The current iteration is held at a Hotel in Hammersmith. It's a one day convention - which I think is a shame. There's certainly enough going on to fill two days for a visitor. But I'm not sure a second day would bring in a 100% increase in revenue for the organisers or traders and - given the need for hotel rooms - their costs would more than double. So a one day event it remains.
The trade hall is open during the day but closes in the evening, presumably to give traders time to strip down and travel home. The games rooms stay open until midnight and there are three game slots. In previous years I have played in all three slots and stayed in a hotel in London overnight - especially as the organisers used to hint that there was a possibility of meet ups and games on the Sunday. That never worked for me, however, so I now just travel down from Birmingham, play in the two game slots during the day and travel back up in the evening, making it a much more cost effective event for me.
I offered to run two games in the daytime slots. Dragonmeet is legendary for the lack of information on its website. Though we all submitted our games in advance, the details weren't published until the event was nearly upon us. Originally the web-site said the games were prebookable - with seats from each game being keep free for on the day allocation. Then it was decided that the games weren't going to be prebooked. "Living world/organised play" games WERE prebookable, but their organisers insist on this at every convention. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to why the RPGs weren't prebooked. There was also a bit of kerfuffle online because referees offering to run RPGs didn't receive specific instructions until the week of the event. This always happens but it made some of the newer referees feel a bit nervous.
A decision was made this year to open the doors early and start the RPGs an hour earlier. Presumably because by the time the doors opened in previous years, there was a massive queue and getting everyone in took ages. It also created a two hour gap between the morning and afternoon games, to give gamers a chance to spend money in the trade hall. However, for some of us, this meant we had to get up at stupid o'clock to travel down. I booked a 6:30am train from Birmingham New Street. I also fretted a bit about how I was going to fill two hours in the middle of the day. I find one hour more than enough to eat and mooch around.
Shortly before the day I received a message from Chris Dean, a fellow games designer and referee, checking to see if we were on the same train. We were.
On the day itself, the 6:30 train was cancelled. The next train was massively delayed. The British rail system can be awful, especially in and out of London, and this was one of those days. Both Chris and I arrived far too late to run our morning games. I tried to inform the organisers of our delay via Facebook etc. Upon arrival, like last year, I followed other gamers there and entered the hotel via a door that led to two small lifts. There was no big sign saying "Dragonmeet this way!"
We checked in and checked that we were too late to play our games. I later found out from a friend that other referees had failed to make the morning slot but, more importantly, there were insufficient gamers to fill all the games that were offered and groups were merged to fill games. I presume everyone ended up with a great game but the early start doesn't seem to have attracted loads and loads of gamers.
Chris and I could have mooched in the trade hall or attended some seminars but we chose to check out the "Games on Demand" room. In this room a small crowd were "pitched" short games by referees and said which they wanted to try. I was surprised at the games offered - many of which I'd never heard of. They were mostly "indie" and seemed - to my tastes - to be a bit vague and woffley. But that's just a "horses for courses" thing. I was also surprised that they were offering two hour slots. I was pretty certain that the pre convention blurb had said the games were starting on the hour every hour, so I'd assumed they'd be one hour games or, at least, there'd be one hour games on offer.
We signed up for a game of "Cthulhu Dark" a stripped down version of the horror game. The Referee was very clear that this was a"purist" game of existential horror rather than a "pulp" game where you can actually confront the bad guys. We started with three players but my instincts kicked in and I hooked a passersby to makeup the numbers. I noticed lots of potential players coming in and out of the room as we played, but there didn't seem anyone hooking them as they passed. I'm pretty sure some new games did start after an hour though.
As it turned out, this was a fairly traditional RPG, with a referee running us through a pre written scenario. Good scenario - a family caught in the crucible of events in 17th century Arkham. Good referee. It was one of those where events unfold and your characters are swept along. There's plenty for you to do and there was much scenery chewing from the players. But ultimately it was about experiencing the journey and the climax was pretty unavoidable. I tried to avoid it. I died.
I was surprised that the game ran for two and a half hours, rather than the two it was pitched at. It was more like a normal game slot rather than a "game on demand" but it was just what I needed after the journey down.
The passing player I'd hooked into the game turned out to be an excellent convention player. Apart from Roleplaying the sh@t out of the family matriarch, he made a point of telling the Referee that he was a good referee and offered to buy him a drink.
Talking of which, I did buy myself a pint of Lager at the bar and an egg sandwich for lunch. £8.10!!!!!!!! Has London hit the "fiver for a pint" mark?
