Sunday, 13 January 2019

Winter StabCon 2019

Winter StabCon 2019

My convention going year started, as it always does, with my first visit to StabCon. If been writing and blogging about this wonderful convention for years so I'll keep the basics short. (If you want more details, simpler check back to earlier reports.)

- Stockport
- Residential -  inexpensive hotel
- Relatively cheap beer and cheap "gamers menu" specifically for the convention.
- Friday to Sunday
- 300 attendees, most board gamers but strong TTRPG track. 25%+ of the games on offer, I'd guess.
- Very free form organisation. TTRPG sign up sheets and noticeboard available but no official slots.
- Family atmosphere. Can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you're settled you feel right at home.

I have several prearranged games and events at StabCon now. Two things made this one a but different.

Firstly, I was on still holiday from work. This meant I could come down early on Friday and fit in an extra game in the afternoon. (Normally, I'm rushing from work and arrive just before the evening session.) I posted on FaceBook before the event to see if anyone else was there early and got skme interest in a "East End Bank Heist" game I offered.

The second difference was that I'd decided to try videoing some parts of my convention and post them on a YouTube channel, as a companion to my blog posts.  The YouTube channel is called RPGS4ALL. Please visit it, watch, subscribe, like comment etc.

So I arrived at lunchtime, a bit before the convention was due to start. Checked in and went to see if I could sign in to the convention early. There was a queue! People are desperate to get in and get gaming.

I ran my East End Heist Game, taking a video of my players before the event and interviewing one afterwards. In addition to the three players I'd prearranged with, we snagged a couple walking past. It was one half of that couple I interviewed after the game.

I've run this scenario a few times before and it usually involves complex planning and execution. This team were a more straightforward and managed the actually robbery really efficiently, so I was able to run the switch and bait ending which I'd always had prepared but not had a chance to use before. This game was a hoot. Dodgy accents and much adult humour.

I was very impressed by the professional manner of the player I interviewed after the game.

Throughout the game I'd kept myself topped up with the endless supply of free coffee which is always on hand at StabCon. But when the game ended, I enjoyed my first beer of the day (pint of lager £3.45) and ordered my tea. 12" "American Hot" pizza ordered at the bar and brought to the table. Under a tenner and enough for two people - I had trouble finishing it. Recommended.

Friday night I have lucked into playing in a Savage Worlds game run by a friend and excellent, personable and entertaining Referee. Prewar, Superpowered British Agents vs. Nazi plots. Indiana Jones meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. From Austria to Egypt we had high jinks foiling the development of a sonic super weapon, ending an a high speed chase across the desert to retrieve the plans.  We got to sample some of the new Savage Worlds rules. (Short response - swings and roundabouts IMHO.) Great fun.

I again for filmed (most of) the players before the game and interviewed one afterwards - at almost midnight. Again I was impressed with how well he came across. I uploaded the videos back in my room, so didn't get to sleep until the early hours.

Of course many people were still playing board games downstairs at that time.

By my standards I was running a bit late the following morning. Breakfast is included in the stay and - by the standard of cheap hotels is actually quite palatable.

I got to my first game on time. This was a session of "The d6 Hack" from the upcoming "Role Play Relief" books. The players were two mature couples who did not wish to introduce themselves on my YouTube channel, which is fine.

Basically this was just good old fashioned D&D just using d6's. I was a romp. There's a certain joy in playing with people who've played for years and use their experience to walk all over the dungeon. It was glorious to see.

One of the two ladies agreed to be interviewed after the game but after  a short amount of fascinating feed back, my phone ran out of memory. So I lost that interview.

I ordered fish and chips for lunch and checked the sign up sheet for my afternoon game. This was a 13th Doctor game.

In the run up to StabCon I'd had my usual panic about not getting signups for my games. So I'd prepared a 13th Doctor game because I thought it would garner interest. This backfired. All my other games filled out, but this one had only two players. I posted a quick plea on FaceBook but resigned myself to running a game for two players.

As it happened, I got talking to an old, old, old TTRPG acquaintance (like four decades old) and he joined in. One of my regular players responded to my Facebook plea, so we had a table of four. Great! One player played the Doctor, one played Graham but the other two chose to play "Guest Stars". A computer Hacker and a Pacifistic Space Pirate. Amazingly, none of them had ever played in my "standard" Dr Who scenario so I was able to trot that out and see how the new Doctor tackled it.

Halfway through the game a young man wandered past and started watching. We invited him to join it - though I had to work out how "Ryan" suddenly appeared on a planet halfway across the galaxy.

This game was glorious. Ryan coming up with Computer game type solutions and being chided by the Doctor. The Hacker trying to crash the systems whilst Graham found simpler "real world" solutions. Everyone lived! Peace was bought to the planet and even the "big bad" got a happy ending. (First time ever!)

In tried to interview the new player after the event. It seemed he'd just discovered StabCon and dropped in to look around. This was his first game, at the con, though he was a very experienced TTRPG player.

Despite me clearing loads of memory, my phone again failed partly through the video. But he lent me his phone and promised to forward me the video.

For my evening meal I had grilled chicken and chips.

Another thing I've lucked into at StabCon is offering a Horror game Saturday evening. Now I am NOT a natural horror referee (or player). I have written two good horror scenarios in my life. (But they are really, really good, I think.)  However, I've run them both at StabCon. Last time I ran a great scenario from "The Three Faces of the Wendigo" by Paul Baldowski.

