncertainty factor kicked in when the schedule came out, and all my games were listed once only. The games schedule was published as a google doc, buried behind a link in the FAQ on the website, which seemed a bit obscure. No indication of how long any game was. However, the start times for the slots was given, 10.30, 2, and 7, except on Sunday they were 10.30 and 2.30. Meaning the morning was about 2.5 hours (allowing an hour for lunch). Explains why some of my 2-hour games went in the morning slots, I guess.

The online ticketing followed the schedule, I was concerned that punters were paying the same for 4 and 2 hour games and didn't know which they were getting, but it's not my show.

I arrived on Friday afternoon, and at the desk I was given my badge and told to go see the RPG desk to get the rest of my goodies. My friend who arrived with me was simultaneously told to go to the crew room to pick up his stuff. We decided to head to the desk, to ask the folk there. They said the front desk should have had all our stuff, although apparently the food vouchers had run out (uh-oh, bad sign). This was a trend - the mugs allocated for volunteers for the cheap hot drinks had apparently run out, I ended up liberating some spares from the crew room on Saturday morning. I was "lent" food vouchers for Saturday by two of the other volunteers, a supply turned up in time for lunch on Sunday (last meal of the con).

The printed programme had the RPG slot start times, but no end times. Oh, and the afternoon slot now starts at 2.30, except for Sunday when it's at 3. The con closes at 11 on Fri/Sat, 6 on Sun. As it happened, the RPG desk staff told people to turn up at 2.30 on Sunday as well. Which would be OK, but the tear down started at 4 when the trade hall closed, and the RPG desk and tables were also being tidied away. My game petered out at about 5, by which time we were surrounded by chairs stacked on tables.

I'm going to interpret this stuff as the aforementioned teething troubles that will be sorted out. Next year will be the test. My friend had a (considerably) longer drive and less fun, so he's going to give it a miss next year and wait for my report.

Games I ran:

Fri night: The Great Martian Tripod Race (Manifold). This was the first time in two years I've run this scenario, and it's still good fun. I was a bit lucky, only 1 player had signed up for my game but another GM was a no-show and his 3 players decided to join. The game ran for the full 4 hour slot, winding up just before we were kicked out of the hall at 11.

Sat morning: Degrees Of Separation (Is It A Plane?!). The quick-start scenario for this diceless, draw-your-actions superhero game. A family of 6 had signed up (this game sold out, I only sold one other ticket in advance for any of the others), so we went at it full throttle. A bit hit and miss, I think this game works better second or third time, once you've got the hang of it. I submitted it as a 2-hour game, actually filled the 2.5 hour slot.

Sat afternoon: The Dolls Of The Fathers (Fate). The group really seemed to get the hang of Fate, using the rules to create aspects to build up advantages to overcome their opponents. Lots of fun, everyone went away happy (or faking well). I'm still not completely satisfied with the scenario, but I think it's a lot better than the last time I ran it (at Contingency).

Sat night: The Rescue Of Ethlinn (Monkey system, Celtic myth setting). This was another of my 2-hour games, but one of the rare 4-hour slots. It's half of a 4-hour game, so I offered the players the option of either. They actually chose to have the 2-hour option so they could go to see something at 9, so that was OK. Managed to finish exactly on time, went quite well I think.

Sun morning: If You See Buddha On The Road (Monkey). The quick-start for this dice-less, card based Chinese myth game. 5 players, one playing their first ever RPG, another had been briefing his friends on Monkey lore all weekend (turned up wearing a Monkey TV series shirt!). Again, submitted as 2 hours, ran about 2.5. Good fun.

Sun afternoon: The Schooling Of Tomomi (Manifold). Magical Girl anime game, 4 hour game that actually only ran for about 2 hours once the break to collect stuff from the bring and buy was figured in. Managed to get the players to the end of the first magical battle scene, which was a good place to stop. Not the best game I've had, but not (quite) the worst either.

Verdict: I got to run all my games (through luck more than judgement), so I had a reasonable time despite the organisation. I will go again purely on the strength of that. If the organisation is a hot mess again next year, I may skip it after that.


Thanks Martin! I've been to several AireCons and my views generally agree with his. However, I'd like to point out that, in my experience, any uncertainty about the TTRPGs there has simply been through there not being enough interest on the part of punters. The organisers would like a successful TTRPG track but nothing I've seen them try has tempted enough people away from the excellent board game offerings. Their hearts are in the right place. They just need to find format that suits the clientele.

Oh, and Martin is an excellent convention Referee. If you have a chance to get into one of his games at a convention, they come with my personal recommendation.

STOP PRESS: since my original posting of Martin's report, several people have given me their viewpoints on the event . One is from Guy Milner which seems to tie in with most people's feelings:
I thought the RPG offerings at Airecon were much stronger this year - I'm glad I went and ran stuff! It's always going to be a part of a bigger board gaming con, but there was a good range of games on offer and I didn't feel like we were sidelined or anything - we had the better deal, in a spacious and well aerated area compared to the board games!

My review of it was that RPGs seem to have hit critical mass this year, and it should certainly be sustainable. I think a little more clarity about slot length might be an improvement (I was surprised, during the Saturday morning game, when the GM suggested - although we were clearly near the final battle- that we break for lunch and them come back to play) but that was a fairly minor quibble that's easily fixed

I ran two games to a good mix of enthusiastic players who were from outside my usual con contacts, and played a game similarly (although I found myself sat with two GPL regulars ha).

So don't be disheartened. RPGs felt like a proper part of it this year, and I'll be back running more games next year.

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.