As it was Dragonmeet, I started bumping into gaming friend after gaming friend, saying a quick "hello" and moving on. Some people come to Dragonmeet just to meet up with old friends before Christmas. The games, trade hall, seminar etc. are incidental. It's the social side that matters. My favourite moment was chatting to three old mates from various conventions only to have one of them point out that none of them knew each other. I just meet so many people on my travels I assume everyone in the hobby knows everyone else. I was pleased to be able to make introductions.
I then chose to pitch to run a game in the Indie Games on Demand room. I wasn't really prepared for this but I had my "Code of Warriors and Wizardry" stuff from the morning and chose to use it to run a version of the intro dungeon I use for my "Choose Your Adventure" set up. I didn't have it with me, but I've memorised it. The only thing I didn't have with me was pregenerated characters.
So I pitched a one hour game. I only got one, player - an old friend - but we grabbed a table and began to make his character. I actively worked on passersby and got a very enthusiastic young man and his father. And then the table suddenly filled up. I had six players.
As often happens, the open-ended nature of the game gave the players license to create a wide range of characters. The young man made and element wielding dryad, whilst his dad was a shape-shifting snakeman. My friend made a Golem. We also had martial artist that could channel his Chi, a Dwarf with a pet Dragon and a young Prince travelling under cover.
With the late start, character generation and full table it was crush to get the story to satisfactory resolution in an hour, but I made it. It was great fun for me and the players.
I then took a tour down to the trade hall. I'm afraid the signage wasn't super clear and I had to ask directions. Yes, I could have looked in the programme but I shouldn't have need to. It was a good trade hall with everything a gamer could want and more. But my time was spent greeting friends in passing again.
I went upstairs to drop some fliers for my new game and our games convention in the bar only to find they'd started calling the afternoon games early. Unlike the morning, these were all full. When I'd checked the sheets, I'd been disappointed at how bland they looked. Signup sheets for just about every other convention - including all the amateur ones - look far better. And they were pinned up using ordinary drawing pins. It all looked a bit unprofessional.
For reasons which are documented elsewhere, I'd actually called the games at last year's event. So I know how difficult this job is. (And you'll notice I wasn't invited to do it this year.....)
But it started early, was in an open hall and, with the early start, many referees weren't there yet. Even if a referee was present, their players weren't, so it was all a bit ramshackle - which is not the fault of the guy calling the games. And with all the games being full, there were loads of people waiting to play. There was some frustration.
My table was filled by a group travelling together. So I was met by their representative and we chatted whilst the rest of his group finished their various errands and arrived. He, it turned out, was a long time supporter of my work. We'd met before and he's started writing and printing his own games. So we had loads to chat about.
When everyone arrived we went upstairs to find the RPG rooms. Again, this was difficult due to a lack of effective signage. The room we ended up in was crammed with what seems like a dozen games each with half a dozen players around a small table. The windows were closed. It was hot and noisy and not ideal. Everyone seemed to manage though and have a good time.
This was the Science Fiction genre from my Manifold rules, the introductory scenario from the rulebook. A table of six players playing: A Science Officer (basically a Spock clone), a Red-shirt security Guy, an ex-military bounty hunter, a conman, a petty thief and a barbarian space pilot (best not to ask).
This was great fun as always. This was a clever group and succeeded in sidelining a few things that challenge other groups. The barbarian pilot was killed, but the player took over the muscle bound gang boss NPC the group had somehow co-opted to their cause. Despite the clever play, the time flew by and we had trouble completing the game in the four hour slot. Possibly because of the interactions between the players - they all knew each other and we're having great fun, giving me the opportunity to sit back from time to time.
Then it was time to leave. I bumped into another old friend and we shared the walk to the underground station and the underground journey. My train home was almost as delayed as my train down so I got home very late.
Dragonmeet, could be improved. Easy fixes are:
1. Put someone proactive and professional on the website. Make sure it is up to date and accurate. (Eg. It says that Hammersmith underground station is near to the hotel but doesn't give instructions on how to get from the station to the hotel.)
2. Decide how the RPGs are going to be organised. Advertise this early and stick to it.
3. More and better signs get at the event. (The place to look is the AireCon conventions. They use a lot of pull up banners, rather than printed signs pinned to the walls.)
4. If RPG games are going to be called as they are now, do it in one of the RPG rooms. Allocate two people to the task, one introduce, lay down the rules and control the room, the other to call the games.
However, it's easy to critcise. The organisers deliver a convention with a trade hall, excellent gaming and numerous ancillary activities. Too much to all be experienced in a single day. We shouldn't forget that.
Dragonmeet is a great event where everyone who is anyone comes to meet old friends. Because of this, despite the occasionally ramshackle organisation, it's a wonderful event well worth attending. I enjoyed it immensely, despite the awful train journies. Thank heavens for the Games on Demand room. They really saved my day.