This time I decided to offer a scenario which was given away FREE in the programme for the DragonMeet convention in December 2018. Classic 1930's Cthulhu-type adventure between the Wars in London. (I told the players it was being filmed in black and white.) A "not Miss Marple at all" type with her friends, servants and associates. We had a Russian mercenary and Oriental manservant who dodged all the unfortunate stereotypes and were played perfectly for 21st century sensibilities.

The scenario ran extremely well (thanks DragonMeet) but was more of a romp than being really scarey. I'd feared it may run short (it WAS a freebie after all) but in the end I had to rush the conclusion. Great fun with great players.

Again my phone messed up any videoing.

Sunday morning I have a regular Superhero campaign. This was the second chapter.

One of my players from the horror game the previous night. turned up with a proper video camera. Tripod and everything. So we we able to record an intro to the game, the players and their characters. Somehow being filmed "properly" made everyone nervous - me included.

 The Heroes' (retired) mentors were being framed for murder. The first session had ended with the characters apparently tracking down their mentors and being told told to mind their own business. Two had inveigled their way into the senior team's investigations and the rest had been left "tidying up", effectively splitting the party. (I'd also failed to keep detailed notes.)

This session started with a bang. The Heroes who'd been "left behind" turned up with another version of the senior team claiming their comrades had been tricked by a group of robot doubles. Imagine a "Justice League vs. Justice League" battle with the characters caught in the middle. When the pursuing characters side won, I informed them they'd been playing robot doubles themselves all to time and they'd just helped defeat and capture the real "Crusaders" and their own team-mates.

The robots then descended upon the real player characters - who were still busy packing boxes - and defeated them. Most of the Heroes were captured, of course, which was my plan all along. One teleported across the world to get help only to find the Superhero teams in America and Canada tied up with their own problems.

Of course, the evil villain behind the plot was revealed as being one of the player characters all along, who happened to be a robot himself. So he'd played an evil robot duplicate of a good robot at the start of the session, who actually turned out to be an evil robot halfway through, only to be revealed as a good robot reprogrammed by aliens by the end.

The final session was an escape from the "villain's" lair which culminated in "Elsa" (weather powers) using the bad guy's own force field to turn the entire building into a Snow Globe - revealing the secret hole in the field.

Of course the game ended with the Aliens - having brought down Superhero teams across the globe - choosing to invade.

Next time the heroes will have to free their reprogrammed colleague and somehow foil the invasion.

Lunch was the last of the sandwiches at the bar. The hotel seemed to be running out of stock. It being Sunday lunchtime this means they probably prepared just about the right amount for the convention.

As always, I immediately signed up for the next StabCon. Most people do. However, rather than staying for an afternoon game, I chose to depart. I'd had enough. In a good way. It had been another wonderful experience.

In case you're not clear. I LOVE this convention. It's like being part of a big family.

My takeaway from Winter StabCon 2019 is that I need to get my iPhone sorted out if I went to do a lot of videoing. But the players at the convention come out extremely well when I video them, so the channel seems to be a good idea.

Of course, when I got back to work the following week, all of my students had found about about my YouTube channel. THAT was an interesting experience!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Birmingham Central Roleplayers Club

I usually write about TTPRG conventions. But this post will be about another part of the hobby, a TTRPG club.

One of the truly great things about TTRPGs is the way you can play the same character over and over again and watch them grow and develop. This happens when you play a game repeatedly as part of a campaign. This is actually the default way to play TTTRPGs, with the "one off" games at games conventions being the exception rather than the norm.

Every week across the world hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of people get together to play the next instalment of their TTRPG campaign.

I haven't actually been able to do this for a couple of decades.

Then the Birmingham Central Roleplayers club moved near to where I live. I'd tried to  attend it before but it was based in Ladywood in Birmingham which made it difficult for me to get back from at the end of the night. Now, however, it's in a Social Club in Selly Oak, a short bus ride from my house. So I started going.

The club has been running for years. I don't know how long. (I know I started a short lived club with a similar name back in the 80's - maybe this is a continuation?) It has dozens of members and is bigger than most conventions I attend. It's run by a small but enthusiastic and effective committee. Communication is via a Facebook page - whose usage seems spotty - and a website - which is in need of an update.  Mainly everything works by word of mouth. And works well.

As I said, it's now in a Social Club - what used to be a "working man's club" - in Selly Oak. As this is on one of the major arterial roads out of the city centre and right next to a railway station, it's easy to get to. The club is bright and completely appropriate for a TTRPG club. A couple of people have commented that, with the club being so busy, the acoustics can be a bit loud. But there is at least one side room, and I haven't personally noticed a problem.

Being a Social Club, the beer is cheap and the staff are incredibly friendly - a real bonus. It think it's a symbiotic relationship. The takings at the till on Thursday evenings must be quite significant.

Cleverly, I think , the club doesn't have an open structure. They break each year into 3 or 4 sessions and encourage referees to run limited duration campaigns that last c. 3 months. I started attending a few weeks before the end of one of these sessions and was easily able to fill my time running or playing in one-off games. There are a regular trickle of newbies and these usually seem to be able to find a place in an on-going group.

At the end of a session, referees are encouraged to finish their current campaigns and players are encouraged to sign up to new games. Some people enjoy the games they are in so much that they just carry on, and I suppose that's OK.

There's the mix-up week. Players are encouraged to sign up to new games. This is through sign up sheets like at conventions - except that you're committing several months of your life so it's a big decision. At the same time a big mix-up game is run designed to let the club members move around and play with a variety of different people. This is, of course, a very difficult - almost impossible - thing to set up. The one I witnessed used a very simple multi-genre system developed by one of the club committee members. Each table was a different world. After a bit of play, each world came under attack through multi-dimensional portals and characters were sucked between worlds to try and piece together - and defeat - a larger threat.

I played in a zombie apocalypse world and did my usual thing of focussing on achieving my character's individual goals rather than engaging with the larger storyline and spent a fun evening twatting zombies.

Them the new campaigns started. I offered a Steampunk one using my The Code Of Steam and Steel rules and Martin Pickett's marvellous Victorian Colony of Mars setting. I got 6 players, one of whom disappeared almost immediately with no explanation.

I knew none of the players previously - though a couple may have played in one of my one-off games. We had a couple of note-takers who really tried to engage with the system, a quiet player, an inventive player with a scientific mind (who successfully used Archimedes'  principle against me - kudos) and a typical student who'd only ever played "what you see is what you get" D&D types games. The narrative control elements of my game went to his head a bit and we had sweeping changes to the storylines. I think the players were a bit surprised, initially, how I went with these and embraced random changes to the plot.

"How does alcohol affect Martians?"
"I don't know. Let's make a random table and roll!"

The highlight was easily the moment when a player not only illustrated her own and her partner's characters - professional standard - but then was so enamoured of one scene that she produced a whole page of comic illustrating it. The first time
Martin and I had actually seen his cat-like Martians in the flesh.

It was a fun campaign and I learnt a lot about being a weekly Referee again - mainly about the crushing responsibility. If you have a referee who regularly runs games for you, treasure them and treat them well.

As you play each week a marvellous man comes around and collects £2 from each player. Not from the Referee though. We get to play for free.

I'd always intended to run the campaign within the club's recommended constraints. Campaigns were due to end at Christmas. Rather than a mix-up game, the club has a quiz session with a buffet laid on - and a seemingly endless tab at the bar - paid for from club funds. It's a real party event.

My group chose to play through the quiz and into the final, optional pre-Christmas, week. (The club was still busy.) I bought my whole group a round of drinks and drinks for the bar staff. (It cost roughly the same as three pints would at UK Games Expo.)

"Afternoon, Simon. Just wanted to say thank you for the sci-fi/steampunk campaign over the past three months or so and for managing an ending that had some drama and 'last minute' dice rolls. I liked the flexibility and simplicity of the mechanics.....

"I'd certainly play again, now I have regenerated limbs, and whether our travels take us across mars, or back to Earth, I'm sure the others would probably feel the same! Have a good holiday season and see you next year. Cheers, Paul."

I've chosen not to run a campaign in the next session but to play - I'm in a Savage World's "black powder - probably pirates" game for three months. I'm intending to offer to referee again in the summer, when I'll put in place everything I've learnt from this recent campaign.

I really love this club. The people - players and staff - are lovely. The venue is perfect. The club management is effective but unobtrusive, easily facilitating games and gamers' quirks. Most of all I love the structure where we get to play in extended games and encouraged to mix with other people and sample different systems. Yes the "I only play D&D 5th with people I know" die hards at present, but they're catered for as well.

I'm really glad they moved near me!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Conventions 2019 - Initial thoughts

I'm an awkward sod. 

  1. I like to referee (with "like" being far too mild a word).
  2. I only offer games I've written myself (with "The Black Hack" and "The Cthulhu Hack" being minor exemptions.)
  3. I often can't confirm my attendance until the last minute and have great ideas for games to offer at the last minute too.
  4. I don't enjoy playing anything other than TTRPGs. (This is also far too mild a statement).

So, though I like to go to lots of conventions I effectively self excuse myself through the above criteria or because they're on at the same time as other events I want to attend. I'm aware that there are loads of system specific conventions which are great (Revelation and all the Pathfinder ones) but I won't go to them - despite receiving the odd invitation.

I was going to list my conventions for 2019 when I had time to sit down and work out my diary but I can't resist getting involved in the on-line debate currently going on, so here's a quick stream of consciousness/memory list:

STABCON - my first convention of the year and an essential. There's also one in the summer I have to go to. You won't see this advertised anywhere. It's a residential weekend in a CHEAP hotel in Stockport, has been running for decades. It's at capacity. If you know about StabCon then you're a regular. If you don't then it isn't easy to break in but it's worth the effort. Though mainly a board game convention there is a strong RPG track and I have several regular ongoing games already booked in - even though there isn't a booking system.

CONTINGENCY - I'd kill to get there and keep number crunching over and over again in the hope of getting everything to add up. For the old Naish cons it's replaced I used to be able to dash out of work at 4pm on Friday and get there in time for a Friday night game. I can't do that for Contingency which makes it economically unviable. The costs aren't worth it for four game sessions. If you CAN get to Contingency easily , the reverse is true and you really should go.

SPAGHETTI CONJUNCTION - I can't believe our sweet little games day is into its 3rd year. Twice a year. Birmingham. Great people, good venue. Love it!

CONCRETE COW - SCJ's big brother. Twice a year in Milton Keynes. It's still the best one day games day on the circuit but with numbers dropping slightly and some of the "big names" no longer attending it's now a strong preference rather than an essential, sadly. 

CONPULSION - I used to love Conpulsion when it had three hour slots to create two hour gaps between so I could attend (and be on panels at!) non-gaming events. The uniqueness made it worth the horrendous travel an accommodation costs to Edinburgh. When they switched back to the standard "choose between games and seminars" approach in 2016 the convention lost some of its uniqueness. I couldn't go in 2017 and am seriously debating 2018. (Though I have received a "guest invite" email).

THE GARRISON CONS - 7Hills, Furnace, North Star. These are, of course, wonderful but I'm not sure the games I offer match the demographic. I'd love some advice on how make what I bring more appealing to the masses there. Again these have, sadly, moved into the strong preferences rather than being essentials.

LONGCON - I'd LOVE to support this. But I'm not sure I'm a long form referee. I know I'm not a long form player. And I'm even less likely to get players for my quirky offerings for a whole weekend. If it's on the same weekend as another event, it's very likely to get second billing.

THE DUDLEY BUG BALL - I really don't know how this is going to work out but it's worth try.

CONQUORD - they keep trying with this Bristol convention and their doggedness deserves our support. But it conflicts with Dudley Big Ball which is a far more economical option for me.

DEVCON - well organised convention in Chester. Sort of a professional version of Concrete Cow and SCJ. Again my quirky offerings don't match the demographic but I'll take a serious look at this one.

EXPO - 'nuff said, though I need to seriously plan what I'm going to do. The easy "Iron Referee" option means I could be missing out on something special

DRAGONMEET - is now finally the essential it should always have been.

WYNTERCON- this is mad. Hordes of ordinary punters queuing up to play the sort of short form games I offer - many coming for their annual  TTRPG fix. And I’m just one  member of a well run team! Essential.

AIRECON/ODDCON - though wildly different cons they fall into the same category for me. Successful cons and I’d love to support them but they’re mainly boardgame (other game) cons. The organisers seem to want to support TTRPGs but they don’t seem to be very successful there (by MY quirky criteria) as far as I can tell. The organisers earnestly want to offer TTRPGs but haven’t but specific strategies in place to encourage them to grow. I want to support these but need to see more.

DRAGONDAZE is in the same category but the organisers HAVE actively supported TTRPGs - through taking my advice (amongst other things). We now have the best venue in the Hall - apart from being right next to the PA. (PA’s are the enemy of TTRPGs.)

TABLETOP SCOTLAND - seems wonderful but expensive to attend for me.

TABLETOP in London - no. Not welcoming to TTRPGs. “You can pay US for you to run games for us.”

There’s also another one in Stockport I’d like to support. The name eludes  me ATM.

GROGMEET - sounds great (even if their raffle is a bit slow). But it’s overbooked and can I confirm early enough to get in as referee?

In fact that’s a REAL issue. Many cons I’d like to go to but by the time I can confirm the referee slots have gone - often stitched up internally behind the scenes. I have to try and read between the lines to identify local events where they don’t mind a couple of strangers turning up to bulk out the numbers but don’t really welcome strange referees.

I also go to non RPG conventions and my essentials for 2019 are:

ASYLUM - 100,000 Steampunks. 100,000! Deffo room for TTRPGs. I may even be looking for a wingman. 

My favourite report this year was the young lady who said she’d enjoyed racing teapots (radio controlled gizmos), Dinosaurs (two dozen Middle Aged men dressed as boar war redcoats on top with Bernie Clifton dinosaurs below) and Tripods (my game).

FANTASICON- wonderful SciFi convention with the best beer on the circuit where, apparently, I’m now an annual feature running live roleplays on stage!

I’m sure I’ve missed some off this list I’m going to or will be looking at (ReUnicon etc.) Apologies for any obvious ones I’ve missed.

It’s a wonderful life!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Dragonmeet 2018

TLDR: the premiere London gaming convention finally done properly. An impressive achievement and now an essential fixture in the calendar.

Dragonmeet is THE London Games Convention. It’s been running in one form or another for decades. It’s a no brainer that it should be a “must not miss” fixture on everyone’s TTRPG Convention calendar.

But, somehow, for me it hasn’t been in the past. 

Firstly it’s a one day event. And it’s in London, in the run-up to Christmas. Even though games run until midnight, if you’re not local then accommodation costs make it uneconomic to stay over in London for a night if there’s nothing happening on Sunday.

Secondly, I’ve had the impression in the past that the convention wasn’t as slickly organised as you’d expect from such a premiere event.

So in recent years I’d been travelling down Saturday morning, running two games and then travelling back up Saturday evening, skipping the evening game slot. This made it a satisfying and economically viable day out.

But in 2017 the failing British Train system meant that me and my mate were massively delayed missing our morning game.

So this year I chose to make it a one day event again but arranged to offer short “games on the hour” in the morning and a long game in the afternoon.

Shortly before the event I was contacted by one of the organisers - who I’ve known for years. He needed more games advertised in advance on the web-site (to attract punters). In return for me staying all day, offering three games, and being “room captain” for the RPG floor he said I could bunk in (literally) with the volunteer crew. So I agreed and submitted three games - along with, I hoped, exciting and engaging blurbs.

(I also submitted an article for the programme about Role Play Relief which was printed.)

Given this flexibility, I chose to try to make my trip as cheap as possibly and booked tickets on a slow train to London.

This meant, Friday night, I arrived just as the crew were finished setting up at the venue - Novotel hotel in Hammersmith - and was able to walk with them in a crowd to the accommodation. Perfect!

In the morning the convention opened for signing up for games at 09:00 with games starting at 09:30. The trade hall didn’t open until 10:00. This allowed a staggered start. This plus over staffing the reception meant punters got in with minimum queuing. Much better than previous years.

Sign up sheets for TTRPGs were on boards clearly labelled with the rooms they were in. So punters could go to the rooms at their convenience instead of having to wait for them to be announced at a “muster” (as in previous years). Another massive improvement. 

Unfortunately my morning game garnered no signups - well it got four but all then found other games and crossed their names off or switched. It was my demo of the “lite” rules from the “Role Play Relief” Book but with the limited space on the standard sign up sheets created and printed by the convention, none of this transferred over from the blurb.

Note to self and other prospective TTRPG referees - when submitting games for DM don’t rely on detail and length to grab punters. Short and exciting is best.

So no game but, as room captain, I had to hang around and help punters - which I did a lot of. Also lots of nice chats with people - including advising a professional company on how to promote their up-coming TTRPGs. And I got to watch a stunning 5th Ed Referee enthralling a table of children.

A volunteer from the front desk was sent up to relieve me for an hour so I could trawl the rest of the convention.

Now, as a Referee, DM gives me the option to run games. That’s what I want to do. I don’t need - or care about - the rest of it. But I was very very (very) impressed.

There were three floors - the bottom was the trade hall. This was packed with goodies as you’d expect. But I found the offerings to be particularly interesting and eclectic. Even I was tempted by a couple of items myself.

(“The Big Book of Maps” is amazing. I also visited the “All Rolled Up” stand. They usually have stuff I didn’t know I needed. Today it was “Dungeon Cards”).

The floor had its own bar.

If you like gaming bling you can spend the whole day in the trade hall.

Above trade hall was the general gaming area. Room after room after room of demos, drop in games and open gaming space. The Bring and Buy was there in a large open area - not a side room - and it was impressive and well run. 

There was also a room offering a full programme of seminars.

This floor also had its own bar.

This floor was a convention of its own. If you just wanted to play games, there was more than enough here to keep you occupied for the day.

I grabbed a programme from reception and headed back upstairs to the third floor - “my”floor - which houses room after room of TTRPGs.

I took up my Room Captain duties again and began reading through the glossy professional programme. As well as the article about RPR there are other contributions including a full and impressive “Horror” scenario that I may well run at some point.

Lunchtime came. This is a two hour break - another improvement - but a game in my room overran and I had to wait for it to wrap up. I nipped out to a nearby artisan sandwich bar for lunch rather than sampling hotel cuisine (and prices!)

Sign up sheets for the afternoon games went up halfway through lunchtime. Apparently their was a bit of a rush as some people were desperate to get into particular games

After lunch my East End gangster game was fully booked with 6 players. This was an absolute hoot. I went  for the players designing elements of the setting route. And it worked because they were all amazing. We were all in fits of laughter throughout. It was one of those “you had to be there” things. One of the best groups of players I’ve ever had. 

I was also bought a couple of pints of lager, which was nice.

I made sure to finish early to give my players time to get to the sign up sheets for the evening games.

Only an hour’s break for tea - so  went out again -  this time grabbing a takeaway pizza from the nearby Hammersmith station.

Again my evening game didn’t get any sign ups. Again my fault. I use my own (published and known but not famous) rules and based it on an obscure property (the 1962 TV scifi puppet series Fireball XL5.)  Note to self - many older punters at DM seem to look for specific games. If you can’t (or won’t) offer one of the “big” game systems, offer a well known IP.

However I arranged for someone to fill my room captain role and the wonderful “yellow shirts” told me there were a couple of spaces in a Star Wars game.

This was the referee’s own rule system - which I like. It was meticulously researched and used the canon characters in episode 9.1. This guy’s take on Star Wars was that it was “bickering in space” and he’s not wrong. 

The character sheets were like scratch cards and as the characters suffered consequences, lost hit points or levelled up you scratched off the relevant part. Consequences (personalised for each character) were usually deeply emotional events rather than physical ones.

Good system.

The other three players at the table were three older teenage girls/young women who were an absolute delight. They’d come to Dragonmeet and just thrown themselves into games without knowing what to expect and had had a ball. Their enthusiasm was infectious. 

We played Luke, Leia, Han and the droids (designed as a single character - nice touch). Everyone played their characters perfectly. 

The highspot was Han and Leia back to back surrounded by troopers, blasting away and having an emotional argument about when she hadn’t told him she was pregnant. Only Han was played by a teenager and Leia by a middle aged man (me) and it worked! I love this hobby.

There was time for a pint at the bar with mates - £4.60 not as bad as I’d  feared - and then back to the accommodation with the convention crew.

I felt a bit guilty accepting the free accommodation but I feel it was justified by all the work I did as room captain.

So for me this was: 

The. Best. Dragonmeet. Ever. 

(Despite only getting to referee one game.)

It’s moved from being one of the better events on the convention circuit to an essential.

But I was in with the convention crew. Is it worth it for a normal referee or punter?

I’d say YES! If you’re local, you’ve no excuse for not treating yourself to this wonderful experience. If you’re not, I’d suggest making it a day trip or booking a weekend’s accommodation and making DM the centre of a pre-Christmas weekend away. Come for the convention, stay for sight seeing or shopping.

At last - at last - Dragonmeet has got it right!

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Haworth Steampunk Weekend 24th and 25th November

TLDR: Steampunk convention with little room for TTPRGs. Interesting experience, though.

Games conventions in the UK seem come in clumps. More and more there are weekends when some clash. There are other times when there aren't many on. I've not been able to commit to events a long time in advance this year, and this has exacerbated the situation for me.

So - having missed out on Grogmeet and the 24 hour RPG challenge - I found myself with a personal hiatus in November. Though I've not got a regular gaming group for the first time in decades, this still left me with withdrawal symptoms.

No problems, though. Because I've got my "Choose Your Adventure" set up I can visit SciFi and other conventions offering to run TTRPGs and introduce fellow nerds and geeks into our wonderful hobby.

So I wrote off  to various events. I received a very positive response from the Haworth Steampunk Weekend. This is a steampunk event up north in Bronte country (it's right next to the Bronte museum) with a local Steam train service. Though the organisers clearly had no idea what I was offering, and it was all very last minute, they promised to find me a table or two and invited me along.

It was a weekend event which started with a show on the Friday, followed by two days of events separated by a show on Saturday night. Fairly standard for Steampunk events. Of course I didn't want to attend the evening shows, so I wrote to various hostelries near the event to see if they'd let me run a game at one of their tables. I'd had some success running an evening game in the students' Union at the Asylum Steampunk convention.  To my surprise I got two very positive responses. (see below).

Naturally to save money I decided to travel up at stupid o'clock Saturday morning (about £50 on split ticketing) and stay one night in an inexpensive B&B (about £50 again).

Shortly before the event the organiser contacted me to tell me she'd found space for me one stage in the Village Hall Saturday afternoon, and in the Chapel on Sunday morning. Luckily not as a show, just as a place to play. I was also in the event brochure - sandwiched between a Ukulele Orchestra and some Steampunk dancers!

Despite a train strike, superb support from the staff at Leeds station - and reasonable taxi fares - meant I got to the venue in good time.

Keighley and Haworth are lovely with 1950's charm and sweeping Yorkshire scenary. The taxi even had to bobble down a cobblestone track to get to the village hall. 

The organiser had found me a trading table for the morning, but that only seated three people with no space for my banner. Despite some fascinating chats with people, I wasn't able to convince anyone to try a game. The ukulele group were superior though and I had a good time.

In the afternoon I took over the stage and did manage to cram two families (strangers to each other) together for a 6 player steampunk game - my usual "Evolution of Species". It was good fun. One dad asked for purchase details saying it was going "to be the family game this Christmas". One of the best feedback comments ever!

The event finished earlier than I'd expected to get the venue ready for the evening show. I hadn't managed to sign anyone up for an evening game but I decamped to my booked table anyway to apologise to the hostess, sample their food and ale and wait to see if anyone did turn up. (I'd promoted it on Facebook).

No one did turn up. But I'm glad I went. Firstly the centre of Howarth is amazing. Basically loads of great pubs separated by artisan stores (traditional sweet shops etc.) linked by a cobble street. The ideal Stag/Hen do setting. Secondly the pub I went to - The Kings Arms - was simply superb. I left my first ever review on Trip Adviser (5 stars). The service was superb, despite the place being crammed. And the food was superb. I just took the soup of the day (sage and onion) and daily special (liver and onions) - for ease - both were excellent. Thirdly a mother came in with her son and, in passing, said "are you the Gamesmaster? He's been raving about the game."

No-one did turn up so I got a taxi to my B&B which was clean and well managed and good value for the price. 

In the morning, I got a taxi to "the Chapel" and set up on stage. Again, there were lots of interesting conversations, but it was difficult to get people to sit down and play. This is typical. People come to a geek event to do whatever it is they've come to the event to do - in this case to browse the eclectic and fascinating Steampunk stands. Then they might try a game when they've exhausted everything else.

Eventually I got a couple I'd played with at Asylum onto stage to start a game and, once we'd started, the table filled. Again typical. Sit down with two people and other people join in.

It was "The Evolution of Species" again but with a different twist. This group was great at getting the drop on the bad guys and then having the dice betray them. Massive fun (as always). 

After the game I had to strip everything down to make way for the dancers. I decamped to the lounge but wasn't able to get anyone into an afternoon game.

So with taxis and food I invested the best part of £200 in travelling to Haworth Steampunk Weekend to referee two games for a total of about three hours. Was it worth it?

I think so. Firstly I hadn't realised how lovely this part of the world is. Secondly I really enjoyed my couple of hours in the Kings Arms. A GREAT pub. Thirdly I had a lot of interesting chats. 

And, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the two games I played.

I have three take always. Firstly - and I'm not being negative here, just trying to be factual - this convention's demographic skewed older. The median age was in the sixties. The men, particularly, seemed set in their ways. They'll wear brass and goggles but sitting down to play make-believe seems a step too far. (Maybe they just can't sit down in those corsets and jet packs? I hadn't considered that.) I got more blunt "No's" before I'd gotten through two words of my spiel than at any other convention I've been to. But I LOVED it! In asking WHY they'd said "no" I discovered so much about their attitudes and experiences. I remain convinced, of course, that if they tried TTRPGs, they'd find out their assumptions are wrong.

Secondly, I need to work on that "spiel". I found I didn't have good standard elevator pitch explaining what TTRPGs were, why I was at the convention and why they should sit down and play. I found my story changing from person to person.

Thirdly, I'd forgotten to print my usual "Simon Burley TTRPG newsletter". It would have been good to have some business cards at least. For every blunt "no" I had someone who wanted to know more. I found myself writing contact or book details on scraps of paper or getting people to log onto "The Tavern" on their phones.

So, though things didn't go exactly as I'd hoped, they went better than they could have done.  I enjoyed myself and learnt a lot. I now have to decide if I want to come again next year. Will more advance notice and me getting familiar with events and events getting familiar with me allow interest to grow or not? Only time will tell.

A great event for Steampunks. Potential for TTRPGs. A work in progress?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Spaghetti ConJunction 2b - 20th October 2018

TLDR: A one day, two game slot event in central Birmingham. Food on site and at your table. Great location, great people. Good selection of games. A really nice day out.

Spaghetti ConJunction  is the TTPRG convention I co-organise. It's a one day event at a gaming cafe - Geek Retreat - in Birmingham City centre.

It's based on the model trail-blazed by the wonderful Concrete Cow conventions in Milton Keynes. We promote the event and publish details of any games people say they intend to offer on the day, through Facebook, web-site and many other outlets in advance. But nothing is actually decided until the event. If you want to Referee a game, you turn up, put a sign up sheet on the table and wait to see if anyone chooses it. Nothing is pre-booked or guaranteed.

There are two differences between SCJ and Concrete Cow. Firstly we only have two game slots in day. Secondly, it's in the gaming cafe. So, though it's in the city centre and surrounded by loads of options, no-one actually needs to pop out to get food. It's a really great venue.

As usual I met up with my fellow organiser for breakfast at a nearby bistro. When the proprietor of Geek Retreat arrived I popped round and was gratified to find people already waiting outside. I then had 15 minutes to get in, stick up  the signage and sort out the sign up table and front desk. We book the entire top floor of Geek Retreat.

By the time I'd finished it was 10:00am and people started coming upstairs and it was a flurry of taking entry fees and issuing them their Tombola tickets. It's £3 entry but most people opted to buy a couple of raffle tickets as well and just pay a £5 note. Almost forty people came in and I was pleased to see a lot of new faces amongst the old familiar ones.

At 10:15 we did introductions and started signups. Referees had placed sign up sheets for their games on a table. We supplied blank sheets and pens but many referees provided their own.  Attendees had been perusing these before we started. Sign up was via lottery. Any new players were allowed to choose and sign up for their games first. This was a bit of a crush because we had so many new faces. Then the numbers from 0 through 9 were drawn in a random order. As each number was announced, anyone with a Tombola ticket ending in that number was allowed to come up and choose a game. We kept a list of the number order.

Five games were fully signed up with up to six players plus referee. One game ran with a smaller number, picking up  spare players and referees whose games didn't run. 2 or 3 sign up sheets didn't garner any players. This is perfectly normal. We like to have more slightly games offered than we need and it gives players a wider choice.

I was surprised to find that the signup sheet for my game seemed to have disappeared. However it turned out that, in my rush, I'd put out my afternoon sheet by mistake and someone had kindly put it in the pile of afternoon sheets. This left me without a game to referee. Instead of playing, however, I chose to spend the morning at front desk where I had a great time - allocating late-comers to games, sorting out the raffle tickets, counting the money, handling other admin tasks and posting about the convention on Social Media.

Games running included Dr Who AIT&S (Torchwood), I Love the Corps (Zombie Thomas the Tank Engine), D&D 5th Ed, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Is it a plane (with Player character Starships) and Heroquest Glorantha (offered in memory of Greg Stafford.)

There was a lovely atmosphere in the room. All the games seemed lively and happy and the acoustics seemed fine.

Many games seemed to over-run slightly but the constant stream of food from downstairs made sure everyone had had their lunch at the table. (Food is mainly burgers and toasted sandwiches.) So the slight extensions didn't cause any issues.

At 3:15 we had the raffle. As usual the donations from companies were extremely generous with the retail value of items of prizes being amazing total. We even had a copy of Zweihander - the massive update of Warhammer Fantasy - which was the thickest TTRPG hardback I've ever seen. A real coffee table book.

I'll admit I'm not a fan of raffles at conventions. Too often they eat into valuable gaming time. So I make sure the SCJ raffle goes at a fair click.

Then it was the afternoon signups. This happens in reverse order to the morning games - which is why we keep a list of numbers drawn.

There were more games offered in the afternoon than the morning and several of them only garnered one or two players. There was a bit of "horse trading" - great fun  "would you rather be psychologically tortured or draw your adventures"  - and soon we had half a dozen games going again.

One of them was mine - the simple introductory adventurer and rules from our forthcoming book to be sold in aid of Comic Relief. This was fun as always but due to some unfortunate rolling at the extreme end of the bell curve, the characters suffered a real mauling. But the players enjoyed it and were complimentary about the system. I know some changes to make, however.

As I was refereeing, I didn't keep a close check on what was running but I know it included:

Two D&D 5th Ed games, my d6 Hack D&D clone, Is it a plane?, a wierd West Scenario and Lamposts in Bloom (run using The Dead of Night). There was probably one other one I've forgotten.

What was lovely was that one popular D&D game was run by an experienced older referee of my generation. (Set in Pan Tang in the world of Elric.) The other equally popular D&D game was run by a young lady who I've never met before who was clearly less than half our age. I don't know details of this one beyond the smiling faces and rapt attention her players were giving her.

Games are due to end at 7:30 but most wrapped up at around 7:00pm. Mainly it seemed to be due to people heading for their trains. (The venue is a convenient walk from all three main Birmingham stations.) The big D&D 5th game from the younger Referee ran on and on (who'd've thought it?), not stopping until 7:50 - which gave us time to do the tidying up and some planning for next year.

Overall SCJ 2b was a great success. Small enough to be friendly, large enough to offer a good choice of games. I thought we had a good number of players for the venue and exactly the right number of games on offer. It's only two game slots so it might not be worth travelling a huge distance to get here - though it's a pretty convenient journey from most places. And if you're a referee offering a game, you're not guaranteed to get players. However, it's great venue, with a good selection of different systems, great referees and great players. A great day out.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Spaghetti ConJunction 2b - FAQ


Spaghetti ConJunction F.A.Q.
1. What is it?
Spaghetti ConJunction is a one-day RPG convention to be held in Birmingham.
V2. When is it?
Spaghetti ConJunction 2b will take place on Saturday 20th October 2018
3. Where is it?
It will be hosted by Geek Retreat Birmingham, which is located at 38 The Priory Queensway, Birmingham
This is less than ten minutes’ walk from all three of Birmingham’s three train stations; less than five minutes from the nearest car park; and about a minute from the nearest bus stop (or thirty seconds if you run).
4. What time will it be on?
Geek Retreat Birmingham opens at 10am. The first game slot will run between 10:30am and 2:30pm. The second slot will run between 3:30pm and 7:30pm. This allows for an hour’s lunch break.
5. How much is it?
£3 for the day. This is to cover our costs, with all profits going to charity.
In addition, Geek Retreat is a café and will appreciate your custom. We actively encourage you to patronise the Geek Retreat.
6. Is there disabled access?
Unfortunately not in the upstairs playing area, which is only accessible by stairs. We can only apologise for any inconvenience caused.
7. Are you looking for referees?
We certainly are. Each game must have a running length of no more than four hours, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This includes any time required for character creation, therefore GMs are encouraged to provide pre-generated characters where possible (unless you are planning to play an Indie style game where character generation is part of the game). Please send details of your game and if accepted, we will post its details on Facebook and Google+ pages.
When submitting a game please let us know if your game will contain mature content and will therefore be unsuitable for players under sixteen.
8. Are there any age restrictions?
Yes and no.
Whilst we seek to encourage role players of all ages, we ask that all attendees aged sixteen years and under be accompanied by an adult who is responsible for the child throughout the day. Any attendee older than sixteen is not required to be accompanied by an adult.
NOTE: Some games run at Spaghetti ConJunction may contain mature content. Such games will carry a ‘Mature Content’ advisory and we strongly advise that younger players do not sign up for them. Further, any GM who is running a game that is labelled as containing ‘Mature Content’ has the right to refuse entry to the game for players under sixteen years of age.
9. How do I sign up for games?
When you purchase your ticket you will be given a random ticket with a number on it. The last number (between one and ten) on this ticket will determine the order in which you can sign up for the games during the two slots.
Fifteen minutes before the start of the first slot random numbers will be generated between one and ten. When the number that matches the last number on your ticket is announced you will be able to sign up for the next slot. The numbers generated before the first slot will be noted and then used before the second slot, but will be read out in reverse order.
So for example, if the order of the numbers generated before the first slot is 4, 9, 1, 7, 10, 3, 6, 2, 8, and 5, and you were given the number 1, you would sign up in the third wave of signees before the first slot and in the third to last wave of signees before the second slot. This may seem complex and random, but as a sign up method, it is fair to everyone.
If you have never roleplayed before, are under 18 or if this your first Spaghetti ConJunction, then you will be awarded a bye that allows you to sign up for a game in one of the two slots before the numbers are announced. In addition, you will be allowed to bring another person to sign up with you in both game slots.
If, in advance of the convention, you offer to run a game in a slot which advertised on the website and for which you produce a sign up sheet on the day, then you will also be awarded a bye . This will allow you to sign up for any game in the other slot before the numbers are announced.
9. Why Spaghetti ConJunction?
  • Because Birmingham does not have a dedicated roleplaying event and having been to lots and lots of conventions, the founders decided that it was a jolly good idea. Plus because we played great games at these events, we wanted to bring these great games to Birmingham.
  • Because it is an utterly delightful play on words.
  • Because Pookie is very proud of thinking it up.
  • Because the previous Spaghetti ConJunctions were so much fun.
10. Who are you?
Simon Burley is the co-designer of Golden Heroes, the UK’s first superhero RPG, its sequel, Squadron UK, and The Comics Code RPGs, and as the author of Conventional Thinking, a two-part guide to conventions up and down this land, has been to more gaming conventions than any man would care to admit to. Simon admits to them all.
James Mullen is the designer of Blood & Water, the RPG about supernatural flatmates living together as well as other RPGs. He is a devotee of indie-RPGs and a well-regarded GM having run games at conventions up and down the country.
Pookie is a games reviewer and editor.
Between them they have over a century’s worth of gaming experience.